Category Archives: Movies

A movie for photographers and artists (and scientists & inventors & the curious)


I highly recommend the recently released, thought-provoking, movie Tim’s Vermeer. When my husband suggested we go, I begrudgingly agreed, thinking that it would be a snooze-fest with pompous art historians and that it wouldn’t be an ideal way to spend one of the first sunny, Spring-like Saturdays of the year.  Wrong!

Produced by Penn & Teller (of course, that Penn & Teller), it is lively and engaging film about digital inventor Tim Jenison’s attempts to prove a theory that Vermeer painted his photo-realistic paintings using optics in a way that nobody else has before or since.  Jenison attempts to prove his theory by recreating a Vermeer — the bedazzling, light-filled The Music Lesson — using the same materials available to the Dutch painter. He ground his own pigments, made his own lenses following 17th century processes, and went to great lengths to recreate the studio setting for the painting.  The movie documents Jenison’s 5-year endeavor to study and replicate the physical items in the painting, even having a Dutch potter make him a replica water pitcher and recreating the Delft light conditions in his Texas warehouse studio by constructing a Dutch-style false building facade outside his studio to diffuse the light as it would have been diffused by neighboring buildings in Vermeer’s studio.

Most importantly, Jenison hit upon a solution to low-light issues with a camera obscura by building additional mirrors to re-invert the image and to brighten and focus it in order to paint.  This, in Jenison’s theory, is what Vermeer must have done with the camera obscura that separated his art from that of his peers.  It isn’t simply geometry, or a savant artistic ability, but a mechanical solution to recreating on canvas what is seen — and what is not so easily seen — by the human eye.

This film is a documentary but don’t expect it to be unbiased. There are a few comments by artist David Hockney and architect Phillip Steadman (both wrote scholarly works that prompted Jenison’s quest) that support Jenison’s theories, as well as comments that his theories will be rejected because of the “art establishment” looking down its collective nose at an outsider.  And they are right: art historians have been mostly silent or dismissive, Jonathan Jones in The Guardian even describing the documentary as “an art film for philistines“,  without addressing the counterarguments.

The film doesn’t really discuss alternative theories.  But, on some level, it goes beyond trying to prove Jenison’s theory.  Instead, this film can be seen as being more about Jenison’s obsession with trying to figure out how Vermeer created such realistic paintings 150 years before the invention of the camera than it is about trying to disprove or resolve century old questions definitively.  That may not have been director Teller’s vision, but as a viewer, I find it hard to walk away without thinking about the  relentless obsessive journey to prove what cannot be proven or wondering what sort of reception Jenison’s “discovery” will have in the art world in the long-term.

Jenison, Hockney and Steadman discuss in the film how one could never be sure whether Jenison has proved anything.   His idea that Vermeer could have used a camera obscura and additional lenses to refine the light can never be proven; it can only be a theory — with a demonstration that it is possible.   Hockney repeats several times in the film that paintings are documents, even Tim’s recreated copy of The Music Lesson.   As documents, all paintings — including Vermeer’s and Jenison’s —  are open for speculation and  interpretation.

I think it is important to recognize that Jenison never says that his painting is as good as Vermeer’s.   He never tries to put it up to a test to see if it could fool someone into thinking it is a Vermeer.   Even the painting’s name — Tim’s Music Lesson — suggests that he doesn’t think it is even a reputable copy of the artwork, simply a recreation of another’s work using the same hypothetical technique.   If you were an amateur — and admittedly not a very good one — what might you do with a work that you researched for four years and then spent another five months producing?  I think many would do what Tim Jenison did:  hang it in his bedroom, a sign of a personal accomplishment.

I think that this film raises many questions that it doesn’t attempt to resolve in a meaningful way.   Foremost is the issue of what is a “legitimate” use of technology in the making of art.  In Vermeer’s day it may have been a mechanical tool to recreate a scene. The film points out that the use of geometry for depicting the correct perspective in a painting, even though it is an acceptable technique,  is as much a tool as using a set of mirrors.  The film suggests that to be dismissive of the use of a “tool” is a bunch of BS — but in doing so they are as dismissive of the counterargument as the critics are of Tim’s theory.   Is the art world stuck into thinking that the use of a tool is “cheating”? What other tools might be considered inappropriate for the making of art?  Is it the same today, perhaps, of digital art?

The closing comments by Penn Jillette suggest an answer.  It is something that I will ponder for a long time: “Is Tim an artist? Or is he an inventor? That we even ask the question is the problem.”  This film has a lot to consider, especially for people interested in photography or digital art.

I highly recommend Tim’s Vermeer (website), even if — especially if  — you consider yourself a philistine — or a photographer, an artist, a culture enthusiast, a scientist, a technology geek….

