Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Phi Kappa Phi

I was delighted to be invited to join the honor society Phi Kappa Phi. There will be an induction ceremony on Friday night. However, I received a second surprise yesterday: they had two speakers in a row cancel on them, so one of the organizers asked me whether I'd like to read one of my short stories in lieu of actually delivering an academic presentation. Given the short notice, I certainly wasn't ready to give a scholarly talk! But I am more than willing to read a story. Considering the proximity of the source, I think I'll read "On Buffalo Bayou," which recently appeared in the New Texas Literary Journal. I hope they like it.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Buy Nothing Day

Fighting against the tide of gaudy sales circulars and blaring advertisements, many are joining in a worldwide phenomenon, Buy Nothing Day. The advantage to this particular organization is that it costs you nothing -- and frees you from consuming for at least one day. While other people are lined up outside Wal-Mart at 4 am, you can be snuggled in your warm bed. While other people come to blows in mall parking lots, you can be relaxing by reading a book. While other people swarm to buy gifts they don't really need for people they don't really like, you can be sorting through your belongings to decide what you can give away. It's a win-win situation!

Monday, November 21, 2005

Expanded Interview

The expanded version of the interview I did with Diane Saarinen is available for download in PDF format from New World Finn and falls on about page 23. You can also get the much easier to manage paper version by subscribing. In the interview I talk about writing and my work on Unikirja. Thanks again are due to Diane, who first interviewed me for Quiet Mountain Essays.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Review: Walk the Line

We had free passes to see this last night and dutifully made our way outsde the loop to a megaplex we'd never seen before. The night was hosted by the Houston Chronicle (source of our free passes) and some local country radio station (Gene always argues that since their call letters are KILT that they should be playing Scottish music, but I digress). Ironic of course, considering how little support country music stations gave Cash over the years. But nice freebie posters (we grabbed a handful, so let us know if you'd like one).

From the very first frames Phoenix's Cash is sweating profusely -- he seems to burn all the way through the film. It's a flame that powers his inspiration -- and his danger. It kind of helps that I already know a lot of the story, although this is not really so much a biography of Cash and Carter, as the account of their inevitable collision. From the first moment when little J.R. hears 10 year old June on the radio (a moment, Gene pointed out, that would seem totally over the top if it weren't true), it seems they are careening toward one another as much as they try to hold back.

The flame that is Cash crashes through life unable to shake off the shadow of his brother's untimely death, unable to knuckle under to the "realities" of life his wife Vivian tries to get him to reconcile himself to absorbing. But he's unable to ignore the siren song of music, of fame, of Carter's good girl charm. While Vivian tries to bank the flames, Witherspoon's Carter feels its draw but resists surrendering to it. It's wonderful to watch these two inhabit their roles. Phoenix becomes Cash, growing into the voice of the battered penitent, while Witherspoon brings out the amazing strength beneath the polished professional exterior. There's a wonderful scene where a Southern woman puritannically rips her apart with matter-of-fact cruelty, and she responds with conciliatory words of apology that show both her well-trained persona and the depths of her pain. While her life is sketched even more lightly than Cash's, there are many moments of delight, such as when she and her folks chase off Cash's would-be drug dealer. If only her legs weren't so skinny! It's inhuman.

Phoenix will undoubtedly receive the bulk of the acclaim, but they both do terrific jobs appropriating this story of a love that burns and nearly consumes them both.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

The Libertine

Well, I got all excited hearing this long-awaited film would finally be released, but of course that proved premature (it still doesn't have a rating). While it will be released in New York and Los Angeles, it won't hit the sticks (including the fourth largest city in the nation) until January. In the meantime, we can all visit the official website and view the trailer.

