Mannequin (1987)

Is relentless, “normalized” sexual harassment ever funny?  The creators of the irredeemable Mannequin surely think so.

In the film, there’s an annoying supporting character named Armand (Christopher Maher).  He works with Roxie (Carole Davis), an ambitious brunette, at a high-scale metropolitan department store in Philadelphia.  In scene after scene after scene, he won’t stop hitting on her.  No matter how many times she says no or insists on keeping their relationship strictly professional, he insists and persists to an agonizing degree.  Even after she shoves him down the stairs one night (don’t ask), he still won’t give up his undesired pursuit.

Realizing to her eternal horror that he’ll never drop it, she finally gives in and says she’ll go to bed with him.  The fact that she is more resigned than enthusiastic about her decision speaks volumes.  Fortunately, Armand is all talk and no action.

(Near the end of the film, she finds herself having to fend off another lonely co-worker who starts kissing her without asking and keeps going despite her repeated protestations.  Played for non-existent laughs it’s easily the most uncomfortable moment, which is saying something.)

Meanwhile, Roxie’s boyfriend, Jonathan (Andrew McCarthy), has his own problems.  He’s a little too fond of this mannequin he’s created.  Because it took him weeks rather than hours to complete, his boss cans him for his meticulousness.  An aspiring sculptor (which we never actually see him do), he goes from one crappy, dead-end job to the next before catching a break at another high-scale metropolitan department store run by Claire Timkin (a wasted Estelle Getty from The Golden Girls).  She’s a third-generation owner worried about the future.  Despite her family business turning 100, it’s on the verge of bankruptcy.  They’re not getting a whole lot of customers these days.

Their only hope appears to be that rival store where Roxie works.  Her slimy boss, B.J. Wert (Steve Vinovich), wants to buy it out and thanks to his inside mole (an uncharacteristically nerdy James Spader), he’s very close to getting it.

Unfortunately for them, there’s an incident that leads Claire to hire Jonathan as a stock boy.  He’s very happy to get the gig because his treasured mannequin is here.  (He spotted her one fateful rainy night in the store’s display window.)

About 20 minutes into the picture, the mannequin (the always lovely Kim Cattrall) suddenly, inexplicably comes to life.  An understandably freaked out Jonathan learns the ageless beauty is really an Egyptian princess, more than 4500 years old, who successfully managed to avoid being betrothed to a camel dung salesman (I wish I were kidding) by summoning a desperate plea to the gods who then allowed her to escape somehow.  I say “somehow” because I have no idea, beyond making her disappear in the film’s opening scene, what they actually did beyond that welcome gesture.

We learn she encountered famous figures like the revered painter Michelangelo who was too obsessed with his famed David to pay any attention to her.  And that’s about all we learn because she soon becomes Jonathan’s muse which trumps all other considerations.  After they screw around late at night when the store is closed (one sequence where they wear various outfits is choreographed like a lame 80s music video), Jonathan helps the store’s window dresser, Hollywood (a supremely overwrought Meshach Taylor from Designing Women), put together displays in a desperate effort to attract much needed walk-in traffic.  (Emmy, the said mannequin who curiously can only be human around the stock boy, becomes a focal point in that window.)

Amazingly, Jonathan has the magic touch.  (Rather quickly, he gets promoted and ultimately becomes a vice president.)  His window displays attract large crowds (come on, they’re not that spectacular) and the store’s once pitiful future is suddenly much brighter (even though the store is selling the exact same merchandise as before).  This doesn’t escape the attention of B.J. who erupts during a business meeting about the rather preposterously instant reversal of fortunes for his own store.  (Sales are down 89%.)  Shortly thereafter, his mole & his rival’s inept security guard (Police Academy’s permanently militarized G.W. Bailey) break into the store to steal the source of their misery.

