Thoughts on Fiction

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I'm preparing to teach my USC master class for the fourth year now. I'm still in the process of expanding the scope of my syllabus.

Here's a new topic for the class that I'd been mulling for a while. It's something I've tried to articulate for a long time, since the time I was writing stories for AF. It's about the way we think of characters and events in fiction.

I've tried to convey this viewpoint in my past messages here and especially the Monican Spies interview. It's frustrated me that some viewers never seemed to get what I was trying to express.
Some even suggested I was hopelessly out of touch, and into an inaccessible, esoteric train of thought. It's odd to me, as this is really the only way I can make sense of why we care about made-up stories. (Apart from the fleeting pleasures of escapism)

The truth is, the outcome of any fictional story is unreal, unimportant, and disposable. The story is a fictional framework for you to experience emotions and realizations. Those are real, and remain with you even after the story has faded away.

Why should we care about the unreal events and characters of fictional stories? Perhaps what makes a film (or story) valuable is the altered way it makes you think rather than the particulars of its plot. A work of fiction is meaningful to you because of the real connections you make in your mind and heart during your journey to the story’s end, not the contents of the made-up story itself.
The story is the scaffolding, the outcome is the bait. You follow the journey, and in the process, your thoughts and emotions are fired up, forming novel connections and realizations. The story ends, the scaffolding fades away (it was never real), but the thoughts and emotions remain, becoming an integral part of your inner life. These are real, they have formed pathways in your brain that did not previously exist. It is the formation of these pathways that is the ultimate effect of consuming fiction. The trick is not to swallow the bait and get caught in the trap of thinking that the lives of fictional characters matter. They exist only to bring about the alterations of your consciousness. Once that purpose has been served, it’s best to let them go.

Peter Chung, Thursday, 31 December 2015 20:11 (one year ago) Permalink

Do you think works based on real events/people should operate the same way, at least from the audience POV (depending on how much license has been taken with portraying things accurately)?

Philip Nunez, Friday, 1 January 2016 00:47 (one year ago) Permalink

No, I don't. That's why I made the remarks specifically about works of fiction.
Non-fiction is not so cut-and-dry, as you say, there are many degrees of accuracy.

My class is for animation students, and everything they produce is fictional, often fantastical.

Audiences who approach fiction this way, I've been surprised to find, are becoming scarcer than I remember. Young people seem to want to be literal minded, and not be bothered with subtextual or metaphorical readings.
They want to know what year a science fiction story takes place in, the backstory of all the characters, and even want to know what happened to them after the story ended.
By focusing on this kind of arbitrary, made-up minutiae, they end up missing why the story was created in the first place.

Peter Chung, Friday, 1 January 2016 02:42 (one year ago) Permalink

Characters stick with you after the work of fiction ends, though. If they are well-written they stick with you, just like real people you have known stick with you. (This is especially true of novels.) But in order for this to happen you need to hold onto something concrete, memories of the novel, the characters, the situations, even passages. For your understanding to be expanded you can't really let go of the "scaffolding" of the book's contents. There's more to know about a work than just the emotional impact it had on you.

starkiller based god (Treeship), Friday, 1 January 2016 02:45 (one year ago) Permalink

Basically i agree that the purpose of fiction is to expand the consciousness of the reader/viewer/"receiver" in some way. (isn't this the purpose of all forms of communication?) But like any kind of listening, it's not a passive process. You need to attend to the minutiae/texture/whatever to "unlock" whatever wisdom or value the story contains. The content is embedded in the form... or even more than that, the form is sedimented content, there's no real division between the two. Maybe i am misunderstanding your argument.

starkiller based god (Treeship), Friday, 1 January 2016 03:00 (one year ago) Permalink

There's no denying that characters stick with you, but I consider that an unavoidable by-product of the experience (a bonus), not the goal. The reason I'm making these remarks is that too many times I find that the audience latches onto biographical details of the characters at the expense of how their actions within the story enable the mind to form meaning from the material of human (or non-human) events.

I use the example in class of Hamlet. Hamlet was a Danish prince. But being Danish or even a prince has got little to do with the meaning of the story of Hamlet. The story can be transferred to any time period or location, and it's still Hamlet.

Peter Chung, Friday, 1 January 2016 03:32 (one year ago) Permalink

I agree strongly that it isn't a passive process and that content should ideally be inseperable from the form. It's just that I consider the story itself to be an aspect of the form. The story is not the content of a book or film.

Peter Chung, Friday, 1 January 2016 03:38 (one year ago) Permalink

I should clarify my tortured language above a bit: art's function is to exercise the mind's capacity to find meaning. Meaning is not something innate in the world. It exists only because there are conscious minds alive which are eager to create it. I'm not talking about something esoteric and rare. This is the most basic, most universal trait of being human.

Art expands consciousness -- but it is not didactic.

Peter Chung, Friday, 1 January 2016 03:54 (one year ago) Permalink

how do you deal with student tendency towards injecting autobiographical details or subject matter even in construction of fiction?

Philip Nunez, Friday, 1 January 2016 04:37 (one year ago) Permalink

this seems like a helluva troll

so basically you've invented the objective correlative?

carly rae jetson (thomp), Friday, 1 January 2016 11:20 (one year ago) Permalink

Thanks for your response. I don't troll on message boards, but plenty of viewers used to think I was trolling the airwaves with my shows.
I'm new to teaching and the academic world. I write and direct animated films and have never been an English major.
But your input has been informative to me, which is why I wanted to post these remarks before using them in my filmmaking course.

http://anim.usc.edu/faculty/peter-chung/

Peter Chung, Friday, 1 January 2016 18:18 (one year ago) Permalink

And now I can see that I disagree with Eliot, though we're clearly responding to the same frustrations as artists.

