Previous Posts: Uncategorized / General: February 2013

Specially Affected Dept.

The exploitation of effects houses by Hollywood is only one of many signs of the system's ill health.


There's been considerable flap in the days since the Oscars about how folks from effects house Rhythm & Hues, which won awards for its work in this year's Oscars while at the same time filing for bankruptcy. You don't need to be a Hollywood Reporter reader to parse that as being outrageous.

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Tags: Hollywood movies special effects


Astonish Me Dept.

"I demand two things from a composer: invention, and that he astonish me." What did Stockhausen mean by this?


Regular followers of this site will know that I am enamored of two quotes. The first is by John Cage (by way of Indeterminacy) when he realized his attempts to give freedom to the musicians in a performance of his design had, in many cases, only allowed them to be "foolish and unprofessional". On faced with this, he said:

My problems have become social rather than musical.

The other quote is by Karlheinz Stochkhausen, which needs no context:

I demand two things from a composer: invention, and that he astonish me.

It took me two orders of magnitude more time to come to an understanding of the second quote than it did for me to do the same with the first one, but the insight mined from that expedition has been invaluable.

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Tags: creativity dharma John Cage Karlheinz Stockhausen


What To Do When You Suck Dept.

What can you do when someone you trust tells you about your work, "Sorry, it's terrible"?


Dwight Macdonald once again:

It is difficult for American reviewers to resist a long, ambitious novel; they are betrayed by the American admiration of size and scope, also by the American sense of good fellowship; they find it hard to say to the author, after all his work: "Sorry, but it's terrible."

Authors who are told their work stinks have a few stock reactions. They can ignore the advice — hey, who reads their own criticism anyway?; they can call out the critic in public, as a few writers have been wont to do (although sometimes with results that reflect badly on the author's manners); or they can dig under the criticism and look for the most relevant kernel of truth in it.

Most people, given their distaste for criticism aimed at them by strangers, never bother with #3.

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Tags: criticism Dwight Macdonald writing


Not For The Money Dept.

Should creative types even bother to monetize their work?


Yesterday's post about my very small Amazon royalty payment reminded me of this post by way of my friend Tim:

Golden Rules for an Independent Band | Where Worlds Collide

10. Have fun

The record industry was ruined by expense accounts and arrogance. Don’t even try to make money or think about quitting your day job.

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Tags: business creativity


Money in the Bank Dept.

Meet my first, and very tiny, Amazon Kindle royalty check.


Last night I received something I didn't think I would ever see: a royalty statement. Specifically, a payout notice from Amazon's Kindle store, for sales of my e-books from December and January. (Mostly Summerworld, from what I see.)

Total payout: $10 and some cents.

Granted, I haven't sold very many books yet. A big part of that is because, well, I'm one guy and it's a big world out there, and it's difficult — maybe even deliberately so — for a writer to distinguish himself in a world this crowded with any number of agencies all in competition for our attention.

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Tags: Amazon.com CreateSpace Henry Rollins Joseph Mitchell Kindle promotion publicity publishing writing


Do-Over (And Over, And Over) Dept.

In a conversation with a friend about remakes, said friend noted that there are three things you need to do with a remake: Retell the old story, and not only do it justice but pay proper homage to it. Update...


In a conversation with a friend about remakes, said friend noted that there are three things you need to do with a remake:

  1. Retell the old story, and not only do it justice but pay proper homage to it.
  2. Update the story so it appeas to modern audiences, both in narrative and presentation.
  3. Make the story your own.

I agreed, but added that all three of those things run the risk of working at cross purposes with each other. The problem is not that we remake things, but that very little is brought to the table each time we do so — that each successive revisitation brings diminishing returns, because it is created entirely in the shadow of the predecessor. Every now and then we have a remake that digs back under the surface of the source material —  True Gritfor instance — and comes up with something new.

I have no inherent hatred of remakes — if it wasn't new in Shakespeare's time, it sure as hell isn't in ours — in part because I see them as merely a symptom of a larger cowardice. Hollywood's function is to buy talent and properties, and then monetize them in as risk-free a way as possible. Remakes are one of the best ways to offset risk: you have a known quantity, you can guarantee a high degree of pre-sales for it, and in some cases you can end up in the black before you even have the product out in theaters.

What's hilarious is that given the sheer amount of money thrown out the window over projects that either never come to light or end up as Everest-sized turkeys, Hollywood might as well say the hell with risk and just finance whatever looks cool. Most of what gets called "entertainment" these days isn't even all that "entertaining" anymore — and how could it be, when it's a subliminal rehash of everything that's been flying around for the past thirty years?


Tags: entertainment Hollywood movies remakes storytelling


Another Corrupt Brightness Dept.

Let's not fence ourselves in.


In an earlier post I seized on the sentence: "The strongest objection to the more trivial popular entertainments is not that they prevent their readers from becoming highbrow, but that they make it harder for people with an intellectual bent to become wise in their own way."

This sums up most of my objections to masscult. The more of it we have, the more places in our culture that aren't masscult are crowded out and pushed off the market, and the net effect is a flattening-out of culture. Or, at the very least, a siloing, where great things are happening next door but you never end up hearing about them because the walls are so thick.

