Climate March 2014

On Sunday, September 21st, 2014 I marched through the streets of Manhattan with hundreds of thousands of people. It was a thrilling event and I’m proud to say I was a part of it. To get a sense of the march, you should watch the video I created above. A friend who marched with me is responsible for capturing the audio. Below, you’ll read my opinion on what will hopefully be a march that will affect change.

327A1224Frankly, I’m disappointed by the lack of media attention this march has received. I’m also bummed by an article entitled, “The People’s Climate March May Have Been Huge, But It Wasn’t Historic” written by a woman whom I respect, Natasha Lennard. In the article she notes that she did not attend because she prefers “protests to parades” and “scowled at adverts aimed at drawing numbers to march” while riding the subway. I see her point. I suppose I’m still just a bit naive to think these adverts are incredibly cool. When I first saw them, I didn’t think about the vast amount of money it must have cost to plaster trains in New York City with ads.

I’m consoled by the thought that this is natural for movements of any kind. Civil rights still haven’t taken a firm grasp on people’s hearts and minds despite Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s efforts of decades past. Sure our nation has made some progress, but as evidenced by the recent shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO we still have a ways to go. Gay rights are making progress too. Many states are now recognizing same sex marriage and all of the corresponding benefits thereof are beginning to be endowed to couples who have been together for many years. My point here is that these fights – civil and sexual orientation rights – have been a long time in the making, but the people behind these movements have no choice but to fight. I agree with them. Were I to be in their situation I would do all I could to make sure my country and my government respected me and those of like orientation. I think these people are on the right side of history. I believe in my heart that they are doing the right thing.

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Without binding legislation from the United States, and the world for that matter, humans won’t be around long enough to make sure the other social issues are resolved for our descendants to witness. It will all be for naught. I don’t like that this is even a possibility. Because I want to see the human race begin to at least understand this is a defining issue for all, I am committed to learning how I can become a squeaky wheel. The first step for me was to march and interact with people of like mind. I became inspired. Watching the video above helps me relive the moment and remember why this is important.

Lennard closes her article by saying, “[W]e should not foreclose the possibility of an exciting political moment emerging, rooted to climate activism and undergirded by anti-capitalism.” She finishes by admitting she is hopeful that this is not the last event to protest the current handling of climate change policy. It seems to me Lennard is asking for more less-organized, police-friendly protests. I agree with her. While it is a shame that marches of this magnitude are less historic than just a few thousand people dressed in blue causing havoc on Wall Street, it’s true and protestors need to understand that.  I refuse to become jaded by the fact that this issue isn’t currently capturing by the media. That shouldn’t be a reason to give up.

A very powerful line was at the beginning of a documentary film about Climate Change I saw called Disruption.

“Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never has and it never will.”

Frederick Douglas said that during a speech he gave in 1857. The title, ever-so prescient is, “If There Is No Struggle, There Is No Progress.” Then here’s to the struggle friends! Please join me in raising your voice to make sure we let our elected leaders know precisely where we stand on this issue. We may not have the kind of cash that moves the needle of influence, but together we have votes, and when mobilized, that will always be more powerful.

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My experience at charity: water

charity_water_1During the fall of 2011 I worked as a multimedia production intern for charity: water. It was an honor to be selected to work for such an amazing non-profit organization. Charity: water’s donation strategy is one that I think should serve as an example for anyone seeking to begin their own non-profit company.


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I ran my own campaign and raised $2,132. Having worked for them and experienced how important water is, I was thrilled to have accomplished this.


charity-water-small Below are a few examples of writing and photography work I did. I was really inspired to be in touch with each of these people and see how they were working to raise awareness about the water crisis in their own unique ways.

 



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1. Campaign to Watch: Weaving for Water

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 2. Meet the Fall 2011 Interns!

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 3. Campaign to Watch: 100 Apparel

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 4. Campaign to Watch: Love Through Photography

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 5. Campaign to Watch: A Long Run

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 6. Campaign to Watch: Read-a-thon for Clean Water

CW 5TH BDAY

 7. charity: water is 5 years old!

