6/30/11

Matryoshki

International trailer for the new version of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is here. I don't know if anyone can top Bernard Hepton as Toby Esterhase but Gary Oldman looks (and sounds) good enough to become a new generation's George Smiley.

What is the formula for determining when a character has become an archetype? How many iterations does it take, and over what period of time? So many writers hit it straight out of the box: Rebecca de Winter, Walter Mitty, Marlowe, Lolita, Lisbeth Salander (nee Longstocking), Hannibal Lecter, Tom Ripley. But a certain type survives to accrue layers of interpretation: Sherlock Holmes, Robin Hood, 007. Batman's archetypal; Superman isn't. Emma Peel ought to be, although she lives on in other characters. Likewise Number 6.

Actually maybe not Bond. I think we broke that. (He hasn't transmuted into Bourne, either. The Bourne movie trilogy is the Frankenstein myth – the post-modern Prometheus.)

Disclaimer: this is not a Joseph Campbell reference (sic). Time to close that book.

6/23/11

New (old) short stories on Kindle

Rusty Blades is a collection of five short stories from 1988-90 now available on Kindle: 'The Man at the Door', 'Two Friends', 'Geisha', 'Girl from Mars' and 'Rusty Blades.' This is part of an ongoing project to make my early and hard-to-find short fiction available in digital formats, as much as an archive as anything. (Special thanks:Rob O'Neill.) I have thoughts about this which I'll post later – I'm working on new stuff – but if you're interested Rusty Blades is available on Amazon here.

It feels good to be able to finally make these stories available again. Looking back over them I wanted to make some changes but resisted the temptation, apart from cleaning up some unintentional repetition here and there and, okay, changing three words. I can see what I got wrong with the stories as well as what I got right. And I feel a lot older now. 1988 – man...

Self-publishing is a chore so I look forward to going back to the other kind. But I do still have the Huxley stories which will come out as little one-off ebooks for 99 cents, like the pulp paperbacks I used to enjoy when I was a kid. (Do magazines and newspapers still do winter / summer fiction? Must ask someone about that.)

I'm still in two minds about ebooks. I'd be more excited if the platform was set up to supplement or alter reading behaviour, rather than replace the reading I already do. Ebooks are ideally suited for shorter fiction (i.e. novellas) and collected short stories, especially stories which are intended to be enjoyed as a series. The idea of readers subscribing to a character or series of narratives which are then pushed to their devices, like podcasts, actually sounds like fun. Tapping through Ulysses with an index finger does not.

6/22/11

We're all going on a Billie Holiday

No, no, no. Said Bill Bailey on Twitter:
what a terrible shame about Winehouse - she was great on Buzzcocks, even though there was Malibu in her mug.
I can't watch the video. Pete Doherty can fall over and it doesn't matter but Amy was great for music.

6/21/11

Farmville

William Gaddis interviewed by Zoltán Abádi-Nagy for The Art of Fiction:
INTERVIEWER

What moved you to write JR?

GADDIS

Even though I should have known from The Recognitions that the world was not waiting breathlessly for my message, that it already knew, and was quite happy to live with all these false values, I'd always been intrigued by the charade of the so-called free market, so-called free enterprise system, the stock market conceived of as what was called a "people's capitalism" where you "owned a part of the company" and so forth. All of which is true; you own shares in a company, so you literally do own part of the assets. But if you own a hundred shares out of six or sixty or six hundred million, you're not going to influence things very much. Also, the fact that people buy securities—the very word in this context is comic—not because they are excited by the product—often you don't know what the company makes—but simply for profit: The stock looks good and you buy it. The moment it looks bad you sell it. What had actually happened in the company is not your concern. In many ways I thought . . . the childishness of all this. Because JR himself, which is why he is eleven years old, is motivated only by good-natured greed. JR was, in other words, to be a commentary on this free enterprise system running out of control. Looking around us now with a two-trillion-dollar federal deficit and billions of private debt and the banks, the farms, basic industry all in serious trouble, it seems to have been rather prophetic.
Full interview here.

6/20/11

Work

Raymond Carver interviewed by Mona Simpson and Lewis Buzbee for The Art of Fiction:
INTERVIEWER
In an article you did for The New York Times Book Review you mentioned a story "too tedious to talk about here" — about why you choose to write short stories over novels. Do you want to go into that story now?

CARVER

The story that was "too tedious to talk about" has to do with a number of things that aren't very pleasant to talk about. I did finally talk about some of these things in the essay "Fires," which was published in Antaeus. In it I said that finally, a writer is judged by what he writes, and that's the way it should be. The circumstances surrounding the writing are something else, something extraliterary. Nobody ever asked me to be a writer. But it was tough to stay alive and pay bills and put food on the table and at the same time to think of myself as a writer and to learn to write. After years of working crap jobs and raising kids and trying to write, I realized I needed to write things I could finish and be done with in a hurry. There was no way I could undertake a novel, a two- or three-year stretch of work on a single project. I needed to write something I could get some kind of a payoff from immediately, not next year, or three years from now.
Full interview here.

