Sunday, January 8, 2017
I'd only become aware of the existence of Katherine Johnson and the "computers" at NASA in the early days of the US side of the space-race within the last four or five years. The internet is pretty terrific when it comes to sharing the sort of information that used to get buried in footnotes or left out of the common narratives shared of our history.
I was pleased to find out that our noon-time showing of the movie on a Sunday was sold-out, so at least the folks in my neck of the woods seem interested in hearing what the movie had to say. You never really know how a docu-drama is going to play, but it was interesting how many families had come out to see the movie. And, honestly, it's a good one for the kids to see.
The movie follows the stories of three women who were pioneers in a world that was breaking boundaries as mankind sought to escape the bonds of earth and reach space. And, while no doubt how the realities are framed will be debated, the overriding drama of the film is how these women pushed back against the racism and cultural norms of 1960's America that very much could have stood in their way.
Wednesday, January 4, 2017
This movie doesn't have the best ratings, but there's a lot to like in The Living Daylights (1987). Maybe not everything is grand, and I feel like the back 40 minutes got away from them, but all in all, I enjoyed this the most of any Bond we've watched since For Your Eyes Only.
Look, I may like Roger Moore as much as the next person who grew up with him as Bond, but he made some very, very silly Bond movies (lest we forget Moonraker) and by View to a Kill, I was firmly believed this was a man who should not be running anywhere without a spotter, let alone that Tanya Roberts would be throwing herself at Grandpa Roger. That he did not openly wink at the camera seems somehow unbelievable.
I can't say I need my Bond more grounded. I love The Spy Who Loved Me, and that has a sneaky kidnapping boat and an undersea villain's layer. But I also want it to feel like maybe my Bond is not treating itself like a parody. And with The Living Daylights, we get back to what feels like good old fashioned international intrigue, a plot that holds together very well (if not entirely a mirror to our own world), and makes Bond feel like a secret agent rather than a gentleman who gets into ridiculous scrapes.
Thursday, December 8, 2016
Astronaut and United States Senator John Glenn has merged with The Infinite.
Truly one of the giants of the 20th Century, John Glenn was part of the Mercury 7, America's first manned spaceflight program. He had served as a Marine in two wars and as a test pilot and would remain a Marine while working with NASA. He would become one of the most famous names in space exploration before continuing in public service as a US Senator, elected in 1974. He would leave the Senate in 1999.
As an astronaut, Glenn was the first American to orbit the planet, orbiting the Earth 3 times before plunking down in the Atlantic, proving Americans were on a par with the astounding Russian space program, and setting the stage for the Gemini and Apollo missions.
As a kid, thanks in part to the film The Right Stuff, we spoke the names John Glenn and Chuck Yeager with reverence. These were the guys who lived the lives we dreamed of but didn't even aspire to. Even in college when I'd hear Glenn was associated with some political decisions I didn't agree with, you still said "well, man, he's John Glenn. I assume he knows what he's doing."
How the man was not elected President, I will never know. Bad timing in the Reagan-era, I guess.
In the Fall of 1998, I was recently graduated from college and running a distance learning broadcast studio at the University of Texas. News came down that NASA was sending Glenn back into space to test the rigors of space flight against the physiology of older adults. Whatever the excuse, man, it was amazing to see Glenn back in the suit, showing America how it could be done. I talked the instructor who was teaching at the time of the launch to let me pipe in a broadcast of the take-off, mostly because I wanted to see it, but he must have wanted to see it, too, because I watched it on my monitors while the space shuttle took off on the screens up in the classroom. No one said a word until they were safely out of the atmosphere.
Glenn lived to the age of 95. We will not see his like again in my lifetime.
Godspeed, good sir.
From the outstanding film The Right Stuff, played here by the always excellent Ed Harris:
Saturday, November 26, 2016
Well, 2016, you finally got one I'm not going to shed a tear over.
I'm not going to eulogize Castro, but it would be disingenuous not to note the death of someone who had such a pivotal role in international politics for so many decades. You guys have Wikipedia, so I'll leave you to look him up on your own.
We seem to inch towards a free Cuba, year by year. Perhaps with Castro's passing, our neighbors are that much closer to a better tomorrow.
Thursday, November 10, 2016
Well, this is the strangest twenty-four hour period I can recall in quite a while.
