Monday, August 25, 2008
Before the Olympics, I put up a post taking the CBC to task for taking such a low-key approach to the non-sports issues related to 2008's host country China. And while I'm not backing off those opinions, the work of those at CBC Sports who covered and brought us the Games themselves deserve to be congratulated for their excellence.
I once had the opportunity to be present in the broadcast trailer of a World Series game. It's something all of us who finger thesauruses for the right words, ponder notes, try additional takes and cut things a couple of ways to see what fits the music best, should do at least once -- if only to experience the sheer terror of creativity on the fly.
Almost anything that can happen during a live sporting event usually does, often within the tenths of seconds that measure the action. And woe to the broadcast team that doesn't have immediate coverage, perspective and background color at the ready. A shortstop fielding a grounder usually only has to process a couple of possible outcomes. But the Broadcaster faces exponentially more challenges.
Maybe that's why the Chinese faked the fireworks on Opening Night and lip-synched some of the music. The pressure of that kind of moment can bring out the inferiority complex in even the most repressive dictatorial regime. Although I have to say that all that pre-Olympic hype about China using their gymnasts and divers to prove the power of their political system was lost as they deservedly shot themselves in the foot on Day One.
The minute 7 year-old singer Yang Peiyi was displaced by a "perfect" child for the International audience, China let us all know that it might be a force to be reckoned with at table tennis, but it still can't turn out one decent Orthodontist.
And to their credit, in the midst of the Games, CBC reported all this and then got right back to the athletes -- unlike their main competition NBC.
I spent part of the Olympics in the States and it was odd to go from a 24 hour buffet of sport to a pre-crafted Prime Time soap opera. While I could watch Khazak boxers, Korean weightlifters and track stars from countries I probably can't find on a map on CBC, NBC coverage was completely US-centric and maudlin. It robbed me of a lot of things, most notably, the experience of being reminded that no matter the race, creed or political system of the athletes, we all cherish victory and grieve defeat in the same ways.
And while CBC brought me the world in all its diverse similarity, NBC only showed me the USA and not the real one, but the one that best fit a reality show format and a jingoistic philosophy that frankly doesn't exist outside the Washington beltway or LA's Thirty Mile Zone.
For the most part, NBC exhibited all I had said was wrong about the Olympic Games, from detailing swimmer Michael Phelps' endorsement deals (and is anybody really going to believe a guy who downs a 12,000 calorie breakfast when training actually eats Kellogg's Frosted Flakes) or forensically examining the birth certificates of Asian nymphets.
Okay, maybe the Chinese Women's Gymnasts cheated. But I saw African Boxers robbed of points, Platform divers undeservedly penalized and ribbon dancers score tens for unfathomable reasons. But over at NBC, losing that gymnastics medal by a point seemed to be all they talked about. Guys, it's a judged sport. It's as fixed when you win as when you lose. Move on!
And even though NBC had far more channels than the CBC and more online bandwidth apparently available (that Microsoft Silverlight system is truly awesome), CBC consistently found ways to involve me in sports I'd never heard of or was certain had been made up on the spot to fill out 16 days of competition.
I mean, I do get synchronized diving and prancing around with a ribbon on a stick on one level. But now there's prancing events with red ropes and big rubber balls and they've even got horses doing it. When your total medal count can include stuff like that, I started wondering why some countries aren't lobbying for synchronized high-jump, the eights in hammer throw or fencing with broadswords.
Maybe Jacques Rogge should stop crapping all over Usain Bolt for celebrating the most spectacular moment of the games and get his Olympic committees doing what they do best, taking bribes to fill up the schedule with more unfathomable sports.
On the reverse side of that coin, I totally get the broadcast value of Beach Volleyball.
CBC did too. And maybe it was my constantly shifting time zones over the last weeks, but I'm positive they covered every single game in the Women's bracket in full HD close-up. I'd venture this was a test for "Beach Volleyball Night in Canada" which is almost certainly being prepped for whichever night of new dramas doesn't pan out. Something tells me it'll get better numbers than "Little Mosque".
Oh, and guys -- keep the Cheerleaders. Just sayin'...
But the most important thing CBC gave me with its holistic coverage was an entree into the hearts of the athletes of these games. Suddenly, all that nation vs nation, own the podium or be a loser stuff was shown for the nonsense it really is. Whether it was the accessibility of the media or CBC's integrating real athletes into their broadcast teams (Donovan Bailey Rules!), we finally got to experience the sheer joy of competition that these people share.
You saw athletes having fun, respecting each other no matter the final placings and exhibiting all those laudable traits of character and humanity that the Olympics are supposed to be about celebrating.
