Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Candlelight Makes It Special

My husband has been out of town for several days, and it always surprises me how quickly the kids and I descend into "Lord of the Flies" territory unless we are vigilant in keeping up appearances. It's hard to get motivated to cook a decent meal for one full appetite (mine) and two very small and occasionally nonexistent ones (the boys). Yet we are told that sitting down for a family dinner together is the cornerstone of functional nuclear blah blah blah, so I've been trying to maintain some semblance of an evening meal even though the food itself is uninspiring. Hot dogs, mac and cheese from a box, etc. Since I'm somewhat deficient in the strong-armed discipline department (that's dad's bailiwick) I've had to be creative in getting them all to assume their dinnertime positions. That's where the candles enter the picture. The kids are willing to sit, eat and chat about the day much more willingly when the lighting is moody and romantic. Messed up, no? There is an inverse relationship between the formality of the setting and the hauteur of the meal. This evening's repast will most likely be Taco Bell by candlelight. Ole!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Uncanny Valley

I've heard this term - the Uncanny Valley - most commonly used to refer to the CGI humans you see in movies that are intended to, but fail to, resemble real people. That is to say, the creators have tried to create a close facsimile of a human but fallen just short enough to make you feel creepy all over. As opposed to cartoonish humans that are clearly not intended to be realistic (like the infantilized ones I saw with my kids in WALL*E this summer). Obviously, this is an intensely useful term with lots of other applications. I had cause to think of this recently when describing to my mother a movie I saw in the early '90s called "Stanno Tutti Bene" by Giuseppe Tornatore, the filmmaker who did "Cinema Paradiso." The Uncanny Valley experience was engendered by the appearance of the aging Marcello Mastroianni in character, pictured above in his characteristic suit and glasses. The uncanny part is that, to me at least, this character looked remarkably like what I imagined my father, who died twenty years ago, would look like if he had lived longer than forty-seven years. My dad wore exactly this style of spectacles and had the same brushy mustache, and dressed in a suit and tie for his very square job at IBM. It was very odd to watch an entire feature film in which this character went through his paces speaking Italian and engaging in heartwarming and -breaking interactions with his adult children. I don't know if this effect would hold up if I watched the movie today but at the time it was fairly startling. I'm not going to watch this movie again, probably because re-watching it might cause the comparison to break down. If I preserve that 1992-ish experience, it's almost like uncanny Mastroianni-dad still exists on an alternative cinematic plane, preserved on a digital recording in a foreign language.