Tuesday, December 26, 2023

Monday, December 25, 2023

A Christmas Trek Tradition

Christmas is great when you're a kid. This morning I thought about my favourite memories. Quickly I nailed one: 1970.

(After reading that, pretend you have a faulty memory. This is more correct: "He posted about the Christmas of nineteen-ninety.")

My favourite present that year was the AMT "Star Trek U.S.S. Enterprise Space Ship Model Kit".

(Star Trek was sparking hot. The series had finished its NBC network run only eighteen months earlier. Toronto television station CFTO was running/stripping the episodes at 5pm on weekdays.)

It was not a simple plastic model kit as it was "lighted". Small light bulbs, included in the box, could be inserted into the top and bottom of the primary hull (the saucer-shaped portion) and at the front-ends of the engine nacelles (those long tubes). The former were capped by green-tinted discs, and the latter were topped-off by amber-tinted domes. My mother helped me with the wiring and the insertion of the lamps' power source: a D-cell, not included with the kit, sat in the secondary hull (the bottom tube-like section).

Building a model kit is fun, but seeing the completed AMT U.S.S. Enterprise suspended from my bedroom ceiling was a trip, and it looked great with the bedroom light off.

I remember something else from Christmas Day 1970. My dad was in the process of carving the turkey when he looked over at the Zenith television: "I'm surprised this is on today." (The episode was "The Return of the Archons".)

Fond Christmas memories.


Sunday, December 24, 2023

Notes from a Brat: Christmas Eve in West Germany

Having a father in the Canadian Armed Forces plopped me down into a slightly different culture: West Germany ― the Bundesrepublik Deutschland (Federal Republic of Germany). While listening to the radio a few years ago I heard a piece about whether or not it's cool to let the little ones open their gifts the night before Christmas. This brought back memories: some bright, some dark.

As is the tradition in that great nation, opening the boxes and wrappings is done the night before. A then little one, me, not only did not complain but decided then that Germany is one great nation. I remember well one Christmas where our landlord and his wife came up to say hi and to present us with presents. I remember mine: a Matchbox toy of an early 20th century automobile.

Roll back a few years to my first Christmas in Germany. Santa Claus back in 1960s Deutschland was not a big thing ― if you'll pardon the expression. Saint Nick, however, was. Well, let me tell you what that man did to this then five year old. One evening my parents summoned me to our apartment's entrance. Standing inside the door was a tall figure, a woman (probably a teenager), dressed up in full Saint Nick attire. My mother said "look dear" as she pointed at my shoes which were parked neatly on the mat. I saw it, an inanimate thing in one of my shoes... a lump of coal. ("Noooo!")

I, dressed fashionably in what some crude folk might refer to as a "wife-beater shirt", held both hands up to my face and started crying. My parents laughed. It was not funny.


Monday, December 18, 2023

Majel Barrett ― Number One


Majel Barrett's first appearance in Star Trek was in "The Cage", the first pilot show. Here, playing Number One, she was billed as "M. Leigh Hudec", which was her real name ("M", short for "Majel", of course). 

For the series proper, the actress, now "Majel Barrett", played Nurse Christine Chapel. The frame below is from the first-season episode "The Naked Time".

As illustrated in that early episode, and later in "What Are Little Girls Made Of?", Ms Barrett was a fine actress ― perhaps Nurse Chapel was underused.




***

Majel Leigh Hudec

February 23, 1932 - December 18, 2008

Sunday, December 17, 2023

Article: Chuck the Security Guard & The All-Night Show

There are markers in our lives that we remember more often than not with fondness. Memories of the entertainment world make for some strong pull-backs later in life. Popular music, films, and, especially, television programs are penciled into a mnemonic diary, allowing us to get all warm and fuzzy years or decades later when someone at a dinner party states with gleeful nostalgia: "I never missed The Six Million Dollar Man. Eight O'clock on Sunday nights was my special time."

Television programs we watch in our youth and childhood are with us forever, whether we like it or not. ("Gilligan's Island? Never heard of it. I don't know what you're talking about.") However, what often happens is that when we later dip our toes into those same waters, we find the sensation less pleasing or satisfying than what our memories of the experience suggested. Times change and time moves, all but destroying sentimentality in their paths.

