Sunday, April 30, 2006

TV: Now That’s Appointment Television

Every blogger in the free world is weighing in on Stephen Colbert’s no-holds-barred performance at last night’s White House Correspondents Dinner. That means I get to, as well.

Popular opinion holds that The Colbert Report is not as funny as The Daily Show. I’ll skip The Daily Show on occasion, but I never miss Colbert. That’s because in addition to satire, you get top-notch acting. After appearing on the show MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann said that Colbert goes so deep into his caricature of know-nothing opinionator “Stephen Colbert” that it’s terrifying. I await the day when Colbert’s constant pushing of BLTs erupts in an Armstrong Williams-style payola scandal. I knew Colbert had created a richly imagined world when a guest, former CIA head James Woolsey, referred to Colbert’s campaign against bears. (Jaime Weinman makes a compelling case for Colbert as contemporary TV’s answer to Archie Bunker.)

Every year you hear that hosting the Academy Awards is a tough gig. Nuts to that. Serving as the entertainment at this dinner is as rough as it gets for a comedian. The people in attendance aren’t interested in hearing someone funny; they want to prove that they have a sense of humor about themselves. That ain’t the same thing.

It makes sense that Colbert would appear at the dinner as “Stephen Colbert.” What doesn’t make sense is why organizers of the dinner would want him there. His shtick consists of offering rabid support to conservatives and President Bush that does far more harm than good, and shaming the press. Having him do so in front of the President and every media luminary in Washington isn’t a good idea for anyone except Colbert himself, who demonstrated, in the language of the Colbert Nation, muchos huevos grandes.

Colbert wasn’t great last night – his videotaped audition to be press secretary ran too long – but he was very good. He clearly knew his material wasn’t going over well and didn’t seem to care. If anything, it only drove him further into his oblivious character, which to me made it funnier.

I have the feeling that he’ll come out of this stronger than ever. Capitol Hill staffers have been urging their bosses to appear on his “Better Know A District” segments. Come Monday, his phone should be ringing off the hook. And next year, the Correspondents Dinner can book Steve Irwin to put an ocelot on Dick Cheney’s head. Or maybe they can get Gallagher. Because, Democrat or Republican, everybody loves Gallagher.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Miscellaneous: Burning Question

So you’re reading a novel, and it’s just humming along. Smart premise, interesting characters, good writing. You’re hooked. You have chores to do and errands to run, but you’d rather stick with the book. Eventually, though, you come to a stopping place and set it aside so you can keep your real life afloat. Occasionally you look over to where you left the book, making sure that it’s still there. At the first opportunity, you dive right back into it.

And it’s not as good. Nowhere near. It’s as if a spell has been broken; the book doesn’t exert the same hold over you, and you finish it with a feeling of disappointment.

This happens to me from time to time, most recently yesterday. What I’d like to know is: Does putting the book down somehow alter your reaction to it? Or do you subconsciously sense when the story has taken a wrong turn and tell yourself that it’s time to go to bed, do the dishes or head to the gym? Theories welcome.

Miscellaneous: Link

Hang on. Heavy metal really is the devil’s music? Via Arts & Letters Daily.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Book: American Vertigo, by Bernard Henri Lévy (2006)

Lévy is often described as France’s greatest public intellectual, a phrase that means he writes books that aren’t read by the pundits who bloviate about them. I readily confess he’s a hard guy for me to take seriously, with his Leopold hair and his half-open shirts.

In Vertigo, Lévy recreates and expands on the trip Alexis de Tocqueville chronicled in his landmark work Democracy in America. Lévy’s effort made a splash a few months back when Garrison Keillor carved it a new one on the front page of the New York Times Book Review.

Personally, I don’t have a dog in this fight. A parody of the American common man duking it out with a parody of a French thinker? That’s like a bout between Robocop and the Terminator.

Still, an outsider’s perspective never hurts. I decided to read Lévy’s book before deciding that I didn’t like it.

I read it. And I didn’t like it.

