City Kids

April 15, 2014

citykids:edit

Buddies, February 24, 1974

Back in the days when I was doing street photography in South Baltimore (in squint-producing sunlight on this occasion), about the only challenge I had was how to frame the image. When these boys spotted me and my Minolta, they struck a pose and one of them yelled, “Hey, mister, take our picture!”

With kids, I usually tried to lower my point of view so I was on their eye level, but if I had done that here I would have captured a clutter of background cars, buildings and telephone poles. Since those things added nothing of value to the image, the angle you see here was a good solution. I had learned the technique from a friend, Gary Baese, with whom I hung out a lot in those days and who also happened to be professional photographer.

With backgrounds, Gary said, the ideal is to have large simplified shapes, so I stood erect and shot down at the boys and the sidewalk. Shooting either up (“worm’s-eye view,” ceiling, sky, or a forest canopy) or down (“bird’s-eye view,” floor, sidewalk or street) is a good way to eliminate unwanted visual clutter. In this image, we still see a bit of curb, chewing gum spots on the pavement, and an interesting pole shadow cutting diagonally across the top of the frame; just enough detail to suggest an urban setting, but no more.

This is an edited re-post from August 18, 2008

Copyright © 2014 Jim Sizemore.


The Man Who Invented the Selfie?

April 9, 2014

Thanksgiving Day, 1975

lz"Selfie"010If you have a “selfie” from a date earlier than 11/27/75—and I’m sure they must be scads and scads and scads of them out there—please share it with Doodlemeister.com readers. We need to find out who really “invented” the conceit, or at least locate the individual who sort of came up with the idea—or concept—or whatever. Send your entry to: jimscartoons@aol.com


Today’s Gag

April 5, 2014

1404-Stuff?-BlogTo purchase reprint and/or other rights for this cartoon, buy a framed print, or have it reproduced on T-shirts, mugs, aprons, etc., visit my archives at cartoonstock.com and jantoo.com by clicking the sidebar links.

Copyright © 2014 Jim Sizemore.

Three-Minute Memoir

April 1, 2014

Bad Actors

Text and photographs by Jim Sizemore

DeathScene_1

I have known two murderers, and the odd thing is that both men were also community theater actors. One of them I met in the late 1970s, when I was studying how plays are written and produced. The first killer/actor happened to be in a production I was observing, and I later heard that he was convicted of killing a woman he had picked up in a bar. I have come to think of him as an “amateur” killer, by which I mean someone who commits a crime of passion rather than a premeditated murder. That dynamic young actor, whom I had watched for weeks as he rehearsed his stage character, is still in the slammer. The other killer/actor, the one I came to know best, has a life term for slaying his wife, a crime he had carefully planned.

There is no reason to believe that being actors, amateur or otherwise, had anything to do with either man’s brutal deed. There have been times when I’ve felt the urge to kill someone myself, but I’ve never had the least desire to be an actor (too shy). Once, though, I did accept a small part in a play written by an amateur playwright, directed by an amateur director, and produced in a local theater festival. I had to recite just one line and was on stage for no more than ten minutes, during which I sat at a card table with several other amateur actors and barely moved. The action came in a scene-within-a-scene which had the characters of our play staging the poker game from A Streetcar Named Desire. My character was not Stanley Kowalski (Brando in the stage and film version), but, rather, a card shark who wore a white Panama suit and had oily dark hair. For community theater, that play-within-a-play business was very “postmodern,” and the complex staging required to express it only confused the audience and the actors. After six weeks of rehearsal the actors still spent a lot of time bumping into each other and the set. Our director seemed to think that the term “blocking”—rather than mean the purposeful movement of actors on a stage—referred to what is done to cowboy hats at the dry cleaners.

