Friday, October 22, 2010

"My Advisor said, 'Go to Wisconsin, they'll take anyone,' and so I did"

"My Mom Said, 'Go to Wisconsin, They'll Take Anyone,' and So I Did"
Filmmaker and UW alum Errol Morris appeared Thursday night at the Wisconsin Union Theater as part of A Year of the Arts Marquee Event, "Elusive Truths: The Cinema of Errol Morris," which celebrates the work and ideas of this great American documentary filmmaker with screenings, lectures, panel discussions and personal appearances by the filmmaker.

Morris began by explaining how he ended up at the UW. He had mediocre grades in high school and was rejected by all the schools he applied to. His advisor was right. The UW accepted him. He majored in history, at what he said was the best history department in the world at the time, where he was fortunate enough to be able to take courses with George Mosse and Harvey Goldberg. He was eloquent in his praise for both men, whom he cited as major influences.

Last night's talk was billed as "Elusive Truths: Filmmaking and Politics," a Wisconsin Union Directorate Distinguished Lecture, but it was no more a conventional lecture than a Morris film is a conventional, linear documentary. The talk, structured around questions from the audience, was more like spending an evening with an old friend who happened to be a brilliant, digressive storyteller, wise and humorous. He was an animated speaker, gesturing broadly and often with his hands. While trying to capture the motion of his hands, I was reminded of this shaky, amateur video interview by Roger Ebert.


The video is one of a series of video interviews with Morris that Ebert presented in his blog. Just being around Morris apparently stunned Ebert into silence as a writer. I've never seen him blocked before, but in this case he seems to have just given up and whipped out a camcorder.
Luckily, I made a video record of our conversation, because how in the world would you reduce it to 1,200 words of quotations separated by "he said" and "he added" and "he explained?"
What reminded me of this video while I was concentrating on the hand gestures of Morris is the way that Ebert lets the camera drift away from Morris's face to his hands near the end.

In this clip Morris begins by talking about the far-ranging, prolific series of blog posts he has been writing for the New York Times (the link connects to all his blog posts in somewhat confusing fashion; note the "older entries" link at bottom left). Turns out, he had always wanted to write, and if he had not felt blocked as a writer many years ago, he might never have become a filmmaker. When the NYT asked him to write for them, it seemed to unlock something, and the words have been pouring out ever since. If you've never read any of the posts, check them out. He has a lot to say about media, how we perceive visual reality and related topics.

In this and the other Ebert videos, Morris also talks about his new documentary, Tabloid, which was a big hit at the Telluride and Toronto Film Festivals. Morris will introduce the film and answer questions afterward at MMoCA this afternoon, Friday, Oct. 22. The screening is free, with tickets available at the door. The scheduled showtime is 4:00 p.m., but when I called MMoCA, they said to be there at 3:00 to be sure to get a ticket, as they're expecting a lot of people. Judging from the size of the audience at the Union last night, they're probably right.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Restless trees dancing in the October moonlight

Windy October Night: The Trees Dance by the Light of the Moon
I like to experiment with long handheld exposures at night. Most don't work out, but a few do. After a few frames, I was struck by how the trees moving around in last night's heavy wind had a bit of that flame-like quality of some of Van Gogh's trees. I shot a few more until I got one I liked. This was about 2 seconds at f/2.8. Most of the motion is from the wind, but some is also from my hand, although the camera's image stabilization moderated soem of the hand motion.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Great weather for washing windows in Madison

Great Day for Washing Windows in Madison
If you like swinging in the wind at the end of a long rope. (33 East Main building, observed while we walked from the Wednesday Farmers' Market on MLK Blvd. to Walgreens on the Square, for their amazing, almost-free deal on Ricola cough drops, just 50 cents a package, which I wouldn't even mention if we hadn't already secured our stash.)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Slide show of some of my bird photos

Green Heron Closeup
I photographed this green heron along the shore of Lake Wingra in a light drizzle about this time last year.

I happened to be looking through my photos tonight and noticed how many bird photos I've accumulated more or less unintentionally the last few years. I can't call myself a systematic birdwatcher, and my bird identification skills are almost nonexistent (one of the things I like about Flickr is the bird identification group in which you can post a picture of a bird you don't recognize, and usually receive an ID in the comments within minutes). But I love the beauty and grace of birds. I like to go walking with my family, and I almost always carry a camera. I've run into a bird or two along the way.

I've pulled some of my favorites together into this Birds of a Feather set. I selected most of them simply because I like them as photographs, but a few are in there not for their photographic interest, but because they illustrate some quirk of avian -- or human -- behavior. If you'd like, you could also view them as a slide show.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Maples and autumn have a thing for each other

Escape into the Woods
They're very open about their relationship. Very indiscreet, almost as if they're showing off. Shameless, really.

Photo taken in the woods behind Edgewood, a perfect place in the heart of the city for autumn color. We're having such a great autumn this year. So as to not totally clog my Flickr photostream and blog with an endless series of autumn photographs that I can't help taking, I've put together this Autumn 2010 set on Flickr where I'll dump them from now on. Check back now and then if you're interested.

Saw this faux Georgia O'Keeffe painting yesterday

Great Blue Heron Masquerading as a Georgia O'Keeffe Painting
We were taking our Sunday walk around Stricker's Pond, which lies on the border between Madison and Middleton. One more Great Blue Heron waded into my field of view and I snapped the shutter. I encounter them so often these days on this pond route that I'm actually getting rather blasé about it. I snapped the shutter and walked on. Besides, the light was fading, and the backlighting on the bird only produced a silhouette. Later, I happened to be holding the camera at an angle as I flipped through the images on the LCD. Something suddenly looked oddly familiar. Of course -- the photo looked like one of those Georgia O'Keeffe paintings of a cow skull floating in space that she painted during her New Mexico years.

Strange, isn't it, how a slightly different point of view can totally change how you see an image? Simply rotate a picture, and you may see it in a whole new light.