film, memories

Introducing Audrey Hepburn

Reflections on a posthumous discovery of the actress in her first starring role

When Audrey Hepburn passed away on January 20, 1993, I was 19 and a sophomore in college. In that nascent Internet era, this meant the news of Hepburn’s death propagated through newspapers, magazines, and TV/cable news. 

At the time, I was nominally familiar with Hepburn as an actor – I’d been introduced to her when my middle school English teacher showed us My Fair Lady after reading George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion – but I knew nothing about her other performances until mass media became saturated with the news of her untimely demise from a late-stage cancer diagnosis. The loss was all the more tragic because she had been devoting her post-acting career to humanitarian efforts with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), an organization that had helped her as a child in Europe at the end of World War II. 

In the weeks following her death, there was no shortage of retrospectives on her life, career, and humanitarian work, but People, Life, and Time magazines dominated the newsstands by pulling from Time, Inc.’s vast archive of photos. I was particularly drawn to the still images since I was thinking of becoming a photojournalist, and had always been attracted to old Hollywood glamour portraiture.

Inevitably, as I heard and read more about Hepburn, I became inspired to seek out her performances on home media (VHS, at the time). “She won an Academy Award for Roman Holiday,” I considered, “so why not start there?”

Little did I know what a profound effect the film would have on me – a movie some would dismiss as a mere romantic comedy, but that the more astute would defend as having a rare dose of reality from its reverse-fairy tale premise. I was surprised how instantly I became an AUDREY HEPBURN FAN, falling for her much like the world did some 40 years earlier.

As my fandom grew over the next few years, my friends teased me for my obsession with Hepburn, something I tried to deny since I felt like I was above such tendencies. But looking back more objectively, I admit I was obsessed. She had become my sole movie star idol, and any time I wasn’t spending on my studies, I was spending reading biographies about her life, photocopying magazine articles and photos, and tracking down VHS releases of her other films. It’s perhaps telling – about my fanaticism, but also the general availability of her films on home media  – that one of my expressed life goals at that time was to watch every film she’s appeared in (note: I still haven’t unlocked that). 

While my fan reputation is known far and wide among my friends – so much so that sometimes even I’m surprised by who knows (“Do I really talk about it that much?”) – I’d always struggled to articulate my feelings for why, without overstating or misrepresenting things and making it seem…well, weird. It wasn’t until I read J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, that I found something that properly described it.

Early in Rowling’s novel, readers are introduced to magical creatures called Veela, who have a compulsive effect on the male characters. Rowling is very careful not to describe the compulsion as sexual lust, but as an intense admiration that makes them want to be close to the Veela or do things to impress them. It is, essentially, a very innocent, pre-adolescent, kind of love or infatuation, that is non-sexual or, perhaps, uncomplicated by sexuality. 

And that is how I first felt and continue to feel about Hepburn – an “intense, uncomplicated admiration” for her physical beauty, inner goodness, and all the grace, charm, and style that has been endlessly written about her. It may be something people who grew up in a country with a monarchy understand better than those of us in the United States. However, I think even people in the States can relate to this sentiment when they consider Princess Diana, the way people all over the world – even in the U.S. – held her in such high esteem, and the global sense of loss we experienced when she died. Though Hepburn only played a princess in Roman Holiday, she may as well have been royalty given her regal bearing and grace, and ultimately the way in which people responded to her as a person and public icon. 

Though I’ve now seen all of Hepburn’s major films, Roman Holiday remains my favorite for the feelings of “innocent admiration” it elicits even now, and the fact it captures Hepburn’s persona better than any film that follows. Many critics have opined that Hepburn deserved to get the Academy Award for one of her subsequent performances (e.g. in The Nun’s Story), rather than the one she turned in for Roman Holiday. I don’t necessarily disagree – given how closely it seems her Princess Anne seems to mesh with what we know of her as a person, it’s hard to really call it “acting.” And yet I can’t really blame Hollywood for being so smitten with her they essentially awarded Hepburn for playing herself, or some idealized version of it. I probably would have cast the same vote that denied the win to the likes of Leslie Caron (Lili), Ava Gardner (Mogambo), and Deborah Kerr (From Here to Eternity), doing nothing for the Oscars’ reputation as a popularity contest. 

