I’m a lifelong fan of science fiction. A space geek and proud of it.
Here’s my latest short film, “First Contact”, and, as the title suggests, this piece is about a close encounter with a distant, alien world, evidence of advanced, intelligent life. Abstract, indisputably odd…with accompanying ambient music.
A tip of the hat to Stan Kubrick…
As previously mentioned, I’ve been asked quite a few times why I decided to write a western. Even old pals were left scratching their heads. Not only a western, a traditional western, featuring a gunslinger who might have been played by Gary Cooper or Randolph Scott.
As some of you know, I also keep a film blog. I spent most of the last couple of days composing a lengthy personal essay on my love of western movies. I think the piece perfectly sums up my attraction for the genre and I hope you’ll click on this link, pop over and give it a read. I don’t often write non-fiction of this length but I’m really pleased by how this piece came out.
Don’t be shy about contributing your thoughts, opinions and reminiscences, perhaps offer your own roster of all time faves.
Always looking for tips on great films…
One more short flick, this time a personal reflection on the power and impact of the printed word on my life.
Here’s a short film collaboration I’d like to share with you. I created the music, the great Stan Brakhage provided the quote and Sherron captured the images and edited it all together. Hope you enjoy this abstract meditation on perception.
Time to take that next step and address some of the stagnation that I believe has crept into my writing, seek out new modes of expression.
First of all, that means upgrading the technology I’ve been working with. My old Mac no longer made the nut; it was slow and lacked sufficient memory. Obsolete. It had to go. It was an emotional parting. For months Sherron has been pestering me to look into purchasing another computer but the price tag always made me balk. I’m a Mac guy but, let’s face it, there are PCs out there that could perform adequately for, literally, half the price of a new Mac. But…they weren’t Macs and I had a very bad experience with an IBM computer when I first made the leap to the digital age 20 years ago and I’ve never forgotten it.
We pondered on “settling” for a Mac mini but after consulting folks like our pal Rob (who knows more about computers than I ever will), we went for the pricier iMac. More room to grow and expand, better suited for some of the projects and tasks I had in mind.
A couple of Sundays ago, I bowed to the inevitable and we made the purchase on-line.
Then came the hard part: saving the files from my old computer and starting the shutdown process.
That ancient Mac served me well and I don’t know how many millions of words I tapped into it. Never any big glitches and nothing mechanically went wrong in the twelve years I used it to foist my weird visions on the world. Replaced a couple of keyboards that I battered to death, that’s about it.
My mourning period ended abruptly, however, when my new iMac arrived.
Within fifteen minutes of accepting the box from the delivery dude I was up and runnng. That’s hookup, internet, everything. And I am, as previously mentioned, a complete mechanical moron. That’s why I love Macs. Steve Jobs, I could kiss you!
I’ve spent the last couple of days getting acquainted. This machine has everything I could ask for, including the capability to make and edit movies, compose music, record readings and podcasts, desktop publish…cripes, I could put a man on Mars with it if I had the know-how and a trillion bucks.
I’ve promised myself I will be patient, recognizing that there’s a learning curve for a technophobe like me when dealing with a machine of this complexity. Fortunately, Sherron and both my sons are very adept using iMovie and Garageband and many of the other features this Mac offers so I’m hardly on my own, learning by trial and terror. Although that will be part of it too: doing something stupid and learning from my mistakes. So be it.
I. Am. In. Love. Utterly smitten with the promise this machine represents. A fresh start and an opportunity to explore other disciplines that have long held a fascination to me. And you’re invited along for the ride. My first efforts will be crude, unsophisticated, amateurish but I’ll get better, I promise. And I will share the results of my experiments with you, show you my successes and not shy away from relating my disasters. Bear with me, tell me about your own experiences, offer advice…I’m a slow learner but a stubborn one too. I won’t give up until I discover for myself the limits of this machine (if there are any), fusing it with my fertile, perverse imagination to create some original and daring work. That’s my second promise.
