Sunday, September 30, 2007


I watched my very first Family Guy episode last Sunday evening. Okay, I lie, I have seen a couple minutes here or there. What was significant about this episode of the animated series is that in the one hour, the entire very first Star Wars film was parodied. I do like the original SW movie very much, it's the best in the series (well, it's in a tie with The Empire Strikes Back, perhaps), so when I saw a newspaper ad for this installment of Family Guy, well, I had to put my pen down for an hour and watch.

It was pretty funny. Needless to say, the producers of FG poked fun at some of the irregularities and incongruities of the now iconic story. As I was a teenager when the flick first entered this galaxy, I did notice a few of these problems. Stewy, the little football-shaped-head baby played Darth Vader. During the conference room scene, Stewy, due to his short stature, is standing on the table. He asks the senator -- the one who is boasting the ultimate power of the new battle station, called the Death Star -- if there is a chance that the Death Star could be blown to bits. The senator admits that there is a tiny chance that if someone were to send a torpedo into a certain unprotected hole, well, the Death Star could be blown to bits. Stewy Vader freaks; he holds up his little hands and says, "whoa, whoa, whoa... that's a big design flaw!" He wastes no time in stating the obvious corrective measures, by asking, "could we put a piece of plywood over the hole?" I gave this moment my biggest laugh burst.

The funniest protracted moment or moments, and ones which would get me doing my patented rolling giggling laugh in perpetuity, started with the recreation of the trash compactor scene. While in the muck of water and garbage, Han Solo spots an old beaten up couch. He decides he has to have it; later, during the mad dash by our heroes through a hail of stormtrooper blaster fire in their attempt to reach the safety of the Millenium Falcon, Han and Chewbacca run with this couch across the hanger bay. After the others are in the ship, Han and Chewbacca try to get the furniture up the ramp. "Try tilting it this way and I will push", is the sort of business discussed while blaster fire continues to zip across the screen. As I said, I found this to be uproarious.

A less funny line but spot on in its directness happened earlier in the episode, as it also happened earlier in SW. That was the famous cantina scene where we are introduced to Han. Pudgy Luke Skywalker, played by the Family Guy's kid, I assume, decides to ask about the quality of Solo's ship. Just like the feature film's dialogue, the pirate answers, "... it's the ship that made the Kessel run in less than twelve parsec". Smart boy Luke, speaking for all of us, asks, "isn't a parsec not a measure of time but of distance?" Han quickly gets defensive; he waves his arms and says, "never, never mind!"

A good gag would have gone something like this: The SW theme music starts up and after just a few bars in, someone says, "... oh, for a moment there I thought we were going to be satirizing Kings Row".

Too obscure, I know.


I just came back from the 2007 edition of Word on the Street, which is a large-scale festival of books, magazines, and all things in between, held at the Queens Park Circle here in Toronto. My friend and peer, Greg Woods, is there manning his The Eclectic Screening Room (ESR) table. This year he is unloading a lot of his back catalogue in order to make room for the newest editions of the ESR magazine and some of its offshoot publications.

ESR is one of the finest magazines of its type. It focuses on B and Z movies, which is a form of film close to my heart. I find that it is actually possible for me to read the mag, cover to cover. There is such a variety of films
discussed in each issue that every article, to me, is interesting reading. I have heard of a lot of films of this ilk, but Greg puts me to shame. This allows him to write from a assured basis; there is no bull, and I am always learning and absorbing ESR content from issue to issue. You will not find any fluff in those pages. What makes this remarkable is that Greg operates this all in the so-called 'small press' domain. The Eclectic Screening Room magazine should be, sorry Greg and all you inspired small press people, a legitimate publication with decent distribution. (I do realize that the magazine publishing business, here in Canada at least, is a brutal affair. A lot of mags drop like flies; they live very short lives some of them. Government support is needed to keep the periodical business alive in Canada.)

Greg Woods is a hero of mine because he just doesn't talk about it, he actually does something about it. And the bonus is, the "it" is outstanding.

The ESR website can be found at...

Saturday, September 29, 2007


Like most in their 'forties or older, I grew up with Hee Haw. The most remarkable thing about the show, perhaps, and outside of the fact it was created by a couple of Canadians, is that it featured a very special personality by the name of Junior Samples. As a kid I just thought he was funny with little regard or thought as to who he was.

