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Art Binninger's STAR TRIX: Of Clay And Cardboard

1a. Tom Vs. Joe La Rita Filmography 1970-1972

Home | 1. Pre-Trix: Getting from There to Here | 1a. Tom Vs. Joe La Rita Filmography 1970-1972 | Tom Vs. Joe La Rita Episodes 9 - 16 | Tom Vs. Joe La Rita 17 - 24 | 2. Airman Art | 3. A Starship Is Born | 4. The Changing Scene | 5.The Second Time Around: STAR TRIX II | 6. Up In Smoke: STAR TRIX III | 7. Out of Uniform, Into the World | 8. The New Trek Begins | 9. Sidetracked and SMEGed | 10. Building Sets And Momentum | 10a Sliding Into Space | 11. Lights! Camera! Stop-Action! | 12. Kitchen Counter Cinema | 13. STAR TRIX: THE FLICK | 14. STAR TRIX: THE FLICK Reel 2 | 15. Silly Art, TRIX Are For Lawyers | 16. Moving On | 17. ESCAPE FROM VEGAPINTO | About Me | Favorite Links | Contact Me
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Surviving Original Title Art

. . . And Never The Twins Shall Meet

   As mentioned earlier, MY FAVORITE MARTIAN, BEWITCHED and I DREAM OF JEANNIE were fantasy TV favorites of mine prior to my interest in STAR TREK. In fact, I consider MFM an appetizer to the full-course sci-fi meal of TREK. They were both born at Desilu studios and shared a few minor cast members between them. In the MFM pilot, Uncle Martin even describes Earth people as emotional and illogical, words that Mr. Spock would use time and again in the decades to come.
   As with the pilot of MY FAVORITE MARTIAN, my series began with the Martian crashlanding on earth. This was not actually the first episode filmed since a number of experiments were shot during 1970, my first year with a movie camera. When I decided to do a series of films, I cobbled some of the experiments into complete films, though the storylines (if any) are vague.
   The basic premise was a Martian boy crashes to earth in upstate New York. A young man finds him, brings him home but tampers with a device that transports the kid many miles away. The Martian ends up in the home of his earth double and stays until he can get his ship and other devices fixed to return home. There were 24 films in all, each providing me with an opportunity to experiment with various film tricks and techniques.
   My brother Tom was interested in what we could do, as well, since there wasn't a whole lot to do in the suburban housing development where we lived. He played both roles and after viewing several episodes in a row, many people are convinced that there are real twins cavorting onscreen.
  

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Spaceshift crash site with pyrotechnics (the book of matches, left).

Episode 1: THE CRASH

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Hearing a noise in the sky.

This sequence before the title was shot in the summer of 1970. My cousin Peter Smith played "The Guy" who finds the Martian. I finally shot the rest of his sequence the following year after he grew moustache. No amount of pleading would get him to shave it for the film.

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Coming in for a rough landing.

The spaceship was made with folded index cards coated with Elmer's glue to soften the edges and painted with silver enamel.The ship was propelled by finger power holding it close to the camera lens.

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Finding an alien pilot.

The smoke was not coming from the ship but from trash burning in the barrel behind it. This was shot in the summer of 1971 where Peter now sports a lip brow.

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The Martian raises his antennae.

The Martian raises his antennae (made from newspaper wrapping wire) to disappear. Could that be aluminum foil for head gear? Yup.

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The earthman shrinks the ship and teleports the Martian.

Since Peter lived about 100 miles away, the story was contrived to have the Martian transported to Long Island and his ship shrunk to toy size to be retrieved in a later episode.

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Tom meets a Martian.

I didn't have the capability to do a split screen in-camera so I used an obvious mirror scene shot at an angle. I knew that most people would spot it but needed to see them "together" at least once.

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To avoid confusion, Tom and the Martian wear different shirts.

A "post-humous" split screen. Since I didn't have the means to do a split screen effect in 1971, I shot footage in the event that I would one day be able to combine the scenes. I did so in the late 1970's while working at Newsfilm Laboratory in Los Angeles.

