Tag Archives: matthew hughston

“The Ghost of Casablanca” by Matthew Hughston

I’ve just released my first novel.

If it sounds interesting, please roll the dice and support my self-published book. It’s based on a screenplay I worked on in my last two years of college and I then spent 10 months writing this “adaptation” of it. It’s about ideas, the gray areas of life, our powerlessness to change the world, and self-righteous superheroes doomed to tragedy.

I think it’s damn good work and there’s a take-away message to it. For fans of adventure/thrillers, with a bit of mystery and romance all veiled as a philosophical/political anti-hero tale. If you like Batman or Watchmen, get it.

It’s available at the link below for 12 dollars:

https://www.createspace.com/3835035

MH

Official site: www.wix.com/matthewhughston/book

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Personal Update: 4/17/12

So, hey kids! LOL

I don’t do many of these personal updates, but in the past few months I’ve received a few more “followers”, a steady amount of hits everyday, and I just wanted to say “Hi” and thank you for your interest.

I guess it is paying off to write about different forms of media and genre-types, because unless a blogger is really specialized in an area of expertise, I don’t like blogs that only do “classic books” or “action films” or “pop music.”

I find blogs to be a great way to share something very personal about your interests and thoughts with strangers, and it’s really fun and liberating for me. By posting such different things, I never know how things are going to be interpreted and I love the dialogue that somehow starts from a very little blurb, springing into a conversation between two or more people in a comment thread which get everyone thinking differently. I love that.

So I just wanted to say that I’m going to keep on doing what I’ve been doing, and I wanted to give you guys a little bit of info about who I am and what I’m getting into in the next few months.

SCHOOL:

I’m now 26. Former band manager and frontman for a pop/punk/rock group (2004-2010). So, after a decade of food service, retail, music stores, and Blockbuster jobs, I was 25 years old last May when I finally graduated college after 7 long years of school. No, I’m not a doctor — just unsure of what I wanted, mixed with an incompetent registration procedure for classes, adding forever “another semester” while touring the East Coast and recording albums. With a chip on my shoulder, I graduated with a Film and Media Studies degree with a focus in screenwriting. I’m now a full-time employee in a Maryland County Library System, doing book discussions, film discussions, and pretty much having fun all the time and getting paid the most I’ve ever been paid thanks to my degree. Swish. 3 points.

BOOKS:

Which naturally brings us to books. I recommend that you take a look at my “Books To Read Next” tab on the top of the page and give a look to upcoming books I will be starting soon or have already started. Being part of the library system, I get a lot of free books with no due dates. Comment in that area if you have book recommendations of your own. I read YA, mostly literary fiction (classic and contemporary), adventure, some sci-fi, and historical 19th and 20th Century fiction. Every now and then, I dabble in Biographies or radical Non-Fiction, like Blink by Gladwell, Bill Bryson yarns, and Christopher Plummer, Joan Didion, Patti Smith, and/or Michael Caine Bios. They gotta be old, and have a lot to say. I don’t care about some 35-year old’s memoir. What the f*** have they seen? Not much yet. LOL

MOVIES:

I will be blogging about this particular topic soon because; (a) I’ve been focusing mostly on books of late; and (b) this summer 2012 is sizing up to be one of the best summers for a films in about 5-years. There is something of quality for everyone this summer! Like, really good.

MY ORIGINAL WORK:

So I wrote a novel. Time to plug my own work. I’ve been writing screenplays for four years now, and fiction, both short and long, for about two years. All of my work has been sent out to various publishing magazines and agents in their respective fields. I’ve only just started doing this heavily in 2012. No bites yet of course, and I don’t expect their to be anytime very soon. I’ve read enough books on the business and craft of writing to know that you need tough skin to ride out to get the good waves. Don’t forget: JK Rowling was denied over 7 or 8 times for over a year before anyone gave her little Harry Potter book a second glance. Look at her now. You gotta have tough skin and always strive to be better and learn. That goes for a lot in life, in fact.

So please, give my books a look. I have a novella When the Dark Sun Shines (the first), a collection of short stories and poems Small Doors to Big Spaces (the second and most versatile), and now , the strongest, my first full-length novel The Ghost of Casablanca (the third).

You can find them all for purchase or read their synopses by browsing this site: http://www.wix.com/matthewhughston/book

Or you can search “Matthew Hughston” on Amazon.com. The novel “The Ghost of Casablanca “is out May 1st, 2012 and may not pop up yet when you search for it there. You can get it through the link above though.

It’s quality stuff, and if you don’t believe, comment in the box below and I’ll send you the first three chapters of the novel or a duo of short stories for your consideration.

Just a nice guy, I is, eh? LOL

MH

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Brain Droppings: When the Last Page Turns

Books don’t come with one idea, they come with a few.

They are not always designed around one theme or focused on one lesson which everyone should get. Sometimes (often) people take different things away from the same book. Furthermore, sometimes authors approach the art of writing with no intention of preaching any number of ideas or arguments, but are honestly trying to find meaning for a question themselves. They say, “What if this happened to characters like this? What does that say about human nature or just this character or me?”

The point is: post-reading discussions or research sessions can and should be an integral part to deepening a relationship and comprehension of a novel for readers looking for the fullest experience. Too many individulas read books—partially or fully—and never utter a word about the book to anyone. Alone, we are all but one mind. Alone, fun and pleasure stop at the last word of the final sentence. A community never blossoms.

Between reading group participation and utilizing websites dedicated to discussion, review and analysis, there’s no reason to not dig deep into something a reader enjoyed. In our time, right now, we are wholly spoiled with access to information, through each other and the internet, to grow as educated, curious beings, who sometimes naively (but always rightly) believe true personal growth and learning can come from something as insipid and questionable as fiction.

Beautiful.

click and check it out...

I bid you good day, sir.

MH

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Enter the Dragon: a movie review

stream rental for $2.99

Bruce Lee is a house hold name. Everyone knows him; the whooping, yelping, and shrieking Chinese martial artist. Thin, fast, and fierce. He was a force to be reckoned with in the martial arts community in the late 60s and early 70s, simply as a performer and combatant. His entry to the film world was more than welcomed since karate/kung fu had been inaccurately portrayed in most American films up until that point. (And later, the ninjas of the 80s… don’t get me started.) But the handsome, talented, charismatic Bruce Lee fused his art with the art of film to create the archetype “KUNG-FU” action film, which future films of all genres (karate films, action films, and thrillers, even comedies) would hearken back to for decades to come. The tragedy is that his biggest film would also be his last. He died the same year.

Lee: Teacher?
Shaolin Abbott: I see your talents have gone beyond the mere physical level. Your skills are now at the point of spiritual insight. I have several questions. What is the highest technique you hope to achieve ?
Lee: To have no technique.
Shaolin Abbott: Very good. What are your thoughts when facing an opponent ?
Lee: There is no opponent.
Shaolin Abbott: And why is that ?
Lee: Because the word “I” does not exist.
Shaolin Abbott: So, continue…
Lee: A good fight should be like a small play, but played seriously. A good martial artist does not become tense, but ready. Not thinking, yet not dreaming. Ready for whatever may come. When the opponent expands, I contract. When he contracts, I expand. And when there is an opportunity, I do not hit. It hits all by itself.

