Friday, February 27, 2015

R.I.P. Leonard Nimoy

Leonard Nimoy passed away today, February 27, 2015.  I don't generally write obituaries/remembrances of celebrities who have left us, but this one seemed like it needed to be written.  Leonard Nimoy was of course best known, and will be remembered most, for playing the role of Spock in "Star Trek" starting in 1966.  It was a career making and defining role.  It would seem like a great thing to be associated with such an iconic character, but of course the typecasting that comes with that kind of honor can be extremely frustrating too.  It became so bad for Mr. Nimoy that he actually wrote a book in the mid-1970s called "I Am Not Spock".

This was a time after the cancellation of the original Star Trek when he was obviously having a hard time with his career and his inability to go beyond the Spock identity.  Luckily, two decades later he had learned to embrace the character enough that he wrote a follow-up book called "I Am Spock".

While he will always be remembered as Spock, Mr. Nimoy did indeed have many career successes beyond Star Trek.  These would include starring in the series "Mission: Impossible", hosting the series "In Search of...", directing two of the Star Trek movies ("Star Trek III: The Search for Spock" and "Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home"), Directing the hit movie "3 Men and a Baby" and having some late-career success as photographer.

This is just a small sampling of his activities over the years of course.  We haven't even discussed his career before Star Trek or appearances in films like "Invasion of the Body Snatchers", but it at least gives us an idea of his body of work.

Nimoy also really cashed in on the Spock character over the past couple of decades (in a good way).  He has made appearances and has guest starred in television shows mainly because of the continuing popularity of Spock.  He had a recurring role in the series "Fringe", and was referenced in the TV series "The Big Bang Theory".  Probably the ultimate Spock/Nimoy tribute came when J.J. Abrams cast him as Spock in his first two big screen movies meant to reboot the Star Trek franchise with new actors playing the iconic characters from the original cast.  Despite the fact that the new Star Trek movies ("Star Trek" and "Star Trek into Darkness") are supposed to take place in an alternate universe (or some such thing) Abrams was still able to find a way to fit the original Spock (dubbed "Spock Prime" for the films) into them.

Spock Prime

Obviously all of this information (and much, much, much more) can be easily found with a quick Google search or a trip to Wikipedia or IMDb.  So why have I decided to write about it myself?  Well, I guess I want to share my personal feelings for Leonard Nimoy and how I felt that, in some small way, he was actually a part of my own life.  I'm sure many fellow fans will agree and probably have their own version of my story.

I was born after the original "Star Trek" series was cancelled in 1969.  Despite that fact Star Trek seemingly has always been a part of my life.  I grew up in a time when the original series was in heavy syndication on TV.  I have many fond memories of watching it as a kid.  Pretty much as long as I can remember I've been a big fan of science-fiction.  Just how much of a role Star Trek had in influencing me in that direction I can't really say.  Would I have been as into sci-fi without Star Trek?  Possibly, but there's no way to know for sure.  It's just another Nature vs. Nurture question I guess.  I do know that by the time "Star Wars" came out in 1977 I was already quite the sci-fi nerd.

Anyway, in addition to watching the original series in syndication I also recall seeing some of the short-lived animated Star Trek series from the 1970s.  I didn't see much of Leonard Nimoy on "Mission: Impossible" back then, but I was very much into "In Search of...".  The show covered many unsolved mysteries like Bigfoot, The Loch Ness Monster, UFOs, ESP, Stonehenge, The Bermuda Triangle, ghosts and on and on...  The subject matter was right up my alley, and having Leonard Nimoy as the host seemed to lend an extra dose of legitimacy and seriousness to what was actually a kind of silly show based mainly on conjecture and theory (as the opening narration itself states).  His authoritative voice--and the memory of the pure scientific logic of Spock--just made it all seem so real.

In Search of...

By the end of the 1970s Star Trek returned in a big way with "Star Trek The Motion Picture" on the big screen.  My two main memories of that time when I was nine years old are of going to see the movie (and not really "getting" it for the most part, but thinking it was cool to see the cast in something so new and impressive), and going to McDonald's to get a Star Trek Happy Meal!

Leonard Nimoy as Spock in the original "Star Trek" series
Spock as seen in the "Star Trek" movie series

By the time "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan" was released I was very much coming into my own as a fan.  I didn't actually see the movie until it came out on cable, but I remember watching scenes from it on movie review shows like "Sneak Previews" with Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, and being absolutely stunned that they killed off Spock at the end.  Of course I didn't realize then that it was Leonard Nimoy's wish to have the character killed off so he could (try to) get on with his career.  Luckily he changed his mind after the movie came out and not only appeared in, but also directed the next installment, "Star Trek III: The Search for Spock".  His directorial debut was so successful that he also directed "Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home", which was one of the first movies that my friends and I actually went to on our own as we started to experience the freedom that came with getting our licenses and being able to do our own thing.  I was growing up, but Star Trek was still a big part of my life.  When "Star Trek V: The Final Frontier" came out I was in the Army, but was back home to see "Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country" with my friends.  We also went to a sci-fi convention in Boston where Leonard Nimoy was a guest.  We didn't get to see him up close and get an autograph, but we did see him speak to the crowd in the auditorium.  That was a pretty cool moment for us!

