Summer Watching

Last month we brought you some summer reading recommendations. Today we have some movies and videos that might be word-nerd-worthy.

“A group of ivory-tower lexicographers realize they need to hear how real people talk, and end up helping a beautiful singer escape from the Mob.”  Did you know such a movie existed?  Is it too good to be true?  It’s not. Ball of Fire stars Gary Cooper as that ivory-tower lexicographer, Professor Bertram Potts, and Barbara Stanwyck, in an Oscar-nominated role, as Sourpuss O’Shea, that saucy nightclub singer. They meet while the professor is researching an article on slang, and as expected, end up falling for each other.

Love the Scripps National Spelling Bee? Chances are you already love Spellbound, a documentary which follows eight competitors in the 1999 Scripps National Spelling Bee. You may also want to check out The Girl Who Spelled Freedom, a 1986 made-for-TV movie based on the true story of Linn Yann, a Cambodian refugee who survived the Khmer Rouge labor camps and immigrated with her family to Chattanooga, Tennessee.  Four years later, “she won the countywide 1983 Chattanooga Times Spelling Bee,” before making it to the 1985 national finals of the Scripps Bee in Washington, DC.

Also available for your spelling-viewing pleasure are Akeelah and the Bee, about “a young girl from South Los Angeles [who] tries to make it to the National Spelling Bee,” and Bee Season, based on Myla Goldberg’s novel about “a wife and mother [who] begins a downward emotional spiral, as her husband avoids their collapsing marriage by immersing himself in his 11 year-old daughter’s quest to become a spelling bee champion.”

For you crossword-puzzle addicts, there’s Wordplay which focuses on four crossword puzzle solvers competing in the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, features Will Shortz, the editor of The New York Times crossword puzzle, and includes celebrity crossword-geek “confessions” from the likes of Jon Stewart, Bill Clinton, Bob Dole, and documentarian Ken Burns. If Scrabble is more to your taste, try Word Wars which explores the world of competitive Scrabble playing, following “four players in the nine months leading up to the 2002 National Scrabble Championship.”

For you history buffs, there’s The Story of English, a nine-part series that appeared on PBS in the mid-1980s, and that includes such episodes as An English Speaking World, The Guid Scots Tongue, and Muvver Tongue.  Also be sure check out the perfectly delightful History of English in 10 Minutes from Open University.

Want a walk down memory lane? Sing along with Schoolhouse Rock’s Grammar Rock, in particular Conjunction Junction (“What’s your function?”) and Lolly Lolly Lolly Get Your Adverbs Here.

Know of more word-nerd-friendly movies and videos?  Share them in the comments!  Till then, here’s to happy (air-conditioned) summer watching.

Who owns quodpot?

I’ve been following the court battle between J. K . Rowling/Warner Brothers and the owner of The Harry Potter Lexicon with mixed feelings. My first thought was that the idea that words can be owned by anyone is ridiculous.

But when the words in question are all original works, it changes the equation. And the fact that Rowling has hitherto been so open and supportive of Potter fans and some derivative works puts her in a different category than your typical litigious big media company. I’m inclined to think she should be the final arbiter of who presents Potter content, in any form.

The nearest analogy I can think of is the Star Wars universe, which contains books, movies, and many other derivative works, and which is tightly controlled by Lucas and his minions.

This raises the question of who owns all the content on Wordie. I never bothered to write terms of service, because they just seem dumb. No one reads them, and in the few instances of abuse that have arisen, I’ve used technical solutions, like blocking IP addresses, rather than legal ones. I did consider having a TOS which, in the small print, gave all rights to all content to Bill Shatner, or perhaps Abe Vigoda, and may do that retroactively. Thoughts?

Incubus, the first movie in… Shatneranto? Shasperanto?

Have you ever wondered what spoken Esperanto sounds like? Have you ever wondered what it sounds like spoken by Bill Shatner, in an expressionistic black and white fantasia of an arthouse horror movie?

Of course you have, so you need to see Incubus, made in 1965 by Outer Limits creator Leslie Stevens and written entirely in Esperanto. The plot is heavy handed in a moralistic, Bergmanesque sort of way–it’s plainly inspired by The Seventh Seal. But the cinematography was done by Conrad L. Hall, who later went on to win best cinematography Oscars for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, American Beauty, and Road to Perdition, and many of the shots are disarmingly beautiful.

The acting isn’t too bad either. While his later tendency to overact is sometimes apparent, young pre-Star Trek Shatner is, dare I say, rather dashing.

Helvetica, math, bloggers

A few small bits:

Helvetica: The Movie. A movie about a font — font meets girl, font loses girl, etc. Great concept, and its web site is, as one might expect from such a high-design project, quite lovely as well.

I recently came across what amounts to a math dictionary. Definitely not high-design, but the content is very well done, and it includes many citations, the best part of any dictionary.

Lastly, a few Wordie regulars have graciously agreed to contribute to this blog on an occasional, informal basis. Stay tuned 🙂