Archive for October, 2011




a look back at what could still be the future of the theatrical experience…


Back To The Future: The Ride was a simulator ride based on the popular movie series of the same name. It opened May 2, 1991, at Universal Studios Florida, and currently operates at Universal Studios theme parks in Orlando, Hollywood, and Osaka. It is different from other simulators where the screen acts as a window; in BTTF: The Ride, ride patrons sit in a ride vehicle beneath a huge IMAX Dome screen.

The ride opens with a set-up video featuring characters from the film trilogy. Somehow, due to an error made by one of Doctor Emmett Brown’s (played by Christopher Lloyd) time-travel crews, Biff Tannen (played by Thomas F. Wilson) stows away and finds himself at Doc’s Institute of Future Technology, where he tries to locate Doc’s ‘Flying DeLorean,’ as well as cause plenty of mayhem for the Institute’s crew, as well as Doc.

Biff complicates matters even further, when just as you and your party are getting ready to take Doc’s 8-passenger DeLorean on a journey across the space-time continuum, Biff locks Doc in his lab, and steals the original DeLorean time machine, causing Doc to plot on the horrible time ramifications that Biff can have. It is then that Doc devises a plot that the park’s visitors can help him on. Doc assigns the crew of the 8-passenger DeLorean to chase Biff across time. If the 8-passenger DeLorean gets close enough to Biff, they can ‘bump’ him back to the present time by reaching 88mph. Using his remote control, Doc and the DeLorean’s party follows Biff into the future, back to the ice age, and even into the heart of an active volcano that existed in the primeval Hill Valley.

The “waiting rooms” feature prop-replicas from the movies including hoverboards, photos of Doc and Marty, notes from Edison to Doc, and the like. The actual ride features video from both Doc and Tannen who tell the passengers what is going on throughout their adventure.

Outside the ride, the De Lorean from all three films and Doc’s locomotive from the third film are on display. Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale had nothing to do with the ride, though the writer of the ride’s set-up video handed them a script and asked if “he got Doc right”. The two responded with a “yes”. The two have also said “it’s a great ride”. The ride film was directed by Douglas Trumbull, the director of another Universal Studios feature, The Last Starfighter. The ride’s score was composed by Alan Silvestri, the same composer who scored the Back to the Future Trilogy.

The ride is a motion simulator with the cars held in place under a 70-foot IMAX Dome screen. Each car is mounted on four pistons (at the corners), allowing it to rise, fall and tilt, following the motion on the screen. The cars rise eight feet (2 and a half meters) above the floor when “flying”. Other than that, the actual range of motion is about two feet. The motion and the visual input from the screen images combine to make the riders feel as if they are in a high-speed pursuit, as they chase Biff through 2015, prehistoric times, and even the beginning of Earth, before finally tracking him back to the present.


the rides at Universal Studios Florida and Hollywood closed and were replaced by The Simpsons Ride… the ride at Universal Studios Japan is still open…

click here for an amazing archive of images and more relating to the ride…

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the YouTube online Russian film archive… 


For Eisenstein, you can go to Netflix and stream “Battleship Potemkin” or “Ivan the Terrible.” For Dovzhenko, you can stream “Earth” at Netflix or “Arsenal” at Amazon. For Pudovkin, “Mother” is at Amazon.

But what if you’re looking for a more recent, if less familiar, brand of Russian cinema? Like, say, Vitali Moskalenko’s 2002 Volga river-boat comedy, “The Chinese Tea-Set.” Or Emil Loteanu’s 1979 adaptation of the Chekhov novella “The Shooting Party” (original title “My Tender and Affectionate Beast”).

For those, you’ll need to go to the YouTube channel of Mosfilm, the Russian film studio and production company. Over the last month 50 or so films from the company’s library, with English subtitles, have been posted.

Determining exactly how many films are available, or what they are, takes a little work for a non-Russian-speaker, since the site is entirely in Cyrillic. With the help of your browser’s translation function and a little cross-referencing on the Internet Movie Database, it’s possible to identify what you’re looking at.

There are some older, more familiar titles in the mix, like Andrei Tarkovsky’s “Andrei Rublev” (1966) and “Solaris” (1972) and Mikhail Kalatozov’s 1957 film “The Cranes Are Flying.” Perhaps the most noteworthy director represented is Kurosawa, whose Siberian adventure “Dersu Uzala” was a Soviet-Japanese co-production.

Other films, while little known in America, have opened here and won praise, like Mr. Loteanu’s “Shooting Party,” which Vincent Canby of The New York Times called “a fascinating, almost intoxicating experience.”

But American viewers will probably be most interested in what they consider oddities, like Eldar Ryazanov’s “Irony of Fate, or Enjoy Your Bath!,” a cult comedy in Russia, or “easterns” like “White Sun of the Desert.”

