Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Star Wars of 40 Years Ago

"... It's called Star Wars. One set alone cost twelve million dollars."

That is how I first heard of Star Wars. It was the spring of 1977. I had the Grundig stereo on in the living room and as I walked from the kitchen into the dining room I heard an on-air host from Toronto radio station CKFM say the magic words. My reaction to the announced set cost must have been one of awe -- I later learned that the movie cost about ten million dollars to make -- but it was the name of this mysterious new flick that really intrigued me.

Over the next few days I will tell, in serial form, the story from my perspective of how Star Wars hit not only the marketplace, but entered our culture.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The Last Film Was What?!....

"Movies are almost always better watched with an audience" has long been a line of mine. Watching flicks at home is fine, but like many movie fans I feel that one is missing the communal experience. But, as anyone knows, technology has allowed for a "big house" viewing experience in the living room. Why go to a movie-plex where many of the patrons are there to act as though they are watching the movie in their own living rooms? The phone rings? Pick it up! Fire up the display screeens; you don't want to miss an email or text message.

Something has to explain why the last narrative film I saw in a movie theatre was James Cameron's overrated turnip, Avatar. That was March of 2010, at the super-sexy Scotiabank Theatre here in Toronto.

This past week in my home movie theatre: The Honeymoon Killers; Empire of the Air - The Men Who Made Radio; Ai Weiwei - Never Sorry; Lies My Father Told Me; Mon oncle Antoine; Claude Jutra - an Unfinished Story. And I didn't even talk during the movies; even to myself.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Notes from a Dependent Brat: Fireworks

It's Victoria Day here in Canada (It's Queen Victoria's birthday). This special celebration, which I've never been able to peg to a date, made me think of fireworks.

CFB Baden-Soellingen, West Germany, late 1960s or early 1970s: The family and I gathered, along with many other military families, on the base's airfield to partake one evening in a display of fireworks. The actual igniting part fell to the men and women of Canada's finest service -- they know about explosives for some reason.

The image I remember most from the spectacular aerial powder display is of one lonely expired charge that fell just metres from us as we sat prone on the grass. The guys sitting on top of the parked crash-tender near us did not seem to react; I took that to be a sort of clean bill of health.

The red still-burning charge fizzled and my attention went back to the heavens....

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Coming this Summer to an Electronic Device Near You

Stay tuned to this blog for the latest news about The Barrie Allandale Show.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Witch Which Hunt is Witch?

Donald J. Trump, President of the United States of America, tweeted minutes ago his response to the appointment of a special counsel to oversee the inquiry of a possible Trump-Russia connection. Former FBI director and prosecutor Robert S. Mueller III will head a committee that no doubt will be, in the Uber-Prez's eyes at least, a "disaster".

Trump's unique tweet:

"This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!"

I'm surprised he managed to wrestle the difference between "witch" and "which".

It's obvious that Trump does not know American History.

Richard Nixon (the obvious example of a "witch hunt")
James Buchanan
Andrew Johnson
Bill Clinton ("I've never heard of him!")
Ulysses S. Grant (surely Trump has heard of him)

Those are just a few examples.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Trump's Favourite Word May Be His Moniker: Disaster

Once the dust settled after the last U.S. presidential election the predictions came out:

"Trump won't last a term"; "He'll have a meltdown before long";

and my favourite, one dispensed by a few friends of mine, "Within a year he'll be impeached".


"Without question."

Donald J. Trump's fate as President of the United States of America as predicted by the Oracles of Ontario.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Film is my Minor; my Major is:

I had an interesting discussion recently with an old friend. He loves movies. So do I. But after chatting back and forth, some 'technical' issues regarding formats and screen ratios, I realized that while I love films ("movies", if you prefer) I don't obsess over them. They're just movies, after all. That's all.

There are more important and more interesting things in the world.

For me:

Ships and Shipping (not Shops and Shopping)
Fine Art
Cats (animals in general)
Ice Hockey (not the NHL)
Football (not Gridiron Football)
Space Flight (especially that of the Soviet Union)
Reading (funny how this gets lost in our movies and television world)
Humour (it's out there and hopefully it's takin' over)

I must be missing something.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

What Films Made You Cry?

