Archive for the ‘Cinema’ Category

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What-are-you-reading-Wednesday: The Lost Symbol

December 10, 2009

I just read Dan Brown’s newest book, The Lost Symbol — even though it was published in September. Here’s why: I like to buy the editions of Brown’s books that come out after they make the movie, with all the gorgeous illustrations and photographs of locations like Rome and Paris. Knowing that I will eventually purchase such a volume for The Lost Symbol, I decided to get the first edition out of the library. I put my name on the reservation list, where I was number 749 in line, and I just got a copy. Loved it, love all his books, usually read them in a day or two (509 pages), and evidently so do a lot of other people.

Maureen Dowd wrote in the New York Times: “Brown has always written screenplays masquerading as novels.” Clearly, that’s the first type of appeal in Brown’s fast-paced, suspenseful stories. He has a knack of ending a chapter with one of his characters in such a predicament that you have to skip ahead and find out how they got out of it. The second attraction in Brown’s novels is provided by Robert Langdon, his Harvard professor hero (played by Tom Hanks), in the form of arcane but fascinating historical, cultural, and artistic trivia. This erudition did not impress Time Magazine’s Lou Grossman, who commented: “Brown’s scholarship reads like the work of a man who believes what he reads in Wikipedia.”

I, however, enjoy the places Brown takes you in his whirlwind tours of famous cities. In the case of The Lost Symbol, the story is set in Washington, D.C., a place whose treasures are far more valuable than whatever the villain and hero are chasing after in the novel. Behind the scenes at the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian Institution, and the United States Capitol, there is a world of documents, artworks, and artifacts, amazing in its scope and depth. To meet the people who care for and know about them is a true pleasure. The book’s website includes a Reader’s Guide to Washington, D.C., with more about these national landmarks.

I also like Brown’s puzzles, codes, and encryptions, which are always entertaining. The key puzzle in The Lost Symbol is “a perfectly square grid of symbols from every tradition imaginable — alchemical, astrological, heraldic, angelic, magical, numeric, sigilic, Greek, Latin.” The 64 symbols in the 8 by 8 grid are somewhat familiar: a row of symbols for the planets, symbols of the great religions, astrological signs. (Mine is Gemini, which looks like the Roman numeral II.) You probably have access to many of these symbols — just open up Word and change your font to Symbols or Wingdings, and you may be able to recreate Brown’s code!

Anyway, I should stop here and return my copy to the library. There’s still a waiting list with 372 eager readers on it.

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Meandering Indiana 14 – Henry County

June 8, 2009

Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame

Chaucer wrote in The Canterbury Tales that when spring arrives “than longen folk to go on pilgrimages.” So it was that while on vacation I decided to visit a shrine or two. Of course, this led me to Henry County.

I’d been in New Castle before, attending a meeting at the community foundation. But this time I was able to enter the sacred space of the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame. On that particular day, the long walk from the parking lot to the front door was lined with clothes and shoes, set out on tables. Under a sunny sky, The Hall was having a yard sale.

Inside I watched the brief film that tried to explain why basketball is special in the state of Indiana. It was preaching to the choir but nicely done. Wandering up and down among the glass cases, I saw photos, trophies, newspaper clippings, jerseys and letter sweaters — all the material embodiment of legends and heroes.

The most special of all, always paired in my mind, are the 1954 and 1955 state championship teams. You know the stories, too. The first is the Miracle of Milan with Bobby Plump’s last shot. The second, as wonderful, is the first school ever to win a state championship for Indianapolis — Crispus Attucks with its star, Oscar Robertson. I was once privileged to attend a 50th anniversary reunion of that team and the team it beat in the finals, Gary Roosevelt. The Indiana Humanities Council was part of the celebration at Hinkle Fieldhouse via a grant for the project, which was directed by Dr. Bill Wiggins.

Afterwards I went through the enshrinement gallery, with its exhibit of black-and-white portraits drawn by the artist Keith Butz. Each player or coach is depicted in two images, one at the time of induction into the Hall of Fame and one as he or she looked back in the day. (Girls and their coaches were included although they did not get a state tournament until 1976.)

