Sunday, October 26, 2008

No-Name Jersey vs Helmet Stickers

Last night’s PSU vs OSU was a close game between two football teams with strong traditions. As a Penn Stater living in the Buckeye nation, I found the following fact even more interesting: PSU’s quarterback is from Ohio; OSU’s quarterback is from Pennsylvania. I’m not gonna comment on the game here, just want to point out the big contrast in their jersey styles which reflects the fundamental differences in their football cultures.

The blue-and-white Penn State jersey is probably the plainest among all college teams. More distinctive is the "no-name" feature: only the player’s number is shown on the jersey. This classic and modest look is well in tune with Joe Pa’s coaching style: teamwork rather than individualism is more heavily emphasized. Ohio State jersey, on the opposite, is much fancier especially with the eye-catching buckeye-leaf stickers on each player’s helmet. The stickers have been a long time tradition at OSU to reward superior performance. They serve as a key incentive among football players. It reminds me of the “red flower system” I experienced in my grade school in China, which was manifested in the film Little Red Flowers. Today many colleges are the adopters of helmet sticker system, but it’s certainly not for Joe Pa - "I've never been for that stuff, that's why we've never had names on uniforms because nobody achieves anything without the others.”

It’s hard to say which approach works better, since both PSU and OSU have had excellent performance over the years, and different approach makes each team a unique one. Maybe they should learn more from each other to balance teamwork with individualism.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Gaudi's Architecture in Films

The Passenger is another fascinating film about alienation from Antonioni. The stunning cinematography presents quite a journey from North Africa to London and finally to Barcelona. The female protagonist is an architecture student who accidentally meets the male protagonist (Jack Nickolson) in Barcelona. My favorite scene depicts Gaudi’s Casa Mila where the two meet each other on the rooftop. The following is a Youtube clip in which the original soundtrack was replaced -

Gaudi’s fantastic Sagrada Familia is featured in the film L’auberge Espagnole. The camera reveals the tour of climbing up this exotic church and getting a panoramic view of the city.

For a panoramic view of Gaudi’s works, you can't miss Antonio Gaudi, a documentary by Japanese director Hiroshi Teshigahara. Without voice-overs or commentaries, this unique documentary offers a pure visual presentation of Gaudi's expressive architecture, as if the spaces speak for themselves. The crafted soundtrack adds another layer to the haunting beauty of architecture.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Wrong House: The Architecture of Alfred Hitchcock

I just finished reading this fascinating book about the architecture in Hitchcock's films. The book gives in-depth discussions on Hitchcock’s unique way of set design and filming techniques based on his profound understanding of space and visual way of thinking. The first two parts of the book focus on an overall account of Hitchcock’s set design, conspicuous architectural motifs, his interests in tourism and so forth. The third part provides detailed analysis of 26 houses from 22 Hitchcock films. Drawings including floor plans, sections and site plans were presented to facilitate the understanding of architectural space.

In order to gain full control of a scene, Hitchcock preferred set shooting over location shooting all his life. From the book, I discovered that some of the most memorable shots were actually made from matte paintings or miniature models. For instance, in Rebecca all the exterior shots of the mansion Manderley were made from different-sized miniatures combined with studio effects, while all the rooms were studio sets. In Vertigo, the tower where the two deaths happen was set up solely for the film. The bird’s-eye view of the tower was just a matte painting. I was amazed at how well those special effects fooled the eyes of contemporary viewers considering some were made 70 years ago.

The chapter on Hitchcock’s preference in domestic setting is also intriguing. The typical Hitchcockian horror exists in a hidden dimension, a horrific dimension underlying our most familiar environments, especially houses. Many of the most terrifying scenes happen in either a house or a motel room, which is best exemplified in Psycho and The Birds. However, Hitchcock did sometimes take strong interests in the tourist gaze. Quite a few dramatic scenes were shot at national monuments such as Mt. Rushmore in North by Northwest and Statue of Liberty in Saboteur. The landmarks shown in Vertigo also make San Francisco even more irresistible to fans like me - I visited most filmming locations of Vertigo the first time I was in San Francisco.

As discussed in the book, the objects in Hitchcock’s films are “never mere props”, but “the very substance of his cinema”. The objects often associate with symbolic meanings, link with tensions and terrors, or even seem alive. Many of these objects are architectural elements, such as a door, a window or a staircase, which have formed some famous Hitchcockian motifs. After reading the insightful analysis on many key objects, I came to realize how many visual details I’ve overlooked during previous viewings. I will go back to those films again for new discoveries.

In short, this book offers a comprehensive examination on architecture’s role in Hitchcock’s films. Despite its theoretical quality, the book is graphically alluring by blending original frames, behind-the-scene photos and architectural drawings. The author also wittily rephrased some Hitchcock’s film names into his key titles, from the book title to some of the chapter names. If you are a Hitchcock fan, you are gonna love this book!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Saving Galápagos

Last week I watched a PBS show on Galápagos Islands, which reveals how the booming tourism is threatening the endemic species. Tonight ABC News took a similar look at the issue -

Today, the Galapagos face a different kind of threat: tourism. While the Galapagos hosted 10,000 visitors 30 years ago, last year there were 161,000 visitors. They brought in approximately $350 million, a vast sum for this struggling country.

To support tourism, the local population has grown from a modest 5,000 to 30,000.

Unbeknownst to many tourists, the island does not have a sewage system. Sewage is left to seep into the ground and the sea. With the spike in tourism, the Galapagos' pristine landscape is in danger of being transformed.

These facts are really frightening. If tourism and development continue to grow, this "living laboratory of evolution" would eventually be destroyed. My Ecuadorian friend Cristina, a scientist, has been to the islands twice. She told me how amazing the wildlifes were, but at the same time lamented on the negative impacts of tourism. I definitely want to go there to see the species, but I can't accept the fact that my presence will do any harm to the islands.

Fortunately, Ecuador has started exploring clean energy to deal with the air pollution. For instance, wind turbines were installed earlier this year. The government proposed to declare the islands fossil fuel free by 2015. They also made regulations to limit the number of tourists. Hopefully this exotic place on earth will return to a more peaceful time.