Monday, January 29, 2018

Toronto Was the Most Popular Filming Location in 2017

The above bit of information I learned yesterday. My reaction was at odds with the data: What? If that's the case then why is it a rarity for me to stumble upon a film shoot?

I'm a big walker and I can't remember the last time I bumped into a parked trail of film location wagons. In the late 1980s, through the 1990s, and into the early 2000s, film companies on location was a common sight in the great city of Toronto. Back in those years I worked full-time in post production areas. A regular rhythm: movies-of-the-week (MOWs); television commercials; feature films; and television series. When I worked in "opticals" I often dropped film off at the labs at 2 or 3 o'clock in the morning.

Friends of mine still work full-time in the biz; it's not the same, but for some reason Toronto is the most popular filmimg location.


Sunday, January 28, 2018

A Look Back at "The Funnel"

About this time last year I wrote about "The Funnel Experimental Film Theatre". I started my visits in September of 1984 and attended many of the twice-weekly screenings at 507 King Street East. School took over as the year progressed and my Funnel attendance slipped in synchronization with the increasing demands of my course load.

How does one convey how special a time and place that was?

Perhaps a look back to an article from 1980 written by the ever erudite film critic Geoff Pevere can help me.

Courtesy of Mike Hoolboom's terrific website: Moving Pictures in a Gallery

Friday, January 26, 2018

Star Trek Lost in Space

Last evening I was reading some Netflix news. I had forgotten that a new series called Lost in Space is in post-production. May is the day: the premiere of a reboot of a bad old television series.

Those of us who grew up with the original Lost in Space can tell you it fit the bill when we were little viewers. Slightly older viewers we became and our opinions did change. What we thought was great when we were ten, or less, now looked positively old and crude; a 1960s television series looking as though it was produced in the 1950s: ray guns, a flying saucer, lots of blinking lights, and a vacuum-tube robot.

This we can take if the stories are good. (Good stories are the best part of any television series.) Unfortunately, scripting came from somewhere not of this Earth, rarely making any sense if any sense at all.

The reboot can only be an improvement on the original.

The joke may be that the new series will be better than the new Star Trek. It can only be better.

Star Trek is now lost in space.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Sergei Eisenstein and Film Effects

Google Search reminded me yesterday that it was the great Russian film director's birthday. Sergei Eisenstein lived from 1898 to 1948 but in his career built a significant body of work, including the feature-length films: Strike (1925); Battleship Potemkin (1925); October (1928); Alexander Nevsky (1938); and Ivan the Terrible (1944).

I've seen all of the above except for Strike. Eisenstein's pictures were wide-screen though they weren't wide-screen, epic in scope, passionate, and always about people. Emotion was always present, whether the themes were about fighting for individuals' rights or battling in defence of the beautiful motherland.

Back in 1988 or 1989 I attended a screening of Battleship Potemkin at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) here in Toronto. I had seen the film before, but like many a great film, it revealed something new. The famous "Odessa Steps" sequence, famous for its staging and editing, and emotive power, hit me with great force. The picture was moving. I realized I was watery-eyed. Violence shown as being exactly what it is. Senseless.

Although a 'silent' film, of course there was a music score. It was not the original Edmund Meisel score (quite probably the version with a compilation of Dmitri Shostakovich material) but the sequence's power was heightened nonetheless.

Which reminds me.

In November of 1989 the Toronto Symphony Orchestra played a couple of special performances: As Alexander Nevsky rolled in Roy Thomson Hall its score was played live-to-picture. A 'sound' film, Nevsky had been designed by Eisenstein in a such way as to avoid having music tracks playing under dialogue, which meant that in this live concert hall presentation the orchestra could light up between dialogue sequences. Director Eisenstein worked with composer Sergei Prokofiev to make cinematic magic -- the melding of music and image, each serving the other. This score is, in my opinion, the greatest of all film scores. The absolute peak.

The presentation that day was magnificent. A showcase of how image and music fused as one becomes another art.

I should sit down and watch Strike.

Monday, January 22, 2018

"Hamlet" is Being Filmed at Dover Castle

As I wrote on November the 17th of 2009, edited slightly for this introduction:

While visiting England back in April of 1990, I made sure I revisited Dover Castle, a well known tourist attraction in those parts. I had been once before, as a wee-one back in 1967, so it was time, twenty three years later, to make the pilgrimage.

When I arrived at the main gate the security guard, a rather pleasant older chap, said to me with no hesitation, "you're in today for free, mate". Of course, I asked could not have been the fact that I looked, walked, and quacked like a Canadian, especially since I had not even quacked at that point.


"Franco Zeffirelli's filming his new movie here."