Collecting Roman Holiday on Home Video

I picked up Roman Holiday on VHS in the mid-1990s. Obviously it was a must-own after my initial viewing, which I believe was a rental.

DVD came on the scene in 1997, and though the title wasn’t yet available on the format, I stayed true to form and made my first DVD purchase a Hepburn film – My Fair Lady. It wasn’t until 2002 that Roman Holiday arrived on DVD, after going through an extensive “digital cleanup” by Lowry Digital Imaging (a sign that the original film elements weren’t as carefully preserved as one would hope). 

In early 2015 I caught wind that the film had been “restored,” though what that meant exactly was not clear, as the work in 2002 was also called a “restoration,” but didn’t exactly qualify by film preservation standards. 

By the end of 2015, the restored version started making the rounds at local theaters through Fathom Events. Typically that meant a home media release was on the way, but the only outcome of the screenings was iTunes and Vudu digital platforms now had an “HD” version. Nevertheless, most viewers reported the digital copy to look fantastic, indicating that if the film ever did make it to Blu-ray, it would offer the best possible picture quality to show off the restoration. 

Years went by without a Blu-ray release, however, and inquiries on the subject (a few of which I instigated) were basically answered by statements that Paramount Home Entertainment had no plans to re-release titles they’d already put on the physical media market (even if the original release was in standard definition).

Roman Holiday Blu-ray
The Blu-ray released on September 15, 2020

It wasn’t until the studio announced in early 2020 its Paramount Presents Blu-ray line that it seemed there’d been a change of heart, and releasing Roman Holiday began to look less a matter of “if,” but “when.” The exact “when” ultimately materialized much sooner than I expected (given how long it had been already, I wasn’t getting my hopes up) and thanks to my friend Ron Epstein at Home Theater Forum I was able to be part of the July 2020 press event announcing the long-awaited release of the title on Blu-ray. Head of Paramount Archives Andrea Kalas confirmed the film had been restored in 2015, as well as described the nature and condition of the surviving film elements. A couple weeks ago renowned film restorer Robert Harris offered his praise of the Blu-ray picture quality, giving fans the reassurance that Paramount Archives has given the film the best possible treatment in the restoration and archiving process.  

As of Tuesday September 15, 2020 I officially have the Blu-ray in hand. I admit that after so many years of wondering about and waiting for the release that there was a bit of an anti-climax when I opened the package, but as others have celebrated its arrival with me, and have watched the film and become new fans, I’m looking forward to revisiting it now for myself and sharing it with friends and loved ones in the years to come. Roman Holiday on Blu-ray has been a long time coming, but I’m grateful it has finally arrived.

Bonus Feature: It’s Yours Once You Give it Away

During the VHS era I picked up a budget title that was supposed to be a Hepburn biography, but was largely a collection of old news clips about her without much narrative substance. Eventually I sold it to the local used CD store.

Some time after, one of my co-workers told me she found something on a library freebie shelf (I believe in Florence, of all places) that she thought I should have. To my amusement it was the same VHS title I’d sold off, but as I looked at it more closely I also saw it had a price tag from the CD store I’d sold mine to. Though there weren’t other distinguishing marks to confirm it was the exact same copy I’d tried to get rid of, I couldn’t deny the serendipity of the whole thing, and I happily returned the VHS tape to my collection, where it must now stay FOREVER.

The VHS tape in question, that just can’t quit me.
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writing

Considering Racial Color Blindness

The latest idea I’ve been mulling over is the notion of racial “color blindness,” usually expressed as, “I don’t see people as black, brown, etc. I just see people as people.”

The “love sees no color” t-shirt from the 1990s.

