Posts filed under 'Film'

The Golden Era of the SLR


I was thumbing through some old Popular Mechanics magazines recently and came across a bunch of ads for Japanese SLRs from the late ’70s. For those only versed in the language of megapixels and memory cards, there was a time when cameras captured images on film (how novel!). SLR stands for single-lens reflex — basically, a camera with a mirror in front of the shutter that would flip up when a photo was taken to expose a frame of film. SLRs were a big deal back in the day since they allowed the photographer to see through the same lens that was capturing the image. You see before the SLR, the rangefinder was king. The rangefinder didn’t allow a person to see through the lens taking the picture, so the photographer had to rely on a parallax viewfinder to get a shot in focus. SLRs gained in popularity among professional photographers in the late ’60s, but the amateurs were largely ignored until the mid ’70s. One of the early consumer SLRs was the Minolta SRT-101, but this was still a fully manual camera, meaning the photographer had to set the exposure time and f-stop using dials and rings. But with advances in technology, microprocessor computing power was harnessed for use in SLRs. The real breakthrough came in 1976 when Canon introduced the AE-1. This camera allowed the photographer to shoot automatically by letting the camera choose the appropriate shutter speed and/or f-stop based on data from the light meter. The AE-1 also incorporated copper plated acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene (ABS) in the camera body, which reduced the overall weight and brought manufacturing costs down. Interior mechanics were also given a modular treatment, bring the total number of internal parts down and further reduced manufacturing costs.

My favorite SLR of the late ’70s and early ’80s is the Minolta X-570. This camera is similar in many respects to the AE-1 which I also like very much, but I feel the Minolta has a more refined designed. In particular, I like the simple arrangement of controls on the top of the X-570 which are well marked. The viewfinder is also nicely implemented with an LED display for shutter speed. Also, while Canon made great FD mount lens for the AE-1, I like Minolta’s MD lens just a little better. Plus, with an adapter, I can use M43 lens on the X-570. If you are looking a great SLR, both of these cameras are worth considering.

Add comment October 2nd, 2012

Dirty Harry & Enhanced Techniques


I was watching one of my favorite films from the ’70s not long ago and that got me thinking about our use of torture to extract information from detainees during the dark days of the Bush administration. First, as kind of an aside, I have to say Dirty Harry is a great film. Wonderful music by Lalo Schifrin, beautiful wide angle camera work by cinematographer Bruce Surtees, and of course the iconic title character portrayed by Clint Eastwood. Anyway, back to the topic of torture: The Bush administration claimed its use was justified because detainees possessed knowledge of imminent terrorist attacks. This is the “Ticking Time Bomb” rational best illustrated by any episode of 24. You know the scenario, Jack Bauer has some terrorist tied to a chair and he’s going after them with a power drill and spatula in order to get a confession — usually involving the location of a nuclear bomb in Los Angeles. And Dirty Harry used a similar tactic to extract the location of a kidnapped girl from the Scorpio Killer. But in the case Bush era detainees, there was never a documented instance of a ticking time bomb scenario. Detainees seemed to be interrogated at random, with torture tactics used in no discernible pattern. In some cases, contractors carried out the interrogations. In other cases it was the CIA. Some detainees were tortured, forgotten about, then tortured again weeks later — nothing suggesting an imminent terrorist attack was on our minds.


I think the whole ticking time bomb rational is just barely justifiable from a moral standpoint. It’s on of those things where you don’t want to encourage or even publicly condone it, but I think we’re collectively willing to look the other way when it’s used by someone operating just a little outside of the system (like Dirty Harry or Jack Bauer). However, the torture used against detainees was institutionalized and authorized at the highest level of government. In fact, the FBI felt information could be more effectively squeezed out of detainees using conventional law enforcement style interrogation tactics instead of ad hoc torture methods, so it’s really strange the administration would just ignore the advice of those who had the most experience at the interrogation game. While I don’t necessarily think we need some kind of witch hunt to go after those who approved the use of torture, I do think we need to take steps to make sure we don’t do it again. The last thing we need is another Guantanamo Bay or Abu Ghraib to weigh heavy on our collective minds.

