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Monthly Archives: October 2018

Movie Crash Course: Jezebel

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It’d be easy to write off Jezebel as a copycat of Gone With The Wind – and in fact, GWTW director David O. Selznick accused the Jezebel team of doing precisely that, since there are a lot of parallels (spoiled Southern belle has a tempestuous relationship and gets her comeuppance).  There’s even a claim that Bette Davis was offered the starring role in Jezebel to cheer her up after she was passed over for the role of Scarlett O’Hara. But Jezebel – which was adapted from a Broadway play – is ultimately a little smaller in scope and sets up a bit more of a redemptive arc for its heroine.

Davis plays Julie Marsden, a thoroughly stubborn and spoiled society girl engaged to young banker Preston “Pres” Dillard (Henry Fonda) in 1850s New Orleans. Both Julie and Pres are rather forward-thinking; but where Pres’ views are about things like improving the hygiene and public transit in New Orleans, Julie’s “progressive” views are more about social mores and manners for women.  Not that she’s a feminist as such – just that she wants to wear vibrant colors to an upcoming social event, instead of the demure white that New Orleans society deems appropriate for unmarried women.  In fact, she uses this issue as a means to punish Pres early on, when he is unwilling to leave a business meeting and come dress shopping with her.  When Pres understandably refuses, she picks out a showy, scandalous red ball gown to wear to the high-society Olympus Ball that weekend.  Pres begs her to change – but when Julie accuses him of not being brave enough to defend her against criticism, Pres decides to give in – but more as a “give her enough rope” tactic.  Julie’s dress causes a scandal, she realizes her mistake, and the pair lash out at each other after the ball and the feud breaks them up.

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Pres leaves New Orleans on business soon after, and Julie spends the next year as a relative recluse; regretting her mistake and pining for Pres, feeling too stubborn or embarrassed in turn to write him and ask him back. Then Julie learns of Pres’ return, and joyfully receives him in a new white dress – and is also introduced to Pres’ new wife, a lass from a prominent Northern family.  Shortly after Pres arrives, so does the threat of a Yellow Fever epidemic – so Julie suggests Pres and his wife, along with several of their friends, join her in relocating to her family’s estate just outside town.  There she starts a campaign to either win Pres back or punish him – going so far as to egg another fellow to start a duel with him – but as her plan unspools, her motives become more and more apparent, gradually turning everyone against her.  And then someone in the house catches Yellow Fever themselves…

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Now, I’m ordinarily not all that sympathetic to a character whose big obstacles seem to be “I want to wear what I want whenever I want and people should just deal with it” and “my guy left me because I was a selfish brat”.  Doubly so when their response to the news that her guy has married someone else is “well I’ll just try to break them up”.  I have always had something of a strong “fair play” instinct, and I always want to see such characters get their comeuppance.  (….Okay, maybe I can get bitter about this kind of thing, hush.)  So while the redemptive arc Julie takes at the film’s end feels a little weak, I appreciated that the film took pains to make it clear that Julie realizes that “oh wow, I really screwed up.”  In fact, the film does it twice – once to teach Julie that she shouldn’t meddle in a marriage, but also earlier, when she wears that scandalous red dress to the ball.

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I also usually don’t like scenes that are all about manners and social niceties, but this sequence was brutal.  Julie triumphantly walks into the ballroom on the arm of the stone-faced Pres, proudly beaming at all the other partygoers.  Except they’re not smiling back.  When Julie and Pres approach anyone, they’re initially cordial, but make excuses and leave.  When they step on the dance floor, everyone else wordlessly withdraws. Davis’ performance makes it clear that Julie realizes she messed up big time – and she repeatedly pleads with Pres to take her home, but Pres has decided to give back stubbornness for stubbornness and he all but manhandles her into a dance, even ordering the orchestra to start back up again when the conductor, wildly uncomfortable at the spectacle, stops the music.  Fonda’s stony resolute face and Davis’ shrinking courage make for a haunting scene, and even as you’re saying “yeah, Julie, you brought this on yourself,” you find yourself feeling some sympathy for her as well.  Then her behavior towards Pres’ wife destroys that sympathy when she’s up to her old tricks again.

