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‘The Body in Question’ explains life itself, like Carl Sagan’s ‘Cosmos’ explained the solar system
10.23.2013
04:19 pm
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First broadcast in America by PBS in 1979 (in Great Britain it aired the year before) Jonathan Miller’s classic 13-part series on the history of medicine, The Body in Question, was one of the most celebrated PBS “big events” of that decade. The creator’s goal? To explain life itself to a mainstream television audience.

The Body in Question, an internationally funded production spearheaded by the BBC, did for medical science and physiology what Lord Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation, Jacob Bronowski’s The Ascent of Man and Carl Sagan’s Cosmos did for Western art, history and our understanding of the universe. Like these other series, Miller’s program is regarded as a landmark in long-form television documentaries, but unlike them, it has curiously never been made available for the home video market. This is beyond tragic, but The Body in Question can now be seen on YouTube.

Although Jonathan Miller is a well-known and (generally) much-beloved pillar of British society—a member of that endangered species they used to refer to as “public intellectuals”—sadly, he is less recognized as a freakishly smart cultural treasure in the former colonies. This was not always true. For a few years at least, Miller was actually somewhat of a frequent sight on American television. More than once he appeared on five daily episodes of Dick Cavett’s PBS series in a row. These marathon conversations made for some of the most fascinating television I’d ever seen and I recall taping the audio from the TV speaker so I could at least listen to them again. Although I have not heard these tapes since I was probably 15, I can still hear, in my mind’s ear, Miller explaining to Cavett about Franz Mesmer, “mesmerism” and hypnotism. (And indeed here that show is, via Dick Cavett’s New York Times blog.)

When I was a kid, Jonathan Miller seemed absolutely heroically brilliant to me (he still does, I hasten to add). I didn’t find out about him via The Body in Question or the Cavett shows, I knew of him because of the “Original Broadway Cast Recording” (the American version, in other words) of the Tony-winning satirical revue, Beyond The Fringe (which also starred Peter Cook, Dudley Moore and the great playwright Alan Bennett). A friend of mine’s father had seen the show on Broadway in the 60s and he owned the record. Because I was such a Monty Python nerd, I’d read about Beyond the Fringe. Eventually, I was pulling it out and listening to it every time I was at their house and he told me I could just have it. I still have it. I also still have my copy of the coffee table book of the series, as seen above. When The Body in Question aired, to my pre-teen mind, it was hosted by the comedian who did the Bertrand Russell imitation—not to mention the Shakespearean character who refuses to die (“Now is steel ‘twixt gut and bladder interposed!”)—in Beyond The Fringe. He was also a doctor? And he directed Gilbert and Sullivan?

Jonathan Miller seemed to be the single most erudite man alive.

But back to the series, The Body in Question is on YouTube in decent quality, and if you’ve never seen it, it’s an amazing treat. I guarantee that you will be smarter after you’ve watched it. Miller was the first person ever to perform an autopsy on a human cadaver on television, an act that would have seen him put to death just a few centuries earlier, not that they had TV back then, of course.
 

Posted by Richard Metzger
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10.23.2013
04:19 pm
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‘Toast of London’: Matt Berry in must-see new Britcom about a sleazy, pompous middle-aged actor
10.22.2013
04:46 pm
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If you haven’t heard, comedic genius Matt Berry (Snuff Box, The IT Crowd, Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace) has an outrageously funny new comedy series on Channel4 called Toast of London. It’s one of the most adventuresome comedies to debut on British television in some time. (What up with that BBC comedy commissioners?)

Sharply written by Berry and Father Ted‘s Arthur Matthews, the show revolves around the career and sexual exploits of one Steven Toast, a sleazy, egotistical middle-aged thespian. It’s pretty much the perfect role for Matt Berry and must have been a lot of fun to write. Berry told Radio Times that the character was inspired by some of the unsuccessful actors he met doing voiceover work.

It’s seriously funny stuff, jump on Toast of London right away.

