a short story by Jerry Zinn

921.5…. 921.5… 921.5. I rolled over onto my back and opened my eyes wide, staring at the ceiling but seeing nothing. There was no amount of sheep I could count to take my mind off that number. It was seared into my brain like a brand on a cow. Despite its persistence, I couldn’t determine its significance. What did 921.5 mean?

Perhaps it was something I had come across in the last few days, seen in a passing glance. I tried to think back to what I had done and where I had been the week before, but after jogging my memory for a mile or two, I was still left wanting. It has always amused me that the simplest of things are often the hardest to decipher. Ask me to explain partial derivatives, and you would think I had a Ph.D. in mathematics, but ask me to define love, humor, or 921.5 and you’d be severely disappointed.

As I continued to psychoanalyze myself, I sat up and took stock of my studio apartment, shrouded in the uniform darkness of the night. I could only make out the larger shapes like my kitchen counter, my desk, and my dresser. The exposed brick wall was revealed by its mortar, which held a subtle glow. The wall was a reminder of what once was, a factory long gone, machines removed and replaced with hipsters. It’s all very “circle of life,” but I couldn’t help but feel the textile workers that filled the building over a hundred years ago would disapprove of my French press and I.

A shot of moonlight filtered through my blinds and fell upon some books trying to sleep on an upper shelf. I could make out the title of one of the larger books, War and Peace, and in a failed test of my vision could almost make out the library number affixed to the spine. It was then that the light bulb flicked on in my head. 921.5. Was it a Dewey Decimal number? But to what book and where? In the age of technology in which I find myself, mastery of the library catalogue system is not as high a priority as it once was. Even if I was wrong, I thought pursuing my idea might lead to an answer, and it seemed the best option for salvaging what little sleep remained within grasp.

With sharpened curiosity, I summoned the strength to get out of bed. I walked to my desk and accidentally kicked over my trashcan along the way, a casualty of my temporary blindness. When I opened my laptop, I was greeted with the “Welcome Peter Anderson” message on my background. With the cursor blinking on the search bar, my brainstorm grew disappointingly quiet. How was I to go about searching for 921.5 when every library has its own unique codes? I sat looking blankly at the screen before becoming, for the first time, consciously aware of the time: 11:45. If I had any hope of solving the riddle before the clock tipped over to March 23rd, I had to start thinking faster. What library would 921.5 be in? Would it be open?

A quick search informed me that only one library within ten miles was still open: The Richard L. Tattinger Library. Fortunately it was also the closest of all the establishments, located only a few blocks away. But with only fifteen minutes to spare until they too closed their doors, time was of the essence.

After a brisk five-minute walk I arrived at the foot of the marble steps to the temple of the written word. The edifice’s six Doric pillars, reminiscent of the cult structures found readily in Greek antiquity, guarded the front in a, “Enter if you think yourself worthy,” kind of way. The doors were glass, frameless, and bearing brushed stainless steel handles. They contrasted with the classical style in the same way the glass pyramid does the Louvre, which is to say, strongly. When I opened the door it let out a creak like Windex quickly wiped away from a drying window. The security guard, a gray-mustached man of considerable age awoke from his light slumber to examine me.

“Library closes in eight minutes at midnight,” he said in a tone that made it seem more like a question than a statement.

“Yes, thank you,” I replied as I followed the star-speckled, navy blue carpet train into the reading room. The space was ornate, a significant change from the gutted factory building from which I had ventured. Sturdy, mahogany desks stood three by three leading up to the librarian’s desk, which possessed impressive floral carvings. Rows of matching shelves filled the remaining space with long-unpolished bronze numerals and letters, the Tattinger code. A further two levels of shelving along the walls on all sides were outlined with hip-height railing. The highest level ran directly to the elaborate crown molding encircling the room, transitioning to the pearl white vaulted ceiling. Artistically concealed behind hand-carved wooden posts were the access roads to the upper floors, tightly wound spiral staircases of wrought iron poised to uncoil if provoked.

