Monday, November 23, 2015

Watch on the Rhine

Watch on the Rhine
TCM viewing

The work of playwright Lillian Hellman continues to inspire the modern theater. An online search leads to the following sampling: Toys in the Attic played in midtown Manhattan in 2007; The Little Foxes was revived in Chicago earlier this year; and The Children's Hour played in London in 2011 with, among others, Keira Knightley, Elisabeth Moss, Carol Kane and Ellen Burstyn. As a Hollywood screenwriter, Hellman adapted some of her work and wrote original material as well, and she even survived a blacklisting from the anti-Communist crowd in Washington during the 50s.

A New Orleans native, she first came to Hollywood in 1930 with her first husband after studying at New York University and Columbia, as well as touring Europe. She was a reader for MGM, and while trying to unionize her fellow readers, she met and fell in love with Maltese Falcon writer Dashiell Hammett. Eventually, she divorced her husband and began a long-term affair with Hammett, despite him being married. It was he who encouraged her to try her hand at writing, and Hour was her first professional work. In her subsequent plays and screenplays, she found outlets in which to express her liberal views on society.

Watch on the Rhine, in particular, addressed World War 2 before America was drawn into the conflict. The play opened on April 1, 1941 and ran for 378 performances. A Washington, DC society woman marries a German and raises a family with him in Germany. Along comes the Nazis, and hubby joins an underground resistance group. When the heat gets too hot, he decides to take a vacation back to America to see her family. Little do they know, however, that forces are at work even there to flush him and his comrades out.

Warner Brothers bought the film rights and Hellman's lover Hammett was recruited to write the screenplay when she herself was unavailable. Much of the stage cast was brought on board for the film, including Eric Roberts, Frank L. Wilson, George Coulouris, Lucille Watson (no relation) and star Paul Lukas.

Bette Davis was super-excited about Hellman's play and was eager to appear in the film adaptation, but she was less sanguine about having her part built up just for her. She was okay with taking a supporting role because she believed strongly in the story, but in the end, she got star billing anyway.

Rhine first came to my attention when Jacqueline wrote a piece about it earlier this year, with an emphasis on Coulouris' role as the heavy. I liked the film, though it took me awhile to get into it. I didn't expect it to begin like just another snooty high society family drama. I guess I wanted to see Nazis from the get-go, and I didn't care about Watson's character fluttering around her mansion bossing everyone in sight. Once the situation became clearer, and I recognized what Coulouris' agenda was, then I became more interested. Lukas was very good. He reminded me a little bit of Gary Cooper if he were European.

Hellman wrote several successful autobiographies later in life, but was dogged by accusations of inaccuracy and misrepresentation in her work by third parties. Indeed, by her own admission, Hellman wrote what she considered a highly subjective version of the truth in her autobiographies. Regardless, she remains a highly influential and respected playwright of the twentieth century, and a pioneering woman in what was, at the time, a male-dominant field.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Shelley Winters

The What a Character Blogathon is an event devoted to the great character actors of classic Hollywood and the often memorable supporting roles they played throughout film history, hosted by Once Upon a Screen, Outspoken & Freckled, & Paula's Cinema Club. For a complete list of participating bloggers, visit the links at any of the host sites.

Does Shelley Winters get a bad rep sometimes, you think? She's a double-Oscar winner, who worked with some of the greatest stars and directors of the Old Hollywood era, and while she's probably better remembered for her roles in middle age and beyond, she was a total hottie in her youth. Yeah, she had her diva moments, but so did plenty of Old Hollywood actresses. Yeah, she made some crappy movies later in life, but she wasn't alone in that, either.

Was it her choice of roles? She had a knack for dying in the second act of lots of her best-known parts (she died at least three times by getting hit by a car!), including A Place in the Sun, one of her greatest films. I watched this one again a few months ago. When I first blogged about it, I had said that I didn't buy her relationship with Montgomery Clift. Truth is, though, I think that was more the fault of the story than the acting. Winters and Clift may seem like a mismatched pair, but they're both so excellent in their roles that it almost doesn't matter. It's also worth noting that Winters was turned down for the role at first because she was too sexy. She had to prove to director George Stevens that she could make herself look ordinary before he accepted her.

