Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Mountainburg, Arkansas, 5/31/04

Conan Doyle's "Lost World" discovered while passing through.

Duel in the Sun

The place: Laurelhurst Park, Portland, OR.

The encounter: Kai (Flickr) + male dog near his size. Mutual sniffing, postures taut, hair-trigger alphaness is in the air. At last, terms of engagement are agreed upon.

The event: Olympic free-style pissing match.

En garde!

Kai: "This is my oak tree." Pisses on it.

Challenger: "Nay, 'tis MY oak tree." Pisses more, truly an impressive riposte.

Kai: "Oh, yeah?" Hits bullseye again.

Challenger: "Upstart cur!" Retakes target.

Kai: "Dickweed!" And again.

This continues.

At last, honor satisfied, they part.

The tree's thoughts went unrecorded.

Music: Frank Zappa, Broadway the Hard Way
Near at hand: the latest issue of The Stranger

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone (1961) — Warren Beatty before he was (and nearly wasn't)

Today is Warren Beatty's 73rd birthday.

Seriously? 73? Man, I hope I look that good when I'm 40. Oh, wait.... Damn.

I could, yeah, go on about how much I love watching him glide with well-lubed cocksure ease through, say, Bonnie and Clyde or McCabe and Mrs. Miller or Shampoo. Easy. Or discourse on the merits, or otherwise, of Reds, Bugsy, or even Ishtar.

Instead, I'm thinking of one of Beatty's first gigs on the big screen, nearly fifty years ago, when he was young and hungry in 1961, six years before Bonnie and Clyde boosted his status and hirability up to his own orbital platform. At the end of December '61, just two months after this 24-year-old caught some well-earned attention in Splendor in the Grass, it was a now nearly forgotten film, The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone, that just about squashed his career like a bug caught running toward a wedding cake.

Inevitably and fortunately, he stuck with it and spent the following decades making movies that easily wipe this one from our frontal lobes. Good thing, too, as otherwise we'd have to use a spork.

Vivien Leigh plays the title's rich, lonely widow, who loses herself to dissolute "drifting" in Rome. Beatty is her callow lover, a handsome Italian gigolo. Leigh was 48, her career ending; Beatty was half that and just starting. And look, that's Lotte Lenya as the cynical pimp renting Italian studs to rich widows. Lenya picked up an Academy Award nomination for the role, but we remember her now thanks to Bertolt Brecht and her pop-cult apex as Bond villain Rosa Klebb in From Russia with Love ('63).

Sounds like a fine combo platter, doesn't it? Well, in this case those ingredients got slapped together into a triple-decker crap sandwich.

The fat finger of blame first lands, plunk, right on the screenplay. It's credited mostly to Gavin Lambert, who in '65 adapted his own novel, Inside Daisy Clover, for Natalie Wood. Roman Spring's script delivers a far more golden pedigree, seeing as how it's adapted from Tennessee Williams' 1950 novella.

Yet it's such an excruciating bit of pulp, trite and bleary and interminable, clotted with dialogue that might read well in the dog-eared, yellowed paperback but just plops leaden onscreen. The prose is as purple as an eggplant, and the tone so overripe that the film often feels like a kitschy parody of Williams' florid excesses, or a worst-parts mashup of Williams and D.H. Lawrence. Starting with the thuddingly expository voice-over narration — Leigh's fading Broadway diva is "drifting, if not drowning, in a universe of turbulently rushing fluids and vapors" — what wants to be mature, sensual romance-novel boilerplate becomes instead a plodding exercise in intriguingly cast camp.

None of it is helped by wallowing in that charming puritanical leitmotif, sex = death. 

When the film gets talked about at all, which is hardly ever, the conversation tends to pin down whether we're seeing Leigh's own personal crises shaping and shading her tragically unhappy Karen Stone. Leigh's recently crumbled marriage to Laurence Olivier, and her history of debilitating depression coupled with a fear of failure, all appear to be there onscreen. Like Leigh, Karen is fiftyish yet still striking, a formerly revered actress obsessed by negative reviews in a young woman's profession, and is reacting to a marriage that has just come to a miserable stop. In Mrs. Stone's case, she seeks escape in Rome after her ailing husband, the inconsiderate lout, dies next to her on the plane while en route.

