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Showing posts from January, 2010

Mandingo

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When it first came out, many critics loathed Mandingo.  They said it was a pulp potboiler, a racist exploitation film, softcore porn, immoral.  Roger Ebert gave it zero stars and called it "a piece of manure" and "racist trash".  It did just fine at the box office in 1975, the year it was released, but its reputation as laughably and/or offensively awful stayed with it, keeping it out of circulation for a long time.  It's only been generally available on DVD for a couple of years now.

In 1976, Andrew Britton wrong a long and careful vindication of the film, but his essay was not widely read.  Britton noted how many of the reviewers didn't seem to have paid much attention to the film itself, given how many simple errors about the plot and character relationships filled their reviews.  More famously (if academic press books by film scholars can qualify as "famous"), Britton's teacher and colleague Robin Wood devoted a chapter of Sexual Politics …

Salinger of New Hampshire

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We've had to say goodbye to one of our residents, Mr. Salinger.  He wasn't a native, but lots of folks up here aren't, and we try to treat them all the same.  (We don't give them a special sales tax just for them, we don't tell them they can't have guns.)  Mr. Salinger lived pretty close to the border of the People's Republic of Vermont, but he was still one of us, not a dirty commie.  They say he had some peculiar habits, but that was none of our business.

I've been through Cornish, where he lived, but never sought him out.  Folks from the big cities called him a recluse, but I'm not sure that's true.  He didn't go around on book tours, he didn't give lectures, he didn't seek out his fellow scribblers, so therefore he must be crazy, they thought.  Plenty of people said they'd seen him in town.  He and I enjoyed the same library, so we might have roamed the stacks together for all I know.  Not wanting to be pestered, he didn'…

Paris, Texas Gets Criterioned

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My old DVD of Paris, Texas had been loaned out to friends and acquaintances many times, because it's the sort of movie I just want to make people sit down and watch.  DVDs are sensitive things, though, and somewhere along the line this one got scratched, making it skip and stall during one of the most important scenes at the end.  Sometime this summer, I decided to replace it, and went searching for a cheap copy on Amazon.  When I saw a Criterion edition would be coming out, I gave up on the idea of getting a cheap replacement for my wounded disc and instead pre-ordered the new one.  There are a few films that, if you're going to own them and watch them a few times a year (as I've done with Paris, Texas ever since first getting it on a $5 videotape during a sale at a local video store), you should get them on the best edition possible.  And the fact that it's now on Blu-Ray is nearly enough to make me run out and get a Blu-Ray player.

I ordered the disc so long ago, I …

Howard Zinn (1922-2010)

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Awell-livedlifeof87yearsissomethingtocelebrateandbejoyfulfor, butsomedeaths strongly separate the world that remains for us, the living, from the one that was there only a few hours or days before.

Howard Zinn almost single-handedly changed the way I saw the world.  I was in high school when I encountered A People's History of the United States and Declarations of Independence and I have never been the same since.  They hit me like alien messages from a more enlightened planet.  I'm not sure I've ever learned as much from any other books, if learning can be defined not only as the gaining of information but the adding of awareness, the opening of new vistas previously hidden.  I expect this was Zinn's effect for many people, especially those who, like me, encountered his writings during particularly impressionable years.

I went to lectures Zinn gave three or four times, mostly during the mid-1990s.  I bought audio tapes of some of his lectures and radio appearances.  I…

A Note on Clarion

I meant to say this quite a while ago, but it got lost in the shuffle (Paul Witcover's post reminded me)  -- the faculty for this year's Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers' Workshop is extraordinary.  The Clarion workshops always have great faculty, but for this particular Clarion in this particular year, I can testify to their extraordinariness because I've worked with four of the six instructors on writing projects, and they're people I continue to learn a lot from.

I have never met or interacted with Dale Bailey or George R.R. Martin, two of the instructors in the middle weeks, but I've read the writing of both, and I'm sure they will have a lot to offer.

