Sunday, December 09, 2007

Back to Zero

It's Sunday night. I've done the three weeks of dishes, bagged three months of recycling and four months of newspapers, taken out the trash, read the usual array of comics, found my watched, fixed two lamps, cleaned the bathroom, cleaned the living room, cleaned out the closet, scrubbed the counter, fed the cat, gotten eight hours of sleep, eaten breakfast and lunch, ordered dinner, wrote some cheques, watched anything pressing on the T.V., seen a friend, talked to my mom, talked to my dad, found my missing Netflix, been to the grocery store, looked for a location for a movie, watched Star Wars, vacuumed the carpets, scrubbed the sink, scrubbed the shower, scrubbed the toilet, checked my home email, checked my work email, straightened up, pet the cat, fed the cat, changed the kitty litter, moved some furniture, moved the coat, broke my blender, cleaned up the broken blender, bought more coffee, sat on the couch, changed all the light bulbs, drank a pot of coffee, drank six glasses of water, found some other stuff that had been missing, taken a shower, gotten dressed, and sat around. Not necessarily in that order.

Now what?

There's a strange universal feeling that one only experiences on a long Sunday afternoon. Douglas Adams wrote about it - that time when you've taken as many baths as you can usefully take in a day and you realize that you're probably not going to use the revolutionary method of pruning you're reading about in the Sunday paper.

Woody Allen wrote about how we tend to make small problems for ourselves because we don't know how to deal with the big problems.

I wrote about liminal feeling not too long ago, as well. I think the difference between now and then is that now I have a job - where as before I was killing time between nothin' and nothin', now I am stuck waiting for tomorrow, and I have a pretty good idea of exactly what tomorrow will consist of.

I work pretty hard, not enough to do any long-term damage the way working 14-hour days as a grip could do long-term damage, but hard enough to wear down my batteries. Then I spend a weekend resting up, I set everything in the apartment up to be used again, and I'm back to zero.

Which leaves me, where exactly? My life is not fundamentally different than it was Friday night, and it's not going to fundamentally change between now and Monday morning.

The thing about the big problems or the big questions is that I don't deal with them in a moment, I deal with them over a long period of time. From week to week, it's easy to feel like things just stay the same.

Oop. Dinner's here. Maybe I can put off the big problems for a bit longer...

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

For The Record...

This is the guy from Layer Cake,
this is the guy from Journeyman.
This is the new George Lazenby,
and this is the guy from Rome.

Got it?

'Cuz it confused the shit out of me.

Friday, October 26, 2007

The Gibson Expense Account Fantasy

I read William Gibson's new novel, Spook Country, in the week of Aug. 22, 2007. I know the exact date because that was when I saw this interview with Gibson in The Onion A/V Club.

Once I realized Gibson had a new book out, I immediately bought it and read it. I didn't even finish reading the interview.

Why is William Gibson so important? The way I always introduce a conversation about Gibson is to explain that he invented the term "cyberspace," which those of you over 25 or so might remember as important in the early (pre-Google-ish) internet.

More importantly then the term, of course, is the concept. Early on, we thought of our online universe as what Gibson calls the "goggles and gloves school of virtual reality." (See Johnny Mnemonic, Hackers, Disclosure, blah blah blah).

The idea of such a space, and Gibson speaks to this quite well in his A/V interview, was fundamental to gelling the idea of the internet for the people who went ahead and invented it.

So Gibson created the then science fiction concept that led to the defining real-world innovation of our generation, and all this in just his first novel, Neuromancer. Since Neuromancer, Gibson has published eight novels and a collection of short stories, Burning Chrome

Except for Difference Engine, I've read them all, and a couple of patterns have jumped out at me. First, and I think this is extremely telling, Gibson's most recent novels, Spook Country and the excellent Pattern Recognition, are not science fiction. At least, they are set in the present time and use pretty much the technology of the day.

I like this a lot, because it is further evidence that you and I are living in the future. I've always had this idea that you can take common tropes from sci-fi and fantasy and translate them directly through analogy in to today's world.

For example, no one I know is actually a vampire, but we all know people who live off others' life energy in a different way - sap others' will, drain their money without giving any reward, stuff like that. Take a vampire, forget the blood and the sleeping in coffins, and you've got a certain type of lawyer or a Hollywood agent. Take it one step further, and you could translate Interview With a Vampire in to a pretty good Hollywood morality tale.

Gibson's science fiction no longer has to be science fiction. No one's making commercial flights in Low Earth Orbit, but with a fall in barriers to travel and cheap airfare abroad, we are pretty much travelling like we're in LEO space craft anyway.

No one's using goggles and gloves, but we're all using handheld global communications and informations devices, and even the occasional wireless modem. There aren't any actual aliens around, but with globalization and international markets, you can take walk to another neighborhood in New York and feel like you're on another planet. So we're living a version of Gibson's future already.

(By the way, if you need evidence that Gibson had this figured out way before I did, protagonist of Neuromancer: "Case." Protagonist of Pattern Recognition: "Cayce.")

The other thing that raised my interest by running across Gibson's various books is that, despite their obvious differences in subject and time period, Gibson's novels tend to share a lot of themes and a lot of plot devices.

I could talk about Gibson's grand themes, his take on technology, how art and communications are bringing people together or keeping them apart, how globalisation and consumerism are both creating needless goods and generating a global market or audience for the truly heartfelt art among us, and other large and grandiose ideas, but

1) you'd really do better to read Pattern Recognition, take a look the discussion on Gibson's blog, and form your own ideas,
2) I'm sure somebody else has done a much better job with this already, and
3) this blog isn't about addressing the thematic basis of our own world, it's about making tiny and carefully argued points about obscure media really well, and also sometimes posting pictures of legos.

I'll turn my effusive rant, then, to Gibson's favorite plot devices. First, Gibson loves the MacGuffin, and I love Gibson's MacGuffins right back. Neuromancer had Case chasing a word, Pattern Recognition had Cayce after an author, in Spook Country everyone's after a box, All Tomorrow's Parties they are chasing a world-shifting event. Gibson never leaves out a good MacGuffin.

Gibson's heros, however, tend to be ordinary in the global scheme of things, even down on their luck: drug addicts, the neurotic, a journalist, nothing-special hackers.

So you need a way for hero to chase MacGuffin. Enter the rich patron. In Neuromancer, this part is played by a criminally ambitious AI. In the recent books, the part is played by an overly ambitious Belgian advertising billionaire.

I love how you can see the traces of Gibson's imagined future of yesteryear translated in to his imagined present of today. For example, Wintergreen, the AI in Neuromancer, is built around the principal of not knowing the word that will unlock his abilities, so as better to keep him from comitting the dangerous Turring fete of making himself smarter (there is even a "Turring Police" that foil these AI's attempts to enrich themselves with deadly force).

Analogously, our Belgian advertising billionaire's character is first described as being centered on the idea that he can see nothing funny about his own name. That name: Hubertus Bigend.

(Incidentally, I am convinced that this latest Gibson cycle will eventually be referred to as the "Bigend Trilogy.")

So we have the rich and powerful patron to move the ordinary but somehow unique protagonist on a series of plot crucial and exciting tasks that Gibson obviously researched extensively and so is able to excitingly dismiss in throw away plot points like over-written message board posts about obscure footage, buying antique computing technology of the 1970s and spoofing black ICE with a data packet disguised as an ordinary accounting request.

Still, we need a means to an end, a way to get our hero from point A to point B, a way of giving these unique but ordinary people the power of the patron with out their necessarily understanding the intricacies of how it is used, and to overcome ordinary, plot-encumbring obstacles like airfare and walking-around money.