CW 5TH BDAY WRAP8. charity: water’s Fifth Birthday Party

CONCERT REVIEW: St. Vincent live in Brooklyn

I fully recommend reading the Village Voice’s review of the St. Vincent show. If it’s possible to recommend something more than fully, that’s what I’m doing when I say you should make a beeline to see this incredible artist the next time she gracious your city with her presence. It’s more than “fully recommend,” but less than “implore.” It’s clunky to say I only slightly less than implore you to go see St. Vincent. Hopefully you understand my sentiment.  I’m a firm believer in showing something being a better way of explaining than simply writing, but without you going to see her play, you’ll just have to read my glow words. Here’s how I would describe the show.

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Thirteen minutes into the set, after only 3 songs, she addressed the crowd for what would be the only time for the whole night. She said some really cool things. It seemed slightly rehearsed, but I’m okay with that. I don’t know why that’s true. I think there is real beauty in the improvisation that comes with seeing an artist live. But it’s totally acceptable with her. She explained why she’s so precise.

“People have spent money on a ticket, and maybe that money is the equivalent of them spending a day of their life at their job, or half a day. Money is absolutely time.”

I totally agree. This show was free though, so the whole pay thing doesn’t hold true, but I think her thought is respectable whether one is paying for a ticket or not. Reading this only helped confirm my fascination and respect for her. Sorry, you’re wanting my description of the show. Here goes.

Seeing St. Vincent live at the Prospect Park bandshell was a profound experience for me. I won’t use words like “epic,” “literally,” “actually,” “mind-blowing” or “awesome.” I think I can do better than that, and I think she deserves to be described in a unique way because her stage presence is like nothing I’ve ever seen. She completely encompasses the entire spectrum of human stage personality. She’s at one point aloof while shooting lasers from her guitar like Jack White and Tom Morello’s younger sister, and then she’s strumming softly and singing lullabies like Nina Simone and Neko Case’s cousin. I don’t know why she’s a cousin to two other women and a sister to two men. I didn’t want to be repetitive, simply put. Please don’t think me sexist.

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Back to the description. The closest physical experience I can compare her too is if you’ve had the opportunity to slide into a pool from a hot tub. I did this myself once while vacationing in Maui. Often times, the two are separated by a few feet of concrete pool deck. Not at the place I was staying. The hot tub had a circular wall that on one side was hot water and the other cool water. There’s a real thrill in jumping from hot to cool water, but it’s a different brand of thrill when you just slip easily from one temperature extreme to the other. That, to me, is how St. Vincent’s performance felt. She is jamming with some serious throbbing base lines and percussion while her guitar is screaming shards of glass, and then she’s not. She’s perched atop a three-tiered supra stage upon the main stage finger picking her guitar, singing a lovely ballad whilst five white spot lights illuminate her lithe figure. She’s wearing black leggings and a short black skirt, standing feet wider than shoulder length apart and wearing a milky white blouse. Her hair, of course, is a white and light-grey, lavender combination of straightened joy.


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The following is a YouTube video containing only the audio of the show in its entirety. I suggest listening to the first three songs. The first song has an extended intro. It’s the first song on her new album so it was nice to see her get off to a nice start and jam out a bit to get herself, and all of those watching, loose and ready to tap our toes. It worked. Then she went right into “Digital Witness.” If you must, you can skip ahead to her one and only address to the crowd at approximately 13:05. She had such interesting things to say. So matter of fact and basic. If you continue to listen you’ll see what I’m talking about with her guitar playing skills. Keep in mind that she’s singing in an effortless way while playing guitar. Start listening at 50:30 to hear her doing something really cool with a rest. On the album, this kill lasts for a beat and a half. Here she makes it last for far too long causing the crowd to understand what she’s doing and cheer her on. This was one of my favorite moments. Beauty in the silence. She triggers the rest of the band that she’s going back into the song by audibly inhaling. She plays oh-so-delicately for her first encore song at 1:06:23. The actual shredding really gets during her song, “Red Lips” which starts at 1:14:10. This song goes from all to nothing to all to not much to a small lullaby to unbelievably intricate guitar wails to a wall of delightful sound. Kudos to the drummer for keeping the vibe going. She jumped into the crowd for the solo and played while folks in the audience held her while she played.This is quite a way to end a show. She’s not quite done though, friends. Once she gets back on stage, she finishes the song.

St. Vincent gets a resounding A+ from me. I was laughing with joy and smiling for the entire show. I was amazed by her artistry and skill. Again, if she comes to your city, go see her.

