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“Crime is terribly revealing”*…

 

Victim’s feet hanging on bed, 1934 © LAPD

An estimated one million images taken by Los Angeles Police Department officers and criminologists since the 1920s sit in storage at the City Records Center in downtown L.A. Later this month, 50 of these photographs will be on exhibit inside a fake police station at Paramount Studios.

The second annual Paris Photo Los Angeles has put together Unedited! The LAPD Photo Archive as part of its massive photo fair at Paramount Studios from April 25 through 27. The shots, most uncredited and taken between 1930 and 1960, show black-and-white crime reenactments, forensic scenes, even robbery notes…

Bank robbery note, 1965. © LAPD

Read more at “A Look Through the LAPD’s Stunning Photo Archives.”

* “Crime is terribly revealing. Try and vary your methods as you will, your tastes, your habits, your attitude of mind, and your soul is revealed by your actions.”  - Agatha Christie

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As we stick ‘em up, we might offer a tip of the birthday topper to Monsieur C. Auguste Dupin, remembering that on this date in 1841, Edgar Allen Poe’s story, “The Murders in the Rue Morgue”– the first detective story in English– was published in  Graham’s Lady’s and Gentleman’s Magazine.  Its protagonist’s extraordinary “analytical power” was surely the mold for subsequent detectives, from Sgt. Cuff in The Moonstone (Wilkie Collins’ second hit, and the first detective novel in English) through Conan Doyle’s remarkable Sherlock to Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot and his “little grey cells”…

Facsimile of Poe’s manuscript for “The Murders in the Rue Morgue”

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Written by LW

April 20, 2014 at 1:01 am

“Symbolize and summarize”*…

 

Saul Bass was one of America’s premiere graphic designers through the second half of the Twentieth Century. He created some of the best-remembered, most iconic logos in North America:  e.g., the Bell Telephone logo (1969) and the successor AT&T globe (1983), Continental Airlines (1968), Dixie (1969), United Airlines (1974), and Warner Communications (1974).  

But for your correspondent’s money, his major contribution was his extraordinary series of movie titles and posters, created for the likes of Alfred Hitchcock, Otto Preminger, Billy Wilder, Stanley Kubrick, and Martin Scorsese.  Prior to Bass, movie title sequences had largely been a series of “credit cards,” functioning in effect as title pages.  Bass developed the opening as a way to set the emotional stage for the film to follow.  As screenwriter Nicholas Pileggi said of Bass and his second wife and collaborator Elaine, “you write a book of 300 to 400 pages and then you boil it down to a script of maybe 100 to 150 pages. Eventually you have the pleasure of seeing that the Basses have knocked you right out of the ballpark. They have boiled it down to four minutes flat.”

In the broadest sense, all modern opening title sequences that introduce the mood or theme of a film can be seen as descendent of Bass’s innovative work. In particular, though, one can detect the influence of Bass in the title sequences for some recent movies and television series (especially those set in the 1960s) that have purposely emulated the graphic style of his animated sequences from that era: e.g.,  Catch Me If You Can (2002), X-Men: First Class (2011), and the opening to the AMC series Mad Men.

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See a more complete frame board of Bass’ North By Northwest opening here; browse more of his extraordinary canon here– all courtesy of our old friend Christian Annyas.

* Saul Bass

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As we mute our cell phones, we might recall that it was on this date in 1956 that Alfred Hitchcock’s muse, the Oscar-winning actress Grace Kelly, became Her Serene Highness Princess Grace of Monaco.

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Written by LW

April 19, 2014 at 1:01 am

“Wear these bright jewels, belovèd Beowulf; Enjoy them”*…

 

The first page of the Beowulf manuscript

Beowulf, the oldest surviving epic in British literature, exists in only one manuscript– a copy that survived both the wholesale destruction of religious artifacts during the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII and a disastrous fire which destroyed the library of Sir Robert Bruce Cotton (1571-1631). The 3182-line poem, now housed in the British Library, still bears the scars of the fire, visible at the upper left corner of the photograph above. 

