Sunday, August 31, 2008

My Little Wunderkammer

Cabinets of curiosities (also known as Wunderkammer, Cabinets of Wonder, or wonder-rooms) were encyclopedic collections of types of objects whose categorical boundaries were, in Renaissance Europe, yet to be defined. Modern science would categorize the objects included as belonging to natural history (sometimes faked), geology, ethnography, archaeology, religious or historical relics, works of art (including cabinet paintings) and antiquities. "The Kunstkammer was regarded as a microcosm or theater of the world, and a memory theater. The Kunstkammer conveyed symbolically the patron's control of the world through its indoor, microscopic reproduction." Of Charles I of England's collection, Peter Thomas has succinctly stated, "The Kunstkabinett itself was a form of propaganda" Besides the most famous, best documented cabinets of rulers and aristocrats, members of the merchant class and early practitioners of science in Europe, formed collections that were precursors to museums.

The term cabinet originally described a room rather than a piece of furniture. The first of the cabinets of curiosities were assembled in the mid-sixteenth century. The Kunstkammer of Rudolf II, Holy Roman Emperor (ruled 1576-1612), housed in the Hradschin at Prague was unrivalled north of the Alps; it provided a solace and retreat for contemplation that also served to demonstrate his imperial magnificence and power in symbolic arrangement of their display, ceremoniously presented to visiting diplomats and magnates.

The earliest pictorial record of a natural history cabinet is the engraving in Ferrante Imperato's Dell'Historia Naturale (Naples 1599) (illustration, left). It serves to authenticate its author's credibility as a source of natural history information, in showing his open bookcases at the right, in which many volumes are stored lying down and stacked, in the medieval fashion, or with their spines upward, to protect the pages from dust. Some of the volumes doubtless represent his herbarium. Every surface of the vaulted ceiling is occupied with preserved fishes, stuffed mammals and curious shells, with a stuffed crocodile suspended in the centre. Examples of corals stand on the bookcases. At the left, the room is fitted out like a studiolo with a range of built-in cabinets whose fronts can be unlocked and let down to reveal intricately fitted nests of pigeonholes forming architectural units, filled with small mineral specimens. Above them, stuffed birds stand against panels inlaid with square polished stone samples, doubtless marbles and jaspers or fitted with pigeonhole compartments for specimens. Below them, a range of cupboards contain specimen boxes and covered jars.

Friday, August 29, 2008

I Only Have BIG Eyes For You

Margaret Keane (born 1927) is an American artist. She is an illustrator and painter, and mainly draws women and children in oil or mixed media. Her works are instantly recognizable (although often imitated) from the doe-eyed children that are depicted in the drawings.

Margaret D. H. Keane was born 1927 in Tennessee, a state in the Bible Belt. Margaret herself attributes her deep respect for the Bible and inspirations of her artwork to the relationship with her grandmother. She eventually became one of Jehovah's Witnesses, which she said changed her life most definitely for the better.

In the 1960s, Margaret Keane's artwork was sold under the name of her husband of the time, Walter Keane, her second husband. Many reasons might be put forward to explain this, but it was also one of the reasons they divorced. Not wanting to relinquish the rights to the artwork, Walter and Margaret's divorce proceeding went all the way to Federal court. At the hearing, Margaret painted in front of the judge to prove her point. Walter declined to paint before the court, citing a sore shoulder. In 1965, the courts sided with her, enabling her to paint under her own name.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Doctor Will See You Now: Dr. Benway

From Everything2:
Had it not been for Donald Fagen and Walter Becker's borrowing of the name 'Steely Dan', Dr. Benway would unquestionably have been the most famous of William S. Burroughs' ghastly characters.

Benway made his first appearance in Naked Lunch, but he cropped up in many of Burroughs' works. He is a man of science - a surgeon by trade, but not a good one, by hippocratic standards. His real talent seems to lie in the area of behavioral psychology. He applies his medical knowledge as an instrument of the state, which seems to be interchangeable in Burroughs' vision with society.

Benway is a complex character - at once a pitiful quack, an evil genius, a tool, and a cruel mastermind. He is the perpetrator of unspeakable horrors, but his personna is somehow humorous, too.

As a scientist, Dr. Benway is keenly interested in technology, and Burroughs often uses him to expound on technology's implications for the individual, as mediated by society and the state.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Dark Roasted Weirdsville

If you like your cities big - REALLY big - then head over to Dark Roasted Blend to read about the acrologies of Paolo Soleri:
Whatever happened to the future? It's still around, of course, mostly in Europe and Japan, but over the years the Fantastic World of Tomorrow's gotten ... cheaper, simpler, and -- most tragically of all -- the future's gotten too damned small.

