BRIER PATCH in MADISON SQUARE PARK

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TELL-TALE HEARTBEATS

In all this time writing about my first short film musical Edgar Allan Poe adaptation “The Tell-Tale Heart – a musicabre” I have kept one crucial secret: how are the famous tell-tale heartbeats rendered in this version? It must be musical, right? The film is called a musicabre, after all.

Well, today I will reveal that secret. So don’t continue if you haven’t seen the film yet and don’t wish to be spoiled…

Actually, I kind of already revealed that secret without putting it in so many words when I posted the Tell-Tale Murder in Russian piece. That selection of photos showing a section of the film with Russian subtitles revealed circular inserts of hands playing cellos within the screenshots. As the translation of the Russian subtitles made it clear this was the part of the story where the victim’s heartbeats drives the murderer to attack and kill. It didn’t take too much power of deduction to see what those inserted circular images of hands plucking cellos might represent.

The cellos become the beating of the old man’s heart, both musically and visually…

This happens twice in the story and in the film. The first time is when the old man is still very much alive, and frightened, sitting up in the dark, aware that there may be an intruder in the room…

Black and white flashbacks show us the events as they are remembered by the narrator, whom we see in color, visually accompanied by the cello circles as much as he is musically accompanied by them.

First one cello plucks just one string to represent the heart beating, but then another cello joins in…

As tension mounts, additional strings are plucked for a more discordant sound, first in one cello, then the other. Finally the third cello joins in. As the narrator exclaims: “I thought the heart must burst!”

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Return to LIGHTSCAPE

New views of Lightscape at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden

This Time with Snow and Ice

This is a supplementary blog post to December’s “LIGHTSCAPE at Brooklyn Botanic Garden“. For a sense of the full tour, I suggest looking at that post first. On our return last Saturday the show was as magnificent as the first time, with snow and ice adding to the visual splendor and often changing the lighting effects. I tried to capture these changes as well as show some new perspectives not captured in the original post.


The moving lights you see in the beginning and end of this video are strung inside a bush and along a massive oak tree.

See the moon?
This video will get very meta if you keep the sound on…
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P&P – Day 3 – Adventures with a Porta-Jib

While watching the trailer for “The Pit and the Pendulum – a musicabre“, my musical short film adaptation of the classic Edgar Allan Poe story, you will see me as the protagonist in a dark space, viewed from above. While I start to sing “Daylight”, the short film’s main theme, the camera slowly lowers and gets closer to me.

But then the scene/song gets interrupted by other images and music aggressively inserted into the middle of the trailer:

After all that aggressive music and snippets of alarming visuals from the full film, the trailer returns to the final strains of “Daylight”, a tight close-up …

… which leads to the camera receding back to a high vantage point before the trailer fades out of the shot to the title card.

These bookending moments in the trailer are part of the beginning and end of a two minute uncut shot that encompasses the complete version of “Daylight”. The shot is rendered in this particular style of black and white because the protagonist has been locked in a cell completely devoid of light, and this is the film’s visual representation of him being functionally blind, imagining himself and his surroundings in his mind’s eye.

Most of the film is edited in quick bursts of shots from different perspectives; making this one long held shot in wide-ranging fluid motion stand out even more than it might typically. Choosing to shoot the whole “Daylight” song this way was designed to make this sorrowful song as distinct visually from the rest of the film as it would be musically.

It was also important to me that the camera starts on high looking down at the protagonist when the song begins, slowly moves in towards the protagonist as he sings the first verses, continues on making some hovering maneuvers around him as the song progresses, then settles on a tight close-up before retreating back up and away for the conclusion.

Here are my storyboards for “Daylight”:

You may notice that a large chunk from the middle of “Daylight” and this unbroken shot is missing from the trailer. A little more than half, I would estimate. But what I do share in the trailer and these storyboards should give you a good enough idea of what we tried to accomplish with this shot.

