Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Moviegoer

"You know Ralph. He likes to act mysterious. Ralph Simpson, boy detective. It's kind of cute."

"Was Ralph doing some kind of detective work at the Blackwell place?"

"So he said. I don't always buy a hundred per cent of what Ralph says. He goes to a lot of movies and sometimes he gets them mixed up with the things he does himself." She added, with an indulgent glance at the paperbacks on the dressing table: "I do the same thing with stories sometimes. It makes life more exciting."--Ross Macdonald, The Zebra-Striped Hearse (Knopf 1963, 109-110)

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Sunday, December 26, 2010

Happy New Year

Not sure if this is actual kitsch or a display of ironic hipster nostalgia for overripe album-cover psychedelia; using the appearance of irony to mask an unfashionable sincerity. Either way, the fact that it's Brit Grit tough guy Ray Winstone (older than we thought) who's the centerpiece of this kaleidoscope is what make it work for me.

Best wishes for an entertaining and prosperous 2011.


Unkle 'The Answer' - Director: John Hillcoat from Tom Lindsay on Vimeo.

It is of course unclear from the video alone whether Winstone is describing something that actually happened to him or working as an actor telling a fictional story. (And I have no intention of clearing up the ambiguity by doing any research.) There's a distant echo of this in a reminder sent over by Tulkinghorn:

I remembered that Peter Greenaway had made a short film about people struck by lightning, called "Act of God," which I saw sometime in the eighties.

Details here. According to Google, available only from pirates.

Greenaway sez:

"I was asked by Thames, a rather reactionary TV station, to make a half-hour program on any subject whatsoever. In my interest in taxonomies and attempts to classify information, I looked for the most unclassifiable events or phenomena I could think of - which was being struck by lightning. We advertised in the national press for all those people who had been struck by lightning and survived, to come forward to be interviewed - and that's what the film's about. I had hoped to find extraordinary religious experiences, people who felt they'd been punished by God. Most of their reactions were totally banal, but we came across some extraordinary events - girls riding fat ponies down English country lanes and entirely disappearing apart from a pool of cooling fat on the road. I put all these events together and of course everybody thought I had made them up."
And this, again from Tulk:

Sigur Rós - Glósóli from Sigur Rós on Vimeo.

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Friday, December 24, 2010

Fugu

Basically I agree with the view that writing novels is an unhealthy type of work. When we set out to create a story, like it or not, a kind of toxin that lies deep in all humanity rises to the surface. All writers have to come face-to-face with this toxin and, aware of the danger involved, discover a way to deal with it, because otherwise no creative work in the real sense can take place. (Please excuse the strange analogy: with a fugu fish, the tastiest part is the portion near the poison -- this might be something similar to what I getting at.) No matter how you spin it, this isn't a healthy activity. (H. Murakami, WITAWITAR, 96)
And on the other hand:
We are standing on the most frightening territory in all of history,” Bernhard tells his mute audience... “Everything is explained to us and we understand nothing,” he says in another. “The words to which we cling because our impotence makes us insane and our insanity makes us despair, these words merely infect and ignore, blur and aggravate, shame and falsify and cloud and darken everything.(Thomas Bernhard, NYTBR 12/26/10; C.I.: Tulk)
And Mary Gordon again:
My only way out is to be interested in the process. Which gives me pleasure, the kind of pleasure I get from a good meal. To know I'm taking the risk of being ridiculous. The risk of self delusion. But to forget that in solving the problem.

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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Before cell phones (updated)

-- George V. Higgins, The Friends of Eddie Coyle (Knopf 1971), p.23.Cool excerpt
I finished the book in one sitting and felt as if I’d been set free. So this is how you do it. ... What I learned from George Higgins was to relax, not to be so rigid in trying to make the prose sound like writing, to be more aware of the rhythms of coarse speech and the use of obscenities. Most of all George Higgins showed me how to get into scenes without wasting time, without setting up the scene, where the characters are and what they look like. In other words hook the reader right away. I also realized that criminals can appear to be ordinary people and have some of the same concerns as the rest of us. ... My take on The Friends of Eddie Coyle, for example -- which I have listed a number of times as the best crime novel ever written -- it makes The Maltese Falcon read like Nancy Drew.--Elmore Leonard.
Coyle was published in 1971. Right around the time Leonard switched from writing westerns, primarily, to writing thrillers.1969 - The Big Bounce
1970 - The Moonshine War
1970 - Valdez Is Coming
1972 - Forty Lashes Less One
1974 - Mr. Majestyk
1974 - 52 Pick-Up
1976 - Swag (which introduces the character Stick and is therefore a milestone)
Also, see if this sounds familiar (FOEC 166-167):


In the passage above there's a character named Foley. Elsewhere a key supporting player named Jackie Brown. Male and white, but still.

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Monday, December 20, 2010

Why I don't blog, part 3:

Here's a fascinating description of the debating style of a political writer named Jonathan Chait. I doubt that anyone here cares about the substance of the arguments, but the arrogance and effrontery of Chait, as described here by Nick Gillespie sounds way too familiar. Until I can control myself better......

If you're interested in catching up on the cyber-brouhaha, start with Chait's latest bit, in which he accuses me of innumeracy, "tonal posturing," and certifiable delusions. To be fair to Chait, he pretty much talks this way about everyone.

Indeed, he is given to characterizing differences of opinions not in terms of disagreements but in terms of psychological dysfunctions and moral failings. For him, to believe in balancing budgets with revenues equal to 19 percent of GDP is evidence of "debilitating pathologies" and to write expansively (and I hope, somewhat entertainingly) in reply to Chait produces "word salad," a condition common to various mental illnesses. This is a reflexive debating tactic for Chait, who has recently insisted that opposition to the individual mandate in Obama's health care plan is "a sign of right-wing hysteria." If people who disagree with him are not in need of electroshock or a spray of seltzer to the face, then it is only because they are "total hacks," as he grossly mischaracterizies my coauthor Veronique de Rugy (who, he says, practices "voodoo economics" and "goes all Laffer Curve" at the drop of a hat). He winds up his critique with sage career advice for yours truly:

I really advise Gillespie to confine himself to subjects he understands (motorcycles? picking up chicks with a snap of the fingers?) and find a fiscal writer who is able to make the libertarian case from factual premises.

This isn't "tonal posturing," it's ideological scoliosis and he's welcome to embrace its disfiguring effects on the mind as much as he wants.

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Sunday, December 19, 2010

One take, "edited" with lighting effects

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Sounds good...

One of the things I believe in is to be extreme. I don’t mean do things for shock value, but to tell a story as extremely as possible. People go to the cinema to see the whole screen stretched and pushed to the sides, up and down and across. I love when you can get that image to pulsate. When you get those moments, or watch them, that’s what I love most in cinema. You do transport people in that moment. Beyond persistence, the only advice I ever give to young filmmakers is, don’t be shy in the way you tell a story. Be bold. There is that great quote, boldness has genius in it. People forgive you many things, if you remember that. -- Danny Boyle

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Murakami sensei

Worst part of running in the rain? No defrosters on glasses.

Most of what I know about writing I’ve learned through running every day. These are practical, physical lessons. How much can I push myself? How much rest is appropriate — and how much is too much? How far can I take something and still keep it decent and consistent? When does it become narrow-minded and inflexible? How much should I be aware of the world outside, and how much should I focus on my inner world? To what extent should I be confident in my abilities, and when should I start doubting myself? I know that if I hadn’t become a long-distance runner when I became a novelist, my work would have been vastly different. How different? Hard to say. But some thing would have definitely been different.

In any event, I'm happy I haven't stopped running all these years. The reason is, I like the novels I've written. And I'm really looking forward to seeing what kind of novel I'll produce next. Since I'm a writer with limits -- an imperfect person living an imperfect, limited life -- the fact that I can still feel this way is a real accomplishment. Calling it a miracle might be an exaggeration. But I really do feel this way. And if running every day helps me accomplish this, then I'm very grateful to running.

