Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Past Pic: Me Directing on Hyper-Reality



The above pic is from a posting I did on February 20th of last year: Directing in the Alien Lair of Hyper-Reality

Monday, March 27, 2017

Past Pic: Alien Action on Hyper-Reality



On February 5th of last year I posted a picture taken behind the scenes on Hyper-Reality, my uncompleted 35mm short film.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

This Full Frame Goes Wide

"You bought that on Blu-ray?", I threw back to my Star Wars fan buddy. "The original Star Trek series?" He nodded gently as though he understood clearly that his sneaky move was easy to understand. I stunned: "I don't even have that show on Blu-ray." (I don't have Star Trek on any format, including paper prints.)

My friend of fine and broad tastes had a quip on the Blu-ray's quality, over and above the stunning image: "It has black bars on both sides of the picture."

I explained to him something very familiar to me as I worked for years in film/television 'imaging': "It's like that because those shows were shot full-frame; full-Academy. To tell you the truth, most widescreen feature films, the ones not photographed in 'scope', were shot full-frame; they just put a mask on the top and bottom of the image to create a 1.66:1 or 1.85:1 widescreen format . . . when they were aired on television, the prints were commonly shown full-frame which is why you'd sometimes see a microphone drop in from the top of the picture." (Flicks photographed via that method would involve the camera operator composing for the intended widescreen. His/her camera eyepiece would have finder markings for the 1.66:1 and/or 1.85:1 aspect ratios.) Movies shot in "CinemaScope", or other "scope", would have special prints struck for television's then 1.33:1 aspect ratio. An exponent of this method was what is referred to as "pan-and-scan", which often involved a simple shot-by-shot repositioning.

The point of this article is that I always want full frame, certainly on (not necessarily that) old television programs. The camera operator composed the shot for the then television broadcast ratio. And I want that.

This morning I learned that the superb 1973-74 British television documentary series The World at War has been released in its original screen ratio. (Its first Blu-ray release from a couple of years ago has the ever luscious 16:9 aspect ratio.) This new release is for Region-2 only but maybe it'll see Region-1 so I can consider buying the set.

There's something else I could grab on Blu-ray....



Saturday, March 25, 2017

Great Stanley Kubrick Quotes

As I wrote on this blog a few weeks ago, I read the book The Making of Kubrick's 2001 when I was in elementary school. In that book was a quote from the great filmmaker that I 'got' even as a kid:

"Perhaps it sounds ridiculous, but the best thing that young filmmakers should do is to get hold of a camera and some film and make a movie of any kind at all."


If memory serves, the following quote too was in that book and it resonated for a kid who felt that....just read the quote:

"I think the big mistake in schools is trying to teach children anything, and by using fear as the basic motivation. Fear of getting failing grades, fear of not staying with your class, etc. Interest can produce learning on a scale compared to fear as a nuclear explosion to a firecracker."

It's amazing to me that educators do not "get it".


Friday, March 24, 2017

From a Dependent Brat: Of Bunkers and the Rounds

I arrived in West Germany in October of 1966 when the war, WW2, was just two decades in the past. Because of this handy fact there were lots of 'residual matter' left lying around from that great conflict. Bunkers were common in the area I lived -- about a mile from the French border and the dividing, and all-important bulkhead, Rhine River -- for they were part of the defence of Nazi Germany. Courtesy of many years of warm and cold weather back-and-forth action, expended shell casings and unfired rounds of ammunition would constantly pop to the surface ready for us little ones to collect. These weapons of war were great and much desired collectibles. ("Hockey cards? Ha!") However, our superiors made it clear -- as part of our education at home and at school -- that we were never to touch, never mind collect, those potent pieces of history.

One could still find reminding-bits of warfare in the local bunkers, of which an example sat in a field very close to where I lived in Iffezheim. I admit that I did at least once go right up to the bunker but did not try to climb around inside as it was by then a collapsed structure. (One of my most vivid memories is of something I saw while travelling on an RCAF bus in the late 1960s; out my window, as the trees parted, was a sight to behold: a field of anti-tank traps. The scene of light-grey-toned pyramids spread orderly over the green grass was almost beautiful.)