From my own experience, I first started hearing/seeing the idea in the early 1990s through the “Love Sees No Color” t-shirt. It seemed like an attempt to practice the value of “tolerance,” another now-outmoded and hollow term from that era.

In hindsight “seeing no color” just enabled people to avoid something that made them uncomfortable and that they didn’t want to talk about in the first place. And it let them do it under the auspices that it would be “rude” to bring up the color of someone’s skin.

Yet somehow, ignoring or dismissing a part of someone’s identity is more polite or, as the t-shirt suggests, an act of love? Ask any person of color if 1) they’ve ever been told “I don’t see you as black, brown, etc.” and 2) that made them feel disregarded or ignored, and you’ll get a “yes” on both counts.

Anti-racism educator Jane Elliott has some pointed words for those who say, “I don’t see color.”

In preparation to write this post, I wanted to find out where the notion of racial color blindness came from. A cursory search didn’t turn up a lot of information on its history, since there doesn’t seem to be any one person or group who coined the phrase or who can be credited for its use. Ironically, the idea seems to have evolved from part of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s I Have a Dream speech, where he says:

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

But I very much doubt the ideology of “I don’t see color” is what Dr. King had in mind when he wrote that.

There have been many suggested reading lists shared for those who want to educate themselves further about race and racism in America – this is one example making the rounds.

Personally, because of my own curiosity about racial color blindness as an ideology, I’m going to start with Meghan Burke’s Colorblind Racism, which appears to fully track and dissect its history and practice. For those who may not want such an exhaustive study of the topic, there’s a great article featuring Burke and fellow sociologist Eduardo Bonilla-Silva (Racism without Racists) discussing the issue – Being “Color Blind” Doesn’t Make You Not Racist—In Fact, It Can Mean the Opposite.

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writing

The Devolution of All Lives Matter

I’ve been thinking a lot about the statement “all lives matter,” probably more than it deserves. Where once it may have required a reasoned explanation to the well meaning (but frankly, kind of naive) individual about basic language and social interaction, there’s little doubt that in 2020 those who spout the phrase know exactly what they are doing when they say it in response to “Black Lives Matter.” It is now very clearly a rebuke, counter-protest, and verbal middle-finger to the movement that would have us focus our collective attention on the dangers and injustices faced by the Black population.

Yet memes and social media posts continue, attempting to explain what should need no explanation. They give the benefit of the doubt that there are people out there who STILL haven’t realized “all lives matter” in reply to “Black lives matter” is – at best – insensitive, and the unaware just need a remedial lesson in English composition and manners. 

In 2016 I Facebook-shared this article from Gawker (hey, remember them?), which explained it in the best way I’d seen, taking the tack that if you do indeed mean well, you’re better off finding another catchphrase because it’s basically irredeemable. Since then “all lives matter” has only devolved, so now is it not only a proverbial sling and arrow, it might actually be used in combination with a literal one of the latter.

So while I appreciate the various memes that have been created and shared recently, trying to bring it home to someone who just doesn’t get it, I’m not so sure those people exist anymore, or exist in a significant way. Better now that the phrase be drowned out by the beats of K-Pop than for activists to put forth energy into explaining social norms to those who are fully aware of them and who are simply, willfully flouting them.

Still, as a way of putting an end to my personally stewing on a topic fueled by lingering incredulity, I’d like to highlight a few of my favorite anti-all lives matter memes and share one of my own, adapted primarily from the Gawker article written by Tom Scocca, but also drawing upon aspects of the others. In part, to provide a resource if someone wants to share one or all of them, if they are still in that mode to debate the issue, but also to illustrate the different ways “all lives matter” has been dissected and disavowed.

I don’t want nor expect this to be the final word on the matter, but I do expect future messages and memes will shift with how use of the phrase has shifted, recognizing it’s no longer a maxim co-wielded by the well-intentioned, but now an empty notion completely taken over by those in virulent opposition to Black Lives Matter. Though I wouldn’t necessarily use the same words as Seth Rogen, he seems to be on the right track.

