Wednesday, October 31, 2007


What is scary? To me it would be mounting Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton as gate guards here at the entrance to my palace -- the palace with the storm cloud over top; the cloud eagerly ejecting lighting bolts, missing both Miss Lohan and Miss Hilton by mere inches.

Of course, I am joking. I would not want these two Halloween characters standing, however static, at my entrance. I don't need the neighbours to think...

As far as movies go, my favourites under the Halloween banner would be Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things (1972), and Night of the Living Dead (1968). And most awesome is White Zombie (1932).

Only Night is on my video shelf, but this will go into my player this evening.

Having a corpse on either side of me as I sit on the couch munching my popcorn will make this a Halloween to remember. Now that they are both comfortable...

The doorbell is ringing...

What do Lohan and Hilton want now?

My three movie choices should have given me fair warning.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007


Widely considered by Outer Limits fans to be the ultimate or representative episode of the series, Demon With a Glass Hand is more than worthy of such a designation; in a series which is simply one of the greatest of all classic television shows -- right up there with I Love Lucy and All in the Family.

I saw Demon relatively late as far as my Outer Limits familiarization timeline goes. There are many good or great episodes of the series and I had plied through a fair number of them; eps like The Architects of Fear, Nightmare, and the superlative two part The Inheritors set the bar pretty darn high.

I bought Demon on VHS as luck would mar my chances of actually seeing the particular installment -- one I had heard a lot about.

The tape got a lot of play over the years... five or six times... at least. I almost immediately watched it after bringing it home. Often what happens is that you are let down somewhat when you finally watch what everybody has been going on about. But not here.

I just watched Demon again, although on my season two DVD boxed set of The Outer Limits.

Demon is outstanding. What was probably a bottle show in an already trimmed second season budget does not hurt it the least bit. Every discipline is top notch and belies the budget through something called creativity (that commodity not known to many producers today).

The immoderately talented writer, Harlan Ellison, crafted a script specifically for the series. It was his second script. The first being Soldier, which itself was adapted by Ellison for The Outer Limits from his own (1957) short story of the same name.

One small criticism levelled, by some, at the episode is the depiction of the aliens... the Kyben. The makeup and costuming is certainly minimalist -- they come off as alien, and different in a way the average television viewer is not used to seeing; the eye makeups delineate the Kyben as almost Eastern looking. (Having an actor of Burmese background, Abraham Sofaer, play the head Kyben, certainly encourages that feeling.) Sure beats forehead appliances.

Byron Haskin's direction is crisp: Everyone from star Robert Culp, sidekick Arlene Martel, and the Kyben move about the location and studio in a very definite manner as though no other choreography or stage direction is acceptable.

Culp is perfect, as is his glass hand. The man moves about in an almost cat-like fashion. Always one step ahead of any threat and able to overcome any obstacles.

Harry Lubin's score is also perfectly fitted. (Lubin is often criticized as composing his trademark melodious and lush music for what should be a dark series, but he trades it all in here for a marvellous percussive score using piano, tympani, and organ. This music makes everything feel even more off center.)

The big appeal to Demon, for me, is the way it plays like a dream. Even the way the Kyben are disposed of feels unreal.

As I now have the second season of The Outer Limits on DVD -- the well-played VHS tape is now about to go to a good cause.

Harlan Ellison also wrote what is considered by many a Trekker to be the finest episode of Star Trek...

The City on the Edge of Forever.

I detect a trend here.

Monday, October 29, 2007


I keep asking myself, why do I play the masochist? I don't get it. It is not as though I haven't enough to do. I heard that Torchwood is good and has a ravenous following in its homeland of Great Britain. That should have been a warning -- not the fact the following is strong in Britain of all places but the 'ravenous following' part. (I thought I did learn my lesson with the new Battlestar Galactica. Heard, too, about its following... the show is awful.)

The CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) is playing Torchwood: Friday nights at 9 p.m.

I've now seen three episodes -- missed the opening shot -- and that completes my contract with the show. In hindsight, I have given Torchwood too many chances. Yes, it is that bad. Just what are the fans going on about?

The characters are in a nether region of appeal. Are they nice people or are they bad people just trying to do a good job for humanity? Jack, the main dude, the one of square jaw and good looks, the guy we were introduced to in a Doctor Who two part episode, is the ring leader of the Torchwood Institute. Jack is not particularly likable; rather, he is unappealing.

Torchwood, the institute, is based in Cardiff, Wales... they are to investigate alien invasions and other sorts of extraterrestrial incidents. The outfit's staff is obviously under-trained; considering they are manning such a critical operation, these people, who you would expect to be crack operatives, come across at times as digital-age Keystone Cops.

Jack is forever barking orders at them -- often during yet another light-beam-style optical effect scene -- to try to get them to behave. Why does he have to do this? Is there not some "Procedures and Protocol When You Are Working For Torchwood" book? You keep smacking them in line, Jack.

What a miserable lot.

What a mess of a show. There doesn't appear to be a vision for this one.

I've been to Cardiff... lovely place. At least it was until these clowns showed up...

Sunday, October 28, 2007


This is one of those titles that seemed to run in high rotation at my local cinema back in the mid-1970s. Along with Dillinger, The Panic in Needle Park, and Zabriske Point, was Phantom of the Paradise. Due to my terrifically nubile nature at the time, I would have been refused admission even if I had lined up for Phantom. (I did go to see Baby Blue Marine in 1976 at this same cinema and was admitted, for some reason.)

