Saturday, December 31, 2005

Gemini and Accord - Loving Movement

A double shot of video is offered for you here on the last hours of 2005, both made (according to the makers) with zero computer effects and only human creativity. The pair offered are also advertisments and they are just plain fun to watch though I do have some thoughts about them both which I'll share first, then offer the links to the videos.

Both of these ads are celebrations of cars, those four-wheeled wonders of movement that have transformed the world and also serve as icons of individual personality. (Do you have a name for your vehicle?) The manufacturing and selling of cars and car parts and fuels and making roads and transportation routesand insuring them and taxing them consume billions of job hours and trillions of dollars, which all go to feed other jobs and services around this blue world. And as these videos show, we have a joy, an ecstacy for our transportation items. (How many car wash and wax locations are in a 3 mile radius of your home? I mean, c'mon they sell hamburgers by getting Paris Hilton to wash a car in a thong with a dripping sponge in one hand and meaty burger in the other.)

First video - which you can access here (via MetaFilter) is for the Isuzu Gemini, which I think ceased production in 1999. Drivers and cars hit the road like the dancing sprites in Disney's "Fantasia" celebrating the change of seasons in an orchestration of sheer joy, leaping through fountains and bouncing thru traffic. The video runs about 3 minutes or so and just keeps getting wilder and more inventive as it whirls its way past you - be sure to watch all of it. And remember, no computer effects.

Second video - which you can access here, is for the new Honda Accord. The video is a sort of reverse joy, a deconstructed celebration of every ball bearing, tire, wire, screw, bolt, and component of a car. The notes on the page indicate again how no computer effects were used, that it took over three months to shoot and took over 600 takes get the video you see. It's a pure Rube Goldberg machine - and aren't such deconstructions brilliant ways to show how we can complicated the simple to astonishing heights of unecessary but entertaining ways?

Some final thoughts - I still want my own personal rocket car or better, a teleporation device. I also wonder what it will take or how long before we move past the internal combustion engine as our cultural definer.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Camera Obscura - Final Friday

Here at the final Friday of 2005, we return to the topic that has had me writing non-stop for over 27 years now - movies. What they are, what they mean, what's new and what's old. Also too, since I was asked by someone, a definition and/or explanation of why I call my posts about movies Camera Obscura.

There is a pretty long history of the use of a Camera Obscura, which you can read here, starting with a reference to a Camera Obscura from the Chinese philosopher Mo-Ti in the 5th century. And there is a simple law of optics involved with this concept - rays of light pass through a small opening, with or without a lens, and an upside-down image of what's outside will appear on a surface opposite the opening. For many years, it was a tool for artists and astronomers, a way for them to trace a drawing of an image or a planet. It is part of the art world today, and likely will always be. Given the nature of human perception, it seemed to me a fine way to describe the act of viewing a movie (another optical trick) and the act of writing about what I see.

Literally, the phrase is Latin, and means Dark Chamber - and as Merriam's Dictionary defines it:
a darkened enclosure having an aperture usually provided with a lens through which light from external objects enters to form an image of the objects on the opposite surface."

When I wrote my first movie column in the mid-1980s under the banner Camera Obscura, I had no idea there were already numerous film journals and columns that used the same title and when I found out there were, I still used it for a simple reason - I like the word and the image the concept made in the dark chambers of my own mind, a reflection of what I see.

Audiences in a movie theatre all participate in these flickering moments, as they have for years, but each person still leaves the event with deeply personal memories which makes for both shared and private encounters. Thanks to rapidly changing technologies, I can watch them endlessly now in my own home whether on dozens of movie channels or on stacks of DVDs or VHS tapes. From the first movies made up to illegal bootlegs of movies not yet released, it's all at my fingertips.

But that isn't the same as being in a theatre - which were once palaces then became dull shoe-box shaped mall multiplexes and now are events with stadium seating in rocking chairs which may include digital sound named after a 70s sci-fi movie, THX-1138. And even though the Drive-In is disappearing, there was nothing like watching a movie outside as you sat in your car on in a lawn chair. I can usually recall the theatre and perhaps the cities where I've seen most movies, a memory that is far different from viewing a film for the first time on television.

