Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Star Trek 50th Anniversary Blogging: "All Our Yesterdays" (March 14, 1969)

Stardate: 5943.7

The Enterprise enters the Beta Niobe star system, where the star is about to go supernova in a few hours. 

The starship approaches Sarpeidon, a class-M planet in the system, and Captain Kirk (William Shatner), Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) and Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley) beam down to investigate a technological center

They enter a library building, and find a most unusual librarian, Mr. Atoz (Ian Wolfe), who tends to a machine called “the Atavachron” and insists that they select “verism tapes;” discs in the library which showcase different historical eras of Sarpeidon.

After accessing one tape -- of a time period resembling 17th century England on Earth -- Captain Kirk hears a woman’s scream, and races through a doorway that is actually a time portal. Dr. McCoy and Spock race after him, but because McCoy was studying a tape of the Sarpeidon ice age, end up in a frozen wasteland.

Trapped in different time periods, the Starfleet officers must find their way back to the library, as the clock ticks down towards supernova.

In the ice age, Spock and McCoy encounter a lonely woman, Zarabeth (Mariette Hartley), who was exiled there by a tyrannical leader.  Spock, who is becoming more like the Vulcans of Zarabeth’s time period, 5000 years in the past, experiences a strong emotional connection to the woman. They fall in love.

However, Zarabeth can never return home to her time period, because of preparation through the Atavachron. She is doomed to spend the rest of her days in this frigid, frozen world.

Meanwhile, Kirk makes his way out of a prison, after being accused of witchcraft, and returns to the library. There he grapples with Mr. Atoz, who desperately wants to prepare Kirk, and then escape to his own “yesterday.”

“All Our Yesterdays” is a beautiful and successful Star Trek love story, from a season featuring too many weak love stories (“For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky,” “Requiem for Methuselah,” and “The Lights of Zetar.”)  

The fact that this episode succeeds so ably is even more surprising considering that the character who falls in love is the unemotional Mr. Spock.  Spock love stories are difficult to write well, and yet this story, from Jean Lisette Aroeste, is elegant and haunting.

Fortunately, a "logical" reason is given for Spock’s unusual emotional attachment. Upon returning to the past, he begins to act in the emotional, savage manner of Vulcans of the time period; pre-Surak. This idea is a wonderful addition to canon, and augments the already-established suggestion that Vulcans can sense each other over long distances, in the form of light telepathic contact (a factor also made evident in “The Immunity Syndrome,” and recently in Star Trek: Discovery’s [2017] “The Battle of the Binary Stars.”)

Given this mental connection to the Vulcans of 5,000 years in the past, it is natural and makes sense that Spock begins to behave in a different fashion, showing signs of emotion, falling in love, and eating animal flesh. I only wish there were as strong an explanation for Kirk’s behavior with Rayna in “Requiem for Methuselah,” or Scotty’s out-of-character actions in “The Lights of Zetar.”

Spock himself makes note of the changes in his character, and at one point nearly even kills the argumentative McCoy.  When McCoy calls him a name, Spock nearly strangles him, saying he doesn't like it, and never did.

Despite the outside forces working on the beloved character, the love between Spock and Zarabeth nonetheless feels absolutely authentic (again, something that can’t be said of the love stories in the other episodes I mentioned). Zarabeth is intelligent and strong, and alone. These are qualities that Spock might very “logically” feel himself drawn to. After all, he is an outsider among other humans, very much alone in some important ways.

The love story is made all the more touching by two factors at the end of the tale. First, Spock must leave Zarabeth, if McCoy is to go home. So, Spock must deliberately act against his desire and will to remain with Zarabeth, in essence stranding her alone all over again. 

And secondly, after he steps through the time portal, Spock returns to normal, and shows no sign of his previous attachment to Zarabeth. He is his "cool" unaffected self again.

Of course, we know Spock better than that. There is no doubt he remembers and still feels something powerful for Zarabeth. It is just that, in the present, he is better able to suppress his emotions. 

For me, this haunting ending, with Spock coldly disavowing his former emotional state, ranks right up with the codas of “City on the Edge of Forever” (Kirk’s “Let’s get the Hell out of here”) and “This Side of Paradise” (Spock’s “For the first time in my life…I was happy.”)

The tragic nature of this story is beautifully depicted by both Leonard Nimoy, as the confused and befuddled Spock, and Mariette Hartley as the lonely, desperate Zarabeth. It is a testament to both performances that this love story feels so real, and so, well...star-crossed.

