The American Friend

I think it was genetics. I think it was luck. I think it was attitude that got me through a lot of it. I believe in miracles. It’s a miracle that I’m still here.
The late Dennis Hopper interviewed by Alex Simon.

Addendum: Paul Thomas writes about Hopper, Easy Rider and Terry Southern, and I agree with every word. Southern wrote Easy Rider and never got the credit he deserved. His champion drinking habits doubtless had more than a little to do with it but overall, yes, that is the way of Hollywood. Southern once said that all you had to do to write a novel was write a page a day, then at the end of a year, send it in. Pity the editor.

The Universal

There is no-one at the stadium at the French Open. Fuck, I'll go. Really - the seats are four-fifths empty. Men's singles, 4th round, there are more pigeons than people. Including the green seats. The green seats must be worth extra, right? Was Gwen Stefani busy?

I know nothing about sports. I like boxing - it takes way more guts than spear-tackling - and I can understand tennis, finally. Which means the third act of the movie of Strangers on a Train makes more sense to me now than it did when I first saw it, but that's it. Oh, and running. Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner was a great book. But yes, hitting people and Russian girls collapsing in emotion, that's about my range. Fuck that team shit.

Long, long weekend. Getting longer.


Abl wz i

An early example of celebrity tweeting from Adam Zamoyski's Rites of Peace: The Fall of Napoleon & The Congress of Vienna:
On 15 July [1815], fearing capture by French forces loyal to the Bourbons, [Napoleon] went aboard the Bellerophon... the idea of holding him on the British mainland appeared less attractive soon after the Bellerophon dropped anchor in Plymouth Sound. Thousands sailed or rowed out to catch a glimpse of the fallen ogre, and local boatmen made fortunes towing visitors from as far afield as London round the man-of-war. Napoleon would observe them through his eyeglass and raise his hat to the ladies, to their intense delight. Tired of being hailed and asked what he was doing when he was not on deck, the crew took to hanging out a board on which they would chalk 'At Breakfast', 'In Cabin with Captain', 'Writing with his Officers' and so on.


That new familiar feeling

Whitcoulls have launched the Kobo ebook reader and software platform in NZ. The tech has been reviewed in Engadget:
Kobo... doesn't plan on making a big splash in the actual e-reader market, since it's primarily about building branded software and delivering branded e-book stores for others, including manufacturers.., and booksellers...

As far as software and capabilities, the device is utterly barebones, but at least it keeps its aesthetics throughout, and everything seems responsive and intuitive. There's no 3G onboard (you sync your e-pub titles with a desktop app over USB), no specific word on storage (our guess is in the 1GB to 4GB range), and there don't seem to be any other activities available to reading books.
As an author I have many questions and so turned (clicked) to the Whitcoulls site FAQ. And got:

Why do I not feel optimistic?

DRM free copies of your favourite New Zealand novels now available at secondhand bookstores throughout the country, at less than $12-17.

Update: Apparently Kobo books don't reside on your hard / flash drive but rather stay "in the cloud." Fail. Have no interest in paying a cell phone company's wireless data fees every time I want to read. iPod Kobo app = gone.


And this is the punchline: Paul Reynolds

It's been said that no man in his last hours ever wished he'd spent more time at the office but Paul Reynolds might have been the exception. He had been through a lot but being a Scot he put it into labour. Watching him work so hard was difficult for his loved ones but engaged in a task he was as happy as a sandboy. He liked complex problems, the big picture and silly little distractions. He was always willing to suffer fools because he believed in giving people second chances. He'd been given a few himself: picked himself up, dusted himself off, got to work. I always admired that about him.

I met Paul when he was reading for publishers, writing reviews, living on the slope in Parnell. He read my first (unpublished) novel and recommended my second; as a broadcaster, he gave me my first good review. When I first connected to the internet in 1994(? - squealing modem, etc) he was, ridiculously, the first person to email me. (He contacted me - I had no idea how to work the thing.) We met for coffee in Vulcan Lane and talked about novels and drinking and London and music. Since then we've had a lot of coffees and dinners and conversations, and I worked with him for a time, and I did a lot of happy listening. Paul liked to tell long, rambling stories daisy-chained together one after the other and then, just at the point where they were about to go off completely, reel them back by in saying, '...And this is the punchline.' Because of all the places he'd been to in the meantime, the punchline was never as good.

