Subscribe via RSS Feed Connect on Google Plus Connect on Flickr

Author Archive: Eamonn Fitzgerald

Ex-pat Irishman keeping an eye on the world from the Bavarian side of the Alps.

rss feed Twitter

Author's Website

The Netflix Irishman of Scorsese, De Niro, Pacino

Thursday, 23 February, 2017 0 Comments

Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, Harvey Keitel… That’s what a $100 million budget can get you today. The big story, though, is that this star cast will be working on The Irishman for Netflix rather than one of the big studios and this indicates that something seismic is happening in the movie industry.

Anne Thompson of Indiewire, who broke the news of the deal, noted that The Irishman had long been planned as a Paramount Pictures production, but “Scorsese’s movie is a risky deal, and Paramount is not in the position to take risks. This way, he can make the project he wants.” And these projects involve serious money. STX Entertainment reportedly spent some $50 million for the international rights to The Irishman at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, which was very good news for Charles Brandt.

The Irishman The Irishman is based on Brandt’s best-selling book, I Heard You Paint Houses, about Frankie Sheeran, a killer who claimed he played a part in the legendary vanishing of the corrupt union boss Jimmy Hoffa. The book’s title, by the way, comes from the criminal slang for contract killings and the resulting blood splatter on walls.

Charles Brandt befriended Frankie Sheeran, who confessed to him that he’d been involved with the killing of Hoffa, who disappeared in 1975 and has never been seen since. Sheeran was an odious piece of work. He served with the US Army in Europe during World War II and experienced combat during the Italian Campaign, including the invasion of Sicily and the Battle of Cassino. He then took part in the landings in southern France and the Battle of the Bulge and admitted that he had been involved in several massacres of German POWs. He also claimed to have had inside information about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. According to Sheeran, Jimmy Hoffa wanted Kennedy dead, as Bobby Kennedy, the US Attorney General, was “persecuting” him. The killing of Kennedy was a Mafia hit, said Sheeran, who maintained he’d transported three rifles to the alleged assassins. Fact or fiction? Netflix is betting $100 million that people will want to watch, thanks to CGI, a youthful De Niro play Sheeran and Pacino star as Hoffa.


The rise and rise of the femme bots

Wednesday, 22 February, 2017 0 Comments

Joanna Stern, writing in The Wall Street Journal: Alexa, Siri, Cortana: The Problem With All-Female Digital Assistants. Snippet:

“You get the point: The virtual assistants popping up in our lives sound overwhelmingly female. ‘I’m female in character,’ Amazon’s Alexa responds if you ask her if she is a woman. In their own clever ways Google, Apple and Microsoft’s voice assistants will tell you they’re genderless…in unmistakably womanlike voices.

As femme bot after femme bot has invaded our phones , speakers, cars, TVs — even our refrigerators — I’ve been left wondering: Where the man bots at? And why do these hunks of plastic and electronics need to be assigned a gender at all? My Amazon Echo doesn’t have any reproductive organs.”

Apple’s Siri, by the way, is the only one of this bunch of bots with a male voice option: “Siri may default to a female voice in the U.S. but Apple provides both male and female voice options for iPhone and iPad users to choose from. In fact, on iPhones where the language is Arabic, French, Dutch or British English, Siri defaults to a male voice.”

Men and women may prefer female voices for their digital assistants, @WSJ writes, but adds, “it’s about time we had more male options.”


An Auden villanelle

Tuesday, 21 February, 2017 0 Comments

On this day in 1907, the English poet Wystan Hugh Auden was born and we’re celebrating his birthday with one of his lesser-known works written in the ‘villanelle’ form. The villanelle emerged during the Renaissance and the word comes from the Italian villano, or peasant. What began as Italian folksong turned into nineteen-line poems with two rhymes throughout, consisting of five tercets and a quatrain, with the first and third lines of the opening tercet recurring alternately at the end of the other tercets and with both repeated at the close of the final quatrain. The most famous villanelle in English is Dylan Thomas’s Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night.

WH Auden Written in 1940 during the darkest days of the Second World War, If I Could Tell You conveys Auden’s sense of uncertainty about the future of life and love.

If I Could Tell You

Time will say nothing but I told you so
Time only knows the price we have to pay;
If I could tell you I would let you know.

If we should weep when clowns put on their show,
If we should stumble when musicians play,
Time will say nothing but I told you so.

There are no fortunes to be told, although,
Because I love you more than I can say,
If I could tell you I would let you know.