Peter Howell, a film critic with the Toronto Star newspaper, has a piece in today's issue about movies that have made him cry. This story is but one in a series of articles by different Star writers; it's his turn to admit: The movies that make me cry: Howell

One movie has made me cry: Cinema Paradiso

But many movies have made me cry for making me kiss my hard-earned money goodbye....

The first time I saw Cinema Paradiso was on an Air Canada flight but I did not enjoy it, probably because I was enjoying a headache. (It must have been the bitter I consumed in London, England, shortly before the flight.)

Weeks later the Bloor Cinema here in Toronto played Paradiso. I gave it a better shot. For some reason the picture resonated with me. By about two-thirds the way in I was blubbering like a baby. "What is happening to me? I am a Vulcan. I am in control of my emotions!"

A friend of mine kidded me minutes after we saw The Joy Luck Club. The party of people I was with all said they cried during the film. My friend Donald had one answer to explain my malady: "You're a cold fish, Si."

Maybe I am.

As the end credits began to roll on my tear duct tickler, I decided to make a move for the exit. Figures. A young woman about ten years my junior was standing there. As I floated past she gave me a look of: "Looks like that guy enjoyed the movie." What was she doing standing there?

Otherwise I don't cry at movies. However, I may well up....

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Relaying Delaying

Two articles of mine that are awaiting 'part 2' postings:

From September 12th of 2015:
Interview With RCAF "Yukon" Pilot Larry Byrne

From February 8th:
Article Sample: "Yukon Crews" - Part One

The above admissions of omissions will hopefully lead to part twos for each.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

A Canadian Film Discussion Channelled

"Have you seen (the Canadian film)______?" somehow made it out repeatedly between fork-loads of delicious fattening breakfast. Meeting with an old friend in order to take in platefuls of food and fine discussion face-to-face, not via Facebook or some such human-contact-avoidance program, is always a welcome break from the rigours of life.

One thing we both agreed on is that it would be nice to have a cable channel devoted to Canadian films. Such an initiative has been proposed before by some known Canadian filmmakers including David Cronenberg. Most welcome would be homegrown television drama, and, I can't believe I'm saying this, sitcoms.

Sign me up. And Greg, too. Especially if the network programs the classic feature films Mon oncle Antoine and Face Off, and the television dramas Seeing Things and Wojeck.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Words of Warning From OECA / TVO

A friend sent me a link to a video that he worked on and he asked that I "do not distribute".

Afterwards I remembered something that the Ontario Educational Communications Authority or TVOntario (as it was later renamed) would do many years ago whenever they showed an old film or serial chapter on its programs Saturday Night at the Movies or Magic Shadows. Seconds after the film material would start to roll, up came a superimposition of white lettering: "THIS FILM NOT TO BE COPIED."

On one occasion my dad editorialized: "Big deal." If I remember correctly, he said that at the beginning of a Republic serial chapter; maybe G-Men vs. the Black Dragon.

"We copy that, OECA."

Monday, May 8, 2017

There Is Another....

Some of you who are familiar with this blog will know that I've worked in film and television here in Toronto for years as a cameraman, designer, optical cameraman, director, video tech, etc.

However, I'm not the only one of the brood who has forged or etched a career in the biz. Brother Peter has done some fine work as a writer, director, composer, and more. Some TV shows he has written for include Come Dine With Me Canada and Weird or What?. (He has written words to be spoken on camera by William Shatner. Am I envious?....maybe.)

In addition to working for others in various roles, Peter and I have both produced our own film/vid projects. We also share the same sense of humour and much the same temperament.

The Internet Movie Database (IMDb) listing for Peter St. Laurent.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Stephen Fry Investigated For What?....

My Sunday morning online newspaper reading involves paying a visit to The Guardian. Soon after the site's top-page loaded I saw something bizarre:

Stephen Fry investigated by Irish police for alleged blasphemy

What? Then I read the piece. Disturbing stuff.

I began to wonder, do I have the year right? So I uploaded this blog posting in order to check what year this is: Yep, 2017.

Yes, I realize that my methodology makes no sense. Just like something else....

