~ ONE JOURNEY ~
~ There is only one journey: going inside yourself. ~
- Rainer Maria Rilke
Housebound and Hangin' Around with _The Historian_ ~ Tuesday, May 16, 2006
I await the delivery van from Ikea and so, I'm stuck at home between 11 and 6 (they had originally said between 9 and 6, but then they called this morning to change that). Funny how it chafes when one is forced to it--I wouldn't have had a problem if I were just staying home all day, no doubt. But now that I *cannot* go out or do anything, I'm irritated. Of course, I also have to rush if I need to go to the washroom, in case they happen to arrive in those very moments when I have sat down in search of relief.
It's a gloomy day, but there's enough light outside for the colours--greens, reds, purples, oranges--to be radiant. The tender, fresh colour of the leaves, which from a fanciful view really could be a yellowish gold ("Nature's first green is gold" selon M'sieu Frost), has mellowed into a bright, vibrant but still somehow spring-y green. I think it darkens further as the seasons progress, but I will watch with interest this year.
It has also been a few days since my post because I have turned my energies towards learning shorthand--Pitman, to be exact. A fascinating study--it's a masterfully adapted form, so well-suited to the languaged as we use it. It's just so interesting to see a character set that has been created with (apparently) two primary goals in mind:
2) as effective an expression of usages in English as possible.
It is also interesting to realise that it was created to be used for the language, where we so often see pre-existing character sets applied to a given language or adapting alongside the language. Pitman shorthand, by contrast, was created for English (by Isaac Pitman in the nineteenth c.) and so it is well-adapted to usage (and there have been several modifications of his original system in the interim).
Some facets are a bit confusing--for instance, the character for ch: / also doubles as the character for "which" (and there are others along the same vein: "n" doubles as "any" or "in":). I suppose as I become better at reading (when I reach the point where I don't have to laboriously sound out and think through every character!), it will no longer be confusing, since the context would make whichever usage self-evident. But for now, a phrase that uses / as "which" requires one pass, sounding it out with "ch", and a second sounding it out as "which" to see which makes sense.
No doubt, so long as I persist, it will come. A course would be useful in this context, for the time when my enthusiasm fades and it feels more like a slog. I'll have to look into my options.
In other news, I am reading _The Historian_. It's not bad. There are some lovely descriptions, but it's been rather long drawn out, thus far. I guess it is evocative of a style and pacing from a more leisurely time--I always feel a twinge of envy when a given writer is able to get away with this.
It isn't bad, but so far (nice descriptions notwithstanding), it has not lived up to the hype, IMO. A slightly intriguing story, but there are a few issues that I do not understand and hope will be explained at some point--without some kind of explanation, they become gaping plot holes. (e.g. why all the dire warnings and elimination of people and pets surrounding the main characters? Why not just kill the people doing the investigation and be done with it? Why all the sinsiter hintings? If this is not explained later, via some kind of "the investigators have a special protection" then it's a pretty big plot hole, IMO. But given how slow the pacing is, it may well be explained later, so I shall just have to be patient and see.)
In addition, despite the fact that the enframing narrative does, occasionally provide a slight advancement of the plot, right now the flashback/backstory is the relevant part of the narrative and is more interesting and urgent than the "present" narrative, which is still revving its engine IMO (~150 pages in). A bit of an irritating conceit, particularly because it isn't consistently used. It begins as a father telling his daughter about events in his past during trips they take around Europe (so inevitably, it breaks off at a "cliffhanger" and then we have long descriptions of their walking around Greece or Provence or wherever, as well as her everyday life at school in between these trips). But then there are several narrative flashbacks that do not follow the conceit and are, instead, just shoved in between other events in the present (to maximize the slight tension of a scene in the enframing narrative, one presumes).
So, that didn't seem very adroitly done, IMO--and generally, the whole narrative does ramble somewhat. I've been skimming a bit, as I'm mildly (rather than urgently) curious about the story and where it goes. I also have the large print edition (so I'm actually ~300 pages in), so that makes it easier to read, though this version now weighs in at ~1200 pages (the regular print is ~600 pages). Since this edition is hardcover, it does present itself as quite a tome. ::Posted by Anduril Elessar @ 11:07 AM::::
The Smiths meet Bubba ho Tep ~ Wednesday, May 10, 2006
We've been going through a film-viewing phase of late.
