July 23, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Skip Elsheimer helms the AV Geeks Educational Film Archives, which collects old 16mm films, ranging from mid-1960s predictions of what the year 1999 would be like and instructions on appropriate lunchroom behavior, to Army instructions on finding booby traps and public health films urging children to not go to the bathroom outside for fear of worms.
These are the kind of films that any person of a certain age has encountered at some point in life — a lot of Elsheimer’s mo vies were originally seen in schools or businesses — and very often left a vague, odd memory in the mind of the viewer.
Elsheimer has put together a show — part of a larger fund-raising and awareness tour — of what he calls “nightmare fodder,” films that he’s had people contact him about, haunted by the sketchy memories of being shown them in grade school, such as “Toothache of a Clown,” which aims to lessen anxiety about dentist visits.
“That one is actually meant to soften the fears, but in stopping one fear, they reinforce another fear that kids have, so it’s really poorly conceived,” Elsheimer said.
Elsheimer will also show “The Dirt Witch Cleans Up,” which promotes cleanliness and is by the same filmmakers, adopting a similar horrifying tone and technique.
Elsheimer points to “Cipher in the Snow,” a 1973 film production by Brigham Young University, as one of the most legendary of the films he is showing. He’s always getting phone calls and questions trying to clarify what exactly it was that was seen as a child.
” ‘Cipher in the Snow’ is a very fascinating film that has traumatized an entire generation of kids,” said Elsheimer. “The question I get is ‘I saw this film when I was in the 4th grade that has this kid getting off a school bus and he dies. What is that film? Why did they show that?’”
” ‘Cipher in the Snow’ is that film. The premise of the film is that the little kid dies because nobody loves him. It’s a very strong film meant for parents, for adults, that talks about nurturing a child as just as important as the physical aspects of it. It’s very melodramatic in that regard, but to show it to kids is a travesty.”
Elsheimer will also show “Safe Play – Danger Places” and “Dead Is Dead.”
Elsheimer says that he is discouraging kids from attending the screenings. The hindsight of adulthood is probably a necessary component to walking away unscathed from some of these. It’s the intensity of such films that continues to draw Elsheimer to amassing and screening them.
“That, ultimately, is why I collect the films that I collect,” he said. “Certainly, they’re corny and silly and all that, but there are some deliberate decisions that the filmmakers made, just like a real feature film, and so to think about that critically, think about how they went about trying to accomplish what they wanted to accomplish. Did they succeed? Or did they way over exceed? Did it really go beyond what they could have possibly imagined?”
Elsheimer stands at the center of a movement that understands these classroom and organizational films represent a cultural history of the United States that Hollywood could never hope to match.
“You get to see parts of America, and parts of the Am erican experience, and hear accents that you wouldn’t hear in a Hollywood film,” Elsheimer said. “That, I think, is interesting, too. There’s a value to these beyond just what the educational value is. They capture parts of cities and how people lived and how they looked and what clothes they wore and how they spoke in different places.”
Elsheimer began collecting films in the early ‘90s. He was in a band doing noise projects. Seeking stage props at a government auction, he would pick up odd items, from CPR dummies to 16mm projectors. Elsheimer found films to screen on that projector and use in the band performances. Soon he provided the service to other bands, and then finally his own screenings.
“Something clicked in my head, and I started actively looking for them and seeing them show up in school auctions,” he said. “Now, we’re at more than 24,000. I’m a little more selective with collections, because with the collections, there’s a lot of duplication in what I have, and I don’t need the same ‘Fat Albert’ episode over and over and over again.”
The genres that Elsheimer loves the most are religious films that deal with the Apocalypse and venereal disease films.
“I hope to do a book or documentary about the history of venereal disease films, because it’s a fascinating history when you look at it and what it reflects about culture,” Elsheimer said.
Elsheimer says that the world is still rich in collectible films, largely because he’s dealing with a second wave of collection — the people who rescued film collections from institutions that were going to toss them out the first time around are now looking to unload the results of their efforts.
