A New Life in Seattle

A New Life in Seattle
August, 2018

Monday, August 24, 2015

DVDs: Modest Collection, Immodest Desires

No, that isn't my own small collection...

That's a starting image for the number of DVDs I think anyone should have before claiming a decent collection. After all, in the US alone, 44,000 films had been made as of 2012. So a modest collection would surely contain more than just one or two hundred. If we throw in collectible films from other countries round the globe, possibly our number might come closer to...1000?

Ridiculously incomplete and yet we have only so much money...space...and time. When I started to build my collection this year, it didn't take me long to see the very real risk I ran of collectoholism. Man, I wanted everything! I wanted not only the great stuff but every little oddity that I'd even vaguely thought I should have a look at--films or TV shows:

Breakout Kings Cancelled

I put the blocks to this crazy urge when I had a dozen DVDs I knew I'd never watch again. In fact, rewatchability became my first criterion. And from it came the others that still guide me in my quest. Any DVD I buy must meet one or more of these guidelines:

1) It is something I know I can rewatch with increasing pleasure.


Breaking Bad (2008)1935-night-at-the-opera-poster.jpeg

2) It is an acclaimed masterpiece that bears further study and belongs in any serious collection.

Diabolique (1955) PosterTo Be or Not to Be (1942) Poster

3) It is a film that was butchered by the studio in its original release--but is now available in the great director's cut.

Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (Two-Disc Special Edition)The Big Red One - The Reconstruction (Two-Disc Special Edition)

4) It is the sort of film I don't usually watch--but which I know deserves a try.

Le Samouraï (1967) PosterGravity (2013) PosterRififi (1955) Poster

5) It is a film/TV show that was important to me long ago.

Have Gun - Will Travel (1957)

And so it goes. May I grow in turn as my collection grows.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Second Thoughts On Second Drafts

I'd gotten that part down well enough that I no longer anguished even when I knew something wasn't working in my first 'pass' through a novel.  Let's raise our cups to Hemingway who put it with more pith:

Image result for FIRST DRAFT IMAGES

At the same time, let's remember that many pros refer to the first draft as the Vomit Draft:

Cartoon Vomit

And Ernie Mears has given what I regard as the best definition:

vomit draft: (n)  1. writing draft in which the author spews words on the page in a chaotic outpouring of ideas, characters, plot, passion, and quite possibly last week’s dinner; 2. the art form of funneling the maelstrom of inspiration in one’s brain into a porcelain throne of paper; 3. in which a writer commits a story to paper for the first time, therein relating it to herself.  synonyms:  first draft, rough draft.  antonyms:  polished piece, final draft, completed manuscript.

That said, at the very least, we've got ourselves a book--right?  Wrong. Whether you see it as vomit or as very raw material, you have something that may become very important...with work. But what you don't have is a book.

Well, okay, okay, okay. But, hey, at least the hard part's done--right? Wrong. The second draft, for me, has always been the hardest. Daily, I have to face the reeking stylistic mess. Daily, I see again that almost every page contains twice the needed word count. The pacing is off. I'm telling and not showing. Characters still aren't developed enough. The fact is, almost everything that could go wrong with a good novel lies before the writer in a reeking puddle of vomit. And this is an excellent time to reflect: with every pass through a novel it grows harder to spot what is wrong--try to spot the Biggies now.

Still, something cool happened in the second draft of Caesar's Ghost, my WIP. I abandoned all thoughts of perfection in this pass. I squeezed every drop of defeatism and shame from my soul. If the second draft still sucked, so what? So what if took me three more drafts...or five? No one would see the book until I ready to show it. So why not enjoy this pass, working with humbler goals:
--Work calmly, daily, without stress--from a hard copy of the text.
--Cut only verbiage that is obviously excessive.
--Focus on pacing, logistics and clarity.
--Don't think about stylistic razzmatazz. But do accomplish in this pass a professional level of prose.
--Make notes for any challenge that can't be resolved at this time.

Well, okay, okay. But then the second draft's done. And, relatively speaking, the third draft should be a cake walk--right? Maybe right...but maybe wrong. Depends on what your values are and how good a writer you hope to become.