My co-producer Henry Borriello often both extols and remonstrates how we would “push against the limits of what can be expected to be achieved” by an independent film production at our budget level. This shot might have been the greatest/worst example of that.

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2021 YEAR END POP CULTURE QUIZ

One point for each correct answer. No googling! – since I didn’t use google to come up with these questions (only to spell check afterwards) – which is a bit of a brag, yes, yet maybe also revealing something questionable about my mental priorities.

Music

What Christmas song is #1 on the US Hot 100 charts once again this week?

_________________________________________

Who wrote & sings it?_________________________________________

For 50 years “American Pie” was at 8 minutes the longest song to reach #1. A 10 minute long song broke that record this year.

What’s that song called?______________________________  

Who wrote & sings it?_________________________________

In a hugely popular video a pop/rap performer rides a stripper pole to hell to give the devil a lap dance.

Who’s the artist?  ____________________________  

What’s the song?____________________________________________

Movies

There are 7 (!) live action musicals released this year in theaters and on Netflix and Amazon Prime. How many can you name?

1__________________________________   

2. _________________________________  

3.__________________________________

4.__________________________________  

5.__________________________________ 

6.__________________________________

7._____________________________________

Which famous actress is playing Lucille Ball in “Being the Ricardos”?

___________________________________

Which famous actress is playing Princess Diana in “Spencer”?

_________________________________________

Which famous singer/actress is playing Aretha Franklin in “Respect”?

_________________________________________

What famous actress is playing Tammy Faye Bakker in “The Eyes of Tammy Faye”?

__________________________________________

Politics and celebrities

What is the name of President Biden’s new dog?

_________________________________________________

Which US Secretary adopted two babies this summer?

____________________________________

What Dept do they run?

_________________________________________________

Which two brothers resigned as governor (_______________________)

and got fired from CNN (________________________)?

Who are the three Fox News Personalities known to have texted White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows imploring him to get Trump to call off the mob during the January 6th Capitol riots?

1.___________________________________  

2.___________________________________ 

3.__________________________________

There’s much talk of a famous actor rumored to still be holding on to the scarf of a famous singer 10 years after they broke up.

Who is this actor?____________________________ 

Who is the singer?____________________________

What color is the scarf?________________________

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MADISON SNOWSTORM

Just a little blizzard in Wisconsin’s capitol…

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The Sci-Fi Lego Skyscrapers of Porocity

I saw these nine gigantic towers of white lego building blocks in the Pompidou museum in Paris in 2018. They reminded me of science fiction movies of my childhood where fantastical models would be filmed to look like immense futuristic cityscapes. I took a wide focus measure of these nine towers, part of a series called Porocity, built in 2012 by The Why Factory, a collaboration of the Delft University of Technology with the MVRVD agency. Then I zoomed in, pretending to be some flying vehicle out of Logan’s Run or Blade Runner soaring in and out of the fantasy skyscrapers.

Can you imagine building this in the playroom with your legos?

Or looking out your high rise apartment window to such a cityscape?

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TELL-TALE MURDER IN RUSSIAN

Tell-Tale Subtitles #3

Welcome to the third and (so far) final installment of Tell-Tale Subtitles, where I share screenshots of my first short film musical Edgar Allan Poe adaptation “The Tell-Tale Heart – a musicabre” with subtitles added. The first two posts featured Portuguese and Spanish subtitles. Now it’s time for Russian! Not just a whole new language but a whole new alphabet!

My experience with the Russian International Horror Film Festival was both one of the most fraught and most gratifying festival experiences I had. Fraught because how, after going through the trouble and expense of acquiring visas to travel to Moscow to attend the festival, Covid 19 shut the world down just a little over a week before we were to fly from New York via Berlin (our Berlin/Moscow airline tickets were never reimbursed by the Russian airline that we purchased them from…), and when the postponed festival did take place in Moscow seven months later, travel restrictions and uncertainties at the time (they might let me fly to Moscow, but would I be allowed to return?) kept me in New York again. Gratifying because of all the festivals that required subtitles in the local language, the Russian International Horror Film Festival didn’t insist I take on the responsibility and expense of creating these subtitles myself, but generously arranged for the subtitling themselves. And then awarded “The Tell-Tale Heart – a musicabre” a special jury prize, which arrived stateside not only as a digital certificate (from some awards bodies that’s all you get) but a tangible, handsome statuette (and, I might add, not one I would have to purchase to receive, such as is “offered” by some other awards bodies).

