Sunday, August 18, 2013

Paris Through a Camera Lens – Story Prompt

I’ve always been fascinated by the stories a photograph can tell. Why take that picture? Why not aim a few inches to the left? What would happen if you zoomed in? Took a panoramic view? Shot from below? Who do we include in our photos? Who do we ignore? How do we edit the images – do we crop out unnecessary detail and how do we decide what’s important to keep? How do we present the images to craft a linear understanding of time and place? Do we edit for theme, style, humor? I guess it’s no surprise that these questions perk along in my brain. Photography is just another form of storytelling, and I’m a storyteller.

What if you didn’t know the story behind the image? What if the story you’d always thought was true turned out to be a fantasy? I thought for YEARS that my uncle had two little girls that “we just didn’t talk about” since his first marriage ended in divorce. YEARS. Because I’d seen a photograph of him with these two kids and somehow cobbled together a story that didn’t really make sense (we’re not the kind of family to shun children, for goodness’ sake). But to my young mind it made enough sense that I didn’t question it until I was a young adult. Turns out the girls were his nieces by marriage and when the marriage ended, so did that relationship. Quite an elaborate fantasy to build on the basis of a single photo seen once as a youngster.

At the end of July, my dad and I traveled to Paris for a few days. It was a delightful trip (if way too short). Between us, we took 244 photographs. All those moments of choice – this window display, not that one. This vista from this angle. This monument, this slice of life moment, this image bound in pixels forever and ever, amen.

It got me thinking.   

1)   What if that photo of a daughter and her father toasting their time together in Paris was actually documentation of a nefarious scientist and her trusty lab manager celebrating their newest plot to take over the world? (Taken in the courtyard of the Hotel Athene)   

2)   What if this swanky hotel restaurant was the rendezvous location of their annual SPECTRE board meeting (instead of just a really great place to have Sunday brunch; The Royal  Monceau Hotel). Heck, they have an image of Sean Connery on the wall. Could James Bond be far behind?  

3)   What if their evil plan included syphoning off all the champagne in the world, storing it in the Eiffel Tower and then making people pay even more exorbitant prices for a bit of bubbly than we already do? One meeellion Euros anyone?  

4)   What if, in addition to stealing the world’s champagne reserves, this mad scientist took a page out of Dr. Frankenstein’s diary, but instead of reanimating human corpses, she decided dinosaurs were her thing. Dinosaurs painted gold, with a thing for Louis Vuitton (Look closely at Dino's mouth.). I think I like where this is going… 

5)   What if, to appease this crazy smart evil, yet charismatic seductive and alluring scientist, the powers that be offered her ownership of Versailles and a never ending supply of Veuve Cliquot?  

6)   I think the scientist said yes, fell in love with her new home – and the head gardener – and lived happily ever after.

What about you? Have you ever made up a story to fit what you think you’re seeing in an image? Was it as extreme as two missing cousins? Does looking at photos give you story inspiration? 

Monday, August 12, 2013

And Two Hardboiled Eggs: My Favorite Marx Brothers Moments

It doesn't take a lot to make me happy. Butter on my popcorn, ice in my soda, and something to make me smile. Popcorn and soda aside, the Marx Brothers have been making me smile ever since I can remember. And because a smile is more fun if you share it, here are a few of my favorite Marx Brothers moments. I hope you catch my case of the giggles!

And Two Hardboiled Eggs – A Night at the Opera

Released in 1935, A Night at the Opera is unquestionably the Marx Brothers' masterpiece. Groucho stars as Otis B. Driftwood, a wannabe player in the Italian opera. Chico and Harpo are Fiorello and Tomasso, scatterbrained but loyal to their friend Ricardo (the handsome Allan Jones) who is in love with Rosa (Kitty Carlisle). When Rosa has the opportunity to go to New York, Fiorella, Tomasso and Ricardo stow away on her boat. Otis discovers the loverboy and his trusty sidekicks in his stateroom, and is pressured into helping them to stay concealed. Part of this is ordering the starving men some food. The following video shows why, whenever I'm making a grocery list, my husband calls out "and two hardboiled eggs!"


The Mirror Scene – Duck Soup

In this 1933 political satire, Groucho plays Rufus T. Firefly, the president/dictator of a bankrupt country called Freedonia. Chico and Harpo are Chicollini and Pinky, two silly spies from Sylvania, Freedonia's neighbor and enemy. In the following classic scene, Pinky (Harpo) must fool Firefly (Groucho) into believing he's actually Firefly's reflection in a mirror. My favorite moment: when the two men swap positions, smiling at each other all while!


The Password Scene – Horse Feathers

I remember seeing this 1932 movie on television when I was nine years old (which would make it about twenty years ago, right? Ahem, moving on…). Groucho plays Quincy Adams Wagstaff, the president of Huxley University. To win the football game against the school's rival, Darwin U, Huxley recruits Bavarelli and Pinky (Chico and Harpo) to play on the team. These fellas are "icemen" (deliverymen of bootleg liquor), and are recruited through a series of misunderstandings. In the following scene, Wagstaff is trying to get into a speakeasy, and Baravelli is guarding the door.

…And We Gotta Go Back – A Night at the Opera

And we're back with my favorite Marx Brothers film, A Night at the Opera. Here, in order to evade the authorities and successfully get off the ship, the three plucky heroes impersonate a trio of famous aviators. Wearing the aviators' beards (which they cut off and pasted on their faces – what could possibly go wrong?) and uniforms, the men happily march off the ship. Only to find that they are now expected to make a speech about their heroic journey. This scene explains why, when I'm asked about a journey, I'll sometimes answer "we almost got there, then we ran out of gas and had to go back."


What makes you smile? Do you have any favorite Marx Brothers moments?

Sunday, August 4, 2013

One Is Silver and the Other Gold

With the end of summer right around the corner, we in the Christoff household are making the most of the fleeting season. You can find us in the great outdoors nearly every weekend now. And if the evening is crisp and cool, you'll find us gathered around a campfire.

A Christoff Campfire

Do you remember that old campfire song? The one about friendship? You know the one I mean. It reminds us to "make new friends, but keep the old." Why? Because "one is silver and the other gold."

These words were never more true than this weekend when one of my oldest friends brought her family to my campfire circle. She and I were kids ourselves when we met at camp almost thirty years ago. But if you'd have seen us this weekend, you might've thought we were still kids with the way we joked and laughed.

Around my campfire this weekend, my friend reminded me of who I used to be--and who I still am. Seeing myself through my friend's eyes, I remembered my strengths. And I remembered those strengths had always been a part of me. Best of all, in the golden glow of the campfire, I remembered those strengths had been with me for so long, they probably weren't going to go anywhere without me.

When autumn comes and winter is finally here, and all the pressures of daily living put a damper on my spirits, I'll look back on those summer evenings, both recent and long ago, with my friend. I'll remember what it is to be a friend. And, thanks to my friend, I'll remember I can be myself.

As I look forward to the seasons to come, I hope I'll always make new friends. I hope I'll always keep the old. Because one is certainly silver, and the other is the truest gold.

Now it's your turn to talk to the Rockville 8. Do you have a friend who's as good as gold?  What does her friendship mean to you?