I could have spent more time there, but I wanted to move on to my next stop in Henry County, the Hoosier Gym. Taking Route 3 south from New Castle, past I-70, to U.S. 40, then turning west brought me quickly to Knightstown. It took a bit of searching to find the Gym because it’s attached to the Knightstown Academy, which looks more like a courthouse. It was, however, once a school, and when the county built a new consolidated high school, a developer bought the Academy, now on the National Register, and turned it into condominiums.

A weekend festival was about to start, with a commemorative game to be played between “Hickory High” and “Terhune.” Again I found piles of T-shirts and souvenirs for sale outside and a volunteer docent inside to explain about how “Hoosiers” came to be filmed in this gym. I asked him whether the film crew had to do much to prepare the site for movie-making. No, he said, it only needed a coat of paint and a bit of gloss added to the floor. Otherwise, it was already perfect.

Still owned by the town, the Hoosier Gym is administered separately from the condos, so it is watched over by its community group, just as the Hall of Fame is. Therein lies the true soul of Indiana basketball, for legendary games are not only about those who are heroes but also about those are witnesses.

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Time and Again

February 2, 2009

Since today is Groundhog Day, we were thinking of watching the movie. This movie is so well-known that “Groundhog Day” has entered the cultural vocabulary as referring to a particular type of time travel: being caught in an infinite loop and reliving the same experience over and over.

What is your favorite movie about time travel? Mine would probably be “Back to the Future,” “The Final Countdown,” or perhaps “The Lake House.” Of course, there are many others, including “Somewhere in Time” and the classic, “The Time Machine.”

“The Time Machine” was adapted from the novel by H.G. Wells which defines the genre, but in American literature there is another very fine example: A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain. I have always enjoyed the chapter where Hank, the Yankee, is trying to explain the concept of inflation to sixth-century peasants who think a penny is an excellent wage for a day’s work. Film cannot possibly capture the fun of the verbal slapstick in Twain’s dialogue as Hank predicts a time in the future when a mechanic’s average wage will be an astonishing 200 cents a day.

In 1890, the year after Twain’s book came out, Ambrose Bierce published a short story entitled “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.” This tale set the standard for journeys through compressed time, wherein a character lives a lifetime in a single moment of imagination.

All of these forms of fiction illustrate the mystery of time and the magic of literary and cinematic art. A good book is, after all, a time machine in itself.

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Meandering Indiana – 8

September 16, 2008

I was shocked to learn recently that Sullivan County lies due south of Terre Haute, not off in the Hoosier National Forest somewhere as I supposed. Shocked, because that means I’ve driven through the county lots and lots of times without knowing it was there.

Since I’ve visited the “Pocket” (SW Indiana) on countless occasions, I’ve apparently shot down I-70 to Terre Haute, driven straight through to Vincennes, done that ridiculous curlicue to stay on US 41, and then on to Evansville, without paying a bit of attention to Sullivan County, which sits smack in the way. On the return trip, I usually check my gas gauge and think, no, I can make it to Terre Haute and again not stopped. Well, I apologize, and next time, it will be different, so help me.

What finally made me see the light was a grant application from the Sullivan County Historical Society for one of the Indiana Humanities Council’s emergency flood grants (still available). In detailing the story of their trials with the floods & rain, they pointed out that Sullivan County — the county seat of which is Sullivan, Indiana — has had its notable citizens.

For example, the SCHS is the repository of the papers of Antoinette Leach, the first woman in Indiana to be admitted to the bar (June 14, 1893). She was admitted when the Indiana Supreme Court found that an “error” (yeah, right) had been made by the Greene County Circuit Court, which refused to allow her to practice law.

Another remarkable native of Sullivan County was William Harrison Hays, Sr. Not only did Hays manage the campaign for the presidency of Warren G. Harding, but he was also the first president of what became the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). As such, he lent his name to the Hays Code of 1930 which sought to uphold moral standards in the making of Hollywood films. It lasted until the 1960s when it was replaced by the MPAA film rating system. The Hays archive is also housed at the SCHS.

