Posted by: Kristen Hicks | December 21, 2012

Movie Crowdsourcing: Movement + Location

 

I love that sites like Kickstarter and Seed and Spark are making it easier for artists to find funders at all levels and help fans support projects based on a good idea.

 

 

Here’s a good idea I just came across: Movement + Location sounds likely to be a clever science fiction/drama about a woman trying to find happiness outside of her own time and facing both expected and unexpected complications.

The trailer’s worth a watch, I’d be interested in seeing a finished product.

 

Think about it…

 

 

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Posted by: Kristen Hicks | November 19, 2012

Seeing the Future of the Past at the Harry Ransom Center

Human beings throughout history have conjured visions of how they imagined the future would look. None of us can ever fully grasp what will be different 10 years from today, much less 100 or more, but we can re-visit the predictions of those that came before us and compare the imaginings of times past with the realities of our present.

At the wonderful Harry Ransom Center in Austin, the current exhibit, “Futureland,” collects the drawings, models, photographs, films and more of Norman Bel Geddes, a forward thinking visionary of the first half of this century. Through the works of Geddes, we can gain a sense of where members of our recent past hoped and dreamed we’d be today. Even more, we can explore the thoughts and creations of a man who played a key role in creating many aspects of the world as we know it today.

In spite of having no academic or professional training in the fields he mastered, or perhaps because this lack of formal education allowed his imagination greater freedom to roam beyond the known, Geddes managed to influence how people think about and experience theatre, architecture, urban design, advertising and the world in general. He started out designing innovative theatre sets and costumes and then moved his talents from the fictional world of the stage to everything from designing buildings, inspiring the modern highway system, product design and inventive, influential advertising campaigns.

One of his most memorable and popular contributions to history was his Futurama installation at the New York World’s Fair in 1939-40, in which visitors could ride through his vision of 1960. This vision included such far-fetched ideas as widespread personal car ownership and a highway system (it’s no coincidence that the exhibit was sponsored by GM). Easily the most popular attraction at the fair, it was visited by a number of luminaries who walked away inspired. Walt Disney viewed the exhibit and likely drew from it in his later design of Disney World. Franklin D. Roosevelt contacted Bel Geddes soon after seeing the exhibit to get his input on what would become the Federal Highway Act in 1956.

You can get an idea of the experience of viewing the Futurama exhibit here, although it’s hard to really wrap our heads around how different this would all look to someone seeing it in 1939 than it does today.

The Futurama exhibit has largely trumped Bel Geddes many other achievements in the memory of the public, but he had a number of other ideas that made a lasting impression. He was behind the concept of revolving tower restaurants, now popular in big cities throughout the world. He designed the first stadium with a retractable roof, an “All Weather, All Purpose Stadium.” Long before war photography was common, he built models to help people visualize the major battles of the war.

Norman Bel Geddes was a man who seems to have never been fully content sticking with the present, he always had one foot in the future. It’s hard to imagine what our world would look like today without his influence.

Posted by: Kristen Hicks | November 9, 2012

On The Books of Blood

Fall puts me in the mood for horror stories. My primary horror investment in book form this year was Clive Barker’s Books of Blood, vol. 1-3. I knew Clive Barker had a impressive reputation as a writer, but previously only knew his work through films he worked on or inspired, including several memorable movies I’d be quick to recommend to any horror fan, such as Candyman and the Midnight Meat Train.

Though far from the only film genre with a reputation for unoriginality, many would agree it’s an especially common trait of horror films. Yet the movies that take concepts and visuals from the ideas of Clive Barker bring glimpses of horror to the audience that feel fresh and unhampered by the many familiar genre conventions. It comes as little surprise then that his short stories succeed in the same vein of creativity and visceral imagery that impresses, disgusts and chills the reader.

As in any short story collection, there are standout tales and occasional weak ones. My favorite of the whole collection was the introductory story “The Book of Blood” that provides a general framework for the tales to come, but offers effective characters, symbols and ideas all its own. A man who fakes the ability to communicate with the dead, not believing that the place he’s chosen lives up to its reputation as a crossroads for dead souls and the living world, has his lie forcibly made true upon his body. Part punishment for his ignorance and arrogance, but more out of the opportunity to communicate their stories, the dead besiege him and mark their tales onto his flesh, making him the literal, living book of blood.

