Tuesday, July 31, 2007


Ingmar Bergman just passed away on Monday. A great loss to film and perhaps Woody Allen as he was heavily influenced by Bergman -- sometimes very directly, and much of the time, in flavour. Every film enthusiast has their own story on how they discovered the master filmmaker. My story goes like this: I was watching Second City Television (as it was called in its first incarnation, before it became SCTV) back in late 1976 or early 1977 and in one episode was the spoof film, "Whispers of the Wolf". This piece was more 'interesting' than 'funny' to me at that time... I found the skit, "Mike's Mercenaries" to be more my kinda humour. Obviously, one has to know the source material to fully enjoy the parody of. (As a note, Second City also did a film spoof on 'some French movie' which, as per my young age and very early film-going phase, did not fully appreciate that also.)

My all time favourite television show, All In The Family, which I started watching in 1976, had an episode where Mike ("Meathead") and Gloria were leaving the house to see "an Ingmar Bergman film". Edith glows and says to the two, "oh, I love Ingrid Bergman movies". Mike clarifies to Edith, "no Ma, Ingmar Bergman". I knew the filmmaker by name, even before witnessing Edith's confusion, but had yet to see any of his work. As I discovered Bergman, and 'foreign' films in general, everything started to make sense, especially the fact that so many artists would want to parody and be influenced by someone so special.

I actually needed a little time to more than like Bergman's film, The Seventh Seal. Its imagery was no doubt vivid and unique -- helped greatly by such a non southern California environment -- but the sensibility was more of an acquired taste. This screening I attended would have been at the Bloor Cinema in Toronto; the year would have been 1986, still relatively early in my film education. I saw Seal again several years later and, as the joke goes, the rest was history. In the mid '90s I watched Wild Strawberries on VHS tape and the magic was complete. Wild Strawberries surprised me in the sense that I wasn't expecting it to be so 'moving'. These are the two important Bergman films in my education as they were of some extreme to each other and convinced me of the director's status. I discovered other Bergman films and will discover more, especially now, but it is now time to revisit these two seminal pictures. Time to be moved and awed by a filmmaker who -- with great aplomb -- actually had something to say! And someone like Woody Allen, for example, will keep on saying it...

Monday, July 30, 2007


As soon as I fired up the computer this morning, and went 'online', the first headline that grabbed my attention was, "Film Director Ingmar Bergman Dies". The next headline was, "Tom Snyder Dies". I will need more time to collect my thoughts on the great Swedish film director but can reference Snyder now as I saw little of his shows.

The Tomorrow Show (with Tom Snyder) was something I first saw in TV Guide back the mid 1970s. It really caught my attention in 1976 when I saw this in said magazine: "(channel 17) 'Tomorrow'... The Star Trek phenomenon." I should mention that our television cable service did not carry PBS at that time. I was a little frustrated as I was an old Trekker, even then.

Years later, in 1995, a friend of mine gave me a VHS tape he had compiled of archived television shows. This Trek-themed Tomorrow episode was on the tape so I finally got a chance to watch it. (By this time, I was looking at the show as a historical document... my youth was in the past.) There was Tom Snyder in his flared pants. He was smoking a lot; you don't see that anymore. James Doohan, Walter Koenig, and Harlan Ellison were some of the guests. Harlan occasionally mocked the cast -- right to their faces -- by calling Star Trek "crap", or something to that effect. He was laughing as he dispensed this wisdom. Good 'ol Harlan! Superb writer he is. Snyder let this all happen and, as I remember it, broke out with that great laugh of his.

I was just speaking with a friend of mine a few minutes ago. He told me that Suspect Video (here in Toronto) has a DVD which contains four episodes of Tomorrow. This disc is in the music section of the store as the basic theme of the disc is 'Punk, and other such music' -- Snyder had various guests on from this movement.

This disc will soon be rented... and I should look for that VHS tape with the Tomorrow episode.

