Saturday, January 29, 2011

Drive-In Saturday: 'Hours'

This was recorded on a VHS camera in 1988 in the trailer that Debra and I (and newborn Nathan) lived in in Flomaton, Ala. The writer/performer is Julianne Thomas, my step-sister, and the knight is her husband Guy, both of whom were at one time involved in the Society for Creative Anachronism in Pensacola. Guy still makes impressive bladed weapons for a hobby. The video has some noises in it, some of them caused by the camera. As you can see from the quality, the video itself was barely salvageable. But it's a nice song, and I'm glad we preserved it. Here is "Hours" by Julianne:

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Check out 'L-5'

There's a new sci-fi series coming to the web: "L-5" is the story of a crew that returns to earth after a 200-year journey in suspended animation and has to solve the mystery of what happened to the human race while finding a way to survive. Check out the official trailer:

L5 Teaser Trailer - HQ from Stanley Von Medvey on Vimeo.

I would have saved this for a "Drive In Saturday" but you need to see it now.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

'Being Human' loses something in translation

It sounds like a joke: A suave vampire, a nervous werewolf and a cute lady ghost rent an apartment together — but there’s no punch line. Instead, that’s the basic premise of “Being Human,” promoted as a new Syfy channel “original” series.

The only thing new about it is the accent. The series, which premiered Monday on the cable channel, is an Americanized version of a BBC series that has been a hit for the past two years on BBC America.

It concerns three of the ultimate outsiders trying to blend in — i.e., desperately working at “being human.” The premise sounds corny, and while the original Brit series milked the comedic aspect from time to time, it was a full-on drama, with plenty of blood, death, sex and yes, even love.

The U.S. version appears to be following the lead, updating and Americanizing the jokes (there’s an obvious “Twilight” reference that falls flat in the premiere). The action is moved from London to Boston.

“Being Human is a smart, contemporary, young and imaginative series that reflects Syfy's new brand positioning,” said channel president David Howe, quoted in promotional materials for the show. “We are very excited to adapt this for an American audience and bring it into Syfy's family of programming.”

The series stars Sam Witwer (“ Battlestar Galactica ” ), Meaghan Rath (“ The Assistants” ), Sam Huntington (“ Superman Returns ” ) and Mark Pellegrino (best known as Jacob on “ Lost”) .

Syfy has ordered 13 episodes for the first season, which premiered on Jan. 17. That initial outing scored nearly 2 million viewers, making it the most-watched scripted mid-season premiere for the channel in five years.

(Read the rest of this News Herald review, including info on other British shows that became American hits and links to clips of 'Being Human,' at this link.)

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it

News Herald Photo: Robert Cormier
speaks at Gulf Coast Community College
in February 1988.
PANAMA CITY — I met this week with a group of women who are putting together a plan to commemorate one of the darker times in their lives, when the community was divided over the appropriateness of certain books in our schools.
This year will mark the 25th anniversary of a controversy that put Bay County in headlines across the country and around the world. It started in 1986 with some books in a middle school teacher’s classroom library that a parent thought contained inappropriate content, and it continued in 1987 with the schools superintendent listing more than 60 books and plays to remove from student access.

Teachers fought to retain the books. Other teachers opposed them. The School Board held special meetings. Petitions were circulated and thousands signed them. Oprah had some of the participants on her show. Church members were bused to School Board meetings and spoke in tongues during the sessions.

Teachers received death threats. A fire was set under a TV reporter’s car.

The final outcome was a new School Board policy to review challenged books and other materials.

An outcome that no one seemed to expect at the time was that sales of the challenged materials increased during the controversy — one of the top local sellers in 1987 was “I am the Cheese” by Robert Cormier, which had started the whole controversy the year before, according to a News Herald article.

Ten years later, the books being challenged were those in the popular “Goosebumps” series — only this time, instead of raw language or “mature” situations causing consternation, it was a fear of children embracing the occult. The review process kept those books in classrooms, as it also kept “Of Mice and Men” in classrooms in 1997 after a local pastor objected to the racist slurs in the text.

The controversy continues. In 2008, the School Board voted 3-2 to remove Avi’s Newberry Award-winning “The Fighting Ground” from school libraries after a parent objected to language in the book.

I will moderate a discussion on censorship during the Books Alive festival of reading at Gulf Coast Community College on Feb. 5. Some of the panel members will include central characters in the banning controversy of 25 years ago. I encourage you to come out and participate, hear what they have to say and share your own thoughts.

