Tuesday, June 22, 2010

PBS: BP Oil Volcano

PBS: BP Oil Volcano

It is amazing that this continues and will probably go on for months. I have spent time in Alabama, Florida and Mississippi, plus in the Gulf. A real shame that so much of that will be destroyed or spoiled for generations.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

And the Sky Full of Stars I

Sixteen years after the series premiere, Marc N. Kleinhenz interviews the cast of Babylon 5, one of the landmark television shows in American history, about their characters, their emotional evolution, and their participation in television history.

Of all the cast, Patricia Tallman, portraying Babylon 5’s resident telepath, Lyta Alexander, has the most interesting and intertwined involvement with the production. Originally introduced as a series regular in the pilot telefilm – in a part written specifically for her by series creator and showrunner Joe Michael Straczynski – contract disputes prevented her from joining the season one cast. Lyta was subsequently reintroduced as a recurring character during the second and third seasons, when her replacement, Talia Winters (played by Andrea Thompson), had to be similarly written off of the show – paving the way for Pat’s return as a full cast member for the final two seasons.

Pat Tallman is active with both her official fan club, located on Facebook, and the charity organization Penny Lane, which runs a group home for children and adolescents so abused, they cannot be put in regular foster care. It is for the latter that she runs Be a Santa, a program that visits, decorates the rooms of, and gives gifts to the Penny Lane kids during the holidays. You can find out more about the annual event, including ways to assist – “I need help every year to pull it off,” Pat notes

Let’s start at the end. The denouement of Lyta’s character arc is so wonderful because it’s so different from Sheridan’s or Garibaldi’s or Franklin’s – whereas they end up becoming more successful, both externally, in the outside world, and internally, within their own skins, Lyta becomes much angrier and more primal. How did you respond to that?

I don’t know how Joe does it. It’s like he’s inside my skin sometimes. Lyta comes from a very sheltered, very scheduled and controlled environment. Throughout her journey on Babylon 5, as she becomes aware of other beings and the circumstances of their existence, she awakens to the universe of possibilities in herself. To be that in touch with others and their pain, she reacts to injustice. Of course that leads to anger. I, myself, can become incandescent with rage at the injustices in the world. I am not evolved enough yet, I guess, to become all spiritual and placid and philosophical about pain and suffering. I get pretty fucking pissed off, which leads to action. Lyta becomes all about action, and, brother, if she gets as angry as I do, well… it ain’t gonna be pretty!

There is a nice parallel between Lyta’s end point and Lennier’s, where they both become regarded as something of a criminal or antagonist by the other characters. Do you think Lyta still manages to retain her integrity by series’s end, despite her rather utilitarian methodology in the last handful of episodes?

I am proud of her for being an individual and flying in the face of what’s comfy and normal. I believe that is exactly what maintains integrity. Weirdly enough, I just put this on my Facebook group page: “To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting. […] It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.” ~ E.E. Cummings, 1955.

I’ve always loved the character of Byron – most likely because, from an early age on, I’ve had this passion for ideologies, particularly the extreme ones (not to mention, of course, long hair). But practically everyone I’ve come across, from my wife to various online denizens, hate Byron with this unrivaled passion. Why do you think that is?

Wow. How can you hate Byron? I don’t understand this. Joe would, of course. But I admire [Byron’s] directness and clarity. I may not agree with it, but I admire passion that comes from a place of selflessness and a true desire to make things better for everyone. I also love Robin Atkin Downes like my own brother and think he’s a brilliant actor! Great hair – wish I had it!

What word or emotion would you use to sum up or embody Lyta’s evolution across the five years of the show?


How difficult was it to step into Lyta’s skin? Did portraying a walking psionic thermonuclear bomb present a number of obstacles, or was it a relatively smooth process?

It was organic. Lyta was not an easy being to incorporate, but she made sense to me. I realized in the fifth season [that] I had never smiled as Lyta. It took Byron to make her smile.

There is this nice little scene between you and Jerry Doyle (Mr. Garibaldi) towards the very beginning of season five, where you try to explain what it’s like to telepathically watch someone die while he’s attempting to pump you for (yet more) favors. Walk me through that scene, if you would. What was your initial reaction to it in the script? Was Jerry’s approach to it much different than yours? What role did Mike Vejar, the episode’s director, play in helping the two of you arrive at what we see in the finished product?

My approach to acting has always been a blend of the method tradition and a practical approach. I am very aware of the time and money it takes to produce a project. I do, however, embody my characters and need to find a way to become them. When I got a B5 script, I’d read it and then absorb it in my own way. It’s impossible to describe and sound sane.

I’d say the cast members I felt closest to, and worked best with, were Rick Biggs [Dr. Stephen Franklin] and Robin Downes. Rick and I would get together to rehearse. Laurie, his wife (then-girlfriend), would take care of my son, Julian, while Rick and I would work on the scenes. We had a blast playing “Telepath and Doctor in Space,” as it were. He was a joy. Robin and I just clicked from the beginning and were able to help each other find the best in our characters.

