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Archive for the ‘film reviews’ Category

flowerpowerI checked the interval since my last post and actually winced, a physical manifestation of my shame.

I must redouble my efforts at keeping this blog up to date. Maintaining contact with my fellow human beings. Not that my life is full of incident—that’s part of the problem, I’m hard-pressed to come up with anything more interesting than Sat at desk, stared off into space, played shoegaze music until inspired to scribble a few words

Writing that over and over again, like Jack Torrance in The Shining.

I’ve said it before but I’ll repeat it for the sake of added emphasis: I have no life.

I did manage a trip in to Saskatoon to see a completely whacked film called “A Field in England”, posting about it over at my film blog.

Reading lots. Music constantly thundering away in my office.

And…reflecting…yes, rather a lot of reflecting.

Think I’m still in the process of adjusting to our sons moving out, suffering a bit from “empty nest syndrome”. Occasional bouts of loneliness and melancholia. This house seems awfully bloody empty some days. Feels like I’m transitioning into a new phase in my life, a fifty-something guy whose kids are no longer underfoot, suddenly free of many (not all) of the demands of parenthood. My role, my identity, has undergone a massive change in the past few months and it’s going to take awhile, I think, before I feel comfortable in my skin again.

Will close off with something for the mothers out there—after all, it’s your special day coming up on Sunday.

In his book In Praise of Love, Alain Badiou quotes from a letter philosopher Andre Gorz wrote to his wife, Dorine. It’s one of the most beautiful statements on romantic love I’ve yet encountered, a paean to devotion and eternal, unbreakable bonds:

“You’ll soon be eighty-two. You have shrunk six centimeters, you only weigh forty-five kilos yet you are as beautiful, gracious and desirable as ever. We have now lived together for fifty-eight years and I love you more than ever. In the hollow of my chest I can feel again that ravaging emptiness that can only be filled by the warmth of your body against mine.”

Thank you to our wives and mothers, the wise women and brave sisters who give us life and protect us from the worst aspects of ourselves.

We celebrate and salute you.

leaf

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Cliff:collageThere it is.

Three hundred blog posts…and counting.

And the credit all belongs to…you. D’you think I’d keep this up for 300 posts I didn’t feel like I was getting through, if this site wasn’t an invaluable line of communication to friends, colleagues and readers from, well, from everywhere? You’ve commented and you’ve written, hundreds of you, and I love it.  Some really smart people hang out at my place, ideal readers every one. These are the individuals I’m thinking of when I start a new poem, short story, novel. I want to constantly surprise and amaze them, show them something unexpected. Never let them down, never take them for granted.

Thanks, folks. Thanks, so much.

Not only am I celebrating #300, there’s other news:

Yesterday I completed the first draft of what appears to be a short novel. Worked on it for nineteen (19) consecutive days, 2500 words a day. The experience left me drained, exhilarated…now I have to take a few days and try to figure out what the hell I’m going to do with it. I have another manuscript waiting for revision, an older effort I’m hoping to resurrect, but think I’ll stick with this new one for awhile. It’s in really rough shape—still, I think there’s a polished gem in there somewhere.  It’ll take work, tons o’ research too. Ah, well, I should be used to that.

A surprisingly pain-free draft—not assailed by the usual demons of self-doubt and I tried to take breaks, the occasional walk, get away from the keyboard. Is this the beginning of a new trend? Will I (gasp) stop punishing my body/mind/spirit in the name of art?

To add to the positive vibes around here, my wife has returned from Yellowknife, so our little family unit is intact once more. Sherron spent ten days up there with a troupe of professional artists, rehearsing and performing a dramatic presentation recreating events from the life of a longtime local character, Tom Doornbos.  They used a variety of puppets and employed a number of locales around Yellowknife to tell their story and their play was a great hit. Now there’s talk of touring it…stay tuned.

After picking Sherron up at the airport, we drove to the Broadway Theater and took in a showing of “Berberian Sound Studio”, which I thought would be good…and turned out to be the best movie I’ve seen this year. You can find the review over at my film blog.

And, finally…I promised you a treat, didn’t I?

Well, how about an entire CD of free music, over forty-seven minutes worth of catchy, mind-warping “chillout” tunes?  I’ve just released “Ambient i-viii” in its entirety over on Bandcamp. Here a link to the site—enjoy, download, share.