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I know that song…and that one…and…


Get ready for a tune that you might not be able to get out of your head for a few minutes.

I’m singing in the rain.
Just singing in the rain.
What a glorious feeling,
I’m happy again!
I’m laughing at clouds,
so dark up above,
The Sun’s in my heart
and I’m ready for love

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the theatrical release of Singin’ in the Rain. A one-time showing was held this evening at a local movie theatre. Having never seen the film before, I thought it would be fun to see it on the big screen. And it was fun!

I smiled — and sometimes hummed — at almost every song. One would think that I had seen the movie several times. Nearly every song was recognizable to me, and I was familiar with many of the dance routines. Gene Kelly dancing through mud puddles and swinging on lampposts is so iconic that it feels like one has seen the movie, even if you have only seen the clip and the many, many parodies of it. But there is also the famous routine of Donald O’Connor, singing Make Me Laugh, where he dances with a mannequin and flips off the walls. Or the scene with Kelly, O’Connor and Debbie Reynolds, where they dancingly tip over a sofa singing Good Morning. I’ve seen each of these scenes too many times to count, but I have never seen the entire movie. I didn’t realize when I saw The Artist last January that it has a similar plot, though it isn’t Kelly who has the voice that can’t transition to the “talkies”. But, like in all musicals, the plot doesn’t really matter. It’s all about the music and the dance routines. Kelly’s choreography and the music by Arthur Freed and Nacio Herb Brown doesn’t disappoint — even though it is a movie that would never be made for today’s audiences.

The only thing about the movie that seems similar to today’s movies is the improbability of Gene Kelly, who was 40 when the film was made, would be a suitable love interest for the 18-year old Debbie Reynolds. Hollywood always has had a fascination with women being “ingenues” and older women being unloveable hags and shrews. Still, I liked the movie.

One of my favorite scenes from Singin’ In The Rain is the ballet duet with Kelly and Cyd Charisse, Broadway Melody. Like most other parts of the movie, I’d seen this excerpt before. What I hadn’t seen was the first part of the dance routine where he meets Charisse, a gangster’s moll.

The ballet routine:

The first part of routine with Charisse & Kelly is very different, but fun to watch too.

August 23 is the 100th anniversary of Gene Kelly’s birth. You might be able to catch an airing of Singin’ In The Rain on TCM. Check the listings. Or, you can sing in the rain. If there is no rain where you are, just have the sun in your heart.

Les Parapluies de Cherbourg


When I was in 4th and 5th year French in high school, I remember that we read lots of things about French culture. We had to write term papers on a French artist. We read several works of the existentialists. We studied architecture. But I don’t recall ever seeing a French film. As I watched Les Parapluies de Cherbourg (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg) today — for what must be the 10th time — I wondered why we never would have seen this. Perhaps it wasn’t readily available. Perhaps, even in the late 70s when Grease had an R rating, Umbrellas, though it has no sex in it, was too risqué because the young Catherine Deneuve is pregnant and unmarried. What a lost opportunity! I’m sure that I would have worn out a few VHS tapes of this movie had I been aware of it and had it been available.

But, Umbrellas was almost lost to the world because of serious fading on the original prints. Jacques Demy had saved a copy of his masterpiece and had planned, shortly before he died, to restore the original. His widow saw that the project was completed and Umbrellas, originally released in 1964, was re-released in 1995.

A brief description of the movie may seem off-putting. It sounds sentimental, maybe even melodramatic: a young girl falls in love for the first time, her love is sent off to war in Algeria, her mother is facing bankruptcy, she finds herself pregnant, but with a potential husband her mother has selected. Especially to today’s viewer, it may seem odd, maybe inaccessible, because the entire script is sung.

But, if that would dissuade you, you will miss seeing a wonderful movie. The movie is available with English subtitles, but I think that even if you spoke no French, the subtitles would be an extra. It is clear from the action and emotion what is happening. If you didn’t understand the action, the film is so beautiful, the Michel Legrand music so wonderful, that it is worth the 90 minute viewing even if you didn’t understand a word.

I am amazed by the colors in this film. Every bit of scenery and wardrobe seems to be coordinated. The film, though not a happy story, has a cheery appearance, from the umbrellas that decorate Mme. Emery’s shop, to the bows that seem to match the pink complexion of Catherine Deneuve’s character Geneviève, to the wallpaper throughout their home. Every shot is gorgeous and too pretty to be real. This is juxtaposed against the gritty reality of the lives of the characters and the choices that they must make.

Take a look at a few screen grabs from the film. If you have a chance to see this movie, do so. If you’ve seen it before, treat yourself to another viewing.

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Here is a link to a review of the film by Roger Ebert.

This post is part of the Blogging A to Z Challenge. Today’s letter is U. Thanks for stopping by. Please leave a comment and let me know what you think. You can find other A to Z participants by clicking on the graphic. You’ll find an index of all of my A to Z blog posts here.

