Friday, November 30, 2007
We had the 1972 Canada-Russia hockey series: The drama here was too much to take for some of us hockey fans, not to mention, Canadians. It was very important that Canada win that. Nothing on a dramatic television series could match this event.
Then there was Evil Knievel, who just died today. All the memories came back to those of us who remember the drama inherent in some of his exploits. One of these was Knievel's attempt to jump over Snake River Canyon, Idaho, back in September of 1974.
I was big into auto racing back then -- watched the Indianapolis 500 and the Daytona 500. In addition, I became almost obsessed with NHRA (National Hot Rod Association) drag racing. Being a modeller at an early age, it was natural for me to build a plastic model kit of "Big Daddy" Don Garlits' dragster (it actually had rubber wheels).
... also collected dragster bubble gum cards, in 1973. Still have them somewhere.
When I first heard that Knievel would be jumping over the canyon, I naturally assumed that he would use a conventional motorcycle with little solid rocket boosters strapped to the side. (Physics was never my strong suit.)
Imagine the disappointment when the famous daredevil launched his missile only to deploy his parachute at the peak of its trajectory (or whatever part of the curve it was). I think he went down a notch in my great admiration scale.
But he was great.
Thursday, November 29, 2007
Technology is wonderful. Now anybody can walk around with a video camera which captures fairly good to excellent quality images...
The proof for me, especially, was in the bit of television I have watched in the last two days.
Last night, the CBC showed an episode of The Fifth Estate which detailed the final days of Laura Gainey's life. She was the young woman (daughter of NHL great, Bob Gainey) who died when swept off the deck of the tall ship Picton Castle last December during a storm at sea. Someone on the crew documented much of the fateful voyage with his video camera.
Normally, what happens in these cases is that documentary filmmakers depict much of the actual incident through dramatic recreations; using actors, shots of existing settings, stock shots, etc. But what we now have, and we have certainly entered this new phase, is that of constant capture: Everyone it seems has a video camera, or a still camera or a cell phone which takes motion pictures.
This 'constant capture' has allowed us for the last couple of years or so to see 'you are there' moments such as people having to walk through a subway tunnel to exit a broken down train... or whatever.
It goes without saying that what I am saying is not really news; it just really hit me last night in a big way.
To add to this, I admit I watched a CBC documentary on Paris Hilton tonight where a member of the paparazzi complained that regular citizen folk are getting the priceless shots -- moments captured because they just happen to be in the right place at the right time.
As he suggested, everybody is outfitted with the right equipment.
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
In addition to the comments posted to my blog, "Blade Runner, Final", I have received some in my e-mail box. In a chat with an old friend of mine (since high school) we both took our positions. We dug in, as it were -- it was fun but it demonstarted how there are two camps.
Unless I didn't make it clear, I think that Blade Runner is a better than average picture -- most movies are not very good, no matter how valiantly they try -- but not the classic that some say it is.
A few years ago I saw Elwy Yost say, on his show, Saturday Night at the Movies, and I kid you not, he said this to his guest when talking about our devisive little flick, "... one of the great movies of all time".
Hey, who am I to argue with Elwy Yost?
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Fifteen years ago I, with a friend, tried to buy a couple of episodes of a late 1950s CBC drama series. The hook for us was the fact that some name Canadian actors appeared as guests. (This particular series shall remain nameless, which will be obvious in a moment.)
My partner and I travelled to the National Archives in Ottawa to view some existing kinescopes of the series. We got pretty excited when we saw that the kines were in excellent condition... not the usual smokey, beaten up kind. The existing episodes were very releasable.
I continued my research, unearthing some rare stills taken on the set during production, talking with certain actors' agents, etc. The ball was rolling.
This all came to a thundering halt when the head of the CBC's legal department told me one fateful day, "I just do not have the resources to deal with all the rights issues". I had been speaking with this person for a few weeks but we realized it was not going to happen. The final, and somewhat exasperated, comment did not surprise me. I understood.
The various agreements that were signed between the writers and performers with the CBC way back, continue to prove to be a veritable nightmare to this day.
And certain entrepreneurial folk such as yours truly get some bright idea to bless the public with some historic Canadian television.
I am making inquires again about this show again, even though the rights issues are as messy as always. (I know this to be the case after speaking with someone in the CBC's legal department, recently.)
A home video release of this mysterious show -- at least two episodes, that is -- would still be nice.
... I will continue to be stubborn. We'll see how far it gets me.
Monday, November 26, 2007
I really admire the so-called 'showmen'. However, true motion picture showmen are few and far between, certainly these days.
