Air (and Georges Méliès) fly us to the moon

Earlier this month, the French electronica/rock band Air released an album of soundtrack music to accompany the restored color (yes, color) release of the legendary 1902 Georges Méliès silent film, Le voyage dans la lune (A Voyage to the Moon).

Spoiler alert, I guess: This is the film that plays a central role in Martin Scorsese’s brilliant 2011 film Hugo. It is great to be able to see the film in its entirety, especially accompanied by Air’s brilliant soundtrack.

An excerpt is available on YouTube:

I purchased the album, which includes the full-length (15-minute) video, on iTunes, but it’s also available as a CD/DVD set from Amazon. I’m considering buying the CD/DVD set anyway, as the music is that good and the download version of the video contains some annoying compression artifacts (horizontal stripes that appear whenever something fast-moving appears, which I have to assume were a result of the process of compressing the video for download, and are not inherent to the version on the DVD).

I watched the full video last night, and found myself more profoundly moved than I would have expected from the film’s light and fantastical story. I’m not sure if it was because the hand-coloring brought the film to life in a way that black-and-white couldn’t, but there were two thoughts I just couldn’t shake as I watched it, which I don’t normally think about when I’m watching very old film footage:

1. Everyone involved with this film is dead.

This is not a profound revelation. But again, I think the color brings the film to life in a unique way. There’s nothing realistic about the color, so it’s not seeing people in color that makes it more vivid. I think it’s the simple fact that it’s in color, and the way it was colorized. That the creators of the film put in the incredible effort of hand-coloring each frame of the film. That they imbued it with their personality. And, beyond all of this, that it conveys a sense of frivolity and wonder that I don’t often associate with the early 1900s.

Grainy, black-and-white film of the era feels dark and dismal. Since that’s how we’re accustomed to seeing it, that time period, for me, exudes grit and grime, the ugliness of early, soot-choked industrial cities. This color, literally, casts these times in a new light, and brings out a joy and humor I would not have seen or felt otherwise.

2. We have learned so much about the universe in the last century.

It is obvious, I think, that Méliès was not attempting to create a realistic depiction of a journey to the moon, or of what people would find there. If Ben Kingsley’s portrayal of him in Hugo is accurate, his goal in filmmaking was to explore realms of fantasy, to bring dreams to life. And that’s just it: in 1902, the idea of traveling to the moon was pure fantasy. But just 67 years later, people actually walked on the moon for the first time. (And, 70 years later, possibly for the last.) The amount of scientific knowledge humanity gained during those intervening years is hard to comprehend, and as someone who was born after those final moon landings of 1972, it’s something that for me has always been and forever will be in the past. But for those who worked with Méliès on Le voyage dans la lune, it was still the distant future, one most if not all of them never even lived to see.

It is an amazing time to be alive. Not only to immerse ourselves in the technologies of now, but because we have unprecedented access to what it looked and felt like to be alive over 100 years ago, via the motion pictures of pioneers like Méliès. The restoration of the color version of Le voyage dans la lune is amazing, and it’s made even more wondrous by its pairing with some of the best music our era has to offer.

Now, about that new car…

Honda FitIn my previous post (written an hour or so ago) I mentioned car dealerships calling me.

That’s because, as I prepare to start a new job in the suburbs, I find I must, with regret, say goodbye to light rail transit and return to the world of commuting by car. Since we presently have only one car (the 2000 Civic I bought the last time I started a new job in the suburbs), and with the added scheduling complexity of life with kids, it’s time to get another one.

Thinking “family,” we had been eyeing the Subaru Forester for quite some time. It has lots of room to haul kids and their attendant necessities, and it’s not a minivan or monstrous SUV, which we’ve tried to avoid. But then we took a really close look at one for the first time and fell out of love. The salesman mentioning, almost in his first breath, the “significant depreciation” they suffer the moment you drive them off the lot didn’t really help either. So we kept it in mind but decided to take a drive through the lot of a nearby Honda dealership.

We’ve owned a total of four cars in our dozen-ish years of marriage, and they’ve all been Hondas. So with Honda, we know what we’re getting, and we like it. But we don’t want another Civic, and we don’t really want an Accord. We considered the Element and the CR-V, but then we saw…

The Fit.

The Fit is it! (The only thing I don’t like is “The Fit is go!” But I expect slogans to be stupid.) So unbelievably small (looking) on the outside, but get inside and it’s like the tents at the Quidditch World Cup in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. (OK, maybe I shouldn’t admit how easily that reference comes to mind.) It is truly a marvel of design. There’s just about as much passenger and cargo space in it as in the Forester, but it is small and low and unobtrusive (which is how we like it, contrary to many Americans these days, it would seem). And it gets an extra 10 miles per gallon. Besides, it just looks cooler. I mean, come on. You can take a picture of the Forester in every picturesque city on the Adriatic that you want, that doesn’t make it look any better. (Even if that seaside village seems to be straight out of Project Gotham Racing 2. Am I right?)

