Film

An Amateur’s Field Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse

Has anyone else noticed the newish zombie trend slowly permeating through our books, movies, and television? Perhaps, this is just a backlash from the fatigue we all have from sexy teenage vampires. My interest in zombies has never been particularly high, but I can’t help but notice some of the more recent offerings. These aren’t your run of the mill Romero zombie tales.

I am no expert (hence the amateur status given to this post), but I thought I would share my run-ins that have bucked my previously held opinion of zombie fare.* The creators have tried to upend the standard lore of zombies and produce something new. For me, it all began with The Returned, a recent French television series.

zombies - 1They aren’t mumbling, half-wits motivated solely for brains. No, the revenants of this small French town return as if nothing has happened even though some have been deceased for decades. They want to return to their normal lives, but with every new episode, stranger behavior and occurrences unfold. There are clearly secrets buried within the living, too. The Returned is a television adaptation of a 2004 French film called They Came Back (French: Les Revenants), which seethes with the uncanny and eerie. This slow burning film makes you feel completely off-kilter. The returned are not quite what the living expected and the business of what to do with this sudden inflation of undeceased residents is a perplexing burden. Let’s not mention all of the not sleeping and midnight meetups by the undead who seem to be planning something. Both of these zombie servings offer a different picture, which include complex emotions and simmering questions.

zombies - 2

It’s often noted that the 2002 British thriller, 28 Days Later, was the zombie film that reignited interest in the living dead. It took me ages to finally see it (due to my aforementioned disinterest in zombies), but when I did, I was impressed. It definitely was akin to those 1968 zombies, but it did do something different–the zombies were not slow walking  groaners. They were fast and strong making the post-apocalypse landscape even more terrifying. But we’ve moved on a little from these serious creepfests…

The genre has seen its own comedic interpretations with the fantastic Shaun of the Dead (that bar scene with Queen playing always gets me) or the slapstick horror of the New Zealand zombie flick, Black Sheep, which centers around the genetically mutated sheep that have secretly been created on the outskirts of a family farm by scientists looking to birth savage carnivores instead of docile grazers. Has anyone else seen this? I feel like I’m the only one. Shall I tempt you with the trailer? Also, we cannot forget Zombieland, a film that sees gun-toting Woody Harrelson driven to find a Twinkie in a zombie-filled world.

But this new zombie is flashing its teeth in writing as well. Isaac Marion’s debut novel, Warm Bodies, is narrated by R who isn’t your mamma’s zombie. Marion is writing from a zombie point of view–something which often is not a feature. R spends his days very slowly walking around a former airport with his other zombie cohorts in post-apocalyptic Seattle. He is bored, can’t remember his name, and on a recent hunt for brains, he meets Julie, a member of the living. R has a deep inner monologue and can relive memories of those whose brains he’s devoured. As the book goes on, R starts to become more human-like. He can string more than a couple of syllables together and his body movements are less restricted. Warm Bodies has been labelled a zombie romance, which it is, but it was also enjoyable to read as a new take on the zombie genre. There is also a 2013 film adaptation that is fun to watch as R goes through his zombie existential crisis.

Of course, there is horror maestro Joe Hill’s short story, “Twittering from the Circus of the Dead.” Honestly, I was skeptical at first because the entire story is written in a succession of Tweets by a teenage girl on a road trip with her family, but I was pleasantly surprised. It was a real joyride. The 140 character Oulipian constraint makes for some side-splitting moments. The whole time, the girl is tweeting her family’s car ride even when they make a wrong turn leading them to the Circus of the Dead–a circus manned by zombie entertainment. Even when her own brother is turned, she can’t help but be surly and she remains tweeting till the very undead end.

TYME2WASTE He’s not very good at being a zombie. He isn’t even trying to walk slow. He’s really going after the ringmistress. 9:04 PM – 2 Mar from Tweetie

zombies 3

“They’re coming to get you, Barbara!”

Zombie stories and resurrections have been around for centuries. The mindless brain-centric menace can trace its roots to West Africa and Haiti where many myths and stories shape our present day zombie. The mainstreaming of the word began in the late 1920s and exploded with the release of the 1932 Bela Lugosi picture, White Zombie, based on William Seabrook’s book (note: his Wikipedia page states, “[W]as an American Lost Generation occultistexplorer, traveller, cannibal, and journalist.” Maybe, one of the best entry openings on the site?).  

