Innocence Dented (Or A Nice Walk Spoiled)

Writer’s note: You are about to read a piece I wrote on my personal blog at dimland.com way back in October, 2010, when my son was seven years old. With fall having been reached on the calendar and the wonderful autumn weather just around the corner, I thought I would re-post this tale of a nice fall day with a father and son walk and the necessity of turning graffiti and another… uh… item into a teachable moment.

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This past Sunday afternoon was one of those glorious fall afternoons which I wish I could save to enjoy on a mid-winter day. Clear blue sky, cool air, and crisp leaves underfoot.

Mere minutes after his friend had left from their play date, my boy asked if I wanted to take a walk to the bridge. It’s a pedestrian bridge that takes walkers, joggers, and bikers over the nearby railroad tracks. The bridge is just a few blocks away, not far to walk. Considering the pleasantness of the day, I thought it would be an excellent time for the impromptu walk with my son.

It was a pleasant walk. He ran ahead, just a little, as he likes to do, asserting a smidgen of independence at the age of seven. Boy! He’s growing up fast. He was mindful, however, not to get too far ahead of old Dad. Bad knees, don’t you know?

We arrived at the bridge (we have yet to actually get there as a train passes under, but perhaps someday). It was apparent someone had been there before us. They had left their mark: Graffiti. Vulgar, crude, sexual. It became time for an unscheduled lesson in life for my boy.

“What’s a n—ga, Daddy?”

“Va joy joy?”

My son reads really well. Fortunately, some of the writing was so bad and much of it misspelled that he didn’t quite get it right. I didn’t correct him. (It was “va jay jay”. I let that one pass.) I did, however, do my best to explain that ‘n—ga’ is an offensive word. I told him it’s a word used to describe people who happen to have a different skin color than us. And that I didn’t like the word and never use it. I advised him to never use it either.

Walking away from the tags, hoping to get past lesson time, I heard my boy ask, “What’s this?”

There in his hand was a used condom.

“Drop that, right now!” I said.

He dropped it and I kicked it through a crack in the bridge pathway. I say it was “used,” but I can’t be certain of that. It was out of its package, but it didn’t appear to be… full.

“What was that, Dad?”

“Ah geez! Thanks a lot, a—hole!” I said silently to myself, addressing the person responsible for the item so carelessly tossed aside.

I told him it was sort a balloon for adults. Something adults use. And something he didn’t need to be concerned about for now. He told me he thought he might know what it was for. He said, “Is it for your privates?”

Well, then I answered yes. I told him that sometimes men wear that on their privates. Worn to prevent pregnancy on certain occasions when men and women are “together.” I again told him that it was something he didn’t need to be concerned about yet. That I would talk to him all about it when he gets a little older. He was happy with that.

Phew!

We walked back home, my boy grown up just a little bit more than before that walk. A little less innocent.

We arrived home and I sent him straight to the bathroom to wash his hands. As he was washing up, I told his mother of the incident. She immediately had him wash his hands again.

I think I’m going to bring some paint and a brush down to that bridge. Got some graffiti that needs cleaning up.

Packing Peanuts!

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Warehouse Find is the official blog of NostalgiaZone.com, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books.

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Elementary, My Dear Jeremy Brett!

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Basil Rathbone. Benedict Cumberbatch. Christopher Plummer. Nicol Williamson. Robert Downey Jr. Dozens of actors have played the role of literature’s greatest detective – Sherlock Holmes. Or, as he would call the profession of which he was its sole practitioner, consulting detective. Whatever he’s called, Holmes has been a favorite literary character since his first story, A Study in Scarlet, was published in Beeton’s Christmas Annual in 1887. He was created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who, although the stories made him famous and wealthy, thought these mysteries were not part of his important work.

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“By Jove, I’d better kill off Holmes, so I can concentrate on more important work, such as promoting the paranormal.”

So, he was a snob about his own creation. So what? Holmes fans couldn’t care less.

In 1984, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes debuted on American television as part of the PBS series Mystery! Part of what is great about this PBS program is that the host takes the time to give a little history about the mysteries they show. In 1984, the host was Vincent Price and he was perfect. Watch his introduction of one of Holmes’ greatest mysteries here to see what I mean.

It was the British television company Granada TV (now ITV Granada) that produced The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes as well as three other Holmes series: The Return of… (1986), The Case-Book of… (1991), The Memoirs of… (1994); and two TV movies: The Sign of Four (1987) and The Hound of the Baskervilles (1988). In all, 41 of Conan Doyle’s  Holmes mysteries were produced.

