Wednesday, April 25, 2012

family...

I spent the last week in Pennsylvania, visiting family.
I don't like the way that sounds. The language, that is. I don't much care for labeling people, especially in a "family" sense. Affection and loyalty should be earned, not owed. "Blood is thicker than water" is just shabby tribalism, a way of ensuring that the resources we hoard are transferred to someone who looks like us and will care about the things we cared about (or is at least moderately unlikely to piss on our grave). The darwinian perpetuation of our genes? Please. We've all got genes, and they're happily getting more mixed up worldwide with every passing day. Besides, to a marmoset, Madonna is already indistinguishable from Malcolm X. My child? Your child? Hers? His? Don't be a simpleton. They're all ours.
Our culture's attitude toward family, like our attitude toward sex ("more than friends"), relegates friendship to second-class status. This is irksome. In the unlikely event that you ever experience genuine friendship, you'll never allow it to be denigrated again.
So i was visiting family...or people i care about with whom i share much history, if you will.
There were two particularly resonant moments.
The first was a ceremonial dedication of a bridge named in honor of my uncle Gary, a state trooper brutally murdered during an undercover drug operation. He was driven to the woods by somebody's child named Barney Russell. Barney shot Gary numerous times, with both their guns. Barney went to jail, killed an inmate, escaped, was re-captured, then was killed by an inmate. Gary died when i was two, so i never got to know this man who was perhaps the most gentle and introspective of my grandmother's sons. It was wonderful to reunite with my cousin Nikki, whom i'd not seen for decades. She was less than a year old when Gary died. I try to make sense of his death, and come up with nothing. The criminalization of drugs is a murky embarrassment. How do an action which has no victim become a crime? Who was Gary protecting us from when he died?
He was protecting us from ourselves.
Can you think of anything more senseless or futile? A TV segment on the dedication:
http://pahomepage.com/fulltext/?nxd_id=242352. Yes, it's curious that it took forty years for this kind of recognition. I heard someone say it had something to do with a politician trying to score re-election points. The "bridge" is actually a simple highway overpass. Not that there's anything wrong with that.
The second resonant moment was sharing a lunch with my cousin. I'd not been able to do so for several years, as she's been in prison. It was a happy reunion, she was my favorite cousin growing up (and i'm pretty choosy about such things). Our family has been prepared for the idea that she will always be sociopathically unable to make the connection between action and consequence. Chemically-imbalanced. Sick.
The human race has barely scratched the surface of understanding mental illness. I'm guessing that one day we'll understand that the difference between the "sick" and the healthy is a line so fine as to be negligible. We're all of us irretrievably damaged by this horrifically fearful, barbaric, sexually-repressed, non-tactile world we've been born into. Most are able to adjust without becoming psychopaths or sociopaths. We survive because we must.
Or we don't.
Or we're killed.
I love you all very much.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

"Space: 1999"

1975-1977
The conventional wisdom on this sci fi offering from the prolific imagination of Gerry Anderson (THUNDERBIRDS, UFO) is, in a word...wrong. "Cerebral sci fi that 'jumped the shark' into action-oriented mindlessness"? Well, no. Not precisely, no. Yes, season 2 did go after a larger audience and lower common denominator. But something else happened. The only time they ever brushed greatness was in season 2...as children's sci fi. Both seasons fail as adult sci fi, but the visuals and simplistic ideas of season 2 are ideal for a child in the 5-10 range, taking her or his (or ers) first steps into the universe of science fiction.
To modern eyes, season 1 can't be called anything but plodding. It feels like it belongs in a museum, even though it was made almost a decade after the still-gripping STAR TREK. Is it cerebral? No. Being cerebral requires more than the appearance of cerebrality, dear Brits. There has to be a genuine intellectual underpinning. Real-life spouses of thirty-six years, Martin Landau and Barbara Bain star as leaders of Moonbase Alpha. In a nuclear accident, the moon is sent spinning off into space, where adventures await. The look of the show is pretty wonderful. The horseshoe-style lasers are absolutely classic. The eagles, their spaceships, are brilliant. Somehow both smooth and clunky, and boyohboy did the effects department have a blast wrecking these things. I don't know whether anyone's ever tabulated how many they lost, but it HAD to be more than they had in the hangar at the beginning. You could occasionally see the wires, but it's all so charmingly rendered that you buy into the reality. I had a toy eagle as a child, almost three feet long. The cockpit and engine disengaged to form a scout ship, something that never happened on the show. It would stand tall on a list of the five most memorable toys of my youth. And don't let the strings fool you...time and again, you will be struck by how well-budgeted this show was. Rounding out the leads was Barry Morse as the gentle, thoughtful Professor Bergman.
