Undigital

I understand that digital effects in film are the new rage, that they have forever changed what we see on the screen, but that doesn’t mean I have to be happy about it. Old-fashioned models and puppets may have been obviously fake, but their limitations were, in some ways, good for film-makers.

For example, the space battles in the first three Star Wars films (which are actually the last three films, if you get my meaning) were created using models. The movement of the ships may seem odd at times, but it’s easy to follow the flow of battle, and it’s possible to become emotionally invested in the outcome. These battles, created without digital effects, are engaging and exciting.

Compare that with the last two Star Wars films (which are actually the first two films, if you get my meaning). The space battle in The Phantom Menace may be beautiful (though that’s arguable), but it’s dull. There are too many ships, and things happen too quickly. Worse is the land-based battle in Attack of the Clones. The battlefield explodes with a bewildering array of combatants, and laser fire flashes in every direction. The screen is filled with action. And it all sucks. There’s no narrative thread, so it makes no sense. The film-makers have become obsessed with their effects at the expense of their story.

One of the reasons I so dislike Peter Jackson’s Helms Deep is the endless digitally-created Battle of Helms Deep. It not only looks fake, it’s also overwhelming. I would have preferred a scene created without the use of digital effects. The constraints would have forced Peter Jackson to become more firmly grounded in reality, and to give the audience something with which to indetify.

Kris and I saw The Last Samurai the other night. It’s a decent film. The climactic battle scene is a mix of live-action combat and digital animation. The live-action stuff looks great, but the digital stuff looks to uniform, too artificial, too fake. It threw me out of the film.

Are the problems with digital effects primarily due to the infancy of the medium? Are the creators of these effects too tempted to go over the top, unable to show a modicum of restraint? Will things settle in the future? I hope so, but I�m not convinced.

The battles in The Return of the King feature a lot of digital work, too, but I’m happy to say that I was mostly impressed with the way in which it was handled. It seemed to enhance the battles rather than detract from them. I can’t imagine creating the overhead shots of the charge of the Rohirrim without using digital effects.

For my part, until the digital wizards learn to exercise restraint, I prefer my films to have very little digital enhancement. Part of what made Master and Commander so compelling was that the battles contained little, if any, digital work. (Maybe I�m wrong, but I don’t think so.) One reason that I’m reluctant to see Troy is the absurd scene from the preview in which we pan from viewing a single ship to viewing an evenly spaced fleet of perfectly identical vessels — the mythical “thousand ships” — an utter absurdity born of someone’s orgasmic passion for digital effects. It’s lame.

Comments

On 19 December 2003 (01:08 PM),
dowingba said:

Well, for one thing, the space battles in the first three Star Wars films (or the last three, sir, if you catch my meaning, that is) are “visual effects”, they just aren’t “computer effects”.

I have long had a problem with the influx of Computer Animation too. My biggest problem, though, has always been the textures. Up until 2001 or so, I hadn’t ever seen a computer graphic that looked as good as old style stop-motion just because the textures were always so crappy looking. In the last few years though, texture-modelling seems to have made great leaps.

The battles in all three LOTR movies seem chaotic enough to be a realistic depiction of medieval style warfare. I see no problem (except for the lack of any dialogue or flow in the Helm’s Deep scene).

My biggest problem with the Two Towers, is that the entire movie is just a build up to the Helm’s Deep scene. It’s a 3.5 hour foreshadow, that gets incredibly tedious, especially to one who has all but memorized the book. Also, because they stripped so much away from the Frodo/Sam/Gollum story, it seems like there isn’t even a point to it. They’re just wandering around from place to place. Frankly, except for a few minor events, The Two Towers could basically be ignored and the plot would continue flawlessly from where FOTR ends. Peter Jackson stripped so much away and changed so much that it ceases to have any bearing on the story.

On 19 December 2003 (01:19 PM),
Denise said:

I completely agree. Case in point: Chewie vs. Jar Jar Binks. There is no comparison. Put aside the fact that Chewbacca was one of my favorite characters and Jar Jar was little more than an annoyance – it was painfully obvious that Jar Jar was computer animated. Computer animation makes the character much less believable.

I still enjoy Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back much more than The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones.

On 19 December 2003 (01:23 PM),
Joel said:

So, how do you rate the much-adored digital effect that is Smeagol? Or the Nazgul? Or is it just digital action sequences that get your goat?
I guess what I’m driving at is, I feel that in general you tend to inveigh against violent set-pieces in general (e.g. The Matrix’s lobby scene), not just digitally enhanced/produced ones.
On the other hand, I agree that the climactic battle of The Attack of the Clones struck me as an attempt to transport the audience via a bewildering technicolor chaos, rather than something visually… engaging.

On 19 December 2003 (01:25 PM),
Dana said:

I think the trouble with digital effects is a bit more subtle. Look — The Toy Story movies, and Monsters, Inc., are great movies. The effects are great and the stories are compelling. The problem isn’t digital effects per se, but a lack of restraint in their use by the film makers.

It doesn’t help that, while the textures have improved, the physics hasn’t. Toy Story works because it’s trying to look like an animated film, which doesn’t have realistic physics. When you try and make a photorealistic effect, but it doesn’t move quite right, that sticks out like a sore thumb. The Compu-Neo in the last couple of Matrix movies had this problem in some scenes, I thought, as did Gandalf and the Rohirrim’s charge at the end of the Battle of Helm’s Deep in TTT.

It does bug me when I see this sort of excess. The filmmaker is making a video game, not presenting a story, which is basically JD’s point, too.

On 19 December 2003 (01:26 PM),
Joel said:

Um, let’s rewrite that last sentence: On the other hand, I agree that the climactic battle of The Attack of the Clones was overproduced. It struck me as an attempt to transport the audience via a bewildering technicolor chaos, rather than something visually… engaging.

Yes? Better?

On 19 December 2003 (02:07 PM),
Dana said:

On further reflection, I think Joel is onto something. JD, I think your problem is certain kinds of overproduced set pieces, not digital effects per se.

