Just some posts I found amusing:
Archive for the 'Film' Category
Well, the early critical reviews are out and the knives are in: the latest movie remake of The Lone Ranger looks to be tanking like the Titanic,(the original ship, not James Cameron’s movie fantasy) although the some of the reviews posted at Rotten Tomatoes are favorable, most of them are entertainingly vicious. Jerry Bruckheimer again goes over the top from the high-dive with a half-gainer and a jackknife on the way down, all with the noisy special effects, Johnny Depp was promised that he could wear bizarre hair and a lot of makeup and it appears as if the ostensible lead character is just there…
Suppose you wanted to create a perfect enemy. An enemy so vile that its evil would be recognized by almost everyone. An enemy that would inspire people to come together in order to ensure its defeat.
To be more specific: suppose you were a screenwriter with the assignment of creating a suitable villain-organization for a major motion picture. The marketing plan for this movie suggests that it will be marketed primarily to a certain demographic and that, hence, your villain-organization should be particularly appalling to members of that demographic. The demographic in question consists of people who are affluent, highly educated (college with at least some postgraduate education), not particularly religious, and who consider themselves politically liberal or “progressive.” The plot of the movie demands that the audience must see the necessity for Americans–of many beliefs, occupations, and social backgrounds–to come together in order to defeat the enemy.
Oh, and one other thing. The year in which you are given this assignment is 1999.
You will clearly want your enemy to share many of the characteristics of the Nazis–disrespect for human life, wanton cruelty, a love of apocalyptic violence. But to make the enemy particuarly awful from the standpoint of your target demographic, you will want to emphasize certain aspects of its belief system.
Members of your demographic usually have strong beliefs about women’s rights. So, your enemy must have a particularly disrespectful belief set, and a violent behavior pattern, towards women. Similarly, your demographic is generally favorable toward gay rights…so the enemy must advocate and practice the suppression, torture, and killing of gays. Your demographic is generally nonreligious and often hostile toward religion…so, make sure the enemy includes a large element of religious fanaticism. Members of your demographic talk a lot about “the children”–so make sure your enemy uses children in particularly cruel ways.
Had you created such an enemy for your screenplay in 1999, you would have surely felt justified in assuming that it would achieve its intended reaction with your target demographic.
It didn’t work out that way, though.
I recently discovered this British TV drama from the late 1980s, which is focused on British underground agents operating in occupied France during WWII. The series is based on activities of the real sabotage-and-subversion organization which was known as Special Operations Executive. I think it is quite good.
The first agents we meet are Liz Grainger (acted by Kate Buffery) and Matty Firman (Suzanna Hamilton.) Liz is an upper-crust wife and mother who comes to the attention of the SOE recruiters when she responds to a BBC request for holiday photos of France to help in military planning…her excellent French language skills and experience living in that country make her highly desirable as a prospective agent. Matty, from a much less-affuent background, is of mixed French-British parentage (also Jewish) and is eager to contribute to the war effort as an agent, partly because she hates Naziism and partly because of boredom with the factory work she has been doing.
Various newly-recruited agents and French local people make their appearance over the course of the series; continuity is provided by Colonel James Cadogan (Julian Glover) and his deputy Faith Ashley (Jane Asher) in London, in the roles that in real life were played by Maurice Buckmaster and Vera Atkins.
Some reviewers have said that the series has too much of a soap-opera quality, and some have attributed this to the fact that it was created by two women (Lavinia Warner and Jill Hyem.) But people don’t cease to have personal lives when they go to war, and there are also subplots which could be viewed as soap-operatic in many male-written novels about WWII….Nicholas Monsarrat’s naval classic The Cruel Sea comes to mind. (See also Vera Atkins’ comment, at the above link, about a real-life British agent who fell inconveniently in love.)
Wish Me Luck is available from both Amazon and Netflix.
For those interested in learning about the real SOE, a good introduction can be found in Between Silk and Cyanide, the memoir of SOE Codemaster Leo Marks. I reviewed it here…the review also contains links to posts about several individual SOE agents.
