A great thing about living in New York City is being able to go watch the new PBS American Masters 90-minute documentary titled, Philip Roth: Unmasked for FREE at Film Forum. Today–and Roth’s 80th birthday as well–is the last day it’s playing, so check for times. Otherwise, your second option is to wait till 29 March for the premiere on PBS.
This doc is definitely worth a watch. Regardless of your opinion about Roth or his writing, it really is hard to deny that he is a very prominent and successful 20th century American writer. His novels are always exhaling a breath of zeitgeist. The film mostly concerns itself with interviewing Roth with some peripheral chatting with friends and the very strangely airy and otherworldy, Claudia Roth Pierpont (no relation) who was the only element that took me out of the whole fascinating film.
Roth was witty and open in the interviews and it was intriguing to see that he still stay friends with people from high school and college who remain his readers while he has a novel in progress. The more humorous bits were when he talked about his very loving and normal parents (the antithesis to the Portnoy mother & father). A funny anecdote he told was before Portnoy’s Complaint was to be released, he brought his parents in from New Jersey to New York City and prepared them for the book by telling them that they might be hounded by journalists and, of course, be compared to the fictitious parents within the novel. He parents left and got into a cab. When Roth asked his father later what happened, he said that his mother started to cry and say that her son had “delusions of grandeur” and that nothing big would come of Portnoy’s Complaint.
In the wake of Roth’s announcement that he is retiring from writing, The Guardian put out an article of Roth’s picks for his best novels. The article concludes with,
Referring to fellow writers including John Updike, Joyce Carol Oates, EL Doctorow and William Styron, Roth said he “ran with some very fast horses … Now, the Nobel prize committee doesn’t agree with me. They think we’re provincial. But I suspect they’re a little bit provincial.”
Through iTunes, the Writers Guild of America, East has made available many free podcasts.
Here’s Boardwalk Empire showrunner Terence Winter discussing the merits of premium cable with Denis Leary,co-creator and star of Rescue Me. There’s Tony Award–winning playwright John Guare explaining the challenges and rewards of adapting work from stage to screen. From 90-second clips to hour-long panel discussions,WGAE’s iTunes U site provides entertaining and educational media for any artist, writer or aficionado.
While perusing through their listings, I noticed podcasts discussing such topics as Writing NY: How the Big Apple Inspires and Informs the Movies, Reflections on Adaptation, and many other components of writing. Although, these podcast have more to do with television & film writing, I thought this could be quite interesting. They offer podcasts on mistakes to avoid, marketing yourself, and chat with successful playwrights and screenwriters.
Also while clicking around in iTunes, I came across some other free podcasts that might be of some interest,
- Film Forum, not solely writing but can offer some interesting discussions from filmmakers
- University of Warwick, hear writers read their own work along with discussions and notes
This weekend, I watched Limitless. This film is based on the novel, The Dark Fields, by Alan Glynn. I haven’t read the book but what attracted me to the film was the premise:
Unshaven and unfocused, living in a grungy Chinatown walkup [sic] and frequenting the last bar in Manhattan…Eddie is stuck on Page 1 of a long-overdue novel.
The whole time I was watching this, I kept thinking that this must be Flowers for Algernon had it been written by Philip K. Dick. A poor and lowly NYC writer with no motivation or inspiration to write is given the opportunity to take an illicit pill to open up his mind and clear his way of thinking. In four days, he has his novel.
When the film came out, a writerly friend of my mine was appearing in one of those short TV spots that they air in the back of cabs. He was being interviewed about this film (which he hadn’t seen) and was asked if he would ever take an imagination-boosting pill if it existed. His response was no–probably because he is one of those people that actually likes being a suffering artist.
Granted, the movie didn’t live up to the expectations I had (there are many plot holes and plot points that are completely abandoned and forgotten) but still enjoyable. It was fantastic to see Bradley Cooper’s change throughout from struggling writer to high-powered financial phenom.
I’m not recommending an all out bender like Faulkner or downing some strange absinthe-gin-concoction that Hemingway was so fond of, but The Atlantic has offered up 12 Hangover Cures From Famous Heavy Drinkers. This list includes both authors and entertainers who boozed like real professionals. I’m amazed that they lived as long as they did if you take a gander at what each of them consumed on a regular basis.
So, if you wake up on New Year’s Day with a pounding headache, you can always try one of W.C. Fields’s remedies and dine on Hungarian Goulash and a coconut custard pie.
