Monday, December 31, 2018

A Forever Question: Transit Metrics

"Since before your sun burned hot in space and before your race was born, I have awaited a question."

Sir. Why is one prone to miss the bus or subway train by seconds or centimetres and not minutes or metres?

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Sunday Fun: Saturday Night at the Movies Intro (1980)

What? You wanted to get into film but did not live in Ontario, Canada, or border States that received the magic television signal? You poor, wretched soul. TV Ontario's Saturday Night at the Movies was a film school for those of us lucky enough to have watched it on a regular basis.

Elwy Yost was a Film Professor of the Air. His course? "History of Film" among other classes. The genial host interviewed not just stars, but character actors, cameramen, art directors, editors, writers, get the idea.

SNATM premiered on then OECA (Ontario Educational Communications Authority) in 1974 and I was there. My dad had pretty eclectic tastes in movies, so much of what was programmed suited him, too. (Pity the poor, wretched "I wanna be a director" soul who limits himself or herself to a certain school.)

Through the video course I was introduced to director Fritz Lang's 1933 supernatural thriller The Testament of Dr. Mabuse, which ended up one of my favourite films. Thank you, Mr Yost!

In addition to the classic and semi-classic "old" films, in the earlier days of SNATM there were the Republic serials, which was, again, my introduction to the form.

In "tonight's episode", illustrated above, Elwy introduces a night of "flying". Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines was the big show that evening. (I first saw the flick at CFB Baden-Soellingen's movie theatre and I loved it.)

We miss Elwy, don't we?

And there's TVO's Magic Shadows....

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Film/TV Designers Times Three

Over the next few weeks I plan to render three sets of designs in the style of three film and television designers whose works I admire.

They are:

Jack Shampan
Keith Wilson
Walter M. Jefferies

Each had a unique style. I will try to imitate all three, but, of course, whatever I come up with will remain my own. I have my own style, as I should.

These gents I learned of through their work on:

Jack Shampan -- The Prisoner (1967 - 1968)
Keith Wilson -- Space: 1999 (1975 - 1977)
Walter "Matt" Jefferies -- Star Trek (1966 - 1969)

All three designers are deceased but their respective works survive in cinematographic form. Mr Shampan art directed several feature films in addition to working in television; Wilson was employed mainly in television; and "Uncle Matt" started with the big screen but enjoyed a long career on the small, including a relative lifetime on Little House on the Prairie.

I smell paint....

Friday, December 28, 2018

Andre Norton on Cats

"Perhaps it is because cats do not live by human patterns, do not fit themselves into prescribed behavior, that they are so united to creative people."

Our stars.

Jim Davis on Cats

"Cats are anthropomorphised in art because they are so laid back that you automatically attribute human thoughts and feelings to them."

They have a large vocabulary all their own.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Jules Verne on Cats

"I believe cats to be spirits come to earth. A cat, I am sure, could walk on a cloud without coming through."

Then slide down sunshine.

Albert Schweitzer on Cats

"There are two means of refuge from the miseries of life: music and cats."

Both extricated from the miseries of life.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

I Do Remember Seeing a Christmas Day NHL Game

Hockey Night in Canada on the CBC.

The Detroit Red Wings and the Toronto Maple Leafs played one another on Saturday, December 25, 1971. The Leafs won in front of their hometown fans by a score of 5 to 3.

What I learned minutes ago is the National Hockey League has had no Christmas Day games since 1971. (There were six match-ups that night.)

That was forty-seven years ago. Maybe the league should reconsider.

Monday, December 24, 2018

A Forever Question: TV Tunes

"Since before your sun burned hot in space and before your race was born, I have awaited a question."

Sir. Why are television theme tunes today so tuneless?

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Sunday Fun: Doctor Who Opening (Pertwee)

OECA (Ontario Educational Communications Authority), now referred to as TV Ontario, ran adverts in the summer of 1976 announcing their Fall scheduling of a British programme from my childhood, Doctor Who -- which at that point had not yet stopped production, eventually wrapping in 1989; a twenty-six year run.