My Favorite Anti-All Lives Matter Memes

For the one sincere about justice for all

“It doesn’t discredit or diminish any other group, it just brings awareness and support to the group that needs attention.” – Unknown Author

For the one willing to listen

“But if I change my mind now, doesn’t that make me a hypocrite? Nope. It means you’re growing as a person.” – @scarecrowbar

For the one who needs empathy

“‘All lives matter’ is truthful. But it’s hurtful and cruel in the moment.” – Doug Williford

Gawker’s article, meme-erized

Also available as a web slide.

Adapted from There’s No Good Way to Say All Lives Matter by Tom Scocca.
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memories

Saying Goodbye to John Prine

I was introduced to John Prine through Iris DeMent. She was his opening act in a show at the Hult Center, and I so wanted to see her perform that it didn’t matter I knew nothing about who she was touring with, and figured I could leave early if I didn’t care for his music.

It didn’t take long for Prine to win me over. His irreverence, turn of a phrase, and unique perspective had me either chuckling (Let’s Talk Dirty in Hawaiian) or choking up (Hello in There).

As I dove into his music catalog, trying to catch up with the rest of the world, I realized I became a fan at just the right time, when age and experience had deepened and textured his voice to a quality that I preferred. And it was lucky for me that he had no plans on stopping his work, putting in another 20 years of touring and songwriting before being taken from us by complications from COVID-19.

In those 20 years, I turned my dad into a mutual fan, went to at least a half dozen more live shows, with my parents now joining me, and generally been amazed at what a juggernaut Prine was despite multiple battles with cancer and increasing age. I was really hoping he would pull through his bout with COVID-19, just so I could hear the song he would inevitably write about the experience.

Rest in peace, John Prine. I’m glad I took a chance on you.

UPDATE: I ran across my stash of old concert ticket stubs, and found the one for Prine and DeMent at the Hult Center.

Ticket stub for John Prine and Iris DeMent show

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film, memories

More than fair

post-287413-0-28986100-1443376099Tuesday, October 27th — the Blu-ray release date of the newly restored My Fair Lady — is a big day for film lovers.

The restoration and its long-awaited arrival on home video is significant in large part because the property was treated so casually, if not poorly, back in 2011, when the distributor put out a dated transfer that didn’t suit the film’s pedigree and raised the hackles of its many fans, myself included.

When word came out over a year ago that a restoration was under way, overseen by Robert A. Harris, arguably the best film preservationist in the business who’s worked on restorations of Lawrence of Arabia and Spartacus, fans knew the film was finally getting the treatment it deserved and that a suitable edition for their collections would eventually be a reality.

My Fair Lady DVD editions.
The 1998 (L) and 2004 (R) DVD editions. I never bothered to buy the 2011 Blu-ray given its transfer.

As I anxiously await my Blu-ray copy to arrive in the mail, I can’t help but reflect on my experiences with the film, which began in the 7th grade thanks to my English teacher, Ms. Sandhu.

After reading portions of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, Ms. Sandhu showed us the musical adaptation of the play, AKA My Fair Lady. While I didn’t become enamored with the movie at the time, I remember enjoying it, along the same lines as my enjoyment of The Sound of Music and other movie musicals I’d been exposed to. It wasn’t until Audrey Hepburn passed away in 1993 that I revisited the film, as part of my (admittedly posthumous) fascination with the actress that had me seeking out every movie she’d ever starred in.

While My Fair Lady doesn’t rank as my favorite Hepburn title (that would be Roman Holiday), it’s certainly one of her best, has only improved with age, and belongs in any film enthusiast’s collection. In fact, the movie was the first DVD title I ever owned, purchased back in 1998 (17 years ago!) when the format was just starting to make headway. Because of this, the release is undoubtedly the most important one of the year for me personally, but, with its state-of-the-art restoration and presentation, probably the most important release of the year, period.

To find out more about the restoration and the painstaking effort required to bring it up to everyone’s high standards, read the exclusive Home Theater Forum interview by my friend and colleague Neil Middlemiss.

