the circular runner

Posts Tagged ‘entertainment’

9 Months & Out: Is It Better to Be Open or Focussed When Looking for a New Career?

In career, media on September 8, 2012 at 6:20 am


After too much deliberation, I am going to the motherland (Los Angeles where my mother does live, btw) in October, so I can join a lot of other writers/programmers/social media people for what I hope will be a learning experience.  Story World is not cheap, though it is not as expensive as some other professional conferences.  I’d tell you more about what the convention entails except that I’m not sure–not exactly.  The event is for storytellers who want to work across media and incorporate gaming aspects and social media into their narratives.  It’s not really about how to tell stories, as far as I can tell.  It’s more about how to use different media to create new ways to experience stories.

Apart from that, I imagine there will be a lot of trading of the biz cards.

In general, I’m of two minds about conferences. One part of me thinks they are a waste of time and money. I’ve gone to a couple for writers.  And it was fun to be around other members of the tribe, but I didn’t really get anything out of them, professionally or artistically.  How many times can you attend workshops like, “How to Sell Your Novel” or “How to get an Editor’s Attention”?  If it were all so easy, then there would be as many bad books published as there are crazy people writing them.

I’m hopeful that since Story World has a more technical component to it that the workshops will be a little more useful.  I also hope that since this kind of storytelling is mor collaborative than book writing that networking will be fruitful.

Still, I have my concerns.  If writer conferences are just a little too closed, a little too predictable, this kind of conference might be a little too open.  Story World is about new media and new media is so new and untested that it’s hard to know crazy from brilliant.  I think I can tell when a writer is being crazy: that 3,000 page tome about identity with detailed disembodied descriptions of the emotional lint is probably going to never see the light of day.  But who’s to say that some app that allows a person to put on goggles and see that lint for himself will not be the next great thing?

There’s an analog to my career quest. A year ago, I decided I would not pigeon hole myself about the kind of writer I would try to be.  I had tried to write a novel for 6 years because without much thought, I concluded that the novel was the only way to go as a writer.  But then I realized I had other interests: film, graphic novels, blogs, children’s books.  Hell, I even thought about trying to write for video games, which I still think would be frickin’ awesome.  Trying my hand at many different types of writing since then has freed me up enormously, and I think it has made me better.  I learned that I love to collaborate, that in the end, if I do get a book out and if it were to be read by any amount of people that I’d love that book to be a children’s book–one of those children’s books that adults could read, too.  But I also learned that I love to tell stories more than I love to write fiction books of a certain kind for a certain reader in a certain format known as a book.

Of course, there’s a downside to all of this: namely, it can leave you a little directionless, as with Story World, all this possibility leaves me not sure if what I’m producing is crazy crap or crazy good, or worse yet, not crazy enough to be either good or bad.

So, in October, I’m going to a conference to learn what I don’t know.  Am I a fool?  Maybe.  But maybe, that’s all you can do when you’re starting out on a new path.  Keep taking steps and hoping that if you drop enough business cards along the way, someone will find you and tell you where home is.


should a blog be focussed or should it be all over the place?

In criticism, media, observations on August 2, 2012 at 6:28 am

I’ve been reading Ryan Holiday‘s book, Trust Me, I’m Lying, and let me tell you, the experience is depressing.  In the book, Mr, Holiday not only talks about how he’s manipulated the media countless times, he also argues over and over again that the world of social media is not based on value or truth or quality writing; it’s based on tricking readers to view more pages.  It’s worth noting that as I read this book, I started to wonder if I was part of some kind of meta-experience set up by the author.  I wondered if the book itself was just a trick in that it repeated the same basic point over and over again.  Was my buying the book–a book that promises to describe in full detail the ins and outs of the media landscape–a trick?

But the most depressing part of reading this book has more to do with where I am than where the book or its author is.  I heard Mr. Holiday interviewed on Brian Lehrer‘s public radio show, and I bought his book because he said that in it, he would give away the tools of his trade. In other words, he would teach his readers how to manipulate social media.  I’m not saying that I wanted to do anything dishonest, but I was hoping to learn something I hadn’t known before–some trick of the trade that would help my blog, my career as a writer.  Kind of sad and lame, I’ll admit.

