Sunday, July 28, 2013

How To Make An Anniversary Keepsake For Your Parents: A Comedy Of Errors

Back in March, I mentioned how I wanted to do something for my parents' 40th anniversary.

Today was their anniversary.

Here's what went down-

April 7th: I place an order with ATS Rentals to rent an 8mm projector with a Super 8 adapter for a week.

April 13th & 14th: I finally get to see what is on all the reels from the basement. The projector works great- although, I do end up briefly panicking about how if you pause a reel for too long, it make it look like the film is burning (my sister would later see this image and freak-out about how it looked like an ant hill to her) and when one reel snaps early in the roll, but I quickly figure out how to re-cut and salvage the footage safely. Also, the rental came with complimentary Jelly Bellies. I am smitten with the company.

Some are surprisingly boring. The few that are good: My sister's first few Christmases as well as her first birthday. There is also a Christmas that is pre-kids and, what makes it truly gold, is that my father actually got in front of the camera at some point. This is a major win as he's usually the one taking pictures or filming (sometimes there are pictures of him with his camera. And I do have footage from one Christmas in the 90s where you can clearly see both his brothers also have camcorders in their hands- that was a little bit of overkill)

April 16th: I send out an email to anyone I could think of, requesting any photos, videos, and more (no one wanted to do more, sadly, so I'm not going to even go into more description).

The rest of April and all of May are basically lost to the hell of an office move. The last week of May, I start to get the first few sets of pictures from aunts.


The first week of June, I buy a light-weight scanner- a CanoScan Lide210. I had been planning on getting it, for the photos, but it spends the first week on my desk at work, as we didn't have our office solution copier yet and I needed to make a lot of scans of documents.

I then spend June scanning pictures most evenings and making a ridiculous amount of trips to my parents' house to scan and/or steal photos. When discovered, I cover by saying I'm scanning photos for fun and that I noticed some of the albums in the basement were falling apart and felt like digitizing them.

By mid-June, I'm working on the video. I make the odd decision to use an iMovie template for the first time- the photo album one. I think I rationalized it as helping with the fact that the video was going to be mostly photos, which was a big change for me.

The first song I try with the wedding photos is "What Is Life" by George Harrison. It quickly starts to depreciate, though, and isn't quite right.  Too peppy. I switch to a softer Harrison song, "Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth)".

June 13th: I then add Ringo Starr's "Photograph" for the reception footage, only to later actually listen to the lyrics and decide to only use a small snippet of it for a transition rather than the whole song. Damn those lyrics, as the song had the perfect tempo.

June 29th: I then decide on using Paul Simon's "Kodachrome" at some point, but don't know where in the video to put it. I had been fighting it, as I didn't want to use songs that were too obvious for home video footage- like how I wouldn't dare use Joe Cocker's cover of "A Little Help From My Friends". I always associate "Kodachrome" with the Coneheads movie's home movie segment. Which, while Coneheads isn't the height of pop culture, the association is still there. "Here Comes the Sun" ends up being put over the footage of my sister's era as an only child.

June 30th: I'm still struggling on songs and put out a desperate plea for help on Facebook, saying that I'll be using "Superfly" if no one stops me. One of my aunts wisely points me in the direction of a song played at their wedding, "Danny's Song". A song I knew but never knew the name of. I settle on the Loggins & Messina version, rather than the Anne Murray one.

By the 4th of July, I've received all the photos I'm going to get from people. I spent the holiday editing like a fiend, knowing that time is running out and this is my last chance. I also realize I don't have a picture of both of my sister's kids with our parents. I force a picture to be taken during our family reunion that weekend.

I start looking for songs outside of the 1973 holding point I began at, while also looking for songs that represent both parents. When I can't find a song to go over footage of me as a baby, I suddenly remember Roy Orbison's Black & White special. A "Sweet Dreams Baby" duet Bruce Springsteen is a perfect combination of both parents.

I also finally figure out what to use for the reception footage: the Beach Boys. "Wouldn't It Be Nice".

"Kodachrome" ends up being put over all the annual family Christmas photos and professional photos as well as over the "thank you" footage. I decide to not let Coneheads get in the way.

