Sunday, May 22, 2016

Lazy Sunday # 419: The Aristocrats

Non-Canadian readers bear with me as I explain the Canadian Senate. 

It's not like the US where you need to be elected. Nor is it like Britain's House of Lords, where you must be either inbred, a Bishop of the Church of England or an MP who suddenly finds himself without a seat.

Here in Canada, you used to get picked because you were either a political bag-man or you had Polaroids of a cabinet minister who didn't want them getting around. 

Nowadays, you need to meet a rigorous set of prerequisites:

1. Age 30-75
2. Own $4,000 worth of property in the province you wish to represent.
3. Have a net worth of $4,000.
4.Since the Senate is working toward gender parity and diversity, you'll get extra points for being a woman, aboriginal or member of a minority.


5. You need to demonstrate either:

a) experience with the legislative process (ie: politician)
b) lengthy and recognized public service  (ie: bureaucrat)
c) outstanding achievement in your profession (ie: rich)

So, given that we've just lived through lengthy RCMP investigations of Senators scamming from the Public purse for which nobody's been convicted or had to do much more than pay back the cash they almost got away with -- we'll have the same kind of scumbags we've always had.

Being a Senator in Canada basically means everybody knows that underneath that slick exterior, you're not somebody anybody actually respects.

The world has always skewed toward being governed by aristocrats. Now and then, there's a French Revolution or Civil war that culls the herd. But eventually they come back and go right on doing what they do best -- living off the rest of us.

That's never been clearer in Canada then it is now, a condition summed up beautifully this weekend by Michael Campbell the nationally syndicated host of radio's "Money Talks".

No matter where your political sentiments lie, I don't think you'll find fault with anything he has to say.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

And for those of you who were expecting something else...

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The Water Bomber, The Frogman and The Great Canadian Novelist

(Guest Column from Canadian Writer, Director and Producer Allan Eastman)

This tremendous photograph of a Canadair Water Bomber fighting the horrendous Ft. McMurray conflagration of 2016 invoked a sudden wash of memories having to do with 2 of the great Canadian cultural institutions that I had the good fortune to be involved with and a bizarre set of circumstances that led from a burned out forest to a literary heritage.

The first great cultural institution was The Littlest Hobo TV series. I directed 44 of those over 5 seasons in the early 1980s as a young filmmaker learning his chops and building up his bag of cinematic tricks. All the crew was pretty young as well so we had a tremendous time together shooting the show out in small town rural Ontario over the warm summer months. 

Rarely has wholesome family entertainment been made by such a collection of sex and drug crazed reprobates. At one of our wrap parties at an isolated hotel, I woke up the next morning in bed with 5 people, all of whom I’d had some kind of sex with.

Hobo was great fun to make – a new story and a new cast every week in a new situation set in a new environment. Lots of action. Many tremendous actors to work with – classic old Hollywood pros like Keenan Wynn, John Carradine, Henry Gibson, Patrick MacNee, James MacArthur and the cream of Canadian talent from Lynne Griffin to Jim Henshaw to Sean McCann and Karen Kain. Out in the woods on a sunny day, telling a tale. The crew called it the story of “A dog who traveled around from town to town paying off crew mortgages.” We didn’t know how good we had it.

We were doing a 2-part episode with the SARTECHS at Trenton Air Force Base. These Search and Rescue Technicians were the guys that flew missions looking for the wreckage of missing aircraft out in the wilds or ships in trouble at sea, then parachuted in to rescue the survivors or collect the remains. Our story was about a small plane crash in some remote hinterland and was both a drama with the survivors and a procedural about the SARTECHs search and rescue operation.

The Air Force gave us tremendous support – the free use of big Buffalo search aircraft and Huey and Chinook rescue helicopters, numerous parachute jumps and the run of the Trenton base. For me, it was like Orson Welles’ description of a film set being the best electric train a boy could have. 

We did lots of aerial shooting and excellent action with the SARTECHs rappelling out of helicopters or hitting a precise mark in their glider parachutes. It turned out to be one of our best shows ever.
I was much taken with the 8 or 10 SARTECHs we were working with. They were all long term enlistments and pretty well all Sargeants, you know, the guys the Officers go to to find out what is going on or what they should do. They seemed to me like a group of John Ford cavalry picture heroes - deadly serious about their work but tremendous fun after hours, boisterous and full of jokes. I was so impressed that I wanted to develop a movie script about them. Their lives and their work certainly deserved the big screen treatment so after Hobo, I went back to Trenton and spent many enjoyable, well lubricated evenings interviewing them on tape, pumping them for their best stories.

