Last Saturday, I had the great pleasure of participating in the first Book Camp New York, an “unconference” attended by the best & brightest in publishing. Here are a few articles about the event:
We’re proud to present the April issue of the Mississippi Review Web, dedicated to fiction inspired by the movies. Check it out at MississippiReview.com or go straight to the pdf download. Featuring:
- Brandon Scott Gorrell: Godzilla
- Colin Bassett: Dance Party, U.S.A.
- Emma Garman: Talking with Françoise Sagan
- John Minichillo: Nearly Here
- Katherine A. Gleason: Fred Astaire Refuses
- Lori Romero: Rockfall
- Meghan Austin: Requiem for an Almost Lady
- Myfanwy Collins: Verbatim
None of the movies I saw this week thrilled as much as the conclusion to the first part of T. H. White’s The Once and Future King. After 200 pages of young Wart’s education, we finally get to the part about the sword in the stone. It’s Merlyn’s final lesson, presented in a hallucinatory passage that feels as if Walt Disney adapted Revelations and laced it with zen wisdom:
“Oh, Merlyn,” cried the Wart, “help me to get this weapon.”
There was a a kind of rushing noise, and a long chord played along with it. All round the churchyard there were hundreds of old friends. They rose over the church wall all together, like the Punch and Judy ghosts of remembered days, and there were badgers and nightingales and vulgar crows and hares and wild geese and falcons and fishes and dogs and dainty unicorns and solitary wasps and corkindrills and hedgehogs and griffins and the thousand other animals he had met. They loomed round the church wall, the lovers and helpers of the Wart, and they all spoke solemnly in turn. Some of them had come from the banners in the church, where they were painted in heraldry, some from the waters and the sky and the fields about–but all, down to the smallest shrew mouse, had come to help on account of love. Wart felt his power grow.
“Put your back into it,” said a Luce (or pike) off one of the heraldic banners, “as you once did when I was going to snap you up. Remember that power springs from the nape of the neck.”
“What about those forearms,” asked a Badger gravely, “that are held together by a chest? Come along, my dear embryo, and find your tool.”
A Merlin sitting at the top of the yew tree cried out, “Now then, Captain Wart, what is the first law of the foot? I thought I once heard something about never letting go?”
“Don’t work like a stalling woodpecker,” urged a Tawny Owl affectionately. “Keep up a steady effort, my duck, and you will have it yet.”
A white-front said, “Now, Wart, if you were once able to fly the great North Sea, surely you can co-ordinate a few little wing-muscles here and there? Fold your powers together, with the spirit of your mind, and it will come out like butter. Come along, Homo sapiens, for all we humble friends of yours are waiting here to cheer.”
The Wart walked up to the great sword for the third time. He put out his right hand softly and drew it out as gently as from a scabbard.
I also enjoyed a Greek feast at Zenon Taverna with Jordan and Ann, ramen at Menchanko-Tei, swung a cow in Rayman Raving Rabbids, and installed a brand new operating system. Saw a few movies, too:
Blind Mountain/Mang shan. Li Yang, 2007. ***
Funny Games. Michael Haneke, 1997. **
Funny Games U.S. Michael Haneke, 2007. **
Love Songs/ Les Chansons d’amour. Christophe Honoré ***
My Blueberry Nights. Wong Kar Wai, 2007. ***
Sleep Dealer. Alex Rivera, 2008. **
Water Lillies/Naissance des pieuvres. Céline Sciamma, 2007. **
plus The Wire. Season 2 **** and Prime Suspect 5 ****
I shelve my Alan Moore books next to Thomas Pynchon, Umberto Eco, and Jorge Luis Borges, and I am sure all three postmodern masters would get a healthy kick out of this wildly imaginative third book to Moore’s Gentlemen series, which draws on a vast storehouse of influences and blends them into an ecstatic new whole. The last time around, I wrote “Just when you thought you understood the parameters of where the story can go, Moore pulls another fast one” — and that was when we were still with the original Victorian group of heroes (Allan Quartermain, Mina Harker, Captain Nemo, the Invisible Man, and Mr. Hyde) and happily confined to Kevin O’Neill’s clear, appealing artwork.
