Friday, October 9, 2015

Unreel: the lost art of the film countdown

This is an example of something that affected my childhood just as profoundly as those horrendous Civil Defense TV announcements with their headsplitting deeeeeeeeeet sound that convinced me I was heading for certain doom ("This is only a test").  During the Cuban Missile Crisis it very nearly happened, but that is another story.

When I was going to McKeough School in Chatham, Ontario, back in 19-blah-whatever, every once in a while there would be an Announcement. This would come from one of the spinster schoolteachers (all our teachers were Miss Somebody-or-other, no men or married women, we didn't think they could teach), and would set our little hearts a-thumping: we would be seeing a "fillum" that day.

We were trooped with military precision down to the basement of that hideous neo-Gothic structure (recently ripped down due to dry rot and excessive haunting) and sat on the damp floor. This is how we did things, how we moved bodies around: we marched in to school to military music in the morning, the boys on one side of the building and the girls on the other, as if grade school kids were going to indulge in some sort of awful debauchery. 

There we saw a Fillum, or Fillums rather. These were boring beyond measure, always produced by the National Film Board, and had no story to them at all. They were industrial things about how to manufacture pencils, or prim lessons in manners and decorum, how to obey your parents, etc. etc., though sex was off the table then, if not forever.

I'll tell you why we were transfixed by all this. It was a Fillum, that's why, and a bit of a break from the deadly boredom of all those lessons on penmanship, obedience and being a good citizen. But most of all, it was because of THESE things, which I didn't know went by the prosaic name of film leaders. To me they were a sort of rocketship into the land of soaring imagination, or at least the National Film Board. We were told NOT to do the countdown out loud, though many of us whispered it and, of course, filled in the missing "2" and "1" (and I am still not sure why it is always absent). By this time the space race was on, so that we actually were listening to countdowns on TV as one pathetic rocket after another fizzled and fell.

There is still great mystery and beauty in these things, since they're all different and all so utterly incomprehensible. If they have a purpose, I will never know what it is. Maybe filmmakers strung them all together into a countdown stag reel, who knows. (I'd be up for it.)  

Anyway, they don't seem to exist any more, which makes them even more precious in my eyes. That sound, too - the phhht, blp, blp, THUD, bzzzztztzt - all that stuff, the fuzzy splicky staticky noises I'm having such trouble describing - these danced with the splashy urgency of the images, the rush of descending numbers, the flash of - what? - that thrilling countdown that so quickly disappeared.

So where am I getting these, from whence have I dredged them up after all these years? As is usually the case, I 'm not sure of their origin. Before YouTube, all this treasure was just lodged in the back of my brain somewhere, so that I really didn't know if it had happened or not. If I tried to talk to anyone about it, they looked alarmed, as if I had gone dangerously insane or was at least delusional, so I quickly learned to keep my mouth shut. Then, of course, it all turned out to be True, because here it is again, flashing right in front of my eyes in a never-ending Mobius of magic.

This last one is a bit of a cheat, since I was still on Gifsforum (poor, dear, defunct Gifsforum), which gave you many options, including three speeds, turning colour into black and white or sepia, and reversing direction, not to mention captions and gifs that lasted up to 30 seconds. (These, which seem fairly long compared to the violent 2-second lurches you usually see, are only 20 seconds maximum.) So just to see how it would look, I ran it backwards.

By the way, if you are very, very quick, you might be able to catch the subject of the film. I can see that one of them says "ice fishing" (it's only on one frame or something), and another says "Pream" (remember all the Pream gifs I posted a while ago? Oh well.) The leaders are mostly gleaned from those YouTube compilations of old commercials and/or TV sitcoms of the '50s like Topper and I Married Joan, and no doubt are edited out in a lot of cases. But give me the big, sloppy sprawl of rotting old video, the kind of Fillum we used to devour while sitting on the damp floor of the basement of McKeough School, give me that raw unedited footage complete with the wild ride of the leader with its mysterious. seemingly useless and impenetrable countdown.

P. S. Watch all of these, they're all different and it took me two years to make and collect them. I went to a lot of trouble. Okay?

Monday, October 5, 2015

Cisco Kid was a friend of mine

These are things I have discovered, rediscovered, regiffed or whatever. Since I have literally hundreds of gifs on file, I have now come to the point where I can't find anything. I'm trying to separate things out into specific files, and it isn't working because then I discover I CAN'T FIND one of my favorite, favorite gifs of all time, and then I find out the YouTube video it came from has been taken down.

