Thursday, December 31, 2015

Best of the Legion 2015

My final blog tradition of the holiday season is to make a list of what I thought I said best in the past year. So here are my picks. And many thanks for visiting The Legion over the last 12 months. I hope you found something worthwhile and will keep coming back in the future.

Happy New Year!

The Glacial Pace of the CRTC

John Hunter


The Copy Cats

Rachel and Caitlin Save Hollywood

Scooter: Saviour of Squirrels


Behold The New Flesh

The Burka Revisited


Sunday, December 27, 2015

Lazy Sunday # 408: Star Wars Begins

A long time ago, in a studio far, far away, a bunch of people got together to make a movie. 

A lot of it was made up of stuff nobody had ever tried to do before. A lot of it was the same old things that had been seen and done a thousand times before. 

Its leading players weren't bankable stars. Much of the crew was green and untried. And while some, as on every film set, dreamt what they were doing would find an enthusiastic audience and great financial success, I doubt even any of those foresaw the force of nature they were collaborating to unleash.

As hard as it may be to believe these days, there was little or no advance publicity for "Star Wars". I went to see it on its opening weekend knowing nothing but what I could glean from the poster. Some kind of hero with a gleaming sword, a damsel in distress, robots and some kinda cool looking war in space.

It just seemed more interesting than whatever else was opening that weekend.

But from the first frame, you knew it had something special. 

Something that has made fortunes for a couple of generations and will for generations more. Something that has become culturally iconic and important. Something that his given birth to philosophical treatises and textbooks filled with semiotic insight most probably to the surprise of those who made it.

To them, as it was made, it was just a movie. A movie with deleted scenes, alternate takes, different angles, and bloopers the audience was never meant to see. A movie with characters who would never be turned into action figures, effects that didn't work and audio that needed to be fixed in post.

All of these have been gathered over the years by filmmaker Jamie Benning and augmented with commentary by the movie's cast and crew into what he calls a "filmumentary", meaning that while you are watching the original film, you are also seeing all those things which were excised or augmented to create the final product.

"Star Wars Begins" is a remarkable achievement in documenting the creative process, of exposing the fact that great films are not the work of genius artists that spring fully formed to the screen. 

They're ideas that get revised and re-imagined by a lot of different people doing the best they can under less than perfect conditions. 

This is a documentary well worth a couple of hours of your time, whether or not you have seen the latest incarnation. This is where and how it all began.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

@jamieSWB - Star Wars Begins - The Complete Filmumentary from Filmumentaries - Jamie Benning on Vimeo.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Lazy Sunday # 407: Giving It Up For Christmas

While Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Christ, at its core its an embodiment of the Christian tenet better known as The Golden Rule -- "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you". An opportunity to share material goods, kindness and empathy to all those around you.

That's why the so-called "War on Christmas" with its politically correct restrictions on whether its okay to use certain greetings and edicts to refer to lighted foliage as "Holiday Trees" doesn't make any sense when you really think about it.

Not only does The Golden Rule do no harm to anyone, it's written into the holy texts of every other religion supposedly snubbed or marginalized by those who celebrate Christmas.

And for non-believers, I think you'd be hard-pressed to find any atheist who disagrees with showing kindness to others.That trait is pretty much who we are as people.

Christmas is just the time when the proof is most obvious. 

Recently, the faith based UPTV network decided to try an experiment to see just how prevalent the desire to give of ourselves and be kind to others was. And this was the result... 

Moving closer to home, my favorite airline always goes out of its way to show their appreciation of those around them at Christmas. What they've done in the past has become hard to top. So this year Canada's Westjet decided to try even harder, setting the 2015 bar at providing one Christmas miracle for each of their 12,000 employees...

So you see, for all its religious connotations, the true meaning of Christmas is simply a reminder to share some of the good in each of us with someone else.

And if you can't do that -- well, instead of pissing on somebody else's party, why not just suck it up and take Sponge Bob's advice...

And Enjoy Your Sunday.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Lazy Sunday #406: The Big Short

Writing movies is hard. Making them made is harder. Getting people to pay to see something they’re repeatedly told is complicated and hard to understand is nearly impossible.
So smart writers avoid writing about complicated things that are hard to understand.

Unless they’re really, really smart writers. Writers like Michael Lewis.

The first Michael Lewis book I read was “Moneyball”, a book so good it made you want to bite your arm. A book that deserved to become a movie. And one that didn’t for more than a decade because it was literally too “inside baseball”.

Imagine pitching a studio exec a story about people who spend all their time crunching baseball stats. Imagine finding an audience that wanted to see a movie about baseball stats.

Pitch “Hulk smash”. They get it.

Pitch “It's about getting things down to one number. Using the stats to find value in players that no one else can see” -– and their eyes have already glazed over.

As they expect the audience’s eyes to glaze.

Don’t even get me started on how hard a pitch for “The Big Short” a book about the subprime default swaps that cratered the mortgage market in 2008 would’ve been.

But Lewis and his publisher kept making the rounds and people smarter than most of the gatekeepers kept reading his books and one of those people finally used her actress star power to put Michael Lewis’ writing before an audience.

In 2009, Sandra Bullock brought another Lewis book “The Blind Side”, this one about the intricacies of the college football draft, to the screen. And Hollywood finally got what he does. He shows that all those supposedlynunintelligible numbers are describing people.

“The Blind Side” won an Oscar and a ton of Critics awards while (perhaps more important) pulling in 10 times as much as it cost to make at the box office.
Hollywood finally realized Michael Lewis must be onto something.

In 2011, another actor, Brad Pitt got “Moneyball” made, earning six Oscar nominations, garnering more critics awards and taking in more millions at the box office.

Which brings us to “The Big Short”. Opening this weekend with a cast of not one, not two -- but four A-list actors who could all open a major studio film on their own.

And again, getting past the gatekeepers because one of those actors (Pitt) can call his own shots.

This is the season when adults go back to the movies. And there are great films like “Spotlight” and “Carol” and “Creed” and “Trumbo” and “The Hateful Eight” that anybody calling themselves an adult should see.

But for my money, “The Big Short” should be on top of that list.

