Saturday, 13 July 2013

Ironside

If you keep up with such things, you may have heard that NBC has picked up a reboot of the Sixties and Seventies show Ironside starring Blair Underwood. Perhaps not so coincidentally, ME-TV began rerunning the original Ironside starring Raymond Burr (perhaps best known for Perry Mason).

 Ironside was created by Collier Young, who had previously produced the anthology series Alcoa Presents: One Step Beyond. The show centred around Robert Ironside (played by Mr. Burr), a San Francisco Police Chief of Detectives who was paralysed from the waist down by a sniper's bullet and hence confined to a wheelchair. Ironside did not exactly retire, however, convincing the Police Commissioner to make him a special police consultant, complete with his own team, including Detective Sergeant Ed Brown (Don Galloway) and detective Eve Whitfield (Barbara Anderson). Completing the team was Ironside's assistant/bodyguard/driver, Mark Sanger (Don Mitchell), who functioned as Dr. Watson to Ironside's Sherlock Holmes or Lewis to Ironside's Inspector Morse.

If it has not become obvious by now, Ironside was not only different from other shows on at the time, but any shows before or since. Sadly, disabled characters on television shows have been rare even as regular characters on American television shows, let alone lead characters. Gunsmoke featured Chester (Dennis Weaver), who walked with a pronounced limp. On the short lived Seventies show Longstreet, insurance investigator Mike Longstreet (played by James Franciscus) was blind. On Little House on the Prairie  Mary Ingalls (played by Melissa Sue Anderson) went blind during the course of the show, must as the historical Mary Ingalls did in real life. More recently there was Dr. Gregory House (played by Hugh Laurie) on House, who not only had only partial use of his right leg (forcing him to walk with a cane), but was also addicted to Vicodin). Robert Ironside was then one of the very few characters in the history of television who was disabled and probably the only wheelchair bound lead character in the history of the medium.

Of course, it is important to note that while Robert Ironside was confined to a wheelchair, he did not let that keep him from investigating crimes. He was a dogged investigator with a skill for piecing together clues. And he could be a shrewd opponent when it came to criminals, not below using a bit of trickery to see that justice was meted out. Unlike the lead characters of many police dramas, Ironside's weapons were not guns or his fists, but his mind, which was ultimately much more dangerous to criminals. In the end, if Ironside had any sort of message, it may have been that one does not have let his or her disability define him or her.

Ironside was not only progressive in having a disabled character as a lead, but also in the fact that it included an African American character in a primary role. Indeed, arguably Mark Sanger was the most important character on the show aside from Robert Ironside himself. Prior to serving as Ironside's assistant, Mark had been a juvenile delinquent who had grown up in the bad part of San Francisco. He attended law school. In the course of the show he became a police officer, graduated from law school, and became a lawyer.  In the capable hands of Don Mitchell, Mark was no mere sidekick to Ironside. He often provided valuable advice to Ironside and was a very capable detective himself, in many ways better than police officers Ed and Eve. In many ways Mark Sanger was a very remarkable character for a Sixties television show. Ironside debuted in 1967, only two years after Bill Cosby made history as the first African American lead on a drama as Alexander Scott on I Spy. It was still very rare for any television show to have a black character, particularly one in a role as important as that of Mark Sanger. Indeed, in 1967 perhaps the only other drama with a black character in a prominent role besides I Spy was Mission: Impossible, with Greg Morris as electronics expert Barney Collier.

While obviously a product of its time, Ironside holds up very well. For the most part the episodes are both well written and well acted. And the show had a good deal of variety. Episodes ranged from classic mysteries to police procedurals to character studies. The show boasted some big name guest stars, including Edward Asner, Joseph Cotten, Bruce Lee, Ricardo Montalban,  and many others. Of course, like many shows of the late Sixties and early Seventies, Ironside sometimes tried to be relevant, and this is often the show's weakest point. The "hippies" who appeared on the show were more often than not caricatures than any realistic representations of the subculture. In defence of Ironside, however, it must be pointed out that nearly all hippies on television in the late Sixties were caricatures, and at least Ironside acknowledged the Vietnam War, drug use, and other issues of concern to youth at the time. Most shows in  the late Sixties did not acknowledge youth culture or issues of concern to youth at all.

