I love Japan.
... I don't think I've ever said "What the f___" so many times in a row while watching a trailer.
I love Japan.
Iguchi is the madman who gave us Machine Girl.
I think my brains melted out of my nostrils right around the time the geisha transformed into a robot tank, drove up the side of a skyscraper and started shooting missiles at a giant feudal-era samurai castle that had also metamorphed into a city-destroying monster.
Did I mention I love Japan?
Some of you might remember how Oldboy (one of my favorite flicks, period) has been the target of at least two attempts to bring it to the big screen in the U.S. The first was in the hands of director Justin Lin, he of Better Luck Tomorrow (and, more recently, Fast and Furious). That went nowhere, but then two other folks with slightly higher profiles picked it up: Steven Spielberg and Will Smith. They're not licensing the movie for a remake, but the manga it was derived from.
This has apparently opened a massive can of legal worms. Not only is it possible that Spielberg and Smith went to the wrong people to license the manga, the Korean movie company that produced Oldboy (Show East) has vanished. (See previous link.)
That has frightening implications for the availability of the movie in any form in the future. Tartan, the distributors for the film in the U.S. and U.K., also went bankrupt, which means any copies you have lying around right now may well be the only ones available for some time.
Maybe Smithberg should have talked to Dark Horse first?
The trailer for Roland Emmerich's new apoc-buster 2012 is now online, in QuickTime format. I couldn't watch it more than halfway through without wanting to throw something at the screen — mainly, my head.
I know that under it all Emmerich is doing nothing more than updating Irwin Allen's disasterpalooza flicks with better hardware and graphics (but not better acting or storylines), but that doesn't make the pandering to the End Is Nigh crowd any less annoying. I know a few too many people who take some form of this garbage seriously — well, seriously enough to be pests to their co-workers about it, but evidently not serious enough to sell their homes and move to Iceland to wait it out.
It's the compulsive, anything-for-a-good-trailer mindlessness of the whole thing that bugs me, from the re-use of the now very, very tired Mayan calendar nonsense to action-movie heroics that assume people can outrace explosions and natural disasters.
Oh, and in the final money shot, when the tidal wave is causing an aircraft carrier to crash into the White House and everyone probably evacuated days ago, why are the lights still on in the building?
For a contrast, check out a trailer for a movie that actually seems to be well worth catching: Daybreakers.
Back at AnimeNext, I mentioned offhandedly to fellow budding writer David S. McCrae "Any writer who wants to call himself one should have a fountain pen." (Paraphrasing from memory, but that was the gist of it.) I wasn't kidding then, and now I think I'm twice as not kidding.
When you write longhand, as opposed to typing, you force yourself to think twice as hard about every word you put down. You make the least do the most. This is not to say that everyone should ditch word processing in favor of longhand for first drafts — even if J.G. Ballard did that — but that taking the time every so often to write longhand reminds you, in the most direct way, of what economy of words feels like. I've gone back and edited the last sentence I just typed about three or four times, and I have to ask myself: how much more careful would I have been if I had been writing that out longhand?
Since few of us are keen on the idea of ditching typing entirely, my recommended exercise is either a diary or an idea journal — in longhand, and with a high-quality pen. I picked up a basic iridium-point and aluminum-barrel fountain pen from Muji in NYC for about $12; the ink cartridges that go into it are a standard-issue variety that cost only a couple of bucks for a pack of five or six. A journal with quality paper will run you about $10-15. Avoid paper of the same gauge that spiral-bound school notebooks use, or paper that is clearly high in pulp content or not far above newsprint. The ink will bleed through and the pen point — even a good pen — will snag and skip. Once you get into the habit of writing in a good journal with a quality pen, it starts to feel less like an assignment and more like a luxury.
I know many people who resist writing longhand any chance they get, if only because they admit their handwriting is appalling. (I think penmanship was one of the first things to get dropped, before physical education, in many schools.) If they feel an exercise like this would be tantamount to self-torture, then by all means they should skip it. But for those who savor the contrasts for their own sake....
Why waste spleen on Michael Bay? Because it was 2.5 hours of interminable badness. I'm not being facetious or cute when I say I thought it was much longer than it was. I explained it this way to a friend last night: A critic vents after a bad movie because they feel like they have to retaliate. Imagine you're at a dinner party and you hear some blowhard hold forth on a subject he knows VERY LITTLE about, one you happen to know A LOT about it. Imagine the rising urge to chime in with "Well, actually..." every time the guy says something even more stupid and outrageous than the last thing. Now imagine that guy got the floor for 2.5 hours before you got a chance to speak. THAT'S why critics write angry.
I posted in the same thread, although my comment was a great deal shorter.