Mannequin was released the day before Valentine’s Day in 1987 and in the almost 30 years since its modestly successful theatrical run that year, it has aged rather poorly.  Try as you may, you’d be very hard pressed to laugh very often.  (The overly generous Roger Ebert did so only once.  I didn’t laugh at all.)  As for the romantic pairing of Cattrall & McCarthy, what a mismatch.  Their relationship feels more obligatory than natural.

Furthermore, Emmy the mannequin is a peculiar, inconsistent character.  When we first meet her as a terrified runaway bride in ancient Egypt, she sounds like a feminist, eager to invent, explore her independence & refreshingly disinterested in settling down, especially with a stranger she barely knows.  But once she encounters Jonathan, it’s all about him & what he wants.  (You’d think she want to get the hell out of that goddamn store on her own.  But no.)  As they inevitably fall for each other (even though he’s also dating the hot-and-cold Roxie), there’s a ridiculous scene where he’s bursting with so much confidence, he tells her he can become a city planner!  (Oh, for fuck sakes.)

Inconsistency is a recurring theme.  When the security guard makes some anti-gay remarks about Hollywood, the overly flamboyant window dresser, Jonathan rightly calls him a bigot.  But Jonathan rarely looks comfortable around Hollywood himself.  (“Good grief,” he mutters to himself at one point.)  At least the dopey security guard (and one other employee) aren’t pretending to be tolerant.

And then there’s the business of Emmy’s parlour trick.  She’s not always a mannequin when others are around, especially during the film’s gross, completely bewildering ending.  Since it’s never quite clear how she could become a mannequin in the first place when it was build from scratch (and she had already been in existence for thousands of years) the film could care less about establishing a simple, firm & logical rule about this.  Instead, it’s far more interested in making Jonathan look like an idiotic pervert which no one at his store really cares about (beyond being secretly nosy about what he does with Emmy behind closed doors) because business is booming.  (Even Roxie’s boss wants to hire him, albeit through cheesy blackmail.)

Mannequin is so remarkably out-of-date that feminist pop culture critic Anita Sarkeesian would have a field day carving it up if she hasn’t already done so.  God knows it deserves it.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, October 26, 2014
6:41 p.m.

Published in: on October 26, 2014 at 6:41 pm  Comments (1)  

Self-Righteous Fury

Self-righteous fury is all well and good
But not when it prevents you from being understood
Emotion can’t shatter concrete reason
Suggesting otherwise leads to false claims of treason

You’re entitled to your views, as dumb as they are
You just won’t listen, you only want to spar
I’m not at all interested in hearing you scream
Find some healthier way to blow off some steam

It’s not at all about defending obscene material
Or even misrepresenting it as something ethereal
It’s about unfair sentences given to those
Who access the kinds of images you quite rightly oppose

Contrary to what you might honestly think
These kinds of fools don’t belong in the klink
They keep to themselves, they don’t cause pain
Your paranoid worrying is completely in vain

Stuffing them in cages for years at a time
Is taking the focus off an actual crime
We lock many of them up to alleviate our fears
While actual predators cause so many tears

Accusing me of supporting what they enjoy
Is a dastardly tactic you choose to employ
Deep down you know you’re telling a lie
Is it any wonder I’m eager to say good-bye?

It’s blatantly obvious we’re never going to agree
So please let go of your misguided hostility
Take off your blinders and open your eyes
Or the number of victims will continue to rise

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, October 19, 2014
10:27 p.m.

Published in: on October 19, 2014 at 10:27 pm  Comments (1)  

Nightflyers

The strange things you find in your Dad’s old tape collection.  Four years before he would begin the series of novels that would provide the source material for HBO’s Game Of Thrones, George R.R. Martin was struggling to make it big in Hollywood.  After contributing scripts to shows like Max Headroom and Beauty & The Beast, he caught a bigger break.  A studio was interested in adapting one of his science fiction novellas into a feature film.  Hooray!

Unfortunately, his excitement was short-lived.  When Nightflyers was released a week before Halloween 1987, it was hammered by critics & ignored by audiences.  Having finally seen it on a dubbed VHS cassette nearly 30 years later, I can’t say I’m terribly surprised.  (Apparently, according to Martin, there were numerous changes made to his original story.  You don’t say!)

