We will always find a new way to be naive, and that's a good thing.
The previous post about the near-impossibility of their being a Star Wars for the current generation brought back to mind a precusor topic. Authors who try to resurrect literary modes from previous times -- for instance, writing a modern-day take on the Victorian-era social novel, or what have you -- make something of the same mistake with their own work.
Longtime readers know I trot out a formulation to explain this: the artist is as much a product of his moment in time as his creations are a product of him. We are not the same people we were a hundred years ago (for the better, I hope), and consequently we don't have the same things to say to the world around us.
Is crowdsourcing a substitute for curation?
[Other music subscription] companies, these services, all lack curation. They call it curation; there’s no curation. That’s what we did as a record label, we curated. There’s 150 white rappers in America; we served you one. We are heavy on curation, and we believe it’s a combination of human and math. But it’s a give and take. Right now, somebody’s giving you 12 million songs, and you give them your credit card, and they tell you “good luck.” You need to have some kind of help. I’m going to offer you a guide.
The article itself is distressingly short in intelligent editorialization about its subject -- Beats Audio is easily the biggest ripoff in audio since Monster Cable -- but this quote from Iovine caught my eye, since it's also symptomatic of the current burgeoning problem in publishing.
The very people who are there to provide us with guidance -- the publishers and bookstores -- are being thought of as irrelevancies or archaisms. Crowdsourcing and friends' lists will replace all that (or so go one of the comments).
The terrible thing is, I think that's entirely correct. Such things can indeed replace the older mechanisms of brick-and-mortar institutions or editorial guidance, but whether they do as good a job or better is highly questionable. I trust my friend's tastes inasmuch as they are satisfied by something, not whether I think I will be as well. I trust the tastes of big groups of strangers not at all.
The resentment against Iovine as a curator for bringing us salable mediocrity is one thing (read the comments), but the answer to that is not floods of five-star reviews on Amazon for books that don't even pass basic editorial muster. There's got to be better ways.
On the whole alternate universe of unfilmed movies that exists only as scripts in a vault somewhere.
Over at the comments section in AICN there was some speculative talk of digging up Philip Kauffman's unproduced original script for the first Star Trek movie, dusting it off, maybe also filing off the serial numbers, and making a new movie out of it. I pointed out this was all but impossible, given the legal quandaries of such a thing. "There is no market for unproduced film scripts," said Fred Pohl in his own book on science fiction in film (and while that was circa 1981 or so, his statement still stands).
He had a lot more to say, all of it heartbreaking:
Some of the best science fiction writers in the world, over the years, have completed major projects that were permanently shelved, or at least withheld from audiences for years or decades. There's the equivalent of a library of a hundred novels, by your favorite writers, which exist only in the form of spiral-bound, plastic-covered shooting scripts. ... The writer cannot even publish them himself and give them away to his friends, because they no longer belong to him.
Among them: Harlan Ellison's I, Robot script, now released -- by some amazing legal legerdemain, no doubt -- as its own book. That is, I would imagine, the impossible extreme exception to the rule. The vast and uncountable majority of such projects will never see public eyes, such as David Gerrold's original screen treatment for Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land (which, he maintains, he got fired from for "doing it right"). Tantalizing projects like The Tourist go unproduced for decades.
The worst part about such a state of affairs is how it leaves us so little to learn from. What sorts of things were being attempted, and to what end, with such projects? Were they never made for reasons that had nothing to do with their quality, or did they really not deliver the goods? (I can't assume that everything obscure is automatically a hidden gem.) The number of unanswered questions multiply like fungi.
It's dismal situations like this which convince me the best route for a filmmaker to take is to get a camera and make a film, not write a screenplay and try to fob that off on a producer. At least with camera in hand, the finished product is yours. A script, once sold, can vanish forever and not even leave behind enough memory to have its disappearance lamented by the right people.
Why there will be no "this generation's Star Wars", not even from Star Wars itself.
Marc's comment in an earlier post about the notion of "this generation's Star Wars", or "this generation's X" in general reminded me how I'd gotten mud all over my hands when wrestling with that idea earlier. I dug around and found some notes I'd taken to that effect, and then realized on re-reading them that the problem was far more egregious than I thought.
There are big problems with calling something "this generation's [fill in the blank]". The first, and for me the biggest, is that generational experiences do not map to each other with complete correspondence.
One thing you can't blame fans for doing: they always have their eyes open to possibilities the rest of us shrug off.
Astute readers will know the title of this post as an allusion to Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, a work most every aspiring student of Zen comes across at some point in their practice. Like most who are confronted with the concept of "original mind" or "beginner's mind", I had my own struggles with it. How is it not, say, a celebration of naïveté over wisdom? In what way is it possibly good for us to treasure ignorance?