I’ll start you off with a sample track, one of my favorites, titled “Ambient vi”:

One last time: THANKS.

And keep those comments and e-mails coming.

Love to hear from you…

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Be sure to pop over to my film blog and check out coverage of this year’s edition of Silence is Golden.

The format is a cineaste’s dream:  a classic silent film is chosen for screening, with live accompanying music from the Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra. This time around, it was Douglas Fairbanks in the 1920 adventure “Mark of Zorro”.

An evening to remember…

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“I…am…not…afraid…of…you.”

Standing before a tower of unread books, feeling a bit queasy but also defiant.  These are books that have bedeviled me for months, years, decades.  Tomes I know will be excellent, enlightening, life-enhancing…as soon as I find time to read them.  Others are volumes I read many moons ago and want to revisit.  Some big, fat, brain-building Pynchon titles, a few of the early Cormac McCarthys; works I read when I was young, stupid and trying to impress everybody.  Now when I read them, I’ll be a helluva lot more worldly, slightly smarter and apt to grasp more than I did during that initial encounter.  Can you really comprehend the magnitude of Gravity’s Rainbow or Marcel Proust’s convoluted, gorgeous prose at nineteen or twenty?

Never in hell.  I’m convinced human beings don’t start developing adult-sized brains until they’ve turned thirty and have popped at least one kid.  A teenager reading War and Peace is like handing a mandrill an iPad. Seriously.

This past week I was visiting The Big City and had occasion (okay, I lurked) to listen while a couple of teenage girls discussed their school reading assignments.

“This book,” one said, stabbing a livid finger at Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, “ought to be banned.”

“Did you read The Englishman’s Boy?”

“Only the chapter I had to.”

“Me too! Catcher in the Rye sucked too. What’s the big deal? The Outsiders--“

“That was half decent.”

“It was o-kay. But the main guy is such a whiner…”

And so on.  Book club night at the Stephen Hawking residence it was not.

What were those gals doing, hanging out in a book store?  Waiting for the rain to subside?  I wonder what sort of books they actually liked?

* * * * *

I must do something about my To Be Read pile. Make that piles.  It’s getting scary.  We’re running out of space.  Books are double-stacked on the shelves, some even (gasp!) relegated to the floor.  Fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, essays…good God, things have gotten completely out of hand.  I catch my wife looking at me, her expression cagy: pondering involuntary commitment? What are the legal hurdles?  How much can she get for all these fucking books?

And now that I’m hooked up to the library system through the internet, I can log on and troll for more books, secure them free, via inter-library loans.  If three weeks pass and I need more time, I can renew the tomes in question with a few taps on my keyboard.

Sweet.

Or perhaps not.  It’s like having after hours access to the world’s biggest bookstore.  I get messages as soon as another book is ready for pickup at my local branch.  Can’t wait to get down there, scoop it up and bear it home…

Understand, I already have dozens, scores of books—wonderful books, classic books—waiting to be read but I’m still ordering more.  Isn’t that weird?  Isn’t that, well, nuts?

It’s called bibliophilia, folks, and I’ve got it bad.

I’m a collector on the verge of becoming a hoarder.  When I find a good bookstore, especially a good used book store, my hands get clammy, my stomach churns and I feel light-headed, like I’m suffering from some kind of sugar deficit. I kid you not. I’ve heard junkies say similar things when they find themselves in the vicinity of dope or paraphernalia. A feeling of anticipation that leaves you weak in the knees.

Have to say, when I visited my last big box book barn I didn’t experience anything like that.  The “New Release” shelves didn’t turn my crank at all—the majority of the fiction seemed to be geared toward women, and particularly stupid ones at that. The most dreadful shite. Spotted a number of offerings in the history section, including David McCullough’s bio of Truman, but the prices scared me off. After all my browsing, over an hour in the store, I came away with one thin volume, a beautiful little Penguin edition of Stefan Zweig’s novella Chess.  That’s it.

Pitiful, ain’t it?

But, of course, it isn’t just books.  I’m no longer part of the desired demographic, and that goes for music, movies, television, you name it.  I’m an old fogie with a critical brain and a handle on his spending.  Not exact a walking advertisement for consumerism.

No, the ones the advertisers, viral marketers et al are after are the 16-25 bunch, the gamers and mall crowd, armed with credit cards and completely lacking impulse control.  Unmarried, no kids, disposable income, too much time on their hands. The morons that have kept Michael Bay, JJ Abrams and Bill Gates filthy rich and reduced the popular arts to public urinals.  Thanks, kids!

