Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Wig trouble.

Reader Margaret sent us an interesting tip - a moment she found within Star Trek's infamous blooper reels. The blooper comes from a fight scene from the second season episode "A Private Little War".

The toupeed Bill Shatner is fighting a bewigged stuntman (a classic wig v toupee battle - the aliens in this episode all wear rather silly wigs).

But in one take, the stuntman has a wig malfunction "I'm having/I've got wig trouble..." he says as his wig falls off. Sadly, the clip is so short we never get to see Bill Shatner's reaction. Perhaps he said "Tell me about it!" or he ripped off his own toup and the two men jokingly began throwing hairpieces at each other, while the bemused crew watched on! Here's the very brief blooper in real time and then slow-motion:

And here's a clip of the undoubtedly toupologically demanding scene in question:

In this particular fight scene, Bill Shatner is doing all of his own stunts. Thus, there can be little doubt that similar extreme toupological malfunctions happened to Bill Shatner throughout the course of the series, despite some well-trained moves designed to protect the toupee at all times - for example the "toup roll" (the roll produces a centrifugal force, which helps keep the toupee stable):

So why aren't there any bloopers of extreme Bill Shatner toupee malfunctions? Here's the likely (very simple) answer:

When the budget-conscious Star Trek was being filmed, after each take, the director would have the choice of calling for a "print" meaning that the camera negatives from that take would be printed and viewed as "dailies" the next day, or he could say nothing, which would mean that the negatives could be discarded (a common process). Occasionally, a director would say "let's print that" or "save that" on something other than a take that he was pleased with - a blooper.

These bloopers would then be saved and cut together at the end of the season and viewed by the entire production at the end of season wrap party. They weren't ever intended to be viewed by the public (see here for Leonard Nimoy's anger over the bloopers becoming public).

However, Bill Shatner toup bloopers were evidently a no-no. So the question of why there aren't any Bill Shatner toup bloopers is likely because no director ever dared to yell "let's print that" after the series star had an on-camera toupee incident. Can you imagine the daggers that Bill Shatner would send in the poor director's direction?!? Directors of the week were replaceable - the series star's image was far more important.

But at least we get Bill Shatner causing a stuntman's wig to fall off (see here for a bald patch on Bill Shatner's own stunt double).

In a wider sense, fight scenes like the one in "A Private Little War" underscore how Star Trek can be watched and re-watched not just for the characters, the stories, the humor, the morality plays, the philosophy, the 60s aesthetics - but also to study Bill Shatner's toupee. What will each fight scene bring? Will there be ruffling? Will a knock or bump produce maybe even one frame of historic toupological revelations? How quickly will Captain Kirk's hair become unruffled and freshly re-styled? Will the lace line show? Will the lid flip? So much to look out for - it's no wonder that Star Trek has remained popular even after 45 years of reruns!

Watch the first two season's worth of blooper reels here. For more on the fate of unused Star Trek negatives, visit startrekhistory.com.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Butler's Night Off - a toupological analysis.

A young William Shatner.

The Butler's Night Off is an obscure 1951 Canadian movie that is most famous today as the film in which William Shatner made his first ever screen appearance at a mere twenty years of age. To our knowledge, it is also the only time that the actor was credited on-screen as "Bill Shatner" rather than "William Shatner".

The film stars Paul Colbert as Roger LaRoche, Mary Lou Hennessey as Mary, Eric Workman as "the father" and Peter Sturgess as "the butler" - no character names are used in the credits, only in the story itself. Bill Shatner plays a nameless crook.

Now we'll try to tell you a little about the plot. Try? We think you'll see what we mean:

LaRoche is a social worker who runs a boy's club; he dreams of being able to raise the money to build the children a summer camp. His girlfriend, Hennessey, tells him that she has persuaded her rich uncle - who she reveals is actually her father - to finance the camp.

Meanwhile, Hennessey's very nosy butler is on his night off. He's been tracking the above events. We then follow a mysterious group of crooks (one of them played by Bill Shatner) who break into a clothes shop and kill the owner.

Turns out they've been hired by a businessman who wants to bump off his partner. They dump the body:

The butler has been watching this unfold too.

An excited LaRoche and his girlfriend tell the children that their dream of a summer camp will soon become a reality.

It's time to meet the father.

But the butler is convinced the man is a gold-digger and persuades his (scarily protective) boss of the same.