Which brings me to the final of the puzzle, the part of the post where I move from the obscure stuff you, the gentle reader, may not be able to make sense of even if you've read all this shit and on to the one, simple idea I probably could have laid out in the beginning if I wasn't so excited about writing everything inbetween then and now.

I speak of course of the semi-all-powerful, high-credit limit and no-questions asked expense account.

The escapist dream of living in a future where everything from Boston to Atlanta is all part of the same dirty and underlit urban sprawl has absolutely nothing on the fantasy of an unlimited, no-questions asked expense account.

God I love the idea of this expense account. Stay in a posh hotel, call the company travel agent to get booked on a first-class flight to Japan that very same day, and buy yourself that obscure Japanese-made WWII replicant American fighter jacket that comes up all the time, right now, today, no questions asked, and absolutely guilt-free.

In the real world, travelling on an expense account is never like this. The closest I've come personally is taking care of tasks as a PA on a commercial (budgets on commercials are really high - once I was sent out on an ordinary run and ended up taking four thousand dollars in cash across town for the production coordinator's petty cash).

Even then, I felt a little guilty about spending the production's money, and I'd never do it unnecessarily (although I've met many PAs who have no problem doing this). Receipts had to be accounted for. Efficiency is valued. You need to call your key for approval.

More often, of course, I was managing expenses on a shoot of my own, inevitably low-budget to begin with, and expenses that I have to manage are so frought with worry that there's really no point in comparing them to a fantasy expense account at all.

Friends of mine who travel on the expense account of a big company tell me it's fun at first and then almost immediately loses its appeal. I mean, you can only eat foie gras and steak so many meals of the day before you're sick of it and fat.

Worse, some people I know come to depend on their expense account, so that they get to a point where they couldn't feed themselves if they quit their jobs or stopped working through two or three meal times a day. Who wants to spend every waking moment trapped in opulence?

Gibson expense account are great not just because of the resources they deliver, but because they are truly justified and guilt-free. They are appointed for a specific purpose, something the expense account provider can provide that only the expense account recipient can do, and inevitably something important, even world-changing, and (in the best novels), something that is also of singular importance to the protagonist.

That's what makes the Gibson expense account such a fantasy: not the money, but the ability to navigate obstacles with a singularity of power and purpose that each of us can envy.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Porn Titles for AFI Top 100 Movies

In what may be the most immature writing exercise of all time, I have changed the titles of the American Film Institute Top 100 Movies so that they are now titles of porns.

In other news, I've recently learned that family friends read this blog. Possibly also potential employers. Look away, gentlemen, look away. I am so deeply ashamed.

I'm sure some of these really exist, but there's no way I'm linking to them.* Kids read this shit.

100. Yank My Noodle, Randy
99. Guess Who's Coming At Dinner
98. Your Dick Bitten
97. Bringing It Up Baby's Ass
96. The Smearers
95. Pulp Fuckin'
94. GoodFuckas
93. The Dorm Room
92. A Place in the Come
91. My Fair Lady And Her Hot Sister

90. The Lead Guitarist
89. Gaggin'
88. It's Easy To Ride Her
87. Frank's Back Nine [isn't that slang for something? He plays the back nine? Maybe I just made that up.]
86. Cute Annie Gets Bouncy
85. Duck Slut
84. Women of Fargo
83. Thirty to Fifty Men
82. Giant Cocks
81. Modern Times, Modern Women

80. The Wild Bush
79. The Doe Hunter
78. Rockettes
77. Anne Ericka Does The Grammies
76. City Nights
75. Dances With Wolves, Drinking With Bitches
74. The Golden Shower Rush
73. Wuthering Highs
72. Beniffer Stolen Backstage Sex Tape
71. Forrest Cunt

70. The French Connection in My Pants
69. Shame
68. Anne Ericka In Paris
67. The Manchurian Whore On Dates
66. Dick Work
65. The Silence of the Furries
64. Close Encounters of the Turd Kind
63. Stage Shows
62. Pootie
61. Virgin O's

60. Karen Allen is So Damn Sexy
59. Gay For James Dean
58. Dizney's Fantasia Ft. the Marching Broom Handles
57. The Third Leg
56. Korean Nurses Gone Wild
55. Austrian MILFs Gone Wild
54. All Quiet For West Coast Cunts
53. Nice Wig: A History of German Fucking, 1756-1791
52. Come in My Hair, Drink My Pee
51. Philadelphia Whores Gone Wild

50. When Butches Find Their Cassidies
49. Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs Stolen Backstage Sex Tape
48. Aching Jaws
47. Taxi Cab Confessionals [*except for this, of course. HBO iz teh awesum!!!!1!]
46. My Cunt Worked Pink
45. A Hooker Named Desire
44. The Birth Of A Dalmation [I'm thinking Knocked Up for the furry crowd]
43. King Cock
42. Rear Entrance
41. West Side Sucky

40. Peter North By Peter North West
39. Nurse Zhivago
38. Double Teaming A Stripper Named Destiny
37. The Best Fucks of Our Lives
36. Brokeback Mountain
35. It Happened One Night, Then Went On For Several More Nights
34. To Kill A Hooker
33. High Poon
32. The Load-buster
31. Annie Balls

30. Whores of the Sierra Madre
29. Mrs. Smith Does Washington
28. A Cock, A Lips - Now!
27. Bonnie, Clyde, And A Couple of Other Guys
26. Eyes Wide Shut
25. E.T. - The Engorged Transvestite
24. Raging Bulls, Horny Heffers
23. The Maltese Fuckin'
22. 2001: A Pretty Good Year For Sex
21. The Balls of Wrath

20. One Came On To The Cuckoo's Neck: The Best Pearl Necklaces of 1975
19. Chinatown Bathroom Hidden Camera
18. Psycho Bitches
17. African Queens
16. Balls About Eve
15. Jar-Jar Binks Being Gang Raped
14. Some Like Getting It In The Sauna
13. The Dick On The River Kwai Starring 18-Year-Old Newcomer River Kwai
12. Sunset Blew Him Hard Featuring 19-Year-Old Sunset Kwai
11. It's A Wonderful Life Starring Jimmy Stewart (1946)

10. Fuckin' In The Rain
9. Schindler's Dick
8. Public Exposure On The Waterfront
7. The Graduate 2: Mrs. Robinson's New Seductions
6. The Wizzer of Oz: Best in Golden Showers From the Emerald City [tag line: "Pay no attention to the women behind the curtain."]
5. Lawrence of 101 Arabian Nights
4. Come With the Wind
3. The Godmother
2. Wild On Casablanca

and, of course...

1. Citizen Cunt

That's it. I'm never getting in to elected office.

ps - I just realized that, although I'd written this almost a month ago, it was spending all day reading Encyclopedia Dramatica that convinced me it was, by comparison with the rest of the internet, not too shameful to post.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Women in Overalls

Women in overalls are sexy.

Kimiko in Dresden Codak

True, cartoon people look better than real people, but come on. You've got to admit those overalls and that sports bra are damn sexy.

That picture of Kimiko is the newsbox image that got me reading this excellent, beautiful, rarely-updated comic, proving the world needs more drawings of girls in overalls.

Florence Darel in A La Mode (1993)

I have scoured the internet for a picture of this vision in mechanics' overalls, this poem of a woman, in this otherwise unremarkable movie. Nuthin'.

Interesting point: Florence Darel looks better wearing overalls and fixing a car than she ever does in the absurd fashions that make the protagonist a star in the world of this movie, just like Lindsey Lohan looks better when she's well-adjusted and in jeans than she does crazy and in designer labels.