Three drafts will be enough for some and one too many for others. Still others may need four or five. But if you do decide on a third, let the third be extra-special. With all that has been cleared away, you may spy new opportunities--for a plot twist or a character or a turn of phrase. Nothing is final until you sign off. So allow yourself at least one more pass...with a world of potential before you.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

The Too Wild to Not Be Reviled: De Palma

True blue rebels even turn, now and then, on their most loyal fans. Not from ingratitude or spite, but to keep things real. A rebel who's predictable is really no rebel at all: e.g., rappers or rockers who cultivate rebel personae while carefully singing whatever will sell and protect their position on Forbes' list.

Forbes Richest Rappers 2015

But the Real Deal we have gathered to celebrate today is cut from different cloth. He is at once reviled and revered...brilliant auteur and pure bad boy...blockbuster maestro and crafter of smaller, more personal gems. His name is Brian De Palma and you're certain to have heard of or seen at least a few of his most famous films: Carrie, The Fury, Dressed to Kill, Blow Out, Scarface, Body Double, The Untouchables, Carlito's Way, Mission Impossible...

These are wildly disparate films, you'll agree. And De Palma becomes even more difficult to peg if you consider: he began, back in the Sixties/early Seventies, with small, subversive films (Greetings, Get to Know Your Rabbit)...he then moved on to films inspired by Hitchcock (Sisters, Obssession)...he graduated to classic De Palma-style films with now-patented camera techniques...he befuddled fans and critics by intermingling blockbusters--Scarface, The Untouchables, Mission Impossible--with smaller, more classically De Palma-style movies--Body Double, Raising Cain, Snake Eyes, Femme Fatale, Passion...and to shake things up even more, he put out the occasional misfire: Bonfire of the Vanities, Wise Guys, the Black Dahlia...

No matter what he did, though, two things could be counted on: bubble-headed critics would still call him a clone of Alfred Hitchcock with an obsessive interest in voyeurism and kinky sex,..and the hardest core De Palmians would stand by their man.

Until...Well, every story has one...Until he put out a completely non De Palma movie entitled Mission to Mars. And you'll have to travel far and wide to find a movie this reviled.

Mission to Mars (2000) Poster

I mean, really, imagine a De Palma Movie with just one splashing bloody sequence, no kinky sex and almost no trademark camera work, What is about? Well, it combines, quite wonderfully, elements of Gravity, Interstellar and the upcoming movie, The Martian. We begin, Interstellar-like, with a sequence set on earth, in which we get to know the characters. The 15 minutes are well-spent. The flight to Mars is shown in an interesting compression of time. The astronauts land, explore--and are gruesomely dispatched by--we cannot be certain if it's a force of nature or...maybe an alien presence. A rescue team is sent. Lovely scenes aboard their craft until the rocket springs a leak. Gravity-style repair work. Not entirely successful. Exquisite suspense and a heartbreaking loss as they abandon ship and try to reach the dispatched rescue vehicle. They land...search...find graves, indicating someone's still alive. And then...

Now comes the movie's first big surprise--which I won't reveal. Another, still bigger, is coming. What I will say is that, in a two-hour film, the structure and pacing are both spot-on. The acting and scripting are equally good. ('I didn't travel 100 million miles to stumble in the last ten steps.' Or: when chided because he can't dance, the hero tells his wife: 'Hey, some couples tango and some go to Mars.') The movie's inner Swiss watch ticks as we advance on schedule to the Big Reveal.

As for the last fifteen minutes...Here we come to the great I Don't Know. I didn't like the ending. I'd wanted something different. Many viewers have hated the ending and condemned the entire film because of it. Stand back, though. We can't have it all ways.

We can't have a Real Deal Rebel who's been completely housebroken and repeats all the tricks we love best, at our call. The Real Deal is subversive and loves to thwart expectations. The Real Deal will transform a kinky, borderline sleazy film like Femme Fatale into a dream, onto which he then tacks on a lush, romantic ending. The Real Deal, late in his career, with thwart all expectations with a beautifully calm thriller, Passion.

Because he refuses to 'heel' on command, we should never grow too comfortable in the presence of such an artist. The best are loving people--with a streak of junkyard dog.

But relax. They're not out to hurt but delight us as they take us by the throat. Now and then they succeed at that by showing us their hearts.