Woman in the Dunes

When I was a child, I was always seeing, in small, sheltered areas of sand or loose dust, the cone-shaped depressions where ant lions lived. I was fascinated by these and looked them up in the encyclopedia (these were the decades long before the Internet – I can’t imagine how rich my childhood would have been had I access to that unlimited fount of useless knowledge) and learned of the insect hiding at the bottom of the self-constructed pit. These sand-traps had a strange fascination for me, I would seek them out and study their various sizes, locations, and patterns of distribution.

I never seem to see these anymore. I don’t know why?

For some reason, it was years before I ventured out to an ant lion pit with a simple sheet of typing paper and learned how easy it was to scoop up the sand and sift it off the paper in such a way as to expose the tiny, flat, gray, insect with the immense mandibles that hid at the bottom of the cone, waiting for unfortunate prey.

In looking for a movie to watch from the Criterion Collection I settled on, for no real reason, a strange Japanese work called Suna no Onna (literally “Sand Woman) – better known by its English name – Woman in the Dunes.

I had heard of this movie decades ago – but for the longest time, never was able to see it. You forget how hard it used to be… I’m talking before a thousand channels of cable television, before VHS even… to see obscure foreign films. You could read about them, and I did, but you could never actually see them.

I read the book, by Kōbō Abe, and wondered if the film followed it closely. Finally, about ten years ago, I was able to get a VHS copy at an avant-guard video store. I was very disappointed. The transfer was so bad all I could see was a blur. It really made no sense. I hoped the original was better than this horrible copy of a copy of a copy.

It is. The Criterion Collection edition they are streaming from Hulu+ is crisp and clear. Because of this, the black and white visuals of moving sand are awe-inspiring.

The story is a simple one. An entomologist, scouring a remote seaside area looking for the key beetle that will get his name immortalized into the entomology texts, and simply trying to escape the city for a awhile, is tricked into getting himself lowered by rope ladder into a deep well in the sand. At the bottom is a recently widowed woman (she lost her husband and daughter to a sand cave-in) who needs help it the nightly task of shoveling the sand out of her home.

The rope ladder is pulled up and he is trapped.

The movie is a long one, slow moving, and concentrates on the man’s slow realization of the hopelessness of his situation, of his eventual resignation to his fate, and on the complex evolving relationship between him and the woman. She has trapped him, but she was trapped herself, and really didn’t have any choice. She is terrified that he will leave.

I was young when I read the book. I didn’t realize how universal the man’s fate was. We’re all stuck in that well of sand and all we can do is shovel as fast and as hard as we can.

Ant Lion Pits

The Criterion Collection

I don’t know about any of you, but over the past year I have become less and less happy with the selection that Netflix has streaming online. More and more, I have been going over to Hulu+ which I began paying for a while back. I bought Hulu+ for the television shows. I have been so busy it has been almost impossible for me to sit down and watch an entire film, so I have been diving into the shallow pedestrian seas of TeeVee – both current and classic. Hulu has always been a good place for that. Hulu, however, doesn’t have the best interface in the world and I have been having trouble finding what I wanted.

So a month or so ago I sat down and did some work figuring out the site structure and how to find what I want. While doing this I discovered a staggering fact.

Hulu+, starting in February of 2011 started streaming the entire Criterion Collection of movies online. The entire collection.

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So what? – you must be asking. What the hell is that? Criterion Collection? Who cares?

Criterion is a company that is dedicated to putting the best films of international cinema onto digital media (DVD, Blu-Ray, Streaming) and doing an amazingly bang-up job of it. Their catalog is up to somewhere around eight hundred films now, with more every day.

If you know me, having access to something like this, from my roku box on the television, to my laptop computers (Hulu+, unlike Netflix, will even work on Linux), to our Kindle Fire…. well, that’s like dumping a big ol’ pile of Heroin in my lap.

Where to start? Well, first off, I found the Criterion Selections after stumbling across a film, I’m embarrassed to say, I’ve been looking for for a while – In the Realm of the Senses. This Japanese film, banned in Japan, has a notorious reputation of being nothing more than high class pornography, with a horrendous, vile, and violent conclusion.

After actually watching the thing, I can report honestly, that the reputation is well earned. So, on to the next film.

What next? I have seen a lot of these over the decades and want to watch them again – but there are a lot that I have never seen… and a few I’ve never even heard of.

I can watch these great classic movies while I’m riding my exercise bicycle. Wait, let me get my list of New Year’s Resolutions out….

