Cookie Warning

Warning: This blog may contain cookies. Just as cookies fresh out of the oven may burn your mouth, electronic cookies can harm your computer. Visit all kitchens and blogs (yes, including this one) with care.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Verity Lambert’s Other Great TV Show

The church where Bill, Alec's son in law, serves as vicar.

Sydney Newman created Doctor Who.  Paul Mendelson created May to December.  But in both cases, the person who got the shows up and running, and who crafted the overall look and feel of both shows, was Verity Lambert.  With Doctor Who, she had to work to create something out of nothing, as no one had a firm concept of what the Doctor should look like, or how he should interact with his companions.  As no one had a spare Tardis handy, she had to create that too.

With May to December, less inventiveness was necessary, as Paul Mendelson drew much of the show from his own life.  He set it in the village of Pinner, where he lived.  He used the name of his eldest daughter, Zoe, for the female lead.  As he had worked in a Family Law office, he made Alec a lawyer.  And as he had given up the legal practice after an especially traumatic case, Zoe meets Alec when she starts divorce proceedings.  But it wasn’t enough for Mendelson to bring together two people whose lives had been shattered, one by a spouse’s unfaithfulness, and the other by death.  In the desire to separate them further, and thus give each more difference to overcome, he also chose to separate Alec and Zoe by twenty-seven years.

A house they visit, when Alec & Zoe start house-hunting.

People often mention the generation gap when discussing May to December, but what makes the show special for me is its characters.  Verity Lambert hired actors who fleshed out their parts and developed chemistry onscreen.  The characters are well constructed, and exhibit vibrant personalities.  They believe in true love, responsibility and commitment to others, and overcoming interpersonal differences.  This is especially true of the two main characters.  Because Zoe was committed to her husband throughout their eight years of marriage, we can understand how she might turn to a fellow schoolteacher for solace, even if she doesn’t see him as a long-term partner.  Because Alec loved his wife for thirty years, and cared for her during her final years of illness, we can understand how he might ignore the age gap when he realizes that Zoe shares his interests, and that he connects with her like no one else.  Due to Verity Lambert’s choice of actors, and Mendelson’s character construction, we are willing to journey along with Alec and Zoe while they fumble their way through a romance involving premarital sex, and spend a few years cautiously living together, before each is ready to make that big commitment to the other.

The house Alec & Zoe ultimately decide to live in.

Great Fiction draws us into others’ lives, and helps us to understand how we are all broken and imperfect creatures.  It helps us push past beliefs we regard as absolute, and understand how, in individual instances, it might be necessary to diverge from the normal path.  It allows us to acknowledge that, while a particular life choice might be wrong for us, that perhaps it is acceptable for them.  Thus, it allows us to trust and accept others for who they are, which can help us resolve the differences that often separate us.

In our short time in Pinner, I found the law office where Alec worked, the church where his son-in-law served as vicar, and the house where he and Zoe lived.  Someday, I’d love to return, and walk the busy street where Zoe’s parents sold their produce.  I’d love to see Alec’s old house, Zoe’s apartment, the school where she and Roy worked, and the parks featured in the episodes. 

"Wait, Zoe!  I want to see little baby Fleur!"

For six seasons, May to December filled our TV screens and our hearts.  Its popularity, and the truths it communicated, helped establish Paul Mendelson as a writer, and Cinema Verity as a production company.  If you’re not familiar with May to December, I urge you to follow the link below, and watch the first episode on Youtube.  If you do so, I think you’ll understand why this show lives on in the hearts of fans worldwide.  If you own a region-free DVD player, you can even buy Seasons 1 & 2, which have been released in Region 2.  For a genuine love for others, and a real concern for people, can overcome social conventions, contrasting beliefs and values, and all other boundaries, with the possible exception of Google Maps directions and poorly marked English roads.  To help overcome the latter, you need a kind and helpful local, and perhaps a good GPS system as well. 

Dragon Dave

Related Internet Links

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Looking for Alec & Zoe Callendar: Part 2

Once we realized we were lost on the outskirts of London, we started looking for some place to stop and get directions.  But we found the streets in England narrower than their counterparts in the United States, and often we found ourselves busy navigating twists and turns, or heading down a street with nothing but greenery for company.  If we passed through a town, we often found no place to park.  Or a road designated on a sign would fire us with hope, and so we would soldier on, only to realize, a few minutes later, that we were just as lost as before.

