December 29, 2009

Last Call for 2009: Film, Music, and Books

No way I can post any definitive lists this year. Raising a 2 year old does not allow for a ton of free time. There were so many films I didn't get to see and most of my viewing was spent catching up on what I missed in 2008.

But I did catch a few great ones. Heard a few brilliant albums. Read a few outstanding books.

Books (None from 'o9; just ones I read this year)

1) Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being - Posits humor, sex, and some damn fine philosophy into a great humanist piece. His Theodicy of Shit is brilliant.
2) Cormac McCarthy, Suttree - A god of prose, McCarthy's characters and settings shudder with a deep sadness. Consistent with his other books, the always-present theme of human choice.
3) Erik Larson, The Devil In the White City - Big surprise for me. Non-fiction paced like fiction. Larson comprises a narrative arc by showing the connection between one of America's defining moments in history (Chicago World's Fair) and also its first serial killer.
4) John Steinbeck, The Pearl - Steinbeck re-creates old Mexican folklore and puts together some impressive mythology. Great descriptions with his usual grasp for story.
5) Haruki Murakami, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle - Unlike anything I've read before. Murakami plays with chronology and dual-realities without traipsing into silly fantasy. Subtle at times, but always with the tension of beauty and violence.

Film

1) The Road -
Hillcoat's astonishing recreation of McCarthy's novel is only overshadowed by Viggo's acting.
2) State of Play -
Great dialogue, pacing, story-lines. Intelligent political commentary.
3) District 9 - Sharlto Copely put on the acting job of the year, in my books. Plays with themes of identity and refugee and manages to foster real empathy for CGI aliens. Worth every penny.
4) Coraline - What happens when Pixar takes a tab of acid. Dark, luminous story-telling with gorgeous effects. Stop-motion animation at its finest.
5) Two Lovers - A sedate, strangely realistic romantic film that focuses more on human decision than trying to manufacture a pretty ending. Some great ambiguity here.

Music

1) Mastodon, Crack the Skye -
Moody and progressive with great story-telling. Avoids most "metal" cliche--not to mention the best album art in the past decade.
2) Pearl Jam, Backspacer - Great form that hints at their earlier work without sounding immature.
3) Magneta Lane, Gambling With God - An example of Canadian Arts Council funding going somewhere worthwhile. The lead singer's voice somehow bridge's the gap between two vastly different eras of female vocals.
4) Baroness, Blue Album - In the same vein as Mastodon. Well crafted, ambient metal that borders on being literary.
5) Alice in Chains, Black Gives Way to Blue - heavy, morose, and with a new vocalist that seems up to the task, though likely forever singing in someone else's shadow.


December 7, 2009

On My Own Work & Two Kinds of Writers

Right...that's what this blog was supposed to be about. Long-winded diatribes exaggerating my limited knowledge of writing to avoid actually having to do any.

Lately, I've found talking about my own projects detracts from their need to be written. Not a universal need, of course, just a personal one. If someone asks what I'm working on--a rarity in itself--a hasty, manufactured response is all they get. Anything more and the story is lessened somehow. I think this has to do with "speaking" the story too much before it is written. At some point the story gets told too soon.

But I will say that I have a larger project in mind, one I hope to start in January. My prep has been intermittent, and was heading down the wrong track before an all-important conversation with a friend. I had been working on a time-line, story arcs, chapter breakdowns--a skeleton of what the plot was to be before I began writing out. The problem was, the entire process felt completely disingenuous.

Speaking this aloud to a friend, she mentioned her opinions on novel writing methods. For her, writers of novels fall into two camps: those who work from a plot-driven framework and those character-based.

The plot-driven writer is compelled to sort out the bones of her story beforehand--as best she can for a first draft. The story is then a matter of adding flesh to the bones. Or maybe it's a matter of dredging the body out of centuries-old peat bogs. Difficult to say. Tweaking comes later.

Character-based writing, to my understanding, follows a protagonist (at first) through an ordeal. It can be existential, or merely an unraveling, prima facie event that requires challenge. But the writing, for the author, is exploratory--a delving into the mind of something or someone other.

Both methods are completely legitimate--and both produce great literature. But what is produced differs greatly. For example one can read hard-hitting crime/detective novels that deliver fine prose, but focus on the mechanics and complexities of the story arc. I presume the authors of such works to write from the plot-driven method.

On the other side, experimental pieces that study the human-ness of a character and, in deceptive fashion, pull away from traditional structures. A character moves through the world and becomes a living, intuitive mechanism in their own concentric plot. It's not that plot doesn't exist, but it doesn't take main stage. It can even seem too simplistic because the focus is on character choices, and the arrival at such choices. The focus seems more microscopic.

I like to think I can tell which method an author employs as I'm reading their book. Probably not true--at least not entirely. I've read great books from both methods, though. And, as to be expected, those sadly less-than-impressive.

December 1, 2009

Why All the Remakes?

No question that film adaptations of books are big money, and often result in some outstanding movies. But I can never figure out why remakes occur so frequently. And lately, we have films coming out that are remakes of films only a few years old.

Take 2009's Brothers directed by Jim Sheridan. I haven't seen it yet, so it might be a corker--and given the cast the performances are bound to be decent. But why Sheridan would feel the need to remake such a recent film is beyond me. What is gained?

2005's Brothers, directed by Susanne Bier is one of my favorite films. Tremendous performances. Bier is one of those careful directors who knows how to pull complex emotion from her actors. She creates unimaginable tension in this story of close family bonds separated by infidelity and war. It doesn't need to be remade.

Sheridan's list of credits is about as impressive as they come. Director of My Left Foot, The Boxer, In America, he is one of those film makers who takes his time choosing a project and truly delivers once he finally does. Which is why his decision to remake an already great film surprises me. He, of all people, should recognize the need to let original work to stand on its own. And what of Bier--also a great director (Open Hearts, After The Wedding)? Would she not have to sign away the rights to her film in order for it to be made?

I pose this as a real question, as I don't know what is required for remakes to be authorized.

Sheridan is not alone. Think back to 2002's Insomnia with Al Pacino and Robin Williams--a daft, silly piece that did no justice to the original Danish Insomnia (starring Stellan Skarsgaard) made in 1997. Lars Von Trier's The Kingdom, a truly creepy television mini-series also fell victim to a horrible network remake by Stephen King, called Kingdom Hospital.

Maybe someone in the film industry can explain this better to me. Are there no more original ideas out there? Does all of filmdom consist of adaptations and remakes?

I don't want to see great films remade into different, probably lesser projects. Let a film stand on its own. If it's a matter of gaining a wider audience, North American distributors need to ball-up and work aggressively to get the originals into the theaters upon their release.

