Tuesday, May 10, 2011

On Originality

I like to work under the illusion that my ideas are original. Really though, I assume many people have had the same ideas, and I assume some of them have already done something with them, but I doubt they used them to tell the exact same story I'm telling, and most certainly not in the exact same way. The details of my telling are a total rip-off of everything I've experienced, read, seen, or heard. The chances are, even if those other story tellers have seen the same things, read the same books, listened to the same music, they will have lived different lives. Our tales will pass through each other like ghost ships bound for the same shore, but on opposite tacks.
Here's a quote from Jim Jarmusch. You've probably seen it. It's been floating around the Internet for a while as a JPEG. Like all pithy quotes, take it to heart at your own risk. It is interesting to read it in context.
Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery - celebrate it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: “It’s not where you take things from - it’s where you take them to."
--Jim Jarmusch

Friday, April 8, 2011

Never Let Me Go. Kazuo Ishiguro, How Could You?

Movies based on good books, even when they are themselves good, are never more than shadows of the original work.

I bought and downloaded the Kindle version of Never Let Me Go, and read it over the weekend, finishing it Tuesday morning. My reaction was even stronger than to the movie. I put the book down in a virtual sense (eBook remember) and said to no one, but intended for Ishiguro, "Fuck you." I meant it. I felt it. The thing is, despite the words, it was praise.

Life changing books are rare these days. The last one I can think of was StarStruck, mentioned in a previous blog, and a very different sort of experience.

A life changing book, or a life changing anything, is personal: the effect is outside the realms of review or criticism. I read a one star review of Never Let Me Go on Goodreads. The reviewer was perfectly reasonable in explaining why the book meant nothing to him. I understood why, for him, this was true. For me it was exactly the oposite. I was devastated, first by the movie, then more so by the book. Ishiguro's telling of the story through his main character is expressed in an honest, unassuming voice, but it left me an emotional jumble. I fell in love with the main characters, yet after finishing, I hated the author for creating them, and then trapping them in his story. How could he do that? How could they let him?

It's been a few days now. Although I'm not in a rush, I'm beginning to understand something of my reaction to this story: I suspect it has to do with Never Let Me Go invoking the feeling that, as your life stretches out, it gets thin. The people you've grown up with in all those complicated give and take relationships that cannot be summed up simply as love begin dropping out of existence---becoming frozen in cherished memories. "Completed" as the book says. You can't be alive and complete.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Never Let Me Go, the Movie

Three days ago, I watched the movie, Never Let Me Go, based on the novel by Kazuo Ishiguro. It tore at me. When it was over, I didn't know what to do. I was sure I had missed things, important things. Maybe if I watched it again I could sort it out. I didn't trust this plan. I suspected, by filling in the blanks, I would be trying to defuse the impact of what I had just experienced. I had experienced something vitally important. It was, in fact, that feeling of vital importance that I didn't want to disturb. The problem was, the movie had left me an agitated jumble. I was afraid this could be dangerous. It might actually be bad for my heart---my real physical heart. What could I do?

The lead character had been played by Carey Mulligan. A few years earlier, she had played the lead guest character in the Doctor Who episode, Blink. For most fans, and me, this was the best episode of the new era, and possibly the best episode of any era; Perhaps I should watch it. I did.

I was struck by the similarities to Never Let Me Go. Not in the over all story---Doctor Who is supposed to be a children's show---yet there were scenes and themes that turned on the same deep emotions. I could easily imagine this episode being the thing that got Carey Mulligan her part in Never Let Me Go, or at lest got her the audition. Blink did it's job. I settled down, some. Not enough to sleep, and it was, by then, 1:30 in the morning.

TiMER! A little, low budget sci-fi movie staring Emma Caulfield from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It had a vaguely similar theme of emotional unintended consequences, but it kept it's tone light and bittersweet. A nice little movie. I had watched it once before; it was available on Netflix Instant View. I watched it again, enjoyed it, and finally slept.

Later in the morning, I woke up rested but with a renewed aching heart---the metaphorical one this time---no danger of actually dying from a movie. I still didn't feel ready to watch it again. Perhaps I thought, I sould read the book. (To be continued . . .)

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Author Who Fell From Grace With the Mob

One of the latest Internet viral have-you-seens is the author who had a comment meltdown on a book reviewer's blog after he reviewed her book. (You can Google for it if you want.) I thought it was a fair review, even generous. Her reaction was insane, irrational, and out-of-place doesn't even begin to describe how out-of-place it was, but everything she said doesn't come close to the pathetic reactions of these packs of faceless people that came running for the chance to feel righteous and cast their digital stones.

The early part of the review's comment thread was entertaining, and enlightening as a lesson in why authors should either not read reviews or learn to not take them personally, but then the mob showed up and the discussion turned into an invective spewing, self-reenforcing circle-jerk of self-righteousness. The blogger closed the comments, but that just sent the gang to the book's Kindle page to shower it with one star reviews and hateful comments.