And as long as we’re on the subject of new beginnings, here’s my third vow: to interact more directly with people who find and comment on this site. Previously, I’ve maintained the policy of letting my essays speak for themselves and not responding publicly to those who have left comments, positive or negative, on Beautiful Desolation. I felt I’d said my piece in my essays and commentaries and to rebut a reply from a reader would be, to some extent, unfair. If I thought a certain question had to be addressed or a troll warned off, I did so through private communications with those individuals. Not any more. You wanna talk to me, offer praise or brickbats, I’m here.
I hereby declare from this post (#87) onward, I’ll do my best to answer your questions and debate and engage with readers directly and honestly. These discussions will be as well-mannered, fruitful and polite as I can make them…but I will continue to leave the “moderation” function on to weed out the nutbars and those who believe they can hide behind the anonymity of the internet to say scurrilous, despicable things with absolute impunity. The kind of slime Trent Reznor refers to in a recent post on some of the bizarro on-line communities that exist out there. My thanks to Mike Cane for sending me a link. Have a look, it’ll make your skin crawl.
The vast majority of people who pop by here are nothing like the douchebags Reznor describes–they’re curious, seeking alternative sources of fiction, perhaps drawn by my reputation for being, ah, outspoken, something of a maverick, an outsider who seems perfectly content with that status. My work, my life has nothing to do with perpetuating the status quo or offering warm, fuzzy words of reassurance. I’m here to upset your equilibrium, destroy carefully held preconceptions, rip you out of that comfort zone you’re happily immersed in.
I won’t dummy down my writing, compromise my talent or thrust my fists into soft, velvet gloves. That wouldn’t be doing me, you or anybody else any favours. I’ll present what I know, what I’ve experienced, what I’m thinking “with the bark on”, as FDR liked to say. The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
So help me God.
Today, a new page has been turned. Welcome to Beautiful Desolation, Phase II.
Let me hear from you and tell me what you think.
My friend Robin found this. He has an unhealthy obsession with the movie adaptation of my novella “Kept”. He’s determined that I’m going to be famous…whether I like it or not. Robin has been keeping tabs on the Twisted Pictures/LightTower team that are producing “Kept”. This home page of theirs certainly makes it look like they’re taking the film very seriously.
Stay tuned for further developments…
Okay, not entirely true. I took a break from revising Of the Night to help celebrate Sherron’s parents’ 50th in southern Manitoba. The weather was terrific and just about the entire clan was present. Great people, lots of laughs. Sherron and her sister Kathy even talked me into writing a short tribute to the guests of honour, which I managed to carry off without making an arse of myself. First public speech or performance I’ve given in ages and it probably showed.
Congrats to Kendi and John, who surprised everyone by getting married (why do things halfway, eh?) the night of the formal supper. What a weekend! Thanks to everyone involved, especially Kathy and Donna, who served above and beyond the call of duty. See y’all again soon…
* * * * *
In one of my recent posts I provided a reading list, a roster of the books that have had a lasting impression or influence on me.
This time around, I want to acknowledge some of the movies that have meant a lot to me. My writing—its structure, in particular—owes much to the cinema and it’s no small accident that there are a couple of movies based on my work currently in development. My fiction is ideally suited for adaptation to the large or small screen.
Anyway, to the list:
Citizen Kane….All-time greatest? Hard to argue when you’ve got a creative triumvirate that includes Orson Welles, Herman Mankiewicz and Gregg Toland
Brazil…………Terry Gilliam at his very, very best
2001: A Space Odyssey…finest SF flick ever. A powerful and cerebral experience. We won’t see the likes of Stan Kubrick again
Reservoir Dogs/Pulp Fiction….thank you, Quentin, thank you, thank you…
Naked.….David Thewlis’s performance the best in film history. A staggering achievement and, concurrently, one of the bleakest movies I’ve ever seen
Henry V.….Kenny Branagh’s Agincourt speech still brings tears to my eyes (fuck the purists who insist Olivier did it better; this Henry is the one I prefer)
Chinatown...might be the perfect motion picture: script, direction, acting are all sublime. One for the ages.
