Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Reflections on Independence

Over the years I've developed a list of top-10 smartest people I've ever worked with. Fluctuates, naturally. At times, it feels difficult to come up with ten.

Bill Mechanic, whom I worked for at Disney and who was a mentor to a number of the other people on my top-10, usually heads the list. He gave a speech this morning about the future of the movies which is reprinted in full at the Thompson blog and it is untypically straightforward -- the usual Mechanic mode being the gnomic and Delphic.

Some cool quotes:

Why he got fired from Fox:

Murdoch didn’t want to wait for ICE AGE to finish production. I didn’t have a foot out of the door before Fox tried to sell off the film. Luckily for them, they couldn’t get a deal done.

At the same time, Peter Chernin thought I was taking too much of a chance with X MEN. He called it my $70mm art film, since everyone knew that not only were comic book movies dead but you certainly couldn’t start one in a concentration camp. That wasn’t comic book fun. Maybe not, but most comic books are dark, so it was a question of being relevant, of being grounded.

Ironically, both films have lasted longer at Fox than I did and are now the most valuable franchises in the history of that studio, throwing off billions of dollars of profit.

But they also were, along with FIGHT CLUB, the leading reasons I was shown the door. My bosses couldn’t deal with the unconventional choices like those and others such as BRAVEHEART and THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY because the films weren’t pre-sold and thus seemed less predictable.

How the studios miss the point:
Admissions are down over the past few years and, perhaps most troubling, the audience that Hollywood spends the majority of time focusing on, the under 25’s, are the ones finding other things to do.

Take a look at this shift over the past decade. While use of the internet and video games have dominated leisure time activities, movie consumption is down or flat over the same period. And, more to the point, you can see that there is a 21% drop in film going amongst the core target audience and a 24% drop in the next key category, 25-39 year olds.

And yes, these charts beg another question: if the audiences are shifting, why isn’t the product shifting as well. Name 5 mainstream films this year that successfully targeted an over-30 year audience.

In that way, Hollywood in the broadest sense of the word is much like Detroit. It’s a manufacturer’s mentality that reigns, seemingly indifferent to the consumers it serves. Ignore whether the consumer likes our product as long as they buy it.


Saturday, September 26, 2009


Test footage (I assume) from an unflinished film project by Henri-Georges Clouzot:


Thursday, September 24, 2009

Dan Brown and his Precursors

I love "The Lost Symbol" despite its manifest flaws.

In a pleasing way, I am reminded of both Crowley's Aegypt and Stephenson's Baroque Trilogy/Cryptonomicon cycle, creating a link between those two that had not occurred to me.

(Take a look a Borges's short essay "Kafka and his Precursors", in this regard.)

More important is Brown's infectious enthusiasm for his own work. He's the furthest thing imaginable from an ironist or a pseud. When a writer interrupts the description of an attack by an insane, tattooed, syringe-wielding giant to tell you that "sincere" means "without wax", you know you're in the hands of someone who just can't help himself...

As often happens, I liked Sarah Weinman on this aspect of Brown and Steig Larsson:

What really links these two authors together, however, is the sheer, unadulterated joy that comes through in their thrillers.... Such fervor can't be faked; readers not only smell the false article a mile away, they put up with a lot -- including frequent turns of cliché -- to get to a taste of the real thing.


Friday, September 18, 2009

Stan Robinson denounces the Booker prize

A major screed from a writer (whom I've always found somewhat boring) denouncing the Booker process for ignoring the current amazing quality of British SF. He claims that a novel by Adam Roberts (that I read last month and found disappointing) should have been nominated and should then have won... The Guardian covers the controversy here.

Robinson finds a letter from Virginia Woolf to Olaf Stapeldon, regarding Star Maker:

sometimes it seems to me that you are grasping ideas that I have tried to express, much more fumblingly, in fiction. But you have gone much further and I can't help envying you - as one does those who reach what one has aimed at.

He also gives a pretty good list of the current members of the club:

The eight wonderful writers featured here (Ken MacLeod, Ian McDonald, Geoff Ryman, Nicola Griffith, Stephen Baxter, Paul MacAuley, Ian Watson, Justina Robson) are only a representative sampling of a community of artists so strong that it is hard to explain. Add to these Brian Aldiss, Neal Asher, Iain Banks, Christopher Evans, Alasdair Gray, Colin Greenland, John Courtenay Grimwood, Peter Hamilton, Nick Harkaway, M. John Harrison, Robert Holdstock, Gwyneth Jones, Garry Kilworth, Doris Lessing, Ian R. MacLeod, China Miéville, Richard Morgan, Christopher Priest, Alastair Reynolds, Adam Roberts, Jennifer Rohn, Brian Stableford, Charles Stross, Lisa Tuttle - and no doubt others I have forgotten, or am unaware of (sorry) - and one has to ask, how is it that a group of such intellectual power could be working at one time, and our time at that?


