Why would you have live ammunition on a film set?

There has been a lot of coverage of actor Alec Baldwin firing a gun on a film set that resulted in killing cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and injuring director Joel Souza. It appears that a single bullet went through Hutchins and then hit Souza who was standing behind her. It appears that Baldwin thought he was firing a gun that did not have live rounds.

There are so many questions that come to mind.

One is that this is a film set, not a hunting trip. Why are there any live rounds at all on the set? What purpose do they serve? And why did he point the gun at someone and fire it anyway? Was it a prank in order to startle them? This demonstrates how dangerous it is to point and fire any type of gun at anyone even in fun. There have been so many stories of people getting killed and injured because a gun that was thought to be fake or unloaded actually had live rounds.
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The rise and fall (and rise again?) of quicksand

Nearly four years ago, I had a post about quicksand. In it I mused how it used to be a common plot device in the books and films I watched and read as a boy but seemed to have faded from view. The 1962 film Lawrence of Arabia has a poignant scene with quicksand.

This week the program Radiolab had a segment on quicksand in which it turns out that my sense that quicksand was a significant feature of popular culture that has slowly disappeared has some empirical support. There is a database of films that have quicksand scenes in them and after starting out small in 1900 or so, the frequency of appearance increased, reaching a peak around 1960, and then decreasing again to the present day. That jibes with my personal experience.

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Miss Marple and the theme music from Murder She Said

Back in 1961, the film Murder She Said was released with Margaret Rutherford playing the role of Miss Marple, the amateur detective featured in many Agatha Christie mystery novels. In the books, Miss Marple is an elderly, small-built, demure, soft-spoken character who solves mysteries largely by engaging in conversation and gossip with everyone. Rutherford’s portrayal was as different as you can imagine, except for age. Rutherford’s Marple was a fearless, feisty, tough woman with bulldog determination who spoke her mind and brooked no nonsense even from the exasperated police inspector who tries to stop her from interfering in his investigations. She was heavy-set, very active, a vigorous, bustling, busybody, an expert horse rider and fencer who was more than willing to go undercover to solve mysteries.
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Death and the final exit in The Good Place (spoilers)

I recently re-watched the TV series The Good Life which I have praised highly in the past but did not discuss the way it ended because I did not want to spoil it for others. But since almost two years have passed since it ended, I feel that it is safe to do so.

Those who watched the entire series know that it begins with four people who have died being fooled into thinking that they have entered the ‘Good Place’, which is a euphemism for a heaven but without a deity, because they have lived exceptional lives on Earth. But in reality they are in the ‘Bad Place’ (a euphemism for hell) as part of an elaborate hoax by demons who are experimenting with a new form of torture in which they get people to torture each other by making each others’ lives miserable by squabbling over all manner of things. You know, just like people do on Earth. Most of the series involves the four, after they discover the hoax, trying to figure out how to get into the real Good Place and avoid eternal torment.
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Deprivation can lead to common knowledge

In an earlier post, I mentioned how nowadays people have so many sources of news and entertainment that it is hard to find a common base of knowledge and experiences with other people. It is surprising when one encounters someone who has seen a film or read a book that you have too. Nowadays, it seems like the best we can do is to recommend to each other what each of us has been exposed to that the other hasn’t.

It struck me that when I was growing up in Sri Lanka, people did have a lot of cultural experiences in common but that was because we had an extremely limited menu to pick from. When it came to western music, for example, we had just one radio channel that broadcast in English for just about eight hours per day and of those only about three were devoted to popular music. So all of us had the same exposure to whatever records the announcers chose to play for us. Very few people could afford to buy their own records. While we knew the same singers and songs, there were a huge number singers and groups that we had never heard of, especially non-mainstream ones.

It was the same with films. There were just about five theaters that showed English films and that was in the capital city Colombo. In the smaller town that I spent my middle and high school years in, there were just two theaters. Hence pretty much everyone would see the same films and we could talk about them. These theaters had contracts with the film distributors that required them to show not just good films but also the bad ones and because we were starved for films, we would see a wide variety of them. Many of them were really good, some were arty films that were above my adolescent mind (such as The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie), while others were real stinkers (such as Valley of the the Dolls) that we laughed all the way through because they were so bad.

Nowadays I find it difficult trying to pick a film that I might like to watch as I scroll through the menus of streaming services with their seemingly infinite offerings. It gets even more difficult if there are a group of you trying to agree on something.

I am definitely not arguing that having highly restricted choices is a good thing. I enjoy the fact that I can now see films and hear music that were not available to me growing up. But it did have the benefit that one could always find common topics to talk to others about.

Mikis Theodorakis (1925-2021)

The Greek composer and left wing political activist who fought against his country’s military dictatorship has died at the age of 96.

The renowned Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis, who scored the 1964 classic film Zorba the Greek and was an icon of resistance to the former military junta, has died in Athens, aged 96.

A prolific talent and political maverick, Theodorakis was revered in his home country for his inspirational music and defiance during the junta that ruled from 1967 to 1974.

After the news of his death on Thursday, the Greek flag was flown at half mast at the Acropolis while parliament observed a minute’s silence.

But Theodorakis was perhaps best-known around the world for his film title scores, which also included Z in 1969 and Serpico in 1973. His work ranged from operas to choral music and popular songs, providing a soundtrack to the life of his country.

This is the memorable ending from the film Zorba the Greek where an uptight Englishman played by Alan Bates asks freewheeling Zorba, played by Anthony Quinn, to teach him the traditional sirtaki dance. (Quinn was actually a Mexican-American, one of the earliest Latinos to gain prominence in American films, and was active in civil rights and social movements.)

Film review: Athlete A (2020) and gymnast abuse

I had not been aware of this documentary that dealt with the massive abuse of women gymnasts in the US until three days ago when I was reading about all the turmoil in gymnastics. I watched it yesterday on Netflix and was just horrified that what it revealed was far worse than I had imagined. I do not follow gymnastics but was aware that Dr. Larry Nassar had been convicted and sentenced to essentially life in prison for the sexual abuse of girls under the guise of treating them for injuries incurred during their routines. What I had not been aware of was the vast scale of the abuse that goes on all over the country, with over 50 coaches having had allegations made against them about their predatory behavior but with the governing body USA Gymnastics doing little or nothing about it and even allowing them to move around. It reminded me of nothing so much as the Catholic Church and the Boy Scouts. It seems like just as those two organizations provided an environment congenial to predators of boys, gymnastics did the same with girls.
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The ethics of using AI voices for dead people

There is a new documentary Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain about the food and travel writer who died by suicide in 2018. In the documentary, at one point they have him reading an email he sent to a friend. Why would he read an email aloud? Well, he didn’t. What the filmmakers did was to use AI to synthesize a voice that closely resembled his, a technology that could be used to have any text seem to emanate from him. (I first learned about this technology when Marcus Ranum had a post on it back in 2016.)

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The global appeal of Shakespeare

The radio program On The Media aired a superb program about the appeal of Shakespeare that transcends his English origins and conquered the world.

In the first part of the show, host Brooke Gladstone discussed with James Shapiro, professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia University and author of Shakespeare in a Divided America: What His Plays Tell Us About Our Past and Future, about how and why Shakespeare became so central to US literature that America now considers him as their own and how the political, social, and cultural dimensions of his work resonates so widely. Shapiro is a droll speaker and his anecdotes made for riveting listening. (32 minutes)


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