Monday, November 30, 2009

A Streetcar Named Desire

yell twitch moan bellow
howl swear shirtless scream smack-
I am unimpressed.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Traffic Spike

hapless googlers
suddenly ensnared by what?
Frankenstein? Shakespeare?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

My One and Only Best Worst List

From my point of view, there's hardly a bad time to make a list of anything, but the end of the year is coming up, which means that all the best/worst lists will be flooding the media over the coming weeks. As this year is also the end of the decade (!), you can expect an additional flood of best/worst lists for the entire decade. A.O. Scott at the New York Times, for example, already published this last week and the Encyclopedia Wikitannica (naturally) has a page set up for the necessary calculation and cultural introspection.

Despite my affinity for list-making and general inventorying of all things great, small, abstract, and concrete, one thing I dislike doing is compiling best/worst lists for any period – whether it's one year, ten years, fifty years, or a hundred. (Remember those millennium lists at the end of 1999 – where everyone from Mozart to Mickey Mouse was grouped together and ranked according to "merit"?) I don't see the why for or even the how to. Compare Singing in the Rain with Casablanca? Some Like It Hot with Citizen Kane? No thank you. Comparisons within a certain genre make sense because the works are defined by the same criteria. Comparisons within an artist's body of work are practically unavoidable. But spare me from deciding which is the Greatest Book/Movie/Album/Artist of This Year/This Decade/This Century/All Time.

I do, however, have a list of horrible books I was forced to read because of some academic reason (previously published in haiku form), but there's no time parameter involved – aside from the ensuing waste of it - purely a calculation of wretchedness caused by the item. The list:

1. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
2. Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper
3. Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy

A short list (thankfully), it includes the three books I loathe and despise most. Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw would have made the list except it wasn’t actually tortuous to read – it’s merely a flamboyant sham that has been overanalyzed. Heart of Darkness, while also a flamboyant sham that has been overanalyzed, has the added distinction of being vile and racist. Jude the Obscure is a miserable tale of people being miserable written around a seminar on Why the Institution of Marriage is a Miserable Fraud which Inflicts Pointless Misery. (If you read the book – and I firmly suggest that you don't – you'll understand my overuse of the word misery.)

Other than Heart of Darkness being a perfect example of Seymour Chatman's implied author-implied reader paradigm, I can't fathom a reason for reading it. You could also use The Turn of the Screw for this purpose and the improvement, though mild, is still worth it. Mohicans, which is really just as bad as Darkness, is also longer, which may lead you to think it deserves the number one spot, but it has two things in its favor: one, some academics will admit that if American fiction writers weren't so few and far between in the early 19th century, Cooper would be far less important; two, it's worth enduring it by reading one chapter a day so you can fully appreciate Mark Twain's ridicule in "Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses."

I won't say anything else about Hardy's Jude except that if a writer continually builds up your expectations only to repeatedly rip your heart out for no other creative purpose than to emphasize how much life sucks – and can only do it via hundreds and hundreds of pages - you're better off reading the daily news. That at least won't take nearly as long. The book is third on the list rather than first because I do admit that there are a certain number of pages where you actually care about the main characters. Which is a lot more than you can say for Conrad and Cooper.

To sum up, there are five kinds of classic literature:

The kind you're glad to have read because it hasn't aged a day.
The kind you're glad to have read because, despite some dating here and there, it was still a worthwhile experience.
The kind you're sort of glad to have read because, even though you didn't enjoy the thing itself, you can see how it influenced succeeding generations of writers.
The kind you're not glad you read, but can at least congratulate yourself on having managed it.
The kind you're not glad you read and fervently wish they wouldn't make other people read either.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Film Noir Double Feature

Laura
a nice femme fatale
naive and promiscuous
someone is lying

Gilda
put the blame on Mame
or any woman you like
all's well that ends well

Friday, November 13, 2009

Special Season Finale

There's something to be said for sitting down in a comfortable chair and trying to think where you were exactly 365 days ago. But I'm not going to say much about that really. You can get your quarterly recaps here, here, and here. Let's talk about what will happen during the next 365 days.

