Category: Discoveries

Figure traced in light

I’m so sad to learn that Dr. David Bordwell died at the end of February. Kristin Thompson’s posts to the blog they both maintained had made it clear that his health was in decline, but without knowing the specifics I admit to holding out some hope for his recovery. I didn’t know Bordwell personally myself, and was a relative latecomer to his work; both he and Thompson have been held in high regard by scholars and lovers of film for decades. But even in these few years since coming to it, their work has come to mean a lot to me.

By all accounts Bordwell was as generous with his time, attention, and goodwill as he was with his writing and knowledge. I consider the aforementioned blog the gold standard for this medium, and whenever one of his books went out of print he’d just upload a copy to his site and offer it up for free. He didn’t write to critique or pass judgment on his subject matter. Instead, he clarified, contextualized, reverse-engineered, and recommended, all out of love for the work and in pursuit of sharing it with others.

I could read Bordwell’s writing forever, and it’s a sorrowful thing to know that I won’t see him post anything new again. But there are thousands of pages in his back catalog I can still look forward to reading and learning from. I think I’ll feel grateful that he left that work to this world for the rest of my life.

“The diamonds seem to be pure geometry, the clubs simple machines (the king of clubs has a rather amusing nut-cracker), the hearts are (maybe) generative geometry, and the spades comparative geometry.”

“Before we try to uncover more information about the untimely death of Harry Lemaster, let’s see what else we can ‘dig up’ about him.”

“Non-fiction CD-ROMs are an easy butt of jokes about quaint outdated technology; talking about CD-ROM brings up visions of Encarta 95, Microsoft Dogs, and ancient versions of Grolier. What makes Journey to the Source interesting by contrast is that it’s not an easily obsoletable work. Already, in 1985, there were talks of building the massive Three Gorges Dam; when it was finally completed, between 2006 and 2012, many of the places Wong had visited were now underwater, the villages flooded and their inhabitants relocated. This narrative, its photos and its videos are valuable records of a time that’s now passed.”

“Quite a few composers have had their scores rejected by dissatisfied directors… it’s a recognized risk of the profession. A few films do exist with entirely different scores, almost always as a result of release in different countries. Until now, however, I’d never come across a film that exists with three different scores.

I have felt stuck about writing here for a while, and there has been a death in my family that I will need to write more about when the words come to me. But right now I just want to talk more about blogs. One of the most exciting things that has come to my awareness recently is Phil Gyford’s ooh.directory of blogs and its RSS feed of newly added URLs. I don’t know if Mr. Gyford’s manual review and curation of these things is sustainable in the indefinite, but what a great idea! It seems to me like social media and SEO supremacy have rendered personal blog discoverability broken, but one need not fix the entire internet to build a little free library in one’s front yard.

By way of that directory, I have found a new source of dailyish poems, Janette Haruguchi’s ongoing explication of sashiko stitching, Bartosz Ciechanowski’s extraordinary interactive physics lessons, Jani Patokallio’s quest to find food from every Chinese province, special administrative region and contested island—in Singapore, and Bloom, a journal devoted to authors whose first major work was published when they were age 40 or older. And Eric Idle’s book reviews! A fan blog that’s just for Peanuts! Librarians dunking on books that need to go! And the directory is still so new. I suspect there are many more entries to come after the holidays.

Lucy linked, last month, to Dave Rupert’s suggestion to be a carpenter this time, and I’ve been turning it over in my mind ever since. I don’t know any real carpentry, though I’d be glad to have the space and time to learn. But the tools I do know can still make good things at the scale of individual humans, and that’s delightful to see, after a long time when I didn’t know where to look.

I had to go searching for a third quote just so I could legally post the first two

“Websites are not similar to telephones. They are not even similar to books or magazines. They are street corners, they are billboards, they are parks, they are shopping malls, they are spaces where people congregate.”

—Ryan Broderick

“It now feels like we live in a cyberspace dominated by skyscrapers instead of neighborhoods.”

—Jody Serrano

“I used to see my job as teaching students, hey, the Internet might seem great, but it has all these sort of hidden power dynamics that are troubling, and we should learn about those. And now my job is very different. Now my job is to show students that it wasn’t always this way online, and that means it could also be different in the future.”

—Jessa Lingel

Tim and I agree about the late, great Len Lafofka

Further dispatch from the Brendan-Bait Gazetteer: one of my most extreme vices from the last couple of years is to partake of legal substances in the evening and then open up a random ancient issue of Dragon Magazine on my tablet to drowsily browse until I fall asleep. In addition to being beautifully devoid of news from the present, reading through old Dragon brings back a lot of memories of my cousin Bruce, who gave me boxes of his old gaming material when I was a lonely teenager. I loved Bruce, and I read his similarly random copies of Dragon until the covers divorced from their staples. I did not understand game design very well, but I thought the writers who contributed to the magazines must be top-tier experts and a font of ineffable wisdom.

Here in the future, I’m married to a magazine editor, and I can see how clearly most of those (nearly always) dudes were just chucking ideas out there without a clear understanding of how they would affect anyone’s actual experience of a game. Having that context does not sour the experience of reading the work, though; to me, at least, there is some charm to their apparent naivete, and I get to see the humble origins of ideas that would end up as billion-dollar IP in our weird, weird timeline.

A stack of old Dragons, image stolen from Tim's site.

It turns out I am not the only one who likes shuffling through old Dragons and thinking about their place in history! Recent Blogspot discovery and fellow Illinoisan Tim S. Brannan has been running a series on his blog called This Old Dragon for five years now, an archive which I am making myself read sparingly so I don’t catch up to the present too fast.

Back in the early 90s, I never played Dungeons and Dragons because there was no one around to play Dungeons and Dragons with except when I dragooned my patient brother into it. Here in the early 20s, I never play Dungeons and Dragons because it turns out I don’t actually like playing Dungeons and Dragons. But I still get a lot out of this kind of artifact because, back then, I acquired a taste for lonely fun that hasn’t quite left me, and which I should talk more about here, someday.