Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Waaaay back in 2007, the New York Times carried a big thought-piece on the new 3D movie technology.

Essentially, the Times says that the new, advanced technology will be as revolutionary as moving from silent to sound, black & white to color.

To this, I can only ask: Was 3D revolutionary in the 1950s?

Go watch the original House of Wax. I have it on DVD. You tell me if they utilized 3D well in that film when the paddleball man stands outside the House of Wax trying to entice customers. Or when the romantic leads head to the local dance hall to catch some can-can girls.

Or watch Creature from the Black Lagoon. I have a pristine and restored DVD version. Does it work when the creature swims underneath the bathing beauty in that famous sexual scene? Or when the "creature walks among us" and sticks its clawed hands out into the audience's face?

My sense is that 3D was like Cinerama: People just didn't know how to use it.

Let's actually look at Cinerama -- or VistaVision or CinemaScope or any of the widescreen techniques available in the 1950s and 1960s (until the industry settled on Panavision in the late 1960s). Cinerama, for example, was a process which used three cameras to catch the action. Three projectors were used to project the image onto a huge, curved screen. Like IMAX, but 100 times better, Cinerama blew people away.

But was it really that wonderful? I dunno. Directors, after all, were trained to put actors in a narrow physical space. The visual language of film meant that this close physical intimacy created emotional intimacy and intensity as well.

But this emotional intensity was lost (for the most part) in widescreen formats. For example: In How the West Was Won (a Cinerama picture), there is an early scene in which Karl Malden (the head of an extended family of mostly women) is leading his kith and kin out west. They run into Jimmy Stewart, a trapper, while still close to civilization in the Ohio wilderness. There's this scene where Malden and Stewart talk to one another with the river in the background. Malden's character is blinded by his love of opportunity and prospects of a happier life, and is unaware of Stewart's growing love for his eldest daughter. Stewart is too reserved and uncivilized to feel comfortable expressing his intentions to Malden.

It's a somewhat important scene in the development of the Malden family's story (which is soon to drop out of the picture in order to make way for more stories), as it sets off the coming small conflict between Stewart and Malden and sets up the Malden girl's future as wife to Stewart. Stewart's marriage continues to impact the rest of the stories in the film (for example, his wife is mother to one of the key characters who shows up later, and she herself plays a grande dame who helps avert disaster at the end of the picture).

But the directors (there were five on this picture!) didn't know how to use the Cinerama process well. So Malden is way, way to the left. Stewart is way, way to the right. All the emotional impact is lost. They seem to be on opposite sides of the room, talking at each other. The river in the background seems more important!

Maybe there is a way out of this.

But I doubt enough directors or writers have a handle on visual language to utilize 3D effectively. People write for character, they don't write for use of space. Only Orson Welles knew enough about space to utilize it really effectively, and he only did that in two films (Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons).

You know, there's one film which I saw and whose name I cannot recall in which widescreen was used really well.

It's a Western. It starts out with this shot of a decrepit, dying one-horse town in a windstorm. Dust and tumbleweeds blow across the screen. In the far distance, purple-blue mountains capped with snow rise from the bottom of the screen almost to the top. From the left, a bedraggled older man walks into the picture slowly. We see him in a medium shot (stomach to head), and he's in the foreground. As he reaches the middle of the screen, the camera begins to track alongside him to keep him in the center of the image. Slowly, the town we saw slides off to the left while new buildings in the background come into view. Suddenly, from the right comes a wall. We realize the old man is walking behind a building. We soon realize it's a train station, as the windows pass in back of the old man and we can see into the station. The man walks to the other end of the train station.

As the man reaches the end of the train station, he stops and leans against a post. But the camera keeps tracking right. Soon, the man is only just visible on the left-hand side of the screen. Then the camera stops. The wind blows, dust whirls past the camera. Then, just barely visible in the distance in the lower right hand corner of the screen, we see a black dot moving. It's a train, coming toward the town. The tracks are lost in the haze and heatwaves of the ground, but as it comes closer we see the train and its stack and even some cars. Slowly, the train turns so that it is almost coming directly at us. We realize the tracks are below the screen's edge, on the right-hand side of the screen. As the train's whistle screams, the train begins to slow. It steams past us on the right, coming to a stop with a whirlwind of fog. The feeling of its passage practically slams into the audience.

The train stops, and a gunslinger and a woman get off the train. The edge of the train forms the right-hand edge of the screen. Because the man and woman getting off the train are in the distance, we see them head to toe. The old man on the left watches them get off the train, not moving.

It's really a spectacular shot.

But you know, I don't see a lot of widescreen films taking advantage of widescreen that much.

You know that ad which runs on TCM in which directors like Curtis Hanson and Martin Scorsese talk about letterboxing? They show a couple of examples -- Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Lawrence of Arabia, How the West Was Won, Ben-Hur -- in which widescreen is very important to the image.

But honestly, do you think Sideways is needed in widescreen? How about Annie Hall? Would the sneezing-into-the-cocaine scene be funnier in Cinerama instead of Panavision? Is it essential to the visual (hence, emotional) composition of the shot that it be in widescreen? I don't think so.

For all that IMAX has become the latter-day Cinerama or VistaVision, it's not as if the films shown in those formats are any different than the films shown in a regular theater.

We just don't have a visual or emotional language for using widescreen well.

Nor, I think, do we have a visual language for using depth well.

Think about how most people interact. We interact in flat planes, for the most part. You sit across a table from me. There's no depth to you. Just an image. It's not like you are reaching out toward me a lot, or leaning in and then leaning back. When five people are sitting at a bar, we talk to the person next to us, maybe one more person down. But our hearing, the ambient noise, and just our concept of personal space limit us to two or three people to talk to, not the whole line of five or six people stretched out across 15 feet of space along the bar.

I can see how, sometimes, a 3D image might be helpful in certain situations.

Think about two men and a woman lying on a bed. Peter really desires Lisa, but is unwilling to express this. On the other side of Lisa lies Chris, the animated and talkative best friend of Peter. Chris may be up on one elbow, chatting away. But Peter lies back seemingly only glancing at Chris as he listens. Only, his glances are really at Lisa's breasts. Lisa can turn her head only a little, and see Chris talking. Peter seems to be doing the same, but in fact his barest-head-turn only makes him look directly at Lisa's breasts. And why not? He's infatuated with her. Even though Chris thinks Peter's gaze is directly at him, in fact, Peter's vision is trained on the foreground -- Lisa's breast.

I can see how 3D would help emphasize the foreground, medium ground and rearground of this image and permit a more subtle and more feverish emotional language indicating Peter's intense desire for Lisa. The camera would be able to more exactly imitate the way line-of-sight works in real life, and the subtle and intricate ways in which a person can be a voyeur or stare at someone or something else.

But is it needed in all cases?

And wouldn't 3D be utterly distracting in the Coruscant battle in Revenge of the Sith? In such a situation, I can see how 3D would only be totally off-putting.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Today, I saw my third podiatrist. He said that I don't have a torn plantar plate or tendon, but that my high arches are causing the inflammation. Huh? No, true: Most people's foot bones lie flat on the ground, and meet their toes. Mine are so arched that they point downward toward the ground. When I walk, I crunch down on the tips of the bones. It finally -- after 47 years of mostly-upright walking -- caused inflammation.

He prescribed six weeks of steroids, physical therapy, ultrasound to promote healing, and a change to my orthotics that will force the foot bones into a flatter profile so that this doesn't happen again.

* * * * * *

I had the morning off to see this podiatrist.

I got up whenever I wanted to. Not at 6:45 AM to the sound of the alarm clock. I had a leisurely morning. I showered, I did a household chore, I got on the Net a bit. I watched some of Graham Norton (a treat I never get), with Judi Dench and the lovely Dev Patel. I got on the V5 bus -- and didn't have to wait. It wasn't crowded. It got to L'Enfant Plaza without stopping to let children or the drunk off, and it arrived on time. I missed the Blue/Orange line back-up. I got to Friendship Heights in plenty of time.

I got to Starbucks at 10:20 AM -- with just three people inline ahead of me. By the time I got out of line to await my venti raspberry iced mocha, there was a line of 30 people. Yes! I missed the coffee-break rush! I lingered over the crossword puzzle, eating my pumpkin scone (delicious) and sipping coffee.