The Last Starfighter’s Catherine Mary Stewart, the film’s emotionless narrator, tags along with a group of scientific archetypes on an inevitably doomed expedition to try to decipher & connect with some unknown entity that may or may not be able to create stars in the galaxy.  Right off the bat, Stewart describes this whole endeavour as “questionable” but is up for it nonetheless because “I love a good mystery”.  Yes, she has excellent judgment.

As the group arrives at a bilingual spaceport (English & Mandarin) via subway train track in what looks like a giant snail shell, upon observing the large, unspectacular-looking spacecraft that will serve as their proper mode of transportation for the expedition, Stewart makes the unintentionally self-aware comment that the only reason they were given this “nightflyer” was because of their “limited budget”.  Do tell.

The second she says it you become very distracted by how cheap, dull and uninspired the sets look.  Instantly forgettable is as kind a phrase as I can muster.  And the special effects evoke giggles far more than awe.  Dig those poor space travelling transition scenes.  Mystery Science Theatre 3000 would have a field day with this.

It probably goes without saying that if you were expecting some kind of magical pay-off regarding this communicate-with-a-unconfirmed-mythological-starmaker dealy, you are adorably naïve and need to get out more.  The real focus of the story involves a hologram captain named Royd (Michael Praed rocking the old school Billy Ray Cyrus mullet) who says he can’t be there in person because he needs to be in 2 places at once.  This irritates most of the scientists who also wonder why there’s no crew running the ship.  (They should’ve wondered what their agents were thinking signing them up for this shit.)

The truth is Royd is being held captive by the ship itself.  He’s also a clone.  As the wonderfully hammy & at times unintentionally amusing telepath Michael Des Barres helpfully informs us, Royd was created by a lonely albeit powerful woman who hated her fellow humans because they treated her like a Salem witch.  They attempted to remove her powers because they thought she was cursed.  Somehow, she was able to retain them in repressed form despite all those mettlesome surgical procedures.  In fact, her spirit lives on in the nightflyer’s badly outdated computer system.  (Paging tech support!)

And she’s none too pleased with Catherine Mary Stewart making bedroom eyes at her infatuated “son” who actually isn’t her son.  In fact, in a truly weird scene, Royd says he was created to be her lover but she died before he was born.  Or did I remember this incorrectly?  It is all so very confusing.  (As an aside, what’s the deal with Stewart’s gymnastics routine on those makeshift uneven bars?  Talk about random.)

As the demon computer spirit’s jealousy rises, at one point she somehow infiltrates Des Barres’ body.  (Just say no, Michael.)  He makes an early, failed attempt to eliminate Stewart.  The special effect that concludes this scene is about as obvious as the screenplay.

Meanwhile, Royd tries to do a number on his mommy-or-lover-that-wasn’t so the surviving scientists can take over the ship.  However, there’s a security breach and one of the female computer wizards gets sucked into the oxygenless ethers of outer space.  (Hate when that happens.)  As our uninteresting heroes climb into their cheapo flying R2D2-style exploratory pods with fishbowls on their heads to venture outside to try to repair three holes in this enormous pile of space junk, the incredibly dopey lead scientist is somehow tricked into thinking a sudden ring of fire is the scientific breakthrough he’s been waiting 12 years for.  I can’t tell if the filmmakers love Johnny Cash or visual metaphors for hemorrhoids.

It’s bad enough Nightflyers shamelessly rips off 2001, Star Wars and Alien.  It’s even worse that it does it so poorly.  (Hey scientists, watch out for that headless special effect.  Stop laughing.  It’s going to kill you all!  I’m serious!)  My God, the film is less than 90 minutes but its sluggish, glacial pace makes it feel twice as long.  (Or maybe that was because I kept pausing and rewinding so much.  And taking so many pee breaks.  Nah.  It’s definitely the pacing.)

