My sister snapped this picture the other day: one of her boys got off the school bus with his nose buried in a book. He made it into the driveway, but then spent twenty minutes leaning on their car, reading.
On Saturday night I watched the 2013 documentary Tim's Vermeer. It is a film which follows the efforts of a man- Tim Jenison- to reproduce one of the most famous works of Johannes Vermeer, the seventeenth century Dutch painter. Tim Jenison is the founder of a computer company called NewTek. In his spare time, Jenison tinkers with various inventions he's come up with and indulges in an eclectic array of hobbies. One of these is art, specifically the artwork of Vermeer. Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675) was a Dutch painter who was renowned for the almost photo-like quality of his work, particularly his amazing ability to paint light. This can be seen in all of his paintings, including two of his most famous ones- The Girl With A Pearl Earring, and The Geographer:
What seems to have caught Tim Jenison's interest is a 2001 book written by an architect named Philip Steadman called Vermeer's Camera. In it, Steadman argues that Vermeer used a camera obscura to produce images to trace for his paintings. This was not a new idea: the controversial theory has been kicked around for over a hundred years. The difference is that Steadman built an accurate reconstruction of Vermeer's studio and also a camera obscura which, while not proving the artist used this method, proved that he could have done so.
Jenison reads this book and becomes obsessed with proving to himself that Vermeer could have actually painted pictures in this manner. Documented on film by his friend, Penn Jillette, he begins an investigative journey which will span several years. His first effort involves setting up a mirror at a 45 degree angle and using it to paint a portrait of his father from an inverted photograph of him. The experiment is successful:
Jenison next determines to try to reproduce Vermeer's The Music Lesson by using a camera obscura. To do this, he builds an exact replica of Vermeer's studio to scale. Inside the studio, he builds a dark room which will be the camera obscura. It turns out that there is enough room to build one of the size needed to sit in and see the reflected image of the room.
Tim then decorates the room to look exactly like The Music Lesson and gets to work on his painting. It takes a long time, naturally, and he refines his method as he goes along. For example, he finds that using a concave mirror- which were used in telescopes in Vermeer's time- is more effective and switches to one. He also travels to Britain to consult with Philip Steadman, the author of Vermeer's Camera and gets to see the real painting while he's there. In the end, Tim Jenison's efforts result in a very respectable reproduction of The Music Lesson and this seems further evidence that Vermeer could have- and perhaps probably did- use a method similar to this when he was painting. Ultimately, it is left to the viewer to decide if they think Vermeer used a camera obscura, and what, if anything, this says about his artwork if he did.
Tim's Vermeer on the left; the real McCoy on the right.
Well it's about time. I was getting pretty tired of slogging through every day, responsible for my own actions and accountable for everything I do and say. If only, I've often thought longingly, I was a member of an identified minority group, then I would be able to relinquish these attributes of adulthood and rest easy, secure in the knowledge that I couldn't be expected to control my impulses and behaviours.
Of course, I am a woman and thus a perpetual victim of the patriarchy, but sadly, this doesn't enjoy the same cachet that it once did. For one thing, feminists have confused everyone by conflicted messaging; women are- according to them- strong enough to run the world, yet simultaneously too weak to be expected to compete in a meritocracy or, y'know, even pay for their own birth control pills. Plus, they have shot themselves in their Birkenstock-clad feet by supporting the idea that transgender people are born that way while arguing at the same time that gender is a social construct. In addition, they have lent credibility to those who maliciously insinuate that women are bad at math by continuing to push the debunked issue of a wage gap. And let's face it, feminists just don't have the street cred of other special interest groups... calling an opponent a misogynist isn't nearly as toxic as calling him a transphobe or islamophobe, for instance. Radical feminists, you need to up your game.
But, thanks to a student at the University of New Orleans, I've had my eyes opened to the oppression which I have been suffering since early childhood. Really, where would we be without the modern, sensitive university students who are diligently searching for- and finding- offense under every rock and behind every bush? We certainly do owe them a debt of gratitude. In an article in the school paper entitled "It's Time To Check Your Privilege", Darius Miner lists a lot of privileges we need to check. Most are the usual, mundane ones- white, male, cis, etc., but if you skim over all that nonsense you'll come to the one which interests me: right-handed privilege. That's right, Righties: recognize you privilege and be ashamed.