I proffer that zombies became more than just the living dead with Richard Matheson’s I am Legend. We can argue that the creatures are really more like vampires, but this is my blog, so I win. They’re zombies. In his 1954 novel, Matheson popularized the notion of a post-apocalyptic world ravaged by an unknown contagion. This is really a must-read even outside of the zombie wheelhouse. (Let’s all just agree to forgo the recent film adaptation for the sole reason that the filmmakers totally throw out the idea of what “I am Legend” means in the book). Matheson’s excellent book won’t be the last to elicit a dwindling world where war, disease, and other man-made epidemics will be our downfall.

Newer zombies are regularly shown as staying awake all night long. Their inability to sleep and their weary-eyed restlessness is often highlighted. Even in Karen Russell’s new novella, Sleep Donation, which is not strictly a zombie piece, compares the insomniacs to zombies. They are rendered insane by the sleeplessness and an epidemic is raging through the world. A cause is not given, but it is obviously a metaphor for society’s anxieties (also, commenting on the fact that with every progressing day, we are less likely to pull ourselves away from our various screen devices that have been show to interfere with sleep).

Even in the horror-comedy schlock fest, Jennifer’s Body, a bit of commentary is going on. Although, Jennifer is not explicitly labeled a zombie (more a demon), she comes back to life to wreak havoc on the high school boys who objectified her. It is a ridiculous and absurd film that is pretty great and it tries to tap into the portrayal of women in slasher flicks (the execution can be questioned at times, but still admirable, for lack of a better word). Roger Ebert wrote in his review, “As a movie about a flesh-eating cheerleader, it’s better than it has to be.” It is a suitable addition to a genre that is already highly saturated with male voices.

zombies - 4

Supernatural works are often stand-ins for society’s very real fears and worries. Letting go and grief seem to be apparent themes in The Returned and They Came Back, and we are seeing it again in the new US television series Resurrection (based on the 2012 novel, The Returned, which has nothing to do with the two French works, but also deals with long-dead people returning to a small town. Read the Slate article to clear everything up). Also, in all three, the revenants are unable to sleep, denoting them as the other and keeping from the very human function that visits us every night. I have not read Jason Mott’s novel, but I’m curious if anyone else has an opinion on it.

Our new zombies are often having existential crises. They keep their heads high and ruminate on their fates. Sometimes the world is destroyed by a disease, but many times this is not the case. R doesn’t remember how he lost his sense of self. Did this new, distracted world just think itself into zombieism? Many iterations don’t sleep. They can be found walking aimlessly and unblinking with plenty of time to think. They seem harmless at first, but when more come, the true monster shows its face. They might not always be guttural, fleshy cannibalistic heaps anymore. As readers and watchers of these new zombies, we often become enthralled by this different approach to the genre. The stories are evolving with our own present world, for the good and the bad. Our anxieties are being manifested in post-apocalyptic worlds filled with modern creatures. No matter what, though, zombies are always a human creation. They are mutating and overcoming us until we must send in Brad Pitt to rid of us of our World War Z.

Now, I am off to watch Cockneys vs. Zombies to add to my zombie arsenal. Do you have any to add? They are certainly plenty of zombie films, but are there any more works of fiction that are just begging to be read? Does anyone else notice that many vampire books are written by women, but zombies seem to be the playing field of men?


* Sorry Walking Dead fans. From the one random episode I watched last year, this series solidified my previous held disinterest in Zombies and their ability to bore with me the main focus being on walking back and forth slowly.

Appendix

1. Images [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8]
2. Zombies are such a trend now that there are zombie-themed apps, including a jogging “adventure,” called Zombies, Run!
3.  A short list of zombie films starring Bela Lugosi and Vincent Price.
4. Many thanks to Helen for recommending the television series The Returned. The TV series airs on Sundance Channel and can also be binge watched (recommended) on Netflix. They Came Back can be watched for free in its entirety on Hulu. Although, I recommend finding the DVD for the extra “making of” documentary.
5. Never utter these words during a zombie apocalypse.

