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The New York Times had some suggestions for movies to watch this Labor Day weekend – but they are movies about the workplace! That seems like an odd series for a weekend that may be about labor but is usually a time to celebrate not being at work.

Admittedly, these are odd “workplace” films.  Office Space is a satire that should help disgruntled workers vent. Desk Set is a Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy  romantic comedy. Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times is a good film, but not holiday viewing for modern viewers. Sing along with the Newsies9 to 5 is a good office takeover by the workers. The Wall Street workers with big hair and big shoulder pads rule in Working Girl. And in Clerks, Dante is forced to work at the convenience store on his day off.

The Times gives info on where you can stream all those films, but if you want to see something on a big screen as a film should be seen, I recommend the escape of Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

The encounter of the third kind occurs at Devil’s Tower

Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind  came out about six months after the original Star Wars but Close Encounters was about real people dealing with visitors from distant stars. Suburban Middle America is “invaded” when Indiana electrical lineman Roy Neary experiences a close encounter with a UFO. But no one, including his family, believes him.

The New York Times ran an article on the film’s re-release making the argument that the film’s original release was when “the movies got new-age religion.” That is not my recollection of that time, but J. Hoberman points out that some Catholic and conservative Christian reviews of the film were surprisingly quite rapturous about it.  New York Magazine‘s film critic questioned “who is Spielberg to define religion for us?” My take on it then was that it was good sci-fi with much better effects than what had come before it.

More than any theological connection I might have had to the film in 1977, I connect more with Baby Boomer Spielberg watching the Disneyland TV show and hearing Jiminy Cricket sing “When You Wish Upon a Star” which he said was his inspiration for the feeling he wanted in the film.

The film started out in several more sinister versions  with UFOs and a post-Watergate scandal government trying to keep the lid on the real UFO and ET incidents that were in Project Blue Book, the Air Force’s very real study into UFOs in the 1950s and 1960s. That script was called Watch the Skies. There was another version that was more government whistleblower on the cover-up of aliens that was a political thriller written by Paul Schrader with the title Kingdom Come.

Spielberg was coming off the giant hit Jaws and five years away from making E.T.  He gets sole credit for the final script, though a handful of writers worked on earlier versions.

I saw it in a theater 40 years ago and loved it. I watched it when my sons were 8 and 10 years old and it wowed them and scared them in all the right places. Hey, a three-year old kid gets taken by the aliens. That’s scary. (Spoiler: He gets home seemingly unhurt at the end – as he should in any Disney-inspired movie.)  These aliens didn’t attack like in War of the Worlds (which Spielberg directed in 2005) but they weren’t toy-doll huggable like E.T. either.

Those were my two encounters with the film, and I just may go back and have a third encounter with it this week.

As part of the 40th anniversary of the film, it was presented at the Venice Film Festival this past week in its even shinier newly remastered and digitally restored version. It will open this weekend for a week-long run in theaters across the country.

Of course, the best screening will be tonight at the base of Devils Tower in Wyoming which is the location of the film’s finale and the encounter of the third kind. That finale was actually shot in a hangar that had been used for dirigibles during World War II at Brookley Air Force base in Mobile, Alabama, but don’t let that movie trivia ruin the Wyoming experience. Maybe some real UFOs will buzz the site tonight.

I don’t think the film really goes into explaining the title but it has some science behind it. Spielberg got the title and some ideas from the research of Dr. J. Allen Hynek, a civilian scientific advisor to Project Blue Book and a ufologist.  Hynek’s alien close encounter classification system made a close encounter of the first kind be a sighting of a UFO. The second kind is physical evidence to prove the existence of an alien. The third kind is actual contact with alien life forms.

Hynek was a technical advisor on the movie and he shows up as the man smoking a pipe and wearing a powder blue suit who pushes through the crowd of scientists to get a better look at the aliens in the final scene of the film.

I’m not sure which version of the film is in this re-release. Spielberg originally wanted a summer of 1978 release but was pushed by Columbia Pictures to have it ready for a November 1977 release. Spielberg was not really happy with that version, as he was pushed to do the effects faster than desirable.

In 1980, Columbia let him finish what he had wanted to do as long as he added a sequence inside of the mothership so that there was something really new to market.  Spielberg added that and other new scenes and cut some scenes and it was promoted as the “Special Edition.”  Spielberg was not thrilled with the mothership scene and later cut it for the “Collector’s Edition” home video release.