Conveniently for the purposes of a book of horror, the crossroads the boy/book meets his fate at is one particular to souls who suffered violent deaths, and the stories we read are those taken from his flesh…

Barker’s stories often return to certain themes. Bodies that can change form in various ways or characters who can change the forms of others. The boy who becomes the book of blood is just the first example in many characters whose physicality can and does become something different in the course of a story. One boy becomes a large pig, hungry for human meat. A woman has the power to change her own body and those of others in any way she sees fit. Two towns combine all the bodies of their citizens into two massive, moving, united bodies – to catastrophic results.

There are also several tales that embrace a Lovecraftian type mythology, suggesting ancient monsters and life forms that predate humanity and, in some cases, were even its original cause. The fathers of “Midnight Meat Train” who live under New York City and must be appeased (again, with human meat) bear a similarity in concept to the fathers of “The Skins of the Fathers,” though the latter are portrayed as only defensively violent, preferring acts of creation (specifically, the creation of man) over those of destruction.

He also incorporates different forms of art into his stories in inventive ways, often as metaphors or launching pads for stories about expression. There are the actors who come back from the grave in order to perform the perfect play; movie images that come to life and interact with the world fueled by a rogue cancer–making the iconic images of Marilyn and John Wayne into tools of terror; and, the woman who can change her own and others’ physical forms –an extreme extension of the skills of a sculptor, or a more general metaphor for the artist’s ability to create a new reality out of the one she sees around her. And of course, there’s the boy whose flesh becomes a book.

It’s no coincidence that the introductory story embraces so many of these themes. It’s really a perfect encapsulation of much of what’s to come. The introduction of creative violence, the supernatural, a thin line between life and death and the transformative nature of the physical form – with a tendency for the resulting form to become a symbol of something larger. I liked many of the stories throughout the collection, but it was really this first that stuck with me and left me most in awe of Barker’s talent. He has a special skill for weaving unique tales of the gruesome and macabre that feel profound instead of sensationalist, as much modern horror is wont to be.

Posted by: Kristen Hicks | October 3, 2012

On Absalom, Absalom

Absalom, Absalom by William Faulkner

Absalom, Absalom is one of those books that regularly wows you as you’re reading. I found myself having to set the book aside from time to time to marvel at just how much it was able to pack into the story of a Southern family whose fortunes are created and destroyed in parallel with the experiences of the South before, during and after the Civil War.

It’s a special challenge to try to cull something brief, yet meaningful from a book that deftly covers so many issues so deeply. The characters that inhabit the book become symbols of the destructive influence of racism, the confining roles available to women in the period, the way history is passed along to new generations – in pieces, with some parts always missing, just how much the Civil War shook the reality of those affected by it and a nearly infinite number of possible issues and ideas beyond.

At the center of the all encompassing tale in question is the often mythic, but ultimately pathetic figure Thomas Sutpen and his persistent goal. Inspired by an iconic moment in his youth where the realities of the arbitrary societal hierarchy that assign a person value based on race, wealth and gender hits him like an epiphany, he sets out to secure himself and his future progeny a place at the top of the social order. At the moment that he makes this decision, any considerations of morality or personal responsibility that fail to fit neatly into his plan for success are quickly discarded or, more likely, fail to make way into his mind at all.

It’s precisely his insistence on basing his plan for success on the arbitrary social hierarchy that results in its eventual, dramatic failure. Early in his efforts he marries and has a child with a woman he perceives to be acceptable for his purposes. When he learns she has an indistinguishable amount of blackness in her blood, he unceremoniously dumps her and heads off to a new life, feeling the abandonment justified by her family’s decision to keep this oh-so-important bit of information from him.

Ensuring an epic Shakespearean or Biblical (hence the title) feel to the story, the plight of his abandoned, slightly black (but for all visual purposes entirely white) son ensures the destruction of the new, acceptable family and empire Sutpen manages to build in Mississippi.

Sutpen’s Hundred, the 100 acres that become his realm, is a place that never comes across as happy or beautiful in its various descriptions in the book. To Sutpen, it works as a symbol of his success in his goals and newfound position of power in the society that once scorned him. For his wife, slaves, children (both legitimate and slaveborn) and Miss Rosa, who becomes one of the primary narrators of the tale, it’s a confining setting. One where Sutpen rules and the others exist primarily to bend to his will and live out the lives expected of them.

Most of the slaves in the various re-tellings of the story never rise above general descriptions of wild brutes. The only one that is treated as an individual is Sutpen’s daughter Clytemenestra and even she is often described as almost a shadow of Judith, living a similar life of servitude, minus any possibility of a husband or the new life that comes with one. Some semblance of whiteness is required for any of the storytellers to deem a person worthy of rising to the heights of a character with a name and distinct attributes.