Having completed my architectural assessment of the Tattinger, I proceeded to the librarian’s wooden nest, past the large Grandfather clock in the center of the room showing 11:56. As no one else was present in the library at the time, I thought the man would look up on his own volition. However I managed to toe the front of the desk without him so much as throwing a glance in my direction. The deep folds of skin on his face, unkempt white hair, and cartoonish small stature made him look like a Claymation character.

I was about to ask where I could find the book corresponding to 921.5, but before I could, he pointed and said, “Second floor, section seven dash Z, third row from the top.”

“But I didn’t even…” I started to say. After a few seconds I accepted that he had little interest in me, and I proceeded to the staircase nearest the direction he had signaled.

I reached the second floor and looked back to examine the reading room from my new perch. As my eyes scanned the path I followed to enter, my gaze darted to the librarian’s desk. He was gone. A moment of concern overcame me as I wondered to where he could have disappeared. I hadn’t noticed any other doors in the library save for the entrance, and it seemed unrealistic, for more reasons than one, to think he sprinted out of the building without a sound. My consuming quest coupled with a week of sleep deprivation seemed to be getting the better of me.

I about-faced to the bookshelves in search of a section 7-Z. The floor creaked painfully as if it hadn’t been asked to bear weight for decades. I arrived at section 7-Z, counted three rows down, and locked in on the code pasted on the first book: 921.1. My body froze, and I found my extremities tingling at the sight. This was the row on which the book bearing my number would be found, but how could the vanishing librarian have known?

In autopilot, my finger found its way to 921.1. I slowly dragged over the subsequent spines of 921.2, 921.3 and 921.4, feeling each pore of their worn leather covers. Finally my finger came to rest on 921.5. My eyes scaled cautiously up like someone climbing the ladder to a diving board for the first time, reticent to proceed.


Like an impressionist painting, overly close examination revealed little, but I brought my gaze back slightly, and the book’s title stopped my heart beating in its tracks: Peter Anderson. My hand shivered, as I timidly unshelved the book bearing my name. Holding it in my still wavering hand, I unhinged the cover to reveal a blank page. I carefully peeled back the emptiness to unveil the next. Printed in its center was one short, horrifying phrase, “In memory of Peter Anderson, November 16, 1989 – March 22, 2016.” Then the clock struck midnight.



Anatomy of a Groundhog Day


Entrance to Gobbler’s Knob, named for God knows what. Photo by Stuart Rowe

“Phil! Phil! Phil!” roared the mass of thousands blanketing the frozen hillside of Gobbler’s Knob as the leader of the Inner Circle, clothed in top hat and tails, reached down to open the door on a fake tree stump inside which was a pudgy groundhog named Punxsutawney Phil preparing to live out his destiny and make a rough prediction of the upcoming weather. For those unfamiliar, or more accurately, not indoctrinated, this is not some strange Latvian children’s story from the 1800s. It is the culmination of the annual Groundhog Day festival in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. This year, on February 2nd, the celebration reached its 132nd year, a feat that seems as unlikely as a soothsaying marmot. And while the prognosticating from the “prognosticator of prognosticators” only occurs at sunrise on the 2nd, the excitement starts a great many hours before.



Two people who didn’t freeze in Punxsutawney on February 2nd.

I have always loved the movie, Groundhog Day, a 1993 film starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell and directed by the late, great Harold Ramis. In brief, Bill Murray plays an egocentric weatherman from Pittsburgh who is sent to Punxsutawney to cover Groundhog Day and ends up reliving the day over and over until he completely changes into a good person. Full disclosure, as a kid I had a huge crush on Andie MacDowell’s character in the movie, which on my most recent viewing still holds up. But while I may have always enjoyed the film, I never once thought of the festival as something to attend. Groundhog Day was always just fine print on my calendar like Boxing Day or one of the Equinoxes. Whatever Phil’s prediction, I heard about it through the grapevine or I didn’t hear about it at all.



My interest in the holiday took off in December of last year when I boldly viewed a map, an activity that is surprisingly enlightening. Nestled just northeast of Pittsburgh was a town whose name I recognized immediately for its Dr. Seussian lyricism: Punxsutawney. The town was remarkably close to my new home, Cleveland, Ohio, and when I looked at another antiquated document (a calendar) I realized Groundhog Day was just over a month away. No matter the means, I decided I was going to attend.

