There is not a shot out of place, not a word uttered or note of music that is not just right in this film. I admit I had to watch it twice to get all the nuances. You must listen for when they are speaking Shanghainese or Japanese and you must understand a bit about what was happening in china and shanghai in 1937. There are family ties, triad ties, Japanese secret society ties and love ties. There is betrayal of all these ties. Jumping back and forth in time makes the plot unravel slowly and like a game of mah-jong the final betrayal is revealed when all the tiles are exposed at the end. This is a great movie. It does not have any kung-fu or wire-work or epic slow motion gunfights and white doves – but it is a truly original masterpiece. I recommend it to anyone who wants to see a thoughtful movie and be challenged by what a great piece of cinema is.
So what is the relationship between Shanghai Triad and The Wasted Times? Well, Hollywood has started to develop a vocabulary for this, and it includes terms like reboot, remake, and re-imagining.
But The Wasted Times doesn’t seem to really match any of those terms. I’d contend The Wasted Times is a spiritual successor to Shanghai Triad, where a spiritual successor would be one or two levels beyond a re-imagining. It’s adopting the environment, the general context, and the era, but not any of the specific characters, relationships, or plot lines.
If you enjoyed Shanghai Triad, do yourself a favor and see The Wasted Times. I have to admit, I was touched by the final scenes – complete with an alien form of chivalry. It was extremely well done. In fact, everything was very well done, and it tends to suggest the setting in these two films (1930s Shanghai) really lends itself to a cinematic rendering. Something about 1930s Shanghai tends to be very crisp, and very compelling, with plenty of surface area for an artist to work with.
Although I probably wouldn’t agree with all of the director’s viewpoints, it’s very hard to argue with the quality of the film. The Wasted Times is a very worthy and a very formidable spiritual successor to Shanghai Triad.
And now for the dubious levels of classification.
This film incorporates a creative device that I have never seen any vocabulary for: At the end of the film, the main characters briefly meet in a completely different setting for the final resolution.
I think my mental shorthand for this is a Point-Break-style ending, although there are obviously other films that have the same device.
In The Wasted Times, as in the original Point Break, this style of ending works because it further pronounces and embellishes key traits for some of the characters.
The Claim (2000), Extremely Underrated And Much More
I was very impressed the first time I saw The Claim, which wasn’t that long ago. I had never heard of this film, and at 6.3 on IMDb, this has to be one of the most underrated films on the site, after filtering out more minor works. I’d have to rate it at least 9.0 out of 10, and I don’t say that lightly.
The Claim is various complex stories wrapped up in a very simple story. The simple story being an old, cruel America finally being replaced by a more effective and newer, old, cruel America. (And of course, all of these iterations of America would finally get us to the relatively advanced America we live in today.)
Although American politicians and the United States military demarcated America’s boundaries, all of that land would only become America through the confluence of various inviolable determinations, and this is captured brilliantly in The Claim.
There were always two manifest destinies, or at least two facets to the ill-defined term. The simple story in The Claim is a haunting story. The original victors of the geographical manifest destiny are rendered extinct by ushers of the chronological manifest destiny.
I’m not sure why, but this film has not received the attention that it deserves. I believe it should be inducted into the US National Film Registry as important and compelling Americana. And all of this is made just slightly more strange by the fact that it was a co-production between Canada and Britain.
I purchased the DVD and I watched it for a second time with Spanish audio. It transferred very well with Spanish audio, although some of the Spanish translations do not do justice to the original English lines. The film definitely holds up over time, and my guess is that it delivers in any language.
1. The Safdie Brothers are quietly rejuvenating, re-imagining, and I would even say completely re-inventing the thriller genre, which is no small feat. At the current pace, that will most likely be how their recent films are described in future.
2. Mosul (2019; the one directed by Matthew Carnahan) is definitely underrated at its current 7.1 rating on IMDb. It looks at one part of the Iraq War, and also one that doesn’t directly involve Americans, and for that alone it’s already a different type of film.
3. I recently found out a prequel to Predator (1987) will be released this year, and it’s titled Prey. The plot involves the Predator hunting a Comanche tribe roughly 300 years ago.