 

Just Poetry and Prose, I Suppose

Poetry from Bolivia

I found another delightful bit of writing last night. This is a poem I wrote in 2007. I remember writing it and reading it to friends late one night in Oruro. It was cold that night. I must have used a flashlight to be able to see the page. It’s also possible the moon was so bright, I could use it for light. 

My hair fros out when the snare goes out
and the kick drum kicks like a flare shot out
Sandals flipping’ and floppin’, bodies always droppin’
A veces me pareces in my movies at night just might help the bodies be
re-animated. 
Come back to life and chase me someday I’ll be painted
while I sit or while I sat. Displayed in
a gallery for Mallory for only twice than less than half of her salary
plus one calorie
burned from her hypodermic intake
insulin pancake.

Mix that shit up put it in a cup then throw in a one-way sender
all into the blender. 
Lose the love of your life thrice, think twice and go on a bender.
Mind closed off, men working here.
Peers peer well into the well and smell
shiny, twinkly, sparkly, glistening darts of refracted light during lite diets
and flying sideways.
Get a grip.
Not manual – E – Manuel from the Bible.
A grip of friends?
It all depends
if those feet can dig deep when they’re bare
and your ribs rise and fall without a care.
Swell.

I want to die running away from someone, anyone, preferable a law-
enforcement agent of some brand. I’ll be running slow motion-like
when their pistols open fire and catch me mid-stride.
My path to glory and supposed destiny will only be a few visible feet in
front of my divide.
I’ll reach out for it with my dying breath,
but will be unable to grasp what is left,
what I wanted to achieve for no more than a few escaping minutes. The love of life will of course
bear witness to this entire tragic affair. Tears will be streaming
down her cheeks – her ragged cheeks that are simply exhausted
from loving a man that loves her only second to the worthy cause
for which he has been fighting for decades. She’s been there since
the beginning though
and she knows
she is integral
to the fight that he selflessly continues despite his small family’s best
interest. The tears flow while she tries wholeheartedly, yet
it is indescribably futile and she knows mere moments remain
before everything,
everything they’ve both dedicated their lives to ends in a cacophony of gunshots
and a symphony of deep-seated tragedy and what nots.
She’ll press her hand to the gaping, spurting wound. 
Her face to his to hear his final struggled breaths. She’ll swoon. Her hand 
finds his and interlocks with ease. He is strong, but not as strong 
as once before.

Once before
on a bright, sun drenched day he won her back on a 
stroll around an algae-encrusted pond in an obscure park tucked away 
in a functional – at least it seemed to them at the time – suburban 
neighborhood. They’d been through the wash and had each taken a 
turn in the dryer – mangling and testing each other’s feelings.
Sending one another reeling
through space and rhymes
for various expanses of time.
But they always came back. Sitting together on cylindrical pylons 
of cement watching parents watching their kids play they would feel deep within that that would be them on some distant day.

So they fought each other tooth and nail. Resorted to tactics un-
becoming of one another until one day in 2015 everything 
settled into place. It seemed that the race was finally over.
The crowd that for so long had played a part in off-track betting 
and wagering and proselytizing and hedging and interfering had up and left.
They were each deaf
from the silence that surrounded them without a sound.
Finally they were alone.
Just one not-so-bright light shone
down illuminating their faces that were already known 
and written – more likely grooved into their bones
and DNA strands. The scents and smells or the other was like a sixth sense –
their very own clone.

Tragically they would not and could not touch.
They tried at first thinking it a cruel joke to be so close.
Finally physically, visibly within reach
with no contracts to breach.
All the saints dead and alive tried through prayer
to clear the air
that stood defiantly by and between
unseen.

Let them know peace a voice said.
And it was mine.
I narrowed my eyes
and focused my concentration.
I beamed thought rays from my forehead to hers.
I lost every single one of my nerves.
I blathered and sputtered.
I couldn’t accept the end lying there in the unconscious 
eyes, ears, and arms of my long lost best friend.

But just then
I heard the sound of a cricket chirp
which assured me that the Earth
was still passing by while the universe 
expanded. I’m nothing I thought and exhaled seeing my love above 
me smile back and recede into sounds of rustling branches and shaking leaves.

