Saturday, February 27, 2010

Davies sifu

I'm thinking about Donna, Martha, Rose, Jack, Sara Jane and Mickey as a team, and the tagline: "ONE OF THEM WILL DIE!' I'd watch that! Trouble is, I don't want to kill any of them. Rose Tyler was never created to die. None of them was. They were all created to show off Doctor Who's central premise: the world and the universe is wonderful, ordinary people can do great things, and the human race survives.


Did I ever tell you that Zadie Smith once wrote me to say that Bob & Rose is her favourite drama ever, and she watches an episode once a week -- and this was years after its original transmission -- in the hope that she'll create a character as real as Rose someday? Zadie Smith!!.

-- Russell T Davies, The Writer's Tale, pp. 100-101.


Friday, February 26, 2010

Adam Roberts on Bolaño

2666 still rattles around in my head. And the sf writer, critic, and blogger Adam Roberts hits that spot on the venn diagram where 'agrees with me', 'is amusing and smart', and 'is witty and quotable' intersect. So I was especially pleased to read him blogging 2666, with some wise advise for writers:

The most striking thing about Bolaño’s style is what you might call its egregious twitting of the Chekov principle. If Bolaño were to have a character hammer a nail into the wall at the beginning of Act 1 not only would the character not hang himself upon it at the end of Act 3, but he would spend Act 1 hammering nails all over the place, selling his hammer to a character who never appears again, describing elaborately detailed but wholly oblique dreams, observing, doing and thinking a blizzard of things that seem to have no relationship to the larger pattern.....

The problem with Chekov’s nail is that, once you’re aware of the principle, it constrains the audience’s response: like a whodunit in which there are only two characters, it closes down your interpretive options. Bolaño works hard against that. So, which of his details matter, and which are just window dressing? The British painter who crowned his career by cutting off his own right hand, mummifying it and incorporating it in his last canvas—is he ‘important’ to the novel? Or is he just Poe-like garnish, only there to establish a vaguely guignol-y mood? What about the scene where Moroni suffers hysterical blindness, only to recover his sight a little later? What about the young English teacher, Pritchard, who hangs around Norton, and tells Pelletier and Espinoza that she is the Medusa? The scene where Morini recites an Italian restaurant menu as if it were poetry, ‘slowly and with an actor’s intonation’? The interlude when, temporarily rejected by Norton, the two men take up with a succession of prostitutes, Pelletier getting involved with ‘a girl called Vanessa’, going so far as to visit her home where she lives with her complaisant Moroccan husband and blonde son? What about Amalfitano, an effete Chilean academic who works at the University of Santa Teresa, and who befriends Pelletier, Norton and Espinoza when they stay there? Is he important? The fact that the second section, which I shall read next, is called ‘The Part About Amalfitano’ leads me to believe he will be; although it’s also possible that this chaff-blizzard of detail is all misdirection, and that in the end nothing will be.

He got that right.....


Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Snooty critic seems to get this one right

Richard Brody doesn't much like a movie called "Lourdes", which I will probably never see. Interesting reasons, though, especially from a guy who practically owns 'snooty' these days:

“Lourdes,” with its overtones both of religion and of hypocrisy and its insight into neither, is the sign of an intellectual pose that offers neither analytical thought nor emotional insight nor practical wisdom. It is the cinematic version of an elegant, generic accent.

Which, come to think of it, explains much about why it gets released.


Monday, February 22, 2010

Should I actually go to the movies?

I am completely floored by this quote from Anthony Lane's review of Shutter Island. But I wonder: Is the pleasure that I would take in the movie merely the same as the pleasure I take in this image?

In a celebrated riff on “Casablanca,” Umberto Eco wrote, “Two clichés make us laugh but a hundred clichés move us, because we sense dimly that the clichés are talking among themselves, celebrating a reunion.” “Shutter Island” is that reunion, and that shrine.


Sunday, February 21, 2010

Mankell ready for stardom in the US?

