Vinni-Pukh, Russia’s Winnie the Pooh

Between 1969 and 1972, Russian animator and filmmaker Fyodor Khitruk created three short films based on English author A. A. Milne’s beloved Winnie the Pooh character: Winnie Pooh (1969), Winnie Pooh Goes Visiting (1971), and Winnie Pooh and a Busy Day (1972).

The films are drawn in a different style than the well known Disney adaptations, the first of which (Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree) precedes Khitruk’s Winnie Pooh by three years. Notably, Khitruk’s backgrounds are highly stylized, sometimes in distorted perspective and vividly colourful rather than naturalistic; his characters, though easily cross-identifiable with Disney, are distinctly original; and Winnie the Pooh—in particular—has a slightly “off” personality: still cuddly, but less so, and more of a smart schemer than the innocent, yellow-furred, red-shirted “oh, bother” of the American imagination.

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A map of the land, showing the important locations from Khitruk’s triology.

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An early landscape shot from Winnie Pooh. Notice the flatness, the stylization of the paw prints on the winding path, and the mix of perspectives: top-down and side-view.

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Pooh emerges from beyond the trees, singing his way down the path. Also from Winnie Pooh, this is one of the few times Khutrik creates depth.

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A typical—but empty, because Pooh and Piglet haven’t walked into the frame yet—background. Perhaps more spare than most, it demonstrates Khitruk’s use of white as well as his expressive “messy” colouring style.

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Some of the richest drawings are of the characters’ homes. This happens to be Pooh’s. We should be able to recognize the paw-lined path as the one from an earlier image. There’s a large keyhole on the wooden door, as well as flowers and a mushroom growing on the roof. The building is very earthy.

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A similar style of home for Piglet, although more “grounded” in that there’s recognizable ground. Another keyhole adorns the door. On the window: two hearts, perhaps expressing Piglet’s good-natured, loving personality.

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Now to meet the characters! Here’s Pooh—sitting under a tree, using logic to figure out that a buzzing tree means honey above. If you’re familiar with either Milne’s stories or the first Disney film, you’ll remember that Pooh eventually grabs a balloon and pretends to be a floating rain cloud in order to partake of some of that honey, which is guarded by a fearsome gang of bees.

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Hello, Piglet. Notice the similar composition to the previous image: half the screen in white, the other in colour, the character in between.

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Pooh and Piglet together, in one of the nicest shots of the trilogy. The characters and background come together to form an appealing whole. The greens at the top of the frame add a welcome coolness to what would otherwise be too brownish-red.

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In Winnie Pooh Goes Visiting, we also meet Rabbit. Less angry, more dandy than in Disney, Rabbit also has a flower on the roof [of the upper part] of his house.

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Completing Khitruk’s cast of characters are Eeyore and Owl, who both appear in Winnie Pooh and a Busy Day, which is twice as long as each of the first two films. Of all the characters, Eeyore is the most similar to the Eeyore most of us are used to seeing. He’s mopey, of course.

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Still, it’s in his backgrounds that Khutrik most firmly stamps his imagination on the Pooh stories. Here, pink and blue clouds surround a red sun.

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This hill-with-three-trees is particularly beautiful. The grass is divided into shapes of various colours and the branches look like they’re in bloom.

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Something less characteristic is this close up on flowers. Distinct, yet keeping with Khutrik’s style. The dandelion draws the eye, but the richness is in the tangle of colours and pencil strokes behind.

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Indoors are also drawn. In this shot, Pooh and Piglet visit Rabbit’s home in Winnie Pooh Goes Visiting.

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And another home, though the owner will remain a mystery. The drawing is uncharacteristically dark, with few white highlights on the bed. Not ominous—even cozy—but natural, muddy, terrestrial. The textures are rougher than usual, too.

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All good things come to an end: one of the most iconic Pooh illustrations brought to colourful life, as Pooh and Piglet walk hand-in-hand over the hill and far away. Notice the extreme stylization of the clouds, which doesn’t distract at all.

Until we meet again, Hundred Acre Wood.

Fare well.