It took some time, and more than a few stubbed spiritual toes, before I realized my questions themselves betrayed a misinterpretation of what was being said. To keep "beginner's mind" is not to value naïveté over wisdom, or to treasure ignorance. Rather, it is about having those things always within ready reach, even despite our wisdom or experience. We should be prepared at any time, on a moment's notice, to put aside the things we know so that something new can reach us.
Fandom can be expressed in immature ways, but at its core it's far from immature.
I’m familiar with the pressure that friends and family can put on someone to leave behind hobbies that might come across as being fancies of the immature. Mass-produced fare like The Big Bang Theory only reinforces the idea that geekery and fandom are fodder for the emotionally-stunted and inexperienced among us. Even in fandom-positive spaces, though, it can be difficult to distinguish between the things that we like and want to do, and the parts of fandom that we need to help define ourselves.
I recently picked up an iPad Mini, mostly for the sake of having an iOS device of some variety. It's next to impossible to work in the field I'm in(information technology journalism) without knowing at least something about the Apple...
I recently picked up an iPad Mini, mostly for the sake of having an iOS device of some variety. It's next to impossible to work in the field I'm in(information technology journalism) without knowing at least something about the Apple side of things, and since all my experiences thus far have been with Windows, Linux, and Android (for some folks those two may be the same thing; for others, not), I figured it was time I got my feet wet.
Some part of me did expect to pick up the iPad and be instantly enveloped by the Reality Distortion Field. I'm not even sure I would have minded all that much if it had been the case. What happened instead was a somewhat milder experience, and in fact an almost disappointing one. While I like iOS and wouldn't say no to other devices that use it, I found my Android 4.1-powered phone to be that much more flexible and useful. (I know, I know: heresy!) Because I'm using the iPad as an adjunct to things and not a centerpiece, I have a bit of distance from it.
Sure, it's a "textually enriching experience" or what have you ... but is it any *good*?
When people ask me about a particular movie, they don't say, "Are the performances transcendent?" Or "is the direction sublime?" Or "is this an engrossing, life-enriching experience?" They ask, "Is it any good?" That's what they always say.
Look no further for proof that critics and audiences speak different languages, even when they use the same words. Thing is, that's part of the idea -- critics look at the work in their field, well, critically. It's interesting for them (me as well; see the rest of this site for proof) to take things apart and see how and why they tick. But it never hurts to start from a position where you say, "Yes, it's good," and then try to back it up. There are many things I love that I can't recommend to random strangers, because odds are the recommendation will be lost on them. But I can at least describe where I'm coming from when I do.
Criterion: Gate of Hell, Repo Man, and Naked Lunch.
Criterion's new title announcements, that is. Among them: Gate of Hell, Repo Man, and Naked Lunch (the latter on Blu-ray for the first time).
Gate of Hell I'm particularly excited about, as up until now the only home video versions were either pricey imports or the prehistoric VHS edition ('pon which I cut my teeth as a wee one). The cover art for Repo Man is great; Gate of Hell, not so much so. Is it me or are Criterion's designs losing some of their savor? The last few months of releases haven't done much for me in that department. But I can forgive them a lot when they bring us the titles they do.
... and the Repo Man set includes the "melonfarmer" edit for TV. Wow.
Nagisa Oshima (most notorious for In the Realm of the Senses) has died at the age of 80. I wonder whether or not someone of his cage-rattling importance will be able to step up to the plate in his absence....
Nagisa Oshima (most notorious for In the Realm of the Senses) has died at the age of 80. I wonder whether or not someone of his cage-rattling importance will be able to step up to the plate in his absence.
I've reviewed a number of his films here (see the link with his name above) and will continue to do so as they become available. Which, I hope, will only continue as time goes on.
Lucas honors Kurosawa yet again, by remaking him.
[Snyder] is in fact developing a Star Wars project for Lucasfilm that is set within the series’ galaxy, though parallel to the next trilogy. It will be an as-yet-untitled Jedi epic loosely based on Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 classic Seven Samurai, with the ronin and katana being replaced by the Force-wielding knights and their iconic lightsabers.
We all knew one of the consequences of having the Force merge with the Mouse House would be spin-offs and ancillary works that weren't part of the "main line" of Star Wars films, but still seated comfortably somewhere under its general umbrella. This -- as the Vulture piece goes on to note -- is an eyebrow-raiser, since it was 7Sam that Star Wars itself was at least partly influenced by. (More so and more directly by The Hidden Fortress, but the total package of influences is manifold and evident.)
If this seems like I'm gearing up to scream sacrilege, I'm not. For one, Lucas has done right by Kurosawa many times over -- not just because Star Wars was itself a fine homage to the other man's work (it feels strange to say that now after so much dilution of the brand, but it's true, I tell you), but because Lucas helped co-finance Kagemusha when just about every film studio in Japan no longer considered Kurosawa to be a bankable creative force.
