Action, Baby!

Yes, it’s Friday, the last day of a year I wasn’t crazy about, but at least a year with some solid entertainment and creative efforts worth writing about. Hey, I even got to write about malodorous muck like At Long Last Love [M] (1974), and never hit the shuttle button once (though I did shout at the TV, begging Burt Reynolds  ‘For the love of God, keep your mouth shut!’ when he was a bar or two away from murdering another Cole Porter song.

I dare Shout! Factory to release that film in 2011. They’ve already got Stanley Donen’s Lucky Lady (1975) slated for an early February release, so Peter Bogdanovich’s mess is a natural thematic follow-up.

In any event, the theme of this wave is Action! and it’s headed by Inception, both Warner Home Video’s Blu-ray [M] and the soundtrack CD [M] (Water Tower Music).

It’s interesting to hear people that love the film for its artistry, director Christopher Nolan’s bucking of all-CGI effects, and his scriptorial craftsmanship, and the nay-sayers who found the film either boring, baffling, or annoying.

Inception is sci-fi, which I guess doesn’t appeal the broadest possible audience if there’s no bug-eyed or invading alien monsters like the idiotic ID4 (Independence Day) which raked in a fortune in spite of being a bloated rip-off of Kenneth Johnson’s unsubtle moral parable V.

I mention ID4 because you really have to go back a bit for a major sci-fi film that grabbed the attention of critics and audiences, and while Inception did well, it’s nothing like ID4.

Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin were never subtle in their work – one German message board poster called 2012 (2009), Emmerich’s most recent I-hate-America volley, as being nothing but crash, crash, boom, boom, bang, bang abfall (which it is) – whereas Inception’s Nolan went for another puzzle film that provokes thought and analysis.

The payoff isn’t people of the world raising their arms and doing the screaming “Yay!” dance of joy (I hate that cliché. Really, really hate that cliché), but rather the smile of personal reward, either from figuring out the puzzle, being surprised by Nolan’s genuine ingenuity, or the outright cleverness of Inception, much in the way Nolan’s Memento (2000) is a his ultimate puzzle film (and David Fincher’s sick little The Game coming in second).

Inception is 2.5 hours long, but it feels like a slightly less than 2 hour movie, which is a hell of an accomplishment from a filmmaking stance because the sense of brisk pacing comes from skillful editing and the filmmaker’s ability to grab the audience and keep their minds busy with puzzles, theories and gradual revelations in spite of actual scenes being ostensibly just dialogue. That’s magic, whether it’s a dialogue film, or a balance of dialogue and action. Working that illusion, but feeding the audience substance.

The only other films that come to mind where a nearly 3 hours felt like 2 are The Right Stuff (an amazing little movie about the pilots in NASA’s Mercury space program, based on Tom Wolfe’s book); and Michael Mann’s 1995 masterpiece, Heat, incredibly a remake of an utterly mediocre, stilted, and badly dated 1989 TV movie called L.A. Takedown that no one remembers.

A close contender is Milos Forman’s 1984 film Amadeus, and like the aforementioned films, it illustrates the artistry that can exist in a commercial realm if the filmmakers are skilled, have deep passion for the material, and are given wiggle room by the studios.

(Some of you may be thinking ‘Hey! What about Kevin Reynold’s Waterworld or Kevin Costner’s The Postman? and while they initially qualify, those films ultimately fail. The former makes no sense, and the latter loses its mind and becomes a Star Trek episode. Both personal visions feel as long as they are.)

You can regard Amadeus and Inception as art films, but the other two are commercial works by studio system mavericks, and to my eyes The Right Stuff and Heat are the best examples of creating the illusion of fast pacing when the damned movie’s an hour longer.

In any event, since the theme is action – Inception switches to the best James Bond sequence outside of a James Bond film (and puts the makers of Quantum of Solace rightly to shame) – I’ve also uploaded a series of action-related soundtracks.

I’ve an early review of Clint Mansell’s Faster [M] and John Powell’s Fair Game [M] (both from Lakeshore Records), Harry Gregson-Williams ridiculously fun Unstoppable [M] (La-La Land Records), and one of my favourite scores of the year, Guy Michelmore’s Jackboots on Whitehall [M] (MovieScore Music).

Michelmore’s evocation of a 1968 war score is brilliant. Completely (well, almost) straight-faced, and the spirit of Elmer Bernstein is everywhere.

Mark R. Hasan, Editor

Dizzying Post-Boxing Day Blather

Part of the holidays includes food, drink, some quiet time, annoying time with crowds, and, er, getting sick now and then, so it’s perhaps expected that whatever knocked me down last Wednesday came back this holiday weekend. Instead of delicious chocolates and cake, it’s been Advil and lying horizontal to quell headaches & dizziness.

Before getting knocked down, I did manage to draft a batch of reviews and finish up on some posts, so ideally they’ll start appearing Wednesday, with stuff almost everyday until they’re all online, and I’ve time to get a short story out of the way.

Boxing Day? Did most of the egregious spending online, and there will be no frivolous purchases for the next 60 days. However, New Year’s Eve I’ll have a pair of posts not on ‘the best of 2010’ but trends good and bad in home video, and soundtracks. A lot has changed in the past 2 years in terms of what people buy and how they watch movies at home, as well as the release of soundtracks sort of at a crossroads in terms of staying in the physical realm of limited CDs and digital downloads. It’s just my 2 cents, but since the first family VCR was purchased in 1983 and the first soundtrack album maybe 29 years ago, I get to wax and bitch a bit.

Odds and sods:

This week marks the 50th anniversary of CTV’s birth. It’s the country’s biggest (and what I think was) the first indie network. There was the CBC and local stations, but it took CTV to bring in more choice, as well as the next wave of newcomers in the seventies like Global (CanWest), CHCH Hamilton, and CityTV into Toronto and Ontario homes.

CTV is a funny station, because they’ve also grabbed aspects of the U.S. model, in terms of branding their talent, sticking to the rigid 'local news' format, and trumpeting their virtues as a local and provincial feel-good entity that’s always there for the community. The corp does benevolent, charitable acts, but sometimes you wish the bumpers and promo spots would get ratcheted down a few notches.

The station had a brief fling rebranding itself as the BBS network, but reporters seemed to have trouble saying “BBS” (it came out as “Beeb-brpz-Ess’) and most viewers reacted to the sudden name change as ‘Huh?’ so the owners erased all memory of that blunder and went back to CTV.

Then came 2007, and the ‘My Toronto is CTV News’ campaign. Trumpeted as “dynamic,” it was actually an assault of self-aggrandizing sloganism using montages and vignettes that made little sense. Smiley happy people holding up hand-crafted signage that inferred the network supported local colour, culture and myriad endeavors but came off as saccharine and sometimes insipid. Most ad breaks began and ended with a repeat of the promos, and within a half-hour segment of the noon show, that meant maybe 8-10 assaults. Sometimes the promos were repeated one after the other when the station was short of ads, making things even more interminable.

It’s like walking into the dining room and shouting “The turkey I’m making is AMAZING!” every 5 minutes before the stupid bird is brought in so we can start eating the damned thing. The promos took away from the news content that was being sold by implication as substantive, and the promos often function as filler material on slow news days. I know this to be true, because during the duration of that awful campaign, I hit the mute button religiously during the ad breaks.

That campaign was compacted and somewhat put into stasis, but it’s been appropriated by the CTV News Channel with anchors appearing in a new montage spouting the phrase in linked fragments: “I. I am. I am CTV. I, am CTV.  I am CTV News. I AM CTV NEWS.”

Sure you are. We know that. But who cares? If you were saying ‘On behalf of CTV News, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts for making us your choice of news, culture, and a trusted friend of your family,’ I’d listen, but ‘I am CTV News’ is blatant adspeeke. You could be saying ‘I am the giant cheese melon, and you wear ball-bearings most mightily,’ and the advertorial impact is just as mute-worthy.