Peter Chung, Friday, 1 January 2016 19:17 (one year ago) Permalink

okay, i apologise for my suspicion

i'm not sure where i see how your claim differs from eliot's claim, other than that eliot thinks hamlet suxx -- what you're saying is that the form (form here including 'plot', 'character', 'setting') of a work of art only matters in that it prompts emotions or ideas in the reader, and eliot's claim is that the job of the artist is to work out what form (including plot etc etc) will prompt the emotions or ideas the artist wants the consumer to have. it seems like the same thing from two different directions.

carly rae jetson (thomp), Saturday, 2 January 2016 03:58 (one year ago) Permalink

i wonder if it might be helpful to try and establish why your students think this sort of thing matters. people do think this matters, it is part of why they engage with works of art, and even if you think it is a deviant way to engage with a work of art it's probably worth trying to understand what leads people to want to know what happened to such-and-such after the story ended, or whatever. i mean, presumably they get something out of it; presumably they wouldn't want to look at things this way if they didn't.

carly rae jetson (thomp), Saturday, 2 January 2016 04:00 (one year ago) Permalink

this is something i've been thinking about a little myself -- i started playing some 16-bit videogames i missed at the time recently, and i was surprised to find that there are wikipedias which comprehensively chart every possible plot connection in the 25-year plus zelda and castlevania franchises, games that i thought all just went 'there's a guy with a whip ... and there's dracula ... action!' or 'there's a kid with a sword ... and there's ganondorf'

i mean, i guess i wasn't surprised--it's the internet: on some level i expected these things to exist. but i never looked at them before thinking 'but ... but why' -- why do people want to make a comprehensive timeline allowing for the divergent endings of 'ocarina of time' wherein they prove link's adventure is chronologically the last game of the series

i guess one answer is 'this is what happens if you play a whole bunch of videogames and don't watch many films or read many books, you just don't understand how narrative art works,' but that doesn't actually answer why at all

carly rae jetson (thomp), Saturday, 2 January 2016 04:04 (one year ago) Permalink

stephen king, in 'on writing', and i think a bunch of introductions and afterwords etc., brings up a bunch of times how bemused he is that his fans ask him 'so whatever happened to such-and-such from the stand,' as if (his phrase, more or less) they were out there writing him occasional letters to let him know how their lives were going

carly rae jetson (thomp), Saturday, 2 January 2016 04:05 (one year ago) Permalink

No problem, I'm glad that you're here. This is the Aeon Flux discussion board. It's good to get visitors outside the regulars.
I read the Viriconium essay and only looked at the first few results after searching "objective correlative", a term I'd not heard before. I wouldn't have known how to search for critical writing on this subject, which has been bothering me, so thanks for that.

No time now to say much, but Eliot's view seems proscriptive and a bit dictatorial about which objective signs shall properly be adequate to evoke a desired emotion. I think it's not always known by the author himself what that emotion or idea might end up being aroused while trying to write a good story. Emotions and the formation of themes are usually emergent.

Peter Chung, Saturday, 2 January 2016 05:08 (one year ago) Permalink

the Viriconium essay is relevant here, tho I think Harrison might've expressed similar thoughts in more detail and less pugnaciously elsewhere. it helps to answer thomp's question about "why" i guess - Harrison talks about colonization and that metaphor does connect to ideas about canonicity and continuity as far as i can see - the fanbase wants to create an authority to admit and deport characters and events from its fictional universe, it wants to control the rules. fiction where the author refuses to codify the rules is decentring, and Harrison makes a similar point - imagine the wiki that sets out a timeline for Borges' fictional universe(s) for example. Canonicity and "what if" is a kind of force that is systematically applied to some fictions but not all of them.

Noodle Vague, Saturday, 2 January 2016 07:21 (one year ago) Permalink

hey nv I've read that essay before but I couldn't face reading it today. I kinda have to be in a very specific mood to want to read mjh

carly rae jetson (thomp), Saturday, 2 January 2016 07:24 (one year ago) Permalink

i guess he's talking more about specifics of geography in that essay but i think the point applies - the pleasures of contemplating the mechanics of an imaginary world are pleasures related to codifying and categorizing - i was gonna be mean and say "related to filing" but i'm not that invested in the rights or wrongs of this because i suspect there's a counter-argument to be made about the liberating energies in fan fiction but god knows i am v distrustful of people who want their fiction to be a tidy garden

Noodle Vague, Saturday, 2 January 2016 07:46 (one year ago) Permalink

how do you feel about bach. also, serialism

carly rae jetson (thomp), Sunday, 3 January 2016 03:00 (one year ago) Permalink

i'm fine with orderly abstraction!

Noodle Vague, Sunday, 3 January 2016 09:22 (one year ago) Permalink

Going back to the opening post-- today's TV series are unwatchable for me because all they offer are plots delineating the events in fictional lives. I keep hearing about how good TV has gotten, but it's all the same, disposable, escapist pablum. A work of narrative film should be only as short as needed to evoke its emotions, convey its ideas or deliver its mythology, then exit the stage.

TV does just the opposite. They are all about fooling you into the trap. The episode ends, and I feel used, not inspired.

Peter Chung, Wednesday, 6 January 2016 12:37 (one year ago) Permalink

I agree with you on that. Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad and the Walking Dead are terrible. They're all about getting the audience attached to the characters so they can put them through these terrible events over the course of 6+ seasons. The only real reason people watch this stuff is because they want to be part of the cultural event, to be part of the discussion. They have underlying ideas that they're trying to convey, but nothing that merits 6 seasons padded out with insipid sensationalistic garbage. They're doing exactly the opposite of what you're saying fiction should do. I blame capitalism.