Movie critics are most offended by it for reasons I can fathom pretty closely. For the most part, many of them had to sit through it — it's their job, after all — and they look at it and say amazing amounts of money and technology thrown away for something that amounts to Rock 'em Sock 'em Robots: Live and In Concert.
So what's the big deal? people say. If someone wants to enjoy a big dumb movie, why not let them? Sure, but there are some of us who feel complicit in a crime against one's imagination whenever we say things like that.
Here's my counter-offer. You want something big and stupid where things blow up? Go see Doomsday. And if someone liked Transformers but took a miss on that one, I'll be scratching my head.
(Update: I've just been informed that bashing Transformers is now officially passé as a blog subject. Next post I return to talking about high school girls who attach automatic weapons to the stumps of severed limbs.)
I haven't seen the second Transformers movie yet (the first one gave me gout of the soul) but I did think about a couple of things.
1. What would have happened if the Transformers franchise had been brought to the screen by the likes of PIXAR? And I'm not even talking about the animation division; I mean the screenwriters. This is the outfit that gave us a movie (Wall·E) where there wasn't even any dialogue or human characters for more than a third of its running time, and yet I was enthralled and captivated.
2. What would happen if you gave Michael Bay a small budget — say, $300,000 — and a digital camera and told him, "Go make the movie you want to make with this money. It doesn't have to have any commercial prospects. It just has to be something you want to make. Funny, beautiful, touching, strange, whatever. Just personal." What kind of movie would you get?
I'd love to try this experiment with any number of directors, but I'm most curious, as odd as this sounds, with applying it to directors of big brainless blockbuster entertainment. It might provide some further fuel for the argument that some bad directors are really good directors at the mercy of stupid material. Or it might prove once and for all that a hack is a hack is a hack.
The official U.S. trailer for Miyazaki's Ponyo on a Cliff is up at the Quicktime site. The unbelievably lame tagline is wince-worthy ("Welcome To A World Where Anything Is Possible" — thud goes the back of my head against the chair as I doze right off), but after the muddled letdown that was Howl's Moving Castle I'm just grateful he's still making movies.
My good friend B McD has his own follow-up installment in the "genesis of the bad LotR clones" discussion. I'm just coming off a whole flood of finished work (as if you couldn't tell from the spamblogalicious posts I just made), but I want to sit down with this and comment on it when time and energy permit. It's a good read; don't hold off from musing over it.
... why, out of all of the 'Tolkien-clones' that the publishers crank out, very very few of them even begin to approximate the original.
The short answer goes something like this: Because Tolkien was a brilliant man who was doing something that did not have any existing parallel, and everyone who came along since has simply aped the results from the outside.
Most people reading this are probably at least passingly familiar with the story behind the story. Tolkien developed the Rings as, at least in part, a container for his personal work in developing a mythology and an artificial language, and his independent studies in religion and philosophy. It also hadn't meant with unanimous praise; Michael Moorcock (ever the leftist in his critiques) and David Brin are two of its more recent and nameworthy critics, and it took decades to reach anything like critical mass in its name-recognition and commercial success.
Once the mass-market paperback editions appeared and started selling fiercely, two things happened. One, after a couple of decades, you had a whole generation of writers whose formative experiences were the Rings. The book had always existed for them. The same goes for the publishers, who always had the Rings as a constant reminder of what was possible. If someone else could create something of that stature ...
Everyone who's managed to create an original product ends up having their work picked to pieces by people who are looking for some way to duplicate its success. The list of things that got copied from Rings could fill another book: the various races and their constituents, the naming conventions, the use of magic, the quest template, the nature of the heroes, the wizened wizard, the three-book cycle, etc., etc. And so we started getting the endless flood of books that copied one, another, or all of these things in some form. Maybe not deliberately — some of the most shameless plagiarism is committed unconsciously — but both the publishers and the authors got stuck in this despairing feedback loop. The harder you try to write a classic, the less likely it is you'll get one, because then you're playing a loser's game of trying to second-guess history and anticipate future taste.
I suspect a good many fantasy authors have not heard of Harold Bloom's The Anxiety of Influence, so it might be instructive to talk about it here. The book deals with precisely the above problem — how do you get out from under the shadow of your precursors? — and while it uses poetry (Shakespeare/Milton) as its example, it could apply to most anything else. Everyone starts by copying their predecessors, he argues, and if I were to argue from my own experience I'd add that it's inevitable and a deeply vital step. I spent years writing horrible cheeseball manqué ripoffs of all my favorite authors, and it was only after a lot of shredding of paper that I wised up and moved in different directions. It's not a question of whether you do it but how long, to what extent, and what lessons you glean for making a clean break from such mimicry.
This is the hardest damn thing in the world.