Knopf is giving "The Man from Beijing" an amazing balls-to-the-wall two page advertisement in this morning's New York Times Book Review (in fact, pages two and three -- better than prime territory).

Here's hoping it works.


Saturday, February 20, 2010

More whining from the Guardian: Now Banks

Talk about a meme...

Two days following the Martin whine-fest, the Guardian's resident sf blogger and (sometime Cinerati commenter) Damian Walter baits Iain M.Banks about finishing a Culture trilogy started thirteen years ago.

I assume it's somewhat tongue in cheek, but still.

I'm waiting for The Giant Rat of Sumatra, the fourth Millennium novel, another Uncle Fred book, and the rest of Kubla Khan myself.


Friday, February 19, 2010

Wolf Hall

In most circles, it's become unnecessary to recommend Wolf Hall: I even think it's becoming a mainstay of that ninth circle of hell called the 'book group'. Since this little community is fonder of heartier stuff, you may have thought to pass it by, but you shouldn't.....

Christopher Hitchens, when he's not being otherwise provocative, is a splendid book critic, and writes perceptively about Wolf Hall here. (He even, as the village atheist, notes something that I didn't know -- that "hocus pocus" is an irreligious alteration of "hoc est corpus") I love this:

Three portraits by Hans Holbein have for generations dictated the imagery of the epoch. The first shows King Henry VIII in all his swollen arrogance and finery. The second gives us Sir Thomas More, the ascetic scholar who seems willing to lay his life on a matter of principle. The third captures King Henry’s enforcer Sir Thomas Cromwell, a sallow and saturnine fellow calloused by the exercise of worldly power. The genius of Mantel’s prose lies in her reworking of this aesthetic: look again at His Majesty and see if you do not detect something spoiled, effeminate, and insecure. Now scrutinize the face of More and notice the frigid, snobbish fanaticism that holds his dignity in place. As for Cromwell, this may be the visage of a ruthless bureaucrat, but it is the look of a man who has learned the hard way that books must be balanced, accounts settled, and zeal held firmly in check. By the end of the contest, there will be the beginnings of a serious country called England, which can debate temporal and spiritual affairs in its own language and which will vanquish Spain and give birth to Shakespeare and Marlowe and Milton.

On the other hand, if you're the kind of guy who only reads the good stuff, I can offer this from Adam Roberts, which cracked me up: of the most impressive things about Mantel's book is precisely its worldbuilding: the creation of an immersive, believable 16th-century England. This is a core skill of SF and fantasy writers. If Mantel had tossed in a dragon or two, she'd have been a shoo-in for the British Fantasy Award. Now that's an award she could have been proud to win.


Thursday, February 18, 2010

Does George R.R. Martin owe us anything?

Amusing article in the Guardian about the endless wait for Volume 5 of "Song of Ice and Fire", which includes the fake Tory election poster attached above.

Was it Patrick Rothfuss, similarly situated, who simply said "I'm not your bitch"... (UPDATE: Assiduous reader Steven Till knows better: It was Neil Gaiman speaking on behalf of George Martin -- and thereby linking up at least two recent blog posts. Patrick Rothfuss is mostly amusing on the subject on his blog.)

At any rate, Martin is less pithy:

"Some of you are angry about the miniatures, the swords, the resin busts, the games. You don't want me 'wasting time' on those, or talking about them here. Some of you are angry that I watch football during the fall," the author wrote. "Some of you don't want me attending conventions, teaching workshops, touring and doing promo ... After all, as some of you like to point out in your emails, I am 60 years old and fat, and you don't want me to 'pull a Robert Jordan' on you and deny you your book. OK, I've got the message. You don't want me doing anything except A Song of Ice and Fire. Ever."
"Pull a Robert Jordan" is a cool phrase, though.

Still more updates:

Commenter to the original article "Werthead" has this analysis, which I think should be interesting to all you fans of process and structure:
  • If we consider the three big epic fantasy series of our time as George RR Martin's SONG OF ICE AND FIRE, Steven Erikson's MALAZAN BOOK OF THE FALLEN and Jordan's WHEEL OF TIME, all three have run into significant mid-series timeline/structural problems. The three authors have taken different approaches to overcoming it.