This has coincided with an academic interest in the films — books about them have begun to appear and academics now look at them for their importance to social and cultural history.
Elsheimer’s purpose in em barking on this screening tour is to widen accessibility to the films. His plan is to raise money in order to digitize at least 1,000 films and make them available online (he previously has been able to put 600 titles online)..
“You start getting academics, you start getting researchers, you start getting people who contribute,” said Elsheimer, “who look at the films and add to them, and there’s some creatives out there, documentarians. putting them online suddenly gives them this new life.”
“I love showing the films, but I can’t get to every person out there. And I don’t want them coming to my house, where all of these films are stored, so this is a way to give access to them 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and people can watch them and comment on them, and use them how they want.”
Once Elsheimer is finished with this leg of his mission, he plans to consult with other archives — both private and institutional — and help them use the fundraising model to digitize their collections, as well.
It’s a no-lose situation to make the films available, either for study or amusement, or even source material for artists and musicians. And then there’s the personal element that is hardly ever considered.
“Once I put something online and a filmmaker, contacted me and was super excited to see that there was new life for his films,” Elsheimer said. “He was actually able to show his friends and family the film that he made back in the mid-’60s. I’ve had quite a few interactions with people who were in these films and like ‘Oh my god! I found this film and I’m in it!’”
“I try to get stories from them and share this information because they were small productions and they were made all over the United States. It was literally filmmakers would go to a school and ask who wants to be in this film, and then they would audition people. Well, sometimes they audition them, sometimes they don’t.”
Instructional film is a form that still exists, just in a different way. What we think of as shadowy nightmares from our childhood are still being produced, and the efforts of people like Elsheimer can create a historical thread of the genre through the decades.
“It’s not gone away. It’s not on film anymore, but it’s on DVD or you watch a Web broadcast of something, training videos, training films, school still shows moving images that are education or promotional. That process of transferring information has not changed, it’s still an important and efficient way of getting ideas across, it’s just the medium has changed.”
July 23, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Cannibals beat zombies
All the so-called “zombie” news stories can’t hold a candle to the one I woke up to last week, reporting that 29 people were arrested for cannibalizing seven others in Papua New Guinea. The arrestees are merely part of a “a 1000-strong group” apparently serving as a task force to deal with uppity witch doctors. Their prescription? Eat the witch doctors’ raw brains!
No bath salts needed in New Guinea! I mean, 29 people ate human penis soup. I understand that this doesn’t and shouldn’t reflect on the entire population, but I also have a feeling that you couldn’t find 29 people in the U.S. or Canada who would sit down for a bowl of human penis soup. But then, I’m not familiar with all the subcultures these days.
The final line in the article from the police chief involved in the arrests is a classic of gallows humor!
Thinking of eating your own? That’s exactly the scenario Stephen King paints in this essay from earlier in the year.
He never comes out and mentions cannibalistic monsters, let alone flesh-eating zombies. In fact, he never really even implies such a thing — I’m the one taking the imagery to that place. But who can blame me?
The America that King rails against is one of fat, rich men who soak up all the money and don’t see how they have any civic duty to give back to their country. Economic cannibals — and that’s exactly what the Republican Party has become, especially thanks to its collusion with Libertarianism and Ayn Rand via the Tea Party.
A flesh-eating zombie has no responsibility toward anyone else — his only purpose in life is to chase and consume, chase and consume. So it is with your typical Randian Republican, looking out for number one and anyone with a different number not registering on the radar.
King takes his fellow rich boys to task for being selfish, and he hints at what’s to come. A portion of the people siding with the rich ghouls don’t even realize they’re being consumed. One day, though, you wake up and there’s a creature gnawing at your guts and it’s just too late to take it all back. You’ve been devoured.
I’ve never read a Stephen King book in my life, and I’ve not seen much in the way of his movies that were to my taste, but with feisty opinions like this, and his straightforward delivering — as well as providing a few good laughs at the expense of terrible people — has earned my respect forever.
