Story telling: In the heat of the night 2/2

In the hunt for key scenes in movies, it was hard to make a decision for In the heat of the Night. In an earlier post I showed one scene somewhat one-third into the movie where Virgil Tibbs is sitting at a train station waiting for the train so he can leave the town of Sparta with its oppressive atmosphere of racism.
Another scene I find intriguing happens about halfway into the movie. Virgil Tibbs and Police Chief Bille Gillespie visit the local big wig plantation owner Endicott played by Larry Gates. The scene is set in a greenhouse where Endicott is tending to  Orchids. After an intro, which is in itself epic, talking about orchids and comparing the meticulous tending of orchids to the tending of blacks the two policemen seem about to leave.

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After the discussion about the orchids the suspicion against Endicott grows as fern was found in the car of the victim and fern is used in the cultivation of or orchids. Gillespie makes a move towards the exit.

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In these scenes we see Endicott change from amicable condescending, to downright condescending and then the quarter drops. The key trigger is Gillespie who basically uproots the exchange by suggesting to leave.
And you can see Endicott, beautifully played by Gates get suspicious and hostile. For why did they come here?

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This is a classic WTF moment.

The next scenes move the story towards the slap scene.

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Now the roles switches, staying perfectly formal and neutral Tibbs explains their presence, but it is obvious that he feels and acts in no way that Endicott finds acceptable. The ‘Negro’ becoming the dominant one and questioning him.

 

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Gillespie’s presence in this scene is important. He seems like a neutral bystander just watching what is happening.. Steiger plays Gillespie in a way that it is hard to get what he is thinking. People around him vent their opinions, but he never seems to have one. This is a handy way, for people often take it that by having a clear opinion he seems to agree with them.  As the movie progresses it becomes clearer that a kind of respect is growing between him and Tibbs. At the end of the movie this results in a scene in which Gillespie turns around and tell Tibbs to take care of himself.

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At this point Endicott drops all pretense of civility and enraged slaps Tibbs in the face.
Tibbs instantly returns the favor, to the astonishment of everyone.

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We are now halfway through the movie and Gillispie, a sheriff from a town deep in the south sees a ‘negro’  slap a white man. But this particular negro is a fellow policeman and the suspicion that Endicott might have been involved, which is what Tibbs believe or like to believe, might have gotten hold with Gillespie too.  And  so he doesn’t act. Or rather he acts by not acting. Hence Endicott’s reaction:

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The interesting part about the movie isn’t the investigation of the murder. It is pretty pedestrians as murders come. On the face of it, it seems like a movie about racism. And while that is true, it is more about the relation between Gillespie and Tibbs and how this unlikely pair of policemen work together and find common ground and respect. And thus racism might disappear.

Story telling: In the heat of the night 1/2

The scene:

Virgil Tibbs(Sydney Poitier) is a black police detective from the North who gets stuck in a small town deep in the South where  black people are addressed as ‘boy’ and other derogatory names. He is more or less forced against his will to aid the local police forces headed by Chief Bill Gillespie(Rod Steiger), investigating the murder of a prominent businessman.
The murder isn’t the most interesting  part of the movie and is more the MacGuffin that keeps the story going.  The racial tension itself is more the focus. But in a way in how Tibbs and Gillespie interact. For while there is the racial divide, there is also something like a band of brothers for they are both policemen.
The scene starts with Tibbs, having a belly full of the racial hatred, deciding to leave town. Chief Gillespie attempts to change his mind.  Since the images say enough(edits are mine):

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Story thoughts: Unbearable knowledge(Oldboy)

The scene

A pretty young Asian girl hangs over the edge of a walkway on the top of a dam. An equally young Asian man holds her by the wrist, but she struggles free from him eventually. He cannot hold her and she falls to the green waters far below.

