Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Maximaphily and Me

Recently, I got a correspondence from my favorite postcard vendor and he used a term that I hadn't heard in a while but which has crossed my stamp-collecting path periodically.

Maximum Card: a postcard with an enlarged picture of a commemorative postage stamp, with the stamp itself postmarked on the picture, usually the first day of issue.

I ran into this term a couple years ago, but it’s never been clear to me how pervasive it was (not to mention its assorted variations) in the philatelic community. It's always struck me as a niche that’s often relegated to an afterthought. Doing a little digging, though, I did unearth this.

In other words…Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. Essentially, According-to-Hoyle restrictions on what does and doesn’t constitute a maximum card bore me. Here’s one I created that doesn’t “qualify” by FIP standards for a variety of reasons, but which I like—plus, it also brings up some additional attributes of my collection that haven’t been discussed yet.


First of all, although all my previous blog posts have dealt with postcards with various cinematic themes, this is actually the first stamp I’ve posted about that is film-related itself. This was part of the 10-stamp American Filmmaking series issued back in 2003, with an unexpected bonus that the illustrated postmark used the Academy Award statuette in the design. Dances with Wolves (Costner, 1990), of course, did win 7 Oscars back—including Best Sound (and most famously beating out Martin Scorsese’s GoodFellas for Picture and Director). Needless to say, I’ll eventually post examples of all 10 of the stamps from that series (which include Editing, Cinematography, Art Direction, and others).

Another distinctive element of this card is that it actually incorporates older stamps with a more contemporary issue and postmark (this is different from the multiple-FDCs I posted about earlier). In this particular case, the additional stamps are:

Crazy Horse (1982 – Scott #1855)
Red Cloud (1987 – Scott #2175)
Sitting Bull (1989 – Scott #2183)

The Scott # refers to the Scott Publishing Company and its specialized catalog, which is the philatelist’s bible in researching and referencing every postage stamp ever issued, both in the US and every other country on earth. The international catalog is a multi-volume series that is updated annually, but I just own a copy of the US catalog exactly for situations like this: sometimes, a card presents itself that invites the use of additional, previously-released stamps that dovetail nicely with the subject matter of the card I’m using.

Needless to say, I usually don't have these stamps just lying around, so they do constitute an additional investment, but for older stamps, they're usually pretty reasonably priced (for example, it would cost me $1.90 today to buy the 3 Native American stamps I just listed). That's the main reason I attend stamp shows like Westpex (only two months away!)

Here's another component to my collection--I'll also use the back of the postcards, not just the front, to assemble additional FDCs which may not (for space or aesthetic reasons) be suitable to use on the face. You see that on the back of this card, I also used previously issued stamps with a newer FDC—in this case, one from the 40-part Wonders of America series issued in 2006. The additional stamps are:

Wildlife - Buffalo (1969 – Scott #1392)
Buffalo (2000 – Scott #3468)

I really like using older stamps (in this case, even one issued before I was born), not only because of the variety of style and colors they add on an aesthetic level, but also because I think it provides interesting connective tissue with the past. US stamps in particular represent America’s political and cultural history, and I like incorporating that sense of history into the card assemblies I create. And interestingly enough, the older the stamp, the cheaper it often is to procure. Because the '69 stamp had an original face value of 6 cents, it can increase in value over 600% and still cost less than the 2000 stamp (obviously, once you start hitting the turn-of-the-previous-century, this general rule flies out the window).

Since WonderCon was this past weekend, I thought I would include an FDC from one of the DC Comic issues, since I've already included a few of the Marvel stamps that were released a year later. I haven't collected comics in over 20 years, but these shows also feature lots of movie memoribilia for sale, so it can be a good place to find some movie postcards, if the right vendor shows up. I may even have gotten this card at a previous convention. I have to say I have never actually seen Batwoman (Cardona, 1968), but I can't imagine it can be anywhere as cool as the one-sheet makes it appear.

