Promotional trailer: Book of Constants

After months of delays large and small, we present the Book of Constants promotional trailer:

The purchasing link is here. Read the short story excerpt here.

About the process

We dusted off our copies of Sony Movie Studio Platinum 12 (video editing) and Audacity (free sound editing and recording). We wanted to maintain an ethic similar to that of our trailer for The Music and the Spires, respecting that TMATS is an anthology of short stories and Book of Constants is a novella. To this end, we perused archive.org again for video footage, limiting the material to one primary clip (the street scene in turn-of-century Palestine) and two secondary clips (the first a railroad documentary from Thomas Edison’s stock, and the second, a scene from The Golem, which, at an initial glimpse, resembles two men disposing of a corpse; remember that BOC is at its core a murder mystery).

For sheer beauty and impact, we opted for the grizzly bear shots and a delectable composition by Francesca Mountfort. The name of the track is Nana, which she recorded under her Nervous Doll Dancing alias. She adapted it from Manuel De Falla’s suite for piano and cello; find a more literal interpretation of the piece here. As an editorial aside, the original is pretty enough, but Mountfort’s version is one of the most beautiful pieces of music I’ve ever heard.

But in practical terms the trailer was becoming a little too luxurious. The novella follows an unwitting rookie detective on his first murder investigation, which from the beginning is sloppy, chaotic and conflicted in interest. The police scanner footage helped dial the gorgeousness back a little, and personal tragedy on behalf of the film editor/sound engineer suspended the project for months. I feared that the project’s momentum was lost but indeed the opposite was true. We resumed in early 2014 and–after a few mock-ups–finished the editing in a single take.

I always cringe at title cards in the first trailer, but the team insisted on some kind of literal connection back to the book. After some fairly lively negotiation, we agreed that I would narrate the story’s opening sentences. I am not an actor by any means, nor do any of us own the proper equipment. This way my wife would give me voice-acting prompts and I would hurry to the bedroom to record on my iPhone (I would have choked if I had tried to narrate while anyone else listened). Outtakes of these DIY sessions pick up the sound of me scratching at my clothes, bouncing my knee, cursing like a thug and falling prey to all manner of facial tics. At last, we settled on a take that didn’t sound like a vocoder.

In an unexpected 4-1 defeat, I lost the sound engineering vote. “Nana” truly became a background score, with the static, clamor, confusion and emergency protocol of police scanner recordings mixed in loudly and prominently. Moreover, the new audio track was 2:06 in length, while the video feed was 1:54. We had twelve extra seconds of sound, and were forced to add two more, wholly unnecessary title cards. I kept any subsequent remarks to myself.

Here it is: B-list acting, tragic animal husbandry and all. In spite of the setbacks I love this film. We hope you enjoy.

–C.E. Alexander
March 8, 2014

Paul Wegener’s The Golem (1920)

The Golem

We’re still toiling away on our second book trailer (watch our first one here, if you haven’t already). The new film will resemble the previous one in that both set modern compositions to old, grainy, black-and-white footage. C.E. Alexander’s current publications Book of Constants and My Wounded Specular feature in the promotional film, as do two forthcoming titles.

Nearly all of the stock from our last trailer was documentary reel, with the exception of a brief scene from the scripted 1934 feature Tarzan and His Mate (starting at 2:19). Similarly the majority of our new footage is of the unstaged variety, although one source was too beautiful to pass up: Paul Wegener’s 1920 silent horror film The Golem: How He Came into the World.

Set in Renaissance-era Prague and filmed in Berlin, the movie is an adaptation of Gustav Meyrink’s 1915 anthology Der Golem. Perhaps the story line is nothing new, particularly by modern standards: a cruel decree handed down from royalty; a reckless calling forth of demons; a clumsy, handmade creature unleashed on those whom it was built to protect. But the sets were beautiful, tirelessly detailed; the lighting was potent; the cinematography truly indulgent (in time photographer Karl Freund would move to the U.S. and add his touch to an impressive list of Hollywood features).

