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One of the more interesting recent developments in film studies is the recognition that what has seemed to be separate histories — documentary filmmaking and avant-garde filmmaking — are, once again, converging. I say “once again” because the interplay between documentary and avant-garde film has long been more significant than seems generally understood.
An intersection of an avant-garde artistic practice and a documentary impulse helped to instigate the dawn of cinema itself. When Eadweard Muybridge and Etienne-Jules Marey were discovering and exploring the possibilities of photographic motion study, they were the photographic avant-garde of that moment. And their subject was the documentation of the motion of animals, birds, and human beings, presumably so that we could know, more fully, the truth about this motion. And at the moment when W. K. L. Dickson perfected the Kinetograph and Kinetoscope and the Lumière Brothers perfected the Cinématographe and the projected motion picture, they in turn became the photographic avant-garde; and their primary fascination, too, was the documentation of motion, specifically human activity, first, in the world around them and soon, in the case of the Lumières, across the globe.
Flaherty’s Nanook (1922) was both a breakthrough documentary and an avant-garde experiment in collaborative filmmaking; and the City Symphonies that emerged in the 1920s (Berlin: Symphony of a Big City, 1926, e.g., and The Man with a Movie Camera, 1929) were documentary interpretations of reality and avant-garde experiments.
During the 1940s, the most important development for independent cinema in the United States was the emergence of a full-fledged film society movement. The leading contributor was Cinema 16, founded by Amos and Marcia Vogel in New York City in 1947. At its height, Cinema 16 had 7,000 members, and filled a 1,500-seat auditorium twice a night for monthly screenings. Cinema 16’s programming was an inventive mixture of documentary and avant-garde film.
The development of light-weight cameras and tape recorders, more flexible microphones, and faster film stocks during the late 1950s created additional options that in one sense, drove documentary filmmaking and avant-garde filmmaking apart, but in another sense, created a different kind of intersection between them. Sync-sound shooting expanded the options available to filmmakers committed to documentary, instigating forms of cinematic entertainment that functioned as critiques of Hollywood filmmaking and early television. Drew Associates, D. A. Pennebaker, Frederick Wiseman, and the Maysles Brothers fashioned engaging melodrama out of real life in Crisis: Behind a Presidential Commitment (1963), Don’t Look Back (1967), Hospital (1968), and Salesman (1968).
During the same decade, avant-garde filmmakers were producing very different forms of documentary, often by abjuring sound altogether. Stan Brakhage was committed to the idea of cinema as a visual art, and created remarkable—silent—confrontations of visual taboo such as Window Water Baby Moving (1959) and The Act of Seeing with One’s Own Eyes (1972)—now recognized as canonical documentaries. These films could hardly have been more different from the cinema verite films, but we can now see that Brakhage shared the mission of the cinema verite documentarians: the cinematic confrontation of convention-bound commercial media.
In 1955, Francis Flaherty, Robert Flaherty’s widow, established a symposium to honor her husband’s filmmaking oeuvre and to promote his commitment to filmmaking “without preconceptions.” In recent decades “the Flaherty,” as the symposium has come to be called, has attracted dozens of filmmakers, programmers, teachers, students, and other cine-aficionados for week-long immersions in programs of screenings and discussions. Modern Flaherty seminars have often been driven by an implicit debate about what the correct balance between documentary and avant-garde film should be at the seminar.
Since the 1940s, avant-garde filmmakers have found ways of exploring the personal, first by psycho-dramatizing their inner disturbances (Maya Deren’s Meshes of the Afternoon and Kenneth Anger’s Fireworks are landmark instances), and later by filming the particulars of their personal lives. Brakhage documented dimensions of his personal life in many films, as did Carolee Schneemann, in Fuses (1967), and Jonas Mekas, in Walden (1969) and Lost Lost Lost (1976). And during the 1980s, avant-garde filmmakers Su Friedrich (in The Ties that Bind, 1984; and Sink or Swim, 1990) and Alan Berliner (in Intimate Stranger, 1991; and Nobody’s Business, 1996), used experimental techniques learned from other avant-garde filmmakers to directly engage their family histories.
What has come to be called “personal documentary” (basically, the use of sync-sound to explore personal issues) was instigated in the early 1970s by Ed Pincus’s Diaries (filmed from 1971-1976; completed in 1981), Miriam Weinstein’s Living with Peter (1973), Amalie Rothschild’s Nana, Mom and Me (1974), Alfred Guzzetti’s Family Portrait Sittings (1975). By the 1980s, several of Pincus’s students at MIT were contributing to this approach, among them Ross McElwee, whose films, including Sherman’s March (1986), Time Indefinite (1994), and Photographic Memory (2011) are an on-going personal saga.
Globalization and the standardization of so many dimensions of modern life, along with threats to the environment, have created a desire on the part of many filmmakers to pay a deeper attention to the particulars of Place. Since the early 1970s, contemplations of Place have been produced by avant-garde filmmakers Larry Gottheim (Fog Line, 1970; Horizons, 1973), Nathaniel Dorsky (Hours for Jerome, 1982), James Benning (13 Lakes, 2004), Peter Hutton (Landscape (for Manon), 1987; At Sea, 2007), Sharon Lockhart (Double Tide, 2009) and many others. A fascination with Place, or more precisely, people-in-place, also characterizes the documentaries coming out of Harvard’s Sensory Ethnography Lab (SEL), including Ilisa Barbash and Lucien Castaing-Taylor’s Sweetgrass (2009), Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel’s Leviathan (2013), and Stephanie Spray and Pacho Velez’s Manakamana (2014). Indeed, the films of Hutton, Benning, and Lockhart, in particular, have been shown regularly at the SEL.
The interviewees in Avant-Doc reveal a wide range of ways in which their own work and the work of colleagues function creatively within the liminal zone between documentary and avant-garde and the ways in which the intersections between these histories have played into their work.
Headline image credit: Camera. Public domain via Pixabay.
I attended a screening of Rainer Werner Fassbinder's 1980 film Lili Marleen at the Fassbinder: Romantic Anarchist series at Lincoln Center last weekend, and it was an extraordinary experience. This is one of Fassbinder's weirdest and in some ways most problematic films, a movie for which he had a relatively giant budget and got lots of publicity, but which has since become among the most hard-to-find Fassbinder films (which is really saying something!). Despite a lot of searching, I didn't come upon a reasonably-priced copy of it until I recently discovered an Australian DVD (seemingly out of print now) that was a library discard.
The story of Lili Marleen is relatively simple, and is very loosely based on the wartime experiences of Lale Andersen, whose performance of the title song was immensely popular, and whose book Der Himmel hat viele Farben is credited in the film. A mildly talented Berlin cabaret singer named Willie (Hannah Schygulla) falls in love with a Jewish musician named Robert (Giancarlo Giannini), whose father (Mel Ferrer) is head of a powerful resistance organization based in Switzerland, and who does not approve of the love affair or Robert's proposal of marriage. A Nazi officer (Karl Heinz von Hassel) hears Willie perform one night, is captivated by her, and guides her into recording the song "Lili Marleen", which unexpectedly becomes a song beloved of all soldiers everywhere on Earth. Willie becomes a rich and famous star, summoned even by Hitler himself, while Robert continues to work for the resistance and ends up marrying someone else. By the end of the war, Robert is a great musician and conductor and Willie seems mostly forgotten, many of her friends dead or imprisoned, and Robert lost to her. She had no convictions aside from her love of Robert, but that love was not enough. (I should note here that there are interesting overlaps between the film and Kurt Vonnegut's great novel Mother Night. But that's a topic for another day...)
I was surprised to find that Lincoln Center was using the German dub of the film rather than the English-language original (it was a multinational production, so English was the lingua franca, and, given the dominance of English-language film, presumably made it easier to market). It was interesting to see Lili Marleen in German, but unfortunately the print did not come subtitled, and so Lincoln Center added subtitles by apparently having someone click on prepared blocks of text. The effect was bizarre: not only were the subtitles sometimes too light to read, but they were often off from what the actors were saying, and when the subtitler would get behind, they would simply click through whole paragraphs of text to catch up. My German's not great, but I was familiar with the film and can pick up enough German to know what was going on and where the subtitles belonged, but I missed plenty of details. The effect was to render the film more dreamlike and far less coherent in terms of plot and character relations than it actually is. Not a bad experience, though, as it heightened a lot of the effects Fassbinder seemed to be going for.
Afterward, I said to my companion, "That was like watching an anti-Nazi movie made in the style of Nazi movies." I'd vaguely had a similar feeling when I first watched the DVD, but it wasn't so vivid for me as when we watched the German version with terrible subtitling — my first experience of Nazi films was of unsubtitled 16mm prints and videotapes my WWII-obsessed father watched when I was a kid.
Lili Marleen was controversial when it was released, not only because it is probably Fassbinder's most over-the-top melodrama, a film that defies both the expectations of good taste and of mainstream storytelling, but also because it arrived at a time when what Susan Sontag dubbed (in February 1975) "fascinating fascism" was on the wane (The Damned was 1969, Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS was October 1975, as if to bring everything Sontag described to an absurd climax) while interest in earnest representations of the Nazis and the Holocaust was on the rise (Holocaust 1978, The Tin Drum 1979, The Last Metro 1980, Playing for Time 1980, Mephisto 1981, Sophie's Choice 1982, The Winds of War 1983, etc.). Lili Marleen is much closer to The Damned (a film Fassbinder loved) in its effect than to the films with similar subject matter released in the years around it, and so its contrast from the prevailing aesthetic regime was stark, leading to what seems to have been in some critics utter revulsion. It's notable that Mephisto, a film with very similar themes* and a significantly different aesthetic, could win an Oscar, but though Germany submitted Lili Marleen to the Academy, it was not nominated — and I'd bet few people were surprised it was not.
Even though it exudes the signs of a pop culture aesthetic, Lili Marleen can't actually be assimilated into the popular culture it was released into, partly because the aesthetic it's drawing from is passé and partly because it is deliberately at odds with conventional expectations. In a chapter on Lili Marleen in Fassbinder's Germany, Thomas Elsaesser writes that "coincidence and dramatic irony are presented as terrible anticlimaxes. With its asymmetries and non-equivalences, the film disturbs the formal closure of popular narrative, while still retaining all the elements of popular story-telling."
At the time of its release, there was much handwringing about the ability of works of art to create a desire or nostalgia for fascism in audiences, and Lili Marleen became Exhibit A. Heins quotes Brigitte Peucker: "One wonders whether, in Lili Marleen, Fassbinder’s parodistic style is not unrecognizable as parody to most spectators, and whether his central alienation effect, the song itself, does not instead run the danger of drawing us in." This is absurd. Fassbinder's style is parodistic, but it's also much more than that — it is multimodal in its excess — and I have about as much ability to imagine an audience member getting a good ol' nostalgic lump in the throat and tear in the eye while watching it as I have the ability to imagine someone watching Inglourious Bastards and mistaking it for Night and Fog.
Heins paraphrases Peucker as apparently thinking that "the often repeated title song may ultimately generate more sentimental affect than irritation". I can't believe that, either. For those of us who are not especially misty-eyed about the long lost days of the 1,000-year Reich, the song becomes as grating as it does for the character of Robert (Giancarlo Giannini), who gets locked in a cell with a couple lines of the song playing over and over and over again. What begins as sentimentality becomes, through repetition, torture.
The song is repeated so much that even if it doesn't irritate, it is stripped of meaning, and that's central to the point of the story, as Elsaesser describes:
When Willie says, "I only sing", she is not as politically naive or powerless as she may appear. Just as her love survives because she withdraws it from all possible objects and objectifications, so her song, through its very circularity, becomes impervious to the powers and structures in which it is implicated. Love and song are both, by the end of the film, empty signs. This is their strength, their saving grace, their redemptive innocence, allowing Fassbinder to acknowledge the degree to which his own film is inscribed within a system (of production, distribution and reception) already in place, waiting to be filled by an individual, who lends the enterprise the appearance of intentionality, design and desire for self-expression.
One of the things I love about Lili Marleen is that its mode is utter and obvious kitsch, undeniable kitsch. It highlights the kitschiness not only of the Nazi aesthetic (which plenty of people have done, not least, though unintentionally, the Nazis themselves), but to some extent also of many movies about the Nazis. (I kept thinking of the awful TV mini-series Holocaust while watching it this time, and Elsaesser makes that connection as well.) We love to use the Nazis and the Holocaust for sentimental purposes, and representations of the Nazis and Holocaust often unintentionally veer off into poshlost. To intentionally do so is dangerous, even as critique, because it is too easy to fall into parody and render fascism as something absurd and ridiculous, but not insidious. The genius of Lili Marleen is that the insidiousness remains. It's what nags at us afterward, what lingers beneath the occasional laughter at the excess. There is a discomfort to this film, and it's not just the discomfort of undeniable parody — it is the discomfort of realizing how easily we can be drawn in to the structures being parodied: the suspense, the action, the breathless and improbable love story, the twists and turns, the pageantry, the displays of wealth and power. Our desires are easily teased, our expectations set like booby traps, and again and again those desires and expectations are frustrated and mercilessly mocked.
It's worth thinking about the place of anti-Semitism in Lili Marleen (and Fassbinder's work generally), because this was also part of the uproar over the film, an uproar that was really a continuity of the complaints about Fassbinder's extremely controversial play Garbage, the City, and Death. While not as brazenly playing with anti-Semitic imagery and language, Lili Marleen does give us a very powerful Jewish patriarch in Robert's father, played by Mel Ferrer, a character that can be seen in a variety of ways — certainly, he is an impediment to Robert and Willie's romance (clearly wanting his son to marry a nice Jewish girl), but I also think that Ferrer's performance gives him some warmth and grace that the Nazi characters lack. Nonetheless, while Lili Marleen is very obviously an anti-Nazi film, it's not so obviously an anti-anti-Semitic film (though there is a quick shot of a concentration camp, and Willie redeems herself by sneaking evidence of the camps out of Poland). Heins writes:
It cannot, of course, be concluded that the Absent One of all of Fassbinder’s films is The Jew, or that the sense of danger created by an unseen presence is racialized or nationalized, as it is in Harlan’s film [Jud Süss]. The malevolent other of Fassbinder’s films is more properly patriarchy and the police state, acting in the service of a repressive bourgeois order. In the case of Lili Marleen, however, we must conclude that Fassbinder did fail to effectively counteract the Harlanesque paranoid delusion of total Jewish power, if only because The Jew in this film is described as capitalist patriarchy’s main representative.
That point is astute, though for me it highlight the (sometimes dangerous) complexity of Lili Marleen: by employing certain features of Nazi storytelling, by putting clichés (aesthetic, narrative, political) at the center of his technique, and by seeking to wed this to the sort of anti-capitalist, anti-normative-family ideas common to his work from the beginning, Fassbinder ends up in a bind, one that forces him to trust that the various opposing forces render all the clichés hollow enough that performing and representing them does not give them new validity or justification — that the paranoia and delusion remain legible as paranoia and delusion. I think they do, but I feel less certain of that than the certainty I feel against the old accusations of glamourizing Nazism.
In addition to the title song, Lili Marleen includes an ostentatiously schmaltzy score by Fassbinder's frequent collaborator Peer Raben. It's schmaltzy, but also very sly — as Roger Hillman points out on the Australian DVD commentary, Raben includes brief homages to composers and works that the Nazis would not have looked fondly on, such as Saint-Saëns' Samson and Delilah. This technique is similar to the film's entire strategy: to booby-trap what on the surface is an overwrought deployment of old tropes.
Finally, a note on the acting: sticking with the concept of the film as a whole, the acting is generally a bit off: sometimes wooden, sometimes unconvincingly emotional. (It's acting a la Brecht via Sirk via Fassbinder.) The more I watch it, though, the more taken I am by Hannah Schygulla's performance. On the surface, it's an appropriately "bad" performance, one redolent of the acting style of melodramas in general and Nazi melodramas in particular. And yet Schygulla's great achievement is to find nuance within that — hers is not a parodic performance, though it easily could have veered into that. Instead, while abiding by the terms of melodramatic acting, it also gives us a transformation: Willie starts out awkward, not particularly talented, a sort of country bumpkin ... and she becomes a poised, distant, sculpted icon ... and then a refugee from all she has ever known and loved. There's still a sense of possibility at the end, though, and one Schygulla's performance is vital for: a sense that Willie may reinvent herself, may find, in this newly ruined world, a path toward new life.
Elsaesser suggests that Lili Marleen can be seen within the context of some of the other films Fassbinder made around it:
the three films of the BRD trilogy — shot out of sequence — are held together by the possibility that they form sequels. If we add the film that was made between Maria Braun and Lola, namely Lili Marleen which clearly has key themes in common with the trilogy, then Lili Marleen's status in the series might be that of a "prequel" chronologically: 1938-1946 Lili Marleen, 1945-1954 Maria Braun, 1956 Veronika Voss, 1957 Lola. Four women, four love stories, four ambiguous gestures of complicity and resistance.