Forget that it’s about something complicated and hard to understand. Because it’s not. Those numbers being thrown around all come down to people. And if there’s one thing actors know it’s that people go to see movies about people.

So for your viewing pleasure on this Sunday, I append both a trailer for “The Big Short” plus a roundtable of three of its cast along with Lewis and director Adam McKay describing why they became a part of it and why the gatekeepers were so wrong for so long.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

“The Big Short” – Trailer

“The Big Short” – Roundtable

Sunday, December 06, 2015

Lazy Sunday #405: Afterglow

I don’t ski.

One reason is that I grew up in the flattest part of Saskatchewan. Didn’t see my first hill until I was 12.

The other is that later in life I learned to ski.

Oh, I’d claimed I could ski before then. Lied to a casting director to get a part I wanted. I’d seen people ski. Didn’t look that hard.

Felt a little different standing at the top of a slope with boards strapped to my feet. But just in time, the director decided he needed somebody in my onscreen super-cool ski party to drive a snowmobile and I actually did know how to do that.

Even that guy who fell halfway down Everest didn’t kick out of his bindings as fast.

But I eventually did learn to ski. Fell a lot but completely embraced the thrill. And my last night on the slopes I fell in love with night skiing.

All of us who work with light have a special affinity to those situations in which light becomes magical and there was something about the moonlight, the snow and run lights reflecting on ice crystals in the air that made the experience unforgettable.

Next morning I took a tumble that put my back into agonizing spasms for weeks and ended any chance of my becoming the next Warren Miller.

But I’ll never forget that night and that quality of light and continue to bask in its afterglow.

Recently the people who make Philips televisions created a film expanding on the magic of night skiing to sell their new line of LED televisions. And it’s equally as unforgettable.

It’s also fittingly called “Afterglow”.

If you don’t ski. This might convince you it’s time to start.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

The full film by Sweetgrass Productions can be found here.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Lazy Sunday #404: Invaders

Home invasion agendas are generally up to the invader. But anybody knocking on my door today will be handed a paintbrush or hammer and forced to do some construction work no matter their inclination or Do-It-Yourself talents.

I’ve been living in renovation chaos for the last couple of weeks and it ends today. Well, more accurately probably Monday or Tuesday, but I like sounding focused and determined.

So today’s post is short. As is the home invasion short appended below. A very funny little film by Jason Kupfer.

It’s also got a Thanksgiving theme for those still working off a Turkey binge, revealing that even in chaos my thumb remains on the pulse of the culture.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Invaders from Jason Kupfer on Vimeo.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

You Too Can Be The Prime Minister of Finland

A wise man once said, “Never be afraid to see what you see”. In other words, if the Emperor has no clothes, you shouldn’t be loath to point it out.

But a lot of people keep quiet on what they see because someone on Anti-social media might imply merely for making an observation makes you a neo-con/racist/bigot/xenophobe/chauvinist/whatever.

There’s a growing desire among some to make sure everybody sticks to an accepted narrative, even if that narrative isn’t logical -– y’know like actual narratives are supposed to be.

Consider the current Trudeau government edict that Canada will accept 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of 2015. A process they have decided to complete within six weeks.

Now, before anybody gets sideways, I have absolutely no problem with bringing in Syrian refugees to make a fresh start. Don’t care if their religion is Muslim, Christian, Jew, Yazidi or Jedi.

Just want somebody official to have a chat with them and be more than a little certain they’re not a criminal, fanatic, gay-basher, former ISIS combatant or fond of female genital mutilation.

It might be worth pointing out 25,000 is only a couple of hundred more refugees from Iraq and Syria than we took in under the evil, heartless and incredibly insensitive Harper Government.

Indeed, Canada now offers a safe haven to 1 of every 10 legitimate refugees annually rendered stateless around the world. Not half bad for a place we’ve been repeatedly told became a despised international pariah in the past decade.

So – why the rush? And why the “You’re a racist! You’re a Xenophobe!” rhetoric directed at the 67% of Canadians not in favor of rushing.

Again –- that narrative thing…

We have a new government intent on proving it’s completely different from the last one, meaning they’re kinder, gentler and far more accepting of just about any world view.

To that end, Minister of International Trade Chrystia Freeland appeared on “Real Time with Bill Maher” on Friday night clearly eager to show our American cousins how much further evolved we are on the subject.

During one of my professional sojourns in Los Angeles, Bill Maher had a similar current affairs and comedy show called “Politically Incorrect”. And I was a regular member of the live audience.

Whether or not you share Maher’s sense of humor or his politics, you have to grant him two undeniable characteristics. He doesn’t allow political correctness to cloud his judgement. And he doesn’t suffer fools gladly.

Freeland delivered the current Canadian narrative and in the process set herself up to receive the brunt of both those Maher barrels.

What was revealed in this discussion (if you were open to seeing it) was that Ms. Freeland’s commitment to the “we’re so progressive” narrative overwhelmed any deeper thought into what the implications of bringing so many into a very different culture might mean – to both them and the existing culture.

And what may happen if you don’t think such things through?

Well, you could end up like the Prime Minister of Finland…

Similarly driven to prove his progressive cred, Finnish PM Juha Sipila offered up his own home to incoming Syrian refugees. He was probably looking forward to a “Sunny Days” photo op with a tearful single mom or doe-eyed orphan.

Instead he got this guy, who claimed he was just an normal 17 year old kid…

Now, I understand that whenever you invite a crowd you’re going to end up welcoming a few douchebags. But even as a proud Canadian, I have to admit, we’ve got a lot of douchebags already. Do we really need to import a whole bunch more?

Finland shares a lot of similarities to Canada. Climate, love of Hockey, etc. And Finland is already seeing a lot of problems from their own influx of Pre-vetted by the United Nations refugees.

Since we’ll be on the hook for Billions of dollars through this effort, shouldn’t we at least make sure we end up with people who truly want to be here -– and maybe embrace the Canadian values all of us want to see more of in the world?


As I posted this the Trudeau government updated their refugee policy. Now, they’re only bringing in 10,000 by year end with another 15,000 arriving by the end of February. And most of those will be privately sponsored.