After more than an hour, we turned off on a residential street.  We sought a gas station, or a shop where we could stop and ask for directions.  But mostly, we just needed to take a break, and gather our thoughts.  The street we found ourselves on was lined with row houses, and only extended a short way before it dead-ended.  Cars lined every inch of curb, making parking impossible.

We squeezed past a small black taxi, double-parked while the cabbie waited for his customer to climb aboard.  After turning around at the end of the street, we decided to ask the man for directions.  My wife rolled down her window and asked if he could direct us back to the road we were looking for.  For the most part, Google Maps had identified the roads we would take not by names, but by their M, A, or B designations.  The cabbie shook his head.  “I don’t know the A and B roads,” he answered. 

After a moment, the man asked, “Where are you trying to go?”  When my wife said Pinner, his eyes lit up.  “Oh, that’s easy.”  He then rattled off a list of directions.  Noting our glazed eyes, he instructed us to follow him, and when he made a left turn at a particular intersection, we were to turn right, and follow a shorter series of turns until we reached Pinner.  We followed his little black taxi until he signaled us with his blinkers that we had reached the parting of the ways.

Uncertain that we were following his instructions, we headed off on our own.  We worried that we would take a wrong turn somewhere.  And then, suddenly, we found ourselves approaching Pinner high street to our right.  Finally, we had reached the English village where the TV show May to December was set!

Pinner's main street

We purchased lunch from a grocery store,
then found an empty bench and reviewed our plans.

As cars filled all available spaces along the main road, we parked in a nearby shopping center, which gave us one hour before rates rose dramatically.  So we wolfed down our lunch as we consulted our maps and driving instructions.  As we had fallen far behind schedule, and realized we were woefully unprepared for the English road system, we crossed the other side trips off our itinerary. 

The lunch hour is nearly over, Alec.
Time to return to work.

After finishing our lunch, and refining our plans, we spent our remaining minutes exploring the town where Alec and Zoe met, fell in love, and eventually married.  It felt so good to stand outside Alec’s office, to gaze up at the familiar church clock, and to peruse the shops along the main street.  To stand where they once stood.  To see, as much as we could in so short a span of time, how closely their life on TV mirrored that of the locals.  Then, reluctantly, we climbed back into our car and headed off to the place we would be staying in the Midlands. 

If I need assistance,
where better to find it than the law offices of
Semple, Callendar & Henty!

We would arrive at our condominium late that evening, having spent several more hours taking wrong turns along our planned route.  (The next day, we would find an electronics store and purchase our first Satellite Navigation device).  We regretted not being able to visit the other stops on our planned route.  But unlike the other TV show locations, Pinner was a real village, and we had caught a glimpse of what life there might be like there.  Alec and Zoe seemed a good fit for the community.  I only wish we could have explored their world a little more, and that we could once again thank the cabbie who helped us get there.

Dragon Dave

Related Internet Links

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Looking for Alec & Zoe Callendar: Part 1

"Hey, what joker moved the steering wheel?"

I had everything planned so carefully for our first trip to England.  From the places we would visit in London, to the driving directions to our timeshare condominium in the Midlands, to everything we wanted to see in the seaside village of Rye, we thought we had reduced, if not eliminated, all the uncertainties involved in visiting a foreign country.  So, after arriving at Heathrow Airport, we battled through jetlag for two-and-a-half days as we visited the places in London we most wished to see, wandering the world famous city afoot, and aided by their bus and underground train systems.  Then we rented a car and ventured onto the roads of England. 

According to Google Maps, our drive to the English Midlands would take a few hours.  As we could not check in at our condo until late afternoon, we had planned a few interesting stops along the way.  The first was the village of Pinner, where one of our favorite English sitcoms, May to December, was set. 

Our research had prepared us when it came to basic navigation, such as what side of the road to drive on, and recognizing the speed limit signs.  It was the roundabouts that tripped us up.  Unlike intersections, roundabouts presented us with a variety of perplexing options.  Sometimes the road we needed, according to our Google Map directions, might be painted on the asphalt of the particular exit we needed to take.  Or there might be a sign that showed which turnoff we wanted.  But two, three, four, or more streets can adjoin the same roundabout, and each of those intersecting streets separate before they join the roundabout, so you have to be doubly careful when counting each potential turnoff. 

