Vacation

Feb. 28th, 2015 12:22 pm
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Have returned from New Mexico, where my only regret is that I did not drink all the horchata and eat all the green chile.

I partook of tamales and smooth French absinthe, and stood on or by many large rocks.
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Record amounts of snow on the ground with another blizzard on the way. I've gotten out of the house more than usual in the last week or two, but am nevertheless feeling stir crazy; it has to be empathy. Or just the skies being low and the ground several snowy feet higher than usual.

Went to the symphony on Tuesday; house only half full, if that, presumably because of weather. The conductor, as a last-minute replacement because of visa issues, was the young assistant; it was wonderful. It gave the whole concert an earnest, bashful warmth, both him and the orchestra trying to support each other and show how proud they were. Wonderful textures to the music, more focused on feeling than precision. Ciro has been going to physical therapy for his left shoulder, to strengthen the muscles he didn't know he hadn't been engaging at all for 15 years, which means his shoulder is currently boot-camp tired. He had trouble clapping. Turns out you need your shoulder for that.

The upcoming Tsarnaev trial has been in the news a lot in Boston; it's a strange thing to look at a 19-year-old and know that the very best he could hope for is a life in prison with no possibility of parole. It's a confusing sentence. It seems like by letting someone live, you're acknowledging that they could become a better person or contribute in some way you're not sure of yet - that future them might not be identical to present or near-past them. But by giving no possibility of parole, no matter what, you're saying it doesn't matter at all, and you hate them and want them to die in a hole no matter whether they turn their life around.

Mom talked about how people look for closure in trials now; she seems to think it wasn't always that way, at least in the past she remembers. I wonder if harsher sentencing is partially an outgrowth of the way we storify news now and want events to come to a conclusion.

The haunted card deck story I've been trying to sell forever because it's my favorite but nobody else agrees has finally sold to Farrago's Wainscot, and it could not have a better home. I hope the return of FW to print is a harbinger that the New Weird is coming back into fashion; contemporary fiction was knocked off its axis by 9/11, the banking collapse, and other "hide your head" cataclysms, and has been more than a little comfort-food dull for a while.

Meanwhile, I continue to be obsessed with Dragon Age. I have passionate feelings about both Alistair and Anders, although they are opposite ends of the spectrum of passionate feelings, in that Anders makes me shout a lot. Rarely have I been so angry and felt so personally betrayed by a fictional character. Terribly satisfying.
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Ciro and I tried to go see Inherent Vice today, but all the movie theaters were closed because it snowed yesterday. It turns out to be impossible to shine a light at a flat surface, even though you have covered parking and the streets are clear, if there are ice crystals sometime in the past; I think it's one of those D&D alchemical things.

I have this theory that Massachusetts' default state is "closed," and if anything is ever open, it is a sign that the stars have aligned in a staircase for baby Jesus.

Just try to get gasoline sometime. Anytime. I dare you.

My friend Chris Blacker grew up in Alaska, and I asked him once how everybody got through the winter, the literal and psychological darkness of 23-hour nights. He said to battle the heightened risk of suicide, there were parties every night - houses on the block would trade off, but there was always a party in walking distance and everybody was always invited, so that if you were lonely or stir-crazy, people and social distraction were available. Encouraged.

Jane Dempsey, my ex in-law (my outlaw) worked in Sweden for a while, and she said during the winter everyone at Ericsson was required to leave their desks at lunch and spend an hour outdoors in the limited sunlight; she and her coworkers often went for strolls together. When it got dark, everyone put electric candles in their windows so that strangers' journeys home would be cheerful instead of formlessly bleak.

Massachusetts doesn't go in for any of that. It is generally preferred that you stay in your house and not answer the phone, except during the summer, when you go to your other house, possibly in Maine.

Ciro and I watched Frank on Netflix. It made me laugh. I recommend it if you're the sort of person who likes Jon Ronson articles (which I do). Maggie Gyllenhaal's performance of "I want to marry a lighthouse keeper" is sublime. She's great throughout.
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I'm tired of seeing smug rich white Americans talk about how selfish it is to have children and how they shouldn't have to deal with your children because they're saving the planet by spending all their time and money on themselves. This shit will be easier to take if it's in a language I don't speak as well, in a country that offers actual social and economic support to struggling parents rather than lipservice and a shiny penny.

I want to be crystal fucking clear that I don't think there's an obligation to become a parent and I totally support anybody who chooses to be childless - or for that matter who didn't choose to be childless, who had childlessness thrust upon them. That doesn't make objectivism okay. Objectivism is never ok.

Where do these smug fools think they came from? Did they spring full grown from the head of Zeus?
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I'm doing relatively well, but am time crunched enough I don't have time to keep a good record of it.

