L13FC: Home Theater or Public Cinema?

Welcome back to Cindy’s Lucky 13 Film Club. This month my good friend, Bill, has some questions for you.

The world of home theatre has one considerable advantage over the antiquated days of movie-going.  Choice.  Today’s streaming and downloads offer tens of thousands of options from the entire history of the cinema.  For less than the price of a single admission to a movie theatre, the whole family can enjoy a digitally preserved movie on a sizeable screen with optimal sound. What’s to complain about then?

Four Differences Between Your Home Theatre and Cinema Going Experience

1.     When I refer to the cinema, I write exclusively of films being projected onto a movie screen, not the viewing of digital files. so the first thing you are losing is the flicker. With film, you are in darkness for a measurable percentage of the films running time, giving the viewing of a film a dreamlike flavor.  Watching digital entertainment is closer to being hypnotized than dreaming. You are watching a glorified form of television, whether it is in a former movie theatre or on your home theatre set-up.

Taxi Driver

2.      No matter how large or small your home screen is, you cannot approximate the ratio of a 6-foot human being to the 30-foot high movie screen.  You can sit up close to a 40-inch monitor so the picture occupies nearly your entire field of vision,  but your size will always dominate the television.  At the movies even when those with smaller screens, you are physically dominated by the images you are viewing.

Night of the Living Dead (1968)

3.     The movies themselves, whether claiming to be restored or simply preserved, rarely have identical visual information as to their original release prints. BluRays are much brighter than the 35 mm originals, and the clarity reveals things that were better left obscured…hair dyes, bad make-up. painted skies, etc. Cheap, grainy exploitation films can now look like high budget mainstream latex makeovers.  These digital jobs might last longer than the old film stock, but you are not seeing a film, but an inexact copy of the film.

4.     One of the biggest drawbacks to the home theatre experience, which had its inception in the 1970s with the home box office and video rentals, is the dissolution of the timeline of film culture. In the days when television was television and cinema was cinema, we knew when we were watching an old movie on tv or a classic film at the art house.  We were aware that we were trespassing against the timeline. For a number of reasons, it is always best to see films at the time they are released.

There is much to enjoy in films that were made before our time, but those who saw Taxi Driver in 1976 at a luxury movie theatre saw a different movie than the person who selects it from the Netflix action menu in 2020.  In fact, a personal assessment of films often has a lot to do with when in their film going life they saw it.  For example, my favorite Howard Hawks western is Rio Bravo while people five years older than me usually prefer Red River.  People thirty years younger than me might be ardent fans of Euro-Westerns and have no interest in seeing any American western.  I came to the European auteurs in the late sixties, so I prefer Fellini’s Satyricon to his 8 ½,  and Bergman’s Persona to The Seventh Seal.   But I saw all Sam Peckinpah’s and John Cassevetes’ films in real-time, so they are among my favorite directors because I have lived with them and in them.

What do you think? How has your film-watching experience changed with the transition from film to digital, from public cinemas to home cinema?  Is the situation today better or worse than it was yesterday?

Thank you, Bill! Check out his blog at cinemaafterlife.movie.blog

IMO: 20 Years Later

I feel a silver lining to the COVID experience is it has allowed me to stop the merry-go-round to pause, reflect, and prioritize. This has brought to the surface tapped down memories and feelings and discussions around the table. The not-so-good feelings, the spiders on the wall–my 4 D’s: delusion, denial, deprecation, and depression have followed me around all my life. Then there are the good parts of me, the virtues: initiative, perceptiveness, diligence, and loyalty. In short, at worst, I’m a neurotic dreamer. At best, in a past life, I was probably a dog. Ha!

One boring day, my daughter and I took a free Myers-Briggs personality test. I’m a BDNF. I’m rare, they said. I’m John Snow. An Eleanor Roosevelt. A Gandi. Wow. That’s flattering, but there’s guilt that I haven’t done much in light of their accomplishments. Except for John Snow. He was a boring character in Game of Thrones. I do feel, however, that in a past life I was Brienne of Tarth. Speaking of boredom, after ravishing through Season 4 of The Last Kingdom and gulping down Season 5 of Outlander, I decided to rewatch the GoT series when I couldn’t remember much of what happened in the first four seasons. I must say, I am having fun. During COVID, my time is spent babysitting, reading, writing, and researching. I need a bolt of fun in the evening. 

In the 1990s, when I was in my thirties and at college, I wanted to become a professor at the community college level. A professor warned me to get my teaching degree at the secondary level while I worked on my Master’s. He predicted the market would become saturated, and it would be tough to get a full-time position as a professor. “Everyone’s going to college. Those Ph.D. grads that don’t get hired at the university level? Guess what? The junior colleges pick them up, thus making a Master’s degree the value of a bachelor’s degree.” Well, he was right. Imagine being a single parent! Yikes! No wonder I was frazzled, and the 1990s and 2000s were a blur. My adult life is like Game of Thrones. I know I lived through it, but why can’t I remember anything? COVID allowed me to revisit the seasons to see if I held up over time. 

Still, I have taught at both levels simultaneously for twenty years. I’ve been a hole-filler adjunct since 2000. I’ve taught at the high school level since 1999. I didn’t want to be a high school teacher. But I did it. I have six more years to go. All my student loans will be paid off, and I can retire with a pension. I did not want to run this marathon race, but I’m almost at the finish line, and grand vacations await.

When you are “becoming” something, it’s easy to believe that it is your destiny. When you fall into a career you did not want, it is easy to believe you were shortchanged. After twenty years, it’s all okay. Once I was obtuse. Now it is clear that God wanted me to have this career because I am very good at it. Don’t ask me about the paradigm-shifting, acronym-gathering, administrative micro-managing parts of the profession. None of it bothers me anymore. I just smile and carry on. 