The directors in TV had the monumental job of conducting this huge mass of people towards a finished product called an episode. Really, they left the regulars alone, with a few comments about the focus of a scene. Mike is a very gifted director. We were always lucky to have him. The thing about Garibaldi and Lyta was they were coming from opposite directions. It was perfect for Jerry and I. We just needed a traffic pattern, and we were off to the races.

Do you have any disappointments in how either you approached a particular character beat or in how a specific scene or episode turned out?
I cannot look at anything like that. I have to believe I always did my best with what I had to work with and deal with at the time.

Despite some twists and turns and elongated absences, you’re one of only a handful of people to be with the show from its very beginning to its very end. What was that journey like? Was life on the set any different from the pilot to the series finale?

The thing that jumps out at me was how really wonderful most of the folks were on that ship. Really. I am grateful to know them, and working with them was a privilege. We were lucky when Bruce came on board. What a terrific person he is and the perfect captain on our ship. When I see his face, I always smile. And I feel that way about almost everyone.

It’s been nearly twelve years since Babylon 5 went off of the air. Looking back at where you were as an actor in 1998, what stands out the most to you?

My baby, my son, who was six-months-old when I started back on B5 in the second season, is now 15-and-a-half. I wrote about going to work and leaving him in daycare. How heartbreaking that was, because I was so happy for the work and loved the show but had to give up so much to do it.

We have all said we know how lucky we were to work with such exceptional people, and we all really enjoyed each other. I have been on other “ships” and it was never even close to B5.

What do you think Lyta’s arc, from put-upon telepath to martyred war hero (and leader), tells us about Joe Straczynski’s overriding theme or message? How is his vision of the world embodied in Lyta’s life – and how is your view of the world embodied in her?

I don’t think Lyta encompasses Joe’s message or theme. Or if there is a correlation, it’s for someone much more intelligent to write about. English prof Sharon Ney? I just hope I can live up to what Lyta accomplished for her people. I, too, have a passion for justice and social change. I have a long way to go!

I believe Joe put a piece of himself in every character he wrote, and each of them accomplished something critical for him in the story. I think the reason Joe’s work on B5 is so compelling to so many people is [because] he poured his considerable passion and intellect into the work, and we, the viewers, cannot help but viscerally experience it as we watch.

This piece is part of Marc N. Kleinhenz's The Babylon Project series of articles, which comprises essays, reviews, and interviews. The other items can be found here:

The Passing of the Techno-mages and the expansion of previous narratives
November 2009
Blue Buddha

The Lost Tales and the undermining of worldbuilding
December 2009
Blue Buddha

The Shadow Within, The Passing of the Techno-mages, and the role of technology in love
January 2010

The history of Babylon, from Babylon 5 and Babylon Prime to Crusade
February 2010

Sandy Bruckner and the dream of fandom
May 2010

Matthew Gideon and the apocalypse
July 2010

Maggie Egan, ISN Jane, and the craftsmanship of delivery
August 2010

Jeanne Cavelos and the perfection of storytelling
November 2010

History and metatheater in the world of Babylon
December 2010

Joe Michael Straczynski and the dark side of Babylon 5
January 2010

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Artist Sebastian Horsley and death

Artists think and feel differently. I do not know if it is from their spirit, mind, desires, physical body, ... but they do. They are different.

Sebastian Horsley killed himself. His work was in some ways of thinking a journal of a very long painful suicide. Included amongst his work of self expression was his desire and indeed decision to be crucified to experience the moment.

So many artists also have killed themselves. Some as the logical end to a life of depression and sorrow. Others, seemingly, as a punctuation mark to their work. The artist mind and spirit, to reflect and create is different than other humans. But I am not decided as to whether I believe their desire to and likelihood of use of suicide is more likely than any other kind of human.

We all have our own baggage and issues to deal with. I am not saying anything about should do, or not do. This is simply a reflection.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Wizard World Philly 2010: A Cosplay Gallery

There was a dramatic change in tone at this year’s Wizard World Philadelphia. As is the case with many conventions, there had always been a strong multimedia component, but this year, the comic book end of the entertainment spectrum was severely curtailed. I don’t know whether it’s the economy or just competition from other venues, but neither of the Big Two had a presence at Wizard World.

Instead, there was a vastly expanded pool of celebrities for autographs, photos and Q&A. There were the usual pro wrestlers and aging Playboy bunnies, but there was also some serious geek cred. Patrick Stewart was there, surrounded by photographers. Every minute he was in his booth, the autograph line snaked around the room. Funny how Brent Spiner, Walter Koenig and Avery Brooks never had more than a few people waiting to talk to them. At one point they were advertising William Shatner as a guest, but I guess that fell through. I suspect having two Enterprise Captains in the same building would cause a collapse of the time/space continuum. Still, it was a Trekkie paradise. Even the guy who played the Gorn was there!