Have you seen True Detective Season 1? I thought it was better than these other shows, but still suffered from conforming to some American television conventions. The critics consensus seems to be that it's some of the best television has to offer. That's not saying much, given how trashy the other popular stuff is.

Man From the Machine, Sunday, 10 January 2016 00:08 (one year ago) Permalink

re: Game of Thrones and Walking Dead, that would be more an indictment on novels and comics than on TV, no?

Philip Nunez, Sunday, 10 January 2016 03:28 (one year ago) Permalink

I've never watched an episode of GoT, BB or WD. I'll occasionally glance at something when it seems to deal with ideas or themes similar to something I'm working on.
I've started a few shows out of curiosity- Lost, Caprica, Daredevil, Sense 8, and The Expanse, most recently. I get about 4 or 5 episodes in, and there's always this maddening awareness that:
1. the plot is being dragged out as long as possible, and 2. the storytellers are only using the imaginative, speculative premise as some exotic backdrop to what amounts to soap opera. The provocative implications of the story's premise are starved. Of course, they're giving audiences what they want, because the truth is that most viewers aren't looking to have their thoughts provoked or their minds expanded.

For someone working in TV, it's a constant battle. Occasionally, something good does manage to catch on- Black Mirror, Rick and Morty, Veep, and so I don't lose hope.

Peter Chung, Sunday, 10 January 2016 04:25 (one year ago) Permalink

and Twin Peaks, of course.

Peter Chung, Sunday, 10 January 2016 05:04 (one year ago) Permalink

Peter I wouldn't take Daredevil and Lost (haven't seen the others but have heard mediocre things about Sense 8 at least) as examples of the best TV has to offer. They're not that good. The Wire and Sopranos would be two to check out though if you haven't. Sopranos arguably suffers from the dragging out, but my sense is that they were usually trying to say new things with each episode, unlike stuff like TWD or BB or GoT where it's all about "what happens next".

I watched season 1 of BoJack Horseman (Netflix) and it really nailed it for me, to the point where I've put it tentatively in my top 2-5 ever. At first it feels like Family Guy, but it turns out to be quite dark and interesting, more depressing than funny. Have heard it compared to Rick and Morty.

J.P. McDevitt, Sunday, 10 January 2016 06:53 (one year ago) Permalink

Philip, I'm talking about the TV series of GoT and TWD. I haven't read GRRM's ASOIAF, though I have read 70 or so issues of TWD comic. And the Walking Dead comic is different from the TV series. The latter is an adaptation of the former, but the fact that it is in a different medium makes it an experience unique from the original. So it's a separate work that should be looked at as such, with the original being a comparison point. An adaptation isn't worse because it deviates from the original, sometimes the adaptation can surpass it's inspiration (e.g. Ghost in the Shell). But in the case of TWD, both go for that soap opera and "what happens next" style of storytelling that bores me to tears. The TV show is worse in that it also doesn't really have much creativity or technical skill involved while the comic's stark black-and-white art accommodates the tone and reflects the state of the world and its characters.

Going by what you've written here, Peter, I'm interested in what you think of fanfiction. I assume you dislike it since the whole reason that exists is because the fan writers can't let go of fictional characters that touched them in some way. It is kind of silly, forming that sort of attachment to nebulous conceptual beings that do not exist in the capacity that a human being does. I think there are some instances where it can lead to something greater, like superhero comics.

I should get back to Twin Peaks before the upcoming revival. I lost interest halfway through season 2.

Man From the Machine, Sunday, 10 January 2016 09:13 (one year ago) Permalink

On fanfiction-- I haven't read any, except one time I came across a fan-written script for Aeon Flux. It was both funny and sad. A bit like someone trying to do surrealism, but only a facsimile of it. Like watching an actor trying to capture a performance by copying the ticks and quirks without feeling the underlying, internalized core of emotion.

I've enjoyed fanart and have done some myself in the past, as a student. I suppose writing fanfiction is not so different, just done by fans who don't draw. I'd only do it to challenge myself and amuse myself. Over the years, I've been hired many times to re-imagine popular characters for a reboot or revival. Screenwriters do scripts of popular shows on spec to offer as samples when seeking writing work.

For Twin Peaks, I'd strongly recommend Fire Walk With Me if you haven't seen it.
I used to follow the show fanatically when it first aired. Typical of me, though, that I didn't really care about finding out who killed Laura Palmer. It was all the disorienting observational details and the oneiric theater of the absurd that kept me watching. I don't remember the characters' names. The show made me think differently - and that's the most I can ever hope for from a fictional story.

Peter Chung, Sunday, 10 January 2016 15:00 (one year ago) Permalink

adaptations require a certain fidelity to source material, and is no more a separate work from its sources than nonfiction or fiction inspired by actual events, so when making complaints about aspects originating from the source, shouldn't the blame be ascribed to the source?

the character design of bojack has heavy biographical resonance for hanawalt; in that sense isn't bojack also an adaptation of sorts?

