The Grady Twins

Last week’s Art Journal Adventure prompt was “2”.  I almost immediately decided to draw the Grady twins from ‘The Shining’, which probably tells you something about the workings of my brain.  ‘The Shining’ is one of my favourite horror movies because I love how open to interpretation it is, how unresolved it all remains, and how unsettling it is for those very reasons.  Those are precisely the same reasons why my husband loathes the movie.  The Grady twins are significant in the film in terms of contributing to the disturbing atmosphere and in terms of their symbolism.  I drew Danny from ‘The Shining’ for Inktober 2016 but in some ways I am surprised that I have not drawn the Grady twins in many years.  Maybe I should add a whole Shining series of illustrations to my ever-growing Art To Do list.

6 - The Grady Twins - The Shining - Art Journal Illustration

 

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Road Trip #2 – Evans City Cemetery

“They’re coming to get you, Barbra.”

If you recognise that quotation then you may well be able to hazard a guess as to our first stop on the second day of our family road trip.  George Romero famously shot his 1968 movie ‘Night of the Living Dead’ in the environs of Pittsburgh so – as a massive zombie and movie fan – there was no way I could depart the area without paying homage.  My top choice was Evans City Cemetery, shooting location for the iconic opening scene.

I have loved ‘Night of the Living Dead’ since I was a wee girl.  Back when I first saw it, I simply loved it for the zombie horror aspect and its grotesque moments of shock and horror.  It was compelling stuff and set in motion by whole zombie fixation.  Returning to the film as I got older, however, I began to enjoy the other layers in the movie: the themes of alienation and identity, societal dynamics, its exploration of the nature of and reaction to fear, its study of inversions, and also the film making with its structure, sense of urgency, camera angles and gritty monochrome, plus its explosive use of the twist.  Anyway, you get the idea: I absolutely love the movie.

I will be vague in order to avoid spoilers but the opening scene involves Johnny and Barbra visiting the grave of their father in the cemetery, Johnny teasing Barbra, and them being assailed by a strange bloke.  I had the images from this scene fixed in my mind so all we had to do was locate the correct spot in the cemetery in order to reproduce the scenes.  I had my DSLR with me and my kids had their video camera so we could capture our pilgrimage in stills and video.

Evans City Cemetery is reached via a winding, uphill road lined with trees which then emerges into the cemetery with a little chapel on the left.  While I had no expectation of the cemetery looking spookily spine-chilling, I had not anticipated just how lovely it would be.  As a rural cemetery tucked away from the town’s main thoroughfares, it was serenely quiet and glowing in the summer sunshine.  It was also immaculately maintained and spacious, with headstones surrounding a war memorial like ripples in a pond.  It was actually a really charming place and I felt rather sorry that I was only visiting it for reasons of horror.

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It took us very little time and wandering before we found the grave of a chap named Nicholas Kramer.  This gravestone is foregrounded in some key shots in the movie’s opening scene hence it being the subject of our quest and also fairly easy to identify.  We had turns of being Barbra posing beside the grave, looking anxious and fretful.

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Finding the grave that Johnny and Barbra visit – standing in for their father’s grave – was a little trickier since it is only shown from the back with no inscription visible but we used the available clues from wide shots and glimpses of text on adjacent graves to locate the correct one.

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Movie pilgrimage mission accomplished, Mr Pict, our oldest son and I had a wander around the cemetery while our other three sons filmed scenes for their very own zombie movie.   My 10 year old had even packed zombie teeth in his backpack for just this occasion.  He was the director and they took turns at being cinematographer and cast.  I like to think Romero would approve of their homage.

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PS  I just wanted to reassure readers that we were mindful and respectful of the setting and fellow visitors at all times.

The Force Awakens (No Spoilers)

Fear ye not, you shall find no spoilers here.  Furthermore, this is not a movie review blog.  You are safe.  Read on if you are so inclined.

So apparently along with much of the population, we Picts went to see ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ this weekend.  My husband – the biggest Star Wars nerd in the family by far – had been tempted to do the seven movie marathon at our local cinema but then saw sense so we were all able to go and see if for the first time together.  Tickets were pre-ordered, SW themed clothing was donned (except by me) and off we trotted to the cinema.

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We arrived an hour early but even then we had to join a lengthy queue to get into our screen.  We played Star Wars Top Trumps in the line in order to stave off any boredom and moaning.  The atmosphere was lovely.  Everyone was excited and was geeking out.  A trio of young men in front of us were doing wookiee impressions.  I loved that we were sharing this experience with our kids.  My husband and I saw the original triology in the cinema when we were wee (I did not see the A New Hope on its original release, of course, since I was actually too wee) and they were a set of movies that stuck with us our entire lives.  I loved the movies but am mostly a SW nerd by affiliation.  My husband is a SW nut.  Our kids were weaned onto SW at an early age.  I have video of my second son, as a baby, being able to name SW characters.  Of course, what we enthused about were the original triology.  The prequels were astoundingly dismal.  My husband and I still saw that trilogy in the cinema but we left disappointed every time.

