Thursday, September 27, 2007

For SCTV fans

I've got a book that lovingly lists and describes every one of Claude Rains's movies, TV appearances, stage performances and radio recordings. On the Yahoo discussion group I used to frequent, we'd consult this tome so often we gave up listing the name and just referred to it as "The Book". Well, now SCTV has a volume that will eventually be known to fans as simply The Book - 'Second City Television - A History and Episode Guide' by Jeff Robbins. It's an absolute must-have for any fan of SCTV, and is available through Amazon.com and Amazon.ca, and probably other Amazons, if you use them.

This book is an episode-by-episode guide to every memorable sketch, character, and line created in the roughly 8 years SCTV was on the air. Dave Thomas's book SCTV: Behind the Scenes provided lists of each episode in the appendix pages at the back, but I always found them very confusing and difficult to use - closely printed, and just listed by title. Robbins's book uses that basic information and then provides several paragraphs describing some of the plotlines underway in the episode, as well as giving reference information such as the original appearance of a repeated bit (some of the commercial parodies were reused many times in later episodes). New characters are carefully noted upon first appearance, as well as their later evolution - Raoul Wilson, for example, the disgustingly oversexed host of "Men On Women" later evolved into Dr. Rawl Withers, editor of the tabloid National Midnight Star and host of 'Hollywood Dirt Tonight'. Performers who appeared as guests or eventually became cast members are also listen by name - I never knew who was the actor who played Robert Wellesley, Libby Wolfsson's opponent in her disastrous attempt to run for Councilperson during the great Melonville Election episode (Melonvote). I also didn't know some of the guests they had on the show. Betty Thomas from 'Hill Street Blues' was one of the dejected women on 'The Women Who Donahue Forgot', and since I'd never watched that show, I didn't know who she was.

Robbins isn't shy about rating the episodes and sketches, and for the most part his opinion tracks exactly with mine, so of course I appreciate his evaluations! I'm glad to know that I'm not the ONLY one who thought a little Mrs. Prickley went a long, long way, and that by the end, she was being overused to the point of positive aggravation. I differ on a few others, but that's to be expected, and Robbins is always reasoned in explaining why he thinks a sketch doesn't work. If it happened to strike me in just a slightly different way (NASA's production of 'Murder in the Cathedral' is one that has grown on me through its oddity to the point where I quite enjoy it) it doesn't detract from his very intelligent reading of the piece.

The book filled in a lot of gaps in my knowledge; I now realize that I must have started watching SCTV at episode 3, because I have no recollection of anything he describes in the first two episodes. There are also some later ones I never saw, from the Cinemax years - naturally, we didn't get that early specialty channel. I just wonder now where I could have seen some of the pieces I remember - I did see "2009: Jupiter and Beyond" (and hated it), but where could I have seen it? It must have been included in a later syndication package. And once SCTV moved to late night on NBC, I saw it less often because I was in school and just couldn't stay up that late. There are some lines I now know correctly for the first time, because I just didn't hear them before. During Lola Heatherton's disastrous "Bouncing Back to You!" special, she's both high on pills and deeply depressed, and launches into a terrible, self-pitying song as she has a nervous breakdown on live TV. But I never really heard all of the followup rant, which Robbins hilariously gives in its entirety:
Embarrassing would describe the roll call of SCTV staff members that Lola has bedded, which she without warning begins to recite before being dragged out of the studio: "Mr. Guy Caballero! Johnny 'Why don't you just suffocate me' LaRue! Bobby 'How was I?' Bittman! Count Floyd, you're so bad it's scary! Bob and Doug, you hosers!"

The best thing about the book, though, is that it's FUNNY. I was laughing out loud every few pages, as Robbins would summarize some particularly amusing scene or transcribe some hilarious dialogue. It's almost as good as watching the show itself; of course, with the book as a prompt, I can replay all these scenes in my mind much faster than I can look them up on dvd, if they're even available. Now when we want to remind each other of past episodes, we don't have to rely on recitation from faulty memories - we can just read them out from the book.

Is it safe to look?

The Episcopal House of Bishops have done their thing in New Orleans. The reports on StandFirm were coming so thick and fast, I couldn't keep up, and I wasn't able to monitor the computer fulltime the way I did last year at GC. However, by the last day, it was obvious that a disaster had taken place.

