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What Keeps Me Playful

Ever since I latched onto the notion of play as a guiding principle, I've revisited the concept continuously to hash out just what I mean by play. Is it fun? No, not always. As some of my snarkier posts attest, a fair bit of annoyance, even anger, comes out of play. So, then what is it?

I think play is a place to create and try things out and find the new in the mundane. Play is a place that seems safe amidst total uncertainty. And even if it isn't always truly safe, play is a place where we can fail spectacularly, accept the consequences, and move on. Play is about finding the confidence to risk.

One such place for me is Mrs. Librarian. Twists feature prominently in her world—all kinds of twists that explore the literal shifting ground beneath us, as well as the metaphorical shifting grounds of language, meaning, and identity. As you can imagine, she keeps me off balance. But it's a joyful unsteadiness, the way toddlers are when they're about tip yet continue to run, on their toes, mostly because they like the feeling even as they fall.

So if you care to know more about what keeps me Playful or need a dose of play in your world, pay her a visit at With a Twist.


The Twilight of Our Attention Span

The publishing phenomenon that is Stephenie Meyer's Twilight is now apparently becoming a film phenomenon. I have not read the books nor seen the film. As a follower of pop culture, I remain open to the possibility of consuming either, or both. Meanwhile, I follow the press coverage.

The reviews of the movie are rolling in, and I was struck in particular by this passage from Kenneth Turan's take:

The Oscar-winning "Ghost" of several years back had one lover living, the other deceased, and "Twilight's" notion that he's undead and she's not is just as good, maybe better. Connecting this to the extreme emotions of the young teenage world, where every moment is a crisis and the chaste romance of passionate soul mates is more attractive than dubious sexual shenanigans, was the masterstroke that created a phenomenon.
Has our media memory as a society grown so short that Turan—who, as a film reviewer for the Los Angeles Times and NPR, is among our most visible critics—is seemingly unaware that the very fictional "masterstroke" he ascribes to Meyer and Twilight was already thoroughly explored from 1997 to 2003 on television?

Many Happy Returns, Infinite Regress

My friend Tim is a good man. He likes gadgets and beer and good music and many other things that make a Playful Librarian go misty-eyed. And like many budding librarians he has a blog, called Infinite Regress, which celebrated its birthday earlier this month.

Besides a stunningly cool name, what sets Infinite Regress apart from most other blogs is that the birthday it just marked was its eighth, which makes this humble blog feel like its pimply little brother.

Congratulations, Tim. May the Internet be around long enough to see your blog's sweet-sixteen.


Thick, Rich Kinkadey Goodness

For those of you unanointed, Thomas Kinkade is the Painter of Light ™ . And, yes, he does own the trademark to that phrase. He describes himself in such legally protected terms because he infuses his works with light and love. Art critics think them infused with crap.

His Lightly Painterly [note: trademark that phrase] self now extends to the straight-to-video holiday market with the film The Christmas Cottage.

Vanity Fair [via Slog and Mrs. Librarian, (who keeps me Playful)] have uncovered and gleefully reprinted a memo from Kinkade to the film crew detailing "sixteen guidelines for creating the 'The Thomas Kinkade Look.'" It's a great lesson in just how manipulative imagery and other visual triggers can be.

All 16 points follow, interspersed with my commentary.

