February 22, 2008

Vancouver Writes 2008

I attended "Vancouver Writes" last night, hosted by the Vancouver International Writer's Festival (VIWF). Over a hundred of us, huddled in groups of ten around tables and paired up with published authors of apparent higher repute, wrote through spontaneous writing exercises. The tasks: choose ten words out of a bowl and create a prose piece, each person writing two sentences before passing paper and pen onto someone else. Or, pair up and choose three words from said bowl and come up with the best possible haiku. All the while a three piece jazz ensemble, named after Bukowski, seamlessly played through various arrangements of songs I'd never heard before--but still enjoyed.

Now I went to the same gig last year and had an absolute riot. The various writers: Nancy Lee, Steven Galloway, Miranda Pearson, Brad Cran to name a few, were charming and fun, putting on the requisite act of feigning interest in the minions around them. The food and drink were adequate, the prizes worth playing for, and the MC Billeh Nickerson was quite outrageous. The people at our table were electric and intelligent, witty, inspiring. It made for a wonderful evening.

This year, the whole event felt a little tired. While the music was good, the food and drink up to par with the previous year, the writers seemed less interested. Timothy Taylor did manage to spill his entire glass of wine on our table, which was good for a laugh. But most of the writers seemed preoccupied, more interested in picking up past conversation with one another than engaging with the "paying folk" at the tables. We appeared to be a trivial obstacle to their evening of socializing. Well, that's a little harsh, but you get the idea. There wasn't much of a connection, at least at our table.

Perhaps my cynicism stems from the poor efforts put out by some of the those who joined my table. One woman decided to personify a rainbow. Honestly, who does that? This isn't The Wizard of Oz. The word "rainbow" was drawn from the bowl (a bad enough plight already) and this silly woman, rather than work the word into setting or an abstraction, gave the rainbow a voice and had it speak to the characters. She did this after we'd established the opening line to be a quote from Flannery O'Connor (a name she'd never heard before). She did this with Miranda Pearson, yes the divine Miranda Pearson and her lovely voice who I wanted to bring home with me so she could read poetry out loud until I fell asleep, sitting at our table. I almost had a seizure. Not to mention that she used the adjective "haughty". It couldn't just be a talking rainbow. It had to be a haughty, talking rainbow. Thankfully there was a woman who shared my grief. She gave a brief rant afterwards that made my evening.

The tables that won were most deserving. Some impressive pieces emerged from these chaotic exercises. And yes I still laughed and snorted and made a general ass of myself as I'm prone to do in situations where I'm not quite comfortable. But Vancouver Writes 2008 was not as inspiring as 2007. I didn't walk away motivated to one day join the ranks of those "elite" writers who took turns gracing our tables. I walked away wondering about the sincerity of it all, whether these writers actually want others to succeed. Or whether it's all just a mechanism, a game to be played in order to keep people interested, keep people buying their books with the slight tease that maybe they too can one day be called an "author".

Yes, I'll go next year. I'm a glutton for a dangling carrot and the guise of potential. Not to mention Miranda Pearson...oh wait, I did already mention that. Maybe I should sign up as a volunteer.

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February 20, 2008

Oscar Picks 2008

Nestled in my vast wealth of cynicism, in some small, protected corner of my aging, fragile mind, a blossom of tasteless love exists. The love is not pure, nor is it selfless. It wallows in self-indulgence and is wrought with superficiality. Thankfully, I only bring it to the surface once a year. All my other guilty pleasures--none of which I shall name here--need room to breathe as well.

The Oscars: a completely biased, inconsistent, bungled affair of glamor, cleavage (God bless it), pageantry, and the occasional intelligent decision. I love 'em, every spastic, melodramatic second. I snorted with glee when David Letterman imitated Jack Nicholson and beat the living hell out of a car with a golf club (1995), while the camera panned to Nicholson's unsmiling face. I bellowed like a mule when Halle Berry burst into tears and started to blubber as she accepted her award for Monster's Ball (2002). What other chances do we get to see celebrity at its narcissistic, disconnected finest? Where else can we go to celebrate a person rather than the art, their outfits rather than their craft?

And so, in the blessed spirit of all things profane and plastic and held together with double-sided tape, I offer my picks for The Academy Awards 2008, the more auspicious title for the Oscars--in case you were wondering. And these are not predictions by the way, merely opinion of who I think is most worthy. It was a brilliant year for film, one of the best in memory. This alone makes watching award shows worthwhile, just to see those brief clips of genius. Here goes...

Actor in a Leading Role: Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will be Blood. The man is the pinnacle of depraved genius, bringing a complexity to his characters that borders on the absurd. Worth noting that every other nominee in this category deserves a nod in the highest order. All great performances.

Actor in a Supporting Role: Tom Wilkinson in Michael Clayton. Tough call here. Javier Bardem was outstanding, as was Philip Seymour Hoffman. But Wilkinson's monologue in the opening sequence of the film clinched it for me. It was a performance rather than just a presence.

Actress in a Leading Role:
Julie Christie in Away From Her. Difficult characterization to play, yet she pulls it off with such grace. Took my breath away, really. Hats off to Ellen Page in Juno as well, who was lovely and adorable and all things good.

Actress in a Supporting Role: Tilda Swinton in Michael Clayton. Her character's uncertainty, her denial, her moral bankruptcy and appetite. It was like being witness to the fall of an empire.

Directing: Joel Coen and Ethan Coen for No Country For Old Men. The closest I've ever seen a film come to what I would define as literary. Their use of silence and setting, allowing a scene to speak for itself without resorting to manipulation. Flawless. Huge nod to PT Anderson for There Will Be Blood, which was such a close second I almost couldn't decide.

Writing (original screenplay): Diablo Cody for Juno. Has a second-to-none grasp on vernacular and timing. Loved the internal rhythm of the screenplay, her willingness to never shy away from that necessary reality that sparks true humor.

Writing (adapted screenplay): Sarah Polley for Away From Her. Alice Munro's "The Bear Came Over the Mountain" was treated well here, with intelligent decisions (in my mind) made by Polley to make the story breathe for the screen. Such mature writing, combined with direction, really made this stand out for me. Hats off to the Coen Brothers as well. PT Anderson's adaptation was so loose I'm not sure it was an actual adaptation as much as it was an expansion of an idea.

Best Film: No Country For Old Men. Everything comes together for this film, writing, sound, acting. It is the equivalent to watching a great novel (which it was) unfold on screen. And my God the ending of this film, so flawless and subtle with its complexity. This film in and of itself made the entire year worthwhile.

Sadly, I was not able to see any of the short films (animated or live action), nor was I able to see the foreign films this year. It's a huge disappointment, for I consider short films as I do the short story: a profound and refined art form. Foreign films are a luxury rarely afforded where I live. Few theaters ever show them. But rest assured I shall seek them out in the video store as soon as I can.

There are my picks. Now what are yours?

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February 18, 2008

The Adventures of the Mighty Sally

Amidst raising our baby girl, erstwhile known as Bubby, Dear Wifey has managed to get back on the artistic workhorse and begin new projects. Her blog is being updated regularly now, so for those of you who actually check my spot every now and then, here's another one ready for your perusal.

The Adventures of the Mighty Sally

The sad fact of the matter is, you may find pictures of me from...oh, let's just say a less-than-rugged stage in my life. Wives never have to ask permission. Some unwritten rule, I guess.

Anyways, next post will be about writing--and soon.