July 15th: I know I need one more song for one more segment, but the well is once again dry and I don't even know what the theme of the segment would be. The video is hovering around 20 minutes long and I'm starting to worry that it's too long and too disjointed. I ask to borrow my niece to possible do some hosting segments.

July 18th: I remember that I have "When I'm Sixty-Four" and suddenly realize that I can use it for showing parallels between pictures from different eras. But I still need one more song, because it's too low-key to end on.

July 21st: My niece ends up at Six Flags the day I intended to do the hosting segment. I have to wait until the 26th.

July 24th: I'm in the crunch now, determined to get everything finished by Saturday and even cooking up a plan to sneak the dvds of the project into their house over night. I finally find the last song I need: Linda Ronstadt's cover of "Rescue Me". I end up having to re-cut the song so that it's significantly longer, but it works. I have almost everything ready to be "locked down" and to start testing exports.

July 25th: At 10:30 PM, I make what was going to be my last edit before declaring it locked down... and then all the set times for how long photos display on screen mysteriously re-set themselves. Most suddenly become 7 seconds (which was never a length I used in the video), some become 10, others become 5. I'm up until 1:30 on a worknight trying to fix the transitions. I start freaking out.

July 26th: I record my niece and... it just doesn't go well. The microphone doesn't pick her voice up very well, she's mumbling out of self-consciousness. There's a fan in the background. But the good news is that I realize that I had my dates messed up and that the video needs to be done by Sunday, not Saturday. I go home and fall asleep at 9:30 with a migraine.

July 27th: 

12:30 AM: I wake up with terrible and debilitating cramps. So, I work on the video until 5:30 AM and lock it down for real this time. I set it to do an HD export as I read in bed and try not to freak out. I start putting the dvd menu theme together.

11 AM: The first export mysteriously re-set all the transitions this time. I re-do them. Start another HD export. Start uploading the faulty one to YouTube, just in case all else fails.

5:30 PM: I throw caution into the wind and agree to go to a movie rather than spending the evening obsessing over the export.

10:30 PM: I come home four hours later to find the export failed. I try again, having realize I forgot some other items that I meant to add to the video. I try to salvage the footage of my niece from Friday.

July 28th: 

3:30 AM: Third export is good. But I completely give up on the "sneak in overnight" idea due to having another raging migraine.

4:30 AM: I start a new YouTube upload of the correct version. I fall asleep for exactly an hour.

5:30 AM: I can't get the new export to merge with the bookend segments with my niece. I end up just putting them all on the dvd menu- all as separate items, though.

7 AM: I go to burn the dvds and... computer says no. DVDs get spit out every time I pop them in. I resort to Video_TS and Audio_TS files on an external drive and a lie. I realize that I also left the DVD labels at work on Friday.

9:30 AM: I drive to my parents' house. Lie about why I need to borrow a computer. I put in one of the two dvds I made and... the laptop eats it. I have to restart it to get the disc back. And it won't do a proper burn.

11 AM: I end up getting the dvds to play in the laptop's dvd player and hope it's enough.

1 PM: I clandestinely leave a card with the dvds in the envelope on their kitchen table while I'm talking to both of them.

5 PM: They don't find the envelope until hours later when they come back from dinner.

8 PM: The dvds don't work in real dvd players. They end up watching on a laptop. They say they like it.

10:30 PM: I go to sleep. This morning's YouTube upload is still only at the 81% mark, but everyone else is just going to have to wait to see it.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

In Defense of Center Stage

You know what? I'm not going to feel bad anymore about liking the 2000 movie, Center Stage.

Because, as far as sports movies (yes, I'm calling ballet a sport) go, it might be one of the best ones. As the majority of the leading cast were professional ballet dancers. And one Olympic champion figure skater (Hi, Ilia Kulik!). And then the cast members that weren't dancers were all playing roles that required actual acting- like the breakthrough performance of the still-not-appreciated-enough-nor-given-good-enough-roles Zoe Saldana.

Zoe Saldana, who I cheered for when she popped up in the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie because of how much I loved her in Center Stage. Zoe Saldana, the actress that I have watched terrible things like Crossroads and Avatar for, just because I knew she'd at least be interesting.

