Archive for October 2010
Jackass 3D made boxoffice history last weekend, registering $50 million in its opening. No other film has opened so strongly in October. I helped out by plunking down $8 Saturday afternoon. I’d been itching to see the movie for a few weeks now for reasons that had a lot to do with me turning 40 and still pining for aspects of undergraduate life. I obviously wasn’t the only one with the itch: There was a decent crowd in the theatre for a weekend matinee, even though only two were women.
It was money well spent; at least $2.67 of it. Much like the two previous films, approximately 1/3 of what they pull off is absolute genius–inspired, funny, insightful, creative; another 1/3 is just stupid; the final 1/3 is little more than disgusting. The remaining $5.33 wasn’t a waste–it was worth it to see the other stuff. I’ve thought for years now that the Jackass crew pulls some great gags, and it’s their gags I enjoy the most. The gem in this installment involved Wee Man having drinks at a bar with a midgette; they appear to be on a date. Before long, there’s a confrontation between Wee Man and his date’s boyfriend (also a midget). It escalates into a fight–the boyfriend brings in a posse of midgets, and they commence to whaling on Wee Man. The other bar patrons back off and watch the mayhem. Before long, the cops storm in to break things up. The cops are all midgets. Paramedics arrive on the heels of the cops. The paramedics are all midgets. I was wiping my eyes from laughing so hard.
The Jackass phenomenon has been endlessly analyzed for the last decade as it has dug a niche in pop culture. Most people agree that the appeal lies almost entirely with men, most of whom are seeking little more than the satisfaction that comes from watching a group of buddies get away with stuff we all wish we could get away with. I admit without hesitation that I fit that demographic. There are few things I would love more than to plan schemes, set up gags and stunts, and then execute them just for the hell of it. There’s no shame in this as a writer; the Jackass phenomenon began with Johnny Knoxville performing crazy stunts like getting hit by cars or returning punts against a college football team, and then using the experiences as a basis for articles he pitched to various publications. Jackass, then, is essentially gonzo journalism on film.
No less unsettling than the Jackass crew’s most disgusting stunts was the trailer I saw for the Coen brother’s remake of True Grit. This worries me on several levels. Primarily, they are treading on sacred ground. True Grit is a hallmark western; it finally earned John Wayne an Oscar for Best Actor, and is renowned for the climax that cannonized Wayne and his tough guy personages: His character Rooster Cogburn barrels on horseback across an open meadow, reins in his teeth, bearing down on a group of baddies as he fires a pistol in one hand and a rifle in the other. Only John Wayne could pull off the spectacular larger-than-life scene. True Grit came to us in 1969, which was a peculiar time in that Hollywood was caught up in a reactionary trend. Dozens of films came out in the surrounding years that featured the lone symbol of justice, the right-wing bastion of all that was right and proper about staunch conservatism, flying in the face of the feel-good hippy counterculture. I wrote about this two years ago when I posted Six Reasons Why Men Love Dirty Harry.
So it worries me that the socio-political environment in which the first film was released is not typical of what is happening today. The film will be out of context, which doesn’t bode well. It worries me even further that a quality actor like Jeff Bridges would try to recreate the role that defined the quintessential American movie icon late in his career. The role was juicy enough to earn it’s own sequel, Rooster Cogburn. It was lesser film than True Grit, no doubt, but still worth watching. If those aren’t enough worries, I’m also worried that the film will be too stylized. The preview looked too stylized for my tastes, but I’m trying to keep that in the back of my mind because over-stylizing trailers in order to rope in a wide demographic is an old Hollywood trick.
The only thing that is registering positively in my mind about this remake is that the Coen brothers are behind it. I’ve posted about them before, and their names alone are enough to earn my respect. I’ll probably see their interpretation of Charles Portis’ book the weekend it opens.
The online literary journal Imitation Fruit published my short story “Pressure” today. They queried me in mid-August about using it; I had sent it to them in June in response to a classified ad in Poets & Writers that promoted their Chilled Fruit Contest. The ad read, “Can you shock or surprise us? We are looking to be jolted in Issue 7, just in time for Halloween! Send us your original stories, poems, and art that twist and turn into shocking revelations. Throw us for a loop.”
