Thursday, January 22, 2009

More Movie Abuse

Over at Movie Mis-Treatments, there is a new mis-treatment posted. Read all about Zontar, The Thing from Venus, if you dare!
Although the thing’s name is untranslatable into any known Earth language, “it would sound something like ‘Zontar.’”

I think that’s the “thing’s” problem. Just imagine how so much less fearsome it would be if the name sounded like “Timmy,” “Flopsy,” or “Mittens.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Around the Globe--Part 3 of 5

Part 1 of 5 is here, and 2 of 5 is here.

Sunday the 28th we visited the British Museum and the thing about the British Museum is that there is an awful lot of stuff in it. As fascinating as it all can be, you reach the point where your retinas simply can’t take looking at any more things.

After we were worn out by the British Museum, we sought lunch, the walked over the
Millennium Bridge again to the Globe Theater, where we took the tour.

Note that this is not Shakespeare’s original Globe Theater. His original was constructed, it is believed, in 1599 but was destroyed by fire in 1613 A second Globe Theatre was rebuilt on the same site a year later and closed in 1642. Over the years, it has vanished from the face of the Earth.

Fast forward more than 300 years. In 1949, as the story they tell on the tour has it, the American actor and director Sam Wanamaker, came to London for the first time and looked for the site of the original Globe. He was disappointed that all he could find was a beat-up plaque on the side of a building that was currently a brewery. He was chagrined to not to find a more lasting memorial to Shakespeare and his theatre.

Some years later, in 1970, Wanamaker founded what was to become the Shakespeare Globe Trust, and in 1987 building work began. In 1993, the construction of the Globe Theatre itself began. It was an uphill struggle, as the length of time the project took can attest. Wanamaker died on December 18, 1993 but the theater was completed in 1997.

It opened in 1997 under the name “Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre” and now stages plays every summer (May to October). It is a very faithful reproduction of a Tudor era theater, helped by the uncovering, during the building of the new theater, of remnants of the original, which aided in the design and construction. There is no roof or heating (which is why there are no plays in December as it was getting quite cold indeed). The point of contention was the thatched roof; it was one reason why the original burned down, and, in fact, after the Great Fire of 1666, thatched roofs were banned in London. However, it is a special fireproof material, not proper thatch, and there is an elaborate sprinkler system, so the city and theater are safe. The seating capacity is about 1,400, with standing room for about 500 “groundlings.” It is believed that this is about half the capacity that the original Globe would have had. There are no microphones, spotlights, or other modern theatrical technologies—just as it would have been in Tudor times. It’s rather cool; I will definitely have to come back when the theater is open and see a play there.

The next day we went to the source--that is, Stratford-Upon-Avon....

Westminster Abbey and the Tower--2 of 5

Part 1 of 5 is here.

The next day was Boxing Day, which is a bank holiday. Other countries celebrate Boxing Day and; the name comes from the tradition of giving Christmas gifts (“boxes”) to service workers (such as postal workers, tradespeople, etc.). It was, however, also a day for post-Christmas sales and given the crappy economy, just about every store in the city (probaly the country) was having some kind of massive sale. They should have just put signs in the shop windows that read “Just buy something, for God’s sake!”) We had done our research, and it turned out that the only thing that was on our list of things to do that was open was Westminster Abbey, so that was where we headed.

We did the audio tour narrated by Jeremy Irons. There was no photography in the Abbey, but it was an amazing structure. There has been a church on the present site of Westminster Abbey for more than a thousand years. Once called Thorney Island as it was surrounded by tributaries of the Thames, the region was originally on the inhospitable the outskirts of London before it became the city of Westminster and the real seat of government. The Abbey we know today was established by King Edward the Confessor—I bet he drove the local police crazy; whenever a crime was committed he would always be confessing to it—in the 1060s. Almost everyone who was anyone in British history is buried somewhere in the Abbey; it is rather a crowded place with tombs and sarcophagi packed in like it was rush hour on a rather ghoulish subway line. Indeed, more than 3,000 people are buried there, and there are more than 600 tombs and monuments. Edward the Confessor of course got his own special chapel (well, he did build the place) and massive monument. I’m sure he would confess that it was a bit ornate.