Revenge and punishment have always been important  in stories. What would be a proper punishment for a crime that causes the death of a person, beloved by another person? How can one atone for such a crime?
Oldboy is about a man, Oh Dae-su, who gets locked up in a room for fifteen years for reasons unknown to him. Who locked him up? Why was he locked up? That is what the movie seems to be about.
But the movie turns things upside down. It doesn’t take long to find the man responsible. We know this pretty soon into the movie. But with the who does not come the why. For that is what the man responsible, Lee Woo-jin, charges oldboy to figure out. Why was he put there?
And Oldboy has been given a hint: he talked too much.
But even that doesn’t seem to be quite the purpose. For while he gets a five days to find the motive, he is also set up for revenge that actually represents the reason why. And when he finds out the reason, he is also discovers a truth that makes  him a  the victim of it.
And here is an interesting idea:is a man guilty of a death he did not know he caused?
The movie does not quite end with atonement.  Oldboy finds out what is the cause of his imprisonment but he also finds out what revenge is in store for him. And knowing is unbearable.  And thus he atones for his crime by cutting his tongue and ask a hypnotist to erase all knowledge.
Without his ability to speak and remember he should be able to get on with his life. But the movie doesn’t let him off the hook so easily. At the end he might not have forgotten everything.
What it is about is for you to find out…

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Story thoughts: The better life(Trainspotting)

The scene:

In a smoke filled pub Renton, Sick Boy, Begbie and Spud squat around a table filled with empty beer glasses. Prominent on the table is a black and white sports bag. The men are merry and exchange light banter. Begbie rises to get a new round of beer.  His gaze glances briefly over the bag. He nods at the bag and tells the others to keep an eye on it. Sick Boy rises as well to go to the bathroom and mentions to the remaining two that the bag would better still be there when he returns.

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For a moment Renton and Spud are alone. Renton suggests to Spud the notion of taking off with the bag as if in jest. Spud rejects the idea. A moment later the Sick Boy returns from the bathroom. 

Then Begbie makes his way back to the table, his hand full with glasses and he collides with another man. The beer spills over his clothes. Enraged he turns around to shout abuse at the man. The man returns words in kind. Begbie explodes and smashes a beer glass of beer in the face of the man, kicks him hard and again when he falls to the ground. Next he draws a knife to threaten the mans friends. When Spud closes to calm him down he cuts Spud in the hand by mistake.

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Renton, his back to the scene of violence, then makes his decision. He will abscond with the bag to a better life.

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I’m about to be on the floor again,
Surely you’re gonna find me here

I’m about to sleep until the
End of time, drug I take
gonna wake my
fear right now
I’m passing away on to the
Better life
“The Better Life” 3 Doors Down

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The desire for another -often better- life has always motivated people to do things they wouldn’t do otherwise. Like stealing from friends of instance. Trainspotting starts with Renton listing all the things ‘normal’ people have and he lacks. At the end of the movie, after having acquired the means to attain a better life, or so he thinks – he lists them again. Everything he is going to have. The movie has come full circle: the snakes bites its tail.

Renton lives at the other side of the fence, in the prison: he is a drugs addict, living in a poor area, in a time the economy was in a bad state. He smokes, he drinks and is involved drugs and petty crimes. And his friends aren’t really friends. So he calls them mates. For Renton has just one friend really, which is Spud. Which is why he give Spud his share of the money from the bag.

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Will Renton escape the prison to the better life?

What do you think?

And does it matter?

Movies end before we actually find out. For once the escape is done, there is nothing more to convey. Like the summit of the mountain has been reached what was needed to be told is told. It reminds me of the movie Goodfellows: Henry Hill escapes from his life as a mobster by ratting on his fellows, an inevitable development because he is caught by the law and his criminal associates suspect him of doing what he is going to do: betray them as part of a deal with the authorities. In the end he has no other option. At the end we see Hill on the porch in front of his house. It is an unremarkable house in an unremarkable neighborhood. He is a nobody now, like you and me. Safe perhaps, but a nobody. And he seems to regret it in a way.

Many story is are like aiming at the better life: if the ring has been destroyed then the evil is gone and a better life will return. It is a powerful motive in a story. A kind of MacGuffin that makes a story go. Stories seems to abide in a world that is off-kilter, a temporary state of unbalance and unrest. Different from the normal world. Something to consider when writing stories.

 

 

 

 

 

Story thoughts: A history of violence

This article most definitely contains spoilers

The scene

Carl Fogarty(Ed Harris) has just shot Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen) whom he deems to be a mobster named Joey Cusack from Philadelphia. He tells him that he should have killed him back in Philadelphia and asks if he has any last words. Tom looks up at him and as Joey he answers, “Yeah, I should have.”