I’m a fan of the original film, but I don’t think I’ve been excited for another iteration of this franchise in quite a while! I think the producers picked a great idea to run with, and I hope they pull it off.
I’m very interested to see where they go with this.
Just my two cents on what I would do with it, or what I’d like to see them put together, I would have the Comanche tribe slowly lose a war of attrition to the Predator, and when the tribe has completely lost hope, the elder chief (who’s perhaps on his death bed) pulls out on old relic that had been passed down to him (and that he had until now not understood), and the old relic is actually the severed hand of an even older Predator with the tactical nuclear device still attached. This leads to an abrupt but memorable ending where, somehow, the female warrior divines what it’s for, rides off into a suicide mission against the Predator somewhere perhaps in an open field (with the tactical nuclear weapon counting down in the alien script), and, with a final display of bravado, takes out the Predator, saving the remainder of the tribe.
Then, another prequel is released where we find out how that Predator hand came to be severed. The sequel would be much further back in time – perhaps as far back as the “cave man times”. I really like this idea because we tend to figure the cave men were idiots, but it would be interesting to see how a group of cave men might be especially wily and somehow overcome a single Predator.
That’s how I would run with the franchise.
But no matter what, the female protagonist in Prey absolutely needs to bring back the line, “If it bleeds, we can kill it.” I’m going to be very disappointed if they didn’t think to do that.
I actually liked the last iteration of the franchise – Predators (2010). I’ll give my take on it also, which involves a few spoilers.
I would have shaved maybe 20 seconds off the end of the film. The entire film was pretty bleak, and I don’t see why they can’t just be stranded on the alien planet at that point – without any hope of further human contact.
But what I would have really liked to do is completely change the surprise mole character.
I would have liked to see a twist on the “don’t judge a book by its cover” proverb. I would have liked the group to identify the Japanese warrior as a Yakuza member by the volume and nature of his tattoos, but I think it would have been a great twist if they didn’t look closely enough. In my opinion, the Yakuza member should have had one additional tattoo unrelated to organized crime – one for Aum Shinrikyo, the infamous Japanese death/doomsday cult mostly remembered for their sarin gas terrorist attacks in Japan.
So the idea is that his organized crime involvement, while congruent with his radical views, is maybe just like a day job for him, and what makes him the most notable is his involvement in that infamous cult.
The idea would be that the Predator clan handpicked him to be the mole in the human group due to his obsession with doomsday and human death, and so, ultimately, he’s essentially working with the Predators against the humans – most likely eagerly so, as he possibly perceives this whole thing as a sort of grand religious consummation.
Perhaps after this is finally revealed, we also see something like a telepathic link between the Predators and the death cult member, which would be a memorable first in the franchise.
Most of all, maybe the Yakuza member was handpicked by the Predator clan as a particularly twisted or poetic element in their competition – an element that would also be a rare demonstration of the Predators’ higher sentience and intelligence. The idea would be that this was a distinct challenge for the other humans – would any of these clever criminals, intelligence agents, and elite soldiers be astute enough to see past the “noise” of the Yakuza tattoos?
Author’s fanedit version of “the phone call” scene from Valkyrie (2008). Original clip available courtesy of “Movieclips” at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7k9bFzgXeXE.
Brevity is the soul of wit.
William Shakespeare’s Hamlet
Remarkably, few film sub-genres are such reliable earners across time, across demographics, and perhaps most telling of all, across film production teams like the Internal Nazi Fratricide sub-genre is. (I’ve actually thought for some time that some type of sociological research study could be done, and that it might shed some light into why that is.)
Valkyrie (2008) is undoubtedly one of the highest quality films in this sub-genre. Yet, another“fanedit” seems to be in order, and I believe this one, as well, wades into the objective-improvement zone.
If you haven’t seen it, Valkyrie depicts a plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler, and ultimately there is mass confusion as to whether the assassination succeeded or failed. This causes alliances to whipsaw, intrigues and suspicions to pile up, wholesale misinformation, and all of this leads up to “the phone call” scene.