Of all the actors trapped in this Space Titanic, I feel most sorry for the late James Avery.  Just a few years before his starmaking performance as the lovably gruff Uncle Phil on The Fresh Prince Of Bel Air, he’s shackled here with a appalling double stereotype:  a fey black chef.  Despite having some kind of scientific credentials, we learn he was actually hired to cook for everybody.

Oh, for fuck sakes.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, October 5, 2014
2:20 p.m.

Published in: on October 5, 2014 at 2:21 pm  Leave a Comment  

No More Depression

No more repression
No more suppression
No more depression
Only heartfelt confession
And candid expression

No more obsession
No more needless aggression
No more concession
Only life-saving compression
And best impression

No more submission
No more permission
No more commission
Only remission
And a healthier disposition

No more infliction
No more interdiction
No more false depiction
Only true conviction
Through proper diction

No more hesitation
No more devastation
No more procrastination
Only thorough investigation
And constant insubordination

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, September 26, 2014
6:35 p.m.

Published in: on September 26, 2014 at 6:35 pm  Leave a Comment  

Waves Of Dissent

You continue to expand this heartless campaign
In an already demoralized desert terrain
You claim the solution is to maintain the course
Because they only understand excessive brute force
But what you fail to see is the madness of war
And how it’s escalating beyond what it ever was before
It’s neither possible to bomb them into submission
Nor break them with torture…I’m sorry, “rendition”

People get pissed when you murder their loves
So stop being surprised when they take off the gloves
The only lesson they’re learning is “violence is the answer”
They weren’t the ones who invented this cancer
It’s laughable to see you act so noble
When the violence you’re unleashing is growing more global
Your murderous plan will not make a dent
And their numbers will keep rising through waves of dissent

This is what happens when you fuck around in places
That seduce you to embark on wild goose chases
Unfamiliar with the culture and the people who preserve it
The impeachment that’s coming? You certainly deserve it
Gone are the days when you had widespread support
It wasn’t so wise to find millions to deport
But Sophia Bush still loves you, this much is clear
How much longer before you need a new career?

The cure isn’t murder, how can it be?
Unrelenting violence only causes more misery
They’ll never stop fighting for their own sovereignty
When the alternative involves your dictators and crushing poverty
Yes, they are ruthless and not exactly kind
But neither are you, which I suspect is by design
This cycle of death will go on unabated
Unless reason chokes fear until it is asphyxiated

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Wednesday, September 24, 2014
6:36 p.m.

Published in: on September 24, 2014 at 6:36 pm  Leave a Comment  

You Hurt Me First

You were such a lovely distraction
Who gave me so much satisfaction
You convinced me to bare it all
Never once did I ever feel small

You taught me so much about expanding pleasure
How irony can lead to sensual treasure
I found strength in your history of being bold
“Looks don’t matter, we all get old”

But there were always problems right from the start
And you’ve finally decided it’s time to depart
I’m shocked and stunned and completely pissed
I can promise you now you won’t be missed

I hated it when you delayed your replies
I don’t care to compete with all the other guys
I don’t know why I’m getting all this heat
There was never a chance we would ever meet

You’re way too strange and far too wild
I talk a good game but I’m actually mild
Conversing with you used to be fun
But you lied to me, we are so fucking done

Could I ever offend you? You said there was “no chance”
But one simple question ended this dance
I thought you enjoyed all the dirty talk
I never believed I would ever make you walk

But you’ve done me a favour concluding this charade
And now I’ve constructed a brand new palisade
I’m taking the path of least resistance
I’m erasing every trace of your very existence

I thought you were sweet & incredibly kind
Regarding my nosy inquiries, I thought you didn’t mind
You should have told me when I was being a pest
Now you’re treating me like an uninvited guest

I wasted so much time trying to get close
An unhealthy addiction, I wanted more than a dose
But you’ve made your decision and I feel the worst
I hurt your feelings? You hurt me first

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Wednesday, September 17, 2014
2:17 a.m.