Here’s a list from Paste Magazine of ten recommended films, this looks good:

  • The Kid (1921)
  • George Washington (2000)
  • The Seven Samurai (1954)
  • La Jetée (1962) (source material for 12 Monkees)
  • Jules and Jim (1962)
  • The Blob (1958)
  • The 400 Blows (1959)
  • Wild Strawberries (1957)
  • M (1931)
  • The Vanishing (1988)

I’ve seen all but two of these… but it is a worthy list.

Here’s a recommendation for:

  • Knife in the Water (1962)
  • Lord of the Flies (1963)
  • Ratcatcher (1999)

This guy is blogging his way through the whole thing. So is this guy… and this guy too, and this guy.

So many films, so little time.

Any suggestions, please leave a comment.

A Project

My greatest weakness is that of procrastination. I have so much to do I never get anything done.

One project I have had on my mind for a long time, long too long, was to find a way to watch movies on my recumbent exercise bicycle.

If you go to a health club, or purchase a high end exercise machine, they will have built-in flat screen televisions to help with the inevitable boredom of pedaling or running like crazy, but not getting anywhere. I have seen quite a few of these, and all of them work like crap. The reception is fuzzy and intermittent, the sound is tinny, and the selection of programming is inevitably as boring as watching the sweat drip off your own nose.

I have a cheap recumbent exercise bike I bought off of ebay years ago for a song. It works well, but it doesn’t have a video screen. I wanted to change that… and I wanted to put on one there that actually worked, worked well, and didn’t cost an arm and a leg. Actually, it couldn’t even cost an arm.

My first idea was to mount an old laptop to the handlebars. I could watch Netflix, Hulu, and DVD movies while I rode. There are a lot of instructional ideas on the Internet on how to do that, and I did my research. I designed a contraption of aluminum bars that would support a laptop… but it seemed awfully complex and flimsy.

Then I realized there was no reason to actually mount the laptop. I wasn’t going to be able to type – I only wanted to watch. All I had to do was to mount a screen and then connect it to my laptop with a cable. I keep my laptop on a stand next to where my bike is… easy peasy.

I bought a used monitor down at the computer sale for thirty bucks. I thought about it for a long time, long too long, and came up with a simple way to mount the thing.

The metal clip that attaches to the back of the monitor screwed to a piece of two by four.

I removed the metal plate from the monitor stand and screwed it to a block of wood I made from a two by four. A heavy angle iron went on the other side of the block. The use of the wood block gave me a little space between the monitor and the handlebars and made it easy to attach everything – screws in wood are a lot easier than bolts in metal.

I used a pair of heavy worm-type hose clamps to hold the monitor to the handlebar brace.

Then all I had to do was attach the angle iron to the handlebars with a couple of worm clamps. It’s surprisingly strong, yet I can adjust it and remove it easily if necessary.

The monitor attached to the bike. I need to clean the screen.

I connected the power and video cables and I had a picture. The sound was not satisfactory, though. I wanted the sound to come from close to the picture, not a tinny laptop across the room.

A trip to the thrift store a while back had yielded a pair of small Sony Vaio Powered Laptop Speakers for two dollars. I knew these would come in handy… they would be perfect for this – I didn’t need a lot of volume and they were of decent quality.

A speaker base attached to the cross bar with pop rivets.

I removed the screw that held the base on the speakers and pried it loose. I then mounted the bases to each end of a piece of square aluminum tubing.

The speaker bar attached.

It was a simple job then of screwing the aluminum to the top of the wooden mounting block I had put in earlier. I had my speakers.

The monitor and speakers attached to the bike.

Here’s the whole setup. Actually the biggest job was cord management. There was power to the monitor and speakers, plus cables for video and sound running from my laptop – it threatened to be a tangled mess and I didn’t want any of it to get down into the pedals. If you look closely, you can see a thick black cable tube running down – I was able to cram everything into this and then wire-tie it all down.

The pictures is excellent and the sound is good, if not too loud. The bike is comfortable and this is actually a pretty good way to watch a movie or TV show. I don’t ride very hard, but the idea is to get a long cardio workout.

Now I’m trying to ride at least an hour a day for a start – some in the evening (though I am so worn out when I get home from work) and I’m working on getting out of bed earlier and riding for at least a few minutes before I leave for work. There is Netflix, and Hulu, and DVDs from the library and my kids extensive collection.

Now, maybe a little table with a wireless keyboard and mouse so I can select what I want to watch without getting up. Also, maybe some small weights on a rack nearby so I can get some arm work in at the same time….

I’m so busy I never get anything done.