Philip Nunez, Sunday, 10 January 2016 19:30 (one year ago) Permalink

Philip, a work of nonfiction or fiction inspired by actual events IS separate from those actual events. Because what is being expressed in such a work would be a subjective recounting, no matter how much the creator tried to be objective. Like Trevor Goodchild said, "Though the world and events do exist independent of mind, they obtain of no meaning in themselves- none that the mind is not guilty of imposing on them." No matter how accurate one may try to be, the very fact that it comes from a human mind makes it a simulacrum of reality. An event occurs in the past, and what would remain in the present are memories of those who observed/were a part of it and whatever consequences came about due to its occurrence. Memories are fallible and subject to emotion and faulty cognition, and the consequences of the event only give the end part of an equation, not the variables that came together to produce it.

Let me clarify that my complaints with TWD TV and TWD comic aren't so similar. I can confidently tell you that the events, characters, presentation, plot, etc. in TWD TV have been altered in the process of adaptation. And the network execs, apparently, give very little creative freedom to the directors and writing staff as they demand they make the show in such a way that modern TV viewers will get hooked on it. So more melodrama, angst and "what's going to happen next?" style of storytelling. This means TWD TV is worse than TWD comic, and the former is not entirely a reflection on the latter. And, like I've been saying, the experience of reading TWD comic is different from watching TWD TV. I'm sure the same applies to GoT, as one is in a visual medium and the other is literature.

Source material should be used as an inspiration, guide and comparison point and not something to be strictly adhered to. On one end of the adaptation spectrum, you have something that's as close to the original as possible. To me, this would make it a boring, pointless exercise. It doesn't try to present the viewer with new ideas that aren't already in the original. On the other end, you have something that's so far removed from the original that it's barely an adaptation. Any further and it would not be on the spectrum, it would not be an adaptation.

Take for example Ghost in the Shell. Masamune's manga is intellectually vapid and sometimes immature. Oshii's adaptation far exceeds the original as he brings his own highbrow sensibilities and philosophical interests to the film. It has just enough resemblance to the original to be called an adaptation, but it should be judged on its own merits, as a sophisticated art film (and one the greatest animated films of all time), and not how well it emulates the original. Because it doesn't.

Peter, I think I agree with you there. Fan art and fiction are not necessarily bad. I would say that fanfiction/art is really only bad when it's used for self-indulgence. Like fanfics written so that two characters from an anime or whatever have sex. A large amount of these will be poorly written and have the characters acting contradictorily from their personality, as part of the writer's indulgence. Look at the many homoerotic fiction written about the pop idol group One Direction. Or rather, don't.

Man From the Machine, Sunday, 10 January 2016 23:58 (one year ago) Permalink

Mftm so offtm itt

Hammer Smashed Bagels, Monday, 11 January 2016 01:08 (one year ago) Permalink

From what I understand, Kirkman intends to keep both the comic and the show running literally forever, so the "what's going to happen next?" stye of storytelling is inherent in this conceit. Are TV trends really to blame for this?

Philip Nunez, Monday, 11 January 2016 01:31 (one year ago) Permalink

Full House to blame

Hammer Smashed Bagels, Monday, 11 January 2016 01:32 (one year ago) Permalink

Twin Peaks had a lull in season 2 (Lynch and Frost temporarily vacated according to most reports) and picks up again at or near the very end; you just have to chug through it, and then watch the excellent movie, and then watch the revival which one of our greatest living artists is filming and has an unprecedented degree of control over for television.

J.P. McDevitt, Monday, 11 January 2016 01:54 (one year ago) Permalink

Modern television conventions are designed to create the most profit over the longest period of time. Not to present ideas and explore them in the amount of time truly necessary or to expand the minds of the viewers.

Kirkman has built an empire around the Walking Dead, and he'll want to continue both the TV show and comic for as long as he can because of the amount of money it brings in for him and everyone else involved.

Earlier I semi-jokingly stated that I blame capitalism for this trend. But it's true. The Simpsons is still running even in its current state because there are enough people watching it every year that it creates a steady profit for Fox.

I feel like I've kind of hijacked this thread and put enough of my ramblings here. We should stop this talk about crappy TV and focus on something worth discussing. Sorry, Peter.

Man From the Machine, Monday, 11 January 2016 02:45 (one year ago) Permalink

Man, your ramblings are all on topic.
TV is, no doubt, currently the main (if not only) source of fictional narrative for most of the public.
http://www.vulture.com/2015/01/why-you-feel-like-theres-too-much-tv-to-watch.html
I barely watch any of it. I can't afford the mental space to be keeping up with ten different storylines each week.

I would avoid making blanket judgments, though. I began watching each of the shows I mentioned above, impressed enough by the craftsmanship of the screenwriting and filmmaking to be engaged. None were "terrible". I've seen plenty of badly written scripts. These aren't badly written. Just for me, the thing they're getting me to engage with is so artificial and impersonal. The irony is that I often find constructing fictional characters gets in the way of the author from revealing much about themselves as artists.

Peter Chung, Monday, 11 January 2016 09:28 (one year ago) Permalink

What bugs me is that the literal-thinking mindset is becoming so dominant. It seems that there used to be a better general acceptance of mystery and metaphor in art.

Just to mention two examples: I love old movie musicals. No one used to have a problem with characters suddenly bursting into song. A lot of my students don't know who Rodgers and Hammerstein are. They've never seen The Wizard of Oz. It's sad.
Every iconic character needs to have their origin explained with some nonsensical backstory. This kind of literal-mindedness is making our culture feebler, not more vivid. I was fine not knowing a thing about James Bond's childhood. It misses the point.

Peter Chung, Monday, 11 January 2016 10:06 (one year ago) Permalink

Do your students have literalization problems with modern musicals (I'm assuming they've seen Disney animated princess+song movies at the very least)?

