Lullaby of Broadway

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This arresting image (click on it) is the beginning of the Lullaby of Broadway sequence in Gold Diggers of 1935, a Busby Berkeley movie.  It’s one of the grand song and dance set pieces that Berkeley is famous for; a short film in itself, lasting for 13 minutes.

It starts with a distant close up of the singer Wini Shaw singing the Oscar-winning theme song which describes the sophisticated, decadent night life of Broadway, the lifestyle of sugar-daddies and nightclubs…

When a Broadway baby says “Good night,” it’s early in the morning. Manhattan babies don’t sleep tight, until the dawn.

Surrounded by inky blackness and singing straight to the camera, Shaw gradually gets bigger and bigger until she fills the screen in a giant close up. Picture yourself in a big movie theatre – her face is three storeys high and she’s singing to you

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It’s a technically daring tracking shot done in a darkened studio, with the camera slowly dollying in to the singer. The camera crew had to keep the face in the same place in the frame as it comes closer. Berkeley is famous for the technical bravado of his dance scenes which often used large numbers of dancers in elaborate geometric formations. This one is special in being so simple, just a face in the dark.

When the beautiful singer finishes her song, she turns her head which is then shown upside-down. As the music changes mood, her face dissolves into a view of the Manhattan…

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You can see the whole sequence on You Tube here.

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Demon

I was at a bonfire recently and took a lot of photographs. Reviewing the pictures later I discovered that the figure of a fiery demon had appeared in the flames.

OK, I Photoshopped it a little … but not as much as you thought. This is what the camera saw. The demon was already there in the flames.

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Sunrise

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I shot this on a recent trip to Sydney. The light is so different there, the moisture from the ocean and harbour seems to make it softer. This image reminds me of those sky photographs by Richard Misrach.

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You thought it was a landscape? Think again. Here it is before Photoshop.

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Criss Cross

Criss Cross is a 1949 film noir directed by the great Robert Siodmak. Set in postwar L.A. it has that German look that caught on in Hollywood after the cream of European talent found a haven from Nazism there. Those expratiate artists injected a mood of pessimism and dread into American film, using stark black and white contrasts and Expressionist lighting. It suited the new genre of crime movies in the 1940s that we now call film noir. Siodmak’s cinematographer was another expat, Franz Planer, and Criss Cross is unequalled for its ravishing velvety shadows and sparkling highlights.

These three shots from the last scene of Criss Cross show the Manichean undertone of the story in which a good man (Burt Lancaster) encounters a bad man (Dan Duryea) over the affections of a good/bad woman (Yvonne de Carlo). All film noir, in fact almost all Hollywood film, is in some way a debate about good and evil, innocence and guilt, and redemption. It’s a very Judaeo-Christian thing.

Note the Jesus-like expression on Lancaster’s face; the satanic expression in Duryea’s eyes, and the Pieta pose of the lovers he’s just murdered.

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Google art

The biggest photographic endeavour in the world today must be Google Earth, an attempt to photograph the entire surface of the planet down to every street and house. As a resource of photographic images it is immense, an archive of the physical world that Borges might have dreamt up. This megalomaniac project is upsetting a lot of people as it intrudes further and further into our private realm. We might feel our privacy is threatened, but we can threaten other peoples’ privacy whenever we want, just by looking. The images are free, and freely accessible, a mark of the populist, democratic world we have created.

Google Earth is an opportunity for creativity. Perhaps it’s not creativity of a high order, but you can make images of your own just by searching. Sometimes it’s a matter of sifting for images, and sometimes it’s a technical glitch that produces one. You could think of it as a new art medium, but that might be going too far.

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A momentary delay in Google Earth transferring from satellite view to street view reveals strange worlds the software engineers never intended.

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Google art: people

The identity of individuals on the street is blurred to protect privacy. Does someone at Google sit down at a computer and deface the faces one-by-one? Or does software find the pattern of the human face in the millions of Google pictures and blur them automatically? Which scenario is scarier?

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