Five films will be added to the channel each week, according to Agence France-Presse, which quoted Karen Shakhnazarov, the company’s director, “The aim is to give users the possibility to legally watch high-quality video material and prevent the illegal use of our films.”

(NY TIMES  5.2.11)


the LAX hallway mosaic…


appreciating the endurance of a public work…

in the time capsule that is LAX Terminal 3, the mosaic was created in 1965 for TWA to entertain as people made the 400-foot trek to the exit door…  the hall was featured in John Boorman’s noir masterpiece “Point Blank” and 30 years later in Tarantino’s “Jackie Brown”

“The key image in Point Blank is massive Lee Marvin striding down the old LAX corridors like a robot on overdrive…”  (Glenn Erickson)

“Point Blank” 1967 directed by John Boorman

“Jackie Brown” 1997 directed by Quentin Tarantino




the eighteen-inch Renaissance man…


The twin sons of Baltimore couple Amelia and John Eckhardt, Robert and John Jr., were born on August 27, 1911. Twenty minutes after the delivery of Robert, John Jr. appeared, to the horror of his parents and his midwife, who is said to have cried, “A broken doll!” It wasn’t a clean break though – rather than appearing “snapped off at the waist” as he would later claim, little Johnny was left with withered, useless legs that never grew even as the rest of him did. Clothed as he always was in a neat tuxedo jacket, however, Johnny appeared to be a perfect half-man.

Robert was charged with looking after his brother, who was handicapped in name only – Johnny taught himself to walk on his hands at the age when most children learn to walk on their feet. Both twins were bright boys who excelled in school, and John aspired to be a preacher. At the age of thirteen, however, Johnny’s career as the “King of Freaks” was already taking shape. The twins were spotted by a magician while attending a local carnival, who convinced them to join the sideshow, with Johnny working as a freak and Robert as his manager.

John loved everything about showbusiness. In the circus, he did acrobatics with his extraordinarily strong arms, trained animals, juggled, and played the front end of the magician’s “sawed in half” illusion. When not performing as a circus freak, he and Robert conducted their own Baltimore-based orchestra. Johnny also drew and painted, and drove a custom-built race car, the “Johnny Eck Special”.

Johnny Eck’s most memorable appearance is in the movie Freaks, but he also had uncredited roles in three Tarzan movies. After these Hollywood appearances, the Eckhardt brothers went into semi-retirement in Baltimore, running a kiddie train ride in a local park. John also made a living with his paintings.

The event that turned Johnny from a beloved local celebrity into a sullen old recluse was a robbery at the family home, which he and Robert inhabited, in 1987. Old and enfeebled, Johnny was unable to defend himself as a gang of thieves physically restrained him and walked off with his valuables. It was this incident that is said to have inspired his famous quote, “If I want to see freaks, I can just look out the window,” indicating that the once-congenial King of Freaks had finally lost faith in his fellow man. On January 5, 1991, after almost four years of living in total seclusion, Johnny suffered a heart attack and died. Robert followed him in 1995, aged 83.

The Eckhardt twins may be gone, but they are not forgotten, especially in their hometown of Baltimore. Jeffrey Pratt Gordon, the owner of their home on North Milton Avenue, has retained many of their possessions, including the miniature train Johnny drove, and has put together an amazing website, The Johnny Eck Museum with the intent of sharing the twins’ incredible story with the world.



Brando’s mail…








woolly mammoths and the restoration of an Ice-Age ecosystem…


During the last ice age northeastern Siberia remained a grassy refuge for scores of animals, including bison and woolly mammoths. Then, about 10,000 years ago, this vast ecosystem disappeared as the Ice Age ended.

Now, though, the Ice Age landscape is on its way back, with a little help from the Russian scientists who have established “Pleistocene Park.”

The scientists hope to uncover what killed off the woolly mammoth and other Ice Age animals. To do so, they’re restoring the prehistoric ecosystem once found in what is now the remote Sakha region of eastern Russia.

The land is slowly being turned into willow savanna, as it was 10,000 years ago. Dozens of wild horses are already grazing in the refuge, and there are plans to import bison and musk oxen.

Most spectacularly, the wildlife park may one day become home to a genetic hybrid of the extinct woolly mammoth and the modern-day elephant. But the park probably will not see its most majestic potential inhabitant for several decades, if ever.

Japanese scientists, working with Russians, have for years been searching for mammoth carcasses to use for reviving woolly mammoths, which would then be introduced into Pleistocene Park.

The plan: to extract sperm DNA from frozen mammoth remains and inject it into a female elephant’s eggs to produce a hybrid offspring. By repeating the procedure over generations, scientists would eventually create an animal that is mostly mammoth.

One problem, however, has been finding mammoth DNA that is sufficiently well preserved in ice to still be viable. The DNA in mammoth fossils that have been found has been unusable, damaged by time and climate changes.