This is a film to see on a big screen, but if you’re doing a home viewing, you can choose the original version, the director’s cut, the collector;s edition,  and the Blu-Ray or 4K Ultra-HD editions. That’s a lot of encounters.

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Art imitates life and sometimes life imitates art, and sometimes films imitate art.

Filmmaker Vugar Efendi put together a compilation of shots from films along with the paintings that inspired them.

You may have seen filmmakers pay homage to older films by imitating shots – the original Star Wars film has shots that echo a number of other films including John Ford’s The Searchers and the Stranger Things series on Netflix has lots of tributes to films from the 1980s that the filmmakers watch and loved.

Paintings may be less obvious. Not everyone would pick up on Jean-Luc Godard filming a shot based on a painting by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. It is an old tradition. One referenced in Efendi’s supercut is from the 1927 silent film Metropolis.

L’empire des lumières influenced William Friedkin’s The Exorcist, and La Robe du soir is alluded to in Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight while Architecture au clair de Lune slips into Peter Weir’s The Truman Show. Some instances are unexpected: Thomas Gainsborough’s The Blue Boy used in in Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained. Sometimes the reference is not exact but a scene feels like it is “in the style of”a painter – such as the look of the Bates’s home in Hitchcock’s Psycho looking like a house from an Edward Hopper painting – but without the color or sunlight. (Wim Wenders used a much more literal recreation of Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks in his film The End of Violence.)

I first saw these videos mentioned on the Slate website, but the three-part video has been posted in other places too.

Here are the pairings so that you can check you “art of the cinema” knowledge.

This earlier post is now updated to reflect the recent release of a film, The Lost City of Z, based on Grann’s book of the same name. Both tell the true story of British explorer Percy Fawcett who went into the Amazon in 1925 with his son looking for an ancient lost city. They both disappeared. For decades, explorers and scientists have tried to find evidence of his party and the Lost City of Z. Since then, perhaps another hundred people have died or disappeared searching for Fawcett.

I read David Grann’s The Lost City of Z in 2010 and halfway through it I realized what attracted me to it. It takes me back to a book of my youth – The Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – which was a novel I loved as a kid.  I probably read the Classics Illustrated Comic version before I actually read the book, as that was the case with many books from Treasure Island to Hamlet.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is much better known as the creator of Sherlock Holmes. Even if you have never read any of his fiction, you probably know a few of his stories and characters because, according to the Internet Movie Database (love that site) there are at least 215 films based on his writing.

I took out my old comic book version and also my paperback of the novel and rediscovered Doyle’s little introductory verse:

I have wrought my simple plan
If I give one hour of joy
To the boy who’s half a man,
Or the man who’s half a boy.

There was another book titled The Lost World which was Michael Crichton’s sequel to Jurassic Park, but I have nothing to say about that book. To me, The Lost World is the one published in 1912 and it is the fictional story of an expedition to a place in the Amazon where prehistoric animals still survive. (Hmmm, did Mr. Crichton get inspiration for Jurassic Park from it?)  The book introduced the character Professor Challenger who appears in other books by Doyle.

Exploration and lost worlds captured the fancy of the public and authors in the early part of the 20th century. In 1916, Edgar Rice Burroughs (who is better known for his Tarzan and science-fiction stories) published The Land that Time Forgot, which was his version of a lost world story. In that  rather ridiculous tale, sailors  from a German U-Boat discover a world of dinosaurs and ape-men in Antarctica.

I read all of them. I didn’t really pay attention back then to the chronology of publication. If I had noted dates, I would have realized that another one of my childhood author heroes, Jules Verne, had introduced the whole prehistoric-animals-in-the-present-day adventure story with his novel Journey to the Center of the Earth which was published back in 1864. Those explorers find a prehistoric world of people and dinosaurs inside the Earth.

By the way, you can read The Lost World as an “e-book” free online at Project Gutenberg – if you can handle reading on a screen. I can’t.

cover

Now, to get back to where this post started, the setting for The Lost World is was probably inspired by reports about British explorer Percy Harrison Fawcett’s expedition to Venezuela and Brazil, in a mountain region called Mount Roraima.

The modern-day non-fiction book, The Lost City of Z , tells the tale of Fawcett who launched his final expedition in 1925 into the Amazon.

