Saturday, April 30, 2011

"...intricately beautiful semi-nonsense..."

The Feast of Love (Charles Baxter)
- Highlight Loc. 1202-6 | Added on Friday, April 29, 2011, 11:46 PM

Lonely, eccentric, and crazed, the man Kierkegaard worried continuously about the mode in which one might think, or could think, about two unknowns: God and love. These were for the hapless Kierkegaard the most compelling topics. They bound him in tantalizing straps. Of the two vast subjects about which one can never be certain and should therefore perhaps keep silent, God and love, Kierkegaard, a bachelor, claimed especial expertise. Kierkegaard's homage to both was multifarious verbiage. He wrote intricately beautiful semi-nonsense and thus became a hero of the intellectual type.

Kierkegaard maintained that everyone intuits what love is, and yet it cannot be spoken of directly. Or distinctly. It falls into the category of the unknown, where plain speech is inadequate to the obscurity of the subject. Similarly, everyone experiences God, but the experience of God is so unlike the rest of our experiences that there, too, plain speech is defeated. According to Kierkegaard, nearly everyone intuits the subtlety of God, but almost no one knows how to speak of Him. This is where our troubles begin.
The Feast of Love (Charles Baxter)
- Highlight Loc. 1425-30 | Added on Saturday, April 30, 2011, 06:54 AM

What's agitating about solitude is the inner voice telling you that you should be mated to somebody, that solitude is a mistake. The inner voice doesn't care about who you find. It just keeps pestering you, tormenting you—if you happen to be me—with homecoming queens first, then girls next door, and finally anybody who might be pleased to see you now and then at the dinner table and in bed on occasion. You look up from reading the newspaper and realize that no one loves you, and no one burns for you. The workings of nature are mysterious, but they do account for a certain amount of despair among single persons, the irrelevance you sometimes feel.
The Feast of Love (Charles Baxter)
- Highlight Loc. 2970-73 | Added on Sunday, May 01, 2011, 08:45 AM

THERE’S A STORY of Kierkegaard's that I especially like. A philosopher builds an enormous palace, but to everyone's surprise he himself does not live in the palace but establishes his residence in a dog kennel next to it. The philosopher is invariably offended when it is pointed out to him that he lives in this ludicrous manner. But how else could I have built the palace, the philosopher asks, if I had not also lived in the dog kennel?


QT does "Django" Miike-style

Sounds cool, as usual. May end up that way, too, if it avoids the longeurs of Inglorious Bastards.

Possible precursor project.


Friday, April 29, 2011


The "Unforgiven" of samurai movies. Impressionistic "action painter" battle scenes. Exuberant yet grounded and grown up lead performance by Kôji Yakusho.

Joe Morgenstern:

Preparations for the mission go rather slowly, since the group must be selected, man by man, in the consecrated style of "Ocean's 11." Nine assassins might have done nicely, or Kurosawa's seven, but the build-up is sustained by the movie's seriousness of purpose—it's about the blind devotion that tyrants can inspire—and the engaging heroism of the group's leader, Shinzaemon (Kôji Yakusho). When asked to take on the mission by the shogun's senior adviser, Shinzaemon says "I will accomplish your wish with magnificence." As things turn out, that's no idle promise.
David Edelstein:
...a surprisingly classical epic in the Seven Samurai mode by Japanese bad boy Takashi Miike. The solemn first half centers on the assembly of a team to kill the shogun’s psychotically cruel half-brother—not an easy decision in a culture with no tradition of vigilantism. But these are the kind of men who live to die well: “He who values his life dies a dog’s death.” The second half of the film, in which our band of thirteen traps the half-brother’s army in an evacuated village they proceed to demolish, has a mixture of bloodletting and exultation that would make Sam Peckinpah sit up in his grave and howl with pleasure.
See also:


Thursday, April 28, 2011

RTD on "Torchwood: Miracle Day"


Anyone making fun of her headgear will be kicked out of class and flunked.