The second season brought an overhaul in the cast, music, and look. It's brighter and brisker, sexier and more playful, which feels great for about one episode. The music is a travesty...the season 1 theme is a towering tribute to symphonic sci fi synth/guitar music that could ONLY have come out of the 70s, but the new theme song rolls off some cheesy assembly line. Morse is gone, as the show falls prey to "youthicutifying" (an insidious fate which also befell UFO), with dewy new characters Maya and Tony. For the first chunk of the season, it feels awful. But then comes a moment of epiphany when you (and they?) finally stop taking the show seriously. The possibility that this shift wasn't intentional is unsettling (the season 2 producer was Fred Freiberger, who also oversaw the much-derided last season of STAR TREK)...but through luck or intent, it all slides into perfect children's fare that can also delight an adult in the right frame of mind. There are surprisingly few moments of regressive sexism or other such which a parent will have to pause and clarify for an eager child.
BEST EPISODES
-Earthbound
Moonbase Alpha intercepts an alien craft with a crew in suspended animation. Attempting to revive them, they kill one. The aliens are pacifists on an exploratory mission to Earth. Their captain is played by...Christopher Lee! In flowing, technicolor robes and Saruman hair, you keep waiting for him to turn villainous, but he never does. The villain turns out to be the resident political liaison, Commissioner Simmonds. The aliens can take one human to Earth, but rather than submitting to a lottery, Simmonds forces his way onto the alien craft. An unsettling ending worthy of TWILIGHT ZONE.
-The Guardians of Piri
A surreal planet turns the crew into mindless drones. A visual corker, but rather derivative, especially the unfortunate conceit of a commander so driven by duty that he is somehow exempted from an outside influence that incapacitates everyone else. Mildly going where sci fi has gone before, Commander Koenig discovers the planet is run by a super-computer.
-The Full Circle
Most of the watchable episodes of season 1 are so because of juicy guest stars or elevated camp. This one ain't about juicy guest stars. An away team disappears on a planet where cave people are discovered. Take some great visuals, ground mission protocols that make your eyes roll, patriarchal tormenting of a semi-clad Sandra (Ziena Merton, the regular with the third-highest number of episode appeances), throw in Landau and Bain in high troglodyte form, and you'd best start laughing.
-War Games
An attack by alien ships leaves half the population dead and Alpha unliveable. John and Helena go to them, hoping for a truce and sanctuary. The aliens reject them as primitive slaves to fear. Exciting visuals, the deaths of beloved characters, and the aliens proved right. The greatest flaw of current humanity exposed.
-Mission of the Darians
A beautiful teaser, then a first act that makes you feel sympathy for guest Joan Collins (we're not in "The City on the Edge of Forever" anymore, Toto), but the last half picks up nicely, with this tale of a drifting cityship whose inhabitants have taken to unsavory measures to survive.
-Dragon's Domain
An offbeat episode told in flashback. Triggered by proximity to a space spider, pilot Tony Cellini has feelings he hasn't felt since a doomed mission. Look for Micheal Sheard (Admiral Ozzel, THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK).
-The Metamorph
Prepare to have your eyes flipped out of your head, as season 2 starts. The ubiquitous Brian Blessed is a metamorphic alien who wants the Alphan's brain energy. After the planet Psychon is destroyed, his naive daughter Maya (Catherine Schell, THE RETURN OF THE PINK PANTHER) becomes an Alpha regular. The (implied) metamporphic effects are quite charming, really. A fun ride which includes a non-bald crewmember named Picard.
