Friday, August 27, 2010

Body English

I love this frame grab from the long-running British TV crime series “Wire in the Blood.” One of the motifs of the story is the never-to-be-acknowledged ache of sexual tension between a female cop (Hermione Norris) and a slightly off-kilter profiler of serial killers (Robson Green). In the episodes I’ve seen this mutual attraction is never a subject of discussion and is expressed only with body language, notably by a tendency of their faces to drift closer and closer together, the framing becoming slowly tighter and tighter, during intense professional conversations. The staging of the scene pictured above is unusual because it involves a cut to a long shot. We see the exact dimensions of the hallway they’re standing in and can tell at a glance that there’s no good reason for them to be this close together. Even more revealing is Norris’s posture. She’s not so much being backed up against the wall by an unwanted intrusion into her airspace as reclining against it, with her arms hanging loose at her sides. Submissively, one might almost say. All in all, a very vivid image of two people in the midst of being turned on by each other.


Thursday, August 26, 2010

More Moorcock

Savoy Books, a small avant-garde SF British publishing house with connections to Michael Moorcock, has just published a gigantic collection of his essays. At about 800 pages and $75 a copy, plus postage, it's neither for the faint of heart nor the casual fan, so the review in last week's Spectator will probably have to serve for most of us.

Lots of cool quotes:

......he has ‘never been much at ease’ with science fiction. A natural writer, from the age of eight he was steeped in Dickens, Wodehouse and Richmal Crompton’s William books — but it is ‘probably fair to say that I owe my career to Edgar Rice Burroughs’. At 14 Moorcock produced a fanzine called Burroughsania, and by 16 he was a regular contributor to Tarzan Adventures magazine. ‘Between the ages of 17 and 20,’ he recalls, ‘I was able to earn almost any amount of money by writing … and became a fairly dissolute teenager for a while.’ It was only at 20, when he was blacklisted for bolshieness at IPC, that he was ‘forced to turn to science fiction’. ‘Epic Pooh’ he writes that he is unconvinced of Sauron’s evil, since ‘anyone who hates hobbits can’t be all bad’

He is very funny about his stint as a script writer in Hollywood, and interestingly prefers LA to San Francisco. (‘Only Geneva and Amsterdam are neater.’)

Moorcock is elegant and aggressive (‘badly educated people are suspicious of ambiguity’), consistently entertaining, and frequently wise and generous. He is generally sound on religion and politics, despising Blair more than Thatcher, for example.


Irresistable hype

If you follow these things at all, you know that Jonathan Franzen is really starting to piss people off. (You may recall earlier in the decade when he expressed his discomfort at "The Corrections" being chosen for Oprah's Book Club -- at that time the broad road to riches -- because, in effect, too many of the wrong people would be reading the book for the wrong reasons.)

His new book, "Freedom", comes out next Tuesday and is widely seen as the rightful successor to "The Great Gatsby" or even "War and Peace". He made the cover of Time. Jody Picoult -- hugely popular and critically disdained writer of 'state of the nation' novels -- has called bullshit, playing the sex, race, and genre card. Others have followed. All necessary links are here, if you're interested, including some cogent thoughts from Laura Lippmann -- who amusingly compares her coverage in the NYT to that of "Mr. Lippmann" (David Simon, of The Wire), noting that her marriage to him was noted and his to her was not.....

I am desperately trying to resist (I thought The Corrections was OK.), but really: In the Guardian earlier this week was the following. If somebody liked the book THAT much, could it possibly not be worth a try?

Franzen's daring has been to take on soap operas and HBO mini-series, demonstrating that if you want modern emotional dramas, the novel can provide them today as effectively as it did in the 19th century. But, he also offers something no HBO series can – the solitude and moral introspection of the novel, the beauty of prose, the imaginative love affair you form with characters you alone see in the way you see them. Freedom is the novel of the year, and the century.


Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A vacation treat

It's not caloric if you're out of state:


Monday, August 23, 2010

Moffat in a nutshell

A high proportion of the writings on this blog over the last six months or so have been devoted to praising Steven Moffat, first as writer of the latest series of Dr Who and now as writer of the new Sherlock series -- and next year we will probably praise him as writer of the first Tintin movie for Steven Spielberg.

There is a Moffat style, of course, not universally beloved. Last week in the Spectator, in a few offhand graphs at the end of a piece about something else entirely, critic Simon Hoggart brilliantly summed up the case for the prosecution. I will not be able to watch Moffat's work without remarking these touchstones:

high-speed action, large chunks of the plot left out or unexplained, lack of detail juxtaposed with too much detail, the detective (or in the case of the Doctor, the Doctor) as a high-functioning autistic......


Sunday, August 22, 2010

Rapace before Salander

Now officially obsessed, digging around this weekend for something new on the Noomi Rapace, I came across this unsettling frame grab of the “Dragon Tattoo” actress from the Norwegian film ”Daisy Diamond”, made two years earlier, in which she plays a young single mother desperate to launch an acting career. (Safe bet: some enterprising indie distributer in the US already has this in his sights.)

