Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Land of No Return - a toupological analysis.

"I'm a land...IT man!"

Land of No Return (aka Challenge to Survive, Snowman or Survival Elements) is an obscure 1978 movie that was filmed in 1975 but not released/broadcast until three years later.

The movie stars musician Mel Tormé as an animal trainer who crashes his light airplane while flying over a snow-covered mountain wilderness in Utah. Also along for the ride are an eagle and a wolf (called Caesar and Romulus).

Bill Shatner, in a curious "guest starring" role, plays Curt Benell, Tormé's business partner, who, after the authorities have given up searching for the lost pilot, funds the rescue effort out of his own pocket.

That's the plot - as for the story, there really isn't one. The movie focuses on Zak O'Brien's (Mel Tormé) struggle to survive, battling against the elements, whilst waiting to be rescued.

To make matters even more pointless, Tormé's character breaks one of the basic rules of survival and leaves the crash site (which is soon located by rescuers) and spends the rest of the movie wandering around aimlessly, while slowly freezing to death.

Where to begin? This movie is appalling - from every conceivable angle, Land of No Return truly stinks. Tormé's voice is (badly) dubbed over throughout (seemingly by another actor) enabling the insertion of bucket-loads of additional and highly extraneous dialogue, concealing the lack of lip movement by means of landscape cutaways etc. Yet, not even such drastic post-production surgery could save this project.

Add to that, O'Brien, all alone, talks not to his animals, but to himself, strangely telegraphing every thought and every action: "That cave over there...if I can just make it...could provide shelter...yes...need shelter." - this completely undermines the believability of the character's struggle and leaves the audience with nothing to deduce, nothing to feel and nothing to hope for (a kind of Deanna Troi syndrome) apart for this movie's quick conclusion.

"Must eat! Food good...needed to survive...if don't get....may lose energy..."

The direction is hopeless and amateurish, the music score stunningly inappropriate and the dialogue couldn't be worse if you just let the actor's ad lib. And if this farce wasn't bad enough, there are also entire lengthy scenes (padding out the movie) focusing on animals, for example a wolf encountering a porcupine...

...or a sub-plot about a lynx cub being taken from its mother...

There's also a jarring flashback to a movie set...

...and then there are the scenes with Bill Shatner, whose character is completely incidental. He, like all the other actors, seems to have no idea what he is supposed to be doing in this movie.

Shats is only in a few scenes and then, bizarrely, is seen no more. The actor's final scene (about a third of the way in) is the most odd: a portentous, overwrought, expository monologue that includes a weird puppy story (which Bill Shatner seems to just be ad-libbing) and is strangely similar in style to the actor's legendary performance of Rocket Man several years later. Watch below - one of the weirdest Bill Shatner moments you're ever likely to see - and wonder what the hell is going on!:

"Have you got any milk?"

Let's move swiftly to the hair.

Interestingly, the toupee again debuts before the actor:

Bill Shatner dons a hairstyle common for this particular period, the nadir of his "Lost Years" period. We also class this particular appearance as a "high hairline" moment, as we see a little more forehead than is common.

There's also a "Real Hair Reflex" at one point:

And that's about it. It's possible that Bill Shatner wrapped up his commitment to this movie in one shooting day, as his role really is very small. The actor likely forgot that he ever made this film in even less time. A mind-numbingly dreary mess. Land of No Return, which will almost certainly never be released again commercially, is available on VHS - it is also up on our new YouTube page.

Monday, March 29, 2010

In fine toupological company.

-"Are they writing about your ears again, Leonard?"

-"Err...not this time, Bill!"

Inspired by our previous post, reader "vvatima" decided to undertake some additional toupological research and managed to unearth a June 19th 1967 story from the New York Times entitled "Modern Men Discover Fountain of Youth in a Hairpiece".

The article, which looks at toupee-usage by Hollywood's leading men, notes that:

" estimated 10 to 20 percent of male performers [wear toupees], including John Wayne, Burt Lancaster, Rex Harrison, Fred MacMurray, Bing Crosby, Sean Connery, Fred Astaire, Pat O'Brien, Henry Fonda, Gene Kelly, Rick Jason, Mel Ferrer, William Shatner, Carl Reiner, Barry Sullivan and Jack Paar."
(emphasis ours)

What's interesting here is that 1967 was a period when Bill Shatner was becoming increasingly sensitive about the toupee, not just as part of his on-screen actor's persona, but off-screen behind-the-scenes too. So, the question is: how did the NYT confirm this information? Via a source? Via Bill Shatner?

Perhaps of even greater significance is that the article places Bill Shatner in the company of some of the biggest leading-men in Hollywood history, including Burt Lancaster, John Wayne, Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly. Surely the shock of having one's "makeup secrets" revealed to the world would have been mitigated by the delight of being listed with such acting giants!

