Category: technology

New look for “Beautiful Desolation”

A number of longtime readers have written to me, noting the recent updates and retooling on this blog.

It was time for a change.  It always bothered me that I’d chosen a lunar motif as a background—it brought to mind Buzz Aldrin’s famous depiction of the moon as “magnificent desolation”.  While that phrase may have been in the back of my mind, a subconscious influence when choosing a title for this blog, the allusion was not a deliberate one, I assure you.

I recall quite clearly when the name came to me.  March, 2007.  Sherron and I were standing in a school library and she was trying to interest me (for the umpteenth time) in giving the on-line universe another shot.  She told me the technology had changed since I made the first, tentative foray into cyberspace—she showed me the WordPress site, a sample template…

I finally gave in.  Why not?  I was a fool to ignore the march of progress; miles behind the technological curve, trying desperately to play catch up (still am).  But I knew one thing:  wherever readers went, it behooved me to follow.

“What are you going to call your blog?”

Ah, now, that was a poser.  Obviously the purpose of the site was to highlight my writing, but just calling it “Cliff Burns’ Blog” or what have you sounded rather self-centered and pompous to me.  “Hmmmm…”  Wracking my brain.

“You can always change it later.”

I think I might have been channeling Bob Dylan.  “Beautiful desolation,” I blurted.

Sherron said it a few times, pronounced it acceptable.

And that’s what it’s been ever since.

Sorry, Buzz, but no homage intended.

Before I go, a tip of the hat to photographer Alain Derksen for allowing me the use of his eye-grabbing picture.  I found a number of images relating to Mario Irrarrazabal’s amazing sculpture but Alain’s was the one that, to me, perfectly captured the piece’s remote, austere beauty.  Sadly, the sculpture has been defaced by graffiti and messages left by stupid tourists with no respect for a cultural artifact.

There’s a special ring of hell waiting for them.  Gibbering demons poised with blunt tattoo needles, hydrochloric acid instead of ink…

Progress of an Errant Penguin

Today is the fourth anniversary of the very first post on this blog.

Some of you have been around since the beginning (God bless you), while others have been late arrivals (we left you a few beers in the fridge, but be sure to leave the last one for your host).  In those four years, this site has been visited by tens of thousands of folks, over a thousand of whom have seen fit to leave comments, the vast majority of which have been smart, sharp and thought-provoking.

Thank you, one and all.

About a year ago, I added a feature to Beautiful Desolation, namely a “ClustrMap”, which shows where on the planet my visitors call home—every single time I look at that darn thing, found on the lower right side of my menu, I have to smile.  Man, isn’t technology something?  It allows people from every part of the world to reach out to one another, make contact with another human being, regardless of political, cultural and geographic divisions.  People drop in from as far away as the United Arab Emirates, even the supposedly walled off Islamic Republic of Iran.  I can’t tell you how much that moves and thrills me.  God knows what they think of this place once they find it but the important thing is they can find it and, perhaps, discover a community of folks with whom they have more in common then they ever imagined.

Freaks of the world, unite!

I am honored to be one of those freaks, a mutant, a rebel and non-conformist, an indie, an artist, a—a—an errant penguin.

I’d better explain that last part.

Awhile back, I watched Werner Herzog’s documentary “Encounters at the End of the World”.  It’s filmed in Antarctica, a hostile and brutal region of the world which, understandably, offers up a range of features and fauna found no where else on the planet.  It also tends to draw people who are quite unusual and Herzog introduces us to a number of them, including some who would definitely fall into the category of “freaks”.

But what I found most fascinating about the film is when Herzog explains the phenomenon of the “rogue penguin”.  Every so often, a penguin leaves the regular nesting area and heads off into the interior of the continent.  There’s no water, no food and eventually the penguin will just run out of gas, lie down and expire.  There aren’t any theories, nothing that explains the bizarre behavior of these creatures and here’s the strange part:

Initially, when humans came upon one of these rogue penguins waddling along inland, miles from where it should be, they would scoop the critter up and take them back to the other penguins, congratulating themselves for a job well done.

Only one problem:  the penguin would immediately turn around and start right back, retracing its tiny footsteps and damn the torpedoes.  People in Antarctica are now instructed to leave the determined creatures alone, let them go, even knowing it’s to their certain death.  Defying nature, defying logic, stubbornly persisting in behavior that is, apparently, purposeless and self-destructive.