If Spock’s story in “All Our Yesterdays” feels powerful and authentic, Kirk’s story proves markedly less interesting. He must battle accusations of witchcraft, and win over the trust and aid of the local prosecutor (Kermit Murdock), who is also a time traveler. The tale isn’t particularly interesting, but matters for Kirk grow even more intense upon his return to the library, and his battle of wills against Mr. Atoz and his duplicates.

Indeed, Kirk’s story becomes increasingly tense as the supernova event nears, and he must desperately attempt to locate Spock and McCoy…somewhere, in all of the planet’s history. At one point, Atoz gets the jump on Kirk, “prepares” him through the Atavachron, and nearly dooms Kirk to a life spent in the past.  These moments are very suspenseful.

The Zarabeth-Spock love story, however, ultimately became so beloved by Star Trek fans that A.C. Crispin continued the tale of their affair (and its aftermath: a child) in the novels Yesterday’s Son, and Time for Yesterday.

Less remarked upon, but no less interesting is the sci-fi idea put forward cleverly by this episode, that to travel through time -- and survive in another age -- a person must be physiologically prepared for their new home. Their cells, essentially, must be altered.  

I rather like this detail in "All Our Yesterdays," as it would preclude time travelers from moving, en masse into previous ages, and polluting a time-line. I would love to see Star Trek pick up this idea on a more recurring basis, since it suggests that time travelers can only exist for a matter of days in another era, before exposure to that age (and that age’s diseases?) kills them.  So, the events of many movies and episodes could still occur, but there would be regular danger for time travelers, if they overstayed their welcome.

Next up, the final episode of Star Trek: “Turnabout Intruder.”

Monday, October 16, 2017

Memory Bank: Trick or Treat (For UNICEF!)

Given my penchant for horror films, it won’t surprise you to learn that Halloween is a big holiday at the Muir house. 

I still dress up with Joel every October 31st, and head out into the neighborhood collecting candy.  We have one amazing neighbor up the street who only gives out “movie”-style candy, giant, over-sized boxes of Raisinets and the like.  I pretty much have to muscle Joel out of the way to get to them.

Just kidding. I let Joel get the loot.

My love of Halloween goes back to my earliest memories in the seventies.  I grew up in Glen Ridge, New Jersey, a picturesque Essex County suburb, and the trick-or-treating there was pretty great.  Glen Ridge is a small town, so a kid could cover a lot of ground in one night, if he or she was willing to do a lot of walking.  

My sister and I would get started on Halloween at about 4:30 pm (in costume), trick-or-treat for an hour, eat dinner, and then go back out and trick-or-treat until nine o’clock at night.  

Then, we’d return home, dump our bags out on the kitchen table, and assess the sweet loot.  For many years, it seemed, we went trick-or-treating “for UNICEF” (United Nation’s Children’s Fund) as well, and I still remember carrying along those little orange boxes filled with change.

Part of the fun of Halloween in the 1970s involved those classic, if flimsy, Ben Cooper costumes, as my Pop Art post earlier today hopefully illustrates. One year, I went out trick-or-treating as Ben Cooper’s Steve Austin, the Six Million Dollar Man.  As you can tell from the photograph, however, I look more like President Ronald Reagan than Colonel Austin.  

Another year, I went out as Ben Cooper’s Darth Vader, and the next year, as the same company’s Cylon from Battlestar Galactica.  If I’m being honest, these costumes weren’t really very good, and certainly not “show accurate” to any degree.  And after a long night of wearing those masks, they always smelled like sweat.

I still went trick-or-treating in high school, and one year dressed up as Freddy Krueger.  I had an Indiana Jones fedora, a red-and-white sweater, a Freddy glove and a pull-over mask.   

Instead of focusing on trick or treating, however, I focused on scaring my sister.  I remember that I waited until it was about 8:30 pm, and I found a great perch at the nearby railroad tracks where we had often played as children. The tracks were near -- I kid you not -- a graveyard. 

As my sister crossed the railroad tracks on her return journey, I jumped out from behind a tall signal post and scared the heck out of her.  And man, was it fun.

It’s Halloween.  Everyone is entitled to one good scare, right?

Actually, I had my own bad scare one year while trick-or-treating in Glen Ridge. 

