27 February 2011

David Markson's Marginalia

David Markson reading (or talking)

I just got sent a link to a new Tumblr blog, Reading Markson Reading, created by Tyler Malone. You remember, of course, that David Markson died back in June, and then (according to his wishes, it seems) his personal library was discreetly mingled in with all the other books for sale at The Strand. This led to fans collecting them and sharing the marginal notes they found.

Tyler Malone describes the purpose of the blog:
The Strand is pretty much out of any Markson-owned books now, the hunt is officially over. Not too long ago I was told by a worker at The Strand that he is fairly positive that I own more than double the amount of Markson-owned books of any other Markson Treasure Hunter. I have around 250 or so of his books. And here, once a day, I plan to share some of his marginalia.
For those of us who weren't able to join in the hunt, and who now suffer, perhaps, a little bit of envy of those other lucky souls, this blog is a marvel and a joy. Thank you, Tyler Malone, for caring enough to collect Markson's books, and especially for caring enough to want to share what you discovered in them.


Jeff VanderMeer has a good post up about style. You should read it.

I, being endlessly excited by the topic, responded with a comment as long as the post itself. I didn't really mean to do that, and was embarrassed upon posting it to see just how much I'd written, but I was in a hurry and didn't have a chance to write concisely. But I wanted to offer a comment/question about translation -- specifically the fact that some great writing survives some really bad translation -- and see what folks did with it, if they did anything other than just groan and ignore me. Which might be the best response. Nonetheless, the post itself is worth considering...

Meanwhile, I was tempted to write a long post here about the blazing idiocy of John Mullan's "12 of the Best New Novelists" thing at The Guardian, but other people are on it.

Really, though, I know what you most want from me: cute wombats!

26 February 2011

The Perils of Prediction

Lester del Rey in Galaxy Magazine, 1968 (reprinted in Best SF: 1968 edited by Harry Harrison and Brian W. Aldiss):
[2001: A Space Odyssey] isn't a normal science-fiction movie at all, you see. It's the first of the New Wave-Thing movies, with the usual empty symbolism. The New Thing advocates were exulting all over it as a mind-blowing experience. It takes very little to blow some minds. But for the rest of us, it's a disaster.
It will probably be a box-office disaster, too, and thus set major science-fiction movie making back another ten years.

Peter Krämer, 2001: A Space Odyssey (BFI Film Classics, 2010):
2001's most far-reaching contribution to American -- and also to world -- culture arguably lies in the fact that it both inspired the making, and prepared the ground for the success, of two movies that in 1977 marked an important turning point in Hollywood's operations: George Lucas's Star Wars and Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind. ...[B]efore the mid-1960s, no science-fiction movie, with the exception of a few Disney comedies and adventures about advanced technologies, had been ranked towards the top of the annual box-office charts in the United States, yet, with the help of several re-releases, 2001 eventually became the second-biggest hit of all films originally released in 1968. ...
This double success [of 2001 and Planet of the Apes] encouraged Hollywood to invest heavily in science-fiction...

John Scalzi, "Seven Studios That Reaped Infinite Rewards from Sci-Fi":
All told, out of 70 available top-ten slots for the major studios, science fiction fills 27 -- nearly one out of every four.

23 February 2011

The Polymath in Boston

Last week -- Friday, February 18, to be exact -- I trekked down to Boston for the New England premiere of Fred Barney Taylor's film The Polymath, or, The Life & Opinions of Samuel R. Delany, Gentleman. I'd seen it a few years ago at its premiere at the TriBeCa Film Festival, and more recently on DVD, but Fred and Chip were both going to be at the Boston event, and I was curious to see the Q&A, since Chip hadn't been able to be at the TFF premiere, and I was interested to see what sorts of things the audience would want to discuss.

The DVD version, which is what was shown in Boston, is different from the TFF version, and, I'm told, from the version that won the Best Documentary Feature award at the Philadelphia International Gay & Lesbian Film Festival. The editing is, to my eyes, smoother; there are fewer title cards; there's some new footage; and the whole film has been through additional post-production color correction, which I found most noticeable (in a good way) during the lyrical/abstract composite shots. I hadn't particularly liked those shots in the TFF cut, finding them muddy and, frankly, kitschy -- but then when I saw the DVD version, I thought, "Oh, that's what they were going for!" The effect is beautiful. Fred said that aside from the need for color correction, there had also been an additional problem at TFF -- the festival had insisted on everything being projected in high def, and the vast majority of The Polymath was shot on a standard def camera (a Sony PD-150 -- the same camera, in fact, that David Lynch used to film Inland Empire) and hadn't been converted to HD. An SD source projected as HD is ... less than ideal.