More here.



The term Adam Roberts uses, apparently, as a catch-all for both fantasy and science fiction and probably for a lot of slipstream and magical realism and etc as well. Seems to sidestep the issue of whether "literary fiction" is the default norm rather than the specialized sub-genre most privileged by The Establishment. Seems a useful distinction for putting some disagreements in context, especially some matters of taste and temperament.

Nagging questions remain. What do you call people who are on the other side of this issue, Literonormative? And how would you pigeonhole a novel in which both the supernatural and recognizable (realistic) human behavior are depicted -- arguably the only breed of realism that really matters?


Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Somewhat conversational

In recent years, there have been a few literary dustups — how insane is it that such a thing exists in a world at war? — about readability in contemporary fiction. In essence, there are some people who feel that fiction should be easy to read, that it’s a popular medium that should communicate on a somewhat conversational wavelength. On the other hand, there are those who feel that fiction can be challenging, generally and thematically, and even on a sentence-by-sentence basis — that it’s okay if a person needs to work a bit while reading, for the rewards can be that much greater when one’s mind has been exercised and thus (presumably) expanded.

Much in the way that would-be civilized debates are polarized by extreme thinkers on either side, this debate has been made to seem like an either/or proposition, that the world has room for only one kind of fiction, and that the other kind should be banned and its proponents hunted down and, why not, dismembered.

But while the polarizers have been going at it, there has existed a silent legion of readers, perhaps the majority of readers of literary fiction, who don’t mind a little of both. They believe, though not too vocally, that so-called difficult books can exist next to, can even rub bindings suggestively with, more welcoming fiction. These readers might actually read both kinds of fiction themselves, sometimes in the same week. There might even be — though it’s impossible to prove — readers who find it possible to enjoy Thomas Pynchon one day, and Elmore Leonard the next.
-- Dave Eggers. "Introduction to the 10th Anniversary edition of'Infinite Jest' (1996-2006)."
In a commencement address delivered to the newly minted graduates of Kenyon College in 2005, Wallace warned them of their forthcoming enlistment as soldiers in “the day-to-day trenches of adult life,” of the “petty, frustrating crap” that awaited them there, and the “dreary, annoying, seemingly meaningless routines” in which they’d soon be immersed. He argued that the “default setting” of the human being is self-centeredness verging on solipsism, and that the value of a liberal arts education is that it supplies the means to escape “our tiny, skull-sized kingdoms” by exercising a disciplined, nonstop attention to the unexamined details of our lives, and so transcend the selfishness of our frustration and boredom. This could lead, he said, to “being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.” The speech, which strikes me as pretty unpersuasive, is nevertheless the best available synopsis of what Wallace was attempting to do in "The Pale King."
-- Jonathn Raban."Divine Drudgery." NYRB. 05/12/11

UPDATE: We acknowledge the truth of this, and of course one has read (and therefore demonstrably can read) both Henry James and Charles Portis. But we do have biases. Mine are partly those of a recovering professional writer. The job of such a person is to communicate with clarity and not to waste words. Some sweat and strain goes into the attempt to accomplish this, and it's harder than it looks. I recognized the distinctive tone of the right-thinking pro in the words of Daniel Woodrell, quoted here once before:
"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 in, letting the readers decide what’s good, those are the choices I want the artist to make."
I recognize this as a bias, though, because who could complain about work that's difficult because it has to be to communicate complicated ideas -- _______'s , for example (fill in the blank with the name of your favorite demanding but ultimately profound and rewarding task-master author)? I've liked the sound of what Wallace is up to in the new book sufficiently to download not that volume but "Infinite Jest" to my Kindle., along with the famous index as a pdf. Give him a shot at being added to the tough but fair list, along with ________.


