My first graphic design assignment.

As you should know by now, faithful parents readers, I am attending Portland Community College for Graphic Design with the hope of earning an A.A.S. (Associate of Applied Science) in two years. I had my second day of Graphic Design I today and my first in-class assignment, the results of which I thought I would share with you here.

The professor handed out paper with either a single black or white square printed on it. The assignment was to head outside, find a leaf and affix it inside the square however we saw fit. We could cut it, tear it, fold it or leave it as it was as long as the leaf didn't go outside the box (no jokes about thinking outside the box please).

Outside I found myself a dead palm frond still attached to the plant and yanked that baby out. I cut it up and glued it to my paper like so. The end result was actually well-liked by the teacher and members of the class. All-in-all a successful first foray into design (inside the classroom) I think.


Back to school.

Well, I'm back in school. I had my first class last night, Graphic Design I. It was the usual rigmarole: hand out syllabus; hand out class schedule; hand out materials list. At least she didn't do that thing where she forces everyone to say why they're taking the course -- it was voluntary and I didn't volunteer. Now I have to get my books and materials for another hundred and something dollars. Oh school.

Today I have three hours of drawing, followed by an hour of learning to use a Mac, and then three hours of typography lessons. I packed two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and a banana, but I doubt that it will suffice. I'm heading in early to pick up books and my student ID. The student ID might be the best part of being a student. I can flash it at movie theaters, museums and other random places for that coveted discount. That should help until the AARP card comes in the mail.

My 100 favourite films. Entry #26: The Adventures of Baron Munchausen.

The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988)
directed by Terry Gilliam
starring John Neville, Erid Idle and Sarah Polley
country: uk
genre: fantasy

Visuals: 10
Writing: 8
Everyday watchability: 7

As usual, I spent some time grabbing screenshots from this movie to post on my blog. When finished, I realized that I had grabbed almost 50 shots from the film. I've since whittled it down to 38 shots which I feel are all great candidates for portraying the visual artistry of this film. I'll try to keep it to 10, but it's hard; the film just looks so good. In the world of fantasy, I feel that a film should look "good." It's not so much important in say a talky drama that focuses mainly on characters or dialogue or your standard rom-com or popcorn-munching action film. In a fantasy however, things truly need to look fantastic. Reality needs to be constantly skewered, be it with overly bright colors, odd and distorted angles or purposefully theatrical set design.

A perfect example is a scene where the character of Berthold rests under an apple tree. Gilliam uses matte paintings and bright colors to enhance the theatricality, the fantasy, the unreality of the moment and practically the entire film. It's not the first such moment in the film and it's definitely not the last, but it's the best and maybe most beautiful example in the entire movie.

Fantasies like this have the cleverness that I feel is missing from a lot of recent popular fantasy films. Those are all witches and elves and mystical rings and prophecies (a plot contrivance that always pisses me off). They have good stuff, to be sure, but it's not witches and spells that I'm interested in, it's imagination. In other words, it's sailing on the moon, falling to Earth from space, meeting Vulcan, running faster than a bullet and riding on a cannonball.


On this day: September 21.

On September 21, 1995, Hindus believed a miracle was occurring when statues of Hindu gods "drank milk" offered to them on a spoon.

It started when a Hindu worshiper in New Delhi, apparently just for kicks, offered milk to a statue of Lord Ganesha. When Lord Ganesha apparently drank the whole spoonful of milk, he spread the word of the "miracle" and Hindus around the world were soon offering spoonfuls of milk to Hindu statues. The real explanation according to scientists was capillary action, where the surface tension of the milk caused it to be pulled off of the spoon by the texture of the statues.

The World Hindu Council in India called it a miracle (although I'm not sure of the usefulness of such a miracle). As the word spread, and hundreds to thousands of people lined up outside Hindu temples with pints of milk, it was clear that it was truly a case of mass hysteria.

The ins and outs of film editing: the bad.

A long time ago, I was supposed to talk about bad techniques in film editing, but I got sidetracked. Generally in film though, editing is bad if you notice it. If you're watching a scene, and then you're wondering why you're somewhere else (or looking at something else), then the editor made a mistake. He/she took you out of the reality of the movie.