Thursday, September 17, 2009

Dan Brown opinion of the day

From the Guardian:

No one, I am certain, takes a creative writing course with the aim of writing over-wrought, long-winded, critically-reviled thrillers. You take a creative writing course because you want to be a good writer; because you go back to your dorm room and read the great books on your English Lit course syllabus .... and regard the Pulitzer prize shortlist and think, "One day, that could be me." And then you sit down to write with all the best of intentions, and all that comes out is "The thirty-four-year-old initiate gazed down at the human skull cradled in his palms."

Who hasn't been there? I know I have: when writing my first volume of unabashed commercial non-fiction, every so often I found my mind drifting to the entertaining notion that some insightful critic would read it and say, "Ah, this volume of unabashed commercial non-fiction actually has surprising literary merit!" But I know that I will be waiting for ever.

I would thus be willing to wager all of the income I have ever made from writing fiction (nothing, but the sentiment is there) that sometimes, even as he wallows in his piles of money, Dan Brown wonders why he'll never be able to write exactly as well as he wishes he could; why while being one of the world's most financially successful writers, literary acclaim eludes him; why no one ever says, "actually, there's a sentence on page 344 when Langdon says something rather profound and eloquent". Sometimes, despite our best intentions, we just cannot help the way that we write, and sometimes, it is just a bit crap.


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Unfair to Humans

Sarah Weinman at work:

For those who care to keep score, I picked up my copy of THE LOST SYMBOL just shy of 4 PM on Monday, had the first 200 pages read by the time I showed up to Gotham Hall for the launch party, finished the book at 9:30 PM, turned in the review at 11 PM and it was done and dusted by 9 AM this morning.




Monday, September 14, 2009

Epitafios II

The initiates need no convincing: The second series of the Argentinian police procedural "Epitafios" arrives this Friday on HBO Latino and a few days later on HBO2.... English subtitles, lots of local color, and a great performance (at least in the first series) by Julio Chavez in the lead, ably supported by Almodovar star Cecilia Roth.


Saturday, September 12, 2009

P. D. James on Rankin

A graceful appreciation from one master to another.... P.D. James reviews the new Ian Rankin novel, which appears to be the first of a new series of Edinburgh-based procedurals. Her review could be a manifesto: why does a certain kind of crime novel appeal?

Sez Lady James:

Rankin is predominantly a crime novelist of realism. He eschews even the convenient convention that a detective does not age and may talk of retiring but seldom does. Each book is set unambiguously in place and time. In The Complaints we are given precise dates at which the narrative moves forward. The story is told chiefly in dialogue which is terse and realistic. We meet Malcolm Fox on Friday 6 February 2009, and part company on Tuesday 24 February. We travel with him through the sinister underground of the city and the haunts of the rich and powerful, knowing the pubs, the offices, the hotels he enters, what he eats when he is alone, where he does his shopping and the food he buys. And always human lives are seen against the thread of history.

Rankin is a master at what, for me, is one of the important aspects of a crime novel: the integration of setting, plot, characters and a theme which, for Rankin, is the moral dimension never far from his writing.


Friday, September 11, 2009

Just so you'll know what you're missing...

Opens September 18. Title translation: "My Heart Says Hooray!"


Thursday, September 10, 2009

More good news

This is the sort of "never too late" story I love more and more as I get older -- and it features in a leading role one of the most beautiful women ever to grace a movie screen.

Admittedly not quite the kind of "pair up" you might be imagining, but nevertheless a valid excuse for posting this:


Caveat Lector

Genre cross-dresser Iain Banks gives an interview to the Guardian about his new mainstream novel "Transition". The paper notes:

Readers of both Banks's mainstream work and his hardcore science fiction (published under the name Iain M Banks) agree that the quality of his science fiction has held up much better over the years; the "M" novels Look to Windward (2000) and Matter (2008) were among his most ambitious and accomplished works in the genre. And, although Banks's publisher wouldn't supply me with sales figures, it's perhaps telling that Transition is being marketed in the US as an Iain M Banks novel. "I sell better as a science-fiction writer over there," he admits.

The article begins amusingly:

Dear me, have you noticed how many middle-aged, bearded blokes are around these days? It makes Iain Banks terribly difficult to spot in a crowd. Maybe that 70s polytechnic lecturer look he has assiduously adopted for so many years is finally in fashion.

Let's hope so.....


Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Random Matters of Some Interest

In a brief free moment:

Blog-friend Christian Lindke discusses Planetary Romance over at Cinerati, w/r/t the long-gestating John Carter movie, mentioning in passing a new web-serial by Scott Lynch called Queen of the Iron Sands. Christian mentions the words virtue and heroism, attributing them to "Victorian" attitudes, but I prefer the more ironic "Edwardian" (exemplifying the virtues at a time when Lytton Strachey and his ilk were laughing them into temporary exile).

Over at Radio 4, Boris! Johnson discusses the Great Cham, with his typical elan and boisterousness. Sam, says Boris, personifies the spirit of conservatism. (This is Samuel Johnson week at Radio 4 -- three hundredth birthday and all -- including a two part dramatization of Boswell's Life.) Boris, in addition to rattling off a line from the Iliad in Greek, quotes this:

"How small, of all that human hearts endure,/ That part which laws or kings can cause or cure!"

which seems particularly relevant today.