I think I must have been nine or so at the time.  I’m pretty sure it was the year I went out as a Cylon.  There I was in my costume, collecting candy in Glen Ridge, when I approached a large suburban house from the side. 

I should have stayed in the light, and out on the front walk. Instead, I ran up the side yard trying to beat the other kids.  I ran by a large hedge, and then quite unexpectedly fell into a seven or eight foot hole, dug right out of the yard.  It was quite a shock.  I remember wondering what the hell happened, but fortunately I was rescued after about a minute or so “buried alive” in that ditch. 

One good scare indeed!

Just two weeks until Halloween now, and I’m super excited to go out trick-or-treating with Joel. I’m probably going as Mr. Spock, as I often do. 

I’ll make certain, however, we both stay on the path, and avoid any ditches…or dream demons.

Cult-TV Theme Watch: The Blue and the Grey

The American Civil War divided this nation like no other conflict, and yet divides it, in many significant ways. The conflict between the North and South, the blue and the grey, is a turning point in our history, and in many ways, a turning point in its cultural frissons.

The American Civil War has appeared again and again in our entertainment, in our shared cult-TV canon.

In Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone (1959-1963), an episode called “The Passersby” commented on this conflict.

The haunting story is set during an “incident on a dirt road during the month of April, the year 1865.”
A crippled Confederate sergeant (James Gregory) limps to the home of Lavinia Godwin (Joanne Linville), who awaits (in vain) the return of her husband, also a soldier. Together, they watch as Union and Confederate soldiers walk the lonely road, heading to some unknown destination beyond.

The episode’s kicker is that the last man on the road is Abraham Lincoln -- said in the closing narration to be the final victim of the Civil War. 

But if we have learned anything in the America of today, 2017, it is that there are still victims of the Civil War living in our culture right now. They are the ones who mistake hate for heritage. They are the ones who still deal with the inequities of an immoral slave trade that divided families, destroyed wealth, and fostered poverty and resentment.  It turns out The Twilight Zone was too optimistic in its approach. One hundred and fifty something years later, Americans are still walking down this Civil War road of grievous wounds and divisions.

Other TV series have also featured the civil war.  Sid and Marty Krofft’s Saturday morning TV series Land of the Lost (1974-1977) is about a pocket universe where people, of all eras, become trapped, unable to escape The episodes “Downstream” (and its oblique sequel, “Medusa”) contend with one such person, a Civil War soldier…and his beloved cannon.  This veteran, Jefferson Davis Collies (Walker Edmiston) helps the Marshalls in the first season, and is discovered to be one of Medusa’s statues in the third season.

Star Trek: Voyager (1995-2001) featured a Civil War themed tale called “The Q and the Grey,” about a civil war inside the Q Continuum, during its third season. The Q exist on a different realm of reality all together, one that humans can’t perceive as it is.  Therefore, their cosmic civil war is depicted, for Janeway’s crew, as the American Civil War.  The episode ends with Tuvok and other crew members picking a side and donning uniforms of the era to fight in this war.

The X-Files (1993-2002) also featured a Civil War-themed episode called “The Field Where I Died.” This story involves reincarnation, and Mulder’s (David Duchovny) discovery that he has a “soul mate” in each life, including in a previous life in the Civil War. That soul-mate, is, unfortunately, a cult-member fated to die in the present. 

Both modern vampire series -- True Blood (2008 – 2014), and The Vampire Diaries (2009 – 2016) -- position their long-lived heroic vampires, whether Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer) or Damon Salvatore (Ian Somerhalder), as veterans of the Civil War. 

Throughout both series, flashback scenes are featured set during this time period, in which the characters, not yet vampires, but must contend with their choices in the life-and-death struggle of the era. In the final season of The Vampire Diaries, for instance, Damon is sent to a personal Hell where he must relive, again and again, a mission during the Civil War that ended with the slaughter of an innocent family.

The Cult-TV Faces of: The Blue and the Grey












Saturday, October 14, 2017

The Lost Saucer: "My Fair Robot" (September 20, 1975)

After an asteroid breaches the saucer’s defense shields, Fi (Ruth Buzzi) and Fum (Jim Nabors) must land on Earth in the 23rd century.

There they encounter a clumsy robot named Goro, who is afraid to return to his human masters -- the Krugs -- who want to get their robot back and also for him to function properly.

Meanwhile, Jerry is captured by Sheriff Zork.

