Sunday, February 18, 2007

Turning The Pages

Yesterday, while reading the Montreal's Gazette, I discovered a very interesting webpage created by the British Library: Turning The Pages.

The BL has digitalized several of their most interesting and valuable books (at least sixteen of them so far) and anyone can browse them on the net. I means literaly browse them: you see a picture of the book and you can turn the page like if the book was really there!

All you need is broadband and a Shockwave plug-in.

At first, I was disappointed. On the main page they were talking about the new version for Vista and I was afraid that it was another of those sites that were useless for us, Mac users. I decided to click on one of the books offered, just in case. And it worked! For Mac, it works directly and you don't need to install anything if you already have the Shockwave plug-in for Safari. And it is REALLY amazing!

As example, here's the Sforza Hours book:

You use the cursor of the mouse to turn the pages (hence the name) with a cute animated effect. You have three buttons at the bottom right of the screen that allow you to see an explanation on the text, hear the same explanation or have a magnifier that you can move around to see in more details the texts or illustrations!

You can browse through a Leonardo's sketchbook, a Mozart's musical dairy, the original Alice by Lewis Carroll, Mercator's Atlas Of Europe, etc. Bravo to the British Library for making such treasure available to the masses!

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Triumph Of The Will

“Triumph des Willens” (aka “Dokument vom Reichsparteitag”) is Leni Riefenstahl's infamous propaganda / legendary documentary film about the 1934 Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (National Socialist German Workers Party, or NSDAP, also known as the Nazi Party) rally in Nuremberg, Germany. It shows mostly parades and speaches by Hitler, Himmler, Goebbels, Hess, Goering and other top party officials.

Some have argued that this movie cannot be considered a documentry because it was so closely edited that it was clearly made as propaganda for the Third Reich. I disagree. Yes, the movie was edited but Riefenstahl was a very skillful filmaker and she certainly wanted to created a beautiful and powerful movie. I believe the editing was for that purpose and not to forward the agenda of her sponsor, Goebbels' Ministry for Public Enlightment and Propaganda. Despite that she made several films for Hitler documenting the Nazi regime, Riefenstahl has always claimed not to have been a Nazi herself. It would have been propaganda if the movie would have had a narration track exalting the glory of the party, but Riefenstahl is there only to bear witness of the event and Hitler's powerful speaches and theatrics speak for themselves. There's only a modern subtitle translating the speaches and describing who's doing what. In retrospective, it is even more a documentary as it opens a window to what Hitler and the NSDAP were in their beginning--only in their second year of power and five years before the war. It also shows how beautiful the old city of Nuremberg looked before beiing destroyed in the war.

Others would definitely argue that this movie is an abomination and should have never been released on DVD. I beg to disagree. Hitler and the Nazis did exist and it serves no purpose to deny it. In fact, yes, it was a painful period of the human history, but it is also very important to teach it so everybody knows what happened and how it happened in order to avoid ever repeating such terrible mistakes. However, it must also be told that Hitler did a great good to Germany: he used the resentment generated by the defeat and humiliation of the Great War (WWI) to motivate and raise the moral of the Nation, allowing to reorganize the country, rebuilt the destroyed economy (he established the first German autobahn, or highways, for example), but he did it so strongly that it went inevitably on the path of war.

The movie also make clear that Hitler's achievements were not the result of an haphazard process, but that his evil intents were in the planning from the start. Already in 1934, he makes allusion in his speaches to the racial purity; and the fact that he deliberately chose the swastika as emblem and borrowed so many ideas from the Romans (banners, monumental military display, creating new road infrastructure, etc.) demonstrate that he already had the intention to follow in Napoleon's footsteps and unify Europe under his Thousand-Year Reich.

It is eerie to think that such a dull and ordinary-looking megalomaniac could use monumental sets and perform well-crafted speaches with such a powerful result that it borders mind-control. It is scary to think that it could happen again. And it is funny, because I could not watch this movie without thinking about Star Wars: Lucas definitely found inspiration in this movie for his music, costumes and sets.

“Triumph Of The Will” is a beautiful movie and a great example of cinematogrophic art, but, more importantly, it has a great historical value. It fits quite well in my DVD library, alonside movies like The Birth Of A Nation. It really must be seen.

The extras includes another short movie (17 min.) by Riefenstahl (“Day Of Freedom”) as well as an audio commentary by historian Dr. Anthony R. Santoro. About the movie, see also the Wikipedia page.

Triumph Of The Will. Germany, 1935, 114 min., B&W, subtitled in English; Dir./Ed.: Leni Riefenstahl; Scr.: Leni Riefenstahl, Walter Ruttmann; Phot.: Sepp Allgeier, Karl Attenberger, Werner Bohne; Music: Herbert Windt. Not Rated.

Triumph Of The Will (new edition) ©2000 The Film Preserve, Ltd. All Rights Reserved. Packaging ©2006 Synapse Films, Inc

A little rest

Another issue of the magazine has been completed and sent to the printer earlier this week. The reorganization is starting to work since this time the production went a little more smoothly. There was still delays and problems (some that I am really not happy with)--there are always some of those. But this time it was not too bad. Now I can enjoy a little respite.

It doesn't mean that there's no work to do. There is still a zillion things to do (update the web page, take care of orders, answer customers' complains, prepare some new ebooks, prepare shipping, plan next issue, prepare for a convention next week, etc.), but there's less pressure and I am not working fourteen hours each day (seven days per week). It feels good.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Lonely Bloggers

University of Calgary professor Michael Keren's book Blogosphere: The New Political Arena says that bloggers are lonely and isolated people. He also adds that bloggers see themselves as rebels against the mundane society, but since their writings receive limited exposure on the internet, he compares them to Don Quixote.

His comments generated lots of reaction. I guess I agree with him on some points. Many personal bloggers are lonely people, and they throw their daily life-capsule in the internet like someone would throw a bottle in the sea. I consider myself in that category. I work at home, my little safe haven, and I barely see anyone beside my wife. I feel lonely, but I know that my weblog's comments won't be read by many. It's like writing a journal and leaving it in plain view, in hope that someone will dare to read it.

However, many blogs go beyond a personal purpose: companies' blogs serve as information hub, some organization set up blogs to gather volunteer or raise funds, many do political commentary. Also, some blogs can become very popular and be read by lots of people... Keren's comment definitely doesn't apply to those.

Source: The Gazette, Montreal, 1/31/07 A1-2. See also here and there.