I've been a bit reluctant to write anything about it, because people I like are still invested in this trainwreck, and I don't want to antagonize them (I don't care about antagonizing people I don't like). And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I'd pretty much said everything that could be said back in February at the time of the Dar es-Salaam meeting and after reading the communique. I'd like to say something new besides "I told you so," but there isn't much left. Just that not even I imagined that the so-called "Windsor Bishops" would slink away from the battle so cravenly. As Hitler said when planning the Russian campaign, "You have only to kick in the door, and the whole rotten structure will come crashing down." In true totalitarian fashion, TEC applied his formula to the dissident wing of their own "church" and found it to be true. I guess we're just lucky the Russians weren't Episcopalians.

Of course, there's special pleading now for understanding - they're old, they're tired, the fix was in, and haven't they done great work for conservatives in the past? It's all true, but it doesn't matter. I remember a great sermon by Father Smith once, where he said that God has a job in mind for each of us, even though we don't know what it will be. Maybe it will be physically hard, like dying for our faith, or maybe it will be something seemingly trivial and unimportant at the time, like saying the truth when it would be easier not to. But the point is, we never know when that moment is coming, and if we blow it, we can never be sure that another chance will ever come. We have to be ready at every moment. These bishops weren't ready, and now I think their chance has gone forever. What would have happened if they'd voted No? If they'd walked out of the debate? If they'd gone to the door and told the reporters assembled outside that the rules had been rigged and the whole event was a fraud? This wasn't the Wannsee Conference; they weren't facing Nazis and Soviet Communists. What would have happened was that the other bishops - the majority - would have looked at them. You know...they would have given them...a look. And now that the Westerners have wet themselves with fear and run away, the cry goes up that the Africans have to come and save them. Isn't there anyone embarrassed to throw the burden of this fecklessness on people who ARE facing death and destruction for their faith? It seems shameless to me.

As I said in my earlier post, I no longer urge people to leave for Rome or other destinations. If they're staying in TEC after all this, they really, really want to. I remember reading Winston Churchill's biography of his great ancestor, the Duke of Marlborough, and he described how one side of his family had ended up on the wrong side of the Civil War, with the unfortunate result that their manor house was destroyed by Roundheads. For all the years of the Protectorate, the family remained huddled in the ruins of their home, progressively moving further back to safer areas as the roof continued to collapse over their heads. Lucky for them, the Restoration finally came and they got some compensation from the King. No such reversal will come for the wrecked survivors of TEC, but eventually they may get used to living in a shanty.

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Thursday, September 20, 2007

Busy week

Sorry for the radio silence; it's been a busy week, with James sick with a cold AND having to go to CHEO for a dental cleaning - not a good combination. He was so drained after the ordeal he wouldn't let me stop at the grocery store for milk, so we had to struggle through breakfast the next day with nothing but coffee cream for Dean's cereal.

Today I was caught up in a frenzy of cooking - yesterday I'd picked another 2 quarts of raspberries, so today was jam-making day (probably the last one). Emma is so crazy about raspberry jam, she could eat a jar a week, so I figured it would be a good investment to make another batch of jam to stretch out over the winter. Then, once the jam was done, I had to make a big pan of brownies in honour of Yin's first birthday.

The other thing that's been occupying me this week is old telephone repair. Thanks to The Bovina Bloviator, I found my way to a very informative site on old telephones, of which I have a small collection. I haven't gone to the trouble of trying to find really rare ones, but I like the old rotary-dial ones, especially the wall phones, and this summer I got a box lot of 3 or 4 for a dollar at an auction, and thought it would be nice to see if I could get them working. Thanks to this website, I found wiring diagrams of the Northern Electric 550 desk phone and the 554AB wall phone (I have 2 of each). Some of them were set up for party lines, so the wires had to be switched around to make the ringer work. Lo and behold, it works! I've gotten 3 of them converted to the modern modular wall connection, and they all operate correctly - I'll work on the 4th one tomorrow.

I had one failure - an old pushbutton avocado green phone I'd gotten a few years ago. It worked, but the ringer wouldn't operate. AFter trying everything they suggested, I had to conclude that the bell was really broken - the little cylinder battery attached had some marks on it, that made me think it might have gotten wet at some point, and I couldn't get it to operate. It's not worth trying to get a replacement part - finding another old phone would be much cheaper. As it happens, James and Thomas are in a Fireman Sam craze, and James has been pestering us to get him a real fire bell, like they have on the show. I saw that the bell inside the old phone looks EXACTLY like a small fire bell, so I pulled it out and gave it to him to play with. The rest of the phone I just threw away.

