Hello, I'm the official movie reviewer of Palinode's Palace. I am kept in a small hatch underneath the stables. Every so often someone walking by will describe the plot of a movie, and I write about the movie as if I've seen it. This is why the words Content Specialist appear on my business card.
Green Room, Jeremy Saulnier's latest nasty piece of work, features people getting stabbed in the head, assaulted and de-throated by dogs, slashed with machetes or kukris or whatever, blasted with fire extinguishers, pistoled, shotgunned, broke-limbed and so on. Every single character in Green Room ends up with unwanted new holes in their bodies before the film ends, and I can only assume that the many extras and walk-on parts were rounded up offscreen and dropped into a pit of hellfire.
Worse than the violence, though, is the tension, a dimly felt tug as the characters move into place that slowly ratchets up until everyone, including the viewer, suffers on a rack of Saulnier's unflinching design. The denouement, blessedly short and bleak, barely lets up the pressure before the screen cuts to black and the audience, which contained me and my spouse Elan, are allowed to snap back to the everyday world.
Elan nearly left halfway through. I nearly threw up at one point. We went to a book store and Elan squeezed or stroked everything in the gift section until she was able to calm down.
Nine cubes. Two stories. Easter weekend imminent.
Once you were the apple of my eye (!), but it didn't take long for you to fall from grace like a wayward start (it's not your fault, really; I suffer from borderline personality disorder). You claim to have dealt squarely with me, but if we examine your behaviour more closely, it feels like you only let me into the tiniest part of your life. Is that square dealing, I ask? Granted, there's a lunatic with twitchy hands living in my mind. I'll have to weigh the pros and cons a bit more.
Tom lived a carefully managed life and kept a quiet house, but by night he would sneak outside and stand in his backyard, watching carefully for the quiet shadows of the evening to coalesce into some form that would confirm the suspicions that plagued him during the day, the insistent sensation that he was fundamentally wrong, that his life had twisted in some direction that he couldn't understand at the time and was now wreathed around some other shape that he had never perceived, but there it was, invisible but shaping his soul. Maybe he had been too rigid? He felt like he was waiting for a sign, something from the heavens that would direct him, the reassurance that someone was keeping an eye on human affairs. Some day I'll figure it out, he thought.
Two stories, backwards and forwards.
"Wigwams may be cozier than high-rises," declared Darryl, "but they don't hold a patch on spending your nights in the crook of a tree." Nobody responded to this surprising piece of news, coming as it did in the middle of the quarterly sales meeting. "I've started hunting my own food as well," Daryl continued, "even though there's nothing in the city but squirrels and pets." Carl and Tania locked him in his office for the rest of the afternoon.
Daryl pulled out a piece of paper and did a few calculations on the back of a manila envelope. "S'pose I'll take a chance" he said to himself, and jumped out the window with a parachute made of twine and old dot matrix paper. "Huh," he said to himself as the parachute ripped itself to shreds and his body dropped twenty stories.
No second story today! Why? Well, I was facing the prospect of a second story with some indifference, feeling almost adrift on a current of creative apathy. I calculated the odds of locking away my slight guilt over not writing a story, perhaps even drawing one back in the bow and putting the project out of its misery. Then I went for a walk in the park, passing by the G.D. Roberts building and ending up by the First Nations University. That was a surprisingly long walk, I reflected, and certainly not one I'd ever make in real life.
Check out this here buh-zisness. I downloaded the Story Cubes app and now I'm free of the arduous tasks of holding, rolling and arranging dice with my filthy non-virtual hands. As always, I'm generating two stories: one reading the cubes from top left to bottom right, the other going from bottom right to top left.
Not many people know that stars are stuck to the vault of the night sky with quality glue, but every so often one comes loose and streaks down to the planet. Bees around the world are dispatched to the spot where where the star willl land (stars are full of pollen), navigating by the ever-brightening sky.
The star, whose name was Charles, landed among the pyramids, terrifying adults and delighting a tour bus full of seniors on a good old Baedeker tour. Still, they went up in flames, proving conclusively that terror and delight are equally bad choices as flame retardants.
