Tuesday, September 30, 2008

And I'm off!

It's vacation time for me... no computer, no work, just relaxing and fun while I celebrate a birthday. I'm not bringing printed novel with me, because I want to think fresh on things, without being able to refer to what I've already written, particularly on POW. There's some serious brainstorming on that one to do. Back in a week.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Three Musketeers (1948)

Look! I'm actually watching something without Ralph Meeker in it! Well, I did re-watch Paths of Glory the other night, and plan on savoring Kiss Me Deadly again for my birthday movie... but I decided I needed a happier movie this weekend.

Silly me. Not sure what I was thinking there, as this cheerful romp was soooo not what I wanted.

I'm quite fond of the Three Musketeers in general, but I was realizing that I have yet to see a movie version that gives me what I'm really looking for. And ironically, given how much I prefer older movies, my favorite movie rendition (so far) might actually have to be the 1993 one. How weird is that? But at least all the musketeers get stuff to do in it. The 1973 one is... bizarre (though Oliver Reed almost single-handedly saves the whole film anyway -- that is one fascinatingly charismatic, sexy but scary man), and I'm planning on watching the 1921 Douglas Fairbanks one off Netflix, see what it's like. The 1948 one is, well, just plain silly.

I think most of my problem might be that the older I get, the less I like Gene Kelly. Oh, he's still indisputably one of the greatest dancers, and I will always love Anchors Aweigh, Singin' in the Rain, Cross of Lorraine, and Brigadoon, but really, he's not the type of guy who appeals to me physically or emotionally. His movie characters often seem to face life with such cheer and abandon, he wears me out. This movie was no exception. But I wasn't watching Three Musketeers for him. I was watching it for Van Heflin. Gene Kelly just kept getting in the way.

Van Heflin, on the other hand, is immensely appealing for all the reasons Gene Kelly isn't. I prefer VH in noir films, like The Strange Love of Martha Ivers and Act of Violence. (The latter is probably my favorite VH film.) In noir, he tends to be slick and tough and cool and smirky and if you push him he pushes back, and I love it. But he plays an interesting Athos. Less angry and unforgiving, more sad and resigned. I think I prefer angry, but that's okay. He gets plenty of nice moments in this movie. And he's still smirky and cocky and tough, and he's not too shabby with a sword either. And since all the movie versions of Three Musketeers seem to rely on humor (and why is that exactly?), he also gets the best one-liners of the characters in the movie too. "Will you stop looking happy?" is probably my favorite line of his at the moment. Sort of summed up my own exasperation with Gene Kelly's D'Artagnan. He actually made me laugh out loud a couple of times, where everyone else's dialogue made me roll my eyes.

The swordplay was all over the board... some of it was actually really good. Some of it... dude, I could have killed some of these people three times in the time it took them to flourish their swords in the air. Pointy end goes into the other man, remember? It doesn't wave around pointing out the pretty clouds in the sky. Sigh. I miss fencing regularly.

The other good thing about this movie was Vincent Price, who can ham it up with the best of them when he wants to... and here he doesn't. He's very restrained and quiet. Scheming without being over the top like everyone else. He and VH were the class acts in this otherwise quite cartoony film.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

T'is the season?

I can be such a fool. I know I need fallow times, and I know sometimes they're longer than I expect or want. What I forget, what I always forget, is that when that need to write comes back, it comes back with a vengeance. And then all that procrastinating and twiddling about the internet that I've wasted so much time on? It stops. It stops because my muses want to work, and won't tolerate the delays.

I think I just need to accept that summers are downtime, end of statement. I have never yet done anything truly constructive on a novel -- any novel -- during the summer months. But come autumn, and I become productive again. It may just be old school-impressed habits that summers are for goofing off, it may just be that that's when a break is required after the fall/winter/spring writing. I don't know, but it seems to happen every single year, and every single year I forget and get frustrated with myself all over again when it happens.

Maybe by writing it down, this time I'll remember. It's just summer! So don't fight the down time. Watch all those movies, read those books, go walking and gardening, cuz it's just recharge time.