They had many epic adventures to relate and many amazing tales to tell. How they generally chuted into plane crash sites up North with shotguns because they often had to fight off huge Grizzly bears who were trying to make off with the human remains. How a climber who fell down a mountain was usually stripped naked by his clothes being ripped off by obstructions. How to airlift survivors off a blazing, sinking ship in an Atlantic gale. The strange things that cause plane crashes, like the pilot getting a raisin stuck in his throat and choking to death at 8000 feet.

But the most incredible story was about being called to the site of a major forest fire in BC by the firefighters, after the flames had been largely extinguished. They were led into the heart of the burned out woods, the ash still smoking and small brush fires still being put out. The lead firefighter came to a stop and pointed up at the top of a blackened cedar tree and there, 40 feet up, impaled in the branches was a fully accoutered frogman – wet suit, dive mask, scuba tank and one flipper – dead of course, and all scorched and roasted by the fire and the steam. Sgt. Kelly said it was probably the most surreal thing he’d ever seen, and that’s saying a great deal, based on some of the other experiences he told me.

Well, the story was reasonably easy to figure out, finally. This poor bastard had been scuba diving in one of the local lakes, had been scooped up by a Water Bomber skimming across the surface, taking on a fresh load and had then been dropped into the fire itself on their fire-fighting bomb run.

I’ve thought many times over the years about this unlucky guy’s experience. There he was, placidly scubaing along. There would have been a strange noise, suddenly building up to a gigantic roar and then, he would have been tumbled around in extreme turbulence. What the fuck!? Then, he would have found himself in complete darkness, encased in a great pool of water but on investigation, he would discover that he was entombed by steel walls above, below and all around. Did he figure out what was happening to him? There would be the muted rumble of the plane’s props but the water in the hold would be calm.

But then, Suddenly - Light would begin to appear below him, the water would abruptly start to drain away and he would be swept out in a rush with it. He would find himself falling through the air from great height into a massive raging wild fire directly below.

One can only hope that it was all over for him quickly.

I’ve told this story many times over the years, usually as an example of the kind of freaky things that can happen to Human beings. The sly Greek Philosopher, Heraclitus always said that it was the things that we could never think of that would do us in.

In the long run, the movie never happened. We wrote a decent script but had trouble getting the money together before another big project took us elsewhere. Every filmmaker’s epitaph should read “Films I Never Made.” Later, we did do another SARTECH script for the Danger Bay series and that turned into one of their most celebrated, most popular episodes, nominated for many awards.

Now, the 2nd great Canadian cultural institution. About the time we were working on the SARTECH movie script, I was having dinner at the Windsor Arms one night with the powerful Producer, Bill Marshall. Bill and I worked together over the years and he was always the best of company, funny and entertaining to pass an evening or a plane ride with. His signature line was “I give you my word as a Film Producer!”

At some point, a familiar looking, rumpled little guy passed by and stopped to talk with Bill. Bill invited him to join us. It was Mordecai Richler, considered by many – myself included – to be the greatest Canadian Novelist ever, despite claims by backers of Margaret Atwood or Robertson Davies. I’d never met him before so it was a big thrill for me. I had all his books on the shelf at home. And loved them.

We three talked about all kinds of different subjects for hours, as we worked our way through a bottle or two of Chivas Regal. Mordecai was killer smart and the ironic black humor so on display in his writings was delivered in a quiet sardonic voice for private consumption at the table. At some point, I told them the SARTECH/Frogman story. I don’t remember their reaction but no doubt it was the general head shaking amazement that its telling usually provokes.

Jump Cut a decade or so later. I am shooting something in Vancouver and have just done my Saturday morning book store run, the prize acquisition being the hot off the presses hardcover copy of Mordecai Richler’s latest (and sadly, last) novel, Barney’s Version. I dive right into it and spend most of the rainy weekend devouring it.

A key storyline in the novel is Barney being suspected of murder over the mysterious disappearance of his best friend, during a weekend up in the woods at the cottage. Barney always proclaims his innocence and eventually gets away with it because no corpse is ever found. Until of course, years later when a hiker in a new growth forest comes across charred human remains.