It's not a surprise that so many have copied Tolkien, badly. It's not even a surprise that it's gone on for so long. What's surprising is how few people on both sides of the page are willing to cop to it and do something about it.
The best tribute to Tolkien's intellect, craft and creativity would be to go and do something so unlike his work that he would have no choice but to applaud it.
Has The Catcher in the Rye lost its luster with time?
It's tempting to say that we've collectively outgrown the book, but I'm not sure about that one.
I bumped into The Little Maroon Book in my parents' library when I was still in my single digits, and given how sober and forgettable it looked I might well have not opened it until I was actually assigned to read the thing in class. The laugh that escaped me when I read the words "all that David Copperfield kind of crap" could have been heard two houses down the street. That did it; I sat down and read the whole thing over the course of a weekend. I didn't know it at the time, but it was the first "adult-level" book I'd read, soon followed by such industrial-strength material as Last Exit to Brooklyn and Naked Lunch. My feeling is that Rye is one of those books that not everyone has to like, but it seems like a good idea to encounter it at least once and develop an informed opinion about it. The same for Lord of the Flies, or Slaughterhouse-five.
I've come back to the book many times since then, and I can see why it's become that much harder to connect with if you're a kid. Its post-WWII setting has dated badly with time; it references a lot of things many people have never experienced directly or even heard of (Brown Betty, anyone?); and, yes, there's Holden himself. The whiner.
It's been said that the protagonist of a book should be someone you a) admire b) want to see what he does next c) can get a good laugh out of. Preferably all three at once. I wasn't sure if I even liked Holden at all — I'm still not sure — but the example he embodied was what mattered more. He was stuck right in the middle of being a "kid" and being a "grownup", in a society where you were either one or the other (maybe that's part of the reason for the slackening of the book's impact, when it's possible to live an adolescent lifestyle well into your thirties), and found both positions distasteful. He didn't want to be either one, because the only way he could see himself growing up was by becoming, as the SubGenii would put it, one of the Pink Boys. He'd lost his brother, and was terrified of losing his sister — not just to death alone, but to the devouring maw of adulthood. It's only after he realizes that she idolizes him, stupid behavior and all, that he also realizes his idealism has been creating more problems for him than it solves.
So is the problem that all the kids today are rat-racers? I dunno; that sounds like a cheap way to avoid talking about the book as such. That and books go in and out of fashion much as anything else does, and sometimes they wane permanently. Few people today, aside from nostalgia merchants, remember the Bobbsey Twins; heck, even junior-detective Danny Dunn (from the 1970s) is passé. I suspect a lot of that is because there's that much more recent and relevant material being pushed out to younger readers — the article mentions Harry Potter — and so the older stuff, good-bad-and-dismal alike, is all shoved under the rug and invisible save for a small lump.
One other thing comes to mind — namely, that the whole concept of the alienated antihero may well have been a limited-run engagement to begin with, and probably burned out of its own accord. Maybe the fact that young people no longer connect as readily as they used to with Holden isn't a bad thing; maybe it's a sign that, as Lester Bangs once put it:
... the twin concepts of nihilism and the antihero have had it. What began with The Wild One and James "nobody understands me" Dean, ran with increasing vehement negativism up through the Stones and Velvets and Iggy ... [I]t may be time, in spite of all indications to the contrary from the exterior society, to begin thinking in terms of heroes again, of love instead of hate, of energy instead of violence, of strength instead of cruelty, of action instead of reaction.
Just as I typed that word heroes, into my mind sprung the one thing that has been living inside that word as of late: our leopard-headed friend Guin, the guy who stuck his neck out for everyone and was the first to be part of any plan he could think up. Maybe there's still also room in the definition for Holden Caufield; there's no small heroism in his dogged determination to not let the world outside of his classrooms and apartment walls turn him into the very thing he despises so much. In an age that valued toeing the line more than ours does, this was more heroic, I suppose. Today, the rules are laxer; people can have massively successful careers without even so much as donning a tie — and so Holden's squirming on the hook seems doubly dated in that light. But maybe that's only clear to people who understand they have a choice in the first place, and that it's not between (as Allan Bloom put it) quick fixes and dull calculation.
I don't know that I admired or even particularly liked Holden. I do know that without him and the book that features him I would have been a lot less empathic for people who feel stuck in their own frustrations, who walk around with the nagging itch that something is wrong, that they are missing out, that things are not as they should be. Rye was Salinger's argument that such feelings are the substance of life itself — the substance of all our lives — and that it's just as bad to be devoured by them and try to let them rule us as it is to ignore them completely. But if there are better books that say the same thing, then by all means let's have them come to the fore, too. And not simply turn away entirely from that dilemma and bury it under a forced smile that one day has no choice but to crack in half.
