Daguerre’s Last Words

by Marty Murphy ©2019

Boulevard_du_Temple_by_Daguerre
“Boulevard du Temple” – 1838/39 Louis Daguerre

My Dearest Princess,

The date is July 10, 1851. It’s Thursday, the morning is turning out to be fine and hot, and there is just enough of a breeze to keep away the stench of those living across the way, in their shanty towns, popping up like razor stubble on the face of some unwelcomed guest. A good, hard rainstorm would most assuredly be a welcomed guest this evening when they all gather about the village square to debate. They are miserable, and I am tired of hearing all their stories about how France and Britain wrecked this, France and Britain wrecked that. Nobody has any idea how I was gutted by tariffs imposed by France and Britain! How Daguerre was just cast aside! It cost me everything to ship materials from the outlying territories. Besides, going bankrupt once was enough!

As I was saying, the weather is pleasant, for now. I am writing to you from my modest apartment in the Bry-sur-Marne. My dear, you would love it here; there are mice everywhere. The Templar Priory has furnished me all that I require in exchange, rather insistence, I use that which I require to paint dioramas for each convent and church that has requested as much for their altarpieces and prayer halls. The Priory claims this to be a divine contract; my penance for confessional revelations. The irony does not go unnoticed in that living among the purveyors of crime dramas for many years makes me guilty by association in the eyes of the Priory; they continue to entertain the notion of my direct involvement in the death of my dear friend, and partner, Nicéphore Niépce. They think I had something to do with the fire that destroyed my home, my business, all my records, my supplies and materials . . . all those notes; books and notes and papers of Niepce’s, and mine too, of course! It’s all very convenient, as they say. A pension, in exchange for the secret to capturing details that are now free for the asking.

In fact, if it weren’t for my pension, I’d be dead. Maybe I should have listened to my father and become an architect; I could have been a designer for the royal court. It really was wonderful all those years ago when I was the apprentice, such frivolity, so care-free; the parties were famous. That experience led me to where I am now, comfortably painting my dioramas inside these godforsaken churches and convents. They really do need divine imagery to change the attitudes of their flock, and my dioramas are just the thing; it’s not like those people are living here against their will, and, my paintings will gladden their spirit, dispelling the trivial absurdities to which they have burdened themselves. This is my legacy to those truly in need of salvation; Daguerre and his Diorama of the Fantastique Paradis!

Honestly though, if it weren’t for Isadore’s constant grievances about the smallness of his pension when he need only look down for some perspective, and, Delacroix’s perpetual insults labeling me a cur, a mountebank, and a tricheor, I’d have nothing to live for – Talbot ruined everything. Fortunately, his process literally pales in comparison to the details of Daguerre. Thankfully though, I have Delacroix to consider as it pertains to your well-being; he was just going to toss you out his studio window when he finished drawing you, and quite a superb drawing if I must say so – you never looked more radiant, or lovely. Curse him, and his words: “Paint a picture, it will last longer”, bah, amateur. I told him; “Everyone admires his sketches of you more than all his paintings combined.” He really captured your playful nature, the intensity of your eyes, and your whiskers. As for Talbot, his interloping proved my point. Now everyone just wants to record images of their pets, or how much food they are about to consume.

Oh, my dearest Princess, I don’t mean to bother you with all these boring details. The real reason I am writing is to tell you that I was asked, again, to describe my first Daguerreotype image, you know the one of the house across the street at Boulevard du Temple; it’s just criminal! This must the hundredth instance I have to recall this moment. Perhaps I should tell the truth this time, that I was just trying to apprehend the miscreant child plotting to steal the bread and milk deliveries again; the little bastard. You can see him looking out the third-story window at the throng of people milling about. The police, as usual didn’t care, and, this time I had evidence! All they are curious about is who the person is getting their shoes shined! That actor, Jean E. Fromage. Nobody will ever remember him. His acting is so bad. I am sure there will be a sub-class rating for the kind of dramas those people flock around. Like Bees to flowers they are; Bee dramas.