Hee Haw is out on DVD so there is a chance to watch this program again. I'm sure it is very much of its time. Sophisticated it was not, nor was it trying to be. It was one of those down-home, warm, and happy shows which are rare. The variety show was a staple for years on television: They were a good-times type with jokes, singing and so on... Lawrence Welk comes to mind. What set Hee Haw apart from the pack was that it set up a little fictional world of rural folk -- not in the same way the classic sitcom, Green Acres, did -- but in a more authentic sense. It did have real actors and musicians playing the roles, but some people were just that, people. And there was music from known country artists of the time.

As far as real people in Hee Haw is concerned, Junior Samples is the most memorable. In reality, he was a bit of a backwoodsman who was ultimately discovered when a radio announcer asked Samples about the large fish he had mounted on his pickup truck. Samples' on-location interview, which consisted of him telling a great big story about how he caught the fish, the "Big Whopper", was played by radio stations. Soon enough, these stations were getting requests to replay it. Junior Samples had become a bit of a sensation.

One thing led to another and Samples was signed by Chart Records and taken into the studio to tell more stories. Eventually, five albums were released. The producers of Hee Haw grabbed him to be a regular on their show. As he was not well educated and a novice to the television studio, the neophyte had a hard time using the cue cards. The directors found a way to work with Samples so he could be himself while following a particular skit's theme.

I always looked forward to Junior Samples and his attempts to sell cars, for instance, and his signature phone number BR-549 became somewhat famous. (I also really looked forward to the regular Hee Haw segment about the couple who ran the truck stop.)

When you think about it, there have not been too many television personalities remotely like Junior Samples. These people have a lot more appeal, in many ways, than the fictional characters who populate the many pretentious dramatic shows that fill the airways. Like a live sporting event, they are real... and they are live.

Precious clip:

Friday, September 28, 2007


While on a Science Fiction / Fantasy theme -- at least of the small or big screen -- I might as well address an issue that some of us geeks, or old-timers, will bring up when periodically shooting the breeze about the fantasy television shows or movies we remember from our youth. Occasionally, the subject of the collectible potential of the futuristic vehicles featured within them does come up. During the conversation, we might ask each other what would we would find to be most desirable in acquiring and then quickly hiding in our garages. ('Rosebud' from the brilliant and classic film, Citizen Kane, is immediately disqualified as it doesn't have cool blinking lights.)

One of the first choices for some of us, and perhaps the first choice for me, would be the original 11-foot Enterprise miniature built for the original Star Trek television series. Unfortunately, the Air & Space Museum of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, owns it, so this priceless little item has to be scratched off the list. About ten years ago I heard that the museum insured the model for $1,000,000... so it isn't going anywhere. Second choice might be the 17-foot submarine Seaview model from the old Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea series. This particular one was used for shots showing the vessel running on the surface. There were two others, smaller versions, used for the 'underwater tank' shots. (How do I know this stuff, anyway?) I heard that the big miniature was, or is, displayed at the L.A. Planet Hollywood; time to pick up an expensive hamburger.

From this point there is a somewhat lengthy list of collectible equipment: Robby the Robot (from the 1956 MGM feature, Forbidden Planet), the Jupiter 2 (the flying saucer/home from the awful TV series, Lost in Space), any of the props from both Star Wars and Star Trek, and so on.

Comments can be posted if you think I missed anything (wink). I must be reminded as I'm speaking from personal preference above; and I'm not that much of a geek, it's not as though I have a list hidden away somewhere.

Let's be real, the extreme geek's first choice would be some collectible in the form of warm flesh... someone like Bionic Babe.

Next blog entry... Back to Reality.

Thursday, September 27, 2007


Yesterday, while reading this week's issue of Now Magazine, I came across a review of Criterion's new DVD release of the 1964 science-fiction feature film, Robinson Crusoe on Mars. I did not realize that this was scheduled to be released on disc. The laser-disc version came out back in 1994 and got good reviews at the time. Actors Paul Mantee, Victor Lundin, and writer Ib Melchior, were some of the commentary track guests for that release. Director Byron Haskin died back in 1984... it is too bad as he was an irascible, but genuinely funny, old-timer. He was not afraid to speak his mind. His comments over this one would have been interesting as the budget kept getting cut and cut over the course of development: Not only was Haskin a very fine director -- he helmed the original War of the Worlds -- but he was also a skilled technician. (On this new DVD release, there is an audio interview which was recorded back in 1979 with Haskin.) RCOM was done for more than a few dollars but what started as a grand 'journey to the planets' kind of film the budget kept getting pared down until it became what it is -- a relatively conservative film. This is probably a good thing: Focus is never a bad thing. And the budget cutting never got to the point, in my opinion, where it became a detriment to the scope of story being told.
I remember first hearing of this film. It played at my local theatre around 1973. I remember staring at the poster on the marquee and thinking that it didn't look too impressive; with the astronaut's ripped spacesuit and all. And who was that guy he was holding? When the day came, I put down my 25 cents and watched the film with an open mind -- when you are young, you tend to be more accepting and open about different things. Besides, it was a space movie. Around twenty minutes or so into the flick, my eleven year old brain thought, "this is pretty good!" And it was, and it still is in my opinion. Funny how a crazy title can taint a film. Paramount Pictures did not know what to do with the completed film. The story goes that it was basically dumped into the marketplace back in 1964. In fact, it took only two years for RCOM to premiere on network television. For all those who missed it in first run, they were now the first television viewers for a film which would eventually become a bit of a cult classic. I was lucky enough to see it on the big screen as the two local cinemas in my town were more or less repertory houses. This played in the smaller of the two. The other cinema was much bigger and handled, more or less, the new releases in addition to the older fare. I went to see RCOM again about a year later.

