Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Research and Obsessions


Despite many thoughts rattling around in my head, it's a struggle to get a post out each week. But I am more organized this week than ever, so one step closer to carving out time.

I did discover a great resource last week. A work friend, a certified smarty-pants (aka PhD), told me about the public computers at UCSF. I had found an abstract of two articles from The Lancet, from 1917 and 1926, but I don't have a subscription to these journals of course. But UCSF does! I was able to access the articles and email them to myself - yippe! More resources to feed my obsessions!

The articles are part of my research into the production of artist Anna Coleman Ladd and the tin masks of WWI. These masks are an interesting example of the intersection of art and science - a favorite subject. Using this same resource I also found articles from art journals on Ladd, with a focus on her sculpture (actually not mentioning the mask production). Tonight I'll check out an NPR "All Things Considered" episode on her. Then to start work on a blog post about it all.

Image from YouTube video.

 Image from the San Diego History Center website.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

What If... and Boardwalk Empire


The original idea for this blog was to be like a diary, to jot down the thoughts and ideas that rattle through my head. I've had renewed inspiration today to get back to this idea. I love to write researched posts, but my original goal was more modest, and a more "do-able" goal to accomplish each week. Let's see how it goes...

I've just completed season three of Boardwalk Empire. So much drama and violence and interesting characters that I think the rest of this week, I'll stick to YouTube videos of animals on trampolines.

The main takeaway though is situations. The BE writers now have a set of characters that have been set up pretty thoroughly in previous seasons. They can now drop those characters into one interesting situation after another and see what happens: what if... Most TV does this to a greater or lesser degree, but it really jumped out at me in this season of BE.

We think they know a character well. Then using the anything-goes drama of a show like BE, the writers get to take the characters farther by seeing them act in bizarre and extreme situations. We do this in real life; we learn more about our friends and family when we see how they react to new situations and challenges. Although hopefully for us, we'll never be confronted with the extreme level of experience that TV characters usually endure. TV, like BE, is a playground for putting characters through their paces. Writing is a way to ask ourselves what would I do if... I met an alien, wrestled a lion, was abandoned in a strange city, found a box of money, fell in love... It's all a big, super fun, "what if" game.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

I Don't Think I Can Watch "The Exorcist" Again


A friend and I got on the subject of The Exorcist at a recent gathering. A movie night to rewatch the film was discussed. I admitted I'd been interested in seeing the film again, but I'd need some serious company.

I started thinking again about what I like so much, what obsesses me so much, about the film. It is the story, not the shock. It is the struggle with the loss of faith and the unexpected opportunity to renew that faith by facing evil. The existence of evil would provide strong evidence if not proof of the supernatural. The character Father Karras enters the situation as a sceptic, a position strengthened by his weakened faith, so in order for him to be convinced he was facing true evil, and not just a young girl with mental problems, he would need to be faced with an incredibly extreme experience.

Regan MacNeil, the possessed girl, is then simply a catalyst, a vehicle for evil to act on the lives of the characters. Comments I've read on a few blogs reveal that people think the horror is laughable, that Regan's antics are crude and silly. They're missing the true story.

Actor and playwright Jason Miller played Father Damian Karras. Miller began his career writing the play That Championship Season for which he won a Pulitzer Prize.

Miller was so wonderful intense as Karras. He conveyed the gravity of his struggle without appearing ridiculous. His face effortlessly conveys the burden he carries: guilt, grief, loss.

Despite my obsession with the character of Father Karras, the other main characters in the film, Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn), Father Merrin (Max von Sydow), Lt. William Kinderman (Lee J. Cobb), also experience evil, although their story doesn't feel as compelling to me as Karras'.

For Karras and the other characters, the menacing presence of the demon is only partially visual. The voice performance and sound editing, mixing a melange of sounds with the voice of Mercedes McCambridge is astounding. The demon speaking with Linda Blair's voice might not have convinced anyone of his existence. Without McCambridge, the scenes would certainly lack impact as heard in these cool clips comparing the voices of Blair with McCambridge.