Last Saturday, I led another film-related activity at the ICA Boston (and once again helped find films for their festival); turnout was decent and enthusiastic despite feet of snow on the ground. I've started pulling together a nonfiction book proposal on the subject; after 6 or 7 years of doing this stuff, it's become clear there's not anything out there for people who think they'd enjoy making short films in the same way they'd enjoy scrapbooking or playing the piano. People who don't ever want to be professionals - who simply want a way to craft something meaningful in the course of an afternoon. People who are not camera nerds. Basically all the starter filmmaking books, even for teenagers, figure you have or have access to loads of gear and are aiming to submit to festivals. They also assume, without saying so outright, that you're a dude and have always been told that people are dying to hear what you have to say and listen to your instructions. Anyway, there's a gap in the market.

I'm working on some short stories I feel good about. Several of which are mainstream literary; it's been a while since I've done something with no genre elements whatsoever, and it's a nice palate cleanser.

Ciro was diagnosed with ADD yesterday; his best friend Ed found out around Thanksgiving that she has it, and when Ciro learned more about the non-hyperactive version (which Ed has), he thought, hmmmmm. A battery of psych evaluations ensued. He'll meet with a medication specialist sometime next month, and after that, we imagine there might be an idyllic world in which he doesn't lose his car keys for months at a time, and can write something when it's not two hours before deadline. He's also finally (hopefully) getting his left shoulder taken care of; it's been messed up since he was 18, a sports injury that never healed. That's a longer process, though.

We celebrated mom's birthday by eating a lot of cake and gumbo, drinking a lot of coffee and cava, and playing Telestrations with new fine-tip pens. Living the high life.
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I've seen a lot of articles lately with titles like "Here's What Economists Get Wrong," and reading the articles as someone with a degree in economics — someone who is, at least by that definition, an economist — is a surreal experience. It's a bit like if you were a biochemist and ran into a trending essay about how what chemistry consistently misunderstands is that lead and gold are atomically different, with lots of comments on it like "Yes! God! Finally!"
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Sometimes I wonder whether fiction is worth it. I don't mean I question the worth of fiction; that's not in doubt. I mean I question the value of devoting my life to it. For instance, a good winter coat is potentially lifesaving, but I haven't decided to spend my meager free time making winter coats. But recently Ciro has talked about how much a taped-off-TV VHS of minor Disney film Pete's Dragon meant to him as a latchkey kid, and it's terribly sad to imagine it not being made.
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Yesterday, Ciro and I went to see The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies in 3D Imax HFR, which was kind of an ordeal because basically nobody is projecting the movie in high frame rate. Which is literally the only thing I cared about: I didn't have any desire to see a Hobbit movie, since the series has been kind of a mess. What I wanted was to see an innovative technology used by someone who had experience with it (also known as Jackson et al, since this was their third go-around).

When I say it was kind of an ordeal, I mean we travelled an hour to a movie theater and sat through a half hour of commercials and previews, and then the film started and it was not in HFR as promised, and we got our money back and spent about two hours getting to another theater to watch the film properly, while also paying live-theater amounts of money for a ticket. Which means, fairly uniquely, that I saw the first 15 minutes of the film in 24-frames-per-second 3D and then within a couple hours saw that same 15 minutes in the more correct 48-frames-per-second 3D.

It's a totally different artwork. I don't mean that in terms of "it's more spectacular." In many ways, it is less spectacular. But when you see it in HFR, it's clear that's the native format and it's what drove all the decisions of the creative team. The movie makes sense in a way it absolutely did not at 24 frames per second.

Based on my experience, I sincerely believe that if you have not seen the movie projected in HFR, you have not seen the movie Peter Jackson made. Since I'm a moviemaker and this is the kind of thing movie people always say about movies and the theatrical experience and aspect ratios and screen brightness and whatever else, this seems like the kind of claim you should take with a grain of salt. But in this case, it isn't.

I hesitate to even call Five Armies a movie: it's something else, with a different visual language and different performance needs. It was like watching some combination of an opera, Shakespeare in the park, participating in a Civil War re-enactment, and riding Peter Pan's Flight at Disneyland. It was different enough from watching a movie that it was irritating the subtitles weren't supertitles, because when you watch something on stage, translations are at the top, not the bottom, and that's where my eye kept looking for them.

In 48 fps, Five Armies absolutely works. It succeeds. There are still some script problems, like anything at all to do with Tauriel, but most of the other things that "didn't work" fall away. They only don't work if you're seeing a cover band perform them.

I use "perform" deliberately, because performance was the biggest difference - that and editing rhythm. I wasn't watching the movie going "oh, how beautiful." I was watching performances by people in a space over time. As soon as that happened, almost every actor choice seemed motivated. The 15 minutes I saw not-HFR, everything seemed very hammy. Watching in HFR? No tonal problems at all, perfectly calibrated performances and pacing.

Maybe you're reading this and you're not an actor or director. You still have experience with what I'm talking about. You use a different voice to talk to somebody who is standing right next to you and to talk to somebody across the room. You might feel the same thing, and try to communicate the same thing, but you sound different and look different when you say/feel it. If you talked to somebody who was standing right next to you as though they were across the room, it would seem odd and fake, right?

Same basic principle applies to the difference between stage and film performances. Or, in film, if you know you're in a close up, you wouldn't try to indicate that you were saying hello by waving your hand; nobody can see your hand. Moving away from acting again, you wouldn't draw somebody a picture while you were having a phone conversation and then expect them to be able to see it and act mad that they couldn't. Right?

