Monday, December 24, 2012
Recently my husband and I were able to watch Akira Kurosawa's The Hidden Fortress during one of Hulu's “free” nights, and I found myself once again entranced by this delightful tale.
I've seen it perhaps 5 times in my life. The first time was in a revival theater, the Valley Art. I was around 19 years old, and the other people in the audience were mostly college students. As much as I liked seeing it on my 28-inch screen at home, it's a powerful experience on the big screen – so much so that, although the movie was filmed in black & white, I remember parts of it in color. Most of it was filmed at real, outdoor locations, but I suspect parts were filmed in a studio, on lovingly detailed sets. Cecil B. DeMille's got nothing on Kurosawa when it comes to gorgeous spectacle. Another thing that impresses me is the number of extras in the movie. It doesn't boast “a cast of thousands," but there are sometimes a few hundred people on the screen, yet the main characters never get lost in all that action.
The big star in the film is Toshiro Mifune, who plays the stoic samurai character, General Rokurota Makabe, with aplomb. When he wears a mustache and beard, he looks just like the paintings of samurai on silk screens, or like the masks in Japanese theater. He's wonderful, but he's made more so by the character who steals the movie: Princess Yuki. She is the reason I keep wanting to see this movie. She is extraordinarily beautiful, as you pretty much expect a princess to be, but it's actually her imperious-yet-socially-awkward personality that steals my heart. She is the only child of Lord Akizuki, and the sole survivor from an old and noble family. Because she had no brother, her father raised her to lead the clan. She is fearless and utterly imperial, well-trained in the art of giving orders that must be obeyed. These are traits that inspire devotion and unquestioning loyalty in the handful of servants that survived the massacre of her kin. She accepts this loyalty. But she is compassionate too – a trait she must wrestle with if she wants to re-establish her clan.
You might think Yuki and Rokurota are the glue that hold this movie together, but that distinction goes to a couple of viewpoint characters, the comical (but not always likeable) Tahei and Matashichi, a couple of peasants who went to war in order to get rich. This is not a scheme that works out for them, and things go from bad to worse in the first five minutes of the film. From that point forward, these two knuckleheads fall into one disaster after another. Their own greed and moral ambiguities drive them to keep making mistakes, but those are the traits Rokurota finds the most useful as he tricks them into helping him and Yuki move the gold that belongs to the shattered Clan Akizuki to safety.
Along the way, Yuki insists on rescuing a slave girl, an act of compassion that seems too soft-hearted at first, until this same girl manages to save the day several times. Can this band of misfits get the gold to safety so Yuki can rebuild her clan? The odds are stacked against them, but they still have some tricks up their sleeves.
Each time I watch this movie, I notice something different. This time it was the fact that the hidden fortress sits in the middle of an odd and other-worldly deposit of what appears to be volcanic tuff. I can't help wondering if this site survives intact in modern Japan. I hope it does. It was part of the magic of this movie, one detail in a long list of wondrous sights and sounds.
I love The Hidden Fortress. Princess Yuki has won my devotion, too.
Tuesday, December 11, 2012
Here's another link for a wonderful sample from Michael Levy. He makes an excellent point in his announcement – good ratings and positive reviews are essential for artists, musicians, and writers these days. Don't feel that you have to wax poetic, just a few heartfelt sentences will do the job (along with lots of stars).
The Podcast History of the World - The Ancient Hebrews
I am pleased to announce that a selection of my music from my Biblical lyre-themed albums is to feature in Rob Monaco's free iTunes "Podcast History of the World" series on the ancient Hebrews! Here is a link to hear the first episode of this fascinating historical series:
I am delighted at the recent unique opportunities I have been involved with, in my efforts to get my music "out there", to the rest of the unsuspecting world!
If any of you lovely subscribers to my mailing lists ever do decide to purchase any track from any of my albums on a major digital store such as iTunes, Amazon or CD Baby, do please, please also spare a few moments to rate/review the album from which the track comes from - as an unsigned artist, my precious little collection of album reviews are so far the best means of getting my "Musical Adventures in Time Travel" actually noticed & used in fabulous new opportunitues such as this one!
Thanks agin, for all your support, in my relentelss quest, to attempt to recreate the lost music of the ancient world...
