From Eccentric Flower
On various personal weblogs which have a somewhat larger group of regulars (that's not a gripe, just stating facts - we don't have critical mass here), every so often they have what is called an "open thread," where there is no initial entry or stated topic, and people can just post replies about whatever's preoccupying them at the time or whatever silly wordplay game has broken out that week.
I love open threads, but it takes a very particular set of settings to sustain one. One of the things that's gotten me so addicted to Twitter (yes, I've come a long way from my initial antipathy) is that it's like a really big, perpetual open thread - or, if you prefer, sort of time-delayed, slow-process chat room. I like this because I can keep up with it. Even on days when I don't touch Twitter at all, I always go back and catch up with my feed up to wherever I previously left off. Others find the information density very difficult to handle. (Of course, let the record show that others follow hundreds of people, whereas I only follow 72 at present.)
In fact the only real frustration I have with Twitter is when the people I follow don't read it or post to it as often and compulsively as I do, thus leaving me starved for new data. I'm so selective about "content that is actually valuable to me" that I tend to run out of it very fast, and then I get impatient. (I also get impatient when Twitter does not perform according to my demanding standards, as you can tell from the previous entry.)
Anyway, I'd never try an open thread here because, as I say, there aren't enough people and they don't check here often enough to make it viable. (And, before Ysabel comes in and points it out, the comment notification and update tracking is, to some people's minds, not suitable for that purpose.) Besides, why would I bother? I have an open thread. It's called Twitter.
For as long as that lasts, anyway (I am still not copacetic about their ability to keep existing once they finally burn through their VC).
But there's another kind of open thread - a different set of needs that has gotten a little neglected in this journal of late. I've tended not to post entries here lately unless I have 500-1000 words to say on a particular, single topic - which means I haven't posted entries here a lot. Once upon a time - pre-Twitter - I did occasionally post a sort of catch-all entry that amalgamated lots of little bits which had utterly nothing to do with one another.
This is one of those. Which means 1) it's long and 2) it comes in lots of different flavors. So if you don't like the caramel salted with bitter tears, fish for another piece rather than throw out the whole box of candy.
Mood Indigo You may have noticed it's been especially grim here the last couple of days. I'm at pretty much at nadir in terms of my creativity crisis. I've passed the point where I can ignore my creative brain any longer; it has threatened to scuttle the entire ship if I don't listen to it. I've got to throw it a doughnut or something.
The difficulty, to sum up a great deal of much longer ranting, is that every creative activity I have in mind either involves 1) effort I don't want to make or 2) abilities I am deeply unsatisfied with.
It's not that I'm lazy exactly (I mean, I am, but that's not the problem here); it's that damned cost/benefit calculation again. What I mean is, my left brain keeps insisting that it isn't worth doing a lot of legwork just to produce some bit of creative output which will mostly exist to anesthetize my right brain for a while. My right brain petulantly and loudly disagrees.
My right brain would really like to finish working on a particular game of mine, but the problem is, when the right brain says "working on," it means the fun parts - the level design and the visual tweaking. The right brain just wants to write the fun bits. The left brain looks at the scope of the project and the difficulties involved and says, "OK, so, you want to spend four weeks of all your free evening time getting up to speed on some game making platform, testing code, drawing tilesets tediously which will look ugly as sin when we're done, all so you can design maps for the thing? Why not just go off with pencil and paper and add the maps to all the other ones already sitting in the file folder? That way we'll only lose a night or two while you scratch your itch, and not four weeks for something just to gratify you."
The right brain has a beautiful, unearthly mental design for art for a particular interactive story/game which keeps coming back to haunt me. The right brain has a basic plot and a framework and some characters. The right brain is itching to write the story. The left brain sees the time needed to deal with any sort of 3D world-builder, not to mention the ages of practice and failure needed to get any art which would be even remotely faithful to the right brain's demanding vision, not to mention the fact that the story's a branching, user-directed one, which means a tree has to be set up and planned and charted - the left brain sees all the sheer grueling work involved and asks: "Why? Are we getting paid for this? Will we become famous from this? Will anyone else even see it? Will there be any reward for it other than you, the right brain, getting to play with shiny toys for a few minutes?"