The only thing I really learned from the book is to ask this question of myself an of all of you bloggers out there.  Mr. Holiday repeatedly quotes big-time bloggers all saying the same thing: focus on one thing and become an authority on that one thing if you want people to come read you.  As a generalist, this troubles me, but at the same time, it stands to reason.  People like to know what they are getting, so if they want spots, they go to that blog or channel or whatever, and likewise, they want to know about food or clothes or relationships.  Blogs, so Mr. Holiday argues, are all about consistency.  That sells, by which he means, that’s what readers want.  Is that so?

What do you all think?  Do you care if people read or if they comment? Do you write for yourself or are you trying to get your stuff read by as many people as possible? Do you force yourself to post about a limited amount of topics or are you all over the place?

i’m a loser, i’m a genius, i’m a loser: a writer’s dilemma

In criticism, humor, observations, Uncategorized on July 28, 2012 at 11:37 am

It’s a sign of age that things are not one extreme or the other. When I was younger, if I failed at something,  I would almost certainly tell people I sucked.  I didn’t mean, I suck at this or that.  I was trying to make more of an existential statement, as in I am a person who just lives in a state of sucking, i.e., a loser.

I was never so confident or clueless to say I was a genius when something went my way.  But I’ll admit that somewhere in the back of my head, I was hopeful I might find that thing I was amazing at. If I’m really honest, I’d add that I wanted to find something I was amazing at without having to put in bone-crushing effort needed to make amazingness.  Of course, even geniuses put in effort–I’m assuming this though I cannot say for sure since, if you haven’t figured it out on your own, I am no genius.  (I know. Big surprise.)

I bring all of this up because a couple weeks ago, I experienced a pretty big failure and a nice success back to back.  The first was a screening of my second short film (the trailer appears above).  The screening happened here in SF at a big theater as part of a festival that happens out here regularly.  As part of the festival, after the screening of each movie is over, the crew and cast go down in front and take questions.  Often the questions are pretty slight, i.e., why did you you use that logo for your production company; do you think you’ll make a sequel to that romantic comedy with the happy ending that couldn’t possibly go anywhere else because it is a short with a happy ending; I love chocolate, and the main character was eating some in that one scene, what kind of chocolate?  You get the point.

But when Cherise, my strange little Cinderella story in reverse, was done, it was like ghost town silence.  We went up and looked out into the vast audience (over 600 people) and you could feel the rampant indifference. What I would’ve given for a question about chocolate?

On later reflection and because my director reminded me of this, I realized that we made the movie we set out to make.  We wanted to make something that was lovely to look at.  We wanted to tell a story with dance and music and through minimal dialogue. We wanted a visual experience more than we cared about story.  Well, we hit those marks.  But still, there was a part of me sitting in that theater harkening back to my younger days, the younger me that often told himself, Jesus, dude, you suck the big one.

A day later, I had a reading. It was the first time I’ve ever been asked to be a featured reader, and I was excited.  But there was also a part of me that was fearful.  Would I suck at this, too?  Would the crowd, mostly poets, look at me and my little fables/fairy tales/ urban micro fiction about old ladies popping happy pills and would they reject what they saw? Would they get all aggro the way poets at spoken word events often do?  What is the opposite of snapping fingers and saying, groovy, man? As it happens, they did not hate me.  In fact, they were very enthusiastic. Some people might have even  snapped some fingers.  And for a moment or two that night, I felt like like I had arrived. I was a writer.

I’m no genius. That thought never crossed my mind even with the snapping, but I’m ok with that. The violins will never soar as I write the great American Novel. I’m no Mozart.  I’m not even Salieri. But with practice, I hope I write something that gets close to great. That’s a realistic goal–I hope it is.

As for the sucking part, the truth is I know I don’t suck, either–not in existential way.  But ironically, that’s almost more disappointing than not being a genius.  If you tell people you suck and you believe it, there’s always a way up.  There’s always room for improvement. And more importantly, if you fail at what you’re attempting, you can wrap yourself in the Sucky Blanket of Low Expectations.

