Commander Cochran

Kelso’s column in the Statesman today reveals a side of Leslie that we never knew before.

That he owns clothing other than a bikini and a tiara, for one thing. He was arrested in Utumwa, Iowa (MASH fans will recognize that name) for public intoxication…

…while wearing a Star Trek uniform.

“It’s cold up here, so I put my Star Trek outfit over my normal clothes,” Leslie said, explaining his choice of traveling attire when I talked to him Wednesday on his cell phone. “By the way, I’ve got commander rate, so you can call me Commander Cochran.”

I was captain of a local Star Trek club, years ago. We were always concerned about loosing old membership and getting ‘fresh blood’ into the club. I recruited a few people over the years, some of whom have gone on to make several people ask, “why did you bring him here?”

For the record, I’d like it known that I could have done worse. Maybe.

Andreas Katsulas 1946-2006

Andreas Katsulas and his characterization of G’kar was, in the end, the most memorable part of Babylon 5 for me. His portrayal of the ambassador for the newly liberated Narn was exactly what was needed to give the series ‘an edge’. Despicable, but at the same time likeable, the character matured with the show into the image of a visionary leader of his people, once again oppressed by their old masters.

His story arc was about the only one that came to a satisfying conclusion.

I’ll never forget the convention in Tulsa where he posed for this picture. (Yes, those are puppets, made by a friend of mine) He made the convention worth attending, all by himself.

This pretty much puts an end to the possibilities of a resurrection of B5. Without the characters of G’kar and Dr. Franklin (played by Richard Biggs who passed away in 2004) A story based on the original characters would be quite hard to tell.

I have found the voice over that Andreas did as G’kar at the end of the Episode “Z’ha’dum” to be quite moving at times. It goes like this:

“It was the end of the Earth year 2260. The War had come to a pause, suddenly and unexpectedly. All around it was as if the Universe were holding its breath, waiting. All of life can be broken down into moments of transition, and moments of revelation. This had the feeling of both.

G’Quan wrote: ‘There is a darkness greater than the one we fight. It is the darkness of the soul that has lost its way. The War we fight is not against powers and principalities, it is against chaos and despair. Greater than the death of flesh is the death of hope, the death of dreams. Against this peril we can never surrender.’

The future is all around us, waiting in moments of transition to be born in moments of revelation. No one knows the shape of that future, or where it will take us. We know only that it is always born in pain…”

He will be missed.

Great tribute to G’Kar here: http://www.zteamproductions.com/b5stuff/Andreas.html

LOST – What’s in a Name?

OK. I have to admit this up front. I had not been following this show until O.S. Card threw down the gauntlet last year concerning the worthlessness of Trek (Enterprise was worthless. It also wasn’t Trek. Well maybe Ber-Trek) and the praiseworthiness of ‘Lost’ (and ‘Smallville’. Don’t care what he says about that. His original comments can be found here) I accepted the challenge and took up watching ‘Lost’ just to see what the buzz was about.

Anyway… Trek bashing (by one of the better SF authors that I’ve read to date) aside, I’ve gotten hooked on Lost. It’s a pretty good show (still don’t know if I’d call it SciFi) the episodes are character and plot driven, and they are cut in such a way as to keep you interested in the show, even if you haven’t seen the beginning of the series. I started watching about 4 episodes before the season one finale, and kept right on watching as the repeats started airing. I found myself going “Oh, that explains the scene in the finale where…” and have to shut up, because no one else in the house was watching the finale when it aired previously and I didn’t want to give it away…

I’ve stumbled across more sites for this show than any other show I’ve watched. Example?

…and that’s an old list.

The obsession with names that the fans have (as illustrated here, and several other places) has been earned. Taking into account the meaning of the name “Desmond” (where did he go, anyway?) the symbology behind the Dharma logo, the Bagua (anyone else notice the black/white “swan” looks remarkably like a yin-yang?) and the meaning of the name “Dharma“. How about “Jack” and “John”, the two leaders who have the same first name, but couldn’t be more different.? Aaron, Claire’s child? Mr. Ecko? It seems that the writers are choosing names just to pique our interest. It’s not surprising, and has been done in SF series for years. But it still leads you to wonder…

…Which takes you to questioning where this is all going. Reading through the ideas presented at this link (WARNING, SPOILERS) might give you an idea.