Luckily there are a few visionaries left who aren't frightened of a future that doesn't fit in your pocket, a tomorrow with a vast scope, a monstrously dramatic scale, a time of awe-inspiring dimensions: they've dared to look over the horizon and visualize a truly big tomorrow.

One of those more special of special minds, someone who's imagined a future world that’s big on almost a geologic scale, is Paolo Soleri.

Born in Italy in 1919, Soleri studied with Frank Lloyd Wright (you might have heard of him) before setting up his own architecture studio in Arizona. It was in Scottsdale that Soleri began to dream big. Very, very, very big.

Soleri created the concept of an "arcology," a combo of architecture and ecology. The idea is pretty uncomplicated, though what Soleri did with his concept is wonderfully elaborate: cities have traditionally been urban slime mold, grinding away at the planet as they’ve crawled across the landscape. So why not create cities with as many people as possible in a small as possible footprint? And not only that but why not also make these super cities magnificently, tremendously, elegantly … beautiful?

One of my treasured belongings as a kid was a copy of Soleri’s Arcology: The City in the Image of Man. I would spend hours carefully turning page after page, mesmerized by Soleri’s majestic future, imagining myself strolling under immense vaults, along astounding spans, gazing up at soaring rises, down into artificial canyons of homes, stores, schools, businesses, living in a city the size of … well, big.

Really, really friggin’ big.

Just look at his design for Babel (IID, if you want to be specific): an immense flared cylinder of apartments sitting in a saucer-shaped base of commercial and civil spaces, with some parks, of course. Total population? 550,000. That’s Seattle. That’s Portland. All in one structure -- a structure that’s 1,900 meters high and 3,000 meters at its widest.

Okay, okay, you ignorant Americans: that’s more than a mile high and almost two miles wide. Want even more perspective? If you look at one of Soleri’s fantastic plans you’ll often see a strange little symbol to one side, an icon to give you an idea of the scale of his designs: an icon that represents the Empire State Building.

Then there’s Hexadredon, an incredible geometric mountain rising on three immense supports. Home to more than 170,000, it would rise half a mile into the sky and stretch about that same distance across the landscape. Like all of Soleri’s designs, it looks more like a cathedral carved from a mountain than what you might envision for a single vast building; as much art as architecture, as much sculpture as a structure for living.

Soleri’s designs are not limited to the dull flatness of the plains. Some of them, like the poetic Stonebow that bridges a canyon with its 200,000 population, the dam city of Arcodiga, or Arcbeam whose mere 65,000 inhabitants live on the side of a cliff, show his amazing ability to visualize a future not only of incredible size but also to work with any location.

Even the ocean: Novanoah’s 400,000 people live, work, and play in a city floating at sea. Even space: Asteromo’s 70,000 people live, work, and play in near-earth orbit.

But what’s even more amazing than Soleri’s designs and grander-than-grand visions is that out in the cactus and scorpion wilds of Arizona he and his students are building one: Arcosanti.

Originally planned to house a grander number, the new target for this test-bed arcology is about 5,000 residents, mostly students and artists. Right now it’s home to only about 120 -- with roughly 50,000 tourists stopping by every year to see how things are going.

Sure arcosanti might be a tad on the small side, and, yes, it’s not exactly been blossoming into reality at a rapid pace, but it’s there nonetheless: a beautifully arched and vaulted beginning to what could be a staggeringly beautiful, and breathtakingly immense, future.

Say what you want about the realism of Soleri’s visions but you have to always give him and his student this: in a world where the future is small and cheap they are looking toward tomorrow with big dreams: big, hopeful, dreams.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Fastest Thing on Reels: Vanishing Point

Vanishing Point on the IMDB:
Super Soul: And there goes the Challenger, being chased by the blue, blue meanies on wheels. The vicious traffic squad cars are after our lone driver, the last American hero, the electric centaur, the, the demi-god, the super driver of the golden west! Two nasty Nazi cars are close behind the beautiful lone driver. The police numbers are gettin' closer, closer, closer to our soul hero, in his soul mobile, yeah baby! They about to strike. They gonna get him. Smash him. Rape... the last beautiful free soul on this planet.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Mysterious Fall of the Nacirema

Various sociologists have used the term Nacirema to examine (with a degree/pretense of anthropological self-distancing) aspects of the behavior and society of American people — citizens of North America Countries North America. Nacirema offers a form of word play by spelling "American" backwards.

The original use of the term was in Body Ritual Among the Nacirema, which satirizes anthropological papers on "other" cultures, and the Northern American Culture. Horace Miner wrote the paper and originally published it in the June 1956 edition of American Anthropologist.

