Things 73: 5 seconds, Mamet Memo, Choose a Typeface

The top 20 entries in a 5-second video contest – another great example of creativity out of limitation, as discussed in the Things Art Special (contains some scenes likely to offend, although only briefly):


David Mamet’s extraordinary memo/rant/lecture on writing good scripts, packed with excessive capitalisation, fractured grammar and other weird errors, all of which only serve to reinforce the passion with which he is trying to improve the world, can be read here.

If you don’t have time for 1,099 words, here’s a synecdochic exceprt:



Some of you may remember cassettes, small mechanical devices about eight times the size of an mp3 player, with 90 minutes or so of music physically encoded on a piece of wound tape, designed to spool and respool through a larger mechanical device which would ‘read’ the tape and produce the appropriate noises.

The tape had two ‘sides’, and you would play the other side of the tape by literally turning the cassette over.

The puzzle is this: no matter which side up you turned the cassette, the same physical side of the wound tape would face outwards. So how did the machine know which ‘side’ to play?

A well-thought-out flow chart to help you choose a font for any occasion:


Things Special: Edinburgh International Film Festival

I went to the Edinburgh International Film Festival and saw a whole bunch of films, which I enjoyed so much I am amazed it took me this long to work out that this is exactly the kind of thing I should do with holiday time.

Here’s my shortlist of the most interesting films that I saw. Some of these will see wider release in the near future, whereas others you will only hear of again in 13 years time when they pop up as a result of some Byzantine algorithm as a recommendation to you on some presently incomprehensible video-on-demand offering with a staggering range of content, at which point the title will sound very vaguely familiar to you and you will dimly remember the things about it which you are about to read here, and hopefully that will be enough to make you take the plunge. I hope you enjoy it.

Well, actually some of these are short animations which you can watch right now on the internet, so there’s a short term gain to reading the following too.

The Illusionist
: Animated adaptation of an unmade Jaques Tati script by Silvain Chomet, the man behind Belleville Rendez-vous
Good: Superbly captures the beauty of Scotland in general and Edinburgh in particular, with sublime hand-drawn character animation and deft characterisation
Bad: Surprisingly loose in plot and fuzzy in storytelling
Conclusion: Absolutely worth your time for the visuals alone


What: Low budget yet well-realised alien invasion as setting for semi-romantic road movie
Good: Beautifully shot, atmospheric, with an incredibly realistic-feel for its budget and a beautifully understated soundtrack from Jon Hopkins. And giant alien octopi.
Bad: Weakness in the development of the female character betrays a male gaze bias, undermining the main dynamic of the film
Conclusion: Essential viewing for anyone interested in what can be achieved on a budget, giant alien octopi, or Whitney Able’s legs

No trailer available, but this clip gives some clues to the look and feel:

[Update – Trailer now available, see below! – Tim 8/1/16]

What: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind in reverse, but as a quirky-in-a-good-way British comedy
Good: A great idea fleshed out with wonderfully convincing yet unexplained details
Bad: Slightly odd in structure, as it does not entirely succeed in erasing all trace of its short-film origins
Conclusion: If you’ve ever moaned about sequels and remakes and a dearth of new ideas, this is exactly the kind of movie that you should be watching instead.


What: EIFF sum it up perfectly: “Touching portrait of a lost friend through footage gleaned from diverse sources.”
Good: A fascinating patchwork of home video footage, photos, interviews, and scenes from entirely different movies, that combine to form a strangely affecting portrait in a way conventional methods could never reach
Bad: The film-maker’s own relationship with the subject seems self-censored, slightly undermining the sense of insight and authenticity that pervades the film
Conclusion: Mysteriously only moved me to tears about an hour after leaving the cinema, even though I thought I’d stopped thinking about it. Worth a try just to see what it does to you.

No trailer or anything, but this is the website of the film’s creator:

The Secret In their Eyes
What: Past-and-present mystery detective story, also the biggest and purportedly best film ever to come out of Argentina
Good: Just about everything about it is of the highest order, with some directorial flair that raised the hairs on the back of my neck
Bad: Ultimately doesn’t quite satisfy, although it is possible that some key elements slipped between the cracks of translation
Conclusion: Any film with so many top-notch elements deserves your attention


Short Films and Animations

I saw four showings that curated short films and animations (mainly the latter), of which a few really stood out. I was particularly satisfied to see that digital technology now seems to be doing a brilliant job of getting out of the artist’s way and just helping them create something visually intriguing – for many of the shorts I couldn’t work out what animation technique had been used, which I consider to be a great thing.