But then maybe he, as well as the writers, don’t know where this is going. I’m still watching.

Polluted Memories of Stage Fright

A friend sent me a link to a music and humor blog the other day thinking I would get a kick out of the references to days gone by, inside jokes that only us old people would find amusing. What they didn’t know was that the Janis Joplin  music that the blog was playing would remind me of Janis staring down on me from the wall of the Janis Room at Threadgill’s. Not a pleasant memory of my youth but of the location where we used to hold a weekly Libertarian Toastmasters (Politimasters) meeting and the terror I went through pretty much every week that I was expected to give a speech there. The kind of thing that should carry a trigger warning, if I believed in those kinds of things.

Anyone who’s ever tried to speak in front of a large group of people can commiserate with me here, if not completely understand what I’m talking about. It wasn’t just fear that I felt, standing there trying to speak, and Stage fright is too dismissive to cover it. Perhaps Topophobia describes the feeling; and further might explain why Janis (and so many other performers) resorted to numbing herself before getting onstage. I know the meetings went better when alcohol was served beforehand (at least they seemed to) How can you be expected to be entertaining when you can’t shake the feeling that you’re going to melt (or explode) at any moment?

Public speaking is one of the most common human fears, and this was confirmed by my own experiences within the Politimasters group. The group itself died from a lack of participation. We just couldn’t get enough people. 10 people is what you need to run an effective Toastmasters training group, and we couldn’t even get 10 people interested in meeting every week to practice their speaking skills in front of an audience.

Toastmasters and stage fright in turn remind me of my high school speech class and the dreaded speech class project, another instance (and another trigger warning) of getting up in front of an audience and perform in front of other people. The teachers decided to do a mock version of The Gong Show, this was the 70’s after all, in front of the entire school body as well as guests. To make matters worse they decided we would determine in advance whether we were going to be gonged or not (I think they missed the point of audience participation a key feature of The Gong Show) A friend of mine convinced me that we should try and do Abbott & Costello’s routine Who’s on First, and we (she) decided that we didn’t want to be gonged. I went along with the plan lacking even the slightest idea what I could possibly do that an audience would find interesting. [I’ve written a piece more recently, Coping with Dysgraphia. It might shed light on why it was that I was convinced I couldn’t be interesting.]

Abbott & Costello – Who’s on First?

I memorized the routine. I read it every day for more than two weeks. Performed it in front of family a number of times. I could do it backward by the day of the show. When that curtain rose, I couldn’t remember word one of the entire thing. I am, to put it bluntly, speechless. Both of us end up reading the routine from cards that we carried on with us. There is no other way to describe it, it’s bad and we should be gonged for it. The audience wants us gonged, and can’t figure out why the judges don’t go along. I remember the feeling of thousands of people in the audience wanting my blood (although I’m sure the auditorium in Stinnett didn’t hold more than a few hundred; and ‘wanting blood’ is a bit of an exaggeration. Just a bit) when I walked off that stage I swore I would never do anything like that again.

…And Janis is looking at me from across the room. “You had a speech prepared for Toastmasters tonight, right?” Pure terror.


The reference that stimulated this trip down memory lane removed itself from public view a number of years ago, forcing me to rewrite the opening paragraph of this piece. Having embarked on a cleaning edit, I decided to do a few other wordsmithing edits while keeping the feeling of the piece that I had intended to communicate intact.

Well, that’s true as far as it goes. The real reason I’m editing today is because Chuck Barris died this week, and as much as I hate to admit it he had a real impact on my life, as is partially related above. My family watched The Gong Show every day if my memory serves me right. The show was on in the hour after we got out of school and since we only had one TV and two channels back then, I cringed my way through most of the stupid on it. There were occasional gems to be found but I don’t think love or like are words I would apply to The Gong Show. The show was more like an inoculation for stupid than anything that I might remember with affection.

