Monday, July 23, 2012

Quotations: Community Edition, Part 2

The only reason I slammed Jeff's head against the table was because I wanted to feel like an adult.

I refused to give Santa a Cristmas list because I didn't want to depend on a man for anything. Now look at me. I'm betty Crocker. I'm Martha Stewart. I'm one of the Steppenwolf wives.

You guys, you create fun, and I destroy it. Of course a silly little joke ends with a dead body on the lawn, I should have known that, but I wanted to do it anyway, cause I wanted to be like you. I wanted to be funny. Knock knock! Who's there? Cancer. Oh, good, come on in. I thought it was Britta.

I just yanked a little dude out of my friend.

I have two boys, and when we have a serious discussion I find that a brownie helps them to relax. So...why do you hate me and Jesus?

Oh, look. Britta brought what she believes in. Nothing.

Don't you get it, Jeff? They're not evil people that are good at foosball. They're good at foosball because they're evil. It's an evil game that brings out the worst in us, like out of town weddings where the reception is in the same place as everybody's rooms.

Bonus Anthony Michael Hall quote from the first season Christmas Episode...

My life is a gym!

If this dude doesn't show up we're definitely going to Applebees, cause I'm getting into a fight today no matter what.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Own Worst Enemy Tonight

I'll be out of town next week, so I doubt I'll post anything.

However, tonight at the Bishop (corner of 4th and Walnut in Bloomington), I'll be screening the film Own Worst Enemy. I wrote it with Mike Judd, who directed it with his wife Jessica. Everyone is welcome.

In the interest of keeping some Superman content, here's a story from the AV Club about one guy's identification with Superman. I might make reference to this in my book, if I ever get around to revising it for publication. By which I mean, if it ever gets accepted for publication, at which point I would get to work revising it immediately.

The AV Club story, by Todd VanDerWiff, is a lengthy story about his own experience with Superman comics, which didn't begin in earnest until he was in his 20's. He's trying to capture what makes Superman resonate with people, and he does a pretty good job. Here's how he concludes the article:

We’re all constantly walking forward through a life that keeps stripping everything we have from us and asking us if that’s all we’ve got. For every joy we have, we will have just as much despair, and for every good day, there will be a dozen bad.
But we’ve all been sent here for some reason. And maybe someday, we’ll figure out how to fly.

Like I said, pretty good stuff. He focuses on the inspiration component of Superman, and how that ties into the resonance of his situation. He gets at the idea that Superman lives beyond the media in which he appears, and his point is that this is why it happens. In essence, he's building up to the same points I try to make in my book. But where he uses his own personal experience and speculation/vague anecdotal evidence for his argument, I use fieldwork. That's not a criticism, by the way, it's just a different method. Good stuff.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Never Ending

Ahhh...the internet. Like the 24hour cable news network, the internet requires that the people there always have something to say. So people say things. They have to. Sometimes it's their job. Sometimes it's because there's a medium, which is a vacuum. And culture abhors a medium vacuum, so people fill it. They fill it with things like this...
Why There Will Never, Ever Be Another Great Superman Movie

This is labeled news, and I guess it qualifies if you're writing for E!. It's that weird thing on the internet where somebody writes an opinion in wildly overblown hyperbole. It should be on a comment forum for something, or on somebody's blog. But it's on E!. Which is weird. If you read the article, there's an argument there, and there may be some merit to it. What the writer, Joal Ryan, is saying is fairly simple: Richard Donner's Superman: The Movie was pretty fantastic, and because it was the product of its time, and because times have changed, there will never be another movie like it. The reason it was fantastic was because of the sincerity with which the character and superheroism was handled. We live in a more cynical time, where sincerity makes us uncomfortable. So we won't have another movie like this. Ever.

This quotation should sum up  his point nicely:
Above all, Superman is a confident, unburdened hero because Donner and his writers let him be. And Donner and his writers let him be because, all those years ago, they didn't have graphic-novel-prescribed psychoanalysis to answer to or sift through.
Today, the modern movie superhero is a wreck.
He (and it's still almost always a he) must be touched by a form of madness in order to get to the point where he dons a suit.
The Superman in Superman: The Movie, by comparison, just does it.

Here's the thing that's interesting to me. This is precisely the same thing that, more or less, happened to comics sixteen or seventeen years before Donner's Superman movie. The superheroes, following the example of Superman, were going along just fine in their straightforward, sincere, and uncynical adventures. Then came the Fantastic Four, the Hulk, and most importantly, Spider-Man. They were complicated, and selfish, and flawed, and their psyches were there on the page to see. This is precisely the 'graphic-novel-prescribed psychoanalysis' that Ryan refers to, happening in 1962. Or at least that's the generally accepted story.

From Superman 61, by Bill Finger and Al Plastino

It's not true, of course. Batman, as soon as his origin was revealed, was a Freudian's dream. And when Superman's origin was revisited, so that for the first time the character became aware of Krypton's destruction and the death of everyone in the cosmos who was like him, he gets a host of psychological trouble for it. Both those origin revisions, by the way, were in the 1940's. Both were written by Bill Finger. If you want to see scans of the pages from all the major retellings of Superman's origins, check out the site Superman through the Ages. History is never quite as linear as people like to say it is. Trends are never smooth.