Yes, the strange sound that disturbed Barney’s post lunch nap was a Water Bomber vacuuming up his friend who had gone for a dip, to eventually deposit him from height into a raging forest fire.

At first, I was shocked when I read this denouement but then, I had to laugh. Yeah, Mordecai knew a good story when he heard it, made a note probably and when it didn’t show up elsewhere, he used it as a major plot device for his new book. I resolved to give him some good natured ribbing about stealing my material the next time I ran into him but alas, I never got the chance. Mordecai died a few years later.

But retrospectively, I am proud of my part in passing along this extraordinary tale from the SARTECHs to our greatest Author to be recorded for posterity in his final novel. All Human art begins with our ancestors sitting around telling stories, which then get passed on to the generations. So let it be with this.

And anyhow, it makes for a good story too.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Lazy Sunday # 418: Help!

I was catching the boat to Vancouver a couple of weeks ago and I always love sailing through the Gulf Islands. There are eagles and seals, whales quite often and just the natural beauty of the place to make the trip worth every minute.

But as I was crossing the deck, I noticed a young woman sitting at a sunny window -- wearing a Virtual Reality headset, her senses locked into a computer feeding her something other than the time and place in which she resided.

I couldn't help wondering if the VR experience is really that good or her boredom with Life was really that bad.

Now, movies have always been designed to "transport us" as they say. To take us "out of ourselves" and the humdrum existences we're apparently saddled with, to times, places and experiences that inform us and enrich our perspectives.

But despite all the suspension of disbelief you bring to a movie, you're kinda always aware it's just a movie. VR intends to make you believe you're actually there.

And while I can see the point with news or documentaries, I'm not sure how story tellers focus the audience on the ideas, emotions and conflicts they're using to tell their stories. Will they be wrapt by the tale you're spinning or constantly looking over their shoulders to check out what might be going on behind them?

And how do you as a story teller determine what is going on behind them so the experience remains real but it doesn't distract from what you're trying to say?

It's clearly going to take time for all of us to learn this new story telling tool. But the story telling has already begun.

This week, director Justin Lin, best known for most of the "Fast and Furious" franchise, released what may be the first attempt at VR fiction for Google spotlight.

Now I can provide you with a link to the film, entitled "Help" which comes with a directional control in the upper Left corner so you can get the gist of the VR experience.

But you can also use a YouTube App on a compatible Android device here. Or its iOS version here in order to get the complete experience.

If you want to build your own VR headset, you can find instructions for a cardboard version here

I don't know whether VR movies will be our movie going future or the next failed fad.

Decide for yourself and...

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Monday, May 09, 2016

Lazy Sunday # 417: Have You Ever Been To Sea Billy?

I grew up in a part of the world where we didn't have a lot of water. I might've been 11 or 12 before I saw a body of water where you couldn't see the opposite shore. So, I've always had a fascination for oceans.

And then somewhere around the age of 40, I learned to scuba dive, opening up the entirely different planet that lurks below the surface of those waters.

Since then, I've had the chance to swim with giant turtles, stingrays, sharks and whales. And as breathtaking as those encounters have been, the biggest thrill I've had underwater was visiting shipwrecks.

There's something about swimming over a vessel whose like you've seen on the surface. You fell like you're flying, able to see it from an angle most earthbound humans never get the chance.

And then you go inside, finding a world that few (if any) have seen for decades, even centuries; eerily preserved, giving you the sense of what it was like to be there -- of what life in that time was like.

It's one thing to experience life aboard an centuries old ship. But now the world is about to experience what things were like in an ancient city that hasn't been seen in more than a millennium.

In 2000, French divers mapping the floor of the Mediterranean found the remains of 64 ships off the coast of Egypt in less than 30 feet of water. Gold coins and Athenian weights used by merchants helped them pinpoint the site as the ancient Greek cities of Heracleion (Thonis in Egyptian) and Canopus which sank beneath the waves 1200 years ago.

Until then, most archaeologists considered Heracleion the stuff of legend. It had first been mentioned in Homer's "Iliad".

But not only is Heraclion real and remarkably preserved. It has been pain-stakingly brought back to the surface over the last 15 years and on May 19th, becomes available to the public at the British Museum in London.

Take a trip to the unseen part of our world and far back in time and...

