Saturday, August 04, 2007

Adventures in Berkeley

Last night the video programming began with The Adventures of Prince Achmed, made in Germany in 1925. It's the oldest surviving feature-length animated film, made with silhouettes like the ones cast by Indonesian shadow puppets. We were watching it on a small TV mounted on a wall, which wasn't ideal; even so, the film was beautiful. (Also inadvertently hilarious in many places. The advantage of silent films is that you can heckle without worrying about detracting from anyone's enjoyment.) I found the visuals absolutely magical and mesmerizing -- much more so than most contemporary animation -- precisely because the images were otherworldly and mysterious rather than realistic. Gary and I are going to rent the film to watch at home (Netflix has it), and I highly recommend it to any of you interested in film or fantasy.

The second selection was Hush, one of our favorite Buffy episodes. (Last night's movie theme was "Shhhhh!") It formed an interesting counterpoint to Achmed; the stylized hand gestures of The Gentlemen are very similar to some of the silhouette movements in the first movie, and I think having seen Achmed made me even more sensitive to how much Hush accomplishes with gesture.

There were two more videos, but after that first double feature, we turned in for the night!

Other highlights from yesterday included a paper on Goldberry from LoTR; the author wasn't there, but a friend read it for her, and afterwards, the audience discussed Goldberry and Bombadil for a good twenty minutes. One person quoted LoTR from memory to make a point. Another pulled out a dog-eared copy of the book to find a passage that answered a question.

Ahhhhh! Tolkien geeks! My people!

The cafeteria food here is remarkably good. We had tasty ginger fish for dinner last night, and the coffee's not half bad -- much to our relief, since we forgot to bring our own.

There's an absolutely gorgeous tree on campus, near one of the entrances to the main programming building. Given how much Tolkien loved trees, that's fitting. I want to try to get some photos of it before we leave. I seem to find fantastical vegetables every time I come to Berkeley!

Also, I keep meeting people who glance at my name badge, beam at me, and tell me that they love my work. Most gratifying! And there are lots of cat people here -- we saw some adorable snapshots of someone's new cat over breakfast this morning -- but that's not too surprising at a fantasy gathering, is it?


  1. Nice image for the post, Susan. I went and looked at the Wikipedia article on The Adventures of Prince Achmed and found the artwork beautiful. Far beyond average today to my mind. I remember a good while back when cartoonists stopped putting shadows in their animations. It was the end of a certain realism in the perspectives presented to the public, especially children. I wish that we had maintained those standards. When you start letting standards slide you open the door for more and more of the same.

    I remember when my grandmother made silhouettes of my sister and me. She framed them and kept them on her wall for many years. It seems to be a lost art form which is sad because it is something almost anyone can do and enjoy.


  2. Actually, I think the fault of today's animation is that in many ways it's too realistic. The Achmed images aren't realistic at all, which is why they work so well.

    One of my grandmothers had some silhouettes of family members, too. I think it's one of those art forms that was swept away by the advent of photography.

  3. Re "Tolkien geeks" -

    Once many years ago I was talking with a new acquaintance and mentioned Stephen R. Donaldson.

    She said, "Hush! Evil things do not come into this valley, but all the same we should not speak of them."

    And I stared at her for a moment and then burst into laughter, for that is of course what Gandalf says to Pippin in Rivendell.

    We've been close friends ever since.

    - DB


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