Archive for Noam Chomsky

The Sunday Intertitle: Bubble and Squeak

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on March 1, 2015 by dcairns


An experiment from 1920! THE CHAMBER MYSTERY is a very talkative silent film, whose writer-director Abraham S. Schomer (also a playwright, which explains the verbosity) gets around the speechifying in novel ways. Some dialogue is presented by traditional title cards, but, rather inexplicably, much of it comes at us via rapid-cut closeups of talking actors with speech bubbles pasted, cartoon-fashion, into the shot.

This is quite charming and might be reasonably effective if one had a chance to get used to it. Sadly, all I have of the film is an untitled fragment, heavily spliced so that characters seem to judder around the place like flickering phantoms.

The only other times I’ve seen speech bubbles in silent films is in animated films, or else when the filmmaker wishes to represent the communications of a parrot. I guess the idea of a bird talking was so surprising that the director felt an ordinary title card just wouldn’t cut it, and the dialogue and image had to be tied together more pointedly to make it clear. In a way, this is sort of treating the bird’s speech as a sound rather than as language, which I guess Noam Chomsky would agree is appropriate (though parrots, even if they lack grammar, do seem to understand what they’re saying).


One bonus here is that you can watch the constable’s growing surprise at what the lady is saying, as she’s saying it.

Meanwhile, over at The Chiseler, the first in an occasional series: Schinkenworter, in which I attempt to distill the essence of certain Great Screen Actors into a single made-up word. Click the blue lettering to read the piece that dares to answer the question, “Who is Knucklehoofer?”

Another Gondry

Posted in FILM, Science with tags , , , on June 21, 2014 by dcairns

Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy

I’m at best a novice interviewer. I tackled Michel Gondry via telephone with a bad hangover and a primitive recording device taped to the phone. Gondry had been planning to attend the Edinburgh screening but cancelled because he was tired. An excellent reason — I’d like to be able to pull that one off. So I phoned him and then realized my recorder was full and I didn’t know how to empty it. I also realized it wasn’t going to be able to hear the telephone, but I quickly discovered the speakerphone function which had never been used in ten years… then things went quite well until the phone went dead because I hadn’t realized speakerphone eats up the power. Then I called back and we concluded our chat and it was all very pleasant — Gondry is a smart and affable fellow.

The piece is up at The Notebook and it’s all about COMMUNICATION.

Also, I told him about my Richard Lester project for Criterion because there are some remarkable parallels between Lester and his subject, Noam Chomsky — both are octogenarians from Philadelphia whose fathers were academics — Lester studied clinical psychology while Chomsky went into linguistics. And Lester shot his first short on a Bolex, the same camera Gondry used for his film. He seemed — I won’t say impressed, he’s too French for that — but he said “Really?” And the question mark was audible, which counts for plenty.