We have them to thank for the current state of publishing/bookselling.  The explosion of graphic novels, the flood of zombies and vampires and knock-off fantasy and franchise novels, and media tie-ins…can you say dumbing down?  That extended period I spent in the big box store was most educational.  It told me that in their efforts to cater to their sought after demographic, traditional publishers won’t just go for the lowest common denominator, they are willing, nay eager, to debase the language, alienate their traditional clientele and reduce an art form to mere commodity.  The rot is evident in every genre—what little “literary” fiction out there is getting harder to find, forced off the shelves by establishments that offer whole sections devoted to the excremental writing of James Patterson, Jody Picoult and the like.

I turn on commercial radio, flip through the TV channels during a rare hotel visit, check on-line movie listings for anything that might look promising and I feel old.  Nothing in the entertainment world speaks to me these days.  I don’t look forward to the summer movies or check to see who made the Oscar shortlist.  Ignore the bestseller lists, rarely buy a magazine or new book…and we’re the last family I know of who still don’t have cable TV.

I’ve been a reader all my life.  Forty years with my nose in books.  Books have always offered me comfort and consolation.  In childhood, they were a security blanket, helping me escape the depredations of reality.  As I got older, they became my primary sources of learning, as well as steering me down spiritual/mystical paths I might otherwise have missed. Without books, I would not be the person I am today.  I would be one of them:  mall zombies, semi-literates, half-simian.

All this might go a long way toward explaining that ever-growing TBR pile. I never stop seeking out new Masters, new teachers; men and women who can perform alchemy with the printed word, transmuting it into something more than mere sentences on a page.

A casual scan of the pictures reveals not too many of the books are of recent vintage.  Most picked up from thrift shops, secondhand places or on-line purchases; heavily discounted, showing the effects of their time in remainder bins or battered about in the mail.

New and old enthusiasms:  Samuel Beckett, Walter Kirn, Ken Kalfus, Richard Powers, Robert Stone, Raymond Queneau, Roberto Bolano, Fernando Pessoa, J.M.G. Le Clezio, Denis Johnson, Tom McCarthy, Terence McKenna, Georges Perec, Jorge Luis Borges, Gert Ledig, W.G. Sebald…and that’s just scratching the surface. These Jpegs hardly do my TBR pile justice.  It goes on and on…

When am I going to find time to read the gorgeous edition of Don Quixote Sherron picked up for me at least five years ago (translation by Edith Grossman)?  How about the three volumes by the incomparable Louis Ferdinand Celine that are only an arm’s length away from where I sit, typing these words?  Will I ever tackle Madame Bovary, War and Peace or the 1,000+ pages of The Collected Short Stories of J.G. Ballard?

Not as long as I keep adding to that pile.

How many titles are on the “Wishlist” I’ve kept in the same steno pad for the past twenty years?  Two hundred?  Three hundred?  The roster constantly revised; one title acquired and crossed off, three others added…

I’m a sick man.  Addicted to the printed word.  Always seeking out the best of the best, authors who present fresh perspectives, re-ignite the language, push the envelope thematically and stylistically.  Just when I think I’m making headway, someone mentions Ben Okri or Joseph McElroy.  How could I have missed them?  Fabulous, unprecedented talents, my collection incomplete without them.

The kind of authors no longer being published by the trads and, thus, increasingly unfamiliar to today’s readers.

Creators capable of composing work that ennobles us as a species, presenting an alternative to the superficiality of the processed, plastic universe the corporate types are peddling, the reassuring sameness one is sure to find there.  Our souls would be impoverished without these artistes, our “culture” reduced to inanity and tiresome cant.  A nightmare I hope never to endure, a history I pray we avoid.

Photos by Sherron Burns

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I have completed the first draft of new, book-length project so my blogging has dropped off of late.

Don’t hate me for being a workaholic or for being secretive about the creative irons I have in the fire.  I promise to let you in on my plans and schemes ASAP.  Suffice to say I’m working in a genre I’ve never tackled before and I’m dying to see what the final result will resemble.

Despite my labors, I took time to unwind and watch a few movies—just posted the reviews on my film blog, Cinema Arete.

Enjoy!

