Nostalgia Sunday – ViewMaster Israel

If you are a person of a certain age, then the ViewMaster holds a special charm. Like its predecessor, the Stereoscope, the View-Master was the virtual reality viewer of its day: a device designed to present 3-D photo images. And, like its predecessor, the Holy Land was a subject of great interest and popularity.

A bit of history: the ViewMaster (or View-Master) was first introduced at the New York World’s Fair in 1939 by the partnership of Wilhelm Gruber, an organ maker and amateur photographer, and Harold Graves, who was in charge of the postcard division at Oregon-based Sawyer’s Photo Services.

Their idea was to update the old-fashioned stereoscope to the new Kodachrome 16-mm color film, printing small-format photo transparencies and mounting them in pairs on a disk to be viewed with a simple hand-operated viewer. Initially, the photo subjects were travelogues, such as Carlsbad Caverns and the Grand Canyon, quickly followed by more far-flung locations such as Jerusalem and the Holy Land.

Collector and dealer Kip “Mr. ViewMaster” Brockman has several such travelogues on his site, as does the ViewMaster World blog. The disks were accompanied by a narrative booklet. For example, if you were to purchase Modern Israel, part of the Nations of the World series, as you viewed the stereoscopic image, you would read the following:

“Our El Al Israel Airlines plane lands at Lod Airport, near Tel Aviv. An attractive hostess welcomes us to Israel with a spoken greeting in Hebrew, from the Bible: “Blessed shalt thou be when thou comest in, and when thou goest out.”

Tel Aviv, Israel’s No. 1 boom town, is the first all Jewish metropolis since Biblical times…The beach front is a Coney Island on the Mediterranean; booths sell corn on the cob, watermelon, or falaffel (“the Israeli hot dog”)…

Tel Aviv stands as a symbol of modern, energetic Israel. The country’s spirit is personified in its new generation. The native born Sabra— Hebrew word for cactus (tough outside, sweet inside) — is tall, healthy, suntanned, and confident, with the swagger of an adventurer.”

Oh my gosh! I would really like to visit that place where air-hostesses quote scripture, Israelis are tall and un-neurotic, and the notion of falafel as “the Israeli hot dog” doesn’t send me into paroxysms of laughter. But I digress.

After 1966, when Sawyer’s became a wholly owned subsidiary of the General Aniline & Film (GAF) Corporation, more child-friendly subjects like cartoons and TV series were introduced.

The full account of View-Master’s history of Mergers & Acquisitions is a long one; the short version is that the product is currently carried by Mattel subsidiary Fisher-Price, which in December 2008 announced that it would cease production of the scenic disks depicting tourist attractions. According to Wikipedia, “These disks of picturesque scenes and landscape scenery were descendants of the first View-Master disks sold in 1939.”

Fisher-Price continues to produce disks of animated characters, including Dora the Explorer who prefers to go places instead of just looking at them on-screen. Well, travel is easier nowadays. There was something magical, though, about looking at the tiny celluloid images through the ViewMaster lens. (It was, as my significant other says, “like having a tiny, personal TV” and if you squished the eyepiece sideways into your brow ridge just right, you could get the full 3D effect, however briefly). So you can still get a ViewMaster. As for getting hold of ViewMaster travelogues, there’s always eBay.

Foto Friday – A street view of Israel with Google StreetView

Earlier this week, Google let it be known that it would be launching the long-awaited StreetView application for Israel. The official launch date is this Sunday, April 22, but the soft launch apparently happened yesterday and seems to be working on Google Maps Netherlands at this point.

StreetView, which is part of Google Maps, lets users explore places around the world through 360-degree panoramic 3D imagery of city streets, public spaces, museums, national parks and more. (Here’s a quick video on how to use it).

Google accomplishes this by deploying a fleet of cars topped by a 15 lens camera taking 360 degrees of photos as it drives along. The car also also has motion sensors to track its position, a hard drive to store data, a small computer running the system, and lasers to capture 3D data to determine distances within the Street View imagery.