I relate to those crazy little fuckers.  I empathize with whatever quirk in their mindset that draws them away from the herd mentality and compels them to strike out on their own, regardless of the consequences.

Frankly, I think it’s a perfect, though admittedly weird, metaphor for my writing career.  While it might be more safe and comfortable to behave like everyone else, compose work indistinguishable from a host of other authors, there’s some kind of kink in my personality or brain chemistry that simply won’t countenance it.  I won’t be controlled or managed or “handled”.  I refuse to create material that tries to conform to the marketplace or caters to fashion.  I do not submit to the judgments of editors and agents and couldn’t care less if my books become bestsellers or earn so much as a dime.  I won’t prostitute my talent by writing “franchise” novels, based on someone else’s conception.  You do that, fellow scribbler, and, to quote the great Bill Hicks, you’re off the artistic roll call.  Forever.  End of story.  You’re another fuckin’ corporate shill.  Everything you say is suspect, everything that comes out of your mouth is like a turd falling into my drink.

So sayeth Saint Bill.

I am an errant penguin, tottering off to my doom.  I am that freak who for, whatever the reason, can’t help veering off the beaten track, saying unpopular things, creating work that no one has seen before.  Don’t bother trying to reform or cure me, there’s no hope of that happening.  Just let me continue on an odd, meandering path that will, eventually, peter out, my body surrendering to the elements, dropping in my tracks, eyes still on a far horizon I know I’ll never reach.

(Photo credit:  Guillaume Dargaud)

* * * * * *

Lots more ahead in the months to come.  Soon I’ll be making an announcement re: my next book projects and I think you’ll be surprised—hope it’s a pleasant surprise but, regardless, let’s just say this errant penguin won’t be dissuaded from his course.  You can follow me or not; that’s up to you.

Thanks for coming by and keep those comments and suggestions coming.  It’s a pleasure conversing with folks of your intelligence and perceptiveness.  All I’ve ever wanted is an insightful, literate readership.  And, boy, you folks definitely fit the bill.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

I’ll close off this special anniversary post  with a few of the poems I read at last night’s “Open Mike” at our local library.

 

Mass Extinction

 

It feels like the end of something

a dead zone spreading outward

from some remote Pacific atoll

 

I remember when the weather was normal

and the bees weren’t dying

and you could see the stars

 

Since when did the natural become un-natural

man-killing winds

biblical floods

the grass eating holes in our shoes?

 

And who will feed all the hungry mouths,

mother,

if you take sick and wither away?

 

Bouquet

 

Remember, thou art mortal

as doomed as a spring flower.

 

Shine brightly in your scant time

a dazzle of colors until you are plucked.

 

100:1

 

in miniature rooms

furniture built to scale

stiff, painted figures

coiffed hair, handmade clothes

 

placed with faces averted

subdued for the sake of the kids

a scandal in smallville

plastic lawyers on their way

 

Metaphor

 

The 20th century is a skull

gleaming in a dry creekbed.

Emaciated goats graze nearby

while, high overhead,

the sun sets fire to the sky.

No sound but the wind,

the awful inescapable wind.

 

“Darkness, take my hand”

 

Here come the shadows

here they come

watch them come

come shadows

come shadows

here they come

here they come

 

© Copyright, 2011  Cliff Burns (All Rights Reserved)

Taking the pledge: a resolution to read more books

Where does time fly?  Over two weeks since my last post and, in that interval, I’ve been occupying myself with hours of scribbling.  Filling dozens of notebook pages…unfortunately, very little of this material will ever make it to publication.  Lots of meditations, strange aphorisms, gleanings from the subconscious.  Here’s one example:

“How many failures turn out to be posthumous geniuses?  Not very many, as it happens, the proportion disappointingly low.”

What does that mean?  A subconscious dig from my wily Muse, a nugget of wisdom…or mere prattle?  And there’s pages and pages of the stuff, much of it spiritually oriented.  Many of the entries make for uncomfortable reading, nakedly honest and personal.  What should I do with these raw ramblings?  This is material not intended for public consumption…but at the same time some of it packs undeniable power.  Save it for the archives, hope someone will find it interesting or insightful.  Bury it deep, amid old tax receipts and early drafts of stories.