I have my serious doubts as to how good the new version of Ironside will be. Too often many reboots of shows fall far short of the original. Even if it does, however, I hope that it brings attention to the original Ironside starring Raymond Burr. It was one of the better police dramas of the time and certainly a little ahead of its time. It certainly deserves to be better remembered than it has been.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Chuck Foley, Co-Inventor of Twister, R.I.P.

Eva Gabor and Johnny Carson play Twister.
Chuck Foley, who invented the popular game Twister with Neil Rabens, died 1 July 2013 at the age of 82. He had Alzheimer's Disease.

Chuck Foley was born in Lafayette, Indiana on 6 September 1930. He worked on a Ford assembly line for a time, and served in the Michigan Air National Guard from 1950 to 1953. He worked as a salesman and eventually at  Lakeside Toys in Minneapolis.

It was while he was working at the Reynolds Guyer House of Design that he and his collaborator Neil Rabins developed the idea for a game called "Pretzel". Pretzel was licensed to the board game company Milton Bradley, who immediately renamed it "Twister", and first put it on the market in 1965. Twister did meet with some controversy. Sears thought the game was too inappropriate to include in their catalogue. Not surprisingly, sales were initially very low. All of that changed when Twister was featured on the 3 May 1966 edition of The Tonight Show on NBC, on which Johnny Carson and Eva Gabor played the game. Sales shot through the roof to the point that Twister became an outright fad. Even before the end of 1966 over one million Twister games had been sold. Critics still called the game "Sex in a Box", but with such phenomenal sales it really didn't matter. In 1967 it was named "Game of the Year". It has remained in production ever since.

While Twister was by far Chuck Foley's most successful invention, it was not his only one. He held 97 patents. Another one of his popular inventions was Un-Du Adhesive Remover, a liquid to remove tape, stickers, and labels. Not surprisingly, he invented or co-invented several toys and games, including Striker: A Safe Dart Game (a game with soft-tipped darts), plastic toy handcuffs, the game Paddle Pool, and many others.

While Chuck Foley is not a household name, he certainly left his mark on popular culture. Twister proved to be one of the most successful games of all time, and is still in production nearly fifty years after its introduction. Weird Al Yankovic parodied The Beastie Boys with a song about the game, "Twister". A game of Twister with Death was a pivotal plot point in the film Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey. And while Un-Du Adhesive Remover may not have seen the success of Twister, it has proven very successful nonetheless. It can be found in libraries and offices across the nation. The average person may not know who Chuck Foley was, but chances are he has touched their lives in some way.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Why Google+ is Good for Classic Film

Like many American classic film buffs, I am a huge fan of the Warner Archive. Aside from having a huge selection of classic and not so classic films on both DVD and through streaming, they have always maintained a presence with their fans through social media. They have a Twitter account, a Tumblr blog, a Facebook page, and even a Pinterest page. The one thing they do not have is a Google+ page. Like most classic film buffs I am also a fan of Turner Classic Movies. While not quite as prevalent on social media sites as the Warner Archive, TCM has a Twitter account, a Facebook page, and even a Pinterest page. Like the Warner Archive, however, they do not have a Google+ page. In both instances I think this is a grave oversight.

The fact is that Google+ is the second largest social media site, bigger than Twitter and second only to Facebook. What is more, in my experience could well be the most active. Taking into account that more people follow me on Google+ than any other social media site (more on that in a bit), my Google+ stream is far more active than my Facebook news feed or Tumblr feed ever were, and a bit more active than my Twitter feed. As to Pinterest, well, in my admittedly limited experience it is not even in the running. Indeed, to give you an idea of how many people are on Google+ and how active it is, over 8000 people have me circled there. That is ten times as many people follow me on Twitter, which at 800 is the social media site on which I have the most followers after Google+.

Of course, even though Google is the second largest social media site and even though it is one of the most active (if not the most active), that still does not necessarily mean that it is good for classic film buffs and classic film outlets. That being the case, I then offer the fact that I know several classic films buffs on Google+. Indeed, there are even several communities on Google+ dedicated to classic film (communities are roughly equivalent to Facebook's groups, or MySpace's old groups if you prefer). Some of these classic movie communities have fairly large memberships. Quite simply, Google+ has a good number of classic movie buffs and their number is growing.

