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…
I love radio dramas. The “theatre of the mind”.
I’ve had the good fortune to write a number of radio plays and, as has been mentioned, one of them just aired nationally on CBC Radio’s “OutFront” program.
But listening to the old stuff is what really gives me pleasure. Recently, I purchased a personal CD/MP3 player and, despite my well-documented techno-phobia, was able to hook it up to the stereo in my office. Thus, over the past couple of weeks I’ve been kicking back after a hard day of scribbling, listening to Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce as Sherlock Holmes and his amiable (if slightly dotty) companion Dr. John H. Watson…I also have the complete “Sam Spade” series starring Howard Duff and the four-disk dramatization of Les Miserables, produced and starring the one and only Orson Welles.
Radio, in its heyday, presented news, live sports, game shows and various types of entertainment, from comedy revues to adaptations of classic works of literature.
Now we have “talk radio”, Howard Stern and the shock jocks and “classic” stations playing the same tired playlist of golden oldies. Even the venerable CBC has dumbed itself down in the past five years, desperately seeking a younger demographic and losing its traditional listeners in the bargain.
It breaks my heart when I think of a time when the folks at CBC used to let the likes of Glenn Gould have the run of the place, accommodating his odd lifestyle by letting him come in and record and mix at any hour, working meticulously to create material like “The Idea of the North”, which I managed to snag on long playing record a number of years ago.
The Mother Corp. once had a dedicated radio drama arm in the good ol’ days but not any more. They no longer consider it part of their purview to develop young writers and there is currently no equivalent of “CBC Playhouse“…and that’s too bad.
I have, I confess, a particular soft spot for science fiction on the radio and I’ve been fortunate to find a couple of sites (check out this one and Calfkiller is fun too) where you can find shows like Dimension X and X Minus One, Mindwebs and others. Fun adaptations of classics of the genre by the likes of Arthur C, Clarke, Philip K. Dick, Ray Bradbury, J.G. Ballard, Henry Kuttner, etc. Once I figure out how to create MP3’s of these beauties, I’ll be able to listen to them up in my office as opposed to being relegated to the family computer down on the main floor, where I have to queue up, vying for time with my two sons (both of them World of Warcraft junkies, as well as using said PC for their homework and designing their own computer games). The computer I use for my writing is an old Mac, too old and decrepit for cyberspace, a word processor plain and simple.
The nice thing about the sites I’ve just mentioned is that you can listen to the programs for absolutely nuttin’ and, believe me, you will be entertained.
Listening to a radio drama requires the listener to visualize an entire universe being created purely with words and sound effects. It’s the perfect format to enliven long car trips and commutes. Thanks to the internet, these programs live again, a case where state of the art technology enables us to access an art form that is, sadly, little known and certainly under-appreciated.
I will continue to write radio plays and when the time comes that no one airs them, I will produce them myself, through podcasts. I love the special limits and demands radio drama imposes on writers and can never quite suppress the shiver of excitement I feel when I hear an announcer introducing Lux Radio Theatre’s production of To Have and Have Not, starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, or Petri Wine presenting “The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes”.
I feel sorry for anyone who’s never heard a really well-rendered radio play. It is an experience not to be missed…and yet so many do.
No argument. The hours I was putting in, working for weeks on end without a break, shut away in my office, tapping and scribbling like a maniac, was incredibly stupid and detrimental to my health. I was definitely feeling the strain by the time I wrapped up rewrites on Of the Night. Lots of shoulder and back pain but also a sense of being artistically and spiritually drained. The tank right on “E”.
The only problem is, what does an anal retentive obsessive compulsive workaholic do when he has time off?
Answer: he doesn’t take time off.
Oh, I know it’s ridiculous, completely irresponsible but I can’t stop myself. I promised Sherron, swore high and low that I would start thinking of my health first. I’m forty-five years old in October and my family has a long history of heart disease. Not a lot of 90-year olds on either side, if ya know what I mean. It’s time to start devoting more thought to maintaining a healthier lifestyle, a better mindset.
Stress is a killer and I’ve got it bad. Always trying so fucking hard to meet the high standards and expectations I place on myself, pushing myself to get better, improve as a craftsman and artist. I don’t want to write like everybody else, I want my own, unique take on reality, unfiltered and with the bark on. No compromises, no pandering…no exceptions.
My promise to Sherron was honestly made but I think it will be hard to observe “in the breech”, as it were. Habit draws me to my office first thing every morning. It’s directly across from our bedroom and as soon as I’m awake and mobile, I wander in, check out the state of my desk, shuffle papers about…or just stand in the middle of the room, revving up for the day.
I’ve tried to take it easy but over the last couple of weeks I’ve reorganized my office, caught up on paperwork, starting planning my next major project and spent long hours on-line, promoting this blog and flogging my novels So Dark the Night and Of the Night to whoever might be interested. I’ve sent notices to horror sites, science fiction sites, occult sites, paranormal romance sites—if I’ve missed anybody, I dunno who it might be.
