Today in Charade

21 July, 2015 at 9:10 am (charade, webjunk)

The AV Club is still plugging along, successfully bridging the gap between actual commentary and clickbait in a manner that The Dissolve quite mournfully was unable to do — with a strict reading of “successfully” as “commercially successful” only — and late last night I stumbled upon a headline for an article that claimed a “New search engine lets you quickly find your favorite movie quote’s source” accompanied by a photograph from Charade.

CHARADE: 'Good lord, where is he?'

But wait, I asked myself, how did the article know that was my favorite movie? And why on Earth would that be used as an example of being able to find film quotes, when the lines captured are amongst the least evocative of all time? A quick scrumble about Google Image Search revealed that the above pitcure has shown up in news articles when someone needs an example of movie subtitles or closed-captioning. Why? Because Wikimedia has it as a non-copyrighted image of an example of film subtitles and online journalism seems to use Wikipedia as its first and only stop for research. And why is it non-copyrighted? Because the film was published without a complete copyright notice.

Having read a little about this, my memory was that some prints of Charade — but not all! — were distributed without without copyright indicia, and I had previously gone on record that I simply couldn’t believe that Universal would endorse remakes of Charade if it didn’t actually control the copyright, that the gazillion chop-shop DVD releases of Charade had to be from prints that left off the copyright notice, that it was a loophole. This was an incorrect reading or understanding of events. Turns out, while it was a technicality, it wasn’t a some-prints-are-protected-some-aren’t glitch. It was much more along the lines of the single misplaced comma that cost Ed Stevens his job, as apparently Universal Pictures published a copyright notice on the film, but did so in a manner that only met two of the three required elements for a statement of copyright in 1963: the claimant, the year, and the word or symbol for copyright. All copies of Charade at the time lacked the last of those elements. And so, according to the copyright cheatsheet from Cornell University, it “fail[ed] to comply with required formalities” and instantly became a work in the public domain. Which was fine for twenty-five years, as most people couldn’t get their hands on an actual 33mm print of Charade to distribute or duplicate it, but the home video market changed that significantly.

So with this new understanding firmly in place, only two quibbles remain: if the soundtrack and script are maintained under separate copyrights, and Peter Stone had maintained his copyright on the screenplay to Charade (or, at least he registered copyright on its original short story version, “The Unsuspecting Wife” in 1961), surely the dialogue quoted in the subtitles is under copyright? Could a film be in the public domain, but the ability to reproduce its dialogue in print not be?

And secondly, am I an unredeemable, pretentious idiot for continually calling the film in question CharAHde instead of CharAIde? The obvious niche benefit of the website this AV Club article was about is that it could help in the production of certain supercuts. I have been slowly collecting a list of different pop-culture examples of the pronunciation of “charade”, (Pro-AHD: The Hour, The 39 Steps, Buffy the Vampire Slayer; pro-AID: The X-Files, NewsRadio, Agent Carter — I’m very disappointed in you, young Jarvis!), but an intital search of QuoDB provides me with more to go and listen to and add to this accounting.

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Your Guide to Popular Culture

22 February, 2015 at 1:02 pm (benjamin, webjunk)

One of these days I’ll actually get around to writing up the complete version of a long-standing musing about the top five writers and documents that most influenced my prosody and thought processes (current version, in chronological order: Walt Kelly’s Pogo, Sherlock Holmes, the Columbia Records version of Marshall MacLuhan’s The Medium is the Message, Philip K. Dick’s Valis, and Warren Ellis’ Transmetropolitan, but that leaves out both Woody Allen and Peter S. Beagle, so that’s no good already…), but perhaps not, because it is a strangely arbitrary idea to limit oneself to a handful of prominent influences, when we are constantly being yo-yo’ed and nudged by the thoughts and gravity of others. Still, it was interesting to stumble across a Vlogbrothers video of John Green reminding himself and his brother Hank of the fast-paced, breathless rants of Ian Shoales, and then engaging in his own musings on how much the Vlogbrothers house style exists in part because of the rat-a-tat delivery and charm of Shoales’ weekly column.

