I know anachronism is a fact of life in dieselpunk and steampunk. But outside that context? I struggle with it. Even within those genres, sometimes it can be jarring.
I’m thinking about this at the moment because I saw The Great Gatsby a few days ago. Overall it was a great movie, but it definitely didn’t feel as “historical” as it could have. And that’s fine–obviously the feel of the movie was intentional and not the result of sloppiness, as is the case in hack novels. Of course any time I mention this, more than a few people have told me that I’m being silly–that particular director does it often. It’s a thing. Didn’t you see such and such?
That’s all correct. Nevertheless, for the sake of argument . . .
In steampunk, anachronism is an integral part of the story’s architecture. The whole reason it works is because authors have figured out how to make what really was, to us, a dry and dull period interesting again. Don’t believe me? Try reading Victorian literature. It’s good, just like literature from any age, but don’t try to tell me it’s paced the way we like it or makes a whole lot of sense to us culturally.
In the case of this movie though, it’s superfluous, and they made no attempt whatsoever to hide this fact and make it work. They forgot the Crisco. They didn’t warm the forceps. It kicks you out of the story and into MTV land. And I don’t quite see what the point of it was.
I’m talking about the soundtrack and pop culture references.
I guess it allows a generation that doesn’t read books, let alone old ones, to appreciate a classic story. But would it have hurt its popularity to have done a more artful treatment of the book? I don’t think so. It already was slaughtered by Iron Man 3. Maybe it’ll do better in 20 years when some jackass decides to make yet another version, but some bizarre contemporary one with . . . flying cars and fucked-up slang. And instead of booze being such a big deal, it’ll be bath salts.
Given that, I guess we’re lucky that they didn’t shit all over it by making a contemporary version.
Besides all that though, this did make a pretty fun diesel movie. It looked right and the acting worked extremely well. As mean as it sounds, an actor like Tobey Maguire is perfect to portray what is essentially a cipher for the benefit of the reader . . . or convenience of the writer. And the good thing is that even with the ridiculous, jarring anachronisms, the point of the book survived.
So anachronisms–how do they really work now? I think, unless they’re mistakes or just bad writing, they have to be a deliberate, cynical postmodern manoeuvre. If you’re going to do it, make sure it’s a full-on postmodern wink-wink-nudge-nudge sledgehammer to bring down that fourth wall. It’s like jazz–a bad note can sound good if you do it with enough authority and the right amount of repetition. I think it’s easier for a critical person like me to get over such an obviously dumb artistic decision than it would be if they’d tried to make their nods to today’s audience more subtle.
The other way to deal with them is to just avoid reality altogether and write dieselpunk. Even better if you write secondary world dieselpunk. I can’t even explain how fun it was to write Blightcross and how much fun (in theory, if I ever get time to write) the already-outlined sequel will be.
On an unrelated movie note, I also just saw I Love You, Man. Yes, I hadn’t seen it. Anyway, it’s a little sobering and pretty funny to watch yet another Paul Rudd character who is basically a slightly wussier version of myself. Derp.
You can bet your ass that when I got home I picked up my guitar and played Limelight.
I wonder if anyone remembers Demolition Man, and how awesome that movie was. I don’t really remember much of it, except that every restaurant was Taco Bell and someone brought out a kickass Oldsmodile 442, but I don’t think there really was that much to remember. Except that it was awesome.
Then you had the video game–not the regular Sega or SNES one, but one of the awkward CD-based versions that was filled with jittery cutscenes. I had the 3DO version. By the way, the 3DO was fucking awesome. No system will ever compare to its awesomeness. Where else could you get random washed-up stars appearing in shitty video game cutscenes? Like Kirk Cameron in The Horde.
Yeah. Demolition Man. I started thinking about the movie because over the weekend I was at Sparkling Hill and took the opportunity to try the only cryo-treatment of its kind on this continent. Besides the fact that being there meant I have the best girlfriend in the universe, it was insane. It’s actually colder than what froze Sylvester Stallone’s character in the cryo-prison. The temperature we experienced doesn’t even exist naturally on this planet.