One day on the CFB Baden-Soellingen Elementary School grounds a fellow schoolmate pulled out a large clear plastic bag to show off to our small gathered circle. In this conveniently transparent bag, one which could have been used to contain a few ounces of water and a small calibre goldfish, was a large assortment of small and medium calibre ammunition. There was a mix of fully intact rounds and empty shell casings. A veritable grab-bag of violence.

That's all....


Thursday, March 23, 2017

Past Pic: The Aliens of Hyper-Reality



On February 2nd of last year I wrote about my unfinished 35mm short film Hyper-Reality. At the end of the piece I joked (on the spot) that I should look into 'crowdfunding' in order to finish the endeavour.

I did some research into the crowdfunding model but elected not to pursue a campaign at that time due to other commitments. Perhaps it's time I reactivate the idea of finishing Hyper-Reality....


Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Past Pic: Stephen Harper's Blueprint For Success



Back on October 18th of 2015, the day before our most recent Federal election here in Canada, I drew an editorial bit regarding then Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservatives and their simple approach to political campaigning: Stephen Harper's Blueprint for Success

By the way, that blueprint did not plan for success.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Blog of John Kenneth Muir

Today I have something a little different: A shout-out for a blogger who excels at reviewing and analyzing films and television programs, old and new. His name is John Kenneth Muir and his daily writings can be found here.

In addition to maintaining his blog, John is the author of several books on past television programs, including Doctor Who, Blake's 7, and Space: 1999. These books are not of the typical episode-guide and superficial overview type, but are in-depth treatises.

What I like about Mr Muir's blog postings is that, like the best film critics, which would include Toronto's own Geoff Pevere, he relates and compares the discussed work to the culture of the time -- when the 'art' was produced. This should be a very important component in critical reviews of an art form, especially a commercial one. What was happening culturally, politically, technologically, when something like The X-Files or King Kong hits the marketplace?

JKM's reviews are of 360 degrees.

John Kenneth Muir's Reflections on Cult Movies and Classic TV

Monday, March 20, 2017

Past Pic: A Planet Painting for Visual Effects



On May 11th of last year I posted a picture of a painting I did way back in 1988. Of course, now I could do it faster and cheaper on my computer.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

The Soundtrack of My (Youth)

When I work on projects at home I will listen to music, or, if my task requires little concentration, spoken-word discussions or narrated pieces. Yesterday while looking for stuff to download from the wonderful BBC radio podcast site I noticed that British film reviewer/writer Mark Kermode had recorded a four-part series called "The Soundtrack of My Life". I listened to the first part last night.

Titled, simply enough, "Soundtrack Albums", the piece involved Kermode's memories of discovering film scores and soundtracks. He talks of his first, then goes on to interview several filmmakers and composers.

I remember my first soundtrack album. It was from a film I had seen just months before, in 1975, at the Terra Theatre in CFB Borden: Rollerball.

Later, as I perused the LP record bin at the PX (Public Exchange) in Borden, I happened across the Rollerball soundtrack and learned then that there was a tie-in record. I bought it on the spot. This LP was not an original soundtrack in the traditional sense, but a compilation of music: A mix of Shostakovich, Tchaikovsky, Bach, and two more-contemporary pieces by Andre Previn composed specifically for the film. One of the catches for me was Tomaso Albinoni's "Adagio"; I remembered that it was used quite effectively in the Space: 1999 television series episode "Dragon's Domain", which I had also seen just a few months earlier. Now that I think about it, I played the Rollerball record a lot. It was not my introduction to recorded classical music -- my parents had a good selection from that domain -- but the choices, no doubt by the film's director, Norman Jewison, seemed to be a perfect blend for this then young listener.

