10/27/10

Album

(Napier; Symonds Street, Auckland; Peace Hotel, Shanghai; Paris)

Quote of the year


"Literature is the ditch I'm going to die in."
-- Thomas McGuane

Rocking interview at the NYT. The image (L to R: McGuane, Tennessee Williams, James Kirkwood) courtesy of a more urbane interview here. McGuane is a friend of Jim Harrison, my French publisher's favourite old guy.

The Girl Who Played With Phwoar

A major production and Maria Sharapova? Fortune has smiled on my home country. I love Masha because she's emotional: she has to lose a little bit before she can start winning. Which is risky when you're playing for three sets and fatal with a bung shoulder but she's been looking pretty good this year. I can barely watch her play now - my nerves can't take it - but I'd have her over the Williams winning machines any day.

10/26/10

Now playing

OK kiddiewinkles... Single of the week / month / OMG 4EVA is Lykke Li's Get Some - bouncy, offensive, terrific, hi-rotate. I was reading in bed and this got me out. Yes, it really is that good. Lykke (She Is From Sweden) reportedly shows wisdom beyond her years but ignore that shit - that's just reviewer code for kids with good parents.

Back to work

Deconstruction time again.

10/23/10

For international readers

Departure Lounge in the English language section of a bookstore in Florence.

Forget that I'm fifty 'cause you just got paid

It is a dark moment in life when you find yourself in agreement with Fran O'Sullivan. New Zealand is hardly the only nation to screw up (Private Eye jokes about Boris Johnson saying the Delhi Olympics have set the standard London must aim for) but reading the Hobbit news is depressing - and I don't even like Tolkien. On the union side is an actor (no comment), an Australian (oh, clever) and a New Zealander who was involved in a previous legal dispute with one of the producers*. On the other side is one of the most expensive and precarious movies ever proposed: $500 million on sticks to make lightning strike a fourth (/fifth) time after years of rights wrangles during a financial recession. No studio needs to make The Hobbit: Twilight Eclipse cost $60 million and made $689 million, and its key sequence was three teenagers talking inside a tent. If you had asked your brain to pick a production to boycott it would have said "not that Tolkien one." Now in a world where movie budgets are never what they seem, the fate of millions rests in the hands of... the tax man.

(*I assume it's her. Unless - scarily - there are three of them.)

Postscript: In 2009, Simon Whipp complained to the Australian Courier Mail about the possibility of an American taking on the role of Mad Max:
"Performers have long held the view that traditional Australian characters should be played by Australian performers and immigration regulations reflect that," said assistant federal secretary Simon Whipp... "If the producers cast other than an Australian performer, it would be very disappointing."
In 2003 Whipp said Australia's media and cultural industries must be protected from foreign interference:
The Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance attracted a crowd of more than 250 to the Sydney Opera House on 6 October to draw attention to the threat to our culture and media industries if the government does not secure a cultural carve-out in the Australia-US Free Trade Agreement.

"It really is crunch time," said Simon Whipp of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance, who fears the government's previous support for the exclusion of Australian media and cultural industries from the free trade agreement may be jeopardised if it surrenders its right to control future kinds of screen and cultural forms.

"A proposal which does not protect the right of governments to react to these changes as, and when, they happen will mean that future governments are not able to support and promote Australian culture as governments have to date," said Whipp.
That's the great thing about nationalism: one country is all you need.

10/22/10

Image cache

(c/- Soviet lunar lander, Brick Lane cat, art cat (misc), Christina Hendricks, Garance Doré, Escape From New York, Belleville)

10/21/10

Plant one on me

Sam Raimi has nabbed the screen rights to John Wyndham's The Day of the Triffids. John Carpenter made a melancholy Midwich Cuckoos once (a remake of Village of the Damned) but if I could do a Wyndham it would be The Kraken Wakes. Scary disaster SF with human harvesting, a deeply uneasy conclusion and, if I remember rightly, a classic Wyndham scientress. (White coat, crisp accent, chipper attitude, slow pulse rate, usually called Jean or Carol or something. There's always one in British SF - the "Oh, bother - radium" sort. Highly alluring.) Anyway. I can never work out why someone isn't making Kraken - or, for that matter, Harry Harrison's The Stainless Steel Rat. Period British SF is ripe for a Hammer-style comeback.

