Sunday, April 29, 2018

Michael Anderson, British Film Director

I learned this morning that British film director Michael Anderson passed away in Vancouver, British Columbia, four days ago. He was ninety-eight. (British director Guy Hamilton died in April of 2016. He was ninety-three.)

A favourite film of mine is the 1955 aviation war story The Dam Busters. Not only is it a fine and exciting piece of filmmaking but it features the Avro Lancaster bomber. My father flew on "Lancs" as a gunner during the last months of WW2. That connection certainly enhances my enjoyment of the film.

In interviews I've seen, Anderson comes across as a gentleman. I cannot imagine him yelling on a film set. (Only Otto Preminger could get away with that kind of on-set behaviour.) OECA/TVO movie host Elwy Yost had him in the studio on one program I remember. Anderson looked like a gentleman farmer from Lincolnshire more than a film director.

Considering the fact that I'm a big fan of Jules Verne's stories, it's odd I've never seen the 1956 epic film Around the World in 80 Days.

More Resilience

Yesterday I caught a performance of "Resilience". As the show's flyer noted: "A circus show about mental health and the ability to return to your original form after being bent, compressed, and stretched."

On March the 29th I posted a heads-up piece:

A friend of mine is involved in the Toronto-based theatrical troupe, Lookup Theatre. I've been given the brief on what they are all about and the work they do, which has spurred me on to post this piece. Lookup's show for this season is titled "Resilience" -- it's part of the TTYL ("Talk To Youth Lately") circus.

I was very impressed. In no way was I anticipating anything less than competent, but when the 'curtain dropped', my heart was won.

Years ago I lost a friend to suicide. 'Jim' and I hit it off in high school but kept in infrequent touch once we went to separate post-secondary schools. The news of his death was a shock, as is often the case: Four or five days before he took his own life I happened to bump into him when I was visiting Toronto with friends. Jim was smiling and appeared to be happy, but the meeting was odd; almost uncomfortable.

"It's me. Simon."

"I know. Hi."

"See you later...."

Friday, April 27, 2018

Cutting the Myth - What George Lucas Won't Admit

The following article I wrote as a spec piece. Indeed, I sent it to several newspapers shortly after Star Wars creator George Lucas made it known that he had no intention of releasing the original Star Wars film, Star Wars, on home video....DVD or Blu-ray. (He eventually capitulated and authorized its release as a low-grade bonus disc, bundled with the real version of Star Wars - A New Hope. The 1997 re-release model.)

My piece was rejected by the few publications I submitted it to, including the Los Angeles Times, but after I watched The People vs. George Lucas recently, I felt I should just pop "Cutting the Myth - What George Lucas Won't Admit" up onto this blog.

Here is my story:

George Lucas will not be releasing the original, original Star Wars -- the old and undesirable version, not the 1997 “Special Edition” -- to Blu-ray. He claims, the immense costs involved would make doing so prohibitive.

While Mr. Lucas is known for his sleight-of-hand cinematic tricks, I must give the man credit for his persuasive sleight-of-mouth. The media repeats the Space Lord’s decrees with nary a micron of questioning.

Someone, if not a passive press, owes the fans an explanation -- at least one devoid of George Lucas’ mythologizing. He should keep some myths up on the screen.

Mr. Lucas seems bent on burying the movie so deep that even his own intrepid archeologist Indiana Jones creation could not find it.

In the time of Star Wars' original production, this is how movies were assembled: The film that physically ran through the camera, once exposed, is taken to a lab to be processed. Prints are then immediately struck so the picture editor may start to assemble a show. The picture image on this particular print is a positive one. That is it looks normal. It is not a negative image.

The company responsible for producing visual effects (Industrial Light & Magic, in the case of the original Star Wars) generates original footage -- like TIE-fighters doing their tricks -- and in the case of any ’overlays’ -- such as blaster and light-saber beams -- is given the necessary section of film where the effect is to be popped-in.

Then, the optical house produces a final negative roll of the effect. This short piece of film -- there will be many more -- is called an “optical negative”. As this bit of film was re-photographed, it appears on the big screen to have more contrast and grain when compared to the general live-action footage.

