Thursday, May 26, 2016

Hey Hey The Monkees' HEAD approaches 50 years old

In a few years from now, in what will feel like the blink of an eye, the industry that includes motion picture arts and sciences will begin announcing the 50th anniversary of HEAD, a film that ‘showcases’ THE MONKEES, a manufactured music group of the 1960s.

The band evolved from the creation of the TV series of the same name, based around the zany everyday antics of 4 guys who happened to be musicians, wanting Beatles-like success. With the TV series launching on-air in 1966, Davy Jones, Mike Nesmith, Peter Tork and Mickey Dolenz starred in the series, and although they were hired as actors cast to play musicians, Mickey Dolenz himself later said, “The actor-musicians soon became a successful real band.”

The sitcom was cancelled in 1968, but the band continued to record music through until 1971. The Monkees have actually sold more than 75 million records worldwide and had international hits including "Last Train to Clarksville", "Pleasant Valley Sunday", "Daydream Believer" and "I'm a Believer". At their peak in 1967, the band outsold the Beatles and the Rolling Stones combined.

For that reason, after the series ended, producers of the TV show decided ‘the band’ needed to feature in their own movie, given the success of efforts made by the Beatles with their “Help” and “Hard Day’s Night” cinema releases.

But anyone expecting a similar kind of cinema experience with Head was deeply disappointed, and that reflected in the box office takings for the film. The producers commissioned Jack Nicholson (yep, THE Jack Nicholson) to assist with scripting and producing the film, and anecdotes suggest the ‘storylines’ (or lack thereof) were developed with the band while on a long weekend bender. That appears obvious when watching the film.

The motion picture itself is the ‘antitheses’ of the TV series and the manufactured history of the band. The boppy "Hey Hey" theme song from the TV show is replaced with a spoken alternative, tearing shreds from the superficial nature of the TV production, the lack of storyline in the film, and the buckets of money made by the band. At one point in the film, during Michael’s birthday scene, he’s asked how it feels to be a millionaire so young. He then describes how revolting it is, similar to how he feels about Christmas.

Exposing the failures of the establishment at the time, raising the hippie culture of free love and drug experimentation, poking fun at the Beatles’ reverence to Eastern spiritualism, and pointedly cutting-in vision of brutal Vietnam warfare,  the film intended to comprehensively demolish the group's carefully groomed public image. In one scene, Peter Tork is heard whistling “Strawberry Fields.”

But watching the film, with almost 50 years of hindsight, the obvious subtexts are strikingly confronting. It’s an anarchistic romp painted within a nose-thumbing late-1960s psychedelic motion picture. It’s tainted with loathing for the entire ‘franchise’ and aspects of the world at that time.

Indeed, much that is represented as being ‘wrong’ during that part of history could be easily translated to today. On more than one occasion in the film, a Coca-Cola vending machine is destroyed via large calibre gunfire, perhaps in response to rising corporatisation and consumerism in the US. In another scene, screaming fans invade the stage during a performance, tearing clothes off the band, which are then revealed to be department store mannequins – another statement about the band’s manipulated and manufactured past.

Many of the scenes break the ‘4th wall’ revealing the film-making process in action, with some shots set around an obvious film lot with gigantic warehouse-like studio exteriors. In this, there’s little respect given to the magic of traditional film-making, while at the same time using the medium of motion pictures to make a statement. In fact, the film makes many statements. It’s a great time capsule of subversive versus conservative thoughts of the 1960s decade.

Watching through ‘modern’ eyes, the messages apparent in the film are significant, albeit interspersed with frivolous skylarking. The film is worth another look as it approaches the 50th anniversary.

The Monkees' latest album "Good Times" is now available and enjoying favourable reviews.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Flight Test

Sydney - Adelaide

Virgin Australia Boeing 737-800 Flight # VA0422 


In the Air
As a Velocity member, you can earn Points on eligible flights with Virgin Australia and their airline partners, to over 600 destinations worldwide. Fare type and earn rate restrictions apply. Find out more about how you can earn Points in the air.

On the Ground
You can also earn Points when you make a booking with Virgin Australia’s global accommodation, car hire, travel and insurance partners. Plus, if you use a Velocity co-branded credit card to make your purchase, you earn Points twice – once on your card, and again with their partner. Find out more about how you can earn Points on the ground.

Bonus Points 
As a Silver, Gold or Platinum member, you earn a Points bonus when you book with selected Velocity travel partners, plus on flights with Virgin Australia and their partner Etihad Airways. Find out more about earning Points bonuses.