Another feature of Sullivan County that I really need to see is Merom Bluff, described as a mountain range (!) and said to have a fantastic view overlooking the Wabash River. So there’s my proposed meandering itinerary, for once not in the past but in the future. All I need is a tank of gas, a place to have lunch, and I’m all set.

This entry was posted by: Nancy
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Do Museums House the Simulacrum Threat?

August 15, 2008

I know in advance I’m probably way off base here, but this very brief interview with Alison Griffiths at the Columbia University Press blog about her new book Shivers Down Your Spine and the Immersive View kept making me think of “the uncanny valley.”

If you have spent any time on the internet (and given where you’re reading this, I’m certain you have) you have probably heard of the “the uncanny valley,” which is a measure of likeablity for various kinds of “human facsimiles” (robots, muppets, cartoons, etc) that runs from “Super Creepy” to “Totally Great.” I’m going to be pretty general here, if you want something less so, then click the previous link. Basically our willingness to accept certain human forms rises very slowly as facsimiles move from not-human (one of those robot arms that puts bolts in car doors) to an attractive healthy human. But somewhere around Tom Hanks’ character in The Polar Express the general level of acceptability plummets before it rises again with actual humans on the other side of this “uncanny valley,” the unhappy denizens of which are often described as “corpselike.”

At any rate, there’s something here, I think for philosophers in the Baudrillardian tradition. Is Griffiths correct in assuming that the shiver we feel upon entering “the rainforest in the Hall of Biodiversity at the American Museum of Natural History” is rooted in ” a sense of the infinite and divine” as when we enter a Gothic cathedral; are the “shivers down our spine” really inspired by “a disjunct between what we see and feel and what we know is happening to us” similar to the ticklebelly feeling of watching Batman leap from a Hong Kong skyscraper in The Dark Knight in IMAX? Or, as the interviewer asks, is it more akin to the “shivers down our spine” we get from horror movies, something rooted in the reptilian part of our brain that seeks survival when confronted with the existential threat of the Artificial pursuing dominance over the Organic? Are we staring into the abyss and recognizing that the face of the beast that looks back is this one?

https://i0.wp.com/www.smh.com.au/ffximage/2005/11/14/Polar_051114104811699_wideweb__300x375.jpg

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Riff the Scroll

July 1, 2008

We were young and in trouble or always on the verge of it really, sometimes we were bored or just said we were but we talked and talked and talked and sometimes the words hung around our heads, circled our heads like mad halos and there’s a certain kind of madness in the young and desperation too. And we read On the Road and we read Notes from the Underground and we read Huxley and Dylan Thomas and Ernest Hemingway–never too earnest. And when we found the time to rent weird movies, they were on VHS tapes back then, we rented Kafka and Easy Rider and we were sensible enough to stay away from Burroughs in film or in print, for a little while anyway, but then we read him too, and boy were we sorry, but in a good way. And Jack Kerouac typed On the Road twice because he lost it somewhere along the way or somebody–maybe Ginsberg–lost it for him, I don’t remember–a feat so amazing it’s true in legend if nowhere else or maybe nowhere at all because I could have made it up. And the scroll went from hand to mad hand from mad hand to glad hand from man hands to other hands to the hands of Jim Irsay, who sent the scroll packing to Florida and San Francisco (home of The Beats) and to New York where Lorca rode around on the backs of alligators and now the Indianapolis Museum of Art is showing it off for a bit.

Yeah.

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Summer Nights at the IMA

June 23, 2008

I’ve already missed Grease, Gilda, and This is Spinal Tap but I fully expect to see the following shows if I am in town: The Goonies (this Friday), Strangers on a Train and Ghostbusters. I may even hit up some of the others.

Summer Nights is one of Indianapolis’s all-time great times and everyone should get out to at least one of these a year if not more (or all).

Of course, that’s for people who live within a comfortable driving range from Indianapolis. Really, the thing is to see great movies, outside, with friends–in a terraced amphitheater or in a gravelly drive-in.

I hope that outdoor movies and summer are with us forever and ever. I really do.

Photo by flickr user Jim Rees under Creative Commons license.