It could be a tagline for so many of Fassbinder's films, not the least Lili Marleen: Ambiguous gestures of complicity and resistance. For a world entering the era of Thatcher, Kohl, and (especially) Reagan, Lili Marleen was a most appropriate foil.
------------------- *In one scene of Fassbinder's film, Willie looks through a magazine and we quickly glance a picture of Gustaf Gründgens as Mephistopheles.
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As part of their brilliant science fiction season, last night BFI Southbank saw a special screening of Contact, a movie based on the novel by SETI pioneer, Carl Sagan.
It’s not a short film, but no one in the packed audience minded that the Q&A preceding it, with Professor Brian Cox and Dr Adam Rutherford, took over an hour. Huge credit to my former employers, the British Film Institute, for not making it token, but giving us the chance for a meaty discussion on what many think is the most important question facing science: where is everybody?
This was the question posed to colleagues over lunch one day (in 1950) by physicist Enrico Fermi. It has become known as the “Fermi paradox”. The “everybody” in question are aliens … extraterrestrials.
Why should we care?
Many people think the fundamental moment in the history of Western science was when Copernicus said Earth orbited the Sun rather than the other way around. This wasn’t simply a convenient coordinate shift. It was saying Earth is not the centre of the Universe. We inhabit just one of many planets. We have no privileged position in the cosmos. We are ordinary. The same “laws of nature” that apply on and around Earth apply equally in the rest of the Universe. This has become known as the “Copernican principle” and it is the foundation of scientific thought.
We have a problem. Look out at night – look further through our telescopes (and we can look so very far) and the Universe is vast. There are hundreds of billions of galaxies, like our own Milky Way. Just within ours, there are maybe 400 billion stars, most with planets. Conservative estimates, as Brian Cox told the audience (these are based on Kepler findings) hold that one in ten stars will have habitable planets in orbits that allow liquid water on their surface.
Further, at 4.5 billion years, Earth and our solar system are relatively young. The Milky War is far, far older. inally, mathematical models show it’s perfectly possible to colonize the entire galaxy in a brief time – say, 10 million years. Yet when we look skywards, we see not the slightest evidence if any intelligence in the entire Universe, other than what we find here on Earth. This suggests we are very special indeed – the polar opposite to the fundamental principle of science.
The Arecibo message
Sagan pondered this question long and hard. In his early, pioneering days of SETI, they were actively trying to communicate with extraterrestrials and before the movie, Cox and Rutherford were sitting in front of a radio message intentionally broadcast to the stars.
Sagan also helped designed messages added to the Voyager deep space probes (Voyager 1 is now over 18 light hours away, carrying a gold record with sounds of Earth and a map of how to find its inhabitants). Since those heady days, we think more about “existential risk” – things that potentially threated our survival as a species. One such risk is contact with alien races, so we’ve become more circumspect.
Looking back, I think the novel, Contact, was important for me as both a writer and publisher. I loved the story. It combined so many elements that I’m passionate about and, foolishly at the time I thought I could have told it better! Of course that’s not true, but I would nowadays have been a good editor for Sagan, had he let me. It certainly made me realize I was capable of being a good storyteller, and my current work-in-progress is a novel that revisits this same territory. I find it unfathomable now that I asked Sagan to sign my copy of Cosmos, which he kindly did, but not my copy of Contact – what was I thinking?
The film’s good, but there’s so much more in the book that anyone who likes the movie would get a lot from reading the novel. It was commented that Contact is a little overlooked as a science fiction film. Very true, but with my screenwriting hat on I think that’s because there’s so much to cram in, the narrative is very linear and straightforward. And Sagan’s thoughtful climax may have been unsatistfactory for mainstream audiences used to a different style of alien encounter.
In the movie, scientist Ellie Arroway (played by Jodie Foster and the character Cox and Rutherford said was the best depiction of a scientist on screen) detects a message from aliens, using radio telescopes. This was how Sagan and fellow SETI pioneer Frank Drake expected our first contact with extraterrestrials would go, and the film describes how things might unfold after receipt – the message is written in mathematics, the only universal language. There’s still an old-school SETI community working in this area, but increasingly scientists are thinking of alternative ways to identify evidence of aliens, often in the form of (very) large scale engineering projects such as Dyson spheres or matter-antimatter burners. We’re still looking.
If you’ve not seen the movie, you really should. Here’s the trailer to whet your appetite:
Author Joe Hill worked as a writer for nearly a decade before revealing his relationship to legendary horror author Stephen King. (For the uninitiated, Hill is King’s son.) Hill has stated that he wanted to prove himself on his own terms, and so chose to work under a semi-pseudonym. His three novels—Heart-Shaped Box, Horns and NOS4A2 (pronounced Nosferatu)—are all bestsellers, and his collection of short fiction, 20th Century Ghosts, won the Bram Stoker Award for Best Fiction Collection in 2005. And now his novel Horns is a movie starring Daniel Radcliffe, and his latest release is his bestselling book yet.
Here, Hill talks about his family, his writing, and what it’s like to step back and let someone make a film from your book.
DT: How involved were you with writing the screenplay for Horns? JH: I spent about three years writing Horns, and after that length of time I was ready to be done with it. Mandalay optioned it and wanted to make a film, and they asked if I had any interest in writing the script. I said ‘Not really,’ so they passed it onto Keith Bunin, who did a wonderful, wonderful job.
In terms of my contributions, we had a lot of great conversations when Keith was working on the script including Keith and I, Cathy Schulman who is a producer at Mandalay, and Adam Stone who’s also a producer on the film. And eventually Alexandre Aja when he came onboard.
We had lively arguments and broke the story down a dozen times and built it back up. It was a lot of fun. When Alex actually began filming, I viewed my role as to not get under foot and not to create trouble so I showed up on set for a couple of days to goof off and watch what people were doing and then I made myself scarce again. I came back in on the end to talk about editing, as they put the film together and I had some suggestions and some ideas. But at the end of the day, I felt like the film could only work if it was Alexandra Aja’s version of the story.
I told my version; it was time for him to tell his. I hoped that he would be true to the spirit of the characters and he was. Daniel Radcliffe and Juno Temple made sure of that. But beyond that I wanted Alex to feel free to have fun and to make a movie that lived on the screen, not something that was trying so hard to be faithful it just kind of plods along. I think he found a nice balance.
You know the thing about the film and about Alexandre Aja, he has a very light touch. And I know that’s a strange thing to say about the guy who directed The Hills Have Eyes, but he does have a very light touch. The film has this kind of lush romanticism to it. You know, I think that Alex has a romantic heart, and that’s sort of wonderful. It comes through in the film even in the most painful scenes.
DT: Do you have the distance yourself from it to some extent because it’s someone else’s baby? JH: Yes, this is why I didn’t write the screenplay, too. I have written screenplays and I have fun doing that but I’ve never tried to adapt my own work. I don’t think I’d be a good collaborator if I were the screenwriter of something I spent three or four or five years writing as a novel because after I’ve spent three or four years meditating on a set of characters and on the situation, I’ve really got to have it my way. I just don’t think I could be flexible. I don’t think I could adapt.
I can do that if that’s my starting point. I wrote a pilot for a TV show called “Dark Side,” which is a reboot of an 80s TV show, “Tales from the Dark Side.” My version’s pretty different. But I had no trouble taking notes and collaborating and working with the network on that. It was fun and exciting. And I liked the challenge—if something’s not working, coming up with a fresh set of ideas. But there my starting point was the screenplay; however, with Horns I [had] just spent so much time with those characters and situations. Best to stay out of the way in a situation like that.
DT: Is it tricky to keep that distance? JH: Yeah, it is. I always feel uncomfortable saying this. I was in so much pain when I wrote it. And you always find people like that annoying, right? Because it’s like they sound so self-important, so full of themselves and so full of their own sense of drama, you just want to smack them up the side of the head. But I kind of understand. I was in a really bad place mentally when I wrote Horns.
It’s a really unhappy and paranoid book by a really unhappy and paranoid man. That’s not to say I’m not very proud of the book—I think it’s a lot of fun, I think readers enjoy it. But I have a hard time revisiting it. And so for me, it’s actually easier to enjoy it as a film than it is to enjoy it as a book. I just don’t like thinking about where I was mentally when I wrote the story. … But it all turned out okay at the end.
My first novel was Heart-Shaped Box and it was a tremendous success. And I know it’s a cliché, but fell into that second-book trap and at one point I had 400 pages of a novel called The Surrealist Glass and every scene was terrible. Everything about it was bad. I was 50 pages from the ending and I threw the whole thing away. I just couldn’t stand it and I remember thinking, Forget it, I’m done. If there’s never another book, there’s never another book. I don’t want to be a guy who wrote a crappy book just to have a follow up. I’d rather just be a one-book writer.
And so I stopped the writing for a little while. And then at some point after I stopped writing, the mental fist came unclenched. I started thinking about what I needed to make a story work. I decided that what I needed was the devil. Stories always come to life when the devil walks on stage, a character to tempt people into sin and to reveal secrets and that was sort of the starting point of Horns.
DT: Were you afraid that the rich inner lives of your characters wouldn’t translate to the screen? JH: Well, it is hard, but that’s the challenge—that’s an actor’s challenge. One of the things I’ve said over and over again is that, in the course of the story, Perrish (the hero) covers this enormous emotional terrain. He experiences grief and loss and rage and madness and delirious joy. He goes from innocence to experience, and a lot of that is internal. Daniel Radcliffe was able to bring all those emotions to the screen and make it look easy, make it look effortless. I always think that whenever you see an artist do something that’s difficult and make it look easy, you’re seeing someone who’s worked incredibly hard. I do think that Dan is a really remarkable young actor, and with every role he shows more range and an almost athletic range of skills. We were just so lucky that he wanted to play the part.
DT: So do you have any plans or action on movies of any of your other books? JH: Some good things have happened with a short story called “Best New Horror.” Some interesting things have happened with my novel NOS4A2 that I’m not allowed to talk about yet, but they’re sort of trucking along in an interesting way. Universal is waist-deep in the preliminary work on adapting Locke & Key as a film trilogy. My understanding is they have a pretty big chunk of the script that they’re all really happy with. My tendency is not to say too much about any possible film or TV stuff until the cameras are actually rolling because until then I don’t really believe in it.
DT: Have you ever thought about acting? JH: Well, I’m a former child actor. I was in Creepshow. I was the little kid with the voodoo doll. My feeling is that that particular performance was gold, and so perfect that there’s really no reason to return.
I explored everything there is to explore in the field of acting with that film and there’s no reason to tarnish the greatness of that initial performance with another role. I view myself as very much like Daniel Day-Lewis, you know—years and years between parts. Daniel Day-Lewis and I are almost exactly the same guy.
DT: You definitely showed some incredible range in that role. JH: I think so. It was right there. Way better, way better than those, way better than those second-rate child actors who worked on Harry Potter. Oh my God, blew that right out of the water!
DT: That Daniel Day-Lewis guy, what’s he got on you really? JH: Nothing. He’s got longer hair.
DT: You and your father seem happy for the worlds of your books to cross paths a little. So it seems that you don’t want to be too disconnected from his work. Well, not so much anymore. When I was a younger guy, I was really insecure. I was afraid if I wrote as Joseph King that publishers would publish a lousy work because they saw a chance to make a quick buck in the last name. I was afraid of that. So I decided to write as Joe Hill. I was able to keep it a secret for about a decade.
In the course of that time, I made my mistakes in private—which is where you’re supposed to make them. I worked my craft and learned the things I needed to learn and, eventually, when I did sell my first book of stories, I sold it to a small press in England. I felt like it sold for the right reasons because the publisher didn’t know anything about my dad. He didn’t know anything about my family. He just really liked those stories. Each of the short stories sold individually for the same reason, in little magazines where the editor said ‘This is great, we really like this story. We’d be happy to publish it.’
I desperately needed that encouragement. I needed to feel like I was succeeding on my own merits, not because my dad was someone famous. I’m a little bit more secure now, and in many ways NOS4R2 has a lot of joking references to Stephen King novels in it. In some ways, NOS4R2 is a book about Stephen King novels. It is a kind of response to my dad’s book It, which I loved as a kid. If you scratch the surface, it’s possible to see that NOS4R2 and It share the same underlying structure.
A brain isn’t very big. It’s just a few pounds of gray matter stuck in a very small living space. You’ve only got so much space to move around in, and so you are stuck writing about the facts of your own life. You may be inventing fiction, but you’re stuck using your own childhood and your own experiences and your own emotional responses to things. So it’s really impossible to have a lifelong career as a novelist and not write stuff that is occasionally reflective on my parents.
Drew Turney is a filmgoer, movie industry watcher, technology expert and books and publishing reporter with more than ten years experience. He writes about everything from the latest mobile phones to special effects to book reviews to author profiles, and everything in between. Find more at drewturney.com and filmism.net.
On Monday, Nicholas Barber gave me pause for thought, in this Guardian piece, arguing that movie adaptations of childhood classics for young readers like Paddington or Postman Pat, are traducing the spirit of the original in one very specific way.
Villains. Really mean ones at that.
Mr Curry - the nearest thing in the Paddington books to a baddie
He recounts how the new Paddington adaptation from Harry Potter producer David Heyman has Nicole Kidman as murderous taxidermist, hellbent on peeling Paddington's hide. Postman Pat earlier this year had a megalomaniac cyberman, and we'd probably all rather not remember Dougal and co from the Magic Roundabout trying to stop an evil wizard.
Barber argues that the icy blast of cruelty, megalomania and high stakes jeopardy which comes whirling onto the screen with these inserted characters is a far remove from the gentle, charming storytelling which made the original books so popular with young children and their parents. He also gives a compelling example of his six year old daughter being squeamish at anything too scary in the movies - from sharks in Finding Nemo to evil queens in Snow White, never mind a psychopathic Nicole Kidman.
He is, of course, absolutely right on two fronts. Those characters are nothing to do with the world of the books. Paddington needs marmalade, not murderers, to bring him to life. And we all know, and quite possibly once were, young children who frighten very easily at any sign of on-screen darkness or scariness - especially, perhaps, if they weren't expecting it in such a warm and honey coloured world. Like finding a Heffalump when you really weren't expecting one....
But at the same time, these are all movies.
The books don't need those extra lashings of evil and drama. But once a book becomes adapted into a film, it becomes something else, not just a different medium but a different genre too. A genre with different rules and demands. A movie, even one for young children, requires big stories and big characters to fill the scree and sustain not only young minds but their adult minders for ninety minutes plus.
And I genuinely feel for his daughter. I remember being terrified by so much - Maleficent turning into a dragon in Sleeping Beauty or the horrific Garthim in Dark Crystal.
Somehow I seem to have survived it all, though, bar the odd nightmare. I think the key to these villains is that they are often as comic as they are villainous. Moreover, they can often be safely filed under the category of 'genre archetype' - even if unconsciously. Unlike the recent 'Missy' on Doctor Who - who I thought was brilliant but disturbingly vicious for a family show - evil queens, mad scientists, corrupt developers, emotionless robots - these caricatured characters have their roots in often quite non-scary cartoons and comics rather than any real life basis. (Ironically, the irritable next door neighbour as typified by Mr. Curry from the Paddington books is far more likely to be a real life concern for young children.)
I don't think your average child has met enough crazy taxidermists to be truly checking under the bed for them, and witches and wizards really can be safely banished to fairytale land. In fact, these comic book denizens are by and large safe ways to introduce young children to flashes of the dark side of human nature, without creating undue anxiety or fear.
They almost all meet grizzly and overblown ends too, which is part of the panto fun.
Barber is right that not every child's narrative needs these big bullies, certainly not every book or TV programme. Children's stories may be one of the best ways to address grief and pain for developing minds; that of course doesn't make them obliged to.
But to keep small ones focused and not wriggly in the cinema, I can think of few better ways than a larger than life baddie with arched eyebrows and a maniacal laugh, coming after the young and innocent hero of the hour.
Piers "Cruella de" Torday @PiersTorday www.pierstorday.co.uk
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For several days now, I've been debating with myself whether Interstellar is a bad film that does several things quite well, or a good film that has had the misfortune of having to shoulder, and justify, its creator's reputation. At some point in the last half-decade, popular culture decided--erroneously, if you ask me--that Christopher Nolan is a purveyor of Deep, Serious entertainments. And
There’s a secret I hide. Few people know this secret, and they have kept quiet for the past twelve years. They can now break their silence, as I make this astounding announcement: I used to be an actress.
When writer pal Rasheda Poe asked me to be in her short film, I hedged. I was vague. I told her I wasn’t “actually an actress.” This is untrue. In high school, I was Theater Student of the Year as a senior. I earned my varsity letter as a thespian. In college, I minored in acting. My last stage show was in 2002, and I haven’t acted since.
