Scott Ellington's Blog

Just another weblog


Like a bad tooth or an unhealed wound, my attention tends to poke and prod absentmindedly at matters of minimal importance, like:

I disagree with a central dispute that eventually figures prominently in Finding Forrester, that “further” and “farther” are two similar terms that are used incorrectly by the antagonists in that film.  In the past couple of days I’ve read blogs and articles in which people used the expression,  “a step further”.  The intended, contextual meaning of the sentence doesn’t change much, but relative measures of distance or degree don’t inspire confidence in the speaker when the metaphors used are more reliant on corrupted common usage than on common sense.

Split infinitives are as ungrammatical as incorrectly-identified compound predicate nominatives that result in goofy sentences, like; The cops were ordered to brutally arrest Martha and I, but they released her and never Mirandized I.

“In the interest of brevity, it will be sufficent to say that…” has been abbreviated to, “Suffice to say”, which is the illegitimate cousin of, “That said…”, which usually stands in for a longer phrase, like, on the other hand, or any familiar expression that lends contrast to the author’s shifting tracks of contextual perspective in paragraphs readers attempt to follow.  (I know I’m probably far guiltier of confusing the crap out of readers than most people, but not for want of constantly striving to be succinct, transparent, precise and specific, while constrained by the interests of brevity.)

Early in Fog City Mavericks, Peter Coyote says that San Francisco is a city of seven square miles.  It’s actually forty-nine square miles, in a squarish shape that’s about seven miles on each of four sides.  I very much enjoyed the film, but stupid errors (that escape editorial notice all the way to the final cut) early in a presentation cast persistent suspicion on all subsequent declarations.  So I wonder whether there’s much truth in his fascinating statement that twenty-four frames per second is the standard on which cinema operates because Eadweard Muybridge experimented with twenty-four still cameras to prove that a horse can run without touching the ground.  ¹  (Ed’s Wikipedia page is open in another tab [because I hadn’t a ghost of a chance of spelling his name correctly without help] and I might as well check for the validity of the 24fps declaration of institutional rut-ocracy.)

I’ve generally stopped commenting at the blog of The Ad Contrarian.  I think his responses are limited to advertising industry professionals, but that may be the incorrect impression of my bruised ego.  The nearest I’ve come to a direct response from him came a few days ago when, in celebrating the blog’s second anniversary, he (among several other things) mentioned the annoying tendency of squids and ferrets to crop up in his blog-comments.  Squids, he explained, are anonymous sociopaths who say rude and obscene, irrelevant things.  Ferrets just snarl the threads of his blog posts by trumpeting some goofy alternative agenda, sans evidence, sans sense.  I’m a ferret because I’m neither an advertising industry professional nor (intentionally) a psychotic malevolence, although I do tend to blither.

The comment I made pertained to his post about his having visited the DeYoung Museum for the disappointing, current Tut exhibition.  Having (tacitly) appreciated his disrespect for the marketing scheme that stalled and herded too many jam-packed visitors through the claustrophobia-inducing venue and also barraged them with merchandizing opportunities…I understood his contempt for the team that will guage the success of their marketing scheme on the basis of profit rather than the enhancement of the customer-perceived value of the exhibition to (repeat) visitors.  And, in the interest of brevity, my comment neglected to mention my gratitude for his insight (where there’s smoke, there’s either fire or an important person’s butt), pinpointing instead the utter absence of his suggestions for improvement of the visitor experience that might result in recurrent visits by high-yield clientele, like him.  (I’ve learned that the high-yield, heavy-user market segment is the neglected conceptual target of his blog and hovers at the heart of every blog post — at least, theoretically).  I also tried to squeeze into my comment my personal distaste for branding practices (that seem to flock customers into a deeply-wrongheaded barnyard metaphor) and alluded to striking similarities between King Tut’s afterlife-roadshow and the seemingly-unending Michael Jackson funerary hysteria that might be the prelude to the birth of a dead-celebrities-traveling-exhibition industry.  The estates of celebrated artists, politicians and assorted media luminaries already live after them.  An afterlife exhibition industry might profoundly influence the career decisions of our living cultural icons, whose actual legacies might just impact culture constructively. The Final Cut concerns itself with life-cosmetics.  I think the redemptive, transformative power of our mortality to alter life is assiduously undercontemplated, but infinitely potentiated.  Is today a good day to die?  No wonder Little Big Man is still one of my favorite movies.  The question it asks, repeatedly and pointedly, remains perfectly relevant.