Irwin Allen was a big one when I was growing up; producing such television series as Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (based on his very successful feature film of the same name from three years before), Time Tunnel, Lost in Space, and Land of the Giants.
They were awful programs, although not to we little ones, years ago, who were glued to the cathode ray tube. (Voyage could be good in its earliest seasons.) But nothing changes the fact that Irwin Allen sold four, hour-long dramatic series to the networks, between 1964 and 1968.
Irwin Allen finished his television fantasy series run in 1970. He quickly started developing a feature film; one to be titled The Poseidon Adventure (1972). Its great box office success led to an even more financially successful film; by the name of The Towering Inferno (1974).
Irwin Allen was given the honour of, "The Master of Disaster".
Allen was a master of building anticipation for his product, often appearing on film as his geeky self, pitching his wares to the studios, and to us.
He was a true showman -- not to forget, visionary.
I had an interesting discussion with a friend of mine a few years ago regarding the moniker of 'movie showman'. We came up with some from the past: Cecil B. DeMille was an obvious pick, as was Mike Todd. "Who would you call a showman from the last decade or two?", was a question put forth by one of us after firing off the historical examples.
We could not think of one. Period. Half hearted, my friend said that director James Cameron, might, sorta, kinda be a showman.
... but, nah.
Saturday, November 24, 2007
I've checked out one of the animated episodes... it is dark as I remember it being. This version of the franchise was made immediately after the 1974 live action television series was cancelled.
Last night I watched an episode of the live action series and was surprised that it isn't as bad as I thought it would be. The two leads, Ron Harper and James Naughton are quite good; and so is Roddy McDowell, of course, and as always. The background music is outstanding; balls and all. You sure don't get that anymore. (What you do get now is Battlestar Galactica and the crappy electro-symphony special.)
Back in the fall of 1974 I was there with bells on when it premiered. While I did like it I realized even then that the series was not anything special.
Apes fever was very real back then. The feature films were still hot off the presses and the Mego toys were out. But it was obvious that unless the television series was going to push past its format of 'the astronauts always having to evade General Urko and his men', then only so many episodes could be done before it ran its course.
(A big part of the reason CBS cancelled the television series after only half a season, I understand, was due to its great cost... and was not pulling in audience numbers to justify the money being spent week to week.)
History has made its judgement and some of us look back at our childhood memories and can see why there was some excitement. What is interesting is how lame television science fiction/fantasy is today: Perhaps some twelve year old watching these series now will look back in thirty years and reminisce in a similar way.
... Beneath the Planet of the Apes was good.
Friday, November 23, 2007
If you are Canadian, or someone who was lucky enough to get exported versions of these shows, you will get a trip down memory lane with this site. I did a quick perusal and found there was nothing that appeared to be missing. Everything from The Friendly Giant, to Wayne and Shuster, to Hilarious House of Frightenstein (pictured above) are included... and a whole lot more; some of which you and I have never heard of.
The proprietors of 'tvarchive.ca' are taking submissions: If you are in possession of anything applicable, they would love and welcome you to submit. I have a few things; some rare, in fact.
Time to get busy.
Thursday, November 22, 2007
There is something called "Great Interviews":
... An interview with Woody Allen caught my eye as it is the first in the series (alphabetical). It is called "Deconstructing Woody":
... and Marshall McLuhan:
Now the above examples illustrate what the CBC excels at; always has.
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
* Get rid of George Stroumboulopoulos; but keep The Hour.
* Show more archival NHL and CFL games.
* Give writer and broadcaster David Gilmour his own show; let him decide what it should be.
* Instead of designating a series as a regular series, make even more as limited runs; this way they can be work-shopped to a degree while actually producing a larger variety of series concepts; which leads to more coverage, therefor more chances of finding larger across-the-board audiences.
* They should try doing a fantasy/sci-fi show; these are cheaper to produce more than ever before -- due to the explosion in electronic visual effects technology -- and this genre is always equipped with a built in audience, increasing the chances of building and exporting a potential cult property. (There is a big joke here: Sydney Newman was a producer at the CBC back in the fifties with the drama department. He ended up in England with the BBC and more or less created Doctor Who. That hurts.)
* And last but not least, and certainly tied in with the above, the CBC must start taking more chances... think outside of the box! (Pardon that overused expression.)
The real caveat to the above is that the CBC has always been an "old boy's club". Until that changes...
These new shows are: The Border (to premiere in January), MVP [pictured above] ("the secret lives of hockey wives"... hey, will there be any good fights?), Sophie, jPod (based on a book by Douglas Coupland), and, as I like to say, so on.