Davis won the Oscar for Best Actress for this at the end of the day, a year before Vivien Leigh’s Oscar for Gone With The Wind.


Movie Crash Course: Sabotage

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Alfred Hitchcock, director of Sabotage, ultimately didn’t like it very much.  He didn’t get the lead actor he wanted (he wanted to work with Robert Donat from The 39 Steps again, but Donat was sick), his lead actress Sylvia Sidney didn’t like his shooting technique and locked horns with him on set, and he second-guessed himself about whether he went over the top on one of the sequences.   I can agree that it wasn’t perfect, but it’s still nothing to sneeze at.

Sidney plays Mrs. Verloc, the new-ish wife to a movie theater manager; she oversees the box office and sends her kid brother Steve (Desmond Tester) out on errands, and when it’s slow she chats with the friendly greengrocer next door (John Loder, the fellow who ended up replacing Robert Donat).  She’s on cordial, but restrained, terms with her husband Karl (Oskar Homolka) – a fellow with a thick European accent and a habit of slipping out of the house at odd moments.  Karl is nice enough, but his wife (we never learn her first name) is still restrained around him and possibly suspects something’s off.  The greengrocer is also suspicious – he’s actually Sargeant Ted Spencer of Scotland Yard, working undercover and keeping an eye on the suspicious Karl.  And with good reason – Karl has been working with a secretive network of terrorists working to cause mayhem in London, doing things like breaking the city’s power grid and causing a blackout.

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It’s not clear what the terrorists’ goal is, or even who they are.  Karl’s accent is vaguely Germanic or Eastern European – but he’s actually a sympathetic character, who’s only agreeing to help the terrorists because he desperately needs money.  When he gets the order midway through the film to plant a pipe bomb in Piccadilly Circus, he initially protests – he only agreed to actions that would not cause anyone to lose their lives. But his debts are great and his contacts are menacing, and he reluctantly agrees, collecting the bomb from another member of the group at a pet shop he maintains as a front.   But his wife and the sergeant are increasingly suspicious, and the day Karl is meant to deliver the bomb, there’s a policeman stationed outside his apartment, keeping an eye on him.  Out of desperation, he calls for young Steve, asking him to run an errand…

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Hitchcock leaves things really, really vague as to the identity of the terrorists, or even what is their ultimate goal.  Early on you suspect that it’s a foreign government at work – but later scenes imply that it’s an organized-crime racket that Karl has gotten caught up in.   But he also seems strangely cold towards his wife and young brother-in-law; the longest conversations that husband and wife seem to have are when she quizzes him as to his whereabouts the night of the blackout (“….Didn’t I see you coming back in through the crowd just now?”  “…No, I’ve been up here taking a nap all this time.”), and then a later series of complaints he makes about the housekeeper’s cooking skills. So he could be a foreign spy who’s taking advantage of a desperate single woman for a cover – or, he could just be a jerk.  Hitchcock simply doesn’t spend all that much time on Karl’s story or the terrorist’s motives.

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The lengthiest sequence, instead, is one of the by-now-classic-Hitchcock “suspense” sequences, where Steve is innocently delivering the bomb.  Karl has trusted him with the wrapped parcel, simply telling him that it’s a package he needs to leave for a friend.  The bomb is set to go off at 1:45, so Karl, hoping to keep Steve safe, insists that Steve needs to deliver it no later than 1:30 and be on his way home.  But Steve is a kid, and keeps getting distracted en route – stopping to watch a parade, stooping to play with a puppy, getting dragged into being a toothpaste vendor’s guinea pig – and all the while Hitchcock cuts to shots of clocks, ticking past the minutes from noon to 12:30, to 1:15, to 1:30, to 1:35, to 1:42….I was pretty confident that no matter what happened, even if things didn’t end well, Hitchcock wasn’t going to show me anything gory.  But I still caught myself covering my eyes as the minutes ticked by and young Steve pressed on into whatever his ultimate fate would be.

