Tuesday, July 31, 2007

skat or blitz

I assume that some of you are aware that a new, the last, Harry Potter book came out a week or so ago. I wasn't initially a fan and didn't know anything about the character until the first movie came out on dvd, but it grew on me and the past three books became special events in our household as Margaret and I read them out loud to each other, forcing us to stay on the same page, to digest every word, and to take moments to share thoughts about the book as the story unfolds. The movies are interesting as well, although not so much so that I'd made the time to see the newest one, but will eventually. Anyway, the process of reading out loud is slow but, as we are a bit obsessed and persistent, we completed it in a week. I was pleased with the book, it was paced better than the last couple, it kept focused on the central three characters without undue distractions, and tied up details that I did not believe she had the capability to reconcile. So there are a couple of more movies to go but then what? Rowling has already demonstrated a willingness her willingness to licence the characters through the creation of a theme park, although never through writing, but I got to thinking that a good television series based at the school could be really go for developing many details there. For example, what does it mean to be placed in Hufflepuff, outside of just being a loser? Can a member of Slitherin have a heart? Some good tv, when guided well, can have enough time to explore new issues and break down stereotypes. What if Joss Whedon, or someone of similar calibre, were to produce such a series, we might discover strength and weakness in all characters, not just the black and white world painted by Rowling. I understand the Rowling intends to write something different next, but even if she returns to the Potterverse, she will be unable to tell a simple small story that reveals intriguing truths about the characters and the history, she will have to embark upon a big new quest that will never build as well upon the human beings that could emerge from her characters.

Monday, July 30, 2007


Ingmar Bergman died today. I wouldn't call my self a scholar of Bergman, but I certainly would go out of my way to see his films. The first I saw was "Cries and Whispers" in Film 100 back in 1982. Terry Marner questioned the class about the symbolism of the colours in the film, but I'd have to admit that this line of inquiry was initially lost on my just-out-of-high-school self. In the years that followed, I saw everything I could and was particularly taken with "The Seventh Seal", although initially more for the visual approach than for the densely metaphoric tale. If there was every a film I wished to emulate, this was it. In 1990 I was living in an apartment behind the Golden Mile (south end of Regina) and was going through a long drawn out and depressing break up (certainly we were breaking up for longer than we were together) and there was a video store in the Gold Square (don't remember the name of it) that had a surprisingly huge collection of Bergman films to rent, at least a dozen different titles. Each night that my girlfriend and I had a fight, I would go rent another Bergman, at first to dwell on the dark side of life but I quickly fell in love with his earlier funny films. He was a filmmaker with a huge range and I will always remember nights he lifted my spirit.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

... and holding

Paul and I stayed up late last night, he until 2:30, me until 4:30, reassembling William's Lego. He has about ten different sets and he's disassembled and reused the pieces over the past couple of months to create one massive bin of pieces. When he discovered what we'd done, he declared (on camera) "This is the happiest day of his life!", and set to work taking them apart again. Pictured below is his very own Ghost Rider lego figure which he designed using parts of three other figures based solely on the dvd cover as he is five and has not seen the movie.

... and counting

Paul and I stayed up late last night, he until 2:30, me until 4:30, reassembling William's Lego. He has about 10 different sets and he's disassembled and reused the pieces over the past couple of months to create one massive bin of pieces. When he discovered what we'd done, he declared (on camera) this to be the happiest day of his life, and set to work taking them apart again.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

28 Days Later

In the fall of 1987, to promote some Filmpool screenings, me and a couple colleagues shot three TV commercials revolving around the image of the anvil, chosen for purposes of absurdity and for convenience as we happened to have a 175 lb anvil of our own that we purchased for the film Wheat Soup that was premiering around that time, and so there I was, letting machismo get the better of me as I hauled this brutal steel object up a snowy incline not once, but twice, to drop it onto an (unsuspecting) television set below, and then I was surprised to start having strange pains running down my leg in the months that followed that only increased as months passed and flare up from time to time to this day. The last two days have been very painful as this 20 year old back injury is debilitating me once again, but of course it was worth it, we got the shot.

