The Shapiro Files

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Introducing Life Visions Video

For the past couple of years, Marcie has been building up a digital video production/editing side business called Life Visions Video. Her specialty is creating beautiful (and often tear-jerking) family documentaries commemorating big events like engagements, anniversaries, retirements, graduations, and baby arrivals. Most recently, she just completed a video about her uncle Rabbi Shelly Lewis’ retirement after 33 years at Kol Emeth. Tomorrow, the congregation is hosting a huge special event honoring her uncle, with attendance anticipated to be as much as 1,000 people, and the centerpiece of the event will be Marcie’s 25-minute video.

In anticipation of any inquiries Marcie may receive from audience members after seeing how professional her work is, we put together an official website for her company. Marcie sketched out what she wanted the site to look like and I did all the HTML programming, image processing, and hosting/domain setup. The site has just gone live yesterday and we’re quite pleased with the results. We’ll be adding customer testimonials and video samples in the near future. But for now, it’s a pretty good start. Check it out.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Time Revisited

Back in February, I posted an entry about the film Groundhog Day and other movies about people stuck in time-loops. At the end of that entry, I promised a future entry about time-stopping movies/shows. So at long last, here it is.

But first, a note of clarification regarding my previous discussion of time-looping as a central conceit. Brad and several other readers thought that my definition of time-looping referred to films with overlapping narratives — sometimes called “tapestry” narratives. These are films that tend to bounce around quite a bit in time and are often comprised of large number of characters who intersect in interesting and often surprising ways. Films in this category include Crash, Mystery Train, Magnolia, Short Cuts, and 11:14 (not to be confused in any way with the 1990 short film 12:01 PM — which, unlike 11:14, truly is a time-looping narrative). In contrast to tapestry narratives, time-looping narratives are stories in which the central conflict is the time-loop itself. With the exception of a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode in which the entire cast gets stuck in a time-loop, these narratives are usually concerned with only a single protagonist stuck in an endlessly repeating segment of time (an hour, a day, etc.). The individual struggles in vain to break out of the cycle, whereas everyone around them is completely oblivious to the protagonist’s predicament.

In all events, the point to my original entry was simply that as much as I enjoyed Groundhog Day, I was a little annoyed that there was absolutely no acknowledgment in any of the DVD special features that the idea was copied from the aforementioned Oscar-nominated short film 12:01 PM (which, incidentally, was later remade as a disappointing feature-length made-for-TV film that should be avoided).

OK, now that I got that out of the way, I can finally get to my discussion of time-stopping narratives. Most fans of the classic Twilight Zone television series will likely recall the excellent 1963 episode “A Kind of Stopwatch.” The episode is about a man who is given a stopwatch that is capable of stopping time itself. When time is stopped, everything is frozen around him and he can move freely getting into places he normally couldn’t go and doing things he normally couldn’t do. It’s a great episode from a great TV show and worth checking out. But I’m not sure many people realize that this concept of a stopwatch used to stop time itself was not an original Twilight Zone concept.

One year earlier, in 1962, author John D. MacDonald published a novel called The Girl, The Gold Watch, and Everything, which had the same general concept as the Twilight Zone episode — right down to a watch as the instrument to make time stop and for the holders of the watch to move about while everyone else is frozen. In 1980, this novel was made into a television film starring Robert Hays (best known for his starring role in Airplane) and Pam Dawber (from Mork and Mindy). I’m sure the movie would seem cheesy if I saw it now, but at the time, I absolutely loved it. I thought the idea of stopping time and doing whatever you wanted was incredibly empowering and I’ve been fascinated with the idea of stopping time ever since. To this day, there are times I wish I had a magical stopwatch that would let me pause everything so I can take an extended nap, or get ahead of people in line, or any other number of possibilities.

Incidentally, the TV movie was successful enough to warranty a sequel in 1981 called The Girl, the Gold Watch, & Dynamite, which I don’t recall seeing (either I simply missed it or it was so bad that I erased it from my memory). And just as history is bound to repeat itself (appropriately enough for a discussion about time-related narratives), in 1985, the Twilight Zone was brought back as a new television series. The first episode included a memorable segment called “A Little Peace and Quiet,” in which a housewife finds a necklace buried in her backyard that allows her to — yes, you guessed it — stop time. Given the 1980’s Cold War climate of the time, this particular episode took a very dark turn near the end and the final image of that episode has never left my memory. (Check out this very impressive blog for more on the 1980's Twilight Zone.)

But there’s still more. In 2002, a film for the teeny-bopper crowd called Clockstoppers was released to theaters. I never saw it, but apparently, it again employs the idea of a device that allows its holder to stop time (or some variation thereof). Similar to my complaint about Groundhog Day above, from what I can tell, no one involved in the production of this film acknowledged John D. MacDonald’s novel, its television adaptation, or either or the Twilight Zone episodes.

Those bums.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

American Idol & Queen: A Special Guest Blogger Report!

Commenting on American Idol and reality TV in general is usually Brad's territory. But this week's American Idol prompted me to make an exception. Why? Because an entire show was dedicated to the music of Queen, one of my all-time favorite bands. Like most fans of Queen, I was very sceptical when I heard this week's theme. After all, most of the contestants are too young to know more than the band's biggest hits and would almost certainly be completely unfamiliar with their ground-breaking albums of the 1970's (A Night at the Opera, Queen II, etc.) But I figured it would at least be fun to watch the amateur singers butcher some great songs.

In the end, I thought the show wasn't as painful as I expected and a few of the singers did an admirable job. I could go into great detail about the performances, but instead I'm going to do something new here at The Shapiro Files and feature a special guest blogger, Michael L. Pease. Besides being an exceptionally talented actor, singer, songwriter, and poker night host, Michael is also an expert on the music of Queen. He prepared some excellent commentary on American Idol's Queen night that summarizes the performances far better than I ever could.

Click here to read Michael's guest blog entry.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Passover Comedy

I’ve always had a special fondness for Passover. I suppose this might have something to do with the fact that my Hebrew name is Pesach. But even more than that, I really like the idea of a storytelling/dinner combo event for the whole family. It’s like Thanksgiving with schtick.

For your viewing pleasure, here are a couple of fun Passover-themed Flash animated movies that have been making the rounds:

Have you come across any other fun Passover movies/songs on the Web I should include above? Leave me a comment and I’ll update this post.