Sunday, August 31, 2008

Not Quite Hollywood? Our quite amazing film industry

This was so much fun!

Not Quite Hollywood

Somehow it had passed me by that Quentin Tarantino was a such fan - fanatic - of Australian films of the 60s, 70s and 80s. While most of the other interviewees in Mark Hartley's amazing, comprehensive documentary on Aussie (s)expoitation films were polite, bemused, nostalgic, and even a bit reverential, Tarantino was... unleashed!

"Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation!" is divided into three sections: "Ockers, knockers, pubes & tubes!" (including brief footage from "Number 96"), "Comatose killers and outback chillers!" and "High octane disasters and kung fu masters!" There are highlights and lowlights from an amazing array of films: Australian films that were so bad you'd forgotten how good they were, and Australian films that were so bad you'd forgotten how bad a bad Australian film could be.

Interviewees included "Number 96" alumni Rebecca Gilling, Wendy Hughes, Lynette Curran, Briony Behets, Candy Raymond, Deborah Gray, Roger Ward and Norman Yemm, all of whom made even more notorious, often nude, appearances in "Ozploitation" movies. I also noted David Hannay, who was an associate producer of "Number 96" and "The Unisexers". The archive footage of Abigail, in her many non-96 appearances, are far more revealing than any of her supposedly more-notorious "Number 96" scenes!

I'm not sure how well this doco is doing in its cinema release - due to the Indian Film Festival at Fox, it was promoted from its art house status and was screening in the larger cinema complex. It deserves to do well and, I suspect, will be a sleeper hit on DVD. I find myself curious to check out many of the films the doco saluted, although for some of the more gory examples in "Comatose killers and outback chillers!" perhaps the snippets chosen for the doco are sufficient.

I came home nursing my contributor's copy (see Bonus Features) of "Number 96: The Pantyhose Strangler" DVD set. Thanks Andrew Mercado! (It was great catching up again today, and also meeting Mitchell Butel and the gang!) Almost sixteen hours worth of episodes, most of which I haven't seen since they first aired in the 70s! Maybe you won't hear much from me this week either...

Sunday's magic number: 94.1 - Hey, I tried to order a light beer in a Bavarian restaurant today. The waiter just glared at me. Do Bavarians not get fat?

Saturday, August 30, 2008

NSW Premier's Typing Challenge

Where have I been?

Well, on September 1, it is the closing date of the NSW Premier's Reading Challenge for school students and, since I've apparently done too good a job promoting the Challenge to the 400+ students I teach, I have lots of last-minute reading records to upload to the PRC website.

The organisers had been having a bit of trouble working some bugs out of their new system, so I gave the site as much time to recover as I dared, to make sure that when I did start entering data I didn't lose anything. To their credit, the organisers have made the site accessible to the students, under their own user names and passwords, this year. Our school doesn't have sufficient free computers (as in, our computers are constantly in use by classes) and of sufficient download speed, to make this an equitable shortcut, or much of a time/motion saving.

Therefore, I've been doing the data entry myself - but my clerical assistant took pity on me and spent many more interludes than her allotted library time to ease my burden. So far we are only a few off reaching last year's record of 313 completed Challenge booklets!

So here I am on the last Saturday, still cross referencing names manually with class lists to ensure I haven't missed anyone - and I note that we now also have all day Monday to keep entering data if necessary! Whew! I do have a few queries and now I have a reprieve, and can chase up missing student records on Monday.

In fact, I shall reward myself to lunch and a movie tomorrow! I'm off to meet up with my old friend, Andrew Mercado (producer of the upcoming, eagerly-awaited "Number 96" DVD boxed set) to see the documentary "Not Quite Hollywood" at Fox Studios Australia. It's the story of Australian so-called sexploitation films, including... "Number 96".

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Quiet Sunday

I probably had lots of things I should have been doing today, but I frittered the day away. About 4.30 pm, I realised I probably should put on some loads of washing. (What an effort!)

Sunday's magic number: 93.8 - Ah, good news. Now I can just sit around here some more...

Dammit, I just realized I'm missing the Closing Ceremony of the Olympics. Shoulda put the DVD recorder on.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Keating!: Where were you when...?

Keating! (Australian musical)

... Paul Keating nudged out Bob Hawke to become Prime Minister?

December 20, 1991. I was in the USA, at the start of a six-week vacation. Now, in the US, news from Australia is extremely rare. On my first trip (December 83/Jan 84), the only news from home in six weeks was a Sydney Harbour ferry sinking during the annual Great Ferry Race of 1984. So when, during my 1991 trip - with more a few people I met saying, "I understand you have a new Prime Minister..." - it was only compounding my belief that Americans knew very little about Australia. Eventually, I discovered it was true: Australia suddenly had a new Prime Minister, no election needed.

Last night, I finally got to see an small, but highly acclaimed piece of Australian musical theatre: "Keating!", about the rise and rise of the suave and debonair politician, Paul Keating. Brilliantly performed by Mike McLeish (above left) - at times his Keating-esque glances and poses were uncanny - at almost all times his Keating was as unflappable as the original. With the easy poise of a lounge singer, Keating was surrounded by embarrassing blunderers: hilarious and quirky caricatures of Bob Hawke, John Howard (in several quick-change outfits - marvellous!), both played by Terry Serio (above right, as Bob), and Dr John Hewson and Alexander Downer (both scene-stealing roles played by Brendan Coustley).