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Graphic novels and movies have a thing in common in that they can add to the story by using visuals. And if the visual element is the face of an actor like Ed Harris or Viggo Mortensen who are able to use their facial expressions to express an emotion in a refined way this makes a scene all the stronger.
It is something I often wonder how to exploit in written stories. Would it be possible to write down what happens without the support from  the imagery?

Carl Fogarty frowns when he looks down at Tom Stall.
“You should have killed me in Philly when you had the chance… Any last words before I shoot you?”
Tom looks up. His face almost expressionless as if resigned to fate.
“I should have,” Joey answers and his lips twists into an almost imperceptible thin smile and his eyes gleam.
And Carl smiles back.

For a brief moment they seem to connect. As if they shared a secret between them. As if Tom comes clean with Carl. Like in a confession. Which is interesting as Carl is dressed in black, almost like a priest(see the next scene).

But is what is the reason for Tom’s smile really? Perhaps it is something different .. the next shot in the movie is Carl being blown away by Tom’s son. Is that the reason he smiles? His smile is ambiguous to say the least.

I present another scene. This is the diner where Carl first appears to confront Tom. Carl is questing. Even Carl is not 100% convinced that Tom is Joey although he pretends to be.

The movie up till then is one of uncertainty. Is Tom just Tom, or is he the killer Joey  which Carl thinks him to be.  Tom seems genuine innocent. Look at him. You can see Carl trying to gauge this man. Is he for real? Or is he faking it?
But the question is why? Why does it matter if  Tom is Joey to Carl? Why not just shoot him anyway?

The next scene: social killing

Tom is Joey and he meets his brother Richie Cusack, who is the head of a crime mob . We play the facial expressions in the scene next. We have William Hurt as Richie and of course Viggo Mortensen. Hurt possesses a wide range of facial expressions. Look while he chats with Tom/Joey and look what happens in the background. Richie knows what is going to happen, he orders it.

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The last scene: which is the first.

At closing time, near dusk, two men enter a diner in a rural town, sit down and order coffee and cake. When the waiter tells them that they are about to close up, the older man shouts at him to serve them. When the waitress attempts to leave, the younger man stops her , forces her to sit down and locks the door of the diner. Then the older man pulls out a gun. “Do her, ” he orders the younger one.
The second man leers over the waitress.
Then the waiter moves  with sudden speed. He smashes the can of coffee he is holding in the face of the first man. His gun spins away to stop under a table. The water jumps over the counter, grabs the gun, aims and blows the second man through the glass of the door. Then he shoots the first man in the head after that one jabs a stiletto in his feet. A moment of brief violence.

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A history of violence is a movie as based on a graphic novel. In a graphic novel the graphics dominate the story line. I would even say, more so than in a movie as graphics can be distorted, twisted, changed. The same applies to movies, given the many ways that a movie can be supplied with an effect, but up to now one sees that most movies are not made as graphic novels, but as movies. There are of course exceptions, such as Sin city because the director is actually the same person as novelist, but even sin city the novel is way different from sin city the movie.

To get you an idea of how the comic looks here are a few pictures.  As you can see, below the dynamics of a novel can add or leave out thing depending on their importance and give it an extra feel through the imagery as presented from picture through picture. In the movie this needs to be done by the actors guided by the script and in history of violence it is the facial expressions that convey the tale.
The interesting thing is this. Graphic novels and movie influence eachother while having their own conventions at the same time. It would be interesting to see how the in turn influence purely written books.

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Carl Fogarty
Carl Fogarty

 

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Tom Stall/Joey Cusak
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Tom Stall/Joey Cusack
Tom Stall/Joey Cusack

 

 

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Diner scene
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A feel for the novel.

Movie Thoughts: Saving Private Ryan

The scene

Captain Miller slumps against the wreck of an  abandoned motorcycle with a German bullet stuck in his chest. A dust cloud hides something big. Suddenly it is torn apart by the huge shape. A Tiger tank rumbles over the bridge towards Miller..  Miller draws his pistol and aims at the tank. He squeezes of one shot.. Then a second.. A third..Another… bang.. BANG. The tank explodes in a huge ball of fire.

 

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History it ain’t.

