Thursday, January 26, 2012

...But Me
(if you can find it, the version by Debra Hampton is just the teensiest bit better...)

Star Trek guest stars

-mark lenard: romulan commander, "Balance of Terror"
-william campbell: trelane, "The Squire of Gothos"
-ricardo montalban: khan noonian singh, "Space Seed"
-joan collins: edith keeler, "The City on the Edge of Forever"
-roger c. carmel: harry mudd, "I, Mudd"
-ricardo montalban: khan noonian singh, THE WRATH OF KHAN
-ray walston: boothby, "The First Duty" TNG
-david warner: gul madred, "Chain of Command" TNG
-brian keith: mullibok, "Progress" DS9
-gerritt graham: q, "Death Wish" VOY
-alice krige: borg queen, FIRST CONTACT
-john rhys-davies: leonardo da vinci, "Scorpion" VOY
-donna murphy: anij, INSURRECTION
-andy dick: EMH mark 2, "Message in a Bottle" VOY

M*A*S*H, season 6

-Fade Out, Fade In
Hello, Charles Emerson Winchester. Is there any show in television history which replaced beloved characters as successfully? Certainly no show ever put together their replacements' debuts as fantastically. This two-parter absolutely roars tight and so hysterical (without any idiotic laugh track). David Ogden Stiers' performance is seamless. We instantly get his character. The chemistry between Alda, Farrell, and Morgan can't be overstated. Add Swit, Burghoff, Farr, and Christopher pinging their energy perfectly...
-Fallen Idol
Radar gets wounded while driving to Seoul to have sex for the first time. Hawkeye had urged him to go, and gets so drunk from guilt he has to leave the O.R. the next day. Radar and Hawkeye explode at each other for the first time ever. Maudlin? A little. Brilliant? A lot.
-The Winchester Tapes
Charles records a long letter to his wealthy folks, imploring them to use their influence to get him reassigned in Tokyo or stateside. A great episode for BJ, who pranks Charles by continually changing the size of his uniform. Hawkeye is desperately trying to get to Seoul for a weekend with Nurse Gilmore. The dialogue is brilliant, and Stiers is perfect.
-Comrades in Arms
Hawkeye and Margaret are trapped behind enemy lines. They're holding on to each other through the night in a hut while being shelled, after she'd received a poisoned letter from may fill in that ellipse in the most sexy way you like. As wonderfully planned and acted as this is, it does make you pause a moment to think about the movie. The inconceivability of anything like this ever happening within that paradigm...yet in the series, it's hard to argue that there wasn't a certain inevitability. The uncomfortable aftermath amounts to some of Loretta's best work and a writing staff that was at its deadly best, navigating what could have been the worst M*A*S*H episode of all time in lesser hands.
-Potter's Retirement
After negative reports from within the camp on Potter's efficiency prompt an I-Corps investigation, he decides to take early retirement. The snitch (George Wyner - SPACEBALLS, HILL STREET BLUES) turns out to be a plant, courtesy of a disgruntled ex-patient. Morgan is ferocious.
-Last Laugh ***
James Cromwell (SIX FEET UNDER, STAR TREK: FIRST CONTACT) drops in as Leo Bardonero, BJ's college prankster buddy. Gotchas abound. Plus John Ashton (BEVERLY HILLS COP) as a dour MP.
-War of Nerves ***
Sydney drops in with a head wound suffered while making a foxhole housecall with Michael O'Keefe (CADDYSHACK, THE GREAT SANTINI). This episode almost takes the happy face off Sydney, and gives you a truer sense of the unsavory side of military psychiatrists, as you feel sympathy for a boy who loathes him for sending him back to the front. The overstressed camp lights a cathartic bonfire. Plus Pete Riegert (ANIMAL HOUSE)!
-The Light that Failed ***
A mystery novel gets torn apart and passed around chapter by chapter to a stir-crazy camp. Philip Baker Hall (MAGNOLIA) plays a cranky, jaded supply sergeant.
-In Love and War ***
A well-crafted, emotionally-resonant episode. Hawkeye falls for a Korean woman (a tender performance by Kieu Chinh, THE JOY LUCK CLUB) living in the remains of her once wealthy home, who cares for orphans. Margaret comes face to face with Donald's philandering, in the form of a new nurse who had her fingers licked. Despite this episode's excellence, this may be the moment when fans (and creators) of the movie turned off their sets for good. Any remnants of the original edginess are gone, gone...
-Images ***
Talk about high-voltage guest stars before they were that little doggie Jack from TALES OF THE GOLD MONKEY!?
-The M*A*S*H Olympics ***
Set against a Helsinki backdrop, an out-of-shape camp holds its own Olympiad. Donald shows up. As fun and memorable as three stars gets.
-The Grim Reaper **
Ewwwwf. Col. Bloodworth, a casualty predictor, is strongly disliked by Capt. Niceguy, er, Pierce. The writing is so lacking in subtlety that a two year-old might look askance. The only thing that rescues this a bit is a sub-plot with Charles sharing canned, botulistic pheasant with Margaret.
-Your Hit Parade ***
Really quite sweet, with a semi-retro feel. Radar entertains the camp as a DJ, during a marathon O.R. stretch. This one makes the top-ten Radar list (without a bullet).
-Mail Call Three ***
All the necessaries for four stars...perhaps just an extra take or two away. Klinger's wife leaves him, BJ's wife becomes independent, Hawkeye receives torrid letters belonging to another Benjamin Pierce, and Radar's Mom is dating. Another Radar top-ten.
-Dr. Winchester and Mr. Hyde ***
The first sitcom to ever deal with amphetamine addiction? The first network prime time show, even?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