Consider: You love the pod-racing scene in Phantom Menace, a scene chock-a-block full of digital effects. The Lobby scene in Matrix is mostly wire work and traditional effects, along with clever camera work, I think, as opposed to being digital heavy (although I’m sure there are digital bits layered in), and yet you hate it.

The complication of digital effects is that they tempt the movie maker into putting more of those over-produced, anti-story set pieces into an otherwise engaging film on a (comparatively) meager budget.

Constraints fuel creativity. Necessity is the mother of invention. If it’s easy to do, it’s harder to do in a clever way. Or am I just full of it?

On 19 December 2003 (02:29 PM),
J.D. said:

Joel said: So, how do you rate the much-adored digital effect that is Smeagol? Or the Nazgul? Or is it just digital action sequences that get your goat? I guess what I’m driving at is, I feel that in general you tend to inveigh against violent set-pieces in general (e.g. The Matrix’s lobby scene), not just digitally enhanced/produced ones.

You have a very valid point here. For those unaware, I love the The Matrix, except for the lame-ass “let’s shoot the fuck out of everything while doing somersaults” lobby scene. It’s an example of gratuitous violence and gratuitous effects which does nothing to advance the story. Many people love this scene. I do not.

I think that Gollum looks awesome, and I have no problem with him as a digitalized character. In fact, I think that Serkis deserves an Oscar based on the films I’ve seen this year. Gollum is great. (The Nazgul are not great. They look terrible. The scale is all wrong. But that’s less a digital thing than a vision thing. Peter Jackson simply sees them differently than I do.)

So I guess you’re right, Joel: it’s mostly digital action sequences — or, more specifically, digital fight sequences — that bug me.

Dana said: The complication of digital effects is that they tempt the movie maker into putting more of those over-produced, anti-story set pieces into an otherwise engaging film on a (comparatively) meager budget. Constraints fuel creativity. Necessity is the mother of invention. If it’s easy to do, it’s harder to do in a clever way. Or am I just full of it?

No, I think you’re dead on.

(And you’re right that I love the pod-race sequence, which seems to go against my prevailing preferences, but that’s because I love racing sequences more than I hate digital effects. I love race sequences. Quick. Name J.D.’s favorite kind of video game! First-person shooter? Nope. Real-time strategy? Nope. Role-playing game? Nope. Racing game? Yep! (And arcade racing at that, not simulation.))

In particular, I like this bit: “The complication of digital effects is that they tempt the movie maker into putting more of those over-produced, anti-story set pieces into an otherwise engaging film.” Over-produced, anti-story elements indeed! Perhaps the reason I like the Battle of Pelennor fields is that there are fewer pretentious shots of Aragorn posing in the rain, fewer “oh look how neat ten thousand orcs can look” shots, and that the battle sequences actually seem to served to advance the plotline.

So, this is an incredibly long answer to essentially tell Joel that mainly it’s digital battle scenes that bug me because their creators show absolutely no restraint, no sense of story when they make them.

On 19 December 2003 (03:02 PM),
Lynn said:

ET: The Extra-Terrestrial. He’s so ugly he’s cute and we just all fell in love with the way he walked and moved, as awkward as it was. In the “enhanced with digital effects” version shown recently on TV, they added a digital bathtub scene. “That’s NOT ET!” I shouted! He didn’t look the same, he looked like a cartoon. The real ET was huggable, this able-bodied thing in the bathtub was NOT ET. Digital effects just do not have the same “feeling.”

On 19 December 2003 (03:28 PM),
Denise said:

Interesting to note the difference between the women’s comments about this compared to the men’s (of course, taking Dana out of the equation, as she is computer educated and keep up with the rest of you): Lynn and I commented on the characters, and all the men commented on scenes. Mars vs. Venus, I think this is a good example.

Down with Jar Jar! Just had to add that.

On 19 December 2003 (03:37 PM),
Joel said:

Allow me to alight briefly on the stormy Venusian surface:
As soon as I saw that bathtub scene on a commercial I was like: “I am not going to see this version of E.T.” Then again we were all raised on muppets, weren’t we? Is it just that CGI characters are so real that they seem uncanny and, therefore, repulsive?
I don’t think so, though I’m not visual enough to explain why they don’t seem real (especially in Phantom Menace, where the characters plaid by real live actors seem so artificial that you’d think Jar Jar would fit right in). Gollum is the first effective digital character in a live-action film.

On 19 December 2003 (03:37 PM),
Joel said:

Allow me to alight briefly on the stormy Venusian surface:
As soon as I saw that bathtub scene on a commercial I was like: “I am not going to see this version of E.T.” Then again we were all raised on muppets, weren’t we? Is it just that CGI characters are so real that they seem uncanny and, therefore, repulsive?
I don’t think so, though I’m not visual enough to explain why they don’t seem real (especially in Phantom Menace, where the characters played by real live actors seem so artificial that you’d think Jar Jar would fit right in). Gollum is the first effective digital character in a live-action film.

On 19 December 2003 (03:38 PM),
Joel said:

sorry

On 19 December 2003 (03:44 PM),
Denise said:

I agree completely with Joel about Gollum – both times. Maybe I am stuck on Jar Jar because meese could nevers understood anytings he was sayings.

On 19 December 2003 (07:55 PM),
dowingba said:

My favourite games are a tie between Real Time Strategy and RPG’s. Can you guess why I love LOTR so much?

On 19 December 2003 (07:58 PM),
dowingba said:

Oh, and I remember while watching Star Wars Episode 1 for the first time, thinking “What, is this whole movie just a big Pod Race?” during the horrifically long Pod Race scene. I was rather dismayed. It’s Star Wars, not Little Kids in Pods Wars. Seriously, that scene could have been 1 minute long and conveyed the right message and advanced the plot. The Pod Race scene is a classic example of directors’ CGI-lust ruining movies.

On 19 December 2003 (10:50 PM),
Dana said:

Denise: I agree about the character vs. scene thing. The problem I have with the big set pieces is there’s nothing to connect with. You have activity, but no narrative story and no characters. It’s just events.