As a very young child living at RCAF Station Greenwood, Nova Scotia, I saw the first "Dalek" story; its affect on me was profound enough that I never forgot kneeling in front of the Admiral monochrome television set and being: scared! the BBC via the CBC. (Those panning eyestalk cameras lining the Dalek city's hallways gave me the creeps.)

Back to OECA.

Starting that September I was there in front of the tube every Saturday evening. That was my introduction to the third doctor, Jon Pertwee, and because of the network's two-year Who run featuring the time and space "dandy", he was, and remains, my favourite of all the actors to play and interpret "the Doctor". (In September of 1978, OECA switched to the Tom Baker Whos.)

Of special note is the classic theme tune composed by Ron Grainer; what must be noted is Dalia Derbyshire's "arrangement", an electronic transcription, really, from the composer's score paper. This theme burns into one's electronics.

While the original Doctor Who's production crews lacked today's wonderful technologies, they somehow managed to tell some terrifically entertaining stories.

A Forever Question: The Leafs?

"Since before your sun burned hot in space and before your race was born, I have awaited a question."

Sir. Why do the forever lowly Maple Leafs almost always play well against the Montreal Canadiens?

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Searching For "in Search of..."

After I posted last Sunday's "Sunday Fun" piece, "in Search of..." (1977 - 1982) Titles, I got the urge to check out the series I hardly watched.

Picked Three:

"Haunted Palaces"

What impressed me most was the difference in styles between subject matters. "Bigfoot" was the way I remember the show being; a bit of this and a bit of that. The other two episodes took approaches befitting the material: "Haunted Palaces", lots of atmosphere; "Ghosts", a ghost hunter investigates, and this becomes the episode's narrative drive.

The question I ask myself is this: Why did I ignore in Search of... when it originally aired? Did it have to become a piece of nostalgia though reputation for me to become intrigued?...something to search for?...

CKVR "TIme Warp Television" & Fall Schedule 1992

CKVR was a progressive television station.


The summer of 1979 was late night excitement in Barrie, Ontario, and surrounding area as "VR" ran old television series' discarded by the passage of time: Boston Blackie (1951 - 1952); Biff Baker, U.S.A. (1952 - 1954); The Outer Limits (1963 - 1965); and many more. The framework for these programs was titled "Summer Cine".

Unfortunately I have no promotional material from "Summer Cine", but I do have some from CKVR's 1992 programming year. The summer framework read as must-see: "Time Warp Television." Sparkling from within the schedule were shows of note: Perry Mason; Addams FamilyVoyage to the Bottom of the Sea; I Love Lucy; Star Trek; Mary Tyler Moore; and on....

Into the Fall of 1992....

Friday, December 21, 2018

More Lined-Paper Boards for "Hyper-Reality"

Yesterday I posted two panels from Hyper-Reality, my as of yet uncompleted 35mm short film. The first thumbnail scribbles lead to the final storyboard panels. I designed the show from bottom to top: sets, costumes, and props. The script I co-wrote with Tim A. Cook. (A final polish was done with Michelle Berry.)

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Lined-Paper Boards for "Hyper-Reality"

The first sketch: the thumbnail. I drew many when developing and visualizing my 35mm short film of yet unfinished.

From those storyboard bits came finer renderings.

For now I'll hold those boards close to my chest as there are rumblings about finally finishing Hyper-Reality. (Thank you, hyper-technology.)

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

My Entire High School Sinking is Entertainment

We've heard it said before: "When I see a movie, I want to be entertained."

One man's entertainment is another man's trip to the beer fridge.

This past weekend I watched a film which entertained me: much of its entertainment value came from the fact that it was different. I enjoyed its differences. My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea was it for 75 minutes.

What is the premise of this animated film from 2016? Besides homages to Irwin Allen's 1972 adventure film The Poseidon Adventure, which is a big part of Sinking's vertical drive, and William Golding's classic novel "Lord of the Flies", it's a potpourri of colour, texture, pop culture, psychology, and sociology. That might be the premise.

