This bird has flown

Episode 10 starts out with Bubs, apparently clean for the first time in a long time, sitting on a park bench enjoying the day. We hear sounds – the breeze through the trees, children playing, birds chirping – sounds of aspects of life that had probably escaped his attention while he was an addict. Compare that to the sounds when he’s on the street at night – constant sirens, traffic, trafficking (“Death Row! Death Row here!”) and this dull roar underneath everything, like a storm could be coming. He feels his demons calling him, in a walking nightmare.

Lauren picked up on the crickets, another sound I wanted to bring up.

The scene says something about the differences in the lives people lead, which I think is what Lauren picked up on, but it’s also fascinating from a telling story with sound standpoint. You hear the crunch of the gravel under the tires, the motor, the parking brake, the doors opening and closing – you know what’s going on just by listening to it. And the crickets. I left a little bit of the following scene in there so you can hear the contrast.

02d'angelo 03d'angelo

There’s some nice symbolism in the imagery too. In the scene where D’Angelo is listening to Donette’s shopping demands, we see him staring at vertical blinds, like a prisoner behind bars. The shadows they make amplify the effect. This is something that’s common in film noir – shadows suggesting bars to show that a character feels trapped. And that’s what D is feeling. I like that sonic transition to the next scene. Donnete’s yelling answered by the voice on the wiretap, “Why you holler at me? I’ll get to you when I get to you.” We hear what D wants to say, although it comes from someone else in a different context.

04the love zone

Later we see D waiting to catch Shardeen outside Orlando’s, standing under neon letters hyping The Love Zone. But she’s done with him, and as she turns her back and goes in the club, a bird flies in and out of the shot. Like the song says, this bird has flown.

this-bird-has-flown

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Cmap Tools

We’re going to work with concept mapping in the first part of the course, and we’re going to use Cmap Tools to do it. It’s a free download developed by the Institute for Human & Machine Cognition, which is part of the Florida University system. It is a very powerful tool for visualizing complex ideas. Support documentation and help videos are available on the site as well.

We will talk about this on Tuesday, but it would be good for you to download it and install it on your laptops ahead of time. Take the opportunity to play with it a little too.  There are a few reasons for using this tool.

Visualization is a good technique for understanding and conveying complex information. You are all going to be summarizing several articles. A concept map would be a good way of presenting that information at a glance. It should help you think about how the readings break down and tie together, and it should give your classmates a quick picture of what you’ve found out.

Since you will be doing three articles each on two different topics, you will do two maps, one for each topic. Each map should show a breakdown of each of the three readings, and whatever connections you can find between them. Here is one example from the spring semester. This person only found the articles connected through the main topic, but what’s nice about this is that it shows a detailed dissection of each article and it links out to further information.

The map below pointed out commonalities between the three articles. The person also used some color-coding to distinguish between the articles. Linking back to the original articles, or to the summaries, would have made this map even more powerful.

Through mapping out the concepts in your two sets of readings, you should start to develop a sense of how they relate to each other. This should help you out when it comes to doing the panel presentations in the coming weeks. As a group, we are all going to get a sense of how all the different pieces fit together into how we understand the Internet.

Another thing you can do with the concept maps is look for gaps or areas for further exploration. Those might be good ideas for the group presentations in the latter part of the semester.

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Some quick thoughts on Week 1

Nicholas did an audio summary which wasn’t something I expected, but why not do it that way? Going forward, it will probably take more than just audio, because we will also want to embed and connect the things we make as we go along.

Amy jumped into some of the Daily Creates, which was very cool. We will all be doing more of those in the weeks ahead. She recognizes that the show is not to everyone’s taste, but still finds compelling things about it. That touches on a key question: What makes for good storytelling? What makes it work? What makes it effective?

Danielle, among others, talked about the struggles with using the various social media tools. It can be intimidating, if you’re not used to working with such tools, and it can be challenging to figure out how to use them effectively. But it’s also kinda easy, once you dig into it and start using them. Maybe using them effectively isn’t so easy, but using them is.