Since then
I’ve just been
leaving the sink on to let the water run. 
Brush my teeth and get ready for bed.
Try to silence the thought marathon currently running through my head.
Other people fuck and make love sounds in the rooms down the way.
Can’t stop ‘em though.
Feelings on the sidelines are never allowed to play.

Walking a line
drying clothes all at the same time.
Wandering outside, taking it in.
Mars has tracks on it from landing craft,
but I can’t keep track of expanding paths
and synapse math.
There’s something surrounded by bone up there
that wants to go home down there, 
but where?
I can’t stay here anymore?
I can’t stay here anymore.
Can’t you just stop?
But where does it end?
I have to keep going.
My homing signal has been assumed missing
and while you keep guessing
I’m out here in the clear totally tamped down and flattened.
Sometimes I’m re-animated you see by free wit, will and stimulation.
But it doesn’t come without proper accreditation.
Change the laws please and just.
Let.
Me.
Be.
B.
Brandon.
I’ve written my name a lot.
So.
Have.
You.

Music That Makes Me Say “Yep!”

FULL DISCLOSURE: I started writing this blog on 7/25/14. Believe it or not some of my favorites have changed between then and now (8/9/14). I’m going to leave the two songs I’ve written about already (Pantera and Jamiroquai) because I did a lot of research to fully articulate my opinion with images and video. A couple of songs have since been swapped though. System of a Down’s song “Sugar” has been swapped with Duke Ellington’s “Mood Indigo.”  311’s song “Hive” has been replaced with Neko Case’s “Nearly Midnight, Honolulu.” On to the critiques!

I think these songs and musicians are incredible. They move me in a way that I can’t quite describe – but I will do my best. Everyone has a band or a song that makes them uncontrollably tap their toe. Entire playlists have been made dedicated to this very phenomenon. I write this in case there is ever a point in my life where my friends choose to make a podcast containing songs they know I love. That’s already happened once and it was a tribute executed to perfection. Without further ado, here are the songs that make me say, “Yep!”

1. Pantera “This Love”

I include this version for two reasons. 1. It has lyrics, and 2. It’s the full song. I guess making the video for the six and a half minute version from the album was unacceptable. Ok, whatever. Cutting out the two minutes to shorten the length is a foolish decision in my opinion. It cuts out the best part of the song! At 3:01 when Phil screams, “No more head trips!” I fully enjoy what comes next. The guitar solo is incredible and the drums! Man, I love how they fill the rests with ultra-snappy snare hits. Throughout this song the guitar has a beautiful tone. I like how it goes from clean and dark to ultra-distorted and manic. I remember playing this song on a cruise I went on. I was a teenager at the time and we were allowed to play songs from CDs (those were the days!) we brought with us. No one dug this song, but me. It was so cool to hear it thumping through the fully legit dance floor speakers. Can you guess who was the only one on the dance floor flinging themselves about for the entire length of the song? I’ll give you three guesses, but the first two don’t count. My one criticism of this song is the way it ends. It’s nice if you listen to it only once or as part of the album, but if you want to listen to it a lot and put it on a playlist, the slow fade out at the end gets boring.

2. Jack White “Black Bat Licorice”

Believe it or not, I used to not like Jack White or his band, The White Stripes. But, boy oh boy did I change my tune when I heard Ball and a Biscuit. I didn’t like The White Stripes because they didn’t have a bass player. Meg’s drumming isn’t the best, but I’ve come to accept that she is uniquely qualified to play with such a disarmingly talented man as Jack. The song above – from his new solo album, Lazaretto – stands out to me. It has a really good beat, and as usual, Jack’s lyrics are incredible.

I like lyrics that help me learn something. This song is full of that. Here are a couple of examples.

1. “…she’s built for speed like a black castrum doloris”

Do you know what a black castrum doloris is? I didn’t until I looked it up. Apparently it’s latin for “castle of grief.” Wikipedia says, “These are structures and decorations sheltering or accompanying the catafalque or bier that signify the prestige or high estate of the deceased.” Below is a picture of an example.

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2. “My feet are burning like a Roman hypocaust”

Roman hypocaust? What the heck is that? A hypocaust (Latin hypocaustum) was an ancient Roman system of underfloor heating, used to heat houses with hot air.