Yes, I am praising Center Stage and claiming James Cameron's Avatar a terrible film on the level of a Britney Spears vehicle all in one post. I understand if your mileage varies- I'm just saying I'm not apologizing for liking Center Stage anymore.

Center Stage isn't a great movie overall, I admit that. But it's fucking entertaining. And a better ballet movie than Black Swan. Although, at least Black Swan had some reasoning for how characters managed to change their entire outfit, make-up, hair style, and toe shoes in the blink of an eye while they were still supposed to be on stage in front of a live audience.

That moment still breaks my brain a little bit in the end ballet. Not to mention the super-awkward simulated sex ballet movies done moments before that- with Jodie's parents in the audience watching. I'm still amazed that when her parents find her backstage and praise her performance, there's not a moment where one of her parents just goes, "But did you have to strip down to your bra and panties and pretend to have sex in front of everyone? Did that Cooper boy force you to do that? Do we need to get a lawyer, sweetie?"

But, still, despite the reality break and ballet sex, that last ballet is really fun to watch. It beats any final play of a fictional football team any day. And makes it so you almost don't roll your eyes at how all of the main kids got Magical Happily Ever After endings to their stories. Not to mention how both the ballet and Jodie's speech to Peter Gallagher make you realize how much Amanda Schull looks like a prettier and better haired version of Jennie Garth as there's a lot of "I choose me" vibing going on there.

And, yes, Ethan Stiefel is quiet the terrible actor and his character is hilariously all over the place (with a never-ending supply of low-cut tank tops to show off his dancer pectoral muscles). Sascha Radetsky isn't much better, but he just needs to play the sweet guy and he achieves that pretty easily.

You know who's really good at playing a sweet and loyal boyfriend in the film, though? Eion Bailey. I was probably 45 minutes into the film before I realized that the vaguely Paul Rudd-esque guy was, in fact, August from Once Upon A Time. Before getting that mid-30s vaguely-distressed stubble-y look, his chiseled jawline was the jawline of a pretty boy and not a handsome (sometimes wooden) man.

And, finally, by re-watching the film for the first time in years, I realized I'm still in awe and envy of Amanda Schull's hair. Center Stage is worth watching just to marvel at the main character's hair and hair styles.

So, go watch Center Stage now! It's all on YouTube!

Friday, July 12, 2013

Austen Settee Limits: Austenland is Coming...

The Good: Keri Russell
The Bad: Producer Stephanie Meyer

The Good: J.J. Feild is always a great Austen-esque Male lead (see ITV's Northanger Abbey and- although it's not Austen- The BBC's The Ruby in the Smoke for further examples).
The Bad: I like Jennifer Coolidge, but I like her in small doses. This doesn't look like a small dosage.

The Good: Hey, it's based on a book that escaped my grasp! Something to read!
The Bad: Huh, the book description seems to have little in common with the movie trailer.

How do you feel about Austenland? Anyone see it at Sundance?

Yes, I Am Still Talking About Anne Shirley

As I mentioned before, when I'm feeling down I seek comfort in the greatest Canadian heroine of the 20th century: Anne Shirley.

Watching Anne of Green Gables every time it was on PBS (or, even better, on the two tape collection) was a major past-time in my family. My mother loved it. My sister loved it. My godmother was usually the person we borrowed the tapes from. And I had no chance but to love Anne of Green Gables, too.

I was young enough that when I did the majority of my watching of Anne of Green Gables (and the sequel, which at the time was called Anne of Avonlea but has since been retitled to Anne of Green Gables: The Sequel) the follow-up TV series, Road to Avonlea, was still airing on Disney. But Avonlea without Anne Shirley is like a day without sunshine.

So, as I was feeling pretty crappy this past 4th of July as well as feeling rather miffed at my fellow Americans, I decided that I'd watch Anne of Green Gables while drinking a tumbler of Mexican tequila mixed with German cherries and cherry juice. And then I kept watching as the weekend went by. There is very little on television at this time of year, so why not just keep re-watching Anne of Green Gables?

And then I pulled out the old battered copies that my mother had received as a child in the 1950s. With artwork depicting a slender and sleek redheaded woman that looks nothing like Megan Follows and also nothing like any early 20th century Canadian girl I've ever imagined.

