Sunday, April 30, 2017

Star Wars 40, Me Older

Two times this week I've posted Star Wars bits in anticipation of the fortieth anniversary of that film's collision with planet Earth.

On May 25th, or maybe sooner if I get an itchy quill finger, I will post my memories on how I first heard about Star Wars.

This week I'll upload to this blog a piece I wrote about Star Wars creator George Lucas's steadfast refusal to release the original version of Star Wars to the high-quality Blu-ray format.

Set your phasers on stun 'cause this blog's ahead warp factor nine....

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Star Wars: Admit One

The fortieth anniversary of the original release of Star Wars is coming next month, and for us older folks, the question sometimes comes up: "How many times did you see Star Wars when it first came out?"

The movie made a lot of money because it was what's called "a repeater". Young people especially went back to the movie theatres over and over to see what was then a new thing; a high-quality comic book on the big screen.

Perhaps due to my age at the time, sixteen, I saw Star Wars, enjoyed it and did not rush back to see it again. Once was enough, there were other movies to see and I was interested in many other things.

In September of 1977 I became friends with a guy at my high school who was a huge fan of the film. He was a couple of years younger. It was through a school club that we first met. Two or three weeks later Star Wars reappeared in Barrie, Ontario, this time at one of the exciting Bayfield Mall's two screens, and my fan friend and I, with colourful umbrellas in hand, trotted off one rainy night to see again the silver screen's smash hit of '77.

I saw Star Wars two times that year: First, in July at the "Imperial 2" in beautiful downtown Barrie; then it was a tinny movie house in stunning uptown Barrie.

My favourite film in 1977 was Annie Hall. I saw it once.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

The NHL is Now Bite-Sized

After watching a couple of minutes of National Hockey League television coverage on the CBC just now, I am convinced that the game was much more popular in the 1970s.

Television networks, and the NHL itself, may promote the stuffing out of the games, especially playoff games, but nothing can cover-up the fact that the league is in a slump.

Forty-five years ago NBC carried NHL games weekly on Sunday afternoons; players had personalities and the league had personality.

Hyper-cutting and flash frames in video promos signify a vacuum.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

A Peanut's History of N.A.F.T.A.

Canada and the United States of America signed the North American Free Trade Agreement which started swinging in 1994.

I remember there was some anxiety on this side of the border by some folk who were not so sure the agreement would be a good thing for this great country. Canadians are naturally conservative about some issues, and it made sense that signing such an affecting and encompassing document should concern some of us; including me.

As things turned out NAFTA was a good thing, for both nations.

President Donald Trump and his magnificent internal reactionary forces are making noises about wanting to pull out of the agreement altogether.

One of my strongest memories on the issue of whether or not Canada should sign the agreement is this one: A certain U.S. politician, I've forgotten who it was, reacted to the apprehension of Canadians with a direct "... you don't get another chance."

It seems that Donald Trump wants another chance....

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

It's a Star Wars Spring Board

Hard to believe that Star Wars hit movie screens forty years ago this coming May. Recently I reviewed video files that I have on USB sticks; on one of them is an interesting documentary titled The People vs George Lucas. (These 'people' really like Star Wars. I like Lucas's attitude: "Get a life! Will you, people? For crying out loud, it's just a movie!")

Long in my plans is an article replaying my experiences with the movie that changed Hollywood. As that town is populated heavily by a certain breed of sheep, the film's influence can be easily overplayed, but the fact is Star Wars is a fun movie; and was, especially at the time it exploded on the scene. I enjoyed it very much, even if I didn't demand possession of the tie-in toys. (I was sixteen years of age, which may have had a bearing on it.)

Soon, sometime in May, my personal story of Star Wars will be posted for all my fellow older farts to enjoy as they are fired back to the astounding year, 1977!

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Maurice Devereaux Films and Jokes

Today I took a bit of a break and watched two making-of docs: "Playing with Your Nerves - The Making of Slashers" and "End of the Line - A Splatter of Faith". (Both titles were directed and edited by my longtime friend Jean-Denis Rouette.)

Canadian filmmaker Maurice Devereaux is a talented guy. Although he hasn't made a feature-length film since 2006, his most recent one, End of the Line, proved, illustrated, that he knows how to work in the traditional narrative form and do so with flowering aplomb.

Devereaux has been vocal about how film distributors treat independent filmmakers very poorly; which is a nice way of saying that they are, as the director likes to term them, "sharks". They want everything for nothing.

