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Monthly Archives: October 2011



a look back at what could still be the future of the theatrical experience…


Back To The Future: The Ride was a simulator ride based on the popular movie series of the same name. It opened May 2, 1991, at Universal Studios Florida, and currently operates at Universal Studios theme parks in Orlando, Hollywood, and Osaka. It is different from other simulators where the screen acts as a window; in BTTF: The Ride, ride patrons sit in a ride vehicle beneath a huge IMAX Dome screen.

The ride opens with a set-up video featuring characters from the film trilogy. Somehow, due to an error made by one of Doctor Emmett Brown’s (played by Christopher Lloyd) time-travel crews, Biff Tannen (played by Thomas F. Wilson) stows away and finds himself at Doc’s Institute of Future Technology, where he tries to locate Doc’s ‘Flying DeLorean,’ as well as cause plenty of mayhem for the Institute’s crew, as well as Doc.

Biff complicates matters even further, when just as you and your party are getting ready to take Doc’s 8-passenger DeLorean on a journey across the space-time continuum, Biff locks Doc in his lab, and steals the original DeLorean time machine, causing Doc to plot on the horrible time ramifications that Biff can have. It is then that Doc devises a plot that the park’s visitors can help him on. Doc assigns the crew of the 8-passenger DeLorean to chase Biff across time. If the 8-passenger DeLorean gets close enough to Biff, they can ‘bump’ him back to the present time by reaching 88mph. Using his remote control, Doc and the DeLorean’s party follows Biff into the future, back to the ice age, and even into the heart of an active volcano that existed in the primeval Hill Valley.

The “waiting rooms” feature prop-replicas from the movies including hoverboards, photos of Doc and Marty, notes from Edison to Doc, and the like. The actual ride features video from both Doc and Tannen who tell the passengers what is going on throughout their adventure.

Outside the ride, the De Lorean from all three films and Doc’s locomotive from the third film are on display. Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale had nothing to do with the ride, though the writer of the ride’s set-up video handed them a script and asked if “he got Doc right”. The two responded with a “yes”. The two have also said “it’s a great ride”. The ride film was directed by Douglas Trumbull, the director of another Universal Studios feature, The Last Starfighter. The ride’s score was composed by Alan Silvestri, the same composer who scored the Back to the Future Trilogy.

The ride is a motion simulator with the cars held in place under a 70-foot IMAX Dome screen. Each car is mounted on four pistons (at the corners), allowing it to rise, fall and tilt, following the motion on the screen. The cars rise eight feet (2 and a half meters) above the floor when “flying”. Other than that, the actual range of motion is about two feet. The motion and the visual input from the screen images combine to make the riders feel as if they are in a high-speed pursuit, as they chase Biff through 2015, prehistoric times, and even the beginning of Earth, before finally tracking him back to the present.


the rides at Universal Studios Florida and Hollywood closed and were replaced by The Simpsons Ride… the ride at Universal Studios Japan is still open…

click here for an amazing archive of images and more relating to the ride…



the YouTube online Russian film archive… 


For Eisenstein, you can go to Netflix and stream “Battleship Potemkin” or “Ivan the Terrible.” For Dovzhenko, you can stream “Earth” at Netflix or “Arsenal” at Amazon. For Pudovkin, “Mother” is at Amazon.

But what if you’re looking for a more recent, if less familiar, brand of Russian cinema? Like, say, Vitali Moskalenko’s 2002 Volga river-boat comedy, “The Chinese Tea-Set.” Or Emil Loteanu’s 1979 adaptation of the Chekhov novella “The Shooting Party” (original title “My Tender and Affectionate Beast”).

For those, you’ll need to go to the YouTube channel of Mosfilm, the Russian film studio and production company. Over the last month 50 or so films from the company’s library, with English subtitles, have been posted.

Determining exactly how many films are available, or what they are, takes a little work for a non-Russian-speaker, since the site is entirely in Cyrillic. With the help of your browser’s translation function and a little cross-referencing on the Internet Movie Database, it’s possible to identify what you’re looking at.

There are some older, more familiar titles in the mix, like Andrei Tarkovsky’s “Andrei Rublev” (1966) and “Solaris” (1972) and Mikhail Kalatozov’s 1957 film “The Cranes Are Flying.” Perhaps the most noteworthy director represented is Kurosawa, whose Siberian adventure “Dersu Uzala” was a Soviet-Japanese co-production.

