Thursday, September 8, 2011

L.A. Grise

So one day in, what, 1948 or 1949, one of the studios sends a film crew out to shoot some rear-projection footage in downtown LA. Somebody had to shoot all that scenery passing by the car windows in those scenes in which some character gets behind the wheel. Encumbered by a phoniness we can no longer forgive, these scenes went extinct nearly half a century ago. Now we demand that our actors really drive, in the same way we're starting to demand that they really play an instrument (like Adrian Brody in The Pianist, or even Brad Pitt laying into Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor in Tree of Life—it will no longer do for someone to simply peer over a piano at us and move his shoulders around).

But this clip. A relaxed, very un-fussy shoot—to the small crew, I guess it could not have felt more ordinary—but of course what we have here, some 65 years later, is several minutes of unposed, unaware late-40s Los Angeles going about its business. We see how people walked, how they drove (fewer cars but already plenty of smog), how they inhabited the space. And we see many homes in the Bunker Hill area that have since been demolished. (Found this comment on a blog: "all those Victorian homes bulldozed in the 60s/70s. Now Disney Hall, Chandler Pavilion, and rows of condos.") While I can understand how an East Coaster would have found this LA impossibly bare and without style, in hindsight the simplicity strikes me as serenely civilized. Already then, by the way, LA was a plenty industry-literate town: at 3:44 there is a guy with the presence of mind to wave at the camera.

A somewhat fuller account of this footage can be found on the blog of the Atlantic's rather gothically-named associate editor Kasia Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Annotated edition of latest spam

An email I received over the weekend presents such challenges to the reader that I thought I should append a section of explanatory notes.

We[1] are offering a temporary job which really do not require any professional skills. You really don't have to have any professional skills for this. All we are looking for right now is USA based individual[2] to handle paper work, file documents and handle payroll administration to our clients in USA. What will be required from you is few hours a day and also to pay very close attention to all instructions given to you. Your Job will be; Handling all applications with regards to new client that will like to register a company in USA and what you will be doing is Filing all papers from these individual companies which will be sent over to you under that companies name.[3] Salary terms; $200per job> Get back to us through the email address. All replies should be sent to this[4]  

1. No real indication of who "we" might be, although feasible candidates would include the Money Launderers Association of Lagos, the Pyongyang Internet Cafe, or the Alternative-Universe Chamber of Commerce.

2. Just the sort of job to make you feel special. It requires no special skills (let us repeat that: the job requires no special skills), and your chief qualification appears to be something you share with 300 million people.

3. First assignment: translating this sentence into English or, failing that, just any language indigenous to the Orion-Cygnus Arm of the Milky Way. That is close enough.

4. The author spends part of his year as a German baron.

5. Most people should be able to spell the relatively common name Vaughn, particularly people who are named Vaughn.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Meeting of the Ukrainian Flag Development Committee upon Completion of the Project

Meeting Minutes

Present: Chairman Adamovich; committee members Slivka, Bortnick, Petrovich, Wayda, Stupak; flag designers Shevchenko and Olejnik; Madame Olchansky

Proceedings: Meeting called by Chairman Adamovich to view newly designed national flag. Once Mr. Shevchenko and Mr. Olejnik unveiled their design there was some confusion over the flag itself, some of the committee members thinking it must be a second veil and that the actual flag still lay underneath it. When Shevchenko explained that this was it, a murmur went around the room. Madame Olchansky put her hand to her throat and a glass of water was called for.

Chairman Adamovich asked the pair if this was some kind of joke. When Shevchenko expressed surprise, the chairman told him that, after six months and a million hryvnia, he and his partner had "a lot of nerve" to show up with two stripes.

Shevchenko explained to the chairman that "those two stripes" held great emblematic significance: the yellow band represents the fields of wheat that are the foundation of Ukrainian life; above this is a blue band of sky.

After a long silence, board member Slivka asked if this was all the designers had come up with? Mr. Olejnik stepped up and said there was one other version. When asked what it looked like, Olejnik looked nervously at Mr. Shevchenko and explained that it had the yellow stripe on the top and the blue on the bottom. Mr. Olejnik made a strange gesture as he explained this arrangement, not unlike someone demonstrating how to use a Slinky.

Board member Bortnik expressed admiration for the flag of Moldova, which, apart from having three stripes, also has an eagle holding a shield, on the face of which is an auroch. The current flag of the Ukraine, on the other hand, could "use a little something."

At this point Mr. Shevchenko asked what an auroch was.