1/28/11

Forget it, Jake

Robert Towne talks to Alex Simon about writing the script for Chinatown:
Another interesting thing is that when you initially showed the script to both Evans and Polanski, they couldn't make head or tails of it.

Yeah, that was truer of Evans than Polanski. Roman picked the first two drafts apart so we could start rewriting it. While Roman was still in Europe, I did a second draft, and those two drafts were the drafts off of which we worked to create the shooting script, which was the third draft.

And how long did that third draft take?

We spent nearly every day together for about six weeks. I brought my dog, Hira, with me to a lot of our initial meetings. Hira would go lie on Roman's feet, which would drive him crazy, and finally he said "That's enough of that dog!" (laughs)

What was Polanski's creative process like, and what elements did he bring to the story? I know the biggest bone of contention the two of you had was about the film's ending.

Yeah, but in the end, that was such a small part of our daily working relationship, and it only came up at the end. We didn't spend a lot of time on it, to be honest. Roman said "I want it written this way," and I responded 'I think it would be very bad if I wrote it that way.' He said "Well, try it anyway." So I did, and brought it back to him and said 'See, it's so melodramatic." Roman said "No, it's perfect." We said more about it, but not much. That was that. We sat down, and I don't remember what draft, probably the first because there were things about the first draft that were much better than the second, although there were individual scenes in the second draft that may have been used. So we sat down, and we wrote a one-sentence description of each of the scenes that we were working on. We then pasted those onto the door of the room where we were working, and we just moved these little strips of paper up and down, readjusting the structure, to see where there were holes, adding scenes, and that's how we worked on it. And what changes were made in the dialogue were made as I wrote. Roman, with rare exception, did not have any difficulty with the dialogue.

That was always one of your strengths though, as a dialogue man.

Yeah, I mean I guess you'd have to say that. The structure was extremely difficult, though, as it would have been for anybody.
Full transcript at the Hollywood Interview.

1/27/11

'I like this, early nothing.'

New York is hosting a season of Fritz Lang movies. The NYTimes' Manohla Dargis has a terrific essay on the Austrian director's Hollywood years:
Survival, it turns out, was the great story of his tenure in Hollywood, a not unfamiliar tale. Working against the odds as he moved from studio to studio, sometimes under contract, sometimes independently and rarely with the same technicians, he did more than survive, he also thrived. In Germany he would have 100 days to shoot a movie; in America he had closer to a month. He often had a say in the editing, though he was also barred from editing rooms. He said he had control over his sets and costumes, but he didn't always have the final say when it came to all scenes in his movies, whether through producer-dictated changes or the happy, sappy endings that feel like the lies they are.

Hollywood endings can be beautiful fibs, but in Lang's movies the glossy smiles and fade-outs feel forced. You can almost feel him pulling at them, trying to bring them back into the dark where they belong. The miracle of his Hollywood era is that, even when the screenplays tried to force his work in one direction, he managed to take them into richer, more complex realms with a style that was alternately baroque and stripped down and peopled with characters whose cynicism was earned.
Meanwhile in London the BFI is hosting a Howard Hawks season. The Big Sleep last week; Rio Bravo and The Thing From Another World in the coming fortnight. All you need is the trans-Atlantic airfare.

But I'm having good luck

A cup of tea and a good book

1/26/11

And the world is like an apple

Director John McTiernan interviewed by Alex Simon, 1999:
Your version of The Thomas Crown Affair is one of the only remakes I've seen that surpasses the original.

John McTiernan: That's very kind, but part of making movies is the ability to capture the time in which they were made. I think the original was a product of its time (1968), so it's not fair to say that the original doesn't hold up by today's standards. The more something is a piece of its time, the [more] it's going to date afterwards. So I think that to say the original is dated is almost a compliment to it. It says that it really captured the era in which it was made, which I think it did. It's funny, if you remade a movie in 1968 that was originally made in 1938, nobody would think twice, because you'd be spanning this chasm that made it another world. Maybe it's because there's such a huge population of baby boomers that still think of 1968 as being a fairly recent time that we don't feel that distance now. When you look at the original now, at the time it was so cutting-edge, and now that sort of high-style cinema verite, which today looks quite theatrical trying to give the illusion that it's real. I wanted to do a remake that wasn't quite a remake, but a compliment to the original, a bookend, a sequel...I don't know what the hell you'd call it. (laughs) I wanted to give a sense that this movie respected that one.

I think the best remakes are the ones that are re-imagined. Literal remakes have never worked.