Luckily for me, I mentioned it off the cuff to Akash, a friend of mine here in Cleveland and classmate from my UNC days.

“Wait, are you serious?!” he exclaimed.

“Yeah, why?”

“A group of us are going! We’ve been talking about it for like a year. You’ve got to go with us.”

“That’s wild. I’m in!” And just like that I signed on to join the entourage for what was already feeling like a once-in-a-lifetime adventure.

A few weeks later our group of eight brave, young souls split into two cars and headed to western PA under the darkness of the first night of February. Somewhere outside of Pittsburgh, on the winding wooded roads, the snow began to fall. In the light cast from the headlights into the night, the snowflakes glowed and looked like stars whizzing by. It was as if we were flying through space, the first of many clues we’d left Earth. We made it to Punxsutawney, or Punxy as the locals lovingly refer to it, behind a salt truck, which served as our slow, blinking escort.

The clock was approaching 11:00PM, 8.5 hours until Phil was scheduled to look for his shadow. The parking lot at the Wal-Mart Supercenter, our designated rendezvous point, was nearly empty, with a few RVs pulling in to set up camp on the periphery. To one side of our car was the giant Wal-Mart, open 24hrs every day, and to our left was a Taco Bell, open 24hrs for Groundhog Day only. As soon as we stepped out of the vehicle, one thing became abundantly clear: it was cold. Even with the residual heat from the car, the wind briskly whipped up the thin sheet of snow and ice on the ground and drove the real feel of the temperature down from its mercury reading of 15 degrees.

“It’s supposed to get colder,” Matt said.

I winced at the thought.

“Where should we go tonight?” Leo asked the young girl manning the Taco Bell counter.

“The Borrow.”

“Where’s that?”

“Take the hill down to the Rite Aid, then take a right at the red light…” Through the landmark directions we gleaned that The Borrow was the place to be, and as midnight was nigh, we finished our Miller Highlife cans and called an Uber. Actually it was not an Uber but the Uber.

“I’m the only Uber in Punxsutawney,” the driver told us. It didn’t seem like he was bragging or complaining. His commentary was what I would come to expect from the generally pleasant locals, a statement of fact. When we walked through the doors and paid the mandatory donation to the bar, we were blown away.


Our group at The Borrow with a few of Phil’s faithful in custom attire. Photo by John Wetzel

“Now this is Punxsutawney!”

There was live music playing in the back corner, an eardrum banging combination of guitars, pianos, and twangy vocals. The crowd was a blend of characters ranging from tattooed motorcycle gangs to Penn State students to people wearing homemade Phil themed costumes. None of the oddities seemed out of place in the crowded bar, where all were gathered for one purpose: to drink to a groundhog. In talking to the people we learned the depth of the insanity surrounding the event, with claims of, “this is our 15th year coming,” and “we drove from [city way too far away to be considered close enough].”

When The Borrow closed we made it across the street to a place called “ISDA Bar” which I guessed was not an acronym but something to be pronounced, a mumbling of “it’s the bar.” The Punxy locals were easy to spot. They were the ones that seemed unfazed by the strobe lights, dancing, and Jell-O shots, content to stand on the sidelines and observe the humanity the festival imported. We were starting to recognize people, an astonishing trend considering we’d only been there just over four hours.

It was too early to go to Gobbler’s Knob, Phil’s hillside retreat, so we needed to get back to Wal-Mart. “You’re not going to get the Uber,” one of the local women told us. “But school buses are coming for Wal-Mart.”

“Why would school buses be coming?” I asked.

“I’m from here! Don’t make fun of my town!”

“No, I’m not. I’m just wondering why a school bus would come by this bar at three in the morning to take us to Wal-Mart.”

“Because, it’s Groundhog Day!”

Finding no holes in her logic, I accepted the answer. With no buses in sight, we were able to nab an Uber, though it was not Punxsutawney’s own but instead an out-of-towner. After the requisite Taco Bell and Wal-Mart stops, we split into two groups. Three of us, Matt, Anshu, and myself, took off for Gobbler’s Knob determined to get a good spot. The other five retreated to the car to get some rest. It was 4:00AM, three hours to Phil.

