Tagged: Werner Herzog

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)

“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…