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Tags: commerce culture entertainment George Lucas masscult movies


Busted Brain Trust Dept.

Why machine recommendations are by, and for, machines.


A piece about why book-recommendation services may always fall short:

A Failure of Imagination | New Republic

Data is entirely a collection of externalities; it can collect and sort millions of user preferences and similarities, but it can never move beyond the what to the why. Data has no imagination. When it comes to book recommendations, attempts to sort or streamline or mathematize them necessarily dehumanize the process. The very nature of the endeavor, much like digesting Ulysses, requires an infinitely more complex machine: the human brain.

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Tags: artificial intelligence books bookstores mathematics sociology technology


News Flash: Hollywood Says No A Lot Dept.

Daniel H. Wilson's io9 essay about having his books optioned but not filmed was a wasted opportunity.


Devin Faraci goes to town on Daniel H. Wilson's complaints about not getting his movies made into books despite being optioned:

Successful Author Cries About His Bad Books Never Becoming Movies | Badass Digest

I do get the idea that it's disappointing to not have your book become a movie. Setting aside the low quality of Wilson's work, any writer must be thrilled, in some way, to imagine a great Hollywood movie version of their  story. It has to be a bummer to see that hope deflated again and again. As a human being I know what that feels like, because we've all had good things happen to us and then been disappointed that these good things weren't even better. It's the guy in business class moaning about how he's not in first class.

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Tags: Hollywood movies science fiction


It's Your Party And I'll Cry If I Want To Dept.

Why the current pop-culture Geek Movie Paradise orgy leaves me cold (again).


It's weird. By all standards, it's Geek Movie Paradise out there. There's a Robotech movie on the way (note that it's Robotech and not Macross, hint hint), new Star Wars and Star Trek installments in the hopper, more and better comic-book adaptations than have ever been filmed. So how come my sum total of emotional reaction to this cornucopia of culture going pop is "Wake me when it's over"?

My first impulse is to face the mirror and throw a j'accuse: I'm being a spoilsport, a party pooper who's pooped because it isn't his special little pop-cult goodies that are getting the treatment. Well, some of that I will freely plea-bargain to, but only because so much of what I know I'd love to see splashed all over a big screen is either unfilmable or uncommercial.

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Tags: Adolfo Bioy Casares Alfred Bester Boris Vian Douglas Hofstader fandom Hollywood movies science fiction Star Wars William S. Burroughs Wolfgang Petersen Yasutaka Tsutsui


The Stanislavsky Solution Dept.

On loving the art in yourself, not yourself in the art -- and not letting your art do your living for you.


From Professor Ian Johnston's Lecture on The Tempest:

Dreams may be the stuff of life, they may energize us, delight us, educate us, and reconcile us to each other, but we cannot live life as a dream. We may carry what we learn in the world of illusion with us into life, and perhaps we may be able, through art, to learn about how to deal with the evil in the world, including our own. But art is not a substitute for life, and it cannot alter the fundamental conditions of the human community. The magic island is not Milan, and human beings belong in Milan with all its dangers, if they are to be fully human. Life must be lived historically, not aesthetically.

The debate between art as the stuff of life at its highest (living aesthetically) and art as the "detergent of life" (to hijack Jacques Barzun's phrase) is only raging all the more furiously these days.

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Tags: aesthetics art culture John Cage sociology


A Corrupt Brightness Dept.

The neurotic escapism and spectators' world of masscult.


S. I. Hayakawa once wrote a little essay in which he compared and contrasted blues music with the "neurotic escapism" of Tin Pan Alley, as Dwight Macdonald put it in a review (entitled "A Corrupt Brightness") of the anthology in which the essay was included. Macdonald went on to cite one song that went: "I’d rather have a paper doll to call my own / Than a fickle-minded real live girl." "This is mass culture's theme song," he declared.

Macdonald went on, later in the same discussion, to cite from Richard Hoggart's The Uses of Literacy:

The strongest objection to the more trivial popular entertainments is not that they prevent their readers from becoming highbrow, but that they make it harder for people with an intellectual bent to become wise in their own way .... Most mass-entertainments are in the end what D. H. Lawrence described as "anti-life." They are full of a corrupt brightness, of improper appeals and moral evasions .... These productions belong to a vicarious, spectators’ world; they offer nothing which can really grip the brain or heart. They assist a gradual drying-up of the more positive, the fuller, the more cooperative kinds of enjoyment, in which one gains much by giving much.

So much to mine from this.

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Tags: culture Dwight Macdonald fiction masscult writing


Grate [sic] Expectations Dept.

"Half the scores are the reviewers reviewing the game, and half are reviewing their expectations."


My friend Eric made a point the other day when talking about the very mixed reviews for a newly-released game franchise: "Half the scores are the reviewers reviewing the game, and half are reviewing their expectations."

This is something I've seen in reactions to things as diverse as The Who By Numbers and Prometheus. It's easy to express a strongly-held opinion about something — name someone with a blog who doesn't do that — but more difficult to look at the way your own strongly-held opinion has germinated and come to an understanding about that.

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Tags: criticism media



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This page is an archive of entries in the Uncategorized / General category from February 2013.

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