Once the editor and producers and director decide that enough is enough, “this is our movie”, the cutting copy, or workprint, is presented as the final cut -- the picture is what is termed “locked”. On this workprint are markings made with grease pencil indicating to the optical house where fades and dissolves, and in Star Wars’ case, a lot of wipes are to be created.

Again, the necessary sections of negative (which ran through the camera) are sent to the optical house. As before, they re-photograph these film elements in order to make these standard film effects.

These completed optical negative sections are delivered, as are the camera negative rolls and visual effects rolls, to the negative cutter, who assembles -- very carefully! -- the final movie, one shot after another while using the workprint as his or her guide.

These assembled reels comprise the finished movie.

When the negative of Star Wars was pulled out of circulation in 1995 in order to initiate work on the Special Edition it was discovered that the space classic was in bad shape. In the case of Star Wars, and a lot of movies made back in the same era, there is another nagging problem: In the many years since the actual film stock was manufactured, exposed, and processed, the colour layers have faded to varying degrees.

The restoration of Star Wars is beyond the scope of this article so we will just say that through some meticulous work, the final negative was reconstructed and refurbished where necessary. In effect, a new negative was built so work on the Special Edition could be started in earnest. In order to replace the old visual effects shots with the new ones, they were removed from the restored print and filed away.

What can be done to allow for a new film-to-tape transfer of the original version would be to pull out the discarded sections from storage, and then transfer those bits and pieces to HD. Next it would be a matter of transferring the rest of the film.

There is some work involved in this reassembly, but it is nothing compared to what was required on Vertigo (1958) -- a major reconstruction and archival effort and one which certainly did not have the financial payoffs that Star Wars would bring.

This new ‘file’ can now be run through from first frame to last in order to dust-bust, or whatever else needs to be executed as part of a final polish. Star Wars can now be released on Blu-ray to a video store near you.

If the above is not accurate, George Lucas can offer his personal “Technicolor” print. The word is it's in fabulous condition, with intact colours, plus it was struck from the original version. While a “release” or “projection” print is optimized for a film projector's Xenon lamp, a Technicolor one would still make a lovely transfer.

At this point, with all the built-in controversies attached, I think most Star Wars fans, and people like me, would be very happy with a solid, if not picture perfect, rendition on Blu-ray.

It must be said -- and I’ve really got to get this point off my chest -- that the modern myth that is Star Wars was created from prints which ran through film projectors back in 1977... Not 1997! (Or afterward.) The creator himself -- the Lucas Unit -- has forgotten this little piece of interstellar trivia.

Of course, my opinion on the restoration of the real Star Wars means nothing if George Lucas did something as devious as leaving the movie's original negative rolls lying un-spooled in the California sunshine. For heaven's sake, let's not give the man any ideas.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Toronto Maple Leafs: There's Something for Everyone

For the fans: Watching the Leafs in action.

For the haters: Watching the Leafs' inaction.

The "Leafs Curse" May Be Its Fans

Leafs Nation is not elated today: Last night their beloved Toronto Maple Leafs got trashed by the Boston Bruins in game seven of the best-of-seven series.

It was just the first round of the National Hockey League playoffs, but that's all the Bruins needed to set an example. The ultimate K.O. (Knock Out) round.

"It's over, it's allll over!"

This morning I found out that Leafs star player Auston Matthews produced just one goal in those seven games. Goaltender Frederik Andersen was inconsistent. The defensive line was just a blue line. Theories are abound attempting to explain why the Leafs, who enjoyed a successful regular season, by any measure, lost engine power in just the first round of the NHL playoffs. I do not believe in curses, but, there may be some credence to a "Leafs Curse".

Maybe it's the fans. They show up and pay habitually for massively overpriced tickets, satiating the team's greedy owners, Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment Ltd (MLSE). Producing a loser is every bit as profitable as producing a winner, it would seem. And keeping fans in line is easy, in more ways than one.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

As I Said About a Leafs Defeat (The Elimi Nation)

I did not watch most of game seven tonight between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Boston Bruins but I did catch the last half of the third period. The Bruins came back from a one goal deficit at the beginning of the final frame, pumping in four unanswered goals to defeat the "Buds" by a score of 7 to 4. (For some strange reason this reminds me of game seven between these two clubs back in 2013: Boston was down by a few and blew back to eliminate Toronto from the playoffs there, too.)