Also, many mammoth experts scoff at the idea, calling it scientifically impossible and even morally irresponsible.

“DNA preserved in ancient tissues is fragmented into thousands of tiny pieces nowhere near sufficiently preserved to drive the development of a baby mammoth,” said Adrian Lister, a paleontologist at University College London in England.

Great Mystery

Sergey Zimov, who is not involved in the mammoth-recreation effort, initiated the project to restore the Pleistocene ecosystem in 1989. He hopes to test the theory that hunting, not climate change, wiped out the animals that once thrived in northern Siberia.

“I want to show how many animals can exist if nobody hinders them to live,” said Zimov, who directs the Northeast Science Station in Cherskiy, about 93 miles (150 kilometers) south of the Arctic Sea in the Russian republic of Sakha (also known as Yakutiya).

In the area of Sakha where the park is located, temperatures fluctuate between highs of about 85 degrees Fahrenheit (30 degrees Celsius) in the summer and lows of -58 degrees Fahrenheit (-50 degrees Celsius) in the winter.

During the driest periods of the Pleistocene, which lasted from about 1.8 million to 10,000 years ago, the vegetation was mainly low grass.

During warmer periods the land turned into meadows and steppes, ideal grazing grounds for woolly mammoths, rhinoceroses, bison, horses, elk, and yaks. Among the predators were cave lions and wolves.

When this vast ecosystem disappeared 10,000 years ago, the land turned into mossy tundra. The only plant eaters to survive were reindeer that grazed on lichens and moose that fed on willows.

The cause of the extinctions of large animals such as woolly mammoths has been a topic of great debate. Many scientists argue that the sudden shift to a warmer and moister climate proved catastrophic to the steppe vegetation and the animals that thrived on it.

“I’m completely on the side of natural, environmental causes of extinction,” said Andrei Sher, a well-known paleontologist at Moscow’s A.N. Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution.

Skilled Hunters?

Zimov, however, believes that humans, using increasingly efficient hunting practices, killed off the woolly mammoths and the other large animals.

But could a small population of hunters kill millions of animals?

“Imagine a picture in which someone from the neighboring tribe teaches you to make new … weapons” such as spears, Zimov said.

“Now you kill the first animal. Will you carefully prepare and consume all the meat, surrounded as you are by clouds of mosquitoes? Or will you just cut out the tongue, knowing that there are millions more [animals]?

“Over time, people probably understood that they should take care of the animals, but by then it was too late,” he added.

By reintroducing the Pleistocene animals, Zimov says scientists may be able to determine what role the animals played in maintaining their own habitat. Researchers may also better understand the forces that vanquished the Ice Age ecosystem.

While much of the Siberian tundra is now covered with moss, the 160 square kilometers (62 square miles) designated for the park is an even split of meadow, larch forest, and willow shrubland.

“All plants that were there in the Pleistocene epoch are preserved there today,” Zimov said.

The park will eventually be cordoned off, though it will remain open to adventurous tourists who can get to such a remote location, which is accessible only by helicopter.

So far, only 20 square kilometers (about 8 square miles) have been fenced off. Within the park hardy Yakutian horses, the closest descendants of the Pleistocene horse, roam alongside reindeer and moose. Plans to import of Canadian bison, however, are on hold due to fears of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or mad cow disease.

Zimov says he hopes to increase the density of plant eaters sufficiently to influence the vegetation and soil in the park and stabilize its grasslands. Once herbivore populations have been established, the plan is to acclimatize Siberian tigers, predators whose modern survival is threatened by poaching.



r.i.p. the movie camera: 1888-2011…


another dispatch from the end of the world as we know it


We might as well call it: Cinema as we knew it is dead.

An article at the moviemaking technology website Creative Cow reports that the three major manufacturers of motion picture film cameras — Aaton, ARRI and Panavision — have all ceased production of new cameras within the last year, and will only make digital movie cameras from now on.  As the article’s author, Debra Kaufman, poignantly puts it, “Someone, somewhere in the world is now holding the last film camera ever to roll off the line.”

What this means is that, even though purists may continue to shoot movies on film, film itself will may become increasingly hard to come by, use, develop and preserve. It also means that the film camera — invented in 1888 by Louis Augustin Le Prince — will become to cinema what typewriters are to literature. Anybody who still uses a Smith-Corona or IBM Selectric typewriter knows what that means: if your beloved machine breaks, you can’t just take it to the local repair shop, you have to track down some old hermit in another town who advertises on Craigslist and stockpiles spare parts in his basement.

As Aaton founder Jean-Pierre Beauviala told Kaufman: “Almost nobody is buying new film cameras. Why buy a new one when there are so many used cameras around the world? We wouldn’t survive in the film industry if we were not designing a digital camera.” Bill Russell, ARRI’s vice president of cameras, added that: “The demand for film cameras on a global basis has all but disappeared.”

