3/29/10

Dead men


Writer Walter Mosley has some good comments at Time.com, among them:
With the original hardboiled detectives, there was an existentialism that entered the genre in the '30s and '40s. There was no connection to the world. No mother, no father, no sister, no brother, no friends, no dog, no regular apartment. If you get arrested, they throw you in jail and you can stay there because you don't have any responsibility outside of the case.
With a person like that, there can't be character development, so you actually give up one of the most important aspects of the novel. And that's problematic. The onus now is, How do I create character while also moving forward the mystery, the plot, the crime, the resolution?
Mosley has identified the problem not so much with crime as crime series. If a character reappears over several titles, should he change? That's the real problem for an author lucky enough to hit on a successful formula.

3/24/10

Money talk

The Economist has told off New Zealand for not being as ecologically "pure" as its advertising claims. The editorial is on the money (the reader comments are good, too) but if we're getting ad hominem about it a green scolding is a new and ironic twist for a newspaper that has been skeptical about global warming until only recently. Its editors also once considered invading Iraq to be a cracking good idea but they have formally reversed themselves on that position too.

I haven't been reading The Economist regularly since being in London but I have done most weeks since the mid-1980s. New Zealand would get a tiny mention now and then, usually a brief footnote puzzling why the country has not done better since embracing the free market Just Like We Told It To. (One of life's little mysteries, I guess.) The Economist calls itself a newspaper even though it's in a magazine format, which drives me nuts, and it has the funniest Situations Vacant pages ever. (Director General of the Council of the Baltic Sea States? Where's that CV?) It makes lots of rawk rawk British upper class jokes which sound funny until you are actually in England and realise that they're not joking. If its subs were dryer they would be in sachet form. (When Arnold Schwarzenegger broke his leg skiing the headline ran "Hasta la Piste.") They can spell and shit, and make jokes in Latin, and are great at writing about books and the arts in the way that literary and arts magazines, contrarily, write well about global finance. Also they wouldn't let me get away with mangling a sentence like that, but this is a blog, and come to think of it, I can also remember their editorials predicting that the Internet would never be important either. The Economist is like a professorial but boozy uncle who goes off sometimes. The Christmas edition is especially good. I recommend reading it online to corrupt their business model.

On Monday in a fit of Keeping Up To Date I bought this week's edition of said newspaper, the IHT and the Financial Times. The Economist said the recession was over; the IHT said everything that went wrong and caused the recession still hadn't been fixed so hey, dude, look out; and the Financial Times said there has not been a recession and here is a Rolex ad and a bar chart to prove it. I'm paraphrasing, but only slightly. I had to lie about my age to buy the FT: it makes sense only if your memory goes back no further than 15 years.

3/22/10

Lexi-con

David Bellos, writing in the New York Times, explains how Google Translate works:
Google Translate can work apparent miracles because it has access to the world library of Google Books. That’s presumably why, when asked to translate a famous phrase about love from “Les Misérables” — “On n’a pas d’autre perle à trouver dans les plis ténébreux de la vie” — Google Translate comes up with a very creditable “There is no other pearl to be found in the dark folds of life,” which just happens to be identical to one of the many published translations of that great novel. It’s an impressive trick for a computer, but for a human? All you need to do is get the old paperback from your basement.
Which is interesting not only because the Translator is a Turk, because while an original work may be in the public domain a publisher's translation of same can be copyrighted for separate and much longer terms. In which case, would Google have resort to such translations beyond "fair use?"

I guess it's all too late now, anyway.

3/20/10

Nachtclubbing

I'd be writing this from Berlin if it wasn't for the 100 per cent letting agency surcharge. Twelve months in that city would suit me down to the ground. No phone or TV and I blocked out my next two projects, and the electro / neu-Goth scene is the best: sexy, trim, retro, fun. (The next big thing, imho.) Still waiting on feedback from the ms. London: raining, but it's spring. Which is the equivalent of good cheer in the face of a terminal diagnosis.

Must stop making jokes like that Now That I Am Older.

Another week, another fictional work of non-fiction. Charles Pellegrino's The Last Train From Hiroshima has been revealed to have been fudged a bit. Critic Motoko Rich's article in the New York Times also mentions Margaret Seltzer's faked gang memoir and good old James Frey. It's wrong to market fiction as non-fiction but what this proves in my eyes is that again and again, the facts of the author's existence bear no relation to the degree to which their work can convince a reader, let alone editors. I was raised a modernist: the author should be invisible. And the celebrity author culture that publishers hope will save them, won't. (Unless of course I became one, in which case I would be rowing as fast as possible.)

The electrovamp is Mme Olivia Wilde in Tron: Legacy. More spoilers at Aintitcool.com.

3/6/10

Appreciation

Best Supporting Actor Oscar nominee Christoph Waltz interviewed in Time:
TIME: What is it like to receive all these awards? Does it even matter if you get an Oscar, or is the praise enough?

WALTZ: Praise is nothing that accumulates. Praise is a sequence, especially if you've toiled for a long time. Praise does not pile up. So in a way, you can't get too much. I don't consider it to be a quantity that you can measure by volume. There's a new aspect to the appreciation and the acknowledgment every time, because it's always coming from somewhere else. So I try to take the praise very specifically, because then I really can utilize it as an encouragement. It's like a finger that points in a certain direction. I take praise as not just a reward and a result but also as the beginning of a new process.