"Mr. & Mrs. Smith" wasn't bad, but I didn't love it.
Good points: I liked the idea of taking the metaphor of a normal marriage to extremes. I liked the implication that the two of them were "straying" from their marriage, shortly thereafter undermined by the revelation of their true alter-egos as mercenaries--sadly, this only works fully if you know nothing of the premise of the film, which would then mean that other ironic sequences early in the film would be undermined. There was some nice repartee and amusing dialogue when the truth about their respective "secret lives" is revealed in the midst of action scenes. Some action sequences were used more effectively than usual as pivot points in the relationship (an accidentally discharged gun leading to an escalation of the misunderstandings, etc.). I also thought it a good choice to have John Smith as the "softie" who is willing to show more, care more, etc. On the one hand, that works against traditional sterotypes and on the other it works well with his more self-revealing character (versus Jane Smith, who is established as a tied-down perfectionist) etc.
Not so good points: Action sequences often felt long drawn out--kind of akin to the showstoppers in musicals, where little gets accomplished but the status quo is sung about in great detail (though in this case, it was fighting and destruction of surroundings that were accomplished in excruciating detail--kind of how I also felt about Kill Bill vol. I). I do like good action sequences (and in some cases, they don't have to advance the plot--e.g. Jackie Chan's action sequences are just entertaining in themselves and intricately choreographed dances), but these didn't particularly hold me in many cases. I also felt that Jane Smith's crisis/change of heart was under drawn--I'd think it would be a large concession/moment of transformation, when she finally lets herself "fail" in the context of the agency and allies herself with her husband instead. But after building up to that particular meltdown and turning point for her (John has already shown his commitment to her), it gets summed up with a bland "I wouldn't want to be anywhere but here" between volleys of gunfire. That, for me, pulled the rug out of the potential impact of the film, particularly since one might expect a more painful relinquishment on her part of those things which she has used to define herself, at the expense of her marriage, in the past.
"Bubba-ho-Tep" had its own set of flaws, but it was also charming and wacky. From the moment I first heard the premise (Elvis, alive and well in a Texas nursing home, fights off a rampaging, soul-sucking mummy with the help of John F. Kennedy), I wanted to see it (kinda like "Snakes on a Plane" for some people). I expected something a little faster moving and tighter, but despite that, the moments that were amusing really did crack me up. I loved many of the lines and the absurd details provided--for instance, the name of the book JFK regularly consults with regard to soul-sucking demons is called _The Everyday Man or Woman's Book of the Soul_ by David Webb.
"And they got some pretty good movie reviews in there about stolen soul movies in the back," adds JFK, while they are examining rude hieroglyphic graffiti ("Pharoah gobbles donkey goobers") in the visitors' washroom. For lines like this alone--delivered with earnest dignity--the film is worth a watch IMO, but despite the rollicking premise that may make it sound like a fun, family, hallowe'en classic, some of the language and references are pretty ripe for a young audience. Still, I'd recommend it when you're in the mood for something low key and wryly amusing. And for those out there who might feel that Elvis is alive and well, somewhere in this world, this might provide some welcome closure. ::Posted by Anduril Elessar @ 11:45 AM::::
Good luck with the Were Rabbit curse ~ Tuesday, May 09, 2006
Yes, a bit of a contrast, but we recently saw both "Good Night and Good Luck", about journalist Edward Murrow and his struggles to expose the draconian methods of Senator McCarthy, and "Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit".
GNAGL: A moody, interesting piece. I also thought it interesting that the writers (George Clooney and Grant Heslov) chose to go with a relatively straightforward, more realistic story line rather than something with heightened dramatic tension. I had mixed feelings about that. Perhaps, having been weaned on the high drama (even in domestic contexts) and extremity, in some ways the story arc felt a little flat: man is indignant at injustices, takes on authority, experiences relatively minor (compared with what could have happened) setbacks, then triumphs. The final turning point is given a darker tone since it coincides with a less pleasant culimination of one of the other subplots. Still, don't expect head shavings, dark interrogations and "v for vendetta" style insurgency (or even a few orders of magnitude less than that).