I was intrigued by your comment over at Jim Hines's journal that you had decided to go the self-publishing route, writing for the audience you had developed, even though you knew the limitations that that route imposes. How did you arrive at that decision?
Kind of a long story — but hey, it's the Internet, it's not like I'm going to run out of pages. So here goes.
I mentioned that the reason I took the POV I did about young writers was because I was one of the very hotheads I was talking about. So I did a lot of writing that was, frankly, very bad. Worse, I grew up with — or, rather, propagandized myself into — the feeling that whatever it was I would be doing, I would not be appreciated by most audiences because I was too good for them. Laugh when ready.
Years went by. I wrote and finished a number of things. Some of them were very bad indeed. Someday we will look at them together and snicker derisively.
After a while I wrote things not quite as bad, and soon I got to the point where I was holding a really good finished manuscript in my hand and saying "You know, I'd bet money a publisher would at least look at this." Others agreed with me, but I still had the bad habit of immediately assuming they were buttering me up.
During this whole time, several other things were happening in parallel.
One was that I was letting a little of the air out of my very swelled head, which meant I could go back and look at my work and give it at least some degree of proper revision. (I don't think any writer can work without at least one person on the outside whom they trust to give them feedback, but I'm not convinced that person has to be an Editor with a cap E. But that's another argument for another webpage.) I was able to go back and look at a lot of what I'd done up to that point and reject it — draw a line and say, that stuff is not worth trying to make readable, it's an artifact of an older me. Best to leave it as it is.
Still, this process allowed me to get a better sense of just how marketable my own work was, and to what audience. And by and large, I sensed that the audience I would have would be tiny, but devoted — probably too tiny for a conventional publisher, though. I considered the smaller presses, but when I saw what they were doing, I shied away in horror. Most of it was not about the quality of the writing (some of the people who wrote for such places were talented), but the dismal flavor of whole package — the production, the marketing, etc.
Another thing that happened, and which influenced the above in terms of what I was choosing to write about, was a change in my personal tastes. My big thing for Japan took full flower, and that influenced what I was doing — drove it that much further away from mainstream SF/fantasy, which I hadn't been reading for some time. I came back to it and saw just a whole lot of stuff I didn't want to read or write in the same vein as. (At some point I mean to write an essay called something like "How I Read 50 Bad Books In One Year" that was about this whole fiasco.)
The best example of this: I tried to read the first of the Wheel of Time books, and the whole experience was deeply unnerving: Am I not seeing all of the very same things other writers were sternly telling me not to do? But the book got published, and that only convinced me all the more that the publishers were not seeking new, fresh, interesting voices: they were looking for ways to line the shelves that only looked new. What they really wanted was the same old Tolkien-clone crap in a different wrapper. (Not to say that Tolkien's work is bad, just that so many fantasy writers have been living in the man's shadow for so long that they've forgotten so many other possible modalities for fantasy exist. E.g.: Mervyn Peake, Peter S. Beagle, China Mieville, etc.)
The third thing that happened was the Internet. This part I barely need to recap, but the short version is: digital distribution, print-on-demand, social networking. It now seemed that much easier for me to build my own PR from the ground up, face-to-face with fans. I could create exactly the connection I wanted with my potential audience — but it would take a lot of work.
I knew right away that wasn't going to yield the same scale as a conventional publisher. But at the same time, I also knew that wasn't what I wanted anymore. I wanted to at least start my journey by building a connection to a prospective audience in a one-on-one fashion. If it moved past that at some point, fine, but I wanted to at least begin on that foot.
So to that end, I started assembling all the different pieces to make this happen: book designs, POD services, word about which conventions and face-to-face events would be worth my money and time, and so on. And after a couple of such rounds of research, it hit me that this was a hell of a lot of fun. The process itself was energizing, and the more I did it the more I wanted to do it.
That was about four years ago. Here we are now.
I don't believe that I have some magic touch, that I can shake up the publishing industry from the outside or anything that deluded or naïve. I'm just a guy with his own imprint and a few books he thinks are of quality, and enough ambition (read: pretense) to try and get them into people's hands without going through the usual treadmill of agent/publisher/editor/etc. (Again — this is not an indictment of those who are already doing this or are busting hump to do this right now. You guys are probably far braver than I'll ever be.)
I do believe that sometimes the only way to bring something genuine and of lasting quality into existence is to go outside the established channels. I know full well this isn't going to make me rich or famous — but the former is a red herring (it's better to be just comfortable than to have too much money, I've learned) and the latter is about as bad in its own way. I don't want nattering attention about every silly thing that comes out of my mouth, past or present; I just want people to take what I have to offer and reflect on its meaning in their own lives.