Friday, December 7, 2012
You may recall that I mentioned, sometime in the recent past, the paleogeographic maps are fabulous. Or you may not. But they are. And what's even more wonderful is that Wayne Ranney, one of the guys behind those afore-mentioned fabulous maps will be speaking at the Heard Museum on Tuesday, December 11, at 1:30 p.m. To 3:00 p.m. He'll be signing copies of his books in our book store afterward. I've posted a review of the book he co-wrote with Ron Blakey, Ancient Landscapes of the Colorado Plateau, which features maps that depict what the Colorado Plateau may have looked like millions and even billions of years ago.
I will soon be posting a review of Carving Grand Canyon: Evidence, Theories, and Mystery (2nd Edition) which casts light on past and recent arguments about when the Grand Canyon began to form.
And I look forward to diving into Sedona Through Time, which delves into the formation of one of the most beautiful places on Earth: Oak Creek Canyon.
We have all three titles available at the Heard Museum Book Store, and Mr. Ranney will be signing there after his lecture. Don't miss it!
Thursday, December 6, 2012
Michael Levy's video clip on BBC didn't go quite as planned, though he did get some background music in (apparently while someone is holding forth about Visigoths). But fear not, you can see the entire clip. Just follow the link Michael sent along. Here's what Michael has to say about the experience:
Friday, November 30, 2012
Mistake in the date of my first televised BBC performance!
[Michael Levy offers this slight correction]
Further to my last email campaigin about my first ever televised performance with my lyre on the new BBC4 series, The Dark Ages An Age of Light...
As the first episde was all about the end of the Roman Empire; after receiving a reminder email from the producer about the date of the broadcast of the first episode of the 4-part series, I had assumed that this would be the episode to feature my attempt to recreate the lost music of ancient Rome - after sending out email campaigns to everyone on my mailing lists, over 1000 friends on Facebook (& every family member I could conceive of!), I did not appear in the first episode!!!
I now have the correct details of my first ever live televised BBC performance, direct from the producer herself - my lyre & I will be appearing in Episode 2 of "The Dark Ages An Age of Light" - first broadcast on Tuesday 4th December, 9pm GMT on BBC 4 & a few days later, all around the world on BBC iPlayer.
Thank you for your patience, everyone - the best things in life are worth waiting for...
Thursday, November 15, 2012
My last several posts have been about Michael Levy, because many exciting things seems to be happening for him at once. He is a master of the Lyre, with an emphasis on ancient music. My first introduction to this sort of music was the beautiful album, Harps Of The Ancient Temples, and I remain fascinated with it. So here's another happy announcement from Michael. Check out his website! Buy his music! Wallow in wonderfulness!
My First Televised, Live Performance on BBC4!
Hi Eveyone! I am pleased to announce, that the first episode of Waldemar Januszczak's epic 4-part documentary series, "The Dark Ages An Age of Light"(which features my LIVE, TELEVISED, LYRE MUSIC, in my attempt to evoke the lost music of ancient Rome!) will be broadcast on BBC4 on Tuesday 27th of November at 9pm.
The remaining 3 episodes will follow every Tuesday until the 18th of December - there may also be a bit of my lyre music featured as background music during the series, which I submitted to the producer!
A week after the broadcasts here in the UK, the series can also be viewed all around the world on BBC iPlayer
Below is some unique bonus footage, kindly provided to me by the editor of the series of one of my performances, in which I attempt to evoke the sound of the lost music of ancient Rome:
The track I am playing in the video is "Ancient Visions" from my recently released album "Ancient Vibrations" - filmed here, in the incredibly evocative replica Iron Age Earth House, at the Cranborne Ancient Technology Centre in Dorset, UK.
I may have finally found some more much needed fame this year, in my efforts to recreate the music of the ancient world...let's hope my television debut will hopefully, someday, lead to the fortune! I thankfully feel I have come a long way, since my voyage in "Musical Time Travel" began, with my first crudely recorded "antique webcam" recordings on my Youtube Channel, back in August 2006!
