Tuesday, December 28, 2010

MTA STRIKES AGAIN...AREN'T ALL VAMPIRES BLOODSUCKERS?

By Joliet Jake
 Well, well, well...That is mighty White of the MTA to hit us the loyal rider/commuter over the heads with yet another fare hike for an undermined service.
I have heard it said that "you cannot get blood from a stone", but as of late it seems that attempts have yielded blood and continue to do so. In a time with no jobs, unemployment limitations, and big budget cutbacks, the almighty Metropolitan Transit Authority still sees fit to bleed the public for more dough, socking it to us once again. Where will people draw the line? When will they decide that enough is enough? Just how much longer will it be until the level of crime reaches unbearable heights? These are all questions of pertinence to the common man who does not have his own SUV-mounted personal driver and therefore has to deal with and live amongst the residual collateral damage resulting from the blatant MTA and government price gouging of an already-withering public. Withering in the sense that the average blue collar worker is living check to check, putting them one paycheck away from being broke and going belly-up. Bearing their infamously blood thirsty capitalistic fangs, the MTA just steamrolls ahead right to another fare hike. 
In my most recent experience, my only the choice was to stand and wait for trains and hope they come on time so I can get where I have to go for work. The flip side of this has gone unnoticed for some reason, but is real none the less: when services are cut, you have to get up even earlier in the morning, losing more sleep and setting the stage for weakening and poor health conditions for such individuals. So, not only are we paying more, we are receiving less service, losing precious sleep to compensate for the cuts in service lines. Just how much more does the MTA want? The answer, ALL OF IT!!!!!
That's right, now imagine the MTA holding YOU up by your Achilles heel (how appropriate) shaking all of the pennies and lint from your pockets and filling their already bulging bellies and wallets. If you do not believe me just strike up some small talk with a rider and they will tell you. It is on the tip of every one's tongue, but no one will do anything. Such as stage a mass MTA boycott for as long as it takes for them to realize that hikes are unfair plain and simple and (in the words of Twisted Sister) "We're not gonna take it anymore!" With three fare increases in the last 3 years, and service slashes (it has gone beyond cuts), they have rendered the victim passenger helpless with only the option to wait for the eventual metro while bleeding from the jugular and carotid arteries. As long as the riders continue to pay without protest, so shall the bludgeoning continue until we have nothing left but to sleep on the very trains like so many unfortunate few; but of course then they would order all police personnel to ticket those very people in order to ensure profit at all angles.
Ever since this economic downturn (or rather planned destruction) took hold of this nation, The MTA, along with other agencies, have just terrorized the public with astronomical inflation and price swelling. It's all just one BIG MONEY GRAB!!!! Every corporation, every sector of government, they are all penny pinching and hording as much liquid wealth as they can to allocate amongst the upper "Cream?" of their Blood Soaked Empires of greed. With the public already crying and having long since thrown in the towel, the punches just keep coming. Demanding more and more from our already thinned and still thinning pockets, bank accounts, safes, and whatever else. Like beaten wives or girlfriends, the public just do not have the wherewithal to raise a single voice or commit to an all out boycott of the Transit Authority for even a day or half a day. It is a sad, tired, shame to witness such defeat without any effort made to conquer the odds.
   Everyday as I ride the trains I see the very hardworking fabric upon which this nation was built with sullen sadness in there eyes. They...We all suffer at that hands of a gangster controlled corporate-ocracy.There is no longer a question of when will it be too late. It is already too late. We may as well just hand over our wallets, banks, safes etc to the MTA and the like who continue to bleed us out of all of our nickels. It seems like just yesterday that the MTA was all the rave about billion dollar surpluses and the likes; Dare I ask what happened to the so called overflow of liquid assets? Dare anybody ask? I wish it worked like for us and our paychecks. I wish were able to just continue making more and more and more demands and just continue to bleed the increases out of our employers. And VOILA!, magic cash just appears from our employers.
   It will now cost $29.00 for a weekly unlimited pass, and an ear ringing slap of $104 for a monthly pass. On my budget, I will not be buying anymore monthly passes for some time. I mean between the Rent just being to Damned High and the rising cost of...EVERYTHING, you just can't catch a break or get ahead in any way, shape or fashion. Forget about savings if you do not make a six figure salary in this god-forsaken land and city called New York. It used to be the city that never sleeps for its night life. Now it is the city that never sleeps for the fact that with all the metro cuts and service slashes, one does not have the time or luxury to sleep unless of course you've got that SUV-mounted personal driver I mentioned earlier.
   Something here clearly has to give. Either we continue to be bled out by our corporate serial killers who include the MTA, or we make a voice to be heard. Remember, even when aggravated one can make a peaceful movement maintaining order still getting the desired attention. If we could ever sensibly organize they would have left us not choice but to peaceably decline use of the metro system...

