Posts Tagged ‘videos’

Looking back at Dispatches From Elsewhere, season 1

May 6th, 2020

Now that the first season is over I thought I’d give a non-spoilery take on Dispatches From Elsewhere. There will be some mentions of the events in the first episode, so if you want to go in completely fresh go watch it first.

This won’t be your typical review, as I was a participant of the real life events this series was based on.

My ears perked up when this series was announced. The name comes from a pirate radio broadcast participants would listen to in Dolores Park which introduced the second chapter of Games of Nonchalance — which I’m just going to call The Jejune Institute here since that’s what most of us called it anyway.

I’ll admit upfront I’m not particularly familiar with Jason Segel (aside from that one Muppet movie) so I wasn’t too certain what to expect from a show he produced, wrote, and co-stars in. Personally I very much enjoyed the show’s first season, with its many twists and entirely unexpected ending.

Just like it’s “real” counterpart, in Dispatches From Elsewhere its version of The Jejune Institute presents itself as a mystery, becomes an act of escapism, and when it’s all over nothing’s really changed. Except of course for the things you decide to change yourself. And maybe the friends you make along the way.

 

Episode 1

So let’s go into the setup in the first episode before I get into how real life events were switched around into a television show.

The series opens with The Jejune Institute’s leader, Octavio Coleman, breaking the fourth wall and acknowledging you’re watching a TV show. He introduces Peter (Jason Segel), a bored employee at a music streaming company in Philadelphia.

Coming across a series of inexplicable flyers attached to utility poles with a phone number attached, Peter eventually pulls off a tab, calls the number, and finds he has an appointment at The Jejune Institute.

After an intense initiation — which drives Peter to tears — he disobeys Octavio and follows the directions on the initiation card. This leads him on a short journey where he meets another participant, Simone (Eve Lindley), a transgender woman who seems ready to attack him at first. Their meeting appears to have been intentional somehow, and they wind up becoming friends, solving some unmentioned piece of the game together.

Later on The Jejune Institute holds an event where, after dancing with a breakdancer and a sasquatch in the rain, participants are assigned into groups of four; Simone and Peter are put into a group of four along with Janice (Sally Field), an energetic older woman, and Fredwynn (Andre “3000” Benjamin), a strange man who alternates between a Sherlock Holmes-style detective and a nutty conspiracy theorist.

What makes the show compelling is how it follows this group of four participants as they go through an experience where they’re never certain exactly what’s part of the game and what’s not, let alone what the rules are — or if there are any.

 

The source material

So let’s talk about similarities and differences between the show and what I recall based on my experiences. Obviously the show is set in Philadelphia, but real life The Jejune Institute took place in San Francisco (though one chapter was in Oakland.)  The flyers Peter finds look nearly identical to the ones I encountered in San Francisco’s SOMA neighborhood. The real Jejune Institute didn’t have appointments as far as I’m aware — it was a walk-in affair.

Many aspects from the show were taken from the real Jejune Institute including certain characters’ names, notably the names of Octavio Coleman and his enemy Commander 14. The mysterious promise “To those dark horses with the spirit to look up and see, a recondite family awaits,” also originated at the real Jejune Institute’s induction session.

Obviously some of the events in the show are dramatized quite a bit, though many have clear nods to the source material. The Jejune Institute didn’t have rules exactly, though there was a sort of winking aspect to it that let you know you were safe and on the right track.

More information about The Jejune Institute can be found at the official summary web page. Or in numerous blog entries right here on this very site.

 

The other source material

Segel’s inspiration for Dispatches From Elsewhere wasn’t actually The Jejune Institute itself, but rather the 2013 documentary The Institute. In the documentary participants and creators give talking head style monologues about The Jejune Institute, and we see footage (much of which was recorded by participants) about each of the four chapters and the silly after party.

Although I went to see The Institute at its premier I don’t think I’d seen it a second time — until Monday, when it was streamed on Twitch. The documentary’s director, Spencer McCall, and the creator of The Jejune Institute, Jeff Hull, were in the chat to answer questions and provide context.

