Monday, December 26, 2005

The Wonders of Google Video

If you haven't discovered Google Video (, it's worth a look. It's the repository of thousands of videos of all shapes and sizes. There's everything from two-hour documentaries on conspiracy theories to 12 second slices of life from a group of goofy college students. Some are funny, some are scary, and some are of really no interest to anyone but those directly involved. Here's a look at few random videos, in no particular order:

1 - : Fort Lauderdale - Seth Snorkeling -- This is 11 seconds of people snorkeling in a downpour. Nothing speicial happens, except the rain. I suppose that home movies are going to be available for public consumption.

2- : Tj and his Traumas -- Here is a two minutes compilation looking at a British boy about 12 years old, in the crazed way that only his friends see him. This is what's fun about Google Video - it's totally democratic. If you search for these kids by their production company name, you'll discover this kid and his friends have produced a collection of crazy, whacked out videos just like this one. This is a Britain you'll never see....

3 - : PiToMa 2004 -- This is from the Netherlands. I have no idea what's going on. It's pointless.

4 - : Scientific opposition to fluoridation -- this is a 2 minute mini-documentary about an early critic of flouridation in the public water system. Is it legit? I have no idea. But it's out there, and it's an opinion I'm not familiar with.

5 - : Watermelon Seeds Episode 1: Getting Started -- This is no more and no less than a tour of a teenager's computer desk. Think about the details, and consider what it says about this "typical" teenager.

6 - : Archive of American Television Interview with Carroll O'Connor Roll 8 of 8. This is a sample of one of the more interesting contributions to Google Video. The Academy of Television Arts and Sciences has made available many hours of oral histories of important figures in the history of telelvision. This particular half-hour video is the eigth in a series of half-hour interviews with Carroll O'connor of "All In The Family" fame.

Google Video is a great playground. I've only touched on the diversity of the programming available. Well take a look at more selections later...

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Walking Tours Special Edition: Routes

(I get all these images from:)

Here are two important routes in my neighborhood:

1 - This route, in yellow, traces the path of what I will now call the Country Village Lane Classic, a kid-organized bike race of almost all the neighborhood kids. It seemed chaotic to me, so I chose not to participate as a racer, and served instead as lookout going into the final turn. There must have been 15-20 kids racing, and everyone seemed to come back in one piece. I don't recall who won, but I always remember it as one of those great neighborhood events.

2 - This route traces yet another one of our money-making schemes. We started out with a whole crowd of local kids, including Larry, Chris and myself, to make some money washing cars. The idea was that we would split among us all the money we made (imagine splitting $2 among about 8 kids). The further we went on our clockwise route, the fewer boys continued. Washing cars, we discovered, wasn't the easiest way to make money. It was hard, tiring work, and by the time we approached the final turn onto Country Village Lane, a revolt was afoot. As we washed our final car, we were only 3 wet and annoyed kids, ready to go home, and really not that much richer, either. Like the lemonade stand effort I've mentioned in a previous blog, our dreams of big money hadn't yet materialized.

Here's an important neighborhood route: to the toy store! We'd start out on our bike from my house (1) on the long adventure to our little neighborhood toy store (2, somewhere in this strip mall), where I bought most of my rubber-band powered gliders, candy, and assorted small toys. At 9 or 10, this was an expedition, and a pretty cool trip for my friends and I. The store was crammed to the ceiling with games and models, and we would spend every visit scouring the 2 or 3 aisles and building up wish lists in our heads to keep at the ready the next time we were in the vicinity with our parents. There's a lot of plotting that goes on in making sure you know what toys you want and how to let the world (your parents) know it. Kids aren't as impulsive as parents think. They scheme.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The Old Days

This is one of my favorite family pictures. This is my great-grandfather, nearly one hundred years ago, in his tea and coffee shop. Not quite Starbucks, is it (though I suppose Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf has elements of this era in its decor). When I look at pictures like this, my attention is always drawn away from the subject of the photo to incidental details. In this case, I'm interested in the action outside the window.

