the circular runner

Posts Tagged ‘movies’

the problem…my problem, your problem, and that guy next to you in the cafe, his problem, too…

In media, observations, Uncategorized, writers & books, writing on May 19, 2012 at 8:06 am

OK, here you go.  A way into the problem, my problem for sure, but it might be yours, too.  I’m writing this post as I listen to A Tribe Called Quest in a poorly lit cafe.  I’m surrounded by other Apple users who are working on God knows what, but I’m sure whatever IT is, IT is something that makes it possible for them to own three thousand dollar computers and not have to work in an office during a weekday.  Many of them are pasty and wearing anorexic jeans, but they are happy.  I imagine this is because they have avoided the bullet of office work. Then again, they might not know any better.  But I digress, which I probably wouldn’t be doing if I weren’t listening to Tribe and checking my email at random moments because of the amazing new app I downloaded yesterday that allows me to see who is emailing, Facebooking and Twittering me without opening a window.  Little text boxes are opening in the corner as I write these words.

On a recent post, I know I mentioned I was changing, my brain, actually, was doing the changing.  Specifically, I’m concerned with the part of my brain that comes up with stories.  I am wondering if this need for apps and the obsession I spoke about in the last post with websites themes is connected to the fact that my taste in imaginative narrative as a producer and as a consumer is changing.  Let me start this by saying that digital culture is a more visual one, by its nature.  And, as I’m going to explain in a second, I think that this connection between the digital and the visual has some deep implications for people because it has deep implications for how we tell our stories.

So here’s the problem because I kind of always believe there has to be one.

I increasingly tell stories in visual media, which is fine.  Fine except I wonder if that means that I’m giving up on staying with characters, lingering with them, finding out what they are about in the slower, more internal way that the page allows and the screen does not.  This is writerly insecurity, I’ll admit. But it’s deeper, I suspect than just a matter of aesthetics.  Different media stress different things about stories.  Or, maybe it’s better to say, different media have different weaknesses.  Some might argue with me, but generally speaking, a visual medium like film or television or even a graphic novel though to a lesser degree, cannot get you in the mind and heart of a character.  Internal conflicts have to be simplified in film because unless you have a ton of voice overs or lame-o exposition through dialogue, you have to express emotion through what one can see.  And no matter how good the script or the actor, you can’t get at the crazy twists of the human mind.  You can always use visual metaphors to help get at that craziness, but even those are up for interpretation, which mean, you might lose the viewer or confuse him.  The page is just better suited to the mazes of internal conflict.  I say this, but for the life of me, I am struggling telling stories like that.  In fact, I will admit this, I get bored with a lot of so-called literary fiction.  (By the way, I realize as I write this that I am equating literary fiction with fiction on the page, which is not cool, but let that one go for now.  I don’t know enough “genre” fiction to speak to it.)

I guess, put simply, I’m wondering if visual culture is a less human one?  Less human in the sense that its stories do not deal with what makes us most human: intention, the stuff that cannot be seen.  The stuff that one has to slow down to understand, slow down in a way that I and my apps and my compatriots here at Cafe Hipster might not have patience for.  Is that a bad thing?  Is narrative changing? I love books, but I have to say it, I’m reading a lot less fiction than ever.  As a consumer and as a producer of imaginative narrative, I’m going more and more with visual media.  And I don’t think I’m alone.

I’d be curious to have some writers/lovers of fiction discuss here.  Maybe I need some absolution for a guilty conscience over my lapsed New Yorker subscription and my new MacWorld one.  I don’t know.  Is there an absolution app?  I think someone needs to invent that. Quick.


