A random link trawl originating with Maillardet’s Automaton wound up at this blog post which amounts to a biography and bibliography of William Bunge, a cartographer and political radical of whom I had never heard.

The automaton interest was prompted by the film Hugo, which was the second film we attended yesterday. We also watched Tintin, which was much better than I had expected. The script adjustments and inventions were quite distracting to me personally but I strongly doubt that they would bother anyone with less intimacy to the books than I have (I just finished reading through all of them again for something like the tenth time).

We may try to see the new Sherlock Holmes today, or we may not. Looking at the time, I doubt we will be able to squeeze it in before dinner.

All in all, though, a remarkable weekend of film. We saw Hugo, The Artist, Tintin, and The Muppets. Of these films, there is really no question: The Artist is the best, with Hugo closely behind. I would say Tintin is next, and then The Muppets. Not that The Muppets is bad, not by any means. It’s basically just smaller in scope and ambition than the other three films.

Tintin is kind of a mess, for many reasons, but it is absolutely entertaining and captures certain aspects of the spirit of the books, notably Tintin’s characteristic determination. Regrettably, the film hammers the audience over the head with a sort of kids-film lesson-by-example bullshit and catchphrase repetition. Other changes include compressing the Sakaharine brothers into one and conflating that character with Red Rackham, and* some absolutely predictable adjustments to Captain Haddock’s alcoholism. The film has grossed over 250 million dollars on an announced budget of 130 million and as of this month both Speilberg and Jackson have confirmed that a sequel will be produced.

One thing I want to explicitly mention: in the initial trailer for the film, I was totally horrified by certain aspects of the CGI, in particular the physics of the sail-setting on The Unicorn. To me, that appeared to telegraph a lack of respect for Hergé’s concern of accuracy in detail. I am pleased to report that the sails thing was addressed. I would say that the jury is out on how successful the film is with respect to the specifically literary characteristics of the books, qualities which are at the core of the work’s deserved status as a landmark and masterwork of graphic fiction.

Hugo, on the other hand, is clearly a masterpiece, one of the most disciplined films that Martin Scorsese has ever made. It is quite different from his adult-oriented work, as one would expect, but where it is nearly always the case that Scorsese’s films start out with a profoundly well-structured script which becomes increasingly less structured as the film proceeds, Hugo’s central metaphor, that of clockwork, appears to have kept the director focused on the task of his adaptation. Clearly, there is no other director in contemporary film who would be better suited to tackling the story, centering as it does on Georges Méliès’ films and automata. The film presents a lovingly detailed reconstruction of Méliès’ studio and productions, a sight which is (of course) presented in 3D. Witnessing these images on the screen was literally enough to cause me to burst into tears of joy.

Scorsese joyfully engages with the history of early cinema, slyly engaging the audience by showing the famous ‘train arriving at a station’ scene of the Lumieres with the audience scrambling out of the way of the train and then showing us the exact same scene in 3D within the context of his narrative, something which quite literally caused a child seated directly in front of me to jump out of his seat in fear and excitement!

Scorsese also references a myriad of other early films throughout the movie, generally early stage-set single camera silents. The film is a stone delight, one that any devoted admirer of early cinema simply MUST SEE, and in 3D.

Despite this, there is no question in my mind that the artistic accomplishment of The Artist is of a higher order. Where Scorsese mixes contemporary technological mastery with didactic lessons on the heritage of the cinema, The Artist fully engages the audience in the act of experiencing that heritage, the specific magic and articulated aesthetic of the silent film, all the while gracefully acknowledging the fact that the film itself is fully a product of the contemporary film industry and benefits mightily from the committed efforts of thousands of film historians, Martin Scorsese among the foremost.

*oops. It’s the Bird brothers that got the hook. Sakharine was never a doubled character. I yam stoopit.

A few thoughts on The Artist

Natasha Simons, at the new-to-me Mary Sue (“A Guide to Girl Geek Culture”), sheds some light on the context of the end of the silent era.

She seems to see the character of George Valentin as most closely based on William Powell, on the evidence of Jack Russell terriers, which seems off base to me. Valentin is collaged from the lives of several silent stars, including Douglas Fairbanks and Valentino. His character design is fascinating, by the way, not least because the actor who portrays him, Jean Dujardin, bears an occasionally uncanny resemblance to both early 1960s Sean Connery and Clark Gable.

I had thought sections of the film set in the city were shot on the old RKO Pathé backlot, the “40 Acres,” which was used to provide settings for downtown Mayberry and city settings for at least two and I bet more episodes of Star Trek, but that backlot appears to have been torn down. If I come up with a locale I will post it.

UPDATE: here is some info on locations. Warner Bros backlot and, it seems, Pickfair!

No sense of history

Considering the first industrial skill I ever learned was typesetting, and the reason that job does not exist anymore is the introduction of the Macintosh, even though the idea here is that Mac people love groovy type, I find this kind of offensive. Entitled and shortsighted. Self-congratulatory, even. So, yeah, ick.

reblog entries

Just added some possibly bitrotted code to suck in some feeds from here and there. Might not work, might go haywire and clog your RSS. Whatever, I will attend to it tomorrow.

ex gReader PM weighs in on UI redesign

Brian Shih on the new gR UI:

Reader redesign: Terrible decision, or worst decision?

Google released the previously announced set of changes around G+ integration and UI updates today, and boy is it a disaster.

…it’s as if whoever made the update did so without ever actually using the product to, you know, read something.

When you log into Reader, what the hell do you think your primary objective is? Did you answer “stare at a giant header bar with no real estate saved for actual reading”?

Anyway, yeah, what he said. When I dropped into Reader via browser this afternoon I was, uh, disconcerted to see only the first ten or fifteen unread items in my list. I poked around looking for a way to invoke a higher-density screen view but there was no obvious way to do so. With the navigation elements showing a displayed article occupied less than a quarter of my screen real estate, and any articles which included inline graphics were cropped mid-image.

Hitting “F” zapped all the chrome and presented the selected article, one at a time. There was no reasonable way to view the article content in conjuction with a generous list of other article headers

I strongly suspect this implies similar inbound downgrades of information density in gmail’s default view, which would be shitty as hell.