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Blue Valentine: a film analysis

This is not a “review” per se. I am not attempting to give you plot points and tell you why you should or should not see a film. What I am trying to do with these blogs is “analyze.” I want to absorb my first reactions from the film and tell you about the characters and the story and relate it in some way to our lives. I do not want to focus on the camera movements and editing styles and mise-en-scene, though all of these things may pop up in a review or analysis if extradordinarily important or prominent in some way and must be mentioned to explain or explore the film properly. To really get the most from what is written below, see the film first. All of my blogs on movies are poised in a way which assumes the reader has already seen the film. Thiese blogs are enrichment and discussion.

So I begin by saying this: This film ripped my heart out. It’s fantastic to get to the end of a film and not even want to budge to pop out the DVD or go to the bathroom. Not just yet. It has to sink in for a minute longer. I had to reflect.

Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling (Cindy and Dean)

“You always hurt the ones you love…”

Academy Award nominated Blue Valentine (starring Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling) is a tender, intense film which took the director (Derek Cianfrance) 12 years to complete from the writing phase to the final release date. Please see my last blog about how fiction can come from experience, because as I collected some information for this analysis, I learned that Cianfrance really put this film together out of experience. So much so that the “older” Gosling and his pattern baldness is directly copied from Cianfrance’s real head, and the younger Gosling’s aesthetic style and clothing style was mimicked after his own wardrobe from back in the day. Talk about having balls and putting yourself out there. (On another note: this is Ryan Gosling at his best.)

This is a film about unrequited affection, reciprocation, reconciliation, and the feeling that as good as a love can feel in the beginning (and as worth it as it may seem) it may end in a firestorm. You can never tell for sure if it will collapse or stay afloat, and there’s no way to see into the future to be sure. All you can do is hope and try to be a better partner everyday.

Like so many dark dramas similar in tone to Blue Valentine’s (exploring romance in the way of feature-length slow-motion train wrecks which you can’t look away from), Blue Valentine does it in a very honest way. It is by far the most emotionally poignant and honest film I have seen in a long time to take on these themes–especially considering this type of story has been done before.

Many films utilize the back-and-forth cross cutting between the current hellish prediciments where the love is utterly dying and the jumping back to scenes from years ago to tell of how these two came to fall in love. Though it has been done before, both well and poorly, this story seems to fit this mold well. Telling the story chronologically would have worked well enough for this film, and I would be curious to see it, but I do feel that delivering certain parts of the past at very specific and intentional times, when done well, does add something to the narritvie and to the emotional context of certain scenes. It also aids in a unique way the audiences progression of undersatnding these characters and their ambitions or short-comings. 

 So is Blue Valentine saying all love fleeting, doomed to flicker then fade; or were these two never supposed to be together and did they misread an evening long ago for the beginning of real love? This is a movie of despiration and ignornance — a misundersatnding that loving your spouse wholly or intensely is not the same as being a good spouse. It takes more than sweet sentiments and words. It takes actions.

I also felt while watching this movie that the direction (for obvious reasons) fell into the category of sympathy for Dean (Gosling) more so than Cindy (Williams). And while this may or may not have been intentional, I understand how the director with his life being so saturated into the film in one way or another impacted the audience’s ability to not “root” for Cindy the same way we do for Dean. We feel Dean, for all his fuck-ups, is at least rying and is gettign the short end of the stick from someone who is emotionally crippled in someway and it’s not fair for Dean. I don’t know if that line of thought is fair to Cindy’s character, and I just think a lot of the story makes Cindy out to be the one not fully trying to save the realtionship and therefore we all say: “Aw. Poor Dean.”

When Dean told Cindy all he really wanted to be was a husband and a father, it was the final nail in the coffin. The first nail was probably agreeing to raise another man’s child. His ambition was lost with his charisma and their newly discovered sexuality. Where Cindy desired both of them to reach for the stars, he was resigned to a life he settled for. He would never say this, but she knew, and because she knew that she was partially responsible for this talented, promising man to give-up on his aspirations, she hated him and herself.

 I would now like to talk about some things I did not see in other reviews and feel are important to explore. Not just in Blue Valentine, but in content of today’s films in general: Sex. Oral Sex.