 

Very Large Rabbits

Easter is upon us and as an aggressively blasphemous non-believer, my one sole takeaway from the Easter holiday is the delicious chocolate bunnies (extra long ears are my favorite). With images of bunnies and rabbits poking their heads out this week, it is time to honor the best of the fictitious very large rabbits.

harvey

1. The king of them all–Harvey. The 1944 Pulitzer Prize winning play by Mary Chase was adapted into a film starring Jimmy Stewart. This is such a stunning example of classic film and very large rabbits.

Wilson: Who’s Harvey?
Miss Kelly: A white rabbit, six feet tall.
Wilson: Six feet?
Elwood P. Dowd: Six feet three and a half inches. Now let’s stick to the facts.

donnie darko

2. I recently rewatched Donnie Darko after many years and I have to say, I still quite like it. I hope you’re reading the rest of this post while listening to Echo and the Bunnymen’s “Killing Moon.” Amongst other strange occurrences, titled teenager Donnie Darko seems to be followed by a rather tall rabbit by the name of Frank.

Donnie: Why are you wearing that stupid bunny suit?
Frank: Why are you wearing that stupid man suit?

roger rabbit

3. Perhaps, not as “very large” as the two preceding rabbits, Roger is still bigger than your average Easter bunny. For those who do not like Who Framed Roger Rabbit you are dead to me.

Eddie Valiant: Hey, Judge. Doesn’t a dying rabbit deserve a last request?
Roger Rabbit: Yeah, nose plugs would be nice.

 


Images [1] [2] [3]

 

Horns by Joe Hill

Horns by Joe Hill

I first heard about this book last year when I read it was being adapted for film (photo above showing the main character portrayed by Daniel Radcliffe). The novel’s premise seemed right up my alley. It is a blend of the fantastic, horror, absurd, and revenge, which novelist Joe Hill pulls off so very, very well.

Ig Perrish wakes up after a night of drunken debauchery to find that horns have sprouted out of his head. While still in the fog from the night before, the reality of these horns can, of course, be questioned because “it wouldn’t be the first time he’d confused fantasy with reality, and he knew from experience that he was especially prone to unlikely religious delusions.” However, Ig and the reader soon realize that his world is no longer normal. Are the people he encounters seeing the horns or are they oddly invisible to others? Everyone starts to tell Ig the unfiltered truth, even divulging deep, dark secrets and feelings.

But what is said to Ig while he is adorned with these new horns is usually filled with disgust and vitriol, because the year before, he was accused of raping and murdering his girlfriend, Merrin. The power of the horns are even more useful as Ig tries to uncover what really happened to her.

The novel is filled with dark premises and reprehensible secrets, but Hill’s writing takes the despicable and winds absurd humor around it that is delightfully indulgent.

Lee and Ig had been friends in another life, but all that was behind Ig now, had died with Merrin. It was difficult to maintain close friendships when you were under suspicion of being a sex murderer.

As the novel goes on, Ig continues to metamorphose both with the powers the horns give him and through the author’s language, choosing to even further equate Ig’s new anatomy with that of a devil. He is the dark confessor for all of those who lent a hand in condemning him during the investigation into his girlfriend’s murder. I also think it’s an interesting idea from the writer’s perspective to introduce a conceit that allows for the unrestrained revealing of information. Joe Hill writes, “It was, perhaps, the devil’s oldest precept, that sin could always be trusted to reveal what was most human in a person, as often for good as for ill.”

Horns plays a lot with the idea of Church (big C), and the dichotomies between good and evil and what is godly and what is damnation. Ig is an anti-hero, both marked as one by the horns and the difficulties arising when archetypes are ripped apart and redesigned. This is an entirely absorbing novel and the ending (which I shan’t give away!), had whiffs of a plot point in Twin Peaks. Whether this was intentional or not, I do not know, but I enjoyed the possibility.

I am curious to see the film adaptation. Does anyone know further information about release dates?


 

*Top images from Wikipedia and IMDb.

 

100 Years of Bohumil Hrabal

hrabal duo

Okay, maybe I am a few days late, but let’s blame my oversight of celebrating Bohumil Hrabal’s 100th Birthday on some recent jet lag that I’ve been experiencing. March 28 marked the 100th birthday of great 20th Century Czech writer Bohumil Hrabal. He is the author of one of my favorite books of all time, Closely Watched Trains (Czech: Ostře sledované vlaky). He has numerous books and short stories, but for some reason, this one has always stuck with me. I’ve read it several times, penned a grad school paper on it, and have enjoyed the 1966 film adaptation that went on to win an Academy Award.