People sometimes sneer at those who run every day, claiming they’ll go to any length to live longer. But I don’t think that’s the reason most people run. Most runners run not because they want to live longer, but because they want to live life to the fullest. If you’re going to while away the years, it’s far bet­ter to live them with clear goals and fully alive than in a fog, and I believe run­ning helps you do that. Exerting yourself to the fullest within your individual limits: that’s the essence of running, and a metaphor for life — and for me, for writing as well.-- Haruki Murakami, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running: A Memoir (Knopf 2008), 82-83.

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Saturday, December 18, 2010

"Film Comment" writers poll 2010

1. Carlos (Olivier Assayas)
2. The Social Network (David Fincher)
3. White Material (Claire Denis)
4. The Ghost Writer (Roman Polanski)
5. A Prophet (Jacques Audiard)
6. Winter’s Bone (Debra Granik)
7. Inside Job (Charles Ferguson)
8. Wild Grass (Alain Resnais)
9. Everyone Else (Maren Ade)
10. Greenberg (Noah Baumbach)
Full list.

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Found quotation

"They who on moral grounds, and consequently with noble intention, have resisted that which the advance of the Spiritual Idea makes necessary, stand higher in moral worth than those whose crimes have been turned into the means — under the direction of a superior principle — of realising the purposes of that principle. But in such revolutions both parties generally stand within the limits of the same circle of transient and corruptible existence. Consequently it is only a formal rectitude — deserted by the living Spirit and by God — which those who stand upon ancient right and order maintain. The deeds of great men, who are the Individuals of the World's History, thus appear not only justified in view of that intrinsic result of which they were not conscious, but also from the point of view occupied by the secular moralist. Looked at from this point, moral claims that are irrelevant must not be brought into collision with world-historical deeds and their accomplishment." -- G.W.F. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophical History of the World (1837), Introduction iii-74.

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Thursday, December 16, 2010

Change of Pace

New Studio Ghibli version of "The Borrowers."

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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Screeners 2

True Grit Biggest disappointment of the bunch, so far. Reminds me how out of sympathy I often am with the Coens' almost clinical deadpan, peering at their characters as specimens of a sub-human life form. The great tonal balancing act of Charles Portis' novel has had most of the humor bleached out of it. Here the players in the middle distance are a typical Coen gallery of grotesques, and the film barely flinches when their limbs are hacked off. The major players, too, starting with Jeff Bridges' growly-old-homeless-guy take on Rooster Cogburn, have been archly uglified. A welcome exception is Hailee Steinfeld as narrator Mattie Ross, surprisingly tall and broad-shouldered and a dignified presence, a classic "straight man" surrounded by goggle-eyed goons. Makes sense that people are comparing TG with "Winter's Bone" because of the "sand" (a refined form of grit)  demonstrated by their heroines.

(This is somewhat unfair in failing to acknowledge that the final one third of TG is much more successful than the first two, with major contributions from Josh Brolin, composer Carter Burwell and the astonishing Iris DeMent, who cuts to the quick.)

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Monday, December 13, 2010

Family snap

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Sunday, December 12, 2010

Lost quotations

Drove myself crazy a year or so ago trying to track down a quotation I thought was from Aquinas. (Turned out to be the great Josef Pieper.) So far today I've spent over an hour trying to track down some lines that I am convinced were from "The Elements of Drawing" by John Ruskin. But not even word-searching complete online copies of the text (PD, of course) has turned up anything. So I've either misremembered the source or the lines or (most likely) both.

The gist is something like this: "To draw the best picture you are capable of, stop when you feel the slightest difficulty. But if you want to improve, push on when you feel difficulty. Go on to trying to correct the drawing until you've erased it so full of holes that you can't continue. Today's drawing will be ruined, but the drawing you do tomorrow will be better than today's best."

A simple proscription with interesting implications -- suggesting, for instance, the long term dangers of doing creative work under contract or for hire, situations in which one would be all but morally obliged to settle for "today's best."

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Saturday, December 11, 2010

Also...

If it's art or literature you're looking for, you'd do well to read what the Greeks wrote. In order for there to be true art, there necessarily has to be slavery. That's how it was with the ancient Greeks. While the slaves worked the fields, prepared the meals, and rowed the ships, the citizens would bask beneath the Mediterranean sun, rapt in poetical composition or engaged in their mathematics. That's how it is with art.

Mere humans who root through their refrigerators at three o'clock in the morning are incapable of such writing.

And that includes me.--Haruki Murakami, Hear the Wind Singing (1979)

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Nagasawa 3

Easy to see the Thomas Mann influence on NW: Narrator Toru visits Naoko, the disturbed girl he's drawn to, at a sanitarium explicitly modeled on the TB clinic in "The Magic Mountain." (Toru is reading the novel during his visit and is scolded for bringing it with him "to a place like this.") As described, the village-style Ami Hostel, with its attractive bungalows, also recalls the B&B concentration camp in "The Prisoner." Leading up to a passage in which Toru and Naoko discuss Nagasawa.

"He sounds like a strange person," said Naoko.

"He is strange," I said.

"But you like him?"

"I'm not sure," I said. "I guess I can't say I like him. Nagasawa is beyond liking or not liking. He doesn't try to be liked. In that sense he's a very honest guy, even stoic. He doesn't try to fool anybody."

"'Stoic,' sleeping with all those girls? Now that is weird," said Naoko, laughing. "How many girls has he slept with?"

"It's probably up to eighty by now," I said. "But in his case, the higher the numbers go, the less each individual act seems to mean. Which is what I think he's trying to accomplish."

"And you call that 'stoic'?"

"For him it is."

Naoko thought about my words for a minute. "I think he's a lot sicker than I am."

"So do I," I said. "But he can put all his warped qualities into a logical system. He's brilliant. If you brought him here, he'd be out in two days. 'Oh, I know all that,' he'd say. 'I understand everything you're doing here.' He's that kind of guy. The kind people respect." (NW 110)
The phrase "putting all your warped qualities into a logical system" has a lot of resonance. It's what many people do now rather than seek truth with actual logic. Also, NTS, many applications to creative endeavors, such as writing novels.

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Friday, December 10, 2010

Nagasawa 2

"I don't give a damn about power and money per se. Really, I don't. I may be a selfish bastard, but I'm incredibly cool about shit like that. I could be a Zen saint. The one thing I do have, though, is curiosity. I want to see what I can do out there in the big, tough world."

"And you have no use for 'ideals', I suppose?"

"None. Life doesn't require ideals. It requires standards of action."

...

"Tell me, Nagasawa," I asked, "what is the 'standard of action' in your life?"

"You'll laugh if I tell you," he said.

"No I won't."

"All right," he said. "To be a gentleman."

I didn't laugh, but I nearly fell off my chair. "To be a gentleman? A gentleman?"

"You heard me."

"What does it mean to be a gentleman? How do you define it?"

"A gentleman is someone who does not what he wants to do but what he should do."

"You're the weirdest guy I've ever met."

"You're the straightest guy I've ever met," he said. And he paid for us both. (NW 55-56)

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Thursday, December 9, 2010

Nagasawa

The better I got to know Nagasawa, the stranger he seemed. I had met a lot of weird people in my day, but none as strange as Nagasawa. He was a far more voracious reader than me, but he made it a rule never to touch a book by any author who had not been dead at least 30 years. “That’s the only kind of book I can trust,” he said.

“It’s not that I don’t believe in contemporary literature,” he added, “but I don’t want to waste valuable time reading any book that has not had the baptism of time. Life is too short.”

“What kind of authors do you like?” I asked, speaking in respectful tones to this man two years my senior.

“Balzac, Dante, Joseph Conrad, Dickens,” he answered without hesitation.

“Not exactly fashionable.”

“That’s why I read them. If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking. That’s the world of hicks and slobs.”-- Haruki Murakami, Norwegian Wood. Translated by Jay Rubin. pp 30-31.

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Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Monday, December 6, 2010

Finn Noir

Fans of the ultra-dry deapan humor of the Kaurismaki Brothers will not need to be convinced that the so-dreary-you-have-to-laugh nation of Finland would be a fertile breeding ground for noir crime stories. Now a small publishing company in the American Midwest (where else but in Minnasocold?) has begun specializing very narrowly in permafrost fiction. It goes without saying that they need the support of all right-thinking readers. Plus, the stuff sounds pretty good.

