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)


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.


Friday, December 24, 2010


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.


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.


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.


Sunday, December 19, 2010

One take, "edited" with lighting effects


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


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.


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.


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.


Thursday, December 16, 2010

Change of Pace

New Studio Ghibli version of "The Borrowers."


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.)


Monday, December 13, 2010

Family snap


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."


Saturday, December 11, 2010


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)


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.


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)


Thursday, December 9, 2010


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.


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.


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."


Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Without a muffler

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