Friday, November 9, 2012
Wednesday, November 7, 2012
I am pleased to announce the release of my new album, "A Well Tuned Lyre - The Just Intonation of Antiquity" on iTunes & Amazon:
This album features new compositions for solo lyre, a heterophonic development of my earlier composition, "Apollo Lyre Lyre" & my new arrangements of 5 examples of the actual surviving music of ancient Greece, with my lyre tuned to the beautifully pure just intonation of antiquity...
To download a free PDF Booklet of the detailed album notes, please click on the link here
Please "spread the word"!
My Lyre Music To Be Featured on BBC Radio 4!
I am pleased to announce that my music is to feature on BBC Radio 4!
My arrangements for Biblical lyre, of the Klezmer melodies "Sherele" & "Ale Brider" from my album "Lyre of the Levites", are to be used in a ten-part "Book at Bedtime" series – THE LIARS’ GOSPEL by Naomi Adlerman - set in Roman-occupied Judea. "Sherele" will be used at the beginning of each show & "Ale Brider" at the end...
The first of the 10-part BBC Radio 4 "Book at Bedtime" series to feature the music from my album "Lyre of the Levites", will be first broadcast on 12th November at 22.45. The series can later be heard anywhere in the world, a week after the radio broadcasts on BBC iPlayer!
The full details about his series can be seen in the link to the BBC Radio website here
Please "spread the word"!
Thursday, November 1, 2012
Think of the nerdiest comic book fan drooling over his favorite graphic novel - that's how I look when I have this book in my hands. As a geology student who lives in Arizona, I have good reason to be such a geek. Every time I visit the Colorado Plateau, I have a thousand questions about how the strata formed. This book answers most of those questions, and illustrates those answers beautifully with diagrams, cross-section charts, photographs, and "paleogeographic maps." Those maps allow the reader to see what the area may have looked like in the past, from the last part of the Precambrian Era, 1.7 billion years ago, through the Mesozoic with its dinosaurs, to the the Cenozoic and our present epoch. If you've ever tried to visualize the supercontinents, or what the Four Corners area may have looked like when it was turned on its side and hugging the equator, the paleogeographic maps are hugely helpful.
Readers who are more interested in archaeology will gain some perspective as to why the ruins in the Southwest are unique - we've got the perfect strata for canyons, creeks, and cliff dwellings. And anyone who would like more background on the geology of their favorite National Park on the Colorado Plateau will find this book handy. As for me, I'm a happy geek pouring over the details of how each layer was formed and where it's exposed in this landscape I love so much. I will refer to this book again again, until it falls apart and I have to get another one. It's money well spent.
Wednesday, October 10, 2012
My husband and I were watching one of our favorite movies the other night, Rear Window, when one of the characters made a really interesting remark. She was Stella, the traveling nurse who pays regular therapeutic visits to “Jeff” Jeffries for his broken leg. She told him that she had predicted the stock market crash of 1929, and that it was easy to do so. But not because she was an economic wiz. One of the Vice Presidents of GM was a patient of hers, and he was having kidney trouble. “When General Motors has to go to the bathroom 10 times a day,” she said, “the whole country's ready to let go.”
Her remark made me remember my experiences working for Borders Books & Music, at a superstore in Phoenix. No one was running to the bathroom 10 times a day (okay – sometimes I was), but something else really revealing was going on. I did a lot of work in the stock room, receiving, sorting, and stickering product to be shelved. I also helped to throw away our gigantic pile of trash every day. Eventually I realized that more paper was going into that dumpster than was going out the front door as purchased books.
This was mind blowing. I tried to imagine businesses all over the country, throwing away all that stuff. I think if all of us could really see how much of it there is on a daily basis, we would decide something had to be done about it. Why? Because that's energy we're throwing away. That's cellulose, which could be converted back into fuel, or fertilizer, or heat, and we're paying people to ship it around the country and then throw it in dumpsters. In our case, it was tons of cardboard: boxes and display materials. We re-used a small portion of those boxes to ship returns to our distributor (more about that later), but most of them went straight into the garbage. One of our line employees tried to suggest that we could get paid for the cardboard by a recycler who specialized in pick-ups from businesses. Our District Manager dismissed his suggestion, and when he went over her head to suggest it to the Regional Manager, he was warned that if he did that again he'd be fired. Yes, it's not considered kosher to go over the head of a superior. But our company used to have a system in place where line employees could make suggestions to the Brass upstairs – but they never accepted any of those suggestions, and eventually that system went away.
