Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Greatness of Peter Jackson's "The Lord of the Rings" Pt 3.

5. Pacing
All the beautiful aesthetics, great performances and solid special effects in the world could not save the movies if they were boring.  Given that they last around 3 hours+ a piece, boredom is a real threat.  Peter Jackson avoided this by pacing the movies masterfully.  The core of the narrative is the quest, the long and difficult journey from the Shire to Mordor, and Jackson builds everything else around this.

To start with, a sense of urgency pervades the movies -- the exposition never neglects to mention the gathering darkness, or the closeness of Mordor, or the frankly impossible nature of Frodo's task.

Moreover, the sequence of scenes is structured around the journey. Action sequences are interspersed with exposition and dialogue sequences so that we are neither talked to death by backstory nor subjected to a constant assault of context-free suspense.  Moreover, the action sequences are made purposeful by being directly related to the main plot, most frequently and visibly by being complications in the characters' journey.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Our Wedding: Part I: The Department of Backstory

This is part one of what will be a series of posts looking back on our wedding. The plan is as follows:

I: The Department of Backstory
II: Some philosophy behind the wedding and thoughts on planning
III: The planning
IV: The Shower and Pre-Marital Dance Party (will come with photos)
V: The Wedding weekend and Honeymoon (will come with photos)
VII: Thoughts on marriage

Despite my occasional misgivings and frustrations I really enjoyed getting married, and I'm really enjoying being married, so I thought I'd write a little about the process as we struggle through the last of the thank-yous (anyone know who sent us the coffee grinder?). I had rather strong opinions on the whole thing and a perhaps somewhat-unusual view for a woman on the whole business (my official catch-phrase for wedding planning was GETTING SHIT DONE), and I'd like to look back on it and have WAKnight give his thoughts as well. I'm also going to discuss money, because I think that "it's MY wedding and it has to be THE BEST!" is complete bullshit, and I'm quite proud of our how our wedding turned out.

I also enjoyed getting married, and so far being married has worked out well (which is to say, no different from living together). I've already shared a day-by day account of wedding planning as comments on the Open Thread of the Estimable Coates, but its good to reflect. Since I've already yacked about this, this is mostly going to be Rachel's series of posts. 

I will say that I was always vaguely offended that the wedding was supposed to be the bride's day, so I enjoyed taking an active part of planning. Since neither of us really believes in 'separate spheres' for the sexes it made sense to divide wedding planning equally, rather than loading it all on the bride, while the groom was just expected to show up. Also, I wasn't going to let my mother in law (God bless her) dress my groomsmen and myself.

I shall start a little before our engagement, so you can understand where we're coming fro.

After I graduated from college I moved into a newly-vacated room in WAKnight and my friend Eric's three-bedroom apartment, a move that we'd discussed for several months. We were in an that odd point in our lives that many college graduates face - we'd only been dating for three years and weren't sure whether we should sign a lease together. But we liked each other quite a lot and definitely wanted to keep on dating, so I rented my own bedroom and we slept apart when we needed to -- thought the apartment was so small that we couldn't have fit in one bedroom anyway (my room was 8x8). Having another roommate, his girlfriend, and our wacky downstairs neighbor around also helped, since it didn't feel like it was just the two of us.

Early that summer we were getting ready to go to sleep and I asked Will, who was reading in bed, a question I'd been turning over for a while. "If this whole living together thing works out do you want to see about filing our taxes together?" He stared at me for a while, and then asked if I was proposing to him, and I admitted that I was.

I still couldn't have asked for a better proposal. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Reading for Ash Wednesday

Exceprted from the Episcopal Lectionary's reading for today:

Isaiah 58
Shout out, do not hold back! Lift up your voice like a trumpet! Announce to my people their rebellion, to the house of Jacob their sins. 2Yet day after day they seek me and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness and did not forsake the ordinance of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments, they delight to draw near to God.
3“Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?” Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers. 4Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high. 5Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? 6Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? 7Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?

Monday, February 20, 2012

Contraception and Catholicism

Here is a great article on contraception and Catholicism.   In addition to calling out the Church's issues on contraception, it really crystallizes the core of my disagreement with the Catholic Church's doctrines, or rather their approach to doctrines.  The Catholic church does not just set sacred revelations in stone, they also make courses of reasoning and arguments untouchable and infallible.  The problem with Catholic dogma is not (as is the case with some protestants) that it puts the Bible and the creeds beyond all doubt and scrutiny, but that it places human reasoning (of a certain sort) above all doubt and scrutiny.  It has made a philosophy part of its religion.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Greatness of Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings, pt II

Part II of the "Greatness of LOTR" trilogy.

3. Great Visual Design
This is the part of the movies that Jackson is least directly responsible for.  The two artists that Jackson selected, John Howe* and Alan Lee are top fantasy illustrators.  Their work does a very good job of evoking the majesty of Tolkien's world without the schlockiness most people associate with fantasy art.  Moreover Howe and Lee have managed to create a set of aesthetics that are not historical, but are grounded enough in history to seem real.

