Funky Broadway Boogie Woogie

For today’s Daily Create we had give a picture a soundtrack. The first thing I thought of was Mondrian’s Broadway Boogie Woogie. But I wanted to get GIF-fy with it, naturally, so I downloaded the image from Wikimedia and used the select-color range function in Photoshop to copy the different colors onto their own layers, then manipulated them by either inverting the colors or adjusting the hue/chroma/value. “Boogie Woogie” suggests a certain kind of music, but I went with the original version of Funky Broadway instead. I notice from Wikipedia that the song is not about the Broadway in NYC like the painting, but rather the one in Buffalo, which from Street View doesn’t look as funky as it have once been. I knew from previous experimentation that there was a way to put GIFs together with sound, so I gave that a shot. It’s a bit clunky in that you have to click through the PLAY GIF Sound button to get it to show up, but whatever.

The animation sort of lines up with the drum beat, purely by coincidence. I could have done better with the animation though, like maybe have the small squares appear to move horizontally and vertically like traffic. That would take some time though. Maybe if I feel motivated I’ll rework it.

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Reading Guernica


I wondered how the story analysis assignment might apply to an image, so I thought I’s give it a shot with Picasso’s Guernica. There are a few different stories here: the story the painting depicts, the story of Picasso making the painting, and we could even include the story of what the painting means to me. My grandfather was an artist and an art teacher, and I grew up with many of his old art books in my house. I was familiar with many famous painters at a very young age because these were the picture books I looked at. Picasso died when I was young as well, so he was in the news for a while. I didn’t get his work at that age, of course, but Guernica captured my attention because it is so visually striking. If I had to name a favorite painting at any point in my life, it would most often be this one.

There are a lot of stories about Picasso and the painting. I won’t go into any of that, except to say that my favorite anecdote is about a time when a Gestapo officer questioned him about it, “Did you do this?” Picasso responded, “No, you did this.”

What is the story the painting tells, and how might it fit with Vonnegut’s shapes theory? It doesn’t neatly align with any one shape, but I could see connections to From Bad to Worse and Which Way Is Up? in the adjacent chart. We see confusion and destruction, products of war. I think confusion connects to Which Way Is Up?, although there is no ambiguity about good and bad here. And although we don’t see the before and after, we do see a transition where things get worse. If we try to read it visually, the proportions cause us to scan from left to right. The bull’s tail right at the beginning looks like smoke, an ominous start. We’re immediately confronted with screaming, death and dismemberment, and the cubist distortions emphasize confusion and pain. There are lines cutting across everything, so we don’t move through the image easily, and much of the activity and angles work against us, leading right to left as if the image wants to push us back. It looks like there’s a door on the right edge, but it’s not a way out as much as a portal into darkness – bad to worse. It tells a story, but there’s no resolution or relief in sight. You can get a good closeup of the painting and more information at Rethinking Guernica.

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Look at the window

Down by Law (1986) Jarmusch.

For today’s Daily Create, we had to do an out-the-window shot, but make it creative. I took a photo of the window in the laundry closet, but wasn’t sure what I could do to make it creative. I loaded it into GIMP, and figured it could do with some cropping. I rotated it a bit to make the window more straight and cropped in on the lower window. I thought the glow from the sun made it look deceptively warm, so I used the polygon select tool the window area without the foreground objects, then reduced the saturation -63%. This has the effect of making everything grayish and colder, but it’s not too obvious because the only real color out there was the yellow glow. Maybe it’s too subtle and I should have pasted in an abominable snowman instead, but I kinda like the contrast. Below is the end result:

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Week one wrap up

Week one of ds106 went quite well, with just a few hiccups. A few people had issues with embedding Instagram, so I made a quick screen capture video of the process:

Embedding IG in WP

If a site gives you an embed code, you can copy that code and paste it into the code view of a blog post. You don’t really need to be able to understand the code, just copy and paste it.

Thinking further on the theme

There are a couple different ways of interpreting the expression my story. It could mean the story of me, my life and experiences. Or it could mean the story I have, the one I know and want to tell. The same goes for our story to an extent. Both interpretations are equally valid. A number of good thoughts on the theme came up this past week.

I like the idea of a “personal canon”. I think this could even be a ds106 assignment, if anyone wants to make it so, like, “What is your personal canon and what does it mean to you?” It extends the “my story” concept to include the stories that are important to each of us.

Star Wars is an interesting example. It’s a good story, especially if you’re into that sort of thing. But we could also consider why it resonates and has persisted for over 40 years and the whole Joe Campbell monomyth thing.

Quarantine stories certainly have possibilities. Some people did these back in the spring when the lockdown started. They could be cathartic, and that may very well be something many of us need at this point. I saw news of a larger Covid-19 story project, Leaving Our Fingerprints On History, earlier today. Stories are a way of connecting, and that can, hopefully, alleviate some of the isolation we’re experiencing. This could easily work into the “our story” half of the theme.