The actor who took on and, in my opinion, mastered the role of the legendary sleuth for Granada TV was Jeremy Brett. Admittedly, I haven’t seen every portrayal of the detective, but when I read the original stories it’s Brett that I picture. Much of this has do to his talent and skill as an actor, but much is also due to the production’s intent to accurately depict the settings, language, attire, and culture of England in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. And each episode carefully follows the source material as closely as possible.

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Jeremy Brett

Jeremy Brett portrays all the qualities of Holmes brilliantly. The intellect, the bravado, the confidence, the annoyance of those whose intellect he finds wanting. He’s both rude and sensitive, civil and rough. He gets bored when the criminal element goes quiet or lacks imagination. More than once he laments that the days of the great cases are over, only to have a great case present itself.

The actor also gives Holmes a graceful quickness to his physical actions. He’ll drop to the floor or ground to search for clues without any care to his appearance or propriety. In that first series, Brett is incredibly spry. In the episode of The Red-Headed League, he hops on and leaps over the back of the couch in the sitting room at 221B Baker Street to prevent his friend and colleague, Dr. John Watson, from leaving the room. It’s astonishing.

Sadly, as each new series or movie premiered, the actor’s health could be seen to deteriorate. Brett’s skin became paler, he had put on weight, and his breathing became more and more labored. There was wheezing in his otherwise magnificent voice. No longer would he drop to the ground or leap over a couch. As the series progressed he would be seen sitting most of the time. Gradually, the gracefully quick physical actions were limited to hand movements and the flourishing of his ever-present walking stick.

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Of those later episodes, his co-star Edward Hardwicke said that, though the great actor’s health was poor, he was always prepared and never complained. When the cameras weren’t rolling, he would rest and appear quite tired, but when action was called he came to life. He was Sherlock Holmes once again. However, Brett’s health became so bad that in the final series, there were a few episodes that needed to be adapted so that Dr. Watson handled the lion’s share of the investigating, with Holmes appearing briefly throughout the show to advise and then, at the end, to provide the solution.

Another wonderful aspect of these shows was in its handling of the character of Dr. John Watson. Watson was Conan Doyle’s way of explaining to his readers the incredible abilities of Holmes. Watson was an every man. He was us. But he wasn’t dimwitted as he was portrayed in the Basil Rathbone/Nigel Bruce adaptions. Bruce’s Watson was much too clueless and bumbling for my liking. Those productions used his character for comic relief. Given Holmes’ reluctance to suffer fools, I find it difficult to accept he would associate, let alone be friends with, such a man.

In Conan Doyle’s stories, Watson was also the record-keeper of the mysteries that his good friend solved. He wrote and published the accounts for a fascinated public. (Pretty meta, wouldn’t you say?) Although Holmes did not approve of the lurid, romanticism of the doctor’s stories, he did highly value his steady and loyal friendship. This dynamic was well-preserved in the Granada TV series.

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“I say, Holmes, could you maybe not stand so close to me?”

Watson was played by two actors: David Burke and the aforementioned Hardwicke, son of actor Sir Cedric Hardwicke, who is best know for his portrayal of Pharaoh Sehti in the ridiculous but awesome The Ten Commandments (1956). Burke handled Watson in the 13 episodes of the first series, Hardwicke took over after that.

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“Some detective you are, Holmes! You haven’t even noticed I’m a different actor.”

Of the two I prefer Hardwicke. David Burke is a fine actor and his portrayal of the doctor is very good, if a little too much on the wide-eyed naivete side for my tastes. Edward Hardwicke’s Watson has a more experienced wisdom. Although Watson may not possess his friend’s talents for observation and deduction, Hardwicke gives the doctor an intelligent confidence that fits better with Jeremy Brett’s Holmes. Both Watsons were also allowed to have a greater appreciation for the social graces and they could properly take Holmes to task whenever his rudeness surfaced.

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David Burke (left) and Edward Hardwicke. These images hint at the differing portrayals of Dr. Watson.

There have been plenty of actors who played the great consulting detective, but Jeremy Brett is the best. There are several episodes available on YouTube. You really ought to check ’em out!

Packing Peanuts!

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Warehouse Find is the official blog of NostalgiaZone.com, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books.

