Tuesday, September 4, 2018

First Man Flag Controversy in Context

A movie “First Man” about Niel Armstrong, the first person to set foot on the Moon, has created controversy on how the planting of the United States flag is kept out. When Apollo 11 landed on the Moon on July 16, 1969, the American astronauts stuck a flag next to where they had landed. Five other U.S. flags representing Apollo missions 12, 14, 15, 16, and 17 were also erected. The Apollo mission 13 famously failed to land because of malfunctions. For some not adding the flag planting seems to be an anti-American pass. Regardless how a person feels about Hollywood, love them or hate them, the history is more nuanced than patriotism.

That is not to say that patriotism doesn’t play a role. Landing on the Moon was considered the ultimate prize in what is called the Space Race between the United States and the Soviet Union. Both considered it bragging rights on their way to winning the world’s respect. Two ideologies had fought for influence over twenty years before the landing and would do the same over twenty years after. The race started in 1945 soon after WWII and the defeat of Germany. The Americans and the Russians wanted Nazi cooperating scientists as prizes to contribute to their own scientific advances.

Among the German Nazi specialties was rocket science with the deadly V2 ballistic missile near the end of the war causing havoc in England. At the end of the war the United States and the Soviet Union raced to find rocket plans and experts to capture for further development. The Americans won the prize of capturing leading scientist Wernher von Braun who it is said specifically sought them out. The Russians didn’t leave empty handed, although capturing lesser named individuals. The Russians had their own fellow Soviet patriot Sergei Korolev, knowing covertly as “The Chief Designer,” to lead the race to space. From the beginning going to space could be considered a German-American and German-Russian (after the scientists rejected the Nazi party affiliation) collaboration.

It must be noted that the Soviet Union had no intention of proclaiming they went into space or would be going to the Moon as a “all mankind” achievement. They did it for the ideals of Communism and on behalf of the Soviet Union. The American’s themselves, to also be fair, at first did it for the ideals of Capitalism on behalf of the United States. Causing Americans great concern, the Soviet Union launched the first successful satellite to orbit the Earth Oct. 4, 1957 with Sputnik 1 and the first man to orbit Earth April 12, 1961 with Yuri Gagarin. In response after each Soviet success the United States did the same, with Allan Shepard the first American in Space.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

What "Twin Peaks" Did and Didn't Do

Twin Peaks: Collection [Blu-ray]
Describing the classic television series "Twin Peaks" is a challenge. There is no one way to explain what it was about, sometimes because it didn't know itself. Half way through the series there was a dramatic reveal that many consider a disastrous decision. The network pushed the show's writers and creators to disclose a major plot. By resolving a major plot point, the purpose for the series' existence was destroyed.  Loyal fans continued to watch by grasping hold of other underlying elements. The remaining viewers jumped ship and it couldn't recover enough. Even if the show gave into the network demands, the opportunities for a creative reinvention existed; but were squandered. What worked kept it forever in pop-culture consciousness. What they missed developing could have saved it from ignoble failure.

The show starts out with the discovery of a murdered girl. The whole town grieves because she was well known and loved. An eccentric FBI agent named Cooper arrives to try and solve the case.  He discovers, along with the audience, the peculiarities of residence in this sleepy Washington lumber town. Each character has quirks and flaws that set them apart from the normal cast of television programming. To put it another way, the whole town is a psychological mess even without the discovery of Laura Palmer's body. And it works brilliantly to create both tragic and comic moments at the same time. The viewer is left to decide if they want to laugh or cry. And it only got better from there until it didn't.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Mulder's Many Fathers

In anticipation of the upcoming revival of The X-Files starting soon, an article I wrote years ago will be reprinted here. During the height of the show, when the Internet was still mostly a work in progress, I participated on an early message board,   One of my lengthy comments garnered some interest from an amateur fan magazine. They asked if they could publish my thoughts and I gave them permission. The only pay was receiving a copy of the magazine, where I was happy to just see my words in print. The Canadian  fan magazine Jigsaw stopped publishing many years ago. Here is the first of two articles of mine they published. A few clarifying  and updated changes have been made.

From the beginning, Fox Mulder has had an informant helping him. Deep Throat was first introduced in the second episode (which is named after him). The role of informant has been filled by someone ever since.  All of them have one thing in common; They seem to represent a commanding force that shapes who Mulder becomes as an investigator. Other informants are shades of what Deep Throat started out as.  At least one of these characters actually transforms into Fox's real father. It is because of this role of influence that I consider them fathers to Mulder.