I realized at a young age that I wasn't the same as other members of my family. I held my crayons in my left hand and bumped elbows with the brother I sat next to at the dinner table. I didn't understand, however, that these things were evidence of my marginalization. I blame my parents for this lack of awareness; from the first, they treated me the same as my right handed brothers and sisters and had the same scholastic expectations of me. Because of this, I learned to write neatly and use scissors competently instead of demanding that allowances be made for my disadvantage. How is that fair?
This callousness on the part of my parents about my affliction led to a lack of sensitivity on my part towards left-handed discrimination. For example, it never occurred to me to take offense over the fact that the word "sinister" which now is defined as "ominous or evil", comes from the Latin word which means "on the left hand side". Or that the word "gauche" which means "clumsy, awkward, or inept" is from the French term for "left". Looking back at my unconcern over these problematic terms, I can only conclude that I was unconsciously self-loathing. Not only does right-hand privilege affect my mental health, it may also be detrimental to my physical well-being:
Is this what I have to look forward to? Thanks a lot, dexterarchy.
Now, some deniers might try to argue that there is no systematic or institutional discrimination of lefties, but this disagreement is just proof of their ingrained privilege. They may even try to argue that many successful people- Leonardo Da Vinci, Albert Einstein, Marie Curie, Winston Churchill, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates to name a few- were left handed. But what does this prove... you know who else was left-handed? Napoleon Bonaparte, who probably lost at Waterloo because his weapons were designed for right handers. Alexander the Great was a lefty, and he was dead at age 32 from some unknown illness- no doubt bowel disease. Julius Caesar was left handed, and look what happened to him... political intrigue or anti-left handed bigotry: you decide. And who's to say that Jack the Ripper- another lefty- didn't finally snap under the weight of oppression and take his rage to the streets? It's always a mistake to judge someone's actions without considering root causes.
Fellow lefties, it's time to rise up and demand affirmative action for the other-handed. We cannot be expected to attain success on our own, so we need to fight for reverse-discriminatory hiring practices and university quotas- equality through inequality! Those who protest these measures should be sent to sensitivity and diversity training, perhaps to spend a day with their right hand tied behind their back. Of course, this isn't exactly the same as having two functioning hands with a dominant left, but sometimes hyperbole and exaggeration are needed to push an agenda. It's time to smash the dexterarchy and fight for our rights- oops, I mean our lefts... or something. For further reading on this important issue, check out Rex Murphy's excellent article:
Knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers. It may not be difficult to store up in the mind a vast quantity of facts within a comparatively short time, but the ability to form judgments requires the severe discipline of hard work and the tempering heat of experience and maturity. -Calvin Coolidge
Well. The game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Washington Capitals was last night. It was do or die for Toronto, as they were trailing in the series 3-2. They played hard but unfortunately lost in overtime, so they're out of the playoffs. This of course shouldn't come as a great surprise to hockey fans, as the Leafs are notorious for losing- the last time they won the cup was 1967. They were, however, doing a lot better than usual this year (they actually made the playoffs) so we had hopes that they would make it through at least to the next round. But it was not to be, and this morning Leaf fans are feeling a bit like Charlie Brown:
Of course, Leaf fans are also eternally loyal and disillusionment will soon give way to hope for next season, so I guess we're more like Linus and the Great Pumpkin:
While I like watching hockey, there aren't a lot of sports movies that I enjoy watching, mostly because they almost all have the same plot. There are, however, a few that I can think of which I like, although the reasons I enjoy them have little to do with the sports involved. One is Chariots Of Fire, based on the true story of Eric Liddell and Harold Abrahams at the 1924 Olympic games. Another is Remember The Titans, which is also based on the true story about a high school football team in Virginia during integration in 1971. The only other one I can think of that I really enjoy is Breaking Away, the 1979 film about Dave, a recent high school graduate who is obsessed with cycling and talks his three friends into competing in a race they can't possibly win... or can they?
As I stated in Part II of my review of Return Of The Jedi, I think the middle section of the film is extremely weak. This is, of course, the part of the movie which takes place almost exclusively on Endor. Happily, the third act improves quite a bit, at least the parts which take place off of the moon. Unfortunately, the Endor stuff goes from from bad to worse, or more accurately, from ridiculous to ludicrous. Let's start out on a positive note, with what went right in this part of the film.
The scenes in the film that follow Lando and the rebel fleet are effective, even if I don't think much of their strategy- maybe they should have had some sort of pre-arranged signal from the strike team to know the shields were down, for example. Or not down, as the case may be. Nevertheless, these scenes provide tension and a sense of urgency to the plot.
