Table of Contents

Much Entertainment

The last week has been very busy with entertainment (movies plays, Shaw Festival, Star Wars). It started with:

Prince of Egypt

[Baby Moses in a reed basket] [Moses and Ramses racing chariots]I saw the animated movie Prince of Egypt on Saturday afternoon (May 8 1999 at Westgate). Good but not great: it's hard to get involved with biblical characters, but Dreamworks' animation was up to Disney quality. In case you are wondering, it is mostly classical 2D, but with some 3D things (most obviously an ox drawn cart rolling over rocks). There is a really good scene at the end when Moses parts the sea (great waves of water being blown to the sky). All it needs to be better is a Disney style story.

Before and after that time, I was either walking to/from Westgate (30 minutes) or at work, making entertainment rather than consuming it. Yes, the sabbatical is still coming soon, maybe two months away (I said that last year in September too), but more realistically when the Dope Sheet (animation editor) gets finished.

Billy Bishop Goes To War

Then in the evening of the same day, I saw the play Billy Bishop Goes To War at the NAC (National Arts Centre). It is a good World War I story about a Canadian hero, told by two actors. One plays an old Billy Bishop (Eric Peterson) looking back on his life and the other (John Gray, who is also the playwright) plays the piano and helps sing the ancient war songs. It's a kind of a drama/monologue/musical, with the music fitting in surprisingly nicely. The combination gives you a good feel of what it was like to be a fighter pilot back then.

Billy Bishop was originally in the cavalry, after failing at Royal Canadian Military College (caught lying about being AWOL in a canoe on a trip with a buddy to visit some girls, with a bottle of something strong to furthur annoy his superiors). While staring up at the sky during preparations in Britain, trying to get his horse unstuck from the mud, he saw an airplane and thought - no sand, no mud, no superior officers. He managed to transfer over (through the indirect route as observer first) and did well on flights after his first one (totaled the airplane on landing). More stories there, including a dramatic recreation of his solo raid on a German airfield early one morning (with Eric Peterson flying over the stage on wires), but you get the idea.

A Trip to the Shaw Festival

Room at Lakewinds]Then this last weekend, there was the Friday trip up to the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-lake (down the river from Niagara Falls). Fortunately the weather was good (no air conditioning in the car), actually cooler down south than in Ottawa. That made getting stuck in a traffic jam near Toronto not too bad (just open the window for a cool refreshing breeze). The flowers are also wilting in Ottawa but just popping up there. The trip back was also straight-forward (tried out the new highway 16 to Ottawa and got to see an overturned cement mixer on it).

We stayed at my cousins's bed and breakfast, Lakewinds. This time I had the Singapore room (nice decore, including a Samurai helmet hidden in the black laquered box barely visible on the right, and windows which open to the golf course and coast, and really open too). My mom had the Algonquin room, while my aunt got one of the family basement rooms. Anyway, besides being stuffed with giant gourmet breakfasts at Lakewinds, we saw some plays:

A Foggy Day

[A row of tap dancers in bowler hats in fog]We saw A Foggy Day on Friday night at the Royal George theatre (an old small town movie house converted to a theatre). It's a really good musical with music by the Gershwin brothers and script originally by Wodehouse and Hay, but updated. There was a movie made earlier with Fred Astaire, but that had a mangled script which didn't correspond to the songs. This one is fixed. Anyway, lonely songwriter called George (renamed to Steve in the fix) falls in love with a girl he sees, and satisfies his fantasy by helping her escape from pursuit by a bad man. The man is actually her father's butler with orders to keep an eye on her. More suitor competition follows (a whole room full of them), mistaken identities, sneaky tricks (disguise as a waiter) and so on as you can predict. Lots of fun and tap dancing.

Ridley College Cadet Inspection

[Cadets on parade]We all went to see Charlie finish his last year at Ridley College in the annual inspection of the college's cadet corps. He had a high ranking position, leading the band unit around the field, marching and tossing his baton in the air for at least an hour as the inspector general reviewed the troops. Fortunately the cool weather held and only a half dozen or so of the cadets dropped to the ground (students unable to do marching duty were assigned to wander around and find the bodies, and call more able bodied ones over with the stretcher).

Queenston Heights

[Aerial view of Brock's column]Saturday afternoon was taken up with a hike around the Queenston heights, where part of the British / American battle of 1812 was fought (with an accidental side trip to the Mackenzie printery and past Laura Secord's house). There's a huge monument there, in the middle of nowhere, like Nelson's column, it is a giant column with a statue of Isaac Brock on the top. It's even more amazing since it was built a long time ago, 1830's I think. Amazing stone masonry. We retraced the battlefield, actually more of a climb down and up the escarpment, and a bit of horizontal hiking, as we saw where the Americans did their surprise overrun of the British cannon protecting the town below, then where the British recovered and drove them back to the cliff edge. TVO made a really good 4 hour series this year about it if you want to know more.