Lévy has his moments. He offers a warts-and-all depiction of a disturbing meeting with Native American activist Russell Means, smartly dissects the abject failure that is the American left, and demands to know why the former right wing smear artist David Brock isn’t treated like a pariah. The Kerry campaign tries to keep Lévy away from their candidate. Their reasons why, and the platitudes offered by the man himself when they do get together, demonstrate why Kerry was doomed to defeat from the get-go. Plus, Lévy has kind words for Seattle.

More often than not, though, Lévy whiffs it. He makes only a token effort to replicate Tocqueville’s survey of American prisons. When given access to key right-wing figures like Richard Perle and William Kristol, he asks obvious questions hobbled by preconceived notions. Say what you like about the tenets of neo-conservatism, Dude, at least it’s an ethos.

The lazy thinking is compounded by poor writing. Rhetorical questions, parentheticals galore. The book reads like a collection of blog posts, and unedited ones at that.

The most depressing thing about the book is the space Lévy devotes to pop culture lions of yesteryear like Warren Beatty, Woody Allen, and Norman Mailer. Not because their time is past – Beatty’s trenchant Bulworth isn’t even a decade old – but because I doubt we’ll see their kind again.

You can’t build a rep as an artist of consequence in a world where everyone’s a celebrity. And where the political landscape is so polarized that any work engaging the issues of the day will be condemned unseen by one side and overpraised by the other.

The result is muddleheaded analysis like this from conservative writer Debbie Schlussel, who says about the upcoming film United 93:

Most Hollywood directors and writers could learn a thing or two from this movie’s director/writer Paul Greengrass, who did not make editorial comment. He stuck strictly to the 9/11 commission reports and recountings of conversations provided by relatives and ground crews.

As if an artist making “editorial comment” is somehow stepping over the line, and adherence to historical records is not a political gesture in itself. Besides, accuracy will still piss people off. Greengrass took plenty of heat for his extraordinary film Bloody Sunday, which used the same scrupulous approach.

It’s enough to make you keep your politics to yourself, as I generally do around here. Which means I’m not in a position to lament the absence of titans like Beatty and Mailer. So where does that leave me? Asking rhetorical questions like Lévy.

Incidentally, Robocop would clean the Terminator’s clock, because Robo is part human. Everybody knows that.

Miscellaneous: Link

The preceding got a little out of hand, so I’ll make it up to you by saying: Journey rocks. Via Matt at

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Music: KT Tunstall, Eye to the Telescope

It’s got to be tough to be categorized by music outlets as, variously, pop, rock, country and alternative. Especially when you started out as a folk singer.

The video for KT Tunstall’s ‘Black Horse & The Cherry Tree’ was playing on a country station when I first saw it. I left it on because it was directed by the great Sophie Muller, who needs to make a feature film very soon. But the song instantly won me over. Tunstall, from Scotland, is a powerhouse singer with performance chops honed from her busking days. The highest compliment I can pay her is that she wouldn’t stand a chance on American Idol.

Then I saw a clip of Tunstall doing ‘Black Horse’ live and fell in love. She’s literally a one-woman band; using her guitar, a tambourine, and a loop pedal she calls ‘the wee bastard,’ she lays down her own backing tracks, including vocals.

You can keep your Britneys and Beyoncés. Tunstall in performance – a single woman in the spotlight, in complete control of her instruments and her audience, fashioning a dense sound out of thin air – is incredibly sexy. What can I say, I’m a sucker for brunettes who know how to concentrate. Watching Tunstall provokes reveries straight out of a Cameron Crowe movie. Or the book that defines my generation of pop culture-besotted men best, Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity:

“I’d want her to write songs at home, and ask me what I thought of them, and maybe include one of our private jokes in the lyrics, and thank me in the sleeve notes, maybe even include a picture of me on the inside cover, in the background somewhere, and I could watch her play live from the back, in the wings.”

I finally get that passage.