3. “She writes letters like a Jack Chick comic”

I know my comics pretty well, but I’ve never heard of Jack Chick. Wikipedia says:

“Jack Thomas Chick (born April 13, 1924) is an American publisher, writer, and comic book artist of evangelical fundamentalist Christian tracts and comic books.[2] His comics have been described by Los Angeles magazine as “equal parts hate literature and fire-and-brimstone sermonizing.”

4. “I mean, she’s my baby but she makes me get avuncular

From the Merriam-Webster online dictionary:

  • of or relating to an uncle
  • suggestive of an uncle especially in kindness or geniality

5. Finally, what the heck is Black Bat Licorice? I could only find this image.

Black Bat Licorice

I guess it’s some kind of candy? I don’t know. The Google search is dominated by the song at this point. If anyone knows what it is, please let me know.

3. Jamiroquai “Cosmic Girl”

This song is just downright funky! If you’re not tapping your toe or feeling a small groove in your tummy, then I’m afraid you’re doing it wrong. This video is a little cheesy. I would have liked to see some dancing of a metaphorical “cosmic girl.” Why are there no girls in the video? I don’t get it. The cars are ok. I will forgive the lack of creativity in the video because the song is so cool. I hope you will understand.

4. Neko Case “Nearly Midnight, Honolulu”

Neko has a truly beautiful voice. When I listen to this song in headphones, it sounds like she has a digital echo/delay on some of her vocals. She does not. That is an actual person accompanying her who has the perfect pitch ability to harmonize with her. I’ve seen her perform live and was blown away by how much their voices harmonize. They harmonize even when they talk! It’s like their voices are a glove and a hand and they fit each other perfectly.

Neko explains the story behind the song on NPR. It’s a haunting story. But it’s real. And it’s poignant. And I love her for that. She explains, “I wrote the song, I sang it into my phone recorder. I tried it with music, but it just felt better a capella.” I agree, Neko Case. That’s why you’re on my list.

5. St. Vincent – Digital Witness

This video is really cool. It’s very minimalist and artistic. I love the colors. They’re muted and bold at the same time. It was her performance on SNL that really made her stick out in my mind though. Her choreography (if it can be called that) is super minimalist too. When she and her female Moog player both glance to the left in unison between “People turn the TV on / it looks just like a window…” and “…Yeah!” I’m completely moved. So moved in fact that I can’t help but do the same thing when I’m listening to this song in my head phones. I’m going to see her play a free concert at Prospect Park. I’m really looking forward to it.

6. Madonna – Hung Up

Say what you want about Madonna. I know there are a lot of people who don’t like her. I don’t understand why. I’ve never asked them why, but I get the sense that because of her omni-presence, people just want her to go away. Or because she’s old. Really? Are you going to be as fit as she is when you’re 50? Please don’t diss her for being a star. Sure she’s been out of the spotlight recently (she did release an album in 2012, but I think it fell flat). For the last 30 years she’s given the world a piece of herself. Oh and she’s also given us all a reason to let loose and dance. The opening rooftop shot in this video looks like an homage to the photo shoot she did with Richard Corman in 1983 before she became the person we know today. I had the privilege of making a video about Richard’s encounter with Madonna last year. Richard is a very humble man and is incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to photograph a woman before she became an icon.

This song has some particular memories attached to it for me. This song is on her album, Confessions on a Dance Floor, which came out in 2005. I was living in Delaware at the time. I took an adventure up to New York City with a friend. Her picture was everywhere! I remember going to Times Square and seeing the image below.

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My time in New York City was spent weaving in out of trains, hotels and people. It culminated in a party that was behind a door that did not bespeak what I was to behold behind it. Oh the fantastical things I saw! A burlesque dancing duo on a small stage no bigger than a box, a bathroom with urinals plastered to the wall in funny positions, and young people of all backgrounds. While outside on the roof I saw a man scale a building and draw graffiti art on a neighboring building. I danced the night away to some very interesting tunes. I lost track of time. Suddenly, the curtains were drawn and there was light pouring in! I checked my watch. 6:30am. Whoa! I made my way down to the street and hopped in a cab with some fellow party goers. When we got to my stop, I tried to pay, but realized I didn’t have cash. All that was in my pocket were a couple of broken cigarettes (not being a smoker, I have no clue as to how those got in there) which I offered in earnest to my compatriots. They said, “don’t worry about it man. Just get in there and get some water and sleep.” I’m thankful for their generosity and for taking it easy on my small Midwestern lamb of a self. To summarize, this song encapsulates that weekend.