Here's the International Crime Fiction write-up. They also play the Kaurismaki card.

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Friday, December 3, 2010

Cool quote...

..about the author of True Grit:

"Charles Portis could be Cormac McCarthy if he wanted to, but he'd rather be funny." -- Roy Blount, Jr.

"Wharton will be looking for you."
"If he is not careful he will find me."
Donna Tartt, in her afterword to the movie tie-in edition:
Like Huckleberry Finn (or The Catcher in the Rye, or even the Bertie and Jeeves stories for that matter) True Grit is a monologue, and the great, abiding pleasure of it that compels the reader to return to it again and again is Mattie's voice. No living Southern writer captures the spoken idioms of the South as artfully as Portis does; but though in all his novels (including those set in the current day) Portis shows his deep understanding of place, True Grit also masters the more complicated subtleties of time. Mattie, having survived her youthful adventure, is recounting her story as an old woman, and Portis is such a genius of a literary mimic that the book reads less like a novel than a first-hand account: the Wild West of the 1870s, as recollected in a spinster's memory and filtered through the sedate sepia tones of the early 1900s. Mattie's narrative tone is naive, didactic, hard-headed, and completely lacking in self-consciousness - and, at times, unintentionally hilarious, rather in the manner of Daisy Ashford's The Young Visiters. And like The Young Visiters (which is largely delightful because it views the most absurd Victorian crotchets as obvious common sense), a great part of True Grit's charm is in Mattie's blasé view of frontier America. Shootings, stabbings, and public hangings are recounted frankly and flatly, and often with rather less warmth than the political and personal opinions upon which Mattie digresses. She quotes scripture; she explains and gives advice to the reader; her observations are often overlaid with a decorative glaze of Sunday-school piety. And her own very distinctive voice (blunt, unsentimental, yet salted with parlour platitudes) echoes throughout the reported speech of all the other characters - lawmen and outlaws alike - to richly comic effect, as when Rooster remarks austerely of a young prisoner he has brought back alive to stand trial: "I should have put a ball in that boy's head instead of his collarbone. I was thinking about my fee. You will sometimes let money interfere with your notion of what is right."
Ed Park appreciation from "The Believer."

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Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Without a muffler



C.I.: Adam Thornton, who writes a fervent appreciation.

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Monday, November 29, 2010

Reader's report

The first reader of the ms. of the first two volumes of Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy was Lasse Bergstrom, "the legendary publisher-in-chief of Nosredts ... who had published all sorts of writers from Sjowall and Wahloo to Ingmar Bergman. It was clear from his report that he had read all 1300 or so pages in scarcely five days..."

"What is new about Stieg Larsson in relation to Sjowall and Wahloo, Mankell, Edwardson and other successful Swedes in a genre with rather too many practitioners is that he has a kind of encyclopedic gift for literary tension and entertainment, and without any apparent effort can move between different planes of action with barely a noticeable change of gear. It is no coincidence that the two novels are long. Larsson is able to keep several plots going at the same time, and to bring all the threads together at the end. ... But what distinguishes Larsson's two novels definitely from Swedish predecessors in the genre in not just the quick-change feats but above all his choice of principle characters. The dogged journalist Blomqvist no doubt has literary forebears, but I find it hard to think of an equivalent of Lisbeth Salander anywhere else in the worlds of crime novels or films. ... Larsson portrays her with both tenderness and humor, and against all odds the way he does it becomes if not credible at least vigorous and absorbing."

Praise indeed from one of our leading publishers for over half a century, and a man well-read in crime fiction.
-- from Gedin, Eva. "Working With Stieg Larsson." From On Stieg Larsson, in the Steig Larsson's Millennium Trilogy Deluxe Boxed Set.

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Murakami on why writing is like running

This has some bearing on the recent Scarlett Thomas/Mary Gordon posts about the practical hand work of creativity. From What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.

Writing novels, to me, is basically a kind of manual labor. Writing itself is mental labor, but finishing an entire book is closer to manual labor. It doesn’t involve heavy lifting, running fast, or leaping high. Most people, though, only see the surface reality of writing and think of writers as involved in quiet, intellectual work done in their study. If you have the strength to lift a coffee cup, they figure, you can write a novel. But once you try your hand at it, you soon find that it isn’t as peaceful a job as it seems.

The whole process—sitting at your desk, focusing your mind like a laser beam, imagining something out of a blank horizon, creating a story, selecting the right words, one by one, keeping the whole flow of the story on track—requires far more energy, over a long period, than most people ever imagine. You might not move your body around, but there’s grueling, dynamic labor going on inside you. Everybody uses their mind when they think. But a writer puts on an outfit called narrative and thinks with his entire being, and for the novelist that process requires putting into play all your physical reserve, often to the point of overexertion.

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Sunday, November 28, 2010

Tulkinghorn's retirement: Not without reason....

The Tulkinghorn project, if you will, always had psychological pitfalls -- a mask that looked so much like my own face might become hard to pull off. Turned out to be true, much to my own chagrin and David's, and the constant irritation of maintaining the high-minded yet charmless role was not only not fun, but damaging to a number of things I cared about.

Be that as it may, I came across in the most recent issue of the New Yorker (11/29/10 not available on line except on the other side of an unscalable wall) an astonishing essay by James Wood that forcefully threw all that back at me. Thus, this: the first of probably many Tulkinghorn farewell tours.

Wood writes at length about Keith Moon and Wood's own love of drumming. (This was a bit like finding out that Proust was a baseball fan.) Wood writes as well and with as much technical facility about the differences between The Who and Led Zepplin as he does about Saul Bellow and Franz Kafka.

Reading this excerpt from a much longer autobiographical paragraph felt like having my face slammed into a wall. Speaks for itself, I think:

Nowadays, I see schoolkids bustling along the sidewalk, their large instrument cases strapped to them like coffins, and I know the weight of their obedience. Happy obedience, too: that cello or French horn brings lasting joy, and a repertoire more demanding and subtle than rock music's. But fuck the laudable ideologies, as Roth's Mickey Sabbath puts it: subtlety is not rebellion, and subtlety is not freedom, and it is rebellious freedom that one wants, and, most of the time, only rock music can deliver it. And sometimes one despises oneself, in near middle-age, for being so good.

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Friday, November 26, 2010

"Our Tragic Universe"

"We only need fiction because we die."

"...aphrenia, the perception of meaningful connections where in fact there are none." -- Scarlett Thomas

(A key concept for fiction. But while the word is real, the definition appears to be, itself, fictional:

"Aphrenia - uh-FREE-knee-uh - Aphrenia refers to a slowness of thought, or (more precisely) a stoppage of thought. Patients with Parkinson's Disease often report that while they're off their meds, they find that they think at a snail's pace, or not at all. Likewise, some patients with severe dementia have presumably lost the ability to think (though of course we can't be certain since we can't really ask them). This distinction is vital--aphrenia is not an inability to express thought, but an inability to think. Though Parkinson's patients sometimes suffer from a slowness of thought, others think just fine, but cannot express their thoughts because of their movement disorders. The former have aphrenia; the latter do not, and must not be mistaken for people who have completely lost the ability to think or understand what's happening to them.)

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Screeners

On the general moral/ethical questions raised by watching screeners I offer only two notes. First, a sidelong glance at the Indian minority religion of Jainism, which "evokes images of monks wearing face-masks to protect insects and micro-organisms from being inhaled." Second, a link to an earlier post about a staunch vegetarian who occasionally makes exceptions.

Give thanks for the bounty of the season.

BLACK SWAN The horror of heightened body-consciousness among masochistically emaciated workaholic ballet dancers. Acutely aware of bones and muscles moving under the skin, often accompanied by creaking, crackling sound effects. As one of the dancers descends into madness this feels less like Lynch or Cronenberg than the ruthless young Polanski of Repulsion. Highly effective but almost too creepy to be fun to watch.