“You can’t drive past here without a permit,” the officer told us at a roadblock. “You’ll have to walk from here.” It was evident moments after we started our ascent up the steep, icy mountain with only feint moonlight and the occasional streetlamp to guide us, that we had been dropped off at the wrong place. Just under a half an hour later, the lights and sounds emanating from the Knob signaled we’d arrived. As we crossed the threshold I was unaware that I was, at that moment, the warmest I was going to be. The frigid temperature had fallen as Matt predicted, and the ground was solid ice. This permitted me the chance to skate on my boots and fall hard on my elbow, a severe point deduction in nearly every one of the upcoming Winter Olympic events. It was 4:30AM, three full hours until Phil.

Two members of the Inner Circle in their top hats and tails, lead the stage in song and dance. There was call and response, generally “groundhog” themed, and a variety of fanfare. It was the Inner Circle’s time to shine, and for a group of people with nicknames like Iceman, Thunder Conductor, and Sky Painter, they earned the right. We made a few treks to the bonfire, which was dozens of stumps piled high and fully ablaze. The fire provided momentary, skin-searing relief from the bone-chilling weather.

“Hey, you’re on fire.”

“I think your jacket is melting.”

“Excuse me, your backpack is burning.”

These and other phrases people called out nonchalantly with the same urgency one might employ when pointing out spinach in someone’s teeth. Each time I heard it I knew it was time to rotate out of the fire and back into the cold. But the warmth from the fire was ultimately a tease, and a return to the crowd was necessary. A couple standing in front of us held up a sign: “We’re getting married at 11:00AM!”

“Hey,” a man called next to us, “I’m an ordained minister. Why don’t I just do the ceremony now?”

“No, we aren’t ready. The mayor is going to perform the ceremony.”

I wondered if their nuptials depended on Phil’s prediction, an unsettling thought. Suddenly, through the darkness, some of the most incredible fireworks I’ve ever seen began firing off. They were a spectacular and remarkably close sight. There was an element of dangerous proximity, like a forest fire might ignite, that made the experience somehow more Punxsutawney. In a nice, epic touch, the rockets exploded to blaring John Williams scores.

“Ok!” yelled one of the Fred Astaire’s on stage. “Fifteen minutes until Phil!”

“Phil! Phil! Phil!” the chants rang out.

Then the stage broke out into a few songs, which can only be described as painful. The first song was the insufferable tune, “This train is bound for Punxy, this train,” to bluegrass accompaniment. The second song repeated the line, “don’t matter what day it is, put on your Sunday finest and party like it’s Saturday night,” despite the fact that it exclusively mattered what day it was as the event only occurs on a specific day once a year, and it was a Friday.

With the real feel hovering at 5 degrees, the ringleader called out, “Send in the top hats!” As fanfare music started to play, a bobbing mass of black headwear made their way


Members of the Inner Circle doing what they do best: circling around a groundhog. Photo by Stuart Rowe

through the crowd. According to the Inner Circle, Punxsutawney Phil is the same groundhog that made the first prediction 132 years ago, which is amazing considering the lifespan of animals in his species is only about six years. It was no wonder he was reticent to come out of the stump in the conditions, even taking a bite of the new handler in protest. As tradition dictates, when the sunrises, which was around 7:20 that morning, Phil looks for his shadow and then conveys, to the President of the Circle, his prognostication in “Groundhogese.”


From a scroll which began, “Here ye, here ye, here ye,” the President read. “Punxsutawney Phil, the seer of seers, the prognosticator of prognosticators,” it continued. The anticipation, which had been building for more than eight long and bizarre hours, was finally coming to a head. “I see my royal shadow, six more weeks of winter to go!” Earlier cheers for Phil turned to jeers, as his prediction was pretty much universally ill received. But then how long can you really stay mad at a shivering groundhog well into his second century of life? Despite factual evidence to the contrary, the Inner Circle claim that Phil’s predictions are correct, “100% of the time, of course!” Perhaps the study was done by the same people who declared The Human Centipede, “100% medically accurate.”