Monday, April 25, 2011

New-to-me slang term comes in handy

In fan circles, apparently, the terms "shippers" (short for "relationshippers") is used to refer to those who fixate on the sexual tension/romantic angles in an ongoing storyline -- material often very badly handled in mass-produced dramatic writing, a phenomenon wisely boiled down here by pop culture sifu Henry Jenkins.

Thought about this watching the "Doctor Who" premiere with two other people of a certain age. This occurred at what is normally a weekly "Justified" viewing party,  but I had softened them up earlier with the Hugo-nominated "Vincent and the Doctor," which they both enjoyed. Unfortunately the consensus this time was, more or less, "Why should grown-ups be interested in this?" A sentiment I reluctantly had to admit I shared.

Vastly shiner production values aside, this was a Monster of the Week, hide-in-a-tunnel adventure, a 1970s scarf and curls thowback. Monument Valley was little more than a handsome backdrop; no organic connection that I could see with the events that unfolded there. The aliens' trick of making you forget them the second you looked away mimicked without improving upon the Weeping Angels of the great "Blink," which moved when you looked away. (Moffett recycling Moffett.)

" I was a "'shipper" avent le lettre in my appreciation of the David Tennant "Who" seasons. No need to go that route again, at least not for a good long while. But these days, when there are so many other things one can find to do with any given 43 minutes of one's time, it seems fair to demand a little more nutritional value.

"Justified," for instance, is having an amazing season this year, with plots centering on (but by no means confined to) a meth-dealing Ma Barker-style mountain gangster matriarch with three evil sons. The viewing party's complaint about one episode was that it was almost too complicated, with too many interwoven sub-plots to comfortably keep track of. That's what I think in the business world  is called a high class problem.

UPDATE: Reprinted on IndieWIRE, with comments.


Separating the men from $12.00

They might do better letting people in free, then making them pay to leave.
Sat, April 30, 3 P.M. ff.

The Grindhouse Film Festival presents:

12 hour tribute to David F. Friedman

All tickets $12

Join us at the New Beverly Cinema on Saturday, April 30th, for an incredible 12-hour tribute to our late friend Dave Friedman, the Mighty Monarch of Exploitation! Program starts at 3:00pm, and individual film start times will be posted soon. In addition to the SEVEN feature films we'll be screening from rare 35mm prints, we'll also have a selection of shorts and trailers from our pals at Something Weird Video plus special guests. This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see this many rare films at one time, and also a way to thank Dave for his many years as an exploitation pioneer and supporter, so don't miss this! It's only $1 per hour of programming, by far the best entertainment bargain in LA, and we'll be providing wristbands to attendees so you can take a dinner break or come and go as you please. Spread the word and help us celebrate the life and work of one of the giants of the world of exploitation film!

Special Guests: Bill McKinney, Andy Romanoff and Kevin Thomas

SPACE THING (1968) [69 min.]
Directed by Byron Mabe
Produced by Byron Mabe, David F. Friedman and Dan Sonney
Starring April Playmate, Bart Black, Mercy Mee and Ronnie Runningboard

SCUM OF THE EARTH (1963) [73 min.]
Written and Directed by Herschell Gordon Lewis
Produced by David F. Friedman
Starring William Kerwin, Vickie Miles, Lawrence Wood, Sandy Sinclair and Mal Arnold

SHE FREAK (1967) [83 min.]
Directed by Byron Mabe
Written and Produced by David F. Friedman
Starring Claire Brennen, Lee Raymond, Lynn Courtney, Bill McKinney, Claude Smith and Ben Moore

Directed by Byron Mabe
Written and Produced by David F. Friedman
Starring Stacey Walker, Neville Coward, Bob Todd and Sharon Carr

BLOOD FEAST (1963) [67 min.]
Directed by Herschell Gordon Lewis
Produced by David F. Friedman
Starring William Kerwin, Mal Arnold, Connie Mason, Lyn Bolton and Scott H. Hall

THE PICK-UP (1968) [92 min.]
Directed by Lee Frost
Produced by David F. Friedman
Starring Wes Bishop, Stefan Zema, Tracy Saunders, Lynn Harris, David F. Friedman and Bob Cresse

STARLET! (1969) [100 min.] (note: title may change due to print issues)
Directed by Richard Kantor
Written and Produced by David F. Friedman
Starring Shari Mann, Dee Lockwood, Stuart Lancaster and John Alderman


Elizabeth Sladen 1948-2011

All-time fan favorite Doctor Who companion.