Sadly, I must end this letter as I feel a bit light-headed. Perhaps my breakfast is causing me some discomfort as there is a tightness in my chest I have never felt. It would do me good to have you sitting here in my lap while I gently stroke you from head to tail. I would welcome your scratches as I miss you greatly.

Yours Truly,

Louis

Describe an Everyday Thing Without Naming It

tampon ad photo
Vintage Newspaper Advertisement circa 1940’s.

by M. Murphy ©2019

This everyday thing has been available to purchase only for about eighty years, but there has been a need since the dawn of humanity. In fact, there were many versions and alternative uses before the available versions being used today. And today, it is a matter of preference as well as need, and accessibility; unless you advertise it, nobody will even know you are using this thing.

The early incarnations and uses for this thing is just lined with diversity. The research is padded with all kinds of interesting bits, and, leave it to the Japanese to correctly identify the precise need and use, and stick with it. But, that was long ago before strip malls, convenience stores, and gas stations began to absorb the great American landscape, stringing us along on the great adventure.

Also, throughout its existence this thing has provided much needed relief, saved countless lives, and probably prevented countless other lives from even occurring. Just the name of this thing has been known to stop a man in his tracks and freeze his heart cold which demonstrates the power of everything surrounding this thing. Half of humanity created a stigma surrounding this thing because of ignorance, and misunderstanding. Laws were passed, and legislation continues to this day surrounding where, when, and how this thing is used. Moreover, one can scarcely imagine a world without this thing, or the thing that would have to replace it. Also, this thing can kill you if it is used irresponsibly.

Not mentioning offshoots and variants on the theme, today this thing is still relatively the same as it was when it got snatched up, legally, in the early part of the 20th century and transformed in to what it is today; cylindrical, and made mostly of natural materials with a variety of discreet lengths and ranges for specific need. The competition to produce the best overall thing is fierce; competitors are out for blood! Moreover, a significant detail about this thing, since its first recorded application the use of a similar material has been its main component. So, it may not be the number one rated thing but believe me when I say that it is right up there, period.

Can you tell me what this thing is?

Alice to Alice; Svankmajer and Burton

John_Tenniel-_Alice's_mad_tea_party,_colour
Alice in Wonderland, John Tenniel, 1865 (public domain image)

Comparisons Relating How We Judge Animated Film

by M. Murphy ©2014

I was asked: By what standards do we judge animated films? It would seem an industry standard that how one judge animated film is broken in to five categories; artists intentions, cultures subjective values of art/aesthetic, popularity and/or commercial success, innovation and originality, and laugh meter. Of course there are many other facets to consider that ultimately broaden or narrow one’s scope of observation but it seems for now that animated film easily adheres to the aforementioned standards.

I will attempt to compare two very different adaptations of one story; Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The first adaptation is by Jan Svankmajer with his 1988 film, Alice, and the second is by Tim Burton with his 2010 film, Alice in Wonderland. I will be applying the five standards by which one judge an animated film, and briefly highlight any similarities, differences, and anything else that may seem interesting or noteworthy.

Something I do find quite interesting is that since Carroll’s Wonderland was first published in 1865; as a book it has never been out of print, and it has been translated in nearly a hundred different languages. There have been numerous adaptations in all types of media and in my mind Wonderland makes an ideal template to measure the standards for how one judge animated film; after all, Carroll’s story is extremely imaginative and fantastical. It lends itself as a perfect foundation in which to build an animated adaptation.

Artists Intention

Jan Svankmajer’s adaptation is truly remarkable. I absolutely loved this film. From my first viewing I felt as though Svankmajer intended for his film to reflect the fact that the story is about a dream, or daydreaming. Moreover, I think Svankmajer intended for his film to be the result of his ability as an artist; his skills and technique as an animator, and the implementation of what is familiar in Svankmajer’s environment. Most of all I think that Svankmajer’s intent was to tell a story in such a way that reflects the hand-crafted traditions of lore.

