30 November 2006

Fragmentary Utterances

I'm too busy at the moment to write at any length about a bunch of things I'd like to write at length about, so instead I will make fragmentary utterances and hope that they suffice for the moment...

Fragmentary Utterance #1: I've been reading through some of the stories in Elizabeth Hand's new collection, Saffron and Brimstone, and they are the sorts of stories that make me feel like all my adjectives are inadequate: evocative, lovely, beguiling, masterful -- yes, they are all that, but more, and differently, and not exactly, and... The collection is subtitled "strange stories" and I think it's both perfect and wrong, because it's not that they're just strange, or that strange encapsulates all that they are. Instead, it's more a kind of placeholder, a way of saying "this, at least, is something", and it's true, because they are strange, but marvelous, too, and...

Fragmentary Utterance #2: The new 3-CD album from Tom Waits, Orphans, is full of treasures and oddities, and though I've been listening to it continuously for a week, I am only beginning to get a grasp of my reaction to it, because it's just so full of, for lack of a better descriptor, stuff. I'm a sucker for Waits's ballads especially, so the middle disc, titled "Bawlers", is the one I find, on the whole, most compelling, but there are unique and addictive songs on the other two discs, "Brawlers" and "Bastards". The album as a whole is worth listening to simply for the variety of material it contains -- everything from experiments with sound to covers of such songs as "Sea of Love" and "Goodnight, Irene" (and two from the Ramones) to spoken-word pieces. It's a grab-bag, sure, and the entire collection is likely to appeal only to those of us who find just about anything Waits does to be at least vaguely interesting, but there are a good number of songs here that are just so beautiful they should have a wider appeal than much of the other material: "Tell it to Me", "Long Way Home", "Fannin Street", "Home I'll Never Be", and at least a few others. I'm particularly pleased to have the two songs Waits created for the soundtrack album to Dead Man Walking on a Waits album, because they are among my favorites from his entire career, and for reasons I can't quite pinpoint, I've always wanted them to be surrounded by other Waits tunes.

Fragmentary Utterance #3: I watched the movie Sophie Scholl: The Final Days last night, and have mostly conflicting feelings about it. For one thing, I've read just about everything in English about Scholl and the White Rose group, and even wrote a short play about them when I was in college, and this knowledge makes me hypercritical of any fictional representations of the people and events, because they're easy to turn into sentimental hooey. I haven't watched Michael Verhoeven's 1982 film about the subject in many years, but my memory of it is of a movie that is mostly accurate historically, but that emphasizes the action-adventure elements of the story. Sophie Scholl has this tendency as well, and I'm not sure it's a bad tendency -- there are certainly adventurous moments in the story -- but the newer film changes tone so much that it becomes jarring. Moments of excitement with kitschy dramatic music alternate with truly powerful, intimate scenes. Many of the characters come across as caricatures, but Julia Jentsch as Sophie is often excellent. Some of the interest in the movie stems from its script's use of transcripts of interrogations discovered in East Germany in the early 1990s, but the re-enactment of these scenes seemed to verge on the tasteless, because something in me screams against having actors pretend to be particular people in particular historical situations such as this -- perhaps I'm too much of a Brechtian at heart to ever be satisfied with historical dramas that don't admit their artificiality. And the ending, in which the executions are re-enacted, seemed as grotesque and wrongheaded to me as the wretched sequence in Munich where a sex scene is intercut with the killing of the kidnappers. There is no intercutting as Sophie gets guillotined, but the filmmakers would have achieved so much more if they had shown a bit of restraint in what they chose to represent.

Fragmentary Utterance #4: What SF writers would you recommend to the Library of America? Oh, I don't know. The suggestions Ron Hogan got from various folks mostly seem sensible to me. A Carol Emshwiller retrospective. Alfred Bester's first two novels, plus most of his short stories. A selection of Theodore Sturgeon short stories and some of the novels. Cordwainer Smith. Damon Knight's selected stories and criticism. Tiptree's collected stories. Delany, definitely. (If I were selecting Delany, I'd choose some of the short stories, "Empire Star", Babel-17, The Einstein Intersection, Nova, Trouble on Triton, and Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand for one big volume; Dhalgren, and Hogg for another; all the Neveryon books for another; Heavenly Breakfast, The Motion of Light in Water, Atlantis: Three Tales, and various interviews for another; and as much of the remaining nonfiction as possible for another. Yes, a 5-volume set of Delany for The Library of America. A fine thought. [Yes, somebody is procrastinating working on his thesis about Delany again....])