Winters seemed to specialize in playing plain-janes and/or jilted women: Sun, Night of the Hunter, Lolita, Executive Suite, etc. That, in and of itself, doesn't mean anything other than typecasting. (At this stage I should probably say that it's been a very long time since I last saw The Miracle Worker, and the one time I saw A Patch of Blue (it was my father's VHS copy), I thought it was super-saccharine.)

Was it her multiple marriages and affairs? This alone certainly does not make her unique, although the number of actors she claimed to have shagged reads like a Hollywood who's who: Brando, Holden, Connery, Lancaster and Flynn, for starters. Personally, I try not to get caught up in all of that kiss-and-tell gossip; like I said, Winters was gorgeous in her youth, and if that meant she went with a lot of actors, well, that's hardly a surprise.

Was it her always bragging about knowing Marilyn Monroe before the latter became a superstar? Gee, I dunno, I think I'd brag about that too, if I were her. I know I've told certain stories, over and over again, about encounters with certain celebrities, or people I knew in school before they became famous (mostly comics artists; I doubt you'd know their names).

Surely it's not for making a movie as cheesy as The Poseidon Adventure? People forget that she was Oscar-nominated for that, too. She gained 35 pounds for it (and by her admission, she was never able to lose it afterwards), and trained with an Olympic swim coach as well. We may look back on Poseidon now with a cynical and ironic gaze, but Winters took it as seriously as any of her other roles.

If Shelley Winters is remembered in a... campy way, or is perhaps not taken that seriously, maybe it's because the really good films from her youth aren't as well-remembered as they ought to be. And to be fair, she herself contributed to her image as a brassy, lusty broad - the kind of woman who would douse Oliver Reed with her drink on television for making fun of women's lib. The kind of woman known for saying things like, "I have bursts of being a lady, but it doesn't last long." And maybe her outrageous behavior had a way of obscuring her talent at times... but she had the goods. So what does it matter how people remember her?

Tuesday, November 17, 2015


[I'm going through some computer problems right now, so some posts are gonna be bare bones for awhile. When I get it fixed, I'll go back and add banners, photos, links, etc.]

The Criterion Blogathon is an event examining the films within the Criterion Collection, hosted by Criterion Blues, Speakeasy and Silver Screenings.

from my DVD collection

I first collected Criterion DVDs back when I worked video retail, in the late 90s-early 00s. It was my co-workers' fault. They were much bigger cinephiles than I was at the time. As my appreciation of movies grew - quality movies, not just whatever was playing at the multiplex that weekend - I began to notice patterns. One of them was that lots of quality movies being released on this new format called DVD were under the Criterion label, and they were the ones my co-workers talked about a lot.

I remember going to the Virgin Megastore for them, either in Times Square or Union Square. Virgin was one of my favorite hangout spots in the 90s because I could buy CDs, DVDs and books there, and often did. I also supported smaller, independently-owned record shops and bookstores, but Virgin had a section specifically devoted to Criterion DVDs, which held a big appeal to someone like me, who was getting an on-the-job education in classic cinema at work.

DVDs  in general were beginning to take off during this period, so it was a
great time to work in video retail and be a film fan. Once I understood the advantages DVDs had over VHS tapes - namely, the special features - Criterion slowly gained a special value for me. At Virgin, I would go through the Criterion section of the home video department, looking at the titles, one row after another. The foreign films were a mystery to me, but certain covers would catch my eye. The Old Hollywood titles were more enticing, and I thought it was classy of me to occasionally pick out a Preston Sturges comedy or an Alfred Hitchcock mystery for my collection. 

