Archive for the ‘Film’ Category

The Polar Express hobo

Friday, November 12th, 2010

‘Tis the holiday season, practically.  I thought I’d add to my series on hurdy-gurdies I’ve run across in films by mentioning the hobo in the animated 3D movie, “The Polar Express,” a 2004 Christmas classic based upon the Chris Van Allsburg children’s book. There is a scene where a hobo atop the train is interrupted while playing “Good King Wenceslas” on his hurdy-gurdy. The hobo – and several other characters – is played by Tom Hanks.

Only brief glimpses of the hurdy-gurdy are seen, and even less of it is heard. Interestingly, despite the way-too-short segment, people wanting to know what he’s playing is listed first under FAQs for the film at IMDb!

You can see this scene right on YouTube. Look for the instrument just after 1:30 and just before 5:30.

I discovered this behind-the-scenes story about the use of the hurdy-gurdy in the film by the person who played it, Curtis Berak:

I was contacted to play hurdy gurdy for this movie.
By this time they had already faked some kind of sound
for the hurdy gurdy.  I was told it was Tom Hanks who
wanted a hurdy gurdy in the film.  They wanted me to
play the tune Good King Wenceslas on Tom Hanks own
hurdy gurdy.  His hurdy gurdy turned out to be an old
Camac kit which he got from Lark In The Morning.  When
I turned it on its side to play it, all the keys fell
into the keybox as they had been made too short.  This
instrument had many other problems.  I worked on it
for a few hours and was able to get it playing.

So when I went to the recording session I brought
Hanks instrument and also one of my own,a beautiful
old Baroque vielle by Caron of Versailles.  The first
thing they did was film me with a process called
motion capture so they could have the correct way of
playing the hurdy gurdy.  The Camac sounded so dredful
that they wanted me to play my own one instead.  It
was really wonderful to work with the music director
Alan Silvestre.  When we were done we had some really
nice takes of Good King Wenceslas.  So then the
director Robert Zemeckis came in.  The first thing he
didn’t like was the trompette.  So we did it again
without trompette.  Then he said it did’t sound sad
enough and could I play it two and a half octaves
lower. There was no way to do that so that was the end
of the session.

I still haven’t seen the movie but from what I hear It
doesn’t sound much like a hurdy gurdy and they did not
bother to correct the improper image of playing.

If this movie is brought back to the silver screen in 3D over the holidays, I may have to go see it again.


Wednesday, April 7th, 2010

This thing sure has a lot of pieces! I think I have finally made it through the inventory checklist and know what most of them are.


Inventorying the parts: This must be the bearing adjustment tool.

[Scene from 2001: A Space Odyssey, in case you were wondering.]

I went to Home Depot last night and got some Titebond wood glue, some epoxy, and several clamps for gluing in the braces and the kerfing. They didn’t have any epoxy for wood with a longer setup time. 

I will next be cutting the angles for the ends of the braces to match the curve of the body, and then assembling them with the center dowel and side supports.


Chocolat hurdy-gurdy

Monday, April 5th, 2010

No, I’m not talking about a delicious, edible hurdy-gurdy. The 2000 film Chocolat has a very brief glimpse of a woman playing a hurdy-gurdy. There is a festival in the quaint French village’s square near the end of the film, and the hurdy-gurdy is one of the instruments in the band. I had briefly seen a woman with a hurdy-gurdy in some behind-the-scenes footage in the Special Features part of the DVD. Looking back at the movie, I discovered she did barely make the final cut.


Hurdy-gurdy player, village square, Flavigny-sur-Ozerain, France

The story was interesting and the movie was well-done, but I was bothered by the bias portraying the church-going townsfolk as a bunch of sinful hypocrites, and the woman who combines pagan Mayan mysticism with her chocolate-making as the heroine, rescuing the town from moral self-restraint and religious repression. True, we shouldn’t be legalistic and distrustful or judgmental of strangers, etc., but the church shouldn’t be portrayed as the source of the people’s problems, either.


2010: The Year We Make Contact

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

[That was the expanded title of the disappointing 1984 sequel to the classic, but strange "2001: A Space Odyssey," my favorite sci-fi movie as a kid in 1968. If you know anything about the original film, an alien rectangular object ends up outputting a high-pitched screeching noise. Well, here it is really 2010, and I made contact yesterday with a foreign rectangular object that showed up at my front door. However, it will take awhile before any screeching noises emanate from it. I do expect 2010 to be memorable year, due to this strange object's arrival. As Dave Bowman repeatedly says in 2010: "Something wonderful is going to happen." Except that I expect my actual 2010 will be more wonderful than the goofy sci-fi version of 2010, where Jupiter is turned into a small star, unidentified aliens oversee evolution, and everyone lives happily ever after.]

All that to say, my Hurdy Gurdy Crafters “Monarch” kit completed its 15-day odyssey from Michigan to Texas yesterday, apparently running the Postal Service gauntlet without mishap. No more fretting over whether it was lost in space, damaged by meteors, or stolen from off the front steps by aliens. Driving home from work last evening, I was relieved to spot it sitting in front of the door…


The kit was well packaged in very sturdy outer and inner boxes with styrofoam peanuts cushioning the inner box. The binder with the construction manual and the envelope containing the strings were packed outside the inner box…


Mel and Ann’s kits have a professional and attractive appearance…


The careful packing of the pieces in the box was also impressive, and must be a science of its own…


The pieces all seem to be very precisely made from quality materials using fine tools: clean and sharp edges, etc. For a detail-oriented person, it definitely passes initial inspection…


Various bags have labels listing their contents. Everything has the look of having been very well thought out and user-friendly. I haven’t totally emptied the box yet, nor completed the inventory, but I have been reading the manual, which has many color pictures illustrating each step in the process.

A recurring thought as I was browsing through the box was: “I can’t imagine Mel making all these complicated pieces.” The next thought was “I can’t imagine me putting them all together!” What have I gotten myself into? But I can’t think of making that giant leap, just taking one small step at a time.


Captains Courageous

Monday, March 1st, 2010

I finished watching Captains Courageous last night. I had heard somewhere that a hurdy-gurdy played a big part in the 1937 MGM classic film, which was based upon a Rudyard Kipling story.


Spencer Tracy & Freddie Bartholomew

Spencer Tracy won the 1938 Oscar for best actor in a leading role for playing the lovable and expressive Portuguese fisherman Manuel. Lionel Barrymore and Mickey Rooney also star, as the sea captain and his son.

It is too bad that Tracy wasn’t very convincing when it came to playing the hurdy-gurdy. With such a simple tune as “Yea Ho, Little Fish,” I would have though he could have gotten some coaching. I didn’t think the hurdy-gurdy’s music was all that convincing or impressive, either. None of it went together. But it was still worth it to see it center stage in several scenes.

It is a heart-warming family classic, and I’d recommend it.