The very end of the film ties a few loose ends up into a bit too neat a bow, but at least it’s a believable one.  This isn’t perfect, but the bits where Hitchcock is on his game sneak up and grab you.

Movie Crash Course: Captains Courageous

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Captains Courageous is not a perfect film; the setup to the main action felt like it ran a bit too long, I never understood why the main character had an accent, I didn’t buy Spencer Tracy’s casting, and the story is a bit too all-American red-blooded hard-work-prevails for me.  But nevertheless it was strangely affecting.

The main character, Harvey Cheyne, is the spoiled-as-hell son of a New York businessman, who’s used to getting his way by bribing people and threatening to sic his father on those not giving him his way.  His father Frank is too caught up in business to set him straight, but when Harvey’s boarding school expels him for three months, Frank is forced to take Harvey along on a business trip to Europe.  Harvey is horsing around on deck as their steamship is passing through the Grand Banks off Newfoundland, and falls overboard – right in front of a dinghy piloted by Portuguese fisherman Manuel (Spencer Tracy – really), crewman on a fishing schooler from Gloucester, Massachusetts. Manuel rescues Harvey and brings him on board the schooner, where the captain tells Harvey they’ll bring him back to shore – after they’ve completed their fishing, in three months’ time. While stuck on board the schooner, Harvey learns valuable lessons about decency, fair play, and hard work, and comes to see Manuel as a surrogate father.

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So, here’s the thing: Harvey is an American kid, but is played by an English child actor, Freddie Bartholomew.  Bartholomew’s great, but his use of his own English accent throughout the film got a little baffling – especially since Harvey’s father has an American accent.  It’s a small nit to pick, but still bugged me since it could have been taken care of so easily (give Harvey’s father an English accent too!  Set the boarding school in London!  Set the whole beginning in London!).  Casting the Irish-American Spencer Tracy as a Portuguese fisherman seemed more egregious; Tracy’s accent is a little weak in spots and he seems to have some obvious makeup.  But there’s a whole host of in-and-out accents throughout, with much of the fishing boat’s crew struggling to keep up their Massachusetts accents; to be fair, though, only New England-born folk like me would notice that last bit.

Also, you’re watching this for the story rather than the accents anyway.  And fortunately, what Bartholomew and Tracy lack in dialect accuracy, they make up for with chemistry.  While it sometimes felt like Harvey’s embrace of the fisherman’s life felt a little rushed, there’s a charm to Bartholomew and Tracy’s scenes that made Manuel and Harvey’s bond believable.  Interestingly, their relationship is wholly invented for the film – Captains Courageous was based on a Rudyard Kipling novel, but in the book Harvey is about 5 years older and bonds in friendship with another cabin boy instead, with Manuel merely being the sailor who happened to save him before fading back into the rest of the crew.  I haven’t yet found the justification for why the filmmakers chose to spin Kipling’s tale to have an absentee-father angle, but it works – when Harvey is finally back on land, he and his father have an uneasy reunion, and even though Frank is being perfectly patient and loving, you completely understand why Harvey wants to stay with the crew.

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Ultimate the film was a smash hit with critics, and Spencer Tracy won the Oscar for Best Actor for his role.

Movie Crash Course: The Life Of Emile Zola

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The Life of Emile Zola felt like two movies, each one about a different distinct phase of the French writer’s life. The first third is a rather conventional biopic about his early poverty-ridden struggles and rise to fame; but the rest of the film follows Zola’s involvement with the “Dreyfus Affair” scandal, and spends so much attention on explaining the situation to American audiences and depicting Alfred Dreyfus’ struggles that Zola is reduced to a supporting character. The tone of each section is markedly different, and it felt more like an ensemble movie about the Dreyfus Affair with a vestigial second movie stuck to it like an extra thumb or something.