One of my very first TV memories is The Cisco Kid. I was far too young to know what was going on, maybe three or four. And we certainly did not see it in this gorgeous, saturated colour, which brings out the rapturous skins of those eager little quarter horses. In those days actors really did have to know how to ride, just in case they were in a Western. And fence, and speak properly, and other things. I think James Dean killed it.

You know, I don't know what the fuck this is, but boy is it interesting. No doubt it's the intro to some wacky show from the late '50s. That clock, I mean. . . I had one.

This is also completely gorgeous, the pink and the orange, the filthy surface with the lines and splotches. Too bad we can't hear that thunky, staticky sound I used to love so much.

I just like the idea of there being a show called Panic. It looks to be futuristic, and perhaps influenced by The Twilight Zone in its apparent paranoia about technology.

Fuck if I know what this one is either. Oh, forgive my language, I'm in another round of angst about my work. Everyone says reframe your failures as positive experiences. OK then, I'm POSITIVE I'm a failure.

Now this is very, very interesting. The announcer says something like "The following program is brought to you in glorious black and white." Which is, of course, all we had at the time.

One of my most glorious gifs. THIS is how the logo should look, but by the time we got a colour set I don't think they were using it any more.

Double Danderine and Milk of Magnesia Toothpaste. Twilight Zone?

NEWS FLASH: I lied about the peacock. That wonderful but sterile-looking thing with the black background is some sort of abstract. The REAL "in living colour" NBC logo looked. . . something like this.

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No blah blah blah!

It's a Universal Picture!

Nobody had better logos than Universal. This one dazzles me even in black and white, and makes me wonder why they ever had to update it.

In blue. This was back when Gifsforum was in operation, and I had much more flexibility in speed, duration, coloration, sound and spectacle. Makeagif is serviceable, but that's about it.

Just a tad faster. Kind of gives it a supernatural thrill.

Wah-HEEEEE-doodle! How in HELL did I get this effect? On reflection, it's a bit nightmarish, but it shows you what Gifsforum could do, before it died.

Now here's something different, and because it's from a compilation I don't have much info on it. It's not really quite the same because you can see land masses on the earth, instead of just blinky things. The animation seems more sophisticated - 1940s?

For some reason I always think of the end of King Kong, and that thrummy percussive music as the plane flies silently around the world.

This version would come on at the start of the picture, with plane sounds. Quite magically high-tech for its time.

Just when you think you've seen it all. . . the most beautiful of any of them, and I just found it. But again, I don't know what year this was. Surely some time in the 1930s. But who gives a fuck about the year? It's the beauty. I'd rather look at these than almost anything (except maybe old film leaders).

Thursday, October 1, 2015

William Shatner as Alexander the Great!

An unsold TV pilot, of which I have only had titillating YouTube glimpses. Shatner in a skirt, or in a hot bath, or wrestling, or. . . That's definitely him on the horse, not a stunt double, no stirrups so it's the same as bareback, and if so, he rides as well as Gary Cooper.He even does a few of those impressive running vaults onto the horse. This was pre-Trek, and it's easy to see why they thought of Shatner when re-casting the failed Star Trek pilot. Jeffrey Hunter was too boring, no histrioncs, and couldn't do the stunts. Remember the famous Kirk wrestling throw?  Anyway, this also has Adam West, John Cassavetes, Joseph Cotten, and many other solid journeyman actors, so I am not sure why the pilot never sold. I think it was a Desilu production, but the costumes are at least a little less chintzy (though with no shortage of gold lame). The truth is, it may just have been too expensive to produce. In a few scenes A the G postures and poses, turning his profile this way and that, and damn, he really is a fox! Being 84 and still an able horseman and able at just about everything else a 35-year-old can do, I greatly admire the man and wonder what sort of deal with the devil he made to stop ageing at 60.

(Watch it here!)

The man himself. Not bad for 84.

Blood moon

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

World's worst airplane food: bring back the airsick bag

World’s worst plane food

A “classic English breakfast” and pasta with a “bodily fluid-like"
sauce are among the worst offenders identified in air passengers'

Safe to say this was one of the more interesting plane meals I've
had #jetstarairways #planefood. I've literally no idea [what it was],
it upsettingly tasted ok but that could have been the hangover telling
me that!' Photo:

By Soo Kim

3:51PM BST 30 Sep 2015


Amused, confused and disgusted passengers have revealed some of the
most unappetising in-flight meals they’ve been subjected to on a plane
with pictures posted on Twitter and Instagram.