When LaRoche comes over to pick up his check, he discovers that it hasn't been signed.

The old man has no intention of giving him any money.

The girlfriend, undaunted by any of this, instead persuades her boyfriend to take some money she has in a safe. She simply insists that he have it! Mary tells the butler to have another night off so LaRoche won't be disturbed while he breaks into the safe.

The butler then returns to the location where he saw the body being dumped and for some reason takes the body home. This at the same time that LaRoche is at the house accessing the safe.

So now there's a dead body in the house and everyone will think that LaRoche did it! The butler begins to feel bad about his meddling.

The goons come back and see that the body they dumped is missing - they now need it now for proof they carried out their hit.

They remember seeing the butler in the area and track him down to the family mansion. As they arrive, LaRoche runs out of the mansion; the goons think it's the butler and kidnap him.

The butler then goes to a bar and finds out from some loose-lipped woman where the goons have taken LaRoche.

He then turns up at the hideout where the goons have LaRoche...

...and rescues the prisoner through the clever use of fire.

A car chase ensues...

The butler and LaRoche drive to the boy's club where the kids help beat up the goons.

It all ends with a giant pillow fight.

The happy couple kiss...

...and the father and finally abandons his suspicion of LaRoche and decides to fund the club after all.

What adventure will the butler have next?

Confused? So were we.

All of this may have the makings of a classic farce. But the problem is that the tone of the movie is as far from farce as can be. Dead serious, romantic, earnest - rather like a Frank Capra movie. Completely inappropriate given the events taking place on screen. This makes the whole film feel head-scratchingly ridiculous and woefully misjudged.

There's far, far, far too much plot to cram into such a relatively short feature film. It's a convoluted affair that really stretches any semblance of believability or credibility far beyond breaking point. Is it all entertaining, though? Not really. A farce filmed as a low budget film noir is not really the best recipe for success, we think. The actors perform well enough, the cinematography, dialog, music and other elements are also decent enough - but the overwrought story and the misjudged tone are simply impossible to overcome.

Let's move swiftly to the hair...

We've previously examined toup-less performances from the mid 1950s, but in those, efforts to combat thinning were already evident. Here, not only is there no toup, but also no thickening, styling or special combing. It's a unique performance in which toupological considerations are entirely non-existent. It's all real! That in itself is remarkable for anyone seeking to study how such issues may have affected Bill Shatner as an actor.

Notably, Bill Shatner's real hair is somewhat different from the "Jim Kirk lace" - the first major toupee choice that he made. The real hair is fluffier and finer; the young actor's naturally curly hair cut quite short and straightened out (this was common during this era).

Bill Shatner in 1947 - his real hair was curly. More here.

Sadly, Bill Shatner does not have one proper closeup in the entire movie.

As for his performance - it's really too small to rate in any meaningful way. Though, there is evidence of a shifting "gangster" accent and some small hint of the Shatner on-screen madness that we've come to know and love (see the last clip above).

There's also some interesting toupological symbolism in the movie - as if the director somehow knew that this young actor and his many future toupees would one day be famous. The very first major action that Bill Shatner undertakes in the film is to punch what he believes is a person.

It isn't - it's a shirt - an illusion.

Indeed, the entire location is interesting too. He's in a clothing shop surrounded by tailor's dummies. A comment on reality versus illusion?

Near the very end of the film, we also have a curious shot of a boy studying a man's bald head.

The flying detached feathers in the end fight scene - feathers being bird hairs - are also symbolic.

This being the case, it's very possible that director Roger Racine should be celebrated as a toupological prophet of sorts. Long before even Bill Shatner knew how important the toupee would become, the director was already using symbolism to create subtle yet highly meaningful signs.

Until recently, The Butler's Night Off was unavailable for viewing by the wider public (the movie wasn't even released commercially after it was completed), only accessible via various film archives. Now, the entire* movie has been made available for on-line viewing at the Cinemaparlantquebec.ca website - just click here.

An interesting film that albeit fails because of poor writing and misjudged direction - had there not been a connection to a famous actor, it would quite possibly have been entirely forgotten by now.

*The site has the movie at a little over 57 mins in length. Imdb.com lists the movie's running time as 74 mins. A mistake on the latter's part? Possibly. However, The Butler's Night Off, as we watched it, does have some rather odd, harsh cuts, so it's also possible that some footage is missing from the Cinemaparlantquebec.ca version. We'll try to get confirmation on this.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Poll result and $#*!, it's a hair joke!