Google provides a nice explanation of how its done. And last year, this fellow posted a video of himself following the Google car down Tel Aviv’s Ben Yehuda street, writing “Look how lucky I am to capture the car that is capturing me.”

Given that Israel is a major R&D center for Google, the launch took longer than expected. This was due to concerns over security — not unjustified as Palestinian militants have stated that Google Earth satellite images have been used to identify targets in rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip on Israel. Similarly, there were concerns about Google StreetView possibly being used by terrorists to attack critical locations and/or important personages. Privacy concerns were less of an issue — in Israel, security trumps privacy every time. Plus, we are the kind of people who feel “lucky” if we’re captured by a Google cam!

The Google Map of Israel…

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So far, StreetView has covered neighborhoods, universities and museums in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, Be’er Sheva, plus a few smaller towns and tourist sites around the country.

The Jerusalem Theater…
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The Harp Bridge at the entrance to Jerusalem…
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The Knesset…
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Western Wall…
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And here’s where my running group, the Holyland Hash House Harriers, will be meeting tomorrow afternoon at 4:00 PM, right in the Valley of the Cross. All are invited and beer will be served.

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Nostalgia Sunday – Lahiton and the Hit Parades

Where are the Israeli hit parades of yesteryear?, was the question that arose during the annual Passover post-lunch shmooze-fest. It’s indeed a subject for discussion, as song charts came to Israel many decades after being a standard part of Western pop music culture, and a tricky subject at that, as our early hit parades were based not on record sales but rather on postcards sent in by fans to the state-run radio networks and subject to the whims of the broadcasters at those networks.

An annual Hit Parade, based on the weekly ones, has been broadcast on Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, since 1963. There are actually two annual Hit Parades, one on Galei Zahal (GLZ), the army radio network and the other on the Israel Broadcast Authority (IBA). GLZ decided to split the charts into Hebrew-language songs and international songs in 1967; IBA followed suit two years later. IBA pop station Reshet Gimel began operations in 1973 and took over the hit parade responsibilities for the network.

So there were two hit parades, both based on the tastes of teenage girls with time on their hands (and postage stamps) and 30-year old DJs — the two groups that traditionally call the shots in pop music. But despite the demographics, these do not a real hit parade make because real charts reflect record sales. And in a country where the two main record companies, Hed Arzi and CBS, essentially had no competition (until Helicon came along in 1985), such information was not made public.

I’m not sure why but like so many other things in Israel, probably it wasn’t out of meanness but more likely out of lethargy (it’s very hot here), ignorance (What, record companies in America tell people about their business? Why?) and because no one ever got around to thinking of it (reserve duty, Jewish holidays, wars, food shopping, etc.).

Enter Lahiton. Founded and edited by Uri Aloni and David Paz as a bi-weekly magazine in September 1969, a year later, Lahiton became a weekly, presenting a kind of journalism previously unknown in Israel: news and gossip about music and performers, record reviews, lyrics, pictures, full-color posters that decorated the walls of children and teens across the country, and charts — not only Israeli but foreign ones, too.

Lahiton also initiated a Gold Record award whose first winners were Shlomo Artzi, Dorit Reuveni and Igal Bashan. Following Lahiton’s lead, Israel’s record companies also began awarding Gold Records to artists with albums selling over 20,000 copies, thus tacitly releasing sales information.

In 1976, Lahiton merged with movie magazine Olam HaKolnoa and began reporting on movies stars as well as singers. The magazine’s popularity began to wane in the early to mid-Eighties as its editors moved on to found new magazines and as Israelis became exposed to more sophisticated fare like Melody Maker, Rolling Stone and Billboard.

Lahiton folded in 1990. The archive is not online although some kind souls have taken to scanning and posting select pages, including some scans of the Hit Parade page.

Recently, a Facebook page launched, dedicated to all things Lahiton, with a very active community of people interested in sharing pictures and comments, with some also wondering where the old Hit Parades are at.

In fact, the IBA website has a search engine accessing all annual Hebrew-language Hit Parades dating back to 1969.