Hat tip to Kanani Fong of Kitchen Dispatch
At the Siskel Center, 164 N State St, Chicago. IL. 60601
In the year of the Centennial of the United States, the last of the West left relatively unscathed by the forces of law and order was that part of present-day Oklahoma set aside as homeland for the native Indian tribes. This was a 70,000 square mile territory in which anything went … and usually did. Among what was called the Five Civilized Tribes (Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek and Seminole) there were native law enforcement officers, who upheld the law among their own. But they had no jurisdiction over interlopers of any color, or tribal members who committed crimes in company with or against an outsider, and the Territory was Liberty Hall and a refuge for every kind of horse thief, cattle rustler, bank and train robber, murderer and scalawag roaming the post-Civil War west. Just about every notorious career criminal at large for the remainder of the 19th century took refuge in the Oklahoma Territory at one time or another, including the James and Dalton gangs.
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I’ve said it over and over again, that what really happened in history is very often even more bizarre and dramatic than any fictional account of events, either written or cinematic. A book or a movie has to make sense, after all – and have some kind of logic and believability about it, whereas in reality chance and coincidence do not have to make logical sense in the real world. To put it in short; reality frequently trumps imagination. Going back to contemporary accounts, records and memoirs often turn up all kinds of interesting nuggets, which very often contradict conventional wisdom.
This is what late amateur historian George W. Hufsmith did with a very readable account of a lynching in the Sweetwater River Valley of Wyoming over a hundred and twenty years ago. Hufsmith originally came to the project as a composer, commissioned to write an opera about it all. But what he found in various dusty public records was sufficient to overturn what had been put out as the conventional wisdom in the wider world beyond Wyoming … and demonstrates very well what happens when an overwhelming interest in a particular subject takes hold of a person. Just so, the topic of the only woman ever lynched in Wyoming gripped Hufsmith, and he was determined to get to the bottom of it – or as close as one could, given the decades that had passed.
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A long while ago, I kicked off a discussion about the military in movies, which resulted in uncorking a raging stream of opinion among blog commenters about movies, and how the military was generally portrayed therein—and lest anyone in Tinseltown be patting themselves on the back on their sterling record, let me break it gently to them that if I could figure out a way to distill and bottle most of the feedback, I’d have a dandy product on sale at Home Depot or Lowe’s, suitable for peeling varnish or paint off furniture. Generally, movies dealing with the military were derided for gross improbabilities in military practice or custom, faulted for violations of uniform regulations, general appearance and grooming standards, the presence (or absence) of inventory items in a movie represented to be set in a certain historical period, and over-egging the pudding, so to speak, when it came to explosions, ricochets, gunfire and engine sound effects.
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A few years ago, I was offered an opportunity to review a new movie about the Donner Party – which turned to be one of those arty flicks, with some moderately well-known actors in the cast. It was screened at a couple of film festivals and then went straight to DVD. The plot actually focused on a small group of fifteen, who called themselves the Forlorn Hope. As winter gripped hard, in November of 1846, they made a desperate gamble to leave the main party, stranded high in the mountains, and walk out on snowshoes. They took sparingly of supplies, hoping to leave more for those remaining behind, and set out for the nearest settlement down in the foothills below. They thought they were a mere forty miles from salvation, but it was nearly twice that long. (Seven of the Forlorn Hope survived; two men and five women.) The poster art made it seem as if it verged into horror-movie territory – which I usually avoid, having an extremely good imagination and a very low gross-out threshold – but I did watch it all the way through. The subject – a mid 19th century wagon-train party, stuck in the snows of the Sierra Nevada – is something that I know a good bit about. The ghastly experience of the Donners and the Reeds, and their companions in misery, starvation and madness has horrified and titillated the public from the moment that the last survivor stumbled out of the mountain camp, high in the Sierra Nevada, on the shores of an ice-water lake.
