(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘films

“English is flexible: you can jam it into a Cuisinart for an hour, remove it, and meaning will still emerge”*…

Plus ça change. The opening pages of The Lytille Childrenes Lytil Boke, an instructional book of table manners dating from around 1480 and written in Middle English. Amongst other directives, children are told Bulle not as a bene were in thi throote (Don’t burp as if you had a bean in your throat) and Pyke notte thyne errys nothyr thy nostrellys’(Don’t pick your ears or nose).

To be honest, it is a mess…

English spelling is ridiculous. Sew and new don’t rhyme. Kernel and colonel do. When you see an ough, you might need to read it out as ‘aw’ (thought), ‘ow’ (drought), ‘uff’ (tough), ‘off’ (cough), ‘oo’ (through), or ‘oh’ (though). The ea vowel is usually pronounced ‘ee’ (weak, please, seal, beam) but can also be ‘eh’ (bread, head, wealth, feather). Those two options cover most of it – except for a handful of cases, where it’s ‘ay’ (break, steak, great). Oh wait, one more… there’s earth. No wait, there’s also heart.

The English spelling system, if you can even call it a system, is full of this kind of thing. Yet not only do most people raised with English learn to read and write it; millions of people who weren’t raised with English learn to use it too, to a very high level of accuracy.

Admittedly, for a non-native speaker, such mastery usually involves a great deal of confusion and frustration. Part of the problem is that English spelling looks deceptively similar to other languages that use the same alphabet but in a much more consistent way. You can spend an afternoon familiarising yourself with the pronunciation rules of Italian, Spanish, German, Swedish, Hungarian, Lithuanian, Polish and many others, and credibly read out a text in that language, even if you don’t understand it. Your pronunciation might be terrible, and the pace, stress and rhythm would be completely off, and no one would mistake you for a native speaker – but you could do it. Even French, notorious for the spelling challenges it presents learners, is consistent enough to meet the bar. There are lots of silent letters, but they’re in predictable places. French has plenty of rules, and exceptions to those rules, but they can all be listed on a reasonable number of pages.

English is in a different league of complexity. The most comprehensive description of its spelling – the Dictionary of the British English Spelling System by Greg Brooks (2015) – runs to more than 450 pages as it enumerates all the ways particular sounds can be represented by letters or combinations of letters, and all the ways particular letters or letter combinations can be read out as sounds.

From the early Middle Ages, various European languages adopted and adapted the Latin alphabet. So why did English end up with a far more inconsistent orthography than any other? The basic outline of the messy history of English is widely known: the Anglo-Saxon tribes bringing Old English in the 5th century, the Viking invasions beginning in the 8th century adding Old Norse to the mix, followed by the Norman Conquest of the 11th century and the French linguistic takeover. The moving and mixing of populations, the growth of London and the merchant class in the 13th and 14th centuries. The contact with the Continent and the balance among Germanic, Romance and Celtic cultural forces. No language Academy was established, no authority for oversight or intervention in the direction of the written form. English travelled and wandered and haphazardly tied pieces together. As the blogger James Nicoll put it in 1990, English ‘pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary’.

But just how does spelling factor into all this? It wasn’t as if the rest of Europe didn’t also contend with a mix of tribes and languages. The remnants of the Roman Empire comprised Germanic, Celtic and Slavic communities spread over a huge area. Various conquests installed a ruling-class language in control of a population that spoke a different language: there was the Nordic conquest of Normandy in the 10th century (where they now write French with a pretty regular system); the Ottoman Turkish rule over Hungary in the 16th and 17th centuries (which now has very consistent spelling rules for Hungarian); Moorish rule in Spain in the 8th to 15th centuries (which also has very consistent spelling). True, other languages did have official academies and other government attempts at standardisation – but those interventions have largely only ever succeeded at implementing minor changes to existing systems in very specific areas. English wasn’t the only language to pick the pockets of others for useful words.