A truly surprising set of results. Only 19% of voters believe that Bill Shatner's current "Denny whatever-it-is" hair is a toupee. 21% believe that it's a straight up transplant, while a further 45% believe that it's a transplant sometimes supplemented with toupees or thickener (a total of 66% in favor of the transplant theory). 13% believe that it's a mysterious new technology possibly given to Bill Shatner by aliens. Thanks for voting!

Now to an interesting moment from the latest (fourth) episode of Bill Shatner's new sitcom $#*! My Dad Says!. Ed's (Shatner) older son Vince (Will Sasso) and his wife stop by the house to pick up some old baby pictures. Why? Watch below:

"Bonnie wants to hang some [pictures] in the house so when people come in they can see what I used to look like when I only had a few hairs on my head and those chubby cheeks," he says before turning to his father and giving him a probing grin. Ed, pauses to process the thought.

His younger son, Henry (Jonathan Sadowski) also throws a brief knowing grin in his father's direction.

On the surface, this is a joke about the son. He's still chubby and still has very few hairs on his head. But, as our (suddenly very busy) "Department of Toupological Symbolism, Artistic Criticism and Metaphorical Subtextual Interpretation" notes, this moment could have a deeper meaning too.

The son is bald, but why? His dad's gene's, right? And why is everyone looking at Bill Shatner at that moment and not at Vince? It's possibly a very subtle toupological reference, with the triple entendre implying that there is a similarity between the baby with "a few hairs on my head and those chubby cheeks" and Bill Shatner, who is a little, shall we say, round and also in real life has very few hairs on his head.

The actors are apparently visibly all aware of the sub-subtext of the moment, as evidenced by their expressions, with Bill Shatner also apparently willingly along for the ride (messing with our minds).

We can't leave this particular installment (called "Code Ed") without mentioning that the episode also features (the producers apparently pulled out all the stops - hair jokes and singing) a classic moment of Bill Shatner singing, including a reference to his infamous performance of "Rocket Man" back in the late 1970s.

Of the entire series, the prevailing view seems to be that it started off pretty bad, but is improving - "better, much better" starts a recent review. We entirely agree; the first two episodes, we think, were pretty bland, the third episode was better and the fourth (the one with the hair joke and singing) actually kind of good. See here for another review in which the writer, begrudgingly, shifts from disdain about $#*! My Dad Says to a sense that maybe the show isn't so bad after all - the phrases "continue to loathe" and "awesome" are both included...

So can this show become great? And will it survive or will it be canceled? The latter question is likely answered by a "no" for now - as the ratings are surprisingly strong. Of course, new shows like this can be canceled after six episodes, thirteen episodes, after one season...networks tend to commit to the life of such projects in small chunks, while the threat of the axe hovers from on high and ratings fluctuations are analyzed on a weekly basis. But for now, the show lives.

The first question is a little tougher to answer. When we first heard about the series and watched the initial clips from the pilot (which was subsequently re-cast and entirely re-shot - two pilots, where have we heard that before?), we were worried. An entire series based on saying things rather than doing them seemed to fly in the face of the most basic rules of any drama, including comedy. This, our staff thought, could be a disaster.

But the writers evidently figured out some of the inherent problems quite quickly. A surprising amount of word-of-mouth publicity likely compounded the fear among the show's producers of creating something mediocre or disastrous, especially with expectations and interest so high.

Meanwhile, the two main actors, the father and son pair portrayed by Bill Shatner and Jonathan Sadowski, have slowly developed a genuine chemistry as a classic double act. And that double act (Shatner as the funny man, Sadowski as the straight man) is where the potential for this series arguably lies.

Allowing Shatner to be Shatner (rather than having him sitting around in his armchair saying stuff) seems to be yielding results and gradually, slowly, the seeds of something special could be germinating.

But there are still, in our view, several problems: having the supporting characters of the married duo of Vince and Bonnie endlessly finding ways of wandering into Ed's house for a few minutes each episode seems very "outdated sitcom-style" and arguably doesn't quite work, often coming across as a distraction from the central plot. Nicole Sullivan as Bonnie, with the greatest respect to the actress' talents, we feel, doesn't work. Her character lacks any meaningful character dynamics with the two leading players. Should she be re-cast or indeed should both of these characters be dropped entirely? Perhaps, or at least change the way that they are used.