 

How to Map an Argument

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This be an araucaria araucana tree, a.k.a. monkey puzzle tree

Today’s post is an attempt to use argument mapping software to help visualize and analyze an argument. The specific program I’m using is called Araucaria. It’s a free tool developed at the University of Dundee, but there are others. A spreadsheet can be used to create something similar, as can Photoshop (for something more presentable) or simply a pen and paper.

The downside of any of these methods is that the diagrams tend to get large and unruly as an argument grows more complex. The benefit is that by seeing an entire argument in distilled form we’re able to identify its strengths and weaknesses. This can help construct an argument of our own or identify where our opponent’s argument is most vulnerable to attack.

Example

Let’s create a simple situation related to movies. You and your friend are talking about African films. The conversation is chugging along, you agree on a number of points. Then you pose the question “Which national cinema in Africa is the best?” Your friend replies:

How is that even a question? It’s obvious that Egypt’s cinema is the best. They’ve made the most movies.

Diagrammed, the argument looks like:

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It has one premise and one conclusion. However, there is a second, unspoken but implicit, premise that we should also include in our diagram:

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Yet something seems off. As drawn, our diagram suggests that both premises, separately, support the conclusion. That’s wrong, so we do this:

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Notice that the two premises are now cumulative (which we show by selecting both arrows and then clicking on the program’s “Link” tool). Both need to be true for the conclusion to be true.

We may now create a basic strategy for defeating our friend’s argument: disprove one of his premises. But our first step may be to probe further and see how firm our friend’s ground is.

For example, we may challenge one of his premises by asking a question: “How do you know that Egypt’s cinema is the most prolific”? Questions are good because they don’t bind us to anything. In this case, they force our friend to either back up one of his premises or admit that he doesn’t know. If he doesn’t, all the better for us. But let’s say he does know, and answers:

It’s in a book by Doug Jones. But after I read that, I went on the IMDB and counted all the titles myself. He was right.

Our diagram grows:

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The two premises that support the conclusion (that Egyptian cinema is most prolific) are not cumulative. One reinforces the other and makes the conclusion stronger; but each, by itself, also leads to the conclusion. Hence, the arrows remain unlinked.

Let’s go on the offensive!

And create a rebuttal to the notion that Egyptian cinema is the most prolific cinema in Africa. Maybe we can make a strong case, and if we manage to convince our friend that he is wrong on this point his ultimate conclusion will also fail. We say:

Come on! Everyone knows that Nigeria makes tons of movies. Way more than Egypt. Nollywood is right up there with Bollywood and Hollywood in terms of output. And, yeah, most of that may be low quality stuff and on video, but I think it still counts as films and we have to take it into account.

So our diagram looks like:

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The software allows us not only to create and link premises and conclusion but also to assign “schemes” that illustrate what kind of reasoning is being used. In our case we referred to common knowledge, so we’ve chosen accordingly. Do you think our friend will admit that we are right and he is wrong? Not likely.

He will probably do what we did: question our premises (“It’s a funny kind of common knowledge if I didn’t know about it. Got any proof?”) and then rebut one of them to try to restore the flow of his original argument that we’ve so rudely disrupted. We’ll find a Wikipedia page to support our common knowledge claim, and then be faced with the following:

Actually, in that book by Doug Jones, he had a whole section on why video is not the same thing as a film and that the two shouldn’t be judged the same way. We may as well count home videos!

I’ve taken out the “scheme” and put in some ownership labels to help identify which rebuttal belongs to our friend and which is ours:

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Our Wikipedia page strengthens our claim that Nollywood makes more films than Egypt, but our friend has challenged our second premise (that “videos” are films) and, unfortunately, we need both premises to be true for our initial rebuttal to work. We could go on, possibly taking a look at the credibility of Doug Jones, on whose opinions our friend is rather heavily relying, but let’s admit defeat on this half of the argument and re-survey the entire situation:

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So back where we were, but now with “evaluation” labels to remind us of what (or rather where) to pursue the issue. The conclusion that Egyptian cinema is the most prolific may be rebuttable, but, after our initial attempt, it seems that that avenue is too much work and too well defended. Besides, we can take down the entire argument without touching that particular premise.