I was part of a crew of three she hired to help do a one-mile move to her new home in Brooklyn. The energy was pleasant, and i liked her immediately. At one point she and i were getting ready to take apart her son's yellow plastic car-bed. She was way too big for it, but laid back with a sigh, smiling at me. Attraction literally jolted me. During lunch break, she and i ate alone at her old apartment. We sat on the kitchen floor, our extremities brushing. At the end of the move, one of the other guys asked her out. He was a bit of a jerk, so i let him have his failed moment. When the others were gone, i offered to help her get settled. After fifteen minutes or so, she wanted to walk to a park. It was a beautiful spring day, and the first two parks we found (neighborhood gardens, really) were locked. We decided to climb the ten-foot wall of the second one. Once inside, we explored and found a spot to lie down. My head was against her side, and for the next couple hours, lazing in the sun, we talked and let our hands absent-mindedly wander. So sweetly beautiful. When we were finally interrupted by a group who had a key, we strolled back to her place. With the setting sun streaming through the living room blinds, she lay down on her stomach on a bare mattress, her contented eyes closed. I undressed her and ran my long hair slowly up and down her, then gently blew on her skin everywhere, and placed lingering baby kisses all over her back and flanks. She had such soft skin, with one of the most kissable tuchuses i'd ever encountered. Darkness now around us, i took off my clothes and lay down. We slowly intertwined, gently kissing. She was slender, shorter than average, with thin, very fine hair and a beautiful non-athletic body. Her breasts had obviously gone through motherhood (i recalled a comedienne's joke about post-weaning breasts looking like empty socks). It was my first adult experience with such breasts. Would i have preferred the non-droopy version? Sure. But i quickly forgot about it. With her son at his dad's, she invited me to stay the night. I wanted to shower, but the water wasn’t connected. We had sweated together during the day, and our unwashed bodies clung together through the night. Looking over at one point, she asked me to stay perfectly still. She said i looked like an angel. In the morning as we awoke, i gently placed her hand on my erection. She grasped me and began kissing my chest, then lay her head on my stomach. I expected her to just look at me, but after one or two light kisses, her mouth started to envelop me. For a few microseconds as i realized things might be going too quickly (and also remembering how overdue for a shower i was), i thought of stopping her. But the beauty of our togetherness had me in its spell, and her exquisite mouth took me in. She lovingly pleasured me…i was confident i wouldn’t come, and after a few minutes she came up for some deep kissing. She was soon off to school (she was a therapist working on an advanced degree). At her place a couple nights later, i told her about Vanessa, and that it might be wise to slow things down. We spent a sweet night together, with underwear and just a little kissing. Over the next month, i realized that i hadn’t been fully aware of how in love with Vanessa i was. My affection and respect for Elisabeth grew. She had survived a lot. Not only a ridiculously malicious divorce, but a debilitating illness that had wasted away at her for a year. But i sensed that her affections weren’t about to displace Vanessa (sadly realizing that my awareness of how long a round trip to her took, faintly paralleled Vanessa's no longer wanting to deal with visiting me in JC). Eventually Elisabeth broke contact, saying that she didn’t want to be the newest link in a chain of unbalanced love. She reappeared a few months later. I told her that Vanessa and i had broken off our half-romance, but that i was still very much in love. Elisabeth and i began sharing romance again. After a month or so, she cut it off again when i told her i wasn’t thinking about a future with her. This couldn’t have been much of a revelation, but something in my frankness must have broken something in her, despite her earlier protests of only wanting whatever i had to offer. In that month, there was one night that captured the beauty of our first afternoon. The first and only time she came to visit me in Jersey, she arrived at the door uncharacteristically wearing makeup. I was a little turned off, but she was in such good spirits i didn’t mention it. We came together that night in slow, profound embraces. I was still careful to stop just short of penetration. So many moments i held my rigid self against her warm, yielding sex…it was so mind-blowing that i can’t be sure there wasn’t even a little shallow penetration. During one of these moments, i was above her and looked down…and words will fail to describe how intensely she radiated beauty and openness. In that moment, i knew that there had never been a more beautiful human being. She later told me that every minutest physical movement i made that night was profound and perfect. In the weeks and months to come, i faintly regretted not penetrating her that night. I don't doubt that she would have received me with mindless happiness. We stayed in contact after our second romantic break, and had some nice moments together, particularly one afternoon when we chatted as i bathed in her tub while eating Chinese. I greeted her that day with a long embrace, during which my lips brushed against the base of her neck, and my head swam. My desire for her had only grown with time, so i knew that we needed to take another break from each other, as i wasn’t going to stop wanting her anytime soon. We stayed in distant contact for about a year. During that time, she sent me a photo of herself one day, naked with a big red "A" painted on her stomach. She'd had an abortion. I felt miserable for her, and for myself, that she had been in the arms of some idiot when she should have been with me. A couple months later, i wrote to her in a moment of loneliness. She told me to come to her. We spent the night together. I intended no sexuality, but that intent didn't survive her soft kisses. On that sad, lonely night, her loving made me a little more human. But soon after, she complained about the inconsistency of my behavior. I retreated again. Months later we had another sexual encounter, unexpected and less inhibited, pleasuring each other orally on her kitchen counter, the first such contact since our very first night. That night, she probably pleasured me longer orally than any woman ever had. It was so wonderful, and i wanted more, but a part of me knew i probably could never be what she wanted, and i died inside at the thought of being destructive with her. I read with her a play i'd written, in which one of the characters was based on her. It was a beautiful experience, and we held each other afterward. I always had hope that she would figure out how to use my love in her life, but when she finally got engaged to be re-married, i offered to leave her life for good. I hadn't been able to bring myself to tell her that deep down, i felt that anything was possible…that even though it had been my intuition that we weren’t meant to be any kind of life partners, as time wore on i became less sure of that. Years later, she told me that on our first night she felt she had found her "ever-after", the man who would be all the things her husband had failed to be. I found her words both moving and heart-rending (cue Dylan's "It Ain't Me, Babe"?). Because she was a single mother, i was always less impulsive with her than i otherwise would have been (something she was aware of and didn't like). I wanted to be a loving part of her life forever, but we just couldn’t figure out how to make it work.