Overall I think we’re off to a great start. A lot of people had great analyses of the episodes, and great insights. I encourage everyone to look a little closer, and think about how the story is being told, the various techniques being used, the little details and the effect they have. Jim and I come at it from a little different perspective, having seen the entire series already and having thought about it for a while, but each of your perspectives is just as valid

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Notes on Episode 9

In this episode, Freamon repeats “what everyone knows and no one says” as Daniels put it

12$todonuts

 

Herc and Carver followed the money out of the towers and confiscated it from Wee Bey’s vehicle. One of them made a joke about “dollars to donuts” in the squad room, which we’re reminded of when the Dunkin Donuts box comes out of the trunk at the end.

11hotseat

 

They were searching the trunk because they were suspected of pocketing some of the confiscated money. In this shot they’re being called into Daniels’ office, where they will be called out on it. The way the light reflects off of the chair emphasizes the idea that it’s the hot seat.

 

06perspective

Here is a perspective shot, looking down from a roof to where a stash of drugs is kept. Does Bubs “see the bottom coming up at him,” as Waylon says? The shot plays a metaphorical role as well as a purely narative one, at the same time as it creates visual interest with the unusual angle.

It was kind of comical to see Bubs do his fishing trick, but things turned bad quick. While he gets away, he also gets to listen to an innocent bystander take the beating meant for him. Notice how the background noises affect the mood – not just the cussing and the blows from the bat, but also the siren and alarm, which really add a level of tension to it.

02d'angeloThis shot of D’Angelo caught my eye. He’s not sitting on the couch anymore, but on a folding chair. Is this symbolic? The reason it caught my attention is the color contrast. The blue of the chair is basically the opposite of the orange of the couch. It’s subtle, but it seems to say D is not part of this; he doesn’t belong here.

 

05frame 07frame

09frameI mentioned the frame within a frame idea last time, and found some more examples here: Freamon at the Elections office, framed by the window, which conveniently tells us where he is. Johnny in whatever that place is, framed by the doorway, darkness crowding in. McNulty and Freamon, similarly framed by darkness, but there’s a difference here. The light comes in from the corner, which opens up the composition, as if they have a way out where Johnny was trapped.

08silhouette

This last one I just like for the silhouette effect. We see little more than the outline, but it’s enough to tell us what it is. The whole series strives for a high level of realism, but at the same time maintains a strong artistic aesthetic.

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Of summaries and Cmaps

We’re putting a lot of work up front in this class, but it’s distributed to be manageable, and the load will lessen for a few weeks afterwards. This evening the class will brainstorm how we plan on approaching the main topics of The Internet Course:

how it works
how it has evolved
creation/consumption
intellectual property/fair use
privacy/openness
digital identity
social/economic/cultural impacts
where it’s going

Each student will be assigned two of the topics, and will be responsible for finding and summarizing three readings on each one. The results of the brainstorming session will help in finding information. Everyone will have to find different readings. To help avoid duplication, everyone will have to enter information about their readings in the Readings Form on the course site. The form feeds a spreadsheet, also visible on the page, so everyone can see what has already been taken. The instructors will vet the list. Anything deemed unacceptable will be highlighted in red, and that person will have to find something else. Readings can be research articles, reports, books, book chapters, or videos.

Each reading will have to be summarized in a blog post. The summary should give the reader a clear idea of what the article is about, what argument it makes, the major points it brings up, and the conclusions it reaches. The summary is not meant to be a review or a reaction. It is meant to save the rest of the class the time of reading the article.

Each summary needs to be tagged. In WordPress there is a box in the right-hand column for tags. The tags we will use are:

how it works
evolution
creation/consumption
IP/fair use
privacy/openness
digital identity
impacts
future

It is very important to enter the tags exactly as written above. Some readings may be appropriate for more than one category, so feel free to use more than one tag.

As a result of this process, each student will have six summary posts, three for each assigned topic. Everyone should read each others’ summaries. As a class, we will have digested a large body of knowledge, which will form the basis of our discussions over the next several weeks.

Each student will also create two concept maps. Each concept map will break down the three articles a student has summarized and draw out connections between them. We will be using Cmap Tools for this process, and we will talk more about it on Tuesday. I’m putting it out there now because the mapping process will go a lot easier if it is taken into consideration while summarizing. I will be writing more on Cmaps before Tuesday.