While seeking "light in the dark corners" of her life, she falls prey to Paolo (Beatty), who belongs to a stable managed by a vulturous Russian contessa in a crimson boudoir (Lenya, stealing her scenes by ladling up the Williams-speak like epigrammatic goulash). Lenya's madame and Beatty's gigolo have this arrangement, see: he uses his fluids and vapors to get the drifting, if not drowning rich American lady to lavish him with gifts of jewelry and trinkets. Then Paolo and his boss (who really would be more interesting with switchblade-daggers in her shoes) pawn the goods for cold, hard cash.

At first wary, and despite warnings from an old friend (Coral Browne), Karen ultimately embraces determined Paolo's appeal, and the pair become lovers. From there it's all hell and handbaskets, jealousy and neuroses, especially after a young American actress/twinkie (Jill St. John, just 20) also catches Paolo's opportunistic eye.

Leigh's rote performance wavers between on-the-money naturalness and a mannered archness that frequently puts quotation marks around her acting. Devoted Leigh fans tend to praise her "raw" or "brave" work here. While she is Vivien Leigh, which counts for something, that's just sentimentalizing her autopilot presence because of what she was experiencing in real life. (I guess I shouldn't be surprised — though I am — that there are Facebook fan pages for the film and "Karen Stone ∆ Vivien Liegh.")

More interesting is Warren Beatty. Not because he's better than Leigh, or even noticeably good. (His uncertain Italian accent may be the movie's only memorable element.) It's that today we can't help but watch Paolo through the lens of where Beatty would go with Splendor in the Grass, Bonnie and Clyde, and his own "gigolo" image. The scenes that Leigh and Beatty share are at least interesting in that regard.

During her scenes with them, Jill St. John is so insubstantial she hardly registers in the frame. In this DVD's featurette about the production, we learn that Leigh never spoke to St. John at all during filming.

The better behind-the-scenes story, though, involves Beatty (of course it does). The young actor was so hungry for an image-defying role that he borrowed money to visit Williams in Puerto Rico, bought a bottle of "man tan" and an Italian phrasebook, and ingratiated himself directly to the venerable author for the part, which had been putatively given to another actor. (According to, that may have been Terence Stamp or Oliver Reed.)

Beatty shouldn't have bothered. When the film opened, its overwhelmingly negative reviews — "an elaborately repulsive little picture," said Cue magazine, "a painful assault on love ... dialogue of suffocating archness," stabbed The New Yorker — were such a blow to Beatty that they nearly knocked him out of acting altogether. In his review, Bosley Crowther at The New York Times pointed to Beatty as "hopelessly out of his element as a patent-leather ladies man in Rome." Variety, in their cursory review, at least gave him a mixed positive: "Although every once in a while a little Guido Panzini creeps into his Italo dialect and Marlon Brando into his posture and expression, Beatty gives a fairly convincing characterization of the young, mercenary punk-gigolo."

Beatty was to later look back at that time and say, "I couldn't go on anymore. I couldn't face making another. Why? It's a question you'd need a treatise to answer. I was insecure. I'd lost the spark." (Source: Warren Beatty: A Private Man, by Suzanne Finstad.)

Roman Spring was the first feature film directed by José Quintero, a well-regarded theater director. (With Theodore Mann ten years earlier he co-founded the Circle in the Square Theatre in Greenwich Village, and had earned a reputation as the go-to director of Eugene O'Neill's dramas, notably the '56 production of The Iceman Cometh that launched Jason Robards.) Here, though, he appears incapable of injecting sufficient energy or charisma into the artifice and stagy prose, so we get a funereal lassitude almost by default.

Toward the positive, it's a well-dressed production, what with Harry Waxman's cinematography and travelogue shooting through Rome's bygone grandeur.

By the way, forget any modern enlightened ideas about Mrs. Stone's newfound widowhood and independence thrusting open a door to her own personal liberation and journey of self-discovery, sexual or otherwise. We're in 1961 here, remember, the Mad Men era except genuinely paleolithic. Flip either the genders or the ages of the two main characters and you get a profoundly different story, perhaps one assured of a "happy" ending.