Actor Paul Mantee is very good in the lead role as astronaut Christopher Draper. Batman's Adam West played his fellow astronaut and does a fine job considering we don't see much of him. Mantee is alone on Mars for the first chunk of the movie and he does commendable work making us focus on him and buying the fact that he feels truly alone. And we can see a creeping sense of loneliness when Draper realizes he's on the planet for the long haul. The bonus is that Mantee looks and sounds like an astronaut; this was not the case in Ron Howard's Apollo 13 where I never for an instant believed that Tom Hanks was an astronaut, never mind Jim Lovell. This just goes to show you that careful casting helps a film immensely, even if not a career.

Shot in widescreen (Techniscope) and colour, sorry, color, Robinson Crusoe on Mars looks darn fine. The location shooting, done in Death Valley to represent the surface of Mars, is outstanding and really gives you that you-are-there feeling. Cinematographer Winton Hoch gave the film a classy look, and along with director Haskin, uses the wide frame to good effect. (Hoch, eight years before, shot the John Ford classic western, The Searchers... he knew how to shoot sand.) The art direction was also very good, especially for the modest budget. Byron Haskin, who was also an effects technician, liked the cobalt blue skies in Death Valley, as they served as automatic bluescreens. Later on, in post production, the blue skies would be replaced with optical matte paintings showing dark skies and an orange/red horizon. There are a couple of matte painting shots of the Martian surface which are eerie in that they are all but dead ringers for pictures taken by one of the more recent Mars landers. It must have been the particular area the probe landed on.
Also of note, Nathan Van Cleave's score fits the film like a space glove. "Van Cleave", which is how he scribed his name in the credits, composed an upbeat, warm, and somewhat romantic main theme tune; one which has a slight American national anthem feel. Throughout the film, the composer uses restraint, which is so nice to see, or hear. Some of the music, especially the travelling and survival music is reminiscent of his work for the original Twilight Zone series. Van Cleave used a novachord in both the series and this movie for its dreamy and 'out there' sonorities. His score is gentle and human which adds greatly in support of the characters onscreen.

Needless to say, if you are up on astronomy at least, this film could not be made today as it plays into the classic Mars look, with the canals and such. These canals are even referenced in the film's dialogue. The truth is this film was dated a few months after its release: In early 1965, NASA's Mariner-4 probe took close up pictures of Mars from orbit, beamed them back to Earth and low and behold, it looked more like our moon than the typical illustrations depicting a planet of red and green textures. Perhaps the fun was taken away a little. It's sometimes best to not know too much.


I recently reread a good book on Desi Arnaz, Lucille Ball, and their film/television studio, Desilu. It was only two years ago that I first read Desilu: The Story of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz (written by Coyne Steven Sanders and Tom Gilbert). Because this book is rich in detail, it could be reread more than once... which makes it worth buying.

When reading Desilu, I was really impressed at how seriously Americans take the whole business of film and television production. As the book is about the studio as much as it is about the husband and wife team -- Ball was a talented weirdo, Arnaz was a brilliant, but often inebriated, studio executive -- the pages within have more than a few dollars and cents figures. Even without these amounts adjusted for inflation and production inflation, it is striking to the reader how much cash was put into the studio's various television pilots... back in the day when pilots were still made; before soaring production costs eventually made them go the way of the dodo bird. Most of these pilot shows didn't succeed in selling the network on a regular series, but to American producers and studio execs, monetary investment was, and is, part of the game -- or the foundation of the game. You have to spend money to make money, and you have to keep it circulating. It's an important part of the machinery. Make product, lots of it, and some people will watch. It is one big crap shoot, but boy, oh boy, you can just hear those dice a rollin'!