The credit for some of that goes to three friends of mine who've been working 24 hour days for the last three weeks (not to mention months of prep) most of it in windowless bunkers at CBC HQ. Fellow WGC writer Luciano Casimiri, announcer Tony Daniels (Elvis from "Eerie, Indiana") and sports producer extraordinaire John Whaley were among those behind the stories, highlight packages and sidebars that enhanced the coverage.
According to them, the real behind the scenes heroes were Executive Producer Trevor Pilling, Senior Producer Jeff MacDonald and Producer David Sole, who captained various decks on the ship. Actually, Whaley referred to the CBC team as replicating the Burloak Canoe Club, where experience and energy were shared among a happy few determined to compete with the more than 2900 staffers NBC dispatched to China.
As far as I'm concerned, the small town paddlers more than succeeded and additionally delivered programming that truly reflected the even-handed, inclusive character that represents the best of what Canada is to the world. Guys, Gold medals all around!
As for me, my high point of the Games was seeing Equestrian Eric Lamaze, who lives just up the road, win individual Gold in Show Jumping. This is a guy who would have medalled in Barcelona and Sydney if not for a Cocaine issue and saw other personal problems keep him out of the Athens Games. His win was a perfect example of not only the triumph of the human spirit but the reality that talent can be delayed but never denied.
There's a great Canadian movie in Eric's story. Now maybe somebody at CBC will pick up that torch and carry the excellence of CBC Sports into the Drama department.
Sunday, August 24, 2008
And at some point I may park my butt on a patio, crack a cold beer and enjoy that other great gift the Greeks gave the world -- a plate of Calamari. Unless I think too long about where that delicious dish came from.
The following was voted the best PC Animation of 2007 and demonstrates the kind of courage and determination you need to compete in the Olympics or to swallow that first crispy tentacle.
Enjoy your Sunday. Tonight we dine in Hell-as...
Saturday, August 23, 2008
Those of us who work in film and TV know that the cheapest special effect you can use is a nude scene or a sex scene. No need for CGI, stunts or even costumes -- you've got their attention. For the most part, we use that advantage to tell a story, exhibit emotion or reveal character.
Others take the same concept one step further and create porn films. Unfortunately, that slim dividing line makes a lot of people think the actors in legit films are really "doing it" or that those behind the cameras embrace some kind of moral indolence. And from my experience, both are far from the reality.
Yet, last week, the same Canadian government agency, the CRTC, that regulates the broadcast industry granted a license for an all-porn channel called "Northern Peaks" requiring that it program 50% Canadian content.
Like all decision making, what's most interesting about the CRTC's latest edict is what it tells us about those making the decision. For once again, the CRTC has exhibited that it is woefully ignorant of the business it is regulating, hopelessly out of touch and out of date.
Perhaps amid the current frenzy of slashing Arts funding, Prime Minister Harper could save the country $9 Million a year by turfing these guys. In the process, he might be simultaneously freeing our artists from any need to continue accessing the public purse.
Let's start with the concept of licensing an all-porn channel in the first place. "Why?". If you want hardcore, you can already find it by flipping around the current channel listings. Our movie channels are already loaded with the stuff from sunset onwards.
In addition, Expressvu, Shaw & Rogers, our cable and satellite "service providers" (and doesn't that term take on a different hue in this discussion) also offer almost unlimited Video-on-demand and Pay-Per-View options in the category.
So, who's still not being served? And for that matter, have any of you bright lights who cash cheques made out to CRTC Commissioners realized that you can get porn on an iPod, PSP, mobile phone as well as a Tsunami of it on that box with the flickering screen that your assistants stare at all day?
We just don't need this. And what's more, none of those "service providers" are going to pick up Northern Peaks anyway. Do any of you Commissioners really think Ted Rogers, Jim Shaw or Mr. CTV-Bell-GlobeMedia-Ontario-Teachers-Pension-Plan are going to happily share the VOD gravy train with some upstart from Edmonton with a fondness for the local beaver?
These guys make a fortune peddling this stuff. They're not giving up their claim on that Gold rush riverbank to anybody. And if any of you knew the first thing about Broadcasting you'd know that -- but, unfortunately for all of us -- you don't!
Back in April, while watching interventions on changes to the CTF, one small network described a problem they'd had in renegotiating a carriage agreement with Shaw Cable. Shaw had agreed to carry their signal for a couple of years, which confirmed their license and got them on the dial. But at renewal time, Shaw called the CRTC and got the total profit that had been earned by the channel and that number became what Shaw requested as the annual fee for continued carriage.
The Commissioners hearing this tut-tutted and allowed as how they shouldn't maybe have made that information public. And now they've put the owners of "Northern Peaks" in exactly the same barrel. How much more proof do you need that the people who sit on the CRTC don't have the brains to turn on a television let alone regulate what gets broadcast?