I have to point out that one of the talking heads in the film, a very enthusiastic participant named Kiyomi Tanouye, was tragically a victim of the Ghost Ship fire in 2016. The first season of Dispatches From Elsewhere is dedicated to her memory.

The Institute is a much better documentary than I remember. It’s easy to see how Segel was influenced not only by the wild stories and events, but also people’s reactions. Oh and the part with dancing with a sasquatch and a breakdancer in the rain? Yup, that really happened — only to a select few, however. See the clip below for proof:

I’ll also admit the few glimpses of me in the movie make me question what was going on with my hair at the time. Too much mousse or something, it looked terrible. What was I thinking? 

If you’d like to see The Institute yourself, it’s available for streaming on iTunes and Amazon Video.

Jason Segel explains “Dispatches From Elsewhere” on The Late Show

February 28th, 2020

 

In the above clip from The Late Show, Jason Segel explains his upcoming TV show Dispatches From Elsewhere to host Stephen Colbert.

The quick version: While searching for inspiration for a new TV show to create, Segel learns about The Jejune Institute and manages to contact the man behind it all, who Segel likens to Willy Wonka. This quickly leads to a story far more interesting than your average talk show anecdote as Segel travels to San Francisco, finding a trailhead laid out just for him.

Obviously I can’t speak to Segel’s experience, though what he described sounds more like The Latitude to me. I’d be interested to hear more about it.

Colbert is a great interviewer as always, and I really like Segel’s description of Nonchalance’s guerilla art installations as “magic as an act of defiance.”

Dispatches From Elsewhere debuts March 1st on AMC. Looking forward to confused people stumbling on my blog posts while trying to understand this TV show.

Exploratorium’s Curious Contraptions exhibit

December 22nd, 2019
The Curious Contraptions in action. No audio due to copyrighted music played at the event

 

50 years ago the Exploratorium opened, a first of its kind museum aimed at teaching science to kids and teens with a 100% hands-on approach to learning. Six years ago the museum relocated from their original Palace of Fine Arts to a new space at Pier 15, adding the new 21 and over “After Dark” series on Thursday evenings.

If there’s one thing both kids and tipsy adults have in common, it’s a tendency to break stuff. Which makes it all the more impressive that many of the exhibits I remember seeing at the Exploratorium as a kid are not only still there, but still work today.

The current Curious Contraptions special exhibit of hand made automatons doesn’t quite have the same hands-on appeal, but it still feels like a natural fit for the Exploratorium, filling the gray area where science meets art.

These automatons are whimsical hand made mechanical contraptions that bring a small scene of some kind to life. Some are powered by electric motors, others need to be cranked by hand. Most are small, not much larger than a shoe box.

As you can see in the video at the top of the post these are all relatively new automatons, built in the last 60 years or so. That surprised me the most; I tend to think of cuckoo clocks or the 19th century coin operated dioramas like you’d find at Musée Mécanique.

Compared to their predecessors the artists building automatons today aren’t as interested in hiding the mechanics in a cabinet, and feature more abstract scenes. What hasn’t changed is the humor — there’s something inherently silly about a little contraption driven by a crank where a more serious story wouldn’t fit the medium. If these were books they’d be pop-up books, not novels.

The largest and in many ways most impressive automaton is the Exploratory Lunacycle from British cartoonist Rowland Emett, featured at the end of the above video. It’s like a psychedelic Jules Verne story brought to life.

Although it wasn’t technically part of the exhibit, I couldn’t help but to notice the Exploratorium’s transparent pinball machine was located nearby, itself an automaton of sorts with all the guts exposed.

Curious Contraptions runs through January 26th.

The Jejune Institute is coming to the small screen

November 26th, 2019
Teaser trailer for Dispatches From Elsewhere

 

“Welcome to The Jejune Institute,” a disembodied female voice declares as someone enters a small room.

When I first saw a list of TV shows AMC was working on, Dispatches From Elsewhere immediately jumped out at me. Both the name of the show and one of the characters — Octavio — were lifted straight from Games of Nonchalance, an alternate reality game of sorts which ran in San Francisco from 2008 through April 2011.