Through disappointment and rejection, Dean is constantly trying to give what he can of himself to Cindy, and since he did not complete high school, he is limited in his offerings. These offereings often end up being in the form of physical affection, in both publicly acceptable kisses and more intimate endeavors. What I would like to discuss is the “Man” going down on girl multiple times in the film. It interested me as film and media studies graduate because too often in films it is the girl orally gratifying the man, and the truth is that in the real world it is often give and take. In the healthy relationships, anyway. However, perhaps that is not true of our culture anymore if we are so frequently exposed to the woman as an object. The internet and HBO and Rated-R films have shown audiences that it is always the female being subservient to the male. Maybe people in the world think that it is a one-way street in regards to certain foreplay, but I would bet that the reality is this: many would be shocked by the amount of satisfaction which both partners feel from certain reciprocations. Finally, I will say that it was interesting that Dean was the only one seen doing these actions; never Cindy. Furthermore, he always seemed more than happy. I thought that was counter-culture of the mold set by Hollywood and, for some strange reason, a lovely little thing to add. The truth is that men do this to women when being intimate, not all, but some, and why should we be so afraid of showing men doing it to women and so unafraid of showing  women doing it to men?: A great conversation that falls right along with female vs. male nudity in society/entertainment and which one has the majority. Take a wild guess.

The whole abortion room scene was incredible to watch and certainly shows what it would really be like. I’m glad that a movie was bold enough to show the interations and jargon used in such situations to really let men and women know what it really is like to have to have such a procedure. Maybe they will think twice about contraception and safe sex when realizing what one of the real life outcomes can be. It was anxious for Cindy in the scene and conveyed equal anxiety to me. Truly affective and viceerally rendered. I never once doubted any of the characters spoken lines or faces. Not once.

Dean says near the beginning of the film to a co-worker in a furniture moving company something about love at first sight being like hearing a song and just having to dance. You don’t know why, you can’t explain it, but you just have to dance. I like that. And as far a worth remembering quote from Cindy, I leave you with this: “think about what you say instead of saying what you think all the time.” I think all realtionships could benefit from such adivce.

Love is messy. Love is complicated. Love is imperfect. That is love.

And it can’t be stagnant. We gotta grow. Both together and as people. Dean wasn’t. People are complicated. So was it worth it? If it ended like that, was the love worth it for the early times when it was good? Cindy ended it. Was it for the kid? Will it improve their lives in the long run? Maybe. Maybe not. That’s love. That’s life. There aren’t always answers. There are rarely answers. 

I’m out.

MH

(Movie here. Buy on Amazon.)

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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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Society, Suburbanism, Energy, and Sustainability

Brain Droppings — Essay Edition

Traditional Society vs. Modernity: How to Transition from Suburbanism to a More Responsible, Healthier Society  

by: Matthew Hughston Lowder      

Suburbia was initially a fairly innocent attempt to make a bit of money for the few and the powerful, strengthen our economy, keep the unemployment low after World War II when soldiers were looking for jobs, and make life better in America. There was no way of knowing in the 1950s that it would ultimately be self-destructive and tragic. It is best viewed as a short-lived sociological experiment that has not gone quite right, resulting in short-term benefits and long-term destruction (and if not destruction, at least volatile risks). “The living arrangements Americans now think of as normal is bankrupting us economically, socially, ecologically, and spiritually… all reasonable indications suggest we will not be able to continue this pattern of living, whether we like suburbia or not…” (Kunstler, p. 17). Like two sides of the same coin, oil can be credited for most problems but also most advancements—socially, technologically, and environmentally. Oil is deeply integrated in more goods and services than people may know or care to think about, and this relatively new and prosperous way of human growth and operation has only been around for about 100 years. But now that we know that peak oil is here or has already passed and that all things that are produced or transported with the aid of oil are going to continue to increase in price, it is time to change in three main ways: condensing from suburban life back into an urban setting, reduce oil dependency and expand renewable options, and rethink how our education philosophies fundamentally operate to keep the young informed as they grow.

            Oil in 1999 was around $10 per barrel (Owen, p. 50), and today (just twelve years later), it has climbed to just over $100 per barrel. This staggering statistic should nudge the United States and other still growing nations to reassess both short and long-term goals and how they will be attained. One of the several ways to reduce the strain on the human race is to change how and where we live on a very basic level. This means a massive restructuring of—or exodus from—suburbia. This will be one of the biggest challenges for citizens comfortable with modern American society, and will possibly take the longest to alter. However, if the public can change their expectations of their lives for the betterment of man, the long-term benefits will outweigh the drawbacks and we may all gain back some of our long lost senses of community and culture. This may also remind us that most of modern man’s existence was, in fact, in the urban style (and for good reason). We will find a new “normal.”

