Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Essential Cinema - 21


Sean Connery
Charlotte Rampling
Sara Kestelman
John Alderton
Sally Anne Newton
Niall Buggy

John Boorman

John Boorman

Geoffrey Unsworth

In a surreal futuristic world, man has reached immortality and plays god with the remaining humans that live outside their master colony. When a mortal invades their world, he shatters their perfect society and releases them from their idyllic purgatory.

The societal science fiction story, without spaceships and ray-guns. Here the concept of genetics and science are twisted to form a society that is segregated, manipulative, immortal and bored. As with any concept of the perfect society, perfection is only an ideal, not a reality. The perfect society here is shattered from within by the introduction of the barbaric man.

This is 1960s science fiction with the emphasis on the human and sexual nature of mankind. The film is innovative in some ways and over-reaching in others. The plot is somewhat meandering and very hard to understand in places. There are scenes, that while interesting to watch, appear to make little sense in the overall story line.

In the end, the masters being overthrown by their flock takes a long time to get to. Since this was filmed in the 1960s, there is a lot of gratuitous nudity that suites the surreal quality of the film as well as the dream-like imagery.

Sean Connery may have accepted this role to distance himself from his James Bond image. John Boorman has always been a bit of an odd film maker and while his films are mostly good (I loved "The Emerald Forest"), they sometimes miss the mark of being really great.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Message In A Bottle

We are all interconnected. We always have been, but in the past it has been a loose and distant connection. Today, the connection is more immediate. With the Internet, telephones and high speed travel, we get closer every day, whether we like it or not.

Back in the old days, before email and text messaging we had to make an effort to reach out, to find others, to exchange ideas. Few did it. They didn't know how and they didn't know what to say.

How many of you stood on the shore, slipped a note that says "Find Me" into a bottle, corked it, and flung it into the sea? I know I dreamed about doing it when I was younger. Before Microsoft, before Google. The dream still exists, but the methods have changed. Gone is the bottle and the infinite ocean.

About 5 years ago my parents asked me what I wanted for Christmas. I had read about Global Positioning System (GPS) devices and since my parents asked, I thought why not, get me one of those.

They did and it opened up a world I had not expected.

A GPS will show you where you are anywhere on the planet. It will also show you where anything else is on the planet if you know its coordinates. If you plug in a specific location on your GPS, it will tell you how to get to it. Which is fine and dandy for boating or hiking or trying to navigate around a complex road system. However, it will also do one more thing. Never under-estimate the human minds ability to 'play' with new technology.

Someone came up with the idea of Geo-caching. You hide a little treasure box (called a Geo-Cache) somewhere on the planet. Then you post its coordinates online. Folks download and input the coordinates into their GPS and try to find the Geo-Cache. The treasure isn't that valuable. The value is trying to figure out where it is and documenting that you found it. I learned how to do this and got pretty hooked on it. There are thousands of Geo-caches all over the world. To date I have found about 40 of them.

An off-shoot of the Geo-Caching concept is called the Travel-Bug. A Travel-Bug is a trinket that is placed in a Geo-Cache. When you find the Geo-Cache, you take the Travel-Bug and eventually place it in another Geo-Cache, documenting each time it is moved on a website. That way, you can track where your Travel-Bug goes. In essence, this is the new Message In A Bottle. This message doesn't float on the ocean. If floats across the sea of humanity.

Before the Journey, Arizona

This is Kenny. He is a small Southpark whined-up walking toy that I made into a Travel-Bug. He was part of a set of Southpark characters that were given to me by friends long ago, all of which were made into Travel-Bugs. Some of these Travel-Bugs have been lost but some are still going.

All the "Bugs" Together at the start, Arizona

As of this past month (January 2008), Kenny is still going. At my last check, he had traveled over 11,758 miles and was somewhere in Germany. He has traveled halfway around the world in the last 4 years and been in about 20 Geo-Caches.

Kenny, 2007 (somewhere in Germany)

I won't ever see him again. But I know he is still out there bringing a smile to some intrepid hikers face. And whoever finds him will also know who I am, and know that I put a message in a bottle and told them to 'find me'.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Essential Cinema - 20

In Which We Serve

Noel Coward
Derek Elphinstone
Michael Wilding
Robert Sansom
Philip Friend
Ballard Berkeley
Hubert Gregg
Richard Attenborough

Noel Coward
David Lean

Noel Coward

Ronald Neame

The story of a British Destroyer in WWII and the lives of her crew. The stories of the various crew members are shown in flashback after the destroyer is sunk in the Mediterranean.