Below, the Toast of London pilot from 2012
 

Posted by Richard Metzger
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10.22.2013
04:46 pm
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‘In Search of Ancient Astronauts’: The Outer Space Connection
10.21.2013
07:00 pm
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In Search of Ancient Astronauts is a 1973 TV movie that’s an edited down and re-dubbed (by Rod Serling) version of a 1970 German documentary titled Erinnerungen an die Zukunft (“Chariots of the Gods”). The film explores Swiss author Erich von Däniken “paleo-contact” and “ancient astronauts” theories that space aliens landed on Earth in prehistoric times and were responsible for many of mankind’s oldest mysteries and religious myths, including Stonehenge, the Egyptian pyramids, the Nazca lines and the Moai of Easter Island.

Erich von Däniken’s books were absolutely huge best sellers throughout the 1970s, but his work has always been shunned by establishment archaeologists, historians and religious scholars. Carl Sagan referred to his work as “object lessons in sloppy thinking.”

What was not widely-known about him then is that at the time of his first book’s success, von Däniken was in prison on fraud and embezzlement charges. Over a period of twelve years von Däniken had falsified records and credit references of his employer, the Hotel Rosenhügel in Davos, Switzerland, in order to take out loans totaling $130,000 to pay for his book’s research expenses, which included world travel to exotic places. His second book, Gods from Outer Space, was written while he was in prison and with the money earned from publishing—his books sold in the millions—-he was able to pay restitution on his crimes and get out early.

And although he apparently went legit—and seems to believe what he espouses—many feel that this hotel manager cum “expert on the ancient world” is still on the make and accuse him of lying and falsifying evidence. Erich von Däniken’s theories have been debunked conclusively over and over and over again, but never mind that, von Däniken is still being taken semi-seriously to this day on TV shows like History Channel’s Ancient Aliens series.

This is what really set off the whole Erich von Däniken craze of the 1970s. In Search of Ancient Astronauts was the blueprint for producer Alan Landsburg’s long-running In Search Of… TV series narrated by Leonard Nimoy.

“This may be the most startling and controversial film you’ll ever see…”

At least it’s campy fun.
 

Posted by Richard Metzger
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10.21.2013
07:00 pm
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Federico Fellini introduces himself to America
10.21.2013
04:30 pm
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The great Italian director Federico Fellini was in the midst of production on Satyricon—his self-described “sci-fi” film that looked back at the pre-Christian Romans as if they were Martians—when he shot Fellini: A Director’s Notebook, a light-hearted quasi-documentary “introducing” himself to Americans for NBC.

It’s a testament to the times that such a thing could have been broadcast on an American network television. And it’s “a Fellini” in every way, so the project was, shall we say, already quite extraordinary to begin with. That it burst into millions of American homes for one night in 1969, as easily accessed as running water… well, wow. That takes it to a whole other level.

Fellini: A Director’s Notebook features his wife Giulietta Masina, actress Caterina Boratto, composer Nino Rota and Marcello Mastroianni (we even get a look at Mastroianni’s home). We seeing him working on the set. There are also appearances by Genius the Medium, some very Fellini-esque hippies and a variety of whimsical and eccentric characters who come into the director’s office wanting to audition for him. Fellini descends into the subways, goes to a slaughterhouse and visits the Appian Way, all the while discussing his creative search for atmosphere and the bizarre.

As with all of Fellini’s films, this boasts some of the most extraordinary faces—the faces, as he says of “real Romans”—that you’ll ever see. The master’s eye was so attuned to the smallest detail in his films, but it’s Fellini’s faces that are unique in all of cinema. Every face in this film is a work of art.
 

Posted by Richard Metzger
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10.21.2013
04:30 pm
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Watch Bob Dylan’s seldom-seen NBC TV special, ‘Hard Rain’ while you still can…
10.21.2013
02:16 pm
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When Hard Rain, Bob Dylan’s much ballyhooed NBC TV special aired on September 14, 1976, I was nine years old. I’d “discovered” Dylan earlier that year and owned his Greatest Hits album and the single of “Tangled Up in Blue,” which I thought was the greatest song ever recorded. I eagerly anticipated the night that a Hard Rain was a-gonna be broadcast.