It’s official — the average Canadian is more prosperous than the average American. This fascinating piece from Bloomberg flies in the face of how we Americans view politics and the world by portraying a country that exists on a “fiscally conservative form of socialism.” That’s the sort of phrase that would make a tea partier’s head explode. Americans would have you think it’s either “this way” or “that way.” Such limited thinking that cuts off so many possibilities and innovations, and ultimately is just sad.
But we’re a long way from Canada — we have to get to a place where we see our citizenry and infrastructure as worth investing in at all. Until then, we can’t get anywhere near a point that we can cut programs responsibly and sustainably.
Are there actually any fiscal conservatives left in our country? Certainly not the Republicans, who only practice a form of that when it serves their scuffle against Democrats and lines the pockets of corporations and millionaires.
Fiscal conservative shouldn’t be about hoarding money and making sure no one else gets any, but about wisely managing money so that any spending done is not needless and harmful, and not everything is solved through spending.
Perhaps if we all just started viewing taxes as a form of condo fees that helps keep the grounds functional and tidy, we, too, could be like Canada and not a nation of future zombies destined to defiantly subsist on bowls of penis soup because we’re just that scared.
July 16, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Musician Julia Easterlin considers her main instrument to be her voice, and shaped her compositions and performance style to highlight that.
Easterlin uses a loop pedal in her performances, which is a digital sampler utilized by musicians — most often guitarists— to create short, repetitive riffs that are laid over each other to created textured rhythms. Easterlin has been using the same technology for her own singing performances. Easterlin, a Georgia native, first used the pedal while still in high school, although did not center her work on it professionally at first while in Boston.
“When I switched to the pedal, a lot of the same principles still applied,” Easterlin said. “I do tend to start with a general idea, or an emotion that I want to convey, and words and melody tend to come to mind, then figuring out the harmonic structure of a song to complement the melody and lyrics or to help me convey this feeling that I’m trying to connect with.”
The pedal has one major difference, though, that has shaped Easterlin’s compositions since focusing on it as her main technical tool.
“It is a bit of a limiting format, because it is repetitive by nature,” she said. “It’s also a little bit like a math problem. Everything has to be even and everything has to be perfectly symmetrical. It all has to line up horizontally and vertically. It’s sort of like musical Sodoku. You line all of the pieces up and they all have to add up at the end.”
The creative challenges and limitations of the pedal mean there are certain things Easterlin can’t do in performance that she would be able to with other instruments — no time changes, limited chord change possibilities, no rubato sections — but it’s also been a way for her to make the most of her own voice in a way no other arrangement has. She started out performing solo with guitar or piano, but the loop pedal, for all its structural limitations, freed her.
After six years of performing exclusively with the loop pedal, though, she’s evolved sonically further by adding two drums and a bass player “I had a consistent feeling that I just wanted it to be a little more of a party onstage,” said Easterlin. “I wanted to maintain the thoughtfulness behind the composition and the fun that I get to have with the loop pedal, but I wanted it to be a little bit more like a celebration. I wanted a fuller sound, and for me a full sound consists of having the melody and the harmony, and also the low end, the bass and the drums to enforce the rhythm in the group well, so I’ve been wanting to do that for awhile.” Easterlin debuted the line-up at the Lollapalooza festival last year out of necessity for the venue, but they kept performing together afterwards.
“This is the first band that I’ve ever been a part of, at all,” Easterlin said. “Even before I was doing stuff with the loop pedal, I was performing solo, accompanying myself on guitar or piano. I was solo for a very long time, and this is my first exploration with a band. Certainly performing solo for that long gave me plenty of time and a great opportunity to get a handle on what my sound is, where my writing comes from, how I do a show. Integrating other people into that was a really interesting process, and posed some of its own challenges.”
“As opposed to being an organic development of a band working together from start to finish, it really was bringing people into what I do and then also having the courage to open up what I do to other people’s input, which was frankly a challenge for me for a while. It was scary. It’s scary to open up to people on an intimate level and I don’t think that’s any different when working with a band, when creating something with a group of people. It’s an inherently intimate process.”