When we came across simple intersections, we looked for street signs. Sometimes we spotted the street name on a sign affixed to a fence at knee or waist level, but only after we were nearly through the intersection.  Or they were placed along a building farther down the street, visible only after we had passed through the intersection.  Or they simply weren’t there.  Not that we found many intersections.  For the most part, we encountered roundabouts.  This was an aspect of British life that had seemed so quaint and endearing when we were at home, relaxing in our living room and enjoying our beloved TV shows.  In real life, we found them anything but relaxing.

Google Maps had estimated a fifteen-to-twenty minute drive until we reached Pinner.  After half-an-hour, we realized that we had taken several wrong turns along the way, and had no idea where we were.  So we attempted to reverse our course as best we could.  But each roundabout is only a link in a chain, and each link will only tell you how to get to the next one, most of which weren’t listed in my driving instructions.  On those rare occasions when we navigated our way back through roundabouts we recognized, we still couldn’t figure out where or how we had diverted from the printed instructions. 

We had planned on a fun, picturesque drive.  We had hoped to find several meaningful locations where we could connect with the British TV shows we loved.  Instead, after more than an hour, we were driving in circles (literally), frustrated, exhausted, and utterly confused by an onslaught of choices that didn’t correspond with the journey we had so carefully planned before leaving home.  But life is never as hopeless as it seems, and soon we would receive aid from a source we would never have anticipated. 

Feeling lost in your journey right now?  Stick to your course, and keep looking for a source of help.  Life might just surprise you. 

Dragon Dave

Related Dragon Cache entries

Related Internet Links

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Mystery of the Mask

Sure, everyone likes the helmet.
But a musical Boba Fett, sporting his
giant orange tuning fork?
Somehow, that look never caught on.

Jeremy Bullock had been acting for twenty-five years when he was offered the part of Boba Fett in The Empire Strikes Back.  But Sci-Fi resonates with people more that other forms of entertainment.  His older son (who was eleven in 1981, when the interview for Starlog Magazine Issue 50 was written) might say, “I like that play you were in,” but both boys kept a photo of Boba Fett close to hand when his father toured the country in a production of Hamlet.

After the movie’s release, Jeremy Bulloch received masses of fan letters.  Young boys might write something like, “Gee, we like you, you’re awesome,” while girls and young women found him alluring.  One woman asked if the voice Lucasfilm used was his real voice.  (It wasn’t).  In her letter, she added, “Mind you, if it isn’t your voice, I won’t stop loving you.”  Some asked him what Boba Fett would do in the next movie, and if his character represented “the other hope” that Yoda had spoken of.

Up to this point, Bullock had appeared in two James Bond movies.  Of his role on The Spy Who Loved Me, he told the interviewer (with a smile): “They put these charges under me, and I get ripped apart after twenty minutes—the story of my life.”  He played more memorable roles in two Doctor Who stories.  After the Doctor and his companions escape the warriors from Richard the Lionheart’s court in “The Crusade,” the Tardis lands in “The Space Museum.”  Bulloch says of his role, “I was the leader of a race of children. We had this swept back hair, pointed ears and sort of funny eyebrows on top of our foreheads.”  (Obviously, he wasn't wowed by the Black & White show's special effects budget).  Later, he returned to the TV show (this time in color) to play Hal, an archer who helps the third Doctor defeat a Sontaran in “The Time Warrior.”  Despite acting in a popular Sci-Fi show, he didn't get much attention from those roles, as he never went on to play a continuing character, and the BBC rarely repeated Doctor Who stories.  (Nor did most viewers have the means to record a TV show in the 1960s and '70s).  So it wasn't until the 1980s, when he donned Boba Fett’s costume, that the fan letters overloaded his mailbox.  Viewers suddenly begged him for photographs, or old articles of clothing.  Or even just a snippet off one of his ties.

