Got a law degree? Tired of spending your days in courtrooms defending lowlifes? An exciting new career awaits you as an animation executive! A background in the arts is not necessary; in fact, it may be a handicap.
Question #4... Is it that Europeans can't tell a coherent narrative, or that they won't?
Hollywood takes its cue in narrative principles from Aristotle. Europe, in rebelling against Hollywood-style filmmaking, has had to rebel against Aristotle's Poetics. This is bad for their movies.
I sat there watching Pan's ridiculous lurching around from one story to the other without any attention to what the audience needs in storytelling, and wondered how it was that the folks who produced some of the greatest novelists ever, can't seem to pull off a begining, middle and end connected by necessity.
I'm thinking that after centuries of Aesop and Brothers Grimm and national folk tales and Arthurian legends, the Europeans are just plain old sick of a good story. And how's that working for you, Old World?
If movies are "the absolutely dominant global art form of the last century," then I am Out of It. I can think of only four films from the past twenty-five years I've seen in theaters that I positively enjoyed.* The great service rendered by good movie reviewers is saving me from squandering my time on yet another piece of crap. For instance, P.D. James' novel Children of Men is on my shelf, but you can be sure that I will never watch the movie:
The only hope offered in Cuarón’s film is the existence of the Human Project, which of course is exactly what the world needs in a time of inconceivable degradation—a committee. James’ novel knows of no such project; in fact, it’s too smart for such a contrivance. Let’s face it, the last group of intellectuals assembled from around the world to end a global crisis and usher in peace on earth was the Manhattan Project. I sincerely doubt their solution is quite what the filmmakers here had in mind.
(Hmm. Curious coincidence: Sacramone's comments are strikingly similar to Martin Luther's.)
*The Magic Flute, Brazil, Spirited Away and The Incredibles. I've seen plenty more on DVD, of course, and most of those were disappointing as well.
Shakespeare may have influenced English literature towards fantasy in a rather particular way. Spenser has Continental counterparts, but A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Tempest do not. Nowhere else in Europe did folk tale, legend, medieval romance, travellers' tales and individual genius coalesce in such works of imagination as those plays. That may be one reason why the literature I am talking about is very largely an English-language phenomenon.
It begins with, say, George MacDonald's At the Back of the North Wind and runs on through Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, The Wind in the Willows the Just So Stories and The Jungle Book, the Pooh books, Dr Dolittle, The Hobbit, The Once and Future King, Charlotte's Web, to my first three Earthsea books and all the serious imaginative fiction that continues to be published "for children" but is often read by adults. Does any other kind of fiction cross age-lines this way?
I know I'm going to get blasted for it, but I'm going to lay it on the line. Was there ever another group of whining, self-involved, petulant, petty, pugnacious, undisciplined, unlikable people in all of literature. From Achilles who goes off to sulk in his tent until his friend is killed and then emerges to slaughter Troy's finest and do his darnedest to disgrace him (thank Heavens Thetis missed a spot), to lying (aka wily) Odysseus, and arrogant, egotistical and ultimately useless Agamemnon (once again, one finds oneself cheering Clytemnestra on). Ultimately what Achilles succeeds in doing is showing us what a belligerent, bellicose boor he is. As for Odysseus, wily Odysseus, the less said the better.
What an unpleasant lot, thoroughly deserving of whatever is dished out. Add to that quarrelsome, petty, ignorant, and foul-tempered gods, goddesses, minor nymphs, seers, you name it.
Post script: from the comments:
I'm not sure that Achilles was meant to be likable, to be honest. There are a lot of interesting ways to look at the Iliad, but one of the ones that has always appealed to me is as a polemic against the gods. Achilles great fault is that he indulges in wrath like unto that of the gods: i.e. inhuman, unrelenting and irrational.
It strikes me reading works like the Iliad that most ancient pagans really didn't like being pagan, and didn't like or trust the gods a bit. They may have believed in them, and made sacrifices to placate them, but they didn't like them.
Mr. Grand emphasizes that his new show is not a translation. “I wrote a Yiddish version of the ‘Pirates of Penzance,’ ” he specified. “I would not call it a translation, because if I tried to translate every word Gilbert wrote into Yiddish it would be clumsy, it would not scan.” The show’s title, “Di Yam Gazlonim,” means, more or less, “The Rascally Robbers of the Sea” — a nod both to the fact that “piratn,” though Yiddish, is not as funny a word as “gazlonim,” and to the historical truth that the annals of buccaneering are not rife with Jewish pirates.
In the operetta’s opening chorus, “Pour, Oh, Pour the Pirate Sherry,” Gilbert’s lyrics go, “To make us more than merry, let the pirate bumper pass.” Mr. Grand found more audience-appropriate fare: “Un derlang undz beygl un seltzer; Veln mir ale freylekh zayn!” (“Give us bagels and seltzer! It’s a regular party!”)