Sunday, November 28, 2010

USED AND ABUSED TO THE TUNE OF THE PRODUCTION BLUES

Now this is a real kick in the face for having an impressive Resume. I have been working in film production as a PA for more than four years now. It seems I cannot go upward regardless of the projects I have undertaken on my Resume. No matter how many times I work with those who repeatedly hire me, I cannot seem to go any higher than the corner lock up PA that they all think of when things are tough and near to impossible; or the job that no one else will do. For example, I just recently got called and booked to do a job as a walkie/communications PA however, the "Ahaaaa..." is that in addition to being responsible for communications, and doing Lock-ups which I will no doubt be called upon to do, I have to drive a 31 ft. "Camper?". I mean, what kind of shit is that!!? This is the first I have ever heard of such a thing; a PA driving a 31 ft. Camper...Typically, on "Big Shows"(that is, major motion pictures) Teamsters or unionized drivers usually have that job and it is their only responsibility to get the truck/trailer/campers and all the contents therein to the set on time and ready without delay; and this is no easy task taking into consideration that these vehicles need to be parked and in most cases driven on specific commercial routes which itself can add hours to your day. This type of misuse of PA's is found rampant in what I refer to as "Indie Truck and Fuck" feature films; meaning quite simply that you must drive a truck and then bend over and get fucked on the set to wrap to truck again.
In a time like this when people are loosing jobs and going belly-up, I should be thankful to have, and I am. Just wondering when, or if my level of employment will ever increase and will I ever begin to get the pay that I am qualified to receive? Is it wrong for me to want better for myself? Am I somehow showing lack of appreciation by desiring to make more money? Should I give up my pursuit of climbing to the highest heights I can climb and be content with the work all others refuse? These are all questions that any person with any ambition and motivation would ask. How is it possible for one person to work on so many clown town projects? Should I consider these types of jobs a favor, an opportunity, or just a plain swift kick in the ass? God knows I have never been a lazy person, but this is ridiculous. When I got the call, I know this particular 1st AD(1st Assistant Director) called other people who turned the job down because of the ridiculousness being asked for the pay. He will most likely not take it personally and call those people again when he has something "better" for them by THEIR standards to work on and not call me although it was me who did not turn him down. I am willing to go as far as to speculate that the entire production team had made calls to their people to see if they could get any takers for the job before remembering my name and calling me. I am constantly expected to pull these types of jobs and work near 24 hours/day exhausting myself on these bullshit projects. I have heard it said that he who does nothing is idle, but so is he who is underemployed also idle...
When in school, I was always told that my Resume was my ticket to better employment. Work hard, and your record will earn you the pay and position you desire. What a load of bullshit that was...If that were the case, I would be a studio level producer. There is a positive side to this that cannot go unnoticed. I feel that it is because of my experience, that I am for better than those who turn this work down or are "too good" to work on these shitty, test your mettle feature films. I am better as a producer, an AD(although that is not what I want to do), and all around production personnel due to my experience on various sets and enduring many projects that others turned down. Although I gave myself a timeline of ten years to become the producer I want to, I wonder if I will ever break through this apparent glass ceiling?

Saturday, November 6, 2010

This or That: "Love Won't Let Me Wait"

I'm going through some writer's block again; I'm trying to write a treatment for an epic miniseries while editing my script for Community Service; at the same time producing (for lack of a better term) a short horror flick for some Bronxnet buddies. Meanwhile my roomie and I survived a flood in our apartment that could have been a lot more tragic (picture a burst pipe spraying water directly onto an open circuit breaker box). Mix that all together and you have a nice case of writer's block. 

In an effort to break the block, I'm tossing around some ideas and sharing them with you.  One of them is This or That, a not very original idea, but with some serious consideration about which of the paired items discussed is better and why.  I won't yet tell you which one I prefer, not until I read some interesting thoughts about the one you voted for. 