I've been steering clear of talking too much because so much has already been said, and, what have I got to add at this point? I've not been engaging with folks much online - I don't really know how to respond. I'm used to seeing my candidates take it on the chin - I live in Texas after all - but I'd bought the pollsters telling me how this was gonna go, and I kind of figured enough of America knew a boorish charlatan when they saw one, and we were going to see a bit of grudging sanity play out.
Tuesday, November 8, 2016
Thursday, October 27, 2016
Happy Birthday to President Theodore Roosevelt, born October 27th, 1858.
On The Colonel's birthday, I highly recommend - before forwarding any social media with images of TR tied to a quote - try Googling that quote first. I've been seeing a lot of false quotes attributed to the man of late.
He was a profilic writer and speaker, he was imminently quotable, but he didn't really speak in modern soundbites. So, anyway, be careful out there.
Also, read a TR biography some time. It'll be worth it.
Saturday, October 22, 2016
Yesterday was, apparently, the official 75th birthday of Wonder Woman. As part of that event, Wonder Woman was made a Special Ambassador of the United Nations, an icon for new efforts within the UN to speak on behalf of gender equality.
I don't know how much of Wonder Woman's origins most people know, or how hung up they are on some of the more salacious details of creator William Moulton Marston's personal life, or how that played out on the comics page. But I do know that Marston was sincere in his interest to create a strong female superhero, not just with whom little girls could identify, but for little boys to understand that women could do all the things that men can do. They can leap into the fray and they stand as equals (although I'd argue Marston may have had a bit more of an ideal of a matriarchy in mind even more than than just an egalitarian ideal).
|"Wonder Woman" TV star Lynda Carter was in attendance|
Tuesday, October 18, 2016
Signal Watch Reads: Hero of the Empire - The Boer War, a Daring Escape, and the Making of Winston Churchill (by Candice Millard, 2016 - audiobook)
The study of history in practice can be maddening if the bar you hold up is trying to read up on every single thing anyone ever did before this very moment. If that's your standard, then I'm a little behind in developing my all encompassing eye into the past. Example: I'm a publicly educated kid from the burbs who focused on North America in obtaining his history undergrad degree. Aside from the bare-bone basics, I know very, very little about Winston Churchill, but I figured I had to start somewhere. But, why not with a book by a terrific author and starting at the beginning?
I'd previously read Candice Millard's two prior full-length books, The River of Doubt and Destiny of the Republic, and I can honestly say they were some of my favorite books of the last decade. Both books covered events which usually appear as footnotes or brief interludes in other historical retellings, diversions in the telling of longer, more expansive stories. Yet, Millard managed to craft one of the most harrowing stories of real-life adventure you're likely to read in the Theodore Roosevelt starring The River of Doubt, and in Destiny of the Republic, she sets out to set you weeping about the unjust passing of President James Garfield, shot by an assassin and victim of the limitations of his times, just on the precipice of modern knowledge we now take for granted.
I would argue that, by zeroing in on a specific time, place and people, she was able to say more about those people with a greater degree of eloquence - using historical fact, reconstructed timelines, letters and post-facto primary sources - to shed light on moments and giants of our history.
Here in her third book, Millard demonstrates why she's becoming a favorite of many more readers than just myself. Whether you're a history buff who's already schlepped your way through a number of Churchill biographies or - like yours truly - you find yourself embarrassingly ignorant in regards to the biography of one of the modern West's greatest leaders, Millard's spun Churchill's life as a young man into a narrative in the mold of epic adventure, all while reporting the facts.
Monday, August 29, 2016
The Alamo is an interesting place because they do show exploitation films, they do show controversial material, and at those special screenings, they usually have a host put a frame around what you're about to see. This movie was shown as part of the "Super Krime" series which also contained last week's Danger: Diabolik, but was the riskier showing, certainly. For pop-cultural anthropologists, there's a lot to chew on here from the casting to the racial issues to the pre-code genre-ambiguity and content and - for modern pop-culture which so often includes super-villains in the mix, Fu Manchu lays out the blueprint for so much of what would come afterwards.
