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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31 March, 2005 at 3:14 pm (uncategorized)

I’ve been meaning to do this for two years now.

The choreographic digitial accompaniment of Kieron Gillen:

Kieron.  And his hands.

Someone should make a set of Sign Language-slash-Taking With One’s Hands emoticons from these. Gillen can put one at the end of each of his posts to indicate how strongly he feels about whatever it is he’s saying. As a professional writer, he shouldn’t feel that he can convey such things through his words alone. No, the proletariat require visual confirmation. Click on the image for video (now hosted on YouTube!) of the conversation.

EDIT: What timing! Mr. Gillen’s national import has just been reported, albeit with some fairly weak writing, in The New York Times. The link may require registration.

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Member of the Swarm

20 October, 2003 at 9:10 pm (uncategorized)

I have told many people about my experiences as an extra for Kaiju Big Battel two weekends back, and at the conclusion of my recountings, most people take a breath and ask the question they have clearly been sitting on, waiting on during the length of my description:

“How did you hear about this, anyway?” As if a comedic organization based around a cast of faux-Japanese movie monsters wrestling each other was a concept so bizarre, so foreign that a regular person (read: to whomever I’m speaking) would never have heard about it via conventional means, like conversation… or hearing.

I heard about it in the same way I’ve heard about most fascinating cultural advances over the last six years, through people I’ve met or “met” through the WEF Delphiforum and its bastard, spin-off progeny. I’ve met comic book writers, artists, and publishers, sent money to world travelers, starving small presses, and robophilic collectors. I’ve received postcards, stickers, Christmas presents, and Amazon.com purchases from a worldwide variety of people with whom I’ve never actually laid eyes on or spoken. The whole deal has made my family vaguely nervous, but it’s been good fun and has kept me distracted from a large number of clerical duties, as well as introducing me to a fascinating series of authors, musicians, filmmakers, and the like.

“And the like” being a good enough phrase to describe the antics of a bunch of amateur wrestlers who dress up in huge foam-rubber outfits for the enjoyment of the Boston and New York youth counter-culturists.

And honestly, who hasn’t been sufficiently entranced with the lure of Hollywood to pass up the chance to be an extra in a movie? Even if the movie is being released directly to DVD. And even if the movie is less of a “feature film” and more of an entertaining excuse for people to dress up as crazed zombies or mutant space insects and meet together for an eight-hour day of mêlée combat in the middle of a New Hampshire cow pasture.

Space Bug Swarm member spears, banners, etc.  You can just make out the SP of Space BugWhich, by the way, leads me to state the following: I never want to hear any of my snooty, big city friends try to claim that “there’s nothing to do in New Hampshire…” Zombies versus insects in a knock-down, drag-out farmland battle royale. If that’s not something to do, I don’t know what is.

Despite some brief efforts to make this a large group thing, it ended up that the only person to accompany me to Kaiju’s corporate offices in Jamaica Plain and thereafter to the Taylor Farm in Windham, NH was Peter. At the costume fittings, the Properties Master had looked at me and said, “You look kinda Swarmy…” which, I discovered, meant that I was the right shape and height to be a giant foam rubber insect soldier. Having seen the torsos and heads and green spears lying about in various stages of construction, I was excited to be chosen as an insect instead of a zombie minion. However, as I struggled to pull my exoskeleton on, the Properties Master finally noticed my glasses. Upon the confession that I could see practically nothing without them, I was relegated to zombie status and tossed a set of medical scrubs. Peter was thereafter dubbed Swarm #7.

I was initially a wee bit put off by the fact that he was getting such an honor when he wouldn’t have even been there if it weren’t for me, but I was more disappointed that we would be fighting on different sides. Not that I was worried I couldn’t take him… no, no, far from it. But I expected that there’d be lots of idle time. From what little I knew about making films from having watched dozens of Behind The Scenes documentaries and from having watched Basil be filmed for day in Oxford, I was anticipating some serious standing around. And whilst standing around, it’s best to have allies, people one knows for light conversation and amusement. If Peter was going to be on the wrong team, then we wouldn’t get to stand idly about together.

Luckily, on the day of, Peter switched himself to the righteous side of Dr. Cube, and all was well. There was something about running about encased in foam rubber on a seventy degree day that didn’t sit well on his stomach.

In addition to our medical scrubs, the zombie minions were given a hastily-sewed green mask and one of a variety of weapons with which to attack our enemy. I had been eyeing a silver gladiator’s helmet and a huge double-bladed axe, but when the time came, they handed us the weapons and we didn’t get to complain. Peter received a length of padding that was constructed to look like a car muffler. I was given something that vaguely resembled a dagger, but looked more like a badly-realized Christmas tree, spray-painted silver. It was not the sort of thing that one could brandish successfully, let alone menacingly. So it was some consolation that I also was given a colander to wear as a helmet. It didn’t stay on my head very well during the initial charge, and during a break I fashioned an elastic to be used as a makeshift neckstrap. Continuity be damned.

The empty costume of the Team Space Bug member Sky DevilerThe shots were filmed by three handheld digital cameras, and everything was done quick and dirty, guerrilla-style filmmaking. There were three series of shots. The individual sides were filmed shouting and rushing into the fray. Then, after a break, the cameras shot the first clash of the warring factions, the initial meeting of the two sides. We were instructed not to actually engage with the enemy, but to rush past them, and the editing and some sound effects would make it seem as if we were actually striking each other. After doing that for a little bit, we then moved on to the body of the day’s shot list: the mêlée. Our job, as extras, was to provide a wild and effective background for a series of dynamic, dramatic foreground confrontations where the main characters would either be dispatching us small-fry warriors with, well… dispatch, or would be engaged in Epic Conflict with another Kaiju character.

By the way… Some Kaiju regulars may have heard rumours to the effect that a Kaiju character DIES during this storyline. Unfortunately, as my own character died — many, many times — and dead men tell no tales, I can’t tell you who the character is. I did have fun as Blood Wrangler, though, holding the sticky spray bottle aloft so that the pressurized water and food coloring mix would flow more easily through the hose to the severed limbs. I was also stabbed dramatically by Kaiju hero Silver Potato. Peter, on the other hand, established himself early as a deft punching bag, and is in a number of close-up shots getting trashed by Uchu Chu, Mung Wun, and a variety of other big shots. He claims to have been in seven special shots to my three. That’s fine. I had a colander, after all.

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