Outside of the obvious theatrics of Phantom of the Paradise, I might not have enjoyed it anyway; the jokes would have been over my head in addition to the reality that I wasn't much into rock music -- never have been, to any substantial degree. The trailer I saw in the theatre did make the film look interesting; some memorable imagery... the electric bolt, in particular.

Now however, meaning last night when I watched it on TVOntario's Saturday Night at the Movies, my tune has changed. I've seen bits and pieces over the years but never one screening head to toe.

Although it tanked in its original theatrical release in 1974, Phantom of the Paradise became a cult item in the years after; deservedly so. Perhaps it's take on Faust was not something that would have appealed to rock heads, anyway. And would not exactly draw them into the movie houses.

Great cast: William Finley is perfect as Winslow/The Phantom, as is Paul Williams as Swan, the creepiest and smarmiest little (and I do mean 'little') record producer one could, but would never want to, meet. (The real ones are even worse, I've heard.)

Jessica Harper plays her role of Phoenix, the lovely young woman who becomes the object of the Phantom's affections, and Swan's manipulations, with the right grade of naivety. Her battle, like so many of her kind, to become a big star is convincingly drawn.

She's a flower here.

My favourite character in Phantom, especially considering he has less screen time to do his work than does the main cast, would have to be Beef; played by Gerrit Graham with flamboyance abounding.

Paul Williams also wrote the songs for real, including the tunes he thieved as part of the plot-line. He found a fair bit of success writing songs for various musical groups including The Carpenters, Three Dog Night, and superstar Barbra Streisand.

Fair success indeed.

His songs here fit the bill as they are of the style you'd expect as being 'show' music. Like Andrew Lloyd Webber but without the thieving.

I forgot to mention that Brian De Palma directed this twisted, but in a fun way, musical thriller. The same Brian De Palma who in 1976 directed Carrie and, later, Dressed to Kill among other bloody thrillers. (Until I saw his name in the opening credits, I forgot he was behind this picture.)

There is the violence you would expect from a De Palma film; so I guess it's not much of a shocker.

Friday, October 26, 2007


For those of us who have fantasized or seriously thought about pursuing a career in writing for television, there are a lot of books on the subject. Many of these are not whole books but chapters in books; with cover titles like, "How to Get into Movies and Television".

There is a book that I just finished reading last evening. I read it in just two days -- which is good considering I never have enough time for this hobby of mine -- as it was quite the page turner: A Friend in the Business - Honest Advice for Anyone Trying to Break in to Television Writing.

The author, Robert Masello, is a fairly successful writer and script editor for various television series.

Needless to say, he has the inside scoop.

What makes the read even more enjoyable is the fact that, before he moved to Los Angeles and took a stab at writing for the tube, Masello had a successful career in New York City as a regular writer and contributor to various publications such as the Washington Post, New York magazine, Elle, Cosmopolitan; in addition to writing a few novels. So his skills as a storyteller were entrenched.

And as the author says in this book, many writers of your favourite television programs are not that talented. Masello is right, I'm sure, and they probably could not write a book as interesting, funny, and thorough as A Friend in the Business.

Masello goes over just about all the experiences -- some are bizarre, to put it mildly -- that you would suffer if you became a seller of stories or scripts to tv, or were to be lucky enough to score big by being hired as staff on a regular series.

One thing I found appealing about his writing is that Masello doesn't ignore or bury the reason why writing for television can be so much fun... the money. He opens up the book by talking of the almost criminal amounts of money that he and his peers make for doing something that is more or less fun; you are after all a writer, and you are being paid good coin to do your thing. (He talks about the inequity in the writing trade, as in what the television brand get remunerated compared to those who contribute magazine articles or journalistic pieces for newspapers.)

The author does change the names of people and also titles of television series that he was a staff member on... you can see why. If you were on the inside and you wanted to tell the truth to the dreamers and practical types the real story, you would have to talk openly of those experiences. Good and bad:

People in the biz, even fellow writers who have made a dent, are helpful, or at least appear to be helpful, when you are starting out. Breaking through the clubhouse walls is difficult, but it can be done. And the WGA (Writers' Guild of America) is an outstanding union, in Masello's humble opinion.

It is positively creepy just how creepy some people can be in that business. Oh, really?!

Agents are known for not doing their jobs.

And, what, a lot of these television writers are not particularly outstanding? Ya, think?

Robert Masello's point is, there are some positive reasons for you to give it a shot if you really want to write for the form -- the rewards are wonderful; it is a hard battle, and should be in his opinion, or something isn't right, but you have a good a chance as any...

"Provided, of course, that you do have one thing, and that is... a modicum of talent." ("A modicum will do.")

Talk about, or, read about, demystification!

Thursday, October 25, 2007


Greg Woods lent me a copy of the documentary, TV Party (about the old television series, TV Party). I was unable to attend his ESR screening last Thursday night but wanted to see this film.

TV Party was a cable access show done out of New York City back in the late 'seventies. It ran from 1978 to, or rather, petered out in, 1982. Hosted by one Glenn O'Brien, the cable show snagged and featured some top alternative musical acts -- not hard to do when you are planted in NYC -- in addition to a lot of late night oddities.

One such oddity, as outlined in the documentary, was the 'call-in' part of any given episode. This has to be seen and heard; although anyone who has been around knows the nature of such a tradition, that is, profane callers, would not be surprised or put off by it. What does impress is the way the hosts roll with the comments, some of which are quite pointed.

