Put Your Fandom All Over My Body

21 December, 2015 at 12:36 pm (film, uncategorized)

I haven’t seen Star Wars.

Pew! Pew! from ThinkGeek

And not in the new, hipster way that young people haven’t seen Star Wars, because they’ve been told all their lives that it’s amazing, and it’s a small act of rebellion (against, amusingly, the Rebellion) to avoid the things their parents loved and fixated upon. Much in the way it took me almost thirty-five years to watch Citizen Kane, because I didn’t trust the mores and scales of those before me, and I both didn’t want to be disappointed that something might have aged badly and didn’t want to begrudgingly admit that maybe it really was the greatest thing ever.

(It’s not, by the way. Kane nor Star Wars. Neither is the greatest thing evs, let alone since sliced bread. But that’s another column.)

A L O N G T I M E A G O I N A G A L A X Y F A R F A R A W A YAnd neither have I not seen Star Wars in the BBC Radio, it’s-just-one-of-those-things-that-passed-me-by sense. No, I’ve seen Star Wars, I just haven’t seen Episode Seven. Not yet.

The first film to make over one hundred million dollars on opening day (although that number may include preview screenings from Thursday), and I am not one of the many Bothans that saw it. I usually pride myself on being able to be part of the cultural conversation in a timely manner, but I’m sitting this one out for a week or two. Which means that if I want to be spoiler wary, I have to keep much of cultural conversation in a sealed container. Next week, upon finally having been forced to awaken, I can go back to the internet and pry open that box and see what everyone has been saying about it a little too late. I’m a little sad about this, but if there’s anything that Twitter has taught me is to be used to getting to the interesting conversation far too late to chime in.

And it will be interesting to be slightly on the opposite side of a cultural phenomenon. Because since the Fake Geek spats of the last few years, I’ve been thinking about how it does and doesn’t bug me how much nerd culture has swept commonplace marketeering. Read the rest of this entry »


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It’s The Wrong Anniversary, Gromit!

25 May, 2010 at 11:40 pm (uncategorized)

ThinkGeek: Don't Panic and Carry A TowelToday is May 25th, the anniversary of the original premiere of Star Wars in Los Angeles. This comes only three weeks after the designated Star Wars day, May The Fourth, and only a few days after what was, this year, the thirtieth anniversary of the release of The Empire Strikes Back. However, there is some friction in nerd circles because the 25th of May is unofficially established as Towel Day, a day to memorialize Douglas Noel Adams, despite not having much of a substantive connection to Adams’ birthdate, the number 42, or various other potentially relevant dates.

It’s a muggy, hot New England day as I type this, and the heat is trapped inside my walls, wilting the the room and rendering any faint, hesitant climate controls (and perhaps my editing abilities) almost completely ineffective. It’s the kind of day where a towel to wipe down perspiration would not go amiss, and a beach towel would be even more advantageous, providing it came with a beach and a pleasingly cool ocean to go along with it. Despite being spoiled for choice when it comes to commercially available memorial towels, I’m not flying my terrycloth colors today. No, I provide you with this conurbation of links not just to close tabs on my browser, but also to muse on this nerd nexus of dates, observances, and inspirations all in close proximity.

WANTED: Feathers McGrawIt felt even more packed with inspiration that it ought to have due to two articles that filtered through my feed yesterday and made me wonder if it was Wrong Trousers Day as well. The first was an epistle to Feathers McGraw’s highly technical, inventive, and efficient casing of a locked, security-laden museum, and the second was that the astronauts currently aboard the space shuttle Atlantis were woken by NASA playing the claymation duo’s theme tune.

Not wholly unusual as coincidences go, but sufficient to make me wonder if maybe I’d marked down the date for Wrong Trousers Day — ahem — wrongly (I hadn’t, it’s still on June 25th this year), and that all of these geek favorites were all, in fact, cheek by jowl in May competing for some small slice of the fanboy love. I simply wasn’t sure that Hitchhiker’s, Star Wars, and Wallace & Gromit could all demand attention so close to each other and not result in fractious behavior. But I needn’t have worried. Aardman, Adams, and Alderaan all get their due space for recognition, allowing us not to have to worry about which allegiance (or Alliance!) to choose for our tweets, status updates, or the like. There is enough room in our hearts and enough room on our calendars.

