Categories
cinema Horror Movies science fiction movies

A New Series: John Watching SF Movie Series

This is the first R-rated movie I ever saw. I went with a couple of adult friends who shared this weird kid's interest in science fiction. The line to get in went outside and into the street behind the theater. The ticket guy said he'd never seen reactions like the ones he'd seen in the last few days. (This was opening week.)
People talk about how 'nothing happens for 45 minutes,' but the planet scenes are some of the best in the movie. 

Still the most believable portrayal of an alien world I've seen.
Kane looking into the egg is dumb, and would've made more sense if he pointed a weapon at the egg while he looked inside. He has a pistol with him, and you can see him carrying it in the director's cut (not really a cut, more a shave).

In Cinefantastique (or Starlog or Fantastic Films), Scott defended some of the characters' actions by saying he once charged down the stairs in the middle of the night when he heard sounds downstairs. That's his justification for some real dumb stuff in these movies.

Having Jerry Goldsmith revise some of his music was the right choice, and isn't a slight to his work. Goldsmith said Scott was a terrible communicator about what he wanted, and trial-and-error were just how they worked. 

The main title is a beautiful piece of music, and it makes sense—Goldsmith wanted to work on the audience's expectations of a romantic space adventure, so the horror would have more impact. But the music is too glorious, too ravishing. The revised main title is one of the greatest in movie history.
“I didn’t like Prometheus because the characters did dumb stuff.”
You can see a plastic tube in the chestburster scene. I have no idea why Scott didn't CGI that out of there in the revision/shave.

The first appearance of the adult alien is truly startling. Another case of the score being perfect—the music begins as if it's PUZZLED, and then when the alien opens its mouth, the music explodes.
He don’t look like a union man to me, Brett.
Seeing the alien hanging there in the Brett scene is dumb, Scott being cute--”Look, it's right there!” --to no purpose.

The cocoon scene should've been used. The placement is a problem—Ripley's running to escape an exploding ship, she wouldn't stop for anything. Instead of having her go get the cat, she should've scooped Jones up, popped him in the box, and THEN heard the sound that attracted her interest—while Lambert and Parker are still alive. Then she takes off, and THEN hears the sounds of Parker and Lambert under attack. 

One of Walter Hill's ideas was to cut all the alien material—that is, the alien was manufactured by humans in an abandoned lab the Nostromo comes across. This idea seems to have emerged in Covenant. It cuts the alien-ness out of it, but it sounds like something Hill would prefer; he doesn't seem all that into “out there” science fiction, preferring to just move action movie tropes into space.
Hill got his wish, eventually.

Categories
Uncategorized writing hacks Writing, Writer's Block

Just Write, Already

You’re hiding in your invisible study, thinking Joyce Carol Oates or Stephen King or J.K. Rowling has the magic formula. They’re Writers. You’re just pushing words around.

Read something in your genre, and then something NOT in your genre. You’re shaking the brain container, trying to make connections it hasn’t made.

Read some more. DON’T return to writing, not yet.

Keep reading—not a whole novel. Open a book in the middle, read a chapter. You’re not doing this for fun, but to jump start the machinery. Read several short stories—different genres, different styles.

Hemingway. Harlan Ellison. Ted Chiang. Ursula LeGuin.

DO NOT read How To Write books for awhile. Maybe a year.

Read, and when you haven’t written for awhile—whatever you think is awhile—stop your reading, and actually write.

Don’t go back to the habits that stopped up your writing before. Don’t end up with a collection of false starts.

“It’s not fun, I’m bored…”

If you want to be a writer, you have to finish.

You HAVE to finish.

No agent or publisher took on someone who just had a good start. They take on finished work. So they can then mess with it.

Finish what you write.

Submit it to agents or publishers or magazines. Don’t let it be reviewed by people you will then owe a review.

Just write.

Finish. Edit, polish.

If you’re writing a book, this will be a long, involved process. We all know this.

But are you using the process to avoid being judged? Then write for your friends, who’ll only applaud.

Write some short stories and send them to magazines. Got a book finished?