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I recently saw the retrosilent film The Artist (which I thought was pretty good), and by chance, a couple of days later I picked up a magazine with an article on the history of early talking-picture technologies. This in turn led me to do some Internet searching. One of the early sound-movie technologies was something called Vitaphone. With this approach, the sound was recorded separately from the film, using a very large (16 inch diameter) phonograph record.
“How on earth did they ever keep the sound and the picture in sync?” you may well be asking. During recording, the camera and the record-cutting machine were both driven by AC synchronous motors powered by a common line; during exhibition, a direct mechanical connection between projector and record-player was employed. Lots of detail about the process, as well as a review of the pioneering talking movie Don Juan, in this 1926 NYT article.
Vitaphone was heavily used by Warner Brothers and its sister studio First National between 1926 and 1931–in addition to feature films, the technology was used for over 1000 short subjects. While the technology offered good fidelity by the standards of the times–electronic amplification was used–the separation of picture media and sound media made editing difficult, and during exhibition of a film it was necessary to change the records every 10 minutes or so.
When Vitaphone was displaced by the sound-on-film approach, circa 1931,some–but by no means all–of the Vitaphone movies were transferred to the new technology. The Vitaphone Project, which has been active since 1991, is dedicated to finding the old films and old disks and bringing them together in playable format again.
Czarist Russia, in color (the first link at this post doesn’t work anymore, but the rest of them do)
One time I had an out-of-town visitor and he asked me “What is unique about Chicago?” My response was – “Have you ever seen the movie the Blues Brothers?” He said no, and I asked random bar patrons as they passed by how many times they’d seen the movie, and the answers ranged from 3 to 10+ times each.
I was out for dinner near Division street on Saturday night and we saw these guys in their Blues Brothers mobile, with the Jake / Elwood license plates, to boot (but not the megaphone on the roof).
Then on Sunday when I was walking through the Loop I saw piles of police cars wrecked and stacked up and blocked off with police tape (for a movie set, I am assuming). These cars definitely reminded me of what remained after the famous Blues Brothers chase through downtown Chicago.
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The above question was asked in a post by a contributor at Ricochet; no point in linking directly to the post, however, since it’s in the members-only section of the site.
Suggestions so far have included Johnny Tremain, The Crossing, The Alamo (both versions), Gettysburg, Band of Brothers, The Patriot, Last of the Mohicans, John Adams (miniseries), and the various Ken Burns miniseries. I suggested The Awakening Land (miniseries), to which I now add Far and Away and Once an Eagle.
Poor Mexico, runs the saying usually attributed to long-time Mexican strongman Porfirio Diaz, So far from God, so close to the United States. I was thinking of this, when we went to see the movie For Greater Glory – mostly because I had seen brief mention of it here and there on the libertarian-conservative side of the blogosphere, and the whole premise of it interested me, mostly because I had never heard of such a thing as the Cristero War. Never heard of it, and it happened in the lifetime of my grandparents, in the country right next door … and heck, in California we studied Mexico in the sixth grade. It appeared from casual conversation with the dozen or so people who caught the early matinee at a movie multiplex in San Antonio, only one of them had ever heard of it, either. Was there some cosmic cover-up, or did we have troubles enough of our own at the time … or was it just that Mexico was so constantly in turmoil that one more horrific civil struggle just blended seamlessly into the one before and the one after?
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Last week I reviewed Hans Fallada’s 1932 novel about a young couple enduring hard times in late-Weimar Germany. The book was made into an American movie, released in 1934, which I watched last night. Here is the original NYT review of the the film.
The movie generally follows the book, with one huge exception. At the end of the book, the unemployed Sonny (who has come into Berlin to pick up his dole payment) is taken by a policeman for an undesirable tramp and is shoved off the sidewalk. Utterly in despair, he returns home and is at first unable to confess his humiliation to Lammchen. But when he finally does, he is lifted up and given hope by her love and understanding. In the movie, Sonny is also shoved by the cop…but when he returns home, his friend Mr Heilbutt has arrived to tell the couple that he has moved to Holland, started a business there, and is offering Sonny a job. The couple’s problems are solved.