LET ME IN Shouldn't have to hype the results in a particular case to argue that comparing several adaptations of interesting material is a worthwhile exercise. The story created by novelist John Alvide Lindqvist in Låt den rätte komma in became the moody Swedish movie Let the Right One In, admired mostly for what it refrained from doing by people who don't often enjoy horror pictures. Now the story of the soulful vampire girl ("I've been 12 for a long time"), bonding with a bullied boy in a snowy apartment complex, has been adapted again, with more swoop and dazzle but with somewhat less heart and impact, by wiz kid Matt Reeves (Cloverfield), who refrains a good deal less. The US rendition is as good as the first, but not better, and the variations are not significant. Both films elide what I liked best in the book: a detailed new life cycle for the vampire that makes the familiar phenomena more or less hang together.

RED HILL See below.

THE SOCIAL NETWORK Not prepared for how little the movie actually has to do with Facebook; why people like it, how they use it. Except for the note that it was a geek/outsider's frustrated observation of college mores that led to the breakthrough that "relationship status" was the key variable. In terms of running time, the movie is mostly a series of deposition hearings, in two lawsuits, with amplifying flashbacks; meetings in which issues of collaboration, intellectual property and the moral right to claim authorship are hashed over. (When many people contribute, how do you isolate the defining contribution?) In dramatic terms it's about watching somebody build something that grows and grows until it becomes so huge that a bunch of other people are driven to try to destroy it. It's the Fountainhead of the Internet.

WINTER'S BONE Heard this one described as "arty," recently, when it seems to me it's the deadpan/declarative antithesis of the fancy schmanciness that implies. Director Debra Granik'a uninflected naturalism is applied to a hillbilly-noir detective story, by Daniel Woodrell, set in the clannish, meth-cooking Ozarks. Both film and novel are textbook examples of how the framework of a genre story can be used to chart a path through complex material, to open up an exotic milieu. The ambiguous "solution" to the central mystery reveals something about the code these seemingly feral people live by that could not easily be made apparent by other means. Perfectly calibrated performances by Jennifer Lawrence, a local discovery, and by Deadwood's John Hawkes as the terrifying, surprisingly righteous Uncle Teardrop.

WASN'T ABLE TO GET THROUGH: Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll (flailing chaos), Stone (too much glum De Niro, not enough naked Milla Jovovich). And the hyped 127 Hours is inconsequential; it didn't succeed in convincing me there was real drama in these events beyond the news mag sensationalism.

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Thursday, November 25, 2010

Pop of King: "Best Films of 2010"

10. Green Zone
9. Jackass 3D
8. Monsters
7. Splice
6. Kick-Ass
5. Takers ("the armored-car heist is the best action sequence I’ve seen this year”)
4. The Social Network
3. Inception
2. The Town
1. Let Me In ("best horror film of the decade")

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Covering the Chairman

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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Playlist: "Artist's Choice - Elvis Costello"

1. Let's Do It (Let's Fall in Love)- Louis Armstrong
2. I Love the Life I Live (I Live the Life I Love) - Muddy Waters
3. Yesterdays - Clifford Brown
4. You Ain't Livin' Till You're Lovin' - Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell
5. Oh Well, Pt. 1 - Fleetwood Mac
6. Do Right Woman, Do Right Man - Aretha Franklin
7. The Last Time I Saw Richard - Joni Mitchell
8. Tears of Rage - The Band
9. I'm a Mess - Nick Lowe
10. Mr. Fool - George Jones
11. Over Time - Lucinda Williams
12. Does He Love You? - Rilo Kiley
13. I Don't Want to Hear It Anymore - Dusty Springfield
14. Real Emotional Girl - Randy Newman
15. Almost Blue - Diana Krall
16. Peace Like a River - Paul Simon
17. The Love You Save (May Be Your Own) - Joe Tex
18. Bring the Boys Home - Freda Payne

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Sunday, November 21, 2010

Music Some Old Guys Like



Cool YouTube comment: "What's with all the teenagers? Was he singing at his granddaughter's birthday party?"

Album reviewed by, of all people, Armond White: "The only cultural equivalent to Olympia’s voluptuous depth is Godard’s late, metaphysical film features where his observation of modern politics, society and art prove the mysteries of the cosmos."

UPDATE: The glow on this one wore off faster than I expected. There are several very good Roxy Music songs, here, but...we already have quite a few of those. No pressing need for another album's worth. Something like that.

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Saturday, November 20, 2010

Larsson on Larsson

WSJ has excerpts from e-mails Stieg Larsson sent to his editor, published in advance of a new book in which they appear. Larsson emerges from these extracts as thoughtful and self-aware, more so, at least, than some of his detractors have allowed. In the absence on any evidence one way or the other, some readers and critics have seemed oddly invested in the notion that when it came to fiction this 30-year veteran professional writer was a clumsy primitive barreling along heedlessly. Implications drawn from the text can then be dismissed as accidental and inadvertently "revealing."

If Larsson's characters prove to be as durable as I think they will, an investment at some point in a new or revised translation might be worthwhile. There have been complaints from Sweden already that the current (British) translations tidy up Larsson's earthy language tpp much, and add tedious explanations to accounts of political events, presumably deemed to be over the heads of non-Swedish readers.

NB: Our observation that each of the three Millennium volumes falls into a different crime fiction sub-genre (locked room, political thriller, courtroom drama) is nicely echoed in the final graph.

C.I: Tulkinghorn.

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Thursday, November 18, 2010

Not about a cake.

"You better cut it now, because if you let it cool, goddamit, it won't be worth a damn." -- Sonny Boy Williamson

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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Poshlost

A key concept

INTERVIEWER - What is most characteristic of poshlust in contemporary writing? Are there temptations for you in the sin of poshlust? Have you ever fallen?

NABOKOV - “Poshlust,” or in a better transliteration poshlost, has many nuances, and evidently I have not described them clearly enough in my little book on Gogol, if you think one can ask anybody if he is tempted by poshlost. Corny trash, vulgar clichés, Philistinism in all its phases, imitations of imitations, bogus profundities, crude, moronic, and dishonest pseudo-literature—these are obvious examples. Now, if we want to pin down poshlost in contemporary writing, we must look for it in Freudian symbolism, moth-eaten mythologies, social comment, humanistic messages, political allegories, overconcern with class or race, and the journalistic generalities we all know. Poshlost speaks in such concepts as “America is no better than Russia” or “We all share in Germany's guilt.”

The flowers of poshlost bloom in such phrases and terms as "the moment of truth," "charisma," "existential" (used seriously), "dialogue" (as applied to political talks between nations), and “vocabulary” (as applied to a dauber). Listing in one breath Auschwitz, Hiroshima, and Vietnam is seditious poshlost. Belonging to a very select club (which sports one Jewish name—that of the treasurer) is genteel poshlost. Hack reviews are frequently poshlost, but it also lurks in certain highbrow essays. Poshlost calls Mr. Blank a great poet and Mr. Bluff a great novelist. One of poshlost's favorite breeding places has always been the Art Exhibition; there it is produced by so-called sculptors working with the tools of wreckers, building crankshaft cretins of stainless steel, Zen stereos, polystyrene stinkbirds, objects trouvés in latrines, cannonballs, canned balls. There we admire the gabinetti wall patterns of so-called abstract artists, Freudian surrealism, roric smudges, and Rorschach blots—all of it as corny in its own right as the academic “September Morns” and “Florentine Flowergirls” of half a century ago. The list is long, and, of course, everybody has his bête noire, his black pet, in the series. Mine is that airline ad: the snack served by an obsequious wench to a young couple—she eyeing ecstatically the cucumber canapé, he admiring wistfully the hostess. And, of course, "Death in Venice." You see the range.
"And of course..."

More here

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Themetic

One of the things I like about Mary Gordon's novel "Spending" is its emphasis on the day-to-day aspects of a creative process. "I have a show at a major gallery in six months, so I need a subject for a series of paintings."

A similar note from Stephen King, who says he rarely thinks about the "themes" of his stories; that a recitation of plot is often his only response when someone asks him what a book is "about." ("It's about a guy who ...") Thinking about theme is only helpful, he says, when he gets stuck and doesn't know what should happen next. Formulating the theme can help him generate new developments.