By today's standards, your grandparents were racist as hell. Even if they were hip, bohemian folks - by the rules of what non-awful people consider decency and mannered public discourse, what you'd hear come out of Grandma and Grandpa's mouths was likely to get them the side-eye at Thanksgiving - but we're all a reflection of a time and a place. Attitudes change. Society, hopefully, advances. Insert your own election-related joke here.
I am not a paid or professional film historian or scholar, but I have an interest in the history of pop culture and the film industry as well as genre film and whatnot. A few years ago, I came across a picture of Myrna Loy playing the daughter of Boris Karloff in a film I'd never seen. The catch: they're both in yellowface as the nefarious Fu Manchu and his daughter.
A bit more digging told me that this movie was once a favorite, included in some circles as a premier classic horror film of sorts.
But you can't get access to a Fu Manchu film all that easily (and there are many), and it's something that doesn't screen all that often - a bit like the President's Day sequence in Holiday Inn (which they simply excise when they show it as it doesn't advance the plot, but it does feature a whole lotta your beloved Hollywood favorites in black face*). And, yeah, I saw the movie featured yellowface, and cast most of the Eastern hemisphere in a nasty light, so it made a bit of sense to me that the studio was in no big hurry to remind the world they had the film in the collection.
Thursday, August 18, 2016
If you've seen Apollo 13, you've seen Ed Harris as the vest-wearing Flight Director Eugene F. Kranz. Kranz served with NASA from the Mercury missions straight through into the mid-90's. Truly the case of The Right Person in the Right Place for the Right Job, Kranz is famous for his post Apollo 1 disaster speech at NASA where he defined the "tough and competent" mantra of NASA's Mission Control Center. He was, as evidenced by Ed Harris playing him in the film, also one of the Flight Directors on Apollo 13 who helped pull together the plan to bring the astronauts safely back to Earth.
But Kranz was there during Gemini, working out procedures and flight plans, debating the wisdom of rushing our first EVA to catch up with the Russians, and he was there for Apollo 11, landing Aldrin and Armstrong.
As you can imagine, the history alone is worth the read, and I'll be picking up some more memoirs and. or histories of the race from Mercury to Apollo 17 and beyond (I mean, my earliest solid memories are around the Space Shuttle, and so a history of the development of the Shuttle Columbia would be more than welcome). But Kranz's personal take is as absolutely fascinating as it is inspiring.
The view from the Flight Commander's Control Console takes us to the point of teeth-gritting responsibility. While thousands have contributed to building the rockets and space-craft, and many, many others have been involved all along the line, it's the MCC that makes the decisions to abort, must know their systems, the craft, the management of the astronauts, etc.. well enough to make moment by moment calls and respond to each challenge as it surfaces. Each decision impacts lives of the astronauts, and every choice could be the one that leads to disaster.
And, the Flight Director is, ultimately, the person who is leading his or her control team and responsible for the calls that manage the Flight during their shift. Anyway, my job suddenly seemed a lot easier.
Tuesday, August 16, 2016
As the space race passes into history (but the all-new Space Era is on! Thanks, Elon Musk!), and computers have long since become ubiquitous, this movie couldn't be coming at a better time. For me. Maybe you.
With all the thousands of people who were part of the race into orbit and then to the moon, there are so many stories, and some of them reveal corners of history that our broad-stroke approach to history does not always capture, especially in movies.
But, hey, one thing I've really come to realize is how weird and goofy our ideas are about how things must have come to be. We make assumptions, details get left out, and our movies are rarely researched well enough or lack the scope to include stories that took place away from the kleig lights.
About ten years ago I put the pieces together that, weirdly, the word "computers" meant "people who compute". And, in a lot of cases, when doing the math - the actual work it took to prove theorems, calculate complex equations, etc... - was done by women. And, of course, the men who put those challenges to them took the credit. This was true for a long, long time.
But, yeah, when computing became less a manual task and something done with machines, women were hugely influential in computer science before computers became the domain of basement lurking dorks in the 1980's. Read up on Grace Hopper. Woman was a boss.
I'm actually reading NASA Flight Commander Gene Krantz's book Failure is Not an Option, and - not only is it a fascinating book and I highly recommend it - but he briefly mentions the women who were not in the Control Room, but in the back spaces doing the computing by hand and then with the systems NASA put in place. I'm unsure if one of the names he drops is Katherine Johnson (I read that passage about three days before I saw the trailer above), but I'd heard of Johnson somewhere odd, like Tumblr. And, man, it just seems like this sort of story should get more attention. Like, say, a big Hollywood movie starring Taraji P. Henson and Octavia Spencer.