Monday, January 23, 2012

The God Buffet

-summer 2001
I was ready to act and direct again. It was becoming apparent that Donna was the likely candidate to carry the Orpheus torch after i left, so i included her in all creative decisions from this point on. She talked about projects she wanted to do, and one of them, GOD’S SPIES by Don Nigro, became the starting point of our next project. She wanted to do just a monologue, but i suggested we do the whole short play as part of an evening of theater with a holy theme. We called it THE GOD BUFFET. I performed "The Law", from DRINKING IN AMERICA. Donna added a character named Cammy Faye, who riled up the crowd with an extemporaneous intro for my character, the Rev. Blackwater. Our second piece was another Donna find called "Rosary", by Jean-Claude Van Itallie. It was a monologue of a nun on a solitary subway train, confessing to God her lustful feelings for a woman. Zendyn Duellman auditioned, and she was perfect. We found two filmmakers, Evan Munro and Jason Padilla, who shot a film that accompanied Zendyn's performance. We filmed at the Catholic church down the beach, inside and out. A collage of holy images, Zendyn in nature, close-up body shots, and a rosary falling apart. Zendyn sat in front of the screen, and the effect was quite beautiful and disturbing (the first time i viewed it, i joked that i felt dirty). I spent extra time working with her, as the monologue was ridiculously tough. She was a Zoroastrian from India, newly married to an American named Greg. Her company was as delightful as her talent. She would be out of town our final weekend, so we cast Nancy DeFonzo as her understudy. Nancy had provided costumes for earlier shows, and i was glad to give her this opportunity. Our third piece was one of my Monty Python favorites, "St. Victor". It's a scripture reading by a vicar, played by me. I'm the soul of piety, but when i start droning on about how Victor is beset by Oriental maidens who nibble his ears, and an angel of the Lord escorts him into the jacuzzi, we know that we're no longer in Leviticus, Toto. Our fourth piece got Shane back onstage, doing another Python piece with me called "Protestantism". I play a perpetually-repressed housewife listening to my husband drone on about the bloody Catholics, and how advanced we protestants are with our contraceptive ways. I ask whether we can try some of these condoms, but he just keeps grousing. I'm in full-blown housewife drag, and Shane was wonderful. We added extra bits of dialogue. Very funny. Our final piece was GOD'S SPIES. The setting was a Christian talk show, hosted by the perpetually perky Dale Clabby, played by Zendyn. I played the first guest, Calvin Stringer, a religious researcher railing about the devil in music and tarot cards. I got a buzz cut, a bow tie, and white bucks. Donna was the second guest, young Wendy Trumpy, telling about how she found God in a belfry. An amazing monologue about a pedophile priest and an escaped convict. We added a non-speaking character, having Shane play Wendy's little brother, Lumpy. He sat by her chair in a blonde Beatle wig, dozing off and being just incredibly funny. At the start, Dale's pushing Bible sales, but Wendy has her being more giving by the end. Donna and i co-directed. She took charge of "Rosary", we shared on GOD'S SPIES, and i did most of the work on the other three. There was a sixth piece i wrote, an autobiographical monologue about a young person's cathartic realization that there is no God. But i couldn't convince the others or myself that it was good enough, so we dropped it. Having Nancy as understudy proved a challenge, as she was in the midst of an extended mental breakdown. I tried to help, but just brought her wrath on my head, and she was institutionalized by the time the run was over. It wasn't until the final week that we knew she wouldn't perform. We called on Amanda, who stepped right in. We decided that there was no way Amanda could have "Rosary" ready in only a few days (Donna didn't want to attempt it, either). We did the piece as just the film, with Zendyn's recorded voice, which made for a powerful experience in and of itself. This left Amanda to work on Dale Clabby. She and i had long joked about Amanda's slight Wisconsin accent, and i told her to try the part as a full-blown Wisconsinite. I was already playing Calvin as a Wisconsinite, and our back and forth turned out to be comedic gold. That last weekend was so much fun. The entire run was a delight. Our crowds were small, but happy. We decided that a lot of religious folk stayed away because they rightly suspected there was irreverence going on, and non-believers stayed away because they thought it was some sort of revival.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Double Fantasy Stripped