1) Dodge corners or create darkening towards edge of image for "cozy" look. This may only apply to still imagery, but is useful where applicable.
Is it me, or do dodging corners and darkened edges seem more "creepy" and "Halloween" than "cozy" and "Christmas"? And what happened to all that Painterly Light you're famous for?
2) Color key each scene to create mood, and color variation. When possible, utilize cooler tones to suggest somber moods, and warmer, more vibrant tones to suggest festive atmosphere. In general, create a color scheme for each scene that can be accentuated through filtering, DI treatments, or through lighting. Most of my paintings feature an overall cool color envelope, into which warm accents are applied.
I suspect "cool color envelope" is code for where Kinkade keeps his money after several lawsuits.
3) Create classic compositions. Paintings generally utilize a theme and variation compositional motif. Heavy weighting of the image towards one side, with accented areas of interest balancing it on the other side. Allow the eye to wander into the scene through some entry point. Be aware of where the viewer is standing at all times. Utilize traditional eye levels for setting the shot -- that is, no high vantage points, off-kilter vantage points, or "worms eye view" vantage points. Generally focus on a standing adults viewpoint of the scene at hand.
And by "classic compositions" he means "don't challenge your audience with any artsy shit."
4) Awareness of edges. Create an overall sense of soft edges, strive for a "Barry Lyndon" look. Star filters used sparingly, but an overall "gauzy" look preferable to hard edge realism.
Edges: dark and soft. Got it. And does anyone else think that the "gauzy look" was the only way they got leathery Peter O'Toole to agree to this shitshow?
5) Overall concept of light. Each scene should feature dramatic sources of soft light. Dappled light patches are always a positive, glowing windows, lightposts, and other romantic lighting touches will accentuate the overall effect of the theme of light.
There's the Light &trade he's famous for!
6) Hidden details whenever possible, References to my children (from youngest to oldest as follows): Evie, Winsor, Chandler and Merritt. References to my anniversary date, the number 52, the number 82, and the number 5282 (for fun, notice how many times this appears in my major published works). Hidden N's throughout -- preferably thirty N's, commemorating one N for each year since the events happened.
The drinking games this tidbit will inspire might be cause enough to put it in the Netflix queue.
7) Overall sense of stillness. Emphasize gentle camera moves, slow dissolves, and still camera shots. A sense of gradual pacing. Even quick cut-away shots can slightly dissolve.
"Slow" is not an adjective most directors want to build a production around.
8) Atmospheric effects. Whenever possible utilize sunset, sunrise, rainy days, mistiness -- any transitory effect of nature that bespeaks luminous coloration or a sense of softness.
Luminous and soft atmospherics for all your cinematically bespoke needs.
9) A sense of space. My paintings feature both intimate spaces and dramatic deep space effects. We should strive for intimate scenes to be balanced by deeper establishing shots. (I know this particular one is self-evident, but I am reminded of it as I see the pacing of the depth of field in Kubrick's "Barry Lyndon".)
Um, you might avoid referencing a consensus top 100 film of all time in relation to your own straight-to-video release.
10) Short focal length. In general, I love a focal plane that favors the center of interest, and allows mid-distance and distant areas to remain blurry. Recommend "stopping down" to shorten focal lengths.
Funny, I would have called it a "fecal plane."
11) Hidden spaces. My paintings always feature trails that dissolve into mysterious areas, patches of light that lead the eye around corners, pathways, open gates, etc. The more we can feature these devices to lead the eye into mysterious spaces, the better.
Again with the dodgy corners. Is this A Very Freddie Krueger Kristmas?
12) Surprise details. Suggest a few "inside references" that are unique to this production. Small details that I can mention in interviews that stimulate second or third viewings -- for example, a "teddy bear mascot" for the movie that appears occasionally in shots. This is a fun process to pursue, and most movies I'm aware of normally have hidden "inside references". In the realm of fine art we refer to this as "second reading, third reading, etc." A still image attracts the viewer with an overall impact, then reveals smaller details upon further study.
Okay, "in the realm of fine art," iconography has a long and rich tradition. And the Old Masters didn't have to stoop to "teddy bear mascot[s]," you twit and charlatan.
13) Mood is supreme. Every decision made as to the visual look of each shot should include the concept of mood. Music can accentuate this, use of edges can accentuate this, atmospheric effects accentuate this, etc.
More edges and atmospherics. But with music.
14) The concept of beauty. I get rid of the "ugly parts" in my paintings. It would be nice to utilize this concept as much as possible. Favor shots that feature older buildings, ramshackle, careworn structures and vehicles, and a general sense of homespun simplicity and reliance on beautiful settings.
Kinkade reserves his "ugly parts" for pissing on Pooh.
15) Nostalgia. My paintings routinely blend timeframes. This is not only okay, but tends to create a more timeless look. Vintage cars (30's, 40's, 50's, 60's etc) can be featured along with 70's era cars. Older buildings are favorable. Avoid anything that looks contemporary -- shopping centers, contemporary storefronts, etc. Also, I prefer to avoid anything that is shiny. Our vintage vehicles, though often times are cherished by their owners and kept spic-n-span should be "dirtied up" a bit for the shoot. Placerville was and is a somewhat shabby place, and most vehicles, people, etc bear traces of dust, sawdust, and the remnants of country living. There are many dirt roads, muddy lanes, etc., and in general the place has a tumbled down, well-worn look.
In other words, film in Havana.
16) Most important concept of all -- THE CONCEPT OF LOVE. Perhaps we could make large posters that simply say "Love this movie" and post them about. I pour a lot of love into each painting, and sense that our crew has a genuine affection for this project. This starts with Michael Campus as a Director who feels great love towards this project, and should filter down through the ranks. Remember: "Every scene is the best scene."
Camera? check.
Lights? Check.
Mics? Check.
Love Filter? Check. ...