            It is also worth noting that people saw these issues coming just like people saw so many other man-made disasters coming, but the very powerful or influential or intelligent have decided it is too inconvenient or takes too much talking to bring the public up to speed on the facts that they should know. The result is two worlds; the one the public perceives and the one scientists, biologists, and policy makers see. The danger here is that the national conversation is without the public’s voice or not in our favor. And sometimes the enormity of the challenge faced by those in power makes them silence themselves thinking nothing can be done, and twist the facts to gain certain public approval, or withhold evidence for political or monetary gains. There is a lot of ethical grayness here. There are people who do not think that anyone could understand the complicated nature of these big ideas and so they say nothing, and still others who are purposely trying to keep otherwise intelligent people in the dark in regard to certain facts so that profits of whatever sort will continue to rise for some company. The one thing that cannot be ignored any longer, however, is the utter dependence that we “oil junkies” have developed over the past 50 years, and this is the main issue on which to reflect.

            To live in the suburbs without a car is an economic and social death sentence; many people cannot get to work, to school, to the market, to the pharmacist, or to their families, not to mention the time and money and distance all this entails even with a car. Almost nowhere is easily accessible on foot. This “sprawl” has not always been the case. The structure of the urban landscape and its conventions—including housing, proximity of varied institutions, entertainment, environmental impact, and “class” balance—has in every way been more conducive to a more psychologically, spiritually, and economically responsible and fulfilling populace. The average New Yorker for example generates 7.1 metric tons of greenhouse gases annually. That number is 30 percent below the national average of 24.5 metric tons per capita (Owen, p.2-3). It is not unusual to find skeptical people when one says a place like Manhattan is more “green” than beautifully constructed, cookie-cut, suburban housing developments, often named after the environment or the animals it destroyed or displaced (i.e., Shady Oak Trails, or Blue Bird Hills). This occurs by paving a road and fertilizing thousands of square feet of new pre-packaged grass blankets and pest spray. It is a cleverly constructed attempt at creating peace and outdoor beauty which is, in the end, a produced imitation. And all of the steps it takes to create this sight do more harm than good along the way. Even though these housing developments are often advertised with gorgeous homes nestled in green pictures of nature, they are not actually environmentally friendly when you consider all its components. And the same groups and companies do not hold back when vilifying the cities, which are actually better in almost every sense except perhaps personal comfort regarding lots of square footage of living space. The benefits for the whole, however, outweigh the personal desires of the few. When fellow human ecology author Daniel Lazare was interviewed for David Owen’s book Green Metropolis, he said the following about the intended and unintended national antagonism towards urban life placed by the banks, builders, and the government:

“Green ideology is a rural, agrarian ideology. It seeks to integrate man into nature in a very kind of direct simplistic way—scattering people among the squirrels and the trees and the deer. To me, that seems mistaken, and it doesn’t really understand the proper relationship between man and nature. Cities are much more efficient economically, and also much more benign environmentally because when you concentrate human activities in a confined space you reduce the human footprint… the disruption of nature is much less in Manhattan than it is in the suburbs. In order to surround ourselves with nature, we get in cars and drive long distances, and then we build silly pseudo-green houses in the middle of the woods—which are actually extremely disruptive, and very, very wasteful.” (Owen, p.20-21)

This idea of suburban living being very wasteful repeats in almost every sustainability book, documentary, news program, and newspaper one is likely to read on the subject. By living closer together and having less space, people have no choice but to have this reduction reflected in their lives. They must be mindful and thus all the people making up a city drive less, consume less, and produce less waste.

Urban living also offers a closer proximity to all places people need to get to without having a car. They also require people to interact socially and actually know their neighbors (something not everyone in suburbia goes out of their way to do). The majority of citizens would live very close to the hospitals, schools, foods, and clubs/bars (unlike today where only a minority live so close to these places) and they would not require a car or its gas or its insurance or its parking fee. More money is freed to do other things and improve life in other ways. In addition, living so close to one another in large apartment buildings keeps the heating and cooling cost low since the building is heated like a hive and affects all rooms. In suburbia, this cost of energy per person and per house is radically higher since it is only heating itself—costing more money per inhabitant and allowing more heat/AC to escape the walls into the atmosphere.

Oil dependency cannot be solved overnight, and it is true that the modern urban city, while better in many ways than the suburbs, cannot sustain itself for much longer than the suburbs might because we would still be using oil for so many things: foods, packaging, distribution, housing, printing, public transportation, gadgets, and electronics. Therefore, moving from suburban life back to urban life (which has proved to work well for hundreds of years) will only solve some of the problems and slow down some of the challenges on the horizon. The next step would be to take a look at how we are making our energies, how we use them and how often, and then try to discover new alternative fuels, either renewable or non-renewable, to alleviate the pressure on our oil addiction and provide some relief from the fear of a total collapse of society.

Roughly 80 million Americans are too poor, too old, or too young to drive and thus incapacitated to lead a fulfilling day-to-day life (Duany, p. 115). Teenagers are forcing their parents to spend money on driving lessons and licenses and eventually cars just so they can have any form of social life and have a job which is usually not within walking distance. The dependency on the parents is no longer cut at the traditional age of 18 and this is due to our continued sprawl and youth’s demand for mobility. They cannot leave the nest as early as they once did, and are now burdensome into their early twenties—sometimes longer—whether they are in college or not. This is another reason to reduce our dependence and our necessity of having cars and long stretches of roads to get from place to place. It wastes time and oil, adds pollution to the atmosphere, and can be physically and psychologically draining to the frequent commuter. A closer community of various services and shorter distances helps the citizenry in nearly every way—often equal or less travel time, distance traveled, and stress than the suburban setting. Less energy and waste and pollution is attributed to each person this way, and a public transit in very good form always outweighs the single car rider (though strong public transit is more or less extinct and great challenges await us when we decide to refurbish them.)

Besides cars and oil and the social benefits, there is the next challenge of finding new sources of powerful energies. Electricity comes from coal. Nearly all technology relies on oil at some point. To alleviate some of these strains, further research must be put into not just renewable energy sources, but how we will harvest and store these energies as technology recedes into the past where oil and gas was ample, because the world’s structure of what can be made cheaply and what can be produced at all is going to be slightly, if not substantially, different in 50-100 years time. It takes energy to find and use energy, and humanity needs a lot. Remember: in 1970 a barrel of oil was three dollars, climbing to $60 in 2006 (Leeb, p. 119) and as of April 8th, 2011 is at $117 (OPEC). The other problem is that non-renewable energy sources tend to have huge power capacities, and even combining the efforts of ethanol, crop conversions, natural gas, solar power, wind mills, recycling/burning wastes, and water power technology will not reach the energy demands to match the ability of oil. And oil is almost one hundred percent of the time necessary to build the edifices and technologies to harness and store these other energies! This is a stark reality without an answer yet. And nuclear power, with its history of controversy, is even less likely to get unilateral public backing since the recent events of Japan with Fukushima—casting questions and fears, albeit rational and understandable ones. Technology could probably get humanity out of any bind it is likely to face if there was an infinite supply of energy. There would also be far lower prices for everything, many more jobs, and the globe as a whole would certainly experience less war. But this utopia is not reality. The reality is that a national and possible global paradigm shift is taking place in the mind of humanity that may take decades to develop, but when it does, we will take on the world’s problems like never before with a new set of ideals and a new expectation of what life on earth will be like. We can only hope that we have decades to spare of course, and it begins with changing how we live and reducing our footprint here. That means retracting our sprawl and rebuilding our urban settings.

The American people and their lives are dictated by the cost of energy just like the other 7 billion people on this earth and counting. There are limitations. Our modern civilization was built on oil, and as that goes away, our modern way of life will devolve into something more manageable and less turbo-charged; probably into a world that goes a bit slower and is more human labor intensive. It will be a world where all other activities are second to food production, much like the 19th century (Leeb, p.121). Modern agriculture will feed less, the highways will fall into disrepair, middle class professions and jobs will disappear, and the schools educational systems will likely not have so many grades unless near miraculous energies are found and sustained (Leeb, p.121).

A final point can be made about education in America; an often overlooked and crucial part of the solution. Without an up-and-coming intelligent generation to take over the responsibilities and the continuation of our cultures, everything that the current policy makers are working towards in this country will have been in vain. The public must raise its voice and it better know what it is talking about. When the time comes for a new generation to step up to these challenges, they must hit the ground running and have a proverbial arsenal of statistics, plans, and technologies prepared to ease the transition with as little hunger, lawlessness, uprising, and depression as possible. Earth in Mind by David W. Orr contains several chapters  about the connectivity between society, the environment, and education. Orr warns of not the problems within the educational system as we know it—where there are problems of course—but he studies the problems of education itself. Though it sounds bizarre, once given some details, it is actually quite understandable and frightening. It also further underlines this essential idea of a wide-spread paradigm shift taking hold in the very fabrics of our minds about what we expect from our modern societies and how we approach our change.

 “It is time, I believe, for a… general rethinking of the process and substance of education at all levels, beginning with the admission that much of what has gone wrong with the world is the result of education that alienates us from life in the name of human domination, fragments instead of unifies, overemphasizes success and careers, separates feeling from intellect and the practical from the theoretical, and unleashes on the world these minds ignorant of their own ignorance.” (Orr, p.17)

And this much is clearly unintentional but needs to be fixed. This has been the unwritten plan of attack, the featured dogma for our 20th century world and America specifically: fight for success, wealth, and consumption. The world is for us to pillage. It worked in its time when we did not know any better, but this subtextual, ingrained mindset must be changed at the fundamental level for people to be able to think outside of their self-imposed boxes today. Assuming, for a moment, that there were no problems with America’s educational system and we had the best schools on the planet (which is not true) the most daunting task to come would not be making sure the schools operate properly and the kids absorbed the appropriate information, it would be a task of gargantuan proportions regarding what they are absorbing pedagogically, philosophically, and structurally. We are taught to be kind and respect authority and enjoy arts, but are also taught to be lookout for ourselves first and capitalize, rarely being told to care of the interests of one’s neighbor. In the end, it is capitalism and dogs eating dogs, though some call it simply healthy competition. Perhaps some educators, board members, and Congress people believe we would be too young to understand such principles before we were 18 or 21 years old, but that had not stopped them in the past when people in power deemed it necessary to indoctrinate the youth and the ignorant with nationalistic sentiments (including the American dream, “Leave it to Beaver” existences, and SUV power that “you need”). There is great power and capabilities in the minds of all people at all ages. Coast-to-coast involvement and the beginning of a national dialogue and outreach are more important than ever. It has begun over the past 30 years, but has been weak, unfocused, and underfunded, however the past decade has shown an increase of public awareness, and that must increase into the future and into the classrooms—fast.

Traditional society will come back in some form since the modern society has passed its prime. The world that waits before us does not have to be as stark or ugly or hopeless as it may appear when given the facts, opinions, or scientific projections of others. The reality is that we would not have made it to where we are today without being an extraordinarily smart or extraordinarily lucky creature. Our reliance on energies for how we live today directly dictates our path, our wars, our advancements, and our abilities to sustain a certain population number. To co-exist within our biosphere, regardless of the concessions that my reduce our current creativities and artistries, we me ultimately evolve into a species which can continue to experience the better sides of life and proliferate with purpose and meaning—and in a new way. A reduction is inevitable in some sense of the word. When it is all said and done, that is the very reason we care about what happens to our future, a future we may not even get to see, because imbedded deep within every single person is the desire to live and live well, not simply survive. And this emotion makes us human. But doing this by any means necessary has proven very dangerous and we must be cautious and considerate if we wish to continue sharing this planet.

“It may surprise you to learn that I didn’t want to write this… Moreover, I hope the premise and everything I forecast turn out to be dead wrong. Everyone including me will be much better off if that is true. The problem is that all the evidence shows I am right.”                                                      

–          Stephen Leeb, PhD in the “Author’s Note” of his book The Coming Economic Collapse

 Works Cited

 

OPEC statistics. Retrieved April 8th, 2011 from http://www.opec.org/opec_web/en/923.htm 

Kunstler, James H. 1996. Home From Nowhere. Simon & Schuster Inc., New York

Owen, David. 2009. Green Metropolis: Why Living Smaller, Living Closer, and Driving Less Are the Keys to Sustainability. Riverhead Books, New York

Leeb PhD, Stephen. 2007. The Coming Economic Collapse: How You Can Thrive When Oil Costs $200 a Barrel. Hachette Book Groups USA, New York

Orr, David W. 2004. Earth in Mind: On Education, Environment, and the Human Prospect. Island Press, Washington, D.C.

Duany, Andres (and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, and Jeff Speck). 2000. Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream. North Point Press, New York

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83rd Annual Academy Award Predictions

I love a good story. I love a good movie. And more movies than you may think are based off of novels. See how uninspired Hollywood grabs the good through another medium?

There are a few reasons for this: for one thing, the story is already written in a novel and usually is overflowing with content. With what is basically a huge “treatment,” a production company will then get a screenwriter (or team of them) to adapt the work for the screen. Characters can be lost, dialogue changed, and whole scenes deleted or added, but, one would hope, with such substantial source material a sweet screenplay would be written up with all the good stuff from the book, right? Not always.

To prove my point, simply look at the Harry Potter Series, Jurassic Park, No Country For Old men, and Never Let Me Go.  I use these examples because they are all different and aI have read these novels. Jurassic Park is way, way different. Whether these are good or bad adaptations will change depending on whose opinion you listen to. The point is that things change from the book, and that’s because it is in a different medium and a new way to tell the story is necessary while simultaneously making you feel what you felt while reading it. Not freakin’ easy. There is now sound to your story, a written score of music, cadence of lines delivered from actors, and cinematography which needs to convey an ambiance.

This year for the 83rd Annual Academy Awards, set for Sunday, February 27th at (8pm East/5pm pacific), several movies (like every year) are adaptations. Most of the best films often are. 127 Hours, The Social Network, and True Grit are this years films which were written by others first then optioned for a film. As you may know, not only is True Grit an adaptation from a book, but it is also a remake from the 1969 version with John Wayne.

The best part, for me anyway, is comparing the two mediums for myself: book vs. film. Everyone has different expectations, and what I think is a flop, you might think is a home-run. And that’s the best part for me–that conversation and comparison. It’s fun!

Below are all the categories and all the nominees. I have “boldened” my predictions for each category. I really believe nearly all of these films deserve their recognition. Great year, 2010! Who are you rooting for? (Comment at the bottom.)

Best Picture

    * “Black Swan” Mike Medavoy, Brian Oliver and Scott Franklin, Producers
    * “The Fighter” David Hoberman, Todd Lieberman and Mark Wahlberg, Producers
    * “Inception” Emma Thomas and Christopher Nolan, Producers
    * “The Kids Are All Right” Gary Gilbert, Jeffrey Levy-Hinte and Celine Rattray, Producers
    * “The King’s Speech” Iain Canning, Emile Sherman and Gareth Unwin, Producers
    * “127 Hours” Christian Colson, Danny Boyle and John Smithson, Producers
    * “The Social Network” Scott Rudin, Dana Brunetti, Michael De Luca and Ceán Chaffin, Producers
    * “Toy Story 3” Darla K. Anderson, Producer
    * “True Grit” Scott Rudin, Ethan Coen and Joel Coen, Producers
    * “Winter’s Bone” Anne Rosellini and Alix Madigan-Yorkin, Producers

Actor in a Leading Role

   * Javier Bardem in “Biutiful”
    * Jeff Bridges in “True Grit”
    * Jesse Eisenberg in “The Social Network”
    * Colin Firth in “The King’s Speech”
    * James Franco in “127 Hours”

Actor in a Supporting Role

   * Christian Bale in “The Fighter”
    * John Hawkes in “Winter’s Bone”
    * Jeremy Renner in “The Town”
    * Mark Ruffalo in “The Kids Are All Right”
    * Geoffrey Rush in “The King’s Speech”

Actress in a Leading Role

    * Annette Bening in “The Kids Are All Right”
    * Nicole Kidman in “Rabbit Hole”
    * Jennifer Lawrence in “Winter’s Bone”
    * Natalie Portman in “Black Swan”
    * Michelle Williams in “Blue Valentine”

Actress in a Supporting Role

    * Amy Adams in “The Fighter”
    * Helena Bonham Carter in “The King’s Speech”
    * Melissa Leo in “The Fighter”
    * Hailee Steinfeld in “True Grit”
    * Jacki Weaver in “Animal Kingdom”

Animated Feature Film

    * “How to Train Your Dragon” Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois
    * “The Illusionist” Sylvain Chomet
    * “Toy Story 3” Lee Unkrich

Art Direction

    * “Alice in Wonderland”
      Production Design: Robert Stromberg; Set Decoration: Karen O’Hara
    * “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1”
      Production Design: Stuart Craig; Set Decoration: Stephenie McMillan
    * “Inception”
      Production Design: Guy Hendrix Dyas; Set Decoration: Larry Dias and Doug Mowat
    * “The King’s Speech”
      Production Design: Eve Stewart; Set Decoration: Judy Farr
    * “True Grit”
      Production Design: Jess Gonchor; Set Decoration: Nancy Haigh

Cinematography (tough one! I’m picking two!)

    * “Black Swan” Matthew Libatique
    * “Inception” Wally Pfister
    * “The King’s Speech” Danny Cohen
    * “The Social Network” Jeff Cronenweth
    * “True Grit” Roger Deakins

Costume Design

    * “Alice in Wonderland” Colleen Atwood
    * “I Am Love” Antonella Cannarozzi
    * “The King’s Speech” Jenny Beavan
    * “The Tempest” Sandy Powell
    * “True Grit” Mary Zophres

Directing

    * “Black Swan” Darren Aronofsky
    * “The Fighter” David O. Russell
    * “The King’s Speech” Tom Hooper
    * “The Social Network” David Fincher
    * “True Grit” Joel Coen and Ethan Coen

Documentary (Feature)

    * “Exit through the Gift Shop” Banksy and Jaimie D’Cruz
    * “Gasland” Josh Fox and Trish Adlesic
    * “Inside Job” Charles Ferguson and Audrey Marrs
    * “Restrepo” Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger
    * “Waste Land” Lucy Walker and Angus Aynsley

Documentary (Short Subject) (simply haven’t seen them)

    * “Killing in the Name” Nominees to be determined
    * “Poster Girl” Nominees to be determined
    * “Strangers No More” Karen Goodman and Kirk Simon
    * “Sun Come Up” Jennifer Redfearn and Tim Metzger
    * “The Warriors of Qiugang” Ruby Yang and Thomas Lennon

Film Editing

    * “Black Swan” Andrew Weisblum
    * “The Fighter” Pamela Martin
    * “The King’s Speech” Tariq Anwar
    * “127 Hours” Jon Harris
    * “The Social Network” Angus Wall and Kirk Baxter

Foreign Language Film

    * “Biutiful” Mexico
    * “Dogtooth” Greece
    * “In a Better World” Denmark
    * “Incendies” Canada
    * “Outside the Law (Hors-la-loi)” Algeria

Makeup

    * “Barney’s Version” Adrien Morot
    * “The Way Back” Edouard F. Henriques, Gregory Funk and Yolanda Toussieng
    * “The Wolfman” Rick Baker and Dave Elsey

Music (Original Score)

    * “How to Train Your Dragon” John Powell
    * “Inception” Hans Zimmer
    * “The King’s Speech” Alexandre Desplat
    * “127 Hours” A.R. Rahman
    * “The Social Network” Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross

Music (Original Song)

    * “Coming Home” from “Country Strong” Music and Lyric by Tom Douglas, Troy Verges and Hillary Lindsey
    * “I See the Light” from “Tangled” Music by Alan Menken Lyric by Glenn Slater
    * “If I Rise” from “127 Hours” Music by A.R. Rahman Lyric by Dido and Rollo Armstrong
    * “We Belong Together” from “Toy Story 3″ Music and Lyric by Randy Newman

Short Film (Animated)

    * “Day & Night” Teddy Newton
    * “The Gruffalo” Jakob Schuh and Max Lang
    * “Let’s Pollute” Geefwee Boedoe
    * “The Lost Thing” Shaun Tan and Andrew Ruhemann
    * “Madagascar, carnet de voyage (Madagascar, a Journey Diary)” Bastien Dubois

Short Film (Live Action) (simply haven’t seen them)

    * “The Confession” Tanel Toom
    * “The Crush” Michael Creagh
    * “God of Love” Luke Matheny
    * “Na Wewe” Ivan Goldschmidt
    * “Wish 143” Ian Barnes and Samantha Waite

Sound Editing

    * “Inception” Richard King
    * “Toy Story 3” Tom Myers and Michael Silvers
    * “Tron: Legacy” Gwendolyn Yates Whittle and Addison Teague
    * “True Grit” Skip Lievsay and Craig Berkey
    * “Unstoppable” Mark P. Stoeckinger

Sound Mixing

    * “Inception” Lora Hirschberg, Gary A. Rizzo and Ed Novick
    * “The King’s Speech” Paul Hamblin, Martin Jensen and John Midgley
    * “Salt” Jeffrey J. Haboush, Greg P. Russell, Scott Millan and William Sarokin
    * “The Social Network” Ren Klyce, David Parker, Michael Semanick and Mark Weingarten
    * “True Grit” Skip Lievsay, Craig Berkey, Greg Orloff and Peter F. Kurland

Visual Effects

    * “Alice in Wonderland” Ken Ralston, David Schaub, Carey Villegas and Sean Phillips
    * “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1” Tim Burke, John Richardson, Christian Manz and Nicolas Aithadi
    * “Hereafter” Michael Owens, Bryan Grill, Stephan Trojanski and Joe Farrell
    * “Inception” Paul Franklin, Chris Corbould, Andrew Lockley and Peter Bebb
    * “Iron Man 2” Janek Sirrs, Ben Snow, Ged Wright and Daniel Sudick

Writing (Adapted Screenplay)

    * “127 Hours” Screenplay by Danny Boyle & Simon Beaufoy
    * “The Social Network” Screenplay by Aaron Sorkin
    * “Toy Story 3” Screenplay by Michael Arndt; Story by John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich
    * “True Grit” Written for the screen by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen
    * “Winter’s Bone” Adapted for the screen by Debra Granik & Anne Rosellini

Writing (Original Screenplay) (Can’t pick one!)
 