Pop culture, art, and fashion is another idea that came up. We’ve used pop culture and related themes in the past. There are many stories to be found there, ones that we’re familiar with, ones that we can build upon, and ones that we can connect to.

All of these ideas, and many that I didn’t mention, will work with the your story/our story theme. Something I think we should ask, particularly with personal and autobiographical stories, is what is the larger story? The idea of food as a theme came up, and that certainly has many possibilities. Many people will post pictures of their dinners. While that has meaning to the person about to eat it, the rest of us may well ask, “what is the story here?” But on the other hand, pursuit of reliable sources of food could be seen as the story of human civilization. While that story may be too big for what we’re trying to do, there’s a lot of middle ground, and that’s where we’ll find ways to make our stories compelling to others.


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Thoughts on a theme

story by shredded77

I thought I should think out loud a little more on the theme of “What’s (y)our story?” The duality in the question represents something that always happens in ds106. On one hand, we all create our own stories, and on the other a group narrative arises from our interactions and collaborations.

Typically one of the ds106 instructors picks the theme for the semester. We’ve used themes like the Western, the Twilight Zone, 80s pop culture and other in the past. I always tell the classes that they have very wide latitude in interpreting the themes, so they can really make whatever they want of them. The point is to give us some common ground for interacting and collaborating. The problem with the themes are that they come from me or one of the other instructors. Some students like them, others politely play along, and mostly everyone plays it safe and avoids pushing the boundaries of what the theme might be.

So what I’m trying to do this semester is involve the class more in determining what the theme means. “What’s your story?” could be almost anything. I’m not really interested in autobiography though, as much as what people are motivated by, interested in, and find meaningful in the world. As another ds106 master put it, “Everyone has something that they can geek out on.” So here are a few examples of geekery:

Maryam Tsegaye, Canada, Physics, Winner: 2020 Breakthrough Junior Challenge

Some people really get into physics, and some people don’t get it at all. This video bridges that gap with visual language, pacing, and loads of enthusiasm.

Lady Gaga’s MIXED METER Star Spangled Banner?!

This is a deep analysis, mostly over my head so I probably miss half the meaning. But still it feels accessible, like I don’t need to be a musicologist to get the drift.

Darwyn Cooke & The Punctuation of Comics | Strip Panel Naked

This analyzes comic book pages on a level I didn’t even know was possible. It exposes how the visual language and design actively work to convey meaning, something I might not see even though it was right in front of me.

In all these cases, the speakers’ love of what they’re talking about is infectious and draws the listener in. These topics may not matter to most of us, but the way the speakers present their stories makes them interesting and compelling.

At the same time, we have to find common ground, so we can develop our collective story, whatever that turns out to be. That’s not something we can plan in advance, but rather a narrative that should, hopefully, emerge from our interactions as we share ideas, feedback, and input, and build upon each others ideas. While we can’t plan it, we can facilitate it by offering each other inspiration and looking for ways to connect our stories. I think we can have a lot of fun with this your story/our story idea. It’s just up to all of us to make it work.

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Project: Merch

I loved Grant Potter’s Reclaim logo, but I thought if it really was going to be a t-shirt design, we should take it a step further. So I grabbed the first chrome text tutorial I could find, and came up with this modification:

which I thought was good enough for a first attempt. But what would it look like on an actual shirt? I remembered Zazzle had a way of visualizing stuff like that. They even have a virtual model:

I know it’s not Mathers quality work, but maybe it wouldn’t be out of place on a Walmart knockoff rack.

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News of the World

As we were discussing our ideas for a poliziotteschi party, Jim suggested looking into MSU’s Introduction to Digital Humanities course for some inspiration. The idea is to mine online newspaper archives for what was going on in Italy during the genre’s heyday. My ability to read Italian is close to nil, but I thought I might be able to find some coverage in the New York Times. Unfortunately my academic libraries only have access going back to 1980. But through the magic of the New York Public Library I was able to do some digging. I searched for Italy as a keyword and limited the date range to 1970-1976, and then filtered the results to leave out anything that didn’t have a subject descriptor related to crime. It was a pretty crude approach and I had to manually sift out articles about the New York mafia. There were a lot of articles about kidnappings, one of the subject descriptors, and also a significant cluster of articles about art thefts, which I mostly ignored. I downloaded a significant sampling and looked through a few. I’m not sure that what made the news in NYC paints a good picture of what was going on in Italy, but there were some interesting finds.

Some of these sound like things from the movies, brazen and theatrical.

