Sunday, July 31, 2005

Dandelion Zen

Among other things, I have been reading Ray Bradbury's Zen in the Art of Writing. It's a great inspiring kick in the pants. Bradbury writes with such enthusiasm about writing, it's hard not to catch it too. His descriptions are lively and engaging. He describes stories like this:

"They run up and bite me on the leg -- I respond by writing down everything that goes on during the bite. When I finish, the idea lets go, and runs off."

Bradbury conveys well the excitement of creative work. He also tells great stories: meeting sideshowman Mr. Electrico who claimed to know him in another life or, feeding dimes into a pay typewriter to furiously type Farenheit 451. He also gets to the heart of what makes the struggle worthwhile:

"What is the greatest reward a writer can have? Isn't it that day when someone rushes up to you, his face bursting with honesty, his eyes afire with admiration and cries, 'That new story of yours was fine, really wonderful!' Then and only then is writing worthwhile."

Of course he's also distressingly sexist. It's always "he," always. I remember why I lost patience with him in later books. The Halloween Tree was terribly misogynistic. But I could not do without The October Country, or Dandelion Wine or Something Wicked This Way Comes. It's a pity though that he could never see the little girls who ran through the fields just as wildly as his beloved young boys.

In the end, it's the work that matters. As Bradbury writes, "Every morning I jump out of bed and step on a landmine. The landmine is me. After the explosion, I spend the rest of the day putting the pieces together. Now, it's your turn. Jump!"

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Tori Tori Tori!

I got tickets to the Tori show in Houston September 3rd. Hurrah! There was a fan club sale yesterday but I only found out about it last minute and the tickets I came up with were near the back of the Hobby Center so I decided to take my chances with the real sale. I found out there was a special Ticketmaster pre-sale today (tickets go on sale tomorrow at noon) but it requires a password.

Hmmm. Let's see -- her latest single and video is "Sweet the Sting." Let's try "sting" -- bingo! Two orchestra seats. I just wonder why it wasn't on any of the BBS...

Thank you, Ticketmaster, for the $9.10 service charge per ticket!

Good thing her shows are always worth it. Always surprising, always intense -- you never know quite what she'll do, or sing, or what story she might tell. This tour even includes the "Piano Bar" where she will play cover songs the fans have requested, just like in the old days when she played in a bar and took requests. Fun! Hmm, what request shall I send?

Friday, July 22, 2005

Charlie & The Chocolate Factory (SPOILERS!)

Memo to Tim Burton: Find a competent therapist and deal with your issues, so you can stop making movies about how much your daddy did not love you.

Three disappointments in a row from Burton: the less said about Planet of the Apes, the better; Big Fish could just as easily have been a "fine Lifetime movie" as we refer to them; and then, Charlie. Sigh. I wanted to like it so much. I do love the original, but this seemed an ideal remake, one that would -- according to Burton -- stick closer to the book. Well, hmmm -- except for the ENDING.

Here's where I talk about a lot of things that SPOIL both movies, so if you haven't seen either yet, avoid this!

The overall problem are those changes -- creating a backstory of a mean dentist dad who won't let the elborately braced Charlie eat any candy who, like an evil Sauroman, throws his Halloween cache (yes, supposedly in England -- I know, I know) on the fire. Even Christopher Lee cannot keep the maudlin sentimentality from dripping off the screen. Burton's Wonka is damaged goods, a germophobic man-child. Yes, comparisons to Michael Jackson are inevitable, but despite Depp's gamest efforts, the film falls flat. His Wonka seems on the brink of collapse.

While Wilder's Wonka -- as Gene never fails to point out -- acts as a kind of YHWH in his little candy land, Depp's Wonka is apparently powerless. Things just happen and he is helpless to stop them. While the earlier film allowed all good children to vicariously enjoy bad children (for once!) getting punished, the new film barely fleshes out the bad kids. Rather than revelling in their just punishments, we feel (if not sorry for them) very little at all. Burton's Wonka seems more like a serial killer than a man who loves candy, one who has surreptitiously planned the "accidents" occurring to the children. He's terrified by that grey hair, not realizing an inevitability of passing the baton. The ridiculous assertion that Charlie must choose between his family and the factory betrays Burton's own ambivalence, not Dahl's.

The squirrels are a hoot; but think of all the weeks Burton spent trying to train them. What a waste of time, when he could have been developing the roles of his fine supporting cast. Pity. And what is with Helena Bonham-Carter's teeth? Like most films of late, more attention has been spent on appearance than on content. And let's face it; however much you tart them up, the Oompah Loompahs will always be colonialist baggage.