The premise that the most prolific cinema is the best cinema has the softer underbelly. We shall strike!

OK, fine, you’re right about Egypt making the most films, but this whole idea that quantity is quality doesn’t make sense. There are plenty of national cinemas, like the French and Japanese, that make less movies than, say, India, but their movies are on average better. They’re shown in more countries and they win more international awards. Plus, the best French and Japanese films are better than the best Indian ones. How many times has a Indian film won the Palme d’Or?

In sports, the the team that wins is the best team, not the one that competes the most times or plays the most games. The same thing here.

Thus:

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And so on…

Obviously, the diagram will never argue for you, but it will help you spot the good and the bad in both your own and other people’s arguments. And the act of creating the diagram, as much as the finished diagram itself, will help you grasp the structure of it. Sometimes it’s useful to realize that that long and elaborate chain of conclusions that you’ve come up with—it can be snipped right at the beginning.

(Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot)

dostoyevsky-the-idiotIn my endless fascination with punctuation, I discovered a neat detail in Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot that concerns translation and the parenthesis.

Specifically, the issue concerns three uses of parentheses in two neighbouring paragraphs in a speech given by one character to another. So as not to quote a whole page of text twice, I will divide the text into two short passages.

The first translation of the first passage comes from the Penguin edition of The Idiot, translated by David McDuff:

“But how do you know what my feelings are? (Rogozhin smiled wryly again). Why, I may have never once felt remorse since that day, and yet you’ve already sent me your brotherly forgiveness.”

The second, older translation of the same passage comes from the Project Gutenberg version of the novel, translated by Eva Martin:

“What do you know about my feelings, eh?” (Rogojin laughed disagreeably.) “Here you are holding out your brotherly forgiveness to me for a thing that I have perhaps never repented of in the slightest degree.”

Although both versions contain parentheses, McDuff keeps his within the dialogue, whereas Martin sets hers visibly apart from the character’s speech by placing them between quotation marks. In both cases, however, it is clear that the information within the parentheses is not being said by the character; but, rather, is being conveyed by the narrator solely to the reader.

Things get more interesting in the next paragraph, as the same character’s speech continues.

McDuff translates the second passage as:

“Had you not raised your hand against me (which God turned away), how would I appear to you now? I mean, I did suspect you of it, the same sin, we felt the same! (And don’t frown! Oh, what are you laughing at?)

Martin translates it as:

“What should you think of me now if you had not raised your knife to me—the knife which God averted from my throat? I would have been guilty of suspecting you all the same—and you would have intended the murder all the same; therefore we should have been mutually guilty in any case. Come, don’t frown; you needn’t laugh at me, either.”

What Martin has included as the character’s actual words, McDuff treats as something more ambiguous. The parts in parentheses in McDuff’s translation could be words that are spoken, but they could also be the speaking character’s unspoken thoughts; or, if we remember by how McDuff used parentheses in the previous passage, they could be the narrator’s words to the reader.

If we do decide that the words in parentheses are the narrator’s, two differences emerge between translations. In McDuff,

  1. It is not the speaking character who states a belief in God and in divine intervention, but, instead, the narrator—an important difference.
  2. In the second set of parentheses, rather than one character speaking to another, the narrator is actually commenting, to the reader, on the speech given by the character: imploring the reader not to laugh.

I’m not sure what the passages read like in the original Russian (although I suspect Martin is the more faithful translator of the two) but what a difference a translation can make, and how rich in meaning parentheses can be!

Meanwhile, time travelling in Greece

 

The New Bracelet

 

1.
Thus to be lost and thus to sink and die,
Perchance were death indeed!—Constantia, turn!
In thy dark eyes a power like light doth lie,
Even though the sounds which were thy voice, which burn
Between thy lips, are laid to sleep;
Within thy breath, and on thy hair, like odour, it is yet,
And from thy touch like fire doth leap.
Even while I write, my burning cheeks are wet.
Alas, that the torn heart can bleed, but not forget!