I consider The Muppet Christmas Carol one of the best, if not, the best adaptation of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. Regardless of what you believe in or celebrate, can you really argue with the idea of Michael Caine playing Scrooge in a full-length Muppet film? Please. I rest my case.
post script, Because it is the season of charity and goodwill, may I also suggest a writerly good deed? I know I use Project Gutenberg all of the time and consider it one of the most valuable bookish things ever organized. Perhaps, consider giving a small donation to the keeper of all public domain books (in text form AND ebook–all for free!).
Apparently Goethe Institut-NYC, has had an interesting series that they didn’t advertise. It is called Articulate and part of its mission is to introduce “new tendencies in contemporary German literature.” Because they don’t adequately advertise their series, this talk was an intimate affair (read: handful of attendees).
The guest of honor was Milo Rau. Author and series host, John Wray, spoke about how Rau has his hand in many different mediums–fiction, journalism, theatre, film, etc. What the talk really focused on were these two interesting film pieces. To label them as historical reenactments would be doing them a disservice. Die Reenactment was used in place of a better term. The conversation was conducted in both English and German with Wray asking his questions in English while Rau answered in German (he claimed his English was no good but it was perfectly fine). At the beginning, Rau discussed what his distinction was between historical reenactments (i.e., Civil War) and die Reenactments. It really came down to the artistic merit and purpose of his productions.
The conversation became quite interesting during the middle when they began to speak about the International Institute of Political Murder (website is in German). We watched a six minute film clip from Rau’s film called, Die letzten Tage der Ceausescus (The Last Days of Ceausescus). Part of Rau’s process was to collect transcripts and video footage surrounding the trial in 1989. He staged it in a theatre with an audience (which included the general who had arrested Ceausescus) and filmed the stage production. It was intermingled with shots of the audience. Rau also processed his footage to appear like the washed out appearance of the original 1989 footage. After the panel, Rau and Wray chatted with the small audience. I asked Rau how long this piece took to put together and he replied that it was a year and a half. Below is the trailer from Die letzten Tage der Ceausescus. The subtitles are in German but the images are both haunting and beautiful that anyone can take something away from it.
Dictionary.com defines Kafkaesque as,
1. of, pertaining to, characteristic of, or resembling the literary work of Franz Kafka: the Kafkaesque terror of the endless interrogations.
2. marked by a senseless, disorienting, often menacing complexity: Kafkaesque bureaucracies.
Granted, it has been awhile since I’ve heard the misuse of this literary term but it still gets under my skin (don’t even get me started about a former boss who would misuse the term “Catch-22″ constantly in the office!). But instead of this post being all curmudgeon-y
like I originally intended, I will just qualify this by labeling it another Writerly Musing
I am a great lover of Kafka
and cite him as one of my influences, if not the
top influence. From the massive amount of empirical data I have not collected, I conclude that when people misuse this wonderful literary term, they are often describing something that is merely bizarre or weird. Whilst I was thinking about this, I ran upon a course
that was offered at the University of Colorado-Boulder that is constructed around the misuse.
self portrait at Kafka Museum in Prague
The term should be utilized to either describe Kafka’s own work or to describe a situation, art, book, etc. that has a cyclical and never-ending bureaucratic sense about it. Some examples,
Josef K. is rounded up and arrested. He is never told his crime and he keeps running around in circles trying to find some authority figure to make sense of it all. Orson Welles also made a fantastic film
version starring Anthony Perkins. The film is shot in b&w and has spectacular camera angles.
Throughout the entire novel, K. is trying to gain access to the castle and to the mysterious official named, Klamm. He has documents saying he is the new land surveyor for the village but gets shuffled back and forth from different castle bureaucrats.
OTHER NON-KAFKA KAFKAESQUE EXAMPLES
Invitation to a Beheading
by Vladimir Nabokov. This is a great novel; when I read it, I kept forgetting that this wasn’t
a Kafka novel. Nabokov claims that he had not heard of Kafka at that point but I think he’s just a little liar. Cincinnatus C. is in jail awaiting his death after being sentenced for “gnostical turpitude.”
starring Patrick McGoohan. This is a great BBC television show from the 1960s. Number Six is drugged and taken to the Village. Throughout the entire series, Number Six is trying to a) find out who Number One is and b) get out of the Village. This series has a striking resemblance
to The Castle
I am not a number! I’m a free man!
original artwork by Matt Kish
Today’s post is going to be on the lighter side because of my night spent awake due to this stupid cough (mother–if you’re reading, yes, I’ll go to the doctor if it persists). When I was able to get a restful moment of sleep, I had a dream about a giant squid and a whale attacking each other. When I awoke, my head was just a whirl with literature. I think Moby Dick is a fantastic book and I am definitely proud that I’ve read the whole thing! I keep it right in the middle of my mantle and above it hangs a beautiful framed reproduction of a 19th C scientific drawing of a whale.
