Seated Buddha, Qi Dynasty

This is a rare type of seated Buddha from the Northern Qi dynasty in China.

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The pedastal actuallly dates from slightly later Tang dynasty.

The Cleveland Museum of Art has an extensive collection of Asian art.

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Why I Said #MeToo

A few weeks ago the #MeToo was trending on Facebook.  The tag asked all women who had been sexually harassed or sexually assaulted to post #MeToo.  I have never been sexually assaulted (thank God!) but I have been sexually harassed by a customer.  Despite that, it took me a couple of days to decide if I would post #MeToo.  Here is why I did.

1 I didn’t recognize it as sexual harassment.

I was hurt by what I experienced, but I didn’t recognize it as sexual harassment until a few years later when my mom found out about the experience.  My mom, who works in human resources, gasped and said, “That’s sexual harassment.”  That was first time I thought of it that way.  That was a shock to me.  Since then I have been at companies where I have been required to learn about sexual harassment, and I have since been able to recognize it.  But at the time, even though I knew sexual harassment was wrong, I didn’t know the terms “hostile work environment” or “quid pro quo.”

2 Sexual harassment is unacceptable.

When the hashtag first emerged, I didn’t think about posting originally because I had minimized the incident.  While it did make me feel cheap, the incident hardly ruined my life and I didn’t want to make it “a big deal.”  Then one of my friends posted about how women experience sexual harassment but we minimize it, and thereby excuse it, in our heads.  There is no excuse for sexual harassment.  It is unacceptable.  No one should be allowed to sexually harass anyone (and while the majority of sexual harassment is men harassing women, men can harass men, women can harass men, and women can harass women) and no one should excuse the behavior.

3 Words matter.

I hesitated to post #MeToo because sexual harassment was lumped in with sexual assault.  Since I have not been sexually assaulted (thank God!) I did not want to lump the experience of harassment with assault.  Then I remembered the film The Invisible War, which I reviewed as a part of my Films about Women series.  The film recounted the story of a woman who experienced intense sexual harassment in her unit, and was later raped.  The film explained that units that have problems with sexual harassment are more likely to have problems with sexual assault.  This makes sense. Sexual harassment tells would a would be rapist and assaulter, “Go ahead and have at it.”  This makes confronting sexual harassment far more important.

4 The scale

Someone posted on Tumblr, and I reposted this on Facebook, “Isn’t it strange how every woman knows someone who has been sexually harassed and yet no man seems to know any harassers?”  It is a question worth asking.

#MeToo

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The Trumpet Shall Sound, Dashon Burton Bass

I heard this baritone last month when I went to hear Mozart’s Requiem two months ago.  He is a great talent.  Enjoy.

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Substitute Teaching, ie What I Did Not Write About: Preparing for Active Shooters

Back when I was substitute teaching, we would occasionally have discussions about how to handle an active shooter.

The way active shooters are handled in buildings has changed dramatically.   The previous practice was to have lock downs.  This would involve the school announcing a lock down over the PA system.  The teacher would lock the door, turn off the lights, and all of the students would gather in a corner of the room and be as quiet as possible.  The idea was to make the shooter believe that the classrooms were empty.

Sadly, we now have had enough school shootings to develop best practices.  We know now that having students huddle in the corner is a bad idea.  If a shooter enters the classroom, they are easy targets; it’s like shooting fish in a barrel.  Instead, schools are now moving towards ALICE training.

My mom actually had ALICE training a couple of years ago.  She works at a university that has had an active shooter.  ALICE training stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate.  Instead of having students huddled in the corner waiting for a shooter, they are now encouraging students to shove all of their desks in front of the door.  Furthermore, ALICE training also dictates that teachers hand out objects to the students.  In the event that the shooter is able to enter the classroom, the students should run around the room and throw the objects at the shooter.

I was substitute teaching just as ALICE training was coming into practice.  My mom had gone through it, though I never have.  However,  I did talk to a teacher’s aide about it.  I was subbing in a classroom of students with multiple disabilities.  The students could never have run around the classroom throwing things, but the teacher did have a box of blocks to throw.  We also discussed how frustrating her room was because it locked from the outside.

We did not have this conversation in any other classroom.  I subbed in several different locations but I never received actual ALICE training.  I wonder if this has changed.

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Charlie Chaplin Director Series: The Gold Rush

The Gold Rush is a Charlie Chaplin film about a prospector (the tramp) who travels up to Alaska to search for gold.  He experiences many dangers before eventually becoming rich and finding love.

