Mark Your Calendars and Send Me Your Address: Class of ’87 Reunion

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I don’t know which is more difficult to wrap my head around: the fact that this summer will mark 30 years since I graduated from high school, or the equally far-fetched notion that I — yes, I, Jason Bennion — have ended up in charge of planning my class reunion.

I mean… it’s not like I ever had a notable amount of school spirit back in the day. I was a good student, and I had friends and all, but I just wasn’t much of a joiner. I tended to think of myself as much more of an outcast… a loner, Dottie… a rebel. I went to exactly one football game the whole four years of my high school career, and my attitude about pep rallies was that The Man wasn’t going to tell me what to feel enthusiastic about. If you can find me in the class photo above, you’ll see that attitude pretty clearly on display, I believe.

And yet, as unlikely as you might think based on the wanna-be tough guy I used to be, three decades on I seem to be the one who’s kept in touch with everyone, who still lives in the old neighborhood, who gets sentimental every time one of these big round-number anniversaries rolls around. Somehow I’ve become the nexus for Bingham High’s class of 1987. And so it made sense that I’d end up spearheading this reunion thing.

If any of my old classmates are reading this — does anybody still read this blog? — and you haven’t already heard from other sources, the reunion is going to be Saturday, August 26th. We’re still in the planning stages, but it’ll be outdoors at a county park, BYOB, and strictly casual. And hopefully fun. I’ll post more details as we get things ironed out. Right now, though, I need your help… if you’re a Bingham Miner and you haven’t done it yet, do me a favor and click this link, right now, and register your address there so my fellow planners and I can track you down more easily. The site is self-explanatory, it’s quick and painless, and it’s secure (there are only two people with access to the complete list). As the immortal Arnold Schwarzenneger once said, “Come on, do it… do it now!” And after you’re done there, spread the word to anyone from our class you can think of and make sure they do the same.

Thanks, everyone… and see you in August!

 

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Happy 86th, My Captain

william-shatner_slcomiccon-collageContinuing my silly annual tradition of wishing a happy birthday to William Shatner, a Canadian actor of some note who occupies an inordinate amount of my imagination and childhood memories. He’s turning 86 years young today… and my perennial wish to buy him a drink remains in effect.

And yes, I did gank this image from Salt Lake Comic Con, which has hosted the inimitable Shat twice now. Many happy returns, Bill…

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Well, So Much for That…

She did it to me again...

The Digital Bits had an update this morning on the whole Star Wars thing:

We’ve essentially confirmed that Disney’s current 4K scan of the film is the most recent revised version (essentially the latest “special edition”), not the original theatrical edition. What’s more, Disney’s director of Library Restoration and Preservation, Theo Gluck, held a special event at Ohio State University’s Wexner Center for the Arts last night, a presentation called Animation Restoration at Walt Disney Studios. Gluck was asked there about Star Wars and reported that the original cut negative for the film currently exists in its “SE” configuration only.

 

In addition, 20th Century Fox’s Senior Vice President of Library and Technical Services, Shawn Belston, was also on hand at the Wexner event last night. He confirmed that all of the “trims” removed from the original cut negative (in the mid-1990s, to create the SEs) still exist as well. (Thanks to Bits reader Chuck P., who attended this event, for his firsthand report.) So what does all that mean to you?

 

In summary: While it is essentially technically true that the ‘77 cut negative “no longer exists” in its original state, it is also technically true that it could be re-built if so desired. All of the needed film elements still survive and have been preserved. Nevertheless, if one takes Gluck and Belston at their word (and knowing them as we do, we certainly do) this would seem to be fairly official word that no such reconstruction work has been done to date. Thus, it appears that there is little chance of the original 1977 Star Wars being released on any home video format in 2017.

 

Meanwhile, however, we also know (from checking in again with our sources yesterday) that original high-quality prints of the theatrical editions continue to exist in various film archives around the world, as well as in the hands of private collectors. So… the Saga continues.