Philip Nunez, Monday, 11 January 2016 19:31 (one year ago) Permalink

University animation students are mostly of two types: those who hold onto the fascination they had with the medium since childhood, and those who think they've outgrown the movies they watched as kids. At USC, the latter type are the majority. In CalArts character animation, they're almost all the former type. Actually, I think the general problem is that young viewers don't watch a lot of movies more than 20 years old.

Peter Chung, Tuesday, 12 January 2016 13:20 (one year ago) Permalink

One more example- pertinent at the moment as Ridley Scott gets feted for the maudlin mediocrity of The Martian, a thoroughly literal-minded film, devoid of subtext. After The Counselor, Prometheus and Exodus, The Martian must have been a walk in the park for him.

Almost without exception, all my friends above the age of 40 were blown away by Prometheus, as was I. It's the kind of experience that's the exact reason why I go see movies. While of course, most of my students hated it, or were indifferent. It' disorienting to be in a classroom filled with 20 year olds who all seem so much more culturally conservative than me and my peers. And now I'm sounding old and cranky.

Peter Chung, Wednesday, 13 January 2016 12:29 (one year ago) Permalink

Do your students have similar reactions to explicitly experimental/non-linear film? (Prometheus fills in the backstory to the space jockey in a very literal fashion, and Ridley Scott seems further committed to giving us the childhood background of the giant aliens in the proposed sequel -- it seems like most people who did not like this would have preferred the mystery and subtext of the original kept intact.)

Philip Nunez, Wednesday, 13 January 2016 18:55 (one year ago) Permalink

I'd have thought that at a time when any movie is available to see anywhere, any time, viewers would have a broader viewing history. It turns out that the opposite is true. Before the internet and DVDs, the only way to see rarely-screened films was to drive to an art-house cinema where an important film played for one or two nights. I'd go often and find the theater packed with film buffs and students. That was your one chance, and you weren't going to miss it. There is no longer that urgency, and viewers don't seek challenging works.

When I was in film school, our seminal films were 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange, 8 1/2, Juliet of the Spirits, Satyricon, Blow Up, L'Avventura, Pierrot Le Fou, Vertigo, Touch of Evil, Performance, Eraserhead, anything by Sam Fuller, Kurosawa, Bergman and Tarkovsky. I asked my students last year which films affected them the most. Some of the answers I got back were Jurassic Park, Silent Hill, The Lion King, The Prince of Egypt, and thankfully one mention of La Reine Margot. Young filmmakers just need to get exposed to a wider range of different kinds of films.

Prometheus impressed me precisely because it upended my antipathy towards backstory by providing a context which was not arbitrary or gratuitous, but instead deepened the meaning of the original Alien film, which was, after all, just a (well done) monster-on-the-loose movie.

Peter Chung, Wednesday, 13 January 2016 21:37 (one year ago) Permalink

Jurassic Park > Prometheus

Cuombas (jim in glasgow), Wednesday, 13 January 2016 21:41 (one year ago) Permalink

I'd be surprised if film students paying loads of tuition weren't exposed to a wide corpus of movies at least through syllabi.
the "most affected" picks look like movies they might have seen as kids.
perhaps they did see solaris and the seventh seal, but not when they were 8?

Philip Nunez, Wednesday, 13 January 2016 22:31 (one year ago) Permalink

I should make clear, that I never argue with my students over their tastes or preferences. Neither do I try to change their opinions of movies they didn't like. I do try to point out points of merit that they might not have noticed. There are plenty of highly regarded films that I find insufferable. There is a need to be educated about the potential scope of the film medium. That's what film school is for.

Peter Chung, Wednesday, 13 January 2016 23:00 (one year ago) Permalink

Could it simply be a disconnect between their assertion of tastes and the scope of what they've actually been exposed to?
I'm assuming you use certain movies as examples in classes -- which ones are you most surprised to find students have never seen before?

Philip Nunez, Thursday, 14 January 2016 00:42 (one year ago) Permalink

Hard to say, since their tastes may be restricted by their exposure to a wide scope of media. More and more of my students are Chinese nationals. My first year, I had four. This year, I'm getting ten. They have a completely different set of cultural references from the American students.

I show a lot of clips in class. Some students have never seen a Hitchcock film. I'm surprised, generally, by how little animation a lot of them have seen. Almost none of them have seen Aeon Flux- which seems odd to me, since they signed up for my class. I've found some students are surprised when I show it to them, about how unconventional it is. I have to remind them that a lot of the popular characters she may resemble (from Tomb Raider, Resident Evil, Underworld, Matrix' Trinity, Alias, etc) didn't exist when I made AF.

Peter Chung, Thursday, 14 January 2016 01:54 (one year ago) Permalink

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/backstory
http://www.nytimes.com/2005/08/07/magazine/back-story.html?_r=0

According to this, the first known use of the term, as one word, was 1984. Which seems right, because I never remember anyone mentioning the word or caring about the concept the whole time I was in school or growing up.
A good indicator of the trend among contemporary audiences towards the literal readings of texts.

Peter Chung, Wednesday, 11 January 2017 06:21 (eleven months ago) Permalink

Matt, I'm glad you're interested in these posts. I never bothered with starting a blog.
This place has become a bit like a creative journal for me, so it's largely my chance to put down my musings whether anyone replies or not.

I happen to be deep into the writing process of a big new project, so these issues are very much on my mind. I'll make the announcement soon.

Peter Chung, Wednesday, 11 January 2017 06:35 (eleven months ago) Permalink

Thank you for answering my questions, Peter. I assume that the story you told about the studio execs laughing also applies to live action movies and that's why they are all so formulaic. I wish movies would take more risks with plot and characters. I have faith this will happen one day since the recent movies that break the mold are so successful, like Deadpool. The studio kept trying to shut down production on Deadpool and repeatedly slashed the budget. In the end, though, Deadpool grossed more than all the X-Men movies, Batman v. Superman, and a lot of Marvel films. Hopefully this will someday prompt change in the industry!