 

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A Pedant Watches Close Encounters of the Third Kind

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Warning! Spoilers ahead.

On my podcast, Dimland Radio (available on iTunes & Podbean) I do a semi-regular segment I call the Dimland Radio Pedantic Moment. It’s a moment in which I’ll get all pedantic on some usually minor thing I’ve noticed. For example, in one of those life insurance TV ads Alex Trebek does he mentions the three P’s of life insurance offered by a particular company. They are Price, Price, and Price. A Price you can afford, a Price that cannot change, and a Price that fits your budget.

Um, Alex? A price that fits my budget is a price I can afford. So, it’s really only two P’s then, isn’t it?

See? Like that.

Sometimes my pedantic moments are rather lengthy. On last week’s show my moment was a long one. It covered much of what I didn’t understand about Steven Spielberg’s 1977 classic Close Encounters of the Third Kind. A listener to my podcast attempted to assist me in getting past my pedantry, but some of it is still mystifying to me. I thought I’d go over the problems I have with the film here, as well.

Don’t get me wrong! I really like the movie. It’s just that…

The plot.

A super-advanced, extraterrestrial species, which had been visiting our planet and kidnapping our people for decades (unless you believe they built the Egyptian pyramids – they didn’t, humans did – then they’ve been coming here for thousands of years), had decided to make themselves known by driving average people crazy by implanting an image of Devil’s Tower in their minds without any explanation as to why. The people are just compelled to figure it out and go there.

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“Huh. Where have I seen that before?”

The aliens are kinda jerks.

They also steal a four year old boy right from his terrified mother’s arms. Because they needed just one more human, I guess.

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“It’s OK, lady. We’re just going to do a few experiments on him.”

No, the aliens aren’t kinda jerks. They are complete ——–!

(I prefer not to swear on this blog, but you know what I mean.)

They have also been leaving clues for the government to come meet them at Devil’s Tower. The government scares off the locals and builds a base which includes a landing strip, for some reason, and wait for our interplanetary neighbors to show up.

The pedantry.

Something the government people picked up on is a series of five musical notes coming from the spacemen that they think means something. They think it is important. This is where I get a little lost. There’s a meeting of the government people in Carnegie Hall or some similar facility, in which the head man demonstrates some hand signals matched up with the music. The hand signals come from a method of teaching music developed by a fellow named Zoltan Kodaly.

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“It’s been my life-long dream to play a reel-to-reel tape machine to a live audience.”

This is received with thunderous applause from the government people in attendance. It was met by me with a confused, “Huh?”

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“Hot crowd! Hot crowd!”

So, at the end of the movie, the alien mothership shows up and the humans and ET have a musical conversation. But, how do we earthlings know what to say in response to whatever it is that the little grey men are saying? Sure, some fellow says the aliens are teaching us a basic tonal language, whatever that means. Another says it’s the first day of school, but how do we know what the tones mean? How do we know what to play back?

On my first day of school, if my teacher had asked me to spell cat without first teaching me the alphabet, it would be pretty futile, wouldn’t it? If the aliens are trying to communicate with us using musical notes, we would need to know what the notes represent first, wouldn’t we? And yet the government men somehow know how to respond. One of them tells the musician what to play; at first, eventually a computer takes over. The musician is the only one who seems to understand my confusion. He even asks, “What are we saying to each other?”

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The musician (in the middle) is thinking to himself, “Well, at least it’s a payin’ gig.”

Remember Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home in which a massive space probe is destroying the earth trying to talk to extinct humpback whales? It was the Enterprise crew that figured that out, so Admiral Kirk suggests that they respond by reproducing humpback whale sounds. Mr. Spock correctly points out that though they could make the sounds, they don’t know the language. “We would be responding in gibberish.”

Isn’t that what the humans were doing in that scene in Close Encounters?

My pedantic moment continued with my discussion of the return of the hostages these heartless aliens had been picking up on their numerous visits. Out of the mothership pile several confused people, some of whom had been gone for decades. Just how thrilled will they be to learn their loved ones had moved on or even died. “Thanks a lot, alien buddy old pal.”

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“Welcome back. You’re wife has remarried and she’s in her 60s.”

They could comfort themselves by saying, “Well, at least, I haven’t aged.” Because the aliens must have been traveling at light speed the entire time they had held these people captive. And this led to a remark made by one of the government men when another said that Einstein was right about the whole the relativity thing and aging. The remark was, “Einstein was probably one of them.” Them being the aliens.

