Monday, September 30, 2013

Apple #654: Notorious

TMC is showing Hitchcock's Notorious tonight.  I would very much like to go on and on about why I think Ingrid Bergman is so fantastic in this movie.  But I'll try to keep it to a brief intro, for those of you who may not have seen this movie.  (Yes, some Notorious virgins do exist).

One of many movie posters for Notorious
(Image from The Arts Desk)

Most of us know Ingrid Bergman best from Casablanca, where she plays the uber-good, most-sought-after, fighting-on-the-good-side, love-of-two-men's-lives.  Coming from that perception of her, to see her in Notorious, it's kind of a shock.  Because her character, Alicia Huberman, is a bad girl.

When the movie begins, her father has been convicted of being a spy for the Nazis.  She reacts to this information not with the usual, oh-woe-is-poor-dramatic-me Hollywood response, but by getting loopily sloshed.  When was the last time you saw a woman in a Golden Era movie getting bombed on screen?

Not only does she get trashed, she does so with such sarcastic aplomb, the only person who could be her equal would be Cary Grant.  Oh, wait, guess who shows up!

Her performance is so rich and complex--ah, what the heck, I'll just show you what I mean.

Not only is she free with the bottle, she's also had a few, um, boyfriends.  If I understand the above scene correctly, the old guy at the right is proposing to be her sugar daddy, and she's considering it. No pure-as-the-Ilsa-driven-snow here.

The meat of the story is that Cary Grant's character, Devlin, is a government agent and he wants Alicia (Bergman) to spy on her father's Nazi friends in Rio.  Of course when you're a woman, you're not just a spy, you have to be a seductress.  Her main job is to seduce the man leading her father's friends, played by Claude Rains. (You know him from Casablanca, too.  "I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in this establishment.")

So the government men--and Devlin--are assuming that since she's had a few sexual partners in the past, she wouldn't mind faking it with one more guy.  Except Devlin has already kind of fallen for her.  Nothing like a little high-speed drunk swerving to make you fall in love with a woman.

Bergman also does a stellar hangover.
(Still from The Girl with the White Parasol)

But Devlin also knows about her "seductive" past as well as the seducing she's supposed to do, so he's all bitter and snarky about it. Every time he makes unkind remarks, she smarts but tries not to let him see. This is because she is in love with him and is actually trying to turn over a new leaf after having learned of her father's death.  But since Devlin has told her what her assignment is and says he did not protest to his superiors on her behalf, she's embarked on a self-destructive, why-the-hell-not path.  They both punish each other for the fact that she actually goes through with the plan of seduction.

The result is such wonderfully sarcastic lines from her as: "Every time you look at me, I can see [your mind] running over its slogans: 'Once a crook, always a crook,' 'Once a tramp, always a tramp.' Go on. You can hold my hand. I won't blackmail you for it afterwards."

Also, "When do I go to work for Uncle Sam?" takes on whole new meanings.

OK, that's enough praises.  Now for the facts.

This is the Blu-Ray version from Amazon, but it's also available on plain old DVD & VHS too.
Notorious [Blu-ray]

  • The movie is based on a short story called "The Song of the Dragon" by John Taintor Foote that was published in the Saturday Evening Post. The story was published in 1921--before World War II, before anybody knew about Nazis or uranium ore.  
  • Much of the plot of the movie was the invention of Hitchcock and screenwriter Ben Hecht.  In fact, the atom bomb was dropped on Japan only a few months before Notorious was filmed, so changing the diamonds in the wine bottle to uranium ore was a very timely alteration.
  • Foote turned his short story into a novel in 1923, and 4 years later, a silent movie was based on the novel: Convoy.  In that movie, 2 men are in the Navy in World War I.  One man finds out that the other is a secret agent for the Germans, and he tells the German spy's fiancee.  But he tells her to stay with him so she can spy on him.  Among other events in the movie, the woman is arrested as a streetwalker.
  • I bet very few people remember the silent movie or the novel or the short story.  But they do remember Notorious.
  • The censors' rules at the time said no kiss could last longer than three seconds.  So Hitchcock told Bergman and Grant to kiss for 2 seconds, break apart, and kiss again, and keep doing that.  The results are 3 minutes of standing-up-kissing that looks like something a lot more horizontal.