 

Like all films, it’s would be foolish to say that just because Bruce Lee starred in the film that it was good. That’s not true at all. Any well known star in Hollywood today has more than likely played their part in a poorly written or poorly directed film. Bruce Lee is no exception, having starred in several films taking place in different countries under several directors. However, most of his work was decent at worst. Enter the Dragon is one of the most prolific of his works. It is the “go to” title; the first film a buddy would probably recommend for the Bruce Lee new-comer.

The interesting thing about Enter the Dragon is its long-lasting success as a martial arts film, though the title hardly makes any sense when you think about it (but that’s neither here nor there). The truth is that much of the action comes in the last 20 minutes; and most of the movie is an underground/gang/espionage film that feels a bit more like a James Bond film than the kung fu most people think of when recalling wild, exploitative kung fu pictures that would come later in the 70s catering to ultra violence and geysers of blood. This film, unlike Sonny Chiba pictures, contains no shots of bones snapping – only the sound effects. And this only happens once or twice. There really is not that much gore.

It’s more about the story and the mystery of this island where a man named Han holds a fighting tournament every three years to recruit fighters to his personal protective entourage. The complication comes with the news that this “Han” was once part of Lee’s Shaolin temple, and has turned his back on the Philosophy and Spirituality which his teachers and community held so dear. Without fail, just to give Lee a solid reason to enter the tournament to help an undercover agent trying to bring Han’s illegal shit to an end, he is told by an elder the truth about how his sister died years ago – of course it was at the hands of Han’s gang. (She took her own life though. She’d rather die with her honor than be raped? I may have chosen differently, but that’s a cultural thing.) I suppose the elder didn’t tell Lee years ago because he was afraid Lee would have gone on some revenge trip, but it seems that with the first five minutes of the film having Lee spouting Buddhist and Taoist philosophies, Lee probably could have handled it. He is centered. He is one. There is no “I”. Blah, blah, blah.

“Don’t think… feel. It’s like a finger pointing to the moon. Don’t concentrate on the finger or you will miss all of that heavenly glory.”

I don’t know what all that means, and I’m not going to make some pretentious guess like I know more than you, but I’m glad this kind of writing—while interesting and not yet typical and clichéd—was kept in the beginning of this film and not woven throughout. Having Bruce Lee rattle off some “Confucius” phrases would have gravely diminished his believability as a character.

That slight criticism aside (which some say is one of its strengths); the topic of the characters in this film is up next. They are damn good. For a movie that is not loaded with action and fighting, it does a very good job of keeping the plot engaging and the pace rolling by exploring all of the characters. And I mean “all” of the characters. Most films of the time (and especially the Enter the Dragon copy cats in the 70s) never spent any time with the secondary characters or the villains. Very little gets established, and then the film asks you to “just go with it. You get it.” But this film explores Lee, played by Bruce Lee; Williams, the black afro dude; and Roper, a white man with prominent brows with a classic handsomeness typical of the early 70s. He could have easily been a Bond. These two characters are accompanying Lee to the island and were Vietnam buddies. Williams, as a character, has not aged well and almost could come off as a racist interpretation of a black man in the 70s. Afro, sideburns, bell bottom pants, huge collar, smooth talking. At the time it probably wasn’t funny. In 2011, it is.

Getting back on point, we follow these characters as they land on the island, have a party, have sex with women, and begin sparing. With very little action, I’m surprised at how intriguing and visual this second act of the movie is and how much you can enjoy the characters. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than the other Bruce Lee films. Partly due to good casting choices, these actors gave real personalities to their roles and seemed to enjoy shooting the film.

Enter the Dragon (click for rotten tomatoes rating) is a “must watch” for martial arts fans because though the genre did not begin with this film, this movie solidified the decades of hommage to come: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Fight Club, James Bond, Kung Fu Hustle, Kill Bill, and countless other action/adventure/martial arts films have made references (or borrowed lines/character traits) from Bruce Lee’s iconic movies. Don’t forget about Lu Kang from the Mortal Kombat videogame franchise. I mean, yeah, that is a direct character lift in almost every way.

The first act shows the audience some interesting flashbacks, cross-faded through wavy film transitions that really show what decade this film was made in. That’s not bad; just an observation. Actually I really enjoyed these sections of back story because they are informative and welcomed. They may not be completely necessary, but they are not superfluous either. They add to the characters and don’t take up too much of the film’s run time, so I say leave them in and pay attention. Emotional investment and believability are not in all films of this genre, so enjoy it in this one.

The film did have its weak elements and some unintentional funny moments. I’ll leave the individual viewer to judge whether these take away from the movie or add to it. It’s all about taste.

The first thing is the ADR. The dialogue replaced after the film is shot, usually in a sound studio. It’s very bad, particularly in the beginning of the film as all the philosophy is begin discussed between Lee and his elder. Once the action kicks in at an hour and 20 minutes, some of the funniest moments pop up. The stomping neck break Lee performs is a medium shot from his hips and up at 1 hour, 21 minutes and 36 seconds. It is slow motion and priceless. His high-pitched howl is mighty. This began one of Bruce Lee’s iconic moves, soon to become a stereotype. Again at 1 hour, 23 minutes and 2 seconds, he swings his chucks around like Michelangelo from the original TMNT movie of the early 90s (in April O’Neil’s apartment before the floor collapses). At 1 hour, 29 minutes and 4 seconds, Lee is kicking a guy three times in the face before he drops out of frame. Once he does, and the line of men behind him watch in a serious awe, there is one extra, probably about 19 years old, that is smiling like a doofus, probably unsure of how he ended up on the set of a film where his idol was kicking someone’s teeth in. The juxtaposition of the serious faces with his goofy-ass gaping mouth made me laugh, rewind, and watch a second time!

Finally, there’s the dummy kick. At 1hour, 24 minutes and 32 seconds, Lee lands an earth-shattering round house kick to the side of the villain Han’s head. The kick initially rises off the ground from a medium wide shot, from the side (profile) and it’s a two-shot of both fighters. There’s a sudden medium-close cut from over Han’s shoulder, which is clearly a dummy replacement, and the kick lands, launching this dummy in just two frames completely out of view. The dummy, or Han, would have his neck snapped after such a blow. Guess they forgot to add weight to the mannequin, because Han seemingly weighs 20 lbs!

The mirror sequence at the end was superbly disorienting. Very well done, though perhaps a minute too long. Over all, Enter the Dragon was film about a plot first and the martial arts second. That is something to be respected. These actors had to be able to act to a moderate degree, not just fight. Most films would do the opposite. His iconic whoops and “yaws!” were unlike anything heard at the time, and when people do these impressions today—you know it’s goddamn-Bruce-mother-fucking-Lee!