Interestingly, the government will not bring in single males. So one of the most persecuted groups, gay men, are out of luck.

And so is the Syrian father whose drowned son sparked the entire refugee debate in the first place. He still can’t come to Canada as Trudeau had insisted during the election campaign.

But then, single males, the ones causing most of the security concerns, won’t be entirely left out. NGOs, churches and mosques (even the radical ones) can still bring them in privately.

I don’t want to issue a douchebag alert just yet. But let’s just say it won’t surprise me. And I’m sure Chrystia Freeland will find a way to justify it in a way that doesn’t upset the narrative.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Lazy Sunday #403: Master of Suspense

Few directors have influenced the way films are made as much as Alfred Hitchcock. The shots. The cuts. The sequencing. Lighting. Music. Performances.

Pretty much everything the man did has been built on or outright copied by the generations of directors who have followed him.

But one thing he did always annoyed the crap out of me.

The director’s cameo.

Oh, it was harmless at first. When nobody knew who he was. Just some tubby, balding gentlemen among the faces in the crowd.

But later it became a “thing”. Each new Hitchcock film was preceded by questions about how the director himself would appear on screen.

Even Hitchcock was aware that this was the kind of thing that momentarily kicked audiences out of the story and broke the willing suspension of disbelief to remind them they were just watching a movie.

So once he was well known, those moments usually occurred early on, before the plot had begun to take control.

But like everything else he did, Hitch’s cameos became an approved method for other directors to get in front of their own cameras. And a lot of them didn’t give a lot of thought to what the impact on the overall story might be.

“Hey, here we are building to the climax and there’s Quentin Tarantino!” (for example)

Now the vast bulk of most audiences would never have a clue who most of these guys were. But put yourself in the place of a TV series producer with a stable of directors appearing in dailies four a five times per season per director.

It always knocked me out of what I was trying to accomplish in the edit suite. And that drove me nuts.

Of course there was one guy who insisted in doing his appearances in the nude. But that’s another story.

Responding differently -- Hitch’s cameos became the jumping off point for a new homage to the great man by filmmaker Fabrice Mathieu.

In “Master of Suspense” Mathieu has built an entirely new story from all the elements that made Hitchcock the creative genius he was.

And this time Alfred Hitchcock is not just some background player. He’s the star.

Perhaps its what the master and all those other directors doing cameos wanted to be all along.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Master of Suspense. Short Film. from Fabrice Mathieu on Vimeo.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Lazy Sunday # 402: The Roadie

Three separate pieces make a rock concert. The band. The audience. The Roadies. Take away any and the show ain’t on.

Yeah, the band could carry in their own instruments and amps. But the set-up wouldn’t be as good and would take a lot longer. The music wouldn’t be balanced or sound the same in all parts of the venue. The players wouldn’t have the same energy. The crowd would invade the stage or otherwise misbehave.

Nope. Roadies are essential. They do the grunt work. They make sure all the technical problems are solved. They protect the band and the music. In many ways they love what the band does more than the guys getting all the adulation.

Roadies drive all night. They go without sleep so the band can rest. They do the drug buys. They comfort the Groupies who don’t get chosen after the show.

Roadies get electrocuted. They are swept away by windblown set pieces and light stands. They are crushed under trucks and collapsing stages. But nothing deters them from the task at hand.

They are willing to take a bullet for the music.

Friday night, Nick Alexander, a member of the road crew for Palm Desert’s “Eagles of Death Metal”  was among the first to die in Paris’ Bataclan Theatre

His grieving family issued a short statement taking comfort in the fact that Nick died “doing what he loved”.

Other than acknowledging that no one else among their number or from their opening act, “The Deftones” was hurt, the “Eagles of Death Metal” have been silent since the attack.

Tragedies of this magnitude can kill a band. The notoriety alone might do that. Which would be a shame. “The Eagles of Death Metal” are one of the finest rock acts around right now. They’re a joy to see live and darn good fun to listen to anywhere anytime.

Their music is so infectious, you can have no doubt that the last living moments of Nick Alexander and the rest of those murdered in that Paris theatre were filled with happiness.

ISIS will one day die. Rock and Roll not so much.

Enjoy your Sunday.

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Lazy Sunday # 401: Common Sense

This week I had a lot of people bemoaning somebody else’s lack of common sense. Common sense about money. About driving. About relationships.

Now everybody has their own definition of common sense. Einstein once described it as the collection of prejudices you acquire by the age of 18. And we all know what works for you doesn’t necessarily work for anybody else.

But the reality is on a certain level common sense is not quite so common.


My own definition would go something like –- there are things I take for granted based on experience. And that experience comes from seeing the outcomes of actions. No decision ever stands alone. And if you think enough steps ahead, you’ll get to the point where negative consequences may outweigh the positive. Then you need to decide if the original decision is worth the risk.

So I guess common sense comes down to –- how far ahead are you thinking things through?

Friday night, Bill Maher had a great line about all those fed up with politicians who want somebody not part of the “political establishment” running things. “If their kid needed brain surgery, would they say “Not that guy, he’s a medical insider!”.

Common sense says sometimes you need to get past your agenda or at least think it through a little farther.


And this week I found a place where you can do that. A place where you can take a hard look at your prejudices or beliefs or whatever you think makes sense –- and take your thinking maybe a step or two further.

It’s called Prager U and you can find a bunch of their “instructional videos” here.

Here’s a taste. If it makes sense, try some more.

And –- Enjoy Your Sunday.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Lazy Sunday # 400: Writer’s Block

I can’t believe I’ve done 400 of these.

The “Lazy Sunday” posts started 400 weeks ago apparently. I haven’t really been keeping track. But I don’t think I’ve missed any Sundays since they began.

The original idea was to post a video I’d found online which I found interesting or inspiring or just fun.

They went up Sunday mornings to keep my traffic numbers up at a time when that was somehow important. The post was also either void of text or had only a minimal introduction -- symbolizing taking Sunday off and just lazing around like most normal people do.

But all things change over time.

And yet I’ve still maintained one rule. It’s all stream of consciousness that flows from whatever video I’ve found by the time I get around to doing that on a Sunday.