November 26, 2009

The Road - It's Finally Here

A great piece of fiction, for me, is gauged by how effectively it devastates. This not only comprises of story and character, but how the piece speaks to the human condition, the bonds between persons, the metaphysical and existential questions surrounding existence. And, of course, prose.

Cormac McCarthy's The Road cuts to the quick. Dark, harrowing, unrelenting in its grief and hope. I read it right after my daughter's birth, in two days, often with her curled up asleep on my lap. This book is very much a love-story.

A great director like John Hillcoat (his The Proposition is a must-see) ensures a certain loyalty to the source material, and a refusal to engage in the sentimental. The cast is immense and capable, the few trailers I have seen look rightfully grim. But what no director can capture, especially in the context of a writer like McCarthy, is the texture that comes from prose.

Nonetheless, I'll be damned if I don't see this film half a dozen times before the year is up---just to be sure.

November 15, 2009

Best Vinyl Art 2009

Art Vinyl has posted their nominees for the best album art 2009. Unlike fiction, where I often find myself removing hardcover book jackets to avoid being influenced, I am forever drawn to album art for vinyl.

Half of these albums I doubt I'd ever listen to, but I wouldn't be surprised if I picked them up because the covers looked so great.

So, based on Art Vinyl's nominees, here are my top ten picks (click to see art):

  1. Mastodon - Crack the Skye
  2. The Mars Volta - Octahedron
  3. Bat for Lashes - Two Suns
  4. Volcano Choir - Unmap
  5. Biffy Clyro - Only Revolutions
  6. Skunk Anansie - Smashes Trashes
  7. Baroness - Blue Record
  8. Teeth of the Sea - Orphaned by the Ocean
  9. Massive Attack - Splitting the Atom
  10. Kelpe - Microscope Contents


November 12, 2009

Advice to Writers: Read Poetry

I've been told over and over, if you want to be a great writer--not good, but bloody great--you have to read poetry. Or at least sit close to poets every now and then. So, I try.

Case in point: an evening with Aislinn Hunter and Miranda Pearson where each launched a new book. Great readings, but I would need several hours to write on both. So I'm only going to tackle one.

Aislinn's latest, A Peepshow with Views of the Interior: Paratext, is a diverse, thoughtful collection of essays on our understanding of and relationship to objects in the material world.

For the record, I don't think I've ever conversed with a more intelligent person than Aislinn. Her ability to listen and respond in a sincere, informed way often leaves me breathless--if not a little intimidated. And this is evident in her new book.

A Peepshow... displays her wealth of knowledge, her understanding of philosophy and how it pertains to the world around us. Experimental in its forms--using everything from poetry to footnotes as a creative medium, but never lacking clarity--I consider the essays imperative for every writer, or artist for that matter.

A quote from the book:
Few of us have the stomach for obliteration. We want some semblance of our having-been to reel out behind us. Want to see oneself seen. This is the conundrum of the rock garden: raking the stones to erase our footsteps but taking comfort in the tracks of the rake. How it takes a storm to come and shuttle the stones into a place that bears no trace of us. Truth of the matter is we cannot begin to say something from the void of nothing. That was the first lie: In the beginning was the word. No: In the beginning was Form. An utterance needs a body to speak to or speak from. As for the dead, they become formless, but leave a trail of pebbles behind them.
Another item worth noting--and a testament to both Aislinn's and Miranda's apparent sincerity-- a few of their students also came forward and read from their own works. My good friend, Nelia Botelho, and a fellow student Kistie Singh were among the readers, and both were in great form.

Nelia and Kistie each compiled related poems from their own collections into respective chapbooks. Great-looking books with impressive poetry within. Nelia in particular (not to take away from Kistie) impressed me greatly. A poem from her chapbook, Undone:

Autumn

Autumn reveals itself
In the skins of split fruits,
the burden of berries,
in the crackle of cornhusk
gilded in senescent light
the dry curled hollows of a husk unfurl
as scrolls before a great revelation

Autumn defines itself
in the silhouettes of crows
perched on pumpkins' thick ginger hulls,
whose sable feathers fold
like pious hands,

and in the stitched burlap
of a scarecrow's lips,
the vigilant eyes.

I think Nelia has a few chapbooks left if someone wants to purchase one. $7 (includes shipping), if you email her at: neliabotelho(at)shaw.ca

Miranda Pearson's latest is called, Harbour, and focuses on a person's drive to create territory in whatever space available. Look for it.


November 11, 2009

Remembrance Day 2009

At the going down of the sun and in the morning. We will remember them.


Also, check here for war poems written by combatants and their families. Many from WWI and WWII.

November 3, 2009

Music For Muse - Hans Werner Henze

In conversation with a professor several years ago, I found him difficult to believe when he said he wrote most of his work(s) with music playing in the background. Was that not a distraction? Quite the opposite, he had explained. It was muse and colour, texture and nuance. Music affected his writing in unexplainable ways. This said to a young protege who wrote most of his half-assed stories in complete silence.

Years later, as I gather my notes together to begin a large, hopefully successful project, the gravity of the discussion is not lost on me. Writing in silence is important. The mind needs to clear, to rid itself of the immense amount of bullshit it collects and filters and stores. This must be why the first hour or so of writing heaps up in the trash--that necessary, humbling process that finds its yield in the pages to follow. But silence, much like music, elicits a certain response--one that is not always what the author is looking for.

So, in part an experiment and in part a need to pursue a particular character to his true, basic depths, I have been playing music while I work. Not raging metal (God bless it) or even my usual fare of acoustic protest songs, but unusual compositions that wind and unwind, spread desolate and forlorn across the floor of my kitchen, and settle at my feet. Enter Hans Werner Henze, and his Guitar Music Volume 1 (samples).

Henze is an interesting chap--still alive, I believe. Of German descent, but now living in Italy as his politics and social viewpoints were not popular at the time of his post-WWII departure (1953), he is a man at odds. His upbringing also carries complex variables (check the link above to find out). In return, at least to my limited perception, his music reflects the same complexity: madness, apathy (atonal), longing...and on. Things I also equate with some of Benjamin Britten's work. But I'm a hack when it comes to music, so what the hell do I know?

What I know is whenever I'm working or thinking of the main character in my next project, I find Henze to be his soundtrack--at least the Guitar Music CD of his I have. And I fondly think of my conversations with that old professor, whose wisdom chastises me to this day, a gentle but relentless pressure to progress.

Such is the artifice of art? One cannot escape their life's influences through the process of creation. But one can draw from the bones of another's skeleton and, in mimicry, fashion themselves fiction.