To understand Saving Private Ryan is to watch the official trailer. The story is given to us in a 136 seconds nutshell . A mother –  the father isn’t mentioned – loses three of her sons to war, two alone during the invasion of Normandy alone, that last great invasion during that last great war(so the movie has it), the fourth son is lost somewhere in Normandy at a place called Neuville. His exact location and fate are unknown. Nevertheless a band of brothers is send out to save this one man as to spare the mother the loss of her last son.

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The trailer keys us in on a few more things. For one there is not one shot with a German in it. It isn’t about them at all and their presence is more a matter of  necessity that an actual attempt to portray Germans at that time. During the whole movie we will not be meeting any Germans but one, who is portrayed as an ugly, cowardly  murdering man spouting foreign lines(his German is atrocious). French civilians also feature, for convenience sake they happen to speak English. The movie is not about them either.

The movie isn’t even about the question whether one man should be saved at the cost of another. Or  others.

The movie is about memory.  The clue is given at the beginning. We start with an unknown old man at a  war memorial cemetery. He isn’t named. We don’t know where he is. At the end of the scene the old man stares into the screen and the movie fades into June 1944. Normandy. This particular part of the beach is called Dog Green. Is this his memory? Or is this Captain Miller’s memory? 

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What we see is what that old man thinks occurred. It is the distorted memory of one man. It is a story he gobbled together in his mind, from survivors, from movies, from documentaries, from books and from people he met. After fifty odd years this is what he has in his mind. And therefore things happen that did not happen.

The movie reports that no tanks  reached the beach but as a matter of fact, Dog Green, the part of Omaha beach where Miller lands, had ample tank support. 40 out of 48 tanks actually made it to that beach.
The water  is colored red by blood. Alas it takes a lot of blood to do that. It is unlikely.
It takes them about thirty minutes to clear the beach and pierce the enemy positions. In reality it took them much longer.
Miller and men are send from Omaha to Neuville to find Ryan. Trace the route and one sees it an odd route to take, especially considering Omaha being heavily opposed, while Utah, much closer to the airborne troops, would have been a far better jump off position.
Did Tiger tanks and SS men assault a group of Americans defending a bridge near a place called Ramelle? There is no place called Ramelle in Bretagne and there were no SS and Tiger tanks until weeks later, and those were mostly deployed against the English sector and the connection between the English and American part. To drive a stake into what was believed to be the weakest part.
During that fight we even get an interesting image of Ryan. He isn’t fighting the Germans, he is screaming in terror doing nothing at all. He isn’t even in the battle. 

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Saving Private Ryan is what Ryan thinks about when he walks over the cemetery towards Miller’s grave. He stands before the grave and asks himself the question.

Am I good man?

At the end we do not get an answer. James asks his wife, but she hesitates and then sort of admits it in an ambivalent way. But we will actually never know, because how could we? We simply do not know anything about Ryan, but that he has family and that he says he tried to live a good life. But what does that tell us?

The question extends further into: was I worth the deaths of this man and all the others?  It is another question that never gets answered.

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The movie doesn’t actually turn around this, but around the idea that a group of men go out and do something because that is what they have to do. Not for any lofty reason. Miller says it in the trailer: if getting Ryan out is going to get me home, then that is what I will do.

He has to do a job, so doing the job is what he does.

The funny thing is: he had no choice in the matter.

There is a deeper message behind the movie. That warfare is something you do because you do it, not for something like patriotism, or honor, or god, or liberty, but because it is a job that you do. And here lies a great danger. For once a soldier is just a guy paid like any other guy, you can point the finger at anyone as long as you pay him. The soldier is no longer a citizen,  he has become a soldier of fortune: a paid killer.

As Vito Scaletta in the Game Maffia II says: in the war I killed who the president pointed at, now -back in the US- I kill whomever pays me points at.

It might be a dark future that gets revealed here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rise of Tomb Raider: Part I: the cast.