Which takes us to the question of the mysterious shabby Young Man who constantly waits and watches Karen from beneath her balcony. Whether or not Quintero (or Williams) considered the Young Man to be her Death personified, Quintero sets up the final scene — broken and abandoned, she tosses her apartment keys down to him — in such a way that we're forgiven if we expect Rod Serling to stroll in from off-camera for the epilogue.

On the DVD, the 12-minute featurette, "Mrs. Stone: Looking for Love in All the Dark Corners," focuses on Leigh and Beatty in a perfunctory, tabloidy fashion, plus a few moments on some rather strained psycho-biographical parallels between Williams and his Karen Stone. Its talking-head material comes from Williams biographer Donald Spoto, Beatty biographer Suzanne Finstad, and Jill St. John. (Also included is that pompous, overwritten theatrical trailer.)

So, hey, happy birthday, Warren. I have Bonnie and Clyde and Shampoo topping the stack to watch next, along with a couple cocktails and the Roman Spring disc — pardon me while I push Eject — making an ideal coaster. Cheers.

Music: Josh Nelson, "Loose End"
Near at hand:  a blue crescent moon on a string
(Parts of this post originally appeared at

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Freaks (1932): Sex and the single freak

It irks me that Freaks, Tod Browning's notorious 1932 movie starring real-life, honest-to-Barnum sideshow grotesques, is still often classified as a horror movie. Worse, it sometimes gets lumped under the Monster Movie category as a late-night Halloween programmer. Okay, sure, Freaks is one of the most bizarre and unforgettable films to come out of a major Hollywood studio. You can rightly note that its blunt imagery and dime-novel revenge narrative (heaven knows it isn't what you'd call artful) include elements of the horrific, but that's a different thing altogether.

While Freaks is now honored in the U.S. National Film Registry archive, its volatile reception and subsequent near-burial kept it underground for decades. In the U.S., civic groups attacked it as an example of Hollywood's depravity. England banned it altogether for thirty years. MGM's Louis B. Mayer removed his famous logo from all prints and the studio did its best to disown the film. It was savaged by shocked critics and, reportedly, audience members ran from the preview theaters screaming. It comes as no surprise that it deep-sixed Browning's career.

Nonetheless, I'm fully on board with critic Andrew Sarris' assessment that Freaks is "one of the most compassionate films ever made." Is it a love story? A drama about a family coming together to protect its own? A social commentary? It doesn't aim for or strike any of those targets precisely, but it is not a horror movie or a creature feature.

So, what was it, really, about Freaks that sent moviegoers so bugfuck in 1932?

Browning, who helped ignite the Universal horror-film craze by directing 1931's Dracula, had been hired by Irving Thalberg at glamour-house MGM to make a film even more horrifying. He succeeded, though not in ways that would be appreciated for more than a generation.

Does its impact come just from, as horror author Stephen King and others have said, Browning going too far in casting his B-movie melodrama with authentic oddities such as Johnny Eck (whose body cuts off at the ribcage), Prince Randian (born armless and legless, he ambulates by wriggling like a caterpillar), and an entire family of pinheads?

Or is there something more shrewd in Freaks that tendrils into our brain's lizard-level?

The part of Freaks that gets under our skin isn't the plot, which fits on a Post-It Note. In a traveling circus, the statuesque trapeze artist, Cleopatra (Olga Baclanova), conspires with her lover, the thuggish strongman Hercules (Henry Victor), to marry lovelorn midget Hans (Harry Earles). Their goal: to murder Hans slowly with poison and steal his family fortune. Hans' fellow freaks, bonded in their "offend one of us, offend all of us" credo, take ghastly revenge on the would-be killers.

Browning aligns us with two kindly "normal" performers, lovely Venus (Leila Hyams) and the clown Phroso (Wallace Ford), who treat the the freaks humanely as friends, colleagues, and kindred spirits. There's also Madame Tetrallini (Rose Dione), who defends her "children" against a local who cries "monsters!" when he finds them playing in the woods.

When Tod Browning was 16, he lived the vintage paperback dream of running away from home to join a circus. He traveled with carnivals and sideshows, and even had a sideshow act himself in which he was "buried alive" as "The Living Corpse." For a while he was a clown with Ringling Brothers. So by the time he landed in Hollywood (acting in shorts for D.W. Griffith, whom he'd met in New York) he knew first-hand about circuses and the folk who inhabit them. He had known them professionally and, one presumes, personally.