What a horse!


I wrote previously how I loved the stage production of War Horse. My husband had wanted to go see it last April, and, after he described it to me — young boy goes into the battlefield looking for his horse, which is portrayed on stage with puppets — I thought I was quite clever in my one-word response: Neigh!. But, T really wanted to see it, so, in advance of another trip to the Big Apple, without telling me, he purchased tickets. “It won the Tony!” he explained. “You shouldn’t prejudge it.”

So, reluctantly, I went. At dinner beforehand and during our walk to Lincoln Center, I tried out every horsey joke I could think of. When they failed, I suggested that if one wanted puppets, we could probably still get tickets for that evening’s performance of Avenue Q, which we knew was funny. After all, who couldn’t use a little bit of bawdy Muppets? A horse in war? That was a different story — one that didn’t sound either entertaining or thought-provoking. It was a beautiful evening in August and there were bunches of happy people around Lincoln Center. I considered for a moment if I could just sit outside for a few hours while T and our friend saw the play, but sometimes choices like that don’t aid in the mood of a trip.

At intermission, as we stepped into the lobby to get a drink, T asked if someone had a gun to put down that horse and put us out of our misery. “What?” I exclaimed. “How can you not like this? It’s wonderful!” And so it goes sometimes when we have expectations and they are shattered. I found the play to be emotional, the music and the use of images projected behind the stage to be evocative, and the themes of war and loyalty to be engaging. My husband saw none of that; he thought it was simply a love story about a boy and his pet horse. And he hated the puppetry. While the puppetry at first was a bit jarring — I didn’t think that I could get around the fact that there were four men operating a huge skeletal frame reminiscent of a horse — I quickly lost my interest in the mechanics of the puppet and saw it as a character in the play.

Since our enjoyment of the play was so different, War Horse became for a while a household joke. Even before I knew that there was to be a movie made of the play (which was based on a book), I joked at the occurrence of minor wrongdoings, that recompense could only be made by sitting through a movie version of War Horse. I was watching movie trailers in September when I saw the first promotion. I had a fit of giggles at how sappy it was and had a difficult time quieting down when the feature began. Later, I tried to explain to my friends what was so funny. The trailer, however, had already been forgotten.

Was the play really sappy and sentimental as my husband thought it was? Two months later, I still found that the idea of how the nature of war changed when barbed wire, tanks, and automated weapons quickly made the cavalry and their swords obsolete resonated with me. Earlier in the summer, in an antique shop, I had come across a book of photographs from a pictorial magazine about the war, published just a few months after the Treaty of Versailles had been signed. While that book did not go into much detail about this dawn of a mechanized, sophisticated and modern warfare, looking back nearly 90 years later, it is evident in the pages.

I remained eager to see the Steven Spielberg movie adaptation of War Horse even though I was skeptical from the treacly trailer. Without saying which movie, I asked my son who is still home on his holiday visit, if he wanted to go see a movie. He eagerly said “sure” before I told him that there was only one movie I had in mind. He knew he had been tricked, but I told him that if it was really bad, he could tease me mercilessly for dragging him along. “I’ll go,” he said, “but you’re buying the tickets!”

I laughed from nearly the first frame. In the play, there is a goose puppet that represents the farm life of Albert and his family. In the movie, the goose is there too, but it is an irritant and played for laughs. I really didn’t understand its purpose, although the audience seemed to respond to it. The goose was a pain, but he didn’t like the dastardly landlord either. “It’s going to be a long movie,” I thought and was glad that I hadn’t worn my watch. But, soon the action was underway. Albert loves his horse and his mother, he struggles to train the horse to help save the farm … yada yada yada… fill in the blanks in any story you’ve already heard a thousand times about a poor family on a hard scrap English farm.

Eventually the action shifts to the war, and the horse is sold against the boys wishes. The farm is saved, but Joey the horse is lost. Except there was another 1:45 left. You can fill in the blanks in this part too; I don’t need to give any spoilers.

Some of the action is different from the play. I don’t think that it either adds to or detracts from the movie. Spielberg is good at filming scenery that, despite the beautiful cinematic effects, leaves no doubt in the viewer’s mind that War is Hell. Those scenes don’t disappoint. Unlike the movie, the play shows officers on both sides who were at odds with killing and who were afraid to die. The characters are a bit more stereotypic in the movie, although it doesn’t stoop so low as to portray “the evil Hun”. Instead, it is a difference between the infantry and the leaders on both sides. Regardless of which side of enemy lines the horse is — and our horse Joey is befriended and used by English, French and Germans — the horse is recognized as a beautiful horse and all of his caretakers fall in love with him. The anthropomorphizing of the horses is a bit overdone. Joey doesn’t want to leave his mother, Albert, a horse he friends and, as the storyline suggests, whose life he saves. Joey nuzzles his caretakers, protects his charges, sits beside a dying companion (horse, not man). I try not to be too jaded, but while the rest of the theatre audience was sniffling, I was suppressing giggles.