This epic, undercover, action film is more than the sum of its parts. It has that international feel of a Bond film while being its own entity; melding and meshing beautiful sets, locations, costuming, caves, nudity, blood, and underground tunnels with scaffolding and radio centers. What more could you ask for? I’m glad they seemed to have a comfortable budget and avoided B-movie stigma.

Even then, Enter the Dragon does have its slow parts and is not for all audiences today. People and critics, especially over at rotten tomatoes, get a little to wound up about how awesome this is and gives them too much praise in my opinion. This film is not a 9/10. They are getting their pleasure of Bruce Lee and this specific film’s global popularity confused with actual quality. While greatly respected for what it would begin in the film industry (setting paths for films stars Jackie Chan, Jet Li and Tony Ja) as a 38-year-old film, the grade must come at 7.5/10. I enjoy it more than this, but this is the fair rating. Though I love the hyper-reality of massive punch-and-kick sound effects, perhaps with better dialogue quality and more action, this respected classic would be an eight. Even then—it must be owned by fanatics of the fighting/action genre.

MH

IMDB site for this movie HERE.

BuyDVD  movie on Amazon HERE.

On Netflix.

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Kung Fu Hustle: a film review

Kung Fu Hustle is one of the most original, genre-blending films martial arts films to come from China in our time. It is ambitious, fun, creatively shot, and backed by an emotional story which is right between “too melodramatic” and “too thin.” Some things may be lost in translation if you don’t know about being a kid in Hong Kong or folklore of the culture; but even then, this adds a magic and mysticism in a way that may peak your curiosity or at least kindly request the audience’s respect and suspension of disbelief. The American Gangster film hommage in the opening sequence circa 1940s is great, but also blends Hong Kong culture and make it something unique. That’s the best word for the whole movie: Unique.

This film was released in 2004 and given an R-rating: somewhat silly considering the cartoon nature of the film, the total absence of sex, and the limited blood. Though implied, you never see someone murdered and there is almost no undesirable language. The rating is not totally insulting and irrational; it came down to violence, which there is a lot of, but I’m glad they released it how they did and didn’t go for the PG-13 rating. It would have negatively affected the film in the way of story and content, though perhaps they hurt themselves to begin with—by releasing a cartoony, action movie clearly pointed at teenagers while developing it as an “R”. It would be the equivalent of releasing a Pooh Bear movie, clearly for little kids, then being surprised it doesn’t do well because you got a PG-13 from the MPAA instead of a PG rating because you had Christopher Robin cursing at Pooh for getting lost in the woods and gives Pooh a bloody nose. Don’t forget this though: we’re stricter in the USA with ratings, and surely other countries didn’t give it a “must be seventeen without guardian” rating. Take it with a grain of salt.

Let’s get back on point now. Kung Fu Hustle was a weird film to most Americans and, frankly, we didn’t respond well to it at the start. Maybe that was because it only opened on seven screens nationwide on its opening weekend. That’s right. Seven. It was only with the success of the first Kill Bill movie by Quentin Tarantino that Kung Fu Hustle got some viewership. Though the rest of the world had this movie in December of 2004 and January of 2005, the USA wouldn’t get its opening weekend until the Spring of 2005. Sometimes, smaller films take more time to flourish. Eventually, however, the film did get to over 2,000 theaters nationwide and made 17 million dollars by the summer in the USA alone; but it was a long shaky road, and like all films, had no guarantees. Any foreign films, especially niche, cult-like ones like these, are lucky to have done as well as they did. Again, thank Tarantino, and I don’t think that is an unfair statement. At the time, people were going “gaga” for that sword-wielding revenge flick starring Uma Thurman.

Directed by, written by, and starring Stephen Chow, this man accomplished greatness with this big budget picture, but only in the sense of personal accomplishment. It earned just over $200,000 in its opening weekend in the USA, but made a much better amount in the Philippines, the UK, Germany, and the rest of the world.

Kung Fu Hustle is original as hell and is, indeed, a cult film. Stephen Chow paid homage to Bruce Lee serials and does what few films can do that try to blend genres: do it right. There is love, genuine comedy, beautiful slow-motion action that fits perfectly here where other action films force it, and the colors, props, and environments are detailed and expressive.

If you’re over 50, you’re not going to like this film. If you’re in your 30s or 40s and remember the 70s and 80s martial arts wave, you just might dig it and “get it”. This isn’t a film you watch every month, but it’s worth having in your collection because there is nothing else like it. Even the cover of the DVD release calls it “Kill Bill meets Looney Tunes” which, while accurate at parts, undersells the film in my opinion and simplifies it too much. Then again, short blurbs from someone you don’t care about quoted on the cover box are often far too brief to encapsulate any film’s tone or premise.

The film is packed with sweeping wide angle lens shots. The camera rarely stops moving and allows the film and the audience to flow together. This phonetic energy creates a mood that most of the best directors use: frequent cameras in motion, however slight. Even the smallest, faintest tracking shots add something interesting, even if you are not consciously aware of it. They do this a lot in big 90s action fiulms when people are talking in an important meeting. Just think about the opening breakfast scene in Resevoir Dogs, but not so obvious. The action is choreographed masterfully and when the camera does stop moving or is a static shot, it is almost always done in the name of art. The whole film was well-thought out and nothing you will see in this film is just randomly thrown in. They wanted to tell a story and entertain, and every shot was clearly weighed for its pros and cons during pre-production storyboarding – even before a single frame was shot.

You have to go into this movie anticipating a certain type or irreverence; a certain tongue-in-cheek, slapstick kind of vibe. This is not a brutal rated-R action film. This is not Die Hard or Chinese Connection. This film doesn’t take itself too seriously. But at parts, when it is time to be serious, it seems to really work, is sincere and balances out the film – giving it that very original feel that, culturally, Americans don’t see in most films today.

From the back story flashbacks, to the tenants, to the landlord and landlady, this film’s cast goes over the top in what characters it presents and what martial arts make physical sense. But again, it’s a movie. Anything Stephen Chow hadn’t seen yet in a movie, he went for it. Things that had been done, he got his team to do even bigger. The excellent fight choreography by legendary Yuen Woo-Ping is also responsible for the fight scenes of Kill Bill vol. 1, Fearless, The Matrix, Hero. No wonder it’s great. But the editing team deserves a pat on the back as well; with a bad editor that chops action sequences too frantically, you’ll get a choppy blur of un-rhythmic garbage and unintelligible shit, like most of the confusing action scenes in the Transformers franchise.

On a final note, some of the Computer Graphic Imaging (CGI) has not aged well, but given that this is not supposed to be a serious Matrix movie or Lord of the Rings film, somehow the weakness in the CGI is not only forgivable, but charming. It reminds me of a time where they still couldn’t do everything with a computer and still had to use some kind of ingenuity and creativity.

