Notes

My scrapbook of others’ fine content from books, videos, or around the web.

February 19, 2022 permalink

RIP to the OG Alamo Drafthouse

An aerial view of the warehouse-like 409 Colorado building being demolished, multiple excavators tearing through its two stories of concrete and rebar
Photo by James Rambin.

Another iconic Austin location bites the dust to make way for a new downtown tower: this time it’s the warehouse between 4th and 5th Streets on Colorado, which in the late 1990s became the upstairs home of the very first Alamo Drafthouse with its tiny single screen. Elijah Wood perfectly described it like being “somewhere between a movie theater, an attic, and a living room.”

If you’re nostalgic, now’s a good time to go read the Austin Monthly Oral History of the Alamo Drafthouse which has some great anecdotes about that space:

Elle Klein: Tim had lined the walls of the theater with hay bales. They were covered with black curtains … There was the wall, then hay bales, then a black curtain. There would constantly be hay coming out on the floor. We would sweep up hay at the end of the night.

Yup. Who needs special acoustic panels for soundproofing when you can just stuff the walls with hay??

There have been serious problems caused by the Drafthouse leadership over the past decade, even as they continue to open dozens of locations around the U.S., but I do miss the spirit of that first little theater and the amazing movies and community experiences that I would never have seen otherwise.

January 8, 2022 permalink

Swinging the Dream

On stage and dressed in attire for Shakespeare's "Midsummer Night's Dream": Butterfly McQueen as Puck, Maxine Sullivan as Titania and Louis Armstrong as Bottom
On stage and dressed in attire for Shakespeare's "Midsummer Night's Dream": Butterfly McQueen as Puck, Maxine Sullivan as Titania and Louis Armstrong as Bottom

In 1939 there was a Broadway production of a jazz-themed Midsummer Night’s Dream called Swinging the Dream, featuring Butterfly McQueen, Louis Armstrong, Moms Mabley, Dorothy Dandridge, and many others (a cast of 110!), with music performed by Benny Goodman’s sextet joining the pit orchestra. It ran for less than 2 weeks before collapsing as a failure.

From a NY Times writeup of an early 2021 effort to revisit Swinging the Dream:

“I just want to know what happened, why that lineup crashes, and then why the show seems so entirely to disappear,” said Gregory Doran, the artistic director of the Royal Shakespeare Company.

“The critics are telling us that it did not hang together, that the mash-up did not work,” Kwei-Armah [artistic director of the Young Vic] said. “I’m interested in why it didn’t work. Also, just because they said that it didn’t work doesn’t mean that it didn’t work!”

Even if it was a failed concept on Broadway, it’s definitely an interesting inflection point for American theater, music, and race (it’s telling that the famous and celebrated Black performers were still relegated to the “secondary” roles in the play, the fairies and mechanicals, rather than acting in the lead love interest roles…)

January 8, 2022 permalink

Lippmann Photography — First Color Spectrum Photos

In the 1890s the French physicist Gabriel Lippmann devised a new method of taking photographs that led to the first photographic recording of color:

Lippmann’s color photography process involved projecting the optical image as usual onto a photographic plate. The projection was done through a glass plate coated with a transparent emulsion of very fine silver halide grains on the other side. There was also a liquid mercury mirror in contact with the emulsion, so the projected light traveled through the emulsion, hit the mirror, and was reflected back into the emulsion.

The resulting plates are pretty cool looking, as seen in the video — very similar to the discovery of holography decades later — and technically they record a wider spectrum of color than our standard modern imaging techniques. He won the Nobel Prize in 1908 for his research, but the method was largely shelved due to the complexity of the process and the inability to make color prints, which also didn’t appear commercially until much later.

In 2021 researchers at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne published a paper on their research into Lippmann’s images, including a new method that lets us see the images closer to the original color captured in the photographic scene.

Side trivia: among Lippmann’s doctoral students at the Sarbonne was Maria Sklodowska, later a winner of multiple Nobel prizes herself, under her better-known married name: Marie Curie!

 

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