The Gold Rush actually exists in two versions.  There is the original silent version and a version with Chaplin’s narration which was re-released after the advent of talkies.  I watched the version with voice over narration, though I did see excerpts of the original.

I was surprised at how well the slapstick holds up over time.  There are many classic scenes that I am certain Loony Toons stole at some point.  For example, there is a scene where the Tramp’s companion is so hungry that he imagines that the Tramp is a giant chicken.  I know I have seen that conceit in some later incarnations.

My favorite is the scene where the cabin is hanging over the edge of a cliff.  It’s not funny but it is surprisingly stressful.

This is not a perfect film.  For example, there is a moment early on where the Tramp is walking up the side of a mountain when a bear starts walking behind him.  This leads to… the bear taking another turn and the Tramp never notices the bear walking behind him.  What a waste.

This is one of my favorite scenes; the teetering cabin.  It’s surprisingly suspenseful.

Here is another famous scene.  Charlie Chaplin dances with rolls.

 

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Will La La Land Kill the Movie Musical?

When La La Land came out last year, many people lauded the film for reviving the movie musical.  While I enjoyed La La Land, and loved the opening scene, the more I thought about it, the more I felt that La La Land does not really represent a way to revive the movie musical.  Quite the contrary.   I intend to argue that the influence of La La Land will only kill the movie musical and consign it to a permanent place of history.

There are many smaller reasons for that, but they are all symptoms of a larger problem: a fear of change.

Oh, before I go on, I want to define the term diagesis in movies.  When people talk about diagesis in film, they mean things that exist within the narrative and world of the film.  For example, if Richard Dreyfus in Jaws had said, “The shark is coming!  I can hear the John Williams soundtrack in the background!” we would all laugh.  We know, without being taught, that the characters in the film can’t hear the film score.  Film scores are non-diagetic.

Musicals talk about diagetic musical numbers and non-diagetic musical numbers.  A diagetic musical number would be a musical number like Mein Herr in Cabaret.  Liza Minelli musical number is literal, not symbolic, because she is literally on a literal stage in a literal cabaret where she works in the movie.

A non-diagetic musical number would be a musical number like We Both Reached For the Gun from Chicago.  This musical number does not take place in the narrative of the story; it symbolizes the way Buddy Love controls both Roxie Hart and the media.

Hat tip to Lindsay Ellis on Youtube for schooling me on the term!

So, while there isn’t necessarily a clear line between the two, most musical numbers are considered non-diagetic, symbolic of an idea or event rather than something that actually happens in the narrative.  Damien Chazelle, the director of La La Land, uses the term throughout the commentary for the film.

So, I want to talk about the reason why La La Land will kill the movie musical, rather than save it.

1 Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling.

I love both these actors, just not as musical stars.  Their dancing and singing is adequate, but certainly no more than that.  They certainly are not the best that the filmmakers could have found.  There are plenty of talented actors who are triple threat (great singers, dancers, and actors) but they are probably unknown.  I understand that it is hard enough to make a movie musical (though not as hard as people seem to think) but I also think that it is a failing for the movie, especially as far as Emma Stone is concerned.  We see several other actresses in La La Land who are clearly better singers and dancers than Emma Stone.  But it would have been a risk to cast them as the lead.

2 The subject matter of the musical numbers.

Most of the songs are about the dream of making it in Hollywood.  They are fine, and the first song is wonderful, but they are very limited in scope.  They do not push the genre into uncharted territory and invite future filmmakers to tell different kinds of stories through song.  If movie musicals are to survive, they must evolve to tell different kinds of stories.

3 The style of the music.

The music is good, don’t get me wrong, but it does feel like something out of the golden age of movie musicals.   This is especially true in the song “A Lovely Night,” which would easily feel at home in a Gene Kelly or Fred Astaire musical.  And that’s a bad thing.

This is where I start talking about HamiltonLa La Land has the misfortune to come out in the year that Hamilton took the world by storm, and while the subject matter of Hamilton is very, very, safe (the Founding Fathers) the show takes some risks in its music, and that (coupled with the greatest musical lyrics I have ever heard) makes it a game changer.  I thought I had outgrown musicals but Hamilton changed my mind.  Think about it.  In the same year I heard “A Lovely Night,” I also heard this.

I haven’t listened to musicals in the past ten years, but I haven’t heard a lot of rap battles in them.  This isn’t just a gimmick.  It actually makes sense for what is going on with the characters and the story as a whole.