While the effort was noble and genuine, I found this documentary to be more a rag tag or rough assembly of TV Party's ingredients as opposed to a nicely constructed overview and look back at what, for the time and place, was a groundbreaking television program.

There is treatment on Party's innovation, but it is perhaps the only strong and cohesive theme throughout this film.

"It is your television" is the type of call sign for any cable or community television channel and the fact is, by law, you are allowed to have access to it in order to do your own thing or speak your own voice. This provided for some experimental television; television not bound by ratings or often restrictive standards inherent in more commercial stations or networks.

Of course, those of us who worked in community television -- Disco 8 on Cable 8, anyone? -- can tell you it is never an open slate but the opportunities are there to pitch something to the controllers, nonetheless.

My big question throughout the doc was, where was the studio? The filmmakers give you absolutely no idea of the geography -- where the studio was. There is talk about certain folk hanging out on the street when the cast and crew would leave the studio but you, as a viewer, don't know where they even were; other than "the Lower East Side". (Also mentioned in the doc by one person connected with TV Party is how NYC was a different place back then; "pre-Giuliani" is how they put it.)

A simple map would have been nice; it doesn't have to be a Baedeker guide, just something.

By all means check the documentary out... it is worth seeing if you have any interest in the form of late night television. And it is good in the sense that it is about TV Party: I saw one episode of the actual show a few months ago -- again, supplied by the wonderful Greg Woods -- and it is crude in technique, rough around the edges (there are time-base problems whenever there is a camera switch), a little like water running down a hill, but always interesting and fun -- even out of its historical context.

Those of you who are into the late '70s/early '80s New York City music scene, will love it. The documentary spends a good chunk of time on the various acts, including interviews with some. (Overseas musical groups also paid a visit to the show when they were in town.)

What the documentary and the TV Party show itself make you realize is that a guy like David Letterman did not invent everything: 'Chuck the Security Guard', of the All Night Show, a live program produced here in Toronto by CFMT back in 1980-81, did a few things that Dave made famous a few years later.

It is often the underground gang who break the ground first, then dig around... and the big earth movers come in later and take all the glory.

The TV Party website is:

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


It's funny what happens when you surf the net even for just a few minutes.

Quite possibly the coolest -- absolute coolest -- man in showbiz, to me, would be actor John Saxon. While I was growing up, meaning watching a lot of television, this man was almost everywhere on the dial. His unique look imprinted into any kid's tv-sucking brain. And the name was easy to remember... I guess I reviewed program and movie credits way back then.

Leslie Nielsen was another face and name who was known to any tv junkie like me. (Of course, I was thrown for a loop when Airplane was released.)

John Saxon probably wasn't on the tube as much as I would think, even though he was always employed, it was more of a case that he was consistently so memorable; whether he was cast as a villain of the week on a regular series, or as a "good guy" in a film such as Curtis Harrington's classic sci-fi feature, Queen of Blood.

And he was great in Enter the Dragon.

There is no need to go into a credit roll here other than to say that he popped up in The Six Million Dollar Man a couple of times (one of my favourite shows in my youth) and an awful lot of shows I would have just caught a few minutes of. "Hey, it's John Saxon."

Younger folk might know him also as he had parts in a couple of the Nightmare on Elm Street movies.

I never have been one to watch something just because so-and-so is in it. There are exceptions, however: Cary Grant, Robert Mitchum, and John Saxon.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007


I admit freely that I mock Toronto film critics. Considering that T.O. is regarded as one of the big movie release cities, there seems to be a lack of good film criticism emanating from within. (I have a tendency to group these people in with 'Toronto entertainment writers'. It's not nice to do, I know.)

There are exceptions, in my opinion: Toronto Star writer, Geoff Pevere, who I often disagree with, at least from film to film, knows his vegetables and can produce some insightful and tempered scribing.

Unfortunately, all too rare in this town.

I was pleasantly surprised early this morning when I read this comment from Mr. Peter Howell, also of the Toronto Star, concerning the new Directors DVD set on Stanley Kubrick...

"He challenged all comers with his movies, refusing to make his alienated characters likeable or even understandable, and eschewing simple narratives. He would hold a scene for interminable lengths if it suited his purpose. His films sometimes seemed to end almost at whim. He wanted us to think long past the parking lot, and he didn't care if we liked him."

There is nothing outstanding in the articulation... more a case of Mr. Howell nailing Stanley Kubrick as director and filmmaker.

With so many Toronto entertainment writers dispensing elucidations such as "cheesy", or, "it's so good it's awesome!", it is refreshing to read something displaying an actual thought process.

And why is it that so many movies don't stay with you past the theatre's parking lot (even if you take public transit instead)?

Monday, October 22, 2007


I have been on a film-music CD company's e-mail list ever since I bought a score from them last year... they are Screen Archives Entertainment. Most of the news items (new releases) sent to me in the months since that fateful purchase I don't have much use for; as I have said before, I would much rather experience a film score with the movie it was designed to be with as opposed to listening to a bunch of music tracks as separate elements. I have also said before that there are exceptions -- Bernard Herrmann's score for the 1961 Cy Enfield directed film fantasy, Mysterious Island, is one of them.