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This past week, I had the good fortune to view Mike Leigh’s latest masterpiece, “Another Year”.

Seeking the best film of 2010?  Look no further…and read my review, posted on Cinema Arete.

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This past weekend, despite being sick as a dog, I attended a showing of Buster Keaton’s silent classic “The General” at the Roxy Theater in Saskatoon.

Wrote about it on my film blog, so I hope you’ll zip over and read my account.

See you at the Roxy next year; if you’re any kind of fan or student of film, you don’t want to miss the opportunity of seeing great, old movies the way they’re meant to be viewed:  on a big screen.

What a night…

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I’ve been working, what else?

Plowing my way through Of the Night, polishing a bit here, snipping a word or two there, prepping the manuscript to send off to the printer by the first week of October.  Which means I’ll have achieved my goal and published two books this year.  I thought it was important to do something, well, special to mark my 25th anniversary as a pro writer and getting my two “Ilium” novels out to readers and fans in the same calendar year seemed like just the thing to do.  It’s been crazy hectic, frustrating and maddening…but it looks like we’re going to manage it.

Of the Night is a far shorter novel than So Dark the Night—I like to call So Dark my “A” movie and Of the Night my “B” picture.  One is a bigger, bolder project, the other smaller and more modest.  But I love ‘em both and you will too.  We’ll be using Adrian Donoghue’s cover art for Of the Night and Chris Kent (as far as I know) will be designing the look of the book once again.  We’ll have it out in time for Christmas and the novel will likely retail in the $10-11 region.  There will be further progress reports so keep checking in periodically for more details.

Wild summer here in Saskatchewan, the weather verging on freaky.  Rain, rain, rain.  We have an old house and a basement with a stone foundation so I’ve had a fan running constantly downstairs because of the damp seeping in from outside, the surrounding soil saturated.  I have several hundred books down there, my boys have a TV and their XBox set up so they can have their own little space.  Must work to keep the area habitable, no killer mould growing in the walls, etc.  The lousy weather has made it abundantly clear the roof tiles and eaves need replacing, the trees trimming back (again); yikes, when I think about the pending expense, it makes me wanna cry.

Ah, well, we’ll get by.  Somehow.  We always do.  Just when I think we’re going under, some respite arrives in the nick of time.  But there are some periods, nerve-stretching intervals, when things look pretty bleak and occasionally I am brought face-to-face with the very real risks and terrors that accompany life as a full-time independent writer and publisher.  I’m 46…is life ever going to get easier, will there be some kind of reward waiting at the end of the rainbow?  Or just a tarnished piss pot?

“Theirs not to reason why…” and all that.  Thanks, Alfie, but all those guys died, as I recall.

Hasn’t been much time to kick back and indulge in my other passions:  films and reading.  Watched a few cool flicks like Samuel Fuller’s “Shock Corridor” and “Pickup on South Street”, two Herzog efforts (“Grizzly Man” and “Bad Lieutenant:  Port of Call New Orleans”) and Robert Bresson’s “Pickpocket” but not too many more.  And I haven’t yet gotten around to reviewing those few movies I have watched for my film blogSigh.

As for reading, I’ve just finished Michael Palin’s Diaries (1969-79) and I’ve completed almost all of Denton Welch’s books, marveling at what a magnificent writer he was (no wonder William Burroughs revered him).  Presently absorbed by Charles Simic’s The Monster Loves His Labyrinth, which is composed of entries from his writer’s notebook(s).  Wonderful, wonderful stuff.  If you haven’t read any Simic, rush out and find some.

Lots of music playing while I work—some ambient stations I found on ITunes, as well as albums like The Brian Jonestown Massacre’s “Who Killed Sergeant Pepper”, the definitive Joy Division compilation, “Heart & Soul”; old favorites like Interpol and Elbow and Black Rebel Motorcycle are always on hand to get me revved up.  Soundtracks (“The Thin Red Line” and “The Fountain”) to give me mood music to write to.

That’s enough for now.  I have to get back to, y’know, editing.  Of the Night awaits my full attention.

In the meantime, why not take a few minutes to browse through this site, check out some of the stories, essays, excerpts, spoken word and music I’ve posted here over the past 3+ years?  All of it FREE to read and download.  Honest.  No strings attached.

C’mon, whaddaya say?  You wanna hang out for awhile?

Great, make yourself at home.