The Krugs, disappointed with their robot, want to send Goro to the recycling center. But Fi and Fum train Goro not to be too clumsy, and to function as a proper servant to the human family.

“My Fair Robot” is all kinds of wrong, at least in terms of the theme it conveys. Basically, the teleplay by John Fenton Murray concerns our lovable androids Fi and Fum teaching a robot how to accept a life of servitude to humans.

As the action starts, Goro has already run away from his so-called home because he doesn’t want to be a servant. But he returns when the androids convince the Krugs to give him a TV and not store him in the closet.

So slavery is okay, as long as you get a color television, and your own room, I guess.

I know the episode is meant to be a sitcom-type comedy, but the tale misses the mark in terms of progressive science fiction storytelling.  How is it okay for artificial intelligence like Fi and Fum to teach another artificial intelligence, Goro, to be happy as the equivalent of a second class citizen? Would they be happy to be treated that way?

In terms of inspiration, “My Fair Robot” clearly goes back to George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion (1913) but substitutes a futuristic setting, and a robot rather than a lower-class character, learning about how to fit in with society. Last week, Gulliver’s Travels was a source of inspiration, and I do find it rewarding that The Lost Saucer looks to fashion its narratives based on classic sources. Next week, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is re-parsed.

Visually, the Krugs resemble a live-action version of the characters in The Jetsons. Just look at those costumes and hair-cuts! It’s as though the production-designer for The Lost Saucer (1975) just decided to adopt the whole Jetsons aesthetic in terms of color, and wardrobe. It looks abundantly silly, which may be the point.

The other weak point of the episode, beyond the short-sighted theme, is the physical appearance of our guest star: Goro. He looks to be the kind of robot that pre-adolescent kids build in the Boy Scouts. The costume is basically made of two cardboard boxes; one for the head and one for the torso, both painted silver. It’s difficult to believe that anyone that that this costume could pass muster on TV, even in 1975.

Next week: “Transylvania 2300.”

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: The Bugaloos: "Circus Time at Benita's"

In “Circus Time at Benita’s,” the Bugaloos are disappointed when a traveling circus cancels its engagement in Tranquility Forest. 

Actually, Benita (Martha Raye) paid all the performers not to show up, so she can put on her own circus. She plans to draw attention to her own singing career before the equivalent of a captive audience.

Meanwhile, a magician hypnotizes Sparky (Billy Barty) to make him feel brave, and he uses his new skills to go on the attack against Benita.

This gives Benita her own bad idea. She wants to be hypnotized to be the best singer in the world.

With just two episodes left to go, The Bugaloos (1970) tells another very familiar story.

This one falls under the category of “Sparky Saves the Day,” and involves the timid firefly overcoming some key character flaw and defeating (at least temporarily) Benita Bizarre.  I realize that before arc storytelling, there was a lot of repetition in stand-alone shows, and especially in children's programming of the 1970's.

Still, you know the series is getting desperate when the plot of the week involves a frog magician hypnotizing one of the main characters. Throw in a bad James Cagney imitation (on Sparky’s part), and that’s all you need to have a thoroughly uninteresting 22 minutes.

There's not even a new song performed, to enjoy.

Next week: “The Uptown 500” livens up the old formula a bit with car race.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Savage Friday: Killing Ground (2017)

[Warning: Spoilers ahead.]

Killing Ground (2017) is a grim, upsetting bit of cinematic business from Australia, and director Damien Power. The film is a superb example of traditional “Savage Cinema” standards, and involves two doomed camping excursions in the woods that -- over a period of four days -- both fall prey to amoral hunters.

The film’s elevated sense of artistry -- with pervasive cross-cutting deliberately taking the audience from one doomed expedition to the other -- helps to mitigate some of the film’s darkest moments.  

Still, Killing Ground is a very powerful, very disturbing film, and it ends with the suggestion, terribly, that a human infant has been left behind in the woods...to be eaten by wild pigs. It’s an especially horrible turn of events, since, for at least a while, audiences are left with the hope that the child has managed to survive the terror intact.

In terms of Savage Cinema standards, Killing Ground hits one of the favorite obsessions of the sub-genre pretty hard (and very effectively, too boot).

And that trope is, specifically, that through extreme adversity and terror, the protagonists learn their true natures.  

Here, Ian (Ian Meadows), a man studying to be a doctor, proves his inherent moral weakness. His girlfriend, Samantha (Harriet Dyer), by contrast, rises to the occasion and demonstrates her real strength and power. 