The film is part Tarantino, part Dragonball Z, part Looney Tunes, part Matrix, and part Bruce Lee. Enjoy the quirky humor of this underrated cult gem.

(8/10)

click here to buy AMAZON DVD or BluRay!

click here to purchase right now on AMAZON Instant Video for cheap!

MH

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Run! Bitch Run!: a film review

Great title, right? Though maybe the first exclaimation mark should be after “bitch.” (I digress.) This is THE exploitation film of the 2000s. I dare you to find a crazier film between 2000-2010 of violence, rape, and and twisted sadism than RUN! BITCH RUN! from 2009, directed by Joeseph Guzman and produced by Freakshow Entertainment. You will, indeed, be entertained… and repulsed by this film. You may laugh and cry simultaneously.

WATCH THE TRAILER. CLICK HERE.

IMDB’s plot description:

“Catherine and Rebecca are two Catholic School girls going door-to-door selling Religious paraphernalia in order to pay for their books and education. Things go horribly wrong when they knock on the wrong door in the wrong neighborhood. “Run! Bitch Run!” is a throw back to the classic rape and revenge films like The Last House on the Left and Ms. 45.”

Four minutes into this movie, we have a full frontal nun, black girl breasts, white girl breast, a fat guy gyrating his fat, hairy ass while having sex, pot smoking, and a whore murdering her latest “lay.”

Holy Hell. This is gonna be good.

The aesthetic of the film grain is great. Nothing is totally in focus. Ever. If this is not shot on real film, whatever kind of filter the editor or director is using is incredible. Shot in 2009, it could easily be 1975. The lighting is great. The blacks are nice and dark. And the soundtrack was well thought out. All the songs are like beautiful south western accompaniments that Tarantino never used but should have. Where the musical selections could have been too over the top or “on-the-nose”, this film finds a good homage to its throwback without being a blatant rip-off. I applaud.

By around the seven minute mark there is again a wide shot. Full frontal. A beautiful girl that is clearly shameless. Funny thing is, she is having a normal conversation with her friend in a shady motel room. They are both also from a Catholic School. Hey, sign me up. I’ll take another crack at Christianity if girls who look like a cross between Rose McGowan and Anne Hathaway are thumping the good ol’ bible.

When the first ten pages of your script has more blood and nudity then plot—bing—you gotta exploitation flick on your hands.

So these two girls are “100 miles from St. Mary’s”—the buzz kill girl with her blonde hair in a bun is trying to do everything by the book, including having humility, shame, and a clean path straight to God’s work. The naked one, Rebecca, with her raven hair down around her shoulders is talking about having a little fun and essentially not being a good girl falling in line. The issue I have with this scene: I find it hard to believe that these two girls, presumably having been in a Catholic school all of their lives, could be so different. One would think a lifetime of indoctrination would leave no room for promiscuity in their pretty little heads. But, hey, conflict is what makes a movie go ‘round, so rationality and reality be damned! The script must be written, I guess. I also quickly found it implausible that two girls would be going around in Texas Chainsaw Massacre-land just to sell some religious junk completely on their own. They seem to be in the middle of nowhere and aimless as hell.

On another note—and yes, I suppose I am just a man—the young lady they cast as Rebecca was a lucky find. Her name is Christina Derosa and was in playboy magazines at the time. Her smile is infectious, and even when fully clothed, she is cute and can actually act. When she is crying and bleeding and being forced to suck toes though, prepare to be truly uncomfortable. I cannot imagine shooting this scene. It is truly terrible. You need to have a stomach for this movie the same way you have to for Wes Craven’s The Last House on the Left.

For no other reason than having another “tit shot”—in a montage of the girls driving around from door to door at about 12-minutes in, we have a cut inside of the house they are knocking on to a 40-year old woman rubbing her breasts in the shower. Hearing the knocking, she towels her hair, puts on a robe but doesn’t tie it, and opens the door with her D-Cups just hanging out. One of the girls begins to say what they are selling, and the woman in the robe just scoffs and closes the door. That’s the whole scene. A full minute dedicated to middle age fun bags. Go figure. But what did you expect?

Hopefully the movie will be actually starting soon.

Maybe it will start after the girl pleasures herself on the toilet with the right end of the plunger. No, I am not joking. Ew.

Right after that, my favorite part is the dead black girl who is still breathing. Good job, director. It’s called a re-take. Use it when basic biology makes no sense, like a girl still breathing after a bullet to the throat. Then again, they made this for $25,000 — and that’s for all the effects and renting locations and paying the crew. So, Kudos, I guess.

In  their defense; I’m sure they knew what they were making. This is grindhouse. I’m actually not criticizing too hard. I know the title of the freakin’ movie is Run! Bitch Run!  for god’s sake!

I do agree: Tarantino and Rob Zombie would be proud of this one. Here’s a sample or a sickly funny scene that quickly turns to rotten disease:

LOBO:  “We’re gonna play a little game. Clint and I like to call it Find ‘Em and Fuck ‘Em. It’s kinda like Hide ‘n Seek, but not. It’s better. It’s a lot better. You’re gonna go run somewhere and pray I don’t find you. Cause when I find you, I’m gonna fuck you. I’m gonna spray my whipped cream all over that sundae.”

Here, the female takes off but doesn’t get too far. This quote has the audience laughing for about a minute until there is a long, single take, no-cut aways rape scene that was directly inspired by Wes Craven’s The Last House on the Left. The rape scenes in Run Bitch! and Last House are the only two rape scenes I have ever seen in films which are not tasteful and are hard-to-watch; successful in the sense that they are so disgustingly real. I can’t imagine taking multiple takes. It’s something you’ll only ever want to see once if you can fight turning away for a brief second of relief. I bet you can’t watch the screen the whole time. Like two girls one cup. The movie, at these parts anyway, stops being a funny, dark comedy and becomes a terrible exploitation film at a disturbing level. Maybe that was the intention; to show how disgusting rape really is and how most films soften it for their audiences. This film refuses to do that. You’re gonna watch like you were really there, so hold on tight… but, hey, you’ve been warned.

This rated R flick is almost NC-17, in my opinion. Probably why it was only released in theaters in Japan but came direct to DVD in the States!

There are tons of low-angle shots at about butt height. Wonder why. The cheesy shtick and sleazy residue will build up on your soul in this one. It is sex, revenge, and 2-dimensional characters you can’t help but love with. The good and the evil characters make you think “I wonder what lunch break was like on the set. Yikes.” It’s pure entertainment. If you like to laugh as much as be shocked, this one is for you. If you are easily offended or are made uncomfortable by rape scenes, even light ones, skip it. You can’t really put a rating system to this one with any “across-the-board” clarity, but I think most people would give this a 2-star out of 5: while that’s probably the proper rating giving the faults in pacing, editing, and some acting, the fun factor and ridiculousness feel like more than two-stars. It could have been an hour long film. It drags after 40-minutes.