It was difficult, however, to dispute Phil on the nearly two-mile hike up and over the hills back to Wal-Mart, as the wind blew and shivered the ice from the trees and my fingers from my hands. Punxsutawney is a small town that turned itself into the “weather capital of the world,” and in a stroke of genius manages to draw a crowd of untold thousands, one day a year, to stand in the cold on a hill called Gobbler’s Knob and listen to a groundhog do Al Roker’s job. I’d lived through Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney, one of the most unusual and fascinating slices of Americana I’ve ever come across, but unlike Bill Murray, I only had to live through it once.


Our group (John, Stu, Alex, Anshu, Akash, Leo, me, and Matt) beneath a sign that asks an unanswerable question. Photo by John Wetzel

A Brief Oral History of the Life of Arthur Watts Clark


Last year I conducted an interview with one of my heroes, Arthur Watts Clark, which was recently archived with the Southern Oral History Program (SOHP) at the UNC Chapel Hill Center for the Study of the American South. I have known Mr. Clark for over a decade and feel very privileged he agreed to share some of his life story with me. Mr. Clark was born in 1922 in Seattle, Washington and is a retired Air Force major general, a veteran of World War II and the Korean War, living in Chapel Hill, NC. His work in the civilian sphere took him to the chairmanship of the Home Security and Peoples Security life insurance companies. During the course of the interview, Mr. Clark provides a great overview of his storied life, including his family, experience in the military, and a glimpse into his wealth of travel adventures worldwide. Included here is both the edited version of the interview which is on YouTube and a link to the unedited (audio only) interview with accompanying Abstract and Field Notes on the SOHP archival site. I am very excited to share this piece of history and hope more people will get to hear his story!

SOPH link:

Southern Oral History Program: Interview B-0086 with Abstract and Field Notes



Screen Shot 2015-11-04 at 7.53.36 PM

Zinnfandel Films is back! It has been over a year and a half since I last posted a video, so I am very happy to bring you all Contigo. This is my newest short film, which has been in the works for almost a year (from first draft to final cut). The entire story came to me after reading a quote from Gabriel García Márquez’s novel Cien Años de Solidad. Márquez was a beloved and critically acclaimed author from Columbia (known lovingly as Gabo) who died earlier this year. I feel it is important to apologize to Sr. Márquez and his estate for taking a few quotes from his novel out of context and using them for my own story. Márquez’s incredible words do a phenomenal job of conveying ideas that I could never even dream of expressing on my own. His words are italicized and in quotation marks to distinguish them from my own.

I don’t want to talk about actual plot details of Contigo because I don’t want anyone to go into it with any preconceived notions. However there are a few more elements I want to discuss here. First of all, the dialogue is entirely in Spanish (with subtitles in English of course!). Spanish was really the only way I could make this film in order to preserve the beauty of Márquez’s words, and I realized it is the best language for what the film looks at. Also, I use three songs in the film from famous Mexican trios: Trío Los Galantes, Los Panchos, and Los Tres Ases. These songs are also in Spanish, and I toyed with the idea of putting subtitles for the songs as well but decided against it because I want the focus to be on the visuals. Interestingly, due to copyright laws to some of the music, my short film has been banned in Germany (my first banned film!).

This project was a great opportunity to work with a variety of new people. First of all my younger brother James did the camera work. He had never done anything like this before, and I think he did a great job! I also had the fortune of working with a former sitter of my younger siblings, Hildy Donner; she really fits well in the film. One of my roommates, Bradley Saacks, both helped in the translation and did a good job in his role in the film as well. Finally, I brought a very good friend of mine, Ryan Beale, on board to produce. I also want to thank the Media Resources Center at UNC from which I rented the equipment and edited the film (and all of my previous projects).

I hope you all enjoy Contigo, and I look forward to feedback!


