Canadian Fakin’ : 13 American Science Fiction Shows Produced in Canada

Posted in Film/TV, Nerding Out on 09/12/2010 by todcrouch

Our hero, who hides with baited frozen breath behind an evergreen tree, a fully articulated robot autotunes out, “Stoop, or I’ll shout, eh?”

The protagonist fires a laser blast through the robot and says, “Soory, this suregosh ain’t your lucky day, don’tcha know.”

“Wait.  What?” you say to yourself watching just about anything on the Sci-Fi channel (I refuse their more contemporary rebranding FAIL, and I don’t need to elaborate), “Did some interplanetary supersoldier just say ‘Soory’?  Are the inhabitants of Alpha Centauri frackin’ Canucks?”

Think what you will about the peaceful inhabitants of the Great White North, but their less gluttonous approach to filmmaking allows many Post-Millennial Science Fiction television shows to thrive.  Although I grudgingly accept the lukewarm standards of the Sci-Fi Channel, which sacrifices many great mature themes and heady concepts, I grudgingly accept the notion that a great idea need not be violent, profane, or thought-provoking—-even if it gives birth to infinite demons of banality like a Lilith of Sheer Dross.  Rather than bitch and moan about the masochism of such original movies as Rock Monster, I’d prefer to focus on the attention which gave the first five seasons of The X-Files their creative start,  blowing the door wide open to other groundbreaking series.

The Truth is oout there.

 

 

13:  Jeremiah

Though it only received 35 episodes and did absolutely nothing for the careers of teen heartthrob has-beens Luke Perry and Malcolm-Jamal Warner, Showtime filmed this in Vancouver and the premise is worthy of investigation.  Jeremiah (Perry) and Kurdy (Warner) survived an apocalypse which killed off all the ‘dults some fifteen years ago, leaving a world of emotionally stunted scavengers to fend for themselves.  An interesting critique of a baby boomer on younger generations provides the backdrop for the teenage fantasy of a world without parents, or more importantly, the societal rules set in place by tradition.  Oh yeah, and Post-Lord of the Rings Sean Astin brings some pretty heavy acting thunder in the second season, proving he can save Frodo, but not Theo and Dylan.

"We used to get so much ass, Mal."

 

 

12: Lone Gunmen

This X-files spin-off had great potential following three conspiracy theorists who attempt to uncover the truth behind the urban legend.  Ironically, one episode has a conspiracy theory of its own:  the pilot involves the United States Government crashing into New York City seven months before 9/11.  It only lasted one season, but was filmed in Vancouver.  The weakest aspects of the show were not the concepts or the execution of three nerds looking for the truth, but weak writing (and the stereotypical self-serving female thief who couldn’t act her way out of a catsuit) hammered the nails into this coffin.

 

 

 

11: Caprica

Filmed in Vancouver, this prequel to Battlestar Galactica explains the rise and origins of the robots (Cylons) and the posh world in which General Adama grew up in.  If the creators had not conceived of this as “Dynasty in Space” and hadn’t wasted their talents on theological masturbation, this could have been amazing.  Rather than work off a winning formula, they pulled a She-Ra, marketing a predominately male idea to a female audience on a network that’s predominately male.  Throughout production, creators Ronald Moore and David Eick were more or less in a constant battle with the Sci-Fi channel, since the network refused to take the risks that made people pay attention to their little cable nerd table in the lunchroom to begin with.

One day in the future, we'll lose our humanity to becoming machines.

 

 

 

10:  The 4400

USA network jumped into the fray in 2004, shoving as many popular sci-fi themes as possible into one show: alien abduction, time travel, unexplained phenomenon, the destiny/free will argument, creepy kids, government conspiracies,  and of course superhuman powers.  Similar in tone to Heroes, LOST, and a healthy portion of the X-Files, it garnered a strong following until the Writer’s Strike of 2007 killed this show along with countless others.  The premise involves alien abductees—4,400 of them to be precise—who suddenly appear one day from various times in history who all have some kind of superhuman power.  Government agents attempt to gather intel while a cult-type adversary clashes with them.  With no premeditation, it ended in its fourth season with 44 episodes total.  Well done, synchronicity!

And YOU get a probe! And YOU get a probe! And YOU get a probe! All 4400 of you get a probe!