Eventually our company did, too.
Before the crash, I watched an interesting progression take place. In the early, halcyon days we got gigantic shipments of books, magazines, movies, and music. We sold a lot of that stuff, but so much of it was coming in, a lot of it never made it to the shelves. We didn't have an efficient system for getting those books and CDs on carts and then on the floor (let alone in the proper alphabetical order in the right section). So when I trained as a sales clerk, the rule was that if a customer came in looking for an item, there were seven places you had to check before giving up and admitting defeat (Can I order that for you, Ma'am?) – the sorting bins were one of those places.
Returns were also a challenge – we had a list of items we were supposed to return every month. When we looked for that stuff, we often found it in those bins. In the beginning, it was stuff that didn't sell very well (sometimes because it never made it to the floor) and we returned it so we could get stuff that did sell well. By the end, we were using those returns to finance our new stock purchases (instead of profit from sales). We would return stuff one month, and order the same stuff for the next. It was beyond bizarre.
What it amounts to is that we used to sell more paper than we threw away. We also used to sell more paper than what we shipped back to the distributor. After 9/11/2001, the trend slowed, and then reversed. But lest you think I'm blaming terrorists for the demise of Borders, let me point out one other ugly trend, the one driven by customers: returns at the register.
In an ideal situation, customer returns are rare. You sell a good product, they find it useful, they keep it. When I first began to work at Borders, the return rate at the register was actually kind of high already. A lot of it was driven by fraud (people would pull items off the shelf and claim they were returning them so they could use the credit to buy other items). Our return policy was ridiculously lenient, and it didn't take long for termites to settle in. But they weren't the only culprits, and in the end they weren't even the majority of abusers. The majority were people engaged in what I call Theft Of Services. These were folks who bought books, read them, then returned them when they were finished. These folks thought nothing was wrong with that, because the store could sell the book, so where was the harm? The harm is that they returned the physical book, but they stole the content. When the product is a book, the physical copy is not the full extent of the product, it's just the delivery system. The content is really the product. That's why people can sell ebooks.
So that's one of the major reasons that the ratio between the paper going out the door as sold product and the paper being shipped back or tossed into the dumpster got out of whack; paper started to come back to us from another direction. Eventually, the number of people coming to the register with returns went from 1 in 10 people to about 5 in 10.
By that time, the economy had really tanked. A lot of folks were returning those books because they couldn't pay their bills. But did they do the honest thing and simply go to the library? Nope. And because they didn't go to the library, they caused initial sales at our stores to seem higher than they really were. Executives at our company focused on those sales figures and mostly ignored return rates.
These same executives stepped up their merchandising campaigns. They paid Robert Sabuda, the wonderful designer of pop-up books, to design pop-up style Christmas decorations for all the stores, paid to have them constructed and shipped to the stores – then ordered us to throw them all in the trash once the season was over. Chastened by criticism from investors over this fiasco, they responded by paying one of their colleagues in their own headquarters to design the decorations for next year. His designs were so creepy, we were actually grateful to throw them in the dumpsters after Christmas.
You might think some of that waste is necessary – after all, sometimes you have to spend money to make money. That's what merchandising is, and in stores you see it manifested as signs advertising the products. Every month they sent us big packages of signage to put up in the store. And it seemed like just about every other month they e-mailed the managers and told them to throw out all that signage instead of putting it up, because it was the wrong color. That was about $60,000 that went into the trash for no good reason. They could have just mailed us the money and told us to throw it away.
So to paraphrase Stella, if more paper is going into the dumpsters than is being sold to customers, something's wrong. Most businesses manage by numbers these days, but those numbers can be interpreted different ways. They can be massaged. Our financial meltdowns in 1929 and 2008 prove that. So if you're thinking of investing in a company that deals in physical products, you may want to check their dumpsters. They may tell a tale that will make you change your mind.