Editing also works to focus our attention on something. We can only see what's on screen, so we see what the editor chooses for us to see (based on the director's wishes of course). A good example of bad editing is at the end of Teen Wolf. Not only did the editor fail to notice the guy exposing himself, but failed to make an important cut. Check out the clip and then come back and see if you noticed the problem. Here are the characters to help you out:

Michael J. Fox - the teen wolf
girl in blue - his girlfriend
girl in pink - some bitch who's been a jerk to him and now wants him since he won the game
player in red - bitch's boyfriend who's been a jerk to Michael J. Fox

Did you notice the problem? If you didn't, I'll fill you in. The movie should have cut at 0:22, so that we could see Michael J. Fox embrace his girlfriend. Instead, we're stuck watching "bitch & jerk," whom we don't even care about and we're totally missing the emotional payoff of the "big movie kiss" -- at least what counts for an emotional payoff in a crummy 80s teen film.

Mystery Science Theater 3000 has a lot to say on bad editing as well. Those guys love to point out whenever edits are made to hide bad movie-making. Check out this repository of editing jokes from the show.

A note on my 100 favo(u)rite films: statistics.

Now that I'm a quarter of the way through the somewhat self-indulgent list of my 100 favorite films, I thought that I might do a rundown of everything listed so far and throw out some statistics. I mean, why not? People have done lamer things for their own amusement.

First, the list of films:
1 Stalker (1979)
2 Naked (1993)
3 MASH (1970)
4 The Thing (1982)
5 Delicatessen (1991)
6 10 Things I Hate About You (1999)
7 Outland (1981)
8 Safe (1995)
9 All That Jazz (1979)
10 Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
11 Ni na bian ji dian (What Time Is It There?) (2001)
12 Libeled Lady (1936)
13 Alien (1979)
14 Searchers, The (1956)
15 Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998)
16 Se7en (1995)
17 Real Genius (1985)
18 Tenkû no shiro Rapyuta (Castle in the Sky) (1986)
19 THX 1138 (1971)
20 Silver Streak (1976)
21 Saving Private Ryan (1998)
22 Spongebob Squarepants Movie, The (2004)
23 Mission, The (1986)
24 Pi (1998)
25 Playtime (1967)

The most commonly represented year is 1979 (Stalker, All That Jazz, Alien), while the median year of all the films is 1985. 1985 sounds really late to me, but there were only three films listed made before 1970. I think I need to watch (and fall in love with) more classics.

As for genres, comedy was the most represented genre, with seven films. Drama and science fiction came next with five each, and there even two family films.

Only one director has been on the list twice (Steven Spielberg with Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Saving Private Ryan). You'll be seeing him one more time, as well as some other directors again.

Most of the movies listed are American (16), but there are also four UK films, two French films, and one film each from Taiwan, Russia and Japan. By the time the list is complete, you'll only see two more countries. I truly love foreign cinema, but I guess that I grew up on American films. And remember, these are my favorite films, so there are a few slightly guilty pleasures in there -- but guilty pleasures whose merits I will defend wholeheartedly.

That's the breakdown so far, American comedies from 1985 are the norm. In other words, it all comes down to Real Genius.


My 100 favourite films. Entry #25: Playtime.

Playtime (1967)
directed by Jacques Tati
starring Jacques Tati
country: france
genre: comedy

Visuals: 10
Writing: 8
Everyday watchability: 6

It seems kind of funny to call this film economical -- considering how much money was spent just to create its enormous sets -- but that's exactly what this film is. Clocking at just over two hours (the original version was 155 minutes), it feels as if there isn't more than a shot a minute. Of course, there doesn't need to be. Each shot is so carefully composed and each setting so meticulously organized that all the information we need is there in the frame. And it's a lot of information. Things are happening in the foreground, in the background and everywhere in between. It's impossible to see it all in one viewing, or two, or three.

Some viewers might be bored if they only watch "the action," as in those characters that seem to be at the crux of a particular scene. But rather than simply watching one set of characters, the eye must wander from one area of the screen to another in an attempt to catch everything that happens. Tati is a master of the subtle joke: a toy airplane slowly melts in the background while characters complain of the heat; a travel agency containing travel posters for different countries, where all the posters features the same modern building.

Builders spent three years constructing Tati's sets, and it was time well spent. The movie shows a Paris of glass facades and transparent buildings. The lack of privacy is seen as modern and even futuristic as opposed to invasive, which it most definitely is. In all films, we are the viewer, with no true interaction between us and the media. (A film plays for us, and we watch and listen, with no control over the outcome. We can scream and yell and tell characters not to go upstairs all we want, but it doesn't change anything.) In Playtime, however, we're the voyeur, watching lives from a distance, through plates of glass and over shoulders. These are spectacles put up for our amusement; things meant to be seen but left unencumbered by outside influences.