A friend of mine wrote this two years ago. Since it's about that time of year again, I'm posting it here. -- Don)
The Transcendent Series on TV Part One
By John R. Traffas
In today's classrooms, TVs or other cathode ray tubes are everywhere. The one-eyed monster sits on a wheeled stand for videotape/DVD presentations, and there are probably at least two computer monitors: one for teacher, and one for students to use in succession. Perhaps there is even a wall-to-wall bank of computers and their displays for running students through their numbers, verbs, presidents and vertebrates.
It was not always thus.
In my grade school experience from the late 50s through the mid-60s, there was only one standing date on which a TV would appear in the classroom: the start of the World Series. Sister was in earnest about instructing us in grammar, arithmetic and religion, but from beneath her veil and wimple, as if from under a pitcher's cap, she checked our bases for what was important and decided that we needed to see what the Yankees (usually the Yankees!) would deal to a National League team. I think several of the Incarnate Word sisters who taught me in Amarillo, Texas, were from the Midwest, so they were probably rooting for the St. Louis Cardinals or one of the Chicago teams. (At that time there were no teams in Texas, Florida or Arizona, and the Dodgers had barely unpacked their bags in Los Angeles after their departure from Brooklyn.)
In those halcyon days -- before the Vietnam War, before the Kennedy assassination, before the "sexual revolution," even before the conclusion of Vatican II -- we really could think with Robert Browning's persona that "God's in his heaven/all's right with the world." Some, looking back, might judge those to have been times of great naivete, with our parents' generation simply whistling in the dark before the onslaught of cultural and political revolutionary change. However, in retrospect I judge the times in which my youth was spent to have been days of order. This assertion isn't intended to deny that there were great upheavals in the later 60s: drugs, sex, rock 'n roll, assassinations, protests, Mass in English with the priest looking right at you. Rather, the order that I experienced was based principally on an insight: that because God's Providence rules us with love and wisdom far outrunning our own capacities of knowledge and will, we can rest assured in the divine love and view the world as a field of play not so much dependent upon our exertions as upon our receptiveness.
Sister knew this. That's why she had some strapping boy from the class wrestle in a cumbersome black-and-white TV and enthrone it upon her desk at the front of the room. She knew that she had to work us hard during the morning and early afternoon until the start of each World Series game. For in that idyllic age, most games were played in the afternoon and were still attended by men in neckties who had come straight from short days at work. Perhaps, like the Sisters, their bosses also knew what was important and, unlike today, didn't have to smirk when someone phoned in "sick."
Sister took us out of time when she turned on the TV for the Series. We would still be going home at 3:30, but for a few hours the change of classes didn't apply--only the inning count. We entered a time when time didn't matter. Unlike football, basketball and soccer, baseball doesn't have a clock (although it has at times used a 24-second clock for pitchers). Play goes on until ... until a victor emerges with the last arrival "home," or the last man of the losing team fails to attain it. Unlike more clock-bound sports, baseball is quite leisurely. As with football, a baseball game's scoring can be finished early, with no runs scored after, say, the second inning. But a clock won't decide the matter. If a losing team decides to wake up in the bottom of the ninth and even up a game, the play will go on and on, as seen in the recent Yankees-Red Sox American League Championship Series Game 5, which went 14 innings and 5 hours, 49 minutes.
At some point in the Sixties (was it after Kennedy died? after the one-thousandth American death in Vietnam? after the Council concluded in 1965?), a great seriousness settled over the Church and the nation. Sister stopped bringing in the TV. She abandoned the veil, the classroom and, often, her vocation. Major League Baseball changed, too: to get more 'viewership' and more advertising revenue, all World Series games were switched to prime time. Who knows: perhaps most students today are uninterested in any baseball other than that on their X Boxes.
In the Church today, as in society generally, there is a great activist tendency. Some want to work quickly to end war. Others, to end abortion. Some want the full weight of the Church's teaching authority to come down on one side of an issue or the other. And, indeed, many issues--abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem-cell research, war and peace--are fraught with importance even for our salvation. Yet, amid our proper exertions on behalf of a culture of life, we ought to be mindful of the antiphon calling us to prayer: "Come let us worship God, Who holds the world and its wonders in His creating hands."
Perhaps it would help us appreciate God's providence more, His having the whole world in His hands, if we focused, at least a bit, on Curt Schilling having the ball in his hand, or Albert Pujols having his bat. God's in His heaven, and the Yankees AREN'T in the Series.