The characters were voiced by several name actors (like Jason Schwartzman, Susan Sarandon, and Maya Rudolph) but that was not important. After I got immersed into the story I didn't really care that Ms Sarandon spoke for "Lunch Lady Lorraine".

I just cared to be entertained.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Leonard Nimoy on Immigrants and Aliens

"My folks came to the U.S. as immigrants, aliens, and became citizens. I was born in Boston, a citizen, went to Hollywood and became an alien."

And became part of pop culture.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Sunday Fun: "in Search of" (1977 - 1982) Titles

Rarely did I search for in Search of... in the television listings during its original run, but many folk who were around back then have fond memories of being sold the works by that great voice: Leonard Nimoy.

The above video clip features the opening and closing titles from the episode "Earthquakes". (In search of earthquakes? Really?)

For some mysterious reason I now want to don the Ektachrome-coloured glasses and watch a few installments of in Search of....

Freaky theme music! That I remember very well. It was an important part of the show's identity.

Toronto Star Film Critic Peter Howell's 2001 in 50

Peter Howell is one of Toronto's finer film critics. I sense he's also a film nerd, something I've long felt isn't necessary when reviewing the motion picture form -- film to film. A more reasonable approach might be to have your average newspaper's food and art critics team up and decide what does and what doesn't work on the silver screen.

2001: A Space Odyssey is, to this food and art critic, one of the great pieces of cinema. Mr Howell feels the same way, as he's noted a few times in his column over the years. "50 things you probably didn't know about 2001: A Space Odyssey", his latest piece about Stanley Kubrick's space and humanity opus, is something to behold.

Ranking "the top films" from 1 to 10 feels goofy to me. While it's fun to list what you think are cinema's greatest, the idea of picking an exact order from such a large litter is ultimately an exercise in futility. I have a hard enough time ordering a burger and fries.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Very Real Time Travel Limitation Effects

As any Doctor Who fan can tell you, there is a limiter in time travel. It's called the "Blinovitch Limitation Effect".

The 1972 Doctor Who story "Day of the Daleks" revealed that one cannot go back in time again to change something that one failed to change the first time.

That is basically the sci-fi version of the very real "Maple Leafs Limitation Effect", which was discovered in mid 1968. In that case a certain sorry hockey team cannot go back to the NHL payoffs and win a Stanley Cup, no matter how many times they try.

"Hyper-Reality" Optical Printing Dope Sheet

I've posted a few times on this blog about my unfinished symphony: a 35mm short film titled Hyper-Reality. Above is a optical printing layout sheet I made in order to shoot some test sections for the film's opening title sequence.

At Film Opticals of Canada Ltd I worked as an optical printer/camera operator. For most jobs the standard procedure was the layout guys would draw up the "dope sheets" (a blueprint of sorts), but for my own film I did the pencil work myself.

The film print (struck from the camera negative) would be laced-up on the front projector, with the raw stock loaded into the Oxberry camera.

Date: don't look too closely.
Camera #: the Oxberry model 1200 optical printer
Lab: Deluxe; formerly on Adelaide Street West, here in Toronto
Stock: Eastman Kodak emulsion 5248 (perfect for shooting a test sequence, as that stock produces a negative with a resulting positive print)

Friday, December 14, 2018

Film Design: Throne Room Concept Thumbnails

The above sketch came about after discussing a script I was in the process of writing with a friend. I designed the set with a tight budget in mind; the walls are modular in concept, with the flats interchangeable. The idea is the set would not be built as a complete structure but would be assembled as a portion to suit a given scene, with the rest filled out on the computer. Technology allows one to do more set and scenery for a lot less money. A good example is the current television series Game of Thrones.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Jonas Mekas on the Artists' Normal

"For an artist, to be normal is a disaster."

And to be normal is too easy.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Alan Shepard on His First Spaceflight

"It's a very sobering feeling to be up in space and realize that one's safety factor was determined by the lowest bidder on a government contract."