Well, shit.

I do not understand — and I will never understand — why one of the great landmarks of cinema history continues to be neglected like this. When I consider the efforts that’ve been made over the years to find an intact print of Metropolis, a 90-year-old silent movie that’s hugely important but which few members of the general public have even heard of, and make sure even that is available for the serious film-history buffs who desire it, the Star Wars situation simply doesn’t make sense to me.

Now, I can hear some of you muttering under your breath, “Ah, Bennion, not this again. The Special Editions really aren’t all that different, and I actually think they’re better in some ways.” I totally disagree, but hey, if that’s your honest feeling, who am I to tell you you’re wrong about something you enjoy watching? It completely misses the point of my argument, though: It wasn’t the revisionist, CGI-filled SEs that had the greatest impact on our culture, or that revolutionized the American film industry. Those are the versions we ought to be celebrating, preserving… and marketing. By rights, the Special Editions ought to be viewed as a novelty, just an interesting experiment, like when Coppola cut all of his Godfather movies into chronological order back in 1992 or whenever that was. But certainly that was never intended as an outright replacement for the originals… and today it’s The Godfather Trilogy: 1901-1980 that’s hard to find, not the theatrical cuts.

Some people have told me that it’s only a small minority of older Star Wars fans who actually care about this, that it would be a niche market at best. Maybe so. But it can’t be that small of a niche, or there wouldn’t be so much interest in bootlegged “fan preservations,” and there wouldn’t have been so much excitement generated by yesterday’s rumor, however short-lived it turned out to be. There is money to be made on a home-video re-release of the pre-1997 editions, and there is artistic and cultural value in such a release, I’m convinced of it. But evidently the bean counters at Disney feel otherwise.

At least it’s been confirmed that the negative trims from the original cuts are still around. I never did believe Lucas’ claims that the original negatives no longer existed in any form. Maybe in another 50 years, when the children of the ’70s are dead and gone, our cultural priorities will have evolved enough that someone will see the value in reconstructing the historically significant editions of the trilogy. And they will wonder what in the hell was the matter with George Lucas and the Disney executives and all those casual fans who just didn’t appreciate what they had…

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A New Hope for the Original Original Trilogy?

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Turning to happier matters, long-time readers of this blog know that one of my personal holy grails — the Grail, actually — is getting the pre-Special Edition versions of the original Star Wars trilogy on some kind of high-definition home video format. Of course, an official DVD or Blu-Ray is no longer strictly necessary in order to enjoy the Star Wars films I grew up with in modern presentation standards. The notorious Despecialized Edition bootlegs are nearly as good to my eye as any studio-made disc, and for the absolute purists, the Silver Screen Edition — which was scanned from an actual film print that predates the appending of “Episode IV: A New Hope” to the title — is reputed to be the closest thing to the 1977 experience you’re going to get, short of commandeering a passing time machine. But even so, I still want an official, studio-sanctioned Blu-Ray that I can buy, hold in my hands, and display on my video shelf, simply as a matter of principle. I want to see the historically significant versions of these films, the ones that started this whole crazy pop-cultural juggernaut and completely reinvented how movies are made and marketed, and even what kinds of movies get made… the versions that are supposed to be enshrined in the Library of Congress but reside there in name only because of George Lucas’ obstinacy… I want those versions of the Star Wars trilogy re-legitimized after decades of being denigrated and suppressed by the own creator. I know this desire isn’t entirely rational, and that a dwindling number of people care or even know the difference anymore… but what can I say? We all have our quirks.

When I first heard a few years ago that Disney was acquiring Lucasfilm, my very first thought was that maybe the new corporate overlords would see the profit potential in giving those “early drafts” (as George took to calling them) the respect they deserve. Since then, rumors of a Blu-Ray release have come and gone every six months or so, and none have come to fruition. Today, another round of rumors sprang up… only this time, it seems there might actually be something to them.