Economy seat 22C – aisle. 
·         78cm (31in) seat pitch
·         43cm (17in) seat width
·         10.16cm (4in) recline
 Fully booked flight.

Left on time at 12:55.
Arrived Adelaide 14:35 on time.   

On the 737-800 in economy class: 168 leather seats, 3-3 configuration

Virgin Australia is on a per piece based baggage allowance as per fare type and Velocity membership level. If checked baggage exceeds the weight limit of 23kg (where applicable) it attracts overweight baggage fees (option to pre-purchase or pay overweight fee at the airport) and will only be accepted and loaded onboard at the airline’s discretion.

Each piece of baggage must not weigh more than 32kg, or exceed a total linear dimension (length + width + height) of 140cm, per piece. For information regarding baggage items that exceed these limits, take a look at Virgin’s Oversized Items section. My checked baggage was 12 kgs

A bit tight considering the fully booked flight. A number of non-seasoned travellers boarded the plane from the wrong end and therefore wrestled against the tide to make their way to the correct end of the aircraft to take their seats, amongst other travellers trying to load their cabin baggage into the overhead lockers.

Virgin still seems to suffer from the ‘budget airline’ label, popular with infrequent flyers juggling bags, boarding passes, purses and fluffy slippers. Should one item be discovered as accidentally dropped in the aisle during boarding, a ‘swim’ against the current ensues to locate the aforesaid item on the floor among the legs and feet of other boarding passengers, with the partner of the 'swimmer' shouting directions.

I suffered only a few shoulder jostles and paunchy stomachs in my lap as people reached for a vacant space in the overhead locker above my seat. The guy in the seat across the aisle bent over to remove this shoes while standing in the aisle, shoving his butt in my face.

Having had the ticket booked and confirmed via the client's travel agent, there was no check-in required online. However as I had a bag to check-in, this was undertaken at a self-serve “kiosk” at the airport. Parts of the dispensed baggage ticket must be retained (the bit you would normally peel-off and discard) as that serves as the receipt for your bag. Throwing it out is a mistake you only make once, although the check-in clerk can issue another if required, as well as your boarding pass if you forget to collect it from the same kiosk. In-flight, mobile phones must be switched-off although their wi-fi component can be used to access the entertainment system once underway. No USB charging points appeared to be available.

BYO iPod or Android tablet. There are no seatback entertainment units. If you have a Windows laptop, Microsoft Silverlight media player should work, but no guarantees. Silverlight doesn’t work on Edge, so you have to fallback onto boring old Internet Explorer. Good grief. Try this link for more info.
Forget it if you have a Windows phone or tablet.  It.Just.Doesn’t.Work.
You must download Virgin Australia’s entertainment app for iPhone or Android before departure. It cannot be downloaded in-flight, and no flight-to-ground internet connection is available. The selection of entertainment options is world class, but the app automatically shuts-off your device’s speaker so as not to disturb other passengers. Plugging-in your headphones is supposed to re-enable the audio, but not on my Android tablet. After a while of fiddling, I gave up and watched an old Lucille Ball movie (The Long Long Trailer) I had previously downloaded, the highlight of the flight.

Complimentary food is provided on all domestic flights. The menu varies from flight to flight, and the sales pitch “guarantees you’ll always be offered something delicious.”
All Economy passengers receive complimentary tea, coffee and water on all Virgin Australia flights. The male flight attendant poked a plastic box under my nose, which I passed along to the passenger beside me, and another to the passenger in the window seat. But that’s where it ended and I remained empty handed as he proceeded to serve other rows. I guess everyone gets tired of their job eventually. I decided not to demand my rations as the ‘snack’ appeared to resemble a slice of ham wrapped in flatbread, with an entire surface area of about 1.5 inches square. The next trolley did offer me a cup of tea, which I accepted. Black with one sugar. Meals are also available for purchase from the retail menu.
Virgin Australia also offers a selection of complimentary beer, wine, cider and soft drinks on all Australian domestic flights with a scheduled departure time between 5pm and 7pm, Monday to Friday.

Not the most pleasant of flights, and considering Virgin’s shift to being a ‘full service airline’, other airlines of the same mantra perform much better. This is a pity as the Virgin brand is much loved by me. Should the airline be a ‘budget’ carrier, I would have rated this experience much better. Inadequate vetting of carry-on luggage, poorly co-ordinated boarding of passengers and a less than observant flight attendant meant I was pleased to deplane from this sub 2 hour experience. At least the passenger in the row in-front didn’t recline her seat.

