Sunday, June 24, 2018

SerlingFest 2018

Early this week the SyFy Channel announced the cancellation of the annual Fourth of July Twilight Zone marathon. The network refused to cite a reason for the cancellation but the tradition of watching multiple episodes in one day became routine for tens of thousands of fans who, on specific Facebook groups, discuss the episodes as they air live. The annual tradition has been a SyFy staple for more than a decade. Christopher John Sorick, administrator of the Twilight Zone Fan Page, is encouraging fans to voice their disgust on the SyFy Channel Facebook page. Fans have been voicing disappointment on other Facebook groups, but the decision was no doubt financial for the network.

Thankfully, we have something more interactive to look forward to. On July 6 and 7, in Rod Serling's home town of Binghamton, New York, SerlingFest 2018 will offer fans of the television program a chance to meet Anne Serling, Rod's daughter, and a number of authors/historians, during a weekend of film screenings, documentaries and a trivia contest. The event is held at the DoubleTree, which is already sold out, but you can find a room at a neighboring hotel if you use google or

I hope to see a bunch of you at the event in a couple weeks!

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Clint Walker, Tall in the Saddle

It is with sad and heavy heart that I report the untimely passing of Clint Walker, one of the three surviving members of The Dirty Dozen, but who will forever remain in my heart as Cheyenne Bodie from the weekly television Western, Cheyenne. He passed away on May 21, from congestive heart failure. 

Having spent time professionally with a large number of Hollywood actors, especially at fan gatherings and film festivals, I can truly say Clint was one of the few individuals who was sincere down to the marrow of his bones. Down to earth, very little ego, and as you saw him on the screen in both movies and on television, that was how he was in real life. A tall, larger than life man to look up to… the same man who inspired me to eat healthy many years ago when I had lunch with him and he generously provided some dietary tips regarding vegetables, red meat and protein. 

When he made a public appearance at the Memphis Film Festival a decade ago, I quickly observed the fact that he never took time to pose for photographs with fans. When I asked him why one morning, he explained, “at my age and with these knees, getting up and down all day is troublesome and would become painful. I do not mind signing autographs and answering questions, though.” So I guess I was one of the lucky ones to have my photo taken with Clint one morning, not so much at my request as it was his. He insisted on the photo before the door opened and fans caught him posing for the camera.

This might disillusion a few people reading this, but having been in the hotel rooms with Hollywood celebrities over the years, I have always observed the numerous gifts bestowed upon the celebrities during autograph sessions… Amateur artwork, scrapbooks, refrigerator magnets, and in one instance, action figures. Self-obsessed fans never seem to have trouble finding time to create mementos inspired by the legends they get to meet at conventions and fan gatherings. Celebrities accept gifts from fans solely to maintain Goodwill and appreciation, but realistically they never have enough room in their luggage or in their house for all the gifts that have been given to them over the years. For this, academically, I can understand. With Clint Walker, however, he was always sincere when he received gifts from fans. I remember when Clint was enamored by someone who created a pair of leather shows and their talent at leather burning… They had an image of Clint Walker as Cheyenne Bodie on the side of the shoes. He literally stopped the autograph line for a few minutes to admire the craftsmanship. 

In closing, I would like to re-count a story he once told me that is worth sharing… Clint Walker was the Captain of the Guard, a small and brief scene in Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments. This was among his first acting jobs in Hollywood. On the way to the studio that morning Walker observed a woman who had pulled over to change a flat on her tire. Being the kind soul that he was, the actor pulled over to assist. (As big and built as he was I can only envision him jacking the car up with his own hands to speed the process.) Upon finishing the task, he apologized for not staying any longer to except her verbal appreciation as he was already late for work. When he arrived at the studio, he expected to be fired for being late to the interview. DeMille was furious until Walker explained his reason. The director looked at Clint Walker for a few seconds and remarked, “I know all about the fix-a-flat. That was my secretary and she explained it to me a few minutes ago.” 

Rest in peace, Mr. Walker. 

Friday, June 15, 2018

The Triumphant Return of Rocky and Bullwinkle

2018 promotional poster
Let me state for the record that one of my two favorite animated cartoons is The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle. Breaking the fourth wall, adult jokes that would normally fly over the heads of youngsters, bad puns and thrilling escapades are part and parcel of the weekly television series. I religiously bought all five seasons as they came out on DVD, then found myself traumatized in 2000 when a big screen, live-action film was released in theaters. (To date, I have never fully recovered from that horrible movie.) 