Merle Kessler as Ian Shoales: NPR Promotional HeadshotGreen may have been surprised to dredge Shoales out of the mists of memory, but I think of him quite often. I was introduced to him by a vintage mentor of mine who thought that his acerbic commentary and relentless observation and prodding of popular culture would mirror my own. He had a cassette he’d compiled himself from having taped Shoales’ segments on the radio, collecting them piecemeal over time. I can imagine him with his hands hovering over the controls of a silvered plastic radio, staring back at him with it’s one large, round, corrugated speaker, as he jabbed at the pause and record buttons in order to do that magical thing of capturing the ephemeral. Tape gave you power over the intangible essence of music, it gave you the freedom to replay it whenever you wanted, as well as the ability to share it with others. Radio was crazy. And television was the same way. You had to bend to its whims, and you only were permitted to watch that particular movie at 7pm on a select Friday night or perhaps on a lazy Sunday at 2. If you missed an episode of Saturday Night Live, you had to listen to everyone else talk about it on Monday in order to hear what had happened, and, man, would they talk about it. Constantly. And sure, the song that you liked was in high rotation and would almost certainly play again at the top of the hour, but the waiting and the ads and the Creedence that you had to suffer through in order to hear it again was extraordinarily frustrating.

Kids today, man, with their YouTube bootlegs and their wireless downloads and their gigs upon gigs of digital memory… I roll my eyes at how much time they spend searching for the right song on a computer, and how much of their lives they waste jumping from impulse to impulse as they compulsively playlist their daily scroll of emotions by making sure their angst and boredom and frustration has the right soundtrack at every given moment. But I strike this attitude in part because they will never understand the sheer frustrating idleness of living in a world where you had to be patient enough for media to happen on its own timetable, and the wastrel spending of time in the interim is the crucible that shaped my generational character.

On the other hand, that adolescent digital immediacy is what drove me to find Green’s memorialization of Shoales in the first place. Read the rest of this entry »

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Scientific Progress goes “Moo”*

12 May, 2014 at 8:30 pm (comics, webjunk)

Sometimes the internet astonishes me: you put money into it, and you get stuff out of it.

Obviously, this is both most people’s common experience and a completely foreign experience to many. Amazon, eBay, iTunes, Etsy, etc. wouldn’t all exist and thrive if people weren’t putting money into the internet and then receiving something in return. And also a great number of people turn to the internet in order to acquire things without having to spend any money on them. This ranges from the relatively innocuous — MP3s and digitized images — to a significant trade in films, software, books, credit card numbers, and the like. And as much as we use the internet to reinforce our pre-existing worldviews, creating streams of personalized content that provide us with feeds and pings and alerts about the things and people we already like, it is the surprises that drift across that are the most wonderful, the unexpected pleasures.

Chainsaw Vigilante commissions: Erica Henderson, Lars Brown, Katie CookLast summer at the Boston Comic Con, I commissioned sketches from attending artists for the first time. Travis Ellisor had been trumpeting his expanding Karate Kid vs. commission gallery for a little while, and I liked the concept: a single factor of commonality, but the opportunity to allow the artist to also feature his or her chosen creation. (I also have a bit of a soft spot for the classic LoSH Karate Kid, whose solo title was the first comic I actively tried to collect as a kid, saving up for back issues from the archive bins of local stores.) And the final grace note is that the character is a bit odd. Many people have con sketchbooks of obvious corporate populist characters, but finding that odd tertiary character that people fondly recall but haven’t thought about in ages is the real cherry on the sundae. I’d finally decided, after much musing, that my own original sketch collection was going to be different interpretations of The Tick‘s Chainsaw Vigilante engaged in combat with DC Comics’ Ambush Bug. Then I did some research on how much two-figure commissions tended to run, and I decided to start by just getting some drawings of the Chainsaw Vigilante to start with and to work my way up.

So I went to the Con, and I experienced a strange anxiety: I was going to be handed a drawing by the artist, and I was going to have a reaction, right there in real time, of exhilaration or disappointment in the result. In front of the creative person who was asked to interpret a paid command for which he or she may have had no particular artistic inclination. This is a character I like, but it doesn’t necessarily inspire or movie the person drawing it. Would I be able to tell by the composition? Would my face visibly blanch as I took the commissions from their hands?

My Advanced Art teacher in high school often said that she thought the worst thing a person could say was, “I may not know much about art, but I know what I like.” As willfully ignorant of a statement as that may be, I believe people have strong, instinctive opinions about aesthetics, regardless of their ability to articulate or contextualize them. I think that comics will forever be a minority art form simply because the presentation of the visual narrative either will or will not appeal, aesthetically, to the reader, and one can’t read the story without looking at artwork that either pleases or assaults the eye. Obviously, if one is commissioning a drawing, one would surely only pay out money to an artist whose work one finds appealing, but that still doesn’t mean that the selection of infinite artistic choices made will end up being those one would prefer. Will the drawings be the sort of thing one would automatically reblog in one’s curated stream of aesthetic content, or not?