If this role [in Inglorious Basterds] hadn't come along, would you still be an actor? Would you still believe in the craft?

I probably would still be an actor, because this is what I make a living doing, and I have been making a living with it for so long. To chuck it all in and start something else — it's a bit too late. Would I still believe in the craft? Absolutely, but on my terms, and that's where the difficulty would set in. It would feel like fighting a lost cause. But because I'm so bloody stubborn, I would fight it anyway... But all of a sudden — with the emphasis on sudden — it looks like it's not a lost cause. It looks like I was not traveling on the wrong steamship in the wrong direction. So in a way, after 30-something years, it's more than gratifying, it's more than just an accolade. It's really like a new start.

3/5/10

Shant quit ripping

I thought about Jack the Ripper a lot during The Wolfman, as well as Dracula and that book about girls running across the moors. The first half of the movie (actually the first two-thirds slashed down to span kidult attention) is classic Hammer Horror meets steampunk, as prescribed by the Rules of Bram: the tourist train twisting deep into the foreign land; letters from Mina -- sorry, Gwen (Emily Blunt); the Character Actor Pub; the handsome Jonathan Harker -- again, sorry, Lawrence Talbot (Benicio del Toro); the asylum; the pseudo science; the address to a tiered medical audience. It's all lifted in solemn and direct tribute to Francis Ford Coppola's maligned-at-the-time Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992). (Which I always considered near-perfect - is it finally getting the respect it deserves?)

I enjoyed The Wolfman's lifting, and the pastiche, and the flickering candle camp of the start of the film. The story's told in a hell of a rush, though so the filmmakers (sorry #3: the producers) can rush to the Big Face Off: a showdown between werewolves. This is where the movie stopped being a tribute to things I enjoy and suddenly became Wolverine. All movies have to have a Big Face Off now so that children will pay to see them and thus cover the overheads it took to computer generate said sequence, but even as the first half (two thirds) of the movie howled past I was hoping for a trade off, namely that director Joe Johnston (or someone - even old guy editor Walter Murch) - would ape not only the look and feel of classic Hammer films but also the structure. The structure being: very, very slow build up to The Terrible Thing (as per the first para: Stoker / steampunk / Victoriana rules etc); flash of psychosis and/or nudity somewhere along the line; lots of shadows and finally, only at the very end, The Terrible Thing Revealed. Mike Nichols followed this rule pretty closely with Wolf (1994) and it worked great. In fact, it worked as recently as From Hell (2001). But thanks to franchise fucking, nerves, big studios, The Kids, whatever, The Wolfman went all X-Men in the end.

It's a shame. The cast is fantastic, the sets and locations perfect, the acting just right. Anthony Hopkins is a gold-plated prick, Ms Blunt is distressed and lovely, and Benicio is the ill-fated outsider. There's an incredible movie in here waiting to bust out. Director's cut, maybe...

3/4/10

Bedside reading #2

Lots to write about this. One of the better author biographies I've read, but it's gloomy: his friends and family really did drop like flies. I had the good fortune to attend the recent Complicite production of Endgame which I had mixed feelings about -- I enjoyed it but began to wonder if the author's estate's control over the work was limiting its interpretation. Mostly however, watching Endgame I was struck not by the intellectual play but the human source of its deathly abstractions, in particular the death of his brother, Frank. Prior to that he was grieving for his father's early death and his Parisian comrades who died in the French resistance; after the war, first his mother passed and then the luminous Ethna MacCarthy. Once you take that into account along with his own health problems, the immobile creature in the chair with the kerchief draped over his face seems less of a stylisation. Beckett's was a rough life but it was brightened by his artistic contacts with James Joyce, Nancy Cunard, Marcel Duchamp and others. Knowlson's book includes mention of a time when Beckett and Duchamp whiled away their Occupation days playing chess - can you imagine? Such a scene seems incredible - a layered tableaux.

I'm the one on the left

From the 2010 Christian Bourgois catalogue. Writing is hard work but some days you get something nice in the mail and the wind at your back.

3/2/10

Meaningful stairs


Last time I was in Paris I walked around the corner and slap bang into a set of steps I had seen before. It took me a moment to spot where: I was standing in the square which became the final scene in Brian DePalma's Femme Fatale, one of those movies I shouldn't love but do. I snapped the photos on my Olympus XA 35mm and stitched the panorama together in Photoshop. Here is DePalma talking about noir and dreams:
I had this idea to do a noir movie, but I felt that noir only works in a surrealistic way. Which meant that I had to create a dream, and put the noir story in the dream. If you look at these old black and white movies, with their sort of fatalistic storylines and very stylized way of shooting, I thought the dream device would be the best way to re-imagine it in a contemporary setting. So I put the noir melodrama in the brackets of her dream sequence and I used a lot of things that sort of happen when you have a dream. Certain things you experience reappear in your dream in kind of strange juxtapositions, and that's why the noir story appears the way it does. It doesn't seem that many of the people who have written about it have quite seen that. Somehow they don't see where the brackets of the dream are, so they write about the movie like it's a straightforward, realistic noir melodrama, but in reality it's a kind of surrealistic rethinking of the noir form. There are things that don't make sense until you think about them later, much like in a dream. You have all of these images that you have to ponder later: "why was that there" but the driving sense of it is essentially pretty simple, you know, she steals the diamonds, these guys are after her, and they're going to kill her. All the things that happen, are more or less consistent with that very simplistic, fatalistic storyline.

3/1/10