Propaganda in the 1940s. A film to boost British morale during their darkest hours of WWII. The film is meant to be an example of how the British were supposed to behave and fight and how British resolve can conquer almost anything.

Noel Coward is the over-riding presence in this film, having produced, written, co-directed and stared in it. My primary reason for wanting to see the film is David Lean's directorial debut, having co-directed it with Coward.

While this is a competent film and enjoyable to watch, it shows the British as somewhat one dimensional characters. This probably has to do with the era in which it was filmed. The film also highlights the concept of class society in England during the 1930 and 40s, although this was not meant to be the focus of the film when it was made.

All of the characters in this film are basically emotionless. Noel Coward, as the Captain of the ship, never smiles and appears to be almost condescending to his ever-faithful wife and children. The enlisted seaman seem to be the only characters that have any real affection for their ship or their spouses, but this is also shown in the light of them being 'lower-class' individuals, fit only to be ordered around and to do physical labor.

While watching the film I noticed a small cameo by a very young Richard Attenborough, who is not named in the credits.

This film epitomizes the concept of the British 'stiff upper lip' and their sheer determination to prevail in the face of overwhelming odds. It is fascinating to see a culture such as this but I would never want to live in it. There is resolve....and then there is being reduced to an automaton. This film blurs the lines between the two.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Weak Link

I have often mused in this blog about the lessons that we all learn in life. Those things that can't be learned in a classroom or from a book. You have to see them to understand how important or how dangerous they really are.

When I was a young man, with less fat, more hair and far less common sense, I decided to take up skydiving. Along with one of my high school classmates, we secretly signed up to take classes. Had our parents known, they wouldn't have been too thrilled. When my father finally did find out that I was getting ready to jump out of an airplane he was not pleased. Having been an Air Force pilot, he could not see the sense of leaving a perfectly good airplane to take your chances of slamming into the ground at 160mph.

For those of you that have never sky-dived, it has changed over the years. Now-a-days, you learn the ropes in one day and jump in 'tandem' with an instructor. That is to say, you jump harnessed together, so that in case something goes wrong, someone that knows what they are doing is there to help you out.

This wasn't the case back in 1974 when I jumped out of a plane. There was no such thing as tandem jumping back then. You jumped solo, all by yourself. The instruction lasted for a week, every night, for 4 hours. They put you through drill after drill. The drills included, how to enter the plane, how to exit the plane, how to arch your back in free-fall , how to pull the emergency chute, how to steer your chute, how to land, etc, etc.....they taught us every eventuality and then made us do it 20 times, over and over.

They weren't stupid though. On the first 5 jumps they wouldn't let you actually pull your own ripcord. The ripcord was tied to the plane in the form of a "static line". As soon as you jumped from the plane, your ripcord was automatically pulled and your chute opened within 5 seconds.

So after all this training and psyching ourselves up for the big day, my high school buddy and I drove for 2 hours to the drop zone and got ready for the thrill of a lifetime. There were about 20 people in our class ranging in age from 16 to 40. Each plane could hold about 3 students, so we all waited around as groups of us went aloft for our first jump.

Without going into all the details of a jump, it was quite a rush. Nothing can really describe what jumping out of a plane is like. You have to do it for yourself. It is a liberating experience. My jump went off without a hitch and I managed to steer my chute to land almost dead center on the bulls-eye in the middle of the drop zone. By the time it was all over, I was pumped with adrenaline and beaming from ear to ear. My high school buddy followed me with the same results. We congratulated ourselves on the ground for having 'balls of steel'.

As we sat in the summer sun watching our other classmates prepare for their jumps, one of the instructors came running towards us. "We got a floater!", he yelled at another instructors that was sitting next to us. The seated instructor glanced upward, jumped to his feet and they both sprinted off to a waiting jeep parked next to the runway.

We looked up and spotted a lone parachutist drifting downward. As the breeze slowly pushed him away from the drop zone, it was evident that he wasn't' steering his chute as we were trained to do in class. He had 'freaked out' when he left the plane and gone limp in his harness.