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photos

Little Hurricane at Hi-Fi Music Hall

See the full set on Flickr

I heard about San Diego rock and dirty blues duo Little Hurricane from photographer Neil Van Niekirk, who posted accolades for the group on his Facebook page. When I gave their latest album a listen, I was instantly drawn to Tone Catalano’s textured vocals (and most people know I don’t usually gravitate to male singers). I also connected with the band’s fully formed, blues-rock style, backed by the beats of drummer CC Spina. About a year later, a concert venue called Hi-Fi Music Hall opened up and Little Hurricane eventually popped up on their calendar, making for an obvious ticket purchase, even though most rock concerts are scheduled way past my bed time these days. Still, discovering new music and then getting a chance to see the performer live (and maybe shoot the show) has always been one of my favorite parts of being a music lover.

Hi-Fi Music Hall took over the building I will always know as the Rock ‘n’ Rodeo (that information may date me quite a bit). Although I never really stepped foot in the building before, I got a strong sense a lot of work had been done to it, for the better. The space was clean and nicely laid out with the music hall on one side and a full service bar on the other. The bar even had a small stage for another band to entertain patrons, set behind a pull-down screen used to project a video feed from the music hall.

The hall itself was set up for standing room only, but there weren’t more than about 50 of us there. That is probably my chief lament about Eugene, in that cool, new acts will come here, but once they get more of a name for themselves, they won’t tend to come back because Portland will be considered the more viable market. I can’t blame them — musicians need to make a living and drawing in a Eugene-sized audience doesn’t make financial sense after awhile. From a photography stand point, it does provide some nice opportunities, not only in being able to shoot acts early in their careers, but also having largely unfettered photo access. It seems like the more prominent the performer, the more restrictive they’ll be about photography, so newer acts in combination with small venues tend to be the most tolerant of my bringing along my DSLR.

The lighting for Little Hurricane was somewhat challenging, in that Tone was often better lit than CC and her faster movements in a darker area of the stage meant many attempts trying to capture very fleeting moments and expressions. Remote controlled LED effect lights and smoke machines created some nice atmosphere, but the main lights were still a bit dim and tended toward uniform blue or magenta color washes. Fearing the venue would favor a spartan lighting scheme, I packed the 85mm f/1.8 as my primary lens, rather than a slower (and much larger) f/2.8 telephoto zoom. Consequently, I was able to shoot as high as 1/160 for most of the show and with minimal focusing or exposure problems. Given the band’s musical aesthetic, post-processing the images for high contrast black-and-white seemed the most fitting, though I may produce a color version of the selections down the road.

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web stuff

Free is a great price

I’ve paid for web hosting for several years now, but because of some mediocre service from my hosting company, my admittedly spotty blogging activity, and simple lack of time to maintain my own WordPress instance, I’ve made the switch to a free WordPress.com site. There are of course limitations on surrendering control (like not being able to install my own plugins nor embed Flickr slideshows), but the end of a monthly expense and no longer having to troubleshoot technical issues is an obvious gain. To remedy any traffic going to cameronyee.com, I mapped the domain to this location.

As usual, picking a theme is the hardest part. There’s more this “Sketch” theme can do as far as displaying a portfolio of images, but for now I’ll just let the blog do the talking.

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photos

Halie Loren “Butterfly Blue” CD Release Show

halie-loren-July 17, 2015-1486

See the full set on Flickr

Jazz artist Halie Loren returned to the Wildish Theater to celebrate her latest CD release, “Butterfly Blue.” We weren’t sitting in the front row like last time, so I had to rely on a longer fixed telephoto to make up the difference.

Being about 10 rows up and slightly left of center afforded a fairly clear view of all the performers, but unfortunately pianist Matt Treder was consistently blocked by the other musicians or equipment. My seat afforded a very clear view of Halie, my only nitpick being the background with the edge of a hanging projection screen crossing behind her head (though one could argue this makes things a little more interesting than just a pure black background). Normally I also like to keep “dutch” angles to a minimum, but I tilted things with Halie’s more emotive or energetic moments to mirror the mood and to try to make the background contribute a little something to the images.