Here’s a reason why you should watch this movie, but this is a huge SPOLIER ALERT: The man guy gets stabbed in the anus with a two foot machete. Repeatedly. That’s the ending. Blood is everywhere. I was laughing and clapping when I saw that because I have never seen anything like that. Good god!

I could go on and on telling you every scene and why it’s over-the-top, but if you just see this one for yourself with some friends, you’ll be finding you own favorite one-liners in no time flat.

“Lord, if I wasn’t such a righteous man, I’d pound them harder than the nails in the cross.”

RENT IT $2.99 — BUY IT for $9.99 — watch immediately on AMAZON’s INSTANT VIDEO service. Also on NETFLIX instant stream!

MH

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On the Value of Writing Honest Fiction

(a look at how adding real life experience to fiction affects you and me)

an essay by Matthew Hughston

 

Possibly the scariest thing about writing is the fear that someone may discover something about you that you did not want known. Do the fanatics and scholars not mince over works by Fitzgerald and Plath and Hemingway and Shakespeare in an attempt to better understand the author?

All thoughts, themes, and situations a writer creates must bloom from somewhere, and often times they are not disguised that well—especially if you know the writer. Sometimes the plot or themes are not connected to the author’s experiences at all, yet sometimes a scene or a certain type of language convey to the reader this thought:

“This author must have really felt this or been there. You can’t make this stuff up.”

If it truly is “made-up,” then so expertly creating depth and illusion should be a pat on the back for superb writing; on the other hand, if “true” it is a testament to the idea that some complex emotional and situational elements in writing simply must come from the “human experience.”

Think of two song writers for example—singing of a broken heart. One has never had his heart stomped on while the other truly has. Which writer do you believe would strike a chord in you? Can you even tell if they’re both really good? What is fiction and what is not? Does it really matter so long as it is done well? You can rack your brain trying to figure it out.

So what is safe to publish? Should it matter? Who will be reading it? And am I doing myself a disservice by attempting to mask a story; change a name or age, alter a situation, or flip-flop the sex of a character as if that will actually distance my life from the character’s lives? How much “me” do I put in? Can you tell?

I think I should not fear such works. I believe that the true fiction writer must be bold and unapologetic even in the face of examination and retribution from his or her peers. It could be seen as selfishness, but many of the greatest writers placed real people in their lives into their books, and they certainly weren’t always kind or “pretty” reflections. Sometimes they were true, sometimes exaggerated, but always dynamic and made the story better.

In the end, many people will never be given the opportunity to throw their hat into the ring with the great figures of the past. Many will not find or earn the possibility of having parts of their life’s work remembered; unless your name dons a University’s library, or has a city park dedicated in your name, or is immortalized on a plaque at the base of a beautiful piece of modern architecture.

Perhaps the common man will have verbal stories passed down the family line for a generation or two. Maybe if you are a tycoon, or a war hero, or some silly twice-removed relation to a president. But then and only then will your name survive the coming generations.

How many generations of people will care about some old relative from 90 years ago?

But writing or being an activist or musician; these are the things that just might survive the generations. They just might reach out beyond the bloodline and impact the populace in unimaginable ways. Many authors, artists, and public figures meet the end of their lives feeling they were a failure to a public that seemed not to care, but sometimes decades later the impact and legend truly take hold. Look at Plath, Fitzgerald, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Aldous Huxley—all of their works initial met with trepidation, sometimes years, sometimes decades, but the world came around eventually.

Of course it is a bit conceited and self-centered (even self-aggrandizing) to want immortality, and I am not advocating to attempt such feats, but the people on this planet who can leave something behind should make it worth leaving behind. Maybe then their words will have a chance. For some this means constant exploitation to those around them and over-dramatization in their art or music or novels. And for others it is shameless honesty and reflection in hopes that people will learn from their conquests and mistakes. Perhaps from molding a fiction from a reality, the impact will be more relatable and visceral. We are simple animals at our core.

In the end, it may not matter much. The people who will read this long after I am gone may not know the difference between the make believe and the truth. They may ask: “Did it come from his experience or was it made up?”

In that regard, you could argue that the people who made everything up in their art form and found long-lasting success made out the best. After all, they did not have to deal with the fallout and reactions from the people in their world when they were alive, asking “how could you write such a thing?” or “did you really mean it when you said…” or “if you really feel this you need help!” or even “is this character supposed to be you? Supposed to be me?” Perhaps the liars and the dramatizers have the right idea. They made it all up—and anything they have inside themselves is left alone, only to be shared with whom they want and at their discretion.

But the honest writer—the writer who puts small pieces of his or her heart into the story, the one who really shares a secret they should perhaps not share, or a tale that is spun from reality but only barely spun—are those writers braver and worth more reflection? That is arguable. Clearly, I like to think so. And therefore, my experiences with life continue to pour into my works.

I know no other way.

It may sound that I am aiming for immortality, or that I feel my work should one day be more important solely on the basis that it came from some truth, augmented or otherwise. But what if that truth is weaker than a better writer? What if the wholly fictional fiction is better than my “truthy” fiction? Which body of work should be held to higher renown? Should not the best piece, regardless of how it was written, be loved and acclaimed? If so, it matters not where the story or themes bloomed from.

And so in a selfish way, perhaps putting so much of one’s self out there, at their own expense and other’s expense, is a poor decision. Furthermore, what is it we are looking for? What’s the reason? What do we all get from it (the writers and the readers)? Why write? Why read? How sorry can a writer really be about offending the living people who took shape in one’s fiction if immortality awaits? In any event, one can always deny that an episode in a book occurred from first-hand experience, right? Who would know?

When it comes down to it, any artist should make art for the maximum impact by any means necessary, and I hope that I am doing it right. Though other artists may know another way to express themselves or grasp for immortality, I do not know another way to write. And is immortality truly the primary goal? I think not.

But what then?

Judge me if you must, but know at least I was brave enough to share, and for this act perhaps the people absorbing my work may grow in some way. Perhaps I, for sharing, will grow too. If I didn’t hope for this, why would I write at all?

Nothing sounds more rewarding than impacting at least one life. My own or yours.

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There Will Be Blood: Movie Analysis & Review

 

This analysis and review was a major work I wrote in October of 2009 in a film History and appriciation class. I have just made some minor additions and corrections. Enjoy.

 

There Will Be Blood: A Stubborn Battle of Shifting Times

There Will Be Blood (2007)

            There Will Be Blood is a film rich with substance for discussion; philosophically, thematically, and cinematically. The film is intense, unique, and stands out in contrast to the other releases in 2007, if not the decade. It has a timeless quality that makes it feel like it could have been made in any decade since 1930. The script is intelligent; the strong acting is brilliant and complex, and the cinematography from beginning to end is breathtaking. This is a film whose merit falls not in the special effects or action, but rather its strength as a story, its sound mixing, unique orchestration, seamless editing, and emotional content (arguably, more difficult and rewarding to capture on screen). The minimalistic approach makes the script and its ideals carry the narrative along.