Back in high school I bought a Bernard Herrmann LP. It was one of those terrific sounding 'Phase 4' records. The album consisted of recordings done by the composer himself in 1975, for the company London Records, of musical suites from various pictures he scored, including, Psycho, Jason and the Argonauts, The Devil and Daniel Webster, and Mysterious Island...

The suite from Mysterious Island is absolutely thrilling to listen to, particularly the 'Balloon' music. A few years ago, I bought the CD version of the album... this is odd as I have not been into doubling-up, as it were. Admittedly, I would always rather put the vinyl version on as the sonics are far superior. This is really noticeable during the cacophonous brass passages in the Balloon track.

One criticism levelled a this recording is that Herrmann, himself, slowed the tempos right down. Purists wish that the composer didn't feel he had to 'concertize' the recordings -- which is a natural inclination when one is not a slave to the visual beats: Let the music breathe and flow on its own, is the feeling here.

I, for one, will accept these moves by the genius film composer, Bernard Herrmann.

It is nice to know that Mr. Stromberg and company recorded a complete rendition of the full Herrmann classic score (as he did with the original King Kong score a few years ago), but all that this news accomplishes to do is convince me it is time to find my London Records version (LP or CD) and be thrilled again.

Sunday, October 21, 2007


I was going to take the day off and clean the ol' office. I then noticed a pile of VHS (pre-record) tapes sitting on the floor beside my computer desk. The question I had to ask myself is whether I want to clean around the VHS tapes, which would be the typical male thing to do, or, write about the tapes, pick them up, then clean. After deliberation over five cups of strong coffee, I decided on the latter course.

The pile in question consists of tapes that I transferred to DVD-R at my place of employment. (I patched the signal through our time-base-corrector, or TBC, which makes for an improved image; instead of going into a technical mini-essay here, I will write about the TBC issue in a future blog entry.) Needless to say, a bit of space has been freed up. Except these VHS tapes are now on my floor. And there are still more to do. Someday.

You might ask why I have not gotten rid of them now that they each have a nice space-saving DVD-R copy. My answer would be that I like the pretty little boxes the tapes came in. The variety of artwork is interesting and the only connection to my original purchase -- the uttery souless DVD disk inside a clinical jewel case just don't cut it. The real reason is -- besides, I can always take a picture of the boxes -- I want to make sure they go to a good cause.

There is a terrific bookstore in here in Toronto that deals in new and used books, tapes, discs, etc. (They are BMV Books, 471 Bloor Street West.) I spoke with the manager and he said that they prefer rare stuff. I said, "some of the tapes are not too common".

Suspect Video, Toronto's premiere video store, in my humble opinion, has accepted tapes from me in the past but last time I went in to donate, they gave me the impression they are being more selective as to what they accept. So they are getting picky, are they? I will have to have a nice little talk with owner Luis.

I could always 'lawn sale' the tapes.

My friend, Greg, might want to rummage through them first.

Options there are.

My quest to find a new home for these Video Home System tapes will continue in "Unloading the VHS (Part 2)"

Friday, October 19, 2007


I could not make the Eclectic Screening Room screening last evening. Something came up so I was not able to attend. Now that is a problem as proprietor Greg Woods screens a lot of fun, obscure, sort of obscure, not easy to find, but always interesting films (on video projection). He is also a bit of a showman: During the outstanding 'Beatnik Night at the Movies' -- which was the program back on March 29th and featured such fare as the very obscure Canadian feature film, The Bloody Brood (1959), starring one Peter Falk, along with a grand mix of short segments, including an episode of the old television detective show, Johnny Staccato, staffed by some cat called John Cassavetes -- Greg dressed up in applicable attire... that of one cool cat! Finger snapping was the soundtrack of the night. Greg would start and the audience would join in. It was a lot of fun.

You had to be there. Really! And you have to go there. You'll meet some pretty cool customers. Yah!

Eclectic Screening Room
Centre for the Arts, 263 Adelaide St. W., Ste. 513
Toronto, Ontario, Canada

For screening dates and other details, check out:

Thursday, October 18, 2007


I support the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, if not with cash (I do through my taxes) then in spirit and tuning in. As a matter of fact when I look through the weekly Globe and Mail television listings, I scan across those boxes to see what is on the CBC and TVOntario, only, really. Our broadcaster, "The Mother Corp", really does try to do its job, even if it does lack leadership. It's a bitch...

How do you try and make everyone happy -- "I don't want my tax dollars going to a station I never watch!"... well, I feel sorry for you, Sir -- and fulfill a public role of tying all Canadians together from coast to coast -- "with technology today, I don't see how this is relevant anymore; that's the same argument I hear about the NFB"... you may have a point, Mame, but it doesn't necessarily make it so -- and forever have to fight the argument that you have to start making more drama and shows like them Americans make; you know the kind, those tv programs that people actually want to see -- "I like shows like The Fifth Estate, but I would rather watch my programs after I come home after a long day at work; shows like CSI "... sorry to hear that you feel you have to pop on the television so automatically, and drama is expensive to make -- and convince yourself that you are not, perhaps, losing an unwinnable war?

Which brings me to The Hour: I'm sure George Stroumboulopoulos is a nice enough guy, and I'm sure he WAS great as a popular (television) music journalist, but he is clearly not capable of carrying a coast to coast late night show. The man tries too hard to be funny (he's not a natural), hip (not necessary), and intelligent (I don't know the guy so I won't judge on the surface, but he seems to try so). He tends to fail on all counts. These guys are rare: Tom Snyder, Elwy Yost, Brian Linehan, Morton Shulman, Johnny Carson, Patrick Watson, and so on.