Lots of film wrap-up catch-ups await, so keep coming back! B^)

Friday, February 22, 2008

My Oscar Ballot

I love the ridiculous institution called Oscar but a more thorough breakdown analysis is for another site.  However, I will post my personal preferences if I had a real ballot.  Maybe one day...

PICTURE: There Will Be Blood
ACTOR: Daniel Day-Lewis, There Will Be Blood
ACTRESS: Julie Christie, Away From Her
SUPPORTING ACTOR: Javier Bardem, No Country for Old Men
SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Tilda Swinton, Michael Clayton
DIRECTOR: Paul Thomas Anderson, There Will Be Blood
ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: The Savages
ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: There Will Be Blood
CINEMATOGRAPHY: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
ART DIRECTION: There Will Be Blood
EDITING: Into the Wild
COSTUME DESIGN: Sweeney Todd
ORIGINAL SCORE: Michael Clayton
ORIGINAL SONG: “Falling Slowly”, Once
SOUND MIXING: No Country for Old Men
SOUND EDITING: There Will Be Blood
VISUAL EFFECTS: Transformers
MAKE UP: La Vie en Rose
DOCUMENTARY FEATURE: Taxi to the Dark Side
ANIMATED FEATURE: Persepolis
ANIMATED SHORT: Peter and the Wolf



Monday, February 11, 2008

Ask the Filmatelist - Part I

For our first installment of a (hopefully) recurring feature, Ask The Filmatelist, we go to my friend Brian, who’s the host of, IMHO, the Best Bay Area Movie Blog around:

One question from a stamp ignoramus: why did you use three stamps for the "Fargo" postcard, instead of all four, or just one?

A good question, though I should address the “ignoramus” comment first—Believe me, I may be The Filmatelist, but my hobbying is truly Amateur Hour. I attend Westpex every year (more on that in a future post), and as much as I enjoy assembling this material, it is really just dabbling compared to what the old school philatelists commit themselves to. So I can’t speak as anything other than a stamp collecting fan, as opposed to a hardline purist in the field.

The conventional wisdom suggests that you’re probably right—it certainly seems to make more sense, particularly from an investment standpoint, to include all four stamps of the holiday issue together. There are a couple different reasons why I chose not to.

From an aesthetic standpoint, I didn’t want to include the fourth stamp (a knit snowman), because not only did the color of the stamp not quite balance with the colors of the postcard and the other three stamps, but also because I thought having stamps four-across would end up looking a little cluttered. As you’ll see in future posts, sometimes the sheer volume of stamps appropriate for a postcard trumps appearance or compositional concerns, but in this case, I thought it would look better without the fourth.

Another consideration, though, was that I had another use for that snowman stamp:



This is a postcard still from the Pixar short Knick-Knack (Lasseter, 1989), about a snowman trying to escape the snowglobe in which he’s encased. It’s probably my favorite of all the Pixar shorts, with a charming a cappella score by Bobby McFerrin, and I thought the snowman stamp would work better here. Although my emphasis has always been collecting the one-sheet movie advert postcards, I also occasionally will seek out other film-related postcards if I know I’ll be able to use them with an upcoming issue.

Similarly, if there’s a multi-stamp release that has some stamps I know I want to use, then I’ll make a concerted effort to find enough different postcards so I can use all the stamps from that issue—even ones that might not seem as obvious a candidate. Since my last post introduced both the Muppet and Marvel Comic stamp releases, here are two more one-sheets that use other stamps from those same issues:

Probably the most frustrating part of this hobby is knowing the perfect movie to match with a stamp, but not having the postcard for that film. That’s why having National Lampoon’s Animal House (Landis, 1978) was a particularly happy accident, Animal being my second favorite muppet as it is (just ahead of Beaker and behind the Swedish Chef).