After bringing traditional instruments into her mix, Easterlin has been writing songs the same way and not utilizing the loop pedal at that point in the process.
“I will incorporate the loop pedal into this next creative pursuit of mine, but I don’t know that it will continue to be the core of what I do,” she said, “because it’s limiting and you can only go so far with it. I’m pushing for growth.”
One possibility that Easterlin has considered is creating multi-vocal music with other singers. There are logistical concerns, but that’s part of the appeal for the singer. Her intention is to not sit still and definitely not lull herself into musical comfort.
“That’s a thing that I’m open to, but I think pursuing a solution to the puzzle of how do I do x, y and z live when it’s not loopable vocals, I think that’s a worthwhile pursuit. It’s a challenge,” Easterlin said.
“I think it’s important for me to push myself and make myself a little bit uncomfortable. I don’t always like the result, but I think the things I learn in experimentation, even if the end product isn’t exactly what I would hope, the things I learn from that are really invaluable, and it really makes me excited to try weird stuff.”
July 16, 2012 § Leave a Comment
The Appalachian Trail runs from Georgia to Maine, 2,178.3 miles, and filmmaker Katherine Imp decided to hike every mile of it with a film camera, just to see what happened.
The resulting documentary, “Beauty Beneath the Dirt,” screens at Images Cinema in Williamstown on Saturday, July 14, at 2 p.m., with a reception following at Nature’s Closet, to be attended by one of the film’s subjects, Imp’s brother, Brandon.
It was Imp’s fascination with film and a desire to learn how to make one that led her to the Appalachian Trail with her best friend and her brother. None of the three had done any long-range backpacking before, but all of them were ready for adventure.
“I think that our lack of experience makes the film somewhat entertaining, because you see how we look like fish out of water,” Imp said. “But you learn quickly on a five-month hike how to live in the woods.”
Most of the group’s preparation for the journey involved research. For Imp, that meant consulting with film professors and professionals that she contacted in order to find out anything and everything she needed to know about making a film under the duress of a through-hike. All three of them spent time reading up on the subject, so at least they knew what was ahead of them. “Approximately 2,000 people attempt this hike each year and only one in five finish,” said Imp. “We all finished, and we had no experience. You can say that’s beating the odds or an example of people who prepared physically – actually, no we did not prepare physically. Prepared mentally and did our research.”
And although all three were in good physical shape, none of them did any specific training to get ready.
“I had every intention of getting in shape before we left,” said Imp. “I had this long plan about how I was going to wake up every morning and do X amount of miles on the Stairmaster at the gym, but I was actually studying for the bar exam for the month prior to doing this trip, and I just didn’t have time.”
One of the reasons Imp chose the Appalachian Trail over any others was the culture of the trail, especially the existence of trail angels, residents in the towns the trail crosses through who are renowned for helping hikers with their needs. “One of our favorite things about the trail was meeting trail angels and people in these towns, and just enjoying the kindness of strangers,” said Imp. “That’s also why we had so many days that we didn’t hike and other days that we hiked an extreme amount of miles.”
The reasons people decide to hike the trail are as diverse as the hikers themselves. Imp compares it to the way some people will announce that they are going to backpack across Europe and find themselves — it’s a chance to displace yourself from your own life, without any crushing goals, and to spend a lot of time away from civilization in general.
“I don’t know if everyone who does it actually comes to a conclusion, though,” said Imp. “I do feel like every person who attempts a through hike, whether they make it a week or five months learn something new about themselves.
“By capturing our experience on camera, I was forced to learn a lot about myself, both the good and the bad, by watching our story unfold in the editing room. I think that all three of us learned something, and it was different, and I don’t regret anything that happened and I’m happy I did it.”
By going in a group and taking the parts of it out its context, Imp found that the journey brought unexpected truths to the surface, and these manifested in ways that no amount of research could have forewarned her. “Our group started with three people and about half way through, a fourth person was added and that fourth person is Prophet, that’s his trail name,” Imp said. “By adding a fourth person to the group, the social dynamics significantly changed and inevitably changed the direction of the trip and our experience.”
