Tomanian Talkie

Posted in "Tomanian Talkie" (Week Ten) on June 16, 2011 by John R. Kitch

"Adenoid Hinkle" (Charles Chaplin) salutes and presents a speech in the comically absurd Tomanian language in a scene from "The Great Dictator".

This may surprise some people, but motion pictures did not always have sound. This fact even amazes modern filmmakers, who are still stunned when they realize (usually during the editing process) that movies are now “two-thirds sound and one-third image”. In others word, it would be baffling to watch a Michael Bay film and see the explosion, but not hear it. It would seem very incomplete. The first commercially known film to exhibit sound was Warner Bros. ‘s “The Jazz Singer”, starring Al Jolson and released in 1927. With the addition of sound to film, the old, highly expressive style of acting became “unnatural”. The beloved, on-screen antics of Fatty Arbuckle, Buster Keaton, and Charles Chaplin were challenged. They knew how to act, but they were unsure of what to sound like. Although some like Arbuckle and Keaton sadly faded at this point in cinematic history, Chaplin remained unmoved in his pioneering filmmaking. His career stayed alive into the 1940s, and the insane politics of Europe became a target in his first, full-length “talkie”.

“The Great Dictator” is a direct jab to Adolf Hitler and the hateful ideology he created and promoted. Adenoid Hinkle (Chaplin) is the dictator of Tomania, a country in central Europe that is planning to go to war twenty years after its crushing defeat in the Great War. Part of Hinkle’s plan is to persecute the Jewish population, who begin to be bullied by the Tomanian Army. A Jewish Barber (also played by Chaplin), returns to his shop after finishing rehabilitation at a hospital where he was treated for amnesia after being injured in the Great War. Since he has no knowledge of Hinkle’s rise to power, he, without any hesitation, fights a group of Tomanian soldiers who paint “JEW” across the windows of his shop. His act is seen as courageous to Hannah (Chaplin’s wife, Paulette Goddard) and the rest of the ghetto, and the Barber ultimately becomes a symbol of resistance against the dictatorship. To the Barber’s surprise, he gets a chance to be heard in the climax of the film (I won’t give it away), and his message completely counters the hate and power-hunger of Hinkle.  

“The Great Dictator” was made at a time in the history of the world when one of its primary intentions was to insult the cruel and wicked tactics of Hitler, Benito Mussolini, and Hideki Tojo. However, the film stands the tests of time, as its over-all message is universal. “Do not hate each other. Help each other.” It reminds us to open a door, lend a hand to those who trip, get groceries for the house-ridden, lend the neighbor some gasoline, or just say a kind word to a depressed friend. As war rages on in Libya and Syria, and ties ware thin between the U.S. and Pakistan, we are also reminded by the “Great Dictator” that we should attempt to heal relations with our fellow people and live with each other in peace, no matter what each of us believe.

The Barber says it all in one quote: “We think too much, and feel too little.”

In this day and age, perhaps nothing is more closer to the truth.

“The Great Dictator” and all images from it are property of  United Artists.

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Golightly, or Go Home?

Posted in "Golightly or Go Home" (Week Nine) on June 9, 2011 by John R. Kitch

In the climatic scene from "Breakfast at Tiffany's", "Holly Golightly" (Audrey Hepburn, right) stands in the rain with "Paul Varjak" (George Peppard, left) as she makes her decision.

Is there such a thing as being too tame? Is there such a thing of not being tame enough?

Every college student is familiar with the two basic types. There is the shut-in recluse who rarely goes about the town, keeps to themselves and their studies, and gets by with a meager existence, and then there is the out-going, care-free party animal who is on the scene (or making it) and living it up on a nightly basis as if the sun will not rise the next morning. All of us know them, in general and personal terms, and we are very aware as to which category we fit in ourselves. The two kinds of people are admired for their respected traits, the quiet ones can be quite practical and resourceful, while the rowdy bunch are fun and make anyone feel good about being alive. Of course, that is assuming what is stereotypical, or playing by what is expected.