Spider Woman’s inclusion in the Marvel Comics issue reeked of quota pandering (Spider Woman? over Thor? Daredevil?) But there was one unlikely film that she was perfect for: Kiss of the Spider Woman (Babenco, 1985). This postcard is actually a German one-sheet for the film. I would estimate maybe 10-15% of the postcards I have for American films are movie adverts from foreign countries, quite a few purchased in my international travels, though a majority still from American postcard companies licensing the images for domestic sale.

Hope that clarified things, and thanks for the question, Brian! To Ask The Filmatelist, you can e-mail me (Filmatelist@gmail.com) or just post your question in the comments field. See you soon…

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Illustrated Postmarks and Multiple FDCs

Yesterday was Tsunami Tuesday, so I thought Wag the Dog (Levinson, 1997) would be a good selection to introduce a couple more aspects to my First Day Cover collection.

The first is that the USPS often uses illustrated postmarks for their FDCs, but they won’t always apply them unless you specifically request it. Contrast the two illustrated postmarks from these Muppet and Marvel Comic issues to the plainer one used for the holiday stamps from my last FDC post.

The other component is getting multiple FDCs on a single card. As I mentioned before, sometimes the connections between stamp and card are obvious and sometimes a little more, uh, spurious. Few people would connect Jim Henson’s creations to a David Mamet political satire, but I thought Sam the Eagle and Rowlf the Dog made a good pairing with the title, figuratively and literally. And extending that patriotic meme, Captain America seemed another obvious choice when the opportunity presented itself two years later (and though I haven’t followed his adventures since high school—Welcome Back, Cap!).

Hollywood’s always been a tough nut for Mamet to crack. Wag is fun, but runs off the rails pretty quickly, and the methods of manipulation that overlap in politics and entertainment are only cursorily explored. Speed the Plow (which I just saw at ACT this past weekend), hardly fares better. More acerbic and rooted firmly in his comfort zone (estrogen-fearing male competitiveness), it still doesn’t tell us anything about the industry that Billy Wilder and Vincente Minnelli weren’t expressing back in the 50s. State and Main is the most successful, but it’s too content in playing things cozy, soft-pedaling even its harshest barbs. It’s like a snuggly Vermont B&B weekend, just not as memorable (except perhaps for giving us the one single non-irritating Rebecca Pidgeon performance).

Next week: Our first installment of Ask the Filmatelist!


Monday, February 4, 2008

Out of Ocala

Alfre Woodard’s always been one of my favorite actresses, but the one film that earned her an Oscar nomination had always eluded me, so it was a treat exploring Cross Creek (Ritt, 1983), the lovely biopic of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. It’s interesting to remember that Out of Africa took home a boatload of Academy Awards just two years later, but the Ritt, with a similar arc, is a better film for concentrating on the writing process and not merely on the biographical trappings. In the Pollack film, Karen Blixen’s poems often seem incidental to her character’s development, serving more as a pretense to indulge in African nature-watching and a tedious Robert Redford romance. Rawling’s love life, however, is secondary to her search for her own authorial voice, and her immersion into the hardscrabble world of backwoods Bayou life serves as an interesting contrast to the post-imperialist plantation privileges Meryl Streep gets to enjoy. Ritt has always been highly sensitive to issues of class in American life without over-sentimentalizing the poor, which is always a harder sell than exotic animals and picture-postcard prettiness anyway.

The film’s still by-the-numbers in a typical Hollywood sense, and Leonard Rosenman's intrusive score distracts (especially compared to Taj Mahal’s authentic music coloring in Ritt’s Sounder from the previous decade), but Mary Steenburgen’s brittleness is used to good effect, and Rip Torn in particular is very funny and very touching (he was also nominated for an Oscar). Woodard brings in all the subtle colorings we’re used to seeing from her, but if anything, this film serves as an interesting trial run for her glorious work in John Sayles’ Passion Fish nine years later—a much better film that also exploits its own bayou locations (in Louisiana, as opposed to Florida) in marvelous ways.

Rawlings is getting a US postage stamp this month (though, alas, I don’t have any postcards for The Yearling, so it won’t impact my own collection at all).