Jul 252017
 

This film has a great premise, good effects, strong performances and exciting set pieces. Its story presents, on the one hand, a credible account of two people’s experiences (and emerging relationship) in an ethically provocative variation on desert-island scenarios. On the other hand, it creates a large scale (but neither mythical nor apocalyptic) problem that must be solved by two ordinary human beings. The final shots, which leap forward ninety years and offer a backward glance at the traces of their two lives—lives lived in solitude and out of sight but lives lived also, by all appearances, happily—are powerful, moving, and they’ve stuck with me.

Yet the reviews leading up to the film’s release were terrible—so much so that I waited to see it as a rental—and it seems to have done badly at the box office. And yet, this was not a bad movie at all. (Lesson relearned: don’t trust reviews!)

Popular judgments this bad aren’t a canary in the coal mine. They’re you watching with stinging eyes and burning nose as the miner a hundred feet down the shaft keels over.

Because if science fiction storytelling like this isn’t exciting enough to be worth seeing, then Marvel’s colonization of our mind-screens is near complete.

Jul 252017
 

Equals is a Gattica rehash insofar as it uses mid-century (read: old fashioned) modernism to represent a medicalized and bureaucratic dystopian future. Here though, the architecture is more central (and beautiful) and the love story is between seemingly younger characters. (The apparent youthfulness of the protagonists is important in the final act which cleverly cribs the last act of Romeo and Juliette.)

Although there are specifics to the story—it’s a postbellum world in which emotion (and so war) has been eliminated—these details don’t really matter because this is a love story about the allegorical possibilities blankness. Blank walls. Blank faces. Blank narratives. As a result, the movie is self-consciously “about” anything you read into it. Sexuality. AIDS. Depression. ADHD. The psycho-sociology of illness. I’m not sure any of this is very interesting and suspect that to the extent any of it is, it’s because the topic (rather than the movie) is interesting and that the movie therefore serves as a useful example or object for discussion.

As I watched I was caught up primarily in the acting. Blankness is hard to perform in film because, at it’s base, convincing cinematic performance involves creating a mildly blank expression that can be read by the spectator through projection. Yes, there are big scenes and “Moments” where the screen actor plays large and loud and broadcasts a feeling. But most of the time, actors underplay and merely suggest. Making the blankness that they normally use to create an effect visible as the effect itself is clearly difficult, and in the first act, I didn’t find Hoult and Stewart very engaging or convincing. However, once they are allowed to become people, they bloom (beneath the still blank surface of their faces) and things pick up .

As a side-note, Kristen Stewart playing blank and emotionally dull looked like Kristen Stewart playing Bella from the Twilight movies. When suddenly she began to play a person in love and happy, it was like watching a completely different actor. Seeing this film has convinced me she’s a real talent. I’m actually looking forward to seeing her in other movies now.

Jul 182017
 

This blog isn’t a tech blog, but I write about Eastgate’s Tinderbox semi-regularly.

To help those of you who are interested in the TBX posts but not necessarily all the rest, there’s now a link to the TBX-only RSS in the sidebar. (Or click here.)

ps—I suppose this is fair warning that the next few posts involve me over-investing in not-fancy TV and movies.

Jul 172017
 

This past winter I finally sat down and watched through all the available seasons of Game of Thrones. My reactions were intense and complicated and I haven’t yet taken the time to sort them out enough to write about the show after the first season.

(The short version is that the violence directed at some characters and the religious turn got under my skin and upset me badly. Plus characters I had very strong investments in have either met ugly fates or have gone off the rails. The series is amazing and well done—I’m hooked and all in—but damn, I was wrecked from watching it through so quickly.)

Which brings me to the point of my post: I’ll definitely be watching the new season but don’t have HBO. (I know. I know.) So I have to wait to see it. But this means that, if I don’t want spoilers (and I really really don’t), then what I am going to have to do? Stay off the internet for two or three months?

I may have a problem.

Jul 102017
 

At the same time as I was finishing up work on the new version of my site using Tinderbox, a few threads popped up on the Tinderbox forum talking about the perceived difficulty of Tinderbox export. This got me thinking yet again about the source of all the trouble. At various times and in various moods, I have both agreed export could be a pain and been astonished at how easy it made creating complex documents. Thinking about it again led me to jot down metaphorical thoughts about car dealers and Mad Libs. I also tried to describe what I see as the fundamental difference between TBX’s export and other common tools.

Once I had those ramblings out of my system, I decided to use what I’d learned making my web site file to offer up a short series of posts that tries to show how I’ve come to think about basic export. Obviously there are other examples, instructions and information about Tinderbox available elsewhere. (The TBX help files, Mark Bernstein’s The Tinderbox Way, Mark Anderson’s TbRef,  Welcome to Sherwood, and the videos of Dominique Renaud are only a few). I try not to repeat that work here.

a map of the series

Instead, what I’ll try to do is show how working backwards from the desired output rather than forward from a note is a useful (and manageable) way to think about export. In my opinion, working this way resolves a lot of the difficulty I initially experienced.