As the good book says, “Come, let us reason together.”


(This is my Undercurrents column for The News Herald for today's edition. To read a complete list of the books banned in Bay County in 1986 and 1987, click this link.)

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Drive-In Saturday: 'Future Warning PSA'

Shot on a VHS home video camera (a Panasonic, I believe) in 1988 or so, and recently re-edited and tweaked. (Way back then, I had no way to create credits or on-screen titles, so the project was never completed.) This was made for a contest where you had 60 seconds to present a public service announcement about the future. I created mine as if it came FROM the future, what was then the distant world of A.D. 2005. I aimed the camera at the TV it was hooked up to in order to create the visual feedback, and used some Halloween makeup to build a layered scar on my face. The hair was my own; no special effect required.

Hope you liked it.

Next Saturday: A real live music video from the same era. (Not starring me, thank God.) Meanwhile, do you have any videos you'd like to share with the class? Post the link in comments.


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

You Can Be Okay

Shameless pimping:

"Nathan Simmons and Andrew Hubbard are pleased to bring you 12 songs they collaborated on over the course of a semester at the University of West Florida in 2010. Mixing confessional lyrics with a pop/folk sensibility, these are songs you will hopefully have stuck in your head until they get around to recording again!"

'You Can Be Okay' is available on CD for $8.

It's good stuff, if you like that hippie rock'n'roll stuff, written and performed by my son Nathan and his friend Andrew.

In other news:

I met with a group of folks at the Bay County Public Library tonight to discuss plans for observing Banned Books Week in September, and also for marking the 25th anniversary since Bay County had a national spotlight turned on its leadership when some fundamentalist locals decided the books in a few teachers' classroom libraries should be removed from ALL schools; the superintendent put together a list of 60-some-odd books and stories that were to be removed from schools (including several Shakespeare plays); people began speaking in tongues during School Board meetings; a fire was started under a TV reporter's car in the middle of the night; teachers received death threats that the cops didn't investigate; Oprah came for a visit ... The story goes on and on. It was going to be a TV movie (one of our members has the third draft of a Warner Bros. script to prove it).

I will be moderating a discussion on banned books and censorship during the Feb. 5 "Books Alive" event at Gulf Community (State?) College, featuring some of the people involved in this part of our local history. Be sure to come check it out.

Carry on.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

A soak in bath salts won't fix stupidity

(The following was my 'Undercurrents' column for today.)

I’ve heard of brainwashing, but using “bath salts” to get high?

Staff writer Felicia Kitzmiller reported last week that so-called “bath salts” are being sold in the area in small, flat packages ($35 each) that contain a half gram of a crystal substance users crush and snort. Side effects include chest pains, hallucinations, paranoia, anxiety, seizures and increased heart rate — and if that doesn’t sound like a good time, I don’t know what does.

“You couldn’t bathe a hamster in this,” Bay County Sheriff’s Capt. Faith Bell told Kitzmiller.

I always wonder about the people who sit around and try to figure out what is in their house that they can get high off of. How many people snorted crushed Drano, or shot up rat poison before they figured out this “bath salts” thing? What is their thought process — “whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stranger”?

Every kid with a chemistry set thinks he’s a rocket scientist. Apparently, every meth head with a soda bottle thinks he’s a chemist.

Submitted for consideration: A recent Bay County Sheriff’s Office incident report shows what you can expect if you’re seeking that clean, refreshing (paranoid, anxiety-inducing) bath salts kind of trip.

Seems a man called authorities about 1:35 a.m. on Wednesday after he thought he had gone home to the camper trailer he lives in off County 2301 and found two men rifling through his stuff. A third was crawling around under the trailer, he said. He ran outside to his car, and they ran and got in two vehicles, a car and a truck, the report said.

The 39-year-old man claimed he followed the truck in an attempt to get its license number, but somehow it started chasing him south on U.S. 231. He pulled onto Jarvis Street and ran from house to house, knocking on doors. On Charles Street, he found a house where the occupant let him call 911, the report said. (The man must have forgotten that he had a cell phone on him.)

A deputy took the man back to his car and followed him from there to his trailer, the report said. The deputy found no signs of forced entry; the windows were all closed and locked from the inside, and nothing was missing.

The man’s landlord explained that his tenant had a recent history of mental problems “after using a synthetic drug called ‘blue bath salts,’” the report said. He had been found in the past walking around the area and knocking on doors because he thought he saw an intruder on the property.

