We've moved. Check out what we're doing now


Friday, October 31, 2008

Ramblings of a movie nerd

I’m not writing about something I’ve learned this week but about something I recall learning a few years back. As I’ve said before, I’m a student of Depression-era movies and, being Halloween, my studies apply to scary movies as well. Two of my favorite scary movies from this era (and recall that this is the era with a lot of great scary movies with the likes of Bela Lugosi and Boris Kahloff) are “Doctor X” (1932) and “Mystery in the Wax Museum” (1933.) Both movies were directed by Michael Curtiz who directed a number of other great movies including “Casablanca” and both star Lionel Atwill and Fay Wray, of “King Kong” fame.

They are both really good movies which hold up more than 70 years later but what fascinates me is that they are both good examples of Technicolor, specifically two-strip Technicolor. The two-strip process was first used in 1922 – so yes, there are a few full-color silent films out there for you to enjoy. The images produced by the two-strip process are composed of red and green and the result is odd to the eye. The color is unnatural and bold which creates an effectively eerie mood at the end of “Doctor X”.

The Technicolor that most people know followed this process and was known as three-strip Technicolor. If you’ve ever seen “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves”, “The Wizard of Oz” or “Gone With The Wind” you’ve seen a Depression-era example of the three-strip process. What is fascinating to me, and what I learned only a few years ago as I studied the two-strip process after watching my favorite scary movies, is that Technicolor movies were shot on black and white film – it’s an optical process rather than a film stock.

A Technicolor camera simultaneously films an image on three different rolls of B/W film. In very simple terms (simple is the best I can offer with my level of knowledge), light bounces off the object being filmed and into the camera lens. As the light enters the camera, it passes through a prism array which splits it into the three primary colors of light – red, blue, and green. Each color of light exposes a single roll of B/W film.

Again, in really simple terms, this means the image of the blue sky was exposed on the blue roll, the grass was exposed on the green roll and the sun was exposed on the red roll. Of course, most images are a combination of colors so each roll would have the specific color aspects of an object, for example a purple horse would be on both the red and blue rolls (I couldn’t come up with anything purple so let’s assume it might be a horse.)

These three rolls of film were developed and then dyed their complementary color (red was dyed cyan, blue was dyed yellow and green was dyed magenta.) The three dyed strips could then be stacked together to produce a high-quality color image. This color theory is used in the three-color off-set printing process to produce the color images for magazines and newspapers.

Fortunately, for people like me, the Technicolor dye is really stable so, unlike your Polaroids from 30 years ago, a Technicolor film strip is practically unchanged even 70 years later. Unfortunately, for people like me, it cost a lot to create a Technicolor movie print so, if the processor created a less than perfect print, it still went into circulation to a smaller market. This means that even though classic film is still in good condition, it is not necessarily easy to find a clear, well-produced print.

If you’ve never watched “The Wizard of Oz” or “Gone With The Wind” on DVD, it is worth doing so. Remember that the images of these movies are made up of three strips of film being stacked on top of one another. This requires registration (the process of lining up the three images) but this was done by hand in a processing booth. So, even the clearest, most pristine dyed strips might appear blurry in the final print if it weren’t perfectly registered (it required an accuracy of at least 8/10,000 of an inch.) We've grown up with these iconic images that are actually second-rate blurry prints. Today, computers can perfectly line up the three color strips so DVDs present a perfect image. You will see the burlap texture on the Scarecrows face and when the Tinman says “oil can” you will see that he is rusty. It's like seeing the movies for the first time.

One final tidbit of local trivia to end this overly long post. The first three-strip camera was built by William Young who was born and lived in Springfield, Illinois until he was 48 years-old.

Monday, October 20, 2008

I'm not sure why I found this so interesting but . . .

(I don’t really have a point to make with this post. I just found it interesting and spent some time researching the matter.)

If you have an active sense of sight or hearing, it’s hard to avoid election news this month. (Notice I excluded an active sense of smell, but that might be true to some extent as well.)

Today, I noticed a news story which suggests that convicted felons may be this week’s soccer-moms/Wal-Mart-moms/hockey-moms/NASCAR-dads, etc (the one voting block which will tip the scales.) Apparently, nearly 100% of the felon vote goes to one party. (I’m not sure how they know this. I thought votes were confidential.) The article suggested that, if felons were open to spreading their votes more equally between the parties, it wouldn’t be an issue but being so single-minded in their voting presents an unfair situation.

But wait, felons can’t vote, right? My understanding was that convicted felons lost certain civil rights, including the right to vote. There are no voting booths in prison so they’re not voting there. And, once they’re released from prison, they regain their right to vote, right? Actually, not always.