One final potshot at CTV’s stitched nylon ego. When I visited friends in Ottawa years ago, I noticed the local news had similar graphics, similar promos, and format. It was like bizarroland, with Toronto people replaced by another group with slightly different architecture in the title montage. One format, cookie-cut for all local markets. It’s an efficient use of ad money and implementation of a refined campaign, but there’s something surreal in journeying from city to city and noticing the colours, sounds, and format are the same… but there’s body doubles, hired from the same telegenic grad school.

In the plus category, CTV’s running a few vignettes on their birth and development which are kind of fun. When I was a rugrat, I also rushed home from school to catch The Flintstones and The Adventures of Superman, and while CTV did have a hand in funding The Trouble with Tracy, it’s not really a point of Cancon pride. (Please, play the YouTube links.)

The show was made from creaky, unfunny fifties radio dramas updated with ‘hip’ and contemporary argot and featured grotesque camera mugging and a horrible laugh track. Even as a child I knew there was no dignity in the show – but I was gripped by the pastel colours and repeated cutaways to frozen ‘Wah-wah-wah’ grimaces and pregnant-paused, eye-rolling. It’s among the worst shows ever made, and deserves to be back in circulation as reminder of how, like the Americans (Supertrain, anyone? Manimal?), we too made stinkers.

Not in the CTV's prestige montage is The Starlost, but that’s okay. It did have a life of its own as a bad TV favourite, and like many Canadian productions, it’s available on DVD… in America. It sort of follows the (il)logic that pundits used to repeat: Canadians don’t’ embrace talent unless it’s a success in the States; then we love them, but then complain why they never came back home, and if they did so, we’d ask them where’d they fuck up to get booted out of the U.S. entertainment industry?’

That’s sort of an exaggeration, but it’s a taste of the cynicism that used to be levied on Canadian talent, which isn’t as severe anymore. Part of the downturn of self-loathing stems from the music industry (courtesy of early Cancon rules) that begat superb talent which always existed here, but lacked the wiggle room in media outlets to reach audiences.

Still, there’s something ridiculous in having to import these vintage shows because no one will carry them here on DVD. I guess the existence of Starlost, Friday the 13: The Series, War of the Worlds, The Littlest Hobo, and Swiss Family Robinson (note the Chris Wiggins motif) demonstrate a broad audience stateside that liked our stuff – spacey, gory, weird, saccharine, and cheesy, respectively.

And one last point: Mike Myers did use the Definition game show theme in his Austin Powers triptych, but the theme was based on Quincy Jones’ evil “Soul Bossa Nova,” which just keeps going and going and going and going and going until the mixer turned the recording knob to FADEOUT.

And then it remained buried in your brain forever.

Mark R. Hasan, Editor

Christmas Jeers

On December 18th internationally acclaimed Iranian director Jafar Panahi (1995’s White Balloon, 2006’s Offside) was convicted of ‘colluding’ against the Iranian Islamic Republic by the country’s courts and sentenced to 6 years in jail. Additionally, for the next 20 years he’s banned from writing scripts, making films, travelling abroad, and giving any interviews – this within a week after a 7-day retrospective / celebration (Dec. 2-9) of the director’s work at the Tiff Bell Lightbox.

A number of acclaimed American directors have spoken out against the conviction & heavy sentencing, but what’s happened isn’t a justice system meting out punishment for breaking rules – it’s just bullying, using every available venue of punishment under its control, which unfortunately is everything within the legal and judicial system.

Panahi’s sentence also seems ludicrous and archaic because it’s what one would’ve read about when China and the former Soviet Union were more secretive and totalitarian; suppression of films and talent goes on, but at least among some of the former high-profile perpetrators, things have changed because of economics (money = good), and the need to be perceived as having embraced free-thinking, free-market concepts; some level of criticism is allowed because it presents the image of a permissive regime when there’s probably still sensitive figures whose first instinct would be to crush, but they only react when the annoying independent voice just won’t shut the hell up.

That’s maybe Panahi’s dilemma, but it hardly helps Iran’s international image.

The woman who made international headlines for being sentenced to death by stoning for murdering her husband with her lover was briefly ‘released’ this month so that she could return to the ‘scene of the crime’ and recreate for TV viewers how she allegedly killed her sleeping husband. From the brief excerpts in the western media, it looked like some trashy reality show, except it was a government sanctioned, high-concept production: ‘Let’s reinforce the image of the woman’s guilt for the masses so at least people at home will be on our side and find international pleas and criticisms offensive.’ Reportedly included in the broadcast were stills of the dead husband’s corpse to reinforce a sense of horror.

Those in media-savvy countries are bombarded by commercial abuses of technology that warps the morality and public taste. There are reality shows on everything, but our exposure to mundane and garbage subject matter, as well as manipulative filmmaking techniques, means our collective sense of when the bullshit smells is High. We know when we’re being provoked.

Ergo, the woman’s ‘return to the scene of the crime’ may be a violation of her civil rights and an exploitation of a sad situation, but it’s also crass exploitation no different than putting a an alleged killer and the family of his / her victim on stage, with a Jerry Springer-styled audience designed to sweeten the provocative meeting for the cameras and sound mixers.

The Iranian broadcast of that ‘How I did it to my sleeping husband’ put the network on par with Fox TV; the content wasn’t important, but its effect on viewers was vital, and so it goes with Panahi’s conviction. Admittedly, there is a difference between spousal murder and protesting with the Green movement (which is what ultimately exhausted the regime’s patience for Panahi), but the government’s handling of the cases is about affecting the public for control, not to reinforce what’s morally right.

The dilemma for the government is that it’s trying to maintain a restrictive hand on a culture that’s old, wise, and is media savvy, and the use of Twitter during the 2009 elections, as well as getting video footage of abuses inflicted upon Green members to international media markets demonstrates ordinary people can use images and sounds just as effectively in getting their personal points across. Unlike North Korea, Iran is tech-savvy, and they have the gear to disseminate their own information.

Panahi’s sentencing reads like a plot extract from some HBO TV movie or documentary about a Soviet era composer silenced by Stalin because he disliked the composer’s use of satire and socio-political commentary. Dimitri Shostakovich managed not only to persevere and still write music, but he outlived the despotic sonofabitch and won.

Only one of the two is admired, studied, and respected around the globe as a cultural influence; the other’s just a monster whose lone virtue was firming up a nation against Nazi invaders during WWII, and whipping their arses on the snow.

In a classic capitalist society, if your work sucks, no one will buy it. If the studio has little faith in it, they’ll dump it on Labor Day weekend or video. If a studio or producer destroys it or shelves it, you can go to the media and embarrass your target(s) with the worst case scenario being a defamation suit - not arrest, government suppression and conviction for protesting too much.

Panahi will be able to write scripts in his mind, but the prison term will break something, and additional 14 years of silence might destroy the desire to persevere and express ideas again on film. It’s not a crime against the republic; it’s a nasty regime saying ‘We told you to shut up, and you didn’t listen. Now we’re going to destroy you.’

Meanwhile, as this drama breaks wind in the media, the tensions between North and South Korea keep getting tighter, and creepier. It’s as though the North’s Kim Jong-Il is repeatedly egging the South if it wants to play a game of Global Thermonuclear War.

The North is like a big child in the corner who screams and spittles whenever it feels no one is coming over from the big group of kids in the sunny playground to play a private game of checkers because everyone knows you cheat.

It’s also because you’re a creepy kid and habor weird ideas of self-adulation, as evidenced by a crayon drawing of you being ten feet tall in a green field, the other kids kissing your bare feet, and the teachers nailed to crosses that pepper the mountain horizon. You didn’t even put X’s on the their faces; you drew eyes with big blobs of tears falling to the ground where they help germinate some brightly coloured flower named after you.

You’re not liked because you’ve created a cult in which you’re a God, and instead of flinging elastic bands and spitballs at others, you just tell them if they don’t love you unconditionally, you’re going to kill something they love, and maybe take away their lunches and dinners for the next 10 years.

N.C. Heikin’s documentary, Kimjongilia (2009) [M]– named after a reddish flower in honor of the Son of Dear Leader - isn’t perfect, but there are enough disturbing tales by refugees from the North that paint a portrait of a weird world that’s Orwellian and Gilliam (minus the bossa nova tune).

