Sign of Spring

Workers hosed out the remaining ice yesterday, and today the rink at Milwaukee’s Red Arrow Park looks like its summer self. It still feels like winter, even if sunny and mid-March mild, but here is a hint of warmer days to come.

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Red Arrow in bright sunlight

Days like this I wish I had a better camera. Or maybe I should say: I wish I had a better phone, because I actually do have a better(ish) camera at home that is never handy for spur-of-the-moment shots. Here I really liked the high contrast between shadow and brightness on the Red Arrow granite memorial. I tried to capture those dark and light surfaces today but didn’t quite succeed.

It was so sunny that I couldn’t even really see what my pictures looked like on my phone until I got inside and could view them out of the direct sunlight. Although disappointed that the image I’d been trying to create eluded me, I did like the rays of sunshine that showed up in my final attempt.


Also, check out the bystander’s reflection in the photo below.

To me that reflection suggests a murder-mystery scenario similar to Blow-Up, where a photographer takes a picture and accidentally records what may have been a murder. Have you seen that film? Or the John Travolta movie called Blow Out with the same general premise except that he’s a sound guy working on a low-budget film who accidentally captures audio evidence of an assassination? The trailers for both movies are below, along with the “blow up” scene from Blow-Up, because you’d never guess from the trailer’s scenes of swinging “mod” London that Blow-Up‘s title has anything to do with photo enlargement   🙂



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Rothko, Rothko Everywhere (glass-blowing video at the Grohmann Museum)

I was walking through the third floor of the Grohmann Museum today, when this section of a wall-mounted video display caught my eye.

My phone camera could not do justice to the video’s vibrant colors, but doesn’t it still remind you a little anyway of Mark Rothko’s Orange and Yellow? (which I was privileged to see in a Milwaukee Art Museum exhibit a couple of years ago; click here to read my post about the photo below 🙂 )

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Won’t you be my neighbor?

Fifty years ago today “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood,” the most caring children’s television show ever, made its debut. You’ve probably seen this before, but it’s worth watching again: Fred Rogers testifying before the Senate Subcommittee on Communications in 1969 in support of public television funding. As the self-described Senate “tough guy” gets “goosebumps” and is persuaded to approve the $20 million, you really do get a sense that LOVE is the answer. To everything. This hopeful glimpse of possibility is exactly what I need when the world and cable news and social media churn with anger.

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Winter’s Bright

More snow Friday and Sunday, but Milwaukee is getting lots of sunshine today.

So often bright sun in winter means bitter cold, but today it’s pretty warm outside. I didn’t even need my scarf or gloves walking between buildings, although I wore them anyway out of habit 🙂


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Sergei Eisenstein’s Google Doodle (and cinema tropes)

Monday’s Google Doodle honored revolutionary Russian filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein. Here is a cool video I found that provides a little biographical info along with the actual Google Doodle.

Sergei Eisenstein was the first “modern” filmmaker. He basically invented modern film editing. Before Eisenstein, cinema was far more similar to theater than what we think of as “movies” today.

For example, check out this short (less than a minute; it just seems long because it’s so static) scene from The Birth of a Nation, which was the first feature-length film (D.W. Griffith, 1915, a film released to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the end of the Civil War and constituting the first movie “event,” playing in civic centers and auditoriums across the country to mark the occasion). Notice how the camera is completely stationary. In other scenes, too, the camera remains fixed as the actors enter and exit the set via those stairs in the back just like they would in a play. Not only does the camera not move, but you’ll note that there are no cuts whatsoever. We don’t see one person’s face as they speak and then cut away to a different person’s face as they speak. Just the fixed stare of the camera, even as the family moves en masse to console each other (over the battlefield death of the younger son) on the couch upstage and far left. (Or, from the viewer’s perspective, to the far right side of the frame and from foreground to middle ground.)

Eisenstein changed all that with his fast cuts and montages in Battleship Potemkin. The scene below is the cinematic equivalent of the invention of the light bulb or something. Or maybe a better comparison might be with the Beatles’ film A Hard Day’s Night, which pretty much created the music video format and the entire genre of “music film” (including documentaries, which the Beatles’ movie sort of is, in the same way that “Keeping up with the Kardashians” is a documentary television series by way of the reality-show sub-genre 🙂 ).

Aside: Phil Collins was an extra in A Hard Day’s Night. Cool to know, right? (By the way, sorry about any ads that may show up in the clips below. I brought them all in from YouTube, and sometimes I can’t get rid of them. GRRR . . .)

But back to Sergei Eisenstein and his contribution to cinematic history. The “Odessa Steps” / “Odessa Staircase” (depending on your translation) sequence is well known to all movie buffs and probably, actually, to anyone who’s ever taken a film studies course.

This movie scene is SO famous and groundbreaking! No wonder it’s so widely alluded to in other films.

For example, this scene from The Untouchables, with several elements of homage (pronounced oh MAHZH, by the way, because it’s a French term from cinema’s early days in that country): the baby carriage, the sailors caught in the crossfire, the outstretched hand with the silently voiced “my baby!” (a counterpart to the original’s “Mama!”).

That four-wheeled pram/buggy vintage baby carriage shows up again during the chase scene in The French Connection.

Additional (non-baby-carriage) allusions to the “Odessa Staircase” can be seen in these short clips from The Hunger Games and its sequel Catching Fire. From the relentlessly advancing line of Peacekeepers to the batons held at the same angle as the guns, even to the same direction of movement (left side of screen to the right), these shots clearly mirror the soldiers from the original Eisenstein sequence.

At a certain point allusions such as these will enter the “language” of film so ubiquitously that they become the way of conveying information and emotional nuance, and to the point where the established form sheds its association with the original source to become a “trope.”

Consider, for example, the “assembly line” trope. We begin with Charlie Chaplin in Modern Times (1936).

And follow up about fifteen years later with Lucille Ball in “I Love Lucy” (1952).

Until finally we arrive at “Drake & Josh” working the sushi line on the Nickelodeon channel (2006), in a scene that imports elements from both the Modern Times and the “I Love Lucy” versions. (Sorry for the subtitles and poor video quality; this was the best clip I could find on YouTube.)

I noticed the Sergei Eisenstein Google Doodle on Monday but probably wouldn’t have posted on it except that while returning to my office from a Starbucks run this morning, I noticed the red MSOE flag flying atop the Grohmann Museum (where my office is located).

Doesn’t it remind you of the hand-tinted red flag in Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin just a little? 🙂


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Protective Coloration

Like a zebra or tiger, this garbage can’s “disruptive coloration” stripes allow it to blend in with its environment . . . at least during the time of day that afternoon sun pours into the Grohmann Museum via its four-story atrium, casting shadows like long fingers stretching into the galleries.

I had to look up “protective coloration” to make sure it was the correct term, and it was, although “disruptive” is more accurate. Both are forms of camouflage, which itself is a word with an interesting etymology.

And here’s an interesting related/unrelated tidbit: as I was doing a quick run through Google to find the right term, I came across a book called African Game Trails: An Account of the African Wanderings of an American Hunter-Naturalist.

Did you catch the author’s name? Theodore Roosevelt? In March 1909, shortly after leaving the Presidency, Roosevelt made an extended visit to Africa to “collect specimens” (I’m not sure what kind, although as you can see from the book’s cover, he also shot at least one elephant) for the Smithsonian.

Very interesting! I’m putting this book on my “to read” list.

(I wonder what the world would have to say if a modern-day former President were to put out a book with a similar cover? 🙂 )

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