“Yes, but I have to submit it to my crit group.”

Send it to a publisher.

Do you really know that it sucks? Then you can’t send it out.

If it sucks, why are you online looking for guidance? You’ll learn how to fix it by reading it, and noting where your interest drifts. Get off the Internet and read what you wrote, all the way through. You can scribble notes, but don’t change the book, just read it, as a reader would.

Are you skipping sections? Rewrite them so they’re interesting.

Someday you’ll die. I don’t know when that’ll happen, but it won’t be on your schedule. That last day won’t be after you’ve established yourself as a great writer, probably. If you don’t get your writer’s nose broken a few times, it’s never, ever going to happen.

Create a schedule for writing every day. Stick to it. If you know you won’t stick to five hours, schedule one hour. If you can’t devote an hour a day to writing, you don’t want to write. You want to be Stephen King or JK Rowling.

Stop running away because you’re afraid someone you really trust will say your stuff stinks.

You want to be a writer? Go write. Congrats—you’re a writer.

Write. Now.

No idea why, just seems right…
Categories
horror fiction

THE DARK DESCENT

If this doesn’t work I’m off to YouTube.
Fans of horror fiction who only read novels are missing out on the very best horror fiction ever written. The short story is the perfect length to deliver shocks and scares and get out before too many improbabilities. Any horror fan wishing to bone up on the marrow of the field needs to read the classic short stories. 
THE DARK DESCENT is a perfect place to begin an education in U.S. and U.K. contributions to the horror genre. 

Assembled to show the variety of horror leading to the then-current post-Stephen King boom, crammed with stories by everyone from King to Poe to Thomas Disch and Shirley Jackson, the 1011-page paperback was a big deal when released in 1987, and is still considered one of the essential horror anthologies.

The stories are ordered not by publication date but into three themed sections that seem almost (but not quite) arbitrary. Hartwell arranged the stories to complement each other, making this one of the most readable of anthologies. John Collier’s “Evening Primrose” followed by M.R. James’ “The Ash Tree,” two stories published decades apart by two writers with distinct voices, is like a shot of whiskey followed by a cup of tea. I’d read many of the stories here already, but Hartwell’s sequencing invites re-reading for contrast. If you have already read “The Rats in the Walls” with its underground secrets and suggestions of lost races, it is still a good read after you’ve finished Michael Bishop’s “Within the Walls of Tyre,” about a woman encountering someone  connected to her deceased love. Seeing how writers of different backgrounds and centuries, I felt I was getting an unorthodox education in the sheer variety capable in the horror genre.

It’s almost useless to point to standouts in a volume of classics that shaped the genre. Shirley Jackson’s “The Summer People” did little for me when I first read it ages ago, but this time it really stung. Jackson’s straightforward description of vacationers who stay on longer than usual seems calm and uneventful from one angle, but speaks to the resentment of ‘country people’ for ‘city people’ who come to their place, use it, and then go back home. 

Karl Edward Wagner’s “Sticks” is a favorite of Lovecraft fans and maybe  the makers of The Blair Witch Project and season one of True Detective. The story of a horror illustrator who stumbles on some odd shapes in the forest holds up beautifully. Two of my very favorite stories–“Young Goodman Brown” by Nathaniel Hawthorne and “The Autopsy” by Michael Shea–have endured, while Russell Kirk’s “There’s a Long, Long Trail A-Winding,” while still a good story, didn’t hold my interest.

My two big discoveries this time through are “Bright Segment” by Theodore Sturgeon (an arty take on a gory subject) and Joyce Carol Oates’ “Night-Side.” The story of a Bostonian looking into psychic phenomena and a séance, delivers the kind of downbeat experience that is exactly what readers of Sexy Vampire Hunter series books DO NOT want from their reading. It’s the difference between “Dark” and “Edgy™” and something truly haunting.

Anyone interested in quality horror short stories will find plenty to enjoy in the stories by Robert Aickman, Thomas Disch, Edith Wharton, Ivan Turgenev, Gene Wolfe, Charlotte Perkins Gilman. It’s required reading for those with high standards for horror fiction.