In the 2006 documentary Comrades in Dreams, we’re shown a clip from a North Korean film about a daughter who isn’t crazy about an arranged marriage to a man devoted to the cultural improvement of pickled, spicy cabbage (kimchi). In the end she acquiesces, presumably because he’s either got a great cucumber between his legs, she’s swayed by family honor issues, the secret police stepped on her pet goldfish (improperly named ‘Kimjongcuda’), or the allure of cabbage proved too forceful.

I dunno, but it’s the kind of product made in a vacuum created by a regime steeped in ideology and a mandate to keep the cult saturated within the human brain, and that’s what makes Kimjongilia so horrific – the scarred lives and brutalized psyches the regime knows are unable to mount any kind of change from within or outside its borders.

The cruelties in the 2009 doc are contrasted by the regime’s fixation on order, grand architecture, and blazing pastel colours – elements beautifully captured by photographer Eric Lafforgue, samples of which are archived on Flickr.

After reading the review of Lorber’s DVD, do check out Lafforgue’s really beautiful photos, starting with a festival devoted to the Kimjongilia flower, and the weird mega-dance that brings thousands to the central square in Pyongyang for one hour.

That kid in the corner needs special medication.

Mark R. Hasan, Editor

Merian C. Cooper: Big Monkeys 2 & 3

Anyone who’s seen The Son of Kong knows it’s a huge disappointment; it’s a missed opportunity to develop further adventures of the Kong franchise because of a low budget, what feels like an unfinished script, and a deadline to deliver a finished film for a Christmas 1933 premiere date – the same year that began with the original King Kong.

You can blame RKO for wanting a sequel to a hit film (and maybe producer Merian C. Cooper was equally guilty of going for a rush job), but come on: not in the same year!

The easiest parallel of blundered franchises for current audiences (well, those from the nineties) is Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park (1993) that broke box office records, animation technology, and featured now-classic sequences in a film with a fascinating hook about the cloning of dinosaurs – creatures that were also present on Skull Island, the locale where King Kong lived before he was rudely whisked away to appear in chains in front of upper class NYC snots.

The idea of taking a missing link back to civilization wasn’t explored in Jurassic Park, but it made up the finale of the 1997 sequel, The Lost World (which is an amusingly chosen title, since Kong’s animator, Willis O’Brien, gained fame for his stop-motion dinos in the 1925 adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyles’ same-titled story of missing link creatures).

Spielberg’s first sequel was simple: dinos eat lots of people, but then it turns into a ‘Godzilla in L.A.’ satire with the T-Rex rampaging through streets, backyard pools, Blockbuster Videos, and coffee shops.

The next film, Jurassic Park III (2001) was no different than Son of Kong: half-cooked script, poor special effects, a rushed release date, and a hastily concocted ending (although in fairness to Son of Kong, its ending was better than the tacked-on army and tanks on the beach finale, butt-cut onto Jurassic III).

The parallels between the Kong and Jurassic franchises are important because they proves how little things change when it involves money. It doesn’t even have to be a Hollywood or American production. The German slasher Anatomie (2000) was hampered by attention-deficit editing, but the story more or less worked, and made sense; its 2003 sequel was, with the exception of  Marius Ruhland’s score, rubbish, but like Son of Kong, it featured many of the same talent involved with the first production.

The lesson learned is if you make a sequel, you need to focus on the characters or conflicts that people wanted to see developed into further logical stories, not a rehash, not a crackhead plot, or just a mess designed to fill theatres and/or video rental shelves.

Son of Kong starts out well and is notable for trying to dramatize how Kong’s arrogant promoter, Carl Denham, deals with failure and the responsibility of Dada Kong’s horrible demise, but then the script’s rough edges show, and things get stupid, which I’ve somewhat itemized in the review [M].

When Cooper made Mighty Joe Young in 1949, it was a better planned film with a simple story and superb stop-motion animation integrated into some elaborate action sequences.

The story, however, has one serious flaw – something covered in the review [M] – but the film is still beloved by old kids for its fairy tale story (the big monkey lives!) and by animators for the effects supervised by O’Brien & largely executed by Ray Harryhausen (who could do anything he wanted after this perfect calling card).

Both The Son of Kong and Mighty Joe Young were released on DVD back in 2006 by Warner Home Video, and flawed as they are, fans of King Kong can’t really skip either one because the former does dramatize an important emotion previously absent in lead character Denham – remorse – whereas the latter film is kind of fun for being a fast-paced, wonky little oddity.

And the Big Monkey Lives!

Mark R. Hasan, Editor

Targeting the 80s Action Genre

The late, great Michael Kamen scored two iconic action films of the eighties – Lethal Weapon (1987), and Die Hard (1988) – and they were the genre’s definitive films, in fact, because they provided the template for filmmakers to imitate and composers to emulate for around a decade.

Screenwriters tended to use ‘Die Hard on a plane/train/boat/chuck wagon/wobbly tricycle’ when pitching ideas to agents, and journalists liked to use the same phrases to describe what story, treatment or script the latest overpriced scribe had managed to sell for $1.5, $2.5, and $4.0 million to a sucker studio.

Those two action films had ripple effects – mostly cinematic clones, and egotistical excess on the part of producers, directors, writers, an stars – that yielded some good and some painfully derivative material, but the genre did provide composers plenty of chances to score movies with, well, anything they wanted.

Big was in, and much like the massive orchestral scores that followed in the wake of Star Wars (1977), using top Hollywood musicians was the norm for major studio productions. It’s no surprise that the aforementioned two were produced by Joel Silver – himself an icon of the genre, and a man whose career was built on Thinking Big. He is (or was) the only private individual who owns two Frank Lloyd Wright homes, bought from the profits of his cinematic blockbusters. (Heck, even the Silver Pictures logo is derived from a Lloyd Wright design.)

As composer Bear McCreary describes in our interview for the music of Human Target: Season 1, the series’ showrunner, Jonathan Steinberg, wanted to recreate the sense of fun that was native to eighties/early nineties action films, where people were treated to explosions and dry, self-effacing humour.

Crafting big sounds isn’t a lost art, but finding that balance between thrills and tongue-in-cheek humour without bludgeoning viewers with the Laugh Now! sledgehammer is, and McCreary found it tough early into the project while sketching out the series’ main theme.

So, uploaded is an interview [M] with the composer (who discusses both the music of Human Target and The Walking Dead), a review of the limited 3-CD [M] set from La-La Land Records (which is addictive for fans of the action genre), and a review of the series [M] which looks just lovely on Blu-ray (Warner Home Video).

Want highly subjective recollections of the eighties action genre? Well, check out the prior blog on the recent screening of Die Hard at the Bloor Cinema. Now if only they could find decent 35mm copy of Lethal Weapon

I’ve also been doing some site tweaks, and I’ve organized the interview index on the main site to parallel the setup on the mobile site, so there’s now proper groupings for Composers, DVD labels & producers, Filmmakers, and Music Producers. The main interview intro page will no longer take 6 years load 900 interview headers and pictures, and has been condensed to load just the latest five Q&As, with the index link to the upper right.

Mark R. Hasan, Editor

Blake Edwards R.I.P.

Writer / director / producer Blake Edwards passed away December 19 at the age of 88, leaving behind wife Julie Andrews, two children, and an extraordinary body of work.

I’m actually stunned he was 88, because his work tended to represent a youthful mind who liked to shock audiences with slapstick gags often inspired by classic French farce.

Best known for bringing Inspector Clouseau to the big screen and making Peter Sellers an international star, Edwards did have some major career highs and lows, and his comedies weren’t for every connoisseur.

Edwards’ had several career phases: during the fifties, he directed a handful of amiable audience pleasers, such as the romance Mr. Cory (1957) with Tony Curtis and Martha Hyer (a film deserving a proper DVD release) and the Cary Grant classic Operation Petticoat (1959).

His most significant break was Peter Gunn (1959), a detective TV series starring Craig Stevens about a cool, suave private detective surrounded by hot women, all cuddled in the sleek music of Henry Mancini.

By 1958, Mancini had scored several bug-eyed monster movies for Universal, plus Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil (1958), but Gunn and the resulting pair of best-selling albums (and countless cover versions) not only established the composer’s career as a hit single and film composer, but it inaugurated one of the longest composer-director associations in film.