The website Making Star Wars is reporting that a number of sources have said the unaltered original trilogy will be re-released this year in celebration of the first film’s 40th anniversary. I’m not familiar with Making Star Wars, and the site’s editor-in-chief stressed in his post that this is entirely unconfirmed, but I’m told this site has a good track record with these things, i.e., the rumors it reports usually turn out to be true.

My own go-to source of information on these things, The Digital Bits, had this to say:

One thing we do know for sure is that Lucasfilm has a new 4K scan of that original version of the film. That was essentially confirmed back in December by Rogue One director Gareth Edwards (as we reported here). The original theatrical version must exist – even if what Edwards saw was a 4K-updated version of the latest Special Edition (as was later tweeted by Lucasfilm’s Pablo Hidalgo), the company would still have needed to make a full 4K scan of the original theatrical film elements as a starting point to produce it….

 

IF this is going to happen, the timeframe for the release would perhaps [be] May for a theatrical re-issue and November-ish for a disc release, in time for Black Friday shopping and prior to the release of Star Wars: The Last Jedi in theaters. And the place it’s likely to be officially announced would be the Star Wars Celebration convention in Orlando (April 13-16). So we should know more soon.

As I said, these rumors seem to surface quite regularly, and I’m trying very hard not to get my hopes up. I really don’t want to become a fanboy Charlie Brown, certain that this time he’s really going to connect with that damn football. However… the pieces all fit, I think. If there’s one thing Disney knows how to do, it’s capitalizing on the older assets of its film library… which now includes the Star Wars saga. And the 40th anniversary is a perfect opportunity to do something like a Blu-Ray box set. I’ve got my wallet out and ready, if it happens, even if I also have to buy all the dreaded Special Edition variants to get the versions I prefer. I’ve done that before with Blade Runner and Close Encounters, so what the hey. And if Lucy yanks the football away again, well, I’ll always have my bootlegs and my righteous indignation.

That said, I’ve got to be honest… I’ve got a good feeling about this. Maybe the Force will be with us old-timers for a change!

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The Rising Tide of Barbarism

“We live in troubled times. Hate and barbarity are always with us. But today they are being granted permission to act. Like the wink and a nod one gives to dissolute youth to help them along to do evil. It’s part of what I’ve called the ‘great disinhibition.’ All of this can only be fought — mercilessly. It must also be understood, yes. But only in a pragmatic and instrumental fashion to fight it more effectively, more totally. I think of the fighters of the Warsaw Ghetto, the Jewish partisans rising out of their displaced persons camps who took vengeance on Nazis in the months and years after the War. No one of age is an infant and none deserve coddling. Of course the tide of barbarism is not only upon us. It has taken critical high ground. It is coming for Jews, Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Muslims, every group that is marginalized. We must fight it everywhere and not simply with words and ideas. It’s a fight, not a metaphor. Treat it that way.”

— Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo, writing about the massive vandalism at a Jewish cemetery in St. Louis this week

 

 

 

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Friday Evening Videos: “Heat of the Moment”

The year is 1983, or somewhere around there.

I’m thirteen years old, in the eighth grade and soon to be finished with middle school, and I’m going through a broody phase. No doubt the onslaught of puberty has something to do with this, but as far as I’m concerned, I simply have a lot on my mind. Big, important things like, What will high school be like? Will I ever have a girlfriend? Will she be willing to “put out,” and what exactly does that mean, anyhow? Will I live long enough to find out what it means, or will there be a nuclear war? That’s a real possibility, you know, what with Ronnie Ray-Gun’s finger on the big red button and all. What would I do if I got the word the missiles were in the air? And most importantly… how will Han Solo get rescued from the living hell of carbon-freeze in the upcoming third Star Wars movie?!

Just lately, I’ve taken to spending much of my leisure time on the rope swing that hangs from my old treehouse in the backyard, caroming off the cinderblock wall of Dad’s shop with each pendulum-like motion. I’ve been spending so much on that thing that wear spots are developing on the front of my jeans, where the nylon rope is abrading the denim. (I’ll learn later on in life that Dad was worried about me during this phase, finding it weird that I would be out there for hours on end, just… swinging. Swinging and thinking.)

I like to listen to music as I swing and think, on my trusty Sony Walkman II cassette player. And among the music I’m most likely listening to around this moment in time is the band Asia.

Asia was what used to be called a supergroup, a band comprising musicians who are already known for being members of other successful bands. In the case of Asia’s original line-up, bassist and lead vocalist John Wetton came from King Crimson; guitarist Steve Howe and keyboardist Geoff Downes were both from Yes; and Carl Palmer, the drummer, was one-third of Emerson, Lake & Palmer, all of which were important prog-rock groups. Not that I knew about any of that when I was thirteen; I just liked Asia’s sound.

My favorite Asia album was the band’s second release, Alpha — which really should’ve been called called Beta, when you think about it — but as it happens, their first and biggest charting single came from their debut record, the self-titled Asia. Co-written by Wetton and Downes, “Heat of the Moment” was a huge and inescapable hit that climbed to #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, as well as spending six nonconsecutive weeks at the top of the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart throughout the spring and summer of 1982. Its opening guitar riff remains one of the most recognizable of the early ’80s, one of those things that insist you crank up the volume whenever you hear them.

John Wetton died a couple weeks ago at the age of 67, so tonight, in his honor, I thought I’d share “Heat of the Moment” and think about 1983 (or thereabouts), my old rope swing, and those teenage ambitions I remember so well…

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Blue Squadron Honors Its Captain

I ran across a really beautiful piece of fan art the other day that I wanted to include with my previous entry, but I couldn’t figure out how to fit it in. So I’m going to present it here instead, on its own. Ladies and gentleman, in tribute to the late Richard Hatch:

Vipers flying the "missing man" formation, by Richard Dyke(If you don’t know what you’re looking at, those are Vipers, the fighter craft flown by Hatch’s character Apollo, assuming the “missing man” formation that’s often seen at memorials for fallen pilots. I can so easily imagine how this would’ve looked in motion, with one of the ships pulling up and away, trailing the characteristic blue vapor trail from its turbos…)

This image is by a talented gentleman named Richard Dyke, from the “Original Battlestar Galactica Models” Facebook group.

 

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In Memoriam: Richard Hatch

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“So what do you do?”

It was a simple question, but nevertheless, I was taken aback by it. Like I said a couple weeks ago, I’ve met quite a few celebrities, and I’ve been fortunate enough to have had good experiences with the majority of them. But only two of them have ever asked me what I do for a living. And one of those was Richard Hatch, who died last week at the age of 71.

Hatch is best known to we children of the ’70s for playing Captain Apollo in the 1978 television series Battlestar Galactica. He also had a significant role as Tom Zarek in the Galactica remake, but personally, I never could get into that one, for reasons that don’t really matter right now. Suffice it to say that, for me, he was Apollo, the son of the noble Commander Adama, the adoptive father of an orphaned boy named Boxey, and the levelheaded best friend to everybody’s favorite cigar-chomping scoundrel, Lieutenant Starbuck. From the time I was about Boxey’s age until well into my twenties, I wanted to be like Starbuck: impetuous, devil-may-care, cool. But I always knew in my heart that I more closely resembled sensitive and responsible Apollo. Also, as silly as this may sound, I identified with Apollo because he — or rather, Hatch — was a southpaw. You see, I went through this phase as a kid when I was very self-conscious about being left-handed, the result of a misguided school administrator’s efforts to make me conform to societal norms. (The short version is that I started school showing signs of being ambidextrous, or at least I was trying to be, and The Man found that… unacceptable. Eventually, I settled into using just one hand, but the whole experience left me with a bit of a complex.) The day I realized that Apollo wore his laser pistol on the left side and still managed to be bad-ass — a quick draw and a dead-eye shot, as we saw when he easily bested the Cylon duelist Red-Eye in “The Lost Warrior” — well, that was incredibly validating and reassuring to a certain young boy who struggled with the fear that something must be wrong with him because of which hand he held his pencil in.