Tested by Tim Stackpool, travelling to a speaking engagement.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

He was an Aussie Pop Star for a Moment

Even with the world at your feet, in the 1970s an underage sex scandal is enough to leave you destitute for the rest of your long and lonely life. Born of humble beginnings in Sydney’s Dulwich Hill, the performer who came to be known as William Shakespeare fell as quickly as his meteoric rise to Glam Rock fame.

Singing in bands from his early teens, John Cave sang remarkable falsetto. Coming to the attention of powerhouse Aussie music producers Vanda and Young, the team packaged 26 year old John in glitter and boots and gave him 2 top selling singles in as many years. Can’t Stop Myself from Loving You and My Little Angel were being hummed in most Australian homes across 1974 and 1975. His debut album sold 375,000 copies.

Propelled to further stardom by the Australian TV music show Countdown, John Cave even made the shortlist to head-up AC/DC, also in development at the time by Vanda and Young. His manager advised him against taking the job, asking whether he wanted to remain a star, or just play in a pub band for the rest of his career.

But it was the police knocking at his Melbourne hotel room door after his second hit single that first slid William Shakespeare into decline. Charged and convicted of carnal knowledge with a 15 year old girl from his Melbourne fan club (he denied the charges), he was placed on probation for 24 months. Parting ways with his record company, he never had a hit single again.

Less than 2 years after it ignited, his stardom was extinguished.

Lured by alcohol, his depression was no better following 3 weeks of Deep Sleep 'therapy' in 1978 at the infamous Chelmsford Private Hospital in Sydney. Doing what he could, he subsequently sang at clubs for a while under the moniker of Billy Shake.

The retro revival of the 1990s saw a bit of a resurrection for William Shakespeare, with booking agents and TV producers tracking him down to make nostalgic appearances, little of which paid any real dollars.

Homeless, he was living in his car at the time. By the turn of the century, the decline had continued. He was a broke 52 year old, destitute and living rough across the road from the St George Leagues Club in Kogarah, apparently in the oval’s then shabby ticket booth and toilets. He said staff from the club used to check on him and bring him food.

They did however seek assistance for John Cave, which came in the form of Support Act, a charity which helps musicians who have fallen on hard times. They found him government housing, where William Shakespeare lived the rest of his days.

In an article by The Sydney Morning Herald in 2009 he said, "I got a royalty cheque the other day for 13 bucks.” As the performer, he earned no composing royalties, so when his performing ended, so did his income.

John Cave (William Shakespeare) Sydney Morning Herald 2009
John Cave died in October 2010. At 61 years old, he had almost kicked his alcohol habit, down to just one beer in the evening. He succumbed to a heart attack that ended his life.

There’s no doubt the world today is tough on old rockers who enjoyed their ‘heyday’ in the 1970s. Avoiding scandal, some transition well and become both national and generational icons. Others just fall through the chasm of the years, sometimes suffering alone, in the hope that the sun might one day rise again on their genius, and shine another light on the glitter of their now ill-fitting Glam Rock costume.


For assistance dealing with child abuse: BraveheartsKids Help Line

For assistance dealing with depression: Lifeline

Monday, October 26, 2015

Last Man Standing

The “movie on video for hire” business has been in decline for a number of years. I’ve been surprised every week while walking down the main street near our home at the resilience, to this date, of this movie hire store that has continued to buck the ‘closing down’ trend – until now.

Conveniently located on the high street, and with a carpark in the forecourt, it’s amazing to think that it has lasted so far into the download revolution. While a Blu-ray player in most households is not too hard to find (see their gaming device), it’s likely you might be hard pressed to find a faithful DVD player still sitting standalone in the TV cabinet. And anyway, if we want to watch a DVD, we just use our PC or laptop…if we can remember where we left it.

For just one generation (or maybe 2 if you count VHS), exciting times could be had on a Friday or Saturday night, given you might not yet be of ‘drinking’ age and couldn’t sneak out to the pub instead.

Heading to the ‘video store’ meant the anticipation of what ‘new releases’ might still be available to hire that night, or perhaps pick a few ‘weeklies’ to enjoy while escaping the monotony of broadcast TV. While in the store, you might also grab a bag of popcorn, a few lollies and drinks, getting set for the night ahead.