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.

the anxiety of making my first short film…

In humor, life, media, observations, Uncategorized, writing on January 27, 2012 at 11:45 am


This weekend, along with fourteen other generous and talented people, I shot my first short film. You’d think that I’d be on cloud 9, or at least, that I’d be excited and anxious to get on to the next piece, which is to edit down the footage I have. Yes, that would be a normal response. And to a certain point, that’s how I feel. Normalcy can breach even the fort of craziness that is my head. But just like in those late-night commercials that peddle penis-enlarging pills, my brain is also yelling out, “WAIT, there’s more.”  And that more comes in the form of a question: what was the point of all that work?

My answer: I’m not sure. And maybe that’s the best answer I can give.

Up until I was 23, I was a classical musician, very serious and pretty untalented. My high school music teacher, a strong, opinionated lover of school spirit and Schubert, was unable to sell me on the former, but I took the latter to heart. I also took on her disdain for something she sneeringly referred to as dilettantism.  It’s probably not the best pedagogical strategy to fill your artistically-inclined students with a fear of doing something for the love of it, which is, at least one meaning of the word. But I can also see her point. There is the flighty connotations of the word that she wanted her students to avoid. Mrs. Anderson wanted her students to do things as well as possible. I think that’s all she meant, but I corrupted the lesson somewhere along the way.

When I take on an artistic project, I am less concerned with whether or not I do my best and much more concerned with the purpose of it, by which I mean, will it help me to a career? This not only leads me to judge the validity of what I’m doing, but in the case of this weekend, it leads me to judge some of the people around me, as well.  Basically, as my crew worked the two twelve-hour days this weekend filming my script, I kept having to fight back this annoying gnat-sized voice inside asking why all these people were doing what they were doing. Could this movie lead to anything tangible–beside the move itself?

This little voice is clearly a symptom of my recent conversion to the cult of crass careerism. As a musician, I was always more concerned with practice than with performance–no one, it’s safe to say, gets a career in music by playing scales alone in a room, but that’s all I wanted to do. Then, in my next incarnation, I thought I might be an academic, but once again, I thought about ideas and mastering their lessons without asking myself til a good way into grad school if I could see myself as a career scholar. The answer, I found out, was no, no way in hell!

See the pattern? I know I do. And though I’m glad to say that in middle age, I’ve found mine, that I’m throwing my lot in with writing, that I’d like to make my living creating stories, that I can actually see myself doing what needs to be done for both the craft AND for the career, I can also say that this new concern for career is driving me to ask the WHY question, which is dangerous.  When I think about it, I know there really are two sides of myself battling for control. And to keep with the context of this post, I will liken them to a producer and a director. The producer is practical and worries about budgets, bottom-lines, etc. He is judgmental and always questioning.  On the other side, there is the director/writer side that doesn’t care. It has to be free to play without worrying about what it all means.

Maybe both sides are necessary to making art. Like any team, there’s going to be disagreements, and I need to accept that. But even now, I hear the battle raging. I think of it as subtext for the movie.

The producer inside me is strong and completely uncomfortable with the notion of play for play’s sake. He is feeling a little threatened surrounded by fourteen other playful souls and wondering why they were all there? Then director/writer enters the scene and begins to yell back. With bullhorn in hand, he says: We are a bunch of kids pretending to be in a different world? So what?

Fine, the producer yells back, “but aren’t they concerned about their rents about making it?”

The director smirks, answers by showing and not saying. He yells for the camera to roll and the camera goes on and then the lights follow suit and the sound person starts to make words turn into 0s and 1s on her digital recorder, and soon, everyone is playing. And collectively saying by not saying, SUCK IT, MR. PRODUCER MAN. SUCK IT!


Artists and A-holes….

In humor, life, media, observations, Uncategorized, writing on January 11, 2012 at 2:09 am

A few months back, I made a pact with God. It sounds grandiose, but that’s what I’d call it. I was up for a job. It wasn’t quite what I wanted, but it was more money and while applying at least, I convinced myself that it was close enough. Then, the week I was to find out if I’d gotten it, I woke up with a feeling, a voice from God–again, grandiose? Fine, but that’s what I heard. And what did the voice say? I was not asked to start my own religious movement or to preach to the heathens. I kind of wish that was the case because 1. I’m bald and kind of look like a cult-leader/guru. And 2. There’s money in spiritual movements–look at Scientology if you don’t believe me.

