Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Darker than necessary?

Fans of Spaced and Bob and Rose will enjoy this clip from a BBC comedy series that seems remarkably dark. I will try to follow up with a report, although the Guardian seems to think that the network is trying to bury it. Premiered at 11:45 on a Saturday night so there might be something to it.


Another aspect of joy

Shopping, cooking, and dinner in the balti triangle in Birmingham. The video cooking lesson is probably not as helpful as it should be, but still..

My favorite comment, among the usual arguments about who makes the best balti, whether Indian food is better than Pakistani food, and why is the south so crap at making baltis:

What ARE these two white people WAFFLING on about ?


Sunday, March 28, 2010


From the Whirled of Kelly


Saturday, March 27, 2010

If you understand it, you need it


Montaigne and pedal pumping

I was a bit ashamed by Muffy's reaction to my post about the new fetish of pedal pumping -- and not merely because he was wittier than I. His final point was this:

I think this is great, really. Not because I enjoy pedal pumping, but because it reveals another layer of the wonderful oddity of folks.

I should have been more attuned to this, because I've been reading a wonderful new book by a BBC presenter called Sarah Bakewell (I think I've mentioned it before) called "How to Live, or, A Life of Montaigne in one question and twenty attempts at an answer." In the chapter offering the answer "Wake from the Sleep of Habit", Bakewell writes about Montaigne's love of the odd and excessive:

Habit makes everything look bland: it is sleep-inducing. Jumping to a different perspective is a way of waking oneself up again....

Reciting diversities helps to break free of (our narrow and unexamined opinions), if only for brief moments of enlightenment. "This great world," writes Montaigne, "is the mirror in which we must look at ourselves to recognize ourselves from the proper angle."

Of course she also quotes him as saying "The most beautiful lives, to my mind, are those that conform to the common human pattern, with order, but without miracle and without eccentricity."

That doesn't fit me (or anyone else here) any better than pedal pumping -- but thanks again to Muffy for giving me that zen blow on the side of my head....



I was reading Richard Brody, film blogger for The New Yorker, and thinking about a couple of things that he mentions:

The photo above is of Godard -- the guy with the loose tie in the center of the crowd -- filming the last scene of Breathless. The bystanders are just people who wandered by. No crowd control, no crew. If you've ever fantasized about making a revolutionary masterpiece this moment is what you were dreaming about. (The corruption of this dream is why I have so much contempt for indie cinema and Sundance.)

If you need help with math, that was fifty years ago.

When Breathless was released, it was reviewed for The New Yorker by none other than Roger Angell, later to become fiction editor and baseball writer. He sure got it right:

This, of course, sounds like a routine policier, but it is immediately evident that M. Godard and his associates have something vastly more fascinating in mind, which is nothing less than to make comprehensible, and therefore touching and serious, the lives of two disorderly, disconnected, nihilistic young moderns—and to do so, moreover, by seeing and hearing their unlovely world with exactly the same nervous glances and flighty inattentiveness that they themselves must rely on. To say that the film almost entirely succeeds in this awesome undertaking may explain why, in my estimation, it achieves the heights and confirms the men of the New Wave as the makers of a powerful new tradition in the art of the film.


Still not writing...


Friday, March 26, 2010

Not writing, typing...

"...truth, in writing, is the only important thing. That's what it's for. The whole time, every day, all these pages, all my life, means sitting there looking for something -- some line, some insight, some microsecond -- that makes me think: yes. Yes, that's true. That's real. I recognize that. I know it. That's all I'm after! It might be a truth discovered ten million times before by other people, but that doesn't matter. If you discover it for yourself, then that makes everything worthwhile. No wonder writing is such hard work! You're strip mining your own head, every day, searching for this stuff -- and then those moments of revelation are like a godsend.

I remember thinking, and thinking, and thinking, about Vince, in Queer as Folk, until I arrived at that crucial conclusion about him, in Episode 8, that because his boyfriend loves him he thinks less of the boyfriend. Vince cannot love Cameron because Cameron is stupid to love Vince. That's a great insight. Frankly, that's brilliant! It's devastating. And it's not merely analysis. It decides Vince's character, which then decides the plot, which then decides the entire climax of the series. The discovery of a truth like that doesn't come along very often, though every other moment is spent working toward it.