Each state sets its own standard for restoring civil rights. From what I’ve been able to discover 33 states automatically restore voting rights when a felon has completed their sentencing. Some states automatically restore voting rights for the first felony but have more severe requirements for additional convictions. 3 states require an Executive Order from the Governor. (1 of these 3 allows a 2/3 majority in the state legislature as well.) 2 states require a pardon even if the sentence is fully served. 2 states do not suspend voting rights in the first place. Some states deem specific crimes to be so serious that voting rights are permanently suspended, the most common crime being buying/selling votes or preventing other from exercising their right to vote.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Life is a cabaret

Bill Bloemer, who is teaching the Chemistry Cooks course, has been sharing his lectures with me so I had originally intended to write about vinaigrettes and mayonnaise, specifically how the same basic ingredients result in two very different products. (In a nutshell, different techniques results in either oil suspended in water or water suspended in oil.) Instead, I thought I’d brag on my wife who was the topic of a cover story in our local newspaper’s magazine insert.


She’s a pretty good actress and I say that without bias – I can recognize when she’s on or not and she’d prefer to know the truth (I think:) As the article notes, I know her to be quiet and reserved but she is uninhibited on stage. On stage, she’ll do things she wouldn’t do in public, which suggests to me that the stage is a private place that others just happen to be looking in on. At least this might be the case for those who enjoy acting.

Once, she recruited me to play two parts in the play “Jeffery” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeffrey_(film) I’m not sure what happened to the person who was supposed to play those parts but I came in on the rehearsal before the first performance and I recall still memorizing lines between my first and second appearance on stage – I might have had 4 lines altogether but you actually have to say them at the right time and in the right order. I’m comfortable speaking in front of crowds so it wasn’t scary, but it was REALLY stressful. In my experience, it was me on stage speaking lines, and not a character, so the stage was a very public place.

All of this may have had an impact on how I advise campus-based LIS majors. Whenever a young, traditionally aged student sits at my desk to discuss course options, I always say, “I’ve got the perfect course for you” and then I show them the Intro to Acting course. I’m not exaggerating when I say “always”, I do this without fail, even if it’s not on the current schedule. In almost every case, their faces register the same emotional cocktail: a combination of ego and fear. Some quickly shift to the fear side and we move on to other class options but some get this subtle smile on their face, as if they’re imagining themselves on stage. When I see the smile, I try to sell them on the class. What better skill for a young, inexperienced student to learn? Better that they learn to define their public personae than to allow the world to define it for them. After all, aren’t we all actors?

Thursday, October 2, 2008

More from the FBI Citizen's Academy

Last night, I attended week three of the FBI Citizen’s Academy and had the chance to observe two demonstrations.

Polygraph – This was the first time I’ve seen a polygraph demonstration and, while it was interesting, the demo was not as interesting as the briefing. Like most, I equate polygraph with lie detector but the goal isn’t to prove someone a liar (except on Maury Povich.) Rather, the test is a resource management tool. The example used in the briefing was money missing from a bank with three employees having access. A polygraph cannot definitely prove who took the money, but it can tell you who is nervous when questioned so that the agents can focus their time on that person.

It was also interesting to learn about the testing process. I would assume that you’d walk in, get hooked up to the system, and answer predetermined questions but this isn’t the case at all. The examiner discusses the process with the person being tested and develops the questions with their input. This seems to defy logic since having pretest knowledge of the questions should give a good liar a chance to prepare, shouldn’t it? (No.) The test is performed three times, with the questions asked in different orders, so a good liar would have the chance to practice – if it was possible to control breathing, galvanic skin response (sweating), and blood pressure.

The examiner is trained to observe the test subject during the pretest and, based upon observation, hone the questioning so that the test is as accurate as possible. For example, if the question is “have you ever committed a robbery,” a victim of an armed robbery might have the same physical response as someone who is lying. To be accurate, the examiner would need to ask the question in such a way that acknowledges that experience.

F.A.T.S. Firearm Training System – This is that cool video game system with which agents role play stressful situations and it was cool but, again, the briefing was most interesting.

The briefing was given by the division counsel and it was clear that firearms training is legal training. A cynic might suggest that this training is an effort to teach law enforcement how far they can go without getting in trouble (and I can be cynical from time to time) but I don’t think that’s the case. It’s clear that the many agents I’ve had the chance to meet have a sincere respect for law and order. This legal training is an effort to work within the laws that they’ve committed to protecting since not doing so would destroy the public trust they need to accomplish their goals. In other words, I think this training is done with a sincere respect for law and not with a fear of being held accountable. It welcomes accountability.

I was also fascinated by the fact that the use of deadly force is a search and seizure issue. The Fourth Amendment protects us from unreasonable search and seizure. The use of deadly force is the ultimate seizure and the concept of “reasonable” is central to the legal issues surround it.