The books were a bit of a letdown, the first time I started thumbing through them. I've seen the tv specials so many times in my life- I remember when I used to also get scared when Diana was helping the limping Anne through the woods and Anne would start talking about the ghosts they imagined living there. That's how young I was the first, oh, dozen or so times I watched the specials. So, to go back as an adult and realize that Montgomery's writing isn't exactly the greatest was a little startling. The books are decent enough- it's not like they're terrible, but they're easy reads with a lot of flowery writing. Similar to Little Women, in some respects. There's very little action, however, with a lot of talking and I've come to realize that they're much better when being read outloud. As otherwise I'll just start to glaze over from the plethora of new names and silly little conversations that don't read in my head nearly as entertainingly as Dear Lucy Maud intended them to be.

So, that's how I spent a whole sick day from work this week- listening to the audiobook of Anne of the Island, only to realize that there's no audio version for Anne of Windy Poplars (at least not one available on Audible, iTunes, or even Librivox). It's a little intriguing to realize what was grabbed from Anne of Avonlea, Anne of the Island, and Anne of Windy Poplars to make the second television movie and what was kept. There's a rather heart-breaking death in Island that was completely ignored, but I wonder if it would've been worth including. Possibly not The twins, Davy and Dora, were pretty much completely removed and I can't really blame them (although, they did end up on the tv show towards the end). Minnie May Barry ends up basically taking Davy's place.

Thankfully, they also removed most of the proposals Anne received while at university. The girl has FIVE proposals by the summer she graduates. FIVE. And only one repeat customer!

For what it's worth, the second special is still good but not nearly as good as the original. I would've liked it more if they kept the story in Avonlea or at least on the island. I don't care for all that prep school meangirls nonsense. I would've preferred to see Anne going to her birth place and maybe a bit of Stella and Aunt Jimsie or Miss Lavender and more Marilla and Rachel than we were given. And having Gilbert as a friend for a bit before the whole weird distance-y mooning deal. However, I do love watching Colleen Dewhirst's scenes and trying to guess if she was wearing jeans under her dress or not (apparently, she was at times, I can't blame her!).

"Hello, John Blythe. I'm totally wearing jeans under this dress- want a peek?"
And, of course, the second TV special gets extra points for including not one but TWO members of the Kids in the Hall.

I think the thing that really gets me about the Anne of Green Gables tv specials is that they has no right being as good as they are. If you've ever had the misfortune to see the animated version, you know how terrible it can get. In the animated version, you don't end up loving Anne. You end up wanting to smack her and then kill her, she's so disgustingly ignorantly upbeat.

But Megan Follows has such an amazingly perfect performance in the 1985 special that never makes Anne's flights of fancy sound saccharine and one-dimensional. Anne Shirley may be an optimist and a romantic- but Megan Follows knew as a teenager to play Anne as someone that is trying to convince herself that everything is okay. She knew that the only way an orphan could keep her head up and stay as determined as Anne did was to use her fantasies for escape and for courage.

I think my favorite moment is when Miss Stacy comes over for dinner. Because normally I hate the type of moments like that one. Anne discovers a dead mouse in the sauce for the pudding but, before she can both remove the mouse and fully confess to having forgotten to cover the sauce to prevent that, a comedy of errors results in the sauce being served to everyone for dessert. Then, just as her treasured teacher is about to take a spoonful of cream with a hint of dead mouse- Anne shouts "PLEASE DON'T EAT IT MISS STACY!" and startles everyone into a near heart-attack. She then confesses about the mouse, apologizes for her faults and then, to her surprise, Marilla and Miss Stacy start to laugh heartily at Anne's drama. It's as they laugh that Megan Follows has one of her best moments- Anne struggling to understand her emotions- embarrassment, relief, confusion, and a little bit of weariness at not finding the moment funny despite how much everyone (well, you can't tell if Matthew is in on it) is laughing. It's perfect.

