Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Depth and Dimensions

My readings tell me that fifty years ago, artists in a variety of fields were striving for what some called “depthlessness.” Those creating or promoting such artworks included John Cage, Mark Rothko, and Alain Robbe-Grillet. The idea was to eliminate the human element (!) and present only “the actual.”

What I want is the opposite of this. As a writer and reader (or moviegoer) I look for depth and dimensions to the maximum extent possible. To plunge into the mind, but also to extend outward into the broader world, or even the universe. To find meaning human and metaphysical.

It’s what I’ll aim for in my next ebook, due possibly in a month or two.

Monday, April 21, 2014

The Other Choice Part II

THINKING OUTSIDE THE BOX

In the intellectual realm and the arts, commentators and critics are pushed by intellectual consensus into well-trod paths, with narrow parameters, set choices, no one thinking outside the box.

An example: A list of “Greatest Westerns” by the people at Wonders in the Dark.

http://wondersinthedark.wordpress.com/category/genre-countdown-westerns/

The list is acceptable from an academic perspective. “Auteurs” are well represented. The list is properly diverse and politically correct. The only problem with the list is that these are not the greatest Westerns, for the most part. Not when you actually watch them.

“Rio Bravo” at #2? It’s a nice, leisurely movie. Not deep. Not profound. I have it at #19 on my own list (see my ebook, About Western Movies). I thought I was being generous. Director Howard Hawks is considered a pantheon auteur. Though the movie isn’t in any way “great,” it’s a safe choice.

My own #2 Western, “The Magnificent Seven,” isn’t anywhere on the Wonders in the Dark top 50 Westerns list.

Which film is better?

WATCH them and see for yourself. “Seven” is more impressive visually. It’s better paced. It has the unity and completeness of great art—when it’s over, the aesthetic kick of the perfection of art. It has better form. It’s better scripted and better acted. It’s vastly more exciting. Heretical as it is to say this, Yul Brynner, in this film, makes a better model of an ideal leader of men than John Wayne. “Seven” has more emotion and greater heart. Also, of course, it has the magnificent Elmer Bernstein score. As fine a Western movie composer as Dimitri Tiomkin is, his music for “Rio Bravo” can’t match it.

Another example: John Ford’s “Wagonmaster” (1950) is on the list. A very good film. “Westward the Women” (1951) isn’t on the list, though it’s even better.

Ford’s film falls short of being epic, because it subordinates the wagon journey to a plot complication involving a stereotyped gang of lawless psychos. The movie’s characters, good and bad, are flat types.

In “Westward the Women,” not only is the journey epic; not only are the subsidiary characters (like Ito and Patience) more impressive and mythic ; but the two leads, played by Robert Taylor and Denise Darcel, have surprising emotional depth. Their relationship has depth. The arc of their finding each other as mates matches the epic journey, and the theme of community which undergirds the film.

At the end, when the two come together, it’s a profoundly satisfying moment—the sense of unity and completeness. The “kick” of great art.

Frank Capra, a near-pantheon director, constructed the scenario for “Westward the Women.” William Wellman directed the actual movie. I don’t know if this proves or disproves “auteur” theory. I don’t think it matters. What matters is the result.

The trick for a new thinker is to not be trapped in the mental corridors of status quo. For an artist, received wisdom exists to be demolished.

Friday, April 18, 2014

An Easter Movie Review

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For Easter, I’ve posted an analysis of the 1959 movie classic BEN-HUR at another blog.

http://americanpoplit.blogspot.com/2014/04/understanding-ben-hur.html

Is the film underrated by critics? If so, why? I attempt an answer.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

New Wave Writing?

New fiction needs to look radically different from what came before. It needs to be radically more exciting. Think of drastic change in other media-- music, movies, painting. New art broke rules, cut ties to the past, did the unthinkable. In art there are no rules. The art object is demolished, then recreated.

A revolution in fiction may be occasioned by a difference in technique, which creates a difference in style. Pace, structure, viewpoint-- everything subject to change.

********************

What are examples of sudden drastic artistic change?

You tell me.

Punk rock?

Picasso?

Jean Luc Godard's "Breathless" movie?

In fiction, Ernest Hemingway?

Anyone in the poetry scene?

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One can make countless arguments about the need for literary change. At some point the art itself needs to be that argument.

How? In what way?

I'll be presenting some of my own ideas.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Eleven Questions

The writer Ann Sterzinger included me in a group of bloggers she’s thrown eleven questions at, part of a chain letter or Ponzi scheme of some kind. (http://fineillstartagoddamnblog.blogspot.com/2014/03/someone-liebsters-you.html

I don’t do chain letters, but the eleven questions are interesting enough to try answering.

1.) WHY ARE YOU STILL ALIVE?

Don’t know. Lucky, I guess. I’m surprised myself.

2.) WHY ARE YOU STILL TRYING TO WRITE A BLOG?

(The cynicism of these questions is palpable.)  I hate to go positive, but this is an exciting time to be a writer. The possibility is there to reinvent literature. Specifically, narrative fiction, though poetry could be upgraded as well. The writer should never stop thinking about ways to improve the art. What’s the best mix of elements—of description, dialogue, pace, plot? Can one play with time and keep the tale moving, the reader hooked?

Fiction will be reinvented. By someone. Now, or in the future. I can imagine what the new story will look like. I’m not yet able to create or perfect that new product myself.

I still write a blog because I like keeping my options open—to be able to jump back into the fray in a big way if an opening presents itself.

3.) JUST WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE, ANYWAY?

I’m a guy who thinks he has answers.

4.) WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT WHEN YOU HAVE INSOMNIA?