Watching the above docs brought back memories of seeing End of the Line at its TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) premiere in September of 2006. After the thrilling screening, we, members of the cast and crew who journeyed to the city, and I, settled down on the Pilot Bar's rooftop patio. Not long after we took our seats and drinks Maurice was called over to another table. He was chatting with the party for a while, about forty-five minutes or so. With little fanfare Maurice returned to our table and told us the news. They were distributors from Japan and their offer for the Asian market was something that our filmmaking friend could not refuse: $60,000.

On a more pleasant note, the conversation was fine. At one point I was asked something; with some understated reserve I said, "I just wanna be the Irwin Allen of Canada". What I considered to be nothing more than a statement or answer born of humbleness got quite the laugh from everyone at the table. It may have been due to the fact that I was only kidding -- I hope.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

From a Dependent Brat: The Church of Me

RCAF Station Baden-Soellingen (retitled "CFB Baden-Soellingen" in 1968), in then West Germany, had two cute little churches parked side by side near the end of a street: houses of two denominations, Catholic and Protestant; directly opposite was the base's hospital; and at the end of the street, watching, stood the fire hall with its fire engines and crash-tenders.

When I was five and six years old my dad would take me to the RC place on Sunday mornings. I remember sitting enraptured by the sermons, specifically by their extraordinary length, especially to this then child, and by what I perceived to be utter emptiness. (It's possible I knew that some things in those sermons made little sense but had yet to hurl the word "emptiness" to describe them.)

One day, a moment I remember well, I said to my dad something in a way as to avoid any misinterpretation: "Dad, I don't wanna go to church anymore."

My dad's reaction: Laughter. The kind aimed towards the heavens when one realizes that his six-year-old is figuring things out fast. And setting firm his own well-considered belief system.

The base is now an airport. Baden-Airpark.

Friday, April 21, 2017

The State of Canadian Film

The Agenda with Steve Paikin, TVOntario's outstanding public affairs program, did an hour-long program two days ago on the state of motion picture making in Canada as part of its celebration of Canadian film.

The first part of the program is titled "What's Wrong with Canadian Film?"
Watch here.

The second segment is more 'positive': "Why Canadian Film Matters."
Watch here.

It's an argument I've long heard: "Canadian films are bad." I would disagree. Without getting into an essay here, bad films are not a Canadian domain. There are loads of bad films generated in the U.S., and elsewhere. The only theory or argument I would agree with is that too many Canadian filmmakers try to copy their favourite films, in style and content; and most of those are head-of-the-line and top-of-the-line Hollywood productions. Instead of self-consciously, or, as some cynics might say, unconsciously, imitating expensive Hollywood films, why not try doing something that is "you" (and more the scale of your own wallet)?

Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Starlost DVD Liner Notes Story

A year ago today I wrote about my experience penning the insert liner notes for the DVD release of the old U.S./Canada science fiction television series The Starlost (1973 - 1974).

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

My Favourite Canadian Films

Here in Canada today is "National Canadian Film Day 150" (Canada, as a country, is 150 years old this year.)

The official website for the event is here: Canadian Film Day

This special day got me thinking about my favourite Canadian films. After some minutes of consideration my list will look like this (in no particular order):

Goin' Down the Road
Tales from the Gimli Hospital
Face Off
My Winnipeg
Jesus of Montreal
Starship Invasions
Montreal Main
Nobody Waved Goodbye
The Pyx
Mon oncle Antoine
The Death of a Lumberjack
Universe (short)
21-87 (short)
The Sweater (short animation)

I am missing so many, titles which escape me for the moment. In the days to come I'll be sure to post a "My Favourite Canadian Films II".

Poem: Friends Tell Coffee Time

Of Saturday it is!

Do you meet still
with availability?

Soap, water, squirrels
about my now laundry

In sanity punches....


Simon St. Laurent

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Re Collecting My Toronto Maple Leafs Thoughts

As I've noted a few times the last couple of weeks I possess a lack of faith in the Toronto Maple Leafs and their chances of getting anywhere this season.

I predicted the Leafs would not even make the playoffs (I was wrong) and after accepting defeat I entertained the idea that they would get hammered by the Washington Capitals in the first round of the post regular season (I was in error).

I can't imagine for a moment that the third-rate Toronto Maple Leafs will go far in these playoffs, never mind reaching the finals (I hope I'm right)....