Historically, I was cast as the bitch. I don’t know why. I’m not a bitch. I’m actually quite nice, but perhaps my snark comes across as bitchy. Perhaps men see me as bitchy (since I was always cast by men).
Rasheda saw the bitch in me, too. Well, the bitch and the psychopath. Her short film, entitled “Urban Midnight,” is about a seductive murderess. Rasheda wrote the role of Fiona with me in mind. It’s highly complimentary when one of your best friends thinks you’d make a perfect murderer, right? I think so.
Monday night, we spent five hours filming. I have a semi-photographic memory, which makes me super annoying to other actors. (I’m always correcting people.) I knew I could memorize the lines, but could I deliver them?
I arrived to the “set” (an extended stay hotel) and found myself surrounded by about ten film geek dudes. Yeah, Rasheda and I were the only girls, and I was in nothing but a robe. We joked about how the hotel probably thought we were filming porn, and yeah, I may have busted out the Old School line, “I’m here for the gang bang.”
Blood is so hard to wash off.
Playing Fiona was like playing Hannibal Lecter: a lot of stillness with very little facial expression. My favorite part was when the boys covered me in chocolate syrup for fake blood (it’s what Hitchcock used for Psycho). Since the film was in black and white, this worked perfectly.
How did it feel to have the acting boots on again? I guess we should take a quick trip back to 2002 first.
In 2002, I was a sophomore at Ohio University, an acting major. I’d just been cast as the overbearing, bitchy older sister in a dark comedy about one man returning home for his father’s funeral. I had one scene in particular where it was just me in the center of the stage, giving my father’s eulogy, and finally breaking down. I physically ached after every performance.
It was reminiscent of when I starred in “To Absent Friends” in high school: a short play in which the viewer realizes, only at the end, that all the characters are dead. My friend, Emily, had to be escorted out of the theater by her boyfriend because she was so distraught by the shocking conclusion.
During my “actor days,” I understood the power of theater. I’m a movie buff to this day. In fact, I’m a movie snob and trivia expert. But in 2002, I realized I loved what actors did … but I hated acting. I switched to creative writing. Haven’t looked back since.
That said, since I’m a huge proponent of doing things that scare the shit out of me, I agreed to act in Rasheda’s short film, and I did have fun. I liked playing a sociopath, and the process was interesting: all the camera angles, the sound stuff, and “getting into character” with the help of my awesome costars. I slid back into it like a hand in a glove.
So shall I announce my victorious return to acting? Um, no. Making “Urban Midnight” was fun, but acting (although once my thing) is a very small part of my introverted, writer brain. Just like singing (something I can do but don’t really enjoy), acting will be one of those skills I keep in my back pocket in case Ben Cumberbatch calls and wants me to play his romantic lead.
Until then, I’ll tuck Fiona away but thank her (and Rasheda) for reminding me how fun it is to step outside my comfort zone for a couple hours and do something truly unique.
Is Panem modeled after ruthless dictatorships of the past?
Is the harsh world of the Grimm's more than a reflection of the past?
Does children's literature, in books and movies, bring the past into the present?
Can childhood stories open the doors of the mind to the present -- and the future?
High Stakes of YA Dystopia.
In earlier eras, there were adult works of literature set in dystopian milieus... they includeThe Trial, Brave New World, Animal Farm, 1984, Childhood's End, The Quiet Ameriican, The Naked and the Dead, A Rumor of War, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Farenheit 451, All Quiet On the Western Front, The Spy Who Came In From The Cold and many more.
To one degree or another, these books are classics. And like children's and young adult (YA) books of our current era, many were reinvented as theatre and movies.
Today, we seem to have a run of dystopian-centered books and films for young adults (YA). Many are in the form of a series and are followed by films -- also in series. The books, although some may be well written, do not pretend to be literature. Rather, the books, like the films, seem primarily designed to be popular and succeed in the marketplace.
Controversy has followed...most of the films are characterized by great violence; and they all seem to have teen age protagonists who are themselves commiting violence (usually for survival).
Crossover. I don't know if the term YA, and the definition (12-18 year olds) came from marketeers or librarians, or both. I do know that the lines have been blurred, with children and adults both crossing over into the realm of YA.
I doubt that there will be clear lines in the future. The finacial stakes are too high. YA books and movies are a multi -billion dollar business.
Personally, I don't care if adults read YA books. Hopefully, they do so with discernment.
I do care about the amount of over-the-top violence that children are subjected to in YA movies.
For any child, there is a huge difference in the impact found in the brief mention of Gretel pushing the murderous witch into the oven, when compared to the long, unrelenting, realistic, hardcore violence (supported by thunderous sound and music) of the Ring movies.
Hopefully, Alice In Wonderland, Winnie-the-Pooh, Snow White, HisDark Materials, Tales from the Brothers Grimm, and other classics -- themselves often fraught with danger, fear, and violent events -- will continue as the main source for bringing the past -- or the future -- into Children's minds.
Dystopia and the Grimms
The world of the Grimm's fairy tales is filled with fearful events, dark forests, curses by evil witches, and cruelty -- dystopia, but always relieved by magic, marvels, courage, beauty and happy endings...
"The unsparing savegry of stories like the Robber Bridegroom is a sharp reminder that fairy tales belong to the childhood of culture as much as the culture of childhood...they capture anxieties and fantasies that have deep roots in childhood experience"- Maria Tatar,The Grimm Reader: Classic Tales of the Brothers Grimm.
"It is worth noting that the lives of all people in the land of the Grimm's was in was in constant turmoil and change during the time that the Grimm's collected, wrote, and published their books." - Seth Lerer, Children's Literature, A Reader's History from Aesop to Harry Potter.
The illustration from The Robber Bridegroom is by John B. Gruelle
"'Well, dear little children. How in the world did you get here? Just come right in, and you can stay with me. You will come to no harm in my house.' She took them by the hand and led them into her house...The old woman had only pretended to be kind." - Hansel and Gretel meet the Wicked Witch
"For children in their most impressionable years, there is in fantasy, the highest of stimulating and educational powers." -Arthur Rackham
Kaitlin Jenkin's has two blogs, She Speaks Bark and Pet Parent.Kaitlin has a background of working in many dog related jobs, including foster care and 7 years as a shelter worker. She has two adopted dogs (seen on the left), Bear and Scooter. She recently wrote an excellent and informative review of C.A. Wulff and A.A. Weddle's book for dog owners, Finding Fido. Here are excerpts...
"The thought of Bear or Scooter going missing, or being stolen is one that I don’t let my mind entertain. To say I’d be devastated doesn’t even begin to cover it, and I know you all feel the same about your pets! Would you know what to do if your pet suddenly went missing? Where to begin? What to do first?
Finding Fido is essentially a Pet Parent’s guide to preventing the loss of a pet, as well as a guide on exactly what steps to take should that awful moment ever happen to you. Authors C.A Wulffand A.A.Weddle are the administrators of the Lost & Found Ohio Pets service and they collaborated on this helpful guide in order to address the sad reality of so many lost pets in America....
If our pets were to become lost, it would be absolutely devastating. We may not even be able to think logically in order to act effectively to work towards their return. That’s why this book is great- it’s literally a step by step guide to finding your lost pet. Full of resources for Pet Parents to utilize, and all at the turn of a page.
... I think that Finding Fido is a great read for all Pet Parents and pet lovers. If you’re a first time Pet Parent or a long time, seasoned Pet Parent, there are tips and tricks in here that will be helpful to you! Everyone should read the sections entitled ‘Before You Lose A Pet‘" ...
Adults Continue to Cross the Borders of Imagination Into Y.A.
As part of a post that I wrote in our September blog about the trend of adults reading Y.A. books, I quoted journalist (Atlantic, Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe) Ruth Graham'sarticle in Slate with this headline: "Read whatever you want. But you should be embarrassed when what you're reading was written for children."
Graham's article provoked substantial controversy including a very thoughtful rebuttal, in Hairpin, by journalist and author(Save The Date ) Jen Doll: The Trouble With Reader-Shaming: A Y.A.Book List Here are excerpts from Jen Doll's rebuttal:
"The great debate over whether grownups should read young adult literature—and further, what the nature of reading should be—has come up again, thanks to a piece in Slate telling adults they should feel ashamed about reading books for kids...
"What the piece itself rails against—that Y.A. offers pat, easy or at the very least "satisfying" solutions aimed at kids and doesn’t make adults think—could be said for the very type of internet writing it embodies. Here, precisely, is how you should feel, it says. Here are the answers, tied up in a bow: You be embarrassed for wasting your time reading Y.A., because Y.A. is not for adults, and you should be reading something appropriate to your age. It is easy and not challenging. You should not be "substituting maudlin teen dramas for the complexity of great adult literature." This is an argument that speaks from a place of truth and rightness, or at least, intends to; there is little room for nuance.
Yet, nuance persists. There are many, many factors that go into what makes something complex, great, or "appropriate to one's age," and most of all this depends on who is reading it—not based in age, because age categorizations do not always match prescribed reading levels; just ask any kid sneaking illicit tomes off her parents' bookshelf because all "her" books have already been devoured—but based in who that person is, what they want, and what they bring to the table..."
Update: Jen Dollis now writing a column of YA book reviews for the venerable New York Times: "Y.A. Crossover". The Times they are a changing. Congratulations, Jen Doll.
The Photo is of Ms Doll. The two books pictured are from Ms Doll's Y.A. Book List.
KidLitosphere is the best source that I have found for locating children's literature blogs. KidLitosphere has helped many readers find their way to these pages. Here is an excerpt form their home page..."Some of the best books being published today are children’s and young adult titles, well-written and engaging books that capture the imagination. Many of us can enjoy them as adults, but more importantly, can pass along our appreciation for books to the next generation by helping parents, teachers, librarians and others to find wonderful books, promote lifelong reading, and present literacy ideas."
Geno is retiring. An 8 year old German Shepherd, Geno is highly regarded by the Kane County Sheriff's Office for his loyalty, courage and intelligence. Here are excerpts from his bio as posted by the Sheriff's Office:
"Geno has served with the KCSO since 2009. Deputy Bill Gatske, Geno’s handler, has served with the KCSO for 15 years and Geno will continue to live with Gatske and his family in retirement. Over his career, Geno has... performed numerous dignitary and presidential protective sweeps and participated in sweeps before games at Soldier Field in Chicago along with conducting countless explosivedetection searches, suspect apprehensions and missing person searches. Geno may be most remembered, though, for his appearances with local area children where he taught the value of policing and reinforced the fact that law enforcement officers exists to serve their community"...
The cost of replacing Gino with his special skills in explosives detection, tracking, missing person searches, and more is very expensive. Once again, Planet Dog Foundation is providing support for a service dog. They have come together with theSpirit of Blue Foundation to award the Kane County Sherrif’s Office a $12,500 grant to acquire and train a new explosives detection K9 to replace the very special Geno.
The Planet Dog Foundation has awarded over a million dollars in funding to support dogs helping people in need.
“We dogs are happy and help each other because love is the most important part of our lives. When you give love,” she said, “You bring out love in others. If we come to Planet Earth, and people spend time with us, there will be fewer lonely people and more happy people.” - Miss Merrie, Queen of the Dogs
“But Mole stood still a moment, held in thought. As one wakened suddenly from a beautiful dream, who struggles to recall it, but can recapture nothing but a dim sense of the beauty in it, the beauty! Till that, too, fades away in its turn, and the dreamer bitterly accepts the hard, cold waking and all its penalties.” -- Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows Illustration by E.H. Shepherd
Snow Valley Heroes, A Christmas Tale at the Independent Publishers of New England Exhibits (IPNE)
If you are a New England librarian and headed to Boxborough, MA, for the NELAConvention (October19-21), we invite you to visit the Independent Publishers of New England (IPNE) exhibit where you will find Snow Valley Heroes, A Christmas Tale.
If you are a New England book lover and are headed to the Boston Book Festival (BFF) 0n October 25, we invite you to the Independent Publishers of New England (IPNE) exhibit where you will also find Snow Valley Heroes, A Christmas Tale.
Children's Literary Salon...New York Public Library
Saturday, November 1, 2014, 2PM, Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, South Court Auditorium...Speaker: Howard Scherry...Hosted by Elizabeth Bird
Margaret Wise Brown & Antoine de Saint-Exupery: Parallels in Their Life, Comparison in Their Literature...free admission
The Past is Always Present
UPDATE: Y.A. Distopian Movies Keep Coming -- And Making Money...Variations and Reinterpretations of Books of the Past by Movies are Omnipresent ...
No one is safe...not family, nor friends, nor any of the good folks in Katniss' "hometown" -- District 12. Empire. Oppression, and teen warriors again prevail as the Hunger Games story of resistance and survival continues. Dystopia will mean box office dollars when this third episode (there will be one more) of the Hunger Games, Mockingjay-Part1, opens in theaters worldwide, starting on November 19 -- November 21 in the USA.
For some perspective on the Hunger Games series, take a look at this review from Salon by Andrew O'Hehir "Whose Revolution Is It It?"
"Much of the genius of the “Hunger Games” franchise lies in its portrayal of a dystopian future society that lacks any specific ideological character. Panem, the deep-future dictatorship that has apparently replaced present-day America after an unspecified combination of civil war, social meltdown and ecological catastrophe, has the semiotic appearance of fascism – white-helmeted storm troopers and barbed-wire walls – but is really more like an old-fashioned feudal society, concerned entirely with maintaining its internal order. In reviewing the first “Hunger Games” movie, I observed that the relentless media onslaught of the Information Age has been rolled back, in author Suzanne Collins’ fictional universe, to one TV network and one reality show. Politics has been stripped down too: There is nothing except Empire and Resistance."
The Hunger Games Films have thus far grossed over 1.5 billion dollars
The critics were generally hard on Divergent, but the Box office has been excellent - over 288 million dollars thus far - and two sequels will follow. Based on a very popular Y.A. series by Veronica Roth. Here is an excerpt from a review by Brad Keefe in ColumbusAlive.
... “Divergent” is an adaptation of a popular young adult fiction trilogy featuring a smart, underdog heroine who fights against a corrupt power system in a dystopian future.
If you haven’t read the books, you’ll see “Divergent” as a convoluted “Hunger Games” knock-off. If you have, you’ll find the production values and performances are solid. But the movie is still convoluted.
In the crumbling ruins of a near-future Chicago, a post-war society has established peace by creating five “factions” of the population based on character traits (brains, brawn, compassion, etc.). Teens are tested for their aptitude in these fields, but they can choose their own faction (as long as they don’t mind leaving their family).
It’s like society based on a high-school clique system, so it resonates with teens (along with themes of non-conformity). And our heroine Tris (Shailene Woodley) embodies that moment of 'what do I do with my life' confusion." ....................................
Earlier this Fall, we had The Maze Runner, another YA movie set in a YA Dystopia. In less than a month, the Maze Runner has grossed over 83 Million dollars.
Also based on a successful book series (by James Dasher), it was described by Ben Kienigsberg in the International New York Times as a "perfectly serviceable entry in the young-adult dystopian sweepstakes. It combines elements of “Lord of the Flies” with the Minotaur and Orpheus myths, but it plays as something closer to “The Hunger Games” experienced through a dissociative fog. Much suspense comes from wondering which favored Hollywood twist the movie will employ...." .............................
Even if one adjustedthe figures for inflation etc, I doubt if the combined monies made by the books of Anderson, Dodson, St. Exuprey, the Brothers Grimm et al could compare with the box office receipts of these Y.A. movies.
More violence arrives in time for Christmas. The Hobbit, Battle of the 5 Armies opens on December 17. Here is a link to the trailer: Battle
If you've had enough of YA Dystopian Violence there is good news for children's films...
Boxtrolls is doing well and the Tale of Princess Kaguya, from Ghibli Studios is coming. Advance reports on Princess Kaguya suggest another outstanding film from the studio that gave us Howl's Moving Castle and Spirited Away.
Building Blocks in the past...Minecraft today and tomorrow
In case you were unaware of the scope of Minecraft, here is the opening of the excellent and comprehensive article by Stuart Dredge in the Guardian. The article is entitled: Minecraft movie will be 'large-budget' but unlikely to arrive before 2017. The article also contains videos that will take you into the digital world of Minecraft.
"What is Minecraft? It’s a game, obviously: one that its developer Mojang has sold nearly 54m copies of across computers, consoles and mobile devices so far.
But Minecraft is also an educational tool in schools through the MinecraftEduinitiative, and the driver for Block by Block, a partnership with the United Nations Human Settlements Programme to get young people involved in planning public urban spaces, starting with a pilot in Kenya.
Minecraft is also one of YouTube’s most popular video categories – right up there with music – fuelling hugely popular channels..."
Amazon-Hachette Battle Continues with Authors United
Power, money, books, writers and control are all involved as this battlle continues...Here are excerpts from a New York Times article by David Streitfeld.