The Reynolds portrait, at the Huntington, called "Blinking Sam" by the staff, is to the left. I particularly admire the way he devours that book.


Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Death of the Auteur Theory

The Melrose Place pilot, to be broadcast tonight on The CW, was directed by Oscar-winner Davis Guggenheim, who also did "An Inconvenient Truth."


Sunday, September 6, 2009

They're not even that much older

"Of course, I had heard about the Sixties and Vietnam from my parents..." -- A.O. Scott, beacon of serious movie reviewing.


A novelist would enjoy the way these things converged

From the Ex's column on a new bio-pic about Tolstoy that is screening at Telluride:

At the screening, I sat next to a line of Tolstoy descendents, including great great grandson Vladimir Tolstoy, who runs Yasnaya Poliana, the family estate south of Moscow, and his 24-year-old daughter Anastasia, a lovely literature grad student specializing in Nabokov at Oxford. Vladimir flew to Colorado through New York and Denver, and was returning the next day. Even though the movie was directed by an American, shot in Germany and stars a cast of English-speaking Brits, Vladimir said that he was glad that the film would spread the love of Tolstoy to the world. Several Telluride residents who are Tolstoy descendants read about the film in the program, contacted Vladimir and came to dinner with their Russian relatives Friday night.


Close to perfect

The following BBC Prom available until Friday:

A pickup group called the Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester performing the following:

Ligeti: Atmospheres (yes, the one that Kubrick used)
Mahler: Kindertotenlieder, with Matthias Goerne
Schoenberg: Five pieces for Orchestra

Interval: Roger Scruton and A.C. Greyling discuss Vienna, Strauss, Mahler, Nietzsche, and Wittgenstein

Second half is a piece by Strauss also used by Kubrick......

(Oh, and if you live in the UK, you can actually watch a streamed HD videotape of the whole thing.)

Why is our public radio so lame?


Saturday, September 5, 2009

What Train? What Station?

Thought for the day courtesy of Glenn Reynolds:

MICHAEL SILENCE: Burning Out On The Constant Online Noise.

I remember in Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age, the really rich and important people get their news via printed newspapers, and correspond via letter. Electronic media are for the lower classes.


Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Don't ask why

Just the best rock video ever:


More Bolaño

Harper's contributing editor Wyatt Mason in The New York Times Book Review, last Sunday, writes about a newly translated novel by Roberto Bolaño, called "The Skating Rink", which is a murder mystery structured as a series of interviews with the three main suspects. Of course, he calls it "another unlikely masterpiece," which "manages to honor genre conventions while simultaneously exploding them, creating a work of intense and unrealized longing..."

As we've discussed many times in this space, the honoring of genre conventions by non-genre writers is an iffy business, but I trust that Bolaño can pull it off.

Two things are interesting here. The first is this:

..... the large number of books by Bolaño already available is soon to double. In addition to the eight that have swiftly and ably arrived in translation in the six years since his death in 2003 at age 50, four new books by Bolaño are scheduled to appear in 2010 (two novels, two story collections) with three others promised for 2011. What’s more, according to recent reports out of Spain, another two finished novels have been found among Bolaño’s papers, as well as a sixth, unknown part of his already abundant 900-page novel “2666.”

The second is that the last Donald Westlake novel is reviewed in the same issue of the Review, favorably and with an astonishing lack of respect. I can't believe that any editor would allow a reviewer to describe a book as "a rollicking crime caper." But there it is. Even somebody as skeptical as I about the claims made for Westlake and Leonard finds this sort of condescension hard to take.


Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Back from Point Reyes

Spent a delightful week eating oysters, drinking Russian River sour beer, and taking long walks in the country with Mrs. Tulkinghorn and Tulk Jr. Also read most of the new A.S. Byatt novel "The Children's Book" (coming soon to a bookstore near you), which is about life among hip Edwardians, complete with exegesis on cabaret, pottery, Fabianism, and puppetry. Something like twenty main characters in three families over about thirty years. Galsworthian and goes down easy.

I enjoy not working.

I also enjoyed the following snippet of wisdom in Adam Roberts' reaction to the latest Harry Potter movie. (I read a Roberts novel about Soviet science fiction writers and the multiverse. Literate, funny, and dull. Oh, well.) If only I had understood this when young and single.....

I found two particular pleasures in the film.

One is Ron Weasley, as played by Rupert Grint, now a gulp-inducing twenty-one years of age. The plot calls for various girls to fall desperately in love with Ron, Hermione (of course) chief amongst them; and there is exquisite irony-flavoured viewing pleasure in this, given that Ron has grown from a sweet carrot-top kid into an adult of gasp-and-point ugliness. If the Tollund Man had been dug up, electrically reanimated and given an orange wig he would barely look less physically prepossessing than Grint in this role. Of course the girls all love him. How could they not?


The Chinese Student