Eventually the crater left by Charles filled with water. Local fish applied to live there, but their application was halted by urban development with plenty of mixed retail-office space zoning. Undaunted, the fish and the bees (remember them?) entered into a pollen trade agreement with Charles the Star, who found himself in the enviable position of being a primary resource with a formidably high surface temperature. Everyone was happy, except for the people who burned up.
Cities of towers will halt their expansion when the oceans rise and fish claim their birthright. Youthful fires fade with age and leave behind monuments as a cinder. Electric light bulbs buzz like bees and hold up their light against distant stars.
Story Cubes, artisanally rolled by me. Two stories, reading the cubes a) top left to bottom right, and b) bottom right to top left.
One day, my head in the clouds, my head transported through clouds, I had the typical thing, an idea, about doing something completely new, crossing over into unexplored territory, a climb up on nothing more substantial than light. It would unlock everything, I thought, it would exalt me. But monstrous things lurk in the bright light of exaltation. Honestly the whole process felt like a letdown.
Do not be sad, child, about the monster that stalks you, because it is only yourself. Look up and unlock the door: it's a bright and beautiful day outside, a day where rain clouds have just passed through and bent the medium of seeing for your pleasure. Not far from your house you will find a path over a bridge, a path that leads somewhere more brilliant and exalted than you can imagine.
Story Cubes rolled and arranged by Schmutzie. The first story follows the cubes from top left to bottom right; the second goes from bottom right to top left.
Story #1: Forwards
Purely by chance a loosed arrow sped upward, hitting a wraith who had been terrorizing a group of people in a wigwam. Unaware of the goings-on above and unable to hear the terrible cry of the wounded wraith, fish swam happily through the tannin-brown ripples of the stream, sunlight flashing off their backs and creating a scene worthy of a postcard. The people in the wigwam debated going outside and maybe taking a dip in the river, but no one could say for sure whether the wraith was dead or just angry about being hit by an arrow, so they stayed where they were and hoped vaguely for a world that did not include wraiths.
Story #2: Backwards
Perry sent a cheerful postcard to his family, a brief scrawl to reassure his mother and father that everything was just fine in his new home, and could all those fishy deeds and past arguments be set aside like so much water under the bridge? Come home, Perry could hear his parents imploring, sit with us and we'll work things out. But he could feel the spectre of old wounds and embedded fragments rising up in the skin, splinters that could emerge and cause fresh damage as easily as a randomly chosen word.
Story Cubes, rolled and arranged by Schmutzie, given coherence by me.
Once upon a time, the world gave birth to an extremely pointy pimple that people pronounced a “pyramid”. Parachutists popped off its peak, hoping to drift ever upward to reach the stars.
The moon slept through the parachutists' project, until one day, stung by a hapless bee that had flown too far from the hive, it woke like a frightened child with the spirit of a werewolf inside it.
“Magnet!” cried the moon, because its particles of ore were in sore need of orientation. “Any axis will do.”
“Pardon?” prompted a passing parachutist on her way to Proxima Centauri.
“I said - ah, never mind,” muttered the moon, plunging earthward in search of a good neodynium magnet. "Get it together, Loony," the moon murmured to itself as it dropped through the atmosphere and hit the ground, flattening the pyramid and pulping its parachutists.
"Well," opined the moon as it rested in the wreckage, "maybe we learned something about ourselves today." The parachutists, now putrescing parts of people, stayed silent.
Now let's do it backwards!
There's an attraction in contemplating the monster that dwells within, thought the bee, even if that monster could destroy you. Why look at me, with a stinger that would rip my guts out if I ever chose to use it. The drowsy moon rolled through the sky overhead, dreaming of stars, and dreaming of the space beyond, and the pale apes that had drifted down like spores so many millennia ago to build their pyramids and populate the Earth. Some of them had waved at the moon as they passed by, leaving her as alone as ever, but hardly lonely.
