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The Magic of Ken Burns

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Ken Burns is a celebrated American documentary filmmaker with over twenty films and TV miniseries under his belt. Burns was born in Brooklyn, New York City, NY in 1953 and graduated from Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts in 1975 with a Bachelor of Arts in Film Studies and Design. Shortly after graduating, Burns and some of his school mates founded Florentine Films, the production company for Burns’ films. After becoming infatuated with David McCullough’s book The Great Bridge, Burns began to develop his first major documentary about the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge. The film, Brooklyn Bridge (1981), was critically acclaimed and earned Burns his first Oscar nomination. Burns went on to produce and direct other award-winning films such as The Shakers (1984), The Statue of Liberty (1985), and The Congress (1989). It was not until 1990, however, that Burns earned his claim to fame with the eleven hour, nine-part series titled The Civil War.

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According to Ken Burns’ official site, Burns was also the director, producer, co-writer, chief cinematographer, music director and executive producer of the landmark television series The Civil War. This film was the highest rated series in the history of American Public Television and attracted an audience of 40 million during its premiere in September 1990. The New York Times called it a masterpiece and said that Ken Burns “takes his place as the most accomplished documentary filmmaker of his generation.”  Tom Shales of The Washington Post said, “This is not just good television, nor even just great television. This is heroic television.” The columnist George Will said, “If better use has ever been made of television, I have not seen it and do not expect to see better until Ken Burns turns his prodigious talents to his next project.” The series has been honored with more than forty major film and television awards, including two Emmy Awards, two Grammy Awards, Producer of the Year Award from the Producer’s Guild, People’s Choice Award, Peabody Award, DuPont-Columbia Award, D.W. Griffiths Award, and the $50,000 Lincoln Prize, among dozens of others. (‘Ken Burns’, FlorentineFilms.com). Some of Burns’ other famous films include: Baseball (1994), an eighteen and a half hour film covering the history of baseball from 1840 to the present; The West (1996), and eight-part series on the American west; Jazz (2001), a nineteen-hour, ten-part film exploring the culture and politics that gave birth to jazz music; The War (2007), a seven-part series discussing World War II through personal accounts; The National Parks: America’s Best Idea (2009), a six-part series focusing on the people and ideas that helped spur our national parks into existence; Prohibition (2011), a three-part, five and a half hour series telling the history of the Eighteenth Amendment and the impact it had on our nation; and The Dust Bowl (2012), a two-part series about the worst ecological disaster in American history.

One of the fascinating things about Ken Burns is his ability to make history appealing for everyone. In March of 2009, David Zurawik of The Baltimore Sun stated that “Burns is not only the greatest documentarian of the day, but also the most influential filmmaker period. That includes feature filmmakers like George Lucas and Steven Speilberg. I say that because Burns not only turned millions of persons onto history with his films, he showed us a new way of looking at our collective past and ourselves” (‘Ken Burns’, FlorentineFilms.com). The so-called ‘Ken Burns Effect’ is what makes Burns stand out as a phenomenal documentarian. With the aid of archival footage, Burns is able to expertly blend images, interviews, sound effects, and music to create the perfect combination for historical documentary filmmaking. He states that there are eight components, four visual and four oral. The visual elements include live cinematography, old photos, interviews, and footage. The oral content consists of music, third-person narration (also known as the voice of God), first person voices, and sound effects. This approach to filmmaking has been widely used around the world and has become the main approach for documentary storytelling today. An example of the Ken Burns Effect can be seen below:

 

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In addition to producing and directing, Burns is also involved as a writer, cinematographer, music director, and editor. With his hard work and use of the Ken Burns Effect, he and his team from Florentine Films have won twelve Emmy Awards and received two Oscar nominations. In September of 2008 the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences honored Burns with a Lifetime Achievement Award. Since his first major feature film in 1981, Burns has gone on to enjoy a long, successful career in documentary filmmaking.