The one shining light is Freddie Highmore, who continues to show the wonderful qualities he brought to Finding Neverland. He infuses Charlie with spirit and thoughtfulness as well as wonder. He was one of the reaons I had high hopes for this film, because the glaring error of the first film was Peter Ostrum as Charlie. Never mind that he wasn't English; he was unbearably homely and a poor actor. He had to be the emotional center of the film, but he created a vaccuum. Wisely, he became a veterinarian rather than continue acting.

The grandparents are wonderful from David Kelly on down. James Fox is totally wasted as Veruca's stuffy father, and it's a crime to give so little rein to the often hilarious Missi Pyle. Way too much effort was spent on the musical numbers which already look dated ("word!") rather than clever. The only song that works is the Wonka theme (one of those catchy Elfman bits that sticks in your head like taffy) sung by robotic dolls that spark then catch fire, melting horribly, even losing an eyeball.

It's the best moment of the film.

Like the running subtext of cannibalism, which is enough to disturb but never gets developed in a meaningful way, there are all kinds of potential themes. If only Burton realised that subtext is where the power lies. Psychological issues need not lead to bad filmmaking. Look at Hitchcock. His unresolved issues created some of the finest films of the last century. He even turned loveable Jimmy Stewart into one of the most disturbingly repulsive characters ever in Vertigo. Dahl's book is full of themes both wonderful and troubling. Burton should have read it more closely -- and he should have relegated his own problems to the subtext.

Thursday, July 21, 2005


Back from Trinoc*con where we had a chance to laugh with Joe R. Lansdale hisownself (who's got a damn spiffy website). I'm happy because I even got to be on a panel with him (and Lee Martindale, my "neighbor" in MZB's Sword and Sorceress XXI and always a hoot) and I didn't get too tongue-tied. We had a lot of fun at Joe's reading too, and ended up with his copy of Bumper Crop from which he read such fun stories as "Billie Sue," "Chompers," "Bar Talk," and "Fire Dog."

Of course the best part of the con is staying with Susan, and hanging out with Mildred and Birdie. And of course, Gene managed to add to the fun by making both me and Birdie spew things out our noses laughing (or across the kitchen floor in my case -- at least it was the tile floor). Laura rounded out the crew once again, although she managed not to spew liquids out her nose, she did share her uncanny ability to mimic a cat purr. That's got to fit in a story somewhere...

I had a lot of fun serving on panels, giving a talk on weird facts from the middle ages and of course, doing a reading myself, something I always enjoy. I performed a version of "Raven Sister, Cuckoo Sister" with my kantele, then read one of the new short stories "Eating the Dream" to a small but appreciative audience. We all had fun with films like Lost Skeleton of Cadavra, the dubious Evil Alien Conquerors, Terminator (which Gene had never seen), and Peter "Lord of the Rings" Jackson's tastelessly tacky Meet the Feebles. We also nearly fainted to see a picture of Jackson in a recent entertainment mag -- he's lost 70lbs and had lasik surgery.

Always hard to return to reality after so much fun -- thanks again to Susan for being the hostess with the mostess (food, fun and beer!) and to Mildred and Birdie for...everything!

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Goin' to Alaska (er -- no, North Carolina)

We're off to Trinoc*con in the morning. It will be fun seeing our pals Susan, Mildred and Birdie (and all the cats!). And of course, we're also guests at the con. Lit GOH is Joe Lansdale his own self, so that will be
fun too. With luck, I will have time to send updates from NC, so we'll see whether the Horror curse gets invoked (either that yet another chuckle-filled showing of The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra.


Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Words Do Have Meanings!

I received a message from one of the (too many) email groups I am on publicizing an event entitled "Dancing with Dionysus." After describing the camping getaway, a note at the end clarified that it was a "drug and alcohol free event."

Named after Dionysus?

I realise that learning Greek and Roman culture, history and literature has become a thing of the past, but surely people look up names before they use them? Or is there some kind of irony at work?

Our campus has a local chapter of BACCHUS, an organization which says it is "an international association of college and university based peer education programs focusing on alcohol abuse prevention and other related student health and safety issues." Nothing wrong with that -- but why call it Bacchus? Yes, it stands for "Boost Alcohol Consciousness Concerning the Health of University Students," but is there an intentional irony? Or an attempt at an elaborate bait-and-switch? Maybe they hope that students in search of a bacchanalia will stay for a sobriety talk -- yeah, that's likely.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Beyond the Fringe