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The Martian, dubbed Joe LaRita, levitates a table.

Levitating objects was used a lot in the MFM series but we could never find wire or string strong enough or fine enough to be effective. Here is one of the rare times the wire worked.

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When Tom inspects the table, Joe drops it on him.

I think we dropped the folding table on Tom a couple of times to get the right shot. This provoked a bellow from our mother "What the hell are you doin' up there?".

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Joe laughs off the first of his many pranks on Tom.

Appearing and disappearing was the simplest effect to do in-camera and I relied on it throughout the series. Tom seemed to enjoy the virtual freedom of bailing out of a scene with the snap of his fingers.

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Episode 2: THE LIVING DOLL

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Just in from Mars, Joe is strapped for cash.
We adopted the golf cap like Ray Walston wore on MY FAVORITE MARTIAN. This also served to hide the head band area of the clip-on antennaes.

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He turns Tom to doll size for sale.

An early use of clay animation on my part. The Lafayette camera could not focus too close nor did it have single-frame exposure to make animation viable. 

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Eight dollars for a Living Doll? Such a deal!

Most of the JOE LA RITAs were shot in sequence to avoid having splices pass through my finicky Bell and Howell projector.

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Joe stores Tom in the desk before going out to find a buyer.

The little student desk was where I drew up the title cards and other artwork needed for the films. I even did school stuff there too!

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Joe's prospective buyer is Willy's Toys.

If you can't find a toy company, build your own. Use Lego, of course.

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Joe makes a deal with Mr. Willy.

Don Hayden played Mr. Willy but wasn't completely at ease in front of the camera. I think he felt foolish playing stooge to Tom's antics.

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Tom has escaped the desk drawer and hides behind the deordorant.

As an experiment, the second half of the film was shot on Anscochrome instead of Kodachrome. There's a distinct difference in grain and the color appears more reddish.

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Joe hands over his human doll to the eager Mr. Willy.

The green (later panelled) wall in my bedroom served as the all-purpose backdrop. Compare the Anscochrome green wall to the Kodachrome green wall above.

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After getting his payment, Joe returns Tom to his former size, much to Mr. Willy's dismay.

The green wall disguised! Fortunately the red drapes were big enough for me to get both Tom and Don in the shot without showing any surrounding green.
*Don later became a Trinitarian priest. He passed away September 19, 2009. He will be missed by all who knew him.

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One last prank, Joe enlarges Tom to near adult level.

Yes, that's me, or I. Tom got behind the camera for this shot. I wish I could make my hairline from this scene reappear. After repeated washings, most velour shirts ended up fitting that way.

Episode 3: CURSIN' COUSINS

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Tom's cousin Larry comes for a visit.

This film was shot in the cold early weeks of 1971 and, except for one brief sequence, photographed entirely indoors.

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A noise alerts Tom that the Martian is nearby.

The Martian's first appearance had him wearing a towel-turban and a Mowgli-style towel attached to his briefs. As a favor to Tom, I decided not to share this frame grab with the world.

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Joe must abandon his bunk for Larry to sleep.

One of the tricks to put across the illusion of twins was panning from one to the other. Once Tom was clear of the moving camera, I stopped filming, he changed his shirt and the pan was finished on the other character.

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Joe ends up sleeping on a bedroom chair.

Since Kodachrome II wasn't a very fast film, I aimed the floodlamp at the ceiling to simulate a dimly lit room.

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Larry indicates that it's breakfast time.

Although Larry appeared as a character in only two films of the series, he helped out behind the scenes many times. More on his help later.

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An invisible Joe snags himself some toast.

The black wires holding the toast managed to avoid detection in this scene. I think the "busy" background helped obscure them.

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Assuming the toast was for him, Larry is repulsed by the bite mark in it.

The very full garbage pail can be seen in the background throughout this sequence. Because it was so cold, we made our trips to the larger garbage can in the garage sparingly. 

