Tuesday, December 1, 2020
He was mostly leaping tall buildings in the beginning. There were cases where he would leap off a tall building or swoop down, and at that point he would look like he was flying, I suppose. It was just natural to draw him like that.
--Original Superman artist Joe Shuster, on just how that guy got off the ground in the first place.
Tuesday, November 24, 2020
Tuesday, November 17, 2020
Amidst all the election news there's been a couple of permanent departures that I can't in good conscience let go by.
It should be no surprise that Nimoy's Spock could be funny. In a way he reminds me of Sean Connery's James Bond. Starting with Dr. No in 1962, Connery on his own added humor to the narrative by the way he said a particular line or even his deadpan expression upon witnessing something amazing, be it a technological display theretofore unbeknownst to science or his own hairbreadth escape from certain death. Eventually the producers and writers caught on to what Connery was doing and started adding intentional comic material, until you get to Diamonds are Forever, an out-and-out comedy.
OK, enough comedy. Time for some sex and...
I said earlier that SPECTRE was the villainous organization that Bond mostly did battle with during the Connery era. But it was not so in the Fleming novels. Starting with the first, Casino Royale, in 1953, the bad boys were usually agents of SMERSH, a real-life Soviet counter-intelligence organization that operated mostly during World War II. Fleming, though, kept the fictional SMERSH up-and-running throughout the 1950s until it began to resemble an organization that had succeeded it, the KGB. So where exactly did SPECTRE come from? A thaw in West-East relations toward the end of the 1950s gave Ian Fleming reason to believe that the Cold War was drawing to a close (as it turned out, the Bay of Pigs, the construction of the Berlin Wall, and the Cuban Missile Crises were all right around the corner) and so came up with SPECTRE as a replacement for SMERSH. At least, somebody came up with SPECTRE. Here we come to some real life intrigue, though intrigue involving not international affairs but international copyrights. Whereas most James Bond screenplays were based on Ian Fleming novels, 1959's Thunderball was an Ian Fleming novel based on a James Bond screenplay, though one yet unproduced. This was still a few years before Dr. No, and the only screen rights sold so far were for Casino Royale, and that was originally small screen rights, making its debut on American television in 1954 (Bond was played by American Barry Nelson as an American.) MGM acquired the big screen rights shortly thereafter, and then just dithered. Tired of waiting, Fleming got together with Irish filmmaker Kevin McClory and British screenwriter Jack Whittingham to cook up an original Bond screenplay, eventually titled Thunderball. But McClory didn't know Fleming was also writing a novel, and when he got his hands on an advanced copy, sued for plagiarism. There was a protracted court battle (during which time Dr. No, From Russia with Love, and Goldfinger had all become box office hits.) An out-of-court settlement gave McClory the film rights to Thunderball. To get that movie made, he joined forces with Albert Broccoli, producer of the first three Bond movies, though with the understanding that McClory could do a remake if he wanted at some future date. That future date turned out to be 1983. By that time the James Bond film franchise was still going strong with Roger Moore now playing the legendary secret agent. What chance in Hell or Hollywood did McClory have with his own film?
Sean Connery had first decided to end his association with Bond in 1967 following completion of You Only Live Twice. So the role went to male model George Lazenby, extremely good-looking but not much of an actor, though he has his defenders. Actually, they're not defending Lazenby so much as the movie as a whole, 1969's On Her Majesty's Secret Service, which has its share of excellent stunts, special-effects, and exotic locations. As a further added attraction, the Bond girl this time was someone who was already a star, Diana Rigg of The Avengers fame (but, man, oh, man, can you imagine if Connery and Emma Peel had appeared in a movie together? Patrick Macnee would have ate his bowler.) The movie took in less money than previous Bonds, but was still a hit, and the producers were willing to do another film with Lazenby. Surprisingly, it was Lazenby himself who refused to go on. Different reasons have been given for this decision, but underlining all of them is the neophyte actor simply hadn't enjoyed the experience. Connery had his own problems with Bond, but willing to return to the role once enough money was thrown at him. Perhaps because On Her Majesty's Secret Service had ended on a dark note (I don't want to give anything away but it does involve a drive-by shooting), the comedy quotient was ramped up considerably for this new 007 outing. In fact, Diamonds Are Forever owes at least as much to Rowen and Martin's Laugh-In as anything written by Ian Fleming. It proved to be a template for the rest of the 1970s and the first half of the 1980s, sex, violence and blackout gags becoming the basic formula, even after Connery left once again and was replaced by Roger Moore, who basically smirked his way through the series. Connery, meanwhile, worked steadily through the 1970s and early '80, starring, or at least appearing in, the mainstream films Murder on the Orient Express, The Man Who Be King, Robin and Marian, A Bridge Too Far, Time Bandits, and Outland. Some of these films were more well-received than others, but Connery's presence was always counted as a plus (even the post-apocalyptic flop Zardoz, where he appears in a mankini.) When asked about the possibility of some day reprising Bond, his usual reply was something along the lines of "never".
