May 30, 2010

Doctor Zhivago (favorite films)

Composer Maurice Jarre’s music from Doctor Zhivago begins with subtle and quiet undertones, then it works its way through melodic crescendos of Russian inspired flavoring in an orchestral masterwork that shines the light on a simple theme: Lara's Theme. This is where my heart soars with memories of young love. Who hasn’t taken their girl to the movies?  She and I went just once, that I can remember. It was so long ago - 1966.  I was seventeen, but that one time not only captured my heart, but my imagination as a photographer of movies. Sadly, the love didn’t last. We were very young. But the passion of a great movie and great photography left an everlasting impression. I was a budding photographer at the time, and this film made me realize that I had entered the right profession.
Doctor Zhivago is an epic film set in an epic time: A tragic love story carried along by the turmoil of the Russian revolution. It could have been just another movie among the many. But it wasn’t. Zhivago stands out as the perfect epic, like Lawrence of Arabia a few years before and Bridge on the River Kwai before that. It was film maker David Lean at the prime of his creative life. Unlike most film makers, Lean knew how to tell a story for the big screen, scattering it with emotion, heartbreak, love and anticipation - filled with the cinematic nuance that everyday life holds for us all. It's a wide reaching adventure, boiled down to a heart breaking love story between two beautiful people. When we watch one of Lean’s films, we are poetically transported to an experience of place and time, with characters that live, breath and hurt. With Doctor Zhivago, we get involved as if we knew the characters personally. We experience the tragedy of war and marvel at the lyrical arrival of spring. We shiver through the cold Russian winter and feel the warmth and romance of falling in love. It’s an experience romantics will never forget.
All the film artists who worked along side Lean were just as magnificent in their work: Director of Photography Freddy Young, whose lighting compositions were so exquisite that they brought the art of photography into our lives like no other. Why couldn’t real life look so good? And the epic was all tied together with the wonderful symphonic score by Maurice Jarre. He writes a good tune, but captures our hearts and emotions with pure orchestral beauty. Young and Jarre both won individual Oscars, as did writer Robert Bolt, Designer John Box, Costume Designer Phyllis Dalton. Sadly neither the film, nor David Lean won an Oscar. But the legacy of this great artist lives on like no other.
For me, inspiration means so much when you observe the best. And perhaps, in some way, this film was part of my own destiny to find my own profession in film making rather than still photography. I can honestly say that I tried, throughout my own career, to live up to the wonderful imagery and style set by the great masters of my profession. My life's learning and work is a humble testament to their creativity. 
Recently, the Blu-ray High Definition version of Doctor Zhivago was released. Until now, I hadn’t seen it look as spectacular as when I first saw it in 1966. This HD version is a monumental tribute to the quality, longevity and restoration of this great masterpiece and the artists who created it. This was the first of the three best films from Director David Lean to be offered on Blu-ray. I am now anxiously awaiting the Blu-ray arrival of Lawrence of Arabia and Bridge on the River Kwai.

“Every time I presented a new theme to David, he rejected it and said that I could do better. ...  Then, one Friday, David told me to stop work, to stop thinking about the film or the music and go away for the weekend to the beach or mountains, to clear my brain and start afresh on the Monday. ... After those 2 days of clearing the brain, in one hour on Monday morning I had found Lara’s Theme ...”
- Maurice Jarre
“I've just begun to dare to think I perhaps am a bit of an artist.”
- David Lean
Pasha: I used to admire your poetry.
Zhivago: Thank you.
Pasha: I shouldn't admire it now. I should find it absurdly personal. Don't you agree? Feelings, insights, affections... it's suddenly trivial now.