Sunday, January 21, 2018

An American and a Canadian Go to a Bar

About ten years ago when I was a technical director at a film festival here in Toronto I befriended a filmmaker from Manhattan. We went out for a beer at a local bar.

A discussion about films and festivals was to be expected. One thing brought up by the native New Yorker was the difference between Torontonians and his city-mates:

"You're nicer."

My response was along the lines of: "Really?"

"Yeah, you're....softer."

I  told a few of my buddies and they too were a little surprised. Hey, a visitor to this great city made an observation. That's all.

I'm not a native Torontonian -- my father was in the Canadian military (the RCAF part) for decades, which meant I moved about a bit -- but I've lived here for many years and I've noticed that even Torontonians are Canadians.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Coach Who? From What?

Certain members of the Toronto sports media round up the latest antics of the NHL's Toronto Maple Leafs and cap it off with a quote from "Coach Babcock". (Mike Babcock is the latest victim of "the Buds".)

When I hear "Coach Babcock" I think I'm back in high school.


Maybe the Leafs have to move on to university.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

10,000 Shiftless Nights + 1

Here is a fine documentary about the 1980-81 CFMT (Toronto) television program The All-Night Show. Those of us who remember the show that we also referred to as "Chuck the Security Guard" have fond memories made more wonderful with the passage of time.

Chuck, Ryerson Dupont, Fran the Nurse, Paul del Stud, and the rest, are here in Ten Thousand Shiftless Nights.


A Look Back at Chuck the Security Guard

On February 20th of last year I posted a piece about the CFMT (Toronto) television program, The All-Night Show (1980-81). "Memories of Chuck" was originally an article I wrote for Greg Woods' publication The Eclectic Screening Room, but after a later re-read I decided it could be better and longer.

Article: Memories of Chuck

Later today I will post a follow-up piece to the above.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

A Precious Post Film Screening at the Bloor

"Fantastic Planet is playing at the Bloor Cinema tonight", I said to an open-minded film-school classmate and mate of mine. He said he would like to see the 1973 animated film, even though he had never heard of it until I told him it is a personal favourite.

The surreal picture worked its wonders that night in 1985.

After the house lights came back on my friend looked at me from the seat to my left side and said this: "Simon, I've seen better animation on Saturday morning cartoons."

I laughed.

My guess was he did not like the story, too. Fantastic Planet remains one of my favourite flicks, animated or otherwise.

Friday, January 12, 2018

A "Fire and Fury" Book of the Other Kind

Fire and Fury - The Allied Bombing of Germany 1942-45, a book published ten years ago by Randall Hansen, is getting some press through its title similarity to Michael Wolff's explosive and current best-seller Fire and Fury - Inside the Trump White House.

I obtained the book not long after it hit the bookstores and promptly got down to reading it. First off I should say that one of the few subjects I could be considered to be knowledgeable about is that of the Allied bombing campaign of World War II -- I've interviewed many airmen, and have done much research over the last thirty odd years, including at the Royal Canadian Military Institute here in Toronto -- so when I tackle a new book so late in my absorption of the subject I'm looking at it from a very critical perspective.

To review Hansen's Fury properly for this blog I'd have to re-read it, but suffice to say here and now I was very unimpressed.

What was obvious to me was the author's axe-grind. Hansen 'reveals' some points as though he is the first to do so. We've known for many years, starting with the United States Strategic Bombing Survey done immediately after the war, that "area bombing" did not do what Arthur "Bomber" Harris had hoped -- bring the German war effort to its knees. We know that the daylight precision attacks undertaken by the U.S. achieved greater war-influencing levels. Also, historian Martin Middlebrook wrote in great detail in his books The Berlin Raids, The Nuremberg Raid, and The Battle of Hamburg about the German civilians who took the bombs night after night. His interviews with those illegitimate targets on the ground are exemplary. (When I spoke with Mr Middlebrook in England some years ago he gave me great advice regarding research.)

What aerial bombing did and did not do is an ongoing debate -- I too do not have many concrete answers. There's a demon in the mix: Statistics. (Statistics are always part of more statistics.)

In fairness to Mr Hansen, to 'review' further here I must again read Fire and Fury - The Allied Bombing of Germany 1942-45.

Right now I'd rather read Fire and Fury - Inside the Trump White House.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Fire and Fury is Not Inside

On impulse I decided I should grab a copy of the new bestseller Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House.

A major Toronto book store stood before me. Rather, I stood before it. I decided to vault inside. I could not find the book. Of course there would be a sensational display and an excited crowd for Fire and Fury, so if I could not find it quickly, it clearly would not be in stock.