Two Toho Studios Monster Fans

The combination of Godzilla and Toho film studios makes for a formidable tag team. The famous Japanese production complex is so synonymous with the rubber-made monster that it's hard to believe that it actually has produced non monster movies.

However, the purpose of this piece is to go for the studio's biggest star: Godzilla.

In the late summer of 1988 I became friends with a chap who had been living in the same building as me for four years. We hit it off right away once we decided to converse with one another. He, Richard, was in the midst of his physics master's degree program at the University of Toronto, and I, a recent film-school graduate, was working very occassionally as a designer on films and television commercials.

How tickled I was when he told me that he was a big fan of the Godzilla pictures.

A pot of tea, a bowl of unhealthy potato chips, two geeks in front of a VCR-powered television set: Godzilla; Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster; Godzilla vs. Mothra; King Kong vs. Godzilla; Destroy All Monsters; Godzilla, 1985; you get the picture.

Richard earned his PhD, and I stomped around in the film and television business.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Yes, But....

As I stated yesterday with my heavy-handed pen I find Man's abuse of animals abhorrent.

As with most people of conscience and pre-heated air yours truly is full of contradiction:

While I hate animal abuse I have no problem with animal testing. Animal testing is a good thing. When I buy a cat from a pet store I expect it to work properly.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Anita Krajnc Speaks of Violence Towards Animals

I heard the good news today that Canadian animal rights activist Anita Krajnc will not spend time in jail (?!) for giving water to pigs stuffed into a death transport.

Torturing pigs, cows, and chickens while they are on their way to a house-of-horror is unacceptable. Most bizarre is the fact that the industry makes no effort to give even a modicum of comfort to its most valuable asset. (Don't expect any applied intelligence.) To deny water to these living beings is unconscionable.

What Ms. Krajnc's act illustrates is that the Rule of Law has no rules when it comes to the protection of animals. Perhaps she'll become a folk hero to those humans who care about animals and their rights.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

May the Fourth and a Life Be WIth You

There was no drum roll. Until minutes ago I had not realized today was May the 4th. These last few days has seen me post a few pieces on Star Wars, the first (actually the fourth) and best, in my opinion, of the Star Wars film franchise. (I admit freely that I have not seen the two most recent bumps in that universe.)

Two days ago I watched Francois Truffaut's super-fine 1973 picture Day for Night. That is more my kind of movie -- a different kind of movie, of course. There is no explosion at the end, even if Truffaut's on-screen director character had so many reasons to explode. He took the mayhem of trying to make a movie, and maintain some semblance of a 'vision', in stride.

My "May the Fourth" celebration today? Do something constructive. I hope....

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Cheers! Welcome to England, Mates!

My first trip to England as an adult happened in April of 1990. After my Air Canada Boeing 747 landed at Heathrow, and I had been processed at customs, I made the necessary trip down the airport's moving walkway to the exit doors: to be ejected into British society.

My stand on the walkway was the introduction part. A newly arrived Canadian needed a good taste of that 'angry Brit' behaviour -- that stereotypical behaviour.

I heard a fast approaching voice behind me. "Excuse me, excuse me, excuse me...." A young woman, with hands up, was pleasantly pushing her way past the standing crowd, obviously in a rush to get somewhere, like the end of the moving walkway. Another voice caught my attention; I looked over to see a scruffy-looking gentleman, a guy who looked like he could have been a grumpy brother of film director Stanley Kubrick.

"Ah, what makes you so privileged?" The happy vaulter answered: "Just making my way through." Like a schoolmaster who had to educate his Canadian students (tourists) he addressed us with a sweep of his saucer-like eyes: "She must be from Birmingham!"

All I could come up with was: "Welcome to England!" -- to myself.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Star Wars 40, Me Older

Two times this week I've posted Star Wars bits in anticipation of the fortieth anniversary of that film's collision with planet Earth.

On May 25th, or maybe sooner if I get an itchy quill finger, I will post my memories on how I first heard about Star Wars.

This week I'll upload to this blog a piece I wrote about Star Wars creator George Lucas's steadfast refusal to release the original version of Star Wars to the high-quality Blu-ray format.

Set your phasers on stun 'cause this blog's ahead warp factor nine....