Psychologically, the messages of these two alternative endings are about as different as you can get.
Today is Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Memorial Day. Screenwriter Robert Avrech has posted the first part of his Emmy-award-winning film The Devil’s Arithmetic, which is based on Jane Yolen’s book of the same name, for on-line viewing.
The DVD is available from the usual sources, including Amazon and Netflix. Highly recommended.
I am an avid user of Facebook, for better or worse. The last few weeks many of my friends have been engaging in a large amount of slacktivism by linking a video called Kony 2012.
Some of the scenes in this video may be disturbing, as the topic is general violence and exploitation of children in Africa.
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I knew that Fanny Kemble was a 19th-century British actress, but that’s about all I knew about her prior to encountering her description of an 1830 train ride and thoughts about the contrasting attributes and social values of George Stephenson the engineer and Lord Alvanley the aristocrat. Fanny seemed like an astute observer and a good thinker, and one of the first things I did after getting my Kindle was to download her very extensive memoirs. She was born in 1809 to a noted theatrical family, achieved fame as an actress in both Britain and America, wrote two plays and a novel, married an American plantation owner and lived in coastal Georgia, and throughout her life recorded her thoughts and observations in her journal and in letters to friends. Publication of her impressions of America (in 1835) created quite a stir, as did the 1863 publication of her plantation journal, with its searing observations about the realities of slavery.
Fanny’s writing is a valuable source for anyone interested in the social history of Britain and America during her era; she also has many thoughts about the theater and especially about the plays of Shakespeare; her writing is vivid, intelligent, and often quirky. She can quickly segue from an aesthetic observation of a railway journey to thoughts about governance and religion:
The road from Birmingham here is quite pretty; the country in a most exquisite state of leaf and blossom; the crops look extremely well along this route; and the little cottage gardens, which delight my heart with their tidy cheerfulness, are so many nosegays of laburnum, honeysuckle, and lilac.
The stokers on all the engines that I saw or met this morning had adorned their huge iron dragons with great bunches of hawthorn and laburnum, which hung their poor blossoms close to the hissing hot breath of the boilers, and looked wretched enough. But this dressing up the engines, as formerly the stage-coach horses used to be decked with bunches of flowers at their ears on Mayday, was touching.
I suppose the railroad men get fond of their particular engine, though they can’t pat and stroke it, as sailors do of their ship. Speculate upon that form of human love. I take it there is nothing which, being the object of a man’s occupation, may not be made also that of his affection, pride, and solicitude, too. Were we—people in general, I mean—Christians, forms of government would be matters of quite secondary importance; in fact, of mere expediency. A republic, such as the American, being the slightest possible form of government, seems to me the best adapted to an enlightened, civilized Christian community, a community who deserve that name; and, you know, the theory of making people what they should be is to treat them better than they deserve—an axiom that holds good in all moral questions, of which political government should be one.
Fanny’s father Charles, himself a noted Shakespearean actor, unfortunately took an investment and management interest in the Covent Garden Theater–which position carried personal liability for the theater’s debts and kept the family in scary financial straits for many years. It was largely in the hope of creating a new star who would bring in ticket revenues and head off financial disaster that Fanny was first put on stage, in the role of Juliet, in 1829. She quickly achieved great popular acclaim, but the bottomless quicksand of Covent Garden’s finances led Charles to organize a theatrical tour in the United States for himself and his daughter.
The decision to publish Fanny’s journal describing her impressions of America was driven by the need to generate money for the care of a beloved aunt who had suffered a serious carriage accident. The publishing project was vehemently opposed by Fanny’s new American husband, Pierce Butler, whom she married in 1834, and the conflict set the tone for what was to be a disastrous marriage.