When I was back in town last year I stayed at his apartment, minded the cat and attempted to work the mind numbingly complex PC / web TV set up he'd basically strung together for the sole purpose of streaming The Archers. There was also whiskey in the cabinet, he noted, and the Bourne trilogy on DVD, and would I please help myself to both. What I liked about Paul was that he was a fan of Derrida and Patrick O'Brian. On one birthday when I clumsily gifted him a John le Carré title which he already had in his bookcase he replied without irony, 'One can never have too many.' He was always giving me things to read and ideas I never would have thought of. His opinion meant more to me than almost anyone's.

I knew things had not been good over for him over the last while and I was braced for bad news. Now it's here it's only just sinking in. Now I don't know who I'll turn to next time when I have an irrational complaint and need someone to say agreeably, 'Well, this is true.' People die and things change but sometimes you wish they didn't, or at least that they would hold back and the world would stop turning just for a while. But that would mean that there was no longer work to be done. Paul was clever and funny and moody and brisk, and he left early. He had things to do.


Bedside reading

The LaPorte Dreamworks bio is straightforward but good. About 40 pages of chapter notes and quote attributions because the author has written about Disney and Michael Ovitz and David Geffen. More and more I find myself admiring works not so much for what they are but what they had to get through - the lawyering over the book must have been incredible. Significantly it has no photos, I assume because the subjects wouldn't grant permission. So, well done, Ms LaPorte, and adios.

The Booth novel will be a George Clooney movie soon; I can see why. J.D. Salinger - he's pretty good.

Summer has finally hit London and the city is pale and reeling. It's all 1940s dresses and aviator shades and Doc Martens up north - and the women are dressing up, as well. The Enforcer was on late. Refrigerator moment this morning with the ms: realised something, scribbled two new pages but can't face typing them up. Too much time in front of the screen. Sunday, maybe. Tres fatigue and every time I get up to speed there's some shit message from the old country to bring me right back down. So off drinking, then. And no, not warm beer, and I don't know anything much about wine - I'm vin de table and voddy right down the line. My mother once said (= yelled) that you can't have champagne tastes on a beer income, and both the statement and its rhythm stuck.


Mystery Machine

Tres fatigue, bad news all round and all that. A random dip into articles I bookmarked this week:

This just in from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm:
New research shows a possible explanation for the link between mental health and creativity. By studying receptors in the brain, researchers at Karolinska Institutet have managed to show that the dopamine system in healthy, highly creative people is similar in some respects to that seen in people with schizophrenia.
Any author could have told you.

The painting that used to hang in Michael Crichton's bedroom sold for US$29million. It's a Jasper Johns; what I like about this story is that a writer got to own it. Here's Crichton talking to Janet Berliner:
Starting around the early Eighties, I began to realize that people’s perceptions of me were very different from how I perceived myself. There was this sense that I was a kind of stainless steel, high-tech person, who would be really interested in lecturing on the subject of robots, or something. I found myself saying to people that I didn’t have those interests, and that caused a lot of surprise. I began to feel that what had happened, because I had so much early attention for books like The Andromeda Strain – which I really feel were misunderstood, though they were very popular–perceptions of me were of some twenty-six-year-old techie whiz kid. Meanwhile, the experiences of my life had gone in another direction, had been going in that direction for many, many years.
It's a good interview about writing, public- and self-perception.

As a teen I very much admired the blurry work of photographer Anton Corbijn. He's since graduated (or regressed) to the moving image: his interesting blog for his new project The American is here:
Wish it was raining, makes it so much easier to go into the darkness of the edit suite. I'm going to look at the ending of the film and make sure it is understood by more people. No way i'm going to let you in on the actual ending so you will have to wait and see. Or wait longer and go and see the sequel, in 3D of course.
I killed my Twitter account yonks ago but the positive, funny tweets of director David Lynch make me happy.
NY Magazine has a feature on dining with Bill Murray:
If you are a lady, he will stand up when you take your seat and remain standing until you pull your chair in. He will do this for every female at his table. You soon will start making an effort to sit down and stand up faster.
A recent survey of British consumers found that:
Two-thirds want hard copies of photographs and music, 75 per cent want their films to come with packaging, and 90 per cent want their books to stay as books... And it's not just the oldies. Almost 40 per cent of 16-34 age groups still buy CDs and DVDs alongside digital formats.
Scooby Doo (above) was created by Hanna Barbera artist Iwao Takamoto. During World War II the American-born Takamoto was interned in the Manzanar camp in California. After 1945 he went on to work for Disney; at Hanna Barbera he created Scooby, Muttley, Astro and Penelope Pitstop. There's a lesson in there somewhere. A detailed interview with the funny man is here.