Holly Golightly is a young woman who all men go crazy for. She talks well, walks with the ideal bounce, kills it in a little black Gevinchy dress, and knows how to bat well made-up eye lashes. If one is looking for socializing, dancing, or drinking, they just need to visit Holly’s apartment. As protagonist of Edward Blake’s “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” (loosely based off of the novella by Truman Capote) Holly (big screen darling Audrey Hepburn) lives a life of luxury bought for her by the rich and powerful men that fall for her charms. Her days are spent sleeping, walking about in the best designer’s dresses, drinking, and staring at the dazzling sight of the diamonds in the window at Tiffany & Co. One night, a new neighbor comes to her door, asking her if he may use the phone. Enter Paul Varjak (George Peppard), a writer who can not help but fall in love with Holly, despite the fact that he knows what kind of woman she is. Holly is, more or less, a party girl who must be taken care of by others, and Paul understands that a struggling writer can not even begin to pay for the debts of Miss Golightly. As a relationship forms between Holly and Paul, Holly’s self-proclaimed status as a free spirit begins to be challenged. She starts to realize that  independence comes with the price of being available to and naive to the intentions of those who grant such a terrific freedom.

It is very easy for anyone to get stuck in a routine. Just as Holly Golightly became used to (and then dependant upon) the reputation she had formed for herself, we tend to fall into a type-based life. It’s good to be a type… sometimes, but that ideology limits what we can accomplish. For Holly, she risks passing up true love if she fails  to drop her charade as a call girl, but in turn also risks loosing a secure life (all be it a rather accomplishment-lacking and monotonous one). If we always remain just the recluse, we will never get to know anybody. If we keep being the party animal, we may become detached from what is personal. It is sometimes necessary to be one, and then the other, but it is almost always necessary, it seems, to be somewhere in between.

“Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and all images from it are property of  Paramount Pictures.

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“This isn’t an Art School! It’s an Insane Asylum!”

Posted in "This isn't an Art School! It's an Insane Asylum!" (Week Eight) on June 1, 2011 by John R. Kitch

"Trapper John" (Elliot Gould, left in Hawaiian shirt) and "Hawkeye Pierce" (Donald Sutherland, right in short-sleeve shirt) are interrupted during their golf game for an important assignment in a scene from "M*A*S*H".

The print center is the place where all the “cool kids” hang out.

Of all of the nooks, crannies, and corners of The Art Institutes International-Kansas City (Aii-KC), one will not find another filled with a more colorful cast of characters. The starring cast includes the workers, Shane, Marshal, Ever, Richard, and Anita, with a supporting cast that varies from day-to-day, but usually includes my friends and fellow students, Michael, Shelby, Barry, Valeri, Souradet, Jennifer, Cassie, Ryan, and etc. Special appearances are sometimes made by our instructors, Dr. Pat, Prof. Norris, Prof. Long, or Prof. Glavin, just to name a few.

As far as main characters are concerned, I would definitely say that Shane and Marshal take center stage. They start the conversations and end the disputes. They are funny and witty, but possess courageous characteristics of the hero type. Ever, Richard, and Anita are charming acquaintances to the two protagonists, but are more symbols of authority that try to keep everyone in line without ruining the good mood. Everyone that comes into the print center during the day brings with them the storyline. They create the situations and the dialogue.

Without going into great detail, the humor often comes from what could be considered the “rebellious side” of Aii-KC. The complaints against homework, who has been where and with who, instructors in bad moods, and theories about EDMC’s (the company that runs the school) money pocketing are just some of the topics discussed in the print center that perhaps aire on the side of anti-authoritarianism.

If the print center is anything like a dismal tent known as “The Swamp”, then that makes Aii-KC the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital. It may also be suggested that our two heroes, Marshal and Shane, share similarities to army surgeons Hawkeye Pierce and Trapper John. In one of Robert Altman’s earliest features, “M*A*S*H”, Hawkeye (a groovy and bespectacled Donald Sutherland) and Trapper (a hairy Elliot Gould) are two surgeons drafted into the Korean War. Although they are very good at what they do, they have no time nor respect for strict army procedures and the over-pious commanding kind of Frank Burns (a younger Robert Duvall) and Margaret Houlihan (hotty Sally Kellerman). The semi-anarchy that Hawkeye and Trapper promote make for situations of comedy, but amidst bone-sawing and blood-soaking surgery, the comedy is absolutely black.

Just like the 4077th, Aii-KC has its rebellious type, the kind that are good at what they do, but don’t consider devotion to authority an absolute must. Honestly, professionals, especially the artistic kind, work better when they are not tied down by rules or when they are not constantly asked to report to a superior.

Perhaps I go to school in an insane asylum, but I am happy to have gotten to know the best of the maniacs.

“M*A*S*H” and all images from it are property of 20th Century Fox.

