Jan 10, 2013

Vintage View-Master (1970s)

Given the popularity of the post I did on my mom's View-Master from the 1950s, it was only a matter of time before I went digging for the View-Masters I remembered playing with.  In a green cardboard canister (once again in my parent's basement) I found the two vintage GAF View-Masters and a collection of reels from my childhood.  These View-Masters were made sometime in the 1970s up until about 1981, and seeing as I wasn't born until 1984, they were probably my brother's or my folks maybe bought them later at a garage sale or thrift shop.  

The toys are both in pretty good shape, and I still get a kick out of all of the reels. There were a lot of Disney, Snoopy, and a few famous city travel reels at the bottom of the canister.  We never really kept them organized, which is also why a lot of random reels ended up in the box with my mom's View-Master too.  

View-Masters were always kind of a passing novelty to me as a kid.  I can't ever remember purposefully sitting down to play with them, but instead I would stumble onto them when looking for another toy and couldn't help but check out a few reels.  No question, even a few decades later the allure of 3D hasn't faded, and these View-Masters are still pretty awesome. 

Jan 9, 2013

Spliced: Steven Spielberg

The following comes from my column, Spliced from Volume 47 - Issue 21 of the Carillon (the University of Regina newspaper) from March 2005.

I’ve known since I started writing this column that it was an inevitability that eventually I’d be writing about Steven Spielberg. 

I certainly feel no regret in doing this, but you have to understand that it almost feels to easy.  Spielberg is a brand name synonymous with big budget blockbusters, heartfelt storytelling, and in no understatement of the word, success.

My personal DVD collection fashions more of his movies than of any other director.  Twelve to be exact.  And as a film major, to disregard the work of Spielberg is to disregard the Empire State Building in the New York skyline.  It’s tough to miss, and why would you want to?

The longevity of Spielberg’s career is undoubtedly because of his knack for great stories that often push the envelope, and his understanding of a medium that he wisely uses to inform and entertain. 

If you’re wracking your brain to think of Steven Spielberg films you’re crazy.  His real breakthrough film was Jaws in 1975, and please don‘t admit to anyone that you‘ve never heard of it.

Then there was Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), The Indiana Jones Trilogy (1981-1989), The Color Purple (1985), Hook (1991), Jurassic Park (1993), Saving Private Ryan (1998), Minority Report (2002), and The Terminal (2004).  And yes, I have omitted a few for the sake of not filling up the entire article with titles.

However, I did omit three films purely for the sake of pointing them out as my favourites, and arguably Spielberg‘s best work.  I’m speaking, of course, about E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1984), Schindler’s List (1993), and Catch Me If You Can (2002).  These are three very different films, that each accentuate the talents and control Spielberg has over his craft.

E.T. is a shining example of the family drama that Spielberg is so good at constructing.  Can you honestly admit that you didn’t get the chills when Elliot’s bike took off, or when you thought E.T. might be dead?  I can’t even handle it, it’s just such a good movie.  Excuse me, I suddenly have a craving for Reese’s Pieces.

On a completely opposite end of the spectrum, Schindler’s List is probably one of the most shocking, emotional and powerful films that through its performances, horror, and beauty, captures the frailty, the inexcusable cruelty, and the hope that resides within humanity.  This film about the Holocaust and the work of Oskar Schindler is one narrative that can’t be underestimated.  It's one of the must see films in modern American cinema.

Catch Me If You Can (2002) is again another shift in Spielberg’s range.  This film embraces the best of popcorn entertainment.  It’s colourful, exciting, funny, and a great heist film that follows Frank Abagnale Jr. (Leonardo DiCaprio) as he takes to forging checks and living out the best of 1960’s pop culture.  If you‘re looking for a fun cat and mouse caper, this is it.

War of the Worlds is the next picture to grace Steven Spielberg’s illustrious filmography this summer, but in the meantime, there are more than enough of his previous works to enjoy. 

I hope throughout these weekly articles, you’ve been reminded about some of the movies that you haven’t watched in years, and feel encouraged to go out and pick some of them up.  If you want an easy choice at the video store, few people are going to criticize your taste in Spielberg.

Jan 8, 2013

Redcliff Pressed Brick Company

Opened in 1912, the Redcliff Press Brick Company in Redcliff, Alberta was a joint operation initiated by James Hargrave, Herb Sissons, and Jim Mitchell. It was James Hargrave who was also behind the Hargrave Sissons block in nearby Medicine Hat.

Facing competition from several nearby brick manufacturers, including the Medicine Hat Brick and Tile plant, they were but one of over 100 other brick plants across Western Canada. With a growing population and communities sprouting up across the West, it was a booming industry.

Their venture paid off too. By 1921 they had adopted the trademark I-XL, and by 1929 they had bought out a number of their surrounding competition, including Medicine Hat Brick and Tile. Soon after they moved their headquarters from Redcliff to that site in Medicine Hat.

According to the placard at the Redcliff location this plant closed in 2004, after which, much of the structure was demolished. All that currently remains are some of the original tunnel kilns and towers. The history is pretty fascinating, and it was cool to walk around the birth place of I-XL after getting the opportunity to explore the Medicine Hat location last summer.

Although the Medicine Hat factory has now closed too due to flood damage in 2010, I-XL is still in operation to this day. They also donated the Medicine Hat Brick and Tile factory to the Friends of Medalta as part of the preservation of the city's historic clay district. There's no denying the significant impact this industry had in Southeast Alberta, and the role they played in allowing the construction of some of our most notable buildings.  

Update: November 2016 - These kiln towers have now been demolished.