I look forward to your announcement and any future work on Aeon Flux.

Cora, Wednesday, 11 January 2017 22:44 (eleven months ago) Permalink

Related to the "all must be revealed and explained and we must learn everyone's backstory" mindset... Forgive me if I've said this here before, but think about all of the works where a large part of the appeal is some long-running mystery (Lost, Twin Peaks, many video games where the main character is an amnesiac, etc.). I am literally unaware of ANY case where the mystery being revealed was a good thing that improved the work. It is always, in my experience, a disappointment when doors are closed and threads are tied up.*

I would put Aeon Flux in a similar category, where as a teen I really wanted "answers" and "meaning" explained to me, not realizing that the lack thereof was part of what drew me in.

*This does not necessarily include traditional Agatha Christie type mystery stories.

J.P. McDevitt, Thursday, 12 January 2017 04:27 (eleven months ago) Permalink

I would not consider Lost a good example. The mystery was never meant to be solved because the creators and the network wanted the show to go on indefinitely because it was so popular. They never had an ending planned and just threw more weird plot points in every season because they were making good money. A show with a mystery plotted out beginning to end beforehand can be very good if well-written. Lost was not one of those shows. I haven't seen Twin Peaks, though.

Cora, Thursday, 12 January 2017 04:56 (eleven months ago) Permalink

A good example would be the novel, the Thirteenth Tale, where little clues are planted throughout the book from the beginning. When the mystery is revealed (organically), you look back and realize how it was alluded to. This is probably my favorite book and I highly recommend it.

Cora, Thursday, 12 January 2017 05:07 (eleven months ago) Permalink

I should clarify that the way the Herodotus File ended up taking shape is NOT the thing that was initially proposed by the publisher. That would have been a dry, encyclopedia-like source book. My argument prevailed, with Eric Singer siding with me, that the book should be a free-wheeling, highly suspicious dossier full of unreliable information (disinformation) that captures the vibe and spirit of the series. The collection of accounts contained in the book is not ultimately useful as exposition (backstory). It's the mind space of the show in book form.

Peter Chung, Thursday, 12 January 2017 12:41 (eleven months ago) Permalink

two months pass...

"The driver of human actions is deterministic, as is the course of the universe. But the unfathomable complexity of conditions that determine your actions are beyond your capacity to grasp, so you go on living life as if you were free. Which is the only way you can live."

Relevant to this (and to your original post, re: why we care about made-up stories): https://thebaffler.com/salvos/whats-the-point-if-we-cant-have-fun

Blair Gilbreath, Saturday, 18 March 2017 08:08 (eight months ago) Permalink

Thanks for the article. As it happens, just yesterday, I wrote down the following:

Evolution has enabled a prey animal to experience fear and the flight response as a way of avoiding harm. But it is in acquiring that very power that it has increased its potential for suffering. A more primitive life form, less evolved, is more easily killed and consumed by a predator. But its lack of consciousness means that it suffers less. Compare a rabbit’s experience of being eaten to a clam’s.
A human who is about to be killed not only suffers the physical pain of bodily injury, but perhaps worse, the psychological and emotional distress of knowing all the future life that he will be deprived of. And the nightmare of finding himself living in an uncaring world. It is better to be killed suddenly, without foreknowledge, before knowing what is happening. The anticipation of death can be long and torturous in a way that may surpass the actual act of dying.

A condemned prisoner is held in solitude with no means of contact with the world. He is told that there has been some kind of procedural irregularity or an intercession and that as soon as the arrangements are made, he will be set free. The prisoner is excited by the prospect and counts the hours for his moment of release. More good news is delivered. He has come into an inheritance and a beautiful young female admirer has fallen in love with him based on his story in the news. Finally, the day arrives. The guards come to his cell and let him out. He is walking towards the final gate, beyond which he can see his smiling family, the woman who loves him, new clothes, everything he’d hoped for. His face is beaming with joy. Tears stream down his cheeks. At the moment the gate is opened before him, he is shot from behind in the head, bringing instant death. It happens clean and quick, with no moment to experience pain. His last days were free of the kind of torment he would have endured had the truth been told. Is it morally wrong to allow the man to live in delusion if it alleviates suffering?

Peter Chung, Saturday, 18 March 2017 18:35 (eight months ago) Permalink

Well, the first thing I'd want to know about is the suffering in the minds of the people tasked with perpetuating the illusion.

Blair Gilbreath, Saturday, 18 March 2017 23:32 (eight months ago) Permalink

I was just watching the 1995 Ghost in the Shell movie again. It's a beautiful looking film, and I truly wish that I could join its admirers.
But there are many lapses of storytelling; it seemed they came about every five minutes. I'll be specific here for a moment.

Here's an important exchange that occurs at about 2/3 in: (from a transcript I found online)

"Uh, the Doctor is referring to the original pattern of the ghost-line that's now in the body. He's simply speaking in generic terms. The sex of the perpetrator isn't known and remains undetermined. Allow me to introduce you. This is the handiwork of the Puppet Master, infamous as the most extraordinary hacker in the history of cyber crime.

Huh?

Your people at Section 9 came across his work too in that ghost-hacking incident involving the Foreign Minister’s interpreter. Section 6 has been following the trail of the Puppet Master for some time now. This case was given our utmost attention. We put together a project team centered around Dr. Willis. They were assigned to analyze every aspect in detail of our criminal. This gave us a fix on his behavioral and code patterns. Ultimately, this enabled us to devise a strategy with which we lured his program into a designated body.

You caused the Puppet Master to dive into a cyborg, then meanwhile murdered his real body?

Yes, that sums it up. He's originally from America. So the U.S. Cooperated with us in capturing him. That's why we'd like to take him back ourselves. You have no objections to this, I hope.

Hmm? Just another unidentified corpse.

You will not find a corpse, because I have never possessed a body.

Why are his sensors on? What the hell is this?

All external controls are turned off. The body's using its own power source.

I entered this body because I was unable to overcome Section 6's reactive barriers. However, what you are now witnessing is an act of my own free will. As a sentient life-form, I hereby demand political asylum."

The above information is delivered in the most matter-or-fact, literal, unambiguous way.
This part is particularly annoying:

"... Ultimately, this enabled us to devise a strategy with which we lured his program into a designated body.

You caused the Puppet Master to dive into a cyborg, then meanwhile murdered his real body?

Yes, that sums it up. "

Well, that sounds like it would have made for a great scene, but instead of showing us any of this, we get a static conversation of people talking about a fascinating event that happened off screen.
A good director could have done something remarkable with material like this.

Soon after, we get another static scene of a guy talking about, again, what sounds like a twist in the plot ripe with intrigue:

"Hey, Chief.

Ishikawa? What is it?

I've been divin' around in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs net. I think I found some juicy morsels for ya.

I'll switch to an encrypted channel.

Okay, now? Well, here's the scoop on that guy who showed up with Nakamura. He's an American: Dr. Willis, Head of Strategic Research at Neutron Company. A top researcher in the field of artificial intelligence. He happened to head up a project for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. And who do you think was the main programmer on his team?

Get to the point.

Mr. Mizuho Daita. Remember him? He's the guy Section 6 tried like hell to stop from defecting, so the Major dropped in and took care of the diplomat who'd been talking to him. This is our man.

Go on.

There's something that doesn't figure though. What's bugging me is that this project began one year before the Puppet Master ever appeared on the scene.

A year before? But wasn't it supposed to be set up to catch him?

Hmph. Well, try this one on. Maybe the men who broke in to take the Puppet Master weren't actually out to catch him? Maybe in actuality, they were trying to get him back. Think about it. It was the MOFA that wanted an excuse to deport Malles when that ghost-hacking incident happened with the Minister's interpreter. Maybe we've been taken for a ride. What if this Puppet Master is really some sort of tool the MOFA uses to get their way with things, and somehow, they lost control of it? They'd be screwed if they couldn't get it back. That would explain why they went to such lengths to snatch the body from Section 9. If the Puppet Master revealed this to the world, there'd be one hell of an international stink. Then it wouldn't be a simple case of rounding up the usual suspects. Some official heads would roll.

Any details on that project?

Naw. They've blocked all access. About the only thing I can tell you is the file name: Project 2501.

Keep at it. Don't let them know you're looking."

Up until this point, the viewer had little inkling that any of this might have been relevant to anything going on. We hear names, relationships, and events from out of the blue, we are TOLD they are significant by a guy just doing his professional duty. This exchange is not character-driven, it has no dramatic subtext, it is just plain exposition that we are to accept at face value.

Peter Chung, Wednesday, 22 March 2017 00:03 (eight months ago) Permalink

To make sense of these scenes, the viewer has to listen closely and try to make sense of these details, such as names and which characters they are referring to.
Some people might therefore claim that the film requires paying close attention and that you have to use your head to follow the story.
The demands being placed on the viewer are merely a result of the director's inability (or lack of interest) in conveying the information in a way that is integrated into the drama.

In fact, to get the viewer to understand events and their meaning through context and not through exposition requires true directorial skill. When a twist happens, its impact should be felt intuitively, not explained.
That is the entire point of directing.

Peter Chung, Wednesday, 22 March 2017 01:50 (eight months ago) Permalink

two weeks pass...

The new GITS film is bad, just in case you were wondering. I was steered wrong about it on another forum.

Peter the type of storytelling you point out is very common in a lot of video games, especially what gamers refer to as JRPGs (Japanese RPGs) such as Final Fantasy. I think gamers have moved on from this to SOME extent, but a sizable portion of them still believe that those long awful info dumps somehow mean that you're getting an intelligent, well-told story.

I have a question about "meaning" in Aeon that I'll ask in the "aeon flux kicks butt" thread.

J.P. McDevitt, Tuesday, 11 April 2017 05:28 (eight months ago) Permalink

I haven't seen the new GITS movie. The clips I've seen remind me of nothing so much as the Kusama AF movie, and make me wonder if anyone in Hollywood (Paramount in this case) ever learns anything.
I watched portions of the Oshii film recently. I get the sense that Oshii is savvy enough to know that the fictional plot of his movie is expendable. That is why he doesn't trouble himself with the hassles of dramaturgy.
He undermines his own intent however, in the same way I'd commented above. The viewer's mind is too distracted by the problem of sorting out the obscure plot that it doesn't get the space to consider any more weighty meanings.
A lot of Hollywood science fiction does this deliberately to draw attention away from any philosophical implications that might be in danger of sprouting up.