The shameful, disgraceful and disgusting aspects of marketing schemes that exploit the popular impulse to pay respect to Tut or Jackson or Lincoln don’t begin to invalidate the sincerity, the mystery, the power of that impulse.  And ferrets who see farther than the contemptuous tone of a blog post to ask for more insight from advertising industry professionals enroute to proposing the creation of a new industry that synthesizes the best aspects (as defined by high-minded contrarians) of showbusiness, mortuary science and the study of contemporary culture are probably more valuable ferrets than The Ad Contrarian’s pejorative label (for hunters) suggests.  Pardon me while I congratulate myself excessively.

Explaining this junk at Bob Hoffman’s blog seems likely to result in his erasure all of my previous comments — something he did recently to someone who disagreed with his post of a couple of weeks ago.

Like a bad tooth or an unhealed wound, these niggles need mention for exorcism.

¹ (Something Wiki this way comes)

In 1872, former Governor of California, Leland Stanford, a businessman and racehorse owner, had taken a position on a popularly-debated question of the day: whether all four of a horse’s hooves left the ground at the same time during a gallop. Stanford sided with this assertion, called “unsupported transit”, and took it upon himself to prove it scientifically. (Though legend also includes a wager of up to $25,000, there is no evidence of this.) Stanford sought out Muybridge and hired him to settle the question.  

To prove Stanford’s claim, Muybridge developed a scheme for instantaneous motion picture capture. Muybridge’s technology involved chemical formulas for photographic processing and an electrical trigger created by the chief engineer for the Southern Pacific Railroad, John D. Isaacs.

In 1877, Muybridge settled Stanford’s question with a single photographic negative showing Stanford’s racehorse Occident airborne in the midst of a gallop. This negative was lost, but it survives through woodcuts made at the time.

By 1878, spurred on by Stanford to expand the experiment, Muybridge had successfully photographed a horse in fast motion using a series of twenty-four cameras. The first experience successfully took place on June 11 with the press present. Muybridge used a series of 12 stereoscopic cameras, 21 inches apart to cover the 20 feet taken by one horse stride, taking pictures at one thousandth of a second. The cameras were arranged parallel to the track, with trip-wires attached to each camera shutter triggered by the horse’s hooves.

This series of photos, taken at what is now Stanford University or in Sacramento (there is some dispute as to the actual location), is called The Horse in Motion, and shows that the hooves do all leave the ground — although not with the legs fully extended forward and back, as contemporary illustrators tended to imagine, but rather at the moment when all the hooves are tucked under the horse as it switches from “pulling” from the front legs to “pushing” from the back legs.

Wikipedia sheds a little light on several interesting Muybridge-related ideas, but the 24fps tradition (the frame rate for talkies, not silent films) isn’t one of them.  Wikipedia led me to a fascinating Kevin Brownlow web-article that casts plenty of doubt on the scripted statements made in Peter Coyote’s narration.  Ed died in 1904, and the standard frame rate for making (and projecting) motion pictures evidently varied from 16-46fps.  I think Peter Coyote was given  an unbalanced load of cool-sounding nonsense and inspiring information to read.  I bought his credible delivery, and greatly enjoyed the film…but I wonder how deep those pockets of nonsense run.

25 Jul 09 Posted by | Uncategorized | | 4 Comments

Friends Reunited

I lucked into a newish Dr. Who episode, broadcast locally this evening.  Its title refers to the appearance of a regular cast member from the previous generation of the series, Sarah, from 25 years ago.  It’s also an episode in which Anthony Stewart Head drops in to play an especially perfect bigbad in a role to which he brings vast reservoirs of talent, refinement and subtlety that were rarely the center of viewer attention as Buffy’s supportive Watcher.  It’s also just possible that Head’s command of his instrument has grown considerably in the past ten years.