The album Eye to the Telescope is already a big hit in the U.K. and doesn’t have a weak song on it. Buy it now.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Movie: The Notorious Bettie Page (2006)

We saw the movie about America’s favorite pin-up queen on Saturday, her 83rd birthday. Here’s wishing you all the best, Bettie.

The movie is a little gift in itself, smart and perfectly-scaled. It doesn’t dig too deep because Mary Harron and co-writer Guinevere Turner wisely recognize that Bettie’s personal story isn’t as interesting as what she represents, such as the nation’s changing attitudes toward sex. Harron continues to make provocative films (I Shot Andy Warhol, American Psycho) about the intersection of popular culture and society.

Gretchen Mol is phenomenal. The actors who have recently won accolades for playing celebrities have been able to mimic the famous mannerisms of their subjects. All Mol has to go by are a series of iconic photographs. Not only does she capture Bettie’s signature playful looks, she animates the life behind them. She even recreates Bettie’s dance from Teaserama over the end credits. Wonderful stuff.

Miscellaneous: Link

Finland’s gonna rawk the Eurovision song contest! I expect to see the band on the Conan O’Brien show.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Update: Shame-Faced

At our spin-off blog, Rosemarie takes a Roman holiday with Suetonius.

John Godey, R.I.P.

Mr. Godey, whose real name was Morton Freedgood, wrote several terrific crime novels including The Taking Of Pelham One Two Three. Steve Lewis has assembled a fine tribute to the author at Mystery*File. He asked me to contribute a few words about the film version of Pelham and other adaptations of Godey’s work.

TV: MLB Extra Innings

I cracked over the weekend and ponied up for access to additional baseball games on cable. I’ve lived in an AL town too long. I need me some National League baseball. Some New York Mets baseball. The only drawback is I may not get any work done until the season is over.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Miscellaneous: Links

Sell my clothes, I’m going to screenwriter heaven. Except according to this article, I’m already there. Quentin Tarantino himself says:

“Seattle has developed this huge reputation in the business as this Movie Mecca to the north. The perception is that it’s become to screenwriters what Paris in the ‘20s was to novelists – a romantic environment of inspiration and support.”

Making me a man ahead of my time. On the downside, I’m not mentioned in the article. I should hire a publicist. And then fire her immediately.

The piece is too gee-whiz for me. For all its caveats, it still undersells how hard a screenwriting career is. And it wildly overstates Seattle’s reputation.

Although it is a supportive environment. Over the years I’ve contacted two of the esteemed writers on this list out of the blue, looking for help and encouragement. Both of them were far more gracious to me than I had any right to expect.

Elsewhere, Hollywood’s new back lot is Cincinnati. Vampires welcome.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

TV: Camp Hollywood (2004)

I stumbled onto this documentary the same way that filmmaker Steve Markle stumbled onto his subject. An aspiring comedian, Markle headed to Hollywood’s Highland Gardens Hotel because that’s where his fellow Canadian performers stayed while trying to break in to show business.

The hotel has a checkered history. Janis Joplin took her fatal overdose there. On the plus side, it’s where Brad Pitt lived for more than year while waiting for his chance.

Staying at the hotel for long stretches at a time are talented wannabes (several of whom have gone on to success), cagey veterans (like the character actors Maury Chaykin and Roy Dotrice, and the writer Gary Indiana), and assorted broken souls. Many who could leave the Gardens end up staying, because the hotel provides what their profession and Los Angeles itself does not: a sense of community.

Sundance Channel will be showing the film, which clocks in at just over an hour, a few more times this month. It’s worth seeking out.

TV: American Idol

So the show makes a practice of booking artists with CDs to promote? Then I know what I want: Morrissey night. Hang the DJ, y’all.

Miscellaneous: *koff*

Eight days and counting. I’ve had worse colds, but none that were this persistent. I had a dose last year that was so bad every time I coughed I saw the baby Jesus.