    Erikson's solution is to ignore the problems and press on, which means the books continue to be published but on the downside with increasingly prevalent timeline problems and continuity errors that occasionally reduce storylines to total nonsense (particularly in the eighth volume, where young characters conceived in the earlier books are years older than they should be, even in relation to one another). This solution has some merit but also means that there are jarring bumps in the books you have to basically overlook to continue enjoying them.

    Martin's solution was to rewrite, rewrite, re-edit, rewrite, delete half the book and rewrite again. This solution is preferable since that when the book is done, the problems are reduced or eliminated entirely, but does add years to the writing time of the affected books (in the case of both A FEAST FOR CROWS and A DANCE WITH DRAGONS, more than doubling the writing time of the third volume, A STORM OF SWORDS, which was written far more straightforwardly), which is extremely problematic when you've just suggested that the next book will be done in a year or two tops.

    Jordan's was to introduce some filler storylines for some characters and put other characters on ice for a book or two whilst he brought other characters up to speed. This resulting in approximately the eighth through tenth novels in the series degenerating into chaotic messes before he pulled together all the story threads in the eleventh volume and set things up for the grand finale, which Brandon Sanderson is now executing with fine form (the recent twelfth book being the best in the series for some time).

    Of the three solutions, Erikson's is the most economical, Jordan's is the most sprawling and Martin's is the most artistic (assuming it works).


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Reitman fils and Ebert


The blogosphere outdid itself with "Avatar," [Ebert] noted. It declared the film dead months before anyone had even seen it. Then there were all these articles saying, "Gee, it's good, once you see it."


I asked Reitman how, as the director of "Juno," he might approach filming Salinger's "The Catcher in the Rye."

"Oddly," he said, "the trick to 'The Catcher in the Rye' is not making it. It is the perfect experience within itself. I don't know how you make that experience any different or any better."


Monday, February 15, 2010

Berlin Bollywood

Meredith Brody files from Berlin after watching Karan Johar's My Name is Khan in a theater full of shrieking SRK fans:

It was the right crowd to see the movie with, but not, alas, the right movie. Khan, who famously was recently detained for questioning at Newark Airport because his name turned upon a computer alert list, plays an autistic man. Despite a disclaimer, the performance is awkward and offensive – Khan, a pleasure to watch exposing his chiseled abs and dancing in the rain in Om Shant Om’s delirious “My Heart is Breaking From the Pain of Disco,” largely creates the character by avoiding eye contact, and he isn’t helped by a script that alternates halting speech for him with florid articulation. The film, a rather simplistic piece of kitsch that sends Khan on a years-long mission to tell the President (Bush or Obama) that his name is Khan and he’s not a terrorist, would have elicited boos at Cannes, but Berlin gave it credulous applause, especially after painful sequences set in a Song-of-the-South-worthy black sharecropper-village where Khan is serenaded by “We Shall Overcome” by a church full of characters with names like Funny Hair Joel and Mama Jenny. Khan later returns to single-handedly rescue the inhabitants of Wilhelmina from a hurricane-induced flood. Oy.

The rapturous applause afterwards led Khan to declare “you get unconditional love from your mother and German fans.” I could only agree.


Sunday, February 14, 2010

The real death of the Doctor

A little told story about the sad tail end of the initial twenty-five-year run of "Doctor Who" -- the Sylvester McCoy years, with which I am completely unfamiliar.

“The idea of bringing politics into Doctor Who was deliberate, but we had to do it very quietly and certainly didn’t shout about it,” said McCoy.

“We were a group of politically motivated people and it seemed the right thing to do. At the time Doctor Who used satire to put political messages out there in the way they used to do in places like Czechoslovakia. Our feeling was that Margaret Thatcher was far more terrifying than any monster the Doctor had encountered.


The following year Cartmel (the series script editor at the time) wrote an emotive speech for the Doctor about the evils of nuclear weapons. It borrowed heavily from material obtained from the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, which was a persistent thorn in the side of the government.