The end of the year is always a time for reflection for me; I settle into introspective fugues where I consider the past 365 days and look with anticipation (and trepidation) to the year ahead.  What have I accomplished? Where do I go from here?  Point me to the next mountain to climb…

A few things have become clearer to me during this time—the first is that I’d like to make the act, the process of writing more fun, not bear down so hard, subjecting my system to so much abuse and stress.  I’m obsessive-compulsive by temperament, a perfectionist in every aspect of my life.  Everything has to be done just right or I go ballistic.  No half-measures, no band-aid solutions, no excuses for failure.  That’s the kind of cat I am.

But that has to change.  I’m older and my body is starting to manifest some of the punishment it has absorbed over the years.  My fingers, neck and shoulders.  My back—Christ, my back.  The mental and spiritual damage has been even more substantial, but I won’t get into that.  A different approach is required…and I’m not exactly the best person when it comes to new approaches (see:  aforementioned obsessive compulsiveness).  Maybe voice recognition software is part of the answer, I dunno.  I recently bought myself a better office chair, adjusted the height of the monitor so it’s more ergonomically placed, added padding under the keyboard—that will, hopefully, allay some of the physical symptoms.  But in terms of approaching my vocation/obsession from a healthier psychic perspective, well, that requires an effort of a whole other magnitude.

I need to write in order to feel settled, sane.  But how can I make writing more of a pleasure, less of a chore?  I’ve devoted a lot of thought to that over the past while and I think I’ve come up with a few answers, partial solutions.  Some of it involves very personal mini-epiphanies that presented themselves to me, insights that are, frankly, too private to share.  They relate to my spiritual beliefs, the ridiculous expectations I place on myself.  The pain that causes.  It’s also about deriving a sense of accomplishment from some of the fine writing my pen has produced over the past quarter century.  I don’t have to keep trying so hard to prove my worth, establish my artistic credentials.  The work speaks for itself.  Stories like “Invisible Boy”, “Daughter” and “Bedevilled”; the novellas and prose poems.  And, of course, my two novels.

Just write.  Write without a sense of self-consciousness; write from instinct, letting the words flow unimpeded from their original source.

It’s all about the words.  The right one in the right place.  Over and over again, sentence by sentence, until something precious and timeless has been created.  The masters of language show us how it’s done.  They showed me.  It was reading that made me want to compose stories of my own, tales no one else has told.  I read voraciously, learned my craft at the feet of giants.  Books were entertainment and professional development all at once.

But something’s happened over the past decade.  I’ve read less and less.  In the past few years I think I averaged between 60-65 books a year and that’s a pathetic number for someone who fancies himself some kinda hotshot author.  I’m talking about books read for my own enjoyment, stuff not related to research or my work.

So one of the other changes I’m making for the new year is that I’m resolving to read more.

I’m taking my own, personal “100 Book Challenge”.  I want to recommit to the printed word in a big way.  It means switching off, tuning out.  “Off the grid” days, spent hunkered in my rocker recliner, reading a novel or collection of stories.

Because I have no doubt all the hours I’ve spent reading on-line, scanning news articles and items of interest, has screwed up my concentration.  I find it hard to focus on a book for more than ten pages at a time without needing to get up, make some tea, stack the dishwasher…and then come back for another crack.  Ditto movies.  How many times has Sherron complained because I’m pausing a film to go to the john or grab myself a drink?  Okay, part of that has to do with a pea-sized bladder but I also think all that time in cyberspace has had a deleterious effect on my attention span.

I read an article in the Manchester Guardian that talked about similar matters so I know I’m not alone in this feeling.  The piece quotes me old chum John Miedema, who is a noted proponent of the “slow reading” movement and I found myself nodding along at various points.  And then a chap in my LibraryThing group posted a lecture by Susan Greenfield in which she talks about learning and brain plasticity.  Fascinating stuff.  Ms. Greenfield makes a distinction between the information one finds on-line and “in-depth knowledge” that can only be gained from reading a book.  I hope folks out there are apprising themselves as to some of the new theories that are emerging relating to how computers are fundamentally changing the way we think.  I think the evidence is absolutely compelling and parents, in particular, must be educated re: how all those hours playing video games and “World of Warcraft” are rewiring their kids’ brains.