Sometimes that search only takes a few minutes and then I type for a few minutes more. Sometimes they get sweated over for a couple of hours. And there have been days when I just don’t have nothin’. But I get something up anyway.

So, in some ways the “Lazy Sunday” posts have been a writing exercise. You got space to fill, kid. A commitment. Like it or not. Ready or not. Write something.

And to be honest that’s the whole point of writing, making something from nothing.

A few years ago, the filming of a Bryan Cranston movie, “Cold Comes The Night” was brought to a halt by Hurricane Sandy. Cast and crew were stuck in a hotel waiting for the weather to clear.

Bored, Cranston started a contest among the production assistants, promising to produce the best short film one of them could come up with. Brandon Polanco and Spenser Granese won with “Writers Block” and three hours later Polanco was directing with Cranston starring.

Something from nothing. Even with writers block.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Lazy Sunday # 399: I’ve Been Everywhere

A few days ago, a friend planning a European trip asked me to recommend some French hotels and it got me thinking about how much travelling I’ve done.

When I was a kid, there were lots of people “from the old country” who now and then went back to whichever “old country” they were originally from. And they’d come back with amazing stories about people and lifestyles I’d never imagined.

But as much as this sparked my desire to see the world, I also noted that rarely did anybody go someplace they hadn’t already been. It was as if it was preferable to stick the well trodden path.

Around the time my travel bug was hatching, there was a song on the radio by Canadian Country singer Hank Snow entitled “I’ve Been Everywhere” that rattled off place names almost faster than you could hear them.

I loved that song. Partly for how hard it musta been to sing. But also for the suggestion that just about anywhere was worth visiting. The place might be foreign but something about it would still be familiar.

And Hank was right. Wherever you go, a piece of the place stays with you and you leave a piece of yourself behind.

I discovered that Australia, for example, had a spectacular Country Music scene. Instead of songs about pickups and beer, their tunes celebrated Utes and Crownies, but reflected the same story telling spirit of the Country I’d grown up with and in.

I felt at home at the same time that I was about as far away from there as I could be.

While Googling French hotels to make sure they were still around, I came across an Australian version of that song that had first spurred me to travel.

Familiar yet totally different. Although I’ve now been to some of these places too.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

For aged mofo’s, here’s Hank’s original…

And for more of Australia’s Sunny Cowgirls, try this…

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Lazy Sunday # 398: Scrubs

“Scrubs”, a half hour TV comedy ran for 7 seasons on NBC and then two on ABC from 2001 to 2010. I missed the first season or two and then only watched from time to time (although I liked what I saw) but was mostly busy with projects of my own –- and more’s the pity.

Because “Scrubs” was one of the most innovative shows of its time.

Created by Bill Lawrence based on the memoirs of his college roomate Dr. John Dorris, “Scrubs” would earn 117 award nominations including 17 Emmys, 3 Golden Globes and 4 Humanitas Awards winning 31 times.

A few weeks ago, I called up the first season of the series on Netflix and started watching it. That led to binge watching and a realization that, more than any other series I’m familiar with, “Scrubs” reflects what life is really like around the production of a television series.

It’s always been my opinion that a series is never fully formed in development and that no matter where the showrunners and scripts intend it to go, it’s the chemistry of the cast and crew that really dictates the finished products.

Actors have unknown talents and skills that writers begin to incorporate into story lines allowing characters to grow in unintended directions.

Audiences “like” some characters more than expected, shifting bit players into major roles and massaging major players into dimensions of character nobody delineated in the bible.

Producers and directors add bits that become running gags and then structural boilerplate. Everything about “Scrubs” reveals a creative intent less locked to format than dependent on finding something that hadn’t been tried before.

In these and so many other ways “Scrubs” distanced itself from the standard sitcom format. Storylines often skewed dark or into the realm of TV drama. Problems were left unresolved.

The gap between “Scrubs” and other sitcoms was never more stark than a Season Four episode entitled “My Life in Four Cameras” in which a dark storyline about a famous television writer diagnosed with lung cancer transforms mid-show into the way the same story would be told as a sitcom.

Suddenly the lights are brighter, the costumes tailored. All the female characters have cleavage and all the guys have signature shtick, and the “live” studio audience overwhelms everything.

Whether you are new to creating television or have been doing it all your life, “Scrubs” remains a touchstone to the way good television is made.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Lazy Sunday #397: Hystereo

I have come to the conclusion that many of us will soon be in need of a stiff drink…

Winter is coming…

We’re days away from an election whose results might not make anybody very happy…

We have a nationally beloved ball team facing elimination…

Families are gathering for that traditional gauntlet of past animosities and current resentments known as the Thanksgiving dinner…

The moment may well come to each of us when we are in need of an antidote to what Life has visted upon us . And the Hystereo was invented to counter just such emotions and events.

Back in the 19th Century, Bacardi, the first distiller to create a clear “white” rum, established itself in a building in Santiago de Cuba that also housed a population of fruit bats in its rafters –- hence the company logo.

There, it prospered for almost a hundred years, even actively supporting Fidel Castro’s 1960 revolution. Unfortunately, when Fidel took over he seized the family assets and expelled Bacardi from Cuba.

Consider that the next time you wear a Che T-shirt into a bar.

The Hystereo was created soon after to both assuage the pain of exile and honor those who had dedicated their lives to the creation of a great rum.

It’s a complicated concoction to combine but well within the skillset of any reputable bartender or drinking establishment.

In the coming days it may be necessary for you to find one.

Enjoy Your Sunday…

Thursday, October 08, 2015


David young

David Bolt was the first professional actor I ever met. I was studying theatre at the University of Regina and he was working for the Globe Theatre doing one of their gruelling tours, taking plays to remote gymnasiums and church basements in the dead of Winter.

He undertook that cold and uncomfortable dedication to Canadian theatre wearing a broad brimmed black cowboy hat and gigantic Buffalo robe coat that once belonged to a local Mountie. From the get-go, everything David did was unique.

Living in a boarding house inhabited by a college drama buddy of mine, he became our gateway to what a life in theatre was really all about. And we hung on his every word.

