Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Living in the Past

I didn't end up watching both episodes, as my son wanted to end on an episode of Portlandia (which has actually been our pattern after TZ episodes) because the Twilight Zone is "creepy." At least he's watching them with us. Who knows how long that will last.

So an aging actress can't cope with reality. As unlikeable as she was, I still couldn't help but feel sorry for her, as I feel sorry for anyone who is not able to endure loss in life and resorts to escapism. Best case scenario, she is able to adjust and accept and embrace what is, and forge a new identity for herself. But barring that, she's really better off disappearing into a fantasy world (in the TZ for real) and sparing those around her from her continuing misery.

Messing Everything Up

I can't believe the time got away from me already! I don't know what I was doing last week, but I missed TZ Tuesday. And here it is another one already.

A brief word about the western one before I watch two tonight to catch up.

I thought the elixir guy was a bad guy at first, setting up the drunk gunslinger for even more trouble. So I was a little surprised at the ending. Unlike Michael, I like westerns, but this one was ultimately unsatisfying. I guess I thought it was going to be more complex than it was, that there was going to be more of a twist. I don't know. However, I did like John's thoughts on the episode, and reading them made me appreciate it more.

Monday, January 28, 2013

My Ida Lupino Shrine

"Sixteen Millimeter Shrine"

This episode feels slight after the previous three episodes. Even so, it stars the never old Ida Lupino in what was surely a personal role. It's a well-known fact that Hollywood actresses rarely aged in their careers successfully. The next young thing was always ready to take over. Some of the lucky ones made it into TV. Many ended their careers early. This TZ episode is a sad acknowledgment and respectful nod of the head at all of these women cut off in their careers much too early.

"The poor man's Bette Davis"

Meet Barbara Trenton. Classy actress and belle of the ball. On top of the world starring in movies with the hottest actors and probably attending every high luxury party in Hollywood. However, this is not the Ms. Trenton we are introduced too. We meet Barbara 20+ years after her prime. An aging actress cutting herself off from a world who has forgotten her and living in her OWN world where she is still relevant. Still proud, still a lady. Even if shes pounding cocktails at noon. She would NEVER refer to herself as the "Poor man's Bette Davis". And yet, this is the way Ida Lupino (the woman playing Ms. Trenton) described herself in her career. Some quick research actually turns up that Ida Lupino was constantly at odds with the movie studios and was adamant about not taking on roles she felt were “beneath her dignity as an actress.” Coincidence? I think not. I cant help but think Ida was purposely picked for this role because of her likeness to the character. Who knows, maybe Trenton was written differently in the original script and when Ida got her hands on it she changed the motivation behind the character. Whatever the case, the performance is believable.

By the end of the episode things have gone supernatural which i don't think any of us were surprised about. This IS The Twilight Zone. However, this episode felt to me like an episode of "Amazing Stories" (which i guess is really a twilight zone ripoff). And not even just the "twist",  something about the pacing of it. I cant really describe it. Amazing Stories was MY Twilight Zone having grown up in the 80's.  One particular episode entitled "Welcome to My Nightmare" a teenager, through his love for horror movies, is transported into Hitchcock's "Psycho". Kind of the same premise our leading lady has here. I wonder how many episodes will have similar themes between the 2.


Martin Balsam will always be Detective Balsam in Ezzio Greggio's "Silence of the Hams". Which also happens to involve "Psycho"...and "Silence of the Lambs".... and its genius.

Rating-- 4 out of 5 *'s

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Sixteen Millimeter Shrine

This week we get an episode much different than the first three. It doesn't have to do with science fictional concepts or philosophical problems like death and fate. Rather, episode 4 is about the human mind and an unwillingness to move forward.

Barbara Dean Trenton is an aging actress who spends most of her time secluded away reliving her life through the films she made 15 or 20 years ago. Throughout this episode Barbara is confronted with the reality of present day in the form of the sunlight bursting through the windows and old enemies and friends. But she refuses to accept any of it. Consciously and loudly, Barbara decides to seclude herself and to live in the past. I think this is part of the problem with the episode. Barbara tells us that she refuses to recognize reality and it seems too melodramatic and unreasonable. Unconsciously slipping into the past is one thing. Making an effort to do so seems like another.

I think that this is our first truly depressing and unhappy ending. There is a little bit about how Barbara will be happier living in her fantasy world. But do we believe that? Is it really better to take the blue pill? Is she even in this fantasy world or is she just lost even more deeply in her mind?