  • That scene also looks seamless, but it actually took many long takes because of the complicated blocking required. The dialogue, though, was largely improvised between Grant & Bergman.
  • By the way, that chicken shows up later.  She's trying to cut it up and it's hard as a rock.  She says, half-laughing, "It caught fire once."
  • Bergman was 5'9" -- 7 inches taller than Claude Rains.  In scenes with him, she wears flats.  Also, when he could get away with it, Hitchcock had him stand on a box.
  • Many people refer to a particular shot as being classic Hitchcock.  The camera pans a large room from an upstairs balcony and then slowly zooms closer and closer until it eventually focuses on a key in Ingrid's hand--the thing which is of greatest importance to her in that entire party.  Thus, people argue, this is an example of how Hitchcock is the master of point of view.  He shows you with this shot exactly what she is thinking, and how nervous she is about it. 

How the key-in-the-hand moment was filmed.  Takes some of the romance out of it, doesn't it?
(Photo by Robert Capa, from Vicki Lester's Beguiling Hollywood)

  • There's yet another moment when Hitchcock demonstrates his moviemaking prowess.  A cup of coffee features prominently (no spoilers for the benefit of the uninitiated).  The camera stays focused on the cup as it is carried across the room and put on a table next to Ingrid.  A later filmmaker asked Hitchcock how he kept both the cup and Bergman in focus.  He said he used a 3-foot cup of coffee and filmed it from 25 feet away.  The other filmmaker protested that that couldn't be because a person carried the cup to her.  Hitchcock replied that it wasn't a person's hand but a piece of statuary holding the cup.
  • 4 years after the movie was released, Bergman was denounced in the Senate for leaving her husband in favor of director Roberto Rossellini.  She was pregnant with Rossellini's child.  The Senator called Bergman "Hollywood's apostle of degradation" and "a powerful influence for evil" and asked that she be barred forever from the country on the grounds of "moral turpitude."
  • Some years before that scandal broke, she was quoted as saying, ''I cannot understand why people think I'm pure and full of nobleness. Every human being has shades of bad and good.''  Knowing that is probably a large part of why she was such a skilled actress.
  • She did leave the United States and gave birth to three children with Roberto--including Isabella.  It wasn't until 1955 when Darryl Zanuck asked her to be in Anastasia and after being on the Ed Sullivan show that she began to be welcomed by the U.S. public again.  Eventually, she did return to the United States, and she was awarded an Oscar for her performance in Anastasia.
  • She reclaimed her position in the hearts of the public to such an extent that in 1972 a different Senator read into the Congressional Record an official apology for the previous attack on her in the Senate.
  • She died of breast cancer on her 67th birthday in London, 1982. 
  • "'I have had a wonderful life," she said during a press conference in 1956. "I have never regretted what I did. I regret things I didn't do. All my life I've done things at a moment's notice. Those are the things I remember. I was given courage, a sense of adventure and a little bit of humor." 

Ingrid. Notorious. Fantastic. Worth Watching.
(Photo from Dr. Macro's High Quality Movie Stars)

IMDb, Notorious
AMC filmsite, Notorious (1946)
Frank Cottrell Boyce, My favourite Hitchcock film: Notorious, The Guardian, June 16, 2012
Jasper Rees, The Hitchcock Players: Ingrid Bergman, Notorious, The Arts Desk, August 7, 2012
Turner Classic Movies, Trivia: Notorious
Film and Literature: Page to Screen, Hitchcock's Use of Editing Techniques: Notorious
Silent, Convoy, 1927
Emanuel Levy Cinema 24/7, Oscar Scandals: Ingrid Bergman
The New York Times, On This Day, Ingrid Bergman, Winner of 3 Oscars, Is Dead, August 31, 1982

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Apple #653: Uncles

I found out today that my uncle died.  I haven't seen him in quite a few years, but I'm having trouble thinking of much else.  When I was little, our families used to get together pretty often, especially in the summer time.  Us cousins -- there were a lot of them in that family -- would do the usual kid things, like going swimming, playing board games, playing with Legos, stuff like that.  My parents & my aunt & uncle played cards, most especially Setback.