Index

  • Intro
  • The cast
  • Lara
  • Jonah
  • Jacob
  • Konstantin
  • Ana
  • Sofia

Intro
I really like the rebooted Lara Croft character as she is far more a ‘person’ than any of the previous versions of her. The Lara Croft of this series is even a more likable character than the one from the movies, which was more a feminized James Bond type than a female version of Indiana Jones.
I would like to explore this some more, especially as this development also marks a gradual change in the gaming industry in that becomes increasingly more possible to tell a proper story within a game, as the Walking Dead has already shown and, I will refer to it, is shown in Resident Evil: Revelations 2.  I welcome this, not specifically because this is what I think what games ought to be, but in that it allows for more and varied ways to narrate a story and giving a game more depth.
But it is also fascinating as it also might introduce  us to a  virtual world in which people can be what they like to be, instead of being what they are. A concept not everyone will be happy with as it, for instance, recalls the matrix where people live in a virtual world controlled by machines to the advantage of the machines. Instead one can imagine that people might actually voluntarily enter the matrix because it allows them to be what they want to be and to overcome their own limitations.
Story telling isn’t dependent on improved animation techniques, but it helps a lot. Rise of the tomb raider, excellently voiced, makes good use of Lara’s expressions to make realistic her personality.

The cast
Lara has many expression to make her alive. Note however that the same expression can be used to mean something different depending on the setting. Frowning for instance can mean anger, fear, attention, tension and anguish. Lara’s mouth is another way of making her feelings expressive. The third part is her eyes, wide, open, squinting, closed. Add animations to it and our association. I show the cast of the most important characters below and give an impression of their looks. The characters, although important to the story are, with the exception of possible Jonah and Ana(we come to that later) unimportant really to the development of Lara. Not even Jacob.

Lara

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Lara as cute as she comes. The raised eyebrows and smile invoke an almost childish nature: one of wonder and expectation.

In the above screenshot Lara talks to Jonah. Her almost childish enthusiasm, young appearance and brown hair with brown eyes invokes the spirit of a child. What presents will I get?

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The same expression as anger only we know it can’t be that.

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Lara being duped by her driver. Notice her facial expression and that of the traitorous driver. She frowns at him(low eyebrows, squeezed in the center).He has sold her out and he is ashamed so he looks away from her. Duping Lara is not going to turn out well for him.

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A reverent expression as she approaches an almost holy item. Low eyebrows, closed mouth.
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Lara and Sofia about the suffering of Sofia’s people. Closed mouth, higher eyebrows.
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Lara beaten up a bit. Ain’t she cute?
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Lara a bit worse for the wear talking to that bad guy. You know.
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Lara in anguish.

.

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He didn’t so he pays the price. Don’t worry.. being killed isn’t the end. A miracle is about just around the corner. It is called cheap writing.

Lara tells Jonah to kill the main bad guy, he doesn’t so he gets it. Note Lara’s expression.

Jonah

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Lara’s companion is Jonah. We suspect he has a crush on her, he is devoted to her and smiles the whole time in her presence. Just like a puppy.

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Love at first sight? It might be, but we are just friends right? Er right!

 

Jacob

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Jacob is one of the other important characters. If you don’t get who he is early into the game you haven’t been paying attention. He might have been a love interest, but this is a PG rated game and we want to keep her for ourselves, don’t we? Also his resemblance to a key figure in a certain dominant faith in the western part of the world is probably not coincidental. Pay attention please.

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Note the light and expressions. Jacob is highlighted to the front, while Lara is in the back, but still lighted. Even from a small picture you get the feel there is something more going on.
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We will have something to say about that later on.

Jacob is important for the story and the background but actually not a very important part of the story. This story is mostly centered around Lara.

Konstantin

Konstantin is the bad guy so he has to be a maniac. And that means a religious nut and selfish cold killer. Oh he has a good side too: he loves his sister Ana.

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Indeed, God might appreciate a mass murdering fuckhead.
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Maniacs like suffering. Only in others, though.
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Inspirational monologue after you killed one of your own!
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I am bad, therefore I have no compunction about killing people and am amazed you do.

Ana

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Ana is Lara’s stepmother. Do I need to explain more?
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She has something manga over her. She is a sad woman. Oh she smokes.. always a bad sign.

Sofia

Sofia is daughter of Jacob. She is Irish a descendant from the people that fled from Byzantium to the Siberian Wilderness.

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Sofia doesn’t trust Lara at first, but that doesn’t last long.

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Killing is always appreciated.

 

 

Every Photo is a story: the photos of Frances Benjamin Johnston

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Frances Benjamin Johnston, a self portrait.