Published in: on September 17, 2014 at 2:18 am  Comments (1)  

Rob Ford’s Political Hail Mary

Sometimes it’s the little details that reveal so much, especially when they’re captured on Television.

Former Toronto Councillor Doug Ford made an important appearance at City Hall this afternoon.  He was there to officially enter the race for Mayor.  Why?  Because his embattled brother Rob, the current Mayor, suffered a serious setback earlier this week.  After privately experiencing persistent abdominal pain for three months, things took a turn for the worst and he was hospitalized.  The early diagnosis is a tumour.  The official prognosis is expected early next week.

Shortly after Doug left City Hall, the Mayor released a written statement saying that he is physically unable to continue his reelection campaign, a campaign that saw him trailing early frontrunner & former Conservative ally John Tory by more than ten points in the polls.  Doug is replacing him on the ballot.  Today was the deadline for last-minute election sign-ups & withdrawals.

In the midst of the circus that surrounded him at City Hall, one cameraman caught a rare moment of vulnerability.  Shooting him up close from the left, one drop of sweat slowly trickled down Doug’s cheek.

He should be sweating because the Ford Legacy is in serious jeopardy.  Scandal-plagued and globally derided, Rob Ford was never guaranteed a second term running Canada’s largest city.  How could he have possibly won anyway considering all the crack videos, the drunk videos, the racism, the sexism, the drunk driving, the physical assaults, the sexual harassment, the threats of violence, the constant lying and multiple political conflicts of interest that have defined him these past two years alone?

With only six weeks to go until Toronto elects its next municipal government, Doug Ford, the obnoxious, ignorant, careless, and deeply polarizing Councillor with his own conflicts of interest and drug dealing past, is now stepping in to try to rescue his brother’s administration.  Good luck with that.

Meanwhile, there’s the puzzling matter of Rob Ford’s political future.  He is withdrawing from the race for Mayor but he’s not out of the election altogether.  Originally, it was his nephew, Michael Ford, who was running to fill his old Councillor seat in Ward 2’s Etobicoke North riding.  Now that Doug is running for Mayor, Rob is replacing Michael as a Conservative candidate in that race.

An innocent question:  if a man is too seriously ill to run for one political office, how is he healthy enough to run for another?  Granted, running for Mayor is obviously more physically demanding than vying for a lower profile City Councillor gig, but still, if your stomach pains are so bad to the point where you need constant professional care and lots of rest & relaxation, why are you running for anything?

The likely answer:  because there’s a good chance he might actually win.  For all the city-wide support he’s lost in the last year and a half, there are a considerable number of Etobicoke residents who still believe his now discredited populist “taxpayer protector” rhetoric that got him on City Council in the first place.  Rob Ford is counting on that decade-plus connection with those remarkably loyal & forgiving voters to keep him on Council without having to do too much door-to-door campaigning.

Unfortunately, this is a gamble and it depends greatly on next week’s test results.  If that mass on his abdomen is cancerous (and let’s all hope it’s not), this sneaky back-up plan to get reelected, this time as a City Councillor, will have to be abandoned.  Even if it’s like the earlier mass he had in 2009 (which turned out to be benign), he’ll still have to have surgery and may need plenty of time to rest & recover.  As of this moment, he has few good political options.

CBC News Network’s Carole MacNeil asked a number of guests about the possibility of Doug potentially winning the election, Rob winning back his seat, Doug making him the Deputy Mayor and then at some point, stepping aside to let Rob become the Mayor again.  Not one thought this was a plausible scenario, not just because of the unlikeliness of both being elected, but because of the absurd idea that the ambitious Doug (who has expressed a desire to lead the Ontario Tories) would ever relinquish power to his younger brother, especially when you consider his many health problems.

Regardless of the end result of Rob Ford’s medical situation, whether it’s manageable or not (and again let’s hope it is a solvable problem), it’s the end of a turbulent era in Toronto politics.  Doug Ford has an impossible task ahead of himself.  He has to run on his brother’s highly questionable record as well as his own, somehow make up a lot of ground between himself & John Tory while still watching out for the formidable Olivia Chow, and avoid getting swallowed up by all the scandals that have already plagued his entire family, all in just a month and a half.