Above you have my (objective?)-improvement fanedit. Assuming I understand that scene right, the idea is kind of like the Devil has come back from the dead – and that naturally portends to upend everything. (Hitler’s voice on the other end of line is the first time the viewer and the film’s relevant characters learns of his survival. He was presumed dead and his loyalists were being jailed, with executions or worse likely looming.)
And yet the original release (right down below for comparison) includes a whole lot of perfunctory, pedestrian details that bog the scene down with unnecessary information, and distract viewers from its intended purpose and true value.
Original clip courtesy of “Movieclips” at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7k9bFzgXeXE.
1. Do we really need multiple “hello” greetings from one side of the phone line?
2. Did we really need multiple reiterations of how prisoners are to be captured, in this particular scene? (Which, again, steals attention away from the true value of the scene.)
3. Perhaps most ludicrous of all is seeing exactly how a Nazi soldier would exit from a standard room – first opening the door, and then closing it behind him.
On a side note, to make this simple fanedit I tried out the freeware version of Lightworks – a video editing application that many people recommend. My impression of Lightworks is that the paid version must be incredibly better than the free version – otherwise I don’t understand the level of acclaim.
To spice up the phone call audio (trying to harken back to the age of lower-quality audio), I used Audacity and the “Walkie Talkie” distortion effect. However, instead of applying that built-in effect once, I lowered the effect level, and then reapplied it several times in succession.
In closing, I’ve seen this type of issue in lots of different media content, and also outside of media. For something that’s run-of-the-mill, it doesn’t typically matter if the details are somewhat formulaic. However, for something that’s supposed to be supercharged with a distinct, higher level of interest, there really ought to be an acute attention to what details are present, how those details are presented, and what the overall effect is.
This post is only going to be useful for those who have seen both Blade Runner films.
I’m not a Blade Runner franchise fanatic by any stretch of the imagination. (In fact, I mistakenly thought the character Deckard was “Dreckard”.) That said, in my opinion, the two released films have been very high caliber.
I recently saw Blade Runner 2049, and I feel one hole in the soundtrack is so large, I had to categorize this under “Poor Design”. I feel like this improvement should have been almost instinctively apparent to the creators.
The existing score is extremely high quality. But as I viewed the film, I couldn’t believe (and still can’t believe) they didn’t fade in the original Vangelis Love Theme from the original Blade Runner during K’s soul-crushing breakdown on the bridge in Blade Runner 2049.
This would have knocked the scene completely out of the park, cemented the scene’s status as classic cinema, and even moved the needle as it pertains to the entire film’s critical rating.
If you have access to both materials (video is NSFW), you can easily see what the fan edit would be.
or… Useless Information: How And When Anti-Vaxxers Are Right
COVID-19 has made a huge impact on the world and the United States, and so-called “Anti-Vaxxers” have been an integral part of the story.
As far as I can tell, Anti-Vaxxers could only be correct in two scenarios:
1.) A world dystopian enough that the government would supply toxic vaccines – either through malice, ignorance, or incompetence. I think it’s premature to adopt that worldview currently, so I don’t subscribe to it, but I don’t discount the possibility that it could be correct in some possible dystopian future.
2.) If various Eastern religions tell us that each individual has their own truth, then game theory is the mathematical accounting of that idea. A unique scenario is actually arising in about 6 months or so, where, if an individual happened to view life as an amoral, zero-sum application of game theory, then for a brief moment in time, non-Anti-Vaxxers would have an incentive to secretly promote Anti-Vaxxer philosophy so as to increase the likelihood that they and their loved ones would receive a vaccine and could then get on with their lives (at least to some extent as compared to the present).
It’s strangely whimsical and hard boiled at the same time, but mathematically it seems to be correct.
First, it would probably have to be done secretly. Otherwise there could be a stigmatic cost to the particular individual, and that could outweigh the benefits.
Second, people are very polarized on this, and their minds are fairly made up, but in general I suspect people who believe in vaccines believe in them in an almost irreversible manner. Thus, only the “marginal Anti-Vaxxer” would probably be in play. The idea would be that some Anti-Vaxxers might be suffering from FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) due to constant COVID-19 headlines, and the idea would be to undo all of that. Furthermore, a marginal Anti-Vaxxer can get a vaccine, and then lie to everyone and claim they never received one – this may be tempting.
