Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Western Sunsets

Back in the 20th Century, before computers took over the film industry, we used to edit feature films on 35mm film. It wasn't virtual, it was real. You could hold the film in your hands, cut it with a splicer, assemble it on reels and wind it through a mechanical synchronizer on your table. We did have editing machines but a lot of the work was manual. The sound was on 35mm magnetic film and had to be kept in sync with the picture to the sprocket. There were multiple reels of sound and the sound was not alway continuous on a given reel. Since magnetic film was expensive, the gaps in the reels were filled with rejected or worn out release prints.

You would see other feature films passing through your synchronizer as you ran through the reel. Sometimes images would pop out at you and, if you weren't in the crisis mode, you would stop and look at the shot. If it was really interesting you could cut it out and replace it with a piece of uninteresting fill of the same length.

An old friend of mine got his start in the British film industry and he made a collection of sunsets from Westerns. They were spectacular and he just assumed that they had been optically enhanced. Then he moved to San Francisco and learned that they hadn't been enhanced at all.

The sunset from August 17th of this year.

A minute later.

One more minute

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Gram Parsons

Any Gram Parsons fans out there? He singlehandedly invented Country Rock, for good or ill. In his case it was mostly good. He wrote some great songs. The story of his life is quite interesting in its own right. He was a rich boy from the South. His father was a WWII flying ace named Coon Dog Connor and his mother was a Snively, a family of Citrus millionaires. His parents were both alcoholics. This is all in a very good BBC documentary from 2004 called "Fallen Angel: Gram Parsons". You can watch the complete film at this link.

Gram Parsons was kicked out of Harvard after one semester. He had a huge influence on the Byrds' album "Sweetheart of the Rodeo" and was a member of that band until he was fired for refusing to go on a tour to South Africa. He co-founded The Flying Burrito Brothers but was eventually fired for being completely unreliable. His unreliability was directly related to his enormous enthusiasm for every possible type of intoxicant. He had an intense bromance with Keith Richards. He had a possible romance with Emmylou Harris, but certainly had a great musical partnership with her which produced some of his best music. He overdosed on morphine and alcohol in1973 at the age of 26. After his death, his manager Phil Kaufman (not the director), and another friend, stole Parsons' body from the LA airport and drove it to Joshua Tree where the they did a bad job of cremating it. This last episode was recreated in a feature film with Johnny Knoxville playing Phil Kaufman. I think I'll pass on that.

Gram Parsons' Southern upbringing and love of Country music, mixed with his lifestyle, led to some excellent psychedelic-apocalyptic lyrics. This is from "Sin City":

"On the thirty-first floor
Your gold plated door
Won't keep out the Lord's burning rain."

How appropriate for our times.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Further Oddities

There is now an electric bicycle shop on our hill. Apparently one of the reasons they moved to our neighborhood is to demonstrate how good electric bikes are for going up hills. In front of the store they have installed a "solar pump" which is powered by the solar panels above it. I have yet to see anyone actually charging their iPhone or electric bike but it's an interesting idea.

Another view.

So we have the cheerful, future oriented electric bike store and then six blocks down the street we have this.

Another view.

It's like a physical manifestation of a very dark frame of mind. The posters for The Children's Creativity Museum, on the pole in front, seem wonderfully ironic. The most disturbing architectural element of the building is this.

It appears to be a stuccoed over window. It seems to have been checked out from the Department of Easy Metaphors. I don't think I want to see the interior of the house.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Oddities of Bernal Heights

The bureau is located on a street so steep that there is no street cleaning. The force of gravity moves any trash, leaves etc. down the hill. Since there is no street cleaning, there are no parking restrictions, which is an obvious plus. The down side is that the cars park perpendicular to the curb and if you don't take care when you open the driver's door, the same force of gravity will snatch it from your hand and smash it into the passenger's door of the next car downhill. Cars that habitually park on our street tend to have battered passenger sides. Somebody recently parked an apparently greatly cherished Ford Falcon on the street and went to this amusing but inelegant extreme to protect it..

A few years ago, a large crane was needed to get some I beams  into a backyard across the street. This was what they had to do.

The crane's owner/operator showed remarkable sangfroid but admitted he had made many trips to the bathroom. Remarkably, this frightening jury-rig worked.

Monday, September 3, 2012

The Young Girls of Rochefort

Jacques Demy's 1967 musical, "The Young Girls of Rochefort", is a delight. Demy's previous musical film, "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg", from 1963, is actually an operatic melodrama with all the dialogue sung to musical accompaniment. "Rochefort" is a classic musical comedy with dialogue, singing and dancing. The cast of "Cherbourg" were chosen for their acting ability (and, in Catherine Deneuve's case, beauty). They weren't singers, but they sang on set and then their voices were completely replaced in post production by those of professional singers.

There are even more levels of artifice in "Rochefort". Deneuve and her sister Françoise Dorléac (the titular demoiselles) dance but the rest of the dancers are Americans, imported from Broadway and Hollywood. These include George Chakiris and, wait for it, Gene Kelly! The latter was in his middle 50s at this time but he could still bust some moves. The Americans' dialogue and singing were both replaced, although a few Gene Kelly lines in French seem to be his. The French actors just had their singing replaced.

The plot is completely goofy in a good way. Lovers are united and reunited. Like "Cherbourg", this film was shot on location in an Atlantic port town. The real locations make a great backdrop for the elaborate song and dance numbers and the wonderful 60s (pre-hippy) fashions. If 2012 is bumming you out, Travel back to 1967.