I, therefore, went into the cinema feeling cynical about this new sequel but hopeful nevertheless; I left the cinema feeling relieved and entertained.  It was a rollocking fun movie with soundly defined characters, solid performances, great set pieces, and enough references, mirroring and echoes of the original movies to make it part of a cohesive sequel and to satiate the nerdom of we SW fans.  There was also an avoidance of exposition (something which made the prequels so snoresome) which in turn creates intrigue for the forthcoming movies.  All six of us found lots to dissect, discuss and analyse once we were back in our car (having taken a vow of silence in the cinema lest we accidentally spoil it for someone overhearing us).  Best of all, my concerns that my husband might need therapy if the new movie turned out to be rubbish were made irrelevant.  All six Pict movie nerds were happy.

 

Saturday Night at the Movies

Last night our township organised a free drive-in movie event.  I have only ever been to a drive-in cinema once.  That was in Vermont in the Summer of 2001 and I saw a Jackie Chan movie.  The film was actually just a sideshow to the whole experience of being at a drive-in movie theatre, one of those iconic American things to do.  It was a very fun experience.  We were keen to have the boys experience that so, although it was not actually a designated drive-in cinema, we all went along for the evening.

The movie was being shown in the car park of the university campus.  The car park was on a slight gradient though it could not compare to the proper ramped parking at a permanent drive-in.  The screen (which was inflatable) was also a quarter of the size of a usual drive-in cinema.  We did not care a jot for either of these technicalities.  It was all about the experience.  Heck, even the movie we were going to see was one we had all seen umpteen times before (the excellent ‘Monsters University’).  We had a bit of a worry about visibility of the screen.  This was because some people were sitting in the boots (trunks) of their cars but that meant the boot doors were raised and limiting our ability to see the screen.  Thankfully a quiet word later the boot doors were lowered and we could see again.  As well as people sitting in their boots, there were also people sitting out in front of their cars in deckchairs and even people sitting on top of the roofs of their vehicles.  We opened the sun roof to reduce fogging of the windscreen and the children all demonstrated signs of being tempted to clamber out of it but Mr Pict and I soon put the kibosh on any such plans.

We had a great time watching the movie.  The screen was a bit murky at first until we were plunged into proper darkness and the colours become more vivid but, as we had seen the film before, that was not a problem for us.  The sound quality coming through the car radio was great.  The boys chewed and chomped their way through a packet of gummi bears each and were engrossed in the film.  Even when it started to rain, we just closed the sun roof, switched on the windscreen wipers and kept watching.

It was a fun first experience of drive-in cinema and now we cannot wait to take the boys to a proper drive-in.  Roll on Summer.

Watching the Golden Baldies

Last night was the first time I have ever watched the Academy Awards in America.  That means it is also the first time I have watched it without being bleary-eyed and drifting off into sleep.

I have been a movie geek from an early age.  I am not a movie buff because that word implies a degree of knowledge about movie-making that I cannot make a claim to but I am a geek because I have been an obsessive consumer of movies from an early age.  One of my earliest memories indeed comes from when I was two or maybe three and I was at my Grandad’s house, curled up in front of the fire, watching a Topper movie (I suspect it was ‘Topper Returns’ because I have a separate vivid memory of Rochester’s eyes growing large with comedic fear).  I remember being transfixed and also hooked: the next afternoon I had to watch the next classic movie that was on.  And the next.  I spent many an afternoon in my childhood tucked up in front of BBC2 watching an old black and white movie and then the era of renting video tapes made it easier for me to watch the more recent classics.  My first favourite movie was ‘Jaws’.  I saw that when I was 8 (liberal, lax parenting was advantageous to me in that regard) and it is still my favourite film of all time.  As my consumption of movies gained momentum, so did my reading of books.  And just as I honed my analytical skills to interpret literature, so I applied those same skills to viewing films, picking apart the script and visual text to find meaning.  Of course, not all films had great depth but I was happy to be merely entertained at times.  Different films served different purposes and perfect films balance depth and entertainment.

As a result of being into films, I also used to stay up late to watch the Film review series hosted by Barry Norman and that in turn led to me staying up very late at night to watch the Academy Awards ceremony each year, probably from the age of 13.  When I met my husband, I got him into it too. We would try our best to see each film that was nominated in the Best Picture category – though that was not always possible in an era when European release dates were often out of synch with North American ones – and decide which we thought should win the Oscar and predict which would actually win.  In our students days, we would even host parties and have friends over to add to the punditry and then, when I was teaching, I would force myself to have a long afternoon nap on the Sunday so I could pull an all-nighter to watch the Awards show and then head straight off to work.

And then my Oscar ceremony viewing came to an end for two reasons: motherhood and Sky.

When Mr Pict and I became parents almost eleven years ago, we gained more than we could ever have anticipated or hoped for.  But we lost the chance to go to the cinema to see grown up movies.  So the days of being able to even attempt to see all the films in contention ahead of awards season were gone.  Except for Best Animated Feature, of course; we’ve usually managed to see a couple in that category.  Instead we have to watch them after the fact when they become available to rent on DVD or – now – on Netflix or streamed television.  And the other thing that put the kibosh on us watching the Oscars was that they switched from being broadcast in the UK on a free channel and switched to being on a subscription channel.  So for the past few years I have only ever seen highlights.  Of course, I usually watched the Baftas so I did see one award show but nothing tops the Oscars.