No, my Voice of the Divine was not a commanding voice. It preferred the conditional tense, as in “if thou dost not get the job, thou must write a script.”  I should say that I’ve had an idea to write one for a long time, but like other characters who have run-ins with the Almighty, fear was keeping me from following destiny. I don’t know why, but I can get overwhelmed by projects–almost paralyzed by the idea of doing things that supposedly I want to do. I’ve got 4 versions of 2/3 of a novel to prove it. Well, Moses lisped and was scared to speak to his people and Mohammed couldn’t read. And though I’m not saying that writing a script is like laying down the laws of God, it’s all relative. I might be bald, but I’m no religious hero–just a dude who writes. And writes is what I did.

Fast forward five months: I wrote my first short film based on a short story I had published a few years back. I also got a crew through a film cooperative here in SF. (I know. Typical. We don’t do clubs. We do collectives here in the Bay Area.) Still, I found some talented comrades there and together, we will embark on our movie for the proletariat–kind of.  Good, right? I should be happy, yes? I am, actually. But part of being a card-carying member of the collective is that if we can get the movie done within four months and if we come in under 10 minutes, we get to compete at a screening that is held at one of the more important theaters in town. If the movie wins a prize, then the writer (me) gets money for a next project. Here’s the rub. It’s a little like Oscar-run around here with all the politics and all the back-scratching. The comrades, basically, become serpents (again with the Bible). Still, we are encouraged to go to social events to schmooze because the collective as a whole are the judges and they decide what is and what is not a good film–hence if we get funding.

I have been getting out there and meeting (trying to meet) other filmmakers, not so much because I want them to vote for me. That just is a little too high school, and idiot that I am, I guess I feel that if the movie is decent, it should stand on its merits. So I go to these socials because I want to meet other artists, but those other artists, are not exactly nice people and not very interested in connecting. It’s a stereotype, but artistic-types kind of suck.  I guess I should be glad because I did manage to find some really great people for my project. Hard workers. Positive. Talented. The odd thing is that aside from those ten individuals, I have only met assholes who can’t be bothered with a newbie to the group. I guess that’s the way of any group–even Bay Area collectives. You have to put your time in and prove yourself. I get it.

But Jesus (also biblical) 500 Comrades in the Collective, and ten cool people. It’s all relative, I guess. Maybe the 490 fuckwads will be nicer after they get to know me. In the meantime, I’ll wait for The Voice to chime in.

Until then, hold good thoughts for the January 21 and 22.

Some Thoughts About Shame the Movie and My Own…

In media, observations, Uncategorized on January 7, 2012 at 8:58 am

It’s probably because I’m married and my wife doesn’t have a lot of time to go to the movies or maybe it’s because I’m trying to spend more time telling my own stories and less time escaping from my projects by watching others’, but this year, I went to the movies a whole lot less than usual. Which means that like a lot of other people who love movies but don’t always make it to the theater, I spent the couple weeks of the holiday season catching up. It’s a good time. There’s a lot of holiday-kiddie crap (emphasis on crap not on kiddie, which can be great), but there’s also the dramas that the studios release for Oscar consideration. One of the films I saw that fit that category to a T though I don’t hear much about it is Steve McQueen’s Shame.  It’s not a feel-good movie. If you read my post on The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, then you know I’m ok with that. But whereas Girl was trying really hard to be “dark” and “edgy,” Shame is one of those movies that sits with you because its darkness is a little less cinematic and, though you may not think it at first, a little closer to our day-to-day experience of life.

Our connection to Shame might be surprising considering that the film is rated NC-17 and about a sex addict. But the title, I think, doesn’t only deal with the shame of Brandon (Michael Fassbender). It deals with our own shame, as well, and I think that’s why we’e not hearing more about this movie’s Oscar potential.