No, they don't. You take a portion of the story and go with that, then it can work. No one thinks twice of doing Shakespeare productions every year. It's not "We're re-doing MacBeth," because (Shakespeare) is part of our landscape, so the idea that those plays keep getting renewed is perfectly normal. And I think that eventually, people will start doing that with movies, because there's enough of a history of movies now.
The full interview - along with many other movie interviews at the Hollywood Interview.

1/25/11

They'll never clone ya

If (like me) you enjoyed LCD Soundsystem's 'Dance Yourself Clean' you might like the sound bed: dollars to doughnuts it's the 12" mix of Depeche Mode's 'Any Second Now.' In the same way that 'Drunk Girls' is a reply song to Bowie's 'Boys Keep Swinging'... 'One Touch' is Heaven 17's 'Play to Win'... 'All I Want' is Eno's 'Some of Them Are Old'... 'All I Want' is 'Sorrow'... 'Pow Pow' is Talking Heads' 'The Great Curve' and so it goes. (Man, I feel old. And I miss Kurt.)

The Quietus reveals that PJ Harvey is no fun any more:
Well, in the writing I knew there had to be a balance of light and shade. There had to be hope amongst disaster. And I think of myself as somebody that continues to carry hope.
Fck. We want Peej to carry the hopelessness. Let England Shake is her Lionheart – but Lionheart was Kate Bush's second LP. No time to dawdle no more. And time for new things.

1/24/11

Imitation and social learning


Above, my culture blog Muse Lounge on Public Address in 2002. (My copyrighted content, my URL registered in 1999.) Below, Craig Ranapia's culture blog Muse on Public Address, 2011.
"Anything they take off my record is mine. Is it all right if I take some paint off your house and put it on mine? Can I take a button off your shirt and put it on mine? Can I take a toenail off your foot - is that all right with you?" - James Brown, on digital music sampling in Michael W. Miller's "Creativity Furor: High-Tech Alteration of Sights and Sounds Divides the Art World," The Wall Street Journal, Sept. 1, 1987.
"...I'm sure every arts student and academic at Auckland University would like to know the percentage tipping point where plagiarism crosses the line from "regrettable" and "a matter of concern" to very serious shit indeed." - Craig Ranapia, 'About a year ago'

1/20/11

Aaron Sorkin Q&A at the BFI

Tonight (Jan 20) I went to see Aaron Sorkin speaking at the BFI about his screenplay for The Social Network. The film screened before Sorkin came on stage to be interviewed by Francine Stock and take questions from the audience. I scribbled some very rough notes from the 45 minute presentation, which went something like this:

The screenplay was based on 14pp book proposal. Random House wanted to release the movie and book and the same time so producer Scott Rudin hired Sorkin to write the script before the book had been finished – 'simultaneous development' was the term. Sorkin based his screenplay on three sources: Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg's original blogs (the 'Erica Albright' character is a real person but with the name changed); legal documents from the lawsuits which Sorkin went through with two lawyers; and interviews conducted on the basis of strict anonymity. Sorkin noted that the fact that they knew that Zuckerberg was drinking beer and which brand on the night he coded Facemash – there were were only four other people present at the time – indicates the accuracy of their sources.

Sorkin enjoyed the contradictions of two lawsuits and three conflicting versions of the truth because he likes courtroom drama and Rashomon. He researched facts and invented the characters' motivations. He was interested in the world of clever, angry young men who view women as either prizes or enemies, describing the protagonists' psyche as 'middle school.'

Talked a lot about the first scene of the movie. Sorkin loved that it's a scene you have to 'lean in to listen to... If you don't land the audience with the first scene there's no point in writing the scenes that follow.' Sorkin wanted to treat the audience as being as intelligent as the filmmakers, and not talk down to them. His pairing with director David Fincher was 'counter-intuitive' as Fincher is visual and Sorkin writes 'people talking in rooms' but Fincher understood that this film was a 'story told through language' and the multiple takes of scenes were so the actors could talk faster and 'casualise' the dialogue. Sorkin credited Sony and Fincher with understanding this dense first scene. Fincher filmed Sorkin's 'scenes of typing as if they were bank robberies.'

First draft was the shooting script. Fincher came on board on the condition that the script wasn't 'noted to death.' The real-life Eduardo Saverin went to ground during production and could not be contacted by anyone because his legal settlement was on condition of non-disclosure. Sorkin guessed that Saverin was paid hundreds of millions plus stock and would have lost it all if he broke the agreement. Eduardo did see the finished film at a specially arranged private screening at Sony's NY preview theater. Sorkin joked that when Eduardo emerged from the screening you probably could have performed surgery on him without anaesthetic.