So in honor of the Russian International Horror Film Festival, this edition of Tell-Tale Subtitles will feature the very special section of “The Tell-Tale Heart – a musicabre” where murder most foul is committed. And because the Cyrillic alphabet may make it so much more difficult for the predominantly English speaking readership of my blog to guess at words (compared to Spanish and Portuguese), I will include the Poe text which encompasses this section (every line is heard in the film, but not every subtitle from this section is included in these screenshots).

Here you also will finally see, if not “hear” like the narrator, the special way the cellos represent the “hellish tattoo” of the victim’s heartbeat. I’ve withheld that secret from my blog long enough.

Meanwhile the hellish tattoo of the heart increased
It grew quicker and quicker and louder and louder every instant
The old man’s terror must have been extreme!

It grew louder, I say
Louder every moment
Do you mark me well?

I have told you I am nervous, nervous
Very very dreadfully nervous
So I am

And now at the dead hour of the night
Amid the dreadful silence of the old house
So strange a noise as this
Excited me to uncontrollable terror

Yet for some minutes longer I refrained and stood still

But the beating grew louder louder
I thought his heart must burst

And then a new anxiety seized me
The sound would be heard by a neighbor

The old man’s hour had come

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Pit and Pendulum TRAILER

Hot off the editing bay:

The Trailer for “The Pit and the Pendulum – a musicabre”!

The Pit and the Pendulum – a musicabre“, my second short film musical adaptation of an Edgar Allan Poe classic (say that clause three times fast!), has been completed, and so has its official trailer, now watchable on YouTube and this fine website.

As we move into the new year I will continue to post more blog pieces about the making of P&P (as I call it in shorthand) and when and where you will be eventually be able to see it (first stops, as also for its companion film “The Tell-Tale Heart – a musicabre“, are the festival circuit, in 2022, Covid allowing mostly in actual movie theaters instead of mostly virtual like last year – but we’ll see…) .

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LIGHTSCAPE at Brooklyn Botanic Garden

A magical trail of fantastic light installations weaves its way through the Brooklyn Botanic Garden at night these days. Ed and I took the tour.

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Mainstreet Musicals touts FEEDSTORE QUARTET

“Feedstore Quartet”, a musical created by Jack Hilton Cunningham and myself, has been selected by Mainstreet Musicals, a non-profit that “promotes development opportunities for new musicals throughout regional America”, as a Director’s Choice Award Winner.

Jack and I met at a composer/librettists get-together sponsored by the Dramatists Guild of America several years ago. He liked my music and suggested I work with him on his musical “Feedstore Quartet”. We’ve been friends ever since, and the artistic fruit of our labors has now been designated with this fine spotlight by Mainstreet Musicals.

“Feedstore Quartet” is inspired by Jack’s childhood memories of growing up in the deep south in the 1950s. Jack wrote the book and I composed the music and we both co-wrote the lyrics. In Mainstreet Musical’s website library page for the piece you can read the script and listen to the score, as recorded during a reading sponsored by the Player’s Club in Gramercy Park.

Synopsis

Feedstore Quartet takes you to a fictional Mississippi town on a sultry summer Saturday in the mid-1950s. There racial and sexual prejudices abound. In front of the town’s busy feed and seed store three old white men sit in rocking chairs “shootin’ the breeze.” Nearby is Joe, an elderly, blind African-American, playing his accordion for passersby. As pleasantries and barbs fly between the men, several townspeople pass, unseen by the audience, triggering conversations about the civil war, the present, the church, and, of course, bigotry. This is the old-South after all.   While the old men chat, their former selves appear in memory as boys and young men, revealing long hidden secrets.

