Saturday, March 26, 2011

Reviving data from the dead

Part of my job requires that I build websites for clients that have extensive and severely damaged and dying (or dead) member databases.

I build website front-end (user experience) and back-end (office experience) using a sophisticated content management system that's integrated with office management functionality (member data, accounting, e-commerce, etc.).

During the web development process for any new client, I have to extract, revive and clean up member data that's been damaged to death, rendered useless and decomposing in the client's previous web format (in fact, the main reason clients come to the company I work for is because they need to resuscitate their data).

My job, then, is to "Frankenstein" dead data with a jolt of new life. Doing this requires roll-up-your-sleeves, tedious gruntwork that takes hours, days or even weeks, depending on the size of and damage done to the database during its former life.

And, naturally, looming deadlines add to the intensity of the job. Plus other projects get shoe-horned into the mix, so the data clean-up process seems endless. And, ultimately, no matter how hard you scrub the data, when you go to integrate it into your new system, it'll come back riddled with heart-stopping errors - like anything you submit for the first time.

The whole process is akin to the proverbial "Sword of Damocles," with an impending doom that not only consumes your day-to-day existence but has a nasty tendency to infiltrate your dreams. During the development process, my dreams become vivid metaphors of anxiety such as: driving an out of control car; being lost in a thick and unfamiliar forest; being surrounded by faceless humanoid creatures; losing my spouse; losing my dog; and, yes, losing my job.

With this kind of internal psychopathy that permeates coupled with the fact that I've done so much new client data clean-up and web development, you'd think I'd have a "work smarter" game plan in place.

And I think maybe I do (that is, once I put my current project gently to bed).

It used to be: 1) get the design in place and 2) scrub the data.

From this point on, it'll be: 1) scrub the data and 2) get the design in place.

What's the difference? Actually it's based on the old adage to do the most painful stuff first. That way, the rest of it doesn't seem so bad... 

Monday, March 21, 2011


Do it yourself.

There was a documentary not long ago (2003) called "Tarnation," directed by Jonathan Caouette. He used found footage, Super-8 film, VHS tapes, audio tape, phone answering machine tapes, photos, etc., to tell the story of his relationship with his mother, who suffered from severe mental illness.

Caouette edited the film on iMovie software on a Mac.

The movie was distributed. Roger Ebert gave it his patented thumbs-up. Total production cost (not including distribution dough) for "Tarnation?" $218.32. The movie grossed over $500,000.

Caouette did it himself.

Amanda Hocking writes books and is self-published on formats like Amazon's Kindle. Hocking sells over 100,000 books a month without the help of a publishing house. Hocking has made over a million bucks doing this. Herself.

What have you done yourself lately?

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Do you really think for yourself?

Are you so sure you think for yourself? What were you force-fed as a child that interferes with the greatest of human capacity - to think for oneself?

Sunday, March 13, 2011


Movie trailers today play like commercials - of course, trailers are commercials but there was a time when the movie trailer was a living, breathing entity that stood on its own. Today, trailers have lost the ability to actually thrill. Now they're an annoyance to slog through before showtime.

They don't do 'em like this anymore (even the fake is great):

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Revival cinema

L.A.'s New Beverly Cinema is hosting Quentin Tarantino's "March Madness." The director programs the revival theater's calendar for the month of March and, if I lived in L.A., I'd see everything Tarantino has on the docket, including his own KILL BILL: THE WHOLE BLOODY AFFAIR.

Tarantino's calendar encapsulates what I think "revival" should be all about. Rarities, thought long-lost and probably encountered somewhere in your cinephile past wasting away inside a decrepit grindhouse or suburban drive-in. Or, possibly, seen during the halcyon days of VHS when it was a thrill to take movies - any movies - home. The great video stores in the early 80s had enormous backlogs of cinetrash, art disguised as trash, trash disguised as art, Eurotrash, slasher trash, horror sci-fi, Blaxploitation, Ozploitation (Australian trash cinema, i.e., STONE), sexploitation - sub-sub genre films pursued on purpose or stumbled upon accidentally.

All of the films on Tarantino's calendar could be considered cinematic art because the very nature of film translates into art although I'm sure there are hoards of people out there willing to take me on for that statement.

I have a long-lost aunt who won't watch films produced in America because of "their lack of artistic integrity." She only watches foreign films because, in her head, the way of art is through "experiencing cultural differences."

Don't get me wrong, I love global films but which would I rather watch - Ingmar Bergman's THE SEVENTH SEAL or John Flynn's ROLLING THUNDER? Yep - ROLLING THUNDER.

ROLLING THUNDER has enormous cinematic cache - its a visceral revenge film with sociological implications (the plight of the returning Vietnam vet, the nature of loneliness, a family on the brink), a scathing screenplay written by Paul Schrader (who subverts his own TAXI DRIVER screenplay for ROLLING THUNDER), and is acted armed-to-the-teeth by William Devane and Tommy Lee Jones. And, unlike the Bergman film, it moves.

Overall, Tarantino's program is hugely fun and if you're programming for revival - whether grouping the most serious foreign entries or the craziest grindhouse - you've got to have fun doing it.