To: Matthew Weiner
From: Chris Carter
How are things? Congratulations on the success of Mad Men - I always you knew you'd make it big! I've enclosed a spec script with Don and Peggy and the gang - hopefully you enjoy it! If you do, give me a shout and I'll send you some more - plenty where that came from!
Careful what you say in your reply - my correspondence is probably being monitored.
INT - STERLING PRICE - DAY
DON DRAPER stands in a random spot in his office. Maybe he's near his desk, or maybe the wet bar. Whatever you think works here. Generally I just point towards the set and tell the actors to go stand in the middle of the room and wait for the camera to start rolling. With a show like yours, though, I bet everyone is assigned a place to stand for maximum symbolism.
PEGGY OLSON enters. She looks really stressed. But ambitious. Her ambition makes her stressed and it's what gives her that stressful look? Hah, I just cracked her character.
Don, we have a problem with the Wasserman account.
There's always a problem with the Wasserman account.
He pours himself a drink. I guess he's standing by the wet bar then. Unless maybe he walks over to the wet bar from where he was standing in the first place? Anyway, it's a very manly drink-pouring session.
Is there a drink for me?
I don't want you ending up like me, Peggy.
He swigs his drink down and pours another. He raises the tumbler to his lips but appears to reconsider.
Or maybe - I secretly want you to be exactly like me.
He hands Peggy the drink.
You're so fake, Don. You're an alcoholic who hides his emotions behind booze and lies. You don yourself in drapes like a draper. A fake alcoholic draper.
She puts the drink down on his desk. Wait, are they at his desk? Okay, at some point he sat down behind his desk and she's standing in front of the desk. Yeah, that's the ticket. There's a chair for her but she's not sitting in it because she's so stressed and too ambitious to sit.
You know, Peggy, you may be blinded by ambition, but you see advertising gold glinting in the rushing stream of daily life. You're hard to peg down.
I'll tell you one thing, "I am not a crook."
I don't think that's a contemporary reference.
PETE CAMPBELL is over by the wet bar - no, he's right next to Peggy. He stands there like someone who impregnated Peggy once but doesn't know it.
Hey, I've been here all along. I resent you not noticing me and I'm trying to turn your conversation to my advantage.
Pete, you're like some kind of bell they ring at camp. A camp bell, if you will. Say it fast and you'll get what I mean.
This is the past.
Hey. Do you like workflow? Does the word 'workflow' sound sexy to you? Or does it sound sort of anatomical and squicky? Whichever way you lean, workflow seems to be the chosen term for photographers describing their process. Workflow captures everything from image preparation and capture to organization, post-processing and delivery to clients. Given the multitude of styles and tools available to photographers, the process is more or less unique to each person.
And hey, here's mine.
People seemed to like this photo, which showed up on this site (where no one saw it), Flickr (where a few people saw it) and Instagram (where a whole schwack of folks scrolled past it). It's an image of two women in conversation over lunch at a local Korean fusion restaurant. I make no claims about this photo's greatness, but I have a blog and my wife's out of town, so hello free time.
This may shock you: that scene presented above has been tampered with. It has been nudged about, visually massaged and, most damningly of all, Photoshopped. Let's take a look at how I went from my original shot to the one above.
Photographers tend to gravitate towards certain subject material. Some adore wildlife, which leads them off into the wilderness with foot-long lenses and camping gear. Others like natural landscapes or night skies. Some have a fascination with faces and end up doing portraits.
My primary photographic love is people: people in action or just sitting around, people striding down the street or holding hands or doing any one of the million startling and beautiful things people do. In a photograph, people become abstractions of shape and contrast, but they are shapes that form stories.
In this case I spotted two women talking over lunch, and I wanted to hold that action: one woman leaning in to listen as the other expounded. Given my position and the 35mm field of view of my lens, I knew that I wouldn't be able to isolate the subjects in the frame; there would have to be some context, mostly in the form of the man on the left. Fortunately, the rope partition perfectly set the two women off from the man but allowed me to capture three figures in the photo for an asymmetrical composition. If you can't do perfect symmetry in a photo, always go for threes or some other odd number.