Sunday, July 29, 2007


Why is it that when someone holds a film screening, no one comes? Over the years I have attended various independent film screenings. These have shown a variety of short films, obscure and better known features, and the like. The resounding memory I have of these -- and am constantly reminded with recent examples -- is the generally low turn out... lack of bums in seats. What is striking about this is that I live in Toronto, which is considered to be a 'world class' city and one of the 'arts'. Not that people in smaller towns and cities aren't interested in such film programs because even if they did initiate a 'small house' screening venue attendance would undoubtedly be low as the base populations are so small. But for a city like Toronto this is inexcusable, if not a case study ready to be explored by some student of statistical analysis.

Perhaps a place like Toronto has changed. I do remember attending "The Funnel" on a regular basis back in the mid 1980s. This film group was dedicated to experimental film and video works and also to the odd 'live' (mixed media) show. Screenings were twice a week -- Saturday and Wednesday if memory serves me -- and I was there with my fellow classmates almost every screening. And the (smallish) theatre was full or close to capacity.

Thursday, July 26, 2007


The Simpsons movie is now out. My only question is, "why?" I saw an ad for it on television a couple of nights ago and was struck at how much it looked, felt, and smelled like one of the tv episodes. There is no point to 'blowing it up' to the big-screen. By the way, have you seen this show lately? I should ask, have you seen this show in the last few years? Polishing the patties... and I don't mean Homer's sister in law.

In all seriousness, there was no reason to make a Simpsons movie, well, not this late in the show's run, at least. (The Southpark movie was outstanding because making a big-screen version allowed the producers to do things they couldn't do on television -- I mean 'code' things, not so much 'technical'.) Come to think of it, Mel Brooks did the same thing when he made Spaceballs. He made it at least eight years too late. The joke is over and out!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007


Saw Ken Russell's The Music Lovers late last night. I wanted to comment on this terrific film right away but when the picture ended I was a little too tired to tickle the ivories... well, at least my computer keyboard's ivories.

This is one of those occasions where I wonder how I went this long before seeing a certain movie, especially when the flick in question is based on the story of one of my all time favourite composers -- Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Ken Russell clearly understood the music itself before he shot The Music Lovers, as everything is so nicely integrated: The visuals and music sing in harmony. They push together without one taking precedent over the other. (Much like director Eisenstein and composer Prokofiev did when they worked together as a team.) What makes this more remarkable -- on the surface -- is that most directors are clueless when it comes to the use of music in film, or their own films. They think it is something 'done in post'. Expecting these directors to explore a composer's body of work, or even a single piece of music, is beyond most of their capabilities. But, hey, that might just be something they are not interested in anyway. To each his own. Ken Russell is a film director who is more of an all-round artist, one who obviously understands great music.

The Music Lovers is a stylized exploration of a true artist. An artist who had his demons and conflicts, like many of the 'great composers', and one who's music demonstrated these forces. (Tchaikovsky wrote music influenced by a myriad of 'issues', not because he just happened to smoke some "pot".) By the way, this film is accurate in a broad-stroke sense. And yes, the composer did drink unboiled water and did die from cholera.

Tchaikovsky was a terrific tunesmith which separated him somewhat from "The Five" -- staffed by guys like Glinka, Borodin, Musorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov... composers who could write tunes themselves, and some great ones at that, but didn't flower as often as "Mr. T". As a matter of fact, it is often said that Tchaikovsky wrote music that was the least 'Russian' of the bunch. He certainly wrote music for all time.

Sunday, July 22, 2007


With the news of the passing of Tammy Faye I decided to read up on her. (Even though I saw The Eyes of Tammy Faye a few years ago I really don't know that much about the woman.) While reading Wikipedia, as part of this research, I came across the name of Benny Hinn. This reminds me of a funny story regarding me and a television listings guide. Around three or four years ago I was scrutinizing the weekly TV listings when I saw what appeared to be Benny Hill's name. I immediately thought, "oh, wow... who's playing Benny Hill?". My eyes had to only move over a few millimeters to the left. My internal voice continued, "channel 36 -- CTS -- is playing Benny Hill?!"

CTS, or The Crossroads Television Services, is a 'Christian' television channel pumping out of Southern Ontario, Canada. Now you can imagine my '?!' above. My mind raced at the time with images of Benny Hill shuffling lasciviously about not on a 'regular' television channel but a 'dedicated' Christian one. If this were to really be the case maybe viewership, or at least 'non-believer' viewership, would go up.

