Category: Film (Page 1 of 7)

Jacques the Necronian

Jacques the Necronian enjoys hawking books when not conquering planets.

This is hideous slime monster Jacques the Necronian telling the insignificant fragments of Earth where to find my novel A Time and a Place. Jacques is terrible at marketing. I would say that he means well but he really does not.

Yes, you can find A Time and a Place in libraries, as Jacques suggests. You can also find it here.

Video clips courtesy of pexels.com. Also thanks to Daniel Narinian and New Zealand for the use of their video clips.

Northern Exposure

I just finished watching all six seasons of Northern Exposure, a television series that first aired in 1991 about a young doctor forced to work in a small town in Alaska.

Northern Exposure was prestige television before there was such a thing as prestige television. I remember considering it a cut above when I first got into it, though not right away. I’d seen part of an episode when it first aired and dismissed it. My friend Trish insisted I give it a second look. She loaned me several VHS tapes jam packed with Northern Exposure episodes. I watched them with my roommates and we were soon hooked. I watched the first two seasons and thoroughly enjoyed each episode. I continued watching on network television once Trish’s episodes ran out. Then life intervened and I left the country for a while and fell off the Northern Exposure bandwagon.

But I always remembered the spell the show wove, its sensibility, its slightly off kilter humour. When the pandemic hit and I found myself working from (and mostly trapped) at home, I thought maybe some Northern Exposure magic might be just the thing to help get me through. My wife gave me all six seasons as a Christmas present (on DVD; it’s not available on any streaming platforms, as near as I can tell), and I’ve spent just over a year gradually watching them all.

I was surprised to discover how few episodes I’d actually seen. Maybe Trish missed taping a few. Or perhaps I’d completely forgotten some. Turns out I’d never seen any episode beyond the first two seasons. At first I was thrown by the 4:3 (or 1.33:1) aspect ratio, having become accustomed to 16:9 these last twenty years or so, which only became standard after 1996, once Northern Exposure was off the air. 4:3 doesn’t entirely fill a modern television’s entire screen. But after an episode or two the 4:3 aspect ratio stopped bothering me.

I loved re-watching the episodes I’d seen and happily ventured into new territory. The ones I’d seen took me back to a time when I was younger than two of the main characters in the ensemble cast, Joel and Maggie. I was twenty-six when I started watching Northern Exposure the first time around; they were about twenty-nine. Watching the episodes now I found I was closer in age to ex-astronaut turned entrepreneur Maurice Minnifield. So, that was weird. Where has the time gone? (Still younger than the character of Holling Vincoeur, though.)

The first two seasons held up nicely. Much of the magic, I realized, lay in the show’s magical realist elements. The show is at its absolute best when it marries magical realism to bold storytelling (such as briefly breaking the third wall in season two’s War and Peace, or going back in time for a period piece in season three’s finale Cicely). This is not a show with car chases and murders and drama (though death does figure occasionally). It’s a pleasant show, often delightful, shot brightly for the most part, about agreeable, gently flawed people. The music choices are varied, eccentric and entrancing (at least for the first few seasons), featuring artists such as Daniel Lanois, Etta James, Magazine 60, Nat King Cole, Miriam Makeba, Brian Eno and more. It was fun seeing actors like Jack Black, Graham Greene and James Marsters pop up at random. Stars Rob Morrow and Janine Turner are note perfect throughout.

I found the show the perfect anodyne to the increasingly mad world we find ourselves in now. I couldn’t completely escape, though. Unsettinglingly, I heard Trump’s name invoked not once but three times during the course of the series, each instance jarring.

Does it hold up for the entire six seasons? I had read that it doesn’t, but was curious to see for myself. In the middle of the show’s run creators Josh Brand and John Falsey handed the reins over to showrunner David Chase. Chase is famous as the showrunner for The Sopranos, a gritty show about a mob boss, considered one of television’s greatest series. I found this fascinating. Chase admitted not really understanding the premise of Northern Exposure. So this guy, who professed not to understand the premise of Northern Exposure, but who obviously knows a thing or two about making television, wound up running the show. He had other writers (such as Diana Frolov and Jeff Melvoin) to help him, writers who did mostly get the show, so I’m happy to report that the show does indeed hold up. Sort of. Sometimes more, sometimes less. It’s get a bit dodgy around the end of the fourth season and into the fifth, but does eventually find its stride again until near the end of the sixth season.