Rapace's performance as Lisbeth Salander is great especially in its sidelong details; a glance here, an inflection there. Which are pretty much all Rapace has to work with, given the conception of the character. As the series continues, a few glimmers of emotion begin to leak out through the chinks in her defensive carapace, Salander’s microscopic double-takes at acts of spontaneous kindness. There’s a perfect example in the third film, “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest,” when she reacts with the tiniest of flinching movements, as if she’s been slugged by a fly, at the significance of the pizza that’s turned up in her hospital room. She’d mentioned her craving to an attentive young doctor, and now here it is. (He also has the sensitivity not to bring it to her in person.)

The good guys in this story -- Blomqvist, the doctor, security boss Dragon Aramansky – are the people who see through Salander’s defenses yet chose to respect them. Who admire them. Larsson seems to have thought of himself as a radical, but the notion of courage he endorses is foursquare: A hero is a very different creature from a blockhead who’s too stupid to be afraid.


Friday, August 20, 2010

The perfect woman

If Mrs Tulkinghorn finally gets fed up .....

The Guardian reports:

New York professor Lynne Rosenthal, who holds a PhD from Columbia University (it's not clear from news reports where she teaches) has been hailed in some quarters as a folk hero for making a stand against Starbucks' "fascist" use of bad English. A (c0nfrontation) at one of the coffee chain's counters ended with her being led by police from the premises and threatened with arrest if she attempts to return.

The point at issue is, to say the least, a little moot. Professor Rosenthal, after ordering a multi-grain bagel, was asked by the person behind the counter, "Do you want butter or cheese?" News reports quote the prof as then declining to answer: "I refused to say 'without butter or cheese'. When you go to Burger King, you don't have to list the six things you don't want. Linguistically, it's stupid, and I'm a stickler for correct English." At this point, civil exchange clearly broke down.


Thursday, August 19, 2010

As wrong as possible

I just read a review by Philip Kennicott (His day job is as a 'cultural critic' for the Washington Post) in Gramophone of a recently revived opera by Charles Gounod -- "The Bloody Nun" -- based on an incident in that greatest of all Gothic novels, "The Monk" by Matthew Lewis.

In passing, he says something so strange and foreign to me that I almost did a spit take with my salad:

I'm slightly allergic to plot, and "The Monk" is wall-to-wall plot, people telling stories about people telling stories. Plot is to reading as carbohydrates are to dieting.

How could it be that someone thinks this way?


Monday, August 16, 2010

Following the sublime...

... with the silly.

A design/criticism blog called "Better Book Titles".... The theme is obvious.


Saturday, August 14, 2010

Origin Stories: Holmes & Salander

A question arises from the sharp contrast between the first and second episodes of Steven Moffet's excellent new BBC series "Sherlock," a thoroughly modernized yet utterly faithful re-aninimation of A.C. Doyle's master sleuth: Why does the introductory first episode, "A Study in Pink," seem so much livlier and more engaging than the second, "The Blind Banker"?


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Scott Pilgrim

Richard Brody being convincing about the youth of today:

My teen-aged daughters and their friends have a much more competitive sense of life than we (late boomers) ever did; they and their friends are tested, literally and figuratively, more intensively and more constantly than we were, in school, at home, and among friends. The ubiquity of social media gives them no place to hide and submits the least of their idiosyncrasies to snap judgment, while an increasingly therapeutic and supervised environment gets them in the habit of understanding their personal issues and crises in more general, even abstract terms. At the same time, the virtually constant contact that their electronics keep them in teaches them, quickly, that the net of social relations is wide and strong and that they’re inescapably connected to the big world, which comes with a sense of responsibility, adventure, and danger. They learn early that the expressive power of a semi-public persona goes together with the constant maintenance of a self-aware guardedness. Scott Pilgrim doesn’t take up arms or raise his fists against exes, evil or otherwise; he battles his own emotions and struggles to get them under control. With the willed goofiness of its media-centrism—which both diverts and distills the constant pressure its characters endure—“Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” presents a richer blend of the contemporary adolescent experience than any teen comedy I’ve seen.

UPDATE: I hasten to add that these sentiments echo things said for years by friends (including the proprietor) who are parents of teen-aged girls -- What oft was thought, etc. I like finding things in the broader media that indicate the movement of ideas, books, images, music, or characters into the mainstream conversation -- even if they have been part of our private conversations for years.

It's exciting that a group of people who make movies have stumbled upon and (apparently) done well with a set of observations as yet unrecorded there.... One fewer on the list of things to be irritated about.


Very mysterious

Don't let this happen to you.


Thursday, August 5, 2010

Richard Price...

...will become a crime novelist after all.

