Monday, May 29, 2017

Ask JKM a Question: Slouching Towards Bethlehem?



A reader and fellow blogger named David writes:

“I’m a blogger too, so don't lie to me.  I know that you have probably thought about this. You've been at this a long time.

A lot of bloggers compose a final post while they are still writing their blogs.

So my question is: have you composed your last post even in your head if not on the screen, and if so what are the contents of it?”



David, are you trying to get rid of me?

Seriously, I agree that all bloggers think about “the end,” even if fleetingly, at one point or another during the lifetime of a blog.   

Sometimes, their blog has lived a very long time, and the author has simply had the opportunity to say everything he or she wanted to say.

Sometimes they write that final post because they are tired or frustrated. 

Sometimes they write it because a better opportunity has come up, somewhere else. 

Sometimes they write such a post for the sake of posterity, I suppose.

Usually, as I said, however, that thought is fleeting.  

But there is something, perhaps, in the very nature of blogging that makes a writer want to have the last word, and grant the ongoing journal some sense of closure…like finishing a (really long...) book, for example. 

I really hate going to a blog I love and seeing that it just withered on the vine, that posts just stopped coming for no apparent reason. 

I always wonder: what happened?  

Is the blogger still with us? What made him or her give up writing?  

Too many really fine blogs have ended in that fashion.

So I do feel that closure is important for both the writer and reader. I am grateful for all the great bloggers I have read over the years who decided to compose that final post, and tell us that they were moving on.

If and when I stop blogging, I know this: I’ll be closer to my destination -- whatever that destination happens to be -- and I’ll be a different person/writer/blogger than I am today, right now.  

So, my final blog post will come at the end of the blog, and hopefully reflect the journey that I have taken, in its last steps.  

Writing it now wouldn't reflect or be true to the journey I described.

So I can tell you, definitively, I haven't written a final post.

Things could always change for me (like the end of Net-Neutrality; the creation of a tiered-Internet that relegates my blog to a slow lane...), but right now, I don't foresee the end. 

If readers keep coming, I'll keep writing..

On that front, my blog audience has changed or rolled over three or four times in the nearly 13 years since I started. Those who read it now aren't necessarily those who started with it. Some folks have outgrown me, I guess, and some new folks have found my work and become regular, current readers. 

The numbers wax and wane. I'll have a great year, then I have a flat year, then a better year.  My blog has never been a big, flashy "it" blog or boutique destination, but it doesn't have to be, either.  I'm just happy to have a platform to write, every single day, and I'm delighted to have a consistent, lovely, intelligent readership.

I am a full-time instructor at a community college for a year now (teaching film, among other subjects), so it has become harder to blog every single day, multiple times, but that doesn't mean that I plan to stop blogging.  Some weeks, I have to rely on a rerun post or too, to get through.

But honestly, there's too much exciting stuff happening, and I enjoy blogging too much to entirely stop. A new Star Trek series, new Twin Peaks and more X-Files (season 11!) are all on the way. 

So I may not always blog 1400 times a year every year from here to eternity, but nor do I imagine just stopping cold.

Therefore, I hope you'll still be reading...and I promise not to spring "the end" on you. At this moment, I have 737 blog posts banked in the queue.

And in the meantime, perhaps I'll devote some mental energy to what my last post might look like...but probably not.  

I'll tackle that on the day the end comes. 

Don’t forget to ask me your questions at Muirbusiness@yahoo.com

Cult-TV Theme Watch: Tigers


A tiger is a large, solitary cat, one renowned for its fierceness and raw power.

Given such noble and strong qualities, it is no surprise, perhaps, that tigers have appeared frequently throughout cult-TV history.

In the original Star Trek (1966-1969), for example, a tiger appeared in the early first season episode "Shore Leave."  


As you may recall, this episode concerned an amusement park planet where the "wishes" of every crew member become reality.  Late in the episode -- while Captain Kirk (William Shatner) is grappling with an old tormentor named Finnegan and an old flame named Ruth -- he must also deal with a loose, Bengal tiger.  According to legend (which may be apocryphal...), William Shatner thought Kirk should wrestle the tiger, until someone talked him out of it.


The same year, Batman (1966-1968) featured a two-part episode called "The Purr-Fect Crime/Better Luck Next Time" featuring Julie Newmar's Catwoman. There, Batman was forced to contend with her pet, a tiger.

A few years back, a tiger was also seen in Hannibal (2013 - 2015).  


The third and final season of this gripping series was an adaptation of the Thomas Harris novel Red Dragon, and involved a serial killer, Francis Dollarhyde (Richard Armitage). This "Tooth Fairy" killer developed a romantic relationship with a blind woman, Reba (Rutina Wesley), and at one point took her to visit a sedated tiger at the zoo. There, Reba was able to put her head to the tiger's chest, and feel the powerful animal's breathing.