Monday, October 1, 2012
When Ernie and I don't get to go out and hike on a regular basis, we get kind of peaked. There is a world of wonder out there, and we're stuck inside with our eyeballs glued to computer screens, typing our little hearts out and staring at facebook. In the best of all possible worlds, this would not be the case. We would be traveling around the Southwest, taking pictures, shooting amateur videos, and writing about our travels. We would be living inside an Airstream trailer and posting regular reports on a blog about Weird and Wonderful Travels On The Cheap. Some day, maybe this will come true. But right now, it's all about the day job and the bills. So we try to take day trips.
Ernie posted a report about our most recent trip to Wickenburg, The Hassayampa River Preserve, and the Vulture Mountains. He summed up the trip pretty well, so I will only add some photos with a bit of commentary.
The visitor's center for Hassayampa River Preserve is a charming, refurbished historic building that was a ranch and stage-coach stop back in the day. Its courtyard was swarming with butterflies and hummingbirds.
The caterpillar-sized thingees in this web were wriggling, ever so slowly.
One of these days I'll create a site called Em's Happy Trails, and this photo will be on it.
The Hassayampa is an underground river – much of the time the water stays underground. But in some places, it bubbles to the surface, and in the preserve it forms a large pond (much loved by frogs, birds, and bugs).
These are raccoon prints.
These are prints from the ring-tailed cat.
Datura has a seriously cool seed pod.
This wonderful spider actually constructed a pot-shaped house for herself, then wove her web outward from the entrance. She let us know that the only sort of visitors she likes are the edible kind.
This is one of the few places in the basin-and-range provence of Arizona where you will find a tree with fungus.
Remember those recent pictures of Mars that proved water activity? This is another example of that sort of -well, sorting. Rivers move rocks and silt, and sort them by size. Fast-running water can move larger stones; silt will be the last thing to settle out as the current slows. A deposit of rocks that are more rounded and are about the same size traveled a long distance from their source. Rocks that have sharper edges and are a variety of sizes are still fairly close to their source.
It took me three tries to get this shot of a vermilion flycatcher – a first for me.
I've always wanted one of these Ocotillo fences.
Look, we found Mecca! That's our truck parked out front.
When we saw this guy from behind, I thought he was homeless.
A Jack '0' Lantern saguaro near Vulture Mountains.
This deposit of volcanic stuff is decaying into Tahiti beach sand.
Ocotillos are indicator plants -- evidence of underground water. They also like limestone (maybe because limestone tends to have damp, underground caves eaten into it).
This guy lost most of his arms. He's got serious gnarlitude.
These butterflies were imitating flowers.
By the way, you may be happy to know that apparently Doctor and Mrs. Doom have adopted a stretch of Highway 60. Just look for the sign as you drive along.
It was a fabulous trip, but it made us long for more. So watch this space . . .
Sunday, September 16, 2012
Originally, I was going to do this post about The Maltese Falcon, which deserves a spot on anybody's Best Movies List. And for the record, The Maltese Falcon really is on my list. But since I'm limiting myself to ten (in no particular order), I have to admit that I like Humphrey Bogart better in The African Queen. And it's not just because Charlie Allnut is a nicer guy. In a weird sort of way, my choice between the two movies (and the two characters) is like the difference between the dangerous kind of guy and the good guy. You're attracted to the dangerous guy, but in the end it's the good guy you end up marrying.
Both movies have well-written stories and engaging plots. ButThe African Queen has one other bonus: Katherine Hepburn. While the Maltese Falcon is about one guy, Sam Spade, and his search for the truth, The African Queen is about two very different people whose lives intertwine so successfully, they're able to achieve the impossible (or at least the improbable).
Charlie Allnut is a tugboat captain, an independent guy whose love of freedom has taken him to Africa, a place most Americans will never see. The political climate there is dangerous, so he has to be both smart and courageous to pursue that freedom. But he's also a down to-earth-guy, and when he meets Rose Sayer, he feels that they belong to different classes.
And he's right. She is the sister of a missionary, and her goal is to help people find God. It's a goal that blows up right in her face, leaving her with ashes, but Charlie rescues her in more ways than one. Rose feels she has lost everything, but as she and Charlie get into that boat and go crashing down the river rapids into an uncertain future, she makes an observation that is my favorite quote from the whole movie: “I never dreamed any mere physical experience could be so stimulating!” She loves that trip down the rapids. She begins to develop an interest in the boat itself – and in the man who owns it.