I just listened to DOUBLE FANTASY STRIPPED DOWN, by John & Yoko, a 2010 re-release that takes away a lot of the production of the original album. As John might have cheekily said, it's a religious fucking experience. The sound washes over you, leaving you starry-eyed. Original producer Jack Douglas worked with Yoko on this. Back in 80', Jack was dismissed for the production of MILK & HONEY, even though he oversaw the recording (one can only hope that he gets to work on a re-release of that one, too). Most notably gone on STRIPPED are the double-tracked lead vocals, because John was insecure about his voice. The album is more acoustic, but the changes can be unpredictable. They didn't just pare away the originals, they often started from different takes entirely. Harmonies and instrumentations disappear, sometimes leaving you singing the missing sound. Altogether different harmonies and instrumentations appear. Surprisingly, Yoko's tracks are even more altered than John's, particularly "Every Man Has a Woman Who Loves Him" and "Hard Times are Over", which now play essentially as duets between the two, a beautiful way to end the album.
It's bizarre, the relationship one has with Yoko's songs. It's always been easy to dismiss them entirely...indeed, my baby brothers didn't even know until they were adults that Yoko had songs on the album, so deft was i at lifting and replacing the needle perfectly. Yet i had played her songs enough so that i knew them intimately...and as the years went by, i began to grow a certain affection for them. Never has that been so true as during this first listen of STRIPPED DOWN. I'm not saying i'll never again skip her tracks, a conceptual whole, the album stands, something i'd never granted before. How much was John propping her up, musically? Did he co-write her songs? I don't know. To what extent was the album an honest portrayal of their lives? It's fascinating to read an insider's portrayal, like that of John's assistant Fred Seaman, to ponder what may have been missing from the lyrics. Was John preparing to leave her for good? A question that fortunately doesn't need to be answered, to love the album for what it is. A grownup Beatle and wife, making an album about grownup life. I'm honestly not sure which version will end up being my preferred, over time. STRIPPED DOWN is that good.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

"Tales of the Gold Monkey"