For Dave had actually seen plays at Stratford and on Broadway. He’d performed the classics before paying members of Toronto’s glitterati and had his name mentioned in dispatches by the country’s most famous theatre critic of the day, Nathan Cohen.

Beyond that he opened our eyes to art films and good books and music that didn’t involve screaming guitars or a cute cowgirl.

A year or so later, I was serving my Equity apprenticeship at the Globe, barely more than a glorified Roadie, but doing an only slightly more upscale tour of Saskatchewan’s theatres and prairie opera houses with David playing the lead role in “Charlie’s Aunt”.

charlie's aunt

I’ve seen many productions of that play since, but not an actor as funny and engaging as David in that role. Night after night, the play simply stopped in places to allow audiences rolling in the aisles to get control of themselves.

I longed for the opportunity to work with an actor that good. And Fate smiled upon me, for over the next years I was blessed with the chance to play opposite David in dozens of plays and to be among those he counted as close friends.

As an actor, he was capable of incredible flights of comedy and profoundly moving moments of drama. And through it all he was generous to everyone with whom he shared the stage, making sure you had all you needed to bring your own character to life.

He was never a star, but he was a beloved gentleman of the theatre and dedicated practitioner of his craft. His quiet contribution to Canadian drama is nothing short of immeasurable.

    David Power

Together we did musicals, including his wife Carol’s landmark play “Red Emma” and  Tom Hendry’s astonishingly weird and more astonishingly successful “Gravediggers of 1942”.

I’ll never forget holding a flailing Chapelle Jaffe as David’s crazed Van Helsing drew screams from audiences as he drove a stake through her heart in Bill Lane’s “Brides of Dracula”, nor struggling to keep a straight face as he sat next to me delivering the looniest monologue ever written in George F. Walker’s “Beyond Mozambique”.

We shared unforgettable moments offstage as well. Following an especially rough run of a show that had left us both bruised and bent, David announced he was treating me to a night at a spa where his brother had taken him before his wedding, promising the best sauna and massage Toronto had to offer.

We arrived and checked in to discover that in the intervening years the spa had become a notorious Gay Bathhouse.

Two guys so straight they had trouble getting around corners were suddenly not only strategizing how to play at being a “couple” to stave off potential advances but confronted by fellow theatricals hysterically eager to relay the news that we’d finally come out.

I toured the country and took shows to London a couple of times with David, always impressed by his knowledge of history and culture and the array of famous names he’d worked with who came to our performances and made us part of their social circles.

John Huston, Donald Pleasance, Cyril Cusak, Jeremy Brett and Jamie Lee Curtis all seemed to share my own attraction to not only the man’s talent, but his warmth and gentleness.

As time went on, David expanded his artistic output to writing plays like the timeless “The Stupid Life of The Montagues” and his unproduced but utterly delightful satire on Canadian Theatre “Toronto Star”.

After Carol passed away, he withdrew somewhat from the stage, but  wrote radio plays for CBC and became a familiar voice on commercials.

The last time David and I took the stage together was at a 30th Anniversary benefit for The Factory Theatre, performing the penultimate scene from George F. Walker’s “Theatre of the Film Noir”, a play which might’ve been the best work we ever did.

David Noir

David Bolt passed away unexpectedly last Saturday and it feels as if half of my fondest moments in the theatre departed with him.

I can’t imagine the heartbreak his leaving has visited on his lovely wife Sarah or his wonderful son, Lt. Col Alexander Bolt –- still affectionately remembered as “Lightning” by those of us once tasked with keeping track of him during rehearsals.

Perhaps the void that has descended with David’s final curtain is best addressed not by memory but a rededication how he lived his own life, taking the experience of theatre and culture to places and people who’ve never had the experience of them.

I don’t know that David ever saw himself as the pioneer or ground-breaking artist he certainly was. I think he just accepted that he was a part of something that began long ago and will continue long after we’re gone and that you use the moment you’re given to be the best you can be as both an artist and a man.

So long, buddy. I can’t wait to work with you again.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

The Burka Revisited


I seldom republish a post from the vault. But over the last week a troubling trend in my social media circles made me decide to do just that.

Recently, the Canadian government opposed a woman who wanted to take her oath of citizenship with her face hidden by a niqab.

Given there’s an election going on, this has been seized upon by so-called “Progressives” to bash Prime Minister Harper and his party as bigots and racists.

Many of those attacking the anti-niqab decision have regularly posted or altered their status photos to show support for a woman’s right to choose, to celebrate Gay pride and otherwise defend the rights of the individual.

And I’m sure they see a woman’s request for her cultural beliefs to be respected as worthy of support –- instead of recognizing what it really is, the right of a male dominated culture to continue the subjugation of their wives, mothers, sisters and daughters.

There seems no understanding that the culture for which they are advocating also supports the execution of homosexuals, the brutalization of victims of rape and female genital mutilation.

It’s a culture that also sees nothing amiss when a father or brother murders a female member of their household to uphold the family’s “honor”.

This week in Australia a young Muslim woman was murdered by her father for the crime of having condoms in her purse. And Canadians in particular need look no further than the case of Mohammed Safia to know what the Niqab actually represents.

What follows was first posted eight years ago. It would seem to need repeating:


When I was still acting, I was doing a play in London, England. One afternoon, I wandered into Harrods. Their book department included one of the largest magazine displays I’d ever seen and I often dropped by to pick up reading material I'd never encountered before.

This particular afternoon, I stumbled across something far more interesting.

A very wealthy looking Arab guy walked in, followed closely by a woman dressed in the complete burka, veiled and robed so heavily and completely, you could only see her eyes. He said something that I took for “Wait here!” and left her by the magazines as he went off to find a clerk.

He was looking for something apparently hard to find for the clerk had soon taken him deep into the stacks. The woman perused the magazine stand for a moment, looked around to make sure nobody was watching and moved to the Fashion section.

Then, making sure she couldn’t be detected, she took the corner of an issue of "Vogue" between two fingers and peeled it back ever so slightly so she could peek inside.

From where I was standing, I could see the utter amazement in her eyes as she stared at the high fashion models visible inside the barely open pages. Taking another glance to make sure she hadn't been seen by her male companion, she cautiously fingered her way onto another page, staring again at images clearly forbidden to her.

