Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Three of My Favourite Treks

1. "THE CITY ON THE EDGE OF FOREVER" - So much has been said about this episode that I can only repeat where others have gone before: brilliant; moving; "gold" (as one film school mate of mine said).

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

The Guardian of Forever is one of the most remarkable characters from the entire series, in addition to being a strong and unforgettable image ("the doughnut"). Actress Joan Collins is not reading lines for some tv show, she is Edith Keeler; sweet, noble, and strong. William Shatner, as Captain Kirk, proves he is an outstanding actor. He makes you believe that he has fallen for Keeler, and somehow, with a little help from the various production departments, does it all in much less than fifty-minutes. Kirk's pained expression at the story's end is a Master-Class Moment... he says not one word. (Screenplay students, take note.)

Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, who enjoyed many fine moments as a team throughout the series, have never been better together than they are here. The interplay is that of the kind expected between friends caught in a hole, but the dynamic of Commanding Officer and subordinate is never lost.

Director Joseph Pevney guides everything with an experienced sure hand (it does not hurt that the man started out as an actor). Composer Fred Steiner wrote an affecting score, at key moments weaving his own music with the old penny arcade song "Goodnight Sweetheart".

Special note: Harlan Ellison wrote the original script, and if you are aware of the seismic events of the behind-the-scenes story, you know that the feisty writer was upset that his work was rewritten (by several people). My take on the subject is that Ellison's teleplay was so good that it was almost impossible for someone to screw it up. It's a gem of a story. (Ellison's original script went on to win a Writers Guild of America award, and the filmed show went on to win a Hugo Award and to be regarded as possibly the fairest Trek of them all.)

Punchline: This episode is one of the greatest examples of hour-long dramatic television that I have ever seen. Period.

"Let's get the hell out of here."

2. "BALANCE OF TERROR" - We have a cool-looking and iconic alien spaceship (the Romulan "Bird of Prey"); three-dimensional 'baddies'; Enterprise crew-members we grow to like, and not so much, in a very short time; a great musical riff; affecting and dramatic space action (with spaceships firing at each other from positions thousands of miles apart, the way it should be); an absolutely superb script; and a moving denouement.

It all starts with a wedding....

Basically a retelling of The Enemy Below, a fine and exciting film from 1957 starring Robert Mitchum and Curt Jurgens, "Balance of Terror" throws, seamlessly, a love interest into the greater picture in addition to replacing a destroyer and a U-boat with two mighty starships ("The Praetor's finest and proudest flagship...").

At the risk of over-simplifying an arguable point I will say that only Star Trek could pull off a story like "Balance of Terror". Conjuring up space-battle-action on the script page is easy (and relatively cheap to render visually, today), but to fuse it so impeccably with a people-story that matters seems to be the great unsolvable equation for many a filmmaker; especially these days. Firing phasers and photon torpedoes mean nothing, except to the worst of the geeks, if you don't underlay science fiction-type artillery with a narrative of emotional weight -- otherwise, it just ends up a story of procedures and protocols.

The Romulans manning the great Bird of Prey are not given short shrift here. The anguish of doing the right thing for home and country, and the Praetor, while at the same time wondering what it all really means at the end of the day, injects the 'enemy' scenes with more than the typical shallow stock bad-guy shenanigans. The Romulans have emotions, too; a vital lesson in today's political climate of readily labelling any opponent as "scumbags".

The bookends to this technically and tactically oriented tale are basically that of love and loss. ("Spoiler Alert", all decks!) Captain Kirk has another job responsibility, outside of giving the expected orders necessary in running a ship-of-the-line; one of consoling a bride who lost her loved one in an aimless and unnecessary war ("It never makes any sense. We both have to know that there was a reason.").

I suppose the theme of "Balance of Terror" is loss: machine; pride; integrity; self; and humanity. A story for the ages.

"In a different reality, I could have called you 'friend'."