ZF_TM copy

Sweet Smell of Success


“I’d hate to take a bite out of you. You’re a cookie full of arsenic.” – J. J. Hunsecker

“In the swift, cynical Sweet Smell of Success, directed by Alexander Mackendrick, Burt Lancaster stars as the vicious Broadway gossip columnist J. J. Hunsecker, and Tony Curtis as Sidney Falco, the unprincipled press agent Hunsecker ropes into smearing the up-and-coming jazz musician romancing his beloved sister. Featuring deliciously unsavory dialogue, in an acid, brilliantly structured script by Clifford Odets and Ernest Lehman, and noirish neon cityscapes from Oscar-winning cinematographer James Wong Howe, Sweet Smell of Success is a cracklingly cruel dispatch from the kill-or-be-killed wilds of 1950s Manhattan.” – The Criterion Collection

1.  Meet Mr. J. J. Hunsecker, a man who can make or break you just by snapping his fingers. The picture is telling; Falco looks at him with jealousy and disdain, but only because he is behind his back. Of course the moment he comes into Hunsecker’s sightline, Falco puts on one of his “forty faces.” In this frame, Hunsecker is dishing out harsh criticism (a common occurrence) to a philandering senator, though not in the typical overt fashion. As the most powerful person in the microcosm of this film, he is too good, strike that, too great a man to engage in such petty exchanges. Instead he coats his message in a drizzle of linguistic maple syrup; sweet and complex, but sickening in high doses. I also want to call attention to the lighting in the frame. The film does a truly masterful job of depicting the sleaze and immorality of its characters through very high contrast, and indeed noirish, lighting.

Screen Shot 2014-07-05 at 2.48.42 PM2.  There are a lot of things being said in this frame, and I’m not talking about the dialogue. Four faces, each strong and calculated, shoot daggers at Sidney Falco as he takes it all in his usual, manipulative stride. Falco is placed under similar fire in more than one other occasion in the film, as he tries to wheel and deal his way up the ladder of “success.” One of the films minor characters tells Falco that he has “the scruples of a guinea pig and the morals of a gangster.” It’s an amusing if not entirely accurate picture of a man who smiles only if it can get him somewhere.

Screen Shot 2014-07-05 at 3.28.48 PM3.  This image tells the whole story of J. J. Hunsecker. A domineering character that looks down upon the city and everyone in it, for he knows and truly believes himself to be God. We only see this shot for a short time, maybe less than 5 seconds, and so it can easily be overlooked. It is for that very reason that I have included it here; in reality it is one of the most essential shots in the whole film. Rarely are we afforded the opportunity to see J. J. alone, and even less are we shown his point of view. Here we get to see inside his head, through his eyes, and feel what it’s like to be “successful.” The feeling we are left with is not one of inspiration or admiration but of pity.

The Credits: It could be noted that the film seems to overexaggerate the inhumanity of Falco, Hunsecker and the rest, but that’s simply too naïve an observation. The truth of the matter is, many people equate power to success, and don’t care what it takes to get there. Sweet Smell of Success is an incredibly appropriate title for the film. Success, when viewed in this way, surely can smell sweet, but it tastes bitter. Sidney Falco is a warning to us all what can happen when we lose sight of ourselves. Hunsecker is meant to represent the type of empty success that so many strive for, and when (as Falco illustrates) you hate the man you want to become, where does that leave you? I’ve seen this film three or four times over the years and it is one of my all-time favorites. The acting is superb, the dialogue sharp and intelligent, and it puts life into perspective. This movie is often overlooked, which is unfortunate, but at the same time it provides us all the chance to see a hidden gem.

Reel Rating: 9.4

Il Momento della Veritá


“Don José, the only reason I’m a torero is to make money. When I have enough I’ll retire. It’s the only reason I risk getting gored.” –  Miguelín

The Moment of Truth (Il momento della verità), from director Francesco Rosi, is a visceral plunge into the life of a famous torero—played by real-life bullfighting legend Miguel Mateo, known as Miguelín. Charting his rise and fall with a single-minded focus on the bloody business at hand, the film is at once gritty and operatic, placing the viewer right in the thick of the ring’s action, as close to death as possible. Like all of the great Italian truth seeker’s films, this is not just an electrifying drama but also a profound and moving inquiry into a violent world—and it’s perhaps the greatest bullfighting movie ever made.” – The Criterion Collection

Screen Shot 2014-05-25 at 11.22.32 AM

1. This film is comprised of a series of “moments of truth” as a matter of fact. And none is more important than what is depicted above. Here Miguelín takes a leap of faith, literally. Coming from such humble beginnings, he knows he must try any way he can to get attention. Having received some training from faded legend, Pedrucho (and exhibiting some innate talent), Miguelín feels he must take the next step. He ultimately decides to jump into the stadium, mid-bullfight and prove himself. This act comes to define Miguelín as a character. This moment shows his deep-rooted confidence in himself, and develops him as the bold character we all wish we were a little more like. He was tired of being on track to become a small town farmer, dreamed big, and committed to seeing it through. The third step in this progression is what sets him apart from most people; the bravery to try.