The Tudors are well-represented. Henry VII has a special chapel, and Queen Elizabeth has a pretty large tomb, which also is where her half-sister, Queen Mary I, is also buried. Oddly, her rival for the throne, Mary, Queen of Scots, has an even bigger monument right next to hers. Sure, Elizabeth was the one who had Mary executed, but Mary’s son eventually became king James I and was the one who built her tomb.

Oliver Cromwell was buried there for a short period, but after the restoration of the monarchy in 1660 he was dug up and booted out.

One of the other relics on display at Westminster Abbey is the coronation chair, commissioned in 1297, used by just about every British monarch going back at least to Henry III. Westminster Abbey has played host to 38 coronation ceremonies, the most recent, of course, having been Queen Elizabeth II’s in 1953. The coronation chair has been pretty dinged up over the years, although I’ll bet it gets a fair amount of water damage from Prince Charles’ drool.

There is also a Poets’ Corner, where “men of letters” are buried. The tradition of burying writers and other artists there began accidentally when Geoffrey Chaucer was buried there in 1400. He ended up there not because he was a poet, but rather because he was Clerk of the King’s Works at Westminster Palace. Two hundred years later, poet Edmund Spenser requested that he be buried alongside Chaucer—oddly no one had a problem with this—and the precedent was struck. The men of letters buried there range from the famous (Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Robert Browning, etc.) to those whom time has forgotten (Thomas Triplet; no, he was not buried in three tombs). Charles Dickens is also buried there, although on the audio tour Jeremy Irons dismissed Dickens rather cavalierly. There was some kind of bad blood between them, methinks. In the middle of the nave is the grave of explorer and missionary David Livingstone; one cannot resist the temptation to stand over it and intone, “Dr. Livingstone, I presume,” although one probably should.

The Abbey also houses the oldest door in Britain, dating from about 1050. Yes, we visited Westminster Abbey and they showed us the door. When we later visited Canterbury Cathedral, we asked to see their door but they wouldn’t show it to us.

On Saturday the 27th, we went to the Tower of London, and we did another audio tour. We went through the White Tower, the Bloody Tower, the Cradle Tower, and various other bits of Tower. The oldest parts of the Tower date back to 1066, not long after William the Conqueror’s victory at Hastings. Even then. London was the heart of the country he had just conquered, so he immediately went there and had himself crowned at Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day, 1066. He then set about building a fortress to control, as it was put at the time, “the numerous and hostile inhabitants” of the city (one of the drawbacks to being a Conqueror).

The White Tower is one of the original structures. It has been worked on over the years; the turreted roofs were added in the 16th century, the window and door surrounds were added at various times in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. The wooden staircase was built in 1973.
The original purpose of the White Tower (the original “Tower of London”) was defensive, residential, and ceremonial. A beautifully preserved chapel (the Chapel of St. John the Evangelist) shows off the original and intact Romanesque architecture of the Normans.
The White Tower wasn’t completed until about 1090 or so, under William Rufus, son of William I and his successor as King of England. The first major expansions of the Tower were undertaken in the 12th century by Henry I (younger brother of and successor to William Rufus) and Henry II.

The Tower complex was more or less completed (and is the layout that survives) by Edward I in the early 14th century. Needless to say, the Tower has been noodled with endlessly ever since, particularly by the Tudors and the Victorians.

In the Tower Green we came across what appeared to be a fairly new Execution Memorial created by Brian Catling. Contrary to popular belief, not too many people were actually executed at the Tower. Those commemorated by the new Memorial on the Site of Execution are the seven beheaded near the site of execution (their remains are still buried in the Chapel Royal of St. Peter ad Vincula and three Black Watch soldiers who were executed in the 18th century.