Additionally, after years of listening to broadcasters claim "Nobody wants to see Canadian shows" and "Canadians aren't interested in Canadian stars", all of a sudden they find favor with a Porn producer who champions Canadian production by asserting, "I've always found there's a real turn-on to watching and knowing it's (stars are) people you could run into in the grocery store."
Once again, the CRTC takes its cues and marching orders from a broadcaster. Whatever they say is true. Whatever anybody else says carries no weight whatsoever.
One of the readers of Part One or Part Two of this trilogy took me to task for suggesting the CRTC had set "Northern Peaks" promised 50% Canadian content, when that number was volunteered by the broadcaster. Unfortunately that ignores the reality that these decisions are reached after a number of "What's it going to take to make this happen" confabs. Mandarins hint to lobbyists who advise appellants on what to say and when.
So, in the end, "Northern Peaks" is obligated to spend $1 Million on indigenous production in its first year. Given the cost of actually shooting a porn feature, that means they could shoot 20 or more in their first year. Therefore, in a direct comparison, Canada would annually release more porn titles than legitimate feature films.
That's something to be proud of, isn't it?
Thanks, CRTC! Way to make the Canadian film industry look even more anemic and ineffectual than it already is. But, as so often before, nobody on the CRTC seems able to discern the ramifications of their decisions. From gutting drama to ghettoizing production as "popular" or "cultural" the assault on indigenous production is relentless.
And because of bureaucratic lack of foresight and the reality that many people can't tell the difference between the porn industry and legitimate films with an adult point of view anyway, we'll once again be kicked around and pilloried by the Charles McVetys of the world.
And for those who haven't been paying attention, Reverend Chuck is back from Bible Camp, his first words on the subject being "...for the Government to use a Public resource to promote such degradation, shows how detached the bureaucracy is from the Canadian people."
And so it continues -- in the same way that medieval villages would tar and feather traveling players and drive them past the city limits content to live in fear and ignorance; our own government nourishes our baser instincts and allows the artists who could set us apart and save an industry on the verge of collapse to die of neglect.
Maybe they'll wake up when the only Canadian content their kids can download to their PSPs is porn -- maybe...
Friday, August 22, 2008
I saw "Deep Throat" at a midnight screening in Miami. Just in on a red-eye flight and with a body clock too screwed up to sleep, I looked out my hotel window and noticed a line of people outside the Pussycat Theatre across the street. They appeared to be mostly middle class couples and retirees, not the kind you normally associate with the raincoat crowd. So, I joined them, finding a seat in front of two elderly women in their 70's.
"Deep Throat" follows the journey of a woman unable to orgasm, who learns from a doctor that her clitoris is where her epiglottis ought to be. And if you need more anatomical detail on where all that leads, you're probably too young to be reading this blog. Anyway, the doctor tells her that when she finally climaxes, the earth will move, she'll hear bells ringing, etc.
And sure enough, concurrent with the final money shot, we get a Hollywood montage of doves in flight and church bells chiming. At which point, one of the old girls behind me sighed, "Oh, she heard her bells" cracking up the front rows. As the lights went up and I followed the two women up the aisle, one turned to the other and said, "I'm so glad it had a happy ending."
Unfortunately, happy endings are usually confined to the screen in the real world of making Porn.
The success of "Deep Throat" spawned an entire industry in the United States, one that now grosses (if the figures are to be believed) upwards of $13 Billion a year. The combination of low production costs and stunningly large profits is hard for many filmmakers to resist. And perhaps the belief that such success could just as easily happen here played a part in the recent CRTC decision to license a Canadian porn channel with 50% home grown content.
As I've said before, I don't have a problem with consenting adults doing whatever or watching whatever they want. The state really does not belong in the bedrooms of the nation. But I wonder if the CRTC really considered who they are helping some Canadians get into bed with.
While working on "Top Cops" I met a couple of FBI Agents who had been undercover in New York's Gambino family. And they had a very different take on the success of "Deep Throat".
The Gambino crew had a piece of the action in many American porn theatres as well as the distribution of the product that was exhibited there. Therefore, the cash that rolled in from these legal operations was liberally mixed with incomes from drugs, gambling and prostitution; laundering the latter while building up the expectation of potential riches for those contemplating creating the former.
In the eyes of these cops, Porn helped the Mob gain footholds in countless legal businesses while building a bankroll that bought them better lawyers, smarter accountants and more politicians.
It also convinced many in the film business that making Porn was a fast track to the financial success or celebrity they craved. Three of these people were friends of mine.
Let's start with a guy I'll call Dick...
Dick was a male model who married an actress I'd worked with in LA. He was and is a stunningly handsome man. He was also funny and kind hearted. Unfortunately, what he possessed in those departments was offset by what he didn't have in the talent division. Despite his skills at modelling underwear and posing next to fast cars, he really wanted to be an actor.