A trio of love affairs surfaces: Rufus and his shot-gun wedding to the love of his life Lula Mae, Charlie and his beloved Sara whom he met while calling at a barn dance in Alabama, and the hidden love between a youthful Eugene and Joe. The past and present intermingle as memories are played out and duets are sung between the younger and older versions of the same character.

Finally the full extent of Eugene and Joe’s youthful relationship, its sweet beginning and bitter end, is revealed to the audience, if not to the other unsuspecting men sitting on the feed and seed store porch. In the present, Eugene and Joe are left in silent, sad regret.

As the day comes to a close, the old men drift home. The audience is left with an anthem of love lost and love embraced sung by all characters, past and present.

As stated above, Mainstreet Musicals makes it possible to read the complete script of “Feedstore Quartet” and listen to all the songs as recorded during the reading.

I’ll share four of the songs here:

  1. Mississippi Morning – the opening, sung by Joe on the porch, while memories of Joe and Eugene as children are glimpsed.
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Pit & Pendulum Posters

Introducing the poster design for “The Pit and the Pendulum – a musicabre“:

and its alternate / sibling poster:

You probably noticed some imagery from the film that is being introduced for the first time on my blog’s discussions about my latest musicabre. You might even wonder whether some of these images, or parts of these images, spring from Poe’s writing or more from my own macabre imagination.

Hang on in there, I will write more about these and further details on this site, as the film, now just about finished, makes its way into the world…

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P&P – Day 2 – The Destruction of the Cello

That’s a beautiful cello, don’t you think? A little worn at the edges perhaps, but to the composer who plays it, a poor fellow who lives in a garret in 17th century Spain, this instrument is his most prized possession, probably the foundation of his livelihood as a musician.

Such a shame then that is will be brutally destroyed before our eyes in just a few minutes…

In the above shot the cello can be seen in the background while the composer is thrown to the floor by soldiers of the Inquisition. The composer is receiving a few well placed kicks to the gut. But the cello will be the next and even more woeful target of the arresting officer’s wrath.

Before we move on to the actual destruction, let me allay your concerns and point out that the cello which is about to endure such a vicious end is not an actual cello, but a prop made out of light, cardboard-like wood. Mariana Soares Da Silva, the production designer of “The Pit and the Pendulum – a musicabre” built it.

Mariana Soares Da Silva

The Pit and the Pendulum – a musicabre” is my second short film musical adaptation of a classic Edgar Allan Poe story. And just like in “The Tell-Tale Heart – a musicabre” cellos play an important part, not only by prominently figuring in the musical score, but also by influencing the actual story-telling, which includes them being seen on screen (albeit in very different ways for both films). This cello cameo is not the end for cello imagery in P&P.

I’ve already posted about shooting the garret scene where the soldiers arrest the protagonist of “The Pit and the Pendulum – a musicabre”, and the bloody accident that occurred that day on set. Well, it wasn’t just my forehead that got split, the prop cello was slated for even worse treatment, albeit in its case that bit of carnage was planned.

We didn’t want to destroy an actual instrument, so Mariana beautifully built us a stunt cello. We only had the one. Mathew Gnagy, the actor playing the officer wielding the cello, would only have one take shot by two cameras to do the dastardly deed.

He performed his task magnificently.

(That Mathew plays the cello himself in real life, and can be seen playing rather than destroying one in a crucial scene in my first musicabre only makes the whole moment more merrily momentous for me.)

THWACK!

BAM!

SMASH!

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P&P – Day 2 – The Merchant’s House

In “The Pit and the Pendulum – a musicabre”, my second short film musical adaptation of a classic gothic tale by Edgar Allan Poe, the protagonist is seen working at his desk in a garret apartment, while soldiers of the inquisition are entering a building and climbing up a series of flights of stairs before bursting into the garret to arrest him.

Which means we needed to find a building with staircases that could believably stand in for a building with staircases in 17th century Spain.