Mancini’s “Dreamsville,” written for Peter Gunn, was often featured in Edwards movies, perhaps as a kind of good luck charm, and it's not an exaggeration to say Edwards was partly responsible for bringing sleek, easy listening jazz into vogue via TV and film. Their collaborations included the riveting thriller Experiment in Terror (1962), and the immortal theme for The Pink Panther (1963) which became the composer’s signature music, if not Edwards' and Sellers'.

When at his best, Edwards was able to move between genres, as was the case with Experiment, Panther, the romantic comedy/drama Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) and Days of Wine and Roses (1962) - a drama about alcoholism based on J.P. Miller’s 1958 teleplay.

In 1967, Edwards made a film version of Peter Gunn (the character was dusted off again for a wan 1989 TV movie), as well as the insane The Party (1968), where a bumbling Indian actor is mistakenly invited to a Hollywood party, helps wash an elephant in the pool, pees in his pants, falls for a pretty French ingénue/crooner, and utters the immortal phrase “Birdie num-num” with the most perfect Indian accent ever by a white dude.

The Party is politically wrong, except Sellers made a career playing all kinds of nationalities, and I’ve yet to meet an Indian who felt insulted by the character of Hrundi Bakshi; the character is an idiot, not Indians. Besides, he talked like my uncle, right down to the heavy accent and head movements, and Hrundi is kind of a loveable bonehead. (Note: my uncle is loveable, but not a bonehead.)

Apparently Edwards' next film (and first with Julie Andrews), Darling Lili (1970), was a great big bomb, and Edwards’ career went into a tailspin, yet he switched gears and went for more serious pictures that most may never have heard of. There’s the western Wild Rovers (1971), and the seething romance between Russian agent Omar Sharif and wounded bird Julie Andrews in The Tamarind Seed (1974), an utterly manipulative weepy whose credibility is heavily augured by John Barry’s exquisite main theme and tragic score. (Tamarind is still unavailable on DVD in North America, but it did get a release in the U.K.)

The Return of the Pink Panther in 1975 rekindled the director's career in Hollywood, and he followed up with two sequels before changing gears with the Bo Derek / Dudley Moore comedy 10 (1979), and two of his best films – S.O.B. (1981), and Victor Victoria (1982).

Victoria is a perfect balance of song, satire, and farce, and it was the last solid film of his final years. What was left were meh comedies with TV stars wanting to break into film: John Ritter in Skin Deep (1989), Bruce Willis in the clunky Blind Date (1987) and Sunset (1988), and Howie Mandel in the retched A Fine Mess (1986).

There was a remake of Francois Truffaut’s classic leg fetish / stalker / tragic-comedy The Man Who Loved Women (1983) with Burt Reynolds, and the somewhat autobiographical That’s Life! in 1986 (which featured another stealth rendition of “Dreamsville”), but by the nineties Edwards didn’t seem interested anymore in switching genres, and whether he was bullied of felt the only worthy project was something rooted in nostalgia, Son of the Pink Panther was his last theatrical film in 1993, after which he effectively retired, having made notable contributions to almost every major genre.

Those who loved the Panther series will undoubtedly revisit them. MGM released a set not long ago that gathers the originals, the sequels, the spinoffs, and the horrid features culled from outtakes of Peter Sellers (the ultimate insult of inflating the cadaver of a dead actor with enough air to make easy dirty money), but I’d actually recommend steering away from the obvious and investigating titles you’ve never heard of, or those you always wanted to see but never got around, in spite of hearing or reading they were quite good.

TCM has scheduled a tribute Dec. 27, but it’s a hasty mounting of the major popular hits. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if the near future holds a proper tribute, so watch out for Mr. Cory and Tamarind Seed on TCM. Hopefully they’ll include other titles that have been out of circulation for years, as that’s what their programmers have been adeptly managing for years.

For more info on his writing/directing/producing credits, there’s the IMDB, and to peruse what’s available on video, there’s Amazon.com, Amazon.ca, and Amazon.co.uk.

A complete tally of Henry Mancini/Blake Edwards scores are listed at Soundtrackcollector.com.

Mark R. Hasan, Editor

This is MY Christmas Movie


There are two ways to appraise the act of writing a piece on a film you saw a long, long time ago, one that predates the birth of the average, present day film student: a nostalgia piece, which can delve into cranky-old-fart syndrome; or just elaborating on why a particular movie you saw during its original engagement is still a damn fine film.

I’d prefer the latter, but Die Hard is special, so this is a mild nostalgia trip (bereft of farting crankydome), as well as a rallying cry to get a 70mm print back in circulation for what’s ostensibly, essentially, right down to the core, a great fucking movie.

The Bloor Cinema screened Die Hard Tuesday and Wednesday this week, and it was actually quite interesting to see who would come to see a 22 year old action film that’s readily available on DVD, Blu-ray, and for the impoverished student, ‘online.’

Apparently plenty cared, because the average age of the audience that filled ¾ of the Bloor’s floor seating was maybe 25-30-ish, plus a louder, similar aged group cheering merrily from the balcony.

My impression is that a good chunk had seen the film before (a few many, many times), and others were dragged out by their friends in an attempt (a valiant attempt, I’d say) to expose them to greatness. It’s not a perfect film, but a solid movie that provides 124 mins. of violence, reindeer jingling fun, wrapped in a ribbon of robust sound design.

Among the first laserdiscs I bought at Sam’s on Boxing Day was Die Hard, and it remained the test disc to show off my surround sound system to guests – a demo presentation as to why they too should buy a Pro Logic amp. The neighbours weren’t impressed, but the friends were.

The laughs at the Bloor screening happened where the screenwriters had pre-designed throwaway gags, visual gags, and goofy humour that humanized and lampooned our concept of what terrorists and thieves are.

The film’s opening – John McClane (Bruce Willis) listening to some guy prattle advice about walking around in bare feet with fist-curled toes) - still evokes chuckles, as does McClane slowly passing a hot stewardess and exchanging a tickling gaze, but in post-9/11 times, it is weird to see a cop allowed on board with a shoulder holstered pistol, as well as the mention of terrorists since that nomenclature pops up a lot more often now in the international news.

You get past it all because of further jokes, but there’s a strange innocence in which one could write a script a long time ago where those elements were funny without the cultural paranoia being close by; and you could also arrive at the airport with ease and less hassles. With pat-downs and the U.S. airline body IATA planning to stream travelers through tunnels (Tunnel #1: Relax, we like you; Tunnel #2: You look kind of funny, but most likely you’re just odd; and Tunnel #3: I don’t like your colour or name, so let me touch your junk for explosive liquids in excess of 100 ml), there’s a nostalgia for that time when flying wasn’t such an unpleasant experience.

Sudden Impacts

The film has evolved into a classic eighties action film because while it may have been designed to satirize the idiocies of the disaster film – namely 1974’s Towering Inferno, with stupid people trapped in a fiery tower with floors that blow up time to time while firefighters attempt elaborate rescues doomed to fail in splendid, cinematic conflagrations – it’s wholly indicative of that perfect blend of action, action figure heroism, melodrama, pop culture riffing, and mayhem with specifically designed peaks and valleys like a rollercoaster ride.

Die Hard’s catch-phrases became classics, whether it was “Yippy ki-yay, motherfucker,” Hans… Bubby,” “Welcome to the party, Hans,” “Oh the quarterback is toast,” and the film spawned an immediate array of imitations.

Way (WAY) back in June of 2007, Norm Wilner wrote a piece on Die Hard clones, and while the MSN piece is no longer online (it went poof! in cyberspace), my archival mania had a copy of his rough list, which included 1991’s Toy Soldiers, Andrew Davis’1992 variant Under Siege (aka ‘Float Hard’), 1992’s Passenger 57 (‘Fly Hard’), 1994’s Speed (‘Drive Hard’), 1995’s Sudden Death (‘Skate Hard’), 1997’s Executive Decision (‘Fly Harder’), 1997’s Con Air (‘Fly Hard with Nicholas Cage’), 1997’s Air Force One (‘Presidentially Harder’), 2001’s Whiteout (which I never saw, so I got nothing to say, except maybe ‘Dam Hard’), 2002’s Panic Room (‘Jodie Fights Hard’), and 2005’s Flightplan (‘Flying Hard with Jodie’).