Most of the Criterions I bought, though, were more contemporary: films by Wes Anderson or Paul Thomas Anderson, stuff like that. I remember how thrilled I was to get Kevin Smith's Chasing Amy as a Criterion, and while I eventually learned that the audio commentary was taken from the laser disc (remember those?), that didn't matter, since it was still new to me. So I consider Criterion to have played a role in my cinematic education.

Now seems like a good time to talk about the Criterion DVD of Spartacus. Currently playing in the art house circuit is a biopic of Spartacus screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, one of, if not the best-known victim of the Hollywood anti-Communism blacklist.Trumbo was hired by the film's star and executive producer, Kirk Douglas, and according to the liner notes by film historian and author Stephen Farber:

...Douglas helped to destroy the Hollywood blacklist by allowing Trumbo to use his own name in the credits for Spartacus....[Media gossip columnist] Hedda Hopper denounced Douglas for hiring Trumbo, and the American Legion picketed the movie's Los Angeles premiere. Douglas's cheeky response was to hire Trumbo to write two more movies.

I don't recall when I bought the DVD, but I probably got it at Virgin. Let's talk about the extras.

The Spartacus Criterion is actually two discs. The first disc is the film itself. You know the story: Roman Empire, slave revolt, "I am Spartacus," etc. This is the 1991 restoration, which brings back a fair amount of material that was cut in 1967 due to censorship. Robert Harris was the guy in charge of the restoration, which also included inproving the color, and there's a short video that gives you an idea of how they worked with the original negatives to make the transfer to DVD more presentable. There's also Trumbo's original scene-by-scene analysis and supplemental music compositions by the film's composer, Alex North. 

Here are quick summaries of the audio commentary:

Harris, the restoration expert, talks about the restoration process, plus the original screenplay and certain scenes that didn't make the theatrical cut. He talked about what he called "large-format color films" like this one and how time is having its way with them, to the point where one can't make a print of them anymore. This was recorded back in the early 90s. By contrast, he also talked about the joy a properly-presented film can bring to an audience, especially a young one.

Douglas talks about the production process as much as his time on the set. He discusses Trumbo, naturally. My favorite quote from Douglas, which is quite illuminating given his background as the son of immigrants: "I've always been drawn to the underdog because I've always considered myself an underdog."

Producer Edward Lewis goes further into the behind-the-scenes stuff. Before Stanley Kubrick stepped into the director's chair, Anthony Mann was slated to direct. Indeed, the opening scenes where we first see Spartacus, breaking rocks in the mountains and biting the leg of a Roman overseer, was all lensed by Mann. He either quit or was fired two weeks or so into production. Lewis says Mann quit because of the difficulty he had in working with so many star egos who were also experienced writers and directors. Douglas says Mann was fired because Douglas didn't think Mann was the right fit - and of course, Douglas had previously worked with Kubrick on Paths of Glory. Lewis also talks about the right-wing resistance to Spartacus within Hollywood.

Howard Fast, the blacklisted author of the original Spartacus novel, seems to be of two minds about the film adaptation. He praises Douglas the producer for getting the movie made, but disagrees with several choices Trumbo made in the screenplay. For example, Fast calls the infamous "snails and oysters" scene between Laurence Olivier and Tony Curtis Hollywood's idea of decadence, as opposed to the real thing. Also, Fast doesn't seem to like Douglas the actor.

Graphic designer Saul Bass, who also designed the opening credits sequence, and did some storyboards and location scouting, talks about a variety of production and post-production aspects.

Actor Peter Ustinov, who won the Oscar for his work here, shares his memories of dueling Brit divas Olivier and Charles Laughton, as well as his thoughts about what Spartacus means to him. He's easily the funniest comentator.