A moment later, the guy and the clerk were back, sorting through a number of books, so she had to turn from the magazine and stand around like she wasn’t looking at anything.

As the two men haggled over something or another, I went over, picked up the copy of "Vogue" and stood near the woman, flipped it wide open and slowly turned page after page as if I was studying each photograph in detail, but making sure she could see the pictures.

This went on for about 20 minutes. He glanced at me a couple of times, probably assuming I was gay or some kind of haute couture perv and finally called her over as he bought his book.

I put the magazine back and went back to browsing. A couple of minutes later, they left, with her once again following a few steps behind him. As the woman passed, she turned her eyes toward me with the warmest look I’ve probably ever had from a woman.

I wonder if any of these guys have any idea what’s really going on the heads of their wives, sisters and daughters -- or how much better their marriages and their lives would be if they did.

Monday, October 05, 2015

Lazy Sunday # 396: Theatre for the Blind

This post is late, I know. But technically, where I am, it’s still Sunday.

And I’m late because I spent a good portion of the day participating in an experiment. An experiment to find and entertain a new audience for Canadian theatre.

Everybody knows that theatre attendance is down across the country. Scan the audience of almost any theatre company and on most nights you could just as well be in church. A lot of grey heads. More affluence than a reflection of the streets outside.

We need new audiences, new blood. But in the Netflix era, with all kinds of entertainment options easily accessible via a computer or Smart TV, live theatre is no longer on everybody’s radar.

So why not offer it to an audience who can’t even see the play?

Those of us who work or have worked in theatre know it’s primarily an audial experience. Yeah, the sets and costumes and lighting and stagecraft contribute enormously. But at its heart the theatre is dialogue enhanced by performance.

But what if technology could supply what a sightless person misses, enriching their experience?

This afternoon, Victoria’s Belfry Theatre played its current hit show, David Mamet’s “Speed The Plow” for an audience that was largely blind.

White canes and sunglasses were a common sight in the crowd. Guide dogs lounged before the front row, pleased to be in a space they’d never experienced and giddy to be among so many of their canine profession.

Prior to the opening curtain, sightless audience members were supplied with an easy to use handheld receiver and headset supplied by Vocaleye, Canada’s first live descriptive arts service for the blind.

Ten minutes before the show, their audio guide began broadcasting to them, describing the set, the actors and the costumes, giving them as much information as possible to enhance their enjoyment of the play.

Once the show had started, they were fed descriptions of the action and, from time to time, brief snippets of physical performance – “she smiles”, “Charlie smacks Bobby on the back of his head”. All unheard by any without a headset.

If the final applause were any measure, the experiment was an enormous success. Afterward, those wishing to participate were given a “touch tour” of the stage, able to handle props, try out the furniture and speak with the cast and crew.

I got the feeling a lot of people who’d never before attended a play were intent on coming back.

You can learn more about Vocaleye here. Consider mentioning the service to a theatre company you know and/or love and…

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Lazy Sunday # 395: Sick of Television

There used to be this silver lining to getting a cold. Not only did you get to snuggle under covers for a day with a nice cup of tea or bowl of chicken soup. But you could turn on the tube and bask in the glow of whatever was on.

I can’t remember the last time I actually sat down to watch a block of network programming let alone what was broadcast in the morning or afternoon.

TV for me has become streamed movies, live sports and content without commercials. And I’m not alone.

The 2015-2016 Primetime season is barely a week old and already in trouble with some shows down as much as 17% from last season, while few new ones have made an impact.

But I decided to struggle through the day and see if there was anything I was missing.

And I wasn’t.

Same old beleaguered doctors, detectives with special powers, comic book heroes and comically mismatched roommates.

Reality shows that are clones of other reality shows with few if any redeeming values. Talent competitions mostly populated by people who aren’t.

It didn’t take me long to realize that the good moments of almost everything had already been clipped and uploaded to Youtube, where I could get the same content with a far smaller investment of time and no intrusion by  commercials repeated ad nauseum (which is I assume where that phrase comes from).

By the time I got to the CBC trying to pass off a listless Montreal-Toronto pre-season tilt as “another chapter in the league’s most storied rivalry”, I realized there was a reason the network is selling off most of its real estate…

Television might not be over, but we’ve definitely reached the twilight of the brick and mortar version.

When any idiot can deliver a cooking, travel, real estate or talent show without ever entering a studio or edit suite, just what are those buildings really for?

And when the quality of a web series shot in somebody’s garage generates as much cultural impact as most of the broadcast schedule, who needs to house an army of gate-keepers and development execs?

Moreover, I realized that the formats of networks have become a parody of themselves. When you can’t tell the difference between a clip from the Onion and one from a flagship morning show, it really is time for the industry to move on.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Lazy Sunday #394: The Battle of Britain

The Battle of Britain, one of the defining battles of World War Two took place 75 years ago, from July until October 1940, and is officially commemorated by Canadians today.

More than 100 of our airmen took part in the fight to defeat Hitler’s attempt to wipe out the Allied air forces and gain control of the last free skies in Europe.

My father served in the RCAF during WWII, but didn’t make it overseas until the Battle of Britain was over. But some of his friends and friends he made later in life took part.

I met one of them when he was well into his 90’s. Still clear-eyed and vibrant –- and still humble about what he and a handful of others had accomplished.

We sat in a pub over pints of British ale and he told me his stories. The dog fights. The days of multiple kills. The loss of many companions.

In the end, he said, it didn’t feel like a battle had been won, so much as breathing room gained to carry on the fight.

When I asked about the lighter moments, he glanced at his glass and smiled. “They used to put saltpeter in our beer back then,” he said. “And you know, I think it’s starting to work”.

There’s a trait I’ve noticed in people who’ve done truly great things. They don’t think what they did was really a big deal. It was just a task that needed to be accomplished.

I also don’t think any of them feel a need to be appreciated. The satisfaction of a job well done was reward enough.

The so few owed so much by so many are even fewer now and deserve our acknowledgement and respect. But I think we also mark these moments to remind ourselves that someday we too may be called to do something selfless and courageous and important to preserving our way of life.