In some places, there was a time when the video store would also hire actual players, either DVD players or VHS machines back in the day. It’s a concept that seems such a world away, given that a DVD player can now retail from around $35...or less.

Did the video hire franchise owners see this coming 20 years ago? Who would have thought HD content would ever be available online, considering dial-up internet in 1995 was delivered at maybe 56kbps?

So the question to ask now is whether the video hire business is destined to disappear completely. Considering not every home will have (or want) access to Netflix, high speed internet or on-demand satellite TV, is there life still to be breathed into a local movie hire store? I think we know the answer.

It seems to have come and gone so quickly.  

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Mighty Sensurround Turns 40

Looking back, it could possibly be claimed that the launch of Sensurround around 40 years ago was the biggest thing to happen to audio in movies since the invention of the “talkie”. Colour film had been around for years, and black & white movies were only for ‘artsy’ stuff. But adding a new ‘sound’ feature, beyond stereo, pinned hopes on filling cinemas again with enthusiastic patrons.

Sensurround had a short life that was long in development. Only 5 films, released between 1974 and 1979 used the ‘technology’. MCA/Universal proudly launched it with Earthquake. Then came Midway (1976), Rollercoaster (1977), Battlestar Galactica (1978) and its sequel: The Cylon Attack (1979). Cinemas presenting the films had to be fitted with special sound systems (developed by Cerwin-Vega) to reproduce Sensurround, a low deep rumble, in order for the audience to ‘feel’ the effect.

It actually worked. Some cinemas suffered with bits of their interior falling from the roof because of the rumble, while patrons watching films in adjoining auditoria often complained about the vibration next door disturbing their enjoyment of The Godfather Part 2.

MCA/Universal originally only thought of fitting around 30 cinemas with Sensurround. Two years after the release of Earthquake, 2000 cinemas worldwide had the system ready for screening the World War 2 flick Midway.

Interestingly, the ‘rumble’ used to create the sensation was not actually recorded on the film. Optical audio used on film back then could not reproduce frequencies below 40hz, a requirement of the system. Instead, a special ‘control’ track was added to the film, which then triggered the output of the ‘Sensurround rumble generator’ at specific times in the film/s. That rumble was fed directly to the Sensurround amplifiers and speakers in the auditorium. Because of this, merely ‘turning up the bass’ when watching these films at home today does not reproduce the effect.

What killed it? The Sci-Fi slayer of them all! When Star Wars hit the cinemas in 1977, Rollercoaster suffered the fallout. Star Wars didn’t need Sensurround to break those box office records. The movie industry eventually learned that Sensurround was no longer the drawcard for audiences.

It’s thought that only two original "Sensurround Model-1" control systems exist today, both owned by Dolby Laboratories, which kindly loans them for revival screenings of films using the process. A replica system exists, custom built for a 2004 London revival screening of Earthquake. Later versions (Sensurround Mod-II and Mod-III) are more common and can sometimes be seen for sale on eBay.

Sensurround has left a major legacy however. It inspired rival systems and put focus on the capability of what audio can bring to the movies (even at home), and was a major factor in the increase in subwoofer sales and the rise in subwoofer designs in the late 1970s and 1980s.

Perhaps it even inspired what we expect today when DTS, Dolby or THX help bring our movie-going experience to life.

("Sensurround logo" by Source (WP:NFCC#4). Licensed under Fair use)

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Travel Test: Sydney to Canberra by Rail

Sydney - Canberra

ABB XPLORER: NSW TrainLink. KTA-19-R 375 kW engine, 19 litre turbo-charged made by Cummins 

NSW Railways is government owned and has no loyalty scheme per se unless you consider the discounts offered when purchasing weekly, monthly or yearly travel tickets.

Saloon - economy class carriage D seat 39 (window) . 
Armrest to armrest: 43.18 centimetres, Seat space: 45.72 centimetres, Legroom: 43.18 centimetres. Recline: 28 degrees from the upright position. Fully booked train.

Left on time at 12:12.
Arrived Canberra (Kingstone) 16:25 (a few stops along the way to pick-up or set-down passengers), just 2 minutes behind schedule.  

On the XPLORER, the economy seat configuration is 2-2. 

One item of hand luggage and two pieces that are either checked into the luggage compartment or stowed at the end of your carriage.You can check in two items, each weighing between five and 20 kilograms and not more than 70cm long, 60cm high and 50cm wide. If you would rather not check your luggage, you can take two items on board with you, as long as they don't weigh more than 20 kilograms or measure more than 70cm long, 60cm high and 50cm wide. Space is available for carrying bicycles, folding bicycles, surfboards, skis and snowboards, condition apply. 