Tim Burton’s adaptation is also remarkable, but I like it less so than Svankmajer’s film; Burton combines two of Carroll’s books to make this adaptation, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and Through the Looking Glass. I think that underneath everything layered upon Burton his intent was to make an entertaining film; in this aspect he was successful. This adaptation certainly has many of the trademark Burton-like characteristics that have made his previous films successful, but for all its imagination it seems to lack that elusive intangible that would otherwise assist in clarifying intention outside of purposes for entertainment only. This is not necessarily a bad thing either; Burton’s film is extremely well made and exactly what he intended.

Culture’s Subjective Values of Art/Aesthetic

Oddly enough, we are not exposed to examples of art that expand and breach boundaries of our perception as much as I feel we should be, but perhaps there is so much absurdity already in real life that we gloss over such occurrences too frequently for anything to really take hold.

When I compare Svankmajer’s work with the subject value scale of art and aesthetic in today’s culture I see a reflection of the raw primitive grit that makes people what they are. We are driven by base needs and wants, simple constructs and mechanisms, and most of all we love a good story. It doesn’t matter if we’ve heard it a hundred times before. I think Svankmajer is very successful with his artistic execution. One does not expect, nor prepare, to receive such imagery yet in the end one seamlessly accepts the imagery as plausible in context.

Artistically, Svankmajer’s adaptation is executed with live-action combined and interacting with stop motion, small scale personal set-builds, adoringly rich archaic puppets, simplicity and ingenuity, hand-made and produced on a much smaller scale by comparison. Burton’s adaptation is all live-action and green screen capture animation, full digital process, large staff, enormous budget . . . the result of many people working together on common goals to come close to some personal vision; another cog in the great entertainment wheel of fate.

Aesthetically, Burton really made a beautiful film. His adaptation is immensely rich visually, but there were certain expectations already in place and his film comes across as an exercise in new technologies and their use, equally as much as it is a great artistic production.

Culturally, there is somewhat of a stigma that comes with artistic production relative to its business side. Compared to some other Tim Burton films, I feel that this film should have been stop motion because Burton does amazing stop motion, and because fuck expectation.

Popularity and/or Commercial Success

Let’s face it. I never saw any Jan Svankmajer Alice movie memorabilia, clothing line, video game, action figures . . . but I have seen an obscene overload of Disney mass marketing of Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland starring Johnny Depp. It’s that type of ram it down your throat approach that really makes it special. Like I mentioned previously, certain expectations were already in place regarding the Disney production.

Fortunately, I did happen to see Svankmajer’s Alice, and many of his other films at animation festivals screened at the Charles Theater in Baltimore and several old theaters in Washington DC from late 80’s through the mid 90’s. The Animation Film Festival circuit was fairly popular and most showings had great turnout. There was always publicity and visibility centered on the event and many of the filmmakers whose works were shown went on to accomplish a great many things, Tim Burton was among them.

Innovation and Originality

Honestly, Svankmajer’s adaptation is much more innovative than Burton’s; the big factor here is budget.    Innovation is bred from having to adapt in environments that are less than ideal while remaining attentive to positive aspects. Svankmajer is more successful in this regard probably because he is beholden to himself, and everything occurred on a much smaller scale.

Burton is successful at achieving technical/digital innovation, and more importantly paving the way to the future of film making through digital animation. Burton is part of the trend that has the means and imagination to realize potential and vision; this innovation helps the animation industry survive and thrive.

Svankmajer is innovative in blending live action with stop motion. Great editing and careful planning can be attributed to this. I also feel that he is innovative in choice of set pieces, puppets, repetition, color palette . . .

As for originality; both Svankmajer and Burton have transcended that label by the sheer virtue of being individuals. Both possess an almost archetypical individuality that elevates what these artist/filmmakers accomplish as benchmarks to aspire to, and they make it seem so easy.

Laugh Meter

A lot of this depends on one’s taste in humor. I find both films to have a great laugh meter ranking.

Svankmajer’s humor is a bit more sardonic; reflective of the book as well as Svankmajer’s cultural associations as executed with the material constructs of his immediate environment. The minimalistic interactions between Alice and all the other characters are quite funny to me; perhaps due to my suspension of disbelief.