(I link to the Wikipedia page above, but a super-quick explanation if you would rather just stay here: Alfred Dreyfus was a French artillery officer who was accused of passing military secrets to the Germans in the 1890s. He was innocent, but he also happened to be Jewish, and when the evidence didn’t convict him, his anti-Semitic superiors conspired to forge some rather than admit they were wrong. They kept up the conspiracy even after Dreyfus had been sentenced to a prison colony and the real evidence pointing to the real culprit, a Hungarian-born count, came to light. Dreyfus’ supporters appealed to Zola for help, thinking he could write something in support of their cause; Zola went even further, writing an open letter to the President of France accusing the entire French government of anti-Semitism and complicity in the cover-up, hoping that he would himself be accused of libel – during a libel trial, he thought, he could present proof of Dreyfus’ innocence.)

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The film does attempt to connect the two parts. The first bit is a run-of-the-mill tale of an artiste getting his big break, and checks all the related tropes.  We see Zola (played by Paul Muni) shivering and starving in a garret with his roommate and childhood friend, the painter Paul Cezanne; we see him quitting a job on principle when his boss wants to curtail his writing; we see lots of passionate pledges to write about “The Truth”; we see the sudden joy at his big break, and the montage of time passing and the money rolling in. We even see the trope of Zola becoming a little bit of a sellout and getting called on it by his old friend Cezanne.

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The movie implies that Cezanne’s accusation nagged at Zola enough to spur him to agree to help Dreyfus; but Muni all but disappears from the screen for 40 minutes after Cezanne’s callout, and such a connection isn’t necessarily apparent to the average viewer.  In fact, I bet you could remove the “Zola: the Early Years” portion from the film entirely and turn this into an ensemble piece solely about the Dreyfus Affair; the film delves into the machinations of the conspiracy in detail, showing several back-room hushed plotting conversations and lots of frantic appeals from Dreyfus himself (played by Joseph Schildkraut, who won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor).  Even during Zola’s libel trial, he’s mostly silent, with his attorney (Donald Crisp) making most of the impassioned arguments for the defense (save for one address Zola gets to make to the jury).  It’s an intriguing enough story to stand on its own, and it got me wondering why they didn’t just make a film about Dreyfus since it seemed like that was where the filmmakers’ interest lay.

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The fact that Dreyfus was Jewish, however, and the fact that it was the 1930s, may have been why. Even though it’s glaringly obvious that Dreyfus is a scapegoat because of his religion, no one in the film actually utters the words “Anti-Semite” or “Anti-Semitic”.  No one says the word “Jew” either, for that matter – the closest they come is when Dreyfus’ accusers are reviewing a list of officers, looking for a likely culprit in the espionage case they’ve just uncovered, and the camera shows us the list, focusing on the line listing Dreyfus’ name, rank, and religion.  “Here’s someone,” one of the officers says, “Dreyfus.”  And – his finger taps the line directly under the word “Jew”.

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At the time this film was made, Hollywood filmmakers were just as aware of the Nazi threat in Germany as the average American (which is to say, not much).  They may have known a bit more than the average American, in fact, since several talented Jewish filmmakers and screenwriters were abandoning Europe for the comparative safety in the United States; director Billy Wilder, an Austrian Jew, had already been in the country for three years at the time Emile Zola was released, having fled Europe as soon as Hitler was elected.  But the rest of the country was unwilling to accuse Germany of anything untoward, taking a sort of “let’s look at both sides” approach (an approach that sounds uncomfortably familiar today).  Film studios regularly submitted both scripts and completed movies to the German consul based in Los Angeles for their approval and would make cuts in the finished films upon request.  Nazi party faithful Georg Gyssling took on the role in 1933, and took his job as Hollywood policeman seriously – regularly threatening the studios that if they showed an anti-German picture anywhere in the world, then all of that studio’s films would be banned in Germany itself.

It’s not a huge leap to imagine that a studio may have initially wanted to make a film about the Dreyfus Affair itself, but slapped Zola’s story around it as a sort of shield to get the Dreyfus story past Gyssling.  But its sensitive treatment of Dreyfus, and its focus on the “Dreyfus years” for Zola, suggest that his was the story they really wanted to tell.

Movie Crash Course: Song At Midnight

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Apologies for the delay; some day job mayhem sucked some of the sap out of my brain, and I’d already been running a bit low after Song At Midnight.  Not that it’s Limite-level opaque, just that I was stumped about what to say about it.