-Journey to Where
If every 1999 episode had been as perky, we'd have had something. Earth from the future finds a way to communicate with Alpha and transport them home. John, Helena, and Alan (the reliable and charming Nick Tate, who logged more episodes than anyone but Martin and Barbara) end up in 14th-century Scotland. You're in for lots of laughs, in no small part because of the preposterousness of the science...but it's a fun ride. Also, high points for vision. No, not the dime-a-dozen vision of future Earth as a polluted wasteland, but the vision of professional competitive sports being abolished.
-The Bringers of WonderA ship arrives from Earth filled with loved ones and a way home. Only Koenig can see them for what they are...huge alien globs of energy-sucking badness. The whirlwind epitome of 1999 as children's fare, a cascading cornucopia of images and words that could send a child into flights of laughter, awe, fear, and wonder, all at the same time. They might even burn grandma's wig.
-The Dorcons
The most powerful race in the galaxy, and enemy of the psychons, lay a bombardment on Alpha, then take Maya away to plunder her brain stem. Metamorphs have brain stems? Koenig stows away, and thrashes around the dorcon ship trying to rescue her, aided by a nefarious nephew who wants the throne. A joyride to end the series.
NOTEWORTHY
-Missing Link
How about a lil' alien Peter Cushing two years before STAR WARS?
-The Troubled Spirit
It begins, as all 70s sci fi should, with an electric sitar concert in space.
-Space Brain
Three hours later, i'm still chuckling. Never in the history of science fiction have humans faced a foe so chilling as...SPACE LAUNDRY DETERGENT FOAM!!! Yup. The Andersons footed the bill for i don't know how many industrial washing machines. They overloaded them with detergent, and pointed them at the sets. The foam is supposedly so dense it crushes titanium with ease...yet the crew wriggles around in it, and come out fine (and presumably daisy-fresh).
-The Exiles
The season 1 hints of flirtation between Landau and Bain are now full-blown romance. There's a risque scene where Maya morphs into Helena to see whether John can spot the imposter.
-One Moment of Humanity
The plot holes in this one are probably over the top, even for a child. Helena and Tony are kidnapped to a planet where androids have taken over and made the humans pretend to be androids. They need the Alphans to teach them aggression. Hunh? The scene where a hunky android dirty dances a scantily-clad Helena to incite Koenig's jealousy must be seen to be believed.
-The Taybor
Great googily, if i ever make it to Moonbase Alpha, you'll need a crowbar to get me out of the solarium. That's what we calls "dialin' up the sexy".
-The Rules of Luton
RADICAL FRUITARIAN UTOPIA! Our heroes are put on trial for eating fruit that hadn't fallen from the tree. They must fight three other alien offenders to the death. Talk about low-hanging fruit (sorry)...this episode is the most richly-deserving MST3K fodder of the series. At one point, Koenig and Maya pause with bloodthirsty killers close on their trail, to sit down and talk about family and life and, y'know...stuff.
-The Mark of Archanon
It's about time some brave sci fi show had the cajones to hold aloft the banner of man/boy love. I'll leave it to you to decide whether to deposit this never-before, never-again moment of sci fi into your impressionable offspring's mind.
-The AB Chrysalis
Anyone for a little nekkid Sarah Douglas (SUPERMAN, SUPERMAN II, PUPPET MASTER III, MEATBALLS 4, RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD III, BEASTMASTER 2, CONAN THE DESTROYER)? Did i have fun putting that bio together?
-The Seance Spectre
Neither adult NOR child should be let within thirty feet of this one (unless their names are Joel, Mike, Servo, or Crow). Celluloid this banal doesn't deserve oxygen.
-Dorzak
Is there anyone on Alpha Vader doesn't choke? Richard LeParmentier (General Motti, STAR WARS), come on down!
-Devil's Planet
Watch Koenig synthesize Kirk's dual personality into one ass-kickin' lovemachine! He single-handedly puts a beat-down on a group of alien hotties in red bodysuits with whips! Plus a little Angus MacInnes (gold leader, STAR WARS)!