The Winklevoss twins have seen the movie many times. (Laughter from the audience.) Zuckerberg closed the Facebook office for the day and bought out a theater so all the staff could see the movie; Sorkin credited Zuckerberg with being 'a good sport' about it.

Sorkin's research assistant is a UCLA computer researcher and helped him with the tech speak. Sorkin said hacking scenes and intern-off are two scenes he doesn't understand it all: he wrote it based on notes and many other people checked it. 'I had no idea what I was writing.'

In the early stages of development producer Scott Rudin made 'an aggressive attempt' to get Zuckerberg to participate but Zuckerberg declined. Sorkin was relieved when Zuckerberg passed because he didn't want the movie to be 'a Facebook production' or 'an infomercial.' 'Once you meet a person it's difficult to be anything but nice to them.' Sorkin was not out to 'get' Zuckerberg; he portrayed him as an antihero and identified with the fictionalised character as an outsider.

Sorkin said that although nothing ever goes right in showbiz, this project did. Scott Rudin is a great producer because he's nice to people. He gave Sorkin no instructions except to 'write the movie you want to write.' Sorkin did months of research, thinking. He drives around when he doesn't have an idea. Finally hooked on the idea of Zuckerberg's blog post as the start of the movie, flicking back and forth between the character's desire for revenge and the glamorous party to which he would never gain admittance. Wrote first 18-20pp scene in a day or two and sent the pages to Rudin; Rudin said you've got it. Finished the screenplay on a Wednesday (160pp odd, he and Fincher timed it with a stopwatch to reassure Sony that it would come in at two hours); sent it to Sony on a Thursday who then forwarded it to the only director they wanted, which was Fincher.

Sorkin said writing is always a compromise between the author's personal view and fidelity to the characters. He also said he was very aware that he was writing about young people who were already suing each other. Joked that 'if your moral compass is broken there's always Sony's legal department,' which went over every inch of the screenplay. Sorkin said that had he written anything that was both untrue and defamatory 'then Zuckerberg would own Sony by now.'

*

Sorkin has already spoken about writing the film. Earlier I wrote about the movie and about Sorkin's early TV series Sports Night.

1/19/11

Random

The mystery novel must punish the criminal in one way or another, not necessarily by operation of the law courts. Contrary to popular belief, this has nothing to do with morality. It is part of the logic of the form. Without this the story is like an unresolved chord in music. It leaves a sense of irritation.
– Raymond Chandler, 'Casual Notes on the Mystery Novel' (1949) Raymond Chandler Speaking

In our everyday life we are usually trying to do something, trying to change something into something else, or trying to attain something. Just this trying is already in itself an expression of our true nature.
– Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind

Yesterday

Patton Oswalt on why geek culture must die:
When everyone has easy access to their favorite diversions and every diversion comes with a rabbit hole's worth of extra features and deleted scenes and hidden hacks to tumble down and never emerge from, then we're all just adding to an ever-swelling, soon-to-erupt volcano of trivia, re-contextualized and forever rebooted. We're on the brink of Etewaf: Everything That Ever Was—Available Forever.

I know it sounds great, but there's a danger: Everything we have today that's cool comes from someone wanting more of something they loved in the past.
It's an interesting article. I think we're going to run out of cultural references before we run out of oil.

1/18/11

Ray guns are not just the future

Finally Wikileaks says the words I've been waiting for: secret war against UFOs.
A new report circulating in the Kremlin today prepared for President Medvedev by Russian Space Forces (VKS) 45th Division of Space Control says that an upcoming WikiLeaks release of secret US cables details that the Americans have been "engaged" since 2004 in a "war" against UFO's based on or near the Continent of Antarctica, particularly the Southern Ocean.

According to this report, the United States went to its highest alert level on June 10, 2004 after a massive fleet of UFO's "suddenly emerged" from the Southern Ocean and approached Guadalajara, Mexico barely 1,600 kilometers (1,000 miles) from the American border. Prior to reaching the US border, however, this massive UFO fleet is said in this report to have "dimensionally returned" to their Southern Ocean "home base".
This reported report also implies that the Russians have a 'Space Force' and at least 45 'Space Control Divisions'. More completely, scientifically true and probably real no really honest omg details here.

1/17/11

Pardon my French

New review of The Church of John Coltrane at www.lecture-ecriture.com:
Un peu de fumée bleue, quelques notes de musique...