ActorMy “discovery” as an actor was, I guess, a case of positive serendipity. As a part of my education in theater arts I had volunteered to help behind the scenes and was sprawled on the stage painting the lower part of a flat. Meanwhile, the director rushed about desperately trying to fill out her cast. She noticed me and the rest is—well—it’s my acting career. No one else wanted a one-line role in a bad play, and then have to hang out backstage for nearly three hours. (Rule of thumb: All bad plays—amateur or pro—go on too long.) After my line I couldn’t escape because our director insisted that her entire cast had to appear in the bow, it being the only stage business she had designed that went off each night without a hitch. On the other hand, the director’s back story for my character, and her instructions about how to play him, were precise. He was a lonely man, she said, no friends except his gambling buddies—no family either, a womanizer with limited education, a man of few words. He wore white suits because that was the way his mother had dressed him when he was a boy. His mother was the only woman my character had ever loved, the director claimed, and poker was his substitute for the affection he had not experienced since she died under a streetcar when he was fifteen. The director said my guy felt guilty because he was into booze and gambling and loose women and couldn’t (or wouldn’t) free himself to attend his mother’s funeral. She—my director—insisted that I think about all that while I sat very still, holding my poker hand in an “irresolute” position, relying on my “sense memory” to convey my character’s motivation to the audience. At the end of the scene-within-a-scene, she said, I should rise from my seat, drop my cards on the table just so, and wait for the imaginary curtain to lower and the play-within-a-play director to tell me that I had done a “good job.” That was the cue to utter my one line, which had become fear-branded on my brain: “Thank you, Ina.”

HarryI’m not religious or superstitious, but I do believe in serendipity, both the positive and negative kinds. Once, while considering the role serendipity plays in my life, I was thinking about automobile accidents, since I had recently had one. It occurred to me that each day there are billions of what I call “transactions” at street intersections, those moments wherein—because of the proximity of fast-moving vehicles—an accident could happen, but most often doesn’t. Relative to the number of opportunities for trouble, it’s surprising that more of those encounters do not play out if not tragically, at least as fender-benders. This lack of violent happenstance, despite abundant opportunity, I consider to be positive serendipity. The same thing can be said to occur regarding the billions of emotionally charged human transactions (interactions, intersections) each day where violence—even murder—could happen but seldom does. A personal example. My father was a violent man, often drunk and violent, and I sometimes marvel that my mother or my brothers—or me—were not killed during one of his rages. So why does a random emotional transaction in one case provoke a man to murder, but in another situation cause little more than an angry glare—or a slap, punch, or kick—if that? Why are there not millions more personal crimes that end with someone injured or dead?

BruceCropAsk an amateur killer to explain his bloody actions and he may say, “I only meant to slap her, but things got out of hand.” Ask the guy who carefully planned the murder of his wife or girlfriend, and if he’s honest, he could say, “I slapped her, but I really wanted to kill her.”

While I believe that I know what makes community theater actors devoted to their unpaid dedication to the craft—the deep love of performing before a live audience—what drives an amateur killer remains a deep mystery. The one thing I am convinced of is this: The two killer/actors I knew would not have done their terrible deed in any context other than the one in which they found themselves. For one of them at least it was pure spur-of-the-moment passion—negative serendipity. But of course in the end it really doesn’t matter what it was. Theatrically speaking, those bad actors were both working from a crummy script, had faulty motivation, and it so happened that they also had a convenient stage on which to act out a pointless tragedy.

This is an edited re-post from May 19, 2008

Copyright © 2014 Jim Sizemore.

Doodlemeister is looking for short first-person observations up to 1,500 words, on any subject, in any style, for this series. If need be, we’ll help you to edit and/or cut your piece. If you’d like to submit a story about something interesting you saw, experienced—or simply thought about—please contact us by e-mail at jimscartoons@aol.com


Today’s Gag

March 28, 2014

1404-Dead-Blog

To purchase reprint and/or other rights for this cartoon, buy a framed print, or have it reproduced on T-shirts, mugs, aprons, etc., visit my archives at cartoonstock.com and jantoo.com by clicking the sidebar links.

Copyright © 2014 Jim Sizemore.