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Supervising George Lucas

I bought recently a Blu-ray disc of George Lucas's wonderful 1973 film and American cultural document American Graffiti. The vid was marked down quite a bit which helped my decision. Also marked down to the same low price of $7.99 was Close Encounters of the Third Kind, but since it's not my kind of movie (I was disappointed in that flick when I first saw it upon its original release) I did not even consider grabbing that one, too.

Back to my brand new American Graffiti Blu-ray: Later in the day I had a look at the box and saw a bit of text that had the unfortunate effect of reminding me that Mr. Lucas 'played' with the film -- for instance he put in a lovely sunset in the opening titles background. A little dismay set in. Much in the same vein as when Ward and June Cleaver's hearts would sag any time Eddie Haskell showed up unannounced at their door. My 'Eddie Haskell' was this text on the Graffiti box: "Digitally Remastered Picture Supervised by George Lucas."

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Those Cute Toronto Sports Team Jerseys

On my way home from work I have the pleasure of being surrounded on the subway train by Toronto Maple Leafs jerseys on the daze that broken teabag plays at the Air Canada Centre and by Blue Jays jerseys on their days at the Skydome.

Blue Jays, fine; Maple Leafs, whatever.

It occurred to me, actually it occurred to me many times before, that when I travel around this great city I more often see Montreal Canadiens jerseys, caps, shirts, and hats than I do the livery of their tragic adversary -- the Leafs.

Go, Leafs, go play at the Mutual Street Arena....

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Battle of Vimy Ridge

Here in Canada we've been remembering the Battle of Vimy Ridge, what it means to us as a country. One hundred years ago this week (April 9 - 12) Canadian and British soldiers purged the ridge of German forces. It was a bloody battle for both sides, with thousands of young men dying and thousands more injured.

Minutes ago I watched an hour-long program that analyzed the battle from a historical perspective: There is no denying that the battle won was a great tactical military victory, but, as is typical with celebrated military campaigns, what the score was in a strategic sense is open to debate.

One thing that is not open to debate is the loss of so many young men at Vimy Ridge; all those mothers' sons....

Monday, April 10, 2017

A Good Monday Morning

The temperature in Toronto today is scheduled to reach a comfortably warm, and above average for this time of year, 22 Celsius. That is atmospheric temperature.

For "Leafs Nation" (they are the tragically devoted fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs ice hockey team) temperatures are rising. Their beloved NHL fill lost by a score of 3 - 2 to the Columbus Blue Jackets last night thereby sealing the Leafs' fate as fodder for the Washington Capitals in the first round of this year's NHL playoffs. The Blasting Caps will make paving stones of the Leafs -- in just four games.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Pierre Elliott Trudeau by Nino Ricci

Former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau (1919 - 2000) fascinates many of us who remember when he was this great country's leader (1968 - 1979, 1980 - 1984). Whether or not Trudeau was a great Prime Minister is almost irrelevant all these years later, and one does not have to be a Liberal to find his history as a man and leader endlessly fascinating.

Canadian writer Nino Ricci wrote a book on Trudeau that warrants being read if one has any interest at all in Canadian politics, or wonders what all the fuss from the Right is about and why they cannot dig Canada's 15th Prime Minister out from under their sensitive skins.

Part reportage, part history lesson, Pierre Elliott Trudeau (2009) is to me an important work about an important Canadian figure.

Ricci starts off the book by telling the Trudeau Tale from his own perspective. One of his elementary school teachers was watching a program on the politician on the school's portable television set. He said to the future award-winning Canadian writer that Pierre Elliott Trudeau was going to be an important man in Canadian politics. End of first chapter.

I could not put this book down. At one point there were just eighty pages to read and I picked up the book intending to knock off about half. I finished it in one sitting. Nino Ricci knows how to tell a story. The read was highly instructive from a background and historical perspective: This reader had not realized that Trudeau could be a physical bully (in a back coffee room he all but pushed René Levesque around right before an important cabinet vote), and fellow Liberal party member Judy LaMarsh (1924 - 1980) absolutely hated the man.

The joke for me is that I've never read any of Nino Ricci fictional works. It's time for me to turn a page, perhaps.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Toronto Maple Leafs Cause for Humour

My blog is sometimes about humour; intentional or not. Listening to the local Toronto sportscasters, writers, and fans go on about the Maple Leafs ice hockey team's rebuilding is cause for humour -- certainly to anyone over forty, or fifty.