As always, there will be few who step up to take on the task at hand. And as always, the rest of us will know this forever sets them apart, if only by exemplifying a rare but enduring trait of the human spirit –- the willingness to place others above self.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Lazy Sunday # 393: Greasers

I admit it. I was once a Greaser.

Halfa handful of Brylcreem every morning. Comb jutting from the back pocket of my pegged jeans. Tight T-shirt and polished to a sheen pointy shoes that would come in handy if you had to put the boots to a guy. Grade Eight in Regina could get rough.

A year later, the Beatles arrived and I evolved. But a lot of guys around me didn’t. They’d made a commitment.

It mighta been to hot rods or hogs.  Could be they felt the need to emulate Brando or the King, the guys who’d given them their image in the first place.

Some just didn’t want to move on from Do-Wop and the Rock ‘n Roll that had been their soundtrack in the 50’s. And who could blame them. That stuff still cooks today.

But we still made fun and by the 70’s the Greaser had become a reliable comedy stock character in the culture. Like “The Fonz” and the cast of “Grease”, eternally believing they were still cool while the rest of us knew otherwise.

A lot of cover bands came along to replicate the Rock of the 50’s while making fun of it as well. Perhaps the most famous being “Sha-Na-Na”.

I don’t know if they were a record company manufactured boy band or somebody’s concept for re-inventing nostalgia, but I hated “Sha-Na-Na”.

To me, they almost sneered their way through every classic oldie they performed. Intimating that they weren’t really serious about what they were doing and also found it fun to ridicule the musicians from whose work they made a living parodying.

That didn’t stop them from being enormously successful, of course. They had Gold records and a hit TV variety series that ran for 5 years.

Then –- sometime in the 80’s while touring a play in England, somebody turned me on to a British version of Sha-Na-Na also named after a Do-Wop nonsense lyric. A sweet glam rock octet called “Showaddywaddy”.

“Showaddywaddy” was a revelation. An accomplished group of English rockers who not only performed the Oldies with the passion and respect they deserved, but wrote new music in the same genre.

Unfortunately, “Showaddywaddy” never really made it across the pond. And more’s the pity. They were probably better than most of the American groups that had inspired them.

I offer two of their UK hits for your consideration. A Classic Do-Wop tune and one of their originals. If this is your first exposure to the band, there’s a large selection of their hits on Youtube.

And if you’re just an old Greaser like me, I know what follows will help you –- Enjoy Your Sunday…

Sunday, September 06, 2015

Lazy Sunday # 392: The Prison Of Belief

Beautiful Summer day in the 1970’s. I’m this cutie pie actor guy tripping down Yonge Street in Toronto. New to the big city and without a care in the world.

Guy steps out of a doorway and offers me a free book. No kidding? Yeah, buddy. It’s a great book. will solve all your problems and turn you into a superhero. Okay, thanks.

But he stopped me from leaving. Friendly and engaging. Would I like to see how it works? Okay, I got nothing pressing.

A few minutes later I’m sitting in a room holding two soup cans with the labels torn off and being asked about my deepest fears.

Maybe it’s the small town Prairie boy in me. But I started sensing I was in the company of one of those “city-slickers” some of the relatives had warned me about.

I passed on the free test assessment and the free lecture to follow. Read about two chapters of the book and binned it.

Maybe a year later, I had a girlfriend who had a best friend who was pretty high up in “the church”. She gave me a free copy of the same book, insisting that my growing success could be put into hyper-drive.

A little while later, girlfriend and I were over and her buddy called to sympathize. She knew her “Church” could help. When I assured her I’d probably survive, I got hit with some of the most vile, manipulative behavior I’ve ever encountered.

It was a kind of pressure designed to buckle somebody truly in emotional distress. Struck me as not the sort of people I wanted to have anything further to do with.

Over the years since, being in the show business, I’ve met dozens of artists and celebs who were acolytes of “the church”. A few tried to recruit me. Most haven’t bothered. And I haven’t bothered challenging them.

Maybe that was the wrong decision…

A few months ago, HBO debuted their stunningly powerful documentary on the Church entitled “Going Clear”. For some reason it held off the Canadian broadcast. Tonight that changes.

Or it changes right now if you go to the bottom of this post.

“Going Clear” will leave you both numb and angry. But it is entirely worth viewing.

But you won’t walk away feeling good about what the institution has perpetrated on both its detractors and its believers.

So, before you get to those emotions, make sure you –- Enjoy Your Sunday.

For those who want to watch “Going Clear” on HBO, here’s a taste.

For those without HBO, the film is already on Youtube. You can find it here.

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Behold The New Flesh

It’s been a difficult Summer in Hollywood.

Now, the lead up to any new season is always fraught with uncertainty and concern. But there seems to be far more of it this time around.

For although the traditional Fall launch of programs has been diminished by a now year round debut of new programming, the major networks have still been preparing to drop 20 new series onto the airwaves over the next two months.

Twenty new hours and half hours. Some replacing series that had run their course to be sure, but most taking the slots of other new shows which foundered during what is widely considered a disastrous 2014-2015 season.

During the recent TV Critics preview of the coming attractions, FX network’s CEO John Landgraf expressed concern that there was now “Too much good TV”, which precipitated a lot of the media to suggest we have reached “Peak TV”, meaning that there are simply too many quality shows for anyone to see them all.

And somehow that’s a bad thing?

Let’s be real. This is less about what we’re watching than where we’re watching it –- and who controls what’s being served.

You have always had to be good to get an audience. But now you have to be even better.

In Hollywood this apparently means, the network has to exert even greater corporate control over what is produced.

Therefore, the normal interference in pilots has increased exponentially. So far, four highly anticipated new series have replaced their show runners, with one operating with two separate writing rooms, the original writing team being kept around in case the new one stumbles.

In addition, ten freshman series have replaced members of their casts, sometimes multiple members, and in one case both leads, necessitating either full or partial reshoots of their pilots.

Moreover, not much beyond the first couple of episodes of anything is being shot. I guess the thinking is, there will always be time to scramble if an audience actually shows up.

Now on an economic level, and with the exorbitant cost of tinkering with a series aside, this panic is a result of the changing showbiz reality.