That turns out to be a rather tall order in New York City. Especially on an indie budget.

Introducing the Merchant’s House on 39 East 4th Street in the East Village of Manhattan. Built in 1832, it has been open to the public as a museum since 1936. The video on its website shows off the many lovely rooms authentically furnished to reproduce the living arrangements of an upper middle class New York City family of the mid 19th century. But it wan’t the lovely rooms that attracted my eye. It was the fleeting glimpses of the house’s staircases that encouraged me to book a reservations-required-limited-slots-due-to-Covid visit to the house last March, and take a lot of pictures acting as a location scout.

A 19th century Manhattan townhouse may not exactly match what one may have found in Toledo two hundred years earlier, but what we found was as ideal as we could hope for to create the cinematic illusion within our means. Another bonus: the Merchant’s House just happens to be an easy distance from the Theater for the New City, where we were shooting most of the film.

On the evening of our second day of shooting “The Pit and the Pendulum – a musicabre” we spent three hours in the Merchant’s House with a small crew, reduced to a minimum per request of the caretakers, to film several shots of the soldiers entering the building, ascending several flights of stairs, then descending these same flights with me under arrest as the protagonist. We also shot a little more, some bonus shots that I initially thought would be captured elsewhere, but for which the Merchant’s House provided a great setting too…

Below, the main entrance of the Merchant’s House, and a screen shot of the soldiers entering the building.

The first flight of stairs and a shot of the soldiers going up.

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LOVING – Photographic Treasures from the Nini-Treadwell Collection

Glimpses at a Photographic History of Men in Love 1850 – 1950

Twenty years ago Hugh Nini and Neal Treadwell were browsing through stacks of vintage photographs in a Dallas antique store when they came upon a 1920s photograph of two young men embracing. Nini and Treadwell were impressed by the “open expression of love that they shared” during a time when such openness came with great risk. They thought they found something singular, but a year later at an auction they came upon a miniature photo of two WW2 soldiers posed cheek to cheek with “Yours Always” etched into the photograph’s glass frame.

Thus began a collection that has now grown to over 2800 vintage photos of men documenting their love for each other. Many of these photos are generously collected in a massive coffee table tome called “Loving – A Photographic History of Men in Love 1850 – 1950”.

I don’t normally purchase coffee table photography books, but I was struck by these photographs, by the expression in the men’s eyes, the individuality of their faces, the stories and relationships and social circumstances hinted at by what the photographs reveal. This book moves me profoundly.

These are photographs that were held and possibly cherished privately for decades and only found their ways into estate sales and flee markets and auction sales of vintage photography until many years, decades, even more than hundred years after the original owners had passed, taking the stories behind these photographs with them to the grave.

Some hints at gay culture hundred years ago come through in some of the photographs. In my preperations for my musical Speakeasy I had learned a lot about coded language amongst homosexuals in the 1920s. The book includes several examples of one man putting his finger to his mouth with a smile like in the photograph above. Another theme that runs from the mid 1800s though the late 1920s is two men posing together under an umbrella. The most remarkable photograph of that includes another man posing as a minister marrying the couple.

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TELL-TALE SUBTITLES 2 – Spanish

It’s time for another episode of Fun with Tell-Tale Subtitles! The first time I shared screenshots of my musical Edgar Allan Poe adaptation “The Tell-Tale Heart – a musicabre” with Portuguese subtitles. Today Spanish gets its turn.

These screenshots are all taken from a particular segment of the film I titled “Upon the Eighth Night”, the first line spoken in this section. In it the Protagonist describes how, after 7 days of silently watching the old man with the vulture eye while he sleeps in a pitch black room, he accidentally arouses his victim from his sleep on that fateful eighth night. A moment that will lead to murder, dismemberment and an even more extreme psychotic break…

The screenshots don’t capture the full text of that segment, but enough to follow along. So brush up your Spanish and get closer and then even closer to the Tell-Tale Narrator.

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