First up, I give you the ballad Love Won't Let Me Wait, recorded most famously first by Major Harris and covered brilliantly by Luther Vandross.  Others have made versions of this song, but these two are not only the best known versions, but in all fairness the best two.  And of the two, which do you think is the top choice?

Major Harris (1975)


Luther Vandross (1988)


Choose the one you like best and why. 

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The HTC EVO 4G: Lessons Sent in Ridiculous Packaging

"Sim simma, who the keyz to ma beama?"

"Do you want fries and a drink with that?"


Sometimes life gives us lessons sent in ridiculous packaging. - Dar Williams

I just recently bought this new Droid phone and, not for nothing, my only complaint is the packaging. I mean, it is a phone and technological device that costs almost $500 retail and they don't even take the time to pay attention to a fine detail such as the packaging of the thing.

Call me old-fashioned, but I remember a time when companies took the time to pay attention to the pristine package design for a superior product. However, this superior product for the money spent comes packaged in what appears to be a Ramen noodles pack or something of the likes purchased at your local store in Chinatown, NYC. I have no idea what the marketing team at HTC was thinking when they decided on the packaging of the product; it really is quite horrible.

Now, while I'm no expert on cell phone marketing or distribution, yet appears that it would behoove any cell phone manufacturer to make certain that their product is properly represented in the market place among so much competition. I would never have expected such a high-end device to be presented so poorly.

It doesn't even come with headphones. Really?

Talk about being a stingy, greedy, capitalist pig-headed company. This to me represents the apex of capitalist debauchery to the highest degree. Don't get me wrong here, it is a superior product, but imagine if you bought a Ferrari and the key was given to you in a plain manila envelope with a faded logo haphazardly stamped on it... I'll bet if you had the money, you would probably not buy another Ferarri, no?

The same thing applies here. It boasts itself as being the Ferrari of cell phones and the first 4G phone released to the public, yet it is packaged like it's being sold behind the counter at a discount dollar store. It just doesn't make any sense, no matter how you slice it.

I may not be a big fan of Macintosh and their products, but at least they have the class to present their iPhone 4 to the world and its consumers in a very pristine, classy package that demands respect.

And it came with headphones!!!! (...well, okay maybe not those, but the principle's the same. )

What a bright idea, a multimedia device that comes with headphones. Maybe all of the geniuses work for Steve Jobs. The new, bold 4G iPhone comes packaged in a box that is vacuum sealed; upon opening, the consumer hears the rushing sound of suction accompanied by that special factory-new  smell of freshness; an item made with care and competence. Comparing the two, these phones are clearly like night and day. To me, Mac clearly took pride in their new release to mobile telephony market, whereas HTC just threw it out there and said, "Here, now stop whining!"

The nicest thing I can say is that it is a disappointment that HTC allowed for their product to be packaged so poorly and not even include a pair of headphones to accompany the pricey device. It is a resounding slap in the face to any consumer who has chosen this product because they feel it is superior and will add ease and convenience to their lives.

Shame on you HTC... the only thing this package is missing is a pair of chopsticks and some class.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Reggie Watts: F_ck Sh_t Stack

Just because I like it so much; it basically illustrates my thoughts on the current state of music we are constantly subjected to from peoples' loud car stereos and such...

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Footstools of Opportunity: A Cursory First Look at the Essay "Immigration, African Americans and Racial Discourse" by Stephen Steinberg

I'm currently writing an analysis of LeBron James' free agency event (for lack of a better term) and what it says about him, the people and agencies involved and society in general.  I happen to think the whole thing is far more involved than people are willing to admit or able to see, but then deep analysis is what I do when I'm quiet.  That's been taking up a major amount of my time, along with various film and tv gigs, so don't get upset that I haven't posted in a month.  I keep telling my colleagues here that they should consider picking up the slack as it were, but they all have more involved lives than I do, like having real jobs and being parents and all; and I find nothing wrong with that (in other words, I don't want to tick them off >;)

In the meantime, I was perusing Google for documents my uncle says were given to immigrants at Ellis Island that included frank instructions to "ignore Negroes", as they were considered prevalent non-entities.  I can't imagine anyone would have the guts to upload such a document on the web, thus proving a long-held belief in the black community that immigrants were encouraged by the United States to be racist or prejudiced towards American blacks, but I did find an interesting document from the textbook Race and Labor Matters in the New U.S Economy by Joseph Wilson, Manning Marable and Immanuel Ness.

