Sunday, March 28, 2010

Little People Living in Little Towns

Soldier's Home, 1943 by C. David Claudon
Have you been facinated by the idea Gulliver's Travels and seeing miniature people living in a full little town? Much of my life I have. The 1:12 inch scale room above speaks to that fascination.

I like to imagine that Swift had seen one of those early dollhouses that the Dutch and English delighted in. Called poppenhuis in the Netherlands, these often became so elaborate that legend has it that at least one woman bankrupted her husband to fill hers with silver accessories.When I visited Amsterdam in the 1970s, I especially wanted to check out the poppenhuis at the Rijks Museum. [For information on this poppenhuis, check out here.]

Inspired by the cabinet dollhouse, when I returned home, I started Braymore-at-Carnavan, a 10-room dollhouse built in two adjoining bookcases. Over the years, it became the place to put in a collection of miniatures and allowed me to design and  decorate a turn-of-the-century 10-room setting.

Among the other stops in that visit to Holland included Madurodam where famous Dutch buildings have been reduced to 1:25 scale. To stand among the buildings gives us the feeling of a Gulliver in Lilliput.

All of this leads to this little gem of a film, The Sand Pit by Sam O'Hare, which at first glance appears to be of beautifully done miniatures but instead is of life-size people from Manhatten and Brooklyn. The scale suddenly made me examine, how do I understand and "read" scale. This is a fascinating film.

Enjoy The Sandpit from Sam O'Hare on Vimeo.

Monday, March 08, 2010

The Water Is Wide

I am currently doing research on music that would have been sung during the 1860s, and one of the songs I found is the traditional The Water Is Wide.

When I first heard the song the performer chose only a couple of the verses, and it seemed a very haunting love ballad. But after doing more research I discovered it's actually about the loss of love, not the joy of it.

Based on a 17th century song, O Waly, Waly, the song has a couple of titles. You might know it is as There Is a Ship. There seem to be many variations to the lyrics.

I've settled on this version of the lyrics.

The Water Is Wide

The water is wide, I cannot get o’er
Neither have I wings to fly
Give me a boat that can carry two
And both shall row, my love and I

A ship there is and she sails the sea
She's loaded deep as deep can be
But not so deep as the love I'm in
I know not if I sink or swim

I leaned my back against an oak
Thinking it was a trusty tree
But first it bent and then it broke
So did my love prove false to me

I reached my finger into some soft bush
Thinking the fairest flower to find
I pricked my finger to the bone
And left the fairest flower behind

Oh love be handsome and love be kind
Gay as a jewel when first it is new
But love grows old and waxes cold
And fades away like the morning dew

Must I go bound while you go free
Must I love a man who doesn't love me
Must I be born with so little art
As to love a man who'll break my heart

When cockle shells turn silver bells
Then will my love come back to me
When roses bloom in winter's gloom
Then will my love return to me

Market Street, San Francisco 1905

Seen from a cable car showing the city before the earthquake.

Friday, March 05, 2010

The Threat of the Ordinary

[Note: I will try to avoid spoilers, but I really want you to see this film.]

The setting is daunting and alienating. A ferry arrives on a Massachusetts island in a storm and as the cars get off, one remains locked and abandoned. As the workers on the ferry try to figure out where the owner is, we switch to a deserted beach and a body washed ashore.

Switch to London, where the Ghost, a professional writer who helps say what the authors can't, is hired to take the place of the dead man and help a retired British prime minister finish his memoirs. The Ghost, Ewan McGregor, is a man with no ties, no family. Against his better judgment, he is wooed to the job by the promise of $25,000 for four weeks' work. The only problem is he has to join Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan) on an island in Cape Cod to do the work. As he prepares to leave, he learns that Lang has been accused of allowing four British citizens accused of terrorism to be kidnapped and sent off with the Americans. "What have you gotten me into?" the Ghost asks his agent.

Thus begins Roman Polanski's carefully crafted homage to Alfred Hitchock. Like Hitchcock, Polanski takes an ordinary man and thrusts him into a world where even the commonplace seems threatening. The Ghost arrives at Lang's home which looks much like a German bunker during World War II. High tech, angular, concrete walls and floor to ceiling windows which make the foreboding Cape Cod storms part of the environment. The house reminds me in many ways of the high tech gloss of the house on Mt. Rushmore in Hitchcock's North by Northwest.

There's a wife and a blonde mistress (Kim Cattrall) at war with each other, a locked manuscript and secrets enough for all. Throw in the suspicion that Lang's previous ghost writer was murdered for knowing too much and you have all the elements of a fun ride.

Hitchcock loved to manipulate and concentrate on objects (think of the phone in Dial M for Murder, the glasses in Strangers on a Train, or a matchbook in North by Northwest). In this case we have a flash drive and manuscript, a wonderful BMW with GPS navagation which plots out one of the trips that the Ghost uses to solve his mystery, and the omnipresent Google provides the writer and us instant insight. One of the wonderful Hitchcockian (is there such a word?) moments is the climax of the film where a simple but deadly note is passed from one person's hand to another in great closeup. And at the end, there remains sly commementary as Lang's image looms in a poster for his book appearing to watch the action from behind another building. (It's the moment suggested in poster for the film.)

The score by Alexandre Desplat is evocative of Bernard Hermann's Hitchcock work [think Vertigo or North by Northwest]. Along with the violins of Hermann, Desplat in his most memorable moments relies also on oboe, tympani, and the celeste sounding like glass wind chimes.

Ewan McGregor plays the Everyman that Hitchcock would have cast with Cary Grant or Jimmy Stewart. He has just the right subservient attitude. His character is a reluctant hero in his story and McGregor is both personable and vulnerable.

I've seen the movie twice since it came out here in Chicago and I highly recommend it to any fan of Polanski, McGregor, Bronsan, or Hitchcock.

For more information and trivia on the filming, check out here.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010


Lead Me Lord, ASL. There's something very poetic about signing.

In a totally different vein, here is Michael DiMartino's whose sign language work I subscribe to:

These are just a few of what Michael has on YouTube. I'll bet if you watch, you'll consider subscribing too.

Found on the Net

Laura Montana sings Lady Gaga. Does anyone else find this just too freaky?

OkGo, This Too Shall Pass. There used to be cartoonist named Rube Goldberg which created all kinds of jerryrigged machines. This is fascinating. Maximize the image and enjoy.

Blue Man Group: Crunch, Drums and Paper. If you haven't seen this in person, you have really missed a great experience. One of the fun experiences of my life.