Perhaps the highlight of the second disc of Spartacus is a short documentary called The Hollywood Ten, in which Trumbo and the other blacklisted and convicted writers, producers and directors have their say. A narrator introduces the men, one by one, and then they talk about the House Un-American Activities Committee and why they defied that group's directive to rat on their colleagues, who may or may not have been Communists. I didn't like that they all spoke from a prepared script, though. It would've been nicer to have gotten their individual perspectives in a more candid setting. Perhaps this was done out of expediency; maybe getting all ten of them in one room wasn't easy. Don't know. Still worth seeing as a historical relic of the times.

There are several deleted scenes from the film that are kinda interesting, but like most deleted scenes, they don't add much in terms of additional context. There are also a ton of stills and promotional images.

There are behind-the-scenes interviews with Ustinov and Jean Simmons, plus another interview with Ustinov much later in life. He is witty, erudite and great with accents and impersonations. (His Laughton is especially good.) Seeing him in this context makes me want to check out some of his other films. There's also a brief biography of director Kubrick.

There's a fine short, set to North's film score, depicting training for scenes set in the gladiatorial school. We see Douglas, Woody Strode, and others learning how to fight more or less like Roman gladiators, using wooden sticks in place of swords. Everyone wears black Spartacus shirts, which makes them look like a regimented army or something.

There's newsreel footage featuring Douglas and other cast members on set and at premieres. In one we see Douglas present Curtis with an award given him from a film magazine. The original trailer is also available.

There are storyboards by Bass and Kubrick, although the former's are far more detailed and interesting visually. Among them, we see a sequence during the big battle at the climax where Simmons' character wanders off to have her baby. In addition, there are pages and panels from a Spartacus comic book adaptation. Some of the likenesses are close to the real actors, others are more generic.

There's also a transcript of the letter the MPAA wrote to the Spartacus production team after seeing an early cut of the film, in which they point out all the things they wanted changed or deleted. Much of what they objected to sounds expected: Simmons' skinny-dipping scene, the "snails and oysters" scene, etc., but there are other things they mention that really didn't make the theatrical cut, so it's well worth looking at.

There's something for every cinephile's tastes within the Criterion Collection, and within this Spartacus double-disc, there's much worth exploring. Still, perhaps the most significant aspect is the restoration of the film itself. Even on my laptop, the movie looks spectacular, and credit must go to Harris and his team for going the distance in making this epic film look the way it should.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Return to the Hollywood Canteen!

Almost two years ago, I did a post on the Hollywood Canteen, the World War 2-era nightclub for American soldiers created and run by the film industry, in which movie stars served and entertained enlisted men. My post was in the form of an original short story, centered around an old film star remembering her time there, as well as the boyfriend she had to leave behind. At the time, I wrote it with one eye focused on trying to convey information about the Canteen and the war effort in general, and as a result, it wasn't as much of a fictional narrative as perhaps I would have liked. 

Therefore, I went back recently and revised it, with the goal to make it read more like a proper story. If you look at the original version, you'll see there's not enough going on; it's basically Nan, the main character, reminiscing about the war and why she and her old beau Matthew didn't stay together. So what I've done is to give their conflict more of a central role, while trying to capture some of the magic of the Canteen at the same time. I'd appreciate any and all comments about this new version. I believe it works better as a story than before.

Because I'm terrible with titles, I've given this the tentative title Nice Work If You Can Get It. I would greatly appreciate a better one.

*          *          *

The raucous laughter and music hit him as he entered. A faint scent of old wood wafted through the air, mixed with cooking smells and draft beer. Other servicemen crowded around him, clustered in groups at the bar and at tables. 

What stood out for Matthew the most, however, was seeing the movie stars. Here was Joe E. Brown at the bar, serving drinks. There were Dick Powell and George Raft, bussing tables. And on the dance floor: Claudette Colbert, and Paulette Goddard, and Jeanette MacDonald, all dancing with servicemen just like him!

The Hollywood Canteen was everything Matthew had heard it was.