Interestingly, what's pressing now? And I mean really pressing? DTD. The muses are screaming about it, and I've worked on it all evening. Not writing, but tearing apart the scenes, figuring out just which ones have no critical change or conflict in them. I'm back at that stage where the whole novel is visual and pressing in from all sides. I can see the changes that need to happen clearly. And even had a revelation about one of the lead characters that just opened my eyes.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Continuing with the no-happy-endings trend...

Knocked two more movies off my list of "Famous Movies I've Never Seen and Should" this weekend: "The Defiant Ones" and "The Third Man." The first I loved, the second bored me.

What surprised me most about "The Defiant Ones" was the people/problems the two escapees encountered on their run for freedom. Not one was what I expected. Like that town? Aiiiieeee! Wasn't anticipating that at all, but Lon Chaney Jr. sure made me grin and cheer. He was my favorite part of the entire film, in a film where everything was well-done. It cuts right to the chase (literally) and stays there until the end.

"The Third Man," on the other hand... Sigh. On the surface, this movie should be everything I like. Noir, shifty ambiguous characters, cover-ups, very cool shadow visuals. Only it wasn't, or it wasn't enough. For a movie with a lot of character... it lacked character. For me, there wasn't enough to latch onto to get involved with these people. The movie didn't particularly give me any reasons to care what happened to any of them, and as none of the actors make any of my favorite lists, I didn't have an inate investment in them to carry me through where the film failed. On the other hand, those sewers? Awesome. Reminded me a lot of "He Walked by Night" which was filmed a year earlier, only those European sewers are cooler. I liked Trevor Howard too.

However, watching "The Third Man" had lots of other good repercussions. I had to lie there on the couch after it ended analysizing exactly why it didn't work for me and a movie like "Kiss Me Deadly" does. The film also brought me back to the post-war Vienna of "Four in a Jeep". Didn't realize how much that situation intrigued me until I saw it again, and it also helped me realize why the setting in my POW novel has remained so vague and unformed. A lot of stuff for the novel clicked into place after watching this movie.

It's interesting that the stuff we don't like is often more useful than the stuff we do.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Class Update

So, I hit the first lesson in the Think Sideways class that I think will be one that just won't work for me. It's about calculating how many scenes there are in your novel, and then writing up an index card for each (or only for some, depending on how detailed you want to get). Of the varying forms of outlining available, it appears I have been working for years with what she terms an editor's outline. Interesting. I guess I won't have any trouble writing one when the time comes! I've never found such a form restricting at all, and, as my novel shifts and changes, I've always simply changed the editor outline accordingly. I've never felt constrained to follow what I first put down. But I like the format of an editor's outline. It's the easiest method of simply telling myself the story I want to write.

Index card usage (as a story creation tool) leaves me absolutely lost, though I gave it a try anyway but it took me twice as long, and if the cards got out of order (which is supposed to be half the freedom here -- you can shuffle easily), I just got incredibly frustrated. I also have issues with needing to see as much material at one time as possible, so to me, the cards end up being the limiting method.


However, taking my own outline and using the Sentence treatment on each scene? Now that's useful! I'll just be doing that technique in a Word doc rather than on cards.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

"Brute Force" 1947

I don't remember how this one ended up in my Netflix queue, other than I had Miklos Rozsa's main title to it on an album and always liked it and wanted to hear the rest of the score. I watched this in two pieces and was a bit "why am I watching this" after the first half hour. That all changed in the second hour. Whoa. I was on the edge of my seat from the minute Louie got called into Capt. Munsey's office until the end. It wasn't that I couldn't tell how it was going to end -- it really could go only one way -- it was just done so well that even knowing how it was going to end, I was still hoping the entire time it'd go differently. And they hit all the necessary plot points just right in the climax to make me cheer or cry.

Highly unusual for me to get emotionally invested in criminals, but really, ultimately, this isn't a true prison movie. I don't think in a true prison movie, the inmates would be this "good." Of the prisoners we follow, only Burt Lancaster's character seems like he really should have been sent up. Other's are set up, or taking the rap for someone else, or doing non-violent crimes like embezzlement. But that's okay, cuz like I said, this isn't really a movie about prison life or the people who end up there. You could swap the prisoners for any group of people suppressed, beaten, and imprisoned by another group of people and still have the same story. They just chose to make it a prison-noir film.