October 29, 2009

Climate Cover-Up

Those of you who haven't visited DeSmogBlog.com should do so. A great site that works with diligence to source out and debunk the host of lobbyist-funded climate change skeptics causing confusion in the world of media.

Chances are you've come across a host of them. If you're at all skeptical about climate change, you've been suckered in. Any and all climate scientists will tell you that dramatic change is happening to our climate, and we have something to do with it.

Anything else is carefully-planned confusion by big energy groups who stand to lose a ton of money.

A new book called, Climate Cover-Up: The Crusade to Deny Global Warming by James Hoggan and Richard Littlemore, exposes the global-warming denial campaign in vicious, irrefutable fashion. This book isn't some silly bit of finger-waving by activists, but a concise, well-researched (thanks in large part to my friend, Kevin Grandia) piece of journalism by people who have been immersed in the PR industry for decades.

These people are qualified to call shit...well, shit.

Here's a quote from a review of Climate Cover-Up in The Vancouver Sun:

"Climate Cover-up: The Crusade to Deny Global Warming is a remarkable deconstruction of what he (Hoggan) argues is a carefully orchestrated propaganda campaign whose goal is to set the agenda in climate policy by discrediting legitimate science and manipulating public perceptions of the scientific evidence.

This isn't a book about the science behind global warming scenarios, it's an analysis by a well-informed insider of how the debate was skilfully framed by public relations experts to call that science into question, exploit the media's weakness for a good controversy and ultimately to sow confusion and doubt in the public's mind."

October 19, 2009

The Passionate Eye

The date rolled by this year without so much as a second thought from me. The horror of what happened on Sept. 11/2001 now displaced amongst news blurbs, the shitty "9/11" pseudo-pun, the massive amount of conspiracy speculation. Kind of bothers me how my weariness of rhetoric also makes me callous.

Last night, 102 Minutes That Changed the World (also known as 102 Minutes That Changed America) played on CBC's The Passionate Eye. If ever there is a reason to keep CBC alive, it's The Passionate Eye. That and Rick Mercer.

The "102 Minute..." documentary covered the events of Sept. 11 from the impact of the first jet into the World Trade Center, to the collapse of the last remaining tower--almost entirely from raw footage gathered from over 100 sources. No commentary from imbecilic news reporters, no manipulative agenda (that I could see). Just the events cobbled together from personal videos, phone videos, sound bites, phone calls, CB radio between firefighters and central hubs etc.

Watching it I felt like I was being repeatedly kicked in the balls. The footage (some not seen anywhere else) made me queasy: a mother behind the camera, telling her kids to go lie down in the other room while her and her husband watch out their windows, as the buildings fall a few miles away. Young adults--about the same distance away, though in a different direction--musing at what we know to be people leaping to their deaths from 80 odd floors up. They could be chairs, they must be chairs. And then, mid-sentence, the second jet hits, windows rattle, the people in the apartment scream, the camera's scope fills with fire.

Another moment--this one a sound clip--has a dispatch operator telling a lady who's managed to get through on her cell phone to stay put. Help is coming, don't go down the stairs, they may not be safe. The woman, so close to panic but trying to stay positive, talks of injured people, smoke. Break a window if you have to, she's told.

The entire time I watched, and listened, I thought any other context and this shit would be entertainment, right? I mean, we'd pay money to watch a movie like this, its drama and horror and unresolved pathos. Yet because I know this actually happened, two months after I got married, and my first day back to college after 4 years--the irony is weighed down with a certain gravity--which may be nothing more than proximity, really. A crude form of self-concern? How odd.

October 2, 2009

Review: Alice In Chains - Black Gives Way to Blue

Preface:
Grade 10 and a schoolmate hands me a cassette tape--one of the new, clear kinds that allow you the benign pleasure of watching the ribbon unwind from one spool and load up another. Facelift by Alice in Chains. I played that bastard until the tape warped. By the time Dirt came out, they were my faves and all subsequent releases only solidified this. Why? Their dirge-like power chords, the sorrowful harmonies, the fucking wretched sick that was Staley's voice. How often does one get to listen to a band where the singer's voice actually physically embodies the misery he sings about?

Staley's Death:
Expected but tragic nonetheless. I remember phoning my wife at work when it happened, just to talk. I was gutted, feeling like I lost some of my own identity with music--silly as that sounds. Spent the day playing the old albums quietly and writing. I remembered when John Lennon was shot and the hush that came over the parents of my friends. Wondered if my own petty responses were of the same ilk.

The New Album:

When I heard mutterings this was going to happen I thought I couldn't listen to it. No reason to. But I caught clips of the music from time to time, the fat hooks, the familiar harmonies. I got excited about it all and now, CD in hand, I've cruised through the tracks on Black Gives Way to Blue twice.

It's good, really good. Ethereal, gliding, moody as hell. Beautiful sound, outstanding harmonies. Parts of the album border on greatness--especially the ones where all you can do is imagine Layne's voice singing, as if the melodies are rightfully his (which they are not, of course). It's a bit tragic, really, and I think this is a significant, though understandable, problem.

William Duvall has a good voice; good control, nice range. But it doesn't always come out on this CD. The vocal tracks often sound over-produced, I suspect in an attempt to try and re-create a Staley-esque type of aesthetic. The whole album isn't like this, only a few tracks. Perhaps it makes sense, as this is a segue album to a potentially new era for the band. But on the other hand, it's unnecessary.

Cantrell has always written most of the songs, the band really being more a product of his talents than Layne's--and I say this not to downplay Staley, whose voice was and is the most haunting and beautiful thing I've ever heard. But I don't think his death necessitates the end of the band's sound, nor do I think they need to try too hard to recreate it on their new albums. Cantrell's song writing brings out the familiar AIC sound. Duvall's voice should be new and inviting--which it often is. But not always.

I will say this: Duvall is the right replacement. His voice is congruous with the music, works with it, sounds professional without any bombast.

I can't remember the last time I ventured into a music store with the excitement only brought to a person who knows exactly why they've walked through the door--and for what. All the shit I hear on the radio today--my sad recognition that I'm no longer on the up and up when it comes to current music. Today is different. A nostalgic grail, the sounds of the greatest era of music for my generation, the kind that puts an ache in my chest--just a little.

Did I mention I also purchased a new flannel shirt?