These thoughts lead to what I fear about the film. With a clear head, in the clear light of day, the film is intense and fascinating, but at night time, when I seem to be psychically vulnerable and my rational brain is half asleep, I can't stop seeing frightening images in my head. I can't stop my brain from obsessing on the danger (mental danger more than physical) of things outside the realm of the rational. My struggle is with my "lizard brain" (my emotional brain). I realize real people and real situations (illness, accidents) are the true threat, but my emotional brain is still haunted by what is not real. I don't believe in ghosts rationally, but I still expect one to be standing in the hallway when I round the corner in the dark.

This image of Karras' mother, who suddenly appears in place of Regan and the chaos of the room, is powerful. The image is simultaneously frightening, eerie, and melancholy.

I am also vulnerable to images pop into my brain and refuse to leave at night, in the dark; images like those in The Exorcist. When it came to memorable images, these people knew what they were doing.

Holy crap! Look at that. Don't tell me you're not compelled to turn away. If all you see is an actor in makeup, I envy you. Truly, I envy you.

Here is Eileen Dietz, the face behind the make-up. What a nice-looking lady. But seeing her photo doesn't reduce the impact of the image of her in scary make up.

The more I considered these thoughts, I realized that while I love talking about the film, I am not interested in seeing it again. I want to contemplate the story and the drama without refreshing the frightening images that will play through my head when I least want them (i.e. heading to the bathroom in the middle of the night). So I think I'll continue to reminisce on my memories of the film and be satisfied with the half a dozen viewings. They're enough to last me a lifetime.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Projects Completed and in Progress


Well so much for New Year's Resolutions. How many times has it been said, so I don't feel so bad. I have been hoping to carve out time to blog more, although I have been keeping busy in 2012:

I've been attending a small writing club at least twice a month (been attending 2-3 times per month for four months now) with a small group of work-mates. It's been motivating and inspiring. I have not made a huge amount of progress on my writing progress, but I have been much more consistent, aka writing a little every week.

I completed an article for the Winter 2013 San Francisco Silent Film Festival. And I'm hard at work on a new essay for the Summer 2013 SFSFF! The program list will be announced on 5/23!

Helped Michelle for three of her four pop-ups, aka 20th Century Cafe preview

Teresa, Michelle, and me at the pop-up at State Bird Provisions

I read a bunch of books including the incredible memoir by Michael Tradowsky (found out about the book from his daughter Kirsten who I wrote about in this blog last year). His book is War Children is about growing up in a artistic, non-political family in Nazi Germany. I wrote a brief review on Goodreads.

I completed a video for Michelle's Kickstarter campaign. She reached her goal 12 days early! I received some nice compliments including one in the SF Weekly blog SF Foodie that said, "The Kickstarter page has more details about the café, but the real draw there is the sepia-toned, 1930's/40's video showing Polzine's trials and tribulations getting the place open. It's a fun watch that encapsulates the vintage feel she's trying to create in her café." Kickstarter page with video -- she's got 7 days to go...pledges over her goal will help buy an ice cream machine (you cannot believe the ice cream she makes!).

And I'm working on another video for her Kickstarter, for the last few days of the campaign - seriously, amazing ice-cream!

That's it for now.  A bit of catch up on my creative/project online diary...done and done!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Writing About Snow White


Who is Snow White? And what does she represent?

Reading up on her I read about innocence and the drama between the two female characters: one youthful and innocent and the other mature and strategic. There was things written about the fight for the love of the husband/father and other Freudian analysis. These ideas made me start thinking about The cultural and emotional significance and what thought jumps out me is it Snow White representing two stages of female life, perhaps from the perspective of the younger of the two. The older "witch" is what the innocent youth is afraid to become, she is afraid of all the things that signified her birth: the cold and immaculate white snow, the blood of a mature woman, and the black of death.

That's it for now...more thoughts on this tomorrow...I only have a week or so...

Project Update! Completed and published essay for the San Francisco Silent Film Winter 2012 Festival Program: Snow White (1916).

Monday, November 5, 2012

Boardwalk Empire and Richard Harrow


I am blown away by the complexity of effects available now to storytellers. Effects can be a boring mess, or in the hands of talented writers can make anything in the creative mind a "reality."

I am addicted currently to Boardwalk Empire. The writing is top notch and the characters are incredibly compelling. My favorite character is a minor one, Richard Harrow played by Jack Huston.

He is a WWI vet with a disfiguring injury to one side of his face. This character led me to recall the research I did to write the San Francisco Silent Film Festival program essay for the Lon Chaney film The Penalty.