Short Takes

March 24, 2014

Small Differences: The Spanish Way

by Susan Middaugh

07

In visiting Spain recently to hike part of El Camino, a trek that pilgrims the world over have been doing for centuries, I was prepared for the big differences that you associate with vacationing in a foreign country: currency, language, and climate. But it was the small differences, like finding a Starbuck’s closed at 7:30 on a Saturday morning in a big city like Madrid, that took me by surprise. (Click images for larger views.)

I’ll never forget the elderly man who interrupted his stroll down a country lane to give me a walnut or the two volunteers at a refugio (or shelter) in El Acebo who hosted a meal for twenty pilgrims from all over the world. The food, wine, music, hospitality and conversation that night were truly memorable.

03-1But in the course of my two-week hiking trip, there were some baffling moments too. These differences, unexplained in guidebooks, jostled my assumptions about the most mundane aspects of daily living. Some of them were positively mystifying and others made me laugh out loud. Take the hamburger. When I ordered one in Astorga, it tasted different. The chef’s view of our American staple was quite literal. The burger was made of chopped ham.

Another time, my limited Spanish put me at a disadvantage when ordering a sandwich. My lunch, though tasty, turned out to be a double dose of carbohydrates: mashed potatoes between two slices of white bread. It reminded me of a trip to Salt Lake City and a restaurant that served spaghetti with French fries.

The public restrooms were also occasionally baffling. At one private refugio for pilgrims in Hontanas, the stall to the women’s toilet contained no seat or throne, simply a hole in the metal floor and an outline of where to place your feet. Being pressed for time, I squatted over the opening in the floor, did my business and wondered how a handicapped person might navigate under similar circumstances. It was only later that I discovered, at the same location, toilets – with and without seats.

02Further down the road, in Boadillo del Camino, another restroom had me flummoxed. I looked around for a towel dispenser. No luck. But on one wall hung a metal contraption that resembled an automatic hand dryer. After pressing the knob, water sloshed all over the floor. I’m still confused. Was it for the cleaning staff to put their buckets under or a convenient tap for pilgrims to refill their water bottles?

Another time I tried to order a chunk of Swiss cheese, which was on special, at a deli counter at a local supermarket. The woman behind the counter said I couldn’t have it, but she was willing to slice another kind. Did the sale on Swiss begin the next day? I’ll never know.

train-stationPublic transportation in Spain is punctual, comparatively inexpensive, and comfortable. But my expectations about how things work were made in America. When traveling by train from Chamartín Station in Madrid to Burgos, I entered the coach and sat down, just as I would on Amtrak or MARC, Maryland’s commuter railroad. A young man approached, pointing and waving his ticket. It took me awhile to realize I was sitting in his seat. Sure enough, if I had looked closely, my ticket had a coach and seat assignment. I moved and the gentleman, who had graciously parked himself elsewhere, smiled.

We worked it out in a civilized way. Poco a poco, little by little, I was learning the Spanish way of doing things.

I wonder what first-time visitors to the U.S. make of our culture?

Copyright © 2014 Susan Middaugh.

susan_pic3Susan Middaugh is a self-employed business writer in Baltimore who also writes the occasional personal essay. Her essays have appeared in the Christian Science Monitor, the Baltimore Sun and on the website New-Works.org. Susan is also a playwright with short and full length works produced in the United States, Canada and England. The One Act Play Depot in Canada has published her short play, Such Good Neighbors. Several of her personal essays have appeared on this blog. To find them, simply type her name in the little search window, or check out the archives in the sidebar, beginning in April of 2009. Also in the sidebar under the Blogroll, Business and Writing labels, there are links to Susan’s website, Have Pen Will Travel.