Viewers not only have the option now of getting their series fix from Netflix or Amazon, but they are cutting the cable cord in record numbers and advertisers are going elsewhere.

Here in Canada, a record 240,000 homes opted to do without a cable subscription in 2014, a number expected to grow significantly in 2015. Meanwhile, revenue at the national broadcaster dropped 56% in the last quarter alone.

Therefore, as much lip service has been given lately to the “singular vision” of a showrunner, that concept has been deep-sixed in favor of the kind of constant meddling that seldom produces good television.

William Goldman’s famous adage “Nobody knows anything” has now been joined by something far more threatening. “Anybody can do this”.

Back in the day, network executives would append impossible or self-serving notes with a nod to your talents and the suggested trust they still had in your abilities by saying, “Hey, if it was easy, anybody could do it”.

Deep down you sensed that anybody could do a watchable show that delivered a rewarding viewing experience ESPECIALLY if they weren’t working for people who changed their minds all the time and were shackled to quarterly earnings reports.

And now, thanks to rapidly developing technologies and a growing number of talented people who don’t fit the network profile, a lot of anybodys are making very watchable shows.

And it’s not just Netflix and Amazon who are finding them. Some just put the stuff out there all on their own.

Sara Botsford, Chris Brown and the talented crew and “not quite ready for prime time” cast initially funded themselves on Kickstarter to produce a web series entitled “Those Damn Canadians” which has now moved into its second season.

The webcast, which follows the trials of a group of creative ex-pats in LA, is just as funny as many network offerings with greater production value than most of the stuff which gets government funding in Canada.

I’m not sure how they survive while doing it and while some might consider webcasts small potatoes, each one (and there are thousands out there) takes a set of eyes away from prime time programming by providing what works for an audience rather than a network marketing plan.

Meanwhile, what once was dismissed as “fan-fiction” or “nerd porn” is challenging several well-known franchises. Again without money, without a regular time slot or distribution deal and certainly without big picture executive thinking.

In Hollywood parlance, these films are now referred to as “unauthorized projects”. And far fewer are receiving cease and desist letters from studio legal departments. That’s because of a growing awareness that rights holders can’t afford to piss off the fan base of any lucrative franchise.

Recently, LA based Axanar Productions released a half hour “Star Trek” spin-off entitled “Prelude to Axanar” subsequently raising a half million dollars to produce a feature version that probably can’t be exploited financially.

This suggests one of two possible outcomes.

The first, that “Star Trek” rights holders will strike a deal to share in the exploitation of Axanar’s product despite having no input in its creation. Or –- that the people who created this film will use it to launch an original concept of their own, again without the need of studio/network oversight.

Either way, creatives and audiences benefit, while the need for product to be micro-managed disappears.

These examples and the possibility of even greater consumer empowerment next week with the reboot of AppleTV, suggest that we’re far from Peak television and on the verge of seeing the last of the decrepit and outmoded network model for making it.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Lazy Sunday # 391: Exploration

I’m not sure I’d call myself a Libertarian. But I have a growing concern about how much some people, governments in particular want to intrude into our lives.

I watch politicians of all stripes play to their own bases by listing the restrictions they’d like to impose on “those other guys”.

I see religions demanding people behave in ways people are not biologically built to behave.

I observe corporations bullying us into doing things that work better for them than for us.

And because of all this I have developed a theory that the exploration of Space was curtailed not because of cost or tragic accidents.

I believe it was backed off because it would have given too many people an option. The option to be somewhere where they couldn’t be controlled.

The dream of colonizing space was a brilliant one and one worth reviving. If you ask me, it’s the essential DNA of the Human Spirit. You know, to just “boldly go”.

Given what’s going on around the planet at the moment, the time might not be better.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Ryan J Thompson - EXPLORATION from Ryan Thompson on Vimeo.

Friday, August 28, 2015

The Buck Up List

As the Canadian election process drags on, I’ve noticed many in my social media circles publishing comments critical of one party or another. All fair game to be sure.

But as the days pass I also notice more insults and name calling as well as people getting downright mean to those who disagree with them.

Meanwhile, in my own life, I got a call from the wife of one of the guys I went to school with, letting me know that he’d passed away. She also forwarded me a copy of something she’d found in his desk.

When it arrived, I recognized it immediately. It was the “Buck Up List”.

The buck up list was born somewhere around Grade 8.

Something had happened at school or in class that got all of us kids quite exercised. Thinking back, I have absolutely no recollection of what it was. But it led to ongoing arguments, a few fights and a lot of name calling.

All of us seemed to go out of our way to be unpleasant with one another. Our teacher did his best to referee, but it was clear nobody was budging.

So one Friday afternoon, he asked us to look around the class and write down one thing –- just one –- that we liked or admired about each of our classmates.

The writing took a long time. And I can remember making eye contact with a couple of those who weren’t on my side of the feud, all of us struggling a little to find something positive to say.

As soon as we were done, our teacher asked us to hand in our comments unsigned and dismissed us for the weekend.

Monday morning he handed back typed lists he had made over the weekend of all the comments that had been made about each of us. He dubbed it our “Buck Up List”.

It was quite a revelation to read an endless page of compliments, discovering people thought you were great at things you yourself didn’t think you were or had admirable personality traits you didn’t know you possessed.

All of us were kinda stunned. I noticed one or two of the girls brushing aside tears. It might’ve been the biggest boost to our self esteem any of us had ever had.

None of us knew who had said the words we most took to heart, for all we knew they may have even come from the person we had decided to hate the most.

Our teacher suggested we put our page somewhere safe and pull it out anytime we were feeling down or defeated or without the tools required to overcome one of Life’s hardships.

I bet we all did. And although I long ago lost mine, my friend had hung onto his. His list also included hand-written guesses as to who he thought (or maybe hoped) had said something nice about him.

I honestly don’t remember if I was the author of the comment he attributed to me. But I noticed that the girl who found him “really cute” had become his wife.

The anonymity of social media and the fact that we don’t see the reactions to our words allows us to be far less restrained in what we put out there. I wonder what would happen if we were as equally unbridled in our praise…