And I’ve also somehow managed to find the time to write a twenty minute radio play, “The First Room”. Very intense and personal. Kelley Jo Burke, producer at CBC Radio, dubbed it “Portrait of the Artist as an Abused Young Man” and I think she’s bang on.
What’s wrong with me, why can’t I take a week, a solid week and do nothing more than lounge about in my bathrobe, watching old Bunuel movies and reading fat science fiction tomes?
Well…like Graham Green I am afflicted by boredom. Bedevilled is more like it. He claimed it sometimes reduced him to suicidal thoughts and I can empathize. My brain can’t stand being idle. Even when I’m watching movies I keep a notepad close at hand so I can scribble down good lines or salient plot points, often writing up a short review of the film later on. Why? To what purpose? Because I must analyze, dissect, critically assess. Same with books. I’m on my third book journal, hundreds of reviews no one will ever read. I take great pains with my critiques, have developed a strict rating system…again, why?
Because unlike Sherlock Holmes I don’t have a 7% solution of cocaine to ease me through fallow periods. There’s only my work. It is my purpose, the reason I was put here on earth; it is an essential, irreducible part of my identity:
“Most of us develop and mature primarily through interaction with others. Our passage through life is defined by our roles relative to others; as child, adolescent, spouse, parent and grandparent. The artist or philosopher is able to mature primarily on his own. His passage through life is defined by the changing nature and increasing maturity of his work, rather than by his relations with others.”
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Thanks to one and all for reading and/or downloading my novels over the past few months. I’m encouraged by the number of people popping in, a steady growth in visits as word spreads throughout cyberspace.
This blog has been a godsend to yers truly and has finally granted me the direct connection to readers I’ve been seeking for ages. Back in 1990 I self-published my first book, Sex & Other Acts of the Imagination. It was the product of desperation, a Hail Mary pass that somehow resulted in a game-winning score. The print run sold out in less than five months and the book went on to garner good reviews and excellent word of mouth. Readers loved it and cling tenaciously to their copies—just try to find one available for sale anywhere. It is well-nigh impossible to lay your hands on a copy (believe me, I’ve looked on behalf of friends and a treasured relative who lost hers in a house fire).
The success of Sex convinced my that my future lay outside of corporate publishing and marketing and nothing I’ve experienced in the nearly two decades that have elapsed since has convinced me otherwise. Thanks to the internet, I now have the ability to get my work out there and anyone, regardless of their physical location, has access to it. I’ve got readers in the Philipines, India, Vietnam, Australia…
That still takes my breath away.
The indie musicians showed me the way. I watched people like Ani Defranco seize control of their careers and message and I was inspired…if somewhat slow off the take. Writers, as a rule, are a lot more conservative and stodgy than their colleagues in other disciplines. I don’t know how many aspiring scribblers have responded to postings I’ve made on LibraryThing forums and elsewhere, pooh-poohing the notion of publishing their work on-line because they need the reassurance of an actual physical book, it gives them some kind of affirmation or some fucking thing. This past week we were in Saskatoon shopping for back-to-school stuff and we stopped by a gaming place my kids like to frequent. Its shelves are overflowing with Forgotten Realms books and all kinds of novelizations based on Dungeons and Dragons and what have you. The most dreadful, awful, amateurish tripe you can imagine.
Those are real books: does the fact that they exist as “dead tree editions” give those writers, as execrable as they are, more credibility than me? Are hacks like Margaret Weis, T.H. Lain and D.J. Heinrich superior to me because TSR et all churn out their shite by the truckload to gamers with the reading skills and mental age of an elementary school child?
I dunno, what do you think…
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* We’re still working on the podcast of excerpts from So Dark the Night. Figuring out the technology has been a real learning experience for Sherron. I won’t go near the stuff, I’d fly into a rage and boot the computer desk across the room. We’ve tried loading it on iTunes a couple of times but apparently we need an RSS feed and…aaaaaugghh!
* This summer I have gone to a spa and endured a massage at the hands of someone other than my wife. I know. I’m having a hard time believing it myself. What next? Crystals? Scientology? Membership in Opus Dei?
* No news re: the movie version of my novel “Kept”. I’ve heard rumbles of a summer/fall, 2009 release but that’s only speculation. Stay tuned.
* Lots of good music playing lately…until the much-beloved Yamaha stereo in my office conked out. I’ve been bopping through the latter part of summer with Bob Mould’s “Body of Song” album, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s “Baby 81”, Interpol’s “Antics”, Elbow’s “Leaders of the Free World”…as well as Trent Reznor’s double ambient album and a wonderful instrumental disk titled “The Last Drive-In” by Jo Gabriel. Fantastic to write to—thanks for sending it, Jo, and get well soon!