The answer to the weirdness of English has to do with the timing of technology. The rise of printing caught English at a moment when the norms linking spoken and written language were up for grabs, and so could be hijacked by diverse forces and imperatives that didn’t coordinate with each other, or cohere, or even have any distinct goals at all. If the printing press has arrived earlier in the life of English, or later, after some of the upheaval had settled, things might have ended up differently…

Why is English spelling so weird and unpredictable? Don’t blame the mix of languages; look to quirks of timing and technology: “Typos, tricks, and misprints,” from Arika Okrent (@arikaokrent).

* Douglas Coupland

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As we muse on the mother tongue, we might spare a thought for a man who used it to wonderful effect: Seymour Wilson “Budd” Schulberg. The son of B. P. Schulberg (head production at Paramount Pictures in it’s 1930s-30s heyday) and Adeline Jaffe Schulberg (who founded one of Hollywood’s most successful talent/literary agencies), Budd went into the family business, finding success as a screenwriter, television producer, novelist, and sports writer. He is probably best remembered for his novels What Makes Sammy Run? and The Harder They Fall, his Academy Award-winning screenplay for On the Waterfront, and his (painfully prescient) screenplay for A Face in the Crowd.

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“Don’t pay any attention to the critics – don’t even ignore them”*…

 

It is no surprise that critics and viewers alike agree that The Godfather is the “best film” among the ~2600 films considered on Rotten Tomatoes, with a 100% score among professional reviewers and a 98% score from the audience.  It is perhaps somewhat more surprising to learn which films divide those two groups; thanks to Benjamin Moore, we can contemplate that…

“Overrated” and “underrated” are slippery terms to try to quantify. An interesting way of looking at this, I thought, would be to compare the reviews of film critics with those of Joe Public, reasoning that a film which is roundly-lauded by the Hollywood press but proved disappointing for the real audience would be “overrated” and vice versa.

To get some data for this I turned to the most prominent review aggregator: Rotten Tomatoes

On the whole it should be noted that critics and audience agree most of the time, as shown by the Pearson correlation coefficient between the two scores (0.71 across >1200 films).  [But] using our earlier definition it’s easy to build a table of those films where the audience ending up really liking a film that was panned by critics:

Here we’re looking at those films which the critics loved, but paying audiences were then less enthused:

Explore an interactive version of the chart at the top of this post here; and read more of Moore’s methodology and findings here.

* Samuel Goldwyn

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As we think for ourselves, we might recall that it was on this date in 1932 that New York City Mayor Jimmy Walker”s “We Want Beer” parade was held. Prohibition was in it 12th year; and while that abstemious regime intended to end alcohol consumption, it had succeeded simply in pushing into speakeasies and other illegal settings.  Government officials like Walker watched as gangsters got rich, while city and state tax coffers shrank. (The blow had been softened at the Federal level by the introduction of an income tax.)

Walker positioned his “legalize and tax beer” pitch as a stimulus package:  increased tax revenue would mean more jobs.  And in the depressed economy of the times, the argument resonated : an estimated crowd of 100,000 marched, pining not only for a cold one but also for for employment and an end to the violence and corruption borne of Prohibition.  Similarly large crowds protested in Chicago and other major cities– all rallying behind a “Beer for Prosperity” battle cry.  Soon the voices of the unemployed drowned out the buzz-and-revenue killing voices of the “drys.”  Franklin D. Roosevelt’s election later that same year paved the way for The 21st Amendment, repealing Prohibition; it was passed the following year.

Beer March images

 [A portion of this post first appeared on Boing Boing, where your correspondent is a contributor]

Written by (Roughly) Daily

May 14, 2014 at 1:01 am

“Cinema is a matter of what’s in the frame and what’s out”*…

 

 click here for larger image

Using IMDb‘s ratings of popular films, a Reddit user, Jakubisko, made a map that identifies the most popular movies of each state in America. California thus becomes Pulp Fiction, Florida Scarface, Colorado Psycho or New-York The Godfather. Mainly all the motion pictures named in the map are American movies [in] which plot takes place in America…

Read more at Konbini… and then check out the top-rated films on IMDb set and shot in each European country.