Categories
Uncategorized

Working Writer: Bradbury Biographies

Sam Weller's THE RAY BRADBURY CHRONICLES was written with the cooperation of the subject. It is an overview for the casual reader, for someone who knows Bradbury’s classic works and wants to learn a little more about the man. It's a very enjoyable read, touching on all the high points of Bradbury's career and life. It's straightforward. Can you tell I found it just a bit boring?
I recommend TRBC for Bradbury fans, but if you have to buy just one book about Bradbury, I recommend BECOMING RAY BRADBURY by Jonathan Eller. It is followed by two more volumes, so I guess I'm saying if you can only buy three books about Bradbury, start with BRB. It covers his early years, and his beginnings as a writer, but it focuses on his creative process to the exclusion of most of the material covered in TRBC. 

BECOMING is the second book Jonathan Eller has written about Bradbury, the first being RAY BRADBURY: THE LIFE OF FICTION, which should not be allowed in the hands of lay people. Eller is the finest writer about Bradbury, the Simon Callow to Bradbury's Orson Welles, and he focuses on just those aspects of Bradbury's life crazed fans like me want to read about: his process, the thinking behind his choices as a writer, what turned his mind toward certain ideas and values, and especially on his efforts to create a style of his own. 
I’m looking forward to BEYOND APOLLO. But I’m bummed, too.
In this first of three volumes—the third published this month--Eller looks at Bradbury’s first publications and successes. For example, he traces the evolution of “The Illinois Novel,” which isn’t DANDELION WINE, but something that led to DW.  

Bradbury mastered the short story, and kept trying things with it–it’s hard to grasp today, but while he was coming up, it was startling and strange to see stories about skeletons in Mexico and “black folks on Mars.” If you read some of his stories from the forties, you find an unapologetic Progressive writing about the issues that mattered to him with little self-censoring. When he became more conservative later in life, he still didn't give a damn what other people thought.

Eller's books reveal that several unrealized projects were important to Bradbury's career. Like the many unfinished works left by Orson Welles, there were several projects readers never saw but which were important to Bradbury's development.

Bradbury spent a lot of time trying to become a film writer, and ended up scripting MOBY DICK, as well more of the script of IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE than his co-screenwriter let on. He also wrote plays which never hit Broadway but were local successes in Los Angeles. 

I admire Bradbury's single-mindedness. If people didn't like what he spent so much of his time on, it didn't divert him.

If you enjoy Bradbury, you might enjoy THE RAY BRADBURY CHRONICLES. Even though I haven't yet read the final book of the trio, if you love Bradbury's work, you have to get Jonathan Eller's three-volume set. And if you're a Bradbury nut, get THE LIFE OF FICTION, too. 


Categories
Uncategorized

When Dumb Movies Make Me Think, I Expect Nightmares: ZARDOZ

Third in a Series that will end someday. But not today.

What possible reason would there be for projecting an image of his eye on the wall?
In a sense, ZARDOZ is as radical a deconstruction of plotting as was PULP FICTION, and decades sooner. No, I don't believe that, but ZARDOZ does have one of the quirkiest, most damaging plot structures I've seen in a mainstream studio release.

Halfway through we learn that Zed was out doing his raping and murdering one day and he came upon a library, where he found a book called “The Wizard of Oz” and figured out that Zardoz was a play on that. He then decided he would see who was behind the curtain by bravely sneaking into his godhead and investigating what was behind all of this cool flying and gun-puking. 
Fourth wall? Broken. Well, shot.
Everyone knows THE WIZARD OF OZ, and imagine that, an all-powerful god…who’s actually based on that book that inspired that movie we’ve all seen. The audience would be carried along on this Hero’s Journey! 

Except that’s not how this movie opens. 
Of course John Boorman would wear a cowboy hat while directing this nutty thing.
One piece of writing advice is “Start the story as late as you can,” getting to the Inciting Incident A.S.A.P.  Boorman doesn’t start the story with Zed rapin’ and killin’ and then lead to the Shocking Discovery: We learn the Inciting Incident about an hour in. Instead of journeying with him as he explores this agrarian funeral home and understanding that his life has been a lie, we’re just shuffling along with this dude we don’t know at all. 

