Saturday, March 10, 2007

chose impardonnable

One thing I cannot forgive the French:

The Gérard Depardieu adaptation of Edmond Rostand's play Cyrano de Bergerac is beautifully filmed and superbly acted. Scenery, costumes-- everything works. Those following the subtitles can take comfort that they were provided by the great Anthony Burgess-- yes, he of A Clockwork Orange fame.

Everything works... except one thing.

The music before the first major fight scene.

This is the moment when Cyrano is about to face off, alone, against a hundred enemies. The music, which up to now has been quite good in its own right, suddenly becomes a rip-off of the theme from Tim Burton's "Batman."

I was bizarrely reminded of this after reading Dr. Jeonuchi's very cool post about movie themes the other day. Dr. J links to several movie themes, including Danny Elfman's tremendous (and now much-emulated) score for "Batman." As I listened to the music, a vision of "Cyrano de Bergerac" rose unbidden in my noggin.


[Warning: pedantry follows.]

Somewhat unrelated note about how I treat movie titles as opposed to book and play titles:

You see above that "Cyrano" appears both italicized and in quotation marks. The notion changes depending on whether I am referring to a movie or to a complete written work, such as a book or a play (as opposed to a chapter or scene or single poem). In such matters, there are several literary conventions to choose from. On the blog, I do the following: (a) italicize book and play titles; (b) place book chapter titles, poem names, and movie titles in quotation marks; (c) leave magazine titles and vessel names capitalized but un-italicized (e.g., Newsweek, USS Enterprise); (d) leave the names of movie series capitalized but un-italicized, reserving quotation marks for a specific movie title (e.g., the Matrix trilogy of which "The Matrix Revolutions" is one movie); (e) surround TV series titles in quotation marks (as with movie titles).

In case you've stayed awake at night, wondering at apparent inconsistencies in how I deal with certain names and titles, I hope that the above helps explain my approach on the blog. Note, too, that I follow different conventions when writing research papers, as I generally follow The Chicago Manual of Style (or the Kate Turabian version of CMoS). Different conventions for different media-- for example, on the blog, it makes sense to follow online convention by putting a space between paragraphs and avoiding indentation. This makes no sense, however, in a research paper, so I follow a different standard for academic writing.



Anonymous said...

I'll see your pedantry and raise you some more pedantry.

Hmm... I'm not sure about the whole block paragraph thing being a convention. It's not so much an online convention as it is a survival from an era when typesetting options on the web were very limited. Now it is relatively easy to indent paragraphs (with a little CSS), so I think it is a matter of choice rather than convention. For me, a convention is more like the treatment of links, for example, rather than something like typesetting choices.

I only say this because I think it is important to distinguish between "conventions" and "habits." It is generally a good idea to follow convention unless you have a really good reason not to, lest you confuse your visitors. But habits can be safely broken, especially when those habits stem from limitations of the medium that no longer exist. Remember that the early web, in addition to block paragraphs, generally had wall-to-wall black text on gray backgrounds. Thank goodness these habits were broken by most people.

I'm not saying that it's wrong to use block paragraphs, of course. Unlike the the other habits I mentioned above, block paragraphs are simply a matter of style. I'm just saying you shouldn't feel as if you have to use them. You do have a choice.

Kevin Kim said...

re: a matter of choice

Yes, I agree.

re: "habit/history" vs. "convention"

Habits and conventions are distinct, yes, but there's plenty of overlap between them, especially as habits, when widespread enough, can become conventions (an unfortunate example is how "butt naked/nekkid" is overtaking the original-- and in my opinion proper-- "buck naked").

Over at, we see this definition as one of the definitions of "convention":

5. a rule, method, or practice established by usage; custom: the convention of showing north at the top of a map.

That's what I'm talking about. "Established by usage" implies habitual use. "Custom" implies habitual use by many people. "Custom" is synonymous with "convention," so I think I'm well within my rights to use "convention" in this case. As the etymology of "convention" implies, the word is about where we "come together." The word's semantic field seems to cover both "a strict rule" and "what is customary."


Anonymous said...

In retrospect, perhaps "habit" was not the best choice of terms to counter "convention." Perhaps I should have said there are two types of conventions: major conventions and minor conventions. A major convention is a convention that is so vital to the user experience that if it is not followed you run the risk of confusing the user--things like links and certain navigational conventions fall into this category. Minor conventions have also been established by habitual usage, but changing them does not risk confusing the user. Block paragraphs versus indented paragraphs is a good example of this latter type, I think.

Although it would probably be more accurate to view conventions on a scale from minor to major. Take the location of the main "navigation menu." Tradition was to have it on the left, but people have successfully moved it to the top (like Liminality and other numerous examples), right (numerous examples), and even bottom (last I checked, this was how Derek Powazek did it). So in that regard it could be said to be a minor convention, yet it still requires a little getting used. At the same time, some websites have two navigation menus (say, one on the left and one on the top), which can be confusing. So where does "placement of the navigation menu" fall on the spectrum? It's a tough question.

But I think it is safe to say that the setting of paragraphs is a truly minor convention.

To clarify, this new conception of conventions does not judge conventions as "right" or "wrong." It also does not distinguish based on whether or not the convention had a good reason for originating. The treatment of links, for example, is completely arbitrary (although in the beginning there were a limited number of stylistic choices, so perhaps it was the only logical choice at the time), but habitual usage has made it a more or less major convention. The traditional placement of the navigation menu on the left, on the other hand, came from the practice of reading left to right in the West. Other conventions may actually be bad practice and still be major conventions. What differentiates major conventions and minor conventions? Well, I guess conventions that are crucial to the user experience are major conventions, but that's not really an answer--which conventions are crucial?

Anyway, I won't question your use of the term "convention." I will just say that the example you cite is a minor convention. Citing the fact that a minor convention is convention as a reason for following it doesn't hold too much water for me. Following a convention because you prefer it or because it is more convenient, of course, is perfectly valid. In other words, unless it's a major convention, go with what you prefer--and even with major conventions you can sometimes bend the rules a little.

The motivation behind this whole thing, by the way, was a knee-jerk response on my part to following convention simply because it is convention. If we all did that, there would never be any change. I'm not saying that this is what you are doing, it just tripped a switch in my brain and I went into pedant mode. So take it for what it's worth.

Man, I just reread this comment... I sure can sound like a prick when I put my mind to it.