I’m not arguing that critics don’t love this movie and that it’s not doing great at the box office because we Americans are prude–at least that’s not the whole reason. There is a small part of me that wants to quip that Michael Fassbender’s not-so-small part is making many male critics uncomfortable, but that’s just me being clever. Truth is Shame isn’t really about sex or even about the addiction to it. Don’t get me wrong: sex is everywhere in this movie, and it can be graphic at times though it’s never gratuitous. Like porn, the movie’s portrayal of sex is cold and it’s not pretty, but that’s fitting considering that Brandon spends hours watching on-line sex. Moreover, though a lot’s been made of the movie’s brutal look at sex, the really brutal thing being shown–the reason for Brandon’s shame and for our own whether we admit to it or not, is Brandon’s loneliness.

I can say honestly that the scene that sticks with me most, that haunts me, has nothing to do with sex. It comes toward the end, after Brandon’s failed attempt at a normal relationship, after a night of one sexual experience after another, after something terrible happens to his sister.  It’s a cold morning–all shades of gray, and we sit with Brandon as he weeps. We sit and we watch this emotionally stunted man cry his eyeballs out. He probably has hit bottom, but the power of the scene is that we know this is not that kind of bottom we usually see in movies about addiction. There’s no guarantee that there will be uplift after this, that Brandon will change. This is a bottom, not THE bottom.

More to the point, we are seeing a lonely man suffering a loneliness of biblical proportions. Think spiritual desolation. Think Job. I know this might freak some out, but think Jesus on the cross asking God why he’s been forsaken and you’ll get the feeling. It’s uncomfortable to look at this type of emotion–it’s definitely unusual in a movie. Partly because I’ve felt it, because I think many of us, maybe all of us have, I believe that the shame that the title of this movie refers to is the shame of a character facing his loneliness, honestly and openly. And if this movie’s NC-17 rating is merited it has less to do with frontal nudity or our prudishness. It has to do with our own shame of feeling that same hunger for connection and not knowing how to sate 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.

What Some German Movie About Running Taught Me About Running and Writing and Why I Should Stop Eating Sweets

In humor, life, observations, writing on December 14, 2011 at 1:21 am

So, if you’ve been reading my posts lately, you’ll know that I’ve been struggling with a script that I should’ve had done last week. I’ve tried everything including writing on this blog about the problem, which should be good for something the way I figure it. I’m communicating fears, sharing my thoughts, etc. But it’s all been for naught. The truth is that I’ve been sucking it big time, and if I don’t stop, I’m going to become a butterball. Yes, I don’t know why, but somehow in my head I seem to think that if I fill my face with enough coffee and sweet things, I’ll get my mojo back and tackle this script.  Sugar and caffeine are great for a lot of things, but they don’t do fuck-all to make me write. They just jack me up, which makes my self-hate tick up a few mental decibels and no doubt, in the very near future, they’re going to make me gain weight, which, in turn, will make me angry at myself–angrier is more like it.

But then this morning, I decided to shake things up. I decided that telling myself I suck and then announcing it repeatedly on this blog was not the way to go. Instead, I said, screw it! I gave myself the morning off. I didn’t let myself look at the clock. I didn’t tell myself I had to go to Starbucks to write before starting the rest of my day. I pushed all of it out of my head. And what did I do? I watched a movie about running.

I love sports-movies—let me say it now! This, like my negative views on holiday parties, makes my wife sad, so most of the time, when I watch sports-movies, I do so by myself. I will also admit that sports-movies make me emo, as in weep-my-butt-off emotional.  Dramas don’t usually cut to my heart and comedies hardly ever make me laugh, but watching someone overcome some kind of adversity, which is the basic formula for the sports-movie, makes me weep and/or glow with excitement. At this moment, I’m trying not to think of the theme for that amazing and Oscar-overlooked movie, Rudy.  Just thinking of that film makes me…Oh no….man-tears…adams-apple flexing….

