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Our Town is a 1938 three-act play by American playwright Thornton Wilder. It tells the story of the fictional American small town of Grover’s Corners between 1901 and 1913 through the everyday lives of its citizens.
As far as I can recall, it was the first play I saw on a professional stage. At some point during my junior high or high school years, we took a class trip to see it performed at McCarter Theatre in Princeton, New Jersey. Serendipitously, that is also where it was first staged in 1938.
It went on to Broadway and won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. It remains popular today and revivals of it are frequent, especially with student productions.
One reason for its performance popularity is the deliberate minimalism of the staging and sets. Wilder sets the play in the theater where it is being performed. It is often staged with only a few tables, chairs, benches and ladders on the stage. The audience is asked to see someone on a ladder as being at a second floor window, for example.
A main character is the stage manager who directly addresses the audience. My recollection of my first impression in seeing the play (totally unprepared by my teacher) is that I was disappointed. What a lousy set! It looks like a rehearsal. Not even as nice as some of our school productions.
And the stage manager seemed like a narrator (We had those in school plays.) but he would bring in guest lecturers, answer questions from the audience (Were those real audience members or shills?) and even filled in playing some other roles. (Couldn’t they hire a few more actors?).
Most of the time the actors didn’t have props and would mime actions. (They couldn’t afford some ordinary household items?)
I did like that there were some characters our age. George Gibbs meets his neighbor Emily Webb outside the gate of her house after school. Some romance brewing. Emily confers with her mom. Then the Stage Manager thanks them and dismisses Emily and her mom.
The Stage Manager tells us that a time capsule will be placed in the foundation of a new bank building in town. He wants to put a copy of Our Town into the time capsule.
By Act II, it is three years later and George and Emily are getting married.
Act III is what I remembered best. I went back to the play to fill in the blank spaces. It is only nine years later, but we are in a cemetery outside town. Emily has died in childbirth. This is a burial.
The dead who inhabit the cemetery were sitting in chairs at the front of the stage and they speak. Death has made them pretty much indifferent to the living. Emily isn’t ready to join them. She misses life and wants to go back.
The Stage Manager can do whatever and he allows Emily to go back and relive her twelfth birthday.
As both 12 year old Emily and dead Emily walks through that day, she sees it differently. She appreciates the beauty and preciousness of the everyday and realizes that her parents and the other living characters do not appreciate it at all.
She goes back to the cemetery where George is at her tomb. She is sad because she knows that the living do not understand life. She asks the Stage Manager if anyone understands the value of life while they live it. “No. The saints and poets, maybe – they do some, ” he tells her.
Emily returns to her grave. The Stage Manager concludes the play, wishes the audience a good night, and the play ends.
There is a 1940 film version of Our Town. It stars William Holden and Martha Scott. It was free to watch on Amazon if you have a Prime membership. Although it follows most of the play, it takes some big liberties. One big change is that it has a happy Hollywood ending.
Thornton Wilder was unhappy with that 1940 film (and also a 1957 musical versions of the play). Before his death, in 1975, Wilder worked to have a definitive version of his play. That version was broadcast on NBC in 1977, with Holbrook, Ned Beatty, Sada Thompson, John Houseman, Glynnis O’Connor and Robby Benson. The Wilder estate was so satisfied that they decided there was no need to permit another television version of the play, but they did make an exception for a PBS production in 1989.
We just don’t understand. Prove the Stage Manager wrong.
Regular readers of this blog will know that I have a penchant for time travel stories. So, it is with some interest that I find that the old-fashioned TV networks are lining some up time travel TV for the new seasons.
NBC has Timeless, billed as a thriller about some misfits time traveling to try to stop a criminal mastermind.
On ABC, we’ll get Time After Time which has the 19th century sci-fi author H.G. Wells (who wrote The Time Machine and started a lot of this) searching for an escaped Jack the Ripper who has traveled to modern-day New York using Wells’ time machine.