Friday, July 20, 2007


I met up with a film buddy of mine this evening to talk some productions business. Part and parcel with the meeting we sprinkled various film titles throughout -- reminiscences, mostly. It is amazing how many films one remembers from childhood. Occasionally, we would ask each other, "Robert Culp was in this made for tv movie... it is really good; what was that biker film that Adam Roarke was in from the sixties? (the answer was "which one?"); did you ever see that movie called Three Guys Named Mike? I saw it as a kid and really liked it; did you ever see Fireball 500 with Frankie Avalon?"... and so on.

All told, we recounted in some shape or form a couple of dozen flicks... of different budgets and eras. Dramas, science fiction, social responsibility or lack thereof, comedies, were the various categories. (I always knew we had varied tastes in movies.)

Now the trick is to track down a few of these films. Some are hard to find, while others are very hard to find. Some we could stop off at Suspect Video here in Toronto and pick off the shelf.

There is no way or enough time to catch up with all the movies I want to see, and just as importantly, haven't seen since my youth... (Just a few years ago.)

Wednesday, July 18, 2007


I'm all for creativity and making films. One interesting phenomenon is that of the 'fan film'. Star Wars, Star Trek, and Doctor Who are all victims of this type of filmmaking. I admit I have checked some out over the years and some display real filmmaking prowess. But, my attitude is if you are going to expend so much energy making a film -- and it takes a lot of effort to do this, even for the simplest and shortest film -- why not make something original? It's heartbreaking to see these things and realize that these energies are so misguided. I guess if it gives you pleasure, then go for it, but the reality is a lot of these people think they are going to be swept off their feet and asked by some 'power that be' to make a film for them. Good luck. Originality counts for a lot, believe it or not.

I remember seeing an interview a couple of years ago with Star Trek's brilliant production designer, Walter 'Matt' Jefferies: He recounted the story of some guy sending him beautifully drawn blueprints depicting the original Trek's studio sets. (This fan had taken the time to reference different sources to draw these.) Jefferies went on to say that he responded to the sender by boldly stating, "great job... now do something original!"

Tuesday, July 17, 2007


I seem to find ways to avoid writing an article that is due. I don't mean this blogging stuff, but a real article. Just came from upstairs where I was avoiding writing. On my 'telly' was "Coronation Street". What a lousy, miserable olde show! And what's this letterbox crap? I like crap 'full frame'.


Something just came to mind: I watched a bit of the classic 1976 horror film, The Omen, on television last Saturday night. Reminded me how fine that picture is, especially Gilbert Taylor's 'drizzly' cinematography. What I didn't need reminding of was Jerry Goldsmith's superb and iconic music score. I do have this score both on LP record and CD but would always rather experience a movie's score with the movie. (Admittedly, Goldsmith's 'Omen' music is outstanding on its own... as music. This isn't often the case with film scores. I remember listening to Goldsmith's sequel score -- for that dastardly sequel movie, "Damien Omen II" -- a few years ago with a good friend of mine, and one who lives by the film score at times, and after the final scream from the music's chorus, "Santani!", my buddy, in his best sardonic voice said, "let's go beat up an old lady!")

The joke is that this score garnered Jerry Goldsmith his only Oscar. The man (genius) tapped into something for sure.

My point is: Buy the music or do the evil thing and download it or burn it for free. And after you listen to it, you might agree with my old song that Goldsmith should have written more music for the concert hall.

Saturday, July 14, 2007


Yes, I'm back, just a few minutes after I posted my 'The Longest Day' entry. The television is on behind me. On it plays the CBC and the 'ceeb' plays "Minority Report". An action scene seems to be playing out. My attention is divided as I play on my computer but not so divided that I want to turn around because it sounds as though "The Empire Strikes Back" is running on television... or is it "Raiders"? Hold on a moment says my ever tired but always comical brain. You just said that "Minority Report" is on.