In this case, those two discoveries are in direct opposition. Samantha not only learns of her innate strength, she learns too, of her boyfriend’s total weakness. He isn’t someone she can count on when the chips are down. In a way, the set-up is not all that different from what we encountered in last week’s entry, Eden Lake. A professional young man and woman tread unwisely from the safety of civilization into nature, and encounter barbarous behavior of people less “evolved” than they are.

Killing Ground includes rape, the (off-screen) death of a child, and the murder and torture of innocent families and individuals, so there’s no doubt that it lives up to Savage Cinema label, but the quality that actually makes the film memorable is the sense, often found in these films, that life is meaningless, and death just one “wrong turn” down the road ahead.

At some point, fate has it in for us.

“We’re going to go for a little ride.”

Young physician-in training Ian and his girlfriend Samantha decide to go camping for the weekend. En route, she quizzes him on his knowledge of anatomy.  When they get lost, however, he asks a stranger at a gas station for directions. The stranger suggests Gungilee Falls as a perfect camping site, and provides directions.

When Ian and Samantha arrive at that location, they see another tent perched on the beach, but no sign of the campers who put it up. They set up their tent and start to enjoy themselves.  Meanwhile, the stranger, German, and his friend, close in, ready for a rerun of a murder spree.

It turns out, that just days earlier these hunters killed the family camping on the beach, after raping the teenage daughter, Em (Tiarnie Coupland). 

Now, the strangers must erase all evidence of their crime by committing another terrible act.

"Gone Hunting..."

Early in Killing Ground, Samantha tells a story about why she has never gone camping, at least since high school. She knew a boy whose tent caught on fire. This story suggests, perfectly, just how random fate is. A young man, with an entire future laid out before him, instead  wasforced to reckon at a young age with his mortality.

This story sets the tone for the action of the film.

It suggests, perhaps, that man proposes but God (or nature, if you prefer...) disposes. All our plans and dreams may come to precisely nothing if we take a wrong turn, and head down a blind, dead end.  

The story of the empty tent, and the destroyed family, only reinforces, strongly, this sense of cruel, purposeless fate. Young and vibrant Em goes camping with her parents, but suffers from bad dreams She sleeps outside her tent because of those dreams. Her parents go for a walk one day, and discuss “imagery rehearsal therapy” to help her overcome her nightmares. Specifically, this form of therapy will help the 16-year old “rewrite” her nightmares so they don’t come to terrifying ends.

This story, treated with great importance to Em’s (doomed parents) is a meditation on something that ultimately, doesn’t matter at all. Em ends up living a nightmare, raped and murdered by the hunters in the  woods. All her parents’ plans for her future are immaterial. She has no future.

Nor do her parents.

Like the boy in the tent fire remembered in story by Samantha, Em’s fate is a reminder that tomorrow is not promised to us. We make grand plans -- career, family, retirement, vacations, even -- yet there is no guarantee beyond this moment; beyond the present.

The forces of destruction in the movie, the two hunters, are indeed terrifying too. They are sociopaths and therefore lack empathy. 

They see people for how they can use them (Em, for sex, whether she wants to participate or not), and do not have the same boundaries as civilized people do. They give no consideration for Em or the infant.  Being young and innocent isn’t a free pass to survive. These ignorant, unwashed brutes don’t value any lives, or any hopes and dreams, save their own. They don’t register anyone else as human. 

They are completely and utterly conscience-less.

And yes, at the risk of stoking controversy, I believe that this plot-line is a deliberate commentary on modern hunters and hunting.  I know hunting is a way of life for many. I realize that there is a whole hunting culture, especially in the South (where I live). I don't mean to disrespect anybody or their lifestyle, or tradition by exploring this facet of the film.

I would say that Killing Ground trenchantly comments on the pervasiveness of a pastime that involves killing another living being, when such killing is no longer, strictly-speaking, necessary. We live in a culture of abundance and plenty, so hunting isn't often a matter of necessity anymore; of having to kill to feed the family.  Hunting is now known as a "sport."  It is done for pleasure. 

And yet there is nothing sporting about the guns used in this pastime, in 2017. It's not like it's an equal match between the instincts of an animal, and an AR-15.

But once you put a bullet in a living breathing animal, like a deer, is it easier to put a bullet into a living, breathing person; a woman, or a child?  That's an underpinning in this film. The hunters see people as prey; they derive pleasure from raping and killing them.