Can it be that it was all so simple then

WIP. A page from one of my first published short stories ('Two Friends') Other Voices (Brick Row / Hallard Press, 1988), now scanned and OCR'd. I'm in the process of converting my back-catalogue to digital, particularly the early and hard-to-find short stories. I might also add some new short stories, just for fun.

6/16/11

I have a code

Send assistance. In the meantime: The Bible according to Google Earth. Steve Martin's art forgeries. Kraftwerk's Ralf Hutter talks about Twitter. The Tinnitus Research Initiative. Painting on the iPad. The I Ching online. A history of computer operating systems in the movies. John Carpenter talks about the fight scene in They Live. Author Nicholas Carr on the web and concentration.

Pic: Night Nurse (1931)

6/14/11

Intolerable cruelty

The great John Carpenter:
How do you see the horror genre having changed over the years, especially as you're coming back into it at this point in time?
It's changed. It's like it always has been, in some ways. There are a few really good horror movies made each year, but mostly they're shit. Most all of them are bad. Most are derivative. Most don't try anything new. Now they pick up whatever style has just been popular and they just use it. People like to associate horror now with torture movies because of the popularity of Saw... I thought Saw was a good movie, I really enjoyed Saw. It was fun, it had a great twist ending...

What did you think of it by the time we got to Saw VII?
You know, I got a little bored with it. It's the same thing over and over, but it's OK. People want to see that. It's like Jackass. Let's see people — and in Jackass they're willing! They're willing to be tortured and made fun of and have cruel things done to them, and they think it's cool. People nowadays, I think because of the internet and the culture, have become more cruel than when I was young. Look at the bullying. Look at what it does to people. Look at cyberbullying.

Does that then make the way that horror movies are consumed vastly different?
Oh, yeah. They're consumed like a lot of entertainment, it's just disposable. What you try to do is fight through that somehow, try to get the audience's attention in a more direct way. The really good movies do it. The Social Network was a terrific movie — not a horror film, but boy, that did it. I don't care about what happened, but I started to care. Wow, look at this! Look at the issues we're dealing with in this!
Full interview here.

6/12/11

City life

Paris (Feb), London (NYE), Hampstead Heath (Dec).

I can't stand the rain against my window

Thanks to Mr Rob O'Neill I have finally acquired OCR scans of my first published short stories from Other Voices (1988). I've spent a wet Sunday morning correcting the text recognition errors and cleaning up the files to be converted into another ebook mini-collection. Reading the stories back I found I could recall nearly every word, and my life at the time of writing them: the sensation was as vivid as flicking through old photographs. Coding and design advice for my ebooks has come courtesy of Mr Chris Bell. It's not really self-publishing when so many other people help, is it? (One day I will get Russell Crowe to star in this.) Above: some blonde chick. That's one pretty foot.

6/7/11

I'll never put on a life jacket again

Steven Spielberg talks to AICN's Harry Knowles about writing Quint's monologue for Jaws (1977).
Steven Spielberg: I owe three people a lot for this speech. You've heard all this, but you've probably never heard it from me. There's a lot of apocryphal reporting about who did what on Jaws and I've heard it for the last three decades, but the fact is the speech was conceived by Howard Sackler, who was an uncredited writer, didn't want a credit and didn't arbitrate for one, but he's the guy that broke the back of the script before we ever got to Martha's Vineyard to shoot the movie.

I hired later Carl Gottlieb to come onto the island, who was a friend of mine, to punch up the script, but Howard conceived of the Indianapolis speech. I had never heard of the Indianapolis before Howard, who wrote the script at the Bel Air Hotel and I was with him a couple times a week reading pages and discussing them.

Howard one day said, "Quint needs some motivation to show all of us what made him the way he is and I think it's this Indianapolis incident." I said, "Howard, what's that?" And he explained the whole incident of the Indianapolis and the Atomic Bomb being delivered and on its way back it was sunk by a submarine and sharks surrounded the helpless sailors who had been cast adrift and it was just a horrendous piece of World War II history. Howard didn't write a long speech, he probably wrote about three-quarters of a page.

But then, when I showed the script to my friend John Milius, John said "Can I take a crack at this speech?" and John wrote a 10 page monologue, that was absolutely brilliant, but out-sized for the Jaws I was making! (laughs) But it was brilliant and then Robert Shaw took the speech and Robert did the cut down. Robert himself was a fine writer, who had written the play The Man in the Glass Booth. Robert took a crack at the speech and he brought it down to five pages. So, that was sort of the evolution just of that speech.
If you haven't heard of Howard Sackler, he wrote the screenplay for Stanley Kubrick's Killer's Kiss (1955) and didn't take a credit for that, either.

6/6/11

Everything that walked or crawled at one time or another

Schickel: You had a long apprenticeship: all those years on Rawhide and then working in the spaghetti westerns. Think that was good for you?