The idea of barbed wire and the obsolescence of the horse cavalry is still present in the movie, but it is a faint echo of the major theme of the play. In the play, because it is the stage, the representational quality of the drama, told in episodic tales, works to present a whole while underscoring the themes of loyalty, family, and the evil of war. In a movie, because of its more realistic nature, those episodes seem choppy, contrived, and overdone. How many things can happen to one damn lucky horse that nobody is betting on?

Still, for a movie that is intended as a family event for parents, kids and grandma, War Horse is not a bad choice. At 2 hr 24 minutes, it is a bit long. The battle scenes are well done and there is violence, but nothing graphic and gory. Bottom line: beautiful cinematography; overdone plot, just long enough to make some bored and fidgety.

The biggest surprise of my trip to the movie this afternoon? As the credits were rolling, my son said: “Much better than I expected. I actually liked it!”. So maybe you don’t want to go by my opinion, at all!

POTD (Picture of the Day)

Fiery Morning Horizon


Nothing to do with the movie. I’m sure that I could do much more with this picture in post processing, but that isn’t happening tonight! I like this photo for two reasons: the colors (captured exactly as I saw them this morning!) and because the sunrise so obscures the horizon line that it looks like it is rising over a large body of water. Alas, it is only over pavement and a small tree-lined creek. Pretty, but no sea.

Year’s End – All the cool kids do a wrap up


There are traditions during the last week of the year that are just as certain to occur as those pre-Christmas traditions we’re all familiar with. The calendar turns to 12/26 and you can expect enormous crowds at the mall, long waits if you order a pizza delivery for dinner, kids starting to get restless with nothing to do, parents counting down the days until Winter Break is over. And, everybody seems to do some sort of year-in-review or “best of” list.

The Best of Lists are something that pull me in every year, even though I often claim that they are ridiculous exercises. Best movie? Best play? Best book? Best Travel Destination? Top News Story? Best Restaurant? Best Politician — oh, wait: that would be too short of a list!

Yet, I often find these same lists fascinating because the only criteria for judgement is the calendar. One could just as easily look at the “best of” anything for the last week, or month, or decade, although I would have a hard time remembering much of some categories if I were going back over 10 years. Only the very best would withstand that test of time. And maybe that is both the point, and the foolishness of such lists. Would I only include some items on my “best books” because I read them recently? Is it the last one that always seem the best? If my time period were longer, would I decide that the book I read in October or the play I saw in April were not really that excellent after all?

And how do you winnow such lists when there may be no common characteristics between two works other than the fact that you engaged with both of them over a 12 month period? My husband asked me recently which of two plays that we saw this year was the best. We actually saw more than a dozen plays, so I wondered why he narrowed it to the two. But, I couldn’t decide between those two plays — a revival of Arcadia and Jerusalem. We saw several operas as well — I wouldn’t have been able to narrow that list either. Same goes for movies and books. If I remember them, it is because I either really liked them, or I hated them. It’s like picking one’s favorite child: can’t be done.

That said, here are some of the art/literature/theatre things that I experienced this year. I’d recommend any of these, although some of the theatre performances have long since closed.

Books:
Patti Smith’s Just Kids — a wonderful memoir that reminds you, no matter how different your life is from Smith’s that we were all once “just kids” trying to make our way in the world, figuring out our lives and loves. Smith seems to have maintained some of that innocence, without being smarmy. After all, she is Patti Smith.

Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder. I got lost in this novel, and even though the ending wasn’t as satisfying as I thought it could have been, I still cried at the end. I thought that Patchett could have delved into other questions about women extending fertility than she did. I just finished reading this, so it would be interesting see what I think about this next December.

Abraham Verghese’s Cutting for Stone. One of those books that could be characterized as a ‘sweeping epic’, covering the lives of twins from birth til death, across countries, continents, love and revolution. There are still scenes from the book that come back to me in entirety seven months after having finished it. This will certainly be a book that I re-read.

Movies
Coriolanus — I saw a special screening of this in October & Ralph Fiennes spoke afterwards. (Ralph Fiennes = Squeee!) It’s rough, it’s violent, it’s Shakespeare in a modern setting — things that might put me off. Don’t let it. It IS relevant in it’s modern setting, right down to the occupy-like crowds of protestors. (I saw this two weeks after OWS started, and on the day when I wandered down to Zucotti Park to see what the Occupy movement was about. The irony was not lost on me.) Go see it when it opens in a theatre near you.