I do realize I'm comparing George to the best, but, as a producer, you must try and find and nurture the next versions of the above, and you have to know when to cut your losses, too. (Such a program can be nebulous... after all, Johnny Carson wasn't the from-square-one guy of The Tonight Show; he replaced a guy named Jack Paar.)

The guests on The Hour are, consistently, of interest. Basing the show here in Toronto provides for easy access to varied personalities; those residing, temporarily working, or just passing through the big smoke.

But you need some serious hardware in the Captain's seat.

And I understand that the ratings for The Hour are in the basement.

Yes, the competition is fierce in that time slot.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007


Was up at 6 a.m.; fired up the computer; went on the internet; and there was the news for all Star Wars fans who can't get enough... well, can't get enough visual material, that is. The headline blared something about George Lucas announcing yesterday (Tuesday) that he has started working on a Star Wars television series.

The time is right. A warehouse load of props, costumes, sets and set pieces, only helps realize the Star Wars universe for television and its conservative budgets. Also, the technology has advanced – partly due to the work of Mr. Lucas himself – where anything your heart desires can be imagined on the small screen. Visual effects for tv can be done for pittance compared to the old days where series' would have to do film-style effects or opticals, and at great expense. And now you can do a veritable Christmas morning grab bag as far as quantity goes – you're not limited to just a few token shots to get the idea across. A producer can go crazy! That is not a good thing, necessarily.

And George Lucas has shown with his so-called prequel films that he is more than able and willing to get carried away.

When Lucas says that he's starting to plan a SW tv series, does the creator mean he's writing a script – which I shiver at the mere thought of – or has he already hired people to start working on the visual effects?

Scary food for thought. (Burgers and fries... and pop.)


I wrote a couple of blog entries a few weeks ago entitled "The Lost Starlost", and "The Last Starlost". My dear friend, Mark, suggested out of the blue that I write something on the old Canadian-produced television science fiction series, The Starlost. Mark's request was not rehearsed and he caught me off guard. I was writing about the show solely from memory.

Two days ago I rented a couple of episodes of The Starlost. These are in fact not individual episodes but tv movies that were compiled back in the early 1980s in order to release something of the series to television; as it was very short lived at 16 episodes in total. (Two episodes were stuck together, with no rhyme or reason, to make a movie. This was done for ten episodes; leaving six orphans.)

Watching this disc allowed me to revisit the doomed Earthship Ark, not to forget the doomed series... and some would argue, doomed from the start. I'm coming clean here when I say this: I watched the episodes last night and didn't think they were too bad. One of these episodes, "The Implant People", became part of the geek lexicon back in the '70s; a running gag with a couple of friends. We would joke about having a half sphere stuck to our temples so that someone could control us (or something silly like that). Veteran Canadian actor, Donnelly Rhodes (pictured above with Robin Ward), was quite good in playing his role and did so with enough of a creep-factor that we sympathized even more with his 'subjects'. The production design was interesting; especially considering the always tight television budget.

In order to save a lot of money, in addition to facilitating the ability to do a lot of superimpositions, or mattes, the series was shot on videotape. Unfortunately, this also works against it as there is that 'tv news' look. (I have always thought that video makes everything look like plastic.) Film would have been nice but, then again, Doctor Who was done on tape... it becomes part of the look, and perhaps part of the nostalgia.

All in all, an earnest attempt to do a television science fiction series with some brains, and up here in Toronto, Canada.

It is always fun going back and seeing something we remember from our childhoods. Some are good; most are bad. I'd have to see more The Starlost to judge more accurately, if it is really that important.

The Hour with George Stroumboulopoulos is on tonight, you say? That's okay, I'll be watching something else.

... anything else!

Monday, October 15, 2007


Like most television programs that I have fairly fond memories of, I can't lie and pretend to be anything like an authority on the short lived and off-beat series about a bunch of high school students; Square Pegs (with the cool theme song). Premiering in September of 1982, this was definitely worth watching; especially to this guy who was just one year out of highschool at that point. (I should have graduated at least two years before that but, like Johnny Slash in this show, I was not exactly 'there'.)

My circle of friends would talk about that week's installment -- we played pick-up ice hockey every weekend, so there was time in the dressing room before the game to recount the previous week's exciting events in our lives. It was clear that a couple of close friends of mine were there every week for Square Pegs.

The characters were actually interesting to a degree: This is probably part of the reason the show didn't last more than twenty episodes. We all went to highschool with characters like these. As I mentioned there was Johnny Slash, played by Merritt Butrick... one of the more interesting of the lot.

I was visiting a friend last week who has satellite tv. On the Saturday, it rained on and off for the entire day. As I don't have cable -- don't need it really as I'm happy with CBC and TVOntario -- watching the channels 'TV Land' and 'Dejaview' kept me cemented in front of the LCD television with one episode after another of I Love Lucy (brilliant as always and one of the greatest of all time), Happy Days (crap, except the first couple of seasons), Happy Days (status; same), Joanie Loves Chachi (unbelievably bad), Good Times (good when good), and Square Pegs (has the bonus of being watchable today as I learned that Saturday).

I had forgotten that I had a bit of a crush on Tracy Nelson. Quite the cutie to me, back then.

I'm sure that Square Pegs will be available on DVD soon.

