Well, cinephiles, the news isn’t good. An article penned by Neil Smith for the BBC website previews some of the big releases and most-hyped films of 2010 and it’s enough to make any serious film-goer weep in despair.
“The prevailing trend, ” Mr. Smith concludes gloomily, “is towards established film titles from yesteryear given a hi-tech makeover.”
So we can expect more updates and reinventions, the character names familiar but the faces different, with a budget rumoured at around a hundred mill. Let’s see, just off the top of my head I recall movies based on “The Dukes of Hazzard”, “Get Smart”, “The Avengers”, “Miami Vice”, “Bewitched”, “Charlie’s Angels”, “Starsky & Hutch”; in terms of remakes there’s “War of the Worlds” and “Day the Earth Stood Still”, “3:10 to Yuma”, “The Pink Panther”, “The Longest Yard” and, coming soon to your theater, a nastier rebooting of the “Nightmare on Elm Street” franchise. We have sequels and prequels…and even the great Ray Harryhausen isn’t immune to pale imitation: the new “Clash of The Titans”, helmed by Luc Besson protege Louis Leterrier, premieres in Canada in March.
And it would be negligent of me not to mention the highly anticipated “A Team” movie, which promises to be even better than the original series.
I’ve written previously of my absolute loathing for JJ Abrams’ take on “Star Trek”. I thought it utterly vapid, not to mention incoherent. “Star Trek XI” barely bothered paying lip service to the original, JJ resorting to bottom-fishing Leonard Nimoy in a vain attempt to lend the abomination some small measure of legitimacy (he failed). The mega-success of that film bewilders me–is the government putting something in the drinking water to make us dumb? Was that crazy guy standing behind me at Tramp’s Records down in Regina right and the H1N1 vaccine is a plot by Barack Obama to enslave our minds?
Let us not forget (I certainly can’t), the top grossing film in 2009 was, wait for it…”The Transformers”.
And (the good news just keeps coming) if the present trend continues, Jimmy Cameron will easily top his “Titanic” tally, “Avatar” already pulling in over a billion bucks from people who like their movies big, loud, pretty and predictable.
I get a monstrous headache when I ponder what all of this bodes for the future of film. Have we reached the creosote at the bottom of the barrel or–
Holy fuck, the Rock as a hockey enforcer and (ulp) tooth fairy? You gotta wonder what the pitch was like for that one. And if the guy who gave it the green light was over-medicated that day. Maybe it was a total whim, a desperate writer, his ideas shot down one by one, goes for broke and tosses out the first stupid thing that comes to mind. “There’s a hockey goon, see, and he’s somehow cursed and has to take over as tooth fairy…”
But what’s a budding screen writer supposed to do? Nobody’s buying “high concept” these days and who wants to wait around three or five or ten years to get funding through some indie? Fuck that. Everyone knows a writer’s life blood is development dough. Milk that tit dry, baby! And all but the terminally moronic have heard the news: producers and film execs aren’t looking for anything original or different and any agent who wants to keep his “A List” contacts isn’t going to champion a script that’s literate, low-key, thoughtful and utterly lacking explosions and eye-catching CGI effects.
Not when there are old ideas still to be resurrected, a rich vein of nostalgia to be ruthlessly exploited. By wunderkinds like Abrams and Zack Snyder and Michael Bay. Comic book fans and video game junkies. They don’t read anything that doesn’t come with colour illustrations. Not the sort who are interested in niceties like character development and well-rendered, believable dialogue, silences that speak volumes.
And apparently neither are you.
You’ve seen many of the films I’ve just named, haven’t you? And when the end credits rolled, you didn’t feel the slightest bit enlightened or ennobled by anything you’d just seen in the preceding 104 minutes. You know what you’re doing, don’t you? You’re padding the box office receipts of garbage films, encouraging the Hollywood mill to churn out yet more garbage. Charmless, superficial, derivative drek. Berke Breathed, that old curmudgeon, wrote about the sensawunda that is missing from films these days and I couldn’t agree more. Two hundred million bucks worth of state of the art special effects don’t amount to a hill of horseshit if your story is thin, trite and cliched. Sorry, Mr. Cameron.
But most film-goers (apparently) couldn’t care less. So what if “Cloverfield” was just a tarted up “Godzilla” flick? Big deal if “300” is historically inaccurate. They lined up in the driving rain for an hour to see “Star Trek” and will happily, uncomplainingly plunk down forty or fifty bucks when the “special ultimate limited edition” of “Avatar” is released this summer, with hours of bonus footage and deleted scenes and alternate endings and–
Okay, sorry I’m coming across so smug and morally superior. After all, Mr. Trekkie here just had to see “XI”, didn’t he, even if it was only to confirm it was as bad as I feared (actually, it was far worse).