Midnight in Paris Made me fall in love with Woody Allen all over again and pushed Hannah and her Sisters from its long-held perch of best Woody Allen film ever.

Moneyball. I don’t like baseball and don’t care much for Brad Pitt. Loved it anyway!

Bill Cunningham, New York. Every time I’m in NYC and anywhere near 57th & 5th, I am always a bit hopeful that I might see Mr. Cunningham riding his bicycle and taking photographs of interesting people. I rarely miss one of his photo essays in the New York Times. The tagline in the movie trailer: “Photographer. Perfectionist. Loner. Maverick. Visionary.” One of the best documentaries I have ever seen. I was disappointed that I wasn’t able to go see it again, immediately after I saw it. It’s now playing on NetFlix. Cunningham may be all about fashion, but the movie is about so much more: it is about one man’s passion that has been his whole life.

Opera
The Ring Cycle. The first of the Ring Cycle was aired by the Metropolitan Opera Fall, 2010, but Operas 2 & 3 of the cycle were this year. I swore to my husband when he first coerced me into going to the opera that I would never sit through the entire Ring Cycle. What I would have missed if I had not. Still not sure how happy I would be after attending four long operas in a week’s time, though I’m willing to try. (I have tickets for next Spring at the Met, though it is unlikely now that I can work out the logistics of going — want to buy the tickets? Email me.)

While Wagner’s Ring Cycle is not a freshman outing for the novice, if you are unsure about opera, attending one of the Met’s Live in HD series is a great introduction. And you can have popcorn, too!

Theater
Aradia I went home and stayed up all night reading the script. I’ve read it twice since seeing the play during the last week of its run last April. I adore Tom Stoppard. I can’t think of anyone else who could write an amazing play with characters in two different centuries about English gardens, pomposity, infidelity, mathematics, quantum physics, love, obsession, insanity and rice pudding. And, rice pudding is integral to the plot. You can’t stir out the jam!

Jerusalem This play made me think for weeks. Mark Rylance plays a modern-day pied piper living in a trailer at the edge of a forest, giving drugs and booze and a safe haven to disaffected youth. I also saw this during the last week of its run. The entire cast headed back to London to reprise the play there. There are parts of the play that I think are lost on Americans, but it was still something that I’ve thought about and discussed many times since I saw it in August. I still debate whether Rooster was hearing giants or bulldozers at the end.

War Horse I said Neigh! when T first described this play to me. I was wrong. From what I’ve read of the movie, I don’t think that it is at all like the play. I was fascinated not so much by the story of the boy’s devotion to his horse, but the idea of a ‘modern’ war changing how war was waged and how tanks and barbed wire made the cavalry obsolete before the end of the war. The puppets were great, not cheesy as I pictured them beforehand.

Royal Shakespeare Company/Lincoln Center Festival (Romeo & Juliet, As You Like It, Julius Ceaser, The Winter’s Tale) It’s a HUGE committment to see 5 plays in 3 days. I gave my ticket to King Lear to my cousin who gave my husband and I a place to stay for the weekend, and although I would have liked to have seen Lear, I needed a break! I loved every one of the 4 plays that I saw. I don’t think that the RSC has a monopoly on doing Shakespeare, but this ensemble, who has been working together for three years, gave fantastic performances. It’s a toss-up between whether I enjoyed Romeo better than As You Like It, but I don’t have to decide: they were both favorites! I will always remember Jonjo O’Neill as the sexist, most manic Mercutio I’ve ever seen.

More Dance than Theater (if that even makes sense!)

Sleep No More (Finally, something that is still open.) If you’re in NYC, go experience this! Imagine a theatrical dance performed throughout a six-story warehouse, which requires you to walk — no, run! — after the characters as they perform scenes in an order that has no continuity with a plot. You may wander into an apothecary, through a maze, into a graveyard where Macbeth pleads with the stars to hide their fire before a rendezvous in Lady Macbeth’s bedroom, or find yourself at a witches’ rave, or see Macbeth murder Duncan. And then there is the whole other thing happening concurrently: a nod to Hitchcock vibe with a secondary story reminiscent of Rebecca. Part do-it-yourself adventure, part film noir, part dance, part haunted house: all a lot of fun and a memorable experience. This isn’t a “play”, but it is theatre that will immerse all of your senses. I’ve “seen” it twice and would go again if I could. Wear running shoes and contacts instead of glasses; the audience must wear masks.

Who is really the performer if the audience wears a mask?

Septimus and Clarissa Part dance, part play, this was an innovative adaptation of Mrs. Dalloway. Fascinating theatre.

The Post In Which I Reveal That I Am A Geek


There is no winning a Star Trek v Star Wars argument. For me, I will always argue for Star Trek, in its many iterations: classic, TNG, the movies, and the 2009 reboot. It is one of the first television shows I remember watching. (The other was My Three Sons. I cannot explain any correlation between the two.)