A great site to check up on this sort of thing is:


Recently, a friend of mine went off to see a performance of Carmina Burana at Roy Thompson Hall, here in Toronto... as opposed to the hall of the same name in Tillsonburg. I met him the next day and we revelled in the joy and delights of Carl Orff's iconic work. We hummed, reminisced, impressed the other with our vast knowledge of the work, and compared our various recordings.

We, no doubt, came across as somewhat pompous to anyone who might have had the pleasure of witnessing our rather uncivilized shenanigans. This music has that affect; otherwise reserved and sane people go a little nutty after being exposed to the songfest of Carmina Burana.

The great thing about this work, other than its obvious harmonic and melodic attributes, is the fact that it is a very interpretive piece. Everything from a small ensemble singing and acting, to a large scale and straightforward symphonic performance, to a dance company doing their own thing, has been done to play out Carmina Burana. And I am still missing a few examples.

O Fortuna... Oh, my.

I told this friend I would look for my copy of another work he might like; Leonard Bernstein's Candide.

Nectar of the gods.

Sunday, October 14, 2007


My CDs are stacked like pennies; on top of a tall bookcase; I am tall but that is no way to file discs. "What's this? I forgot I had this." (Arthur Bliss' Morning Heroes). What I did not forget I had, which is the reason why I was standing on an empty cardboard box as I reached with my eyes over the piece of furniture, is my copy of Leonard Bernstein's operetta, Candide. I used to play this disc an awful lot. While working as I did at one time in the photo arts, I liked to play this music as I worked. And as Barbara Cook would do, I would be singing along... or humming, at best.

Cut to years later, now, and I am in heaven once again. I will make sure this time that I file Candide right beside that other great mid-twentieth century orchestral/vocal work, Carmina Burana.

Leonard Bernstein said a funny thing about the master composer (and anti Semite, and racist, and an arrogant, pompous ass) Richard Wagner: "I despise him, but I despise him on my knees."

Thursday, October 11, 2007


Tonight I watched the 1975 feature film, Framed, starring Joe Don Baker. It wasn't too bad. After it ended, I decided to look it up on the Internet Movie Database ( as part of my insatiable thirst for knowledge. (Useless knowledge? Watch your tongue, my dear boy.)

On the main page for the imdb was a news headline about Paramount Pictures releasing theatrically, for one night only on November 13th, the Star Trek episode, The Menagerie. Recently, Paramount made transfers from the original camera negatives for the first time. This is the new version with CG effects replacing the original model work. Considering I'm an old Trekker, I don't have any strong feeling about the 'upgrades'... whatever turns Paramount on and a potential new audience. (The miniature flyby stuff for the first pilot is, admittedly, a little on the rough side as it was also experimental in nature. No tv show up to that point had tried such elaborate effects.)

The Menagerie is a good choice for release as it has a movie quality to it; in running time and scope. This original two-parter incorporated the first pilot episode, The Cage. The ST series producers wanted to use it as it was a very expensive pilot, and having a $616,000 negative sitting idle in cans was considered a waste. The writers creatively (brilliantly) wrote an 'envelope' show in order to use the Cage footage effectively without resorting to; "Gee, Mr. Spock, what was it like to work with Captain Pike?" This additional footage was shot and the pilot was used as a sort of flashback. The Cage became The Menagerie.

The news headline mentions that this release will happen in about 300 theatres. Maybe Toronto will be one of them, and maybe I will go... maybe I'll be careful next time about admitting such a thing. Gee whiz, where did I put my Spock ears?...

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


This was a beautiful or, at least, entertaining movie in my childhood. It played my the local cinema a few times and I caught it at least two of those. Somehow we young movie goers knew it wasn't exactly a Hollywood movie even though it was a CinemaScope and colour picture with fast cars, computer consoles, cool fights (the flick opens with Superargo, in his tights, wrestling in a ring with a leopard man), a villainous villain based on a small island, and a rocketship (more on this in a moment), and darn entertaining, you can take that to the bank, delight.

I learned that Superargo contro Diabolikus -- brought to America as Superargo versus Diabolicus -- was a Italian/Spanish co-production from 1966. The only actor I am familiar with is Gerard Tichy... he was in two Samuel Bronston pictures from 1961; El Cid and King of Kings. Tichy plays the villain, Diabolicus, with great delight, as I remember it. He says to Superargo, "with my brains and your strength we can rule the world!"

Hopefully this matinee fare will hit video over here soon. I can watch Superargo again for the first time in over thirty years and anticipate and enjoy the feature's final few minutes all over again, the way I remember them: As a clock does a classic count-down, Diabolicus tries to take off in a rocketship from his island to escape a pursuing Superargo, and a timed detonator (which will blow up the island). Next, there is a shot, at night time, of what appears to be a pile of mud on a wet garage floor. I think: "Oh, that's the area right under the rocket booster... and the flame is supposed to be the rockets readying to fire." Shot of Superargo running over to a control panel. He pulls a power cable or something or other and sparks fly. Medium close-up of Diabolicus yelling or screaming in his capsule. Back to the wet garage floor as a mass of flame licks and swirls around the pile of mud which throws about little chunks of mud. I think: "Diabolicus is getting away; the rockets are firing." At that exact same instant, everyone in the movie theatre explodes with laughter. I think: "What are they laugh... ? Ohh, that's supposed to be the island blowing up!"