Look closely, and you'll see someone - I think it's a girl - peering through the window on the right. To her right, there's a boy in a cap standing further back and also looking into the store. There's still another boy behind him, looking in the direction of the girl. Look behind all of them, and you will see what appears to be some sort of horse-drawn wagon. On the far right, through what appears to be the door, you can just make out the horse's read end. For some reason, as much as I'm interested in my great-grandfather, I'm just as fascinated with those mystery kids outside. We'll never know who they are, where they came from, and where they were going. We'll never know the drama of their lives. In other family histories, they could be legendary (or notorious). They could have gone on to become nationally famous. Yet here, they remain unknown - extra players in my family history.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Kreepy Kid

After thorough research, I have decided to re-dub Creepy Kid the "Kreepy Kid," mainly because wasn't taken, and I just might want to use it to spread joy across the world.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Invasion of the Creepy Kid

If you are new to this blog, meet my official mascot, a 1938 picture of a boy I call the "creepy kid." If you search for a post entitled,
'The Creepy Kid," you'll find out about the origins of this pic (I found it on the internet).

To be fair, I think any kid can look creepy just by staring seriously into the camera like this boy, adding some creative lighting, and perhaps adjusting the depth of field... In fact, I might prove that one day soon...

Friday, December 16, 2005

People Who Thought I Did Something To Them When I Really Didn't, Part One

Junior High.
I called a friend.
Somehow, on the phone line wasn't just my friend and I, but another couple of kids whose line merged with ours. They took adavantage of the situation and made fun of us. My friend thought I'd set it up, and he never talked to me again.

Actually, that reaction wasn't childish - it's typical of a number of adults I know...

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Boy In Box

Perahps this explains my World View.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

It's All a Conspiracy

As motion picture technology advances to amazing levels, making even the wildest fantasy seem real, so too are the claims of conspiracy theorists and history revisionists. The president of Iran claims the holocaust is a myth. Others claim the moon landing never happened. Of course, 9/11 launched a whole new set of theories and false history related to that event (for example, the towers were mined with explosives, the planes were piloted by CIA operatives, it was a Jewish conspiracy, etc.).

Actually, if you start believing in some of these theories, how can you believe anything that you didn't personally witness yourself? If any "reality" can be fabricated for consumption by the media, then I must conclude that the federal government itself does not exist. It's not beyond the realm of current technology that our President is actually a computer graphics animation, as are members of Congress. Think of their bizarre behavior the last few years, and it's quite possible our government is being run by a team of crazed computer geeks working out of a garage in Lawrence, Kansas.

That would explain a lot.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Some Things Never Change

I just came across this web page, which purports to show graffiti preserved on the walls of the doomed Roman city of Pompeii.

Here's one that reminds me of the restaurant ratings we have here in LA:
(in the vestibule of the House of Cuspius Pansa): The finances officer of the emperor Nero says this food is poison.
Timeless advice:
(in the basilica): A small problem gets larger if you ignore it.
(in the basilica): Phileros is a eunuch!
They get much more...colorful.

Check it out
if you're interested

I've always been fascinated with the private lives of everyday people throughout history. What did the typical Roman family discuss around the equivalent of the kitchen table? What was the daily routine? Years ago, I picked up a book, "Growing Up in Medieval London: The Experience of Childhood in History," which explored just that question during one period in history.

Another book I picked up, "The Penguin Book of Childhood" uses letters and quotations from children and adults throughout history to illustrate how some attitudes and perceptions have changed, and how some have stayed the same: The great Greek philosopher Socrates wrote something over 2400 years ago that's been repeated generation after generation through the ages:
Children today love luxury too much. They have execrable manners, flaunt authority, have no respect for their elders. They no longer rise when their parents or teachers enter the room. What kind of awful creatures will they be when they grow up?

Sunday, December 11, 2005

My Band

I had this band in college...

I can't sing, or play music instruments (at least, not since 5th grade), but I had this band. My musical partner, who shared my vast talents, joined with me in our questionable pursuit, limited thankfully to a few parties and and a rarely distributed cassette tape. We also had backup. Together, we were the Sem and Craven! Band. I was Craven, he was Sem, his brother was "and" and another friend (who actually had some talent) was "!" . We weren't even good enough to be a garage band. We were more a corner of the bedroom band. Our concerts consisted of three events - a new years eve concert, a summer "super sixties celebration," and a birthday party (where the birthday boy got sick and missed our performance). We had a handful of fans that cheered us on (and I do mean a handful), and one additional fan more than a decade later.

We had songs of questionable taste, of course, with names like, "Feed Us, Fetus," "Pimp (L)" and "Baby: BOOM." We even created a music video (actually music film would be more accurate) entitled, "Tie It Tight!", about a kid from North Dakota who travels to a California beach and loses his bathing suit to the sea because he didn't tie it tight....

