Thursday, August 30, 2007


"When in London, England, make sure you visit the Museum of the Moving Image, or MOMI for short." That is something I would say to anyone about to visit the great olde city. The problem now, for me and my line, is that the museum apparently no longer exists. I know not why as the place was great for any movie or TV fans. For instance, at the base of one stairway was a Dalek from the Doctor Who series. As I was descending these steps I thought I was about to be mugged for a few pence. He left me alone.

Lady Luck was with me the day I visited as the major exhibit -- the travelling exhibit -- was a large collection of 'creatures' that Ray Harryhausen articulated as part of his animation work for various classic feature films. I recognized some dudes from The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad ("hey, didn't I see you roasting some guy on a spit?"), Mysterious Island, Clash of the Titans and so on. The bee from Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger was there too. "That's a big bee!"

I have pleasant memories of MOMI, although my personal favourite is of a certain young Aussie...

Wednesday, August 29, 2007


Back in 1984, September, I moved to Toronto to attend 'film school'. Even though the school itself was in the burbs I decided, with a little help from 'fate', to live in the downtown area. After all, the commute was only an hour or so as I lived right on a TTC subway station. Fairly close to me were several repertory movie theatres (now there is just one) and many other amenities usually associated with living in an urban environment.

Having said all that, there were not the number of cafes that there are now. What a difference a few years makes. I didn't drink coffee way back then. As a matter of fact that habit didn't start until I got into 'the biz'. Thankfully I did not take up smoking.

What is good is sitting in a cafe and reading a book, non-fiction of course, or writing something... anything.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007


Watched Papillon last night for first time in a few years. It's one of those cases where you notice a DVD in your collection and it begs to be played. I don't have a large DVD collection -- I tend to rent them instead of buying -- but there are still a few more to go. Roger Corman's superb feature, The Pit and the Pendulum, is next up.

I saw Papillon when it was first released. I, along with two of my buddies, raved about it. As a matter of fact, as we departed the Terra theatre back in 1973 we all agreed that the movie should win a bunch of Oscars. The film's powerful ending had a lot to do with shaping our opinions at the time. The Oscars have never impressed me so I admit I don't even know how this movie performed that useless night.

It cannot be forgotten that many of the emotional notes are enhanced by composer Jerry Goldsmith's gorgeous score. Another marker score to convince me that he was the cat's whiskers. Oh, Steve McQueen was great in the lead role.

My opinion has not changed over many screening in the years since. Director Franklin J. Schaffner added this one to his cap. A cap already decorated with classics film such as Planet of the Apes and Patton, not to forget the underrated The Stripper.

Artists, including self-proclaimed ones such as myself, have a saying: A version goes something like, "I wish I had made that movie".

Sunday, August 26, 2007


Harlan Ellison is famous for a few reasons -- look him up on 'wikipedia' -- but the big one, in my eyes, is the fact that he is a superb short story writer. The type of short story Ellison is known for is, as he likes to say, 'speculative fiction'. Not 'science fiction', and certainly not 'sci-fi'. (For more on the Harlan Ellison/sci-fi issue look this up too on the net. You can also key-in 'Forrest J. Ackerman'.)

Now, before I get too carried away here I must admit that I don't read enough fiction. I read an awful lot: I always seem to have a book, magazine, Globe and Mail newspaper, pamphlet, or even 'bills' in my hand. But these are all known to be 'non-fiction' (that phone bill certainly is and books have been known to be fiction at times). The fact that I stay away from fiction, for the most part, is kinda strange considering that I love stories and storytelling. ("No, dear, I was out with the guys last night... honest.")

Let me recollect my thoughts for a moment; years ago I read a couple volumes or collections, as it were, of Ellison's short stories. "Stalking the Nightmare", which is actually a mix of fiction and not, convinced me that this man is a talent -- and Harlan can continue to be a testy jerk; it's his right. Again, an Internet search will fill you in if you don't already know (he doesn't like to be stepped on). His collection of true stories about the dark side of television (1968 - 1970), bound under the title, "The Glass Teat", appealed to this writer's obvious interest in that form... and all its darkness.

The punchline is that "Stalking the Nightmare" and "The Glass Teat" are rare items: A friend of mine has these books but will not lend them to anybody. Can't say I blame him.