Here in Canada, we play Monopoly...


The Bionic Woman was not a show I watched a lot. I much rather preferred The Six Million Dollar Man... uh oh, too much information. The Six ran for five seasons (1974-1978) and the spinoff series, The Bionic Woman, lasted for just two years -- 1976-1978 -- although Lindsay Wagner did win an Emmy for her portrayal as Jaime Sommers. The female version didn't last as long, perhaps, as audiences were just bioniced out.

This all brings me to the Bionic Babe (as one reviewer has already called it). The new version; the 2.0, the reboot, Bionic Woman, stars Michelle Ryan as a one-dimensional Jamie Sommers. I realize it is just one episode down, but Ryan's one-note performance, one lacking any range of emotion or depth at all, does not bode well for the series. (We'll see how long this one lasts, not that this is a measure of quality.) What she does do effectively, is mask her British accent. I can see an Emmy! Ryan is a great looking girl. Actually, everyone is; her sister, friends. The casting criteria is clear. To be honest, Miguel Ferrer is the most interesting cast member. He has screen presence and a great face; he gets that from his dad. If there is any reason to explore the series at all, Ferrer just might be the reason.

BW suffers from the typical, and rampant, disease of most television acting today: Everybody is so damned earnest! Doesn't anybody smile or laugh? The answer is no. And I'll tell you, this show is already shaping up to be a barrel of laughs. Even in dark or gritty stories there can be honest humour. Perhaps it is even more needed in these cases. When will producers ever learn that you have to render characters with depth and personality? And work on those scripts, will ya? It's not as though they are important or anything. Think of all the classic series that have displayed great longevity: Whether you think they are cheesy, dated, great, or brilliant, the one thing they have in common is they are staffed with characters possessing appeal and dimension. They walk on screen and you get a kick out of them. Lindsay Wagner was excellent in the original BW -- no matter what you think of the show as a whole.

Did I say that Bionic Woman's music score is lousy? (Sounds like a package deal to me.) Love that rock guitar riff that rips whenever BW Babe starts kicking some ass. First of all, you can have bionic parts coming out of your ass, but if you haven't been trained in the martial arts, then these parts don't mean shite!

The producers and personnel on Bionic Woman should just stop, turn out the lights, and g o, h o m e ! Do something useful, like re-imagining My Mother The Car.

Total, absolute, complete... garbage!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007


A friend lent me his VHS of the 1971, Ken Russell feature film, The Devils. I used to work with a guy who told me the this was one of his favourite films; that was the fist time I had ever heard of it, I am sure. Because I know this film was of a certain temperament and theme, I waited for the right time to sit down and watch it. (Perhaps knowing I've had this tape for over a month helped convince me now was the time. I tried last week to watch but about twenty minutes in I realized I as thinking about other things.)

Maybe I have to watch The Devils again to fully appreciate it. While I liked those Russellonian touches very much -- art direction, cinematography and camera technique, pumped-up acting, etc. -- the film overall did not sit too well with me. Of course it's the subject matter; terribly unpleasant, especially the climax... which in true Russell fashion, is very cacophonous. (Filmmaker Darren Aronofsky is affected by Russell's technique.)

In addition to being a terrific actor, Oliver Reed was one good looking boy! The blasted booze! What is it with pretty-boy British actors and their affinity for the bottle?!


We do live in a world of awards and their respective ceremonies. As if I am the first to discover this fact; but, of course, I am speaking of myself when I say that often when I fire-up the internet there is someone's mug in photo form accompanied by text which reads something like, "(so-and-so) wins award for (whatever)". Be it music, film, television, or whatever, there is an award to match. In fact, in these cases, those of the arts, there are many, many awards to be doled out. What the criteria is, probably no one knows or even cares; afterall, the prestige of being an award is just as great.

There are few films or television programs that truly deserve awards of any kind, including the charity variety. Most television series, certainly the prime-time kind (sitcoms or drama) deserve an award just for getting on the air, period. Obtaining a time slot is award enough. As for most mainstream feature films, the only thing worse than the films themselves are the advertising campaigns designed to push them.

As composer Charles Ives once said, "Prizes are the badges of mediocrity".

Saturday, September 22, 2007


The Host is a film which recently came out of South Korea. While it is a commendable piece of filmmaking, I found that in the end, I wasn't as impressed as some were. I also found that it tried to do a little too much even in its more than ample running time.

While I did laugh a few times, I found that the humour was injected rather than being part of the story; and did so in an all too conscious manner. This is hard to do well. By way of comparison, Hal Ashby and company were much more successful in this respect when they made The Last Detail. This film is unrelenting in its gloomy drive, but there are moments of humour. These laughs come out of the absurdity of the proceedings as much as anything else. Stanley Kubrick taps into this quality also with his treatise on warfare and incompetence in the brilliant Paths of Glory.