The original cast went into semi-retirement (the characters, not necessarily the actors) after "Star Trek VI", but I always enjoyed seeing Leonard Nimoy whenever he'd appear in something new, as well as watching all the old Star Trek stuff and anything else he appeared in--like his guest appearance on William Shatner's 1980s series "T.J. Hooker".

T.J. Hooker

The advent of VCRs and DVD players allowed me to watch more Star Trek-related stuff than ever before, and whenever I wanted to.  Despite having had Leonard Nimoy "around" me all my life, there's still a lot of his work I've yet to see.  I still need to watch "Fringe".  I've started it, but haven't seen up to the point where Nimoy appears.  And now I regret not going to an exhibition of his photography that made the rounds a couple years back.

It's probably pretty obvious and unavoidable that the biggest "connection" I feel I had to Mr. Nimoy was through Star Trek.  Considering how big a part of his life and career Spock was and how popular Star Trek has always remained, that's not a big surprise.

Cast of "Star Trek: The Original Series"

Of course it was the entire show (and the entire cast) that really made the whole Star Trek experience, but something about Nimoy's humanity (despite playing a character who was only half-human) and Spock's logic always made him someone who seemed every bit as important and central to the Star Trek universe as Captain Kirk.  We've already experienced the loss of actors who played major characters in Star Trek, like James Doohan (Scotty) and DeForest Kelley (Dr. "Bones" McCoy).  I felt that both of those were major losses, but something about Leonard Nimoy passing feels just a bit more, well, I don't really know how to describe it.  Serious?  Final?  Important?  Devastating?  None of those words seems exactly right, but maybe if I could think of a word that encompasses all of them in some way that might work.  I'll bet there's a Vulcan word that would be perfect.  I suppose that some of the feeling might have to do with the fact that Nimoy was living in the age of online social networks and had embraced such sites as Facebook and Twitter.  That may have allowed us to feel like we were a bit "closer" to him in some way than we could have felt toward Doohan and Kelley.  It's a lot to think about, and I know it can seem strange for a person to mourn someone in the public eye who they didn't actually know personally, but that's the position I find myself in today.

Interestingly enough I just took my daughters to Boston's Museum of Science last week.  We saw a show at the Mugar Omni Theater.  Before each show there is a short introduction to and demonstration of the theater and its sound system.  Part of it is narrated by Leonard Nimoy.  As we listened to the intro last week thought about last year when the news came out that Nimoy was suffering from COPD and may have been in the end stage of his life.  Not having heard anything else on the topic for many months I was hoping that maybe he had improved and was doing well.  Then last night I felt like watching something late at night when everyone else in the house was asleep.  I chose an episode of "In Search of...".  About twelve hours later I heard the news that Nimoy had died.  It was  mentioned above that he had been active on Facebook and Twitter.  I think a perfect way to end this post (which could go on and on seemingly forever) is to share Leonard Nimoy's final Twitter post, which was shared a mere three days before he passed away...

Rest in Peace Mr. Nimoy.
You truly did live long and prosper.

Friday, August 30, 2013

2013 Drive-In Super Monster-Rama

The 2013 edition of the annual Drive-In Super Monster-Rama is only one week away.  It takes place Friday, September 6th and Saturday, September 7th.  While it would have been nice to get the word about this awesome show out earlier, I guess late is better than never.  After thoroughly enjoying the 2010 and 2011 Monster-Ramas I had to miss out on last year's show due to moving into a new city and all the craziness that accompanies that.  Luckily the schedule should permit me to once again make the long trip down to Pennsylvania for this year's show.  And what a show it promises to be!

Let's start with a little background information for those who might not be familiar with everything that a Drive-In Super Monster-Rama entails.  Back in 2007 drive-in enthusiast George Reis from the website DVD Drive-In partnered with the Riverside Drive-In in Vandergrift, PA to launch what would become a very cool and very successful series of retro drive-in shows.  The Drive-In Super Monster-Rama takes place over two nights on the weekend after Labor Day.