This is an expanded version of the 2005 Drowsy Drivers' Melbourne International Comedy Festival pub show. Because both versions usually play in smallish venues, "Keating!"'s reputation for selling out early is well known.

One aspect of this production I really loved: the band members were such essential elements to the action on stage. Those guys weren't just playing instruments, they were doing as much acting as the main performers, and this was evident from their opening notes of the overture. There was some great rapport happening there, and I loved the switch from regulation black shirts and singlets to business suits and ties after intermission. Special kudos to Mick Stuart, who quietly slipped away from his electric guitar and saxophone to emerge from backstage as perfectly coiffed, red-dressed Cheryl Kernot, to sing "her" duet with Senator Gareth Evans (Enio Pozzebon, also from the band).

Terry Serio performed several of his numbers right in front of me (in the front row). That was a little unnerving at times, considering my last encounter with Mr Serio. However, it was Alexander Downer in his fishnets who picked out the two women sitting next to me, to make them a crucial part of his raunchy solo, "Freaky".

It was a fun night at the theatre. Many thanks to Fleur for organising the tickets. I'm sorry I let Mr Downer molest your mother and her friend! Hehehehehe. (Glad it was them and not me.)

And my friend, Maria in Brisbane, would be proud of me for going. Maria has been an avid "Keating!" fan since its early days, and has the original version's cast recording CD on an endless loop in her car. Most of my holiday road trips with Maria since 2005 have been accompanied by the sulty tones of Mike McLeish. I'm guessing her little son, Ben, knows the songs of "Keating!" better than those of The Wiggles.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Back to The Magic Circle Club

Last night I was lucky enough to see three half-hour b/w episodes of "The Magic Circle Club". I can only make guesses at the dating of them, and the order, because there were 550 episodes made (110 serialised stories, plus the live pantomime, "The Stolen Smile") over three years.

The first episode I revisited started with a close-up of the inaugural Logie Award the series won, so it was probably from the 1966 season. Claude Clumsy, Episode 1: A Smashing Time, with a "script and original material" by John-Michael Howson, had lots of physical comedy and featured a guest appearance by Mother Hubbard's youthful and accident-prone great-nephew, Claude (played by Max Bartlett).

Since I hadn't seen this episode since 1966, it was amazing just how many memories came flooding back! Sir Jasper and his wooden club, top hat and sequined, striped vest, Fee Fee Bear going shopping at the Pixie Village to buy Japanese china, Fredd Bear feasting on bananas, and puppets Cassius Cuckoo and Leonardo de Funbird giving out the full street addresses of young children who sent in riddles and limericks.

Favourite quote: when Fee Fee happens past Leonardo on his stump, he tells her his limerick instead of Nancy. As Fee Fee leaves for home, he mutters "Nice hairy girl, that."

Things I'd forgotten: Sir Jasper's sidekick Gaspar Goblin with his little gonk-like, furry creature, Oscar. So that's why my brothers and I were so determined to own a "Yukk" each from a certain gift store in Sydney's Imperial Arcade. (Product placement?) I'd also forgotten the frequent inference of violence (Sir Jasper urges that Gaspar takes Oscar with him or he'll "smash it to pieces") and teasing. Poor ol' mute Fredd cops a gentle teasing from everyone, including Nancy.

Cast of the Magic Circle Club, part a

On Youtube, I found a snippet of an episode of similar vintage:

The next full episode I watched started off with the previous season's opening sequence, with that episode's cast walking in a circle around Nancy as they sang. This was King Size, Episode 3: Sir Jasper Takes Over with a "script and original material" by Max Barlett, featuring a guest appearance by elderly King Size of nearby Enchantmentland (again played by Max Bartlett).

This episode has a great duet, "Copycat", lip-synched by Mother Hubbard and Fee Fee (but not John-Michael's singing voice!), some hilarious, unscripted banter between Nancy, the bird puppets and the wall-sized IKAN computer, and another song, "Call of the Sea" by Sir Jasper, with Gaspar in a hula skirt accompanying (very badly) on ukulele, as they plot to kidnap the king. There was also the gnarled Wicked Fairy, who intends to turn King Size into a robot for expelling her from Enchantmentland.

More product placement! Sir Jasper's Hideaway, temporarily disguised as a seaside vacation guesthouse, has two summery posters advertising "Hayman Island's Carousel '65".

Favourite quote: another gem from cheeky Leonardo, after IKAN shows a film on the origin of racehorses. Leonardo asks Nancy, "You running in the Melbourne Cup?"

Things I'd forgotten: The whole IKAN computer segment. I recently saw the description of IKAN in the program I bought on eBay for "The Stolen Smile", but I'd quite forgotten Leonardo frequented anywhere other than his papier mache tree stump. IKAN stands for Instantaneous Knowledge Accumulation Network, and his computer screen functions similarly to the infamous round, square and arch windows of "Play School", and the monitor on Gus the Snail's shell in "Mr Squiggle and Friends".

There was also reference to Sebastian, a character I didn't remember at all. King Size previously suggested that he would make a good court jester for Max, who's gone off somewhere.

The episode concludes with an amazing shot, done almost in widescreen, with all the characters in silhouette, wandering through the Magic Forest, looking for the Wicked Fairy and clues as to King Size's whereabouts.