A friend also added Renny Harlin’s 1993 goof-fest Cliffhanger (‘Climb Hard’), 1992’s Hard Boiled (‘Chow Hard’), and I added two titles that simply had to be on that list: 1997’s Masterminds (‘Study Hard’), and 1994’s No Contest (‘Modeling Hard’) which actually earned enough freakin’ money (how?!?) that they gave director Paul Lynch (Prom Night, Humongous) cash for a sequel, 1997’s No Contest II (‘Modeling Hard II: Strut Harder’).

I guess you could also include 1997’s Turbulence (‘Still Flying Harder’), but seeing how there’s only one protagonist, it doesn’t really count, though maybe one of the two utterly necessary sequels might. (Ahem.)

What a younger generation may not get is when Die Hard broke, it went beyond a blockbuster: it became a genre unto itself, which talent agents used to pitch some of the aforementioned projects as ‘Die Hard on a plane,’ ‘Die Hard in the basement of an angry wine merchant,’ or ‘Die Hard with cabbage monsters.’

For years this pitch nonsense went on, and the real Die Hard sequels didn’t help, because Die Hard II: Die Harder (1990), Die Hard: With a Vengeance (1995), and Live Free or Die Hard (2007) kept that sub-genre of eighties action films alive, which is probably why eighties and early nineties action films are so popular on home video.

Die Hard wasn’t a perfect script – the third film was a rewrite of a non-Die Hard script called “Simon Says,” and the fourth happened after years of delays and turfed script concepts due to the steady stream of imitators - and there were a series of articles as to who really wrote the script and / or touched up the dialogue, which were based on Roderick Thorp’s novel “Northing Lasts Forever.” (It didn’t matter in the end, because both credited writers enjoyed box office hits soon after, and were able to retire as key participants of the eighties action film.)

In terms of the Bloor crowd (which was amazing), they laughed and seemed to have fun with the action scenes in spite of them being copied and expanded in subsequent films, since the point of clones and legit Die Hard sequels was to top the original.

The most obvious cheers came when Hans (Alan Rickman) makes his first entrance, leading his flock of grumbly gun-toting acolytes into the main celebration room. The most unexpected cheers were for Sergeant Al Powell (Reginald VelJohnson), buying Twinkies ‘for his wife’ and the local Quickee Mart.

Powell actually got a few laughs whenever he and McClane (Willis, in optimum shape, and sporting perfect hair/rug) had their radio chats about being cops, hardships of the job, and ‘hanging in there’ because ‘you’ll tell her that message of love yourself.’

The slo-mo death of Hans as he turns, loses grip, fires a gun and starts to freefall from the Nakatomi building also got some chuckles for being overwrought (I wonder how Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch would play to the same crowd), but newbie chauffeur Argyle got approving cheers when he pesters McClane about his wife, sitting in the back of the limo with a giant teddy bear, and clocks the computer geek in the finale.

Unexpected laughs actually came from the early limo chatter between Argyle and McClane: the mention of a “VHS” player among the limo’s luxuries, and the sight of an audio cassette tape being shoved into the limo’s stereo.

Hey, when I see a vintage mobile phone in a film – one of those angular bricks bigger than a cinderblock – I always break out laughing. The strap-on intercom boxes used by the reporters in Medium Cool (1969) are particularly funny, as is the coffee table-sized answering machine at the beginning of Winter Kills (1979).

It was weird, though, to see people talking on corded phones with fat ear and mouthpieces – things less and less people use because they have no land line and everything’s morphing into mobile toys.

(For the record: I use a vintage Northern Telecom Contempra for my phone interviews because it’s reliable, the land line guarantees it works during a power failure, and it’s drop proof – I plopped it many times 2 feet off a concrete floor as a kid. Beat that.)

Happily, the montages still worked, Michael Kamen’s score is assuredly a brilliant interpolation of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” / Symphony No. 9, and the montages and fight scenes are superb. The helicopter assault is a magnificent example of action filmmaking, and it looked incredible when the film was exhibited in 70mm, and when Kamen’s standout cue blasts in 6-track surround sound, it’s the key reason he became a name brand in Hollywood, and scored other films for producer Joel Silver, since the composer was part of the producer’s winning action formula.

Moreover, the fight scenes aren’t psychotically edited, so we actually see the actors beating the shit out of each other, with blood and emerging sores, and heads bashed into walls, metal railings or wrapped in chains before the whole body – in this case, poor Karl (Alexander Godunov) – is ratcheted up and swung over to a wall, where it smacks into concrete. It’s beautifully done, and functions as emotional payback for Karl hunting McClane for killing his brother.

In an earlier life, Godunov was a highly respected ballet dancer, and director John McTiernan exploited his gift for controlled movements in simple but memorable shots, such as Karl walking slowly towards the edge of the roof where McClane is hiding. With a gun held up, Karl’s a patient hunter, slowly honing in on his prey in a long shot that reveals character and creates tension without any manic intercutting.

The film also proved without any doubt that Germans are funny, particularly when they grumble about lazy Americans, mutter among incompetent co-workers, swear in English with German reserve, yell anxiously to be handed the next missile, or feel contempt for rebels like McClane who don’t understand order. (Drifting from the plan is wrong, and simply not correct.)

Lloyd Kaufman has insisted for years that monkeys are funny.

Monkeys are not funny; Germans are. Ende punct.

Admitted Weaknesses

The sole weak spot in the film is the return of Karl for once last shootout, and sure, it validates Powell again as a pro-active, heroic cop, but it’s unnecessary.

Another aspect that also hurts is the way the melodrama builds between Powell and McClane, so when the two finally meet each other in person at the end, it plays goofy, if not homoerotic, because the filmmakers fell in love with their stupid temp track and not only scored the reunion with John Scott’s lovely theme from Man on Fire (yup, the first film version from 1987 that no one’s heard about because it’s been buried for 20 years), and James Horner’s Aliens. The latter cue accentuates a weird mushiness that kind of infers the two wanna kiss, but don’t because this is an action comedy headlined by Bruce Willis.

(Incidentally, key genre writer Shane Black, who similarly co-created the genre with Lethal Weapon in 1987 for producer Silver, lampooned all that machismo in 2005 by making the second half of his two-man hero team in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang gay – mandatory for eighties aficionados.)

In any event, Karl’s final death did get a round of applause, and one audience member gave him a military final salute. Whatever.


In 1988, Fox was admittedly worried that their expensive action film starring a TV actor named Bruce Willis might suck, so the publicity was rather tame. I caught the film as the first half of a double-bill with big (1988) at the old Varsity Cinema. It was a sneak for the former, and we were all freakin’ blown away by this thing that rewrote the rules for the action film.

If I could re-experience seeing two films for the first time again, it would be Die Hard and The Matrix (both, coincidentally, produced by Silver), because they had us walking around in a daze, giddy with delight, thrilled for what they brought to the craft of commercial moviemaking.

(It is a craft, so stop frowning. The low end just happens to be No Contest with a donut-fed Andrew Dice Clay playing the lead terrorist figure.)

Fox’ subsequent campaign embraced the media’s good vibes, and the studio quickly realized they had a winner, so the ads trumpeted the release of 6-track 70mm engagements – a form of big screen exhibition that’s sadly gone the way of the Dodo. I later caught Die Hard at the Cinesphere (you know, the IMAX globe cinema several daft provincial bean counters wants to murder) twice, and it was always packed.

The Bloor’s screenings keep the original film alive in the consciousness of a smaller fan base, but here’s a message to Fox, if not other studios sitting on prints of films used for their Blu-rays: these movies may not draw massive crowds, but they are premium examples of mainstream commercial filmmaking made without contempt for audiences.

Fox may have wanted a blockbuster, but that’s the endpoint to their investment strategy; the movie was well-made, and it hasn’t aged into something like Armageddon – which was stupid (but entertaining) during its release, but is more entertaining now for aging into an unintentionally dopy sci-fi epic (ironically starring Bruce Willis), but written by committee and directed by a filmmaker who develops dramatic scenes like 30-second Amex adverts.