On next week's episode: More Harlan Ellison.

Friday, August 24, 2007


I reviewed all my blogs recently just to see what common themes or trends there are. My, oh, my. Am I a geek or what? I suppose it goes with the territory as 'Hyper-Reality' is what it is. You won't find any sports or business writing here unless, of course, they are related to the 'idea'. But what you do find here, at the moment it would seem, are lots of references to 'geek' things. There is no need for me to repeat what you can survey from reading my various blog entries. Yes, I do like "important" things. There is a great All in the Family moment where Archie Bunker is hassling Mike ("Meathead") about not liking what he should be interested in. Archie says to Mike, "you like stupid tings... start talking about important tings; like what the Jets are going to do about Joe Namath's bad knee".

Believe it or not -- and I try to remind or convince myself on a regular basis -- I am interested in many things with equal passion: Aviation, shipping, engineering, medicine (in a 'layman' way), technology, history, warfare, architecture, and art history are just some of the things that can captivate me. I like oceanography and things that swim in, or crawl around the bottom of, the sea. I love seafood; eating things that swim in, or crawl about the bottom of, the sea. What is bliss for me? Well, I can start with a big plate of seafood... and an episode of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (first season).

Wednesday, August 22, 2007


A few years ago I picked some items up from a friend's house. While there, this friend told my helper and me that he had some Gilligan's Island episodes collected on video tape. In addition to this he also had some 'weed'. In went the VHS tape and out came the 'stuff'. (I must state that I 'smoke up' very infrequently.)

The episode rolled -- it was the one where Gilligan, in order to gain favour with some visiting natives, marries the fat daughter of the tribe's chief -- and we lit up. I sat closest to the television and every time there was some funny stuff happening on-screen, my buddies, who were sitting behind me, would crack up laughing: While laughing uproariously myself, I was thinking, "wow, man... the laugh track's in Stereosonic Sensorsound!" Well, my lord, for a show which is funny under normal conditions, smoking some fine 'grass' while watching only convinces you that it is Art. And there were things I never noticed before. The 'smoking' proponents are right.

This experience reminds me of a Bob Dylan song; one which he has yet to write, "Fine Grass and Gilligan's Island". Back in film-school a classmate of mine once proclaimed, "you know what show is hilarious when you're on 'mushrooms'?... Batman".

Gotta go...

Tuesday, August 21, 2007


I just completed teaching a couple of 'general film/video & green-screen lighting' workshops. A lot of fun was had by all. I've lit 'green-screen' before but these past sessions just reminded me of the wonderful technology and the visual effects possibilities. And at cut-rate prices compared to just a few years ago. Once you shoot your subject in front of this special background you then load your footage into your computer and the real magic begins. (Get some footage of Lindsay Lohan, that was shot of her standing in front of a green-screen, then you can matte her into a jail cell or a rehabilitation facility... and you can keep her there for as long as you want.)

All joking aside, you realize that this technology described is the reason most Hollywood 'fantasy' or 'sci-fi' movies today come off as lame. Who needs a script? My take on that is you can always shoot an actual script later against a green or blue-screen and matte it over the completed movie. Ah, actually, most film or studio execs are not too bright... don't tempt or encourage them.

Thursday, August 16, 2007


Considering my advancing age, I still am not old enough to remember seeing the television series, Naked City, in its original run. (It ran from 1958 to 1963. My earliest TV-sucking memory goes way back to 1966. Impressive, huh?) The first time I was introduced to it was in 1978 when the Global Television Network -- 'formerly known as a good network' -- started playing it around midnight. I was in high school then and I remember that my fellow students and I would often ask each other whether or not we had watched Naked City the night before.

We probably asked, "where have you been hiding all this time?" The show is outstanding. I have caught a couple episodes of the modern versions of City... programs with the names of Homicide, NYPD Blue, and such; fine shows in there own right, from what I have seen, but very inferior to their obvious model. Isn't that the way it normally is, though? Fans of current series always think that 'their show' invented everything -- this is what I call fandom arrogance and ignorance: This is fine in itself as you can't expect 'fans' to be little television series historians. They watch what is presented to them. If it isn't on TV then how do you expect the average viewer to see older or more elusive programming?