Our two families when we got together looked something like this: lots of cousins all in one place.  Now mentally insert two sets of parents, transport this image to the 1970s, and add two dogs.
(Photo from Eating Our Way Around DFW)

Over time, my cousins came to be like a second set of brothers & sisters, and my aunt & uncle were sort of like an alternate set of parents.  Then my cousins (all older than me) got married and had children of their own, and we didn't really get together much.  But I still feel that connection with their family.

So I'm sad that my uncle died.  Sad that I didn't get to go to the funeral.  Just sad.

My uncle always had a leather chair and ottoman, similar to this. He also wore a certain kind of cologne -- no idea what it was -- but his cologne and the smell of his leather chair was the scent of my uncle.
(Photo and chair & ottoman from Decorium Furniture)

Here are some things about uncles. 

  • "Uncle" comes from the Latin avunculus, which is a diminutive meaning "little grandfather."  Some people speak with a kind of teasing ridicule about their uncles, but someone who was like a grandfather, maybe not in terms of age but in terms of connection, seems very appropriate to my uncle.
  • Among Irish Catholic families, before a child is baptized, the child's uncle is often asked to be godfather.  Depending on how old-school the family was, the uncle/godfather would be the child's go-to man for advice or help in dealing with difficult situations. 
  • The phrase "cry uncle" meaning "I give up" is one of those things that nobody's entirely sure where it came from.

You know, like when that kid Farkus from A Christmas Story used to beat them up until they said Uncle.
 (Photo from someplace on a real estate site called KISS Flipping)

  • There is some speculation that it comes from an Irish word anacol, which sounds like uncle, but means "mercy, safety, protection."  The theory is that Irish immigrants used to say anacol when they got in fights and people mis-heard them and thought they were saying uncle.  This theory is among the less-favorites, but I like it anyway, for my own reasons.  I like the connection between one's uncle and the concept of mercy and safety.
  • The more widely accepted theory is that the practice goes all the way back to Ancient Roman days, when people who were faring the worst in a fight said Patrue, mi patruissime, or "Uncle, my best uncle."
  • You might be wondering why they said patruus as opposed to avunculus.  Both words mean "uncle," but a patruus is your father's brother, while the avunculus is your mother's brother.  Since males ruled the day back then -- and often now as well -- the father's brother had higher standing than the avunculus.  So to give over to someone you're willing to call equal to your father's brother means you're giving them quite a lot of respect.
  • So I think the phrase itself provides the answer: when someone has bested you in a fight, the way to get them to stop is to acknowledge that they've beaten you.  To admit, however much you may not want to, that they're better (at least in this fight) than you are.  The short way to say this is to say, "You are like my uncle to me."
  • In The Man from U.N.C.L.E., the acronym stands for "the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement. U.N.C.L.E. is an organization consisting of agents of all nationalities. It's involved in maintaining political and legal order anywhere in the world."  Sort of like the uncle of the world.

(Image from FizX Entertainment)

OK, my uncle didn't look like either of these guys.  He also didn't carry a gun like that.  But he did fight in World War II.
(Image from What Culture!)

  • Uncle Buck, the messy, inappropriate, unemployed bachelor uncle played by John Candy is another famous uncle.  Perhaps the only thing he and my uncle had in common is they both did care about the kids.  John Candy was also considered to be one of the few genuinely nice people in Hollywood. My uncle was a genuinely nice guy -- when he wasn't pulling your leg about something.
  • There's also Uncle Fester from the Addams Family, but my uncle was definitely nothing like him.  The guy who played Uncle Fester, Jackie Coogan, was more in my uncle's wheelhouse.  Coogan was a child actor in movies with Charlie Chaplin, among others.  During World War II, Coogan enlisted and served in the Air Force, where he flew troops to various campaigns, including behind Japanese lines in Burma.  For a while, he was married to Betty Grable, the actress who became the famous GI pin-up during the war.