Black Dossier explodes all that. Framed by a storyline set in an alternate version of the 1950s, the book concerns the theft of a book that, in the comic, looks like the one you’re holding in your hands. Along with the comic book adventure, the Dossier also contains a facsimile of a lost Shakespeare play (Fairie’s Fortunes Founded), fascist propaganda booklets warning of sexcrimes, the life of Viginia Woolf’s Orlando in nine illustrated chapters, a sequel to the erotic classic Fanny Hill, a few pages from a Beat novel featuring our heroes, reprinted postcards from Shangri-La, cutaways of the Nautilus, and section in 3-D (goggles are provided.) While the first two books concerned a Victorian team of heroes, Moore uses Black Dossier to sketch, through the various fragments, the history of several British incarnations as well as French and German teams that included the likes of Fantomas and Rotwang.
The ease with which Moore accesses high and low culture is truly mind-boggling: Ian Fleming, Herman Hesse, Charles Chaplin, H.P. Lovecraft, and George Orwell are added to the already impressive list of influences (and I’m pretty sure I missed a good third of them.) Any imaginary creation is fair play for Moore’s ambitious tale, and the density of ideas is absurdly high, as if Moore was cramming an entire series’ worth of characters and storylines into a single book.
A word about Moore and the movies: he’s famously taken his name off all adaptations, and rightfully so — most of them have been dreadful (worst of all, incidentally, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen). Moore’s best effects are always inextricably bound up with the medium of comics, and this holds especially true for Black Dossier, which is essentially unfilmable (and wouldn’t work as a novel, either.) I positively dread Zach Snyder’s upcoming Watchmen.
Like The Tempest, Black Dossier ends with a monologue by Prospero (himself an Extraordinary Gentleman), who celebrates one of Moore’s grand themes: the power and paradoxical reality of imaginary characters. “If we mere insubstantial fancies be, how more so thee, who from us substance stole? On Dream’s foundation matter’s mudyards rest. Two sketching hands, each one the other draws: the fantasies thou’ve fashioned fashion thee. Intangible, we are life’s secret soul.”
The League of Extraodrinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier. Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill, 2007. *****
Initially, I was quite smitten with this slim volume because Colin McGinn’s central thesis–that movies share essential qualities with dreams–is intuitively convincing and inviting. Why is it that nobody has to learn to watch a movie, that the free-roaming eye of the camera and the time-and-space-dissolving qualities of montage don’t disorient us (unless they’re meant to)? What is the key to the movies’ powerful emotional hold over us?
In somewhat clunky prose, McGinn, a philosopher, diligently unpacks these questions. The first half of the book, where he investigates “the metaphysics of the movie image” and the way we perceive it, is required reading for anybody trying to get a better handle on what it is, exactly, those flickering shadows do to us in that dark room. He lays out a theory he calls “film mentalism,” which asserts that the movies present us with “consciousness externalized,” a highly charged way of seeing straight into the minds of other people. In the process, he reveals realism/formalism debates as a false dilemma. (Ken Wilber calls this strategy “transcend and include.”)
In the final stretch, though, McGinn loses himself in conjecture and pursues all the wrong angles. The psychological similarities between film and dreams he painstakingly ferreted out leads him to conclude that dreams must be subject to a production process that’s similar to that of a movie–written, produced, and edited ahead of time, stored up until triggered by emotional necessity or external stimulus. Unfounded assertions like these are dubious and somewhat beside the point. A quick excursion into lucid dreaming contradicts most of what I have read on the topic. Some of the most interesting conclusions to be drawn from his thesis are dismissed with brief paragraphs that miss the point entirely: if McGinn’s thesis is correct–and I believe it is–wouldn’t it be worth paying special attention to the movies’ immense power of suggestion and the shared nature of the experience?
Colin McGinn. The Power of Movies: How Screen and Mind Interact. 2005. ***