There is also a report and article by NPR contributor Michel Martin which also looks at the issues of various ethnic minorities and their perceptions of each other.  

For anyone who has said or believes that immigrants of any particular stripe consistently outperform American blacks for various reasons; among them being that American blacks undermine themselves, these are must-reads and a needed wake-up call.  It is not pejorative, nor does it seek to be divisive or reassign blame.  It is a call to wake up to the reality that there has been a consistent and pervasive manipulation of everyone by a class that would no more have immigrants join them in their position than they would have the class of people they denigrate to them.  

As you can plainly see, I don't just reminisce about my past lives; I also seek to enlighten.  Hopefully this article will put you further along in that direction. Feel free to discuss here or shoot me an email; most importantly, keep the dialogue productive. >;)

Note: I notice in many places that race discussion gets overwhelmed by ignorance of all kinds; this is the internet, but at our site, we don't abide by cowardice in the guise of anonymous expression.  Not all anonymous expressions are from cowards, but it's pretty evident what constitutes cowardice, and it will not be tolerated or propageted here; racist and ignorant comments will be removed, so don't bother proving my point.      

Sunday, June 20, 2010

My Mom and My Theory


This weekend marks the thirteenth year since the worst day of my life.  Nothing that ever happens to me from that point on could ever be as bad as then, having had my whole life rendered assunder and starting anew as though I had never previously existed.  Yet, as time has gone on, I ponder whether I would have had the gumption to pursue the path I have chosen any further than I have; whether I would have been further along than now or perhaps doing something entirely different. 

As it is, I feel as though the ten years that followed were part of a life sentence in the deepest, darkest hole in solitary confinement in a prison everyone has heard of, but no one could find.  In recent years, I have slowly reemerged on Facebook, rediscovering friends and acquaintences from years past.  Some had given me up for dead, some knew I was around, but could not find me.  I know that my "blackout period" was unreasonable in many  ways; I was a shell of my former self in knowledge and ambition, only trying to survive as opposed to striving forward to an unknown destiny.  I lost ground to many people younger than I am in the film industry and other fields I was once had a burning desire to dominate.  Today I feel like an old man, lost in a new wave and confused about where I belong.  And the worst part is, I'm not old (still thirty-something)...

And every year, around this time, I feel it.  It creeps up on me and pulsates in the cold, where my heart once beat and my mind once beaconed.  It does its level best to overwhelm me and remind me of what I lost not only then, but in the ensuing years.  My innocence is gone.  My youth is fading.  My idealism is checked.  Much that remains is dreamlike, but without the spark that ignited so many ideas and a concerted effort to bring them to fruition.

I have lost my belief in people.  I become irritable and uncomfortable in company, thus avoiding as much social activity as possible.  I'm suspicious of a person's intent, especially when a compliment is involved. 

I have given up on finding or retaining love.  The few relationships I've had up to now have ended with the woman staying friends with me for years, then disappearing *snap* just like that.  I remind myself that it's the price of admission for the game I chose to play, where I can become rich and famous for entertaining people with stories based on my own bewilderment; a promising life not cut off too early, but stunted and repuposed by God's will. 

And as I write this, either adding to the lie or lying to myself, I think of what has inspired such self-loathing and destructive thinking...

I miss my sister, and I miss my Mom.

They were heroes.  To hear it from my siblings and my niece who grew up with me like a sister, they somehow managed to saved us from the world we currently live in.  Idealism in its last form, a portrait of innocence before it completely disappears.  To this day I torture myself with their memory and how the world is just a cold and empty space without their voices and the warmth of their presence.  I cannot replace what has been lost, so I cling to what I have left: their memories.

To which, I present this song.  Think of it as a representation; not of the facts (neither Mom nor my sister suffered the horror that is the unsaid subject of this song), but of the theory of what has been happening to my soul since then.  As as I get older (faster as time goes), the song seems to resonate with me more.  For now, it just hurts.