Friday, November 6, 2015

No Way Out

No Way Out
YouTube viewing

Joseph L. Mankiewicz is one of the most successful triple-threats - producing, writing and directing - in Hollywood history. Chances are you've seen his two biggest hits as a writer-director, A Letter to Three Wives and Best Picture winner All About Eve. As a producer, he was behind such big hits from the 30s and 40s as The Philadelphia Story and Woman of the Year, among others. In addition, his brother Herman co-wrote Citizen Kane with Orson Welles, the highlight of a long career going back to the silent era, and his son Tom had a notable stint as a writer-director, co-writing two Superman movies and three James Bond movies.

Mankiewicz was co-nominated, with original scenarist Lesser Samuels, for the Oscar for Best Writing, Story and Screenplay for No Way Out. He made it the same year, 1950, as Eve, whose screenplay was also Oscar nominated. A young black doctor has to treat two brothers, criminals, but when one of them dies under his care, the other, an unrepentant racist, accuses him of deliberately causing it to happen. The doctor must obtain permission for an autopsy in order to prove his innocence, but that only leads to further, and wider-ranging, complications.

I was really impressed with this one. This was the feature film debut of Sidney Poitier, and he is as good as you would imagine him to be, but there are a variety of roles for other black actors in this film that allow us to see different perspectives of the black experience. Dots Johnson's elevator operator represents the militant side, chafing under the oppression of white society and itching for an excuse to strike back somehow. Amanda Randolph's housekeeper, who could've easily been nothing more than a one-note background character, is given an important role to play in the third act that lets us see her as a person.

It was uncredited screenwriter Philip Yordan, however, who suggested, among other things, letting us see the family of Poitier's character, Luther. Mildred Joanne Smith plays Poitier's wife, and she gets several wonderful moments in the film. Sadly, her career was cut short by a plane crash two years after making No Way Out, according to her IMDB listing. She survived, but never made any other movies. She did, however, switch to singing. She died earlier this year. What would her acting career had been like without that plane crash...?

Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis are in this movie! For Davis, it was also his feature debut, as well as the first film he and Dee would share. She plays Poitier's sister; Davis plays Dee's husband. They get to share a few lines together over a dinner table with mom Maude Simmons. Davis' character takes part in the [SPOILER] in Act Two, though it's also not clear why he does so. I would've liked just a tiny bit of clarification, since he doesn't come across as militant as Johnson's character.

Big shock: No Way Out was somewhat controversial when it was released. How so? Read this and find out. I found producer Darryl Zanuck's attitude towards this film fascinating: he already knew that southern theaters wouldn't want to show it, which would mean a significant loss of revenue, yet he greenlit it anyway. Not only that, but he changed his mind about the ending, in a manner that suggested he gave the story serious thought. He wasn't thinking in terms of capitulating to the audience in some way that would make the movie more palatable. He wanted to make money on No Way Out, no question, but he also thought hard about the film's integrity, and that's admirable.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

A Boy Named Charlie Brown

A Boy Named Charlie Brown
YouTube viewing

When I was in high school, I took a cartooning class, and about halfway into the semester, I did a report on Charles Schulz. I remember finding what must have been a young adult-style biography of the cartoonist which was quite helpful. in that I not only learned some basic facts about the man, but I got to see the roots of the comic strip that would become the worldwide phenomenon known as Peanuts.

Perhaps you're aware that it began as not a traditional, four-panel strip but a single-panel one, like Family Circus, called Li'l Folks, with a much smaller cast of characters. Charlie Brown and Snoopy look a little different, but they're easily recognizable. The name "Peanuts" was imposed on Schulz by United Feature Syndicate, and he never liked it - which is why all those TV specials and movies are titled "Charlie Brown" this and "Charlie Brown" that.

I imagine the story of my childhood with Peanuts isn't too different from yours. I remember owning the collected editions (still have some of them) and other Peanuts-related books, and I even had a few vinyl records of some of the TV specials. Naturally, I watched those specials every year, like most kids. I'm pretty sure I went to see Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown when it came out theatrically. I remember thinking how lucky the kids were to be able to go to a foreign country on their own.