His goal was to find the fabled lost city of El Dorado, the “City of Gold.” El Dorado has captured the imaginations of kids, armchair explorers and real anthropologists, adventurers, and scientists for about 400 years – even though there really has never been evidence that it ever existed. That hasn’t stopped hundreds of expeditions from going out looking for it.

Fawcett was financed by the Royal Geographical Society in London.  It humbles me to think that at age 57 he headed out again because he really believed in El Dorado, which he called the City of Z .

He set out with only his 21-year-old son Jack and one of Jack’s friends. He wanted to travel light and fast, eat off the land, and not harass the natives. They vanished in the Mato Grosso region of Brazil.  Subsequent attempts to find Fawcett and the city have failed.

What happened to Fawcett? David Grann thinks he knows. The author is not an adventurer, but he ended up in the jungles of the Amazon to try to find an answer.

Fawcett’s expeditions inspired Arthur Conan Doyle’s novel of a lost world. Grann wrote an earlier book, The Devil and Sherlock Holmes: Tales of Murder, Madness, and Obsession.

I’m not ready for any Amazon adventures, so I’m happy to follow Grann’s digging through Fawcett’s old diaries and logs for clues and doing my own armchair adventuring.

I liked that the book also deals with how in the past 40 years in Brazil alone, the Amazon has lost some two hundred and seventy thousand square miles of its original forest cover. That’s an area bigger than France. Tribes are being threatened with extinction. Many animals and plants, some we never even knew existed, are also vanishing.

Much has been lost in those jungles.

More Reading
Vanished!: Explorers Forever Lost     

The Lost City

Many years ago, I read an article that has stayed with me about a doctor who tried to determine if the soul had weight. Over the years, I have seen that same story retold in various contexts: religious, scientific and New Age pseudoscientific.

You may have seen a film  21 Grams whose title refers to the early 20th-century research of physician Dr. Duncan MacDougall. He attempted to show scientific proof of the existence of the immortal human soul by recording a loss of body weight immediately following death. His hypothesis was that if any small amount of weight was lost at the moment after death, it was due to the departure of the soul.

MacDougall only had six patients in his experiment and the result he selected from one of them was that there was a loss of “three-fourths of an ounce.” That was, to him, the “weight of the soul” and it has since been popularized through the film and online as “21 grams.”

Though MacDougall’s results were published in the peer-reviewed journal American Medicine, his experiment has met with mostly criticism as sloppy research or even pseudoscience.

First off, MacDougall assumed that any weight loss was an indication of the soul, which is not the territory of science. When I first read about this experiment, my own thought was that since energy cannot be created or destroyed and since the living body does create and hold an electrical charge that can be measured, where does that charge go after death?

Talking about this with a friend, he suggested (only part jokingly) that the energy leaves the body at death and joins “The Force” (as in Star Wars) and becomes part of a larger energy field.  I found later that he is not alone in his belief in The Force as a kind of global soul or energy field that can be tapped by all of us – if we know how. In the Star Wars series, The Force is used for both good and evil, but it is never explained as being the soul. Anima mundi is the concept of a “world soul” connecting all living organisms on planet Earth.

I have done further reading over the years about all this and asked a few real scientists that I taught with at NJIT and it seems like a reasonable answer to my question and my friends answer is that the electrical charge gets grounded.

Our bodies generate electricity and that allows your nervous system to send signals to your brain and control the rhythm of your heartbeat, the movement of blood around your body and more.

The Earth also carries an enormous negative charge and our bodies connect with the Earth’s energy. Without getting too New Age, when you put your bare feet on the ground, you absorb large amounts of negative electrons (those are the good ones) through the soles of your feet. This effect maintains your body at the same negatively charged electrical potential as the Earth. This simple process is called “grounding” or “earthing,” and it is viewed as an antioxidant effect.

Dr. MacDougall was pretty careful for his time. He recorded patient’s exact time of death, total time on the bed, used the most precise scales available, recorded any changes in weight that occurred at the moment of death. He thought about other explanations for weight loss (bodily fluids like sweat and urine, and gases like oxygen and nitrogen) and factored that into his calculations.

The only modern experiments I have ever come across about finding the soul or the energy were using a kind of photography that could see energy fields and attempted to see the energy leaving the body. Those were inconclusive. I just recently found that MacDougall did another experiment in 1911 attempting to photograph the soul when it left a body.