Doodlemeister is looking for short first-person observations up to 1,500 words, on any subject, in any style, for this series. If need be, we’ll help you to edit and/or cut your piece. If you’d like to submit a story about something interesting you saw, experienced—or simply thought about—please contact us by e-mail at jimscartoons@aol.com


From Here to Eternity, an Essay

March 18, 2014

Two Scenes from a Classic Film

By Jim Sizemore

Kerr-Lancaster-Kiss

If I had to pick one perfect movie, I’d quickly name From Here to Eternity, starring Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr. The 1953 drama was adapted from the best selling novel by James Jones, screenplay by Daniel Taradash, directed by Fred Zinnemann. I consider the film cinema gold from start to finish, but I’ll briefly focus on the relationship between the Lancaster and Kerr characters. Sergeant Warden and Karen Holmes’ love affair is the spine of the story and is introduced and developed by screenwriter Taradash in two scenes, both of which come in the first twenty minutes of the film. Neither of them involve sand, sea or sex—at least not graphic sex. (Click images for larger versions.)

Anyone who knows anything about vintage movies is familiar with the erotic scene of Sergeant Warden and Karen kissing on the beach, the one with the wave breaking over their bodies. It’s an iconic film image known even to people who have never seen the movie. Unlike couples in most movies, this wet duo enmeshed in a torrid embrace did not meet “cute.” You might even say they met “ugly.” For me, their first scene together, which comes about ten minutes after the opening credits, is sexier than the beach scene by at least a factor of ten. No blatant fireworks, but there are sparks, a subtle display of sexual tension, mixed with an interesting undercurrent of dislike, even distrust. In that short scene there is strong attraction but also implicit conflict between the characters —and conflict, as we know, is the lifeblood of drama. For me, at least in dramatic terms, conflict can be sexy. The smoldering and sarcastic banter between Karen and Warden in that scene foreshadows adultery to come. Karen, we quickly learn, is married to Warden’s commanding officer.

I’ve transcribed the two scenes using a combination of Daniel Taradash’s second draft script, which I found on the Internet, and the finished movie. Both scenes as shot differ somewhat from the script, and I’ll point out how the first one has been changed after we read it. In that scene we discover Sergeant Warden in front of the company supply room talking to Leva, the supply clerk. They watch as Karen arrives in the area looking for her husband.

LONG SHOT KAREN HOLMES FROM WARDEN AND LEVA’S ANGLE as she walks toward them. She is at a considerable distance. Karen is about thirty. She wears a sweater and skirt. She is aware the men are studying her.

MEDIUM CLOSE SHOT WARDEN AND LEVA watching Karen.

LEVA: Shooish! — her and them sweaters.

LONG SHOT KAREN FROM WARDEN AND LEVA’S POV as she continues toward them. Warden’s and Lava’s voices, loud at first, get softer and softer the nearer Karen gets to camera. At end of the shot, as she is only a few yards away, they are practically whispering.

WARDEN’S VOICE: I’ll bet she’s colder than an iceberg . . .

LEVA’S VOICE: Not her, Top, she knows the score like I been tellin you.

WARDEN’S VOICE: (sarcastic) Is that right?

LEVA’S VOICE: Listen, not around here, but I was back at Fort Bliss with Holmes. I heard plenty about this lady then. Plenty.

WARDEN’S VOICE: You did, huh?

LEVA’S VOICE: Okay, not me — but I know some of them she played ‘round with, so don’t tell me.

WARDEN’S VOICE: I ain’t tellin you. You’re tellin me.

Karen stops a few paces from camera.

KAREN: Good morning, Sergeant.

WARDEN: Morning, ma’am.

MEDIUM SHOT. Leva watches, listens avidly but discreetly in background. During the dialogue, Karen seems irritated by Warden, who looks at her coolly, appraisingly, physically.

KAREN: I’m looking for my husband.

WARDEN: Captain Holmes just went in town, ma’am. On business.

KAREN: Oh. He was to have left some things for me; do you know anything about them?

WARDEN: No I don’t, ma’am. Anything I can do for you?

KAREN: No, thanks.

WARDEN: I’d be glad to help. Ma’am.

She makes a slight move to go, then pauses.

KAREN: My husband’s been telling me a lot about you, Sergeant. He says you’re very efficient.

WARDEN: Yes, ma’am.

KAREN: What is it that makes you so efficient, Sergeant?

WARDEN: I was born smart, ma’am.