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Star Wars: Admit One

The fortieth anniversary of the original release of Star Wars is coming next month, and for us older folks, the question sometimes comes up: "How many times did you see Star Wars when it first came out?"

The movie made a lot of money because it was what's called "a repeater". Young people especially went back to the movie theatres over and over to see what was then a new thing; a high-quality comic book on the big screen.

Perhaps due to my age at the time, sixteen, I saw Star Wars, enjoyed it and did not rush back to see it again. Once was enough, there were other movies to see and I was interested in many other things.

In September of 1977 I became friends with a guy at my high school who was a huge fan of the film. He was a couple of years younger. It was through a school club that we first met. Two or three weeks later Star Wars reappeared in Barrie, Ontario, this time at one of the exciting Bayfield Mall's two screens, and my fan friend and I, with colourful umbrellas in hand, trotted off one rainy night to see again the silver screen's smash hit of '77.

I saw Star Wars two times that year: First, in July at the "Imperial 2" in beautiful downtown Barrie; then it was a tinny movie house in stunning uptown Barrie.

My favourite film in 1977 was Annie Hall. I saw it once.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

The NHL is Now Bite-Sized

After watching a couple of minutes of National Hockey League television coverage on the CBC just now, I am convinced that the game was much more popular in the 1970s.

Television networks, and the NHL itself, may promote the stuffing out of the games, especially playoff games, but nothing can cover-up the fact that the league is in a slump.

Forty-five years ago NBC carried NHL games weekly on Sunday afternoons; players had personalities and the league had personality.

Hyper-cutting and flash frames in video promos signify a vacuum.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

A Peanut's History of N.A.F.T.A.

Canada and the United States of America signed the North American Free Trade Agreement which started swinging in 1994.

I remember there was some anxiety on this side of the border by some folk who were not so sure the agreement would be a good thing for this great country. Canadians are naturally conservative about some issues, and it made sense that signing such an affecting and encompassing document should concern some of us; including me.

As things turned out NAFTA was a good thing, for both nations.

President Donald Trump and his magnificent internal reactionary forces are making noises about wanting to pull out of the agreement altogether.

One of my strongest memories on the issue of whether or not Canada should sign the agreement is this one: A certain U.S. politician, I've forgotten who it was, reacted to the apprehension of Canadians with a direct "... you don't get another chance."

It seems that Donald Trump wants another chance....

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

It's a Star Wars Spring Board

Hard to believe that Star Wars hit movie screens forty years ago this coming May. Recently I reviewed video files that I have on USB sticks; on one of them is an interesting documentary titled The People vs George Lucas. (These 'people' really like Star Wars. I like Lucas's attitude: "Get a life! Will you, people? For crying out loud, it's just a movie!")

Long in my plans is an article replaying my experiences with the movie that changed Hollywood. As that town is populated heavily by a certain breed of sheep, the film's influence can be easily overplayed, but the fact is Star Wars is a fun movie; and was, especially at the time it exploded on the scene. I enjoyed it very much, even if I didn't demand possession of the tie-in toys. (I was sixteen years of age, which may have had a bearing on it.)

Soon, sometime in May, my personal story of Star Wars will be posted for all my fellow older farts to enjoy as they are fired back to the astounding year, 1977!

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Maurice Devereaux Films and Jokes

Today I took a bit of a break and watched two making-of docs: "Playing with Your Nerves - The Making of Slashers" and "End of the Line - A Splatter of Faith". (Both titles were directed and edited by my longtime friend Jean-Denis Rouette.)

Canadian filmmaker Maurice Devereaux is a talented guy. Although he hasn't made a feature-length film since 2006, his most recent one, End of the Line, proved, illustrated, that he knows how to work in the traditional narrative form and do so with flowering aplomb.

Devereaux has been vocal about how film distributors treat independent filmmakers very poorly; which is a nice way of saying that they are, as the director likes to term them, "sharks". They want everything for nothing.