Screen Shot 2014-05-25 at 11.59.41 AM

2. Here we see a small fraction of the crowd that gathers to watch the spectacle of torero v. bull. And while it is the fortune that initially draws Miguelín to the profession, fame (as we have always been taught) can be just as powerful a drug. The film often depicts the reactions of the crowd up close, in a voyeuristic and documentary fashion. Laughing, pointing, and cheering seem to contradict the carnage that occurs in the stadium when viewed in our modern, PETA-inspired, animal rights perspective. And while I do not necessarily condone the violence, it cannot be denied that bullfighting has played an important role in the culture of Spain for centuries. The event is shown not unlike the gladiator battles of yore; where men live and die to defend their honor.

Screen Shot 2014-05-25 at 11.34.23 AM

3. This is what the title of the film most directly references. Having lulled the bull into confusion through a magnificent ballet with the red cloth (known as the muleta), the torero sizes him up and draws his sword. As he sets his aim, and looks into the bull’s eyes, the moment of truth commences. This is the moment which determines the fate of both bull and man. Francesco Rosi does a great job of showing the connection that is felt between Miguelín and the bulls he fights. There is almost an unspoken, unexplainable respect that manifests itself in Miguelín’s face as he rises to his toes before driving the sword through the bull. We are afforded close to a dozen opportunities to experience this moment, which makes the film a truly “visceral plunge.”

Bottom Line: Bullfighting might be a fading tradition as it continues to be outlawed in various areas, but The Moment of Truth captures the sport at its greatest. Rosi crafts for us a film which shows the beauty and grace that belies the grotesque imagery. All of the fights and gore are real (no stunt doubles, no dummies, and no CGI!); it’s unlikely we’ll every see anything like it again. It is certainly not a movie for the faint of heart (or stomach), but it reveals human nature in its most raw and unfiltered form. It should also be noted that while filmed entirely in Spain, the film is in Italian. This may seem at first strange until we consider that we make movies in other countries all the time and have all the characters speak English! Somewhere deep down, I wish I was more like Miguelín, but I can honestly say I won’t be staring a raging bull in the eyes anytime soon (at least not until I’ve had my peanut butter and jelly).

Reel Rating: 6.7

Also, I would like to note that I am changing the reviews to 3-frames as you can see. This format will evolve as I work on it more and more, but I think this is a better place to be. And in case you were wondering, shaving a movie to 3 frames is VERY hard!





Screen Shot 2014-05-24 at 11.17.50 AMIn an effort to make my reviews shorter, more frequent, and a little more modern/edgier, I’ve decided to move away from my long essay format in which I cover more than necessary plot details and (admittedly) some over analyzation. Instead I will be selecting three frames from the films I review which in my mind serve crucial roles. This does not necessarily mean that they are the most “important” to the overall action and plot development (although this will certainly play a role). Frames can be selected for a variety of reasons: intensity, construction, beauty, importance, etc. (or maybe I just really liked it!). Under each frame I will discuss its importance and talk about how it adds to the film. Selecting only 3 frames from a whole movie (films are shot at 24fps!!) will be challenging, but that’s part of the fun! I will of course be including my Reel Ratings as well. To cover the requisite plot information, I will be using (with appropriate citation and due credit) the plot summaries provided by Turner Classic Movies and The Criterion Collection whenever possible (and other sources if necessary). My hope is that my reviews will be more accessible, interesting, and digestible for you all and that I can provide them more frequently! Maybe TWR can even start some sort of trend! Look for reviews in the new format to appear soon. Thanks as always for your support and interest. Please drop a comment to let me know your thoughts when I do post them!


Above frame of Peter O’Toole as T.E. Lawrence in Lawrence of Arabia (1962)