Getting Married

In the evening we went to see Getting Married by Shaw. This was the best of the Shaw type plays on this trip - lots of arguments and points made about marriage and divorce and contracts.

One couple was just getting married and had read a pamphlet on the horrors of marriage and were reconsidering (the husband is legally responsible for the politically active wife's slander and must pay damages). Another was an older man getting a divorce (back in the days when it required an act of parliament), who had "run off" with someone else to Brighton so that his younger wife could be free to pursue her new love (who was interested more in married women, and not really in marriage it turns out). There was another woman (called Lesbia but never mentioned as being lesbian...) who didn't want to marry (wanted children but no husband) and was the futile love interest of an older military man (but he smokes!). Then there were the happily married parents. Then the wild mayor's wife who was loyal to her husband but played around a lot. And the celibate church Father. Anyway, lots of arguments, and they couldn't even agree on the term of a marriage contract (1 year, forever, until someone stops loving, but what about supporting the ex-wife?).

The Steam Ship Pumper

[Uncluttered side view of S.S. Pumper]Sunday was the busiest day. First off (after a giant breakfast) was a trip on the S.S. Pumper wood powered steam boat. While mom was enjoying the tour (bed and breakfasts of the rich and famous, and assorted forts along the river), I was talking to the engineer / fireman about the steam engine. It's amazingly quiet, the only engine noise being the clatter of cams and connecting rods. The chuff of the steam exhaust from the outlet at the waterline is much louder than the engine. Of course, it smells of wood smoke, but only while you are at the dock.

Some technical details on the steam engine: It's a dual cylinder setup, with high pressure steam in the smaller cylinder and the exhaust from that going into a much larger low pressure cylinder, which then goes out a vacuum pump and into the lake. Controls are fairly simple, starting with a long lever with a hand grip lock which controls the cylinder valve / cam mechanism so that you can go in reverse (direct drive!) or only partially fill the cylinders. A smaller valve lets steam into the engine, this is essentially the throttle. There's also a boiler pressure gauge, an exhause pressure / vacuum gauge (bouncing with every cycle) and an unused gauge for the high pressure cylinder exhaust pressure, and a bell that the captain can ring (number of rings signals requested speed and direction). RPMs are measured by manually counting cycles and using a stopwatch (very low RPM :-). An auxiliary cylinder beside the engine, attached by some rocker arms, acts as a vacuum pump, bilge pump and boiler water feed pump. The whole thing is over a century old (actually older than the boat), so they are careful to bring the ancient boiler up to temperature (2 days from cold, normally still warm after a day), manually oil the engine every half hour (done while running, which is why oil cans have long spouts), including injecting oil into the steam input (via a kind of metal syringe) so that the insides get oiled. Under it all you can see the giant rods and crank shaft, connecting to a 4 foot diameter screw (propeller), with (theoretically) 60 inches of water thrust per revolution. Of course, there is also a pile of wood and a firebox to throw it into, but it doesn't need much. When a cold wind blows, it's nicer near the engine compartment. Miles per log, anyone?

Heartbreak House

After that was a 3 hour long Shaw play, Heartbreak House. It's a bunch of points put together during world war one, without too much connection. I started falling asleep about 3/4 of the way through, though it got more interesting after that. The elder people got more out of it than I.

You Can't Take it With You

[Proud firework makers testing indoors]Finally, we went to see You Can't Take It With You, this one a fun comedy about an insane but fun family meeting up with some stuffy high social class people. Great use of fireworks on stage and off. Fun.

Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace

[Courtyard scene on Naboo]Then, today, Wednesday May 19, I went to see Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace at the Britannia Coliseum 12, at 16:45. We had a late lunch at Lone Star, then went over to wait in line for good seats (already had tickets thanks to Evil Zedric (AndrewG)). After a bit of arcade play, some snacks, and an hour of waiting (some pushy people and a TV crew from CHRO livened it up) in line at theatre 11 (one of the ones with the great sound system), we got to see it. A big cheer went up when the LucusFilm logo appeared on the screen.

I found this to be a good Star Wars, much like the 1977 first one, but with much better production values (real aliens, not just people dressed up). Amazing set design and graphic look (particularly the royal capital - marble buildings, trees, all looking quite real). Even some of the same elements were present, including the award ceremony at the end. The only jarring note was the immaculate conception idea stolen from the Christian church. Some parts were a bit silly, like the kid flying things when he can't even move the controls convincingly. But the actual pod race is good action (like the forest chase scene in Return of the Jedi). There aren't any soppy Ewoks too. The story tension maybe isn't as strong as the 1977 film (hunt for Death Star plans was more unifying than the getting help plot of this year's film). I'd rate it as being the 3rd best of the series so far. Anyway, I want to see it again (at least to try understanding what Jar Jar Binks is saying :-).

That's enough writing for now, hope you find some of it entertaining.

- Alex

Copyright © 1999 by Alexander G. M. Smith.