When I was in Jr. High, Star Trek reruns were shown nightly at 10:30, following the local evening news. Our parents, and those of the neighbor children, didn’t need to worry that we would not be home by our curfews after long, summer nights running throughout our safe, suburban neighborhood, as we all went home to see Star Trek. The summer between 6th & 7th grade, my sister and I would watch the show and then go to our bedroom, where we would open the window and discuss it with the kids who lived next door, who would climb out on their roof so that they could whisper across the driveway. This was only a few years after Neil Armstrong had walked on the moon and we were excited about space travel and bold new frontiers. We were too naive to realize that Star Trek wasn’t really about far away planets; we knew it was science fiction, but we didn’t realize that was only the setting for bigger cultural issues of the recent 60’s, issues that we were still unaware of and untainted by.

The next school year, I made friends with a girl who was reading a 900-page book on Star Trek. We would pour over it before the first bells of the day and while waiting for the busses in the afternoon. I loved equally Mr. Spock and Lt. Uhura. (I digress: I never would have thought of it, but it makes perfect sense to me in the ’09 reboot that Uhura and Spock are lovers. Kirk was never her type!) And we’d argue whether Chekov or Kirk was cuter. Chekov always won. We began keeping lists of the shows and it took us until the end of the school year to be able to say that we had seen all 79 episodes.

When I was a senior in high school, Star Wars came out. While visiting my older brother who had just moved out to California, we went to see it. We walked into the theatre just as the movie was starting, as the end of the opening crawl was moving towards the vanishing point. We weren’t prepared for the fast fun ride that followed. As the house lights came up at the end of the credits and as we were walking out the exit, my brother mischievously looked at my sister & me. “Shall we do it again?” See what we missed at the start?. We laughed, walked as quickly as we could to the front of the house, and bought tickets to the next show.

I liked Star Wars. It was new, different, and fun, with the hero Han who seemed sort of like an anti-hero until you compared him to the evil Darth, and the hero Luke who was just a kid trying to figure things out, and the heroine Princess Leia who was smart, and pretty, and brave. Even so, I didn’t think that it could compare with the adventures of Kirk, Spock, and crew.

Gene Roddenberry described Star Trek as ‘Wagon Train to the Stars’, a show about adventurers, but also with a moral lesson. When my son began to watch Star Wars movies when he was about 8 or 9, I tried to get him to watch Star Trek.

“They only talk on those shows,” he said. Star Wars is about fighting the bad guys, and then they win and then they have a party and dance.” I had never noticed the celebration motif at the end of each film, but he was right.

Today, on his blog, Roger Ebert posted links to a You Tube debate between William Shatner and Carrie Fisher about which is the better work. As I indicated at the beginning, it is not something that I’m open to debate. It’s comparing apples and oranges or whatever kinds of fruit might exists in galaxies far, far away. I do think that Shatner is wrong when he says that Star Wars is derivative. It is, but not of Star Trek. Star Trek is an adventure, a western, an exploration of human civilization and morals. Star Wars is about people seeking freedom, and about Luke (and his father before him) growing up, and, as such, owes more as a bildungsroman, a coming of age story with more in common with The Hobbit or Huck Finn.

That said, I can laugh at attempts to discredit and spoof both of them. And so, I’ll leave you with the following, a nice homage to both.

>This week’s To-Do List, with pictures


>To Do List:

* Get to airport on time. [Just barely.] a

* Make difficult decisions, such as:

Walk North a

Walk South a

* Take lots of naps.a

* Hug some trees. [metaphorically] a

Palm trees…

Swamp fig on cyprus

Cyprus

* Swim in the sea. a

* See the sun kiss the water. a

* Eat plenty of seafood (Grouper, Flounder, Shrimp, Oysters…) a

* Go to my favorite Audubon Sanctuary, Corkscrew Swamp and observe nature. [alligators, birds, anoles, frogs, plants, spiders, racoons. Heard a bear growl.] a

Red-Shouldered Hawk
Green Tree Frog (hiding)

* Ignore Blackberry. Let others work. a

* Stop and smell the flowers. a
Water Lily

Narrow-leaf sunflowers

Orchid

Alligator Flag Blossom
White vine

* Lie on the beach under the full moon and stare at the stars. a

* Work on personal projects, not work projects a

* Observe two birds I haven’t noticed before [Black Skimmers, Common Yellowthroat] a

* Read. a

* Favorite line of poetry this week:
…from what we cannot hold, the stars are made — WS Merwin Youth

* Take pictures. Relax a

Old trees hold many tales….

>The Fall Will Probably Kill Ya?


