Great movies are a visceral experience. When you leave the theatre, your legs are weak, your head is light, and someone's built an extra story on every building in sight. Great movies change how you see the world.
I don't like French film, as a rule. I once was forced out of a film course because of my too-loud disregard for the "genius" of Goddard. My dislike almost amounts to bigotry. I just have a basic hostility towards what I thought was the quintessential Gallic attitude of serious, romantic cynicism. I am re-evaluating that antipathy towards all things French in light of the brilliance that is Amelie.
This is the sort of movie I thought to expect from American filmmakers after 1999. A confident, muscular, robust vision without a fleck of cynicism or small-mindedness, Amelie is romantic, witty, charming, and absolutely gorgeous. The director makes full and thorough use of all the possibilities of modern editing and composition to make of modern Montmartre an urban wonderland.
The movie Amelie most reminds me of is Magnolia, in its use of precise and objective narration to set a mood of synchronicity. But where Paul Thomas Anderson used that synchronicity to build a serious, religious story of retribution, cataclysm, and redemption, director Jean-Pierre Jeunet has instead chosen to make a romantic fairy tale.
The word "sprightly" comes to mind. The protagonist is fey - elfin, mischievous, and not exactly living in the same world as the rest of humanity. She's a manipulator and a trickster, who decides to make a hobby out of doing "good deeds".
The movie is beautiful in a way that few other European films achieve, in my experience. This is the sort of European film I'd like to see, not the drear self-crippled Puritanism of Dogme 95. More! More!
Tired, so tired.
We all went down to the Garman Opera House last night to catch the midnight showing of Fellowship of the Rings. Sold-out show, so many thanks to Ben for waiting in line while the rest of us were scattered all over the county. The movie is three hours long, so I got about three and a half hours of sleep today, which compares poorly from my usual, copious nine hours. A little spacy today, yes indeedy.
The movie is good. Not oh-my-god-my-life-is-changed great, but it's the best Tolkien adaption yet. There's some stuff that I thought were dubious - the Galadriel temptation scene was very Playstationesque; there's some thoroughly unnecessary wizardly rumbling at the tower of Isengard, they all play Indiana Jones a bit too much at the bridge over the Deep in Moria. Stuff, you know? All in all, not too bad, though. I liked the substitution of Arwen for the other elf in the ford scenes - it works better in the movie than the novel. The romantic moment (or half-hour, more like) between Aragorn and Arwen was twee, and not in a good way.
Definitely worth seeing.
A friend asked me recently what science fiction I had read recently. It took me a while to think of some. This is odd, because I used to be a voracious reader of SF. Instead of grounding me, my parents used to seize my books instead - god, I was a geek. But recently, not so much. At least part of it is that they're not publishing SF as much as they used to. Or at least, not in a noticeable way. The misogynistic have called it â€œfeminizationâ€ â€“ the replacement of â€œmasculineâ€ SF with â€œfeminineâ€ fantasy. Eh. Thatâ€™s so much bosh. A majority of the interesting writers in SF today are female â€“ Bujold, Willis, you know. A case could be made for the readership being less â€œmasculineâ€, but all in all, I suspect itâ€™s all nonsense. Iâ€™ve got a better theory: the world is tired of the future.
The US has always been hag-ridden by the future. Past futures haunt the landscape like ill-tempered ghosts. But certain eras will always oversell their predictions and their promises and their futures, and lead to a glut in the Futures futures market. The early Sixties with their plastics and their MBAs and their rockets and computers and all the hopes and fears of their atomic age â€“ a future so virile and overwhelming that when it failed, murderously, bloodily in some obscure Vietnamese rice paddy, it took the idea of future with it. The nation retreated into twin opposites, realism and fantasy, and stayed there for a decade or more.
This time, the failure was gentle, soft. The blood and fire came afterwards, as a coda or reprise. The actual failure was economic, and cultural. The Torvalds, the Allchins, the Gates and the Jobses â€“ the electronic and ephemeral prophets of digital futurity â€“ damn, but they were salesmen. What need for fiction, when your prose could be poured into imaginative business plans and innovative press releases? The future as a con job, a capital-trap and a pretty toy, built for the masses. Idealismâ€™s last millennial dance, an intangible utopia, as all good utopias are. Oh, weâ€™re all mightily future-burned now, after a decade of virtuality. We went looking for reality as a relief. Well, war is real. Fire, flood, pestilence and fear â€“ thatâ€™s reality for you. Weâ€™ll have our fill of it one day. I imagine science fiction will return when weâ€™ve had enough of reality.
I donâ€™t understand. I donâ€™tâ€™ think anyone does. I had an uncle, Randy, until this last Sunday. He was a success, as I measure success. When he was my age, he had a beautiful wife, a healthy daughter, another on the way, and a good job in a good town. Well-educated and healthy, sweet-tempered and apparently happy. Call no man happy before his death.
My uncle Randy killed himself this Sunday last. I donâ€™t know why; Iâ€™m not sure anyone does. He left no note, told no one. He simply waited until the family was out of the house, closed the garage doors, and turned on the engine. He was gone before they returned. He was forty-nine.