7. Skrillex – Stranger

This video features some really talented dancers interpreting the beats in a very unique way. Skrillex’s first full-length album, “Recess,” is a solid musical work. Rolling Stone magazine says he’s finally worth paying attention to. I couldn’t agree more. His sound is truly unique. I used to believe that true musicians are defined by being able to play an instrument, not being able to twist knobs and press buttons. My opinion has changed. Skrillex composes beautiful songs – often on piano – before layering all kinds of bass and other sounds into the arrangement. Below is an example of a woman covering one of his most famous songs.

If he doesn’t compose his songs this way, they certainly are worth seeing covered by a pianist. Wow! Just think of this the next time you here the actual song. The big change here is the massive bass drop. I think it sounds like, “Lance OH MY GOD!” I told my friend Lance about this. He agrees, but still doesn’t care for the song.

 8. Lily Allen – Fuck You

I recently put a few more songs on my phone and Miss Lily Allen was one of the artists who made the cut. I’m a big fan of her first album so I was delighted to hear her second album too. This song really resonates with me. It’s clever and there’s no way it will be played on the radio. The fact that an artist made a song knowing that indicates to me that she made the song for herself and her live audiences, not for radio play. That’s a special move these days and one that deserves recognition. It has a great message about people who are stuck on the wrong side of history. This video is very clever too. I was laughing for a lot of it.

9. Chemical Brothers – Block Rockin’ Beats

I love this song. I bought this album when it first came out in 1997. I remember rocking out to it in my ’91 Camaro. I was into Prodigy as well. I think being into this type of electronic music prepped for my interest in Skrillex. This song is perfect for being on the playlist that I listen to when I run or work out at the gym.

10. Duke Ellington – Mood Indigo

I’ll end on a light note. I’ve been listening to lots of music like this lately. It’s peaceful and easy on the ears.

Thanks for reading!

 

MOVIE REVIEW: The Thin Blue Line

Errol Morris’ 1988 film, The Thin Blue Line, takes no time to establish its cinematic language through very deliberate shot selection and editing choices. In the opening shots, which last only about four and a half to five minutes, there is an immense amount of information provided to the audience that captures the imagination and quickly gets them invested in the story line of what transpired.

The very first shots offer various structural features of downtown Dallas, and an immediate sense of mood and time is provided. The shots are taken at night and the gentle pulsing of the red lights atop the buildings give us a sense of relaxation and calm. However, taken with Philip Glass’ mysterious underlying score, the pulsing lights create a feeling of unease that often exists in the unwieldy hours just before the break of dawn. Additionally, these lights are placed on the buildings as indicators to aircraft, something that we all know is meant to serve as a warning.

The opening shots mentioned above are quite eloquently composed and establish the film’s location beautifully. The first three shots are taken from a distance, but can be considered close ups. The camera moves slightly, but my guess is this is because the zoom is maxed out and no matter what tripod you have, you will register an ever-so-slight amount of movement if you’re zoomed all the way in.

Just before the fourth shot takes the frame, a voice over begins explaining a part of a journey that ended in Dallas. This is a great example of how to establish location without having to rely on title cards or any text at all. As a viewer, you immediately identify the skyline as being that of Dallas because the voiceover says, “We got into Dallas on Thursday night…”

So the audience is aware of location and what the situation is from this particular character’s viewpoint. The approach of not using titles is carried on throughout the film and I’ll touch on its meaning later.

By using a flashback sequence shot in a narrative Hollywood movie style, Mr. Morris quickly gives the audience a picture of the facts of the case and he does so in a compelling and captivating way.  (Incidentally, by employing this method he managed to get himself excluded from Academy Award consideration for Best Documentary in 1989.  However, he has been fully vindicated by the fact that this film is consistently rated in the top ten of best documentaries and the Academy did finally bestow him the top honor in 2003 for Fog of War.)

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After the character who appears first (the audience doesn’t know exactly who this character is yet, but by allowing him to appear first, there is some underlying meaning applied) finishes his brief exposition by saying that, “it was as if I was meant to be here” there is a cut to a flashing police siren. Slowly layers are being peeled away that we’re dealing with some sort of crime or criminal activity.