The most celebrated of recent cult-TV tigers is no doubt Shiva, the constant companion of King Ezekiel (Khary Payton), on AMC's The Walking Dead (2010 - ).  


Ezekiel goes nowhere without Shiva, and rules the Kingdom from his throne, with the tiger at his side.  In the season seven finale, viewers see the more aggressive side of not-quite-domesticated Shiva.  She launches an attack on Negan's minions at Alexandria.

Finally, tigers play an important role in Carnival Magic (1981), a bizarre "experiment" on Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Return (2017 - ).

The Cult-TV Faces of: Tigers

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Saturday, May 27, 2017

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Lidsville: "A Little Hoodoo Goes A Long Way."


In “A Little Hoo-Doo Goes a Long Way,” Weenie (Billie Hayes) falls ill with the dreaded Ali-Baba virus.

Meanwhile, the Bad Hats mutiny against Hoo-Doo (Charles Nelson Reilly) when he demands they clean his house for him. 

The Bad Hats steal Hoo-Doo’s hat vehicle, the Hataram, and head for the real world. But the Hataram ends up in Mark’s (Butch Patrick) hands, ultimately.

He can’t leave for home, however, because he is worried about the sick Weenie. He and the other Good Hats come up with a plan to heal Weenie, and it involves a shrink ray that will get Nursie into Weenie’s ring.

                                               
Lidsville (1971-1973) sticks rigorously to format this week, featuring a story in which Mark could – again -- get home, using Hoo-Doo’s hat vehicle, but must stay in Lidsville because of his friendship with the “goodie-goodies” (as Hoo-Doo calls them), namely Weenie.

What this means, essentially is that the hat-a-ram (motorized flying hat) is the key to escaping Lidsville. It seems like Mark would set his sights, each week, on getting it again.  But, of course, he doesn’t do that.  Because that would end the series real quick.

It is surprising, however, that the Bad Hats rebel against Hoo-Doo here. However, I suppose that being asked to clean house is a mutiny-worthy offense, especially to a child watching this program on a Saturday morning. It’s one thing to lord it over the Good Hats, or collect back taxes. But having to clean up? That’s the worst.



In terms of series mythology, we see in “A Little Hoo-Doo Goes a Long Way” that the genie ring is actually permeable. By that, I mean you can just step through the gem into Weenie’s world inside. Nursie is able to, after being shrunk, walk right inside it. Inside, the sick Weenie is there, shrunken, but bed-ridden in her own little universe.

The gimmick of the week is a shrinking potion, used first by Nursie, and then used against Hoo-Doo to limit his threatening nature. The shrinking scenes are accomplished using the chroma-key, which was a frequently-used tool for the Kroffts in the 1970’s.

Next week: “Oh Brother.”

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: The Ghost Busters: "The Abominable Snowman" (December 13, 1975)


In the final episode of the Saturday morning series The Ghost Busters, the evil Dr. Centigrade (Ronny Graham) materializes with his sidekick, the Abominable Snowman, in the local graveyard. 

Everything the Abominable Snowman touches turns to ice, so he needs the heart of a warm-blooded human to replace his own.  

Dr. Centigrade determines the perfect candidate: Spenser!

Zero (Lou Scheimer) assigns the Ghost Busters to take down the ghostly duo, but Spenser bumbles his way onto Dr. Centigrade’s operating table.



The Abominable Snowman certainly made the rounds on Saturday morning television. He appeared in the third and final season of Land of the Lost (1975-1977), and in Bigfoot and Wild Boy (1977-1978) too.  Here, in The Ghost Busters, he is a shaggy, innocent (ghost) creature with no menace whatsoever. 

All the evil in the episode is provided by the scenery-chewing Ronny Graham who, as Dr. Centigrade, delivers his dialogue to the camera, consistently breaking the fourth-wall.

The actual plot here is a hold-over from “Jekyll and Hyde: Together for the First Time.” That episode saw Dr. Jekyll plotting to use the personality-less Spenser for a supernatural grafting of the Mr. Hyde personality.  In this episode, Spenser’s heart is needed to give the abominable snowman new life.



As we come to the end of The Ghost Busters journey, I will confess that I have developed a grudging respect for the slapstick, immensely silly series from 40-plus years ago.  

The same jokes get repeated every single week, the plots are ludicrous, and the sets and acting are cardboard.  And yet the show breaks you down with its inanity and good-heart. 

The Ghost Busters breaks through your resistance, and you just have to laugh at its weird flights of fancy.  I don't know that Saturday mornings have ever produced a weirder program than this one. 

Friday, May 26, 2017

Tribute 2017: Jared Martin (1941-2017)


The press is today reporting the death of Jared Martin (1941-2017), an actor who is likely best-known to TV fans as a regular on the prime-time soap opera Dallas (1978-1991).