Vote Early and Often

My friend Josh, whose blog I wrote about here, is now helping to build a social network for people with a social conscience:

Many, including Josh, have watched and commented with interest how Barack Obama mobilized a massive and largely grassroots effort to bring his idea of governance to the White House. Among Obama's primary tools, of course, were digital communications and social media, which signaled to a generation of voters that he might in fact affect the change he has promised.

Well, Josh and his aptly named employer are holding President-elect Obama to his word when he said: "I will open the doors to government and ask you to be involved in your own democracy again." And they are unwilling to let him forget who got him to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW. To that end, they have launched a pre-inauguration program, Ideas for Change in America, whose stated mission is:

President-Elect Obama says he wants to hear ideas from all Americans, so we're taking him up on his offer. Here's your chance to pose innovative solutions to the major problems we face and to get them heard.

Submit your ideas for how to change America, and vote for your favorites. The top idea for each cause will be presented to the Obama administration on Inauguration Day, and that's just the beginning.
So I would encourage you to join, submit your ideas, let your voice be heard, and listen to what other voices have to say.

And while you're there, throw in a vote for my idea.


Mind My Social

I received an invitation to take part in an alpha test for SocialMinder, and being an incurable chip-head, I accepted. SocialMinder is an interesting tool that maps your Gmail contacts against your LinkedIn network, builds a profile of your core business network, and gives you updates on the contacts you’re out of touch with. On this level it’s a great sales and career networking tool.

But what really elevated my alert level was my first email "report" from SocialMinder, which told me I was overdue to contact two people in my core network, one of whom I've known since college, the other since grad school. Their calculation for overdue is based, presumably, on an algorithm that takes into account the frequency of my past contact with them. The message followed each overdue contact's name and email address with links to three news items directly related to each contact's hometown or place of work—probably to give you some talking points for when you reach out to the person you're in danger of losing touch with.

Can news get more local or personalized? Probably. Assuming SocialMinder is capturing and processing this data—and, really, of course they are, because such data is their most valuable asset and their only way to refine their mapping methods—and will add other email systems and social networks to their tool, then the semantic accuracy of their matches and the things they can do with such mapping will only increase.

Even as the content of the Web explodes, our respective places in it will seem that much cozier and intimate.


Here's to Hope

As I write this, all major media outlets and polls are declaring Barack Obama the president elect, and there are shouts of celebration outside my apartment window.

No one can predict the future with any certainty, so it's anyone's guess how Obama will perform or how the next four years will play out for the United States. It doesn't matter. Reality is nine-tenths perception.

The moment someone addresses Barack Obama as Mr. President for the first time, old prejudices will be overturned and new ideas of what makes a president will be remade. This is more than simply historic. This election has altered the reality that Americans have lived under and within for 232 years.