What's not to like? NASA. Name actors. Science and math romanticized! Space. John Glenn! People achieving against the odds!
Sure, this is Oscar Bait, but this is the kind of Oscar Bait I actually want to see.
Wednesday, August 10, 2016
August 11th marks the 114th birthday of actress Norma Shearer, an actress of the Golden Age of Hollywood. I've seen a few of her movies, both silent and talkies, and she was a remarkably talented woman.
And she had one of the best profiles in movies.
Sunday, July 31, 2016
I wrote about the tower shootings on the 46th anniversary of the event, and I talked a bit about what the tower means to those of us who live in Austin, the students and alumni and those of us who work in the shadow of the UT Tower.
Monday, August 1st marks the 50th Anniversary of the tragedy on the UT Campus. With time and distance, UT has learned to talk about the day, quite unlike in the era when I was a student at UT (1993-1998). There has been one dedication ceremony of the Memorial Garden which sits south of the Main Building (alumni will remember it as the Turtle Pond), and tomorrow will see a re-dedication ceremony.
A documentary on the event, Tower, has been winning acclaim far and wide. I've heard from those who've seen it that it's excellent, and I keep missing opportunities to see it myself. The film focuses less on the means and motives of the shooter, and, instead, on the people caught in the crossfire, using a wide array of modern technologies to recreate the day with respect and immediacy. Here's to broad release soon.
The Austin American Statesman has put up an excellent site with interviews of witnesses, timelines, etc...
Saturday, July 30, 2016
Fifty years ago today, Batman premiered at Austin's own Paramount Theatre! Above, you can see Adam West in person addressing the crowd and Congress Avenue completely blocked (something I don't even think happens during SXSW).
The Paramount was showing the movie today, but I had something I had to do during the day and couldn't make it (and I've seen it about 7 times, at least).
Here's a write-up from when I went to see the movie at the Paramount in June of 2010.
Here's a video you can watch at the Texas Archive of the Moving Image of Jean Boone interviewing actors from the movie inside The Paramount.
The Batboat - which appears in this movie, was also manufactured right here in Austin by Glastron Industries.
I didn't learn of Batman's Austin history until about 2009, and I am certain, had I known about all the bat-ties to Austin as a kid, it would have melted by brain and I would have seen way, waaaaayyy too much symbolism in Austin's gigantic bat population.
What's perhaps strangest is that Monday, two days from now, is the 50th anniversary of the UT Tower shootings. The UT Tower sits at about 23rd Street, about 15 streets away as the crow flies (the Capitol and several other obstructions mean you can't drive straight through).
Kind of freaky.
Saturday, July 16, 2016
Closer Than We Think from Clindar on Vimeo.
I was sent this video by pal-Andrew (Jamie's brother's wife's brother), and now I totally want to see this video. It's a documentary being made about Arthur Radebaugh and his sci-fi futurist strip, "Closer Than We Think". This hits so many positive buttons, I sincerely hope this film is made and gets a release.
For more on Radebaugh
The official website
a blogspot site
From the Ohio State Library
Paleofuture at Gizmodo
Saturday, July 9, 2016
As a record of what occurred this week -
Alton Sterling, an African American man, was killed in Baton Rouge, Louisiana by two police officers during an arrest. Witnesses and video of the incident indicate that the police were unwarranted in the shooting, that Sterling was upset but not able to resist - and the video definitely shows an immobile Sterling shot at point blank range by the officers.
In Minnesota, Philandro Castile, another African American man, was shot and killed by a police officers while reaching for identification while seated in his car with his girlfriend and a 4 year old child. Castile's girlfriend live-streamed the video of what occurred to Facebook. The video is available on YouTube and other locations as of this writing.
Thursday, 7/7, peaceful protests were scheduled in most major population centers, part of what has become known as #blacklivesmatter, a movement intended to draw attention to the unjustly assumed guilt,lives lost to police bullets, and the situation of African Americans in the United States in regards to overly violent responses of police especially in cases involving Black men and women.
