Friday, 25 October 2013

Celebrating the century mark: It's been hard

Just now I posted my 100th entry on RobVogt80s, and I thought it a good time to pause for just a bit of reflection.

Hard to believe
It is hard to believe I have made 100 posts. However, if you know me you'd know how full my head is of wild, woolly and weird trivia and experiences from the '80s.

We covered a lot of ground from sports, TV and movies, to music and even a few current events. I am excited to see what the next hundred posts will be like.

Hard to do
Never did I think it would be this hard to come up with topics every day, as I set out to do. It takes time for ideas, and memories to percolate. Oddly, ideas seem to come in bunches. As an example, today I put four more in the incubator.

Hard to take
The other thing, I thought I would see after 100 entries is more comments posted on the blog. Then I realized people may neither think of it nor feel comfortable posting comments. That's something I totally understand.

Hard not to smile
Having said that, it is amazing the number of e-mails and comments off the street I have heard about my blog. For something that started as a way to get all my thoughts out, it has turned out pretty well.

I'll see you 100 posts from now – or tomorrow.

Jeff Goldblum: More than Rachel's dad on "Glee"

Jeff Goldblum with Ben Vereen
in "Tenspeed and Brownshoe"
His most recent role may have been as one of Rachel Berry's dads in "Glee", but Jeff Goldblum really began to establish himself in the 1980s. It was his birthday three days ago, and it reminded me of how long I have watched Goldblum perform.

Private detective
The decade opened with Goldblum starring opposite Ben Vereen in "Tenspeed and Brownshoe" in 1980, one of the first private detective series created by Stephen J. Cannell, and his first independent production. Cannell is another writing role model of mine.

The show was on Channel 7 and I caught a couple episodes before it just disappeared, as shows often did on peasant vision. Wikipedia reveals the show had a great start, due in part to heavy promotion, but tailed off in the ratings and only 14 episodes were made. I don't have many memories of the show, but last summer I bought it on DVD so I look forward to watching it.

I do remember it paying homage to film noir, hard-boiled detective novels, and one episode about the Black Dahlia murders though.

Jeff Goldblum as Slick in "Silverado"
The old west
Goldblum had parts in "The Right Stuff", "The Big Chill", "The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension", and "Transylvania 6-5000", but the next role I recall was a duplicitous character in the 1985 western "Silverado".

That movie is my favourite western, and Goldblum, like co-star Brian Dennehy, go against type and play villains. Goldblum is excellent as Slick, a gambler who has taken up with Rae, the sister of Mal (played by Danny Glover). He appears to be a decent guy, but double crosses Mal, only to suffer the ultimate comeuppance: Mal kills Slick with his own knife.

Jeff Goldblum with Michelle Pfeiffer in "Into the Night"
"Into the Night" in the summer time
Goldblum returned to the present day for his next role in "Into the Night". He is a depressed man who just discovered his wife cheating on him. He drives to the airport where a jewel smuggler (played by Michelle Pfeiffer) lands on his car, and she persuades him to drive her somewhere. Of course adventure ensues. It is another top notch performance as Goldblum plays a beleaguered man who can't quite resolve what is happening to him.

Oddly, I did not see this movie until the summer of 1996. Growing up, I had made a list of movies I wanted to see. When I left my job at the University of Alberta on June 1, 1996, I took a year off and decided to go through that list. "Into the Night" was right near the top.

Jeff Goldblum in the 1986 horror film "The Fly"
"Fly" by night
The final movie I recall was in 1986 when "The Fly" came out. I don't recall a lot, because horror movies are not quite my taste. I do recall watching it at someone's house.

The other thing about "The Fly" is that it established a pattern of "mad" scientist roles Goldblum would play. After we saw him in "Independence Day" in 1996, my good friend Jeremy said Goldblum's role as David Levinson was the logical extension of Ian Malcolm ("Jurassic Park") and Seth Brundle ("The Fly").

More movies and TV
Jeff Goldblum would have more roles in the 1980s, including "Earth Girls Are Easy", "The Fly II", and "Beyond Therapy", as well as "Vibes", and "The Tall Guy", three movies I have never heard of.

His greatest success would come in the 1990s and beyond with movies such as "Jurassic Park" and "Independence Day", and the television series "Law and Order: Criminal Intent".