Third, this is all predicated on the idea that vaccines will be limited at first. Most people believe that will be the case.
Fourth, it goes without saying that there is a social cost to millions of people not getting vaccinated, and then risking death or taking up hospital resources. That cost then trickles down to the individual, so after the individual (and their loved ones) are vaccinated, they no longer have any incentive to spread propaganda.
(For the purposes of this analysis, “loved ones” would include anyone in the individual’s life who the individual has a significant personal stake in remaining healthy.)
Fifth, there’s no question that the impact of the individual’s propaganda effort is small, so it’s assumed that the individual has nothing better to do. Given the unemployment numbers, and what many people are reported to be doing currently, it could be argued that that’s the case. (That I would ever write a blog post this useless, and that you would read it, could also be supportive of that idea.) Each individual will vary, and if there were something more enriching that the individual were likely to do, then the model doesn’t hold for that individual.
Sixth, would it make sense to go full-blown Anti-Vaxxer during the entire crisis? Not necessarily. The problem is that it’s not known when a vaccine will become available! Thus, if it keeps getting delayed, the cost of doing this could become exorbitant. However, this is sort of an open question with an amorphous shape, since the individual may not be spending his time on something more useful anyway.
Thus, the chart would look something like this:
To be completely honest – and this is likely the only real value in the above analysis – I think people acting on the above whimsical idea could be a fairly interesting concept for some sort of comedy some day, although not necessarily specific to COVID-19. COVID-19 carries too much negative baggage due to the tragedy and trauma it’s already caused.
So would I partake in something like this? Nope, not at all. First, it’s just too reprehensible. (Moral concerns are generally incompatible with the tenets of game theory; only people who truly don’t care can succeed in such a model). But second, if I were being completely honest, another reason is that these mathematical benefits are too small to see. The larger and more pronounced the benefits – for example, the certainty between life and death – the more likely the individual will be tempted, if not compelled, to act.
In a previous blog post I suggested that the Academy Awards should introduce new award categories to liven things up and keep things fresh.
I realized there’s an additional category that should definitely be included, but it’s a minor challenge to articulate just what it is in only a few words!
The award should be given to the film that most elicits an empathetic sense of dread or doom. This is something that most people would usually feel in their stomach (sometimes called “gut-wrenching”). But it can encompass more, and perhaps even reach an indescribable dimension of negative feeling or negative sensation.
In this prospective category, you’d expect a slasher-type horror film to win, and maybe it usually would, but not always. The most recent film that comes to mind, and one that really excelled in this category, is Beyond The Gates.
So why dread and doom instead of happiness or levity, and what does any of this have to do with 7 senses?
First, apparently we have 6 senses, not 5. According to wikipedia, our 6th sense is actually vestibular, and it governs our sense of physical balance (equilibrioception).
So, if we have a sense of physical balance, might we also have a sense of life balance, or rather, sense when there is impending risk to life or well-being? I would certainly keep as an open question the idea that our physical body can sense very acute situations that threaten life or well-being, in ways that don’t correlate directly to the 6 basic senses.
Then again, maybe it’s all just fear and certain thought patterns. Either way, the prospective category would be a winner. The ability to affect an audience this way is a triumphant selling point for cinema. One might even argue that there are few aspects greater than this! So when you stop and think about it, it’s kind of strange that there’s little in the way of recognition for those who do it skillfully.
In most organizations, there’s going to be a tension between what’s been proven to work, and what’s worth experimenting with for the future. Last time I checked, facebook is a company that experiments a lot; it’s a core value at the company.
Of course, new initiatives aren’t always successful. I can remember a long time back when Monday Night Football selected comedian Dennis Miller to be a commentator. My recollection is that it was not a good idea at all. However, one certainly can’t fault Miller, and although the ABC network was perhaps too lax in screening this experiment beforehand, you can at least credit them for being willing to fail.