Friday, April 6, 2012

K

WOMEN 65
Another wonderful human person who got steamrolled by the presence of Vanessa. We met online, when i answered her "strictly platonic" post. She was in her twenties, and had worked in Silicon Valley for five or six years. She was intelligent and thoughtful, with hippie-esque inclinations...but kept a stultifying regular job in the business world. She came from a loving family, but had not had much physical intimacy, preferring to save herself. She was outdoorsy and a bit shy, though assertive enough in her dealings with the world. She lived in a nice little apartment on the Lower West Side. We wrote long letters. When i sent her my in-depth "long resume", she jokingly said she was already in love. We liked many of the same books, especially Vonnegut's. We met after a few weeks. I was upfront about my experience with Vanessa, which had ended a month or so earlier. We had some nice walking-around-Manhattan moments, mostly at night. She was nearly as tall as i, not waifish at all, but in decent enough shape for someone who sat on her hinder for a living. She had mid-length light brown hair, and was often frazzled from too much work. On our one really memorable night, she was buzzy-headed and semi-feverish from fatigue. We walked around a bit, then took some falafel to her place. I'd told her i wanted to take things slowly, and when she invited me to spend the night on her couch, i happily said yes. She gave me sheets, and i informed her i had no underwear. She said that was okay. I settled in. Eventually she got pensive, and said she had a strange request. I told her i couldn’t imagine anything i'd say no to. She said that her head felt so funny, and asked to rest on my stomach. I walked my naked self to her. She laid her cheek on me, facing my feet. I propped myself on my elbows. She was so warm. We talked, and i felt blood flow to my groin. My arms wearied, and i asked to move to the pillows. In the weeks and months that followed i wished i'd let my arms suffer longer, just to extend that surreal moment with her face inches away from the tip of an erection. We then spooned and talked, as i caressed her hot head. We fell asleep, and awoke to birds chirping on the tree outside her window. Later that week, sexuality crept into our embraces. The night after that, she wore no top, saying i was rubbing off on her. Baby kisses became part of our embraces. After another couple nights, i think she got fully unclothed, but...she'd started talking about how amazing and moving our first kiss had been, and i realized that there was a growing imbalance. Our kisses had been sweet and lovely for me, but with little deep emotion attached. She decided to step back for a while. I thought we would get together after two or three months, and was taken aback when she resumed writing a few weeks later. We wrote and talked and met again, but…my feelings for Vanessa were as strong as they'd ever been, and i was growing increasingly miserable over the thought of K being hurt. I just didn’t want to subject her to my current state of mind, as it felt unlikely i'd ever have a consuming attraction for her. She mentioned that her 19-year old cousin (along with a best friend) was coming to live with her for a bit…and when i started having fantasies about these nubile teens i hadn't even met, i knew more than ever that i didn't want to expose K to me. She let me go. For many many months, i looked at a Vonnegut book of hers which lay in my room, and thought of writing, to tell her how wonderful she was…but even with Vanessa’s presence finally leaving my life, i felt i couldn't be what K wanted. After the better part of a year i called. She was shocked to hear my voice. She said she was moving out west. After a few minutes of small talk, we got cut off. Thinking she may have hung up, i didn’t call back, and didn’t hear from her again. As i look back, i realize K was perhaps the last time i approached a woman with an openness to finding some lifelong monogamous relationship. Even if i knew she wasn't it, i still dreamt of it. I had already been long suspicious of monogamy, and disdainful of cinderella nonsense, but hadn't yet realized the science of how biologically maladapted for monogamy humans are. In a society that wasn't insanely dysfunctional, K and i would have been wonderful lovers for a time, and true friends always.

Stargate: Atlantis, season 2

A new character arrives in the form of Jason Momoa as Ronon Dex, a Pegasus universe native who has been a blood-sport runner for seven years, implanted with a wraith tracking device. Did we need a new character? Is he just a diversionary device to make us worry that Teyla and Sheppard won't be lovers? He's got charisma and acting ability, but suffers greatly from the flatness incumbent upon all SG characters. Can this plucky, likable, visually-wondrous show make the leap from good to great? I'll stay tuned.