There are other advantages to Google+ beyond being a large social network with a sizeable number of classic movie buffs. Unlike some other social networks, there is no text limit on posts. This means that one could write an entire blog length post if one wanted to. And unlike other social networks, photos are often displayed in full size and, even when they are not, one can see the full photo. Photos are never cropped. This naturally increases the chances of one's photos getting notice. The same holds true with videos. Videos are displayed in close to full size or close to it. All of this means that there is a better chance of one's posts getting noticed than there is on Twitter and especially Facebook (which I will discuss shortly). I suspect even if I did not have many more followers on G+ than any other social network, I would still get much more response to my posts because they are simply more, well, noticeable. Indeed, I might mention that if one posts publically on Google+, every one of those posts will be indexed by Google, making it even more likely that they will be noticed!

From the advantages I listed above, it seems obvious to me that Google+ is much more advantageous as a promotional tool than Twitter. While I love Twitter, the fact is that the average tweet has a very short period of time in which it might get noticed. A recent study by Sysomos determined that only 29% of all tweets get any sort of response at all. Of these responses, 19.3% were retweets, with the remaining percentage being replies. Not only do very few tweets get any sort of reaction, but they have only a short time in which to do it according to the Sysomos study. According to Sysomos, 96.9% of the tweets that get any sort of reaction do so in their first hour. After that the chances of getting a response decline dramatically. While I don't have studies on Google+ activity, I can tell you what CircleCount (a site that keeps track of one's activity on G+) says about activity on my account there. On average I receive at least one comment per post, one reshare per post, and nine +1's per post (a +1 is more or less the equivalent of a Facebook like). I can also tell you that I have had posts that were months old that received comments, reshares, or +1's. Quite simply, Google+ posts not only get more reaction than Twitter tweets, but they have a longer life span too.

Of course, I have always been of the opinion that Twitter is a better promotional tool than Facebook, so it should come as no surprise that I think Google+ is a better promotional tool than it too. The simple fact is that, for all its ubiquitousness, Facebook is the worst social network to use to promote one's services or products. The reason for this that Facebook filters the posts one sees in his or her news feed (this despite the fact that the vast majority of FB users I know don't want their news feeds filtered). Because of this, in the end only about 15% of a page's followers will see any given post from that page in their news feed. If one wants all of their users to see any given post on Facebook, then they must pay $7 to promote the post. One does not need to be maths whiz to realise this could add up very swiftly. This can be contrasted with Google+, where every single one of one's uses will see every single of one's posts!

Beyond the fact that Facebook's filtering of posts make it a very poor promotional took, I must also point out its various other disadvantages. First, for whatever reason Facebook crops pictures in the news feed. Second, videos are not displayed anywhere near their full size. This reduces the chance that even those who do see one's post will actually notice them. While Facebook may be the biggest social media out there,then, it is also probably the worst for promoting anything.

Other social media sites come with their own disadvantages. I love Tumblr, but because of its stream I think the lifespan of any given Tumblr post may be only a little more than that of a tweet on Twitter. At any rate, in my humble opinion the Tumblr stream is less user friendly that Google+'s stream. As to Pinterest, my experience is very limited with that site, so what I have to say must be taken with a grain of salt. Quite simply, it seems to me that Pinterest is not a terribly active site. Indeed, the claim that some misguided media outlets have made that Google+ is a "ghost town" seems much more applicable to Pinterest to me.

Of course, even with all the advantages I can see how some might complain that they are already busy with accounts for Facbook, Twitter, and various other social media sites, so they would have little time for Google+. To me that is not a problem. While I do not know how many social media management sites are set up to handle Google+ pages, I know that HootSuite (my Twitter client of choice) is. One could simply set up one's HootSuite account so that when one makes a post, it goes to Google+, Twitter, MySpace, Facebook, and LinkedIn, all at the same time. If one doesn't like HootSuite (and I don't know why one wouldn't), I suspect there are other social media managements sites out there that handle Google+ as well as Twitter and Facebook.

With the many advantages that Google+ has and the large number of classic film buffs there, I really do not see any reason the Warner Archive and Turner Classic Movies don't have pages there. Indeed, I would be among the first to circle them (actually, I would even volunteer to run their Google+ pages for them if they would just sit them up), and I am sure many others would circle them as well. Quite simply, I believe Google+ is an incredible resource, superior to both Twitter and Facebook, that too many media outlets are neglecting. I think if the Warner Archive and TCM set up Google+ pages, they would be surprised at the enormous response they would receive.

Monday, 8 July 2013

Beyond Casablanca by Jennifer C. Garlen

If you are a classic film buff and Turner Classic Movies fan on Twitter or Google+, you may be familiar  with Jennifer Garlen. Jennifer is the author of the blog Virtual Virago. What you might not know is that she recently published a book, Beyond Casablanca: 100 Classic Movies Worth Watching.