You think I sucked that night?  You think my movie was shite?  Well, of course my dear man/woman, I suck.  I suck the big one.

NO MORE!  It’s time to grow the hell up. I’m just too old to be carrying the Sucky Blanket around. I need to work and not worry. I might die with nothing to my artistic record, but I’m not going down sucking, goddammit.


the Batman shootings: evil, revenge, and me

In life, observations, teaching & education on July 20, 2012 at 2:08 pm

I don’t usually post on Fridays, but I just saw some footage from the Colorado shooting, and I wanted to write something. I needed to.

I will admit that about the same time James Holmes decided to enter a theater in Colorado guns a’blazing, I was watching a Korean revenge film about  sociopath and about a cop who decides to break all the rules in order to seek revenge.  Usually, revenge movies are a guilty pleasure for me, and Asian revenge movies are so over the top that I wouldn’t ever say I am moved by them intellectually.  But this Korean movie, called, I Saw the Devil, was different.  It was over the top and sometimes, the characterization of the sociopath was akin to those old silent movies when the villain wears black and twists his mustache, but the thing that kind of made me stick with the movie was that it focused less on the criminal than it did on the police officer.  If I had to summarize the movie, I’d say it was a look at the fact that there is no solution for evil, or if you prefer, against a person completely devoid of morality.

Ironically, this movie reminded me of The Dark Knight, which also dealt with the same notion.  Heath Ledger as the Joker, you say what you will about his acting, but that character is truly horrifying–not because of what he does, but because he feels nothing about what he does.  You can imagine that the Joker would give as much thought to breathing as he would to brutally killing a person except that brutally killing someone probably gave him some pleasure–but then again, maybe not.

There’s a scene in The Dark Knight when the Joker talks to Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) and lays out his thoughts on violence.  Watch this scene and tell me if this isn’t scary.

It’s scary because there is no ideology, no firm ground to share. There is only randomness, violence. It makes me shiver, and yet as a movie-goer, I’m drawn to it because there is something awesome about it–awesome in the Biblical sense of the word.  Awesome in the sense of being awestruck with horror because there is nothing one can do to fix this kind of person.  Revenge is not a prudent motivating force, but part of the reason we like revenge movies is that they restore order to the world–at least they attempt to.  They give us a sense of justice.  But the randomness of the Joker, the randomness of this shooter in Colorado, is just that, randomness.  And revenge does not bring about justice.  The immoral person does not feel, cannot feel, guilt, which is kind of the point of seeking out justice, isn’t it?  That’s the lesson of The Dark Knight and I Saw the Devil.

And yet, the answer is not apathy.

Earlier this week, right outside the projects in which I teach my GED classes, there was a drive-by shooting.

this does not look like the site of evil, does it?

No one was hit, though there were dozens of children at the playground across the street and young couples with their dogs were there, too.  The shooters, no doubt, are not evil, even if what they were doing could be called that.  They were not being random.  They were going after a kid for some reason no one knows exactly.  The only reason I bring this event up, apart from the fact that I have not really talked to anyone about it, is that the responses of my young students was almost all the same: indifference. The shooting, the bullets and all the harm those bullets can do, has been internalized by the young people I work with, and they don’t see much point in getting upset by it.  I don’t think my kids are evil for their apathy.  But I do think it shows that they have been harmed by the evil I’m describing.  They do not feel.  They don’t imagine that there are places where random violence is not a daily thing to witness.  Or maybe they do, but they don’t see themselves living in those places.

And maybe they have no reason to. I’m not sure I believe in the devil, at least not as certain religious people like to describe him, but if he did exist, last night, a little bit of hell was visited upon the town of Aurora, Colorado and those people in that theater saw a glimpse of the devil for themselves.

genius is like porn: I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it….

In media, music, writing on July 19, 2012 at 6:20 am

Recently, I heard an interview between Fiona Apple and Marc Maron.  It was on the WTF podcast, which I recommend listening to if you are interested in Apple or if you aren’t familiar with Marc Maron as an interviewer. I was excited to hear the talk because I love Apple’s music.  Well, I’m not sure I always love the music, but I’m always excited about her albums because I think Apple is a genius.

