28 May 2009

Saul Bass-ish

You know, I totally love people with talent -- especially artistic ability. I have zero artistic ability and really admire people who can draw a few lines and make it something recognizable, or write music, or create movie titles.

The spouse and I are about half-way through a French film called "OSS 117, le Caire nid d’espions." It's a spoof of secret agent films. The film itself is okeh, but what is really amazing is its opening title sequence designed by Laurent Brett. (You can see some excerpts of the titles in the picture I have included.) They have a wonderful 1960s style that is reminiscent of the work of the great graphic designer Saul Bass who is also famous for his movie title sequences.

The excerpts do not capture the fun of the titles, so you really should watch them here.

You can read more about the designer here.

25 May 2009

I recently read this book about a guy who, along with his sister, might have killed their younger brother in England in 1860. It wasn't that interesting.

However, what was interesting is that the guy grew up to become a marine biologist and moved to Australia and became one of the most influential researchers to study the Great Barrier Reef. (Isn't it funny that, a week since I finished reading that book, what stays with me is not the subject, but what one of the participants did years after?)

Well, anyway, the picture is of the cover and title page of his influential book and a detail from one of the color plates he created showing life on the reef.

You can read more about the man, William Saville-Kent, here.

21 May 2009


Man, I no sooner write this entry about how much I loved the British television show "UFO" as a kid, then Robert Evans (yeh, that Robert Evans) announces he is going to turn it into an up-to-date film! How cool is that? I mean, first he does "Chinatown" then he does "Marathon Man" and now this? I'm cool with that.

But, will they keep those purple wigs?

You can read more about this announcement here.

19 May 2009

Of Mice and Ancestors to Men

There are some people who insist that, just because science cannot explain the evolution of the elbow joint, it proves some divine entity "created" it. Okeh, whatever. Science does not work like that. In science, you take evidence and draw a conclusion. When new evidence surfaces it either confirms that conclusion or makes you re-think it. Put together thousands of conclusions drawn on thousands of pieces of evidence and you come up with the probability that your conclusion is correct.

But nothing in science is ever cast-in-stone -- unlike some books that some might have us believe possess the very positive and very complete answer to everything in the universe.

That's not science.

Science has gaps of knowledge. Scientists readily admit that. So, deal with it. There are sections where we hypothesize what might be the answer, awaiting confirmation or refutation by the evidence. Just because there is no piece of evidence to conclude something does not mean that it is not explainable. It is just not explainable yet.

Now with that primer out of the way, feast your eyes, if you will, on a fossil primate that dates more than 47,000,000 years and may be a common ancestor to modern humans. Some are calling it the missing link between more primitive primates and humans. Whether it is or is not is really not relevant to me. What matters is the beauty of this preserved animal that died at the bottom of a lake or river bed and comes to us, millions of years later, as an exquisite example of its species -- an animal that ate and breathed, and broke a wrist and tried to survive. It is a breathtaking example of the forces of nature at work and the skill of scientists who reveal the beauty inherent in such a splendid example of life after life.

Sure, it will be tremendous if this creature's remains help scientists draw new conclusions about what led us to where we are. But, until then, just marvel at it for what it is. (Click on the image to enlarge. I intentionally left it quite large so you can see more detail.)

You can read more about the fossil here.

17 May 2009

Amazing Hubble

When I was a kid, the idea of space travel and finding other worlds was fantasy. Thanks to television shows, it started seeming possible. Then, on 20 Jul 1969, it was real. Over these past 40 years, we've become rather blase about space travel, missions to Mars and explorations beyond our star system.

Right now, as you read this, an American shuttle is in space on a mission to fix the Hubble Space Telescope (pictured). I don't know about you, but I think this is amazing stuff. I mean, think of it: human beings floating in space thousands of miles above the surface of the earth. Isn't that amazing? (Of course, I am amazed that planes can actually fly.)

However you feel about the amazing advances in space, you can read a current update on the work here, and see images from the Hubble here.

15 May 2009

More Selig

Being the first film studio in California (see entry of 14 May) has unintended consequences -- most of the 2000+ films made by Selig are thought lost. This is pretty sad. Although it is likely a great majority of the films would not be considered classics by today's standards (or even good) it is a shame that we cannot actually see them to judge for ourselves.

Aside from photographs from these lost films, one thing that has lasted nearly a century is the movie poster -- more specifically, movie posters, like the ones pictured here (click to enlarge). They tell of another world and another time. Not only does one have to wonder the plot and story of these presumably now-lost Selig films (yes, just why is the sheriff a bachelor?) but also to wonder about the artist(s) who created these great works of art.

Most posters from this period were made from a process known as lithography in which a surface (like limestone or a piece of metal) is carved with an image and then covered with paint. Paper is pressed on that surface, pulled away exposing an image. The thing is, EVERY color used has to have its own carved surface. You press the same paper on the different surfaces (making sure everything lines up properly) and then you end up with one of these posters. This can be done manually or with machines. I find this just amazing. Not only that it works, but that it works so well.

14 May 2009

MGM? Paramount? Fox? Famous Players?

If you've ever had a hard time trying to figure out which movie studio was first in the Los Angeles area, don't worry -- you are not alone. Although all the above mentioned are early candidates, it is generally accepted that the Selig Polyscope Company was first -- in 1909. It set up in a sparsely developed area called Edendale (now, Echo Park) with a studio that included its own zoo (pictured).

The studio lasted about a decade, then it became other studios and then was abandoned, etc., etc.

Fast forward to the year 2000 when a set of concrete animals -- including ten lions -- were discovered in storage. It seems these were some of the animal sculptures done for the original Selig Zoo by Carlo Romanelli. Sometime in the 1950s, they were moved from the site and relegated to obscurity until their rediscovery five decades later.

They are being restored and installed at the Los Angeles Zoo. Isn't that neat? What a great way to remember part of the history of early filmmaking in Los Angeles.

You can read about the restored concrete sculptures here.

You can read more about the studio here.

04 May 2009

Animal Compassion

Kittens raised by a dog, sure; but a deer raised by a cat? a horse raised by a goat? and -- gulp! -- a baby baboon raised by a leopard? History is filled with anecdotes about how animals of one species will help members of another species -- including all kinds of good deeds done by other animals for the human animal. A co-worker sent me this CBS News video from 2008 with a few examples. (Is there anything cuter than a basket full of kitties? Stay through to the end to find out.)

The picture is of a kitty that we rescued in our back yard in 2004. It had been trapped for a couple days between two fences and we had to make a lasso and rescue it. It was turned over to the humane society who found it a good home.

03 May 2009

Happy Comic Birthday!

Today is the 75th birthday of the modern comic book -- which is generally acknowledged to have begun on 03 May, 1934 (with the issue pictured). Wow! Who'da thunk it?

You can read more about the first comics, here.