We spent the day wandering around the Tower, and it started to get dark just as we were touring St. Thomas’ Tower and it was quite dark indeed and uncrowded when we got to the room and chapel where Edward I died. It was rather creepy. Fortunately the Tower was closing so we were shooed out.

We walked along the Thames up to the Millennium Bridge and for some reason decided to walk over to Southwark. At the south end of the bridge, there is a ramp which slopes somewhat steeply down to the embankment aling the river. At the top of the ramp was a woman in a wheelchair; one slip and she would go flying down the ramp and likely end up in the river. Funny, the guy holding the wheelchair did look a little like Richard Widmark (see 1947’s Kiss of Death). We ended up at Young’s Tavern again before we hoofed it back across the river and back to Bayswater in search of dinner. I believe this was night we found a Persian restaurant, which was rather good.

Christmas in London-1 of 5

I am finally getting around to posting about my trip to London last month. Photos are available via my Picasa online photo album here.

There are three drawbacks to spending Christmas in London. The first is the basic hazard of traveling in winter, which is that plans need to be fairly flexible to accommodate delays caused by the weather—that is, snow. The second is that pretty much everything is closed on December 24, 25, and 26, and even the Tube is shut down on Christmas Day. The third is that, thanks to the shortness of the days (sunset at around 4:30) things shut earlier than in summer and the darkness makes sightseeing (and photography) fairly difficult.

That all said, our recent trip to London went off very well—once the weather let us go off at all. We were scheduled to fly out (Albany to Newark, then Newark to Heathrow) in the late afternoon of December 21—those of you in the Northeast will recall that this was the day we got rather a lot of snow. Needless to say, the Albany flight was canceled. Ultimately, we had to reschedule the departure for 6:30 a.m. December 23. We arrived at Heathrow at about midnight local time. Everything was pretty much closed, and we took a cab to Bayswater where we were renting a flat. Happily, since last April, AT&T had added international roaming so my iPhone actually worked, which was a great help.

The next day, Christmas Eve, most things were closed, son we took that day to simply wander around the city, mostly Westminster, Parliament Square etc., and investigate a variety of pubs. (The fourth drawback to traveling to London at Christmas was that everything was very crowded.)

One of our missions was to find 50 Berkeley Square, which is said to be the most haunted location in London. After wandering through Piccadilly Circus (the name was apt, given how completely nutsville it was), we wended our way through Mayfair and found Berkeley Square. What hauntings have happened at Number 50?
Charles Harper in Haunted Houses, published in 1907 stated that “… It seems that a Something or Other, very terrible indeed, haunts or did haunt a particular room. This unnamed Raw Head and Bloody Bones, or whatever it is, has been sufficiently awful to have caused the death, in convulsions, of at least two foolhardy persons who have dared to sleep in that chamber…” One of them was a nobleman, who scoffing at tales that a hideous entity was residing within the haunted room, vowed to spend the night there. It was agreed, however, that should he require assistance he would ring the servants’ bell to summon his friends. So saying, he retired for the night. A little after midnight there was a faint ring, which was followed by a ferocious peeling of the bell. Rushing upstairs, the friends threw open the door, and found their companion, rigid with terror, his eyes bulging from their sockets. He was unable to tell them what he had seen, and such was the shock to his system, that he died shortly afterwards.
I’ve stayed in hotels that have had rather the same effect. But wait, there’s more:
Strange lights that flashed in the windows would startle passers-by; disembodied screams were heard echoing from the depths of the building; and spookier still, the sound of a heavy body was heard being dragged down the staircase. One night, two sailors on shore leave in London, were seeking a place to stay, and chanced upon the obviously empty house. Breaking in they made their way upstairs, and inadvertently settled down to spend the night in the haunted room. They were woken by the sound of heavy, determined footsteps coming up the stairs. Suddenly the door banged open and a hideous, shapeless, oozing mass began to fill the room. One sailor managed to get past it and escape. Returning to the house with a policeman, he found his friend’s corpse, impaled on the railings outside, the twisted face and bulging eyes, grim testimony to the terror that had caused him to jump to his death, rather than confront the evil in the room above
Indeed, it is said that the fabric is so charged with psychic energy that merely touching the external brickwork can give a mild shock to the psychically inclined.
Yeah. Anyway, the house remains the location of Maggs Bros Antiquarian Booksellers, which has been there for more than 50 years.