Song At Midnight is often called “the first Chinese horror film”, and most reviews compare it to Phantom Of The Opera. But it’s only loosely based on that earlier work.  There’s a disfigured man lurking in the attic of an opera house, yes, but he’s not interested in kidnapping a lovely young lady to be his protgee and mistress – for this fellow, Song Danping, has already given away his heart to Li Xiaoxia, the daughter of a local official.   And she loves him back – in fact, they were a loving couple ten years prior to the film, when Song was an opera star in the city where they live.  However, another local fellow named Tang Jun was a rival for Li’s affections.  He first tried turning Li’s father against Song – but when that didn’t work, Tang waited outside the stage door of the opera one night with a bottle full of acid, hurling it at Song’s face when he emerged.  The acid attack left Song disfigured, and out of shame he went into hiding in the opera house’s attic, sending a message to Li that he had died of his wounds to spare her. The shock at this news drove Li mad – which also turned Tang off, so he skipped town.  Heartbroken for Li, Song has been sneaking to her window each night and serenading her from the shadows, hoping to give her some comfort.

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That’s all backstory, though, that only comes out midway through the film. We actually begin the movie ten years later, when a touring theater company shows up for its booking in the dilapidated opera house.  The troupe’s young romantic lead, Sun Xiao-au, is running through one of the big numbers alone in the space when Song starts singing along, subtly coaching him through the tricky parts.  Sun discovers Song after a brief investigation and remembers Song from his early glory days – so he’s a bit of a fanboy.  Song is equally impressed with Sun’s singing – and when he sees that Sun is also easy on the eyes, he tells Sun the whole story of him and Li and the acid attack, and then suggests that Sun pay him back by visiting Li that night, posing as Song, and giving her one last embrace and urging her to move on with her life.  Sun is a little weirded out, but goes along with it, and Song is ready to withdraw into his attic for good – until he learns that Tang is also back in town, and realizes he also has a chance for revenge.

The structure of the film made this a tiny bit hard to grasp at first.  The very first thing we see is one of Song’s serenades to Li; a four-minute sequence which jumps back and forth between shots of Song’s shadow hovering against a wall, and shots of Li standing on a balcony and listening.  It makes sense in time, but right at the first you’re left scratching your head a bit.  There’s also a political-revolution subplot that honestly feels a bit tacked on.

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One arresting sequence comes when Song is recounting his story, and we see the aftermath of the acid attack.  Song fortunately had friends to look after him as he recovered, and spent several weeks with face and hands swathed in bandages as his friends rally around him and buck him up. But one day he demanded the bandages off now so he would know how bad the damage was, and his friends grudgingly agreed.  The reveal of his new face is as shocking a scene as was Lon Chaney’s face in the silent-era Phantom – props to the makeup department, seriously – but in this case, it’s a poignant moment, since instead of feeling horror and revulsion, his friends also feel sorrow and pity on his behalf.  After their initial recoil, they rally back to his side, promising bring him food and companionship in his self-imposed exile.  This Chinese Phantom is heartbroken, but not wholly abandoned by the human race.

Movie Crash Course: The Awful Truth

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So.  A couple times in here I have mentioned that I’m not a big fan of “idiot plots” in romantic comedies, where the whole conflict of the film is something that could be solved in about three minutes if the principal characters simply talked to each other like grownups.  In the case of The Awful Truth, however, an idiot plot sparks off the whole story – and it doesn’t bother me in the slightest.

Cary Grant and Irene Dunne play Jerry and Lucy Warriner, a well-to-do couple that gets into a bit of a tiff at the start of the film – a tiff big enough to start divorce proceedings. But the divorce won’t be final for another 90 days, and they keep bumping into each other – accidentally and on purpose – and start to have second thoughts about cutting ties.