Cast of the Magic Circle Club, part b

The third episode started with the same opening sequence, but this time only Fredd and a smaller bear parading in a circle around Nancy as she and her offscreen background singers vocalised. This episode, seemingly a Monday episode, was anticipated by Nancy to be a very quiet week (Ha! As if!) so she decides to read Fredd - and Sebastian! - a pirate story from the Barbary Coast. Again, the "script and original material" of this Episode 1 was by John-Michael Howson. Nancy warns the bears that the characters in her story might remind them of some familiar people. And sure enough, we have a guest appearance by nasty Simon Sneak (again played by Max Bartlett), keeper of an inn called the Cross and Bones. The Magic Cottage doubles as the inn, with a cellar in place of Mother Hubbard's cupboard.

Nancy herself is seen as Sweet Nelly, a serving wench and Fee Fee is Daphne Drudge, the cleaning woman. Fredd turns up in a Little Lord Fauntleroy outfit, as Little Lollylegs, who is seemingly addicted to contraband food: rum cakes and toffee apples! A very clean cut Colin McEwan (not a bit like snivelly Gaspar) is the very clean cut Soldier Jim. The pirate villain is Captain Crook, a character (or at least a namesake) who returns in "Adventure Island" on the ABC a few years later. Of course, the inn has its own Barbary Coast version of Cassius, who lives in the clock.

Magic Circle Club's IKAN computer
The Magic Circle Club's IKAN computer

Leonardo and IKAN feel abandoned by Nancy and so they answer three viewers' letters themselves. Strangely, three separate letters have requested information on the unlikely topic of King Alfred the Great! The handwritten letters (and full addresses) are even shown, as if to prove their authenticity.

Favourite quote: Nancy mentions that children she meets say they are scared of Gaspar Goblin and she lectures that they just laugh at Gaspar, and that no one should be frightened of someone "who makes out that he's something he's not."

Things I'd forgotten: Sebastian. I have absolutely no memory of him! (Presumably played by Gael Dixon?)

Also, the sheer versatility of Colin McEwan and Max Bartlett. As a kid I had no idea that they doubled up in so many parts. McEwan's voice was all over the show, in so many accents and personas. And Max was my favourite character, but here were three episodes, all featuring him heavily, but none were actually his "Max" character. Did I ever realise that Max was all these people? No, I don't believe I did. I'm so impressed!

Cast of the Magic Circle Club, part c

How I'd love to see a company such as Umbrella Entertainment release a "Best of..." DVD set, perhaps with a cast reunion commentary track? Sadly, you'd have to be over 48 or so to even remember the show.

I hope you enjoy the cast pics and bio extracts from my old theatre program.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Ducking for cover

Making breakfast this morning, I happened to look out the window (to check the Kreepy Krauly wasn't doing its usual "stuck on the step' shtick) and noticed a pair of rather large ducks floating happily in my pool!

Where's the digital camera? Oh yeah, I broke it two weeks ago.

Where's the old SLR? Right here, but oh yeah, out of film as of last week.

Where's my mobile phone?

So I got back to the window, set the mobile phone's camera, raised my arms to snap a shot - and one of them noticed the movement through the corner of its eye.

Both ducks lifted out of the water like helicopters and they were off!

So, nothing more to share. Nothing to see. Move along...

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Blogathon anyone?

Recently, I've had a small influx of new members to the two blogging Meetup groups I organize, and there's always curiosity as to why these meetings seem to flounder from lack of interest. One new member has suggested a "blogathon" type meet up (eg. attendees bring laptops, 3G or iBurst and blog for an hour or two one morning or evening), and following it up with subsequent meetings and blog-ins.

There are two Sydney-based groups over on the Meetup site for bloggers who live in Sydney. A quick pocket history:

While the first few meetings in early 2007 were fizzers, the Sydney Webloggers Meetup took off quite nicely under Sara, aka The Bargain Queen, and by scheduling several Meetups in 2007 as unofficial after-parties to big web conventions in the CBD (and publicising them through her very successful blog) attendances were at the 20 to 30+ mark. A very healthy Data Miners group broke away (so they could sit chatting about all that mathematical stuff) and formed their own Meetup group but - I dunno... maybe most other attendees were coming to find out how Sara (and friends) were suddenly starting to make an income out of blogging on the side?

Sara was suddenly unable to run meetings, and no one else on the site was vetting and approving messages to their bulletin board, or even answering emails. In 2008, in frustration, I started up a separate Bloggers of Sydney Meetup group (focusing on hobby blogging, so as not to step on toes) and I politely spammed quite a few on the old site to tell them about it. Then, about three days later, the owner of Sydney Webloggers emailed me to say he'd made me an assistant organizer of his group - and thus I ended up running two groups. (Sara and her husband went off to New York, to start her US career as a pro blogger, I hear.)

Strangely, in the five Meetups I've run in 2008, nobody from Sydney Webloggers has ever attended a meeting who wasn't already also in my Bloggers of Sydney group. Numbers are currently at 103 for Sydney Webloggers and 33 for the group I started. A few crossovers. Obviously, no one in Sydney Webloggers is much interested in hobby blogging, but their complete silence on what they would like is deafening. (Even though I now use blogs in my professional life as a primary school teacher-librarian, it's obviously not what they wish to hear about.)

I've tried weeknight and weekend meetings. Not much difference. Coffee shops, pubs, restaurants. Not much difference. The last successful Meetup (in a restaurant at Albion Park) had eight people (two drove from Canberra), but only two (plus one guest) were actually from my Meetup. The rest were from Aussie Bloggers' Forum bbs!