So, while there were some interesting things going on in this episode, it isn't going to be a memorable one for me. It's a bit tedious and overdone.

Monday, January 21, 2013

You and me....12:00.... at the Bike Rack

“Love Your Fate, which is in fact your life.” 
― Friedrich Nietzsche

Im not exactly a fan of westerns, never was. I just don't care i guess. I struggle to connect with characters, locations and motivations in westerns. It's very foreign to me, in fact more foreign than a sci-fi epic taking place on a distant planet, or a fantasy land of trolls and wizards, or even an alternate reality within dimensions beyond our own. These places and settings ARE  quite different form our own reality. A "civilization" far removed from what we call the real life. Citizens in these places play by a foreign set of rules and claim victory, or defeat,  with a foreign sense of pride, or shame , respectively,.. BUT, in some way... its always familiar.  Our heroes in these stories are heroes for a reason. KILL, KILL, KILL! the monster for the horrible things it's done to the "innocents". Are the innocent REALLY innocent? Or do we just sympathize with them, because they are the standard "Good" guys. The heroes. US.. PEOPLE.....HEROES... or sometimes common men functioning at a level  higher than the status quo. A "virtuistic" attempt to thwart do-badders, no matter what the cost. DESTROY the MONSTER. At first the "monsters" motivation for killing, maiming  hurting, taking, scaring, tearing, ripping, loathing etc.....  are unknown to us. We have no connection and no sympathy for the "monster". Why should we?? We've all grown to hate and fear the "monster". However, more often than not.... (especially in current story telling arcs and scripts) ...by the end of our journey we usually have an explanation of motivation behind the "monsters" heinous actions. We UNDERSTAND the emotion, or lack of emotion, that guides the "monsters" to act the way they have acted. We may not AGREE with it, but we UNDERSTAND it.

Here lies my issues with westerns.

I don't UNDERSTAND why the bad guys are bad. And to be quite honest, i don't UNDERSTAND why the good guys are good. Gunfights and showdowns and Quick Draw McGraw type actions at High Noon are a myth. The setting is real, the locations are real, hell.. even sometimes the MEN are real.. but the actions.. aren't. Hollywood made westerns what they are, or at least what I'VE come to know them as. Its a format where you KNOW who the BAD guys are and KNOW who the GOOD guys are and that's ALL you need to know. For some, that's enough. For MOST, that's enough and i am sure at some point during some movie it's even been enough for me... BUT not this time. It's the one thing i think of when watching a western and unfortunately it more often distracts me from the story then intrigues me. I just don't CARE what peoples motivations are because 9 times out of 10 we don't get to find out.

Im being harsh on westerns and feel bad about it. This episode just was a bore to me and didnt feel like delving into why without explaing my reasons for it. That would be the "Western" way out...... Bastard Westerns.

Rating-- 2 out of 5 *'s.

fate can work that way

Well, I've learned my lesson. If I don't write about the episode immediately after watching it, I put it off until the last day. It's even harder when John has already written some great thoughts.

Did anyone not like this episode?

Thursday, January 17, 2013


Is it any surprise that this is my favorite episode so far?

Twilight Zone + Westerns = TV Gold

Here is the Twilight Zone near its best. As an audience, we're dragged through a full range of emotions, all of them earned.

Al Denton, when introduced, is pathetic. We witness as Denton will suffer any humiliation for a drop of drink. And those of us who have had any experience with addictions know that this moment is true. A silly song is a small price to pay for a moment's peace.

But, it's only ever a moment.

When Fate steps in, Mr. Denton stands up tall and strong once more. We learn how and why he was ever brought so low. And, again, we sympathize. And it feels good as Denton cleans up, gaining strength as he confesses his woes.

I'll stop walking through the plot.

What was amazing to me is how happy this all ends. Fate, often so callous and cruel, here hangs around simply to give a helping hand to two troubled souls.

"Mr. Henry Fate, dealer in utensils and pots and pans, linaments and potions. A fanciful little man in a black frock coat who can help a man climbing out of a pit—or another man from falling into one. Because, you see, Fate can work that way...in the Twilight Zone."

Even more amazing is that Serling gets away with this title, Mr. Denton on Doomsday. There is no mention of any Doomsday during the episode. There is no end of the world scenario at all. It's much more personal than that. This is Mr. Denton on Mr. Denton's Doomsday. The end of an entire world and way of life for one man. In a sense, Denton had been living out a "Doomslife," a slow torment of a life in which not-feeling and not-acting were preferable to anything else. When the "final" Doomsday comes that Fate arranges for Mr. Denton, well, Al Denton sees things through to the other side. After Doomsday? New Life.