It's so worth it, when it happens. Oh my word. Gold dust."

-- Russell T Davies, The Writer's Tale: The Final Chapter, p. 692.


"If you want a Doctor Who example...it's there in the moment in "Aliens in London" -- that moment when Jackie calls the police to report the Doctor. I love the truth of that moment, that she's so shell-shocked she betrays the Doctor. An incredible thing to do, and very real. It's there in the whole 45 minutes of "Midnight," in the accuracy of that group mentality. It's there in that tiny moment in "Turn Left," when Donna tells Sylvia she's tried the Army for jobs, but with no luck -- because this is after she's seen the Army take her neighbors away to a concentration camp. Donna might well rage in the street, and yet she asks the same Army for employment. I really believe that. A true moment of defeat."


"...(she) then turned to hoist herself onto a bar stool, showing off a pair of haunches a man would be proud to have the tattooing of."

--Andy Dalziel in Reginald Hill's The Price of Butcher's Meat, p. 51.


Thursday, March 25, 2010

Mel Gibson presents...


There's hope for us all

Otto Penzler, seller and collector of mysteries, is selling the part of his collection devoted to British spy novels, including a first edition of Casino Royale with a guide price of $20,000 to $30,000.

"Because my bookshop was in Manhattan, most authors sooner or later found themselves visiting, where I distinguished myself as an enormous irritant by asking them to inscribe my books," he said. Initially built to hold 9,000 volumes "just in case", Penzler built his shelves two rows deep "and they rapidly filled". The collection, which also includes "an equally extensive" range of American espionage fiction, now numbers around 60,000 volumes.


Greenaway: Avatar of "Avatar"

Very interesting interview on the BBC with Peter Greenaway, available here for download for about the next week or so.

I had largely forgotten my earlier adoration of Greenaway. "The Falls" , "The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, & Her Lover," and, especially, "Drowning by Numbers" (talk about unobtanium... try to find a copy of that) staggered me on release -- hitting me hard on that place where love of seventeenth century painting and eighteenth century music intersect with the narrative strategies of J.G. Ballard. (A larger place than you might imagine...) At any rate, he veered off into realms of non-narrative film making that didn't much interest me.

He's recently finished a movie about Rembrandt's Night Watch -- apparently a sort of highbrow Da Vinci Code, starring Martin Freeman as the painter.

The interview is mostly about movies constructed from densely layered images and motion -- not based on what he calls "third-rate nineteenth century novelistic forms". He makes huge fun of naturalistic movies and ebulliently calls for a cinema based on nothing but itself -- an artificial cinema of images and music.

He really wants to make a 3D film......


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The end of days?

Tina Brown's web magazine, The Daily Beast, brings news this morning of a new fetish that is so strange that I can post the Hungry Ghost blog's first dirty video, with complete assurance that no one will be offended.

Seventeen thousand views: Sometimes, I'm scared to leave the house.


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Monday, March 22, 2010

I surrender.

For months now, I've resisted while the people whose opinions about movies I respect the most -- including the now reclusive host of this blog -- have argued the merits of Avatar as fiction and as film.

A couple of things have turned me -- first David's demonstration of the extraordinary effects possible in a layered three dimensional image. Not accepting this put me in the position of the derriere garde critics of the fifties who decried as inauthentic the deep focus shot of the young Kane playing with his sled while his mother signs him over to the bank. To call this image -- as chilling a one as you'd care to chill to -- bogus because it was composed rather than shot clean is prissy, even for Tulkinghorn.

Complaining about the uses of 3D in the composition of the frame -- and the fractal placement of information in a way that can only be seen with a BIG image in the theatre ..... well, the fact that the technology is at present useful only in movies made for eight year olds doesn't mean that there won't be a Hitchcock or Ford someday who will carry this off in a way that means something for grownups.

The final straw was an interview with Michael Chabon I just read at an ERB fan website. (By the way, Chabon comes off as a complete geek -- not a fake geek, or a recovered geek, or an ex-geek who patronizes geek, but a real geek.)

