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Fly on the wall 墙上的苍蝇?

中国日报网 2018-07-31 11:08

Reader question:

Please explain this sentence: “I am a “fly on the wall” type of person, so I was not saying much.” Fly on the wall?


My comments:

The speaker (I) means to say that he’s not a talkative person. While others talked and argued on and on, he/she just listened in – without saying much.

Because, as the speaker admits, he/she is a “fly on the wall” type of person.

The fly on the wall is an American idiom originally referring to real houseflies on the wall, observing events at the dining table but making no moves – just observing while looking completely disinterested.

Supposedly one of those flies has been at the dining table also, rummaging through foods and annoying the diners. However, once it feels sated and satisfied, it flies high up on a wall. Then it’s no longer interested in the foods or the rest of what’s going on round the dining table.

Hence, if a person is metaphorically described as a fly on the wall, then they’re an unnoticed observer rather than an active participant.

Sitting on the wall, the proverbial fly is a bystander but has a great view, like a bird’s eye view of what’s going on.

Bird’s eye view?

Yeah, like that of an eagle circling the sky. Being high above ground, the eagle has a clear unobstructed view. The eagle spots a running rabbit. The eagle stealthily sweeps down. Sure enough, the eagle snatches its prey in one fell swoop.

One fell swoop?

Oh, well, never mind that. Here are media examples of “fly on the wall”:


1. Teachers, midwives, soldiers … TV viewers have grown used to eavesdropping on all sorts of Britons thanks to “fly-on-the-wall” filming. Now this technology is breathing fresh life into anthropology programmes, allowing remote people to be observed in a more natural way.

In an experimental series called The Tribe, Channel 4 has installed fixed-rig cameras and tiny microphones in four huts and communal space belonging to a lively family of Hamar people in Ethiopia.

David Brindley, the channel’s commissioning editor, pointed to the success of One Born Every Minute, the Educating series, and Royal Marine School, and said: “We came to the question of how we can move it on. The simple and bold idea was: what if we afforded one family in Ethiopia, 4,000 miles away, the same technology and applications as, say, a school in Britain?”

The Hamar, a 40,000-strong group in the Omo region, have been well studied by anthropologists and filmed by many television crews: 25 years ago they featured in Under the Sun, the Hamar Trilogy on BBC2. But at the Royal Anthropological International Festival of Ethnographic Film in Bristol on 18 June, delegates will ponder whether adapting “fixed rig cameras” to indigenous societies treats them appropriately. Film-maker André Singer, president of the Royal Anthropological Institute, said: “It becomes a huge responsibility for the anthropologist acting as any film-maker’s ‘cultural interpreter’ to make sure they are treated with respect, not to leave them open to voyeuristic condescension. A minefield.”

The family were given a screening under the stars, where they cooked goats and watched on a projector screen in the homestead. They were paid a disturbance fee (undisclosed) out of the £1.4m production budget.

Consultant anthropologist Susanne Epple, of Addis Ababa University, said: “I was surprised (positively) how well Hamar culture is represented. Nothing seemed staged.” But she does think the title, The Tribe, is outdated. “The term is old-fashioned and has a negative connotation … It does not represent what one sees in the films: a lovely portrait of a family and their neighbours in southern Ethiopia whose hopes and worries after all are not so different from ours.”

- ‘Fly-on-wall’ TV show captures family life, Ethiopian style, The Observer, May 31, 2015.


2. It’s not easy to prise Frederick Wiseman away from his work. The 88-year-old film-maker is currently holed up in Paris putting the finishing touches to his latest documentary. So our meeting is scheduled for 8.30am on the pavement outside the converted 17th-century convent where he lives in a rented studio for the 10 or so months it takes to edit each film.

At 8.30am exactly, the convent gate creaks open and he strides out into the summer sunshine. Over a 50-year career, Wiseman has made 43 films and shows no signs of slowing up. His most recent is a magnificent 197-minute portrait of an institution that is half a world away, in location and tempo, from the French capital.

That institution is the New York Public Library and, as the film richly demonstrates, it is part of the central nervous system of the city that never sleeps: “I have a knack of picking places that are open all the time,” he deadpans, adding that, in the 12 weeks it took to shoot, he managed to take a couple of Sundays off, “but you get into a rhythm and you don’t want to miss anything”.

From his first solo film, Titicut Follies, which shone a light on the treatment of the “criminally insane” in the late 60s, he has specialised in closeups of social and cultural locales, whether that involves a service – such as 1975’s Welfare, about the New York benefits system – a neighbourhood, such as 2015’s In Jackson Heights, a zoo or a ballet company. His signature style in every case is to present scenes from everyday life with no identifying captions, interviews or explanatory voiceover.

As a place historically devoted to the introverted practice of reading, a library might not seem to be his most appealing subject – and at the time he decided to make the film, Wiseman admits he hadn’t set foot inside one for 45 years. “I just thought, without any knowledge whatsoever, that it would be interesting. I thought you went to a library to borrow a book. I had no idea of the vast variety of activities they are involved in.”