If you haven’t seen Confessions of a Dangerous Mind and you are a Chuck Barris or Gong Show fan, you might want to give it a chance. It is a very strange film about a very strange man. I personally would rate the film as meh. I know that is what I thought because it made so little impression on me that I barely recall it. The vast majority of films that I’ve seen rate a meh; so while that’s not a glowing endorsement, at least I didn’t gong it and send it back unwatched. There have been quite a few of those over the years. Too little time, too much to watch. The Wife and I wanted to see it because Sam Rockwell plays Chuck Barris, and he does a credible job of channeling​ the man and the madness that was the 70’s as seen through the rearview mirror. Personally, I’d rather look at the 70’s through the lens of Barris’ eyes than mine. He was always more charitable to the stupid than I could ever be. It was his saving grace.

Critiquing an artform (‘Failed’ part 2)

It’s all hot air, I’d just like to say that as a preface. The critiquing of art only has statistical relevance, as in the method used at www.rottentomatoes.com, and then only if the positive/negative is weighed properly. Which is why I don’t make top 10 lists, for example. It’s pretty pointless. My favorite top 10 anything will shift from day to day, and should be meaningless to just about anybody else.

I know what I like, and why I like it. Conversely, I know what I don’t like and why that is as well. For example, Sin City is not a good film no matter how many tickets it sold. There is no discernible theme. There is no apparent rhyme or reason for the use of color in the film (which is done in nouveau black and white for those who haven’t seen it. Can anybody explain the Ferengi in the final segments of the film? I just don’t get that bit at all) it is an excellent representation of a graphic novel who’s pictures move, but it is a very poor film. Are we clear? Good.

Having made that point clear, I’d like to respond to two points brought up here:
http://www.fireflyfans.net/showblog.asp?b=2857#8598

(non-SciFi fans will be forgiven if they run screaming…)

Gedeon wrote:
So are you saying Joss will lose his thunder like David Lynche did?

I’m still a browncoat, still love the characters, but they should stop whoring the story for new fans next time around. You know, not have Simon save River thus destroying what he did in the series. Not have Jayne take River for a nice Shuttle ride… It makes the story clearer, but you and I didn’t need it.

What I was saying is that Fire Walk with Me was a failure in every way that Serenity was not; and yet it was acclaimed as a great film. I’ve never cared, one way or the other, for David Lynch’s work. I consider his version of Dune to be one of the worst adaptations of a movie from a novel that I have ever seen. They didn’t get one thing right except casting and makeup for the Harkonens. I’ll have to beg off judgment on anything else he’s done, since I haven’t seen it.

I personally think that Joss took the wise course in attempting to create a film that would not alienate the new viewer by catering to the fans of the TV show. I’ve said this before and it bears repeating:

“I’m not in charge of making the movies; I daresay that (whoever you are reading this) you don’t make films either. Since they don’t pay me to make decisions about what I want to see in a film and, in fact, pay someone else to do it, I don’t expect people in positions of authority on any particular film will care much if I have a complaint about a particular scene.”

The scenes in question make sense from a plot standpoint (even if they don’t in series continuity) and so can be forgiven, at least in my opinion (I especially love the ‘beaning’ that Jayne gets. Nice pun Joss) they do not, in fact, conflict with established facts from the series.

So, no aspersions on Joss whatsoever, kudos to Joss for getting Serenity in the air at all.

Gedeon wrote:
To me, in years to come, we will consider Serenity like trekkies consider the first Star Trek movie. It’s the right characters, but the costumes were all wrong. The other six are much better.

The worst of the ST films was the last one. That they (Paramount) have apparently given Berman and Braga (the Nemesis of Trek) the reins of the next film as well pretty much spells the complete end of the franchise for me. If Berman is given control of this film, it will be the first Star Trek film that I won’t bother to see in theatres. Nemesis was so far removed from Gene Roddenberry’s vision of Trek that I just couldn’t sit through it more than once. That and the fact that they rehash the death of Spock with the death and re-birth of Data; they inexplicably find yet another ‘brother’ for Data, while traveling on a dune buggy, the only vehicle with wheels ever seen in Trek. Need I go on?