It’s an experiment without a control or even a petri dish. Zardoz is about the raising of Zed’s consciousness, Zed climbing into his own head. Zardoz is about the power of books to awaken the mind. 

But Boorman’s garbled story just makes it into a big mess. 
The people in the background run this way and that. It’s like they don’t know what the hell they’re supposed to be doing.
It’s a startlingly retro look at male-female relations for a movie studio to release in the radical seventies. Zed turns on the charm and BOOM! the woman who’s been demanding he be executed for the good of the commune suddenly just decides she’s into him. 

Disaster follows. 

Zed learns that society is a sham, and it needs a he-man like himself to get in there, show these feminist man-haters (they really hate men) that sex with a guy is fun and leads to our heroine–the drop-dead beautiful Charlotte Rampling–tossing aside her lifelong sistren and leading the charge against the administration building, destroying a bunch of old art in the process. 

I told you this script was bonkers. 

After being angry and having her hair in a bun, Rampling lets her hair down and rides a horse in pursuit of her man. Rampling often plays placid, intelligent people, and she’s good casting for her role. She’s the one person who comes out of this without shame. (She’d be on the pyre, too, for comments on the sex scene with Connery. She didn’t use the term ‘sex scene’.)
Why am I fascinated by this movie? I may need another post to figure it out.
NEXT: THE THRILLING CONCLUSION!
Categories
fiction Horror Movies

More Random Than Usual

There are a lot of really stupid people making a lot of money and getting millions of followers on YouTube. 

Half of what they talk about? Other stupid people with millions of followers on YouTube.

Consider: Evening newscasts get maybe ten million viewers, less than half of that on cable news channels. Lets than a quarter of that on CNN.

S.P. Somtow's VAMPIRE JUNCTION is the best vampire novel since DRACULA.

I bet horror fiction is selling again.

I couldn't wait to see STAR WARS, which you know as A NEW HOPE. I saw RETURN OF THE JEDI opening day.

I still haven't seen RISE OF JAYWALKER. Things fall away, you grow up and things that once meant so much to you mean nothing to the current you. This is called 'growing the eff up.'

Or it's called, “This series has run out of steam but we keep giving them our money so they'll keep resurrecting this dead thing.”

THE CONJURING is this generation's THE EXORCIST or NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET or SCREAM. It has a couple of eerie moments, but otherwise I don't remember much about it.

I'm currently reading Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein.

THE BABADOOK didn't hold up to a second viewing. Instead of seeing it again, watch THE LAST WAVE or THE SHOUT.

Writer you should check out: Fritz Leiber. He's more popular with writers of weird fiction than fans of mainstream horror short story writers. 

For years after his wife died Lieber could only afford a tiny apartment, typing his stories on a typewriter sitting on a chair while Lieber sat on the bed.

People who treat their dog as if it is their child are the only people I look down upon, other than people who vote for CANDIDATE'S NAME WITHHELD. Those people have been driven mad by their own hate.
 
Half of the anthologies I've tried to submit stories to do not accept stories from straight white males. Will people look for certain labels and know “This is the best of the stories they got, after not accepting stories from at least half of the available pool of talent.”

I'm not going to write about albums anymore. I'm not good at describing music, and folks don't like reading my ignorant comments on music I can't describe.

AMERICAN HORROR STORY isn't scary. The closest it comes to real horror is Jessica Lange's character in season one. She should have won every acting award that year.

Movies people love that I don't: BACK TO THE FUTURE, SAVING PRIVATE RYAN (great direction of a poor screenplay),THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, DRACULA (1931).

I suspect most of the people who claim to love DRACULA (1931) don't actually love it. The Spanish language version filmed on the same sets at night, with a different cast, is no better and in some ways is worse.

Coming Soon: John reviews every Universal monster movie he owns. We're talking dozens.