Robert Marling vient de boire le bouillon dans les grandes largeurs – à dire vrai, ce n’est pas la première fois qu’il se fait ainsi plumer au poker -, lorsqu’il apprend la mort de son père, dont la vie l’avait éloigné. Et ce n’est là que le début de... de quoi, au juste?

D’une redécouverte d’un père par son fils, assurément. Alors que Robert liquide tout ce qu’il possède, sa maison, sa voiture, son travail d’architecte, pour venir s’installer dans la petite chambre que son père louait dans un immeuble désaffecté, ou presque, dans un quartier d’Auckland en pleine réhabilitation (comprenez que la spéculation immobilière y fait rage). Dans ce recoin perdu comme hors du monde, mais que les remous du monde atteignent pourtant encore, à peine assourdis, Robert redécouvre la passion de son père pour le jazz, une passion qui l’avait conduit à rassembler "la plus belle collection de disques de jazz de l’hémisphère Sud" (p. 48), et à accumuler une masse invraisemblable de notes en prévision d’un livre - "L’église de John Coltrane" – qu’il n’écrirait jamais: des notes en quantité sur John Coltrane, bien sûr, mais aussi Miles Davis, ou encore Li Jin, une chanteuse de jazz chinoise qui connut son heure de gloire dans l’entre-deux-guerres.

C’est le début d’un cheminement dont on ne sait, en définitive, s’il doit conduire Robert à se perdre ou à se retrouver alors que le hasard tisse sa toile autour de lui, au fil des coïncidences les plus improbables et des rencontres les plus étonnantes: un juriste spécialiste des litiges successoraux et adepte du Sumi-e (ou calligraphie zen), un expert en assurances philosophe, une punkette cachant au fond sous ses piquants une encore très petite fille, un jeune chinois chanceux au jeu mais qui a bien des choses à cacher, et last but not least, une galeriste à la séduction vénéneuse. C’est pour Robert le début d’une errance dans un décor presque irréel – ce quartier pour ainsi dire abandonné et dans l’attente d’une renaissance, proche de la gare d’Auckland -, balancé entre l'effervescence irrationnelle des marchés – marchés de l'art ou immobilier - et la liberté créatrice si intensément vivante qu'incarnait John Coltrane. Une errance dont le lecteur ne conservera, une fois tournée la dernière page, pour seules traces évanescentes qu'un peu de fumée bleue, quelques notes de musique...

1/13/11

Eddie

Edward James Olmos interviewed here:
If your possible careers included only baseball and acting, you really rolled those dice.

[Laughs.] Amen. I did not create any sort of backup plan. But one thing I learned at a very young age is not to try and live outside my means. I don't let possessions own me. I think the only payment I have is my house. I don't have car payments or credit cards. I'm not a rich guy — I could have been very rich or much more famous had I done all the work I was offered. I just couldn't do it. I'm not that gifted to be able to do stuff I don't have passion for.

1/12/11

Now playing

Drunken Wednesday (already?) night Recently Played.
  1. 'Baby You're a Rich Man' – The Beatles They were huge, apparently, and criticising them is against the law in Britain. But can we just point out that far from being the big fat Rutles failure that it's claimed to be, Magical Mystery Tour has all the best songs on it, and this track recorded without George Martin (as opposed to in spite of him) is a cracker. Featured on The Social Network, so the kids are down with it. Like!
  2. 'White Love' - One Dove Speaking of tuned to a natural E: standout obscure track from the pre-millennium before MDMA escapades went corporate. Vocalist / songwriter Dot Allison (Dot!) went on to her own solo spooky stuff including a breathy collaboration on 'Girls', the only Death in Vegas song that anyone cares about.
  3. 'I've Seen That Face Before' – Grace Jones She's an old lady now. So are you. But she's still ice cold in Alex, and you're not. Grace Jones did everything right when we were all still working shit out.
  4. 'Design for Living' – Nona Hendryx Revived by Bill Laswell, we thought, but no – she was the life force. Scraping metallic bad things presage uplifting gospel discordance at the song's conclusion. Ms Hendryx has issues; few have presented them with such classic grace. From the near-mythically prescient album Nona. Good luck finding a legal copy of that one. The woman's a genius. Bill helped.
  5. 'Live With Me' – The Rolling Stones Clever'n'that. They made lots of money and outlived everyone except for some of The Rolling Stones. Their longevity has validated a ragged output and Mick singing with the saddest American accent in the world but there's a reason why they're loved and this is it.
  6. 'Bonnie & Clyde' – Serge Gainsbourg and Brigitte Bardot Foolish, whooping mélange until you play it alongside its modern electro / rap counterparts and realise what a classic foolish, whooping mélange it is. As important to modern music as Brian Eno and Snatch's 'RAF'. Vive la something or other!
  7. 'Magic Spells' – Crystal Castles The best band in the world ATM IMHO. Don't know what those kids do but it's brilliant: recessive, near-anonymous vocals over a pissed-off curtain of electronic sound. Said it before: if Cayce Pollard had a band, Crystal Castles would be it.
  8. 'Liebe auf den Ersten Blick' – D.A.F. Sexy pared-back electro; opening track for an album Gold und Liebe which never quite lived up to its Suicide-al aspirations but did trick you into buying the gayest album in your LP collection outside of [insert band name here].
  9. 'Psychic Chasms' – Neon Indian Summery metronomic love song (Or Is It?) from the digital swimming hole. Everything is good when you listen to this: it's so damn up, you know their parents have already set up their retirement plan and all they're really doing is kicking back. Not a bad thing.
  10. 'Sweetest Pie' - Curve An oldie for me. Curve were like Oasis, but with songs. Singer / songwriter / not just a knockout Toni Halliday was quintessentially electro in the way that PJ Harvey was quintessentially indie, but dismissed as being too convenient for 90s grunge trends. Longing constellations of pretty-edged regret don't come along that often: we were ungrateful then, but so much older now.