Loads of leg room, and space for carry on. Seats just a comfy as in the air, although the extra space makes them feel moreso. Huge picture windows give a further sense of space. Plenty to enjoy with the view for daytime travellers.

Having booked the ticket online, there is no check-in at the platform except for baggage. Reservations must be made. No standing passengers are allowed. After booking, simply approach and board the train. Several on-board announcements ensure that non-travellers alight prior to setting-off. Customer service personnel are polite and attentive, with any delays or unexpected stoppages (livestock on the track) being immediately communicated to passengers. There is no food service as such, all being served via visiting the buffet car (see below). Free filtered water is available via a tap in each carriage, adjacent to a toilet that is big enough to sleep in with a baby change table. There is however, no on-board wi-fi, which could come in handy as mobile phone coverage is sparse between regional towns...and in tunnels. No USB charging points are available, although there is a 240v powerpoint in the toilet, and some in the carriage used by cleaners. Power surges are reportedly common, so they are not recommended for charging mobile devices.

Tickets are checked once underway. A electronic copy displayed via a mobile phone or tablet is accepted, which I did.

BYO iPod. No entertainment system on-board, but loads of kids come armed with an iPad. There is a 30 page magazine, "The Link", found in the seat pocket covering a few travel stories, and the buffet car has puzzle books, colouring pencils, other magazines and daily newspapers for sale (as well as items such as headache tablets).

At the start of the trip, a PA announcement is made regarding the choice of hot meals, after which the attendant moves through the carriages taking orders. The cost of the meal is $9, the most expensive item on the menu. Wine and beer is also available. The meals will take 1 hour before another announcement is made indicating they are ready for collection from the buffet car. Less mobile passengers can have their's delivered. Other items are also available, including pies, croissants, pasta, salads and muffins. Prices are reasonable, with gluten-free and vegetarian options. The buffet closed for 30 mins between Bundanoon and Goulburn, and was closed 30 minutes before reaching our destination.
Time spent in transit on this trip roughly equals time spent heading to the airport, checking in, clearing security, boarding, flying and disembarking. The longer travel time on the train is offset by the ticket fee being almost 1/3 that of a late booked flight. Australia should have a high speed rail service connecting capital cities, especially between the nation's capital with Sydney and Melbourne. But the trip via this train was easy going, with plenty of time for a nap (as opposed to the in-air travel time of 23 minutes in a plane), and comfortable space to get some work done. Not having to travel there and back in a day, this train was a comfortable and cost effective alternative.

Tested by Tim Stackpool, who travelled at his own expense.

Monday, June 17, 2013

29 Million Google results in 1 week

Last week, my good friend (and client) ultra-marathon swimmer Chloƫ McCardel attempted her dream of swimming from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage. Although thwarted 11 hours into the 170 km swim by severe jelly fish stings, the direct preparation for the swim took around 9 months.

The publicity required to support such a swim was intense, essential, and formed an integral part of the entire strategy. The resulting media coverage, and the subsequent online trends, say much about the shifting power of the media, but also cement much about what we should already know.

In the months prior to ChloĆ«’s attempt, a search of her name returned about 10,000 results on Google. At the peak of interest during her swim, that figure rose to a staggering 29,000,000. And while the ‘power of the internet’ and discussions on social networks and blogs contributed to that figure, the vast majority of the search returns were due to mentions on sites owned or controlled by traditional media. That is: TV, radio and newspapers.

This demonstrates that even in this exciting age of online media, the fundamental core of traditional publicity foundations must not be overlooked when mounting a promotional campaign. 

While the penetration enjoyed by ‘new media’ works to the advantage of every publicist, the mere fact that so many ‘traditional’ media outlets also have a significant online presence, insists that any campaign must never brush-aside traditional media as being irrelevant or old fashioned. Clever publicists use all opportunities to leverage further interest, and depending of the budget, the allocation of the ‘spend’ must consider the multiplication effect gained using conduits that already have significant market presence. 

This should all sound very familiar.

It sounds a lot like the modus operandi of PR people prior to the rise of online. 

Tim Stackpool manages ultra-marathon swimmer Chloe McCardel’s media and publicity. For a free copy of Tim’s Top Ten hints for Better Publicity, visit here