Delia Sherman is one of the best editors I've ever had for a short story ("A Map of the Everywhere").  She did what the most talented editors do: made comments that let me see the story with new eyes and shape it accordingly.  She's a very good writer herself, but when choosin…

Choose Your Own Apocalypse

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Since I mentioned Alien Sex earlier this week, I thought I would continue exploring The Year's Best Science Fiction, Eighth Annual Collection with the story Gardner Dozois chose to reprint from Alien Sex: "Love and Sex Among the Invertebrates" by Pat Murphy.

The writing and pacing are what distinguish "Love and Sex Among the Invertebrates" rather than the central concept, which is for the most part a familiar one derived from the question, "What would you do if you were the last person on Earth?"  Science fiction writers have been working with that premise for a long time.  In this story, the narrator designs and builds robots, and because of her own interests she endows the robots with the capability and desire for sex, reproduction, and, perhaps, love.  They will, she believes, continue the evolution of the species homo.

The concept of robots reproducing themselves and replacing humankind isn't a remotely original concept, either, though Murphy …

Likely Stories

From a wonderful new interview with Brian Evenson by John Madera at Rain Taxi:
Brian Evenson: Some of the stories I always come back to, when I’m teaching full stories and trying to get students to understand how all the different elements of a story are working together, include William Trevor’s “Miss Smith,” which I think does amazing things with shifting the reader’s sympathy; Franz Kafka’s “A Country Doctor,” which does something amazingly manic with doubling and which may be my favorite story ever; Isak Dinesen’s “The Roads Round Pisa” or “The Monkey,” both of which do things that I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone else do; Peter Straub’s “Bunny Is Good Bread” and “Lapland,” which do very important things in terms of questioning the relation of genre to literature; Denis Johnson’s “Car Crash While Hitchhiking,” which manages to collapse as a story while still establishing an incredible resonance; D. H. Lawrence’s “The Prussian Officer,” because it works even though it does all so…

Get Some Alien Sex!

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In the comments to a previous post here, Ellen Datlow mentioned that she's got hardcover copies of her excellent young adult anthology Alien Sex available for sale.  Contact her if you're interested.  Here's the table of contents, if you're curious.

I can tell you from experience that having a book with such a title on your shelves in a place where visitors can notice it is a great conversation starter!

Stories of Faith & Fiction, Reality & Escape, Shobies & Invaders

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For my first bit of venturing back into 1990, two stories offer not only a good place to start, but an interesting pairing: Ursula K. Le Guin's "The Shobies Story" (first published in Universe 1) and John Kessel's "Invaders" (first published in F&SF, October 1990), both of which were reprinted in Dozois's best-of-the-year anthology.

(By the way, in these posts I plan to discuss the entirety of the stories, which means that if you don't like to have plot elements revealed, you should not read here about stories you have not read.)

David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer have offered a good basic summary of the ideas Le Guin is exploring in her story:
"The Shobies' Story" describes a society in which consensus matters more than individual viewpoints. [... It] posits a reality that emerges as the sum of what all the participants say: a meta-narrative, a democratically constructed myth.  Le Guin tells us that the observer is part of the re…

SF in 1990 and 2000

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Now that we're living in our second Clarke Year (that is, second year Arthur C. Clarke used as a title for a novel), I thought it might be fun to glance back at the starts of previous decades.  With that in mind, over the coming weeks and perhaps months, I'll post here some thoughts particularly on SF short fiction from 1990 and 2000, since the stories from those years are what I have easiest access to.

To see all posts in the series, just click on the "1990/2000" label.