Which is not say that all big name writers who gas on about the importance of their themes are blowing smoke. Only most.

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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Judd Apatow on "The Future of Content"

On the Joys of Access
I was at this restaurant, and the waitress walked up to me and said, "I was an interrogator in Iraq, and we watched all your movies, and it really made our lives better ... We really needed the break." And it was just this fantastic thing that we can watch and download these things over there.

On His Twitter Life
Right before bed I will [post] a picture of how horrendous I look. I'll say, "How do I look?" and people will insult me for 20 minutes. I sit in bed laughing. I'm deliriously joyful at this weird, instant connection with the crowd.

On Piracy
It doesn't [bother me] because I can't be the guy who's like Scrooge: "I must get every nickel of this." Maybe a lot of people wouldn't watch a movie or listen to music if it weren't free. By the end of high school, I had maybe 50 albums, and my kid has hundreds and hundreds of records and songs.

More here

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Monday, November 15, 2010

The ex Tweets...

"Patrick hughes' Red Hill aussie western starring true blood's ryan kwanten is quite good. A lean mean unpretentious b-movie."

I only need six characters to say: "Agreed."

A well-executed genre piece like "Red Hill" is the exact movie equivalent of a blues song, working changes on the conventions of a rigidly constrained form.

The relevant Warshow quote describes the Western as "an art form for connoisseurs, where the spectator derives his pleasure from the appreciation of minor variations within the working out of an established order."

Subtlety is not a priority. The Ryan Kwanten character here is named "Shane Cooper," to forestall any doubt about what he (somewhat ironically) represents.

Shane'e nemesis, a hideously burn-scarred aboriginal behemoth, resembles both the implacable avenging redskin in "The Stalking Moon" (one of the last Hollywood Westerns in which an Indian represented uninflected evil) and megalithic slasher Golems such as Michael Myers.

Note, however, that he is also equipped with a billowing duster overcoat and a twangy, Morricone-esque guitar theme, which are hero markers. No Brownie points for anticipating the Politically Correct third act plot reversal.

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Sounds good...

Cognitive scientist, musicologist and former rock musician Daniel J. Levitin describes what happens when a Bell Labs researcher named John R. Pierce, who sounds a little (shall we say?) unworldly, asks Levitan to select a few songs and "explain rock music to him."

Pierce listened and kept asking who these people were, what instruments he was hearing, and how they came to sound the way they did. Mostly, he said he liked the timbres of the music. The songs themselves and the rhythms didn't interest him that much, but he found the timbres to be remarkable -- new, unfamiliar and exciting. ... Timbre was what defined rock for Pierce, and it was a revelation to both of us.
Elsewhere Levitan defines timbre ("a kind of tonal color produced in part by overtones from the instrument's vibrations") as everything about the way music sounds that isn't melody, harmony, or rythmn -- in effect, as everything that isn't strictly "musical." Quite an insight. It helps explain why a particular recorded performance of a song becomes definitive in rock in a way that isn't true (or not to the same degree) of jazz or classical pieces. And it helps solidify rock's position as the favorite music of the non-musical.

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Thursday, November 11, 2010

Beeootyful

Guillermo del Toro addresses the dwindling art film audience during a "Biutiful" panel discussion at the Academy: “You want to buy, I don’t know, your free-range fucking organic chicken. Well guess what, you are about to run out of free-range fucking organic film.”

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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Benchmarks...

First novels with series characters (Rene Shade & Jack Irish, respectively) by authors who have since become more ambitious -- not by writing longer or abandoning genre formats, but by digging deeper and writing better.

They have a fair amount in common. Both are very firmly rooted in a distinctive, rough locale (the Ozarks, Southeastern Australia) and are intimately aware of distinctions of neighborhood, dialect, clan and family, favoring the sort of claustrophobically close-knit communities in which all the characters seem to be at least distantly related. Both are mas macho sports aficionados, Woodrell steeped in the lore and legend of boxing, Temple of horse racing. (Temple also writes the best descriptions of dogs I think I've ever read.) And both have compressed and rich prose styles designed to make those settings seem dense and menacing.

That, and the fact that their most recent novels (here and here) are innovative eye-openers, right up there with the best of Kate Atkinson.

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Monday, November 8, 2010

Almost as wonderful as Rilo Kiley

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Friday, November 5, 2010

HG now "Hungry Guggenheim"

(Less famous brother of Jackie Gleason Show character Crazy Guggenheim.)

A friend notes that HG and the Guggenheim are glancingly on the same page in endorsing a certain innovative (and to some infuriating) video production. Scroll down to number seven in the museums's honor roll of "the most unique, innovative, groundbreaking video work being created and distributed online during the past two years."

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Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Chairman Bob...

...said on a show I listened to recently that there is no such thing as too much Van Morrison. Alas, one of the side-effects of the vigorous policing of intellectual property rights (in this case by the justly foundering MGM) is that The Man won't allow us to embed the clip from "The Last Waltz" picturized below.


There is this, however.



And this, a "trad" Irish heart-render that turned up on a recent episode of "Boardwalk Empire."

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French crime fiction

"International Noir Fiction," a site recently added to our links list, is worth exploring in depth. Here's a post from 2005.

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Chairman Bob at his best..



A non-post. Not from Tulk. Who is no longer blogging.

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Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Self aware...

Self-consciousness is said to be a horror, a crippling affliction to be avoided at all costs. On the other hand, it seems to be true that becoming self-conscious is a turning point in the process of becoming a writer. Stepping back and seeing (and hearing) the work as others will. I've spoken with several scribes who described the effect of a tough editor in making them understand that writing a first draft is not writing. That being able to judge if what you've written actually communicates what you intend is a key step toward becoming a professional -- which also means, turning play into work. First you fool around, then you fix it.

A professor at the School that employs me was talking the other day about the student theatrical productions that are venturing off the campus this year for short runs at public venues such as The New LATC. I wondered if their teachers had any anxiety about exposing their students to that kind of pressure. "That's the attitude of an amateur," he said. "We're training professionals."

Even writers who regard themselves as professionals seem to think of their obligations differently. The code of honor that some tough-guy writers adhere to enthrones efficiency, expunging every unnecessary word. The professionalism of some commercial writers revolves around productivity: a column every two days, a book a year. And not only commercial writers think this way: like many of our 19th century favorites, Roberto Boloño, who I've been looking at again, wrote his "art novels" very quickly, partly to fulfil his responsibilities as a family man. Did he intentionally adopt an approach to the novel that would benefit rather than suffer from being cranked out at a dead run, a virtue-of-necessity move that soon became second nature?

From Boloño's 100%-reliable Wikipedia bio:

In an interview Bolaño said that he began writing fiction because he felt responsible for the future financial well-being of his family, which he knew he could never secure from the earnings of a poet. This was confirmed by Jorge Herralde, who explained that Bolaño "abandoned his parsimonious beatnik existence" because the birth of his son in 1990 made him "decide that he was responsible for his family's future and that it would be easier to earn a living by writing fiction."

...

In [Rodrigo] Fresán's ... view he "was one of a kind, a writer who worked without a net, who went all out, with no brakes, and in doing so, created a new way to be a great Latin American writer."

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Monday, November 1, 2010

Hello and au revoir


Back from Paris.

The release from responsibility was so sweet that I've decided to extend it in whatever way I can. I'm taking a sabbatical from direct blogging duties.

I'll continue to comment but, with thanks for the opportunity, will step back from an active role for the time being.

The Louvre has a painting of an earlier incarnation of Tulkinghorn.......

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Sunday, October 31, 2010

Art & Science

Don't know comic book artist and illustrator Dave McKean's work at all well, but the sentiments expressed in this interview are intriguing. (I've had thoughts like this myself and then, on alternate Mondays, shrugged them off as pretentious crap.)

Do you see it as a story of questions, or of answers? Should a good story be one or the other?