Someone is bound to release some type of film/TV version of a Jane Austen novel or write some kind of tie-in/spin-off book relating to same. Thousands of original screenplays, novels, novellas, short stories, and poems will be written all over the world. Popcorn will be eaten in movie theaters. A number of individuals will become instant Youtube sensations, for better or for worse. Swallows will migrate to warmer climates. AMC will air the much-anticipated fourth season of Mad Men.

As for me, after a regularly scheduled two years of blogging, I think I’ve earned the right to be random. Mostly. Haikus will still be posted every Monday. Musings will turn up when I write them. Writing-themed posts won't be limited to film/book analysis. And I'll be contributing to the View as well.

That's it. Short and sweet.

See you all on Monday.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Monday, November 9, 2009

Special Phantom of the Opera (2004) Extravaganza

Phantom
damn my rotten luck!
who would love this brooding soul
and these broad shoulders?!

Christine
damn my rotten luck!
I am girlishly torn 'twixt
two possessive men!

Raoul
damn my rotten luck!
my pedigree and riches
upstaged by brooding!

André and Firmin
damn our rotten luck!
there goes the opera house
and our social life!

Meg
damn my rotten luck!
I am a pointless player
in this spectacle!

Madame Giry
damn my rotten luck!
I was so close to being
more than a device!

Monkey Toy
damn my rotten luck!
The Red Shoes homage is far
better a gimmick!

The Red Shoes Homage
damn my rotten luck!
thematically I don't fit
though I do look good!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Lessons Learned: There's always homework to do.

Well here we are. Another year has gone by and I like to think we’re all wiser.

Before I get sentimental and didactic, I’d like to make a slight correction: I know that from the film-book ratio I gave in the introduction post, I implied there would be more than the three books I actually covered. It’s not that my math skills were poor (in this case). As the weeks went by and I postponed rereading the worthwhile titles initially compiled, I ended up replacing most with films for lack of time. Besides, from what Google Analytics tells me, most of the people who stumble upon this blog are apparently looking for cliff notes, and I’m not particularly comfortable with that. Yes, I’m a square. Four right angles and four equal sides. (I’m not bad at geometry.)

Though this post is meant to be a summary, I’m not going to compile a list of what’s important to remember from the previous 50 (!) posts. Having reread some of them, two things struck me: 1) you can love a film or a book for doing the exact same thing you disliked elsewhere, and 2) everything is important. There’s no use saying story is the most important, or structure, or dialogue, or characterization, or imagery, because you have to factor in all of those things. True, if one element is fantastic, you can get through alright, even if the other elements are weak. But is that all you want? To get through?

I don’t know how to write for a living. I can’t tell you how to get an agent or how to negotiate over contract terms. The only thing I know how to do is to keep trying – to keep watching and reading. I found something new in each of the fifty titles I wrote about this year and they are all titles that I love and know well to begin with. I could’ve chosen ones I hated and torn them to shreds, but I prefer learning from positive examples. They inspire you to improve rather than convince you of your own genius.

That’s as sentimental and didactic as I’m going to get. I’ve played schoolmarm long enough.

Next week I’ll post about the future of Stellascript. Nothing dramatic – just my usual periodic recap and plans for next year. Until then (because I simply can’t help being compulsively organized), a complete list of titles covered during Lessons Learned:

| Intro | Lost in Translation | Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind | Notorious | Charade | Edward Scissorhands | Frankenstein | Gattacca | The Truman Show | Groundhog Day | The Shop Around the Corner | Annie Hall | It Happened One Night | Some Like It Hot | Ninotchka | The Third Man | The Big Sleep | Laura | Sunset Boulevard | Bullets Over Broadway | Shakespeare in Love | Singing in the Rain | Gentlemen Prefer Blondes | His Girl Friday | Ball of Fire | All About Eve | The Lion in Winter | The Adventures of Robin Hood | The Mark of Zorro | Star Wars | The Lord of the Rings | Stagecoach | High Noon | The Big Country | Persuasion | Roman Holiday | The Quiet Man | The Apartment | The Princess Bride | The Day the Earth Stood Still | The Matrix | Children of Men | Casablanca | Rear Window | The Prestige | Citizen Kane | Amadeus | Walk the Line | Good Night and Good Luck | To Kill a Mockingbird |