The winds must come from somewhere when they blow,
There must be reason why the leaves decay;
Time will say nothing but I told you so.

Perhaps the roses really want to grow,
The vision seriously intends to stay;
If I could tell you I would let you know.

Suppose the lions all get up and go,
And the brooks and soldiers run away;
Will Time say nothing but I told you so?
If I could tell you I would let you know.

WH Auden (21 February 1907 – 29 September 1973)


The Boy in the Boat

Monday, 20 February, 2017 0 Comments

The excellent fiddler Fergal Scahill, who plays with We Banjo 3, decided he’d record a tune a day for the whole of 2017. Last week in Reykjavik, on Day 46 of the project, he played a reel titled The Boy in the Boat, also known as An Buachaill Sa Mbád.

A blues song with the title The Boy in the Boat was recorded in 1930 by George Hannah, who has been honoured for his contribution to “queer music” by The Pop-Up Museum of Queer History. The title of the tune/song is an anatomical allusion with sexual connotations and the lyrics go like this:

Now, did you ever hear the story ’bout that boy in a boat,
Don’t wear no shoes or no overcoat.
Broad told me that it happened like this.
He love to dive and also to fish.
He went roaming in that shallow boat.
With his head hardly rising and his eyes hard to cope.
Face is all wrinkled and his breath smells like soap.
Talking about that boy in the boat.


Trump as Uber

Sunday, 19 February, 2017 0 Comments

The Irish economist, broadcaster and author David McWilliams has made a handsome living by swimming against some of the more popular tides of the past decade and articulating his contrary positions eloquently and entertainingly. His insights on the Crash of 2008, the Brexit vote and the rise of Donald Trump have shown that his radar is finely tuned and have given him an aura of the oracle. That’s why his most recent article, Trump aims to do to the Washington insiders what Uber did to taxi drivers, is so valuable. Snippet:

“From now on, the relationship he intends to have with the American people (at least his American people) will not be mediated by the media. It will not be conditional on getting the ‘thumbs up or thumbs down’ from the commentariat and it will not be determined by experts. It will be as one to one.

By deploying Twitter, he has cut out the media. This is radical stuff and a total departure from decades, possibly centuries, of form.”

After he’s done with the media-establishment complex, what will President Trump disrupt next? According to David McWilliams, it could be the Fed and, if that were the case, “we are in for a big showdown at the very heart of the American economic system.” The current row with media would be a mere squib in comparison because “the near 30-year boom in American asset prices has been driven on the understanding that the Fed always wins.” Except that in a battle with Trump, the tribune of the precariat, the bankers will will not be able to call upon the commentariat for help.


We are all storytellers

Saturday, 18 February, 2017 0 Comments

In its own way, each daily post here, and here and here is a story. A rudimentary story, to be sure, but nevertheless a tale of some kind.

Story: Pixar, the subsidiary of The Walt Disney Company that specializes in computer animation, is partnering with the Khan Academy to offer a series of free online lessons in filmmaking called “Pixar in a Box”. Segments such as “Environment modeling” are fascinating, no doubt, but the most popular section for people of all ages and interests is bound to be “The Art of Storytelling.” What’s the secret? Blurb: “Storytelling is something we all do naturally, starting at a young age, but there’s a difference between good storytelling and great storytelling.” Hmmm. I could have said that. Still, Disney knows how to tell and sell stories so this should be worthwhile.


A Little Prayer for Friday

Friday, 17 February, 2017 0 Comments

Today is the birthday of Fred Frith, the English improvisational musician who’s famous for the range of implements he uses to play guitar, from traditional picks to fiddle bows, drum sticks, egg beaters, paint brushes, lengths of metal chain and other objects.

Here, he teams up with Dame Evelyn Glennie, the Scottish percussionist, on A Little Prayer, which she wrote while still a child at a time she’d already lost 90 percent of her hearing. This clip was filmed in a deserted sugar factory in Germany and is from the film Touch the Sound by Thomas Riedelsheimer.


Joshua Cowan’s Alpine Adventure

Thursday, 16 February, 2017 0 Comments

“In January i took a road trip through Europe visiting mountains, frozen lakes and steam trains in the forest,” says London-based video-maker Joshua Cowan, whose clients include, Under Armour, Adidas, Maserati, Vice, Sony and Visit Britain.