Over time, that obsession began to strain their relationship and one night she called, asking me if I could find "something, anything" for him in the show I was producing. There was a small part available, only a few lines, but with the potential for a nice clip for his reel, so we called him in. The audition was painful and no matter how much help we gave him, there was no way we could justify hiring him.
But Dick had a talent I apparently hadn't noticed, probably because he'd kept his pants on. And shortly after he and the actress separated it came to the attention of a porn producer.
I spoke to Dick the day the script for his first film arrived. He told me it was really well written.
The shoot took place over a weekend and the next week he phoned all his friends to tell us it would be in the stores in about a month and the shoot had gone well -- although he was a little tired by the end.
Over the next year, he made 8 or 9 more films at a fraction of what he'd used to earn for holding up a glass of Scotch and smiling. And although no legit modelling agency would touch him anymore, in his new world he had lines and emotional transitions and was becoming a star. He began talking about getting out and making the cross-over to episodic TV and Indy films now that he had "experience".
Eight years later, Dick's still making porn. The parts are smaller now and his partners are starlets trying to break in or former divas on their way out, rather than the big names in the business. He's been ripped off, pressured to do scenes he finds dangerous or brutal and told that with his still good looks he'd do much better making gay porn.
He's thinking about that, mostly because he doesn't feel he has any other options.
My second friend is Cam, an aspiring cinematographer who graduated from a Canadian Community College at the top of his class and planned to someday parlay his visual skills into directing. He broke into the business about three years ago, when the outlook for the local industry was grim. But he was still good enough to land a few gigs in that environment which resulted in a short but impressive resume and a stellar sample reel.
His girlfriend pregnant and unwilling to spend a potentially unemployed winter in Toronto, he headed to LA because that's where he was going to end up eventually anyway.
Finding living and medical expenses more than he expected, Cam took a couple of days on a porn shoot. When the producer discovered he had his own kit, he began calling more often. Suddenly, Cam had a steady job. And while it kept him from making the rounds with his resume and schmoozing producers, it was only for a little while.
Sure there were annoyances, like cleaning spilled bodily fluids off the lens, but the producers let him try his own shots and the people he worked with were up-and-comers like him.
When he explained what came next, he asked if I'd ever seen the wrestling documentary "Beyond the Mat" and wrestler Jake "The Snake" Roberts' description of the pitfalls to be found in that world.
Initially, Cam just found it hard to come home from a set filled with Porn starlets to a wife who'd just had breast milk puked on her T-shirt. Then he learned that some of those Porn stars, like many actresses, appreciated how a good Cinematographer could improve their looks or hide their flaws. Only they didn't repay him with a bottle of wine or box of chocolates.
Then, like Jake, a different woman a night wasn't enough, then neither were two, and then...
Cam's wife and child have moved back to Toronto. He's still in LA, working full time now. His plans to direct independent features are on hold and the images he's recording look like those of anybody else trying to get 50-plus set-ups a day. But that's okay. They're going to let him direct their stuff soon.
I'll call my third friend Kitty.
Kitty hailed from Florida and had no showbiz aspirations. She'd simply put as much turf as she could between home and a creepy stepfather. When I met her, she was working the service counter of a Chatsworth car dealership and tending bar part time in my favorite country saloon.
Over the years, Kitty had battled a self-esteem problem. She knew she was beautiful and that men got whiplash when she walked through the mall, but something was missing from her life.
One night in the bar, or one day at the dealership, somebody handed her his card and told her she could have a lot of fun being in a porn film. She carried that card around for weeks before calling back and making her debut in the background of an orgy scene. Pretty soon, she was working regularly enough to give up her other part time jobs.
I don't know if Kitty found a way to fill that inner emptiness or found her new life harder to live than the previous ones. All I know is that she overdosed on sleeping pills two years later.
According to a mutual friend, at the end, Kitty was struggling with Hepatitis A and a coke habit, both of which had been contracted on the job.
Now -- I'm certain you could find similar tales in other areas of show business, not to mention in the realms of banking, real estate or dentistry. But within the porn industry they are legion. For every Jenna Jameson and Ron Jeremy, there are a thousand stories like those above.
And now they can be Canadian content.
In closing, I want to say that while I know that there are studies that say the availability of porn has reduced the incidents of sexual assault, increased acceptance of sexual preferences and saved marriages, I also know there are as many asserting that increased exposure to pornography is contributing to several social ills.
I don't know who's right in all that. And the last thing I'd ever want to do is shackle anybody's personal expression, artistic exploration or their inalienable right to party.