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Sunday, May 01, 2016

Lazy Sunday # 416: Proof of Concept

Used to be, if you wrote a good script and the studio liked the idea, it got produced.

Then we evolved to "packaging" scripts so the studios could feel more comfortable with what they were buying, where-in a director of some status and actors with familiar names were "attached" to the script.

Over time, these "packages" needed a further level of comfort, so they were "pre-sold", meaning money was committed from Azerbaijan or Zaire, so the studio or network didn't have to risk so much of its own cash.

But now a lot of the people who make movies are being asked by those who fund movies to provide further proof that they actually have the talent to make the movie in the first place.

It's kind of the writer/director version of actors being asked to appear at auditions in costume -- because the people doing the casting don't have the ability to believe an actor could play Spiderman unless they see him hidden under spandex.

Only in this case it involves a lot more than sewing a Hallow e'en costume in July. 

Along with putting up the money to rent or make costumes, a writer has to find a director and a cast, hire a crew, scout locations and secure the services of a company that does post production and/or CGI.

These people spend a few days realizing a scene or sequence from the script, not just bringing it off the page, but making it as close to what the final version might look like as possible.

It's the kind of process that demands an enormous outlay of creative energy and sweat equity while insuring that people in suits with no clue about how to do their job can keep drawing a salary

And if those execs viewing your final product don't consider your leading lady "fuckable" enough or believe your grandma's house is really located in an idyllic small town in the 1950's -- you're still out of luck. 

The smart screenwriter considers forgetting the middle man, mortgaging his house and continuing to shoot the film. At the very least it supports the "single vision" concept Writers Guilds like to champion -- and who needs to own a house anyway?

How good does a "proof of concept" need to be these days?

As good as what follows, the product of "Fight Club" scribe, Jim Uhls and Academy Award nominee director Ruairi Robinson.

Enjoy your Sunday.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Lazy Sunday # 415: An Actor Prepares

I've always been a big fan of Bill Shakespeare. First play I ever did in high school was one of his. Studied him a lot. Hate how he's constantly over-analyzed. Love that he's as relevant four centuries after his death (anniversary of which was yesterday) as he was when he was still chronicling the human condition.

If I wanted to get very wealthy I'd start a religion and base its teachings on what you can learn from Bill's plays. But you'd have to be careful about that -- because there are so many ways to interpret what he (or the myriad of guys people claim actually wrote the stuff ) wrote.

And that means you'd spin off more sects and cults than all the religions so far created.

Ask any two actors how you should play any of the famous monologues and you'll get two different takes. Ask three actors and you'll get three. Four and -- well, you could go on forever. 

For me the key to Shakespeare is that he speaks to each of us on the level of our own experience. What you get out of him at any age reflects the events that got you to that age. He's the perfect barometer for how much both the actor and his/her audience have lived.

That's wonderfully expressed in this segment of last night's BBC tribute to the Bard.

Enjoy Your Sunday. 

Monday, April 18, 2016

Lazy Sunday # 414: You STILL Can't Handle The Truth

There have been several bewildered as well as angry accounts coming out of the USA lately about how little media time has been spent covering the Democratic Presidential Primary campaign of Bernie Sanders.

Despite winning a string of primaries and attracting overflow crowds to his speeches, Sanders can't seem to inspire any mainstream journalists to report on his apparently growing support.

With the Primary calendar moving to the New York state, Sanders supporters felt the media would have to take notice once those huge rallies started appearing in their own backyard.

But when nobody reported a gathering of tens of thousands in support of Senator Sanders in Manhattan's Washington Square, it became clear to anybody paying attention that somebody didn't want that story or those images widely distributed.

Now, depending on your political orientation, you might believe that's because the corporate media, like all capitalists, doesn't want to say nice things about a guy who hates them. Or, you might believe that the journalists covering Sanders know he doesn't have a hope of implementing any of his promises, so why bother giving him any traction.

The question I have is -- when did journalists decide that their job was to make up my mind for me? 

And we here in Canada shouldn't feel smug about how other journalists operate. Because our guys are doing the same thing.

Friday afternoon, CBC Newsworld's "Power and Politics" featured a story on how Prime Minister Trudeau had floored reporters with his insight into the world of Quantum computing. 