I don't own a laptop or 3G or iBurst, so I wouldn't have a clue who'd respond to such an idea. I keep hoping enough people will come to a meeting and we can discuss it. Looking forward to working out more ideas.

Anyway, this may be my Meetup swan song...

Announcing a new Meetup for The Sydney Weblogger and Bloggers of Sydney Meetup Groups!
When: Thursday, September 11, 2008 7:00 PM
Where: Click the link below to find out!
Meetup Description: It's been a while since I scheduled a meeting. I guess people reckon it's been too cold to venture out on a school night? I'm happy to design meetings around your preferences, and invite special guests but I need to hear about them first. Come and meet fellow bloggers of Sydney, don't just sit at home blogging about coming along one day!

Learn more here:

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Vet veteran

Jack: Did you say The Doctor? Let's hide in here!

Yesterday, my Jack Russell terrier, Jack, had his annual vet checkup and, just as I described it last year, he again marched in, full of bravado, through the front doors, realised where we were, did an about-face - and ran straight back out!

For a dog breed that presents itself as utterly invincible, Jack Russells sure are wimps when it comes to vets. (And autumn leaves blowing in the wind.) The vet checked his teeth for tartar buildup (he had teeth scaling in early 2007) and they were in fine condition. Although he wasn't itchy today, I asked for a new course of the tablets we tried last year for the next time his grass allergy flairs up.

We did emerge victorious and fully immunized for another year, but I know he'd much rather be phoning in his attendance in future. Sounds like my relationship with my dentist. (Who moved to Perth, so now I have to break in a new one.)

Sunday's magic number: 94.4 - slowly, slowly... But I just looked up last year's post-vet scenario, it also fell on a Sunday. The first day of my renewed diet (when I was calling the results "mystery" numbers), so 94.4 makes me much happier than the 99 of a year ago. I heard a radio interview on MIX 106.5 this morning reminding dieters that the aim was to increase metabolism to burn fat, not just to reduce portion size and calorie counts. (What, no mention of donuts?)

Friday, August 15, 2008

Snap! Crackle! Pop... corn!

Fellow blogger, The Other Andrew, is complaining about cinema popcorn.

I must confess, I happen to like cinema popcorn. (But I rarely want such a huge bucket!) I also love its smell.

I distinctly remember the first time I ever saw cinema popcorn.

Hot? Buttery? Bright yellow? Huh?

Until I was about eight or nine, I'd only ever seen multi-coloured "candy" popcorn at kids' parties, and the thought of something so different as hot cinema popcorn was part of its unique appeal, I guess, and an intrinsic part of the rare treat of being "at the movies".

Then there was the day when my brother and I, filled with over-confidence having seen our scoutmasters effortlessly pop popcorn in a billycan at scout camps - popped our own at home, in the kitchen, when Mum was out. And we took the lid off, of course, so we could watch it pop...

We were still finding popcorn in nooks and crannies for months after the fact. Hilarious!

A sealed mincowave bag isn't anywhere near as much fun!

The Other Andrew also compares hot cinema popcorn (with imitation butter flavour, of couse) to ubiquitous polystyrene package filling... And speaking of polystyrene package filling, my old workplace now gets their "packing popcorn" from a place that makes a biodegradable alternative. It's made from potatoes and, as such, is edible. It literally melts on your tongue and almost has a Pringle's chips flavour and fragrance. Almost.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Search terms desperado

"collaborative team teaching sucks", someone typed into Google this morning... and found my blog, according to Sitemeter.

Some teacher-librarian out there is having a bad day! Luckily they found my uplifting words of wisdom! (The "sucks" bit only came up because a previous post of mine mentioned a famous "Star Trek" episode, "Obsession", which featured a blood-sucking cloud creature.)

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

A lemon tree grows in Lemongrove

I should start this blog entry with a cheerio to Judy E., a regular reader who starts her day with a brief check on both of my blogs. (I know she reads both because she noticed I cross-posted the other day!)

I toasted Judy with a refreshing glass of homemade lemonade this morning, squeezed from the bounty of a little lemon tree that is espaliered to a freestanding trellis out in my backyard. (It came along as a housewarming gift; a friend, Rhonda, thought that if I was going to live near a locality called Lemongrove, there should at least be one lemon tree on the property.)

Despite its size, its had several successful crops of lemons (and a few fallow years) since 2001. The lemons have been ripe enough to use for a few weeks now, and I finally found the time to squeeze three cups of lemon juice from the current crop!

A few years ago, I found a great recipe for a lemonade syrup/cordial base over at the Lemonflower website. It is a foolproof recipe. So far.
Basic Lemonade Syrup Base:
1 1/2 cups Sugar
1/2 cup Boiling water
Zest of 1 lemon
1 1/2 cups Lemon juice

Dissolve sugar into boiling water, turn off. Add zest and lemon juice. Refrigerate in jar or covered container.

To use: Mix 1/4 cup syrup base to 3/4 cup of cold water. For larger amounts, mix proportionately.

All I needed to do was double the quantities. Easy! What was putting me off this year was knowing that, if homemade lemonade (with all that sugar) was sitting in the fridge, I'd drink it till it was gone - and bang goes the diet!

Then I heard a set of radio ads for Splenda, the low calorie sweetener, which I've never bothered to try before. But it worked a treat. No icky aftertaste!


Monday, August 11, 2008

Free Maltz!

