Aug 20, 2015

Yvonne Craig (1937 - 2015)

As Commissioner Gordon's daughter Barbara, whose alter-ego Batgirl helped The Caped Crusader and The Boy Wonder out of a few jams, Yvonne Craig was an early crush (sometimes "the first") for many pubescent boys who watched TV's Batman in the 1960s (or during syndication in the 1970s and 80s before being lost amidst copyright limbo). In fact, many of her roles on the big or small screens had the same appeal. On or offscreen, the gorgeous Ms. Craig had a feline attraction, yet she also exhibited a great intelligence, which made her even more alluring and appealing. There was a "sexy librarian" charm about her bright eyes and arched eyebrows, at once exhibiting cunning and "come hither".

Yvonne Joyce Craig began as a ballerina. Upon being discovered by the world-renowned ballerina and instructor Alexandra Danilova, she became the youngest corps de ballet member of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. This experience parlayed into her screen roles, not least in doing stunt work as Batgirl. She would also use her dancing skills for In Like Flint, and in a well-remembered episode of Star Trek (her character's full-body green makeup may have inspired a famous joke in Eddie Murphy's concert film, Delirious.)

Few careers epitomized the candy-coloured mid-1960s like hers. Spy-fi, teen comedies, even wholesome fare like My Three Sons and My Favorite Martian can be counted among her numerous appearances. She appeared with Elvis, not once but twice in It Happened At The World's Fair and Kissin' Cousins. It was a treat to see her work together with Deborah Walley in prominent roles for the AIP "Beach Party" addition, Ski Party, where Annette Funicello was relegated to a walk-on part. It is not too surprising to see her screen career, like those of Ms. Walley or Pat Priest, become more sporadic in the early 1970s. The squeaky-clean era she represented fell out of fashion with pop culture shifts to 60s counterculture and 70s cynicism. 

After show business life, Yvonne Craig had successfully produced industrial shows and pursued real estate, but never fully relinquished the limelight. In 2000, she published her autobiography, From Ballet to the Batcave and Beyond. In later years, she would do the voice of "Grandma" in the animated Nickelodeon series Olivia. Yet upon hearing of her passing (she died on August 17, from metastatic breast cancer which had spread to her liver), the first thing that came to my mind was, of all things, Mars Needs Women.

In 2003, we published a one-off, The Cinema of Larry Buchanan, which analyzed the director's seven notorious sci-fi/horror films made for television under his Azalea production banner, including the above title and other such UHF delights as The Eye Creatures or Zontar: The Thing From Venus. The text for "The Seven Deadly Azaleas" was written entirely by Rob Craig (no relation to Yvonne). A few copies of this little zine eventually found their way into the hands of Mr. Buchanan himself, who reached out to us via his producer, Katherine Trimm. After a fifteen year hiatus from the director's chair, Larry Buchanan was planning a follow-up to Mars Needs Women. According to the treatment we had read for the proposed sequel, the original stars Tommy Kirk and Yvonne Craig were attached. (Who knows whether this was true or wishful thinking- that's showbiz for you.) Alas, emails and phone calls became more sporadic, and we lost touch with the director and producer completely. Sadly, we learned in December of 2004 that Larry Buchanan passed away, thus putting this film (and his long uncompleted Biblical epic, The Copper Scroll) into limbo. 

This coda isn't meant to be cynical, as Buchanan's Azalea films polarize viewers into either delight or revulsion. We happen to fall into the former category. But even so, Mars Needs Women is typical of her career: Yvonne Craig brought a spark to everything.

1957: Eighteen and Anxious. 1959: The Young Land; Gidget; The Gene Krupa Story. 1960: High Time. 1961: By Love Possessed; Seven Women From Hell. 1963: It Happened at the World's Fair. 1964: Kissin' Cousins; Quick Before It Melts; Advance to the Rear. 1965: Ski Party. 1966: One Spy Too Many. One of Our Spies is Missing. 1967: Mars Needs Women (TV); In Like Flint. 1970: Three coins in the Fountain (TV). 1971: How To Frame a Figg. 1990: Diggin' up Business.

Aug 18, 2015

Early Monthly Segments Presents: Keith Lock + Oliver Bancroft (in person!)

Hard to believe that next Monday, Early Monthly Segments will be presenting their 75th show! Amazing. Hats off to programmers Scott Berry, Chris Kennedy and Kate MacKay, who present avant-garde cinema once a month at the Gladstone Art Bar in Toronto. For a small admission price, you can enjoy the history of independent-experimental film the way it should be seen: projected on 16mm with an audience.

It's been joyous to see this collective grow in stature over the years: every screening I've attended has been packed! It is refreshing to still see a committed crowd support a venue that strongly adheres to the tradition of showing on film, and the rich history of a certain type of cinema that is often hard to see otherwise.

Next Monday, EMS presents Keith Lock's 1974 feature, Everything Everywhere Again Alive (pictured above): "...'the first Asian-Canadian Experimental Film' (Alice Shih, Asian Canada on Screen) and 'one of the best Canadian films of the 1970s' (R. Bruce Elder). Shot on a bolex with wild sound, the film is a reflective portrait of an artists commune on Buck Lake near Gravenhurst where Lock lived in the early 1970s and features deep personal reflection on the filmmakers relationships to nature and nurture in a collective living experiment" (taken from the EMS website). The feature is preceded by Oliver Bancroft's 2011 short film Psara's Donkey, "a document of the only donkey on the Greek island of Psara. It was the last film to be printed at London’s Soho Film Lab" (ibid).

Both filmmakers will be in attendance for this rare screening. Hopefully I can get away from work in time to show up! (No, ESR is not my full time job. If only...) If there is a Q&A, perhaps I can ask Mr. Lock about obtaining a copy of his 1993 dramatic feature, Small Pleasures.

Hope you can attend! Here is the info:

Gladstone Hotel, Ballroom
1214 Queen Street West
Monday August 24, 2015
8 PM screening
$5-10 suggested donation

For more on Early Monthly Segments and their programming, check out their website! They have also archived write-ups on their previous seventy-four screenings. Congrats to Scott, Chris and Kate, and look forward to many, many more.

Apr 4, 2014

If I Ran BFI Film Classics...

You've likely seen in the book store's film section these thin, pocket-sized books, running 80 - 100 pages, each devoted to analyzing one singular film. These volumes, under the imprint of BFI Film Classics are quite often great reads. Still, while this BFI film series (nearly 100 titles to date) has an impressive catalog of the expected classics and arthouse favourites, one feels that there is a whole other world of cinema they could be covering. 

One evening about three years ago, I felt inspired to have a little Photoshop fun, and did my own run of book titles that the BFI could be releasing, using some Facebook friends as authors. These were collected in a Facebook album for my friends to see, but thought maybe the outside world might enjoy them too! Have fun! 


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