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Notes on episode 8

01epigraphThis episode features Omar’s haunting whistle again. I like the effect better this time – the slight echo, the dark, empty street – and the episode’s epigraph is delivered at the end

Daniels explains to his wife the problem inherent in following the money. “What everybody knows but nobody says” Freamon repeats this at another point in the series.

We saw String sitting in his Economics class. Here he shares the lesson of product elasticity with the workers in his print shop. It’s kind of a comical moment, but there’s a message there too – String wants to leave the street behind. We’ll see more about this in later seasons.

The sartorial splendor of Bunk

02bunk 14bunk

I like the way the color of the shirt Bunk wears at the beginning of the episode is matched by the color of the robe he’s wearing at the end.

12Laura LippmanHere is a transition shot of Bunk reading a novel by Laura Lippman just before the dialogue starts. I thought there might be some significance to it, so I looked it up. She’s a Baltimore author of detective fiction and former writer for the Baltimore Sun newspaper. Her novels are set in the city, just like the series. She’s also married to former Sun reporter David Simon. That name sounds familiar.

Frame within a frame

05reflection frame in a frame 07reflection frame in a frame

10stringWe see many of these “frame within a frame” compositions throughout the series. Here are two of McNulty on surveillance detail – we see him in the mirror, then again framed in the mirror as we look out on the street framed by the car window. Another example is the shot of Stringer framed by the window on the classroom door.

 

13composition

 

Here is another example of a symmetrical composition. The two sides mirror each other in a general sense, both in the office layout and the character poses, but details make the difference that keeps the composition from being overpowering.

 

04linesThis shot is an example of line and visual texture. The wire in the fencing makes a linear texture that projects onto Sydnor. Line and texture are design elements, like color and composition, worth paying attention to.

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Parallels in episode 7

01code 02epigraph

Episode 7 starts out with another parallel. The opening scene discusses the coded message from the wiretap, then the epigraph at the end of the credit sequence reads, “A man must have a code.” Bunk says the line in an entirely different context, but it shows something about how the pieces relate. It could be read as a pun, but that doesn’t seem in character with what the show is doing.

handshake1sm handshake2sm

shake-snapThat fist bump/handshake that Herc and Carver do is repeated later by D’Angelo and Orlando. Does this signify something? It may just be a regional mannerism that the characters share. But that shake/snap thing that Daniels and Day-Day do is interesting. I haven’t noticed it elsewhere in the series. It appears to take some coordination between the two parties, so it shows a shared understanding. Maybe it’s saying that neither of the two really belong in the crowd at the party, and they both recognize it.

08backwardsglance 11bird

Daniels leaves that encounter with a backwards glance side-eye look that’s kind of striking. A lot of the acting in the series is in the eyes and expressions. In the shot of Bird as he’s handcuffed to the table you can see him boiling over with hostility. Even though he’s half in the shadows, we can see he’s ready to explode, fist first.

06barexterior 07partyexterior

09barinteriorThere’s another parallel between Daniels and the fundraising party and Bunk and McNulty at the dive bar. The scenes appear to be going on simultaneously, and they show a tremendous contrast between their respective social circles. The party is in a large mansion, probably with valet parking and lots of acreage. The bar is wedged between other establishments on a street full of cars at parking meters. Inside, the party is brightly lit, crowded and upscale. Inside the bar is a dark, dank den of iniquity, the red light on the wall giving it a hellish appearance.

Here’s a bit of the sound from the party, in which Deputy Burrell points out another parallel:

Just after he links politicians to criminals, we hear a distinctive laugh. That’s a voice which will play a larger role in seasons to come.

I liked the sounds in the scene where Bird got busted. It’s mostly a wide-angle scene, shot from a distance, so we hear all the sounds of the city, the voices bubbling up through the ambient noise. The sound paints as much of a picture as the camera, perhaps even more so.

This next track is of the police expressing their displeasure with Bird in the interrogation room. All we see is the door. What happens behind it is told through sound and visualized through our imaginations. The show is playing us in a way, making us part of the story by forcing us to fill in the blanks. That’s a powerful technique.