FOUR STAR
-Grace Under Pressure
Yes Virginia, a STARGATE episode with a four-star rating. Not quite seamless, but this one grabs tight and doesn't let go. Rodney is in a puddle jumper that crashes into the ocean. The pilot sacrifices his life, and they lose touch with the surface. Thousands of feet deep, hypoxic and hypothermic...suddenly his old crush Samantha Carter (Amanda Tapping, SG1) appears. Aware that she's an hallucination, he works with her for his survival while they bicker. The presence of an SG1 character should be a drag, but isn't. This is a particular challenge of series writing, portraying life-or-death situations when the viewer knows the star won't die. If there isn't someone in Hollywood who gives seminars on that writing challenge and nothing else, i'd be amazed. This episode should be part of any such presentation.
NOTEWORTHY
-The Siege, pt. 3 ***
A ripping season-opener, as Earth sends an asgard warship to save Atlantis from the wraith fleet. My only complaint pertains to one of the series' overall weaknesses - there is a missed opportunity when Sheppard returns to the command center after the battle, and comes face to face with Elizabeth. They are so out-of-their-minds relieved and happy that one of them should have just impulse-kissed the other, right on the smacker. They've been living under the shadow of imminent, absolute death, but the show underplays that reality. There would be moments of genuine lunacy when it passes. It's not about a Sheppard/Elizabeth romance, just an absence of human moments which leave your characters not quite three-dimensional. Let's call it the LAW & ORDER syndrome.
-Coup D'etat ***
Finally, a fine episode that is lifted into noteworthyland by the luster of a juicy guest star (Colm Meaney, DS9). A fake genii insurrection against Cowen which turns out to be not fake...deceptions within deceptions...and O'Brien at ground zero of a nuclear strike.
-Michael ***
The most exciting moment of guest-star recognition in the show's short history. Connor Trineer (ENTERPRISE) wakes up in the infirmary without any memory. He is told he's a soldier who was rescued from the wraith. He's closely monitored, developing a friendship with Teyla and animosity with Ronon. He finally figures out he's a wraith who had his DNA re-written by Dr. Beckett. He grows resentful and violent. Well-written, and unusually dark.
-Inferno ***
The atlanteans help a society who inhabit an outpost of the ancients, on another planet. Not understanding the technology well, these people have had their shield on for too long, and the supervolcano they use as a power source begins to blow, heralding planetary extinction. The atlanteans manage to save most of the population, and salvage an intact ancient warship. Tight and dangerous.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Jack Lemmon: Tribute

THEATER 60
-summer 2001I knew i'd be returning to the Naples Dinner Theater for another show, but there was time for one final Orpheus Players production. When the Mallous family melodrama had resulted in one of our shows being shown the curb, i knew it was time to go...to a home where i could do the edgier material i was building toward. I found a beautiful way to go out. Earlier in my life, when asked who my favorite actors were, i'd replied that i had no time for heroes or role models. But as i mellowed, i decided that if i ever had (like, at gunpoint) to switch lives with another actor, it would be Jack Lemmon. After his recent death, i decided to stage a tribute, performing scenes from his movies. With scheduling conflicts (mine included), we only had time for one weekend of shows, but that was fine. We played three venues. Opening night was a benefit for beach youth in conjunction with a new arts foundation, at the Red Coconut RV Park rec center. Saturday would be the Orpheus. Sunday would be the outdoor stage of the Rustic Cafe coffeehouse (the owners were sweet people, and it was nice to give them free publicity and business). I made calls and held auditions, sharing directing duties with Donna once more. After a couple shows off, Shane returned as stage manager, which filled me with happiness. He was part of seven Orpheus productions, and the only other person to be there at the beginning and end. Our first scene was from TRIBUTE, perhaps my favorite Jack film. I directed. Joe Porter played Jack's Scotty, thrilled to finally act with me. I played his introvert son Judd. Our third actor was Sarah List, an acquaintance who hadn't acted in years. She played Sally, the girl Scotty sets me up with. She was a delight, and, as it turned out, in the early stages of pregnancy. It was fun to show off a picture of us onstage, saying "That's a pregnant girl I'm kissin'." She and i share a rained-out picnic...her best moment, because of the rehearsal crack-ups that