"Amazon is at war with Hachette, and it sometimes seems as if it has always been that way.
As a negotiating tool in the battle, which is over the price of e-books, Amazon is discouraging its customers from buying the publisher’s printed books. After six months of being largely cut off from what is by far the largest bookstore in the country, many Hachette writers are fearful and angry. So...they are trying a new tactic to get the ir work unshackled.
Authors United, a group of Hachette writers and their allies, is appealing directly to Amazon’s board. It is warning the board that the reputation of the retailer, and of the directors themselves, is at risk.
UPDATE...This battle has expanded to include many prominent writers who are not published by Hachette. David Streifeld continues his coverage in what has become a series in the New York Times. Here is an updated excerpt...
"Now, hundreds of other writers, including some of the world’s most distinguished, are joining the coalition. Few if any are published by Hachette. And they have goals far broader than freeing up the Hachette titles. They want the Justice Department to investigate Amazon for illegal monopoly tactics..."
The Hero of Color City
This film opened in early October to mediocre reviews,but very young kids seem to like it.You be the judge. Here is the trailer: Hero of Color City
Complimentary Holiday Dog Books for Therapy Reading Dogs…
Christmas is coming and Barking Planet Productions is sending complimentary reader copies of ourholiday book,Snow Valley Heroes, A Christmas Tale, Volume 3 in the Planet of the Dogs series, to libraries and teachers participating in therapy reading dog programs and to therapy reading dogs owners and organizations.
To receive your copy, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Snow Valley Heroes, A Christmas Tale, is an illustrated first chapter fantasy-adventure book for children 6-12 and dog lovers of all ages.
Long, long ago, there were no dogs on planet Earth. It was during that time that two of Santa’s reindeer went missing and there could be no Christmas.
Far out in space is the Planet of the Dogs. Dogs have always lived there in peace and happiness.
When the dogs learned that there would be no more Christmas, they came down to planet earth to challenge the King of the North, free the reindeer from the Ice Castle, and save Christmas for children everywhere.
To read sample chapters, visit: www.planetofthedogs.net.
Insights on Visual Storytelling
Lizzy Burns is a proilfic, outspoken, caring and engaging blogger (A Chair, A Fireplace and a Tea Cozy )
She usually reviews YA booksand strongly supports those she likes. I'm interested in younger readers, however, I find her YA reviews to be insightful and very lively reading.
I have excerpted comments on her emotional response to the Y.A. book and movie, If I Stay, and her insights into visual storytelling...
"Here is the thing. I cried at the trailers for this film. I cried when I read the book. I knew all the plot points. There were no surprises. And yet...I cries through the whole film.
Because sometimes, it's not what happens. It's the emotional journey. And no matter how many times you go on that journey, it remains heart wrenching...
One thing I like about visual storytelling is it can show me things, reveal things, that I may not have picked up in the book. And yes, sometimes this is because of changes in the adaptation, but i t's often about staying true to the spirit of the book if not the text. So, for me, the movie made me understand more how Mia viewed her father leaving his band to pursue a job that was more stable as something he did because of her younger brother, Teddy -- never realizing it was also for her.
The movie is true to the book, but something happened at one point where I both feared and hoped that a change had been made and I said to myself, please please please even though there was no way, no way, and it was just like in the book BUT STILL MY FOOLISH HEART, IT HOPED...."
Here the link to her review/article of If I Stay. When she isn't blogging, Elizabeth Burns is the Youth Services Librarian for the New Jersey State Library Talking Book and Braille Center. Here is a link to her blog.
Nancy Houser has another excellent article that solves questions about feeding dogs and taking into account breed, age, health condition -- and she's not selling dog food, not pushing a brand. Here is an excerpt and a link:
"Dog diet is one of the most confusing aspects of taking care of your dog, a vital part of its care. Deciding on the correct dog diet and how to feed your dog is considered a highly complicated task.
Lena Dunham discussed a wide array of topics with writer and author Ariel Levy during the 15th annual New Yorker Festival on Friday night, including her aspirations to turn Karen Cushman’s “Catherine, Called Birdy” into a feature film….”It’s a really interesting examination of sort of like coming of age and what’s expected of teenage girls,” Dunham said. “I’m going to adapt it and hopefully direct it, I just need to find someone who wants to fund a PG-13 medieval movie.”
Yesterday, John and I took part in a charity walk, in aid of Alzheimer's, the horrible disease which stole my dad from me, almost exactly a year ago (and John's too, a few years back).
The forecast was iffy (it's Sheffield after all), so we carried rain gear and big coats, but in the end it was a gloriously sunny day. Maybe that's why an extra 1000 people turned up, so that over 3000 of us set off together, not to mention a varied assortment of kids and dogs (some dogs also wore the T-shirts: very funny, wish I'd got a picture).
The Rother Valley Country Park is a series of lakes, old gravel pits I think, now alive with ducks and swans and geese, so it was a really pretty walk. I took my sketchbook of course. Because we were so many, we were walking pretty slowly at the beginning, so I was able to draw while I was still on the go. Look what was posted to my Facebook page that evening:
Hee hee! Here is the sketch. I managed to add the watercolour while I was walking too, though I confess that I copped out and did the text afterwards:
This shows you what I was trying to capture:
It took a two and a half hours to complete the circuit. When we crossed the finishing line, John and I took a selfie to celebrate:
There was a memory tree, where you could post a message about the person you were dedicating your walk to:
I have managed to raise a little over £400 so far. My goal was £500, so I am doing pretty well, but if anyone would like to help me reach the £500, it's not too late and any donations would be absolutely lovely! Just click here. Thank you so much to everybody who has already supported me - I really appreciate it.
This summer saw the release of Hercules (Radical Studios, dir. Brett Ratner). Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson took his place in the long line of strongmen to portray Greece’s most enduring icon. It was a lot of fun, and you should go see it. But, as one might expect from a Hollywood piece, the film takes a revisionist approach to the world of Greek myth, especially to its titular hero. A man of enormous sexual appetite, sacker of cities, and murderer of his own family, Hercules is glossed over here as a seeker of justice, characterized by his humanity and humility. And it is once again Hercules, not Heracles: the Romanized version loses the irony of the Greek, “Glory of Hera.”
This is neither the Hercules of ancient myth, nor is it the Hercules of Steve Moore’s graphic novel, Hercules: The Thracian Wars (Radical Comics, 2008), on which the film is loosely based. It is perhaps not surprising then that Moore fought to have his name removed from the project, at least according to long-time friend Alan Moore. Steve Moore died earlier this year and buried deep in the closing credits of the film is a dedication in his memory.
When he wrote his comic, Moore strove to fit his story into the world of Greek myth in a “realistic” way. Though the story (and that of its sequel, The Knives of Kush) is original, the characters and setting are consistent with the pseudo-historic Bronze Age of Greek legend. The film jettisons much of this careful integration for little narrative gain. I am never opposed to revisions to the myth (myth, after all, can be defined by its malleability), but why, for instance, set the opening of the film in Macedonia in 358 BCE instead of 1200? It adds nothing to the story, but confuses anyone with even a passing knowledge of Greek history — our heroes should be rubbing elbows with Philip II of Macedon, Alexander the Great’s father. The answer to this question, I suspect, is a sort of Wikipedial historicity: Hercules and his companions are hired by a fictional King Cotys, a name chosen by Moore as suitably Thracian — and there was a historical Cotys in 358.
The Thracian Wars is set well after Hercules has completed his twelve labors: in the loose chronology of Greek myth, we are somewhere between the Calydonian Boar Hunt and the battle of the Seven Against Thebes. Hercules arrives in Thrace as a mercenary, along with his companions Iolaus, Tydeus, Autolycus, Amphiarus, Atalanta, Meleager, and Meneus, the only character made up by Moore. (The Hollywood film production jettisons those characters who might have LGBT overtones: Meneus is Hercules’s male lover, and Meleager is constantly frustrated by and therefore exposes Atalanta’s lesbianism.) Though no story of Greek myth involves all these characters, they all belong to roughly the same generation — the generation before the Trojan War. These characters could have interacted in untold stories.
But they don’t interact well. As Moore notes in the afterword to the trade paperback, “Hercules was a murderer, a rapist, a womanizer, subject to catastrophic rages and plainly bisexual…I wouldn’t have wanted to spend much time in his company.” The rest of the band is not much better. Where the film presents a band of brothers, faithful to each other to the death, in the comic these characters loathe each other and are clearly bound not by love of each other but the need to earn a living. They are mercenaries, with little interest in the morality of their actions.
Legendary Greece, then, is without a moral center. Violence and bloodshed are never far away. Sexual activity is fueled only by deceit or lust. The Greek characters speak of their Thracian surroundings as barbaric, but we are never shown any better. The art of the comic articulates this grim reality. Eyes are frequently lost in shadow, for instance, dehumanizing the characters further. Throughout, artist Admira Wijaya deploys a somber color palette of greys, browns, and muted reds to convey a bleak world.
This, then, is the great disconnect of Greek myth with the modern world. In our times, our heroes of popular culture must be morally pure; only black and white values can be understood. So-called “anti-heroes” are occasionally tolerated in marginal media, but even here their transgressions are typically mitigated somehow (think of the recent television series Dexter, in which the serial killer is validated by his targeting of other serial killers — the real bad guys). The heroes of Greek legend — the word “hero” itself only denoted those who performed memorable or noteworthy deeds, without a moral element — often existed solely because they were transgressors. Tantalus, Oedipus, Orestes: their stories are of broken taboos, stories of cannibalism, incest, kin-slaying. Later authors may have complicated their stories, but violation is at the core of their being.
Sure, the common people of ancient Greece benefited from Hercules’s actions as a slayer of monsters, but none of his actions were motivated by altruism. Rather, it was shame at best that moved him: in most tellings, his famous twelve labors were penance for the death of his family at his own hands. Many of his other deeds were motivated by hunger, lust, or just boredom. In the film, Johnson’s Hercules finds a sort of absolution for his past crimes. In the comic, redemption is not an objective; in fact, Hercules doesn’t even seem to recognize the concept.
Hercules is a figure of strength and power, a conqueror of the unknown, a slayer of dragons (and giant boars and lions). The Hercules of Hollywood shows us strength. The Hercules of myth — and of Moore’s comic — shows us the consequences of that strength when it’s not carefully contained. There is a primal energy there, a reflection of that part of our souls that is fascinated with, even desires, transgression. As healthy, moral humans, most of us conquer that fascination. But myth is our reminder that it always, always bears watching. Hollywood isn’t going to help you do that.
Featured image: An engraving from The Labours of Hercules by Hans Sebald Beham, c. 1545. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.
Actually, its publication date came while I was still in Barcelona but, as you can imagine, I had a few other things going on at that point, so have only just found time to tell you the good news.
Jungle Grumble is really funny and very unusual, so please do all rush out and buy it, right away! The paperback is £6.99. If anyone would like a signed copy with a little drawing and a dedication inside, just drop me an email and we'll sort it out on PayPal, then I'll pop one off to you. Perfect Christmas presents to put away perhaps?
Thank you as well to all the team at Piccadilly Press who have worked with Julia and I on the book. People outside the business don't always realise what a team job picture books are and how important people like the editor, art director and designer are, not to mention all the folks we rarely get to meet, from sales and publicity etc.
If you would like to follow the process of how I created the illustrations, use this blog's Jungle Grumble label and scroll back to the beginning, for my very first sketched thoughts. There are also several short films on my YouTube channel, explaining how I created the animal characters in Jungle Grumble:
...and how I designed the book's roughs (it takes about a month to work out all the drawings and layouts in pencil, before any colouring can begin):
There is also another film on the way, talking you through the creation of a piece of pastel artwork - the cover of Jungle Grumble - just like the film I did when I was illustrating Swap!:
The footage for new film is all shot, but it always takes quite a time to edit the films and this is the most complicated one we have attempted. It got put on the back-burner while other things have been happening, but now the book is available, it's definitely time to get it out and get it sorted, so watch this space!
“Don’t Ball the Boss” is a whopper of a good time. If you’re offended by homosexuality, cussing, or super hot British actors, do not read. This hilarious and irreverent short story is featured in The Stoneslide Corrective today, and I dedicate every word to the adoring Cumber Collective and/or my Cumberbitches (depending on how you identify). Definitely rated R.
Don’t Ball the Boss by Sara Dobie Bauer
Rule number one: don’t fuck the boss. Even if he is doing that thing he does when he’s nervous. He pulls on the cuffs of his dress shirt. I don’t think he even knows he does it, and the movement makes me want to rip that Dolce and Gabbana shirt right off. I pretend not to watch.
There are five of us in his hotel room. His driver is in the restroom; then, there’s his tailor and me. His blond agent sits on the edge of his bed with her smart phone. She’s talking to someone and says, “Not her. Don’t make him sit next to her at the premiere.” I can tell she’s eating this up, the way America is eating him up, the way I would love—Jesus, I’m fucking starving.
I give myself permission to look at him when he addresses me.
The tailor, an old dude with glasses like Olivier in Marathon Man, drapes a tuxedo coat over his shoulders.
“How’s the fit?”
I casually address six feet of British politeness and fold my hands over my crotch. “Perfect, sir.”
“I keep telling you not to call me sir. Call me Nicholas.”
Not Nick. I’ve noticed no one calls him Nick. And tonight is his night.
A friend called a week ago and asked if I was looking for work. In Hollywood, shit, we’re always looking for work. I’m a personal assistant to the stars, and I’m real good—like Meryl Streep at Oscar time good. They say I’m discreet and subservient; stars like that.
So my pal calls up and tells me there’s this up and coming British star on his way over for a movie premiere. The film is huge, the kind that makes back its budget in a night, and this Brit plays the bad guy. He’s never been to Hollywood. He needs someone who knows the right barbers, tailors, call girls …
That’s where I come in: David Baron, assistant to the stars. And I’m not given to flights of fancy.
I’ve assisted maybe a hundred newbie celebs over the years and felt not a twitch in my pants. I took one look at Nicholas Pike and thought about quitting because PA’s don’t fuck the client. In the business, we tell stories about PA’s who did. They end up as homeless hookers.
We’re standing around, waiting to leave for his big movie premiere, and his agent won’t shut up. God, I hate her, been listening to her ever since Nicholas got here. She’s too blond, fake blond, and her British accent isn’t like his. Nicholas is all Oxford-sounding; she’s like the wenches in Oliver Twist. She has terrible style, too—wears pink lipstick, and nobody outside 1985 wears pink lipstick.
She’s giving Nicholas the time breakdown for tonight’s movie premiere, and he’s rubbing the space between his neck and shoulder. He’s been doing that a lot, but unlike the cuff pulling, this isn’t a nervous twitch. He injured his neck doing a stunt for a film he’s making in England. I know this because he told me. He tells me a lot of things.
He’s never once in his life considered smoking a bad habit.
Without a stylist, he would have no idea how to dress himself.
Finally, he believes his sudden and newly realized status as a sex symbol makes no sense. (Quote: “I’ve had the same face since I was twenty!”)
I explained to him days ago it’s all about the role. A role can make somebody, and although I haven’t seen him play the villain, I have no doubt: he’s made it. He’s been doing appearances all week, me at his side, and when we step outside the limo, it’s mania. Women are everywhere, screaming his name, waving pictures for him to sign, and he does sign them. We’ve been late to every single appearance this week, because he loves signing things, having his picture taken. He loves his fans, and I wonder if this is a British thing. He has more manners than an auditorium full of nuns.
I’m his assistant, yet he makes sure I order first at restaurants. He holds the door—for me. He smiles at me in crowds, apparently to make sure I’m all right, and it’s his manners that do it. The manners make me want to fuck him, just shove him against a wall somewhere and swallow his protests with hot, sloppy kisses.
I know I am, in many ways, in support of what in Britain would be qualified as ‘traditionalist’ educational practices in terms of literacy (and in France as ‘normal’ ones), namely the learning of poetry by heart, the imposition of reading lists, etc. However, where I differ from the French view on literacy, and perhaps from many educators in English-speaking countries too, is that I am opposed to the common hierarchy between arts or media which puts reading at the top. I don’t think there’s any reason, once literacy skills have been acquired of course (and it’s not an easy task), to enforce the notion that books are ‘better’ intrinsically than films, video games, TV series, and other visual or musical art forms and media. But they are, certainly, different ways of looking at the world.
This is partly why I’m getting increasingly uneasy with the common claim, in author interviews, that ‘we’ authors ‘now’ have to ‘compete’ with ‘films, video games, TV series’ in order for our books to be read. I used to say this as well, and of course I understand that in the most basic sense of ‘competition’ (=available time), it is true: children and young adults ‘now’ have immediate access to a wide range of such other media, and while they’re watching films or playing games they’re not reading our books.So, in terms of time, yes, we have to ‘compete’. We also have to ‘compete’ with one another, as authors, I guess. We have to ‘compete’ with funny YouTube videos, too, but that doesn’t keep me awake at night.