To be honest, I think that the Corp is being a little too hopeful. People will just watch repeats of their crappy U.S. prime time 'hits' as opposed to moving over and trying the CBC shows. I am not suggesting that U.S. shows are all crappy; of course not. They make so many there are actually some good ones (so I've heard).
I admit I've seen some of the CBC's Intelligence series. I also admit I was very, very impressed. Have always liked Ian Tracey -- ever since I saw him in Claude Jutra's Dreamspeaker, back in 1977 on the CBC. He is a superb actor.
But it seems hardly anybody is watching.
... case closed.
The CBC's excellent website is at... http://cbc.ca/
It makes sense, eh?
Monday, November 19, 2007
I first watched Blade Runner with my dad -- he looked at me after it ended and asked what I thought. I blurted out something about it being "okay". He found it tough going. My dad was a big movie fan so he would have understood the noir element (and which is a big part of its appeal to the fans). We never talked about it a second after.
Back in 1991 I received a phone call from a filmschool chum, and he asked me if I wanted to see Blade Runner: The Director's Cut at the Uptown Theatre (here in Toronto). The problem was, he wanted to go to the screening which was to start in twenty minutes. I rushed off, watched it, and stayed lukewarm... voice over or not.
I met someone last week who was visiting from Buffalo. As part of his trip to Toronto, he wanted to swing by the Regent Theatre and catch Blade Runner: The Final Cut. There are people who will travel to watch the latest incarnation of the film.
Good for them.
As of this posting, Blade Runner: The Final Cut is still playing at the Regent Theatre...
551 Mount Pleasant Road
Toronto, ON, Canada
Sunday, November 18, 2007
So, you can imagine my surprise when I brought up the topic of the Dumont Television Network and quickly realized that he had no idea what I was talking about. (I'm nothing special; I had not heard of the 'missionary position' until a couple of nights ago.)
Truly, when someone calls Dumont "the forgotten network", they are not kidding.
Dumont was started in 1946 by Allen B. Dumont, a television receiver maker who decided he wanted to start up his own station... and more. One problem right off the top was that The Dumont Television Network never sprung from a radio network -- as ABC and CBS did -- so there was not the bonus of being able to draw extra revenue and talent from an established base.
Budgets were very low, therefor their product had a cheapness compared to the other networks. (ABC did not make an entrance to television until 1948, so Dumont actually had a bit of a head start.) Captain Video and His Video Rangers exemplified the cheapness inherent on the network; although, it was very popular... as was Cavalcade of Stars (hosted by Jackie Gleason, which morphed into The Honeymooners), and Life is Worth Living.
In 1948, the FCC froze new licences which made the expansion of stations problematic as they realized that the VHF spectrum of channels 2 to 12 was not enough to handle all the applications for startups. In order to expand effectively, Dumont had to calibrate into the UHF frequencies. Since very few people had televisions which could tune into these meant that the network went unwatched by many. (UHF-capable television sets were not not made mandatory until 1964.)
Dumont never really died but rather fizzled out; between 1955 and 1956.
Having a fourth network would not have been so objectionable, I think. ABC, CBS, and NBC just sound so political.
Having Dumont fall into the network footnote category certainly makes them more fascinating to some of us.
For an excellent site dedicated to Dumont, check out... http://members.aol.com/cingram/television/dumont.htm
The Dumont Television Network, 1946 - 1956; R.I.P.
Saturday, November 17, 2007
I had a coffee with a good friend of mine, and one who does work in the biz, where the whole subject came up. He is now waiting for his next gig but hopes something will turn up in the new year. What I found interesting, and I have discussed this with him before, so I can't claim ignorance, is that he too feels the whole (Toronto film and tv) business has to explode and rebuild. Casting off and out a lot of characters in the process. He feels there are too many jokers who are in film and television who should not be. And are in for the wrong reasons. As impressing, or at least trying to, others with the fact that they work in the film and television business. Pretty impressive.
(By the way, I should add that this friend is genuinely talented and has worked full time in his discipline for over ten years now -- has never had to take an outside job. So it ain't a case of sour grapes the reason he's talking this trash talk.)
Certainly Los Angeles must have a bit of the same career mix of characters but at least they do have an industry down there.
They must be doing something right.
A bit of a non sequitur: This past Wednesday I was walking down Spadina Avenue (here in Toronto), at Bloor Street, to do some business. As I passed in front of three parked classic yellow school buses, I was all but swarmed by a bunch of very lovely, and tall, young women... I guessed they were about to board the buses. One of them, very warmly, offered, "I hope you have a wonderful day".