This One Girl Who Was Pouring Apple Cider at Hampshire College Last Weekend

Due to Facebook, I am hearing more and more often from old friends at my odd and obscure school in South Wales. One of these people is Codename Alex. As of recently, she's going to Hampshire College, so I took the train ride up there this past Friday to see what was going on with her after seven years or so.

It was gorgeous early fall New England weather, and it was Family and Friends Weekend, so there was a good amount of stuff going on. I spent most of my time hanging out with Codename Alex's friends, who refer to themselves as The Amoeba.

One day, we went out to the farm to watch some bellydancing. These farm kids were pressing a bunch of fresh cider, and amongst those serving it was this gorgeous, tall brunette in overalls.

Girl in overalls, I am sorry that when confronted with beauty I devolve in to a stuttering troglodyte.

I miss you. I feel the two of us should be together - maybe we could do some WWOOF time together on an apple orchard upstate.

Maybe once you finish your Group 3 project, you will just want to kick back in the city and watch some recent movies for once, just enjoy the off-campus anonymity for awhile. Whatever you want. I will vacuum my apartment for you. I am here for your needs.

Girl, call me. The Amoeba has my number. Let's get together.

Anyway, I tried to snap a picture of her, but the time I'd composed myself enough to do it, this girl was off her cider shift and she'd put on a fleece.

So instead Codename Alex drank so much cider that she felt a little sick, I took a hayride with The Amoeba, and Jake and I invented the concept of the Amish A-Team (their machine guns never kill anyone, but then they also don't have any buttons).

Saturday, October 13, 2007


"Earworms" is the English translation of a German word that means "songs that get stuck in your head." I like this name - reminds me of something that happens in a Star Trek movie.

I keep track of my Earworms in an iTunes playlist. The rule (and you've got to be strict about this) is that these songs must have no reason to enter my brain or must stay there much longer than they can be of any use.

They do not have to be any good.

I believe that I have by now found all of them. I present my earworms here, in the order they've occured to me over the years, from oldest to newest. From a meta perspective, that means this blog entry represents over two years of work and no more than thirty minutes of work simultaneous.


Can You Get To That


Run on


Praise You
Fatboy Slim

Dirty Harry

Feel Good Inc.

Satan Is My Motor

Zak and Sara
Ben Folds

It Could Have Been A Brilliant Career
Belle & Sebastian

The Bird That You Can't See
Apples In Stereo

Chewing Gum


The 50 States Song (Live)
Sufjan Stevens

She'z in Control

She Don't Use Jelly
Ben Folds Five

Alpha Beta Gaga


Am I Black Enough For You?
Billy Paul

Mr. Blue Sky
Electric Light Orchestra

Sufjan Stevens

Gnarls Barkley

Up for the Down Stroke

Hollaback Girl
Gwen Stefani

Elton John

Y Control
Yeah Yeah Yeahs

My Humps
Black Eyed Peas

All Night Disco Party


Freezepop Forever

Neighborhood #2 (Laika)
The Arcade Fire

I Turn My Camera On

The Man In Me
Bob Dylan

Picture Book
The Kinks

Make Money
Jr Mafia featuring Lil Kim & Biggie Small

99 Problems (Produced By Rick Rubin)

After Hours
The Velvet Underground

Christmas Time is Here (vocal)
Charlie Brown Christmas

Seven Nation Army
The White Stripes

Sir Nose D'Voidoffunk

Beastie Boys

Erykah Badu

Do You Remember Walter?
The Kinks

Erykah Badu

Sister Christian
Night Ranger

Touch The Sky
Kanye West

Road to Nowhere
Talking Heads

Lefty Loosey
They Might Be Giants

Demon Days

Don't Get Lost In Heaven

Where Do They Make Balloons?
They Might Be Giants

Good Time

Over And Over
Hot Chip

Take Your Mama
Scissor Sisters

Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger
Daft Punk

Daft Punk

My Doorbell
The White Stripes

Waiting For The Bus
Violent Femmes

The Continuing Story Of Bungalow Bill
The Beatles

Flight of the Conchords theme song
Flight of the Conchords

The Night Chicago Died
Paper Lace

Mariah Carey

Hooray for Hollywood
Rosemary Clooney

Duke Ellington

I'm Easy Like Sunday Morning
Lionel Ritchie & The Commodores

Genius of Love
Tom Tom Club

Alternate Route To Vulcan Street
Super Furry Animals

Sidewalk Serfer Girl
Super Furry Animals

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Fall Pilot Hits and Misses

Shows I'll Be Watching
Journey Man
Lucy, Daughter of the Devil
Saving Grace (which really premiered in the Summer)
Dirty Sexy Money

And Maybe
Big Bang Theory

Shows I Won't Be Watching
Gossip Girl
Big Shots
Back to You

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Coffee, Sardines and Mango Juice

Movies have a fraction of the audience as television. So why are they culturally significant?

Maybe because they can introduce a small idea to a lot of people in the same way. The widely unregarded side effect, though, is that movies can change a small idea in one person in a way that I doubt it affects anyone else.

For example, there's a particular sequence in Capote where Capote goes to Spain to write In Cold Blood (I believe it was actually shot in Canada, but that's beside the point). He's living in a large villa with his partner and there's a moment where he looks out over the ocean.

Now, ever since I saw that sequence (which couldn't make up more than ten minutes of the movie), I've wanted to go to Spain, rent a villa by the coast and write a book. It's like when Roald Dahl saw an older boy riding a bicycle down a hill without using hands [page 28] and he decided that's all he ever wanted from his life - it's just a moment that stuck with me.

Of course, movies (and t.v.) also make me hungry. I've mentioned the great food movies before - for the record, they are Big Night, Spirited Away and Eat, Drink, Man, Woman. These are movies that make the food in them look so good that it becomes another presence in the movie, like another character or a new, more viceral kind of scenery.

There's four scenes in other movies and T.V. shows that I have to mention, because they've given me three strange preferences.

I was wired for coffee from the beginning. On a recent visit, mom found out that I didn't drink coffee every day and asked "how do you wake up in the morning?!"

In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that I am drinking coffee as I write these very words. I'm coming to you today from the recently-expanded Grounded, which, by way of an update, now has a bathroom that double locks.

We all know the late adopters, but the coffee scenes I remember most are from Twin Peaks and Wings of Desire.

In Wings of Desire, Bruno Ganz plays an angel who eventually gives up his angelic immortality to indulge in the exclusively human domains of pleasure - food, color, love and mortality. He meets another fallen angel, Peter Falk as himself, more or less, who introduces him to one of his first human pleasures - coffee and cigarettes.

It's a lovely, minimalist moment - outside of the movies, it's rare to see that type of pure pleasure at something so basic, wordly and human. It also plays in to a major theme of the movie - that what makes us human are these basic desires and small pleasures that it is perhaps part of the human experience to learn to ignore.

Significantly, in the terrible, terrible, very American remake, the fallen angel is a fat hedonist who eats everything.

There may be no director who has so completely dedicated a piece of media to a beverage as David Lynch [link via Rocket Boom] has to coffee in Twin Peaks.

Lynch has always made his art interminably personal, to the degree that it's hard now impossible to see vintage wallpaper without thinking of him. Coffee is a big thing for Lynch.

One of the episode directors tells a story in her commentary about someone handing Lynch a bran muffin on the way to a location. He looked at her and said "it's going to take a lot of coffee to get this down."

Whatever it was that Lynch was getting at, one theme was that everything was perfect in this small mountain town with the exception of whatever it was that was rotting it from the inside. In Lynch's perfect world, of course, all the food, and especially the coffee, was perfectly delicious [read and then click next, webcomic n00bs].

The specific moment I think of is when I think of coffee in media is when author's stand in Dale Cooper has his first breakfast in Twin Peaks. There's nothing more perfect than the pure, post-modern and abstracted pleasure Cooper takes in his first sip of his first cup of coffee.