3. "MIRROR, MIRROR" - As my brother said to me a few years ago with rolling glee, after watching this episode earlier that day, "('Mirror, Mirror') has to be one of the most entertaining pieces of television ever made". Rarely has a television series' regular cast had such an obvious field-day playing, with great aplomb, a step or two outside of the usual sandbox.

Jerome Bixby's script is from teleplay-heaven. It should be studied in screenwriting classes. I'm serious. Every word of dialogue, every scene, every motivation, counts and drives the story forward. There's a plate-full of tasty dialogue ("Indeed, his act warrants death."); the 'other' Spock is delectably dark, but still Spock; there are memorable characters who are essentially just walk-ons ("Yes!, Sir!"; "Smart boy, switching to the top dog."); and as evil as this alternate world is, everyone, bad guys included, has a sense of humour -- even if they don't mean to be funny.

Fred Steiner's score is classic, full of memorable and standout themes for tension, romance, and horror. Cinematographer Jerry Finnerman turns the lights down a wee bit lower to enhance an off-kilter world featuring a ship-load of cutthroats. Series costume designer William Theiss clearly had fun developing less "conservative" Starfleet attire for the I.S.S. Enterprise crew.

My most personal admission for "Mirror, Mirror" is that it did not resonate for me, really, until my teens. I remember watching it one weekend afternoon when I was seventeen, and suddenly the episode exploded into 3-strip Technicolor. Sure, I loved it as a kid ("Spock with a beard"), of course, but a little life experience was needed to process and fully appreciate all its themes; and to 'see' its delicious humour.

This line, more than any other perhaps, in a script which is loaded to begin with, may illustrate the overall tone of the alternate universe Enterprise perfectly....

"And my Sickbay is a chamber of horrors. My assistants were betting on the tolerance of an injured man. How long it would take him to pass out from the pain."

Monday, March 28, 2022

It Happened at The Boxcars

While firing up the BBC's website this morning, I saw the news about what happened at the Oscars last night: Will Smith hit Chris Rock? Sounds like assault to me. I briefly read-up on what happened; while Rock's joke was obviously in bad taste, and done in front of a large audience, Smith has charm and he should have used it here.

Now to BBC-2 radio....

A Forever Question: Faceoff

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

Sir. Would a hockey stick and puck help one achieve one's goals?

Sunday, March 27, 2022

An Experimental Film Short from The Funnel, Unways


In February of 2017, I wrote a piece on my experiences with Toronto's experimental film collective, "The Funnel" (1977 - 1989). My involvement with the group was from sitting in front of a screen during late 1984 and early 1985. Those twice-weekly screenings were more than worth my time, but for some reason, probably because I was in my first year of film school at that time, I did not become a member or get to know any of the gang.

One such (filmmaker) gang member was Paul McGowan.

While looking up "the funnel toronto" on YouTube last year, I stumbled upon the above short, Unways. Immediately I spent fifteen minutes sitting in front of my monitor screen soaking up the filmmaker's early-1980s Super-8 effort.

It was time well spent, as I became immersed in Mr McGowan's film; losing myself in its hypnotic flashes, its fixed stare looking down the length of a TTC (Toronto Transit Commission) subway train car. In some ways, Unways reminded me of Jonas Mekas' hypnotic 12-minute flickerama, Notes On the Circus (1966).

Paul McGowan enlisted the help of Funnel stalwart John Porter in execution of the time-lapse photographics, and for the fine audio track build, he worked with T. Michael Cluer. 

I wish more Funnel shorts were on YouTube.

Saturday, March 26, 2022

Leonard Nimoy as Mister Spock

I learned just minutes ago that it is Leonard Nimoy's 91st birthday today. The late actor began playing the legendary television alien character in "The Cage", Star Trek's first pilot film. In November and December of 1964, when that "episode" was shot, the actor was just 33 years of age. Little did he know how memorable Mr Spock would become in the history of entertainment. Through his portrayal of one of television's greatest characters, in one of the greatest of all dramatic television programs, Leonard Nimoy will never truly die.