 

 

 

9: Dark Angel

James Cameron directs Jessica Alba–what more do you need?  How about a high profile soundtrack?  Filming in Vancouver?  Done, done, done and done!  Do you know what else is done?  The series after two seasons.  The Fox network thought the show was popular enough to endure the no man’s land of Friday night television–but since any dude with a pulse lively enough to get his Alba on is probably randy enough to go and get the real deal on a Friday night.  Not that JimmyCam or J-Ba went down with the titanic loss of 4 million viewers the second season–and the 44 episodes of Jessica catsuiting around are enough to give nerdy fourteen-year-olds the stinky palm between gunfights.

I just love underage boys who own the Boba Fett action figure.

 

 

8: Smallville

I remember seeing Tom Welling strapped to a scarecrow’s post in all his liver-lipped, icy-eyed, washboard abs glory–with an ‘S’ spray painted on his chest.  I also remember feeling like a total fucking tool when it was revealed that this was the new Superman vehicle.  For the hero who stands for truth, justice, and the American way, what better way to represent this than to outsource it to Vancouver?  Although Smallville tends to mimic Buffy the Vampire Slayer in approach and appeals more to chicks than dudes, it’s still leaps and bounds (tall buildings and single bounds) better than Lois and Clark, where Krypton’s mightiest hero came off so goddamned pussywhipped to the whiniest bitch imaginable, you wondered why his villains didn’t just let Lois kill Superman with her constant nagging.  Smallville introduces most of Superman’s villains and associates, which is a delight to to see reinvented.  I would be remiss if I did not swoon at Aquaman, played rather sexually ambiguous surfer boy by aqua-dreamboat Alan Ritchson.  After ten seasons, Superman and company are calling it quits, which is probably for the best.

Deleted scene of Aquaman having wet dream about himself, complete with O-face.

 

 

7: Eureka

Probably one of the most solid television shows on Sci-Fi is Eureka.  It follows an idiot cop in a town full of geniuses who build things that generally misfire, kill people, and threaten the demise of the entire world.  There is somewhat an element of mystery, which usually involves two one-off characters per episode (here’s a hint: one of them dies and the other one gets arrested).  It’s entertaining in a cynical way, providing fodder for plot holes among the scientifically-minded nerd community and yet still has enough masochistically wacky entertainment value for people to keep coming back.  Decent special effects and reasonable acting manifest itself in a safe premise to create a family-friendly tepidity.  It remains to be one of the few shows that jumped the shark and managed to make it work by spending an entire season in an alternate universe, thereby refreshing the series without shooting themselves in the foot.  As long as it’s on the air, I’ll continue to watch it and suspend disbelief about the sleepy little town of scientists with an unusually high mortality rate.

 

Are you aware that your plot was traveling 5 miles an hour in a 30 mile an hour speed zone?

 

 

6: Warehouse 13

One of the more clever approaches in recent years has been this little show depicting the trials and tribulations of two secret service agents who must hunt down psychically charged historical artifacts which wreck havoc in various ways for containment in the eponymous warehouse.  Filmed in Toronto and Montreal, the atmosphere and weather distinguishes it from many of the shows filmed in the damp, overcast Vancouver.   Aside from clever nods to various historical figures (Sylvia Plath’s typewriter causes people to fall into hysterical depression), the real delight is the interplay between Saul Rubinek and Allison Scagliotti, whose father/daughter nerd relationship is as touching as it is hilarious.  Rubinek and Scagliotti perform so well together that it tends to overshadow (and enhance) the painful presence of Eddie McClintock and Joanne Kelley–the wacky Mulder-and-Scully duo who serve no real purpose when other characters prove themselves far more competent in the field.  It’s not McClintock or Kelley’s fault (in one episode, they exchange minds and convincingly act like their character’s counterpart); it’s a flaw in the writing.  Everyone else in the cast has such a strong sense of purpose, you wonder why the hell these two are even around.  Marginally better than Eureka, both traded cameos coexist in the same universe; a nice touch.  I just wish they would sack or sack-up their (ahem) man up their main protagonists.  But hey, you can’t have your Canadian bacon without a bit of fat.

 

"Hey Myka, is our lack of chemistry making you nauseous, too?"

 

 

5: Dead Like Me

Shot in Vancouver and lasting two seasons, this Showtime series follows a grim reaper who frees people from their bodies shortly before they die.  After getting over the initial shock of what happened to Jasmine Guy (I swear, her make up artist hated her), viewers will immediately revel in the glee of seeing Mandy Pantinkin (His name is Inigo Montoya.  You killed his father.  Prepare to die).  Patinkin is not only a badass swashbuckler, but also Broadway musical royalty, though this incarnation as a gruff handler of a handful of reapers is a welcome addition to his vast range.  Patinkin’s tough-love tutelage of the main character, a chick named George, drives the point home that life is not easy, not even when it’s over.  Quirky and full of poignant voice overs, DLM creates a reasonable supernatural philosophy over it’s two seasons.  There’s never been a clear reason for cancellation, though a lackluster direct-to-DVD movie exists out there.