In the 1930s Wyndham wrote pulp, including crime novels. After the war (he worked on ciphers in the army) he changed his pen name and wrote Triffids, which made him famous. It had the line "When a day that you happen to know is Wednesday starts off sounding like Sunday, there is something seriously wrong somewhere." Do people still write smart-ass science fiction like that? William Gibson does, I guess.

I've promised myself I'll finish this draft by the end of October, and then throw myself off a bridge* take a holiday. I'm staring at pages of handscrawl thinking I should really type them up, but it doesn't feel like the right time yet. This is doubtless something to do with energy levels. Why can't novels write themselves? Oh, wait...

Update: *Good news about feeling bad.

10/20/10

Ways of seeing

An alternative history of Hollywood, in other people's words:
"In 1913 many movie-makers headed west [to California] to avoid the fees imposed by Thomas Edison, who owned patents on the movie-making process."

"Films really blossomed in the 1920s, expanding upon the foundations of film from earlier years. Most US film production at the start of the decade occurred in or near Hollywood on the West Coast."

1943: "The wartime income tax accelerated the move by top Hollywood talent to set–up independent production companies, often as a corporation to produce a single feature film. By doing this, highly paid producers, directors and stars can be taxed at the capital gains rate of 25%, rather than at the personal income tax rate which can be as high as 80–90%."

1946: "The Internal Revenue Service closes the tax loophole for single–picture corporations. This forces many independent Hollywood production companies to seek out permanent financial and distribution deals with the major studios."

1948: "Under the terms of an agreement with the United Kingdom, American film companies will reinvest the $60 million profit, recently made in England, in various "permitted uses" such as hiring British talent, buying British story properties, etc. The English, in return, will reduce the 1947 tax on American films by 75%."

"Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, world cinema truly took off, but Hollywood struggled. Many countries began offering tax incentives to film crews willing to produce in their locations, drawing tourist money into their struggling economies."

"From the mid-1970s onwards, the Hollywood studios revived. The slide of box office revenue was brought to a standstill. Revenues were stabilized by the joint effect of seven different factors. First, the blockbuster movie increased cinema attendance... Second, the U.S. film industry received several kinds of tax breaks from the early 1970s onwards, which were kept in force until the mid-1980s, when Hollywood was in good shape again."

"Hollywood studios' invisible financing, including government subsidies and tax-credit deals, is no where better illustrated than in the way Paramount put together the deal for Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001). The budget, including Angelina Jolie's $9 million fee, was a staggering $94 million on paper. But after Paramount applied the arcane art of studio financing, of which the deal is a minor masterpiece, the studio's outlay was only $8.7 million.

"First, it got $65 million from Intermedia Films in Germany in exchange for distribution rights for six countries: Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and Japan. These "pre-sales" left Paramount with the rights to market its film to the rest of the world.

"Second, it arranged to have part of the film shot in Britain so that it would qualify for Section 48 tax relief. This allowed it to make a sale-leaseback transaction with the British Lombard bank through which (on paper only) Lara Croft was sold to British investors, who collected a multimillion subsidy from the British government, and then sold it back to Paramount via a lease and option for less than Paramount paid (in effect, giving it a share of the tax-relief subsidy.) Through this financial alchemy in Britain, Paramount netted, up front, a cool $12 million."

"In recent years, film and television productions have fled California for states and countries that have offered lavish tax incentives. Louisiana, whose rebate includes reimbursing productions for 25% of what is spent in state, recently lured "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button." After Michigan passed a law that reimburses productions for 42% of in-state spending, it succeeded in getting the filming of "Gran Torino" to move to Detroit from Minnesota, which has its own incentive program. New Mexico, Rhode Island and Georgia all have enacted similar incentives... The rapid outflow of productions has meant Hollywood must now fight for the industry that bears its name."