God, what a great morning.

It got topped off with good medical news.

What a great morning!

How's this for wild?

The above is an image of President Franklin D. Roosevelt turning the first spade of earth, making the construction of Washington National Airport in Washington, D.C., on November 11, 1941.

Sustained, controlled, powered heavier-than-air flight (for all intents and purposes) was invented by the Wright Brothers in 1903. Although planes were used on a limited basis during World War I, it was not until 1918 that the U.S. Post Office began using planes for delivery of the mail. The rapid development of flight in the four years after the end of the war in 1921 led to the establishment of commercial passenger airline service in the U.S. The first commerical passenger airliner, the de Havilland DH18, began flying in the U.K. in April 1920. It wasn't until May 1925 that the first American passenger plane, the Douglas C-1, flew. (The second, the Boeing Model 40, a crappy four-seater, flew in July.) In 1927, the Hamilton H-47 (the first all-metal aircraft) and the Lockheed Vega were also carrying passengers. Most of these planes carried four, six, or eight passengers, and air travel was considered a luxury -- affordable only by the rich. But air travel had seized the public's imagination, and people flocked to airports just to see planes take off and land.

Washington's first airport was Hoover Field, a teensy-tiny 43-acre airport built in 1925 to accommodate sight-seeing flights over the city. Its backer was Thomas E. Mitten, president of the Philadelphia Rapid Transit Company (the predecessor to SEPTA). The airfield began ferrying passengers to Philadelphia in 1926 in honor of the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

D.C.'s second airfield, Washington Airport, opened in 1927 as a sight-seeing field. But it was built on 60 acres (and quickly expanded to 90), allowing it to accommodate much larger planes. Soon, Washington Airport was the city's primary commercial passenger airport, while Hoover Field was used for pilot training, sight-seeing, and blimps.

Both fields were across the street from one another -- literally. They were at the foot of the 14th Street Bridge in Virginia. Hoover Field is where the Pentagon is now; Washington Field is where the Pentagon parking lot, Metro bus terminal, and massive curving I-395 flyover is today. The two fields were separated by Military Road, a two-lane highway which whisked people coming over the "Highway Bridge" (built in 1906) into sprawling, bustling, heavily-populated Arlington County.

Can you imagine it???? Planes landing into the south wind at Washington Airport competed with planes taking off from Hoover Field! What a nightmare!!!!

Monday, September 24, 2012

I like my own photographic work sometimes. Not often, because I am my own harshest critic. Plus, I really want to photograph people, but people don't want to be photographed by me.

When I'm photographing art, structures, scenes, outdoors, lights, etc., I prefer my images uncluttered by people. I'm generally trying to get a shot of the thing, not of the crowds in front of it. I could, if I wished, get that poignant shot of a little kid staring up at the statue of Abraham Lincoln at the Lincoln Monument, or eager crowds of middle schoolers at the Natural History Museum. But that is not what interests me at this time. Right now, what interests me are the things themselves -- the spaces that people visit, not the people visiting. Those things which are viewed -- not the people doing the viewing. I realize that most people find my photography sterile. Unpeopled, they find it cold and blank and unfeeling.

I think I have a good natural eye. I'm an impatient photographer, which means I tend to try on the first shot and then move on. This often leaves my work feeling pedestrian and bland.

But sometimes, I manage to find a concatenation of amazing angles, lines, and images that just work.

This does.

Federal Reserve Building - cornerstone - 2012-09-13
In the early days of motion pictures, film was not very sensitive to light. It took a lot of light, exceedingly brilliant and white light, to get an image to imprint clearly on the celluloid. The light not only had to be strong, but it had to be almost uniform in all areas of the scene. Even slight variations in light could create huge dark areas on the film where none where intended.

All films, therefore, were shot outdoors.

This created a problem. Around 1900, nearly every single film studio was located in what was the then the entertainment capital of the United States: New York City. Motion picture studios filmed on top of skyscrapers to get light. When a cloud passed overhead, filming stopped. If it rained or was cloudy, filming stopped.

An additional problem confronted nascent filmmakrs, too. Thomas Edison, who had patented much of the technology which made motion pictures possible, demanded heavily royalties for individuals to use his patents. The cost of a license was so stiff that Edison, for all intents and purposes, would end up owning the film which was made.

What to do?

For many filmmakers, the answer was clear: Go west, young man. California offered practically limitless sunshine. It rarely rained, and cloudy days were almost unheard of. Additionally, there was plenty of room. Unlike crowded New York, where rooftops offered the only open space, California was almost unpopulated at the turn of the last century. For the most part, everything south of San Francisco was just orange groves and wheat fields. In fact, the driest, most sun-filled area -- the Los Angeles basin -- was practically devoid of human settlement.

California offered another advantage, too. It was nearly eight days' travel from Edison and his lawyers. For Edison to prove patent infringement, he would need to hire expensive private detectives to get hired by the California movie studios, spend months on Edison's payroll while working their way up in the studio hierarchy, and get enough hard evidence (not just eyewitness accounts) of patent infringement in order to take the studios to court. Edison, notoriously stingy, would almost never incur such an expense.

And so motion pictures thrived in the California sun in the little town of Cahuenga (soon to be renamed "Hollywood").

In 1924, Carl Laemmle, founder of Universal Pictures, decided that the studio should film Gaston Leroux's classic gothic novel, The Phantom of the Opera. Lon Chaney, "The Man of a Thousand Faces," was hired and given free reign to invent make-up for his role as the Phantom. Little cost was spared in creating vast, water-filled spaces to depict the Phantom's underground lake and lair.

But the biggest set created for the production was the Paris Opera House -- a full-scale reproduction of the famous French landmark. But how could the set be built? All films were made outdoors in broad daylight. To build a set that big, an actual building would need to be built, and that simply could not be done. Indeed, any building would require a roof to be architecturally stable, and that was impossible given the need for bright sunlight. Worse, how could the massive, heavy film cameras (which weighed close to a quarter of a ton) be gotten eight stories in the air? The script called for shots that would show the the top of the stage, and then pan or dolly downward to show the stage. How could such massive weight be moved?

Laemmle had an idea...

The Paris Opera House set was nearly eight stories tall. Universal's lot backed up onto some hills. Why not build the "back" of the Opera House at the foot of the hill? That way, only the stage and rear and side walls would need to built. As for the camera, it could sit on narrow-gauge railroad tracks, and be pulled up and down the steep hillside.

And so, the Paris Opera House rose on the back lot of Universal Pictures. The building seemed to have been half-swallowed up by the hill, and the roof blown off.

But it worked.

The script for the The Phantom of the Opera also called for a shot of the top of the Paris Opera House. The massive statue of "Apollo's Lyre" would form the backdrop for a scene in which the lovers, Raoul and Christine, conspire to flee Paris while the Phantom spies on them from atop the statue. This, too, was built on the hillside. The "roof" of the Opera House was just a raised platform, while the camera moved up and down in the grass on its tracks on the hillside.

The set for the 1925 version of the Phantom of the Opera is partially still visible on the Universal Studios back lot. It sits on Set 28, although it is unused because it has become so unstable and decrepit.

When you watch the 1925 version of the Phantom of the Opera, you are seeing images filmed in broad daylight.

That is why the film is so goddamned amazing. These actors, the sets, the costumes, the look of the production -- it transports you to the dead of night. It was all blue skies and clear days during the production. But when you see this film, you feel the dusty dry air of the Opera House in your lungs. You feel the dank of the catacombs. You feel the cool, misty air of the roof on an October night.

My god, that is good filmmaking.
The newborn baby panda at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., has died.

Zoo officials said that mother Mei Xiang made a distressed honk at 9:00 AM on Sunday, September 23. She then abandoned her cub. An hour later, without any noise coming from the normally squealing infant, veterinarians rushed into the panda enclosure. They administered CPR, but the cub was dead.

The unnamed panda cub appeared to be female, they said. There was no sign of trauma, Mei Xiang had been grooming and nursing her cub, and the infant was vocalizing in a healthy way. And then, without warning, the cub was dead.

Mei Xiang remained distressed all day Sunday and Monday. She kept cradling a toy as if it were her cub.

Officials said that a preliminary necropsy showed that the cub had an abnormal liver, but that further tests were necessary to determine a real cause of death.