The “Journal of a Residence in America” got a lot of attention, much of it negative. Edgar Allan Poe objected to Fanny’s “dictatorial manner” and felt that the self-confident tone of the book was contrary to “American notions of the retiring delicacy of the female character”…yet he went on to speak of the “sound sense and unwelcome truth” of much of her comment and the book’s “vivacity of style” and “beautiful descriptions.” On the other side of the Atlantic, soon-to-be Queen Victoria told her diary that the book was “very pertly and oddly written…not well bred”…”full of trash and nonsense which could only do harm”….yet a few days later she was admitting that there were “some very fine feelings in it.”
After 13 years, acclaimed writer/director Whit Stillman returns to the big screen with Damsels in Distress, a “comedy of manners” that echoes his previous work in Metropolitan, Barcelona and The Last Days of Disco. The Post’s Nathalie Atkinson convened this week’s TIFF-centric Culture Club to ask whether Whit’s wit has been missed.
Enough with my “regular” series of topics. I am becoming a bore on the subject, even to myself. (Especially to myself.) At any rate, Happy Thanksgiving! What a joy it is to share my thoughts with you from time to time. I like this corner of the internet.
An article by Keith Oatley, in Scientific American/Mind, asserts a connection between exposure to fiction and the development of empathy. It’s not a new idea–IIRC, the idea that seeing plays and reading novels has tended to increase empathy throughout entire societies has been asserted by Harold Bloom, among others–but Oatley describes empirical research he’s done to test this assertion.
In one experiment, Oatley and colleagues assessed the reading habits of 94 adults, separating fiction from nonfiction. They also tested the subjects on measures of emotion perception (being able to discern a person’s emotional state from a photo of only the eyes) and social cognition (being able to draw conclusions about the relationships among people based on video clips.) This study showed a “strong” interconnection between fiction reading and social skills, especially between fiction reading and the emotion-perception factor. This correlation, of course, does not by itself demonstrate the direction of causality.
Another study involved assigning 303 adults to read either a short story or an essay from the New Yorker and following up with tests of analytical and social reasoning. Those who read the story tended to do better on the social reasoning test than those who read the nonfiction essay.
Oatley argues that “Good social skills require having a well-developed theory of mind…the ability to take the perspectives of other people, to make mental models of others, and to understand that someone else might have beliefs and intentions that are different from your own.” He says that children start to acquire this ability at about 4 years old, and that “the ability to gauge emotion from pictures of just the eyes correlates with theory-of-mind skills, as does the capacity for empathy.”
I am bit surprised the the Internet Archive isn’t much more well-known.
The Internet Archive is a 501(c)(3) non-profit that was founded to build an Internet library. Its purposes include offering permanent access for researchers, historians, scholars, people with disabilities, and the general public to historical collections that exist in digital format. Founded in 1996 and located in San Francisco, the Archive has been receiving data donations from Alexa Internet and others. In late 1999, the organization started to grow to include more well-rounded collections. Now the Internet Archive includes texts, audio, moving images, and software as well as archived web pages in our collections, and provides specialized services for adaptive reading and information access for the blind and other persons with disabilities.
Just follow the links in the quote above and you’ll find an incredible amount of each of the mentioned media.
(I came across this post in the old Daily Brief archives, and thought it would make a fantastic post for Halloween … for reasons that should become clear.)
The searchers found it, the ghost ship, when they were looking for something else; it lay, broken but deceptively complete, draped across the crest of a dune, like a seabird on the flat swells of a calm sea. But this metal bird had landed in a desolate and frozen sand sea, an aeronautical Mary Celeste, all of itself, and remained eerily preserved. Baked in the desert sun, wheels-up, pancake-landed and broken in half aft of the wings and entirely empty of its’ crew … but still, their gear, and extra ammunition was perfectly stowed, the guns functional … the radio worked, so did the compass and at least one of the engines. There were still-edible emergency rations, drinkable water, even a thermos of still-potable coffee … everything as it had been left. Read the rest of this entry »
I thought it might be fun this weekend, especially for those on the east coast, to talk about books/movies/songs in which hurricanes and similar events play a prominent role. For starters:
Admiral Hornblower in the West Indies, C S Forester. Features not only a hurricane, but a Marine bandsman who faces execution on charges of willfully playing the wrong note.