September 29, 2009

Art vs. Entertainment

I've spent the last few years crafting a hard-nose, cynical stance on entertainment for entertainment's sake. Part of it is meant as an indictment of pop-culture and the brainless shits I encounter in my meanderings. The other part I attribute to years of church indoctrination that seems to hang around my subconscious--even when I do my damnedest to rebuke it. It's not a perfect stance, but it generates the appropriate amount of misery to suit my temperament--which obviously is not shared by everyone around me.

Over sushi, a most-astute friend mentioned her enjoyment of horror films--how she simply loves the exhilaration associated with feeling scared shitless. This came after I pontificated about how I loathed art being abused solely for entertainment. Her response, though simplistic in its delivery, is actually kind of complex. Defining entertainment and art requires more time than I can muster. But what really matters is that her statement actually negates my hard-ass opinions. Aesthetic experience? Probably not. But she's experiencing something similar, perhaps--and from a schlocky horror film.

I don't think I can make such a clean break between art and entertainment; they are too intertwined. I can merely ascribe adjectives like shitty, pathetic, mundane to particular pieces (a device I take from another friend). But to completely brush entertainment off as superficial devalues an experience too similar to the aesthetic response I might have to something more commonly considered art.

Something I had to ruefully acknowledge last night after watching-and enjoying-the latest Wolverine movie.

September 22, 2009

Should Book Titles Warrant Capital Punishment?

In line at the local drug store, I made the perilous mistake of scanning the book shelves next to the tight-lipped cashier and her green fingernails. Poor girl needed to use the bathroom, I think.

Best sellers, apparently. And the titles, oh the titles...sweet mother of Mary, the titles. Enough to make a grown man want to chew his own elbow. All under the auspicious banner of "mass-market fiction", which I quickly looked up online to find even more gems. Let us consider...

1) From Dead to Worse
2) Club Dead
3) Dead as a Doornail
4) Dead Until Dark

I should note, all these come from the same author, all on the bestsellers. Kaching! But I digress...

5) Altogether Dead
6) Definitely Dead

Uh...still same author. I need to get more creative.

7) Heat Seeker (no euphemism there)

Uh oh...

8) Dead to The World (you guessed it...same author as 1-6)

I'll think I'll stop here. I'm feeling a little...

September 12, 2009

Pavel Grigorievich Chesnokov - Basso Profondo

Unravels sinew from the bones of the dead. Makes me weep. I've been trying to find Russian Orthodox choir music (Chesnokov or other) on vinyl for a long time. No luck. Will have to make do with this.

Gabriel Appeared (crappy recording)


Do Not Forget Me In My Old Age (excerpt)

September 10, 2009

Cormac McCarthy - A Lesson in Dialogue

Out of my league and unable to articulate the immensity that is Cormac McCarthy, I'll simply post two excerpts: one a snippet of dialogue from the overwhelming Suttree, the other a segment from an impressive essay re: McCarthy's focus on the paradoxical choices in his character's day-to-day lives.

Dialogue:
Two men stand in front of a watermelon patch, late at night, from which a third has recently fled.

Two pairs of brogans went along the rows.
You ain't goin to believe this.
Knowin' you for a born liar I most probably wont.
Somebody has been fuckin' my watermelons.
What?
I said somebody has been...
No. No. Hell no. Damn if you aint got a warped mind.
I'm tellin' you...
I don't want to hear it.
Looky here.

They went along the outer row of the melonpatch. He stopped to nudge a melon with his toe. Yellowjackets snarled in the seepage. Some were ruined a good time past and lay soft with rot, wrinkled with imminent collapse.

It does look like it, dont it?
I'm tellin ye I seen him. I didnt know what the hell was goin on when he dropped his drawers. Then when I seen what he was up to I still didnt believe it. But yonder he lay.
What do you aim to do?
Hell, I dont know. It's about too late to do anything. He's damn near screwed the whole patch. I don't see what he couldn't of stuck to just one. Or a few.
Well, I guess he takes himself for a lover. Sort of like a sailer in a whorehouse.

From the essay: Cormac McCarthy's Paradox of Choice by Scott Esposito for The Quarterly Conversation.

From the very beginning, McCarthy has been an author fascinated by the give-and-take between modern-day humans and the multiple systems they are exposed to in day-to-day life. These systems react potently with McCarthy’s other great novelistic concern: the alienated individual and his ultimate recognition (with McCarthy it is invariable a he) that no one can stand outside of human society, and that our codes and bureaucracies decide for us far more often than we actually decide for ourselves. McCarthy’s novels are built around the rare moments of genuine decision-making when the swell and swirl of the world pulls back to relinquish agency to the individual.

In this way, the work of Cormac McCarthy strikes deep into the heart of American literature, as his books are always rooted in that most American of themes: the search for identity. In McCarthy it is often seen as an obsession with borders: of personal identity, of physical place, and of spiritual position within an existential realm of conflicting value systems.

In exploring these borders, McCarthy has carved out what is perhaps a unique place in all of American letters; he has overseen the decline of a traditional way of life in the American South while also personalizing and reframing the rise and fall of the romanticized American West. His protagonists, so similar and yet so different, have revealed the overlap between what are generally understood as two discrete historical phenomena. And in his final novel to date, McCarthy has even showed an ability to project these typical concerns into purely speculative territory, to improbably yet powerfully fuse his earthy immediacy with the lightness of fantasy. Throughout all of this, McCarthy is grounded by his interest in moments of choice and their attendant moral consequences.

August 20, 2009

Ben Affleck's Book Picks

Alright, I get ridiculed enough already for thinking highly of this guy. I mean, let's face it, he's made some dumb-ass movie choices over the years--as far as artistic quality is concerned. But a recent interview I happened to read cited his logic behind some of his more maddening decisions. He basically said he was more than happy to take high-paying, crap-acting jobs that meant 6 weeks of work and the rest of the year off to be with his family and work on personal projects. Makes sense to me. Now if only I could be afforded such a luxury.

I'm not doing myself any favors by posting a link to Affleck's book picks. The link goes to that cursed befouler of television, Oprah, and her ridiculous magazine on which her wretched mug is pasted. Not my fault! If there was a better link with the same info, I'd use it. Everyone knows I attribute the general decline of North American intellect to Oprah's television show. Add Dr. Phil to the mix and the world becomes a slack-jawed beast of burden.

However, Affleck's book picks are pretty damn impressive. Moreover, his articulation of his choices is even better. Say what you want about his prissy films (and I'll probably agree), but the man is well read. And I dig that.

Affleck's Top Five Books

Again, sorry for making you go to one of Oprah's website. I should be skinned alive for that.

August 13, 2009

Les Paul (1915-2009)


The man's biography says it all.

There are roads to immortality; some more impressive than others. One is to follow a narrow path emblazoned by gods. The other is to provide gods with their instruments of fire.