World: turning. Things not so good.



Time has a nice, brief article on not sleeping:
Of the people who have gone on these long sleep-deprivation jags, one became a drifter and lost his wife and job. Another person [who set the Guinness World Record for sleep deprivation in 1965 with 264 hours, or more than 11 days awake] seemed to do quite well.
Also, Jean-Luc Godard did not go to Cannes. When I was in LA in 2004 failing to sell a script I bought Colin McCabe's Godard: A Portrait of the Artist at Seventy at a bookstore in Century City. (The bookstore owner smiled when I bought it and said, 'Wow, Godard - so how old is he now?' Only in Los Angeles would someone ask that question of a book called "...At Seventy" without irony.) For the next week I smuggled food into my hotel room, finished the book, made notes for a treatment, blocked out a story that would later become Departure Lounge, and scribbled notes in my notebook on the director bio.

Of most interest to me was that no less than 10 of Godard's films before 1968 were based on literary properties or existing writer's work: Breathless (Truffaut's treatment), Une Femme est une Femme (Genieve Clieng - [?my writing's hard to read, there]), Vive san film (Sacotte), Les Carabiniers (Joppolo's play), Le Mepris (Alberto Moravia), Band A Part (Dolores Hitchens), Pierre le Fou (White, n.), Masculin Feminin (Maupassant), Made in USA (Westlake), 2 ou 3 choses que je sais d'elle (Vimenet).

My notes are scribbled so the spelling might be (=is) off. And some of the films are very lightly based on the original works. But it shines a light on the auteur theory: even if you're as good and wild a director as Godard - whose work I love - you're still nothing without a writer.

Also: if you go to LA to sell a script but you are really very interested in Jean-Luc Godard, particularly the schism between his pre- and post-1968 work - and when you see the reference Maupassant you think, 'Hey! Guy de Maupassant!' then Hollywood might not be the place for you.

Later I wrote a very short story about some of the ideas I was having about Los Angeles, dialogue and editing of narrative sequences. It's called DIN, and was published in French last year. You can download a PDF of the English language version and some other short stories of mine for absolutely nothing, here. When I have some spare time - or even better, find a developer who can do this for me - I'm going to make some of these PDFs available to read in Stanza or iBooks or whatever.


Let's not go to work

T.J. Hooker is also on in the afternoons here. Yesterday Hooker chased a stolen car into a fuel truck, which exploded. Last week he chased a fugitive down a boat ramp fuelling station, which exploded. There is an explosion in every episode, and a scene where Hooker jumps onto a moving vehicle, and often there is a strip club. I'd make a joke about combining all three but they may have done that.

For all the silliness the scripts are pretty solid: the stories are true to their own internal logic. There is a post-modern case to be made that the show is a 20th century version of Shatner's other series, Star Trek. Certainly the strip clubs look like alien worlds: doors to the Orient, the other. If you believe that you probably also believe pyramids sharpen razor blades but it's how we used to read it at art school, while enjoying the explosions. Heather Locklear co-stars: her nose was always like that. The most beautiful nose in a TV police series however remains Melina Kanakaredes' in CSI: New York, before she had it done.

Saturdays are boring, aren't they? Especially when you rise early in a heavy drinking town. I have a stack of notes to write up. I'm itching to start but I'm telling myself I need a day off.



A Guide to Modern Cinema

Furry Vengeance
(Contains mild violence)

Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs
(Contains one use of mild language and scenes of mild comic threat)

Crazy Heart
(Contains strong language.)

Four Lions
(Contains strong language and sex references)

A Nightmare On Elm Street
(Contains strong bloody violence and threat)

Hot Tub Time Machine
(Contains strong language, crude sex references and drug use)

Iron Man 2
(Contains moderate violence and bleeped strong language)

Robin Hood
(Contains moderate violence and sex references)

Streetdance 3D
(Contains mild language, sex references and violence)

The Ghost
(Contains strong language, once very strong)

How To Train Your Dragon
(Contains frequent mild threat)

Nanny Mcphee and the Big Bang
(Contains no material likely to offend or harm)
Warnings courtesy of Odeon Cinemas UK. Really looking forward to the summary for this one.



I'm too tired for havin' fun

Laying new track today. My great grandfather center, white jacket, Waiuku, 1921.


Oracle Id (old joke)

David Brooks writing about something else entirely in the NYT, labels it:
About a decade ago, one began to notice a profusion of Organization Kids at elite college campuses. These were bright students who had been formed by the meritocratic system placed in front of them. They had great grades, perfect teacher recommendations, broad extracurricular interests, admirable self-confidence and winning personalities.