My motivations for this project are partly personal -- 1990 was the apex of my reading of genre fiction, 2000 was a year I read almost no genre fiction.  In 1990, I was 14 and 15 years old, I subscribed to Asimov's and also picked up various copies of F&SF and Science Fiction Age when I could find them, and any money I had with which to buy books went to SF books.  In 2000, I had recently returned to trying to write fiction after some years spent writing plays and screenplays, but the fiction…

Robin Wood on Michael Haneke

At the end of the his life, Robin Wood was, according to various biographical notes accompanying his later essays, working on a book about Michael Haneke's films.  I don't know how far along that book was at the time of Wood's death last month, but knowing that he had written some essays about Haneke's work through the years, I fired up the ol' Google to see what of Wood's writings on Haneke were available online.  Quite a few, it turns out, and they're very much worth reading:
"'Do I disgust you?' or, tirez pas sur La Pianiste" (CineAction, Spring 2002)
"In Search of the Code Iconnu" (CineAction, Summer 2003)"Hidden in Plain Sight: Robin Wood on Michael Haneke's Cache" (CineAction, Jan 2006)"Michael Haneke: Beyond Compromise" (primarily on The Seventh Continent, Benny's Video, and Funny Games) (CineAction, Summer 2007) Those all come from issues of CineAction that are available via Findarticles.com, and…

Haiti

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My knowledge of Haiti is mostly limited to the revolution, but I, like many other people who should know more about a place so closely connected to the history and politics of my own, have been stunned by the images of destruction from the earthquake.  By now you probably know ofwhereandhowtodonatetoreliefefforts.

I liked how Ann Fernald ended a thoughtful and personal post about Haiti (which I'm editing just to make a bit more direct):
Maybe ... while we pray for the victims, the survivors and all who help them, we should also try to think our way to a more just world, one in which Haiti would not always and forever suffer.

Alice Munro and the Case of the Chekhovian Dames

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[update: for some reason I originally attributed the New Republic article discussed below to Ruth Gordon rather than Ruth Franklin.]

I adore (adore, I tell you!) the stories of Alice Munro, as anybody who's looked at my bookshelves can attest, and I adore (adore, I tell you again!) the stories of Anton Chekhov, who actually takes up considerably more space on my shelves, but that's just because he wrote hundreds of stories, a bunch of plays, and all in Russian, which means, of course, that I absolutely must own every possible translation just to be able to compare.

Anyway, I discovered (via Scott) that  Ruth Gordon Franklin over at The New Republic has claimed that Munro just writes about women and Chekhov didn't do this and why won't this Munro woman explain herself, eh?  Writing primarily about men is just fine, everybody does that, no need to comment, but writing primarily about women is ... "not necessarily a flaw".  It would be understandable if she were…

Some Things to Remember

I'm stealing these points from a recent post from Cheryl Morgan because they're important and succinct, and I like a reminder now and then myself:
1. Every time you make a joke about how someone born female is “really” a man you are reinforcing the idea that trans women are something shameful. It is like kids in a school yard yelling “spastic” at the current target of the bullies.

2. Every time you describe trans women as “deceptive” you are denying their gender identity and their right to live as they feel appropriate. You are also making it harder for them to get access to jobs, health care and so on. You are labeling them as inherently dishonest.

3. Every time you describe trans women as deceptive sexual predators you are reinforcing the myth that trans people only do what they do in order to satisfy perverted sexual desires.

4. Every time you advise men to be wary of being “deceived” by trans women you are providing support for the “trans panic” excuse for murdering trans w…

Double Feature: In the Loop & The Hurt Locker

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Released on DVD the sameday in the U.S., the British comedy In the Loop and the American war movie The Hurt Locker make a fine pairing.  The first is a political satire about the behind-the-scenes machinations leading up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq that feels rather like an extended episode of the original version of The Office, while the second is a tense and intensely immersive view of six weeks in the life of an Explosive Ordnance Disposal unit in Baghdad in 2004.

Or, to put it all another way, In the Loop is the story of a bunch of repressed homosexuals who start a war rather than deal with their feelings, while The Hurt Locker, as Glenn Kenny pointed out, is a study of addiction.