So I am happy to say that the version of The Polymath available for sale, and shown in Boston, is a significant improvement over the first cut I saw, both in terms of content and video quality. The pieces hold together more coherently, and flow into each other more clearly. It's not a standard documentary, and that requires some adjustment for anybody who goes in expecting something like A&E's Biography, but that's a strength, because what the film gives us, rather than a linear, then-he-did-this-then-he-did-that portrait, is a sense of Delany's many interests and knowledges, the turns of his mind. The title is brilliantly apt, both in finding some of the few labels that can, I think, adhere without too much torture to the man (polymath, gentleman), and in hinting at what the film offers (the life & opinions of).

It's a film that, I find, gains a lot from at least a second viewing -- partly because of my interest in Delany, and my knowledge of his life and works, viewing it the first time was just a way to see what's included, and it was especially difficult to assess the film then. Repeated viewings have made it clear to me that this probably isn't just a result of my own peculiarities; it's a densely-packed film, artfully constructed.

The bonus disc of the DVD offers even more -- not just the full version of Delany's own film, The Orchid in an excellent transfer, but also over two hours of extra interviews. These aren't just outtakes randomly thrown together; Fred spent a lot of time editing the footage and organizing it into different categories. It's rougher than the documentary itself, of course, but plenty fascinating -- I watched it all in one night and at the end thought, "Wasn't there supposed to be more than 2 hours here?! That couldn't have been more than an hour!" Then I looked at the clock. The night was no longer young.

photo by Abigail Linn, BU
The Q&A in Boston was fun, and I probably should have taken notes, but I didn't. I've seen enough Delany Q&As now that I can predict at least a few of the questions that will be asked ("Why write sci-fi?", "Did you really have that many sexual encounters?", etc.). There were some smart and thoughtful questions about sociology (Delany noted Durkheim as writer he read fairly early on in his life) and other topics, though I regret that, not having had dinner at that point, my brain kept thinking about food, and I didn't pay enough attention to remember many questions well.  Many of the people in the audience were film students, since the program was part of the Boston University Cinematheque, and there were some good questions about process -- for instance, Fred revealed that the composited imagery I mentioned above was created right within Final Cut Pro. He also said there was a lot of thought about what to use for the opening scene, though the current one feels so perfect as to seem inevitable, perfectly balancing two of the main themes of the film: writing and sex. Because of the frankness of some of the subject matter, the film has been a bit difficult to find distribution for, good reviews from such outlets as The New Yorker.

What I most remember was some publishing news. Bad news first: with the restructuring of Alyson Books and the departure of publisher Don Weise, Delany's new novel, Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders is once again looking for a publisher (tell all your publishing friends!). Good news: there are plans afoot to publish Delany's journals in four volumes.

Apparently, too, the BU Library had a display of materials from The Delany Collection, but I didn't have a chance to get over and see the exhibit. I don't know if it's still running.

After the Q&A, Chip signed books for folks, and I snapped a picture before I had to run off to Inman Square for dinner with friends:

Samuel R. Delany signs Dhalgren. Background: Fred Barney Taylor.
To order a copy of the DVD, see the mail or Paypal instruction at either the Maestromedia site or the film's Facebook page. You can also apparently order it from the Autonomedia Bookstore or St. Mark's Books. (I found ordering through Fred himself via Paypal really fast and easy. And he didn't know me from a hole in the internet then. Had he met me at that time, he would have delayed it and scratched it and written obscene words all over the packaging, I'm sure. But I always try to do business with people before they have reason to curse my existence. He even emailed me, "How did you hear about the movie?" I told him I was hanging out with Bobby DeNiro and Marty Scorsese one night, and Bobby said to me ... well, that's another story altogether...)

15 February 2011

Collected Stories of Carol Emshwiller Table of Contents

A book I am looking forward to with more excitement than I can possibly express without exploding or somehow otherwise embarrassing myself is The Collected Short Stories of Carol Emshwiller, Volume 1, forthcoming from Nonstop Press. You'll be hearing a lot more about it and Carol Emshwiller here in the coming weeks, but for now I wanted to note that the table of contents for the book has now been posted.


For the moment, that's the most eloquent response I can summon.

09 February 2011

Return of the Sandman Meditations

Things are likely to remain quiet around here for a little bit, because I need to force myself to kill the demons of procrastination and write a bunch of things for which I have deadlines.

But as one little hiatus begins, another ends -- Gestalt Mash is back (in beta) with new and better hosting, having suffered what any new site likes to suffer: faster-than-expected growth. Kudos to Jay Tomio for a huge amount of work migrating the site over the past few weeks.

Anyway, my latest column is about Season of Mists, Episode 3. (Previous installments are still here.) It contains this brilliant nugget of subtle insight, sure to recontextualize the entire Sandman series for you:
Entrails. Yum.