(Being a somewhat spoilery post about Game of Thrones which will discuss all five of the books, not just the TV series)
I’m no huge fan of airlines, but if long flights accomplish anything for me lately, it’s that they let me chop through huge reams of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, which itself comes in huger and huger reams. My round trip to Colorado last summer was enough to nick the last five hundred pages of A Feast for Crows, and the return trip from New Zealand this weekend let me put A Dance With Dragons in the ground, just a week shy of the premiere of Season Three of Game of Thrones, which was the goal all along. (Once the series threatened to start using material from the increasingly-interwoven latter three ASOIF books, my earlier strategy of reading one of the books per year went by the wayside.)Read more
All my information says A DANCE WITH DRAGONS won’t be published in paperback till 2013… so WTF did I just buy? Is this illegal? A big part of me hopes this is a fan-made hoax containing a completely different version of the book that is going to *blow my mind* and ruin me for George Railroad Martin forever after. (Taken with Instagram)
They could not have cast Arya Stark better, I think, but I will miss the one in my head, who is even smaller, harder, and more like a boy. I’ll miss my Sansa too, even though I effing loathed her and wanted her to die for nearly two full books, before realizing that I didn’t. My Jon Snow is 15, not 25, and so is my Robb. My Dany is younger than that. My Ned Stark was always Sean Bean, because Sean Bean is a great Fact, and has always been Ned Stark, just like Daniel Radcliffe has always been Harry Potter. Some things happen before they happen.
I am watching A Game of Thrones crawl towards me with a knife in its teeth. Watching it quite literally in the case of tracking my shipment of the blu-ray set, which is inching its way across the U.S. right now ($35?!). I have read two of the books and not yet watched a single episode of the show, and I am already obsessed. When the blu-ray gets here, I am surrendering my internal Westeros to someone else’s, as I did with my internal Middle-Earth a decade ago. I won’t have much difficulty adapting my mental landscape of A Game of Thrones to Peter Dinklage or Lena Headey, but I’ll miss the others when they wash away.Read more
My “Watched” column disappeared after December 5th; I was trying to cram together all my year-end viewing and coverage, plus I started writing reviews of new films for the Substream, and my available time for “catalog viewing” all but disappeared. Here’s a couple of things I watched, plus some notes on a new scheme:
When Black Dog Video announced their closing last month, and that they were selling off all their stock, I rushed down on a Saturday night to see if I could snag a DVD copy of Werner Herzog’s Bells from the Deep, which is impossibly hard to find on disc (it only appeared in an out-of-print boxed set, and on specialty discs available from his web site) and is also, perhaps unfortunately for me, my favourite (thus far) of his films. No such luck for me at Black Dog, but they were selling copies of The White Diamond and The Wild Blue Yonder, neither of which I’ve seen, but was happy to pick up on spec.
We watched The White Diamond a few weeks ago under the light of our now-defunct Christmas tree, and it was transcendent. The film itself, I learn, came out roughly concurrent with Grizzly Man and was thereby swallowed up – but it is just as strong a film, nearly stronger, than the other. I simply don’t know how he does it. That a director, and particularly a director of documentaries, can find unique and interesting subject matter in the world is no small feat, but is an understandable feat – here is a story of a man who is building an airship to float over the canopy of the South American rain forest, and yeah, if I heard that, I’d probably think “boy that could be a movie.”Read more
Did I mention that I switched over to digital comics? I did. I immediately switched back. The experience was largely terrifying. The fire at our place this summer moved a lot of things around in my mind, in terms of how and why we cart certain physical objects around with us everywhere we go - how a house becomes an accumulation of “stuff,” most of which is likely “just in case stuff” - i.e. “just in case I want to read that again” - “just in case I get drunk and want to watch Batman Forever on VHS at 3:00 in the morning” - and my seven short boxes of comics, collected in the half-decade or so since I started reading comics regularly, seemed sort of like a giant, soggy pile of used Kleenex. What is this stuff? What is this stuff for?