The Caine Mutiny, Herman Wouk. The troubled and inadequate captain of a WWII destroyer-minesweeper panics during a typhoon.
Big Water Rising, Tom Russell and Iris DeMent. A Mississippi River flood.
Lost and Found, The Kinks. Hurricane hits NYC.
Kathleen Fasanella, who runs the interesting blog Fashion Incubator, observes that the tv program “Project Runway” has led many people to pursue careers as designers–and that this is not the first time that such a phenomenon has occurred:
I’m troubled by the consequences of the fashion school bubble -350 designers at NY Fashion Week being but one sign of it- the blame for which we mostly attribute to Project Runway. A similar thing happened with the TV show LA Law, law schools were inundated with applicants and our legal system is burgeoning with excessive lawsuits as the logical consequence of lawyers needing to make their student loan payments. Simplistically speaking, these are trend careers.
Indeed, for young people who are making career choices there is a shortage of solid information about what various careers are really like and what they require in the way of preparation. Television tends to focus on a few specific fields–lawyers, doctors, nurses, cops, criminals–with occasional excursions into other areas like fashion design–but rarely provides any realistic sense of what day-to-day life in these jobs ight be like. This is understandable–screenwriter Robert Avrech oberved that movies are like real life, except that the boring parts are deleted–but means that these shows aren’t exactly reliable guides to career choice. High school guidance counselors rarely have any broad exposure to the world of actual work. College professors, even with the best will in the world, will tend to sell and perhaps oversell their own fields to talented students. Parents may or may not be useful sources of career information, depending on their own backgrounds and current situations; many will also have strong prejudices for or against certain fields.
Kathleen also observes that in her industry there is a real gap between the numbers of people who want to design the product and the numbers of people who want to have something to do with turning it into physical reality:
Several days ago, Michael Kennedy mentioned Neville Shute’s end-of-the-world novel On the Beach. There were, of course, a considerable number of nuclear-war-related novels published during the Cold War era…one of the last representatives of this genre is Trinity’s Child, written by William Prochnau and published in 1983.
The central character, Moreau, is a B-52 copilot. Her decision to pursue a career in the Strategic Air Command was greatly influenced by her love and admiration for her father, a SAC general known as “the coldest of the cold warriors.” When Moreau was 10, her father took her to the Trinity atomic test site. She told him that all her friends expected to die in a nuclear war, and he explained to her the logic of nuclear deterrence:
“I’m sorry your friends are afraid…I don’t know if you can understand this yet, but fear is my job. It’s my job to keep everyone so afraid no one will ever use these bombs again.”
“How long do you have to do it, Dad?” she asked, eyes down, her small, fine hand picking at the old bomb crate.
“Forever, honey. Eternal vigilance, President Kennedy said. After me, someone else and then someone else and then someone else. Forever, into infinity.”
To which Moreau responded:
“After you…I’ll do it, Dad.”
Warning: spoilers, I guess, though with a film like this it’s hard to give anything away so as to really detract from the experience. Maybe a few autobiographical spoilers of my own.
Having only seen it once so far, I am aware of having gotten at most glimpses of its full intent. I cannot easily describe Terrence Malick’s oeuvre except in superficial ways: mostly out-of-doors, with nature as a significant element; spectacular cinematography; more or less nonlinear storyline; voice-over narrations. I have not seen Badlands but have seen everything from Days of Heaven on.
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Posted in Arts & Letters, Biography, Christianity, Diversions, Film, History, Human Behavior, Judaism, Morality and Philosphy, Music, Personal Narrative, Philosophy, Religion, Science, Space, USA, Vietnam | 8 Comments »