Some programs are exempted, of course. For me, one of these survivors is a short-lived live-to-air production by the name of The All-Night Show, which ran from September of 1980 to August of 1981 on originating station CFMT (“MTV”, or "Multilingual Television"), UHF channel 47. Having sampled some bits recently―bits are all that survive―I was more than surprised at how reputable my memories of the show were.

Chuck the Security Guard was the host of TANS. The premise was that the station's dependable night-shift security staff of one had the run of the station in the wee hours, the all hours, of the night. The guard with video-switching abilities would run episodes of old television series' like The Outer Limits and The Twilight Zone (they were just 15 years old then), industrial films from some years past, Betty Boop cartoons, old movie trailers, and independent shorts. Having time to kill between the programmed materials, Chuck joked around with the off-screen, never to be seen, Ryerson the Cameraman, and with him staged gags or bits that U.S. late night host David Letterman would popularize coast-to-coast in the following years. There was one bit I remember where the guys trekked from the studio proper to the building's roof. From there they aimed the television camera at a phone booth that was on the opposite side of the street below. Guess what they did....

In reality, Chuck was played by Toronto-based actor, writer, and comedian Chas Lawther. Although reserved in real life (in the interviews I've seen him in), Lawther was having the time of his life while in front of the TANS camera. In his sporty but standard duty uniform and white sneakers, Chuck now bears some resemblance to Pee-Wee Herman. No doubt his slightly lanky build furnishes some of the visual similarities, but, unlike Pee-Wee, Chuck is an adult while still exhibiting some child-like mannerisms and enthusiasms. Watching TANS today convinces me that this way of playing the character was the right one. After all, don't we like it when someone looks as though they are enjoying themselves? The byproduct is we, the viewers, enjoy ourselves.

Occasionally he would be asked, usually through a letter he read on camera, to say hi to someone such as a faithful viewer. To oblige he would stand, take on a professional security guard pose, point, and yell “hey, you”. Chuck's always welcomed call of "hey, you!" quickly became the signature piece, for both the character and the show.

Speaking of characters, the guest stars of Paul Del Stud and Fran the Nurse were always a special treat. You never knew when one of them was going to show up to visit with friend Chuck. Fran seemed to be forever knitting and Paul was perpetually shooting off his mouth about 'this is how it is'. Great stuff for a teenage viewer.

This was the tone of a typical evening with the dynamic security guard and his all night show. Unfortunately, it all came to a crashing halt after one season. The show we slowly but surely discovered and grew quickly to love deeply was canned by the suits at "Chuck's" station, CFMT-MTV. I remember an interview with one of the head honchos soon after he cut the strings. He spoke words of finality I shall never forget: "This station has to start thinking about making money." From a financial standpoint the decision made some sense, perhaps. The fact is that even though we saw only Chuck, and heard only Ryerson, there was a crew in the control room and studio.

I do understand these words, the order in which they are assembled, and what they mean―they are straight to the point, without subtext, and are non elusive or evasive―but I also understand that when you have a 'hit' like TANS, it can end up paying dividends to the producing company. In fact, media ratings systems at the time pointed out that Chuck was bringing 'em in. The problem for CFMT was that franchise companies, like Pizza Pizza, weren't sure they wanted to buy late-late night advertising slots. For the duration of the show's existence there were lots of commercials for small businesses, which are great and valued customers but they don't pay the big dollars. The All-Night Show needed a little more time to build a strong advertising base, stocked with at least one big customer. “Chuck's” solid viewership numbers certainly would have allowed the station's sales department to charge commensurate ad rates, but it was not to be.

CFMT continued to promote the show after the cuts, but without Chuck at the switcher it was not the same. It could not be saved with a line of 'Hey, don't fret, you can still watch your favourite oldies on CFMT's The All-Night Show!'. Like many Chuck fans, I tuned into the new version and saw the opening title card; an old series or short came on; I pressed the 'off' button.

Static.

Fizzle.

We dedicated viewers loved the show's original format. It was a major part of its appeal. It was live!

And it still lives.


***

Note: A much "electronically simplified" version of the above piece premiered in Toronto-based writer Greg Woods's print publication The Eclectic Screening Room, issue 21.

Greg's blog: The Eclectic Screening Room





Wednesday, December 13, 2023

A Book About 2001: A Space Odyssey

In 2018 the book Space Odyssey - Stanley Kubrick, Arthur C. Clarke, and the Making of a Masterpiece was published. Writer Michael Benson tells an absorbing tale of how one of the greatest motion pictures came to be ― its birth and life, and continuing life. Kubrick's masterpiece refuses to give easy answers. For me, thinking about 2001: A Space Odyssey is as pleasurable and natural as watching and listening to it.