I think the core issue with digital characters not seeming ‘real’ is all in the motion. It’s how they’re coordinated, and how they move. The more realistic they look, the more weird they look when they move wrong. It sticks out like a sore thumb.

One of the reasons Gollum is so much better than Jar Jar is that he’s animated using motion capture. Andy Serkis, who does the voice (and plays Smeagol at the begining of RotK), was fitted out with a full body suit that had little colored spots all over it. Then, when they were filming the scene, they’d do it once with him there, acting as gollum, and once with him not there.

Then, they took a computer, and mapped all his motions onto the animated Gollum, who was inserted into the scene without Serkis.

This means that Gollum, for the most part, is moving like a person. He’s kind of like a full-body puppet.

Also, Gollum’s face is a lot more expressive than JarJar’s. And while I don’t think they did motion capture for the facial expressions, I do know they modeled it to look similar to Serkis’ own face, and they had film of him emoting in each scene (from the motion capture footage). They also had him involved in the animation step, sitting there and available to explain how he’d physically move his face to portray different emotions.

Basically, they used a person, had him act a role, then changed what he looked like using a computer animated figure. This is significantly different than what they did with JarJar.

Whew.

Just got back from RotK.

Wow.

Gotta say, this is one powerful movie. And the last half hour had me crying. I did not find the goodbye scene tedious at all.

On 19 December 2003 (11:16 PM),
dowingba said:

Gollum was my absolute favourite literary character ever since I read “The Hobbit” as a kid. I was very happy with the animated Gollum in the LOTR films. Some of his movements seem fake looking still, though, despite the fact that they were motion captured beforehand. His facial expressions are incredible. Unprecedented, clearly. Also, personally, if I had made the films I would have made his character alot more evil and alot less goofy. And what’s with him walking around in the day time? He never walks in the day time (or the night time) in the books. He only ever walks out in the twilight hours around dawn and dusk. He hates the yellow face and the white face! Ack! Gollum! Gollum!

After watching it the second time, I have a observation: in the scene with the hobbits drinking beer in the Shire, I swear Andy Serkis is in the background, as a hobbit. Peter JAckson had better make THe Hobbit. I need more Gollum!!

On 20 December 2003 (12:06 AM),
J.D. said:

Chris said: In the scene with the hobbits drinking beer in the Shire, I swear Andy Serkis is in the background, as a hobbit.

Absolutely, that’s him. It’s hilarious. He’s the hobbit with the giant pumpkin around which everyone is gathered. They’re admiring the pumpkin, rubbing it, wiping it with a cloth. It’s bizarre. I’m sure we’ll learn what it’s all about on the commentary track to the extended DVD next year! 🙂

On 20 December 2003 (12:15 AM),
dowingba said:

Pesky hobbitses with their precious pumpkinssss.

Lux Magna Orta Est

On Sunday afternoon, I join Dave and Karen and Nicole for a concert at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in northwest Portland. Trinity Episcopal is certainly the most beautiful church I’ve ever seen: the towering red doors, the daunting narthex (that’s a new word for me), the vast nave, the towering pipe organ.

While we wait for the concert to begin, I eavesdrop on the two couples in front of me. They’re discussing The Lord of the Rings. “I loved the first movie, but I hated the second,” says one woman.

“Oh, I loved the second movie,” says the other woman.

“I hated it,” says the first woman. “Too many battles. The movie was just one battle after another.”

Quietly, the second woman says, “I loved the giant talking trees.”

I glance through the program. What’s this? Kari Brenneman is listed under the sopranos. I knew she was in a big Portland choir, but I hadn’t realized it was the Trinity Consort. Will her parents be here? Will John and Louse be here? Will Jeremy and Jennifer be here?

I look around, and sure enough, there are John and Louise. I walk over to talk with them. They, along with Carolyn and Judy (John’s sisters), have brought all of the young Gingerich/Brenneman cousins: Nicole, Andrew, Julian, Brooks, and others I’m unable to name (they occupy an entire pew). Andrew’s long hair has been put into dreadlocks. Nicole’s short hair has also been put into dreadlocks. Brooks’ hair is still in a gigantic afro. (What is with these Gingerich kids? I’ll have to get a photo of them this weekend.)

The concert itself, entitled “A Baroque Christmas at Trinity”, is lovely. Eric Milnes, the conductor, is an early music aficionado, and the pieces are performed on period instruments.

The first piece, Dialgoue between the Angels and the Shepherds of Judea on the Birth of the Lord is by Marc-Antoine Charpentier (1643-1704), a composer with whom I am unfamiliar. I particularly like the Latin text; even its English translation has a lovely poetry:

Tenor: Even as you avert your face, Lord, and disregard our tribulations.

Trio of the Just: Remember your covenant which you declared. Come from on high, and set us free.

Bass: Be comforted, daughter of Zion, why are you consumed with grief? Your King will come with mildness, you will not weep at all. And the pupil of your eye will be still. In that day the mountains shall drip sweetness, and the hills will flow with honey and milk. Be consoled, be comforted, daughter of Zion, and support God, your Savior.

Chorus: If you would only burst through the heavens, our redeemer, and descend. You heavens, drop dew from above and let the clouds rain down the just one. Let the earth be opened up and sprout forth a Saviour.And my favorite bit:

Chorus: Caeli aperti sunt, lux magna orta est, lux magna, lux terribilis! (The Heavens are opened, a great light appears, a great light, a terrible light!)

I quite like this first piece.

The next few pieces are purely instrumental, and while nice, they don’t hold my attention as well as a choral piece would. (I’ve always been more fond of choral pieces than purely instrumental pieces.) The nave is hot, and with the dulcet sounds of the orchestra, and my perpetual lack of sleep, I am drowsing off.