La La Land had the opportunity to take risks with the music, but they decidedly did not.

4 The tone of the musical numbers

Not only do the musical numbers not take any risks in the style of music, it also doesn’t take any risks with the tone.  The tone of all the musical numbers is, for the most part, happy, cheerful, and dreamy.

When I first saw the film, I was frustrated at the fact that the movie forgets that it is a musical about halfway through the film, when Emma and Ryan’s relationship begins to falter.  The only song is a diagetic song with John Legend’s band.

The music only comes back when Emma Stone goes to audition for the film that will be her big break as an actress.  I realized after the music came back that the music is meant to express happiness, cheer, and dreams.  There’s nothing wrong with that, but that is a very limited view of what music can do.

Here’s what I mean.  When Emma Stone breaks up with Ryan Gosling, she does not have a break up song.  In musicals, characters can, and frequently do, break up with each other in song.

Or for a more recent example, look at Hamilton.  It’s not exactly a breakup song, because Eliza stays married to Alexander, but the song expresses the idea that, in a very real way, their marriage is over.

Movies have had musical numbers about more serious subjects before, largely because they would transfer Broadway musicals to the screen.  Watch West Side Story for examples of music being used to tell darker story beats.

5 Backward Looking

A central theme in La La Land is nostalgia for the past.  Emma Stone works outside the window where Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman filmed Casablanca and talks about her love of old movies.  Similarly, Ryan Gosling is obsessed with saving jazz from obsolescence.  The problem is that La La Land ties the musical numbers to the days of Hollywood old.  This is done through the story, with the old fashioned story of a girl trying to make it in Hollywood, as well as the overall sense of nostalgia.  If movie musicals is a relic of Hollywood past, how can they survive in the present?

Just as importantly, the images of the film are filled to the brim with references to old Hollywood movies.  Here are some.

 

Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t have a problem with an homage.  They can be good.  But the visuals and the choreography are rooted in the past.  Even the ballet dream sequence at the end is full of references to the classic Hollywood lore.

Contrast this with Moulin Rouge.

Now, I get really annoyed when people talk about how La La Land resurrected the movie musical.  That is wrong.  Moulin Rouge revived the movie musical.  I was in college when that movie came out, and holy shit did people love that film.  I remember one of my friends telling me she tried to force her boyfriend to sing Come What May from that movie, and neither one of them could sing.  This film, coupled with Chicago a year later, brought back the musical from extinction.

I am not a fan of Moulin Rouge, but in my opinion, was a far, far more daring film than La La Land.  Moulin Rouge had a greater sense of fantasy that I cannot say I have seen in a film before.  And here is the thing.  The fantasy element is partly what made this film works.

I recently talked to a woman who said that she heard that Millennials tend to be more open minded about opera than one would expect, mostly because we grew up with music videos. That is part of the reason Moulin Rouge works so well.

This

looks a little bit like this.

This made it easy for young people to understand what Moulin Rouge was doing in the musical numbers.  Plus, it was a unique, modern visual style.  Moulin Rouge would never have been made during the golden age of movie musicals.  The audience at the time would not have accepted it.  But for people who grew up watching Madonna and Michael Jackson videos on MTV, this style is more accessible.

La La Land lacks Baz Lurhman’s daring.  Instead, he roots his vision for the musical number firmly in the past.

As if that wasn’t problematic enough, he gives John Legend the opportunity to sum up the fundamental flaw with this movie.

 “You’re so obsessed with Kenny Clarke and Thelonious Monk—these guys were revolutionaries. How are you going to be a revolutionary if you’re such a traditionalist? You’re holding onto the past, but jazz is about the future.”

La La Land is holding onto the film language of the past.  It had the opportunity to expand it.  He could have told a new kind of story, with modern music and with innovative visuals and choreography that would challenge people’s assumptions of what a movie musical could be.  It does not do that.  If movie musicals try to model themselves on La La Land, they will find a limited range of stories to tell, music that only a niche population listens to, and a stagnant film language.  None of that will help the movie musical make a comeback.  By holding onto movie musicals past, La La Land ultimately denies them a place in film’s future.

 

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Matrix Series: Catenary Ellipsoid by Brent Kee Young

This is an American born artist with an interest in geometry and calculus.  He wanted to know if form can be defined only by light and line.

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What do you think?  Does he succeed?

This can be found at the Cleveland Museum of Art in their Modern Art section.  Check it out.

 

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