The other problem with The Host is the film is not dark enough -- quite literally in fact. It goes to show you that the unknown or uncertain is often more effective than showing a 'monster' as runway model. (Look how scary I am, everyone!) Again, as comparison, this is why I think the classic Twilight Zone episode "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" is much more effective than the later feature film version directed by George Miller. In the half-hour episode, the monster on the airplane wing is presented as an almost goofy-looking or cuddly bear (made-up by the late makeup artist, William Tuttle). Miller decided, for some reason, to have the monster as a 'look how scary I am' creature... long teeth, demonic eyes, and all that sort of impressive jazz. All they didn't do was put a sign around the beastie that said "I'm Scary!", just to make sure we did not misinterpret what he was supposed to represent. The TV "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" monster worked because we didn't see too much of it, and its appearance worked against convention.

You are always startled and affected when that centipede goes running by your feet at home when you are just trying to enjoy your cup of coffee; but after you look the bugger over for a few moments, you think, more and more, "hey, they're kind of pretty little things, aren't they?".

Thursday, September 20, 2007


Read the news today, oh boy. The 'Loonie' is at parity with the U.S. dollar. That is not necessarily a good thing, especially when it comes to attracting American producers to come up to do a shoot: There is now no cost savings. 'Real' businesses will also have a hard time... as Canada exports more than it imports, the costs of our goods will go way up. I am no economist but I do know that a nail has been driven into the coffin of Canadian film and television production. (Notice I did not say "industry".)

A friend of mine is a production illustrator. He has been getting some work, lately. Another friend of mine, who has always been cynical about 'the biz', works no longer as a grip. He has gone back to waiting tables, and seems to be comfortable and perhaps relieved. I guess having a specific skill and one that not a lot of people offer, helps scare up a little bit of work in the Toronto film biz.

A very cynical friend of mine thinks that the film and television business in Toronto -- at least what there is of it, in all its skeletal form -- has to be shattered, broken down and built back up again; and into something better than it has ever been... which was nothing much.

Sunday, September 16, 2007


In my previous blog from a few days ago where I outlined what 'stars' I have met ("JUST A WALKIN' DOWN THE STREET") , I failed to mention a great Canadian; Elwy Yost. Mr. Yost was part of any Ontario movie fan or aspiring filmmaker's education in the topic of classic films. Through his show Magic Shadows, which ran weekly, Monday to Friday (thereby breaking any feature length film into serialized segments) and the weekly program, Saturday Night at the Movies, Elwy was the man. His pleasant onscreen demeanour, grand enthusiasm, and broad knowledge of classic and notable movies, made home movie-going that much richer.

Some films I was introduced to on his programs were The Thing, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Tumbleweeds, Intolerance, The Testament of Dr. Mabuse, and Suspicion.

Magic Shadows would sometimes wrap up the shorter features by Thursday, thereby leaving Friday open where Elwy would show a Republic Studios serial such as G-Men vs the Black Dragon, Nyoka and the Tigermen, and The Mysterious Dr. Satan. (I remember my whole family watching the riveting Dr. Satan serial. Actually, this particular one might have been shown on Saturday Night and not Magic Shadows.) As these 'chapter-plays' consisted of twelve parts more often than not, you can see how they would stretch over a good part of a season. Elwy would also have on many Hollywood guests; either in filmed segments or in the studio. And when a Republic serial was shown, he would have, sometimes, "Don Daynard the Movie Buff" on as a guest. (Mr. Daynard is an authority on the old Republic serials.)

You get my drift. Elwy Yost was it. So much so, it would seem, that I would forget about mentioning him in my 'Canadian stars' blog.

One morning, in the summer of 1986, I was waiting on the TTC St. George subway station platform here in Toronto. My friend Jonathan was with me. We were on our way to work. I was leaning up against a pillar when I noticed that Jon, who was facing me, smiled suddenly. At that instant, I hear an "excuse me"... I look to my right and there he is -- the man himself. How could I mistake that voice? Instead of saying, "time to turn those lights down a wee bit low", Elwy asks for directions. Without missing a beat, and to keep my reputation for having no shame, I dramatically extend my arms and yell out, "Elwy Yost!" With more reserve than I, the man utters softly, "yes, it's me". He's a tall guy. Not the usual television shrimpkin.

And that was that; the man who is as big as any Hollywood star to a guy like me, was on the TTC... just a regular guy, just like I suspected. Gotta love him -- and many of us do.