Now that I've got them working, I'm going to install a wall phone by the basement stairs, and another one in our bedroom. Oddly enough, cordless phones just will not work properly at the front of the house - I don't know why, maybe it's that there are electrical lines running down the street out front, and we're actually in view of the main hydro towers that run just 2 blocks away from our house. Maybe it causes enough interference that the phones don't work, but we always have to take a call and run to the back of the house to be heard. I just want a proper ground line phone in our room, which should be immune to all that interference. Of course, it has one heck of a ringer, so I might want to turn the volume down - hearing that thing go off in the middle of the night would produce the old Sylvester-the-Cat-clinging-to-the-ceiling effect.

This week I discovered a blast from the past on YouTube - an old TV series from 1983 called "Wizards and Warriors" which I absolutely LOVED. It was short-lived; I looked it up on IMDb and was astonished to see that they only made 8 episodes. Dungeons and Dragons was very popular at that time, and this was inspired by the game. Someone posted the opening credits on YouTube, and now I begin to remember why I loved it. First of all, it had the most impossibly handsome villain I have ever seen - a Canadian actor named Duncan Regehr. (When I asked my sister if she remembered this show, she immediately answered, "Oh, yes, and the incredible crush I had on Prince Blackpool!") The the other thing I realized was that the theme was very enjoyable. Once on the radio I heard some music buffs playing a game - they played obscure TV tunes, and tried to guess what sort of action the music was accompanying. They actually did pretty well, correctly getting the impression of armies marching, spaceships swooping, tragic lamenting, etc. 'Wizards and Warriors' sounds exactly like knights on horseback, swordfighting and daring escapes.

Maybe it will come out on dvd some day. Funny how those hairstyles from the 70s and 80s have really dated. You never watch old movies from the 40s and think, "Wow, look how silly their hair was!" I was always having my heart broken when TV shows I liked would just disappear - 'Paul Sand in Friends and Lovers' was another one that barely lasted half a season. It was a sitcom from the 70s about musicians in a symphony orchestra - very original, and I don't think anyone has used that idea since. Of course, it wasn't popular enough to last. Sigh...

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Our antique concerns

Quick! Tell the Queen! The Northwest Passage is open! Now we can sail to China! Maybe pick up the Franklin Expedition on the way, tell them the good news.

Canada is an odd place. I've noticed for years that nothing ever really changes here. We don't progress. We just keep gnawing over the same old bones, decade after decade. So a story about Global Warming™ manages to drag in that hoary old chestnut, The Search For The Northwest Passage, as if it were still 1840 and Britain is looking for a convenient market for woolen frocks. Every 10 years or so, the same weary round of "issues" grinds by - the seal hunt; the elusive "Canadian identity"; French on cereal boxes; today it's Arctic Sovereignty. Next year it'll be the Avro Arrow, as we explain once again why nothing has gone right since 1959. I envy the Americans for being able to think of new things, and forget about old ones. You actually get somewhere.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Guess I'll have to start carding visitors



Oddly enough, it was three mentions of "death" and one of "suicide" that cost me my family-friendly G rating, not the previous post on strippers!

Go here to rate your blog. (Hat tip to The Age To Come)

Monday, September 10, 2007

Braxton's Lear - Gypsy Rose Spong

Another old woman gets up on the TEC stage and starts stripping. I refer, of course, to John Shelby Spong's latest one-person show.

Most performers pace themselves, but Spong likes to start off by flinging a glove:
Dear Rowan
Aren't we just the cutest things, we Americans? So breezy, so informal, so refreshing! None of that stodgy insistence upon titles and honorifics.
I am delighted that you have agreed to meet with the House of Bishops of the American Episcopal Church in September, even if you appear to be unwilling to come alone. It has seemed strange that you, who have had so much to say about the American Church, have not been willing to do so before now.
After school. Behind the gym. Just you and me...and about 300 of my friends. You're not scared, are ya? Huh? Huh?
Your office is still honored by Episcopalians in this country, so our bishops will welcome you warmly and politely.
Your office, mind; not YOU. But we've got George Bush for a president, so we've had LOTS of experience rolling our eyes and grimacing.