Set in the late 30s, this adventure series by Donald Bellasario (MAGNUM P.I., QUANTUM LEAP) capitalized on the success of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. The irrepressible Mike Post gave us the music. The lovable Stephen Collins (STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE, SEVENTH HEAVEN) stars as Pacific islands bush pilot Jake Cutter, who flies his seaplane in and out of all sorts of trouble, with Japanese and Nazis and other unsavories. Sweet Jeff MacKay (MAGNUM P.I., BATTLESTAR GALACTICA) is his alcoholic mechanic Corky. Caitlin O'Heaney (THE CHARMINGS) plays damsel-in-distress and part-time spy Sarah White. John Calvin (NORMA RAE, THE PAUL LYNDE SHOW) is missionary/Nazi spy Reverend Tenboom. Marta DuBois (MCBRIDE, and the unforgettable temptress/con artist Ardra in NEXT GENERATION's "Devil's Due") plays island princess Koji. Leo plays lovable one-eyed dog Jack. Lending the perfect final brush stroke, the inestimable Roddy McDowall plays saloon owner Bon Chance Louie. There's a minor cheese factor and an occasionally loose affiliation with plausibility. Charming? Yes. Worth the time for anyone who isn't overly-sentimental about the 80s? Not really, no.
-Tales of the Gold Monkey ****
This two-hour TV movie is a wonderful ride. John Hillerman (BLAZING SADDLES, MAGNUM P.I.) plays a Hitler lookalike Nazi. Louie is capably played by Ron Moody (OLIVER!)...but admittedly without the zing that Roddy would bring. Jake loses Jack's glass eye in a poker game, and gets into all sorts of misadventure trying to get it back. Nice chemistry between he and the uptight Sarah (with a slight cringe factor as he repeatedly threatens to spank her for her). It's a touch more risque than you might expect, as the "blessings" Reverend Tenboom gives the native girls are thinly-veiled humpings. The climax comes on a mystery island where everyone is searching for a legendary gold monkey, said to have supernatural metallurgical properties. There are huge killer monkeys running around. Just go with it.
-Shanghaied ***
Corky is kidnapped by slavers, to fix their boat. Princess Koji spends much of the episode in the bath, then helps our heroes go after her renegade half-brother. A slave girl puts mud on Corky's face. Did i mention that Koji spends much of the episode in the tub?
-Black Pearl ***
Nazis are experimenting on an atom bomb. Jake pretends to be a double agent, and ends up posing as a fencing master on a U-Boat. He sabotages the bomb test, in a way that is historically compelling.
-Legends are Forever ***
An old, irascible pilot buddy (William Lucking) convinces Jake to go on a mission of mercy (which is in reality a hare-brained treasure hunt). Somehow, a tribe of Watusi who may have King Solomon's treasures, are living on a nearby island. It all glamorizes violence too much, but go with it...the lake landing and the fight over the gorge are amazing eye candy.
-Escape from Death Island ***
Jake and Corky fly an Englishman to visit his son on a penal island. A noble deed lands them in chains. Jack runs around, eluding pursuit.
-Trunk from the Past ***
Okay, now we've got Egyptians on one of the Marivellas. Do they have a pyramid? Yup. Just go with it, their worship of Jack as a god is too much fun.
-Honor Thy Brother *
An otherwise lovely episode starring M*A*S*H's favorite Korean, Soon-Tek Oh, darkened by one of Hollywood's most enduring failures, the notion that there are two kinds of women - "pretty" ones and those you demean.
-The Lady and the Tiger ***