Anne was such a good character to get to know as a young girl. I was never one to "pretend out loud" but I felt like I got to by proxy via watching Anne. As a kid (and, well, as an adult) I was prone to speak flowery a little too often and wrote more than my fair share of bad poetry (at one point, I wrote a freeverse poem for each of the girls in my little middle school clique. All of them pouring my heart and soul into how much I appreciated each girl for her uniqueness. Thankfully, I never showed them to those girls.). Anne got that. Anne was that. Anne was the safe knowledge that it's okay to be the girl that's reading and walking at the same time. Anne was the comfort that it was okay to not yet be interested in boys, despite your friends being completely obsessed with boys. Anne was the distance needed to see that when a parent yells at you, it's often out of fear or worry rather than hatred. Anne was the dream that you don't have to go only as far as people think you will go.

And, most importantly, Anne was the realization that friendships, not romances, are the strongest and most emotional relationships you will have outside of family.

Sadly, the roommate does not share my love of The Anne-Girl yet. Mostly because she has never seen any of it. I will fix that, eventually.

Oh, and you might've realized I didn't bring up the third special. Because there was no third special. Don't be ridiculous. I also tend to feel that Annes House of Dreams and all later books are too boring, though.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Pretty Girls in Puff Sleeves

So, you've seen that Dustin Hoffman clip that's been circulating online, right? If not, here it is.

Now let's talk about that. Because the topic is one that people don't like to talk about. About how a woman's value still rests on her beauty as a major factor. A man can be as fucking grossly ugly as possible, but if he's funny? If he's smart? If he's rich? His worth will always be higher than a woman with the same factors.

Hell, that's sort of where the "Invisible" part of this blog's title comes from. Because some days I do feel that because I'm not attractive enough looking, I am essentially invisible. And how sometimes I'd rather just remain invisible than be seen for what I physically am. I can talk "ra-ra-feminism" all I want, but I still struggle more than I walk the walk. I do still have image issues and self-esteem problems like everyone else. Like what Dustin Hoffman realized when he discovered how lucky he was to be born a man and therefore his looks barely mattered- even as an actor. Everyone knows Dustin Hoffman is tiny and has a big nose but it never slowed down his career one inch because he's a man and that doesn't matter then.

I've only recently realized that this underlying fact might be why Anne of Green Gables is often my default comfort story.

People spend so much time making sure to tell Anne that she's worthless- saying that just by being an orphan she's not worth the trouble ("Anne Shirley is a conniving manipulative child, she's pulled the wool over your eyes!") saying that by not being a boy she isn't worth adopting ("You don't want me because I'm not a boy?"), saying that her red hair and freckles are ugly ("Couldn't you send her back?/Her looks are certainly nothing to consider/ she's terribly skinny and homely/ Her hair's a red as carrots" all said in seconds by Rachel Lynde) saying that because she has a temper she isn't worth giving a chance ("That's the kind that puts strychnine in the well!"), saying that he imagination and dramatic ways are silly ("I can't imagine how I let that child worm her way into my affections), and so on.

And she just takes it all and fucking trucks on until everyone is in love with her.

Until they realize how smart she is ("You're a credit to us all and we're all proud of you."). Until they realize how sweet she is ("I thought Marilla Cuthbert was an old fool when I heard she adopted a little orphan girl. Now I see now which of us was the old fool!). Until they realize how talented she is ("After standing first at Queens, you can do no wrong in this community!"). Until they realize that she's going to be able to do things and go further than all the "proper" girls in Avonlea ("Matthew and I are both proud of her. She has the talent to make something of herself.").

And then, suddenly, she's beautiful in their eyes.

Of course, she was beautiful all along anyway. Megan Follows is no slouch and the illustrations on my old copies of the books are all lovely looking redheaded women, too. But I've always adored redheaded women.

I guess I just don't understand beauty. I've always thought my older sister was beautiful and envied her. Her athletic and properly shaped body. Her thick light brown hair that wasn't so dark that hairstyles got lost in it. Her freckles. Her graceful way of dancing and moving. Hell, even the shape of her smile. Everything about her that we didn't share in common, I envied. Wishing and hoping for the day where I'd magically wake up to look like her.

