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Game of Thrones: “Lord Snow,” you’re no bigger than a half-man*

[ 8 ] October 22, 2012 |

Since I have two classes to devote to “Lord Snow,” the third episode in the first season of Game of Thrones, I thought I’d divide them between the characters. In this post and the next we’ll hie to the Wall with Jon Snow and Tyrion Lannister; in the final one, we’ll churn through the Dothraki Sea with Daenerys Targaryen. I’m pairing Jon and Tyrion not simply because of the odd bond they form on the way to the Wall, but because they present similar problems to director Brian Kirk: both must be built up, knocked down, and rebuilt. As you recall, in the first episode of the series Jon Snow’s the victim of Catelyn Starks’s redirected aggression: she can’t stop Ned from taking Bran to an execution, but she can glower at her husband’s bastard from above.

Then he decides to take a position in the Night’s Watch, which means leaving Winterfell and joining his “black brothers” on the Wall. So lowly Jon Snow arrives at the Wall and finds himself a trained fighter among thieves and rapists and people who believe they deserve the nickname “Ser Piggy.” In this lot, lowly Jon Snow isn’t nearly so lowly. Director Kirk establishes that when in a prolonged training sequence early in the episode:

Game of thrones - lord snow00004

Everyone in this long shot is diminished by its dimensions: Ser Alliser Thorne, who likes Jon not one whit, is the closest to occupying frame-center, but the scale’s so small that his figure can hardly be said to “dominate” the shot:

Game of thrones - lord snow00004a

My patented yellow-line-technology demonstrates that frame center’s about a foot above his head, but it also reveals something else about the Wall’s intended scale: all of the sparring combatants are in the bottom triangle, and all of the spectators are in the the one on the right, which leaves the top and left triangles empty of people. (Note: I’m officiating the next two frames like a football ref with a sketchy understanding of what constitutes an offside position.) The compositional weight of the left and top frames seems to bear down on the tiny figure in bottom one, such that even the foremost among them, Alliser, cedes center-frame to a weathered baluster. All of which is only to say that, initially, Kirk continues shooting Jon with the same disdain that came from Catelyn’s eyes. Until:

Read more…

Why are deaf people always laughing under their breath?

[ 43 ] October 22, 2012 |

Because every time our attention flags, this is what happens to the world:

For further reference, let me repeat what I wrote six years ago because I am old and write too much [and am "only" about 90 percent deaf so I lip-read but still listen to music]:

I want to talk to you about staring at women’s breasts. I do it all the time. I’ll be standing there talking to a woman only to be stricken by the sudden and irresistible urge to stare at her breasts. She’ll register her discomfort by pulling her lapels close or yanking her plunging neckline chin-high. Then she’ll become intensely interested in objects in the general vicinity of her feet. But I won’t let that deter me. I’ll continue to stare at her breasts until she won’t be able to take it anymore and informs me in tones of suppressed outrage that she had some important elsewhere to be fifteen minutes ago. Then she’ll never talk to me again.

Such is the experience of the deaf man in America today. When the eyes of a hearing man break contact and wander south, the obvious conclusion is the correct one: he is staring at her breasts and she is justifiably uncomfortable. When a deaf man who relies on verbal cues and lip-reading to converse lets his eyes drift south of his conversant’s, he stops at her lips. (You can tell because if he didn’t—that is, if he actually stared at her breasts—he would have no clue how to answer whatever it is she would have said to him while he indulged in some “covert” sexism.)

Why mention this in the one forum this commonplace of deaf life will never make anyone uncomfortable? Because I’ve acquired another rude habit:

Talking to people while wearing headphones. People who know me—for example, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Barry Siegel—won’t bat an eye when I talk to them with my headphones on because they’ll know that I’m reading their lips and not paying attention to the music. They’ll know that I’m so invested in the conversation that I’ve forgotten that I have the headphones on and have merely neglected to remove them. But other people—for example, the inimitable Gay Talese—will look at me horrified as I chat with Barry without removing my headphones. His eyes will rebel against the solipsistic impertinence of youth culture he detects in my actions.

I register his discomfort but, blinded by reputation and desperately trying to impress him, I won’t understand what it is I’ve said that so offends him. I’ll rifle my brain for the offensive statement the entire walk home and come up empty. Only later that night, as I force myself to stop thinking about the events of the day, will I realize what I’ve done. And then?