Luckily, all of my commissions have hit the sweet spot of surprise (which I believe is also a channel on RedTube). They have combined the familiar visual voice of the artist, the comforting content of the form of the character, and the simple act of not being what I would have done. Surely it’s this last misdirect, this last moment of dissonance that is what makes getting something from the hands and minds of other people the most worthwhile, the sudden veering into unpredictability. And while there may be some anxiety about cost and result, the most important bit is that whatever the result it sprang from someone else and is therefore something that would have been impossible for you to acquire or create or establish on your own.

Which is why the internet is wonderful. You put money in, and you get something unexpected out of it. This week I received two commissions: one virtual and one physical. Read the rest of this entry »

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BRIEFLY: Peter O’Toole

15 December, 2013 at 3:02 pm (film, webjunk)

The Guardian is reporting that Peter O’Toole has died. My grandfather loved How To Steal A Million, preferring it to Charade, and my aunt and I regularly bond over the majesty of his portrayal of T.E. Lawrence.

There’s a tradition over at The V that when someone famous or important dies, we memorialize him or her with silent, pictorial tributes. There are to be no personal remarks or sentimental platitudes. So while searching for the right image from Lawrence of Arabia with which to do this (something from the attack on the train, I thought), I found the following dynamic image:

Peter O'Toole in Lawrence of Arabia

Goodness, I thought. That looks like it could be out of Star Wars or something. Luckily, someone else thought the very same thing. Good job, internet.

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PICTURESHOW: Pairings, or Very Short Memes

14 March, 2011 at 9:36 pm (webjunk)

Business Card: American Pyscho: Patrick Bateman

Maud reblogged this on her Tumblr account, and I attempted to trace it back to its source, and in doing so discovered that so, so, so many people had re-Tumblred it that it seemed like some sort of glaring error that I hadn’t included it in my collection of screen-shown business cards. This was further and quite quickly confirmed by the rapid-fire pullulation of links to this hangman-style movie quiz, which used Mr. Bateman’s proffering of his business card as it’s iconic object. Not the celebrated axe. A business card.
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Alternate Musical Reference: Better Know How To Kneel

29 December, 2010 at 2:28 pm (film, webjunk)

My favorite place for pop-culture watching, New York magazine’s The Vulture, recently posted two “clickables”. The first was a Dreamworks-produced video for the song by the frontman for Sigur Ros that accompanied their thoroughly-enjoyable summer trifle, How to Train your Dragon. Now that the song is going to be on the Academy Award shortlist longlist, it seems that someone thought it would be a good idea to give the tune a little viral push, many months after the film graced screens and some months even after the film arrived on home video. They make it seem like it was just something the boys at the studio slapped together, but that’s part of the myth of viral videos, much like all successful computer companies “started in a garage“.

Regardless of it’s origins, watching it in close proximity to a young man’s Pixar tribute made me re-notice the trope of a character engaging in a little celestial wonder by reaching up to touch a piece of the sky, something I’d seen before.

Now, I’ve just spent an hour on TV Tropes trying to see if anyone else has categorized this particular visual theme, and aside from a stray comment that the flying sequence in Dragon echoes the magic carpet ride from Disney’s Aladdin, I didn’t find it. Now, that may be because TV Tropes loves cutesy referential names for their tropes, and I’m simply too obtuse to crack their codes, but it doesn’t seem to be in either the How to Train Your Dragon page, or the list of Hand-based tropes. I present to you the four I was able to find in my brain and video collection, and I hope to hear of many more. If it is a fully-fledged trope, may I nominate, “‘Scuse Me, While I Touch the Sky” at it’s cutesy name?

Touch the Sky: Wall-E
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BRIEFLY: J’accuse!

17 August, 2010 at 1:38 pm (webjunk)

A brief history:

Lenin: J'accuse! Read the rest of this entry »

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MEME: Business Card Gallery

17 July, 2010 at 1:28 pm (film, webjunk)

One of the great things about the web is the depth to which people will go to catalogue and display seemingly trivial data. To the average person, such websites are neat, but clear evidence that the provider has no life, or has too much time on his hands, etc. I think it’s a pity that these efforts are trivialized in this manner. Inspiration is momentary, and the hard, dedicated slog from idea to fully-fledged execution takes time and commitment (q.v., again, Patton Oswalt’s insightful and vulgar commentary about Death Bed: The Bed That Eats People). It’s easy to look at a finished product and airily dismiss it as a waste of time, but it’s an accomplishment to be in the midst of that use of time and not throw up one’s hands and abandon the project in process once the initial glimmer of the idea has cooled to a faint grey ash.