Besides, our new apartment is not overwhelmed with storage area. Boxes of comics - or my secret shame, boxes and boxes of overflow DVDs I have no room to shelve - seemed like the last thing we’d have the opportunity to keep safely in the new apartment, making this as good a time to get off the Tangible Train as any. Then the New 52 happened, and I missed the #1s of a few titles that got recommended to me by friends, and suddenly there I was, staring down the Swamp Thing through the glossy black netherworld of an iPad 1.Read more
I’ve been reading Lesley Arfin’s book, Dear Diary, and can’t put it down - though I suppose reading someone else’s diary is, by definition, always a crackling read. Arfin goes through her diary entries from ages 12 to 25, and then looks up the people mentioned, and interviews them about what happened. Swinging brass testes, that one. I think the closest I’ve ever come to that was seeing a particularly tormentuous individual from my past in a Longo’s a while back, not talking to her, then Facebooking her later for the sole purpose of asking “Was that you?”, to which she replied “Yep.” “Okay well bye!”
As is always the case when reading diary-based work, my internal monologue and written style immediately adopts the tone-of-voice of the book in question. What I can’t get over is the detail. My memory is a vanishing resource. Off the Dear Diary buzz and a certain online fracas the other day regarding the Googlability of my former professional name, I was reading some of my old blog from 2006, including a certain epic poem / epistolary reacharound called Absent Storms (yonkers - did I really used to write blog posts that took an hour to read?! That is so Web 1.0). There was detail there aplenty, a fact-by-fact recitation of events from more than half a decade before. I couldn’t do that now, for something that happened in 1999 or 2009.
Somewhere in the last five years, the bottom dropped out of my internal landscape. I have vague understandings of chains of events. Impressions. Emotional memories, often wrong. Movie reviews of whole films I can’t remember a single line or cut from. I suppose it’s a good thing I write so much of this down.
The danger here is that I’m about to enter a vast period of not-having-a-clue-about-anythingness, from which I won’t emerge. I’d hoped to do a little ancestral fact-checking in northern Egypt next year, but who knows where that’s going now? My uncle has taken on the family treeing of that whole side of my family, but I honestly can’t remember a single date or detail of anything that happened to anyone, ten minutes after it’s been told to me. And as for the twisting narrative that brought me here, it’s not just the little things I can’t remember any more. In most cases, I couldn’t tell you the first thing about the big stuff, either.
I was talking to someone in a position to know better a little while ago who basically said - “that’s not possible, you’re not even 35 yet.” So what is it? Willful disengagement? Protective shielding? Lupus?
Or, inevitably - maybe it’s just a form of cyber-shunting. There was a time when I had to keep it all in my head; if I wanted to express a thing, I had to write a book or make a movie or do a knee-slide across a stage. A time before Twitter and office cubicles. Right now, I’m sitting in a Starbucks, half-drowning out the overhead music with a random playlist from my headphones, banging away on a laptop that has six programs running, three of which are social media, two of which are writing, open to two separate documents, while the iPhone in my pocket buzzes incoming text messages. There is a hell of a lot going on, and none of it means anything.
Here’s a pretty thing. Released to coincide with Kurosawa’s centenary earlier this year, Akira Kurosawa: Master of Cinema doesn’t analyze the director’s work in any amount of depth, but provides a comprehensive visual record, from start to finish, of Kurosawa’s work.
Those interested in Kurosawa’s paintings, storyboards, and doodles will find them here; they became quite significant towards the end of his canon (Kagemusha and Ran, particularly) as an outlet to keep his ideas alive while waiting for funding. There is also a lot of full-colour photo documentation, though I preferred the black and white stills overall; if nothing else, the book is a striking reminder of how many iconic frames - you will lose count by the second chapter - Kurosawa created. My only challenge reading the book was not tearing any of the particular pages out, framing them, and mounting them on my wall.
The text commentary is pleasing enough, but doesn’t go over anything that hasn’t already been covered in The Warrior’s Camera or The Films of Akira Kurosawa, and in greater detail. Some chapters seem like first drafts - a paragraph or two on the use of elements in the films, a lame page on music - while others give more context to the time and place that the films and images were created. A solid Kurosawa primer, good to keep at hand while reviewing his body of work this year.
I was in the Starbucks at the Eaton Centre a little while ago, overlooking old City Hall - a nice spot to spend an hour around twilight, reading or just iPhoning away. This was the day that the #tweetyour16yearoldself thing was going around on Twitter, and as I sat down, a man was next to me in one of the comfy chairs. He was watching Avatar on his iPad. And I thought to myself, Self, you’re in the future.
