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.

Kids Still Read

Fred Wilson has a post on his family’s media consumption in which he talks about his kids’ attitudes towards movies, TV (watched as often as not on DVD), the web, video games, radio, magazines, newspapers, and books.

For the most part it’s what I’d guess kids would be doing: watching video, playing games, spending time on Facebook. There are a few happy surprises, though. Magazines are holding their own. Hard to say how typical this is–I don’t have any insight into the health of the magazine industry–but it surprised me. I had assumed magazines were in the same world of hurt as newspapers.

Most notable, though, is that reading books is apparently alive and well at the Wilson’s: “They still read books the way we did as kids. That doesn’t seem to have changed a bit. They read them for school, they read them for entertainment, and they read them lying in bed waiting to be tired enough to turn off the lights.”

I found that absolutely uplifting, and anecdotal confirmation of something I’ve previously blogged: there is no replacement for long-form narrative text. Eventually that text may be displayed on an improved Kindle, as soon as someone (Apple or Amazon, most likely) gets it right. The exact delivery method doesn’t concern me much. But that kids still take pleasure in reading books? That concerns me greatly, and it’s great to hear of books holding their own in a home full of other glittering distractions.

"We are talking about words" recently posted this video of Frank Zappa on a 1986 episode of Crossfire, defending words and the First Amendment. It’s a relic from the culture wars of the ’80s, back when Tipper Gore was fronting the PMRC campaign to censor music.

The first 10 points Zappa makes: “We’re talking about words!”, which he says over and over. Once he stops repeating himself, he goes on to smoke the competition, John Lofton of the Washington Times.

To my mind the money quote is when Zappa is asked if he’s an anarchist, and replies “No, I’m a conservative.”

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 🙂

Ascertain Guy

Another excellent video clip, this one poking fun at word pedants (that would be us, people). Many thanks to pedalinfaith for sending it in.

I love all these videos about words. Errata goes all frickin’ mixed-media.

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