Parting thoughts
What always struck me about Jeff Goldblum, beyond his height (he was a tall actor, even on the screen), was his versatility in the 1980s. He was a private eye on television, then a wild west weasel, a man with bad luck that turned good, and a scientist with really bad luck.

He was always endearing and engaging, and continued to be so for the next twenty-plus years. "Independence Day" is one of my favourite science fiction movies, and he plays a big part in that. Turning up as one of Rachel Berry's two dads on "Glee" was the next step in a career of varied roles.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Christopher Lloyd: Eccentric genius

Christopher Lloyd as Jim Ignatowski in "Taxi".
"You changed your name TO Ignatowski?"
~Alex Rieger to Jim Ignatowski in "Taxi"

Yesterday was Christopher Lloyd's birthday, and if there was ever an actor who could portray an eccentric character, it was him.

Reverend Jim
Christopher Lloyd rose to prominence in the TV series "Taxi", playing the burnt-out driver Reverend Jim Ignatowski from 1979 to 1983, after appearing as a guest star in 1978. It was revealed he had been a student at Harvard who was doomed once he took a bite from a hash brownie.

The episode I remember best was when he had to go home for a family commitment. We discover he comes from a wealthy family. However, he cannot face things alone so he asks Alex Rieger (Judd Hirsch), the moral centre of the show, to come with him.

At first, Alex does not seem to believe Jim when they arrive at this mansion. Yet, Jim persists and they go up to the front door. The butler obviously recognizes Jim. He invites them in and asks to take their bags. Alex hands the butler his suit case. Jim hands him a pair of old sneakers.

It is also revealed that Jim's real name is Jim Caldwell.

"You changed your name to Ignatowski?" Alex asks incredulously.

"It was the 60s – everyone was doing it," Jim replies.

There are very few characters as eccentric and offbeat as Jim Ignatowski. For his memorable work in that role, Christopher Lloyd won two Emmys for the role of Reverend Jim, in 1982 and 1983.

Christopher Lloyd as Captain James T. Kirk's nemesis
in "Star Trek III: The Search for Spock".
From New York to the Klingon Home World
Once "Taxi" ended, Lloyd found his way into the movies where more eclectic roles followed.

I recall him in heavy make-up as Commander Kruge, the Klingon antagonist to Captain James T. Kirk and company in "Star Trek III: The Search for Spock". He was awesome in that role.

It was a tough act to follow, because Ricardo Montalban had been legendary as the villain in "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan". Yet, Lloyd had some good lines.

When he captures the crew of the Enterprise, Kirk asks for a minute.

"I give two," he said. The way he said it made me laugh.

At another moment, when he realized what he discovered, regarding the Genesis device, he said, "This is the turn of luck I have been waiting for."

I have used that quote many times since myself.

And of course, no one quite took a kick in the face (or half a dozen) like Kruge did when he was hanging onto Kirk's leg for dear life with the Genesis Planet coming apart around them.

"I – have – had – enough - of – you," Kirk said, kicking Kruge in the face with each word he said.

It was an awesome performance, but just the prelude to something even better.

Christopher Lloyd in his iconic role Doc Brown
in the "Back to the Future" trilogy.
Back to the Future
It was the summer of 1985 and, being the the huge Michael J. Fox fan from "Family Ties" that I already was, I was excited to see "Back to the Future". My longtime friend and neighbour Mat had earned his driver's licence, so he drove us to the College Cinema to see the movie.

I had heard a lot about the movie. Initially, Eric Stoltz was supposed to play Marty McFly, but he was committed to "Mask" so he bowed out. Gary David Goldberg, the creator of "Family Ties" recommended Fox, so he assumed the role of McFly. Also, Huey Lewis and the News was set to do the theme song, and I had fallen in love with their album "Sports" the previous summer while visiting my cousin Fred in Brooks.

However, the one thing I did not know was that Reverend Jim himself would be playing Dr. Emmet Brown, creator of the Flux Capacitor, the modified Delorean, and time traveller extraordinaire.

The performance he turned in as the bewildered yet brilliant Doc Brown was brilliant. He had chemistry with Fox, and was the perfect blend of goofy, clumsy, and clever.

He would go on to repeat that role in two more sequels before the end of the decade.

Like so many sequels, "Back to the Future II and III" were not as good as the original, but they were still all right.