So, the search is on. I’ve talked to a few dealerships in the area. Soon the test drives and the purchase and the financing and the payments. And the driving!

Ah crap, I wanted to surprise my parents with it though, like they always do to us when they get a new car. Dad, stop reading this! Too late.

Bleeding-edge web design, circa 1994

Microsof’s home page in 1994... don’t cut yourself!A recently-departed (as in left for another company) coworker stopped by my desk on his last day to drop off a backup CD I had burned back in 2001. Today I popped it into the drive to see what curiosities lurked within. I was delighted to discover one of my trademark “Miscellany” folders, with a bunch of random stuff in it. Unquestionably the most interesting artifact was a screenshot of Microsoft’s website, as it appeared in 1994.

I’m simply at a loss to explain this design. Clearly many most all web designs from that early need to be cut a little slack, and I doubt any of them have truly aged well. But even through that lens, this site is inexplicably hideous.

I’m certainly not the first person to look back in time and mock this design, of course. But “usability guru” Jakob Nielsen used it in an article he wrote back at the time, and it’s still lingering on his site with a new introduction written in 1997. (Frighteningly enough, if the conclusion I draw from my brief perusal of the long and boring highly usable article is correct, he’s actually praising this design.) Personally I think Nielsen’s views are overrated, and that if he really knew as much about usability as he is supposed to, his website would look a lot different (and he’d also realize he no longer needs to cater to the bandwidth limitations of those running 28.8 kbps modems — but I digress; besides, these guys rip into him much better than I care to). But it’s still an interesting look back in time.

Ralph Nader is a douchebag

Ralph Nader is a douchebagRalph Nader used to have a good reputation. He spoke for those who were rarely spoken for, and represented the interests of those who didn’t have the resources to represent themselves.

And then he ran for president.

Back in the early days of 2000, when it seemed nearly impossible that an inarticulate failed businessman and death-penalty-championing former Texas governor could become president, I actually supported Nader’s campaign. He represented something strikingly different from all of the political insiders the major parties had to offer. “Bush and Gore make me want to Ralph” actually seemed to make sense. But in the end my gut instincts kicked in, and I colored in the little oval for Gore. Not that it mattered.

And then he ran for president again.

By this point, the few loyal Naderites who tipped the 2000 election had wised up along with the rest of us, and his showing in 2004 was as feeble as it deserved to be.

You might think everyone in the country now realizes the futility of a Nader presidential bid (even as a spoiler). But it looks like at least one person still thinks he has a chance.

Things are different this year, though. Anti-Republican sentiment has finally risen to a level commensurate with the havoc their failed policies have wreaked upon us. The Democrats have not just one (which in itself would be a big deal) but two viable candidates who are capable of generating genuine enthusiasm, and both of whom would, if elected, be an historic first. Ralph, this time around, you really have no chance. What compels you to waste your time and money (and potentially other people’s money) like this, not to mention squandering your once noble reputation? I guess in a way, Ralph really is a mirror of America itself. We’ll see in November just how true that is.

There’s nothing like looking down on someone else to make you feel better about yourself

Most of the time, at least, I try not to judge myself in comparison to others, but sometimes when I get down on myself for certain personality traits, such as passive-aggressiveness, it’s helpful to find evidence that there are others who are far worse than myself.

And to that end, I need look no further than to passiveaggressivenotes.com.

I will admit that, my own impolite behaviors notwithstanding, it requires a great deal of restraint to keep myself from printing and posting notes in certain situations (especially where unflushed office toilets are concerned), so it’s not that I couldn’t relate to the pent-up frustrations being vented on some of these notes. Indeed, bad spelling and inscrutable grammar aside, a lot of these notes seem almost exactly like something I might have produced myself.

But then there are the others. The frothing, raving blather of those teetering on the edge of insanity. Not that the circumstances they were placed in by disliked roommates, coworkers, or proximate strangers didn’t warrant it most of the time. In the end, however, I’d rather be the culprit than the chump whose incoherent rants get photographed and posted on a blog for the purpose of global mockery.

Whatever. I just spent the last hour and a half poring over it all. Enjoy.

On a related, but less spiteful note (but only slightly so), you may also enjoy these similar sites (lazily copied from the passiveaggressivenotes.com blogroll). I am beyond pleased to see that there are others out there who share my same pet peeves, namely: apostrophe abuse, lowercase L, and unnecessary quotation marks.

Boy, this kind of puts my Catalog of Annoying Grammatical and Spelling Errors to shame.