My next album was the music to Space: 1999, which I was a little disappointed in, and a couple of years after that was Battlestar Galactica. (What's with all the sci-fi TV crap? Oh yeah, I was young.) A side note to the latter score: When I listened to it again, many years later, I couldn't help but notice the William Walton influence. This really comes through on one piece in particular.

No, I did not get the soundtrack to Star Wars in 1977. What turned me off of buying it, I think, was after a friend of mine lent me the two-LP set a few weeks before we saw the movie. (The album was actually available before the movie release itself in some markets.) As I had discovered Miklos Rosza's Ben Hur music the summer before -- courtesy of my dad's original 1959 "Stereophonic" pressing of that album -- the Star Wars music on its own sounded rather lame. When I returned the album to my friend I mentioned that I found the music to be "watery" and didn't even bother turning the first LP over to play "side 2". (He too was not impressed. After all, this was the guy who got me into the German band Kraftwerk.) Of course the music plays wonderfully well with the film and is a classic film score. Film scores, as composer Gerald Fried noted in an interview years ago, generally don't stand on their own as music. This is not a failing, of course, since they are designed, quite designed in fact, to play with picture and other audio elements. Those audio tracks can get quite crowded. Some scores do work on their own; it doesn't mean they are better scores, just that they can be listened to away from the movie. I've since acquired the Star Wars CD and I like the background music much better now as a standalone....the few times I've given it a spin. Oh, I bought the LP version in 1982.

The first 'original music' film score soundtrack LP that I remember getting was for Alien. I was very impressed, even though I had not yet seen the film. Speaking of film composer Jerry Goldsmith, for that's who I was speaking of in that case, later in 1979 he would produce his brilliant music accompaniment for Star Trek - The Motion Picture. (It's the best part of that slightly underrated film, I think. The theme tune, in particular, is one of the greatest of movie anthems.)

What's with all the sci-fi movie scores? Well, for starters, there's the LP to Patton.

I'm a fan of the late composer Jerry Goldsmith. His effect was best summed up recently by producer/writer Seth MacFarlane on a BBC radio show: "(Goldsmith) was an insanely talented guy."

There are others who's work I admire: (the great) Bernard Herrmann, Franz Waxman, Max Steiner, Elmer Bernstein, John Williams, David Shire, John Barry, Ennio Morricone, Ron Goodwin....

Decades ago I stopped collecting film scores. The odd one would trickle down onto my shelf. I enjoy film scores best when they are with the actual film. Also, scoring today, 'the state of', is pretty pathetic. I'm speaking more of the Hollywood product. While smaller films are getting some fine work in that area, most "tent pole" pictures are tracked with overwrought orchestral parts of nothing (but noise). It's been this way for years. It's hardly a requirement that a film theme should consist of a memorable 'song', it really depends on the show, but, as film director Edgar Wright states in the Mark Kermode program I listened to last night: "What's the most recent film score that you can really hum?"

Ahh....ahh....ahh.....

Okay, I'll cheat and play The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. That just might be the soundtrack of most of our lives.



Saturday, March 18, 2017

Past Pic: Toronto Chicken Save Vigil



On July 23rd of 2015 I attended my first Toronto Chicken Save vigil, and on the 19th of the next month I wrote up some thoughts. I love animals and put them on a 'rights' par with we humans, so I don't understand why I'm not more active in the animal rights movement. Having said that, this armchair critic was not impressed with the clumsy and inefficient tactics of the Chicken (Cow, PigSave people. But, at least they are doing something about the issue.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Past Pic: Graveyard Shift Contact Sheet



A blog posting from December 30th, 2012: A contact sheet sample from October of 1985 showing photographs I took in the studio during preparation of Graveyard Shift's graveyard set. (That studio is long gone, although the building is still there. It's on George Street, south of Queen.)

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Notes from a Dependent Brat: Hockey of All Sorts

Canadian Forces Base Borden's roads are made for road hockey. They are relatively quiet. Elm Street was my hockey arena every bit as much as the base's two ice rinks, Dyte Hall and Andy Anderson. On that short stretch of roadway there were "wicked" slap shots, scintillating saves, spectacular goals, balls screaming down its length, injuries, impassioned conflict, and loads of fun.