Chabon says two things here of relevance. I'll give him the last word, but just point out (i) how cleverly he uses the very same political argument that I made against the movie, but to precisely the opposite point and (ii) how he says EXACTLY the same thing that David and others have said about the craft involved. Craft, empire, and H. Rider Haggard..... I was a fool.

...it is very good for John Carter that Avatar has done so well. It legitimizes and helps solidify the idea that a movie like that with interplanetary romance can be a big commercial success if it's done intelligently.

I liked (Avatar). I really liked it. It's fun. It's well made, it's creatively well-thought through, it's so rich in detail. The alien creatures, the evolutionary process on that world is clearly worked out.

There's one total throw-away moment when you see the effort taken. They're stealing a ship at one point -- a military craft. As they're getting ready to power up the engines, a character climbs up on the back and lifts these fabric covers off the intake ducts. The manual labour involved in getting this thing ready... it just shows me that the dream is being dreamed very vividly. There's a checklist of things that are being done by every character about to take off on this vehicle. I really admire that level of care -- it's very carefully thought through.

Avatar is truly right in the line of Burroughs and Haggard, in that it's a story of adventure but it also a story about the contact between a doomed, traditional, but in many ways incredibly rich and advanced civilization, and an adventuring, imperialistic -- as far as we can see in the movie -- predominately white empire. It is a very old template, in many ways, that has been with us at least since the adventure fiction of the 1870s and 1880s.

You've surely read War of the Worlds (MC: Yeah) People who think that's about Mars invading earth are reading or seeing it only on the thinnest surface -- which is there, but it's really about the British Empire, most specifically India.

Adventure fiction as we most commonly understand it is about imperialism in one degree or another. All the great archetypes, the prototypes from Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan and John Carter, H. R. Haggard, and all the way up to, even the western novel, The Virginian, all the way through to James Bond -- they're all about empire -- the interaction between empires and colonies as they are colonized. So Avatar fits right into that pattern. I wasn't surprised to hear that at all.


Friday, March 19, 2010

The way of the modern hero.

In response to the statement by Russell Davies that a writer should "Allow the bastards to be lovely, allow the heroes to be weak," some friends have written some interesting things, which transcend the comment form:

CL: Achilles is never weak, nor is Hector. They are perfect embodiments of the same virtue, Thumos.

Agamemnon, on the other hand, is clearly a villain. He is never represented as "lovely." That would undermine Achilles wrath, and the purity of Briseis.

The key here are the uses of the words "lovely" and "weak."

Weak heroes spend more time questioning themselves, their actions, and whining into the arms of each other that nothing ever gets done.

"Lovely" villains confuse the issue of what villainy is. The fact that Hannibal Lector came across as "lovely" rather than as realistic or flawed or compelling or interesting, is something that leads audience members to make nihilistic leaps of logic in support of him as a "positive good."

This is all moral relativistic clap-trap and deserves no place in the representation of "honest" characters.

Mel Gibson in Gallipoli is an honest character who is never "weak" in the virtue he embodies, adelphia, and his friend is not weak in adelphia, thumos, or patriotism. That is what makes the friend's death so compelling at the end. If he had been "weak," he never would have accompanied his friend in the first place.

The beauty and power of the musical Hair stems from the fact that Berger's sense of adelphia, maybe even agape, is so strong that he is willing to die that another may live. There is no weakness in his character, and his is a beautiful sacrifice.

Davies is recommending the passive weakness of the modern "complex" hero who worries about the consequences of his/her embodied virtue. That is the end of myth and the end of narrative fiction. It is the beginning of self-celebrating "sophistication."

DC: It's certainly true that neither Leonard nor Davies is writing heroic epics. A form as unlikely to be revived as representational painting. You could, however, write a story about a flawed modern man who struggles to embody heroic virtues, which might be more useful.

CL: My point is that there is a vast, universe wide if you will, difference between "weak" and "flawed."

DC: I would say that all flaws are in some sense weaknesses. Unless you mean something very specific by the word that I'm missing.

The argument between the traditional and the modern is fascinating: Conan or Elric? Connery or Craig? Buchan or LeCarre? Stagecoach or The Searchers?

These are not trivial attitudes or differences. The vast difference between 'weak' and 'flawed'? Achilles, the sulking baby in his tent, not weak?