He said (and it was reported in The New York Times then, that doing a dozen experiments, he photographed “a light resembling that of the interstellar ether” in or around patients’ skulls at the moments they died.

Science still has no interest in this line of soul research. I doubt that any research was done using a much larger sample size. There is even some controversy as to when the precise “moment” of death occurs. Is it cellular death, brain death, physical death or heart death?

Maybe the soul, if it exists, has no physical form that can be measured.

Dan Brown even references MacDougall’s experiments in his novel The Lost Symbol. A scientist character placed a dying man in an air-tight capsule, fitted with very sensitive micro weight detectors, and after his death showed a difference in weight “though microscopic, is quite measurable.” The novel’s experiment has some of the same flaws as MacDougall’s experiment.

But wouldn’t it be comforting to prove that we each have a souls that lives on after we die?

We have been considering this idea of a soul for a very long time. Religious, philosophical and mythological traditions often view the soul (perhaps by a different name) as  essence of a living being and it can be mortal or immortal.

In Judeo-Christianity, only human beings have immortal souls. Thomas Aquinas attributed soul/anima to all organisms but argued that only human souls are immortal. Hinduism and Jainism hold that all biological organisms – your pets and the flea on your dog – have souls. Aristotle also believed that. In some philosophies (animism), even non-biological entities – rivers and mountains – have souls.

Science still isn’t interested. I have read that functional neuroimaging has mapped every function once associated with the soul to specific regions and structures of the brain.

Physicists have mapped the connections between subatomic particles and need no spiritual explanations. But they have also said that dark matter makes up more than 80 percent of the universe’s mass, but we haven’t actually seen a single atom of it. That requires at least some non-religious faith.

I agree with Hamlet that still “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

A friend loaned me the book There Are No Accidents: Synchronicity and the Stories of Our Lives years ago because I had been talking to her about synchronicity. Carl Jung coined the term to describe coincidences that are related by meaningfulness rather than by cause and effect. “Jung introduced the idea of ​​synchronicity to strip the fantasy, magic, and superstition which surround and are provoked by unpredictable, startling, and impressive events that appear to be connected.

I found another similar book, There Are No Coincidences: Synchronicity as the Modern-Day Mystical Experience, whose title suggest that the “more than” part of these experiences may be mystical.

I would think that all of us have had some otherwise unrelated events occur  us for which we assumed some significance beyond the ordinary. The common example is when you happen to remember a person you have not thought about or seen for many years, and at that moment your telephone rings and it is that very person. What is the statistical probability that this can happen? Very small; very unlikely. For some people, the explanation moves to the paranormal.

I was looking at an almanac page online on March 13th and came upon a story from 3/13/1997 about when thousands of people reported mysterious lights over Arizona. Around 8 p.m., a man in Henderson, Nevada, saw a V-shaped object “the size of a 747,” with six lights on its leading edge. The lights moved diagonally from northwest to southeast. Other people sighted seeing the same thing over the next hour throughout Arizona. They were seen as far south as Tucson nearly 400 miles away.

A rendering of the object seen created by witness Tim Ley that appeared in USA Today.

I remember those “Phoenix Lights” being covered by the media in 1997. Having grown up in the late 1950s and 1960s, I heard many tales of UFOs.

A repeat of the lights occurred February 6, 2007, and was recorded by the local Fox News television station. But, as was the case with almost every UFO appearance in my youth, it was explained away by officials. In this case, the military and FAA said that it was flares dropped by F-16 aircraft training at Luke Air Force Base.

Reading that account made me think of my own one and only possible “close encounter.” That phrase entered the mainstream with the release of Steven Spielberg’s 1977 film Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

My own encounter would be of the first kind – seeing a UFO fairly close (within 150 metres). An encounter with a UFO that leaves evidence behind, such as scorch marks on the ground or indents, etc., is said to be of the second kind. Spielberg’s film deals with the third kind – an encounter with visible occupants of a UFO. The fourth kind involves the person being taken and experimented on inside the alien craft. The fifth kind involves direct communication between aliens and humans, as portrayed in the 2016 film, Arrival.