That word gets overused.  There are very few geniuses.  I tend to think of them the way one should think of a Pegasus. As in you’re walking down some country road and over to the left, you see a pasture and some horses race by.  If you’ve ever seen horses run, not being ridden but just running, then you probably know that the sight is awe-inspiring.  Horses are beautiful animals.  The power, the speed, the grace.  But these animals, as amazing as they are, are not geniuses.  The genius is the white horse running in the opposite direction from the rest of the pack.  The one with the wings.  The one that now is flying toward you.  Jesus, you’re thinking, horses don’t do that.  You might be scared at seeing this.  You might want to get up close and touch this crazy horse.  Maybe you want to do both at once.

Well, damn skippy!!!  Your reaction is natural.  Horses don’t fly.  Neither do writers nor singers nor painters nor fill-in-the-blank.  But occasionally one of these people does the impossible.  That’s the genius.

Listening to Apple sing makes me feel like I’m seeing a Pegasus.  Again, I’m not always loving the music.  But I want to understand it.  I want to know how/why a thirty-something singer gets away with putting out an album with a title that’s got so many words that you have to use an elipsis.  (The most recent title is The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do)  Is it pretentious? You might want to say so but I’m not sure.  Mind you, this is an album that has a song on it called Hot Butter, which I kid you not is a pop song that uses kettle drum, piano, and voices in counter-point.  How does Apple pull this off?  How is this not some kind of crazy art song?  How is this song popular enough that it plays on a Starbucks speaker system, which is how I first heard it?

It’s the power of genius, my friends.  You might not like the song, you might not like her music, but you know that Fiona Apple has wings.

The Life & Death of a Short Film–my first short film…

In media, observations, Uncategorized, writing on March 5, 2012 at 6:19 am

OK, here’s something you’ve never heard before: making a movie is hard and it’s expensive.

That’s all I got for you.  That’s really all I need to say on the matter, and if it wasn’t for the fact that this is a blog and by nature, I’m verbose (which is why I have a blog), I would leave it there.  But well, I’m here, you’re here, so let’s talk.

I made a 9 minute movie and I got it shown at the Castro Theater here in San Francisco on Saturday.  Getting the movie to show is not as big a deal as it sounds.  I joined something called Scary Cow, which is a film collective that allows people to pitch a movie idea, find a crew, and get something on film.  You have to pay a monthly fee, but in addition to access to a crew, your money goes toward funding future projects.  Anyone in the collective can get her movie to play as long as it’s under 10 minutes and uses Scary Cow members.  If the film places (the screening is also a competition) then you get money for your next project.  It’s a good system and it allows for beginners like me to get involved in film.

I loved the process though it’s exhausting.  Not only did I pull two crazy days in January filming, I then had to spend countless hours with an editor finding out I didn’t get all the shots I needed or the sound for the shots I did have.  If you watch the movie, which I hope you will, click here for your filmic enjoyment , you will see that I ended the movie in what I would call Gray’s Anatomy style. I.e., I ended with a montage of images accompanied by music supplied by my very talented friend, Brent Newcomb.  Great song, but I sapped it of its charms by making it play along to the sappy images of reconciliation.  Oh well.  This is what you do when you have to.  By the way, what makes the good writers of Gray’s Anatomy inflict the montage-sappy song combo on us?

The hardest part of the film making process happened this weekend.  Harder than the writing of the script, the auditioning of actors, the filming or even the editing, is the screening.  Overall, it went well.  I have caught the bug of screenwriting.  I knew even in November when I wrote the script that I loved the format.  I like collaborating. I like working toward realizing a vision in concrete detail that goes beyond the page, that’s as complicated as any moment in life.  Description through words on the page only has always been my undoing as a fiction writer.  Sometimes I hit the mark, but usually, I feel myself bloating the language when I try to describe in detail and do so aesthetically.  You have to be detailed in scriptwriting, but if it’s not being said, you don’t have to be pretty or artistic.