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What It Feels Like to be God

Posted in What it Feels Like to be God (Week Seven) on May 25, 2011 by John R. Kitch

The created (Boris Karloff, right) meets its creator (Colin Clive, left) once again in a scene with tension from "Frankenstein".

As an art student, I receive one of the highest forms of satisfaction in creating something and calling it my own.

As we construct skyscrapers to top the last, build cars to out-race each other, and program computers to calculate functions faster than any biological brain, it is clear and evident that the members of humankind generally possess the ambition to be creators of the best creations. Perhaps this is derived from the instinctive drive of parenting, complete with the acts of love, conception, birth, grooming, and exposure. Love is the idea of having something worth caring for that is original and unique. Conception is the beginning of its creation. Birth is as it appears in the first and raw result. Grooming is the obsession to promote and improve it. Finally, exposure is its release and unveiling to the World.

At times, we can falter in any one of the steps of creation. At the very beginning, a person may not have the love of creations, and therefore is flawed in thinking they can be a successful creator. A wrong idea or action made during conception or birth can result in ruined product. If not groomed and exposed properly, a creation will fail every critical analysis. A creator may create with good intentions in mind, but if any part of their creation is flawed and if corners are cut, the result can be disastrous. Skyscrapers topple, brakes fail, and hardrives crash.

In the 1931 version of “Frankenstein”, one of the beloved Universal Monster Movies, Henry Frankenstein (Brit actor Colin Clive) is struck with the urge to create, but not the urge to create just any piece of art or a machine. He is obsessed with creating a man, and the perfect man at that. After robbing graveyards of the recently deceased with the help of his hunchbacked assistant, Fritz (Kansan horror actor Dwight Frye), Frankenstein stitches together a creature of considerable strength, but what is good brawn without an excellent brain? Fritz is sent to a university to steal a preserved brain from an anatomy class, but drops the jar that contains a healthy brain and destroys it. Not considering the difference, Fritz steals another jarred brain for Frankenstein to use. With the use of laboratory equipment and a bolt of lightning, the finished man is brought to life.

“It’s alive! It’s alive!” Frankenstein screams. “In the name of God! Now I know what it feels like to be God!”

Although the appearance of the Creature (brilliant Hollywood boogieman Boris Karloff) is ghastly, Frankenstein is satisfied with his work. But, the Creature’s violent tendencies are hard to ignore. Frankenstein fears are realized when his friend, Dr. Waldman (scary movie professor-type Edward Van Sloan), tells him that the brain stolen from his lecture hall is the brain of an executed murderer. Matters only get worse after the Creature kills Dr. Waldman and escapes the laboratory.

I have created a few monsters myself. There are few short films that I have created for my professors that I am not proud of. Either the composition or lighting was poor, the audio was inaudible, or the acting was not up to par. Initially (just after filming the last take) I feel satisfied with the work I have done, but after the editing is complete, the monster is unleashed. While watching a not-so-great film of mine, I see where I wasn’t careful and where I skipped the steps of creation.

I am not attempting to discourage those who want to be gods to their own creations. On the contrary, I promote the belief that anyone can create what they want. It should be a freedom denied to no one. However, heed my word of warning. Do not create something unless you are willing to accept the consequences.

Consequences can be good… or bad.

“Frankenstein” and all images from it are property of Universal Pictures.

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With Your Dying Breath…

Posted in "With Your Dying Breath..." (Week Six) on May 19, 2011 by John R. Kitch

The shot goes dutch for "Charles Foster Kane's" (Orson Welles) campaign rally for the New York governership in this scene from the classic "Citizen Kane".

With any luck, I will wake up in the morning. Hopefully, everyone I know and care about will do the same.

Forgive me for beginning this entry on a darker note, but let us consider the possibility of being on our deathbeds. I can imagine several things that would be going through my head if I found myself dying tomorrow. “I never graduated college”, “I wonder what living in England would be like”, and the kicker: “Not going to get the girl now, am I?” So, considering the things I remember, or the things I never got to see or do, what would I say? If my last ounce of oxygen and strength allowed me one final word to sum it all up, what would that word be?