FLICKR: Alderaan travel poster by Justin Van GenderenBut that calendar keeps ticking on. Today is still one more anniversary: that of Frank Oz’s birth, and he’s no spring chicken (or blue eagle) anymore. But then again, if Empire came out thirty years ago, not even most of its fans are that young any more, let alone its creators and performers. As Harrison Ford recently said, “I thought [Star Wars co-star Alec Guinness] was an old man: an old, wonderful actor. [But] I did the math. I figured out how old he was in Star Wars, and he was about six years younger than I am now.” Ford is 67, a mere year younger than Frank Oz. Alec Guinness was 86 when he died, Jim Henson was 53, and Douglas Adams was 49. It may all have been a long, long time ago — whether in a galaxy far, far away or in a field in Innsbruck — but we carry these men and their fantastic creations with us still. A hoopy frood always knows where his towel is, sure, but I’d prefer simply to know where my youthful inspirations are, and that they’re still here with us, always.

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Happy Birthday, Uncle Bert

19 May, 2009 at 3:54 am (uncategorized)

Shamelessly stolen from Paul Hornschemeier, I wish to celebrate the birthday of the great 20th century humanist philosopher, Bertrand Russell (no relation). I do this by stealing an image that I peered at and poured over whilst visiting Boston’s Fine Museum of Arts, as we used to call it in high school.

Bertrand Russell as photographed by Yousuf Karsh

It’s difficult to see if this small reproduction, but as Russell lights his match in the darkness, he and the flame are both out of focus. What is in focus are his spectacles on the table in the left-hand foreground. I have no idea what this says about the photographer’s take on the subject, or why he chose this image out of the undoubtedly innumerable other shots of the famed thinker, but I found it to be supremely fascinating as an aesthetic choice, and perhaps one of the more subtly profound works in the exhibit.

It can be hard to appreciate an exhibit of 20th century celebrity portraiture. It’s all too easy to say, “Oh, yes, I have a postcard of that image of Audrey Hepburn” or “Huhn. So that’s what Nikita Khrushchev looked like…” and to simply move on. Once one recognizes Paul Newman or Ernest Hemingway, what further is one supposed to look for in the image? Karsh tried to portray them as powerful in their own right, and in their own sphere. I liked to look for the incidental details that revealed both the passage of time and the humanity of the sitter. Thin, gold wristwatches with the unmistakable slimness that accompanies fine internal clockworks. Thick cable sweaters with worn holes and slipped stitches. A fine network of lines around the eyes and knuckles, so much easier to examine in black and white. How even the meticulous banzai topiary of a moustache or beard always has errant tendrils. How many of the subjects smoked. How many didn’t. And whether the smoke was conceit of the photographer, who surely acknowledged if not encouraged the wisps and curls which do so much to both catch light and contain shadow.

But even all that observation and catalogue of detail still doesn’t encompass the artistry that is portraiture. To do that, one must paradoxically see what is unseen, or perhaps only seen with the self and not the eyes. Which is part of what I love about the Russell image… a photograph that hardly shows the subject at all.

Further Reading
     + MFA exhibit page
     + Time magazine slideshow of featured images
     + Boston Phoenix article about the exhibit

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Beat to the Blogged Punch

7 July, 2005 at 12:54 pm (uncategorized)

Before I left the apartment this morning, I briefly checked Delphi to see if anyone had posted anything to me, and noticed that The V had changed it’s name from whatever it was previously to “Panic on the Streets of London”. I assumed it was a reference to vast escapades in celebration of snaking the Olympics site from France and went on my way. However, in the midst of my morning commute to class, I heard on the news about the bombings and quickly reinterpreted what the title had signified.

British Terror Alert: A Nice Hot Cuppa TeaI stayed glued to the radio, wishing I could get to school so that I could find a computer and find out if everyone was okay. Renee Montaigne was clearly unprepared for a morning of this magnitude and did a game job, but she was a little shaky and tended to wander off on unfortunately discursive descriptions and recaps. And in the midst of all this breaking new and tense grasping at details, there came a promo for a later broadcast about the 25th anniversary of the release of the magnificent comedy film Airplane! (Yes, the exclamation point is part of the title.) And I thought, what a brilliant thing to link to on the old ‘blog.

So it was a great disappointment to discover later that Jimmy Johnson, writer and artist of Arlo and Janis had thought the same thing and beat me to the punch while I was still in the car.

A capture of Jimmy Johnson's commentary about the AIRPLANE! story on NPR.