    * “Another Year” Written by Mike Leigh
    * “The Fighter” Screenplay by Scott Silver and Paul Tamasy & Eric Johnson;
      Story by Keith Dorrington & Paul Tamasy & Eric Johnson
    * “Inception” Written by Christopher Nolan
    * “The Kids Are All Right” Written by Lisa Cholodenko & Stuart Blumberg
    * “The King’s Speech” Screenplay by David Seidler

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“On Becoming a Novelist” by John Gardner

The above title is a book that was recommended to me by my professor while in a Writing Fiction class last year. The list he gave to all of the students had several books on it, both from great authors of the past and present, as well as some “how-to-write” books, though he hesitated to call them that. Doesn’t like to in fact. And honestly, he doesn’t read or recommend “self-help” books, but prefers the books on solid concept and structure. Structure again and again I say. Without that, without solid scenes moving the plot along, character development, and three acts with a thematic metaphor somewhere in there, you have nothing.

I’ve learned to appreciate a good book that helps teach “methods,” not how to write a certain way, but rather how to think like a writer. How to live that life. How to massage your brain into filling the shoes of your character and how to make a piece flow and have all the peaks and valleys it needs. A good book on writing will do these things without dictating the genre in which to write. After you know these things, you have the rudiments, and then you can write anything on top of this structural skeleton.

“On Becoming a Novelist” does just that. It’s a book written by John Gardner in 1983, and Gardner is regarded as one of the great American writers of the 20th Century. Having written novels for decades in the middle of the century, including Grendel, The Sunlight Dialogues and October Light, his modern classics are still poignant and sweeping. Within his lifetime of writing, there was a time where we was a teacher at Chico State in California. There, in 1958, he had the serendipitous luck of teaching Raymond Carver in his class, a man at the time who would learn to love writing under the stubborn tutelage of Gardner. Raymond Carver wrote The Big Sleep among other detective novels, thought The Big Sleep received the Hollywood treatment staring Humphry Bogart.

Gardner was a chain-smoker, a rebel in his own way, and a believer in rewriting, rewriting and rewriting. Draft upon draft upon draft to get it just right. And he stuck by his students and helped each to become their best–either that or he simply feared someone more stupid than he coming and filling the students heads with crap on down the road, and wanted to make sure there was no vacancy, for their heads would already be filled with the good stuff.

I have found this book to be particularly helpful, and unfortunately, unless someone else reads every “help” book for you, you never can really tell which ones are good and which ones are bad. People need help in different areas, and frankly, some people are idiots, not knowing what they are looking for and think all help is good.

However, a warning: it is possible to fill your head with so much advice and be influenced by so many other writers or people who think they know all about writing that your head will simply pop. And if it doesn’t pop, it will become goop, suitable for nothing but regurgitating someone elses thoughts and ideas because you inhaled so much work from others you forgot to write and think for yourself.

Here is a particularly humourous and clever passage. Some of these–not all–I found to fit my bill:

I. The Writer’s Nature

“Like other kinds of intelligence, the storyteller is partly natural, partly trained. It is composed of several qualities, most of which, in normal people, are signs of either immaturity or incivility: wit (a tendency to make irreverent connections); obstinacy and a tendency toward churlishness (a refusal to believe what all sensible people know is true); childishness (an apparent lack of mental focus and serious purpose, a fondness for daydreaming and telling pointless lies, a lack of proper respect, mischievousness, an unseemly propensity for crying over nothing); a marked tendency toward oral or anal fixation or both (the oral manifested by excessive eating, drinking, smoking, or chattering; the anal by nervous cleanliness and neatness coupled with a weird fascination with dirty jokes); remarkable powers of eidetic recall, or a visual memory (a usual feature of early adolescence and mental retardation); a strange admixture of shameless playfulness and embarrassing earnestness, the latter often heightened by irrationally intense feelings for or against religion; patience like a cat’s; recklessness, impulsiveness, and improvidence; and finally, an inexplicable and incurable addiction to stories, written or oral, bad or good. Not all writers have exactly these same virtues, of course. Occasionally one finds one who is not abnormally improvident.”

A bit of humor in the end there. Long one, ain’t it? Well, the whole book is not like this, but I loved the rediculousness of it’s delivery, filling three-quarters of a page, and truly being not far off from most screenwriters, fiction writers, poets, and critics of the arts I have met or seen interviewed. If you have any of these things, maybe you should grab a pen.

Coming soon: movie reviews, excerpts from my upcoming release, and I will be answering your questions as they come. Simply click on the “Question” bar at the top of the page!

Matthew Hughston

Quote from:

On Becoming a Novelist, Gardner, John.

pp. 34 W.W. Norton & Company, INC., 500 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10110 www.wwnorton.com

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