Naked City was filmed in glorious black and white. Apparently, the new home-video versions of Naked City are beautiful to look at. (Like most old shows, the negatives have not been touched since printing elements were first struck to make the original air-dates. Copies for syndication were printed from these 'interpositives' and 'internegatives' made off the original camera negatives. Don't listen to these DVD reviewers who use the term "clean up" -- which they do so to an extreme. The original negs are 'mint' because they have hardly been touched!) Television series shot in B&W suffer greatly in the modern syndication market. As a matter of fact it is not uncommon for a TV station or network to bypass the early B&W season(s) and go straight to the later colour ones when airing an old show that was a mix of the two. Any show photographed in shades of grey only, or short in seasons, suffers greatly in the rerun market. The Outer Limits (1963 - 1965), one of the greatest of all time, ran only one and a half seasons and was fittingly shot in B&W. This is why most have never seen it. (Even though Limits and The Twilight Zone are two different shows, the former is superior; but few know that as Zone ran for five years making it rich for syndication.)

I saw a lone episode back in 1988 when CKVR -- a station that used to be outstanding -- started running Naked City late at night, along with Mission Impossible, The Outer Limits, and others. Why, oh, why were shows so much better then than any now? Hold on a moment, why has my computer screen gone 'pinky'? Oh... that's better. I didn't think it was the monitor. Back to the story: I was watching CKVR late at night and thought what I was seeing was a movie. Whatever it was had just started and whatever it was looked very cinematic in style. "What could this movie be?", I asked myself. "This can't be a television series." Just then, the opening titles for Naked City came up. Oh, that's why...

Tuesday, August 14, 2007


How 'bout those classic film studio themes? I have long felt that you can get a sense of someone by asking them what their favourite studio logo theme is (if they have one). Of course, there is the famous 20th Century Fox fanfare... probably the most identifiable one. My favourite has always been -- since I cared, at least -- composer Joseph Harnell's 1980s United Artists fanfare. It's plays superbly well with that cool visual of the slowly rotating and revealing 'UA' logo. I find there is something about that theme that cannot be put into words. Later, and with clueless aplomb, the studio decided to change to a lesser piece of music and equally pallid graphic -- androgenous and neutral in its ineffectiveness.

My real beef is when these 'older' United Artists films or television shows are re-released on video or broadcast television and have been 're-striped' with the more recent incarnations of the studio ident. Somehow these executive yard birds feel that the "new and improved" branding will cut through any lame nostalgia and put their product in a better light... if you'll pardon the pun. (This reminds me of the time Mike Stivic of "All in the Family" said, after looking over some groceries that he had just bought, "everything is 'new and improved'... what was it before, 'old and lousy'?!")

I remember watching an episode of an old television show with a producer friend of mine back in 1988 and as that great 'UA' tune and logo played through, he turned to me and said, "it makes you feel as though you're watching something important". Yes, that is it!

Trivia Time: Fox's fanfare was composed by Alfred Newman; Warner's was done by Max Steiner; and the current Universal one is by Jerry Goldsmith. Impress your buddies with these important facts next time you suck back that Cappuccino.

Friday, August 10, 2007


Some progress is being made with Toronto's new 'super-studio' complex. Building is happening down somewhere on the waterfront after years of promises to give the city what it needs to attract the big shows -- films with big budgets that require a few sound stages at once. Toronto's big problem in the studio department is that it has never had a big studio complex with all the fixin's. Cinevillage was a sort of half-hearted attempt to fill this need but even with some studios added to the group over the years it never has become a real 'studio city'.

Even though I have agreed with the notion that Toronto was lacking its own Elstree, the problem is, now especially, there is no real need for it. The Canadian dollar is powerful, effectively nullifying the big attraction for American producers; that is the traditional weakness of the Canadian dollar compared to our neighbour's which translated to X-amount of extra cash added to a movie's budget due to this relative difference in the two currencies... it was an extra 35 cents to each dollar or more for some time. That was a very palpable excuse to be a 'runaway production'. And now there are a lot more places in the world to 'runaway to'. Other districts are not about to sit idle and not want in on the green-stuff.