Most folks know that Avatar means more to me than just a regular movie, which is sometimes misinterpreted as my thinking it’s the best movie ever made, which I don’t, because it is not. As a theatrical experience, though, it is one of the most memorable in recent memory. I don’t hold much truck with 3-D and do what I can to avoid it in most cases, but in the case of Avatar, I won’t deny that it’s exactly as Cameron said it would be - immersive, transportive, part and parcel with how the film works at all.
I’m a big fan of Jody Duncan’s book about the making of the last watershed special effects movie, Jurassic Park, so I gobbled up her Making of Avatar with relish. The book isn’t as good as The Making of Jurassic Park, unfortunately, nor The Making of The Empire Strikes Back (which I talked about yesterday - though there, I would argue, it would be fairly difficult for any making-of book to compete). In fact, The Making of Avatar isn’t even as good as the Avatar article in Duncan’s own Cinefex Magazine - which, though entirely centered on the visual effects of the project, gave a much grander sense of the quantity of innovation and outright future-thinking that drove the film.
Nonetheless, The Making of Avatar is a decent read, and much more significantly, a lovely visual record of the project, adorned with hundreds of full-colour (and frequently, full-page) stills and illustrations from the production. Though most making-of books feature such things, they’re particularly apt here because it takes the mind a while, and plenty of illustration, to wrap itself around the dozens of manifold layers of production that saw Avatar from conceptualization to finalization, via the mo-cap stage.
The book drops the ball on connecting the film’s content to the 3-D presentation, which is the thing that Avatar will be remembered for, but the writers here (and documentarians on the Avatar special edition Blu-ray that just came out) seem to want to downplay as a small piece of the Avatar puzzle. Maybe this is to make the reader feel like 3-D is already the established mainstream choice? That’s not playing fair.
I’ve been working my way through the movie books this month; The Making of The Empire Strikes Back is the best one. It is better than The Making of Star Wars, which was hardly a weak book in its own right; it is certainly better than The Making of Indiana Jones, which should have just focused on Raiders.
The book is a scarily exhaustive chronicle of a creative process. It will indeed give you insight into what went to making Yoda work, etc.; but more importantly (as with the first book) The Making of Empire will simply give a pervasive sensation of what it was like to physically do this thing. An enormous amount of detail surrounds the day-to-day work of Irvin Kershner, and a class on directing films could be constructed around his comments in this book. An entire chapter is dedicated to a stunning minute-by-minute transcript of the day they shot the carbon freezing scene, including the fifteen minutes or so where Kershner and Harrison Ford retreated to a cubby somewhere to rewrite the entire scene from the ground up. Lucas, later, complains that he had written and storyboarded the scene as he’d wanted it, and it came back completely different. This would prove portentous.
As I’ve said elsewhere, everything you need to know about why the Star Wars prequels were made the way they were is contained in this book. The Making of Empire perfectly captures the year when, with his vision of Lucasfilm and Skywalker Ranch (not to mention his own financial solvency) on the line, Lucas decided that collaborators with opinions differing from his were not worth their creative dime. In a sense, one can’t blame him; having made a Star Wars film, he was now constructing a Star Wars machine, and machines don’t run smoothly with unpredictable gears. There is a very clear tipping point from a certain type of imaginative fiction contained in Star Wars and Empire, and the more programmatic Star Wars storytelling in Jedi and beyond (and I mean completely beyond - not just the prequels, but the TV shows, the Ewok movies, The Clone Wars, the video games, and everything else). Star Wars may have set up the world and Empire may have expanded it, but the process of making Empire is what made Star Wars what it is today. I say this as a person whose favourite Star Wars film of all time is still Return of the Jedi, but do with that what you will.
I sincerely hope Rinzler completes the (original) trilogy and does The Making of Return of the Jedi for that film’s anniversary in 2013. Based on the events of making Empire, Lucas did away with his two highest-ranking creative minds on the project (Kurtz and Kershner), replacing them with less ambitious yes-men (Kazanjian and Marquand) for the final installment, foreshadowing his hiring of the ultimate yes-man (McCallum) for the prequel trilogy. If Rinzler can assess the making of Jedi as candidly as he does here for Empire, The Making of Return of the Jedi could be a hell of a closer to this series.