Years ago, when we were still living in Iqaluit (on Baffin Island), I gave a presentation on books and reading to an audience of about twelve people.  I remember becoming quite emotional as I spoke about how books had literally saved my life.  I believed then—and believe to this day—that was not mere hyperbole.  My childhood was hardly idyllic and my love of reading gave me, at once, an escape from worldly travails and spurred and fired my imagination.

I want to recapture that, the allure and beauty of the printed word.  The thoughts and visions reading inspire in me.

A hundred books in one year?  Can I manage it?  Will my hellish work ethic fight tooth and nail with my desire to settle into an armchair with some Jim Shepard stories or the latest David Mitchell effort?  I’ll let you know via periodic blog posts how I’m doing.  My progress (or lack of same).  I won’t cite every damn book I’m reading but I’ll drop in the occasional review (maybe even resuscitate my “Burning Moonlight” column, you never know).   God knows, I’ve got enough good books lying around, gathering dust.  I search them out, I buy them…but can’t seem to free up the time to actually, y’know, read the f***ing things.  Pathetic.

But no more.  I’m turning over a new leaf.  2011 will involve a serious reboot.  I’ve made my resolutions and I firmly intend to keep them.  Ease back on the throttle.  Stop trying to impress.  Create for the sheer love of creating.  Rediscover the joy and wonder of my craft through reading the best contemporary authors and the finest of past masters.  Work to improve myself through a process that doesn’t involve self-flagellation.

I wrote in a blog entry a couple of years ago that after more than two decades as a professional author I finally felt like the apprenticeship period was over.

But, I amend, that doesn’t mean I’ll ever be too old to go back to school.

The Importance of a Critical Community

I admit it:  I despise wannabe writers.

Now, let me be clear—when I say that, I’m talking about a certain segment of people, who meet a very specific criteria.  I’m not referring to “young writers”, “aspiring writers” or “beginning writers”; those are entirely different categories (to my mind).  Aspiring authors are humble and don’t take on airs.  They possess few, if any, professional credentials; they might have a couple of poems or short stories published or filled dozens of notebooks with their secret writings over the years, but they certainly make no claim to any kind of status.

The wannabe is far less circumspect.  These folks make all sorts of exalted statements and assign themselves great prominence in the literary community.  They’re very quick to proffer advice, usually in the form of smug, self-assured pronouncements that speak of enormous (alas, unrecognized) talent and a vast breadth of wisdom and worldly experience (ersatz).  That they have virtually no standing among accomplished, professional, full-time writers is entirely beside the point.  Why, they’ve written dozens of books (no one has read) and have been putting words on paper all their lives (no one has noticed).  They offer their services as experienced editors and are quick to thrust their work on you, in order to prove they should be taken seriously.  God help anyone who questions their undisputed brilliance.

The on-line universe has been a bonanza for wannabes.  If they have written anything—some of them, like the proverbial hundred monkeys at keyboards, are amazingly industrious, despite their utter lack of talent—they can post every word of it on their blog and to hell with the editors who never responded to their submissions or the people in that stupid writing group who said their suite of poems about losing their virginity was “childish and cliched”, “needs a lot of work” or just “ARE YOU KIDDING?!!!”.

Sometimes I’ll skim through some of the literary sites in the blogosphere and far more often than not I’m appalled by the really sub-literate tripe that people post on a public forum.  Puerile verse and poorly rendered soft porn/romance and slightly fictionalized episodes from real life.  Juvenilia.  Artlessly composed and stupefyingly dull.  Painful and embarrassing stuff, the sort of thing you might find in the locked diary of an emotionally disturbed adolescent.  Some are clearly cries for help:  look at me…aren’t I special…I feel things more deeply than most people…love me…I’m lonely…no one understands meI need affirmation

There might be a few sympathetic comments left by either kind-hearted readers…or fellow wannabes offering cautious praise before inviting them over to their site (presumably to see what real writing is all about).

I have heard it said that the explosion of on-line writing has led to an explosion of bad writing and I have to admit that this is demonstrably true.  The vast majority of what people post on the web is dreadful, godawful stuff, unfit for human consumption.  The lousy rep e-books have is well-deserved (most of the time).