Looking good

In a post by my ex's assistant and co-blogger, a quotation from a source I'm mildly irked to have admit I agree with:

Beauty is a rigid, static physical image, while attractiveness:

”…is a fluid, variable psychological experience, one that moves from the inside, out and back again. Beauty can be inherited, Photoshopped or surgically attained. Attractiveness develops, evolves over time and can be ageless. One can be attractive to others or simply feel that way about oneself. Beauty leads women toward the pursuit of the physical features associated with the word. Attractiveness is an attainable goal for those who take care of their bodies, enjoy their lives, maintain sensuality and engage with others.”
In pop music we can pile up examples, from Janis Joplin to Patti Smith to PJ Harvey. Not to mention the "ugly handsome" school of male movie stars, from Bogart to Bronson to Craig. Often we seem to have stronger reactions to the appeal we have to dig deep for than to the kind that's right on the surface (Grant, Hudson, Clooney). No disrespect intended toward any of these artists, who are all public figures and to that extent fair game.


Sunday, April 24, 2011

PJ in SF

As close as we're going to get to the "Let England Shake" tour. Stream the whole show, download an edited version.

C.I.: Nora


Thursday, April 21, 2011

You'll watch anyway, but I love enthusiasm...

From the Guardian:

It will not have escaped your attention that a little show called Doctor Who is back this weekend. And neither will the big hype line that everyone's using: that this is the darkest series of Who in the history of time and space.

There is only one other thing I can tell you about The Impossible Astronaut: it is shockingly good. Seriously, it floors you from the off and doesn't let you go. The relentless pacing, the intricate serialised story arc, the established presence of a good-looking ensemble cast (all, by the way, having massively upped their games after last year).

It's still as daft and British and Doctor Who as ever, it has just donned some of the clothes of great American TV drama, and it wears them well. Since the revival, as fans there's always been a tiny little bit of nervous apprehension about revealing to people quite how deeply you are into Doctor Who. With this, it looks like those days are over. Doctor Who might now be one of the coolest, sexiest, smartest most stylish things on television. Honestly. On Saturday night you'll know what I mean.




Monday, April 18, 2011

With reference to my earlier message

The threatened petition denouncing the BBC's dismissive attitude toward SF, discussed below (dismissed by most as self-interested whining, if I recall), has been sent with eighty-five signatures, and covered in The Telegraph. You could do worse than use the list of signatories as a reading list: Michael Moorcock, Iain M. Banks, Ramsey Campbell, Ian MacDonald, Michael Shea, Charlie Stross, Mark Charan Newton, and, of course, Adam Roberts....


The Narrative Element

Perhaps interesting.

What is it about stories, anyway? Anthropologists tell us that storytelling is central to human existence. That it’s common to every known culture. That it involves a symbiotic exchange between teller and listener -- an exchange we learn to negotiate in infancy. Just as the brain detects patterns in the visual forms of nature -- a face, a figure, a flower—and in sound, so too it detects patterns in information. Stories are recognizable patterns, and in those patterns we find meaning. We use stories to make sense of our world and to share that understanding with others. They are the signal within the noise.


Sunday, April 17, 2011

I wish someone had made a tape.....

David Foster Wallace's class at Illinois State University (I think): English 102: Literary Analysis. This was in 1994, a couple of years before publication of Infinite Jest.