Friday, July 27, 2007

three by three by three

This afternoon, William had his friend Teagan over and at one point it seemed a good idea that they watch a movie. William wanted Batman but she didn't. I intervened and suggested a number of titles including Little Nemo in Slumberland (not the classic Windsor McKay work, just the 1980s pale feature). It seemed a good tie-breaker since neither of them had seen it. However, Teagan vetoed it BECAUSE she hadn't seen it, you see when her movie night at home comes, she wants the movies to be a surprise and thus she does not want to see any new movies outside of movie night and spoil the surprise! I was sort of caught in that my only retort would be that Little Nemo is a bit substandard and rather old and is very unlikely to be a selection for movie night, but I figured this wasn't really going to sell it so I put in The Cat Returns instead.

William wanted to pretend today was Christmas. I think it actually comes down to having this interesting little box that slides apart easily and has a bow on top, making it very easy to put a small object in and present it someone. The ease of gift giving creates a strong interest in gift giving. He constructed a tree from pillows, put a colourful toy on top as a star, we read a Christmas book, went to "sleep", woke up and went downstairs to open this fabulous gift of two kites for dolls, or so I am guessing them to be. Oh well, tis the season.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Double luck (or not)

Yesterday William was complaining that all the movies I take him in at the movie theatre are cartoons (even though we went to Fantastic Four the other day, but perhaps it really is more of a cartoon than I perceive it to be) so today he was delighted to go to Nancy Drew which, in my limited perception, seemed more based upon the 1950s movie series (which I recently saw a couple of) than upon the books (as described to me since I rarely get around to reading good books let alone ...), and I suggest this due to the relationship she has with the boy co-star, the lack of the chubby girlfriend, and the preponderance of 1950s style of Nancy's clothes and car. Fun in some ways, not a complete waste of time and curiously not available on dvd for another seven months. My son liked it as he is the right age to find the journey down a secret passageway by flashlight to be highly exciting. Don't we all miss the Munsters?

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

two bits

I went onto Margaret's radio show, Radio Delarte, for an hour today with Chrystene Ells to contribute to the discussion about her project "Sisu" which is shooting next month. As threatened, I mostly sat quietly and waited for my opportunity to strike with that one killer statement... but we ran out of time.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

A day

Another scorcher, 35 degrees plus humidex makes it feel like 45, the hot spot of the country. I recorded some theremin tests but could not figure out how to upload them to this blog. They look like this:

Monday, July 23, 2007


As the heat wave continues (35 degrees in the shade) I sought out the comfort of the University and tinkered on the Theremin some more, finally making sense of the tuning instructions with successful results! While the volume function does not yet work, the machine now produces sound when you move your hand close to the right side antennae.


As the heat wave continues (35 degrees in the shade) I made sense of the tuning instructions on the Theremin and got it mostly working!

Sunday, July 22, 2007

double double

The rain and hail yesterday turned into a heck of a humidex today, which made even videotaping dancers a chore, let alone the actual excretion it takes to dance. Ron Stewart did some incredible performances which were highly physical with a verbal, partially improvised performance aspect to them. These were a highlight for me, his work was fresh, exciting, and funny. Another delight was the return of Michele Sereda's "Moss Lady" performance which I'd not seen since the Secret Garden Tour in 2000. At that original show, I was also videotaping but was also shooting hundreds of feet of 16mm film which was part of the initial research and filming for my "Toxic" films. I have a two second clip of the moss lady on colour, hand-processed film. It was at that secret garden that I first met Dr. Tanya Dahms, a biochemist at the University of Regina who I thought was just a dancer with an interest in photography until she contacted me a few months later to see if she could see the footage. We hit it off and have collaborated in the laboratory and on the dance floor a number of times since then (no, I have not been dancing).
Pictured below, a voyeuristic moment with Michele Sereda and Ron Stewart.