Most of Ken Burns films are now available on Netflix. For more information on Ken Burns and to see samples of his work, please follow the links below:

http://www.pbs.org/kenburns/films

http://www.florentinefilms.com/ffpages/KB-frameset.html

Sources:

Edgerton, Gary R. Ken Burns’s America. New York: Palgrave, 2001.

Florentine Films. “Ken Burns.”http://www.florentinefilms.com/ffpages/KB-frameset.html (accessed November 12, 2013).

PBS. “Films.” Ken Burns America. http://www.pbs.org/kenburns/films (accessed November 13, 2013).

A Collection of Arthurian Legends

The fantasy of a magical sword, the lure of the Holy Grail, and the mystery behind the stoic figure of Britain’s medieval king are some of the many aspects that draw people towards Arthurian legends. Yet people always ask one simple question: was he real? According to Nigel Saul, author of Age of Chivalry: Art and Society in Late Medieval England, Arthur and his knights were purely figures of literary imagination. Although the 6th century historiographer Gildas wrote about a Romano-British military leader named Ambrosius Aurelianus who fought against the invading Saxons during the 5th century, Britain at the time consisted of separate territories ruled by kings in each district. The figure of Ambrosius fighting upon Badon Hill may be accurate, but the man was not a kingly figure or a man ready to unite all of Britain. It was not until the twelfth century that romantic, chivalric literature about King Arthur emerged in Europe and caught the imagination of creative minds everywhere.

These tales, according to Saul, were of Welsh origin and were transmitted to French-speaking areas by British minstrels in the late eleventh and early twelfth centuries. It was the staple form of entertainment in knightly and baronial halls on both sides of the Chanel. Works by Wace, Chrétien de Troyes, and Wolfram von Eschenbach took the legend of King Arthur and wove it into tales of romance and love, fame and ambition. Perhaps the most important author of the times was Geoffrey of Monmouth, who was the first to identify Arthur as a fictional king of Britain.

1. The History of the Kings of Britain by Geoffrey of Monmouth

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Written in 1136 by Geoffrey of Monmouth, The History of the Kings of Britain is a pseudohistorical account of British history. Consisting of twelve books, the novel chronicles the lives of British kings and relates the history of Britain, beginning with the Trojans founding the land and ending with the Anglo-Saxons gaining power in the 7th century. Books seven through twelve of the narrative detail the Arthur’s rise to power and the magician Merlin. However, Geoffrey tends to embellish the truth in his narrative. By combining real historic events with Merlin’s magic and the fantastic events of Arthur’s successful battles and the unification of Britain, Geoffrey can arguably be credited with the creation of historical fiction.

2. Roman de Brut by Wace

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Intended for a Norman audience, Roman de Brut was published in 1155 and chronicles the legends and histories of the Anglo-Norman regions. Heavily influenced by Geoffrey of Monmouth’s The History of the Kings of Britain, Wace elaborates on Geoffrey’s literary creations and is credited with the first mention of The Knights of the Round Table.

3. Perceval by Chrétien de Troyes

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Chrétien de Troyes wrote Perceval around 1182 and is credited with the creation of the character of Lancelot and the quest for the Holy Grail. Although the story was never completed, Perceval relates the story of a young man named Perceval who becomes a knight in Arthur’s court. It is a romantic tale that first reveals the grail. After Chrétien’s untimely death, many authors continued his stories and elaborated upon the Holy Grail.

4. Parzival by Wolfram von Eschenbach

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Largely based on Chrétien’s Perceval, Parzival was written by a German poet and dated to the early thirteenth century. Although Perceval failed to receive the grail in Chrétien’s version, Eschenbach’s character of Parzival ventures on a long quest to seek the Holy Grail again. Eschenbach’s work mainly focuses on the importance of humility and the search for spirituality. Love and heroic acts of chivalry ultimately lead Parzival to the Holy Grail. He is honorably received at King Arthur’s court after his successful quest.

5. The Lais of Marie de France by Marie de France

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Writing in the late twelfth century, Marie de France is the earliest known French woman poet. Her lais depict various tales of chivalry and romance set in fairy-tale type settings. The poems consist of the adventures of Arthur’s knights, courtly love, and is the first to mention the story of Tristan and Isolde.

