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.


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.


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."


Thursday, October 28, 2010


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


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.


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."


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.


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Thailand rules

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

Case in point:


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"


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.


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....


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."


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.


Sunday, October 10, 2010

Utah in November

Road trip?


Soloman Burke 1940-2010

A Chairman Bob favorite.


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.


Mario Vargas Llosa

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


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...


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


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:


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.


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.)


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...)