I try to stay awake by looking around at the cathedral. I look at the elaborate stained glass windows, each of which is inscribed with a line from the beatitudes. I look at the immense pipe organ which looms in the apse. (Is it the apse? I have trouble with terminology for elaborate church structures.) I look at the two rows of chandeliers which run the length of the cathedral, their lights perhaps meant to be almost like candle-light. I look at the slat-like construction of the ceiling. I look all around, absorbing the beauty of the church.

Still, it’s all I can do to keep from dozing.

The final piece is, thankfully, more choral music. Various individual bits from Johann Sebastian Bach have been combined into a Christmas Oratorio, and among these is one of my favorites, Break Forth, O Beauteous Heavenly Light, performed in the original German.

After the concert, the four of us walk up to Laslow’s Northwest for a bite to eat. I order the pork chop, and the waiter asks me how I’d like it prepared. I’ve never been asked that for pork before, so I choose medium, which turns out to be a mistake. The pork is delicious, but it’s too done. I ought to have ordered medium-rare. Don’t restaurants usually prepare pork as they best see fit?

On the way home, I stop at Home Depot to pick up molding and paint, etc. I walk into the store, and have only made it to the paint section when an employee announces the store is closing. I thought Home Depot was open 24 hours! (Seriously.) Not this one. Ah well — it’ll be nice to get to bed early for once.

(I do stop at Krispy Kreme for a donut and hot chocolate, though!)

Comments

On 15 December 2003 (12:14 PM),
Paul said:

If you don’t already have it, I give high marks to Anonymous 4’s cd “11,000 Virgins: Chants for the Feast of St. Ursula”. Wonderful vocal work. When does a group of singers become a choral group? Can a quartet be a choir?

I am also a big fan of Arvo Part’s choral compositions. I have this cd and really enjoy it, “Arvo Part: Kanon Pokajanen”. Though Part’s “Arbos”
has what I believe are soulful organ instrumental pieces, the interspersed choral pieces may be too infrequent.

If you find any pieces that you like of the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, please let me know.

Enjoy the music.

On 15 December 2003 (01:47 PM),
Dave said:

To answer Paul’s question, I conceive of the defining characteristics of a choir as being a group of singers in which you have at least four distinct parts, usually characterized by the vocal ranges of the singers and frequently divided into soprano, alto, tenor, and bass parts. Each part has more than one individual singing it. This would normally preclude a quartet from being a choir since each person in a quartet usually has their own part.

On 15 December 2003 (01:51 PM),
Dana said:

Yeah. But four-part harmony is pretty keen sounding in a different way than a choir. Both are cool, I think.

On 15 December 2003 (02:37 PM),
Jazzercize said:

you can have as many singing mouths as you wish if you can carefully form them and then open them in the proper way. one person then is the whole and whole is of holes emitting sounds that combine together to form a ragged tapestry of traps that hurt your fingers finally. god enjoys the quiet to reflect. his ears do not demand noise. the headaches come fast and furious.

On 15 December 2003 (02:49 PM),
dowingba said:

Wait, I’m confused. Loud noises gives God headaches?

JD, I too have never heard of restaurants serving different kinds of pork like that. “Rare” pork would be pretty uhh…horrible to eat.

The Home Depot in my town isn’t open 24 hours. I can’t imagine them getting much business at night time…unless people are doing midnight renovations often.

On 15 December 2003 (03:32 PM),
Tiffany said:

The Home Depot & Lowes here are open from 4am to 12 midnight. There are also signs says that contractors can arrange to be let in early if required!

On 15 December 2003 (03:40 PM),
mac said:

Home Depots (I almost typed “Depot’s”!) in Portland used to be open 24-7, but no longer…at least not since last May or so when I made the same mistake you did J.D.

On 15 December 2003 (04:06 PM),
Denise said:

Yes, Home Depots close at 8:00 now. We asked an employee and he said they didn’t get enough business in Oregon during the late evening/early morning hours to warrant being open past 8:00pm.

On 15 December 2003 (05:01 PM),
Joel said:

Oregon, the sleepiest of states.

This is actually the second time I’ve heard of a restaurant asking a customer’s pork-pinkness preference. I wonder if they’d serve it at less than 170 degrees? “Mm, that pig sure was tasty! And I just love these trichinellosis cysts imbedded in my muscle tissue!”

Those lyrics are wonderful, but what does “the pupil of your eye will be still” mean?

On 15 December 2003 (05:23 PM),
J.D. said:

Well, the translation in the program is even worse: “The pupil of your eye will be silent”. I took the liberty of altering “silent” to “still” because it seemed to make more sense. Sort of. 🙂

On 15 December 2003 (05:25 PM),
J.D. said:

Also, I just remembered another bit of the womens’ Lord of the Rings conversation. Woman one (who hated The Two Towers was raving about Viggo Mortensen’s heroic Aragorn, and woman two said something along the lines of: “I like Sam. I think Sam’s the hero of those movies.” She was quiet, but perceptive.

On 15 December 2003 (08:28 PM),
Dana said:

Here in Minneapolis, some Home Depots are open 24-hours, and some aren’t.

(PS – Go Sam!)

Friend Thanksgiving X

Every year, Kris and I host Friend Thanksgiving, a dinner party for a group of our friends. It’s a joint thing; we share in the planning and preparation.

This year, we had decided to have an Asian theme, serving an Asian salad, crab cakes, a Thai soup, and some sort of grilled fish.

Then, a few weeks ago, Kris put the kibosh on the Asian theme. She decided that we ought to do something semi-traditional instead. (Meaning: turkey and the like.) This made me cranky.

Next, she monkeyed with the guest list, deviating from our plan. This made me cranky, too, but I kept repeating this mantra: “Kris Gates is always right. Kris Gates is always right.” (This is what I tell myself every time it turns out I should have heeded Kris’ advice. I say it a lot.)

As the dinner party approached — and even on the day of the event — there were a lot of little things I was unhappy with: I didn’t like the soup she had selected, I didn’t like the acorns and the “snow” (actually some sort of foam) on the table because it used too much space; I didn’t like the assigned seating because it was poorly received last year; I didn’t think she had thawed the turkey long enough, hadn’t brined it long enough, didn’t cook it long enough.