Our road hockey season stretched as long as was rational, or sane. Like kids from all over, inside and outside the borders of CFB Borden, when spring came, certainly the warm weather, we traded-in the hockey sticks and pucks/balls for tennis balls and rackets, baseball bats and mitts. This transition never sat well with me, so one year I decided to resist even more than usual. The prime component of this grand resistance was to create something new: "Grass Hockey." My new found skills made my hockey-stick-armed friends take to the grass in the same way that baseball-mitted kids take to the grass.

We dragged the game of hockey out to an extreme length; one so long that we must have touched the start of the next road hockey season: September.

The houses on Elm Street are gone, having been razed a few years ago, as were their surrounding brothers and sisters on School Street and Hemlock Crescent, but the roads and grassy fields are still there:

Ghosts of all-season hockey-loving kids play to the calls of Echoplexed trumpets....


Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Past Pic: Set Design on Web-Series



In March and April of 2011 I worked on a web-series as a set designer/builder. On April 13th of that year I wrote a little piece about the job.

I snapped the above pic between takes.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

My First Day of High School - Imagine!

Here in Canada the other day, several 'pot shops' were raided by police forces and people were arrested. While illegal at the moment, these dispensaries may soon be able to exist as legitimate businesses.

This reminded me of my first day of high school, mid 1970s.

As I moved somewhat self-consciously down an end hallway a well-dressed young man in flared jeans and matching jacket, and sporting long hair with matching facial hair, approached me with a signature drooping walk. He had what I assumed to be some kind of survey question, the kind dispensed to "minor niners" like me:

"Hey, man. Wanna buy some grass?"

At first I remembered what my parents said to me before I boarded the school bus earlier that morning: "If someone asks you if you want to buy some pot, say 'yes'." Or was it?....was it "no"? Darn. Nobody told me that high school was this hard! I then remembered that my mother gave me twenty dollars, but my memory told me that the money was not for "grass". Wait a minute....no, it was for "pot", not grass.

I told the gentleman: "I want to thank you for your concern and consideration, kind sir, but my answer is 'no'."


Monday, March 13, 2017

Past Pics: Sea Things



"Sea Thing (On the Beach)" is a sketch I did back in 1984 then posted about it on this blog in February of 2010.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Poem: whenever

My mind waits
on the day

While in the
daze of sleep

my mind
wanders in
a nightie
and slippers


___

2017
Simon St. Laurent

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Past Pics: Graveyard Shift


In October of 1985 I worked on the Canadian horror feature film Graveyard Shift as a set designer. On November 27th of 2009 I wrote a piece on my experiences.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Poem: The Cat's But

My cat asked for
my homage

But

If I failed to
comply
He would pay
homage to
me and my


___

2017
Simon St. Laurent


Thursday, March 9, 2017

Past Pics: Making "Hamlet"



On November 17th of 2009 I posted a piece on my visit to Dover, England, in April of 1990. While visiting the amazing Dover Castle I happened upon a shoot for director Franco Zeffirelli's Hamlet.

Past Pics: "Four by Three" Compilation 1

 




Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Halt the Hate (From Star Trek)

Here in Toronto yesterday there was a bomb threat at the Jewish Community Centre. Unfortunately the JCC was not alone, as there were several such centres targeted in other cities. Hate and prejudice refuse to leave us.

For some strange reason this ol' Trekker was reminded of some memorable quotes from the original Star Trek series:

"Oh, how absolutely typical of your species! You don't understand something, so you become fearful."

Perhaps someday we can claim the following quote:

"Where I come from, size, shape, or colour makes no difference."

For:

"All men are brothers."

___

Here's a bonus. While leafing through Star Trek Speaks (a book from my geeky youth) I came across this quote, a conversation; it reminded me of a certain President Donald J. Trump:

"Evil does seek to maintain power by suppressing the truth."
"Or by misleading the innocent."



Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Past Pics: Film Effects Toronto



Back on October 2, 2009 I posted a brief story about my days and workmates at Film Effects Toronto. Attached was a photo I had taken in November of 1993.

I'm the well-dressed bloke. Sorry, the one kneeling.

Monday, March 6, 2017

"Battle of Britain" VHS Purge Special Feature

Yesterday (March 5th) I posted a piece on the 1969 movie Battle of Britain as part of my "VHS Purge" series. My initial draft was too lengthy but I decided to hold the personal experiences part of the article over for a separate story of its own:

My dad took me to see Battle of Britain when it hit the CFB Baden-Soellingen movie theatre. We were living in then West Germany, specifically in a small town, surrounded by Germans, which somehow enhanced my movie-going experience. Not only do I love the sound of that language but in this movie the Germans actually speak Deutsche.

To illustrate how big of a deal this movie was at the time, there was a live-from-London television special one evening celebrating its premiere. German television network ARD or ZDF (I can't remember which) picked up the live feed: There were searchlights and men dressed in vintage uniforms manning an ack-ack gun placement. I could hardly wait to see the movie.

Unfortunately, producing-studio and distributor United Artists lost a lot of money on Battle of Britain. The film did not 'travel' much outside of Europe (read: the USA), which it had to do in order to make back the investment. As a tie-in documentary hosted by actor Michael Caine outlined most effectively, regular folk, including those on the Isles, could tell you next to nothing about the battle. And this was less than thirty years after the events. The idea of an ignorance of one's own history as being an 'American' thing is a false one. (Author Clive Cussler recounts a sobering personal experience in his non-fiction book, The Sea Hunters, where he was taken aback by some of his fellow Americans -- politicians in this case -- not knowing, or, more importantly, not even caring about their own history.)

Director Guy Hamilton, guiding light of Battle of Britain, claimed that United Artists lost ten million dollars (late 1960s currency) on the deal.

As a child what I liked was Battle's spectacle: The wide-screen; the colour; the music; the you-are-there vibe.

The now-defunct "Festival Theatres" repertory chain here in Toronto would screen the film every few years, and I would be there with interested friends.

As I've told people over the years, "Battle of Britain was my Star Wars."

Sunday, March 5, 2017

My VHS Purge: Battle of Britain

As part of a downsizing project eight years ago I purged most of my pre-recorded VHS tapes. I've never been a big collector of movies -- my DVD library is fairly small -- but the fact is I had accumulated around 70 tapes:

Battle of Britain (1969) A troubled production complete with massive cost overruns and a shoot that seemed to have no end, this historical aviation epic provides some satisfaction for those movie fans who want to see a breed of filmmaking that will never be seen again. No film company today could afford to make a film like Battle of Britain, at least not one using exclusively the same production methods -- much of it would be done using fake CG fakery, by people who've never taken the time to see how an aircraft, like a Spitfire or Heinkel, twists and turns in the sky. (Try YouTube.) As far as the film as a film goes: It depends on whether the viewer can enjoy a 132-minute story about a critical moment of history. The Royal Air Force's warding off of the mighty German Luftwaffe during the summer of 1940.

What one sees are grand air battles and an abundance of name-actors (at that time, of course). Christopher Plummer, Susannah York, Laurence Olivier, Michael Caine, Curt Jurgens, Robert Shaw, and Trevor Howard are a few of those stars who play historical characters or 'average people' swept up in that pesky thing we humans almost never ask for but often get: War. In this case World War II.

A highlight of many: The Battle in the Air. It makes me a firm believer in cinema's capabilities.

Kudos must go to director Guy Hamilton (1922 - 2016) for giving a somewhat unwieldy story, one with necessary density, some personality; and for remembering the people, who are so often forgotten in these epics.

My dad took me to see Battle of Britain when it hit the CFB Baden-Soelligen movie theatre. Tomorrow I will post a sort of 'VHS extras' piece....