Saturday, July 21, 2007


I spent a good portion of today, at least the portions that weren't raining and hailing, videotaping dance performances at the New Dance Horizon's Secret Garden Tour, and will be doing more tomorrow. As I can't wait to get back to Harry Potter, I'll have to leave details for tomorrow.

Friday, July 20, 2007

keep score

I completed the Theremin today, plugged it in, and it didn't catch fire! I needed to go to the electronics store and buy a new switch because I wrecked one by being too rough with it, and I need to make some adjustments to make it work, but I did get it to create a range of tones using the dials, although not yet by using the antennas. The adjustment instructions are using words that they don't define, so I'll have to put it aside until Roland is back next week.

The other day I registered into terminus, a site where artists can post artwork. I posted a couple of images but there are many others there worth looking at.

Bernie Howgate came to the door this afternoon while I was home with William and his friend. This is the third time I've met this Newfoundland writer who travels the country following the publication of each of his books, selling them door to door. He's got the sort of face or voice or mannerism that makes you want to invite him in, and I did. While I admitted to him that I'd not read his first two books, even though I'd purchased them, that I would take a look at this one. Sitting in the backyard under strong (dry) prairie winds, I read the first two chapters of "Around the Rock in a Bad Mood", they flew by quickly. He relates the tale of travelling around the Rock (Newfoundland) by kayak, of the weather, and of the hospitality. The weather seemed both foreign and familiar, the hospitality required no explanation.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Drinking time.

I went to see Guy Maddin's Brand Upon the Brain tonight. It had some outright belly laughs in it, which is different from the usual-sly-weirdness-that-never-ceases-to-amuse tone of Maddin's other features. It's basically a traditional silent film with intertitles and no sync dialogue, but included a recurring narration. This reminded me of a trend with distributers in the late 20s and early 30s films in which silent film footage was recycled for the age of sound, using a trivial voice-over to give the audience the impression that they are watching a sound film but are really just being told about what is readily apparent on the screen. I have a short documentary like this where an African travelogue is voiced-over and repackaged for a new audience ten years after silent films had gone out of style. Perhaps it would better be compared to Chaplin's Modern Times which began production as a silent film but came to contain sync sound elements and was released with a married soundtrack and score. An element of Brand Upon the Brain that I felt was disconcerting was the occasional use of dissolves which seemed formally disconnected from the shooting and editing style of 90% of the film, feeling more like moments from a 1940s film. Maddin premiered this film last month in Winnipeg the same night that I was there screening my own films at the Winnipeg Cinematheque, but I regretfully didn't attend. I like to believe he stole my audience away from me, even though I was very happy with the reception I had (thanks to Dave Barber).

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

gets my vote

We went to see Brad Bird's Ratatouille today. It hasn't been getting the authorship hype that I attach to it, but considering that The Incredibles was William's favorite film for a year and I probably watched it fifty times and even included it as one of the two mainstream films on my five must-see films in a book project a couple of years ago, and that Iron Giant contained one of the most endearing portrayals of an artist in American cinematic history, then it is amazing that the film was in theatres this long before I saw it. I've not read much reviewing it yet, but it certainly works on many levels, for kids and for adults, and I'm certain will hold up to multiple viewings (I'll let you know at Christmastime). Beyond the general praise for quality, humour, character, etc, I got to thinking about the role of the mother within the film. While Bird's other two films both had strong, intelligent, active, and present mothers, Ratatouille falls under the inscrutable Disney pattern of killing off the characters' mothers. The main rat has no mother, although his father has a strong presence and family is discussed as highly important. The main human character enters the film upon his mother's death and we only gain insights into his father. However, the mothers exert a strange and invisible domination. This young man is criticized for chopping vegetables like a mother in a kitchen rather than a professional in a restaurant. The restaurant critic's Achilles heal is nostalgia for his (faceless) mother's cooking. This pattern of dead dominating mothers has been discussed in critical papers elsewhere, but my question is, why would Brad Bird, who I think is one of the most clever storytellers of our day, fall into this Disney trap?