It makes me wonder if those weren’t cases of life imitating art. This fish story, which I used for a Daily Create, also made me wonder:

as in, why did it get printed? Maybe they just had a column inch to fill. I wish there was more context to it. What would police do with five tons of fish? I’d hate to be the guy working in the evidence room. But there were also articles addressing political tensions between fascists and communists and criminals and police.

“Under fascism, you never heard about such crimes” not because they didn’t happen, but because they weren’t reported. Crime had decreased by the 70s, but the public impression was that crime was rampant. Alternative facts, perhaps?

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Primetime Eurocrime

In the late 1960s and 1970s, during the same period that the spaghetti western flourished and the giallo rose to prominence, the Italian cinema developed another popular genre, the crime film

This comes from Bondanella & Pacchioni’s A History of Italian Cinema. Poliziotteschi relate to both genres through the blood and violence. Giallo had more mystery and less realism, and a different kind of psychopathy. The crime film could be seen as a contemporary vision of the spaghetti western though. The Eurocrime documentary covers a lot of the same ground as “The Origin and Historical Matrix of the Italian Crime Film” chapter in the book.

The documentary frames Italian B movies as derivative of American films, and derivative of each other. It cites Dirty Harry, The French Connection, and Death Wish as inspirations. I’m not so sure that it was purely imitative though. The earliest poliziotteschi predated those films. What’s not addressed in the documentary is the work of Giorgio Scerbanenco. (For another giallo connection, see Scerbanenco’s books on Amazon.) Fernando di Leo took his vision of crime and Milan from Scerbanenco’s work – “the first Italian writer to exploit successfully the conventions of the American hard-boiled subgenre and to a harsh critique of the social consequences of the so-called economic boom of the 1950s and early 1960s.” He’s considered the father of Italian noir fiction, bringing the conventions of noir and hard-boiled to stories of modern Milan. It was nice to find his work in the Internet Archive before they shortened the borrowing term from 2 weeks to 1 hour, although it’s unfortunate that so little has been translated into English.

The documentary did give some insight into the film culture of the 70s in Italy. Where we had three or four TV channels in the US, they had two, and the networks had a sort of non-compete agreement with the cinemas so they rarely showed movies. So people went to the theaters frequently, and so they needed a steady stream of product. They had a system for making movies inexpensively.

All the sound – dialogue, ambient noises, as well as music – was added in after filming. Not only was there no need for quiet on the set, but if an actor flubbed a line, it could still be useful footage. They could adjust the dialogue to fit. I was particularly fascinated by the concept of stealing shots. Like instead of renting a police car for a chase scene, they could just speed past the police and start a real chase. Or have someone with a gun loaded with blanks start firing on a crowd street corner and film the real reaction rather than set up a shot with extras.

And here’s John Saxon hiding behind a vehicle as the window get shot with real bullets. Who needs special effects when you can do the real thing?





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Saturday Night Taxi

I was challenged the other week to remix Taxi Driver with the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. I wasn’t able to build on my previous experiment, unfortunately, so I had to leave in Herrmann’s sax music in some spots. Hopefully it isn’t too distracting. Or maybe it doesn’t matter. I seem to be lacking the power or bandwidth to broadcast the video smoothly, and my upload options are limited due to copyright. I was able to get a few clips up on Vimeo though.

For the opening sequence, I muted the soundtrack and added “Night Fever:”

That came out pretty well. I patched in “Boogie Shoes” in a mostly dialogue-free sequence:

This does change the character of the segment. I brought “Night Fever” back in under DeNiro’s monologue. I dropped the volume of the music when he was speaking, so the lyrics don’t compete as much. I don’t think it’s too bad.

“More Than A Woman” might connect to the love interest part of the story:

I probably should have edited that differently, to minimizize the competition between song and monologue. On the other hand, the monologue is a bit gross, so maybe the de-emphasis is okay. Next I added “How Deep Is Your Love:”

It works under the voice-over, but some of the sax on the soundtrack is there too. It’s not too jarring even if it is out of place. It comes across more as a bad solo. The song comes back in after a scene with Shepherd and Brooks:

Like “More Than A Woman,” it fits the storyline. Then there is a walking scene, so I introduced “Stayin’ Alive:”

Naturally that won’t be the last of that song. I found an instrumental version of Donna Summers’ hit, “I Feel Love,” and fit that in the background:

That may be overdoing it, but this is hardly an exercise in good taste. It works better after the conversation scene:

at least until the voice-over/sax combo comes back. That transition is less than smooth. I dropped in “If I Can’t Have You” in a later scene:

It’s another case where the title fits in with the storyline, in a way. I have about a dozen other minute or so clips, but I hit the upload limit for the month. But that gives a picture of where it’s going. I’m surprised at the extent to which the soundtrack fits. It changes the character of the film, of course, but it’s not entirely incongruous. I made no changes other than adding or substituting music. I left the video intact otherwise. Now if I can just find a way to broadcast the full project…

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