Saturday, March 4, 2017

My VHS Purge: The Blue Max

As part of a downsizing project eight years ago I purged most of my pre-recorded VHS tapes. I've never been a big collector of movies -- my DVD library is fairly small -- but the fact is I had accumulated around 70 tapes:

The Blue Max  (1966) An underrated epic. Three or four years ago I rewatched it after a prompt from a friend who had himself reappraised the film. He was right. The screenplay is superior, not typical of a 'roadshow' picture, I find. There is the brand of spectacle usually found in the form -- in this case fabulous flying and combat scenes -- but also present is a lot of human-based machinations, the kind that might have impressed the Bard. These finely wrought narrative streams roll to a satisfying climax.

Star George Peppard, while much too old at the time to be playing a fighter pilot (those guys were in their early to mid twenties), is believable as a man who will stop at nothing to get the big prize: The Blue Max, the "Pour le Mérite". Ursula Andress, James Mason, Jeremy Kemp, and Karl Michael Vogler give fine support. As for tech credits, cinematographer Douglas Slocombe and composer Jerry Goldsmith fly high. (What is typical of a blockbuster film is the staffing of top people, in front of and behind the camera. More often than not this loading of talent does not translate into a great movie, or an okay one, even if the individual contributions can be spotlighted and raved about.)

Some of the film's highlights: The balloon-busting sequence; a game of "chicken", with contributions from a bridge; Peppard and Andress; the clash of Allied and German soldiers, complete with visceral hand-to-hand combat (which film critics had somehow not known about when they raved about Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan); and James Mason's 'big stamp' (it packs a punch).

The Blue Max deserves a spin on DVD or Blu-ray....

___

As I posted yesterday, I am enjoying some technical issues that won't let me affix the complementing VHS box pictures. As soon as these problems are eliminated I will post the pics.


Friday, March 3, 2017

VHS Purge This Weekend, Nix Pics

"My VHS Purge" continues this coming weekend, but due to unforeseen technical issues, I won't be able to affix my usual exciting and dynamic VHS box pics.

Of course when the problems are fixed the pics will be affixed.


Thursday, March 2, 2017

Film Design: Looking for a Monster

Hyper-Reality is an uncompleted 35mm short film that I co-wrote*, directed, and designed. (I've posted about the production a few times. The most recent of which is here.) A main part of the film's storyline is a narrative arc containing scenes that look as though they could have been lifted from the old, and very bad, television series Lost in Space (1965-1968). With that TV classic being our template it was necessary to design and build similar sets, props, and costumes for our little show.

In a later rewrite of the Hyper-Reality script I added a Lost in Space monster, the kind that would toss John Robinson about and posses the uncanny ability to all but repel ray-gun beams. (I mentioned my script adjustment to my art assistant and she cracked up laughing. "Why am I not surprised?") Once the ink had dried on the script page, I had to find that monster. My assistant and I visited the various costume houses here in Toronto and found a bear-like beast that seemed to fit the bill. As a matter of fact I shot a sequence with it, but once I saw the footage of the monster in action I realized it did not entirely work for me. I went to my drawing table to design a second creature for the Alien Lair.

Here are some early sketches for the monster that could now be built from my personal specifications:











(* Written by Tim A. Cook and me, with a draft and edit by Michelle Berry)

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Conductor's 8 x 10: Carlo Maria Guilini



When I was nineteen or twenty years of age I decided to collect some eight-by-tens of orchestra conductors. Back in the days before the Internet the process of getting mailing addresses for the various orchestras was not too much of a problem. My local library, like most of the kind, had reference books for such a task. I collected several contacts. In the name of good public relations I always got a response, a large-size envelope containing an eight-by-ten glossy.

Italian conductor Carlo Maria Guilini (1914-2005) enjoyed a long and prolific career. When I mailed off for his eight-by-ten he was principal conductor for the Los Angeles Philharmonic orchestra. Guilini was also an acclaimed leader of opera, staging works such as La traviata and Don Carlos.

The glossy's stock signature was done in grease pencil. Unfortunately much of it was lifted off when the photo sat in the stack.