Host Rosemary Barton showed a clip of the PM at a Quantum conference as a reporter jokingly asked Trudeau to explain the science and then posed his more serious question about what's going on with us and ISIS.

Trudeau, like any good politician, deflected to the computing question so he didn't have to say too much about a subject he doesn't really want to talk about. 

Despite watching a fellow journalist being outflanked, Barton and her panel had a giggle and she wondered aloud what would have happened if the PM wasn't such a gadget geek.

The answer seemed straightforward to me -- in that case the story would have never run on CBC Newsworld.

And apparently I wasn't the only one who noticed the shift in principles around here...

Now, during our most recent Federal election, it became clear to those on both the Left and Right of the political spectrum that our media was enamored of Mr. Trudeau. And given the government he was running against that may be fair.

But now that they've got their Disney Prince, do they really think most of us can't see through the ongoing gush-fest?

Will we ever go back to reporting the facts and allowing the Public to decide for themselves whether the guy is up to the job or not?

A story out of Halifax this week suggests the defensive shields are fully up.

A week ago, the venerable local paper, the Chronicle Herald, produced a piece on bullying in a local school -- bullying by recent Syrian Refugee children on the kids in their school.

It suggested that maybe the local authorities had perhaps painted too rosy a picture of the new arrivals -- or that the powers that be had not truly been prepared to meet their needs.

The minute the story began to garner National interest, however, the newspaper spiked it, pulled it off its website and basically began claiming there had been no story in the first place. 

Except it seems there was. A story that's politically incorrect in our current environment.

You can find the machinations of what went on, including the Chronicle-Herald's original posting here.

And here's what you get when another reporter does some actual journalism.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Lazy Sunday # 413: H Positive

The Canadian Federal Government will get around to tabling legislation on assisted dying this week. I'm sure it will be a respectful and serious debate that's probably long overdue.

The news in my local paper on the weekend, however, told the story of John Hofsess, an advocate of those facing terminal or debilitating conditions and not wishing to suffer what insults or agonies Nature might have in store wanted to exit on their own terms at a time of their choosing.

Hofsess took his own life a couple of months ago, at the same time acknowledging that he had been the one who assisted the passing of a number of Canadians including well-known poet Al Purdy.

But it seems that when Hofsess' time came, it was actually premature. He had a few good months left, but was worried the Feds might prevent him from controlling his final exit when his past was revealed, so he bumped up the departure date.

Being the kind of guy who doesn't know how to give up on anything and like the kid gifted with a pile of manure on his birthday, starts digging because "There's got to be a pony in here somewhere" -- it's not likely I'd ever opt to have a doctor usher me out the door.

And I also worry that however "humane" our government may want to appear -- we all know that this'll end up as some kind of bureaucratic process with specifically designed steps down the path to that nice farm in the country where all the dogs run and play all day. 

But what if you could choose something special as your last hurrah?

What if you could be "H-Positive"...?

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Sunday, April 03, 2016

Lazy Sunday # 412: Don't Be An Untold Story

I'm trying something a little different with today's Lazy Sunday post. Because I've been doing a lot of thinking about screenwriters in Canada lately and how we can improve our situation.

Some thoughts on that will arrive here in the coming days. Meantime, I'd like to prime you with some thoughts from a British band called "The Struts".

They reminded me of the energy and commitment shared by a lot of us who aspired to screenwriting (and other showbiz related) careers when I was starting out. And that was a time before writers guilds, government funding, screenwriting conferences and all the other systems of support that are now in place -- yet somehow still leave so many of our stories untold.

That's because the drive to tell those stories is supposed to come from the story-tellers first...

If it all starts with the writer, then writers must be the first to change.

More to come...

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Lazy Sunday # 411: Peep This!

Two recipes in a row. I'm getting in a rut. But then, ever since I was a kid, Easter for me has always been rut territory.

I'm done with Winter but it isn't done with me. Even if it's warming up in Canada, we're dealing with melting snow, mud and other things that curtail outdoor activities.

Used to be the local world went radio silent for Good Friday, took a quick gasp of breath on Saturday and then settled in for a long quiet Sunday of Lily pots and Ham at Grandma's house. When the high point is unearthing days old hard boiled eggs, it always made me long for school on Monday.

And even now, when I'm at an age where I could hide my own eggs, it still bores the ass off me.

What better excuse than to get drunk.