Okay so it was only for 3 minutes. And it’s just long enough for your body to combat inflammation and do other weird things, but not long enough to actually lower your core temperature, so I wasn’t even shivering at the end. It starts off as a surprise, a kind of cold that’s so extreme that it’s hard to identify it as cold. Maybe that’s the point and how it works–whatever my body was doing to compensate, it turned those 3 minutes into a strange panic of extremely dry air, a feeling like I couldn’t breathe even though I was breathing harder than I have even in the most intense interval workout. Maybe that change in respiration is why I didn’t really feel cold.
At the end of it, you’re on an adrenaline rush and it kept me going the rest of the day. I went in with some soreness left over from a squat-deadlift day 3 days before. It might have helped temporarily, but it’s been a long time and my legs are still sore. Granted, any therapy like that is going to take more than one treatment to do much. The other hitch to this treatment I could see, at least from an endurance athlete perspective (it’s pretty popular with triathletes and so on), is getting there soon enough after the workout to slow the damage.
The real benefit for most people is just that it’s just a bizarre, unique experience. Well worth it, no matter how terrified you are at the thought of being locked in a crazy meat freezer.
Besides that, now I understand writers’ retreats more than I did. The spa was such a great, quiet environment. Before my life became complicated and busy, I didn’t see the point of having to shut yourself away to write. Now when I struggle to finish one short story in six months, the idea of taking a week at a spa like Sparkling Hill just to finish some writing seems like heaven to me.
But not like . . . cabins and stuff. I couldn’t do the writer-cabin thing.
So I’m high maintenance. Meh.
A standard new-writer conversation that repeats ad nauseam on writer’s forums is the flashback. Flashbacks are kind of like gonorrhea, and if you find yourself breaking out, at least do something to minimize it if you’re going to go around expecting strangers to stick their face in your manuscript.
I don’t know how well the analogy really fits, but it seems like often the right thing to do is compare things to gonorrhea, so I’ll stick with it.
Why am I going over this tired conversation? Because it seems no matter how much it’s said and by whom, it’s still pretty virulent. If all it took was reason to get rid of it, nobody would have done stupid things to manuscripts since Stephen King wrote On Writing.
Okay so the reason this came up is that once in a while, a person and their girl need to deliberately choose the worst movie available and watch it at a creepy theatre. So, like any normal person would, we smuggled in some wine and had a go at The Host.
Now, I haven’t read the book. This isn’t a stab at the author. Enough people have done that and despite what it seems like, I’m not into trashing other people unless there’s a good reason to. All I am doing is using this film as a catalyst for discussion about gonorrhea.
So I doubt I have to tell anyone that I’m not a particularly animated person, and can pretty much contain any emotion and keep a straight face. I could not while watching most of this. We did have a hell of a time, and it was a lot of fun. So in that respect, The Host was well worth it. But only to two of the most sarcastic people ever created.
The problem with flashbacks is when they’re used to foist often unnecessary information on the reader. Duh. That’s repeated so often it’s painful to actually be writing it. But anyway. Sometimes it’s a lazy way of forcing us to remember plot coupons that might titillate us later on. In this movie, a regular pattern of flashbacks happened in the first quarter. Okay, ham-fisted, sure. But you eventually get used to it and consider it part of the story’s architecture. But as soon as the author shoe-horns that plot coupon they want you to have into your brain, they change the structure and abandon flashbacks altogether.
You could argue for pure pragmatism on this and say I’m overanalyzing. You’d be right. But even though simpler is better and solid writing is usually better than elaborate techniques, I think there’s a limit to how careless you can be with these tools for the sake of easily dealing with exposition.
I think Blightcross had a couple flashback-type things going on. But if I remember correctly, my approach there was to not write them as scenes but quick, invasive thoughts. Not only is it economical, but I think dealing with it that way puts you more in the character’s head in the present while still having to deal with the past. You’re getting what they’re dealing with right now while they’re being reminded about something in the past, instead of being immersed in that past. Does that make sense? That’s by no means the only or best way, but the point is that there are a LOT of ways to do what writers think they can only do using a flashback scene.