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To be fair, the grounds for divorce seem considerable.  Jerry returns from a solo trip to find his wife is not at home – and hasn’t opened his most recent letter to her. She turns up several minutes later dressed to the nines, and accompanied by her music teacher Armand; the pair had been out of town together at a concert the previous night, Lucy says, but then “Armand’s car broke down” and they had to stay where they were.  However, Armand is single and suave, and Jerry is of course suspicious.  But then the defensive Lucy turns up evidence that Jerry’s trip was not to Florida, as he claimed – so why is he accusing her of duplicity at the very moment he’s practicing it?

All of that gets dropped instantly once the real divorce-proceedings plot starts.  This is actually the second time I’ve seen the film, and I didn’t even remember the initial argument that started it off (it’s bothering me a little now that we never learn where Jerry did go instead of Florida); what I remember instead are all the comedic bits, as they are fantastic.  Some almost seem ahead of their time; one sequence sees Jerry and Lucy each bringing a separate rebound date to the same supper club, to rub things in each others’ faces a little. Lucy’s new beau Dan (Ralph Bellamy) is an Oklahoma ranch owner and oilman, while Jerry’s date Dixie (Joyce Compton) is a showgirl at the club.  Jerry and Lucy’s conversation is entirely made of one-upmanship (Dan and Dixie awkwardly looking on) until Dixie excuses herself to go do her act.  The others settle in to watch – and discover together that maybe Jerry should have vetted Dixie’s act a little before boasting about it.

I’ve rewatched that scene about three times now; Cary Grant and Irene Dunne’s reactions crack me up every time.  Throughout the whole film, in fact, they consistently crack me up – especially Cary Grant, whose comic timing is impeccable. I was first shown this film during rehearsals for a play, when the director wanted to teach the cast about the screwball comedy tone she wanted for our own show.  Cary Grant and Irene Dunne were a perfect case study for our actors.

But my own favorite character, both times watching, is a supporting player – Cecil Cunningham, as Lucy’s “Aunt Patsy”, a single socialite Lucy moves in with during the Warriners’ fallout. Aunt Patsy is no genteel wallflower – she is a lively snarker with some of the best lines in the whole movie. In one scene, Lucy is showing Patsy a “Dear John” letter she’s written for one of her rebound beaux – and the unlucky gent turns up unexpectedly, forcing Lucy to break up with him in person. As he’s leaving, he sneers that Lucy has “certainly taught him about women”, and in response, Patsy hands him the letter, quipping “here’s your diploma.”

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The screwball comedy looms large on my list, but I have to admit that this one will be hard to top.

Focus And Perspective

I spent this weekend learning about perspective.

This weekend I was up in the Catskills, at a photography workshop organized by my friend Colin.  It was focusing on capturing the fall color of the Catskills – a subject Colin excels at – but he also taught us ten students a sheer wealth of material, like the challenges of catching leaves when the wind makes them dance, and how to compensate for the fading light of Autumn and why misty days are actually perfect for a fall photo day.  How to capture the endless sweep of a Hudson Valley field sloping down into a dappled lake, and then the trees dotting the far-distant peaks beyond that.

However, I didn’t have quite the chance to try his techniques that I thought I would.  Because on our very first day – only twenty minutes into our first photo session capturing the scene around a Catskill pond, and only five minutes after Colin had wandered over to me and showed me a setting on my little camera that I never knew I had – I lost hold of my camera and it tumbled into the pond.  Everyone else in the class froze when they heard me start chanting ogodogodogodogodogod and splash in after it; then they all started hollering over their remedies and advice –

“Take the battery out right now!”

“Shake all the water out!”

Colin ran over with his car keys.  “Go sit in the truck with the camera right next to the heater for 20 minutes,” he said.  “Then we’ll see what happens.”  I trotted off, and another student, Chuck, tagged along.  “I have a spare camera,” he offered, “you want to use it?”  I told him I’d see how my own familiar camera did first, if I could get it back up and going.  I spent the next 20 minutes carefully swabbing things out with a stack of napkins Colin had in the car and cranking the fan and the heater, with other students periodically wandering by to check on me.