2001 is magnificent, something I've 'known' since I first saw it at the age of ten. That screening is perhaps the most profound movie-going experience of my life to this point in time and space. (From what I can gather, there are no threats on the horizon). And it resonated with me to such a degree that it stayed with me for weeks; months. Of course being so young did not exactly help me understand the film from a thematic perspective. I saw the flick at CFB Borden's Terra Theatre with my next door neighbour and friend, Glen. We were shuttled home by his older brother who gave us the rundown as to what we had just seen and not entirely understood. Our chauffeur had read Arthur C. Clarke's book version, which functioned, and still does, as published footnotes for its celluloid brother. (A few months later I grabbed the book from the Ontario Science Centre bookstore during a school trip. So eager was I to assimilate the code-book that I started reading it on the bus ride back to the base.)

Every screening of 2001: A Space Odyssey renews my love and respect for one of my favourite pictures (a picture of art). And more is revealed.

Mr Benson's Space Odyssey gave me a much greater understanding of how the cosmic mind work was conceived, developed, and constructed: a special universe built by many talented people. That story is a page turner.


Friday, December 8, 2023

Thursday, December 7, 2023

A Trek Back to December 7th, 1979

I was reminded this morning that today's date is December 7th. What is it about this day, besides the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941?

On December 7th, 1979, I stood in line with friends for some movie that ended up disappointing many people ― even though it went on to make a lot of money ― but became the favourite film 'in the series' for some.

Star Trek - The Motion Picture was, and still is, a polarizing piece of celluloid. "We get it, you hate this movie." (The dirty little secret is a lot of fans do not like ST: TMP for the simple reason that there are virtually no "starship battles". Boo. Hoo.)

One thing's for sure, it is still the biggest budget Trek of the bunch, the only one given "A-picture" status by Paramount Pictures ― not that it means anything outside of trivia circles. However, the studio was not entirely happy with the box office results; even though the film brought in the bucks it was not highly "profitable", which is proportion of money made compared to money put in. While touted as soaking up 42 million production dollars, its real cost was about 28 million. (In its zeal to promote TMP as being epic in cash outlays, Paramount included the costs of the aborted Treks: the motion picture of a planned 1976 release, and a return to television scheduled for 1977.)

More importantly, that great cast was back, even if their magical chemistry was seemingly put on hold for 132 minutes. One hundred and thirty-two minutes.

What do I think of the picture now? Well, the last time I saw TMP, years ago, I liked it... more.


Wednesday, December 6, 2023

CD: Saturday People (Prozzäk)



Saturday People

by
Prozzäk

Sony
2000


***

There before me, in a nice pretty little row on the long work table, sat 30 to 40 1-inch videotapes, resting, waiting for this video tech to run them. My boss briefed me: a gentleman was requesting we compile music videos for a 'music video jukebox'. Fine, even if my professional brain knew that I might not be able to do the entire set on my shift; after all, there were other 'jobs' on the board. And music videos, one on each 1-inch master tape, hardly a pop-and-play format, would require constant attention due to the average running-time of 3 to 4 minutes each.

"Labour intensive", as we say.

Mike, the gentleman client, came by briefly to introduce himself. Nice guy, and very knowledegable about videotape formats. We talked about the beauty of 2-inch "Quad", and, of course, 1-inch... our tape format for the night.

I warmed up the Ampex VTR and started the job of compiling exciting music videos. The process was straightforward, just requiring those waveform and audio-channel adjustments at the beginning of each tape run, as per the normal procedure, and the manual starting and stopping of the destination Betacam SP recorder.

A few songs in, as I slouched at my desk, with my back to the machine-rack monitors, a tune caught my ear. I reacted the way any fan of Tchaikovsky's music would:

"That's 'Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy'!"

I spun in my chair to take note of what video it was that pulled me away from filling out my latest entry in the 'run sheet'.

A week or two later I bought the Prozzäk album Saturday People, expressly for that song that made me sit up: "It's Not Me It's You!"


Trivia: If I still had the "Sam's" sales receipt, it would be dated September 10, 2001.

Saturday, December 2, 2023

Book: Douglas Adams (Adams)



Douglas Adams
- The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy -
Five Novels in One Outrageous Volume

Ballantine Books
May 2002