Final thought. Dan Duryea was no stranger to western films. I've seen him in two great westerns (Night Passage, Winchester '73; and I've seen him in a small role in Lang's so-so noir Ministry of Fear). As far as I know, he always played supporting roles. Only in the Twilight Zone could he take center stage. (EDIT: It only took me a minute to look it up after posting this. Duryea did indeed have a star role in at least one western, Al Jennings of Oklahoma, in which he plays Al Jennings of Oklahoma! Now, I'm really wanting to see that movie!).

Monday, January 14, 2013

One for the Angels

I suppose the moral of the story is that you can't cheat death, but it was really a bummer that the old guy actually talked his way out of dying only to go when he was supposed to anyway. Death's really gotta be some kinda bastard to kill a kid in place of the old guy. Maybe he knew he was going to try to save the girl; maybe that was the point. Was it all orchestrated beforehand? I suppose if you believe in that fate malarkey. Of course, despite the fact that he has no one to brag about it to (because you probably don't brag in heaven, do you?), it's still pretty impressive to be able to say you sweet-talked death not once but TWICE in one day. Or a half day, really. And you can't help but feel a little nervous if death is the kind of guy who can get deterred by a few colorful ties. Even if he would fit in perfectly on a Mad Men episode.

Death Deals

It only took me the second week to fall behind. Late or not, here's a response to another very good episode.

"One for the Angels" is enjoyable mostly because of Ed Wynn's performance.

We, the audience, don't want to die. We also don't want this nice man to die. Give him a few more years to make some more children happy.

The kicker moment in the episode is when Wynn cheats death, gaining immortality. He's found the loophole W.C. Fields was reportedly looking for on his deathbed.

Things could have gone really dark at that moment.

Instead, we get Death conning the con man. It all wraps up in a very emotionally satisfying package. I'm pretty sure that St. Peter was wearing a new tie the next morning.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

A Pitch...

Week two, episode 2. 

There is something about A Pitch for the Angels that doesn't afford me the same excitement that Michael has for the episode. I guess I appreciate the self-sacrifice moral of the story. Though is it really self-sacrifice if you're the cause, which, if we accept the "Mr. Death" premise, then we have to accept that Lou's bargaining is directly responsible for the little girl getting hit by the car. 

I'm also torn when it comes to my feelings about the last pitch. I understand that it was meant to be a classic catch-22. If Lou gives a pitch good enough to distract Mr. Death until after midnight, he will have saved the girl while forfeiting his own life by completing the earlier bargain. Of course, Lou chooses to do the right thing. However, I couldn't help but feel that it was also saying that consumers/customers are not able to think for themselves in the face of thin yet persuasive advertising (pitches) - even ones that don't necessarily rest in truth. 

Overall, this was just an okay episode for me. 

"I Have a Bridge to Sell You"

In a nutshell.... The Mad Hatter sells silk ties and slavery to the Mayor of Amityville to prevent the untimely death of the worst child actor of all time, whose demise is coincidentally caused by the selfishness of the Hatter himself.

"One for the Angels" is a great episode that truly holds up to it's own name, largely due to the performance of Ed Wynn. This man SELLS (pun intended) the character of Lou Bookman. He just NAILS it. Although childless himself, he adores the children around him. Selling oddities and entertaining the children, this is what satisfies Mr. Bookman. What a perfect character to be "STALKED BY DEATH". (Loved that line) I had a big ol laugh when asked what "unfinished business" Mr Bookman had that constituted prolonging his life his responses were flying in a helicopter and seeing a Zulu war dance. By that rational most of us will never die.

I guess i can thank my mother for forcing me to watch 'JAWS' 100x a week while i was a kid, for I am NEVER able to see or hear Murray Hamilton (Death) without thinking of the mayor that wanted us all dead by keeping the beaches open and feeding us to a giant shark. I found myself smiling watching Death unravel as Mr.Bookman made his "Big Pitch".  Go ahead Death, sweat it out... thats what you get for years worth of nightmares and lifetime aversion to beaches and water. Asshole.

Second quality episode as far as im concerned. TZ's getting off to a good start.

Rating-- 4 out of 5 *'s

Monday, January 7, 2013

There is a fifth dimension...

beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man's fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call the Twilight Zone.

