The Passion of Movie Trailers

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The usual assortments of movie trailers paraded past me before Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of Suck last night, and they’re an interesting jumble of images that are sticking with me today as I think about inspiration and passion. Now, naturally, a film trailer doesn’t include all the suck as it is meant to get your butt into the seat, and ostensibly it communicates some impression of what the film is like so as not to surprise you too much when you arrive. But it is a great trailer that communicates some of the passion involved in the project.

I used to write out trailers for books before I wrote them as a means of encapsulating the book into a couple minutes worth of image and thematic voice-over. The idea being that I could come back to the material in a few years and figure out in a short time what I had wanted to do with the book. It was a way to compress and file ideas away, but it’s always a way of pulling together all the reasons I want to write a project too. Typically, half or more of the material never makes it into the book, and I got to a point where I would write them in screenplay or comic script format so as to allow myself to write notes out in authorial shorthand without worrying too much about the language. The trick was, after all, about imprinting something on the brain, not necessarily about getting all swoony with the language.

This also means I get fascinated by movie trailers and will go back and watch them on the DVD to see what has changed between sales pitch and execution and why, and also what effect the trailer had on me versus the film itself. Just another tool, after all. The trailer is, then, the passionate pitch, the seductive lure that brings you in, that says, “Oh, yes, I am filled with all manner of magic.”

So, what did I see the other day? Australia, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Kung-fu Panda, The Dark Knight, and Hancock. Let’s dispense with the easy ones: Kung-fu Panda is a Jack Black kid vehicle done by the Ice Age team. Silly, predictable, and filled with the sort of animation-fu you’d expect. Plus Jack Black makes “schooshz” a kung-fu sound effect. Bonus. I will probably just buy it on DVD and watch it a thousand times with the kids. Easy. The Dark Knight is a given, as well: Nolan, Bale, Ledger, Caine, Eckhart, Oldman. Everyone bringing their ‘A’ game to a variation of Moore’s The Killing Joke. Ledger’s death is all the more tragic and stupid in that he seems to have figured out how to harness all of the psychotic creepiness of Nicolson’s Joker without any of the arch egocentrism that Nicolson can’t seem to let go of, especially when he’s doing something so iconic as The Joker.

The rest are a mixed bag, but interesting in how they present their passions. Australia seems to be the sort of overwrought epic that Ed Zwick does in his sleep, and it’ll play to that sort of history-loving crowd well (and the trailer hits all the notes you’d expect it to). And it seems like the sort of film that would bore me completely. But it’s a Baz Luhrmann film. Now, Baz piques my interest as both Moulin Rouge! and Romeo & Juliet were films that SHOULD NOT HAVE WORKED as pitched. Yet, we own both and I’d watch ’em again in a heartbeat (and, frankly, every time Harold Perrineau gets all overwrought on Lost and starts screaming “WALT!,” I wonder what the fuck happened to the guy who, as Mercutio, made Leonardo diCaprio seem like a tongue-tied 1st year drama student?). So, Baz does a sweeping epic about his homeland with a couple of his fellow Aussies. That, at the very least, says no one is fulfilling contractual obligations. It may still be overwrought and self-indulgent, but it’ll do so with all the right sort of fervent intensity.

Julie Taymor is another director that gets points for effort, but she needs the right project. Titus was a mess, but Across The Universe was a smashing success for me. More so because I was dragged to that one against my will, sure it was going to be an utter disaster, but I found it completely captivating and filled with all manner of brilliance. Like Baz, she has a vision, and conventional storytelling methods just aren’t necessary. benpeek was talking about Southland Tales the other day, and I’m in agreement with him: it’s more interesting to see a failed experiment, especially one that reaches far, than something that is by-the-numbers safe. Ben links to the Justin Timberlake video that creeps into the film, and that’s worth checking out, just to see what could have been if the whole movie had kept up that manic intensity.