>When I was in college, girls in the dorm who liked to put movie star posters on their walls, usually had one of two posters: the forever handsome but dead James Dean looking pretty cool in a motorcycle jacket with a cigarette dangling from his mouth, or a nearly black and white photograph of a very young, handsome Paul Newman, the only color in the poster being his ice-on-fire blue eyes. I was never inclined to put celebrity posters on the wall. No matter how handsome the subjects might have been, I didn’t want photographs of movie stars on my walls. I thought it was uncool, something contrary to the intellectual type that I wanted so much to be. I wasn’t a swooning teen, adoring a photograph of someone I would never meet.

Ten years later I bought my first house. It was an old house — about 75 years — in a very trendy neighborhood. The house wasn’t quiet old enough to be inhabited by ghosts, but certainly old enough to have ‘character’, in real-estate parlance. That character and charm came with dozens of coats of paint, splintered floor boards, a maze of leaking pipes, a large family of mice, a 45 year old furnace the size of a minivan, and 15 beautiful cultivated rose bushes in the yard. And one poster of Paul Newman, his icy aqua blues sexily watching over the washing machine.

Since I was moving in as the previous owners were moving the last of their belongings, I reminded the woman that she had left her poster in the basement. “Blue Eyes?” she said. “It was there when I moved in. Been there for ten years before that according to the last owner. I just never bothered to take it down”.

So I was left with the last thing in the world I would have doled out money for — a celebrity movie star poster. “Must be hiding something on the wall”, I thought, “maybe a Hole in the Wall”. I peaked behind it. Just wallboard, slightly different in color than the surrounding wall. When I took it down the wall looked empty. That corner of the basement seemed mustier, darker, with a few more cobwebs. It was already spooky enough, as the laundry area was adjacent to a room with a dirt floor and an ominous “TS” spray painted on the wall. Maybe there could have been ghosts there. Or the skeletal bones of someone long forgotten. I put the poster back on the wall. I needed sexy blue-eyed Paul to look over me while I washed diapers and bibs.

I remodeled most of the house before I sold it. I had walls cave in after I discovered that, along with the mice, living in the walls was a termite colony. I tore out walls and floors and frayed electrical wires. I retiled the bath. I created a terrific kitchen with lots of light, new appliances and surplus counter space that any chef would give up her best knife for. I rescued the decorative tile around the fireplace, hidden for years under paint. I found glass doorknobs that matched at a flea-market and heating grates at a place that specialized in rescuing architectural gems from soon-to-be demolished old homes. Nearly everything changed — except for the poster of Mr. Newman.

Mr. Blue Eyes guarded my dirty laundry for seven years. Some of those years were difficult ones for me, but seeing the poster over my washing machine frequently made me smile. It became a joke among my friends — Paul watching me wash my lingerie. I didn’t know much about Paul Newman then, other than he was an actor. His food company was only a few years old. I had never tasted his salad dressing, or marinara sauce, or popcorn. When I moved out, I thought about taking the poster with me. But Mr. Blue Eyes seemed to belong there, waiting for someone else’s laundry. I think that presence is what has been missing from all the laundry rooms in the houses I’ve owned since. They have just been utilitarian laundry rooms with detergent, fabric softener, and hangers.

Several months ago one of my book groups read Newman’s memoir Shameless Exploitation in Pursuit of the Common Good, co-authored with his business partner, A. E. Hotchner. Unlike a Hollywood memoir, the book barely mentioned that Paul Newman starred in movies. The title of the book is also the motto of Newman’s Food Company, Newman’s Own, a venture that he started as a joke. Never expecting to make any money, Newman and Hotchner decided at the onset that they would donate their profits to charity. While others might have thought that they were jumping off a cliff like Butch and Sundance, they went into business to have fun and to do some good. And good is what Newman’s company has done by donating over $250 million to charities in the last 25 years.

I didn’t have a poster of a movie star watching over my laundry after all. I had a picture of the kind of person who deserves to be a celebrity not because he was an actor or a race car driver (he was pretty good at that too!) but because he was an humanitarian.

Just for fun, in memory of Paul Newman:

The cliff scene from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid:

Have some Newman’s Own popcorn while you watch the clips.

Next time that you think about doing something to help someone, remember that despite the risks, you probably won’t drown and the fall probably won’t kill ya. Even if it is risky, take the chance, dare to do some good, and have fun.

>Some rambling thoughts on Beowulf


>I went to see Beowulf over the holiday weekend with my son. He indicated that he had read the poem in High School. When it was assigned, he felt that he just couldn’t get into it, and didn’t do the reading. But, he said, as the class discussed it, he realized that it might be an okay story. So, he returned to the book, read the story and liked it. He retained much of it too, because he was able to explain to me what was in the original poem and what had been filled in.