1 comment September 18th, 2009

Iconic ‘70s Actors


I hate the phrase “they don’t make them like they use to.” It implies we don’t currently have the option of choosing something of quality, when in point of fact we do — we just collectively choose crappy things for a variety of reasons. Take consumer goods made in China, which is something Stacy and I have been talking about since she has been struggling to find a coffeemaker manufactured outside of the PRC. A recent trip to the local Fred Meyer yielded many coffeemaker options, but none made in a country other than China. I believe there are many good reasons to steer clear of a coffeemaker made in China, including the possibility that a Chinese manufactured coffeemaker could contain metals with toxic impurities. I think some of the blame for all these Chinese products flooding our stores should be heaped on American companies, who have been shipping American manufacturing jobs overseas for years to maintain fat profit margins. But I also think a larger portion of the blame falls on all of us for not caring where our consumer goods come from and just buying whatever is on the shelf at our local store regardless of their country of orgin. There are coffeemakers made in countries as diverse as Holland and the Czech Republic, we just don’t buy them because we can buy a Chinese made one for half the price. But if your health is at stake, where is the savings buying something that could make you sick and possibly cost you money for medical treatment?

So how does this relate to screen actors from the ‘70s? I don’t know if it really does, but hear me out as I try and articulate something. Any trip to your local cineplex will convince you we don’t seem to have the same kind of iconic actors that came of age during the ‘70s. The two actors I’m thinking specifically of, because I’m a huge fan of their work, are Warren Oats and Robert Shaw. Of course there are many others who had obtained iconic status by the ‘70s, but I think Oats and Shaw are in an entirely different class. I was watching The Taking of Pelham One Two Three the other night and was left in awe of Robert Shaw’s portrayal of Mr. Blue, the ringleader of a band of NYC subway highjackers. Dito for his portrayal of Captain Quint in Jaws. And then there is Warren Oats, who was great in just about every movie he starred in. My personal favorites are The Wild Bunch, Two-Lane Blacktop, and Stripes. I don’t know if there are any current actors who I get excited about seeing in a film, but maybe Crispin Glover and Steve Zahn are the closest we have to truly iconic contemporary actors. But like Chinese consumer products, we’re happy with our large of selection of films with actors of dubious quality.

G.T.O explains the 455 V8

Captain Quint

2 comments November 24th, 2008

New Super 8 Footage


Tony was kind enough to transfer some of my recent super 8 footage last week on his Workprinter XP. A lot of it was open shutter timelapse shot at night with my Nizo. There is also a short clip of some footage I shot with a modified Nikon super 8 camera I removed the shutter from causing weird vertical streaks across the frame. I’ve been fascinated with shutterless footage after watching Steven Soderbergh’s The Limey back in the day. I’m still fine-tuning the technique though — I think in the future I’ll need to stop the lens down more to get the pronounced streaking and sharper image. BTW, that ambient “music” on the timelapse clips is me rockin the Kurzweil K2000VX and a Lexicon LPX-1 digital effects box.


Night Driving


Shutterless Footage

Add comment June 30th, 2008

Modern Classic: Kicking and Screaming


I recently re-watched Noah Baumbach’s (The Squid and the Whale) 1995 film following the stuck-in-neutral lives of recent college graduates who can’t quite work-up the courage to leave the familiarity of college life. I saw the film when it came out, one year after I graduated college, and wasn’t crazy about it. The movie probably struck a raw nerve, since much of what the main characters go through over the course of the film mirrored what many college grads like myself faced in the early to mid ‘90s. There is Grover (Josh Hamilton), whose girlfriend Jane has left for Prague, but Grover can’t seem to bring himself to join her, preferring the more predictable existence of living with college buddies. Grover’s roommates include Max (Chris Eigeman), who hangs around the house doing crossword puzzles. Then there is Otis (Carlos Jacott), who can’t seem to muster the gumption to get on a plane to Milwaukee and engineering school (he also thinks a pajama top can pass as formal wear). And finally, there is Skippy (Jason Wiles), who doesn’t seem to have any aspirations other than reading all the American great short novels.