Dave McKean: I’m chasing answers. I think the point to a story, or any creative endeavor really, is to work through your questions and try and reach some sort of conclusion. Even if it’s oblique, or fragmented, or confusing, I see the purpose of creative endeavor as a process of offering the world a point of view. Others can agree or not, or elaborate on your work, but in that sense, I don’t see that art is any different from science. We build our knowledge of the world by constantly offering possible answers, or visions of the world, and pass the baton on to the next generation.
Some will gratified to learn that McKean's next project is with arch-atheist Richard Dawkins.

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Saturday, October 30, 2010

The family business...


Latest well-reviewed publication means the pressure is now solidly on the off-spring, and the offspring's offspring, to follow suit.

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Friday, October 29, 2010

Cool interview...

...with "Winter's Bone" novelist Daniel Woodrell:

Dustin Atkinson: We mentioned Faulkner earlier. I’d like to ask you about a quote from a previous interview in which you said, "I like lean books as it is the bloat of a novel, all the essayic fat, that rots and becomes misshapen over time." All of your novels are very lean.

Daniel Woodrell: It’s just my natural aesthetic taste. So often you pick up a prize-winning novel of 1957 and you say, "There’s a good novel in here, somewhere," but they’ve had to add every detail and all that stuff has gone out of focus. It’s not very interesting anymore. We all know this now. It must have seemed fresher at the time. But I’m not given to much essay in my fiction anyway. And it’s true, I seldom read a book that’s four or five hundred pages long.

DA: So you don’t often read sprawling novels such as "War and Peace" or "Gravity’s Rainbow"?

DW: I give them a shot. I used to like a lot of writers who specialized in those. Hell, James Jones, even some of his are a thousand pages. But now, I’m cutting in my head as I go along. I hear a lot of writers say this, that they’re cutting in their head as they read. It’s almost a different sensibility. I have a writer friend who tends to write longer works. They always call it being more ambitious, which I resent, because sometimes those writers aren’t making the difficult decisions of what needs to be there and what doesn’t. That’s what makes writing hard. Leaving everything, letting the readers decide what’s good, those are the choices I want the artist to make.

UPDATE: Complete Woodrell short story in "Esquire."

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Thursday, October 28, 2010

Superer-star

"The Hindu" embraces Tamil titan Rajnikanth, "the highest paid actor in Asia after Jackie Chan."

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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

More discomfort...

It's been a while since David Bordwell was linked or quoted here. But this snippet from a recent post is too perfect, directly relevant to certain recent discussions.

The Chinese blockbuster "Aftershock," centering on the 1976 earthquake that struck Tangshan, has earned some complaints about weepiness and jokes about "afterschlock." Perhaps melodrama makes many critics uncomfortable. They seem more at home with comedy and noirish crime stories, perhaps because the emotions stirred by these are bracketed by a degree of intellectual distance. But tell a story about a happy family split apart by a catastrophe; show a mother forced to choose between saving her son and saving her daughter; show that the girl miraculously escapes death; present her raised by a pair of new parents; and dwell on the fact that her mother, living elsewhere, expects never to see her again—do all this, and you court mockery.

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Monday, October 25, 2010

Chairman Bob on Narrative

"We recognize what a great performer [Porter Wagoner] was and we salute his artistry. Here's one of his most popular songs. Spent 19 weeks on the charts and reached number two. It's a great example of how you can tell a complete short story in a little over two minutes."

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Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Manga Rule

The Code of the West in manga fan circles is that "scanlated" fan translations are only offered online when the work has not yet been picked up for distribution in the US. When a deal is struck and Viz or Dar Horse announces that an American edition is on the way, the work comes down. As a guide to dealing with ethical questions related to downloading material from the Internet, "the manga rule" offers a serviceable approach.

In which spirit allow us to recommend a new work by the great Naoki Urasawa, "Billy Bat," which is being posted, at least for the time being, on mange fan sites like this one.

This new series by the creator of "Monster" and "20th Century Boys" is manga-metafiction. Envisioning the comic book work of the story's central character, Kevin Yamagata, a Japanese-American artist working for "Marble Comics" in the U.S., gives Urasawa an opportunity to work in a completely different style from his fairly naturalistic norm -- basically a funny-animal partiche of a classic hard boiled private-eye tale. At some point, Yamagata himself becomes the protagonist, traveling to Japan to combat charges of plagerism, and Uraswa's style reverts to his very satisfying and expressive dramatic mode.

Don't forget to read from right to left.

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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Thailand rules

"Its all about the girls for you guys..." -- Tulkinghorn

Case in point:

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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Headline of the young century

This has to retire the prize:

"Canadian Military Officer Exposed as a Cross-Dressing Serial Killer"

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Friday, October 15, 2010

I'm not the only one...

The great television critic Charlie Booker is giving up his Guardian column:

Cool quotes:

So why quit now? ....mostly because 11 years of essentially rewriting the phrase "X is an arsehole haw haw haw" over and over until you hit the 650-word limit is enough for anyone.

See, I was never a proper critic. In my head, a "proper critic" is an intellectually rigorous individual with an encyclopaedic knowledge of their specialist subject and an admirably nerdy compulsion to dissect, compare and analyse each fresh offering in the field – not in a bid to mindlessly entertain the reader, but to further humankind's collective understanding of the arts. True critics are witty rather than abusive, smart rather than smart-arsed, contemplative rather than extrovert. I, on the other hand, was chiefly interested in making the reader laugh.....

I was quite bafflingly angry. For instance, these days – to pick a random example – Jamie Cullum strikes me as a harmless, twinkly eyed, happy sort of chap. But back in 2004 the mere sight of him on an episode of Parkinson sent me into an apocalyptic tailspin.

"Cullum should be sealed inside a barrel and kicked into the ocean," I declared, before going on to label him "an oily, sickening worm-boy … if I ever have to see this gurning little maggot clicking into faux reverie mode again – rising from his seat to jazz-slap the top of his piano wearing a fake-groove expression on his piggish little face – if I have to witness that one more time I'm going to rise up and kill absolutely everybody in the world, starting with him and ending with me."

Shortly after that article appeared I read a short Me And My Spoon-type interview with Cullum in London's Metro newspaper in which he seemed cheerily bemused as to what he'd done to provoke such fury.

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Thursday, October 14, 2010

Brings tears of joy and astonishment

I don't really understand why I am so affected by this.... Global Genie takes you from place to place by randomly accessing photos on Google Earth.

A bit of farmland in Sweden, a house in a village in the South of France, a suburban street outside Rome....

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Storyteller first...

UPDATE: TOH raves about "Let Me In," and offers several possible explanations for its failure to reach an audience -- including this:

It boasts the year’s best score. One reason that I didn’t expect so many of the Sneak Previews crowd to bolt was that I had seen the film before the preview, without the score by last year’s Oscar-winner Michael Giacchino ("Lost," "Up"), which upped the dread and intensity quite a few notches. The film moves from delicate interludes with two young people learning to love each other to brutal school bullying and horrifying, animal-like vampire attacks, as well as what looks like the pathologically methodical murders of a serial killer (Richard Jenkins).
"Lost" and Pixar composer Michael Giacchino is an HG (or at least a Chute) favorite. An interview published today as part of a multi-article salute in Variety, offers a clue to his appeal.
[Giacchino says] he's a storyteller first and a musician second.

"As a film composer, your job is not to write music," he says, "your job is to tell a story. I went to film school, and I have a fascination with the process, so it's very important to me that everything works together. It's not about what I'm doing; it's about what this piece of art needs to help propel it to the next level."

...

"He understands character and structure," says director J.J. Abrams. "So while it's wonderful to work with him as a composer, I give him the scripts in advance and get his comments and notes and show him cuts and scenes and rough cuts of the whole piece, just to get his reaction."

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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Immortal Doctor

Not a surprise:

A passing comment in a children's television programme later this month is set to rewrite history and cast the Doctor, iconic hero of the world's most successful and longest-running science fiction series, as immortal.