The answer for my confusion stems from the fact that, yes, you guessed it you movie trivia guys: John Williams scored all the films I have mentioned above. It is almost unreal how similar Mr. Williams music scores are. I could swear that what I heard playing minutes ago was the music from "Empire" (which does have a great score). I should mention that the "Minority Report" sequence I thought I was hearing -- or was sure I was hearing -- was the 'rocket packs up the side of the building' jazz. Pretty exiting stuff! It almost made me break away from my computer, even with all the confusion outlined above.

This all makes me want to be an artist when I grow up.


I just came off a long shoot day... it was all part of a '48-hour film challenge'. Got together with my producer buddies last night after they picked up the package. I looked over the DV camera (oh, I was asked to shoot the short film), helped with some of the script (a little) then went home to get ready for today's shoot.

Filmmaking is one of those things, or rather, professions, which involves long days where at the end of them you realize that you did a 10 to 12 hour session. Imagine flipping burgers for that long in one day. Imagine waiting tables for that long -- hold on, I know people who do. Full time filmmakers must find that life just passes them by. (The good news is, most film people -- or artists for that matter -- are only hot for a few years at best. Okay, those few years go pretty fast... and all those early mornings.) You really do get into the proceedings. Part of the reason must be that one is in a manic state, trying to shoot as many scenes and 'pages' as possible in what amounts to never enough time. Somehow it all gets done.

The actors on our show today were all quite good -- and good natured. This makes it all worth while.

The editing team is gluing it all together tomorrow for a 8 p.m. delivery. There were some technical glitches but hopefully these can all be fixed up as much as possible. The good news is the main 'cutter' is a pro... lots of television cutting experience.

That was a long day but hopefully one of many more. We had a good bunch today.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007


I remember first watching Doctor Who when I was very young. As a matter of fact, the first episode I remember watching was the first Dalek episode, "The Daleks" (also known as "The Dead Planet"). To be honest, with all due respects to Sam Kinison, this episode "scared the f___________k out of me!" I won't go into the imagery here, those little moments which 'impress' a young child.

Years later, in 1976, OECA (now more popularly known as TV Ontario) started the Jon Pertwee Doctor Who episodes. My first reaction as I saw the advertisements on the network promoting the show was one of tiny disappointment... "oh no, videotape", was my mental cry. Oh well, I did know the difference between film origination and that of electronic tape, but was willing to live with it. I enjoyed the show very much... lots of fun.

Here comes the new Who in 2005 -- March to be specific, and on the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation). Oh well, I did know the difference between good television and sub-par, especially when it comes to Doctor Who. My problems with the show took no time to formulate: Too many visual effects, too much talking (please, shut up!), crappy production design, and weak background music. I watched the first season sporadically but did notice that the same bleedin' space station appeared in two episodes in the first handful of shows, and I do mean 'handful'. Even characters started coming back within the first season... holy smokins. Can't you guys think of more stories? And what is it with so many Earth-based, I mean, London-based episodes? A lot of alien spaceships like to fly over the Thames -- just like Heinkel and Dornier bombers did during WW2.

Second season came and went without a blip on my 'scanner'. Some episode had lots and lots of computer generated special effects. (Lots of ways to not spend much money these days, there are.) David Tennant, unlike Chris Eccleston, does not seem believable as the famous 'Time Lord'.

Third season just came on and I admit I watched the first three shows. It is not getting better... it might be the worst it has been. Tennant doesn't believe. More Earth stuff and not exciting at that. One good joke in the 'Shakespeare episode', then the most recent show had lots of sky-cars flying over a modern metropolis but a lousy 'plot'... too many effects, too much talking, about nothing, and a phony, overly spiritual and dramatic ending accompanied by 'feature film' style over-the-top orchestral-sounding (and choral) music which crescendoed with this insincere and utterly soulless finale. (I really do miss those relatively quiet moments in the original Doctor Who show -- you know the kind -- where during the 16mm telecine inserts we see something rustling in the bushes as the audio track pumps out music rendered by a five-piece orchestra primarily made up of timpani, horn, clarinet, flute and bassoon. And this music is more effective than the more recent Doc's electro-synthetic and empty passages.)

Therefor I see no practical use for it... except to the die-hard fan.

As a teacher of mine said to me one day back in film school, with his wonderful Irish accent, "well, you can't win 'em all!"