How long have we been hearing this? "It's a rebuilding year" . . . "The team is rebuilding" . . . "It's a young team that will mature and...."


We have heard quotes like the above:

A) 1,701 times

B) 2,863 times

C) 2,249 times

D) Any of the above (I've lost count)

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Going Through Angry Candy

One of my favourite writers is Harlan Ellison. For a guy who can at times come across as misanthropic in his various not-unfounded rants, he has a distinct humanist tract which comes through most clearly in his writing.

Right now I'm going through his 1988 short story collection, Angry Candy. I first read this book many years ago, not long after it hit the market. A story I remembered clearly is "Laugh Track". The premise is a man who now works in television had an aunt whose voice lives forever in television laugh track tracks. Her distinctive "lelluva laugh", one that "could pucker your lips", had been recorded originally in the 1950s when she was a member of a live studio audience. It developed a life all its own as it was repeatedly dubbed down over the years and decades over dumbed down television fare; as in very unfunny, classically not funny at all!, sitcoms. The kind used to pry your brain away from any intellectual ambition and to make it live like a Jelly Roll projectile that will peak as decoration on a cinder block wall.

Out of a kernel that may on the surface seem like something best left as chicken scratch on an old chalkboard, Ellison spins poignancy. There is an urgency to live, to feel, and not to resist fate. He knows life in the same way that Woody Allen does: It's a load of crap but a survivable load made survivable by laughing. Like an unfunny sitcom.

Harlan Ellison could write about a late bill payment and make it funny, surreal, and something to think about. Now for the next story:

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Past Pic: Beautiful Toronto Swan Cruise

On March 17th of last year I posted about a swan swim team.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Movies About Yesterday

I have no desire to turn this blog into a movie review column, but watching two disparate flicks yesterday has made me give in just for one day. I hope.

Todd Solondz's 2009 Life Under Wartime I enjoyed even though I have not yet seen its ancestor, Happiness. (I have seen Welcome to the Dollhouse.) Watching Life made me think "Woody Allen collides with John Waters". It's a birdcage of humanity.

Now for the second feature in my yesterday. Xanadu is a film I ignored when it hit movie screens back in the summer of 1980, and now I'm glad I did. The reviews were not good. I had no idea that Jeff Lynne and ELO (Electric Light Orchestra) had anything to do with this roller skate wreck. However, I was aware at the time that Gene Kelly was involved and elevated this rubbish somewhat. The climactic last reel featuring the opening of "Xanadu", the club, was hardly worth the wait. It was like getting an okay neck rub after going down with the Titanic....

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Leafs Talk in a Toronto Coffee Shop

We writers must keep our ears to the ground in search of a story. Sitting in a coffee shop is one way to do our work; to mind one's business, but not feel like an eavesdropper should fellow patrons talk of cultural issues at an audible level.

Recently two older gents sat at the table beside me and debated the chances of the Toronto Maple Leafs making this year's NHL (National Hockey League) playoffs.

Gent 1: "They have a real chance of getting somewhere this year."

Gent 2: "Really? We've been hearing this for years."

Gent 1: "Yeah, but they have Auston Matthews."

Gent 2: "Yes, I know, but we've heard this kind of story many times before; for a long time."

"Gent 2" is right. Over the years there has been a Darryl Sittler, Rick Vaive, Curtis Joseph, Wendel Clark, and more. Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner are just the latest stooges who will take the Toronto Maple Leafs to a place nowhere....

(I use the word "stooges" in the Toronto Maple Leafs Masterplan context. I'm sure they are nice people; and they are/were fine hockey players, of course. Most forgotten is the fact one must have a good team, not just two or three good players. Sports history is littered with Leafs-type teams -- they are nothing special in that regard.)

Saturday, April 1, 2017

From the Refrigerator

One thing curiously lacking in this guy's blog is "video product"; processed single thins of moving pictures. I've posted much text and many still photographs here, but no embedded files of my film and video work. I'm in the process of changing this oversight.

No, it's not an "April Fools!" joke. For someone who considers himself a Grade-A jokester, it's amazing that I forget to celebrate this special day every year. However, I have been sketching out a story from 1979. That year I pulled perhaps my greatest prank. It did not happen on April 1st but it could have.

The "victim"? old friend of mine, a friend who shall remain nameless since he fell for a prank that should have been transparently obvious. There is another good reason for me to protect his identity. He is a high school teacher and a former municipal politician.

Soon, from the refrigerator: Me, Simon; Bert I. Gordon; and....