Different art, different critical standards? Maybe not.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2015/09/26 13:00
Somewhere along the way in my reading in years past, I'm not positive where, I came across the assertion that we need separate critical standards for "high" & "low" art. The face of the assertion alone was already causing my knee to jerk hard enough to kick the underside of the table I was sitting at. I couldn't figure out why at the time I was instinctively rejecting the theory; I think now I know why.
Amateurish, clumsy, primitive, and weird, but all in such an unselfconscious and unmannered way, these films end up generating an endearing fascinationBy Serdar Yegulalp on 2015/09/23 10:00
Cult films aren't made by design, just as nobody sets out to become a cult director or actor. Vampyros Lesbos and She Killed in Ecstasy were intended to be moneymaking exploitation pictures, not cult items, and director Jesús ("Jess") Franco and actress Soledad Miranda never planned to end up as the object of veneration by cult film fans. Hence the fascination generated by both of these movies and the people involved with them: the films are amateurish, clumsy, primitive, and weird, but all in such an unselfconscious and unmannered way, they end up generating an endearing fascination. You can't fake this stuff, and you shouldn't try.
The secret of Franco's success, I suspect, was that he wasn't trying. He was making exploitation pictures on tight schedules with minimal resources, and under those circumstances, whatever natural point of view he had for his material was bound to emerge unbidden. The very crudeness of Lesbos and Ecstasy, shot back to back within a matter of weeks, makes them curiously endearing -- not in the sense that they're the works of an unfairly maligned or undiscovered talent, but in that it's hard to feign being this unpolished or artless. And they both feature Soledad Miranda, a performer whose mere presence in front of a camera was special even if she was surrounded by a movie that seemed determined to be anything but.
The new book is almost, almost, ALMOST finished. And then....By Serdar Yegulalp on 2015/09/20 15:20
I finished the fourth, and I hope final, draft of Welcome to the Fold earlier today. Rather than ration out what was left of the edits over the next couple of days, I just decided to sit down and finish everything in one marathon session, and it worked out better that way.
Here’s a Quarter | Whatever ... after a certain point, it may become obvious that some people just want to complain, or to be angry, or to be an asshole, or whatever, and that nothing a reasonable person can do...By Serdar Yegulalp on 2015/09/17 22:00
... after a certain point, it may become obvious that some people just want to complain, or to be angry, or to be an asshole, or whatever, and that nothing a reasonable person can do will ever make those people happy or satisfied. So you give them a quarter, metaphorically or otherwise, and tell them to call someone who cares. Because you have other things to do. And then you go on doing those things you need to do. They won’t be happy, but then they were never going to be happy, and it’s not your responsibility to fix their problem — “their problem” not being whatever specific complaint or grievance they might have, but a worldview that requires them to always have a complaint or grievance, and/or to believe that the root of that complaint is somehow about you. That’s something for therapy, perhaps, not for you, or anyone else who isn’t getting paid by the session.
One of the toughest things to swallow about Buddhism, and one of the things I think that turns a lot of people away from it (mostly people who, from what I see, have no idea what they're getting into when they start studying it in earnest), is that one of its implied lessons is that if there's a problem, it's always your problem.
Unseen for decades except by the most stalwart, this startling early-'80s experiment remains contemporary for reasons entirely apart from its groundbreaking visualsBy Serdar Yegulalp on 2015/09/14 10:00
Little-seen movies foment expectations they have a hard time living down. Once a forgotten film resurfaces thanks to home video or a reissue campaign, it has to live or die on its own, without the protecting encrustation of the mythology accrued around it. This is as it should be; any work of art deserves to be seen as it actually is, and not through the distorting lens of reputation.
Gerard Kargl's Angst, unseen for decades, is as good a case study as any for a movie that transcends its own mythology. Barely released in its native Austria in 1983, it survived after that only by word of mouth and by way of bootlegs. Now, on DVD and BD in English after several years' delay*, it stands free of rumor and, more importantly, all the earlier attempts to pigeonhole it as a slasher or horror film. Describing it in those terms is as limiting as talking about Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer the same way; those labels come nowhere near what makes Angst special and important.
"We expect more change than actually happens in the future because we imagine our lives have changed more than they actually have."By Serdar Yegulalp on 2015/09/14 09:00
... when I took a subway to a café to write this article and electronically transmit it to a distant editor, I was doing something I could have done in New York City in the 1920s, using that same subway, the Roosevelt Brothers coffee shop, and the telegram, albeit less efficiently. (Whether all that efficiency has helped me personally, or just made me work more for declining wages, is an open question). We expect more change than actually happens in the future because we imagine our lives have changed more than they actually have.