So how did producer Kevin McClory get Connery to return to the fold? Well, first off, he didn't return to what some Bond fans consider the "canonical" fold. That would be the body of films produced by Albert Broccoli (and these days his daughter Barbara) through Eon Productions in collaboration with various Hollywood studios. As far as those fans are concerned, 1983's Never Say Never Again, like the election results according to Trump, never happened, But of course there is such a film. McClory's way around Connery's reluctance was rather ingenious. Instead of asking Connery to star in a Bond movie, he merely asked him to write a Bond movie, which he did (though it was eventually rewritten by others.) This then gave Connery a stake in the movie's success. What better way to assure an successful James Bond movie, then have the actor best known for the role appear in it?
Never Say Never Again has all the components we'd expect from a Bond film: stunts, exotic locations, and beautiful women (in this case Kim Basinger and Barbara Carrera.) When it comes to sheer spectacle , it was no match for the "official" Bond movie that came out the same year Octopussy, which had all those things to the power of ten. But then does a Bond film always need to be a spectacle? The first few were much more modest compared to what came later. Instead, those films had that quality that comprises so much of good fiction: a person dealing with a problem, or problems, in an interesting, even entertaining, way. What makes the problem-solving so entertaining in Never Say Never Again is the suggestion that perhaps Bond is getting a bit too old for this kind of thing anymore. He tires out more easily, bruises too easily, and his self-confidence seems a bit shaken at times, Connery's familiar deadpan expression is there, but it increasingly gives way to a less-familiar one of unease. Nevertheless, at the end of the day...
...he's still Bond, canonical or not.
Alex Trebek was not the first host of Jeopardy, nor, initially, was he the most famous. Jeopardy was created in 1964 by talk show host Merv Griffin, who also moonlighted as a game show producer (or maybe he was a game show producer who moonlighted as a talk show host.) Even 56 years ago, the concept would have been regarded as ancient by students of broadcast history. A contestant is asked a question, and if that person gets it right, there's some kind of prize, usually money. Except this time there was a twist: the question was in the form of an answer, and the answer in the form of a (not-always grammatically-correct) question. The gimmick was enough to make Jeopardy by the end of the 1960s the second-highest rated game show on daytime television (right behind Hollywood Squares), and its host, Art Fleming, a household name. So identified was Fleming with Jeopardy that his name is referenced in Stephen King's 1978 novel The Stand, and he appears in Weird Al Yankovic's 1982 parody video "I Lost on Jeopardy." The quiz show itself was off the air by that time, but Griffin wanted to bring it back as a syndicated companion to his popular Wheel of Fortune, giving him a whole hour of television. He asked Fleming to return as host, but the native New Yorker balked when he found out the new version was going to be taped in Hollywood. Alex Trebek had hosted several daytime games shows in the 1970s, the most successful being High Rollers (a show I recall watching, but for the life of me can't tell you the point of the game.) Trebek auditioned for and won hosting duties on the new Jeopardy, which went on the air in 1984. This version of Jeopardy, seen in most TV markets between 7:00 and 7:30pm, very quickly became a ratings sensation, its fame eclipsing the original. By the time Fleming died in 1996, he had become somewhat of an obscure figure, though I suppose he'll live on as long as The Stand remains in print. Meanwhile, what was Trebek's secret? Well, I suppose you can say it was the game show rather then the host, except his contract kept getting renewed through thick and thin and cancer treatments. The man was 80 and had he not got sick, he might have hosted it right up until he was 90 or beyond. I imagine it was a combination of his ability to keep pace with a fast-moving show--he was the play-by-play announcer as game show host--his modest handsomeness (with or without a moustache), and a certain affability. Here he is (minus the moustache) on 60 Minutes:
Though I perchance am vicious in my guess,
As, I confess, it is my nature’s plague
To spy into abuses, and oft my jealousy
Shapes faults that are not–that your wisdom yet,
From one that so imperfectly conceits,
Would take no notice, nor build yourself a trouble
Out of his scattering and unsure observance.
It were not for your quiet nor your good,
Nor for my manhood, honesty, or wisdom,
To let you know my thoughts."
Saturday, November 7, 2020
Thursday, November 5, 2020
Sunday, November 1, 2020
On returning from my trip to [the Great Beyond], I received a request from [Shadow of a Doubt] to write a piece answering the following question: What is a fascist?
...The myth of fascist efficiency has deluded many people.
...The worldwide, agelong struggle between fascism and democracy will not stop when the fighting ends in Germany and Japan.
--Henry A. Wallace, 33rd Vice-President of the United States (1941-1945), 11th Secretary of Agriculture (1933-1940), 10th Secretary of Commerce (1945-1946), and 1948 Progressive Party candidate for President (2.38% of the popular vote--you can't win 'em all.) All quotes (minus what's in the the brackets) are from The New York Times 1944 op-ed piece, "The Danger of American Fascism"
Also from the 1940s:
Yes, I know, it's some other country's national anthem, but you have to consider the venue, which is nothing if not...