Book: The Kids in the Hall (Myers)

The Kids in the Hall
- One Dumb Guy -

Paul Myers

House of Anansi Press

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Perhaps It's Time to Saturday Night Fever Again

For reasons unknown I did not see Saturday Night Fever upon its first release in December of 1977. However, I made up for that missed opportunity in early 1993 when the fabulous Bloor Cinema here in Toronto fulfilled its role as a top repertory movie house. In 1992 alone I saw about 150 movies there. What was playing was not an issue at all to this movie fan: I would pop out of the subway -- "Bathurst" station -- on my way home from work and pop into the royal movie place. (Once I double-dipped without realizing it. "I've seen this; when it came out.")

I was glad to finally get around to seeing the Fever. Much of the audience had seen it, that much was clear to me. They howled during the opening credits sequence, specifically the very low shot of John Travolta's boots Ping-Ponging to and from the camera lens. I too laughed. Awesome filmmaking. Later, when the star applied the essential 1970s hair blow-dry, the audience went nuts.

I loved the film, as a film. It deserves its "classic" status. The dance scenes are almost transcendental.

Absolutely, Saturday Night Fever is a wonderful and joyous piece of movie entertainment; even with the non-PG moments.

Monday, March 21, 2022

CD: Never Mind the Bollocks (Sex Pistols)

Never Mind the Bollocks
- Here's the Sex Pistols -

Sex Pistols

Universal Music Operations
(this release)

A Forever Question: Return to Sender

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

Sir. Does the saying 'foot the bill' mean 'to kick it to where it came from'?

Sunday, March 20, 2022

CD: Revolver (The Beatles)


The Beatles

EMI Records Ltd

Sunday Fun: Back in Premier League Action!

Back in November of last year, in the interests of real productivity, I made the decision to "pause" my DAZN account. This creative likes to think that he's good with time management (I don't watch any television, for a start), but he also knows that his love of football can be a wonderful distraction -- cutting into reel productivity.

A few days ago I noticed that my account had been automatically reactivated. (That's right, I had picked a random day in March as my restart date, figuring that I'd be "done" by then. What emoticon could I insert here?....)

Great news! I picked today as my Premier League football restart day.

When I went to grab a 'snip' for this posting I noticed that a match was already in progress.

"Well, get on it, my son!"

Thursday, March 17, 2022

Should Toronto's SkyDome Be Given Its Name Back?

The name "SkyDome" was not my first choice. A contest had been held in 1987, while the structure was under construction, to come up with an appropriate moniker for this new and impressive soon-to-be stadium; the first one with a "fully retractable roof".

Although I never submitted anything, I came up with my own pick very quickly once I heard about the contest: "Trillium." It just happens to be the official provincial flower of Ontario. (Attention, some American readers: Toronto is in the province of Ontario.) In addition, "Trillium" sounds "big" -- it does to me, at least.

Once the name for Toronto's new stadium was chosen and announced, I was underwhelmed. "SkyDome? That's totally uninspired." (Totally.)

Now I like that name. It's certainly better than "Rogers Centre". To be honest, most Torontonians don't say "Rogers Centre", and rarely do I hear the stadium referred to by that name unless I'm listening to a Sports news reader on the radio. "Live, down at the Rogers Centre....".

No, "Sky Dome".


Post Notes: I survived the SkyDome opening ceremonies back in June of 1989. There was a contest at work and I won two tickets, so in turn I took my old school mate Jorge to the promised grand event. It turned out to be an all too tacky affair. More than once during the song-and-dance stuff Jorge and I cracked up laughing. He said to my left ear, "What's with all the Broadway numbers?"

To impress, the dome was then opened. The sky had opened.

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Notes from a Brat: The TV Lunchbox Kids Again

When I was a child in the 1960s and early 1970s TV-themed "tie-in" lunchboxes were a big thing. The colour screen on the box's exterior was probably more important than any nutrients carried on the inside. The graphic was part of your identity: Perhaps you were a Bonanza fan, a "Bat-fan", or you gravitated towards the Irwin Allen fantasy shows such as Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea or Lost in Space. It did not matter whether or not these dramatic television programs were good (most were not) but the lunchboxes were a way of advertising our programming -- a statement as to what we little ones thought was cool on television.