Beowulf was written in Old English (or Anglo-Saxon) between 650 and 1000 in what we now know as England.  It recalls a golden age of valor and martial prowess via the adventures of a great Swedish warrior of the sixth century- Beowulf– who comes to the aid of the beleaguered Danes, saving them from the ravages of the monster Grendel and his mother.  In old age, and after many years of rule in his own country, Beowulf dies in the processof heroically slaying a dragon.

A great many translations are available, in both poetry and prose.  In his A Critical Companion to Beowulf, Andy Orchard lists 33 “representative” translations in his bibliography; it has been translated into at least 23 other languages.  Probably the best-known (and best-loved) current version is Seamus Heaney’s verse translation.  But surely the most-anticipated version is the translation completed in 1926– but never published– by J.R.R. Tolkein.

Tolkien’s academic work on the epic was second to none in its day; his 1936 paper “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics” is still well worth reading, not only as an introduction to the poem, but also because it decisively changed the direction and emphasis of Beowulf scholarship.

Up to that point it had been used as a quarry of linguistic, historical and archaeological detail, as it is thought to preserve the oral traditions passed down through generations by the Anglo-Saxon bards who sang in halls such as the one at Rendlesham in Suffolk, now argued to be the home of the king buried at Sutton Hoo.Beowulf gives a rich picture of life as lived by the warrior and royal classes in the Anglo-Saxon era in England and, because it is set in Sweden and Denmark, also in the period before the Angles, Saxons and Jutes arrived on these shores. And, on top of the story of Beowulf and his battles, it carries fragments of even older stories, now lost. But in order to study all these details, academics dismissed as childish nonsense the fantastical elements such as Grendel the monster of the fens, his even more monstrous mother and the dragon that fatally wounds him at the end.

Likening the poem to a tower that watched the sea, and comparing its previous critics to demolition workers interested only in the raw stone, Tolkien pushed the monsters to the forefront. He argued that they represent the impermanence of human life, the mortal enemy that can strike at the heart of everything we hold dear, the force against which we need to muster all our strength – even if ultimately we may lose the fight. Without the monsters, the peculiarly northern courage of Beowulf and his men is meaningless. Tolkien, veteran of the Somme, knew that it was not. “Even today (despite the critics) you may find men not ignorant of tragic legend and history, who have heard of heroes and indeed seen them,” he wrote in his lecture in the middle of the disenchanted 1930s…

Read more of John Garth’s appreciation– and explore the influence of Beowulf on Middle Earth– in “JRR Tolkien’s translation of Beowulf: bring on the monsters.”

And pre-order the translation (with a bonus story by Tolkein), available late next month, here.

* Beowulf

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As we grapple with our Grendels, we might recall that it was on this date in 1958 that Ezra Pound should no longer be held at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital for the criminally insane in Washington, D.C.  Pound has been imprisoned for 13 years, following his arrest in Italy during World War II on charges of treason.

Pound, a poet who was a major figure of the early modernist movement, was the developer of the “Imagist” school, and the “godfather” of a number of now-well-known contemporaries– among them,  T. S. Eliot, James Joyce, Robert Frost and Ernest Hemingway.  He was responsible for the 1915 publication of Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” and the serialization from 1918 of Joyce’s Ulysses.

Deeply troubled by the carnage of World War I, Pound moved to Paris, then to Italy, and embraced the fascism of Benito Mussolini, whose policies he vocally supported; he was arrested by American forces in Italy in 1945.  While in custody in Italy, he had begun work on sections of The Cantos that became known as The Pisan Cantos (1948), for which he was awarded the Bollingen Prize in 1949 by the Library of Congress… setting off an enormous controversy.

His release in 1958 was the result of a campaign by writers including Archibald MacLeish, William Carlos Williams, and Hemingway.  Pound, who was believed to be suffering dementia, returned to Italy.

The best of Pound’s writing – and it is in the Cantos – will last as long as there is any literature.