Theaters, movies, moviegoing and other core components of what we once called “cinema” persist, and may endure.  But they’re not quite what they were in the analog cinema era. They’re something new, or something else — the next generation of technologies and rituals that had changed shockingly little between 1895 and the early aughts. We knew this day would come. Calling oneself a “film director” or “film editor” or “film buff” or a “film critic” has over the last decade started to seem a faintly nostalgic affectation; decades hence it may start to seem fanciful. It’s a vestigial word that increasingly refers to something that does not actually exist — rather like referring to the mass media as “the press.”

In May 1999 — a year that saw several major releases, including “Toy Story 2,″ projected digitally for paying customers — editor and sound designer Walter Murch wrote a piece for the New York Times headlined, “A Digital Cinema of the Mind? Could Be.” In it, Murch pointed out that only two major aspects of the analog filmmaking process had survived into the late ’90s, the recording of images on sprocketed celluloid film and their projection onto big screens by casting a beam of light through the images. Murch predicted that once digital projection became widespread, it would “trigger the final capitulation of the two last holdouts of film’s 19th-century, analog-mechanical legacy. Projection, at the end of the line, is one; the other is the original photography that begins the whole process. The movie industry is currently a digital sandwich between slices of analog bread.”

Near the end of 1999, my former New York Press colleague Godfrey Cheshire published a two-part article titled “Death of Film/Decay of Cinema“, which in hindsight seems eerily prescient. He predicted just about everything that would happen within the next decade-plus, including the replacement of old-fashioned film print projection by digital systems, the replacement of film cameras by digital cameras, and the near-total takeover of traditional cinematic language by techniques that had once been the province of television.

“Camera, projector, celluloid,” Cheshire wrote, “the basic technology hasn’t changed in over a century. Sure, as a form of expression, film underwent a radical alteration with the addition of sound, but that and other developments – color, widescreen, stereo, etc.–were simply embellishments to a technical paradigm that has held true since photographic likenesses began to move, and that everyone in the world has thought of as “the movies” – until this summer. [...] For the time being, most movies will still be shot on film, primarily because audiences are used to the look, but everything else about the process will be, in effect, television  – from the transmission by satellite to the projection, which for all intents and purposes is simply a glorified version of a home video projection system.”

Although I’ve become more of a surly classicist with age, I was an early defender of movies shot on video, and I really don’t see the point of doing a Grandpa Cinema routine, waving a cane and hollering that the movies somehow “equal” film. That’s  silly. Cinema is not just a medium. It is alanguage. Its essence — storytelling with shots and cuts, with or without sound — will survive the death of the physical material, celluloid, that many believed was inseparably linked to it. The physical essence of analog cinema won’t survive the death of film (except at museums and repertory houses that insist on showing 16mm and 35mm prints).

But digital cinema will become so adept at mimicking the look of film that within a couple of decades, even cinematographers may not be able to tell the difference. The painterly colors, supple gray scale, hard sharpness and enticing flicker of motion picture film were always important (if mostly unacknowledged) parts of cinema’s mass appeal. The makers of digital moviemaking equipment got hip to that in the late ’90s, and channeled their research and development money accordingly; it’s surely no coincidence that celluloid-chauvinist moviegoers and moviemakers stopped resisting the digital transition once they realized that the new, electronically-created movies could be made to look somewhat like the analog kind, with dense images, a flickery frame rate, and starkly defined planes of depth.

But let’s not kid ourselves: Now that analog filmmaking is dead, an ineffable beauty has died with it. Let’s raise two toasts, then — one to the glorious past, and one to the future, whatever it may hold.

(SALON.COM  10.13.11)




support web radio


The Portland Radio Authority, also known as PRA, is a non-commercial, listener-supported and web-based radio station based in Portland, Oregon. It touts itself as a “free form community media source”.

PRA was founded in 2003 a Pirate Radio station which at the time was broadcast on low-power locally and across the web.

PRA went Internet-only in 2006 after pressure from local media through the FCC.

PRA has a roster of deejays (over 50) who produce weekly two hour shows that cover a wide variety of music styles and programming.

For more information on PRA or to listen to it’s Internet stream, visit





the super duper secret menu…


In-N-Out Burger has a secret unpublished menu for insiders who are in-the-know. Next time you’re at In-N-Out order a bag of these off-the-menu specials. While it’s not on the printed menu, there are buttons on the cash register for these items. You can pretty much order anything you want, as long as they have the ingredients (e.g., putting onions in a milkshake). While the “secret” menu is listed on the In-N-Out corporate site, it is far from complete.

“3-by-3″ = three meat patties and three slices of cheese.

“4-by-4″ = four meat patties and four slices of cheese.