Aside from the pleasure of writing for the human voice, there is the pleasure of sitting with an audience and having them get what you wrote.  With only one exception, I can report that the audience on Saturday laughed when I hoped it would.  It’s communication, I guess.  The feeling of connection.  AWESOMENESS!!

That’s the positive side of the experience, but then there is the competition.  I never intended for my movie to win anything.  I went in with the idea that I would learn from the experience and nothing more.  I learn best by breaking eggs, and I broke plenty on this film.  But then you get to the screening and you see the other films and you think, hey, my film is ok.  I think I can say that in my division (those movies made my unfunded newbies like myself) The Unfortunate Brother held it’s own; t’s a real story with a beginning, middle and end.  So I started hoping until I found out that I didn’t win anything.

I can’t say I wasn’t bummed.  I can’t say I was surprised either.  The story is a good one, but the execution, the technical stuff of film, sometimes got away from me.  Onto the next one.  This morning, I got up and after sulking for a couple hours and driving my poor wife nuts, I packed myself off to the coffee house and started my next script longhand.  A friend of mine who did actually place with his very pretty doc, was bummed because he didn’t win, and I told him what I am telling myself now: it’s about not giving up.  It’s about writing and not stopping, just like I’m doing with this post.

I’m American: Loving & Hating Downton Abby…

In life, media, politics, Uncategorized on March 2, 2012 at 6:55 am

I’m late to the party, which is not unusual for me. As I’ve mentioned previously on this blog, I’m a Libra, which means I have to feel like I have come to my own decisions about popular things.  I’m actually the type of person that will judge a show or book or what have you, by association.  If everyone loves something, I am suspicious.  I’m not a hipster–let’s not go there.  It’s not that I care if something is popular.  It’s that I like to think I’ve come to something through my own tastes and not by popular pressure.  Can you say, dumb?

A couple days ago, I had a day to hang out my wife, which is nice and all too unusual.  We decided to stay in and watch Netflix, and Downton Abbey presented itself as a good choice of something to do.  We ended up watching the first season that day–7 glorious hours of glorious British people–well, not so glorious, actually.  I have a natural aversion to this kind of show.  The show itself, the writing and the acting are great, but watching the class stuff drives me to distraction.  Might the butler be fired for having once been an actor?  Can a lawyer eat and talk to his family member if that family member inherited a huge home?  Should a spoiled daughter let herself love a lawyer who works and actually knows what a weekend is?  These are the questions that must be answered over seven hours of well written TV.

At one level, I want to say, “cool.” I want to think that drama, like most things, is relative to the person who is experiencing it.  So, if the biggest problem one has to face is whether or not to marry for love or for convenience, well I guess that’s drama.  I also guess that for the people who lived in that period, the idea of class movement was as strange as electricity was.  That’s what I find most problematic abut the show.  I don’t subscribe to the conservative position that America is class-less and that everyone can pull themselves up by their bootstraps.  That’s a little naive.  But on the other hand, I grew up poor and went to Harvard on a scholarship.  My wife’s family is certainly more affluent than mine, but they accepted me not because of my family’s pedigree but because of who I am.  Class in society is real, and maybe the idea that all people have a shot to better themselves is a myth.  But to say that is not to dismiss the power of the myth.  Stories matter.  And when I watch Downton Abbey, or hell, if I travel in Europe, which I did last year, I prefer to accept this American myth, and to work to help others put the truth to it.

This leads me to Girl Walk All Day, a multi-part music video with music from Girl Talk, the DJ.  It’s not that this video gets at class, but I think it gets at something that is really American, or at least, really New York.  Watch this thing and you see a few things right off: New Yorkers are not bothered by crazy people dancing around them–just another freak in the City.  ALSO, New Yorkers are just one big hodge podge.  We are not perfect here.  And there is certainly a lot of racism and classicism to be had here, but Girl Walk All Day coud not have happened in any other country.  It’s messy and its huge and it’s US.

