Archive for May, 2011

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.

Used image from: m.eb.com

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?

“Rosebud…”

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.

Used image from: guardian.co.uk

 

“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.

Used image from: flickr.com

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.

Used image from: downarchive.com