Tuesday, July 17, 2007


It's one of those days that I fiddled and fumbled, I read a bit of this and thought about bit of that and at the end of it all I cannot put a finger on anything I actually did. I look around the room for clues and notice that everything is rearranged since yesterday, this must have had a purpose, but then I recall that movement is not necessarily action.

Monday, July 16, 2007

of age

I took my son and niece to the Silver Surfer movie today (yes, it is a Fantastic Four movie but even the promoters knew that it was the Surfer that would sell it, as evidenced by the initial previews which barely mentioned the FF) and I enjoyed it very much. It got me thinking about the comics again and how when I was my son's age (5) I got to choose a comic for a road trip and, unlike most choices I made when I was young, I did not pick something that would satisfy my older sisters such as an Archie or Richie Rich, but instead I picked out an interesting superhero comic. The cover was quickly lost but I held onto that comic for years, with its full page image of a silvery character on the first page. However, Atlas shrugs and that comic was lost, maybe thrown away, maybe traded to a friend, unseen until I was a teenager with a part time job and ordering comics sight-unseen from Adelphe's in Winnipeg. My delight could not be greater than the day my $12 mint condition copy of Silver Surfer #2 arrived and I opened it to find the image from my childhood, the Surfer lying on his board, floating in the upper atmosphere until an asteroid storm struck him down.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

the third hand

More house cleaning; I emptied out a closet that has contained the household art supplies, primarily Margaret's paints, brushes, inks, etc, as we are going to move William's bedroom from the small room he is in now into the larger room we have been using as our office/guest room, and during this move/cleaning I found a small plastic container which holds the objects shown above, a number of screws, a couple of 3/4" plates, and a 2" long pin, all surgical steel, and all previously residing in my left hand. Back in 1987 when I was working at IPSCO, a (then) locally based steel mill when my industrial accident took place, leading to three surgical procedures and gave me sufficient worker's compensation to live as an artist for a year or two, I was not as interested in (or perhaps not brave enough for) filmmaking as personal identity. I no longer carry enough trauma about that situation to milk it for a film today, just a blog or two.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

for teen

The Rob Bos painting is gone! Perhaps it was removed during the set up for the murder/mystery party taking place tonight next door. William and I just came home from the Sylvie Blocher opening at the Dunlop Art Gallery (who was assisted during her production last month by one of our students, Nils Sorenson) and were called over to the party because it seems that one of the guests, a cousin of my next door neighbor, is Drew Reimer, an ex-student of mine and very funny and talented animator. He's a designer and animator now, seems almost respectable (but I know the lurid thoughts he could only express with his cartoons -- blouse button popping fantasies, oh my, oh my!). Nice chat, finally saw the renovations inside their house, wow. Sylvie's show is pretty interesting, Living Pictures with Regina city police officers. I was around while it was being shot as she conducted the video interviews in the recording studio across the hall from my office. She was lucky to get both a participant on her very first day as a police officer as well as another on his very last day before retiring. In the introduction this evening, Sylvie discussed her uncontrollable feeling of guilt whenever a police officer arrests her (her mistake) approaches her (she corrected herself), and how the uniform is an object and makes the wearer into an object who attempts to remain neutral and impartial, even though that is naturally impossible. Our police chief also spoke, reiterating the problems of presenting and representing the police due to the mythologation of the authority of the uniform. A good talk, but it does not give me hope that the mystery of the missing Bos will be solved.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Lucky day

We attended the opening of my son William's first show at the MacKenzie Art Gallery today. He was displaying his recent sketches and mixed media sculptures developed during his "artist retreat" this week. One critic was misheard to describe the show as "divine".