 

R.I.P. Whitley, consumed by her own ass.

 

 

4) Sanctuary

Before I start in on my nerd crush of Princess Leia proportions for Amanda Tapping, this science fiction story ties in some of the more popular themes of contemporary genre such as steampunk, mutation, and conspiracy.  Whereas other shows beat the mutant idea to death, Sanctuary rubber suits and goes straight for grotesque monsters.  During one of the cast commentaries, Amanda Tapping (who sounds just like a regular chick you could have a beer with–and she’d probably kick your ass at pool) mentioned it was one of the biggest budget shows Sci-Fi produced, and a viewer can tell.  Very heavy-handed on the CGI, contemporary viewers will update their suspensions of disbelief: where once we ignored puppets and guys in rubber suits, now we ignore inconsistent shadows and strangely still outdoor winds.  But the acting carries the story about an ageless woman and her oddball group of associates as they hunt down ‘abnormals’ who range from earthquake-causing spiders to a Bigfoot butler.  Where this series excels over other adventure dramas follows the pattern of what made X-Files such a hit:  They take their professions very seriously by treating crime scenes as crime scenes, quarantines as potentially lethal, and supernatural threats with a believable severity.  And Amanda Tapping has an English accent, easily putting the “tappin” in Tapping.

 

They're much more attractive when they aren't listening to their iPods.

 

 

3)  Battlestar Galactica (Redux)

It could have been great.  It came so close.  I first became aware of it during my ‘year of 1000 movies’, under the impression I could  clean my boxy apartment to the pilot episode.  Two hours later, I realized I remained motionless and in rapt attention during one of the most engrossing science fiction stories ever shown on TV.  Basically, the human population gets their collective ass handed to them by robots and the last 50,000 humans in existence are on the run through the cosmos–and they never (and I mean never) get a fucking break.  In doing so, it successfully shows the incredible endurance human beings are capable of without getting patriotic.  After the producers started meddling around the third season, BSG started getting hokey and preachy, failing to thoroughly resolve some of the largest mysteries of the series.  Though the prequel, Caprica, was a mind-numbing waste of time, Sci-Fi Announced in November 2010 that a new pilot called Battlestar Galactica: Blood and Chrome would return to its space opera roots.

 

"Hey Baltar! You gonna eat that?"

 

 

2) Fringe

J.J. Abrams is a master at reinterpretation; therefore it should be him to come up with the re-envisioning the X-Files.  Though Abrams is more well-known for making crazy people crazier from his mind-melting series, LOST, Fringe is much more accessible and explains the drama quite plainly without sacrificing suspense.  So we enter the world of Fringe Division, which concerns itself less with aliens and more with pseudosciences such as alternate realities and teleportation.  Two FBI agents end up in scientifically improbable situations, aided by the befuddled (and oft-high) genius ex-professor played by John Noble (the dude who set himself on fire and jumped off a cliff in LOTR).  The pilot was shot in Toronto and permanently started filming the second series in Vancouver.

 

Would you like to see my, ahem, spontaneous combustion routine?

 

 

1) Stargate: SG-1

SG-1 is the longest running American Science Fiction Television show (though it’s still left in the cosmic dust by Doctor Who), though Smallville will claim this award next year.  SG-1 birthed three spinoffs and two direct-to-DVD movies–all born from the tepidly received 1994 film.  I put this at the top of the list for the mere reason that every known science fiction cliche can be found in the 155 1/2 hours of episodes.  Alien lands, bizarre technology, military procedures, conspiracy theories, cultural conflicts–the list goes on and on.  Richard Dean Anderson’s character, Jack O’Neill,  leads a crack team of scientists and soldiers into strange new lands while (wait for it) Amanda Tapping rattles off page after page of tech jargon.  I couldn’t shake this sense that Anderson has no idea how to approach his character and that is the who his Jack O’Neill is–annoyed, reluctant, and a tad bitchy.  Still, this attitude is consistent through his run of the series, and makes for a believable field leader.  One marvelous difference this series holds against the others is the male and female lead maintain a professional relationship–which is welcome to a fan base who can ignore their relationship status more effectively without onscreen kisses.