Eight of the nine panda cubs born at the National Zoo have died in infancy. One was stillborn. Only a single cub, Tai Shan, surived into adulthood.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Fall - DC - 2011-11-13

Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.
- Albert Camus

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Salem Witch Trials began in February 1692 and did not end until May 1693. They occurred in the Massachusetts towns of Salem Village (now Danvers), Ipswich, Andover, and Salem Town (now Salem).

One of the accused was 81-year-old farmer Giles Corey. His pious wife, Martha, had expressed her skepticism about "witches" attacking girls in the town, and was promptly accused herself of witchcraft in March 1692. When Giles protested her innocence, he too was accused of witchcraft. The Coreys lingered in prison until September. Martha was indicted and condemned to die by hanging on September 22.

Giles, however, refused to acknowledge the jurisdiction of the court and enter a plea. To force him to plea, he was subjected to "pressing." On September 17, he was taken to a field, stripped naked, and forced to lie in a shallow trench. A board was placed on his chest. Giant boulders were placed on the board (each one requiring six men to lift). When as ked to plead, Giles merely hissed, "More weight." The weight was duly added. By the second day, his eyes and tongue were bulging from his head. But he refused to moan, refused to plead for mercy, and refused to acknowledge the court's jurisdiction.

Giles Corey died at noon on September 19, 1692. His last words were "More weight!"


Monday, September 17, 2012

WE HAVE A BABY PANDA AT THE NATIONAL ZOO IN D.C.!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Because they are so fragile and prone to illness and death, panda cubs are not named until they are 100 days old.

It's panda-monium!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

A friend of mine contacted me, railing about how Obama is "printing money" to boost the economy and how this is going to create hyperinflation, blah blah blah.

There are no "paper dollars" being printed. That's nonsense. The paper and coin money supply (what the Fed calls "M0" or "M zero") has remained constant (after accounting for economic and population growth) for 40 years.

Perhaps you mean the M2 money supply, Chadwick. That's the M0 plus all savings and checking deposits, money market accounts, mutual funds, and CDs under $100,000. Or perhaps you mean the M4 -- which is M2, plus large-denomination CDs, commercial bonds, and Treasury bonds?

M4 -- the broadest measure of the money supply -- is just where it was in July 2008. Despite short-term fluctuations (primarily due to the "QE2" round of bond buying in 2009), the Fed actually contracted the money supply beginning in June 2010.

The problem is that 85 percent of all money in the system is M0. The Fed only creates about 15 percent of the M4 money supply. Even if the Fed were to explode the money supply it controls by 50 percent, that would translate to just a 7 percent increase in the total M4.

The reason why there's a myth of money supply explosion is because the press treats the various components of the money supply as equal. This is like adding up the total money owned by four local S&Ls and credit unions with Bank of America's $2.5 trillion, then dividing by five and assuming that your local teensy banks have as much access to funds as BoA. It's typical nonsense reporting about economics.

What the Quantitative Easing (QE) is designed to do is prevent privately-held money from going into safe U.S. Treasury bonds. Very little private money is being loaned out or used -- which is killing economic growth. It's going only into the most safe investments, which offer little return and generate little growth. Those safe investments are U.S. Treasury bills and bonds.

To prevent investors for dumping money into those T-bonds and bills, the Fed is going to buy them up first. This is the thrid round of QE, or QE3. The Fed hopes that this will force investors to seek other, slightly more risky but also much more efficient and growth-producing, investments.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

We have a bucket of chocolate sitting out in the reception area at work. During summer months, it is a "sand bucket" with small shovel -- like you see kids playing with on the beach. During September and October, it's either a Halloween pumpkin or a witch's cauldron.

This year, it's the cauldron. One of my co-workers came up to me and said, "Oh, good, the cauldron! What's that phrase again... Double, double, something?"

I replied (in an appropriately witchy voice): "Double, double, toil and trouble / Fire burn, and cauldron bubble..."

"Is there a name for that?" he asked.

"Yes," I replied. "Macbeth."

Sunday, September 9, 2012

I did some night photography at the Korean War Veterans Memorial last week. You can see all the photos here.

Korean War Veterans Memorial 20 - 2012-09-06
STILL one of the goddamned funniest things The Onion has ever done.

Fall 2011 on Good Hope Road

Fall is coming. It's just 71 degrees this morning in Washington, D.C. There's a delightful crispness in the air.

Everyone else is wedded to summer. I feel like fall is the "gay marriage" of seasons: Just try being wedded to it! People will condemn you for not adhering to the norm.

I don't know why summer has never been my season. Maybe I'm a natural contrarian. Maybe it's because it always seems so hot, so humid, so unendingly the same. Day after day after day of undending sun, unending brightness, unending sameness. So little variation. Just drying out more and more...

Until fall comes. Until things change. Until frost can be seen some mornings, and other days not. Until the leaves change, fall, trees become bare. Fall is the time of ripening, then harvest, then nesting. Fall is the time of holidays, of preparation, of excitement.

Summer is sloth. Summer is easy. Summer has no challenges.

Fall is the time of life.

I'm almost alone in this. Which makes fall a time of sadness.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

U.S. Air Force Memorial. On Friday evening... What a view!!

AF Memorial
Bernard Malamud was one of the most noted American authors of the 20th century. His baseball novel, The Natural, was adapted into a film. His novel The Fixer won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize.

This is from Writers on Writing, Vol. 9:
Interviewer: What about work habits? Some writers, especially at the beginning, have problems settling how to do it.

Malamud: There's no one way -- there's o much drivel about this subject. You're who you are, not Fitzgerald or Thomas Wolfe, You write by sitting down and writing. There's no particular time or place -- you suit yourself, your nature. How one works, assuming he's disciplined, doesn't matter. If he or she is not disciplined, no sympathetic magic will help. The trick is to make time -- not steal it -- and produce the fiction. If the stories come, you get them written, you're on the right track. Eventually everyone learns his or her own best way. The real mystery is to crack you.

Interviewer: What about the number of drafts? Some writers write only one.

Malamud: They're cheating themselves. First drafts are for learning what your novel or story is about. Revisions is working with that knowledge to enlarge and enhance an idea, to re-form it. D.H. Lawnrece, for instance, did seven of eight drafts of The Rainbow. The first daft of a book is the most uncertain -- where you need guts, the ability to accept the imperfect until it is better. Revision is one of the true pleasures of writing. "The men and things of today are wont to lie farier and turer in tomorrow's memory," Thoreau said.


Interviewer: Anything else?

Malamud: watch out for self-deceit in fiction. Writer truthfully but with cunning.

Interviewer: Anything special to more experienced writers?

Malamud: To any writer: Teach yourself to work in uncertainty. Many writers are anxious when they begin, or try something new. Even Matisse painted some of his fauvist pictures in axiety. Maybe that helped him to simplify. Character, discipline, negative capability count! Write, complete, revise. If it doesn't work, begin something else.

Interviewer: And if it doesn't work twenty or thirty times?

Malamud: You live your life as best you can.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

This is a goddamn amazing piece of photography. I wish I knew who the artist was.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Joe Hill was born Joel Emmanuel Hägglund in Gävle, Sweden, on October 7, 1879. He suffered a severe case of tuberculosis, and in 1902 he and his brother Paul emigrated to the United States. Hill became a migrant laborer, working his way across the continent.

Around 1910, he joined the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) -- a nascent labor union that believed in individual labor contracts, was extremely militant, and radically socialist. The IWW used the arts to advance their cause, educate workers about unions and workers' rights, and as propaganda. Hill quickly became an avid songwriter, poet, and cartoonist for the IWW. he wrote several famous songs which are still sung by labor unions of all types today. Including these are "The Preacher and the Slave", "The Tramp", "There is Power in a Union", and "The Rebel Girl". Having trouble finding work, Hill began working his way east again. By 1913, he was working in a silver mine near Park City, Utah.

On January 10, 1914, grocer John G. Morrison and his 18-year-old son Arling were killed in their Salt Lake City grocery store by two armed intruders masked wearing red bandannas over their faces. Morrison was a former police officer who'd made numerous enemies. When the two men burst into the shop, Arling fired at one of the men. Arling was killed immediately. John Morrison lived a few minutes. That same evening, Joe Hill visited a local doctor -- a bullet wound through the left lung. Hill said that he had been shot in an argument over a woman, and refused to name the girl. Hill was arrested and charged with murder. A red bandanna was found in his room, but no weapon.