* Martin Scorsese

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As take our truth at 24 frames per second, we might recall that it was on this date in 1887 that Harvey Wilcox officially registered Hollywood with the Los Angeles County recorder’s office.  Harvey and his wife had recently moved from Topeka, where he’d made a fortune in real estate. They bought 160 acres of land in the Cahuenga Valley, in the foothills just of the city of Los Angeles, on what had been a sleepy settlement founded in 1781 as El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora la Reina de Los Angeles de Poricuncula,

The Wilcoxes, prohibitionists, dreamt of founding a community of devout– and abstemious– Christians; by 1900, the community numbered 500.  But the city of Los Angeles, fueled first by the Southern Pacific Railroad, then the Sante Fe, had grown to 10,000.  By 1910, L.A. had used the promise of water (Hollywood had precious little) to lure the smaller community into annexation… after which the fledgling motion picture business began to grow explosively… and Harvey Wilcox’s dream of a sober, conservative religious community faded.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

February 1, 2014 at 1:01 am

Sunday In The Park With George (Lucas)…

 

From the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, “Top 10 Movies Made in the Parks.”  (Readers should be sure to scroll through the comments, to see– indeed, to add– alternative suggestions…)

[TotH to friend MK]

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As we slip popcorn into our picnic lunches, we might send culture-capturing birthday greetings to Norman Percevel Rockwell; he was born on this date in 1894.  Famous as a painter and illustrator in the U.S. through much of the 20th Century, Rockwell created such iconic images as the Willie Gillis series, Rosie the RiveterSaying Grace(1951), The Problem We All Live With, and the Four Freedoms series.  Perhaps because he published in such settings as Saturday Evening Post and enjoyed so much popular acclaim, Rockwell was dismissed by serious art critics in his lifetime.  But as The New Yorker ‘s art critic Peter Schjeldahl said of Rockwell in ArtNews in 1999: “Rockwell is terrific. It’s become too tedious to pretend he isn’t.”

The Problem We All LIve With, depicting an incident in the Civil Rights struggle of the early 1960s, when Ruby Bridges entered first grade on the first day of court-ordered desegregation of New Orleans, Louisiana, public schools (November 14, 1960). Originally published in Look magazine.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

February 3, 2013 at 1:01 am

… so you don’t have to…

Every week, I scour Netflix for a movie rated at one star and put it in my queue, suffering through it for your entertainment so that you don’t have to. In the past, I’ve taken on anime cancer demons, softcore Iraq War porn and racist ventriloquism, and this week, it’s the most unnecessary sequel since Caddyshack IV: Oblivion.

ACE VENTURA :  PET DETECTIVE JR. (2009)

Starring:  Existential dread.

If you’re anywhere near my age, then you probably remember when Ace Ventura: Pet Detective hit theaters, and how it led to 7th graders across the nation upgrading their playground Fire Marshall Bill impressions into full-fledged Ace Ventura riffs that were only slightly less funny than the end of Old Yeller by fall.  Looking back, I can pinpoint the class (third period Social Studies) where I came to the conclusion that if I never heard another pre-teen drop an “alllllllll righty then,” it’d be too soon.

And then someone had to go and spend more money than I’ve ever seen to make that very thing happen.

Read the entire review here, then check out the Worst of Netflix Archive.  It’s the handiwork of Chris Sims, one of whose other endeavors, Chris’ Invincible Super Blog is a treasure of sufficient worth to have become an “easter egg” in Glen David Gold’s Sunnyside.

As we cull our queues, we might bid a profane farewell to wise and witty George Carlin, the Grammy-winning comedian who is probably best remembered for his routine (originated on his third album) “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television.”  When it was first broadcast on New York radio, a complaint led the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to ban the broadcast as “indecent,” an order that was upheld by the Supreme Court and remains in effect today.  Not coincidentally, Carlin was selected to host the first Saturday Night Live.

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