 

"Sure Selma, I can get you a Stargate. All I need is a pair of tweezers, a condom, and enough whiskey to get me blackout drunk.

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Whedon need no education

Posted in Film/TV on 01/12/2010 by todcrouch

When I first heard grumblings of Joss Whedon in the comic book stores I would frequent, where those shunned by even the social outcasts hovered about and regaled in the most recent episodes of “Buffy”.  I couldn’t judge, being 19 and mainlining such cartoons as Animaniacs, Batman: The Animated Series, Tiny Toon Adventures,  Superman: The Animated Series, and Batman Beyond.   And there would be advertisements for ‘that Buffy show’.  Time marched forward and I somehow came across a review of Firefly, even though it only lasted one season, which described it as roughly as a Star Wars without the force, but starring Han Solo.

I thought, Huh.  I’ll give it a shot. What surprised me about Firefly was the re-watchability of the series.   Much later, I was in Forbidden Planet where I saw a t-shirt that read Joss Whedon is God.  I found this to be a rather bold statement, but realized the shirt was probably only available in XXL–and nerd-world’s answer to Bruce Vilanch accepted the fact that God abandoned him in his world of orange Dorito fingers and compulsive masturbation and in his best Yoda impression said, “No.  There is another.”  And in my acceptance of seein’ what the kids are into these days, I decided to examine the whedon oevre more closely for those who have better things to do with their time…

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003)

If ever there was a template to praise/blame on the definitive “supernatural teen dramedy” that exploded onto the scene (Charmed, Roswell, Vampire Diaries, True Blood, etc.) of practically unwatchable banality, it’s Buffy.  However, Buffy is the best of the worst, as if it openly accepts its campy dialogue, cliched characters and plots, and push/pull relationships.  A vampire hunter falling in love with a vampire?  A lesbian wiccan?  Surely, we delve into the realm of the impossible…

Don’t get me  wrong, Buffy has its moments.  Most of the actors in this series went on to have (ahem) real careers, and I do find Alyson Hannigan’s role as the nerdy Character Willow to be excellently executed.  Whedon really shows off his talents for one-liners in this series and of all the 144 episodes, there are two that stand out as 5-star television experiences: Hush (season 4, episode 10) and Once More, With Feeling (Season 6, Episode 7).  In Hush, a genuinely frightening group of villains steal the sound from the city, causing the practically the entire episode to be performed in absolute silence.  In Once More with Feeling, the town ends up under the spell causing the cast to break out in song–yes, it’s a musical episode.  It’s weird little tricks like these that make this show unique from its abysmal clones:  When no one’s looking, you can do anything–just don’t take yourself too seriously when they do.

Angel (1999-2004)

Welp, you can’t win ’em all.  Just as people go completely bufguck (Bufguck: when you go so bugfuck, you can’t even hold your shit)  for any nerd-oriented media like Star Wars or Trek, this show’s only for die hards.  Aside from my perpetual disdain for bolt-necked, Homo Erectus Frankenhunk  David Boreanaz, there’s not much going on here besides an extra paycheck for Joss and his ragtag team of second-fiddle characters who no longer have a place in the Buffy universe proper.  I do respect Joss for continuing to give work to likable actors, even if the characters no longer have a reason for existing.  It’s a nice thing to do for those who helped Buffy rocket into cult status and the show lasted 5 seasons, proving somebody was watching it–all very utilitarian reasons for creating this spinoff, even if in hindsight it’s like watching the corpse of creativity float painfully down a stagnate river.   If you look closely, you’ll find LOST actor Josh Holloway (Sawyer) as a non-speaking role as a vampire who gets killed in the first five minutes of the pilot–and then it’s all down hill from there.

Firefly (2002)

This seems to be Joss Whedon’s best-yet attempt at articulating his atheistic existentialist beliefs in the hard luck ways of space pirates.  No vamps, no magical talismans–just man and the void of space.  This is one of those shows that make people associate the FOX network with arson:  after showing the episodes out of order, pre-empting the show for sports, FOX canceled the series with three episodes left unaired.  Pulling some serious nods to the manga Cowboy Bebop, the show still features Whedonesque one-liners with more evolved interpretations of stock western characters (the preacher with the shady past, the ditzy know-it-all, the golden-hearted hooker, etc.)  Firefly also serves as the nexus of of a veritable six-degrees-of-Joss-Whedon, considering the cast:  Nathan Fillion (Castle), Jewel Stait (Stargate Atlantis), Moreana Baccarin (V), Gina Torres (Matrix Reloaded), Summer Glau (Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles),  Alan Tudyk (The dude has a bit part in practically everything), and Adam Baldwin (Chuck).  I’d say this is probably the most accessible of his catalogue with realistic characters, solid plots, and just flashy enough to hold interest for repeated viewing.  It was one of those rare shows that had such a strong fan with only 11 episodes aired, to warrant a follow-up movie,  Serenity.