The sixth season is hit and miss. The season premiere, Dinner at Seven Thirty, is strong, and I thoroughly enjoyed a storyline featuring Joel giving up his medical practice to head north and immerse himself in native culture. Halfway through the season Joel is replaced by another doctor and his wife. The actors, Paul Provenza and Teri Polo, are fine, though little of note is done with them. There’s an episode near the end of the run featuring Ed Chigliak (called Balls) that in my opinion is among the strongest in the entire series (well, one of the episode’s story lines, at least). It provides actor Darren Burrows (Ed) with a material he could sink his teeth into for a change. Another enjoyable episode from season six, Little Italy, curiously presages The Sopranos.

There appeared to be a lack of understanding of some of the characters in season six. Apart from the aforementioned episode Balls, and half-hearted attempts to make him a filmmaker and a shaman, the character of Ed Chigliak gets entirely too goofy over time. It’s a shame; the writers could have done so much more with him. Elsewhere Brian Doan has written (in an essay about Northern Exposure that far surpasses this one in depth) about Chris Steven’s incipient toxic masculinity, and dammit Chris actually does become that a bit. It is painful to watch and a betrayal of the way Chris was presented earlier in the series, when he lived with a self-awareness of his darker side.

Sadly, none of the characters ever live up to their potential. In the first episode of the sixth season (Dinner at Seven Thirty) we see Cynthia Geary as a completely different character. I didn’t even recognize her for half the episode. It was a glimpse of what could have been done with Geary’s character Shelly had the writers allowed the character to grow. And in the final episode of the entire series, Tranquillity Base, which, sadly, bordered on the ridiculous (no, actually was ridiculous), we see Holling Vincoeur as a caricature of himself, more bloodhound than man, while Chris Stevens is ludicrous as opposed to insightful. Still, I like the montage music in the final moments of that episode (Our Town, by Iris Dement), perhaps the only saving grace (one final, parting gift from the series) in an episode that otherwise seemed deliberately designed to make fans repeatedly facepalm themselves.

Although the series ended on a less than stellar note, it was still entirely worth watching. It did not betray my memories of it. And although I will never watch it in its entirety again (unless I somehow become immortal between now and eternity) I fully expect to cherry pick episodes here and there when I feel the need to return to the state of mind that is Northern Exposure at its best.

Black Lives Matter

“If you ignore the problem you are part of the problem.”

Yasin Osman, photographer, cartoonist and founder of Shoot for Peace, as quoted in the toronto star

I’m a white guy. They don’t get much more white than me. I grew up white, in a white neighbourhood, in a white town, in a pretty much white province, Prince Edward Island.

I am the embodiment of white privilege.

I’ve been stopped by the cops a few times in my life for speeding, once because I had a taillight burned out. I never thought the police would beat me up or hurt me, let alone kill me. Never crossed my mind. Once a cop in Quebec asked me to get out of the car and walk in a straight line (I’d told him I’d drunk a glass of red wine six hours earlier). I walked the line perfectly fine; he still made my wife drive instead of me . This cop was an idiot. Still, it was a peaceful encounter. I imagine now that had I been black it wouldn’t have been as peaceful.

This is just one example of how I have benefitted from being white. I could list many others. Here’s a fairly trivial one: flesh coloured band-aids. The colour of whose flesh? My flesh.

Here’s another one: growing up, I read positive portrayals of people like me in books, watched shows about them in TV and in movies. This was reflected in my own writing. Reading an early draft of a novel I was writing, I was shocked to learn that I hadn’t included any black characters. Even the final draft is not satisfactory. There is one overtly brown character and another character that I deliberately made ambiguous. My thinking was that she could be interpreted as either black or white or anywhere in between. I should have just made her black.

Here’s another one: if a white person does something stupid, or is lazy, or commits a crime, that fact will not be used against me and others who share our racial identity.

Here’s another one: did you know that lighting black people in movies and TV has long been problematic? Cinematographers would just light for white people. If a white person was in the frame, they’d light for that person and leave the black person in shadow. Not cool.

There are many other examples of white privilege. For other examples I suggest you do your own research. You can start with this essay by Cory Collins. The thing is, it’s a subject that requires some thought to really understand the nuances. I certainly didn’t get it right away. I probably still don’t fully understand the implications. In fact, I will go so far as to say that I will never fully understand, because I’m not black, and I can never truly understand the lived experience of being black, no matter how much I talk to people who have lived it, or how much I read about it. I can only try to deepen my understanding as much as I can.