When it was cheaper to see them, I went more often, and when I was paid to see them and review them I went even more. The sound of a projector is music, a sprocket hole is a doorway to infinity and illusion.

I am constantly amazed by old favorites and new discoveries. This week again watched two truly American classics, the first was "Two Lane Blacktop" from director Monte Hellman. James Taylor (yes, the singer) and Mike Wilson (once a Beach Boy) drive endlessly in a grey primered '55 Chevy and don't talk much. Warren Oates drives a GTO and wants to race and spins endless versions of his life story to anyone who will listen. The movie is so empty and silent in places, or sometimes is overwhelmed by roaring engine, and it also does something I like in many movies - it captures a specific time and place in history. Here, its the post-60s and early 70s mundane and morose qualities of America. Hellman's style and editing may bore most viewers but if you let the movie just run it's course, it leaves an emotional wallop.

Another oldie this week was "The Hustler" by Robert Rossen and starring Paul Newman as Fast Eddie Felsen who lives and dies in pool halls. A sequel, "The Color Of Money" is also fine, but this original story is like bebop jazz and whiskey soda - cool and biting. Here too, are little moments of time, 1960 America. The lunch counter at the bus station is a real place, and the spare but loaded pick-up dialog between Newman and Laurie Piper is as real as the forlorn bus stop.

Not everyone wants some Big Idea when they watch a movie - they just want to be entertained for a while, to laugh or to be thrilled. But even then, what we watch and how we react, its all part of the same process of perception and participation.

OK, enough of what was - what's ahead for 2006?

A vast amount of movie trailers for upcoming releases can be found here, and that's a good place to start pondering the next year of movies and good place for me to stop today. I will add however that one of the behind the scenes details on the site mentioned above is the production of Frank Miller's "300", based on his graphic novel about Spartan warriors. It nicely blends the artwork of Miller, history and the new ways technology is making movie magic.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Simplicity Defined

You have to admire a simple and great idea like this one - making nearly one million dollars with the Internet in four months. 21-year-old Alex Tew created, offering anyone who wanted a chance to buy one or a dozen or however many pixels for only one dollar per pixel.

In four months, he's sold over 900,000.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

A True Story

Please welcome another newish blogger, LA Barabbas. I love the title, and he has a true story to tell about his recent journey to Morristown for the holidays.

I think it's a good story, but also I think it shows how any person who arrives in what remains of the downtown area is going to be confused. Is it a business that's open? Is it a building that's collapsing? Why are there overhead sidewalks that lead nowhere? Why does the city do it's best to bulldoze and take over and zero to build up the existing businesses? Why do some places get the red carpet treatment from the city (like a spankin' new bank) and legendary and solid businesses (like Ramsey's Farm Market) which are a part of the city's history, get the short end of the every stick?

It happens, I know, in most any town - certain developers who are friends with the right planning commissioners or city appointees - get the best efforts. The rest can all go to hell. The history of the downtown is even more amazing when you consider how the former city hall (now a parking lot) used to overlook one of the most notorious centers of crime that operated blatantly in plain sight of everyone.

Whoops - this was supposed to be about LA Barabbas. Sorry. He's a fine writer and knows some of the most famous .... well, best not to say who he knows. He will reveal all. Go. Read.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

TN Home to 3 of Top 25 Webcams of 2005

Little eyes are everywhere, capturing moments of the lack of moving traffic on the Endless Construction that is Knoxville to flipping light switches on and off in some guy's basement in Oklahoma to cell phone porn shots from the mall.

But this post is about achievement and status of the Widely Webbed World cam kind.

According to EarthCam's Best of 2005, Tennessee has not one, not two but three of the top 25. In Tennessee math, that's what, like 30 percent? (Yes, Virginia, that was a joke.) Just scroll thru their list for access to all the TN webcams honored this year.

Now one of them was surely no surprise - the GracelandCam. You get two cams really, one of the entrance, which has some li'l gold Christmas trees visible and another of a black and white cam that looks like either some kind of Nativity scene or a forgotten scene from the French New Wave, maybe Jean Luc Godard or an early Truffaut effort.