Sutpen’s heir, Henry, befriends his abandoned son, Bon. Theirs is more than a typical friendship, their bond is brotherly before either learns of their actual familial ties and Henry’s regard for Bon is excessively admiring. Henry’s prepared to marry his sister off to Bon long before they make their first trip back together to Sutpen’s Hundred, and his mom and sister are happy to concede to the plan. The only one hesitant is Sutpen, somehow recognizing himself too closely in the features of this new character who has entered into his children’s lives.

Sutpen’s original sin is his belief in and allegiance to the societal hiearchy, which leads to the two primary sins that lead to his destruction: the abandonment of hist first family and his refusal to ever acknowledge Bon as is son — even when it’s clearly the best, least messy method of ending the engagement between son and daughter.

Instead, he treats Henry as an instrument in ending the relationship between the two. First through the revelation of incest. Then, when that’s not enough to set one son against the other, he reveals his knowledge of Bon’s slight blackness, dealing the blow that ensures fratricide. His actions end with one son dead, another on the run from the law, a daughter resigned to a lonely life of spinsterhood and a surprisingly large cast of additional characters whose lives are left in ruins due to a mix of the flawed decisions of this one mythical man and the war that waged alongside his family’s drama – one attempting to topple the arbitrary social hierarchy (or its most troubling offshoot, at least), the other toppled by it.

Note: I somehow managed to write over 800 words without mentioning Quentin Compson, one of my favorite characters in all of literature and one of the storytellers that passes along the tale of Sutpen. While his tortuous feelings towards his sister and tragic fate are never addressed explicitly in Absalom, Absalom, they hang over the novel to anyone who knows him from The Sound and the Fury as he discusses the story of three siblings with a special bond, two of them close to marriage.

Posted by: Kristen Hicks | September 3, 2012

12 Fun Facts About the English Language

There are many technical, dry books to be written about the history and analysis of the English language, and many that already exist. Linguistics isn’t a subject known for its  ability to generate excitement.  Luckily, Bill Bryson, a modern day master at taking complex, hard to communicate subjects and weaving them into fascinating, entertaining stories that enrich readers, opted to pore through many of the drier tomes on the English language to cull fascinating facts and tales to fill his book on the subject, The Mother Tongue: English and How it Got that Way.

1. Before the printing press, people saw little need for regularized spelling. People wrote words how they they sounded, so the same word would have any number of spellings according to the person writing it down and the pronunciation in their particular geographic location (which would often be different from the pronunciation of nearby towns and villages).

The reason many of our current spellings are so unintuitive, is that the push for a consistency in spelling that came with the printing press did not correspond with a push for regularity in pronunciation. Pronunciation continued to evolve after the spellings had become fairly stable. For example, the “k” ceased to be pronounced in words like “knee” and “know,” the “l” in words like “folk” and “would,” etc.

2. The number of words in the English language is subject for debate, but most agree it’s at

Bill Bryson

least 3 million (most dictionaries have somewhere in the range of 300,000 to 600,000). The vocabularies of individuals are much smaller, but the average number is even more debated than the total number in the language. Estimates have ranged from 300-250,000. These estimates are further complicated by the fact #3.

3. 43 words account for half of the words in common use. 9 words account for a quarter of those in use*. In other words, we each know far more words than we regularly employ.

4. Shakespeare never spelled his own name the way we spell it today. He also didn’t bother spelling it the same way twice in any of the examples we still know of.

5. O.K. is the most widespread of all English words, used in cultures and languages throughout the world. It’s also one of the most grammatically versatile, serving in different contexts as an adjective, verb, noun, interjection and adverb.

6. The differences in British and American English are often inexplicable. One strange example: in the UK the Royal Mail delivers the post, in the States the Postal Service delivers the mail.

7. English is considered an official language in 44 countries, more than any other (2nd is French at 27).

8.There is such a thing as a professional pronouncer, they’re called “orthoepists” (No, I don’t know how to pronounce that).

9. There’s a city called Eighty-eight in Kentucky. In 1948, 88 people from Eighty-eight voted for Truman, and 88 voted for Dewey.

10. Some cultures never curse – Japanese, Malayans, Polynesians and Native American languages have no swear words. But, most do. The Ancient Romans had 800 curses in their language.

11. Palindromes are at least 2,000 years old.

12. The citizens of Boonville, California invented a langauge called boontling that was used in the isolated town for at least 30 years.

*and, be, have, it, of, the, to, will, you

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