“2-by-4″ = two meat patties and four slices of cheese.

*Note: You may get a burger with the exact number of meat patties or cheese slices you want (up to 4×4). Just tell the In-N-Out Burger cashier how many meat patties and how much cheese you want and that is what you’ll get! For instance, if you want 4 pieces of meat and 3 pieces of cheese tell them you want a “4-by-3.”  the number stands for MxC with a 7×3 being 7 patties and 3 pieces of cheese.

“Double Meat” = like a Double Double without cheese.

“3 by Meat” = three meat patties and no cheese.

“Animal Style” = the meat is cooked and fried with mustard and then pickles are added, extra spread and grilled onions are added.

“Animal Style Fries” = fries with cheese, spread, grilled onions and pickles (if you ask for them).

“Protein Style” = for all you low-carbohydrate dieters, this is a burger with no bun (wrapped in lettuce).

“Flying Dutchman” = two meat patties, two slices of melted cheese and nothing else – not even a bun!

Fries “Well-Done” = extra crispy fries . . . even better than the regular!

Fries “Light” = opposite of fries well-done, more raw than most people like ‘em

“Grilled Cheese” = no meat, just melted cheese, tomato, lettuce and spread on a bun.

“Veggie Burger” = burger without the patty or cheese. Sometimes we call this the “Wish Burger.”

“Neapolitan” Shake = strawberry, vanilla and chocolate mixed together.

The friendly employees of In-N-Out Burger will take your special order without question, if you use the right terminology. The printed receipt will have your special request typed on it just as you ordered it.





two giants in the world of falling water…



The falls are known as Kerepakupai Merú or Parekupa Vena in the language of the indigenous Pemon, and are more commonly known as Salto Angel or Angel Falls, is the tallest free-falling waterfall on earth. The Río Gauja flows from the sandstone plateau-mountain Auyan Tepui, the largest of many Tepuis in Canaima National Park in the southeastern part of Venezuela. As the river nears the edge of the mountain, it sinks into channels in the bedrock and disappears underground completely, emerging 50 feet below the top of the cliff and plunging a sheer 2,648 feet to the floor of the canyon below. The river flows all year long, but during the dry months it is severely reduced in volume and isn’t anywhere near as impressive.


Kerepakupai Merú, or Parekupa-vena are the proper names given to Angel Falls by the indigenous Pemon Indians. The name Angel Falls, as the world knows it, was bestowed upon the falls after James Angel, a bush pilot who crash-landed his plane on the mountain above the falls in November of 1933 while conducting aerial prospecting surveys in the area. The falls were, however, first seen by a non-native in 1912 when Venezuelan explorer Ernesto Sanchez la Cruz stumbled upon the fall. His name is not often attached with the waterfalls because he did not seek to publicize his find.
In 1949 an American Journalist named Ruth Robertson conducted an expedition to the waterfall, taking along surveyors with hopes to record the height of the waterfall. National Geographic is often credited with leading the expedition, but they appear to have had very little to do with it. The survey team measured the falls as dropping 3,212 feet.


While Kerepakupai Merú is most certainly one of the greatest waterfalls on the planet, we grow more and more skeptical that it is either the tallest on earth or as tall as is claimed. The survey team which measured the waterfall in 1949 took their measurements from the shores of the Rio Churun, almost a mile away from the base of the waterfall. The elevation difference from the top of the Tepui to the Rio Churun is, conveniently, just over 3,300 feet and there is more than 500 feet of loss in elevation from the base of the waterfall to the point where the Rio Gauja flows into the Rio Churun. Secondly, we are of the opinion that Kerepakupai Merú should only be considered the 2,648 foot plunge, as the river below the falls – aside from a 100 foot fall 1/4 mile downstream from the base of the main drop – is more or less flat. This would make South Africa’s Tugela Falls the tallest on earth.
To further heighten the engima, we’ve seen botanical sources that claim surveyed height figures of 2,937 feet total, with a clear leap of 2,421 feet. The height controversy aside, this is clearly a giant.

TUGELA FALLS, South Africa

The infant Tugela River makes a series of 5 consecutive leaps down the amphitheater wall in the high Drakensberg Mountains. The initial horsetail is on the order of 597 feet (182m), followed shortly afterward by a leap of 1350 feet (411m). The three subsequent falls, which over the years haven’t consistently been included in the overall height given for the falls, occur in rapid succession and comprise the balance of the 3,110 feet (948m) of elevation loss.


This waterfall occurs along a stream that is known to vary greatly in volume and as a result may not flow consistently year round or may dry out completely during certain periods.


Tugela is a phonetic spelling of the word “Thukela”, meaning “sudden” or “startling”. Indeed, this gentle stream makes a very abrupt leap off of a massive escarpment.