If they had any flaw, it was that they often had a professional and strategic attitude toward life. They were not intellectual risk-takers. They regarded professors as bosses to be pleased rather than authorities to be challenged. As one admissions director told me at the time, they were prudential rather than poetic.


In the end she dies

Off to watch the Martin Scorsese restoration of The Red Shoes tonight at the BFI Southbank. I went to see Scorsese speak at the BFI earlier this year on a completely separate subject and he still managed to steer the conversation towards Powell and Pressburger, so in a way he's talked me into it. Uncle Marty rates The Red Shoes as one of his top ten movies of all time. He turned up at the lecture wearing a suit so sharp you could cut yourself on it and huge spectacles like Swifty Lazar's.

Although I've watched Black Narcissus on TV and the big screen, I've seen the obsessive story-within-a-story The Red Shoes only once before, on TV, and in black and white. Manohla Dargis, writing for the NYT, says the restoration is remarkable:
This born-again version of “The Red Shoes,” digitally resuscitated from battered prints and negatives, should surprise even those who have watched the fine Criterion DVD. A film like few others, made like few others — the Powell and Pressburger partnership remains sui generis — it reaches high and strikes its mark, at times improbably. It’s an insistently designed work of non-naturalism, daubed with startling, unreal, gaudy colors that seem to have been created to blast away the last traces of wartime drear.
That should make up for the fucking horrible weather outside then, and round off an otherwise happy day sitting inside the Russian café scribbling revisions.



Conversation across the counter at the Russian café, customer to owner:
C: Is this song on the radio?
O: It's a memory stick. A man who worked here left it.
C: Oh - I was wondering because I heard it on Twitter.


Mind if I use that portable keyhole?

Reasons to love the internets: the original recordings of Francois Truffaut's interviews with Alfred Hitchcock are available to listen to online. Free. All of them. Translator yapping over Frank and Hitch. Courtesy of If Charlie Parker Was A Gunslinger There'd Be A Whole Lot Of Dead Copycats. Actual blog name. Conflation of happiness.

Cherry cola, C-O-L-A cola

First draft finito. Way cheaper to print it out at a bureau here (forget Al Qaeda - ink jet printing has won) so it was down the road to treat yet another franchise manager to a break from Thai restaurant menus and mission statements. Like all print bureau people, he skimmed the first few pages as he was checking the formatting. I don't mind that people read the ms as long as they know it's a first draft so, mind the kinks.


I talk such nonsense while asleep...

Stephen Stratford has dug out a fifteen year old interview with me for his cause celebre / literary gossip column™ Quote Unquote. You can read the interview and post your negative comments here. The photo is taken on the back steps of Cafe DKD! Good times. Please note I am no longer wearing my hair like Ensign Ro.

Reading it back I'd give myself points for consistency / stubbornness although for some reason I bang on about "writers' societies". The interviewer was asking me about whether or not I socialised / met with / discussed my work with other writers and obviously that pushed a button. I'm not a joiner - I hesitate to put links on a blog, ffs. What can I say? I'm moody. Or as Bjork put it more or less perfectly: I'm an artist - it's my job to be emotional.

Margaret Atwood made a more cogent case for such societies in her recent speech at the PEN American Center:
....Writers can’t retire, nor can they be fired: As we hear constantly from those who think there should be no arts grants, writers don’t have real jobs. That’s true, in a way: They have no employers. Or rather their employers are their readers: which imposes on them a truly Kafkaesque burden of responsibility and even guilt, for how can you tell whether you’re coming up to the standards of people you don’t even know?
The Daily Beast reports that the speech was made before a glittering crowd of writers from all over the world. Glittering.

So: fifteen f*cking years. It's official: time has flown. The afternoon sun is cutting through the window here and outside I can hear the noisy clatter of the Balconettes preparing another doomed barbecue. As wee Billy Mackenzie says it: My voice deep with age / speaks in tongues of younger days. Big ups.