Here’s the link


Girl Walk All Day

Being Human–the show and the action

In life, media, observations on February 17, 2012 at 2:23 pm

love these guys

I love Being Human, the show and the state of being, though I’m going to talk here about the former. I should say I liked the ScyFy version when I first discovered it a few weeks back and then yesterday, I discovered the British )original) version and I LOVE it more. I’ve been meaning to write about the show (the American version) for a couple weeks now. When I first saw an episode, I was hopeful the way a kid hopes he’ll get X at Xmas. I like finding a good show, which is not always easy nowadays, but Being Human, with its fantastical premise of a ghost, a vampire and a werewolf living in the same flat trying to get on like the rest of us, makes the stakes go up for me.

It might be a phase I’m going through as a reader/watcher of TV, it’s certainly more than a phase as a writer, but increasingly, I want a story to be a tale, by which I mean, I want it to take me on a flight of fancy and whimsy. Stories about “regular” people going through “regular” times are fine. I’d like to think if the story is compelling, then I will be compelled. The Wire is still my favorite show, which aside from a documentary on Baltimore, you probably aren’t going to find stories that are more realistic than the ones presented there. So, ok, I think I’m open to all kinds of stories. But still, there’s something about the fantastical show (not to be confused with fantasy, though that can be fine)–a narrative style that seems to be coming into vogue with Grimm on NBC and ABC’s Once Upon a Time–that excites me and, most times, then depresses me after I see the show in question. I haven’t seen Grimm yet, but Once Upon a Time is proof that network TV can take a great idea and dumb it down into intellectual dust. It’s precious and funny at just the right test-marketed moments.

I can hear my old roommate’s Alabama drawl right now reminding me that I shouldn’t expect so much from a network show–he also reminded me of this when we went to see blockbuster movies. Call me dumb, but I still hold out hope that you can tell an original story and have fun AND get people to come see it. Maybe I live in a fantastic land–it’s possible I guess. That might be why I get so upset at the stupid fantastical show–more angry than I get at the stupid cop show or inane sitcom. As a citizen of Fantastical-land, I don’t like my peeps being misrepresented by stupid-heads who don’t have a fantastical bone in their bodies.

So what do I think of Being Human on ScyFy?

these guys are good, too, but...

I think it’s good. I think it has an interesting premise and the acting is solid. For the most part, you can believe that the actors are what they play and, more to the point of the show, that they wish they were just ordinary, just human. That said, there are certain cliches the ScyFy version falls into that its British counterpart does not. And it’s these differences that get at what I hope for in a story. The American version tries a little too hard to make us understand that being a monster is not so different from what we all experience day-to-day. The vampire is lonely and hungers (literally) for companionship that he can’t have because he might end up chomping on some innocent person’s neck. We get it. The show goes out of its way to demonstrate that this is like what any drug addict would go through–the addiction to blood is ruining any chance of his having a relationship. I get it. Blood is a drug. Vampires are addicts. Addicts also exist in the real world. I might even know of some or at least I’ve seen some on regular TV, thus, this character is not so foreign and, by extension, not so fantastical and, sadly, a lot safer and a lot lamer. Consider that on a recent episode, the vampire is in need, suffering from his need, and meanwhile, some poppy-song is playing as we see the montage of his suffering. It’s like Gray’s Anatomy or Private Practice with monsters.

Boo! or is it Booh? I guess it’s both in this case.

Look, I am different from a vampire. I imagine you are, too. I am not immortal. I do not need to drink blood. Do you? Send me a comment if you do because I really want to know.

I wish the writers of the ScyFy version would just tell their story and let me feel for the characters where they are, not where I am or could be potentially if I were to be bitten on the neck by some ghoul. That’s what the British version does so well. The writers on that show seem to know that people like good stories even when they are about people different than themselves. As someone who increasingly loves the tall-tale, the fairy tale, the fable as a form, I don’t need the writer to make me empathize by force. I don’t know diddly-squat about the Baltimore drug trade, but I was moved by the stories in The Wire all the same. Likewise, I don’t know what it’s like to live like a monster, but tell me his story so I can. Maybe I will identify with things about the character, and maybe I won’t, which in a way would be better. I don’t know about you, but I tend to think of stories like trips. I don’t want to go somewhere I know all the customs already. I want to go places where I see new things. Stories, apart from entertaining, are ways for us to learn and amplify our appreciation of others like trips are. That’s why stories are so important–all of them. Even fantastical stories, as long as they are well told, can teach us to be… yes, more human.