The right brain wants to have a delicious dinner. The left brain does not want to cook it. The right brain wants to have friends over. The left brain just sees how much the house would need cleaning first.
The left brain is correct, but every so often the right brain gets fed up with being locked in a closet and either derails the day with constant, non-stop daydreaming and world-spinning so the left brain can't get anything done, or throws a temper tantrum and sends the entire mood and limbic system into Code Blue for days.
Both of these have been happening way too much recently. Productivity is nearly nonexistent. Mood is in toilet.
Now you know why all my most favorite fetish smut involves mind control.
Splice and Difficult Ideas I'm sure there are people who love it when reviews of a film are wildly mixed, because they like the uncertainty of it and it intrigues them. Me, I can usually only manage to go to about one film every three months, because movies are one of the few things I don't like doing alone, and thus the logistics of getting to one (and paying for it!) grow ever more complex each passing year. Under those circumstances, I become a very conservative investor.
Mind you, I don't necessarily choose my investments the way you do. For example, I probably put cheesy action films much higher on my list of blue-chips than many of the people reading this would, and rom-coms slightly lower than you might. Romantic comedies annoy me because so many of them depend on the parties to the romance acting like utter idiots, or there'd be no tension and resolution.
(I realize that, in real life, and especially in romance, people do often act like utter idiots, but my first rule of film attendance is: I see films for escapism. In other words, I don't generally go to films to see the same problems, nastinesses, and stupidities that are perpetuated every day in the real world. I can just read the news for that.)
Anyway, so, to edge gradually back to the point, while several of you are bemoaning a wasteland in film right now, I suddenly had four films I'd rather like to see at once: The A-Team and Prince of Persia, both pure action cheese, Harry Brown, a venegance film which I mostly want to see because I will watch Michael Caine do anything, and Splice - which is ostensibly a horror film, but more on that in a second.
When reviews divide, it's usually easy to see where they divide and why. Action films, for example: If you can suspend disbelief and enjoy the cheese, you like them; if you have a stick up your ass, you don't. (Okay, that's a mite unfair. But I think that if you go into something like The A-Team and then nitpick its plot holes or its physics, you were expecting something you should not have had an expectation of to begin with.)
The reviews of Harry Brown break down to those who believe Michael Caine makes the film bearable, and those for whom he cannot retrieve the film from its own morass of nastiness and evil. Again: This is pretty predictable.
But with Splice the reviews could barely be reconciled as all talking about the same movie. Furthermore, the gaps were not along predictable lines. Normally, with a horror film, the kind of lowbrows who like horror films (that's not slander, by the by, I am cheerfully a lowbrow myself, although I am not the biggest horror fan in the world) say essentially what I said about action films (if you nitpick it, you're missing the point) and love it, while the Srs Critics shit all over them.
With Splice it seems to have been mostly the other way around; the pros are hailing it as some sort of movie of Difficult Ideas, and the schlubs like us are saying, "What a waste of space." Very interesting.
Iko tipped me off that the film had some massive gender issues and science issues; the latter I expected and don't care about (why I don't care about Bad Film Science, a topic on which I expect most of you will disagree with me, is a story for another day), but the former came as a complete and unwelcome surprise to me. And there I hit a roadblock. I couldn't find any real discussion of the issues unless I wanted to spoil the whole film.
Eventually realizing that I'd rather spoil the film and not lose the money/time rather than make a bad bet for three hours and twenty bucks, I did go for full disclosure, and now all has become clear. And if you also feel that way, in a minute I'll link a total-spoiler review which will make all clear to you as well.
But here's a few things I can say without opening the box: It's clear, first off, that Splice is not actually a horror film. The most disgruntled reviews came from people who were expecting a fun scare film and instead got what was - by horror standards - a slow and extremely predictable movie, where the few good scares were obvious far in advance.
I don't think, upon reading all this material, that Splice was intended to be a horror film per se, which means it can be added to the long, long list of Films That Have Been Dramatically Mismarketed. I do think it was supposed to be a film of Difficult Ideas, and that's nice, but ....