The film's most well-known scene arrives when the outcasts offer to accept Hans' new bride with a wedding celebration and a passed-around goblet of wine. Their ritualistic chant — "Gooble gobble, gooble gobble, one of us, one of us" — is both moving and deeply creepy. When the sacramental goblet reaches her, Cleopatra can't contain her revulsion. "Dirty, slimy freaks!" she screams, then humiliates tiny Hans in front of his peers with the strongman. Her fate is sealed.

And thus follows the second most familiar, and the most controversial, scene. It's a climax that plays on our primordial fears of the Other, especially an Other that's armed and crawling, slithering, sloshing through rain and mud beneath circus wagons on a storm-wracked night. As for its denouement, let's just say that Cleopatra gets the literal "one of us" treatment from her less comely co-workers.

So disturbing was that original sequence that much of it is now lost, having been cut soon after the movie's unhappy initial screenings. Also lost is the intended fate of the villainous Hercules — castration was a revenge so harrowing to Browning's studio bosses that they refused to sanction it. It didn't take long before the studio pared down Freaks from 90 minutes to its current 64.

That climax and macabre aftermath are enough to make Freaks a visceral experience. But our sensitivities are already discomfited before those moments. In his unadorned, plain-speaking directing, Browning implanted in our craniums more than just startling images of misshapen bodies.

Thalberg, who championed Freaks as important, may have put his finger on more than a lurid ad campaign when he re-released it with poster taglines such as Do Siamese Twins Make Love? and What Sex is the Half-Man-Half-Woman? According to, one of Freaks' informal titles was Forbidden Love. Browning, in showing the freaks as sympathetic people rather than inhuman monstrosities, dared to show the naked truth that they enjoy the same things we do: respect, affection, companionship, humor — and sex.  

There's the proverbial elephant man in the living room no one talks about. The Human Skeleton is at the Bearded Lady's side when she delivers their baby girl. (Peter Robinson, a.k.a. the Human Skeleton, had already been married for ten years to Baby Bunny Smith, a sideshow entertainer whose 467 pounds more than compensated for Robinson's 58.) Our prurient imaginations stumble at the geek-love realities of "Half Boy" Johnny Eck, whose face is movie-star handsome, or sausage-like Prince Randian, who rolls and lights a cigarette with only his mouth, and who in real life was a husband and father. Daisy and Violet Hilton, pretty Siamese Twins conjoined at the hip, are each courted separately; Violet is engaged to be married, and already-married Daisy smiles blissfully as she feels the kiss Violet receives from the fiancé. Consider the wedding-night implications of that for a moment.

Face it, the movie says to us without underlining the obvious or stabbing it with exclamation points, these freaks are loving each other, having good times, enjoying their friends and families ... dude, they're even fucking with their dicks and vaginas

No judgment, no snark, no pointing at it and giggling "ew, gross," no moralizing message that there's anything "deviant" going on here. Indeed, the only sexual unseemliness — casual bedhopping for the fun of it — involves the outwardly non-freakish Cleopatra and Hercules.

Courtesy Greenbriar Picture Shows
I have no idea whether Browning was knowingly, forthrightly bold and forward-looking, or had any notions of waving a humanist banner like a matador flapping his red cloak at a whole herd of easily startled bulls. But what MGM, the censors, and the public found repulsive looks pretty clear to me: It wasn't merely Browning's documentary-like real abnormal faces and bodies. It's the way he makes us look unblinking at these malformed individuals to see the common humanity we share with them, and they with us. They aren't monsters, Browning reveals with a subtlety that's hypodermic — they're us. Conversely, we are them, in all our fundamental qualities. When the sweet-natured pinhead Schlitzie or meatloafy Randian are on the screen, Freaks holds up, in a benign rather than entirely exploitative embrace of Hamlet's exhortation to the Players, a mirror to nature; that is, to us in the audience.

Whether we like it or not, Freaks drills into our hindbrain and jolts our atavistic response to the not-normal, then forces us to confront our prejudices and feel something — revulsion, compassion, or surprise at the realization that those aren't mutually exclusive responses. Watching Freaks is a two-way communication. It's disturbing not just because of what's in it, but also because of what we bring to it.

