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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The commercial that never was…

“I love to see a young girl go out and grab the world by the lapels.” ~ Maya Angelou ~

Eleven years before Phil Lord and Chris Miller directed last year’s hit family film, CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS, these two brilliant entertainment hyphenates concocted a television commercial that never made it to Saturday mornings – the “Brontë Sisters Power Dolls “

According to Lord and Miller, from their YouTube page, “This was a fake commercial we made in 1998 for a series of educational shorts about action figures based on historical figures. Its educational value was somewhat suspect. It was never aired.”

The commercial parody featured everything one would see in a typical cartoon break, which included kid-friendly action figures slugging it out for dominance of good over evil. The only difference were the action figures, they were based on three Victorian women writers, Emily, Charlotte and Anne Brontë, all who initially wrote under the pen names, Ellis Bell, Currer Bell and Acton Bell respectively. (Such was the fashion of the literary era and the non-acceptance of women as writers.)

How myopic times were then, as all three women produced some of the most enduring and popular novels of all time – Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grey.

Too bad the commercial below was never allowed to inspire legions of young girls – it’s something, in my humble opinion that Gloria Steinem would relish.

Talk about smashing the glass ceiling with a “Brontesaurus.”

Friday, July 23, 2010

Frank, the Truckin' Duck

“I've always looked upon the Ducks as caricature human beings. Perhaps I've been years writing in that middle world that J.R.R. Tolkien describes, and never knew it. “~ Carl Barks ~

In 1976, American playwright David Mamet offered up a small off Broadway theatrical gem, “Duck Variations,” It’s a simple tale of two men sitting on a park bench observing the nature of nearby ducks, and discussing the meaning of life, death and friendship.

Fast forward 32 years and Twin Cities award-winning journalist Boyd Huppert reports a remarkable and heartwarming story for local television station KARE channel 11.

Huppert’s feature is a different kind of ‘duck variation,’ but uses the same touchstones of life, death and friendship, when hunter (Joe Mansheim) and the hunted (Frank the duck) become one of the oddest couples to share a delivery truck.

In this day and age, there aren’t enough news stories that have happy endings, so take a moment to enjoy a very rare tale of bonding.

Monday, July 19, 2010

An Unforgettable Face

"In every man's heart, there is a secret nerve that answers to the vibrations of beauty." ~ Christopher Morley ~

The female face has long been inspiration for countless number of artists over the centuries. Take for example the hauntingly elegant oil on canvas that accompanies this post. It is a portrait of 19-year old Amalie von Schintling painted in 1831 by Joseph Karl Stieler, an artist who worked primarily in the service of the Bavarian court.

Stieler painted the portrait at Schloss Nymphenburg in Munich, and endearingly captured von Schintling's hopeful visage. At that time, the young girl was betrothed to her cousin Fritz von Schintling, but sadly would never see her wedding day as she died of tuberculosis shortly after the painting was finished.

Three years ago, St. Louis, Missouri digital artist, Philip Scott Johnson further immortalized Amalie's image in a video, along with that of 89 other beautiful women, all of who had stories of their own to speak from the canvas.

The exquisite video tribute to portraitists and their distaff models displays Johnson’s carefully cropped thumbnail images, which are morphed one on top of the other in a fantasy dance of visual beauty that spans 500 years of Western art.

For two minutes and 53 seconds centuries roll by from face-to-face as we see the passionate works of such artists as Rubens, da Vinci, Reynolds, Winterhalter, Renior and more, as each beauty dissolves and melds accompanied by the sensitive cello performance of Yo-Yo Ma playing Bach’s Sarabande from Suite for Solo Cello No. 1 in G Major, BWV 1007.

Johnson’s outstanding work was recognized with a nomination for Most Creative Video by YouTube for their 2nd annual awards ceremony.

For a complete list of artists and their un-cropped paintings, please follow this link.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

I write like…

“A word is not the same with one writer as with another. One tears it from his guts. The other pulls it out of his overcoat pocket.” ~ Charles Peguy ~

The literary world is currently being turned on its ear. A couple of days ago a new website that analyzes your personal writing samples, against that of pen worthy famous icons has surfaced.

At no cost to you, you simply cut and paste a sample of your writing into a little screen at “I Write Like” and voilà, your overall style, punctuation and word choice is compared through algorithm magic to that of the big guys.

The site, created by Dmitry Chestnykh, a 27-year-old Russian software programmer who runs Coding Robots, utilizes software (“Memories”) specifically designed for journal writing, and draws upon books from Wikipedia's list of bestselling books and the Gutenberg Top 100.

What I found out about myself still has me scratching my head in amazement as I am either a great mimic, or suffering from an undiagnosed bout of Dissociative Identity disorder.

I decided to start my analysis with something very simple, a few lines of prose from my IMHO post Autumn Leaves from October 2009, and pleasingly discovered it echoes the writings of James Fenimore Cooper.