A spin-off Doctor Who children’s novel called Turlough and the Earthlink Dilemma, which was published under licence by the BBC in 1987, featured a despotic villain called Rehctaht — Thatcher spelt backwards.

Sophie Aldred, who played Ace, the Doctor’s feminist companion, said a shared contempt for right-wing ideology had inspired “a real bonding process” for cast and crew.


Friday, February 12, 2010

How did our resident Abnett scholars miss this?

"Created exclusively for audio."



Anthony Lane on "The Red Shoes:"

I’ve seen the same version on DVD, but watching “The Red Shoes,” whatever the quality, on the small screen is like drinking champagne, whatever the vintage, through a plastic straw. The movie should fill one’s vision no less comprehensively than a sunset, and Powell, like Turner before him—another hearty, romantic Englishman, whose eye gloried unashamedly in a given world—knew that reds, even at their most flaming, are never the whole story of a sunset. ... “The Red Shoes” is both suitable for children and beyond their ken: it treats art not as sedative or diversionary but as hard and supercharged, quite lethal to the danceless rhythms that most of our lives obey. No wonder Britain, still rationed in color, food, and feeling in the wake of an exhausting war, could not cope with what the movie proposed. Catch it here now, and you will not just be seeing an old film made new; you will have your vision restored.


Thursday, February 11, 2010

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Also for "Who" fans......

...this BBC America newcomer; from a novel by Dalek creator Terry Nation, co-starring the near-perfect Freema Agyeman. Free two-minute preview up now on iTunes.

UPDATE: A timely reminder to always read the fine print:

Some characters were emphasised in the BBC promotional material, but only appeared in the first episode as both succumbed to the disease:

Freema Agyeman as Jenny Walsh, a young primary school teacher who lived with Patricia and Anya before the virus, who died shortly after discovering the true virulence of the virus. Appeared in Episode 1.
Despite this annoying bait-and-switch scam, episode one was solid, with a nice ominous sense of scale and echoes of everything for "Day of the Triffids" to "Resident Evil." Fingers crossed.


A perfect storm

Gaiman working on an episode of Doctor Who, sez the Guardian, which reminds us:

Gaiman, whose latest novel The Graveyard Book won many awards last year, including best novel at the Hugos, the Newbery medal and the UK's Booktrust teenage prize, is not the first fantasy author to have been tapped by the Doctor Who machine. Last year, Michael Moorcock revealed he had been approached to write a new Doctor Who novel for publication next Christmas.

Nothing about Alan Moore yet, but I'm sure he's next....


Sunday, February 7, 2010

Speaking of Scorsese soundtracks....

The New York Times has more about the Shutter Island soundtrack in the middle of an otherwise dull and pre-digested (master approaching old age, DeCaprio muse, use of film noir elements, film preservation, blah blah) article about the movie:

Mr. Robertson, credited as music supervisor on “Shutter Island,” said: “Marty just has this unique gift with regard to music in film. It’s one of those mysteries. You could tell right from the opening scene of ‘Mean Streets,’ with the Ronettes doing ‘Be My Baby.’ It isn’t about the song, or the lyrics, it only has to do with the Wall of Sound, and that’s why it’s so beautiful.”

On “Shutter Island,” Mr. Robertson said, “This was the first time in all these years that he’s ever said to me, ‘God, I don’t know what to do with this material music-wise.’ ” The solution they came up with, weirdly appropriate to the anxious era in which the movie is set, was to use modern classical music in the way that, in previous films, they would deploy brief, timed charges of rock or pop or blues: here the sonic blasts come from composers like Krzysztof Penderecki, John Adams, John Cage, Gyorgy Ligeti and Morton Feldman. And this music, much of it dissonant, stark, hauntingly repetitious or plain spooky, certainly amps up the film’s thick atmosphere of dread. “With something like Penderecki’s ‘Passacaglia,’ ” Mr. Scorsese said, “it’s definitely bold and to me it reflects what’s going on inside Teddy. If you’re with the film, with the character on this strange journey he’s on, that’s the kind of music you hear in your head.”