If at some point I made a connection that resulted in an offer for a book contract, fine. But I wasn't obsessed with turning this into a networking opportunity. I was enjoying the process of writing and marketing my own work directly to the people who were most meant to read it.
If I had to compress it all into a single statement, I'd put it like this: The things other people see as limitations, I see as the exact opportunity I always wanted. By having no choice but to connect directly with fans to move my work, I do the one thing I always wanted to do: connect directly with fans.
As I put it many times: I don't have a lot of fans, but I think I can refer to all of them by their first names. And this way, I can say that I really did do it myself.
That's the short version.
The long version is much more complicated.
The problem was [as a younger writer], I just wasn't very good. [me. — ed]That is, of course, the baseline problem with most writing. As newguydave just said elsewhere, "A violinist doesn't pick up an instrument, learn their first piece, and think they're ready for Carnegie Hall. Further to that, if they're not ready to play in the orchestra, they don't start their own.Why do writers then believe that if they finish a novel, it should be published, and if nobody wants it, they'll print their own. I can think of very few industries where if you're not good enough, you can go out and do it anyways.|
I have several theories for why this sort of thing happens. The one I'm putting most credence into right now I call the Cult of the Prodigy Theory.
The CotPT revolves around the idea that the publishing business loves to hype books by twenty-something young geniuses. Look at how brilliant they are now — think of where they'll be in twenty years! Why, they'll be freakin' literary godlings! The problem, of course, is that there is no single index for age vs. skill vs. accomplishment; some of the best creators produced their most revered material very late in life. History's littered with the cinders of stars that burned brightly, way too soon. Case in point: Orson Welles, whose defining moment came when he was twenty-five and everything after that was anticlimax.
Too many writers hear these one-sided success stories and assume that because they are young and writing ambitiously, that automatically translates into them being Good Writers Worth Publishing. Then they have someone who actually has publishing experience look at their work, shake their head slowly, and recommend a good workshop class. Or another career entirely. Such are the risks of listening to the propaganda for the outcome rather than becoming a student of the process.
I suspect a big part of why I give this theory the credence I do is because it squares with my own experiences. I listened to and devoured entirely too much "young genius" nonsense aimed at me when I was still in school, and ended up with a very insular set of conceits: Don't Tell Me What To Do, Everything Popular Is Crap Anyway, My Work Is Far Too Sophisticated For The Likes Of Your Puny Minds, etc. Took years to get over all that. I'm not sure I'm completely over all of it yet, either.
I also suspect one of the reasons writers get caught up in this kind of dragnet of misdirected ambition is because it's hard not to be a writer and also have some degree of pride in your work. The problem is that pride is all too easily conflated into arrogance and defensiveness. The longer you wait to let the air out of a swelled head, the harder it gets.
My eldest cat Tasha (15 years) had to be put to sleep today due to what appeared to be kidney failure. Her brother, Boris, suffered from the same problems at the tender age of four.
She wasn't the brightest or most affectionate cat around, but she will still be missed.
It's been reported elsewhere, but worth echoing here: Last Gasp is publishing a previously-untranslated Suehiro Maruo title in English, The Strange Tale of Panorama Island. This one sounds more straightforwardly surreal and strange than out-and-out grotesque for Maruo, but we'll see. I still owe people reviews of Mr. Arashi's Amazing Freak Show (now quite out of print) and maybe my impressions of the first (untranslated) volume of The Laughing Vampire.
I think one of the most important skills a writer can have is the ability to differentiate between A Really Good Idea and The Right Idea.
A really good idea is what sounds brilliant at 2 in the morning when you first think of it and scribble it down in your bedside notebook. The right idea is what still holds up the next day when you read your notes.
Reading Sōseki Natsume's Ten Nights' Dreams brought back many old questions about how translation is supposed to work. The opening line to each chapter is the same, and while the original Japanese text is unambiguous —
— you could render this any number of ways in English:
...and so on. Tashima / Lorentz (the translators for my edition) put it as "This is the dream I dreamed", which is a little wordy for my taste. My own preferred reading is I had a dream [like this] or I once had this dream, which doesn't introduce a sonorous repetition that wasn't in the original to begin with and also isn't so short that it comes down with a bump. Thus I dreamed sounds appropriately ponderous and, well, even a bit dreamy, but maybe a bit too much.
Not long ago I took a crack at translating one of Lorca's poems into English, not least of all because his original Spanish texts are out of copyright and because the English translation I found was not.
Se ha llenado de luces
mi corazón de seda,
de campanas perdidas,
de lirios y de abejas.