An extensive interview (in Hebrew) with Lahiton founding editors Aloni and Paz by pop culture researcher Eli Eshed can be found here.

For those interested in buying or selling vintage copies of Lahiton — or just looking at some really cool cover art — look no further than the BookSefer site with prices ranging from NIS 160 (Michael Jackson in his “Bad” phase) down to NIS 70 (Izhar Cohen in his Michael Jackson in his “Bad” phase).

And of course, there is an online alternative to take the place of the write-in postcard vote: Charts.co.il, which provides the latest chart information — of the many, many charts now available to us — and gives users the chance to rate their favorites, just like the old days.

Israeli startup gets in on ‘Hunger Games’

The Hunger Games may be breaking all the box office records in the US since its theater release last month, but its Facebook game is not far behind.

Developed by Israeli company Funtactix, the online game has become a big hit since being launched last week. Which should not be too surprising since the Jerusalem startup is apparently so talented that Lionsgate Films signed an agreement with them to develop the official ‘Hunger Games’ game – two months after it launched the Facebook game for Mission Impossible 4.

The Hunger Games online app enables fans of the film and the book dynasty to play with virtual friends based on the characters from the books and film.

“Even though we knew in advance that the movie would be a huge hit with teens we were still very excited when we saw the initial statistics, and we hope they will continue to grow and increase,” said Funtactix founder Yaron Leifenberg in a press release.

The (JVP) Erel Margalit-financed company was founded in 2006 and has developed a reputation in web-based gaming since its 2008 introduction of connected 3D multiplayer action gaming to the browser. Based in New York, with development teams centered in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, Funtactix is another example of the burgeoning Hollywood-Israel connection in full bloom.

Israel’s ‘Third Ear’ turns 25

One of my favorite things to do is browse at used CD, record and DVD stores. Whenever I travel and go to a new city, I always try to check out the recommended offbeat indie record store.

Spending my college years in Boston, where the breadth and width of recycled vinyl was remarkable, I got used to some pretty high standards. But I have to say that I’m perfectly happy with the Israeli equivalent of Amoeba in LA or Bleecker St. Records in New York, or the late, lamented Nuggets in Boston – Tel Aviv’s Ozen Hashlishit (The Third Ear) offers enough varied music and films to satiate any discerning fan’s desires.

Once ensconced in the then-hip and trendy Sheinkin Street, the iconic second-hand record store deservingly built its reputation as the one-stop shop for hard-to-find import LPs and CDs from obscure British progressive rock bands, as well as local indie artists putting out their do-it-yourself music.

Today, the Ozen is still that but also a whole lot more – it’s an expanding media empire, employing more than 100 people and encompassing a sprawling building on Tel Aviv’s King George Street that once housed the Maxim Cinema.

Sure, there are still vintage LPs by Yes and Tangerine Dream, as well as thousands of used and new CDs for sale that will satiate the most particular of music nerds, but there’s also the biggest video library in the country, a thriving live music club and café called the Ozen Bar that presents the cream of up-and-coming local and sometimes international talent, and a successful video satellite store in Jerusalem.

The Ozen is celebrating its 25th anniversary this month by hosting The Long Weekend from March 22-24. And it’s featuring – what else – music and film. Among the highlights are British singer/songwriter Robyn Hitchcock returning to the Ozen Bar after two superlative shows last year to perform his classic 1990 album Eye in its entirety on March 22. Two nights later, Hitchcock will perform with his occasional side band Venus 3, featuring former REM guitarist Peter Buck. Hitchcock and Buck are also slated to hold a master class for musicians. Other events over the weekend include marathons of live performances by local acts, and a screening of Twenty, the Cameron Crowe documentary on Pearl Jam.

As it enters its next 25 years, it’s likely the medium that the Ozen provides its customers will change, as CDs and DVDs disappear for the next big thing. But luckily, they’ll still continue to cater to the particular needs of us snobby music and film fans who just aren’t satisfied with the next ‘blockbuster.’ May the Ozen continue to live long and prosper.

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