Get some sleep.
Categories
pop culture science fiction

Again, SRD

DHALGREN is to science fiction novels what HOUSE OF LEAVES is to horror. It is long and what plot there is comes from nowhere and leads nowhere. It's Delany watching the decay of America's cities and wondering what it'd be like living in such a place. As a resident of New York in the seventies, he had experience living among decaying infrastructure.
The problem for most people who read and abandon or finish and hate DHALGREN is that Delany has no interest in anything remotely like traditional plotting. The Kid just experiences life in this crazy city, learning a little about this place where people just move in to abandoned buildings and share the canned goods they find, having sex with whoever they can, going on gang raids. The science fiction content is almost nil—the warping of space and time is never explained or even explored—but this is prime speculative fiction, looking at how such a society would work.
It's about this guy living and trying to survive in a messed-up city, writing in a notebook while he tries to figure out who he is. It's about Samuel R. Delany, who spent time in a mental hospital and who found his way through writing.

Delany was known before DHALGREN as a writer of complex science fiction of the New Wave variety. After DHALGREN he was known as a writer of impenetrable, unnecessarily complicated prose, gay literature, and a four-volume fantasy series about slavery. When I mention his writing I invariably get a sneer and a comment about his ideas about sex, particularly sex between adults and non-adults. I'll leave that subject to the P.S.
When I recommend Delany's writing, I'm talking about his pre-DHALGREN work. NOVA has elements of cyberpunk decades before the genre was invented—the pilots of spaceships “jack in” by a socket that attaches their minds to the ship's controls. THE EINSTEIN INTERSECTION is about aliens who've taken over the abandoned Earth and assumed the forms of beings out of mythology such as Billy the Kid and Ringo Starr. BABEL-17, starring the first Asian woman heroine in American SF, is about a word disease—William Burroughs in space before Burroughs sent himself there.
I've read a couple of things Delany wrote after DHALGREN that I enjoyed. THE MOTION OF LIGHT IN WATER is one of the great memoirs by a fiction writer, and DARK REFLECTIONS is the truest account of a writer's life I've read. But considering the material he's turned to since the seventies—a lot of semantics, a lot of sex involving stuff I don't want to discuss—proceed with caution. But you should proceed.

SPECIAL NO B.S. NOTE: DHALGREN contains some seriously screwed up material, morally-speaking. I'm not kidding. When I've mentioned the book, some open-minded folks have given me the stinkeye. 

It's one of the problems I have with Delany, and with the book. I don't think he intended harm by depicting such stuff as being beneficial to all parties involved. Still, I don't condone the things depicted in the book, something I wouldn't have to say about a book that clearly approved of violent acts. But there you go. Life in Present Year.
Categories
Bad movies

Holy God, It’s ZARDOZ! Again!

This time, I’m only posting pictures of the beautiful Charlotte Rampling. Yes, she’s a very good actress. She’s even good in THIS insane thing.

Part Two in a series of more than two

Boorman’s big idea is that the dream of immortality is a sham, that you should be glad you’re going to die someday because living forever would be a real bummer, man. For a guy who made a movie about how awful the Free Love generation is, Boorman's ideas seem like they were baked at two in the morning while munching his way through a bag of Dorito's.  

I can wish people into a coma, but you do the gun thing, Zed, that’s your speed.
Immortality seems appealing for about one sentence: Imagine living forever? Every movie treatment of the topic that doesn't originate in an Anne Rice novel tells you immortality sucks, and you're bad for wanting to live forever. It's not a great subject for a movie because there's nothing vidually interesting about someone who's just continuing to exist for a long time. Immortality is boring unless you've achieved it.

The prologue was added to make the story clearer. It makes things more confusing.

I tried to go a whole ZARDOZ post without showing the head. Can’t.
After a big hit, Hollywood has given many directors their chance to make their Big Personal Statement, with the results ranging from APOCALYPSE NOW to PEARL HARBOR to AVATAR. Many/most/all directors who make piles of moneyneed to make these huge movies, and some just aren’t up for it intellectually, so the movies become bloated with sets and effects and dialogue about how awful capitalism is.

(The bigger the budget, the more nakedly anti-capitalist the movie.)