“Pressure” was originaly published here in May; the original posting has been taken down so as to promote Imitation Fruit. I talk about some of the writing process for the story last April in Itchin’ for some Fiction part 5; I didn’t mention the story by name because I hadn’t thought of one yet.
I didn’t see this one coming. I had fun writing “Pressure” and experimenting with flash fiction, but never thought the story would take off. I commented to a friend recently that the writing process consisted of me screwing around with a funny little revenge story in my head, getting it out on paper, polishing it some, running it through my writers group, sending it off, and never thinking about it again. There’s a lot to be said for working quickly, subconsciously, and not giving a damn about the results– I’d read about writer’s who approach their work with similar philosophies, but always thought Yeah, right… like they don’t sweat their butts off trying to perfect every little thing… Now I know without a doubt– turn off the inner critic, write fast, and have fun!
You can check out “Pressure” here: Imitation Fruit Vol. 7, October 2010
And what are you worried about? It’s 1200 words– that’s less than four pages!
I’m creeping ever closer to getting my poem where I want it to be. The second poem, that is; the one that pushed the first poem to the back burner. You’re following all this, right? Good.
The exercise in first writing the poem out in prose form has paid off. I tightened the language quite a bit and was able to establish a tone without having to think about anything but those two things. Thomas Lux must be right, then, in what he prescribed. But I’ll bet he already knows that. Ted Kooser must think Lux is right, too. I keep Kooser’s book The Poetry Home Repair Manual on my nightstand and thumb through it on occassion. So I was thumbing through it the other night to see if he had anything to say about line endings and enjambment, and on p.149 he has an entire section titled “Learning From Prose.” He suggests that when a poem is near completion that it be changed to prose (and then back again). He also alludes to a teacher he knows who encourages his students to compose essays, and then pare them down to poems. He doesn’t say who the teacher is specifically, and I wonder if it is Lux, but still there are two poets of great renown espousing the same philosophy. So I must be doing something right by following that advise. But I didn’t have to read any of that to know it was the right thing for my poems. I could feel it.
And yes, I really do keep The Poetry Home Repair Manual on my nightstand. If you must know, I also keep Watchmen, The Short Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Practice for Poets, The Collected Poems of Joseph Brodsky, and Muhammad Ali: The Greatest of All Time on my nightstand.
Something else kinda strange happened with this poem the other night. It’s laying wide open on my desk, a handwritten copy of it–sitting there in one of my journals. I walked past it with something else on my mind, glanced at it, and the line breaks for the 3rd stanza jumped out at me. I stopped, marked them with a pencil, and went back about my business. Now if only I could stumble upon a name for the damned thing.
So the time is coming for me to go somewhere and do something with this poem, and possibly get to the other poem. I’ll futz around with the line breaks for a week or so, then hand the mess off to two friends and see where they would put the line breaks. One is emerging poet extraordinaire and Harvard graduate Steve Jordan; the other is the AP teacher in my office who has edited more of my writing than I can even remember. We’ll have a meeting of the minds on the poem and see what happens. Hopefully, I’ll have the poem in a position where I can read it when I’m at a weekend-long Mensa event over Halloween. A poetry session is on the schedule, followed by an open reading. I’m signed up.
Arthur Penn died last week. The name didn’t mean too much to me; I knew it through of my love of film– he was the director behind Bonnie and Clyde. Then on Thursday I read an article about him in the Trib and was struck by what he had to say about the climatic scene in Bonnie and Clyde that established his legacy and changed cinema. It gets to the heart of metacognition and “artistic vision”:
“I was reluctant to say ‘yes’ to doing ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ because I wanted an ending that was simply not just violent… I wanted one that would, in a certain sense, transport — lift it — into legend… And it wasn’t until I woke up one morning and I could see that scene with multiple camera speeds and the shape of the almost ballet of dying, and then I knew that that was a film I wanted to make — desperately.”