Look, all we really care about is why the character is remembering something now and how it’s affecting them and how we think it’s fitting into the story. Very rarely have I noticed scenes accomplishing this better than, say, injecting an invasive thought into the character. And yes, what I did isn’t practical for most films, but in the end, there’s no reason to be using those flashback scenes. I didn’t feel any more connected to what was going on in this case.
The exception is of course the case of the parallel story. I actually like these a lot when people do it right. Think of basically every episode of Highlander. Even those were a little ham-fisted, but as long as you have an entire narrative that’s being played out alongside the main story, it can be interesting. It is not just for the sake of dealing with exposition, but literally integral to the engineering of the story. Or having it in reverse–the main story being one gigantic flashback framed by something important taking place in the future. But both of these hardly resemble the literary shrapnel that is the usual flashback.
Also in this film: a lot of internal monologue. This is such an important thing to get right, but in this case I was left, again, not believing it. It’s a tough thing to make work. I still struggle at it.
The trope itself deserves a post of its own later. Any attempt to do it in an interesting way deserves some props, even if it didn’t work out.
The one interesting potential in this movie was the romance situation between the host body, the symbiote, and their separate interests. Note how I said “potential,” since it wasn’t utilized the way it could have been. It was a little cutesy, especially the way the author basically used algebra to solve it: the distributive property used here easily allows everyone to be with whomever they want at the end and leave us with a sickening scene designed to satisfy youths wrapped up in the fidelity stage of psychosocial development.
Anyway, you always have to be on guard against your own laziness when you write. Or when you do anything, really.
Oddly enough, I thought the movie was done quite well. There’s only so much you can do with a script. The soundtrack was great and so was the photography. Even the acting wasn’t terrible, but as I said, the things the actors said almost caused us to make a scene.
Just another last-ditch reminder about the Aurora Awards, and how in order for Blightcross to be nominated, it needs votes from the public. If you liked the novel, check out the link. I know it looks like a pain when you read the process, but it’s not really, and a vote would mean a hell of a lot in my case. You have to either be a member or register to be one in order for the voting link to appear.
So there are eight days left to vote for the Aurora awards and I feel like I haven’t done squat to get in on it. It’s kind of upsetting on one hand, but I guess a person can only do so much, and I’ve been very good at committing to too many things at once lately. This problem is so extensive that I seriously looked for a drafting course to take over the summer to keep myself occupied before going into the civil engineering program in the fall . . . which would have been ridiculous and redundant given that you lean drafting in that program anyway.
I mean, I don’t need to be occupied any further. Why must I keep finding excess ways of doing so?
Anyway, I’m the completely wrong personality type to generate hype for myself. Or for anyone else. That’s probably a really shitty thing to write on the internet if I ever want an agent or other publisher to even think of dealing with me in the future. But I think it would be easier to deal with it and possibly work around it if I didn’t try to play that game and just was honest. I have good work to sell, and will put in a lot of work to sell it, but unless someone tells me exactly what to do in order to sell it, I’m sure as hell not going to magically turn into an extraverted marketing genius.
I had this problem with bands too. There’s just so much non-musical crap to deal with that I ended up having more fun just playing what I wanted in my house than I probably would if I’d gotten with a real band. I always looked up to guys like Jeff Beck–ones known for being reclusive but still somehow manage to be relevant. You don’t need hype when everyone knows you’re better than Jimmy Page and Eric Clapton put together.
I like to deal with individuals. Crowd/groupthink scares and baffles me and I guess that is where I fail as an artist who would like to sell a lot of stuff. I especially hate groupthink when you see it happen in larger arenas, like politics. For example, it makes no sense whatsoever to me that Justin Trudeau would be a good choice for the federal Liberal Party, but it’s been decided before they even vote for it. And all without any basis in reason whatsoever. No debate, no discussion, just hysteria.
Not to get into politics or anything.
Once again, check out the Aurora Awards. It would be awesome to get a dieselpunk novel on the nominee list, wouldn’t it?
Seems like “art” is a word used to define stuff that a certain group of people want to see or stuff they already know. Just like “activism.”
Beautiful Soul academics and kids.
Is a second-coming of Schoenberg possible?
I doubt it.