Boorman used the cred he earned with DELIVERANCE to make this low-budget dumb sci-fi flick look like a medium-budget dumb sci-fi flick. Boorman's Big Statment reaches a crescendo in that thought-shaming scene where everyone points and hums at someone for breaking the commune’s speech code. 

Didn’t someone see the dailies and think, “Is it too late to pull the plug and put him on THE EXORCIST?” 

The hell? This ape person doesn’t appear in the movie. I demand answers!
Boorman loves putting images on other images, such as back projection of scenes from earlier in the movie, and slides projected on a woman’s face. Zed ends up in a Lady from Shanghai-like hall of mirrors, and we look to see the many Connerys moving around. 

I haven't mentioned Charlotte Rampling, whose presence gives ZARDOZ most of its entertainment value. She's a great match for Connery.
 
Imagine them both as international assassins on opposite sides, like MR. AND MRS. SMITH but with a third act. She is perfectly believable as the leader of a bunch of people who think they're superior to everyone else, most of whom don't look as good as Charlotte Rampling.

Next: A Truly Stupid Plot Device!


Zardoz, 1970er, 1970s, Film, Zardoz, Zardoz, 1970er, 1970s, Film, Zardoz, Sean Connery, Charlotte Rampling – Bis auch Consuella (Charlotte Rampling,v…
Categories
Writing, Writer's Block

Writing: Notes

I found some notes I kept about my writing in the summer of 2005. Maybe you can relate.
#
Story #25 is done, but it's a letdown because the main character is a cypher. But that is fixable. Once you reach the end of the story, you can look back and see where you need to fill in missing pieces. So I'll leave this for a few days and come back with an improved character.
#
I indulge in my worst vice, scanning the web for news. I get deep into this stuff and then I'm burned out and uninspired.
So whenever I feel this way there is one, and only one, thing to do: Put on some music, open a file and just force myself to write. The DOING is the part that's often overlooked in why people get blocked--drivers don't get blocked, they get behind the wheel and drive. Same goes for writers. It's not an arty answer and it doesn't allow the indulgence of whining, but it's the answer for mature adults. Which is why most writers don't try it.
#
Man I've had a hell of a time getting much accomplished writing-wise. The past few days I've pecked at a story or two but I've been distracted and busy and when it comes time to actually write, my mind is off in space (aka non-writing things). I have nine slots in the story file to fill after the last purge, plus a contest that closes Monday, so I have to exercise and listen to music to fill up the container, and especially pick one of the stories and just think about it when I'm not writing, so I've got some juice flowing when I finally do sit and write. That's the key--not thinking about "writing" but thinking about one specific project.
#
Two painful bounces today--both editors told me they liked my story and thought it'd get bought. Weep. Whenever I get a bounce I will respond by writing a whole new story, so lots of work today.
#
I need to concentrate more on writing short stories that complement the novels I want to publish. It's too easy to just write whatever without thinking about the publishing realities. But if you want to get some kind of a following, they have to know what to expect from you. What does someone expect from me after reading these stories from me: a post-nuclear cannibalism story, a lesbian vampire story, a supernatural love story, a surreal comment on consumerism, and a science fictional version of the war on terror?
#
It looks like I was in my “Send out stories and then spend hours whining online” phase. Clearly, I wasn't in my Doing Well With My Writing Phase.
It's important to look back at your old writing. If what once seemed publishable strikes you as unreadable, it probably means you've improved. If you keep improving, today's writing will look less bad ten years from now.
Categories
american fiction science fiction speculative fiction

Damned if I Know: DHALGREN by Samuel R. Delany

I wondered about this cover for YEARS before I took the plunge.
I have come to to wound the autumnal city

Samuel R. Delany spent years writing DHALGREN, and it shows. The book is dense with detail about the main character, Kidd or The Kid or Kid, a man in his twenties of mixed race parentage who wears a boot on one foot while the other foot is bare. Kid can't remember much about his past, though he know he's spent time in a mental hospital. 