Apparently, 2/3 of all hotel movie rentals are porn films, but they are only watched for an average of 12 minutes. So that makes me think that the bulk of society approaches the issue as either some experience they want to sample like those old ladies in Miami or as a quick method of winding down after a trying day.
But something's still offside here and the CRTC's initial defense of its decision -- "There were no interventions" -- bespeaks an incredible lack of insight into what their decision might actually mean.
Not that that's any different from most of their other decisions, but more on that in Part III.
Monday, August 18, 2008
Recently, Will Dixon wrote a perceptive piece on the show that most exemplifies recent Canadian television, "Train 48". In his post, Will focused on the Canadian network tradition of eschewing quality and entertainment value in favor of cheaply produced quota fulfillment.
Ken Girotti followed up with his own musings on the subject, positing that the CRTC wanted more of the same and in their perfect world, we'd all be doing porn.
Not 24 hours later, Denis McGrath broke the news that the CRTC had licensed a new Porn Channel with the proviso that it program 50% Canadian content.
A lot of giggles and merriment ensued in various comment sections from us creative types. Some of it provoked by the perfect comic timing of the announcement and some out of fear that Girotti's prediction might be coming true.
The Family Compact only wants us around if we'll fuck for them.
Over this week, I'm going to publish three posts about the porn trade. Each will focus on a different aspect of the game. Because what most people don't know is that I started out in Porn.
Now, I've never been in a porn movie, nor written or produced one. But one of my first jobs was in the industry.
I arrived in Toronto in 1971, fresh out of theatre school, my first professional contract under my belt and ready to break into the big time. But I needed some way to pay the rent until I'd made the rounds with my sparse resume and 8x10's, found an agent and shown the casting directors what I could do.
So I trotted down to the Canada Manpower office to find a job. The helpful Government clerk looked over his files and sent me off to a Yonge Street hole-in-the-wall called "Reid Books" which, along with its sister outlet "Cinema 2000", were the city's main purveyors of smut and where the efficient public servant had discerned I had a marketable skill.
For during my time at the University of Regina, there had been a failed attempt to launch a student TV station. In the process I'd learned to operate one of those old 2" video tape machines. And Cinema 2000 showed porn films on video tape because of a little wrinkle in the Law.
Exhibiting Porn could get you arrested back then. But nobody had foreseen the advent of video tape, so it wasn't listed in the criminal code and therefore charges couldn't be laid for screening dirty movies on video.
Not that the Toronto Police Morality Squad didn't try. One of the first things the store manager warned me about was that I could get arrested for working there. But hey, the money was good, the hours allowed me to go to auditions and shoot commercials and I looked cool in the "Fuck Censorship" T-shirt all the staff got to wear.
So my first summer in Toronto was spent working the midnight shift in two of the sleaziest joints in town. Both were narrow store fronts. At Reid, the first third could be mistaken for any other book or magazine outlet. The second third was hardcore porn magazines and books, the hardest shielded in provincially mandated plastic wrap. A curtain hid the back third where video booths that resembled the original Pac-Man games would play 3 minutes from a stag film for a quarter.
We sold a lot of rolls of quarters -- and didn't go past that curtain into the back unless we absolutely had to.
Cinema 2000 was more in your face. The books, magazines and an assortment of sex toys were right up front along with posters for what was playing in the plush red velvet 40 seat theatre downstairs, where you watched the movie on a 4 foot screen.
I've always been convinced this was where Garth Drabinsky got the inspiration for the first Cineplex.
And except for a few minutes of hardcore sex, most of the movies weren't much different from what you'd see in a neighborhood multiplex or Art house today. Most had an actual story although it was little more than an excuse to hang nude scenes on and there were always a couple of completely irrelevant plot points to wrap up after the final money shot. I soon realized they were there to allow the clientele to scurry out before the lights came up.
I hadn't had much exposure to porn, but as a child of the 60's I didn't find anything offensive about it. And from the point of view of an aspiring actor, being around it offered me an incredible insight into people.
Biologists may claim our first instinct is survival, finding food and water, etc. But I'm convinced they're only the necessities required so that we can follow our prime directive which is to fuck somebody.
You saw all kinds in the store, from the furtive perverts to the anxious to understand teenagers to women who'd slip you a 20 to deliver a vibrator to them in the coffee shop next door so their friends would think they had only come in to buy the early edition of the Globe and Mail.
Some of the clerks called the customers "maggots", tired of their constant cloying desperation to somehow get off. All of "us" were young, hip and cool. We were struggling artists and musicians who had no trouble getting laid.
We found a myriad of ways to have fun with them. One night we created a display of fresh cucumbers labelled "Organic Vibrators -- No Fuss, No Muss, No Batteries or Cords" and we actually sold one. On another occasion, we invented a perversion, placing signs in the magazine section that Customs officers had seized that month's issue of "Thighbiters International" but we had a limited stash offshore we could mail. In a week we'd collected over a hundred names and addresses.