The problem is that if you try to make that sort of film, the bar is much higher. Suddenly you enter a different league of required competence and complexity. If you say, "We're going to try some Difficult Ideas on you," and then shirk or handwave or cliché away those ideas, then the audience is not going to be happy with you. Or that's the theory, anyway.
Except that apparently standards of intelligence and content have fallen enough that, for some critics/viewers, the fact that a film dares approach any Difficult Ideas at all is grounds for commendation.
Read this review. (Don't worry, that's not the spoilery one.) It is cited as a representative example of the positive reviews of this film; I could show you many more like it, and I don't mean to single it out for individual venom.
You'd think, from reading this, that the film actually tried to open some sort of serious discussion about its Difficult Ideas, that it actually went the distance - when I am now convinced that what it actually does is walk up to those Difficult Ideas, chicken out, shut the door, and say "Here's some empty spectacle instead as a consolation prize."
Here is a very different review of Splice. It is a COMPLETE SPOILER. You will have the entire plot, including the parts no one is writing about, revealed to you by this review.
Assuming this review describes the basics of the plot accurately - and I have no reason to believe it does not - it has relieved me of any need or desire to see the film. But perhaps not for the reasons you might think. As I said, I don't mind Bad Film Science; and I don't have a problem with gender stereotypes if they are supposed to reflect the failings of the characters and aren't just limitations of the worldview/biases of the director/scriptwriter.
But I can't tolerate people doing excessively dumb or out-of-character or poorly-defined things for no reason other than to keep the film moving, and there is apparently a great deal of that here. It's proven that Dren can communicate by using tiles on a Scrabble board, and yet the two scientists show utterly no interest in communicating with her that way? Say what now? There can be only one reason for this, and that's so the lazy scriptwriter didn't have to give us any sort of insight into Dren's head, didn't have to write a real or consistent characterization, or even any motivations, for Dren at all. I do not forgive that. And apparently its approach to Difficult Issues is consistently in the same mold - raise the issue then cop out.
The first sentence of the paragraph above contained a lie. I am willing to forgive a certain amount of stupidity or inconsistency if it is clear we are working in what the porn people would call a PWP universe. (PWP, in case you have never heard the term, means "Plot? What Plot?") In action films and horror films, the "plot" is just a device to move us to the next set piece - the next stunt or the next scare - and I am utterly okay with that. Who has time to stop for consistent characterization in an action film? Just give me a little snappy dialogue and I'm good.
But if we say, "No, this is not a horror film, this is a Difficult Ideas film," then suddenly all scrutiny is fair game. Which is why, now that I know what I know, it sort of horrifies me that so many respected critics seem to have taken this shadowplay - this feinting-at-ideas - for the real thing.
Cube and Needing a Why While we're on the subject, a couple of people told me, in the course of discussing Splice, that what I really needed to see - and one reason why Splice disappointed them - was the same director's earlier film Cube.
I'd never heard of Cube, although it seemed to be well thought-of. I read as much of the synopsis as I dared, and while I'm sure it's a good film and I mean no slight to it, I think it would annoy me. I think it would annoy me in the same way that William Sleator's book House of Stairs annoyed me when I was ten years old.
Sleator is (I have to prevent myself from saying "was," as he is still alive and still writing, but I have read no book of his with a more recent publication date than the late seventies*) a very important writer to my adolescence. He's not all that great a writer in terms of prose style, but he approached themes I certainly did not find anyone else willing to approach in the YA SF selection of my home-town library at that time - notably, bad behaviors and corrupt drives among humans and aliens, even in some of the most initially-innocent protagonists. He was also one of the only YA SF writers willing to tiptoe near the themes of sex and sexuality** and, yes, even material edging near fetishistic in some ways***.
(* Side note 1: I distrust Wikipedia's dates here. It says The Boy Who Reversed Himself is 1986, and that's just not possible, because I've read it, and I graduated high school in '86, and I had long since stopped reading Sleator by then. So either my library had a time machine or Wikipedia is wrong. Let us say instead that I have read nothing on their list later than that title.)