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Subliminal messages

01brandon 10brandon

Episode 6 opens with Brandon’s tortured corpse sprawled across the hood of a car, for everyone in the projects to see. His death is the central point to the episode. It closes with a repeat of the image, in the form of a photograph on Lt. Daniels’ desk. There’s a kind of symmetry in that.

03televisionThere’s an interesting scene early on of D’Angelo at home, getting ready for the day. The camera sweeps by a television showing an old black and white film, with police running up to a dead body in the street. The way the body is laying there matches the way Brandon was positioned. It suggests to me that D’Angelo has removed himself from the reality of the killing – life goes on, it’s in the past.

04insides hanging outIn contrast, Wallace is haunted, tormented by what he saw of what was done to Brandon. Here he is, sitting on the couch telling D about how he saw the body, “cut open with his insides hanging out.” And there’s some visual poetry in the couch, with that large vertical gash in the upholstery, with the stuffing coming out. Wallace isn’t removed from it at all – he’s sitting right on top of it.

02wireThe beginning of the episode shows another stark contrast between D’Angelo and Wallace. Wallace lives in a vacant building, getting electricity from a string of extension cords running through a broken window to an adjacent building. He shares a set of rooms with other children and acts as their guardian. They all sleep in their clothes. The next scene is D’Angelo’s home, where we see him spend time going through his large wardrobe of brand-new clothes, cutting off tags and trying on different outfits. The economics of The Game do not favor the pawns.

08chess

 

Chess shows up again, in the foreground of this shot. Members of the squad are discussing strategy in the background, wondering if they can play Daniels against Rawls to keep the game going. There’s a subliminal quality to all these messages.

 

Hey man, nice shot

05courtroom

 

I love this courtroom shot – the use of line, perspective and symmetry. There’s an emptiness to it too, which may say something about the juvenile justice system.

 

 

06reflection

 

Another one is this shot from the conversation between Daniels and Augie. We see Augie’s reflection in the glass behind Daniels. His reflection lingers and comes more into focus after the conversation is over, as he thinks about whether or not he wants to stay with the squad.

 

Just missed it

missed-itSimon violates his rule about unsourced music in this episode, during the scene where Avon, String and Stink slow-walk through the courtyard making the payoffs. It’s a potentially pivotal moment because Barksdale is seen doing business out in the open, but the guy who should be watching had to see a man about a horse instead. Here’s the tail end of the scene.

What’s up? What you need?

I like the scene where D confronts Cass over skimming from the stash. The street sounds are great, but the sound of the eggs breaking doesn’t work quite so well without the visual. But what I really like is Cass’ response when she sees D: “What’s up? What you need?” It’s the exact same thing that String said when D paged him in the last episode. I know this because it’s part of the repeating sound loop on the DVD menu.

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Reflections on episode 5

01reflection 02reflection
I wrote a little about the use of mirrors last time around. We see some more in episode 5. The opening scene shows Avon Barksdale in the apartment of one of his girlfriends. We see him and his reflection divided among three mirror panes. Later in the scene he is peering through the blinds to check the street outside, and we see his reflection in another mirror. The message here is that he’s always watching himself. That circumspect caution is what kept him safe from rivals and law enforcement as he built up his business. That message is explicit in the dialogue and implicit in the mirrors.

06reflection

 

Later on there’s a shot of Brandon looking in the mirror as he tries on a necklace picked up in a robbery. In the image, he appears to be looking into darkness rather than at himself. This could be interpreted as a subtle foreshadowing.

 

08cemetery

This shot shows a wide angle view of the meeting between the cops and robbers. The cemetery setting is a not-very-subtle reference to the amount of death the show deals with. Notice how the statues are all looking away from from the meet, turning a blind eye to what’s going on.

 

03pager

 

Here’s a shot of the namesake of the show – the wire. The squad has gone through all the effort to get legal permission to run a wiretap on D’Angelo’s pager, then they set it down and stare at it intently, waiting for it to buzz. It’s another bit of foreshadowing – they’re job is mostly watching and waiting.