6. Le Morte d’Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory

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Perhaps the most notable work about the legend of King Arthur comes from Sir Thomas Malory’s compilation of tales first published in 1485. Le Morte d’Arthur is separated into eight books depicting the birth and rise of Arthur; Arthur’s war against the Romans; stories of Lancelot, Gareth, and Tristan and Isolde; the quest for the Holy Grail; the love affair between Lancelot and Guinevere; and the breaking of the Knights of the Round Table and the death of King Arthur. Today his work remains the most famous Arthurian literature for the English language.

7. Idylls of the King by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

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Published sometime between 1856 and 1885, the Idylls of the King is a set of twelve poems written by the English poet, Aflred, Lord Tennyson. The work is very similar to Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, but Tennyson focuses on how Arthur tried to create a perfect kinggdom for mankind. Although side-stories featuring Arthur’s knights, Merlin, and the Lady of the Lake are present, the central figure of Arthur unites all the stories in a narrative cycle.

8. The Once and Future King by T.H. White

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The more modern work by T.H. White titled The Once and Future King was published in 1958 and is broken up into four parts: The Sword in the Stone, The Queen of Air and Darkness, The Ill-Made Knight, and The Candle in the Wind. Throughout the book, the mysterious magician Merlin teaches Arthur the importance of humility and justice. The first two books depict Arthur’s rise to power and the creation of the Round Table, but the last two books take a darker turn and show Arthur’s downfall and the dying attitude of chivalric justice.

9.King Arthur by Frank Thompson

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Frank Thompson’s King Arthur is a historical fiction that coincides with Gildas’ history of Ambrosius Aurelianus in his work Concerning the Ruin of Britain. Published in 2004, Thompson’s character of Arthur must battle against an army of invading Saxons. With the help of Merlin (who is depicted as a Pict and wielding no magical powers), his knights, and Guinevere, Arthur defeats the Saxons and becomes the king he was born to be. The novel  has now been made into film starring Clive Owen, Keira Knightley, and Stellan Skarsgård.

10. The Book of Mordred by Vivian Vande Velde

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Published in 2005, the Book of Mordred tells of Arthur’s downfall and the unsettling fear found within the walls of Camelot. With new characters such as Kiera (who is gifted in foresight) Alayna (Kiera’s mother who travels to Camelot in search of her kidnapped daughter), and Nimue (a powerful witch and pupil of Merlin’s). Although Mordred is often depicted as the figure behind Arthur’s demise, Vivian Velde sheds new light upon Mordred’s character by telling the story through the eyes of three women who love him.

In the end, you can see how enduring the chivalry, romance, and adventures of King Arthur and his knights has withstood the tests of time. No matter fact or fiction, the mystery and intrigue behind the legends has spurred a plethora of literature on the subject. To be sure, the fascination behind the Arthurian legends will be around for many years to come. To conclude, I’d like to end with a video from one of my favorite movies, Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Sources:

Nigel Saul, ed. Age of Chivalry: Art and Society in Late Medieval England (Great Britain: Brockhampton Press, 1995).

 

Digital Books

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Along with the rise in technology has been the increase in digital book sales. The picture above depicts a young man reading a children’s novel on an e-book, which the Oxford Dictionary of English defines as an electronic version of a printed book. Although I do not believe printed books will ever be entirely gone, the rise in digital books is inevitable. According to Forbes, as of 2013 7% of all e-books have been self-published (even making the best-sellers list). Publishers not suited to this rise in technology will undoubtedly suffer. Even so, the number of books available has increased exponentially. However, bookstores are losing business and must transform themselves to better suit technology. As such, the publishing industry and libraries/bookstores must symbiotically grow together to achieve the best outcome for books in the digital age.

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The Amazon Kindle is also a significant contributor to digital books. Along with Apple Inc. inventions such as smart phones, tablets, and iPads, the Kindle has increased e-book sales. This technology is convenient, fast, and readily available.