The cast is great in this film, from Hume Cronyn playing one of the most despicable excuses for a human being I've ever seen, to Charles Bickford and Sam Levene, to Whit Bissell in his first credited roll, to all the character actors in between. I loved the doctor, perpetually drunk and therefore free to say whatever's on his mind, helping the prisoners any way he can, condemning Capt Munsey. Sure, he's represents the morality of the story, but his dialogue is snappy and I liked it. Cronyn's Munsey... I honestly am not sure I have ever hated a film character more than I hate Munsey. He's such a nasty piece of work, hate's not even a strong enough word. I think the fact that he's a little guy and so soft-spoken really helps augment his character's power-hungry sadistic nature. You expect him to be refined and a bit of a pushover, not personally beating people to death and enjoying it. Gah!

I can't say it's an enjoyable film -- it's too violent, brutal, and sad for that -- but it's still a powerful and satisfying one. It'll stay with me for awhile.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Now for some happy movies -- NOT!!

Watched "On the Beach" a few days ago and then last night, "Testament." Both were quite similar, not just in subject matter, but some of the details. No one quite knows what happened, who attacked who, they just know the bombs have exploded and the radiation's coming/here. They both deal with the people left behind, the people who still love and feel and fight. Both end with the same kind of warning, to not let the world get to that point.

"On the Beach" had more of a resigned, civilized quality to it. "Testament" was more emotional, the survivors not organized. But then, the Australians in "On the Beach" have time to prepare, where the ones in "Testament" do not. The best part of "On the Beach" was Fred Astaire. He was fabulous in his scientist/car racer role. Makes me wish he'd done more non-musical roles. I loved him here. And of course, there's a submarine. Can almost never go wrong with submarines.

"Testament," however, was the one that kept me awake last night, where "On the Beach" just made me terribly sad. "Testament" made me stare at my venetian blinds waiting, expecting that brilliant flash that signals the end of life as I've known it. I have always, and will always, fear that moment when my normal life and petty daily concerns are shattered by something beyond comprehension. Anticipation of that moment makes me stock my basement with extra food and water, and always worry when I dip into those supplies and don't replace them. Because you never know. "Testament" was even more personal than "On the Beach," more desperate in its losses and needs, more despairing. There's simply no way to save the lives of those you love under those circumstances.

It'll take a little while to shake the impending apocalypse mood now.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Think Sideways Writing Course - month 2 report

I wasn't entirely sure what I was going to get out of this course. I mean, I don't have trouble coming up with ideas, I don't have trouble finishing novels, I'm good with world building, etc. But none of it happens as fast and as smoothly as I'd like, and I don't quite have the discipline to treat my writing as a business, which is something I need to work on. I've had short stories published, but I still don't have my novels on the local bookstore shelves. I'm at a point where I'm ready to start sending DTD out, but the whole agent/editing/publishing/success side of it I have little experience with. I've enjoyed following Holly Lisle's journal of the past couple years, and have found her writing essays on her website very useful, so I figured, what the heck, why not take the class. I need a fresh outlook on what I do, new tools in the box, new techniques.

And I got them.

We're six weeks into the six month course, and I've really been surprised at how much cool stuff is here. I figured most of it would be like, "yeah yeah yeah, I know that," but that's not the case at all. Her techniques so far take me straight to the heart of a book. I love it! Some of it, like coming up with your single defining sentence, is something I've always tried to do, but I never had a good explanation for how to do it, and so I never could write an effective sentence for my own story. I always tried to do some variant of a TV Guide summary line. That might work for some people, but it never did for me. In one of the first few lessons, Holly provided a straight-forward explanation and examples of what the sentence does and how to create it, and darned if it her technique doesn't work like a charm. For the first time I can turn them out rather easily -- and for the first time, I've realized why some ideas fall flat -- because they're missing part of what forms the sentence. It may seem like such a little thing, but this technique alone is almost worth the price of admission.

I don't regret signing up for one moment. It's been eye-opening in the best ways, and I'm thoroughly enjoying it. I'm applying things to my completed novels, my novels in progress, and a new one I'm working on specifically as part of the course, and I'm watching things come together that have been giving me fits. That also, has been worth the price.

The class sold out when she originally offered it, but if anybody's interested in checking it out for themselves, she's opening the course up again to new students for this week only. Click on the link above or in the sidebar if you'd like more information.