There is something that draws me to Czech writers. I was lovingly teased for it in my student days, but their affinity for portraying the absurd and humor in even detrimental circumstances is what attracts me. For example, in Closely Watched Trains, the main character is a young train station guard in German-occupied Czechoslovakia. As Nazis come through by way of the station and resistance fighters target the trains, young Milos is completely preoccupied with getting laid and when he can’t perform, he attempts suicide. I know, a little dark, but funny. The reader sees the threats that surround Milos and his country, but he’s too busy flirting with the ladies and worrying about his sexual dysfunction.You must read this book and when you’re done, watch the movie which is available in the Criterion Collection, for Hulu+ subscribers, and in two-parts on Dailymotion: 1 | 2.

Hrabal is so cool that a bust of him resides on the wall of U Zlatého Tygra (At the Golden Tiger), his favorite bar in Prague, where he even took President Clinton and Madeleine Albright to for some pilsnerplease pardon my crummy photo; it was dark that day

U Zlatého Tygra

He’s considered by many to be one of the greatest Czech writers of all time. Even with my limited reading selection of that country, I shall be so bold as to agree. I am terribly delighted to have recently received a galley of a new English translation of one of his books to review (unfortunately for this blog, I will be writing for another publication, but maybe I’ll put a quick write-up here next month).

Hopefully, I’ve convinced you a wee bit. Although, Hrabal needs no convincing from me. I mean, when the man had his 80th birthday, the whole city came out. In honor of what would have been his 100th birthday, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty put up a handful of photos from over the years. Take a look here, which includes the photo below from the film set of Closely Watched Trains (Czechoslovak Press Agency).

closely watched trains

 


**The top images are from Wikipedia.org.

Unfinished Masterpieces

I recently watched the 2012 BBC documentary program, Unfinished Masterpieces with Alastair Sooke.* The host begins with the eternally frustrating predicament of The Mystery of Edwin Drood, the Charles Dickens novel that was never finished, because Dickens famously died during the writing of it, leaving very few clues to the intended outcome of the narrative. Biographers, historians, and artists have endlessly tried to anticipate Dickens’ wishes by both speculating about the novel’s unfinished portion and even going so far as to invent possible endings in different mediums like theatre, radio, and film, as well as boldly attempting to finish the task of writing the novel.

Alastair Sooke also looked at other unfinished works and pondered the reasons behind the unfinishedness of these respective works. Like Dickens, Jane Austen also has an unfinished novel, Sanditon, which was left incomplete because of her death. A dozen “continuations” have been penned, all trying to capture Austen’s specific voice and her intended path for the remainder of the book. When Sooke separately asked a handful of complete strangers which they would rather have, all chose to stick with Austen’s original unfinished work.

The program also took a look at works that might have been purposefully suppressed by their creators. For example, the famous portrait of US President George Washington, which is the basis for the image on the $1 bill, was left unfinished by the portraitist Gilbert Stuart. What started off as a difficult portrait, the fact that it was unfinished was a financial benefit to Stuart, who sold replicas for $100 a pop. The notoriety of its incomplete presentation might have been more lucrative for him than otherwise.  This, of course, is reminiscent to Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s explanation for his unfinished poem, “Kubla Khan.” He purports of wild inspiration from an opium haze and begins writing the famous poem when he is suddenly interrupted; when he returns to the poem, all inspiration is gone and “Kubla Khan” remains unfinished. Perhaps, the story behind it is more exciting than having an actual completed work.

There are other works that Sooke investigates including newly discovered poems from English poet Siegfried Sassoon, who was known for his WWI poems that captured the horrors of the war, but whose unpublished poems have a tinge of romanticizing. This conundrum of including them in Sassoon’s canon is questioned. Perhaps, the poet didn’t feel these were up to snuff and didn’t intend them to see the light of day, beside being out of step with his known views. This idea was reminiscent of other writers (who were not featured in the doc) like Franz Kafka, who famously asked that all of his documents be burned and left The Castle incomplete with the final written line ending mid-sentence and David Foster Wallace, who upon his death left an incomplete manuscript and notes on his computer. This was all gathered together by his widow, agent, and other literary folk to become The Pale King.