 The opening shot is beautiful, just as every wide shot in this film is, but it also resembles a place without many people (if any people at all). This image is juxtaposed with the eerie clashing of string orchestration which continues to come and go for the duration of the film. The disharmonious musical score is effective in drawing an emotional response and putting the viewer in its environment; both geographically and psychologically. The dissonance is wonderful and not something often heard in American mainstream cinema post-2000.

The film is almost a silent movie for the first fourteen minutes; besides the sound effects, there is no dialogue. It is 1898, and Daniel Plainview is in a mine, presumably looking for oil. The editing rhythm of the film here makes one feel the time it takes to be hacking away in a mine. It’s edited to be seven minutes long; we see him working and sweating. We feel the solitude and see the lack of light deep in the ground. The sound effects are realistic, well-mixed, and conservative.

Now we can deconstruct the goals of this man, as early on as this one scene. Why is he alone? Mining is surely a project for more men than just he. He then injures himself after finding some promising looking rocks which could signify oil. With a broken leg, he crawls and slides his way into town through desolation, but not before putting some of the ore or shale into his pocket. Rather than going to the hospital first, he goes to the oil/real estate people first to claim rights to the property. He lies on the floor with his broken leg and then signs his name on a paper. Here we learn early on something of Daniel Plainview that is both a strength and weakness. He is very ambitious, forgoing medical attention for profit, and above all things will try to succeed by his self if necessary.

Still in silence, we jump to 1902, where he now has a crew drawing oil from the ground. Still, no words are spoken. We observe the primal and dangerous nature of the early pioneers of industry. When a man dies down in the well from an accident, Daniel takes in the dead man’s baby and names him H.W. It seems to be compassion, but that first instinct would be wrong. He uses the boy throughout the entire movie to inspire sympathy and work the angle of being a “family man”, even going as far as telling people his wife died in childbirth. It is cold and calculated, but effective. The fact that there is no dialogue in the first fourteen minutes of the film only accentuates the minimalistic, dissonant musical score and the realistically placed sound effects. Without dialogue, something modern audiences are very accustomed to, the filmmakers have still given us so much information about the character, something only the film medium can do.

Daniel is a man of — not few words — only necessary words. He can talk a lot, but often, not at all. Unless he’s trying to get something from someone, he sees no reason to talk. He feels that most people are terrible; that there’s nothing worth liking. Daniel will say anything, however immoral and manipulative, to get what he wants. He is direct, aggressive, sly and collected.

His doppelganger and enemy in the film, Eli Sunday, is fascinating, and perhaps the most complex character in the film. When we first meet Eli, he introduced himself as Paul Sunday and tells Daniel there might be oil by the Sunday Ranch. Daniel goes to where they live where something bizarre occurs. “Paul” said that he had a brother, Eli. We quickly discover that the name he has given, Paul, is actually a fake name, and there is only Eli. But why Eli has said this is quite ambiguous, and as the film continues, Eli’s very sanity is put into question. He even goes as far as to re-introduce himself as Eli to Daniel Plainview as if he they had not met just days ago. He says things in a haunting fashion and his mannerisms are sometimes very strange. The scene where Eli is giving a sermon at his church is certainly unsettling and cult-like (also, an amazing, long take of character acting). At this point, one could say that either Eli is truly crazy in general, or that he really believes in his sermons and that he has been touched by God. Maybe even worse, he is a lying false prophet and is actually the same type of person as Daniel.

But an important comparison must be drawn here: Daniel Plainview and Eli Sunday both use a form of pageantry and deliver grandiose speeches when in front of people to get what they want. Whether they believe in what they are saying is irrelevant – they have power; Eli with his church and followers, Daniel with his swindling of families as if there was something in common with their ways of life.

Eli and Daniel both have enormous ambitions. From the time these two characters first clash until the end of the film, there is a great competition and slow building hatred between the two of them. The difference is that where Daniel wants to succeed for the sake of money, Eli perhaps wants to build community recognition for himself and be a figure of spiritual enlightenment. They want two very different kinds of power, as can be proven from the first time Eli is on the screen, saying “God Bless” to everyone. Daniel only cares and talks about oil, whereas Eli only cares and talks about his church and tries to get funds from Daniel. In different ways, they are both ambitiously using people and the debate between who is more righteous or whose ends justify the means can be debated indefinitely. On a larger scale, one could look at their battle of pride and stubbornness as a metaphor for the changing times in which There Will Be Blood is placed – the turn of the century. During this time, business and religion were clashing.

The film could be making a statement about the massive ideological differences between capitalism and religion. The battle of the times is manifested in the characters Eli and Daniel. And in the end of the movie, when “capitalism” clubs “religion” in the back of the head and religion dies (symbolized in Eli’s death), the movie perhaps makes a statement about a new power and evolution of man which is beginning to leave religion behind. Capitalism roars on as religion stumbles during the changing times. Even today, science is doing similar things to debunk religion.

By the end of the film, 1927, we have watched Daniel slip into madness and loneliness. He still hates that he had to bend to the will of Eli and be baptized at his church years ago in order to gain land for his pipeline. Though he knows he will do anything it takes to succeed, his damaged pride infuriates him, and he will not only beat Eli at his own game, but literally kill him. He wants “no one else to succeed,” as he states in the film. A sickly looking Daniel sits beside a dead and still bleeding Eli as he utters the final line of the film. “I’m finished,” Plainview says. Yes he is – in all the ways one could mean it. He has beaten Eli, beaten the false prophet, and he is perhaps “finished” in his career and his life if he is found guilty of murder. Has all of these years been worth it? And for what? Money? Pride? It is one of the most memorable film endings in recent history which surely has audiences conversing and thinking as soon as the credits roll, as all good films do. The film’s significance is only amplified considering all the events leading up to this scene. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Both actors (Daniel Day-Lewis and Paul Dano) really put on a show in the final scene; a phenomenal display of acting, which won Daniel Day-Lewis an Oscar for Best Actor in 2007.

Every corner of this film was realistic and controlled, and yet elicits fears and reactions from the viewing audience. Parts are visceral, unsettling, and physically affecting, which is a great testament to the medium when superb art can make people really “feel” something. Great writing by the screenwriter and director Paul Thomas Anderson. Bravo. That is an achievement in filmmaking.

The long takes, deep focuses, complex mise-en-scene, and slow zooms/camera dollies were not distracting and only added to the experience. Without unnecessary bells and whistles, this film keeps the drama and tension going. However, some may say that it is too simple or slow in some areas; its length, and general meter/tempo as a whole could be lost on some viewers and be seen as boorish where “nothing really happens.” But this response could be rebutted by pointing out all of the rich, cerebral themes from the film; there are conflicts and ideologies lush for discussion: Greed, Ambition, Deceit, Capitalism, and Religion – all centered on the turn of the twentieth century in the United States. Observing the effects of oil, money, and social power on different peoples within a community was a study all its own, and quite interesting.