Bring it on.


Thursday, March 18, 2010

Combining obsessions

A friend writes concerning a role playing game that might be of interest : Space 1889. The description of the game materials mentions "Victoria's multiworld empire"....

Of course, since much of my life on-line is something of a role playing game, I probably won't take the plunge, but I'm reminded that I've failed to follow through my desire to read one of the Chronicles of Isambard Smith by Toby Frost -- billed as "Flashman in Space". Maybe I should finish up the remaining four or five or so unread Flashman books first.

Flashman fans will note that the first song on the new Joanna Newsome album is about Lola Montez.


Leave of absence

When blogging (of all things) begins to feel like a chore, it might be a good idea to give it a rest for a while. But to just stop without saying anything would be...something. Words fail me. Which, short of transcribing the entire text of "The Writer's Tale," is sort of the point.

Feel free to crash on the sofa. There's food in the fridge. If you spill anything on the rug be sure to clean it up.


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

"The Dickens of Detroit" is...

...good enough for Saul Bellow and Martin Amis.

LEONARD: I think I should start this book with the main character. Or I start a book with who I think is the main character, but a hundred pages into the book, I say "This guy's not the main character, he's running out of gas; I don't even like him anymore, his attitude; he's changed." But he's changed and there's nothing I could do about it. It's just the kind of person he is. So then I have to bring somebody along fast. Do you run into that?

AMIS: What I do find, and my father Kingsley Amis used to find, is that when you come up against some difficulty, some mechanism in the novel that isn't working, it fills you with despair and you think, "I'm not going to be able to get around this." Then you look back at what you've done, and you find you already have a mechanism in place to get you through this. A minor character, say, who's well placed to get the information across that you need to put across. I always used to think (and he agreed) that: Thank God, writing is much more of an unconscious process than many people think.


LEONARD: It's the most satisfying thing I can imagine doing. To write that scene and then read it and it works. I love the sound of it. There's nothing better than that. The notoriety that comes later doesn't compare to the doing of it. I've been doing it for almost 47 years, and I'm still trying to make it better. Even though I know my limitations; I know what I can't do. I know that if I tried to write, say, as an omniscient author, it would be so mediocre. You can do more forms of writing than I can, including essays. My essay would sound, at best, like a college paper.


Monday, March 15, 2010

For the generic chief blogger:

I think this combines most of what motivates our resident sexagenarian these days...


Sunday, March 14, 2010

Have to post something pronto...

...although it's probably too late to forestall the drastic readership plunge induced by the post below, which I believe is an early make-up test for Drag Me to Hell. I forgive The Incredible Tulk for taking the easy way out and throwing up a shocking photo to get attention because I know he's sweating bullets over his long-promised New Yorker-length essay on deep focus and 3-D. Can't wait to read it!

More R.D.: "I live in a very closed Doctor Who world, and the subject of fandom is usually brought up by provocative, negative journalists, so that I often react in a provocative, negative way. As though the fans are a problem. But that's just restricting the discussion to the extremes, the couple of hundred angry, shrill voices who dominate the conversation. Now these three days [on a book tour] open my eyes. I'm an idiot! Because I can see so clearly, right in front of me, that the majority of fans are happy and fun and barmy, just like the show. And the most joyous thing of all is that every one of us -- those in the queue, and us two signing away -- have got a little blue box spinning somewhere in our heads. Spinning forever."


Friday, March 12, 2010

Feed your head.

"We are all outlaws in the eyes of America.
In order to survive, we'll steal, cheat, lie, forge, fuck, hide, and deal.
We are obscene, lawless, hideous, dangerous, dirty, violent,
And young....."


Thursday, March 11, 2010

For that Special Day

The cake will be late.... I'm afraid they misunderstood the message I left.


Shooting the first episode of the new Doctor

April 3 is the day, according to the Telegraph's incredibly informative article/interview about shooting the first episode. One of many cool quotes:

When Tennant was completing his regeneration, he took to his bed. But Moffat hasn’t given Smith such an easy ride. 'I thought it would be fun if, while he was still regenerating, he had to run around and save the world,’ Moffat says. 'He’s barely out of the box when he realises: I haven’t changed my shirt yet and I’ve got 20 minutes to save the world. It’s like trying to save the world with flu.