Friday, September 14, 2007


Then came The Starlost. I sat on the floor cross-legged with my friend Dennis. We watched. I seem to remember that we enjoyed the experience. Maybe it was a 'fix' for two little geeks. There were some "dumb" things to be sure, such as our intrepid characters, once they broke out of Cypress Corners (their world's dome) and into the Ark, stepping on a green mat and 'flying' down the super-long corridors, courtesy of some fringey chroma-key video effects. Dennis' mom: "This is so God damned stupid!" We both ignored her. What did she know?

At a leisurely pace -- Star Trek by this point, and Dennis and I were both fans, especially after I turned him onto both the show and the James Blish novelizations, would have had an action scene or two, some funny lines and some great orchestral musical flourishes of brass and tympani, not to forget an absorbing plot -- Devon, Rachel, and Garth (Keir Dullea, Gay Rowan, and Robin Ward) explored the sterile-looking spaceship interiors. They came across what looked like a 'Tourist' help centre computer. Devon sat in the chair and an image of a hunched William Osler came on. After the computer-man noticed that someone was sitting in the chair, he would ask, "may I be of... assistance?". He wore heavy-framed glasses and flickered his eyelids a lot, especially when he was answering Devon's seemingly stupid questions. (Hey, wouldn't you ask certain questions if you came from a dome-enclosed Amish-like community headed by a semi-sober Sterling Hayden, only to break out and into a radically different environment, one without trees or inhabitants of any kind?) On one such occasion when Osler blinked in machine gun fashion, Dennis' mom exhorted, "this is God damned ridiculous!" (Her comments came across as a sort of negative laugh track.) "It is kind of silly", I'm sure I started to think at this pivotal moment. And I think a little bit of disappointment started to creep in. Dennis and I were not little kiddies... we had fully functioning 11-year-old brains. And we knew what was good; Star Trek had set the bar. (The animated Star Trek series had premiered that same year -- I know that we looked forward to that every week, and probably more than the 'video-taped show'.)

When the first show finished and that freaky theme music closed off, I'm sure Dennis and I both liked it, overall. I know that I watched most, if not all, of The Starlost's sixteen episodes. There was the one with the big bees: "Those are big bees!" The week after this one premiered, my social studies teacher, Mr. Brown, said, "did you guys see The Starlost on the weekend... the one with the bees?" I remember he smiled as he said this. Wouldn't you? Mister Chekov played a character named "Oro" in another installment... he was probably named after Oro township up near Barrie, Ontario; as I would figure out a few years later. I liked the episode "with the kids", a lot of them were about the same age I was at the time; bet you if I watched now, they look like 'babies'. I did like the twist ending of this one.

One interesting element of the show was the theme music (as I mentioned briefly above). It favoured a synthesiser and, as a melody goes, was quite memorable... very catchy and easy to mock-hum with a vocal synth sound: I'm doing it right now. See what I mean? A glass of wine just killed that. Or did the wine start it? Over and above the theme tune, the back-ground music was unique, but pedestrian. There is one piece I recall which was basically the theme but played very slowly, and with what sounded like a recorder. (A recorder has a very 'breathy' quality.) To be honest, though, the back-ground music often irritated in its droning manner. In fact, some of these back-ground cues 'showed up' on the Canadian television series, Swiss Family Robinson. The music was provided by Score Productions, a company out of New York City that wrote music -- at least its staff composers did -- for various television events, game shows, etc. It was run by a man by the name of Bob Israel, who wrote music himself along with his staff musicians. (I remember TV Guide doing an article on Israel, and his company, a couple of years later.) No doubt, the producers of The Starlost got a 'package deal' for the music. (This is very common practice in television today as it is cheap to do... just a guy and his synthesiser, and no musicians on the floor to be paid.)

The visual effects shots of the Ark were sometimes video, other times, film. The filmed versions looked as though the crew had immersed the model in a murky swimming pool and some guy was hired to swim around with a camera in hand. Due to video camera limitations at the time, there was not a lot that could be done to make miniatures look as big as what they were supposed to represent. They often looked static with perhaps a zoom done to mimic flight; this would be chroma-keyed over a fat-star background.

The Science aspect of The Starlost was sloppy or almost non existent. In the premiere, the computer-man said, "a class G solar star". Harlan Ellison says, "(it makes no sense), it's like saying, 'a big house home'."

