Category: classic cinema

“The Last Hunt”–Coming Soon!

Well, gang, I can’t keep it secret any more.  My next book is coming along nicely and I’m anticipating a late October release.  Right around my birthday.  I’m working hard to make that happen.

But here’s the thing:  The Last Hunt is a western.

You heard me.  I’m talking about hard-bitten gunslingers, tall, wide vistas, ornery horses, evil black hats, the whole bit.

Oh, sure, you say, but it’ll be like some kinda weird Cormac McCarthy hybrid, right?  A whacked out, modernistic take on the Wild West, standing the entire genre on its head.

Nope, nope and…nope.

Y’see, I happen to love westerns. I don’t look down on the genre, relegate it to second-class status. I grew up watching Clint Eastwood and John Wayne movies.  I enjoy reading the novels of Elmer Kelton and Richard S. Wheeler.  They’re superb writers, regardless of categories and classifications.

I’m saddened by the cinematic decline of the western—the last truly great cowboy flick I saw was “The Long Riders”, made back in 1980. “The Unforgiven” (1992) was a decent movie but far too earnest and over-long. “The Long Riders” was the shit.

And since then there’ve been remakes and abominations like “Young Guns”—westerns by people who’ve never been near a horse in their lives and whose knowledge of the Old West is, put kindly, superficial. Hollywood has tried to update westerns, reinvent them with big name stars and budgets that would make even Michael Cimino swoon…but they’ve lost the spirit.  Sam Peckinpah and John Ford had a real grasp of those who pioneered the land west of the Mississippi, their contrary natures, the sort of valor and resolution Alan LeMay refers to in a quote that precedes his classic novel, The Searchers:

“These people had the kind of courage that may be the finest gift of man:  the courage of those who simply keep on, and on, doing the next thing, far beyond all reasonable endurance, seldom thinking of themselves as martyred, and never thinking of themselves as brave.”

In the course of writing The Last Hunt, by pure chance I happened across a reproduction of a William R. Leigh painting called “The Warning Shadow”. It was another one of those too-amazing-to-be-a-coincidence moments (and I should know, I’d had a few of them).  The image was perfect for my book—but I had a dickens of a time tracking down who owned the rights.  Finally, I was put in touch with the Rockwell Museum of Western Art (in Corning, New York) and Bobby Rockwell helped me secure permission to use the painting.  Mr. Leigh’s artworks are highly prized, very collectible and I’m honored to have “The Warning Shadow” on my cover.

The cover accompanying this post is, I hasten to say, a mere mockup…but it gives you a fair idea of what to expect.  Once our designer, Chris Kent, has a crack at it, the cover will look even better.

As for plot details, er, I think I’ll keep that to myself for now.  When it gets closer to publication date I’ll be more forthcoming.  Hoping the novel will be popular with fans of the western genre as well as people who just love a fast, entertaining read.  Like my last two novels, I think The Last Hunt has a lot of cross-over appeal, the potential to draw a wide variety of readers.

I’ve spent the past three weeks going through the second draft and I like what I’m seeing.  It’s a short novel, around 50,000 words, and it moves along at an exciting clip.  Good, solid protagonist and memorable supporting players.  By the time this book is released in the late fall, it’s gonna hum.

So stay tuned, check in every once in awhile for updates and further developments.  Maybe even an excerpt or two, just to whet your appetite.

Yeah, I know, a western.  But, trust me, it’s a helluva tale…

New post on my film blog

Check out the short essay I wrote on “Forbidden Planet” and other classic oldies—you’ll find it over at my film blog, Cinema Arete.

Happy Third Anniversary!

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.

“They’re tearing down Baker Street!”

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.

Sweet Jesus.

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.

Yeah, 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…