Here's my post from April the 14th. Oh, don't forget to pick your favourite "hot type"....

Yes, the Habs (the Montreal Canadiens ice hockey club) are gone and are probably readying a stream of golf tournaments. As a longtime fan, I understand this incontrovertible fact....dear old friend; Leafs Nation, friend.

Sport casts reality we cannot accept, at times.

Habs fan or not, I can easily imagine sports writers casting hot type a week from now:

"The Leafs have some issues to address before they can promote themselves as serious Stanley Cup contenders"... "It was a fine regular season run but it goes to show you the playoffs are a much tougher league"... "All those young Leafs players have to be convinced it's important to carry their play from the regular season into the playoffs"... "It's been said the playoffs separate the men from the boys; an aphorism which required but a few games to entomb a certain club in ice"... "The facts are incontrovertible: the Toronto Maple Leafs' icebound scramblings were not good enough."

Check back here a week from now....

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Friday, April 20, 2018

Trenton Dam Spill

Another view of Trent-Severn Waterway Dam at Lock 4, Trenton, Ontario.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Tonight, No Contest

The voices on my radio are telling me the Toronto Maple Leafs are up against the Boston Bruins tonight. It's game four; the Bruins are up two games to one.

I'm going to watch it. No. No need.

This DVD sounds more enticing; the plotline, far less predictable: England is Mine. It's about some guy named Morrisey. I've heard of him but know next to nothing about him. A clean slate. Excellent.

I know way too much about the Leafs, which means I know how it's all going to end for them.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Shut Up and Shout Out

A shout-out congrats to an old friend of mine, Jean-Denis Rouette: I found out today that he has been nominated for a Canadian Cinema Editors Award in the category of "Best Editing in Feature Documentary".

JD cut Shut Up and Say Something, a 2017 documentary on Canadian spoken word artist Shane Koyczan.

The CCE Awards are handed out next month here in Toronto.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Again: Russia Did Win the Space Race. And How!

Right now, this very hour, TVOntario is rerunning part one of Cosmonaut: How Russia Won the Space Race.

On June the 7th of 2016 I wrote the following post:

Yes, Russia Did Win the Space Race. And How!

Tonight on Ontario's superlative television network, "TVOntario", plays 'part one' of the fine BBC documentary film Cosmonauts: How Russia Won the Space Race.

That great race to the island in the sky was won clearly by the USA, leaving the USSR in Earth orbit.


The contest itself was not only of note, but of one note.

The Soviets were never serious about the affair. I won't go into a political history lesson here, but suffice to say, where the Americans hit the moon several times their opposition stayed in town, so to speak, establishing an outpost around Earth in the form of the Salyut (and later, Mir) space stations. On these platforms they learned about human physiology in weightlessness and conducted numerous scientific experiments.

From the Soviet Union's "feigned" moon attempt sprouted the outstanding Soyuz spacecraft, modified versions of which ferry men/women and supplies to the International Space Station today. (This space cadet considers the Soyuz "system" to be one of the great man-made machines.)

Throughout the 1960s the game became the moon: the ice hockey net; the basketball hoop; the goal line and the uprights. Easy to say in hindsight, yes, but there was a whole field to be played.

There's so much more to the story.

Cosmonauts: How Russia Won the Space Race
Tonight at 10 p.m. on TVOntario

Monday, April 16, 2018

That's It?

Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario leader Doug Ford has adopted an intoxicating campaign slogan: "For the People."

That's it?

I was expecting something more profound from them: "Making this Great Province Great Again."

"Keeping it Simple."

Sunday, April 15, 2018

At the Feeder

Trump's tweets are your Froot Loops.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

The Toronto Maple Leafs a Week from Now?

Yes, the Habs (the Montreal Canadiens ice hockey club) are gone and are probably readying a stream of golf tournaments. As a longtime fan, I understand this incontrovertible fact....dear old friend; Leafs Nation, friend.

Sport casts reality we cannot accept, at times.

Habs fan or not, I can easily imagine sports writers casting hot type a week from now:

"The Leafs have some issues to address before they can promote themselves as serious Stanley Cup contenders"... "It was a fine regular season run but it goes to show you the playoffs are a much tougher league"... "All those young Leafs players have to be convinced it's important to carry their play from the regular season into the playoffs"... "It's been said the playoffs separate the men from the boys; an aphorism which required but a few games to entomb a certain club in ice"... "The facts are incontrovertible: the Toronto Maple Leafs' icebound scramblings were not good enough."