Feeling quite content on the first go around, I none the less was curious and decided to do an experiment to see if my writing style differed according to subject matter and/or date that I had written a piece. So, I went to my computer archives and resurrected an excerpt from a column I had written a few years ago (LIVING HISTORY) for a small local New England newspaper. The column covered stories about seniors who had lived in the region since birth. It was then I discovered my articles reflected the style of Irish writer and poet James Joyce – here’s an excerpt:

“On August 20, 1915, New Braintree resident, Henry Bishop raced his Model T Ford from his home to the Congregational Church at the corner of Church and Main in West Brookfield to pick up local physician, Dr. Huycke who was to deliver Bishop’s fifth child. According to the family’s story, “Dr. Huycke’s feet never touched the floorboards of the car” as Bishop rushed the physician back to his waiting wife, Julia Hayes Bishop. In the ensuing commotion before the baby’s delivery, ten-year-old Blanche Bishop, the eldest of the Bishop children awoke and wanted to know what all the fuss was about and was sternly sent back to bed. A couple of hours later, calm finally prevailed and it was Henry and Dr. Huycke who would quietly dress the Bishop’s newborn daughter, Elizabeth Alice, for all-the-world to see.”

I then took another of my posts (a fairly recent piece “Plants as Pets” - from a different earlier news column, PLANT TALK) that over the years had been reborn several times through rewrites for radio and newspaper, and I discovered I had taken on the persona of Canadian author, poet, critic, and essayist, Margaret Atwood.

Okay, now here’s the really weird part, on Tuesday, June 1 (on this blog) I posted “What chutzpa: BP CEO, "I want my life back." The post was a rant in response to the seemingly implied indifference of Tony Hayward (BP’s CEO) and the handling of the Gulf oil spill.

When I wrote the post, I was so incensed that it was a true gut departure and uncharacteristic to my typical style. It turned out (according to stats) it was the most popular of my posts - ever. So I plunked it into the “I Write Like” analyzer and discovered much to my amazement it reflected a true split personality – the first half of the post was pure “Lord of the Rings” J.R.R. Tolkien, and the second half, mirrored American novelist and freelance journalist, Chuck Palahniuk.

By this time, I was heady with anticipation for another big name connection, so I copied and pasted another article from another one of my columns, LIFE AND TIMES. Here’s an excerpt:


Somewhere between middle school and high school, I remember being introduced to a small book, which at the time was not well known. For me, it was a turning point -“THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK.”

Today, Anne Frank’s diary has practically become a prepubescent rite-of-passage reading. It is the poignant penning of a thirteen-year-old Jewish girl who suffered the indignation and horrors of hiding from the Nazis in World War II Amsterdam. Though first quietly published in 1947 in Holland, it took the notable success of the 1955 Broadway play and the subsequent telling in the delicate and memorable film from 20th Century Fox to make this diary mainstream reading.

In particular, there has always been one passage from her diary that has left the most indelible impression. Written with unshakable faith after having endured a concealed existence in an attic for over two years she scribed, "In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart." What a curious thing to say, for within twenty days of that eloquent utterance, Anne, her family and friends were captured by the dreaded Green Police and shipped off like cattle to Auschwitz and beyond. Seven months later, and just two months shy of the liberation of Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, according to one survivor's account Anne, "... died peacefully, feeling nothing bad was happening to her."

Well, to my surprise, apparently when the above piece was first written, I had channeled American novelist and humanist Kurt Vonnegut. This truly humbled me.

Okay now, time for you to give it a try - the "I Write Like" site has gone virtually viral in less than 72 hours and apparently, this post, which you are now reading, is pure H. P. Lovecraft – hmmm?

What does your writing say about you? Please stop by and share your results - Cooper, Joyce, Atwood, Tolkien, Palahniuk, Vonnegut, Lovecraft and Slade want to rub elbows with the likes of Dan Brown, Charles Dickens, Walt Whitman and Agatha Christie.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Celebrating Independence Day: Concerts with fireworks nationwide

Depending on where in the United States you are located, some of the finest orchestras will pay tribute to our country’s birth with the best entertainment around.

Nothing goes better with a grand fireworks display than a full symphony orchestra playing everything from the traditional John Philip Sousa marches to Tchaikovsky’s stirring 1812 Overture accompanied by a dazzling light display.

It’s an outing that you will remember for a lifetime.

Some of the programs are offered free, and most are set on wide public expanses that allow for picnicking.

Certain shows will actually be performed on alternative dates other than July 4 so check the list that follows and find the city or symphony nearest you; click on the link for informative details of the concert that is being offered, and make your plans for a spectacular Independence Day.

If you’d rather take a pass on the live orchestra, and are only seeking a fabulous pyrotechnic display or a fireworks show with synchronized music, the American Pyrotechnics Association offers a list that they created in 2009 of national alternatives here. As with the concerts, be sure to double check dates for the fireworks displays that are nearest you.

Should the weather not cooperate in your area, there is always the option of tuning in to the annual Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) presentation of the A Capitol Fourth, which is broadcast live on July 4 at 8:00 p.m. EDT / 7:00 p.m. CDT and recorded for rebroadcast in other markets. It’s a spectacular must-see presentation brought to you from our nation’s capital.
Check here to find your local PBS station.

Happy Birthday America!

Atlanta Symphony

Austin Texas Symphony

Boston Pops

Brookhaven Pops

Charlotte Symphony

Cleveland Orchestra

Detroit Symphony

Hartford Symphony

Houston Symphony

Indianapolis Symphony

Los Angeles Philharmonic

National Symphony

Philadelphia Orchestra

Portland Symphony (Maine)

San Francisco Symphony

Utah Symphony

Vermont Symphony