My sighting was in the summer of 1993 in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey. UFO sightings in the Pinelands seem to be fairly common. I saw what I would describe as a ship that was (as I later discovered) a lenticular saucer. It was motionless over a lake in the early morning (about 3 am). It had no sound or flashing lights, but a thing red-lit ring encircled it.  I had no camera. No one else was there with me. I watched it for about a minute and then it lifted vertically a few feet, tilted at an angle, and took off rapidly, vanishing from sight in a few seconds.

I don’t know what I saw. I never read any news reports about it. I never reported it.

After I read that almanac entry on the Phoenix Lights, I looked at another almanac kind of website for more information and that site that told me that on March 13 in 1855, Percival Lowell was born. Who was he? Born to a wealthy family, he graduated from Harvard, but he passed on working in the family business and instead did a lot of traveling and travel writing. In the 1890s, he read that astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli had discovered what appeared to be canals on Mars. Lowell was fascinated by that idea and put his fortune into studying the Red Planet.

He believed that the canals offered proof of intelligent life. He built a private observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona.

Astronomers and scientists were skeptical of his view of intelligent life on Mars, but the general public was intrigued by his view. Lowell’s writing and observations had an impact, not as much on science as on the infant literary genre that became known as science fiction.

These two coincidences on March 13 led me to check out that date on Wikipedia. The event that caught my attention on yet another March 13, in 1781, was that the English astronomer Sir William Herschel discovered the planet Uranus. Well, “discover” may be too strong because John Flamsteed had observed it in 1690, but thought it was a star. Herschel was the first to figure out that it was a planet and not a star.

He observed the planet’s very slow movement and determined that meant it was very far from the Sun – farther than Saturn, which was the farthest known planet. He named it after Ouranos, the Greek god of the sky. Since then, astronomers have discovered 27 moons orbiting the blue-green ice giant. The moons have literary names, mostly characters from Shakespeare’s plays. Uranus is an odd planet in that its axis is tilted so far that it appears to be lying on its side with its rings circling the planet vertically.

Was it a coincidence that I found these three stories that day? Is there some synchronicity that these three events occurred on the same calendar date?  Is there a connection among these three March Thirteenths?

Though I believe in synchronicity, they seem to be coincidental. I found connections because I was looking for connections.

But I am open-minded about the idea. A quick search for synchronicity-related quotes turned up many.  Just reading a few might make you rethink coincidences, or lead you to read more about the idea of synchronicity. Maybe.

“Causality is the way we explain the link between two successive events. Synchronicity designates the parallelism of time and meaning between psychic and psychophysical events, which scientific knowledge so far has been unable to reduce to a common principle.”  ― C.G. Jung, The Portable Jung

“We do not create our destiny; we participate in its unfolding. Synchronicity works as a catalyst toward the working out of that destiny.”  – David Richo, The Power of Coincidence: How Life Shows Us What We Need to Know

“Coincidences give you opportunities to look more deeply into your existence.”  ― Doug Dillon

“I live for coincidences. They briefly give to me the illusion or the hope that there’s a pattern to my life, and if there’s a pattern, then maybe I’m moving toward some kind of destiny where it’s all explained.” – Jonathan Ames

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Wheatfield With Crows – 1890

Martin Scorsese and Akira Kurosawa are both film directors with distinctive visual languages and ways of moving the camera. A  director will sometimes use storyboards and paintings to visualize a script.

Kurosawa had 60-year career that includes classic films like Rashomon, The Seven Samurai and Ran. He was a painter and you can see that in his films. One of his last films was Dreams (1990). It was the first of his films for which he alone wrote the screenplay.

It has eight vignettes, based on eight recurring dreams. The fifth episode is “Crows” in which Kurosawa used Martin Scorsese in the role of Vincent Van Gogh.

The film begins in a gallery with several Van Gogh paintings. An art student is studying the paintings and he enters the French countryside of the paintings.

The film is in brilliant van Gogh colors and brush strokes. The student meets Vincent. Although Dreams is in Japanese, this episode is not – the student speaks French to a group of women, and Vincent speaks regular Scorsese New York English. (The video below also has Spanish subtitles.)  I almost wish there was no dialogue, as the visuals are what are most interesting.

“CROWS”

Trailer for DREAMS

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Every end is also a beginning. First snow of the season.  Not enough to start the snowblower, but enough to start a fire. If you have to make shavings to start the fire, you may as well whittle something useful, then have a sip and do some #readingbravely in the snow. I’m the first human here.  Today. Sunset before a snowstorm.

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