Casablanca..…..need I say more? Ingrid Bergman is radiant—no wonder Bogie can forgive her and fall in love all over again
The Third Man….Welles again (acting); literate, authentic, intelligent; from the pen of Graham Greene (directed by Carol Reed)
Reds...……..Storaro again & super-intelligent script, terrific, under-stated (for a change) performance by Jack Nicholson as Eugene O’Neill
Godfather (Trilogy)………Part I, half of Part II, burn Part III
The Long Good Friday….one of the best gangster flicks of all time. Bob Hoskins will scare the mortal piss out of you
Mean Streets/Raging Bull/Taxi Driver….Scorsese’s masterpieces. Note to Marty: start making good films again
The Professional.…Luc Besson has been slumming it ever since–Gary Oldman’s portrayal of a bent, homicidal cop is electrifying
Miller’s Crossing……best of the Coen Bros. so far—awesome ensemble cast
The Big Lebowski….Coen Bros. again; hilarious performance by one of the finest actors in the biz, Jeff Bridges
Straight Time…….Dustin Hoffman’s best role; an under-appreciated minor masterpiece, directed by Ulu Grosbard
Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels/Snatch...Good God, what happened to Guy Ritchie? Makes two fantastic flicks like this, then starts knocking boots with Madonna. Next thing you know, everything he touches turns to shite. Too bad…
Eraserhead/Blue Velvet….and then David Lynch died and went to Hell
The Fly/ Videodrome.…Cronenberg knows what you’re afraid of; James Woods is a marvel in Videodrome
The Exorcist….still the scariest movie of them all. Give credit to director William Friedkin and a solid cast for giving power and intensity to such a dopy, implausible concept
The Thing (1982)….John Carpenter, another guy whose career has dropped down the toilet. Wonderful performance by Kurt Russell and a supporting cast of veteran character actors. (Best line: “I don’t know what’s in there but whatever it is, it’s weird and pissed off.”)
Paperhouse….a little seen Brit nail-biter, genuinely spooky and atmospheric; directed by Bernard Rose
Lawrence of Arabia….epic with a brain and O’Toole is magnificent in his film debut
Out of the Past…..quintessential noir; Mitchum and Douglas; Jacques Tourneur directs
Crimes & Misdemeanors….I’m not a fan of Woody Allen’s any more but this film is an important reflection
on morality and responsibility. Martin Landau is particularly good
City of Hope/Matewan…..John Sayles is one of those writers I envy and admire with every fiber of my
being. He’s occasionally preachy but his dialogue and his ability to portray characters from other
cultures and races sets him apart from almost anybody else
Withnail & I.…the funniest movie of all time. Richard E. Grant’s acting in this film is an amazing thing to behold.
They Might Be Giants.…hard to find but a truly lovely addition to the Holmes canon
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother…hard to find too; haven’t seen it for years but I recall it with much fondness and affection; the combination of Gene Wilder, Madeline Kahn and Marty Feldman…delightful
Modern Times/The Gold Rush……Charles Chaplin. Timeless!
Public Enemy/White Heat….James Cagney, what a man. These are my particular faves but just about all of his movies are worth searching out.
Duck Soup/A Night at the Opera….The Marx Bros. Anarchic and brilliant.
Spun……..astounding Jonas Akerlund film; unflinchingly depicts the horrors of crystal meth addiction; a harrowing experience
Salvador….Oliver Stone scripts and directs his most effeective film; James Woods is nothing short of astonishing
Sorceror.……great soundtrack by Tangerine Dream, strange and surreal. Based on Clouzot’s Wages of Fear, many critics savaging it, saying it didn’t hold a candle to the original. I disagree–but it tanked and director William Friedkin paid a heavy price for its failure
Thief………..Michael Mann’s first film; a great caper flick and character study. James Caan, Jim Belushi and Robert Prosky head the cast.