It's also not as grotesque as it might seem in big part because Kurosawa's estate has already given the go-ahead to so many remakes of its own property that another one is just par for the course. Live-action remakes of Sanjuro and The Hidden Fortress; anime reworkings of Seven Samurai (entitled Samurai 7) and Yojimbo (Kaze no Yojimbo), and probably many more that I've missed out on tallying.
So what's one more on the pile -- and, for that matter, one more that brings the cycle of cultural interchange between Kurosawa and those he influenced one more step full circle?
(Side note. For those not in the know, the word "jedi" was derived from Lucas's hearing the word jidai, the Japanese term for period dramas -- like, say, Seven Samurai itself. Such is how deep that particular vein runs.)
EDIT 2013-01-14 21:42: Zack Snyder denies he is working on any such project. That said, my other comments about Lucas and Kurosawa generally still stand.
Yasutaka Tsutsui's Paprika is now out domestically
Yasutaka Tsutsui's Paprika, the basis for Satoshi Kon's film of the same name, is now available in a domestic printing. I had great things to say about the novel back when it was only available as a U.K. import.
If we can't let artists make mistakes with their own work, then they won't be free to make happy discoveries either.
Back when Dark Horse still published manga in the 32-page newsstand-comics format, two of the titles I encountered regularly from their lineup was Urusei Yatsura and a still-ongoing favorite of mine, Blade of the Immortal. Both had been reformatted and retouched to read left-to-right, as opposed to the original right-to-left orientation in the Japanese printings.
When at the time I mentioned this casually to a fellow fan of a few more years' experience than I, I got a seething earful from him about what horrible butchery this was and how it totally ruined the original artwork and I should boycott the publishers and mail them dead cats because blah blah creative integrity blah blah artistic intentions glib blurb. I quickly learned not to bring up the subject with him again.
Note that I'm not pooh-poohing his position per se, just the fulminating vehemence with which he delivered it. In fact, at the time, I mostly agreed with him. I thought dubbing anime into English was an abomination, too, and for many of the same reasons he cited: wasn't it a violation of the creator's intentions to essentially rework a significant component of his product?
I've run into variations on this argument over the years, and they all revolve around the same question: Do creators always deserve the final say in how their product is delivered to an audience? Or are there circumstances where others know better, and might even be able to improve on what they've been given?
Why are people valued more for their "consistency" than for their ability to learn and adapt?
In his columns on finance, Paul Krugman touches on a number of other topics, but one thing that's come up consistently in recent months is the way other experts in his field who have consistently made predictions that have not come true for years on end (verging on decades) are still being considered authoritative and have their word taken seriously. And yet other people -- apart from him, mind you -- who quickly realized they were on the wrong track and changed their theories to fit the evidence, are attacked for their views.
Why are people valued more for their consistency than for their ability to learn and adapt, to say "I was wrong" and get something out of it that benefits both us and them?
Is a bad guy always a requirement in fiction?
I got into a discussion the other night with a new acquaintance about the role of the villain in a story. His take was that a story's only as good as its villain, and in particular he cited a story where the villains turn into grudging allies against a greater danger. I disagreed: not every story needs a villain to begin with, and of those that do, I actually found the example he cited to be more interesting than the usual sort of villain for whom death means the solution to all the story's problems.
Is a story only as good as its villain? Sure, if you're dealing with the sort of story that is constructed to feature a villain in the first place. A story needs obstacles that are to be overcome, and sometimes those obstacles take the form of another person, but a villain is only required for a story inasmuch as it gives us something for the protagonist to confront.
I'm most interested in villains who on closer inspection turn out simply to be the heroes of their own stories, or fragile underneath, for totally coherent reasons. Blade Runner's Roy Baty is sinister on first viewing, but on closer inspection he's more desperate and frustrated than anything else. He does do terrible things -- he kills everyone who blocks him in his quest for more life -- but in the end he realizes a single good death is worth a hundred bad lifetimes. This is far more fascinating to me than someone who simply spits in the bad guy's face and twirls his Snidely J. Whiplash mustache.
The morality play used in most fiction--kill the bad guy, make everything perfect forever--is something we respond to instinctually, but not for noble reasons. It flatters us. It tells us things can be made better in a way that history shows to be the gross exception and not the general rule. These by themselves are not evil things, because life without mythology and hope becomes that much closer to mere existence. What makes them problematic is when we teach them to ourselves again and again without questioning them, without reflecting on the limitations of what we're being told, and without investigating to find out what else might be possible.
Disqus 1, Movable Type 0.
After too many problems with the native MT comments system, I'm replacing it with Disqus. Old comments should show up in the system over the next couple of days.
As they say in study hall: talk amongst yourselves.
Comment subscriptions should be working again.
Comment subscriptions should be working again. One of the many little moving parts that broke during our recent upgrade.
This page contains an archive of posts in the category Uncategorized / General for the month of January 2013.
New York City
Other Lives Of The Mind