In the paper, Miner describes the Nacirema, a little-known tribe living in North America. The way in which he writes about the curious practices that this group performs distances readers from the fact that the North American group described actually corresponds to modern-day Americans of the mid-1950s. The article sometimes serves as a demonstration of a gestalt shift with relation to sociology. Miner presents the Nacirema as a group living in the territory between the Canadian Cree, the Yaqui and Tarahumare of Mexico, and the Carib and Arawak of the Antilles. The paper describes the typical Western ideal for oral cleanliness, as well as providing an outside view on hospital-care and on psychiatry.

Miner's article became a popular work, reprinted in many introductory anthropology and sociology textbooks. It is also given as an example of process analysis in The Bedford Reader, a literature textbook. The article itself received the most reprint permission requests of any article in American Anthropologist, but has become part of the public domain.

Some of the popular aspects of Nacirema culture include: Medicine men and women (doctors, psychiatrists, and pharmacists), a shrine box (medicine cabinet), the mouth-rite ritual (brushing teeth), and a cultural hero known as Notgnihsaw (Washington spelled backwards).

Though generally viewed to be on the west coast, there are several places given the name of Nacirema, including certain streets and very old neighborhoods on the east coast.

In 1972 Neil B. Thompson revisited the Nacirema after the fall of their civilization. Thompson's paper, unlike Miner's, primarily offered a social commentary focused on environmental issues. Thompson paid special attention to the Elibomotua Cult and their efforts to modify the environment.

The high esteem of the cult is demonstrated by the fact that near every population center, when not disturbed by the accumulation of debris, archeologists have found large and orderly collections of the Elibomotua Cult symbol. The vast number of these collections has given us the opportunity to reconstruct with considerable confidence the principal ideas of the cult. The newest symbols seem to have nearly approached the ultimate of the Nacirema's cultural ideal. Their colors, material, and size suggest an enclosed mobile device that corresponds to no color or shape found in nature, although some authorities suggest that, at some early time in the development, the egg may have been the model. The device was provided with its own climate control system as well as a system that screened out many of the shorter rays of the light spectrum.

The above refers to an automobile.

This article is reprinted and appears as the final chapter in an anthology called Nacirema: Readings on American Culture. The volume contains an array of scholarly investigations into American social anthropology as well as one more article in the "Nacirema" series: "The Retention of Folk Linguistic Concepts and the TI'YCIR (pronounced: teacher) Caste in Contemporary Nacireman Culture." This article laments the corrosive and subjugating ritual of attending sguwlz. On grammar, the anthropologist notes:

The vowel system of Secular Nacireman consists of nine phonemically distinct vowels distinguished on the basis of three degrees of tongue height and three degrees of tongue advancement.... There can be no question as to the validity of these nine vocalic phonemes, for each is attested by a number of minimal pairs elicited independently from several informants. Curiously enough, however, most informants insist that only five vowels exist in the language: these are called ?ey, ?iy, ?ay, ?ow, and yuw, and are invariably cited in precisely that order.... The discovery of the widespread myth of the five-vowel system prompted the present writer to conduct a series of intensive interviews and administer questionaires to a sample of Nacireman informants with a view to mapping the general outlines of Nacireman folk linguistics. This research strategy ultimately provided compelling evidence that it is the ti'yˆcir caste that has disseminated the notion of the five-vowel system.

Friday, August 22, 2008

So Who Cleaned The Bathroom?

An akaname ("mud licker") is a yōkai, or Japanese monster, that looks like a frog-like human with wild hair, a long tongue and feet that end in a single clawed toe. It can be found in bathrooms by toilets and bathtubs. It usually enters at night when no one is around to bother it and uses its tongue to lick the bathroom surfaces clean. Despite its grotesque appearance, an akaname does not pose any threat.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