Armond White on "Green Zone" as...

..."homegrown Anti-Americanism."


Wednesday, March 10, 2010


Harking back to a youth that could/should have been misspent a little more often, on the verge of my momentus 39th birthday. "Runaways" movie opening. Cautionary bio pic about a fake, producer-created jailbait pop band, which is being portrayed, typically, from the POV of the band member who fell apart and barely survived. Much more interesting, but less knee-jerk nihilistic, to consider the tough cookie who turned a gig in a fake band into a real career: Holding onto music rights to hits like "I Love Rock 'n' Roll" to build a foundation under a satisfying and ideosycratic career.

She's featured in this video for a Paul Schrader movie I barely remember seeing and didn't much like. Song by Springsteen that holds up quite well.

And then there's this. Open question how guilty we should feel even watching it, much less digging it. I have no answers. Only questions.

It's also about vulnerability and weakness as a turn on, and the fact that there's a clear alternative built into the story is reason enough to be suspicious of this project, IMHO. "Cherie is the one who has the arc," is the way it was stated by one Person Close to the Production. She can be impacted by events and create drama. The character who enters the situation with personality already formed, and with a clear agenda, can't be at the center if you want to turn these events into a Story. You could create obstacles for her to overcome, but they would be external. That's the argument, anyway: Extra difficult to build good drama around stable, focused characters.


David Foster Wallace: The Early Years

The New Yorker's book blog has an article this morning (by Meredith Blake -- Who she? Talk about a deep bench) about the acquisition by the University of Texas of David Foster Wallace's papers and books.

I admire Wallace almost as much as my co-blogger does Russell T. Davies..... What is fun here, though, are not his drafts of "Infinite Jest" or the couple of hundred heavily annotated books, but this poem by a very very young writer, a facsimile of which is above.

I find particular promise in the concluding couplets:

If you were to see a viking today
It's best to go some other way
Because they'll kill you very well
And all your gold they'll certainly sell
For all these reasons stay away
From a viking every day.

UPDATE: Even great, death-haunted novelists are prone to a bit of buffoonery sometimes.... Wallace's copy of Suttree:


Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Davies sifu Part 3

Realized that clip was too tiny to read and...clipped it.

I'm keeping the Davies book at my bedside like a family Bible. The key to its impact is its underlying (scary) honesty about the day-to-day realities of the writing process. I can't imagine any writer, in any medium, failing to recognize the groping, day-dreamy, chaotic mental "soup" Davies describes himself swimming in, with usable ideas occassionally bobbing to the surface like...well, never mind. (Readers who don't write may feel there's too much information for comfort here about what gets packed into the sausage.) Reading this stuff makes me feel better about what an awkward fit I am in my increasingly corporatized & cubicle-filled workplace -- though it would probably be a good idea to stay alert and not act too "creative." No future in that.

UPDATE: "Christmas with my blind dad. I sit and describe to him what's happening on TV. 'The Host have hooked arms with the Doctor and they're flying him up, up, up through the ship...' I have a laugh doing that. I make things up. 'They're on fire!' There's no budget when you're blind."


Monday, March 8, 2010

Blinders off

T.O.H. posted these clips in Spanish, presumably to make a point about the command of space and color and movement -- above and to my mind beyond any reservations one can justly have about derivative plot, cookie-cutter dialog and anti-corporate propaganda. The first one makes the point especially well, because it's just a guy addressing a crowd: no monsters, no tech, no swooping crane shots. I finally saw The Hurt Locker a couple of days ago, and it's very much my kind of movie. Touchstones are guys like Sam Fuller and Don Siegel: classic American genre films. But it doesn't have this, the gift that Kael used to call "film sense." It's right there. You either see it or you don't.


Sunday, March 7, 2010

Silent disco...

New-to-me concept, mentioned in the Davies book: the dancers get the music through headphones. Why on earth has that never been used in a movie? Cutting back and forth from the booming subjective version to the silent wide shots, with some kind of chase/suspense sequence snaking through it.

Reading Davies, I'm starting to think like him. (If only.)