"The five-year, $500 million incentive program, signed into law in February 2010, began accepting applications on July 1. In a statement, Schwarzenegger said the tax credits were crucial for retaining film and television productions — and the economic multiplier effects — in California.

"The governor's announcement, citing statistics from the California Film Commission, pointed to a 50 percent decline in the number of films shot in California since 2003. In an effort to lure production back to the economically struggling state, the incentive program will cover 20 percent of expenses for feature films with budgets up to $75 million and 25 percent of expenses for independent films with budgets capped at $10 million. Eligible television programs that have filmed entirely outside California and have since relocated can receive credits for 25 percent of expenses."

10/19/10

Now playing


New single's out, too. Sounds pretty good...

L.A. Dies on the Roof

The secret life of bookmarks

A bonus of buying secondhand books is finding the previous owner's markings in the text and folded corners as bookmarks. Or in this case, a postcard memory of the Hotel Bauer Grunwald, with no name or date. When I first read it I thought it said "Remember choix outside!", as in "choice" but I think it says "chox" as in chocolates. First glance was better.

10/18/10

You and me were never meant to be part of the future

"Will physical books be gone in five years?" asks Cody Combs @ CNN ,October 18, 2010??
"The physical medium cannot be distributed to enough people. When you go to Africa, half a million people want books ... you can't send the physical thing."
says "Reliable Sources," author Nicholas Negroponte. Because how will Africans get their Stieg Larsson novels? How? HOW?

Relax, Cody. As any fule kno:
  1. Oil will have run out by 2016 and we will be consumed by Mad Max style petrol wars. Or;
  2. The ice caps will have melted by then and it will be like Waterworld. Bad news if you don't have webbed toes. Or;
  3. We'll all be fucked according the Mayan calendar. Or;
  4. We will be living in a domed city where mankind's sole pursuit is pleasure. Yay! Or;
  5. Every book that now exists and is traded on Amazon secondhand will... still be traded on Amazon secondhand but with the tag "slightly worn." Or sold at "secondhand stores" much cheaper than the ebook. Or;
  6. Even more horribly: the .epub DRM will have been cracked (oh... shit) and people will beam novels directly to each other's cerebral cortex. Or:
  7. The planet will be ruled by apes. NB Primate empires could involve an alternate timeline, which would be subject to tax in some areas. (i.e. New Zealand.)

10/16/10

Einstürzende Neubauten, London 16.10.10

Is Blixa Bargeld the only singer to use air quotes? He was emphasising an ironic term for the Kentish Town Forum audience, many of whom were German anyway. He also corrected the translation of 'Kater' (as in 'Selbstportrait Mit Kater') which can be read either as 'tom cat' or 'hangover'. The audience cheered the latter and Blixa rolled his heavy eyes - 'Well yes, we are in the right country for that.' He held something in his right hand for the whole performance and I couldn't work out what. It wasn't until the last number, 'Silence is Sexy', when he fired up in defiance of health and safety regulations that the object was revealed as a packet of cigarettes. In between blasts of sound the band stood waiting for the audience to fall silent, which they did.

Einstürzende Neubauten were playing the first of two nights in Camden and I went along not really expecting anything except noise and fun but they were better than that: less spectacle, more musical. North London turned out more Goth than the Berlin nightclubs I found myself in earlier this year and the band were more German than I could have dreamed: precise, earnest, dry as a bone. Blixa (black three piece suit and I think bare feet) complained about the challenge of freighting a stage set (he actually got into figures) and the EN-branded merchandise included USB sticks and organic cotton T-shirts. From their performance art self-destruct origins the band have - can I say, mellowed? - into a very Krautrock, industrial hippie style. You could hear Neu! and Can in the performance as well as the found object / music concrete funk that so influenced Australian musicians, from Hunters & Collectors to Plays With Marionettes and, of course, Nick Cave, who dived into the Berlin scene and never came back.