No, this claim bothers me because I do not see and do not want to see other creative people and other works of art as ‘competition’. Films and video games are not our enemies. They are works that ambition to set in motion creative processes, to stimulate the imagination, to increase empathy, to entice viewers and players to take part in the elaboration of complex worlds, and that can do so in different ways and just as well as books. They are not ‘competitors’. If anything, we complement one another; we provide different ways of encouraging creative, thoughtful, witty, etc. visions of the world.
Saying we’re in competition with them is the equivalent of saying that all these different works of art and ways of looking at the world are interchangeable. ‘Yes! I win! She’s reading my book instead of watching a film!’. To me, this is like saying, ‘Hurrah! She’s reading my book instead of talking to her grandmother!’. Both are hugely beneficial activities. They’re not the same, but they all contribute to growth, maturation, creativity and learning, in their own original ways. If we try to 'compete' with films or video games through similar narrative strategies, we risk making it sound like literature does not have its own specificities; like it's just a matter of being 'more entertaining' than 'other media'. This would impoverish greatly what we can do with verbal narrative, with words, which are what makes our medium unique.
And there's worse. While we’re busy saying that other branches of the creative world are ‘competitors’, we’re not talking about those branches of the culture industry which are actually busy ‘competing’ with us - in the sense that they're waging a war on the creative spirit and critical thinking of children by promising them, for instance, that the acquisition of a toy or product or game will bring happiness; by flattening the beautiful diversity of existence into easily-packaged, formulaic tales that will generate addiction and therefore money-spending; by constructing consent for the world as it is and driving reflection out of it. That's what keeps me awake at night, to be honest.
I'm being wilfully provocative here, but let me tell you what I see as competition. 10 million iPhones 6 sold in one weekend: that’s competition. Cultural products that are only created so as to sell spin-offs and merchandise: that’s competition. Little girls being made to worry about their looks and having to spend time investigating diets and make-up techniques: that’s competition. Little boys having to be interested in porn and war rather than in creative pursuits: that’s competition. Adverts selling children and young adults a unified, unimaginative version of world where “possession = happiness”: that’s competition.
Thank goodness there are people who create enticing, challenging, thought-provoking, original pieces of work in all the arts and media; and a school system which is starting to recognise this when it encourages high-level visual literacy, film and video game analysis, encounters with media and art forms from different cultures, etc. The real competitors are the messages we receive daily (and especially children) that discourage such imaginative pursuits and critical reflection by giving easy answers to complex questions.
Clémentine Beauvais writes books in both French and English. The former are of all kinds and shapes for all ages, and the latter humour and adventure stories with Hodder and Bloomsbury. She blogs here about children's literature and academia and is on Twitter @blueclementine.
Reading opens the doors that take the child beyond all borders.
From castles and great forests,
To ocean storms, island kingdoms,
Talking animals and magic stones.
From fear and darkness,
To light and peace.
For a child who has found the stories,
There are no borders to the imagination
. The illustration, The Defense of the Sampo, from the Finnish Kallevala, is by Akseli Gallen-Kallela ................................
Reimagining Mythology, Tolkien's Heritage and Movies
Peter Jackson has become the primary reinventor of J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle Earth Sagas. He has brought his vision of Tolkien to millions of people, young and old. His medium is film, and on December 17, 2014, the latest of his epicHobbitmovies, The Battle of the Five Armies, will thunder its way to movie theaters around the globe.
Tolkien, in turn, was inspired by and borrowed from mythology including Beowulff, the Norse Fables,and the Finnish Kalevala.
In the National Geographic News, Brian Handwerk, in an article entitled Lord Of The Rings Inspired by an Ancient Epic, wrote: "While the author's imagination was vast, Tolkien's world and its cast of characters do have roots in real-world history and geography, from the world wars that dominated Tolkien's lifetime to the ancient language and legends of Finland."
Tolkien, in his letters, said: "The germ of my attempt to write legends of my own to fit my private languages was the tragic tale of the hapless Kullervo in the Finnish Kalevala."
"After all, I believe that legends and myths are largely made of 'truth', and indeed present aspects of it that can only be received in this mode; and long ago certain truths and modes of this kind were discovered and must always reappear."
Tolkien also wrote that he was, in many ways, a Hobbit.
"Fairy tales since the beginning of recorded time, and perhaps earlier, have been a means to conquer the terrors of mankind through metaphor.”-- Jake Zipes, professor emeritus, University of Minnesota, translator, author of many books, including The Irresisitable Fairy Tale: The Cultural and Social History of a Genre. The illustration of Kullervo is by Akseli Gallen-Kallela
Adults Are Crossing the Borders of Imagination Into Teenland
In September, 2012,Bowker published the results of a survey that revealed that adults were buying YA (young adult) books in startling numbers. The article said that 55% of YA book purchases were by adults and 78% of those adults acknowledged that the books were for their own reading. The turning point was said to be the Hunger Games movie and the popular Hunger Games book trilogy.
Controversy has followed the article: should so many adults be reading books written for 12-17 year olds?
My interest is primarily in younger readers; however, it seems the age lines today are blurred for all. Movies seem to have precipitated the situation, and the children's market today also crosses into Teenland. How many kids today, who went to see films like E.T., Harry Potter, and the Lion King, are now going to the Hunger Games, Divergence and the Lord of the Rings Saga? I don't know the answer, but I do know their is a huge degree of difference in the violence quotient.
In defense of adults reading YA, there is respected YA Author (Cut, Purple Heart, Sold) Patricia McCormick:"Why are so many adults reading young adult books? No need to page Dr. Freud. This isn’t about the guilty pleasures of communing with one’s inner child...It’s because adults are discovering one of publishing’s best-kept secrets: that young adult authors are doing some of the most daring work out there. Authors who write for young adults are taking creative risks -- with narrative structure, voice and social commentary -- that you just don’t see as often in the more rarefied world of adult fiction."
Also defending YA books and encouaging adults to read them is popular YA author( Deviant, Orgins, Sleeping Beauty, Vampire Slayer) Maureen McGowan. She concluded her Kindle post with this thought: "I could list more reasons why I love YA but, bottom line, I’ve found most books in this category to be engaging, entertaining, thoughtful and well written."
On the other side of the controversy, journalist (Atlantic, Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe) Ruth Grahamcreated a firestorm when she wrote an article in Slate with this headline: "Read whatever you want. But you should be embarrassed when what you're reading was written for children."
Here are excerpts from Ms. Graham's article..."I know, I know: Live and let read. Far be it from me to disrupt the “everyone should just read/watch/listen to whatever they like” ethos of our era. There’s room for pleasure, escapism, juicy plots, and satisfying endings on the shelves of the serious reader... But if they are substituting maudlin teen dramas for the complexity of great adult literature, then they are missing something...
But even the myriad defenders of YA fiction admit that the enjoyment of reading this stuff has to do with escapism, instant gratification, and nostalgia. As the writer Jen Doll, who used to have a column called 'YA for Grownups,' put it in an essay last year, 'At its heart, YA aims to be pleasurable.'"
Pioneers In An Untrodden Forest
Seth Lerer points out that the comment, "We are pioneers in an untrodden forest" made in 1884 to his staff by James A.H. Murray, as presiding editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, also describes how the Grimms felt about their work in publishing their "nursery and household tales".
Lerer goes on to quote Wilhelm Grimm, who, in referring to these tales, wrote, "that these were the 'last echoes of pagan myths...A world of magic is opened up before us, one which still exists among us in secret forests, in underground caves, and in the deepest sea, and it is still visible to children...(Fairy tales) have existed among the people for several centuries.' And what we find inside those secret forests, caves and seas...(are) fairy tales full of families, full of parents who bequeath a sense of self to children, full of ancestors and heirs whose lives play out, in little, the life of a nation from its childhood to maturity."
The forest plays a very prominent part in the 1812 edition of the Grimm's tales as it did in the lives and imagination of people. Two thirds of the 210 tales take place in the forest. It is also worth noting that the lives of all people in the land of the Grimm's was in was in constant turmoil and change during the time that the Grimm's collected, wrote, and published their books. The quote, above, is from Seth Lerer's book, Children's Literature, A Reader's History from Aesop to Harry Potter.
The top illustration is by Julius Diez for Sleeping Beauty; the other illustration is by Hermann Vogel for the Three Little Gnomes in the Forest. Both tales are from the brothers Grimm 1812 edition of fairy tales.
“Grown-ups never understand anything by themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them” - Antoine de Saint-Exuprey
The True Magic of the Imagination
This was the headline on BREEZES FROM WONDERLAND, Maria Tatar's Internet forum for storytelling, folklore , and children's literature.
Ms Tatar wrote about a New York Times report, Harry Potter Casts a Spell for Tolerance. Written by Annie Murphy Paul, the article reports on a study that describes the "Potter Effect", citing it as an example of how reading can positively influence young minds regarding bigotry and intolerence...
"...The study, which will be published in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Applied Social Psychology, concludes by noting that the Harry Potter novels may be especially effective at increasing the tolerance of their readers precisely because they concern themselves with made-up categories like Muggles and Mudbloods. More overt attempts to change readers’ views about real-life groups, Mr. Vezzali and his co-authors note, could prompt defensive or resistant reactions. By identifying with the fictional character of Harry Potter, and by drawing connections, conscious or not, between his treatment of people different from him and their own attitudes toward stigmatized groups, readers of these novels work their own kind of wizardry: the magic of the literary imagination."
Ms Tatar comments:"Is anyone surprised that children’s books, which often feature outsiders, quirky kids, adventurous orphans, and nomadic heroes turn us into more empathetic people in real life?"...she continues her comment with a related personal anecdote from her own childhood.
A long-time therapy dog owner, advocate, coordinator, and volunteer Nancy George-Michalson, sent us news of the latest Angel On A Leashevent to benefit the Ronald McDonald house in New York where children from around the world with cancer -- and their families -- come to stay when receiving hospital care..."Here a child with cancer plays and grows, surrounded by other children and families sharing similar experiences, supported each day by volunteer therapy dog teams waiting to meet and greet them as they return from a grueling day at the hospital. "
Ronald McDonald House New York - Angel On A Leash
3rd Annual “Family Fun Dog Walk”...a day to support therapy dogs and the courageous children who love them.
This fun-filled event is a 2k walk open to the public, with proceeds from funds raised going to support children battling cancer, and the therapy dog teams that bring smiles to their faces on a daily basis. There will be raffle baskets and prizes for the best dressed big dog and the best dressed little dog. Participants must be registered walkers and in attendance to win. David Frei and Cat Greenleaf will serve as the judges.
Date: Saturday September 20, 2014, Rain or Shine. Time: 10 AM-12PM. Location: Carl Shurz Park, East End Avenue, 84th St promenade entrance
"You can't stay in your corner of the Forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.”
"Sometimes,' said Pooh, 'the smallest things take up the most room in your heart.”
“The things that make me different are the things that make me.”
A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh
Penguin U.K. will issue this month a fiftieth-anniversary edition of Roald Dahl’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” under its Modern Classics imprint. I find the cover design disturbing, inappropriate, and misleading.
In a very insightful New Yorkerarticle entitled, Meant For Kids, Margaret Talbotwrote about this cover, and the cross over book market. Here are excerpts:
"Why did the cover of a novel about five kids and a wonderful—if admittedly bizarre—candy-maker look like a scene from ‘Toddlers & Tiaras’? Commenters on Penguin’s Facebook page called it ‘creepy,’ ‘sexualized’ and ‘inappropriate garbage'... It seems likely that the Modern Classics cover of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” is an example of a new trend: enticing older readers to buy books intended for children and young adults by publishing them with covers that look sophisticated. Read it on the subway, read it in a bar—no need to feel sheepish..."
How do you explain loyalty to children? Does loyalty have a place in the world outside? Is it a virtue? Does loyalty bring trouble and problems? Or is it rewarding?
Does loyalty have a beginning and an end? Where can a child find examples of loyalty that they can experience and understand? In stories? In daily life? In computer games?
Dogs offer a wonderful way for a child to understand loyalty. Dogs are the embodiment of loyalty and a story with dogs can illustrate loyalty...
Suppose it is long, long ago...A sister and brother, are on a journey that will take them home. They have stopped for the night and are sleeping at a campsite in the woods. They have been riding on horseback, accompanied by two soldiers who are believed to be loyal to their father, and by their two dogs.
Betrayal...But the men are not loyal. They are traitors and the children find that they have been kidnapped. The children's dogs appear to be dead.
Thus begins a hard journey for the children, through the mountains to the land of the Forest people. There the children are imprisoned in an old castle. Their father cannot rescue them, because he does not know where his children have been taken. The children are dismayed and frightened.
Loyal Dogs...Until one cold foggy night, with the forest and the castle enveloped in mist, the sound of howling dogs is heard by the imprisoned children. Their dogs, their loyal dogs, have found them. Hope returns. And thus unfolds the story of the Castle In The Mist .
The illustrations above , from the book Castle In The Mist, are by Stella Mustanoja-McCarty
The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go.”
"You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself Any direction you choose."
Borders Of The Imagination
The Boxtrolls are coming...
Alan Snow, author, designer, and illustratorcreated a 501 page illustrated fantasy story book, Here Be Monsters.I haven't seen the book, except on the Internet, but it looks rather amazing. This month , on the 26th of September, Laika Studios, creators of the excellentCoraline movie, will bringBoxtrolls, their reimagined film version of Here Be Monsters, to movie theaters. The trailer (link below) is very enticing. The stop-motion annimation looks to be riding the borders of imagination.
Five Canine Heroes Receive Recognition and Rewards
I belatedly learned about these meaningful Awards. Here is an excerpt from the article by Cheslie Pickett in the Canine Chronicle that tells the story...:
"The AKC® Humane Fund announced today the winners of the 15th annual AKCHumane Fund Awards for Canine Excellence (ACE). These awards honor five inspirational dogs that have made significant contributions to their communities and truly exemplify the power of the human-canine bond. One award is presented in each of the following five categories: Exemplary Companion, Uniformed Service K-9, Search and Rescue, Service and Therapy dog. This year’s winners include a faithful companion that saved her owner from a bear, a heroic K-9 (Bruno) that took a bullet in the line of duty, an international search and rescue traveler, a blind therapy dog bringing comfort to abused children and ACE’s first mixed breed winner, a service dog to a U.S. veteran raising awareness of the profound impact service dogs can have on trauma survivors." I found the summaries of each award winner to be rather awesome; each is shown in a photo, including the blind recued therapy dog.
The photo is of Bruno ("who took a bullet in the line of duty") and officer R.J. Young
Books to Have and to Hold
Author, journalst and Yale Professor, Verlyn Klinkenborg, wrote about the difference in reading an ebook as opposed to a physical book Here are excepts...
"I finish reading a book on my iPad — one by Ed McBain, for instance — and I shelve it in the cloud. It vanishes from my “device” and from my consciousness too. It’s very odd.
When I read a physical book, I remember the text and the book — its shape, jacket, heft and typography. When I read an e-book, I remember the text alone. The bookness of the book simply disappears, or rather it never really existed. Amazon reminds me that I’ve already bought the e-book I’m about to order. In bookstores, I find myself discovering, as if for the first time, books I’ve already read on my iPad.
All of this makes me think differently about the books in my physical library. They used to be simply there, arranged on the shelves, a gathering of books I’d already read. But now, when I look up from my e-reading, I realize that the physical books are serving a new purpose — as constant reminders of what I’ve read. They say, “We’re still here,” or “Remember us?” These are the very things that e-books cannot say, hidden under layers of software, tucked away in the cloud, utterly absent when the iPad goes dark.
This may seem like a trivial difference, but that’s not how it feels"...
Planet Of The Dogs Is In China The publishers, Chongxianguan Books of Beijing, have created new illustrations and covers. The stories remain the same.
Complimentary copies of the English version of the award-winniong Planet Of The DogsSeries are available for therapy reading dogowners and organizations. Write us at email@example.com.
Simple Ways to Test Dog Intelligence
Here's an excerpt from Nancy Houser's outstanding blog for dog owners (and dog lovers).
As well as being ‘man’s best friend’, dogs with excellent dog intelligence are capable of performing some pretty amazing feats. We’ve all heard stories about our canine companions alerting their masters to fires. Or, protecting their owner from an attacker or intruder. And then there are those who are visually impaired who rely on ‘seeing eye dogs’ in order to go about their daily lives. A dog’s intelligence is measured by its ability to think and problem solve...Here is a link to read it all: Dog Intelligence The illustration by Stella Mustanoja McCarty is from Snow Valley Heroes, Vol 3 in the Planet Of The Dogs Series
Sponsors of Banned Book Weekinclude the American Library Association, the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, the American Society of Journalists and Authors, the Association of American Publishers, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, the National Association of College Stores, the National Coalition Against Censorship, the National Council of Teachers of English, PEN American Center and Project Censored.