Virtually all organizations – no matter how ancient and stoic – have to eventually try something new and risk failure.
Moving along with a simple case study, I can’t really remember the last time I saw much or any of the Academy Awards, but in recent years I more or less remember the headlines surrounding the event. To be pretty general, there were calls for change regarding the award results.
Now, my gut feeling is whether or not the suggested changes were warranted, the Academy Awards was like a sitting duck. It’s perceived lack of experimentation, and more generally any sense of movement or change, inadvertently created a curious vulnerability for it at that point in time.
This is the curious vulnerability: It didn’t really matter if it made sense for the Academy Awards to experiment radically. It also didn’t really matter if the changes demanded by external forces were warranted. Today, by default, an organization is expected to experiment, and more generally, exude a sense of movement or changing – irrespective of what that movement or change is!Organizations that don’t do this are automatically, implicitly, and perhaps subconsciously, considered faulty, if not guilty!
Yes, it seems as though your organization has to propagate a sense of movement or change, even if completely vague, just for the sake of producing that sensation. We’re now several generations past the “MTV generation”, so perhaps it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise.
In a motto: If you don’t control the conversation about “change” in your organization, the odds are much higher that someone else will.
With respect to the Academy Awards, I think the experimentation that they’d need to embark on to effect that general sense of change would have to go beyond who is the host. The experimentation will have to affect the fundamental nature of the event. For instance, award categories. Perhaps add some new experimental categories, and try them out in the run-up to the actual show. Perhaps include some in the time slot where they kind of just show actors walking into the building. And perhaps others in the days and weeks preceding the actual event.
And to that end, I’ve had musings for some time that are somewhat obscure, but nevertheless interesting and perhaps worthy of some kind of experimentation one day. They probably also cater more to cinephiles than the average consumer, and that, specifically, could be a great part of the experimentation. In my opinion, they’re legitimate categories in their own right.
1. New Experimental Category: Highest Ratio of Trailer Quality to Motion Picture Quality
In other words, it was an incredible trailer for an awful movie.
Of course, it wasn’t necessarily an awful movie. In fact, my current all-time pick for this category is Safe, which was not bad at all.
The bottom line is trailer composition is an art that’s currently not recognized in any way. The producer for the trailer may have the lamest film of all time to work with, but his job is to take that, and from it create the most compelling 60-second preview possible. That is an art!
To drive this home further, Hollywood is approaching $50 billion a year in revenue, and this is easily the most unheralded facet of that cash cow, even though it’s one of the absolute most critical trades. Imagine a Hollywood where all the films were the same, but all the trailers were absolutely awful. I would envision many billions of dollars in lost revenue.
2. New Experimental Category: Greatest Motion Picture Over-Performance
In other words, you saw the poster, you saw the trailer, you knew about the cast, you knew who the director was, and… you were completely shocked at how good the film was.
Similar to before, it doesn’t necessarily mean all those aforementioned ingredients were of low quality. And of course it doesn’t necessarily mean the film is that great.
To drive home the above points, the best film I’ve seen from the recent past is The Dark Knight. However, it wouldn’t be a contender because, although it actually did over-perform, I expected a very high level of quality to begin with.
3. New Experimental Category: Best Scene From A Motion Picture
This is self explanatory, and there are too many possibilities to list right here.
I also think this is a non-cinephile category that could captivate the average consumer.
4. New Experimental Category: Moodiest Motion Picture Film
Wow, now this is a niche experimental category!
I have no idea how to quantify the moodiness of a film, or articulate what this category even really means, but you know it when you see it.
One thing I’m pretty sure of is music tends to play a critical role. That said, this isn’t Best Motion Picture Score or Best Motion Picture Soundtrack.
For me, the film that really stands out is the mostly-unknown 1996 Spanish film by Carlos Saura, Taxi.
Fittingly, the soundtrack featured cult band Mano Negra, which was noteworthy for its very high level of experimentation. Numerous multilingual tracks from the the band’s relevant album Casa Babylon have a very unconventional and original sound, and are worth a listen.
Equally worthy of consideration, with an equally moody score, soundtrack, visuals, and writing, is Yimou Zhang’s 1995 film, Shanghai Triad.