May 21, 2010

And our heads will smash like eggs

Remember Lawrence of Arabia? It was great film of a great life. Thomas Edward Lawrence was a British Soldier at the time of World War One who, along with the British Army, helped the Arabs in Arabia take back their lands from the Ottoman Empire, also known today as the Turkish. They had ruled over the Arab lands for hundreds of years.
After the war, Lawrence shy’ed away from the limelight and lived in a small cottage in southern England. He worked at the local military camp and drove back and forth to work on his motor bike each day. One day as he was driving home for lunch he noticed a couple of boys about to cross his path. He swerved to avoid them and he was thrown from his bike, through the air, to land on his head on the roadway.
As you can imagine, his head was smashed like an egg and his brains were falling out when they found him. Back then people didn’t wear helmets. He was taken to a hospital where he died a week later. Had he lived, he would have been in a vegetative state with absolutely no real life at all. He died on May 19th, 1935, exactly 75 years ago. He was only 46.
One of the physicians who worked on Lawrence, an Australian named Doctor Hugh Cairns, took note of the injuries and realized that he could do something to help the needless loss of life he was witnessing for the many motorcycle riders in traffic accidents. He decided to help develop protective head-wear, and one of the first riding helmets was in response to the tragic death of T.E. Lawrence. The ultimate result of this tragedy was that many countries in the western world now make it a law to wear a helmet. In the city of Vancouver there is a law that requires you to always wear a helmet when you ride a bicycle.
We human beings are very fragile creatures; especially our brains. However, we don’t always use our brains when it comes to protecting ourselves.
Years ago I remember Actor Gary Busey playing singer Buddy Holly. Busey was renown for riding his motorbike around California without a helmet. He openly defied the helmet law and repeatedly said that it was an infringement on his freedom of choice. One day he crashed. He was bucked off from his bike and his head went smashing into a curb, opening his skull and causing severe brain damage. He was very lucky he didn’t die. But I don’t know if he really fully enjoys life as he once did.
Safety is especially important with our kids and the ones we love. We want to protect them from harm. There are many surveys to quote, but in Leeds, in the North of England, there was a study that said: 

Wearing a bicycle helmet has been shown to reduce serious head injuries by 85%. 
39% of deaths from cycling injuries occur in children under the age of 15.
Even a low speed fall on a bicycle path can cause a serious head injury.

Study after study around the world confirms that a head smash to the ground can and will most probably kill you. And most Canadian provinces have enacted laws for wearing helmets, except for our friends in Manitoba and Saskatchewan. They say: “The  law discourages recreational exercise during an era of record obesity.” 
So, they want to encourage us to live to a ripe old age by being thin, but watch us die with a simple smash to the head from not wearing a helmet. Obviously they don’t have any eggs  with which to show an example of a head smashing on a roadway. For if they did, they would wake up very quickly and change the law. 

Here are some serious numbers from the United States from The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety: Bicycle deaths by Helmet use in 1998 - 2008.  It is not known if these injuries were head injuries:

Bicyclist deaths by helmet use, 1998-2008
No helmet use
Helmet use
*Total includes other and/or unknowns

The basic finding was that 91% of those killed were not wearing helmets. 

Our brains are very fragile. So why don’t we use them when it comes to personal safety? It’s astounding what we do: We don’t want to wear life jackets in boats or while white water rafting.  We want to send text messages or talk on our cell phone while driving. We don’t want to wear seat belts in a car or on an airplane. We go skiing in avalanche areas and hike where a mountain lion or a bear can eat us for lunch. And it goes on and on. We are really dangerous to ourselves.

As we all know, accidents aren’t planned, and there are many ways to have an accident. As with Lawrence, we can swerve to avoid an accident and be thrown from our bikes or bicycles. We can hit a pot hole with our front tire and go head first over the handlebar. We can slip on a wet surface and smash ourselves on the road, as I once did. It’s a dangerous world. A car can hit us and throw us thirty feet across the highway or we can innocently slip from our bicycle at a standing position and hit our head on the ground. In each case, if our un-protected head hits with any slight force, it could kill us. Our heads will smash like eggs. Yes, we really are very fragile.
But let me ask: What is the helmet law protecting us from? Well, the law is not just to protect us from ourselves, it also protects the public purse: Our tax-payers money. As one Judge recently said about the lack of life vests on an Alberta river, "We're not only trying to protect those people who are engaged in those activities, but also the police, fire, ambulance and other bylaw officers who are going in to rescue these people." 

The fact is, they don’t want to have to scrape our brains off the side walk, or pay for a needless brain operation or a smashed up cycling idiot for the rest of their lives at a public funded health facility. 

I had a motor bike when I was sixteen. I wore a helmet because the person who sold me the bike gave it to me. One rainy day, I almost slid under a car. If the car hadn’t skidded to a stop about six inches from my nose, and if I hadn’t been wearing my helmet when I banged my head on the road, I wouldn’t be here to tell you about it now. From that young age, I realized that I always needed to protect myself, because there are always accidents waiting to happen. "Safety First" has always been a good motto.

After Gary Busey recovered from his almost fatal crash, he was quoted as saying. “As adults, we should set an example for our children by wearing crash helmets.” 

T. E. Lawrence could have contributed much more to our world had he lived a much longer life. But we will never know.

Use caution, look after yourself, look after your loved ones and choose to live wisely with awareness.