And, as an aside as this is stream of consciousness Friday, let’s talk about The Rock, er, Dwayne Johnson. It’s clear the man can act, and can do more than be a hulking brute on the wrestling circuit, but he’s still making safe choices. Southland Tales was a stretch, but not enough. Johnson is trying to put his wrestling career behind him by doing tame Disney flicks or safe glad-handing comedy roles, and it’s clear he’s got a good sense of timing, but he’s still got his safety net. The man has a thousand watts of charisma and, really, it doesn’t matter what he does, we’ll watch. For example, Peter Berg is thinking about doing a remake of Dune. What if they recast the Harkonnen family as gen-modders–a family obsessed with physical perfection. Put Lynch’s gross physical brutishness behind us and go to other extreme. Make the Harkonnens so primed for perfection that it becomes a psychosis. Cast Johnson as Baron Harkonnen, tighten the screws, and watch him come apart.

Come on. You know you’d be glued to your seat, hammering through that tub of popcorn as Johson’s perfect mein started to come apart. Cast Gerald Butler and Daniel Craig as the ying/yan sons, and the whole family would be ultra-creepy. Couple that with casting the Bene Gesserits as ultra-young next-gen actresses (Elaine Page, Dakota Fanning, and so on), and . . . yeah, it almost writes itself at that point, and none of us would ever sleep right again.

Speaking of pretty faces, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is the tale of a man who lives in reverse, born as a wizened old man, and growing younger as time passes. Filled with a number of A-list actresses who look like they get their hearts broken time and again, the protagonist is played by Brad Pitt, and the only reason the film won’t completely suck is that Pitt gets to NOT BE PITT.* Anytime he gets to get out from the yoke of being the “pretty one,” his acting chops actually start to surface (Fight Club, 12 Monkeys). He looks like he’s having a grand old time, playing a shrunken geezer, and that’s definitely a great deal of the allure of this film. Not so much playing against type, but being freed from type, being freed to make your own way.

And, in a roundabout way, is where I ended up today, thinking about PSYCHOBABEL. I’ve been caught up in some of the expectations of this book: what it will be, what it will be compared to, what it has to accomplish. You know what? None of that matters. It’s a book I never expected to write, an outgrowth of another project no one ever expected to see. It will work because I want to know if it is possible; I want to know how it ends.

It will work because it is mine, and it will be filled with my passion. That’s what I owe everyone, and that’s what you are going to get. This is the Fool’s answer to the question of the World, after all.

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*The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is also directed by David Fincher, which isn’t something that cropped up in the trailer. Interesting oversight, I think. However, now I’m about six hundred times more eager to see this film. The man hasn’t done a bad film. Ever.

Post-Wiscon

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I’m passing through the post-con haze, tempered slightly by a lengthy bout of vertigo Monday afternoon after I got home from the airport (which seemed to be the extent of the WisCholera for me). As always, there is the ennui of not being “there” that creeps in, that sense of dissatisfaction of having gone from the writing life at 100% back to the more normal 10% to 20% that the daily regime allows. That’s a great part of the frustration with coming home is that we have to return to our regularly ordered lives, and all the feverish (the non-plague kind) notions brought to life by being around your fellow writers must be spun out over a long span of time. In a way, these are the notions that preserve us until the next time we see each other, and while it isn’t nearly as much fun when they must be eked out, it is our lifeline.

I miss my tribe, which is silly as they are all but an IM away. But, really, I miss SEEING them. I miss hearing them laugh (even Jeremy), I miss seeing their eyes light up as the idea takes hold, I miss watching the world stroll by with them, I miss the electricity of the storm breaking as the cards hit the table, I miss that dangerous and giddy moment when small boys are let loose in the candy store, and I miss the camaraderie of not creating alone.

But, most of the hard work happens “here,” and when it is done and I need more to do, well, it will be time to go “there” again.

Manifesto Alert and Book News

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Every year, at Wiscon, the agents brew beer and subject their clients to some sort of hoop jumping. This year, the theme is manifestos, and indominable John Klima has been tasked with making our little wordy bits “presentable.” My contribution is the Markham Manifesto, and if you click forward in the flickr stream from there, you can see the others (belonging to Forrest Aguirre, Timothy Miller, Barth Anderson, Ben Peek, and Darin Bradley respectively).