Karen laughs suddenly, quietly.

KAREN: I love that. Well goodbye, Sergeant.

Karen turns and walks back toward her car. Warden and Leva watch her. When she is out of earshot Leva speaks.

LEVA: Man, she sure is one, ain’t she?

WARDEN: One what?

LEVA: One woman.

WARDEN: (unconvincingly): I’ve seen better.

As performed, this scene differs only slightly from the Daniel Taradash second draft script. Most of the tweaks involve a word change here and there which sharpen and clarify the dialogue between the two characters. The scene is an excellent example of what experts agree are the three things an effective dramatic encounter should do: Advance the story, develop (deepen) character, and establish (and/or deepen) conflict. I would add a fourth: a good scene should also entertain. That aspect may be the result of the quality of the writing or the performances or, as in this case, a combination of both. In From Here To Eternity I believe we’ve given all four elements in just about every scene throughout the movie—and that, in my opinion, is what makes it a great film.

kerr-lancaster1Scene two between Sergeant Warden and Karen also has several departures from the draft script. These changes are more extensive. In fact, several lines of dialogue are cut from the end of the second draft version. I’ll talk a bit more about that after we’ve read the scene as filmed, which comes at about twenty minutes into the movie:

EXT. BACK PORCH OF HOLMES’ HOUSE. DAY. MEDIUM CLOSE SHOT WARDEN standing outside in the rain. He wears a GI rain hat and coat. He pauses, then knocks briskly on the door of the screened porch. Karen opens the kitchen door onto the porch. She is in shorts and a blouse.

KAREN: Well, if it isn’t Sergeant Warden. You better step inside or you’ll get wet.

INT. PORCH OFF KITCHEN – DAY MEDIUM SHOT She opens the screen door and he steps onto the porch. He removes his rain hat, shaking off the raindrops.

WARDEN: I am wet.

KAREN: If you’re looking for the captain, he isn’t here.

WARDEN: (taking the long chance) And if I’m not looking for him?

KAREN: (unsmiling) He still isn’t here.

WARDEN: (quickly) Well, I’m looking for him. Do you know where he is?

KAREN: I haven’t the slightest idea. Perhaps he’s in town on business. That’s the way you put it the other day, isn’t it?

WARDEN: (fishes in his pocket, brings out papers) I got some papers it’s important for him to sign.

KAREN: (turns) I’ll try phoning him at the Club. Maybe he’s there.

WARDEN: Don’t do that. I never like to disturb a man when he’s drinking. I could use a drink my self. Aren’t you going to ask me in?

Karen finally smiles, faintly. She goes into the kitchen, leaving the door open. Warden follows her.

INT. KITCHEN HOLMES HOUSE – DAY MEDIUM SHOT The kitchen is small and undistinguished.

KAREN: (gestures): The liquor’s there, Sergeant — in the cabinet.

Warden takes a whisky bottle from the cabinet and pours a straight, stiff drink, puts the bottle on the table. He puts the papers down and drinks. Karen leans against the sink counter.

KAREN: You’re taking an awful chance, you know. My maid is liable to be home any time.

WARDEN: No she won’t. Thursday’s her day off.

KAREN: You think of everything, don’t you, Sergeant?

WARDEN: I try. In my position you have to.

KAREN: (goes to table and picks up the papers) Are these really important?

WARDEN: Yes. But not important they get signed today. Tomorrow’s okay.

Karen suddenly, deliberately, rips the papers in half, then crumbles and throws them into the wastebasket.

WARDEN: I got copies at the office, so it won’t be much work to fix them up.

Warden’s control has begun to affect Karen’s now. She is losing her poise.

KAREN: That’s what I like about you, Sergeant. You have confidence. It’s also what I dislike about you.

WARDEN: It’s not confidence, ma’am. It’s honesty. I just hate to see a beautiful woman goin all to waste.

He moves close to Karen, is on the verge of embracing her. Greatly tempted but greatly disturbed, she turns away. During her monologue she pours herself a drink. Her tone is no longer brittle. It is bitter.