Chronicles of Narnia wasn't a truly terrible movie, but it had a lot of wasted potential. I remember Full Stealth telling me at the time that if nothing else, the CGI battles could have been a lot cooler. "Let's see some centaur archers in there! Let's see some big, rampaging animals!"

Most of the child actors are really terrible in this waste of time movie, but the girl who plays Lucy is great. My favorite moment is when the fole Mr. Tumnus seduces her back to his hollowed-out tree hovel with promises of tea, biscuits and "maybe even a tin of sardines."

Since then, I almost always have a tin of sardines on hand for those moments when it feels like the ice queen is moving in on Prospect Park and there's nothing to do but to hole up and read up on the myth of man. Or, barring that, in case of a blitz.

You should watch Dogtown and Z-Boys if for no other reason than Sean Penn's narration and Peggy Oki's singularly underappreciated, almost Canadian hotness.

Should you do so, make sure to watch through the credits. One of the Z-Boys lays out the etymology of the titular movement, which I'll reproduce here, wrong, but from memory:

"Okay, real quick. It was Summer and I was real drunk - I was drinking vodka and mango juice - and I said to Mike, 'man, these are the dog days,' and Mike said 'yeah, these are the dog days.' And I said 'and this is Dog Town.' And Mike said, 'yeah, this is Dog Town.'"

End of movie.

Now, whenever I'm somewhere hot in the Summer, I'm drinking vodka and mango juice.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Monkey Monkey

I am waiting until midnight to update the First Sundays website. There's some technical reason why I need to do this, but I don't think I understand it well enough to explain it.

I am going to be asleep soon-ish, much earlier than my usual. It's funny, but with all the time I kill in a normal day, I wouldn't say I spend all that much time waiting for things, outside of a subway platform at least. Not working may be part of this - there is just not enough going on that I could legitimately wait for anything.

Waiting is a funny thing. It reminds me of a habit I've developed in my notebooks, the written precursor to this blog and the preferred depository of my thought when I am offline or they are too trivial to be presented publically.

When I can't quite remember what it was I was thinking that I wanted to write down, I have take to writing the word "monkey," then either looking at the word on the page or writing "monkey" again until my last thought comes to me.

I remember when I learned the word "liminal," meaning in transition or on a threshold. It was in high school, the most liminal place someone could ever be.

I guess I don't really mind waiting. I remember when I was putting together a movie with Nadine back in December, there was a time when I had no more producing work to do until Nadine and the cinematographer put together a shot list.

It was the strangest moment, because I knew I'd been productive and I'd accomplished something and I could generally could feel good about thing, but I had to wait a couple of days before I'd be able to advance at all. It was not the same as feeling stuck, feeling that I couldn't move myself forward.

In short, it was a vacation from my own expectations, and it was wonderful. I wrote first drafts of at least two short films over those two days. It was like the perfect example of the conspiracy of circumstance that I tend to think I need in order to be productive for myself.

It's 12:05, and I'm starting to think free association is a good idea for a new feature. Jeez, I must be pretty tired.

Monday, July 30, 2007

3 Makes a Pattern: Tall, Women Bass Players

If we didn't have blogs to remark on these things, nobody would care.

I am ready to declare a new archetype: tall, skinny, women bass players. Because next to nothing about music, my three examples here are all from movies. Also, two are fictional, but this is an archetype we're talking about, so I don't think that makes a particular difference.

Tina Weymouth of The Talking Heads

The Talking Heads have made two brilliant flicks, True Stories (Texas in a nutshell through a Talking Heads prism) and Stop Making Sense, which is the best concert movie I've ever seen.

Whenever I try to explain why Stop Making Sense gets to me every time I watch it, I just end up as a blubbering sack of a man.

The best explanation I can give is that it is so clearly a perfect representation of the world from one odd and specific perspective that, even if you only understand that perspective marginally, there's no way not to be swallowed up in it.

Tina Weymouth was the Talking Heads bass player. (I think she also did some of the vocals for Noodle of the Gorillaz.)

When I think of Tina Weymouth, I think of her performance of "Genius of Love" in Stop Making Sense. It's a very catchy tune - if you watched any MTv at all at any time in 1995, you would recognize it from as sampled in Mariah Carey's song "Fantasy."

When I first saw Weymouth sing Genius of Love in Stop Making Sense, I thought she looked really nervous. After watching it again, I realized it wasn't that at all.

It's just that Weymouth seems so open, so vulnerable while she sings. It's like Gene Hackman's acting, if Gene Hackman were playing bass and were a beautiful blond woman. I am doing a shitty job of explaining this.

Anyway, yeah. Tina Weymouth is tall.

Stella of The Crescendolls

I talk a little about Interstella 5555 here as part of another 3 makes a pattern post about how rock stars think of themselves as aliens.

Interstella 5555 is a movie by legendary anime director Kazuhisa Takenôchi . The only sound in the movie besides a very few sound effects is the Daft Punk album Discovery. There is no dialogue.

The first part of InterStella 5555 I saw was Something About Us on YouTube. I had no idea it was part of a movie - I thought it was just a really amazing Daft Punk music video.

I thought about writing about Something About Us, maybe saying something about how this combination of an incredibly overwrought, sentimental song and an incredibly overwrought, sentimental anime love story could combine in to something affecting and genuine. Then I watched the rest of the movie on YouTube and realized the whole film was like that.

At that point, I didn't have anything smarmy to say at all. Interstella 5555 is incredible.

Takenôchi's anime tends to have tall, skinny, heroines (according to Wikipedia, anyway). In Interstella, the tall, skinny women heroine is the band's bass player, Stella.

Like Tina Weymouth, Stella seems very vulnerable. In this case, though, Stella seems vulnerable because she's so guarded about her emotion.

If someone's expressionless in a movie, we can attribute whatever emotion we want to them. In film, this is called the Kuleshov Effect.

There's also a component of what Scott McCloud calls "projection" for comics. Anime tends to have very simplified characters in very complex environments so that people project themselves in to the characters and viscerally experience the environments of a comic.

Anyway, Stella is skinny women bass player #2.

Katie of School of Rock

School of Rock is a decent movie that would have sucked if Jack Black didn't work so goddamned hard in it (see: Ace Ventura, Turner and Hooch). Jack Black: respect.

The kids hold up their part in the movie very well. Eponymous band bass player Katie is played by the lovely Rebecca Brown. IMDB lists her as 5' 7" (at 15!), but what's important is that she's relatively taller than the other kids in Jack Black's class.

Tall woman bass player #3, and 3 makes a pattern.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Stupid Shit My Roommates Have Done (2 of 3)

I come home one day to find the air conditioning dangling precipitously out of our fourth story window. It takes me a minute, then:


Roommate casually wanders in.

"Oh, yeah, I tried to open that window to get some air in here."

"Aside from that making no sense, do you realize you could have, I don't know ... killed someone?!"

She hadn't realized.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

ribble's Spanish

Here is something I never considered: a graduate degree.

When I finished college, I had been in continual education for 18 years. I was of the opinion that this was quite enough.

A few weeks ago, I started to think about what it was I'd learned over all those years.

So I wrote out a list, by category, of all the things I studied in school, and ran through each subject trying to see what, if anything, had stuck in my mind. Here's my first:

As a South Texas resident who was never snoby enough to learn French, I studied Spanish through secondary school and college for a total of six years of instruction.

Spanish was consistently my worst subject, but then I am convinced that it was also consistently the worst-taught. However, to everyone's surprise including my own, somewhere along the line I did end up learning to speak it.