At first, the police believed one of Morrison's old enemies had killed him. Morrison told the police on several occasions he had a number of enemies who carried a grudge. In fact, Morrison had already had at least one shootout with armed men at his store. Criminal Frank Z. Wilson was arrested just an hour after the murders walking in the snow nearby without an overcoat. He had a bloody handkerchief on him. Wilson lied repeatedly to the police about his whereabouts and the source of the bloody handerchief, but released him for reasons that were never made clear. Instead, police learned of Hill's gunshot wound and quickly arrested Hill -- based only on the fact that he'd been shot. The district attorney rejected the police's early theories about revenge, and decided to try Hill without offering a motive for murder.

The prosecution produced 12 witnesses who testifed that one of the killers resembled Hill. Thirteen-year-old Merlin Morrison had been in the store's back room, and did not clearly see the killers. But he heard one of them shout, "We've got you now!" At first, Merlin was not able to identify Hill as the shooter, and only did so weeks later.

Hill's attorney introduced evidence Hill's arms had been raised over his head when he was shot. The bullet hole in Hill's coat was too low to correspond with the wound in his chest (indicating that the coat was "riding up", which could only happen if his arms were raised). Four other people were treated for bullet wounds in Salt Lake City that same night, but none of them were arrested. Furthermore, there was no evidence that Arling Morrison had actually hit anyone. (The police never checked the store to see if the bullet had gone wide.) The defense also asked what motive Hill might have had, since no robbery had taken place and Hill and Morrison did not know one another. Instead, the defense suggested that one of Morrison's old enemies was responsible.

Hill refused to testify. Hill argued that he did not need to prove his innocence, and that the state's evidence was too flimsy for a conviction. He also said it was none of the state's business as to why he had a gunshot wound, and privately told friends that he refused to drag the name of the woman in question into court. But many of Hill's supporters, then and now, believe that Hill knew he was going to be convicted. Hill, they say, was convinced that he would serve the labor movement better as a martyr than as a prisoner.

The jury, made aware of Hill's IWW membership, convicted him of murder after just a few hours.

An appeal to the Utah Supreme Court was unsuccessful. President Woodrow Wilson personally asked the Governor of Utah to give clemency Helen Keller wrote a heartrending letter to the governor as well. The Swedish ambassador to the United States also urged that the sentence be commuted to life in prison. None of this worked.

Hill was executed by firing squad on November 19, 1915. His body was sent to Chicago where it was cremated. More than 30,000 people attended his funeral. His ashes were placed into 600 small envelopes and distributed to IWW leaders, members, and local unions all over the world. But not all the ashes were disposed of... In 1988, the U.S. Postal Service revealed it had seized an envelope of Hill's ashes in 1917. They were turned over to the IWW in 1988. Labor songwriter Billy Bragg has a small portion of them. The majority of the ashes were dispersed in the Australia, Canada, Nicaragua, Sweden, and the U.S. A small portion of the ashes sent to Sweden were interred in the wall of a union office in Landskrona. (The building is now the reading room of the local city library.) A portion of the ashes were also scattered at the monument to six unarmed IWW coal miners buried in Lafayette, Colorado, who had been machine-gunned by Colorado state police in 1927 in the Columbine Mine Massacre.

Just prior to his execution, Hill wrote to Bill Haywood, the IWW leader: "Goodbye Bill. I die like a true blue rebel. Don't waste any time in mourning. Organize..."

In 2011, author William M. Adler published The Man Who Never Died -- a book which cited evidence that the police actually suspected Frank Z. Wilson of the crime. Adler also discovered evidence that Hill and his friend Otto Appelquist were both wooing 20-year-old Hilda Erickson at the time. Adler discovered letter written by Erickson in 1949 in which she confirmed that both men were rivals for her affections. Erickson's letter states that Hill had been shot by Appelquist. Many historians believe that this evidence shows that Hill was innocent.

* * * * * * * * * * *

In 1930, British-American poet Alfred Hayes wrote a poem title "I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night". In 1936, songwriter Earl Robinson was one of several activists staying at Camp Unity, New York, as part of a strategizing retreat for left-wingeres. A campfire was held during the retreat to honor Joe Hill. Several songwriters agreed to write songs commemorating Hill for the campfire. Hayes gave his poem to Robinson, who wrote the tune in 40 minutes.

"I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night" (better known as "Joe Hill") has been recorded by African American actor and singer Paul Robeson, folk singer Pete Seeger, the Irish folk group The Dubliners, Joan Baez, and Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello. (Phil Ochs recorded a song about Joe Hill, but it uses different lyrics and a different tune.) The most famous recording of the song is the one done by Joan Baez at Woodstock in 1969.

I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night
Alive as you and me
Says I, "But Joe, you're ten years dead"
"I never died" said he
"I never died" said he

"The Copper Bosses killed you Joe
They shot you Joe" says I
"Takes more than guns to kill a man"
Says Joe "I didn't die"
Says Joe "I didn't die"

And standing there as big as life
And smiling with his eyes
Says Joe "What they can never kill
Went on to organize
Went on to organize"

From San Diego up to Maine
In every mine and mill
Where working men defend their rights
It's there you'll find Joe Hill
It's there you'll find Joe Hill

I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night
Alive as you and me
Says I, "But Joe, you're ten years dead"
"I never died" said he
"I never died" said he
Lex Luthor: Otis, do you know why the number 200 is so descriptive of both you and me?

Otis: Uh...

Lex Luthor: Your weight, my I.Q.

Superman (1978)

Happy Labor Day!

No surprise these days, but not a single American movie channel is running a Labor Day movie marathon. Here's a good list of union-related films. While there are films to choose from, it's amazing how few of these depict unions in a positive light.