Thursday, July 12, 2007


Today was shrouded by another headache, not a migraine but sort of a mega tension/dehydration/neck-ache sort of thing. I was up at 6am, took a mitt full of Advil, watched some Supranos, took some more and put ice on my head, went to work for a few hours (finished the wiring for the Theremin but not the case yet) and took some more Advil so that he headache finally subsided enough that we went and did some berry picking (two gallons of huge, sweet Saskatoon berries at $12 per gallon if you pick your own which we did in about an hour since they were so abundant), and home.
We found a Rob Bos painting (that is a painting by Rob Bos, not just some Rob Bos actually dong a painting) hidden in the alley behind our house, one of his current projects, so we took it and replaced it with another of his paintings from the same text series from our own collection.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

11th hour

More housekeeping, some of it real. I spent some time sorting junk around the house as well as reviewing the calendar of the summer to figure out when I'll be best able to travel some more. At the lab, I was in a rage about a glitch that seems to have emerged in the new Avid. It seems that importing audio files from cds will go to the D drive, which is where a lot of the Avid software is stored. Later, if you try to use the capture/record tool, it creates an error that requires you to reboot the program. During that reboot, the audio files are lost. Of course they still appear to be on the timeline, but they are hollow and silent. I put together the telecine transfer of the Filmpool Film Frenzy films (see my first blog entry for image) and, since I had done some manipulation of the image since its screening, I figured I'd better correct/finesse the sound as well. End of story is that I lost it and had to start again. This losing of sound happened to me earlier in the week with "Inspector Gadget vs the Zapper", but I didn't know the cause. Anyway, after the second time building the soundtrack for the Frenzy, I recorded it to tape and did a mix down of my group's sequence so that it was stored properly. The files were soon lost, as predicted.
The other housekeeping I completed was with my computer files (not photos or media) that I've compiled from my home computer (files since 1999 but see below), my department head computer (2004-2007), my laptop (2003 to present), and my university office computer (1999-2004) with a total of over 7500 files, many, many of which are duplicated between the computers or that each has different drafts of the same files. I'd been through a similar sorting in 1999 when I upgraded my computer from an IBM 286 that had no mouse, no windows, and a very small hard drive. Back then, I stored all of my files on diskettes so I had boxes and boxes of them. I sat down at this new machine and taught myself to use a mouse by sorting these hundreds, probably a thousand, files. The problem then was that I did not think to keep the well sorted individual diskettes as individual folders but instead threw them all into a big pot together. I ended up with multiple files called "invoice" or "letter_to_lab" and so on. Anyway, I now have 1.2Gb of data that is the sum total of my writing for the past two decades, the stories, the love letters, the grant applications, the invoices, and most importantly, the memos.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

X marks the spot

Today was a boy and dad day. Margaret went up to the Mendel Art Gallery in Saskatoon with work and left me and William to fend for ourselves. The day began with a fantastic 4 dollar breakfast at the Novia. There was a bit of a chill in the air so he opted for the hot chocolate and was amused that it came in the exact same cup as my coffee. He accused me of trying to switch them (which as certainly true, but only after he gave me the idea, he's such a bad influence). We then went to the lab to finish off "Inspector Gadget versus the Zapper", as it has been hanging over my head for some time, but we did not succeed. The Mac at the next table was under repair so William spent his time "helping" me, rather than watching a show of his own. On top of that, I had some sort of glitch with my previously imported audio files resulting in my sound effects being missing and I didn't have the disc with me, so I couldn't fix it. I also spent some time beginning to figure out this new way of exporting from Avid to make dvds. It seems that you send some file or guide out of the Avid, rather than having he Avid render out the Mpeg file itself. I'm sure it will eventually work for me but I found it nontransparent today. The rest of the day was a mix of playing Hot Wheels, watching cartoons, and finally finishing sorting ALL of my computer files. I believe the document folder is now down to about 7600 files, not including photos or any media. This is compiled from four computers, each containing between 2 and 5000 files each. I should be able to re-load my office computer so that, at least at this point in time, the two main machines I use will have a common filing system and common files. This sounds dull, and it is, but it's one of those necessary steps in trying to focus on moving on with other projects.