Here’s an example of me not getting it.

Once I was in a leadership course. The subject of hiring came up. I was a hiring manager at the time. I spoke up: “I will hire the best person for the job,” I declared, “because the corporation needs the best people it can get in these jobs. I don’t care what colour they are. That doesn’t matter to me. I’m colourblind. All that matters is that we get the best person for the job.”

I was ignorant. I didn’t know any better (not that that’s any excuse). There are at least two things wrong with what I said.

First, when I went to hire someone, I would get about one hundred candidates for a single position. I’d whittle those down to about twenty and then someone would pre-interview the rest. I’d wind up personally interviewing about eight. Most of those candidates would wind up being white. Why? That’s a deeper, more complicated question. My guess is that black people weren’t getting into the schools we were looking at because of other systemic racism issues, or weren’t doing well there because of systemic racism, and so on. The fact is the deck was stacked against black candidates as a result of systemic racism. I thought I wasn’t being racist. I didn’t have to be: reality was plenty racist enough without me. So when I went to hire my “best candidate for the job”, often it could only be a white person because a black person didn’t even have a seat at the table. For me not to be racist, and to counter the systemic racism, I needed to make sure that there was equal representation amongst my candidates.

The other problem with what I said during that leadership course was the business of me being colourblind. I used to love to tell people that I didn’t see colour. We’re all the same colour, I would say. I’ve done this up until recently, I’m sorry to say. As I learn more about racism and white privilege and systemic racism, I learn more about not just how I’ve benefitted from being white, but how I’ve been hurtful and damaging as a white person. Saying that I’m colourblind is, first of all. absurd. It’s denying reality. We are all different colours. Insisting that we’re not is refusing to accept the lived experience of the people around us. It’s ignoring the reality of race and when we ignore the reality of race how can we talk about it, and if we can’t talk about race, how can we talk about and defeat racism?

I have to admit that I was afraid to write about this subject. I was afraid of getting it wrong. Of writing the wrong thing, missing some nuance and being called out on it. I was afraid that it would come off as virtue signalling. That’s why I placed that quote at the top by Yasin Osman. It spoke to me, reminding me that I have a voice, and a platform, however small, and that I had an obligation not to ignore the evil of racism, and an obligation to speak up against racism in all its forms. And more than that, an obligation to do so as a white person, even if I don’t fully understand it yet, even if I do get parts of it wrong.

I continue to learn. I don’t want to be racist. I don’t want to perpetuate systemic racism. I don’t want to see black people treated unfairly. I don’t want to benefit at their expense. I don’t want to see black people hurt and I sure as hell don’t want to see them killed.

White privilege is, in part (as Cory Collins writes), “the power to remain silent in the face of racial inequity.”

I choose not to exercise that power.

I denounce racism in all its forms.

Black lives matter.

City on the Edge of Forever

Photo from Memory Alpha

Once upon a time I tried to make a radio play version of the Star Trek episode City on the Edge of Forever, by science fiction writer Harlan Ellison. The Powers That Be at CBC Radio at the time were in favour of the idea. The Business Rights people contacted Harlan and attempted to negotiate with him. I can’t quite recall how it came about, but I wound up calling him.

I’d been a big fan of his work ever since reading his short story I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream, which blew my mind (I actually wrote a version it for radio, since lost to time). I don’t think I even knew then that he’d written City on the Edge of Forever. Much later I discovered that he is considered by many to be, shall we say, problematic. Anyway, being a fan at the time, I was tickled at the opportunity to talk to him. We had a short conversation which focussed mostly on how much the rights to City on the Edge of Forever would cost. I informed him that the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation was a public broadcaster and we’d pay what we could. Needless to say, it wasn’t enough for Harlan, so the project never happened.

If you’re wondering how we could ever even have conceived such a thing, here’s my original pitch, which lays it all out. The thing is, as far as I know, it all stills hold true today. You could not produce a version of Gene Roddenberry’s City on the Edge of Forever, but you COULD produce a version of Harlan Ellison’s. If you really wanted to, and if you had enough money to purchase the rights. And maybe changed the characters’ names.

The City on the Edge of Forever Pitch

There was a time when if you were a Star Trek fan then you were a member of a relatively small club.  This is no longer the case.  Now, just about everyone is familiar with Star Trek – it’s a cultural phenomenon. 