My motherâ€™s little brother committed suicide two days ago, and I want to know why. I think everyone does. He wasnâ€™t sick, his children werenâ€™t in serious trouble. The one daughter was unemployed, but not disastrously so. The younger was still in school, no rumor of trouble or fuss. Randy was still married to Trish, I have never heard any word of marital problems. His job - school psychologist - was not going well, by all accounts, but it was still there. It was a good job, a reliable job. School psychologists never get laid off; school districts never downsize. Maybe his retirement funds had been hit badly by the bear markets; everybody has been doing poorly. Everyone with retirement funds - I havenâ€™t a dime saved away.
If he had problems with depression, my mother never found out about it. She already has a husband and son with those problems; Iâ€™m sure that she would have noticed. He justÃ¢â‚¬Â¦ walked away. Of all the family, I would have called him the happiest, looking on from the outside. Itâ€™s hard to build an accurate picture from a continent away.
Maybe it was his early success that made later life unbearable. People never rebel against privation. They react against diminished expectations, against disappointment, when the hope of greater things built on early success come to naught. I donâ€™t know, I donâ€™t think itâ€™s possible to know at my vantage point. Any one of the above statements could be wrong, a misunderstanding built of distance. We rarely saw Randy in the flesh; he had moved too far away to see him often. My mother always wanted me to fly out to visit him; I never did. I never felt secure enough to take that kind of time off from whatever I was doing at the time. I never will, now.
My mother and sister are flying out to Oregon to help with the arrangements. My sister will be flying from Logan in Boston. I donâ€™t like that - Logan is too insecure, and cross-country flights are dangerous; last month proved that. Half the family will be in the air at the same time, and there are monsters in hiding, waiting for god knows what, waiting to strike again. I suppose I love my family, in my cold fashion. I donâ€™t want them to be in this kind of danger. Randy, why did you choose now? Why did you do this?
Puttering around at work, grinding away at yield conversions. Wasn't planning to, but I wandered in to enter in today's poem, and discovered eighty million yield archives waiting to be processed. I'm never gonna get all of this done.
Jim Cleveland was in town this morning, and I spent the morning with him and Ben Hauger, talking about the Dao De Jing and generally hanging out down at the High Street coffee shop. I felt awkward about not buying anything at the coffee shop, so I went to buy a drink. Of course, the guy was on his way out the door for a cigarette break. I didn't have the emotional dexterity to just turn around and say "no thanks" and let him go on his break, so I stood there for a couple minutes while he discovered that the shop was out of the fruit juice I usually buy from them. Ended up getting the display bottle of the stuff. Talk about awkward...
God, books have gotten expensive these days, haven't they? And by books, I mean paperbacks. Actual hardback books seem to be as cheap as ever, or cheaper. Paperbacks, meanwhile, are shooting for the stratosphere. Buying trade paperback is starting to make sense - there's not as much difference between and as there is between and , y'know?
Was on a business trip to the Eastern Shore of Maryland midweek. We were going down there for the "HighQ Associates Meeting". I did a presentation on the new website/database. Went OK, until I accepted one too many cold shrimp at a bayside barbeque. Must have been going bad or something, because I got pretty sick on the drive back to Pennsylvania.
Not sure whether to call the Eastern Shore "interesting" or not. It's flat as heck, but not particularly big. Or, at least, it doesn't feel big. Somebody came up with the interesting statistic that 60% of the population of the United States live within 6 hours of the Eastern Shore. I doubted that until Dave Asher did the numbers for me, based on electoral vote counts. It does actually work out, believe it or not... We have a lot of acreage in the Eastern Shore in the HighQ program. The local fertilizer company has printed up black "HighQ" signs with the seed variety on 'em, posted along the sides of fields like those Pioneer or Dekalb or whatever signs. It's made HighQ somewhat well-known in the Eastern Shore. We stopped in a random convenience store, and a guy in line recognized us from the "HighQ" polo shirts that the boss had made up. I've had that happen with Otakon, but never with anything from work.
An Open Letter to Sars of Tomato Nation, in response to her recent essay, and in tribute to the work she does:
The days in the West where every man was essential, is thankfully past. The days when everyone was bound in never-ending toil, dawn to dusk, sow and reap, pinch and save and hope the remnants last the winter, who wants them back? When every thing we do is essential, any failure is failure indeed.
Is writing too small a thing, too inessential a thing? Compared to what? Would you be more effective, help people more if you manned a quality-control station beside Plastic Extrusion Machine #4 down at the local plastics plant? Selling tobacco to drunks and insomniacs on the midnight shift at a Unimart? Helping fertilizer companies squeeze that last penny out of their sales to farmers? Bah.
They have more rescue workers than space to employ them, more supplies than space to store them, more hospital beds than wounded to house. The essential things are being taken care of by heroic and essential people. Tragedy breeds heroes ÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œ never wish for heroes.
Inessential pursuits are a triumph, a display of victory over subsistence. We need more triumphs, great and small.