This time out doesn’t compare. So far I’ve only seen Jim Caviezel, with occasional appearances by Jeffrey (King of Kings) Hunter. Earlier today I glimpsed former Mets outfielder Jesus Alou. I take that as a sign I’m improving.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Shameless Self-Promotion: Flash Fiction

Apparently I can’t concentrate on anything longer than 700 words anymore. My short story The Devil in the Details is now up at Flashing in the Gutters.

Meaningless Milestone: Happy Blogiversary To Me

Two years ago today, lurched onto the Interweb. I’ve spewed an ungodly amount of nonsense since then – my 500th post will be up here in the coming weeks – which has somehow landed me a regular readership. No one is more surprised at this turn of events than I am.

My thanks to all of you who keep stopping by the ol’ digital homestead. I’ll try to make it worth your while.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Movie: Brick (2006)

Don’t listen to those who compare this high school detective tale and Sundance favorite to the teen gangster romp Bugsy Malone. Bugsy was a joke, fer cryin’ out loud. It had songs in it. Writer/director Rian Johnson intends this movie as a serious exploration of noir. At times it has the feel of an experiment, but always one carried out in earnest. More often than not, it taps into the darkness underlying every cafeteria clique and homeroom freeze-out. Classic noir is about desperate people at the ends of their tethers. It stands to reason that kids gripping those ropes for the first time would be desperate, too.

Mainly, the movie works because of Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Down these mean corridors a student must walk who is not himself mean, and Gordon-Levitt is your man.

Miscellaneous: Link

I’m late in coming to this Believer interview with Harold Ramis. (The Ice Harvest is on video now. If you haven’t seen it, do so at once.) Dave Kehr was late in coming to it, too, and I commend it to your attention for the same reason he does. Namely, this exchange:

Ramis: ... I can’t tell you how many people have told me, ‘When I go to the movies, I don’t want to think.’

The Believer: Does that offend you as a filmmaker?

Ramis: It offends me as a human being. Why wouldn’t you want to think? What does that mean? Why not just shoot yourself in the fucking head?


Sunday, April 16, 2006

TV: Beckett on Film

The things you discover when you’re up in the wee hours of the morning.

To mark this month’s centenary of the birth of Samuel Beckett, the Sundance Channel is airing Beckett on Film. This ambitious project, undertaken in part by the Gate Theater, Dublin and the Irish Film Board, brought together renowned actors and directors to commit 19 Beckett plays to celluloid.

Sundance is broadcasting the collection without much fanfare Fridays at midnight (read: late Thursday night), a timeslot in which it will only be seen by troubled loners, the chronically unemployable, and those suffering pronounced coughing jags. (Last Thursday, I spanned all three categories.) Beckett, no doubt, would have been thrilled.

I saw ‘Breath,’ a 35-second play without words directed by the artist Damien Hirst, and ‘Play,’ helmed by Oscar-winner Anthony Minghella, in which three disembodied souls are doomed to repeat their story of romantic betrayal.

David Mamet’s ‘Catastrophe’ featured Sir John Gielgud in his last performance. A powerful piece that I didn’t completely understand.

Rosemarie: It’s an allegory of totalitarianism.

Me: It is?

Rosemarie: It has to be. Any piece of theater you don’t understand is always an allegory of totalitarianism.

Me: Wow. Are you sure?

Rosemarie: Oh, yeah. I have a humanities degree.

As usual, she’s right.

My favorite of the films was ‘Not I,’ with Neil Jordan directing Julianne Moore. It’s an 14-minute close-up of the actress’s mouth as she spits out garbled sentences recounting a woman’s empty life. It’s nothing short of mesmerizing. The camera – and eventually the text – fixate on the unconscious mechanics of speech: the motion of the tongue, the hypnotic undulations of the lips. In my weakened condition, watching Angelina Jolie perform this piece would have killed me.

Critics have complained that some of the films aren’t true to the Beckett spirit. But for someone whose knowledge of his work is limited to ‘Waiting for Godot,’ they make an invaluable introduction. The series continues this week with ‘Krapp’s Last Tape,’ directed by Atom Egoyan and starring John Hurt. I plan on recording it. I’d rather not be awake when it’s on.