Over the years The Starlost would occasionally play on CTV in repeats. It didn't help syndication matters that there were only sixteen episodes produced. If the show were to be 'stripped' Monday to Friday, then the whole series would be done in three weeks! What did happen, however, is that several compilation films were made. Each one would be made up of two episodes. Even then, I don't recall seeing it a lot. This is probably a good thing. When The Starlost finally hits stores on DVD, I might be tempted to revisit and relive a moment from my childhood; and imagine Dennis' mom's running commentary.

And just what the heck was that Toronto Star 'television' reviewer smoking?!

Monday, September 10, 2007


A friend of mine, Mark, wrote an e-mail to me a couple of weeks ago saying that while he liked my blog he felt that it had to be improved. I will let his own voice speak: "You have to spice up the blog....maybe some Doug McClure movies or Canadian SciFi shows......Star Lost!!!" Well, luck would have it that he e-mailed again today: "Barry Smight has not blogged about Star Lost yet.... I am losing interest."

He says, "Starlost"? For those of you who are too young to remember, The Starlost was a Canadian science fiction television series made back in 1973. In fact, it started as a U.S. series but due to a variety of circumstances it ended up being shot at Glen Warren studios here in Toronto. (Glen Warren was a state-of-the-art television facility back then, and might still be. They had the finest equipment and studios a producer could hope for; well, any producer who wanted to commit their series to video-tape.) Writer Harlan Ellison was the initial brain behind the whole project. At any rate, no need to go into the genesis of this series; that can easily be studied via the Internet. One other note: Visual effects guru, Douglas Trumbull, was originally on board and once it was decided to shoot the series on tape -- much money could be saved by using the electronic chroma-key process -- his job was to develop the "Magicam" process. This system would use electronic tape's ability to instantly matte together various picture elements relatively cheaply and, in addition, do so with a 'motion control' capability.

NBC was the intended network for this new series. They already had screened Star Trek just a few years before. (Trek was very hot in reruns.) What ended up happening is that this new show would not get a main network run, but instead, would be shown by NBC "O & O" (owned and operated) stations. Now, not every station would carry the show on "Thursday nights at 9" kind of thing, and not every station would show it, necessarily; therefore The Starlost missed out on having network prestige. CTV carried the program in Canada... Glen Warren studios were also the CFTO (CTV's flag-station) studios.

Trumbull was not able to get the Magicam system up and running in time, and in addition to this, there was a writers' strike in the U.S. so the series' scriptwriting duties were undertaken by Canadian writers -- most of whom had never written anything of the sort before. (To be fair, Harlan Ellison himself stated that these writers worked hard to get their scripts shootable.) So, instead of a 'motion control' type electronic matting, regular static camera blue screen was used; instead of writers like Richard Matheson, Jerome Bixby, and the gang, the show got writers who did not necessarily understand television science fiction. This all leads to the reason for this blog, outside of making my friend, Mark, happy...

On Saturday, September 22nd, 1973, my friend Dennis I sat in his family's living room and waited for the big show to premiere on their 26-inch colour television (mine was only 20). There had been a review in the Toronto Star which said The Starlost was even better than Star Trek (which was only four years old at that point). Dennis' mom, a francophone lady who had the habit of laying down on her side on the couch while watching television, and who sported a terrifically profane mouth which factored into the viewing experience, joined us for the opening episode.

To be continued...

Sunday, September 9, 2007


I saw an online poll today -- on a Toronto newspaper's website -- asking if 'you have ever seen a star walking down the street'. I have seen a few over the years as this is Toronto so you are eventually going to come across someone of some note. It really depends on what you mean by "star". To me, the people who are generally considered to be stars are not stars. I really don't give a rodent's arse if Thomas Cruise walked by me... although I do like Tom Cruise. (Maybe this is why I never watch the late night talk shows as I never have bought into the culture of celebrity. I really don't give a rodent's ass if Katie Holmes is on Letterman tonight. Letterman was hot when I was in film school twenty years ago and I remember a classmate being rather mystified why I wouldn't want to stay up and watch. And, no, I don't give a flying futz what band is on SNL this weekend. If SNL was actually funny that would be a start in the right direction, for sure.

Having gotten that off my chest, or rather, keyboard, I have met people who are interesting. My single favourite would be the time, back in November of 1990, when I trotted off with friends and brother to see Hollywood composer Jerry Goldsmith conduct some of his film scores at Roy Thompson Hall here in Toronto. We then trotted backstage to meet the man at the "artists' entrance". That was pretty exciting to someone like me, although I admit that the concert itself was kind of lame as everything was played by a standard "pops" orchestra. (As most of Goldsmith's scores are orchestration-specific, having a 'standard' orchestra perform them is a bit of a letdown.) I also met Mister Chekov himself, Walter Koenig, in the summer of 1986... seemed to be a rather pleasant guy. I once saw actor Peter Strauss walking down King Street along a row of movie-location trailers. He was having a smoke between scenes, I suppose. At the 1992 Toronto International Film Festival, Billy Dee Williams looked my way and nodded as he took a nibble of his popcorn -- must have been the "Lando Rules" tee-shirt I was wearing.