Recently we went out with friends to see a local production of Beyond the Fringe at the Main Street Theater. Yes, it was an American cast performing the quintessentially British show; yes, they were doing accents. Okay? We'll just let that lie ("but you wouldn't let it lie..!"). It's amazing how well most of the bits stand up even with an American cast and setting. They offered a couple of updates -- substituting Blair for Macmillan, changing a line referring to African-Americans to Latinos to make better use of regional racism -- but for the most part the pieces work with little change. Perhaps, as in the case of the Civil Defence sequence, one can never overestimate the callous disregard politicians and bureaucrats will show the public. In many cases though, it is simply the loopy acknowledgement of just how foolish people are. Although I tended to hear the original voices of Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Jonathan Miller and Alan Bennett in my head, the cast -- which unlike the original, actually included a (pregnant) woman -- did a credible job of handling the humor, although sometimes cultural differences were a detriment. For exmaple in "Take a Pew," Bennett's send up of a clueless Anglican minister's sermon on the apparently randomly chosen verse ("But my brother Esau is an hairy man, but I am a smooth man"), much of the humor is wrung out of the lines by Bennett's very dry and understated delivery. The MST version went more for the Joel Osteen-type bombast (not surprisingly). But some bits are just so funny, it doesn't matter who's reading the lines (well, provided they have some sense of timing), like Cook & Moore's "Frog and Peach" and "One Leg Too Few." Oh, and "The Great Train Robbery" remains one of the funniest wordplay bits ever.

I just finished Sunshine on Putty which I enjoyed despite a lot of reservations about the style (and the accuracy -- if he got things wrong that I knew like mistaking Smokey Robinson for Otis Redding (!) and calling Tod Browning's Freaks "the great silent classic," how many more things did he get wrong that I wouldn't know?). But as an overview of the 90s comedy in Britain, it hasn't much competition yet. Someday more people will realize the genius that is Vic. In the meantime, I've started Humphrey Carpenter's (much more competently written) A Great Silly Grin and, as usual, am always amazed at what a small country England is.

Speaking of amazing: in a theater we saw the trailer for Rob Zombie's new film which appeared to be entitled The Devils Rejects. Saw TV ads too. Finally, this weekend, it was changed at last to The Devil's Rejects. In all the many months of creating, marketing and exploiting the film, no one noticed the missing apostrophe? Wow. It's still incorrect on his website, which is needlessly Flash enhanced. How many posters did they print then fix?

Wednesday, July 06, 2005


My short story "Vipunen" has just come out in the summer issue of New World Finn (v6 n3). It's another of the Unikirja stories and is based -- oh, so loosely -- on Runo 17 of the Kalevala. That runo has been interpreted in various ways, including musically by Estonian composer Veljo Tormis. My version is a comic one; a hiker falls into the mythic realm (i.e. into Vipunen's belly with Väinämöinen, the ancient rune singer) and is unprepared to deal with what transpires.

Thanks go out to Gerry Henkel, editor of New World Finn, who has been enthusiastically supportive of my work and who illustrated the story with the mythically elemental paintings of Joyce Koskenmaki. Thanks also are due to the Writers' Colony at Dairy Hollow where I completed the story earlier this summer.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Recent Film Reviews

Star Wars Episode III: Padme has developed a serious case of agoraphobia and is unable to leave the house, although she suspects the universe is falling apart outside her doors. Instead she obsessively dresses and redresses herself like a human Barbie® doll, her compulsions leading her to seek ever more intricately ridiculous hair styles and shiny accouterments. My god, she's sleeping on pearls with a tiara on her head! Someone help this woman -- she is obviously in deep pain. Her (secret) husband comes and goes (though not talking of Michaelangelo) and seems to be in some kind of trouble, but she is unable to determine what sort of difficulty due to Hayden Christensen's inability to convey emotions. Ewan MacGregor stops by briefly and, being a real actor, manages to convey the fact that her husband is really, no fooling in trouble, and she finally rallies, accompanied by her best gay friend, to jump on board her girly ship (shiny, no rough edges, meant only for running out to shop, so no security of any kind) to confront her abusive husband despite being nine lunar months pregnant with twins. He of course abuses her and leaves her for dead, pursued by a Jedi with a restraining order. Although she recovers from his assault, she expires having given birth to plot points, realizing at last there is nothing else for a woman to do in a George Lucas film except die on cue -- with ludicrous hair and uncomfortable clothes.

Howl's Moving Castle: Not Miyazaki's best film, but a lesser film by him is light years better than the multi-million dollar extravaganza assembled by Lucas from CGI and rejected soap opera dialogue. Which is to say it is magically beautiful, a wonder to look at, touching in emotions and a delight for the eyes and heart. Even in the dubbed American version -- very nearly capsized by Billy Crystal's hamming (why do American actors have the notion that if they cannot be seen then they must work doubly hard to be heard? Christian Bale, Jean Simmons and Lauren Bacall are all wonderful and understated in their delivery, and consequently, a delight) -- it is a wonder to behold.

Batman Begins: Better than the other Batman movies.