Most recently, the man claimed to have seen “a young woman in dark clothes with an all-white face” at about 10 p.m. that same night.

Calgon, take me away!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Drive-In Saturday: 'OUR DEAD'

"OUR DEAD" was my final project in TV Production 2 class at Pensacola Junior College in 1984. We used a video camera that weighed about 25 pounds and required you to wear a battery belt weighing about 15 pounds. We were absolutely ordered not to point the lens into the sun or get the camera wet. Did you see the sunset we shot into, or the rain on the window panes? Even so, I got an A. Wish I recalled the names of the folks who worked with me on this, but it was long ago and far away.


Friday, January 14, 2011

Colors, Patterns & Textures

I'm heading tonight to the opening of a solo art show by Melissa Arrant, wife of my friend Chris Arrant. The show is in the Amelia Tapper Center at Gulf Coast Community (State?) College from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Come out and say hello. The show is called "Colors, Patterns & Textures," referencing Melissa's colorfield work.

EDIT: Back from the show, which had a BIG turnout. Here's a shot of Melissa getting her picture taken:

Meanwhile, I've obviously been away from the blog for several days. You might be distracted or entertained by the way I've been wasting my evenings, which will begin to become clear tomorrow as I launch a new regular feature that I'm going to call "Drive-In Saturday" (with that ever present wink and nod to David Bowie).

I have been salvaging old videos I created over the years and will be finishing the edits on them to make them presentable if not actually artistic. One per week, starting with my earliest effort, a "final exam" project for my TV Production II class at Pensacola Junior College in 1984, a mean and simple little black-and-white zombie short called "Our Dead."

Here's a screen capture from the film:

Next up, will be a 30-second PSA I made in 1989 for a contest I'm pretty sure I never entered. I call it "Future Warning," and it has been fiddled with a bit. Here's a screen capture:

Yes, that's me transmitting from the far future date of 2005. I have several others I'll be working on over the coming weeks, but the one I'm most pleased with getting some closure over is the one that goes with this screen capture:

That's the Scoutship Nokomis coming in for an emergency landing on an uncharted (and unfriendly) planet. My former brother-in-law, the late Karl Esneul, and I spent a long Saturday in 1989 shooting models and lasers and explosions to make special effects for a movie that we never got around to shooting the live action for. I have recently built a miniature set and used a vintage G.I. Joe astronaut figure to create a few segments that will allow a story to be told, though I confess that I don't recall if we ever actually came up with a storyline or just strung together some FX. This one is for Karl.

Look for the films every Saturday for the foreseeable future. (I have a lot of old video to work through.) If you see something you enjoyed, please let me know. It's pretty embarrassing to be putting some of this out there for the public to chew up. But then, I do that with my stories, too. So I guess I can take the shots.

Hope this finds you all well, and I sincerely hope the new year is being kind to you. Thanks for following.


Sunday, January 09, 2011

What a strange Shyamalan year so far...

LEFT: A woman feeds a two-headed calf born this week in a village in the nation of Georgia.(AP)

Here we are, nine whole days into a brand new year, and I don’t think I’d be the only one who’s ready to call a do-over. This has been one long, weird week.

Does it seem to anyone else like we’re living in an M. Night Shyamalan movie? I keep waiting for the twist ending.

I mean, look at the evidence: 3,000 blackbirds fall out of the sky in Arkansas after apparently flying themselves to death; another 500 plummet to the earth in Louisiana. Hundreds more fall in Kentucky, 100 in New Zealand, 50 in Sweden.

Is it a “Happening”? Are the trees making them suicidal? Are they smacking into invisible spaceships? Is this one of the “Signs”? Have they run afoul of “The Last Airbender”?

Scientists say not to worry, that this kind of thing happens all the time. (Such as the mass whale stranding in New Zealand, fish kill off New Jersey and penguin die-off in Brazil, all last year.) Experts blame cold weather — or in the case of the Arkansas blackbird massacre, fireworks, maybe.

Meanwhile, two million dead fish float in Chesapeake Bay; 40,000 dead crabs wash up in England; a fish kill in Brazil is estimated at 100 tons — all in the last week or so. Is it the fault of “The Lady in the Water”?

It’s enough to make you consider reading (or re-reading) the book of Revelation. A learned friend assures me there’s nothing in there about birds falling from the sky, but with all the visions in there you just never know.