When my son turned nine, I dutifully purchased the first novel in the Harry Potter series. To my disappointment, he was completely uninterested, having never developed the patience for believing in a different reality. But I was sucked in. It was as though I had entered a time warp, and was once again a nine-year-old reading under the covers with a night light.
His specialty was scenes of clerical life, especially at mid-century, especially in the bleak, wind-swept parish houses of the Midwest. And the major reason for the fading of J.F. Powers is the decline of his topic once the reforms of Vatican II took hold—or rather, once what was perceived in America to be the “spirit” of Vatican II had destroyed the setting of his fiction. Powers had a uniquely talented eye for the little negotiations, compromises, and squabbles of bachelors living together—but such things cannot in themselves carry a story. What gave his fiction its force was the contrast between those little foibles of priestly life and the constantly looming reality of what a priest actually does in the sacraments.
But Powers had narrowed his vision down to a point where it could not survive the passing of its moment. He had a prose that was unmatched by anyone in his time; the concluding lines of his stories are all so delicate and perfect that it sometimes seemed as though his stories were written just to provide an excuse for their closing sentences. In “Defection of a Favorite,” he pulls off with perfect humor and grace the almost technically impossible feat of a story narrated by the parish cat. In “Lions, Harts, Leaping Does,” he gives the most moving interior description of dying since Tolstoy. He really was the finest American Catholic writer of the twentieth century. And that century is over.
For no good reason, NRO commemorated the 25th anniversary of MTV's debut this week with a symposium. Twenty-five years ago I was living in a house with a teevee in every room (except my own), and there was no escape. There are a few videos that I remember without loathing -- those featuring Madness, for instance, or occasionally Peter Gabriel or Talking Heads. In most cases, though, the imagery was no better than the music, and the music wasn't very good. I gather that MTV subsequently de-emphasized music in favor of outright trash.
However, MTV does deserve some credit for popularizing the idea of a music video. Combine this notion with an enthusiasm for Japanese animation, and you get the anime music video. There are tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, of these available online, all made by amateurs painstakingly matching snippets of animation to musical phrases, beat by beat, frame by frame. The quality varies tremendously, but the best are better than anything I ever saw on MTV.
Indulge in childhood episodes of some dramatic illness. Epilepsy and asthma are excellent choices, but if you can find a disease that's so rare that it goes undiagnosed for years, all the better.
In your early teens, experience for the first time a overwhelming sensation of your own unique destiny.
Age 15: write some music.
Age 20: now is the time to begin your lifelong addictions. No need to choose carefully.
Age 21: bitter that your genius goes unrecognized, throw out your juvenilia. (No great loss anyway.)
Early adulthood: use erratic behavior to end all your relationships badly.
In a rare moment of sanity, commit yourself to an institution for 13 years.
Get yourself kicked out of the institution. Resume "career" as a chronically unemployable misfit.
... and your'e on the right track. The same principles apply to other varieties of artistic genius, of course.
As to the movie, I can understand why someone might not like it. After the movie, kashi and I and the friends we saw it with talked about it. Most of us liked it, but couldn't exactly say why. Also, the pacing's really bizarre for a film, which could easily lend to boredom. And you've really got to like fairy tales to really appreciate it as well. But the viciousness with which the critics are attacking this movie is unwarranted. And the more I read from them, the more I find myself liking this movie. Because somehow, it has gotten under the skin of the critics. They don't just not like it. Almost across the board, they hate it. And it is very clear that they missed much of what the movie is actually saying ....
... I liked it a great deal, and find that I like it more and more as I think about it. Lady in the Water is still not as good, I think, as The Village and Unbreakable (which, it should be noted, were also ill-received), but it's still quite good. And it has something essential to say about storytelling, and about purpose, that is often overlooked in our society. It is a deficiency in us, and a sad one at that. But there are voices out there who possess that talespinner quality (I'd argue Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, and Neil Gaiman are foremost among them), people who know how to unwind a story and entrance their audience. There are truths in these tales, truths about us, about our universe. They're not on platforms for all to see. You've got to have eyes to see them. You've got to want it. But they are there. And like Cleveland Heep in Lady in the Water, once you've looked, and seen it, your whole world might change.
It is easy to see why critics deplore the film, the one person harmed in the course of its filming is a critic. And the important point here is not so much that he is a critic as that he is a hubristic know-it-all. Hubris and humanity, the themes of the film.
There's no need to try to outline the plot--it makes no sense outside of the film. And I won't claim that this was the very finest film M. Night Shyamalan has made--although it may be close.
It is a film with a tremendous philosophical appeal, and that may be the flaw that makes it, perhaps a lesser film. Sometimes, the veil is torn away and one gets the "lecture" that has been hiding in some of Shyamalan's other films. This may be what bothers critics, but if so, it seems a case of intellectual laziness.