Christopher Lloyd in "The Dream Team".
The Dream Team
Christopher Lloyd closed out the 1980s with another eccentric role, this time as a group of escaped delusional patients in 1989's "The Dream Team". He played alongside Michael Keaton, Peter Boyle, and Stephen Furst, and turned in another good performance. His character deluded himself into believing he is one of the doctors at the sanitarium, and was constantly clutching a clipboard and making notes. In a very poignant scene, a child (a relative I believe) asks him to use the clipboard and, after resisting so many others throughout the movie who wanted to take it, he gave it to the child. It was a pretty layered performance.

Parting thoughts
There were other movies, such as "Clue", "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?", and "The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension", but I never saw those.

What I did see was another versatile actor who had the ability to make what could be one-dimensional roles into multi-layered characters. Whether he was a burnt-out cab driver, a ruthless Klingon commander, a time-travelling scientist, or a patient suffering delusions, he was always memorable. He really was brilliant at playing the eccentric.

Mona with the Children: One-hit wonder with meaning

The 1980s are littered with one-hit wonders. A lot of them are pretty goofy, and illustrate just why the artists who recorded them never had more success.

Then there's Doug Cameron.

He's a Canadian musician and composer, who highlighted the plight of, "a 16-year-old girl, living in a land so cruel", who was part of a group of women hung for their faith in Iran.

The song was "Mona with the Children", and climbed all the way to number 14 on the Canadian charts on Oct. 19, 1985, a pretty good accomplishment for a protest song.

Personal memories
It was that venerable old CBC after-school show "Video Hits" that introduced me to "Mona with the Children." I still remember veejay/host Samantha Taylor explaining the song and what it was about.

A few days later I was riding the school bus (after all I was in Grade 11) with my longtime friend and neighbour Mat who told me he just loved this song. We actually talked about music a fair bit. Then, probably fifteen minutes later, it came on the bus radio. Mat knew every word, and serenaded me only as one high school kid could another.

The song
"Mona with the Children" is, according to Wikipedia, about a Persian Bahá'í girl aged 16, Mona Mahmudnizhad who, in 1983, together with nine other Bahá'í women, was sentenced to death and hanged in Shiraz, Iran, because of her membership in the Bahá'í Faith. The official charges ranged from “misleading children and youth” because she was teaching children, who had been expelled from school for their beliefs, and serving in an orphanage, to being a ‘Zionist’ because the Bahá'í World Centre is located in Israel. The video was distributed throughout the music scene and was effective in bringing the human rights situation of the Bahá'ís in Iran to the attention of the public.

Parting thoughts
"Mona with he Children" will never make any sort of top ten list of one-hit wonders of the 1980s. It likely wouldn't make a top twenty list, a top fifty, or even a top one hundred. Part of that is due to being a Canadian song.

However, where people may remember "Mickey" by Toni Basil, "Walking on Sunshine" by Katrina and the Waves, or "99 Red Balloons" by Nena, none of those songs will have changed the world. "Mona with the Children" and Doug Cameron actually shone a light on an issue that needed attention. For that, it is not only a one-hit wonder with meaning, but a song that made a difference

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

John Hughes: hero, role model, inspiration, influence

The name John Hughes is synonymous with the ‘80s and specifically teen angst movies. I cannot even really pinpoint the time I first heard about him, but John Hughes became a hero, role model, inspiration, and influence on me and my writing.

The tetralogy
There had not been a lot of movies about teenagers for teenagers. I’m not really sure if there were any. There are a lot of unique themes they explore: coming of age (as cliché a phrase as that has become); fitting in; peer pressure; self esteem; puberty and the changes it brings; and love. A lot of this ground was covered by various TV shows, but none stick out for me that spoke to me as a teenager.

Then came John Hughes.

He had been writing for a while, and would continue on into the 1990s, then he just disappeared. There may have been a lot of movies on John Hughes’ resumé but there are four I like to call his tetralogy:

• Sixteen Candles
• The Breakfast Club
• Pretty in Pink
• Some Kind of Wonderful

Spanning a five-year period, they explored what it meant to be a teenager, and how brutal it could be one minute then amazing the next. How truly mean teenagers can be on one hand, and how caring and compassionate on the other. More than anything else, for teens who felt isolated, or like they were the only ones feeling the emotions they were, these movies made them realize they were not alone. They offered hope in a sometimes completely hopeless time of life.