This video is from Euronews and focuses on digital book sales in Italy. The statistics state that the e-book economy in 2011 was nine times larger than in 2010. What this means for traditional books is uncertain, but the video shows some interesting, new ways to interact with digital book technology.

Sources:

http://www.digitalbookworld.com/

http://www.forbes.com/sites/jeremygreenfield/2013/04/24/which-publishers-are-the-best-at-selling-ebooks-in-2013/

http://www.forbes.com/sites/davidvinjamuri/2012/12/11/the-wrong-war-over-ebooks-publishers-vs-libraries/

Bookplates

Bookplates have long been used to signify the authenticity of an author’s book. According to Daniel DeFrance, “Pasted on the inside front cover would be the bookplate: a unique rectangular label bearing the owner’s name, perhaps an illustration, and often the Latin words “Ex Libris” — a phrase used all over the world to mean “from the library of.” Many of these bookplates are in old, inherited collections, but some can be found in bookstores or, on occasion, “in the personal libraries of those modern readers and writers who cherish their collections as booklovers from long ago” (Daniel DeFrance, “Bookplates”). The following images showcase various bookplates I have discovered in my research.

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Walt Disney is most popular for his beloved character Mickey Mouse. This picture is an example of what a bookplate of Walt Disney’s might look like.

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This bookplate was a gift to Brown University’s class of 1886. It seems to depict a historic scene for the school’s creation. I am not sure what the Latin translates to, but the image is beautifully made.

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This is a design of a phoenix that I may use for creating my own bookplate. I was inspired by the Loftwing creatures from The Legend of Zelda series and Fawkes the phoenix from the Harry Potter series.

Sources:

http://www.bookplates.com/

Thoughts On Our Edible Books

The Edible Books and Tea arrangement was incredibly fun and appetizing! The decorations and the whole atmosphere of the event just made me giddy with excitement. Frances and Kyle did a tremendous job of organizing and decorating everything and Jenna’s invitations were really colorful and well-made. The young man playing the piano also did an excellent job of setting the mood. Although our event was small, I couldn’t help but imagine what the atmosphere of a large city’s edible book convention would be like (and taste like). The following images depict our class’s edible book creations.

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This edible book portrays a scene from the Grimms’ Fairytales. The monkeybread, sugar glass, and stuffed chocolate frog cookies were delectable!

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Tortill-A-Mockingbird! The geniuses behind this edible book creation baked tortillas and made them into sugary sweets. To make the window and birds, they used honey to glue the frame and found a bird stencil for the birds.

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This edible book was my creation. After mixing the peanut brittle, I poured the contents into cardboard cutouts in order to form the rectangular shape of a book cover. Then I baked the yellow cake, put Betty Crocker marshmallow icing around the edges, and used a fork to make the icing look like individual pages. Afterwards, I put the peanut brittle pieces on the top and bottom and put more icing on the top in order to place the sugar letters on the cover. Instead of Little Women, I named it Brittle Women.

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This edible book shows a Hobbit hole from the world of Middle-earth. It’s a bundt cake with green food coloring mixed with coconut to make the grass.

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I thought this was a really clever edible book idea. All of the breads represent a certain district from the world of Panem found within the Hunger Games series. For instance, District 4 is fishing, so the bread for that district had seaweed in it.

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This cute edible book portrays Noah’s Ark. Graham crackers were used for the boat and animals, fruit for the rainbow, whipped cream with blue food coloring for the sky, marshmallows for the clouds, and a piece of Dove chocolate to represent the dove Noah sent to find dry land.

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This edible book was interesting because it came with a historic background about the Book of Kells. Since it was made using Kellog’s Rice-Crispy treats, it was pun-derfully named The Book of Kellogs.

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This edible book showcases Gray’s Anatomy. It was a clever idea to make the cake look like an open book and portray anatomical structures.

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This edible book neatly portrays The Cat in the Hat. The cake had delicious raspberries mixed in a chocolate mix, covered with decorative fondant.

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This edible book is the Monster Book of Monsters from the Harry Potter series! The creator used yellow cake mix for the body, chocolate icing for the ‘furry’ exterior, marshmallows for the eyes, and a fruit roll-up for the tongue.