  • Strike! (Stachka!) (Goskino, 1924; Sergei Eisenstein, dir.) -- This is a film about a general strike by labor unions in Russia in 1905 which led to an abortive revolution. Sergei Eisenstein was one of the great early film directors. He invented the concept of "montage" -- the editing together of images in quick succession in order to create a mood or reaction. Today, montage is used so extensively that most audiences probably don't even notice. Strike! was Eisenstein's first feature-length film, and the first to utilize his new technique of montage. The story is about the brutality visited on workers at a steel mill. Czarist officials help the plant's owners cruelly and violently suppress the workers' protests. Finally, the workers revolt. Not released in the United States until 1977, the film was a worldwide box office hit when released in 1924.
  • The Devil and Miss Jones (RKO, 1941; Sam Wood, dir.) -- This is a classic comedy film which stars Jean Arthur as Mary Jones, a sales clerk in a huge New York City department store. Jones is working with union man Joe O'Brien (played by Robert Cummings) to organize the over-worked salespeople. Charles Coburn plays John Merrick, the vile and money-grubbing store owner who ruthlessly shuts his stores when there's even a whiff of union organizing. Convinced his spies and private detectives are not ferreting out the pro-union workers, Merrick (who is a recluse who's never been photographed) decides to go undercover take a job in his own store. He quickly realizes how cruel his managers are, and is treated decently and humanely by Mary Jones and Joe O'Brien. As Mary and Joe begin to fall in love, Merrick begins to be wooed by an older saleswoman as well. It's wickedly funny, and was a major box office success in the U.S.
  • On the Waterfront (Columbia, 1954; Elia Kazan, dir.) -- Except for Harlan County, USA, this is probably the best film about a labor union ever made. It's also rigidly critical of them. Marlon Brando stars as Terry Malloy, a member of a corrupt longshoreman's union in New York City. When a fellow union member rats out the Mafia-controlled union, the man is brutally murdered in full view of hundreds of people as a lesson to everyone. The dead man's sister, Edie Doyle (played by Eva Marie Saint), tries to hunt down his killer and starts with Malloy. She's aided by Father Barry (Karl Malden). But union boss Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb) pressures Malloy to keep his mouth shut, even as he ratchets up the pressure on Edie and Father Barry. The film came out at the height of the Cold War. Although a socialist, Kazan had named names in hearings before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) -- earning him the lasting enmity of liberal Hollywood. Nevertheless, On the Waterfront contains a strong caution against naming names, and advocates a principled stand.
  • Salt of the Earth (No distributor, 1954; Herbert Biberman, dir.) -- Made in 1954, this film was the only motion picture officially blacklisted by the U.S. Congress. The film was unanimously denounced by U.S. House of Representatives, the FBI investigated the film's financiers, the American Legion led a nationwide boycott against the film, film-processing labs refused to work on the film, and projectionists were instructed not to show it. Anti-Communist vigilantes fired rifle shots at the set, the leading lady was deported to Mexico in the middle of production, and the film had to be edited in secret and stored for safekeeping in an anonymous wooden shack in a Los Angeles suburb. The Hollywood Reporter claimed the film was made "under direct orders of the Kremlin," and legendary critic Pauline Kael labeled it "Communist propaganda". What's it all about? Salt of the Earth is about a year-long struggle by Mexican-American zinc miners in New Mexico to form a union and win higher wages. The film is based on the real-life strike against the Empire Zinc Company in Bayard, New Mexico, in 1950-1951. The film was shot in semi-documentary and neo-realist style. Misogynist labor leader Ramon Quintero (played by Juan Chacon) organizes the strike. His wife, Esperanza (played by Rosaura Revueltas), is pregnant with their third child and reluctant to take part in the strike. But when the government wins a Taft-Hartley Act injunction and shuts down the strike with troops, the women take the place of the men on the picket line and win the strike. The film saw only undeground screenings in the 1960s, and was not shown commercially in the U.S. until 1999. While the film's cinematography and acting are considered smarmy and treacly, the film has won kudos for accurately depicting union organizing.
  • Harlan County, USA (Cabin Creek Films, 1976; Barbara Kopple, dir.) -- In 1973, 180 coal miners in Harlan County, Kentucky, went on strike for higher wages, a safe workplace, and health insurance which covered black lung disease. These miners made a third of the income that other coal miners in the area did. The accident rate was three times higher than in nearby mines, and the Eastside Mining Co. refused to establish an accident committee as required by law. During the strike, county police beat picketers brutally with steel pipes. Scabs shot strikers (several miners died), but the police called it justifiable homicide and refused to investigate. The national United Mine Workers president, W.A. "Tony" Boyle, had murdered Jock Yablonski -- the man who challenged him for the UMWA presidency in 1969. (Boyle's conviction occurred during making of the documentary.) Boyle he denies that coal dust causes black lung disease. The film focuses a great deal on the miners' wives, who provide the backbone for the strike as their husbands are attacked on the picket line. The film won the Academy Award for Best Documentary in 1977, and was been selected for preservation by the Library of Congress' National Film Registry.
  • Norma Rae (20th Century Fox, 1979; Martin Ritt, dir.) -- Martin Ritt had been a theatrical director and producer before getting blacklisted during the Red Scare of the 1950s. He moved to television, and then film. He was a highly regarded director, and helmed The Long Hot Summer (1958), Hud (1963), The Spy Who Came In from the Cold (1965), The Great White Hope (1970) and Sounder (1972). He was 65 years old when he made Norma Rae, and would only make three more films. Norma Rae is based on the real-life union organizing campaign at the massive J.P. Stevens textile plants in North Carolina. The film is based on the life of Crystal Lee Jordan. It won two Oscars -- one for Best Actress (Sally Field) and Best Original Song ("It Goes Like It Goes"). It was nominated for Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay as well. Field stars as Norma Rae, a textile worker who is dating a local worker named Sonny (Beau Bridges). When union organizer Reuben (Ron Leibman) comes to town, he convinces her that the union is the only way to improve her life. Sonny, though, is sure that Norma Rae is sleeping with Reuben. As the company begins to put the screws to Norma Rae, Sonny demands that she stop seeing Reuben. The union wins (although, in real life, Jordan was fired from her job and it took the union 20 years to win). The film was a huge box office success, and resurrected Sally Field's career.
  • The Killing Floor (American Playhouse/PBS, 1985; Bill Duke, dir.) -- This made-for-TV movie first aired on American Playhouse on PBS. Damien Leake plays a young black Southern sharecropper who moves to Chicago in 1919. He falls in love with Alfre Woodard, and gets a job in a local stockyard. He soon is promoted to the slaughterhouse, where working conditions are brutal and many workers have died due to unsafe conditions. He tries to form an interracial union. But the with World War I ending and massive layoffs occuring, the boss decides to bust the union by firing only the white workers. The result is a massive race riot which destroys the union and wipes out the nascent middle-class black community. The film is based on true-life events and a real race riot. While notable, the film never saw a theatrical release and remains largely unknown today.
  • Gung Ho (Paramount, 1986; Ron Howard, dir.) -- Ron Howard was at the top of his game in 1986. He'd made Grand Theft Auto (1977), Night Shift (1982), Splash (1984), and Cocoon (1985). Gung Ho was his first stumble. Michael Keaton (coming off the huge hits Night Shift and Mr. Mom) plays a foreman at an American automobile factory in Michigan who is laid off due to competition with the Japanese. Keaton goes to Japan and convinces a Japanese car company to buy the plant and re-start production. They do so, but they also install bumbling manager Gedde Watanabe (coming off a hilarous turn in Sixteen Candles and soon to make the hit film Short Circuit). Soon, Keaton's union buddies (George Wendt and John Turturro) lead the workers out on strike as they resist the Japanese management techniques. Keaton learns that the plant will close permanently if it doesn't meet its production quotas. Unable to tell his buddies, he tries to restart production on his own. Everyone pulls together in the end, the plant is saved, and everyone learns something from everyone else. The film was a box office hit (it made $36 million), but quickly sank from sight. In retrospect, it's a silly and trite film (like most Ron Howard films). Toyota executives actually used the film for some years as an example of American management practices.
  • Matewan (Cinecom Pictures, 1987; John Sayles, dir.) -- This cult independent film is based on the real-life Battle of Matewan. The United Mine Workers was trying to organize various mines in West Virginia in the 1910s and 1920s. In May 1920, mine owners decided to evict pro-union miners from their company-owned homes. The company hired the Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency to evict the miners, even though only the local police had the power to carry out evictions. The police chief in the town of Matewan, West Virginia, decided to arrest the detectives. When the "detectives" arrived in town on the train, a group of local pro-union miners arrived with the police chief and confronted the detectives. In response, the detectives produced a falsified arrest warrant for for the police chief. The town mayor arrived to sort out the dispute, and shots were fired. The mayor, eight Baldwin-Felts detectives, and two miners died. Eighteen months later, Baldwin-Felts detectives assassinated the local police chief in retaliation. The union conducted a massive organizing campaign in response. The mine owners, in cahoots with the U.S. government, had federal troops dispatched to put down the strike. The miners fought back, leading to the Battle of Blair Mountain -- the largest civil insurrection in American history since the Civil War. The film is a fictional account of the lead-up to the shootings. It stars Chris Cooper as United Mine Workers organizer, Mary McDonell as a miner's widow, David Strathairn as the police chief, Bob Gunton as the Baldwin-Felts leader, and Kevin Tighe as a spy inside the miner's union. Matewan is considered a superb film, and probably the best film about unions ever made.
  • American Dream (Cabin Creek Films, 1990; Barbara Kopple, Cathy Caplan, Thomas Haneke, and Lawrence Silk, dirs.) -- Barbara Kopple won her second Best Documentary Oscar for American Dream. The film is about the notorious strike by United Food and Commerical Workers (UFCW) Local P-9 against Hormel Foods in Austin, Minnesota. The strike began in 1985 when Hormel cut wages from $10.69 an hour to $8.25 and hour and benefits by 30 percent. Local P-9 was unprepared for a strike, but at first the UFCW supported the local union. After a few months, however, with the strikers in financial distress and Hormel unwilling to reconsider its cuts, the international parent union decided it was time to end the strike. Local P-9 refused, and hired union consultant Ray Rogers to lead a comprehensive campaign against Hormel. At first, the campaign showed signs of success. But Hormel responded by telling UFCW it would impose cuts on other UFCW unions nationwide if the international did not rein Local P-9 in. Soon, Local P-9 was battling UFCW as well as Hormel. UFCW imposed a trusteeship on the local, forcing them to abandon the strike and fire Rogers. UFCW staff representative Joe Hansen (now president of UFCW) led the trusteeship. Hormel refused to recognize the union after the strike ended, and Local P-9 dissolved in 1986. The strike at Hormel is seen as indicative of the problems labor unions faced in the 1980s and 1990s as local and regional companies globalized and unions failed to adapt. It is also seen as a sign of the conservative "business unionism" practiced by many in the American labor movement, and a betrayal of the workers at Local P-9. Or is it? Could a local of 250 workers hitch a union of 1.3 million workers to its cause and force it to do battle against a massive corporation without any discussion ahead of time? American Dream is not nearly as good as Harlan County USA, but it won the Oscar nonetheless.
  • The Cradle Will Rock (Touchstone Pictures, 1999; Tim Robbins, dir.) -- This film is a partly fictionalized telling of the events surrounding the production of the 1937 musical The Cradle Will Rock, which was written and directed by Marc Blitzstein. In real life, the production was to be staged by Orson Welles and John Houseman with funding from the Federal Theatre Project. The musical follows the story of workers in "Steeltown, USA", as they try to form a union and fight the evil Mr. Mister. The day before it was due to open, the Federal Theatre Project closed the production down due to complaints from right-wing Republican members of Congress. The federal government even surrounded the theater with troops in order to prevent the play from being staged. Blitzstein, Welles, and Houseman then hired another theater nearby and staged the play anyway. The film version of this story ties in the history of the American labor movement in the 1930s, the censorship fomented by the House Un-American Activities Committee, the destruction of various socialist-inspired works of art, and more. The movie was directed by actor Tim Robbins. It stars Hank Azaria as Marc Blitzstein, Ruben Blades as Diego Rivera, John Cusack as Nelson Rockefeller, Cary Elwes as John Houseman, and Angus Macfadyen as Orson Welles.
  • Bread and Roses (Lions Gate, 2000; Ken Loach, dir.) -- The phrase "bread and roses" refers to a textile strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts, in the winter of 1912. The workers, mostly women, demanded not just a living wage but a wage would would let them have "bread and roses" (e.g., man does not live by bread alone). The phrase was used by women on the picket line. This film, by legendary British director Ken Loach, is about an illegal immigrant (Pilar Padilla) who arrives in Los Angeles and gets a job as an office cleaner. Adrien Brody co-stars as a sleazy lawyer and union organizer for the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). The two team up to fight the cruel employer and form a union. Wildly successful among progressives and critics (it won the Palm d'Or at Cannes), the film basically made no impact on American audiences.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