“Fanedits” are one of the newer trends in cinema. It’s when amateurs attempt to edit a film, in an attempt to achieve what they believe is perfection. Their legality is sketchy as is their typical distribution. I encountered the strangest fanedit by accident.
I had received a bargain-bin DVD copy of Pearl Harbor. Since I had never seen it, I eventually decided to view the DVD. It was a 2-disc set, but one of the discs was missing. I figured it must have been the special features.
I was very impressed with the film, instantly captivated by a very interesting cold opening, intrigued by the chosen timeline for the film, and the general pacing and structure felt very, very different and definitely refreshing! I didn’t realize the disc clearly said “Disc 2”, and I was in fact watching the second half of the film like an idiot.
(Eventually, I finally saw the first half of the three-hour film.)
My final analysis is that Pearl-Harbor-the-DVD-Part-2 can actually be viewed as a self-contained film. As for references to things in the first half of the film, they generally turn out to be better when you imagine what happened, or speculate what they might be talking about. Of course, due to time constraints, it’s a common occurrence in films anyway – so in this case you don’t even realize there’s something strange going on.
Pearl-Harbor-the-DVD-Part-2 is better than Pearl-Harbor-the-DVD-Part-1 .
More surprisingly, it’s also better than Pearl-Harbor-the-DVD-Part-1-and-Part-2!
I don’t claim it’s perfect, but I do claim it’s better. Much better, in fact.
Throw away the first disc, and you have the ultimate Pearl Harbor fanedit. If you’ve never seen Pearl Harbor, you’re the next-to-perfect test subject. (In this case the perfect test subject would be completely unaware of what’s going on.) Watch the second half of the film and see for yourself.
Can something more useful than a random film review be gleaned from this? Yes, I believe so. Sometimes, superior quality and solutions can be found in the strangest places. Never close the door on brainstorming methods or approaches. You never know what you’ll find. And sometimes a lack of awareness can open the mind, when otherwise it might be gridlocked with conventional thinking.
We’re going to take two trips at the same time. One through time and one through an ecological life cycle. Both will be through vignettes and neither will be linear.
– Gone To Texas –
Even though my great-grandfather hailed from Nebraska, his first name was extremely Scandinavian. This may have been a contributing factor in his decision to only go by his initials. He did this so much so, in fact, that even friends and family had no idea what his actual name was.
He came to Texas to work on the expansion of the existing irrigation system. What they were working on would allow more water from the Rio Grande River to be channeled northwards. More water would reach more farm fields, and I believed it helped the cities as well.
He eventually started a dairy farm as a side business. His son, my grandfather, disliked it so much that he dismantled it almost immediately after inheriting it. And so, many old dairy farm structures were either torn down or left to eventually disintegrate on their own. As a result, our property tends to have pieces of very old lumber laying around, and we haven’t ever had a good use for them.
– Brand Management –
I would call it “rhyming with the world”. It’s a phrase I found in a book, but in the book they call it “rhyming with nature”. Let’s be honest – doing something with “nature” sounds kind of passé doesn’t it? It sounds like you have to find a tie-die shirt and a headband to get in. But “rhyming with the world”? That sounds like something exotic! Maybe some sort of never-to-be-forgotten trip to the Caribbean. Branding is always important, don’t you think?
Now, to illustrate a different point, what if instead of calling it “rhyming with the world”, we called it “organizational efficiency”? That almost kind of sounds like something a Fortune 500 company might employ. How about “operational effectiveness”? That sounds like it might involve some kind of modern military strategy. “Harmony of motion”? Perhaps that’s distinctly Aikido. It’s all the exact same thing, just in different contexts: maximizing efficiency. (Sometimes, to reach this optimal efficiency, you must find a solution that may not be the first item on everyone’s brainstorming list!)
– Humans, Everything Else, And Life And Death –
In Aliens, Ripley brazenly and shamelessly betrays the queen alien in a classic deal gone bad. After being given everything she had wanted, Ripley breaks her tacit agreement with the queen alien. She blows away the queen, along with all of her eggs, pointlessly, for no reason other than malice. This is the glorification of anthropocentrism. (Nearly 20 years after James Cameron shot this scene, it still stands as one of the most unique and one of the best film sequences ever produced.)