Click below for the full article:

And click on our "press report" tag for more early toupee reports, including one from a decade earlier.


Reader "RM" points to a June 13 1992 story from The Morning Call:

"William Shatner and his wife/first mate Marcy Lafferty have beamed down to The Logan Tavern in New Hope to give a press conference announcing their performance of "Love Letters" at Bucks County Playhouse through tomorrow ..."

The article continues:

"Even if the 60-year-old former starship captain carries a hint of a paunch, he looks 20 years younger than his age. And Shatner, who was once the object of ridicule in gossip columns for wearing a girdle and a tribble-like toupee during his 'T.J. Hooker' days, showed up without his infamous hairpiece. And, surprise, he's not bald -- just a little thin on top."

The suggestion is that Bill Shatner attended a press conference of all things without wearing his toupee. Since this was a press conference, there will likely be pictures somewhere out there. However, we are somewhat skeptical - this would appear to be highly out of character for the actor, still very sensitive in the 1990s about his baldness.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Shatner, toupees and Google.

Google (formerly Touple) was created by the William Shatner School of Toupological Studies in the mid-1990s in order to help our toupologists utilize the Internet in their crucial quest to find more information about William Shatner's toupee. The search-engine was later sold-off and now assists users all over the world with finding all kinds of information (much of which has very little to do with Bill Shatner's toupee). One feature of the current Google is called "suggest" - as one types, the search-engine prompts the user as to what they may potentially be searching for.

The "suggest" feature is based on the number of previous users that have searched for a particular set of terms. Interestingly, if one types "does Shatner..." - the number one suggest is "does Shatner wear a toupee?"

And if one types "is Shatner..." - the number one suggest comes up as "is Shatner bald?". This seemingly confirms our suspicions that there are far more amateur toupologists out there than official estimates suggest.

Despite Google now being entirely independent of the William Shatner School of Toupological Studies, our close co-operation continues. For example, the company has pledged to scan each and every book and magazine in the world, in an ongoing project, in the hope of locating all references and information that has ever been printed about William Shatner's toupee.

Thus, a search of Google's news archives can show the number of articles that have been published (and located) each year that contain the terms "Shatner" and "hairpiece" (above) and "Shatner" and "toupee" (below).

As to why certain dates show a peak in interest in Bill Shatner's toupees (for example 1991 - the year that Star Trek VI was released - and 1997), or what about those tantalizing early entries form the 1960s? (perhaps false positives, or perhaps not...) our toupologists are hard at work processing the data...

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Incubus - a toupological analysis.

Incubus is a somewhat legendary 1965 feature-film starring Bill Shatner that is performed entirely in the Esperanto language.

Here's the plot: A village with a magical well that can heal those who are sick or have corrupted souls entices all manner of folks from afar.

However, succubi (female incubi) entice these wretches before they can be healed and murder them, the intention being to offer their souls to the forces of darkness.

But one of these succubi (Kia, played by Allyson Ames) grows bored with only capturing already tainted visitors, and deciding on a greater challenge, sets out to entice a pure soul instead. That pure soul is played by Bill Shatner, an injured and pious soldier Marc, who lives in a hut with his sister Arndis. Kia sets about seducing him, hoping to lure this good man to turn towards evil - but his goodness is so strong, will she fall in love with him instead? And what will her satanic brethren have to say about that?

The above plot may sound somewhat convoluted, but it actually plays out in a remarkably simple way.

The movie presents and explores numerous grand mythological themes: good, evil and the power of both (much like the classic Star Trek episode "The Enemy Within"), religion, purity and perceptions of man and woman. Indeed, there are a myriad of subtexts and quasi-religious ideas at play here that viewers can explore at their leisure. Naturally, the movie is most definitely of the "Arthouse" variety.

But the question that most of you that haven't seen this movie are probably asking is this: is the movie actually any good? "Shatner" and "Esperanto" carry certain preconceptions as to what one might expect. In this case, we too were cautious - and even apprehensive. Would Incubus just be a silly exercise; something to poke fun at? Was the movie more of a curiosity and less of a genuine dramatic experience? Was it pretentious? Surprisingly, for us the answer to all these questions was a decisive no. We thoroughly enjoyed Incubus, and found it genuinely engrossing and even quite moving.

Actress Ann Atmar as Arndis - Incubus often feels like a silent movie, only with sound.

There is a scene in which a solar eclipse plays out in real time that we thought was particularly original.

