Episode Twenty Two: Escape to Victory

We take on prison break films this week: everything from a film celebrating a Christ-like figure refusing to buckle under the system (COOL HAND LUKE) to a film celebrating a Christ-like figure refusing to buckle under the system (THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION). The merits of the TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES films are also debated.

 

 

Episode Twenty One: Return of the Walking (un)Dead

We decide to have a chat about THE WALKING DEAD now that it’s back on the air. Mostly we’re trying to figure out… why is it so popular? And why are Bob and Gus still watching it? Also in this episode: we jinx Trey Parker and Matt Stone, John tries (and mostly fails) to explain why he likes Spelunky and Bob discusses some of forty seven films he watched over the weekend.

Blogging and videoing and Spelunkying. Ing.

I’m going to have a go at recording my daily challenge runs on Spelunky and uploading them to YouTube. This doesn’t mean there’s going to be an increase in Cultural Apocalypse “content” per se, but I figure that watching footage of a cartoon man in a pith helmet falling on to spikes and dying while the Irishman controlling him fights the urge to curse is somewhat in line with how our podcast views the overall nature of popular culture today, for good or for ill.

It also feeds into a specific aspect of popular culture that intrigues me (and that I’m sure we’ll discuss on the cast at some point), specifically the consumption of culture. My day is passed… I am by no means a member of the generation that grew up after television had become mostly irrelevant. It’s still jarring to me when I realize, now and again, that I haven’t consulted TV listings in a magazine or newspaper since Clinton was president.  However, I do consume content in the same way that generation does, here and there: typically in my consumption of video game related content. So, I decided, why not have a go?

Spelunky should prove a good fit. I’m awful at video games despite my love for them, but Spelunky is extremely hard so that will level the playing field a bit. I can also just talk about the game while I record. I suppose, in theory, I could try and discuss the dichotomy of having playable characters in pith helmets and turbans, but in reality I’ll probably utter such witty and relevant statements as “I hate bees.”* The truth is that I’m unlikely to complete a full run in the near future, so the pressure isn’t all that intense.

*If you play the game, you’ll get this one. I don’t have much against bees, really, in the real world.

It’s also surprisingly interesting to watch runs by complete strangers and to hear their reactions to a sudden end to the game or a new discovery. This dampens somewhat my fear of producing meaningless content to impress nobody other than myself.

Also, it’s YouTube. As long as I’m not being a racist jerk or indignantly yelling about how feminists are ruining the world, I’m ahead of the curve. So yeah, if you’re looking for counter-feminist Spelunky runs, you should probably look elsewhere.  If you’re a reasonably balanced person that watches YouTube videos when you should probably be working/reading/driving/urban planning/composting or what have you, then see you there.

Cultural Apocalypse YouTube Channel

Episode Twenty: Gus’ Homework

We sit down to discuss the movies that we need to see but haven’t, including Psycho, The French Connection, and The Big Lebowski (it really ties the room together). Bob mixes American Football with Thelonious Monk; John watches Agents of Shield; Gus worries about SNL.

A short post on the tyranny of the single author

I found about THE ROOM today and I’m not sure my life will ever be the same. Adam Rosen wrote a piece in The Atlantic yesterday discussing whether or not the film should be considered outsider art. Rosen makes some very interesting points about the nature of outsider art and its merits, but he has done me a great service; without Adam Rosen, I would never have seen the following youtube clip:

 

Mesmerizing, isn’t it? I’m not sure what’s more surprising about this little piece of cinematic history, the fact that the film cost six million dollars or the very fact of its existence at all. Close-ups of beards and oddly emasculated men with his tuxedo-wearing friends hovering around him, not to mention the dialogue and acting, would certainly inure someone to the idea of the film being more than it appears. I mean, look at this:

 

Surely they couldn’t have written that, acted it, shot it and edited it only for it to come across that way on purpose?

Right?

Of course when I say “they” I’m being inaccurate not only because it’s far too general and unspecific a term but also because this masterpiece belongs to one auteur: Tommy Wiseau. I know very little about Mr. Wiseau, but I wonder what his film says about the dangers of having no checks whatsoever on one’s creative impulse.

I don’t take criticism well. I never have. Nevertheless, it’s a vital part of the writing process, at least when one is moving towards publication. In the academy, double blind peer review is taken for granted. An article that hasn’t been subjected to review in this manner is essentially worthless. This approach is predicated on the need to maintain accuracy and the application of appropriate academic rigor. It’s main side effect, direct feedback, is actually more useful in the humanities. That is, unless you’re trying to write an article that claims Stalin was really a woman and you need to get it out there. Reviewers will look for appropriate methodology and use of sources of course, but they’ll also ask keen, insightful questions such as “what on earth are you trying to say here?” and offer important observations like “this is a great idea but in its current form it makes me want to find you and stab you in the eye.”