If Washington, D.C., football team quarterback Robert Griffin III wanted to really endear himself to fans, he'd take off that shirt.

The only time RGIII was seen shirtless was some years ago...

During "Asylum of the Daleks", the Doctor passes by five of the most insane Daleks in the Asylum. He names them as Spiridon, Aridius, Kembel Vulcan, and Exxilon. Where do these names come from? Well....
  • Aridius - This is the name of the planet in the First Doctor serial "The Chase" (1965). It is famous for being the last time we see Barbara and Ian, and for introducing the Daleks' other arch-foe, the Mechonoids.
  • Kembel - This is the name of the planet seen in the First Doctor serials "Mission to the Unknown" and "The Daleks' Master Plan" (both 1965). "Mission" is notable for being one of the few single-episode serials in the original series, and for being the only one in which The Doctor and his friends never appear.
  • Vulcan - This is the name of the Second Doctor serial "Power of the Daleks" (1966). This is notable for being the first appearance of the Second Doctor.
  • Spiridon - This is the name of the planet seen in the Third Doctor serial "Planet of the Daleks" (1973).
  • Exxilon - This is the name of the planet in the Third Doctor serial "Death to the Daleks" (1974).
Most other Dalek episodes took place on Skaro or on Earth. Interestingly, the planet Necros is not mentioned -- even though the Sixth Doctor encountered Daleks there.

I have climbed the highest mountains
I have run through the fields
Only to be with you
Only to be with you
I have run
I have crawled
I have scaled these city walls
These city walls
Only to be with you

But I still haven't found what I'm looking for
But I still haven't found what I'm looking for

I have kissed honey lips
Felt the healing in her fingertips
It burned like fire
This burning desire

I have spoke with the tongue of angels
I have held the hand of a devil
It was warm in the night
I was cold as a stone

But I still haven't found what I'm looking for
But I still haven't found what I'm looking for

I believe in the kingdom come
When all the colors will bleed into one
Bleed into one
But yes, I'm still running

You broke the bonds and you
Loosed the chains
Carried the cross
Of my shame
Of my shame
You know I believe it

But I still haven't found what I'm looking for
But I still haven't found what I'm looking for
But I still haven't found what I'm looking for
But I still haven't found what I'm looking for

I stayed up wayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy too late last night talking with a friend who is working out some issues. It's left me fucked up. I cannot seem to be able to sleep once the sun is up. So, naturally, after just five hours of sleep, I shot awake.

This has left me brain-dead and exhausted. It's now 3:15 PM, and I've blown off my entire day. I'll blow off my entire night, too, I'm sure. This sucks.

I cooked breakfast: corned beef hash, eggs, toast, coffee. I read the newspaper.

I watched Jurassic Park for the first time in probably a decade. It holds up quite well. I can see where repeated viewing would be annoying. But I'm increasingly impressed with Laura Dern's acting, and never understood why she never broke out as a huge star. She wins awards, she is continually acting. But...

In the past month, I've re-read Barbara Tuchman's The Guns of August, Agatha Christie's Funerals Are Fatal (for the zillionth time), John Taliaferro's Charles M. Russell: The Life and Legend of America's Great Cowboy Artist, and three gay YA novels: Malinda Lo's Huntress, Bil Wright's Putting Makeup on the Fat Boy, and Patrick Ryan's Gemini Bites.

I'm depressed because they can't figure out what's wrong with my foot, and I'm still locked in my soft cast. I've lost my whole summer, and probably will lose my fall as well. This sucks.

History repeats itself.

About seven years ago, I decided I didn't know jack squat about the Great Depression. I could yammer on authoritatively, but it only sounded authoritative because everyone else I knew was even more ignorant than I was about it. I was, really, a Dom for the intellectually Submissive set.

I can't stand myself when I'm ignorant, though. So I started to read. I liked the first volume in the Oxford History of the United States (all but one of the other volumes, however, are awful). So I got David Kennedy's Freedom From Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929–1945. It won the Pulitzer Prize, and the Parkman Prize for history. It's good, but the book doesn't really delve too deeply into the causes of the Great Depression...or into anything, really. The work simply bites off far, far, more than it can chew. I mean, how much detail can you really bring to 500 pages on both the Great Depression and World War II? Geez!

Next I read John Kenneth Galbraith's The Great Crash, 1929. Galbraith's thesis is that the stock market crash was really due to rampant speculation on Wall Street -- nothing more than a stock bubble. But with a weak banking system (over-expansion of branches, too little in reserves, bank speculation in the stock market, massive embezzlement, and little regulation) and vast amounts of corporate debt (repeated buyouts and use of debt to finance them), the stock market crash plunged the nation into depression. The top 5 percent of income earners spent one-third of the money in the economy. With the economy so dependent on consumer spending, the sudden drop in income of the wealthiest Americans left the economy prone to depression.

Galbraith's book is good and all, but it is solely about the stock market crash of October 1929.

I wanted more.

Dumbly, I googled some top ten lists on the Web, and chose Arthur M. Schlesinger's three-volume (!) work, "The Age of Roosevelt." These three books are exactly what I craved: A deeply detailed look at politics and economics. The first book, Crisis of the Old Order documents the period from the end of World War I to Franklin D. Roosevelt's inauguration on March 3, 1933. The second, The Coming of the New Deal, documents Roosevelt's planning for his first term, the various crises he faced which he had not anticipated, and the implementation of the New Deal over the next four years. The final book, The Politics of Upheaval, cover the period leading up to Roosevelt's re-election bid in 1936, including the reassertion of power by business (begging that Roosevelt take fascist control over the economy in 1933, castigating him as a dictator two years later) and Republicans, the legal troubles of the New Deal, Roosevelt's conception of a "Second New Deal" that focused on social justice and not economics, and his winning campaign.

What is so fascinating is how uncannily events of the past four years mimic the implementation of the New Deal.