I still limit myself to two of the eight (I'm guessing) tenses - present and past participle - and I can't understand any conversation that isn't directed at me (which means I can never eversdrop effectively). Nevertheless, I can generally make myself understood by someone who speaks Spanish and, almost as often, understand what they are saying to me.

What's more, these people come away with the impression that I speak Spanish, and there are now too many of them for me to believe that they are all humoring me.

Part of why I retained this skill is that Spanish is a very handy language to know in New York. I've used it at work, on film sets, in a cab, buying gum, getting something to eat - everywhere, really. Nothing makes one comfortable in a skill like continual use.

I think that it also has to do with Mexico being Texas' second culture, much like the Brits have a sort of intuitive sense of India.

In San Antonio, where I grew up, the place I was most comfortable in the world was the Mexican restaurant down the street, El Mirador.

In New York, the places I am most comfortable are Elite Cafe on Amsterdam, my laundry spot on 4th Avenue and the Mexican restaurant up the Slope, La Taquaria. Spanish is language one among the staff at all these places.

Maybe that's why it feels like I learned Spanish without trying - it was almost too much effort to not know it. Before I learned Spanish, I was like a stranger in my own land.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Fun With iTunes Ratings

I've been having a great time rating my music on iTunes.

I have been Apple-loyal since the IIc. Apple is easy to love because their software is versatile and accomodating - everyone can use it in his or her own way. It's like how Maxis (Sim City) used to say that they didn't build games, they built toys. There's only one way to play soccer, but there's a million ways to play with a ball.

I had been conciously avoiding the My Rating feature in iTunes - don't know why exactly, maybe because I thought it was the sort of thing I'd need to go all out with. I tend to never throw anything away. As a result, I have a lot of brilliant music, a lot of crap music, and a good amount of decent stuff that I am just so over.

Rating all the music in my iTunes library was going to be a long-term project. I didn't want to leave it half-done or just rate a few songs, because it only seemed liked song rating would be useful if I rated all the music I listen to.

But I think what was really holding me back was that I hadn't settled on a consistent system to use to rate my music.

It doesn't exactly define the eon, but we are living in the greatest age of personalized rating in history. Aside from this new iTunes habit of mine, I most regularly rate on Netflix and on my TiVo. I also watch a maybe a hundred short films a year for First Sundays, which I sort in to the categories of Show, Maybe and Reject.

Over my many years of rating shit, I've decided it's important to decide on a consistent criteria and stick with it. If I'd rated my music without a consistent system, the results would be worse than useless, because once I'd finally settled on a system I'd have to bring all my old ratings up to date with the new criteria and then there would be a terrible mix of the old system and the new system and it'd be a right mess.

I take this sort of thing pretty seriously.

For First Sundays, I rate by what I can in good concious show on the screen to our audience. For example, we reject a lot of good films that are not comedies because we are a short comedy film festival. Other stuff, especially stuff we're on the fence about, we reject because of length.

On the TiVo, I try to rate based on what I will actually watch since I leave TiVo suggestions on and it takes my ratings pretty seriously.

The Wire is the best show on TV and arguably of all time, but there's no point in watching it piecemeal - there's just too many plotlines to keep straight, for one thing. The Wire really demands to be watched on DVD or one eagerly anticipated week at a time. The Wire gets one thumb up.

Futurama, though, I will watch at any time. Futurama gets three thumbs up.

Netflix is where I really go crazy. Netflix has basically become the central data stronghold for everything I think about movies. I suspect I have this in common with many Americans, but at this point I am paying my $13.99 a month not for my two movies at a time, but to keep track of all the movies I've seen and all the movies I want to see. Netflix gets my honest, subjective opinion about every movie I've seen.

Because it's uses an out-of-five system, I decided it was useful to think about iTunes ratings in terms of video game review t.v. show X-Play's out-of-five rating system.

I used to be hooked on X-Play, not because I play a lot of video games, but because I respect a good bit of video game criticism. It's like I'm Tom Townsend for the digital age.

I also decided to base my ratings on how I felt at that moment - not on the song's greater significance in the music world, not on how I liked it when I was 8, but how I felt right then. I could always change my ratings, after all, unlike, say, my Netflix ratings, which I was probably never going to look at again.

With this as my basis, may I present my out-of-five iTunes rating system. I will give my examples in Beatles songs because, although we may all have differing opinions on which Beatles songs are preferable to others, everyone in the world knows all Beatles songs by heart, just like we have all tasted Coca-Cola.

1 of 5
Beatles Songs With This Rating: Yesterday, Down in Cuba, While My Guitar Gently Weeps

2 of 5
Barely tolerable.
Beatles Songs With This Rating: Here There and Everywhere, Piggies, All My Loving

3 of 5
Beatles Songs With This Rating: Something, Drive My Car, Revolution 9, Glass Onion

4 of 5
Beatles Songs With This Rating: I Am the Walrus, Maxwell's Silver Hammer, Dear Prudence

5 of 5
Fucking amazing.
Beatles Songs With This Rating: Lady Madonna, Hello Goodbye, You Never Give Me Your Money

I thought long and hard about the distinction between 4 of 5 and 5 of 5. Finally, I decided that a 5 of 5 song was one that made want to loudly sing along with despite usually being on the subway at the time. Call it the Paper Lace test.

(This whole entry may be an excuse to post that last link, by the way).

Rating things is strangely gratifying.

It feels great just to get bad songs out of the way. It's like when I read Moby Dick - I wrote notes in the margin so that next time I read it, I can skip to the good stuff. Now I get to skip the bad songs on my favorite albums without having to think about it.

I've also found that my new smart playlist of music rated 5 of 5 is great for building playlists. I start with what I've already decided is the best stuff and find the things that go together. Because of this, I sometimes think of rating new stuff as mining for new materials for my playlists.

Because I'm listening to music with a set of objectives, and because I'm making a point of listening to everything I'm rating above a 1 of 5 at least once, and I've been listening to a lot of music I haven't listened to in ages. I now have a "Haven't Listened to in Awhile" playlist for songs I've rated above 3 of 5 that I haven't listened to in the past two years.

Rating is most gratifying when I'm going through the songs of bands with a large and diverse repetoire - bands like The Beatles, or They Might Be Giants. Bands like these have songs I love and songs I love to hate.

Watching myself settle in to this new project has revealed to me some wider implications. We know that harnassing millions of opinions is a pretty good way to sort the good stuff from the crap. But that means our votes are one among millions. Why do people like rating things so much?

Rating things from our couch is easier than, say, going to the polls, sure, but I think it's more than that.

I remember hearing that one of the most effective methods the Japanese used to gather information in their POW camps was to just give prisoners a pad of paper and a pencil and gather up what they'd written at the end of day (God knows if it's true, but I'm trying to make a point here). Or, to site another example, I am not the only person writing a blog entry today that less than twenty people will read.

People have a natural tendency to want to express their opinions, and we love to feel like our opinions are heard, even if only by ourselves.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Stupid Shit My Roommates Have Done (1 of 3)

My Cousin the Revolutionary, Female Roommate #1 and I are in the living room when who should walk in but a big, fat roach. We scream like little girls for awhile (this is back when roaches in my New York City apartment still seemed like a big deal), but eventually we get the thing cornered.

So the roach is halfway under some object and halfway exposed. Because its head is in a dark place, this roach believes itself to be completely safe. It is, in short, in a perfect position for us to do some roach crushing.

As the owner of the apartment, the oldest and the most level-headed, I am in charge of Operation Roach Crush. I send MCTR to fetch an appropriate roach-crushing object while I keep a careful eye on the roach and Female Roommate #1 stands on a piece of furniture.