I hope you undestand why I had to write this sad piece; I'm not the type to hold back.  I do hope, however, that there is something to be learned by whatever I have written here, and that it may help someone (maybe yourself), put things in their own proper perspective.  I may be off-base, but I'm honest.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Above The Clouds




I chant eenie meenie, minie moe
I wreck da mic like a pimp pimps hoes
Here's how it goes I am a genius I mean this
I shake this you'll take this
I'm kinda fiendish
You wish that you could come into my neighborhood
Meaning my mental state
Still I'm 5 foot 8
Crazy as I wanna be
Cause I make it orderly
You could say I'm sorta da boss so get lost
The brotha dat will make you change opinions
Dominions I'm in them when it's time to kick shit from
The heart, plus I get a piece of the action
I'm feelin satisfaction from the street crowd reaction
Chumps pull guns when they feel afraid, too late
When they dip in the kick they get sprayed
Lemonade was a popular drink and in still is
I get more props and stunts than Bruce Willis
A poet like Langston Hughes and can't lose when I cruise
Out on the expressway
Leavin the Bodega I say "suave"
Premier's got more beats den barns got hay
Clips are inserted into my gun
So I can take the money, neva have ta run
                                                                                       Guru from Gangstarr, "DWYCK"

Macedonia and I were watching Yo! MTV Raps when we saw the video for their first single, Manifest.  Dressed in Nation of Islam garb (going for broke with a remarkable likeness to Malcolm X), alternating with street issue gear, Keithie E's monotone rolled along smoothly and connected the obviously disjointed images in a way no one else was really thinking of at that time.  Complimented by Premiere's acrobatic cuts and hardcore beats, the two grabbed our attention and held it for years to come.

Yet I admit that I laughed when I first saw the video.  He had a very big mouth, and if you turned down the volume, you'd be fascinated by how wide his mouth flapped as he rhymed.  Perhaps I responded to the gesticulations and overenunciation inherent in earlier rap videos, perhaps my mind having been spoiled by cartoons was connecting the images in the usual manner.  Still, I knew well enough that these guys were worth listening to, if not for the rapper, than certainly the dee jay. Who was making beats like that?

The second single and the accompanying video, Positivity sealed the deal for me.  These guys were definitely here to stay, and not only that, they were a welcome addition. There was a certain level of tranquility that allowed the message to penetrate our thoughts, thanks to Keith "The Guru" and his low, single-toned delivery on a gold platter spun by his partner DJ Premiere.

Yet, aside from the mainstream attention-grabbing Just To Get a Rep, it wasn't until the third album that it really all came together for them.  "Daily Operation", led by the edgy Take It Personal was likely where you can see the duo being comfortable in their own skins, grabbing the hip-hop world by the collar and applying a Vulcan pinch.   This was definitely Jeep-worthy material; in that they declared their claim to the streets, yet in doing so retained a significant amount of dignity by rapping with intellect and strong technique (never mind that I had a 1980 Mustang hatchback). 

When they seperated to do their own projects, their personalities projected even further into the hip hop diaspora.  Premiere would, among others, produce some of the most seminal hip-hop tracks for the likes of Biggie Smalls, aka Notorious B.I.G. and other top-shelf rappers of the generation following his, while Guru's influence expanded overseas and around the world, crossing musical realms into jazz. It may be safe to say that Guru is as well known for his inspired jazz projects as for the mark he made on hip-hop.

That is not to say that it was easy, or that he became a superstar in either case.  Guru had troubles; which he reflected on in the album "Moment of Truth", which to me stands as an epilogue on his life, now that it has run it's course.  I believe we all have an innate knowledge of when our life is coming to a conclusion, and we begin to reflect on what we've done, what we should have done and what what to do now.  In retrospect, my own mother was telling me as much in the last year of her life, and I found the words intuitively from my father, whose tired body was preparing for the long journey into night. And that's also not to say that Guru really said much in the end for us to consider; who knew he'd been fighting cancer all this time?  I don't think anyone believed it at first. Yet we all tell that story at some point in our lives, and after it's done we prepare for the next level.

Guru was not my favorite rapper, but he was one I held in high regard and was a natural part of my collection.  His time here definitely produced interesting material, and his impact is most felt now that he is gone.  Forgive me, for it will take a while to sink in.  Nevertheless, I can't help but believe he's much better off where he is now.  Certainly we of the Hip Hop nation are less without him.

Above the crowds above the clouds
where the sounds are original
infinite skills create miracles
warrior spiritual
Above the clouds raining down
Holdin' it down...
 

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Latest Gig: Background P.A. on "Homework"

My latest gig is as background P.A. on a low-budget feature called "Homework" starring Freddie Highmore and Emma Roberts among other note-worthies (not to be confused with several other films with the same title, I noticed).  I knew at least half the crew before we started and everyone's cool; the AD department is especially likable. As I write this, we're on Day 3 of 22 and I've been really hustling, making mistakes of course, but they're the learning variety and my supes have been impressed. 
 