Saturday, February 6, 2010

Speaking of soundtracks.....

Alex Ross writes on his music blog for The New Yorker:

On the weekend of February 19th, and for some weeks thereafter, millions of Americans will enjoy a program of Giacinto Scelsi, John Cage, Lou Harrison, György Ligeti, Morton Feldman, Krzysztof Penderecki, Alfred Schnittke, Nam June Paik, Ingram Marshall, and John Adams. This fairly bold lineup of composers, which would cause the average orchestra subscriber to flee in terror, appears on the soundtrack to Martin Scorsese’s film “Shutter Island.”
Scorsese's music supervisor is Robbie Robertson (!)

It would be interesting to make a list of Scorsese's best soundtracks -- Bernard Herrmann for Taxi Driver, of course, but I'm thinking of his use of non-commissioned pieces. I can remember vividly his use of "Bell Bottom Blues" somewhere, but can't remember the movie. Mean Streets? Maybe "vividly" is the wrong word....


The return of Stephen Hunter

Red-blooded American novelist Hunter retired a year ago or so from his day job as the film critic for the Washington Post, but resurfaced last summer writing an occasional movie column for Commentary.

This is what the world of criticism needs right now: a non-PC classically educated right of center counterweight to prevailing cant....

This links to his predictably acerbic piece about Avatar (which he calls "unbelievium" and the climactic scene of which he describes this way: "To me, blue Indians on flying lizards against helicopter gunships just seemed like a fool’s gold called Unwatchablanium.")

He likes "Hurt Locker" a lot -- also predictable, but a lot of fun: "At times during The Hurt Locker, a remarkable new movie about the war in Iraq, I began to wonder: Who wrote this, Thucydides or Xenophon?"

High praise, indeed.

And finally, many readers of this (Is the word "many" appropriate here?) will cheer his essay "Clyde and Bonnie Died for Nihilism", in which he rants:

...the legendary Penn movie that invented the New Bonnie and Clyde was such a ideological crock that it deserves placement in that list of other leftist crocks mistaken by gullible critics and film lovers as somehow great: Beatty’s own Reds, the appalling JFK, and the toxic oeuvre of Michael Moore and his tribe of screwball clones in the documentary field, as well as the recent spate of angry, misguided Iraq war films.

This really is not news; when Bonnie and Clyde was released and soared, following an initial few weeks of failure, the Chicago Daily News columnist Mike Royko launched a mini-crusade to restore Clyde and Bonnie to their actual dimensions, as vicious murderers, no matter that (as the ad copy said) they were young, they were in love, and they robbed banks. The only thing that mattered about them, Royko said, was that they killed, and killed a lot of people. The critic of the New York Times, Bosley Crowther, then the oldest, whitest guy in New York, also dared to denounce the film; he not only felt the lash of social ostracism and contempt, he may have even lost his job as a consequence.

I thought they were both idiots. I know better now.


Friday, February 5, 2010

Actor as critic...

If memory serves (unlikely) it was Michael Caine who asserted that the most important social function actors perform is "explaining human beings to themselves." Every so often they can also explicate a text.

The astonishing depth and texture of Kenneth Branagh's performance in the BBC "Wallander" series, some of the best acting I've seen in years, sent me back to the Henning Mankell novels with a new appreciation of the richness of this often crabby and off-putting character. What's more, it inspired me to try again, with far more satisfying results so far, an author of "literary mysteries" much recommened by readers of good taste, always a group whose genre fiction recommendations are to be embraced with caution.

A sad footnote is that the Menkell novel I picked up was the first and now last that will feature the rapidly aging Chief Inspector's daughter Linda as successor protagonist. Menkell abandoned this excellent plan when the actress who played Linda in the Swedish TV adaptation of the story, who had become a friend, committed suicide.


Thursday, February 4, 2010

I won't remind you again...