Land of the Dead: Mr. Punch will never die. He is indeed too old to die. The zombies could learn much from him. Big Daddy is cool -- I laughed out loud at the band. The emotions and morality may be a tad heavy handed, and -- as Gene put it -- Hopper pretty much phones it in (again). But Simon Baker was a credible leading man, Leguizamo was in rare form (wild but not over the top), and it was great to see Robert Joy (if a little sugar coated). I hoped Asia would have more to do, but alas, I ought to have known better (but as Pat says, I'm just a girl). It was fun, I enjoyed it -- yes, including the Bush bashing. It was not as visceral as Romero's earlier efforts; let's say, a kinder, gentler zombie flick. Go. Have something meaty afterward.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Patti Smith's Meltdown (featuring Alan Moore)

Our first night in London, we hied ourselves to the Royal Festival Hall, where a couple of years back we saw a wonderful Halloween show of Dracula accompanied by by Philip Glass with the Kronos Quartet. This time we were in the smaller Queen Elizabeth Hall, for Patti Smith's Meltdown, a brilliant series of events exploring the arts and the state of the world today. I was really sad to be missing Yoko the following night, but well, we were there to see Patti and of course, Alan Moore (whoo hoo!) celebrate the life and writings of William S. Burroughs, the man who once wrote that language is a virus. We were all infected that night.

We entered the hall and were delighted to see how close to the stage we were (thanks Liz!). They were projecting Gumby cartoons on a screen up over the stage. A little before the starting time, Patti drifted out to check on the audience (I guess) and to watch Gumby for a few minutes before disappearing again. A guy came out shortly thereafter to announce the show and Gumby was replaced by images of Burroughs. Almost at once, out strode Marc Ribot, Ian Sinclair and Alan Moore.

Ribot began playing a twanging, industrial guitar sound, sometimes hitting the strings with a small hand fan, pressing upon a wild profusion of pedals, while Moore and Sinclair seated themselves at the table center stage and waited for the opportune moment to begin reading. Moore began, a wild narrative of Burroughs and the atom bomb, a tale of place and time from Los Alamos and St. Louis to Morocco, Paris and finally Kansas. He swayed to his own rhythm as he spun a tale of explosions waiting to happen. It was hypnotic to actually see Moore perform, rather than just hear him on a CD. Ian Sinclair dove in too, telling about developing a literary magazine at his university, sending out letters to ask for pieces from famous writers and receiving only one -- scrawled letters on pages from Burroughs in Tangiers and putting them in the magazine with Batman on its cover, and later meeting Burroughs in London.

Patti came out and declared the evening was devoted to celebrating two great American voices: Burroughs and Gumby. She talked about meeting Burroughs when she lived at the Chelsea Hotel with Robert Mapplethorpe. She had a crush on Burroughs, for whom she would call cabs at the end of his night in the bar next door. She said he had told her she could be one of The Wild Boys because she had survived scarlet fever as a child. She read from Wild Boys, then played clarinet while Tilda Swinton (who stepped out looking brilliantly, slouchily elegant in black and white) read more. Then we took a break.

Returning to the stage, Moore and Sinclair were now accompanied by J. Spaceman and pianist Matthew Shipp. Moore read from Junky and made the words wriggle and squirm off the page. Sinclair remembered seeing Burroughs near the end in Kansas, surrounded by giant cats, guns and paint. Patti came out again, planning to read a poem she had written, but lamenting that she had lost it. She began by recalling her last vision of Burroughs at his New York bunker, at the end of the party, walking her down the long steps and hailing her a cab -- a return for all her similar duties many years before. Her voice cracked and the tears tracked down her cheeks. She read the poem, found by someone then thrust at her by a backstage technician, and she read from the introduction to Queer where Burroughs talks about his accidentally shooting his wife Joan in a William Tell stunt and how it turned him toward writing to deal with the guilt and horror.

Patti talked about wanting to use this night as a chance to "open the third eye." She played her clarinet while Swinton read more and Sinclair and Moore continued, jumping off the stage to stroll around the audience, wailing away. Sinclair seemed a bit irked but read a bit more, as did Moore. Clearly Patti could have gone on for hours -- she invited anyone from the audience to join them onstage, but when she returned to the stage and brought a kind of denoument, Sinclair shuffled his papers together and got up. Moore seemed half inclined to stay, but Patti gave an enthusiastic wave to Burroughs' image, and Moore saluted him too, then stepped back stage.

It was quite a night. The audience left buzzing after enthusiastic applause. We overheard one group of guys departing, one loudly pontificating that while Moore was a magician, Sinclair "refused to admit" he was one too. Whatever: but it was indeed a magical night.

On meltdown: we just ended the driest June on record down here. Despite that, the humidity still hovers over 90% and the temperatures are creeping up to 100 (with heat indexes over 100). It's dispiriting. May the virus take me far from here, at least for a little while.

[Many thanks to Gene for supplying the Treo-snapped pictures, alt versions here, here, and here.]