The question of whether we should finish something or bring to the masses an unknown work once the creator dies is debated and Sooke presents authorities with equally good arguments. Would The Garden of Eden really be a novel Ernest Hemingway would have written himself or could it only be imagined by editors after his death? Kafka wrote that he had an idea for the ending of The Castle, but who knows if it would have still been the same by the time he got there. He leaves the novel mid-sentence and incomplete, almost a perfect final note to a book so concerned with bureaucracy and never-ending frustrations. Sassoon’s poetry could have been just for himself, an attempt at a new form that didn’t quite fit with his other poems or maybe, they were simply something he was not proud of. Thus, choosing to let them go unpublished.

A whole other dilemma–the one of continuing a series–I shall leave to the documentary, but I’ll give you this small bit. Think of the long-dead novelists, Ian Fleming and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, whose characters–James Bond and Sherlock Holmes–are still appearing in new releases, albeit, by different authors. What an entirely different conundrum. For some reason, we are ill-at-ease when it comes to the unfinished. We like wholes, a feeling of sturdy completeness. Although, I do not count myself among them, this might be why so many people had a hard time connecting to Julian Barnes’ A Sense of an Ending. People generally dislike ambiguity and residing in the liminal.

Have you seen this documentary? Are there other famous incomplete works out there? It seems like a strange debate that I find myself on both sides of. I’m curious if anyone has additional thoughts.

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*The 50 minute program can be watched in its entirety on the BBC’s website here; I don’t know how long it will be available, so step on it.

The Giver – Official Trailer

The official trailer for the film adaptation of Lois Lowry’s 1993 novel, The Giver, has been released. I read the book soon after it came out and then again a couple of years ago (that experience can be read about here). I’m intrigued by the adaptation and was very stoked to hear that the dude would be portraying the giver.

With that said, I am a little skeptical now of the film after watching the trailer. It seems to be taking a page from more recent adaptations of dystopian futures (The Hunger Games, Ender’s Game, Divergent) and looks particularly slick and futuristic. These were not feelings I had when I read the book both times. I’m still curious about the film, but I hope the filmmakers haven’t lost the elements of The Giver that made it so great.

Have you read the book? Any thoughts on the film adaptation and the new trailer?

Things I Liked This Month: February

This post comes from the feelings I had included in an earlier post titled, “Bookishly Me.” One of the points was about how I was feeling a bit underwhelmed by book trends, reviews, and blogging. So, instead of wallowing in some sort of Medieval pit of despair that only the internet can provide, I’ve decided on a sort of “wrap-up.” Here is a collection of Things I Liked This Month: February Edition.

Besides the above illustration, this digest (in no particular order) includes posts from bloggers that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed in February, my favorite things from Acid Free Pulp, and other bric-a-brac that I’ve collected from this month.

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I recently re-watched French short film, Entr’act, from 1922 that I wrote a dreadful paper on when I was a college student. I always really liked it and have watched it many, many times. You should, too. It can be viewed in its entirety on Youtube.

The Public Domain Review shared “A Relation of an Extraordinary Sleepy Person (ca.1698),” which is a “Royal Society paper delivered by Dr William Oliver describing a bizarre case he encountered of a man who fell into a ‘profound sleep’ from which no-one could wake him for a full month.”

It was loads of fun writing a most recent post titled, “Storytelling: True Detective and The King in Yellow.” If you haven’t seen the show or read the book, now is the time. Amazon lists the book as #1 Bestseller in Classic Literature & Fiction.

Nina at Multo(Ghost) wrote a post about “The Spectre Girl,” a 19th Century short story utilizing the woman in white lore. I always love all of her posts, but I am a fan of folklore, campfire stories, and white ladies, so this one especially stood out to me. It also is personally poignant as I have just watched my first episode of Supernatural and a ghostly white lady was the central plot.

The streets of Kiev are filled with violence and protest, but in an unexpected change of pace, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty published photos of Ukrainian artists taking to the streets to create art. Check the rest out here.

If you need a mental health break today, take a look at the comments section for the post, “‘Beyond the Door’ by Philip K. Dick.” Watch some Twilight Zone and goof off. There are a couple of good recs left in the comments.

“What Did It Mean to be a Female Detective in the Nineteenth Century?” is bookwormchatterbox’s most recent post and she delves into the genre and highlights specific examples. Read it. It’s well-thought out and easily accessible for anyone interested in the origins of the modern sleuth and how female literary detectives were often overshadowed by others like Sherlock Holmes.