In contrast, the first film (despite it’s meandering pacing and far too simplistic plot) clearly has a lot of Gene in it. The machine trying to become human (a la Data from Next Generation) for example. The first Star Trek film is something I cherish. It got the ball rolling again.

If that is what Serenity ends up being (the film that gets the ball rolling again) then I will look back on it just as fondly.

Failed movies from failed series…?

Ever heard of a show called Firefly? I’m a fan. A hardcore fan. Ever heard of the movie Serenity? It’s a continuation of the characters and story line in Firefly. Again, I’m a hardcore fan. I just want to get the fact that I LOVE the show(s) in the record before we go where this post goes. Stay with me here.

Firefly was canceled due to the infinite wisdom of Fox television. All television executives are omniscient, just ask the guys at NBC who canceled Star Trek in the 60’s. They knew it was junk and was never going to make any money. Don’t let the fact that Paramount has milked millions out of the franchise (and founded the 5th broadcast network with not much more than Star Trek to carry it) since that point fool you, Star Trek needed canceling. In much the same way, the red-headed (browncoated) stepchild that was Firefly needed canceling, because Fox only agreed to let Joss Whedon do it so that they could keep him for another season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. You don’t promote and fund a ‘gimme’ long term. And they didn’t. 13 episodes filmed. 10 episodes aired. No promotion to speak of. You’re outta here!

But Firefly wouldn’t die, I’m sure the old guard Star Trek fans out there understand why that is. Writing. Talking. Promoting. And lo and behold the show that needed canceling is resurrected as a feature length film. Some said “that doesn’t happen” (Trekkies know better, but we let them have their moment. Kids are so cute) and marveled at the feat. And, really it was a feat. An excellent film that preserved the atmosphere of the original show, and completed the main story arc left unfinished by Fox needing to cancel the show. It was on screens all too briefly, and passed onto disk (a copy of which is already in my library) within a few short months.

And then the rumblings started from naysayers, TV executive lakeys, and Hollywood insider wannabes concerning whether Serenity the movie was a success or failure, and whether or not this should “shut the fans up”.

Personally, I don’t feel like shutting up, and I don’t count the shows short time on screen as a failure. Why you say? Because in comparison it’s just not.

I’d like to point out a show (no, not Star Trek) that had a similar fate, not so long ago. A critically acclaimed series with a very short life was resurrected as a movie (that was also critically acclaimed) that went out of theaters nearly as fast. What was the show? Twin Peaks. The movie was Fire Walk With Me. My point is this, even with the media circus that surrounded the show and the subsequent movie, if you look at the numbers here or here, you will see that the show did not in fact do an impressive amount of business. A recoup of about half of the 10 million dollar budget spent on it. But the critics loved it…

In comparison, Serenity’s numbers are just rosy here and here. All told, Serenity has made back the money spent on it, and we aren’t even done with the video sales yet. Not too shabby if I do say so myself. And still, I hear the “What if’s” and the “If only’s”. What’s done is done. The movie came out when it did, competed with the films that were out then, and left the theaters when new films crowded into the fall schedule showed up to push it out. Gotta have all the good films out right before Oscar time. Don’t ask me why, it must be that same omniscience that the TV execs have.

So why should we wear long faces and walk silently? Because the film wasn’t as popular as Lord of the Rings? Didn’t make the kind of money Titanic did? The film didn’t have the history of Lord of the Rings to promote it to every adult in the world, or the potential 200+ million dollar hickey that motivated the blitzkrieg of media exposure which ensured Titanic‘s (undeserved, in my opinion) box office sales. Serenity was good enough on it’s own merits to pay back it’s investors, and good enough on it’s own merits to inspire loyal fans of the series. I say we crow to the moon and demand a second film! Who’s with me?