Why I once learned the Gettysburg Address by heart, and why I’m doing it again today

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The author getting ready to shoot the launch of aircraft on the USS Abraham Lincoln (Photo by David Clair)

Two score and seventeen months ago, David Clair and I boarded a COD (carrier onboard delivery) flight from San Diego to reach the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln.

It was a couple of weeks before the 200th birthday of the ship’s namesake, and I had asked a selection of the crew to read aloud the 16th president’s most famous speech for a Time.com video.

I printed the words of the Gettysburg Address in large type on four cards and had them laminated. The cards would fit under a portable teleprompter that attached to my camera lens so we didn’t need electrical power. David and I were fully mobile and roamed the ship, meeting various members of its 5,000-strong crew, from the lowest ranked sailors to the top brass.

With our cameras we captured the ship at work as the carrier strike group preformed drills on the Pacific ocean about 100 miles off the coast of California. The eponymous function of an aircraft carrier is not just to carry aircraft, but to maintain them, repair them and, in some of the most stunning and exciting operations I’ve ever filmed, launch and recover these multi-ton airframes safely on a mere 4.5 acres of surface.

My piece would mix the recitation of Lincoln’s immortal words, paired with the dynamic work being done on board the carrier. It was a birthday gift to one of our greatest leaders.

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Continue reading “Why I once learned the Gettysburg Address by heart, and why I’m doing it again today”

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Jem Cohen’s ‘Museum Hours’

Museum-HoursJust returned from seeing Jem Cohen’s extraordinary film Museum Hours, and I’m in reverie.

I’ve long been a fan of Jem’s work — in particular the documentaries that evoke character and place in unique ways. I’ve also long had a crush (since 1988) on Mary Margaret O’Hara, who plays Anne, a woman from Montreal who comes to Vienna because a cousin has fallen into a coma. With little money, she spends hours when she’s not at the hospital in the city’s art museum, the Kunsthistorisches. There she meets Johann (Ben Sommer), a former rock-act road manager turned museum guard. “I’ve had my share of loud,” he says, and is now having an equal share of quiet in this grand museum.

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Throughout the film, Cohen takes us on an intimate tour of the collection of art ranging from ancient Egyptian and Roman artifacts to masters like Rembrandt and Breugel, who has a very famous room of his paintings there. Cohen lingers among the artworks for a long while in between scenes where Johann and Anne get acquainted.

Once Johann confirms Anne’s story of her cousin’s condition, he agrees to show her the less-expensive (knowing her situation) sites of the city and his regular haunts.

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The film moves slowly. But a patient viewer is treated to an unfolding, kind of chaste love story, a growing romance between two people that is natural, gentle and true.

Midway through the film, a tour guide takes a group through the Bruegel room. She says the paintings are like documentaries, showing peasant life from the renaissance era. Many who have attended Sunday school will know his depiction of the Tower of Babel.

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And, like Bruegel, it’s Cohen’s documentary filmmaker’s eye that makes this story work. He brings an attention to detail to the film that evokes a city and a mood, from the tiny details in the dark regions of a Rembrandt to the mise-en-scène of the Vienna street and a rowdy, local pub.

I strongly suggest you carve out some time. Inhale deeply. And spend an hour and a half with Anne, Johann, Bruegel and Vienna.

She still owns the first Ford Mustang ever sold

Mustang4On Monday, I got a call from an editor at the Wall Street Journal asking if I was available to produce and shoot a story the next morning. But it was a quick turnaround;  I would have to deliver that night. I juggled a few things and arranged to shoot this very fun piece on Tuesday morning. And got to take a ride in a really cool car.

Gail Wise was 22 and fresh out of teachers’ college when she needed a car. She didn’t have a model in mind, but she knew she wanted a convertible. She ended up buying what would be the first Ford Mustang ever sold. She even still has the bill of sale. But you have to see what happened to the car over the years. And this video shows you. You can also read an interview with Mrs. Wise here.

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