We’ve seen Tugela Falls variously listed between 1,800 feet (549m) and 3,110 feet (948m) depending on the source. Other height claims are 2,014 feet (614m), and 2,853 feet (870m). It is our theory that the two lower figures only refer to the first two drops. Photographs clearly show that the 3rd tier follows the 2nd tier just as closely as the 2nd tier follows the 1st tier. The three tiers together most likely account for the 2853 feet (870m) height figure. Since the 4th and 5th tiers are still more or less continuous, with no lengthy interstitial stretch of river between, we feel that the height figure of 3110′ (948m) is wholly credible. At any height, this is a very tall waterfall.
The only drawback to Tugela Falls is the flow. Most of the water that collects on the relatively flat surface of Mont Aux Sources flows either west or north. There is a rather small portion that slopes east, and this accounts for several very tall, but meager waterfalls, Tugela being the largest in terms of flow. It really only flows well after periods of rain. When it flows however, it is most impressive.


There are two trails to the falls. The trail to the top of Mont Aux Sources leaves the parking area for “The Sentinel”. The trail is about 4 miles (6.4km) to Tugela Falls, gaining perhaps 1,700 feet (518m) in elevation. A cursory glance might suggest that isn’t TOO hard, but the elevation at the parking area is about 8,300 feet, and the lip of Tugela Falls is close to 10000′ (3048m) above sea level. The air is a bit more thin here.
The second means of access follows the Tugela River upstream through the Tugela Gorge. This trail is 4.3 miles (7km) in length, but the gradient is much more level, gaining perhaps a thousand feet in elevation. The trailhead is roughly 5,200 feet (1585m) above sea level.





casting is 90% of the work…


Insight was an Emmy-winning syndicated television series produced by Paulist Productions that aired 250 episodes from 1960 to 1983. The series presented half-hour dramas illuminating the contemporary search for meaning, freedom, and love. Insight was an anthology series, using an eclectic set of story telling forms including comedy, melodrama, and fantasy to explore moral dilemmas.

The series was created by Roman Catholic priest Ellwood E. “Bud” Kieser, the founder of Paulist Productions. A member of the Paulist Fathers, an evangelistic Catholic order of priests, he worked in the entertainment community in Hollywood as a priest-producer and occasional host, using television as a vehicle of spiritual enrichment.

Insight was nominated for the Emmy for Outstanding Achievement in Religious Programming in 1972 and 1973 and won the category from 1981 to 1984. The anthology format and the religious nature of the program attracted a wide variety of actors (including Ed AsnerJack AlbertsonBeau BridgesPatty DukeWesley EureBob HastingsCicely TysonJack KlugmanRobert LansingWalter Matthau,Deborah WintersBob NewhartJohn Ritter, and Martin Sheen), directors (such as Marc DanielsArthur HillerNorman LloydDelbert MannTed PostJay Sandrich, and Jack Shea), and writers (Rod SerlingJohn T. DuganLan O’Kun, and Michael Crichton) to work on the series.

In the United States the series was typically shown on Sunday mornings or late night. Often stations aired Insight in order to meet theFederal Communications Commission‘s public interest standard for broadcast television.





sixty years before the making of the TASER (Thomas A. Swift’s Electric Rifle) gun…


Tom Swift finishes inventing something major in this book, the Electric Rifle.  Introduced in a previous episode, (The Caves of Ice) the device is now more-or-less complete. It still needs some work, as the stun/kill/disintegrate adjustment is too indiscriminate. Also, due to the extreme destructive power at the terminal distance, safety issues regarding accidental discharge or mis-adjustment need to be addressed.

The rifle resembles an oversized (but lightweight) heavy-game firearm in appearance, except for “dials, levers, gears and wheels” on the shoulder stock. It throws a (plasma?) “bullet” that can be adjusted to “discharge” at a given range with a force varying from “stun” to “disintegrate.” The WSoD part (Willing Suspension of Disbelief) of this invention, is the ability of this charge to travel thru walls and intervening barriers without loss of energy, “find” a target that cannot be seen and selectively dump its’ energy on that target only. A lion, carrying off a tribesman is killed in its tracks, while the injured native (clamped in the lion’s jaws) is unharmed. The rifle is charged by a small dynamo and contains a storage device for this charge in a cylinder contained in the butt-stock. This is presumed to be a capacitor or battery, although no details are given. No “magazine capacity” is quoted, but Tom never seems to have to reload. Also, there is no annoying recoil, noise or smoke produced when it is fired.

The secret of the Electric Rifle seems to have been lost to modern man. The idea of a variable strength, select-range weapon that is “safe” until it reaches the intended target, is still beyond the technology of 2005. Self-seeking missiles and timed ranging small-arms projectiles are reality, today, but not in the clean, simple and environmentally friendly package that Tom has invented. Have no fear, though. We will some day develop this weapon. A glimpse into the Hollywood time machine confirms this.