Well, no, my dying word would not be “Rosebud”. This famous last word of a famous character of the cinema would mean absolutely nothing to me personally, but to him, “Rosebud” meant so much. The man I am referring to is Charles Foster Kane, the media mogul portrayed by the original triple threat, Orson Welles (a “triple threat” is a Hollywood term for a filmmaker who can write, produce, and direct one whole film). In the film “Citizen Kane”, generally considered to be the best motion picture of all time, reporter Jerry Thompson (William Alland) is sent on an assignment to uncover the story behind Kane’s mysterious dying word. The majority of the plot unfolds as flashbacks into Kane’s life as Thompson sifts through documents and interviews surviving acquaintances. Except for when he was a care-free child, Kane lived an unhappy life. Although he acquired vast amounts of money, power, and admiration, all the money in the world could never buy him the love or affection he craved ever since his mother (Agnes Moorehead) sent him away to live with a banker, Walter Thatcher (George Coulouris) . However, when Kane is troubled, he looks into a snow globe and whispers the word “Rosebud”. For some reason, it brings him comfort.

Unlike most people, who say a final farewell so that it is remembered by others who hear it, Kane utters his last word for himself. Hearing it gives the bitter, lonely billionaire a bit of relief. It sends him somewhere else, so to speak. The word means defiance towards a life that did not allow him to live the way he wanted to. Perhaps the word also symbolizes regret.

Although it is natural to regret the wrongs we do in our lives, it is important that we try to loosen the grip that regret has on our conscience. But, it is important that we do not completely forget our mistakes, for then we live in something equally terrible as regret: denial.

We all hope to leave the world with a word that means something great and satisfying about our lives. Death is evermore terrible if the dying cannot remember one good thing before it’s all over. It may sound silly that I care, but I hope that Charles Foster Kane died peacefully with “Rosebud” on his mind.

(Sorry, readers. You have to watch the movie yourselves to find out what “Rosebud” actually means.)  

“Citizen Kane” and all images from it are property of Mercury Theatre/RKO Pictures/The Estate of Orson Welles.

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“Open the Microsoft Word Document, HAL.”

Posted in "Open the Microsoft Word Document HAL" (Week Five) on May 11, 2011 by John R. Kitch

"Frank Poole" (Gary Lockwood, left) and "Dave Bowman" (Keir Dullea, right) hold a secret meeting in a soundproof pod to discuss the malfunctioning Hal in one of the few dialogue scenes from "2001: A Space Odyssey".

I hate to admit it, but we’re out numbered.

However, there is not much to worry about as we manage to program them in a fashion that still makes our intelligence far superior. I am talking about the machines: the home computer, the copier in the Print Center, the microwave oven in the kitchen, and the on-board navigation system in my friend’s Dodge Derango.

These contraptions are items that we could do without. Humans are well evolved, complete with a brain, the five senses, and two hands with posable thumbs intact.We could hand copy our documents with a writing tool and a piece of papyrus, or we could start a fire in the back yard and roast the pig. I can dust off my paper road atlas and magnetic compass the next time my friend and I want to journey to the grocery store.

Let’s face it, though. The humans of modern Earth don’t want to do all of that. Why? Because our technologically advanced equipment makes these tasks much easier and faster to perform. Though we may think we do a lot of work in a day, the fact is that we are, more or less, just pushing buttons. We complete tasks, yes, but the machines do the work for us. We live in the era of electronic slavery. The question is: “Who are the slaves?” Are the machines slaves to us, or are we slaves to the machines? Is our relationship to the machines mutual and beneficial, or parasitic and unhealthy?

It appears that we may depend upon machines too much, just as Dave Bowman, Frank Poole, and the team on the Discovery spacecraft relied too heavily upon the HAL9000 computer. In Stanley Kubrick’s visually stunning epic, “2001: A Space Odyssey”, a group of astronauts place their lives in the hands of a super computer that they affectionately name Hal (voiced by Douglas Rain) and pay the ultimate price. While Dave (Keir Dullea) and Frank (Gary Lockwood) stay active to help Hal monitor the ship, the rest of the team is kept under hibernation. The hibernation chambers are monitored by Hal, who also controls the majority of the ship’s functions. Dave and Frank are well trained, and could maneuver Discovery manually, but Hal makes the job less tedious with his calculated precision down to mere decimals. Unfortunately, Hal begins to malfunction while continuously claiming that his model is incapable of error. For some unknown reason, Hal begins to pick off the astronauts one by one by toying with the communication antenna, the pods, and the life support systems.

Sounds like a problem that everyone experiences. Of course, the copier in the Print Center is not going to cut-off Shane’s oxygen supply, but it might throw him a loop with a surprise paper jam. Sometimes, Final Cut Pro likes to play the game where it drops frames on Michael. Microsoft Word enjoys giving me grief when I can’t open an earlier version that was sent to me in an email.