He even has the brazen temerity to celebrate that he posted first! Feh. I’m still blogging about it, obviously, but the excitement has left the building. Bizarrely enough, however, virtually the same story was broadcast five years prior for the 20th anniversary. And, incidentally, Airplane! made it on to the AFI’s Top 100 Movie Quotations, coming in at #79 with “I am serious… and don’t call me Shirley.” It’s no “Looks like I picked the wrong day to stop sniffing glue…”, but the fact that they made the list at all would be pretty cool if the AFI had any redeeming tastes whatsoever.

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20 June, 2005 at 8:45 pm (uncategorized)

New, shorter hair

New haircut. I was debating between going for something either like Gregory Peck or like the style sported by Cillian Murphy in Batman Begins. In the barbershop, it rather thought that I ended up with something more like Johnny Depp, but seem to have also ended up with Satan Wisps! Added Bonus!

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Telegram from Dynamite Dan

16 June, 2005 at 11:05 pm (uncategorized)

Found in the Detroit Free Press:

For Auction: Collection of 24 Telegrams Twenty-two telegrams sent from Howard Hughes to Katharine Hepburn between 1937 and 1939 and including two 1939 handwritten drafts in Miss Hepburn’s hand of telegrams to Hughes.

One of the great Hollywood romances of the 1930s started innocently enough. In June 1935, while filming “Sylvia Scarlet”, Cary Grant invited Howard Hughes to lunch in Malibu. Hughes made a spectacular entrance by landing his Sikorsky Amphibian on the golf course where director George Cukor and co-star Katharine Hepburn were playing. Miss Hepburn mentioned it in her autobiography Me, thinking it “rather nervy and romantic, in a bravado sort of way.” Obviously, something about Hughes impressed her as, a year later, they began an affair that lasted more than two years and garnered much media attention.

The first of the telegrams from Hughes to Miss Hepburn is dated January 19, 1937 and addressed to the Ambassador Hotel in Chicago where she was starring in a theater production of Jane Eyre, in part: “…supposed to arrive six something in the afternoon probably not in time to see you before the theatre so will try to contain myself until eleven thirty, love Dan.” Dan was short for Dynamite, one of their nicknames for each other. That very day, Hughes had flown from Burbank to Newark breaking his own transcontinental speed record. Hughes spent a few days in Chicago on this trip, leading to speculation that he and Miss Hepburn were married. Most of the telegrams to Miss Hepburn were sent to Emily Perkins, Miss Hepburn’s assistant, to avoid unwanted attention.

One message from Hughes reads (in part): “Conkshell, you are terrific, but you might say something nice amid cleverness and reminders which make me lonesome…” One of the two handwritten drafts from Miss Hepburn appears to be from this same period and reads: “Arrived one item, missing one boss, lonely one mouse, empty one conkshell.”

Telegram from Katherine Hepburn to Howard Hughes

Hughes, of course, purchased the film rights to The Philadelphia Story and gave them to Ms. Hepburn as a gift. Despite the consistently positive notice of her widely-touring performance of the stage version, Ms. Hepburn would probably not have been allowed to star in the feature adaptation as the studios considered her to be unhireable. Hughes’ gift therefore gave her the ability to leverage herself into the film version. It was clearly a gift for which we should all be thankful.

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Three Dimensions

6 June, 2005 at 9:19 pm (uncategorized)

Well, that only took seven hours.

In the same vein as my previous post about Clutter, I was about to embark upon a massive project to catalogue all of my CDs, DVDs, and books. I had previously catalogued all of my DVDs using DVD Profiler, but as it is an IBM-only program, I am no longer able to maintain a current and accurate collect profile. Then Dan Evans introduced me to Delicious Library, a program that works with Amazon to translate bardcode numbers into a virtual bookshelf. It’s not the most useful thing in the world, except perhaps for fire insurance purposes, but it’s lovely to look at and a fun way to while away the idle computer hours.

However, I can’t afford to buy a software license at the moment, as I am only one-fifth of the way through The New Poverty, which is how I’m referring to my current financial affairs, affairs I expect to last until the end of October. So my original plans of happily puttering about the apartment, typing in barcode numbers by the convenient armload, are temporarily on hold.