What’s not to love about that? The fact that it’s on the hotel stationary, as if it was written a half hour earlier while in the bar? That it has blood, jaegermeister, wine, coffee, and “general smudginess” stains on it as well as a burn mark? (So typical of Markham, by the way; he is just incapable of not damaging things.) I will be reading Markham’s diatribe, “How I Came To Magick,” at the Saturday morning reading.

Speaking of Markham, the copy edits on LIGHTBREAKER are done and turned in, so I might as well mention there will be teaser material in the back for HEARTLAND, the sequel. Which will be coming out in the fall of ’09 from Night Shade Books.

Night Shade Books is having a sale!

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Their annual (bi-annual?) 50% off sale. All in stock and forthcoming titles are marked down. Details here, and the sale runs through 5/25.

This means you can get two copies of Lightbreaker for the price of one. Handy! So you can give one to your neighbor; so you can be extra sure that the wobbly table has enough support; so you can, well, read it with both hands!

In case you were wondering what to do with the odd chunk of change left over from your tax rebate check.

And Now, A Fan Page

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Well, this is one of those strange little things that floats along in your wake. I, apparently, have a Facebook fan page.

What’s the appropriate response to this? Do you join it yourself? Do you mock the picture? Do pretend it’s not there?

Isn’t there some fantastically stupid thing I said recently that can get put up there as a quote? Something about badgers and cheese? About how they climb the trees to get the cheese? No? Just my agents in the car when I said that? Good.

Okay, move along then. Nothing to see.

Cutting in the Cold Light of the Morning

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The last two lines from yesterday: “A couple of Norse spelunkers, the candles tied in their beards smoking, manhandle the ostrich out, and leap after it. An aristocratic woman with bruises on her cheek and a missing earring stabs a fat man wearing gold rings in the throat with a curved dagger.”

I didn’t sleep well last night, caught in a couple of strange dreams (the persistent trickery of the mouse who has invaded our pantry distracting me, as well as the solid impression that we had a minor earthquake last night or the 1.00AM train was especially heavy), and finally realized what was wrong with the ghost train sequence in PSYCHOBABEL. I need to cut most of it, unfortunately, but there may be a few lines that can be saved. Maybe the one about the Norsemen.

Cherry Pink!

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Nearly 2K on the Even Side of PSYCHOBABEL. We call this “truckin’ along!” Only, er, A LOT to go. I’ve been spending a lot of time wrestling with the basic format, and have finally opted to move forward. I think the Odd Side will fall together naturally once there is Even Side material to play off. I think. As you can imagine, it hasn’t been like sitting in the living room, sucking down bon-bons while catching up on LOST. This whole idea of linear hypertext is a bit tricky. I’ve been looking at number of books for inspiration and examples of things to avoid: Danielewski’s House of Leaves, of course; Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler and The Castle of Crossed Destinies; a number of things from the Dalkey Archive Press; Siegel’s Love in a Dead Language; Wallace’s Infinite Jest; Sterne’s Tristram Shandy.

Anything else? Drop ’em in the comments. Things that rely on footnotes only as a means of fucking with the audience barely count, but note ’em anyway. I’m a curious sort of procrastinator.

We went to IHOP yesterday to celebrate Mother’s Day breakfast. Solomon had “Cherry pink!” and I’ve co-opted it already to something much more sinister than a smiley face pancake with bananas and strawberry yogurt. This will come back to bite me in a decade when he can’t sleep because he’s read this book and “Cherry pink!” is haunting him, but what else is a dad to do with a running fount of surrealist imagery? Just ignore it?

Lightbreaker CEM done

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I just send off my vetting of the copy edits for LIGHTBREAKER. ‘Tis done. Other than looking over the page proofs when they come, all I can do for this book is wait to see it on the shelves. What is it? A little over four months? That’ll pass like . . .

Um, yeah, I’m supposed to have another book written in that time. Probably shouldn’t pat myself on the back for too long. Back to the salt mines, slave!