Instead, think of it as a portrait of the times, in the context of the news media--which is fascinating to view with a contemporary sensibility (bearing in mind that it was made from the selfsame sensibility--but has attempted to evoke an earlier view of the way things might have been).
And so it is, once upon a time, in the days before Michael Moore and other skilled but manipulative documentarians (yes, that's a whole other argument--whether there was ever a day before documentaries manipulated, but let's say, these days, they do so more explicitly--few strive to eliminate their biases, and I don't think viewers particularly trust those that do). Today it's widely known that with a little bit of skill and a lot of patience, it is possible to use actual footage of public figures out of context in order to incriminate them (sometimes justly, and sometimes less than justly)--but in those days, if it was said on film, then it's tight--it's evidence. And so, we have the good newsmen at CBS, headed by Murrow and Friendly, who are aghast at the injustices being perpetrated by McCarthy's posse. And so, they assemble their evidence and are able to expose him, thus helping to precipitate his downfall.
Satisfying. It's also assuring to be in that black and white world (literally, since the film was shot in b&w), where news is news (not spin) and there's genuine interest in deposing injustice and exposing truths--rather than playing the ratings game, first and foremost. A world where a man with integrity can actually expose that injustice without it being viewed as manipulative positioning--and once again, spin. It would be nice to be able to think that just because it was said on film, it's true. Just because lies can be exposed, there will be repercussions (like re-election?) for those who deceived the public. And it seemed that in the world of "Good Night and Good Luck", this was the reality--and that was part of the charm and the interest of the film, for me.
"The Curse of the Were-Rabbit" was fun and fluffy and the rabbits, with their little piggy noses, were cute. Wallace, as usual, was a little irritating (sorry to say it, but even in the t.v. series, he annoyed me) and Gromit stole the show (also as per usual). The pacing was not as tight (understandable, given that the t.v. shows were much shorter)--and I was a bit tired, so I had less patience for the latter part of the film. But it was still sweet and charming. ::Posted by Anduril Elessar @ 12:03 PM::::
Millions ~ Saturday, May 06, 2006
We saw it last night. It was very different from what I anticipated, based on the following description: "In the days before Britain converts from pounds to the Euro, two young brothers intercept a bag of money meant for destruction."
This I interpreted as a "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" type of heist film featuring two young ruffian/tough kids as the protags with a get rich quick scheme (esp. because "intercept" to me implies volition on the part of the boys).
So I settled in to watch it without enthusiasm, already decided that I wasn't in the mood for an ironic, hip and cynical piece, seasoned with many knowing winks to the audience and PoMo references--and that if this is what it proved to be, I would leave and read. Nor did the fact that it was directed by Danny Boyle (of "Trainspotting" "Shallow Grave" and "28 Days Later" fame) serve to reassure me on this score.
Imagine my surprise then, when it turned out to be a rather sweet, good-hearted and quirky comedy-drama. Damian, the main protagonist, is the younger of two brothers; a winsomely freckled, adorably precocious lad who is obsessed with the lives of the saints and with the idea of doing good. He and his brother Anthony have just lost their mother, and are moving to a new, reasonably upscale subdivision in Liverpool--presumably so they and their father (who sleeps with his arm flung around pillows that he has laid out on his wife's side of the bed) can escape the memories and make a new beginning.
In certain ways, it reminded me of "In America." In both films, a family is coping with loss--"In America" shows us a grieving family, dealing with the loss of a son, and trying to make a new beginning in NYC. In both films two young actors have to carry the majority of the dramatic arc (a pair of sisters, in IA)--and, IMO, the young actors succeed admirably in both films.
Both films to me also carried strong Magical Realism elements, though they were more hidden in IA--more of a subtext or a facet to the narrative, as told by the elder of the two sisters. In "Millions", the MR elements were far more explicit--and, too, the world of "Millions" was generally a safer, more comforting place, with saturated colours, loving families and an amusingly obnoxious, bicycle-patrolling cop riding the neighborhood streets. "In America", by contrast, showed us a gritty urban reality that, as adults, we recognised, even as we saw it transformed into something more benign and safe in the eyes of the children--and for me, awareness of their optimistic heedlessness was one of the powerful sources of tension in the film (even as their innocence did seem to provide them with some measure of protection).