One of my favorite instances of dedication to the seemingly trivial is Steven Hill’s Movie Title Screens page, wherein he takes screencaps of the appearance of the title in the film itself. Not to be swayed from his own parallel inspiration, Christian Annyas takes caps of the title image, any instance of a “The End” or “Fin” screen, as well as the title logo from trailers of a given film (which, due to marketing, are frequently different than the title within the film itself). And, yes, he has capped Charade. Is it terrible that either of these men has devoted so many hours of time to this project? Particularly when someone is doing essentially the same thing? Not to be hyperbolic, but that seems a little like saying that Samuel Johnson was an idiot, and Noah Webster and James Murray were compounded morons. Who had no lives.

Just to avoid misinterpretation of the above rhetorical: no, it’s not terrible. Reference is a wonderful thing, and it requires meticulous, sustained effort. I realize that I’m a librarian, and therefore biased, but — in a nutshell — it’s only trivial and dismissable if you don’t find it useful. If you do think it’s the most useful thing since a breadknife, then you’re surely not going to say about IMDB or Google or the phone book, etc., that whoever compiled those data had too much time on their collective hands.

None of which probably justifies my own nascent Steven Hill-inspired collection of screencaps. I forget what I was watching, but it occurred to me that practically every shot of a business card in a film is the same shot. They’re probably all second-unit insert shots using a hand double. They’re almost always at a slight tilt, in order to give the card some substance and not to have it rigidly framed by the shape of the film itself (interestingly enough, even Wes Anderson follows this and doesn’t apply his typical hyper-formal use of symmetry). So I started collecting them, just to see how pervasive this was. I figured once I got fifty or so, I’d compile a list and send it out for further contributions, and once I got a hundred, I’d start my own useless, whimsical reference website.

In the interim, though, I tripped over The Dancing Image‘s gallery meme, as mentioned by Glenn Kenny. I like it when Glenn posts a meme contribution, because he doesn’t tag people, he doesn’t forward on the chain letter. I don’t either, mostly because I don’t have any readers, but also because I don’t like the imposition. Be inspired to contribute, or don’t be. In honor of the meme, I present my meagre collection of Business Cards in Cinema:

card - Blues Brothers - Murph and Magictones
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Workplace Final Fantasy

4 June, 2010 at 3:57 pm (webjunk)

It’s been heavily blogged and retweeted that a woman has filed a wrongful termination suit claiming that she was fired from her bank job for being too hot.

That’s her and her lawyer’s wording, her colleagues are summarized as saying that “her appearance was too distracting.” I put it to you that her appearance was distracting not because of some overwhelming attraction, but because it’s hard to concentrate whilst working alongside a CGI person; you would always be looking for flaws, for pixelation, and finding yourself staring into the abyss of the Uncanny Valley, and finding it staring back into you.

As to my proof that Ms. Lorenzana is an unreal, computer-generated hologram, I offer the following photographic evidence: she is clearly an upgraded version of Dr. Aki Ross from Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, who was similarly described by the New York Times headline writers as “Perfect” and “Gorgeous”. Please consider the following to be Exhibit A.

Ms. Debrahlee Lorenzana and Dr. Aki Ross

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Text Recognition

20 March, 2010 at 6:34 pm (webjunk)

The website Autocomplete Me trades on the humor generated by Google’s recent innovation of showing what other popular searches have been that began with the same keywords or letters. Said humor is mostly randomness, and a variation on the old hilarity where people would type in things like “I think [your name here] is” and then see what random internet people thought of other people with the same first name. Thrilling!

Well, perhaps not thrilling, but trifling, and trifling is what the post-MTV generation, digital natives apparently want: thirteen seconds of distraction and a link to something else. Breadth without depth.

Which is why it surprised me that so many of the screen-capped searches on Autocomplete Me are pop culture references that someone has failed to recognize and thought were gleeful randomness. Aha and haha, someone thought, it is so totally weird that anyone would ever search for that, let alone for enough people to persuade Our Google Overlords to allow an algorithm to display it as a suggested search! And then — click, click, click — it’s on display on a website that’s part of the I Can Haz Cheezburger network. Yes, I also would have thought that people as meme-aware as the LOLcats folks would catch some of these references, but apparently not.

So, for no real edification, I present a short list of Autocomplete phrases and their respective sources that I recognized. Which may well say more about my own pop culture obsessions than the limits of the site in question. Still, it should at least provide a quizzical raised eyebrow at how lack of context creates a false appearance of surreality.

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