The interactions between Luke and the Emperor and Darth Vader work pretty well. Palpatine is suitably repulsive and gleefully evil as he goads Luke towards the dark side. We also see Vader begin to have some conflicted feelings about what's going on... murdering enemies and underlings is one thing, but killing his own son seems to be a bridge too far. The duel between Luke and Vader has a sense of coming full circle. There are three major lightsaber duels in the trilogy: the first is between Vader and Ben Kenobi in A New Hope, during which the younger upstart beats the master. In a sense, in the duel in Return Of The Jedi, this scenario is repeated. This fight is also a reversal of what happened during the duel in The Empire Strikes Back: in that one, Luke was outclassed from start to finish by his father. But now the situation has changed, and it is Vader who is struggling to hold his own against Luke.
The scene where Luke cuts off Vader's hand and then looks at his own artificial one is a bit obvious, but it still works. Luke realizes that, in trying to destroy what he hates, he is becoming what he hates. He has the same choice to make that long ago Anakin Skywalker had, and he makes the decision to step away from the abyss (unlike the Emperor, literally or figuratively).
Now for what doesn't work: everything on Endor. In Part II, I discussed a number of reasons why I dislike the Ewok plot line, but it gets even worse in this final section of the film. It's beyond ridiculous that these ursine primitives armed with rocks and sticks defeat trained troops with advanced weaponry and vehicles. Not only is this completely unbelievable, it makes the rebels look like a bunch of incompetent weaklings. On Hoth the rebels, in possession of a fortified base, armed vehicles, and all the latest technology couldn't hold off the Imperial troops and had to beat a hasty retreat. Yet teddy bears with stone-tipped spears succeed where all our heroes failed. I hope the profits made on the sale of Ewok toys made completely beclowning the plot worth it.
O.K., so this isn't exactly a criticism of the film, but I've never really liked the Darth Vader death scene. I get that it's trying to show that, under the mask, Vader is human-old and scarred. But the initial thought I had upon viewing Return Of The Jedi for the first time was, "He looks like the big head of the Wizard of Oz." That thought occurs to me each time I see this scene. Silly, I know, but there it is.
I also don't really like the ending of the movie, and have a few questions about the ghost jedi scene. Apparently Vader's deathbed conversion qualified him for entrance back into the club, but why do Yoda and Ben look like they did when they died, but Anakin got new clothes and got his hair back. What's with that? It's even worse in the revamped version, where he also becomes a couple decades younger. And are the ghosts of all the Jedi he murdered hanging around? Because that could get awkward.
The final scene is, frankly, completely cheesy. Everyone's running about hugging each other while the Ewoks sing and dance. It's pretty dreadful, and it was completely unnecessary. The screenwriter wanted Luke, after burning his father's body, to walk off into the darkness, future uncertain. George Lucas, however vetoed this as being too dark, which could lessen toy sales. Hence the dance party in the Ewok village. Again, I hope it was worth it. So those are my thoughts on Return Of The Jedi. It's an okay film: it has plenty of action and does a pretty good job of drawing the Star Wars trilogy to a close. But the plot line which takes place on Endor drags the movie down, killing the drama and making the main characters appear incompetent to the point of abject stupidity. Also, the Ewoks taking down the Imperial troops with sticks and stones is ridiculous. Science fiction doesn't have to be completely realistic, but it should make some sort of logical sense.
One of my sisters related a conversation she had with one of her kids:
Emily picks up a book entitled "The Paper Airplane Book" with the cartoon picture of a boy with paper airplane in flight. "This doesn't look interesting, but I'm going to read it because 'you can't judge a book by its cover.'" "It's about making paper airplanes." She looks inside the book. "It's about making paper airplanes? Then I guess you can judge a book by its cover." Shuts the book.
Luke allows himself to be captured by Imperial troops, who take him to see Vader. He tells him that he has accepted that Vader was once Anakin Skywalker and urges his father to return to his former self. Luke says that he can feel the good still in Vader. Apparently Vader isn't feeling it though, because he takes Luke to the Death Star to meet the Emperor.
Once aboard the Death Star, Luke meets Emperor Palpatine, the skull-faced leader of the Empire and practitioner of the dark side of the Force. He's obviously counting on Luke being a chip off the old block, who can be goaded into losing his temper and giving in to the dark side.