Einstürzende Neubauten are not funky, however. This is music from the head, played with Classical rigour, all the deconstructionist outbursts in their proper place: N.U. Unruh's dropping metal cutlery on cue (he later crumpled autumn leaves); Ash Wednesday's keyboard touches; Jochen Arbeit's perfectly dischordant guitar. The fans knew all the lyrics. I didn't, which made it more fun. At one point Blixa was singing be about cushions, and there was a three-way discussion with Unruh and bassist Alexander Hacke that seemed to be about a time a toaster caught fire on stage but I could have sworn they also said something about Molotov cocktails. (Hacke is totally Derek Smalls.) It was that kind of night: pastoral darkness veering into Dada cabaret.

10/15/10

Oh Patty

I'll stop posting images from Mad Men but they're so damn good -- I love that sense of remove. In the wake of season four I've been re-reading The Cry of the Owl and visualising the period references in a different way, apart from the story. Which still works. PH nails it: she and Paul Bowles are the writers I would have liked to have hung out with. Them and Kurt Vonnegut, who sounds like everyone's cranky uncle.

Early morning, lotsa words; IHT crossword and strangers' faces at the French (yaysville); tonight The Social Network. Filmed from a first draft, folks, because movies aren't that hard. As Kurt said: don't take it too seriously. Big ups.

Tomorrow: Einstürzende Neubauten. Not so much musique concrete as, y'know, cement.

Never complain

Never explain. I prefer characters to say less. Sometimes they have to open up, though. And if I don't like the passage I can always delete it later. You put 'em in, we rip 'em out, as my local mechanic once said.

Soundtrack: The Naked and Famous, School of Seven Bells, Superhumanoids, The Ting Tings, Trent Reznor. (Are iPods encouraging us to remember music alphabetically?)

The moment you print out a manuscript it becomes redundant.

My whole damn day's parenthetical. However the exposition worked, I believe. You all have a nice day.

10/12/10

Favourite things

Daniel Knox, one of the greatest musicians out. Think Kurt Weill meets William Riker. Knox was the best thing at Jarvis Cocker's Christmas concert in 2008 (here he is gaslighting Judy Garland); did music for David Lynch... This is a live vid for 'Me and My Wife'.

The Amy Winehouse Comeback ™

2 ounces sweet Vermouth, 1/2 ounce Grenadine, 2 ounces dry Gin, 2 ounces Vodka, 2 ounces Tequila, 2 ounces Whiskey, 2 more ounces Vodka, 1 dash Grand Marnier, 1/4 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice, 1 lime cut into quarters, 1 orange cut into halves, 1 watermelon, 2 jiggers Midori, 1/4 ounce cream, 1/4- 1/2 bottle champagne, 1/2 ounce Galliano, 2 1/2 ounces Bourbon, 3 Mandrax, 2 Quaaludes, 4 Viagra, white wine spritzer, beer (to taste), 2 packets Marlboro Light, gunpowder, Semtex.

Build in a Collins glass 2/3 filled with ice, more Bourbon, Vodka. Garnish with orange twist.

10/11/10

A B Something

Good news, everyone! While I've been away my government has created a new country. It is called Auckland, and the first skirmish has already broken out. The new Auckland is a collection of reanimated parts powered by the elemental forces created by not being the seat of government. This is going to be fun to watch...

More good news: writing by hand stimulates neural activity and gets ideas out faster. The bad: good handwriting makes you seem smarter. Mine's enough of a scrawl to draw glances from whoever's sitting next to me in a cafe. But they can fuck off.

When I worked at Comprint in Wiri one of the managers wrote in perfect copperplate script which the printers and workers on the floor admired very much. He wrote everything out in the same perfect hand: memos, phone messages. Craft, basically. Don't have it. Have to get those ideas down etc.