I too remember being assigned Beowulf, though I don’t recall if it was in high school or college — or both. What I do remember is that it was boring and I didn’t put forth any effort to read it. This has put my understanding of Beowulf at a disadvantage.

My initial reactions to the movie was that I didn’t like the animation at all. I read almost nothing about the movie and had no idea that it was motion-capture. I almost immediately balked at this, thinking that I had wasted my money on the cost of the ticket. I found the not quite so lifelike animated figures to be a distraction at first. Why would they hire actors to play roles, only to turn their figures into animation? I thought that the point of advanced technologies was to make animated scenes look life-like. Instead, the movie makes real life look unreal. The actors are an odd cross between drawing and real life. It took me some time into the film to forget about the technique and just watch the film.

I found myself making comments such as whether the idea for the drawing of Grendel came from the Bodies exhibit. I thought Grendel’s mother had been envisioned as a cross between the Oscar statuette and CatWoman. I found it laughable that although Beowulf is naked in the battle with Grendel, there was always something placed strategically to block potentially offending parts of his body. Was this because they were trying to get a lower movie rating? Or because the animators couldn’t agree on how to draw him without pants? After all, Beowulf exaggerated all of his feats; drawing to scale might seem too ordinary for a hero like Beowulf. Draw him too large or out of proportion and risk the focus be on the art of the drawing instead. Or, was it just intended to be funny? If that was the intent, it worked, as B and I, predicting the shots and angles, laughed through this scene, despite its violence.

I did enjoy the movie, however; I thought it was fun to watch the boastful hero tell his stories and to fight his battle victoriously against the monster. The fight scene is tremendous, outdone only by the later battle with the dragon. When you see these things, you realize that animation was the correct approach for the movie. These scenes not only lend themselves to looking like action from a video game, they also are fantastic scenes that seem best in a fantasy-like setting. So animation/motion-capture seems a good choice in this case.

I found myself at the end of the movie wishing that I had read all of the book and that I had remembered it (to say nothing of wishing that I had appreciated it). I dug a copy off the bookshelf this evening and began reading the first few pages. I’m not sure how I could not have found this interesting 30 years ago when I first read it. Now, I’m planning on reading Beowulf again. I may post at another time about the differences between the movie and the book. It will be interesting to read the work and then see the movie again and analyze Neil Gaiman’s screenplay in light of a fresh reading of the text.

>Baby Don’t It Feel Like Heaven Right Now?


>While watching Peter Bogdanovich’s Running Down a Dream about Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers the first time I think, ‘Where on earth was I all those years and how could it be that I didn’t realize what a great band they were?’. But, then after watching this four hour(!) documentary about the Heartbreakers’ 30 years in Rock and Roll, I realized that I knew nearly every song featured in the film, could identify in what phase of my life I was, where I lived, how I made a living, who my friends were. Not once did I think ‘oh yeah, I remember that song’. I didn’t have to recall the songs; I knew them. Maybe they weren’t a soundtrack to many years of my life, but they certainly were there in the background.

Running Down a Dream played one time in several theatres in mid-October. It played where I lived, but I didn’t know about it. I probably wouldn’t have thought much about it and would have questioned who in their right mind except a fanatic would sit through a four hour documentary about a rock band? I never would have gone to see it.

But the other night we were flipping channels and found this film starting on The Sundance Channel. We intended to watch it for only a few minutes. Who would have thought four hours later we were still there at the closing credits. The pacing of this film is such that you don’t notice that four hours have slipped away.

The film has plenty of concert footage, and tells the story of the band from when the struggled, through legal battles with record companies, and band changes. It highlights Petty’s solo career — which was never separated much from The Heartbreakers — and his collaborations with other music greats like the always cool George Harrison, the magnificent Roy Orbison, the iconic Bob Dylan and the one and only Man in Black Johnny Cash. It also is about how the songs were written and what the band was striving to create. If you are a big Tom Petty fan, this might feel like heaven. But, this is not a movie just for Petty fans; it is a film for anyone interested in music, songwriting and artistry.

I hardly ever watch a movie twice, and usually repeat viewings are separated by months or years. This afternoon was the third time this week I’ve watched all or part of this film. It is that good. This afternoon’s viewing is the last that I know is scheduled at this time, but the DVD is for sale at Best Buys. It’s worth seeing. At the time I’m posting this, it’s not too late to catch the last hour of this terrific film.

Oh baby don’t it feel like heaven right now
Don’t it feel like somethin from a dream
Yeah I’ve never known nothing quite like this
Don’t it feel like tonight might never be again
We know better than to try and pretend
Baby no one could have ever told me ’bout this
~The Waiting Tom Petty

Edit: Here is a link to an interview with Bogdanovich (with IFC.com) on the making of this movie. I find it interesting that he didn’t know much about Petty and was not a fan when he agreed to make the movie.