The  real question to consider here: does the modern act of hunting teaches us, on a basic level, to de-value the lives of other beings?

Because, make no mistake: the animals that modern hunters kill with their high-tech guns are capable of feeling pain. They bleed and suffer just like human beings do. If we can play God and end an animal's life, why is it different to end a human's life? These are the uncomfortable questions that Killing Ground, inevitably, raises.

The men in this film are so accustomed to killing that they have no compunctions about murder when it comes to women and even children.  A camp site isn't a vacation area, it's the titular killing ground, one that the men return to...for satisfaction -- for pleasure -- and for sport.  There's good hunting there, after all.

If modern, well-equipped hunters kill does or bucks without remorse -- as sport -- is it such a stretch for people like the villains in this film to beat a baby in the head?  Hunters justify killing deer by talking about over-population, and matters like that. The hunters here are ex-cons who don't want to go back to jail. They have an easy justification, as well. They can't leave behind evidence.

And again, this is why I love horror films. They dare to raise matters and ask questions about things we tacitly accept, every day. They challenge us to rethink our ideals. They challenge us to examine and then re-examine our values.

Killing Ground features a high degree of tact, which is a necessity for material this grim, and neither the death of the baby, nor the rape of Em are actually seen.  Of course, one can argue that by not showing them, Power has made his film all the more effective. We know what occurs, and are left to imagine (and visualize) the worst.  It's upsetting.

This is important, because the stakes are so high for Samantha and Ian. The film makes the hunters seem all the more powerful, and death feel all the more inevitable, by telling two stories (in separate time periods) on the same hunting grounds. We know what the hunters are capable of, based on the suffering and deaths of the first family, and therefore know, as the film winds towards its conclusion, that the young couple can expect no sympathy, no quarter.

When faced with a situation like that, a person might collapse and surrender, as Ian does, thinking of no one and nothing but himself and his own survival. Or  one might react like Samantha, who fights like Hell for herself, for Ian, and for the baby. Even when she is in extreme jeopardy, and facing her own mortality, Samantha manages to worry for the baby, and for her boyfriend. It turns out, she realizes, Ian doesn’t share those feelings. He runs off to the police, instead of helping her, or the baby. 

Instead of fighting, in the moment, he flees to civilization to let others fight for him.

One might argue this course of action. One might say, unemotionally, that Ian did the right thing: letting the authorities handle the hunters. That act accords with law. But emotionally, his act is one of pure, shameful cowardice. He leaves his girlfriend to be raped by one of the hunters, knowing full well that she might be killed before he can return.  When he sees her alive, the shame is written all over Ian's face.  And Samantha, without saying anything, knows exactly the kind of man she is in love with.

The cruelest moment in the film, however, involves the death of hope. The baby, who -- as children always do in films of this type -- personifies the future. He has been battered and beaten, and dropped in the woods. But the body disappears for a time, and Samantha hopes against hope that Ian, a doctor, has rescued the baby, and saved his life.  During the film's climax, however, he tells her he left the baby’s body in the woods too. 

The baby’s ultimate disappearance, therefore, has no plausible explanation unless one remembers the exposition early in the film about how the area is occupied by wild pigs, who apparently eat anything and everything left behind by campers. We can put two and two together, and realize that the boars got the baby.  

In this case, we can only hope the child died before the hungry animals took him.

Again and again, people ask me: how can I watch and like a movie like this? One with extreme violence, and death? Featuring rape and the death of innocence.

My answer is that films like Killing Ground don’t sugar coat human existence. They don’t wrap it up in bullshit, like happy endings. The cavalry doesn’t ride over the hill, just in time, to save someone who is good, or young, or innocent, at least not frequently.  These films make us question our choices, our morality, and our traditions. And they don't try to be Oscar-bait in the process.

Films like Killing Ground remind us of how much of our lives is but an abstract construct; a delusion that we erect and rigorously maintain.

We believe in civilization, but once outside of populated areas, civilization is just an idea. 

And not everybody carries the same moral code, when freed from the boundaries of civilization. Secondly, as noted above, Nature -- or God -- is under no obligation obey our self-proclaimed rules for behavior. 

The first shot of Killing Ground is of an empty camp site on the beach; an insertion of man’s world upon nature. We set up our camps, our rules, and our philosophies in nature, but as I said, Nature itself is under no obligation to follow our edicts. We can establish a foothold in Nature, but we can't beat it.