...there have been a lot of changes in Price's life since LUSH LIFE was published to near-universal acclaim in March 2008. He divorced his wife and is now living with the writer Lorraine Adams, who also writes literary fiction with crime elements. He left Gramercy Park and moved to Harlem. Screenplays he was contracted to write, such as an adaptation of Tom Rob Smith's novel CHILD 44, haven't panned out, at least publicly. And at 61, a certain cost-benefit analysis might kick in about whether it's economically worth it to spend 4-5 years researching and writing a big literary book with crime elements while writing screenplays that never get made (or don't end up paying the bills) or to produce a series of crime novels at a one-a-year pace, which it appears Price is on track to do.
It isn't just detective writers digging deeper, IOW. Crime and literary fiction are converging, with folks in both camps veering toward the other. Also in the same piece, the suprising suggestion that the two strongest influences upon "Benjamin Black" are Richard Stark and Georges Simenon. I should take another look.


Isabel Sarli

"Not an actress of [Elizabeth] Taylor's gifts," sez Armond White. The title of White's piece, "Gentlemen Prefer Curves," should become a rallying cry.


"Avatar" Schmaveter

C.I.: GoJoe


Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Stiff Upper Lip

Christopher Hitchens (picture above taken about two weeks ago), showing the fortitude and grace we expected in an essay about his illness, "Topic of Cancer":

The new land (of illness) is quite welcoming in its way. Everybody smiles encouragingly and there appears to be absolutely no racism. A generally egalitarian spirit prevails, and those who run the place have obviously got where they are on merit and hard work. As against that, the humor is a touch feeble and repetitive, there seems to be almost no talk of sex, and the cuisine is the worst of any destination I have ever visited.

In whatever kind of a “race” life may be, I have very abruptly become a finalist.

I have been taunting the Reaper into taking a free scythe in my direction and have now succumbed to something so predictable and banal that it bores even me. Rage would be beside the point for the same reason. Instead, I am badly oppressed by a gnawing sense of waste. I had real plans for my next decade and felt I’d worked hard enough to earn it.


My heart and blood pressure and many other registers are now strong again: indeed, it occurs to me that if I didn’t have such a stout constitution I might have led a much healthier life thus far. Against me is the blind, emotionless alien, cheered on by some who have long wished me ill. But on the side of my continued life is a group of brilliant and selfless physicians plus an astonishing number of prayer groups. On both of these I hope to write next time if—as my father invariably said—I am spared.


Tuesday, August 3, 2010


My new weekly read is the blog section of something called, irritatingly enough, MUBI -- and more particularly, a column by Glenn Kenney called "Tuesday Morning Foreign Region DVD".

This week: "Thundercrack!" , recently discussed here in the comments section of a posting that was not about "Thundercrack!"

Kenney demonstrates more than a superficial knowledge of seventies exploitation films, including the work of Radley Metzger and a movie called "Singapore Sling", which he describes as "Grey Gardens" meets "Eraserhead" meets (Children, avert your eyes.) "Tug Jobs". Kenney says he saw the last named by accident on TV while in Cannes. Don't believe him myself. (I tried to Google the phrase to confirm my guess as to its meaning, but can't pass on the information, because my employers won't allow access to tugjobs. com...)

Says Kenney:

As the screen caps above testify, the Region 2 PAL disc of the film, from the Netherlands-based Shock/Studio 2602 label, looks like crap, and that's even allowing for the fact that that the film was originally "treated" with scratches and such to give it an authentic "old movie" feel. I am compelled, even as I ponder the mystery of the film itself, to implore you not to waste your money on this disc. Instead, wait until 2011, when Synapse films is due to release a restored version of the picture—the most extensive restoration job the company has done, according to its honcho, Don May—at an expanded length and with many extras. It's all being approved of by one of the film's stars, Melinda McDowell, brother of director Curt, who died in 1987. Maybe in the extras she'll reveal what it's like to be directed by one's brother in what is largely a pornographic film.

The above photo is of George Kuchar, in a tutu, preparing to have sex with a man in an ape suit. .


Sunday, August 1, 2010


I'll be writing week by week about AMCs moody new thriller about a brooding-genius data analyst who uncovers a conspiracy. There's been some nay-saying already, mostly expressions of right wing political correctness. So far, I'm enjoying it, though it's early innings. If you're moved to comment, please click through to the original post. Traffic is all.


In one's future.... will either be casting this one, or reading it in one's book club, or selling the three volume US first at a premium price.

This is based on advance buzz only, of course, but it sounds like a lot of fun, and has just been long-listed for the Booker.

"Skippy Dies" is basically a 650 page boarding school comedy, the fate of the hero of which is announced in the title. Slobberingly received: "gigantic, marvellous, witty, heartbreaking, brilliant, beautiful": and that's just from the Telegraph....

I liked this quote from an on-line discussion in the Guardian about the usefulness of the Booker:

Two novels I have read: The Da Vinci Code and Skippy Dies. I would happily bet that the majority of people who bought the former would enjoy the latter every bit as much if it was put in front of them in the right way. I don't want to dumb down literature, but how I'd love to smarten up popular culture!