Young People Fighting in San Francisco & Other Ugly Things I’ve Been Thinking About…PART 2

In life, media, observations, writing on January 18, 2012 at 11:50 am

Ugly Thing #2: I’m a fan of the podcast, WTF with Marc Maron. I’ve said this already a million times, but I am one to repeat myself, and I’m getting old so there’s that. But for those not in the know, this is a show in which a comedian interviews other comedians (though there have been a few non-comedians as well) about life and the art of making people laugh. Even if this doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, give it a try if you like honest interviewing. Mr. Maron is like Terry Gross on Fresh Air except that he curses and he can get into topics that NPR would never allow.

I bring this up here on a post about ugliness because on the most recent show, there is an interview with a comedian who comes out of the closet. The coming-out is not the ugly part, mind you. What struck me about the conversation was that the comedian, Todd Glass, a middle-aged man, was so at pains to be honest about who he is.  No, that’s not even ugly. The really ugly part is the part that we all play in making people hide who they are–this guy is 47 and it took him til now to feel ok admitting publicly to this important part of his life.  Maybe this isn’t ugly. Maybe it’s sad. Maybe it’s both.

Now, my anti-preachy spidey-sense is tingling. Honestly, I kind of hate it when someone–usually a liberal like myself–goes off on people about their biases. It’s needlessly sanctimonious, and that doesn’t help anyone. We’re all in this stew of culture and sex and religion together, and though I get angry at the injustice of shaming people who want to love people of their same sex, it’s kind of a facile anger for me, I think. Biases/prejudices are crosses to bear, which I think is a truth that many on the religious right don’t seem to realize.  So let me rephrase. Let me put this in more personal and less political, less accusatory terms.

Listening to the podcast with Mr. Glass, I was both heartbroken and annoyed. Yes, I’ll admit I was annoyed because I couldn’t believe that this guy was having such a problem with the word, gay. I mean he came out and yet at the same time, he barely could use the word when describing himself. I could imagine there being members of the Gay community yelling at their radios, telling the guy to get over it, to be proud. Hell, I’m straight, and I was yelling. But then I had to check myself. I had to think about what it would be like to feel like you need to keep a huge part of yourself locked away.  Obviously there’s a reason this guy felt that way, and he is not the only one by a long-shot. And though there are a lot of brave men and women who still put themselves out there and risk rejection at very young ages, that doesn’t change the fact that someone like Todd Glass was brave when he was ready.

So maybe this isn’t a post about ugliness in the end. But I’ve already written it and its title, so let’s go with it. I mean even if the story ends well for Mr. Glass, there are so many people out there who can’t face their families and friends, who can’t be true to themselves. That’s sad, obviously. But now that I think about it, my first intuition was right, it’s an ugly truth that we all have to deal with that we push away people who are different from the so-called norm.

Now go listen to the interview and tell me what you think. As Marc Maron says, “DO IT.”

What The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo says about Americans…

In life, media, observations, writing on December 29, 2011 at 12:37 pm

I never was part of the Stieg Larsson frenzy. I remember a few years back riding on trains here in San Francisco and in New York and seeing all the bright neon covers that were the trademark of the series, but I never felt the need to pick up a copy myself. As a reader, I tend to be more reticent about fads, but as a move-goer, I’m not reticent at all. (I actually saw 2 out of the 3 Twilight movies–yes, I was the only male, but in my defense, my wife was with me both times so I avoided being creepy.) So, when it comes to movies, yes, admittedly, I am a little bit of a whore. Or maybe I should say I tend to be more open, which often enough, pays off.  Case in point: the Swedish version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