The moment comes in the CBBC spin-off show, The Sarah Jane Adventures, which stars former companion Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith. Matt Smith, who plays the current Doctor Who, guest stars in a two-part episode called The Death of the Doctor, to be screened on October 25 and 26. While the Doctor and Clyde Langer, played by Daniel Anthony, are in the process of outwitting spooky vulture undertakers the Shansheeth, Clyde asks how many times he can regenerate. The Doctor indicates that there is no limit. The action continues.

Fans of the show have been expecting an official moving of the goalposts for some time, but it was anticipated as part of the Christmas special, rather than in an after-school slot on the CBBC channel.

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Sunday, October 10, 2010

Utah in November

Road trip?

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Soloman Burke 1940-2010

A Chairman Bob favorite.

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Thursday, October 7, 2010

Kindle for Drunks

Elif Batuman writes in the Guardian about impulsively buying books while drunk:

Reading Agatha Christie novels now, as a drunk person, with impaired judgment, lowered cognitive capacity, and decreased short-term memory, I no longer try to guess the killer's identity in advance. When I was 11, I was constantly trying to outthink Poirot, with miserable results. This added an unpleasant degree of tension to the reading process. Now, my pleasure in Christie is entirely passive. I know I can't solve the mystery, and why should I? Possibly because of my chemically acquired poor short-term memory – drinking, I realise, makes you old – I have also grown to enjoy the stereotypical characters.

For the past few months, with the exception of work-related books, I have barely read anything at all except Poirot novels. When I'm sober, this worries me a bit. I recently confided this worry to a colleague, who, in an attempt to make me feel better, pointed out that, in the greater scheme, drunk-dialing Agatha Christie isn't such a terrible vice. "You could be on Ebay, buying sectional sofas," she observed ... The prospect troubled me for the rest of the afternoon. But at the end of the day, when I uncorked a $7 bottle of Viognier and turned on the Kindle, a wave of well-being washed over me. I opened up Death in the Clouds, in which Poirot investigates the death of a wicked Paris money lender, in an aeroplane, by poison-tipped dart. Luxuriating in the measured accumulation of banal small talk and abstruse clues, I reflected comfortably that I had still only read 32 of the 34 Hercule Poirot novels. What problem awaits me next? Time will tell.

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Mario Vargas Llosa

News from Stockholm about one of HG's favorite writers.

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Tuesday, October 5, 2010

You can too cavort.



There has been a certain amount of off-line scoffing at my (I thought rather touchingly vulnerable) admission below that I dance to minimalist music.

Seems to be more than me, as we see in this morning's Wall Street Journal in a review of a couple of new records of music by Arvo Pärt and Steve Reich:

Minimalist music developed in the U.S. during the 1960s as an alternative to the complexities of academic serialism on the one hand, and "chance" music on the other. Mr. Reich quickly became one of its leading proponents, creating energizing works with simple, repetitive melodic riffs and percolating rhythms that invite toe-tapping or dancing (at least in my apartment). He wanted to write tonal music that reflected the steady beat of modern city life.....

"Double Sextet," an irresistible 22-minute workout for flute, clarinet, vibraphone, piano, violin and cello, was commissioned by Eighth Blackbird. In 2009, it won Mr. Reich a long-overdue Pulitzer Prize. The second movement has a languid, nostalgic theme over quiet piano chords that summons images of accordion players serenading patrons at cafes in pre-World War II Europe. The members of Eighth Blackbird, founded in 1996 at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, communicate that segment's bittersweet undercurrent with the same fervor they bring to the virtuosic outer movements.
I saw eighth blackbird (they prefer lower case) a couple of summers ago at the Ojai Festival perform, with others, both "Double Sextet" and "Music for Eighteen Musicians" (and "Pierrot Lunaire") Watching people at that level of skill do something which is both very hard and infectiously joyful can change your life...

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Monday, October 4, 2010

Thoughts of Chairman Bob

"You know, we've gotten a bunch of e-mails, people saying they don't like gospel music. Mostly they say they don't like it because of the subject matter. They don't want to hear religious music. Let me just point out, you can just listen to it as music. The beautiful part of it is that the people singing believe it so much. Anytime people sing about what they believe, it elevates it. You don't have to be a junkie to enjoy the Velvet Underground's song 'Heroin.' You don't have to have horns and a pitchfork to enjoy 'Sympathy for the Devil,' but it does help. The thing is, it's all music, and when the people believe what they're singing it's just that much better."
-- Bob Dylan, "Theme Time Radio Hour," Season 2, Episode 19, February 20, 2008

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Friday, October 1, 2010

Lists of dos and don'ts for purist fiction writers

Scarlet Thomas, celebrated below, worked with some writer buds in England around the turn of the century on this Dogme-like list of strictures:

LITERARY PURITANS MANIFESTO

1. Primarily storytellers, we are dedicated to the narrative form.

2. We are prose writers and recognise that prose is the dominant form of expression. For this reason we shun poetry and poetic licence in all its forms.

3. While acknowledging the value of genre fiction, whether classical or modern, we will always move towards new openings, rupturing existing genre expectations.

4. We believe in textual simplicity and vow to avoid all devices of voice: rhetoric, authorial asides.

5. In the name of clarity, we recognise the importance of temporal linearity and eschew flashbacks, dual temporal narratives and foreshadowing.

6. We believe in grammatical purity and avoid any elaborate punctuation.

7. We recognise that published works are also historical documents. As fragments of our time, all our texts are dated and set in the present day. All products, places, artists and objects named are real.

8. As faithful representation of the present, our texts will avoid all improbable or unknowable speculations on the past or the future.

9. We are moralists, so all texts feature a recognisable ethical reality.

10. Nevertheless, our aim is integrity of expression, above and beyond any commitment to form.
A "Guardian" critic misinterpreted these rules as an arrow pointing straight to Raymond Carver-esque minimalist constipation. I look to the Godfather of Pulp Fiction for their true antecedents.

I disagree strongly only with 5 and 7. I love the timeline tricks in the extremely unpretentious crime novels of Richard Stark and the ingenious fake product names in the films of Quentin Tarantino. I'm not puritanical enough to want to purge those delights.

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What I actually like when I'm not trying to make some point

Since my relative youth in New York in the eighties, I have had a visceral love for the tonal minimalists: Glass, Reich, Adams, Nyman (Although Adams really doesn't belong on that list, he did in the eighties...) Especially Michael Nyman, whose music, if I'm alone, can make me cavort. Yes. Cavort and sing along..... (Sorry if the image offends, but we're among friends here.) Anyway here he is with his group performing something from the soundtrack for "A Zed and Two Naughts" - music which accompanied, if I remember, a time lapse sequence of a decaying zebra. (One cool note: it turns into something almost like a tango towards the middle... That's a cafe I'd love to visit.)

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Critical density award

Getting into black hole territory here with Adam Roberts reviewing the new Scarlett Thomas (slipstream Brit beginning to make a noise) novel, Our Tragic Universe:

This stuff is really neither new nor particularly profound. It goes back at least as far as Aristophanes, whose great plays Frogs and Thesmaphoriazusae are amongst other things expert interrogations of the relative merits and functions of heroically idealising versus deflatingly "realistic" art. Thomas makes quite a play with Aristophanes' Aeschylean-Euripidean standoff in Our Tragic Universe ("tragic," you see). I'll come back to that. But this theme, of the cleavage between the shape "art" gives experiences and the messy continguity and shapelessness of life, has been behind some of the greatest literature in the European tradition. It's what Don Quixote is about; it's the ground of all the playful shenanigans in Tristram Shandy (I was often put in mind of this novel when reading Our Tragic Universe, actually); Northanger Abbey plays it for laughs, sort-of; Proust made it his great theme; so did David Foster Wallace.
I count eight classic references in six sentences. No dead white guys problem with our Adam.

(David's been after me to post some thoughts about Thomas's previous book "The End of Mr Y", which I'm reading and enjoying hugely. Someday... but I will point out that the uses she makes of the same devices as Inception (four years before the fact) could be taught in schools as case study of why books are better for you than movies...)