After a long moment while I keep a careful eye on our visitor, what should come flying in to my field of vision but a CD Case - not a jewel box even, but a soft CD case. The type of object you would feel free to give to your one-year-old because it has no sharp edges of any kind and could not possibly do any damage to anything.

Out of all the objects of moveable size within my apartment, this is the one my cousin has selected to kill our intruder.

The CD case lands directly on the position of the trespassing roach, alerting it to our position, scattering it to the dark corners of my apartment where we have no hope of reaching it and, predictably, doing no damage to it whatsoever.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Deadliest Catch Fan Fiction?

I have been watching a lot of Deadliest Catch, like enough that if anyone else were around, I would be a little embarassed by it.

Sometimes I have big ideas and some times I have small ideas (er, that one got cancelled, by the way - awkward!). This is a small one.

You know how George Lucas had the crew of Star Wars watch archival WWII fighter footage to learn what space dogfights should look like? I think anyone who's going to do a dirty future sci-fi series should watch Deadliest Catch.

These are real, working-class guys in a big ship that isn't terribly maneuverable and doesn't always work. These are no fighter jet analogues - they're closer to, say, Firefly.

The moment that brought this home for me was in episode 30, "Caught in the Storm" (one of the more Zissou-esque episode titles).

Capt. Greg Moncrief of the Farwest Leader is trying to get his boat out of a harbor before a storm hits and traps him there - a tricky maneuver as the harbor has a protective dogleg just big enough for the boat and waves outside are rising.

It's a tough bit of piloting and the look of pure concentration on Moncrief's face is extraordinary.

Okay, so I immediately compared and contrasted with the "Leaf on the Wind" sequence in Serenity.

Differences: Walsh engages in witty banter. Moncrief speaks only three times: "holy shit" (on seeing the waves), snapping at his wife (which is all instinct anyway) and talking in a relaxed, easy manner once they make it out safely.

Walsh looks straight forward. Moncrief gets up out of his chair for quick looks around (of course, Walsh is moving much faster).

Walsh is getting yelled at and things are exploding all around him. Moncrief easily insists on total silence, and it's creepier.

Similarities: Maneuvering big things in difficult circumstances, danger of death or destruction, and that look of total concentration. Both get up at some point to hit a switch (Walsh, as a rule, hits three switches). Both pilots are confident.

Why this is not a perfect comparison: Moncrief is not being shot at. Also, one is fiction. And has a soundtrack.

Takeaways: Any ship maneuvering system, even a hypothetical one, is going to have a single main piloting mechanism that will occupy most of the pilot's attention (all of it during these tenser moments). If he needs to make another adjustment, he doesn't look at it for long.

No one wants to talk while they're precision piloting, so if you're going to write someone in to the cockpit, your pilot isn't going to talk like Han talks to Chewbacca, much less Leia.

The pilot always knew he could do it.

Here's the thing: Deadliest Catch is full of these moments that have been imperfectly translated to sci-fi and the ilk - in fact, I'm pretty sure you could do a scene-by-scene translation from the reality show to a sci-fi movie (they are hunting space crab!)

Like when Capt. Jonathan pulls a man out of the water. Those guys run around like chickens with their head cut off! They are not well-drilled on these situations! We need to see more of that in our fiction.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Lifestyle Hack

A hack is a way to use a system or set of rules to achieve a result the original creator of that system or set of rules did not intend.

Let's say, for example, you use the macro function in Microsoft Word not to automatically format text, but to change every fiftieth and fifty-first word of all the Word documents on a hard drive to "peanut brittle." This is a hack. It doesn't have to be bad thing - running a diesel engine on used vegetable oil is also a hack.

Which brings me to the idea of the lifestyle hack.

Let's say hypothetically that I want to change my life. Now, I live the way I do for a reason - it may not be a very good reason, and I may not even be aware of it, but I've made choices to do things a certain way to fill some function that would be unfilled otherwise. If there wasn't a reason, I wouldn't be doing things this way.

I can think of two ways to change the way I live. The first is to change how I am. I could make a close examination of why I do different things and try to alter the way I think in order to change how I live.

Well, that's all well and good, but in practice it's rather a slow boat. Changing how I view the world takes concentration, clear thinking, prolonged desensitization to my brain's hangups and knee-jerk responses, and time. Lots and lots of time.

The second option is a lifestyle hack. Rather than changing the rules, why not figure out a way to use them to achieve the desired result? Instead of changing the way I think, why not change the way I frame a problem in order to change the way I behave?

I will give an example, but please bear with me as this starts to become a bit personal. Those bored by such matters can read this sweet little post in which people go "Gwaar!"

I've always had trouble looking for work because I hate asking people for help and I have a lot of trouble doing anything just for myself.

I've never had trouble doing work, especially in a structured environment like a film set or an office, but I've always had trouble asking people to give me a job.

Well, I should revise that - I've never had trouble doing work for other people. If a friend or a feature needs me to, say, paint an entire apartment, I'll pick up a roller and have the first coat up by the end of the day - but throw some plastic over the couch and stop living in white apartment purgatory? It always strikes me as too much work for too little benefit, especially when I could be spending my time watching Flight of the Conchords.

My latest idea is to think about looking for work not as something that's going to benefit me, but as something that will benefit my friends in the film business.

Right now, I can think of maybe five friends who are both capable of writing a really good feature film script and fool enough to think that I'd be able to produce it. In fact, I probably am capable of producing a feature, but at the moment I'm missing some crucial skills that I'll only really get once I work as an office PA for a couple of months.

My lifestyle hack, then, is to get myself to look for work not as a way to help myself but as a way to make sure I'll someday be able to help my under-resourced and misguided friends.

I come up with these ideas all the time, but they hardly ever end up working the way I want (remember no daytime t.v.? If you do, something is wrong with you.) I am in the mood to let you know.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Ocean's 13 Lingo

My notes from the movie. Who takes notes during a movie? I am finding this whole List Posts stage I'm going through very disorienting.

"But there is a lot of that in the Oceans films where they say 'Let's do a Susan B. Anthony or a Sticky Fingers or a Monkey On a Sidetrap, Sling it Down on the Woodshelf, and then put it Oh for Two, Oh For Five' and everyone goes, 'Yeah, yeah let's try that, let's try that.'"
-Eddie Izzard on The Daily Show, Thursday June 7, 2007.

"We have to offer a Billy Martin."
"It's a Reverse Big Store."
Irwin Allen
Pancake Eater
The Brody-Prop
Dock the Showboat
Set Up a Cartwheel
Pulled an Audible
Saw a Blitz Coming
Working a Frame
"I've gotta jump."
"So it's back to the Susan B. Anthony again."

I also like the running gag where whenever Pitt and Clooney talk about their girls, they each seem to know exactly what the other one is thinking despite the fact that neither ever finishes a thought or a sentence.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Words Behind Talking Heads During "Making Flippy Floppy"

From Stop Making Sense, of course. In order of appearance:

Public Library
Air Conditioned
Under the BFD
Star Wars
Time Clock

Before Dinner Time
Before You're Awake
Late At Night

ps What the hell am I doing here? Is this sort of thing an early sign of asperger's?
pps I want to dance like David Byrne

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Some Comics I'd Option if I Were a Real Producer

Return to Sender

Fans (one of the cheaper story lines, I suppose. Maybe one of the ones involving mind control?)

Powers (obviously).


What I Did Today

30th St. between 7th Avenue and 8th Avenue: Furriers
29th St. between 7th Avenue and 8th Avenue: The P.I.T.
28th St. between 7th Avenue and 8th Avenue: Floral and plant stores
27th St. between 7th Avenue and 8th Avenue: Toy wholesalers
26th St. between 6th Avenue and 7th Avenue: The place where I got my hair cut last time (finally!)