One of Our Favortite Heroes: Tom Servo

Tom Servo is a fictional character from the American science fiction comedy television show Mystery Science Theater 3000 (MST3K). Tom is one of two wise-cracking, robotic main characters of the show, built by Joel Robinson to act as a companion and help stave off space madness as Joel was forced to watch low-quality films. (Ironically, Servo, along with the other bots, is actually made of the parts that would have otherwise allowed Joel to control the film.) At least during the Comedy Central era, he was somewhat more mature and cynical than his companion Crow T. Robot. Servo, more often than the others, signals the need to exit the theater to perform host segments, as he has to be carried in and out of the theater; an air grate near the entrance limits his ability to hover. Initially performed by J. Elvis Weinstein, Kevin Murphy took over puppetry and voice duties for Servo beginning with the second nationally-broadcast season. In the current online cartoon series, the voice of Tom Servo is provided by James Moore.
Tom on the IMDB
Tom Servo: So... so I told Gary that I was going on this vacation so he goes "well then I'm going hunting with Jeff next weekend." well that's when we were at Knives and then Lou sang 'Fernando' and then Gary oh he sings so good oh you should meet Jeff some time do you like Barry Manilow songs I know the farmers need rain but when it's damp like this my hair just explodes just ex-PAH-LO-des ooh ooh feeling kinda gassy McNuggets you know they make me so gassy all that grease and all it really helps if you drink eight-ten glasses of water a day did you know that sometimes I drink five sometimes I drink nine just to make up for the other three I didn't drink coffee and diet drinks don't count either you know this is pretty country isn't it you know it's really kind of a blessing in disguise that I didn't get accepted to college you know I'm going to have to revise my twenty-year plan but did I tell you about my 20-year plan okay well okay listen here in year one this is the year when I'm going to take off those extra seven pounds you know that's equal to seven pounds of butter haha so it's like I'm wearing seven pounds of butter ha and well uh oh where was I oh oh yeah so my aunt and uncle here they did celebrate their twentieth anniversary and my uncle wanted to sing 'Sunset Sunrise' and he wanted *me* to sing it and I haven't sung that since Cindy's wedding and well she never thanked me for that... well she's really busy and all.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Fastest Thing on Reels: Bullitt

Bullitt on the IMDB
  • Two Mustangs and two Dodge Chargers were used for the famous chase scene. Both Mustangs were owned by the Ford Motor Company and part of a promotional loan agreement with Warner Brothers. The cars were modified for the high-speed chase by veteran auto racer Max Balchowsky. Stunt coordinator Carey Loftin got Bud Ekins to drive the Mustang for the bulk of the stunts. Both of the Dodges were junked after the filming, as was one of the Mustangs. The other less banged-up Mustang was purchased by a WB employee after all production and post-production was completed. The car ended up in New Jersey a few years later, where Steve McQueen attempted to buy it. The owner refused to sell, and the car now sits in a barn and has not been driven in many years.

  • Bud Ekins who drives the Mustang also did the motorcycle jump for Steve McQueen in The Great Escape (1963).

  • The chase sequence takes place over a number of non-contiguous streets in and south of San Francisco. The sequence apparently starts under Highway 101 in the Mission District. When the Charger does a U-turn on what is Precita Avenue to follow the Mustang, a storage tank on Potrero Hill, in the southeast part of SF, is visible in the distance. The next few scenes are in the Bernal and Potrero areas; you can see green hills to the southwest on the horizon in one shot. Twenty-one seconds later, Coit Tower appears in the Mustang's front window to the east (as can be ascertained by the buildings' shadows). They then come to a stop for a Cable Car on Hyde Street and Filbert. The twin towers of Sts. Peter and Paul Church are visible just to the right of Coit Tower. They turn hard left next onto a four-lane street with a concrete median, what might be Columbus. A F-type street car is seen coming the opposite direction. They top a rise and Angel Island comes into view slightly on the left, placing them on about Stockton and Chestnut. They turn north, then west, then south uphill. In the next cut, they are coming downhill, north towards the Bay. They turn west and the next few scenes are inter-cut, reused footage of the same street sequence, as shown by repeated presence of the same Cadillac and a Green Volkswagen Beetle. They drive downhill or north, towards the Bay, and turn west in front of the same Caddy, several blocks north of Van Ness. They turn left or south, going uphill. They then are headed north and turn from Larkin St. onto Francisco St. headed west. In the next scene the Dodge is going north, rounding Laguna onto Marina, having leaped six blocks. They turn from Laguna St., in front of Ft. Mason, onto Marina and in front of the Safeway. (The bottom of the store's name can be seen as the Dodge veers onto Marina.) They accelerate down Marina with the Marina Green and the Bay visible in the background. In the next cut, Ft. Mason is again visible in the background as they once again round the turn on Marina onto the Marina green. With the next cut they turn in front of the Safeway again. The next cut puts them eight miles away, back in the Vistacion Valley district, turning right from University St. on to Mansell St. From there they cut to the San Bruno Mountains three miles away, heading west. After spinning out in the dirt shoulder, both cars are now headed east, evidenced by the shadows, before the Charger crashes.
  • The director called for speeds of about 75-80 mph, but the cars (including the ones containing the cameras) reached speeds of over 110 mph. Filming of the chase scene took three weeks, resulting in 9 minutes and 42 seconds of footage. They were denied permission to film on the Golden Gate Bridge.

  • The Mustang's interior mirror goes up and down depending who is driving it - Steve McQueen (up, visible) or Bud Ekins (down, not visible).

  • Bullitt's reverse burnout during the chase scene actually wasn't in the script - Steve McQueen had mistakenly missed the turn. The footage was still kept, though.

  • Initially the car chase was supposed to be scored, but Lalo Schifrin suggested that no music be added to that sequence, pointing out that the soundtrack was powerful enough as it was.