The syllabus:

Mary Higgins Clark: Where Are the Children
Jackie Collins: Rock Star
James Ellroy: The Big Nowhere
Thomas Harris: Black Sunday, Silence of the Lambs
Stephen King: Carrie
C.S. Lewis: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
Larry McMurtry: Lonesome Dove

Said Wallace:

(We won't use) heavy-duty lit-crit or Literary Theory.

If the course works, we'll end up being able to locate some rather sophisticated techniques and/or themes lurking below the surface of novels that, on a quick read on airplane or beach, look like nothing but surface, all entertainment.

.... These 'popular' texts will end up being harder than more conventionally 'literary' works to unpack and read critically.

You must read every assignment twice before class and come ready to participate.... Anybody gets to ask any question about any fiction-related issues she wants. No question about literature is stupid. You are forbidden to keep yourself from asking a question or making a comment because you fear it will sound obvious or unsophisticated or lame or stupid..... So any student who groans, smirks, mimes machine-gunning or onanism, eye-rolls, or in any way ridicules some other student's in-class question/comment will be.... kicked out of class and flunked.... If the offender is male, I am also apt to find him off-campus and beat him up.


Saturday, April 16, 2011

"Not like you."


Thursday, April 14, 2011

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


"For the past 13 years, [Henning] Mankell has been married to [Ingmar] Bergman's daughter Eva... "During his last 10 years we became goods friends," says Mankell. "We saw 140 movies together: Fellini, Kurosawa, Woody Allen, his own movies. He liked Ocean's Eleven. He thought it was very fun, very exciting. I mean, people would have given a hand to be able to sit with him and watch these movies." -- from an interview published in Entertainment Weekly, 04/15/11.


Sunday, April 10, 2011

"...only one important story..."

Family Matters (Rohinton Mistry)
- Highlight Loc. 4225-28 | Added on Friday, March 18, 2011, 07:45 AM

“Everyone underestimates their own life. Funny thing is, in the end, all our stories – your life, my life, old Husain’s life, they’re the same. In fact, no matter where you go in the world, there is only one important story: of youth, and loss, and yearning for redemption. So we tell the same story, over and over. Just the details are different.”


Malaika Arora

Holding up pretty well.

(Click "CC" for subtitles.)


Saturday, April 9, 2011

More surprises

"...however well I think I know my characters, they reveal themselves more clearly during the writing of the book, so that at the end, however carefully and intricately the work is plotted, I never get exactly the novel I planned. It feels, indeed, as if the characters and everything that happens to them exists in some limbo of the imagination, so that what I an doing is not inventing them but getting in touch with them and putting their story down in black and white, a process of revelation not of creation." -- P.D. James Talking About Detective Fiction


Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Maintaining the musical theme...

Halfway through a Netflix rental of "Dabangg" ("Fearless"), supposedly the most popular Bollywood movie of 2010. Great fun so far, a catch-all masala throwback with high-flying Tamil-inflected action scenes. Salman Khan is the toughest cop in Utter Pradesh, as he declares here:

In this number he falls hard for a girl who turns pots. Music by Sajid Wajid, lyrics by Faiz Anwar, vocal by son-of-a-genius Rahat Fateh Ali Khan. Refrain: "Tere mast mast do naian, Mere Dil ka le gaye chain" ("Your bewitching eyes, have stolen my heart").

Better sound quality here.

Both clips would be better if Salman was a snappier dancer.


A cinematic milestone... least for me.

Does one really have to explain that not all cinematic milestones relate to items of absolute quality? Well, maybe yours do.

Seeing the opening scene of "Bye By Birdie" in 1963, at the turning-point age of 13, caused a light bulb of a certain kind to click on in the depths of my being. "Ah, now I get it," I said to myself. "That's what this is all about. The meaning of life has been revealed."

I've been an acolyte of the Church of A-M ever since.


New Fred

Ah, that's better.


The joys of cranky middle age

Russell Crowe...


Tuesday, April 5, 2011

It's that time again...