I remember sitting on the school bus one day, waiting for the vehicle to finish loading up kids outside of the CFB Baden Elementary School (in then West Germany). A fellow traveller in the seat immediately in front of mine had in his possession what must have looked to me like a pretty specimen of a lunchbox: It had a rich green trim; it showed some futuristic vehicle; it was adorned with the title Land of the Giants. (What's Land of the Giants? I learned something new and important.)

My favourite of the TV lunchboxes was the one for Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. The artwork, lame on many themed boxes for some inexplicable reason, was absolutely dynamic here: The front-of-box illustration depicted the submarine "Seaview" approaching a giant (giant!) octopus that was resting, but looking mighty angry, with the Flying Sub in its tentacles, on the ocean floor.

I never did get that lunchbox, simply because I never asked for it. My own box was of no TV-theme. It had a tartan pattern with the thermos inside sharing the same pattern. For all its blandness, that lunchbox served me well. When we moved back to Canada there was no need for this piece of school equipment as my school, Frederick Campbell Elementary in CFB Borden, was a few minutes walk from the house. I'd go home, eat, and pop on CFTO and meet The Flintstones.

Also, by this time the television series' Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and Land of the Giants had been cancelled. Suddenly their tie-in lunchboxes had become worthless....

Monday, March 14, 2022

Book: The Germans (Watson)

The Germans
- Who Are They Now? -

Alan Watson


A Forever Question: Nocturnal Admissions

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

Sir. Why is it that, too often after 'turning in', one 'turns over', and over, and over?

Friday, March 11, 2022

Designer Ghouls of the Graveyard Set

A happy set designer poses with his creation. Note the unfinished left side of the mausoleum. This was done to save money. The right side has a full wall.

The creator poses with the set's ghoul. I'm on the left. (The top photo should have been a clue.)

An early sketch, sans ghoul.

Wednesday, March 9, 2022

Commonplace Book Sample 3 (On Bukowski 2)

John Milton kept one, and I keep one. A commonplace book is a great method for taking notes when one comes across an interesting song lyric, a poem, a quote, a conversation overheard, something witnessed, a random idea that hits with little or no provocation or warning.

These bits can be put down in text form, sketches, or both. Whatever works best for the notetaker at that stitch in time. Referring to a commonplace book and its contents weeks, months, or even years after the ink was set on paper, can be inspirational and instructive. "Oh, that's what spurred me on."

I'm good at making mental notes, but more often than not, if it's "not written down" when the bolt strikes, it eventually, at times too quickly, gets lost with the storm as it moves on.

If you read a lot, a commonplace book is a good companion; for writers, this book is essential, or at least it should be.

On February 16th, I filed the first part on my commonplace book entries on the late writer/poet, Charles Bukowski. As I stated in that piece, I'm a big CB fan (of his writings more than some of his behaviours).

In part two's scan, we see that I was on a roll entering truths and wisdoms about artists' creative processes and inspirations: notes from Bukowski, William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Leon Trotsky, and Bukowski biographer Barry Miles. What does influence your sequencing of your keyboard's, or typewriter's, keys? What pushes your pen/pencil-equipped hand as it streams over the paper?... as if scripting around a Ouija board?

The unconscious mind is known to any creative artist. Where does it come from? (Well, this comes from my effort to complete something before my pasta finishes boiling....)

Flukey the Flower's Return

Flukey thinks he has it bad.

Monday, March 7, 2022

A Forever Question: Signals

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

Sir. Should we have taken that left turn at Albuquerque?

Tuesday, March 1, 2022

They Were Freedom Fighters

A Lancaster bomber flies over Toronto. As "aircrew" (RAF 626 Squadron), my dad bombed Hitler's Eagle's Nest on one of these machines.

(That's right - Antifa!)