One of my roles as an indie writer who publishes exclusively on the net is to work hard to demonstrate that cyberspace is not solely the domain of amateur hacks and weekend scribblers. There are some truly gifted writers out there, producing original and ground-breaking work.  Some, like myself, have chosen to put their writing on-line because of the desperate state traditional publishing is in these days.  These are experienced authors with real world credentials and undeniable literary chops.  By maintaining the highest standards, tirelessly subjecting our work to the most intense scrutiny, editing ruthlessly, eschewing conventions and formula, we wish to reward intelligent, discerning readers who are tired of the status quo and are exploring other venues, seeking alternative visions and fresh perspectives.

But it can be disheartening for readers, sifting through the thousands upon thousands of blogs and literary sites, trying to find something of value.  And that’s why a credible on-line critical community is required.  With the newspapers cutting or drastically paring down their book sections, I’m hoping more good critics will start web sites and help single out particular writers who shine amidst the dross…and dismiss those who don’t make the grade.

And it would be most helpful if amateur writers used the new technologies to better develop their skills before they foist their cringe-worthy efforts on the rest of us.  I’m talking about searching out like-minded souls, joining on-line writing groups and vetting their work with a diverse assortment of fellow writers (from around the world), getting feedback.  Sharing their work privately, rather than punishing the general public, exposing not their beautiful, unblemished souls (as they hope) but their ineptitude.   If you truly wish to be seen as someone with designs on being a serious writer, worthy of respect, give some thought to what you’re making public—believe me, you’re doing no one any favors if it’s garbage.  You’re hurting yourself…and you’re making it more difficult for your talented, hard-working colleagues to reach potential readers.

Naturally, these words of caution will not sit well with wannabes.  They’ll sniff that I’m being “elitist” and that the internet belongs to everyone.  Unfortunately, the democratization of the web means that an entrenched cult of amateurism has developed and these people guard their domains like pitbulls.  They brandish their imaginary credentials and howl in outrage should anyone refuse to defer to their alleged expertise.  Why, their writing has been read by thousands of people (who knows how many?) and they’ve published everything from young adult novels to a ten part vampire series, not to mention their “erotic” fiction and two volumes of poetry about a beloved Pekinese that recently went to doggie heaven (all of it available in e-book format, listed on a site with a thousand other books no one in their right senses would attempt to read).

I plead with new and aspiring and upcoming writers to avoid such a ridiculous mindset:  recognize your limitations, don’t publish precipitously, before your work is ready for public perusal and consumption.  Have respect for the legacy of fine writers and great literature that preceded you; after all, you initially dreamed of becoming a writer because of the joy and succor and inspiration the printed word gives you.  Your favorite authors wrote hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of words before they had mastered their craft to the extent that they were, at last, worthy of publication.

Why, in God’s name, should it be any different for you?

“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…

Listen to my work on audio

imagesWith the help of the tireless Anthony, a support staff member with WordPress, I’ve figured out how to add a special “Audio” page to my blog.

You’ll find it by looking to the right hand side, under the “Stories” widget.  Just click on “Audio” and you’ll discover a large selection of my stories, poems, commentaries, even an excerpt from my novel So Dark the Night. All available for free listening and downloading onto whatever device (iPod or cell phone) you currently favour.  Many of these pieces are accompanied by music, which provides dramatic highlights, a soundtrack that is either pleasing or provocative (or both).

The most recent offering is a six-minute chat about “indie” writing I recorded because I’ve received a host of questions, both here and in various forums where I hang out.  People want to know what it means to be an independent writer…and I want to do what I can to dispel this notion that one goes the indie/self-publishing route because your work can’t cut it with traditional publishers.  Hey, kids, I chose to go my own way because after 20+ years of dealing with inept, sociopathic, moronic editors, I’d had enough.  New technologies like blogs, podcasts and print-on-demand put more control into authors’ hands, a situation I welcome with open arms.

For the record, here’s what I said–

Indie Writer

–and after giving it a listen, I hope you’ll have a clearer understanding of what I’m trying to accomplish with this blog.  And please check out the rest of my audio releases, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the production values and the power and intensity of the work.

Theatre of and for the mind…