If that sounds familiar, it is because it is based on a 1979 movie also called Time After Time . That’s a film I really enjoyed. Jack the Ripper, a serial killer of the 19th century, turns out to be a doctor acquaintance of Wells who evades the police by using Wells’ time machine. However, Dr. Stevenson may have escaped to the future, but because he does not have the “non-return” key, the time machine automatically returns to 1893. H.G. Wells uses it to pursue Stevenson to 1979, where the machine has ended up on display at a museum in San Francisco.
Wells, the real life author now fictionalized, is shocked and disappointed by the future. His predictions had been of an enlightened socialist utopia. He finds a future of war, crime and bloodshed that is better suited to Jack the Ripper.
On FOX, they are going in a comic direction with the mid-season show Making History which will have buddies who jump in time back to historical events, such as the Revolutionary War.
Minus the comedy, that last one reminds me of The Time Tunnel show that was on in 1966–1967. It only lasted one season, but that was in a time when a season ran for 30 episodes. The show was inspired by the 1964 movie The Time Travelers.
I loved that show in 1967. The special effects look pretty poor by today’s standards, but the plot was also about two top-secret U.S. government time travelers who move from one period in history to another. Episodes were set in the past and future. In the series, the two travelers literally jumped into the “tunnel” before the technology was really ready and so become lost in time. I figured back then that I was learning some history when I watched the show. It also was the first time I thought about that paradox of what would happen if you went back in time and changed anything.
UPDATE: I don’t know if the series currently reruns on any channels, but it is available from Amazon. A reader emailed me to say that the series is available, though in an odd format, for free on YouTube. I watched a few episodes today. It is pretty much as I remember it, and about as dated as any memories I have of 1966. Corny, with tacky effects and I can completely see why it appealed to my 13 year-old brain.
Today’s Full Moon (May 21, 2016) is the third of four full moons to occur between the March equinox and the June solstice and so it can be called a Blue Moon. To be precise, it occurs at 21:14 Universal Time, but it looked full last night and will look full to many people tomorrow night too.
No blue color to the moon, though we often see moon or night photos that have a blue cast to them because of the way cameras often interpret the color of sunlight and moonlight as respectively red/orange and blue.
Movies often use filters to change those colors. Francois Truffaut made a film I like titled Day for Night (La Nuit américaine) for the film-making process referred to in French as la nuit américaine (“American night”) of shooting outdoors in daylight with film stock balanced for tungsten (indoor) light and underexposed (or adjusted during post production) to make the final result appear as if it was filmed at night. In English the technique is called “day for night. ” As more sensitive low-light film became available and with the takeover of digital, shooting day for night is not as common. In the Truffaut film, it also implies that other things are not as they seem.
This is a Blue Full Moon by one older definition of the term as described above.A more recent definition is that a Blue Moon is a second full moon in the same month. Today’s full moon doesn’t fit that definition. That definition of the Blue Moon won’t come around until won’t happen until January 31, 2018 and will only occur 7 or 8 times in 19 calendar years.
Look up tonight and if you see the Full Moon clearly you will also see a brilliant “star” following it. That is Mars, shining much brighter than any star. Mars will also be move on May 22 into opposition and be the brightest Mars we have seen in 10 years.
This Full Moon has many names including Hare Moon, Merry or Dyad Moon, Fright Moon, Flower Moon, Frogs Return Moon, Thrimilcmonath (Thrice-Milk Month) or Milk Moon, Sproutkale, Winnemonoth (Joy Month), Planting Moon, and Moon When the Ponies Shed.
Many cultures celebrated this month. The Greek goddess Maia, the most important of the Seven Sisters (the Pleiades) and said to be the mother of Hermes, gave the name to this month. The Romans called her Maius, goddess of Summer, and honored her during Ambarvalia, a family festival for the purification and protection of farm land. In the Celtic cultures, May was called Mai or Maj, a month of sexual freedom. Green was worn during this month to honor the Earth Mother. May 1 was the Celtic festival of Beltane, a festival celebrating fertility of all things. Cattle were driven through the Beltane bonfires for purification and fertility. In Wales, Creiddylad was a character connected with this festival and often called the May Queen. The maypole and its dance is a remnant of these old festivities.