The other problem, and it's a bigger one in my book, is that Toronto does not have a 'film industry'. You cannot depend on foreign productions to utilize a big studio to the point where it is profitable. The investors are in it for the money, which is no surprise. Studio or sound-stage rentals is big income for the owners of such a complex. You must have occupancy. Here in Toronto there is no industry, so there is no line-up of productions looking for expensive stage space. The math is easy; the reality, sobering.

Monday, August 6, 2007


Director Hewitt was a magician on stage before he turned to making films -- and films that displayed photographic trickery. While being given a tour, in the early 1960s, of Los Angeles-based Cinema Research Corporation, the filmmaker was introduced to the 'optical printer'. This device sandwiched, photographically, various film elements to make an optical composite and did so up until a few years ago. As a guy who liked showing slight-of-hand, the optical printer opened up a whole new world for Hewitt in his cinematic endeavours. The downside of all the above is that Hewitt was accused of favouring visual effects over story... he seemed to throw together a script just to supply a vehicle for his 'magic'. Another criticism leveled at the filmmaker is that he tried to stretch already tiny budgets -- and one's which would have been put to the test on straightforward 'story' fare -- to cover scripts which required more than they could possibly pay for. In 1967, Hewitt made Journey to the Center of Time and this too suffers from exactly the same malady.

David L. Hewitt went on to make a few more films but eventually settled down to running his own 'optical house', supplying effects to other films. Good for him. You have to give it to the guy, though. He got together financing to realize his dreams; that is of making films to satisfy the magician in him... and hopefully some of us movie fans.
I don't remember seeing The Wizard of Mars on Sci-Fi Theater. I must have missed it.


WUTV, or 'channel 29', a television station broadcasting out of Grand Island, NY, and before it became an affiliate of the (garbage) Fox Broadcasting Company, used to play a program in the 1970s entitled Sci-Fi Theater. (Note U.S. spelling of 'theatre'.) This show was essentially a framework device -- no onscreen host, just a voice accompanying a human eyeball shot in extreme closeup -- for various classic science fiction and fantasy feature films. If I remember correctly, Sci-Fi Theater ran on Sunday afternoons at 4 p.m. Attack of the Monsters, Voyage to the End of the Universe, Demon Planet, Queen of Blood, Godzilla vs _____, were just a few of the pictures shown on the programme. Arch Oboler's low key 1951 science fiction jewel, Five, might also have played but I don't remember. As a matter of fact, back in the early to mid-seventies, Five played in high rotation on a few television stations in southern Ontario. I watched it just about every time... could not get tired of seeing that film, I guess.

A film I do not remember seeing on Sci-Fi Theater was The Wizard of Mars, David L. Hewitt's film made in 1965 under the banner of his American General Pictures company, for a the tiny amount of $33,000. It was inspired, if you haven't already guessed, by L. Frank Baum's book, "The Wizard of Oz". In this case four astronauts become stranded on the surface of Mars and hope to reach safety (finding their rocket's main stage) before their oxygen runs out. Their journey takes them very slowly over and under the Martian surface. To be honest, this film is a bore. The stranded crew spends most of their time walking or sitting as they conjecture about this or that. The plot moves at a Martian glacial pace.

They eventually find a Martian city, with a little help from a certain yellow path, and meet up with a vision or projection of a guy who looks like verteran actor John Carradine. He has quite a long speech to give to our intrepid astronauts but does so with some conviction. Carradine was the professional -- he gives a little something even though he appears only in the last ten or fifteen minutes of running time. I'm sure he didn't object to what must have been some easy money and a short shooting schedule; and no doubt understood that having his name attached to the flick added some marquee value for distribution and exhibition purposes.

I saw a bit of this film on late night TV a few years ago and found it a tough go. It has been really hot in Toronto lately and when I watched a DVD-R (supplied by a friend) of Wizard one evening last week, this heat made the proceedings even more uncomfortable. But hey, I made it to the end and can't say that I didn't find it enjoyable at all.

(To be continued... )

Friday, August 3, 2007


Three years ago I was going through one of my many phases where I was renting a lot of movies from my favourite video store here in Toronto, Suspect Video. But because I was so busy at the time I had the habit of making VHS dubs at work as I seemed to run out of time before I got around to watching many of them. As I was working at a video company in those days it was an easy matter to make copies. It became too easy. Well, I have decided to start watching these tapes.