When I'm out and about, I usually carry my Fujifilm X100T, which is either the greatest or the worst camera ever for street photography, depending on whom you ask. I like it because it's relatively small, relies on separate aperture and shutter controls for basic exposure controls instead of a PASM dial, and has a virtually silent leaf shutter (It's also a beautiful looking camera that assuages the disgusting hipster that dwells in the filthiest regions of my soul). I had the camera set to a 4.0 aperture and a minimum shutter speed of 1/60, which I knew would give me the right depth of field and motion capture for this scene. I've found that f4 is really the sweet spot for the X100T's lens, with just the right trade-off between depth of field and sharpness.
I took four or five shots to make sure I got what I wanted. I knew I needed the women with their faces visible, their eyes open and their features expressive but also flattering. Lots of street photographs play up the grotesque, but I like to portray people in the best possible light (unless they're jerks).
Anwyway, once I got home that evening, I imported the photo into Adobe Lightroom as a RAW file, which is essentially an 'uncooked' photo; RAW files contain the information captured on the sensor and can be thought of as the digital equivalent of a film negative (indeed, Adobe's version of the RAW format is .DNG, which stands for "digital negative").
As you can see, the RAW is reasonable but underwhelming.
The horizon is tilted, the subjects are a little washed out by contrast, the exteriors are completely blown. The first thing I did was straighten it up with the Auto upright correction tool. Sometimes this works beautifully, sometimes it's a complete shit show and you have to tweak perspective manually. Depending on distortions introduced by your lens, this can be finicky work. The 23mm 2.0 lens fixed to the camera does show distortion in certain situations, but in this case it wasn't an issue.
All straightened up! The next thing is to consider the role of colour in the photo. To wit: does it add to the story or distract from it? In this case, I didn't feel that it added anything. The photo would be a lot more compelling if the shapes and lines were emphasized - the angles of people's backs, the three horizontals and the srong verticals of the ropes dropping from the top of the frame and being picked up again in the reflection on the table.
I have a number of black and white presets that I use from various sources, but in this case I avoided presets (programmed settings) and went with the Monochrome + Yellow Filter Fujifilm camera profile. The result is a crisp and slightly contrasty look that I enjoy. Sometimes I tweak the profile controls further, but in this case I mostly liked what I saw.
Then I did what most photographers probably do but won't admit to: I went to the Basic adjustment panel and hit Auto Tone. This lets Lightroom do a series of basic exposure and tone controls. It's often a good starting point for adjusting a photo and can sometimes bring out aspects of the image you hadn't thought about beforehand.
In this case, Auto Tone did much of what I wanted: brought out some of the fine detail, toned down the contrast a bit and generally balanced the exposure to reduce the problems of dealing with backlit subjects.
After a bit of mucking around, I wasn't quite satisfied with the empty space around the bottom of the photo, so I added a -.5 exposure gradient to darken the area a bit and keep the eye on the main subject. I like to keep most of my adjustments small and subtle where possible.
I continued to make small adjustments here and there to minimize the empty space and elements around the edges of the frame (particularly the light fixtures), but eventually I decided to crop in a little bit. Cropping is a last resort for me, but if it serves the photo better, then so be it.
Perhaps you prefer the extra space along the top and right areas, but photos on the Internet are usually seen as a thumbnail first. If the composition isn't immediately strong, no one is going to pause and take a closer look.
One thing I didn't do in Lightroom is sharpen the image, which really surprised me when I was preparing this post. I apply some sharpening to every image I process, but this is one of the rare photos that doesn't benefit much from sharpening. If I were to process this for print, then I'd definitely sharpen it up. Strange things happen when an image hits paper.
There were a few more adjustments to make to the image, but they couldn't be done in Lightroom. This was a job for Photoshop.
If you look closely at the photo, you'll see some unnecessary elements: signs, lampposts and so on. It's the ugly random crap that your eye snags on. For example a parking sign just below this woman's chin:
Yeah, that's gotta go.