My list of complaints was long and I made myself a little disagreeable, though still, in the back of my mind, I kept telling myself, “Kris Gates is always right.”

Well.

We had our dinner party Saturday night, and I’m happy to say that Kris was right again. Of the ten times we’ve hosted Friend Thanksgiving (“Friend Thanksgiving X” we called this one), I feel this was the most successful. Kris’ guest-list and seating arrangement were well-planned; the food was delicious; the conversation raucous. My fears were for naught. My objective for the evening was simply to do as Kris requested, and this proved to be the best possible plan.

Our menu?

  • After an hour of cocktails (including Chai-tinis and Midori Sours), we began the meal with wild rice cakes with a chipotle-lime aioli. These served as a replacement for the crab cakes we had originally planned.
  • Next we served a spicy bacon and corn chowder, which was much better than I had expected. (While Jeremy and I were supposedly bussing the table, we were actually in the kitchen slurping down second helpings of the soup.)
  • Our third course was a salad of mixed herbs with onions and a soy-based dressing (in deference to my abhorrence of oil-based dressings).
  • The entr�e was a turkey, brined for a day, and served with acorn squash and a rosemary baguette and a fantastic gravy. I loved the bread and gravy combination so much, that I tried to horde both at my end of the table, sopping up the gravy with the bread. Yum.
  • The main course was followed by a small plate of fruit and cheese, including my favorite apple (honeycrisp!) and the always-popular cheddar-like Double Gloucester.
  • For dessert, we had a nice cake, the variety of which now escapes me. Update: Kris informs me that the dessert was a honey spice cake with brandied cherries.

Why can’t I remember what we had for dessert? For one, the rest of the food was fantastic. For another, we kept the wine flowing throughout the night. (I particularly liked the Sauvignon Blanc and the Niagra, both fruity whites, though the rest of the company seemed less impressed by them.)

Between the cheese platter and the dessert, most of the men gathered outside in the cold and the damp where they enjoyed fellowship over Jeremy’s fine cigars and my fifteen-year-old single malt Scotch whiskey.

What can I say? It was a fantastic evening, despite my fears. And all of the credit belongs to Kris. Bravo!

Kris Gates is always right.

Comments

On 08 December 2003 (04:00 PM),
Tiffany said:

I wish I lived close enough to take part. But then again, I guess I would com eto the family dinner not the friend one. 🙂
Kris – I cannot wait until Friday.

On 08 December 2003 (04:28 PM),
Paul said:

J.D.,

What was the scotch?

On 08 December 2003 (10:07 PM),
J.D. said:

Paul, the Scotch was a fifteen-year-old Glenfiddich. I hunted for Lagavulin, but nobody seems to be carrying it around here anymore. The Canby liquor store used to, but there was no demand for it. In my memory, the Lagavulin was much better than the Glenfiddich, the the Glenfiddich isn’t bad.

On 09 December 2003 (12:02 PM),
mart said:

yr memory serves you well. lagavulin easily bests that glenfiddich “crap”. 😉

On 10 December 2003 (03:31 PM),
J.D. said:

As promised, here’s the recipe for Kris’ wild rice cakes:

Wild Rice Cakes

(adapted from Martha Stewart, of course!)
1 cup brown/wild rice blend (I use Bob�s Red Mill variety)
1 tsp salt
1 Tbsp butter
4 Tbsp canola oil plus more if needed for frying
2 cloves garlic, minced very fine
1 carrot (1/3 cup), chopped finely
1 celery stalk (1/3 cup), chopped finely
� yellow bell pepper (1/3 cup), chopped finely
2 eggs, lightly beaten
freshly ground pepper to taste
1 � cups Panko Japanese bread crumbs (I found these at Uwajimaya)

  1. Prepare rice as directed on package. If using Bob�s Red Mill �Wild Rice & Brown Rice� blend, it calls for 2 � cups water, the salt and butter above, and approximately 50 minutes. The rice should still be very moist and hold together in clumps. Set rice aside to cool.
  2. Heat 2 Tbsp oil in skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and stir 1 minute. Add vegetables and cook until softened, about five minutes. Set aside to cool.
  3. In medium bowl, combine cooled rice, vegetables, and eggs. Gently fold in breadcrumbs. Season with salt and pepper. Cover, and refrigerate until the breadcrumbs have absorbed the liquids, about one hour.
  4. Using an ice-cream or dough scoop, shape 16 patties. Place onto a cookie sheet. At this point, you can cover and refrigerate them until needed. Or, you can go on to the next step.
  5. Heat the remaining 2 Tbsp canola oil over medium heat. Saute first side 5 minutes, or until golden brown and crisp. Turn over and saut� 5 minutes more. Serve immediately with wedges of lime and lime-chipotle aioli, if desired.

And, if you’d like, the aioli (I prefer Jeremy’s recipe):

Lime Chipotle Aioli

(adapted from Cook�s Illustrated The Best Recipe)
1/3 cup sour cream
� cup mayonnaise
2 tsp minced chipotle chilis (these are smoked jalapenos�I found them canned in adobo sauce in
the Mexican food section. I rinsed them & pressed them in my garlic press to remove the
skins and seeds. It is a good idea to wear protective gloves when you are handling these.)
1 minced garlic clove
2 tsp fresh minced cilantro leaves
2 tsp fresh lime juice (or more to taste)

Mix all ingredients together. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes, or up to three days.Enjoy!

The Cinnamon Bear

I have many memories of childhood — and by this I mean the time when I was younger than say six — but most of them are scattered and patchwork.

For example, I can remember that I listened to The Cinnamon Bear every night on KEX during the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas, but I cannot recall a single instance of ever having done so.

I have a concrete recollection of the promise of The Cinnamon Bear: I can recall being in a department store, probably a Fred Meyer (and probably the one on Hawthorne) with Mom (and possibly Dad), being mollified with the promise of the show: “If you’re good, we can listen to The Cinnamon Bear when we get back to the car.” I can remember trying to be good, holding Mom’s hand, riding down an escalator with her. But I don’t know if I actually got to listen to the episode.