Each of the examples in these series will begin by creating a concrete instance of the desired output. Once this instance is written, I show how to transform it into an export template that will generate the same output from any note. I’ll be using the same sample file throughout (download .zip).

You should start with exporting a form letter. All the other examples take the information it provides for granted.

You can find the rest of the examples here:

In the next few days, I’ll close out the series with a few thoughts about what’s involved in exporting to the web.

Jul 092017
 

The last few months I’ve been working on moving this site off WordPress. That meant transferring all the posts to Tinderbox, setting up all the links, and creating the templates that would produce the HTML output I wanted to have. Everything except the templates was donkey work and took days and days. The templates took time as well, but I was learning about export and HTML and that was useful and exciting.

And when I was done, the file worked like magic. All my posts were suddenly arranged in a sensible way based on content rather than chronology. I could build up links (both href and visual) and could write outside the framework of a timeline. I began to imagine ways of writing that involved something I thought of as “portal posts”: single posts that would appear on a blog timeline but which opened into a system of pages—a kind of mini-, discrete hypertext—accessible only by way of that initial post. I wrote the first of these to explain some of what I learned about export. (It looked like this.)

Then I uploaded the site with a welcome message and the first of what I hoped would eventually be many of these portal posts, and almost immediately, I realized I was in trouble.

The trouble is that I’m a tweaker. (No, not that kind of tweaker.) I like to fiddle and change things and I do this continually, everywhere on this site. There are posts on this blog that I wrote in 2011 that, when I looked at them while preparing my TBX file, were revised to fix problems I found. The movie log of La Mort de Louis XIV that posted less than 12 hours ago? WordPress currently lists 28 revisions to that post.

Once I posted my site, I immediately saw places to fiddle and since that’s half the fun of the site (maybe more), I fiddled and then re-exported and re-posted the site. And then I did this again and again and again. Then I started trying to just replace individual files. This quickly became complicated: I was doing it wrong and breaking things. I didn’t know enough about what I was doing on the server to be sure how to use the output TBX was providing. I’d fix things and then mess something else up.

This was fine: I was learning and I was sure that eventually things would become stable. I’d figure out what to do and become practiced at it. But at the same time, I also realized that I didn’t know enough to predict when I’d reach that moment of stability. I suspected though that I knew little enough to guarantee I’d be learning by crisis-management for a long while.

Clearly I was in over my head and was going to be spending tons of time figuring out basics on my own. I knew too that my patience for floundering with mechanics when what I really wanted was to be working on content would be very limited. So I gave up on the whole “manage a site manually” plan and went back to letting WordPress do the heavy lifting.*

Yes, that means dealing with the limitations of my chronological timeline, but I’ve got an idea about how to make my portal post concept work. What I’m leaning toward is to use my TBX file—which I now know works—to create and to export these tangles of notes with this change: I’d write their intro page with the starting links as a post on my timeline and all the rest sitting as flat HTML files in a subdirectory. I’m still thinking that through though, and so we’ll see. For now, the export posts I wrote for the now-defunct “new” site will appear here as a series. Not great and not what I’d intended, but better than nothing. This series—posted here as I’d imagined it working on the new site—starts with this post.

And so that’s what happened and where things stand.

Onward and upward.


* The other factor was that a lot of the donkey work on the new site wasn’t done. I had all the post texts and links, but most of the images and videos were missing. Adding them back—and I wasn’t willing to lose them—was going to take a lot of time. It wouldn’t be worth the time to add them if I soon ditched the HTML site because I couldn’t maintain it. So there was pressure to make a decision quickly. With my quickly emerging sense of how to little I actually know about the running a web site—I’ve still not figured out how to make a relative URL from the root that works to throw out one (I thought) simple example—sticking with WordPress was the safer bet.

Jul 092017
 

This movie refuses to pretend to be anything other than precisely what it is: a camera that stares. In practice that means it risks being mistaken for a beautifully photographed but stuffy exhibit of period costumes and decors.

It’s not. It’s a camera staring with limitless curiosity at the face of Jean-Pierre Léaud.

A good example of this is an extremely long-take from early in the film. The movie sets its gaze upon a moment of Léaud’s performance, shooting him in profile in extreme close-up as he holds a smile for the members of his court attempting to entertain him in his bedroom. At first the smile is natural and pleasant. But then subtly the joy drops out of it, and it becomes a mask for fatigue. Nothing—and yet everything—has changed. And then a tiny muscle lying under the loose skin of Léaud’s cheek begins to twitch, intermittently at first but then insistantly. The smile never drops, the eyes continue to shine, but by the time the courtiers leave, the cost of the performance—the king’s and the actor’s—has registered.

More generally though, the film stares at a face made famous when it was young. The face has aged, but the movie and those of us watching it remember that it once looked like this:

The movie stares at this face, studying how it has changed with age, and searches for what of the youth remains.

The beauty of the film is that as it stares at the aged face, it discovers (and shows) that all of that remembered beauty is still there. Changed but there. And still compelling.