Dollhouse (2009-2010)

This show is, simply, the shit.  The premise is this:  A person can make a small fortune to become a ‘doll’–a reprogrammable human slave with no recollections of whatever assignments occur during tenure in the Dollhouse.  The super wealthy rent temporarily imprinted dolls with certain personality requests, usually for incredibly elaborate psychosexual fantasies .  What begins as a fairly episodic storyline of dolls in peculiar adventures, quickly spirals into a maddening vortex as the tech gets a little ‘buggy’.  Suddenly, people are switching identities like once-worn undies and the moral and social ambiguities continues an exponential, escalating fever pitch where you really just have no fucking clue how far it’s going to go.  It’s one of the few shows that I actually could not wait until the upcoming week to see what would happen next.  When I think of “hi-sci-fi” (a la Neal Stephenson), Dollhouse is probably as close as TV would allow, since there will probably never be a Soap Opera based on the short stories of Jorge Borges.  I’ll be interested in what Whedon can do to top himself with this one.  If he does, It’ll be the best damn TV show that no one will see.

Flash Panic!

Posted in A Life in the Day, Cool places in New York, The EXPERIENCE! on 27/08/2010 by todcrouch

Flash in the Panic!  12 writers, one page each!

August 25th, Nowhere Bar 8 pm.

I was asked to read for Charlie Vasquez’s Panic Reading Series, which is always a fun experience.  The fun and challenging part of this particular event was using only one page and one side to tell a story.  I read from “The only life I ever intentionally ruined”, but the other pieces stood out far more.

Some of the highlights from this particular line-up gave the right amount of sizzle or hilarity.  Rachel Kramer Bussel, hostess of the In the Flesh Reading Series, read  about being inspired from a Brookyln bar called “Cokey’s” (Yes, that’s exactly what its name implies) by opening a cupcake shop that provided oral satisfaction to women, both above and below the belt.  The exceedingly handsome Tomas Rafael Montavalo curled the toes of many with his poem about taking it, twisting the plot with a strap-on.  Gabrielle Rivera blew my mind as she came late to the mike from the bathroom (her friend still waiting inside) and blasted us with a hilarious story called “Fingerbang”, recounting her first fingerfuck in a bowling alley.  Garrett Ford read a lovelorn scene from one of his previous plays and Charlie Vasquez read from his new book Contraband.  Matthew K. Johnson read a sexy little piece, with the help of some expanded margins, with his relatable brand of compelling sexual anxiety.  Newcomer to the mike was the Nowhere Bartender, Patrick Kelleher, who told of us of his first day on the job at East Village gay bar fixture Boiler Room in the 90s.  Bar Manager John Williams closed out the show by unfolding this endlessly enormous page, still sticking to the guidelines–he could have read for hours off of it, but surprised us with something short and sweet.

we ran smoothly.  Whereas Charlie usually introduces us with a brief bio, he asked us where we were from and the direction of our work.  I explained by background and how I was usually long-winded, then looked up to see Charlie completely disappear from my side.  The fast and loose outline we went in was a nice change of pace, in the building suspense of what and who we would experience next, ourselves included.  

I was under the impression that a page would last a minute, but among the writers we ran smoothly.  I know I’m leaving out some people–I have to get better at recording these events as I attend them.  At the reading,   Kierkergaard’s dog ate Shroedenger’s Cat.

Brion Gysin is Alive and Well and Living on the Bowery

Posted in A Life in the Day, Cool places in New York, Nerding Out, The EXPERIENCE! on 27/08/2010 by todcrouch

He is that he is, and is that he is he.

Brion Gysin: Dream Machine

New Museum 7/7/10–10/3/10

http://www.newmuseum.org/exhibitions/422

As one of the most intriguing contemporary artistic Shamen of the 20th century, who believes as Brian Eno does– that art serves a purpose we have not evolved into yet.  As a painter, a novelist, a magician, a subversive, inventor and a restaurateur, he never really achieved commercial success, and still chugged along as though life was just another short-term gig,  just passing through.