After an opening out of a fantasy he enters the city of Bellona, where some kind of disruption has occurred. The electricity has gone out, but that's the least of the problems for the few people who have not fled the city. The sun has grown many times its own size (the subject of Dean Ellis's evocative cover painting), buildings burn for days but still stand, and time and space don't work reliably. Or maybe it's Kid, who is dyslexic, like the book's author.
Kid wanders the city, getting beat up, having sex with men and women (probably the element that made the book so controversial, along with the writing style), running with a gang, doing some work for a family trying desperately to pretend their lives are normal (with deadly results), and finding a notebook which includes the first half-sentence of the novel you're reading. 

I'm surprised DHALGREN hasn't been mentioned as required reading in CHOP Seattle and its half-hearted successors. It's narrator's speculations about his own possible life and feelings fill the pages and fold in on themselves. The notebook Kid acquires may have belonged to him in a previous, forgotten visit to the place. This is a book for people who think their own thoughts about such things as what you do when you're sitting on the can are profound as hell.
DHALGREN was the book we've all had at some point in our youth, the one that others saw you reading and assumed you were a weirdo. A classmate took the book from me and read aloud one of the more pornographic passages, which got the attention of the teacher. He read the back of the book, because teachers get the idea from someplace that they get veto power over their students' thoughts and reading matter, and gave it back to me with a sour look. He's dead now.
This is a book I revisit rarely because it takes over my mind for the duration of the rereading. I feel Kid's confusion, I observe the metaphysical eruptions, and every time the book is different to me, reconfiguring and reshaping my memories from previous readings, much like Kid's impressions. He is clearly not well, mentally, and his naive and almost childish responses come down to an acceptance of everything and everyone pretty much as they are. He is a cypher who doesn't lose his temper, doesn't do much but screw who he feels like screwing, get beaten up and then later beats up others, and just LIVES inside the city. 


Rereading the book may be the truest way to experience DHALGREN; when I come upon scenes I recall, they aren't precisely as I recalled them between readings, and scenes that didn't make much of an impression on previous readings become centerpiece scenes of a rereading. You could say much of this about any complex book you reread, but that doesn't matter. DHALGREN sets you up for such reflection and reconsideration.
“But what's it ABOUT?”

I don't know what it's about. William Gibson, in his introduction to one of the book's many printings, says he doesn't really know what it's about, either, so I'm in good company.

For such a massive book, which sold a lot of copies, DHALGREN is largely forgotten or unknown by science fiction readers today. Considering they might appreciate the communal situation described, and might get off on the depiction of mob and gang violence, maybe that's for the best. But it's a book I've reread several times, so consider this merely an introduction.
Categories
Bad movies cinema

Holy #%$@, it’s ZARDOZ!

Big Head, Little Brain: Small Thoughts on ZARDOZ 

First of a Series

ZARDOZ is a movie. 

This ends the list of everything about this movie that I’m sure of. 

The expression on the head is based on that of the studio president on watching the final cut of this piece of lunacy.
It's a movie that divides reviewers into two camps: Those who think it’s a laughably stupid, nearly-incomprehensible mess that features Sean Connery in a red diaper, and Those Others who think it’s a laughably stupid, nearly incomprehensibly movie that features a giant flying head made of stone. I am under no illusions that this nutso thing is a good movie, but I'll be damned if it's not livelier than countless 'better' films. 

Not that I think it's great. ZARDOZ inspires messy thinking.

Our main character is Zed, a hunter in a post-modern world divided into Brutals like Zed and everyone else. Zed and his pals ride on horses and rape people and kill them for a flying stone head they know as Zardoz. You read that right, our hero is a rapist. How many science fiction movies star an unapologetic rapist who is never brought to justice for his crimes?

I have made a terrible mistake…
One day after the giant stone head vomits up more guns and ammo, Zed hides inside the head. The interior of the head is full of grain and bodies, either in stasis or dead. What does their god need with this stuff? A man in blue clothes is inside the head, and Zed shoots him, after which the man falls or floats from the head. 

The head lands beyond the invisible force field around a commune inhabited by The Immortals, a group of ex-hippies who live forever but who can't reproduce. The matriarchal Immortals capture and examine Zed. Their community is a storehouse for books and art, all the good stuff left over from the end of the rest of the world, useless to the boringly immortals survivors who really need to get laid (this would solve many problems at the same time). 