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“Don’t look now, but isn’t that Ash from Aliens standing behind us?”

When I was a kid I thought that line was profound. Now I find it incredibly irksome. The suggestion that the human species can’t produce someone as intelligent as Einstein is profoundly insulting. Much the same way believing the ancient Egyptians weren’t capable of building the pyramids is profoundly insulting.

And here’s the pedantic thing: The government people were expecting these hostages to be returned. They had a checklist of names and a big board of photographs. How did they know? We hadn’t even learned to communicate yet! Remember? It’s the first day of school!

And just how do we know these people weren’t replicants as in Blade Runner or pod people as in The Invasion of the Body-Snatchers? They could have be sent here to take over the world! Look, the aliens have shown they don’t care about the loved ones left behind when they take prisoners. They pulled cute, innocent, trusting, little Barry right out of his mother’s arms. They didn’t give a damn.

I don’t trust them.

I don’t know. Maybe I’m thinking too much about it. It’s still a great movie.

Packing Peanuts!

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Warehouse Find is the official blog of NostalgiaZone.com, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books.

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Little Dot Returns On Another Great Cover

This cover of Little Dot may be less troublesome to folks who suffer from trypophobia (fear of holes) than the one I featured last September. But they still might want to take care.

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Almost makes you feel like dancing, eh?

Colors! This month’s great cover (Little Dot #119, October, 1968) is almost all about colors. I say almost because there is the overall composition and that great, well disciplined, and simple line work. As was the case with that other Little Dot cover, I don’t know the identity of artist. Last September, a couple readers made the educated guess that that cover was by Warren Kremer. This may be his, too. He did a lot of covers for Harvey Comics in those days.

It’s a playful cover showing Little Dot dancing to her favorite song. Hmm. 1968? I’m going to guess it’s Yummy Yummy Yummy by Ohio Express. Or it could be Richard Harris’s classic MacArthur Park. Perhaps it’s (in a thematic throwback to last week’s blog) Simon & Garfunkel’s hit Mrs. Robinson. Not matter. It appears to be a swingin’ tune.

And, yes, the colors. This cover pops right out of that black background. All those bubbles of multicolored notes swirling through the air make this one jump off the page. The white outline around our hero helps to define her form and keeps her from getting lost in the bubbles.

This is one of the funnest covers I’ve ever written about it this series.

It really is a great cover.

Packing Peanuts!

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Great Album Retro Review: Bridge Over Troubled Water By Simon & Garfunkel

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Bridge Over Troubled Water is the studio swan song album of the harmonizing folk duo that ruled the 1960s. There aren’t too many two singer voice combinations that were better than Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel. And Simon’s lyrics are among the best of any songwriter in all of pop music.

The album was released in January, 1970 and I seem to recall that my parents owned it. That’s a little surprising, because my parents were never big music people. Dad liked his country and western, but I don’t remember them doing a lot of listening to music at home. They watched the Lawrence Welk Show for crying out loud! These weren’t the most musically hip people, but they had this album. Go figure.

I don’t often listen to this album, but when I do it’s amazing how good it is. It’s not the folk sound of their earlier efforts, it explores several musical genres such as jazz, reggae, and world music. Comedian and podcaster Adam Carolla would often complain about how doleful and morose Simon & Garfunkel’s music was and he has a point, but he forgets this album. Sure, it gets a little quiet and sad, but some of it is downright fun!

It is easily my favorite S & G album.

The tracks:

Bridge Over Troubled Water – Right out of the gate. A magnificent song. It’s been compared to The Beatles’ Let It Be and that is an understandable reaction. More gospel than folk, Garfunkel’s vocals soar on this one. And he didn’t want to sing lead on it at first, he needed convincing. I’m glad he was convinced. Also, according to Wikipedia, the “silver girl” in the song is referring to Simon’s wife at the time and her first grey hairs, not heroin as the urban legend claims. That will be a relief to my mother, who had gone off the song when she heard that myth.

El Condor Pasa (If I Could) – This gentle and wistful song is an early indication of Simon’s interest in music from around the world. It’s a little like a World Music version of the folk classic If I Had Hammer.

Cecilia – Oh, this one is fun. Awesome percussion throughout. A great, toe-tapping, uptempo song about a fellow’s not-so-loyal girlfriend taking on another lover while he’s in the bathroom.