(** Side note 2: I gather the field has changed a great deal in the intervening years. I hear you can even deal with sex openly in a YA novel these days, if you're careful about it. But at the time of my adolescence, when dinosaurs walked the earth, remember, Judy Blume was still catching hell and drama for occasionally daring to write that - gasp - young teenagers masturbated, or experimented sexually together, or menstruated. And the standard-bearer in YA SF was still Robt. Heinlein's squeaky-clean Boy Scout protagonists. In his defense, mind you, most of those stories were serialized initially in Boy's Life and were supposed to be Boy Scouts. Point is, there was nothing else in my YA SF options that had anything like, say, the nasty interpersonal dynamics in Singularity.)
(*** Side Note 3: These days, god bless progress, all bets are off. There are some transformations and occurrences in some R.L. Stine books that, if you just advanced the age of the characters and tweaked the text just a leeeetle bit for sexuality, would be prime fetish smut. If I'd had them as a kid, I could have become aware of my kinks nearly a decade earlier than I did.)
Wow. See, this is what happens when my right brain needs an outlet. OK, well, getting back to what I think was the point ....
House of Stairs was the only Sleator book which really annoyed me, because throughout the entire book, the protagonists are put through inexplicable privations and horrors ... and these remain inexplicable. You exit the book knowing just as much about why any of this has happened as you did at the beginning: zero. It's clearly some kind of experiment but the purpose or point of this experiment is never revealed. It's a Skinner box from the point of view of the rat.
House of Stairs did teach me an important thing, which is that in my entertainment, I must have a why. I'm aware that there are often purposeless, inexplicable, horrific things in real life. Please see my first rule of film attendance, above. This goes for novels as well. I don't need the Dada bits of real life repeated in my entertainment, any more than I need the horrors and cruelties and stupidities of the real world there.
In fact my big frustration with Dada - never have so many great talents been so utterly wasted - is that its central message (if such a thing were not anathema to the very idea of Dada) is that there is no central message. The point of Dada is that there is no point. Now, I recognize that Dada was a response from a generation who thought, after World War I, that civilization had essentially become a null concept - they thought they were just pointing out the meaninglessness of the world around them. The problem is, they were wrong.
Civilization, as a concept, has not been on an upward trend since then; they thought that after World War I the gloves were off and humanity was revealed for the ugliness it truly was, red in tooth and claw. But lo, under the gloves was another set of gloves, and those were pulled off by World War II, and under those gloves was another set of gloves, and under those another, and with every set we remove, civilization reveals itself to be less civil - and wouldn't this be a great place to cut to a cartoon?
I broke there deliberately not just for the glove gag, but to show that, far from breaking out the ashes and sackcloth, I reiterate that the Dada view was wrong. We don't seem to have descended into utter anarchy or destroyed the planet quite yet, so there seems to be some value in at least trying to work toward some higher standard of conduct, even if we don't achieve it very often. There does not seem to me to be much benefit to nihilism - to me that smacks of throwing up one's hands and saying, "Incurable!" and if you do that then you might as well just suicide and leave the field to the rest of us who still see some value in trying.
One of the reasons I like my entertainment escapist is because I like it to represent A Better World, and so when I encounter stories or films or whatever where the point is that there is no point, I get frustrated.
I don't say that an author or filmmaker has an obligation to conform to my motions of entertainment - obviously not, takes all kinds - but it isn't for me. To me it just smacks of throwing up one's hands and saying, "No, we don't need to explain this, why should we?" And my reply is, "Well, why should I watch it, or even care?"
Here's a synopsis of House of Stairs (contains spoilers).
And here's a synopsis of Cube (also contains spoilers).
Punchy In general, this is normally a slow time at my workplace. I don't want to go into more specifics than that, since I don't like writing about my job in unlocked entries. Suffice to say that, while it is normally a lull before a frenzy of summer work, this year we have no lull because a number of vital systems have suddenly decided to just fall to pieces, one after another.
I think we're all getting a little bit punchy. Every year we have to add a lot of new people to our account system at once, which I have a batch script to do, and we generate a big file of "account sheets" which have first-login information for the new users and their temporary passwords.