I loved The Cinnamon Bear. I wanted to listen to it every year until I reached junior high. I’m not sure that I ever knew the full story; we’d miss most nights during any given December, so that I only got to know the story patchwork..

I remember that the show frightened me: the Root Beer Ocean and the Inkaboos, the Wintergreen Witch, the Looking Glass Valley, the Crazy Quilt Dragon. These things frightened me, but in a good way. It was a delicious fear. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was my love of The Cinnamon Bear that imparted within me a lifelong love of fantasy and science fiction, of speculative fiction in general.

I sometimes give Jeremy and Jennifer a hard time because they don’t like for Harrison to be scared (won’t let him watch The Wizard of Oz, for example). Maybe this is the reason: I can remember being scared by The Cinnamon Bear as a child (and by The Wizard of Oz), but I know that living through this fear, facing it and overcoming it, made my world a better place.

Did you listen to old-time radio as a child? Did you listen to The Cinnamon Bear? It’s a great story for kids. On the web, you can find not only an episode guide, but also mp3s of individual episodes. Enjoy!

Old Comments (pre-crash)

On 01 December 2003 (09:24 AM),
Tammy said:

Nope. Didn’t listen to the Cinnamon Bear. Didn’t listen to anything! We didn’t own a radio or a Tv when I was growing up. I bought my first Tv when I was 27 years old. I still don’t listen to the radio. I just never got in the habit. But I can tell you all about Christmas at Almanzos house in the Little House series. I tried to carry my love of Farmer Boy over to my oldest daughter. Every Christmas while I baked she would perch in the kitchen and read the Christmas chapter to me out of that book. I just loved the hustle and bustle of their Christmas and the odd chores that needed done, like cleaning the chimney lamps and polishing the stove, and setting the fruit cakes to saok in wine for three weeks. Never had a radio. Never had a Tv. But I had books! I was blessed indeed!

On 01 December 2003 (10:19 AM),
Dana said:

I’ve never heard of the Cinnamon Bear before.

The closest my family came to a seasonal ritual of this sort was watching the old stop-motion and Charlie Brown holiday specials on TV. You know, the Rudolph one, the Baby New Year one, the one with the Heat Miser, and the Easter Bunny one, and the Jack Frost one.

Oh, and listening to Alice’s Restaurant around Thanksgiving.

On 01 December 2003 (10:47 AM),
J.D. said:

KEX was, at one time, the most popular station in Portland. Looking back, it seems they tried to be all things to all people. They had a Big Band program on Sunday afternoons. (That’s where I get my love of Big Band music.) They played The Cinnamon Bear between Thanksgiving and Christmas. They played other old-time radio shows, spooky shows, around Halloween. I think there was even a period — a few weeks? a few months? — during which they had a regular night-time block of old-time radio shows.

When KECH 22 started broadcasting out of Salem/Keizer (a UHF station, what a novelty!) in the early eighties, they had an afternoon block of shows they called “The Oregon Jones Adventure Hour” or some such. The programming was hosted by a fat man in a black leather jacket and a hat. (I could play the part now!) On the program, they showed adventure serials from the 1930s and 1940s: Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, Commander Cody, and various detective and cowboy shows.

So, although I grew up in the seventies and eighties, I had some small exposure to what it must have been like growing up in the thirties and forties.

I’m downloading The Cinnamon Bear and will burn the episodes onto CD. I’m going to give copies to my young friends, Ian first and then maybe Harrison. Also, I see that many of the old-time serials are being released on DVD for CHEAP (~$5.00). Very tempting. Very tempting.

On 01 December 2003 (11:39 AM),
Dana said:

See, this I get. We had a Fargo-based UHF station when I lived in Moorhead that showed the old George Reeve The Adventures of Superman show which, along with the ubiquitous Superfriends, cemented my love of superheroes. “Golly, Mr. Kent!”

Oh, and before that, living in the UP of Michigan, we got WGN out of Chicago for awhile, and they had an early morning/before school cartoon show that would also show the old Buster Crabbe Flash Gordon serials, one episode a day. The one I remember involved some sort of mole people. I suspect it was “Flash Gordon’s Trip to Mars”, where Queen Azura and the Clay People of Mars teamed up with Ming the Merciless to steal all the nitrogen in Earth’s atmosphere.

Great fun. I had a beef with the 1980 movie because they undercut the intelligence of both Hans Zarkoff and Flash. Max von Sydow as Ming, however, is just about the greatest casting ever.

On 01 December 2003 (12:06 PM),
Dave said:

The Cinnamon Bear rocked! I remember quite clearly listening to episodes of the Cinnamon Bear, huddled next to our huge console TV/stero/recordplayer in our living room. I wonder if brother Paul remembers it. I’ll have to download and burn those mp3’s as well.

On 01 December 2003 (01:15 PM),
Denise said:

Ok – I must have missed out, because I don’t remember listening to the Cinnamon Bear, or watching anything about the Cinnamon Bear….I just remember seeing the Cinnamon Bear at Nordstrom, and getting a gingerbread cookie from him every year.

Maybe I’m mixing up my holiday bears, though….

On 01 December 2003 (01:18 PM),
Denise said:

And, Dana, I know the whole Heat Miser/Cold Miser song by heart! That’s a classic!

On 01 December 2003 (02:49 PM),
Dave said:

To the best of my knowledge the Nordstrom Cinnamon Bear, Denise, is the very same bear as the radio show bear in question. As we got older, however, the radio show was discontinued (at least we could never find it on the radio) but the Cinnamon Bear continued to appear at Nordstrom. I seem to recall that this happend about 4-6 grade or so (JD, any help here?), perhaps a year or two later, but not much later certainly.

On 01 December 2003 (07:42 PM),
Paul said:

J.D.,

YES. I remember the Cinnamon Bear! I had completely forgotten about it. It was one of those special treats when we went to Portland. I’m from central Oregon (Madras) and KEX didn’t come in across the mountains but we knew about it from TV plugs and those certain times around Christmas when we were fortunate enough to be in the car when it was on. I think I even met the Cinnamon Bear once. Lloyd Center???