The obvious fact is quite sad. Hal beats the human race at a game of Chess everyday by merely frustrating us. Hal is the computer, the copier, the microwave, and the GPS. When they refuse to work, we let them defeat us by forgetting that we are human and that we are in control. Just as Dave Bowman comes to realize, all we have to do is pull the plug before it’s too late.

“2001: A Space Odyssey” and all images from it are property of Warner Bros./MGM.

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Frankly, My Dear, Some Are Too Kind

Posted in "Frankly My Dear Some Are Too Kind" (Week Four) on May 4, 2011 by John R. Kitch

"Scarlett O'Hara" (Vivien Leigh, left) is introduced to "Melanie Hamilton" (Olivia de Havilland, center) by "Ashley Wilkes" (Leslie Howard, right) in a scene from "Gone with the Wind".

Although she may not completely agree, I believe my sister sees the good in everybody and everything. Sometimes, when we are talking in private and I lose control, I confess to her about the few people I despise. She’ll nod her head as I rave, right up until the point I come upon a certain person. She’ll cock her head to the side and say, “Oh, well… he’s alright. He just gets on people’s nerves sometimes. Don’t we all?” She’s got me there…

Rarely does my sister get depressed or sincerely worry about anything. It is as if she knows that all will end well, and this leads me to believe that she must maintain some sort of strong faith. I sometimes divulge to her my personal problems and all of the little dilemmas that stress me out. She turns to me, looks me straight in the eye, and says “Bubba, don’t worry about it!”  When I’m drunk with my often self-developed misery, she sobers me up.

As I tend to be more of the pessimist, the shoulder devil, the raven, it only makes since that my sister embodies the polar opposite. She is the optimist, the shoulder angel, the dove. I know her to be a devoted and pleasant friend to those who get to know her, and she stands loyally by people she truly loves and supports. Come to think of it, she reminds me of Melanie Hamilton Wilkes, one of the main characters from David O. Selznick’s production of “Gone with the Wind”.

“Gone with the Wind” follows the life of Scarlett O’Hara (the stunning Vivien Leigh), a southern belle who lives off of the luxuries obtained through her father’s plantation in the early 1860s. Due to her charm and beauty, Scarlett could have any man she wants and is constantly surrounded by suitors. Her coldness and cruelty keeps the suitors at a comfortable distance, but her charm keeps them close enough for her to exploit. The irony rests in the fact that the only man she loves, a neighboring plantation heir named Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard), does not feel the same for her. He is in love with his cousin, Melanie Hamilton (Olivia de Havilland), and he marries her. Melanie is a naturally kind and loving soul, and wants very much to be friends with Scarlett, whom she has heard nothing but great things about. Scarlett lets Melanie be her friend, despite the fact she is the only person that stands between her and Ashley. The relationship between them grows even stronger after Scarlett saves Melanie and her newborn child from Sherman’s March on Atlanta with the help of Rhett Butler (the ravishing Clark Gable). Melanie returns the favor when she gives Scarlett her nightgown to wrap up the bleeding corpse of a thieving Union soldier that Scarlett kills and must hide. Though everyone that confides in Melanie insists that Scarlett is cold and heartless, Melanie defends her actions, saying that they are all done for good reason. Even after she sees Scarlett in the arms of Ashely (his only intention was to comfort her), Melanie refuses to embarrass her in front of party guests later that day.

Throughout the entire plot, while Scarlett schemes, cheats, and decieves to make her way back up to the top after the devastation of civil war and reconstruction, Melanie remains the good friend that is pure in heart. As children, my sister and I sometimes played some mean, if not cruel, jokes on each other, and we usually tried to make each other look bad when the time of judgement came via the parents. However, there were countless times when my sister would stand up for me when my parents suspected me of conducting mischief. She would vouch for me, even after I had betrayed her during a previous row. Afterwards, I would feel quite guilty.

I am sure we have betrayed our closest friends at sometime or another, and I am also sure that we have been betrayed by close friends in the same way. We are the cold Scarlett O’Hara, and then we are the loving Melanie Hamilton Wilkes. When we are Melanie, we hope to stay true to our friends, no matter how badly they might treat us at a moment. When we are Scarlett, we need to remember that tomorrow is another day, and hope that we may be forgiven by those we betray and start anew.

“Gone with the Wind” and all images from it are property of Warner Bros./MGM.

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