Although the experience had a profound personal effect on her, equally important is the creative one. Imp says that quite a lot of people discouraged her from making the film initially — both people on the trail and people at home, who felt she was wasting her time and should just go to film school instead. Imp had the feeling that she would benefit from an experiential diving in project, and that’s exactly how she feels about it still.
“This whole process, despite the fact that it has been an emotional roller-coaster ride, has only inspired me more to continue to make more films,” Imp said. “I don’t think that I would ever through hike a trail again, but I would make a film again, and as soon as this one is finished up, I will probably start with the next.”
As Imp glances back at her achievement, it also moves her to look forward at what’s to come. And the one creative goal is to challenge herself and not coast on repetition — fiction seems a likely direction for her to go in.
“I’m done making films about my life,” she said. “And I’m done making documentaries, at least for now.”
Since finishing the film, she has been taking some individual film classes to fill in the gaps of her experience, as well as taking the film on a tour of Appalachian Trail towns. Her experience on the trail taught her filmmaking, and she plans to take those lessons to the next step in her creative career. “I didn’t go out there and just turn on the camera,” said Imp. “I did do preparation and I looked to other people for advice and always kept an open mind, but I also made a lot of mistakes, and by doing that, I learned how to make a movie.
July 16, 2012 § Leave a Comment
No God so far, but we have found his particle
We’ve yet to find Noah’s Ark, the Garden of Eden, the Ark of the Covenant and many other things the Bible assures us are real, but last week the human race found two items that the scripture is entirely silent on — the Higgs Boson particle and dark matter.
The Higgs Boson is more complicated than one little newspaper column can contain — I’ll let this excellent animated piece explain that for me.
As for dark matter, you can read the announcement here.
The specifics of these events are fascinating in and of themselves, but I’m going to take the broader view that what has transpired, and what is yet to come in regard to the two, is a wonderful primer in how science works.
Science makes predictions based on evidence and probability. These predictions are made after plenty of consideration, debate and mathematical formulas that neither you nor I could ever master.
It is complicated. Do I have faith that it is reliable? No. I leave centuries of research and study and fact-finding on the part of the human race, as well as scholarship and systems designed to pass on the skill of creating more science, to those who are motivated enough to do so.
If I care to look at the evidence, it’s all there for me to see. If I want, I, too, have the opportunity to learn how to parse through the material and not have scientists explain it to me.
I don’t know how to fix a car either, but it’s not faith that makes me think my auto mechanic can — it’s the knowledge that there are ways for people learn that skill, and evidence to prove that they have or not in the form of your car being fixed.
Bible stories are very nice and, like Aesop’s Fables or the Grimm Brothers, they often leave room for interpretation that is valuable to creative thinking, but they are not facts. They are stories that are part of the rich human heritage, and that is a nice thing on its own.
There is already debate whether the Higgs Boson particle is exactly what CERN scientists claim. And that’s how science works. If after the more research and conversation, it is decided that the proper particle was not observed, then scientists will look at the data and decide whether they think the matter is worth pursuing further. It probably is.
Regardless, the basic truth revealed here is that science changes with the data and you don’t need to have faith in that.
Forget all that hard data, though — there is also a lovely sideshow to the Higgs Boson story, though, and it’s one more nail in the coffin of the clichés about scientists that we cling to. This article about Les Horribles Cernettes reveals a girl-group parody band made up of women who worked at CERN — the site of the Higgs Boson discovery — existed in 1992. And they performed at a party at least once. And the photo of them is also believed to hold the distinction of being the first ever uploaded on the Internet.
Surely the band will reunite given recent developments.
Check it out
News of transforming an ugly box Walmart into a beautiful library made me think of our own future empty Walmart problem in North Adams. Such transformations aren’t a new idea here, they are just rarely enacted.