I stopped immediately -- no surprise, eh? -- and replied to a comment which just had to be dealt with, "thank you... where are you from?" Another answered, "we're from Cambridge (Ontario, Canada)".
I must be doing something right.
If I wasn't over twice their age I would move there immediately.
Are all Cambridge-ites so nice?
There is definitely something in the drinking water...
Thursday, November 15, 2007
Vancouver, which gets the bulk of U.S. productions, has been getting hammered. A big part of this is the WGA strike. Those U.S. shows use guild writers, and the scripts have been drying up leaving hundreds out of work as of this week. The numbers are only going to go up the longer the strike lasts.
When the strike does eventually end, and if the Canadian Loonie is still floating high, then that is the end as far as I am concerned. Come signing time... no one from the U.S. is going to sign.
The really negative side of me thinks its not all that bad a turn of events. Maybe a real film industry will form, utilizing only the strongest elements of commerce and manpower.
The so-called Toronto film and television industry is already devastated... only good will, or should, come out of this: A nice, compact, and efficient filmmaking machine which actually uses Canadian money; and not the 'handouts' variety, will leap up and begin a new era.
If something good cannot come out of this whole series of events -- meaning rebuilt and strengthened through these past experiences -- then, as Archie Bunker once said, "good ribbons!"
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
The King of Kensington
Adventures in Rainbow Country
The Beachcombers (pictured on left)
The Trouble with Tracy (sticky as bubblegum under your shoe)
The Littlest Hobo (made twice but the first has the best theme)
This Hour Has Seven Days
The Starlost (CTV/NBC)
Swiss Family Robinson
Hockey Night In Canada (vies with "The Maple Leaf Forever" as Canada's other national anthem)
... I will add more as they come to me.
Someone should release a Canadian TV Tunes disc.
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
Here is the real hook: Mr. Arpin wrote the famous -- at least for we Ontario, Canada, viewers -- Polka Dot Door theme. (You are humming it already.)
Polka Dot Door ran from 1971 to 1993 on OECA (TVOntario).
It is a very catchy tune and became more than familiar to those of us who watched the show every morning before trotting off to school. Okay, so I was twelve years old; but I admit I needed my fix of Polkaroo and the toy box. That box seemed to have a lot in it. (If you've seen the show, you would be convinced that there was a nice stash of cannabis in the infamous box.)
Perhaps the best part of the show was the simple and gentle theme song... by Mr. John Arpin.
"The Polka Dot Door, The Polka Dot Door... " http://www.angelfire.com/tv2/tvothemesongs/Polkadotdoortheme.mp3
Monday, November 12, 2007
I never have liked fighting in what, to me, is the finest team sport you can find this side of Talos IV.
I think it is unfortunate that a game which tends to be inherently exciting has to be described as being more so when there is a scrap on the ice.
Even as a little kid -- early '70s -- I was frustrated when a fight broke out. For me, it was the equivalent of going to a commercial break. "Where is the hockey?"
I rarely watch any NHL hockey... maybe it is because of the fighting. It is possible.
Ice hockey is superb by it's very nature (the only team sport that even comes close is football/soccer). You do not need a fight to elevate the game.
Fighting in hockey is the equivalent to the Starship Enterprise coming across a bunch of 'space hippies'. (Bizarre and unnecessary.)
On a similar note: I find it amusing that the CBC feels they have to use strobe-like camera techniques, quick cutting, and rock music to help sell the viewer on the game. The tight and staccato imagery is redundant... the game is already very, very fast. I can see why the U.S. networks utilize these techniques for their coverage of NFL football because there is not quite the visual zip in the game itself. (Of course the CBC is copying the technique from the Americans as it gives it credibility.)
Thursday, November 8, 2007
Before I retire for the night I must throw something up.
My work involves video technology. I had to give my head a shake again today when I projected -- via video projector -- video test sample onto a reasonably large screen. I'm reminded how exciting a time this is for we creative visual artists. You can scoop up a broadcast quality image for a very reasonable price. Even the more basic 'digital' cameras, certainly the HD ones, give you a fairly sharp image. This technology allows some of us to look as though we know what we are doing.
Let's all have fun.
I guess the trick is to come up with a good script, still. And darn, if that ain't the hardest little thing for some filmmakers and most television producers to come up with. This is not a slight against my dear (WGA) soul brothers who are striking south of the border in the good ol' U.S. of A. right now.
Personally, I hope a lot of those so-called TV producers are suffering right now. Serves them right for having little respect for the creative soul... and then butchering scripts before they go to camera, just to impress others with their own innovatory prowess.
... They should worry about what fancy new car they can purchase at the expense of those creative weirdos.