Monday, July 9, 2007


Perhaps the weather change, perhaps the relief of stress, perhaps from staring at computer screen for hours this afternoon as I was trying to sort the files from my four computers into one and create a master filing system of the 10 thousand files from the past 18 years that I've been using a computer, but I came down with a migraine tonight. I've not been getting them very often over past few years, Margaret things only one other since William was born, I think two. When I get them, get lots of pain and blurred vision but most profoundly, I lose the language centre of my brain. Sometimes cannot speak or write at all. I recall getting one the day after my thesis defense when I was invited out to a cottage over night. It felt so great to have the defense off my back when suddenly I was in blinding pain. They never last more than 12 hours.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

to cube or not to cube

This evening I previewed Tyler Banadyga's first feature film "Zip". Tyler certainly takes the notion of "rough around the edges" to its extreme with this loosely knit super-8 drama. The cast consists almost entirely of Tyler's friend and collaborator Jason Hipfner (and two short cameos including one by Tyler himself) as the film follows Jason as the title character on a road trip without destination around Saskatchewan while reading passages from novels. The camera work is usually shaky, giving the film a nervous and uncertain tone. Focus, when it occurs, seems unintentional. In that, I refer to both the working of the lens as well as the clarity of the character's motivation and the connections between the voice-over and the image on screen. The character/audience connection is further jeopardized by the consciously dispassionate readings of the texts. We are presented with a character that, even after two hours (less three minutes) of solo screen time, we do not know. It is a highly challenging film but one that offers some interesting rewards for the work a viewer is asked to put into it. A sequence near the beginning of a back-hoe tearing down a house was fascinating; I always see something alive in these machines as they destroy as well as caress the wood and brick. An image of the wasp trapped in a jar near the end of the film, a shortened version of the film Tyler made for last year's One Take Super-8 Event, is a poignant metaphor, perhaps of how we blind ourselves of the traps we are in and of the pointlessness of our lives in favour of simply continuing to move forward.

Seventh heaven

Another hot day. Yesterday was actually 36.9 degrees, a record, so the heatstroke I had was not unpredictable. William's caterpillar turned into a moth in his jar. I have never managed to do this, probably due to being impatient or perhaps because mom threw them out before they had time to transform. He set it loose after supper with an audience. I spent part of the day watching cartoons, primarily Batman, with William. I find that many of his shows tend to put me to sleep, probably due to the tones of the voices, the friendly repetition of the music, and the lack of any dramatic tension. This is wonderful when you are having a tired day and you need a nap; you can doze in front of the TV and never feel that you've missed anything. It's Saturday and I think the first day I've really taken off since my sabbatical began.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Sixth sense.

At 35 degrees, it's too hot to really work so I blew off the day running errands. It's about midnight and my computer room is still at 27 degrees so this must be short, the machine is only adding to the heat. Margaret inflated an eight foot pool and then found a hole in it so we had to go back across town to the big box store, exchange it, and fill it again. It was key to cooling off. We stayed up late watching tv as the bedrooms are upstairs where it is too warm. William started watching "The New Adventures of Batman", the series for 1977 with Batmite in it. I really hated these when I originally saw them, but I was a cynical teenage, not a five year old. We took a break from tv to go outside and tell ghost stories by the pool. This is what William looked like.William fell asleep at 11:30 watching, and enjoying, Laurel and Hardy.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Trouble at the fifth estate?