So that – in a rambling synopsis – is why this year I was so excited to be able to watch the Academy Awards, in full, live and without even pulling an all nighter.  In my continuing endeavour to turn my sons into film geeks like me, we also decided that we would permit them to stay up and watch at least part of the ceremony if they wanted to.  Which, of course, they did because it meant getting to stay up really late.  Thankfully we knew the snow was leading to a delayed start to school this morning.  We even decided to watch the Red Carpet coverage to create momentum and build up.  We also ate party food.  In the living room.  It was a real treat night for the kids.  I think it may become a new family tradition, perhaps replacing our usual festival of Eurovision viewing.  And, while we had fun as a family watching it all, I also had some additional fun texting back and forth with a friend who lives in Ohio because my blokes had zero interest in the red carpet stuff. Of course, I am a scruffy tomboy who has not the first clue about fashion but that doesn’t stop me forming a half-baked and no doubt ill-informed opinion on best dressed (Cate Blanchett) and worst dressed (Julia Roberts) regardless.

So these are my opinions on and  highlights of the 2014 Academy Awards.

I thought Ellen made a decent fist of Oscar presenting.  I happen to like Billy Crystal as presenter but I thought Ellen DeGeneres managed to balance the laughs without showboating or turning it into a stand up routine.  Some of her jokes felt a bit flat and too unrehearsed but others hit the spot and the mulit-celebrity selfie that broke Twitter was fun.

As a family, the one category where we could each wade in with a firm opinion was the Best Song competition because we had all listened to the songs on YouTube as preparation.  We were all split between ‘Happy’ and ‘Let It Go’ – a split largely caused because we are all suffering a bit from ‘Let It Go’ over-saturation which made ‘Happy’ more refreshing.  Still it was a well-deserved win and Idina Menzel did an amazing job of singing the curtailed version.  Or should I say Adele Nazeem has a great set of pipes on her.  Travolta, Travolta, Travolta.  You had one job to do.  One job.  I wonder if those hair plugs got bolted into his brain.

Mr Pict and I had a difference of opinion over Jared Leto.  Of course, neither of us have seen ‘Dallas Buyer’s Club’ to be able to judge that particular performance though I will concede that, based on the clips I have seen, it is by far his most accomplished performance.  But ignorance on the specifics of a topic never stops us having a debate.  I think Mr Pict and I just like to argue to be frank.  Anyway, I have never rated Jared Leto as an actor.  I find him to be the opposite of engaging.  Mr Pict has somehow formed the impression that Jared Leto is a very good actor based on not watching any movies he has ever been in.  Interesting way to form a hypothesis.  I was also, of course, gutted that his win meant a loss for Michael Fassbender who I adore as an actor and as a bunk muffin.  (As an aside, one of my children once went to school, when we lived in Scotland, and told all and sundry that I fancied Magneto so I had to then hurriedly explain that they did not mean Ian McKellen, that I didn’t have a thing for Gandalf.)

Seeing and hearing Harrison Ford present an award made me feel suddenly old.  Han Solo as fossil.  Indiana Jones an exhibit in his own museum.  He just looked and sounded so ancient.

I loved all the movie cluster segments between awards sections, all themed around types of “heroes”.  They were skilfully edited and the clips well chosen, creating wonderful segues between all the speeches.

On the subject of speeches, I wish everyone would come properly prepared to win.  Even if you are the outsider or dark horse contender, surely you have ego enough to think “There’s a sliver of a chance I might win this thing so perhaps I ought to prepare something.”  Talking off the top of your head is not humble; it’s just rambling and incoherent.  There was a bit too much of that in evidence last night.  Personally I thought the best speech was made by Lupita Nyong’o closely followed by the rhyming speech given by the writers of ‘Let It Go’.  Most bizarre speech definitely goes to Matthew McConaughey for his quasi-religious, existential motivational speech that somehow managed to be tightly structured while seeming meandering.  I am as yet undecided as to whether it was bonkers or genius.  He is actually another actor I had not rated until recently.  It’s as if a few years in the cinematic wilderness and a decision to stop taking tedious rom-com or leading man roles finally led him to stop hiding his acting chops light under a bushel.

The Wizard of Oz segment, commemorating the 75th anniversary of its release, was joyously random and so very camp.  I approved.

I have always liked obituaries.  I like the succinct nature of them, the biography synthesised down to the most important and telling details about a person’s life.  I am also a wee bit morbid.  As such, one of my favourite sections in any Awards ceremony is always the In Memoriam section.  I thought last night’s one was very well done.  I loathe ‘Wind Beneath My Wings’ but admit that it was an apt song choice.  It was interesting to note how the majority of this year’s departed were most definitely vintage with those who had tragically not attained ripe old ages noticeable and notable by comparison.  I will also admit that there were a couple who I thought had been dead a lot longer.

So that’s my “notes of the top of my  head” (it’s not hypocrisy because I am not about to potentially win an award for anything) for my first Academy Awards show in many a long year.  It was a really fun night.  It felt good to be back.