Not every series has an episode that is off-the-charts bizarro. Say hello to this'n. Jake crashes on a Pacific island populated by...Amish. Wait, there's more. A troop of Japanese soldiers is stationed there, and their commander dresses and talks like...a wild west cowpoke. Jake is taken in by a widow and her son, and before long she's sucking face with him. The widow? Have some tissues ready for your pants, sci fi fanboys. Anne Lockhart, of BATTLESTAR GALACTICA! And oh yeah, there's a tiger running around. If i tell you i didn't make all that up, would you believe me? The Archipeligo of Time has nothin' on them Marivellas! It's not quite pop culture nirvana, as the messages about "there's a time for killin'" are a bit tough to stomach. But if you want to experience one of the trippiest retro-TV nights, watch this alongside GALACTICA's "The Lost Warrior". Both scripts were penned by Bellisario. I may be the first person in the history of the world to realize this, but i will bet good money that this episode was the result of a wager...someone bet Don he couldn't re-shoot "The Lost Warrior" for GOLD MONKEY, leaving out not a single major plot point.
-The Late Sarah White ***
Sarah supposedly dies, but Jack and Jake don't buy it. Before long, they're knee deep in angry filipinos, a real and a fake MacArthur, and Princess (sigh) Koji.
-The Sultan of Swat **
"Babe Ruth" drops in, on his way to a goodwill tour in China. He's suddenly framed for raping and murdering a dewy and heart-stopping Nia Peeples (WALKER, TEXAS RANGER!). Throw in a little James T. Callahan (CHARLES IN CHARGE) for good measure. It's sappy and violent and void of deftness, but Roddy McDowall shines.
-Ape Boy **
Our heroes crash, and find an island boy raised by apes. They struggle over whether to bring him to civilization, while Princess Koji allows white men to trap him.
-God Save the Queen ***
The Goose delivers a nobleman to the Queen Victoria, and our heroes get caught up in a royal revenge scheme to blow up the ship (and the ex-king Duke of Windsor). Excitement worthy of a pilot (episode, not aviator), plus a not-exactly credited appearance by Bubba Smith. He and James Avery (FRESH PRINCE OF BEL-AIR) sport cockney accents, and actually get away with it.
-High Stakes Lady ***
Jake agrees to accompany a woman to a high-stakes poker game. It's romance, international intrigue, betrayal, and stolen Japanese plans.
-Force of Habit ***
An ex-girlfriend now a nun with a secret, a stolen clipper plane, a cache of gold...
-Cooked Goose ***
The seaplane explodes, and a passed-out Corky is blamed. A buddy's fiance is kidnapped by mercenaries bearing Princess Koji's emblem. The Princess agrees to help, to clear her name. Marta DuBois makes me feel funny.
-Last Chance Louie **
Very ambitious. Louie shoots a man, and faces the guillotine. A great opportunity sunk by a Hollywood ending and groan-inducing button. With V's Faye Grant.
-Naka Jima Kill ***
A school chum of Sarah's (Kim Cattrall - PORKY'S, SEX IN THE CITY) hires Jake to take her to the Japanese Mandate for an illegal interview. Koji lovers, your "return" on this episode will be considerable.
-Boragora or Bust ***
A local miner strikes it rich, and his claim gets jumped. Wonderful action.
-A Distant Shout of Thunder **
It never gels, as this tale of native religion turning against the French occupation has the malodorous whiff of paternalistic, colonial condescencion.
-Mourning Becomes Matuka ***
A Koji-heavy episode primed me for a starburst of a series finale. It falls a bit short (and of course, the creators had no idea it was the finale). Koji's life is threatened, and Jake agrees to be her bodyguard. After a staged death, all of the bathing screentime goes to Koji's opportunistic sister. Which isn't a sad thing in and of itself...ah well, when all was said and done, it was Jake and Koji who did the vertical mambo, not Sarah. That ain't nothin'. The final cockpit scene with Corky is pretty sweet, too.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Voyage to the Bottom of the Lost World