Playtime follows two other films starring the same character of Hulot, Vacances de Monsieur Hulot, Les (M. Hulot's Holiday) and Mon Oncle. These other films also deal with the "advancement" of the modern world and are definitely worth checking out. But Playtime is truly Tati's opus, with the grandest settings and the fullest expression of idea. It's true that nobody makes films like this any more. I doubt that anyone could.


On this day: September 9.

When I started doing this "On this day" thing, it was to spread a little knowledge, to make a few people remember some important things that happened. Some things seriously shaped the world around us, some of them are bizarre, and some are terrible but have far-reaching consequences not at first evident.

Today's entry fits in the last category. On September 9, 1969 Allegheny Airlines Flight 853 collided in mid-air with a Piper PA-28 while on approach for landing, killing 83 people in total. The pilot of the commercial aircraft simply didn't see the prop plane and it also didn't show up on air traffic control radar, nor was it in communication with them.

The good news is that this catastrophe led to change in flight rules. Thrown out was the "see and be seen" visual flight rules and in were transponders on most all general aviation craft. Another update was the airborne collision avoidance system, which sounds an alarm when another aircraft comes within a certain distance. Now, collisions like these are more easily avoided. It's sad that it takes a catastrophe to implement change, but I suppose that's the way the world works.

image © 1969 Lee E. Jurras

My 100 favourite films. Entry #24: Pi.

Pi (1998)
directed by Darren Aronofsky
starring Sean Gullette and Mark Margolis
country: usa
genre: thriller

Visuals: 9
Writing: 5
Everyday watchability: 4
Length of number searched for in film: 216

I saw this movie when I was still in high school late at night either on Bravo. The next time it aired I taped it. It tells the story of Max, a mathematician trying to find a pattern in the stock market.

Throughout the film, Max repeats his three assumptions:
1. Mathematics is the language of nature.
2. Everything around us can be represented and understood through numbers.
3. If you graph the numbers of any system, patterns emerge.
Therefore, there are patterns everywhere in nature.

Using his homemade computer named Euclid, he stumbles upon a 216-digit number and a number of different factions want it: an overzealous member of some unnamed federal agency; his mentor with whom he plays games of Go; a group of hasidic Jews that believe the number may be the key to finding the name of God (based on Gematria). It all sounds crazy, and it really is, but it's all held together my Max's blindness of vision. He's so certain of these patterns that his single-minder pursuit constantly drives the movie forward. That and the camerawork and music. Like Aronofsky's other movies, image and sound work as a team. Being a film, you're probably thinking that films do that inherently, but that's not so. Only filmmakers that are truly in control of the medium can put together as cohesive an audio-video package as Aronofsky. Of course, he managed to find some of the best in the business (photographer Matthew Libatique and composer Clint Mansell) before they were known.


Some more grammar peeves.

Here are some more mistakes that irritate me.

When I see things that read like this: "At least 10-15...." If it's more than 10, that includes 11 through 15.

When people say, "where you at?" or "where are you at?" They could just say "where are you?" because it means the same thing but is grammatically correct.

On this day: September 4.

I've talked about some serious tragedies on here, and today's post is no exception. On September 4, 1957, the Ford Motor Company introduces the Edsel. Production on the Edsel would only occur for three years, with Ford announcing the end of production in 1959. The car was such a spectacular failure that it ended up losing the company $350 million. And that's the 1950s dollar.

My 100 favourite films. Entry #23: The Mission.

The Mission (1986)
directed by Roland Joffe
starring Jeremy Irons and Robert De Niro
country: USA/UK
genre: drama

Visuals: 10
Writing: 6
Everyday watchability: 3

The Mission has two people to thank for its greatness: cinematographer Chris Menges and composer Ennio Morricone. Menges previously won an Oscar for Joffe's The Killing Fields and went on to win one for his work on this film as well. It's easy to see why. These landscapes are gorgeous. The locale is fantastic by itself of course, but Menges seems to bring out something more in it. And paired with Morricone's emotional score, it works even more.

This film is a hard one to watch. There's violence and pain and personal sacrifice. But it's well worth it. Irons and De Niro prove why they're two of the best actors in the business giving perfectly understated performances.