I met with a research team I've been a member of for the past few years where we create videos on the subject of First Nations end of life care. This may seem quite distant from the other film and video work I tend to be involved with, and I suppose it is. It all started about five years ago when I was contacted by Dr. Angelina Baydala who had just joined the Psychology Department at the U of Regina, coming from Edmonton where her husband, Pete, had been friends with my wife's cousin John Bessai, who is a filmmaker in Toronto with his company Cinefocus. I've worked for John and his company a couple of times including, coincidentally, as animator of another First Nations health care film "The Story of Turtle from Turtle Island". So apparently Angie, Pete, and John all got together in Edmonton sometime before Angie and Pete moved here and it was suggested that she contact me, so I got a call. We sat down over a coffee and she told me about this project she wanted to do but how impractical it was seeming. You see, if you are not a filmmaker but you need a filmmaker to work for you, they are hugely expensive. If you have a filmmaker friend, they are often extremely economical. I think I get into more projects through friendships than any other way. I will either work with people I like, or I'll work alone. Working with/for people I can't communicate well with is almost never worth the trouble (for more about trouble, skip to the end of this blog). Given that my income over the past two decades has been through teaching, animating, or personal grants, I have been able to maintain this as a reality for a long time. Thus it came to pass that I got myself involved in a series of documentary/instructional films that has been able to attract funding and have expanded in scale and scope in surprising ways. The people involved are quite good hearted and I enjoy meeting with them. The videos are made by committee, which I've previously only seen fail, but with much of the heavy lifting of shooting and editing being done my a number of keen students, and with a group that seems to have significant mutual respect, the projects take shape. Today's meeting was regarding the video to document and contextualize a one day conference we will be hosting in mid-September. The video will assist other research teams to understand the process of doing sensitive research involving First Nations people.

Theremin is coming along fine. I started the wiring but am missing four of the quarter inch sockets, so will need to pick them up before I finish it.

It was extremely hot today so we ate on the back deck and played Trouble afterwards. In the photo below, you will see that William (green) won the game, Paul (yellow) did very well, even though he'd had a very rough patch, I did very well (blue) with my last peg only one space from the end, and that Margaret (red) had all four of her pieces still in the beginning base. I've never seen such luck.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Go forth

The continued construction of the theremin occupied much of my day today. I made good progress, much to the credit of our department technician Roland Bourgeois. Roland is one of our hidden secrets, he keeps the machines afloat and the software (relatively) bug free. His background is in electronics but he has kept up with the changing needs of the department and is very well versed in the maintenance and operation of all of the computer-based aspects of the department, the Avids, the Final Cut Pros, etc. Today he pulled me out of the fire by finding me a replacement resistor and a replacement capacitor that my Theremin kit was missing. He has been hugely generous with his time and experience, teaching me how to solder, lending me tools, and giving me loads of advice. My hat is off to our unsung hero, Roland Bourgeois.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

a crowd

Two very interesting things today, first I learned to solder and began to assemble my Theremin. What and Why you might ask? Well, the what can be found by the link above. The why is related to a project I'm working on called "Modern" which is a series of silent films based upon Modern art. I've been very interested in the notion of "modern" in that it refers to a movement in art that was very important throughout the 20th century (dates will certainly vary depending upon who you talk to) but that it is a movement that has become outdated and old fashioned. However, the label of "modern" remains with it and, for all I know, my stick for centuries. With my films, I create nice, clean modern-esque animated images such as colour fields and lines using computer animation, then I transfer the video to film and process it roughly by hand to demonstrate the decay that has overcome this artwork over the past few decades. To accompany screenings of this work, I have been looking for a variety of music but most of all, I'd like to include the sound from the Theremin. It is a truly 20th century instrument. It is unlike anything from previous times as it is played by moving your hands through the air near it. The Moog synthesizer was based upon the principles of the Theremin but corrupted the purity of the design by integrating the electronics with a keyboard interface so that the playing of it would not be so foreign to classically trained musicians. The electric guitar is similarly new but based on older interfaces. I say that the Theremin alone is the instrument that epitomizes the modernist objectives of purity of form. Therefore, I wish to have my films accompanied, at times, by the music of the Theremin. Only problem is, these are not manufactured but need to be build from kits. I ordered and received a kit a few months ago but it has required the sabbatical to give me the time to start working on it.