That description only tells part of the story, however. Jared Martin was also -- for more than twenty-five years -- a beloved presence on science fiction and horror television programming.

Jared Martin was best known in the genre for playing the lead role in The Fantastic Journey (1977). In that series, Mr. Martin portrayed a pacifist from the future named Varian. Varian was trapped in the Bermuda Triangle with characters from Atlantis, and elsewhere.

More than a decade later, Jared Martin played the lead role of Dr. Harrison Blackwood on the syndicated hit War of the Worlds (1988-1990).


Mr. Martin also had memorable guest roles on many genre hits through the years. He appeared in "Tell David," a memorable segment of Rod Serling's Night Gallery (1969-1973), and in "Fear Factor," an episode of Logan's Run (1977).



Mr. Martin also appeared in TV series such as The Incredible Hulk, Fantasy Island, Tales of the Gold Monkey, Knight Rider, and Airwolf.  He truly was a ubiquitous presence throughout two-decades of programming.

I will always remember Mr. Martin, in particular, for his thoughtful performances as Varian, on The Fantastic Journey. He brought a great dignity and inner strength to that role that is not easily forgotten. Jared Martin played Varian as a man who led not by violence or threats or intimidation, but through his intelligence and curiosity.

My condolences to Mr. Martin's friends and family at this difficult time. Rest in peace, Jared Martin.

Planet of the Apes TV Series Blogging: "The Legacy" (October 11, 1974)


In “The Legacy,” refugees Virdon (Ron Harper), Burke (James Naughton) and Galen (Roddy McDowall) travel to the ruins of a 20th century city and discover a government think-tank there.  

The hologram of a long-dead scientist informs the visitors that in buildings around the world are seeded discs containing crucial scientific information that can save the human race. 

One such vault is in this very city.

Unfortunately, the ancient computer needs to be recharged, a task that becomes of primary importance to Virdon in his quest to return home to his family and the 20th century.  He and the others separate, in hopes of procuring supplies which can help them build a re-charger.

But Virdon is promptly captured by General Urko (Mark Lenard) and Dr. Zaius (Booth Colman) and held in a 20th century building that resembles a castle.

There, Zaius hopes to use a captured human female, Arn (Zina Bethune) and child, Kraik (Jackie Earle Haley) to gain Virdon’s confidence, believing that humans are “extremely vulnerable in family situations.”



Could man have ever known so much and done so little with it?” Galen asks his human friends in “The Legacy,” and that’s a good question.  

It’s an interrogative that gets right at the undercurrent of social commentary that runs through the 1974 series, and reminds viewers that man, after a fashion, is responsible  -- in this universe at least -- for his own destruction.

Unfortunately, the idea is not presented as clearly or as cleanly as it might be on Planet of the Apes because of some of the staging/background information/costuming choices we get here. 


For example, the hologram of the human scientist (Jon Lormer) appears at one point, and we see a wise old human in a futuristic kind of lab-coat or outfit.  How are we to square this gent’s futuristic appearance with the fact that the human race killed itself, essentially, in a nuclear war? 

How did humanity become advanced and destroy itself, in other words?  I don't believe that Virdon and Burke wore clothes like this in their everyday lives, so the implication is that this human existed long after they disappeared.  

So why does the city look so...mid-20th century?  

The Planet of the Apes TV series never quite explains these contradictions. The apes must rise because humanity falls. And humanity falls because of the species’ own, flawed, warring nature.  But this guy looks pretty peaceful and serene.

Overlooking this problem in internal historical consistency, “The Legacy” is still likely one of the stronger episodes of the short-lived series in part because it at least attempts to move forward the overall story-arc about the fall of man, and the mechanism by which Virdon hopes to return home and warn the species.

The episode’s title “The Legacy” also works dramatically in a number of intriguing ways. One of mankind’s legacies is the destroyed city itself, a place that was once a paradise but is now in ruins. 

To put a fine point on the matter: Destruction is humanity's legacy.

The vaults filled with scientific knowledge also represent man’s legacy.  They symbolize his ability to look to the future even when all seems lost in the present. Virdon is understandably giddy about excavating this particular legacy.  He waxes poetic about the idea of a “lot of long-forgotten ideas that would make this a nicer world.”  

In part, this is because Virdon is an optimist.  Even after everything, he would rather see the good in mankind than the evil.

Similarly, we might think of the a legacy in terms of Zaius’s dialogue about humanity being vulnerable in family situations.  

Virdon is a family man through and through, and that legacy of family leads him to accept Kraik and Arn as family members, at least after a fashion.  But the idea of family proves not to be the deadly weakness that Zaius hopes, but rather the strength by which the humans survive and endure.  