I'm not always the brightest rocket on the island.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007


Movies are known for making people cry; sometimes for the right reasons, as in a sympathetic character dying, or occasionally for the wrong one, as in you kissing twelve bucks goodbye. (The paper kissing happens an awful lot these days.) I remember seeing a particular episode of the ABC news magazine show, 20/20, in the mid 'nineties. One of the show's segments was on the phenomenon of crying; the human ability to drip water from the eye. The story went on to detail some of the serious research being done on this human process. There were a few shots of test subjects sitting alone in a darkened room as clear fluid ran from the eyes as though there was a giant peeled onion held just off camera.

The best part of the show was when, during a shot of one of these crying folk, segment reporter John Stossel did a voice over that went something like this: "How do these researchers get people to cry for the experiments? They show them old movies." And in the program audio at that moment you could hear the movie's musical score; which just happened to feature a solo viola cranking away in the upper register.

Niagara Falls it was... or better still, Victoria Falls.

It was great.

Monday, October 8, 2007


While enjoying this Canadian Thanksgiving holiday Monday, I thought I would share some of my own movie turkey. (The real turkey I am still chasing around the kitchen.) This is just a spontaneous list as most of these turkeys you hope would rot away in the compost bin of time.

While I respect anyone who just gets a film made, there are those movies that left an impression on me... like turkey leftovers forgotten in the back of the fridge or in the garbage bag that has been sitting in the hallway for a month.

Here she is, and in no particular order (the numbers are just for stock tracking):

1. Endless Love 1981 Director: Franco Zeffirelli
I am embarrassed to admit that when I saw it on Superchannel back in 1983 I actually made it to the end. There were so many scenes with richness in the form of ineptness. (Not one of Zeffirelli's best.) Rent it. Better still, buy it on DVD... today! It's a hoot!

2. Star Wars: Attack of the Clones 2002 Director: George Lucas
Hard to believe an installment from the venerable Star Wars franchise made the cut, although the prequel films were all battling for the coveted spot. (Limit one per customer.) AOTC is better known to me as the Plan 9 From Outer Space of the six Lucas ATMs. The dialogue is precious. My local SW fanatic told me after he saw it, and learned that I wasn't about to rush out to see AOTC, "I can't believe you don't want to see it... you like the old Republic serials, and this would be like cocaine to you!" (I should tell this fan friend that the Republic serials are good.) Maybe I should have done a line before I ultimately watched it.

3. The Berlin Affair 1985 Director: Liliana Cavani
I watched this baby at Toronto's great Bloor Cinema back in 1986 with my classmate Ted. These are important details as the fact that I can say that I saw this flickerama at the Bloor with Ted means I actually remember something about the movie screening. (Also, we sat in the balcony.) All I really remember about the movie is that it was excruciatingly boring and Ted and I burst into laughter at some of its special moments.

4. Leviathan 1989 Director: George P. Cosmatos
One of the underwater cycle movies that hit screens in 1989 which included James Cameron's 1989 technical epic, The Abyss. My own favourite Leviathan moment?... the lovely Amanda Pays, armed with a music blaring walkman portable listening device, decides to go for a jog around the sub-aquatic station after it has been established that a monster is on the loose.

5. Charlie's Angels 2000 Director: McG (McWho?!)
This movie, or whatever it is, is one big mess. The action is repetitive -- we get twenty scenes illustrating the girls' undercover exploits at the beginning of the film just to make sure we understand their line of work -- and cinematic technique non existent with badly composed shots and awkward staging. This abortion makes the Charlie's Angels television series look classy... it kinda was in a way.

6. Amistad 1997 Director: Steven Spielberg
The subject matter of this one is important and for all time, but the execution is surprisingly bad (although some Spielberg bashers would have an answer). Hysterical scene which made me laugh out loud: John Adams is doing his important speech... the music swells and the audio dubbing mixer pushes the music pot up with the orchestra's swelling; it reaches a crescendo of swellness and I am on the floor! I didn't think that aural humour was possible to such a degree.

7. The Faculty 1998 Director: Robert Rodriguez
The biggest failure of this film is that it was plain ol' not scary. My favourite moment at the Bloor Cinema here in Toronto, where I saw it, was the moment I was leaving the theatre after this thriller finished: Two young girls of about eleven or twelve years of age were picked up by their mothers as they stood in the lobby. One of the mothers glowed and asked, "so, what did you think?" The girls shook their heads and one stated, "it wasn't even scary." My reaction just then was that Rodriquez lost his target audience.

8. The Green Berets 1968 Directors: Ray Kellogg, John Wayne, Mervyn LeRoy
Make no mistake, this movie was bad the instant it left the moviola back in 1968, but in today's political climate, The Green Berets has special cache. The military bravura never went over well with audiences back then, while the U.S. was in the thick of the Vietnam war, and perhaps would be even more laughable if projected on a screen today in front of a packed house. Sounds like an experiment to me. The Green Berets is funny by any measure and does not need politics to make it that. I like 'The Duke', but realize that he couldn't win 'em all. Good for Wayne that he went on to star in a film the very next year which would win him an Oscar for playing a special character... that of 'Rooster' Cogburn in True Grit. (My dad took me to see that one when it came out... I am old.)

9. I'm tired...

(There are more gobble-gobbles; a lot more. But that is enough.)