Other films, while little known in America, have opened here and won praise, like Mr. Loteanu’s “Shooting Party,” which Vincent Canby of The New York Times called “a fascinating, almost intoxicating experience.”

But American viewers will probably be most interested in what they consider oddities, like Eldar Ryazanov’s “Irony of Fate, or Enjoy Your Bath!,” a cult comedy in Russia, or “easterns” like “White Sun of the Desert.”

Five films will be added to the channel each week, according to Agence France-Presse, which quoted Karen Shakhnazarov, the company’s director, “The aim is to give users the possibility to legally watch high-quality video material and prevent the illegal use of our films.”

(NY TIMES  5.2.11)

the LAX hallway mosaic…

appreciating the endurance of a public work…

in the time capsule that is LAX Terminal 3, the mosaic was created in 1965 for TWA to entertain as people made the 400-foot trek to the exit door…  the hall was featured in John Boorman’s noir masterpiece “Point Blank” and 30 years later in Tarantino’s “Jackie Brown”

“The key image in Point Blank is massive Lee Marvin striding down the old LAX corridors like a robot on overdrive…”  (Glenn Erickson)

“Point Blank” 1967 directed by John Boorman

“Jackie Brown” 1997 directed by Quentin Tarantino


the eighteen-inch Renaissance man…


The twin sons of Baltimore couple Amelia and John Eckhardt, Robert and John Jr., were born on August 27, 1911. Twenty minutes after the delivery of Robert, John Jr. appeared, to the horror of his parents and his midwife, who is said to have cried, “A broken doll!” It wasn’t a clean break though – rather than appearing “snapped off at the waist” as he would later claim, little Johnny was left with withered, useless legs that never grew even as the rest of him did. Clothed as he always was in a neat tuxedo jacket, however, Johnny appeared to be a perfect half-man.

Robert was charged with looking after his brother, who was handicapped in name only – Johnny taught himself to walk on his hands at the age when most children learn to walk on their feet. Both twins were bright boys who excelled in school, and John aspired to be a preacher. At the age of thirteen, however, Johnny’s career as the “King of Freaks” was already taking shape. The twins were spotted by a magician while attending a local carnival, who convinced them to join the sideshow, with Johnny working as a freak and Robert as his manager.

John loved everything about showbusiness. In the circus, he did acrobatics with his extraordinarily strong arms, trained animals, juggled, and played the front end of the magician’s “sawed in half” illusion. When not performing as a circus freak, he and Robert conducted their own Baltimore-based orchestra. Johnny also drew and painted, and drove a custom-built race car, the “Johnny Eck Special”.

Johnny Eck’s most memorable appearance is in the movie Freaks, but he also had uncredited roles in three Tarzan movies. After these Hollywood appearances, the Eckhardt brothers went into semi-retirement in Baltimore, running a kiddie train ride in a local park. John also made a living with his paintings.

The event that turned Johnny from a beloved local celebrity into a sullen old recluse was a robbery at the family home, which he and Robert inhabited, in 1987. Old and enfeebled, Johnny was unable to defend himself as a gang of thieves physically restrained him and walked off with his valuables. It was this incident that is said to have inspired his famous quote, “If I want to see freaks, I can just look out the window,” indicating that the once-congenial King of Freaks had finally lost faith in his fellow man. On January 5, 1991, after almost four years of living in total seclusion, Johnny suffered a heart attack and died. Robert followed him in 1995, aged 83.

The Eckhardt twins may be gone, but they are not forgotten, especially in their hometown of Baltimore. Jeffrey Pratt Gordon, the owner of their home on North Milton Avenue, has retained many of their possessions, including the miniature train Johnny drove, and has put together an amazing website, The Johnny Eck Museum with the intent of sharing the twins’ incredible story with the world.


Brando’s mail…





woolly mammoths and the restoration of an Ice-Age ecosystem…


During the last ice age northeastern Siberia remained a grassy refuge for scores of animals, including bison and woolly mammoths. Then, about 10,000 years ago, this vast ecosystem disappeared as the Ice Age ended.

Now, though, the Ice Age landscape is on its way back, with a little help from the Russian scientists who have established “Pleistocene Park.”

The scientists hope to uncover what killed off the woolly mammoth and other Ice Age animals. To do so, they’re restoring the prehistoric ecosystem once found in what is now the remote Sakha region of eastern Russia.