Les Paul did the latter.

June 11, 2009

Alcohol And The Survival of the Fittest (Cheers)

On Drinking and Intelligence...

"Well you see, Norm, it's like this . . . A herd of buffalo can only move as fast as the slowest buffalo. And when the herd is hunted, it is the slowest and weakest ones at the back that are killed first. This natural selection is good for the herd as a whole, because the general speed and health of the whole group keeps improving by the regular killing of the weakest members.


In much the same way, the human brain can only operate as fast as the slowest brain cells. Now, as we know, excessive intake of alcohol kills brain cells. But naturally, it attacks the slowest and weakest brain cells first. In this way, regular consumption of beer eliminates the weaker brain cells, making the brain a faster and more efficient machine. And that, Norm, is why you always feel smarter after a few beers."

June 4, 2009

Kundera's Theodicy of Shit

I finished The Unbearable Lightness of Being last week. My wife's assessment sums it up best: it's the kind of book that embeds itself in your mind, and plays out little by little, for weeks and weeks after. My gut feeling is that Kundera's writing is of a quality unlike any other. In this book he, as the narrator, steps right into the scenes and halts them, physically prevents them from continuing until after he finishes a particular thought. It's as impressive as it is infuriating at times. I have no idea how the movie adaptation works with this dilemma.

One has to wonder what is left when all the commentary is removed. What are the character arcs and how, if at all, are they reached? I'm not sure I have an answer. I know I love the book, but resent it a little too. It's pretentious in parts, some scenes clearly written to provide the author a soap-box. But my resentment is also in knowing he speaks of things with an authority beyond my grasp. I know I will return to this book again and again, each read providing something new.

That being said, there are reams of quotes worth mentioning. Most of them already lurking about different blogs. One that has stayed in my brain since I last put the book down is Kundera's ponderings on God, humankind, and shit. To put the quotes in context (to the best of my knowledge), Kundera the narrator is examining the existence of shit, and the need to defecate, and the seeming unacceptability of the act (by persons) because of a strange shame attached to it, and how it poses a problem with the basic theological tenets of God's relationship with man.

Kundera (as a child) imagining God:

He was a bearded old man with eyes, nose, a long beard, and I would say to myself that if He had a mouth, He had to eat. And if He ate, He had intestines. But that thought always gave me a fright, because even though I come from a family that was not particularly religious, I felt the idea of a divine intestine to be sacrilegious. Spontaneously, without any theological training, I, a child, grasped the incompatibility of God and shit and thus came to question the basic thesis of Christian anthropology, namely, that man was created in God’s image. Either/or: either man was created in God’s image — and God has intestines — or God lacks intestines and man is not like him.

The ancient Gnostics felt as I did at the age of five. In the second century, the great Gnostic master Valentinus resolved the damnable dilemma by claiming that Jesus “ate and drank, but did not defecate.” Shit is a more onerous problem than evil. Since God gave man freedom, we can, if need be, accept the idea that He is not responsible for man’s crimes. The responsibility for shit, however, rests entirely with Him, the Creator of man.

Kundera explaining how the denial of shit is kitsch:

As long as man was allowed to remain in Paradise, either (like Valentinus’ Jesus) he did not defecate at all, or (as would seem more likely) he did not look upon shit as something repellent. Not until after God expelled man from Paradise did He make him feel disgust. Man began to hide what shamed him, and by the time he removed the veil, he was blinded by a great light. Thus, immediately after his introduction to disgust, he was introduced to excitement. Without shit (in both the literal and figurative senses of the word) there would be no sexual love as we know it, accompanied by pounding heart and blinded senses…

Behind all European faiths, religious and political, we find the first chapter of Genesis, which tells us that the world was created properly, that human existence is good, and that we are therefore entitled to multiply. Let us call this basic faith a categorical agreement with being. The fact that until recently the word “shit” appeared in print as s— has nothing to do with moral considerations. You can’t claim shit is immoral, after all! The objection to shit is a metaphysical one. The daily defecation session is daily proof of the unacceptability of Creation. Either/or: either shit is acceptable (in which case don’t lock yourself in the bathroom) or we are created in an unacceptable manner.

It follows, then, that the aesthetic ideal of the categorical agreement with being is a world in which shit is denied and everyone acts as though it did not exist. This aesthetic ideal is called kitsch… Kitsch is the absolute denial of shit, in both the literal and the figurative senses of the word; kitsch excludes everything from its purview which is essentially unacceptable to human existence.



May 27, 2009

Ebert on Von Trier's Antichrist

Thought I'd post a link to Ebert's careful analysis of Von Trier's Antichrist film at Cannes. Thorough and objective; a better review you will not find. He places the film in the context of Von Trier's sense of spirituality and his belief in Catholicism. Read it.

Roger Ebert's Journal Entry on Lars Von Trier's Antichrist Film.

May 6, 2009

Milan Kundera and Vertigo

Anyone whose goal is "something higher" must expect some day to suffer vertigo. What is vertigo? Fear of Falling? Then why do we feel it even when the observation tower comes equipped with a sturdy handrail? No, vertigo is something other than the fear of falling. It is the voice of the emptiness below us which tempts and lures us, it is the desire to fall, against which, terrified, we defend ourselves.
~The Unbearable Lightness of Being
Years ago, I climbed the Squamish Chief with a few friends. Upon its summit, some of us crawled to the edge of the 900 foot bluffs. We rested our chins on our hands and peered down the cold slate rock to witness mist, a winding highway with sluggish vehicles, the impeccable dots of century-old trees. I remember the advice of one of the more seasoned hikers, to keep our chins on our hands, not to stand up and face the openness below. Why? Because we would want to jump. Like lemurs. Like zealots. Like lovers. So we inched backwards, on hands and knees, our eyes aching to see over and below one last time, our minds fighting the urge to hurl our bodies loose.

April 9, 2009

The List

After considering suggestions, I've made my reading list for the summer. Not in any particular order, though it is all contingent upon me finishing the beastly-sized, but strangely compelling Blackstrap Hawco. And so...
  1. The Unbearable Lightness of Being - Milan Kundera
  2. Brothers Karamazov - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  3. The Orchard Keeper - Cormac McCarthy
  4. The Red Tent - Anita Diamant
  5. The Book Thief - Markus Zusak
  6. Sophie's Choice - William Styron
  7. The Devil in the White City - Erik Larson
  8. Long Day's Journey into Night - Eugene O'Neill
  9. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn - Betty Smith
  10. Oil! - Upton Sinclair

April 2, 2009

Kwantlen Writers' Guild Night '09

Following an excellent reading and lecture by Anosh Irani, the Kwantlen Writers' Guild launched its second publication under the theme Totems. What made Irani's talk so refreshing was his back-to-basics approach to writing. I know this past semester I've been far too focused on writing for publication, rather than writing for the joy of telling the story. Sound too Oprah? Probably, but my writing has taken a hit this semester and a lot of it as to do with the idea of writing for success, or another way of thinking about it, writing to avoid failure. Bad move.