The film covers the life of 17th century poet, dramatist and, of course, libertine John Wilmot, the Earl of Rochester, who had a master's degree by 14 and died by the age of 33. He wrote love poems, dramas and scorn:

Were I - who to my cost already am
One of those strange, prodigious creatures, man -
A spirit free to choose for my own share
What sort of flesh and blood I pleased to wear,
I'd be a dog, a monkey, or a bear,
Or anything but that vain animal,
Who is so proud of being rational...

Monday, November 14, 2005

And then suddenly --

I died! I'm just glad there are tentacles. It's all in chapter eight, part two, of Richard Crawford's Fred, Again. Here's another passage showing the true life of the college prof:

Hurriedly, she grabbed her satchel and thrust the ancient book, as well as a few reference materials, into it. This made the satchel extremely heavy and bulky, but as a liberal arts professor she was used to that. Almost as an afterthought she grabbed the thirty student essays that she was supposed to be grading and put them into the satchel as well...

Ha ha -- Painful accuracy there! Sounds like most days for me.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Dancing into Death

Who knew it? That I secretly teach swing dancing in my off hours?

Well, that's according to the novel in progress by my Horror cohort Richard Crawford. Here's a sample:

“Right. Okay.” Fred cleared his throat. “Do you have any contact information for this Doctor Nefario? Any way of getting in touch with him should, say, a class be canceled for any reason?”

Joe nodded. “Yep. In fact, we may have to use it tonight if Doctor Laity doesn’t show up to teach. Where is that woman?”

Fred nodded sympathetically and said, “I understand. We’ve got a few slackers down at the precinct.”

“You don’t understand,” Joe said. “This is totally unlike Doctor Laity. She’s a professor of literature or medieval studies or something at the University. You don’t get to be a professor like that if you’ve got sloppy work habits and can’t come to work on time. She’s never late. Never even called in sick. I have to say,” he added, “I’m a bit worried about her.”

This is all part of NaNoWriMo, the write a novel in a month project that unfurls talent every November. It's a great kick to get going if you've ever thought about writing a novel. Try it! And stop by to see how I get killed in Richard's novel...

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Lights! Cameras!...Inaction?

Robert forwarded me the link that allows folks outisde the Bard world see the camera set up in his office to look down at the construction of the Gabrielle H. Reem and Herbert J. Kayden Center for Science and Computation at Bard. So far, it's less than riveting. Yes, we are trying to get Robert to turn the camera around so we can see the clown painting, or else to find some way to get puppets in front of the lens so it will look as if monsters are attacking the building site.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Review: Mirrormask

We were really looking forward to this film designed by Dave McKean and written by Neil Gaiman. It was only playing at one theater in town, so we finally hied ourselves over to catch it before it disappeared. At the matinee showing, it appeared that we would have a private screening, until just after the film started a woman came in and sat right behind us in the otherwise empty theater. Sigh.

Reviews of the film have been mixed (or just negative) and it's easy to see why. While visually stunning and inventive, the story drags. It's a simplistic tale of good v. evil writ upon the life of a (pre?) teen girl, but that in itself is not a problem -- how many great narratives have begun with just that frame? No, the problem is that movement from one point to the next is not propelled by story but by what seems to be the desire to create another stunning tableau. And they are stunning whether gorgeous or menacing, but that's not very engaging. Because of the lack of engagement, the Neil moments stand out a little more nakedly: funny, sure, but unconnected (I still think Neil needs an Anthony Blanche to warn him away from the dangers of charm). While the actors manage to round out the characters, they are forced by the plot to become little more than chess pieces, moved by the need to get to the next tableau rather than by the need to accomplish something.

There is a fun cameo by Stephen Fry.

The visuals are amazing, melding live action and special effects seamlessly for the most part, creating incredible creatures and wonderful buildings. But the film, in the end, is a big picture book with the rudiments of story. The pictures are amazing. When one character appears without the omnipresent mask, it's a bit of a let down. I immediately thought of Garbo's response to the revelation of Jean Marais at the end of Cocteau's La Belle et la Bete: "Give me back my beautiful beast!" Why settle for anything less than the extraordinary?