Eventually, this human family comes together, and escapes the trap Zaius has set.  Perhaps our legacy is that in bad times, we stick together, and accept others into our "tribe."


Finally, Virdon makes specific mention of a legacy in regards to the human custom of the hand-shake.  He notes that people don’t really know why they do it….they just do it.  The original purpose for the hand shake (involving the drawing of a sword...) is long since inoperative by the 20th century, and by Virdon's time. Yet the tradition endures.

This raises another significant question about mankind.  Is he simply a mindless being who does things by rote, because they are familiar to him?  Does this account for his propensity to make war?

Or does man lean on tradition and convention because they honor who he hopes to be as a species?  It is true that he makes war, but he also clings to family.

The idea of legacy, threaded throughout the episode, makes this installment a fairly-layered and compelling one.

Unfortunately, the story arc about the knowledge vaults introduced in “The Legacy” is never continued in the short-lived series.  It would have been great to see the astronauts go in search of and perhaps find another vault, one possessing different secrets.  This is a series with such a rich backdrop, and such rich potential.  And yet most of the stories fail to mine the possibilities.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Happy 40th Anniversary, Star Wars (May 25, 1977)


 

I will always remember the summer of 1977 and the coming of Star Wars.  It is difficult for me to reckon that it happened forty long years ago.

Where has the time gone?

I was in second grade in 1977, and a friend who lived up the block from me in Glen Ridge, N.J. came to school one morning clutching a Star Wars movie booklet; one that featured imagery of Dewbacks, Banthas, Tusken Raiders, Jawas, C3PO, Chewbacca, Darth Vader and other characters of seemingly impossible and unbelievable imagination. 

I had never seen so many strange creatures assembled between two covers, and I so listened in awe as Stephen, my friend, described the film to me in some detail. I still didn't quite understand why robots were co-existing with monsters and other creatures. 



It seemed...weird.

At this point, I should add, I was still high on King Kong (1976), and could not quite believe that any movie might possibly surpass that particular viewing experience.  

So sue me.  I was seven.

Soon after my introduction via Stephen to Star Wars, my parents took me and my sister to see the film at a movie theater in Paramus N.J., and I couldn’t wait to see what I would make of the movie.


Only -- in actuality -- I could wait. 

In line. 

For close to three hours. 

The line at the theater stretched around the large rectangular building -- around three corners -- and then led out into the huge parking lot. And the line moved at a snail’s pace.

Finally, of course, we got into the auditorium, and it was absolutely packed. Everyone in my family had to squeeze past other patrons to find four seats together. For awhile, it looked like that might not even be a possibility.

And then the movie started, and my life changed.  The movie swept me away into another world; nay another reality. My father remembers to this day, that he actually felt breathless during the final Death Star attack scene, it was so exciting.

That's how I felt too.

That night -- before I went to bed -- my mother asked me if I had liked the movie. My mind was still reeling, and I said that I did.  But I suppose I was a little reserved in my answer. 

She then absolved me of my guilt: “It’s okay, John if you liked it better than King Kong,” she said, apparently sensing my loyalty and allegiance to the big ape.  

My façade cracked quickly at that point and I was glad and relieved to admit the truth.

I had liked Star Wars a whole lot better than King Kong.  It truly was…amazing, like nothing I had ever imagined.  

But at that point, I could not imagine what Star Wars would one day become, or how it would change our world.

I did not imagine, at age seven, that the film would open up the floodgates for other space movies that I would come to love and cherish, like Alien (1979), The Black Hole (1979), and Moonraker (1979).

I did not imagine that George Lucas's vision would change the shape of television, a medium which would soon bring us Battlestar Galactica (1978-1981), and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1979-1982).

I did not understand that Star Wars' success would be the impetus to finally bring back the long-on-hiatus Star Trek franchise.

Nor did I understand that the film would shape science fiction and fantasy cinema for decades to come.

And finally, I could not imagine that one day I would be taking my very own nine year old son out of school early to catch an afternoon show of a Star Wars sequel (The Force Awakens) or prequel (Rogue One).  

Star Wars has, finally, become something that I share with a different family; with my wife and son.

At seven -- way back in 1977 -- I suppose, I was just thinking about my favorite character, Han Solo, and how cool it would be to play Star Wars (1977) on the playground at school with my friends.

Forty years have now passed, and I am, a middle-aged man. That school playground is back, quite a distance, in my rear-view mirror. There is more white than red in my beard now. 

But Star Wars endures, evergreen, -- a veritable cinematic fountain of youth.  

It is a story, and represents a kind of storytelling that -- across the generations -- possesses the power to make each one of us feel young again. It is a call to adventure of an innocent and joyful type.  It evokes childhood, and yet is not childish.

Where were you, and how old were you, when you first saw Star Wars?  

Let me know in the comments section below.  And happy fortieth birthday to Star Wars.