Sixteen Candles
This may have been the last movie I saw in a drive-in theatre. Mathew, my good friend and neighbour, invited me to see this with him. It was part of a double feature at the Green Acres Drive-in in Lethbridge with The Goonies. The Goonies was the first movie, I remember, because it was virtually impossible to watch at dusk because of all those underground scenes.

Sixteen Candles followed, and it had a profound effect on my 14-year-old personality. The story focuses on the character played by Molly Ringwald. Her sister is getting married and, in all the hustle and bustle, everyone forgets her birthday – her 16th birthday. She has a crush on a boy, who she thinks does not even know she exists, and the plot goes on from there.

What struck me was not so much the main plot, but something that happened late in the movie. Anthony Michael Hall plays this spassy nerd throughout the movies. At the end, he finds himself in a car with the drop-dead gorgeous captain of the cheerleaders, who is passed out. Like the goof he is, he gets photos taken with her by his friends (in the days before cell-phone cameras). Then a funny thing happens. She awakens, and they share kind of a tender moment, and even kiss. Even if tenderness may not have been John Hughes' intent, it was the effect it had on me. I always thought maybe the nerdy guy (a.k.a. me) could get the girl in the end.

The Breakfast Club
The Breakfast Club is set in detention, or Saturday school, one day. A jock, skid, prep, nerd, and outcast spend the day together, first resenting each other then eventually bonding.

I never did see this in the theatre, although I absolutely loved the anthem from the movie "Don’t You (Forget About Me)" by Simple Minds. Instead, I saw this in a much stranger and more amazing environment. I had a crush on this one girl for almost two years, right through Grade 11 and 12. Finally, part way through Grade 12, we became close, and I used to visit her regularly. One Friday night, my best friend Chris Vining, and buddies Randy and Dave, all went over to her place. Randy had made a copy of The Breakfast Club and we watched it in her basement. It was an absolute dream come true, because at that point she was the girl of my dreams.

Pretty in Pink
Molly Ringwald is back in her third John Hughes’ movie. This time she plays a high school senior who is not too popular. As she readies for her grad prom, enduring bullying and derision, she catches the eye of a popular boy, while oblivious to the affection of her best friend right in front of her.

This was the last John Hughes movie I saw in the theatre. I was working at Gergeley’s Greenhouse and it was around my 17th birthday in February. I went to get something from my car (well my mom’s car), and there was a note on the windshield. It was from my friend David who invited me out for food and a movie, Pretty in Pink in particular, for my birthday.

Some Kind of Wonderful
This time around Eric Stoltz plays a boy who is not too popular in school. He has a crush on his dream girl, who then breaks up with her boyfriend. He asks her out, only to be set up for a fall by the ex-boyfriend. Meanwhile, he too can't see the affection for his best friend right in front of him. Some Kind of Wonderful is a role reversal of Pretty in Pink in many ways.

Considering how deeply John Hughes moved me on the first three occasions, Some Kind of Wonderful came out at the wrong time. It was just as I was leaving home to go to university, and I had no way of getting to a theatre to see it. I recall hearing commercials on the radio for it, but never got to it.

It was the summer of 1995, my last at the University of Alberta, where I decided to have my own John Hughes film festival. The video store did not have Pretty in Pink, but it had Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, and Some Kind of Wonderful. I watched them in order, thus delaying again seeing the fourth in John Hughes teen angst tetralogy. It was well worth the wait.

Not like the others
People have said Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is among these, but I never connected with it. Really, it never resonated with me, and I never really identified with Ferris. Quite the contrary actually. He was the cool kid, the guy with the good-looking girlfriend who could seemingly get away with anything. Instead, I identified with his best friend Cameron, despite the Detroit Red Wings jersey. (To be honest, back in the ‘80s, I thought it cool that any character in any Hollywood movie would be wearing a hockey jersey of any kind).

The play is the thing
My discovery of John Hughes coincided with my desire to write my own stuff about teenagers. Seeing his movies made me realize that I was not alone, but also there was a market for that kind of story. The difference was that I wanted to make music a major part of that. The result was a play I wrote that, on first cut, was not very good. It was a semi-autobiographical look at my Grade 11 year in high school. Yet there are enough bones in there, I believe, to make something good out of that.

And that, in essence, is the power of John Hughes. He was not just a filmmaker and storyteller. Beyond entertaining, he inspired me to tell my own story. He was a role model in how to do that, and his influence is all over that play.

For all that, I am eternally grateful to John Hughes. Rest in peace.