(Picture: A prepared Background PA. I'm still in the learning stages,  I guess... )

One particular mistake that had me burning inspired me to make a system I'm sure will make the process easier and more efficient.  When you're dealing with a multitude of restless background players, who are for the most part just sitting around waiting to be called to set, chances are you will get crossed up at some point about who has done what, who is wearing what and who needs to do what.  After the twelfth hour, you're not going to remember this stuff in your head and mistakes will happen, which they did.  Fortunately, they were not critical mistakes, though I personally  thought they were.                                                                                  

As I sat and contemplated critically over seemingly critical mistakes, I came up with a simple solution: create a chart that will breakdown scenes, the number of the background player in that scene and what that player is wearing for that scene.  It's so simple, I'm sure there's a chart for this specific purpose already, but I'm going to make one for myself so I can keep my thoughts (and especially the thoughts of the 2nd AD) together.  So, I doubt I will be making this mistake again. 

What do Background PAs do, you ask? We process and organize background talent (extras) on behalf of the Assistant Director and his/her seconds, who set the players in various positions in the camera frame and give them quick directions on what to do.  At the beginning of the day, the background talent will come to me in a specific holding area, where I check them in off of a list called "skins" that has their name and assigned number. I give them releases to fill out and sign; these are for permission to use their images in the film for whatever purpose production has for them (i.e. exposition, marketing, etc.) at the agreed rate, which is always a set day rate. These releases must be filled out every day and kept organized for later use.

A member of the wardrobe department will come in and look over whatever clothing and sets of clothing (changes) the talent was told to bring that will give them an authentic look according to the description of scene; sometimes providing changes if they have the budget to do so.  After wardrobe approves, we all wait for the 2nd AD to call for stand-ins (extras who literally stand in for the principal talent on set during technical rehearsal), then selects the number of background talent he/she wants for the scene.  I will select whatever number is needed (a few to all) and escort them to set, then depending on the needs of the 2nd AD I usually stay to assist in placing and queuing background, and when the scene is completed I escort them all back to holding and organize for the next scene. 

What I've learned so far is that these changes occur quickly, and I have to keep up by knowing who is needed in the scene and in what type of outfit.  I have to keep the background talent informed and prepared for the needs of the scene, then hustle them on and off set as needed.  Again, this can be hectic and confusing without a system in place to organize them, so each player is assigned a number for accounting purposes, but it helps me organize the talent for my chart as well. 

At the end of the day, I sign out the background players on a sheet provided by accounting and pay them according to the designated rate. After that, I fill out a report that describes the number of background players as well as their in, out and meal times, not to mention a running tally of how many background have been used to date.  When all the paperwork has been processed, I take my leave, drive the electric department truck back to the lot and go home to sleep for a couple of hours and start again the next day.  Literally.

I've been a freelance PA for over four years, and I've been working in the film industry off and on since 1995 when I first interned as a locations assistant for the Hudson Valley Film & Video Office.  At the same time I was cast in my first starring role on a straight-to-video production called "Brothers" by the ancient Greek slave/writer Terence. I was a background player for two years on several big TV shows and feature films, and jumped to the other side of the camera after graduating from film school, going full time as a freelancer when I realized I was getting calls on a regular basis.  In all that time, I've worked in various departments, but I've never run background like I am now.  It has been a learning process indeed, but according to the 2nd AD and others, I've been a real asset, which was my intention from the start.  So I'll keep learning and growing with this experience, and hope to land similar work right after this; keep the streak alive and all. I've been hustling like crazy and I'm tired.  But it's a good tired.  >;)

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Railrodder (1965)


I remember in elementary school when we had assemblies, we would watch a movie or a national TV event, like the first flight of the space shuttle Columbia, or a presentation of Pete's Dragon, or even a tour of the puppet cast for a program debuting later that year (which the name, for the life of me, escapes me).  Watching these kinds of things together in an auditorium sounds weird nowadays, but I guarantee you that they made some lasting impressions on my generation.  I may not remember the names of all of the programs we'd seen or the people who gave us presentations (a science-fantasy author for one, who was impressed with my theory on time and space relative to the speed of light), but I remember what had taken place, where I was sitting, who was with me and flashes of what we watched.