Burton gets laugh by way of his actors portrayals paired with digital manipulation. His adaptation creates a much more playful attitude with lots of good twisted-ness thrown in, and oh yeah, drama, plenty of drama. Seriously, Crispin Glover is hilarious in this film as the Knave of Hearts.

Resources

Alice. (1988). [film] Directed by J. Švankmajer.

Zanuck, Richard D., et al. Alice in Wonderland. Walt Disney Pictures, 2010

Effects of Religious Affectation

sinner
“Sinner” M. Murphy 2012. Digital composite collage.

by M. Murphy ©2010

I remember when I was a young child (late 1960’s & early 1970’s), and my Mother insisted on sending me  to catechism school on Saturday mornings.  I did not like this for a number of reasons, one of which being I would miss out on the fabulous cartoons being aired on television. Back then, television was a bit more innocent, and the choices for wasting time through televised entertainment were slim to none but momentous nonetheless. Unlike today, where ten thousand channels show nothing but crap. Oh sure there are educational programs, but I’m not going to pay any amount of money to receive pointless broadcasts along with educational materials that should be given for free. The infectious disease that is television is a whole different monster altogether and not really part of this little story.

With regard to being sent to catechism school, and attending church, Catholic Church, I felt early on that it was nothing more than a sham, a tool of control, a means to persuade individuals into a certain belief system that was fundamentally opposed to attaining spiritual freedom – It just didn’t feel right!. So, I skipped pretty much all those classes and hid out in the tract of woods at the end of our street where I grew up. Being close to nature was my church, and I spent my time observing all I could in that environment.

Now going to church on Sunday was another chore in and of itself. And, I would have to be extremely inventive with my reasons for not going. Nothing was sacred in terms of an excuse – from stomach aches to smallpox, and bee stings to snake bites. I utilized all my skills to avoid sitting in a huge, sterile room with some guy uttering nonsensical, deeply ominous babble. Whenever I did end up going, I just wanted it to end. So, I amused myself observing and admiring the Stations of the Cross sculpture reliefs hanging on the wall. I would pretend to know all the words in the hymnals by humming loudly while mouthing out words; I lip-synced. Sometimes I would fart, and since the church pews, no pun intended, were made of wood the sound would resonate, and the pew would vibrate. Many are guilty of this.

One thing my Mother was successful in was getting me to attend classes that prepared me to receive my first Holy Communion and Confession. I remember that quite well, and to this day for the life of me can’t find any relevance to the natural spiritual grounding within my being, other than the practice of affirmation of belief. We practiced with corn flakes and tea or cherry soda for hours, weekend after weekend, listening to the instructions on what to say, and when to say it, how far to stick out our tongues, to crunch and chew or not to crunch and chew – all of the things that were deemed appropriate in receiving the Eucharist, seriously. We were told that the very last thing we would want to happen is to slip up in our little ceremony and commit a mortal sin right there in front of the whole Catholic Church. Indeed, if we said the wrong line at the wrong time or whatever, we would be committing a sin. Yeah, no pressure there.

Needless to say, the ceremony went off without a hitch. Everyone said a proper Amen, and instead of cherry soda the chalice was filled with grape juice (not sacrament wine). When it was all over the adults herded all the kids outside in their little white robes and satin sashes for a group photo. It was hot; the kids were miserable, sweating, and ready to go home. The one thing that really stood out for me as the most endearing part of the whole ceremony was that the priest presiding over the ceremony looked exactly like Jonathan Winters; I kept waiting for him to do some shtick, like the ones I had seen the real Jonathan Winters do on Laugh-In. This guy was like a stand-up priest, not part of the regular rotation of rectory fathers.