We spent endless hours recording our music, didn't rehearse for our concerts, destroyed one guitar and one maraca, and employed a single 1-amp amplifier. I suppose you could say we were the original legends in our own mind...

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Something to ponder.

What my childhood friends became:
Teacher, Lawyer, Accountant, Doctor.

Me? Well, I teach sometimes, and I occasionally use lawyers, accountants and doctors. Do they use filmmakers? I think not.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Yet More Stops on the Tour

Here's a few more stops on the never-ending walking tour of my childhood:

1 - When I went back to New York as an adult, eighteen years since my last visit, I got together with Larry and Chris. We had curiously different memories of an incident at this location. The three of us decided to have a contest that involved throwing objects under passing cars - these objects - it might have been one or all of them over time - including snowballs, Frisbees or rocks. It was exciting - more so when one of the three hit the side of a passing car. The guy pulled over immediately into one of the parking spaces - and we took off like a shot!

2 - I took off so fast, I left my precious Stingray bike standing right here. As soon as I sprinted home (we split up and were hiding in our respective homes), I waited maybe ten minutes and crawled like a spy back around the corner to retrieve my bike. To my relief, the guy was gone...but I was terrified that we hadn't heard the last of this...

3 - We used to have a crabapple tree on the curb in front of our house. One day, Larry and I decided it would be funny to line up crabapples all the way across the street. Crabapples, if you don't know, are like tiny, apples, just a little bigger than a marble. We hid behind a bush and watched as cars drove by, running over the crabapples. We rushed out and quickly replaced the crushed crabapples with fresh ones, and returned to our hiding place. Then, some crazy guy stopped, not wanting to contaminate his tires. He saw us right away and ordered us to move the crabapples out of his way. I suppose we might have run, but we were right in front of my home, and we didn't want trouble. We obeyed, and another game was over.

4 - Here's a little tramatic event. I was sitting here at about 6 or 7 years old with a child's plastic fishing rod, happily playing the fisherman at Ridder's Pond. Then some kid, perhaps a little older, came by with his dad and commented about my "baby" fishing rod. I went home in defeat. Perhaps this is why I've never been much of a fisherman...

5 - That little white object is actually a shack, a small way-station for the Nassau county police. It was built within a few months after we hit the side of the car down the street. For years, I was convinced that it was built solely to nab us for our crime.

They haven't caught us yet.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Brief Friendships

I was thinking today about the collection of numerous brief friendships I accumulated when I was a teenager. Usually associated with a creative endeavor in a single class during one semester, these creative partners remained friends only in that class, and somehow never advanced to the regular friend stage. Or, if they became friends in school, we weren't friends outside of school.

Isaac was a good friend during one particular junior high English class, where we worked on a collection of creative assignments together (one or two of which I still have), but somehow didn't remain friends after that. I think I saw him a couple of years later when he was in Junior Achievement, a program that taught kids business skills. He and his fellow JA'ers were sitting in a both in Sears selling something or other. It was either him or another brief friend, Tom. That's the thing about a brief friend like that - there's only that one environment you have as a reference. I probably knew the back of his head better than his face!

Darrell was a friend only in school. We'd goof around so much in one English class, making each other laugh constantly, that one semester our teacher gave us both an unsatisfactory mid-term grade for cooperation for being so disruptive. I ran into him at college years later. I think he was studying computer science...

David was yet another brief Junior High friend. If we had gone to the same high school, we probably would have remained friends, but in those days when the phone was the only means of communication (horrors!) that was the end of it. We actually did get together outside of school at least once that I remember, when he invited me to a Dodger baseball game. I also remember kidding around with him in a shop class that I wanted to beat him up, and having all these other kids in the class try to make that non-fight happen. They actually surrounded us after class, waiting for blood. So I gave him a goofy little hit in the arm and we went on our way.

I'm not sure if any of these people would remember our friendship. It's interesting how the mind works. I remember quite a few of these sorts of friendships, but I've also run into childhood (or teenhood) friends of which I have no memory. Like I remember the kids I mentioned, these individuals will remember sharing a class with me. Ill have no solid memory of interacting with them. On one hand, I feel a little bit bad that I can't remember them, on the other, it's fascinating to rediscover a small, forgotten part of my life.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Stops on the Tour

Here are a few more stops on the walking tour of my childhood (book your trip now).

1 - Once again, this was my home, at 143 Country Village Lane.