1/9/11

One by one

School of Seven Bells' 'Bye Bye Bye' was my most played song in 2010. Bells ' Alejandra Deheza interviewed by author Rick Florino:
What records shaped you? What do you always come back to?

A huge album from when I was little was Fleetwood Mac's Rumors. I was totally blown away by the harmonies they sang. I'm a really huge Echo and the Bunnymen fan. I love his lyrics, and I love the music. Will Sergeant's like my favorite guitar player ever. His guitar lines are almost Middle Eastern. I feel like what he was doing, no one was doing at the time. Ian McCulloch's such a great singer. I love what they do because they're very abstract, but they know how to make a melody everyone can relate to. That's really important to me when I hear music. You don't want to make music to alienate people or to make someone feel like they don't get it. There's a place for things like that. For me, I love making music that can communicate something real.
Full interview at ArtistDirect.com.

Stable door? Check

Above, the graphic from Sarah Palin's 'Take Back the 20' campaign. U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords is in the left column, fourth from the top. Since the shooting Palin – or the person who runs her Twitter account – has been deleting tweets such as this one.

When Palin was Mayor of Wasilla she enquired about censoring library books:
Back in 1996, when she first became mayor, Sarah Palin asked the city librarian if she would be all right with censoring library books should she be asked to do so.

In December 1996, Emmons told her hometown newspaper, the Frontiersman, that Palin three times asked her -- starting before she was sworn in -- about possibly removing objectionable books from the library if the need arose.

Emmons told the Frontiersman she flatly refused to consider any kind of censorship [...]

"Sarah said to Mary Ellen, 'What would your response be if I asked you to remove some books from the collection?" Kilkenny said.

"I was shocked. Mary Ellen sat up straight and said something along the line of, 'The books in the Wasilla Library collection were selected on the basis of national selection criteria for libraries of this size, and I would absolutely resist all efforts to ban books.'"

Palin didn't mention specific books at that meeting, Kilkenny said [...] A few months later, the librarian, Mary Ellen Emmons, got a letter from Palin telling her she was going to be fired.
Earlier this week, Montgomery English professor Alan Gribben announced he was publishing a censored version of Huckleberry Finn:
"I found myself right out of graduate school at Berkeley not wanting to pronounce that word when I was teaching either 'Huckleberry Finn' or 'Tom Sawyer,' " he said. "And I don't think I'm alone.... I'm by no means sanitizing Mark Twain," Mr. Gribben said. "The sharp social critiques are in there. The humor is intact. I just had the idea to get us away from obsessing about this one word, and just let the stories stand alone."
Surely feeling uncomfortable about 'that word' is one of the things the book has to teach us? If Quentin Tarantino and Chuck D. can use the n- word, so can Mark Twain. Conversely, feeling uncomfortable about something you or your campaign operatives have tweeted, or posted, or the metaphors you've employed to whip up people's feelings can demonstrate that you're having second thoughts about it – or even, possibly, that you're thinking about it for the very first time.