I also imagine that Peanuts means as much to you as it does to me. From an artistic standpoint, it was and is a notable influence. When I first created City Mouse, Schulz' unique humor was something I strove for often (though not always). I like to think CM has a little bit of Snoopy's style and savoir faire. I have made at least one blatant Peanuts ripoff homage in CM, for what it's worth.

Beyond CM, though, I remember experimenting with a Peanuts-inspired four-panel gag strip back in college, about a pair of young tennis prodigies. If memory serves, I believe this even pre-dated my foray into self-publishing comic books. I did this one strictly for me, however, in the pages of my sketchbook, and if you were to see it, you'd recognize pretty clearly my attempt to be like Schulz. Four-panel gags are a challenge in terms of learning how to pace a joke properly - not as easy as it seems - and I've tried it on quite a few occasions over the years. The nice thing about CM is that I can do it in a variety of formats.

Getting back to Peanuts, though: much has been written about these remarkable characters and what they mean to people. They never seemed completely like kids to me, yet their innocence and vulnerability belonged very much to the realm of childhood. It used to puzzle me that they seemed to have so much freedom, yet were still subject to the bounds of the adult world, however marginalized adults were in the strip.

From Schulz' perspective, it must have been tempting to introduce adults directly, but whether it was a teacher Linus crushed on or a baseball player Charlie Brown idolized or even a simple parent or grandparent, Schulz always kept them off-panel, out of sight, and in so doing, fully immersed us into the kids' world in a way no other comic strip, before or since, has done. That's just one more reason among many why, as a literary work of art, Peanuts stands alone.

And now, Peanuts is back in the spotlight. This Friday, a new animated movie featuring CB and company will debut, a computer-generated one, no less, and it has gotten people talking about these characters again, which is always welcome. I thought I'd take a moment to look back at the first time the Peanuts crew were on the big screen, and since I haven't done any animated movies so far this year, now is the perfect time.

A Boy Named Charlie Brown was released in 1969, four years after Peanuts' animated debut in the television all-timer A Charlie Brown Christmas. Much of it is stitched together from various Peanuts strips, which is kind of disappointing, given that Christmas was an original teleplay written by Schulz, but if you've never seen the strips, I guess you won't know the difference. Bill Melendez directs once again, as he did for Christmas.

Tired of living with loser stink on him all the time, CB is encouraged by Linus to enter a school spelling bee, and the round-headed kid discovers he actually has an affinity for spelling - but how far can he take his newfound success? Boy doesn't hold up quite as well as I had hoped it would - it's not that funny, and with the exception of the marvelous title track, the original songs aren't that great - though the final fifteen minutes or so redeem the whole thing for sure.

And there are some nice surprises. Try to imagine, if you will, a modern animated movie that stops the action for a meditative, artistic musical sequence set to Beethoven, or a rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner" animated in stars and stripes. Boy looks less like an animated adaptation of a popular comic strip and more like pop art, which was all the rage during the sixties, and it's certainly a reflection of the mind of Schulz.

Boy was Oscar-nominated in the Original Song Score category, which was different from both Original Score and Original Song. I'm not quite sure what the difference was exactly, but they don't use this category anymore, so who cares? They lost to the Beatles for Let It Be, so no shame there. Vince Guaraldi worked on the score, and once again, his jazz-infused inflections give the animated incarnation of Peanuts a distinctive flavor. You'll note the lack of pop songs in the soundtrack.