  • According to Peter Yates, Steve McQueen made a point to keep his head near the open car window during the famous chase scene so that audiences would be reassured that it was he, not a stunt man, who was driving,

  • Peter Yates hired a local trucking company for some background shots (most notably the scene where the Dodge Charger crashes into the gas station), but sent back the initial truck because it was red. He didn't want any red vehicles in the movie because it would detract from the blood. A blue truck was dispatched in its place.

  • The film's famous chase scene wasn't originally in the script. In the first draft of "Bullitt", adapted from Robert L. Pike's novel "Mute Witness", Det. Frank Bullitt was a Boston policeman who ate a lot of ice cream and never solved a case. The book had originally been bought with Spencer Tracy in mind; but with Tracy's death, the property fell into the hands of Steve McQueen and Producer Philip D'Antoni. D'Antoni added the chase and changed the location to San Francisco.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Its origin and purpose are still a total mystery


Seattle's newest anonymous art -- a 9-foot-tall smooth steel block planted atop Kite Hill in Magnuson Park -- has disappeared just as mysteriously as it appeared on New Year's Eve.

The disappearance was discovered Wednesday morning. Park officials said they have no idea how or when it disappeared. All that's left in its place is a large rectangular indentation, some candle wax and flowers.

In the movie "2001: A Space Odyssey," the appearance of a black monolith caused or portended radical shifts in human evolution, from the ape-to-man jump at the film's outset to the human-to-star-child transformation at the end.

So what should local humans make of Seattle's smooth steel block?

Kelly Davis, 34, of Seattle went to the park as soon as she heard about it. Familiar with the movie, she hoped it would make society "wake up and think." Personally, she hoped her sunset contact with the mystery box would make her a "fearless, loving, human being."

"I'm star-struck by it," she said.

John Cuyle, a 21-year-old programmer who walked to the base of the block with a few co-workers, said he was impressed with the unknown artist's attention to detail. The smooth welds. The lack of obvious construction marks. The sunrise-to-sunset orientation of its narrow sides.

Cuyle noted that its dusk shadow shows that the monolith is a few degrees off perfection, but he allowed that someone put considerable thought into the tower.

"You don't just drop a large metal monolith in a park without some planning," he said. His co-workers said they hoped it stayed.

Seattle's monolith isn't the nation's only new arrival, said George DeMet, a 24-year-old high-tech entrepreneur and founder of one of the nation's oldest Web sites devoted to the Arthur C. Clarke novel and 1968 Stanley Kubrick film. Just a few days ago, the Northwestern graduate received an e-mail from one of his site's regular visitors, a man who "found" a monolith in his yard.

In the photo posted on the Web, it does look like a slimmed-down, snowbound version of Seattle's newly popular pillar.

"Maybe it isn't the work of humans after all," DeMet joked ominously, noting that 2001 devotees differ on whether the monolith is a force of good or malevolence. "What the monolith is and what it means is never fully explained in the film."

City Parks Superintendent Ken Bounds said he heard about the structure on the morning after it arrived. He doesn't know where it came from, or exactly why it is there. But he has a good idea where it is going.

"I'm impressed," he said, before it disappeared. "I think it is fun, and a lot of people want to see it. But it isn't what we want to encourage."

In Clarke's most recent novel, "3001: The Final Odyssey," the monolith is destroyed. Bounds said he won't wait that long.

"We'll keep it up there for a while, and then, I hope, the owner will step forward and take it down. We're not going to leave it up forever."


Dr. Floyd: [prerecorded message speaking through TV on board Discovery while Bowman looks on] Good day, gentlemen. This is a prerecorded briefing made prior to your departure and which for security reasons of the highest importance has been known on board during the mission only by your H-A-L 9000 computer. Now that you are in Jupiter's space and the entire crew is revived it can be told to you. Eighteen months ago the first evidence of intelligent life off the Earth was discovered. It was buried 40 feet below the lunar surface near the crater Tycho. Except for a single very powerful radio emission aimed at Jupiter the four-million year old black monolith has remained completely inert. Its origin and purpose are still a total mystery.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Bucky Fuller's Old Man River Project

The Old Man River's City project was an architectural design created by Buckminster Fuller in 197. Fuller was asked to design the structure from the city of East St. Louis. Old Man's River City would have been a truly massive housing project for the city's 70,000 residents. The total capacity of the building, a circular multi-terraced dome, would be 125,000 occupants. Each family would have approximately 2,500 square feet (230 m²) of living space.
"I originally came to East St. Louis to discuss the design and possible realization of the Old Man River's City, having been asked to do so by East St. Louis community leaders themselves... It is moon-crater-shaped: the crater's truncated cone top opening is a half-mile in diameter, rim-to-rim, while the truncated mountain itself is a mile in diameter at its base ring. The city has a one-mile (1.6 km)-diameter geodesic, quarter-sphere transparent umbrella mounted high above it to permit full, all-around viewing below the umbrella's bottom perimeter. The top of the dome roof is 1,000 feet (300 m) high. The bottom rim of the umbrella dome is 500 feet (150 m) above the surrounding terrain, while the crater-top esplanade, looks 250 feet (76 m) radially inward from the umbrella's bottom, is at the same 500-foot (150 m) height. From the esplanade the truncated mountain cone slopes downwardly, inward and outward, to ground level 500 feet (150 m) below.

