Monday, May 29, 2023

A Forever Question: The Providers

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

Sir. Would a cat wager fifteen quatloos that we are untrainable?

Monday, May 22, 2023

Victoria Day Post: HMS Victoria

As it's Victoria Day here in Canada, I thought it might make some sense for me to post something with the name "Victoria" on this day. A few years ago I read a fine book titled Castles of Steel - Britain, Germany, and the Winning of the Great War at Sea.

Written by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Robert K. Massie, the amount of detail brought to life by a wonderful sense of story-telling is most impressive.

John Rushworth Jellicoe (1859 – 1935) was Admiral of the Fleet in Britain's Royal Navy during "The Great War" (better known today as World War I); Massie spends some time giving background to "Jack": Guys like Jellicoe did, and still do, their time on a series of warships before reaching the top office. One vessel on which he served in the late 1800s was HMS Victoria; and he almost drowned after the ship was accidentally punctured by another. When the 'bang' happened Jellicoe was in bed with a dysentery-induced 103 degree (Fahrenheit) fever. He ran up to the deck to see what had happened. Not long after he began to help fellow sailors abandon the sinking Victoria, the once-mighty battleship started to capsize. In the name of "every man for himself" the executive officer fell off the side and into the sea. As Jellicoe noted in a letter he wrote to his mother after the close-call: "The curious thing is that my temperature today is normal, so the ducking did me good."

This hull-head was not familiar enough with that Royal Navy vessel, so, naturally, I consulted Wikipedia: 

On it I saw a photograph that I had initially believed to be a contemporary painting. The image has a painterly quality, making my error understandable. It is a lovely, multi-textured photograph ― taken in 1888....

A Forever Question: Our Friends

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

Sir. Have you noticed that we humans are not the only animal to love cats?

Sunday, May 21, 2023

Book and Digital: The Jerry Goldsmith Companion

Anyone who knows me is aware that I'm a big fan of the late film composer, Jerry Goldsmith. Since high school I've been into the art and craft of film scoring, but it was Goldsmith who made me realize that genius is not confined to the concert hall... though he did write for that venue, too.

Film/television-score journalist Jeff Bond has completed a monumental two-volume set on the composer. The Jerry Goldsmith Companion - Celebrating a Musical Legend is in Kickstarter mode right now:

The Jerry Goldsmith Companion - Celebrating a Musical Legend The definitive, a two-volume chronicle on the career and music of one of cinema's most respected, accomplished and versatile composers

On order! Special thanks must go to publisher Taylor White of The Monolith Collective.

I also want to thank the old friend of mine who sent me the above link, with an appropriate subject line: "Whoa!"

When I opened the link on Thursday, the amount pledged on Kickstarter at that point was at around $50,000... it's now approaching $105,000, and there are still 25 days to go. (The target: CAD $25,643)

"Each volume offers a full, chronological account and scholarly study of not only his feature films, but radio and television work—most of the early projects are barely remembered today—along with occasional non-film commissions. These books will appeal to a wide readership ranging from intense devotees and passing enthusiasts of Goldsmith's works to seasoned academics and budding music students.

You’ll experience these timeless scores as never before with remembrances from many of Goldsmith’s most renowned collaborators, including directors Franklin J. Schaffner, Ridley Scott, Richard Donner, Joe Dante, Michael Crichton, Paul Verhoeven, Peter Hyams and Phil Alden Robinson.

Each book also showcases new insights from many of Goldsmith’s most valued collaborators, including recording engineer and producer Bruce Botnick, orchestrator Conrad Pope, Goldsmith’s agent Richard Kraft, soundtrack producers Douglass Fake and Robert Townson, and renowned author and historian Jon Burlingame."

Saturday, May 20, 2023

Poem: Apotcalypse Now and Again

The end of a cultured Canada didn't come

Canadians did not awake to reefers from dry lips

Convenience store owners have not grown rich

Zombies and their likes have not increased in sum

Some thought we'd all be done

So, my friend, smoke another one....


Simon St. Laurent

Sunday, May 14, 2023

Picturing: Planters at Walmer Road Baptist Church

This afternoon, while walking up Walmer Road here in Toronto's beautiful "Annex" neighbourhood, something caught my peripheral vision: milk crate planters... lots of them... rows of them.

Seedlings are sprouting at the east end of Walmer Road Baptist Church.

It's a beautiful day here in the city: warm in the sun; cool in the shade; with much greenery.

A Forever Question: Set for Dematerialization

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

Sir. Would a hand phaser make a good cat toy?

Saturday, May 13, 2023

Flash Poem: Whither Leafs? (Evergreen)

Whither Leafs?
To where does a withered Leaf fall?

To the manicured green grasses below
of course....


Simon St. Laurent

Monday, May 8, 2023

A Forever Question: Wear It

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

Sir. Why can't hats be more like cats?

Sunday, May 7, 2023

Book: The Soviet Century (Schlögel)

The Soviet Century
- Archaeology of a Lost World -

Karl Schlögel

Princeton University Press

Friday, May 5, 2023

Alan B. Shepard: First U.S. Astronaut in Space

"It was really exciting!"

When I was a little one of five or six years of age my mother told me the story of an important event from just a few years earlier. It was the United States of America's first manned spaceflight, and the astronaut's name was Alan Shepard. Everyone had gathered around the television to witness an important part of human history.