Due to the oncoming incidence of a 3-D film festival at the Coolidge Cinema in Boston, my interest in View-Masters, the Loreo-3D camera, and all things stereographic has recently resurfaced, so I decided a good alternate computer activity would be to learn the process of making a flat image into a 3-D anaglyph.
The traditional 'Ben and Pete RAWK!' photo
1) I began with the traditional Ben and Pete RAWK! photo, the trademark image of The Brothel. I altered it slightly so that Ben and Pete were both wearing Red/Blue 3-D glasses, specifically the glasses provided to patrons of the recent Spy Kids: 3-D film.The alteration of the image, and the first stage completed
2) Using the instructions provided by Jim Long, I worked on separating the original image into layers of depth. Mr. Long recommends editing the image and closing the gaps layer by layer, but after some experimentation, I found that it was easier to do all the editing in one go. So the image on the left is the shifted image with all the gaps. 3) The image on the right is the image with the shifts filled in. It’s a little difficult at the reduced size to see exactly what the changes have wrought, but compare Image #1 and Image #3; if you look at the position of the RAWK! hands and the faces, it’s as if the camera has taken two steps to the left.
The alteration of the background, and the second stage completed
On my first attempt, I continued shifting the image to the right by one pixel, layer by layer, until I had pushed the foreground image completely off the screen. This seemed like a bad idea somehow, as I didn’t think that my outstretched RAWK! hand would look very 3-D if its cyan shadow wasn’t even in the frame. So instead of a full thirty-layer shift, Image #3 is only half of the process, and is just the shifting of Pete and Ben in the foreground. 4) I then proceded to shift the background to the left, having masked off the foreground figures and copied them to a separate layer. This, then, is the shifted background with the landscape interpolated and filled in. 5) is the masked right-shifted figures pasted back onto the left-shifted background. Image #5 was then combined with Image #1 using a freeware piece of Mac software called Anaglyph Maker, producing the following image:
Pete and Ben, RAWK!ing in 3-D.  Red/Cyan glasses required.

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30 May, 2005 at 9:02 pm (uncategorized)

Despite earlier reservations that I might not be able to incorporate secondary and tertiary content feeds into my existing webpage structure, I have successfully managed to approach being the sort of derring-do internetician that I’d like to be. So I’m very pleased to introduce the new live content aspect of my site, a Joan of Arc blog.

I used to teach a class on Joan of Arc and her particular relationship with the Hundred Years War, and I got in the habit of scanning the world for links and relevancy. Part of the ideal for the class was that I could show that regardless that the key events took place somewhere in the vicinity of six hundred years ago, that their echoes still affected contemporary attitudes and politics, and that Joan herself was an accessible person. Since the class was primarily beign taught to 18 year old females, I especially harped on that last bit, trying not to — as Vita Sackville West did — make her a contemporary romantic figure, but to delineate how certain aspects of being young and human remained the same over time, and some aspectes of her character were purely medieval and purely foreign.

As a tantalizing morsel to get you to click through the above link and perhaps even subscribe to future updates, here’s the first entry:

30 May, 1431 – Jehanne is burned alive as a relapsed heretic in the marketplace at Rouen.

It’s a strange number, the 574th anniversary. It catches on the hems of our base-10 consciousness, looking close to a number that should be significant to a culture that celebrates centennials and their quarters. But because quarter centuries aren’t particularly important except to people and occasion-starved businesses, even next year’s anniversary will have two important flaws. Firstly, it will seem either 25 years too early to recognize with any real flair, or 75 years too late, and secondly, it’s the anniversary of the horrific death of a young woman who wasn’t even sure how old she was.

Joan’s words that morning, as translated by Willard Trask, are as follows:

Alas! Am I so horribly and cruelly used, that my clean body, never yet defiled, must this day be burnt and turned to ashes. Ha! Ha! I would rather be beheaded seven times than suffer burning.

Alas! If I had been kept in the Church’s prison, to which I had submitted — if I had been kept by churchmen instead of my enemies and adversaries, I should not have come to such a miserable end.

Such merriment! Fun for all!

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14 May, 2005 at 12:02 am (uncategorized)

Special Preview Screening ticket stubRight, full disclosure time. My first impulse, after buying the tickets to the special Official Sneak Preview of the upcoming film Serenity, was to wander to my closet and figure out what I was going to wear. I had eight days until the screening, and there was no earthly reason why I should want to look nice or special or noticeable… But, y’see, the überfans of Serenity and its progenitor, the television show Firefly, are called “Browncoats”, for reasons important only to those who care. I’m a big trenchcoat wearer, but I don’t own a duster, and I certainly don’t own a brown oilskin, which would be the preferred garb of a die-hard Browncoat. I didn’t and don’t particularly think of myself as a die-hard, but the truth is that my first thought was to consider if I could find a duster in time for the film and, if not, what I could scrounge from my closet that would be a suitable substitute.