It just “came” to him. That’s how the art works inside you; that’s when you know that you’re pulling yourself in the right direction, that you have vision and ability. It’s moments like what Penn described that tell you you’re doing what you should be doing with your life and your art. Those are the moments when the muse is pressing her fingerprint into your mind. Writing, directing film, acting, painting, composing, scultpture… it doesn’t matter– it’s those very visions that create transcendent experiences that elevate your mind and your art, that seem to almost elevate you beyond mortality.
It seems, too, that strange events like stumbling upon the Penn article happen with some frequency when I’m writing something. I run across a quote, or see something on YouTube, or there’s a news story that in some way figures into something that I’m working on. I had mentioned when I started this serial how my visions for the two poems I’m working on just “came” to me , and then this quote from Penn seemingly drops out of nowhere. The visions just seem to happen; I don’t know that I can explain it any better. But I can’t say these are capricious happenings because I don’t believe they are. I think you have to know your craft– it’s gears and sprockets and belts and pulleys, you have to keep yourself wide open to all kinds of possibilities, and you have to look at even the most mundane things through the lens of possibility. Maybe then you can encourage the muse to look your way and maybe even wink at you.
It’s a funny thing, writing.
I ended up writing very little about the Cubs this season, though I had the opposite intention six months ago. After about the middle of May, my only intention was to not write about them, to display my disgust for how the season turned out through silence– and that was barely a quarter of the way into the whole fiasco. As I write this, the Cubs are down 4-0 to the Astros, wrapping up what I consider to be the most disappointing season of my short tenure as a Cubs fan.
The only joy I can find in the bloody mess is to reflect on some predictions I made when I was calling for Lou Pinella to be fired last May. One was that we’d be lucky to be .500 on the season. We weren’t even that lucky, though I don’t consider my prediction to be off the mark. My second prediction was that we will play solid ball up the middle– and we did. Geovany Soto returned to his rookie form before he was shut down for the season, Starlin Castro cemented his place as the franchise shortstop (and now has Cubs nation holding its collective breath in anticipation of what the future holds), and Marlon Byrd turned out to be perhaps the best free agent acquisition in all of baseball. All that still wasn’t enough purfume to mask the scent of the turd that was this season.
The future isn’t exactly dark for the Northsiders, though. Aside from the three players mentioned above, Sean Marshall and Carlos Marmol are still in the bullpen, and Ryan Dempster showed that he can pitch effectively without much support behind him. Carlos Zambrano finished the season in the form we all expected him to maintain throughout the season, though that means little right now. He’ll be out of our hair after two more years, and regardless of how well he pitches it won’t be soon enough for me. So there are building blocks in place, even if one is more of a blockhead than a block. But I know better now than to be optimistic that anything good is going to happen next year at the corner of Sheffield and Addison. There are still too many unknowns– so much hinges on the right coach and what the Ricketts family wants to do with the franchise as a whole. Settling for mediocrity because mediocrity still fills the seats won’t be enough. Another two or three years of the kind of mediocrity we’ve had for the last 5 years will be enough for me to hope that they dynamite Wrigley and ship the team to Peoria or wherever else.
The Cubs dropped completely off my radar about the middle of August. I didn’t watch or listen to a single game. The disillusionment was almost enough for me to completely forget about baseball. Thank god there were still some compelling stories to follow, like the NL West division race, the NL wild card race, and the slugfest between the Rays and Yankees over the last month. Now that the playoffs are here, maybe that will be enough to rekindle my love for the game and bask in its warm glow for a few more weeks. I hope so. In fact, I think that tomorrow at this time I’ll have an April-esque smile on my face as I watch an emminently exciting Game 163.
As far as the playoffs go, I like Philadelphia’s chances to represent the NL in the World Series, though San Franscisco could come through with their pitching. I’d be a fool not to say it’s going to be Tampa Bay or New York for the AL, though I’d be very happy if it was Minnesota. Regardless, a month from today I’ll be happy with any configuration so long as neither Dusty Baker nor the Yankees are sliding championship rings onto their fingers. If it’s a Reds-Yankees World Series, then I’ll need to book some couch time with a therapist.