When I met Richard Hatch at the first Salt Lake Comic Con in 2013, I told him about the left-handed thing. Now, I’m fully aware that actors at conventions hear all kinds of stories about how much their work means to the supplicants on the other side of the autograph table, and that at a certain level all these stories must sound pretty much the same. I’m also not naive about how convention appearances are just another type of performance, or that the celebrity guests are essentially paid to be kind to gushy fans. But Richard had a way of making it difficult to feel cynical about these things. He seemed to be genuinely interested in the thoughts and experiences of the people he spoke with, and he gave me the impression that my story was one he hadn’t heard before. He certainly appeared to light up when I finally got to the point. He seemed both humbled and proud that he’d once helped a kid feel better about himself, and he thanked me for sharing something so personal.

On the second day of the convention, I decided I wanted to get a photo of myself with him to go with the previous day’s autograph, so I went back to his table. I have no idea whether he recognized me or remembered the story about the left-handed kid, but he was friendly and graciously came out from behind his table for a quick snapshot. Then he shook my hand and I figured we were done. But before I could walk away, he surprised me with his question: “So what do you do?”

“I’m a proofreader for an advertising agency,” I answered, hoping I wasn’t stammering too much.

“Oh, so you’re really a writer, then?” he said, with a mischievous gleam in his eye.

I smiled. “I take it you’ve met a few of us?”

He laughed in return. “A few. What do you write?”

And from there we proceeded to have a conversation, a real conversation in which he offered me his perspective on living a creative life, and how not to get discouraged when the necessity of paying the bills gets in the way of your art. He also gave some practical tips about self-publishing and his thoughts about where that area was headed in the future. There wasn’t anything condescending or conceited in his advice. We were just a couple guys with similar interests talking about our experiences and ideas. Significantly, he listened as much as he spoke. And after a few minutes I walked away feeling like I’d made a real friend. Not one I was likely to ever see again, and certainly not one who would remember me if I ever did, but for the short duration of our conversation, Richard Hatch had been something more than a boyhood hero. He wasn’t “Apollo” or an idol on a pedestal, throwing his shadow over this little person who stood in awe of him because he’d once been on TV. He was just another human being, a guy named Richard… a guy I really liked. And who I like to think liked me, at least for a moment.

Rest well, my friend. And thanks. For everything.

The author with Richard Hatch at Salt Lake Comic Con, September 2013

 

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Backing Away from Hell

“I heard someone say once that many of us only seem able to find heaven by backing away from hell. And while the place that I’ve arrived at in my life may not precisely be everyone’s idea of heavenly, I could swear sometimes — if I’m quiet enough — I can hear the angels sing.

Either that or I’ve screwed up my medication.”

— Carrie Fisher, Wishful Drinking

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Friday Evening Videos: “Patience”

I’ve used “Patience” as a Friday Evening Video before, but given how this week has gone on pretty much all fronts, it seems not inappropriate to post it again. As I wrote the last time, “maybe it can help some of the people reading this, too, the ones with the problems and the ones who are afraid and unhappy, and the ones who, like me, are just plain tired. It is truly a song — and a sentiment — for our moment.”

If you care, here’s a little background I didn’t include the last time I posted this one: “Patience” is the only single released from Guns N’ Roses’ 1988 album G N’ R Lies, which was half live recordings from a previously released EP and half new acoustic songs. It reached number 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in April of ’89, three positions higher than the band’s breakthrough hit “Welcome to the Jungle,” and surpassed only by “Sweet Child o’ Mine” (number 1 the previous year) and “November Rain, which hit number 3 in 1992.

And with that, I intend to spend the rest of my Friday unplugged from social media, drinking whisky, petting my cat, and watching 1970s car-chase movies. Hope you all have something similar in mind…

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