But that was an aberration. Something completely out of character for me. Usually I resist the blandishments of the ads and trailers and ignore the well-meaning twits who say “well, I thought it was different from the usual stuff”. People inured to the eye candy and mindless, adolescent shite that pollutes theatres and the “New release” section of local movie stores, reducing a once-great art form to utter pap.
The “Star Trek” movie was merely confirmation of what I already knew. I don’t fit the demographic of contemporary film-goers. I have pubic hair and a real job; a life. I left that movie feeling like I’d been swindled by a particularly graceless and inept con man. The plot was ridiculous, it made no sense and, again, it made gazillions. I just don’t get it. These films, the remakes and sequels that show up week after week, are completely devoid of personality and any nuances or dashes of fine detail are entirely computer generated. What’s the appeal, folks? Why are you so averse to films that make you think?
Fuck the new “Sherlock Holmes” film, even if Guy Ritchie is directing. Especially if Guy Ritchie is directing. Here’s a guy with some talent (“Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels” and “Snatch”), participating in the utter rubbishing of one of the great characters in English literature. I’m a fan of the stories, I’m a huge fan of Jeremy Brett’s sublime interpretation of the master detective and I will not be seeing this new version. Transforming the cerebral sleuth into an action hero is an act of artistic heresy. For his crimes against the canon, Ritchie should be burned atop a pile of Madonna albums.
Okay, Mr./Ms. Average film-goer, here’s what I want you to do. I want you to repeat after me:
I am hereby declaring myself immune to hype and vital marketing campaigns; I will sneer at the latest franchise film, scoff at the laughably glowing reviews it receives from idigdumbmovies.com or KCLR Radio Topeka.
“The #1 Movie of the Summer!”
“The motion picture event of the year!”
“The Best Movie Ever!”
Sorry, we’ve hear that before, haven’t we?
It’s been many years since I’ve been the slightest bit interested in partaking of the latest “must see” film. I avoid the new stuff, instead plunge into the stacks, the “catalogue” movies. Making forays into Saskatoon and pillaging their main library. Finding films and checking them off my list. Old noir, classics of every genre, every era. The kind of titles that are gradually being weeded out of local rental shops to make space for 50 copies of “Spiderman 6” or an entire wall devoted to the “Laverne & Shirley: The Movie”. And I use the wonders of technology, go on-line and track down the movies I’ve heard about, yearned to see for years, decades: Murnau and Fellini and Dreyer and Clouzot; foreign and silent films, cult curios, visual melodies and meditations assembled and spliced from the zeitgeist.
It’s hard to turn up Monte Hellman films these days (try it sometime)…good Lord, someone’s selling some old Herzog flicks on eBay…and here’s my hero, Orson Welles, snippets from “Filming Othello” broadcast on YouTube . I watch them all and then seek out the Micheál Macliammóir film diary Welles alludes too. It’s wonderful , as well.
Recently I secured a copy of the remastered Criterion edition of “M”. And it’s high time I watched my VHS copy of King Vidor’s “The Crowd” again…
There is more craft, thought and artfulness put into either of those efforts than any flick released in the past ten years. Maybe longer. Isn’t that something? And they’re both at least 80 years old.
The auteurs like Lang and Vidor have died off or grown old. That image I have of Kurosawa, lying in his coffin, one of his longtime collaborators putting flowers between his toes to hide the bits blackened by frostbite. From the years spent outside, stalking about cold sets, making sure everything was exactly right. Now that’s an artist.
The new kids have it easy. They don’t even have to go outside. Green screen the actors and add in the sets, backdrops post-production. Perk up the tits on the leading lady while you’re at it, will ya, boys? The present breed write with laptops, instead of their hearts and souls. One eye on the box office, ever eager to please their corporate masters. Up to and including shooting a new ending for their labour of love, should a test audience of retards grade it too low…
Speaking of which, I’d better explain what I’m up to:
This year Esquire magazine is promoting a fiction contest where authors are invited to write stories based on three titles they (the editors) provide. You can visit their website for further details. I discovered the contest in May, printed up the info for later reference. Found the stuff again in late June, thought writing a story based on someone else’s title might be an interesting writing exercise. Wrote down the first title, “Twenty-Ten”, and went for it. Not necessarily thinking of submitting the finished work to the contest, just seeking to limber up my wrists before the real work of the summer began.