Tonight of all nights, I was struck by inspiration to track down the name of a movie we'd watched in one of those assemblies; in my mind it was a black-and-white silent film about a man riding on a railroad handcar cross-country and living as though he were in his own home.  It was an ingenious little film because it played on kids' love of trains, not to mention the rustic scenery that burned a permanent impression on my mind.  I happened to be watching a Buster Keaton film (Our Hospitality) in which in the early part of the film he was riding an ancient train from New York City to the Blue Ridge Mountains of West Virginia to claim an inheritance.  I was fascinated by the fact that the train depicted as the 1829 Stevenson Rocket was a replica and really nothing more than a smallish steam locomotive pulling what looked like narrow and ornate stagecoaches. Seems as though Buster Keaton really liked trains; the movie I thought we watched in assembly, The General, was not in fact the same movie, but was great nonetheless (even if his character was inadvertently on the "wrong" [Confederate] side.) Nevertheless, it is considered one of the finest movies involving trains.

Then I got the notion to look online for movies involving handcars; the pump-trollies that you might remember from Westerns (Blazing Saddles; the quicksand scene) or Warner Brothers/Hanna Barbera  cartoons and I came across a great train enthusiasts site, Rail Serve, which among other things lists many movies that greatly involved trains.  I scrolled down the list until the cover art for one movie drew me in; Buster Keaton Rides Again featuring The Trainrodder.  I soon realized that yes, The Trainrodder was in fact the very same movie we watched in assembly and subsequently on TV all those years ago. 

My memories of the film were almost clear; it was in fact filmed in color, yet it had almost all the conventions of a silent film (a musical score and recorded sound effects, no dilogue).  I remembered much of the scenery and some of the visual gags that took place on the handcar, but it was not really a pump-trolley but a track speeder; a motorized rail cart similar in dimension to a golf cart used by track-workers. Also, the scenery was not strictly rustic; there were in fact as quite a few city scenes as there were backwoods scenes.  But that was actually part of the point of the film...

The Trainrodders depicts an English gentleman in London, England reading a full-page large type newspaper ad that simply states "SEE CANADA NOW!!" After jumping into the Thames, he emerges in what we gather is the eastern seashore of Canada and, upon discovering train tracks and a signpost that shows the Pacific Ocean being exactly 3,982-1/2 miles due west, he begins the long hike, but encounters a motorized trackrider.  While inspecting it, he sits down to relax and accidentally kicks it into gear, taking off like a shot down the track and leaving behind a chagrined track-worker on his break.

The rest of the short film depicts his inadvertently casual journey along the tracks on what amounts to be a speed buggy/mobile home as he makes his way across the Canadian landscape, including tours of Montreal, Ottowa and Vancouver (and all apparently on one tank of gas!).  As he's traveling along, he discovers that the cargo box contains just every amenity he can think of, from meals (including a tea service) to clothing and blankets and other accoutrements to make his journey rather comfortable; there's even a scene where he outfits the trackrider with tree limbs and brush to create a hunting blind as he traces a flock of geese also traveling west (the shotgun compliments of the inexhaustable supply cabinet from the trackrider).  During the trip, he also has several close brushes with trains mostly going in the opposite direction, some of them on the same track as he... 

I won't tell you what happens in the end, and it's not hard to see it coming, but it's still funny and punctuates the charm of this film.  Buster Keaton, in one of his last films, retains the same energy ingenuity from his youth during his heyday as a silent screen star, and the beautiful landscape is prominently featured throughout.  Director Gerald Potterman (Heavy Metal, animation for Yellow Submarine) sets a leisurely pace that is both engrossing and chuckle-inducing for kids and adults alike. 

As I said before, watching this movie as a child in assembly made a strong impression on me, and though 45 years have passed between the making of The Railrodder and now, I would not mind taking a similar journey in the a similar conveyance if the opportunity presented itself.  Of course, I'd have to have the permission of the Canadian railway authorities who helped make it all possible...

The movie was released by the National Film Board of Canada and serves as both a comedy and a travel documentary, serving both purposes well.  What has always been strange to me though is that it used to be shown in school and on TV, perhaps on PBS or even WPIX in New York, but it disappeared along the way and I hadn't seen hide nor hair of it until now.  Yet, it's a testament to the strength of the film's charm that I was able to track it down all these years later, still remembering certain scenes and sight gags like they were filmed yesterday.  Let me know what you think... >;)