Kicking and Screaming
has actually aged far better than its contemporaries, like Ben Stiller’s Reality Bites. That film attempted to cover all those Gen-X issues Newsweek reported back in the day. I’m sure some compare this film to those of Wilt Stillman, but I think Baumbach is a better filmmaker. I certainly like the characters in Baumbach’s films better than in Stillman’s. Those guys in Kicking and Screaming are flawed in ways almost all of us can relate to — whether we want to or not.

1 comment May 7th, 2008

Movie Titles



Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

Smoking Aces

Thank You for Smoking

Add comment April 16th, 2008

NW Film & Video Festival Report

Tony and I went to the Shorts I program of the Northwest Film & Video Festival on Friday night and it was one of the best shorts programs I’ve ever seen. The evening started out a little shaky w/ the 15 minute long Diggers, a straight up narrative about two gravediggers talking about those they’re putting six feet under. It was well acted and all, but the ending was a bit pretentious and I hate it when a short film has a minutes worth of credits. Things picked up quickly though w/ Brian’s Creamery Birds. The highlight of the evening for me came in the middle of the program w/ Modern Measure by Matthew Lessner of Nehalem. It’s an homage to French New Wave cinema, except a Taco Bell takes the place of a Parisian cafe. The film was proudly shot on 16mm B&W on a Krasnogorsk-3 Russian camera and it looked perfect for the subject matter. Oh, the French narration was hilarious. The shorts program concluded w/ the excellent Patterns II and III from Jamie Travis of Vancouver B.C. I don’t really know how to explain these films, other than to say they incorporated stop motion animation, singing, and just general strangeness.

Add comment November 12th, 2007

Walking Out of Movies

The Chicago Tribune had a piece a while back where they asked a bunch of their writers if they have ever walked out of a movie, and if so, the name of the offending movie. I’ve never walked out, but I’ve come close. The one stinker I remember nearly bolting from was Danny Boyle’s A Life Less Ordinary back in 1997. It’s kind of sad, because I’m a huge Danny Boyle fan, but damn, that movie was just terrible. Really, the only reason I stayed till the end was because I came w/ a friend and we got in free. And then there was Institute Benjamenta by the Brothers Quay… it was so bad I fell asleep. But I was w/ Libby and we got in free, so I stayed through the whole thing. Have any readers of the blog walked out of a movie?

5 comments July 19th, 2007

Cool Soundtrack Music

Megan and I watched that documentary Jesus Camp this last weekend and I was really impressed with the ambient soundtrack by Force Theory. They have a bunch of soundtrack snippets on their website worth checking out.

Bright Lights

Cups Final

Abort 1

Bless the Equipment

Missouri Drive Theme


1 comment June 19th, 2007

Sundance Recap

I’m back from Utah and Sundance is a quickly fading memory. It was crazy, and if I were to do it again, there are a few things I would differently. First of all, buying tickets in advance is a good idea since it guarantees a seat in the film of your choice. We got into all the movies we wanted to see by waiting for tickets, but it’s a lot of waiting. Finding a place w/ a kitchen would also be a good thing since food is pretty pricey. Some random things I saw: Kevin Barnes from Of Montreal playing guitar in subzero weather…wearing a dress no less. The Theater Loop bus we were riding whacking a parked car during our trip to see the disappointing movie Teeth. A pack of kids costumed as penguins running around downtown for no apparent reason. Stuff like that. The skiing in Utah is fantastic. We spent a full day at The Canyons and it was amazing snow – really put our Oregon snow to shame. I’ll have some photos to share latter in the week after I finish off the last of the roll. Stay tuned.

Add comment January 30th, 2007

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