That was the lesson. No matter how much training you have, no matter how good someone looks on paper, you can never be sure of how they will react in a crisis. We had all been trained the same. We had all passed the same tests. We had all made our jumps correctly, except for this guy.

The 'Floater' drifted about 3 miles down-wind and flopped into a corn field. They had to chase him down in the jeep and haul him back to the drop zone. He was lucky enough not to have drifted into any power lines or come down in a tree.

I knew then, that if this person was ever under fire in a combat zone, or in an earthquake, or a burning building, he most likely wouldn't survive. He couldn't overcome his fear.

From that moment on, I have always looked at those around me and wondered. They all seem competent and well trained, but there are a certain percentage of people that I can't trust in a crisis. The trick is figuring out who they are before the crisis hits. Life is full of booby traps, and some of them are sitting right next to you.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Travels With Casper

On The Roof, Eastern State Penitentiary

I was gone most of last week running a little errand.

In The CellBlock

Last year my wife and I went to Philadelphia on vacation. One of the things we did was visit the Eastern State Penitentiary. It is an old prison in downtown Philadelphia that is no longer used and is now a museum. It is a very interesting place. If you want to see and read more about our trip last year click here.

Philadelphia Subway Station

One of the exhibits at the prison were the "Ghost Cats". This is an art installation commemorating the 40 cats that lived in the prison when it was operational. When the prison closed, a retired prison guard returned each day to feed the cats (who couldn't escape...it is a prison after all) until they all passed away. The art exhibit consists of 39 unique hand made concrete / plaster cats that were placed throughout the prison. A link to the artist and the exhibit is here

Philadelphia Subway Bench

Since my wife and I live with 5 cats in our home, we inquired what would happen to them when the exhibit was over. They were to be sold to patrons that wanted to buy one. We put down a deposit on one and it was to be shipped to us at the end of 2007. When it arrived via FedEx, we discovered that one of the FedEx warehouse gorillas had destroyed it and the cat was in pieces inside the shipping box.

Inside Pennsylvania Station

After arguing with FedEx for a month regarding the value and insurance on the cat, we decided to accept another cat from the Penitentiary, and let the Prison deal with FedEx regarding the value of the destroyed cat.

Fort Worth, Texas

So, I flew back to Philadelphia, picked out another cat from inside the prison (Casper is the crouched one on the roof in the first photo) and hand carried it back to Phoenix on Amtrak,.... a 4 day train trip.

Living Room, Phoenix, AZ

The last photo shows "Casper" in our living room, where he now resides. I saw and did a lot of things on this trip. It was an eye opening experience in more ways than one. Look for more glimpses of this cross country journey in the coming months.

Essential Cinema - 19

Lord Love A Duck

Roddy McDowall
Tuesday Weld
Lola Albright
Martin West
Ruth Gordon
Harvey Korman

George Axelrod

George Axelrod
Al Hine (from his novel)

Daniel L. Fapp

A shallow high school sweater girl wishes for anything and everything while a spurned psychotic boyfriend grants her every wish. A 'Clockwork Orange' meets 'Beach Blanket Bingo'.

Youth learns to be cynical and manipulative. The 60s started out all sweetness and light but grew into something very dark.

As the film progresses it continues to get more surreal and unbelievable. Roddy McDowall in the title role of Alan Musgrave comes across as creepy and very manipulative. Tuesday Weld in the role of Barbara Ann is good looking and shallow. Most of the acting in the film is over the top, possibly to cover up the rather plain dialog.

There are various plot and sub-plots in the film, but the primary one appears to be Alan's willingness to grant Barbara Ann's wishes because he is in love with her. The adolescent dreams of a young girl are dangerous things to grant and McDowell's character seems to understand this, but is willing to let the poor girl fail miserably in all she desires, knowing that in the end she will come running back to him for comfort.

This film appears to document the 'end' of the 1960s teen movie genre. Where fun loving surfers and high schoolers become the cynical and manipulative young adults of the 1970s. The story line becomes muddled when Mary Ann weds her 'dreamboat' and Alan plots to kill her new husband for the remainder of the film, which is a plot line that takes up far to much time on screen.

This is a very twisted and disturbing film, that pokes a satirical fork in the side of 60s culture, in a similar way as the "The Loved One" did to the funeral business. An interesting film from a documentary aspect, but not a very good film in the theatrical sense.