Keep The Customer Satisfied – Another uptempo song and another song rumored to have to do with illegal drugs. This time it’s thought to be about a drug dealer, but Simon was writing about how exhausting it is to tour. I love the horns! They add a terrific punch.

So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright – A jazzy song praising the world famous architect, sung so sweetly by Garfunkel.

The Boxer – This and the title track were S & G’s most commercially successful songs and this one is a boomer. A gritty song about a fighter trying to survive a life filled with punches. The big drum sound was accomplished by recording the drums in a hallway. The “lie, lie, lies” chorus helps make this a great sing-a-long tune.

Baby Driver – Back to the uptempo, but this time Simon doesn’t counter-point the music with downer lyrics as he does on Customer and Why Don’t You Write Me, this time he just wants to have some fun. I really like this song. It just might be my favorite track. Excellent guitar work!

The Only Living Boy In New York – On an album of so much musical exploration, this and the final track are the most traditional S & G feeling songs. It’s a melancholy track about being lonely in New York City. The big drum sound fits this song, unlike the drum sound that was overdubbed, unknown to Simon and Garfunkel, onto the remixed version of their song The Sound Of Silence.

Why Don’t You Write Me – Simon loves himself an uptempo, bouncing song with a downbeat lyric and this one is a good one. There’s a bit of a reggae feel to this one.

Bye Bye Love – Recorded live on my fifth birthday (just a coincidence) during a concert performance in Ames, Iowa, this cover song is more popularly known to have been hit for pop music’s other famous harmonizing duo, The Everly Brothers. According to Wikipedia, S & G performed the song twice, because when they first played it that night in 1969 they really liked the sound of the audience clapping along. So, they played it again and recorded it for inclusion on this album.

Song For The Asking – Quietly lush with strings, acoustic guitar, and Paul’s vocals, this all too brief song sounds very much like a sweet goodbye. And that’s what it turned out to be for this would be Simon & Garfunkel’s final studio album.

Packing Peanuts!

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That’s Not How That Works

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There is a very real effect out there known as the CSI Effect. It’s what happens to lay people when it comes to their expectations of forensic science due to what they’ve seen on any of the numerous CSI TV series. For the purposes of artistic and dramatic license Hollywood has been exaggerating what forensic science can do for decades. And I just saw another example.

In 1948, 20th Century Fox released Call Northside 777, a film noir classic based on a true story. It stars James Stewart as the cynical newspaper reporter J.P. McNeal, who has been assigned to do a story on an ad offering $5000 (that’s more than $50,000 in today’s money) to anyone who can provide evidence that will free an innocent man from prison.

OK, stop right here and know that there are big spoilers ahead.

The innocent man is Frank Wiecek (Richard Conte) and it’s his mother (Kasia Orzazewski) who has worked as a janitor for eleven years to raise the money. Wiecek was convicted and sentenced to 99 years for killing a cop in 1932, the height of the Prohibition Era. He was essentially convicted by the testimony of one eyewitness.

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James Stewart and Lee J. Cobb

McNeal thinks the story is a waste of time, but his editor (Lee J. Cobb) presses him to dig deeper. The initial story “Mac” wrote was getting good response, so the digging continued. Without me going through everything, the cynical reporter comes to believe Wiecek to be innocent. Despite the evidence uncovered by Mac being compelling, the newspaper’s lawyer speaks the hard truth that it isn’t the kind of evidence that will convince the coroner’s inquest to overturn the verdict.

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“Sorry, boys. But the evidence isn’t good enough.”

McNeal needs to get the witness to recant her testimony or find new evidence. Or drop the story.

The witness refuses, even though it’s learned that she didn’t recognize Wiecek as the killer at first. It seemed the police worked with her a little bit, because it’s also learned that she and the accused had been together with the police the day before she finally picked him out of a line up. However, the court transcripts showed testimony that she hadn’t seen the accused the day before she identified him.

If Mac could only prove the accused and the witness had seen each other the day before, that would discredit her testimony and taint her identification of the accused. He just needed to find the evidence.

With time running out before the newspaper’s lawyer was to apologize to the coroner’s inquest and drop the case, MacNeal found an old photograph showing Wiecek and the witness together being escorted into police headquarters. The indications were that the photo was taken the day before the line up, but could Mac prove the timing?

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“Enlarge that newsie!”

