Mid-Binges Report

November 19, 2017

I have finally joined the 21st century — or at least a part of it: I have been binge-watching on Netflix.

I am completely hooked on “Scott & Bailey“, a British cop show that is brutal in its telling of procedurals, but which allows me to understand life as it is today in Manchester as the characters’ personal lives weave in and out of the murders and other serious crimes they have to deal with.  Series five is currently airing on TV. Over the last ten days I have completed the first two seasons, 14 shows, each as good as the previous. I am looking forward to starting series 3 later today.

When I’m not watching “Scott & Bailey“, the chances are I am binge-reading the entire collection of Jo Nesbo Norwegian detective mysteries. I am currently working my way through “The Redbreast,” the third of the Harry Hole series. Harry Hole is an alcoholic and often deranged senior detective based in Oslo. An outsider. A rough diamond. A brilliant detective. A lot of cliches and stereotypes that Nesbo creatively manages to use to create a very interesting background against which the crimes are committed and solved.  I have four more volumes stacked up on the table beside me.

Not a bad way to  spend rainy days.


Oscars Schmoscars!

March 1, 2017

It is hard to express in words just how bored and angry I am with the fuss over the ending of the Oscars. Bored perhaps isn’t the word; disgusted is better.

Someone handed someone a wrong card; the mistake was noticed and corrected immediately; no-one died, no-one was injured, no-one lost money. It was a boring error ending four hours of different boredom that has led to literally thousands of hours of television around the world and seemingly endless columns of print. I bet that compared to the famine in Sudan, say, or the latest atrocities in Syria, this dumbass envelope has received 1,000 times the coverage or more.

A great many people have wasted a great deal of time, energy, and resources on something that is absolutely meaningless. And that shows what a screwed-up celebrity-obsessed world we live in where such resources can be wasted on such trivia while Canadian First Nations and Flint Michiganders (let alone those in the less developed world) don’t even have real water to drink.

Bread and circuses.

Not Quite Such Fantastic Beasts

November 25, 2016

The ever-loving and I went out on a date tonight, to go see “Fantastic Beasts and Where You Can Find Them.” I enjoyed going out, but the film was rather disappointing. This is fantasy, but even decent fantasy has to have fewer plot holes than this, and I say this as a Rowling fan.

The film was made, so far as I could tell, simply an excuse to do three things: (a) make more money; (b) set up a new franchise to make even more money; and (c) to exploit basic destruction urges with CGI and other visual and special effects. Some of the effects were interesting; most were run of the mill. Very disappointing. There is however a very understated and well done morph of Colin Farrell into Johnny Depp at the very end.

I said above that I “enjoyed” going out, which I did. But I also have to wonder whether I will go out to the movies ever again. There was no audience atmosphere — laughs, gasps, cheers, etc — and so the point of seeing the thing with a crowd was lost. And even with paying the old geezers’ rate for tickets, the show, some concession food, and a cab ride home cost about $60. There are a lot more ways to get two hours entertainment these days without spending $60 and having to leave the comforts of home on a rainy night.

I won’t even mention the 45 minutes of commercials and silly games that one is obliged to sit through. Nor will I mention the fact that, though I was probably one of the deafest people in the theatre, I thought the sound was so loud my dentures rattled. Nor that I really don’t care for Eddy Redmayne.

It’ll be a while before I do that again.

R.I.P. Gene Wilder

August 29, 2016


The now-late Gene Wilder was one of the comic geniuses of my youth. He will be missed.

In 1980 or thereabouts, I had a perm and thus curly hair. I was in an expensive restaurant with someone one day, and I noticed that a young lad of about 10 years at another table was eyeing me eagerly.  As time went on, I caught him pointing in my direction as he passionately pleaded with his Mom for something.  Eventually, carrying a small book with him and watched closely by the adults there, the kid slid down from his table and walked tentatively over to me.

“Can I have your autograph, Mr Gene Wilder, please?”