And with the help of Easter treats like Marshmallow Peeps you can do that in a way that would make the Easter Bunny proud.

I give you then, not one but two Easter Cocktail instruction videos as well as my own favorite cocktail of the season.

You'll be instantly sugared up and hammered. How could you not...

Enjoy your Sunday!

Peep This Amigo!

Sugar and salt mix
2.5 oz Tequila
1 oz Fresh lemon juice
2 dashes Bitters
1 oz Simple syrup (one part sugar, one part water)
8-10 Blueberries
1 Egg white
Yellow Peep
Glass: Cocktail
Rim a cocktail glass with a mix of 50-percent sugar and 50-percent salt and set aside. Add the rest of the ingredients to a shaker and muddle. Shake without ice. Add ice and shake again vigorously. Strain into the prepared cocktail glass and garnish with a yellow Peep.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Lazy Sunday # 410: Spicy Peanut Butter Soup

It's officially Spring. But being that I'm in Canada, that means it's not quite warm and sunny just yet. Thus one more day where it's nice to have a hot bowl of soup for lunch.

Now, I could rummage for an old cookbook and try matching some soup ingredients to what I've got on hand. But who knows how long that would take -- and honestly, is there any reason to even own a cookbook anymore?

Seriously, ever time I go grocery shopping, I roll past the Jamie Oliver display and ask myself -- "Does nobody who shops here own a computer?".

Finding a recipe for virtually anything takes seconds. And seconds later you can usually find a video taking you through it step by step in case you're a complete idiot in the kitchen.

But if you're not one of those, where do you find a recipe video that will also entertain you while you go through the cooking process?

If you're me, you check out a Youtube Channel entitled "You Suck At Cooking".

There, you'll not only find quick and easy (and delicious) recipes but an upbeat and fun approach to the process.

This week I found (and tried) Spicy Peanut Butter Soup. The perfect thing for a day when Winter is still hanging on past its use by date.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Lazy Sunday # 409: The Dishwasher

Canada is a country without studios and broadcast networks striving to build a vibrant production industry. Virtually nothing gets made without handouts from governments who appear equally disinterested in doing more than is absolutely necessary to shore up the appearance that there's a real film industry here.

And most of that largess goes to producers with a long track record of failing to find audiences.

Hardly anybody truly steps up to give an untried writer or director with a vision a shot.

Oh, there's certainly a boom going on. Almost everybody's working as a result of a weak dollar and generous tax credits to anybody wanting to make a Lifetime, Syfy or Superhero movie North of the 49th.

Meanwhile, our own stories continue to languish. And our brightest story tellers seldom get the opportunity to even hint at what they can do.

But if you live in BC or Alberta, there's a ray of hope. It comes from Telus which, despite its cable footprint, is primarily a phone company.

Telus have called their initiative "Storyhive" -- a community funded program for emerging content creators. I'd call it the Canadian equivalent of Roger Corman, the Hollywood producer who launched more major careers than almost everybody else put together.

Storyhive just released it's winning short film. "The Dishwasher" by Vancouver writer-director Matthew Johnson.

It's a masterful creation, revealing a film-maker who truly gets how cinematic story-telling works. It hooks you from the first frame and doesn't let go of your emotions until well after the last.

If the industry were still run by Hollywood moguls, one of them would be telling his money guys, "This kid knows what he's doing. Just give him enough money and stay out of his way".

I give you "The Dishwasher".

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Sunday, March 06, 2016

Lazy Sunday # 408: Write This Down

Once upon a time, there were people known as Public Letter Writers. They sat in market places, had a storefront in frontier boom towns, operated out of the back booth of a coffee shop where their clients would not be embarrassed to meet with them.

Public letter writers provided a service to those who could not read or could not write allowing them to fill out government forms, conduct business or communicate with loved ones.

Many still exist today in third world countries where literacy levels are low. But they are coming back to the first world as well-- because our kids don't know how to write anymore.

Pushed by technological advances, the need to use the kind of Cursive handwriting we were all once taught in elementary school has become less necessary. When you can thumb a mobile keyboard or tap a screen, there's little need to know how to operate a pen or pencil anymore.

Email has replaced letters to friends and family. Students, journalists and executives in boardrooms take notes on tablets or laptops. You don't even have to endorse a check anymore. You just send a picture of it to your bank.