And how 'bout that powerful Canadian dollar! Like, that's great, eh?
Monday, November 5, 2007
There is no one like him.
One thing that struck me watching Bananas again after so much time has passed since the last viewing -- the first was as a double feature with Sleeper back in 1974 -- is how nothing has really changed. Allen makes pointed remarks about U.S. foreign policy with this strip of celluloid. I could imagine that if he was able to make this film post-9/11 (and had managed to secure funding) he would be accused of being unpatriotic and anti-American.
Of course Woody Allen hates the United States of America. Didn't you know?
Proof: Woody, as Fielding Mellish, is approached by San Marcos revolutionaries to become the new El Presidente. Woody just does not feel comfortable with the position. He suggests that they give him the role of Vice President instead. "Now there's a real idiot's job!"
Bananas has a wonderful Marvin Hamlish score. It's all very hummable. I'm not a big Hamlish fan but the man can surprise me. The title song, done in a very Latin American style, compliments the marquee-like opening titles.
Before long, Allen would often depend on old jazz tunes to track the audio portion.
Another surprise for me: I had forgotten how short it is. Being consistently funny, although I admit I have seen it far too many times to laugh as loud as I was known to do, helps make Bananas fly by.
Like Take the Money and Run, Sleeper, and Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex, Bananas is more a bunch of filmed gags as opposed to real cinema. That would change when he teamed up with cinematographer Gordon Willis.
Saturday, November 3, 2007
And the 'video streaming' issue has to be dealt with now and built upon as the technology and usage grow over the years to come.
Gee, how many ways can creative people be ripped off?! And frequently by inimitably non-creative types. Let me count the ways...
The picture montage I posted above speaks volumes, I think.
For a more text based angle to the argument, not to mention evidence, check out...
Friday, November 2, 2007
I have oodles of respect for these guys, and girls. They are, whether the typical producer would admit it or not, the people who conjure up those story ideas and full scripts; which a film crew later commits to camera. Unfortunately, writers for some reason are not held in high regard by some in the industry.
The WGA (Writers Guild of America) has fought long and hard for what benefits and remunerations they receive today.
This brings me to one of the big issues, if not the biggest: Writers want a percentage of monies accumulated from DVD sales... all those tv boxed sets account for a good chunk of all DVDs sold. And the writers get nothing. When you put down that $40 or $100 or whatever, almost none of those bills make it to the particular show's writing staff. ("Pennies")
You must understand that producers are often the least creative of staff -- this makes this whole issue rather surreal.
This is nothing short of criminal, in my books. It is time to nail this issue down. Personally, I don't care if the strike goes on for months and months as I do not watch the average television program on a regular basis, but this doesn't affect my opinion on the matter.
I read an interesting article in the Globe and Mail today; one titled, "Hollywood writers on the brink of strike"...
Producers say profits from DVDs largely offset the increased cost of production. They also don't want to commit themselves to higher payments for digital distribution at a time when business models are still uncertain.
Well, ya know what? That is not the writers' problem! It is called "the cost of doing business". You pay the writers and others what they are entitled to from the sales, then you calculate the numbers.
If you don't like an equitable arrangement, then get out! Close your doors!
Do something you have a real talent for...
Thursday, November 1, 2007
The second film I saw of his is a little WW2 epic short film entitled, First Op (1999). Actually, it is because of this film that I first met Dom; he dropped by a mutual friend's office to check in on some work that was being done for the production. (This was a couple of years before he got it finished.)
I was introduced to Dom with the note that he was making a film about a RCAF Lancaster bomber raid. Immediately I was impressed by someone who was making a film about a bombing operation, with its technical and production complications.
While First Op is dramatically crude its narrative idea is compelling enough: Will the crew survive? There is a lot of talking which makes it feel Hollywood; and not terribly authentic. Needless chatter was verboten.
Dom executed all of the visual effects. He went back to school and completed a course on Digital Imaging. While there is that video game look, circa 1999, generating these shots on computer allowed such imaginings on a tiny budget. Just a few (few) years earlier and it would have been a no go.
Dom got the film done. And that counts for a lot. He also achieved this feat without any government funding. Kudos!
Tonight, I rewatched First Op for the first time in a while. My respect is maintained.
In the summer of 1999, the CBC played First Op on their Canadian Reflections series. Previously, I had tried to pawn off my own production and the Reflections producer turned me down; so the fact that Dom sold his short to the screening series impressed me even more.
You should check these two films out if you care, like I do, about independent filmmakers who get their projects done.
I eagerly await Dominic Menegon's next endeavours...