For any English-speaker who has watched a subtitled foreign movie, the point is surely that it doesn't matter if it is in Swedish, French or Japanese. What one cares about is the intonation of the voices one hears - with the meaning of the words conveyed through the subtitles. That being the case, the fact that Incubus is in Esperanto is entirely irrelevant.

One can question the decision to make the movie in a language that virtually guaranteed commercial failure (shockingly, Incubus was thought to have been essentially lost - the original print destroyed in a fire - until a copy with French subtitles was located decades later, see here), but that is a different matter entirely. Controversies over the artificiality of Esperanto accents can only possibly alienate the world's true Esperanto speakers - amusingly: "...because Shattner [sic] made his own pronunciation up, he believes that he may have influenced the way the language is now spoken worldwide." sourced here.

The movie feels particularly European, despite actually having been shot in California.

We must also single out and applaud the exquisite black & white cinematography by Conrad Hall. This, coupled with experimental direction by Outer Limits creator Leslie Stevens and wonderfully theatrical performances by both Shatner and Ames, combines to create the kind of cinematic experience that underlines just how operatic movies can stimulate both our senses and our hearts, minds and souls.

Echoes of the styles of Ingmar Bergman (Incubus is in many ways remarkably similar to 1957's The Seventh Seal) or Orson Welles movies are inescapable.

Bill Shatner is heavily directed here - very few traces of the familiar Shatner-isms. With extra credit given to the fact that he is speaking in a language he doesn't understand, we thought that the actor's performance in this movie was very strong - perhaps the greatest "leading man" opportunity the actor has ever had. The final scenes of Incubus, in which (in true operatic style) the power of good defeats the forces of evil show a particularly dynamic performance by Bill Shatner.

This is the kind of art movie about which entire theses could be (and possibly have been) written, analyzing themes, exploring philosophical implications, breaking down editing choices etc. To think that this movie was almost lost forever...shocking.

Now, to the hair...

It's the frontal "swoosh" of Bill Shatner's "Jim Kirk lace" that is particularly noteworthy here, almost constantly flailing about in the wind.

And as we've noted before, there's a very slightly higher hairline for the lace here than was usual during this period.

Also briefly visible at the rear base of the head is a small patch of baldness which Bill Shatner has had (judging from this) for quite some time (we've analyzed it before here and here). Evidently, this was normally concealed with simple combing. This is likely not connected to pattern baldness, but rather a scar of some sort.

Incubus is available on a special edition DVD, with a commentary by Bill Shatner. The movie is also, at present, up on YouTube (albeit in an incorrectly uploaded aspect ratio).

We don't hesitate to recommend this movie to those who haven't seen it - watch it in as close to theater-like conditions as you can create - you may be very pleasantly surprised.

Monday, March 22, 2010

The original 79 episodes (of your life)...

A rare color publicity picture of William Shatner in Perilous Voyage (1968/1976). Know how to find this movie? Please let us know...

Happy birthday to Bill Shatner, 79 today. The year count in terms of a toupee (and/or plugs) to non-toupee ratio is roughly 26:53 which is more than 1:2 - meaning that Bill Shatner has lived for twice as long with a toup than without.

And now for a truly mind-boggling piece of information, courtesy of the "Department of Advanced Toupular Mathematics": if Bill Shatner decided today to forgo the toupee (or whatever it is) for the rest of his life, he would have to live until 107 to have lived the majority of his life as a non-hair-appliance-wearing person.

Friday, March 19, 2010

"I don't wear a hairpiece!" - the full MJ Kelli clip!

A while back, we brought you a small clip of a 1994 radio interview in which, live on-air, Tampa Bay area DJs "MJ Kelli" (real name Todd Schnitt) and "BJ Harris" told Bill Shatner point-blank that they liked his hairpiece. A newspaper report describing the incident can be read here.

"MJ Kelli"

We weren't sure if we would ever be able to track down the entire (toupologically highly important) exchange - but now we have and present it to you below:

Bill Shatner is evidently deeply shocked at the brazen shift from "performance banter" to such a deeply personal, in his mind, "attack". Does he tell a small fib by denying his toupee-wearing? Of course he does...

Our sincere thanks to "DJ Reach" for sending us the clip! Check out his Bill Shatner "Chop Shop" megamix (which includes clips from the above exchange) here and visit his MySpace page here.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Dr Touplittle - he talks to the animals!

Bill Shatner has always been a lover of animals, keeping both dogs and horses (maybe it's their manes he so appreciates), while also working as a tireless environmentalist. It seems that the toupee also plays a role...