So imagine my surprise when it was announced last year that the moose and squirrel were making a comeback on's Prime streaming service... and soon after the May 11 premiere, the short run, 13-episode mini-series went under scrutiny from this avid fan boy.

Once again, Rocky and Bullwinkle are thrust into harrowing situations but end up saving the day time and time again. Their innocent and silly ambitions to become rock stars, find lost treasure and win the annual Frostbite Falls Pie Contest (using grandma's stinky pie recipe) somehow dovetail with Fearless Leader's sinister plans for world domination. Enter stage left, Boris and Natasha, the notorious super spies, who seem to always fall victim to the diabolical boobytraps originally created for moose and squirrel.

There are three story arcs for this new series, "The Stink of Fear," "The Dark Side of the Moose" and "Moosebumps." Marco Schnabel wrote the first, which brilliantly captures the spirit of the original series, leaving me hooked long enough to view all 13 episodes. While I am not a fan of this new style of animation, there was enough here to binge-watch in two-and-a-half hours. Mr. Know-It-All segments, Bullwinkle's Corner segments, and "Hey Rocky, Watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat" segments are few and far between. There are no fillers such as Peabody's Improbable History or Fractured Fairytales. The adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle last 21 minutes each, long enough for you to witness a cliffhanger that leads into the next episode.  

In an era where Hollywood continues to look at vintage property and attempt an update, rather than take a chance on an original concept, and without the voice legends of William Conrad, June Foray and Paul Frees, it is gratifying to know that the characters we have come to love are being introduced to a generation that never grew up with the original cartoons. As for this fan boy, it would be nice to see a second season with a few cartoon fillers (such as a Mr. Know-It-All segment). My only hope is that the new series will expose youngsters to the original series.

Friday, June 1, 2018

78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene

Whoever thought a documentary on the making of Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, most notably the shower stating scene, would remain entertaining and fascinating for 90 minutes? Alexandre O. Philippe's last documentary, 78/52, referring to the 78 camera set-ups and 52 edits over the course of three minutes, proved that 90 minutes is just not enough time. The documentary reminds us of the domestic times when Psycho hit theaters, how the film went to combat Hollywood censorship, and the impact that one scene had on the future of American cinema. Commentary from editors, scriptwriters, actors and filmmakers, along with a frame-by-frame expiration of the scene as it was edited together, was equally engrossing. If you are a fan of Alfred Hitchcock and/or admired the shower stabbing scene for all its celluloid glory, this is a must-see documentary.

Practically anyone in Hollywood who was affected and influenced by the movie provides trivial bits of knowledge about the movie, from bookend frame shots, the type of chocolate syrup used to simulate blood in the shower, to both visual and verbal references forecasting gloom in the movie that the audience never picked up on with the first viewing. Jamie Lee Curtis discusses her mother's involvement in the movie, Peter Bogdanovich recalls the first screening permitted for movie critics and columnists, Danny Elfman recalls how Bernard Herrmann's music score influenced him as a musician, author Stephen Rebello discusses some clever behind-the-scenes production trivia, and Marli Renfro (the stunt woman for Janet Leigh) discusses how she got the job and which scenes you can clearly see her in the movie. 

Archival footage of screenwriter Joseph Stefano, actress Janet Leigh, and director Alfred Hitchcock also provide commentary courtesy of archival footage. 

The documentary examines the movie Psycho from the perspective of the shower scene, while covering numerous other topics such as the music score, and the decision to film in back and white, while the narrative shifts back to the construction of the shower sequence. Did you know that the wallpaper design in the Bates Motel was copied for the hotel hallway scene in The Shining? Did you know that Martin Scorcese virtually captured the Sugar Ray Robinson boxing match in Raging Bull alongside the shower stabbing scene? (A split screen is shown for comparison, with Scorcese confessing his intention.) Did you know how many melons were tested to create the sound of a knife cutting into human flesh?

Covering a lot of ground in a short period of time, while capturing commentary in black and white to match scenes from Psycho, the film also provides the atmosphere of a group of film geeks chatting about the movie... with you alongside them. Honestly, this documentary could have gone on another 30 minutes and I still would have been begging for more. As it stands, this is a wonderful diversion that any fan of horror films, Alfred Hitchcock and cinema studies should take time to check out. Now available on DVD, this documentary comes recommended.

Also recommended (and I cannot speak highly enough) are two books worthy of reading about the subject, listed below. I have been recommending them for years and those who accepted by recommendation were never disappointed.

Hitchcock: A Definitive Study of Alfred Hitchcock (by Francois Truffaut, 2015 edition)
Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho (by Stephen Rebello, 2013 edition)