Up to this point, the film was pretty good. Not the best film noir I’ve seen, but I was enjoying it. And then it happened. This pedant has been bugged by this dramatic device for years. Lots of old cop shows have done it, I can remember a specific episode of Columbo that did it, and Blade Runner (1982) does its variation of blowing up a photograph to get details that just aren’t there. It’s just not possible.

With Blade Runner, I’m a little more forgiving, because it’s set in the future (2019!) and there’s technology far advanced to what we have now. (Next year is going to be interesting. Replicants, flying cars, cool computer devices that can turn corners in photographs.) But, in 1943, when this picture is set? No way!

Here’s what happens. Mac has part of that photograph enlarged first to 100x, then to 140x, and finally “as big as possible.” The part he’s interested in shows a newsie way off in the background, across the street, holding a stack of newspapers. What the intrepid reporter is attempting to do is zero in on where the date would be on the newspaper the boy is holding.

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100x

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Oh, please!

And there it is! The date! Proving the photograph was taken the day before the eyewitness identified Wiecek in that line up. Proving that the witness was mistaken or lying about not seeing the accused since the crime until that line up. Proving that she may have been influenced by the police to identify Wiecek in that line up.

Wiecek was set free.

(Uh, it’s a good thing no one suggested the newsboy could have been holding a stack of newspapers from the day before the photograph was taken. Cough! Cough!)

So, for me, the movie ended with an, “Oh, that’s impossible!”

By the way, I said the film was based on a true story. It is, but, according to Wikipedia:

“In actuality, innocence was determined not as claimed in the film but when it was found out that the prosecution had suppressed the fact that the main witness had initially declared that she could not identify the two men involved in the police shooting.”

Not quite as sexy, I guess.

Packing Peanuts!

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Our Star Blazers!

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It was 1979 when I met my good friend Greg. We were both in the ninth grade, Greg had just transferred in that year. As I recall, we had a slightly rocky start. We were in phy-ed class (which I hated with a passion), learning how to run and kick pass a soccer ball. I was paired up with Greg and I wasn’t very good. I could tell Greg was a little frustrated, but he did his best to help me get better.

I guess it wasn’t that rocky.

We got to talking about our interests, as kids do. We learned we both really liked Star Wars, but in 1979 what kid didn’t? Well, there was my friend John, but he’s a story for another day. Maybe.

There was one interest Greg and I shared that once it was mentioned a fast friendship was formed. Sure, we both liked Star Wars, but when one of us (I forget which) brought up Star Blazers, we each thought to ourselves, “Henceforth, this man shall be my brother!”

The series first appeared on American television in 1979, having been adapted for an American audience from the Japanese series Space Battleship Yamato (1974). I remember seeing ads for the series, which must have made me curious enough to check it out.

This animated series was unlike any Saturday morning cartoon show I had ever seen before. It had a couple things in common with the original Jonny Quest series (my all-time favorite) in that it wasn’t made specifically for kids and characters could and did die. (I seem to have a weird appreciation for cartoon characters dying and yet I’ve never worked for Disney. Hmm.)

Star Blazers also had a look like no other Saturday morning cartoon show. It was my first exposure to anime and probably was for most American viewers, as well. The series was unique in that it had a continuing storyline filled with cliffhangers that flowed through the entire season. Jonny Quest didn’t even do that!

The Synopsis

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Earth ain’t lookin’ so good.

It was the year 2199, Earth had been under attack by the evil Gamilons, an alien species from beyond our solar system, since the mid 21st century. The Gamilons had been bombarding the Earth with radioactive bombs for a century and a half to destroy all life on the planet. In that time, humans had been forced to live underground. Immense cities had been constructed, but eventually the radiation was making its way underground threatening to destroy the remaining life once and for all.

It’s never explained why the Gamilons had decided to attack Earth. I guess just being evil is reason enough.

The radiation was reaching a critical point. In one year’s time, all life on Earth would be snuffed out. Earth’s meager space defense force was being decimated. When it was defeated in a great battle near Pluto, things were looking awfully bleak.

During the Battle of Pluto a strange spacecraft, not from Earth, not from Gamilon, passed through and crashed on Mars. Its sole passenger, a young and beautiful woman died shortly after the crash. She carried with her a device that held a message. A message, sent by Queen Starsha, from a far distant (148,000 light years distant) planet called Iscandar. Her message was to let the people of Earth know that Iscandar has Cosmo DNA, which could restore our planet to its proper state. But, the humans would have to travel the great expanse to Iscandar to get it.