2.
A breathless awe, like the swift change
Unseen, but felt in youthful slumbers,
Wild, sweet, but uncommunicably strange,
Thou breathest now in fast ascending numbers.
The cope of heaven seems rent and cloven
By the enchantment of thy strain,
And on my shoulders wings are woven,
To follow its sublime career
Beyond the mighty moons that wane
Upon the verge of Nature’s utmost sphere,
Till the world’s shadowy walls are past and disappear.

3.
Her voice is hovering o’er my soul—it lingers
O’ershadowing it with soft and lulling wings,
The blood and life within those snowy fingers
Teach witchcraft to the instrumental strings.
My brain is wild, my breath comes quick—
The blood is listening in my frame,
And thronging shadows, fast and thick,
Fall on my overflowing eyes;
My heart is quivering like a flame;
As morning dew, that in the sunbeam dies,
I am dissolved in these consuming ecstasies.

4.
I have no life, Constantia, now, but thee,
Whilst, like the world-surrounding air, thy song
Flows on, and fills all things with melody.—
Now is thy voice a tempest swift and strong,
On which, like one in trance upborne,
Secure o’er rocks and waves I sweep,
Rejoicing like a cloud of morn.
Now ’tis the breath of summer night,
Which when the starry waters sleep,
Round western isles, with incense-blossoms bright,
Lingering, suspends my soul in its voluptuous flight.

The song is by the Greek experimental rock band Villagers of Ioannina City from their 2014 album Riza. The painting (“The New Bracelet”, 1883) is by the Polish artist Henryk Siemiradzki. The poem (“To Constantia, Singing”) is by Sappho and was translated into English by Percy Bysshe Shelley.

Eternity in a Paragraph

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Last and crowning torture of all the tortures of that awful place is the eternity of hell. Eternity! O, dread and dire word. Eternity! What mind of man can understand it? And remember, it is an eternity of pain. Even though the pains of hell were not so terrible as they are, yet they would become infinite, as they are destined to last for ever. But while they are everlasting they are at the same time, as you know, intolerably intense, unbearably extensive. To bear even the sting of an insect for all eternity would be a dreadful torment. What must it be, then, to bear the manifold tortures of hell for ever? For ever! For all eternity! Not for a year or for an age but for ever. Try to imagine the awful meaning of this. You have often seen the sand on the seashore. How fine are its tiny grains! And how many of those tiny little grains go to make up the small handful which a child grasps in its play. Now imagine a mountain of that sand, a million miles high, reaching from the earth to the farthest heavens, and a million miles broad, extending to remotest space, and a million miles in thickness; and imagine such an enormous mass of countless particles of sand multiplied as often as there are leaves in the forest, drops of water in the mighty ocean, feathers on birds, scales on fish, hairs on animals, atoms in the vast expanse of the air: and imagine that at the end of every million years a little bird came to that mountain and carried away in its beak a tiny grain of that sand. How many millions upon millions of centuries would pass before that bird had carried away even a square foot of that mountain, how many eons upon eons of ages before it had carried away all? Yet at the end of that immense stretch of time not even one instant of eternity could be said to have ended. At the end of all those billions and trillions of years eternity would have scarcely begun. And if that mountain rose again after it had been all carried away, and if the bird came again and carried it all away again grain by grain, and if it so rose and sank as many times as there are stars in the sky, atoms in the air, drops of water in the sea, leaves on the trees, feathers upon birds, scales upon fish, hairs upon animals, at the end of all those innumerable risings and sinkings of that immeasurably vast mountain not one single instant of eternity could be said to have ended; even then, at the end of such a period, after that eon of time the mere thought of which makes our very brain reel dizzily, eternity would scarcely have begun.

The text is from James Joyce’s novel A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. The art is by Zdzisław Beksiński.

People

Like Julian Tuwim, Jan Brzechwa was a famous Polish poet. His most beloved poems are children’s poems, but he also wrote poetry for adults. Here’s my translation of his poem “Ludzie”.