So much for sleep.

I only mock the brilliant, responsible students. (And only when they ask for it.)

[ 64 ] October 22, 2012 |

I apologize for the lack of posts lately, but since I sent in my absentee ballot, the election’s lost a little luster for me. Turns out that voting ruins elections.

Go figure.

That said, look forward to much more on Game of Thrones from me in the near future. I’ve already written the posts, I just can’t publish them yet because my students are on to the fact that I post my lesson plans before I teach them, which has resulted in a truly frightening situation in which they actually know everything I’m going to say before I say it. So I have to hold those back until after class on Tuesday. (Grumble stupid students being responsible grumble.)

But my kids are still blogging, and they’re producing all sorts of interesting material. I assign them 1,000 words a week, 500 of which I script for them via a prompt, the other 500 they’re free to write whatever they want so long as it includes the course’s critical vocabulary. Last week I covered the neuroscientific argument about frontality, the short version of which I discussed here, and now I have students who can’t stop seeing faces everywhere. Including one particularly bright apple whose free post this week concerned Prometheus in a very interesting way. He began by noting that the film opens with an intelligent designer ceding its DNA to fertilize the Earth—the pun was intended in the original—and that the first scene in the film that includes humans opens thus:

Seems innocuous enough, right? But according to my student, Ridley Scott—whose name is but an inverted “d” from being “Ripley Scott,” as my student pointed out—wanted to remind viewers that this was a seeded world with this shot. How so? By including evidence of intelligent design in the rock features:

Prometheus00003a

See how sad that rock is? See? It’s this sad:

Prometheus00008a

Just tilt Mr. Intelligent Designer man about 35 degrees to the left and you’d have Mr. Sad Rock:

Prometheus00008b

I’m not sure I buy this argument—and strongly suspect that I may have overplayed the frontality hand—but I can’t help but admire the pluck of this close-reading, especially given the fact that stretched as it is, it does conform with the overall (and problematic) logic of the film, which is all about, as the audience is informed immediately after Mr. Sad Rock makes his appearance, the existence of “the same configuration” appearing across Earth and the universe. I informed my student that this was an impressively terrible argument—far too overdetermined to be correct—and he responded by saying I should put it out there for others to decide. I warned him about what happens on the wilds of the Internet, but given that he’s taken legitimate points about frontality and merged them with a solid accounting of the film, he feels comfortable putting his theories out there.

So what do you think?

I still, and will always, hate children.

[ 38 ] October 17, 2012 |

SEK: What are you doing?

YOUNG CHILD: Huntin’ monsters.

SEK: Monsters? You see some?

YOUNG CHILD: On you.

SEK: On me? Where?

YOUNG CHILD: All over.

SEK: I have monst—

YOUNG CHILD: ALL OVER! ALL OVER! (runs away)

SEK: Of course I do.

Vote Romney!

[ 58 ] October 16, 2012 |

BOLD PREDICTION: Romney victorious!

[ 20 ] October 16, 2012 |

The line of the night will be “I know you are but so am I!” But I can’t predict who’ll say it. Ha ha!

But we’ll have us no bitter “hoc voluerunt” because they really did want this. Unless Obama took notes during Biden’s epic battle, Romney will win tonight by becoming more-Obama-than-Obama … which will appeal to conservatives because they want to defeat Obama more than they believe in anything but beans.

BOLDER PREDICTION: Biden swoops in Superman-style for the win!

You can’t see those speed-lines, but they’re there.

“This was probably scrubbed by a brown person. Let me help you clean that.”

[ 48 ] October 15, 2012 |

Paul Ryan’s committed to doing work that doesn’t need to be done because someone has to do it. Or something:

Is there anything more odious than conservatives pretending to do the work of a class for which they don’t care one whit in order to secure the votes of those who spit on the very people these conservatives are pretending to be?

Visual Studies 401: Films You Can’t Unsee

[ 222 ] October 15, 2012 |

Futzing around on Facebook last night, I had an idea—which turned into a very interesting thread—about teaching a class on “films that can’t be unseen.” My suggestions were Requiem for a Dream, Happiness and Aguirre, the Wrath of God, but a number of horrifying suggestions followed, including: Dead Ringers, Oldboy, Irreversible, Dancer in the Dark, Blue Velvet, and Gummo, among others.