Innocence

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Lucile Hadzihalilovic's 2004 film Innocence is haunting, beautiful, mysterious, unsettling, and maybe bait for pedophiles. Based on some of the reviews I've read, what you think of the movie may depend on how much you blame Hadzihalilovic for her husband.

First, the movie. It's based on Frank Wedekind's 1901 novella Mine-Haha: or On the Bodily Education of Young Girls. Wedekind gave us the controversial works Spring Awakening (recently seen on Broadway) and the Luluplays, which were filmed as Pandora's Box in 1929 by G.W. Pabst and made Louise Brooks a star.

Knowing this, it should be no surprise that Innocence is a surreal story of a weird boarding school for pre-pubescent girls, and that certain sexual undercurrents are present.

Who Can Kill a Child?

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Yes, the title got me.

I knew almost nothing about Narciso Ibáñez Serrador's 1976 movie ¿Quién puede matar a un niño? except that it was a horror movie, and I figured a horror movie with a title like that ought to at least be interesting.  And it is that.

The film has had other titles over the years -- Island of Death, Death is Child's Play, Lucifer's Curse, Los Niños, etc. -- but Who Can Kill a Child? is apparently the original one, and is the one used on the 2007 DVD from Dark Sky Films, the edition I watched.  It's provocative, but it's also perfectly accurate for the movie.

The story is fairly simple: a nice British couple visit Spain and travel to a small, secluded island the husband had visited twelve years before.  When they arrive, the island seems deserted.  The husband says the people often went to festivals on the other side of the island.  Eventually, he and his wife discover the truth: the children of the island have, for mysterious reasons, killed al…

"Loot" by Nadine Gordimer

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I've intended to write about Nadine Gordimer's very short story "Loot" for years, ever since I first read it in The New Yorker, and for some reason I actually thought I had written a post here about it.  I recommended the story to a friend a few days ago and intended to include a link to my post about the story when, after a bit of searching, I realized I'd never written the post.  Now I will fix that mistake.

From the first sentence, "Loot" is a story about time and history, about legends and imagination.  "Once upon our time," it tells us, there was a Great Event -- the greatest earthquake every recorded, the greatest of all measured "apocalyptic warnings".  Not only is it a Great Event (indeed, the Greatest of such events), but it is ours: we possess it.

The second paragraph details the effects of this greatest event of ours.  Most giant earthquakes at sea produce floods and tsunamis, but not ours -- our special earthquake does ex…

Best American Fantasy 4 Guidelines & Reading Period

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I've just posted the new guidelines and reading period for Best American Fantasy 4, guest edited by Minister Faust, on the BAF blog (the info is also available elsewhere).  If you are a publisher or editor, or if you know and have sway over publishers and editors, then please take a moment to check it out.

I'm also thrilled that Larry Nolen is taking my place as series editor -- I can't think of a better person for the job.  I continue to be thrilled by the development of the series, with volume four adding lots of new staff to help gather material, and, with Fábio Fernandez's assistance, the ability finally to be able to cover South America as well as North.  I'm sticking around to offer help and advice (much like Statler & Waldorf helped The Muppets, I'm sure!) but it's also quite exciting that right now, for the first time since 2006, I do not have to try to read every journal, magazine, webzine, and anthology I can get my hands on...

Munyurangabo

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I hadn't intended to write anything about Munyurangabo, because other people have done a fine job of it themselves: Robin Wood and Roger Ebert stand out, though others have also noticed the film's power.  But it's one of those movies that if you love it you really love it and you want to proselytize about it.  I figure my first post of the new year ought to be a positive and proselytizing one, so here we are...

I went into Munyurangabo knowing nothing about it -- I had stuck it on my Netflix queue at some point and forgotten why.  This may be the best way to watch it, not because there are lots of plot points to create suspense and surprise, but because it's the sort of film that, for some viewers, could be ruined by expectations.  On the other hand, the story of how the film was made is compelling, and could aid in appreciating its wonders, and though there are a couple of moments that benefit from surprise, surprise is certainly not essential to enjoying the film.  I…