The second part of this ceremony was first Confession. No kidding, you had to be there to experience the hypocrisy first hand, because I’m sure I won’t eloquently convey to you just how ridiculous it really was. I was totally prepared though with a long list of lies and general bad behavior I had committed, quite ready to spill my guts to the priest when my turn came to be ushered into the dark confessional booth. For weeks I was told how my mortal soul would be tormented in hell, or worse, limbo and purgatory if I didn’t come clean with the truth regarding all my sins to date. I feared being secluded in some dark confessional chamber booth with some old man whose face was all wrinkled and contorted. I never knew exactly what went down once a child was sequestered behind the wooden paneled door of a closet sized box without windows, and, was it sound-proof? I always saw people going in, but never coming out. Maybe I just never noticed that part? The group of kids I was with all sat in the church pews waiting for our turn, but I was surprised to see each child being led not into the confessional booth, but into a different door altogether. My fear doubled upon seeing this.

My stomach was in knots as I sat waiting. I just wanted it to be over with, as I sat there thinking of the items on my list and which things I would omit; I would lie in order to guarantee my salvation. This is what they taught me! And, when my turn came, I was led through a door, down a hall, and to my surprise I was led into a regular classroom, told to sit in a chair, and wait. It was one of those older, polished plywood school chairs. And, there were at least 30 of those chairs piled up like a mountain in the corner of the room. There were other chairs arranged in a messy half-circle, and a few desks. I sat down. After a minute or two, the priest came in, pulled up one of the chairs and sat down directly across from me. It was a different priest, not the stand-up priest from before. This priest was older, pale white, and shiny from sweating. I started to reach into my pocket for the list of lies I had prepared for this occasion, but before I could even get them out of my pocket the priest said a few words, and then pronounced that all my mortal sins were absolved. Then I was told to leave. Just like that. No Hail Mary’s or whatever else I had imagined I had to do to be cleansed of the black spots on my mortal soul. Indeed, I had envisioned my soul as one big black circle, especially because of all the previous smack-talk I had heard from the nuns, the priests, my Brother and Sister, and my family. I said nothing as I left, and nothing more did I speak concerning this matter of confession. I felt duped and relieved at the same time, but I still did not understand why I had to compile a list of transgressions against an omniscient being. I had spent days and days making that list, adding to it, all the time becoming more and more afraid.

So, what does all this mean? This is what I experienced. Moreover, was my innate spirit informing me that all this ceremony and performance was completely unnecessary, and that the whole religion thing was not real? At the time, it seemed they all just made it up. I will freely admit, I was fascinated by the stories being told of the magical Jesus who defied the odds and cheated death; disappearing after three days, leaving a warning that one day his return would be imminent, and judgment would be dealt out like grades at school, or cards in a high-stakes poker game.

Now that I am an adult, little has changed in how I perceive religion, dogma, the ceremony, and the circumstances surrounding all of it. Indeed, many stories have surfaced as of late detailing sexual abuses in the Catholic Church, and as I make attempts not to judge, I can’t help but feel so very unclean to have had any association with this hypocrisy. What seems worse is how the mainstream religions around the planet continually vie for top honors; who has the best God, and who will offer the best deals in salvation and redemption? This kind of seems like a giant pissing contest. But, I am no different than anyone else on the planet, right? I need salvation and redemption, right? Yet, I made the choice to reject all notions of resting my faith upon the shoulders of an invention just so I can pass blame on to some construct when I sin.

So then, what is faith? Faith is that which is believed as truth and fact, but can never be proven by any means, like the scientific method, for example. Heck, it seems anyone can claim to have had some sort of revelation, visitation, or communication with God these days, and then invent some dogmatic structure of morality to dress it up, like fancy ribbons on a birthday present. With all of this mass confusion, it would make sense that a messiah, prophet, or divine holy person would exert their will and manifest as living proof for all people to see. But, this is not the case. It is all a matter of faith. Religions have existed for some very specific purposes, constructed and invented by humans to answer many of life’s unexplained or unanswered questions, like: Why are we here? What happens when we die? How shall I live my life? And so on. Only you can answer those questions, and that’s your responsibility and not some construct’s burden.

If you need religion in your life to give you balance or a sense of purpose, community, belonging? Then, yes! By all means. Regardless of what construct or method gets you there; regular re-affirmation of that which gives you meaning in your life is essential for survival.