Miscellaneous: Link

What an age we live in, when a regular joe can use household technology to recreate a seminal moment in human history.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Movies: Cold & Flu Theater

Under the weather? Nothing like clearing movies off the DVR.

While the City Sleeps (1956). Jonathan Rosenbaum touted this in his overlooked noirs piece and I thought, “Didn’t I record that last June?” Yep. It’s a late Fritz Lang/Dana Andrews collaboration, from the period when Lang didn’t have enough money and Andrews had too many highballs. Rosenbaum calls it “the closest Lang ever came to remaking his greatest film, M,” which is overselling it. But it’s got a humdinger of a story.

A media baron dies, leaving feckless son Vincent Price in charge. Price pits the company’s top three lieutenants (including stalwarts George Sanders and Thomas Mitchell) against each other in a race to become his right hand man. All three lobby ace columnist Andrews for support. Also in the mix is icy “woman’s writer” Ida Lupino and Price’s unfaithful wife Rhonda Fleming. The story on page one: the hunt for “the Lipstick Killer,” played by John Barrymore, Jr. (Drew’s dad).

There’s too much plot for so small a budget, but Lang knows how to keep the action moving. While the killer stuff gets short shrift, it does produce the film’s most chilling moment. Barrymore accuses his adoptive mother of wanting a girl and she tells him, “You’re my son, and my daughter, and all the children I could never have.” Cripes.

Man in the Shadow (1957). A young Mexican ranch hand, in the U.S. illegally, is murdered, and only one man cares to bring his killers to justice. Consider this modest, solid western a forerunner to The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada.

Quite the mix of talent here: Orson Welles as the heavy, veteran TV writer Gene L. Coon, and ace B-movie director Jack Arnold, all overseen by the Dino DeLaurentiis of the 1950s, Albert Zugsmith.

A supporting character is named “Aiken Clay.” In my drug-addled state, that struck me as significant.

Angel Face (1953). It’s fashionable now to slight Laura in favor of Otto Preminger’s lesser known crime dramas. Sorry. Leave Her To Heaven told this tale better. Points for the ending, though.

Second Chance (1953). Caution: While taking this medication, do not operate heavy machinery or watch movies originally filmed in 3-D. Even those with major stars.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Shameless Self-Promotion: Flash Fiction

Turns out that ultra-short stories are the literary equivalent of potato chips, in that I can’t stop with one. My latest, Short Ride Home, is now up at Flashing in the Gutters.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Book: Mouthpiece, by Edward Hayes (2006)

Hayes is an honest-to-God New York character, a high-powered lawyer who’s always in the scrum. Who owns closets full of hand-tailored suits and custom-made shoes. Who fraternizes with the great, the near-great, and Anna Wintour. He’s the kind of guy you’d expect to meet in a novel. And you probably have. Hayes was the inspiration for the well-connected but street-smart attorney Tommy “Whaddaya Whaddaya?” Killian in Tom Wolfe’s The Bonfire of the Vanities. Wolfe even dedicated the book to him. In Mouthpiece, Hayes tells his own story.

It’s lumpy, misshapen, and a blast to read. Hayes, who describes himself as “a neighborhood white boy” made good, is upfront about everything: his bouts with depression, his diverse sex life, the ethical dilemma posed by taking out your fees in trade with your gorgeous prostitute clients.

“At one time,” he writes, “I represented high-priced call girls, an after-hours club that featured live sex shows with dwarves, and a bunch of rich gay guys who trolled transsexual clubs for gay go-go dancers.” We could have used such patrons when I worked at a law firm.

Hayes’s unflappability is why the powerful call him when they’re in trouble. When Hayes was settling the Andy Warhol estate he had dealings with artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, “who likes to leave naked women tied to hotel beds and apparently uses a lot of drugs. The naked women are one thing, I think, and the drugs are another. But the two together – that, I think, could be a problem.” With that attitude, I’d have him on speed-dial too.