That’s how I read reviewer comments anyway. 

The point is, writing improves when somebody calls you out on what you’re doing. This makes terrible work slightly less terrible, acceptable work something approaching good, and good work very good. It’s just not typical for one person to control all aspects of the creative process and actually produce something decent.

 

Okay, THE ROOM is on its own level.

Rumination on a film I haven’t seen yet (Gravity)

I still haven’t watched GRAVITY.

This is really rather poor form on my part, as I’m quite a big fan of space. As a concept. Or at least as a setting for fiction. I don’t know much about space, or physics, or how things work up there. I understand that once there you can create a Nuclear Man, as long as you have some of Superman’s hair and access to the sun. 

Still, I quite enjoy bitching and nitpicking about things, especially from an informed bitcher/nitpicker, and they don’t come much more informed than Neil DeGrasse Tyson.  Well, I guess some people would come more informed than he is; I’m not really in a position to judge his overall ranking within the international community of astrophysicists. In truth, I know who he is because he’s an entertaining interviewee and shows up on podcasts and youtube a fair bit. I suppose it’s possible that he’s some kind of astrophysicist flunkie, living the good life on the new media gravy train while the real stars of the field (BOOM. Puns ahoy) toil away never to be recognized by wider society, or even by a guy that writes a blog about DIE HARD movies in his spare time.*

*I still go to the “writes about/talks about/watches DIE HARD movies” well when describing my blog, when in reality I’ve never gotten around to writing about DIE HARD. I just think about it a lot, in a “What Would Die Hard do?” kind of way, though it makes me feel bad for making that reference because it shows that I really did keep watching The Simpsons for a few years after it turned bad. We talked about DIE HARD on the podcast once. That was pretty sweet.

Anyway, Tyson says he enjoyed the film, but still pointed out that the filmmakers decided to skate by on artistic license in quite a few areas.  There are mild spoilers here, though I quite like his assertion that the film should be renamed ANGULAR MOMENTUM, because it seems like a funny thing to say but I have no idea if it is or not. Yes, yes, I could use Wikipedia to figure it out but where is the fun in that? And stop judging me.  Jeez.

To get back to the point, I think I’ll have to go and watch GRAVITY soon, in no small part because it represents a remarkable cultural touchstone: we are now at the point where smash hit movies involve taking two of the most attractive people alive and putting them in space. I personally endorse this trend, as I never quite understood Michael Bay’s predilection for taking disconcertingly young women (or adult women presented as being disconcertingly young) and getting them to bend over a lot while Shia LeBeouf runs away, to or alongside giant robots. The two attractive people in question can actually act, too, which is nice.*

*I’m from a generation that can never quite get used to the fact that George Clooney can act, because he was in ER and ER was a bit silly really in that way that early to mid 1990s television clearly was, now that we live in an enlightened time when Ichabod Crane is some kind of time-traveling crime fighter. I’m still at a point where I come out of Clooney films thinking “wow, he really did well” as if I’m doing the guy a favour by bestowing my (to him) anonymous faint praise.

It’s also a film that my wife and I can watch together, which is the kind of statement I found vaguely boorish and sexist until I got married and realized that my wife lacks the vestigial part of my brain that urges me to pay good money to see RIDDICK films in the cinema. We both want to see the film but neither of us know much about it, a minor miracle in 2013, except that there’s a lot of spinning around and explosions going on. Actually, from what I can tell, Bullock’s character gets separated from a satellite in the first five minutes and spends the rest of the film engaging in philosophical discussions with George Clooney’s disembodied voice while gently careening through space. Perhaps she discovers a few minutes from the end that the whole thing was a trick of her subconscious, and that she’s really on an American Airlines flight to Dulles experiencing an unpleasant dream brought on by having slightly dodgy milk with her cereal that morning, despite the fact that it seemed okay and she really didn’t want to end up caving and eating at McDonald’s. I mean, wouldn’t that render the previous day’s spin class rather meaningless?

I’m also intrigued by the film’s title. Gravity. GRAVITY.* Where is the gravity? Is the film entitled thus because the setting features an absence of gravity? That’s really rather clever. Not too clever, but clever enough. Clever enough to provide some comfort against fears of reckless silliness. I mean, it’s not likely that they’ll kill Kirk in this one and then bring him back again minutes later in the middle of a completely pointless thirty minutes of screen time. They didn’t call it GRAVITY: INTO DARKNESS. That’s how you know if a film is in danger of being bad. You know, if it’s title is both astonishingly lazy and aggressively stupid.

*You see, the first use of the word refers to the natural phenomenon, the second to the title of the film. Incidentally, I’d much rather use italics for film titles, but all caps is easier when writing a blog. I save the italics for pointless not-really-footnotes like this, inserted into the text. I quite like them, though it wasn’t even my idea.