Sarah Wickens’ “What Light (Through Yonder Window Breaks)”:
Animated in a way I’ve never seen before (actually the result of a combination of techniques elegantly disclosed in the credits at the end), watch this short extract and see if you can perceive the magic behind the movement:

Stewart Comrie’s “Battenberg”:
A short animated film seemingly applying stop-motion to taxidermy to create an incredibly atmospheric encounter between a magpie and a squirrel in a doll’s house. You can view a trailer here:

David Lea and John Williams’ “Shadow Play”:
Shadow puppets combined with (what I presume must be) a digitally composed emulation of the multiplane camera creates a wonderful medium in which to tell a very silly story. You can watch the entire thing here, but from the way the site is designed I don’t think you’re supposed to be able to do so any more, so take a look now while you still can:

Bill Plymptom’s “the Cow who wanted to be a Hamburger”:
A weird, garish, jerky animation style and a purely orchestral soundtrack combine in a surprisingly wonderful way to tell a story with the energy and joy of a six-year-old


Joanna Lurie’s “Silence Beneath the Bark”:
A great example of how far CG has come since The Adventures of André and Wally B, approaching the aesthetics of natural collage. You can view a trailer and if you like what you see in the first few seconds I recommend you click to ‘view le filme entier’, which unsurprisingly enables you to see the full 11 minute animation (click the picture to start):

Marko Meštrović’s “No sleep won’t kill you”:
I can’t say I particularly understood or even enjoyed the experience of watching this, but it blew my mind in a way I won’t soon forget, and that’s something I like to experience. Watch the whole thing right here, if you can take it:

Jonas Odell’s “Tussilago”:
A variant on rotoscoping provides a distilled and and elegant way to present the harsh reality of finding yourself caught up in the kind of thing we usually only read about in the news.


[Update – Now fully available on Vimeo, see below! – Tim 8/1/16]

Angela Steffen’s “Lebensader”:
A wonderfully pure animated style, using digital tweening to achieve an amazingly smooth finish (I presume), which luckily enough you can view in its entirety right here:

Logan’s “A VOLTA”:
Blew my mind in a similar way to Tussilago: not very nice (certainly NSFW), hard on the eye and the brain, but fascinating, impactful, and dream/nightmare-like. You can watch the whole thing (or a few seconds if you just want to understand what I’m attempting to communicate) over at Boing Boing:

Finally, a couple of shorts I was very disappointed to find seem to be entirely absent from the world of internet video streaming:

Min Sung-ah’s “The Newly Coming Seasons”:
An animation in which every frame looks like a stunningly beautiful watercolour piece. You can at least see some screenshots here:

This review gets it exactly right:

[Edit – You can now view this animation on Vimeo, hooray! – Tim 8/1/2016]

Finally, Rainer Gamsjäger’s “State of Flux – wave #1”:
What looks like a continuous pan in one direction across a barrage while the water alternately flows forward and backward, which is of course impossible. Instills a strange trance as the brain struggles to comprehend both the impossibility and the beauty of what it is seeing. You can at least see some screenshots to get a rough idea of it, but there is no substitute for the moving image, so if you ever have an opportunity to see it then do so. Or just wait for it to pop up out of nowhere in 13 years time.

[Update – You can now watch a minute of it on Vimeo! – Tim 8/1/16]


Things 12: Gender Parity, Violet Outbreak, Analemma

(Originally sent May 2008)

This week’s film – one line review
I felt Persepolis made excellent use of the animated medium, making very effective use of distorting reality to a stronger effect, and although the beginning and the end were inconsistently paced it still had a very compelling overall message.

Next week’s films
I’m going to see Iron Man at the weekend, because it sounds very much as if the mythic power of a superhero story is being leveraged correctly for once.

IMDb rating: 8.3/10
Rotten Tomatoes rating:


Video from The Onion making a hilariously over-the-top philosophical point about fan expectations:

Wildly Popular ‘Iron Man’ Trailer To Be Adapted Into Full-Length Film

(also notice how advertising visibility is rising to meet the bandwidth demands of online video)

A Puzzle
Last week I asked why mammals are 50% male and 50% female. I’ll give you this one as although it took me many years to fathom, I think it’s an important example for better understanding evolution.