Irani talked at great length about perseverance, about how when working on a novel, the first two to three hundred pages he wrote were utter crap, but completely necessary in getting him to the story he needed to tell. So, at the end of a somewhat uninspired semester for me, it was nice to hear someone--and he's a damn fine writer--speak to the simple things I was beginning to forget.

No season ever comes to an end without regrets. Despite my best intentions with the writers' guild, I did not have the overall knowledge of what to anticipate and how to prepare for the entire year. Also, I think I approached it from a place of "authority" rather than of learning--which is never good when you're a student yourself. So, many miles of learning to go for me. The early contest poster, which promised all contest winners the right to publication, resulted in several pieces from hard-working Guild members getting the axe. which pained me considerably. They are a fine bunch of students; intelligent, articulate, funny. To have their efforts not be given due acknowledgment was a downer. So, Lorne Scott, Chelsea Conron, Andrea Purvey, Karen Ezra, Nancy Sayre, Thomas Clay-Smith, Ragav Kumar, Shawn Mitz, Merylee Smith, and Taryn Pearcey--huge thanks to you all, and I doff my hat in apology. Next year, with hopefully a more structured, organized approach, such instances can be eliminated.

That being said, The Guild Publication looks great this year, thanks in part to my wife's work on the cover. Some fine stories in there, and all the contest winners were included. Lee Beavington cleaned house, as did Karen Ezra. Angela Kenyon walked away with the $1000 CRWR scholarship, and deservedly so. Her writing was among the finest of students this semester, and she worked hard. And none of this would have been done without the efforts of Aislinn Hunter, Genni Gunn, and Sheila Hancock. All in all, an enjoyable evening. The final few weeks of class are among us. From there we drift to our own pockets of the world. I'm looking forward to the respite.

March 31, 2009

John Stuart Mill - A Scribe Amongst Hacks

Taken From Freedom of Thought and Discussion (an excerpt of On Liberty):

If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind. Were an opinion a personal possession of no value except to the owner; if to be obstructed in the enjoyment of it were simply a private injury, it would make some difference whether the injury was inflicted only on a few persons or on many.

But the peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is that it is robbing the human race...[It robs] those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it.

(1) If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: (2) if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of the truth, produced by its collision with error...

March 28, 2009

Innovative Audio Contest Winner

NOTE: The gentlemen at Innovative Audio have fixed the errors I write about in this post. Nice of them to do so, though it leaves me with nothing to poke fun at myself about...at least for the moment. In all fairness, the grammar mistake in my story was my own damn fault; certainly not theirs.

No secret that I like vinyl and old record players. I was perusing Innovative Audio's website awhile back and noticed they had a contest for a 500 word short-story. The deadline was just around the corner, so I hammered out a quick memory of my father bringing home his mighty Aurex stereo when I was a kid. They dug it. $100 in my hand, a photo, and they posted the story on their site.

Here's the story.

I'm really posting this out of irony. Who gives a flying fart about somebody else winning $100 right? What truly makes this satisfying, as you will see when you click on the link, is:

a) they spelled my name incorrectly, and...

b) they posted the original draft I sent them, not the final edit where I corrected a few grammar errors.

Note the third paragraph, where the last word should be value not valuable. Too funny. Now that is worth posting. And yes, sadly, I am that short and peculiar-looking.


March 25, 2009

Bring on The Summer Reading

The idea is simple. I want two book suggestions from anyone who comments. No fantasy or sci-fi. Must be well-written, both in prose and plot structure. No subject matter that deals with sisterhoods or people one might meet in the afterlife or tigers floating on a raft in the middle of the ocean, engaging in pseudo-philosophical reflection. No chicken soup for the soul (I'm not even sure what that means). I want to hear about books that hurt when you read them, that left you a little breathless, a little unsure, a little concerned that you might not find something this good again.

It's what makes book reading so addictive. You can mow through several mediocre ones and not think about them twice. But then you hit that corker, the one that floats into your head whenever you pause during the day, prompts you to research the author or subject matter, maybe write long-winded reviews for your own self-interest. The one that keeps you indoors with the blinds drawn, you in your pajamas, forgetting to eat, realizing it's six o'clock in the evening and you have forgotten to shower (again).

For me, Three Day Road, The Road, No Great Mischief, The Grapes of Wrath come to mind.

So, sock it to me. Be fearless. Old, new, in the middle--all good.

March 22, 2009

David Suzuki, Thomas Hobbes, Going Green

Last week, during the few hours of night when I was asleep, some of Surrey’s finest members of society came by and dumped several bags of garbage on an empty lot across the street. Not the first time this happened. In fact, it was the third or fourth in about two months. Today, as I drove to Crescent Beach with my family, I saw large chunks of rolled up carpet, half-torn bags of residential garbage, fast food wrappers galore—all within twenty meters of an oversized puddle of water labeled a wildlife preserve by the municipality. Surrey-trash love living up to their namesake, but we’re not alone.

Recent studies show Ontario is perhaps the most environmentally ignorant province in all of Canada. The supposed hub of Canada, the true beacon of all things good and prosperous. My ass. Strange as it sounds, the rural towns are the bigger culprits. People with room to compost, to actually make an effort at reducing their ecological footprint, simply don’t. Why? Laziness perhaps. Political affiliation too. Remember Frank Luntz? He was the Republican spin-doctor in the U.S. who defied decades of science by falsely claiming:
“There is still a window of opportunity to challenge the science [on global warming]. Voters believe that there is no consensus about global warming within the scientific community. Should the public come to believe that the scientific issues are settled, their views about global warming will change accordingly. Therefore, you need to continue to make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue in the debate.”
This one phrase set American environmental policy back for several years, not because Luntz was speaking the truth (science definitively derails such stupidity), but because those people who wanted it to be true, most often for the sake of capitalism and a stubborn refusal to admit the need for change, found something they could latch on to. Namely, an out and out lie. Of course, I can’t blame Luntz for the fuckwits out here in Surrey, or in Ontario, or any province in between or beyond. What I can pass commentary on is human nature.