Eastwood: Overnight stardom can be harmful to your mental health. Yeah. It has ruined a lot of people. Like Orson Welles. He comes right out of the box with a project that everybody's knocked out by, and then all of a sudden it's like... What do I do to follow that?

Schickel: There's a notion that Clint Eastwood, the great American icon, has somehow disappointed a significant portion of his constituency with this movie.

Eastwood: Well, I got a big laugh out of that. These people are always bitching about 'Hollyweird,' and then they start bitching about this film... Extremism is so easy. You've got your position, and that's it. It doesn't take much thought. And when you go far enough to the right you meet the same idiots coming around from the left.
Clint interviewed by Richard Shickel, Time, 2005.

6/5/11

Beyond reasonable doubt

INTERVIEWER: What about the more awkward question of writers standing in your way?

BARTHELME: I think deep admirations force you away from the work admired, as well as having the generating influence we've mentioned. Joyce may have done this for Beckett, Márquez may do this for young Latin American writers—force them to do something that is not Márquez.

INTERVIEWER: But hasn't everything been done?

BARTHELME: One can't believe that because it's not profitable. The situation of painting is instructive. Painters, especially American painters since the Second World War, have been much more troubled, beset by formal perplexity, than American writers. They've been a laboratory for everybody. Some new attitudes have emerged. What seems clear is that if you exacerbate a problem, make it worse, new solutions are generated.
The great Donald Barthelme interviewed by J.D. O'Hara, The Paris Review.
"I abandoned the album three times before I finished it. It really caused a lot of sweat - and heart-ache, I suppose. At one point I thought that I could never achieve anything more, musically. Not that I'd achieved everything, just that there was nowhere else for me to go, you know?

"It affected everything I did in the end. I found myself saying 'You're just a dilettante. You're not doing anything with the kind of intensity that it deserves'. It was a crisis of confidence that went very deep.

"I use processes - which we'll discuss later - to generate the structures of my music. With this new album, I found that I had to work very very hard to get the results I wanted - the process didn't automatically generate them any more, whereas it used to.

"I used to be led by the work. Something would happen and I'd just follow it. This time it wasn't as easy as that. Things seemed to be going in directions which weren't interesting to me any more - I found myself trying to use a technique which was bound to give a particular class of outputs to give a different class. So I was working against the technique, to some extent.

"I suspect that I've come to the end of a way of working with this record. It's a loss of confidence and I think that comes through - something more like humanity than whimsicality, you know? Not so much tentativeness as reasonable doubt. It's less brash than other things I've done."
Brian Peter George St. John le Baptiste de la Salle Eno interviewed by Ian MacDonald, NME, 1977.

Now playing

6/4/11

Binding

Wired's John C Abell says ebooks are not there yet because they can't be used for interior design:
Before you roll your eyes at the shallowness of this gripe, consider this: When in your literate life you did not garnish your environment with books as a means of wordlessly introducing yourself to people in your circle?

It may be all about vanity, but books — how we arrange them, the ones we display in our public rooms, the ones we don't keep — say a lot about what we want the world to think about us. Probably more than any other object in our homes, books are our coats of arms, our ice breakers, our calling cards. Locked in the dungeon of your digital reader, nobody can hear them speak on your behalf.
Abell's comments reminded me of a 2010 study which aimed to gauge the effect of summer reading on students' academic performance. A philanthropist interviewed about the programme mentioned, albeit anecdotally, the importance of building a physical library:
For a study to be published in Reading Psychology, Richard Allington [a reading researcher at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville] and colleagues selected students in 17 high-poverty elementary schools in Florida and, for three consecutive years, gave each child 12 books, from a list the students provided, on the last day of school... Three years later, researchers found that those students who received books had "significantly higher" reading scores, experienced less of a summer slide and read more on their own each summer than the 478 who didn't get books.

Rebecca Constantino, [a researcher and instructor at the University of California-Irvine] who in 1999 founded Access Books, a group that has given away more than 1 million books, says the cause-and-effect is simple: "When kids own books, they get this sense, 'I'm a reader,' " she says. "It's very powerful when you go to a kid's home and ask him, 'Where is your library?'"
The full report of the study is here. (Pic: The Big Sleep. Based on the book.)

Depending how you see a thing

Movies may be the only art form whose core audience is widely believed to be actively hostile to ambition, difficulty or anything that seems to demand too much work on their part. In other words, there is, at every level of the culture — among studio executives, entertainment reporters, fans and quite a few critics — a lingering bias against the notion that movies should aspire to the highest levels of artistic accomplishment.

Some of this anti-art bias reflects the glorious fact that film has always been a popular art form, a great democratic amusement accessible to everyone and proud of its lack of aristocratic pedigree. But lately, I think, protests against the deep-dish and the highbrow — to use old-fashioned populist epithets of a kind you used to hear a lot in movies themselves — mask another agenda, which is a defense of the corporate status quo.
A. O. Scott on movies in the New York Times.

6/2/11

Now playing


Cults, 'Most wanted.' The Brunettes under The Knife, maybe.