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Joe decides to switch places with Tom to drive Larry to leave.

Joe's mind games on Larry included some clay animation similar to scenes in Episode 2. An ink bottle was also floated on very fine nylon thread.

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Larry is driven crazy by floating objects and lively toys.

The Motion Picture Academy somehow missed Larry's performance as an unhinged 7-year-old. A pity.

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Tom sees Larry off, much to Joe's relief.

The scene that followed the above picture has Tom being decloaked wearing only this briefs and towel-turban. And I didn't even drink.

Episode 4: KNIFE TO MEET YOU

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Tom displays the title card.

This film was a plotless exercise shot in September 1970 prior to any consideration of doing these films as a series. I was just experimenting with portraying Tom as two characters.
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No frills title card with no sci-fi elements depicted.
Originally titled THE BATTLE OF TOM VS. JOE LA RITA, this film was shot in my bedroom and the hallway outside it. The ensuing series would place most of the action in the room as well.

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Joe as early '70's rebel.

One of the popular early 1970's teen fashions was military fatigue shirts and optional sunglasses.
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For reasons unknown, Joe switches clothes and turns homicidal.
Character motivation wasn't a consideration since I just needed some action to film. So Joe just chases Tom with a knife.
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Tom flees the room and a chase through the hall ensues.
The chase in the hall was a simple matter of stopping the camera and having Tom change shirts for whichever character he was supposed to be. Blue shirt for Joe, brown shirt for Tom.
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A determined but psychotic Joe searches for Tom.
A number of times during the series I didn't notice that I failed to focus the Lafayette lens. It didn't have any kind of grid to focus on like other cameras so it was easily overlooked during shooting.
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Tom tries to confuse Joe by wearing an identical shirt.
I'm not sure what my reasoning was to have Tom and Joe both wearing the same shirt was but that's how it played out. 
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Joe raises his antennae to ambush Tom.
In 1971 when I decided to use this film as part of the series, I spliced in an antennae raising shot. I didn't make an effort to match the existing footage, though, as Tom's shirt didn't match the blue one he was wearing in the rest of the film.
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Joe reappears and lunges in with the knife.
Tom is wearing the clip-on antennaes that were made from the wire used to bundle the NY Daily News papers that I was delivering at the time.
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The knife turns into a feathered pen. Just a prank but Tom is not amused.
Tom escapes being murdered and all is well. Just try not to think about the knife-happy alien living in your house.

5. CALLING DR. SMELBY

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Joe's green index finger points to trouble.

This the first episode where I decided to make the films into an ongoing series. The room had recently been paneled and was kept clean like all the lovely sitcom homes of the 1960's.

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His antennae have gone askew also.

The antennae scenes were always tricky with trying to keep brother Larry (the official antennae raiser) from being detected.

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Tom reads to an ailing Joe.

Since I was shooting much of the footage in sequence to avoid splicing the film, Tom's clothes changes were done hasily. His collar here is a bit askew and he was still wearing pajama pants from his scenes as Joe La Rita.

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Joe discovers a green rash.

This still shows off Tom's facial mugging and I blew up this frame years later and used it for a clock face.

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Tom makes an appointment with a "relaxed" Dr. Smelby.

High school friend Mark Kantor played Dr. Smelby. His resemblance to a certain Beatle drummer was always commented on but he took it in stride.

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Joe attempts his own cure.

An arduous antennae raise allows Joe to link up to the 12" Zenith TV and rid himself of those pesky green spots.

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The doc mistakes Tom for his patient.

We shot the doctor's office scenes in Mark's father's office. In all the years I've known Mark I don't think I ever met his father.

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Later, Tom brings Dr. Smelby to meet Joe.

Mark was nice enough to wear a jacket and tie to add some professional sheen to his doctor character.

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A revitalized Joe levitates the doc's thermometer.