The second event of the day is experiencing the first complete run through of the storyboards for Sisu, the film project to be shot this summer by Chrystene Ells. Her husband Raul did the 600 or so panels based upon the script and upon ideas discussed by him, Chrystene, and myself over the past couple of months. It was some stellar work and the project is very close to ready. If the actual performances are at least as good at the charcoal style still drawings and Raul's stiff reading of the text, then there won't be a dry eye in the house. At least one person was in tears just during this reading, but since she came with me and she's downstairs in her pajamas, I'd better not say who she was.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Just a second

One of my colleagues told me that she spent the first three months of her sabbatical sleeping. I agreed that I would also probably do this but secretly I swore that this would not happen to me. With the number of commitments I've had over the past few years with administration, teaching, and family, I have trained myself to maximize the small pockets of times I get to do my own creative filmmaking. I figure that if I continue to use that focus when the other duties have been removed, I would do well. However, this "three months of sleeping" is sounding like a very good idea today. We drove home from Cypress Hills, stopping at a number of places but, due the the deferred day for the July 1 holiday, most stores, art galleries, museums, and tourist sites were closed (except for a little "old-timers" museum in Maple Creek where they had one of Geraldine Moodie's actual cameras on display). The sighting of an eagle as we left the hills notwithstanding, I felt increasingly defeated by the day. By mid-afternoon we had surrendered ourselves to just driving and, although the light and colours were perfect, I felt no temptation to pull over and drag all my gear out of the extremely tightly packed trunk and capture any of it. All I could bring myself to do was pull down the window and snap off a few without slowing down. The fields are all green and in bloom, the sky is dark with storms, the contrast was amazing. The image above contains no adjustments, it just looked like that (the blurriness is due to the 120kph motion). I thought I would grab every opportunity that came my way, but sometimes you just have to put your own sanity first and let the light live only in your memory.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Once upon a time

The first official day of my sabbatical. I'd hoped to make it a particularly productive one so with a belly full of re-fried perogies and (fresh) bacon, I slipped away from the noise and into the trees to again study the pine trees. I shot the remainder of a roll of Kodak 7363, a high contrast black and white film that used to be sold very cheap as a stock for making optical soundtracks but is now sold fairly cheaply as a camera stock for optical effects. It is distinguished as a raw stock for its striking yellow base. One of my students ran 30 feet into it thinking I'd attached some sort of leader to it. I had similar apprehensions the first time I used it but just charged ahead. It is tricky to expose as it likes to have bright sunlight, I rate it around 9 or 10 iso in daylight and only about 6 under tungsten light. Anyway, Margaret had pointed out how the deadly straight trees here will sway slightly and how amazing this looks when looking straight up. I shot minute of film in time exposures using my battery powered Meritex and exposed full seconds at about f4.
I took a break from the 16mm and shot more home-movie style super-8 on the beach. It is the father's role, responsibility, and perhaps even rite to select the moments of his families life that are important enough to be preserved forever on super-8 film. The family portraits by the father have been a big concern of mine since taking that role myself five years ago.
My second roll of 16mm for the day did not go so smoothly. I loaded a roll of Kodak 3383, which IS a print stock (as opposed to a camera stock - print stocks are meant to be used in machines to create copies of films rather than in the cameras. They are sold in large rolls for industry use and need to be cut down for camera use). This stock is for colour printing and my tests rate it at about 1.5 iso (tungsten). That means that under the brightest Saskatchewan light (which is damn bright) you need to shoot at f1.4 if you want to shoot at 24fps. I have a plan to shoot time exposures with it but this afternoon my Meritex began to fail and just runs uncontrollably, regardless of ac/dc power and regardless of whether or not the camera is connected. I tried every option and eventually packed it away for repair. That left me in a shady forest that I cannot possibly shoot in normally with this stock. I decided to return to a technique I used a lot in the early 90s in which I use the Bolex rewind crank to turn the camera forward and thus I could absolutely control the speed of the camera movement. I cranked it at about 4 frames per second at f2.8, occasionally running backwards and superimposing. It's a bit of a workout but can give a flickering, inconsistent effect that is difficult to simulate any other way.