In the first chapter, players would visit an office tower downtown at The Jejune Institute, where they’d be sent to a small room to watch a video recording about the “institute” and its founder, Octavio Coleman, Esquire.

For the show they’ve changed the setting to Philadelphia, but a lot of it looks similar — an unusual induction center for a mysterious institute, flash mob protests, cryptic messages from payphones, confusion about what’s going on… who knows what else could be in store?

According to IMDb the show will star Andre 3000, Sally Field, and series creator Jason Segel among others. It will debut sometime next year.

Angels Flight

October 30th, 2019

 

For my last day in Los Angeles I was determined to cross a few items off my bucket list, and in order to get there I thought I’d cross off another: riding Angels Flight, the “world’s shortest railway.” It’s really a diagonal elevator with two cars that act as counterbalances.

On my previous visit to LA I went on a walking tour that included Angels Flight, but I didn’t read the fine print correctly. Although they promised a 50% discount off the $1 fare if you had a TAP card, they were not capable of charging the fare to a TAP card and required cash payment — which I didn’t have on me.

This time around I had plenty of quarters left over after going to a fancy new arcade and doing laundry, so I figured I’d give it another go. In the video above I’ve documented this quirky, jerky short railway in all its original 1901 glory.

Well… sort of. The history of Angels Flight isn’t quite what you might think. It was originally located at a different location, closed in 1969, and reopened in 1996 at the new space, only to close repeatedly over the years after a fatal accident. You can read all the details over at Wikipedia.

Armed with a pocket full of quarters I took the trip up the hill — only to find they now have a TAP card reader at the ticket booth at the top. Better late than never.

I also took a few photos of Angels Flight:

 

Angel's Flight Angel's Flight Angel's Flight

The Last Bookstore’s upstairs labyrinth

October 25th, 2019

The Last Bookstore: Upstairs

 

On my last trip to LA I just sort of stumbled across The Last Bookstore, a large bookstore selling new, used, antique, and rare books and comic books as well as vinyl records.

Both times I wandered in I was a little distracted by well-attended events they were holding in the store with authors and poets. Not a bad problem to have for The Last Bookstore by any means, but it meant I couldn’t explore the space as freely as I would have liked.

As it turns out I’d missed two key aspects to the store. One I knew about: the upstairs. The other took me by surprise: the bank vaults. Yes, the building was once a bank, and the open bank vault doors now reveal small rooms lined with books.

So what’s upstairs? Balconies on each of the four sides of the building are roughly half devoted to art gallery spaces, and half to a quirky “labyrinth” of oddball book decor and oddly arranged shelving.

On those shelves you’ll find a strange blend of genres from science fiction to identity politics. A few bookshelves are devoted to single topics — Sherlock Holmes, for example.

Here’s a short video I put together of the crazy upstairs labyrinth at The Last Bookstore. I had to remove the ambient audio due to copyrights.

 

A ride on San Francisco’s boat tram

August 23rd, 2019


 

On Wednesday I mistakenly clicked on bookmark to streetcar.live, an online map displaying the current locations of each of San Francisco’s historic streetcars that are currently running. Before I had a chance to close the tab, I noticed something unusual: one of the Blackpool “boat trams” was running! I decided to take a long lunch and go for a ride.

There are two of these unusual boat trams in the fleet. They’re roofless, windowless streetcars (or “trams” for non-Americans) with a certain whimsical appeal. They’re not very practical since they can only operate on warm days when there’s no chance of rain. Though I’m not sure who came up with the “boat tram” name, I think they missed the opportunity to call these vehicles “railboats.”

Unbeknownst to me Muni has been running these all summer on Tuesdays and Wednesdays between the Ferry Building and Pier 39. Normally the boat trams are only trotted out during special events, or for chartered rides.

In the video above I filmed the entire ride to Pier 39, sitting in the very front seat. Maybe not the best spot in terms of cinematography, though you can see a number of local sights along the way and an encounter with a Muni supervisor.