Actually seeing images from this movie tends to reduce me to uncomprehending silence.
The Vortex is your average American college, filled with young-looking educated people who are anti-fun, anti-sex and definitely anti-Sean Connery, who dresses funky and is all man. Speech codes are strictly enforced, and when one of the “students” talks out of turn, everyone points at him and shames him into unconsciousness. I’m serious.
Disaster overtook the production when Charlotte Rampling mistook Sean Connery for her agent.
A lot of people call Zardoz “pretentious,” a word used to describe many expensive science fiction films that try to be about more than just a wisecracking hero and his pals battling The Evil Galactic Rulers. The word “pretentious” is a critical switchblade, whipped out with the intention of a fast kill, often taken away by a more cunning opponent and turned on its user. 

Calling a work of art “pretentious” is meant to show the critic is one of us down-to-earth types who’s popping a rich movie director’s uppity ‘tude if he tries to rise above his station, like he thinks he’s smarter than the rest of us, and how dare he! 

The balloon popper likes something with a plot, cool dialogue, blah blah, while the director is trying to make something more than mere entertainment. What a jerk, huh? When I see “pretentious” in a review of a science fiction movie, I think “ambitious.” 

Often you do find such pretention in science fiction movies that have value but are ultimately crippled by the movie maker thinking he’s got something to say that no one before has tried to say in this way. Moon is a good example, a well-made movie that ultimately collapses under the weight of the effort to Say Something which amounts to “Corporations are evil.” Yeah, guy, we knew that, you got anything else?

NEXT: The Senses-Shattering Part Two (NOT the end!)
Categories
cinema Writing, Writer's Block

It Ain’t Braggin’ If You Can Do It: STORY by Robert McKee

This finally came out in papeback??
I'm not a big fan of writing books constantly being hawked to wannabe writers. It used to be that you read some how-to books, and you wrote. If you were of a certain age you went to writing courses in college. Based on what I see online and the number of classes in adult education courses, writing isn't necessarily the primary occupation of those who want to be writers. You write a little, maybe fan fiction, using other people's characters and ideas; you buy every book that They say you need, you talk about your writing problems online. The tell for these wannabes is that when they comment on a professional writer's advice they'll say, “I was just having this problem on the third book of my ten-book series The Fey of the Weyrd.” Yes, my anti-fantasy thing warps all of my thinking.

Meanwhile, the people who have a shot at becoming selling writers are writing.
The go-to book for modern aspiring writers is ON STORIES by Stephen King. When I read it, I was surprised by the lack of useful information in the book. What practical information there was wasn't new and was available in writing books by Dorathea Brande, Anne Dillard and the former Bible of aspiring writers, BIRD BY BIRD by Anne Lamott. Most of the book was about King's own life, and it might've been the way he came at an autobiography, from the side, as part of a larger book. As a former teacher, maybe King needed to write a text book in order to open up about his own life. It's by no means a bad book; I'm just not sure it's a good instructional book about writing.
This man wants to know why you’re not writing.
My second-favorite writing book is STORY by Robert McKee. He's famous for his weekend seminars about screenwriting, but McKee goes into the elements of good stories that are important for the writing of screenplays or novels (or plays or short stories). Using movies as examples works because it's more likely that readers have seen the movies used as examples than they would have read hundreds of novels. Don't argue, I'm right. 

On pages 182-183, he discusses power and values in society, a family and a character, and how the design of your story's cast is so important to telling your story. In two pages he delivers more useful information for a writer to think about than whole chapters of other how-to writing books.
I'd use STORY as a text in a writing class. It uses hundreds of examples from stories you already know, it breaks down what those stories do right to hook a reader, and it's written in a straightforward manner. 

McKee doesn't suck up to his readers. He assumes you want to learn, and he teaches things writers need to know. 

P.S. Reading and following this book requires work. If you want to grow as a writer, buy it. Then get to work. Your writing will be better after reading this book.