I was first exposed to Gysin through my love of Burroughs, where I read  Gysin’s “The Process”, which was a most uncomfortable book to read, only because it was the first novel that ever read ME.    There’s the old Nietzschen phrase of staring  into the void that stares back, but to capture this in book form is downright pornographic, or retro-voyeuristic–like watching yourself being watched like a cam2cam, but about fifty years before computers.

I wandered into the New Museum on the Bowery, nearly a contradiction of terms, to chat up the ticket taker and make my way to the second floor, where Brion’s work commands respect.  Split into several rooms on the second floor, one stands amid the encased and numerous notebooks while being assaulted by one room of his film, “Towers Open Fire!” while in another room, his public performance of his sound poetry plays to a slide show in a darkened room.  The guests seemed to have little in common, save for this obscure artist of word and image.

Gysin made a point in an interview conducted by Genesis P. Orridge-Breyer wayback when where he mentioned that his paintings were best viewed when stoned, since he was stoned himself while creating it.  Thereby the art, when viewed by the stoned, recreates the mind-senses of the artist in the viewer and acts as a clean telepathic link between time, space, and mind.  Of course it sounds like hippie talk until it happens to you.  Surrounded by the paintings and collages resemble floor plans, architectural layouts, Max Ernst-esque landscapes–mixing in with lines of Arabic, French, or English.  But I’d researched all this before and other people are better at hyping up art.  I was here for The Dream Machine.

Epileptics need not apply.

In a small black room in the middle, various throw pillows surrounded the cylindrical twirling object. An art school girl sat with headphones to my left, while an old New York hippie sat smiling opposite, also wearing headphones, as The Museum supplied music which enhanced the kaleidoscopic qualities of the vision-creating device.  Calligraphy lined the inner chamber.  I sat down before the legendary object and closed my eyes.  I was unusually self-conscious about partaking in this, the way some would submit themselves to an i-doser tune.  The flicker device allows the mind to enter a dreamlike state, giving the individual waking dreams.

Like this on an Imax in strobe effect.

It was almost a shame to end it.  For a few minutes after, I felt as though my eyes were still vibrating from the experience.  There’s a few sites online that claim to be digital Dream Machines, by turning flickering a white screen, but these often feel harsh as opposed to the smooth contours of the original.

I left, alone into the bright streets, but somehow feeling Gysin walking with me through New York, taking his favorite roads, mapped out by a painting.

Charles Ludlam Comes Out of the Closet!

Posted in Cool places in New York, Film/TV, Nerding Out, The EXPERIENCE! on 24/08/2010 by todcrouch

Charles Ludlam On Film Anthology Film Archives, August 19-22

On August 19 I went to The Anthology Film Archives (which houses such awesomeness as the original reels of Maya Deren, Harry Smith, and Stan Brakhage), where I watched two recently discovered films by Charles Ludlam.

No, they don't have Matt Damon in them.

What you should know about Charles Ludlam: He was a big deal in the New York theater scene in the 60s and 70s by founding the Theater of the Ridiculous.  His style of transcendental camp could be compared by a neophyte such as myself to Joe Orton with more cross-dressing.  He is not Robert Ludlum, author of such crap as the Bourne Identity.

Worst. Drag Queen. Ever.

Everett Quinton introduced these two rare films, who had two of Ludlam’s movies sitting in a closet for decades.  With the help of the MoMA, Filmmaker Ira Sachs and Butt Magazine’s Adam Baran,  these rare arty-facts were first shown at the ongoing IFC Queer/Art/Film Festival and this was a rare occurrence to view these reels without having to claw the eyes out out of every queen to get a ticket.

I generally hold a certain disdain for New York sentimentality which infects many old-schoolers, lamenting the days of cheap rent, brutal muggings, murderous junkies,  and war-zone street scenes (my disdain is most likely based in envy), but when Everett Quinton gave his introduction to these films, it took a different angle, as he told us the behind the scenes anecdotes of the films were were about to watch.  He explained how the eccentric woman who ran the Coney Island Wax Museum loved making a Sambuca with coffee, and when a scene called for a match being lit in the wax museum (obviously forbidden), Everett would ask the owner to fetch him a Sambuca with coffee, which she would happily leave the room for.  Roll film, strike the match, shoot the scene, extinguish.  Everett and Charles were just two gay kids with a camera, having fun and making art–the dream assholes like me come to the city for.  The halcyon glint in his eye didn’t need explaining.