Metal box

Iron Man 2 eats Avatar's lunch.
  1. Tony Stark's father is Roger Sterling.
  2. Roger Sterling. As Walt Disney, basically.
  3. Scarlett: shortest-legged action hero ever. Palpable onscreen tension / girly ass-measuring rivalry with Gwyneth Paltrow BUT -
  4. - Gwyneth Paltrow has now become Blythe Danner. Pwned! The transformation is now complete.
  5. Don Cheadle? omg lolz. All the one liners missing from Ocean's 11-and so on - Here.
  6. After years of boxing injuries, Mickey Rourke is still unable to move his face. But he's Mickey Rourke.
  7. He Said She Said lover's tiff via conference video feed. Comment on modern social networks etc. Points for timeliness but also wit.
  8. SHIELD incorporated into storyline logically. Never thought The Avengers thing would ever work but maybe, just maybe it can.
  9. Gary Shandling can't move his face either, and never could. Early Botox pioneer?
  10. Action movie product placement first: all the women wear Louboutins.
  11. They can't walk in them.
  12. And there's some promotional thing happening with watches as well, but I didn't resent it. That's how enjoyable the movie is.
  13. Rockin' rollin' robot fightin'.
  14. But not too much. Two big stoushes, which is enough. Movie is about four fifths loud and unpredictable opprobrium, which is fine by me.
  15. Sam Rockwell willingly playing chump.
  16. Drunken Iron Man In Suit party scene. First drunken future babes partying with lasers scene since 1975's Rollerball and, unless I'm mistaken, a reference to same. I Heart Favreau.
  17. Stark's mansion now unashamedly Tracy Island.
  18. Arms dealer jokes. Because it's true etc.
  19. Agent Coulson: funny! Who woulda thunk it? Finally the character has a reason to be.
  20. Scarjo's big fight sequence practically rotoscoped.
  21. Minimal, almost painless blink and you'll miss it Stan Lee cameo.
  22. Christine Amanananapour (sp) and Bill O'Reilly cameos, both note perfect.
  23. Demon-in-the-bottle storyline set up. Nice OCD touches as well. Points throughout to Robert Downey for making Stark as complicated and annoying as possible. Almost out-talks his own performance in A Scanner Darkly.
  24. AC/DC soon to top chart with soundtrack. Also logical, but undeserved.
  25. Lack of environment / rainforest message a welcome break from reality.
Addendum: The lack of noise from US reviewers puzzled me until I realised Iron Man 2 was released a week earlier outside of the US. Although successful (the movie has opened big) this strategy is more usually associated with non-mainstream movies; the tactic plus the huge number of preview clips and spoilers already being placed online gives one the impression that the studio is nervous about the property and wants to drive audiences and opinion as much as possible. Worse for the bean counters, Favreau has come out describing the film as "for the fans". He told Wired:
"I feel indebted to the fans that made the first one successful and I want to make sure that the fans are satisfied. It’s not about the movie making money, though it’s tracking well. For me, the greater point is how Iron Man 2 is going to be received creatively, and will the fans see Iron Man 2 as actually living up to the promise of the first one?"
That's the key. Proper film critics have been incredibly divided over the film. Iron Man 2 generates two responses: people either love it or hate it; get it or don't. Because I myself had only just written about the dilemma of filming the Marvel universe - I was prepared to not like it at all. But I did, hugely.

Steven Spielberg defined the three-act story on Jaws: you put the guy up in the tree, you throw rocks at him, you get him down from the tree. Iron Man 2 is act 2: it's all rocks.

An early trailer for the film featured Pepper Potts in the very first scene, kissing the Iron Man helmet before she throws it out of a flying plane for Tony Stark to chase, saying, 'Go get 'em, boss.' Peppy and cute and it's not in the movie. But if it had been it would be a bookend to the kiss at (spoiler) the end of the movie, and thus frame Iron Man 2 as a romance: Stark and Pepper. But it also would have been a cruel romance: The African Queen with calls on hold; Pepper shrill and less lovely than she was in the first film; Stark so distracted by the other rocks that he's stopped having anything human to offer at all.

One great, great moment survives from this storyline, when Peps talks down a drunken suited Iron Man at the end of the party: peeping out of his height-enhancing armour, Downey looks more than helpless, and Gwyneth for only a few seconds stops worrying about Scarlett's ass and radiates the warmth that made her one of the best things about the first one.

I'm not sure if romance works for the fans. It made a yo-yo nonsense of Spider Man and an embarrassing metaphor of Hulk. If it was going to work anywhere it would have surely been here. Stark is a Perfect Guy - a charming artist, basically, but with money - just as Pepper is a Perfect Girl - responsible but naughty, stable but teetering on heels. (She's called pepper, for crissakes.) And it was the Iron Man series' soapy adult storyline, courtesy of writer David Michelinie, which opened the door for the "adult" (i.e. cheerless) narratives in The Dark Knight, Daredevil et al. So where did the love go? Too busy ducking rocks, I guess.