I know The Peanuts Movie won't be like this. I've learned to accept that the characters are in hands other than Schulz' now, and as long as there's money to be made from them, they will continue without him. Is hoping that they'll be treated with respect too much to ask for? Maybe Calvin & Hobbes' Bill Waterson had the right idea all along: avoid all commercialization and merchandising whatsoever and know when to leave the stage. How many of us, however, have the strength to walk down that narrow path? I'm certainly not blaming Schulz for merchandising Peanuts, nor am I blaming his family for continuing to make money off of it; I'm just saying that as a fan, it's difficult to say this stuff doesn't matter. I'll see this new movie and judge for myself.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

We don't need corporations to define Star Trek

CBS Television Studios announced today it will launch a totally new Star Trek television series in January 2017. The new series will blast off with a special preview broadcast on the CBS Television Network. The premiere episode and all subsequent first-run episodes will then be available exclusively in the United States on CBS All Access, the Network’s digital subscription video on demand and live streaming service.
The next chapter of the Star Trek franchise will also be distributed concurrently for television and multiple platforms around the world by CBS Studios International.
...Alex Kurtzman will serve as executive producer for the new Star Trek TV series. Kurtzman co-wrote and produced the blockbuster films Star Trek (2009) with Roberto Orci, and Star Trek Into Darkness (2013) with Orci and Damon Lindelof. Both films were produced and directed by J.J. Abrams.
So I took a little time yesterday to ponder this advertisement for CBS All Access disguised as the announcement of a new Star Trek series. If I understand this press release correctly, the premiere episode will debut on CBS Television, and all subsequent episodes will air only on the VOD/streaming service. Yes, I understand that it's called show business for a reason and blah blah blah, but asking viewers to pay for yet another subscription service, in an environment which already contains Amazon, Netflix and Hulu, not to mention cable, may be a bridge too far. It certainly sets a bad precedent for the history of Trek on TV, which has never needed to rely on deals like this before. That's not what I wanna talk about, however.

What I want to know is this: in 2015-soon-to-be-2016, do we even need to rely on CBS (and Paramount for the movies) for Trek anymore? Way back in prehistoric times, also known as the 1970s, Trek fandom kept the spirit of The Original Series alive by writing fan fiction, making original art, publishing zines, and many other things in the absence of their favorite TV show.

Axanar takes a single TOS episode and expands upon it, telling an
untold tale of Trek history.
That entrepreneurial spirit lives on today, in Trekkies who are far more than just non-professional amateurs, creating far more than just newsletters and filk songs. In recent years, there has been a renaissance in the realm of Trek-related fan films, many of which are funded through crowdsource websites like Kickstarter, and if you think these are cheaply-made productions shot in 16mm out of somebody's garage, think again. Below-the-line industry professionals - computer graphics animators, set designers, costumers, makeup artists, etc. - are involved in the creation of a number of these projects, giving them a look not unlike that of many network TV shows. The writing and acting, in the best cases, is also of a high quality.

Perhaps the most exciting factor, however, is the direct involvement of actors from the Trek shows. George Takei, Nichelle Nichols and Walter Koenig from The Original Series are among the many Trek alumni who have appeared or are appearing in this new wave of fan films, playing either their familiar roles from their respective series or new ones, and as a result, they give these independent films - for that's what they are, really - an air of "legitimacy," in a way. Even the productions without known Trek actors, though, look and feel far more professional than one might expect.

Star Trek Continues is one of several web shows that
attempts to create a "fourth season" of TOS.
No, none of these productions are able to profit financially from their efforts, but that's not the point. They're being made because they can be made, because their creators' love for Trek is not reliant solely on whatever CBS and Paramount deem to provide us. Not only do these new films and shows satisfy a demand that the "official" keepers of the Trek brand can't even keep up with, they provide new parameters for what Trek is and can be- but then, Trek fandom has been doing that for a long, long time.

I was going to wait until January to announce this, but I guess now is probably a more appropriate time to let the cat out of the bag: to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Trek, in 2016, I plan on doing a year-long series, once a month, that will explore different aspects of what you could call the Trek legacy. It won't be comprehensive; I'm just gonna take a look at some of the ways in which Trek has grown beyond the shows and films, and these indie Trek productions will definitely be among them. Also, in September 2016 I'll present "30 Days of Trek," which will celebrate the shows, the characters, and the people who made the whole thing possible, and will include my personal all-time Top 25 episode list. So there you go.

What was responsible for the geek renaissance?