Even on a "man-rated" spacecraft.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Alexey Leonov on Seeing the Earth

"The Earth was small, light blue, and so touchingly alone, our home that must be defended like a holy relic. The Earth was absolutely round. I believe I never knew what the word round meant until I saw Earth from space."

The first man to 'walk' in space had a great and unobstructed view.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Sunday Fun: It's Garry Shandling's Show (Opening)

Yes, it was indeed Garry Shandling's show (1986 - 1990). And it was brilliant. In late 1987 I would be sure to catch It's Garry Shandling's Show on Sunday evenings on Toronto station CITY-TV.

The series with a broken fourth wall was entertaining in its conceit: Gary Shandling is a television sitcom character, and he knows it. He would pop out of character (or was it into character?) and address the audience, sometimes making them part of the story. (This hater of sitcoms likes a sitcom that pokes fun at the form; or tries to improve on it.)

The theme song too was different, and memorable. Its title will come as no surprise: "This is the Theme to Garry's Show."

I'm going to take the present tense of the title, It's Garry Shandling's Show, and make it present again: Track it down....

Saturday, December 8, 2018

The Five Worst Christmas Songs (All in One)

"The Five Worst Christmas Songs" was the subject of a news radio bit today. My partial attention heard "John Denver", "Kenny Rogers", and a few others. I kept waiting for....okay....and....

No "Paul McCartney (and Wings)"?

"Wonderful Christmastime" is hands down, to me, the worst Christmas song ever. Sir Paul's muse left him stranded on a snowbank that day. And his good sense was lost in a snowstorm when he decided to release that wretched jingle.

I'm a Paul McCartney fan. Wings rocked! The questionable song was an honest mistake. We all make them. Even at Christmastime.

Friday, December 7, 2018

What is Beauty?

What is beauty but a mirror outside?

Thursday, December 6, 2018

"Will & Mist" a Weekly Comic on this Blog

Yesterday's post was an introduction to "Will & Mist", a single-panel comic I plan to post weekly -- on Wednesdays.

A friend told me today: "If cats could talk."

All in the Family's Archie Bunker said, while arguing with Meathead about silly television commercials, in this case "Morris the Cat" ones: "Everyone knows no cat can talk dat good."

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Yesterday's News on Coronation Street

That television devil made me turn on the "tube" last evening.

CBC: On it was old dependable itself, Coronation Street.

A courtroom scene. Another bleedin' courtroom scene.

Every time I pop on "The Street", which isn't very often, but often enough to provide me with core samples, there is a hospital, a courtroom, or a police scene. Are the show's producers and writers that short of ideas? (Reminder: "Working class folk.")

I had to get that out of my system. My bacon, bangers, and eggs are ready....

Monday, December 3, 2018

Soyuz Brilliance Up and Away

Early today rose Soyuz MS-11.

Up Soyuz Ship

Something made me turn on the "tube" this morning. I had forgotten that Soyuz MS-11 was due to launch today with Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques aboard, and there sat an example of mankind's most beautiful rocket, four minutes from lift-off.

It was characteristically beautiful, especially so given the aborted climb to orbit back in October, the first manned Soyuz launch failure since 1983. A gentleman who witnessed a Soyuz launch in person told me this, after I expressed an interest in travelling to Baikonur myself: "You wanna go up and touch it." (Before it rockets off, of course.)

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Sunday Fun: All in the Family (1971 - 1979) Opening

The greatest television series ever made, I say. It's certainly the greatest U.S. program of all TV time, to me. Archie Bunker was the "lovable bigot". Yes, he was misguided much of the time; a simple man who did not read (notice the set dressers provided no book case), which informed his ignorance and his not knowing much of anything. Providing a "Meathead", a son in law who was, in Archie's eyes at least, clearly misguided about most things from sports to social issues (a "pinko, commie, atheist"), allowed the script writers to explore and comment on a quickly changing America. Archie was afraid of change, which was the core idea behind the show: immigrants moving into his neighbourhood; an uneasy job market; general attitudes towards ideas that to Archie were immovable, but being moved before his eyes.