Also I suspect I talk to myself when I'm writing dialogue. Not out loud, more mumbling. And I tend to lean closer to the page now if I don't have my specs. I Wear Light Reading Glasses For Comfort™ but not when I actually write. And I haven't shaved for a couple of weeks now so the beard's on. So, yeah: hunched, unshaven, muttering - not the sort of person you'd want to be sitting next to, I guess.

Less crazily, for once: Marilyn Monroe's diary writings discussed online at vanityfair.com. Some notes about Arthur Miller, and Lee Strasberg, who fascinates me. I couldn't get on stage but I'm interested in how acting works.

If only

From the Muse Lounge.

10/9/10

She came home with her hair all wet and her clothes all filled with sand

A Warren sort of day. Never a good sign. Bought the IHT and hojicha AKA the best tea. Scribbling notes - oh, you fill in the rest. Best wishes to Liu Xiaobo. Hunter S's job application. Possibly the best ever blog entry on fashion, ever. Meantime it's work, work, work, and after that, work. Also, work. You know how it is.

10/7/10

Bellissimo

Saw Bernardo Bertolucci talk at the BFI last night. He was on good form. He was cheerful and gentle but gave his interviewer a little slap at the beginning just to let everyone know who was boss. He flattered and coped with the different egos in the room at question time, and told some very funny stories. The funniest was about Godard, natch, giving his producer an actual slap onstage at a premiere of One Plus One and then demanding that the audience return their tickets and forward the refund to the Black Panthers (nobody moved). Bertolucci also talked about filming Brando Last Tango In Paris (he never knew when Brando was making things up or quoting from memory) and working with Sergio Leone on the script for Once Upon a Time in the West. (In his interview for the script job Bertolucci told Leone how he admired the way the director filmed the horses' buttocks, like John Ford.) He talked a lot about the power and influence of movies in the 1960s and wondered if today's young audiences found films as "menacing."

Bertolucci said he loved "contamination", by which he meant the way reality intrudes on the process of filmmaking no matter how carefully it was planned. He said he always "leaves a door open" on the set for change to happen; at the same time, one of the filmmakers he admired was Kubrick "who built a wall across where the door was" and tried to control everything. Bertolucci also said he loved the digital revolution: the speed and ease of modern filmmaking and the "very acid colours" which digital processes could bring to film. The final clip of the night, the bal-musette scene from the restored print of The Conformist, possessed a brilliance I didn't recall: bright blue windows, bright red trim, golden floor. Dominique Sanda and Stefania Sandrelli remained the colour of milk.

10/5/10

Dreaming far away from today

Just saw a double decker bus skid. Yay for London. Driver non-plussed (hand on chin, blinking a little, well it 'appens dunnit nuffinktoworryabout). NZ GST increase means the monthly fee for storing my belongings is going up. Hey, as long as no-one opens those hat boxes, I'm happy. BT connection still not connected but if I stand holding my iPod in a corner of the flat I can hop on to a free signal. The old Powerbook G4 is still lovely to write on but it lags in signal reception, and video. Hence back to the local cafe in the mornings. When I was working earlier this year they would practically reserve the same table for me. Kid sitting next to me has a cold, the f*cker.

I'm scribbling notes for draft four. You didn't want to hear that, did you? Anyway, all done by end of October and then blowing the hatches for somewhere sunny to get my head together. Or rather, take it apart.

Other young man in cafe without cold reading over my shoulder. It's only when you're flicking through your laptop in a cafe that you realise how much porn is on it...

10/4/10

On a more positive note

Because I won't be able to connect later after I've been drinking when it will seem very necessary / important / logical to do so, here's everything good in the world in a single photograph courtesy of GQ magazine. I used to have a cat just like that.

Sorry to be so short with you but I'm tapped

On the off-chance that you're trying to email or phone me over the next four days, you can't. BT has disconnected my phone line because I didn't request it. I've confirmed three times with them that I didn't request it, and they've confirmed with me that indeed I had not and so the line would not be cut. So naturally it has been, at exactly the time they said it wouldn't.