Narc……….bravura performances by leads Ray Liotta and Jason Patric; intense, to say the least. Complications regarding financing nearly closed down the production but the cast and crew worked for reduced wages to save it; directed by Joe Carnahan
Syriana….saw this one recently and found it compelling and convincing. Horrifying torture scene and (I’m happy to report) no shiny, happy ending to tie things up
Lord of War….best American flick I’ve seen in yonks. Cynical, downbeat. And check out those opening credits!
Monty Python’s Life of Brian/Holy Grail…seen ’em both at least 30 or 40 times and they still make me laugh. That tells you something.
The Pink Panther Strikes Again….the dentist…ha ha…the dentist scene…ha ha
She Wore a Yellow Ribbon/ The Searchers/True Grit…I’m my dad’s son: I enjoy Westerns & war flicks. The Duke looks like he was born on a fucking horse. “Fill your hand, you sonofabitch…”
The Long Riders…..the last great western (1980); directed by Walter Hill
Alien I, II, & IV.……only David Fincher could fuck up a concept as great as this
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan…yes, yes, I admit it, I’m a Trekkie. And this is by far the best of the
series. Credit goes to Nicholas Meyer, who breathed life back into the franchise.
Silent Running….vintage sci-fi; Bruce Dern is one of my favorite actors and he is exceptionally solid in this one. Directed by SFX whiz Douglas Trumbull
City of Lost Children/Delicatessen (Jean Pierre Jeunet)
Faust (F.W. Murnau)
My Life As A Dog (Lasse Hallstrom)
Battle of Algiers (Gillo Pontecorvo)
Napoleon (Abel Gance)
City of God (Fernando Meirelles & Katia Lund))
Aguirre: Wrath of God (Werner Herzog)
Das Boot (Wolfgang Peterson)
The Bicycle Thief (Vittorio de Sica)
Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (Luis Bunuel)
Zazie Dans Le Metro (Louis Malle)
King Of New York…Abel Ferrara ugliness; repellent and riveting
Revenge...savage film by Tony Scott; starring Kevin Costner
Scarface…De Palma’s version…unrelenting.
License To Kill...surprisingly brutal James Bond with under-rated Timothy Dalton
Favorite Movie Stars: Steve McQueen; William Holden; Peter Sellers; James Cagney; Groucho Marx
Most over-rated film folk: Alfred Hitchcock; Steven Spielberg; Jean-Luc Godard; Bernardo Bertolucci; Michelangelo Antonioni
When faced with the slightest possibility of success, it’s a cinch I’ll fuck things up. I literally can’t help it. It’s something innate, some errant strand of DNA they somehow missed when they were mapping the human genome.
Back in 2003, PS Publishing, Peter Crowther’s fine British press, released my book Righteous Blood. Righteous Blood is composed of two novellas, tales very different from each other but both continuing my exploration of the nature and source of contemporary evil. It’s a particular bug bear of mine. Like most of my work, the novellas are very visual and cinematic and they attracted some interest from folks who wanted to adapt them into movies. Good news, you would think. But was I doing cartwheels when I signed the option agreements, was I swaggering around like Al Capone on February 15th, 1929?
I hate the movies being made today. They’re dumb, unsubtle and tasteless. Directors have the aesthetic sensibilities of Koko the gorilla and screenwriters are more influenced by video games and TV than literature and consider the Star Wars movies to be the epitome of cinematic excellence.
That said, the chap writing the screenplay based on “Living With the Foley’s” is a nice lad and professes to be a fan of my work. He’s been trying to put together some kind of a production deal but these things take time. This past year his agent contacted me, wanting an extension for three years and promising some dough, not much but enough to buy winter tires and ease some of our credit card load.