Next, another character is introduced, wearing a traditional orange prison jumpsuit. His attire is unmistakably that of a convicted felon. This is an interesting juxtaposition from the first character. He also seems to be wearing some sort of uniform, but since it is white and collared, it is somewhat ambiguous about exactly what type of uniform it is. The color white is always a significant, unconscious visual cue. The new character in the orange jumpsuit explains his arrival to Dallas too, and it is for wholly different reasons. His reasons consist of criminal activities involving robbery, grand theft auto, and the stealing of a couple of firearms. When the firearms are mentioned, the audience is given a quick, slightly rotating rendering of a gun so as to remind us that this character is the one that has possession of a deadly weapon. He finishes his first little bit by saying, “…ended up coming to Dallas” which now establishes his location as being the same as the first character.

After a quick beat to allow for the man to look off towards the ceiling and for the audience to reflect on the fact that both of these men are now in Dallas, the editing leads back into another abstract look at modern edifices during the predawn hours. The music continues with a very minimalist ostinato in a minor key that really drives home the mystery and intrigue. On the third shot of the buildings, the first character’s voice enters by way of a J-cut and as expected we land back on an MCU in order for him to finish his thought about his random, fateful encounter with a stranger.

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The next cut is on the last word of the phrase, “he stopped and asked me if I needed any help.” The cut is to an aerial view of the Dallas metropolitan area that holds for just a quick beat before slowly tilting down. As character two’s voice enters, the aerial shot dissolves into a map of what is assumed to be the same area. The accompanying line of dialogue is, “I’m driving down some street, somewhere in Dallas.” I think this image is placed here to emphasize the point that this is a large city and the likelihood of an event coming to pass such as this one is truly serendipitous. There may very well have been a cut used here to establish the second character’s introduction of the first as Randall Adams, but if so it’s hidden well. Regardless, the audience now understands how the two characters met, which is what sets the ball in motion.

After another brief spot of dialogue from Mr. Adams that touches on the complexity of fate and why we are put into some people’s lives a cut is made to a new scene. The new scene is a shot of a police car that has pulled over a small sedan of some sort on a nondescript, two-lane highway. The music rises to the top here, no dialogue is included and the shots become quite artistic. This pacing of the editing hastens here as we’re reaching the climax of this sequence of events.

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The next shot is an abstraction of reflection and light which enhances the natural confusion that any audience will have within the first five minutes of a film. A hand reaches into the frame from the bottom and adjusts the rearview mirror which indicates that the shot is inside the car that has been pulled over. Next it cuts back to a medium shot of the police car that is framed to allow enough space for the driver side door to open, the police officer to emerge, and for him to begin walking towards the car that has been pulled over. The sound of his footsteps continue as the camera cuts back into the car onto a CU of someone’s hand on a steering wheel. Again, there is a deliberate effort made to reveal a very small amount of information.

We cut back to a head-on medium shot of the police car, but this time focusing on the passenger side door, which again is framed to allow the officer to open the door and exit, flashlight in hand. She shuts the door, turns on her flashlight and approaches the car. The footsteps have stopped (or have been blended into the music), which can technically be viewed as a continuity error- the officer would have certainly arrived to the side of the car in real time, but the time is being drawn out to be made more dramatic and it works.

The next cut is a high angle shot of a long shadow that is being thrown on the dark, blacktop highway by the police car’s headlights and we see the officer’s legs enter the frame with the sound of his footsteps resuming. Next, there is an extreme low angle shot of a tire and the officer’s neatly pressed pants and shiny shoes. His motion is slowed down just slightly as he arrives to the car and then BANG! A quick cut on sound to a close up of the barrel of a gun followed almost instantaneously by a police diagram showing where that bullet entered the body. Then, a few more gunshots with corresponding close ups of the barrel followed by further police diagrams showing where the bullets entered and left the body. Then the gun is retracted from the CU and back into the car. The next shot is a CUof a foot stepping on the accelerator of the car and pressing it all the way to the floorboard. As expected there is a screeching sound made by the tires as it peels out, which cuts to a shot of the mortally wounded officer lying on the ground as the car speeds away.

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The other officer then springs into action. Again, there is a slight continuity problem here. If the officer’s partner had continued her path that was set into motion a few seconds ago she would have been right on top of the action and would have been able to react to the events faster. But, this also lends itself well to the following scenes because I suspect the audience picks up on this subtle error in protocol and is asking themselves why wasn’t she in a better position to defend her partner.