Enjoy.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Movies I Still Haven't Seen

mortifying list
Vertigo can be crossed off
my shame is lessened

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Lessons Learned: To Kill a Mockingbird

Written by Harper Lee; 1960; approximately 281 pages.

For days I've been spluttering trying to figure out what to say about To Kill a Mockingbird. When I made up a list of titles to do for this series, I left it for last out of some vague notion that it would simply be an appropriate conclusion. It's just that I'm having trouble figuring out why. There’s the purely technical stuff, of course: for example, the narrator’s complex, mature voice in contrast with the behavior and thought process of her six-year-old self. Instead of being an inappropriate juxtaposition, Lee manages to combine the omniscience of a third-person narrator with the highly personal subjectivity of a first-person narrator. Capturing the unique “local flavor”; tackling difficult, controversial subjects relating to racial interaction. And I could go on, but let’s leave the purely technical aside for a change.

What I’ve tried to avoid throughout this series is getting into inspirational-speak mode. Even when you do say something useful, more often than not you sound like Yoda, “A Jedi writer can feel the force flowing through him.” Patient you must be. Disciplined. Yes.

Something like that anyway.

At its best, writing is an exhilarating experience. At its worst – insert your preferred metaphor for frustration and disappointment here. I can talk (type) until tomorrow about planning and structure and character arcs and subtext and motifs and what-have-you. Somewhere, at some point, there’s something that you can’t boil down to a technical/artistic principle. Call it the spirit of the book. Call it the intangibility of Art. It doesn’t matter. Whatever you call it, it’s that indefinable something which pushes a button inside you and says, “Yes, this is it. This is what I’ve been looking for.” Which is what brings me to write about To Kill a Mockingbird.

Usually you're supposed to read Mockingbird in school at around the age of fourteen as though it's some sort of fitting educational milestone for that period. "Ahh, so you're getting to be an adult, eh? Well this is just the book for you. Full of good and wholesome values to influence your outlook on life so you become a productive adult in our flawed-but-functioning society." That is, right before they teach you the “real” grown-up stuff like Fitzgerald and Hemingway. "Yeah, so we might not have mentioned it before but life is all about suffering. Oh, and society is lousy and irrational." Not that Fitzgerald and Hemingway are necessarily wrong (it depends on your point of view), but I can't shake the feeling that Mockingbird's classification as young adult fiction is bizarre.

A black man is convicted of raping a white woman simply because he's black. Even though the jury and every other person in town know the woman and her father are lying. Even though his defense attorney is the most honorable, right-thinking man in town. That man is shot trying to escape from prison. The children of the defense attorney are nearly murdered by the "rape victim's" father in retaliation. That doesn't sound not-quite-grown-up to me. Maybe that’s because Mockingbird pushes my “It” button. I’m not a southerner and I didn’t grow up during the Great Depression, and with the exception of once having been a naïve six-year-old girl, I am nothing like Scout Finch. Nevertheless, whenever I read Mockingbird, I feel as though I’ve found something I didn’t realize I was missing.

And that’s what I want to do as a writer – I want to entertain and to make people think, but I also want to give them something they’ve been missing. It’s not closure or catharsis I’m talking about – those are technical elements which aren't necessarily called for. I can't find a specific word or an expression for what I'm talking about, but I think I've made the point.

Next week… a summary post.