Y yo me iré muy lejos,
más allá de esas sierras,
más allá de los mares,
cerca de las estrellas,
para pedirle a Cristo
Señor que me devuelva
mi alma antigua de niño,
madura de leyendas,
con el gorro de plumas
y el sable de madera.
My silken heart,
it’s filled with light;
with long-lost bells,
with lilies and bees.
I’ll go so very far,
past all those hills,
past all the seas,
near to the stars
and beg of Christ
the Lord give back
the soul I once had
when I was a child,
ripe with legends,
with a plumed cap
and a wooden sword.
For my favorite example for how much you can cram into or get out of a few words, see Douglas Hofstader's Le Ton Beau De Marot: In Praise Of The Music Of Language, in which he attempts to translate a virtually untranslable French poem (simply because it's so compact and sparse) and in the process opens up a whole little universe of convolutions.
Criterion has two new announcements on conventional DVD: David Mamet's Homicide, and another title that Danny Peary covered in his legendary Cult Movies series: That Hamilton Woman.The former impressed me when I first saw it; the latter has, as far as I know, never turned up on home video until now.
1) I just upgraded the site to MT 4.25, so if there are any hiccups, drop me a note here.
2) I'm now experimenting with using Chrome as a browser for posting to MT, rather than Windows Live Writer. I'm not enamored of the idea of using the browser as a substitute for a specifically-written desktop application, but I'm trying to see how far I can take this. (I've also learned that Chrome did indeed fix the weird bug where rich text fields have insane amounts of extraneous formatting inserted during edit operations.)
A nice item over at the Times about Graham Greene and the movies made from his novels:
Greene is one of those writers who doesn't get much praise from literary mavens, probably because he ended up in the "political thriller" ghetto. He wrote, as Ebert put it, stories about "worn-down, morally exhausted [men] clinging to shreds of hope in a world whose cynicism has long since rendered [them] obsolete." Likewise, John le Carré wrote "political thrillers", but his real subject was human frailty, and in time he may end up on the same list as Greene (if he hasn't already).
Oddly, there is no mention of the more recent version of The Quiet American, which hews fairly closely to the book and features, amazingly, a very effective Brendan Fraser as the titular Yankee.
Much has already been said about the Iranian election; I suspect very little I would have to say would not be an echo of something said elsewhere. But one thing strikes me: the amount of people from within Iran using English to communicate to the outside world — not just in blogs or via Twitter, but on paper signs held up for cameramen. "Where is my vote!?" one such sign cried out. They are, I guess, all too certain that real change cannot come from within alone there, and that it must be aided by outside pressure (albeit that of statesmanship and policy, and not tanks 'n missiles).
A reprint of an essay from 30 years hence about the state of the movies.
I read the other day that 13 percent of total U.S. paperback sales (yes, 13 percent) consist of those dumb little Harlequin Romances, in which Boy has by now met Girl in more than 2,000 ways, all of them PG-rated. There must be millions of people who like their entertainment predictable and dependable — who find reassurance in the repetition of the same durable formulas with their obligatory happy endings. And if Hollywood thinks it has learned its lesson during the summer of 1977 and grows single-minded about turning out expensive remakes of remakes, we are going to start wondering, with the new releases of two or three years from now, if we haven't seen all these movies before somewhere.
Well, we have seen them all somewhere before, haven't we? The problem is that most of us don't care; we have the same attitude about the movies (or many of our other art forms verging on entertainments or vice versa) that we do about car parts or hamburgers. They're inherently interchangeable and disposable.
The audience isn't even the audience anymore, and that's the problem. It's the distribution chain that's become the real audience for everything, and the people who actually do the reading, the viewing and (especially) the creating are just auxiliaries. If everyone from Barnes & Noble to Loews could get away with selling the exact same things every single year, they'd do it — and it's now beginning to look like they are in fact doing just that.
I've talked before many times about the damage this does. It hurts audiences, who never get to know about all the truly interesting and creative moviemaking / creativity going on. It hurts creators, who find they have that much less of a market for their product, and who face mounting indifference to their hard work. And last but not least, it hurts the distributors, who get used to doing the same things they've always done, and thus completely ignore seismic changes in the landscape. As much as I dislike the Kindle, for instance, its existence may well set in motion a whole slew of changes that allow creators to connect that much more directly and properly with prospective audiences. Real audiences of "punters", as the U.K. term goes — not just people responsible for filling shelves and getting butts in seats.
After the killings of George Tiller and Stephen Tyrone Johns, there's discussion over at the Times about the tangled morality and ethics of permitting hateful speech.
Back in 1996 or so, I spent the better part of a year educating myself about the nature of Holocaust denial. Some of the more technical-sounding arguments that "the Holocaust never happened" sound credible to those who simply don't know how and why they are fraudulent. The young-earthers, or the Intelligent Design crowd, bank on this as well: they count on their audience not attempting to seek out a second opinion.
