by John on April 7th, 2010
I still remember being twelve years old and walking home after seeing Ray Harryhausen’s movie Jason and the Argonauts. I was absolutely exhilarated. While Harryhausen’s style of stop action animation seems primitive compared with today’s CGI effects, it was state of the art at the time, and I realized that movies could show me things I’d never see in real life.
I just found out this year that there was a text version, rather than an oral tradition, so I ordered Jason and the Golden Fleece (the Argonautica) by Apollonius of Rhodes. It’s a pretty dry read, but I was surprised how much of the story found its way into the 1963 movie.
The catalog of Greek heroes, for instance, who joined the voyage, shows up in both the movie and book. So are the giant statue Talos (who attacks the ship), the Harpies who plague the prophet Phineas, the clashing rocks (held apart by Athena in the book, Poseidon in the movie), the giant serpent guarding the fleece (a Hydra in the movie), and the army that springs from the ground when the serpent’s teeth are planted (skeletons in the movie).
Harryhausen and nominal director Don Chaffey rearrange many of the scenes and omit others all together. Medea‘s role gets reduced to that of babe in skimpy outfit and she deserves better. While I can’t in good conscience recommend the book (which lacks the Bernard Herrmann score, among other things), the movie still gives me a thrill.
by Heidi on February 2nd, 2010
Heavenly Vaults: From Romanesque to Gothic in European Architecture by David Stephenson takes you on a journey through medieval churches, basilicas and cathedrals in England, France, Spain, Italy, and other European countries.
The photography by Stephenson is stunning. You will recognize the perspective immediately if you have ever wandered through an old cathedral with your head tipped back, staring straight up at the arching stonework overhead. The sense of height captured in the pictures is remarkable, and the photos are cropped to give a sense of perfect geometry and balance.
This is coffee table sized book, with a single photo filling each page. Often the side-by-side pages are pictures from the same church: one showing the nave, the other showing the crossing, for instance. The images of the stonework, painted designs and stained glass of these vaulted ceilings are kaleidoscopic as you turn the pages.
The text is at the back of the book, where you will find a history of the construction techniques of these ancient churches. There are thumbnail photos and page numbers there, to send you back to the original picture.
The photographer has captured the awe-inspiring beauty of these grand structures and allows us, in his words, to see “the great Gothic churches as some of the most compelling art ever produced, still capable of providing an all-encompassing transcendent experience.” Direct from the comfort of your armchair.
by Anne on October 10th, 2008
Ever since the first governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony, John Winthrop, gave his "A Model of Christian Charity" sermon, everyone from President Kennedy to Governor Palin have invoked the image of a "city upon a hill" to describe America’s role in the world. In The Wordy Shipmates, Sarah Vowell takes a look at the speech, as well as how the Puritans, with Winthrop as governor, live up to it. After several religious evictions, cruel and unusual punishments, and a bloody war with the Pequots, Winthrop’s Boston, his "city upon a hill," isn’t really the harmonious communal society he was calling for. Nathaniel Hawthorne, author of The Scarlet Letter, once said, "Let us thank God for having such ancestors; and let each successive generation thank Him, no less fervently, for being one step further from them in the march of ages."
Although the subject of the book may seem a little gloomy, Sarah Vowell brings her humorous observations and references to current popular culture to table. So it’s a quick, fun read. Some Vowell fans might be disappointed that she keeps moving in an historical direction, instead of writing her eclectic essays of The Partly Cloudy Patriot and Take the Cannoli. But Vowell has always showed an interest in history and The Wordy Shipmates is the result of a natural progression.
I highly recommend checking out the audiobook version. Her previous audiobooks were fantastic and this one shouldn’t disappoint.