I also took a few photos before and after the ride:
 

Boat Tram Boat Tram Boat Tram Boat Tram

Gondola ride to Salesforce Park

July 3rd, 2019


 

The term “gondola” can mean many different things. The first that comes to my mind are the boats in Venice, but here I’m talking about a different form of transportation: a gondola lift.

This gondola in particular takes visitors up from ground level to Salesforce Park on the top of the freshly re-opened Salesforce Transit Center. See it in action for yourself in my video above.

So far I’ve tried the gondola twice now to get up to the park since it re-opened on Monday. I was particularly interested in riding it since it wasn’t operational the first time Salesforce Transit Center opened.

While it’s interesting to try it out, it’s pretty silly. Here’s why:

  • You can only go up in the gondola: passengers are not allowed to ride back down in it. I assume this is due to space concerns at the top and bottom.
  • Unlike the elevators and escalators inside the building you can take to the park, the gondola takes at least three people to operate: one person at the bottom for crowd control, an on board operator, and a security guard at the top.
  • It reminded me of the time I took an inclinator (a diagonal elevator) when I was visiting Stockholm, which is to say it’s not that different from an elevator.

Both times I went on it there was a short line. I imagine it’ll be busier on the weekends, and should draw more of a crowd once buses are heading to Salesforce Transit Center again. It doesn’t seem like it would be worth waiting in a long line for since it’s hardly the only way up to the park.

On the other hand it’s a free attraction to a free park. Can’t complain about the price of admission.

South Beach security droid

June 5th, 2019


 

Recently housing/retail complex The Beacon, located by the 4th and King Caltrain terminal and the Giant’s ballpark, added a roaming security droid on the sidewalk surrounding the building. These are increasingly common in shopping malls, but on public sidewalks? Is that even allowed?

The first time I saw this particular droid was outside the Taco Bell Cantina at the corner of Third and Townsend. My mind immediately jumped to Star Wars, I couldn’t help but to hear the Cantina Band song in my head as it lumbered around, immediately reminding me of R2-D2.

I went so far as to ask around to see if anyone I knew owned a C-3PO costume so I could go hang around the droid in character as his companion. Unfortunately even the geekiest Star Wars fans I know don’t have one; a shame because that would have been a great Halloween costume pairing.

When I presented all of this to my boss, he insisted that no — this wasn’t R2-D2, it was a Dalek from Doctor Who.

That’s a much scarier proposition. R2-D2 is a harmless little droid whereas the Daleks are hell-bent on exterminating “inferior” races. All things considered I wouldn’t want a Dalek hanging out near my office.

Finally today the argument was settled as far as I’m concerned. While talking a walk by the Beacon with my boss, we both filmed the droid as it made its rounds. As you can see in the above video a random guy came up to it and said “R2-D2, I love you!”

I’m still not sure how I feel about private droids patrolling public space, but if you want to see R2-D2 in person it’s significantly cheaper than heading to Disneyland’s new Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.

Moscone Center skyway lights

February 23rd, 2019


 

With the Moscone Center rebuild (mostly) complete, one element particularly stands out after dark. Every time I walk by at night I see people snapping photos of the light display in the glass-walled skyway between Moscone North and South.

I was pretty surprised when the contractors began construction on the skyway — why would a convention center that’s mostly underground need an above ground walkway? It’s particularly odd considering the new above ground space is only in Moscone South, though to be fair I haven’t been inside since the recent renovation.

But now that it’s there the skyway’s colorful LED light display fits with SOMA’s other light displays including the Metromile building, the Bay Lights on the Bay Bridge, and the video screen hat on Salesforce Tower.

While it lacks the playfulness of the Bay Lights or the detail of Salesforce Tower’s videos, the Moscone Center’s skyway lights makes up for these shortcomings in sheer intensity. Like a house covered in far too many Christmas lights you really can’t miss it. I suspect that’s why it’s becoming a spot for photos.

Here’s to hoping this relatively simple LED light show works better than the failed video art screen at Moscone West.