The Bloor’s print was well-worn around the reel changes, one reel had a deep emulsion scratch, there were some lost frames, the Fox logo was in smooshee-vision (forced anamorphic stretching of a non-anamorphic image) and the end credits were clipped, but the sound (a few buzzing streams excepted) was solid.

The original sound design was truly a landmark in the arts of sound editing, mixing, and engineering. Highlights include the engine rumble in close cuts of the police RV that gets ‘toasted’ by the mean Germans, massively elegant gunfire and ricochets, or the various levels of helicopter engines in the attack montage where McTiernan cuts in and around the copters from various angles and vantage points – goosed with differing levels of aggressive and passive sonics that shove audiences into the drama in movie theatres, and at home with a good subwoofer.

Where did everyone go after 1988?

For everyone connected with the film, Die Hard boosted careers, if not profiles within the next 5 years.

Bruce Willis finally broke free from that purgatory of shitty comedies (Sunset) and made imitative actioners (Die Hard 2), less shitty comedies (Death Becomes Her), a few serious roles (In Country) and some crap, plus the ego trip / guilty pleasure Hudson Hawk.

Alan Rickman only went upwards, reaching international audiences with Truly Madly Deeply and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (and yes, I’m ignoring January Man). Character actor Riginald VelJohnson went for the security of TV, and dropped his cop uniform to play opposite that thing called Urkel in Family Matters from 1989-1998.

William Atherton had a brief film career boost after having started out in feature films during the seventies (The Sugarland Express, The Day of the Locust, and singing the title tune “What’ll I Do” for The Great Gatsby), and Bonnie Bedelia continued to make straight drama and genre projects (Presumed Innocent) in film and TV.

The late, great Paul Gleason (The Breakfast Club) seemed happy to play assholes we’d all feel no guilt in beating to a pulp for being a mouth, and Hart Bochner mostly worked in TV, with the odd directorial project (like the rude / guilty pleasure PCU, filmed at the University of Toronto, and co-starring Jon Favreau as a dreadlocked stoner named Gutter).

Alexander Godunov never managed to find anything worthwhile, appearing in just a handful of direct-to-video shockers (North, excepted), and he failed to find a role as strong as the pacifist in Witness (1985). He died at the ridiculously young age of 45 in 1995. When the actors were doing press for Die Hard in 1988, Bonnie Bedelia told a nice story to City Lights host Brian Linehan of asking Godunov to do a little pirouette for her, and to Bedelia’s absolute delight, he did.

No one seemed to know what to do with Robert Davi because he wasn’t an emotive actor, but he had a unique screen presence. Already a hard-working actor in TV and film, he played the lead villain in the Bond flop License to Kill (1989), a cops in Mimi Leder’s overheated The Peacemaker (1990) and Joel Silver’s Predator 2 (1990), and managed an effective quiet performance as a stoic handler in Zalman King’s Wild Orchid 2: Two Shades of Blue (1991). Drivel and banalities followed – he played the lead cop in Lynch’s No Contest – but he was kind of fun in the short-lived series VR5 (1995) and a sleazebag in Paul Verhoeven’s neon trash heap Showgirls (1995).

Director John McTiernan was a top action director of the period, and followed up with the smart The Hunt for Red October (1990) before his talents were wasted on Medicine Man (1992), Last Action Hero, based on a wonky script co-written by Shane Black, and Rollerball (2002), which MGM emasculated by removing graphic violence (not that it would’ve helped the cinematic turkey). He did made The Thomas Crown Affair in 1999, which I’ll defend as one of the few great remakes & re-imaginings of a classic film done with thought, class, boobery, and style.

Screenwriter Jeb Stuart did make some crap – there’s no dignity in Leviathan (1989) nor Another 48 HRS (1990) – but he regained some of his reputation for writing Andrew Davis’ The Fugitive in 1993. Co-writer Steven E. de Souza co-wrote Willis’ ego trip Hudson Hawk as well as Die Hard 2, and when his fledgling directorial career flopped with Street Fighter starring Jean-Claude Van Damme in 1994, he seemed permanently tainted, and wrote mostly crap. (Knock Off was, unfortunately, his too.)

Michael Kamen had already scored Lethal Weapon for Joel Silver in 1987, and while he was involved in the sequels of that franchise as well as the first two Die Hard sequels (he died in 2003), he scored a memorable mix of commercial and little films. Robin Hood Prince of Thieves may have been his biggest hit (and Hudson Hawk was fun), but Kamen’s quiet scores for Peter Medak’s The Krays and Let Him Have It are superb (and deserve proper & complete CD releases).

Producer Joel Silver milked the heck out of his Lethal Weapon and Die Hard franchises (not to mention Predator), and continued his association with Shane Black via Ricochet, as well as further Willis films (Hudson Hawk, and Shane Black’s The Last Boy Scout) and Die Hard 2 director Renny Harlin (although the Andrew Dice Clay guilty pleasure The Adventures of Ford Fairlane kinda ended that love affair).

And then there’s Jan de Bont, whose elegant lens-flared cinematography propelled him to the forefront of A-list DOPs. After further adventures with producer Silver (including the oddball TV movie Parker Kane) and photographing McTiernan’s Hunt for Red October, he took whatever knowledge and inspiration he gleaned from various directors and helmed Speed (1994) and Twister (1996).

His further efforts – Speed 2: Cruise Control (1997) and The Haunting (1999) - proved he sold his soul to the devil, as the dual stinkers made one wish he’d return to pure cinematography, but that was never to be. Perhaps the years with Verhoeven in Holland (art films) and America (beaver films) exhausted his zeal for photography. Besides a few producing credits and directing Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life (2003), he’s been awfully quiet. He’ll likely return, because his interest in throwing large moving objects at actors is far too attractive.

Coming next: reviews of the eighties action tribute series Human Target, Bear McCreary’s music, and an interview with the composer.

Mark R. Hasan, Editor

Merian C. Cooper I: Big Monkey, No. 1

I don’t remember the first film I ever saw – most likely it was a Disney film, like Mary Poppins, No Deposit, No Return, or Bambi – but when I asked my father his first motion picture experience, it was King Kong, when he was maybe 10 or something.

That pegs the film’s release in India around 1942, which meant either it took a while to reach one of Britain’s biggest colonies, or it had enough legs after its first run that it remained a staple film for audiences a good 9 years after its debut in Hollywood (or maybe the theatre manager happened to be a huge fan of the big monkey movie).

The most important element in asking my father a fairly blah question wasn’t the answer, but the after-reaction, comprised of a smile and big eyes – a kid in a grown man, remembering an impressive creature and oddball romance between a beauty (man, Fay Wray had legs) and a beast on a big screen, not to mention a giant ape tearing apart a village & rampaging through New York City until a set of biplanes mowed down the mighty creature.

In reviewing Warner Home Video’s King Kong Blu-ray, I watched the film once, then rewatched it with the commentary, and then saw clips from the lengthy, multi-part documentary on its making and the dynamic personnel involved in transforming a stop-motion puppet into a living, breathing, caring, raging thing.

When Kong falls from the Empire State building, mortally wounded from the planes’ artillery salvos, it was a terribly sad moment because his final seconds of life encompassed a valiant stand against the planes, desperately holding onto its spire, as well as his dignity. The torment was everywhere – his eyes, his bleeding chest, and those weakening arms that were ready to give up their strength – and his tumble was a horrifying thing to see.

Re-watching the scene and clips of the fall, I noticed I had instinctively put my hand forward to block the view, which makes no sense since it wasn’t a bloody scene; Kong’s tumble to the street below is neither gory or detailed – it’s covered in a distant wide shot – but the emotional impact of seeing this amazing character die after being dragged to the Big Apple as a sideshow freak is profound, and it’s the chief reason this pioneering creature feature endures, and thrills movie audiences and transfixes special effects whizzes curious of Willis O’Brien’s legendary stop-motion animation.