I was looking through the TV guide and noticed a certain show playing on SunTV (a Toronto broadcast television station). The DVD Show sounded interesting enough so I decided to check an installment last evening. That was a big mistake. I could not believe how bad it was. From watching it I gathered that there are two regular hosts and two guest hosts for any particular episode.

The hosts were obviously fake in personality and maybe lacking any personality. The fun really started for your dedicated viewer when these clowns started reviewing newly released DVDs. One such title, Paul Verhoeven's The Black Book (Zwartboek), was a victim of the DVD Show's skilled reviewers. One of the guests, the guy guest, said something like, "most people know Verhoeven from his Hollywood movies like Robocop, Basic Instinct, Starship Troopers, and Showgirls; so I don't know why they would watch a film he made like one of his earlier movies he made in his country". (I am paraphrasing of course as I made the mistake of not taping the program so I could get an exact transcription with the added benefit of getting to enjoy it over and over again.)

I could not believe what I heard. It goes without saying that subjectivity is part of any criticism, but to dismiss some movie out of hand and with such verbiage is not only unfair to the viewer -- there are those who might be watching this review plus actually like 'foreign' films -- but indicates pure brainlessness on the part of the so-called reviewer. As a critic, you may warn those readers or television viewers who don't like foreign-language films and particularly don't like having to read subtitles, and that the title being discussed is both those so they might want to skip it, then put it in that perspective. Do not dismiss a film outright. Part of film and television criticism, good film and television criticism, is to hold the viewer's or reader's hand and take them through an introduction of varied movie or tv program types as they come along. Believe it or not, many people are open minded; these idiotic 'reviewers' are not... although, it could be argued that one has to have a brain to be 'minded' at all -- or have any personality.


Don't think I am slagging SunTV: This afternoon, as I discovered in my TV guide perusing, this station is playing Wonder Woman at 3 p.m. and following it up with The Incredible Hulk at 4 p.m.

Awesome. (I all but ignored these programs in their original runs... but still awesome.)

Friday, October 5, 2007


What is "The Lou Grant Syndrome" you ask? It is a non fatal condition which originated in small town, Ontario, Canada.

In all seriousness, I named this condition back in the late '70s. At the time there was a popular and acclaimed sitcom, The Mary Tyler Moore Show. When this half-hour comedy program left the airwaves, the character of Lou Grant, played by Ed Asner, was given his own hour-long dramatic vehicle. I remember that there was a little bit of confusion at the time, as Lou Grant, the show, was more serious in tone... not exactly what you would have expected it to be, based on it's parent, which wasn't a true progenitor. Critics and audiences seemed to be caught off guard by the shift in dramatics.

I, for one, liked Lou Grant very much. At that time, 1977, I was starting to lose interest in television watching as a regular hobby -- as a matter of fact, to this day, I feel that regular television program viewing is something one grows out of as they get older -- so even though I latched onto a new program, well, the Neilson company would not get an accurate picture of audience appeal, for this series, based on my habits. This is a shame, as I would have watched it more often if I hadn't discovered the outside world when I did. (I am joking as I, like a few of my friends, played road hockey for a chunk of the year and organized ice hockey during the winter. During the summer I ran around, and sometimes into, trees and biked just about everywhere.)

My point is: I came up with the term, "The Lou Grant Syndrome"; a term I applied to those who like a particular television program very much but never seem to get around to watching it. By the way, I probably saw seven or eight episodes of Lou Grant. The series went four seasons.

A couple of close friends of mine actually used the term, "The Lou Grant Syndrome"... I am posting here in order to try to make it a better known condition; or at least the proper name for the condition. Contrary to popular opinion, it is not called "Gotten a Life".

Wednesday, October 3, 2007


I am writing this in order to fulfill a two-article contract with my friend Mark (see my entry entitled, "The Lost Starlost".) His request that I write about "Doug McClure movies" did encourage me to rent The Land That Time Forgot as I haven't seen it in over twenty five years. Along with movies like At the Earth's Core, and The People That Time Forgot, it played on television a lot back then. These titles were great matinee fare.

This movie just rocketed by... it helped that Land is only ninety minutes in length. (Today, studios would find a way to make this a 120 minute, or more, bore.) The setup to the picture was quite good: Without giving too much away, our hero Doug McClure, with a little help, occupies a U-boat, and this vessel delivers our cast to a land that time forgot. I was surprised at how well directed it all was. For example, there is a combat scene on the boat's deck between the German crew and the invading party. It isn't just a quick one-two-three. There are some skirmishes which show the mayhem involved when two groups are fighting for something important. There is a bit of a PG sensibility, but the point is well made. (Steven Spielberg illustrated this aspect of skirmishing to great effect in his otherwise unremarkable film, Saving Private Ryan.)

Once on the island we are treated to a bunch of rubber-suit dinosaurs. I say this with affection. You get the point. It was a cost saving measure as stop motion animation would have been a lot more involved; financially and otherwise. It is hard to believe that the aforementioned processes were the only way to do 'monsters' before the pivotal year of 1993 -- the year of the unremarkable (other than the dinosaur business) movie, Jurassic Park. Land also features some lovely scenic backdrops and mattes. This isn't Kansas.

The ending is not what I expected: Perhaps this is the effect of Hollywood movies today where there has to be an explosion of some type, literally or even figuratively, to finish the last reel. Land does have a scene with explosions and fire near the end, but avoids the construct of happy, happy.

The Land That Time Forgot was a lot of fun, overall, and a bit of a surprise as I was expecting less.