A pleasant-looking older gentleman sporting company attire walked towards me; I intercepted him and asked the billion dollar question.

"No, we didn't get it. My guess is it's being held at the border . . . I think (Trump's) trying to block it."

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

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

The news wires are spreading the story that President Donald Trump is about to pull the U.S. out of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Hey, makes sense to me. Why would Trump adhere to a document that he in all probability cannot grasp?

Here's a piece I posted in April of last year:
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....

Rating all the Star Wars Movies

An open and discarded Toronto Sun lay before me as I order my coffee. There's a full page spread rating all the Star Wars flicks, of which there are many now, and increasing in number like bunny rabbits.

That (no doubt 'complimentary') copy of the rapidly depleting rag got me thinking. ("The Sun got you thinking?") What are my favourites and in what order do they fall?

1. Star Wars
2. The Empire Strikes Back

Numbers 1 and 2 are interchangeable, really. (I have not seen any SW since Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith.)

Monday, January 8, 2018

Apollo - Soyuz - Me

Yesterday I posted a piece on the passing of star U.S. astronaut John W. Young. I opened by talking about my early morning rise to see the first Space Shuttle launch.

Perhaps the single most exciting "blast off" for me was that of Soyuz 19, the Soviet side of the "Apollo-Soyuz Test Project" of 1975. The Soyuz launch vehicle and spacecraft were somewhat mysterious entities to those of us in the west -- civilians in the west. Photographs had been released by the Soviets, some officially and others unofficially, so we knew what the machine looked like at launch -- it looked super cool, that's what it looked -- but there were no motion picture images and nothing substantial in the way of data and specifications. (Like the Vostok and Voskhod rockets the Soyuz was an outgrowth of the brilliant R-7A Semyorka, itself an upgrade of the earlier R-7 Semyorka.)

July 15, 1975: The day of Soviet and 'American' launch vehicles. I had great interest in seeing the Saturn 1B rocket lift the Apollo space vehicle, but the big draw for me, and many others, no doubt, was witnessing the launch of the Soviet machine. I sat in front of the colour Zenith television set. There was an anticipatory tension, an almost drum roll, as we waited for the scheduled launch time. When the final countdown rolled we scrutinized every piece of visual data -- there was no audio of the launch. That great Soyuz Roar would not be heard by me for many more years.

The rocket lifted; it was beautiful.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

John Young, Star NASA Astronaut, Dies at 87

April 12, 1981: The alarm went off at 6am. Its mission: wake me up so I could watch television coverage of the first Space Shuttle launch (STS-1).

The shuttle's successful mission proved the system was technically viable. John Young and Robert Crippen piloted the machine for its 37 orbit flight, and at the time, their names were known to much of the public.

Young had by that point flown into space several times: On Gemini (3 and 10); and Apollo (10 and 16). He was not originally scheduled to crew the first manned Gemini flight, but after star astronaut Alan Shepard was grounded with a medical condition, and ended up so for a few years, Young was bumped up with fellow crew member Gus Grissom to take on the mission. With the Apollo program he flew twice to the moon, walking on its surface during the second flight (the first was lunar orbit only). In addition to STS-1 the human odometer piloted STS-9.

Those are a lot of leaps and miles.

John W. Young was and is an American star.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Books, Books, and Another Book

A bad habit of mine is reading too many books simultaneously. As a general rule, there are three books on my coffee table at any one time.

A certain furor from the last couple of days will soon add another:

Fire and Fury - Inside the Trump White House (Wolff)

The book's publicist, D.J. Trump, calls it a "must read".

Thursday, January 4, 2018

As Cold as Bitter Cold Can Be

My hands flew in desperation, trying to pull up my hood. The crosswind as I crossed the intersection kept pulling my hood back down. The air was colder than I think I've ever experienced. My head and face went almost numb.

The earmuffs helped save me while I continued in my struggle to do a simple thing: pulling my hood up around my head. I reached the other side of the cross-street; the wind weakened just enough. The hood was up; I held it in place with my hands. Forget the ties. I was almost home.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Good Sweetness at "Yorkdale"

I'm not one to shill unless the money is really good. (As of yet I've been offered nothing.) Recently I took a trip to the Yorkdale Shopping Centre here in Toronto and while I was there I popped into Nadège Patisserie. While I do carry a French  surname with considerable pride and honour -- take that, British half! -- I usually don't indulge in French pastries, or Any pastries.

A topnotch barista helped me choose something sweet.

What I had was good and tasty -- a croissant of some kind. The coffee, a "regular" coffee, was kick-butt. So kick-butt that soon after I polished off the magic juice I could feel hyperness setting in. I started to gesticulate like a crazy Frenchman.

And here I am.