Arguably the best Star Trek episode ever made – in any of the ubiquitous franchise’s many incarnations – is City on the Edge of Forever.  City on the Edge of Forever features the original and most beloved characters in the Star Trek pantheon: Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, “Bones” McCoy, and so on.  The story is simple and poignant: Kirk travels back in time to 1930’s New York to prevent a shipmate from altering time.  There, he falls in love, but to fulfill his mission, he must allow the woman he has fallen in love with to die.

The episode spawned a famous feud between the episode’s original writer, Harlan Ellison, and Star Trek’s creator, Gene Roddenberry.  Citing cost overruns and other difficulties, Roddenberry and his staff (Gene L. Coon and D.C. Fontana, mainly) completely rewrote Ellison’s version of the episode before shooting it.  The two versions are quite a bit different, yet both have demonstrable merit.  Roddenberry’s went on to win a Hugo; Ellison’s won the Writer’s Guild of America’s Award for Most Outstanding Teleplay.  Just about everyone has seen Roddenberry’s version of City on the Edge of Forever — Ellison’s version has never been produced for film, televison or radio.

Harlan Ellison owns the rights to his original, award-winning version of the most famous Star Trek episode ever to air.  Paramount Studios owns the rights to the Star Trek franchise; they do not own the rights to Harlan’s script. What this means is that CBC Radio can produce a radio play version of City on the Edge of Forever simply by changing the names of the characters. 

The free publicity for CBC Radio likely to be generated by mounting a radio version of Ellison’s City on the Edge of Forever, coupled with the intrinsic entertainment value of the piece itself, is probably reason enough to produce the property.  Couching the production within the context of the issue of creative ownership (conversations with Harlan Ellison and other artists who perceive their work to have been mishandled by others) might justify the production further.

I believe this to be quite an opportunity.  Given Star Trek’s place in popular culture, it is possible – perhaps even likely – that a CBC Radio production of Harlan Ellison’s City on the Edge of Forever could be nothing less than a cultural event.

Anne of Green Gables

One of my daughters was reading Anne of Green Gables and left it sitting around, so I picked it up and read a couple of pages and somewhat to my surprise I was instantly hooked.

Now you have to understand that I grew up in Prince Edward Island and have been surrounded by Lucy Maud Montgomery and Anne of Green Gables pretty much all my life. I’ve seen the stage production at the Charlottetown Festival at least three times. I’ve seen a spoof of the official version a couple of blocks over called “Annekenstein” (it was pretty good). As a media student, I was privileged to sit in on an audio mixing session of the original Kevin Sullivan movie version (spoiler alert: that day they happened to be mixing the scene a certain beloved character died). I’ve seen the Sullivan movie a couple of times, and I recently watched and enjoyed the first season of Anne with an E.

So I thought pretty much knew Anne of Green Gables.

But I didn’t. Not until I read the book, which I finished yesterday. Somehow, even after being exposed to so much of Anne throughout my life, I had not met her face to face. No disrespect to Kevin Sullivan and Anne With an E showrunner Moira Walley-Beckett and all the rest, all of whom I think came as close as they could to authentic takes on Anne of Green Gables, but the fact is, to really get to the heart and soul of the story you have to go directly to the source material.

The actual book was a revelation. The writing is sublime on so many levels: vocabulary, dialogue, story structure. It’s so funny… despite knowing what was coming, I still laughed aloud at the pickles Anne got herself in. And the character of Anne herself: she just pops off the page, living and breathing as authentically as any of our favourite literary characters. As do Matthew and Marilla. Especially Marilla, my favourite character, through whom (more than any other character, I think) we come to love Anne.

If there is one tiny flaw, it’s a flaw in Anne herself, acknowledged frequently by Marilla (and, consequently, Montgomery). Anne does go on. But that may just be a question of personal preference, a feature, not a bug, for true fans of Anne.

I was rather astonished to learn that Anne of Green Gables was Montgomery’s first published novel. I’d always imagined it was, say, her twelfth novel, the work of a mature, accomplished professional who’d learned a trick or two over the years. Nope. It’s the work of someone with story and character in her blood, with a natural flair for humour, and a deep understanding of human nature.

I do think I’ll be reading more of Montgomery’s work. About time.

Portrait of Amy Beth McNulty as Anne With an E
by Erin M.
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