Then follows a little promenade across the stage, to get the audience warmed up. It's subtitled, "A Timely History of Briefs" and consists of laboriously informing someone else about his own experiences, complete with the names of the Queen and Prime Minister who appointed him, just in case he'd forgotten. It's similar to the new Prayer Book, where we helpfully list God's accomplishments for Him in every prayer.
Perhaps you did not realize that your appointment as the archbishop was because you had different values from those of your predecessor and that your values were exactly what the Church wanted and needed in its new archbishop.
I know, because Queen Elizabeth II and Prime Minister Tony Blair told me so in person. Since you're appointed by them and all, not elected like me, which is the only way of guaranteeing that the Holy Spirit is involved.
In that letter, in a way that was to me a breathtaking display of ineptitude and moral weakness, you effectively abdicated your leadership role. The message you communicated was that in the service of unity you would surrender to whoever had the loudest public voice. A leader gets only one chance to make a good first impression and you totally failed that chance.
Way to blow your audition! You should have tossed the bra in one smooth motion; there's no do-overs in stripping - take it from a pro.
Next came the bizarre episode of the appointment of the Rev. Dr.
Jeffrey John, a known gay priest, to be the area bishop for Reading in the Diocese of Oxford. He was proposed by the Bishop of Oxford, Richard Harries. The nomination was approved by all of the necessary authorities, including you, the Prime Minister and the Queen.
That's Queen Elizabeth II and Prime Minister Tony Blair, in case you've forgotten.
When Gene Robinson in the United States was elected the Bishop of New Hampshire and, more particularly, when his election was confirmed by a concurrent majority of the bishops, priests and lay deputies at the General Convention (read General Synod), you appeared to panic.
We also say "trunk" instead of "boot" and "gas" instead of "petrol". Think you can remember all that?
Then you appointed the group, under Robin Eames' chairmanship, that produced the Windsor Report. That report confirmed every mistake you had already made. It asked the American Church to apologize to other parts of the Anglican Communion for its "insensitivity." Can one apologize for trying to end prejudice and oppression? If the issue were slavery, would you ask for an apology to the slave holders?
Bet you never saw someone strip to 'The Battle Hymn of the Republic' before, didja? Watch and learn.
Next came threats issued by the primates of the excommunication of the American Episcopal Church from the Anglican Communion, as if they actually had that power.
Cue the bongos.
Next you declined to invite Gene Robinson to the Lambeth Conference of 2008. All of the closeted homosexual bishops are invited, the honest one is not invited.
Down to just a g-string now.
I can name the gay bishops who have, during my active career, served in both the Episcopal Church and in the Church of England? I bet you can too. Are you suggesting that dishonesty is a virtue?
TAKE IT OFF!! TAKE IT OFF!!
John Shelby Spong, 8th Bishop of Newark, Retired
And don't you forget it.

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Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The rosy-fingered dawn, indeed

The kids are back to school again - this means we have to set the alarm clock again, and begin getting up early. Yesterday morning I got up at 5:50, and had the pleasure of seeing a spectacularly beautiful morning sky:



I don't want to be one of those "You should have seen the one that got away!" types, but seriously, in the time it took me to run and get the camera, the colours had already faded noticeably. It really made me glad to have gotten up so early.

Kids' artwork

You might like to see some of the artistic decor my kids have provided recently.

This impressive sculpture was created by James. It's actually pretty good - it's his version of Henry the Green Engine. He built it with my garden soil turner, a chair and a composting cone. (Fine motor skills are not his thing; he likes to build BIG trains.)

One of best things I got at the auctions this summer was a deepfreeze. I've wanted one for years, and it really makes a difference to grocery bills, as now we can buy things in bulk when they're on sale and have a place to store them. Well, James also has a personal interest in the deepfreeze, and yesterday I noticed that he'd adorned it with a little graffiti:

Thomas is no slouch in the decorating department, either. His favourite thing is to print out pictures and then tape them to the walls. The TV room is almost completely wallpapered in his "art". I took a bunch down in the hall to paint, but he makes more and puts them back. REcently, he's discovered Mondo Mini Shows (warning, bad language) on the computer, and this morning, Emma pointed out THIS series of frames carefully printed, cut out, and stuck to the inside of the front door:

Notice how beautifully symmetrical the spacing is! I called Thomas over, and asked, "What's this?" "Bum," he answered, pointing to his own, just so I wouldn't miss the meaning. "And who is this?"
"Howard Stern...HAHAHAHAHA!!!!" I hasten to add that none of us has EVER seen Howard Stern on TV or heard him on the radio, but this little cartoon version of him has made him a star in our house.

We wait all year for this

The raspberries are ripe!

They're actually a little late this year, at least by a week. I believe we were picking raspberries in mid-August last year, but it's only last week that we were able to pick more than a handful at a time.




Last week, we got 2 quarts of berries in one day! I made a pie AND a batch of jam (3 jars). There are more ripening all the time.

Monday, September 03, 2007

It's coming! It's coming!