 

09backlight 10backlight
These two shots come from a discussion between Freamon and Daniels. I love the dramatic lighting, of course, but the composition also tells the story. Even though each image only shows one character, the way they’re facing indicates conversation. It’s an obvious thing, but I thought I’d highlight it anyway.

12phone 13contrast

I like these two phonebox shots – that glowing, and the color contrast – showing the phones’ importance in the storyline.

14phoneThen there’s this last one, at the closing scene. Look at all the grimy detail. There’s a message on the phone too: “it’s your choice.” The kids involved in the phone conversations know what the outcome will be, but with Poot and Wallace it’s more of an abstract thing, I think. D’Angelo knows what it is, having had some first-hand experience, and we see the weight and seriousness of it in his body language. Maybe we’d like to think they have a choice in the matter, but being in the game, as pawns no less, do they really? If D’Angelo didn’t pass along the word that Brandon had been spotted, there would have been repercussions.

The Farmer in the Dell

This episode features the scene George Veletsianos tweeted about a while ago. Peter Honig wrote a brilliant meditation on this scene a couple years ago, so there’s not much I can add. That enigmatic whistling reminds me of Ennio Morricone and some of his spaghetti western scores. Omar, the whistler, is essentially a cowboy character, although I ddin’t actually recognize that until it came up in one of the commentaries. The tune is “The Farmer in the Dell.” We know this because he says the closing line, “the cheese stands alone.” The line, and the tune, are open to some interpretation. The melody is the same as “A-Hunting We Will Go“, which fits Omar’s character well. It also fits the futility of the Game on the police end:

We’ll catch a fox and put him in a box
And then we’ll let him go

This has happened a few times already in the series, and it will again. “A-Hunting We Will Go” comes from The Beggar’s Opera, and 18th century drama which, to quote Wikipedia, “satirised politics, poverty and injustice, focusing on the theme of corruption at all levels of society.” Another fascinating parallel.

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Notes on episode 4

04ghost towersIn the commentary for the first episode of The Wire, David Simon said they used CGI special effects to put the towers in behind the low-rises, because they had been torn down a few years earlier. I thought of that when I saw this shot. There’s something about the towers in the background that seems ghostly – the lighting isn’t quite right and the edge is blurred. Maybe they just ran into the limits of the technology at that time.

05orange

 

I brought up the recurring color issue last time around. We see it here again. Notice the orange that the two characters are wearing. It matches the orange of the couch in the low-rises, and the orange of the poster that Freamon found with Barksdale’s photo. And the orange of the jumpsuits prisoners wear in court.

03alleyway 10bar

Some of the coloring and lighting in the photography strikes me as Bava-esque. That alleyway shot could come right out of Kill, Baby … Kill.

parallel1 parallel2

Another thing I picked up from the Bavafest was the concept of visual rhyming in shot transitions. The one is a kind of pun, as the shot switches from the janitor’s bucket to the coffee cup. The other shows an interesting contrast between McNulty’s kids at play in the bright sunlight and the other kids playing at night in the mouth of a dark alleyway.

06puzzle

 

Here’s another example of photographic foreshadowing. Presbo is hard at work goofing off with a word search puzzle. It says something about his character, much like Freamon’s hobby said something about his. Presbo’s talent for solving puzzles will soon play a key role in the storyline.

golf

 

 

Deputy Burrell’s golf game is another picture that tells a story, always missing his shot.

 

02perspective

 

 

This shot I like for the composition – the repetition of the cubicle walls and the perspective of the shot.

 

reflections

 

Another visual theme I’ve been seeing repeatedly is reflection. It’s related to surveillance, as we’re sometimes watching people. Sometimes we see scenes unfold through mirrors. Here we see the city go by reflected in the car window.

 

Sounds

In the scene where the police are searching the house for Bodie, the camera mainly stays on Bodie’s grandmother folding laundry in her living room. Most of the story is told through sound – the police at the door, the sounds of the street when the door is opened, the muffled sounds of the police looking through the rooms upstairs

The bar scene where Freamon explains how he got on the pawn detail is another with some noir-ish jazz in the background. The music creates atmosphere organically because it’s coming from the setting and not layered over it. The story ends up being pivotal in the plot of the series.

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