That’s the funny thing with a one-word title, you see. It’s not actually lazy despite appearing like it is in fact extremely lazy. It’s lazy if there’s no context I suppose. ARMAGEDDON, for example, is a very lazy title. Not as lazy as ASTEROID RIDERS or something, but pretty bad. Then again, what would you call it? If you were going for a one word title and trying to be at least moderately clever, I mean. SON, I guess. I don’t know, if they had made ARMAGEDDON in the 1970s they would have called it MOONCHILD and there would have been some weird third act that involved earth having two moons and the change in tides erasing the Western World from history. But then Liv Tyler wouldn’t have been in it.

So perhaps we should go ahead and call ARMAGEDDON a wash. When I lived in Taipei, I was introduced to the phenomenon of how subtle changes in translation can drastically affect a film’s title. THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW, for example, was translated into “AFTER TOMORROW HAS PASSED” in Chinese for the Taiwanese market, which lent the film all kinds of subtle poignancy that would be nowhere to be found onscreen. In Mainland China they translated it as “THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW” using a two-character combination that showed no attempt to convey any kind of intellectual level whatsoever. Consider it comparable to translating THE GODFATHER as “MOB BOSS” and you’re halfway there.  So, GRAVITY is quite a nice title really. I mean, it beats ASTRONAUTS or something equally literal, just by implying something.

I’ll go and see it soon, and I might write about it, though it may lack commentary on Chinese language translations of movie titles from Jake Gyllenhaal’s rather spotty back catalogue. Or I’ll watch GHOSTS OF MARS instead. That’s the most obvious space themed film to watch as an alternative, right?

The frustration of writing

I find writing frustrating.

I love writing.

I find writing frustrating.

 

It’s a simple cycle really, and one would hope that simple cycles would be easier to bring to a halt or at least to direct in a friendlier direction. That’s not the case with my writing, though; I’ve found that when I write, I write across all levels. Writing for work, writing on this blog, even writing fiction. It all comes together. Each activity feeds the other. 

When I don’t write, I make excuses. I imagine that my professional writing is sucking the energy away from my blog writing or my (more or less consistently unwritten) fiction writing. I think of my writing in terms of finite capital that must be spent wisely, but that’s not how writing works, at least for me. If I was able to manage my writing capital, my inspiration, my energy, then perhaps I could stockpile the capital over a course of days. It wouldn’t be an issue that I hadn’t written anything in three days as I now had a bounteous reserve on which to call, a guaranteed two to three days of eloquent frenzy across my keyboard.

That’s not how it works. At least, that’s not how it works for me.

I go back and forth about what I want this blog to be, in my own head. Recently, or rather only a few posts ago, I made a decision to write longer form stuff. Not ten thousand words or anything, but somewhere between one and two thousand a post. I had found that my writing was creeping upwards in that direction anyway and it didn’t seem like a stretch. Something funny happened, however. I focused on writing longer posts but continued to hand myself excuses I wouldn’t accept elsewhere. I tacitly accepted a lowering of standards because, after all, “it’s just a blog.” I ignored the fact that this perspective directly contradicted the idea of writing longer posts in the first place.

Quality isn’t quantity of course, but weeks later I find myself frustrated by the whole endeavor. I wrote a post on the important but flawed video game GONE HOME a couple of weeks ago only to insert a caveat as minor foreword to the post over a week ago and ultimately to remove the post from the site altogether. I didn’t change my mind; the post said what I wanted to say, but it didn’t say it well. That drives me crazy.

Part of writing is accepting the perils of the freedom that comes with it, especially when writing in public, as blogging very much constitutes. So, I will jettison my idea of writing longer pieces once or twice a week, because the result was a long post once in a blue moon. I won’t try and guarantee a fixed number of posts a week either, because that just drags my writing in the opposite direction. The decision I’ve taken, essentially, is to lighten up and just write. That means no more apologies for posts like this one. I still hold fast to the conviction that blogging about yourself (or writing about yourself at all, really) is supremely boring as a rule, but I’m happy to bend the rule if it means I’m writing. Yes, I’m writing about myself here but I’m writing about myself writing and therefore I am writing about writing, or at least the impulses that drive for or against it.

The childish thrill I received by using the word “writing” so much in that last sentence helps convince me that this is something I like to do. The astonishing thing about writing is how the worst thing you can possibly do is not write. Failing to write typically comes from fear, and that fear only compounds over time. Writing is liberating for the writer in the personal space. At the same time, writing without any kind of contribution to others is a waste of time and by definition bad writing. So, although I will no longer run screaming from the idea of writing a post such as this one, I will remain committed to staying “on topic” as much as possible. In other words, if you visit this blog now and again you’re going to see more than your fair share of three hundred word posts that point out Apollo Creed is an amazing character.

In short, my advice to anyone who is frustrated with the writing process is this: write. I know that such advice is trite, obvious and by no means original. It is the best advice I’ve ever received however. Talk to you soon.