Katherine Hepburn wrote a wonderful diary about the making of the movie, The Making Of The African Queen. They filmed in Africa, and there were some issues with the water which Humphrey Bogart and John Huston seemed to have neatly avoided by spiking that water with a little whisky. The African Queen is an essential John Huston movie. Like the cast and crew, the characters are tested by hardships. How they rise to those challenges defines their character.
The most charming moment in the film happens the morning after Charlie and Rose have obviously been intimate with each other (a moment handled with great sensitivity and discretion), and she says to him, “Dear – what is your first name?” This romance binds them together, but isn't the strongest thing doing so. That would be their mission, which is to blow up a German warship that has moored in the lake at the end of the tributary in which they are struggling. They may be going through Hell, but it's not High Water they're battling, it's low water, which threatens to strand the boat. But they refuse to give up, even when things look hopeless.
With equal parts humor and tragedy, their struggle is engrossing. The resolution of their story is both gratifying and believable. No superheroes save the day, no wizards throw magic bolts of lightning at each other. Instead, two people refuse to give up – and they triumph. That's why The African Queen makes the top ten, with no reservations whatsoever.
Thursday, August 30, 2012
Most people who write a best movies list that includes a movie with Katherine Hepburn choose something other than Desk Set. They may prefer Pat & Mike or Adam's Rib, titles that are much better known. Almost certainly, they would name The African Queen, which deserves to be honored.
In fact, The African Queen will be the subject of my next blog entry. And of all the romantic comedies that Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy made together, Desk Set is my favorite – for one simple reason. It's a science fiction movie.
No, it doesn't have ray guns, space ships, or aliens. But it satisfies one of the most basic criterions of a science fiction plot: it's about how technology changes the lives of people who use it. In this case, it's about a civilian application for an early computer, the EMERAC (probably based on the UNIVAC and the ENIAC). Spencer Tracy plays the efficiency expert who is adapting the computer for a business interface, and Katherine Hepburn is the head of the reference department at a New York Magazine that will try to integrate the big computer into their operations. Since the computer processes questions and is supposed to come up with instant answers, the reference staff is understandably nervous about their jobs.
This is one of the main conflicts in the story. The employees in the reference department are all female, and you get a glimpse into the lives of an earlier generation of working women. The wonderful Joan Blondell is Peg Costello – who, like the other gals in her department, is single, independent, and older than people probably expected a working woman to be in those days – old enough to be married, in other words. They have to be ingenious to make ends meet, but you get the feeling that none of them have met a man for whom they would be able or willing to give up their independence – except, possibly for Hepburn's character, Bunny Watson. She does have a fella she's serious about: Mike Cutler, played by Gig Young. But he keeps putting her off until his career takes off, something it always seems to be on the verge of doing. By the time the computer shows up, he's starting to take her for granted.
That's the other conflict in the story. Because Tracy's character, Richard Sumner, is quite charmed by her. He's fascinated by the way the women perform their jobs, especially by the way their memories work. He notices that Bunny uses association as a memory tool. And he enjoys the quick, witty responses she comes up with when they talk. I suspect he also notices her trim figure and dazzling smile, but he is so unassuming and courteous, this is more of a conclusion than an observation.
Bunny tries very hard not to like Richard – after all, he's programming the electronic monster that will make her obsolete. But something between them just seems to click, and pretty soon the luke-warm boyfriend begins to notice that he's got competition. Suddenly he's not so inclined to take her for granted. But will he rally in time?
If you're familiar with the pattern in Hepburn-Tracy movies, you already know the answer to that question. But the characters are so likable, you just can't help getting caught up in their lives. And in the meantime, the big computer is looming over everybody's job, until the day when it generates a bunch of pink slips for the reference department. Neither love nor computerization goes smoothly for anyone in this film.
But in the end, you cheer for both. Desk Set is not a grand film that forever changed the art form. But it is an irresistible snapshot of a particular time and place, a moment of change in American business and American romance. I watch it at least once every year, so I can take a brief vacation to that time and place. That's why it goes on my list of the best.