I'm not saying the book doesn't deserve low ratings---it's not very good---or that the author's reaction to the review wasn't entirely inappropriate, it was. I am saying the author doesn't deserve to be victimized by an anonymous Internet mob that isn't interested in books, but is only interested in finding it's next fix of gang indignation.

On a side note, I checked the book's sales rank when the hew and cry started. It was abysmal, down around 340,000 for so. By today it was up to 26,000 and just now it's at 38,620. It doesn't take a lot of sales to get that kind of a jump in that range. Still, the author is getting an nice bump from the controversy.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Tron: Singularity

Tron: Legacy was dull. I paid my money, watched it in 3D, and made my way out of the theater when the credits crawled.  I didn't think about it much since then, not until it came up in conversation at this week's NEW NET tech conversation. NNtc is a small gathering of folks interested in shooting the breeze  about the latest technology news. We meet once a week at a local restaurant with good wi-fi. The back-and-forth is loose, often wondering off topic---actually, rarely staying on topic.

This week we wondered over to Tron: Legacy, and I finally thought about why I didn't like it: The story in the original Tron wasn't better and may have been even less coherent, but it didn't matter. The point of Tron was to say, "Look at what we can do. You have never seen this before. You want a hint of the future? Here it is." When Tron was released, in a tortured third degree of separation*, I heard about the experience of making it from Dan Shor, who played Ram (and the Popcorn Co-Worker). The actors approached the project knowing they were forever changing the art of movie making. They were changing the future. That's what Tron did. It broke new ground in a big, science-fiction-is-catching-up-with-real-life kind of way. A legitimate Tron sequel should have made a similar the-world-will-never-be-the-same leap.

Tron: Legacy failed. It may have tweaked and poked the CG envelope but it remained comfortably in the world its progenitor, Tron, had created. The experience of seeing Tron: Legacy should have left me with a queasy excitement shaking my bones. I should have felt like I had been given a peek at the singularity, not because of the story, but because of the amazing new technology invented to tell it.

What could the film makers have done? How could a Tron sequel have pushed today's tech into something new and astounding? Here's an example: Make the in-computer world  a live performance. Build and program a super computer cobbled together from 500 Playstation 3's, or something, and generate, in realtime, high resolution avatars of the actors. The actors would play their roles twice a day in a motion capture studio. Their performances would be inserted into the pre-rendered GC world and streamed simultaneously to theaters around the globe. It would be a global live performance that looked like a CG movie, but it would have the energy and spontaneity of a stage play---no two performances would be identical. Theaters could charge a premium price, and no DVD or Blu-ray release would be able to recapitulate the experience. That's off the top of my head. I'm sure anyone reading this can dream up a better idea, so why couldn't the film makers? Why couldn't they make a Tron sequel worthy of the original?


*I knew a guy who's actor sister-in-law knew Dan. Woo-hoo! A brush with the sort-of-famous! BTY, for all you Star Trek fans, the sister-in-law played One Zero in the ST:TNG episode, 11001001; another brush, and this time only two degrees of separation.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Scott Pilgrim Meets StarStruck (In My Brain!)

I've been obsessed with Scott Pilgrim vs. the World since seeing it in the theater. I hadn't read the graphic novels; it was one of those background works I was aware of, but only as a shadow in my peripheral vision. I've actually been obsessed since I saw a teaser trailerwith Mary Elizabeth Winstead's Ramona Flowers delivering the line, "Defeat," to Scott Pilgrim.

I bought the Blu-ray, and with minor exceptions, watched everything on it twice, including all four commentaries. Yes, four commentaries, twice.

What has this done to me? About an hour ago I added my contribution to the Sword & Laser Group's thread, Top favorite authors! I struggled to make an honest list of five, and considered capping it off with Elaine Lee, but went with Isaac Asimov.

Who is Elaine Lee? She wrote the script for StarStruck, her aw--amazing graphic novel, illustrated by Michael Wm. Kaluta. Last year, it was updated by Elaine and Michael, and re-released by IDW in a thirteen issue comic book. I bought the books and will buy the collected edition when it is released (It better be!). I am about to become obsessed with StarStruck for the third time in my life. If you don't know StarStruck, this guy can explain it.

What has this done to me? I finished the Sword & Laser author list, stopped thinking about it, closed my laptop, slipped it into it's bag, and went downstairs to use the facilities (I'm writing this in one of my two favorite coffee shops). While downstairs, I bought a slice of pie (they have their own bakery), climbed back to the mezzanine, opened my laptop, and suddenly my brain cast the role of Star Struck's Galatia 9 in the movie that, as far as I know, no one is planning to make: It's Brie Larson, the way she looked in the role of Envy Adams in Scott Pilgrim. Look at Michael Kaluta's art; look at the photo of Elaine Lee playing the role in the original stage play; then look at Brie Larson's Envy Adams on stage singing Black Sheep -- perfect!

Ah . . . Sweet obsession.