“Tom Swift and His Electric Rifle” 1911 by Victor Appleton




new project by Dan Havel and Dean Ruck


One night in December, house movers plopped the beat-up bungalow onto the empty double lot at 3705 Lyons.

They didn’t appear to have done a good job. The little pink house sat both backward and crooked on the bedraggled lot. The front door only sorta-kinda faced the back fence.

But the neighbors didn’t complain. The Fifth Ward is full of weird empty houses on weedy lots.

Then, early this summer, a couple of white guys showed up. First they pried off the portico that once sheltered the house’s front door. Then they started generally smashing the place up, gutting the interior walls that held it up and replacing them with a thicket of wooden supports nailed at bizarre angles.

One day, Sherman Miller, who lives across the intersection, ambled over and asked the guys what they were doing. They said something about making the house into art. So he asked if they had any work for him.

He thought they were crazy. But they paid in cash.

Inversion‘s cousin

Six years ago, the white guys – Dan Havel and Dean Ruck – smashed up a couple of other bungalows, and in the process, created Inversion, one of the most astounding of pieces of art that Houston had ever seen. A giant horizontal vortex, made from the bungalows’ own wood siding, seemed to rip through the houses – a sight that literally stopped traffic on Montrose Boulevard.

It was public art that the public loved. People who never set foot in galleries asked their neighbors whether they’d seen it. Parents snapped photos of their kids crawling into the funnel’s mouth; dog owners snapped photos of their mutts peeking out the little hole at its tail. Pranksters stuck Realtors’ signs out front. Inversion appeared on Christmas cards, newspapers, magazines and the TV news. And naturally, it was a Web sensation.

But it was easy, too, to read meaning into the spectacle. Montrose, like other neighborhoods, was gentrifying fast. Its bungalows and other old houses were disappearing; townhouses and highrises seemed to appear overnight, out of nowhere. The time-space continuum seemed in flux. The past was being sucked into the future. A vortex was ripping through.

You were free to decide whether that vortex was good or bad. Obviously, the Art League of Houston – which had commissioned Havel and Ruck – thought it was great: The Art League was about to replace its cramped pair of bungalows with a brand-new building, one with galleries designed to be galleries and classrooms designed to be classrooms. Inversion was intended as a way to send the old, not-quite-right houses off in style, a temporary way to connect to the public, an artful way to make way for the new art space.

It worked almost too well. After the better part of the year, when the Art League finally demolished the work that was always supposed to be temporary, some Houstonians were sad or angry; they’d wanted Inversion to last. The Art League responded by naming its new coffee shop Inversion. And now, embedded in the reflective window facing the parking lot, there’s a big photographic image of Inversion The longer you look at it, the stranger it seems: a permanent picture of a temporary artwork; a shiny, glassed-in window celebrating a rough wooden hole; an unchanging snapshot of something all about change.

Wooden chaos

Fifth Ward Jam, as Havel and Ruck call the piece they recently finished, isn’t at all a copy of Inversion. Jam is made from one bungalow instead of two, and it has multiple vortexes, not just one. In front of all the wooden chaos, there’s an area that could serve as a stage. But anyone who remembers Inversion will immediately recognize Jam as its kin.

The main difference, really, is the site: The Fifth Ward is wildly different from arty, gentrifying Montrose. In the past decades, change has crept in, here and there – a new-ish apartment complex sits directly across Lyons Avenue from Jam – but the neighborhood remains much the same: mostly African American, mostly poor. Weedy lots and vacant houses are problems here; gentrification and whirlwind change are not.

Ruck and Havel scrounged much of the stuff they nailed onto the house. They reused much of the house’s own pink siding. Other inch-thick bits of flotsam and jetsam came from the city’s ReUse Warehouse, which recycles building material that would otherwise end up in a landfill.

But the big stuff they needed to create Jam – the money, house and real estate – came from official sources: the Houston Arts Alliance and the Fifth Ward Community Redevelopment Corp. “Dean and I were asked to ‘revitalize the neighborhood,'” Havel said, staggering back and rolling his eyes: That’s a lot to ask from a piece of art.

But on that recent Monday evening, before Jam’s official debut on Oct. 1, the artwork was at least enlivening that stretch of Lyons. Cars slowed down so drivers could get an eyeful; bicyclists stopped; drivers asked questions. Recently, Havel said, a Metro driver stopped his bus to take a photo.

But will people leave the street to come hang out there? Jam is supposed to last about two years before time and termites take their toll. In that time, will its newly, lightly landscaped lot function as a little park, as the Arts Alliance and CRC hope? Now that they’ve built it, will people come?

Havel likes imagining Jam’s stage taken over by politicians or preachers. He likes the idea of kids investigating Jam, trying to find out where its vortexes lead. And he likes the idea that people might hang out at the park’s round white concrete picnic tables, the kind that grandmas have in their backyards.