This can be the Buddha Full Moon when it occurs near the Buddha-Wesak Festival. The date of Buddha’s birthday varies but it is said that Buddha was born, died and received enlightenment on the Full Moon in Scorpio and many followers consider this the highest spiritual day of the year.
I’m planning a road trip for next month and a vacation for June and in my notebook I found a list of travel films that I have learned lessons from watching. Queue them all up and you have a good on-the-road film festival and prep session while you look at maps and guides and make reservations.
The Wizard of Oz – Pick your travel companions with care. Don’t be concerned with food or lodgings. Do be concerned with witches and flying monkeys. No matter how good the trip, it should also be good to be back home again.
National Lampoon’s Vacation – A road trip with family, as child or parent, will present many lessons. As with life and school, you will fail at some.
Before Sunrise – You should take a serendipitous journey alone. You should meet a beautiful/handsome person along the way. If you go back there at sunset or midnight, don’t expect things to be as good as they were before.
Up – Take that trip you and your spouse have been talking about for years now before it’s too late.
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade – Take a trip with your Dad. Or son, depending on your age and point of view. (What film could be the Mom or daughter version?)
Broken Flowers – Go on one cross-country search for old girl/boyfriends in search of answers. (Not connected to any 12-step program)
The Darjeeling Limited – Go to an exotic place filled with things that you have never seen and smells that tell you that you’re not in Kansas anymore.
Planes, Trains and Automobiles – Be nice to fellow travelers. You never know.
The Lord of the Rings – Undertake an adventure trip full of possible peril. Once. After that, there is no need for you to do it again. You have nothing to prove. Your home is quite comfortable and there are so many books unread and films unseen.
Lost In Translation – Be prepared to be a stranger in a strange land. Try to have Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson around just in case.
I’m sure you have other films to add to the festival list. How about if you make a comment and give us a film and a short reason for its inclusion.
Data has always been with us. But you certainly can find a spike in the use of the word “data” in the last 75 years to coincide with the “Information Age,” computers and the Net.
The Latin word “data” is the plural of the rarely used”datum.” It is a bit of a word oddity as it is most commonly used in the singular, as a mass noun (like “information”, “sand” or “rain”).
We generate so much data – facts and statistics collected together for reference or analysis – that we have to come up with interesting ways to describe the amount.
Every two days the human race is now generating as much data as was generated from the dawn of humanity through 2003.
We are exposed to as much information in a day as our 15th century ancestors were exposed to in a lifetime.
In the first day of a baby’s life, the human race generates 70 times the information contained in the Library of Congress.
Those examples come from a film, “The Human Face of Big Data” that discusses things like “Big Data,” a word that was barely used a few years ago but now works its way into our lives in obvious and unseen ways.
There is much in the film about data visualization using the streams of data that come from our phones, web activities, satellites, sensors and the GPS car units, cameras and smart phones we own.
“Datum” is Latin meaning literally “something given,’” (a form of dare “give”). I find that origin interesting because we give so much data to others intentionally and unintentionally. Every time I post on this or any blog, on Twitter or Facebook, or sign up for an online account, I give data away. Others use that data, often to make money, sometimes to do something good.
The film calls all our connected devices a kind of “planetary nervous system.” The possibilities for ways to help humanity with the challenges of things like pollution, hunger, and illness, but we are also in the age of Edward Snowden and the NSA and data access has a cost in privacy.
Rather than drop into the abyss of the loss of privacy, I’m more interested in what big data might do to improve our lives. But that privacy issue is tough to get past.
One part of the film looks at Deb Roy and his MIT colleagues who wanted to examine how children acquire language. Deb Roy and his wife decided to give a lot of data about their newborn son for the sake of that research. Privacy? they put cameras in the ceiling in each room of their home and recorded every moment of their lives for the next two years.
When my sons were babies, my wife and I recorded in a book all their first word attempts and actual words. We are both language teachers and it was fun and educational. But we didn’t make our data public or add it to any database. Is that safe or selfish?