Shorts that don't suck, vol. 2

Writing this days in advance, I can't be sure -- and will just have to assume -- that volume I of "shorts that don't suck" was an unprecedented victory for blog awesomeness, and deserves nothing less than a follow-up. Anyway, there are way too many cool shorts out there to just do one blog on them, and I can't cram more than three or four into one blog entry since they're all at least 3 or 4 minutes (and sometimes way more), and it's hard to sit through a bunch of shorts in a row. (That's the problem with short film festivals; it's not so much that shorts, y'know, suck, so much as it's tough to reset your brain every five minutes, twenty times in a row, to accept totally new stories and characters.) So here's volume two!

The Elephant's Egg
My friend Sam put at least a year's worth of blood, sweat and hours hunched over a computer to create one of the best shorts to come out of USC film school in recent years. It's an incredible journey that's a bit hard to describe -- think of it as Salvador Dali meets John Hughes. Or something!

The Big Empty
A quirky and beautiful short about a woman who discovers an Antarctic wasteland inside her. Heavy on the metaphor and bursting with famous faces (like Selma Blair, who stars), it's got a lot of laughs and a big heart. (This is part I. For part II, click here.)

Doll Face
Another animator from USC, Andy Huang's Doll Face took the internet by storm last year, garnering more than 1.5 million hits on YouTube -- pretty incredible for a pensive, strange art piece. But it's hypnotic and brilliant, and Andy describes it this way: "A machine with a doll face mimics images on television screen in search of a satisfactory visage. Doll Face presents a visual account of desires misplaced and identities fractured by our technological extension into the future." (Yep, Andy was an art major.)

A Great Big Robot from Outer Space Ate My Homework
I caught this at the Mill Valley Film Festival a few weeks ago, and thought it was just charming. Great 3D animation, cute idea, well done.

How Do You Stress the Word: THANKSgiving or ThanksGIVing?

Here’s something else to stress about for Thanksgiving: where to put the stress in the word Thanksgiving.

If you’re from California, Iowa, or Delaware, you probably say ThanksGIVing, with the primary stress on the second syllable. If you’re from Georgia, Tennessee, or the Texas Panhandle, you probably say THANKSgiving, with the primary stress on the first syllable.

This north-south divide on syllable stress is found for other words like umbrella, guitar, insurance, and pecan. However, those words are borrowed from other languages (Italian, Spanish, French). Sometimes, in the borrowing process, competing stress patterns settle into regional differences. Just as some borrowed words get first syllable stress in the South and second syllable stress in the North, French words like garage and ballet get first syllable stress in the UK and second syllable stress in the U.S.

Thanksgiving, however, is an English word through and through. And if it behaved like a normal English word, it would have stress on the first syllable. Consider other words with the same noun-gerund structure just like it: SEAfaring, BAbysitting, HANDwriting, BULLfighting, BIRDwatching, HOMEcoming, ALMSgiving. The stress is always up front, on the noun. Why, in Thanksgiving alone, would stress shift to the GIVE?

The shift to the ThanksGIVing pronunciation is a bit of a mystery. Linguist John McWhorter has suggested that the loss of the stress on thanks has to do with a change in our concept of the holiday, that we “don’t truly think about Thanksgiving as being about thankfulness anymore.” This kind of thing can happen when a word takes on a new, more abstract sense. When we use outgoing for mail that is literally going out, we are likely to stress the OUT. When we use it as a description of someone’s personality ("She's so outgoing!"), the stress might show up on the GO. Stress can shift with meaning.

But the stress shift might not be solely connected to the entrenchment of our turkey-eating rituals. The thanksGIVing stress pattern seems to have pre-dated the institution of the American holiday, according to an analysis of the meter of English poems by Mark Liberman at Language Log. ThanksGIVing has been around at least since the 17th century. However you say it, there is precedent to back you up. And room enough to focus on both the thanks and the giving.

TAKWest, Youtube
Watch Boris Karloff's 1966 Coffee Commercial
TAKWest, Youtube
TAKWest, Youtube

Horror legend Boris Karloff is famous for playing mummies, mad scientists, and of course, Frankenstein’s creation. In 1930, Karloff cemented the modern image of the monster—with its rectangular forehead, bolted neck, and enormous boots (allegedly weighing in at 11 pounds each)—in the minds of audiences.

But the horror icon, who was born 130 years ago today, also had a sense of humor. The actor appeared in numerous comedies, and even famously played a Boris Karloff look-alike (who’s offended when he’s mistaken for Karloff) in the original Broadway production of Arsenic and Old Lace

In the ’60s, Karloff also put his comedic chops to work in a commercial for Butter-Nut Coffee. The strange commercial, set in a spooky mansion, plays out like a movie scene, in which Karloff and the viewer are co-stars. Subtitles on the bottom of the screen feed the viewer lines, and Karloff responds accordingly. 

Watch the commercial below to see the British star selling coffee—and read your lines aloud to feel like you’re “acting” alongside Karloff. 

[h/t: Retroist]


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