After living off rice for the last 10 days, I couldn't wait to have
 an 'English Breakfast' when offered it on the plane. But then, I got
this. #planefood #britishairways #whatisthat #fullenglish' Photo:

The snaps have ranged from several unidentifiable, sloppy masses
and questionable pasta with “hard pellet-like things” to one British
Airways meal described as “the most disgusting plane food ever” as
well as a sad, skimpy cheese sandwich from Virgin Australia. One
disgruntled Virgin passenger once sent
"the world's best passenger complaint letter"
to Richard Branson, which went viral after it surfaced, in which he
described his "culinary journey of hell" on a flight from Mumbai to

The British Airways solution to bland airline food


This was supposed to be some sort of Italian pasta, and I can
only compare the sauce texture to a bodily fluid. I could not, after a
 lot of effort, identify the hard beige pellet-like things in the sauce.'
 Photo: Kathryn Siegel (submitted to MailOnline)

One user posted a picture of his meal for others to guess what it
could be, while another user, williamrae27, admitted the meal he
had "tasted okay" even though he couldn't identify what he
actually was eating.


Images of other contenders for the world's worst airlines meals
can be seen on

A hamburger served on North Korea's Air Koryo, which was ranked
the world's worst airline by Skytrax earlier this year Photo:

Helpful hint: avoid the mushroom omlettte on the menu Freebird

Swimming in what looks like the water at the bottom of your
dishwasher, Ukraine International Airlines offers up a sad fruit salad.

However, a few users revealed some of the more enjoyable and even
"delicious" meals they've had on airlines including Qatar Airways and

'Pea and Mint soup aboard #Qantas #qf598 #perbne
 #businessclass #avgeek #aviation #paxex #planefood
 #flying #planes #lifewelltravelled
' Photo: Twitter / @PeterLoh

Blogger's note. This was a cut-'n-paste job, obviously, as posting
links is not only dull, I am sure no one ever bothers to read them.
This does all sorts of bizarre things to the formatting, so it takes
a while to screw around with it before I can post it, with a few
flubs left over. I've had airplane food that was pretty much inedible,
but you can't even LOOK at this stuff, and it probably has
that steamed-dirty-socks-combined-with-disintegrating-brussels-
sprouts reek and institutional metallic taste,like something served
off a green plastic tray in a mental hospital.

Makes me feel just a little bit better that I can't afford to fly anywhere.

geography lessons. I've never seen South
America done in mushy peas.

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Bondi dreams (Muskoka in the fall)

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

When does the time change? Did it change already? Why don't I remember?

Nude women! Come take a look

Highly giffable: but it's getting to the point that I'm giffing everything that moves. A lovely 3 minutes of movement that predates film, with the female subjects going from prim to playful. Might have been seen as pornography then. I just pasted it on Facebook as an experiment to see if they'll take it down. They left up graphic photos of Stephen Harper wielding a very realistic dildo.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Time machine: the birth of TV

As you've probably guessed by now, this isn't exactly an educational blog. If you want to learn everything about the birth of television, go on Wikipedia NOW:

There. I promise you that this Wiki entry is a small book that goes on for many thousands of words, without too many pictures. And pictures are what this blog is all about (if it's about anything - I'm still trying to figure that out). 

I love everything about early TV, because it constitutes my very first memories. I swear I remember sitting in front of the TV on the floor, my fat little legs splayed out, left on my own because those flickering black-and-white images from the DuMont network were a convenient babysitter. This is a body memory which  places me at around age two. Mid-1950s, in other words, so my recognition of Ernie Kovacs decades later proved that he wasn't just a nightmarish fantasy.

Though most prototype TVs looked like big radios with a round eye, this one looks like some sort of bird house, or maybe a barn. I wonder what sort of programming they had back then, and how close you'd have to be to the screen to see anything at all.

For some reason people were less intimidated by TVs that looked like radios. Early newspaper headlines talked about being able to "see the radio", a bizarre concept. This one, handsome as it is, still has a pretty small screen, but something is visible there that might even be people.

Viewtone must have become obsolete at some point, like my beloved DuMont Teleset with its swinging cabinet doors that were used to hide the bloody thing during the day when there was no signal. Slowly, slowly the screen is getting bigger, the cabinet less radiolike.