Thoughts on the Borders of the Imagination
"We don’t need a list of rights and wrongs, tables of dos and don’ts: we need books, time, and silence. Thou shalt not is soon forgotten, but Once upon a time lasts forever.”
"After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.”
“There are some themes, some subjects, too large for adult fiction; they can only be dealt with adequately in a children’s book.”
Phillip Pullman, Author of His Dark Materials (trilogy), Fairy Tales from the BrothersGrimm and many more.
Empowerment Through Rescue
by CA Wulff
There’s a saying in rescue that saving one dog won’t change the world, but it will surely change the world for that one dog. Except that just isn’t true. The truth is that saving one dog most certainly changes the world. It changes everything.
First, it changes YOU, because once you save an animal it awakens an empowerment in you. You come to realize that you can affect change wherever you apply yourself. Secondly, it changes the world for that animal, who has been given a second chance at life…and there is nothing more joyous and grateful than an animal who has been saved. They become loving and faithful companions. They protect and comfort their families.
They teach the children in the family to love and respect animals. They bring hours of joy and laughter to their people keeping them healthier in body, mind and spirit.
And there is always the possibility that a dog you save will become a service dog, or a therapy dog or a search and rescue dog. There’s no way to measure the impact you can have by advocating for just one animal.
"I wonder if I've been changed in the night. Let me think. Was I the same when I got up this morning? I almost think I can remember feeling a little different. But if I'm not the same, the next question is, "Who in the world am I? Ah, that's the great puzzle."
-Lewis Carrol, Alice In Wonderland
A Rescue Story from the Rescue People at Sunbear Squad
Meet "Muddy Puppy," named because he was found in a muddy ditch in the pouring rain. Hit by a car and with two painfully broken back legs, someone did care enough to try to protect him from the driving rain with an old jacket. But not enough to offer him relief from his painful suffering and overwhelming fear. Instead they just drove off leaving this 4-month-old puppy to slowly and painfully die all alone. All hope gone...Visit Sunbear Squad and read the upbeat ending to this story from Oklahoma Beagle Rescue
What should you do, what can you do, if you see an injured dog or one in distress? You can be prepared...Sunbear Squad offers guidelines, wallet cards, and information.
"A dog teaches a boy fidelity, perseverance, and to turn around three times before sitting down -- Robert Benchley
In 2013, director/writer Therese Shechter released the shocking documentary How to Lose Your Virginity. I wasn’t shocked by words like “hymen” or “penis.” I was shocked by our country’s ignorance.
Therese waited longer than most to have sex. When she finally decided to “do it,” she said, “It wasn’t so much because I had found Mr. Right but because I had grown tired of waiting for him.” It was in that moment, in a basement apartment, that Therese realized all the hype about losing her virginity really was just hype. There was no earth shattering before and after. She was still Therese, but she was Therese who’d once had a penis inside her.
The hype surrounding virginity is really a problem. I’m not saying losing your virginity is something to rush into. I waited until I was twenty-seven, and thank God, because I was finally mature enough by then to deal with sex’s ramifications. Thanks to How to Lose Your Virginity, though, I see how insane America is about purity and the unfortunately clichéd theory of “saving yourself.”
Did you know there are “Purity Balls?” In these ceremonies, seven- and eight-year-old girls metaphorically hand their virginity off to their fathers who will then someday hand that gift off to the girl’s husband. Antiquated (and frankly, creepy) practices like this are the reason girls get married so young: so they can finally have sex.
According to the film, one in six American girls take purity pledges. There’s even a Purity Pledge Facebook page. States are financially rewarded for teaching abstinence-only sex education, the product of which seems to be more teens having sex but being stupid about it. I’m all for waiting, but the way we’re educating teens about sex is just making things worse. Abstinence-only education is the sexual equivalent of Hitler burning books.
In How to Lose Your Virginity, Therese does an amazing job of interviewing varied and well-informed sources. She talks to magazine editors, sex educators, and a man on his way to becoming a woman. I was really impressed, honestly, with the creator of the porn series Barely Legal: a woman who had a horrible first sexual experience at the age of thirteen who now uses Barely Legal to rescript a woman’s first time into something sexy and passionate instead of awkward and uncomfortable.
Therese addresses the idea of virgin versus slut. She also questions what defines “virgin” anyway? She looks at the development of history and how patriarchal motifs have made women into objects to own, just as our virginity is something we “give away” like a birthday gift.
How to Lose Your Virginity is not blatantly sexual. It is not offensive. It is true and powerful. At certain points, I was laughing. At other points, I was wrathful. For instance, one abstinence avowing psychopath said she did support gays being abstinent, as well, until marriage … but since her organization did not believe in gay marriage, gay people have to be celibate their entire lives. One young man was asked the reasonable number of sexual partners to have in a lifetime. According to him, men could have as many as they wanted, while women could only have five.
This documentary will rile you up as well as inform you. I suggest it to anyone—women and men alike—who believe in sexual freedom. As Therese says, instead of “giving up” our virginity, let’s give up our myths about virginity. Preach, sister.
My latest video essay is now available at Press Play. It's the first in a new series by various hands on cinematic terminology. My term was "composition", and so I made an essay creatively titled, "What Is Composition?"Add a Comment
Three things you will probably have heard by now about Lucy, Luc Besson's latest film and his first foray back into proper, no-holds-barred science fiction since The Fifth Element. One, that the film's success demonstrates the viability of a female-led action/SF movie, and cements Scarlett Johansson's position as the reigning queen of filmed SF (or at the very least co-reigning queen, along with
The audacity I see in the ending of Snowpiercer comes not just from its framing of revolution as something that must smash the logic of the system, but also from the way it shows that system to be not just hierarchical in terms of class, but of also being fundamentally racialized.
First, there is the inescapable fact that most of the people who have been saved from the apocalypse are white and English speaking. Even the people at the back of the train, though more diverse than the people in the front, are predominantly white and English speakers. All of the positions of highest power in the train are positions held by white English speakers, and the ultimate positions of power are held by white men and passed on to white men (Wilford to Curtis).
As Curtis moves closer and closer to the front, the white supremacy becomes obvious. There's the classroom, where the vast majority of students are very white (and often blonde), with a few Asians in there (the pre-apocalypse notion of Asians as educational high achievers is thus replicated in the train), and one black girl (at least that I saw). The overall effect is of lily-whiteness, with a few special people added.
The people at the dance party are almost entirely white.
The people who apparently stepped out of The Great Gatsby are white.
The women getting their hair styled are white.
It's worth noting, too, how so much of what we see in the front cars evokes the old white world, a world of the 1920s-1950s — an America before the successes of the civil rights movement, of women's liberation struggles, of gay liberation, etc. (The car where everyone is taking drugs evokes even earlier ideas. It's like an opium den, a powerful force in the orientalist imagination of the yellow peril in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and a setting with plenty of cinematic history.)
Early in the film, Curtis tells Edgar that once they get to the front of the train, things will be different. "But how different, really?" the film asks at the end. "Know your place!" Mason (Tilda Swinton) tells the rabble. Curtis learns what his place is from Wilford: the place of the white patriarch.
That system cannot be reformed. It will do no good to have somebody else in charge of the engine. The logic of the system must not be reformed, it must be defied and destroyed.
And thus the ending, which stops the train's circular journey and potentially annihilates the last remnants of humanity.
The system is so corrupt, so incapable of reform, that what is known to be left of humans is worth destroying rather than continuing along the same tracks.
If there is to be a future for humanity, it looks like this, the new Adam and Eve:
They might be destroyed by the cold, white world. They might be a meal for the white polar bear. But maybe, somehow, they will survive and discover or create a new world, a world where humans are on a different journey, subject to a different system, not oppressed by the cold, unbearable whiteness.
Linda Woolverton is a writer, mother, and wife who also owns five dogs. She is an extremely talented and inventive screenwriter. She has written scripts for Disney that have captured the interest of hundreds of millions of people around the world. She has done this by reimagining and reinventing fairy tales and myths while retaining essential elements of earlier versions.
Her current success story began after college when she formed her own children's theater company, playing in a variety of venues in northern California, and working as a writer, director and performer. She later worked as a secretary, a substitute teacher, and from 1986-1989, she wrote several animated television series.
She also wrote YA children's books. She used one of them, Running Beforethe Wind, to help convince Disney of her writing talent.
Her films have brought billions of dollars to Disney.
Among her achievements: Beauty and the Beast(1991) including the Tony Award winning stage musical version; co-writer of the Lion King (1994), for film and stage; Alice InWonderland (2010), directed by Tim Burton; and, Malificent (2014).
Maleificenthas currently grossed over $660,000,000.
Ms Woolverton's next Disney film is her version of Lewis Carrol's Through the Looking Glass, scheduled for release in 2016.
Here is a link to an entertaining video trailer for Maleficent focused on Reimagining Sleeping Beauty. In the trailer, Ms Woolverton describes Maleficent as a "reinvention".
The Road Goes On Forever...
Sleeping Beauty, a fairy tale from earler centuries, and also known as Briar Roseby the Brothers Grimm and Charles Perrault, became Maleficentin today's movie version.
What are the enduring qualities of this story and other classic fairy tales? What are the special qualities that causes kids, young adults, and their parents to respond through the centuries?
These were among the ideas considered in a New York Times editorial, Throw Out the Rules! Read a Fairy Tale. Written by Verlyn Klinkenborg (author, cultural analyst, and Yale University professor). This unusual topic -- for a Times editorial -- was inspired by Phillip Pullman's retelling of fifty of his favorite stories by the brother's Grimm. Here is an excerpt:
"And that is the fun of going back to the Grimms. The stories veer vertiginously. There is no narrator to complicate things. They occur in a landscape whose every feature is instrumental to the plot. A castle appears if a castle is needed, a dock if a princess is going to sea. There is never weather for weather’s sake. Everyone has a terrible memory and a dim understanding of consequences. Emotions are powerful but simple — envy, love, selfishness. It is a world where boasting and cleverness can make a tailor a king."
"The Fairy tale is...a transcription made on one or more occasions of the words spoken by one of many people who have told this tale. And all sorts of things, of course, affect the words that are finally written down...The fairy tale is in a perpetual state of becoming and alteration. To keep one version is to put a robin redbreast in a cage." Phillip Pullman in his introduction to Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm
The illustration is by Walter Crane.
"What he wanted to do was to distil what he saw as the narrative story, the myth, of the English heroes in epics, romances, legends, dream visions, chronicles – Beowulf, Sir Gawain, Sir Orfeo, English Arthuriana (Wace, Layamon, Malory), Pearl, Patience, Purity, The Battle of Maldon – and works that may have influenced or impacted on these English works, especially the Volsunga Saga, the WelshMabinogion, and Finnish folk-myths found in the form of the Kalevala."
Dr. Jane Chance, an authority on medieval mythography, writing about Lord Of The Rings in an exceptional National Geographic
"National Dog Day is celebrated August 26th annually and serves to help galvanize the public to recognize the number of dogs that need to be rescued each year...Founded in 2004 by pet lifestyle expert and author Colleen Paige, National Dog Day was created to honor dogs more than we currently do, to give them "a day", to show deep appreciation for our long connection to each other -- for their endearing patience, unquestioning loyalty, for their work, their capacity for love and their ability to impact our lives every day in the most miraculous ways..."
Kids Reading to Shelter Dogs and the Nebraska Canine Connection
The photos tell the story.
They were taken at the Nebraska Humane Society as part of their Camp Kindness Program for kids 6-12. I learned about this wonderful program from author CA Wulff (we publish her books*) on her excellent website for dog lovers,Up On The Woof.
Here is an excerpt fromher blog:
"The program is not just helpful to improving the skills of young readers, but to the animals who find themselves in this loud and strange environment. A camper’s story helps them feel calm, noticed, and less lonely; giving them some loving companionship. Pam Wiese of NEHS says that any shelter can offer therapy reading to their animals for next to nothing. All that is needed are some 5 gallon buckets (turned upside-down for seats) and a box of books. Children don’t need to come into physical contact with the animals, (and therefore avoid any potential risks) but can sit outside the kennel cages, still providing focus and comfort to the animals."
Here's a comment by Mom Jennie Wright " Our son is doing this and he is loving it! He loves animals but dislikes reading! Best way to get him to read! Thank you for offering this program!
To read more about this program and how it can be adopted and funded by shelters nationally, read Up On The Woof. We are donating a set of the Planet Of The Dogsseries to Camp Kindness.
CA Wulff's books include Born Without a Tail, Crcling The Waggins and Finding Fido. She is associate publisher at Barking Planet Productions.
The Planet Of The Dogs Book Series
“It was wonderful to witness my students applying character lessons from the books in their own peer interactions…my students love them…(these books) are great motivators to encourage young people to read”… Julie Hauck, third grade teacher, Sheboygan WI, creator of Pages for Preston, a pioneer therapy reading dog program.
Librarians, teachers, bookstores...Order Planet Of The Dogs, Castle In The Mist, and Snow Valley Heroes, A Christmas Tale, through Ingram with a full professional discount.
Our books are available through your favorite independent bookstore or via Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Powell's and many more...
Therapy reading dog owners, librarians and teachers with therapy reading dog programs -- you can write us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will send you free reader copies from the Planet of the Dogs Series...Read Dog Books to Dogs....
The photo, above, of the Pages for Preston classroom reading session is courtesy of teacher Julie Hauck.
The Planet Of The Dogs Series is now in China Our Chinese publisher, Beijing Chongxianguan Books Co, Ltd,g, has created new illustrations for Chinese children...
Balance between audience sales and creative effort is a never ending quest. The influence of customer data analysis on the books, films, videos, and games for kids, the YA market, and adults is growing all the time.
Andrew Leonard decribed the situation in this excellent article for SALON:
How Netflix is Turning Viewers into Puppets
"I hit the pause button roughly one-third of the way through the first episode of “House of Cards,” the political drama premiering on Netflix Feb. 1. By doing so, I created what is known in the world of Big Data as an “event” — a discrete action that could be logged, recorded and analyzed. Every single day, Netflix, by far the largest provider of commercial streaming video programming in the United States, registers hundreds of millions of such events. As a consequence, the company knows more about our viewing habits than many of us realize. Netflix doesn’t know merely what we’re watching, but when, where and with what kind of device we’re watching..."
Question: Does this mean that violence will continue to overcome content? Perhaps Peter Jackson, who has become Tolkien's movie storyteller, has the answer.
The illustration by Darth is courtesy of theAtlantic, a great source of information on this and related issues.
Tornadoes Hit Farmhouse, Shelter, and Gardens of Way Cool Dogs
I have long been a fan of Nancy Houser's Way Cool Dogs website for the never ending flow of quality information, news and insights for dog lovers. Alas, mother nature, in the form of tornadoes, brought destruction to her area of Nebraska. Here's an excerpt from her report...
"On Saturday evening, June 14, 2014, the Wilcox area … where we live … was hit during the evening by three tornadoes in the area and a high straight wind of over 90 mph. The first thing I noticed was when our large wheel barrow soared by the front of the house into the corn field on our west side, and we could not see in front of our hand.
It was as if our world was wrapped in a gray cellophane with high winds drowning everything around it. We could not even hear the emergency sirens coming from Wilcox, about one-quarter mile from us. But a preliminary count of 9 tornadoes landed that night, from Wilcox-Hildreth-Minden area on northward, leaving a trail of damage that resembled a war zone...
There are many reasons why I love my dog, starting with the massive amounts of unconditional love my dog has for me. In fact, unconditional love is a key word in every relationship, whether it involves your partner or your pet. I went out and did a little researching on dog love,, while listing reasons that work for me and the girls. Enjoy!..
Read all of this delightful post by clicking the title link above. Nancy took the photo of her dog, Joyful Jasmine.
Measuring Canines and Cancer...Nancy has also posted regarding a pioneering scientific study at Vanderbilt University that is studying the effect of therapy dogs and children with cancer (over 13,000 children diagnosed with cancer every year in the USA). Here is the link: Children's Cancer and Canine Connection.
If ever there is tomorrow when we're not together... there is something you must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. But the most important thing is, even if we're apart... I'll always be with you.” ...A.A. Milne
Always # Like A Girl
I found this important, eye-opening video on Maria Tatar's Breezes fromWonderlandblog. The video deals with self esteem, puberty, and being a girl.
"The story of the child is the story of literature itself: of finding characters that fit your mold; of telling tales about yourself to audiences skeptical or censoring; odealing with parental stricture, pedagogic task, and social expectation in ways that preserve the inner self while at the same time keeping on the mask of conformity.
Girls and boys do it differently, but what their stories always tell us is that childhood is an age of the imagination, and that every time we enter into fiction, we step back into a childhood of 'what if' or 'once upon a time'."