Everett hesitantly explained that there were problems with the movies, as Ludlam took a Proustian route in his final days as AIDS chipped away at him; he edited himself to death.  Surely, as I watched them, my inner cinematographer came out, noting scenes lasting too long or which plot-point needed further clarification.  But shit like that didn’t ultimately matter.  A friend of mine took his mother to a gallery where she saw a Rothko and she said, “I could do that”.  My friend said to his mother, “Yeah.  But you didn’t.”  It was very much the same vibe.  The lights  dimmed and we were all in for something special, something excavated only for us.

Charles Ludlam doing his cover of the CCR song, "Lookin' out my back door".

The first of the two silent black-and-white film was Museum of Wax, starring Charles Ludlam as an ex-con who breaks out of jail to find his girl abused by a gap-toothed beast of a man.  The film was rescored by the same dude who did the original, Peter Golub, who provided a dark ambiance rather than overdoing the standard mickey-mousing of setting a note to each step, giving the movie the feeling of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari among cracked wax statues of babies and b0ld lighting with strong shadows.  Museum held true to its roots, where actors clutched chests in despair, wistfully looking into the upper left corner of the screen, hoping for mercy, wringing  worried hands, and spying menacingly through doorways at the lusty betrayals endured before meting out the harsh lighting of wrath.

The second film, The Sorrows Of Dolores, was a riff off The Perils of Pauline, but this time around Pauline was Everett Quinton in drag.  Expressive and versatile, Everett donned a curly, platinum blond wig and inhabits the role of damsel-in-distress.  Based off the serial format rather than any of that Syd Field crap, every five minutes Dolores encounters some new harrowing ordeal (which is about as New York as it gets), whether it be a Cinderella-esque upbringing, sold into the white slave trade, being pimped out by a matronly queen bee, hilariously courted by a giant gorilla, or the triumphant Christmas prodigal ‘son’ happy ending, The Sorrows of Dolores rings true to its predecessors, leaving us all fully aware of the resilience that can only be expressed with a man in a wig.

As I left, I scoped the crowd.  The men were all survivors of this bygone era.  A man sitting next to me could have been twice my age, and I thought, “Back in the old days, you’d have to watch porn in a Times Square theater with a lot of other guys, and these cats remember those days before VHS or the internet.  How sad men my ‘youngish’ age must look, so removed from such experiences.  If these men were in a theater together 30 years ago, there wouldn’t be a dry pair of denim shorts in the house.”  Moments such as this proves AIDS can’t kill history if, as victors, we  write the history of our victorious battles, just like Charles Ludlam.

Meet the Lady: A Tribute to Pearl Bailey

Posted in Nerding Out, The EXPERIENCE! on 21/08/2010 by todcrouch

On August 18th, I had the chance to understand what Meet The Lady was about.  I previously visited the website created by Tom Blunt to find a most curious mixture of women–fierce or fail be damned.  These women are not your typical collection of pin ups, but odd dreamers of their own innocent world.  So when I had the chance to clarify this obtuse feminine mystique, I couldn’t resist. The central lady of celebration was Pearl Bailey (and not Minnie Pearl, as I thought), a black performer who started in vaudeville and made her way as a solid supporting actress in such films as Carmen Jones, Porgy and Bess, St. Louis Blues (which also showcases the talents of Mahalia Jackson, Nat King Cole, and a very young Eartha Kitt) as well as the lead in the all-black performance of Hello Dolly.    Between clips, Mr. Blunt played the “straight” man to the boisterous comedienne Roslyn Hart, who plays in The Shells Show at Joe’s Pub as a stock analyst who decides to become a cabaret singer.

But why, of all people, celebrate Pearl Bailey?  A marginal actress with a long list of albums didn’t seem to justify a full evening honoring her until you scratch the surface of whatever you could glean from a wikipedia page.

She never played the Grand Ol' Opry.

Actress Cassandra Freeman read two excerpts from Bailey’s autobiography, “The Raw Pearl”, which provided memorable insights to Bailey’s daring character.  Colin Shepard also read a hilarious short piece about how Pearl Bailey smuggled Truman Capote out of LAX among her entourage.

What set this night apart from a sentimental “Remembering Pearl Bailey” showcase at the 92Y Tribeca Cultural Center was everything included in the $12 ticket:  Not only were there free cookies made from the Pearl Bailey Cookbook (which also served as a prize for guessing how many theater references were in her finale on The Muppet Show), but the hosts called their mothers on stage (which should be done more often) to ask if they remembered Pearl Bailey.  They even played a small humorous game show, showing various photos from the Meet The Lady website, where two contestants had to guess the back story for the women shown.