King Kong the movie is a remarkable achievement, but Kong the giant ape is the centerpiece in a film whose special effects and characters were built around his persona, and in spite of two remakes with bigger budgets, the 1933 version is still best.

I’ve reviewed the BR, and will follow up with two of O’Brien’s other giant ape films - The Son of Kong sequel, as well as Mighty Joe Young – but one aspect of the film’s history that’s worth noting is its premiere at RKO’s Roxy Theatre (later renamed The Center Theatre).

The Roxy opened in 1932, and a year later King Kong premiered in the 3,500 seat movie palace (as well as Radio City Music Hall), and in 1934 it was renamed The Center Theatre and housed live plays, musicals, and ice shows before it was used by NBC for TV broadcasts. When it was clear the theatre wouldn’t earn major profits, it was demolished – the only section of the original Rockefeller Center complex to get smacked by the wrecker’s ball.

Apparently most images of this majestic Art Deco creation are out of circulation or heavily copyrighted, but a few pictures are available online, giving a good glimpse to the grandeur that was lost. Scarce glimpses are in a news short, a brochure, the mahogany lined foyer, and a hi-res wide shot of the auditorium.

Before checking out the King Kong review, take a peek at this amazing single screen movie palace that lived for a pathetic 21 years. You have to wonder: with all the expense and care that went into designing a giant palace capable of accommodating live venues – pretty versatile – how could it be razed to the ground?

It’s almost as tragic as the death of the giant ape, and maybe just as upsetting because the theatre was real.

Mark R. Hasan, Editor

Back from Oblivion I: Evening Primrose (1966)

When a TV series – or a singular episode – from the early days of the idiot box is found to have survived studios & networks junking old kinescopes, re-using video stock, or the dumpster (very real threats that eliminated whole chunks of early TV history), it’s kind of an expected miracle, because many productions from the era of live TV are known / expected to be rare: productions like the dramatic anthology series Playhouse 90 were broadcast live, and filmed kinescopes were used for rebroadcasts. If there were no ‘kinnies,’ that episode is lost once the last person with a memory of that broadcast is six feet under.

What we don’t expect is TV from the late sixties to be rare. Most shows were shot on 35mm film, and 16mm prints were used for syndicated runs (which is how many grew up watching The Invaders, The Brady Bunch, and other shows of the sixties and seventies), if not colour video dubs for syndication.

But there are exceptions. The hit gothic daytime series Dark Shadows was filmed on videotape, and when the series switched to early colour, the results weren’t exactly perfect. The same can be said of the BBC’s Doctor Who, which for DVD, underwent extensive restoration because some of the subsequent colour broadcast masters no longer existed or were in bad shape.

Neither series is that old when compared to late forties and early fifties series, but it seems absurd that ABC’s Stage 67 is rare when Hawaii Five-0 or Bonanza aren’t. They were all present on the boob tube in 1967, but they were filmed on different mediums, and the respective success of the latter ensured they wouldn’t be forgotten, whereas Stage 67 failed to make a splash, and was dead after one season.

That failure may have sealed the fate of Stephen Sondheim’s contribution, a musical version of John Collier’s story Evening Primrose [M] , previously adapted for radio in 1947. The music lived on in live performances and CD recordings, and eventually a CD release [M] of the original score and four songs, but the actual episode – broadcast one, and then buried – has been commercially unavailable for 44 years.

The reasons seem to be a mix of simply being forgotten, a perception of there being little demand to warrant a search for surviving elements, music rights issues, licensing issues, and releasing the episode on DVD -  a format that’s not going great as most studios have halted or radically curtailed premiere DVD releases of back catalogue items or things not tied to a humpable franchise.

TV is a bit weirder, in the sense of recognizable favourites, cult shows, and junk being released, but Primrose is a niche product. The reason it finally made it to DVD is because it simply had to. It’s Sondheim, it stars a post-Psycho Anthony Perkins and Charmian Carr (The Sound of Music) in one of two roles before she retired from acting, it was written by playwright James Goldman (The Lion in Winter), and under the umbrella of the Archive of American Television (distributed by E1), it’s another notable effort in releasing rare TV to connoisseurs of vintage television.

Not much live and early TV exists on DVD, which is why these releases are buyer-friendly instead of rental worthy. You want to own it because you will watch it, most likely more than once because like a good book or a visceral play, it’s worth experiencing again.

There’s also the discovery of famous talents in early or unusual roles, which is more impressive than reality junk. Everything has a place in pop culture, but it’s fair to say after you’ve seen a grow-op house restored to something livable, an ugly duckling plasticized into a looker, a band train and perform their debut CD before evaporating, fashion wannabes coming in second in a formulaic contest, a star showing off his / her recipe for marinated chicken breasts, or Kim Kardashian feeling unloved because no one gets her need to own a Bentley, it all fades from memory.

To paraphrase Stephen King, that stuff is all hamburger meat that has an initial appeal but isn’t anything special. An Emmy-winning drama by Rod Serling has a bit more cultural relevance in terms of inspiring other writers to tackle hot button subjects on TV.

HBO would not exist without the playwrights who honed their craft on live TV, because they proved what could be accomplished in spite of sponsor restrictions, network Standards & Practices guidelines, and stupid demands that diluted messages or realistic characters in kitchen sink dramas. What we see today are the dramas and experimentation pioneered on live TV, except unfettered by the heavier rules designed to make TV kiddie-safe.

‘Nuff said.

Mark R. Hasan, Editor

Dailey, Trumbull, and repercussions of a billion dollar boondoggle

City TV journalist Mark Dailey passed away yesterday from cancer at the age of 57. Those who may not recognize his face will certainly recognize his amazing baritone voice that announced incoming / outcoming shows, and smoothly proclaimed “You’re watching City TV – Everywhere” over the station's simple yet-bold-logo.

Known affectionately as ‘The Voice,’ Bailey joined City TV in 1979 during the station’s second year of operation when its dial i.d. was Channel 79 instead of 57. This was all prior to owner / visionary / oddball Moses Znaimer allowing the station and its radio network to be overtaken by several brooding corporate entities – a move that ultimately weakened the station’s ability to remain an independent voice in the city of Toronto.

(Dumping veteran anchors, and weirdly re-coloring the sets and station graphics in a cooler, meaner blue than CTV also didn't help. Was this dislocation and discombobulation of an original, dynamic station style worth it for Znaimer? Does anyone really identify themself as a "Zoomer" - a name that connotes 'a sudden physical dislocation from Point A to Point B after heavy bean comsumption'? I dunno.)

City TV was odd, frank, cheap, and sometimes disorganized: when a late night controller fell asleep at the wheel and missed an ad break, he’d make up for it by cutting away during the middle of a scene or actor's line delivery to batches of ads - sometimes 3 sets in less than 20 minutes. (IT HAPPENED. Mission of the Shark. A fine TV movie trashed by a crackead controller touching himself under the keyboard.)

Dailey’s voice often introduced the station's once steady stable of films billed as ‘the City TV Late Great Movie’ – and as Rob Salem recalls in the Toronto Star’s obit, once in a while there would be a smart-assed quip that had viewers doing a double-take of ‘Did he just say what I think I just heard?’

It’s rare to have someone balance professionalism and wit live on air, but Dailey managed it so smoothly, and his voice and personality will be missed.
* * *
This Thursday, Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey begins its month-long exhibition at the TIFF Bell Lightbox (Is it allowable to knock that name down to TBL? It’s less wordy) in mighty 70mm. The Star’s Peter Howell presents his list of 21 geeky cool things within the film that either became fact, fashion, or were just fabulous.

The National Post offers a short piece on 2001’s effects whiz, Douglas Trumbull, who at the ridiculous age of 24, was nabbed by Kubrick during the late sixties as the film’s special effects supervisor. Trumbull will be speaking Wednesday at the TBL (see how easy it reads?) for two hours about Kubrick’s hippy-trippy masterpiece.

One more time: TBL. Hippy-trippy.
* * *
Lastly, as reported by the Globe & Mail, Ontario Ombudsman André Marin released his report today on the useless G8 and G20 summits that accomplished nothing, save for conflagrations of ill behaviour, unmasking deceitful officials who will walk away with impunity, and abuses of power that may have kept a minority of anarchists somehat in line, but essentially said Fuck You to local citizens by kettling dog walkers on a milk run at a corner by Queen and Spadina.