I don't know where he got it but Mark supplied me with nylon thread which I used for this levitation scene. Years later I learned that fishing line was used my many effects people for this kind of trick. 

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Joe sends Dr. Smeby home with his transport device.

Room freshening spray was used around our house (usually in the bathroom) and created the smoke-like effect for Joe's instant-transport device. The nozzle was sprayed straight up from beneath the camera lens. Who sez these films stink?

6. RUNAWAY MARTIAN

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Joe gives Tom his opinion of his drawing.

This opening sequence was shot before the room was panelled but plugged into the film anyway. Joe reassembles Tom's drawing via backwards photography (shooting the scene upside-down and splicing it in right-side up which reverses the action).

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Even after Joe's criticism, Tom continues his artwork.

The opening few minutes of the story are a rather aimless collection of visual tricks until Joe finally decides to run away.

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Joe, the art critic is not amused with Tom's work.

The early scenes utilized stop motion with Joe the art critic arriving in a toy Volkswagen. As previously mentioned, my Lafayette camera did not have single-frame capability so I shot short bursts to animate objects.

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Joe is annoyed that Tom takes his powers for granted.

When Joe gets annoyed with Tom, he slids along the bed and rises to his feet. This was also animated with short bursts form the camera.

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After Joe disappears in a huff, Tom waves him off.

As usual, to avoid the dreaded splices, the scenes of Tom and Joe conversing were shot in sequence. This required Tom to change pajama for every scene change.

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Later, Tom receives a "Dear Tom" note from Joe.

Mark Kantor's nylon thread was again pressed into service to suspend the note in mid-air.

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Joe watches as Tom goes out in search of him.

With the arrival of spring, I was able to do more outdoor shooting. This short was made approximately April 1971. Mom would have given us hell for doing this garage roof scene . . . if she knew.

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Tom goes far afield in his quest for Joe.

The scenes of Tom searching for Joe were shot behind William Sidney Mount Elementary School, just a few minutes from our house.

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Unable to find Joe, Tom returns home.

During our afternoon filming, the weather got bit warmer so Tom was able to remove his jacket. Ah, spring on Long Island.

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Joe's been home all along and celebrates his "return".

I got a little static from Mom for using her champagne glasses, even though we only used water for the scene.

7. MARS RESCUE AGENT

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Joe is tweaking Tom's telescope for his own use.

Tom had this telescope that I don't think was used very extensively but came in handy for this film. Since the story took place during the day, what was Joe looking at when he spotted the spaceship?

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Joe brings a decorative bottle into the bedroom.

MY FAVORITE MARTIAN was still on local TV but I DREAM OF JEANNIE had recently entered syndication. Its influence was starting to be felt in my films, most obviously with inclusion of this crudely painted bottle.

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Tom greets a stranger who turns out to very strange.

Our across-the-street neighbor Austin Roads filled the part of the Mars Rescue Agent. Austin eventually got his own movie camera and moved onto video too.

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The gent is a Mars Rescue Agent assigned to take Joe home.

Just as Mark Kantor had to deal with the Ringo Starr comparisons, Austin was nicknamed for a certain science officer on a '60's TV series. Can you guess who?

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Joe disappears to avoid going back to Mars.

Joe's disappearance was marred by the rising antennaes making a sudden shift to the left before he pops out. I left the shot in due to the dreaded splice problem.

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To avoid capture, Joe smokes into his painted bottle.

The "Jeannie" influence again. The smoke was drawn, frame by frame, on the film emulsion with a conventional watercolor marker. I don't think my eyes will allow me to do that anymore. 

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Eluding the agent, Joe makes a duplicate of himself.

My first movie floodlamp met an untimely end but served as Joe's duplicator. Again, marker on film provided the purple ray.

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The Mars agent apprehends the fake Joe.

Austin was an enthusiastic performer but composing shots with him together with tiny Tom were a bit tricky.

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The Mars agent and the phony Joe disappear.