After springing into action, she unleashes a few rounds at the fleeing vehicle to no avail. It disappears into the night and we cut back to a close up of the barrel of her gun just as she realizes her attempts at retribution are futile. More diagrams of the fatal wounds are shown as well as coroner photos of the actual officer and his uniform replete with bullet holes. There is a lovely, candid image of the officer and then the music resolves as a newspaper headline sweeps into full frame CU of the photo of the officer with the tagline, “Officer killed Sunday.” Then cut to an extreme CU of the time that hit happened (12:30am), an obvious reaction (“Oh my gosh”),  a beautiful abstraction due to of the pixilated dots that are used in newspaper printing presses, another piece of information (“no description, could not be”), and finally the date of the occurrence (November 29th, 1976) that dissolves into the next noteworthy date of December 22nd of the same year, the date when Randall Adams was arrested on suspicion of murder.

All of this information is given in the first four and a half to five minutes of the film. The audience is given concrete information about the events that are going to be explored. The sneaking suspicion that something’s not quite right should be readily evident to anyone and our brains are open to the discovery process that we’re about to begin. It’s a masterful approach to opening a story.

Given this same circumstance, I can’t possibly begin to imagine a better way to cut this. I would consider using title cards. I really respect the decision to not include them. I think it makes for a much more artful presentation, but at the same time, it also makes it a little bit more of a heavy lift for first time viewers. The point of the film is to make sure that the entire world knows the facts and if any information is lost on your viewing audience, you’ve basically shot yourself in the foot.

Fortunately this film was made by one of the great masters of our time and no information is unclear. Using scripted sequences with actors to recreate the scenes was ahead of its time. It was a bold choice and it paid off. This is one of my favorite documentaries for sure. Not only is it well made with meticulous attention to detail, but the end result is that it got an innocent man freed from prison! Social change and bringing awareness to a social issue is the burning desire of the vast majority of filmmakers and if you can achieve it, you’ve really earned your stripes.

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American Indians Deserve Our Respect

After seeing the film The Internet’s Own Boy, a documentary about the late Aaron Swartz, I felt obliged to tweet a message of condolence to Quinn Norton, Swartz’s once girlfriend. I began following her on Twitter immediately after I responded to her as she has many erudite thoughts on Internet culture. She tweeted the following on July 4th.

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I read the article and disagreed with Norton’s assertion that naming American helicopters after Native American tribes is disrespectful. I thought, If anything it’s a way of bestowing honor on a people who were fierce fighters. But Norton pressed me to go further and research the issue before making up my mind. I’m glad I did because I can see her point now.

She pointed out that terms like Navajo (which there is even an argument about how to correctly spell this word. Some folks are worried that spelling the word with a “J” will lead folks to mis-pronounce the word “nav-a-joe.” Because of this, some folks have rejected this European way of spelling and have sought to adjust the spelling to “Navaho.”) are bestowed upon a group of people who already have a name for themselves. In this case the people commonly referred to as “Navaho” call themselves “Diné.” When conversing with them, they will tell you that this word simply means “The People.”

That’s certainly a perspective shifting thought. During my twitter conversation with Norton, I pointed out that I do believe the ongoing kerfuffle over the name of the football team from Washington is justified. The video that started it all is powerful and makes a strong case for the name change.

 

The video is very well put together and elicits an emotional response from me. I worry those who are recalcitrant about changing the name will wind up on the wrong side of history. I’m from Kansas City so I thought the football team I root for, the Chiefs, were safe. But apparently that’s not the case. An article published on Slate.com points out that teams including the Kansas City Chiefs, Atlanta Braves, Cleveland Indians, and Florida State Seminoles among others all play on land seized from American Indians.

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That’s a downright discomfiting thought. I can now empathize with fans of the Washington Redskins who are true fans. I speculate that many of them are like me and aren’t sure what the best course of action is. I am conflicted. I don’t want to support an organization that disrespects people, but I also don’t want to lose hold of a team that I’ve come to love. After much thinking on this subject I’ve decided that I will be okay with a name change. I think taking one’s cue from William Shakespeare is prudent. After all, “a rose by any other name would still smell as sweet.”