"The moon crater's inward and outward, exterior-surface slopes each consist of fifty terraces - the terrace floors are tiered vertically ten feet above or below one another. All the inwardly, downwardly sloping sides of the moon crater's terraced cone are used for communal life; its outward-sloping, tree-planted terraces are entirely for private life dwelling."

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Cinemagic Genius of Karel Zeman


Karel Zeman (November 3, 1910, Ostroměř near Nová Paka, then Austria-Hungary - April 5, 1989, Prague, then Czechoslovakia) was a Czech animator and filmmaker. He is considered the co-founder of the Czech animated film.

He started to be interested in puppet theatre while studying at business school. Soon after, he decided to study at the Art School of Advertising in France, and after graduating he took a job with an advertising studio in Marseilles. His first experience with animated film was making an ad for soup. When he returned home he continued working in advertising, now for big Czech firms Baťa and Tatra. Zeman showed a sample of his work to the filmmaker Elmar Klos, and was offered a job at the animation studio in Zlín. He accepted the job in 1943. Once there, he met animator Hermína Týrlová, who had just finished animating the all-time children’s favorite Ferda Mravenec (Ferda the Ant, based on a story by Ondřej Sekora). Together, Zeman and Týrlova made the animated film Vánoční sen (Christmas Dream) and won the award for Best Animation at the 1946 festival in Cannes. Zeman was well on his way to becoming a world-renowned animator.

The first project Zeman did on his own was a popular series of short films about a character named "Mr. Prokouk." These humorous stories revolved around the problems of everyday life: Mr. Prokouk at the Office, Mr. Prokouk the Inventor, and so on. Zeman’s first longer film was Král Lávra (King Lavra, based on a poem by Karel Havlíček Borovský), which earned him a National Award in 1950. In 1955 Zeman made his first film combining live actors, animation, and special effects, Cesta do pravěku (Journey to Prehistory), a work that stunned the world. Four years later, he released his masterpiece Vynález zkázy (The Fabulous World of Jules Verne), opening a new world of possibilities that he explored in his other adaptations of Jules Verne novels — Ukradená vzducholoď (Stolen Airship) and Na kometě (Off on the Comet) - and classic stories such as Baron Prášil (Baron Munchhausen), Bláznova kronika (The Jester’s Tale), and many more. Zeman used sets painted in the style of Victorian illustrations (mainly engravings by Gustave Doré), and then had live actors wandering through animated settings. The great success of these science fiction and fantasy features is a tribute to Zeman’s sense of humor and storytelling abilities, as well as his technique and originality. Though most of Zeman’s films are meant for children, they possess a sophisticated wit and visual style that enchants adults as well.

His most unusual film remains the short Inspiration (1949). Here Zeman employed an astonishing technique, using series of glass figurines to produce remarkably smooth animation with an exquisite sense of timing, movement, and narrative structure.

Another of Zeman’s feature-length animated films, Pohádky tisíce a jedné noci (Tales of One Thousand and One Nights), consists of seven short stories about [[Sinbad the Sailor]]. Later, in Krabat, čarodějův učeň (Krabat - The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, 1975), and the fairy tale Pohádka o Honzíkovi a Mařence (1980; International: The Tale of John and Marie, German: Das Märchen von Hans und Marie), he returned to classical forms of animation.

Karel Zeman on the IMDB

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Fastest Thing on Reels: The Road Warrior

The Road Warrior on the IMDB

Narrator: My life fades. The vision dims. All that remains are memories. I remember a time of chaos. Ruined dreams. This wasted land. But most of all, I remember The Road Warrior. The man we called "Max". To understand who he was, you have to go back to another time. When the world was powered by the black fuel. And the desert sprouted great cities of pipe and steel. Gone now, swept away. For reasons long forgotten, two mighty warrior tribes went to war and touched off a blaze which engulfed them all. Without fuel, they were nothing. They built a house of straw. The thundering machines sputtered and stopped. Their leaders talked and talked and talked. But nothing could stem the avalanche. Their world crumbled. The cities exploded. A whirlwind of looting, a firestorm of fear. Men began to feed on men. On the roads it was a white line nightmare. Only those mobile enough to scavenge, brutal enough to pillage would survive. The gangs took over the highways, ready to wage war for a tank of juice. And in this maelstrom of decay, ordinary men were battered and smashed. Men like Max. The warrior Max. In the roar of an engine, he lost everything. And became a shell of a man, a burnt out, desolate man, a man haunted by the demons of his past, a man who wandered out into the wasteland. And it was here, in this blighted place, that he learned to live again...