Obviously, this is a terrible idea for a class—or a fine way to find myself fired—but those of us not disturbed enough by the prospect of a Romney presidency need something to foreclose the possibility of ever sleeping again. So I wonder what would find its way onto your syllabus, were you to teach this course?

Comedy vs. Drama*

[ 24 ] October 12, 2012 |

I caught the latest 30 Rock this afternoon and noticed something:

30 rock 03

The guy in the midground is off-center:

30 rock 04

This may seem like a blindingly obvious point, but one reason this shot is off-center is because the characters in it are off-kilter. The director, Robert Carlock, stages this shot in order to maximize the misdirection: Kenneth Parcell (Jack McBrayer) encourages viewers to follow an eyeline match left and somewhere north of his mother (Catherine O’Hara) before the camera gently racks the foreground out and the midground in to focus. The audience resets its eyes and sees nothing of interest until the movement of Kenneth’s step-father (Bryan Cranston) attracts its attention, at which point an eyeline match again suggests viewers look left and somewhere north of his mother. Compelling the audience to bounce its eyes around this quickly within a sustained shot redoubles the manic impression the dialogue and narrative want to create. As I said, this point may seem obvious, but if you want to think about the difference between comedy and drama on a visual level, the scene above may be the perfect place to start.

Situational comedies are filmed in an unsettling manner in order to maximize the capacity for surprise. When the audience haphazardly spirits its attention across the frame, the director literally has more space with which to work:

Read more…

All you need to know about Paul Ryan’s skill as a debater

[ 135 ] October 11, 2012 |

When you debate competitively there are some issues you know not to address. There are others you know to better than to pursue. Then there are those that must be avoided at all costs — that must not even be mentioned lest your loss become an object lesson in unwitting self-immolation. Whether Ryan’s handlers wanted to watch him burn or Ryan was simply too stupid to recognize the brutal inefficacy of his anecdote matters less than the fact that he said it with his “honest face” to Joe Biden’s actual one:

RYAN: Mitt Romney’s a car guy. They keep misquoting him, but let me tell you about the Mitt Romney I know. This is a guy who I was talking to a family in Northborough, Massachusetts the other day, Sheryl and Mark Nixon. Their kids were hit in a car crash, four of them. Two of them, Rob and Reed, were paralyzed.

The one thing you don’t address — the one you know better than to pursue — the one that must be avoided at all costs — the one that must not even be mentioned in a debate with Joe Biden is a tragic car accident. The attempt to elicit sympathy for Romney by anecdotal proxy is a poor enough of a play. The decision to do so via an anecdote about a tragic car accident in a debate with Joe Biden means you’re either a sociopath or possessed of an idiocy of immeasurable power.

Clearly I’m a terrible liar

[ 48 ] October 10, 2012 |
SEK accidentally cracks the control panel on the Smart Lectern trying to turn on the lights after playing a clip. He calls the tech people. Afraid that The Library will somehow blame him for this, SEK asks his class not to tell on him. TECH PERSON arrives.

TECH PERSON: What happened here?

SEK: Don’t know. Was like that when I got here.

TECH PERSON: (points at the clip still displayed on the wall) How’d that get up there then?

SEK: It was working at first.

TECH PERSON: At first? Before you got here?

TECH PERSON looks up from behind the Smart Lectern and eyeballs SEK’S STUDENTS.

SEK’S STUDENTS: (SIMULTANEOUSLY BURST INTO LAUGHTER)

SEK: (to no one and everyone) Almost done?

SEK’S STUDENTS: (WEEPING UNCONTROLLABLY)

TECH PERSON: (turning on the lights) All done.

SEK: Thank you. Now as for you lot …

“The place you put your money is a pretty good indication of where your heart is.”

[ 19 ] October 3, 2012 |

It is, Governor Romney. Shall we have a look at where your heart is?

Switzerland is beautiful this time of year, but it’s getting a little cold. Maybe you could find your heart another home?

The Cayman Islands? Much more temperate. You and your heart will be very happy there. As will your money.