“Helmet laws are for their protection. They may not like it, but their stupidity proves that wearing a helmet, especially on a long ride, is best for everybody. The helmet law's a good law and that's all there is to it.”
- Evel Knievel

“Get a bicycle.  You will not regret it if you live.”
- Mark Twain
“What do you call a cyclist who doesn't wear a helmet?  An organ donor.”
- David Perry

May 12, 2010

Transcendental Meditation

“So, where did you first hear of Transcendental Meditation?” she asked.
“Why, the Beatles, of course.” I replied.
This was how my introduction began to the Maharishi Yogi’s mind improving meditation. All my life I had heard about the practice of Transcendental Meditation, beginning with the Beatles and their 1968 journey to meet with the Maharishi in India. This was the best PR campaign he could ever have received, and the Maharishi took good advantage, spreading the word about TM and building his organization into a multi-million-dollar business, complete with universities devoted to World Peace. Like all well planned followings, Transcendental Meditation grew into something bigger, with a simple message: Anyone can find inner peace.
In my simple way, I had always found a way to pace myself throughout my busy life. I found corners during lunch hours to sit quietly or I’d drive to work an hour before I was needed, just to relax before the day. I’d take holidays in tranquil places after busy assignments, and I would have the office schedule me some down time to chill out after filming in a particular fun location: Perhaps Paris, Scotland, Nepal, Hawaii, Malaysia or San Francisco. I would take long walks and find spiritual places. I loved the great Cathedrals of Europe and the Buddhist Temples in Taiwan. Maybe it would be a quiet Mosque or an art gallery to sit near in a far away place. Much of my quiet time was beside the sea. I could sit and stare at the sea for hours, or I would hike around a lake or a farm. I remember how the high mountains, the Himalayas, Alps or the Rockies, grabbed at my imagination. Here, I would find a place to view the top of the world. I even found peace sitting in the window seat of a jetliner or beside a fireplace, or watching a candle. Then, there was the music: Beethoven, Bach, Schubert or Mendolsson all performed their magic to calm me down from my hectic life of a film maker.
However, when my busy schedule slowed down a few years ago, I started to lose my connection with my spiritual side; my peace with life, myself. Somehow the hustle of my world had kept me on the right track. I’m not one for organized religion, but I am very spiritual and I need that inward peace and guidance for contentment. Recently, I knew I had to find this part of me again. I remembered the Beatles and the Maharishi.
My questions were: How can I calm my active and restless brain? How can I bring an inner peace back to this, one time, contented soul? How can I find my way back to the relaxation I used to know instinctively?  
Last weekend, we joined a Transcendental Meditation class. It was a course introduction of four different classes on four days, comprising lecture, teaching and meditation. It’s not cheap, but I was willing to spend the money to try to regain my sense of “me.” Of course, the first thing I did was sign a paper that told me not to tell anyone how they teach TM or the method. But, I can write of my own personal experience and benefits. The strangest thing, I started off with thoughts that I knew I didn't live; a sort of false history swirling around. Somehow, I’ve experienced them through my first meditations, through dreams, while sleeping. It was somewhat disconcerting but I guess that’s what my new life of dreams and calmness  realizes: new thoughts, ideas and contemplations. This means, I’ll have to stay with the program, balance the experience and sort out what is real. So far, meditations are very peaceful; filled with colour and mind-wandering thoughts.
Ancient Indian Transcendental Meditation has been brought down from Guru to Guru for thousands of years. This method popularized by the Maharishi was handed down in teachings from his mentor Guru Dev. Since then, our world has been treated to this way of inner peace from the teachings that were set up in colleges and universities by the Mararishi. 
I’m looking to find the peace I have always known.  But, I also hope to find a new awareness of the world and my potential through this meditation.

"You don't have to be some sort of freak to meditate."
- John Lennon

"Meditation brings wisdom; lack of meditation leaves ignorance. Know well what leads you forward and what hold you back, and choose the path that leads to wisdom."
- Buddha

"Meditation is the dissolution of thoughts in Eternal awareness or Pure consciousness without objectification, knowing without thinking, merging finitude in infinity. "
- Voltaire

"I went through two schools of acting but I learned more about acting from meditating and from my marshall arts teacher."
- Forrest Whitaker

"So transcendental meditation brings about transcendental consciousness, which is self-referral consciousness, the source of all intelligence."  
- Maharishi Mahesh

May 2, 2010

Don't go back to sleep (favorite poems)

The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.
Don't go back to sleep.
You must ask for what you really want.
Don't go back to sleep.
People are going back and forth across the doorsill
where the two worlds touch.
The door is round and open.
Don't go back to sleep.
“No poet is more intimate than Rumi, no lover more crazed, no saint more innocent. An air of the supernatural gathered around him because he never lost this wild, extreme state of ecstasy.”-  Deepak Chopra