Seth Lerer in his book, Children's Literature, A Reader's History from Aesop to Harry Potter. The illustration is by Arthur Rackham.
Book War Intensifies
David Streitfeld writes in the New York Times...
"The confrontation between Amazon and Hachette is growing louder and meaner, as the combatants drop all pretense that this is a reasonable dispute among reasonable people...
For more than six months, Amazon has been trying to wring better e-book terms out of Hachette. The publisher, which is the fourth largest in the United States and whose imprints include Little Brown and Grand Central Publishing, is energetically resisting.
Amazon has responded by delaying shipments of Hachette books and making it harder for customers to order them. Hachette authors have responded by publicly excoriating Amazon.
With its newest proposal, Amazon is trying to break the impasse by getting Hachette’s writers to switch allegiances"... Here's the link to read it all: Book War
Wags for Mags
PGI"Wags for Mags" is a student-led organization at Bradley University that has teamed up with Paws Giving Independence to train service dogs to assist those with disabilities. "Wags For Mags" was launched in 2012 to involve students with the service dog training process.
Paws Giving Independence (PGI) was started 5 years ago by Donna Kosner, a third grade teacher, her daughter, Michelle, a physical therapist, and her daughter's best friend, Brandi, an ER nurse. At that time, both Michelle and Brandi were students at Bradley University.
PGI is training and providing service dogs free of charge to people with a variety of disabilities ; they are also providing support to encourage independence. PGI also educates the public to the benefits of service dogs and a great many of their dogs come from shelters and rescue groups.
We salute the growth, dedication and life changing work of PGI. Visit their site: PGI
Here's a heartening video of PGI working with three disadvantaged 3 kids: PGI Video
Start Reading to Children at Birth! In an article by Motoko Rich in the New York Times, 62,000 pediatricians advocate early reading to nourish the brain...Here are excerpts:
"In between dispensing advice on breast-feeding and immunizations, doctors will tell parents to read aloud to their infants from birth, under a new policy (from) the American Academy of Pediatrics ...
With the increased recognition that an important part of brain development occurs within the first three years of a child’s life, and that reading to children enhances vocabulary and other important communication skills, the group, which represents 62,000 pediatricians across the country, is asking its members to become powerful advocates for reading aloud, every time a baby visits the doctor.
'It should be there each time we touch bases with children,' said Dr. Pamela High, who wrote the new policy. It recommends that doctors tell parents they should be 'reading together as a daily fun family activity” from infancy'"...The illustration is by Arthur Rackham
KidLitoSphere..."is the go-to site if you are looking for blogs focused on children's or YA literature...Here's an excerpt from their website that sums it up:
"The 'KidLitosphere' is a community of reviewers, librarians, teachers, authors, illustrators, publishers, parents, and other book enthusiasts who blog about children’s and young adult literature. In writing about books for children and teens, we’ve connected with others who share our love of books. With this website, we hope to spread the wealth of our reading and writing experience more broadly."
The Beagle Freedom Projecthas an important mission... In their own words: "The Beagle Freedom Project is a mission to rescue beagles used in animal experimentation in research laboratories and give them a chance at life in a loving forever home."
CA Wulff alerted me to this special video of their latest success:Beagle Freedom Project TEX-MEX Rescue - July 8th 2014
"We must fight against the spirit of unconscious cruelty with which we treat the animals. Animals suffer as much as we do. True humanity does not allow us to impose such sufferings on them. It is our duty to make the whole world recognize it. Until we extend our circle of compassion to all living things, humanity will not find peace."
—Albert Schweitzer, "The Philosophy of Civilization" -
I found this quote on Sunbear Squadwhere guidlines, free wallet cards, and "how to" save a dog in distress information are available at no cost for all good people.
"Sir, he's a good dog, and a fair dog; can there be more said?" William Shakespeare. The Merry Wives Of Winsor
But both Children of Men and Snowpiercer come crashing down to almost identical final moments. When the smoke clears and the countless bodies are carted off, what we’re left with is the same take-away: Bearded white dude saves humanity, in both cases represented by a woman and a child of color, both helpless and in need of saving, at the cost of his own life.
Basically, Older says, Snowpiercer and Children of Men are white savior movies. He proposes an alternative: "Imagine if the desperate rebels paused and elevated Tanya to leadership instead of Curtis. Snowpiercer would’ve become something truly subversive, a story some of us have been trying to tell for a very long time."
I think Snowpiercer is already pretty darn subversive, so I would replace the "truly" there with "even more", and I wouldn't call Yona in Snowpiercer helpless, really (she's smart and even seems to have some super powers). But yes, Snowpiercer could have offered an alternative to white supremacy (both the structural white supremacy of the train and the apparently internalized and patriarchal white supremacy of the rebels) instead of something closer to a satire of white supremacy ending in its own destruction — a futile destruction if you consider the likelihood of Yona and Tim's survival or the likelihood that some disease would kill off their ancestors. (For more along this line, and for thoughts on the implications of the film's take on revolutionary politics, and much else, see Aaron Bady's "Snowpiercer Thinkpiece".) It could have been a more deeply subversive, even utopian movie. It is not.
But as a savior, Curtis is pretty crappy. He's wrong about the revolution, most of the tailenders he's trying to liberate end up dead, and though he may have sacrificed his life for a woman and boy, the woman and boy are in all likelihood only going to outlive him by a day or two at most. And it's not like he set out to sacrifice his life for them. Nam and Yona caused the explosion. He just chose, along with Wilford, to see if his body might shield Yona and Tim's bodies from the blast. If you're going to die, you might as well make your death a potentially useful one, and that's what he does.
I've already proposed one way of thinking about the racial politics of the ending, and this is at least somewhat at odds with Older's reading, but I like texts that can be interpreted richly, and it's entirely likely that soon I'll think my first take was wrong. I like thinking about the lineage of white savior movies, because when I do, they give me a little bit more hope for progress than the ending of Snowpiercer does, because if we can see such stories as white supremacy talking about itself, then it's having a crisis of confidence and thinks it's going to die pretty soon.
(Obviously, it is the nature of white supremacy to make itself the center of conversation, and I am perpetuating that here. White supremacy's representations interest me. But I entirely agree with Older that we need additional storylines. Please please please somebody give Danny Glover the money to make his Toussaint L'Ouverture movie, for instance!)
There are some noticeable differences between the ending of Snowpiercer and the ending of Children of Men, but before getting to those, I want to bring up one other white savior movie, Clint Eastwood's Gran Torino, which I once called "a white savior movie that questions the whole idea of a white savior movie, or, at least, that wants to put an end to itself."
One of the things that I think is important to consider when viewing a white savior movie is its desired emotional effect. Where does it want the audience's sympathies to fall? What does the film seem to want us to feel, and how? In a classic white savior movie — think Dances with Wolves or The Blind Side or [insert your own title here] — the white savior becomes ennobled through their encounter with the non-white supporting character(s). They learn to be more caring, less bigoted, etc. (Yay, white people can be better! Hooray for White Guy 2.0!) The journey is fundamentally that of the white protagonist, and the audience's greatest interest should be in the white character. (This is one of the things I thought was so excellent about 12 Years a Slave, which is in the end, yes, literally a white savior movie — without Bass [Brad Pitt], Solomon Northup might never have been freed — but not at all about the redemption of white people. But that's tangential to this discussion...)
Though Gran Torino is at least partly about the end of the old white savior, it nonetheless sticks with the redemption narrative. The future is given to nonwhite characters, and those characters are shown to be the closest to a traditional (conservative) sense of American values, but grumpy old racist Walt ends up not just learning to care deeply for people he'd previously spurned, but sacrificing himself for them. And not just any sacrifice. He lands on the ground with his arms outstretched like Jesus on the cross. Like Snowpiercer, Gran Torino proposes that the future will not be white, but in Gran Torino the white savior is still pretty awesome, even if he's a relic.
In Children of Men, Theo is much less heroic than Walt. He's pointedly unheroic in his presentation. But his character arc is toward heroism — through helping Kee, he discovers something to live for, something to fight for, and he becomes somebody worth shedding a tear for when he dies. For me, it's not as big a tear as Gran Torino seems to want us to shed for Walt, but that's partly because it's not hard to imagine Theo going back to being a cynical or apathetic drunk even if he lived. Walt's death feels momentous, like a tremendous (if necessary) loss; Theo's death is sad for a moment, poignant more than devastating.
With Children of Men, Alfonso Cuarón did make interesting changes to counter the whiteness of the source material (a P.D. James novel), but the character we follow from beginning to end is, indeed, a white guy who saves a pregnant black woman and her child. Here, though, Kee is, like Thao and Sue in Gran Torino, a kind of representative of the future — if humanity is to survive, it's surviving because of a black woman, and the white savior is gone from the picture. (Although everyone we see on the Tomorrow ship that picks her up looks white, so who knows what will happen later...)
Snowpiercer also kills off the white savior(s) and proposes that the future of humanity does not lie with white people, but here the journey of the white savior is even less heroic than that of Walt or Theo. At least Walt and Theo are successful saviors.
Curtis's journey is in many ways the opposite of Walt's and Theo's. Walt and Theo begin cynical (or worse) and come to see the value in being a savior. We end up feeling good about them, and proud of them for their sacrifices. Curtis starts out at 2nd in command of the revolution (though Gilliam repeatedly suggests that Curtis is really in charge, even if Curtis doesn't want to face that fact) and ends up finding out that the revolution was a sham and that his actions all served to help Wilford's overall goals. Curtis has helped lead everyone he most cares into death for an illusion. Oops.
Do we shed a tear for Curtis?
I don't know about you, but I certainly didn't. Sure, there was the monologue toward the end where he talks about how he became a savage and then couldn't cut his arm off, etc., but it's important to remember what comes next: Nam's deflating reaction — Curtis clearly thought he was sharing his deepest, darkest secret, and Nam's response was little more than, "Uh huh." He's not bowing down to this white savior, not giving in to his emotional tug.
Curtis was interesting as a protagonist, as a figure to carry the force of the action, but my own emotional commitment was far more toward Nam, Tanya, Yona, and then Tim. (Tanya's death was, for me, the most affecting.) Curtis just isn't a very interesting character; he's a foil for the other characters and a device to get the story out. The relatively bland main character is an old tradition in narrative, and it serves a similar function to a straight man in comedy. So Curtis's death is not a moment that is, for me at least, more powerful than the deaths of so many other people on the train. It's easy for my plot interest to shift to Yona and Tim because that's where my affectual interest has been all along.
Gran Torino gives us the white savior who wants to end all white saviors, but it wants to us to pause and feel real sorrow for his death. Children of Men gives us an unheroic white savior who finds some shreds of heroism and dies to save the (at-least-partially) nonwhite future; we end up sort of sad for him, but the stronger emotion is likely happiness that Kee and her child lived. Snowpiercer gives us a white savior seeking the wrong revolution, ending up a savior as much by accident as intent, and the movie drains much of the emotional power from the savior figure, while proposing that if humanity has any future (unlikely), its future isn't one with white people in it.
I know it's been all Snowpiercer all the time here lately, but this time it's not so much about that particular film as about how one reviewer has chosen to write about it, since his choices are ones that I detest in reviews, despite (or perhaps because of) how common those choices are.
I am, in other words, simply here to register a complaint.
There is a good argument to be made that we should not expend any time or attention on bad writing. Life is short, and there's plenty of great writing out there to read. But I am ignoring that argument for the moment, despite all it has to recommend it. Because sometimes something is just such a perfect model of What Not To Do that I can't help but want to scream against it.
The item in question is a review at The Los Angeles Review of Books by Len Gutkin. It is a negative review, but that's not the problem. I'm glad there are negative reviews of Snowpiercer, even though I loved the film, because I am suspicious of anything that seems to garner universal acclaim.
It would be nice, though, if the negative reviews could be something more than, "Waaaaa! I don't like this movie and other people do! I'm right, they're wrong! Waaaaaa! Pay attention to me!"
You think I exaggerate? Let me do something the review does not, and offer a bit of evidence...
The first paragraph is mostly summary, but the term "critical darling" is obviously there to let us know that this will not be an altogether positive review. Critical darlings are one step above warm piles of wombat dung, after all. Not only are they darlings (which we all know must be killed, not loved), but they're also the darlings of that most disgusting of creatures, the critic. (Critics who proclaim their distaste for all those other critics are the best, of course, because they're on Our Side. They're One of Us. We the people.)
The second paragraph begins with an overview of director Bong Joon-Ho's career, with The Host praised for its satire and wit, but the review quickly plunges into invective. "Snowpiercer, too, has moments of satirical wit, but it is mostly an incoherent slog, a tendentious allegory punctuated by overproduced fight scenes meant to be virtuosic but that are, in fact, merely busy — glossy object lessons in the asininity of action-movie convention."
Here's where we begin to see the problem with this review. The reviewer wants to universalize his own taste, prejudices, inclinations, ignorance, etc. He wants to become Us. He could not write, "I found Snowpiercer to have some moments of satirical wit, but mostly it seemed to me to be an incoherent slog..." No, it must be stated more categorically: It is this.
Of course, you might argue that since this is a review written by one person, the fact that it is one person's opinion is obviously implied, and saying, "It seems to me..." or "I found it to be..." over and over is annoying. That may be true, but writers find ways around it without declaring themselves God Of All Truth. And yes, certainly the omniscient pose is, we all know, just a pose. It's the choice to take such a pose that I object to, because it leads to an astounding arrogance of tone, a tone of absolute faith, utter certainty, pure infallibility.
Perhaps I so bristle at it because I've fallen into such a tone myself at times. It's hard to avoid, I know. But worth the effort. The pieces of writing that I most regret having published are reviews composed with such a tone.
I could complain about the inaccuracy of Gutkin's adjectives, or the factual inaccuracy of his "in fact" ("merely busy" — no, that is, in fact, wrong), or the blithely dismissive phrase "the asininity of action-movie convention" — but let's instead look to how he justifies his opinions. After such assertions, there must be evidence, no? "The entire movie looks, somehow, both very expensive and frustratingly cheap." Another assertion. Followed by a comparison to a video game and another assertion: "which would have been impressive 17 years ago." Oooh, snap! But not evidence. (How does it look like that? Point to specific elements. Describe.)
"Snowpiercer is about class revolt, a theme whose timeliness has tricked critics into admiring it." More assertions and more arrogance: All those other people have been tricked! Our reviewer is the only one who can see the truth! This sentence is followed by a snide contradiction of David Denby's review: "'Is revolution being hatched in the commercial cinema?' The New Yorker’s David Denby was moved to ask. No, David, it’s not." This is a contradiction, not an argument. Also, it's puerile. (Why not just call him Dave? You're at Yale, Lee, you could, you know, jump on MetroNorth and hang out with Dave in NYC. I'm sure he'd love to chat with you. He might even offer you his job, because obviously you're so much smarter than he is!)
This is followed by some more snide summary in which the writer works hard to declare himself superior to the work he is reviewing.
(Have we found evidence for Gutkin's assertions yet? I'm not seeing much. But let's continue...)
There's commentary on Chris Evans's performance as Curtis. "Has there ever been a well-known actor so pitifully without any of the requisite gifts as Evans?" Yes, I'm sure there has been. But maybe he meant the question as hyperbole. No matter. It completely misses the idea that perhaps the performance is exactly what was needed, because perhaps there is a critique of heroic action movies built into this movie. I don't require a reviewer to agree with such an idea, but it's always worth considering that perhaps the item under review is doing what it is doing on purpose, and perhaps your job as a reviewer is to look for that purpose, and, before you reject the item as simply "bad", to consider this possible purpose and adjust your critique accordingly. But no, as any blowhard can tell you, it's much easier and more fun to hurl insults.
The review continues: "To be fair, he’s given some pretty hopeless material. Recounting to Namgoong the traumatic early days of life on the train, Curtis fights back tears (I think that’s what he’s doing) and asks, 'You know what I hate about myself? I know what people taste like.' After several seconds of grimacing: 'I know that babies taste best.' I laughed so hard I thought I’d be asked to leave the theater." Again, skipping over the snotty tone, maybe that's the point.
(But let's not entirely skip over that snotty tone. Gutkin presents himself as one of those people who likes to stay above it all, distantly judging anyone who might find the scene actually moving. I can see him at the theatre, laughing away while some poor schlub next to him wipes away a tear, and Gutkin turns to said schlub and whispers, "What a little crybaby you are. You probably watch the Hallmark Channel, don't you?")
He moves on to Tilda Swinton. To Gutkin's credit, he recognizes that Tilda Swinton is a god. He then references Coriolanus, to show what a real writer can do with similar themes, and Joan Didion, who long ago sneered down her sneery nose at Dr. Strangelove — and so Gutkin decides that because he, too, likes to sneer, he has rights to Didion's nose, and he uses it to sneer down at Snowpiercer, which is, in fact, worse than Strangelove. (Imagine that! The horror!) But Swinton's good: "Only when she’s onscreen does Snowpiercer completely hold one’s attention."