surrounded it, was when she wanted my pickle. Then Joe and i share a scene of failed connection. He goes out, and returns in a chicken suit. So funny and poignant; acting with him was sweet wonderfulness. I called my old buddy Jim Prosser in Sarasota to do new recordings of some of the movie music, and he sent back amazing stuff. Our second scene was from THE ODD COUPLE. Having already played both Felix and Oscar, i was happy to give the parts to others. Jim Hawley and Will Graves (our two Bobs from SEXUAL PERVERSITY) played Oscar and Felix. Donna directed, with assistance from me. They did nice work. Our third scene was from MISTER ROBERTS. I directed and played Pulver, the Lemmon role. Will played Doc, and Tom Corcoran, my buddy from PLAY ON!, played Roberts. I was so glad to finally get him involved, and his easygoing manner and stage presence were a delight. I was able to collect superb naval uniforms, with authentic insignia. The chemistry was wonderful, and i was very proud. Will and Derek Redd were still housemates, and a touch of sentimental perfection came about when i got Derek to record the voice of the radio announcer. Our fourth scene was from DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES. Will and Donna were Joe and Kirstie. They did the pier scene. I wanted us to do the motel scene where Joe refuses to drink with her. The pier scene was pleasant but forgettable, i thought. I knew i was right, but relented when Donna pulled the "look, if I'm gonna act in it…" card. I had thought of playing Joe, but with the scene choice, i happily gave the part to Will. I directed, and it was okay, but after the production was over, Donna admitted my scene would have been the better choice. The fifth scene was from GRUMPY OLD MEN. John Thomas played John, and newcomer Sharon Renna played the Ann-Margret part, in the scene where John reveals he hasn't had sex since the 70s. They captured the sweetness, and were just as delightful offstage. Our final scene was from SOME LIKE IT HOT. We played the party scene in Jack's bunk on the train, spliced with Osgood propositioning Jack. I played "Daphne", and Joe played Osgood. In heels, makeup, and a blonde curly wig, i was too sexy for my dress. As Sugar, we had newcomer Dana Winchell, a professional Marilyn impersonator. She was fantastic, and even embodied some of Marilyn's lost qualities offstage. The other party girls were Donna, Sharon, and Sarah. We were all together in a rollaway bed at the end of the scene. Rehearsing it was a gigglefest, particularly with Sarah's party prop, a foot-long salami. We rehearsed at different homes, then had tech week at the Red Coconut. A wonderful photojournalist named Saul Taffet did a shot of the cast standing on a ladder in our many costumes, for the cover of the Beach Bulletin. Dana was late, and missed the shoot. She was upset, and i said something like "that's what can happen when you're late". She was hurt, and vowed to finish her commitment, then never speak to me again. I tried to point out that, unlike some other cast members, our show had already given her coverage in the upcoming issue of Gulfshore Life magazine, which had a circulation all over Florida. She wouldn't be mollified. I was sad, because she had been starting to open up to me (yes, i was drawn to her, another wounded one). The first night went off wonderfully. The funniest moment came during the invocation. We hadn't been apprised that there would be a minister providing a pre-show blessing. Jim and Joe and i were backstage when the cleric started to drone on and on listing his "thank-yous". Joe, in Dodge's voice, finally whispered "my rough rasp, my lathe…", and a few more pieces of the unending "list" monologue he'd done in BURIED CHILD. The three of us were able to successfully muffle our laughter (i hope). It was a delightfully irreverent side of Joe that i hadn't seen before. The Orpheus night went off beautifully. On our final night, Dana had a previous commitment, so we'd prepped Sharon for Sugar's part. The inimitable Carrie Hill from BURIED CHILD took over as third party girl. The Rustic stage was about a third as large as the Coconut - it was a delightful challenge making the show work, and a wonderful cap to a great run. My mom had been able to locate a cd of Jack performing blues piano numbers (i'd remembered it but hadn't been able to find it), so we had Jack himself singing and playing some of our between-scene songs. I wrote a thank you to him in the program, and suspect he would have been proud of the love and laughter that surrounded us. I didn't make a big deal of it being my last Orpheus show, or even a little deal - i didn't tell anyone until a week later. Tony told me he had originally thought we might last for a show or two. In fourteen months i produced nine shows, directing and acting in eight.