He should be sweating.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, September 12, 2014
6:15 p.m.

UPDATE & CLARIFICATION:  Dr. Zane Cohen announced during a press conference that the Mayor has a rare form of cancer, a “malignant liposarcoma” in his stomach that has spread to another part of his body.  He will be undergoing on-again/off-again chemotherapy, a process that will take several weeks.  Despite the difficult days ahead, Dr. Cohen says he is “optimistic” but did not promise a full recovery.  As of this writing, it is not certain if Rob Ford will discontinue his campaign to win his old Ward 2 seat in Etobicoke North.  Also not clear is what Doug Ford will do with his own yet-to-be-kicked-off campaign for Mayor.  (Since announcing, he has kept a low profile.)

During the press conference, Dr. Cohen noted that the Mayor did not actually have a tumour in 2009.  He actually had appendicitis.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Wednesday, September 17, 2014
6:14 p.m.

CORRECTION:  In paragraph 6, I wrote that Doug Ford was a “deeply polarizing former Councillor”.  Actually, despite not running for re-election in his Ward, until December 1st when the newly elected City Council is sworn in for the first time, he is still very much an active Councillor.  That’s why “former” has been removed from the text.  My apologies for the mistake.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Wednesday, September 17, 2014
8:12 p.m.

UPDATE 2:  Judging by an audio message he recently released, Rob Ford has no intention of staying silent during Toronto’s current election campaign.  While thanking his fellow citizens for their outpouring of support as he prepares for his first round of chemotherapy, he also urged them to support Doug for Mayor.  The outgoing City Councillor is expected to finally start campaigning for the city’s top job shortly.  Meanwhile, the current Mayor is pushing forward with his own campaign for his old Ward 2 seat, despite sounding hoarse in his message and remaining in hospital.  The question is, if he wins on October 27, will he be healthy enough to be sworn in on December 1?

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Thursday, September 18, 2014
8:19 p.m.

Published in: on September 12, 2014 at 6:15 pm  Leave a Comment  

Perverted Thinker

You reel me in
Hook, line & sinker
It’s not a surprise
You’re a perverted thinker
Nothing offends you
I can say what I please
Sometimes you ignore me
You irresistible tease

I have so many questions
You’re eager to enlighten
You’re so comfortably bold
You unintentionally frighten
You express such kindness
You even seem impressed
You also sent me pictures
Of your massive chest

I can’t always tell
If you’re being sincere
And your non-sequiturs
Aren’t always clear
You tickle my brain
With your salacious thoughts
The stories you tell
Sound like Hollywood plots

If we were closer
Would we get attached?
But it’s just a flirtation
Nothing’s been hatched
We will never meet
You’re too far away
I’m not sure I can handle
Your wild sense of play

But that doesn’t stop
These feelings from arising
How can they not?
You’re constantly surprising
It easy to imagine
Scenarios in my head
All of which involve
Your warm, inviting bed

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday, September 9, 2014
10:07 p.m.

Published in: on September 9, 2014 at 10:07 pm  Leave a Comment  

Lust Never Sleeps

It arises at the sound of your voice
So soft and seductive, like a whisper in the wind
A haunting shiver that fuels my engine
I cannot resist your desire to advance

A wink and a twinkle always give you away
I know exactly what’s on your mind
There’s no stopping what you’ve just begun
I’m just here to enjoy the ride

I feel your grip as you begin to tease
A maddening display of filthy calm
You’re not in any hurry to please
I’m defenseless to your lingering tongue

A hush has fallen over this dramatic scene
As you vacuum away all my pain
Feel the tension between us grow
As I disappear inside your mouth

You watch my reactions with delicious glee
Knowing full well how skilled you are
I brace myself for what’s to come
A volcanic eruption you’re eager to receive

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, September 5, 2014
4:39 p.m.