Irwin Allen, one of the most prolific producers of TV and movie sci fi/adventure in the 60s and 70s, doesn't, well, deserve a marathon. His products were generally lacking in intelligence and vision, often feministly everybody smoked. However, i'll give you one that's worth a whirl, just for the historical fascination and visual lollapalooza. It's a two-parter, with bizarrely mirroring elements.
Part 1:
The 1961 movie and 1964 TV series pilot. The movie is a wild ride. Slow and tame by modern standards, it really is charming when you appreciate what they accomplished with the technology of the day. Walter Pidgeon (FORBIDDEN PLANET) leads a state-of-the-art nuclear sub on a mission to save the world from environmental calamity. Peter Lorre and Frankie Avalon are along for the ride. A baby Barbara Eden wears a uniform that was never approved by the quartermaster. And sci fi supporting uber-hero Michael Ansara (LOST IN SPACE, STAR TREK, BUCK ROGERS, DS9, VOYAGER) plays a holy zealot who gets kicked around by the writers sooooo obviously, you almost for a moment feel sorry for religion. The pilot is rendered fascinating, because three years later TV was still in black and white, and hysterical, because it re-uses almost all the adventure footage from the movie, re-imagined to match a new storyline.
Part 2:
Okay, Irwin plunders footage from movie to make TV spinoff. Why not? Who wouldn't? But does Irwin stop there? Noooooo. He also plunders the action sequences from his 1960 Arthur Conan Doyle dinosaur adventure to make a 1964 TV submarine adventure. Brilliant! In modern terms, it would be like splicing footage from JURASSIC PARK into an episode of WALKER, TEXAS RANGER...which, come to think of it, seems only fitting. THE LOST WORLD is a little incoherent and a lot dated, particularly in the regressive anti-feminism department. And the pre-PETA real life animal fight might turn your stomach. Another sci fi immortal (Michael Rennie - THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL) stars, along with Fernando Lamas and David Hedison, who would star as the television version of Captain Crane in VTTBOTS. Splicing LOST WORLD footage of Hedison into a new television plotline requires some continuity adroitness (especially the part where they have a buttoned-up naval captain suddenly sporting a yellow cravat). And they bring back Vitina Marcus to shoot new footage of the semi-clad jungle girl (yay!). Plus, hold on to your knickers, Yvonne Craig (Batgirl!). It's all pretty darned hysterical when viewed together, but you've got to doff your cap to that can-do attitude. "Hot Line" is entirely unconncected to the marathon theme, but i include it because it's irresistible. The crew work with a Soviet scientist (Michael Ansara again!) to dismantle a bomb. John Banner (Schulz - HOGAN'S HEROES) is the Russian prime minister. Our president's chief aide? Good ol' Jimmy Doohan (STAR TREK).

Friday, January 6, 2012

Lexx, season 1

-I Worship His Shadow ****
This series began as four made-for-TV movies, later to be called season 1. Despite using the most groan-inducing word in the sci fi universe ("prophecy") in the first two minutes, it bursts out of the gate with a fresh, original feel. In a dystopian universe wherein the dehumanizing practices might make you feel genuine revulsion, three fugitives find themselves in control of the greatest spaceship ever created. Spineless, mealy fourth-level guard Stanley Tweedle (Brian Downey) is sentenced to death for missing a dentist appointment (or some such). Kai (Michael McManus), a warrior killed 2000 years before, then reanimated as an assassin corpose by the Shadow Overlord, regains his memory and free will in an accident. Obese housewife Zev Bellringer is sentenced to be transformed into an ultimate love slave, for failing to perform her marital duties...but the process is interrupted, leaving her with her own personality in the body of an uberspacebabe (with a little killer lizard DNA). Are we a little uncomfortable with the fact that we want to madly hump her now, even though she's the same unappealing person inside? Yup. The fugitives escape together. Barry Bostwick gives a roaring performance as an ill-fated freedom fighter. Creator Paul Donovan oversees a howling ride.
-Super Nova **
Director Ron Oliver can't maintain Paul's pace. The Lexx takes the crew to a far galaxy, where they find Kai's ancestral home. He is the last of his race. Guest star Tim Curry is game, but doesn't quite pop as a holo-guide with ambitions of its own. The Zev (Eva Habermann) shower scene might make your eyes fall out.
-Eating Pattern *
Director Rainer Matsutani can't keep up Oliver's modest pace. The cinematography achingly screams "second-rate TV". Poor Rutger Hauer.
-Giga Shadow **
Guest star Malcolm MacDowell fares a bit better than his two predecessors, as the crew returns home to get protoblood for Kai, who will die (really, this time) without it. McManus is given great lines, and delivers them well, as an unfeeling (but handsome) corpse. Habermann shines, and Downey carries his weight, but the show feels a little empty with so few characters.