(Imagine if Avatar's supposedly non-human Na'vi had been designed to be this physically alien — which biologically really isn't alien at all — rather than as automatically sympathetic by deploying the strategically manipulative tropes of Disney/cartoon visual signifiers of human beauty. Would Avatar's love story have found the receptive audience that it did? Unlikely, at least not without a whole lot more work from other parts of Cameron's blockbuster.)

(I wonder too if Freaks presents an example of the "Uncanny Valley" effect at work, but that moves us into a level of rarefied pondering that's best left for a more academic-feeling morning.)

After an art-house and "midnight movie" revival in the 1960s, Freaks appeared on VHS with poor picture and sound quality. Nowadays you can find this pop-cult touchstone restored on a first-rate DVD edition from Warner.

The vivid, clean print shows only minor wear. Its definition and black-and-white contrast are terrific. (The exception, restored from a dupey source, is the rarely-seen "happy ending" epilogue with Hans visited by his steadfast midget love, Frieda, with Venus and Phroso in Hans' mansion.) The sole audio option, Dolby 1.0 mono, is quite good for this vintage.

The disc's extras offer everything you've always wanted to know about Freaks but were too weirded out to ask. Detailing the production history in authoritative detail is a commentary track by David Skal, author of Dark Carnival: The Secret World of Tod Browning.

Skal returns, with sideshow historians and performers, in Freaks: Sideshow Cinema. This thorough, hour-long documentary includes generous segments on each of Freaks' titular personalities (such as the Prince Randian clip a few paragraphs up), discussing their offscreen lives, experiences during production, and feelings about the film.

Also here is the sermonic "Special Message" prologue added for Thalberg's re-release. Three "alternate endings" are just recut versions of the epilogue, though they come with Skal's welcome narration.

Music: Melody Gardot, "My One and Only Thrill"
Near at hand: Coffee in a Seurat mug, a bit too heavy on the vanilla flavoring.
(Parts of this post originally appeared at

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Great combos: Max and Dave Fleischer + Betty Boop + the Giant Floating Head of Louis Armstrong

Alert: 1932 racial stereotyping (and not just a little bit either). Still, what a meet-up of talents!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

It's what's inside that counts

Scene: Yesterday evening at the neighborhood Pharmaca "integrative pharmacy," a store for ordinary prescriptions, cotton swabs, toothpaste, sundries, etc. as well as "alternative" tinctures, herbs, and curatives/restoratives with varying degrees of dubious woo.

Situation: Accompanying Elizabeth on a quick pick-up before checking out a new restaurant that just opened up the street. While Elizabeth is getting what she needs, I wait near the book sales wall. (The book on how to time-travel with your mind is certainly eye-catching.) Nearby is Sales Rep Guy sitting behind a table, on which stand a dozen dark green bottles labeled "Vege"-something, plus a Brita pitcher and little paper cups of a liquid that's likewise the striking mossy green of compost or a forest floor. I casually glance at the wares. The Sales Rep Guy — pleasant, personable — goes into his sales pitch.

Sales Rep Guy: "Do you take a multivitamin?"

Me: "Every day."

Guy: "Have you noticed that your pee is yellow?"

Me: [pause] "Traditionally, yes."

Guy: "That's because your body doesn't fully absorb vitamins in pill form. But this powder drink mix is fully absorbed by your body, giving you all the vitamins you lose with pills. Here, try some."

Me, taking a little paper cup, sipping: "It's exactly like licking a shag carpet."

It is an impulse response, and the fact that my memory yanked it from the Steve Martin movie L.A. Story doesn't mean I'm not sincere. But I'm not out to hurt the guy's feelings — after all, he's a nice fellow just doing his job, and as far as I know he's the inventor, CEO, sole shareholder, and sincere advocate of "Vege"-something, Inc.

Me (after the initial unhappy flavor jolt passes): "Rather, it's so much like eating real raw vegetables that drinking it in a watery form is alarming my brain." We share a small laugh at this and he seems pleased by the "real raw vegetables" observation. Whew, I smoothed over that just fine.

Guy: "It's loaded with millions of probiotics, live micro-organisms that inhabit our gut."

Me: "Um..."

Guy: "If your colonic ecology isn't in balance, you're not healthy."

Me: "Like the millions of single-cell creatures in a spoonful of pond water."