-Ernest Hemingway

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Written by LW

April 18, 2014 at 1:01 am

“Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?”*…

 

The MIT Media Lab’s Pantheon Project aims to restore some of that knowledge…

You were not born with the ability to fly, cure disease or communicate at long distances, but you were born in a society that endows you with these capacities. These capacities are the result of information that has been generated by humans and that humans have been able to embed in tangible and digital objects.

This information is all around you. It is the way in which the atoms in an airplane are arranged or the way in which your cell-phone whispers dance instructions to electromagnetic waves.

Pantheon is a project celebrating the cultural information that endows our species with these fantastic capacities. To celebrate our global cultural heritage we are compiling, analyzing and visualizing datasets that can help us understand the process of global cultural development. Dive in, visualize, and enjoy…

Readers can lose themselves in Pantheon, exploring the relative cultural output of different regions in specific domains, like innovation:

… or the cultural output across all domains of a particular nation:

… even the overall rankings of individual contributors to culture over time:

There are, as Pantheon’s keepers freely acknowledge, biases built into the methodology; they continue to work to overcome them.  Still, it is a fascinating– and altogether absorbing– resource.  Check out the rankings engine here; the visualization engine here; and these videos, by way of background:

* T.S.Eliot

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As we consult the league tables, we might recall that it was on this date in 2010 that the overdue fines on two books checked out but never returned by George Washington from the New York Society Library (the city’s only lender of books at the time of Washington’s presidency) reached $300,000.

The library’s ledgers show that Washington took out the books on October 5, 1789, some five months into his presidency at a time when New York was still the capital. They were an essay on international affairs called Law of Nations and the twelfth volume of a 14-volume collection of debates from the English House of Commons.

“We’re not actively pursuing the overdue fines,” the head librarian Mark Bartlett said at the time. “But we would be very happy if we were able to get the books back.”

The Library’s ledger: the bottom-most entries, ascribed to “President,” show show the withdrawal date, but no return. A search of the holdings confirms that the volumes are still missing.

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Written by LW

April 17, 2014 at 1:01 am

“Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens”*…

 

A newly discovered dinosaur species that paleontologists have dubbed the “chicken from hell” is among the largest feathered dinosaurs ever found in North America.

The 11-foot-long (3-meter-long), 500-pound (225-kilogram) Anzu wylieiis an oviraptorosaur—a family of two-legged, birdlike dinosaurs found in Central Asia and North America. These dinosaurs ranged in size from a few pounds to over a metric ton, according to a study published March 19 in the journal PLOS ONE.

With its toothless beak, long legs, huge feet, and claw-tipped arms, A. wyliei looked like a devilish version of the modern cassowary, a large ground bird found in Australia.

It was “as close as you can get to a bird without being a bird,” said study leader Matt Lamanna, a vertebrate paleontologist at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh. (See “Pictures: Dinosaur’s Flashy Feathers Revealed.”)

The dinosaur’s well-preserved skeletons suggest it was a wide-ranging eater, munching on a variety of vegetation and perhaps small animals.

The species emerged from three 66-million-year-old skeletons excavated from the fossil-rich Hell Creek formation of South and North Dakota, starting in the late 1990s.  The third skeleton was found more recently, and it took years to identify and study all the remains…

Read the whole story at “New ‘Chicken From Hell’ Dinosaur Discovered.”

* Song title and lyric by Alex Kramer and Joan Whitney; recorded in 1946 by Louis Jordan and His Tympany Five

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As we rethink those chicken wings, we might spare a thought for Raymond Cecil Moore; he died on this date in 1974.  A geologist and paleontologist, Moore did pioneering work on Paleozoic crinoids, bryozoans, and corals (invertebrate organisms existing 570 to 245 million years ago). Among other things, he showed that fossil stemmed forms, sometimes called “sea lilies,” while they bear a superficial resemblance to flowers, were actually animals.  Moore is probably best known as the founder and editor of the landmark multi-volume Treatise of Invertebrate Paleontology. 

Moore (on left), with William W. Hambleton, and Frank C. Foley.

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