Jackie Coogan and Spencer Tracy from, I think, The Actress, which was made in 1953.
(Photo from Classic Movie Kids)

Jackie Coogan and Betty Grable on a date in 1936.  My uncle loved to be tan.  He used to get his radio, set either to news talk radio or to a 40s jazz station, and bring it out to one of those folding lawn chairs and sit by the lake and soak up the sun.  Surprisingly, it was not skin cancer that killed him.
(Photo from flickriver)

Good-bye, Uncle Larry.  From me and Uncle Buck.
(Photo from Odios Obvios)

World Wide Words, Say (or cry) uncle
The Word Detective, Say Uncle, say uncle
Man from U.N.C.L.E. Background and History
IMDb, John Candy Trivia, Jackie Coogan

Monday, September 16, 2013

Apple #652: Pupal Soup

So I've been listening to a book on CD that I bought from the Friends of the Library for $1.  The US title is, unthrillingly, The Sister.  The UK title is The Behavior of Moths. The main character/narrator of this novel is a 60-something-year-old woman who was "quite a famous lepidopterist" and who learned the science from her father.  There is more to the novel than that, including some suspicious deaths which may or may not have been murders, but for the purposes of this entry, I'll just talk about the moths.

The Sister
I very much recommend the audio version because the woman who reads it is really a talented actor, and she makes the narrator come to life.

Many parts of the novel deal with the habits of moths or the study of moths.  While the moths are actually quite an ingenious, ongoing, and complex metaphor--one that the narrator isn't entirely aware of--the facts about the moths I found interesting in and of themselves.  The main one is that, while inside the chrysalis, the caterpillar breaks down entirely into what the narrator's father calls "pupal soup"--nothing but goo.  The caterpillar completely dissolves into this primordial goop inside the chrysalis and a few weeks later, emerges as a butterfly.

Astounding.  I knew the basic things you're taught in elementary school, caterpillar, pupa in the chrysalis, butterfly, but I never heard of this pupal soup business.  No one ever told me the caterpillar turned into a liquid.

From caterpillar to butterfly -- includes a liquid phase?
(Photo from Fairchld Tropical Botanical Garden)

Now, this is described in the novel as research the father & daughter were doing in the 1950s & 1960s.  So I wondered, is it true about pupal soup?  I mean, does the caterpillar dissolve completely into liquid, only to emerge, totally rebuilt as another creature entirely?  In other words, I found this information so stunning and wonderful, I had to know more. Especially since this is the time when Monarch butterflies will soon be emerging all over the place.

  • The short answer is, it's mostly true, but it's more complicated than that.  
  • So, you know the part about how the caterpillar eats and eats and eats non-stop.  The way caterpillars were described to me is that they are basically eating machines disguised as tube socks.  Uncomplicated, nothing much going on in there except a lot of eating and digestion.
  • Well, my friend, the truth about caterpillars is they have a lot more happening in there than just eating.

Yes, a caterpillar is an eating machine--and more.
(Photo from WDW, via Science Buzz)

  • First, everything about their development is regulated by hormones.  There is one hormone, referred to as "juvenile hormone" that keeps them in the caterpillar stage. As long as the juvenile hormone is active, the insect will stay a caterpillar.
  • There's another hormone, called ecdysone.  This one is kind of like the change signal.  A little burst of this, and the caterpillar has a growth spurt and molts.  The caterpillar goes through several rounds of ecdysone burst/molting.  But that juvenile hormone is still active, so it stays a caterpillar.
  • Finally, when the caterpillar reaches a certain size--has taken in enough food to last it through the metamorphosis--the amount of juvenile hormone drops so that at the next ecdysone burst, the caterpillar doesn't just molt, it starts becoming a chrysalis.
  • Yes, I said that correctly.  The caterpillar doesn't create a chrysalis that it climbs into, its skin becomes the chrysalis. Some caterpillars will spin a protective cocoon first, but that outer casing which is the chrysalis--that is a new skin that the caterpillar has grown.  A new molting, if you will.