As I mentioned recently, I've uncovered a cache of old and fading videotapes from my ASTREX Star Trek club days. I've been without a VHS recorder/player for some years now - in this DVD age, when the VHS breaks doown one just... ignores it - but I bought a new VHS machine, hoping to find the time to make DVD copies. One day?

Meanwhile, here are some quick freeze frame images of me from the "Free Maltz" Star Trek fan film, as created, directed and produced by Ian McLean (and the Harpic Productions team) for the "Galactic Senate Elections" campaign at "Eccentricon", 5th National Australian Science Fiction Media Convention (3rd - 6th July, 1987). Maltz, of course, was originally portrayed by John Larroquette in "Star Trek III: The Search for Spock" (pictured left in the trio below), and was the only Klingon left alive at the end of that movie.

Trio of Klingons, ST IIIwhiteIan as Maltz

At the same time, I was studying for a university media course in a graduate diploma program, and we had to submit a short film to pass the course. I received permission to make this film instead, while my teaching colleagues did something more suited to primary (elementary) teaching. I also had to develop a script and storyboard. For a separate assignment, I did an illustrated procedure on how to make a life-mask out of plaster, which I had to do "for real" to make the Maltz latex forehead appliance.

My premise for this film, and to fit with Eccentricon's theme of the "Galactic Senate elections" being taken over by the anti-heroes, was that Maltz escaped from his Vulcan detention cell, ran away as fast as possible, hitched a ride back to the 20th century with Kirk and his crew ("Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home"), ran into an Eccentricon flier (advertising the Senate elections), caught a jet to Sydney, ran past various Sydney landmarks, and ran all the way to the convention. In other words, Maltz was running for election. It was the ultimate running gag:

1: Maltz behind barswhite2: Maltz "Free Maltz" introductory slide

Maltz behind bars on Vulcan. He is a Klingon of destiny...

3: Maltz escapes Vulcan detention cellwhite4: Maltz reads Eccentricon flier

... Saavik slips him a phaser; stock footage from ST IV on rear projection follow's Maltz's
escape to Earth and the 20th century, where a stray convention flier is found.

5: Maltz arrival in Sydneywhite7: Maltz runs for Galactic Senate

In the post-9/11 world, one could never get away with filming a rogue Klingon in a convict uniform in an International Air Cargo Terminal, but it was easy in 1987. (We asked permission and they just shrugged, "Sure!") Note the tiny figure, who has just emerged from inside the building, as indicated by the blue arrow. Thus, Maltz is "running" for the Galactic Senate.

7: Maltz runs for Galactic Senatewhite6: Maltz at CAE

Maltz is still running for the Galactic Senate. The yellow arrow indicates
an Eccentricon convention flier taped to the college sign.

8: Maltz meets carwhite7: Maltz runs for Galactic Senate

Now Maltz runs into trouble with a 20th automobile - note the angry driver's
hand gestures; soon Maltz is again running for the Galactic Senate.

9: Maltz - Vote 1 MaltzwhiteMaltz as Eccentricon compere

Maltz collapsed with exhaustion (not shown) as we fade to a promotional slide for the campaign; Maltz as Eccentricon compere, in footage of the convention coverage on the Nine Network's "Today" (6th July, 1987).

Maltz meets Bob de la Lande on Today

Maltz meets showbiz reporter Bob de la Lande from the "Today" morning show.

Maltz: I was a prisoner for three months in a Vulcan detention cell, but they let me out..."

Bob de la Lande: Ah, why?

Note that Maltz's unique calling card is a "Malt" cookie. We added the "Z" in black Texta.
People received them with all the "free maltz" (ie. malted milkshakes) they ordered/made donations to obtain.

So, did Maltz win the election? Nah, he came in third. But he did pronounce himself "Charity Queen" after raising the most money - by a huge margin - thanks to his hard-working election team's highly successful milkshake-making operation.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Staying power

Well, my congratulations to Reader Anonymous, who, at 10:23:38am on the 10th of August, stayed on this site for a total of 40 page views. Elapsed time: 120 mins 37 secs, according to Sitemeter.

Was it a slow day at work, buddy? (But seriously, thanks. Obviously you found plenty here of interest.)

Congratulation to my Jack Russell terrier, Jack, who yesterday destroyed a supposedly dog-proof lizard toy in about five minutes. I knew the fact that it had a "squeaky" in its head meant that he'd be predisposed to attempt to remove it.

But he played happily with the poor thing (nicknamed "Tiger" for a brief moment in time, of course; click the link for more info) for several hours till my housemate arrived home about 7.30pm. He showed off his new toy with great excitement and pride, then snuck off to devour the "squeaky". Oh well, easy come, easy go.

Lizard dog chewtoy
I'm ready for my frontal lobotomy, Mr DeMille..."

And congratulations to me:
Sunday's magic number: 94.9 - Just as well, with all the yummy food I turned down this week.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

They've seen it... They love it!

Digging through a pile of old and fading videotapes recently, I found two prime time TV promotions that my Sydney Star Trek club, the now-long-defunct ASTREX, did for the Nine Network when "Star Trek: The Next Generation" was finally able to make its TV debut (1991, dating by my then-new beard). There had been a twelve-month "video holdback" while CIC-Taft/Paramount released monthly two-episodes-per-tape on sell-thru VHS. This angered the Seven Network, who had held the rights to the original series, and had first bite at TNG. The rights sat unwanted until Nine Network boss, Mr Kerry Packer - a big TOS/TNG fan - told Nine to buy the new series.