The Wrong Box is FINALLY coming to dvd! So far, just Region 2 (Europe), but eventually it should have a North American release. If you have a region-free dvd player, run, don't walk, to get this fantastic movie!

UPDATE: There are two clips from 'The Wrong Box' on YouTube. Not my favourites from the film, but the poster was a Peter Sellers fan, so these two scenes comprise his role as "the venal doctor", Dr. Pratt.

In this first one, Morris Finsbury (Peter Cook) seeks out Dr. Pratt to get a blank, signed death certificate:


The sequel:

"You'd never think there were two Pratts in one room, would you?"

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Summer reading

I read a fair bit this summer, more than in years past. I think the kids are getting a little more responsible with the passing years, so I'm not perpetually racing around, either being interrupted myself or having to interrupt their chaotic activities. James has developed a nice trait - when he's finished playing with the hose and sprinkler outside, he actually turns the water off now! I no longer have to go stomping outside every half hour, muttering, "Since nobody's playing with this, I'm just TURNING IT OFF!"

Anyway, I read "Kidnapped" by Robert Louis Stevenson, and enjoyed it very much. I can't imagine how I overlooked Stevenson when I was young, as I was SO into Victoriana, but I never read anything of his, not even "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde", which I'll have to get to soon. I think I must have thought that Stevenson really only wrote boys' adventure stories. It's interesting how much Stevenson one just "knows" without actually having read him, because his stories have been made into movies so often. The Wrong Box might be my favorite comedy of all time, and that's based on a Stevenson novel. Dean read it and said that it wasn't as funny as the film, so I never bothered looking it up, but now I think I'll give it a try.

After that I read "The Fall of the Dynasties" by Edmond Taylor. I think this must have been one of the source texts for the TV series, "Fall of Eagles"; the chapter structure of the book paralleled the episodes of the series in a lot of cases. I don't think the series ever very clearly showed what happened to the Austo-Hungarian monarchy - it just sort of petered out at the end. The book also contained a single chapter on the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.

I had to hurry to finish this book in time for the arrival of the Harry Potter book, but that one I read in about 24 hours, and then I went on to "The War Against Boys" by Christina Hoff Sommers. Very interesting, and I doubt things have improved much in the 8 years or so since it was first published.

The book I just finished was "The Birth of Shylock and the Death of Zero Mostel" by Arnold Wesker. It reminded me a bit of the description of 'Lost in La Mancha', the documentary film about Terry Gilliam's failed attempt to make a Don Quixote movie where everything goes totally, horribly wrong. In 1977, Wesker writes what he feels to be his magnum opus, an alternate view of the world of Shakespeare's 'Merchant of Venice', where Shylock is the misunderstood hero. The production is taken up by fellow Englishman John Dexter, who is determined to stage it on Broadway with Zero Mostel in the title role.

One thing after another goes wrong. Actors sabotage lines and interpretations that they don't like, Dexter abuses everyone involved, Zero can't play a believable 16th-century Venetian Jew, he's just a flamboyant American Jew from the Bronx who hams it up and garbles his lines. But everyone is convinced they're making history. They make it through one out-of-town preview performance in Philadelphia and then...Zero Mostel dies. The show must go on, so they recast his role, but after this everything starts going to hell in a handbasket, and they finally struggle through endless cuts and rewrites to premiere on Broadway. A bad review in the NY Times, and it's all over.

It's an amazing story, and opened my eyes to how much seat-of-the-pants jerryrigging goes on behind the scenes in professional theatre. Are all shows this chaotic? I suspect they are. Everyone comes out of it looking a bit like a jerk. It's not just the actors who are self-indulgent prima donnas; the writer is forever complaining that nobody understands him, and the director is a downright asshole. Ugh. Horrible, horrible people.

The book was good, but I have to say, the best and funniest "behind the scenes of a flop" story ever was written in the 1950s by S.J. Perelman in a short story called "Is There A Doctor In The Cast?". He follows the travails of an unemployed actor who snags a bit part in a Broadway show, only to watch the whole thing collapse under the weight of bad writing, acting and directing, not to mention cast conflicts and physical accidents: "I guess the director's attention was elsewhere, but at any rate our ballerina, Gemze de Lapidari, did a sudden tour jeté downstage, accidentally grazed against the ladder, and over went Fletcher into the orchestra pit. There was a simply appalling crash as he struck the music stands; it sounded exactly like my Uncle Ned backing through the wrong end of our garage the time he got drunk on zinfandel."