The shire is a sort of idealized Georgian England that never was.  Gondor is a combination of Renaisance Italy (the piazzas), Byzantium and the greek isles (those white buildings stacked on top of each other, going down the slope of Minas Tirith).  Rohan looks like Anglo-Saxon England meets the viking age.  And the Elves live in a more fantastical world that looks like William Morris meets Art Nouveau.  Each aesthetic fits the culture that adopts it -- the elves' world is warm and organic, Gondor's is vast and somewhat cold stone, the shire is homelike and simple.

The Throne Room of Gondor kinda looks like pisa and salisbury cathedrals mashed up.

In general, aesthetics that have very strong or specific associations (gothic architecture, classical architecture) have been avoided or subsumed into a hodge-podge of somethings that people will half-remember enough to seem real, but will not look like it is from a particular time or place (this is less true of Rohan, most true of Gondor).  For instance, the Gondor throne room has the black/white motif of Romanesque Italy, but the simple piers of a gothic cathedral.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

The First and Last Words on Abraham Lincoln

Tomorrow is Lincoln's birthday.  The more I learn about Lincoln the more I think he was our greatest president, just like everyone else always said.  It is strange how close to the truth some of the legends about him were.

To say that his greatness was complicated is something of an understatement.  Historians seem to have sometimes had trouble deciding whether he was conservative or a radical, a white supremacist or a man ahead of his time.  These days the consensus seems to lean toward the latter, to say the least.

Frederick Douglass wrestled with this question on a speech he gave at the unfurling of the Freedman's monument to Lincoln, located in Lincoln Park in DC, right on east capitol street.  As the title of this post indicates, I think it's the best statement on Lincoln I've ever heard.

Here is some of the meat of Douglass's speech on Lincoln; forgive the long excerpt, it would feel disrespectful to both men and to the beauty of the text to interrupt its flow any more.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Greatness of Peter Jackson's "The Lord of the Rings" Pt 1.

Let me start this out by saying that I think that Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings novels are great.  Their world-building, pacing (though some think this is boring I think it's great) and wonderfully melancholy anticlimax of a denouement are amazing.  My interlocutor and I have spent more time talking about Tolkien than any other work of fiction other than Middlemarch and the Aubriad.  Moreover, I promise to return to the novels in a future post.

The movies are also great, but their virtues are different.  Some things are strong in both, and of necessity -- world building and pacing make the movies, but they have to be done in very different ways.

Rather than an extended essay, here are the things I think make the films great:

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Black History Month for White Boys

So it's Black History Month again, and it makes me remember what it was like going through it when I was going to school.  Back when I was in school my 70% white classes would have some lessons on Harriett Tubman and George Washington Carver, and there would be posters of Sojourner Truth and Martin Luther King in the hallways.  Once I did a report on WEB DuBois, because the school library thought that a bookish kid would get a kick out of learning about a famous intellectual.

I learned some stuff then -- I learned quite a bit about WEB DuBois, for instance.  But what I learned seemed rather separate from the rest of my studies -- there was American History, where black people were the background and occasionally the subject of actions by whites, and Black History, where black people took an active role but mostly effected themselves.  My own history was American history, while Black History was something other -- a worthy object of study that showed human diversity, like Asohka's India, but equally removed from my own heritage. 

Friday, February 3, 2012

In Which I Went A-Protestin'

Earlier this week I had some free time after work, a piece of cardboard, and a marker so I made up a sign that read "Christian and pro marriage equality!" and went to the end of the anti-gay-marriage rally that was taking place a few minutes' walk from my house in the state capital. I'm not generally in the habit of making political statements aside from donating money and voting, but I'd had a long day and wanted to vent, and the gym was closed.

Much to my disappointment I didn't find any other counter protesters (the homos were probably home baking cookies or helping their kids do their schoolwork) so I leaned against a planter near where people were leaving and held up my sign. The crowd was about half Catholic, white, and Republican, and half Baptist, black, and probably Democrat - one of the clearest demonstrations I've ever seen that if there was a political party that was socially conservative and not racist they'd have a lot of black voters.

I got mostly glassy stares, which surprised me until I heard someone ask a companion "What's marriage equality?" - apparently this anti-gay-marriage crowd hadn't been keeping up with the other side's rebranding. I got the usual amount of men hissing sl*t, lesbian, and lesbian c*nt hissed at me that you'd expect. A few ladies said God Bless You, and I wished them a "The Lord be with you" back.

Only two guys stopped to engage me - one yelled "Gay men can't make babies!" and I responded "Neither can old people, and they can marry" and he yelled back that homos spread diseases and have created 38 new ones - I'd never heard that one before! A middle-aged man in a red sash from the Catholic contingent came up to me and asked "Should a father be able to marry his daughter?", to which I replied (smartass that I am), "Well, it's one man, one woman..." - he stomped off. I folded up my sign, went home, and laid down to recover from witnessing so much vitriol. Watching others' hatred is sickening and exhausting.