Well, I wrote one story and it turned out pretty darn good so the next day, suitably encouraged, I wrote a second and almost immediately a concept occurred to me for the third. So in the space of a few days I had three handwritten drafts. Tapped them into the iMac, opened one up, did a bit of fiddling…and now, three weeks later, here I am.
But I have a problem and I’ll bet you spotted it right away, didn’t you? You’re only supposed to submit one story and I’ve got three I’m quite taken with. I read all of them to my family the other night, hoping they’d immediately point out a winner but the verdict was mixed. They loved the stories, the characters, but each seemed to favor a different tale. Even I had changed my mind as to which one I preferred by the time I’d finished reading the last of them. Good grief. Well…I’ve got until the 31st (what is that, Friday?) to choose one story and edit it into tip-top shape. Because I will indeed be submitting something, despite my oft-repeated reluctance to enter writing competitions. For one thing, there’s no entry fee (mandatory). For another, Esquire, like the BBC, is a flagship, one of those names you’d dearly love, as a writer, to have on your resume. And one last consideration: I’ve written three bloody good tales, any of which is worthy for consideration.
My break’s over. Yesterday was fun: I sat around reading Paul Auster’s Man in the Dark (not one of his great ones, unfortunately), straightened up in the office, cleaned my area of the basement (we’ve been painting and installing a new ceiling light/fan in our kitchen so everything is a mess), listened to some alternative radio on the ‘net, trying to ease up and relax…but it’s time to get back at it. Grind, grind grind. Funny how hard you have to work on a story to make it read and flow naturally.
This tales have already taken up more of my summer than I’d intended–this started out as a simple writing exercise, remember? I still want to dive into edits of my next novel and here we are, approaching the end of July. Yike!
Time to finish up these tales and get back on track. It’s been an intriguing interlude but that novel beckons, miles to go before I sleep and all that.
That’s it for the update.
Hope you’re all having a fun summer. We’re finally getting some hot, sunny days, real Saskatchewan scorchers.
And, last but not least, it’s our 19th anniversary tomorrow.
Thanks, Sherron, for everything.
Forever and ever, doll…
Let’s set the Wayback Machine to last Friday, Sherman–the 13th, appropriately enough.
Seven or eight people were gathered in my living room, preparing for a readthrough of my radio play The Innocent Moon.
I think you could describe The Innocent Moon as a very personal homage to the Space Age–a a celebration of what was, an elegy for what might have been. There are six voices, each vying with the others to make their viewpoint known. Beyond that, I’ll say little. No spoilers or cryptic hints. Not my style. Although I do make reference to Werner Von Braun and “Rocketship X-M”–
Since around mid-January I’ve been doing a ridiculous amount of research. Most of it was purely background, boning up on my history, trying to stir up some strong visual images…and maybe there was a touch of nostalgia involved as well. I’ve been a space nut for forty years and looking through books like National Geographic’s Encyclopedia of Space gave me goosebumps. I made copious notes and then commenced arranging what I had into a coherent narrative.
Editing is a nerve-wracking process for me; the level of sustained focus that’s required, pure concentration. It’s very draining and at that point I am totally immersed in the world of the piece I’m working on. I lose track of the hours and days flit past.
For more than six weeks I bent to the task of making something worthwhile out of a hodgepodge of prose bits, poems, quotes, factoids and ephemera. Most of the time the work felt inspired and I liked how everything seemed to come together so seamlessly…
I felt quite confident and more than a touch self-satisfied as I watched people arranging themselves on the sofa and the chairs we’d provided. They quickly flipped through their scripts and then Sherron and I made some preliminary remarks, introducing the play, providing some information on the characters and framework.
I checked my watch and took note of the time as the reading commenced.
Sherron and I had agreed beforehand that neither of us would read. She would handle the direction: cue the actors, read the linking passages and indicate the sound effects. My role was to sit back and listen, stay alert for any minor glitches, a troublesome spot or two besmirching an otherwise masterful literary offering.
As the reading progressed I sank farther and farther back in my chair. Ours was an amateur cast, even my two sons assigned roles (we needed all the male voices we could get) but they acquitted themselves well.
No, the problem wasn’t with the acting.
For one thing The Innocent Moon was long. Wayyy overlong. As in close to twenty minutes past its due date. The BBC competition has a strict 60-minute time limit and I had blown that all to hell.
Okay, the length was one thing but the play was also listless, ponderous, meandering. Maybe even (choked sob) pompous?