In the wake of John Lennon's murder in 1980 there were calls to ban the book that shooter Mark Chapman was carrying in his pocket – predictably, Catcher in the Rye, but it could have just as easily been Naked Lunch or On The Road. In that instance I thought it was mad to blame the book and not the gun, so it would be hypocritical to blame Palin for the incident in Arizona. However, words have an effect, which is precisely why we use them – or choose not to. Speech should be free: it will never be free from meaning.

Postscript: The FBI is investigating the links:
The FBI director, Robert Mueller, who travelled to Tucson, Arizona, to take charge of the investigation, said that one focus of the inquiry is whether far-right organisations and websites played a role.

"The ubiquitous nature of the internet means that not only threats, but hate speech and other inciteful speech is much more readily available to individuals than quite clearly it was eight or 10 or 15 years ago," he said.

Investigators are exploring suspected links between Loughner and an online publication known for its strongly anti-immigrant stance, American Renaissance. It has denied any links to the accused killer.
Full story here.

PPS: Sarah Palin's Facebook page operators have been censoring – and not censoring – posts in disturbing ways.

1/5/11

Light in your head and dead on your feet

So the world is ending because some birds and fish died in smaller quantities than you would find in a supermarket freezer. Quoth The Examiner:
While no one person, not even self-proclaimed prophets, know if God of the Christian Bible is now ushering mankind into the End Times, many believe this week's dead birds and fish are a sign the Great Tribulation talked about in the book of Revelation and Daniel is fast approaching.
Other signs: Gerry Rafferty is dead, and Agnetha wants ABBA to reform. Birds and fish flock, so they're more likely to go down in scores, surely? I'm impressed that there are any fish left to wash up, given the quantities in which we net them. More seriously, how will the fragile-minded react to official news outlets contemplating the end of everything? The Northern Line was delayed with a person in front of the train today: death is always a single stride away. The Gaia theory is to 2010 what nuclear war was to the Reagan / Thatcher years: now is not the time to shout fire.

And China has a Stealth bomber. (This is of interest to me because I'm a guy.) The US spins arms tech at a slower rate than the Chinese but the key point is that China now has the money to invest in expensive and unreliable technology. The B2, famously, can't stand the rain:
Testing indicated that B-2s are also sensitive to extreme climates, water, and humidity-- exposure to water or moisture can damage some of the low-observable enhancing surfaces on the aircraft. Further, exposure to water or moisture that causes water to accumulate in aircraft compartments, ducts, and valves can cause systems to malfunction. If accumulated water freezes, it can take up to 24 hours to thaw and drain. Air Force officials said it is unlikely that the aircraft's sensitivity to moisture and climates or the need for controlled environments to fix low-observability problems will ever be fully resolved, even with improved materials and repair processes.
The Newton of arms tech, in other words. Relax! Global warming will have killed us by the time it's operational.

I love Gerry Rafferty's 'Baker Street.' When I came to London in 1978 it was all over the radio. I'll forever associate it with the first Kate Bush album, the smell of bacon and eggs on a gas stove, loneliness and bad weather.

Postscript: AP science report here. ("The irony is that mass die-offs - usually of animals with large populations - are getting the attention while a larger but slower mass extinction of thousands of species because of human activity is ignored.")

1/2/11

Miss January, and the future of publishing

When I killed Twitter a friend consoled me by saying, well, the only thing you ever posted about was writing. Marginalia is the opposite: my scrapbook of distractions: movies, TV, January Jones' black eyes like a doll's eyes. (Actually they're blue but the show is graded.) So if you follow this blog, 2011 will be more of the same. When I had a home my wall was pinned with all kinds of crap. Thanks to technology, anyone can share in my Many Wastes of Time.

But then last night I was nosing around the torrents, as you do, and wondered, hey, what .epub files are out there? And in less than ten seconds I had downloaded three commercial best sellers. The speed itself was unsurprising: the total works of Shakespeare are around 5 megabytes – less than a single pop song at 128kbps – and the books in question were around 500k. I've been told by programmers and developers that DRM protected ebooks are easily cracked, which makes sense: the format is XHTML, which is designed for sharing, and its contents are text only, with maybe a cover graphic.

The ease of access was enlightening. If you are faced with the choice of buying an ebook for the hardback cover price or downloading it for free faster than you can cough, is the "new" publishing business model sound? Computer users are more savvy than ever, networks are faster, storage devices are of greater capacity and cheaper – and the commercial object being illegally traded is, proportionally, smaller and easier to hack. We're talking the average size of an email here. Publishers may be trading on the basis of free distribution sooner than they think.

JJ pic c/ GQ, as per usual.