At any rate, "Millions" had charm, wit and optimism, and it was great fun to see the very different ways in which each of the two boys were resolved upon making use of their unexpected windfall of cash. The end was perhaps a touch preachy, but I still thought it a beguiling film--and worth watching if you're in the mood for a fairly lighthearted bit of fun.
Aside: I am now on page 340 of the mss ::and the crowd goes wild!::--which works out to ~ 100 pp in three weeks/15 days of writing. But, today, I have to spend going back to revise several scenes. I haven't quite worked out the logistics of it all yet, but I had one of those "shower revelations" (dubbed thusly because they take place whilst one is showering) this morning and realised how I could (maybe, possibly) address one of the issues I have with the story as it stands. Yippee for shower revelations, and caffeinated [un]sleeps, if the latter played any small part in leading the way to my new direction. Sucks to have to go back--but at least it's now, and not when the whole book is finished. ::Posted by Anduril Elessar @ 3:39 PM::::
Evils of Fast Food ~ Wednesday, May 03, 2006
A recent article (from my ever-growing pile) states that according to a recent poll in the U.K., people regard fast food chains like McD's as being amongst the most evil of corporations. Nike is apparently also up there--perceived as being more evil than weapons/defence and tobacco companies. Interesting, non?
Just goes to show the power of high profile condemnation (Nike is still suffering its image failure from the old stigma of child labour and sweatshops, though it has long since taken steps to rectify the issues and ensure fair standards at its mfg plants, according to non-partisan assessment groups, and of course, there's _Super Size Me_ for McD's bad PR).
~Non Sequitur warning~
And then there's the endless _DaVinci Code_ hype. In the wake of two verbal recommendations (one at a party, and one by my cousin in Australia), I actually picked up a copy and read it recently. It's neat--we got the illustrated version for the same price as the regular one at Costco (i.e. same price as the regular one elsewhere). I was glad to have it on hand, so I could look at the images, in search of the specific details mentioned in the story.
It reminded me of _The Eight_ but less complex, with a tighter timeline and no shifting into different time periods. I liked _The Eight_ better, but DVC was a fun and fast read. I had to laugh at the character's description (tweed jacket and turtleneck but of course very sexy in an intellectual way), when I glanced at the authorial pic to find Mr. Dan Brown (great name!! How'd he come up with that?!) clad in tweeds and a turtleneck. Irony or wish fulfillment? Or does one have to choose?
The good points: a kind of neat conspiracy theory, very tight pacing, a fun read and some interesting facts that seem to be corroborated elsewhere and which were then woven into a rollicking intrigue. It certainly moved better than something like _Foucault's Pendulum_, which alas did get pendulous at times.
The more egregious flaws: sometimes the twists were very guessable (but it's always a balance between planting too much and planting too little, so I can sympathise with that shortcoming); characters were somewhat thinner than the paper they were printed on (another trade-off, this time between characterization and pacing) and I found some of the background exposition rather clunkily inserted. Most jarring were some of the "hero wows students in his class with obscure tidbit" sequences. I suppose some might think it nominally better to stick it into flashback dialogue than to have the info as straight exposition, but I have to admit, I'm not one of those, in this case at least.
And maybe I'm just disproportionate, but that ratio or whatever that was supposed to be found in various contexts, including physical proportions of the human body didn't work for me (I was curious enough to try it out). O disproportionate Su...! Alas. ::Posted by Anduril Elessar @ 7:55 PM::::
Bewitching Elizabeth ~ Monday, May 01, 2006
We watched "Bewitched"--the new film version--on Friday night. Despite some amusing moments, generally speaking, it was terrible. Inconsistent, incoherent and generally puzzling in the context of how the rules of the world worked (if, indeed, there were any rules at all).