Emphasis mine. Such dilemmas manifested, in my case, in the form of questions about what kind of human behavior to depict in a story about the far future. I decided the best thing I could do, in the case of Flight of the Vajra, was not try to predict too much, but instead to do what any decent SF book does: take what we have now and comment on it by using SF as an interpretive filter.
Vajra was already bordering on obsolete, at least in terms of its technical predictions, by the time it came out. Right in the first sec tion, the main character users a disposable personal drone, and the way I wrote it I implied that this sort of thing was a) common and b) something of an arms race between the people who made such things and the people who try to defend against them. This has already happened, so the future in question already starts to look a little quaint. Ditto the way things like 3D printing or self-assembling materials figure into the story as local color and backdrop. All this stuff just seems hopelessly obvious now, and not very boundary-pushing in terms of asking hard questions about what our lives are going to be like in any number of years. (This isn't why I would want to revise the book, either. Rather, that was more around cleaning up the text itself, on a simple mechanical level.)
But then there are all the things that wouldn't change, most of them rooted in deep-seated parts of human nature. Rather than pin my hopes for the story's success on any one technological prediction, I decided the smarter thing to do would be to make the whole thing revolve around human desire: the impulse to move forward versus the urge to cling to what's familiar. That became the real axis for the story.
I don't think I was completely successful there either, but I hope that element of it has a better chance of meaning something to readers later on down the line than tech gimcrackery already dated by the book's release.
Still hard at work.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2015/09/13 10:00
I'm a little more than two-thirds of the way through what I hope is the last pass of edits on Welcome to the Fold, and I am now kicking myself, hard, for not taking advantage of the services of an editor for my previous works.
There's less room than ever for a big movie to fail.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2015/09/11 10:00
For years, Hollywood has pursued event-style movies intended to play to everyone — old and young, male and female, domestic and foreign. (“Old” is defined by the studios as anyone over the age of 35.) But some of these offerings have grown so colossal that other movies, even very expensive and heavily marketed ones that receive decent reviews, are having a hard time getting noticed.
Emphasis mine. On the other hand, Universal has been making a case for the mid-budget film on a level that hasn't been seen in some time: Straight Outta Compton has set various box-office records, and most of their hits apart from Furious 7 were mid-market, mid-budget creations developed in-house and not adapted from other material (e.g., a comic franchise). So perhaps the top end will end up becoming a victim of its own success, and the concept of the "event film" as something other than a special-effects-centric action vehicle can come back into the public consciousness a bit? One can hope.
"...the doctrine that the genius must be in advance of his time is almost wholly false and vicious..."By Serdar Yegulalp on 2015/09/10 10:00
... the doctrine that the genius must be in advance of his time is almost wholly false and vicious, and opens up the universe of art to evaluations which have nothing to do with the values of art. Intellectually, both theories are on such a low level that it is astonishing that they were ever taken seriously. The first can be dismissed as trivial and muddled on purely intellectual grounds, without even looking more closely at art itself. The second-the theory that art is the expression of the genius in advance of his time-can be refuted by countless examples of geniuses genuinely appreciated by many patrons of the arts of their own time. Most of the great painters of the Renaissance were highly appreciated. So were many great musicians. ...
I think that success in life is largely a matter of luck. It has little correlation with merit, and in all fields of life there have always been many people of great merit who did not succeed. Thus it is only to be expected that this happened also in the sciences and in the arts.
The theory that art advances with the great artists ... is not just a myth; it has led to the formation of cliques and pressure groups which, with their propaganda machines, almost resemble a political party or a church faction.
... There may be something in the ambition to write a great work; and such an ambition may indeed be instrumental in creating a great work, though many great works have been produced without any ambition other than to do one's work well. But the ambition to write a work which is ahead of its time and which will preferably not be understood too soon-which will shock as many people as possible-has nothing to do with art, even though many art critics have fostered this attitude and popularized it.
Emphases mine. I came to these comments fresh off having read Popper's The Open Society and its Enemies, and they are among the most unsentimental and unsparing things I have read on the subject. If anything, they only further reinforce my feeling that the main reason to make art is to make art, and not to hedge bets about its public appeal.
I disappear, I reappear.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2015/09/08 11:00
I spent all of last week, with some days on both sides, traveling for both work and vacation, and deliberately avoided plugging myself back into the World Digital Brain Grid for the duration of the runaround. This included blogging, but I'm back now, so you can expect regularly scheduled service to resume right about ... now.
Tags: real life
Why "I don't care who wrote it, I only care if it's good" is disingenuous apoliticism.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2015/09/03 10:00
One of the things I heard bruited around during the recent dust-up over the Hugos was something generally spoken by people who were either avowedly apolitical, or clandestinely reactionary (and sometimes not even aware they were being so). The line typically went something like this: I don't care who wrote a story, I care whether or not it's good.
Science fiction, rebooted.