I knew this would happen. I've seen foreigners in tears over BT. Locals grit their teeth and say it's like that for everybody. I try not to buy into the stereotype of a Certain Sector being so useless that they can't find their ass with both hands but this is the second time BT has done this to me in a year. The first time was in Brick Lane when engineer rang up in the middle of the day to test the number. 'Why?' I wondered, and with paranoid speed thought to ask which one. Not mine: he was installing a new connection and had crossed the line. 'That's okay,' he said, cheerfully. 'I'll put the old one back.'

I knew what was going to happen then, too. There was a click and the line went dead. Not my line - the new line. My line was still working, connected to a different address, so technically there was no fault on it. Explaining that to the call center person was like describing time travel to an elderly relative. BT took a week to fix the problem - a week of robot voice management systems, call backs, SMS updates, order numbers. Worse, BT try to charge users £125 every time they (re)connect them. Only a cynic (or someone with a barrister handy) would suggest that such technical incompetence is a positive factor in the company's revenue stream.

The quickest way to make progress with BT, it turns out, is to bitch about them on Twitter. Which sounds progressive and modern until you realise what BT must have done to have been reduced to that level of damage control. Such incompetence would be funny if it wasn't true - and if it were possible these days to even use the bathroom without checking online first. I need my Telephone Thing for everything, even when I'm not talking to anyone.

10/2/10

OK: Officially sad, now

You know it's going to happen but it still hurts.
Skye Ferrante has spent six years at the Writers Room in Greenwich Village, blissfully banging away on his grandmother's 1929 Royal typewriter. The 37-year-old writer represented a bygone era, the last typewriter-user in a special room devoted to typists.

"In the event that there are no desks available, laptop users must make room for typists," read a sign posted in the "Typing Room" for years.

When Ferrante returned to the Writers Room in April after an eight-month break, the sign was gone and his noisy typewriter was no longer welcome.

"I was told I was the unintended beneficiary of a policy to placate the elderly members who have all since died off," said Ferrante, a Manhattan native who's writing children's books. "They offered me a choice to switch to a laptop or refund my money, which to me is no choice at all."

Ferrante was peeved, but not completely surprised. A growing number of scowls had replaced the smiles that once greeted the arrival of his black, glass-key typewriter.

"The minute the sign came down, I realized there was antagonism from some of the new members," he said. "They gave me an attitude when they saw me setting up the typewriter."
Pour yourself a drink before you read the rest at The New York Daily News.

And if that hasn't laid you low enough, this from the Wall Street Journal:
It has always been tough for literary fiction writers to get their work published by the top publishing houses. But the digital revolution that is disrupting the economic model of the book industry is having an outsize impact on the careers of literary writers...

Much as cheap digital-music downloads have meant that fewer bands can earn a living from record-company deals, fewer literary authors will be able to support themselves as e-books win acceptance, publishers and agents say. "In terms of making a living as a writer, you better have another source of income," says Nan Talese, whose Nan A. Talese/Doubleday imprint publishes Ian McEwan, Margaret Atwood and John Pipkin.
The article puts the blame on ebooks. Really? Really? Calling bullshit on it. (a) I don't think Nan will be moonlighting on her job anytime soon. (b) The music analogy is faulted. Bands famously never really "made a living" from record company deals: at the best they received huge advances, with all the career complications that involved. (c) And does anyone get into writing literature for the money? Oh, wait...
On the basis of a 4-page proposal, Alfred Knopf's Sonny Mehta has paid $2.5 million for The Loneliness of Sonia and Sunny, the new novel by Kiran Desai. She's the Booker Prize-winning author of The Inheritance of Loss.
So that's alright, then. Back to bed, you kids. Mum and Dad were just talking in loud voices, that's all.

(Patricia Highsmith photo from Corbis Images.)