As far as Canadian 'names' go, I once bumped into Peter Mansbridge in my local grocery store. He is a fairly tall guy... not the usual television shrimpkin. Talking of newsreaders, around fifteen years ago, I passed Knowlton Nash at the corner of Yonge and Bloor streets. Saw cartoonist Ben Wicks at the same corner around the same era. In a cafe last year, comedian Ron James stirred his coffee beside me. (I almost said to him, "hi... Ron Jeremy".) While walking down Bloor Street one day, Geddy Lee from the band Rush walked by me as he savoured his coffee. At the 2004 Toronto International Film Festival I said hi to actor Gordon Pinsent; he smiled and said hi as he took a nibble of his popcorn. (He's a lot shorter than I would have thought.)

What is my point? I'm not sure. But one thing I am sure about: Every one of the above who saw me no doubt thought, "hey, it's Barry Smight... he's even goofier-looking in person". Or as actor Gary Farmer said to me, with a sly smile, after I said hi to him when he lined up behind me in a coffee shop, "hi... who are you?"

Friday, September 7, 2007


Toronto the Good is firing up one of it's best known times of the year -- that is, hosting the world of filmmakers and stars for its annual film festival. It didn't seem so long ago when this fest was called The Festival of Festivals. That title is now all but forgotten as The Toronto International Film Festival, or TIFF, is perhaps a more suited name in its descriptiveness. The Festival of Festivals could be a big party celebrating a big orgy of sexual escapades and complimenting illicit drug use. Hold on a moment...

"The Festival" has been criticized for a few years now as being out of control. It really was a 'people's festival' at one time -- I remember. Now it is just one big film 'market'. (And those exorbitant ticket prices; wow!) One which is second only to Cannes, it is claimed by many. As Roger Ebert has said -- and he is a flag waver for the our lovely festival -- Cannes will always be Cannes. He means that in its historical tradition and the fact that palm trees have been spotted in the French Riviera, but for some reason not in Toronto (which is strange considering they are both on the same latitude). But a market is a market and oh boy, are there a lot of films playing in the fest this year. Too many, in fact. And perhaps "pushed through" is a better term than "playing". Let us try to impress everybody with statistics: Look at how many journalists, stars, filmmakers, reels of film, and cassettes of videotape show up. Impressive numbers... pray to us! (With Shatnerian delivery) You... little... hick... festivals... the rest of you.... ARE!!!

Monday, September 3, 2007


Just read the Toronto Star. The headline read, "Curtain rises on Toronto's new plan for film industry". Already drooling at the mouth by this point I decided to dive into the article. Peter Finestone, Toronto's acting film commissioner outlines this "plan". What? How is "reminding" filmmakers about Toronto's production possibilities a "strategy"? It will take a hell of a lot more than simple reminders to get outsiders to shoot and post-produce their productions in Toronto. The fact is the Canadian dollar is far too strong to make any tangible difference when a foreign film producer is trying to decide whether to shoot in Toronto to save a few bucks; "geez, should I film in Austin, Texas, or Toronto?"

Toronto, Canada, needs a film and television industry of some sort. You cannot depend on outside producers to pay the bills and keep our movie people busy (which there are way too many of I might add). There is no industry here because it is a welfare state: When film and television program grants are dispensed those few times a year it's like chickens running for the corn! Grants are great and very important to the arts, but you need a perpetual motion machine to match if you are going to claim you have an 'industry'.

The article goes on to reveal that this plan "has been in the works for about two years". They're joking, right? It took these yahoos two years to figure out how to 'remind'. Also noted is the fact the actual cost is secret at this point. No doubt it will cost a fortune... as soon as they figure out how to add various numbers together to get a final answer. The upbeat nature of the grand plan even promotes the fact that those producers who don't necessarily sit down and shoot their pictures in Toronto will want to sit, put their feet up, and do their 'post' in the great city. Gimme a break, they will do their post with geographical considerations. Why shoot in Des Moines or Memphis and do your post 'way up' in another place?

Certain folk are getting excited that 'T.O.' is getting this new super-studio; one by the name of 'Filmport'. Hey, is that like an 'Airport'?... You know, where people come in, pick up others and then take off again -- leaving just a smoky trail?