But I'll never forget being about twelve and having my mother tell me that she never really felt my sister was beautiful. And then continued the thought to tell me that I was beautiful. It just left me perplexed. What made her feel the need to say either thing? Was it that I looked more like both my mom and my dad than their other daughter and it was some weird genetic thing? Did she worry that my self-esteem was low and think that saying that would help? She told me that while I was an awkward greasy chubby twelve year old. Then again, my mother was an unbalanced bi-polar mess at the time- so I really shouldn't be trying to figure out what was going on in her head.

But then, years later, I remember listening to my sister and my brother-in-law discuss how they needed to find a cute girl to hand out fliers for a club event they were promoting. I suggested a mutual friend that was extremely social and they both went, "Weeeeell, she's kind of ugly." I stared at them as if they had said, "Weeeeeell, she's got that third eye in her nose that freaks people out." I still would never classify her as "ugly". Not even close. I can't understand why they were both so quick to say she was not pretty enough. This is the type of girl that can make friends without speaking the same language. She has shining eyes and a great smile. She's fit and wears great clothes and jewelry. She wears maybe a little bit too much make-up but that's perfect for a club. I can't understand what makes her ugly in their eyes.

Then again, up until I was about fourteen, I was totally with Anne Shirley on her love of puff sleeves, so... what do I know?
I think the main issue now is just that her hair wasn't yet big enough? Also: it's very "I'm a tea cozy"-esque.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

On the Subject of One Alexander LaVelle Harris

I recently watched Graduation Day Part 2, the season 3 finale of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It has probably been about three years since I last watched it- and before then I probably hadn't watched it since 2004.

For the years 1998 through 2002, BtVS was a giant obsession of mine. By the time the show had ended in 2003, I had experienced way too many emotions towards the show. I bought the commercial VHS tape 6 episode set series for the first three seasons, the dvds for the first three seasons, and a ridiculous amount of tie-in books that I could devour 3 a day without even trying.

That is to say: I liked/loved the show. But by 2004, I had kind of over-dosed on it.

Now, ten years after the show ended, I've changed a decent amount. I no longer believe that Joss Whedon can do no wrong- but I do still like him a lot and am thrilled that he's now a bigshot. So, I guess I'm looking at these episodes with different eyes.

And I still love Graduation Day... but I also see a few more flaws that I remembered. I always thought of the show as flawed and that being part of the charm- making the beauty more beautiful in direct contrast.

So, now, I have to say it: Xander's a dick.

I never really felt that before. Sure, I thought it was pretty terrible when he didn't tell Buffy that Willow was trying to restore Angel's soul in Becoming Part 2- but his motive was understandable. I never really understood all the fanfics that felt the need to re-hash that moment and "punish" Xander for his actions in that episode.

And, for the most part, I can understand his stupid comments to Angel most of the time in season three. It's part lingering jealous, part anger about what Angel became, and also just that feeling of having to witness your best friend be in a terrible relationship that can't end well.

But they really should've nipped his snide comments in the butt when it comes to Cordelia after Lovers Walk. Or had Buffy slap him. The girl almost died because of his stupid hormones and jealousy issues. She was skewered through her abdomen because she fell through a flight of stairs after trying to run away in shock after discovering her boyfriend kissing another girl. Yeah, maybe he did redeem himself a bit by paying for Cordelia's prom dress, but I can't sit through them sniping at each other over Wesley and think that Xander has any right to talk to her like that.

However, I am still on the side of feeling that Xander's character was slowly and painfully assassinated over the stretch of seasons 4 through 7, and the first of the characters to be whittled down to a 2-D parody of himself. My stomach still turns to think of the terrible wedding episode. Part of the issue was that Xander was at times basically the "token boy" where most other shows would have a "token girl" in a male dominated cast who was just there to be girl-y. His second biggest character trait (after wise-cracking) was "male"- for all the wonderful fleshed out characters on the show, Xander never really got the same treatment. Xander-centric episodes involved him getting possessed or having a "wacky" encounter with the supernatural. The season five episode, The Replacement, being the one big exception. But, also, it took FIVE SEASONS to get that episode- and then it seemed like the writers didn't really know what to do with him later on other than relationship stuff.

And, by season seven, he was mostly reduced to being kind of a pervert- something that was more excusable when he was a high school kid. But on a 20-something? Gross.

My point stands, however: Xander was kind of a dick. It's amazing he didn't get hurt more than he did.