I remember being excited to see it, though I couldn’t tell you why. It’s not like there was a lot of buzz around the movie. It was a foreign film with actors no one had ever heard of, but I had seen enough Scandinavian films to know that when it comes to creepy and dark, those people know what’s up.  I wasn’t disappointed. It wasn’t an easy movie to see. Unlike Hollywood movies, the Swedish version seemed to go for it when it came to the uglier side of life. Nazis, sadists, rapists and serial murderers all make their appearances, but the movie never makes those characters glow, stand out the way an American movie does. Even subtle filmmakers in this country like David Fincher seem to want to make it clear which characters wear the white hats and which don’t.  You need not look further than how Lisbeth Salander, the main character, is portrayed. In the Swedish version, the only emotion she knows is rage, but other than that, she’s almost autistic in her disconnect from people. In the American version, on the other hand, she is shown having real feelings–she even seems to fall in love.

Maybe it’s because of the weather, but the Swedish production of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo stayed away from the black/white. Everyone was touched by the gray. So here’s the awful social worker who takes advantage of Lisbeth, here’s the ex-Nazi asshole looking own at the world from his mansion on a fjord with a swastika behind him, here’s the drunken young men beating up a woman on the subway.  The Swedish version doesn’t push these people in our face and tell us that they are awful. Instead, it shows them to us, as if to say with detached Scandinavian accuracy: “you don’t want to know these people, but here’s the thing, they’re everywhere.”

Three years later, we have an American version directed by David Fincher, a director I usually love. As you can imagine, critics have been making comparisons and they almost all agree that the American movie is the superior film. I can’t speak to the technical differences, though I guess I did notice them. I don’t remember thinking that the Swedish version felt like a TV movie, though that’s what it was originally. Still, I take the greater point: David Fincher is a visual artist and he brings that to the project. There are stunning shots of dour-looking houses and long views of Swedish landscapes that teach you how something can be both beautiful and terrible at the same time. You don’t get the same kind of delight from the Swedish version, which is more straight ahead in its cinematography.  And yet, for me, there was something bothersome about the American version. I think it was just too American.

There’s part of me that wonders if the differences between the Swedish and the American movies are just simple psychology. For a Swede, cold weather and gray landscapes are not the makings of eeriness; they are just life. So a Swedish director probably wouldn’t spend too much time setting up exterior shots to set the mood for the horrors that are happening inside of doors. Maybe that’s an oversimplification, but for my taste, the American version suffers because we’re looking at a supposedly Swedish story the way an American tourist would. As if the camera is saying to us: Yes, awful people all around doing despicable things, but of course, they have no choice in the matter. Did you see the thermostat? You can’t be decent in that kind of weather!”

This Americanness that I’m referencing goes deeper; it comes into play when the camera goes indoors, as well. I think the best way to convey what I mean is to compare how both the American and Swedish versions deal with a rape scene that happens midway through. In the Swedish version, we are there in the room throughout. The camera makes us look at this brutal act. It’s not filmic. There’s nothing about the scene that tells us we need to feel one way or another. There’s a chilling simplicity to the way the scene is shot. We hear the breathing, the sounds of cloth gagging the vicitim and ropes pulling aginst her bound wrists. The American version sets the action up in the same way. We see the sadistic social worker tying up Lisbeth Salander, the main character, but then instead of staying with the action, the camera pulls out of the room and we see a heavy oak door and hear the screams over the eerie, dissonanant music composed by Trent Reznor.  There’s no way to deny that the American version is more cinematic, more artistic, but the greater art creates greater artifice. You might be getting more production value from the experience, but do you get more empathy for the awfulness of what’s going on? Is the dissonance of the music just a filmic trick–a way of sugarcoating by reminding us that we’re watching a movie?

Maybe an American audience doesn’t want to see the rape. Fine. But in the very next scene, the camera follows Lisbeth home and focuses on her naked body as she tries to clean herself up. Does this mean that for an American audience rape is not ok to look at, but a raped body is? I’m sure that someone with a more trained theoretical eye could make sense of these differences, maybe make some grand sweeping cultural judgment. I don’t have the tools for that kind of work. What I can say is that after leaving the theater, I was almost angry at Fincher’s version. I was angry that the American version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo tried to tell a story set in Sweden about Swedish culture without trying to be anything other than American.

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