A while back, we brought you a potential thwarted toupee snatching courtesy of Koko the Gorilla. This time, we have something considerably more moving from the animal world - a Killer Whale jumping above Bill Shatner's head and perfectly mimicking the shape the actor's toupee (the arch, the lace flaps - it really is incredible!):

The incident is briefly descibed in Bill Shatner's autobiography Up Till Now and based on toupological factors, likely occurred sometime in the late 1980s. Was the whale thanking Bill Shatner for bringing the plight of whales to the public's attention in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home? From the look on Bill Shatner's face, it is evident that the actor is both delighted and moved by the whale's mimicry of his toupee.

Watch the segment below from a Canadian documentary on Bill Shatner, recently uploaded to YouTube, to see the actor's love of animals:

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Poll result.

An interesting set of results - the largest number of voters believed that Bill Shatner thought that the casting of the bald Patrick Stewart in ST:TNG was actually some sort of dig at him. Yes, our readers know that Bill Shatner can indeed be a very sensitive soul, particularly when it comes to the hair! Only 6% of voters thought that Bill Shatner wondered why he went to the effort of wearing a toupee in the first place.

Thanks for voting!

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Crash of Flight 401 - a toupological analysis.

The Crash of Flight 401 (aka Crash) is a 1978 TV movie that dramatizes the events surrounding the real-life crash of Miami-bound Eastern Air Lines Flight 401 in 1972. Bill Shatner has top-billing, despite fairly limited screen time.

Normally at this juncture we'd tell you a little bit about the story of the movie we are reviewing and analyzing. In this case we can't really do that, because this 95-minute feature has no story that we could discern. The plot is simple: the plane takes off and then crashes and then some survivors are rescued. At the end, we find out why the plane crashed.

Was the disaster movie parody Airplane (1980) partly inspired by this movie?

The characters are so stunningly shallow, two-dimensional and clichéd that The Crash of Flight 401 almost comes across as a parody of 1980's Airplane (if such a thing is possible), which itself was a devastating parody of 1970s disaster movies such as Airport (1970) and its numerous sequels - were the Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker team also inspired by the sheer awfulness of this particular disaster movie?

There's the nice old lady (above picture), the nun, the alcoholic woman, the finicky male passenger who insists on sitting in a particular seat, the woman who cries a lot, a stewardess who is afraid of flying (!?) - you get the picture.

Many of the characters aboard the plane seem to have an inexplicable sense of omen and dread regarding the most seemingly inane events. Meanwhile, Bill Shatner plays a no-nonsense NTSB inspector who refuses to cut corners, despite what the paper-pushing "suits" say. We're not joking - that really is as much as we learn about his character!

"Looks like I picked the wrong day to give up bad TV movies!"

He comes to assist the survivors once the plane crashes in the swamps of the Florida Everglades.

Shats' then-wife, Marcy Lafferty, plays an air stewardess in the movie:

Writing these kinds of disaster movies was always challenging; how to tell a story outside of the plot? Whose stories to tell? Should the movie have an ensemble cast or focus on just a few characters? How to make the audience care? Here, thanks to a dreadful script (and also the problem of the story being true, hence the audience knowing what will happen), the whole movie appears as doomed as the flight which it portrays.

The Crash of Flight 401 also has a curious structure: we see the crash, then we go back to before the flight and "learn" about the characters that will soon be passengers on board the plane and then we see the crash again - and again at the end we see the crash a third time, this time most graphically. Inter-woven into all of this is an incessant, dramatically redundant voice-over by Bill Shatner (the delivery considerably outmatching the material). The odd structure gives the impression of a hasty re-edit following on from a disastrous initial assembly of the movie, wherein voice-over was added - never a good sign.

The movie looks terribly cheap, shot very quickly, while the direction is about as flat as can be. An example of the dialogue therein: "Are you afraid of flying or getting there?" Summary: this movie is absolutely dreadful.

The only real emotional impact comes from the ghoulish scenes of survivors scattered around the Florida swamps and the shocking explanation of why the plane actually crashed, which comes at the end of the movie.

Let's move quickly to the hair. As with The Babysitter (1980), Bill Shatner is wearing his stage one curly weave - the kind that he wore in the first two Star Trek movies.

The actor, perhaps still unsure about just how much this new style of toupee can take, wears a hat during his most challenging scenes.

Asides from some general ruffling of hair in the wind, there are a couple of other interesting moments.

The first is a very,very long "Real Hair Reflex" - the longest we have ever seen! Is it possible that Bill Shatner thought this was a rehearsal rather than an actual take or didn't realize that he was in shot, as his hair motions seem to serve no dramatic purpose - or do they?

Also briefly visible is a small patch of baldness that Bill Shatner has evidently had for quite some time (also see here) at the rear base of the head, which is normally concealed with combing.

The Crash of Flight 401 is available on second-hand VHS. It is, presently, also up on YouTube. Tedious and hardly worth watching.