If any one sex occurs less than 50% of the time, because of pair-bonding in mammals those born that sex will have a reproductive advantage, while the others will have a reproductive disadvantage. As a result, a given organism will have a better chance of reproducing its genes by producing offspring of the minority sex. This creates an evolutionary pressure to increase the percentage of the smaller group, making 50% the only stable point.

Just to complete this thread, this week’s puzzle is to explain the deviations from gender parity (here represented by 100) in the following history and forecast from the UN’s fascinating website

UN World data:
Year Sex ratio
1950 99.8
1955 99.9
1960 100.2
1965 100.5
1970 100.8
1975 101.2
1980 101.3
1985 101.5
1990 101.7
1995 101.7
2000 101.7
2005 101.6
2010 101.5
2015 101.4
2020 101.2
2025 101.1
2030 100.9
2035 100.6
2040 100.4
2045 100.2
2050 100

A Quote
Nick, another of my friends with a reputation for mangling metaphors:

“Ah, he’s on thin ground there.”

A Link
Alan Moore’s “Outbreak of Violets”:

with missing card backs at:

A video
Someone found the perfect soundtrack for those crazy Tube Men (takes about 30 seconds to kick off properly):


A picture
An analemma:

More detail here:


Things 72: Art

Flaubert: “Art is born of restraint and dies of freedom”

Dorothy Gambrell (Cat and Girl): “Great stuff is usually made within very set boundaries […] the importance of a medium lies in its limitations.” (link)

Antony Gormley: “A lot of public art is gunge, an excuse which says, ‘we’re terribly sorry to have built this senseless glass and steel tower but here is this 20-foot bronze cat'”

Kanji that transform into the animal they represent. A brilliant example of art within tight boundaries.

See the rest of the series here (although beware potentially NSFW imagery at the bottom of the page, after the polls, depending on what they have posted recently).

Here’s a really amazing example of art vs limitations: using only the ramblings of a reluctant drunk man for the audio, make a video about the story of a historical figure. Somehow, moderately famous actors are involved in the project. The result is fascinating (although does contain moments of the more unpleasant consequences of drunkenness):
Drunk History – Nicola Tesla

Putting captions on pictures of cats is an emerging art form I have been monitoring for some time. I previously put together my top 10 cats from 2007 and 2008; here, belatedly, are my top 10 cat images spotted in the first half of 2009.

Roger Ebert asserts that “Video games can never be art” Why is he wrong?
(See these posts on Penny Arcade for context and their own responses).

Last week’s Puzzle
Last week I asked what would be the best thing I could buy that would maximise hours saved per pound spent. This produced a wide range of responses, largely depending on which assumptions people chose to question.

  • Yasmin suggests Red Bull (and similar) to save time by needing less sleep.
  • Alam suggests a clone of myself
  • Xuan suggests slaves and a washing machine.
  • Angela suggests two books that could improve one’s efficiency and so save time – The Miracle of Mindfulness and Making Time. (Funnily enough I already own the latter… but I haven’t found time to read it yet).
  • John suggests grated cheese.
  • Phil points out anything free that saves any time would maximise the metric, such as DropBox. This technically lies outside the “buy” requirement. He also suggests a combi-microwave and a smartphone, and then finally a device to prevent time-wasting by cutting off internet access between certain hours.
  • Simon specifically attempted to address the “I” part of the question by recommending an iPad as being a particularly good purchase for me, by switching to digital goods (music, movies, comics, books); “Imagine all that time not wasted, going to shops, ordering physical products online and searching for things you can’t find.” I don’t exactly agree, but that’s a huge discussion for another time.

Finally, Laurence suggests a Time Machine, and insightfully adds:

The inevitable complexity of all the proposed solutions reminds me of
the following quote:

“If you want to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create
the universe.”
– Carl Sagan

I had planned to make simple estimates for the “hours saved per pound spent” for each answer and declare a winner, but due to the range and complexity of answers this now falls out of the remit of Things and will instead be posted over on my analytical blog, Tower of the Octopus (which now has its own domain) once I find time to make such estimates.