Not all of the weird the news is bad, however. In a Georgian village, a two-headed calf is born and becomes an instant TV star. And in New York City, a man jumps from a ninth-story window and survives by landing — no, not on a two-headed calf from “The Village” — in a giant pile of garbage. Is it possible he’s actually “Unbreakable”?

On second thought, maybe the fact that I didn’t have to make any of this up bodes well for the news business in 2011. It’s just going to be another typically strange new year. I have a “Sixth Sense” about it.

Peace .

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Tim Dorsey on Serge and Electric Barracuda

Someone you should know more about. Tim Dorsey is a Florida treasure.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Glimpses Through a Bay Window

Short photo post tonight:

After leaving work, I headed over to the library where a showing of Barbara Mulligan's work is being exhibited this month. Tonight was the opening of her posthumous "Bay Windows" show, which will hang until February. Read all about it here.

I got to speak with Barbara's husband, George, and her sons Sean and Mark, all of whom were very kind in remarking on my columns or reporting in the past. I also got to speak with some friends and acquaintences, including Bettina Mead and Rebecca Saunders of the library, Martha Spiva (who is still finalizing her husband Ernest's memoir), Carroll McCauley, John McDonald, and Alvin Peters.

Above left is George, talking with visitors to the exhibit. At right are Rebecca and Bettina, discussing upcoming library events.

(The big event coming up is the annual Books Alive festival of reading, which will be Feb. 5 at Gulf Coast Community College. Some years I have participated as a local author, and some years I have served as a moderator and author wrangler. I hope to do a little of both this year. I'll let you know.)

If you're in the area, make time to go see the art and consider the talent and dedication of a truly visionary local artist.


Goodbye, Altaira

Anne Francis, the actress who first made her mark as "Altaira" (or Alta) in the classic "Forbidden Planet," died Sunday of complications from pancreatic cancer. She was 80. Read the People magazine story here.

We watched Forbidden Planet on Sunday night after all the family visitors had left, not knowing that she had died. I had recorded it from TCM over the weekend. At the time, we talked about her costar, Leslie Nielsen, and what a dashing leading man he made as Capt. J.J. Adams of the United Planets starship C57D, an obvious template for James T. Kirk. Neilsen died Nov. 28 of last year.

As I write this, Francis' official website is down, having been overloaded by visitors. Apparently she had used the site to keep fans updated about her battles with cancer. You might try it later, if you're curious.

She was also Emmy-nominated for her single-season role in 1965 as "Honey West," a noir detective who lost her clothes as she solved murder cases. And you might remember her from her Twilight Zone appearance in "The After Hours," in which the mannequins come alive after a store closes.

You can sign the online guestbook for Francis here.

Rest in peace, Ms. Francis.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Library art show pays tribute to Barbara Mulligan

PANAMA CITY — Barbara Mulligan’s latest show will give you a glimpse into the natural world that she so loved — the wildlife and ecosystems of Bay County.

A talented and accomplished artist and writer, Barbara passed away on Aug. 28, at age 75, after succumbing to a brain tumor. But Barbara already had her next exhibit lined up, longtime friend Bettina Mead said.

“Well over a year ago, Barbara asked me if she could have the first show of 2011,” said Mead, who arranges events and art exhibits for the Bay County Public Library. “Naturally, I said yes. Of course, none of us knew at that time how tragic 2010 would be for her, her family and for all of us who loved and admired her.”

The show Barbara wanted to display was her “Bay Windows” series, a collection of art that was first presented in the state Capitol while Jeb Bush was governor. The work on the series was begun in the fall of 2003, and the show was hung in the Cabinet Meeting Room in Tallahassee from May 22 to Sept. 8, 2006.

The official opening will be Tuesday from 5:30 to 7 p.m., at the new Bay County Public Library, 898 W. 11th St. in Panama City. The show will hang there through Feb. 5. The event and viewing are free to the public. For more information, call 850-522-2120 or e-mail

Mead said she was hoping for a good turnout for the opening ceremony.

“Her family is so pleased that we are having the show per her wishes,” she said.

In a written description of the Bay Windows series, Barbara explained how she wanted to create a “stained glass” look for the work, first carving woodblocks that were printed onto watercolor paper. She also used custom frames to resemble old window sashes. The paintings were mounted on mat board and sealed against double-strength window glass.

“A ‘clear glass’ window pane was left in the lower half of the work to create a ‘view’ of a scene one might see in Bay County,” she wrote.

It’s also a view into the heart and soul of a mature talent, nonetheless taken too soon.

(This was my "Undercurrents" column for The News Herald on Jan. 2, 2011.)