Season 1, episode 1: Where Is Everybody?

Agreed, gang, 'Where Is Everybody?' was a great way to kick off the series. And as Ben wrote, it establishes many of the key themes we'll find as we work our way through this fine activity.

My brother Jeff and I decided to watch the Twilight Zone in sequential order this time last year (minus season 4, which still isn't up on NWI). Up until that point, like many of y'all, I had only seen various episodes here and there. Now that I have completed multiple seasons of the show, I can't wait to get to some of my favorites.

I know Jason and Ben feel pretty confidant about living in isolation (if they had books and ice cream around them). I don't know that I could say the same. I'd probably break down after a couple of hours...and I love alone time as much as the next hermit. The "Omega Man" scenario, as I'll refer to it, seems pretty terrifying to me. And I'm not sure that I could relax and read if the only book around was The Last Man on Earth...unless it's got some helpful tic-tac-toe tips.

When I saw this episode last year, I had a feeling that the main character was undergoing some sort of government simulation, but I thought it was more for military purposes. The post-nuclear vibe of the abandoned town certainly leads you in that direction, so it's cool that the end of the episode deals with the other important aspect of the Cold War--the Space Race.The 50s and 60s certainly were a time that seemed to rest between "the pit of man's fears and the summit of his knowledge." The Twilight Zone came at the perfect time, and should be regarded as one of the greatest television shows ever made.

Additional notes:

*Good stuff from Michael about TZ's "major plot workhorses." The Twilight Zone, like other great shows, offers plenty of rewards for those who pay close attention. 

*Many of my nightmares/hallucinations involve me yelling for hashbrowns with no one around to cook them for me. It's frightening.

*I love the shot revealing the cigarette in the police station. Very eerie and exciting stuff.

*It's pretty cool that Rod Serling was born in Syracuse and grew up in Binghamton. If memory serves, Binghamton is even mentioned in an upcoming episode that takes place at a bus station. I have a massive amount of respect and admiration for Serling; too bad the same cannot be said of Binghamton. What a shit hole.

*I can't wait to watch the season 5 episode 'An Occurence at Owl Creek Bridge.'  I know we've got a long way to go, so maybe I'll just watch it on my own soon; I have yet to see it, and I hear great things. Is that your favorite ep., Ben?

*There are definite duds out there, but I really can't recall any terrible, god-awful episodes. I think...

*Many people give JFK credit for the U.S. landing a man on the moon, but I think Twilight Zone fans know better, it was all Earl Holliman, baby!

*I would love to see some of the old commercials that aired in the 50s and 60s, as well, John. I had that thought once while watching Mad Men. I think it would be cool for companies to do.

*"It's like something out of that twilight-y show about that zone." - Homer Simpson (Tree House of Horror VI, Homer3)

Friday, January 4, 2013

This is the Dimension of Imagination

Place: Here
Time: Now
Journey into the Shadows? Could be my journey.

The episode begins with the above narration accompanying a pan across some trees to reveal our everyman surrogate ambling down an empty road.

Cue loud music and shot of cafe exterior.

Enter cafe. Signs of life. Music. A kettle boiling.

And the mystery develops as we have it confirmed that we are Americans and, yes indeed, we are hungry.

Hungry, hungry people. It is slowly, but increasingly obviously, revealed that this is a deep hunger: a hunger for any other human contact outside of oneself. We are shown that we find ourselves unable to even self-identify apart from our relationship with others. The world slowly starts to crack under the strain of radical oneness.

You play tic tac toe with yourself and you always lose.


I was pleased with this first TZ episode. It establishes the off-kilter tone of the TZ as well as being a great example of how personal the TZ often feels. This is immersive television, grabbing the viewer and demanding submission for a short entertainment and a few Sanka instant coffee commercials (that would be another interesting project, if it were even possible, to watch the TZ with its original commercials).

I'm looking forward to the rest of 2013. Every Tuesday gives us a new reason to celebrate. Welcome to the Good TV Celebration Zone.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

I'm an American and I'm hungry. That much is established.

Alright, we're off to a great start with both Jason and Michael leading the way. Awesome!

When we were first discussing this project I voted to watch the episodes in order. That is because I've seen a lot of TZ episodes growing up but never with any sort of coherency. The SciFi channel used to run marathons on January 1st and July 4th. In many ways, those were the highlight of my TV watching for the year.