Above all, Hayes is gloriously politically incorrect. He notes that there’s “going to be a shortage of white people pretty soon” if families continue to limit themselves to two kids, and feels right at home in an ornate courthouse because it’s where “an Italian contractor and an Irish politician got together and said, ‘Let’s get a Jew accountant and figure out how to rob the place blind!’ – which, of course, they did.”

Hayes is coming off a rough couple of weeks; he represents one of the recently convicted Mafia Cops and, until the other day, the gossip columnist accused of shaking down a billionaire. But no doubt being in the thick of two front-page cases is exactly where Hayes wants to be.

Miscellaneous: Links

It’s MySpace day. Slate considers the site’s effect on music, specifically the rise of “skank-pop.” Meanwhile, screenwriter John August doesn’t get it. Neither do I, which is why I don’t have a page there.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Update: Shame-Faced

Rosemarie corrects a grievous oversight by reading her first James Bond novel.

TV: Weekends With Maury & Connie

Rosemarie and I started Shame-Faced as a dry run for our eventual TV show, in which we banter about the vital issues of the day over cocktails.

That’s what Maury Povich and Connie Chung, married for over 20 years, are supposed to be doing on their new MSNBC show. There weren’t any cocktails in sight, but I’ll bet they’d come in handy.

The show is supposed to be light-hearted, but it’s just weird. Connie interviewed herself about Katie Couric becoming the CBS news anchor, but Stephen Colbert does a better job of this in his ‘Formidable Opponent’ segments – and without one side of the conversation being on tape. Later, Connie wrote a mash note to Tom DeLay.

During a piece on political changes in Russia, Maury clearly wanted to rip open an envelope containing paternity results and announce, “Vladimir, you are NOT the father of democracy in your country.” (I did like the graphic that ran throughout this bit: ‘Putin On The Fritz.’)

The closing debate segment is called “Po & Con.” Let me repeat that, because it’s the only reason I wrote about the show: “Po & Con.” Weekends is the rare news program where I felt like I knew less by the time it was over. About the news, about marriage, and about life.

Miscellaneous: Links

The New Yorker on how Muzak is reinventing the retail experience. And via Jaime Weinman, Jonathan Rosenbaum offers ten overlooked noirs.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Update: Shame-Faced

Spin-off. Is there a more beautiful word in the English language? Think of the joy the spin-off has brought us over the years. Fish. Enos. Joey. And then there’s Maude.

The spin-off is the mark of a true pop culture phenomenon. Which this website certainly is. So meet the unholy spawn of ... Shame-Faced. (Yes, I know the word isn’t hyphenated, but the correct spelling was taken.)

Rosemarie and I have joined forces on this blog. It’s all part of our plan to become Nick & Nora Denton. Like I don’t have enough to do already.

This post explains what Shame-Faced is. More stuff is up there, more is on the way. I’ll keep you in the loop.

Miscellaneous: Link

The Writers Guild of America names the 101 Greatest Screenplays. Guild members love them some Charlie Kaufman, and deservedly so.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Miscellaneous: An Evening With Ray Harryhausen

Living legends don’t make it to my neck of the woods all that often. Particularly those whose work I’ve enjoyed my entire life. So when stop-motion animator/visual effects designer extraordinaire Ray Harryhausen stopped by Seattle’s Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame, I wasn’t about to miss it. The man’s name is synonymous with the phrase ‘movie magic.’ Just look at the films he’s made. A sampling of clips, heavy on the monsters, kicked off the evening.

Arnold Kunert, who produced the recent DVD collection of Harryhausen’s early films, interviewed him about his new book before taking questions. Harryhausen spoke about the profound impact the original King Kong had on him (“If I hadn’t seen that movie, I probably would have become a plumber”). Kong’s creator Willis O’Brien eventually became his mentor. Harryhausen praised Peter Jackson’s “interpretation” of the story – although he did say that ninety minutes is a long time to wait for your first glimpse of the big ape.