My camera turned on after 20 minutes, but made some strange noises and the viewfinder screen didn’t work.  “I’m thinking you may need to try the bag of rice trick when we get back to the house,” Colin said.  Chuck, hovering nearby, offered his spare camera again so I wouldn’t be sitting around doing nothing at the next photo stop.  This time I said yes – but was still intimidated when he handed over a camera that was twice as big and ten times as complicated as my little friendly drowned camera.  It also came with a big telephoto lens on it that I had to adjust to.  I had to keep trotting over to Chuck to ask how to adjust the shutter speed and ask why it was blinking and ask how to turn off different settings and make it stop making that weird vvvvhh noise.  But I got through that day, and immediately buried my camera in a bag of rice when we broke for the day.  It was still not quite right the next morning, so Chuck once again handed me his big camera with a grin.  But it was a frustrating day of wrestling with the unfamiliar controls and juggling the heavy lens.  I drained a battery because there was an obscure setting switched on that I hadn’t even known how to check, and spent about twenty minutes that second afternoon in a sulk in the car because the battery was dead and it wasn’t even my camera in the first place and I had to keep interrupting Chuck to fix everything and I had also almost dropped a borrowed tripod earlier that day too and I felt like a huge unprepared klutzy doof.

But I got through the weekend, and Colin and Niki (Colin’s better half) brought me to the bus back home – but after a half hour past the time it was supposed to come, we were still there, and both Colin and Niki were just as exhausted as I was waiting with me.  We called the bus company, learned that the bus had broken down and the replacement bus was still two hours away.  We went back to Colin and Niki’s place, sat around a while, then went back to the bus stop – and waited a half hour past the time the second bus was due.  I called the bus company again – and learned that the second driver had actually spaced out, totally bypassed the tiny town where I was, and was halfway to Kingston by then, much too late to turn back around and fetch me.  The most they could do was offer to switch my ticket to one this morning, so Colin and Niki were forced to put me up for one more night.

But.  I spent this weekend learning about perspective.

The morning of our second day, we were lingering for a long time by a lake with a lot of things going on around it – mist wreathing the distant hills, flocks of geese, a water wheel by a small falls, a small boat dock. A man came by with a canoe and we all secretly tried working him into all of our shots, with varying degrees of success (he was paddling fast). I was getting the hang of some of the basic settings on Chuck’s camera by then, and on the last day, when Colin asked us all to show off our six best shots from that weekend to the class for discussion and critique, all of mine came from that lake.

And, so, apparently all those complicated settings on Chuck’s camera do stuff, and it really makes a difference.


There were gasps and “ooh!”s when Colin put my work up – from me as well as the others.  – I took THAT photo? I kept thinking with surprise.  Niki was in the kitchen making us lunch the whole time we were discussing our work, and told me later that she’d been listening to the happy buzz of conversation throughout – and then was confused when suddenly the room went silent.  “And I came out to find out what was going on, and it was because they were looking at one of your photos!”  Chuck took me aside to say that he was glad he’d had a camera to loan me “because look what you did with it.”

Photography is something I’d let slide – I was much more interested in it about 15 years ago, and then a lot of life busyness got in the way.  This all encouraged me to seriously pursue getting a better camera, even if I can revive my old one – apparently there’s a skill there I can develop.  Colin and I spoke a lot about that sometime during all the bus mess; he gave me some advice about what might be the next step.

We also talked about how it was good that this had all been a step out of my comfort zone.  Colin and Niki have known me for nearly 20 years now, and Colin’s always had a talent for spotting what makes me tick, and what advice I may need most at a given moment.  They moved to Colorado a few months ago, but I hadn’t really much chance to catch up with them during the photo class – but even though we were all exhausted, my staying an extra night let us catch up a bit, reminisce and talk about our current lives and even zone out watching the first Doctor Who episode with Jodie Whittaker.

So if I hadn’t dropped my camera – I would never have known what I could do with a better camera, and never would have taken pictures I’m as pleased with as I am those.  And if I hadn’t been abandoned at the bus stop I would never have had an extra precious few hours with two of my closest friends, swapping jokes about pot pies and hurricanes and talking about TARDISes.

I spent this weekend learning about perspective.