There were essentially three prongs to the New Deal. The first was to stabilize the economy by adopting a series of measures designed to stop the downward plunge into chaos. These included:
  • The Emergency Banking Act (passed six days into Roosevelt's presidency!), which gave the President control over the banking industry and which gave the Federal Reserve the authority to make loans to banks to keep them solvent.

  • The Agricultural Adjustment Act, which paid farmers to take acreage out of production and thus boost farm prices.

  • The Federal Emergency Relief Act, which gave grants to the states for the purpose of providing welfare payments to the homeless, poor, and needy.

  • The Homeowners Refinancing Act, which gave loans to homeowners in danger of losing their homes, or who could not buy a home because of the insolvency of local banks.

  • The Farm Credit Act, which allowed farmers to refinance their loans at below-market rates (and stave off bankruptcy).

  • The Glass–Steagall Act, which separated consumer banking from investment banking.

  • The Banking Act, which created insurance to protect depositors' savings if their bank went belly-up.

  • The Securities Act, which regulated the stock market for the first time.
But these legislative accomplishments helped merely to stop the economy from plunging further into depression. They were not intended to overcome the basic, systemic problems in the economy nor were they intended to actually put people back to work.

In May 1933, Congress began pushing Roosevelt to take action on the remaining two issues. The President submitted legislation to Congress, and on June 16, 1933, Congress enacted the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA).

NIRA had two major goals.

The first was to correct what economists, lawyers, and business people believed was a major failing of corporate America: Excessive competition. This excessive competition created a "race to the bottom" for business that left prices below the cost of production. It encouraged businesses to stint on workplace safety, cut wages to poverty levels (thus depriving consumers of the income needed to buy the goods they themselves made), and engage in unethical business practices. Roosevelt, like most Republicans, believed that the government should pretty much keep its paws off the marketplace. Government could help business by engaging in national planning, which provided for a more stable economic environment. Businesses could better plan and spend in this environment than in a more chaotic, laissez-faire system.

But how could government correct the other problems? One way was to foster and support labor unions, which could help keep business in check.

Another way was to regulate business. But Roosevelt didn't want to do that. As the former head of a trade association, Roosevelt believed that government promotion of "self-organization" by trade associations was the least-intrusive and yet most effective method for achieving economic regulation. He preferred "gentlemen's agreements" -- private agreements to rein in bad business practices and keep costs at a level that produced just enough but not too much profit. But federal anti-trust law prevented such agreements. NIRA, however, provided limited anti-trust exemptions for businesses so long as they made their agreements with the National Recovery Administration (the agency created to implement and oversee NIRA).

And that's what happened: Under NIRA, a vast number of private, industry-wide agreements were made which created trade associations that instituted "fair" trade practices. Price-fixing, cost controls, assignment of raw materials, and more were controlled by more than 5,000 regulations and 3,000 administrative orders enforced by hundreds of national, regional, and local code boards.

The second major aspect of the NIRA was public works. People had to be put to work, Roosevelt reasoned, and if business would not do it then the federal government would. Besides, after nearly five years of depression, vast numbers of projects were desperately needed: Roads had to be built, bridges constructed, buildings erected, parks and playgrounds established, rivers dredged, canals dug, airports constructed, dams put in place, electrical generation facilities built, ports created. Vast bottlenecks in the economy -- created by lack of infrastructure -- were stifling economic growth. The government could step in and construct these things, not only putting people to work (and helping stimulate economic growth by giving people income) but also by eliminating these bottlenecks.

Thus, NIRA also created the Public Works Administration (PWA).

But the leadership of the PWA was torn over the new agency's mission.

PWA could initiate its own construction projects, distribute money to other federal agencies to fund their construction projects, or make loans to states and localities to fund their construction projects. But many in the Roosevelt administration felt PWA should not spend money for fear of worsening the federal deficit. (Sound familiar????) So funds flowed slowly, and few people were put to work in 1934 and 1935.

Furthermore, the very nature of construction (planning, specifications, and blueprints) also held up the disbursement of money. (Sound familiar??) Many projects -- like construction of the USS Yorktown and USS Enterprise, the 30th Street railroad station in Philadelphia, the Triborough Bridge in New York city, the port of Brownsville in texas, Grand Coulee Dam, Boulder Dam, Fort Peck Dam, Bonneville Dam, and the Overseas Highway connecting Key West with the mainland -- took years to complete. Some of these projects were not finished by the time World War II broke out (and made all of this unnecessary).

PWA's administrator, Harold Ickes, was also determined to ensure that graft and corruption did not tarnish the agency's reputation and lead to the loss of political support in Congress. (Sound familiar???) So he moved very cautiously in spending the agency's money. Even though planning could take years, Ickes refused to engage even in planning unless projects had been thoroughly, completedly, and utterly vetted by a cumbersome, laborious approval process.

It's endlessly fascinating to me that so much of the debate about the Obama administration's stimulus legislation mimics the debates of 1934 and 1935. The same arguments are made. The same rationales are used. The same behaviors are seen.

I sometimes make predictions to my friends about economics and politics of 2010 and 2011, based on what I know about the history of the New Deal. So far, my predictions have come true. I like to gloat about this to them, pretending I'm oh-so-smart. I'm not oh-so-smart. It's just that history repeats itself.

The Cylons on Battlestar Galactica were right!
When I started studying cinema -- and I mean, really educating myself about it -- I began reading. Not watching film. Reading. Today, I rely heavily on four books, which I've found amazingly useful in my understanding of cinema. These books are:
  • Jon Boorstin. The Hollywood Eye: What Makes Movies Work. HarperCollins, 1990.
  • David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson. Film Art: An Introduction. McGraw-Hill, 1993.
  • James Monaco. How to Read a Film: The Art, Technology, Language, History, and Theory of Film and Media. Rev. ed. Oxford University Press, 1981.
  • David Parkinson. History of Film. Thames and Hudson, 1995.
I read Bordwell and Thompson's book first, but I bought it at the same time that I bought Monaco's book. I got them both up at Kramerbooks on Dupont Circle. (The lure of that goddamn expensive bookstore is that I have to pass it every time I walk around Dupont Circle. Fuck!)

What I like about the Monaco and Bordwell/Thompson books are just how clear and simple they are. And how they address fundamental, technical things like "how a camera works" or "how a lens works" or "how sound works." They address things like the "180-rule" -- the rule of camera movement which says that you stay on one side or the other of two people talking, or else the audience becomes disoriented.

I like, too, how they really opened my eyes to the ways that cultural training and the way cultural norms make us "read" films one way rather than another.

Take this passage from Bordwell and Thompson's book:
Of all the techniques of cinema, mise-en-scene is the one with which we are most familiar. After seeing a film, we may not recall the cutting or the camera movements, the dissolves or offscreen sound. But we do remember the costumes in Gone With the Wind or the bleak, chilly lighting in Charles Foster Kane's Xanadu. We retain vivid memories of the rainy, gloomy streets in The Big Sleep or the cozy family home in Meet Me in St. Louis. We recall Harpo Marx clambering over Edgar Kennedy's peanut wagon (Duck Soup) and Katherine Hepburn defiantly splintering Cary Grant's golf clubs (The Philadelphia Story). In short, many of our most sharply etched memories of the cinema turn out to center on mise-en-scene.


Before we analyze mise-en-scene in detail, one preconception must be brought to light. Just as viewers often remember this or that bit of mise-en-scene from a film, so viewers often judge mise-en-scene by standards of realism. A car may seem to be realistic for the period the film depicts, or a gesture may not seem realistic because "real people don't act that way."

Realism as a standard of value, however, raises several problems. Notions of realism vary across cultures, through time, and even among individuals. Marlon Brando's acclaimed "realist" performance in the 1954 film On the Waterfront looks stylized today. American critics of the 1910s praised William S. Hart's Westerns for being realistic, but equally enthusiastic French critics of the 1920s considered the same films to be as artificial as a medieval epic. Moreover, realism has become one of the most problematic issues in the philosophy of art. Most important, to insist on realism for all films can blind us to the vast range of mise-en-scene possibilities.

Look, for instance, at this frame from The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

The jagged rooftops and slanted chimneys certainly do not accord with our conception of normal reality. Yet to condemn the film for lacking realism would be inappropriate, because the film uses stylization to present a madman's fantasy. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari borrows conventions of Expressionist painting and theater and then assigns them the function of suggesting the madman's delusion.