For a while, countering the Holocaust deniers was a piecemeal thing — you did it whenever one of them popped up on a web forum, or in a USENET group. After a while, enough people grew tired of reiterating the same arguments over and over again, and thus places like Nizkor were formed, where all of the most common lies (and their refutations, and the evidence used to refute them), could be archived. I used to wonder what it was about the deniers that caused them to blatantly ignore the weight of the evidence; now I know that changing their minds is not as important as showing other people, in a public forum, that they are wrong.
This isn't something you can pass a law to make happen, or even pay someone to make happen. This is something you have to do yourself. The point is not to win the argument and shut the other guy up, although that may happen as a by-product of what you're doing. The point is to keep free speech alive as a source of speaking careful truth to easy lies.
None of this should be construed as a sign that people like James von Brunn should not be prosecuted for his actions. His actions are being countered right now with action. His words, and the words of others like him, should be countered in their own way as well, and not simply assumed that they carry no weight. In the ears of the disaffected they can all too easily take on the gravity of grim truth. Those who casually believe in the lies need to be gently, but firmly, shown how the lies were put together and allowed to take them apart with their own hands.
I know, sadly, more than a few people who believe a dilute version of the same vitrolic that von Brunn was dishing out. None of them had ever heard of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the plagiarized forgery that gave a modern, almost intellectually respectable veneer to the bloody art of scapegoating. Maybe you know one of them; I leave it to you if they would be receptive to a more scholarly dissection of the Protocols' genesis, or maybe Will Eisner's outstanding comic version, which appeared a couple of years ago at Comic-Con as a major exhibit. You choose, but either way, the duty will always fall to each one of us in turn to fight the deniers. This is not anyone else's job.
My good buddy McD dissents from my dissention. There's a lot here to chew on — a lot of it does, I think, come down to "what does Star Trek mean for all involved" (i.e,. personal interpretation), although my feeling is still very strongly on the side of the new movie not being remotely what it could have been. I still feel that a big part of what fell flat for me was how they could have used this reinvention of the franchise to help shake off all of the things that were dragging the franchise down, and they chose not to. (Again, I'm going to wait for the DVD before rolling up my sleeves on this one again — I think without having the flick in front of me, I'm outgunned here.)
A fierce dissection of Star Trek (the new movie). I read it and realized something: I'd enjoyed the movie while it was unfolding, but after a week I really hadn't given it a second thought. It had gone in one ear and out the other, and left very little behind. Something with the Star Trek name on it should not be that ephemeral.
And then I realized the reason was simple: it was a con job. It was slick enough to disguise its lameness while unfolding, but not on scrutiny.
There's a lot in the piece that digs into what went wrong, both from a story POV and an SF-is-all-too-often-sexist-in-that-insidious-way-that-everyone-just-shrugs-off POV. I'd vote more for incurious than sexist: here's a movie that is about people going out into space for chrissake and it gives us disconcerting amounts of screen time with barfights and pratfalls and musical-bedroom silliness ... and, my biggest gripe of all, even stoops so low as to recycle with a completely straight face the exact same overblown SF action tropes so effectively parodied in — get this — Galaxy Quest!
Hell, at this rate I'm prepared to say that Galaxy Quest was even the better movie. Funnier, certainly.
There's a lot more that was wrong, but I suspect I'm going to end up saving all that for when I sit down with the DVD and do my own postmortem.
As someone else once said about the Rolling Stones after they unloaded Black And Blue on the world, this is Trek as we may have to learn to like it. Except that if the history of popular culture taught us anything, it's that we don't have to learn to like it.
I'm wondering how many other people are going to look back on this in a year and wonder how they were so badly duped.
I was putting together a Suggested Reading list for a friend of mine, something for him to chew on while he worked on his next book. His current book (I'll have more to say about that soon) dealt with life after a Big Collapse of sorts, so I yanked out a few things that looked relevant: A Canticle for Leibowitz, and Hiroki Endo's Eden.
One of the books on the list turned out to be Phil Dick's Dr. Bloodmoney (Or How We Got Along After The Bomb). My edition, an older paperback version, has an afterward in which Dick blithely admits that he got it all wrong: he was only too happy to see that nuclear war did not in fact break out between Us and Them in the timeframe he'd anticipated. But then again, as he pointed out, SF isn't meant to be forensically accurate in its visions of the future — it's just meant to see a future, something that serves as a warning or food for thought or something of that nature. Predicting is not really the point.