2 - The New Hyde Park Pool was a major summer location - nobody had their own pool (unlike the neighborhood we moved to in California, where everyone had one). This was the social gathering place for kids and parents (especially moms) alike.

3 - This is the hill where I first tested my wooden go-kart, which my dad helped me build. I remember getting wheels off of a baby carriage in a thrift store somewhere. We painted the kart in very cool fluorescent colors, and it was absolutely one of my favorite playthings for a while. I even took it out to California. The only known image I have of my go-kart is a brief glimpse on a strip of super-8 movie film. One of these days I'll transfer it over so my vast audience can see what I mean.

4 - This is an intersection I raced through on my beautiful Stingray bike and just missed getting hit by a car. I instantly became a more careful bike rider.

5 - This is where I got my one and only black eye after an argument with one of my best friends, Chris. Many years later I returned to New Hyde Park and he had no memory of our little fight, but apologized anyway. I apologized too, because he remembered something I did to him as well - for which I had absolutely no memory. It seems that he got sick on the school bus on our way home and threw up. In all the standard commotion, nobody noticed - until Guess Who announced to the entire bus, "LOOOOK!!!! CHRIS THREW UP," after which everyone moved to the opposite side of the bus in a huge dramatic rush only little kids can carry off. That was another one of my special kid truths: if you can deflect attention from yourself, do it every time you have the chance. Do it even if nobody is paying attention to you. Today we would call it a pre-emptive strike.

Now that I think about, I don't recall if he punched me in the eye before or after I humiliated him on the bus. It all makes sense now...

Friday, December 02, 2005

Big Business on Country Village Lane

Once again, we'll retrace my childhood via Google Earth...

1 - I lived here.
2 - Larry lived here.
3 - When I was about 9, Larry and I went into business running a lemonade stand here.
4 - This is where I set up MY lemonade stand after Larry and I got into an argument. We were in direct competition - directly across the street! We didn't do too much business. No self-respecting adult wanted to stop and have to pick one of us over the other.
5 - This is where Larry and I went into business together again, right outside Ridder's Pond. With the gauranteed kid traffic, we figured we'd do a lot of business. We did! So much so that we ran out of lemonade. We were surrounded by a group of big kids (probably 12 or 13 years old), who still wanted lemonade. Larry told them he was going to go home and get another batch. We let them pay in advance.

I sat at the lemonade stand waiting for Larry to return. Twenty minutes later, I was still waiting. The Big Kids came back and asked for their lemonade. I promised them that Larry would be back, but I was already getting nervous. Another ten minutes, and they were beginning to get mad.

Another ten minutes, and Larry finally returned with a pitcher of Lemonade. My relief disappered almost immediately as we were once again surrounded by lots of Big Kids insisting that they had paid in advance. We began pouring cup after cup after cup of lemonade. Unfortunately, we ran out of lemonade before we ran out of Big Kids insisting that they had paid in advance. We had no way of knowing who had paid and who hadn't, and soon we were surrounded by Angry Big Kids demanding a refund. We had no choice but to comply. A short time later, we headed for home. We were sold out of lemonade, and we'd handed out all of our profit. Our lemonade stand days were over.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Prescription: Suicide?

"Prescription: Suicide?" is a feature documentary I edited and produced with Director Robert Manciero exploring the misuse of anti-depressant drugs on kids and teens. The project took us across the country as we visited with six families impacted by the experience. You can find out more about the film itself at

We began shooting the film in April, 2005, and premiered the film at the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival in November.

The experience of creating the film was emotionally intense. Three of the kids we profiled committed suicide while using anti-depressants; the three others attempted suicide. Bob and I entered the lives of these children and their families with two objectives: to not only tell the story of how the kids died or nearly died, but who they were as unique human beings. The experience of looking through the photos, movies, belongings, artwork and writings of kids who were no longer alive underscored for us the tragedy of what was lost. We learned as much about them as we possibly could without having known them. The three survivors also allowed us into the darkest period of their lives with a degree of trust that was extraordinary. 18 year-old Jason Atwood allowed us to review his highly personal journals dating back to when he was ten years old. The Downing family trusted us to review all of their late daughter Candace's belongings, videos and photographs, and brought together her friends to tell us how she really was. Though it was sometimes painful, every family provided everything they could.

Creating a documentary like this is all about trust and responsibility. Going into the project, we understood the gravity and potential importance of what we were about to do. Once we met the families, the obligation of not letting them down became just as important. For me, that's a large part of what documentary filmmaking is all about.