Published in: on September 5, 2014 at 4:39 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Forgotten Influence Of MuchMusic

For almost 15 years, my Dad was obsessed with taping music videos.  He actually kept track of every single one he ever recorded on Beta & VHS by writing them all down on these tiny pieces of three-ring paper that he kept in this tiny brown binder.  The list was alphabetized by artist.  Under each name were the video titles (not always the correct ones) and the corresponding cassette(s) they were recorded on.  Some were recorded multiple times because he either loved them so much or just wanted to record right to the end of a blank tape.  (In 2004, most of them (we’re talking hundreds of tapes) were finally thrown out after years of collecting dust.)

When he started doing this in the early 80s, he would set the timer for programs like Friday Night Videos on NBC and City Limits on a local Toronto station called City TV.  Hosted by aspiring songwriter Christopher Ward (and occasionally featuring a young comic named Mike Myers), City Limits aired every Saturday & Sunday in the wee hours of the morning.  Every episode was six hours long.

The mix of performers pantomiming to their singles was always eclectic.  In between videos featuring mainstream acts like Phil Collins & Pat Benatar were more cutting edge outfits like Depeche Mode and Siouxsie & The Banshees.  Looking back, it’s amazing the show was able to showcase so many different clips during their epic weekend broadcasts.  There weren’t many videos being produced during this period.

So you can only imagine how initially thrilled my Dad was when MuchMusic launched on August 31, 1984.  Unfortunately, The Nation’s Music Station began as a Pay-TV service (my Dad wasn’t going to give our local cable company more dough) so, he only taped videos during their free preview weekends, a semi-regular sales tactic employed to attract more subscribers.

Just a few years later, Much became part of our regular cable package.  And every day until the fall of 1995, Dad was constantly watching hoping to catch something he hadn’t already recorded before.  When he wasn’t watching, he asked me to take over so he wouldn’t miss anything.

Of all the video shows Much aired in its early years, there was only one he couldn’t miss:  the Hostess Sneak Previews.  Usually hosted by Steve Anthony, a blond, curly-haired goofball who drove my Dad nuts, it was the best place to see the latest clips.  Even after the cancellation of CBC shows like Video Hits & Good Rockin’ Tonight and another City-TV program called Toronto Rocks, among numerous others, he would continue to suffer through Anthony’s “paper hell” schtick (there were no teleprompters) just to add the newest titles to his growing collection.  (He must’ve taped tens of thousands of clips over the years.)

I’m not sure now why Dad lost interest in them altogether, but about a decade later, MuchMusic itself would drastically cut back on fully honouring this part of its mandate.  For most of the first half of its existence, with the exception of Erica Ehm’s Fashion Notes, every program it aired dealt exclusively with music.  Besides the regular hours devoted to random videos, there were specialty shows devoted to specific genres:  Outlaws & Heroes (Country), Rap City (Hip Hop), X-Tendamix (Dance), Soul In The City (R&B), Clip Trip (International), Pepsi Power Hour (Heavy Metal), MushMusic (Adult Contemporary), French Kiss (French Canadian), Indie Street (unsigned bands), The Wedge, The Punk Show and the revamped City Limits (Alternative Rock) and the Coca-Cola Countdown (Pop).

On Saturday nights, there were the Big Ticket Concerts.  On Saturday afternoons, there was the all-request show R.S.V.P. (Requested Songs for Video Play), which was spun off into Daily R.S.V.P. during weekday broadcasts.  There was Much West (featuring Terry David Mulligan with his giant cellphone covering Canadian music on the West Coast) and Much East (the two Mikes covering the East Coast).  There was the daily artist Spotlight which featured videos & interview excerpts of the biggest names in the business, past and present.  And then, on Mondays, there was the MuchMusicMovie which only featured musicals like Quadrophenia and Purple Rain.