Give me a revival house for one week and here's what I'd give back (all double features except for Wednesday, which would be a triple...and this line-up is not definitive):

ROLLING THUNDER (1977) - director: John Flynn.
Tagline: A Vietnam Vet Kills for Revenge.

THRILLER: A CRUEL PICTURE aka THEY CALL HER ONE EYE (1974) - director: Bo Arne Vibenius (Alex Fridolinski).
Tagline: The Movie That Has No Limits of Evil.

RABID aka RAGE (1977) - director: David Cronenberg.
Tagline: Pray It Doesn't Happen to You.

GOD TOLD ME TO (1976) - director: Larry Cohen.
Tagline: It Will Give You Nightmares Forever.

SUSPIRIA (1977) - director: Dario Argento.
Tagline: The only thing more terrifying than the last five minutes of this film are the first 90!

HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS (1970) - director: Dan Curtis.
Tagline: Barnabas Collins, Vampire, Takes a Bride in a Bizarre Act of Unnatural Lust.

HORROR HOUSE aka THE HAUNTED HOUSE OF HORROR (1969) - director: Michael Armstrong.
Tagline: Behind Its Forbidden Doors an Evil Secret Hides!

WHAT'S THE MATTER WITH HELEN? (1971) - director: Curtis Harrington.
Tagline: Heart Pounding Terror!

WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? (1962) - director: Robert Aldrich.
Tagline: Sister, Sister, Oh So Fair, Why is There Blood All Over Your Hair?

WHITE LINE FEVER (1975) - director: Jonathan Kaplan.
Tagline: Carrol Jo Hummer--A Working Man Who's Had Enough!

MACON COUNTY LINE (1974) - director: Richard Compton.
Tagline: It Was the Fall of '54. A Time When Laughing Was Easy. And Laugh They Did, Until They Crossed the ... Macon County Line.

THE GREAT TEXAS DYNAMITE CHASE (1976) - director: Michael Pressman.
Tagline: Move Over Butch and Sundance-Here Comes Candy, Ellie Jo and Slim.

DELIVERANCE (1972) - director: John Boorman.
Tagline: What Did Happen on the Cahulawassee River?

UNHOLY ROLLERS (1972) - director: Vernon Zimmerman.
Tagline: A Locker Room Look at the Toughest Broads in the World!

KANSAS CITY BOMBER (1972) - director: Jarrold Freedman.
Tagline: The Hottest Thing on Wheels.

And, naturally, after laying out the program, you realize there's so many you've missed.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Working hard or hardly working

While watching the film MARATHON MAN (1976), you can't help but think about the convergence of old school vs. new school (Laurence Olivier / Dustin Hoffman) acting styles. Olivier, who was 69 when MARATHON MAN was released, was into the latter phase of his career (although he continued to act for another 13 years until 1989, when he passed at age 82 - so "winding down" wasn't exactly in his vernacular) and Hoffman, who was 30 years Olivier's junior during the making of the film, was deeply in his stride.

I don't know this but you get the feeling Olivier barely tolerated Hoffman and vice versa. Hoffman's adoption of Lee Strasberg's "method" of acting was rumored to be a point of contention for Olivier, who was classically trained, honed on Shakespeare, and insisted that acting was pure technique.

John Schlesinger, who directed Hoffman in MARATHON MAN and MIDNIGHT COWBOY, seemed to lay the groundwork for the actor's emerging style based on Strasberg's theories of acting. Hoffman didn't shy away from exploring the dark psychological depths of COWBOY's Ratso Rizzo - an experience that certainly helped to sharpen his method.

Regarding Olivier, I always found him stuffy, staid and I may take heat for uttering such blasphemy. However, his work in the 1970s was interesting as he tended toward psychologically damaged - if not perverse - old men as found in MARATHON MAN, THE BOYS FROM BRAZIL and others. Playing these roles based, of course, on technique rather than a sort of total psychological immersion.

But then again, what's the difference as long as the acting gets done?

Anyway, the above photo of Hoffman and Olivier says it all. There's just no denying the connection between the two. Taken during the MARATHON MAN shoot (I found the pic via

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


I like the 140 character limitation of Twitter. I wouldn't want that limitation lifted.

I'm currently reading How to Write a Sentence: And How to Read One by Stanley Fish. Fish breaks down sentence structure not by traditional grammar but by logic and feel. Fish believes you need to learn how to feel the way a sentence is structured and that it takes years of practice to achieve a feeling of logical sentence structure. You may know everything there is about grammar but knowing this won't help you feel your way to a great and logical sentence.

According to Fish, what it takes to write brilliant sentences is knowing "what makes a sentence more than a random list, [that you need to] practice constructing sentences and explaining what you have done, and [by doing so] you will know how to make sentences forever and you will know too when what you are writing doesn't make the grade because it has denegrated into a mere pile of discrete items."

Fish also references the idea of forms and that sometimes form limitations help to foster creativity. William Wordsworth stated that limitations remove "the weight of too much liberty."

Writes Fish, "If the moves you can perform are prescribed and limited...each move can carry a precise significance."

Wordsworth was happy to be bound by limited forms, "to be bound / Within the Sonnet's scanty plot of ground."

Maybe that's why I like Twitter so much.