I may be criticizing the unabashed hyperbole of Ryan's article (which may just be a symptom of the internet culture), but there is something to it. What he's really saying is that the psychologically troubled superhero sells right now, so the people who are making big-budget movies will probably stick with that formula. But there's no real reason they have to. Sure, we live in an age suspicious of sincerity, but maybe that will change. Maybe there's a movie out there that can show us the folly of cynicism and remind us that there's value in pure heroism. Times change. Never say never.


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Better than the Book: Wonder Boys

Michael Chabon is being hailed as a master of the literary form. He moves easily through genres, always keeping a decent style and relying on character and theme more than that pesky necessity called plot. Reading just the first few sentences of his novel about the comics industry, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, reveals his confidence and command of language. Of all his work that I have read, my favorite piece is his introduction to the reprint of D’Aullaire’s Norse Myths. It’s a great book all around, but Chabon’s intro gives an account of his personal relationship with mythology that just made me smile. His characterization of Loki as the god of the eight-year-old boy is simply genius, and I don’t doubt that it will show up in an academic piece I write sooner or later.


That being said, Wonder Boys just didn’t work for me as a book. I saw the movie first, and I loved every minute of it. I think a lot of it has to do with Michael Douglas, who simply dominates the movie without being overbearing. All the actors are great, even that guy who plays Vernon Hardapple, whose introduction is perhaps one of my favorite moments in cinematic storytelling (that means storytelling in a movie, not a movie as a story).


Steve Kloves gained some success writing adaptations for a little franchise you might have heard of called Harry Potter. In Wonder Boys, it seems like he realizes that sometimes, what you don’t see on the screen is as important as what you do see. Normally, phrase like that would be applied to horror films, where the director keeps the gore and monster off-screen until the end. Here, it applies to the wife. You never see the woman to whom the lead character is married, though Douglas tries to track her down, even going to her parents’ house. In the book, she and her whole family is there, and it leads to the characters partaking in a religious dinner that is frankly too long and not at all interesting. In the film, Kloves turns the scene into a brief but important conversation between Tripp and his wife’s father that is a turning point for Tripp’s character. It’s direct, concise, and important--qualities the novel does not muster for this scene. It’s Chabon’s largest excess in the book, and it was probably obvious that it had to go. Little changes in a similar vein make the film as a whole much more enjoyable, much more effective.

One other thing the film has over the book is its soundtrack. It’s as if the book didn’t even try here, while the movie used Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Van Morrison, and a bunch of other guys whose names I don’t know.

I will give Chabon credit, though. His handling of the tuba is inspired. In the film, it is revealed to be the possession of a transvestite whom Tripp’s literary agent meets on a plane to visit Tripp. In the book, the characters merely think it belongs to the transvestite. It doesn’t, and among the many crimes committed by the characters, tuba theft must be added. It stays with Tripp throughout, and is brought to the foreground at all the right moments. The film, on the other hand, uses it for a joke about trunkspace. A good joke, but the book does so much more with it.

I mention this to make clear that the book--as with most of the books I’ll be writing about--has merit. Wonder Boys is a good book. It’s just not as good as the movie.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The 1001 Nights

So I've been reading my way through the 1001 Nights. Or the Arabian Nights. Or the Thousand Nights and One Night. Depending on all sorts of things. I've got the three volume Penduin edition, and I love it. I tried to read Richard Burton's translation a while ago, and just couldn't get through it. Each story was one paragraph, which sometimes lasted over sixth pages. Bleagh.

The Penguin edition is great. Of the first 100 nights, 25 is the best. It's got this proto-Weekend at Bernie's quality that cracks me up.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Superman Is an Arab

Now this is interesting. A Lebanese writer, Joumana Haddad, has written a book called Superman Is an Arab: On God, Marriage, Macho Men, and Other Disastrous Inventions. There's an interview with her at Now Lebanon. I've never heard of this writer or her previous work, but I'll check out her new book when it comes out in September. Here are a couple of quotes from the interview:

I thought there was a need to tackle manhood, not only womanhood, because, as you might know I’m a third-wave feminist, which means I don’t believe in women’s solidarity; I believe in human solidarity. I believe in partnership between men and women, and if our suffering is going to change it won’t be by women alone.
And it hit me that in the Superman story I always preferred Clark Kent, because he’s real. And I think many of our leaders and religious representatives here in the Middle East think of themselves as invincible supermen.

And this: And God is a superman – that’s my first enemy, the monotheist God. That’s the first Superman we need to get rid of.

You can really see her point of view here.

I wrote about Susan Faludi and her book The Terror Dream a while back. I think the perspectives of these books might have a lot in common, with their view of the dangers of masculinity and the effects that idolizing it can have on a society. It'll be interesting to see how similar they are, and the reactions Haddad gets. It's tempting to offer some comments about her thoughts just on the interview, but it's wiser to wait until I can get my hands on the whole book.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Quotations: Community Edition

So, Community is one of my favorite tv shows. Here's a bunch of things the guys on it have said.