To help the earthlings make the journey, Queen Starsha included plans for a Wave Motion engine that would make it possible to travel at warp speeds. With no other choice, the people of Earth decided to trust this alien savior and built a spacecraft with this new technology. They salvaged and refit the sunken World War II Battleship Yamato with the alien technology, which made for a very cool and unusual spaceship.

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They renamed it the Argo.

The Argo would have to travel alone through hostile space, battling Gamilons at every turn along the way. They had starfighters, space torpedoes, and deck guns for defense, but they also had the Wave Motion gun. Based on the same technology as their space warping engine, the Wave Motion gun was capable of great destruction.

The series ran 26 episodes that first season, each episode ending with the narrator pleading to Star Force, that’s what the brave space soldiers were called (too bad it wasn’t Space Force, eh?), to hurry and he let the audience know how many days the Earth had left to live. Would the Argo survive the journey and make it back in time?

Each week I would tune in, excited to see what would happen next. My dad even took to making sure I was up in time on a Saturday morning, so I wouldn’t miss out. And I think he was enjoying the show, too.

The Characters

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Star Force is led by the very capable, yet often stern, Captain Avatar. He is an experienced military man who commands the Argo and knows how to get the most out of his crew. He never shies away from making hard decisions, because he never forgets how desperate the situation is for Earth. He is also suffering from radiation sickness, which he keeps secret from his crew. Will he even survive the journey?

derek

Derek Wildstar is a hotshot pilot with a fiery temper. His older brother sacrificed his own life and the lives of his smaller crew in the Battle of Pluto, so that Captain Avatar and his larger crew could get back to Earth. (The needs of the many…) Young Wildstar, for the early part of the series, holds Captain Avatar responsible for his brother’s death.

mark

Mark Venture is a navigator who was stationed with Wildstar on Mars. He is a steadier presence and, at times, a rival of the hotshot pilot for the affections of…

nova

Nova is a nurse member of the bridge crew and the lone woman on the Argo. I’m not sure how many crew members there are on the ship, but I’m sure she never wanted for male suitors. However, she falls for Derek. It must be his hair.

sane iq9

Dr. Sane and IQ9 throwing back some “spring water.”

Dr. Sane and IQ9 are mainly there for comic relief. Dr. Sane is the Argo’s chief medical officer and (I learned this from another blog while doing some research), in the Japanese version, a drunkard. However, in the American version, Dr. Sane is constantly drinking “spring water,” instead of sake as in the Japanese version. So, to American audiences, he’s just well hydrated. IQ9 is Dr Sane’s robotic assistant, who saves the day more than once through the series and he develops a crush on Nova. A robot with a crush on a human? That’s funny… to a kid.

Deslok-star-blazers

Deslok is the tyrannical leader of the Gamilons. He really doesn’t like earthlings and Star Force, in particular, but he does have respect for his sworn enemy. Deslok has a Caligula-like evilness to him. He speaks in a sweet and gentle tone, which adds to his menacing nature. He’s a great villain.

The Problems

There aren’t many problems with this series. There’s some awkwardness to the dialog, but I assume that’s mainly due to dubbing English from the original Japanese. There’s a mention of the distance of the moon Mars from the Earth that is wildly off, Venture says the distance is “thousands of light years.” And there a hilarious visual of a hot-headed Wildstar stomping away in anger after an argument with Venture.

The biggest problem is Nova being the only woman on the crew. Not only does that seem unlikely, given it’s 2199, but there’s also a certain sexist behavior toward her at times. In the first episode, she is asked to leave the room when IQ9 has information to give the men. And, later in the season, I recall a scene in which IQ9 rudely lifts Nova’s mini skirt. As if!

There are two other seasons that follow this one and both also utilize the year long beat the clock gimmick, but I think, that though those series aren’t bad, that’s going to the well two times too many.

Overall, the first Star Blazers series is exciting and fun and far more sophisticated than any other Saturday morning cartoon series of the day. I dare you to try to listen to its theme song and not feel inspired. And to not have it as an earworm for the rest of your day. Good luck.

You can watch the series on YouTube. Here’s a link to the first episode. You’ll love it! Update 8/24/18: Unfortunately several of the episodes on YouTube are not viewable in the US. Sorry, America.

Packing Peanuts!

Writer’s note: I am re-watching the series, so you may notice some corrections.

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Images used under Fair Use.

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