The time spent in seclusion has allowed me to feel grateful for my career. I feel the honor of getting to know the saintly students–those who will most likely succeed with the straightest trajectory, and the sandpaper students–those who have interesting personalities and circumvent the norm. My school asked teachers to create a short video message for the graduating seniors. Who knows what will happen to our school when we resume on August 1. I thought it might be interesting for you to see the real me and hear my voice. I may be getting old, but I’m safe. I’m one of the good guys, and I’ve got their backs. Hail, Brienne of Tarth!

(4) Writing Historical Fiction: Jewish Neighborhoods and a sister named Zorka

Welcome to a monthly post about the research for the third novel. If you are new to my blog, this project is about 20th Century U.S. History featuring underrepresented voices. There are six books in the series moving forward in time by twenty or so odd years. A character jumps forward to the next book, too. Book One, set in 1900, is called The Knife with the Ivory Handle. You will find the link at the right sidebar if you’re curious. Book Two, set in 1928, is called Inside the Gold Plated Pistol. You’re invited to check out the page for each novel at the top of the blog. Thanks to everyone who read them. I appreciate your time and feedback.

Research Report

This month’s research centers around Judaism in the 1940s, specifically Jewish neighborhoods in Minneapolis. This is the backdrop for the second principal character, Zorka Kiss. While Barbara is in the Philippines making do as a nurse in the jungle at he Bataan Peninsula, back home, little sister Zorka is restless. She meets a Nisei linguist soldier stationed at MISLS, Military Intelligence Service Language School. This sets up two challenges. One, what was it like to live and belong in the northern neighborhood of Minneapolis where an enclave of Jews resided? What was that culture like? Two, what was it like for Japanese-American soldiers who volunteered to join the U.S. Army? How did they face the racism after the attack of Pearl Harbor?

Judaism in Minneapolis

Rhoda Lewin’s Jewish Community of North Minneapolis is a chief reference point for precise names of streets, businesses, family statistics, and life at the synagogue. I’m going with the Beth El Synagogue, formed in 1926. It was located at 14th and Penn Avenue North before it moved to St. Louis Park in the late 1960s. The charismatic Rabbi David Aronson led over four hundred families from mostly Russian, Lithuania, and Romania in the second wave of immigration which occurred in the U.S. from 1870-1920. Of course, they raised families. Their first-generation children were caught in two worlds. Japanese and Asian groups flocked to America looking to escape economic hardship. When they did, ethnic regionalism occurred. That is, immigrant families tended to congregate to neighborhoods where work, personal histories, language, and religion were similar. Americanization was important for the reform groups who were scared of their “foreignness”, and families who wanted their children to blend in as American. Immigrant children attended American schools, spoke English, and adopted the American way of life, for example, movies, sports, food, boy scouts, and dancing. One site I liked to learn about Judaism was Shavuot 101: My Jewish Learning. I found this interesting article by Lisa Huriash, “Uncle Sam Keeps Kosher Kitchen for Servicemen Who Need It” HERE.
Another key site for learning about Jewish history in Minneapolis was the Minnesota Historical Society found HERE. Apparently, Minneapolis has a sordid past with racism and anti-Semitism which raised its ugly head yesterday in the papers. The scholarly article “Gentiles Preferred” by Laura Weber was fascinating.

Click to access v52i05p166-182.pdf


Finally, I’ve been watching the Netflix original series Unorthodox about a young lady from Brooklyn’s Jewish Orthodox neighborhood who flees to Berlin. It’s been a revelation. Actress Shira Haas is outstanding as Esther Shapiro. It is a story of non-conformity and insight into Jewish culture–I highly recommend it.

Next month, I will share the research behind Japanese-American soldiers fighting in WW2. It deserves a post all of its own.

Introducing Zorka Kiss

Chapter 2

Zorka Kiss hated her name. How flamboyant the sound when she heard someone pronounce it. Her classmates had teased her by accentuating the Z sound. Add to it the awkward last name with the final drag of the S as though she was a tempestuous snake–suddenly Zorka Kiss sounded obscene. If not a snake trying to seduce, then a secret body part with the capability of kissing. Her mother’s friends were just as bad as her peers. “Give me a Zorka Kiss! Where’s my Zorka Kiss?” When her brother came home to visit, he got in the habit of saying to her, “I need a kiss from the Zorka.” Her parents told her she was named after her father’s grandmother. The family name Kiss was a common Hungarian name, but Zorka knew of no other families in Minneapolis with it. Once she looked up her name in the city phone book. There were two Kiss families, a few Kissingers, and a handful of Kitzingers. It gave her no comfort, but she understood it was not important in light of the times. It was late April, 1942. She was twenty, and the world had gone mad.

She finished her morning classes at the University of Minnesota, and the bus dropped her off at Penn Avenue North. She carried her viola case and walked to her lesson. Her heart was heavy. The war raged, and here she was, far removed from the attacks and imprisonments, pretending all was normal in her daily routine while the apprehensive eyes of her family constantly reminded her all was not well. When they attended the Sabbath, the 400 member community gathered under a shroud of worry. The northside neighborhood exhaled hand-wringing energy that made her stomach cramp and her ears ring.

As she walked down 14th Avenue inhaling the crisp air, Zorka pulled back dense curls the color of burnt toast. She wrapped a scarf around the mass that made her head large compared to her slender frame. Her hazel eyes looked up at the globe veiled behind wispy clouds and concentrated on the tips of the trees that finally sprouted leaves. Spring had won the battle over a long winter even though patches of snow clung to the shady parts of bushes. Zorka admired the yellow and red tulips lining a sidewalk and acknowledged the annual perfection of color and egg shape symmetry with an impulse to wack off their heads. In an ugly world, such beauty seemed rude.

Thanks for reading!