Today, as Much celebrates its 30th Anniversary, only two of these shows remain on the air:  the weekly Countdown (minus its original sponsor) and the Much Movie (which isn’t restricted to music-themed features or a specific day any more).  Yes, they still play videos for a couple hours every afternoon.  But for the most part, today’s Much is nothing like yesterday’s MuchMusic.  There are far more sitcoms, dramas and reality shows, totally unrelated to music, dominating its daily schedule.

It’s sad, really.  When Moses Znaimer, the founder of both Much and City-TV, ran things, the channel mattered.  There was a serious mission to honour not just music in general, but Canadian musicians specifically.  MuchMusic went out of its way to push homegrown talent like Platinum Blonde, The Tragically Hip, The Northern Pikes, Jann Arden, Sloan, Alannah Myles (who found great success collaborating with Christopher Ward), Chalk Circle, I Mother Earth, 54-40, The Barenaked Ladies, Blue Rodeo, The Tea Party and countless others to national success, while existing stars like Neil Young and Rush continued to flourish.

Thanks to its VideoFact program (since renamed MuchFact) which helped fund videos for indie acts, bands like The Pursuit Of Happiness, Moist, Maestro Fresh-Wes and The Age Of Electric were all able to get major label deals.  French Canadian performers like Celine Dion, Roch Voisine and Mitsou would’ve never broken out of Quebec without the nationwide platform that the channel provided for them.  And because Much was dedicated to breaking acts from various genres, Shania Twain, Alanis Morissette and The Rankin Family were all able to build their own audiences through the excessive airings of their respective videos.

In the last decade or so, it’s hard to think of Much as the influential tastemaker it once prided itself on being.  Beyond the breakout successes of Billy Talent, Sam Roberts, Metric & The Arcade Fire in the early Aughts, the channel is now far more interested in promoting Fresh Prince & Simpsons reruns and teen sudsers like Degrassi than pushing the next great Canadian act.  (Sorry but Hedley, Michael Buble, Carly Rae Jepsen & Justin Bieber just don’t count.)

To be fair, Much’s decline isn’t entirely its own fault.  Part of the problem, of course, is the Internet.  Thanks to YouTube and countless imitators, music fans can become their own video programmers by simply scouring extensive lists of clips online at their leisure and playing them in an instant.  Since the channel rarely plays classic videos from the past anymore, if one wanted to see, say, Killing Joke’s Love Like Blood right this second, one could do so right now with absolutely no difficulty (as long as one has a fast ISP).  And if one was desperate to see something brand new that’s just been released, well, it wouldn’t take one long to find that clip online, as well.

But what’s lost in that process are passionate TV programmers and VJs urging you to check out an artist or a band you’ve never heard of who they think you’ll really dig and follow for years to come.  There’s no steering you towards the dangerous, the exciting and the unexpected any more.  (Yes, Much has videos on its website but it’s really not the same.)

In fact, when Much does play videos during their afternoon Videoflows, there are no VJs introducing them at all.  It’s up to you to find out more about the current artists they still bother to play.  Unfortunately, few of them are worth caring about.  (What the hell happened to rock and roll?  Is it truly dead?)

Today’s music fans have a plethora of choices when it comes to seeing videos on the Internet.  During my childhood, there was no on-demand, only request shows and no guarantee of that request being granted on-air.  (I was able to get a Rush video played on Toronto Rocks once when Christopher Ward guest hosted, though.)

Still, it was fantastic to watch a channel that played nothing but videos for hours and hours, exposing you to a world of music you never knew existed, reminding you of established acts you had forgotten about and introducing you to artists who would become lifelong favourites.  (It’s why my Dad became a major fan of the Crash Test Dummies.)

As it celebrates 30 years on the air in Canada, that’s the MuchMusic I wish still existed.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday, August 26, 2014
2:01 a.m.

CORRECTION:  City Limits was actually six hours long, not five like I originally wrote.  The correct running time for the program has been added to the original text.  My memory is not as good as I thought it was.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, August 29, 2014
2:33 a.m.

Published in: on August 26, 2014 at 2:02 am  Leave a Comment  
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