A moment…sorry, I’m just…Ok, one more sec… …..just one….

OK, OK. I’m better now. That movie was greatness. I can also recommend Hoosiers, Without Limits, American Flyers, Rocky up until the one when he goes to Russia—that one sucked. The Karate Kid (I think we can include martial arts as a sport, though I would not do the same for KK 2, 3, or 4 or Karate Girl—as with any good fighter, the Karate Kid franchise should’ve hung up the black belt before it became a dementia-laden mess.

As you can see, I like sports-movies, but of all sports movies, I like running-movies best. That reminds me, Running Brave was great. OH,  and there’s also Chariots of Fire, though I hate slow-mo scenes. AND there are some great running documentaries. (If you’d like, send me word, and I’ll make you a list.) So, it’s the running-movie that makes my heart beat fastest. Partly, it’s because I run. I’m not a runner, but I have gone out to run 3-4 times a week since high school. I love the way real runners look when they’re doing their thing. It’s so basic to who we are. It’s what people have been doing since the beginning of people.  And so this morning, without much thought, I put in a German movie called The Robber. It’s based on a real-life story about some Austrian marathon runner in the 80s who not only set national records, but also robbed banks on his free time. I don’t know if the movie is truthful to the real story, but if it is, then the reason that the runner robs is the same reason he runs: he wants to push himself beyond usual limits. As a bank robber, he wants to push his adrenaline-levels, and as a runner, he’s trying to do the same. In one scene, he pushes himself so hard in a race that he collapses at the finish line. If it wasn’t for the fact that there was 30 minutes left to the movie, I would’ve assumed that the German director was making an ironic point: a robber who dies not running from the police but  from himself. What’s the German word for DEEP? And yet, this movie is deep. It’s a F’n sports-movie, after all. So what do you expect?

I know a lot of people don’t get this—not the sports-movie thing, but the running-thing. And there are a lot of sports-lovers who don’t think long distance running is exciting. But I do. There is an adrenaline to long distance running—it’s not the adrenaline you get jumping out of a plane or kayaking down a river, but it’s a slow kind, a personal kind.  The question a runner doesn’t ask but always has to face is: can I do this, can I finish the race and do so before anyone, before the clock winds down on whatever record I’m trying to shatter? Basically, what is my limit? Runners don’t ask that of themselves but the question is always there in their minds, and that question raises the stakes. I’ve never been brave enough to go all out while running, to risk my physical health. Even as a high school runner, I’d start my races worrying that I wouldn’t be able to finish if I went all out. Like any sport, you’re dealing with physical limits, and part of me was scared to face mine—I also am man enough to admit to my fear of physical pain.  The runner in the German movie faced the same question, but both as a robber and as a runner, he chose to push through and risk himself.

I know the old joke that the only good reason to run is if you’re being chased. Maybe that’s true. Maybe runners are chased by something in their make-up. I don’t know. I don’t think I care. What I can tell you is that there is something wonderful about being out somewhere moving through space, powered by your legs. There’s something lonely about it, and brave, and maybe, sadistic. The runner in the movie certainly had a sadistric streak in him.

For me, and how all of this relates to the script, I’d say that I’m stalling for the same reason I’m not a real runner: I am in fear of finding my limits and of the pain of effort required to even get to that place. In the end, that’s what I’m left with. So I either accept this fear and enjoy my life drinking coffee because I want to and not because I’m trying to avoid something, or I get off my butt and go for it. Balls out! No Limits!

Jesus, can you hear the Rocky theme playing in the background? I can. I can. I can.