So the Friends Reunited theme runs deep at several concentric levels throughout the interesting narrative that involves an alien invasion by a race that mirrors the British tradition of conquest&miscegenation that neatly summarizes the evolution of our shared and jealously-guarded dissimilar language, multinational heritage and perpetual discomfort with global domination&preservation.  It’s as though one can’t discriminate friends from rivals and enemies without a multi-volume programme.  And the emotional turmoil in the episode neatly mirrors the irony of an immortal TimeLord befriending mortal associates, relatively briefly, not unlike a serial murderer.  It’s a lovely set of ideas that would sit together remarkably uncomfortably if the pace of the show permitted them to do so.

One of several nifty notions popped out of the show and bit me; that as the brain is the physical organ that corresponds with mind, so the soul is the familiar part of a person that secretes (or pumps or generates) imagination.  I like the distinction, if only because intelligence and imagination seem more and more to me to be divergent vectors of individual and cultural health and wealth.  Just as stupidity and insanity are unrelated phenomena, intelligence and imagination appear fairly rarely in similar proportions in a single person.  These ideas are old friends I haven’t encountered recently, but they feel like significant contributors to the continuing conversation I’m courting concerning the nature of art as a mirror to culture fogged by current interpretations of intellectual property law, ‘n stuff.  It’s a very long conversation that’s obviously going to be locked in fermentation for a very considerable while, given the nauseating bouquet of this ridiculous paragraph.

On the Fourth of July, I attended a party with a couple I haven’t seen in 35 years.  It resulted in an 8-hour conversation, and the best Fourth of July I’ve enjoyed in decades.

Oddly, British people insist on spelling it “arse”, but they, generally, can barely pronounce the letter “r”, which makes the way they spell it relatively assinine.  Likewise, the way they pronounce “guard” led me to reconsider Earth as a prison on which our common and vaunted humanity is/was purposefully stranded to prevent contamination of the rest of the universe.  Guarded by a jealous and capricious guard against the inevitability that what we’ve done to this planet (landfills>methane>global warming, plastic infestation of the Pacific Ocean, rape/conquest/total war…) might migrate from the hells we always make to pristiner places elsewhere.  Guard’s country may just be ringed by metaphysical barbed wire we won’t even notice until we’ve sneaked the sliver of a toe outside it.  Going where no man has gone before may not be our destiny.  Maybe that’s women’s work.  Maybe we’re in quarantine until the insects go all uber alles on us.

It’s awfully pleasant to be reunited with friendly, old ideas that revitalize my sense of hope and change, because so very little in the increasingly wretched human condition is better than it was when I thought about these things previously; emphasis on the offal.

20 Jul 09 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

The Reader

It’s an odd film that repeatedly makes the point that what we do (or fail to do) in the course of our tiny lives, is infinitely more important (to something unnamed) than how we feel, what we say, and how we rationalize our insignificance in the awful sweep of our miniscule lives.  It makes this statement by opening the film exactly one scene before the movie ends and leaps between moments non-linearly that range from 1958 to 1995, with terribly imporant references to events that took place before the film begins and some that aren’t yet concluded (the NeoCon inspection of soul of Sonia Sotomayor, for one ongoing contemporary example).

That societies delude themselves with the belief that morality rules behavior is central to the contradiction that laws are far more responsible (officially) for the shape of a civilization, and that more-narrowly defined laws identify morally superior civilizations.  Thus, Hanna Schmitz and the other five guards allowed their three hundred prisoners to perish in the locked church that caught fire and burned in the midst of an allied bombing attack BECAUSE it was illegal for SS guards to release prisoners from confinement.  But that’s not the argument anybody presented to prevent the other five guards from being sentenced for complicity to murder, nor did anybody mention the broad legal brush used in Hitler’s Germany to generally absolve the German population of responsibility for life and death in thousands of camps nor Hannah Schmitz’ late-breaking sole indictment for three hundred particular murders.  We were only following (her) orders. Legal Justice isn’t only blind, it’s also deaf, smells bad, it’s unfeeling, and it is profoundly stupid.