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Thursday, September 30, 2010

The most baffling propaganda campaign in history

Written by Richard Curtis. Just watch it. No pressure. (The final scene is especially fine.... the one at the very end, after the tag)



UPDATE:

Strange behavior:

The creators have made the video private -- which is a shame, since although I find it probably the worst effort ever to gain public support for something, (and although I'm on the other side of the argument) I admire their spirit and their willingness (in fact, desire) to offend.

Mr. Curtis: Bring down that wall!

SPOILER ALERT:

Sez the Guardian:

"Doing nothing about climate change is still a fairly common affliction, even in this day and age. What to do with those people, who are together threatening everybody's existence on this planet? Clearly we don't really think they should be blown up, that's just a joke for the mini-movie, but maybe a little amputating would be a good place to start?" jokes 10:10 founder and Age of Stupid film maker Franny Armstrong.

But why take such a risk of upsetting or alienating people, I ask her: "Because we have got about four years to stabilise global emissions and we are not anywhere near doing that. All our lives are at threat and if that's not worth jumping up and down about, I don't know what is."

"We 'killed' five people to make No Pressure – a mere blip compared to the 300,000 real people who now die each year from climate change," she adds.

Jamie Glover, the child-actor who plays the part of Philip and gets blown up, has similarly few qualms: "I was very happy to get blown up to save the world."

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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Digital Distribution makes things worse, Part 2

From an LA Times article headed "Independent Filmmakers Feel the Squeeze of Piracy", the producer and director of a movie called "A Gangland Love Story" isn't amused by current audience trends:

Since its DVD release in July, audiences have embraced it: More than 60,000 viewers have watched the movie on the Internet, giving the independent filmmaker a coveted public following.

Unfortunately, winning an audience has come at a steep price. The viewers of Carter's film watched if from pirate movie sites and never paid for it. Carter figures the unauthorized viewing has cost him as much as $100,000 in lost revenue, dashing hope that he'll ever see a profit.

"It feels like someone is walking into your house and stealing your furniture," said Carter, 38. "The big studios can absorb it, but guys like me, we're not millionaires. We're fighting like crazy for every dollar, every nickel, every penny just to survive in this marketplace."

And it's not just aspiring fringe types:

The most high-profile case involves "The Hurt Locker," which won six Oscars but earned only $16.4million at the box office in the U.S. and Canada, an unusually low gross for a best-picture winner. Some blamed the effects of online piracy — the movie was available on the Web months before its arrival in theaters. Voltage Pictures, the film's producer, obtained IP addresses for 5,000 people it claims shared the film illegally. Voltage is now suing them, following a similarly controversial tactic used by the Recording Industry Assn. of America several years ago in an effort to fight the piracy of music.

"More people downloaded the movie for free than actually paid for it," said Thomas Dunlap, who has filed copyright infringement lawsuits on behalf of more than a dozen indie filmmakers and distributors, including Voltage and Maverick Entertainment Group, the company that distributed Carter's movie.

Did you like that screener?

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Digital distribution makes things worse, part 1

Page one, WSJ, unintended consequences of the e-book:

It has always been tough for literary fiction writers to get their work published by the top publishing houses. But the digital revolution that is disrupting the economic model of the book industry is having an outsize impact on the careers of literary writers.

Priced much lower than hardcovers, many e-books generate less income for publishers. And big retailers are buying fewer titles. As a result, the publishers who nurtured generations of America's top literary-fiction writers are approving fewer book deals and signing fewer new writers. Most of those getting published are receiving smaller advances.

"Advances are down, and there aren't as many debuts as before," says Ira Silverberg, a well-known literary agent. "We're all trying to figure out what the business is as it goes through this digital disruption."

Much as cheap digital-music downloads have meant that fewer bands can earn a living from record-company deals, fewer literary authors will be able to support themselves as e-books win acceptance, publishers and agents say.


Cool facts:

A new $28 hardcover book returns half, or $14, to the publisher, and 15%, or $4.20, to the author. Under many e-book deals currently, a digital book sells for $12.99, returning 70%, or $9.09, to the publisher and typically 25% of that, or $2.27, to the author.

The upshot: From an e-book sale, an author makes a little more than half what he or she makes from a hardcover sale.


The lower revenue from e-books comes amidst a decline in book sales that was already under way. The seemingly endless entertainment choices created by the Web have eaten into the time people spend reading books. The weak economy also is contributing to the slide.

"We aren't seeing a generation of readers coming along that supports writers today the way that young people supported J. D. Salinger and Philip Roth when they were starting out."

Go ahead, buy that Kindle: You'll help insure that 'popular' culture is all that's left...

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Monday, September 27, 2010

"Professor Nabokov, may I be excused?"

I've spent almost 55 years writing about various forms of popular culture, and thinking and at times arguing vehemntly about how that useful work should be done. This is spite of an almost complete inability to come up with any strikingly new ideas on the subject. Instead, I circle back again and again to the same short list of truisms.

One obvious chestnut is that all forms of culture that aspire to be widely popular (rather than good in some more imponderable and elite way) are always, to that extent, wish-fullfillment fantasies. They describe the world and human life not as they are but as many of us wish they were.

This seems to me to be a fact so obviously, universally true as to be almost useless as a tool of criticism, much of which is about drawing distinctions. It does nothing more than name the realm we're pottering around in. And yes, of course, there are differences of degree -- such as placing the classic male loner P.I. knight in realistically depicted situations.

Is it possible to do this knowingly, or are all the really great popular writers to some extent delusional? Should Ian Fleming have taken the giggles of his wife and her friends to heart and modified the personality of James Bond to make him less preposterous? Should Stieg Larsson have combed through the Dragoon Tattoo books expunging any element likely to make squemish readers "uncomfortable"?

The questions answer themselves. Most of us love being given permission to believe for a few hours in something preposterous. I've also heard it said (can't recall by whom) that things only really start to get interesting in a work of fiction when discomfort sets in. The element that causes discomfort is the real subject of the story beginning to emerge.

UPDATE: One random example from a writer named Christopher Ransom: "If I was to give one piece of advice it would be don’t play it safe because that thing you are terrified of writing about, the one thing you cannot imagine your parents or spouse ever reading? You should write that."

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Sunday, September 26, 2010

More Jamey; A note on Laura Marling


Those of you who think skimming the net is just like reading a newspaper may have missed this morning's front page arts section New York Times article on Jamey Johnson:

It’s good to hear Mr. Johnson laugh. A relief, actually. He laughs more than you might think, more than his heavy eyes might indicate. Certainly more than in his songs, which are among the blackest in country music. Since re-emerging two years ago after some time out of the spotlight, he’s become the great brooder of the modern country era — maybe the only brooder.

... on this skillful record ("The Guitar Song"), he positions himself as a first-rate preservationist of classic country songwriting, someone who may be out of step with the times but isn’t showy about it. His stand for the country values of yesteryear is quiet, and often thrilling.

On another note, a recent article in Vogue about Carey Mulligan notes that she's a big fan of Laura Marling. That much waifery in one place could make you a bit sick.....

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Friday, September 24, 2010

HG Live Music Recommendation





Jamey Johnson at the House of Blues, Tuesday, September 28.

Carries the Tulkinghorn Seal of Approval™.

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There can be no disputing about Rajnikanth.

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Benign Inconsistency

An enjoyable discussion with the offspring about subjective POVs in Faulkner and the possibility of Truth harked back to those late-night dorm room b.s. sessions. So bear with me.

An argument recently about whether consistency is a virtue. In one's thinking and in arguments, I'm probably still more of a stickler than some. In behavior toward others, less so.

Consistency on behavior is tough because there are competing values, and the balance doesn't always tilt the same way. A staunch vegetarian, my mother has on rare occasions eaten meat or fish when dining out to avoid offending her host. I think she would say that there is a point beyond which sticking to one's principles becomes a form of selfishness.

It's only in intellectual matters that complete consistency is ever possible. If we shrug that off, how can we be clear-headed when allowing exceptions in behavior?

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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Gandalf: The Early Years


We all get older, you know. Sir Ian a while back...

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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

If we waited to post anything until we fully understood it...

...HG would be seriously underpopulated. Chairman Bob calls her "the Billie Holiday of folk." Discography.



C.I.: Tulkinghorn

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