Thanks for the memory.

Paul

On 02 December 2003 (12:28 PM),
Michael said:

Ah yes, the Cinnamon Bear… “His” home was first Lipman’s and then Fredrick & Nelson department stores. In the beginning they had “him” roam the store and eventually set it up so you visited the Cinnamon Bear as you sat on his lap and they took a picture. The bear gave out Full-Size cookies from “his” basket.

When I was 13 years old I applied to be inside the Cinnamon Bear costume and got the interview. It was my first interview ever and I could tell I was over my head. I had to go up to the seventh floor into the executive offices of the downtown Fredrick & Nelson and was asked all sorts of situational “what if…” questions. The hiring manager thought I was cute in my slacks and blazer but did not take me seriously and I did not get the job.

On 02 December 2003 (12:40 PM),
J.D. said:

Michael’s story above, about autioning to be The Cinnamon Bear, is particularly good for those of us who know him: Michael has a thing for mascots. He’s been the mascot for the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes, for example, and he may have even been the Oregon Duck at one time or another. Actually, the next time I see him, I’ll ask him about his mascot history. I think it’s fun. (Of course, if Michael reads this comment, he can post his mascot history himself if he’d like.)

On 02 December 2003 (12:55 PM),
Michael said:

My mascot history has included…

ODOT Safety Dummy (Presentations to school-aged children)

Oregon Duck (mostly volleyball, basketball, public appearances and a wrestling match(?)

Chip the chipmonk (as in Chip & Dale- for the Boise River Fesitval Parade- not Disneyland. Same costume used for the Macy’s Thankgiving Day parade)

Easter Bunny (Church related event)

Gumby (Authentic costume from the Gumby corporate office for a marketing presentation at NIKE)

Crater (S-K Volcanoes)for baseball games and PR appearances- was the Grand Marshall of the Sheridan Days Parade… Yee Ha!

Not sure what the next “gig” will be…

On 02 December 2003 (05:16 PM),
Andrew Parker said:

Mom listened to the Bear as a kid in Tigard and turned me and my sister onto the serial. I remember listening in the car on the way home from swim team, upstairs on my sister’s portable radio, and on rare occasions in the parlor on dad’s “hands-off” stereo.

I still have an old Polaroid somewhere of my sister and me as little kids standing with the dude in the bear suit. I remember looking through the eye holes at the structure inside… ~25 years ago? Pretty sure it was at Lloyd Center.

On 04 December 2003 (08:48 AM),
Aimee said:

JD … This is a slight tangent from the Cinnamon Bear thing, but yesterday I was driving along Hawthorne Boulevard and noticed that At The Hop was sporting a new coat of orange paint. Odd? Not if you’re Big Daddy’s Barbeque!!! Yes, a Portland mainstay from your youth has been converted into a jumpin’ new joint called Big Daddy’s … Just thought you’d like to know. I imagine that you’ll be dining there real soon …

On 04 December 2003 (09:57 AM),
J.D. said:

I don’t actually know how long At the Hop was at that location. I only ate there once. It must have been in 92 or 93, when I was making sales calls for Custom Box. It was during my Ayn Rand phase. I can remember sitting at one of the tables, eating my burger and fries, sipping my chocolate malt, reading Atlas Shrugged. How wonderful was this John Galt! Damn that Clinton! Curse the collectivists of the world!

On 08 December 2003 (05:50 PM),
Paddy O’ Cinnamon said:

The Cinnamon Bear is on KEX? KXL? starting December 19, I believe, and yes, he was at Lipman’s! I’ve been looking for a Paddy O’ Cinnamon stuffed bear or puppet for years!

On 23 December 2003 (08:31 AM),
Erwin said:

Not sure if anyone is watching this thread anymore, but I was on a quest to see if anyone else remembers the Cinnamon Bear. My father worked for the radio station in the early 80’s so I’ve had my own taped broadcast for most of my life. At 28 I still listen to the show and every time it takes me back to when I was a child.
Can anyone out there refresh my memory of the train on the celing over the Christmas scene at a store downtown? I remember riding in something but it’s all a little fuzzy. Thanks

On 25 December 2003 (11:23 PM),
John Russell said:

I know a friend who grew up listening to this popular bear. He tells me that he once had a book that looked like a coloring book about the bear.
Is this book still available?..
I do a big band radio show, and know some listeners who would also like this information…Thanks..john

On 26 December 2003 (03:09 AM),
Lissa said:

In a box in my basement, wrapped in plastic, is a plush version of the cinnamon bear. In my scrap book there are no pictures of me on Santa’s lap, but always on Cinnamon Bear’s lap. There’s a picture of me hugging my new plush cinnamon bear. I look like I’m about 5 or so. I’m 32 now. Wow, what memories. 🙂

On 26 December 2003 (11:53 AM),
Lori said:

I am looking for a Paddy O stuffed bear for a dear friend. She can remember winning one at Wieboldts in Oak Park,IL which has since been lost and would like to replace it. I am ordering the audio tapes of the radio program but have never seen the stuffed version so don’t know exactly what I am looking for. Any Help?

On 26 December 2003 (10:34 PM),
Tammy said:

Ok Erwin. I think I may know what you are refering to as I take my children to ride this train every year just as my parents took me when I was little. The train is on the 10th floor of the downtown Meier& Frank building. It goes around the ceiling and the kids get to look down on Santa land as they ride. My kids look forward to this every year. It’s down there again this year. Go check it out. It’s beautiful!

On 27 December 2003 (07:16 PM),
Alan said:

I am also looking for a stuffed Paddy O’Cinnamon bear. I’m not sure were to begin looking. Any help?

On 16 February 2004 (07:45 PM),
Jenni said:

My Father bought my son the 50th anniversary edition of The Cinnamon Bear. It is the best story I have ever heard and put my son to sleep for years. If any of you have found a Paddy O’ please let me know where.