This is how the nerding begins. I scoff at Star Wars fans and Trekkies and Trekkers and even Rocky Horror Picture Show devotées. I’m too cool for school, and I think that a minimalist nod in one’s wardrobe that acknowledges that one knows the scene but maintains a detached distance from it is the best dress code. Never wear a Name shirt to a Name concert, but a slim cloisonné pin from a band in the same scene or on the same indy label… now that’s slick. Hip, but superior: that’s the way one carries oneself at a public gathering of fans. So I found myself surprised to be, well, almost dressing up in costume in my excitement for this film. I was able to justify it by using nothing that I wouldn’t have casually worn with anything else in my wardrobe on any given day. But, truthfully, I garbed up for this event, and I’m a little embarrassed at how slippery that slope really is.

Mr. Maher and Ms. BaccarinLuckily the brakes on said slope were put on by the presence of the other audience members, who weren’t as appalling as the average comic book convention, but still represented a cross-section of genetic slovenliness that should shame both Mendel and God. And while I will certainly watch any downloadable videos or special features that have footage shot by the documentary and promotional crew on site, and I will look for myself in the crowd, I was a little relieved not to be interviewed or featured, as such a prominent position would mean that I Belong more than I’d prefer to admit. I’m just not fan enough.

A young lad snuck around a couple of rows to try and move more quickly through the line to receive autographs from the graceful attending stars, Morena Baccarin and Sean Maher (see image at left), and ended up standing behind me. He attempted to engage in conversation about the success of the film, and I could tell by his plaintive, reedy voice that a withering stare was not going to dispell him. I considered turning and frankly informing him that not only did I not go to the cinema to meet people, but that I especially didn’t talk to overgrown juveniles whose vocal pitch and tone indicated a severe lack of human, non-virtual interaction… but, well, it seemed slightly harsher than the occasion merited. However, he did compliment me on my attire, and I think I did rather well not to immediately strip down and set it ablaze.

Serenity promotional flatHowever, despite this and the most minimal of other disproprtionately memorable experiences, it was a good audience, an audience that listened to the film and drank it in with the appropriate attention. It meant that the theatre was quiet, because they were fans, and they wanted to get every morsel of dialogue and plot and information that they could. And it was lovely to be in a cinema with patrons so attentive and respectful.

When they got home to the internet, of course, the talk turned bitter. Plot events conspired in directions that made sense dramatically, but may seem as a betrayal to those who care more about characters with whom they empathise than the merits of the well-told story and its needs and structures. Too bad. It’s a dynamite movie, real solid summer entertainment with good storytelling, inventive filmmaking, and impressive visuals. Early buzz said that it was just a longer episode of Firefly, and the negative response by some of the fans is making the fans that couldn’t go to the screenings nervous. I hope the second series of pre-release screenings on May 29th (an odd promotional decision, I feel) does something to counter the bad vibes being engendered. I left the cinema more satisfied theatrically than I had since The Incredibles.

So a brief note for those who have read the hints of the doubters, who never saw the source TV show, and for those who are slightly allergic to anything associated with the Buffy the Vampire Slayer movement: Serenity is a marvelous piece of sci-fi cinema. It’s funny, charming, and has some excellent visuals, and some breathtaking suspense. Universal has a film that could easily go toe-to-toe with any summer blockbuster, but it’s not going to be in theatres until September 30th, when the season has cooled down. Hopefully this will allow Serenity not to get chased out by the newer, bigger release and will give you enough room to go see it. Give it a whirl. I strongly recommend it.

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Nature’s First Green is Gold

10 May, 2005 at 6:36 pm (uncategorized)

I’ve been watching the trees go from the pallid yellow color of winter survival to the brighter yellow that Robert Frost and Ponyboy spoke about. And within the last week, most of the deciduous foliage in my part of the world has graduated into either a lush variance of true greens or bursts of blossoming flowers.

All of which has lodged Deb Talan’s song “Cherry Tree” firmly in my vernal head. Here, therefore, is the third and last of my Spring Songs for the season. Unfortunately, neither of the links I could find are downloadble, but are instead streaming audio. However, if you like it, I recommend checking out “Tell Your Story Walking” from Ms. Talan’s homepage, and those two songs should hopefully convince you to hunt down Sincerely, which I consider to be the best recorded reproduction of the live, acoustic, small-venue experience. Sadly difficult to find, as I believe it’s out of print, it’s worth the search. “Tell Your Story Walking”, by the by, is based upon Jonathan Lethem’s Motherless Brooklyn.

EDIT: Sorry, not Motherless Boorklyn, which is either a typrographical error or a post-modern crime drama about the Swedish Chef with Tourette’s.

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