Guy: "Sure!" Smiles.

Me: "So this is like me eating a cubic square foot of my back yard."

Guy: "That's it." Beams. "The bacteria in your gut outnumber the cells in your body ten to one."

Me: "As they say, we're only ten percent human and ninety percent parasitical microscopic flora and fauna."

Guy: "Yep!"

Me: "You really need to work on your marketing points."

Music: John Barnes Chance, Incantation and Dance
Near at hand: Glass paperweight with Saturn inside

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Happy 100th birthday...

...Akira Kurosawa.

Today at Criterion's Current: In one sentence, convince a friend who is unfamiliar with Kurosawa to watch one of his films.

Later edit: The winning entry — "He's your favorite director's favorite director" — is so pithy and concise and on the nose that my own entry, which I liked at the time, now clods along as if it's wearing shoes three sizes too big. Nice.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Rude mechanicals

I dig anything that mixes Shakespeare and robots. Seriously, you should see my office.

From last November: Robots Perform Shakespeare:

A Midsummer Night’s Dream has been updated for the 21st century with seven small robots playing fairies alongside carbon-based co-stars.
Beyond being a cool thing to do, researchers saw bringing bots to the Bard as a chance to introduce robots to the public and see how people interact with them. Their findings could influence how robots are designed and how they’re used in search-and-rescue operations.

" heart / Is true as steel..."

Sunday, March 21, 2010

I, Kai, eye. Aye.

Archeo-architecture dig at Shakespeare's "New Place" home

I would love to be there to see this in progress. Then again, I suppose I could be, given that it's open to tourists at £12.50 for a look-see (plus "£11.50 for concessions"). Long way from Seattle to Stratford, however.

A further trench will explore the area thought to have been his pantry and brewery, and one quarter of the 19th Century knot garden will be dug – into what would have been Shakespeare’s backyards. This is where archaeologists believe they might find defunct wells, filled in with refuse and waste when they ceased to be used.

The notion of Shakespearean coprolites is a tad unnerving. Although that may finally reveal, whether we like it or not, what the great man did with those missing pages of Cardenio.

Music: Sondheim, Company (2007 revival)
Near at hand: Shakespeare bobblehead doll

Hollywood Blvd., 1/23/2003

Music: Ralph Vaughan Williams, English Folk Song Suite
Near at hand: rocketship pen

Friday, March 19, 2010

The only known film footage of Mark Twain, shot by Thomas Edison

It occurs to me that this post’s header demonstrates the importance of punctuation.

Music: Ray Charles & Betty Carter, "Cocktails for Two"
Near at hand: framed photo of Elizabeth

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Because it's St. Patrick's Day

Three dyslexic Irishmen walk into a bra...

Friday, March 12, 2010

Pic pick: "Everyone Says I Love You"

Chris Nolan on Batman 3, Inception, the eventual new Superman movie

Via the L.A. Times and

Inception, which opens July 16, stars Leonardo DiCaprio as a "dream thief of sorts in what may be Hollywood’s first metaphysical heist film."

It looks like his third Batman film (which Nolan may or may not hands-on direct) will cap the Bat with a definite trilogy finale:
"I’m very excited about the end of the film, the conclusion, and what we’ve done with the characters,” Nolan said.“My brother has come up with some pretty exciting stuff. Unlike the comics, these things don’t go on forever in film and viewing it as a story with an end is useful. Viewing it as an ending, that sets you very much on the right track about the appropriate conclusion and the essence of what tale we’re telling."
And when it comes to updating/rebooting/juicing up Warner's Superman franchise, this sort of news will always perk my ears up. I love, almost beyond my wife's eye-roll tolerance, the first two Christopher Reeves films. I am among the (apparently few) champions of 2006's Superman Returns (despite some caveats). So, yep, call me a fanboy, from way back and in multiple media, of that last son of Krypton in kinky boots. So I'm already jazzed about this one even though it's way early in the game and we have until "2012 or 2013 at best" before we see it. (I'm for a complete break from the previous continuity, a fresh start, a modern full-blooded approach to the depth and breadth of Clark/Supes as a character, and a truly frightening, challenging villain. Nolan, baby, call me.
Still, it was a frustrating moment in the Batman franchise that led to this new Superman revival. Nolan and Goyer, a key collaborator on both Batman films, were at a story impasse on the third Batman film (which is now picking up steam as well) when, as a distraction, Goyer gave the filmmaker a daydream version of how he would tackle a story about the last son of Krypton.