We tinker with wheels,
springs,
we set them in motion—
tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock,
we wind the clocks,
but it’s time that we don’t understand.

We know the revolutions of wheels,
We know the revolutions of machines,
We know the revolutions of heavenly bodies,
But we haven’t yet gotten to know ourselves.

We are the watch-makers of the world,
whose circulating blood
allows us to live
and die
the death of a fly.

—Jan Brzechwa
(Translation by me)

Valerie’s Week of Wonders

Czech New Wave filmmaker Jaromil Jireš’ 1970 art-fantasy Valerie and her Week of Wonders (Valerie a týden divů) is as luscious as it is incomprehensible—its story (something about magical protective earrings, the title heroine coming of age, and a family of fairy + folk tale tropes: evil grandmothers, vampires, and a brother-hero) being merely a canvas on which the film un-paints itself. And those un-paintings are beautiful and wonderful, sometimes erotic, and often imaginative, though it’s up-close (in close-ups: still lifes, portraits) that Jireš and cinematographer Jan Curík excel; when the camera slides too far back, control and beauty are lost. The film particularly relies—and re-re-returns—to the face of Valerie, the face of actress Jaroslava Schallerová,

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whose eyes express a depth of understanding and maturity that contrasts with her age (as actress and as character), so that whenever she’s shown in long-shot, when it becomes clear that she’s still only a young girl, the film loses this [illusion of] depth, along with some of its magic: poetry turns to narrative, and the narrative isn’t enthralling.

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Other characters are also given enchanting close-ups. I was especially taken with Helena Anýzová, who plays Valerie’s grandmother (among other characters) and who has acted in only one other film: Juraj Herz’ The Cremator. Her other film career, as a costume designer, was slightly longer (5 films), but I don’t think she designed costumes for Valerie. I don’t know if she’s still alive; her last IMDB-documented stint as costume designer was in 1982. In Valerie, she is simply stunning!

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I was also impressed by the film’s shots of objects, which aspire to symbolism, but more often achieve “only” beauty. It’s up to the viewer to work out their meanings—if any—but it hardly matters. Like other aspects of the film’s style, these still lifes are best when accompanied by little or no motion. Jireš cannot keep up his sense of elegance when faced with cameras and characters moving. His plans, his compositions are for static objects. When they move, the film begins to creak. This is not a big complaint, because only the rarest filmmakers truly think in terms of cinema, in terms of moving images, but it is enough to break the spell.

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The film’s mood is hard to pin down: at times horrific, at others benign. Things are not constant. Villains fade from evil to tame, and Valerie’s own journey veers from serious to playful. Camp is not a dirty word, so Valerie can be described as campy. Over the course of the entire film, however, the progression is certainly from the ominous to the joyful and life affirming. The final scene is a vast celebration in which all characters (dead or alive, good or evil) take part as equal and equally-free participants. It’s the big, rousing finale—from Wonderland, albeit without Alice.

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Inspired by Cream? The curtains aren’t the right colour.

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I included this image, of Valerie perched like a gargoyle (or a bird, if you prefer), because I don’t remember too many shots of the sky. For such a fanciful film, Valerie sure is Earth-bound. Along with the close-ups this gives it an interior, boxed feel. The shot above the shot of the sky is of the villain, a vampire with funny ears!

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Now I have a confession to make. Despite Valerie being an enticing film, equally playful and fantastic, presented as a parade of [mostly] amazing images, I was happy that it wasn’t a second longer than it’s brief seventy-odd (else: seventy odd) minutes. I’m not sure why—maybe the barrage of narrative-lite weirdness is aggressive and tiring, or else I need some substance behind my pretty pictures—but I was happy to turn the film off and get out of its world. And while I like all the screen caps I took and admire their visual artistry, that world didn’t haunt me like other film-worlds have haunted me. Still, I’ll leave you with its final image, which might just fit yet with Ginger Baker on drums, Jack Bruce on Bass, and Eric Clapton on guitar:

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I’ll sleep in this place with the lonely crowd, Lie in the dark where the shadows run from themselves…