However, Hard Rain just perplexed me. I was expecting something more… professional, I suppose, and this was really loose and informal, the opposite of a slick rock show. I couldn’t understand why he didn’t do more of his hits or play his songs the way the audience wanted to hear them, the “right way.”

I’d also been reading about how the Rolling Thunder Revue tour was supposed to have all of this crackling, joyous onstage energy and musical camaraderie among the musicians (Joan Baez, T-Bone Burnett, David Mansfield, Gary Burke, Roger McGuinn, Bob Neuwirth, Scarlet Rivera, Luther Rix, Kinky Friedman, Mick Ronson, Steven Soles, Rob Stoner, Howie Wyeth), but as you can see, the energy is downright subdued, barely a smile is cracked. By the time this performance was shot—May 23, 1976 at Hughes Stadium in Fort Collins, Colorado—the Revue seems to have run out of steam. Only four of the eleven performances actually heard in the broadcast (“Maggie’s Farm”, “One Too Many Mornings”, “Shelter from the Storm” and “Idiot Wind”) were included on the Hard Rain live album released ten days before the special aired. Rob Stoner would later remark that Dylan had been “hitting the bottle all weekend” and speculated that the album’s sloppy “punk” energy was a result of that bender. The fact that Dylan and his soon-to-be ex-wife, Sara, had been arguing for the entire Colorado stay may have also contributed to what went down onstage (Watch him spit out “Idiot Wind. It’s easy to interpret this performance as a “fuck you” to her.)

Although the program was highly touted in advance by NBC—Bob Dylan even made the cover of TV Guide, it doesn’t get anymore mainstream than that—it fared poorly in the ratings and has never been released on DVD. Below is Hard Rain as it was recorded off air in 1976, when it was presented by Craig Audio. Dylan thanks Arthur Rimbaud at the end and there’s a credit to poet Anne Waldman for the “headgear.”

Although this was posted a year ago, as often happens with videos we link to on this blog, I wouldn’t expect this one to last forever…
 

 
Thank you Michael Simmons!

Posted by Richard Metzger
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10.21.2013
02:16 pm
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‘I’m a profoundly ignorant Carl Sagan’ admits ‘Barnacle Bill’s Semi-Factual Nautical Tales’ creator
10.21.2013
09:40 am
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Barnacle Bill’s Semi-Factual Nautical Tales is a fun new Australian TV series from Doug Bayne—he’s one half of the team behind the ultra-dirty, totally hilarious “Oglaf” comic—and Craig Anderson (The Elegant Gentleman’s Guide to Knife Fighting, Double the Fist). It’s “loosely” inspired by Carl Sagan’s famous Cosmos series, except that unlike the late scientist, they’ve got no budget for decent special effects and not much actual knowledge about the matters they cover.  Bayne says:

“Then I started thinking ‘I can make animations and know nothing at all about science - I’m like a profoundly ignorant Carl Sagan. I can use animation to share my ignorance with the world.’”

The duo describe their series as “an incredible voyage of discovery.”

Bayne’s “Oglaf” partner, illustrator Trudy Cooper is also involved with the production, which goes out at 11:40pm on Friday nights on ABC1. You can watch each short episode after they’ve aired on ABC’s website.
 

 
Thank you Taylor Jessen!

Posted by Richard Metzger
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10.21.2013
09:40 am
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Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward at home, 1958
10.18.2013
11:04 am
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namwendrawdoow.jpg
 
On December 26th, 1958, Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward were interviewed at home, in their Greenwich Village duplex apartment. The couple had just moved from California the week prior, and their new dwelling was still filled with unpacked belongings when veteran TV broadcaster Edward R. Murrow came visiting via a video-link-up.