You have two days left to listen to David Tennant and Catherine Tate hosting Jonathan Ross's Radio 2 program....

It is helpful to move the little cursor ahead two or three minutes when they play records. Unless you really want to hear "Heart of Glass" again.


Wednesday, February 3, 2010

A mass medium?

The Washington Post lets you into the secret about classical music recordings: nobody in the United States buys them. Talk about a long tail.... it takes years and years of sales to make a dent.

The lede:

On Jan. 14, the violinist Hilary Hahn scored a rare gig for a classical music performer: She appeared on "The Tonight Show." And not just any "Tonight Show," but the "Tonight Show" during the final days of Conan O'Brien's brief tenure as host. Everybody was watching. So it came as no surprise that Hahn's new album, "Bach: Violin and Voice," debuted that week at No. 1 on the Billboard classical charts.

No. 1 on the charts: It doesn't get any better than that. Or does it?

The dirty secret of the Billboard classical charts is that album sales figures are so low, the charts are almost meaningless. Sales of 200 or 300 units are enough to land an album in the top 10. Hahn's No. 1 recording, after the sales spike resulting from her appearance on Conan, bolstered by blogs and press, sold 1,000 copies.

And my favorite fact:
In early October, pianist Murray Perahia's much-praised album of Bach partitas was in its sixth week on the list, holding strong at No. 10. It sold 189 copies.
The pizza parlor near my house sells more pizzas in a day.


"Red Riding" is "trendy garbage"..

...according to Armond White.

...contemporary opportunist Michael Winterbottom produced the "Red Riding Trilogy" as part of his ongoing project to diminish cinema as a thorough, conscientious, imaginative art form to a glib, casual, technology-driven formula. Big on digital video, Winterbottom emphasizes visual frivolity where Rossellini bent documentary-style to melodramatic means in order to achieve a new appreciation of life as lived and as perceived through art. Rossellini’s genuine sophistication makes an astringent experience of his primarily emotional (spiritual) emphasis on the aroused citizens fighting Gestapo occupation in "Open City," the various Allies’ and civilians’ common suffering in Paisan and the tragic incapacity of youthful understanding in Germany Year Zero. But Winterbottom, choosing the most gruesome and unconscionable of human experiences, employs TV technique to make viewers less thoughtful and less sensitive.

"The Red Riding Trilogy" (asinine reference to the Little Red Riding Hood folktale) has that smartabout-movies attitude discouraging emotional response in favor of snark. Winterbottom implies that cynicism is fun. He continues the silly romance with film noir that suggests the world is a dark, godless, unsalvageable place—the opposite of how Edgar Wright satirized English provincial corruption in the great Hot Fuzz. Each Red Riding film, set in 1974 (directed by Julian Jarrold), 1980 (directed by James Marsh) and 1983 (directed by Anand Tucker), uses a splintered, time-shifted narrative that absolves audiences from demanding consequence and comprehension; proof that nobody reads Sir Walter Scott, George Eliot or even Dostoevsky (whose Prince Myshkin gets reduced to a sniveling, retarded child molester named Myshkin—a scapegoat that turns us all into idiots).


Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Just asking

Has Meryl Streep ever been in a movie really worth seeing?


No dissent possible

This must have been a lot of fun:


Monday, February 1, 2010


The BBC iPlayer is an astonishingly well-designed application that provides access to pretty much every television program produced and broadcast by the half-dozen or so BBC television channels.

Can't get it here in Southern California -- it's geo-filtered to deny access outside the UK. Unless you subscribe to a VPN service like this one, which costs about $12.00 a month. David Colker wrote about it in the LA Times on Sunday, explaining everything you need to know about so-called virtual private networks, useful for political dissidents and British television fans alike.

You can turn it on and off -- so that you don't have to be British all the time -- and it uses your usual internet connection. Takes about five minutes to get the codes set up.

The connection is too slow for streaming HD, but works beautifully on SD television. A week's worth of programs available at any time. Think I'll check out something called "Dr Who Confidential", in which Davies explains it all for you.