All I Had to Go On

These are the four albums my mom listened to incessently when I was growing up. I'm pretty sure I still know all the lyrics to each of these records. Complete with iTunes links, because I am a commercial whore.

She's So Unusual
Cyndi Lauper

Rhythm of the Saints
Paul Simon

Paul Simon

Nick of Time
Bonnie Raitt

Monday, June 11, 2007

Media Aware or Media Afraid?

I am watching Game 2 of the finals. The commentators are talking about how immediately after Game 1, LeBron James went back to his hotel and watched the game straight through twice.

Jeff Van Gundy: What else are you going to do in San Antonio for two days?
Mike Breen: Aw, no. Here come the letters. Oberto inside banks it in. Mark, you and I want to go on record as saying this is one of the greatest cities we've ever been to.
Mark Jackson: Oh, I've had a blast. The Riverwalk. This is phenomenal.
(Light laughter)
Mike Breen: You want to apologize now or later?
Mark Jackson: Tee-hee.
Jeff Van Gundy: I just meant, you know ... I don't know what I meant.
Mike Breen: James to the basket, banks it off, won't go ...

I started thinking about being media aware. It comes up on another of my favorite shows, Mythbusters, all the time. Those guys work soooo hard - you should see the boat build in the channel marker episode - and they know (know!) when a particular and annoying demographic in their audience is going to wave off the whole thing as bullshit because of some absurd perceived mistake.

On the one hand, I admire anyone who's media aware, which I think of as being able to get your message across to people without saying something that can be taken out of context or could become embarassing. Being media aware also consists of being able to predict the way a comment will play in the press or with the public, or even being able to manipulate how the press interprets statements.

A former member of the press myself, I know if I talked to the press about anything I would almost certainly humiliate myself and my family, and one stupid turn of phrase can ruin a career.

On the one hand, we all have to be more careful what we say and how we say it. And who's to say that people shouldn't be held accountable for an off-hand comment that seems to reveal a hidden way of thinking?

Of course, who am I to say that one of the men I just linked to was victimized and the other was rightly punished? Maybe the media or popular perception is justice. Or maybe knowing each of us could easily offend an entire country is just making us unduly paranoid.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Triangulating Texas Through Popular Culture

Unlike New York, L.A., and ... actually that's it, Texas is a part of the world that you can't usually get a good perspective on from movies and T.V. shows.

It's important to understand Texas because it's like America except more so. Here's one movie and two T.V. show about Texas - if you watch all three and take away everything that makes them unique, you should get Texas in a nutshell.

True Stories (a Talking Heads movie).

Like Stop Making Sense, their 1984 concert movie, the Talking Heads' True Stories is implacably odd, quietly affecting and fun to watch. The stories of the film center on a small Texas town, all set to actor performances of songs from the Talking Heads album of the same name.

This movie is just so Texas I could scream. It's a collection of short stories on acutely Texas subject matters, all told with an over-the-top Talking Heads style, inhabited by these energetic, open and positive Texas people.

Just a sample: a husband and wife who haven't spoken to each other in ten years sit in an enormous suburban dining room with their family. One of the kids asks the father about the future of the town where they live.

In an enormously upbeat, generous song, the man lays out a whole plan for the future of the town centered on making it a pleasant place to live so that the young people who grew up there and went away to college want to come back. He uses the food from the dinner table to illustrate his points.

King of the Hill

When I saw King of the Hill for the first time it took me about ten minutes to think "Huh. That's totally Texas."

I think it was the kitchen that did it for me.

Austin Stories

Austin Stories, which I guess you can only buy here, was an early MTv sitcom about three slackers living in the titular city. I remember it was the only thing on T.V. at the time which seemed to be even roughly about the life I was living. For example, one of the three main characters was kind of fat.

I haven't seen this show since I was a kid. Does writing a blog entry about it obligate me to buy the DVD? Probably so, right?

More Texas Moments

The opening and closing sequences of the movie are on a Texas ranch. The shot of a FedEx truck rumbling down a rural road is the truest depiction of Texas in winter I remember seeing in a movie.

Pee Wee's Big Adventure
Pee Wee is looking for his bike in the basement of the Alamo. Pee Wee is sort of Texas, himself - loud, over the top, dances to "Tequila."

Paris, Texas
Paris, Texas is about two brothers reconciling after years apart, but it's also about driving from one end of Texas to another.

The Getaway (1972) has a great bit where the villain talks with Steve McQueen on a barge on the San Antonio Riverwalk. Great, big, cowboy-hatted Texas villain, too - you could see the same type of guy in Blood Simple.

Great Day

Today I rode a Vespa for the first time, just like I always wanted.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

ribble's Nostalgia Quest

For about six months after this post, I went on a nostalgia quest. I've been watching the T.V. I loved as a kid to see if it's worth a damn. Here's my first installment of results, in handy alphabetical order.

Better than I remember

Animaniacs was just a great cartoon when I was a kid - funny with a lot of great cartoony action. Now, I'm old enough to get a lot of the jokes (want to see what I mean? Check out the Animaniacs Cultural References Guide).

Seriously, this is a work of genius. Yakko's song containing the names of all the nations of the world (in rhyme!) would be enough for this show to be remembered with distinction in cartooning / children's programming history.

The Critic
Just as great as I remember

The critic was a great, animated show that got dicked around by network programmers who didn't understand it until it was cancelled before its time (obvious reference. I would go so far as to say that it was the part Jon Lovitz was born to play.

The Critic was also a great New York show - there are a number of running gags related to the UN school - that was funny both before and after I moved to New York.

Danger Mouse
Just as great as I remember

I remember watching this show growing up in Scarsdale, N.Y., which means I must have been watching it before I was six years old.

Over the course of my nostalgia quest, I ran in to a couple of things that would be great if I were a kid, but weren't quite built for DVD. Danger Mouse is one of these.

The show tends to be a bit formulaic, but it's funny, it's British, and the cartoon action is great. I'm looking forward to someday turning off whatever Saturday morning dribble my kids are watching and making them watch this instead.

Plus: one of the greatest theme songs ever.

Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist
Better than I remember

Dr. Katz, presented in Squigglevision, always had a funny framing story arc, but the meat of the show was Dr. Katz's sessions with his patients, played by whatever aspiring comedian Katz could get to come up to his studio in Boston to record their acts.

It's consistently funny and sometimes sweet, but I think what my Adult Swim-watching generation is going take away from Dr. Katz is a worship of H. Jon Benjamin.

Now that I'm older, I get to understand just how well this show was made, the jokes are funnier and I get hear the early material of a bunch of young comedian, like Dave Attell, who would later get their own shows.

Fraggle Rock
Better than I remember

I watched Fraggle Rock with my friend, codename Charlie, at her place until we were both half asleep on her couch. What a great show! There are great songs, great characters (Charlie identifies with Red, who gets in trouble by trying to be too self-reliant), and always multiple storylines because there's the action above ground and the action below, each with a lesson learned.

Quantum Leap
Not as good as I remember

Quantum Leap I remembered particularly for consistenly raising the stakes. Even as a kid, before I started writing, before I became the sophisticated television viewer standing here today, I was impressed by how the show would always start off with, say, someone's future on the line and end up with, say, the survival of the two main characters, the history of the world and the survival of the human species at stake.

Now, though, the show is too long and slow to get my interest, I feel like I know what's coming, and no one's actions seem as logical. Too bad.