Thomas Hobbes, in his morality framework called the Social Contract Theory, outlines a “state of nature” for all humans. Were we not, as rational beings, to adhere to certain rules for the social wellbeing of all, this state of nature would be a premise for anarchy because of four factors: equality of power (no one person can dominate over others indefinitely), equality of need (we all require the same basic needs – food, shelter, water etc.), scarcity of resources (not enough basic needs to go around), and humans are at base self-centered. Hobbes wrote this in the 1600's, but the relevance, especially the last factor, is contextually sound. We are self-centered people.

Tying morality to the environment is a difficult and most-often convoluted task. For the most part, the best way to argue for a moral obligation to nature is from a utilitarian stand-point, where one should protect the environment because of the overall good it has for the maximum amount of people. I’m shrinking a heavy philosophical debate to four-lines, so there’s plenty more to be said about that. But assuming my premise is correct, what possible cogent argument could exist for a person to acknowledge but ignore the need to change the way they live?

The absolute worst argument I’ve heard to date came from a friend of mine who, amidst her passion for her religion, suggested it didn’t matter what we did to the environment, God could fix it with a snap of his fingers when “end times” came. Sometimes a sentence is so absurd, so void of intelligent thought you are left with nothing to say. No response required to show how blatantly self-serving this comment is. No one treats their finances that way. No one would dare approach human rights with such a framework. Yet when it comes to something as simple as separating your paper and cans from trash, or replacing light bulbs in your house, or starting a compost—somehow that fits in an entirely different paradigm.

I’ve been reading through David Suzuki’s Green Guide, a tidy little book that summarizes a lot of research into an accessible read for the layperson. Three-quarters of the way through and the simplicity of change is evident. His premise is going green is often cheaper, makes more sense, teaches us to connect with nature as opposed to find ways to distract ourselves from it, and often results in better overall health. But the real kicker is how it changes our mindset. In an earlier post about PETA and the meat industry, I mentioned how Western culture is inclined to consume products without considering their source, their impact, and their repercussions on the rest of the world. Judging by what I see around me today, I’d say we have a hell of a long way to go.

March 7, 2009

Your Writing Isn't That Good, Moron.

Creative Writing classes breed a certain fallacy. A semester runs around four months, with various deadlines spread out over this period. The student feels the pressure of these deadlines and starts habituating their writing process to suit the time frame of the semester. Thus, a short story becomes nothing more than an overly-tweaked first draft. My prof pointed this out over the phone with me as she lambasted my latest submission.

I'll paste the opening scene of my latest story A Monument to the Divine:

Arjan Van Leur stands amongst a grove of Silver Birch trees, thirteen yards from the blackened ruins of his father’s house. Curls of paper-thin bark lie parched at his feet—the heat of the fire great enough to singe great distances. The air smells of resin and ash, the heavy wet of water-soaked charcoal that catches in his red beard like day-old cigar smoke. Next to his boot-clad feet, a canvas pack contains: spare underwear, socks, a scarf for cooler weather, a flannel jacket. He studies the messy yard and its abandoned farm equipment, the clover infested lawn, the neglected vegetable garden—a sure sign of his father’s departure, as the once-immaculate landscape now bows to encroaching death.
A casual read and it seems okay--at least to me. But what is it actually depicting here? And why this use of language? Polished shit I like to call it. Boot clad feet? Why not boots? Thirteen yards? Are you sure? Not fourteen and three inches? Of course I didn't notice this at first. In fact, I handed it in thinking I'd just channeled Alistair MacLeod. Essentially, I wrote a first draft and spent maybe six hours editing over, but not through, serious flaws. I've been told it takes a minimum of forty drafts to really capture a story; a draft being a complete re-write of the piece. The most I've done is about eight--and not on this submission.

Jack Hodgins
likes to write the first draft, then stick it in a drawer where he never looks at it. Then he sits down and writes the entire story again. The first draft is for him, for the creative necessity of getting the story out. Once done, he can actually sit down and tell the story. It's a fairly heavy indictment on most students' processes, I think. The nature of semesters are to blame in some ways. Three stories in four months? Four months would be great to get a good solid start on one.

My friend Sam likes to harangue CanLit for its empty wordiness, its ability to spend reams of paper comparing one's inner turmoil to the mossy underside of a turtle's belly. Just tell the fucking story, if I may paraphrase him. He has a point. In my case, it's showing up in my early drafts, where I make the mistake of confusing language forms for plot. Just tell the story, Harry. For God's sake. Boot-clad feet...what the hell.

Sometimes I think I should just be a gardener.

February 27, 2009

February 22, 2009

The Oscars 2009: Politically Correct as Always

My long-time guilty pleasure has always been watching the Oscars. When I was young, I watched with reckless fascination and longing as gorgeous people careened down red carpets with practiced smiles and Vaseline-covered teeth. Now I carry the required cynicism--though I still root for favorites and get a kick out of opening song numbers. This year, the pared-down, old-school retro approach worked for the most part. Jackman's hosting was superb, great singer--not too flashy or pretentious. The sets were impressive. And no Jack Nicholson sitting in the front row looking sweaty and self-important. Robin Williams did not charge the microphone and practice a future stand-up routine. It was nice.

Maybe too nice? Speeches were short, sweet, thanking just the right amount of people. I'm sure we'll see in the papers tomorrow that Sean Penn forgot to thank his wife. All the appropriate political opinions were championed just the right amount. I was mildly surprised that the one-second televised delay didn't beep out Penn's commie, homo-lovin' sons-a-guns comments. The show was clean, polished, glassy. Nothing too edgy. In fact, Ben Stiller's mockery of Joaquin Phoenix's mentally-vacant appearance on David Letterman, was probably the most controversial item of the evening--if you can call it that. It all felt too-retro, too much an emphasis on perception. In some ways, I think this negates the freedoms Hollywood tries to champion--but that's another blog post.

The good: Kate Winslet's much deserved win for The Reader, Richard Jenkins' nomination for The Visitor, acknowledgement by Winslet of Anthony Minghella and Sydney Pollack--huge losses for quality film in Hollywood, Seth Rogan's stoner-dude skits, and Hugh Jackman's consummate hosting.

The bad: no mention of Ledger in the "Hollywood Remembers" sequence, no speech or memorial honoring Paul Newman, Michael Shannon losing to Heath Ledger, Rourke losing to Penn, the overly-long dance/music number near the end, Slumdog Millionaire's over-abundance of awards (good film--but not that good).

Here were my picks:

Best picture: The Reader
Leading Actor: Mickey Rourke (The Wrestler)
Leading Actress: Kate Winslet (The Reader)
Supporting Actor: Michael Shannon (Revolutionary Road)
Supporting Actress: Marisa Tomei
Screenplay: Frozen River

Note to self: find the nominated short animations and documentaries and watch them. The clips shown were impressive.