Woodward and Newman were nearly a year married, and Joanne was pregnant with the couple’s first child, Nell. Newman joked that an original painting of George Bernard Shaw will hang over the baby’s crib “as we believe in osmosis.”

Joanne had recently won an Oscar for her performance in The Three Faces of Eve, while Newman had picked up the Best Actor Award at the Cannes Film Festival and was in the running for an Oscar for his performance in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (The award went to David Niven for Separate Tables.) Woodward describes her Academy Award as “her favorite child, until I have this one.” Her next favorite child is Newman’s “Noscar”, which was presented to the actor upon not being nominated for an Oscar in 1957. Newman would be nominated five times as Best Actor before eventually winning his Oscar for The Color of Money in 1986.

When asked about his “rebel” status, Newman put his head in his hands, then remarked it was “A sore point”:

“We live, in what I call, an age of conformity, where you have to travel with the herd, and if you don’t travel with the herd, and you don’t say ‘Yes’ to that little man that’s leading the pack, why you are branded as a ‘rebel.’ I am trying desperately, I hope, to be an individual. I think there’s quite a bit of difference.”

It’s all harmless and innocent enough, but in the great scheme of things, this kind of TV access, eventually (and dishearteningly) led to Keeping Up With the Kardashians—o, how far we’ve fallen.
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher
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10.18.2013
11:04 am
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How Jimi Hendrix got himself banned from the BBC
10.18.2013
10:30 am
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luluandjimi
Please, Jimi, don’t sabotage my TV show…

In 1969 the producers of pop singer Lulu’s BBC variety show thought it was a great idea to book The Jimi Hendrix Experience.

Lulu was typecast as a squeaky clean, non-threatening, sweet entertainer who had multi-generational appeal. Despite her disapproval of marijuana, which prompted her then-husband Bee Gee Maurice Gibb to fling the windows of their home open for several minutes in all weather prior to her arrival, she was cooler than she was given credit for, even before her cameo appearances on Absolutely Fabulous. This is a woman who, in addition to a brief fling with David Bowie in the ‘70s, had the guts to scream at John Lennon for ignoring his first wife at a party to flirt with other women.

Hendrix had enjoyed recent success in the U.K. with “Hey Joe,” and the idea was for Lulu to sing the last few bars with him as a duet on her January 4, 1969 show before transitioning to her usual closing song. The producers had even suggested the unthinkable possibility of Jimi and Lulu singing a duet on “To Sir With Love,” her biggest hit.

Things didn’t quite work out that way.

Hendrix and the band were horrified at the idea of a duet with Lulu. The unflappable bassist Noel Redding wrote in his autobiography Are You Experienced? The Inside Story of The Jimi Hendrix Experience that the band tried to relax by smoking a lump of hash in the dressing room, which they accidentally dropped down the sink. Redding said:

I found a maintenance man and begged tools from him with the story of a lost ring. He was too helpful, offering to dismantle the drain for us. It took ages to dissuade him, but we succeeded in our task and had a great smoke.

After playing “Voodoo Child” as planned, Jimi allowed a blast of feedback to “accidentally” interrupt Lulu’s introduction of “Hey Joe.” The by now baked band played a few minutes of song before Jimi stopped abruptly. “We’d like to stop playing this rubbish,” he told the straight, ordinary, respectable, and totally bewildered audience. He then announced an impromptu tribute to Cream, who had just disbanded, and flew into an instrumental version of “Sunshine of Your Love.”

Lulu’s show producer Stanley Dorfman paused his nervous breakdown long enough to repeatedly point to his watch as they played out the show. Redding said:

Short of running onto the set to stop us or pulling the plug, there was nothing he could do. We played past the point where Lulu might have joined us, played through the time for talking at the end, played through Stanley tearing his hair, pointing to his watch and silently screaming at us.

As a result of this prank Hendrix was banned from appearing on the BBC. Eight years later when Elvis Costello was similarly banned from Saturday Night Live for stopping in the middle of “Less Than Zero” and playing “Radio Radio” instead, he admitted that he was copping Jimi’s move.