Shooting on the Sonnenallee

With only a couple of days left in Berlin, a friend and I turned the corner from the Sonnenallee in the Turkish populated neighborhood of Neukölln in search of late-night grub. It was here, while we were chatting away, that a man walked out from behind a car, stood next to us, and shot another man behind us several times in the chest (along with parked cars and building walls). My friend did not see the shooter clearly, but I did because I was turned to her and I watched as the handgun lined up with the height of her head.

I bring all of this up, because as I made a hot lemon yesterday to sooth my dry throat, I thought back to that night over a year ago. It’s a night that I’ve wanted to adapt into a short story for ages. But when I sit down to my computer, nothing beyond the words on the Sonnenallee are typed on the screen. I do not know what the form will take or if I’m not thinking about it from a removed enough place. For weeks following, I thought about how the man twisted around the car and found himself next to us. I did that thing you’re not supposed to do where you ruminate: what if I hadn’t left my gloves at home and we didn’t stop at the corner store so I could buy a pair of cheap ones, what if we went the other direction to get soup instead of making that turn to get pizza, what if that man had fired his shots earlier for the split second the muzzle was directed at us.

But back to hot lemon…it was what I drank immediately following the shooting. The polizei came quite quickly and my friend and I were told to wait in the bar at the corner. We weren’t allowed to order any alcohol. Besides water, all that was left was hot lemon and no one should drink water after something like this. Hot lemon is as close as we were allowed to get to comfort. We both drank them with plenty of honey and that was when I revealed my embarrassment. I had a bicycle with me that I pushed while we walked together. When we saw the shots and ran, I still pushed it until finally I hurled it aside as we looked for a corner to duck into. Also, being used to living in New York City where many films and TV shows are made, more than once I’ve seen warnings of ‘the sound of gunshots heard between 11pm-1am are for the filming of a television scene.’ Before we started running, I kept thinking: “where are the film cameras? where are the signs?”

a photo I took of a favorite part of the East Side Gallery at the Berlin Wall.

We spoke to the police at headquarters for hours. I had to lockup the borrowed bicycle on the same side street where the man was shot because it wouldn’t fit in the police car. My friend and I were there for hours; we were given two Mars bars and interviewed separately. I looked at mugshots. Nothing of them matched.

Any time I make a hot lemon, I think back onto this horrorshow. For months, I felt embarrassment and stress any time I squeezed the lemons in to a mug, scooping out stray seeds before adding the hot water. My anxiety shot up into my throat as the memory played on loop.

When it comes to literature and other arts, I am always fascinated by the way characters remember or misremember things. Of course, that man’s face is etched in my memory but it has faded. I’m not quite sure of the color of his clothes anymore but I remember the matte black of his handgun. When interviewed by the police, they told me my friend had said she first became aware that something was wrong was when I yelled oh, shit! I don’t remember this. I’m curious to know if I remembered it at the moment. This oh, shit! hangs alone as if it’s something that is not part of me or as someone else’s memory trying to make room in my own.

More recent literature like Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane or Julian Barnes’ The Sense of an Ending explore traumatizing and complicated events from the perspective of older narrators. Their perceptions and agendas have changed in their present view. Things are more obvious and details have been conflated or understood.

I know I’ve rambled on for far too long, but bear with me. I’m sipping the remaining drops of my hot lemon now as I type and think more about this story that still hasn’t been written. I’ve written short stories about other past travel experiences (both fun and horrible–traversing the Swiss Alps on a Moto Guzzi vs. days after leaving Berlin for London, my only remaining pair of pants caught on fire). This one, however, is far more complicated. When I do try to write something, it comes out cold and police blotter-esque (just the facts, ma’am). Instead of writing, I find myself sitting and remembering the images and feelings on a loop.

I can’t help but think about Ryūnosuke Akutagawa’s short story “In a Grove,” which is divided by testimonies and confessions of the various witnesses and participants of a samurai’s killing. I feel most akin with Akutagawa’s tale and perhaps, I should take a lesson from the structure of his story. There were many people on the Sonnenallee that night. I didn’t see anything that happened behind me, but there were surely people who did and conversely, they did not see the detailed and up-close description of the shooter like I had or where he walked out from behind a car (or was it a van?). Together, we could weave a complex, multi-point of view tale or on our own, each present a compelling, yet unreliable story. As a writer, I can usurp their points of view and craft them into something of my own making, choosing when to punch holes in the plot and when to present a view–whether skewed or reliable–of the focused action.

I do hope to write this story one day and perhaps, next time I try, I won’t stare blankly at my computer screen. From witnessing this bizarre and horrid event, I plan to piece together a story of remembering and misremembering. When I make my next hot lemon–or heiße Zitrone–I will for once think clearly or not…whichever leads me to where I need to go to write the story I want to get down on the page. I wonder if it will be something realist or if it will swim in a surreal space. I’m clamoring to find out.

post script

I never found out what happened to the man who was shot. The newspapers in Berlin were alarmingly quiet save for one short article  (my theory is that they don’t often report on immigrants’ concerns in Germany). In English, Sonnenallee translates as the Sun Alley, which seems bright in comparison to the dark night I was there. Also, in 1999 a German film was made called Sonnenallee, which from what I’ve read about it, falls prey to Ostalgie for the former DDR.

Plagiarism, Shia LaBeouf, and the Phenomenal Daniel Clowes

The action or practice of plagiarizing; the wrongful appropriation or purloining, and publication as one’s own, of the ideas, or the expression of the ideas (literary, artistic, musical, mechanical, etc.) of another.  -Definition of plagiarism in The Oxford English Dictionary

Snapshot from LA Times article

For the past month, there has been a brouhaha over the obvious lifting and plagiarizing of a graphic short story by the artist Daniel Clowes. The story, originally anthologized by Zadie Smith in The Book of Other People, features a film critic and titular character named Justin M. Damiano. The story is fascinating especially for those interested in film/arts critique. Actor-turned-filmmaker Shia LaBeouf adapted Clowes’ story for a short film of his own titled Howard Cantour.com. Both are about an internet film critic who  extrapolates on the notion that film critics can make or break a film. Those familiar with Clowes’ original story will be baffled by the verbatim representation in the film, which was not authorized by Clowes and was a shock to both him and his publisher. LaBeouf didn’t seek the rights or acknowledge Clowes and “Justin M. Damiano” at all in the process.

Plagiarism has always been a touchy subject. When it occurs–or even with just a lisping whiff of it–our opinions are usually quite strong, both personally and litigiously. When I was a college student, in my introductory poetry class we were taught about found poetry, which according to poets.org is: found poems take existing texts and refashion them, reorder them, and present them as poems. We were essentially given the green light to steal and when the professor was pressed more on the area of plagiarism to create these word collages, she put on a little grin and her pupils broadened.

I suppose the difference between what Shia LaBeouf did and a room full of nineteen-year-old undergrads did lies with the idea of creating something new out of re-purposing. LaBeouf blatantly stole from Daniel Clowes; he was only inspired by him enough to take his story and photocopy it into a new medium.

In the above image, Marcel Duchamp takes the Mona Lisa and adds a bit of a spin to the sixteenth century canvas. This 1919 work was different from his other readymades, but he still transformed a piece of art into something else, adding a commentary and attitude. We all remember that iconic image of Barack Obama by the artist Shepard Fairey. The Associated Press got all hot and bothered because the original photo that Fairey used was not his own–it was taken by a photographer that was on assignment for the AP. The original photographer claimed he held the copyright and enjoyed Fairey’s transformation of the image. Fairey’s main defense was that his own visual had been completely transformed from the original, making it something wholly different (which falls in the realm of fair use exemption).

But coming back to the original predicament: it is clear-cut that LaBeouf plagiarized Daniel Clowes. He purloined the original graphic short story with intent to pass it as his own creation. He was not influenced, for the dialogue and voice-over is either word-for-word or nearly so. I’m not going to delve into the internet freak show that LaBeouf has crowned himself ringmaster of (that’s what Google is for). It’s a shame though. I find it perplexing that LaBeouf didn’t first acquire the rights because the short film itself is very enjoyable and well-made. Instead of taking a foot forward into a potential interesting career as a film maker, he has sunk into some wonderland madness of his own doing. The film has been removed from many places online, but when you’re done reading Daniel Clowes’ original story you can still watch it on YouTube.