I also watched the first part of the HBO/BBC two-parter "Elizabeth I" (or a name to that effect), starring Jeremy Irons and Helen Mirren. I really liked it. For once, Irons actually played a somewhat normalish character (well, it seems like it has been a while, at least--not that I've been following his career closely. Takes me back to his "Brideshead Revisited" days). At any rate, I really liked this episode a lot, but it kind of haunted me afterwards and made me feel sad. I was moved by the relationship between Bess and Leicester (sp?)--its yearning restraint, its frustrations, and the way that the genuine, deep love endured between them despite many and various tribulations and fallings out.
~spoiler warning, though I'll try to be vague about it~
Which brings me to my main issue with it, narratively speaking--for I know that though the story itself is conjecture, they undoubtedly had to at least follow the sweeping details of ER I and Leicester's lives, so they're stuck with making the most of it they can. But, narratively speaking, after part one, they had reached a point in the story that made me unwilling to continue with it. I suppose I will watch the second part, but I'm not eager for it.
Don't get me wrong--I think they did the best they could with the material, and no doubt stretched the facts somewhat in order to maximize the drama and irony of the major turning point/showdown, presenting a significant victory in one context that is offset by an equally devastating loss. But now that things have changed, I'm sad for the loss and not really as interested in seeing where it goes from there (maybe because I already have a notion of where it does go, and am not sure that I want to see it enacted).
But all the same, I really did like part one very much and definitely recommend it.
Other interesting bits, again gleaned from the avalanches of magazines under which I find myself at this point:
A recently released book, _Killing Hitler_ by Roger Moorehouse, about the many assassination attempts that were made on Hitler. The most amazing, meticulous and poignant of the more than forty plots (at least of those detailed in the article) was by a fellow named Elser. This was in the late 30's (after Poland but before so many of the atrocities that were to follow), and he was apparently working alone. He tracked Hitler's movements during the annual commemoration of the Beer Hall Putsch and determined an ideal location in which to plant his bomb.
Then, for the next year (until the next commemoration), he painstakingly enacted his plan. He worked at a quarry from which he filched explosives, and then worked out how much he would need by conducting experiments in fields near his home. Once he had worked out those details of the plan, he moved Munich, where he dined nightly at the beer hall where he would plant the bomb. He made sketches and sussed out the ideal location. Then, over many weeks, he would have a late dinner, hide in a storeroom in the building until the place closed. Then, he would work all night by flashlight, cutting a hole in a pillar, planting the bomb and then ensuring that the door over it was undetectable. He cleaned up after himself meticulously, and even ensured that the bomb casing was lined so that if someone knocked on it, the pillar wouldn't sound hollow.
He had purchased a long timer for the bomb and he set it going three days before it would detonate, having timed things precisely, so that it would go off at about the midpoint of Hitler's speech. He, in the mean time, planned to be safely out of the country when the actual explosion took place.
But--there was urgent business Hitler needed to attend to in Berlin. The fog at the airport meant that the flight he would have taken was no longer a possibility--so he would have to catch the overnight train. And so, he made his speech early, and left for the station a mere thirteen minutes before the bomb detonated.
Unfortunately, Elser also did not consider the full implications of the escalating international situation. The border he had previously scouted was now patrolled, and so he was caught by two guards, who, upon discovering the incriminating evidence, apprehended him.
Ironically and most sadly of all (at least according to Moorhouse's speculation, via Bethune's article), Hitler's narrow escape from the bombing might well have been a key turning point in the development of Hitler's megalomania. It also aparently bolstered support and sympathy for Hitler and the Nazi cause.
The story fascinated me. I wonder what could have motivated Elser to do as he did--to basically orient his life around this assassination attempt? What were the events in his life that would have inspired such an implacable (and accurate) conviction that Hitler needed to be eliminated--it must have been profound for him to have reshaped his life (working at the quarry, moving to Munich, hiding and working by flashlight every night, ironing out every tiny detail of his plan) in such a way and with such a purpose? From what I've read, his conviction originated in his dislike of the Nazi regime policies and propaganda. From as early as '33, he refused to perform the Nazi salute. But such unwavering focus--which in other contexts would seem creepy or disturbing (i.e. if this were an attempt on some celebrity or whatever) just seems poignant and powerful, given his intended target. ::Posted by Anduril Elessar @ 8:42 PM::::