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miscellanea

Cameron in retrograde

I’ve never considered myself a luddite, but in the past couple years I’ve re-evaluated my use of personal electronic devices and have made choices based around the notion of “satisficing.” For some, the devices I use might seem downright regressive, but they satisfy my level of need / want without feeling like I’m either depriving or indulging myself.

The Phone

Kyocera Verve

My “AI” (average intelligence) phone, the Kyocera Verve.

The most significant switch I made in this age of the smartphone was going to a feature phone, or as I like to call it “a phone of average intelligence.” When I bought a tablet a few years ago (the now discontinued Google Nexus 7), I was using my smartphone less frequently. When I did use it to go on the Internet, I found it increasingly frustrating compared to the speed and size of the tablet. So rather than try to find a faster and bigger phone, I opted for a device that can just make calls and send text messages, things I do infrequently, but have a need for like anyone else. I also switched my carrier to Ting, a non-contract carrier that charges you based on what you use. I’m a pretty low volume caller and texter, so my phone bill has worked out to around $16 a month for the last year (I’d be paying at least double this to keep a smartphone).

The only time I’ve found a need for mobile data is when we travel. My wife has a smartphone, so that usually covers the bases. If I were to spring for mobile data, I’d probably get a mobile hotspot over a phone, which would allow me to use my tablet on-the-go. I haven’t reached a tipping point for that yet, since I don’t travel by myself very often, but I’d probably get something like the Karma, another pay-for-what-you-use mobile service provider.

The Watch

Timex Ironman

Great for timing contractions and seeing what time baby woke up for a feeding.

About a year ago I also started wearing a wrist watch again. The main reason I dug out my Timex Ironman was because we were getting ready to have a baby and I wanted something easy to look at to time contractions. Having a watch also turned out handy for life with a newborn and the habit just (re)stuck after that. However, this doesn’t mean I see any use for a smartwatch, especially since I don’t have a companion phone for one. I do think it’s interesting that at one point cell phones effectively did away with wearing something on your wrist, and now it’s come back, after a fashion.

The Internet

The final piece of personal satisficing I want to share concerns my home Internet service, which I get through Comcast. At one point I had a phone and Internet bundle, but did away with the phone part and kept the Internet (which I now understand is very hard to do unless you get really aggressive with the Comcast customer service rep). Not only that, I downgraded the Internet speed to the “Performance Starter” 6 mbps download / 1 mbps upload speed.

For the most part this is more than enough for our uses – the only time the speed is noticeably slow is when I’m uploading photos to Flickr, but I can easily walk away and come back to it when it’s finished. Streaming content from YouTube and the like is also plenty functional. I know I’m not getting the best deal for the performance, but the alternative is having a decent – but short-term price – and then having to get on the phone and renegotiate my rates after that term has ended. Suffice it to say, I HATE doing that sort of thing and not having to deal with customer (lack of) service on a regular basis is worth much more to me in terms of quality of life and sanity.

Not satisficed?

If you want to learn more about satisficing, a good place to start is Barry Schwartz’s “The Paradox of Choice.” The book is on my list of favorites (though admittedly the first chapter is kind of tedious as he lists all the choices we have about jeans, laundry detergent, etc.).

Also, check out this TED Talk:

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photos

Ballet Fantastique’s An American Christmas Carol with Halie Loren

ballet-fantastique-halie-loren-140120

See the full set on Flickr

I’ve always got my eye out for a compact camera that does well with the challenges of concert photography. The Olympus Stylus 1 was the latest to get my attention with its constant f/2.8 aperture and 300mm equivalent maximum zoom. Rather than plunk down the money for an outright purchase, I decided to opt for a rental through LensRentals.com. Overall it was a good experience with both the device and the rental shop, though ultimately it didn’t compel me to purchase the camera (I’m kind of holding out for the next model to have a larger sensor).

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