Now, of course you could just take a peek at the Eiffel Tower cam, or use the robotic cam you can control to look around Tokyo - or even the Dept. of Motor Vehicles cam in Alaska. But then you'd miss the other two Tennessee web cams on the top 25 list.

One is a "live" feed of Piranhas from somewhere in Nashville, but I could really not make much sense of that one. It has a zippy opening credits sequence and then a web page opens for a company that makes advertisements called Piranha Pictures (they claim they made a spot for TDOT and the TN Dept. of Tourism and others) But when I click on the "watch Piranhas Live cam" I get nothing. Still, they seem to be sincerely spending tax dollars and other investment funds on .... something.

Best of the bunch, hands down, however is called JailCam. Yes, live action from Clinton, TN and the Anderson County Sheriff's Department. It even has a warning that you may witness "instances of violence or inappropriate behavior by detainees ..." Now, we're talking worldwide entertainment value!!

So a salute from yer Cup of Joe goes to Graceland, the alleged Piranhas, and the Anderson County Jail, which ranks right up there with cams of the Pyramids and Arctic Exploration Vessels and even a Panda Cam. Start the new year with your plan to make Tennessee the Webcam Capital!! (Think DollyCam or MoonshineCam or DisgruntledVolCam ....well, you get the idea.)

ET Jobless Rates Continue Climb

It isn't the news you hope to hear as 2005 winds down, but the Greeneville Sun breaks down the state jobless figures and the news isn't very good. The national rate is on the rise too, from a low of 4.6 percent to 4,8 percent, but that is far and away better than conditions in East Tennessee.

For example, the Hamblen County rate is up to 6.3 percent while the city of Morristown's unemployment rate is at 9.1 percent.

As the Sun reports:

• Cocke County, 7.4 percent, up from 7.1 percent in October;

• Hamblen County, 6.3 percent, up from 6.2 percent in October;

• Hawkins County, 6.0 percent, up from 5.2 percent in October.

• Sullivan County, 4.7 percent, up from 4.5 percent in October;

• Unicoi County, 6.2 percent, up from 5.6 percent in October;

• Washington County, 4.7 percent, up from 4.6 percent in October.

Nearby, Smaller Cities

Among nearby, smaller Tennessee cities, the following were their unemployment rates in November:

• Bristol, 5.1 percent, up from 4.9 percent in October;

• Johnson City, 5.2 percent, up from 4.9 percent in October;

• Kingsport, 7.2 percent, up from 6.9 percent in October; and

• Morristown, 9.1 percent, up from 9.0 percent in October.

Among Tennessee’s major metropolitan areas, these were their November jobless rates:

• Knox County (Knoxville), 4.4 percent, up from 4.1 percent in October;

• Hamilton County (Chattanooga), 4.8 percent, up from 4.7 percent in October;

• Davidson County (Nashville), 4.9 percent, up from 4.7 percent in October; and

• Shelby County (Memphis), 6.3 percent, up from 6.0 percent in October.

Monday, December 26, 2005

New Numbers Thanks To Technorati

Back on Oct 23 of this year I found a wee site that "calculated" the value of this or any blog based on a critieria I have no capacity to understand.

I checked today and found the value has more than doubled since then! By Odin's Beard!!! In a few huundred years, I may somehow figure out how to turn the words into income! Thanks and more thanks to all of you for ... well, making this all that much more worthwhile!!

And li'l Tiny Tim may lose his crutches and be ok after all!

My blog is worth $15,242.58.
How much is your blog worth?

Kelvis Has Entered the Building

Please add one more must read to the world o' bloggers, known as Kelvis. Her blog is titled Valley Grrrl. Go, read, enjoy and add comments. You'll feel better jes' fer doing it.

This is not a suggesstion, It is a blatant plug.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Two Christmas Stories

Of all the various presentations of the Christmas story, in movies and books, and elsewhere, I always thought the version as presented by Linus in the Charlie Brown Christmas Special as about the best.

Still, I searched for a story or two to share here today.

Then, reading through some of the links included here on this page, I read a two-part Christmas story at, of all places, The Stinkhorn Rodeo. So please take a read at Johnny Rawhide's "Makiin' Christmas At The Ranch" Parts One and Two.

And much Joy and Peace to all.