This character dynamic of 'conservative vs liberal' made the series work much better than if it had been a living room echo chamber.

It was a sitcom, but a very funny one.

A few years ago I reminisced about the series with a black friend of mine. We laughed. After we settled down, he said: "I'd have a beer with Archie."

Perhaps that's a mark of All in the Family's true brilliance.

An episode very early in the show's run had Archie say this, with passion and a finger wag: "You liberals are always trying to bring down dis here country."

That was from 1971.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Fifty Years Ago There Was a Kiss....

Much has been made of television's "first interracial kiss": the 1968 Star Trek episode "Plato's Stepchildren" featured a memorable moment with Captain James T. Kirk and Lt. Uhura locked in an embrace ending in an intergalactic kiss. This non regulation act was forced by the planet's inhabitants, the Platonians (cool name), and was not voluntary in the traditional sense.

In all archival honesty, "it" was not exactly television's first example of an interracial smooch; several others preceded it, but those instances have been lost to time and space.

Here's the breakdown....

The Platonians force some match-ups: While Kirk and Uhura dance into position, Chapel and Spock are seated and ready to interact. "Interspecies Kiss"?

The lull before the storm.

"Plato's Stepchildren" is not a good episode of Star Trek. "Bad"? As a friend said to me years ago: "It's like they had a cool set and came up with a story to use it."

Friday, November 30, 2018

Orson Welles on Voice

"Create your own visual style... let it be unique for yourself and yet identifiable for others."

For a lot of new/young filmmakers that is a tall order. They spend too much time and effort trying to copy their heroes (like Spielberg). That model has his or her own "story", a unique background and experience mix.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Orson Welles on Movie Directing

"Movie directing is a perfect refuge for the mediocre."

There certainly is a lot of evidence to support that assertion.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

U.S. Television Commercials Far Superior

Television commercials I generally tune out, much like the programs that frame them, but here's something I noticed a long time ago: TV adverts made in the States seem, at least to this non-believer, to be far superior to those made here in (Toronto) Canada. Why is that?

A few years ago I got a first hand polling result while sitting in a diner. I faced away from the wall-mounted television set but two gentlemen, who sat apart and apparently did not know one another, enjoyed their respective plates while taking in programming from an American network: Commotion, commotion from the CRT; laughter; I looked over to the two viewers; one guy said to the other, "American commercials are so much better", to which the other readily agreed.

We Canadians do not produce stupid people who cannot tell an entertaining story -- look at James Cameron, for one -- but we just cannot make good television commercials. (I exempt Public Service Announcements, and the like.)

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Ford Quality is Job Won

GM's not less than stunning announcement that it'll cease production at its auto plant in Oshawa, Ontario, next year is disconcerting for many reasons, not the least of which is the apparent loss of 2,500 jobs.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford does not hold a seat at General Motors' head office, but his stance on business is not helpful. Idiotic slogans and road signs proclaiming "Ontario's Open for Business" are one-dimensional at best, and Ford's disdain for the common worker, as exemplified in his freezing of the province's minimum wage, bodes not well for our economic state of affairs.

Unfortunately, we Ontarians will witness a bumbling and simple premier fumble about as he and his maleficent mates try to explain and validate their plans for those essential elements of the social support system: jobs and a realistic minimum wage.

Doug Ford's wholesale cancelling of green energy contracts, for instance, demonstrates a magisterial incompetence in attracting business to this great province.

"Ontario's open for business, you say?"

Monday, November 26, 2018

Avatar, I Call You Over

James Cameron has finished principal photography on two of his long-awaited Avatar sequels? This I learned from an article in today's edition of The Guardian:

Steve Rose on film - Avatar
Break out the blue paint! Will James Cameron’s Avatar sequel tank?

Avatar did not impress me when I saw it in underwhelming and dim 3D at the Scotiabank Theatre here in Toronto, so my anticipation for more Avatar is 1D.