Making people happy is a good thing. Making them think is a better thing. Making them wiser is a precious thing. Making them laugh in the face of horrors is a priceless thing.
Thank you Sars. Save me a seat at your table, and I won't mind the flames.
Thought I might start up a bit of a log while I'm fiddling about at work, not working as such. I started this page to play with poetry, and then bitched out and didn't write much of anything for two months. Oh, well.
There's new management at the local coffee shop, the one I had never walked into until this change had been pointed out to me. It's a nice place, theoretically air conditioned, doesn't stink of coffee grounds, has a general beatnik atmosphere to it - kind of faded around the edges, goofy folk art, Simon and Garfunkel on the stereo. I may hang out there a lot. It's not as if there's much else to do in Bellefonte.
Arboria Records in State College is selling off a pile of battered vinyl records for cheap - / each. I ended up buying all of the records I missed out on back when I was a clueless little classics snob - Styx, Moody Blues, ELP and the like. I made a crack about it being "the bonfire of the Seventies", but the senior clerk wasn't amused. His assistant snickered.
Read something called Breaking Windows: How Bill Gates Fumbled the Future of Microsoft. Had a good line about how Microsoft's legal line of defense was basically "we have an absolute legal right to follow the wrong strategy", that they let themselves get cornered into doing the wrong thing because the government was trying to force them to do the right thing.
I've been a little busy. I bought a DVD player, an Apex 703. Fun, fun, debt, debt.
Otakon, the convention I used to be involved in, was last weekend. I was in no way responsible for anything that went on there this time around. It's weird - my life revolved around that monstrosity for seven years, and now it's gone. The convention went kind of down hill this year, but don't get any ideas about my absence having anything to do with it. The parts of the con that I was involved in - general organization, logistics, membership and such - are still chugging along without me. It's the stuff I never was directly involved in - the creative, content stuff - that is going to heck in a handbasket. Video programming was embarrassing. Paneling was horrifically disorganized. The problem is that the people responsible for these parts of the convention are nice, friendly, amiable, harmless sorts. Good people, poor organizers. You wish them well, but not in a position of authority. There's almost zero chance of them reading this, but if they do, they know who they are. I hear there's lots and lots of staff, nearly twice as many as when I was running things. Perhaps the content people ought to stand aside for some Young Turks. The young turks might be disorganized, but they aren't likely to be more disorganized than what I saw this weekend past.
Bought the first Crest of the Stars OAV yesterday and watched it. I am frankly amazed that this got shown on Japanese television, WOWOW satellite TV or not. It worked as four episodes in a single sitting, but I think I'd be spitting venom after the third episode in a row with minimal drama, action, or movement. It comes off like the first twenty pages of a sprawling, unedited novel - the sort churned out by fan-favorite authors who really need those heavy-handed editors that they've managed to get rid of via their new contract leverage. The whole launch-from-station scene which takes up more than half of an episode is painfully, painfully slow and should have been limited to a five-second scene change. This sort of micro-detail was barely tolerable thirty years ago in 2001, but only because Stanley Kubrick was a mind-blowingly great director. Whoever directed Crest of the Stars, he/she is never going to be a Kubrick. I think it was a Watanabe, but it wasn't the *good* Watanabe, the one who did Cowboy Bebop, that's for damn sure. Oh, well. At least the dialog and ideas contained in the tediously slow direction and pacing are clever, well-thought-out, and diverting. The script isn't nearly as stupid as the direction.
Interview with Ray Bradbury in today's Salon. My, it's sad when a man says so much and has so little to say. One can see why the man hasn't written anything worth reading since the early 50s. Yes, the Martian Chronicles, the Illustrated Man, and Fahrenheit 451 were great books, and the world is better for them. But check this out:
The best advice I ever got was... Don't look left or right, look straight ahead, get your work done, enjoy your work, do what you want to do, not what someone else wants you to do.
That's it? "Don't look around, do what you once thought was a good idea"? That's a creative life lived in blinkers! It's a solipsistic nightmare! This is a man, a member of the Academy of Arts and Sciences, who thought As Good As It Gets was the best movie of the last three years! A three years, incidentally, which saw the Matrix, the Sixth Sense, the Blair Witch Project, Fight Club, Magnolia, in short, the whole of the Annus Mirabilus that was film, 1999. The man did not even bother to the Matrix!
Admittedly, the man is 81. One cannot be always on the cutting age, always curious, always clever. (Timothy Leary was) Men are allowed to become conservative or even reactionary in their old age. But should we be lauding these ancient wise men for their wisdom?
Bradbury, the sage of the age, always focused on his sepia childhood. Bradbury, this man who honestly can't tell the difference between a computer and a typewriter, who despises mass media but loves movies, who loves books, but reveres a president who is only notationally literate.
Oh, these visionary old badgers, obsessed with their singular ideas and their metaphors and their great lies, they have their place in the world. Theirs are the lies against which truths might be compared. But don't worship at the feet of wise old men. They've grown past such things as seeing and are too busy knowing to understand.
Remember them when they were young, and fools, and saw some semblance of what was true.