So, imagine my surprise when I start Season 1 Episode 1 and realize that it's actually one of my favorite episodes from when I was younger (we won't get to my favorite episode from when I was older for a few years as it is in Season 5).

A few notes:

This episode hits many of the great science fiction tropes. Actually, it's probably the genesis, or at least one of the earlier iterations of, many of these. For example, the end of the world/last man alive scenario, space travel, and psychology in the form of hallucinations and man as social being, loneliness and being alone - "the barrier for loneliness, that's one thing we haven't licked yet." (Remember, this discipline was still very much in its early stages in 1959. Carl Jung had not yet died and there was a growing popular interest).

This episode is also interesting from an historical perspective. In 1959 the Soviets landed the first object on the moon. "Where is Everybody" aired on October 2nd of that year (I didn't realize this was quite so close until I looked it up). I find it hard to believe that this episode wasn't partly a response to that. Of course, shortly after, in 1961, Kennedy announced that the US would put a man on the moon before the end of the decade. He was right. Apollo 11 landed in 1969, ten years after TZ made that promise to the moon itself - "So don't go away. We'll be up there in a little while."

Some other thoughts:

I agree with Jason. When I saw him look through the rack of books in the Ice Cream store and then the next scene had him playing tic tac toe with himself in the dirt, I wanted to yell, "Go get a book and some ice cream and enjoy the quiet!" But, that probably says more about us and our world than it does about the episode.

Michael, I think you're right about the major themes to be revisited throughout the series. The small incongruencies and the little coincidences are important. Everything's important.

Did anyone else think that the mannequin factory in the small little town was as funny as I did? I guess it was his subconscious being humorous.

Overall, this is a strong episode and great start to the series. I'm sure there will be duds. But the duds are probably the ones that didn't get re-aired on TV marathons. So, I've probably missed them and the completist in me is excited to catch up.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

And It Begins...

First of all i want to say a big Hello to my fellow film club members participating in this long, but sure to be fulfilling event. I, like Jason, have only seen maybe a dozen or so episodes of "The Twilight Zone" and looking forward to visiting the series properly.

I REALLY enjoyed this episode. I don't know whether it was the excitement of this new en devour that influenced my opinion or if it WAS just a good episode. I think even by today's standards if it premiered on television tomorrow AS IS (save some dialogue changes) it would be welcomed  by the common 'populi' and be a great introduction to the set & tone of what TZ has to offer. A mysterious man stumbles into a mysterious circumstance, void of people, slowly realizing he may be the last man on earth for reasons unknown. Disoriented and confused he walks around town with the hopes of finding others, and the sense of danger around ever corner. Sound familiar..?? This sounds like a building block for the first act of the pilot episode of "The Walking Dead".... sans the zombies. Which shows me not  a lot has Changed in 50 years!! If it's not broke , don't fix it i guess.

It also introduces us to 2 of TZ's major plot workhorses:
1. Dates, Times, Names and Numbers i feel will play very important factors in the remainder of the series. ie: the smashed clock in the roadside Diner set at 6:15 was in fact the smashed clock in the iso chamber set to same time. What is represented in "reality" A may have an equally significant representation in "reality" B. In other words... KEEP YOUR EYES OUT!!.

and 2. In a moment of high tension, don't be afraid to release that tension in the form of a ringing telephone.... like an ice cold Colt 45.. "It Works Every time". I want a dollar for every time this is used throughout the series.

Preliminary rating (since there is lack of comparison) -- 4 out of 5 *'s  ##rating subject to change as series progresses and basis for comparison is established.

Where Is Everybody?

I commented during the episode that rather than being outright scary, something The Twilight Zone is good at is saddling the viewer with a strong sense of unease. For a first episode, this is a great sign of things to come. I'm excited about this project as I've always wanted to see more of The Twilight Zone, and have to this point only managed to watch maybe a dozen episodes. So I imagine I'm in for a treat.
Two thoughts for this episode: first, if I suddenly found myself in that situation, I'd have a seat at the drugstore with my ice cream and read for a long, long time. Second, 1950's TV language is so queer. I suppose for as long as he'd been in the isolation chamber, his freak out made sense, but in the middle of it, I was all like, Dude, chill. Do people really hallucinate in that much detail when they're that isolated?
Hey, it reminds me of the Masters of Horror episode I watched last night, Family (John Landis). That guy was hallucinating because he was lonely, too. Weird.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

2013 has been named the Year of the Twilight Zone.

Let's do this thing, gents. One episode a week. One blog post a week per person. Starting now.