Posted by Kimberly J. Bright
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10.18.2013
10:30 am
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‘Captain Midnight’ hacks HBO
10.17.2013
04:18 pm
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Deep into the night during an HBO broadcast of The Falcon and the Snowman in April 1986, subscribers were startled to see the start of the action interrupted by a four-and-a-half-minute transmission from a certain “Captain Midnight.” Over a test pattern, the message from Captain Midnight ran as follows:
 

GOODEVENING HBO
FROM CAPTAIN MIDNIGHT
$12.95/MONTH ?
NO WAY !
[SHOWTIME/MOVIE CHANNEL BEWARE!]

 
Captain Midnight turned out to be a John MacDougall, an engineer at a satellite transmission facility in Ocala, Florida. MacDougall’s hacker attack was motivated by frustration at HBO, who he felt was overcharging satellite customers and hurting his satellite dish business. MacDougall was sentenced to one year’s probation and a $5,000 fine.

MacDougall’s annoyance had to do with a change in HBO’s decision to deny free access to their signals, as had been the case earlier:
 

Back in the early-80s, satellite dish owners were responsible for owning and servicing their own equipment but had access to any satellite broadcasted programming including that of cable providers. In the mid-80s, cable channels began scrambling their programming and charging fees to home satellite dish owners who accessed the signals requiring many satellite dish owners were forced to purchase expensive descrambling equipment in addition to paying monthly or annual subscription fees to cable programming providers. Satellite. When HBO scrambled its signal, it offered subscriptions to home dish owners for $12.95 per month, which was either equal to or slightly higher than what cable subscribers paid. Dish owners were not happy and it triggered a national movement among dish owners to more strongly regulate the cable industry and force them to stop anti-competitive pricing.

 
On April 27, 1986, MacDougall was working at Central Florida Teleport, overseeing the uplink of the movie Pee-wee’s Big Adventure for the pay-per-view network People’s Choice (now defunct). At the end of his shift, he aimed it at the location of the satellite that carried HBO. As a protest against the introduction of those high fees and scrambling equipment, he transmitted his signal, which briefly overrode HBO’s own signal.

Finding out the identity of Captain Midnight was no easy task. The FCC reasonably started with the premise that the perpetrator must have had access to a large dish with a powerful transmitter. The signature of the color bar test pattern further narrowed down their search. The investigation received a big boost when a witness reported hearing a conversation on a pay phone in which the caller kept referring to himself as “Captain Midnight.” The search took several months.
 

 
via Museum of Hoaxes

Posted by Martin Schneider
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10.17.2013
04:18 pm
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‘Happy Little Trees’: Bob Ross explains his mission in the first episode of ‘The Joy of Painting’
10.17.2013
10:53 am
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Bob Ross
 
I looooooove Bob Ross. Don’t get me wrong; I would consider anyone hanging one of his pieces in their home a domestic terrorist. I find his actual paintings schlocky and sentimental, but I love his attitude, accessibility, and his crusade to enable any would-be painter. So many people are too intimidated to even attempt making art. There’s something truly wonderful about a warm, encouraging voice teaching you a few basic techniques in the comfort of your own home. And “warm and soothing” was the Bob Ross trademark.

Ross actually developed his painting technique in the US Air Force, and while he assumed a “tough guy” demeanor on duty, it never really sat well with him. Hoping to leave the service someday, he wished to lead a more gentle lifestyle, and swore “never to scream again.”  Below is the beginning of the first episode of The Joy of Painting, (before he knew the show would run for 11 years), wherein Bob Ross soothes the ever-loving-fuck out of his audience members, and holds their collective hand through the process.

You didn’t have to be an expert, you didn’t even have to be good. Bob Ross was art therapy.
 

 
Via The Wall Breakers

Posted by Amber Frost
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10.17.2013
10:53 am
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