Not as good as I remember

Reboot has already earned a place in history as one of the first full computer animated t.v. shows. The animation is still okay in the context of the story, but the DVD I watched, from the last, unreleased straight-to-video season, had gotten all tangled up in its story lines and promptly lost my interest.

seaQuest DSV
Not as good as I remember
Back in late December, the SciFi channel showed a marathon of every episode of seaquest DSV, which I diligently TiVod. As a kid, this was a very inspiring show, especially Jonathan Brandis' character, Lucas.

seaQuest DSV is something best watched in private, with no threat of judgement by others on my childhood heros. So last year I waited until my roommate went away for spring break and watched the second season.

What I really like about seaquest is that it takes the sci-fi adventure show out of space and puts it where it belongs, back on Earth. No faster-than-light travel. No instant communications. Justifiable makes a big difference to me, and exploring "the last unexplored region on Earth" always appealed to me. A lot of the show was ridiculous (their in-ship transportation says "thank you for using mag-lev") but the power of that idea got me, especially the Lucas character.

Johnny explains Lucas as the Wesley Crusher of the deep, but actually Brandis comes off as a clever, cool guy who I probably would have hung out with freshman year of high school. Which was remarkable because the writers loved to have Lucas tell us how scared he was like he was some sort of teen Boxey.

But it turns out that 1993 was 13 years ago. Effects never age well, and seaquest was an effects-heavy show. The dialogue isn't great. The ship is derivative (big viewscreen in the front of the bridge, etc.). Plus, especially in the beginning of season one before the show hit its stride, seaQuest seems to be developing too many ideas at once.

seaQuest was good for maybe a total of one season out of the two and a half seasons it ran. It relied too much on sci-fi conventions, like the giant viewscreen and, eventually, aliens, without thinking those things through. It had some potential, but it never followed through.

Space Rangers
Not as good as I remember

Space Rangers fell farther in my estimation than anything else on this list.

It was only around for about six episodes, and looking back I think I only ever saw the first one, but I was really excited about Space Rangers when I was a kid. I think it was the gun turrets in the space ships. I drew a lot of space ships with gun turrets in them after that.

Predictably, it turns out this was not a very good show. Hokey, bad effects, the aliens look just like the alien in a particular eponymous Ridley Scott film, bad dialogue, unbelievable plots, hero with too much hair, etc. etc.

But man, and I think this goes to the power of nostalgia, writing these two paragraphs alone was enough to make me want to go draw some spaceships with gun turrets in them.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

ribble's Bad Habits

I've been producing films for First Sundays for only about six months (although I've put more work in some than others), but I've been screening films for over a year.

Screening other peoples' movies is fascinating. I have seen some great stuff that in some cases less than ten people before me have ever seen.

Even the bad movies that we would never show can have their moments. I watch almost everything, no matter how terrible, all the way through to the end for exactly that reason.

I remember one particular film about a man who may or may not be possessed by the spirit of a dead, 70-year-old Jewish woman that was awful, awful. Too long, no one acts rationally, not funny.

In the scene, the maybe possessed man, now institutionalized, is talking to the camera about getting a letter from his fiance, who is now marrying his best friend, and he finally realizes that he's thrown his life away.

For the last five seconds of the movie, the protagonist stops speaking in the 70-year-old Jewish woman voice he's been using for the duration and starts talking in the voice of a normal 30-ish man.

It's an incredible cinema moment. Truly amazing. I watched it over and over. And because no one would ever show such an awful 20 minutes of awful for ten seconds of genius, it is possible that I am the only one outside of the production that will ever see it.

Mostly, though, screening movies means I've watched a lot of bad shorts. It's pretty instructive. There's nothing like watching the same mistakes over and over to warn you off them forever.

I developed a shpeil for people directing audience films [under "CONTEST"] for the first time.

For the audience films, we ask writers and directors to keep their shorts to five minutes or less (about five pages of script).

When we screen films, the bar gets steadily higher for longer movies. Think about it - the longer the film, the more of our limited screen time we need to commit to it. We've got an official cutoff at maybe 25, 30 minutes but it's very, very difficult for a film that length to be funny enough for us to show it. No film is too short.

If you are making a short comedy film, please do everyone a favor and keep it short. Cut, cut, cut - that's my #1 AAA [Star] Most Important Suggestion.

The films I watch can usually tell the same story in a quarter the time because audiences pick up on stuff pretty quick. I have seen so many movies that would take over the world if they cut everything that wasn't funny.

When I give my shpiel to first time directors of audience films, I tell them to only write what they think they can do themselves. In my movie, I wrote in a white truck and a good-looking Southerner because I knew I could get those things. Before he writes, Victor has everyone in the cast and crew write out a list of locations where they know he can shoot for free.

It's not a requirement, but I tell writer / directors to make sure their films take place in more than one location. Audiences start to feel trapped or claustraphobic if they have to stay in one location too long. Usually wherever you're shooting can double as two locations anyway, like one apartment playing two different apartments if, say, two people are talking on the phone.

Plus, there's usually more than one place in a particular area where you can shoot in a single day. Location managers think about this shit all the time.

On a similar note, first-time directors are always afraid to move the camera. Move the camera. If you don't, you will bore your audience to death. Moving the camera makes your movie so much more interesting, it's like night and day.

I would also suggest that filmmakers bring in a DP, even if it's just your best friend who may or may not know how to use your camera. The director is constantly making decisions on a film set. It's best to be able to hand the camera to someone else so that you don't have to worry about keeping the actor's forehead in the frame in addition to, say, how good their acting is.

In the vein of making it easier on yourself, the rule of thumb in independent film is that the ideal number of people to have in a scene is two. Any more, and logistics, camera placement, booming and everything else becomes much more complicated.

For an incredible movie that rarely has more than two people in a scene, watch Brick. Or you can just read me gushing about it over and over again.

Of course, there's no end to the things you can learn about making movies. There aren't all that many masters. But making a movie isn't rocket science, and it is possible to make a good first movie. Start with this and let me know how it goes.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Working Webcomics

I've been reading The Devil's Panties, and I keep thinking about something that comic's writer, Jennie Breeden says in her FAQ (under "What advice would you give to someone who wants to do webcomics?") It is making me think that webcomics are getting more established, at least by one particular measurement.

First, some background. Here is a conversation I've had maybe a fourty times:

SOMEONE GETTING TO KNOW ME: What kind of books do you read?
ME: I read a lot of webcomics.

SGTKM: What's a webcomic?

ME: A webcomic is a comic strip that is published regularly on the internet, usually by an amateur artist. They are almost entirely different from the comics you'd read in a newspaper.

For one thing, with webcomics the reader can go back and all the comic strips that author has ever written from the beginning, which lets webcomics artists to do longer storylines. Some of those story lines go on for years.

For another, webcomics artists can get more and faster feedback from their fans. Some artists feel that what their fans think is important, some don't.

Finally, because webcomics artists don't have to answer to a syndicate or a boss or even really their fans, they can just do what they want, so there's a much richer range of subject matter and different types of people writing it. Webcomics can more easily explore adult themes and write for an adult audience.

SGTKM: Do these artists make money with their comics?

I used to say:
ME: Most don't. They do it to develop as an artist, or because they want to develop an audience for their art, or because they like doing the art anyway so they feel like they might as well let an audience see it, too.

A few have been around a long time and have built enough of an audience that they can quit their day jobs and earn a salary by selling merchandise through their websites, but you could count the comics like that on your fingers.

That brings me to my point. In her FAQ, Breeden lays out what aspiring webcomics artists can expect from in their first five years if they do it like she did it (promoting her comic at conventions, etc.)

This makes me think that webcomics artists are supporting themselves with their art more regularly than they did before. When I think about the artists who make the comics I read every day, that seems right.

That's it, just a small idea, but I think it's significant. It wasn't long ago that no one could have written about what to expect from your first five years because no one had actually done it.