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Doctor Will See You Now: Dr. Sax

Doctor Sax (Doctor Sax: Faust Part Three) is a novel by Jack Kerouac published in 1959. Kerouac wrote it in 1952 while living with William S. Burroughs in Mexico City.

The novel begins with Jackie Duluoz, based on Kerouac himself, relating a dream in which he finds himself in Lowell, Massachusetts, his childhood hometown. Prompted by this dream, he recollects the story of his childhood of warm browns and sepia tones, along with his shrouded childhood fantasies, which have become inextricable from the memories.

The fantasies pertain to a castle in Lowell atop a muted green hill that Jackie calls Snake Hill. Underneath the misty grey castle, the Great World Snake sleeps. Various vampires, monsters, gnomes, werewolves, and dark magicians from all over the world gather to the mansion with the intention of awakening the Snake so that it will devour the entire world (although a small minority of them, derisively called "Dovists," believe that the Snake is merely "a husk of doves," and when it awakens it will burst open, releasing thousands of lace white doves).

The eponymous Doctor Sax, also part of Jackie's fantasy world, is a dark, but ultimately friendly, figure with a shroud black cape, a inky black slouch hat, a haunting laugh, and a "disease of the night" called Visagus Nightsoil that causes his skin to turn mossy green at night. Sax, who also came to Lowell because of the Great World Snake, lives in the forest near the town, where he conducts various alchemical experiments, attempting to concoct a potion to destroy the Snake when it awakens.

When the Snake is finally awakened, Doctor Sax uses his potion on the Snake, but the potion fails to do any damage. Sax, defeated, discards his shawdowy black costume and watches the events unfold as an ordinary man. As the Snake prepares to destroy the world, all seems lost until an enormous night colored bird, an ancient counterpart of the Snake, suddenly appears. Seizing the Snake in its beak, the bird flies upward into the heartbreakingly blue sky until it vanishes from view, leading the amazed Sax to muse, "I'll be damned, the universe disposes of its own evil!"

Friday, August 8, 2008

Books You Haven't Read But Should: Philip K. Dick's Eye in The Sky

From Philip K. Dick
As a book that proved Philip K. Dick's talents as a novelist, Eye In The Sky conveys the best elements of his style in an engrossing and psychologically twisted story.

After an accident lands Jack Hamilton, his wife and six other tourists on top of a radiation charged particle accelerator, the group begins a journey through their own separate minds and realities. Being trapped in the worlds of a crackpot racist and a self-absorbed socialite is just the beginning of this other-worldly journey. While there are many familiar elements to Hamilton and crew, in these worlds anything can and does happen. Just when they think they understand their predicament, the group is placed in a more confounding situation. The dark realities these characters must face are filled with ironies.

Stereotypes become reality and deep-rooted perceptions create nightmarish situations for the eight person group. Eye In The Sky is filled with many classic Dickian situations and themes. There is an encounter with God at the center of the universe, a house that devours people to survive and a world where people are showered with locusts for telling a lie.

Dick craftsfully leaves the reader vulnerable by altering the laws of time, physics and ultimately perception. The characters in Eye In The Sky are distinctive. While they all appear very normal on the surface, dark secrets lurk in the recesses of their minds.

Eye In The Sky is a perfect example of Dick's brand of speculative fiction. It questions the stability of people's belief system and shatters the trust placed in human senses. Philip K. Dick has created a masterpiece in Eye In The Sky. This novel should not be overlooked as one his important works.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

One of Our Favorite Heroes: Mario Savio

Mario Savio (December 8, 1942November 6, 1996) was an American political activist and a key member in the Berkeley Free Speech Movement. He is most famous for his passionate speeches, especially his "place your bodies upon the gears" address given at Sproul Hall, University of California, Berkeley on December 2, 1964.

During the summer of 1964 he joined the Freedom Summer projects in Mississippi and was involved in helping African Americans register to vote. He also taught at a freedom school for black children in McComb, Mississippi. In July, Savio, another white civil rights activist and a black acquaintance were walking down a road in Jackson and were attacked by two men. They attempted to press charges but the case went nowhere until President Lyndon Johnson, who had only recently passed the Civil Rights Act, urged the FBI look into it as a civil rights violation. Eventually one of the attackers was found, but was only fined $50 and charged with misdemeanor assault.