I ponder dilemmas of time and space. I consider historical examples of individuals who’ve jumped through “holes” in time and space, and changed history as a result.

5.) WHICH ARE YOUR TEN LEAST FAVORITE WAYS TO DIE?

This is the kind of question twelve year-olds debate. Up there with who’s the toughest monster: Frankenstein; Dracula; the Wolf Man; or the Mummy? (We won’t get into Marvel superheroes.)

Whichever way I die, I hope I’m brave enough to face it. (Someone once told me dying is easy. Living is tough.)

6.) DO YOU BELIEVE IN GOD? IF SO, HOW CAN YOU TOLERATE HIS APPARENT INDIFFERENCE, EVEN HOSTILITY, TO YOUR HAPPINESS AND WELL-BEING? IF NOT, HOW CAN YOU TOLERATE THE VOID OF YOUR MEANINGLESS UNIVERSE?

I didn’t know it was God’s job to make us happy. We have to figure that out ourselves. But yes, I do believe in God. Science is discovering that the universe is vastly more complex and intelligent than once thought. It’s difficult to believe there’s not a mind of some kind behind it.

As to God’s apparent indifference—the greatest works of literature wrestle with that question: King Lear and The Brothers Karamazov. They were written by two men far more intelligent and wise than any of us. Worth a look.

As the Bard said in another play, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than in all your philosophy.”

7.) GO BACK TO QUESTION 6. IMAGINE THAT YOU BELIEVED THE OPPOSITE OF WHAT YOU DO, AND ANSWER THE SECOND HALF OF THE QUESTION ACCORDINGLY.

40% of the time I disbelieve; i.e., fight with my belief. But the void is unsettling. Hell is the world without God.

8.) ARE THERE ANY REALLY AMAZING NEW BANDS YOU THINK I SHOULD KNOW ABOUT?

The Detroit Cobras come to mind, but they’re not new.

9.) IS PAINTING A DEAD ART? HOW ABOUT THE NOVEL?

Dead. Rotting. Corpse-like—at least compared to where they’ve been. They’re at seeming dead ends artistically, and marginalized in the greater culture. But this means opportunity for those willing to reinvent an art. For those brave enough to break with the present and overturn the same-old ways of thinking, creating, and operating.

10.) COME UP WITH A WORLD VIEW WHICH IS COMPLETELY RATIONAL. . . . YOU HAVE 200 WORDS.

The universe is rational. Humans aren’t.

11.) HOW DOES IT FEEL TO BE ONE OF SEVEN BILLION HUMAN BEINGS?

Not all bad, when I consider the immensity of the universe and the idea that we may be the only (semi)intelligent beings in it, as many physicists now believe. (Fine-Tuned Universe Theory.) Anyway, seven billion is an anomaly, part of the age of antibiotics, which are lately losing their effectiveness. We fragile creatures could once again be open to a host of plagues. Besides, birth rates worldwide already are plummeting. Some nations—Japan; Russia—are in demographic free fall. You’re far more optimistic about the survival of the human race than I am!

I currently live in a once-vibrant city (Detroit), now depopulated, so I’m more aware than some of how quickly things can reverse themselves. There’s more terror at being alone in the universe than being surrounded by people with all their many failings. :-)

Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Prototype

I COMPARE writing a story to creating a car. I want to design a story which looks unlike any story ever seen—yet remains capable of motoring at a good clip down the street.

As a writer and reader, speed (pace) thrills me.

My latest design is out on a test drive track. I want to see how it handles before I release it. Any auto shows I can display it at?

It’s a unique design, though it doesn’t go all the way in new design. Merely has new features. It’s packed with ideas. The reader might find a standard narrative in the story’s body.

A straight narrative can go fast and be exciting. See “The Red Door” in my ebook Ten Pop Stories. My new story is 15,000 words. Fast, not full-size (novel length), but not a mini-sportster either. The new features are intended to help the underlying tale go faster—and become more breathtaking. How it uses time is key.

(There’s the chance the story will instead appear misshapen.)

A story as wild ride?

That’s the objective. To make an Alice Munro kind of story look like a Model T. If I haven’t quite achieved the objective with my prototype, I hope to at least point the way toward future offerings. The story design shop I run is ongoing.

The Writing

For those still interested in the matter, I’ve given up warring with the literary establishment. I vow even to resist the temptation to shred known propagandists who’ve smeared me. (Won’t be easy.) What currently motivates me? Only writing—the writing.

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Other Choice Part I

HOW TO THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX

The media doesn’t give you the other choice. The unorthodox or unexpected solution. You have to find that yourself.

Example: There was much talk this past football (NFL) season about the best young quarterback. Who’s the best young quarterback?

Is it: Colin Kaepernick? Andrew Luck? Superbowl winner Russell Wilson? Robert Griffin III? Cam Newton, by chance?

The correct answer is none of them. The best young quarterback is Nick Foles of the Philadelphia Eagles.

Stats prove it. In the past season, despite not playing all the games, Nick Foles had a record of 27 touchdowns and only 2 interceptions. This is Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers territory. As passers, none of the more highly touted other young quarterbacks comes close.

Stats alone don’t tell the story, of course. What struck me as much as the stats is a video of Nick Foles shooting an impromptu basket on the Dan Patrick Show:

http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1942698-eagles-quarterback-nick-foles-nails-long-3-pointer-on-the-dan-patrick-show

Note how far away he’s standing. To me, it’s a demonstration of remarkable hand-eye coordination. Which being a quarterback is about. The 27-2 ratio isn’t so surprising after all. But the media is so caught up with the other guys, it seems to have missed Nick Foles.

(To be continued.)