George Reis of DVD Drive-In
Each night four (FOUR) classic horror movies from the 1960s and 70s (the type that would have been likely to have been seen on hundreds of drive-in screens across the U.S. in the 60s and 70s) are featured.  A total of eight movies are shown over the course of the two nights.  The fun starts at dusk and runs well into the morning hours of the following day (expect each "night" to end around 4:00 in the morning).  While that might sound like reason enough to go to the show, there's actually a LOT more to it than that.  Before and after the movies the giant Riverside screen continues to entertain with tons of classic drive-in intermission material.  There are vintage intermission ads from the 1950s through the 1970s, cartoons, live-action shorts (usually The Three Stooges) and an amazing number of trailers for loads of movies similar in theme to the ones being screened during the show!  And, in what could be the best bit of news for anyone who's a big fan of this kind of programming, it's very important to mention that every single bit of entertainment projected onto the screen during the show is on 35mm film!  It would actually be pretty easy to put on a show like this with a DVD projector, a bunch of DVDs and some time on a computer splicing together a bunch of videos of trailers and intermission ads.  Instead, George hand picks prints of these old classics from suppliers around the world to showcase at the event.  The intermission ads, trailers and shorts shown between the movies are film-based too.  All the work putting the show together and making it happen year after year is truly a labor of love for George and the folks at the Riverside.  And for fans of old horror movies and drive-ins it's truly a wonderful thing to know that someone cares enough to put on a show like this.  It's the closest you can get to taking a trip back in time to experience what it was like going to an all-night drive-in horror show from the past!  Keep in mind that all this authentic drive-in entertainment is being shown at an authentic, honest-to-goodness, operating drive-in--a rare commodity these days (and one that's sure to become even more rare with the imminent conversion from film to expensive digital projectors mandated by Hollywood that surely has many drive-in owners feeling it would be easier to simply lock the gates and sell their land than to spend tens of thousands of dollars on new equipment that they really shouldn't need in the first place...but I digress).

Here's a look at some of the highlights from the
2011 Drive-In Super Monster-Rama

The Riverside's projector and film platters
ready to spool out lots of film-based fun

The crowds mingle and wait for the show to get underway

Classic drive-in ads for PIC and Chilly Dilly pickles

The ads are interspersed with loads of trailers
for great (and not-so-great) old horror movies

Plenty of intermission ads throughout the night
featuring a wide variety of food and drink

A couple classic cartoon shorts are always mixed in...

...As well as a couple Three Stooges shorts

But don't forget the Main Event:
eight movies over two nights!

The Riverside traditionally has closed after the Labor Day weekend, but has been remaining open one final weekend over these past seven years to accommodate the Drive-In Super Monster-Rama.  This means that patrons can enjoy all kinds of standard and not-so-standard drive-in food to go along with their classic drive-in entertainment.  In addition to the food, the snack bar continues the retro feel with it's old-school Pepsi machine, vintage pinball machines and nostalgic wall decorations.  As if all that STILL weren't enough, Ron and the fine folks at Creepy Classics and Monster Bash have been setting up shop in the snack bar for most of the run of the show.  They sell thousands of DVDs and Blu-ray discs, as well as t-shirts, posters, toys, models and magazines.  If one was to somehow get bored of watching all the action on the screen, they could go to the snack bar, get a few things to munch on, play a game of pinball and peruse the boxes upon boxes filled with DVDs.  You also get many chances to chat with lots of like-minded fellow drive-in fans from all over the country.

Some of the expected and not-so-expected
menu choices at the Riverside's snack bar

So, how much does all this entertainment cost?  Well, considering all the time, effort and cost of acquiring the eight movies (and all the other stuff projected over the two nights) admission is a pretty paltry price.  It only costs ten dollars per person per night.  That's twenty bucks if you want to attend both nights.  This is the price that was in effect for the first Monster-Rama and George and the Riverside have managed to keep it at that level all along.  Knowing that some people are strapped for cash, the Riverside gives yet another incentive for film buffs to make the trip from all across the country; if you really want to go, but don't think you'll be able to afford the trip because of lodging fees, the Riverside allows people to camp out at the drive-in for just another ten dollars per night.  That price includes breakfast in the morning.  With all that it's kind of hard to think of a reason NOT to go to the Drive-In Super Monster-Rama.

I guess all this brings us to 2013 and the seventh Drive-In Super Monster-Rama.  This year's show has a theme--the Peter Cushing Centenary Celebration.  To celebrate Peter Cushing's 100th birthday the Monster-Rama will feature eight movies that he appears in.  On Friday, September 6th the movies will be:

And the second night, Saturday, September 7th will feature four more:


ASYLUM (1972)


As usual, it's a great line-up of movies.  I have to say that I'm particularly happy to see that "Shock Waves" will be rounding out the show as the last movie.  Not only is it "The Greatest Nazi-Zombie Movie Ever Made" (in my humble opinion), but it's also a film I've loved since it scared the crap out of me when it was shown on Boston-area TV back in the early 1980s.

One of the many trailers shown at the 2011 Monster-Rama was for the film "Madhouse", which will be the first film featured on the second night of this year's show!
Here's some screen shots of that trailer:

It should be a great weekend for fans of Peter Cushing, horror, drive-ins, and movies in general.  There is the real possibility that this could very well be the last Drive-In Super Monster-Rama--not because George and the Riverside don't want to continue to put them on, but because the Riverside is one of the drive-ins that is facing the problem of being forced to make the switchover to digital or shut down when film-based movies will cease to be made available by Hollywood.  They want to make the switchover and have been trying to raise the funds.  But those funds are pretty astronomical for a business model that doesn't exactly rake in the dough even when things are going very well.  They have promised that, if they are able to continue operating, they will retain their film projector so that Drive-In Super Monster-Rama shows can continue to honor the past well into the future.

Here's a video preview of  the 2013 Drive-In Super Monster-Rama