Ex Libris - The New York Public Library was shaped from 150 hours of footage (100 hours fewer than that of 2013’s At Berkeley, about life at one of the US’s great universities, “but there are 35,000 students at Berkeley and academics like to talk”). For every instantly recognisable Elvis Costello or Patti Smith making a guest appearance, the film follows dozens of administrators, librarians, board members and ordinary users as they go about their business, not only in the grand main library, with its landmark marble lions, Patience and Fortitude, but in more than a dozen of its 92 humbler branches.

The relentlessness of life in New York and its libraries is reflected in the film’s beady-eyed and finely choreographed juxtapositions: between a piano recital and a job fair, at which the unemployed are exhorted to join border control or the fire-service, a nocturnal street scene flashes in the lights of a 24-hour pawn shop. While the technique is uncompromising, some of the observations are laugh-aloud funny – as when a telephone operator valiantly attempts to explain that unicorns don’t exist, or a picture librarian demonstrates a system of themed archiving with images of “dogs in action”. “Everything that I find is coincidental, but there’s nothing coincidental about the final film,” explains Wiseman, who is not only the director and editor, but the sound recordist and producer for Zipporah Films, which he set up in 1970 and named after his wife, a law professor.

He is notably crotchety about attempts to pigeonhole him as an observational film-maker, and is particularly irked by the idea of being considered a fly on the wall. “It’s an insulting term,” he says, digging into a familiar repertoire of wisecracks. “Most flies I know aren’t conscious at all, and I like to think I’m at least 2% conscious.”

“I come across this thing as a matter of chance, and maybe occasionally good judgment. I take the risk of shooting it because I think it might be interesting – then my job as an editor is to decide what it is saying, whether I want to use it, in what form, and where I’m going to place it.”

- Frederick Wiseman: ‘I’m not a fly on the wall. I’m at least 2% conscious’, TheGuardian.com, July 6, 2018.


3. Tiger Woods finished the Quicken Loans National with a 66 and was on his way to discuss his performance with the media when he was asked to stop for a few pictures.

That’s not unusual.

Except on this occasion, the request came from the guy who had just signed his card.

“He’s in my opinion the greatest golfer ever to play, so it was one of my best rounds I’ve ever played,” Bronson Burgoon gushed after his round of 67.

Woods posed with Burgoon and his caddie, and then one of Burgoon’s friends stepped in for a picture.

Hold on. One more.

Burgoon’s wife came over, and Woods delivered another big smile as if they were old friends.

Woods has a lot of new friends this year.

He played the final round of the Honda Classic with Sam Burns, who was born a month before Woods made his professional debut. At the Wells Fargo Championship, he played the final round with Brandon Harkins, a 31-year-old rookie.

Woods spent Saturday on the TPC Potomac at Avenel Farm with Joel Dahmen, who also got a picture with Woods, in the scoring area away from the crowd.

“He made his fourth birdie in a row and I couldn’t stop smiling,” Dahmen said. “That was the coolest thing ever on a golf course.”

There are no feature groups on the weekend. Pairings are determined strictly by the score. Woods has ended up with a half-dozen players whom he had never met until being introduced on the first tee.

Actually, Dahmen said they had met before, at least in his eyes. It was at the Wells Fargo Championship, and they were in player dining when they reached the glass refrigerator at about the same time.

“He said, ‘Please, go ahead,’ when he was grabbing a Coke and I was grabbing a beer,” Dahmen said. “So that was the first time.”

Woods has overcome four surgeries on his left knee and four surgeries on a back. At this rate, his next golf-related injury might be his neck from straining it as he tries to sneak a glance at golf bags to sees whose names are on it.

It’s a reminder how much turnover there has been in golf since Woods last played a full schedule five years ago. Sure, he played for the first time in 2013 with players like David Lynn, Kevin Chappell, Richard H. Lee and Robert Streb.

Different now is that Woods is bigger than ever, without winning, perhaps because his legend grew when it looked as though he might never be back. And at 42, it’s only natural that he’ll be paired with players much younger, players who grew up watching him dominate the sport.

Being gone for what amounted to two full years kept Woods out of the loop except for being an assistant at the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup. He knows guys in their early 20s, like Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth and Daniel Berger.

Mackenzie Hughes? Not so much.

The Canadian was paired with Woods on Saturday at The Players Championship. They had never met, but that was on Hughes.

“I was sitting next to him in the locker room eating lunch,” Hughes said. “He was 5 feet from me, but I had no valid excuse to say, ‘Hey, I’m Mackenzie Hughes.’ So I sat there quietly and listened like a fly on the wall.

Inside the ropes? That was special.

“It’s 90 degrees, but I can assure you I had some shivers at times when you hear some of the roars and you realize, ‘I’m playing with Tiger Woods,’” he said.

- Column: For Tiger Woods, many introductions are in order, Associated Press, July 4, 2018.

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About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at chinadaily.com.cn. He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at: zhangxin@chinadaily.com.cn, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.

(作者:张欣 编辑:丹妮)

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