"Blizzard is driven by the loss of his legs. Chaney displays all the emotional and physical awkwardness that challenge and enrage Blizzard. Playing the part of the outcast, as he frequently did, afforded Chaney a unique challenge. His skills produced horrifying characters that repelled audiences. Chaney would then use those same skills to win over audiences and change their repulsion into sympathy, and a more profound understanding of his characters...In recent years, some critics and historians have condemned Chaney’s portrayals as perpetuating negative stereotypes of the disabled. In fact, Chaney’s great gift was his ability to reveal the humanity within even the most disturbed and damaged character."

During researching that essay I came across an amazing paper written by Karen Randell in the film journal Screen, issue 44:2 Summer 2003. Her essay was about the huge numbers of injured vets returning from WWI and the impact on society reflected in film, specifically in the films of actor Lon Chaney. Medical technology had advanced and was able to save many lives, but there was a impact on the vets and society in that many of those surviving had the kinds of injuries never before seen on a living, breathing person.

She writes, "Although the war does not figure explicitly in Chaney's films, I shall argue that the neurotic repetition of deformity provides a contextual reference to the war maimed...war trauma is what remains after the terrors of war have been lived through and rationalized."

At its most superficial, physical disfigurement is used to visually show the evil and corruption of a character. At its most profound, it is used to show the artifacts of a traumatic experience and its lingering damage to a character.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Walk Through My Neighborhood


I took a walk today to the library in West Portal. I stopped for coffee and to write a letter. Passing the Catholic school near my house, and on my way home, as the sun was setting, I was inspired to document a few visuals. Looking for interesting images gives me a chance to stop and savour. And I had a number of those wonderful I-love-San-Francisco-and-my-neighborhood moments.

Friday, November 2, 2012



Just taking a minute to think about my staycation goals...

Sitting in Cafes





Watching Movies


Drinking and Socializing

Quality Time with My Man

Yep, I think that captures all the key goals. Done!

Thursday, November 1, 2012


Amazing evening with my writers' club. It was originally co-workers and we set aside an hour a week during work hours to talk writing and write. Now it's expanded as one of the group has moved on to another job. It was a great and productive night, kicking off NaNoWriMo for two in the group.

I recently finished a short story for the Horror Fest: Bloody Parchment competition, for Halloween of course! Working on this story brought me a step closer to the process of just writing without worrying about every word, just getting it down, and then after writing, edit. The idea is to get some of the benefits of NaNoWriMo without the stress of trying to write a novel in a month (50,000 words, gulp!). I tried, but just can't commit to writing that much every single day, but I have enormous respect for those disciplined souls that can do it.

I did however write a solid 600+ words tonight for my...whatever it ends up being. I've been kicking around this ghostie idea for years. I've set myself a goal to complete at least 20,000 words (novella length) by at my birthday in late Feb.  I have played around with ideas for this story in short pieces, one I published as a Flash Friday entry. My obsession with ghosts mostly stems from the fact that the rational part of my brain does not believe in ghosts, but the ancient, fight-or-flight part of my brain is terrified by the idea and the image, so I must believe in them on some level. There is not one shred of hard evidence; scientists have found evidence of something as strange and small as quarks, but no real evidence of ghosts. It is the long standing battle within my brain and I find it fascinating.

As Dave Emory, who filled my head with lectures on political scandals and conspiracy theories as a teenager, said, "Food for thought and grounds for further research."

Thursday, October 18, 2012

What I'd Do If Independently Wealthy


It was a wonderfully relaxed and leisurely walk from Market Street to work (at the base of Telegraph Hill) due to this marvelously warm weather - summer, finally! It will last until the Halloween when everyone will be excited about running about at night in small costumes, but then winter will set in and everyone will instead be wearing coats over their outfits. It seems to happen every year!

I was pondering things as I walked and I decided on what I'd do in the case of a financial windfall.  I'd go back to school to get a Master's Degree in science (probably biology) and art history and I'd spend all my free time writing and researching articles for obscure, small art/science/technology magazines. I'd also delve into theater, producing and directing, and sewing most of my wardrobe. So just in case a million dollars drops in my lap, I've got a plan and plenty of fodder for daydreaming.

Inspiring image for the day...