I was asked by the person who distributes those sheets when he could expect them. (They're sitting in a file on the server waiting to be printed.) He also cc'd my co-worker who is the backup on account-related matters.
Co-Worker, to me: Did we have a response to this?
Me, to Co-Worker: I replied to him separately. Set your mind at rest.
Co-Worker: Could we tell him that we don't give out passwords on account sheets anymore ... and that the users have to wait until midnight on orientation night to secretly meet a man in a trenchcoat standing under a broken street lamp on the corner answering to the name of 'Fernando' who will hand them a plain manila envelope containing a series of clues, each more intricate than the last, that will lead them to their password?
Me: I'm afraid it's too late for that, but thank you for the only laugh I've had all day!
Rags and Bones I was going to gripe a little about the World Cup and some other things, but emacs says this buffer is over 4000 words, and let that be a lesson to you. So here are the recent links I have posted on Twitter, going back to June 3, exactly as they appeared over there, plus a little follow-up content in some cases. In case you're wondering what sort of stuff I tend to link over there.
- Good and important reading: http://mrissa.livejournal.com/723084.html
- About once every six months XKCD makes me cry. http://xkcd.com/752/
- Now this is a proper use of rollovers for concise compact information. Beautiful. http://bit.ly/9SGrMK
- Time for some calming music links. Let's start here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OmBxVfQTuvI
- Next I think we need this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CaQaJ-fJHb0
- Let's see. Patsy Cline? No, all her songs are sad.
- Ah, I have it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ujdbwEHkv1I
- One more for the road and I'm done. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EzvSZgVN5o0
- That's just about the only song that's ever made me think fondly of New York, that last one.
- Worth reading: http://cme.dreamwidth.org/107825.html
- The majority opinion is this is the first 50's food ad we'd actually want to eat: http://community.livejournal.com/vintage_ads/2012108.html
- I think Chris Pronger looks cute in that skirt, actually: http://bit.ly/ct4Eeg
- From the talented @jettek: http://bit.ly/be3knW Movie Titles We Can't/Won't Pronounce
- Confidential to @jettek: Zzyzx is "ziz-iks" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zzyzx,_California
- Also confidential to @jettek: No one has trouble with "synecdoche" once I explain the title of the (odious) film is a pun on Schenectady.
- That the pun has to be explained to most people, thus robbing it of any humor, is indicative of why I no longer see Charlie Kaufman films.
- Kaufman is a man overfond of what Sasha Miller called "card tricks in the dark."
- A product name made obsolete by modern usage: http://community.livejournal.com/vintage_ads/2007821.html
- I do not always approve of ad hackers, but: http://bit.ly/aKrD3C
- P.S. Dear Steve Jobs: I have always known you were a dangerous megalomaniac. Rob't. Cringely told me this a LONG time ago.
- Most excellent game. Be sure to read comment #6 or it's almost unplayable. http://jayisgames.com/archives/2010/06/mamono_sweeper.php
- "I would also like to see those pictures" http://www.pvponline.com/2010/06/07/the-hook-up/
- http://www.flickr.com/photos/52784525@N00/4676165397/sizes/o/ Warning: contains sexist and ableist language; is nonetheless FANTASTIC.
- Forgot to add: Is also quite rude.
- Actual quality surfaces at Gizmodo: http://gizmodo.com/5553765/are-cameras-the-new-guns Definitely worth reading. (via @danlyke)
- Fascinating, and not about what you think from the URL: http://thephoenix.com/Boston/life/103138-new-gay-bars/
- Everything you need to know about the current state of MA politics: http://thephoenix.com/Boston/news/103075-weenie-roast/
- Purchase memo to self: http://thephoenix.com/Boston/arts/103085-high-and-low-culture-from-japan/
- In Focus: Study: Children Exposed To Pornography May Expect Sex To Be Enjoyable http://onion.com/cZXJgE
- Any comment I could make here would get me in trouble, so, nope: http://community.livejournal.com/vintage_ads/1991948.html
Presumably that not only hints at where my mind wanders, but also at the arguments which ensue once it wanders there. And should give you plenty to look at until the next time I post here. Which could be a while. You never know.