(Note: season 2 shifts to a regular series format, and for a moment you're hopeful that the downward spiral might reverse, but no. Indeed, when Eva Habermann is replaced by Xeenia Seeberg, all remaining hope is gone. Xeenia's lips scream collagen, she doesn't have a "perfect" love slave body, and the cast chemistry drops off. The episodes aren't sexy enough to justify the emphasis on sex, and aren't visionary enough to rate as great sci fi.)

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

holiday culture wars

In the life of every society, the culture wars are always there.
Sometimes these forces engage deep beneath the surface, enacting slow change measured in generations or centuries. Sometimes cultural clashes are out in the open, splashed across newspapers or fashions or town squares. A pink-skinned television starship captain kissing his ebony-skinned communcations officer...two female pop stars locking lips on national TV...the greatest sporting champion of all going to jail rather than become a soldier.
Perhaps the greatest culture war in recorded history is the struggle between secular humanism and religion. Science versus faith. And curiously enough, nowhere has this clash played out more obviously than in...Christmas albums. Just beneath the surface, but there for anyone to see, the greatest culture struggle of our time has unfolded before our ears, as we hung our stockings and decked the halls.
In a larger sense, Christmas itself has been the epicenter of the secular/religious tussle. Clement Moore birthed the modern incarnation of a certain "jolly old elf" in the early 19th century. Within a hundred years, secular Santa had made Jesus a secondary figure on his own pretend birthday. But we still gave lip service to Jesus in our most cherished Christmas songs. It took the recording artists of the 20th century to change that, one new classic at a time. How complete has this de-christing been? Over the first five years of our new century, guess how many religious tunes made ASCAP's 25 most-performed Christmas songs list? Maybe half, you say? Maybe less? Try one (unless of course, "Feliz Navidad" has some godly lyrics that have escaped my ear). The lone holy holdout? "The Little Drummer Boy" (ah, the power of Bowie and der Bingle).
Taking a look at the best-selling holiday albums of all time is, of course, more of a mixed bag. I could roll out a listed breakdown, but that would feel a little too much like "outing" the artists (in either direction), thereby perhaps spoiling some Christmas cheer for that minority who intentionally put religious views aside to simply embrace a day devoted to presents, goodwill, and boozy mistletoe clinches. It's a fascinating study though, to look at all the holiday albums you've loved, and realize the ideological currents that may have been at work. You may find that musical devotion, like sacred devotion and lust, can be a very illogical thing. For example, three particular albums both revealing or personally resonant:
On this best-selling Christmas album of 1990, Barry tipped his hat to the surprising number of all-time Christmas albums that are purely instrumental (an artistic choice that alienates almost no one). He cleverly recorded beautiful instrumental intros of cherished sacred classics for most of the songs, while avoiding a single religious lyric in the songs themselves. Where i come from, we call that making a point with style.
The 33rd best-selling Christmas album of all time demonstrates the power of a given artist to rise above content that would be offputting coming from almost anyone else. Neil, a Christian Jew at the beginning of a too-cool-for-school late-career renaissance, rolls out a collection full of sacred classics that are so creatively, brilliantly rendered that i'll play them every year until even the Jesus freaks cain't take it no mo'! The doppelganger to this album is...
I acquired this all tingly at the prospect of loving it forever. With her incandescent talent and pixie perkiness, Kristin rises above her religious views to take her place on the "Ten Most Fuckable Women in the World" list. There are just some women that, no matter what rambles out of their mouths, men simply need to put babies in. Despite some charming efforts however, the album falls flat as she rides that Jesus train.
Ah well. Whatever music brings joy to your ears, i wish you all a very merry, cherry cherry, holly holy, rock n' rolly Maxmas, all through the year.