KAREN: Waste, did you say, Sergeant? Now that’s a subject I might tell you something about. I know several kinds of waste, Sergeant. You’re probably not even remotely aware of some of them. Would you like to hear? For instance — what about the house without a child? There’s one sort for you. Then there’s another. (Karen takes a drink) You’re doing fine, Sergeant. My husband’s off somewhere, it’s raining outside, and we’re both drinking now. But you’ve probably got one thing wrong. The lady herself. The lady’s not what she seems. She’s a washout, if you know what I mean. And I’m sure you know what I mean.

WARDEN: You gonna cry?

KAREN: (turning away): Not if I can help it.

Warden takes a drink and puts the glass down on the table, hard enough for her to hear.

KAREN (turning back to him): What are you doing?

WARDEN I’m leaving. Isn’t that what you want?

KAREN (slowly) I don’t know, Sergeant. I don’t know.

They stare squarely at each other, both puzzled and a little afraid of their emotions. This is something neither had counted on. He goes to her and they kiss. Music up. The camera pulls back and out the window, into the rain.

FADE OUT

Now that’s one sexy scene—the sexiest in the movie, in my opinion. It’s much more erotic than that sea-soaked episode on the beach, the scene from the movie that everyone remembers. Toggling back and forth between the second draft script and my tape of the movie was a revelation. I came to appreciate even more the writing skills involved, but also the contributions to the project that Kerr and Lancaster make—how subtly the nuance of facial expression, gesture, and body language communicate and reinforce emotions only hinted at on the page.

And remember that section of dialogue I mentioned that was cut from the second scene—removed by the screenwriter or the director as he shot the movie? In the Daniel Taradash second draft there was no kiss. In its place there is the following exchange, which comes after Karen says, “I don’t know, Sergeant. I don’t know.”

WARDEN: I know a beach near Diamond Head. Nobody ever goes there. The cars on the highway pass above and they never know it’s there. You feel like you used to feel when you were a kid, hiding by yourself in a cave, watching the others hunting you.

Karen turns, goes to the sink, puts the whisky bottle back in the cabinet.

KAREN: Maybe . . . why not?

WARDEN: How about Payday?

KAREN: You don’t have to spend money on me, Sergeant.

WARDEN: I just like to have some on me when I take out a woman. Can you get away?

KAREN: Maybe.

Warden grins. He goes to the door to the porch, pauses there.

WARDEN: I’ll be in Kuhio Park. Say, nine o’clock. Payday.

Karen leans back against the sink, watches him go out to the porch. A moment later the sound of the door is heard as he leaves. She turns on the faucet, starts to rinse the glasses they have used. Suddenly she turns the faucet on full force, watches it pound into the sink.

FADE OUT.

kerrlancaster2What is wrong with this second draft version of the scene? A more apt question is, What’s right with it? Take the blatant symbolism of the faucet water pounding into the sink, that’s downright corny. And the dialogue is too explicit, from Warden’s crude planning of their first “date” and it’s useless (to the audience) details. It’s all pure exposition that lacks even a suggestion of emotional nuance. Nothing is left for us to think about. Worse still, we feel nothing. We have been talked down to, led by the hand (nose) so that every thing is made perfectly (awfully) clear. Basically we are disrespected, our intelligence demeaned. We are insulted by being given TOO MUCH DIRECT INFORMATION.

You don’t have to be a professional screenwriter to figure out which of the two versions of that scene between Karen and Sergeant Warden is best. It’s simple; as filmed, the cuts and word changes made by the screenwriter and/or the director lets us connect to the story in a personal way. The same is true for the complete film. Throughout we are shown, not just told—we are allowed to feel our way into figuring it out for ourselves. The filmmakers permit us to collaborate in the creative process, and that’s what makes these two scenes—and the rest of the movie, all of which is treated with the same artful craft—so powerful. As I said, it’s a perfect film.

This is an edited repost from September 28, 2009.
Copyright © 2014 Jim Sizemore

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 173 other followers