He reminisced about hanging out in Clifton’s Cafeteria with longtime friends Ray Bradbury and Forrest J. Ackerman. (“People thought we were nuts, talking about space travel in 1938.”) He expressed his pleasure at the recent resurgence of stop-motion while taking pains to explain the difference between “puppet movies” like The Corpse Bride and Wallace & Gromit (“wonderful films”) and his style of work, in which animated characters interact with real ones.

Both of those “puppet movies” feature tributes to Harryhausen. Kunert told of another one, after an early screening of Jurassic Park. That film’s effects designer Stan Winston, on meeting Harryhausen for the first time, told him, “Those are your monsters up there, Ray.” Kunert also brought word of a new project: a short film executive produced by Harryhausen based on Poe’s ‘The Pit and the Pendulum.’ Featuring stop-motion and limited CG support, it will be playing at festivals this fall.

The evening ended, much too soon, with Harryhausen displaying the original model of the fighting skeleton used in The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad and Jason and the Argonauts.

If you need further proof of Harryhausen’s living legend status, how many other 86-year-olds are asked to sign a woman’s breast? Almost as impressive: the woman in question gave Harryhausen enough room to write his full name.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Shameless Self-Promotion: Flash Fiction

For weeks I’ve been meaning to link to Flashing in the Gutters, the website dedicated to flash fiction run by Tribe. Currently it features stories by James Reasoner and J. D. Rhoades, among others.

Including me. My attempt at the form, Namesake, is now up at the site. Go visit and stay awhile.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Sports: Opening Day

My adopted hometown Mariners lost their opener to the Pacific Rim Angels of Anaheim (rechristened again so that fans from Juneau to Yokohama can claim them as their own). But my actual hometown Mets won at Shea, and looked good doing it. More importantly, there’s now always something to watch on TV.

If only I could get to MoMA for their baseball movie series ...

Book: Backstory 4, edited by Patrick McGilligan (2006)

The Backstory interviews with screenwriters are invaluable for any student of the movies. Volume Four, about scribes of the 1970s and ‘80s, is no exception, even though it has its share of flaws.

For instance, spelling errors. A film reference work should know that there is no ‘i’ in Sydney Pollack, nor an ‘h’ in Nicolas Cage.

Some of the material is dated. At 72, Alvin Sargent had his greatest commercial success with Spider-Man 2. Striking pop culture gold at that age should provide interesting fodder, but no mention of the movie is made because the interview is several years old. Lawrence Kasdan talks about the promise of the Clinton administration in a Q&A from 1992.

Several star writers of the ‘70s – the unrelated Goldmans William and Bo, Robert Towne, Paul Schrader – aren’t included. Neither are the two writers who kicked off the spec boom of the ‘80s, Joe Eszterhas and Shane Black.

Not that I’d quibble with the names that did make the cut. Talents as diverse as Elmore Leonard and Paul Mazursky are heard from, along with several of my personal heroes. Like high concept king Larry Cohen, the relentlessly spare Walter Hill, and master of all trades Donald E. Westlake, who says of the film made from his novel Bank Shot:

... it was a farce shot in extreme close-up, so whenever somebody stepped on a banana peel all you knew was that they’d left the frame.

Frederic Raphael is more a writer of the 1960s and the 1990s, but any opportunity for the man who penned the extraordinary script for Two for the Road to weigh in is welcome. Particularly when he says things like this, about the making of Darling:

We then had various meetings with people involved in what they conceived to be the world of such a woman – as if Shakespeare, before being allowed to write KING LEAR, would have been required to meet with a certain number of dethroned monarchs of a certain age in order to discover what they had in common.

I eagerly await Volume Five, on screenwriters of the 1990s, even though the pickings may be slim. As John Milius observes in his interview, writers used to have twenty or thirty credits while today, “there are a lot of very successful writers who have no credits and ... a lot ... with one or two.” McGilligan has his work cut out for him.