45 American states no longer include Cursive in the curriculum of their education systems and those that still too don't teach it all that much. Canadian educators are moving in the same direction.

Some may see that as an inevitable future.

Last week I met a student at a nearby University who is part of a writing group. She and her colleagues don't study writing or share short stories. They write letters for fellow students who no longer have such skills. University students. Many of whom don't even have a signature, opting for print or a symbolic scrawl instead.

I often get complimented on my handwriting. It's apparently incredibly legible. What few know is that I invented the "font" I use when I was 12 or 13. I'd just gotten a beautiful fountain pen as a birthday present and I loved using it. Problem was I went through ink by the bucket and it was beginning to impact my ability to afford licorice pipes and comic books.

The solution seemed clear. Rather than write less, get rid of all the Cursive curlicues I'd been taught to identify or connect the letters. What evolved was something sans serif, a phrase I wouldn't learn til years later. 

It may have been that invention process that first gave me an insight into something all writers know. It isn't just about putting words down on paper. The physical act connects you with so much more on so many other levels.

Many times, when plot or character aren't working the way I want them to, I'll still step away from the keyboard and pick up a pen and legal pad. Writing by hand requires a very different mental process, one involving parts of the mind closed by the ease of typing.

Sooner rather than later, what I've been trying to accomplish is back on track. Likewise, I never sit down to rewrite before the previous draft has been revised in pencil or red ink. Things just go better if I do the grunt work by hand.

I'll leave the explanation of just how all that works to Master Penman Jake Weidmann an artist and writer who knows just how much we are losing in our trade-off with technological advance.

It's not just the words on the page. It's a chunk of our humanity.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Monday, February 29, 2016


Early in the life of this blog, I acknowledged that its title was inspired by the now defunct Catholic Legion of Decency, created in 1933 by the American Roman Catholic Church, with the stated goal of "purifying cinema".

In supporting this initiative, Pope Pius XI uttered one of my favorite quotes, "Everyone knows bad movies are bad for the soul". Although his Holiness and I would likely disagree on exactly  what kind of movie might damage your eternal soul.

The goals of that original Legion were not far removed from those of the zeolots who knocked the penises from statuary in Ancient Rome or the village priest in "Cinema Paradiso", pre-screening all the movies coming to town and ringing his little bell to signal which moments must be edited out before they were shown.

The Legion saw and rated all films distributed in the United States from 1933 to 1980, either giving them an "A" for being "morally unobjectionable", rating them a "B" as "morally objectionable" or in many cases "C" for "Condemned".

From their pulpits, Catholic Priests would admonish their flocks of the hellfire and damnation which might come their way if they dared to watch a condemned film.

Explaining the intellectual process by which films became condemned would take a doctoral thesis -- of which there are several if you choose to look them up. Suffice it to say, the quality or intent of any given film took a backseat to ideology and a suspicion of its true motives. 

Much like a lot of the reaction to stuff you innocently post in your Facebook feed.

Among the films condemned in 1933 were such innocuous entertainments as "Flying Down To Rio" and classics like "Queen Christina". Other cinematic touchstones would follow, from "Black Narcissus" to "M", "Rififi" and "Some Like it Hot".

Studio executives and theatre owners being who they were (and often still are) bent over backwards to appease the Legion and the Church, often making edits or relegating films that had been rated poorly to less patronized theatres. Sometimes their distribution was cancelled altogether. 

With few speaking out against them, the Legion further flexed its muscle. In 1960 alone, they condemned "Breathless", "Never on Sunday", "Psycho" and "Spartacus".

And these modern day penis whackers would go on to condemn "From Russia With Love", "The Odd Couple", "The Producers" and "The Rocky Horror Picture Show".

By the late 1970's, with artists wresting greater control of their product from the studios, the Legion's power began to fade, but they still insisted Catholics might burn in Hell simply for viewing "Taxi Driver", "Grease", "All That Jazz" and "Used Cars".

Eventually the Legion's name changed, likely to avoid the embarrassment of some of their past condemnations. They became the National Catholic Office for Motion Pictures and were later subsumed into the Catholic Conference, their rating system quietly phased out.

During the month of March, Turner Classic Movies will spend Thursdays exhibiting the Legion's impact on film history. The full schedule can be found here.

Like the Pope and I are wont to say, "Bad movies are bad for the soul". But nothing that fits that description can be found on TCM's schedule.