You can kind of see here how the chrysalis of this Monarch caterpillar looks like a new skin.
(Photo from Shea in Michigan on Flickr)

  • Once it's safely enclosed within its new skin that is the chrysalis, the caterpillar releases a batch of enzymes.  These are digestive enzymes.  Which means that the caterpillar is effectively digesting itself. Thus turning itself into pupal soup.
  • So, yes, that novel was correct about that soup business.  But what we've learned since the 1950s and 1960s makes it more complicated.  If you were to cut open a chrysalis, caterpillar goo would spill out.  It would look like it's only liquid.  But in fact, there is actual structural stuff still lurking within the goo.
  • Some muscle tissue breaks down but the cells remain intact and persist in clumps. Organs such as the breathing tubes and the guts also stay intact; they grow larger or reconnect things in slightly different ways. How these structures remain even though all appears to be soupy, I'm not sure.  I can only tell you what the researchers have reported.

Micro-CT imaging was used to see inside a chrysalis as the caterpillar re-forms into a butterfly. This is a painted lady butterfly chrysalis.  The breathing tubes have been colored blue and the guts red.
(Image from the University of Manchester, via National Geographic)

  • But everything else about the insect--the exoskeleton, the many little feet, the head--all that gets completely reorganized and turns into wings! A head with an enormously long tongue suitable for collecting nectar!  Very long thin legs!  How does this happen?
  • Well, there's still more besides hormones and enzymes inside a caterpillar. In addition to those crucial fluids, they also have things called imaginal discs, or imaginal cells.  These exist in a caterpillar and develop to a certain point and then stop, waiting for go-time.
  • Once the caterpillar is in the chrysalis, the imaginal cells go into action. They work a lot like our stem cells do and develop into new body parts. 
  • The discs shift from being flat into a concave dome, then elongate into a sock shape.  The pointy end of the sock gets further defined as the disc eventually becomes some feature of the butterfly or moth--a wing, a leg, an antennae.
  • Four discs contain the DNA information to become 4 wings. Other discs become legs. Other discs become antennae. If one disc that was supposed to become a wing for some reason does not, the remaining 3 discs will adapt on the fly (pun) to form bigger wings to compensate.

The blue circles at the top are the imaginal cells of the Drosophila, another insect that undergoes complete metamorphosis.
(Image from Georgia Tech's Developmental Biology Initiative)

  • Meanwhile, much of the rest of the goo in the chrysalis is literally food.  It is a nutrient-rich soup that feeds the insect as it undergoes this remarkable change. If you weighed a chrysalis after it first formed and then weighed the newly-formed adult after it's emerged and its wings have dried, the weight would have dropped by about half. The majority of that missing weight is the food the moth/butterfly consumed during its transformation.
  • Here's another remarkable thing: scientists also have reason to believe that the neurons present in the caterpillar's admittedly small brain survive the self-digestion process and continue to function in the adult butterfly or moth.  Which means that they "remember" things about being caterpillars. 
  • That isn't just a nice little turn of phrase or metaphor; researchers at Georgetown University have proven that "moths retain at least some of the memories they had as caterpillars." The memories they've shown that the caterpillars-turned-moths retain are mainly scent memories. But still. That's pretty impressive.
  • OK, now, one final factoid to blow your mind.  9 out of 26 orders of insects undergo this sort of complete metamorphosis. That may not seem like very many, but those 9 orders include butterflies, moths, flies, beetles, bees, wasps, and ants.  Which is, in fact, the majority of insects.  Which is, in turn, the majority of all animals.

So simple, anyone can do this, right?  Sheesh.
(Photo via University of Miami Department of Biology)

Related entries: Monarch butterflies; White caterpillarsWoolly Bear Caterpillars

Devin Hiskey, Caterpillars "Melt" almost Completely before Growing into Butterflies in the Chrysalis, Today I Found Out, October 28, 2011
Ferris Jabr, How Does a Caterpillar Turn into a Butterfly? Scientific American, August 10, 2012
Tracy V. Wilson, How Caterpillars Work, howstuffworks
Dr. Lincoln Brower, Inside the Chrysalis, Monarch Butterfly Journey North
Richard Jones, How does a caterpillar turn into a butterfly? Discover Wildlife, September 15, 2012
Ed Yong, 3-D Scans Reveal Caterpillars Turning Into Butterflies, National Geographic Phenomena, May 14, 2013