Though not a movie for everyone, if one is inclined to enjoy character studies or films which feel like novels, well, buckle in and get ready to work your brain. There is a lot going on in There Will Be Blood.

(There Will Be Blood is a film based on the Upton Sinclair novel, Oil! from 1927, but is much different from its adaptation.)

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“Play It As It Lays” by Joan Didion

This book from 1970 is very relevant still today, and not just to women. Though very much a West Coast book on the female condition of the late 60s in a drug culture ruled by men, the book is also, amoung other things, simply about a breakdown. Some may disagree, and that is a repsected stand point. The main character, Maria, could just be a nihilist, or a fatalist, but she is definitely no Christian or Buddhist. Agnostic is probably the best way to describe her. To be aethiest requires a responsibility and an involvement that Maria is either not capable of or does not think is worth the time.

This book is dark, sad, depressing, and just as much a study one one sex as the other. There are plastic personalities, phony sentiments, and a loose plot that I rather thought, at first, was just plain weak. But it was done on purpose by Joan Didion for a specific effect, and this was to give you a seconal, alcholic, obsessive compulsive look at the mind and emotions of Maria and her surrounding in 84 very short vignette chapters (some only a few lines long, the longest chapter being on average 4 pages).

Without further ado, below is the final “close-reading” paper I am turning in to my American Literature Since 1865 professor. The final reflection and critical analysis paper I will ever have to do for a University. I am graduating this Spring 2011. Thank you. I know. Ha Ha! Here you are.

Play It As It Lays by Joan Didion

 

Maria is a mess—and that is the best way to begin discussing Joan Didion’s Play It As It Lays. The physical lay-out of the novel itself is an artistic (though tree-killing) visual spectacle which is also psychologically affecting; the space on the page with “nothing” printed and the short nature of the chapters (some filling barely a quarter of the page) support this psychosis Maria and the other characters have about being in a place “where nothing is.” A mental state, a Physical place. The reader is left with a feeling that Maria is floating through life, undefined except for; (a) the drugs and booze she puts into her system; and (b) the list of things she knows she doesn’t want to do (Didion pp. 52).

But what does she want to do? Is there any ambition? Does she aspire to anything or has she fatalistically resigned herself to a fate of random bumper cars; a frazzled, nihilistic gamble where anything that happens just happens and we should all just accept it? Through a vapid, mysterious plot line some of these questions are half-answered; then again, it was probably intended to feel this way because the narrative is basically told through Maria. Didion probably had specific intentions in telling the story with such an (arguably) light plot. Other concepts were at work and received the spot lot beyond the plot.

 Maria begins to paint a picture of her resignation and fatalism as early as page 3 in the chapter simply headed “Maria” where she ponders how two snakes which look the same have different numbers and strengths of poison glands (perhaps BZ and Maria, but you don’t know this until the final page). The idea of venom discussed so early can easily raise a red flag early on of the type of book it is likely to be, and does not disappoint as the cast of characters inject themselves with different vices and chemicals that could very well be “poisonous,” not to mention the hot venom which that spit at each other, void of respect and humility. Pretentiousness is also a good descriptor.

Maria tells us not so subtly that she has stopped racking her brain over reasons why things are, and just deals with what is unchangeable reality to her (whether true or not). “I am what I am” she says, “To look for ‘reasons’ is beside the point” (Didion pp. 3). This serves as only the preface for the focus of this close read, which is the very end of the story. By this point, after reading vignettes regarding control, depression, and misguided loves, the plot comes together into a sharper focus: in a world with unanswerable questions, sometimes all one may feel is a helplessness so deep that all they can do it “play it as it lays.” Very little is ever truly in someone’s complete control, so why struggle or have high expectations? It’s not a bright way to look at life, but it is how some see it. “What’s the matter?” Carter asks Maria on page 195 of the novel, “What do you want? I can’t help you if you don’t tell me what you want.” And Maria simply replies, “I don’t want anything.” Carter demands again: “Tell me.” Maria replies: “I just told you.” Carter proceeds to curse at her. She wants “nothing”; a state where something cannot be taken away because it is not there.

Throughout the novel there were these nods to the reader that she was not only without control in her own life, but for some reason did not really care either way. One could ask why she never simply ran away from all of the selfishness and phoniness, but the reality is that she did not choose to in the story. “Why” this was her choice can probably only be speculated on, however it is not hard to think that she perhaps perceived running as a way to take responsibility for herself and she did not want to be let down by attempting a new life only to find that control was still out of her reach. At least she knew what was coming when people made decisions for her and she did not have to think about it. She only had to float through it.

This brings us to the second excerpt which I consider connected, and this is the true end of the book; BZ’s suicide and the role which Maria played in it. The book cannot be understood if the reader does not reflect on these final chapters (Chapter 83 and 84). They represent the two different snakes that appear the same but have different parts “inside” (read: life philosophies). BZ has far too many Seconal pills and is going on to Maria in a ramble about life and the desert, and about “waking up one day and [not feeling] like playing anymore” (Didion pp.272). BZ was the other side of the coin “that is” Maria. He was a character that did not want to play anymore and it all became too much. BZ doesn’t understand why one would keep on “playing”—he did not see the point. Maria on the other had is saying “why not keep on playing.” Why end it? What does it matter? It will end soon enough, and like gambling; some days I will be up, some days I will be in the hole, but it can never be all wins or all loses can it? And if nothing else, Maria would say, hey, I’m entertained. I may not be happy about it, but there is something in nothing. Heavy thoughts.

It is possible that Maria may one day reach her limits and find herself in the same mindset as BZ, but it is equally arguable that they are two different people with two different expectations from life. BZ wanted more control and more out of life, and when he couldn’t get it and felt worn and old, he ended his life; Maria on the other hand has accepted her fate and the random butterfly affects of life. It’s still unclear however why she herself never considered ending her life if she truly never felt anything was really worth striving to achieve or to experience, but maybe she was simply too lazy. I do not feel she was afraid she would be missing out on anything, and I also feel that she would have the guts to carry out a suicide should she decide. So then why? There is simply something in the complex (or ultra-simple) philosophy of Maria that makes her want to continue to live and breathe every day. This reason may be her daughter, but I feel it is more than that (or less than that), but I know not the exact reason.

 The very last lines of the novel are in chapter 84:

One thing, in my defense, not that it matters: I know something Carter never knew, or Helene, or maybe you. I know what “nothing” means, and keep on playing. Why, BZ would say. Why not, I say.

(Didion pp. 214)

Page 87, 89, 90, 91, 93 and 95 is just one of the many stretches of the novel where the author either tells us that “Maria said nothing” or Maria’s character actually tells another character “It’s nothing.” The word “nothing” is running rampant through the text. But it, like everything included in this piece, is intended to paint a picture. Maria does not have much to say, and while it can be argued that she is a total psychopath having a nervous breakdown, it is also possible to argue that she is content with the insanity around her and accepts it, therefore does not have much to say about it. That is what really concerns the people she surrounds herself with. Not all of their immoral actions, no, but the fact that she is not responding to them the way they think she should or the way they would respond. It is disconcerting.