“He basically told me, ‘I have this thought about how you would approach Superman,’” Nolan recalled. “I immediately got it, loved it and thought: That is a way of approaching the story I’ve never seen before that makes it incredibly exciting. I wanted to get Emma and I involved in shepherding the project right away and getting it to the studio and getting it going in an exciting way.”

Goyer is now writing the screenplay and Nolan is keeping it close to the vest.

Music: main title, Touch of Evil (Crime Jazz:Music in the First Degree)
Near at hand: Fargo snow-globe

Sunday, March 7, 2010

My Oscar predictions that didn't come true

James Cameron sexts Kathryn Bigelow: "Oscar win sex always best. ;) ". Bigelow drops iPhone into water glass.

Sandra Bullock's Razzie calls Bullock's Oscar a cheap-ass skank. Awesome statue fight with broken bottle and designer necklace.

Quentin Tarantino's Oscar accepted by the ghost of George C. Scott, who begins, "No poor, dumb, inglourious basterd ever won a war by..."

Christoph Waltz dances to stage in 3/4 time, sings all of Sondheim's "A Little Night Music", belches "The Blue Danube."

Sexiest Couple -- George Clooney and his tuxedo.

Avatar misses Best Picture win. However, it does take home Best Screensaver and Film Most Improved By DVD's Thai Language Track.


To those of you who still follow this blog after months of it lying fallow: I'm back, and thanks for sticking around.

While the general thrust and tone of this blog will remain the same, I'm going to implement some changes, starting with removing all previous posts and rebooting.

Why restart this blog now? Simple: I'm in the mood for a fresh start on a refreshened site at a time when renewal and new starts are much on my mind.

I won't rehash the near-death (very, very near death) medical cataclysm that rendered much of my 2009 calendar moot and void, and put a dent in the first months of 2010. (Hint: Long-expected, "minimally invasive" heart surgery to fix a congenital aortic stenosis, followed by, to phrase it with comical understatement, "complications.") You can backtrack through it via my wife Elizabeth's daily LiveJournal starting July 11, '09 (some posts Friends-locked), and/or open my own handful of LiveJournal summary write-ups under my LJ tags "heart surgery" and "heart surgery recovery" dating back to July '09.
Addendum: Here in Open the Pod Bay Doors, HAL, a couple of later posts under the Blogger label heart surgery serve as brief follow-ups.
So, yeah, I had my life shaken up like a bag of marbles in a clothes dryer that tried its best to plummet off a cliff and burst into flame. But now it's Spring 2010, I'm alive, chugging through recovery just fine, scars are fading, life's feeling pretty good, and I'm looking around wide-eyed asking, "Now what?" Months of incapacitation piled onto the current crippling recession means that my reasonably healthy freelance writing business is experiencing its own temporary slowdown. It reminds me of that scene in Singin' in the Rain:
Cosmo Brown: "Talking pictures, that means I'm out of a job. At last I can start suffering and write that symphony."

R.F. Simpson: "You're not out of job, we're putting you in as head of our new music department."

Cosmo: "Oh, thanks, R.F.! At last I can stop suffering and write that symphony."
Whether I like it or not, at last I can start and/or stop suffering and write that symphony. Which in my case means getting back to the fiction and other writing I've put off for too long. (For a while there I was a hot up-and-comer in the science fiction & fantasy field, and then I stopped. Several reasons, all boring now.) I'm also considering some travel writing, specifically a chronicle, Bill Bryson-style, revisiting my Southern roots; especially since, with both parents passed on, I'd be revisiting certain shaping places and influences for the first time in my adult life without external duty forcing me back there. But that's for later.

This new(ish) blog is a tool. It's here to help me refocus attention onto some new writing as well as who I am and what interests me after the events of 2009. To help me answer, "What now?" And to keep me in touch with friends and acquaintances -- some old, some new -- who revealed themselves to be more numerous and more important than I had suspected before.

Thanks for being here. It's nice to be alive to see you.

Music: Steely Dan, Gaucho
Near at hand: duck-on-bike windup