Beyond Casablanca: 100 Classic Movies Worth Watching  is a compendium of 100 reviews of classic movies that might be worth one's while. Included at the beginning of the book is a list of ten films that Jennifer considers essential viewing. Beyond Casablanca: 100 Classic Movies Worth Watching is a very easy reference to use. The movies are listed in alphabetical and there are also indexes that list the films by year, by director, and by actor.

Not only is Beyond Casablanca: 100 Classic Movies Worth Watching easy to use, but it is also very to read. What is more her reviews are very informative. Not only does she have some very insightful views on the various films, but she also dispenses a good deal of trivia as well. If you have ever read her blog, then you know that Jennifer knows her classic films. And while there are only 100 movies reviewed in the book, in the vast majority of reviews Jennifer mentions other films in which the viewer might be interested (for instance, in her review of Hammer Films' Dracula, she not only points the reader to other Hammer films, but similar horror films such as House of Wax, Night of the Demon, and so on. I must also mention that Beyond Casablanca: 100 Classic Movies Worth Watching has a good mix of various genres. One will find serious dramas, swashbucklers, science film movies, musicals, Silent films, and just about any other genre of which one can think.

My only real caveat with Beyond Casablanca: 100 Classic Movies Worth Watching is that Jennifer did not include my "Film That One Must See if He or She Sees Only One Film in His or Her Lifetime", Seven Samurai. To me it is the greatest film of all time. Of course, this points to the fact that film viewing is a subjective experience. What one person to be an essential film another might not. That having been said, the fact is that there are no films in the book that I don't think deserve to be there!

Beyond Casablanca: 100 Classic Movies Worth Watching is not simply a great reference for those just beginning to explore the vast world of classic film, but a book that can also be a source of discussion among veteran classic film buffs. Whether you're just starting to watch the classics or have seen the vast majority of them, Beyond Casablanca: 100 Classic Movies Worth Watchingis a very worthwhile book to purchase. 

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Vivien Leigh Mon Amour

It was today in 1967 that legendary actress Vivien Leigh died. She had been diagnosed with tuberculosis in 1944 and it would be that disease that cut her life all too short. Miss Leigh was only 53 years old when she died.

For me Vivien Leigh has always maintained a special place my heart. She is not only my favourite actress of all time, but she was also my second  classic film crush (my first was Audrey Hepburn). When I was a lad, in those days before Turner Classic Movies, Gone with the Wind was rarely shown on television. When it did air, then, it was a major event and nearly everyone tuned in to watch it. My parents were no different, and I was looking forward to seeing it myself. That having been said I was not prepared when it came to Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O'Hara. From the moment she first appeared on the screen I thought that she was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen (even more beautiful than Audrey Hepburn). In the end I fell very hard for Vivien Leigh. Not only would Gone with the Wind remain one of my favourite movies of all time, but Vivien Leigh has remained my favourite actress nearly ever since.

As I grew older, I naturally sought out her other movies.: Waterloo Bridge, That Hamilton Woman, A Streetcar Named Desire, Ship of Fools, and so on. And as I grew older I learned that Vivien Leigh was not only incredibly beautiful, but she also extremely talented. She was impressive as the spoiled, impetuous Scarlett in Gone with the Wind, as well as the mercurial Blache DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire. She convincingly played historical figures, including Emma, Lady Hamilton (in That Hamilton Woman) and Cleopatra (in Caesar and Cleopatra--for me Cleopatra will always be Vivien Leigh, not Elizabeth Taylor). I have often thought that because of her incredible beauty Vivien Leigh has always been underestimated as an actress. She was actually much more talented than she has been given credit for.

Of course, for one so talented and so beautiful Vivien Leigh had a very sad life. Because of the tuberculosis she had contracted in North Africa while she and Lord Laurence Olivier performed for troops there, she was often in poor health. Miss Leigh also suffered from biplolar disorder at a time when understanding of the illness was poor, but treatment for it was downright primitive (and much of it would be considered barbaric by today's standards). Sadly, her biploar disorder would have an impact on both her career and the relationships in her life.

When I was twelve years old I merely saw Vivien Leigh as the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. In the years since then I have learned much more about not only her career, but her personal life as well. I now know she was was an extremely talented and very complex woman. And as much I fancied her when I was twelve, I think I might just adore her even more now.