Out there where nothing is, on the West Coast and in the desert and in Las Vegas, Maria has found a certain comfort and solace in knowing she has no control, and thus can almost relax while those around her struggle to find meanings and grab at the stars. She seems just fine driving fast down a highway and engaging in direct and indirect abuse from herself and others. Though this final quote is perhaps larger than is usually accepted, I felt it had to be included as it says so much and in all the right ways for how this book can be most accurately interpreted thematically, socially, psychologically, and poetically:

Modernity has promised Man many things, the most important of which is that with God dead, we are free to jettison the archaic Judeo-Christian morality which has held us in thrall lo these many years and can now do, essentially, whatever we wish.  This basic promise was finally and fully embraced during the 1960’s with Women’s Liberation, the Sexual Revolution, the rise of the Drug Culture, the rejection of the nuclear family… All of these different waves of social experimentation had a one thing in common, each was premised on the idea that individual freedom is the paramount value, more important than any responsibility owed to our fellow men.  Together they elevate the self above neighborhood, community, society and family.  They place the individual at the of his own universe, whole and sufficient unto himself, beholden to no one, dependent on no one.

Joan Didion’s novel, Play It As It Lays, though written in 1970, already recognized the horrific consequences of this monstrous ideology of selfishness.”

 (Judd)

Works Cited:

  1. Didion, Joan. Play It As It Lays. 1970. New York. FSG Classics.
  2. Judd, Orrin. Brothersjudd.com Review of “Play It As It Lays”

http://brothersjudd.com/index.cfm/fuseaction/reviews.detail/book_id/845/Play%20It%20As%20I.htm

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“On the Road” by Jack Kerouac

On the Road -- Jack Kerouac

On the Road -- Jack Kerouac

A close reading is where one focuses on a certain portion of the book–say a chapter, or a scene, or a paragraph–that they find resonates thematically and can be used as a major sign post for directions as one read through a novel or any work for that matter, including films. The following is not the only interpretation residing in “On the Road” because there are many things going on within this text. But here is a brief overview of what I found very significant and said a lot about the characters, the time, and the author. Enjoy.

 

There Will Never Be Enough Time: Dean Moriarty’s Beliefs

 

One has to die before they go to “heaven,” but why does this have to be true? Could it be possible to visit heaven before we die? On the Road is a book about identity and life; all its ups and downs; its malleable ebb and flow; the tasting it, feeling it, being it whenever possible. There is a quiet fear in most men and women—perhaps even more heightened during the time period presented in the book—where American youths were beginning to realize that death can come at any time, and when it does will we have experienced all we wanted to experience? In a very philosophical sense: within the phenomena of life on earth and consciousness, it just may be that the only meaning to be found in one’s time here is the meaning one gives it.

            I reference part two, chapter one to make this point, however will only highlight the strongest lines in the block quote below. I am close reading the jazz-like pages of 113 and 114 of the Penguin Classic Edition, 1991, where Dean and Sal are finally beginning their first real road trip and Dean is driving, swaying, chuckling, speeding up, slowing down, going on tangents, and generally pumping his every thought into the minds around him for digestion:

“All right now, children,” he said, rubbing his nose and bending down to fell the emergency and pulling cigarettes out of the compartment, and swaying back and forth as he did these things and drove… he slowed down the car for all of us to turn and look at the old jazzbo… trailing off and stopping altogether, and suddenly jumping the car back to seventy… This was the new and complete Dean, grown to maturity. Fury spat out of his eyes when he told of things he hated; great glows of joy replaced this when he suddenly got happy; every muscled twitched to live and go… [Dean] “Oh man, we must absolutely find the time…”

(p. 113, Penguin Classic Edition, 1991)

Dean continues to speed up and slow down, weave in and out of traffic, and all in all come off looking like a bi-polar addict into page 114 and beyond. His addiction however is not some pill or syringe, but rather the interaction with his environments and the people. If we are destined to live a life riddled with confusion, choices, and some unanswerable question, the least Dean can do is live and feel everything possible. He feels all should do this, but they can only find this state of mind when they are ready. That is when they shall find “it.” (I believe that this novel gets unjustly placed as exclusively a “beat generation” book and is thus subconsciously limited in what can be drawn from it. This is about life in a much bigger picture than a single generation’s interactions and influences with their particular social cultures and political trials.)

Another deconstruction of the quote from above can focus on the statement about having to find time; the time to tell tales; make admissions of aspirations and fears; time to live and live well. To live fully. The problem, as one would find throughout the novel, is that this way of life and this set of ideals are sometimes contrary to the expectations of others and societal norms. Not everyone reaches or respects or can even comprehend the attitudes and outlooks of Dean Moriarty. People will reach this plane, if at all, at different times in their lives and for different reasons. Sal continues to learn from Dean throughout the story, and comes to understand the inherent benefits and detractions which acting this way can have on one’s life. He cannot live like a mad dog and experience everything that life has to offer. By the end, it is proven that little can be held on to when one is trying to do everything and anything.

Lastly, the jazz influence and elements of this block quote must be reviewed; the very nature of both the long-block writing style of Jack Kerouac in this section and the way in which Dean is speaking and driving. Its metaphorical comparison to jazz and the free-flowing style of bop musicianship cannot be overstated. It is clearly the first and strongest indication in the book that not only is Dean a creature entirely his own, but Jack Kerouac is doing something very specific. Dean’s speed changes in the car mirror the tempo changes of a jazz tune; the same way his emotions are never masked—it’s always clear how he is feeling, just as the emotions can come through during an saxophone or piano or clarinet solo. There is anguish and lust and sorrow and excitement.

            Furthermore, on page 114:

… he roared into downtown Testament, looking in every direction and seeing everything in an arc of 180 degrees around his eye balls without moving his head. Bang, he found a parking spot in no time… he leapt out of the car… Furiously he hustled. It was a shaking of the head, up and down, sideways; jerky vigorous hands; quick walking, sitting, crossing the legs, uncrossing, getting up, rubbing the hands…

 

He is hungry and maniacal. These actions can be directly connected with the realities of finite time and mortality. There is only so much time in our days and only so much one can do in their lives. When there is cerebral clarity in an individual to understand these complex, fleeting concepts, what other reaction besides near madness and chemical imbalance could one expect from an individual? Let the vices and obsessions come! Made even more complicated by the expectations of others and the fears of our own limitations, it’s plain to see how enlightenment, regardless of one’s generation, can result in near metaphysical break-downs.

Even though the gang feared that “death with overtake us before heaven” they did all in their power to experience as much of Heaven as they could while they were still alive. (Nabou.com review)

Works Cited:

  1. Kerouac, Jack. On the Road. Penguin Book. New York. 1991
  2. Nabou.com Book Reviews. April 30, 2011. http://bookreviews.nabou.com/reviews/ontheroad.html

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