Last week I knocked off Ghost World, Terry Zwigoff's film from 2001. It wasn't too bad, although not the keeper that I heard it was at the time from a soul or two (which is typical). There was a pace that I liked and it had well defined characters. One ingredient in Ghost World did hurt a little and that was that stock quirky 'lets have a weird thing where we have some old dude waiting for a bus that never comes... and then it actually comes at the ending as the protagonist finds herself, a little'. Why do some filmmakers think that 'goofy' means 'quirky'? I will never know.

Tonight's feature on the upper decks was 24 7: Twenty Four Seven (1998). I liked the rawness of it -- and Bob Hoskins was good as usual -- but not a lot else. The characters lacked any real depth; this is interesting considering that you would expect more from a 'story film'. The writer and director must render characters at least to the point where you, as an audience member, can react plus or minus when plus or minus-type things happen to the characters. This film struck me more as a bunch of roughly connected, let's go towards the finish, scenes instead of nice and efficient moments which reveal personality as important and analogous to what story is being told. Having a bunch of unlucky or down and out males in a depressed area of England is fine in itself but there must be some progression. Having various sorts meet up at a boxing club to go for that inspiring and life-affirming moment constructed by the filmmakers only means something if there is just a little, tiny, at least, bit of forward movement. Advancement through a ticking clock is not necessarily forward movement. Hey, that happens anyway. By the end of the movie, everybody was, more or less, the same as they were when we first saw them. The one good by-product of such methodology is that some folk will claim that the scriptwriters didn't sell out by having the typical rags to riches story, or at least a happy ending. They might have a point. (As a note, if you want to see how well this kind of film can be done -- depressed town in England with down and out characters -- watch Lindsay Anderson's 1963 flick, This Sporting Life. A nice blend of ingredients and ultimately successful. And a terrific film sporting an outstanding Richard Harris.)

Next entry: Now for something completely different... last night I watched David L. Hewitt's 1965 feature, The Wizard of Mars (starring John Carradine). I will explain tomorrow on Sci-Fi Theatre.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007


Here is a cheap way to open up a piece of writing: "I have a confession to make." Upon hearing the news of Michelangelo Antonioni dying, I realized that I have only seen two films of his -- and the usual or typical picks at that; those being Blowup (1966) and his next film Zabriske Point (1970).

Blowup I first saw in the summer of 1988 and I enjoyed it thoroughly. The film, to me, was definitely 'artistic' in nature but also very accessible. It was not so 'out there' that I could not imagine the average movie-goer not being able to sit through it. The filmmaking had style and personality. The plot was a very simple, that being a London photographer (David Hemmings) snapping a picture of what turned out to be a possible murder. This plot was the carrier in exploring the internal aspects of the photographer's being -- with a little help from drugs and sex. I was in London, England, during the summer of 1967... about a year after this film would have been shot. While watching Blowup, many things came back to me. Many years later, Austin Powers took us back to this time and place, courtesy of art direction and music tracking but Antonioni was there at the time. Little did he know that his film would be a pretty important social document. It goes without saying that 'times were changing' in the mid 'sixties.

One thing that struck me during my screening of Blowup was the aspect of Hemmings continually blowing up the film negative -- to quite an extreme from the original view -- without revealing any real grain structure. (He had to do this to explore whether or not he captured the murder on film.) Maybe Antonioni was making a point here. Another scene stands out; a certain 'love scene'. I have long suspected that this particular moment influenced director Bob Fosse when he made Cabaret (one of my favourite flicks). The tone and feeling was much the same... in this case Michael York and his two lovers.

Zabriske Point used to play on a regular basis in the local theatre in the town where I lived in the early to mid 'seventies'. Of course, the film had recently come from the lab. It was replayed, I suspect, as the theatre owner noticed that people kept coming back. I didn't see it until ten or so years ago. It is all the average person might suspect... it is very 'artsy'. Now I like films with such monikers as I like all kinds of films, period, but this one probably requires another viewing. The overpowering impression Zabriske Point made on me is that it is both explosive and implosive.

It is time to start exploring more Antonioni.