This difference of performance distance has an extreme impact in the case of The Hobbit. The actors, who are very competent, and the director, producer, and editor, are keying performances for HFR, where there is a sense that you are watching somebody who is standing across the room from you. This is a sense that is completely, completely different from the feeling of watching a 3D film.

In a 3D film, it's very rare to have the sense that "you are there." This has to do with a combination of motion blur, physics, and separation of the image into planes. Things in normal 3D feel in many respects less real - they don't seem to have weight. They seem like skins around air at best and like stacked paper cutouts at worst. You can see what's "in front," but you don't forget there's a screen and a wall behind that screen.

(Which is kind of strange. I think of the opening of Avatar, where a corridor is stretching away into the distance, but I still knew absolutely that the corridor was an illusion because there's a theater wall there. So I'm seeing "that's far away" and simultaneously seeing "that's right there." There are battling depth cues. That is not true of Five Armies, with rare, fleeing exceptions.)

Although I unreservedly believe HFR is vastly superior to other forms of 3D, I am not making the case here that HFR 3D is better than 2D film. Instead, I am saying it is its own unique medium, and trying to critique a film which is natively HFR 3D by watching a 2D or non-HFR 3D version is like trying to evaluate the experience of being at a live concert by watching a video of it. Except it's actually worse than that, because you're probably not aware of the degree to which you are not seeing the actual artwork in its original format.

All of the decisions which I watched in non-HFR 3D and wondered "what are they thinking?" - you see it in HFR, and it's clear what they're thinking. As a whole, the Gesamtkunstwerk (a term I use because it seems like a more accurate description of the thing than "movie") has verisimilitude, or a difference of suspension of disbelief compared to a film, the result of which is that the moments feel important, like a reflection of a true history. Not that what you're seeing is real, but that what you're seeing is trying to be faithful to something that was.

You're watching a meeting and in a film you'd think, "well, why not cut this long talky bit?" But in this format, you don't think that, because of course they're showing the meeting - the meeting is what historically happened. Of course some people are making bad jokes; in a stressful situation like this, somebody would wind up making a bad joke. Of course he's waiting and waiting before he shoots that arrow; it's tremendously obvious from the lay of the terrain that he'll have a better shot if he waits.

This feeling of truthfulness is absolutely crazy in a fantasy about a secondary world. But you could have told me I was watching The Alamo.

Your eye never wonders where to go; you can just look around, but also the architecture of the shot guides your attention. Your brain doesn't hurt from trying to reconcile the wrong-physics-ness of 24-fps 3D. Animals in particular are delightful when they appear onscreen, because it's not "there is a picture of a dog." No, there is that dog. It's not physically in the room with you, but it's clearly a dog, an actual dog, that you are watching maybe through a window.

The best analogy I can think of is subractive; if you've ever watched a colorized black and white film, you know none of the exposures make sense, even if you don't know that's the term you're looking for. You just know it looks fake in a way even highly-saturated techniclor film doesn't. Same thing here. I actually think it's an extreme disservice to the filmmakers that it's possible to see Five Armies in another format, including home video, even though I know that's what makes the economics of it possible.

If you have even a passing interest in seeing this film ever, I strongly suggest going to an HFR theater even though it's very expensive, or else just decide on not seeing it. I don't think it's necessary to see the earlier two in the trilogy (I didn't), but that particular recommendation you probably could take with a grain of salt because I've read the books and already know stuff like what the arkenstone is.
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I'm a passionate generalist and cross-connector, a barefoot futurist with a mad-science laugh.
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In a high school anatomy class, I dissected a shark and found a squid in its stomach. I dissected the squid and found a fish in its stomach. I dissected the fish and found yellow algae. In my opinion, the gallbladder is the prettiest organ.
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I keep my fingernails short and my toenails painted. I wear a lot of rings even though it makes it harder to play the piano.
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As a child, my areas of expertise included dinosaurs, Robin Hood, and fortification strategies throughout the ages.
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I'm delighted by objects which are not to scale. I love overly sentimental toasts. I am often factual but rarely literal. I like staircases better than rooms.
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I'm an absurdist; a Democrat; an atheist who sings in the church choir.
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On the periodic table, I would be a transition metal. As a drink, a digestif. As a shoe, a bi-color brogue.
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Today I freestyle embroidered a disembodied cyborg head onto my sister's jean jacket.
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I am a fox with many tails, disguized as a fox with a different number of tails.
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My vocal range is 2.5 octaves on days when the weather is bad and I don't warm up, which is most of them. I can harmonize with just about anything, but I'm shy about improvising melodies unless I'm sure everybody wants me to. (I get the opposite of stage fright: offstage fright.) When I hit a note really badly, I try to hit it really badly with confidence.
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I wasn't ever a great sporstwoman, but in the days of compulsory gym class, I tended to win endurance races. I know how to pace myself and how to push through.
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I like long meals and very short ones. I love stories that star close friends but aren't principally about their friendship.
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