This was the first time they were able to see a manned rocket launch. The Soviets had not broadcast to the world, or even its own citizens, the lift-off of Vostok 1 three weeks earlier, and only after Yuri Gagarin returned safely to Earth from his orbital flight did they announce this stellar and humanity-changing feat. The name of the hero cosmonaut then travelled around the globe.

Citizens of the Earth could not be made to feel as participants in a great adventure until the National Aeronautics and Space Administration got to show its stuff.

Mercury-Redstone 3 ("Freedom 7") was to be a suborbital mission: Shepard's spacecraft would follow a planned ballistic trajectory. A big arc. The Mercury capsule would be shot into space, then float at high speed for some time before Earth's gravity initiated its re-entry.

One interesting element of the mission was that, unlike Gagarin's trip, which was fully automated, Shepard would take some control of his spacecraft. While up there, free from our planet's atmosphere, he manually operated the attitude control system in order to test Freedom 7's pitch, roll, and yaw capabilities.

The fifteen-minute voyage was a great technical success: The capsule went 101 miles up and flew 263 miles "downrange". The splashdown took place in the Atlantic Ocean. Shepard and Freedom 7 were recovered by waiting U.S. Navy vessels. (John Glenn's orbital flight would not happen for ten more months.)

Alan Bartlett Shepard Jr was chosen to pilot MR-3 some months earlier by Project Mercury head Robert Gilruth. Competition was fierce amongst the program's seven astronauts. Not only were these men skilled test pilots ― as were all U.S. astronauts in the earliest days of space flight ― but they were equipped with the latest in personality types: Gus Grissom, for instance, who would become the second American in space, did not say much minute-to-minute during training, but when he made it known he was about to whisper something to his fellow astronauts they would shut up, lean forward, and wait for the expected words of profundity.

Shepard, on the other hand, was more gregarious by nature. He not only spoke a more regular beat, when he had something important to relate you'd better be listening, and if you didn't take your work seriously or were at any time sloppy in your training, at least from his perspective, you got it.

They were of a special breed: Shepard, Virgil "Gus" Grissom, John Glenn, Scott Carpenter, Wally Schirra, Gordon Cooper, and Deke Slayton (who was grounded for medical reasons).

I know way too much about this whole subject. Before I go on any further I'm going to execute a deorbit burn. (See?)

But first:

On May 5th, 1961, sixty-two years ago today, NASA's star astronaut, Alan B. Shepard, became a trailblazer. The world watched as his Redstone rocket sat on a launch pad at Cape Canaveral:

"... light this candle!"

Thursday, May 4, 2023

Star Wars Day: Cutting the Myth Out of Star Wars

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 any ’overlays’ (such as blaster and light-saber beams), and 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.

Star Wars Day: Admit One Repeat

The forty-sixth anniversary of the original release of Star Wars is coming on the 25th of this 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.

Star Wars Day: Rumblings of Some Force

"... It's called Star Wars. One set alone cost twelve million dollars."

That is how I first heard of Star Wars. It was the spring of 1977. I had the Grundig stereo on in the living room and as I walked from the kitchen into the dining room I heard an on-air host from Toronto radio station CKFM say the magic words. My reaction to the announced set cost must have been one of awe ― I later learned that the movie cost about ten million dollars to make ― but it was the name of this mysterious new flick that really intrigued me.

Over the next few days I will tell, in serial form, the story from my perspective of how Star Wars hit not only the marketplace, but entered our culture....

That could have been the opening crawl to my series recounting my introduction to Star Wars. It all started for me when I heard that radio piece. But everyone has a different story. And already I've read a few online.

In the pre-Internet age, it was a different game.

After learning of a new and anticipated movie going into production, one had to sometimes dig to learn more than what was readily available from the mainstream media outlets. For most pictures the wait was, more often than not, off our radars.

However, do not think for a moment that pre-release or pre-production hype used by the major film studios is a recently developed tool. Films from the 1970s were following an old model but with new tricks. Promotional featurettes, shot on 16mm film, were taken to a refined state during those years. Major studio productions like The Poseidon Adventure, The Towering Inferno, and King Kong were promoted heavily while they were still in production. In the case of Kong the casting of the new beauty was covered in local and national newscasts. I remember watching Buffalo television station WKBW late one evening and seeing newsfilm of Jessica Lange on stage holding a bouquet of flowers (it was a press conference).

Who could forget watching the excellent and dynamic promotional film showing the production crew of The Towering Inferno doing their magic? Irwin Allen directing over John Guillerman's head by using a megaphone was exciting and memorable. ("Mister Newman!") Accompanied by an authoritative but not staid voice over, bulldozers dug down into a sound stage floor in order to give the already voluminous space even more fly. These promotional shorts were nothing less than recruitment films. "I want to do that!"

By the time big pictures such as PoseidonInferno, Kong, Earthquake, and The Hindenburg hit the screens, an educated, of sorts, audience was awaiting. And I was a member of that audience, in all five examples.

There was none of that for Star Wars. It just snuck up on us....

D.H. Lawrence on Life

“Life is ours to be spent, not to be saved.”

So that's why I'm such a chronic saver.

Wednesday, May 3, 2023

CD: Growing Up (The Linda Lindas)

Growing Up

The Linda Lindas

Epitaph Records

Tuesday, May 2, 2023

A Forever Question: Going Once, Going Twice!

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

Sir. Just to screw us over, would cats sell us to the lowest bidder?