Many will remember when the former K-Mart plaza — now known as the former Staples plaza — was completely abandoned, though some locals, myself included, supported an idea floating around of turning it into an art center of some sort — perhaps a commercial one, or studios, or something. The point was that there are more uses for these places than the obvious ones.
I remember there was a brief, 11th hour suggestion to do something similar to that, but the box store mentality obviously prevailed, and that victory is currently standing proud for all of us to see. Did I mention there used to be a Staples there?
This isn’t to single out artsoriented solutions necessarily, but to say there are other ways than the obvious to solve the problem of empty hulks.
And by the sight of that new Dollar General store being built in Adams — I mean, they’re actually constructing one instead of taking over another space — this is an idea our neighbors to the south might want to bookmark for the future.
July 9, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Never too late to say, ‘I’m sorry’
Sending plagues of caterpillars on your neighbors doesn’t quite pack the same punch as it did 400 years ago, but it got Katharina Henot executed in Cologne, Germany in 1627, which is as good a reason as any to never visit 1627 even if you have cheap tickets. You never know if you’ll be blamed for all the slugs after a rainstorm, for instance.
The city council of Cologne has apologized not only for the treatment of Henot, but 37 others who were determined to be “witches” and dealt with in a similar manner. I read about it in the German newspaper the Local and immediately realized that any atrocity has the potential to be committed with the only punishment being a long-outdated apology and have that be the end of it, especially if it involves women or some ethnic minority.
I’m sure the German witches with their charred bones are appreciative that they finally got an apology for being brutally murdered with the justification of fanaticism how about we do some real good instead, like take a group pledge to generally treat women more equally worldwide? No? Okay, I guess an apology will have to do.
Cologne is actually the 14th city in Germany to make such an apology. According to the article, “25,000 women and men were sentenced to death in Germany in the past for having entered into a pact with the devil.” It’s a keen insight to how the human brain works — so many put
to death for imaginary deals enacted with long-standing urban legend boogey men, but when a real one crops up in the 1930s, it becomes more fashionable to join him.
Freedom for Pussy Riot!
There are plenty of real women currently being oppressed in the world in all sorts of horrible ways, but I want to direct attention to three brave ones in particular who pay for their spirited rebellion and who get noticed, outside of the United States at least.
While American punk is largely a dead concern as a radical movement — it’s devolved into clothes and decibels like everything else — the Russian trio Pussy Riot has gone to jail for their efforts to fight their government. Four months ago, they were arrested for performing a protest song inside Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow.
Who knew the obscure charge of hooliganism could result in a possible seven years in prison? It happens when you are opposing Russian President Vladamir Putin, that’s for sure, and Pussy Riot isn’t alone in that outrage. The state-controlled Russian press has tried to downplay dissatisfaction with Putin, but it’s obviously been at a boiling point for awhile, and Pussy Riot has been at the center of several guerilla-style performances. They’ve got the support of the Russian people, as well.
Doesn’t matter, though. This is what the Orthodox Church released as its official statement on the band’s action: “This sin will be punished in this life and the next.”
Took us 400 years to get here, but I think people are more impatient about the timeliness of apologies than they once were.
Leave Canada out of it.
Last week, after the Supreme Court decision on Obamacare, all of us had a really good laugh about dismayed Republicans threatening to move to Canada to escape socialism. No need to explain why that’s funny. I’m just here with simple plea for our northern neighbors. Whenever Americans express extreme political dissatisfaction, whether conservative or liberal, their threat is to move to Canada, as if the country exists solely as a safe haven for us idiots.
Please don’t sully that nice country with our negativity. It gets along fine without such as us. If you must move to Canada — and don’t, because I will be extremely jealous of you — move there because you love Canada. That’s all we would ask of any immigrant moving here — in fact, we can be downright fanatical about it — so we should be expected to behave the same way.
Besides, given their national enthusiasm for something as gross as Clamato and their misunderstanding that the word “good” cannot be applied to Canadian wine, it’s obvious the country has its own issues that need to be dealt with. They really don’t need ours heaped on top of them.