This closeup reveals the "logical" reason why Austin got his nickname. Considering that he's well over six feet tall now, I didn't bring up the subject when I saw him on New Year's Day.

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Bound for Mars, the agent takes "Joe" away.

I really liked this shot because the model traveled across the frame smoothly and the nylon thread didn't show. Shot from Tom's bedroom window.

8. THE SCHOOL BULLY

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Joe does his "forwards/backwards dive".

In another application of shooting upside and splicing it in right side up, Tom jumped in the pool twice. The second dive was shot upside so when the film was righted he coming out of the water backwards.

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Joe pops Tom's bookbag into his hands.

Regardless of current fashion, our mother made Tom and Larry get crewcuts for the summer weather. This caused problems in hiding the clip-on antennae Joe raises them only once in this film.

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Joe awaits Tom's return from school.

When Tom had his hair cropped short, we started using the cap to hide the clip-on antennaes. This was also in imitation of Ray Walston who used to wear one on My Favorite Martian.

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Looks like Tom had a "swell" day at school.

Not exactly the "Westmore Touch", I used charcoal to give Tom a black eye.

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Joe speeds up the healing of Tom's black eye.

After Joe heals Tom's black eye, there's a bit of reflection from the water I used to remove the charcoal.

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Psychadelic scene transition.

Without being able to lap-dissolve at this point, I experimented with various kinds of scene transitions. Here I used a lens with a triangular pattern from a pair of novelty glasses.

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Tom confronts the bully with off-scene help from Joe.

Ralph, nicknamed Oochie, agreed to be our bully and even had some friends along for spectators. 

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Joe is KOed by a branch before he can help Tom.

Tom told me later that he really did bonk his head on the branch when he misjudged the distance.

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Tom isn't doing so well without Joe's help.

No fancy fight choreography, just roll and flail.

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Joe eventually comes to and assists Tom in trouncing the bully.

Ralph was a good sport about getting his stomach stepped on. This sequence was also shot behind William Sidney Mount Elementary school.

THE LOST EPISODE
I started shooting footage for what ended up being episode 10 when I noticed a pink area around Tom's left eye. It turned out to be poison ivy and we stopped filming until it cleared. When it did, I began work on a film where one of Joe's devices drains the color from Tom's room. An electrician (school friend Joe Aimetti) is supposed to work on the outlets, gets suspicious when Tom insists he wear sunglasses in the room and discovers the lack of color. The Martian arrives and restores things while the repairman flees. A malfunctioning black and white film cartridge plus a cranky Kodachrome cartridge doomed the film and it wasn't until January of 1972 that I tried the tale again. It appears as episode 18 "Dr. Smelby and the Black and White Room". Below are frame grabs from the scuttled original version.

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Joe's experiment gets a bit sloppy.

We used a battery recharger and some paint bottles for props leading up to the color being drained from the room.

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The situation gets melodramic and monochromatic.

Occasionally the Super 8 cartridges would have a defect in them and film wouldn't feed through them properly. This seemed to be the case here.

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Tom discovers the chromatic makeover in his bedroom.

An interesting effect going from color to B&W was that Tom's shirt here was also striped but the tones were so close that it appears completely gray. 

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The repairman senses that something weird is going on.

I'd known Joe Aimetti since 10th grade and this was one of the few times I could get him into one of my films. There always seemed to be a technical glitch that would scuttle the project.

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Joe takes the appropriate steps to restore color to the room.

I had an equal amount of color and B&W film shot before I abandoned this film. This scene was shot in our garage in Stony Brook. I think it was took hot to be cooped up in the bedroom shooting.

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The repairman is still freaked by the lack of color.

Another potential cause of the film problems was the New York heat and humidity during the summer. This may account for the streak in this footage.

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Later, the color is drained outside.

This shot was for the closing where Joe restores the color to the room but drains it from outside.

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Additional color footage from jammed film cartridge.

The jamming and streaking from the B&W cartridge spilled over into the color footage.

TOM VS. JOE LA RITA episodes continued