It’s difficult to cite only a few examples of the film’s visual achievements: Rabbi Loew’s home and the Jewish ghetto around it are Hieronymus Bosch canvases made real. The lumbering golem practically stinks of clay through the fourth wall. And the innovative use of shadows, the unconventional camera angles obscure portions of the screen in wonderful geometries. This is a remarkable find. Stream The Golem in its entirely below.

But other than pretty footage, what does the Jewish protector myth have to do with our trailer? Not telling. Yet with Book of Constants and My Wounded Specular already live, The Shallow Cittern set for a September publication and 1991 slated for October, all will be revealed soon.

Franz Reichelt’s Eiffel Tower jump

There’s not much we can tell you that you can’t divine from the clip. On February 4, 1912, Austrian-born French parachutist Franz Reichelt attempted a jump from the first deck of the Eiffel Tower. The experimental parachute failed to deploy, and Reichelt fell 57 meters to his death.

The footage is gorgeous and exquisitely lit. Just be aware, any readers with less-than-iron constitutions will want to skydive from this film at about the 1:19 mark.

Find our first book trailer here. William Ryan Fritch contributed previously unreleased “Ledabella” to this found footage of Soviet Russia, early aviation pioneers, and, purportedly, the captain of the Titanic. Ledabella is a character from C.E. Alexander’s The Music and the Spires. As we peruse possible footage for trailer #2–promoting Book of Constants, Bar Juchne and My Wounded Specular–we’re sharing some of the highlights.

Jack Johnson vs. James J. Jeffries (1910)

The boxing newsreel: you can’t browse old black-and-white footage for a minute without running into one. Turn-of-the-century prizefighting predated the fifteen round limit and, largely, the padded glove mandate. Bouts turned savage, like the April 6, 1893 Andy Bowen/Jack Burke contest, a seven-hour ordeal spanning 111 rounds, during which Burke broke every bone in each hand. Bowen would be killed in a subsequent match with Kid Lavigne.

The 1910 Jack Johnson/James Jeffries newsreel is fascinating for historical reasons, but it is simply beautiful watching on its own. Shots of 1910-era Reno are amazing, and the images of crews building a wood-framed stadium in expectation of the fight are jaw dropping (the promoter invested $120,000…in gold). Jeffries came out of retirement and lost 110 pounds during training. That proved a fateful number as temperatures soared to 110F, and the bout came nowhere close to its 45-round limit. Johnson knocked down the challenger twice in the fifteenth round, and Jeffries’ handlers stopped the fight.

If you haven’t yet seen our trailer for C.E. Alexander’s The music and the spires, you can do so here. The promotional film for short stories Book of Constants, Bar Juchne and My Wounded Specular is coming soon. In case you were wondering about all of these scratchy old videos.

Rescued from an Eagle’s Nest (1908)

Here is a third picture that turns up frequently when perusing old, silent films. J. Searle Dawley released Rescued from an Eagle’s Nest in 1908, starring D.W. Griffith as a woodsman whose baby is carried off by an eagle. This 105-year-old film is ridiculous by today’s standards, but the exposure issues, primtive special effects and ominous bird lend it a nostalgic beauty.

Subsequent to his acting debut for Edison Studio, D.W. Griffith would become an influential film pioneer in his own right, directing and producing hundreds of films such as The Birth of a Nation (1915), Intolerance: Love’s Struggle Throughout the Ages (1916), and Broken Blossoms (1919). Intolerance is an interesting choice of names: Griffith was the son of Confederate Army colonel Jacob Griffith, and his signature movie The Birth of a Nation advanced a pro-slavery, pro-Klan viewpoint. In 1999 the Directors Guild of America renamed its longstanding D.W. Griffith Award, opting instead for the DGA Lifetime Achievement Award. Of the decision, DGA President Jack Shea said: “There is no question that D.W. Griffith was a brilliant pioneer filmmaker whose innovations as a visionary film artist led the way for generations of directors. However, it is also true that he helped foster intolerable racial stereotypes.”

If you haven’t yet seen our trailer for C.E. Alexander’s The music and the spires, you can do so here. The promotional film for short stories Book of Constants, Bar Juchne and My Wounded Specular is coming soon.