On Thursday evening, as the protest march drew to a close in Dallas, Texas around 8:45 P.M., a sniper began firing from the rooftops, striking 11 officers and killing five. In the chaos, no civilians were injured, one man was briefly mistaken as a suspect and then cleared, and three wound up in custody and the/ a gunman was killed by police in the early morning hours of 7/8.
The sniper was targeting white officers, and details are still coming out about his background (but less, so far, about the three others held in custody).
The sniper was targeting white officers, and details are still coming out about his background (but less, so far, about the three others held in custody).
To add to the confusion, the police used a remote controlled robotic device mounted with a bomb to approach and kill the gunman and bring the threat to a definite conclusion.
In short, it's been an awful week.
Sunday, June 26, 2016
Signal Watch Reads: "The Elephant to Hollywood" a bio of Michael Caine by Michael Caine as read by Michael Caine (audiobook)
Normally this sort of thing isn't my bag, but a while back my pal SimonUK gave me a print copy of this book, and I picked it up and started reading it only to hear Michael Caine's voice reading the book in my head. "Well," I reasoned to myself, "why not see if he actually did an audio recording of the book." And, indeed, he had.
I don't know much about Michael Caine and I'm not up on his filmography. But, you know, who doesn't like Michael Caine?
This was actually his second memoir, and I suspect the first one probably played up a bit more of his exploits and wild, free-wheeling ways in the 60's and 70's. But this one is more or less Caine's reflections on being a bit of a lad from an area of London called The Elephant and Castle, a down and out neighborhood both during his youth and at the time of the book's writing (circa 2010). He grew up working class, a father serving the army in WWII, and Caine himself evacuated. Post-war, he grows up a bit tough, decides on theater and acting as a career, and as a young man pursues the idea with dogged determination, even as misfortune and the challenges of life heap up.
Saturday, June 4, 2016
Word has broken that heavy weight champion, social activist and all around personality Muhammad Ali has passed.
Like so many people who leave their mark, Ali was a deeply complicated individual, defiant in a time where he had an opportunity to speak his truth to power in ways that still bristle the sensibilities of the establishment.
Few athletes have come anywhere close to Ali's out-sized persona and had the skill to back it up.
His once unstoppable voice has been silenced for years by disease, but he managed to carry on in public, including lighting the torch at the 96' Olympics.
He'll be missed, but he'll be remembered, now merged with The Infinite at age 74.
Tuesday, April 26, 2016
In college I started reading up a bit on Theodore Roosevelt. If you're reading American History of the 20th Century, he's a figure that looms incredibly large, and I wasn't the first History major to take an interest. In fact, my instructor for my "Presidents and the Press" course was a bit of a Roosevelt scholar, and when it came time to write a paper and I was asking him for topics on TR, he told me to forget it - there was nothing new to research, and sent me down the path of researching a minor scandal during the Wilson administration (and that's when I turned on Wilson).
To Dr. Gould's point, there's a lot of stuff out there both about and by Theodore Roosevelt. And, no, an undergrad history major who wanted to write about the Panama Canal or Russian/ Japanese peace treaty wasn't going to produce any original scholarship on the matter. You begin with reading about TR's great deeds and see him as a champion you can't believe has become something of an obscure lost-uncle figure to many Americans in comparison to FDR (or even his niece, Eleanor), but, much like Shaft, TR is a complicated man.
Colonel Roosevelt (2010) is the third in a triptych of biographies by Edmund Morris. The first to arrive came out in 1979, The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, but I wouldn't read it until about 2001 on a trip with Jamie's family. On a personal note - reading that book on the porch of a cabin in Minnesota and taking long breaks to fish, cook fish and eat fish, was maybe some the most pleasant few days I can ever recall. The second installment, Theodore Rex, arrived in 2002, and really covered the era of Roosevelt's presidency (and for anyone who thinks our current administration is acting with unprecedented imperial-like authority, my friends... not even close).
The third installment, Colonel Roosevelt, covers the era between Roosevelt departing office until his death. If you think a post-presidency career for Roosevelt was one of quiet solitude, well... (a) your understanding of 20th Century Presidential Politics needs a refresher, and (b) you are so, so wrong.
One day I will read a Roosevelt biography and reach the descriptions of his death and funeral and not get weepy, but, today is not this day.