Edna St. Vincent Millay's not-as successful younger sister. She had some light verse published, but that's about it.

After cookies, clips, calls to moms, captioning, rewards, and readings, as my first Meet The Lady event, I have to say I left feeling full of experience.  It had an anything-can-happen vibe that one would expect from an Andy Kaufman set.  As the unscripted phone call to Ms. Hart’s mother carried the warning, “She’s had a stroke.  And she’s Southern.”  I silently cringed that this would be one of those disasters only live theater provides–but Mama Hart sang us a little song and we all gave her rousing applause.  You always feel good when someone puts poor old mom on speakerphone so she can hear a room full of people clapping for her.  It turns out Meeting the Lady is not as mysterious as originally believed.

Check out Meet the Lady at:

http://meetthelady.tumblr.com/page/1

The Only Life I Ever Intentionally Ruined

Posted in Flash, shorts on 21/08/2010 by todcrouch

I grew up in a hard-hitting white-knuckle town, where the boy scouts burned crosses in people’s yards for impure blood and got badges for it.  My principle was the head of the KKK and they expelled the local faggot because when they’s throwin’ pennies at him, he was the reason for all that unruly behavior.  And we were some hard-hitting faggots who didn’t take no guff from nobody, penny-welts and all.  Nobody gives a shit out there, and can’t reach out far enough for a hand to tell us it’s all… going to be…okay…and that’s the daily American life for most of us, alone and on the defensive.  And then I just couldn’t do it anymore.

Some faggot-hating freshman leaned over on the school bus home on the wrong day at the wrong time, when I told him the truth.  Quarterback Jim was boning my good gay friend on the sidelines.  Gay Jason called Quarterback Jim from my house, and I listened in.  Wildfire took notes on how to spread more quickly from a maelstrom of teenage gossip.  By five o’clock, a posse arrived at my mother’s house, though I no longer lived there.  I very nearly skipped school the next day, but decided to get at it with all the chagrin of the doomed.

Thrown into High School Politics, I denied outing myself—for it would merely discredit me in the eyes of thine enemy. Teachers could barely maintain control during my classes as I fielded the PR catastrophe of outing Gay Jason, which was no secret to anyone—for he boned  every dude at that school, except for me of course.  As my credibility was attacked, my first failed love turned turned against me, telling everyone I wanted him to pee in my butt.  Since Internet porn had yet to prove this impossible, I sprung this physical impossibility on my health teacher.  “Coach, is it possible to pee in someone’s butt?”  Flustered, and knowing every detail about the current scandal said simply, “No.  That’s impossible.”  I thanked him in front of my detractors, proving my lover-turned-hater a complete idiot.

We ate silently while flecks of cooked carrots came our way until Quarterback Jim came at us in a fury of curses as his close friend, camping neighbor, and wrestling partner, Wrestler Armando pulled Quarterback Jim suspiciously away from us.  Wrestler Armando told the fallen star it just wasn’t worth it.  Wrestler Armando now fell into question aswell, sending everyone into a Lavender scare: suddenly everyone was gay. But yeah, Armando was totally tappin’ that, too.  We left the outed football player in tears and walked through the gymnasium and into the loudest hate rally ever: pennies chimed off the basketball court and deafened louder than any pep rally or homecoming game win.  At the other end of the hall, our stout Principal waited, arms crossed and scowling because of the mess we made, and forbade us from ever coming into the gymnasium again.

We had to run home that day, chased by a pitchfork-wielding mob.  Everyone has pitchforks in the Midwest.

Coach pulled the football team aside at practice and said, “Not anymore.  Kids die from stuff like this and what you are doing is very illegal.  If I hear so much of a word to those kids from you, you’re not only off the football team, but you’re expelled for the rest of the year.”  Looks like Coach wasn’t all bad.  He didn’t even bust us for having such a good time playing baseball after smoking weed in the parking lot.  We were enjoying sports, finally.

Well, Gay Jason ended up on the Ricki Lake Show.  Wrestler Armando got married, had two kids, works at a fitness center and goes camping with his buddies.  A lot.  Quarterback Jim was the most scorned man in high school, unable to get laid his senior year and throughout most of his college—too gay for the girls and too much of a hypocrite for the boys, what there were of us.  I sometimes feel bad about ruining his life, but it just goes to show Quentin Crisp was right:  Some roughs are really queer, and some queers are really rough.