And would someone please hit Barbara Walters with a shovel? She has to be the worst interviewer I've ever seen.


February 16, 2009

Writers' Union gets Whiter Teeth

Interesting bit of news for writers. Well, make that those writers who have earned a reasonable enough reputation for themselves. The Globe and Mail published the article Making the Literary Life a Little Less Precarious, which suggests a medical and dental benefits plan should be coming down the pipe.

The Writers' Coalition Benefits Package is said to level the playing field a little, allowing full-time writers to have access to extended benefits. I have to hand it to the Writers' Union, really. They've managed to wrangle a fair amount of help for writers...err, make that its members. They're on top of the various Internet publishing issues, such as Google's settlement with publishers and authors, and now benefits and pensions for struggling artists.

Pretty soon we'll have unionized writing, where all members have to sign contracts that allow them to only write literature that adheres to certain party lines. Next stop, large campaign posters for Stalin. Okay, I'm being facetious. If it means the union can help a guy pay for major dental work and still allow him to cover the rent, I'm all for it.

February 11, 2009

The Kwantlen Load 'Em Up Tactic

I am disappointed to note that some upper-level Creative Writing classes are falling into the same academic rut other disciplines (most notably English Lit) do. Quantity over quality--or at least an attempt to almost make the two synonymous.

In my Short Fiction class this semester, our usual course load of several original pieces of work, along with supplemental reading responses, has also been boosted by an elaborate "reading as writers" project. We get to examine three stories (by two authors) line by line, and come up with ten questions for each story. Out of the total thirty questions, we respond to twenty in paragraph form and then write a five page short essay on a particular use of craft by one of the authors. All things said, the project is worth twenty percent of your total grade and due one week before your first story.

Question: when are we supposed to write the story?

Look, I get that upper level classes need to push analysis and craft. I'm thankful for it, really. But isn't the point to take craft knowledge and apply it to our own writing? Could we not simply apply the aforementioned project tenets to our regular weekly readings and garner the same results?

Thanks to this unnecessary project, I get to read a slew of sub-par story submissions this week--mine included--that basically ignore every craft lesson implied by the preceding project. Why? Because we had to spend fifteen wretched hours analyzing the shit out of stories rather than writing our own. This isn't bloody English Lit.

Alright, I'm being a little facetious. But I've never understood the idea of crushing the student with work load, rather than ensuring they produce works of quality. What is of greater value to the prof? Six mediocre projects or three kick-ass ones? Who in their right mind would consider the former? Or want to read them?

Bah.

January 30, 2009

The Reader: Complexity Through Ambiguity

I've been meaning to comment on the film The Reader for quite some time. It's one of those films that kicks you in the stomach. You feel the pain of it for days after. But before I pass commentary...

I read Joyce's Dubliners a month ago. Good book, the kind perfect for literary criticism though I suspect not as relevant in contemporary short-fiction. Joyce present his characters as normal folk, in normal circumstances--without pretenses. This simplicity is deceptive actually, because the reader feels lulled by the seeming lack of action and winds up glossing over certain nuances, or a careful crafted sentence that explodes with epiphany. I certainly did. But those moments when I was the perfect, captive audience, Joyce skillfully brought his complexity to light--revealed. Of course, Joyce is responsible I think for a lot of what is taken for granted in short-stories now. The ambiguous ending, the internal arc of a character, the simple but loaded gesture--all found in his works, though one could argue in rawer form.

Moving from Joyce to The Reader means taking the themes of complexity through ambiguity and placing them on the screen. Not always an easy task, though I suspect film is more suited for this. One perfect scene and all the facets it incorporates can flawlessly reveal several pages of literature--in the right hands, that is. The Reader begins with a somewhat taboo tryst between a youth and an illiterate, middle-aged woman in post WWII Germany. The first act focuses almost exclusively on this, creating what I perceive as a genuine, though complex, love between the two people. You know the woman, played by Kate Winslet, is hiding something. Her actions suggest this, though no reference is made to give credence.

By act two the proverbial bomb has been dropped--Winslet's character has Nazi affiliations. The story moves from the comfortable love affair to darker waters, the kind that warrant certain judgments to be made. What makes this film remarkable is the complete empathy given to all the characters involved. Stephen Daldry (who also directed The Hours) presents his characters as human beings capable of horrific acts, not horrific human beings who act according to their nature. And the distinction can be made (and should be). Most war films do not engage in presenting the enemy as complicated, loyal humans--especially WWII films. The enemy is this vague, oppressive shadow, a faceless wall of flesh that swallows bullets and bombs and speaks through a gaping maw of sharp teeth. Daldry rejects this--or at least draws this from the book and uses it to his advantage. He reveals the lunacy of black-and-white morality, the notion of the monster and instead injects sympathy in unlikely, but completely believable ways. The sympathy is huge, and the ending is so painful, so frighteningly lonely because the moral high ground one is normally inclined to take lies shattered at their feet.

One should note that most critics missed this about the film. They wanted the "horrors" of the holocaust, they wanted their traditional monster. The Reader never denies these things, it simply tries to add a complexity lacking in other films of similar subject matter.

In a previous post I lamented the lack of good films this year. But in the past month or so, I've managed to watch several films that make up for all the garbage. The Reader is at the top of this list.

January 21, 2009

Overheard Conversation

I'm in the gym, doing gym-related activities (crying, groaning, staring at other fit people), and I happen to hear the following:

Woman: I just think that for someone with advanced education like myself, I have to push the limits you know. I'm really goal oriented. *does several push-ups* I should write a book about all I know.

Man: Oh, I'm a writer.

(It's important that I mention I started listening more intently here.)

Woman: Yeah? Well, I'd write my book from the psychology perspective. Y'know, how people think and stuff.

Man: Right.

Woman: What do you write?

Man: Advanced Fantasy, like Tolkien. It helps me center myself.

Woman: Oh. Well, I only read hard facts material. No fantasy, sorry.
*she turns back to her push-ups*
*guy gets up and leaves*

(I do one final stretch, barely suppressing a fart)

Question: why does every guy I run into, who claims to be a writer, work on fantasy? Yes, I get it. You like Carpathian forests with strange homo-erotic gnomes running around, rubbing themselves on whatever coarse-hided object happens to be in close proximity. Notice the girl's reaction, the wrinkling of the nose, the once-attentive gaze now looking elsewhere. Maybe there's a clue in there for you, buddy.

Like Tolkien. What does that even mean?