I tried to hide my dismay from the readers, most of whom found the run through quite enjoyable and were happy to share their thoughts. It might have been all the wine we provided and Sherron’s tasty snacks. The atmosphere was downright festive.
And meanwhile I was thinking holy shit, I have got a massive amount of cutting to do and that fucking radio play has to be away by Wednesday at the latest. Whenever I could, I’d sneak away from the gathering, run up to my office and make notes about revisions.
The following morning, Saturday, I got to work.
I was fucking ruthless.
In the original draft, I used a lot of quotes and excerpts from various literary works. There was one big snag when it came to that: copyright. From early February I revised the script repeatedly and it wasn’t until around March 10th that I had a workable draft. The contest closed March 31st. Which didn’t give me a lot of time to secure necessary permissions.
But I did my best.
It’s a pain in the ass trying to find out who own the rights to poems fifty or sixty years old, the authors no longer among the living. I contacted publishers and sometimes I got replies and sometimes I didn’t. Ditto with agents.
But after enduring the readthrough redux, I decided to cut all but a few of the quotes, simplifying matters nicely. I was still going to have trouble explaining all the moon-related movie and music sound bites included in the text but I’d deal with that when the time came.
For five days, I went at the script with barely controlled ferocity. Anything that wasn’t fucking nailed down, was out. The script was pared, carved and whittled to the bone…and then the most beautiful thing happened. Without all the surrounding clutter, the characters’ voices emerged and for the first time I really heard them and developed a better understanding of what differentiated them, as well as their relationships to each other. As always, Sherron’s love of good, strong, distinctive characters came in handy and her advice really helped as I worked on the final draft.
Yesterday (Wednesday) afternoon, Sam and I walked downtown and mailed The Innocent Moon to the BBC Playwriting Competition.
It was an extraordinary process, yet another valuable learning experience. I debated whether or not I wanted to submit The Innocent Moon to a staged reading but, in the final analysis, it was the wisest possible choice. Without hearing it read out loud I would never have recognized the piece’s many flaws and shortcomings. I would have gone on believing it was the masterpiece it wasn’t. An important object lesson.
I’m sure there will be many fine entries to the Beeb’s contest and the chances of my even making the shortlist are mighty slim. But win, place or show, The Innocent Moon is a worthy contribution to the field of radio drama. And while it would be challenging to produce, my play has all the merits of a work that would appeal to those who are fans of “theatre of the mind”.
I hope you’ll get a chance to hear The Innocent Moon some day.
What started out as a lark, a chance to write something on the upcoming 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing, ended up an hour long radio drama.
And now you know a little about how that came to be…
Yes, I know, I have been less than diligent with my posts over the past while. Always a sign that I’ve got my nose to ye grindstone and am plugging away on a project.
Lately, it’s been a lengthy radio play that has been stealing my days and nights. Something I’m hoping to enter in the BBC Radio contest (deadline is the end of March). As regular readers of this blog know, I never, never, never submit my work elsewhere any more, this site is the sole venue where you’ll find new writing by yers truly. But, hell, this is the BBC we’re talking about and the Beeb is like Mecca for radio drama fans.
After the success of my last radio play, “The First Room”, I felt I wanted to stick with that format for the time being. I’m also aware that this year marks the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing…so why not combine the two and–
Okay, no spoilers but I have written a very personal voice piece on the effect the lunar landing had on an impressionable kid and how that event influenced the rest of my life.
Later this week we’re going to have a live reading here at our home, so I can hear the play out loud. This will provide invaluable help as I approach the final round of edits (have to have it off to England by the beginning of next week in order to make that deadline).
After the radio play is done, no rest for the wicked. I want to do another quick revision of the long version of ‘The First Room” and post the text of that one here on Beautiful Desolation. The version that aired on CBC Radio’s “Out Front” program was greatly condensed from the original and while producer Kelley Jo Burke did a lovely job, I wanted to present you with an opportunity to read the play the way it was conceived.
After that revision, probably diving into another big project–but I’ll post about that at a later date.
Hope you’ll continue to pop in for the occasional update–there are some great things coming up for this blog in 2009. We’re now getting close to the second anniversary of Beautiful Desolation and I continue to be amazed and gratified by the number of folks who visit this site, read and download reams of stories, my two novels, my verse…and then take the time to drop a line to me here or via e-mail, telling me how much they’re enjoying what they’re seeing.
Bless you, folks, and as long as you keep coming, seeking out good writing, a point of view that veers from the herd mentality, I’ll be here.
Thanks, one and all…