Watching the above docs brought back memories of seeing End of the Line at its TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) premiere in September of 2006. After the thrilling screening, we, members of the cast and crew who journeyed to the city, and I, settled down on the Pilot Bar's rooftop patio. Not long after we took our seats and drinks Maurice was called over to another table. He was chatting with the party for a while, about forty-five minutes or so. With little fanfare Maurice returned to our table and told us the news. They were distributors from Japan and their offer for the Asian market was something that our filmmaking friend could not refuse: $60,000.

On a more pleasant note, the conversation was fine. At one point I was asked something; with some understated reserve I said, "I just wanna be the Irwin Allen of Canada". What I considered to be nothing more than a statement or answer born of humbleness got quite the laugh from everyone at the table. It may have been due to the fact that I was only kidding -- I hope.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

From a Dependent Brat: The Church of Me

RCAF Station Baden-Soellingen (retitled "CFB Baden-Soellingen" in 1968), in then West Germany, had two cute little churches parked side by side near the end of a street: houses of two denominations, Catholic and Protestant; directly opposite was the base's hospital; and at the end of the street, watching, stood the fire hall with its fire engines and crash-tenders.

When I was five and six years old my dad would take me to the RC place on Sunday mornings. I remember sitting enraptured by the sermons, specifically by their extraordinary length, especially to this then child, and by what I perceived to be utter emptiness. (It's possible I knew that some things in those sermons made little sense but had yet to hurl the word "emptiness" to describe them.)

One day, a moment I remember well, I said to my dad something in a way as to avoid any misinterpretation: "Dad, I don't wanna go to church anymore."

My dad's reaction: Laughter. The kind aimed towards the heavens when one realizes that his six-year-old is figuring things out fast. And setting firm his own well-considered belief system.

The base is now an airport. Baden-Airpark.

Friday, April 21, 2017

The State of Canadian Film

The Agenda with Steve Paikin, TVOntario's outstanding public affairs program, did an hour-long program two days ago on the state of motion picture making in Canada as part of its celebration of Canadian film.

The first part of the program is titled "What's Wrong with Canadian Film?"
Watch here.

The second segment is more 'positive': "Why Canadian Film Matters."
Watch here.

It's an argument I've long heard: "Canadian films are bad." I would disagree. Without getting into an essay here, bad films are not a Canadian domain. There are loads of bad films generated in the U.S., and elsewhere. The only theory or argument I would agree with is that too many Canadian filmmakers try to copy their favourite films, in style and content; and most of those are head-of-the-line and top-of-the-line Hollywood productions. Instead of self-consciously, or, as some cynics might say, unconsciously, imitating expensive Hollywood films, why not try doing something that is "you" (and more the scale of your own wallet)?

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Past Pic: The Starlost DVD Liner Notes Story

A year ago today I wrote about my experience penning the insert liner notes for the DVD release of the old U.S./Canada science fiction television series The Starlost (1973 - 1974).

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

My Favourite Canadian FIlms

Here in Canada today is "National Canadian Film Day 150" (Canada, as a country, is 150 years old this year.)

The official website for the event is here: Canadian Film Day

This special day got me thinking about my favourite Canadian films. After some minutes of consideration my list will look like this (in no particular order):

Goin' Down the Road
Tales from the Gimli Hospital
Face Off
My Winnipeg
Jesus of Montreal
Starship Invasions
Montreal Main
Nobody Waved Goodbye
The Pyx
Mon oncle Antoine
The Death of a Lumberjack
Universe (short)
21-87 (short)
The Sweater (short animation)

I am missing so many, titles which escape me for the moment. In the days to come I'll be sure to post a "My Favourite Canadian Films II".

Poem: Friends Tell Coffee Time

Of Saturday it is!

Do you meet still
with availability?

Soap, water, squirrels
about my now laundry

In sanity punches....


Simon St. Laurent

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Re Collecting My Toronto Maple Leafs Thoughts

As I've noted a few times the last couple of weeks I possess a lack of faith in the Toronto Maple Leafs and their chances of getting anywhere this season.

I predicted the Leafs would not even make the playoffs (I was wrong) and after accepting defeat I entertained the idea that they would get hammered by the Washington Capitals in the first round of the post regular season (I was in error).

I can't imagine for a moment that the third-rate Toronto Maple Leafs will go far in these playoffs, never mind reaching the finals (I hope I'm right)....