By this time it was getting very dark (but still only 5:00), so we found a nearby pub and hung out for a while. Then we decided to walk back top Bayswater, which wasn’t a bad walk. One very cool thing about Bayswater is that it is very ethnically diverse so there are all manner of restaurants. We tried a Lebanese takeaway place and it was fantastic.

The next day was Christmas, and we were due at Steven and Amy’s in Hackney/Homerton (because there’s no place like Homerton for the holidays) at 3:00, so we had some time in the morning to do...something. Trouble was, here was nothing open. So we set out in the direction of St. Paul’s by foot. The Tube and buses were no running, and I hate taking cabs (long story), so we walked down Oxford Street and picked up the Strand which then turned into Fleet Street. We ambled into St. Paul’s, but it as closed for touring, just services, so we got out of there pretty quickly. It was about noon/noon-thirty, so we looked for a pub or something, but the two open restaurants near St. Paul’s were mobbed. So on a whim we walked over the Millennium Bridge to Southwark and found a Young’s pub open! Huzzah! So we sat on the patio (it wasn’t that cold out) overlooking the Thames. Finally, we decided we should probably head out to Hackney, so we walked back over the bridge and grabbed a cab at St. Paul’s. One of the myriad reasons I hate taking cab is that drivers never seem to know how to get where I need to go, and since I usually take cabs in cities I do not live in, that means that I never usually know how to get there either, which leaves me in a bit of a pickle. Fortunately, London cabbies do have to pass that geography test—and now they have GPS devices. (Although GPS didn’t seem to help the driver of the car service we took back to Bayswater, and it was a stroke of luck we made it back in our lifetimes; I think we went through a part of London the Romans still controlled.) After a very pleasant dinner with the Hackney lot, we did make it back to Bayswater, and found an open pub a few blocks from our flat so had a few nightcaps.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Back in the Village

"I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed, or numbered. My life is my own..."

Anyway, following up on my previous post about Patrick McGoohan's demise, I first discovered The Prisoner when I was in high school; in 1985, the local PBS station started running the 17 episodes, and I was hooked by the end of the first episode "Arrival." Sure, there was the cool Ron Granier theme song, the quintessentially late 1960s visual style (the show was made in 1967), the vaguely surrealistic imagery (Rover the attack balloon is what most people usually remember), the weird beauty of The Village, and the the fact that it can take quite a bit of effort to figure out what is going on a lot of the time--all things I loved about it--but it was ultimately a show about ideas, examining the place of the individual in society. Are we all just numbers in a mechanized, computerized society? Can there be such a thing as a true "individual"? What is to be done with those who won't conform, who don't agree with such Village slogans as "A still tongue makes a happy life" and "Questions are a burden to others, answers a prison for oneself"? Good questions all. (Actually, over the years I have come to the belief that numbers are actually more individualistic than names; many people--even in my local phone book--have the same name as me, but no one has the same, say, Social Security number. Unless someone has nicked that, too.)

It was very much George Orwell via Franz Kafka, and I proceeded to videotape each episode. When I went off to college that fall, I inflicted the episodes on various dormmates. That summer, I had also joined Six of One, the Prisoner Appreciation Society (okay, fan club, the only one I have ever joined) and even had an article published in their quarterly newsletter. (I unearthed it the last time I moved and, probably like like most things I wrote when I was 17 [or 27][or 37], it is too wretched to ever be reproduced.) It's still one of those programs I like to revisit (of course I have all the episodes on DVD), and the older I get the more things I catch and the more things I understand. I think I'm even starting to figure out "Once Upon a Time"!