This strange dichotomy is seen in Ian’s character too.  By nature, he cares about himself.  He's selfish. We see this in his extreme cowardice. But in civilization, he has selected a vocation in the medical field in which he is supposed to care about others. That ideal, however, is an inch deep.

Which value wins out, when push comes to shove?  

Civilization -- Hippocratic oaths and the like -- are but lovely constructs that we cling to so that we can, in some way, delude ourselves about the finite nature of human life.

So Killing Ground is indeed a harrowing film, but it tells us something important about our existence. It raises questions about the rules we think define us, and our civilization.

Out in the woods, in nature, there is hunter and prey, and that's it.

Movie Trailer:Killing Ground (2017)

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Cult-TV Blogging: Star Maidens: "Test for Love"

In “Test for Love,” we return to the planet Medusa, a world dominated by women.

Earth scientist Rudi Schmidt (Christian Quadflieg) has been returned to the underground city on Medusa, but is still considered untrustworthy, and unworthy of anything but menial labor.

Octavia (Christiane Kruger) remains suspicious, however, both of Rudi and Liz (Lisa Harrow). Medusa’s president, Clara (Dawn Addams) suggests that Liz should have a job, to distract her from Rudi’s schemes to return to Earth.

Accordingly, Liz begins to train as a spaceship pilot.

Liz is also given a hulking male domestic, Ercule (John Wyman), to keep her mind off of Rudi. Liz claims not to be attracted to Ercule, and short-circuits a “reality meter” with her thoughts to prove it. Clara agrees that Rudi should become her domestic.

Liz, meanwhile, must also complete with Nola (Veronica Lang), a Medusan female favored by Octavia, to get the piloting her position. Liz emerges victorious, and gets to choose her crew, including Rudi.

Together, Liz and Rudi plot to escape from Medusa in the patrol spaceship, but Clara has planned accordingly for any such betrayal. Liz’s vessel is rigged with a “dual” controls, so that Medusa can bring it back, at any time, remotely.

Liz and Rudi realize that their escape to Earth must wait for another day.

Our second Medusa-centric episode in a row -- “Test for Love” -- increases the series’ sense of intrigue, as Liz must navigate Octavia’s suspicions, and dispatch both a rival for her romantic affections (Ercule) and her career aspirations (Nola). Liz is successful in both regards, only to be handed a reversal in the episode’s final moments.

It’s interesting to think about this idea, but what we have here, in this obscure ‘70’s series, is some arc storytelling, as the characters move on parallel tracks of development.

One couple that is falling in love (an Earth couple) learns to navigate Medusa. The other couple -- Adam and Fulvia, of Medusa -- learns to contend with Earth morality.  These two “fish out of water” stories are played against one another (as we’ll see next week, in the satirical “The Perfect Couple,”) but the whole affair develops as if the chapters in a novel.

The problem I detect, and which has harmed Star Maidens’ reputation, is that there is often an inconsistency of tone. The Medusa episodes are largely played straight. The Earth episodes are played tongue-in-cheek, mostly. 

The result is a series that vacillates between silliness, and sci-fi plotting. 

In “Test for Love,” the women of Medusa decide that Liz needs a man and a job to be happy on their planet. However, this society doesn’t seem to cherish freedom as much as some western countries do, on Earth. It is arranged for Liz to have Ercule -- John Wyman from For Your Eyes Only (1981) -- as her male plaything, and he is not her choice at all, despite his physical fitness. 

To reject Ercule, Liz does what no woman of Medusa has ever done: she uses her thoughts to destroy a “reality meter,” a device similar, perhaps, to our truth detector.  This sequence is the most bizarre one of the episode. Another Medusan is hooked up to the reality meter, and we watch her fantasize about half-naked men wrestling. Then Liz's turn comes next, and she tries hard not to visualize Ercule in this fashion, instead conjuring images of gorillas and other wild animals.

This episode gives Clara (Dawn Addams) a lot to do, and she is an excellent addition to the cast, Medusa’s commander-in-chief. 

All through the episode, it looks like Octavia is the real danger, and that Clara doesn’t see through Liz and Rudi’s plans.  Then, in the final moments of the episode, we see that Clara is a pretty smooth operator, and has left nothing to chance. She’s a fascinating leader character.

Next Week: “The Perfect Couple.”