The land is slowly being turned into willow savanna, as it was 10,000 years ago. Dozens of wild horses are already grazing in the refuge, and there are plans to import bison and musk oxen.

Most spectacularly, the wildlife park may one day become home to a genetic hybrid of the extinct woolly mammoth and the modern-day elephant. But the park probably will not see its most majestic potential inhabitant for several decades, if ever.

Japanese scientists, working with Russians, have for years been searching for mammoth carcasses to use for reviving woolly mammoths, which would then be introduced into Pleistocene Park.

The plan: to extract sperm DNA from frozen mammoth remains and inject it into a female elephant’s eggs to produce a hybrid offspring. By repeating the procedure over generations, scientists would eventually create an animal that is mostly mammoth.

One problem, however, has been finding mammoth DNA that is sufficiently well preserved in ice to still be viable. The DNA in mammoth fossils that have been found has been unusable, damaged by time and climate changes.

Also, many mammoth experts scoff at the idea, calling it scientifically impossible and even morally irresponsible.

“DNA preserved in ancient tissues is fragmented into thousands of tiny pieces nowhere near sufficiently preserved to drive the development of a baby mammoth,” said Adrian Lister, a paleontologist at University College London in England.

Great Mystery

Sergey Zimov, who is not involved in the mammoth-recreation effort, initiated the project to restore the Pleistocene ecosystem in 1989. He hopes to test the theory that hunting, not climate change, wiped out the animals that once thrived in northern Siberia.

“I want to show how many animals can exist if nobody hinders them to live,” said Zimov, who directs the Northeast Science Station in Cherskiy, about 93 miles (150 kilometers) south of the Arctic Sea in the Russian republic of Sakha (also known as Yakutiya).

In the area of Sakha where the park is located, temperatures fluctuate between highs of about 85 degrees Fahrenheit (30 degrees Celsius) in the summer and lows of -58 degrees Fahrenheit (-50 degrees Celsius) in the winter.

During the driest periods of the Pleistocene, which lasted from about 1.8 million to 10,000 years ago, the vegetation was mainly low grass.

During warmer periods the land turned into meadows and steppes, ideal grazing grounds for woolly mammoths, rhinoceroses, bison, horses, elk, and yaks. Among the predators were cave lions and wolves.

When this vast ecosystem disappeared 10,000 years ago, the land turned into mossy tundra. The only plant eaters to survive were reindeer that grazed on lichens and moose that fed on willows.

The cause of the extinctions of large animals such as woolly mammoths has been a topic of great debate. Many scientists argue that the sudden shift to a warmer and moister climate proved catastrophic to the steppe vegetation and the animals that thrived on it.

“I’m completely on the side of natural, environmental causes of extinction,” said Andrei Sher, a well-known paleontologist at Moscow’s A.N. Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution.

Skilled Hunters?

Zimov, however, believes that humans, using increasingly efficient hunting practices, killed off the woolly mammoths and the other large animals.

But could a small population of hunters kill millions of animals?

“Imagine a picture in which someone from the neighboring tribe teaches you to make new … weapons” such as spears, Zimov said.

“Now you kill the first animal. Will you carefully prepare and consume all the meat, surrounded as you are by clouds of mosquitoes? Or will you just cut out the tongue, knowing that there are millions more [animals]?

“Over time, people probably understood that they should take care of the animals, but by then it was too late,” he added.

By reintroducing the Pleistocene animals, Zimov says scientists may be able to determine what role the animals played in maintaining their own habitat. Researchers may also better understand the forces that vanquished the Ice Age ecosystem.

While much of the Siberian tundra is now covered with moss, the 160 square kilometers (62 square miles) designated for the park is an even split of meadow, larch forest, and willow shrubland.

“All plants that were there in the Pleistocene epoch are preserved there today,” Zimov said.

The park will eventually be cordoned off, though it will remain open to adventurous tourists who can get to such a remote location, which is accessible only by helicopter.

So far, only 20 square kilometers (about 8 square miles) have been fenced off. Within the park hardy Yakutian horses, the closest descendants of the Pleistocene horse, roam alongside reindeer and moose. Plans to import of Canadian bison, however, are on hold due to fears of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or mad cow disease.

Zimov says he hopes to increase the density of plant eaters sufficiently to influence the vegetation and soil in the park and stabilize its grasslands. Once herbivore populations have been established, the plan is to acclimatize Siberian tigers, predators whose modern survival is threatened by poaching.



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