James Cameron's highly successful first in a now chain gang is the most recent narrative film I've seen in a movie house. Did he take the popcorn out of my movies? Perhaps not, but he took the money out of my wallet and gave back to me 162 minutes that I'll never get back.

Thanks for your enlightening piece, Mr Rose.

Good honest cynicism. Very refreshing.

But you're right. We cannot count Cameron out.

Thanks a Bunch

Riders of mass transit systems know about "bunching". No bus for many minutes; then two or more buses all at once; then another multi-minute wait. Fine. It's the big city, after all. Traffic jams are worse; which, of course, can contribute to transit bus bunching.

There's another kind of bunching, which is avoidable: buses that speed and tailgate a lead bus so they don't have to pick up riders. Same goes for streetcars. A few years ago I found myself standing beside a TTC (Toronto Transit Commission) inspector while I stirred my coffee in a King Street coffee shop. While chatting with the gentleman I mentioned this curious transit malady. He said: "(The drivers) are supposed to be self-governing." I asked if they all do. He just shook his head gently from side to side.

We think we might have bad bunching at times here in Toronto. As I read this morning in the Boston Globe, it's a big problem in that town.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Status Liberals, In Memoriam

In today's Toronto Sun: A headline to a letter to the editor reads as follows....


I had "Status Liberals"? Did you, dear reader?

Remember the Status Liberals. May they live on in our memories....

Sunday Fun: Darkroom Opening

Darkroom is another cursed feather in my cap; yet another television series that I liked and actually watched but one which ran just one season or less. Less here: seven episodes.

The stories were varied in tone, but the best variance was that of running time. In the one hour a story could be long or short, some really short. In total we saw sixteen stories over the show's limited run. The advantage of flexible length is obvious.

No doubt a big reason Darkroom got left in the dark was due to its anthology nature. The television viewing public, as a whole, demand continuing characters; people they can watch: grow up in front of their eyes; get into trouble with the law; dispensed with at the altar; or reveal a deep and dark secret, even after loads of episodes -- more often than not the shock was unplanned but created by the show writers in an effort to reinvigorate the program. (Diarrhea of the Writers' Room.)

James Coburn with Darkroom's fix, the continuing character. The veteran actor exuded a commanding presence and an authoritative voice, excellent for introducing tales of horrors and thrills.

Red filter.

"Remember Darkroom?...."

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Nicolas Roeg a True Voice

This morning I heard the sad news that cinematographer and director Nicolas Roeg died yesterday; he was 90.

See! Don't Look Now (director - 1973)
See! The Masque of the Red Death (cinematographer - 1964)

There are many more, needless to say, but those examples exemplify the two crafts.

This made me respect the man even more: Roeg couldn’t understand how someone could become a director without first working as a cinematographer.

And more:

“I shoot a lot of stuff. I think that’s probably come from not having gone to film school. Things work themselves out. You’ve lost the showmanship thing, the fairground barker, come-see-what’s-inside aspect of filmmaking when you try to plan everything for the audience.”

Bravo, sir!

Friday, November 23, 2018

Jerry Goldsmith on Creativity and Fear

"I think that the great part of creativity is overcoming fear. Fear is a given. When you sit down and have to begin something, don't be afraid to be filled with fear, because it goes with the turf."

Very true. And it's even worse when one's paid a lot of money to be creative, especially where there's a delivery date.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

John Williams on Jerry Goldsmith

"His chameleon adaptability was a prerequisite to longevity and success in Hollywood. We used to call him Gorgeous. He was the golden boy, a beautiful presence. His music had a freshness, and he had a freshness."

He would know.

Jerry Goldsmith on Writing a Piece of Music

“For me, writing the theme for Star Trek The Motion Picture was the toughest I've ever written, but it was a remarkable achievement.”

And it sounded like nothing else. Musical brilliance.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

John Waters' Career Advice

From September of last year:

Don't I know this:

"You should always have backup careers."

John Waters dispensed that piece of advice last year when he was interviewed by IndieWire journalist Dana Harris. He outlined his other careers besides making films (which he has not done in over ten years): Art shows, articles, books, and speaking tours.