When Savio returned to Berkeley after his time in Mississippi, he was intent on raising money for SNCC, but found that the university had banned all political activity and all fund-raising. He told Karlyn Barker in 1964 that it was a question as to whose side you are on. ‘Are we on the side of the civil rights movement? Or have we gotten back to the comfort and security of Berkeley, California, and can we forget the sharecroppers whom we worked with just a few weeks back? Well we couldn’t forget.’ Savio’s part in the protest on the Berkeley campus started when on October 1, 1964, former student Jack Weinberg was manning a table for CORE. The University police had just put him in the police car when someone from the surrounding crowd yelled ‘sit down.’ Savio, along with others during the 32-hour sit-in, took off his shoes and climbed on top of the car and spoke with words that roused the crowd into frenzy. The last time he climbed on the police car was to tell the crowd of a short-term understanding that had been met with UC President Clark Kerr. Savio said to the crowd, "I ask you to rise quietly and with dignity, and go home", and the crowd did exactly what he said. After this Savio became the prominent leader of the newly formed Free Speech Movement. Negotiations failed to change the situation; therefore direct action began in Sproul Hall on December 2. There, Savio gave his most famous speech, on the "operation of the machine", in front of 4,000 people. He and 800 others were arrested that day. In 1967 he was sentenced to 120 days at Santa Rita Jail. He told reporters that ‘[he] would do it again.’

“There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can't take part, you can’t even passively take part, and you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop! And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all!”

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Monday, August 4, 2008

The Hartlepool Monkey

From This Is Hartlepool:
The monkey-hanging legend is the most famous story connected with Hartlepool. During the Napoleonic Wars a French ship was wrecked off the Hartlepool coast.

During the Napoleonic Wars there was a fear of a French invasion of Britain and much public concern about the possibility of French infiltrators and spies.

The fishermen of Hartlepool fearing an invasion kept a close watch on the French vessel as it struggled against the storm but when the vessel was severely battered and sunk they turned their attention to the wreckage washed ashore. Among the wreckage lay one wet and sorrowful looking survivor, the ship's pet monkey dressed to amuse in a military style uniform.

The fishermen apparently questioned the monkey and held a beach-based trial. Unfamiliar with what a Frenchman looked like they came to the conclusion that this monkey was a French spy and should be sentenced to death. The unfortunate creature was to die by hanging, with the mast of a fishing boat (a coble) providing a convenient gallows.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

"The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" is a poem and song by Gil Scott-Heron. It was Scott-Heron's first single.

The poem is notable for its extensive political and cultural references, many of which may be unknown today. The list below links to some of the references Scott-Heron makes.


Friday, August 1, 2008

What Do You Know: It DOES Grow On Trees ....


The spaghetti tree is a fictitious tree and the subject of a 3-minute spoof report on the Swiss spaghetti harvest beside Lake Lugano broadcast by the BBC current affairs programme Panorama.

The report was first produced as an April Fools' Day joke in 1957, reporting on the bumper spaghetti harvest in Switzerland, resulting from the mild winter and "virtual disappearance of the spaghetti weevil." Footage of the traditional "Harvest Festival" was aired as well as discussion of the breeding necessary for the development of a strain that produced the perfect length.

The report was given additional plausibility by the voiceover by respected broadcaster Richard Dimbleby. Pasta was not an everyday food in 1950s Britain, and was known mainly from tinned spaghetti in tomato sauce. It was considered by many to be an exotic delicacy. Parts of the documentary were filmed at the (now closed) Pasta Foods factory on London Road, St Albans in Hertfordshire, and other parts at a hotel in Castiglione, Switzerland.

Panorama cameraman Charles de Jaeger dreamed up the report after remembering how teachers at his school in Austria used to tease his classmates for being so stupid that they would believe it if they were told spaghetti grew on trees.

An estimated 8 million people watched the programme on April 1, and hundreds phoned in the following day to question the authenticity of the story, or ask for more information about spaghetti cultivation and how they could grow their own spaghetti trees. The BBC reportedly told them to "place a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce and hope for the best".

At the time of the broadcast there were 7 million homes in Britain with television sets, out of a total of 15.8 million homes.

In the obituary for de Jaeger, who died in London on 19 May 2000, which was published in The Independent Newspaper, Ian Jacob the then Director-General of the BBC is quoted as having said to Leonard Miall, Head of Television Talks 1954-61:

"When I saw that item, I said to my wife, 'I don't think spaghetti grows on trees', so we'd looked it up in Encyclopædia Britannica. Do you know, Miall, Encyclopædia Britannica doesn't even mention spaghetti."