Around the time that I was conquering this giant book, someone sent me to a website featuring the artwork of Matt Kish. He has created artwork for each page of the novel. His art has been collected into a book that I’m sure is a beauty unto itself.
And of course, how could any New Yorker or any nautical lover for that matter forget the famous exhibit at the Museum of Natural History called “Clash of the Titans.” The diorama is located in the best room of the museum. Once one is done staring at the mammoth whale that hangs from floor to ceiling, you should swiftly make your way into the quiet, dark corner where the sperm whale and giant squid are duking it out. Fun fact: sperm whales can live between 50-80 years.
courtesy of Wikipedia
Speaking of the “Clash of the Titans” diorama, there is always the great film The Squid and the Whale. It has been awhile since I’ve seen it but I remember really liking it. The title is in reference to the diorama and the film is centered around the oldest son of two writers who are going through a bitter divorce.
To end this strange little post, I just wonder how many works of prose and visual art have been inspired by these two almost mythical beings of the deep. They are frightening creatures that seem to pop up in the arts and there is something always astonishing about them.
>>I’m also a big fan of the American painter, Winslow Homer, who is most famous now for his nautical paintings. My favorites are the ones that always feature a cloudy day at sea. A personal favorite: Eight Bells.
What else is there to do on a Friday evening when you have a dry throat and a stupid cough but watch movies on Netflix? My usual go tos for under-the-weather films are The Princess Bride and Shakespeare in Love, but I thought I should change it up at least this one time.
A film that I have been putting off for so long has been the screen adaptation of Kiss of the Spider Woman. When I was in college, I had finished my required courses early and had my last semester free to take whatever classes I wanted to. One of them was called something along the lines as “Literature and Sexuality” and Kiss of the Spider Woman by Manuel Puig was included on the reading list. Although, it has been years since I read the novel, I still remember it passionately. In college, I would be so hard up for cash that I would sell some of my class books once the course was complete. Yet, I held onto this one. I have even included it in my mental list of books that I would reread if I ever had the time.
Like most people, I’m skeptical when books I love have been made into movies (even though I have never read The Princess Bride, the film has always proven to be entertaining). The old complaint is as followed: “The book was much better” (however, I still maintain the opinion that Shutter Island and The Graduate were better as films).
All snuggled in my bed, I began the film. It was okay–Raúl Juliá and William Hurt played the leads–but it was missing that seamless weaving of story telling that made Puig’s novel so captivating. The novel is told in only dialogue and is only distinguished by dashes (-). The prose can get so wrapped up in itself that the reader occasionally loses track of who is speaking. But it doesn’t matter. This technique amplifies the intimacy these two men build together throughout the entirety of the novel.
Because adapted movies are always abridged versions of their sources, many things I loved about the novel were lost. Even though Molina is the main narrator, the story is really shared and about both of them. Also, interwoven in the novel is Molina’s retelling of various films that helps the two men pass the time in their wretched cell. A majority of this is nixed in the movie.
an example of the prose
photo courtesy of collider.com
Like all neurotic writers living in NYC, I love Woody Allen. I don’t even remember there being a period in my life when I wasn’t an avid fan of his films. The writing is always quick and witty and his filmmaking talent is A-number-one. And like all poor, neurotic NYC writers, I have no television. So, needless to say, I was thrilled to hear that the recently aired Robert Weide directed two-part documentary was available to watch on PBS’s website.
I’ve only had time to watch the first part but it was so intriguing. Of course, the documentary delves into Woody’s early comedic career and his wonderful films in the sixties and seventies, but so much time is devoted to talking about him as a writer. Since he was fifteen-years-old, he has been steadily employed as a writer!
And even if you don’t like Woody Allen’s film(*)–I don’t even know how this is possible, but I’m sure it happens–the documentary is worth a gander if you are interested in writing and the writing process.
Below are some links that both aficionados and newcomers might find interesting:
(*) Never trust a person who doesn’t like at least one Woody Allen film. Approach cautiously.