There is a wry cynicism running through the film that allows the five guards to claim that Schmitz drafted the incineration report, which every one of them signed…and Hannah was, perhaps, the only closeted illiterate who ever wrote a detailed report in the whole of human history; more ashamed to confess her illiteracy than her legally sanctioned multiple-murder.  The only heroic aspect of this piece is the character flaw of suicidal self-interest, which is aggrandized beyond all recognition:  Moral SNAFU.  Gezundheidt!

Born in 1922, she joined the SS in 1933.  Michael Berg looked the same to me in 1958 (at 15) as in 1966.  Hannah’s obssessive/compulsive behavior  is understated everywhere in the film, and acts as the unspoken reason for her inability to unlock the doors of the church allowing chaotic prisoners to flee a nice, orderly fire.

These are oddly unbalanced inconsistencies in the way the story is told, that culminate in the righteous indignation of the sole surviving prisoner-survivor of the church fire, whose contempt for Michal Berg is just as unjust and misapplied as the immoral innocence/ignorance that abounded in Nazi Germany.  But the most unsupportable personal failure belongs to Michael Berg whose inability to tell the truth condemned Hannah to spend her final twenty years in prison.  He complied with a lie that cost the life of the first woman he’d ever loved.  I have no idea why he’d do that, but the cynical tone of the film states unimplicitly that the things we do and fail to do (like forgive) are infinitely more consequential than how we claim to feel about them.

This movie can’t have it both ways.  I respect the people who made it, and abhor the taste it leaves in my heart; justifying scapegoating, reconciled to apathy, comfortable with injustice, and content to paint the laws of human nature with the broadest of cynical brushes.

Soldier’s Girl and Johnny Got His Gun address these very same issues far more directly, and both films tear the audience to bits with far less pointless abandon.   War Made Easy, The International, Lord of War and Fog City Mavericks have taught me, belatedly, that humanity is the primary target of war on anything.  Modern warfare is increasingly waged on civilian populations.  Compliance with abhorent orders (and laws) and the banal procedures of abominable business-as-usual is personal self-abomination.   I already knew those things.

The Reader is a well-made film that raises ineffectualism and the vacuum left by atrophied humanity to new heights of artistic accomplishment in our collective worship of despair.  It meant to address war criminality from the perspective of the children of war criminals; children who come to recognize their parents’ sociopathology.  It doesn’t do that well enough.  The resulting film strikes a compromise between good and evil that arrived in theaters at a most propitious time to complement our renewed bewilderment at ongoing atrocities committed in the name of freedom, security and apple pie.

What would I do if three hundred women were burning alive in a church?  What would I do if the woman I’d loved were about to be burned for obeying an unjust law?  What would I do if license to waterboard suspects gave me free rein to terrorize terrorists?


25JUL09 — Second thoughts:

The Reader is largely a film about the dire consequences of failure to follow conscience.  It’s a study of the causes and results of inaction more frequently than is evident in a couple of viewings.  It’s a film that keeps growing on me; conversely,  A Time To Kill goes straight to the diametrically-opposite place, highlighting conscience over law, with several carefully-constructed windows of insight into various kinds of legal-system-cheats; NAACP prejudice, politically-motivated prosecutor conspiracy with Mississippi zeitgeist (and no 1996 spotlight on media-manipulation in the pre-911/post-OJ showtrial platform).  A Time To Kill is also overloaded with a ton of Hollywood cheats; an enormous cast of really-pretty actors, muttering, visual delights and carefully censored violence combined with incredibly-clunky stereotypes and powerful afterthrobs of feel-good confidence in a system that only works to perpetuate the glory of Hollywood endings.  It’s an extremely well-designed, subtly-didactic, propaganda film that is far less interesting to think back upon than was The Reader.

16 Jul 09 Posted by | Uncategorized | | 2 Comments