But the more I watched the customers, the more I started to see something else -- the way their need for gratification was being used to control or subjugate them.
Julian Berry's 1971 Broadway Play "Lenny", the stage biography of comedian Lenny Bruce, opens with a scene depicting ancient tribal elders choosing the best man in the tribe, who will be chosen by what he will sacrifice for the tribe. One offers to divest himself of his cows, another will give away his lands. But the winner announces that he's giving up fucking. The others can't believe it.
Then they realize that the people will be in awe of anybody who they believe has given up fucking. It's the ultimate proof that you are superior to them. The scene ends with the decision to make people feel shame for needing sex and to harass anybody who talks about it.
Cue Lenny's entrance...
Likewise, the feeling in the store was always that of an illicit activity in progress. Sometimes uniformed cops would walk in, instantly emptying the place. And we were regularly raided, with the Morality squad walking out with boxes of books and magazines that might or might not be used as evidence.
All of the clerks were harassed. I awoke one morning to find two Morality Squad detectives at the door. Their names were Cryderman and Parks, later immortalized as the Pinkerton Men in Carol Bolt's play "Red Emma" -- after being the guys who busted the Toronto Free Theatre's production of Michael Hollingsworth's "Clear Light" in 1973, the only time a Canadian drama has been closed as a threat to public morality, its artists living for months under the shadow of criminal prosecution.
I made the guys tea, following my personal credo of showing your adversary an initial courtesy and the opportunity to exhibit their own humanity. But the two cops were there to put the fear of God into me. Either I quit or they'd bust me. I told them I didn't understand how I could be arrested for doing a job the government had found for me. That stopped them cold and they soon left. But I've often wondered if their next stop was Canada Manpower to kick somebody's ass.
I always had this nagging suspicion that something else was going on in the Porn trade. If what we were doing was so harmful, nothing was stopping the authorities from coming down on us like a ton of bricks, confiscating our entire stock and tossing a few guys in jail. But they never did. And there was no perceivable link between what was seized. Sometimes it was bondage, sometimes copies of "Jugs" or "Gent" that were no different from the issue they'd ignored the month before.
I'd also noticed something else that I hadn't mentioned to the cops that morning. Somebody had told me that the best way to get to know a new city was to read the newspaper every day from cover to cover. And it worked. I soon knew who was who on City council, who the big business players and influential citizens were, and how some of them were inter-connected. And I also saw most of them in the store.
Many would swan in on a Saturday evening, wives in tow after an evening at dinner or the theatre, the wife carrying the ubiquitous rose from a street seller that signified date night. They'd sweep through, weaving between the pervs, sniggering at a title or two, before leaving with a dismissive glance to the guy at the cash register -- communicating clearly that they were far above such activities.
And then, the guy would come back -- sometimes later -- sometimes the next day and pocket what had caught their eye, unaware the same clerk was taking their money.
As porn has become more pervasive in our culture, the stigma attached to it has diminished. But not that much. It's still seen as being created by less savory individuals; a kind of necessary evil that somehow keeps the masses preoccupied.
So it doesn't surprise me that the CRTC is demanding that half of the programming on the new porn channel be Canadian in content. They'd never require that the primary content of any other broadcaster approach those numbers. It's a ruling that almost instantly creates an industry within months of rulings which have reduced work opportunities for legitimate artists.
There's a message being sent here. A direction is being charted. More on that in Part Two.
Sunday, August 17, 2008
The summer's half gone and the only blockbuster I've seen was "The Dark Knight". Now, is it just me, or was that supposed to be a Batman movie? I mean, shouldn't a Batman movie have Batman in it as more than just transitional filler?
Anyway, I've got some major movie catching up to do and that means perusing all of the reviews I normally never bother with to sort what's worthy of the theatrical experience from what can wait for rental or an evening with the movie channels.
I know there are people who swear by certain critics or have a circle of friends with similar tastes. But I like to get guidance from people who've been there and are impervious to marketing, fanboys and the need to appear hip and cool.
A little while ago, old friends, screenwriter Lorenzo Semple ("Three Days of the Condor, "The Parallax View", "The Drowning Pool") and producer Marcia Nasatir ("The Big Chill", "Hamburger Hill", "Ironweed") decided to experiment with this newfangled innertubes thing and offer their own take on current films.
It started out as a goof, but in a few short months their filmic discussions have garnered a huge audience among Hollywood insiders, drawn (as you will be) by their intelligent debates. These are two people with more days on movie sets than most of us have spent on the planet. There is little in the film world they haven't personally experienced or seen before.