Essentially, they had seven of us describe our favourite characters and attributes of TNG. Here are a few screenshots from Promo #1:

1: TNG ad "They've seen it..."white2: TNG ad Ian

Ian: "Data, the android... He wants to be human more than anything else."

3: TNG ad Datawhite4: TNG ad "They love it!"

Scene from "Encounter at Farpoint"; Wesley Crusher's voice over: "Wow!"

5: TNG ad Ian and scrollwhite6: TNG ad end

Scrolling text at base of screen: "Australian Star Trek fans discuss Star Trek: The Next Generation."

(Nine Network Australia, 1991.)

Pretty cool, eh? I must learn how to upload to Youtube some day...

080808: Another opening, another show

Olympic Games rings

Okay, so I've done my duty and endured the Opening Ceremony of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. Am I allowed to be a bit... jaded?

As pretty and clever and technologically amazing it was, didn't it all seem a bit deja vu? Is it bad taste to say, "You know, I really did prefer the Sydney 2000 Opening Ceremony." Maybe I'm just a nostalgic Aussie, but all the way through the Sydney event, I was wondering if a CD would come out of the soundtrack (and it did) because it was so varied, and catchy. With the Beijing stuff, while the dove made of humans was clever (and wow! now they made the wings flap), and the men lit up like human Christmas trees were fun (spot the one that "went out" at the wrong time), and the flashing cube-like drums were innovative from overhead... it all seemed very... familiar.

Did they really need to have their own sawn-off version of Nikki Webster flying aerial ballets? As impressive as seemingly-gravity-defying runners on a huge globe of the Earth were, why then replicate the wire work to fly him, too, to rim of the stadium, and have him be yet another gravity-defying runner along the virtual paper scroll that led to the flame cauldron?

Flying the flame lighter looked great, by the way. If only Mini-Me Nikki and the globe trotters hadn't already beaten him to the stunt.

I'm not usually such a grump when it comes to this stuff. But I do remember having a great time enjoying the Sydney Opening Ceremony on TV - by myself - then spending about a week in a blue funk because not one of my many American penpals had bothered to watch the ceremony (admittedly, US TV supposedly screened it reluctantly because of the International time differences, and hacked it to bits as well), and so none of them had any questions about Australian culture for me to field.

I liked all of last night/this morning's imagery with the invention of paper, movable type, paper scrolls, etc, but I was just more than a little... underwhelmed. Then I kept waiting for Aussie commentators, Bruce McAvaney, Sonia Kruger and Ric Birch, to say (or even intimate) that they were just a little disappointed, but they continued on with the glowing accolades.

Maybe it was just me feeling a bit flat this morning? Maybe the Seven Network shouldn't have started with highlights from all the gala openings (ie Los Angeles 1984 through to recent times)?

I have to be all "up" with my students about the Olympics next week. Okay, I can say it looked impressive. Because it did. (But Sydney 2000 was better.)

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Number 96: In the pink!

Hot off the press from my ol' pal, Andrew Mercado, and Umbrella Entertainment, here's the finalised box art for the new volume of Number 96 classics:

Number 96 DVD vol 2: The Pantyhose Strangler

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Beijing, books and bungee-jumping

This term, I'm working with at least seven very enthusiastic groups of Stage 2 students on the New South Wales Department of Education & Training's Beijing Olympic Games & Book Week 2008 rap.

Firstly, as with the other raps which ran this year, I’m promoting the rap blog URL in the school newsletter so that students can show off their group’s rap responses with their families each week.

In case the URL doesn’t make it home, I’m also explicitly modelling a search strategy (ie. how to use Google to find the rap pages) each time the students come for their blogging session. I show them what happens when we type in raps and book raps as search terms (almost 1.5 million hits!) and how the abundance of riches can be reduced by using inverted commas. (ie. “raps and book raps” gives only 5000 possible sites - and, in any case, the NSW DET Raps webpage appears as choice #1).

Also I demonstrate the pathway to get to the blog itself. For the last two raps, many students tried out visiting the rap blog from home, and we received great parental feedback.

Secondly, I brought in a collection of stuffed animal toy mascots (plus others that were already decorating the library). The Bruce Whatley drawing of Tammy the Tortoise (in the Children's Book Council of Australia shortlisted book, The Shaggy Gully Times) is uncannily like a toy tortoise I had at home, especially with the addition of a battery-operated pocket fan strapped to her back.

Now each group is selecting (and often naming) one of the animal “reporters”, who’ll represent them in the upcoming newspaper article rap point. Each one has his or her own “Press card” to get them into Olympic venues. The animal characters (a flying fox, the aforementioned tortoise, a Puffin Books puffin, a Chinese New Year dragon, a large green frog, Selby the taking dog, and my trusty big, black, furry, bungee spider - it's a long story) might prove useful for some f(p)unny photojournalism in the playground. We'll be able to upload the pictures to the Gallery of the rap blog - and they should provide inspiration for some typically Jackie French-esque animal puns.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Luna Park: Just for fun, just for the record

Luna ParkwhiteNumber 96

About eighteen months ago, I noticed that the Luna Park, Sydney entry on Wikipedia had a section called Appearances in film and television that was lacking a favourite sequence of mine from 70's soap opera, "Number 96".

It had already been noted on the web page that Sydney's Luna Park had been a filming location for 1959's "Summer of the Seventeenth Doll", plus TV episodes of "Six O'Clock Rock" and even "Skippy the Bush Kangaroo". In more recent years, the movie "Our Lips Are Sealed" (starring Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen), an episode of "Farscape" ("Infinite Possibilities, Part I: Daedalus Demands") and parts of "JAG" ("Boomerang"), not to mention the excellent documentary, "Spirits of the Carnival: The Quest for Fun", were filmed at the location. The Rotor attraction was also featured in the 2006 film, "Candy".

But... in 1976, several Number 96 residents visited Luna Park. Dorrie and Herb Evans (Pat McDonald and Ron Shand), their old pal Flo Patterson (Bunney Brooke) and a naive man-child named "Junior" Winthrop (Curt Jansen), who believed that he was Herb's secret, long lost son, ended up on the opposite side of Sydney Harbour to the Sydney Opera House. You see, Junior's planned date with opera buff girlfriend, Isobel Mainwaring (Jill McKay) - turned out to be decidedly underwhelming. So he treats his pensioner friends to a trip to Luna Park instead. Scenes of them all in Coney Island, eating fairy floss, and riding on the original wooden Big Dipper and the dizzying Topsy-Turvy House, are featured in the episode.

Luna Park in 1976
Luna Park in "Number 96" in '76

This footage has been preserved in the first version of a documentary, "Number 96: And They Said It Wouldn't Last", which aired on Network Ten a short while after the episode to celebrate the 1000th episode of the soap opera. Repeats of the special have always omitted this footage. (Thirty years later, all three variations of that documentary have been combined for posterity as a bonus feature on the DVD release, "Number 96: 2 disc Collector's Edition" (Umbrella Entertainment, 2006 - black cover!). The original closing segments, which included the Luna Park footage, was almost lost to the DVD when it was discovered that the original ending was not part of the National Film & Sound Archive's collection - they only had versions #2 and #3!)

(Update: Someone had marked my Wikipedia updates about the sequence with the ominous "Citation needed" warnings but I now realise that blog entries, and websites that do not undergo "independent editorial reviews", are not acceptable as citations for Wikipedia. My attempted revisions have been removed; my original contribution to Wikipedia is destined to remain unproven, I guess... I have been contacted about how to footnote the DVD, though. Now I have to go and learn how to do so.)

Enjoy the Youtube clip! Unfortunately, the person who uploaded it misses the group's arrival, with a fleeting glimpse of them going through the famous face of Luna Park (above). (Don't forget, at the end of this month, another "Number 96" DVD boxed set is due: "The Pantyhose Murders" story arc - pink cover!)

Dorrie, Herb, Flo and "Junior" go to Luna Park (1976).

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Junk Food Day, er Weekend

I'm going to have to do something. Saturday night was a very enjoyable pizza and wine night with friends - Jack was invited too, as there were three, small, excitable dogs looking forward to a reunion. After food, the DVD of "Sweeney Todd" played on, the four canines - all suffering Small Dog Syndrome - jockeyed for prime position on various human laps. It was quite hilarious. Luckily, the only blood spilled was on the screen.

Then this morning it was off to Mash cafe, in Glenbrook in the lower Blue Mountains, for breakfast. My friend Leonie accompanied us, although we left Jack behind. On a warm Sunday morning, it's very pleasant to eat al fresco at Mash, with Jack beside us, but winter in Glenbrook is... usually brisk. Fresh. Bloody cold.

We frittered away the rest of today, exploring the gift shops, garden centres and second hand bookstores of Glenbrook and Springwood, finishing off with a relaxing steak sandwich pub meal at "the Ori" (aka Orient Hotel). Delicious!

Let's not mention the vanilla slice for afternoon tea, eh?

Sunday's magic number: 95.8 - the diet starts anew tomorrow...

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Thelin and The Chimes at Midnight

Thanks to Titan's "Star Trek" magazine editor, Paul Simpson, for organising this beautiful illustration of Andorian Mr Thelin (late of "Yesteryear", TAS) to accompany the magazine's extract of a story out of "Myriad Universes: Echoes and Refractions", volume 2 in the series of novella omnibuses.

"The Chimes at Midnight", by Geoff Trowbridge, tells of the life that could have been, ie. if Spock had died during his kahs-wan practice run at age seven, and Thelin went on to be Kirk's first officer on the Enterprise. the timeline continues on through the movies years, paralleling the Genesis Project years and beyond.

Below (left), here's how he appears, drawn in the Filmation style, in the Titan ST Magazine, US #12, Jul/Aug 2008, p. 56:

ThelinwhiteMyriad Universes 2
Pocket Books cover art (right) by the talented John Picacio

Evolution of a Star Trek fan

Over at TrekBBS, we were asked to track our evolution as a Star Trek fan. Mine was quite a gradual awareness.

* Kids at my primary school collecting Scanlen's "Star Trek" bubble gum cards (Topps in the USA). My grandmother owned the household's only television set, so "Star Trek" must have clashed with one of "her" shows.

* My Year 5 teacher's wall chart where we kept score of our weekly spelling and dictation results. It was our "Star Trek" chart and Mr Brown dispensed gold, silver and coloured gummed paper stars, depending on our results (1969).

* Filmation's animated Star Trek series (TAS) on b/w Saturday morning TV, and then daily breakfast TV TAS repeats "for the first time in colour" a few years later. The highlight of "The Super Flying Fun Show".