Check back here a week from now....

Friday, April 13, 2018

Trenton, Ontario: Dam at Lock 4 - Part One

Trenton Dam - Water In, Water Out

The Trent-Severn Waterway in Ontario, Canada, has a few dams and locks. This one is Number 4 and it's located in Trenton.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

A Flying Machine Rests Near CFB Trenton "8 Wing"

I'm guessing this is a Finch? (It looks almost mechanical.)

CFB Trenton "Contact" Newspaper

As I've written about a few times on this blog I was an "air force brat" in my youth. While my dad was never stationed in CFB Trenton, we flew out of there when he was posted to CFB Baden-Soellingen, West Germany, and our return trip four years later ended when the Boeing CC-137 aircraft touched down at the base.

Needless to say, I have an attachment to CFB Trenton ("8 Wing").

The Grind Coffee Cafe - Trenton, Ontario

As my regular readers can probably surmise from my last few postings, I did visit Trenton, Ontario, Canada, recently.

One attraction, certainly to me, as I found out shortly after my arrival to that town, was a cute little coffee shop called "The Grind Coffee Cafe". What struck this Torontonian was how "Queen Street West" the place felt....but without the weirdos -- I'm kidding, of course.

Trenton, Ontario, Canada: Famers' Market Off-Season

... the view from the bench above:

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Monday, April 9, 2018

We Learned This Morning....

... or late last evening:

The Toronto Maple Leafs will be matched with, and eliminated by, the Boston Bruins.

Let the games begin!

Saturday, April 7, 2018

An Effective Combination

Tonight my favourite National Hockey League team, the Montreal Canadiens, are playing my least favourite, the Toronto Maple Leafs.

My beloved Habs have had a lousy year, and will not play past the soon-to-end regular season, but they can give the playoff-bound "Buds" a taste of what awaits in the first round: a hammering to submission.

It's possible the Canadiens will provide the Leafs, and its fans, with even more false hope and allow the _____ to apply an essential education.

Friday, April 6, 2018

A Quote From the Chair

All in the Family, which ran on CBS from 1971 to 1979, is one of the greatest of all television programs. A friend reminded me today of a classic Archie Bunker quote:

"No bum that can't speak poifect English oughta stay in this country...oughta be de-exported the hell outta here!"

There are lots of Archie Bunkers out there.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Just a Question

On TVO plays a documentary. The subject matter is interesting.

Why is there music scoring? It's a documentary!

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

That's Why!

Ron Hobbs is one of Toronto's finest storyboard artists; he's also funny, especially when he riffs about things observational.

When we get together there is an almost free-form discussion about films. Ron and I will often trade war stories about our own film and television careers, and I told him one such tale where I applied for a job as an art director on a science fiction film called Proteus....

Two people in the film's production office interviewed me, then I was handed a script to read. As is common in the business, the script was numbered and I was to read and return it promptly. Somewhat buoyantly I departed to absorb the film's blueprint.

"What the?...." I read more pages.

"This sounds awfully close to Solaris." It was a page-turner, due to the fact that I was reading an almost exact copy, a transcription, of the Tarkovsky feature film (based on a novel by Stanislaw Lem).

Time to return the more ways than one. As I handed the script back to the gentleman who had interviewed me, I said: "This is almost an exact copy of Solaris." His face did not frown, just neutralized.

Ron made a good point as he laughed out: "That's probably why you didn't get the job!"

Sunday, April 1, 2018

A Load of New Pics on My Instagram

A new mix of photography, design work, and sketches:

April Fools' Gold

Doug Ford, the leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario, has some difficulty in basic comprehension.

Every year here in Ontario, Canada, there is a much anticipated release of a document called the "Sunshine List"; a rundown of public sector workers who make an annual salary of over $100,000. Mister Ford has a problem with the 2018 list. Fine. He spoke recently of how there are too many people on the ever-growing list and that there are many workers in this great province who have not had a raise in years. Fine.

The trick is this: Mr Ford has been a vocal opponent of the Ontario Liberal Party raising the province's minimum wage.