In the end, our Edible Books and Tea event was a success. I had never experienced anything like that before, but it was incredibly entertaining and filled with sugary goodness!

Provenance

For many book collectors, provenance is used to “confirm or gather evidence as to the time, place, and if appropriate, the person responsible, for the creation, production or discovery of [an] object” (L.D. Mitchell, ‘Provenance and the Private Library’). As such, provenance helps book collectors avoid forgeries or stolen titles. Price also plays a major role as “the certainty of a title’s  provenance, the status of a past owner or owners as major book collectors themselves, and physical evidence that a title has not been tampered with (by, for example, replacing a title page in facsimile), all bear on what a particular title will command in the marketplace” (L.D. Mitchell, ‘Provenance and the Private Library’). Therefore provenance can be established by examining the original documentation of the purchase, observing catalogs from the time of purchase, discovering inscriptions by previous authors, or by analyzing bookplates. As an example of provenance, the following image shows a written message from President Nixon to his Chief of Justice.

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The inscription reads: “To Warren Burger-a great Chief Justice[,] a great American[,] a great friend-with warm regards from Dick Nixon 4-10-90[.]” The note from Burger’s assistant reads: “A thank you letter to President Nixon for this book has already been typed and is on your chair awaiting your signature. Thank you-Jill 4/16/90[.]” In order to determine its authenticity, L.D. Mitchell states that “the bookseller selling the book can document that the book was acquired directly from the Burger estate; the signature matches known Nixon signatures (of particular importance is the usage of “Dick” – Nixon almost never signed personal inscriptions as “Richard”); Burger’s staff at the time can easily be authenticated; and so forth” (‘Provenance and the Private Library’). As such, a great deal of research is required to determine true provenance.

Another example of provenance can be seen in the following photo:

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This piece of provenance was found in a poetry book titled The Poems of Adelaide A. Proctor, published by Thomas Y. Crowell. The photograph is possibly the author, but no details are written on it. The book is inscribed and dated ‘Christmas, 1901’. Thus, the date found in the book can be used to correspond with the woman in the picture.

In the end, it is ultimately provenance that helps authenticate a book collector’s purchase.

Sources:

http://www.ilab.org/eng/documentation/952-provenance_and_the_private_library.html

The Imaginative World of Artist Books

Artist books have long captivated the hearts and minds of countless people around the world. By combining their skills of binding, papermaking, and printing, book artists expose us to the magic of artists books. Today there are four major types of artist books: livre d’artiste, avant-garde, conceptual, and contemporary. Beginning in the early twentieth century, “Ambroise Vollard, a Paris art dealer, created the livre d’artiste book, or the deluxe edition book, when he produced books with well-known artists and authors. Simultaneously, the artist book became a significant tool for artists to express social and political ideas and promote revolution” (Reed College Artists’ Books). Shortly thereafter, artist books spread worldwide and offered new experiences for both artists and books alike. Barbara Cinelli states that “the book is a unique medium in that it only performs its function if the viewer interacts with it, and turns its pages. The artist’s book is above all a physical object with which we interact with the physical world” (Reed College Artists’ Books). To be sure, by interacting with artists’ books, we are introduced to the magic of their design and can’t help but admire their beauty. The following video and images offer some examples of the fine, artistic work you’d expect from artist books.

Throughout the short video, you see the pages of the books come to life in an artistic way. The words on the page become art from the Harry Potter series.

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Much like the Pottermore video, this artist has carved out The Wizard of Oz and brought the characters to life. The Tin-man and Scarecrow characters can be seen in various forms. It almost looks as if the artwork could be a pop-up book.

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This children’s pop-up book about dinosaurs has a different dinosaur on each page with accompanying information about that specific creature. While pop-up books are often associated with children, they still represent artist books.

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This work represents an accordion style artistic book. It has been hand-painted by the artist and seems to be a learning module for the Spanish language. The unique canvas used is made of cork, giving the book an artistic flare.

Sources:

http://cdm.reed.edu/cdm4/artbooks/