The algorithm will read your story today, Homer

Wednesday, 15 February, 2017 0 Comments

Modern mythology is created in film studios. There, the stories the global village has come to depend on for its entertainment and inspiration are turned into drama, comedy, action, science fiction, fantasy, thriller, horror, crime, noir, epic, western, war, romance, musicals, blockbusters…

As in the days of Homer, the secret of success is to tell the tale with emotion and imagery that the audience cannot forget. Easier said than done, of course, but if you’ve got $43,000 the American Film Institute Conservatory in Hollywood Hills will take it and, in return, you’ll get some of that old storytelling magic. Blurb: “Tomorrow’s storytellers are placed in a hands-on, production-based environment and are trained by a group of dedicated working professionals from the film and television communities.” In the end, however, it all comes back to Homer: “The AFI Conservatory doesn’t believe there is a formula for making films. Fellows are instead encouraged to find and develop a unique voice as they are trained in the art of storytelling.”

This is all very touching but it doesn’t mention the Epagogix algorithm. Epagogix is a privately-held UK company that “brings together expertise in risk, finance, artificial intelligence and film analysis to create innovative tools and solutions for the hard decisions that senior company directors need to make.” Yes, that’s right, “film analysis.” So, how does it work? Here goes:

Epagogix works confidentially with the senior management of major film studios, large independents and other media companies, assisting with the selection and development of scripts by identifying likely successes and probable ‘Turkeys’; helping to quantify a script/project’s commercial success; and advising on enhancements to the Box office/audience share potential.

Epagogix’s approach helps management of this most critical financial risk by delivering accurate predictive analysis of the Box Office value of individual film scripts, and by identifying and quantifying how and where to improve their commercial value. If requested, Epagogix sensitively bridges the gap between the financial and creative aspects of film production by providing quantified insights and advice to those responsible for script development.

Note the advice “to those responsible for script development.” That’s you, Homer.

Homer


Ausonius and Attusia and Valentinian

Tuesday, 14 February, 2017 0 Comments

Decimus Magnus Ausonius was the most famous poet of his time and Emperor Valentinian I summoned him to Rome to teach his son Gratian. He spent the years between 365 and 388 there and then returned to his native Bordeaux. In this epigram for his wife, Attusia, he pictures them still youthful in their old age. It is a haunting vision of a couple fully in love ageing together… and it’s entirely imaginary because Attusia died when she was 28. Forty years later, Ausonius wrote Ad Uxorem (To His Wife).

To His Wife

Love, let us live as we have lived, nor lose
The little names that were the first night’s grace,
And never come the day that sees us old,
I still your lad, and you my little lass.
Let me be older than old Nestor’s years,
And you the Sibyl, if we heed it not.
What should we know, we two, of ripe old age?
We’ll have its richness, and the years forgot.

Translation from the Latin by Helen Waddell (1889 – 1965)

Ad Uxorem

Uxor, vivamus quod viximus et teneamus
nomina quae primo sumpsimus in thalamo;
nec ferat ulla dies, ut commutemur in aevo,
quin tibi sim iuvenis tuque puella mihi.
Nestore sim quamvis provectior aemulaque annis
vincas Cumanam tu quoque Deiphoben,
nos ignoremus quid sit matura senectus,
scire aevi meritum, non numerare decet.

Ausonius (310 – 395)


@HumanVsMachine

Monday, 13 February, 2017 0 Comments

Hardly a week goes by without some “expert” or other predicting that by, say, 2020, millions and millions of jobs will be lost in developed economies due to robotics, AI, cloud computing, 3D printing, machine learning and related technologies. Hardest hit will be people doing office and factory work, but other sectors, from trucking to healthcare, will be affected “going forward,” as lovers of business cliché love to say.

The Twitter feed @HumanVSMachine features images showing the increasing automation of work. The footage of people doing a job side-by-side with videos of robots doing the same thing suggests a sombre future of post-human work.

Philippe Chabot from Montreal is the human behind @HumanVSMachine. He was a graphic artist in the video industry and he had plenty of work, once upon a time. But companies began outsourcing their artwork and Chabot found himself competing a globalized market where rivals can create a logo for $5 and software automatically designs avatars. Today, Philippe Chabot works in a restaurant kitchen and he feeds @HumanVSMachine in his free time.

Note: This image of “Robot Baby Feeder; Robot, baby bottle, crib, toy” by Philipp Schmitt is included in the “Hello, Robot. Design between Human and Machine” exhibition at the Vitra Design Museum in Weil am Rhein in Germany.

Raising robot