I once spoke with a plumber who claimed he could instantly assess anyone he met.  When he visited a customer, he said that he could accurately guess how much the person would be willing to pay for his services.  As it happened, I was speaking with him at a yard sale, and he offered me insights on a woman browsing the sale tables.  I don’t know if he was correct in his assertions about the woman, but at the time he was living rent-free in a condominium owned by his father.  So even if he was pulling my leg about his ability to read strangers, he obviously knew how to get around his dad.

Nevertheless, masks and costumes are powerful tools that we use in real life.  We may not wear an actual mask, but we adapt our facial expressions, dialogue, and clothing in relation to the people we are with.  We have learned what others expect from us, and we either act in accordance with their expectations, or in defiance of them.  Such masks shield the truth from others, and hence repress true growth, but we use them because life has taught us that they are necessary.  Like actors, we play the roles assigned to us, because others have stereotyped us based upon their expectations and desires, as well as our previous performances. 

Of course, it would be nice if we could interact with everyone without hiding behind a mask, or portraying the persona we’ve decided to show the world.  But that way lays danger, and unlike Boba Fett, most of us don’t carry blasters.

Dragon Dave

Related Dragon Cache entries

Related Internet Links

Monday, November 26, 2012

Nineteen Days As Boba Fett

More than just a 19 day wonder.

In The Making of The Empire Strikes Back, J. W. Rinzler records that Robert Watts, who served as a production supervisor on Star Wars, returned to serve as associate producer on the sequel.  The production was hit by all manner of setbacks and delays, including a fire at Elstree Studios in England that delayed Stanley Kubrick from finishing The Shining.  Faced with unavailable Studio facilities, and with location-work in Finse hit by the worst weather in a century, director Irvin Kershner, and the entire production staff of Lucasfilm, found themselves struggling to make up for lost time from the first day of principle photography.

One of the ways Robert helped the production save time was by calling on his half brother, Jeremy Bulloch.  “There was talk of this new character—not a big character, but a new one,” Bulloch said.  He arrived at the studio, not knowing what to expect, and was fitted into a costume.  Then he was pushed onto the set, where George Lucas walked up and told him, “You look fantastic.”  After speaking with the helmet-wearing Bulloch for a few minutes, Lucas told him, “As far as I’m concerned, you’re fine.”

Who is this masked man?
Bulloch had started working as an actor at age ten.  By the time he strapped on Boba Fett’s armor he was thirty-five, and had appeared on the stage, on TV, and in a few movies.  After working for nineteen days for Lucasfilm, Bulloch hung up his helmet, returned home, and resumed the actor’s life, waiting for someone to call with another potential role.  As he had worn a mask, and played such a small part, he had no reason to believe anything more would ever come from his work on The Empire Strikes Back.

But the movie proved enormously successful, and the masked bounty hunter intrigued fans.  They wondered how Boba Fett had acquired his unique armor.  They yearned to see him at his best, using all the weapons and gadgets that he didn’t get to use in Empire.  They imagined all the battles and adventures he had participated in.  He was certainly a smart character, capable of making his own way through a dangerous universe.  After all, Han Solo may have outsmarted the entire Imperial fleet, but Boba Fett guessed at Han’s ruse, and tracked the Millennium Falcon all the way to Cloud City.  (Han Solo didn’t even notice he was being followed!)  And so Jeremy Bulloch was asked to don the mask and armor for the following film, The Return of the Jedi.

"Let's find out."

Even though his face was covered, and even if another actor voiced his lines, Boba Fett remains the most recognized character that Bulloch ever portrayed.  Over thirty years after he first strapped on his armor, Jeremy Bulloch travels the world, appearing at all manner of Star Wars and Science Fiction conventions.  His website sports photographs of all the places he has visited, from his home country of England, to America and Canada, and other European countries such as Switzerland.  In return, he’s given back to fandom, even going so far as joining the 501st Legion, a network of fans that don Star Wars costumes to benefit charities. 

Jeremy Bulloch’s example reminds me that even your efforts go unrecognzied ninety-nine times out of a hundred, there’s still that one time you can make a real impact on others’ lives.  But of course, you won't know which one is the important one.  You have to do all one hundred, never knowing which of them will prove most important to others.  Life may never reward you with riches or fame.  But who knows all that you may accomplish, if you work hard, and do so with the intention of benefitting others?

Dragon Dave

Related Internet Links