When I was young I discovered that if I kept talking long enough, I could convince people that anything I said was right. So either I'm god or truth is relative.

Nothing is impossible here. Animals can talk. Your heart is shaped like a heart. And the smell of pie can make you float.

Energon doesn't grow on trees, Jeff. It's harvested by super bees in a buddhist meteor crater.

Sometimes I think I lost something really important to me and it turns out I already ate it.

What are those underwear made of? They look luxurious.

 Set phasers to 'love me.'

Harrison Ford is irradiating our testicles with microwave satellite transmissions.

 Next time on "Quotations"...the women of Community.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Better than the Book: History of Violence

It’s a good idea for a story--a man who can’t escape his past.  That past, in this particular plot, which began as a comic book before being adapted by Josh Olson for David Cronenberg (Viggo Mortensen plays the man, Tom), is indeed one of violence.  And it comes back to haunt Tom after an act of defense (in the book--it’s heroism in the film) brings him national media attention.  People from his past show up, and his family is put in danger. 

I’ll be straightforward here:  The reason the movie is better than the book is that the book has no characters.  It has plot points in the shape of people.  They exhibit no real emotion, intensity, complexity, or pathos, and thus are completely unengaging.  Olson’s adaptation gives them this complexity, which thus makes the story more complex and interesting. 

I’ll give the most obvious example:  the scene where the wife confronts Tom about his past.  He’s been wounded defending himself and his family from gangsters, and they’re in the hospital.  In the book, his son’s there, too.  They say they want the truth from Tom, and he tells it to them.  We learn it in the form of an extended flashback, where we see that Tom does indeed have a history of violence, though he was a bit reluctant to engage in it.  That’s it.  Nobody reacts to the news that their husband or father is a killer. We just move on to the next scene.

In the film, it’s just husband and wife.  There’s almost no mention of what the incident was in the entire film, no flashback, no concern with specifics.  The fact that he killed for reasons other than self-defense is all that’s important, and that he doesn’t want to do it anymore.  If you were his wife, would that be enough for you?  In the confrontation scene, there’s anger, pain, and believable emotion.  Mortensen and Maria Bello do a fine job.  They play real humans, not plot points. 

In both book and film, Tom confronts and defeats his past.  He has made his future safe for his family.  Only the film has the guts to ask if that’s enough.  Can we transcend the choices we made?  Can we become a new and better person?  What are the consequences of twenty years of lies and twists of truth?  The book does not ask or answer these questions in any meaningful way.  It says that we solve violence by violence.  And then we go back home.  The film says that maybe we have to solve violence by violence, but that there are consequences, and there’s a bit of doubt about whether there will still be a home to return to when it’s all said and done.

I’m not sure what I think of History of Violence as a film.  It’s certainly better than the book, by a wide margin.  The book is interesting, but lacks the main qualities that make a story great.  The film has many of them, including a deft hand a creating suspense and tension, but I felt like there was something missing.  Not sure what it was though.  It may just be that the film moved Tom’s new home from Michigan to Indiana.  Not sure why that would bother me.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Harry Potter

My wife and I recently watched all of the Harry Potter movies. We'd both read the books when they came out. In the interest of having something to say about the issue, I thought I'd post the best line in all the films:

Oh, Harry...If you die down there you're welcome to share my toilet.

I'm sure you know the character who says this and what books it's from. That is all.

Ending things

I've been thinking about this Superman project a lot lately. I'm not reconsidering things I've written, or contemplating new chapter or anything like that. I'm thinking about how it's ending. I spent two and a half years working on it, from the spark of an idea in March of 2009 to the manuscript I submitted to a publisher in October 2011. That's really not all that long for an academic book. And I haven't looked at the manuscript, or thought much about it, since October.

Right now, the only thing that will get me working on it again is the promise of publication. My hope is that, one day soon, I get a letter from a certain university press telling me that they want to publish it, and they offer some suggestions on how to improve it. Then I'll start revising it. Or, in many months' time, another press will be interested in it. Should all that fail, I'll probably break it up and make it into separate articles to send to journals.

Regardless, that will be that. But what's got me thinking  now are two things: my subscriptions to Superman comics, and my Superman google alert. Every month, I purchase Superman and Action. Every day, I receive a list of links to websites that mention Superman. And I read them all. So far, in those nine months since I submitted my manuscript, I haven't encountered a single thing that I thought had to be included in my book.

So why do I still do it? I have no attachment to the stories in either Superman or Action. The interest I had when I learned that Grant Morrison would be writing a monthly title faded quickly when I saw Rags Morales' art, and the storyline has been less than I expected. Some people like it, I guess, but not me. And I have not one single good thing to say about the monthly Superman title.

As for the alerts...well, they've become nothing more than a daily list of where to find rumors and pictures of the new Man of Steel movie combined with a catalogue of which athletes have Superman as their nickname. It's not terribly interesting.

Yet I haven't stopped. What keeps me going back to these things? Three years now. Does that have something to do with it?