'At Close Range', 34 years later -- and on the telling of stories about those with doomed lives.
The other night I watched At Close Range, the 1986 movie with Sean Penn and Christopher Walken. It was partly opportunistic: I got an email telling me the film's presence on Amazon Prime was going to expire at the end of September. That reminded me I hadn't seen it in forever, and I had distant memories of it being an immensely affecting movie. My memories were right, and watching it brought back to mind a great many thoughts about why it's hard to make projects like this. (It was apparently a passion project for Penn, and it showed.)
On portraits of the artist as a complete jackass, and why we need new kinds of stories about artists.
... when Bennett Cerf, visiting the James Joyces in Paris, described Joyce as a genius, Mrs. Joyce dryly replied, "That's all very well for you to say - you don't have to live with the bloody man."
Last night friends and I watched The Horse's Mouth, the 1959 film adaptation of the Joyce Cary novel about an irascible painter, apparently a composite of every Portrait Of The Artist As A Complete Jackass story ever told. That Gully Jimson, the painter in question, is played by Alec Guinness in the scruffiest, most gin-voiced role he ever did embody, goes some distance towards making him fascinating. Jimson's bottom-pinching, liquor-guzzling, homewrecking (literally so) personality would make Animal House's Blutarski blush. Even at this late date, there still remains the thrill of watching a free spirit make the stuffed shirts eat their pretense and their money in about equal measure -- even if, maybe especially if, you wouldn't want to live with the bloody man.
On the largely ineffectual ways we've grappled with the corruption of public morals.
Someone on Twitter pointed out recently that it makes no sense to try and shame reactionaries for being hypocrites, because the charge carries no weight with those who matter. I agree with this, and I think the reasons why are at the heart of the largely ineffectual ways we've grappled with the corruption of public morals.
And once we do, what do we take away from it all?
The other night, shortly after news broke of Ruth Bader Ginsburg's death, I quoted a line from someone I'd known once, an utterance they made shortly after 9/11: "I don't know how much more history I can live through." I have since lost touch with this person, so I don't know what they would think about all that's happened over the last five years, but I imagine they'd be feeling pretty exhausted by history too.
But as of late, I find a thought coming to me more often. Maybe things have always been like this. Maybe it's just that it wasn't evenly distributed -- that some of us have felt like this all the time, every time, and weren't believed when we said that was the case. Maybe it was always like this and most of us just had more ways to not notice it, and now that those protections have been ripped off, we have no choice but to stare it in the face until our eyes melt.
For some of my books it's a lot harder than I realized to create good cover art.
Exhausting week, not just because of current events (if there's anyone here not exhausted by current events, I want whatever you're dosing with). I tried to come up with about four or five alternate desings for a reworked Summerworld cover and ended up rejecting them all. If I had more money to throw at the problem I'd commission something, but right now I'm on as tight a budget as I can get (again, who isn't?), so I have to make do.
Why some people respond to reports of deaths in numbers with minimizing tactics.
In the early days of the COVID crisis, I heard a couple of goofballs in my near-circle making noises along the lines of, "It's just a flu." Bad enough, but when people start dying, one of them had the temerity to come up with this whopper: "X number of people die every year in car accidents, but you don't see folks freaking out about that!"
The only motive I can ascribe to uttering such a thing is that of whistling past the graveyard -- being confronted with something so overwhelming that it beggars a response, and so the only response you can come up with is to minimize it. (We've seen a lot of that lately, haven't we?) There are plenty of reasons why equivalencies like this are foolish, but I'll focus on one case: when people shift tracks and try to talk about deaths by other means ("If we really cared about lives, we'd do something about all those people dying," etc.).
Why spam scams are illiterate by design: to weed out the skeptical and keep the suckers.
Some time ago I came across an article that explained why most spam scams read like illiterate grade-school scrawls. It's not incompetence on the part of the spammers. In fact, it's the exact opposite: it's a calculated strategy. And it explains why much political grift is similarly dumb.
On Stjepan G. Meštrović's notion of the "postemotional society".
I dug out a book I'd read before but decided to re-approach with fresh eyes, what with the world on fire. The book is entitled Postemotional Society and is by sociologist Stjepan G. Meštrović, and its premise is that modern society can be distinguished by being "post-emotional". I am not sure I believe everything Meštrović puts forward, and I think some of what he says is old vinegar in new wine bottles, but I have plenty to chew on all the same.
Meštrović wrote the book in the Nineties and so his examples revolve around things like the Balkan War, the Clinton administration, and the O.J. Simpson trial, but much of what he says seems scarily relevant to the moment: "A new hybrid of intellectualized, mechanical, mass-produced emotions has appeared on the world scene." (p. 26)
I don't want better versions of the past. I want a future that has the kind of better only the future can offer.
The other night friends and I fell briefly into one of those discussions that I find myself entering unthinkingly with enthusiasm, but exiting with a little disgust at having ever entered into it. It was about how movies used to be better, or at the very least weren't all focus-tested multiplex fodder. It's not even entirely true: there's more and better indie cinema than ever if you know where to look; it's just that the major studios now see risk aversion as their main business model. But the real problem was how I saw myself falling into the mode of "Weren't things better when ... ?" which is always a bad mode to end up in.
Once upon a time, things were different, and some of those things had aspects that are better than what we had now. Of this I have no doubt. What I know is impossible, and counterproductive, is to entertain such thoughts as a prelude to try and turn back the clock. I don't want this anywhere, least of all in my entertainments.
This page contains an archive of posts in the category Uncategorized / General for the month of September 2020.
New York City
Other Lives Of The Mind