What the hell? Stupid content-aware fill.
Turns out the solution was more content-aware fill! That tool is the solution to, the cause of and solution to all of my problems.
I won't go through the rest of the Photoshop process in numbing detail (mostly because I'm awful at Photoshop and I don't want to show just how bad I am), but a bit of careful selection, Content-aware fill, cloning and blurring removed the signs and the lamp posts.
Lunch at Orange Izakaya.
Last night I went to the CJTR Radiothon wrap-up party. I left before the night was through - who can keep up with community radio supporters when their blood rises and the moon creeps up in their eyes? - but managed to capture the Bystanders and the Ben Templeton Trio. The Royal Red Brigade played as well, but I'm old and stuffy and the methamphetamine was wearing off, so home I went.
Concerts are so blue and red. It's like you're stuck in a musical paddywagon with beer and hickory sticks.
And here's a gallery with extra photos thrown in to enhance your photo-looking-at experience.
Photos taken with my Fujifilm X100T and tweaked in Lightroom. With a couple of exceptions I used the Classic Chrome profile to mute the reds and bring out some fine detail. What's that you say? A camera profile doesn't affect detail rendering on images in Lightroom? Yeah, so what.
Oh nighttime, nightime/ Sneakin' out the back with a tripod/ Hey/ Nighttime, nightime/ Not a lot to rhyme with tripod
Behold the power of Velvia on a bright fall afternoon.
Presented without comment.
Regular visitors to this site may think that my photography is limited to wandering around the streets of this city and taking pictures of garbage and people (but not garbage people - they're up too early). But every so often I pull out lights and backdrops and do some grade-A professional headshot-style photography.
For example: this is Jill, who needed headshots for her new job. One speedlight, a looming bat of an umbrella and a portable backdrop.
I took a lot of shots of Jill, but she looked most relaxed with her head at a slight tilt. So there you go.
And Rolli! I shot him at The Artful Dodger with a combination of window light and a softbox (note the square catchlights in his eyes) on a stick. And a camera. I used one of those. Cameras are so useful for those moments when you want to take a photograph.
My first impulse with portraits is to blast the subject's face with light and banish all shadows to the land of wind and ghosts, but I let the edge of Rolli's face fall into shadow, because mystery. We also wanted to imply that he could snap off his chin and throw it with deadly force at his enemies.
Do you want to wear a lycra bodysuit and a harness and do a superhero pose on top of a building? Because I'll photograph that bidness.
And this is hard to see, but you're looking at a man dressed up as Darth Maul suspended from a 21-story building. You probably want context. Perversely, I refuse to deliver it.
Okay, it was for the Easter Seals Drop Zone charity event. People were rappelling down the face of Hill Tower in downtown Regina. I rappelled at the end of the day and discovered that I wasn't afraid of heights, but the harness, which had been used all day, smelled like the concentrated panic of dozens of spandex-clad adventurers. Not too pleasant.
A note on all the gear: Jill Pacholik shot with an Olympus OM-D E-M5 and Olympus 45mm f1.8. Rolli shot with a Fujifilm X100S. Drop Zone guy #1 shot with a Fujifilm X100T and Sneakers Darth Maul with the E-M5 and Panasonic 35-100mm f2.8.
Sometimes the best you can hope from the world is a bit of texture. It's like that spike of ketchup on the grey greasy fries of existence.
But as always, there's more going on than texture. There's Jenelle, making puttanesca sauce on the barbecue somehow. There's a false owl, set atop the patio umbrella to intimidate stray pigeons. Then there's the unexpected symmetry of windows above and below the balcony. Yeah, that's okay.
This is Mike. He lives in Yesterday. Yesterday is a place where the sun is out and the weather is just warm enough, where a fresh beer has just been placed on the table for you and there's a snake to hang out with.
Not far from there is an alleyway with a puddle that's just been disturbed and a truck that waits for someone to emerge from a hidden doorway.
Good old sunny inaccessible Yesterday. I think I left my keys there.