The Guardian reports on a preview screening:

In truth the opening episode of the two-parter took a while to warm up, but a fiendishly complicated plot – it is probably not a spoiler to suggest it involves time-travelling – required no end of exposition. But by the end of the first episode it had drawn gasps and applause in almost equal measure from a preview audience at London's Olympia on Monday.


As I was saying...

Reviewed this band for the Har-Ex in a former life, from a show at I think the Whiskey.

"...husband and wife duo of lead singer Lux Interior [R.I.P.] and lead guitarist Poison Ivy."


Monday, April 4, 2011

L7 and CSS: "Badass gangs of smelly girls"

Not my coinage, by the way. The words of a female critic writing on Pitchfork:

L7: A bunch of sweaty L.A. metal chicks who were perpetually pissed off and horny, but always in a good enough mood to make dirty jokes. Their finely tuned feminine rage burned fast and frightening on their second album, a collection of bubblegum grunge tunes about hating traditional gender roles ("Broomstick"), hating life ("Deathwish"), hating abusive men ("Packin' a Rod"), and hating, well, everything ("Shove").

Although L7 only released one album on Sub Pop, their spirit lives on at the label through current signings CSS, an equally badass gang of smelly girls (and one guy). In early 2007, CSS covered L7's "Pretend We're Dead"; L7's Donita Sparks returned the favor by creating a mashup of "Pretend We're Dead" and CSS' "Alala." -- Amy Philips


Sunday, April 3, 2011

B. S. and Pseudoscience

The most recent issue of The Prospect, a magazine that is the U.K. equivalent to, say, The Atlantic or Harper's contains an article concerning some recent developments in neuroscience and learning, by a guy named Tom Chatfield. Interesting, especially on the issue of the effects of electronic media on the development of cognition.

A literate brain is different, structurally, to an illiterate one. How these differences arise is almost impossible to trace during childhood, when the brain is changing for all manner of reasons. But experiments comparing literate and illiterate adults show a link with the size of the angular gyrus, an area of the brain associated with language, as well as different and more intense patterns of mental activity elsewhere.

We have long accepted literacy as a fundamental building-block of civilisation. Today, however, neurologists face related questions which are deeply troubling to many observers: if literacy changes our brains, what will a digitally literate brain (one shaped by interactions with digital media such as computers and videogames) look like—and what could this mean for the way we learn?

The evidence is thin, especially on the question of whether a childhood “screen culture” is developmentally damaging. Yet tantalising neurological research is beginning to emerge that uses interactive media to give us a more precise understanding of the workings of the brain and, in particular, the mechanisms underpinning memory, learning and motivation.

The NeuroEducational research network, headed by neuropsychologist Paul Howard-Jones at Bristol University, is at the forefront of this work.


Saturday, April 2, 2011

Cheer Up!

Martin Amis probably feels worse than you do (but not than I):

Amis says he fears "the long read is a dying art" – which isn't a fogeyish complaint, he adds, no doubt fearing another embroidered headline ("Amis: You're all dumbos"). "But there are so many claims on our attention. Very literate people admit they can't read books any more. And just as the literate brain is physically different to the illiterate brain, the digitally savvy brain is different again. It's a physiological change, not just a moral one."

He's still getting plenty of reading done, "more canonical stuff now". The suggestion is of opportunity dwindling. "Even correcting proofs of your novel becomes slightly irksome because, you know, time is finite."

His friend Christopher Hitchens is being treated for cancer in America. Amis and his family will soon move there, in part to be closer to Hitchens, also to the elderly mother of Amis's wife, Isabel Fonseca. "The future is much smaller than the past, now."


Friday, April 1, 2011

Rhymes with "Shipoopi"

The first 25% of Elmore Leonard's most recent novel, "Djibouti," consists of descriptions of people watching documentary footage of Somali pirates on a laptop. Swear to God.

UPDATE: Cashed out before the 50% point. Way too much half-digested research material.