I’m a comic book geek, and I was there to talk to comic book people. There were no people from DC or Marvel editorial dishing dirt on upcoming projects, and there were no veterans from the old days telling stories about what jerks Murray Boltinoff and Martin Goodman were, but there were a couple of panels. I skipped the artist panels, but I did go to Raven Gregory’s panel on how to break in as a comics writer. The truth, as he immediately acknowledged, is that every writer has their own story of how they broke in, and there’s no One True Path. He shared his own story, and answered questions.
One of the first people to step to the mike to ask a question happened to be wearing a Mario Brothers shirt.
Gregory interrupted him to observe that it seemed like he should be speaking in a higher pitch, to match his shirt. The fan complied, throwing in an Italian accent for good measure. This is why I go to conventions, and this is why I went to this panel, despite having never heard of Raven Gregory or read any of his books. We geeks can make fun out of nothing, on demand. Subsequent questions were asked in a robot voice, a baby voice, as Popeye and Scooby Doo, and on and on until the panel ended. Gregory requested a voice, and most of the fans did their best to comply. I bet the fans at the Patrick Stewart Q&A didn’t have half as much fun!
Sadly, I had a family emergency at home, and couldn’t spend as much time at the Con as I’d have liked. I did a little shopping, talked to fans, cruised Artist’s Alley for new talent, and took pictures of as many people in costumes as I could. Abbreviated Con is still better than no Con at all!
One last thing I should point out, before I turn this over to all-picture format. I took lots of pictures of people in costumes, and cosplay is a big part of the Con experience for some. However, civilians should keep in mind that only a tiny fraction of attendees were in costume. If you talk to someone who goes to Cons, don’t ask who they dressed up as. Odds are, they dressed as themselves.
That includes me. Sad to say, I’m getting older, and can no longer fit into my thigh-high spike-heeled boots. And since I got my hair cut, the gold tiara just looks silly.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Shameless Self-Promotion: Hannibal Tesla

Abandoned Towers, the webzine that has been running my comic Hannibal Tesla Adventure Magazine, has moved it's comics section here to Blogspot. So if you want to continue following Hannibal's thrilling exploits, you can do so at: Hannibal Tesla Adventure Magazine

If you haven't been following it, why not?

In the Futuristic World of 1935, Hannibal Tesla Man of Science, travels the world fighting evil along with his team of Able Assistants:

* Francis Xavier Grogan: Fighting Archaeologist
* Raymond Steele: Cinema Idol
* Elwood Braun: Mathematical Marvel
* Billy Highcloud: Navajo Ace

And Introducing Ginger DuPree, Plucky Girl Reporter!

Our Story So Far...

Investigating a robbery at a museum, Hannibal crosses paths with a criminal mastermind named Weng Hu. Now Hannibal is racing Weng Hu to Tibet, to find an ancient jewel which may be an alien artifact of incredible power! Will Hannibal beat Weng Hu? What is the secret behind his Sky Terror? And why does Ginger have a tail?

For the answers to these and other thrilling questions, go to Hannibal Tesla Adventure Magazine

Saturday, June 5, 2010

It could have all turned out so differently

The world is outraged by the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. As environmental disasters go it is somewhat huge.

People talk right now how Israel is bad oh so bad for killing nine people from a convoy meant to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza.

People talk about North Korea's nuclear aspirations and sinking of a South Korean ship near their territorial waters.

People think that Obama is a National Socialist.

People can talk or think all they like. We might well have ended up in far worse place had courage, luck, and determination to defeat evil not occurred. North Korea with three nuclear weapons? How about a Hitler's Germany with not only nuclear weapons but orbital space weaponry?

The younger we are the more it seems to be that we forget what happened before, that allowed us the luxury of being outraged at 9 deaths.

Here are some books to read to give a thought to a different outcome, and, a different future. Tomorrow is June 6, 66 years after the Allies began the final drive towards defeating Racist Nationalism in Germany. God bless all who died there, who bought my freedom through their sacrifices.

In addition to different outcomes from war, imagine the environmental disaster that could have come, from a world possessing nuclear weapons and being willing to fight a war to end all grievances, using them. The oil in the Gulf of Mexico today would seem a pittance compared to the devastation of the nuclear consequences of the war that didn't happen.

People like to think we earned the future, but we inherited it. People like to think that we are better than others for our enlightened views. But those views came from living in a world where 6 million Jews were gassed or baked in ovens, because they were Jewish. That hundreds of thousands of Roma people were executed or experimented upon, because they were Roma.

This world inherited its enlightenment from the past, where people made choices to fight what appeared to be evil. And I thank God they did.