Deep Throat was a reasonably friendly gentleman to Mulder who directed him to follow on information quests. He was a favorite informant among many X-Files fans. His approach to Mulder was not rushed like most of the other informants. When he was rushed, it was only to keep the truth from disappearing, and not for his own safety. His clues to Mulder -- and the viewer --  became an incentive for him to continue on his investigations. When Mulder was on the  brink of giving up on a case, Deep Throat showed up to usher him to continue.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

My Obsession with X-Files Described

The X-Files: Complete Series Collector's Set + The Event Bundle [Blu-ray]
Next year is an exciting time for X-Files fans, because a short special season will be broadcast. Believe it or not the last movie, much less episode, was released seven years ago. The series ended six years before that with a successful theatrical movie stuck in the middle of the long running phenomenon. You might think that someone who is as obsessed by the show as myself was hooked by the premier of the first episode, but that would be a wrong impression. It was a long and eventful set of roads I traveled before becoming fully emerged in the strange, exciting, and sometimes gruesome spectacle. The first few episodes I did see weren't even enough to make me more than curious. I will set out to describe the formation of my passion in anticipation of the upcoming mini-series. This blog post will be context for my interest and a way to perhaps get to know a little more about me.

Like I said, when the first episode of the X-Files premiered it didn't drag me into the series. As a matter of fact I didn't even see the show when it first aired. What I did see were two advertisements for new Fox Television productions that included a western comedy The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. staring Bruce Campbell. That one I did watch the first episode and was slightly amused. I remember it as getting billed as the next big thing. That little paranormal show was a curious filler. One of the reasons for not turning on the tube was because my college days had just started and other things were much more important. Unlike my teenage years, television was not a priority with all the new experiences and responsibilities. My major television obsession at the time was Star Trek in all its versions, even though that was not a constant.

Before I became a huge fan, I caught three episodes late at night in syndication on other channels. The first was Excelsis Dei about an old folks home haunted by a mysterious ghost attacker. For some reason I was all alone at my home when I saw it at midnight. By the end I had made sure that the doors were locked and windows extra tightly covered. The next one at another time was The Host about a monster in the sewers that I thought was silly and perhaps turned me off a bit from wanting more. Yet another night was the Anasazi, the first of a three part episode that finally piqued my interests, but made me confused enough not to pursue any others.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Godzilla and Other Monsters

Modern giant monster movies are difficult to make because they have to be both believable and show a spectacle. They are expensive to produce and therefore require blockbuster status at the theaters. It isn't like the golden age where special effects were not expected to look real to enjoy. Some masters of the art didn't need more than clay, lots of time, and patience.

Even when the golden age of monsters in the 50s and 60s was long over, television for a short time gave new life to old celluloid. Late at night or noon after cartoons the giant terrors once again lived. The best of them included insects like a giant tarantula, a flying mantis, and them ants. Forget that no exoskeletal creatures could physically exist. There they were in the theater or on television larger than life and haunting a young kid's imagination. Two of the biggest stars were King Kong and Godzilla. Only once were they together, and that was a disastrous Japanese B movie with more laughs than wonder; no matter what age the viewer.

In later years the giant monsters fell out of favor to be replaced by dinosaurs. The same problems of production values and unbelievability hung on them, but without the supportive audience. It was fine that giant monsters or even insects didn't look real on the screen because they never did exist. Dinosaurs, on the other hand, had proof of their reality. It didn't matter how extinct, they were not lizards with plastered on prosthetics or actors in suites. A few movies with them were made and then died out just as quick.

Late 70s and mid 80s tried to bring back the Great King Kong with limited success. The stories were updated, but movie magic remained questionable. Actors in monster suites had become a joke and stop motion picture animatronics didn't change much either. It seemed that the giant monsters had finally died off in Hollywood.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Arthur C. Clarke's Mysterious World, etc.

During the time when Leonard Nimoy's series telecast, Arthur C. Clarke started another show that investigated the unknown and paranormal. The first of three seasons was called Arthur C. Clarke's Mysterious World, debuting in 1980 and hosted by the famous author. A sizable portion of the narration was done by Gordon Honeycombe, with Yorkshire Television and ITV network producing. The Mysterious World 13 episodes ran through the year from September to November, covering a wide range of strange topics.

"Mysteries from the files of Arthur C. Clarke, scientist writer and visionary. The scientist who invented the communications satellite and the writer of 2010, and now in retreat in Sri Lanka; the visionary who ponders riddles of this and other worlds." Each week a similar introduction was attached to a title sequence that included the mysterious iconic glass skull. The author then pontificated about what the episode will discuss, and again ended with him pondering solutions to the mysteries presented.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Best of Paranormal TV: In Search Of . . .

One of the longest running paranormal  based series, In Search Of . . . explores both the unexplained and the mysterious. Unlike the previous television show from the previous post, this one researches history, science, and much more. It started out as hour long specials narrated by Rod Sterling. When it switched to a series format, Leonard Nimoy of Star Trek fame took over after Sterling's death. The show was cut back to a half hour time slot. Despite the shortening of the time, it lasted six long seasons from 1976 to 1982. There was a very short revival in 2002 with Mitch Pileggi of The X-Files fame that covered some of the same territory. All later paranormal investigation shows owe a debt to the original In Search Of . . . because a lot of the same format continued in other investigative broadcasts.

The beginning credits were the same on each episode, warning, "This series presents information based in part on theory and conjecture. The producer's purpose is to suggest some possible explanations, but not necessarily the only ones, to the mysteries we will examine." In this way the presentation wouldn't be seen as absolute and scientific fact. Viewers could make up their own minds how truthful and accurate each mystery might be to reality.