It is better, then, to examine the functions of mise-en-scene than to dismiss this or that element that happens not to match our conception of realism. The filmmaker may use any system of mise-en-scene, and we should analyze its function in the total film -- how mise-en-scene is motivated, how it varies or develops, how it works in relation to narrative and nonnarrative forms.
God, that's good.

I think that most directors in cinema today simply lack any training or creative spark when it comes to mise-en-scene. A few directors get a little closer than others. Peter Jackson, for example, fixates on details like costumes, sword props, hair. On occasion, he recognizes that having an actor move through a scene can create emotion or tell a story. Or that having actors move in certain ways can help. Such as when Aragorn walks out onto the upper deck of the Golden Hall and stands next to Gandalf. The two men are shot in profile, Aragorn slightly ahead of Gandalf so that we can see both men's faces. We see, rather than are told, that the two are very alike. That they feel the same things, have the same goals, believe the same things. But Jackson is not good enough to hold the shot. He jump cuts, and we see the two men from the front, side-by-side. UGH. He ruins the mood.

If I were to say "X will save cinema," it would be to restore mise-en-scene to cinema.

That's my first step.

I've got more.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

This is a real movie. I know, I can't believe it either.

"Herman Melville's classic book serves as the inspiration for this modern-day adaptation in which the captain of a state-of-the-art submarine will stop at nothing until he captures the enormous prehistoric whale that disfigured him in a confrontation at sea."

It's where one historian has said "the Civil War ended".

In 1826, the Federal Penitentiary in Washington, D.C., was designed by Charles Bulfinch. Bulfinch had designed the Massachusetts State House (1798), the Connecticut State House, the Maine State House, Boston Common, and University Hall at Harvard University. He was appointed Architect of the Capitol in 1817. Based on his study of contemporary prisons, Bulfinch observed that they were drastically overcrowded -- with two or three prisoners in cells originally constructed for a single individual. Bulfinch's Federal Penitentiary reflected prison reform ideas of the 1820s, which focused on instillining a respect for rules, a strong work ethic, and religious guidance.

Bulfinch designed a three-story main building designed to house 160 prisoners. The cells were designed to be small (just seven feet by three and a half feet) to prevent wardens from stuffing more than one prisoner into a cell. This meant that the three-story building could accommodate four tiers of cells. Cells opened alternately to the north and south, so that prisoners could not converse. Beginning in 1830, wings were added to the structure to allow the incarceration of women. These wings were finished in 1831.

Prisoners were taught basic skills while in the Federal Penitentiary. Inmates were marched each morning out of their cells in complete silence, and were ordered to gather water and firewood. The water and wood was taken back to the prison, where prisoners scrubbed clean their cells. After a meager breakfast, inmates were taught to make shoes, carve barrel staves, mold horsehoes, and other common tasks. Training was conducted in complete silence. In the afternoon, after a brief lunch, prisoners were given religious instruction before they returned to their tasks. Prisoners were taken back to their cells at the end of the day, where they were given a small meal of bread, meat drippings, water, and sometimes gruel.

Sundays were the only day of rest. Clothes were laundered on the third floor daily.

More than 200 inmates were housed in D.C.'s Federal Penitentiary. Although most were from the District of Columbia, many also came from other states.

In 1862, the War Department took over the prison. Convicts were transferred to other prisons, and the Federal Penitentiary turned into an arsenal.

* * * * *

Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant on March 29, 1865. John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Abraham Lincoln on April 15. Conspirators Lewis Powell and Mary Surratt were arrested on the evening of April 17. Conspirator George Atzerodt was arrested in Maryland on April 20. Booth was shot and killed at a farm in Virginia on April 26. Captured with him was David Herold, another conspirator.

Atzerodt, Herold, Powell, and five other suspected male co-conspirators were initially held aboard the monitors USS Saugus and and USS Montauk in the Potomac River to prevent escape or rescue. Mary Surratt was held in an annex of the Old Capitol Prison. All the prisoners were transferred to the Washington Arsenal (present-day Ft. Leslie J. McNair) on April 30. Why the Arsenal? It was secure, but it also had the only military buildings large enough to hold a trial.

The trial of the alleged conspirators began on May 9. Two armed guards stood before the door of each cell. The cells were furnished with a straw mattress, table, wash basin, chair, and bucket. Surratt's was slightly larger, and had a window for air. Food was served four times a day, and consisted of the same thing each time: Soft bread; salt pork, beef, or beef soup; and coffee or water. Except for Surratt, the conspirators had their heads enclosed in a padded canvas bag to prevent a suicide attempt. The padded bags were removed after several days as being inhumane. Again, all the conspirators except for Surratt wore iron manacles on their feet and ankles.

The trial ended on June 28, 1865, and sentence handed down June 30. All the conspirators were sentenced to death. The sentence was announced publicly on July 5.

Construction of the gallows began immediately on July 5. It was constructed in the south part of the Arsenal courtyard. Today, the site is directly in front of Building 17 (the Africa Center), and is occupied by tennis courts.

At noon on July 6, the prisoners were informed they would be hanged the next day. On July 7, 1865, at 1:15 P.M., the four condemned prisoners were led out of the prison, through the courtyard, and up the steps to the gallows. Each prisoner's ankles and wrists were bound by manacles. Once atop the gallows, the condemned were seated in chairs. White cloth was used to bind their arms to their sides, and their ankles and thighs together. Each person was ministered to by a member of the clergy. About 16 minutes elapsed from the time the prisoners entered the courtyard until they were ready for execution. A white bag was placed over the head of each prisoner after the noose was put in place. The prisoners were asked to stand and move forward a few feet to the nooses. The chairs were removed. The condemned stood on the drop for about 10 seconds, and then four soldiers of Company F of the 14th Veteran Reserves knocked out the supports holding the drops in place.

Surratt hung still. Atzerodt's stomach heaved once and his legs quivered, and then he was still. Herold and Powell struggled for nearly five minutes, strangling to death.

The bodies of the executed were allowed to hang for about 30 minutes. Each body was inspected by a physician while they hung there to ensure that death had occurred. The bodies began to be cut down at 1:53 P.M. Atzerodt's body was cut down first. His body fell to the ground with a thud. He was reprimanded, and the other bodies cut down more gently. Herold's body was next, followed by Powell's. Surratt's body was cut down at 1:58 P.M. Upon examination, the military surgeons determined that no one's neck had been broken by the fall. The manacles and cloth bindings were removed (but not the white execution masks), and the bodies placed into pine coffins. The name of each person was written on a piece of paper and inserted in a glass vial which was placed into the coffin. The coffins were buried against the south prison wall in shallow graves, just a few feet from the gallows. A white picket fence marked the burial site.

On October 1, 1867, the coffins were disinterred and reburied in Warehouse No. 1 at the Arsenal, with a wooden marker placed at the head of each burial vault. The body of John Wilkes Booth was reburied alongside them. (Booth's corpse was taken aboard the USS Montauk and brought to the Washington Navy Yard. Identification and an autopsy were conducted. The body was buried in a storage room at the Old Penitentiary.) After numerous requests, President Andrew Johnson released the bodies of the conspirators to their families.

Over the succeeding 145 years, much of what was the Washington Arsenal was torn down. All that remains of the prison now is the east wing, which was known by the boring old name of "Building 20". It was threatened several times with demolition, but each time the military's desire for office and classroom space won out over architectural design. Finally, in the late 1990s, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recognized the structure's historic importance. In 2011, the Army began a $4 million renovation of the building. It's also been renamed: Ulysses S. Grant Hall. (It's harder to tear down a Grant Hall than an unnammed "Building 20".) The first two floors of the building will be used for office space. But the top floor will be renovated into a museum that will look how it did during the Lincoln assassination trial. (The Army got hold of the replica period furniture used in Robert Redford's 2011 movie, The Conspirator.)

It's also said that Grant Hall is haunted. Mary Surratt was said to have wept while standing next to her window, and military personnel claim that a window on the third floor of Grant Hall is fogged in hot weather and frosty in cold weather -- always wet with the ghostly tears of Mary Surratt. Some people have also claimed that when it snows, ghostly footprints leading from Grant Hall to the tennis courts (the place of execution) are always the first to melt in the snow. There are also claims that people can hear footsteps in empty rooms and the sound of furniture being dragged across a wooden floor.