Strange as it may sound, this film scene is something of a guilty pleasure. I am anthropocentric, and this scene is a personal reminder of my own anthropocentricity. Proof that my worldview holds humans to be preeminent. In fact, my views on global ecology, and my general desire to not inflict harm on other life unnecessarily, is actually just an extension of this worldview. It is the way that I, for various anthropocentric reasons, personally choose to exercise free will as an anthropocentric agent.
Global ecology and the role we play in it isn’t an abstract academic exercise. For example, in Australia, finding out the daily UV index is a life and death matter. The state of the ozone layer around Australia is so bad now that skin cancer there is described as an epidemic. Some estimate that one in two, or an almost unbelievable two in three, Australians will contract skin cancer in their lifetime. If humans truly are supreme, then they will surely keep this world, the collective human home, in order.
– Open Your Eyes –
There is a useful mental exercise where someone is shown something, and then that person is asked what they see. They are supposed to guess what the object is for, or think up additional and perhaps non-intuitive uses for it. (This is actually a regular segment on Ask This Old House, but in truth I believe I first saw something like it in an old Adrian Lyne production.)
So, what do you see?
Looks like some discarded paper products – newspapers and packing materials. In other words, trash, or perhaps paper recycling if we were being good global citizens. There are surely many secondary uses for something like this. I’ll give you my answer on this in just a second.
What do you see?
These are seed pods from the Texas Ebony tree. It stands to reason that the Texas Ebony trees in my yard are the very distant descendants of ancient Texas Ebony trees. Trees that probably stood here in this very same region, perhaps in a tranquil near silence, before humans were ever here. Just as today, their seed pods would have fallen everywhere and would have almost been a nuisance had anyone been here to care. My answer on this, too, in just a second.
The above picture is your only clue. It may help you deduce where I’m going with part of this. The clue is this: Near-useless weeds are endemic in South Texas just like they are endemic in many other places. There are many ways you can try to manage or eliminate them…
What if we harnessed the shape and size of Texas Ebony seed pods by placing them and the newspaper down over weed growth? Then you would have a semi-permanent weed barrier, and best of all, it would have style. To me, this is an instance of perfect South Texas Style. Truly, this is something that cannot be bought. You can’t buy this weed barrier at Home Depot or Lowe’s. If you’re in the U.S., you have to be in South Texas to get it, and when you go to get it, there’s usually an abundance waiting for you.
The newspapers will break down over time, but that’s OK. Their purpose is actually two-fold. First, depending on how much you put down, the newspapers all but guarantee the existing weeds will die. Otherwise, it will be a huge struggle keeping them from pushing through the second weed barrier (in this case, seed pods). Second, they buy you time. We didn’t want to have to round up two or three layers of seed pods all at once for our various yard projects. The newspapers allow you to incrementally add that second weed barrier without having to deal with new weed growth.
One reason, in particular, we want to place weed barriers around trees and small structures is that we want to be able to cut every blade of grass or every weed with a lawn mower, and not have to bring out another tool to deal with the remaining weeds that are right up against the tree or structure.
Getting closer to the beginning, we have several bamboo plants. Bamboo can be used for a lot of things! Some of its uses include food, structures, and weapons.
We have dug out a small crater right next to one of our bamboo plants. We route some of our graywater to this crater so it can be better utilized. (The ideal design for such a crater would be a bowl-like, concave impression with the bamboo plant right in the middle. However, for various reasons, we chose to do it this way.)
One other great bamboo use stems from the fact it is very easy to put through a chipper and turn into fine-grained bamboo pieces. These chips are a great second-level weed barrier. More bamboo growth will give us more ammunition to snuff out more weeds. This is pretty good holistic efficiency.
But what about that huge crater? It’s not very appealing to have a huge hold in the middle of your yard!
Now back at the very beginning, we take some of that old lumber, saw it down to size, and cover the crater so we can walk over it.