Saturday, March 6, 2010

Davies sifu Part Two

How do you make audiences care about your characters? … It’s pictorial. It’s a visual medium, but visuals don’t have to mean landscapes, long lenses, stunts, hundreds of extras; it’s the ordinary pictures, the sheer existence of people on screen, the fact that I’ve chosen to put them there and that you’ve chosen to watch. I realized this on The Second Coming, when we spent a million drafts on Steve and Judith’s backstory… All that work was to establish, simply and fundamentally, an attraction between them. When I watched it back … I realized the most crucial thing: none of that was necessary. The fact that Lesley Sharp and Christopher Eccleston were on screen, at the same time, together -- especially late at night, outside a city centre club – did all the work. You could lose the sound and still realize what was happening between those two. Put a man and a woman of roughly the same age on screen and you're telling a story. That’s a love story. … The choice to put those two characters together on screen, in a story, is the crucial thing. Everything else is just detail.”
On Robert McKee-style "rules" for screenwriting:
The whole formality about structure has really evolved from the movies, and sometimes, I suspect, it just doesn't fit television. Television can ramble, and pause, and deviate, and accelerate. It really is a different art form. With the soap opera we've a brand new form, and it's still evolving. We've had 47 years of Ken Barlow's life . Forty-seven years! [On Coronation Street, Barlow has been played by the same actor continuously since 1960.] Like it or not, no fictional character has ever existed in such everyday detail. Not ever. Brand new form of fiction! And utterly shapeless -- a couple of dozen different production teams, with different agendas, over all those years, with no overall plan -- and yet time is going to impose on Ken Barlow a Beginning, a Middle and an End, as we move from his youth, through his adult life, to his death one day. Fascinating, isn't it? Structure imposes itself, just through the passage of time. There has never been a fictional form like the soap opera before. It's hugely underrated and underconsidered.
-- Russell T Davies, The Writer's Tale.


Friday, March 5, 2010

Time Has Come Today

Classic and somewhat forgotten.... Although the song shows up in a fair number of ads, it deserves better -- especially in its full 22 minute glory. The poster for the show is above. Forty-two years ago. My goodness.


Soon, the world will be Tulkinghorn!

As the Tulkinghorn aesthetic spreads.... Wm. Hocker of Berkeley, California, manufactures sets of tin soldiers picturing scenes of the Victorian military and the American Western Expansion. I'm thinking about a set of Sepoy Mutineers, myself (as an expression of my anti-Imperial beliefs).

Men and horses of the 17th Lancers are pictured above.


Thursday, March 4, 2010

Green Zone: early warning

From Kyle Smith:

I can’t believe what I just saw, so I’ll think about it some more before I go into detail. But if I were the kind of excitable guy who believes in boycotts, I’d say “Boycott NBC-Universal” for its appalling new anti-American flick “Green Zone,” an absurdly awful would-be actioner that stars Matt Damon as a US warrant officer in 2003 Baghdad. ..... a $100 million war film in which American troops are the bad guys. There are moments that we’re supposed to cheer because our soldiers are getting shot down- but it’s okay because they’re evildoers at worst or stooges at best .....

UPDATE: I've been asked to give Smith's bona fides so that those who don't follow these things can figure out whether he's just another knee jerk right-winger. He's a staff film critic for the New York Post, a sometime writer of humorous novels, and a Persian War veteran. Although he's pretty reliably right of center, he's no patsy for the easy controversy, as far as I can tell.

At any rate, if this movie becomes an issue, then he's a bellwether... If it doesn't than he's a thin skinned vet with a hard-on for denouncing Hollywood bluster. I have my guess.


Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Lovecraft and his circle

There is deep pleasure in reading Lovecraft and the Lovecraft-derived stories by people like Clark Ashton Smith, Frank Belknap Long, and August Derleth.

I have been thinking all day about these two sentences from Derleth's story "The Dweller in Darkness", which strike me as particularly fine:

Who was the Blind Faceless One but Nyarlathotep? Certainly not Shub-Niggurath, the Black Goat of a Thousand Young.

Certainly not!


Monday, March 1, 2010

Catnip for some

Title by Peckinpah, hero by Leonard.

More here.