If you need me, I’ll be upstairs, first door on the left…

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Well, who would’ve guessed this blog would last as long as it has.  Or that this strange site would draw the kind of traffic it does, the responses (good, bad and incoherent).

I’ve met some smart, funny, terrific people, thanks to “Beautiful Desolation”, and it’s always a particular thrill to read a comment or receive an e-mail from one of you.  Writing is a lonely business and those missives, brief as they are, remind me why I keep putting pen to paper, year after year after year.   And let’s have a rousing cheer for the internet, without which none of this would be possible.  I mean, jeez, from halfway around the world you can wave or send regards or blow a kiss…or a raspberry (whatever floats your boat).

I spent perhaps an unhealthy amount of time trying to come up with ways to say “thanks” for your support and patronage for the past three years.  There are a good number of you who take great pains to keep in touch and pass the word to other folks out there who are fed up with the tepid fare offered by traditional publishing sources:  the books and magazines we buy and yawn our way through.

For the past six months or so the e-Reader crowd have been coming by in droves.  Welcome, welcome.  Dive right in and enjoy my stories, poems and radio dramas.  There are dozens of offerings on this site, hundreds of thousands of words.  Works that will astonish, amaze or, at least, entertain.  And it’s all FREE.  Download it, peruse it on your Kindles and iPads and Sonys (what the hell, a book is a book) and God bless ya.

I have to say there are certain, ah, special circumstances that give this anniversary more significance.

The impending release of my novel So Dark the Night is a super-big deal around Casa Burns.  The cover nears completion and then it’s a case of loading the book onto Lightning Source’s template, crossing our fingers…and zipping it off.  Looks like a late-April release.  Will give you a peek at the cover soon–it’s a beauty.  Wait’ll you see it, kids, it’ll knock your socks off.  Christ, I love this book.  It’s the best thing I’ve ever written and I’m practically vibrating in anticipation.

2010 marks my 25th year as a professional writer.  That’s a helluva long time, a helluva lot of words on paper.  Too many to ponder without suffering some kind of brain seizure.  So we’ve got the third anniversary of the blog, my silver anniversary as an author and a new book coming out.  That’s gotta call for something a little something extra, a bonus item or two…

How about an hour of free music?  This is music I recorded with my iMac’s Garageband software.  Space tunes, all instrumentals, totally trippy and out there.  Some of my friends have downloaded these oddities on to their iPods or their computer hard drives.  Go for it.  Knock yourselves out.  And above all else, enjoy the music.  With my compliments and thanks.

I call my project Soundtrack For a Science Fiction Film Never Made and if you’d like to give it a listen, pop over to my “Audio” page, scroll down, past the spoken word section and you’re sure to find it.

Ah, but I’m not done.

I also want to unveil my new blog, Cinema Arrete.  After literature, film is my great passion and for ages I’ve wanted a site where I could talk about some of my favorites and steer people toward flicks that aren’t on prominent display at their neighborhood movie store.  I think that with places like YouTube now renting movies, there might be an increased demand and a wider assortment of movies to choose from–after all, cyberspace is like an endless virtual store and titles are always in stock.  It might be the perfect time to re-introduce film fans to the work of auteurs like Henri-Georges Clouzot and Carl Theodor Dreyer.

But it’s not just a one-way street.  I want cinephiles to steer me toward works and creative individuals that I’ve missed or neglected for some reason.  I want to re-watch classic movies, research them and write essays based on my impressions and speculations.  Sometimes I’ll re-examine a work and discover I’ve been dead wrong and will be forced to backtrack.  The downside of being an honest critic is that you have to learn to like the taste of crow.

My refusal to bestow any respect on CGI fests like “Avatar” and the latest comic book adaptation will enrage those of you who (shudder) go to movies purely for fun, for the eye candy and escapist fluff.  Sorry, if that’s the sum total of your aesthetic, Cinema Arete likely isn’t for you.

Pop over, give it a look-see and let me know what you think.

Okay, that’s enough for now.  I’m feeling kind of misty-eyed at the moment and it might be that extra shot or two of scotch I’ve had.  Or it could be an indication of emotions lurking closer to the surface than usual as I ponder this blog and what it has meant for my writing.  Most importantly, it’s given me access to you, o wise and discerning readers, a venue to display my odd wares.

Thanks so much for spending some of your precious time here.  Visiting and browsing this…repository of my poor words.

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