But most of all, he likes the idea that Jam might be taken over by a new generation of Fifth Ward musicians: rappers or anyone else who could use a free stage. He loves the Fifth Ward’s rich music history – loves knowing that Lyons Avenue, in the ’40s and ’50s, had a legendary music scene. Peacock Records recorded R&B and gospel greats there; among them, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Texas Johnny Brown, Big Mama Thornton, and the Mighty Clouds of Joy. The record company’s sister club, The Bronze Peacock, hosted acts like T-Bone Walker and Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown. Havel is thrilled that the Jam’s opening celebration included a scheduled performance by Texas Johnny Brown, once Peacock Records’ house guitarist.

Inversion’s vortex seemed to whip Montrose out of its past and into a future that was arriving all too fast. Jam’s gentler vortices connect Fifth Ward’s past to its present – and its future.

“Do you still think we’re crazy?” Ruck asked Miller.

“No,” Miller said. Then he paused a couple of seconds to think. “Well,” he corrected himself, “maybe half crazy.”





interview with director Alex Roman…


Some philosophies of aesthetics enumerate seven primary art forms derived from Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’s “Lectures on the Aesthetics” and the writings of film theorist Ricciotto Canudo: architecture, sculpture, painting, dance, music, poetry, and cinema.

The order is disputed, and architecture is sometimes shuffled to the third position, as it was by aspiring filmmaker Alex Roman for the title of his breathtaking work in progress, The Third & The Seventh, an artful combination of photorealistic architectural renderings and stylish CG cinematography.

In Roman’s able hands, the combination is undeniably poetic. His reverence for light borders on transcendent, and his attention to detail is inspiring. We caught up with Alex for a little background information.

Justin Cone: Tell us a little about yourself. Who are you? Where are you from? What do you currently do?

Alex Roman: I was born in 1979, in Alacant (Alicante), a city in Spain. I would first like to say that my real name is Jorge Seva, but I use “Alex Roman” as an artistic alias for publishing independent work. After being trained in traditional painting at a few academies, I discovered this other world called CG. After school, I made the move to Madrid and began working at a visual effects company. That stint did not last too long due to the lack of demand for visual effects in the Spanish market at the time. It was then that I switched into the VIZ (architectural visualization) business. I have been working for several companies since. After that, I took a sabbatical year for to work on an “already-built work” visualization series, which will be stitched together into a short animated piece.

JC: Were you formally trained in architecture?

AR: Nope, never. But I was very interested in architecture since I was a child. Maybe it’s not too late.

JC: Can you tell us a little about the TheThird & The Seventh film?

AR: Well, after working in VIZ for years, I realized that there was a huge aesthetic difference between most clients’ commercial demands and photography of already-built structures. The lack of respect for the architecture itself in some “pure” commercial illustration was very frustrating to me. (Well, this is just my opinion, of course.) Then, I decided to start a personal journey: to experiment with a more cinematographic and/or photographic oriented point of view of some of my favorites architects’ masterpieces. Hence, the “The Third & The Seventh” project…

JC: After thumbing through a book of Frank Lloyd Wright’s sketches once, I chatted with an architect friend of mine about the art of architectural rendering. He told me that sometimes architects intentionally leave sketches vague or messy. It not only creates wiggle room when it comes to client negotiations, it leaves room for the imagination to paint in details. How would you respond to that idea?

AR: Well, there are of course several purposes behind computer graphics benefits. That “messy” representation style is very useful at a birth-idea/growing-process stages. Also, there are of course many architects that use CG as a sketching oriented tool… why not?

JC: Your sensitivity to light is amazing. How would you describe the interplay between light and architecture?

AR: Thanks! I think architecture is sculpting with light most of the time. There’s neither volume nor colors and materials without light and shadow. Like Kahn said once: “In the old buildings, the columns were an expression of light. Light, no light, light, no light, light, you see…”

JC: The level of realism in the The Third & The Seventh is stunning. Your render times must be incredible. What software and hardware do you use? How long is an average render?

AR: I use 3DS Max and Vray for rendering, Photoshop for texture work, AfterEffects for compositing and color grading and Adobe Premiere for edit it all. My desktop PC (i7 920) it’s now the only hardware i have. Every frame rendertime may vary from 20 sec to 1:30 hr (720p) It all depends on how complex the scene is. However, i invested a lot of time in scene optimization for rendering. I think it’s the key for a flexible workflow.

JC: How can we see the full The Third & The Seventh film?

AR: I’m finishing the latest shots, fighting with the music—the hardest stage for me—and editing at the moment. We will see it complete around the end of the summer of 2009. I really hope so!


“THE THIRD AND THE SEVENTH” 2009 directed by Alex Roman


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