On top of that, neither has a personal agenda, a career relationship they want to curry favor with or a media conglomerate to placate, so what you get is a straightforward reaction that's of far more value than your average review.
Here's a sample of "The Reel Geezers" work. You can find more on Youtube or their own website www.thereelgeezers.com.
And enjoy your Sunday. Me, I've got another border to cross.
Friday, August 08, 2008
The 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics arrived today toting enough moral ambiguity to fill a full season of "The Sopranos" with ethical dilemmas aplenty left over to service the needs of "Dexter" and "Mad Men" to boot.
Juxtaposing those repugnant realities, we have the Olympic movement's professed "celebration of the Human Spirit and the highest Ideals of Humanity" not to mention that basic TV viewer's desire to watch some of the best athletes on the planet do some really cool shit.
So what is the television audience to do -- boycott the games or set their values and sense of right and wrong aside for a couple of weeks, joining in the celebration of nationality and corporate excess?
Maybe there's another option -- watching the Olympics with your eyes fully open for a change. Yes, there will be a lot of spectacle, pageantry and physical prowess. Enjoy and be impressed by that. These are real people doing exceptional things.
But look past all that and think beyond the narrow "either or" parameters the media and pundits have defined for you.
Boycotting the 2008 Olympics is pointless because they're going ahead whether they offend your sensibilities or not. And getting grouchy about the whole thing will be taken as an insult by the Chinese people, the vast majority of whom have no more control over how their country is run than you do. Like any other nation chosen to host the Olympics, they are justifiably proud of having this moment in the sun and anxious to be appreciated, respected and embraced by the rest of us.
C'mon, give our Asian buddies a hug. God knows a lot of them are down a quart. And you might learn something about them in the process.
I'll never forget an opening night party I attended in honor of the 2000 Sydney Games in Australia's (aptly named) Surfer's Paradise. As the spectacle unfolded on television, I must've been asked a hundred times if some aspect of the ceremony was "too much", "over the top" or "embarrassing". At a similar closing night event, the hostess cornered me to apologize for a ceremony peopled with Rock Geezers like "Midnight Oil" and "Men At Work" . She insisted that most Aussies were far more sophisticated than that.
I couldn't have been more pleased. For the first time on my sojourn there, I got to see past their national trait of insistent independence and knew they were just like the rest of us.
If the world snubs China over the next two weeks or tries to embarrass her, it won't be seen by the average citizen as a wake up call to change what's going on in their country. It'll just prove that what their disreputable leaders have told them about us is true.
Likewise, there's no point berating the athletes for not protesting or for turning up to compete. They didn't get a vote about where the games were going to be held either.
Past Olympians have had to deal with competing at altitude or after making an arduous trek to the other side of the planet with a body clock completely out of balance. This year's crop will have to deal with intense security and air that's barely breathable.
If you want to take your anger out on somebody for what's happening, go after the real culprits; the IOC and their corporate enablers, so anxious for access to the Chinese market, that they set aside their principles (if they had any) and paid hundreds of millions of dollars in fees to get this shameful show on the road.
Muhtar Kent, President and CEO of Coca-Cola knows the Chinese government are funding the atrocities in Darfur and apparently doesn't care. Bubba and Skeeter, who live in the trailer parks ringing his corporate home in Atlanta, are having trouble finding work these days and they're not buying as many of his beverages. So he has to dig up new customers. Why should a few hundred thousand raped or butchered African farmers be allowed to interfere with that?
Likewise. Ralph Alvarez, President and COO of McDonald's has Happy Meals to unload. He didn't get where he is by not reading the newspapers. So he likely knows that the Chinese government regularly executes prisoners (China executes more people than the whole rest of the world combined) and often executes criminals (or political dissidents or the followers of the Falun Gong spiritual movement) to order to provide transplant organs.
Perhaps Ralph sees that practise as an asset to his core business. Some of those organs might come in handy replacing the clogged arteries he's assisted his North American customers in acquiring.
Over at Canada's Manulife, CEO Dominic D'Alessandro may be salivating at the prospect of selling Life insurance in China. Although I'm sure he's cautioned his sales force to avoid Tibet, where life expectancy of the residents is less reliable. I also suspect his Flexcare options over there won't cover respiratory illnesses.
You can find a whole list of the companies hoping to profit from cozying up to the IOC and Chinese government here. And the Toronto Star's John Hoberman has a remarkably insightful expose of the truth behind the noble claims of the Olympic sponsors here.
But we must add to this list of morally suspect corporations, those who shelled out Billions to become "Official Broadcasters" of the Games in their home countries.
I know for a fact that all of the television executives who negotiated those deals watch their own nightly news reports religiously. It's part of their jobs. So from the moment the IOC announced that Beijing would host these games, they, more than anyone, knew they would be walking over corpses to deliver their programming. But that didn't stop them.
Perhaps the worst offender is our own CBC, less dependent on corporate profit than many of the others and formerly at the forefront of exposing Human Rights abuses.
But in the last year, the CBC has edited documentaries so as not to offend the Chinese Government. Sportscaster Ron MacLean (regularly bullied and cowed by Don Cherry, so I'm sure he wasn't a problem for the Chinese police) did a cheery series of vignettes leading up to the Games which included a walk across "historic" Tiananmen Square, all the while neglecting to mention the 1989 slaughter for which it is most widely known.
But then the CBC also kept its Olympic mouth shut in 1968 when Mexico City police and the Mexican army were machine gunning hundreds of protesters to death right outside their downtown hotel rooms.
It's been enlightening to see how swiftly CBC journalists have segued from passionately reporting on Tibet to gushing over how gosh darn chipper and helpful all those Olympic volunteers are.
Wake up Sluggo -- they have no choice!
I hope George Stroumboulopoulos and Jian Ghomeshi will spare us any future thoughtful discourse about Tibet, Darfur or Human Rights. Their show budgets this season will be covered at the expense of a lot of broken bodies. Don't pretend you didn't know or aren't part of the problem, fellas.
And after all the carping about the lack of Internet access it's correspondents are getting, it'll be interesting to see just how free the National broadcasters are with their own coverage. I'm thinking some of them can see an upside to this censorship and limited access thing.
There has always been a dark side to the Olympic Games, from cities winning bids through bribes to corrupt judging and doping. But now we appear to have entered an era where corporate greed may make all that seem like amateur league stuff. How vile is a crooked boxing official or basketball referee in comparison with the corporate whitewash of genocide and brutality by companies from democratic countries?
If nothing else, the 2008 Olympics reflect the reality that the celebration of human ability places a distant second to the celebration of profit. Who cares if the venues were built by slaves or that the athletes can't breathe if it means sales spike on Samsung phones and Lenovo notebooks.
I'll be watching the Olympics, but likely not seeing that many new Olympic or World records in an atmosphere where Soccer players are reporting being "winded" after climbing a flight of stairs and our Olympic rowers are already bemoaning not getting pre-approval to use Asthma inhalers.
I'm hoping that the shots of smog blanketed Beijing will finally wake us up to the fact that the Kyoto Accord and Carbon taxes are a joke in the face of a nation 10,000 times the size of our own that's doing nothing. Hopefully, it will spur us to make real change that actually might make a difference to the planet.
I'll also be taking this Olympic lemon and making real lemonade instead of reaching for a Coke. I'll be removing my name from the list at my local Bell Mobility store to buy the almost available Samsung iPhone killer. And I'll be watching all those heartwarming commercials for Olympic sponsors knowing that no real heart was involved in their creation.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who died last week, once wrote "Violence does not live alone...It is necessarily woven with falsehood. The role of the writer is to penetrate the guard by refusing to participate in the falsehood -- by telling the truth and only the truth, leaving violence helpless to persist in the world."
Those of us who call ourselves writers need to start living that way and encouraging those around us to do the same.
Sunday, August 03, 2008
It's impossible to create any dramatic work without becoming completely absorbed in the world you're imagining. The bulk of the writer's job is constructing and then adhering to the unique rules that must be followed in this fictional setting; thus building an internal logic that governs the people, places and things included in the script.
On television series, there are also formulae and formats that further define the show's style and the flow of its stories and dictate how they are intended to be perceived and embraced by the audience.
"Perry Mason" always built to a sudden courtroom confession. No matter how good he had things, "The Littlest Hobo" was always moving on when the final credits rolled. And how would any of us follow the drift of "CSI: Miami" if David Caruso ever lost his sunglasses?
In "Adderly", our hero always had a signature moment when he figured out the mystery he was trying to solve. He was always one step ahead of the audience (we hoped) and in that moment had to communicate to them that he had put the last pieces of the puzzle together. Some bright light at the network insisted that was by saying "Bingo!" usually breathlessly or with a satisfied smile.
We hated the conceit so much we tried to find all kinds of ways to let the audience know we found the repetitive moment as laughable as we were certain they did. That led to giving his secretary a hamster named "Bingo" in one episode that became the final piece in that week's puzzle so Adderly could look at Bingo and say "Bingo".
We had a plan B in place for when the immaturity of our plot was recognized in dailies. But instead, they told us it was the best "Bingo" moment yet.
Because TV worlds are so tightly wound and regulated. It doesn't take much to completely unravel them -- one small shift in perception is all it takes.
So please accept "Space: 1999" kinked 100 years earlier.
And enjoy your Sunday...