He has the perfect weapon to use against Luke when the rebel fleet arrives to attack the Death Star and the shields are still up. Huh. It's almost like the team down on the moon shouldn't have been bumbling around, wasting time instead of sabotaging the shield generator. The Emperor gleefully informs Luke that he allowed the plans for the Death Star to be stolen in order to lure the rebels out in the open where they could be destroyed.
The rebel ships engage in fighting the Imperial ships while waiting for the shields to come down. Then, to everyone's shock, the supposedly unfinished death star powers up its laser cannon and blows up a rebel destroyer. The station is fully operational! Admiral Akbar wants to call off the attack, but Lando convinces him to hang on and give Han and the others more time to get the shields down. Meanwhile on the Death Star, the emperor sneers at the pitiful rebellion, telling Luke that it will be stamped out and all his friends killed. Luke is visibly infuriated and the emperor encourages him to give in to his hate and embrace the dark side. Eventually he breaks, grabs his lightsaber, and takes a swing at the emperor, but his attack is parried by Vader.
Down on Endor, the strike team has actually managed to find its way to the shield generator. A surprise to no one by this point, they haven't developed a plan beforehand for the not-unlikely possibility that it would be guarded and are now crouched in the bushes trying to figure out what to do. The Ewoks take it upon themselves to attack the stormtroopers and draw them away so that Han and his team can work on getting the shields down.
Thus begins the battle of Endor between a rag tag tribe of stone age teddy bears and a large force of the feared Imperial stormtroopers who are clad in armour, carrying blasters, and using vehicles armed with laser cannons. Of course, the Ewoks win, because, um... never mind, they just do. Don't ask questions.
Back at the generator, our tough rebel heroes haven't fared as well; they've managed to get themselves captured by the stormtroopers. Fortunately, they are rescued by Chewbacca and his Ewok bros and go back to trying to get the shields down. Leia has been wounded in the fighting, but is O.K., and they manage to get into the generator and load it up with explosives, blowing it up and bringing down the shields on the Death Star.
Of course, all of this has taken time and the rebel fleet has been struggling to stay alive as they wait for the shields to come down and suffering grievous losses. On the Death Star, Luke has regained control of his emotions and backed off, refusing to fight his father. Unfortunately, Vader uses the Force to reach into Luke's mind and discovers the fact that Leia is Luke's twin sister. Gloating, he suggests that, if Luke can't be turned, perhaps she can. Luke snaps and rushes to attack Vader: they fight for a while, but Luke is obviously besting his father and eventually knocks him down, cutting off his mechanical hand.
Luke looks at his father's severed hand, and then looks at his own mechanical one, realizing that he is becoming just like Vader. He steps back, shuts off his light saber, and tells the Emperor that he has lost; Luke is a Jedi, like his father before him.
The Emperor doesn't take disappointment very well and hits Luke with finger-lightening. Luke, writhing on the floor, calls out to his father, who has managed to haul himself upright again, for help. At first Vader doesn't react, but as the torture continues, he seizes the Emperor from behind. Wracked by Palpatine's out-of-control lightening, Vader manages to carry his master to a conveniently placed bottomless pit and tosses him in. The emperor falls to his death, spewing lightening all the way. Once he's gone, Vader collapses.
By this time, the strike team has finally managed to get the shields down and the remaining rebel ships attack the Death Star, led by Lando in the Millennium Falcon. They hit the station's equivalent of a glass jaw and it starts to be rocked by explosions. On board, Luke is trying to carry his fatally injured father to an escape pod. Collapsing under his weight, Luke stops to rest and Vader tells him to take his mask off. Luke does and, dying, Vader gasps out that Luke was right about him. Once he's gone, Luke continues to an escape pod. And then the Death Star blows up.
Down on the moon, there are wild cheers as they witness the destruction of the battle station. Han tells Leia that he's sure Luke got off of the Death Star before it exploded. Leia says she knows he did: she can feel it. She also- finally- tells Han that Luke is her brother, ending his inexplicable jealousy.
Unsurprisingly, Luke has made it off the Death Star, and with his father's body, too. He builds a pyre and cremates Darth Vader. He then goes to the Ewok village where there's a party going on. Before he joins in, Luke looks out into the dark and sees three ghostly figures: Ben Kenobi, Yoda, and his father.
Leia draws Luke into the celebration; everyone hugs, the Ewoks dance and chant, and... that's how the trilogy ends.