I was surprised, but hurried whispers between my companion and I about childhood disappointment led me to agree; and I signed his book as “Gene Wilder”.  The kid was delighted and rushed eagerly and noisily back to his people. I nodded to them, smiled, and went on with my day.  Looking back, I am still glad I did it.

The Media’s Finest Day?

August 9, 2016

On this day in 1974, Richard M. Nixon, President of the United States of America and the most powerful man in the world, resigned his office.  Though many individuals and agencies played their role, it is hard to deny that the media was the key to this astonishing event.


In 1968, people power, along with deep layers of personal guilt within the mind of the President, forced Lyndon Johnson to pull out of the 1968 election, and allowed someone no-one trusted to be elected in his stead. Just six years later, and not that long after a resounding re-election victory, Nixon was brought low by hubris on his side and dogged investigative legwork on the other.

The multi-year multi-level scandal that we know by the shorthand of “Watergate” followed by some years the incredible work of the Sunday Times to bring the thalidomide scandal to light in the UK and around the world. Together, those campaigns — and the ephemeral glamour of the New Journalism in the same period, followed by the first stirrings of the internet — led us to believe that yes, perhaps information is power and can be used to influence the world.

Utopian dreams of course, crushed in large part by the drab reactionaries who built the Cold War into a profit centre for billionaires, and who needed control over information to maintain their position. Clever marketing gave us entertainment of all kinds to keep us sweet, and fifty-seven varieties of toothpaste to make us believe we were in control of the choices we make.

What is now known as the Mainstream Media (the MSM) holds little hope for the kind of coverage we need today. They are controlled by the corporations that control everything else. There are individuals and tiny agencies that are trying to bring truths to light across many different platforms, but the darkness around becomes ever more close and enveloping.

I offer no solution to this dilemma. Just a hope that the few points of light will keep twinkling and that we will continue to share them as we can.

Missing The News

July 12, 2016

My friend Tom Durrie has another interesting piece on his blog this week.

He notes the media splash around the success this month of Milos Raonic and Denis Shapovalov at Wimbledon; how these successes are feted as great Canadian success stories — and they certainly are — played endlessly on TV.  But he goes on to note the complete dis-interest in the media in other equally valid Canadian successes. He examples Nicki Chooi, from Victoria who has just been appointed concertmaster of the NY Metropolitan Opera, and  Yannick Nézet-Séguin who will take over as conductor of the Met.

These are fabulous highlights in any career, and I join Tom in wondering why they are ignored by our nation’s media?

The Design of 2001: A Space Odyssey

March 17, 2016

Back in the late 1960s, I began work at MGM’s Borehamwood studios as a studio runner. These days, that position is usually called a Production Assistant or PA.

I was employed by the studio rather than a production company, and I was assigned each day or each week to work on whatever film shooting in the studio needed an extra body.  My main task, as I recall after these 50 years, was to run off call sheets each night and deliver them to departments around the studio. The call sheet is a vital document on a production, letting everyone know what is to be shot the next day, and detailing everything that is needed for the shoot and when it is needed.

This was in the days before computers or even word processors were everywhere.  Instead, the Production Coordinator for each production typed the document on a Gestetner stencil (hands up all those who remember that) and the stencil was run off on a small hand-cranked printing drum.  It was messy, tedious, slow, and the stencils often ripped, requiring repairs using, usually, nail polish to stick it back together.

I don’t remember too many of the productions I was assigned to, but I was lucky enough to see many of the action sequences filmed for Where Eagles Dare, and there was always the closely-guarded and then-unnamed Stanley Kubrick project to intrigue.  Kubrick’s production took up a great deal of the studio and its lot, and was, of course, the talk of the commissary each day.  As a studio runner, I was dispatched to numerous 2001 departments and got to see much of the art work and special effects being created.

Construction of the lunar monlith set (when the monolith design was still a pyramid)

Construction of the lunar monolith set (when the monolith design was still a pyramid)

This is all a very long prologue to draw your attention to a really excellent piece in Creative Review which examines the work of NASA visualizer Harry Lange whom Kubrick hired as designer for the show.  If you enjoy the movie and/or are intrigued by what were cutting edge designs, do take the time to read the article.