On 19 November 2004 (11:18 AM),
William Frank said:

Wife and I are looking for original or repros of the Cinnamon bear coloring books, may have been distributed by Wieboldts stores in the Chicago area. We used to listen(as kids) to the Cinnamon Bear on the radio and also watch some versions of it on local tv (probably WGN-TV) I have the tapes of the shows and they certainly bring back a lot of memories. You may remember when Christmas started AFTER Thanksgiving, not before Halloween.

On 25 December 2004 (12:39 PM),
Tini said:

My roommate got me hooked on Cinnamon Bear. His grandmother stood in line to buy the episodes on tape. She also got him a Paddy O’Cinnamon bear ornament. I never heard of The Cinnamon bear until he brought it up last month. Now I’m saving my money to buy the cd radio show version. One thing that baffles me is that people know the actors and actresses names of the characters…all but Jimmy. Does anyone know his real name????

On 25 December 2004 (12:39 PM),
Tini said:

My roommate got me hooked on Cinnamon Bear. His grandmother stood in line to buy the episodes on tape. She also got him a Paddy O’Cinnamon bear ornament. I never heard of The Cinnamon bear until he brought it up last month. Now I’m saving my money to buy the cd radio show version. One thing that baffles me is that people know the actors and actresses names of the characters…all but Jimmy. Does anyone know his real name????

On 28 December 2004 (07:11 PM),
charles strawn said:

yes I remember at 3:00 pm right after school I sat on the livingroom floor to lisen to the CINNAMON BEAR. I finished coloring the book and submited it to the WIEBOLDTS store on milwaukee ave.I was 6or7 years old.After what seemed like a endless peroid of time,they said I won 2nd prize.What a wonderful feeling that was. When the elevertor doors opened onto the toy floor a man greeted us with a big red sled.

On 03 January 2005 (04:36 PM),
Bob L. said:

I can remember getting home from school (1st grade) and listening to the Cinnamon Bear on our big, old, radio in 1952. I think it was KBRC in Mt.Vernon, WA. that played it. Boy, you hated to miss even one episode. I haven’t heard it in many years but I still can hear the theme music in my head. What a great memory!

On 03 July 2005 (06:57 PM),
Chris Reid said:

I recall the Cinnamon Bear as one of the earliest childhood programmes I heard here in New Zealand – pre-Tv – not in 1938, that was before I was born, but about 1945-6. However I don’t think the voices were not American. At that time many US scripts were sold to Australian production companies who rebroadcast them for Australian and New Zealand audiences. I can’t remember much about the programme except the theme song.

On 03 July 2005 (06:58 PM),
Chris Reid said:

I recall the Cinnamon Bear as one of the earliest childhood programmes I heard here in New Zealand – pre-Tv – not in 1938, that was before I was born, but about 1945-6. However I don’t think the voices were not American. At that time many US scripts were sold to Australian production companies who rebroadcast them for Australian and New Zealand audiences. I can’t remember much about the programme except the theme song.

On 26 July 2005 (12:05 PM),
Michael Miller said:

For anyone interested, you can download 26 episodes for free at radiolovers.com!

Some of my earliest memories – also in Portland – were being at my Grandparent’s home and getting to turn on the old Philco floor model radio/turntable,push the KEX button, and listen to the Cinnamon Bear. I’ve told my wife about this for years, and last night she was allowed the pleasure of listening to the very first episode. Serious smiles on my face, what a fun trip back in time!

On 12 August 2005 (03:55 PM),
Ron said:

The Cinnamon Bear was a regular “listen to” at our house in the ’40s. Came thru on WGN in Chicago. Wieboldts on Milwaukee ave was a magical place at Christmas-time! Charles [up above] knows. But then again, Christmas is still magical even now in my later years.

On 12 August 2005 (03:56 PM),
Ron said:

The Cinnamon Bear was a regular “listen to” at our house in the ’40s. Came thru on WGN in Chicago. Wieboldts on Milwaukee ave was a magical place at Christmas-time! Charles [up above] knows. But then again, Christmas is still magical even now in my later years. Can’t forget ice skating at Wicker Park too.

On 19 August 2005 (01:50 AM),
ed said:

Growing up as pre-teens in the early ’50s my
sister and I “watched” the Cinnamon Bear every
year (1951 thru 1956) on WGN. I think it was
stop-action but it might have been animation. I
can’t exactly recall.

I never heard the radio (aural) version until
2001. But no one else except my family remembers
anything about The Cinnamon Bear being on TV.

Wiebolts department store used to sell Cinnamon
Bear stuff: the bear and a Star for Christmas
trees.

What I would like to know is what happened to those
old kinescopes or whatever (8mm film, etc.) on which
the TV Cinnamon Bear was put.

My suspicion is that the Wiebolts family is keeping
them for personal use now that their store has gone
South. But that may be just sour grapes. Possibly
the TV version was never saved in any format.

I would like to know if anyone else besides my
sister and I have any memories of watching The
Cinnamon Bear each Christmas season on TV.

Thanks for the Memories
Ed

On 19 September 2005 (10:39 AM),
James said:

Would do anything to get my hands on the old TV show of the cinnamon bear shown on WGN chicago.

On 19 September 2005 (10:39 AM),
James said:

Would do anything to get my hands on the old TV show of the cinnamon bear shown on WGN chicago.

On 03 October 2005 (01:00 PM),
Donna said:

I was so excited to find this site,I to was a great fan of Paddy O CINNAMON. My sister and me would listen to all the stories on the radio.I entered a contest at the Weiboldts. store in Oak Park Ill,it was a coloring contest. I won the contest and my prize was Paddy O Cinnamon,I loved my bear . I am looking for the paddy o cinnamon stuffed bear please help me find one. Friend of P.O.C.

On 04 October 2005 (08:12 PM),
Emilie Felmon said:

Is there anyway I can purchase the TV version on WGN the “Cinnamon Bear” I would love to see it with my grandchildren.

Thank you,

Emilie