Now I am more resigned (ahem) then ever to visit The Village the next time I am in the U.K.

Favorite episode: "The General"; the one where all learning in The Village is merely computer-generated facts requiring no (nay, discouraging) original thought, and Number Six destroys the computer by asking it "Why?" There is also one scene which is a great satire of artists' retreats, which is what I always kind of envisioned Yaddo being like.

Least favorite episode: Probably "Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling," where Number Six's
mind is transferred into another body so he can be temporarily released from the Village to find a professor. Kind of a goofy idea, but it was a clever way to get around the fact that Patrick McGoohan had, before the series had been expanded from its original run of 7 episodes, contracted to appear in Ice Station Zebra, and thus an episode of The Prisoner had to be made without him.

Be Seeing You

'Prisoner' actor Patrick McGoohan dies in LA

Patrick McGoohan, the Emmy-winning actor who created and starred in the cult classic television show "The Prisoner," has died. He was 80.

McGoohan died Tuesday in Los Angeles after a short illness, his son-in-law, film producer Cleve Landsberg, said.

McGoohan won two Emmys for his work on the Peter Falk detective drama "Columbo," and more recently appeared as King Edward Longshanks in the 1995 Mel Gibson film "Braveheart."

But he was most famous as the character known only as Number Six in "The Prisoner," a sci-fi tinged 1960s British series in which a former spy is held captive in a small enclave known only as The Village, where a mysterious authority named Number One constantly prevents his escape.

McGoohan came up with the concept and wrote and directed several episodes of the show, which has kept a devoted following in the United States and Europe for four decades.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Inside Book Publishing

Ever wonder how a book gets from author to remainder bin? Macmillan digital shows how the sausage is made in this hilarious video (via BoingBoing).

Monday, January 12, 2009


Via The Big Picture, the late, great Calvin & Hobbes sums up the economy.


If you have enjoyed the silly recaps of bad movies (which I call Mis-Treatments) that have appeared on this site sporadically, you may enjoy my new full-fledged Web site for them, the result of a crash course in learning Adobe Dreamweaver. Visit it at and, of course, feedback is always appreciated.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Credit Where Credit is Due

So I get back from Britain last week (yes, I'll post about the trip soon) and log on to my credit cards' Web sites to figure out what all those pounds I spent have ended up converting to, and I discover that a month or so ago, someone nicked my Master Card number and charged $264 of what turned out to be beauty supplies and cosmetics from a San Francisco company called Sephora. There was also a second fraudulent charge to a company that sells arcade supplies. (An interesting combination. Getting all dolled up to play Grand Theft Auto? What a terrifying thought.) Fortunately, my credit card company has credited me without hassle. (I've had the card since 1988 so it's nice to perhaps get some benefit of the doubt. And let's face it: cosmetics and arcade games are probably the two things I am least likely to ever buy.) And, yeah, I should have changed my card number right on the spot, but for some reason neglected to.

So I check again today and I notice another $264 charge to Sephora (made two days ago) --whoever whole my identity is certainly tarting it up. I called Sephora directly this time and I can't say that I have any particular interest in buying what they sell, but their customer service is excellent. (If you're in the market for beauty supplies, check them out.) They were tremendously pleasant and helpful, and were able to retrieve the shipment from UPS, get their stuff back, and credit me. (I hate companies to be on the line for these things--it's not their fault. And businesses have enough troubles these days.) Interestingly, the shipping address was also in Saratoga Springs and was not one of mine. Hmm....

And say what you will about the perils of e-commerce, I should point out that I never use this card to buy things online, just gas, clothing, house stuff, and other basic staples (but not actual staples; they go on another card), almost all from local stores. So looking at the charges preceding the erroneous ones, it seems the culprit is based in either Cumberland Farms/Gulf Oil, CVS, or Barnes & Noble. And I'd hate to think that Barnes & Noble is in the habit of hiring riff raff...

At any rate the card number has been changed. So there!

Let this be a lesson: always check your credit card statements carefully.