Premier Dalton McGuinty may not wish to ruffle feathers and create fractures in the relations between provincial and municipal departments, but it'll bite him in the ass come the next election.

I’d argue one reason Rob Ford was elected Mayor by centrists and maybe a few left-leaning centrists stemmed from citizen outrage at ex-Mayor Miller’s lack of spine in dealing with the disconnect between the police, the province, and federal departments during and after the G20 boondoggle.

Ford’s gruffness and bullheaded persona may have fed voters’ unconscious desire to have someone perceived as strong – regardless of left or right leanings – at the helm, willing to run the city like a business with a customer service department.

So: if the service during the G20 weekend stunk, if an employee was phsyically abusive towards a customer, and if a public service department is broken, the issues have to be addressed, or customers will not come back / people will hate you, too (just don't let new best buddy Don Cherry do the talking. The last time the term "pinko" was used in Canada was 1998, and that fart got cracked in the nose for not knowing when and where to shut up, and make nice).

Most likely Marin’s report will yield zero changes or clarifications, but who knows.

The fact someone came forward (see today's piece in the Star) with the missing 5 seconds of video footage in which Adam Nobody was punched by a uniformed officer in riot gear kind of contradicts Chief Blair and the SIU's stance that Mr. Nobody was up to no good during the protest march that day.

The biggest surprise: Rosie DiManno wrote a relatively straight and coherent news piece on the newfound footage. Who knew she could shelve the shtick?

Mark R. Hasan, Editor

Soundtrack reviews

The unfortunate cancellation of a press screening for 2001: A Space Odyssey was kind of a bummer this morning – I’ll catch it later this month at the TIFF Bell Lighbox for an upcoming Editor’s Blog – but the sudden free time allowed me to move on with other important stuff.

First up are a series of horror score reviews, starting with Supernatural: Seasons 1-5 [M] (2005-2010). Water Tower Music released a solid album of lengthy theme suites composed by Jay Gruska and Christopher Lennertz, and the album is available as an Amazon on-demand CDR release.

There’s also Midnight Movie [M] (Howlin’ Wolf Records), with Penka Kouneva music for the 2008 slasher that featured a film-within-a-film storyline; and Spikes [M] (Phantom Records), a 2010 conceptual project by Darren Callahan that’s essentially a soundtrack written for a non-existent film.

Slashers, it seems, have left an indelible impression on horror fans, and there’s something weirdly soothing about analogue synth music (done well) that evokes the video nasties that made BBFC officials micturate in their knickers, had Ontario’s vile Mary Brown instinctively reach for her foot-long censorship scissors, and teased the interest of fresh-faced teens in local rental shops with VHS and Beta tapes sporting grotesquely violent cover art. That’s essentially what Spikes does for the listener.

I’d love to include 2001 Maniacs: Field of Screams (BSX Records) in the review roundup, but there’s roughly 20 mins. of Patrick Copeland’s original score on the concept CD - a mélange of songs and numerous dialogue snippets. The somewhat orchestral score’s jarringly different from the rock source songs, and Copeland’s music captures the baroque, satirical mood the filmmakers probably aimed to recreate in their remake/revisitation of Herschell Gordon Lewis’ original 1964 gorefest. Kudos for the great arrangement of Lewis’ hillbilly ode, “The South’s Gonna Rise Again,” but in terms of a full instrumental album, it’s a disappointment.

The next set of horror score reviews will be augmented with an interview with composer Jeff Grace, done around the time of the DVD releases of I Sell the Dead (2008) and House of the Devil (2009) – the former a mordant character piece on blue-collar gravediggers, and the latter a near-perfect tribute to Italian slashers shot in middle America.

Also up very soon is a review of The Grey Fox (1982), and an Editor’s Blog on its screening last night at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. The blog will have some reflections on the screening, the concluding Q&A, and since the audio was way cleaner, audio snippets from the discussion.

Unsurprisingly, the first question to be answered was ‘When will this unavailable film finally get its DVD release?’ The answer was a likely 2011, but it’s not guaranteed. The audio excerpts will provide some angles on why Grey Fox is illustrative of this frustrating dilemma where a whole 15-20 chunk of our film history (sublime, good, and awful) remains unavailable on DVD.

Except in Spain, because as well all know by now, Spain has the world’s largest video archive of classic and rare films no one is able to release on DVD in their own native country. From RKO classics to Fox CinemaScope beauties, they have it, and both myself and a friend believe this magical store is nine blocks long, three stories above and below street level, and may be the only place where film fans will be able to buy hardcopies of their favourite classics when the bulk of major American studios abandon physical film releases in favour of downloads and HD channels.

I wonder if the then-unemployed film historians will flock to Spain to do commentaries and extras. The weather’s good, the food quite nice, the wine is rich and fruity, and they have this great almond biscotti-like cookie that goes great with coffee.

Los Foxalinas Greyalis con Canadiena il bideo? Si-si, seignor!

Mark R. Hasan, Editor

Soundtrack producer interviews & other news

The common trend around the holidays is to re-watch classic seasonal films on video or TV, but Cineplex is somewhat bucking the trend by offering digital screenings of Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life across Canada on the big screen, Dec. 8 and 12.

The 1946 film is a perennial favourite and never missed an appearance on the idiot box each December. Although it’s been released a number of times on DVD – initially as a public domain title, and for the past 3 years via Paramount in fancy-schmancy special editions – families should get a kick out of seeing Capra’s classic in theatres for $5 single admission – just don’t bring the living room chatter into the theatre. You know who those people are. We all wish them coal for Xmas. Lots of it.

And if you’re in Texas Dec. 9th, the Alamo Drafthouse is offering 35mm print screenings of Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984) at 8pm, and a 35mm print of Black Christmas (1974) at 10:30pm.

AND in Toronto, The Bloor Cinema is showing Die Hard (1988) Tues. Dec. 14 and Wed. Dec. 15. There is no other Xmas film. Period.

Just uploaded at Rue Morgue is my latest blog regarding the recent screening of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980) at The Revue Cinema, in the second of the Canadian Society of Cinematographers and the cinema’s series Great Cinematographers in Revue.

My blogetorial blather was supposed to be followed by audio clips from the screening’s Q&A with Steadicam inventor Garrett Brown, but the recorded audio wasn’t good, so unless I find a cleansing solution better than Sound Forge, I’ll have a transcript posted next week.

Lastly, I’ve uploaded a pair of interviews regarding horror score releases. Kritzerland continues to bring out rare material within the horror realm, and I’ve an interview with label bigwig/soundtrack producer Bruce Kimmel regarding composer Albert Glasser (Earth vs. the Spider, The Boy and the Pirates, Attack of the Puppet People), as well as a short segment on Hugo Friedhofer’s One-Eyed Jacks (1961), recently released as a 2-disc for which I’ll have film + CD reviews this weekend.

The second interview is with George Fox, co-owner of 2M1 Records. Coming this month on CD is Andy Garfield’s score for Adam Green’s Frozen, one of the best horror films of the year. That release will be followed by a double-bill of Garfield’s Hatchet I and II scores (also on CD). I wonder if Green will produce a what-the-hell-happened-to-my-movie featurette when the latter film hits DVD and Blu-ray, given it was unceremoniously pulled from Canadian and U.S. cinemas within days of its theatrical debut. Truly one of the weirdest moments in film exhibition this year.

And lest I forget, this Sunday Dec. 5, the TIFF Bell Lightbox is screening Phillip Borsos’ The Grey Fox, with a Q&A session after the screening this Sunday, starting at 3:30pm.

Wed. Dec. 8 at 7pm has visual effects whiz Douglas Trumbull giving a 2 hour lecture at the Lightbox on Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, and on Thurs. Dec. 9 at 8pm, he’ll talk for another 2 hours about Blade Runner, after which you can devote another 2.5 hours of your life to the film + Chris Marker’s La Jetee.

See? There's more to December than cookies, shopping, and fat men in white beards chuckling aloud to streetwalkers.

Mark R. Hasan, Editor
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