I recently got five links from the Library of Congress for the series Every Photo is a story. In this series Kristi Finefield, reference librarian in the Prints and Photographs Division, and Sam Watters, architectural and landscape historian, take a look at the photos made Frances Benjamin Johnston,  (1864–1952), one of the first female photo-journalist who rose to prominence. She was an expert at making hand-painted photographs. She was a champion of the City Beautiful Movement to restore beauty to an industrial America through garden design and was very well connected. Such beautification could thus promote a harmonious social order that would increase the quality of life.
These two go together as she had her photographer ‘improved’ to the wishes of the customers by having them painted. Even then reality sometimes needed to be improved upon.  How this worked and why this was done will be told during the series.

Watters has worked with the library of congress to examine no less that 1100 of Frances Benjamin Johnston’s photos, which she donated to the Library of Congress.
Library of Congess: Every story is a Photo:
http://www.loc.gov/today/cyberlc/results.php?mode=s&cat=69

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Frances Benjamin Johnston, full-length portrait, seated in front of fireplace, 1896

Part 1: Start to Read a Photograph
http://www.loc.gov/today/cyberlc/feature_wdesc.php?rec=6730

Part 2: Get to Know the Photographer
http://www.loc.gov/today/cyberlc/feature_wdesc.php?rec=6731

Part 3: Consider How the Photos Were Made
http://www.loc.gov/today/cyberlc/feature_wdesc.php?rec=6732

Part 4: Interpret Stories You Discover
http://www.loc.gov/today/cyberlc/feature_wdesc.php?rec=6733

Part 5: Explore the Photographer’s Era
http://www.loc.gov/today/cyberlc/feature_wdesc.php?rec=6734

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For fun, I made my own look alike picture.. It is made using second life.

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More links

Frances Benjamin Johnston
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frances_Benjamin_Johnston

Sam Watters’ book.
http://www.traditional-building.com/Previous-Issues-12/AugustBR12Gardens.html
http://www.designersandbooks.com/blog/author-qa-sam-watters-gardens-beautiful-america

City Beautiful movement
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/City_Beautiful_movement

Library of congress
https://www.loc.gov/

Story Telling: Mass Effect 3

While doing some preliminary research for a short article on Mass Effect 3 story telling I ran into the linked article.
I think it’s an interesting article that investigates how a sequence of stories(games) that allows for shaping your own tale can have impact on the the next installment and, when not handled properly, can lead to making large groups of people unhappy.
I do not agree that this is the only reason as I wanted to show in my short article on one particular story in Mass Effect.

I’ve played through the Mass Effect series a number of times to get a feel for the different directions the story can go and it is clear to me that of the three games Mass Effect 3 is the weakest. It is also the one that has drawn the most ire from fans. So I thought it would be interesting to really dig deeply into what was done not just in the 3rd game but the series as a whole and identify what caused the final game to end up in the state that it is in. The results are long, so bear with me.”

Posted by An Individual on August 20, 2013

http://www.koobismo.com/2013/08/me3-analysis-what-makes-this-good-game-bad/

Story-telling: Being beautiful in the art scene, a PimperPuppets Production by d-oo-b.

Sometimes things happen that you need to act upon quickly.

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And so it is with the exhibition, a PimperPuppets Production and the brainchild of d-oo-b.
It’s a tale that must be familiar to artists, so I imagine, for it’s about an artist, Serge, who gets this big chance at fame: an exhibition in the Grand Hall, the Valhalla of art.. Unbeknownst to him, his moment of glory is at the expense of Lucia, an starting artist who is sees herself as much more deserving(of course), she with his art academy background, while Serges has had not artistic education whatsoever. And even though Lucia is told that she actually never stood a chance in the first place, she is determined to set Serge up for a fall. This then is the setup for the drama that unfolds.

The exhibition uses puppets set up in various area’s that are scenes or stages, if you will, that are displayed in a snapshot fashion. You could say it’s an comic in a way, for the camera moves from one scene to the next. Each scene however is not just a static display.. there is a small dialog and sometimes the camera shifts within the scene and the puppets are animated.
I would like to tell  and show more, but at the moment I would like just inform people with access that the exhibition is there. More will follow.

Here a link to Ziki Questi’s blog.

http://zikiquesti.blogspot.ch/2015/04/pimperpuppets-being-beautiful-in-art.html

Here is a link to his d-oo-b’s blog.

Events at pimperpuppets

Here is the link to the inworld location:

http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/LEA9/167/73/49

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