* Also a few TOS episodes, which were selected for presentation on a Saturday evening(?) "for the first time in colour", when colour TV came to Australia in 1975.

* Five serialized b/w daily liftouts in a Sydney nightly newspaper in late 1979: "My Week on the Star Trek Movie Set!" by Aussie journalist, Jim Oram. At my 21st birthday party a few weeks later, a friend boasted how he'd just been to the gala premiere, where half of the cinema had fans in costume, and they applauded all the characters' entrances.

* Finding the ST:TMP novelization in a rack at the checkout of my local supermarket. Read it in one weekend.

* Spending a 21st birthday record voucher on Jerry Goldsmith's TMP soundtrack LP, having still not yet seen the movie. (All those cool aliens on the inner sleeve!)

* Seeing TMP on the big screen. By myself, because no one else I asked wanted to go.

Gum cards

Friday, August 01, 2008

When is a tiger not a tiger?

Answer: When it's a moose. Or a squeaky ring.

On Thursday night, there was a series of doggy disasters, each of which I've been dreading. You see, in the pantry, mainly for nostalgia-related reasons rather than anything remotely logical, is almost every bedtime comfort toy my dog, Jack, has ever owned.

There's a forlorn pair of tiger-striped knotted legs, all that's left of Tiger #1. That one was forfeited, from my own stuffed toy collection, on twelve-week-old Jack's first night away from the pet shop, when he couldn't settle. And so The Ritual began. Carry Tiger into bed, and bring him back out the next morning, where Tiger is exchanged for a Doggy Choc of carob, while Tiger sleeps off his night's adventure in the pantry.

Jack's tiger
Tiger was quite small - and so was Jack!

Tiger #1 started off as a rather cute, realistic tiger cub, with four potentially yummy legs, two delicious ears and an irresistibly tasty tail. And those cute but dangerous, little acrylic eyes, which eventually had to be removed as less and less of Tiger remained. One morning, there was major drama when Jack had got stuck into Tiger during the night, and eaten a lot of the white nylon wadding. When there's more stuffing inside the wrong animal, it's probably time to "rest" the toy.

It's also highly embarrassing, at the dog-friendly Oberon bed 'n' breakfast establishment, trying to explain that a pathetic pair of knotted legs was called "Tiger", and that carrying Tiger to bed was a sound and Important Nightly Ritual that hopefully would help little doggies feel comfortable in strange surroundings.

The pantry also contains remnants of two tiger-coloured "Chase the Tabby Cat" toys, supposedly almost-indestructible doggy chew toys from the FuzzYard "Neighbourhood Nasties" collection. "Dog tested for safety" and "highly durable, no toy is 100% dog proof", the tag says. Renamed Tiger #2 and Tiger #3, they did actually last quite well; the second Chase was found at a very reasonable discount, and kept in the pantry until Tiger #2 passed his Use By date. A typical Chase lasted at least eighteen months of nightly ragging to within an inch of its life! Jack should apply for a job at FuzzYard! Both Chases were eventually off their faces, so to speak.

Chase the cat

Tiger #4 was, in fact, a Tigger: the bouncy tiger character from Walt Disney's "Winnie the Pooh" animated movies. Again, Tigger was found at a discount - and had uniquely embroidered eyes rather than something temptingly edible - and he's lasted as long as the two previous purpose-made dog toys. The night Tigger became impossible to repair - with several gaping wounds spilling out voluminous amounts of delicious white wadding - he had to be replaced by... Emergency Moose.

The moose was a Christmas gift to "the grand dog" from my mother several years ago. He was quite a sturdy dog chew toy, sure, but looked nothing like a tiger (or a cat, or even a Tigger). Yes, he was sturdy unless if you're a Jack Russell, whose mission in life is to consume as much white wadding as you can in a lifetime. (This stuff does wonders for a Jack Russell's digestive system, I must add.) Now-named Tiger #5, the eventually antler-less Emergency Moose went to God on Wednesday night. But I forgot..

Clockwise from lower left: Tiger #1's legs, faceless Chase the Tabby Cat #1, faceless Chase the Tabby Cat #2, the armless Tigger, the now-pathetic Emergency Moose and the long forgotten Roadkill Skunk (whom Jack selected for himself from "Pet Barn" one day. A daytime toy, Roadkill Skunk made amazing car accident sound effects and for that he just had to have his head ripped open in the first week).

In desperation, I retrieved Tigger from the pantry last night and tried to patch him with fabric Elastoplast before bedtime. To no avail. Jack barely did a doubletake at the return of a previous armless (or is that 'armless?) Tiger, raced Tigger into the bedroom, under the bed, and promptly ripped the Elastoplast straight off - and down the hatch it went! To join the previous night's mooseful of wadding, I presume.

Hmmmm. Well, I wasn't willing to give poor, terrified Christmas Penguin a turn at being a tiger impersonator, especially since he was purchased as a Christmas decoration - despite the rope suspiciously tied around his neck and the wording of his tag:


I mean, I know how few nights poor ol' Santa Claus himself had in him:


Santa didn't last long enough to get called Tiger # Anything. I retrieved Disemboweled No-Bum Tigger from under the bed and took a gamble, handed Jack his (so far long-lasting) daytime "Squeaky ring", said "Take Tiger into bed," and - despite a brief moment of confusion - off they went.

And so, seven years on, I present... Tiger #6:


Now Jack (and I) will be grateful for the return of #2. That other #2, which has been apparently waylaid by nylon wadding...