I barely gave him the time of day. I was involved with a new project and didn’t want to expend the effort required to look at contracts or talk money. Wasn’t that interested, to be honest. I’m like that—I never look back at old projects; that’s yesterday’s news as far as I’m concerned. The agent got very frustrated with me. When he called a second and third time I still hadn’t read the contract and seemed eager to be rid of him. The whole thing grew quite tiresome and after blowing him off a number of times, I finally signed the contract just to be done with it. My total lack of enthusiasm made me look like a complete asshole. Made no friends there and I’m not expecting an gold-embossed invite to the film’s grand opening, should it ever come to that point (I doubt it will).
It was worse with my second novella, “Kept”. The guy who secured rights for “Kept” talked the talk, claiming he’d written a great script (I still haven’t seen it) and that a major production company was chomping at the bit. When the time came to re-up or let the option slide, the guy was late. Months late. I was busy but I noted the slip in passing. He finally did get his extension but then things got weird. My original contract stipulated that I would retain most rights, including literary, and I was to be paid a percentage, based on the final budget. About four months ago, Mr. X had his Hollywood lawyer call me and offer a new contract, one that would pay me a flat fee and, on top of that, scoop up all rights, including (according to my reading) those aforementioned literary rights. I was pissed. This was utter bullshit. I cursed and fulminated, used the kind of foul language one might hear in the locker room of a football team on the wrong end of a lopsided score. Very ugly. Then I quadrupled my monetary demands. Lots of spluttering on the other end of the phone.
“You can’t do that!” the lawyer, who claimed to be an ‘artist-friendly’ kind of guy, barked.
“I’ll see. I’m sure we can get you back your literary rights.”
“You’d better. But the deal stays the same.” I named my inflated figure again.
“They won’t do it,” he groaned.
“Then fuck them and fuck their mothers,” I snapped.
And that was that.
There hasn’t been any further contact from those folks and I don’t expect there will be. I could’ve pulled back from the brink, negotiated…but something wouldn’t let me. A nasty little voice that I’ve come to know very well over the years…
* * * *
Because there have been other lapses in tact. I’ve lost out on anthology appearances because I wouldn’t allow editors to make the smallest changes. Rebuffed them in the crudest language imaginable, insulted their intelligence, slapped them silly when a simple “No” would have sufficed. Turned off influential people with that whole “my way or the highway” routine. Producers, editors, publishers… how many of them have read James Joyce or Samuel Beckett, how many require a spell-checker to write a grocery list? These people are fuckheads and I refuse to lie down with pigs and–
Jee-zus. I guess what it comes down to is I’m a control freak. No one has the brains and talent to touch my work except me. It’s a dumb, stubborn, ridiculous attitude, suicidal as far as my career goes but (you can’t see me but I just shrugged helplessly). I’d apologize but it would be like apologizing for being six feet tall and having long, skinny feet and a devastating right hook. It’s just who I am.
Besides, real men don’t compromise.
“Great will be your glory if you do not lower the nature that is within you.” That’s from Pericles, the Athenian soldier and statesman.
When Xerxes, the Persian king, sent an emissary to Thermopylae, demanding that Leonidas and his fellow Spartans lay down their weapons, Leonidas famously replied: “Come and get them.”
Another of my many sins: I carry grudges for a long time. If you’ve fucked me over and we run into each other even twenty years from now, watch out. I’ll tear your head off if I get half a chance. Try to steal credit for one of my stories, bad-mouth me and I catch wind of it, I’ll eat your living heart like a fucking Aztec.
I come from a long line of thugs and bully boys, Scots brought to Northern Ireland by Cromwell to slaughter Catholics. And we were bloody good at it too.
With that kind of lineage, I’ll likely end up broke, hump-backed, unknown, living in a stinking, tarpaper shack.
But above the rough entrance of my hovel will be the stanza from the Edwin Arlington Robinson poem I’ve had posted over my office door for as long as I can remember:
“The shame I win for singing is all mine,
The gold I miss for dreaming is all yours.”
Postscript: This is a shorter, nastier version of my essay “Solace of Fortitude“, which can be found in the Non-Fiction section of this blog. Mea culpa, mea maxime culpa…