The above sentence is yet another example of the arrogance that oozes from this review. What if somebody said, "There actually are other moments that completely held my attention." How would Gutkin respond? He has left himself only two choices. He could say, "In that case, I am wrong," or he could say, "You may think your attention was completely held, but you are a victim of false consciousness, and I, a Ph.D. candidate at Yale University, know more than you, and therefore I pronounce you wrong. Return to the hole out of which you crawled, worm!"
The next paragraph is, surprisingly, all praise for various actors, ending with, "And as Wilford, Ed Harris is as good as you’d expect him to be."
Just as we're beginning to think that Gutkin is maybe not the total creep he seemed to be, he doubles down: "But not good enough." Ohhh, feel the burn!
The final paragraph continues: "Snowpiercer wouldn’t, really, be worth writing about at all, except that a number of prominent critics — and not just David Denby — seem inexplicably convinced of its virtues." If the egomaniacal shallowness of this sentence isn't obvious to you, just look at that inexplicably there. According to this sentence, none of the critics who have praised Snowpiercer have explained their praise. None of them. Instead, they've just written thousands and thousands of versions of, "Snowpiercer, Snowpiercer, rah rah rah! Yadda yadda yadda! It's great, great, great" Meanwhile, Gutkin has offered the devasting and incontroverible evidence of, "No, David, it’s not."
We're not quite done yet, so maybe there's some evidence in the final sentences. Gutkin actually quotes two reviewers, Dana Stevens and Andrew O’Hehir, but he doesn't quote their reasoning, he just contradicts their opinions, and quotes O'Hehir on Harvey Weinstein's initial desire to cut the film's length, which then leads to the final sentence: "Weinstein should have been allowed his cuts — the thing would at least have been shorter." (The thing. It's not even a movie, it's just a thing, something easily dismissed. Get this thing out from under my Didion nose! Such things are not allowed at the Yale Club! Go away, thing!)
This made me wonder if the reviews he quotes are as vapid as his own.
Here's a paragraph from Stevens (and not an entirely positive one, at that, despite Gutkin's accusation that Stevens gushes):
Unless you have a huge appetite for gnarly fight sequences, this seizing-control-of-the-train section gets a bit long and structure-less, though I will say this for Bong: His action scenes never build or resolve according to familiar Hollywood formulas. Any character, no matter how narratively important or beloved, can get the ax (often literally) at any time, which gives the battle scenes a palpable sense of emotional as well as physical suspense.
The qualifier at the beginning of that first sentence is an interesting contrast to Gutkin's arrogance. As someone who does, in fact, have a pretty good appetite for "gnarly fight sequences" (an accurate description of some of the central scenes in the film), I appreciate Stevens's caveat. Indeed, I can see how somebody less interested in cinematic mayhem than I might get bored during a lot of Snowpiercer, just as I could see they might get bored with any action movie, no matter how accomplished. If you don't like that sort of thing, you don't like that sort of thing, and you'll have a hard time telling the good stuff from the mediocre or even bad. (It's like me trying to tell you if a football player is any good. Amateur football games look just like professional ones to my eyes. But I'm not writing reviews of football games.) Further, Stevens makes an assertion about those action scenes (they "never build or resolve according to familiar Hollywood formulas") and then follows that assertion with reasoning.
The O'Hehir review is more descriptive and also full of assertions without evidence, and, truthfully, doesn't do a very good job of explaining its praise.
It's easy to write negative reviews. It's fun, in a nasty, trivial sort of way. It lets you blow off the steam that built up from being subjected to an experience you didn't enjoy. I've done it. I get it. But a negative review needs to offer something more than just its negativity.
I've come to expect, perhaps foolishly, a little bit more of the L.A. Review of Books. Shouldn't an editor say, "Hey, you've clearly had fun writing this, but you should know that you come off sounding like an ass, and it might help to put a little bit more explanation in there to give some evidence for your criticism. You disguise the lack of substance with a tone of omniscience, as if the obviousness of your complaints isn't worth the effort of explanation. I mean, have you ever considered that maybe the problem isn't the movie? Maybe, really, the problem is ... you?"
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Films trick our senses in many ways. Most fundamentally, there’s the illusion of motion as “moving pictures” don’t really move at all. Static images shown at a rate of 24 frames per second can give the semblance of motion. Slower frame rates tend to make movements appear choppy or jittery. But film advancing at about 24 frames per second gives us a sufficient impression of fluid motion.
However, birds–such as pigeons–have a much higher threshold for detecting movement. A bird’s visual system is keenly sensitive to moving stimuli as this is essential to their survival. Whether swooping down to snatch live prey, fleeing from a predator, or zeroing in on a nest for a precise landing, birds must rely on their fine-tuned ability to hone in on moving targets. So the frame rate at which most of our films are shown is far too slow for birds to perceive continuous motion. Their threshold of visual processing exceeds the standard frame rate, allowing them to see component frames … and the illusion of motion pictures would be broken.
If a pigeon had been roosting in the theater where 19th century crowds first gaped at the Lumière Brothers’ steam train looming towards them, it may have been less than impressed — especially as early silent films were often played at only 16 frames per second.
Even a film shown at today’s industry standard of 24 frames per second would most likely look like a series of flashing slides to a pigeon. We’re mesmerized by Marilyn Monroe’s white skirts billowing over the subway grate in The Seven-Year Itch, but a pigeon may see something more like a slide show of the skirt in frozen increments.
Further, most humans cannot distinguish individual lights flashed at 60 cycles per second, perceiving instead a single continuous beam of light. This gives an impression of constant light while watching a film (despite the shutter actually shutting out light several times per frame). But birds have much higher critical flicker-fusion frequency, such as 90-100 cycles per second or higher (e.g., Lisney et al., 2011). So while humans do not perceive the flicker in a movie, a pigeon may see flashes like strobelights along with the jumpy frames of Marilyn’s airborne skirt.
One of the creepiest scenes in Hitchcock’s The Birds shows Melanie (Tippi Hedren) smoking on a bench in a school playground while birds are flocking on a jungle gym behind her. She finally spots a lone bird flying overhead and turns around to discover every rung of the jungle gym crowded with large black birds. Actually, Hitchcock used cardboard cut-outs for most of the “birds” on the jungle gym, figuring that most people would not notice these stationary objects if interspersed with live birds.
Birds in a school playground in Hitchcock’s (1964) The Birds
Indeed, the illusion works on most of us. We are also often tricked by illusory “crowds” in films–made of real people and dummies, or multiple images of the same people patched together to make a “crowd”. However birds are especially observant of the movement of other birds–and combined with the much faster ‘refresh rate’ of the avian visual system (as their visual information is “updated” more frequently than humans)–the jungle gym scene would not likely fool any birds.
Studies suggest that birds do perceive some information via video images (using video at 30 frames per second). For instance, a video of wild chickens feeding elicits feeding in birds of the same species (McQuoid & Galef, 1993); videos showing a hawk or raccoon elicit aerial and ground alarm calls respectively in roosters (Evans, Evans, and Marler, 1993); and video images of female pigeons elicit courtship displays in male pigeons (Shimizu, 1998).
So birds seem to pick up some information from video images, at a somewhat higher frame rate and screen-refresh rate than film–though color may be distorted (Wright & Cumming, 1971), and gaps in movement and flicker are likely perceived (Lea & Dittrich, 1999). These discrepancies would be much more pronounced for moving images on cinematic film.
A fine-tuned visual system gives birds of prey an advantage when pursuing a fast-moving target. And it allows pigeons those few extra seconds to peck at grubs and seeds–and flap away at the last moment possible when your car approaches.
Wallace is jaded, British, and wandering through life in Toronto when he meets his best friend’s cousin, Chantry. They form an immediate connection through offbeat humor and a general distaste for small talk. They leave the party together, and Chantry gives Wallace her number only to make it quite clear that she has a BOYFRIEND named Ben.
Wallace, still recovering from his cheating ex-girlfriend, tosses Chantry’s number. Of course, a little thing like that can’t keep them apart, and they soon become best of friends. But can men and women really be just friends?
This is the set up for Elan Mastai’s brilliant screenplay, What If. The plotline is vaguely similar to my favorite romantic comedy ever, When Harry Met Sally. That said, What If in no way steals from Harry and Sally. Instead, it wends it own quirky, modern, hilarious path toward what one hopes is a happy ending for Harry Potter … er, I mean, Daniel Radcliffe.
Let’s face it: whenever I see Daniel Radcliffe, I see Harry Potter. That said, he successfully shook the wizard off his back in his brilliant performance as Wallace. In an interview, Radcliffe said Wallace is the character he’s played most similar to himself. If that’s true, Radcliffe’s personality is freaking adorable, and I want to have a beer with him.
Not only is his comic delivery spot on, but Radcliffe isn’t a little boy anymore. Well, I mean, he’s short, but he’s officially a man, as proven by a nude scene in which I kept thinking, “When did Harry Potter grow pecs?”
Romantic interest Chantry is played by Zoe Kazan. I’d never seen her in anything before, but now, I love her because in Chantry, she created a loveable, odd artist person who struggles between her love for long-time boyfriend Ben and her fondness for Wallace. She, too, is comic genius, but this may all be due to screenwriter Elan Mastai.
This is his first full-length romantic comedy. Well, I dub him Rom-Com Genius. The dialogue is painfully funny (and sometimes awkward) but ingenious. For instance: “I just had sex and am about to eat nachos! It’s the greatest moment of my life!” (A line delivered by Wallace’s priceless best pal, Allan, whose every line is worthy of a chortle.) Add an additional smattering of colorful side characters, and you have a full cast to fall in love with.
I think what impressed me the most about the writing was that Mastai never took things too far. The comedy was not gross or over the top. It reminded me of conversations I have with my family and friends and hope no one’s listening to.
It’s no secret I’ve been having a hard time lately with my depression. Yet, by the time What If was over, I was smiling—really smiling. I felt good for almost an entire day, which is saying something for me. This is a film that makes you feel good. It makes you hug the person you love a little tighter. It makes you think funnier thoughts. Oh, and it totally makes you have a crush on Harry Potter … er, Daniel Radcliffe.
Jamie Marks Is Dead is based on a book I love by a writer I love: One for Sorrow by Christopher Barzak. I realized recently that I think of it as the first novel of "our" generation/group of writers — Chris is a few months older than me, and originally introduced me to probably half the writers and editors I know. I read One for Sorrow in manuscript, exhorted Juliet Ulman to buy and edit it for Bantam, and celebrated its publication. Chris sent me a copy with the kindest inscription penned onto its title page that any writer has ever given me. I feel like a kind of distant (crazy) uncle to the book, and thus also deeply protective toward it. I didn't read most of the reviews when it was released for fear that I would seek out any negative reviewers and do terrible things to them that would get me arrested. When I found out it was being made into a movie, I was both excited for Chris and for the higher profile the book would likely gain, and terrified that the movie would just be awful. I mumbled to myself for weeks about the change of title before coming to accept it.
The movie was officially released in some major US cities today, and the distributor is also doing a simultaneous release on video-on-demand (Amazon, iTunes, etc.), so those of us, at least in the US, who can't get to one of the cities it's playing in can still see it. I watched it this morning.
The movie is not awful — far from it — and though at first I had my crazy-uncle fists clenched, ready to pounce on anything that even touched a hair of my beloved nephew's head, it was soon clear that this was a movie made from not only a general understanding of the book, but a profound sympathy with it. They're very different creatures, but if you love One for Sorrow, I think you're likely to love Jamie Marks Is Dead, too.
It begins in a style I've come to think of as "digital somber", a style common to a lot of artsy low-budget movies these days: muted colors; the clarity of light peculiar to a certain kind of digital lensing; long takes and fluid camera movement; dreamy music. It's become a familiar enough style that I now find myself skeptical of it at first, because too often it screams out, "Serious Movie!" before it earns its mood. (But at its best it can be devastating. See, for instance, The Snowtown Murders.) In this case, it's a good fit to the material, and director Carter Smith, cinematographer Darren Lew, and the various designers and decorators (Amy Williams, Steven Phan, Nora Mendis, Rachel Dainer-Best) do a superb job of uniting the elements into a whole that sustains a mood impressively. The production design and decoration in particular deserve notice, because the details are exquisite — though the movie makes absolutely no effort to drawn attention to it, the setting is not contemporary, but rather seems to be late '90s, early '00s (the time of the book). Further, though the novel is explicitly set in and around Youngstown, Ohio, the movie is more general in its setting: somewhere northeastish, somewhere working class, somewhere rusty and full of industrial and commercial ruins. (It was shot in New York state. Chris says it looks plenty like Ohio. It looks plenty like places I know in New Hampshire, too, the places the tourists don't go.)
Smith's background as a photographer serves him well, as he and Lew sustain a difficult look for the film without strain. Shot after shot is evocative but not ostentatious. One example (a screen capture doesn't do it justice, or I'd place a picture here): a high-angle long shot of a yellow ribbon of crime scene tape snaked across the wet ground of a grey riverbank on a moonlit night. The tape, though muddied, is the brightest object in the image, rivalled only by the white of driftwood and fragments of light rippling on the water. The image evokes mood and meaning, but most importantly it provides a perfect introduction for a ghost.
I wasn't sure if I was going to like Noah Silver as Jamie, because I had such a clear idea of Jamie in my own mind, an idea that has congealed over a decade of living with the novel, and the soggy-Harry-Potter styling of the character was very different from the lighter, whispier Jamie in my head. (Adam was always less defined for me, more an aural than physical image, since the novel is written from his first-person POV.) But Silver's performance won me over, especially in the second half of the film when he must be alluring, mysterious, innocent, and menacing all pretty much at the same time. In his first scenes, the lighting and make-up make him seem almost like a plastic mannequin, but as the scenes progress, he becomes more and more human — an odd and very effective choice for the representation of this ghost.
All of the performances are strong, and the film demonstrates quite well the adage that finding the right cast (and crew) is 90% of the success of a production. In pre-release photos from the film, I thought Cameron Monaghan as Adam looked a bit too much like a human Kewpie doll, but he gives an impressive performance. His physique is remarkably variable — he can play vulnerability and sensitivity as well as sharpness and hardness, with his face seemingly changing shape depending on the needs of the scene: at one moment, his face is soft and a bit round, at another, it's all cold angles. (Some of this is also the responsibility of the cinematographer and his lighting team.) Monaghan has excellent instincts, and Smith is smart enough to bring those instincts to fore by encouraging him to hold back: Monaghan's eyes tell entire stories.
Where Silver and Monaghan were not immediately in sync with how I'd imagined the characters, and thus had to (and did) win me over, Morgan Saylor was the Gracie in my mind's eye. I've rarely seen an actor so perfectly fit how I'd imagined a character when reading the original material. A big part of it is her voice, which is deeper and huskier than you might imagine if you just looked at her. It would be easy to make the character of Gracie into a cliché of the adolescent "bad girl", but the movie thankfully doesn't do that — as Saylor plays the role, Gracie is very much an individual, not a type. We don't actually learn a lot about her in the movie, but there is a richness to the performance that allows us to imagine so much that the film itself doesn't have time to convey.
Smith made some excellent choices with his screenplay and direction, particularly in how he focused the story. There's an epic quality to the second half of the novel that just couldn't be conveyed well in a 2-hour movie, never mind a 2-hour movie without a big budget. As any good artist does, Smith turns his limitations into opportunities. The close focus on Adam, Jamie, and Gracie (with some other folks wandering in and out of the story to create and complicate tension) allows the film to build a slow, careful emotional resonance. It's seductive, this movie, and it sticks its hooks in when you're not expecting it. Partly, this is because Smith decided to keep the dialogue to a minimum and to not explain everything. It's a movie of glances and glimpses, of possibilities more than answers. That will, I'm sure, bother plenty of viewers, viewers who want explanations for the logic of the ghost world (as if the supernatural must follow a logical system!), who will want some of the plot's mysteries solved more neatly, who will want some of the side stories tied up or justified — but this is a different sort of film, and its commitment to suggestiveness, its willingness to allow possibilities to linger, enhances the fundamental effect. Give yourself over to it, and this is a movie that will haunt you. The novel does this some, but as a novel it has the space to answer questions without closing off possibilities. Two-hour movies are more like short stories, and at its best moments this one reminded me of the effect of reading my favorite writer of ghost stories, Robert Aickman.
For all its many great moments, the most extraordinary is the very last. Since the movie goes in a different direction for some of its later parts than the novel does, I had no idea how or where it would end. (Figuring out the end was, I know, one of Chris's biggest challenges when writing the novel.) What could it possibly do? How could it find the resonance it needed to be satisfying?
I'll just say this: the moment the credits started rolling, I was in tears. Tears not only because of the profound effect of the absolutely perfect choice of ending, but also of relief that this beloved novel had been translated with such care and love to a very different medium.