The Harry Potter Paradox: A movie about magic that manages not to be very magical…

In observations, writers & books, writing on July 21, 2011 at 11:58 am


I saw Harry Potter last weekend, and though I enjoyed it, I left the theater a little sad and a lot deflated.  This feeling I had might have something to do with the fact that I was looking forward to the movie–really looking forward to it.  As in, Christmas morning, my-wife-and-I-giddily-walking-down-the-streets-of-SF-giddy.  But I’m not so cynical that I don’t believe in the possibility of having your expectations met from time to time, so I don’t think it was about inflated expectations.  I think the problem for me is that though the Harry Potter series is about magic, every time I go see one of the movies, I’m reminded of the fact that they are not very magical.  They are movies about good v. evil as that battle would take place in a world where wizards an goblins walk among us.

So what do I mean when I speak of “magical”?  Well, other vague terms spring to mind, like mystery and wonder, which I’ll try to define later, but for now, I’ll say that these words point at a comfort with that which can’t be explained or shown.  Of course, then I could say that the medium is to blame.  Can a movie, something visual, really be mysterious?  In order to become aware of something in a movie, we have to see it, right?  I guess I like not seeing everything, so maybe books are better suited to deliver the magic I’m looking for.  Though as I say that, I start thinking about another smaller movie I saw recently called Beginners.  That was a movie about people learning about themselves and about love.  It was magical even though there was nothing fantastical going on.  But there’s also Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (both versions for different reasons), which I think were magical and filled me with wonder, and both had supernatural elements.

A couple thoughts come to mind regarding both of these movies: 1. the magical can come in hyper-realistic packages.  2.  When fantastical elements are employed, I want them to highlight human nature, not fantasy.

Point 1 scares me a little.  Mainly because my writing for the past few years has centered around mixing the fantastical/supernatural with the real.  And I’m wondering if maybe that’s been a little bit of a cheat.  I’m reminded of something I read by Flanner O’Connor.  In her book, Mystery and Manners, she writes,

fiction is about everything human and we are made of dust, and if you scorn getting yourself dusty, then you shouldn’t write fiction.

I think this is why Harry and his friends left me cold, and it’s also why I think some of my own fiction, if I can be honest about it, is sub-par.  The world, described well and accurately has plenty of mystery to it.  If the story you’re telling requires overtly supernatural elements, then so be it, but the dust–not fairy dust–needs to be there, which leads to my second point.  From the Harry Potter movies at least, you get the feeling that Harry’s story is a story we’ve all heard of before–that, in and of itself, is not a bad thing.  But if you take away the magical elements, you are pretty much left with Dickens.  Still, no problem there.  But for all its spells, the movies don’t bedazzle the way Dickens does because they are kind of clunky when it comes to the emotional life of the characters.  Some might say that I’m being harsh.  That the movies are for children, and so emotional sophistication is not really necessary.  To which I say that the Harry Potter movies haven’t been kids’ movies in some time.  And even if they were, I’d counter that fiction for children should be just as emotionally sophisticated as any adult story, if not more so.  Again, I’m reminded of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, another book/movie “for kids” that was just as fantastical as Harry Potter while also being emotionally genuine and wondrous and, yes, dusty.

As a writer, I guess I should be glad about my disappointment with HP7.  Keeps me on my toes.  It makes me ask myself some hard questions about my own work.  Am I using fantastical elements to hide an uninspired story, flat characters, poorly written descriptions?  Though I’d like to think this isn’t always true with me, I know some of the work has suffered from it.  I haven’t gotten as dusty as I should.  Maybe I should let myself write something naturalistic and still try for the wondrous.  Maybe.  Or maybe, I just need to try harder to write the stories I want to write without forcing things one way or another.

In any case, seeing HP 7 has made me realize how high the stakes are.  I’m sure a lot of people won’t agree with me.  They think the movie was amazing, but for me, it just makes me sad.

There’s magic in them thar hills, and as a viewer, I want to find it.  As a writer, I want to help point readers in the right direction.  It’s hard, but I think it’s the job of a storyteller.

%d bloggers like this: