Friday, December 26, 2008

Squiddance '08: Big Green, Big Screen

Just for the next little while I'm commandeering the 'crawl for social event planning, since not everyone is on facebook and I don't have the time to set up an actual forum. I assure you this will not become a habit. Local real estate values will be restored shortly.

In the meantime, though, this is how the next few days are looking:
  • Dec 27, noon through whenever: "Cowboy Bebop" (brought to you from Squeak & Death Ray's personal collection), which has to be the worst title since "Battlestar Galactica" but which is widely regarded to be one of the best animé series ever, and one which Joss Whedon is rumored to have ripped off when he made "Firefly". We're talking 26 episodes and a movie, so this is going to take all the 27th and a chunk of the 28th.
  • Dec 28, probably noon unless anyone is still sprawled across furniture from the night before, in which case we might just pick up earlier: the Conclusion of Bebop, followed by a variety of one-offs whose order depends on local interest: "Perfect Blue", "Jin Rah", and episodes of "The Venture Brothers" are all in contention. Robot Chicken's Star Wars specials may also make an appearance. If I dislike all these I may just commandeer the set and force everyone to watch Eraserhead.
  • Dec 29th: Must be seen to be believed. The first half of Season 4 of Battlestar Galactica, rendered in glorious hi-def, would be cause enough to make the trip. But we have an added bonus for you. For those who were a) too young, or b) have suppressed the memory, a series called "The Starlost" was made right here in Toronto back in the early seventies. It was created by Harlan Ellison, engaged the talents of Ben Bova as science adviser and Douglas Trumbull (2001, Silent Running) on special effects. Acting talent ran the gamut from Sterling Hayden to John Colicos. The premise was nothing short of brilliant, and it is widely and justly regarded as the worst science fiction series ever made. And now, courtesy of the private (and soon-to-be-banned) collection of horror writer David Nickle, we present the entire 16-episode run of this atrocity interspersed among episodes of BSG. Think of the day as a kind of parfait, layers of gold and shit interlaced for as long as we can withstand the psychological whiplash. I have no idea how long this experiment will last. Perhaps we'll get all the way through both sequences, or perhaps we'll run screaming for our pitchforks after five minutes of Rachel and Devon. We won't know until we try.
  • Dec. 30: no showings. I must be in Oakville to help dispose of the last possessions of my decrepit mother, in the wake of her relocation to the dumpster behind the Denny's on South Service Road
  • Dec 31: still wide open. Maybe we'll all be sated by then. Maybe we'll watch the Lord of the Rings, extended edition. Maybe we'll just spin the disks and watch Wall-e or Brazil or 2001: A Space Odyssey for the hundredth time. Or Dark Star if it downloads in time.
So that's the closest thing we have to an actual schedule. Everything is liable to change without notice. We may even deke hard right and do some gaming: at least Portal and Half-Life: The Lost Coast can be completed in a few hours, and they look pretty good on a 47" screen.

Logo credit: Madeline "Squeak" Ashby.



Anonymous Madeline said...

You know, we should really start doing "Squid and Squeak Watch Anime" segments. Just so people can hear you rail on about "inconsistent morphology" and "an astonishing lack of narrative payoff" and "what do you mean, Kusanagi's bisexual?" Like science and social theory and MST3K all mashed up. We can record it in GarageBand as a podcast, upload it here, then people can listen at leisure while watching the pertinent episodes.

(I recommend "The Venture Bros." as both "Perfect Blue" and "Jin-Roh" will drive you up the wall re: narrative closure.)

December 26, 2008 4:16 PM  
Blogger Mattan said...

I wish I could party with all you fun folks. Sounds like a fantastic time.

BSG + Cowboy Bebop + Portal. Why aren't my friends as cool as you guys?

Though I would probably end up harassing Peter about the necessity of consciousness.

Enjoy! I look forward to spending more time on this blog as I eagerly away new novels (and I just discovered the short-stories area, woo!).

December 26, 2008 4:51 PM  
Blogger Anthony said...

i notice a lack of avant garde gay porn on this list, and so will bring a large selection, including lucifer rising, fireworks, pink narcissus and hustler white.

December 26, 2008 8:57 PM  
Blogger Raja said...

Sounds like a good time.

Bebop's eps are only 23 minutes apiece, so a marathon isn't quite as crazy as it might sound at first.

And... there are actually people out there who liked Eraserhead?

December 26, 2008 10:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

@Mattan Don't get me wrong, I love the short stories, but "Woo!" is rarely what I hear from people I show it to.. Mostly I hear things along the lines of "oh god, I need a drink"

Though I agree, I need more friends like yours...

December 27, 2008 12:22 AM  
Anonymous rayp said...

I doubt anyone will make it through all of The Starlost. I especially admired the industrial chimneys in one scene obviously constructed out of toilet roll holders.

I've got a copy of Phoenix Without Ashes, the novelization by Mr Ellison and Mr Edward Bryant here on my desk. It has an entertaining afterword by Mr Ellison where he describes how this 'Mt. Everest of cow flop' got produced. It features a great example of Hollywood ethics, when Ellison describes the initial meeting over the concept of the show with Robert Kline at 20th century Fox. After pitching the premise:

"Kline suggested I dash home and write up the idea, which he would then merchandise. I pointed out to him that the Writers Guild frowns on speculative writing and that if he wanted the riches of my invention, he should lay on me what we call 'holding money' to enable me to write a prospectus and to enable him to blue-sky it with the BBC.

The blood drained from his face at my suggestion of advance money, and he said he had to clear it with the BBC, but that if I wrote the prospectus he would guarantee me a free trip to London. I got up and started to walk.

'Hold it, hold it!' he said, and opened a desk drawer. He pulled out a cassette recorder and extended it. 'Tell you what; why don't you just tell it on a cassette, the same way you told me.' I stopped and looked. This was a new one on me. In almost fifteen years as a film and television writer, I've seen some of the most circuitous Machiavellian dodges ever conceived by the mind of Western Man to get writers to write on the cuff. But never this.

I thought on it for a moment, rationalized that this wasn't speculative writing, that at worst it was 'speculative talking', and since a writer is expected to pitch an idea verbally anyhow, it was just barely legitimate.

So I took the cassette home, backed my spiel with the music from 2001: A Space Odyssey, outline the barest bones of the series concept, and brought it back to Kline.

'Okay. Here it is,' I said, 'but you can't transcribe it. If you do, then it becomes spec writing and you have to pay me.' He assured he wouldn't put it on paper, and that he'd get back to me shortly. He was sure the BBC would go bananas for the idea.

No sooner was I out of his office than he had his secretary transcribe the seven-minute tape."

December 29, 2008 5:42 PM  
Anonymous rayp said...

I can see why you wanted to put on The Starlost as Ellison continues:

"Marty the agent called. 'Kline has sold the series. Go see him.'

'Series? I said, appalled. 'But that idea was only viable for eight segments...A series, you say?'

'Go see him.'

So I went. Kline greeted me like I were the only human capable of deciphering the Mayan Codex, and caroled that he had sold the series not only to forty eight of the NBC independent affiliates, but that the Westinghouse outlets had bitten, and so had the entire Canadian television network, CTV.

'Uh, excuse me,' I said, with an act of temerity not usually attributed to writers in Hollywood, 'how did you manage to sell this, er, series without having a contract with me, or a prospectus, or a pilot script, or a pilot film...or anything?'

'They read your outline, and they bought it on the strength of your name.'

'They read it? How?'

He circumnavigated that little transgression of his promise not to set my worlds on paper, and began talking in grandiose terms about how I'd be the story editor, how I'd have creative control, how I'd write many scripts for the show, and what a good time I'd have in Toronto.

'Toronto?!' I said, gawking. 'What the hell happened to London? The Sir Lew Grade Studios. Soho. Buckingham Palace. Swinging London. What happened to all that?'

Mr Kline, without bothering to inform the creator of this hot property he had been successfully hawking, had been turned down by the BBC and had managed to lay off the project with CTV, as an all-Canadian production of Glen Warren, a Toronto-based operation that was already undertaking to tape The Starlost at the CFTO studios in Toronto. It was assumed by Mr Kline that I would move to Toronto to story edit the series; he never bothered to ask if I wanted to move to Canada, he just assumed I would.'

Who wouldn't want to move to Toronto? I mean, seriously.

December 29, 2008 5:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

rayp says: " 'Kline suggested I dash home and write up the idea ...' "

Great story, but you told it wrong - H.E. stories as told by Ellison himself must end with him putting one over on whoever tried to screw him. There must be part of the ending missing, the part where the tiny mouthy guy puts the more powerful person in his place.

December 30, 2008 9:56 AM  
Anonymous rayp said...

Well, Ellison's account ends with him walking off the show and it turning into a pile of cow-flap without his guiding creative mind, so I guess that counts as him putting one over, although it reads more like clueless, inept, mendacious Hollywood producer screws everything up and alienates his writer, resulting in a terrible TV show.

December 30, 2008 3:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

rayp says "Ellison's account ends with him walking off the show and it turning into a pile of cow-flap without his guiding creative mind"


I knew it! The Harlanocentric universe includes a very strangely weighted form of causality.

December 30, 2008 4:17 PM  
Anonymous Madeline said...

So, Death Ray and I are watching our recording of Sarah Palin on "The Hour," and I say: "She's...she's like a very clever, non-sentient animal."

"You mean a vampire?" Death Ray asks.

"Yes! That's it! She's one of Peter's vampires!"

What followed was a discussion of whether psychopathy was a subset of or equivalent to non-sentience, and whether humans needed their own Turing test. (Actually, it would probably look more like Voight-Kampff: "You see a wolf running across the snow." "I shoot it from my helicopter.")

So there you have it, you fueled today's brunch conversation chez nous.

January 1, 2009 12:49 PM  
Anonymous rayp said...

Applying Voight-Kampff to contemporary politicians would result in mass retirement.

Deckard would be able to buy a whole flock of real sheep with the bounty money.

January 2, 2009 3:41 PM  
Anonymous rayp said...

"You see a turtle..."

"I kill it."

"Hold on, I've not finished the question..."

"I still kill it."

January 2, 2009 3:43 PM  
Blogger Peter Watts said...

Madeline said...

"Perfect Blue" and "Jin-Roh" will drive you up the wall re: narrative closure.

Haven't played Jin-Roh yet, but I rather liked "Perfect Blue". It wasn't the narrative closure that bugged me about that movie, it was the static, limited animation.

At least they rendered noses more realistically than those sharp pointy little blades you usually see in animé, though.

Mattan said...

Why aren't my friends as cool as you guys?

You probably don't pay them as much as I pay my friends.

Raja said...

And... there are actually people out there who liked Eraserhead?

I don't think you're supposed to like Eraserhead. My understanding was that Lynch deliberately set out to make as unpleasant a viewing experience as possible.

rayp said...

I doubt anyone will make it through all of The Starlost.

We barely made it through two episodes, and mutinous rumbles were growing even as we put on the second. Man, that is one seriously bad show. And the purveyors of the boxed set put every bit as much care into the repackaging of the shows as the producers put into the original series: every now and then, in the middle of an ep, little disconnected fragments of other episodes, credit crawls, and even commercials would suddenly appear for a few seconds at a time. It was all pretty disconcerting.

But you know what they say. No such thing as a failed experiment.

January 2, 2009 4:22 PM  
Anonymous Madeline said...

In my defence, I watched PB years ago in a somewhat socially awkward situation, so I mostly concentrated on thinking: "Hey, so if Hitchcock and Sebastien Japrisot got together and scripted anime, it would look like this! Awesome!"

Ray, even money says W. doesn't know the difference between a turtle and a tortoise, either.

January 2, 2009 4:44 PM  
Anonymous rayp said...

And the purveyors of the boxed set put every bit as much care into the repackaging of the shows as the producers put into the original series

So it doesn't come with a Harlan Ellison audio commentary?

Warning: contains strong language and threats against persons.

January 3, 2009 12:31 PM  
Blogger Peter Watts said...

No Ellison commentary, alas. But each disc does start with a text card proudly announcing that "The episodes on this disc have been digitally restored to their present condition." Which, you have to admit, conveys a strong sense of improved quality while at the same time actually saying nothing at all.

January 3, 2009 1:02 PM  
Anonymous rayp said...

Which means (as you imply) only that they had to digitalize the original analog recording in order to put it on a DVD.

They could have produced an Ellison commentary if they'd got him to read aloud his afterword to the novel he based on the show which I previously quoted.

I don't know if he'd fall for that trick a second time though.

Nice to see a series as obscure as this coming out at all. It seems a real shame that we didn't get the show Ellison originally conceived particularly when they had other talented persons on board at the beginning like Doug Trumbull.

Hollywood producers (much like government ministers) employ top talent (writers, s/fx artists, scientists) and then screw up their work with depressing regularity.

January 3, 2009 2:54 PM  

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