Secondly, as critics noted at the start of the series, the conventional road is proving to be the disappointing one. Be bolder. Be weirder. Be sillier. Be less conventional sitcom. Breaking the fourth wall with "Rocket Man" and hair in-jokes is great (too much of this could cheapen the effect, but the potential for stories is limitless). How about some stunt casting for guest stars? Crucially, the show as "$#*! My Dad Does" seems to work, while the homely, innocent tone arguably provides viewers an uplifting respite from real world gloom.

UPDATE: CBS has picked up the show for a full season.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Tribble Code.

Random Tribble parody we found on the Internet.

A while back, we examined Bill Shatner toupee-related pop-culture imagery (such as the above picture) spawned by the classic Star Trek episode "The Trouble With Tribbles".

This then led us to an obvious question: did the episode's writer David Gerrold in some way intend this toupological metaphor when he wrote the episode? We wrote to Gerrold, who told us:

"At the time 'The Trouble With Tribbles' was written, I didn't even know that Shatner wore a rug. While the fans have had a great time speculating about subtext in the decades since then, there was no deliberate intention to mock him in any way when the show was in production."

Gerrold was apparently an innocent bystander; perhaps the metaphor was accentuated by (re)writer/producer Gene Coon or the designers or it's all just a huge coincidence or it's all just in our heads! But there is yet another chapter in this saga! We've found a photograph (below) of Bill Shatner and David Gerrold together from the Tribble writer's book on the making of this episode. Once again, as with the famous scene in the episode pictured at the top of this page (in which Captain Kirk is buried in Tribbles), there is considerable room for seeing things that may or may not be there!

David Gerrold with William Shatner

More unintended irony? As part of our analysis, we asked our "Department of Toupological Symbolism, Artistic Criticism and Metaphorical Subtextual Interpretation" for their take on the image. The Da Vinci Code? More like the Shatner Code!:

In terms of layers of meaning and room for interpretation both overt and covert, this may well be one of the richest images since the era of Renaissance art. Where to begin? Is Bill Shatner placing the Tribble on David Gerrold's head or is he taking it off? Is this because he is saying "I get the joke and I appreciate it. Welcome to the club!". Or is he saying "This is mine! Give it back!"

Or is the interplay not overt at all? Would anyone else have held the Tribble in their arms for such a photo, because of the creature's resemblance to a domestic pet? Was Bill Shatner locating the Tribble on Gerrold's head a subconscious (or a conscious) action, indicative of his own association of the Tribble with a toupee?

And is Bill Shatner somehow saying: "You don't need this yet, I'm taking it as I always welcome a toupee!"

And what of Gerrold? He is looking up. Is he looking at his own still thick hair, noting that the Tribble is redundant and unnecessary? Or is he looking beyond to the heavens, smiling at the gods for giving him a story that offered crucial parallels to important subject Shatner's toupee.

The juxtaposition of the watch in the image, symbolizing the passage of time and the loss of hair is also crucial. It is placed in-between Bill Shatner, David Gerrold and the Tribble as if to suggest that only time separates these three items. Bill Shatner, meanwhile, is looking straight at us. He too is smiling. He may be sensitive about overt toup discussions, but is he actually enjoying the symbolism? Is the joke on us?

The full 273 volume detailed study of this image will be published shortly by the WSSTS.

One other potential point of interest - assuming the picture is from 1967, which it may not be - Bill Shatner apparently isn't wearing his "Jim Kirk lace" in the picture, but rather appears to be wearing his personal "ratty" toup from this time. Though if the image is from the early 1970s, then it's a typical "Lost Years" toup.

Famous statue outside the archives of the William Shatner School of Toupological Studies.

On a completely different note, our researchers recently discovered something rather unusual. We'd always assumed that Bill Shatner's performances in the late 1950s play The World of Suzie Wong went unrecorded. Not so. Turns out he and France Nuyen actually appeared together on The Ed Sullivan Show in November 1958 and performed several scenes from the play. We'd love to track this (likely very hard to find) footage down! Any tips, we're always grateful...

BREAKING: Walter Koenig is to appear on Shatner's Raw Nerve, according to Bill Shatner's Twitter page. Will he talk toup? If he does, how will Bill Shatner react? Must see TV, we think!