This is either John Logie Baird, or someone posing for John Logie Baird, an early television pioneer who experimented with trying to broadcast the image of a face. To me, it looks like Dylan Thomas after a night on the town.

And it looked. . . something like this. Please forgive the large colour watermark, but I can't crop a gif. I like that vertically-striped effect which sliced and diced the picture. It was no worse than the constant flipping which always afflicted our set, nearly as bad as the picture tube "blowing" which necessitated a visit by the TV repairman.

It is said that Felix the Cat was the first TV star. He sat on what looks like a turntable for days on end, some time in the late 1920s I think (look it up!). I don't know if the broadcast image was this clear. Probably not. The audience for this sort of programming was likely small, because no one had a TV set or even knew what one was.

"Her face at first just ghostly. . ." These are spectres, and no doubt the people behind them are long dead. I don't understand the bottom one however, as the picture was usually divided into vertical slices, and these are horizontal. Another experiment, perhaps.

I am sorry to have to include this, but according to the early TV site I lifted it from, it's an image of - WTF??? Looks like an ultrasound gone terribly wrong, or an xray of a woman who left her IUD in for 26 years.

How close to the TV would you have to sit? Even closer than we did when our Moms screamed at us, "Don't sit so close to the TV! You'll ruin your eyesight!" (Fortunately, my eyesight was already ruined, but I won't say by what.)

This is the first image I could find of actual entertainment on TV. Probably on the DuMont network, which featured Milton Berle doing sketches on a stage with curtains and everything. Well, that's how you did things, wasn't it? This isn't the radio, for God's sake. Get back on that stage where you belong!


This lovely little sucker, the G. E. Octagon, surely must have been some sort of prototype rather than a model people could use in their homes. Unless their eyesight was a hell of a lot better than mine.

Like the Dumont Teleset, which had a screen about 100 times larger than this one, the Octagon (made in the late 1920s) had foldout doors like a cabinet. Why? Inside were spindles, perhaps speakers, perhaps not, and two indescribable "things" that looked a bit like drawer handles.  I love things that baffle me just because I like to be baffled.

As far as obsolete technology is concerned, this is about as good as it gets. You'd have to treat this like a veritable microscope and put your eyeball right down on the glass.

People still rebuild these, refurbish them, and somehow get them going again, no doubt pulling in signals from Clara Bow, Ben Turpin and Harold Lloyd. Only problem is, there'd be no sound.

This is called the Octagon "motor", but how could a TV set have a motor? This whole scenario just gets weirder and weirder. Looks like a deformed metallic elephant to me.

This looks like a gramophone from Mars, or a meat grinder that can walk, but apparently it's some sort of experimental device for sending pictures. 

This thing - no, it's not a coconut cake shaped like a juke box, it's a TV of some sort. This is from a fantastic site about the history of television, but the thing of it is, it's all in French. Still. I'll post the link to it in case you're French, or only want to look at the pictures.

Call this the badda-boom. I keep finding ever-more-bizarre things about early TV, the guts of which looked like some kind of sewing machine with a spinning disc full of holes. The image projected - somewhere - was a disembodied head named Stooky Bill. (So much for the Felix the Cat legend.) John Logie Baird looks proudly on his glass-encased Sleeping Beauty of a machine which, beknownst to him, will change society forever. If he was smart enough to build this, he was smart enough to Know.

This is the Wizard of Oz of television invention, pulling levers and throwing switches. Chug, chug, chug, chug, chug, it went, as if driven by a giant hamster. 

I realize I've come at this subject in abstract fashion, but it's imagery I'm after, not history. Consider it an archaeological dig with the layers somewhat scrambled. I never much cared for chronological order anyway, and always walk through museums backwards, starting with the present moment and ending with the Dawn of Time. The invention and development of television is nothing less than a spectacular feat of human evolution, as important as the wheel, stone tool-making and harnessing fire. There were, of necessity, lots of experiments, lots of things thrown away, and things that look pretty goofily godawful to modern eyes. But to me, it's all beautiful: John Logie Baird and his creepy dummy head, all those sliced-'n-diced, quiveringly surreal, disembodied ghost-faces, viewing screens a couple of inches across, obsolete companies like Viewtone (a nod to radio, no doubt) and DuMont. And a glowing, flipping, flickering eye that raised me while my parents were off doing more important things.

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