That was in fact one of the beefs I had with SF for a long time — that it seemed to be about predicting the unpredictable, and that 99% of the time the predictions were dead wrong. But whether or not a story about the future is meant to predict anything or just depict something is really up to us; we're the ones that interpret what we read as being one of those things. And there's any number of stories where the prediction simply doesn't hold up because our sense of what humanity is like is now entirely different. H.G. Wells's Things to Come probably seemed pretty heady and stern and even believable in its day, but today it comes off as naïve and idealistic: does anyone really believe that after a Big Collapse, there will be some utopia of scientifically-enlightened philosopher-kings stretching out a hand to lead the survivors from the wastes? No, because we've had Mad Max and Blade Runner and all the rest of the "dystructopias" since then to serve as more credible counter-examples.
I guess what matters most from any vision of the future is not that it is technically accurate, but that it understands what people do and why, even under the most outlandish circumstances. The only SF writer I can think of who came even remotely close to predicting the information age we have today is John Brunner. Go read The Shockwave Rider for his 1974 take on the Internet; it's not all that far removed from what we have now, including what amounted to Wikileaks. But even if he had gotten all of that dead wrong, the book would still be excellent, because it understands human behavior as transformed by a technological society. And, before all of that, human behavior period.
.... Folman has previously disclosed his intention on diving back into animation and named the adaptation of Stanisław Lem’s 1971 novel The Futurological Congress as his next project.
Color me very sold. Lem is of course one of my favorite authors, period, so any chance to get more of his work to the screen is welcome. Solaris was filmed not just once but twice (the two versions make for a great double feature if you're extremely patient), but my longstanding favorite of his, not yet filmed, would be either Memoirs Found in a Bathtub (a great meditation on how information might survive a coming catastrophe) or The Star Diaries — the latter of which, due to its episodic nature, would work better as a TV series.
Over at AICN (don't laugh — ah, crap, too late) there's a reprint of a pretty good interview with screenwriter / novelist Rudy Wurlitzer. He jammed around with the likes of Hal Ashby and Sam Peckinpah, wrote scripts for everyone from Alex Cox to Carroll Ballard to Bernardo Bertolucci, and tossed us a couple of novels from back over the edge, too: Nog, Flats, The Drop Edge of Yonder. They tag people like this with the label "Dying Breed". Bloody shame, too, because we could use a few more of them.
One quote in the interview stood out more than just about everything else — yes, even the anecdote about a nearly-naked Peckinpah nearly pulling a gun on him while receiving a massage: "[Samuel] Beckett* has always been a major figure for me, so much so that I had to stop reading him for a number of years in order to survive." (Emphasis mine.)
There are days when I wish to whatever god(s) might be listening that I had never discovered three-fourths of the writers I admire to this day. If only because my formative experiences with them were all the same: I'd discover the author, read everything I could get my hands on with their name on the cover, spend six months to a year writing horribly inferior trash in "emulation" (read: blatant goddamn ripoff) of their work, then finally — finally — glean what was to be gleaned from them and move on.
Sometimes this process took a lot longer than six months.
The hardest thing for all too many writers is to find a formative influence and survive the experience. Some people never make it out from under the weight of that millstone. They see work that is so far above anything they believe they can ever produce (whether or not that's remotely true is another story), and they choke. They try to put together a half a sentence and instantly the tonnage of everything they just plowed through comes down hard enough to break their fingers. Some of them quit; some get stuck in this horrible Möbius-loop of try-and-fail, over-and-over. A very few just get shameless about the whole thing, admit to borrowing from someone, get over it and move on to something truly theirs. And when that stuff finally does come, it doesn't come from having read another book.
* If anyone reading this thinks I am talking about the Scott Bakula character from Quantum Leap, you are hereby ordered to throw yourself onto your sword. If you do not have a sword, one will be provided for you at no charge.
Sorry I haven't been saying much lately. Between working on two dueling projects for work (they're overlapping each other), getting ready for AnimeNext this coming weekend and trying to set a few other things in order, it hasn't been a very talkative time.
So, some new stuff ...
Streaming video site Crackle just signed a deal with Sony Pictures.Among the goodies already available: the underappreciated 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T, Jackie Chan's The Myth and Drunken Master, Heavy Metal, and tons of Godzilla flicks including Godzilla vs. Mothra. Also check out the Hubert Selby, Jr.-penned Fear X, which I did write a review of a while back (expect it to resurface in the archive at some point).
The picture quality is excellent — the HD looks like 720P, as far as I can tell — and it's free to play without even so much as registering. You do have to put up with commercial interruptions, but that won't bother most of us raised on plain old TV-over-the-air one bit. (Or, in my case, trying to get Channel 68 to spontaneously unscramble. A kewpie doll to anyone who remembers that bit of TV trivia.)
For those with NetFlix: Carl Sagan's Cosmos is now available for instant viewing.