Resources…

  • My recommendation for more Clowes readings are the full-length graphic novels Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron and David Boring.
  • Reality Hunger:A Manifesto by David Shields is a mash-up of other sources and quotes with the intent being to have us think about art and the way it is re-appropriated.
  • Jonathan Lethem’s article in Harper’s titled “The Ecstasy of Influence” has the subtitle “a plagiarism.” It is a defense of plagiarism and like the subtitle, the sentences are lifted from other sources.
  • The recent court case concerning which of the Sherlock Holmes stories and characters are in the public domain.
  • Howard Cantour.com short film,

The Lodger by Marie Belloc Lowndes

“There fell on them, emerging now and again from the confused babel of hoarse shouts, the one clear word “Murder!”

the lodger coverMarie Belloc Lowndes’ 1913 novel clearly influenced by the real-life Jack the Ripper murders was gripping and suspenseful. The suspense manifests itself from crafting a psychological mystery within the minds of the main characters.

The Lodger begins at a boarding house owned by the Buntings, a married couple that had spent their lives, up until then, in service. They haven’t had a paying lodger in ages, and the two have turned to pawning most of their belongings and going without food for long periods of time. It is also during the opening that information is revealed about a series of ghastly murders in the East End of London, which are perpetrated by a villain called “The Avenger.” When the Buntings are almost down to their last bit of money, they receive a visitor late at night. A strange man wrapped up in his heavy cloak comes seeking lodging. He agrees to pay a larger sum than is normally required with the promise that no one else shall board in the rooms.

Mrs. Bunting is terribly relieved about the new household income. This strange lodger, Mr. Sleuth, is surely a gentleman (at least in Mrs. Bunting’s eyes) and this is the excuse she gives herself any time she needs to rationalize his strange behavior (his daily “experiments,” his obsessive reading of the bible, his queer kind of fear and dislike of women, and his predilection for leaving the house only at late hours that coincide with the times of the murders). She is the one who has the most interaction with Mr. Sleuth, but her husband also has a wee bit. Independently from each other, both Buntings begin to have doubts about their lodger.

the lodger hitchcockThe book is more about the psychology of the Buntings–mostly Mrs. Bunting. Through her eyes, Belloc Lowndes is cooking up doubt and deception. With all of his strange behavior and schedule perfectly matching up with those of The Avenger’s murders, Mrs. Bunting refuses to admit that Mr. Sleuth is anything but a scholar and a gentleman. Each day unfolds with new strange behavior from the lodger. Belloc Lowndes writes with an acute sense of detail and the book is rich with information about the crimes sensationalized through the newspapers that Mr. Bunting buys throughout the day. Rarely, though, does the novel leave the inside of the boarding house, with the rare exception of Mrs. Bunting’s visit to the public police inquest. The mystery and intrigue are mostly confined to its walls, which give the reader a claustrophobic and paranoid feeling. I shan’t reveal anymore, because it would be a crime to give away the reveal (although, I do admit that the ending was very abrupt and I found myself rereading the final few paragraphs).

Also, in 1927, film audiences saw the Hitchcock adaptation that is extensive in its shadows and intrigue. The Lodger played by Ivor Novello is handsome, dark, and suave. The silent film relies on many plot points of the original book, but like most film adaptations, does veer away from the source material. With that said, however, I very much enjoyed the film, which can be watched for free in the public domain (it is remarkable that it remains intact and of good quality considering many early films have been lost or destroyed, re: London After Midnight). I urge you to watch the film, especially if you are a fan of Hitchcock or shadowy dark films in the German Expressionism vain. Although, I haven’t seen it, word on the street is that the 1944 adaptation is also a very good film.

Besides films, the book has also been adapted for radio series. The two I’ve listened to have Vincent Price and Peter Lorre as the lodger, respectively. They, too, are available to listen to for free in the public domain.

  • Vincent Price offers a lodger who is slick and his voices gives the appearance of a gentleman scholar even when on the brink of losing it. @Hollywood Star Time (1946)
  • Peter Lorre is far creepier. His voice lends less to a creeping psychopath, but more to a man cloaked in mania ready to burst at the seams. @Mystery in the Air (1947)

One last suggestion of supplemental works is the Spring 2011 article ‘Using a woman’s wit and cunning”: Marie Belloc Lowndes Rewrites the Ripper’ available in the Nineteenth-Century Gender Studies journal.