Monday, January 18, 2010

Film Geek Flashback: Space – The Imagination Station

The kind of film geek one is can largely be understood by the situation in which one grows up. I myself have been one of those to benefit from the era of home video, particularly VHS growing up. It was a short walk from home down to the local video rental shop, and it was a pretty good one before it was completely altered by new management early in the last decade. Packed with a large selection of titles, and before the era in which video stores had to check your age, I was able to usually rent a good number of titles to watch over the course of my youth, from classics such as Gone with the Wind, Blade Runner, Alien, and the Vincent Price version of The Fly, to selections of the James Bond series and absolute crap like the straight to video Captain America film. There was just one little problem with the place, and that was that it cost money to rent from them. Truly shocking, I know.

There were other options for watching films though. For starters, there was TVO and "Saturday Night at the Movies", back when it was hosted by Elwy Yost, which exposed me to many of the greats, such as Citizen Kane and The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad. However, as great as the Yost program was, it was always seemingly in the era of Classic Hollywood, leaving me without any real access to many of the films that followed. Furthermore, it seemed to avoid airing genre films of old most of the time. How on Earth was I ever going to get to see The Day the Earth Stood Still or Invasion of the Body Snatchers? To top it off, our family didn’t have cable, so that wasn’t an option either.

Cut to 1996. My grandparents took advantage of a special deal that gave them access to some upcoming, newer channels that were about to launch on the Canadian cable system. Not having cable ourselves, these channels held no interest to me, until I noticed a little name on the list of new channels they were to receive:

Space – The Imagination Station.

For any viewers outside of Canada, you probably have no idea what the hell this channel is. Well, in an attempt to prevent American broadcasters from entering Canadian markets, many Canadian channels were launched to offer similar choices to that of American cable but keep the control in Canadian hands. Space was launched as a counter to the American Sci—Fi channel, with the intention of broadcasting science fiction, fantasy and horror programming from all over the world.

And it was glorious.

Now, like I said, we didn’t have cable at our house, but you can bet that I took full advantage of asking my grandparents to tape programming off of Space. While some might have complained about the lack of original programming at the time, I wasn’t one of them. The bizarre mish mash of quickly cancelled sci-fi series, serials, and anime imports gave Space its own quirky identity, furthered by the intermixing of brief snippets of science facts, interviews and quotes from historical and literary sources in between shows. It was truly a geek paradise.

Then, there were the films. Oh lord, were there the films.

Every night at midnight, as well as on weekends, Space would air, uncut (though not commercial free) science fiction, fantasy and horror films from every decade under the sun. Not only that though, they were almost always aired as part of theme weeks, mixing and matching the best, the worst, the middle ground and the just plain interesting together. One week, it was Martian invasion films; the next was a week dedicated to all five Fly films, allowing viewers to see the evolution from Vincent Price to Cronenberg’s tragic exploration of sex in the modern world, followed by the underrated B-movie joy that was The Fly 2.

How about outright classics of the genre? Not only could you find relatively recent genre classics such as Alien, but the original 1950s golden age of Sci-fi cinema was always well represented, with classics such as The Day the Earth Stood Still and Forbidden Planet. When you needed a break from the good stuff, there was always an airing of Santa Clause Vs. the Martians around the corner along with other great B-move oddities. This was the channel that first introduced me to these greats that even Yost was ignoring, and for that, I will always be thankful.

Every week, when the TV Guide arrived, the first thing I would turn to would be the midnight listings on Space. I didn’t think every film was worth taping, and some of what was taped was outright painful to sit through (I’m looking at you Scanners 2), but it was always worth giving it a shot, particularly when it was films and filmmakers I had no clue about at the time. A great example was the work of Ralph Bashki, which I was introduced to through the film Wizards when it aired on Space. While I am no Bashki fan on a whole, there is no arguing his work is unique and worthy of study, and I am happy to look back and know that it was Space that introduced me to the filmmaker among others.

While I love film as a whole, there is no question that I have a deep rooted love of sci-fi, fantasy and horror cinema that dominates all others, and Space was a large part of developing this love. Heck, if it weren’t for Space and their catchy style of advertising these films, there are a many films I more than likely have ignored rather than give a chance. This developed my willingness to give pretty much anything a try and the knowledge that all films have some place in film history, hence, being worthy of study.

Even into my early days of university, Space was a great place to catch films that might have slipped my attention or were worth seeing again. One night I remember distinctly was finishing a fall term with the handing in of my final paper, and being unable to sleep due to the bucket loads of caffeine in my system from the combo of Jolt Cola and coffee. Playing on Space was David Cronenberg’s Rabid, and it turned out to be the perfect way to unwind from the previous few days of steady work.

Sadly, as with all good things, it had to come to an end. Well, the Space I knew and loved had to come to an end. About two years after that viewing of Rabid, I tuned into Space on a Saturday night to unwind once again. However, I was surprised by what I found: they were airing Backdraft. Now, I’ve got nothing against the film (well, actually I do, but that is for another rant), but it certainly wasn’t a science fiction, fantasy or horror film. I was convinced it was an error, but sure enough, it was correct: Space was airing Backdraft, followed by Daylight.

Just what the hell was going on? While I am sure that there are a series of ownership changes, policy shifts and other real life answers to that question, the simple fact was that Space was going mainstream rather than playing to the fringe anymore. In early 2009, while working on assignments for my professional program, I occasionally switched to Space during my breaks and was disappointed by what I saw. Gone were the random collection of shows, the weekend serials and the mix of classic films and oddities. In its place were recent action films that had nothing to do with the original intention of the channel. The cool little interviews with writers, artists and scientists were gone. Instead, we now had (and have) camera friendly vapid youths who do little more than peddle recent films and shows in the style of Entertainment Tonight. Space was dead, and the animation centered network Teletoon was left to pick up the geek friendly audience.

Still, there are some redeeming qualities for the modern Space. After the CBC mishandled the broadcasting of the brilliant "Doctor Who" revival, Space has stepped in to make sure the series airs with proper support and with a limited waiting time between the Canadian and BBC broadcasts. But such effort does not change the fact that the channel of my youth is gone, and with it, all the opportunities it provided me to grow as a film geek.

Of course, perhaps Space is no longer needed for the little film geeks growing up now. For those truly seeking to explore genre cinema, there are endless resources and methods for seeing these films.

I still can’t help but feel sad though that such a resource as Space, for all its flaws, is reduced to a shell of its former self. So goodbye Space – The Imagination Station. You will always live on as a memory and as part of what made me, well, me.

1 comment:

  1. Great post, and I feel exactly the same way about both Saturday Night at the Movies and Space. Elwy Yost made me a classic film lover and thanks to Space, I got to see many of the movies I had read about for years and had never gotten the chance to see. Incidentally, Space producer Mark Askwith, who was responsible for programming many of those great flicks, is a real swell guy who communicated with viewers regularly on the station's forums. He also created and produced TVO's Prisoners of Gravity (another great show) and may have been responsible for having Robert Sawyer drop in to discuss The Thing and Forbidden Planet with Elwy!

    You've probably also noticed that SNAM has also experienced a similar sad decline, pandering to younger viewers who don't care about watching anything made before they were born, or indeed, anything they aren't familiar with at all. It's pretty tragic, and a slap to the face to the people who loved the show for nearly forty years.


What Is Your Cinematic Experience? Post Here!