Peter Chung, Tuesday, 11 April 2017 09:28 (eight months ago) Permalink

In the interests of being complete, here is the other famous M. John Harrison weigh-in on this subject: http://web.archive.org/web/20080410181840/http://uzwi.wordpress.com/2007/01/27/very-afraid/

TS Hugo Largo vs. Al Factotum (James Redd and the Blecchs), Tuesday, 11 April 2017 11:52 (eight months ago) Permalink

Literary prose as a venue for imaginative narrative is archaic and is especially not suited for world building.
World building works much better on film, where it doesn't require the viewer's full attention while the story stops in its tracks to digress into description.

Peter Chung, Thursday, 13 April 2017 00:26 (eight months ago) Permalink

I know what you mean, but don't you think literary description can itself be incredibly satisfying - and create a richness to the story - if written well? Not so much stopping the story in its tracks as providing a sort of caesura in which the reader gains something almost like super-powers, able to see, smell, hear things they'd never be able to in their real lives?

There's a clutch of mystical literature that I feel you might like Peter, full of thrilling description. The Seven Who Fled, by Frederic Prokosch, shot through with fantastically detailed descriptions of lands he'd never visited. Salammbô by Flaubert..

illegal economic migration (Tracer Hand), Thursday, 13 April 2017 08:35 (eight months ago) Permalink

I would argue from the opposite angle, that text can evoke worlds with hand-waving efficiency, e.g. "Snow White slaughtered the seven dwarves with seven singing swords soldered by Samsung" is essentially describing an action, but also tells you:
-Fantasy setting
-Morally ambiguous universe
-Multinational conglomerates co-exist with magic
From this the reader can triangulate the world already.

Philip Nunez, Thursday, 13 April 2017 15:03 (eight months ago) Permalink

Yes totally!

illegal economic migration (Tracer Hand), Thursday, 13 April 2017 15:22 (eight months ago) Permalink

The hand-waving efficiency part is undeniable. It's why word language is the default instrument for authors/creators.
The dependence on words is a historical happenstance. We're taught from school to rely on them, but words have no inherent meaning in themselves. They are a convention.
As a visual artist, my own default is not words, but images.

Peter Chung, Friday, 14 April 2017 00:55 (eight months ago) Permalink

I listened to a remarkable conversation on the radio with the great French comics illustrator François Boucq. He says that the task of an illustrator is to translate the abstraction of words into the concrete form of images. To allow the theoretical to become the real.

Peter Chung, Friday, 14 April 2017 01:44 (eight months ago) Permalink

Philip, I agree with the point you are making.
I have gotten into a habit of snapping back at arguments that presume the primacy of the written word.
That was not your statement, however, so my reply was off point.

Peter Chung, Friday, 14 April 2017 07:42 (eight months ago) Permalink

Haven't read much of the thread yet, but agree 100% with what was said in the initial posts. As to the question of whether one should care what happens after the ending, I don't even know if we should care about the ending itself that much. The ending both as stopping point in time and how it reflects on the prior story is arbitrary. The ending shouldn't always be viewed as a confirmation of all that went before, the story shouldn't be thought of as a proof leading up to the ending. Does the Simon Oakland speech at the end of Psycho really explain everything that occurred? Are those tales framed as "only a kooky fever dream," such as The Wizard of Oz, Jacob's Ladder, really only that? Does the ending of Red River, in which the protagonists are told they are only behaving the way they do because they love each other explain away all the prior conflict?

TS Hugo Largo vs. Al Factotum (James Redd and the Blecchs), Friday, 14 April 2017 13:50 (eight months ago) Permalink

As for worldbuilding, I'll refer you to the time when I was a nipper and a friend of mine loaned me a book containing the complete blueprints of the U.S.S. Enterprise, which made me unable to watch Star Trek (TOS, of course) for many years.

TS Hugo Largo vs. Al Factotum (James Redd and the Blecchs), Friday, 14 April 2017 13:53 (eight months ago) Permalink

Hey, that's exactly what I was saying!

Thoughts on Fiction

Peter Chung, Friday, 14 April 2017 17:49 (eight months ago) Permalink

Ha, yes, I see. Now I can go back and read the thread properly.

TS Hugo Largo vs. Al Factotum (James Redd and the Blecchs), Friday, 14 April 2017 19:14 (eight months ago) Permalink

Even more than the ending of Psycho, I'd cite the forced ending of Hitchcock's Suspicion. Hitch was forced to tack on a happy ending by the studio, but since it contradicts everything that happened earlier, the best conclusion to draw is that the spoken explanation is a devious lie. Viewers are in such a habit of relying on the spoken word that somehow they don't consider that someone capable of killing might also be capable of lying.

Peter Chung, Saturday, 15 April 2017 01:14 (eight months ago) Permalink

Yes. In fact I had thought about mentioning Suspicion as well when this thread was first revived, then overlooked it when I finally got around to typing.

TS Hugo Largo vs. Al Factotum (James Redd and the Blecchs), Saturday, 15 April 2017 01:18 (eight months ago) Permalink

"There's a clutch of mystical literature that I feel you might like Peter, full of thrilling description. The Seven Who Fled, by Frederic Prokosch, shot through with fantastically detailed descriptions of lands he'd never visited. Salammbô by Flaubert.."

I found a copy of Salammbo. http://www.inlibroveritas.net/oeuvres/2974/salammbo

I'd read Flaubert's La Legende de St. Julien L'Hospitalier in middle school (French lycée in Tunis), and enjoyed it.
What I mean when I call literary prose an archaic medium for world building, it's because I find myself picturing the imagery residing in the author's mind as he chooses the words that best define a sensory experience. The sensory experience is being conveyed through a cumbersome code, not unlike morse code or sign language. We can admire the author's skill in the use of language to achieve this. But I'm always aware of the author editorializing and commenting on the thing whereas I prefer to simply behold the subject itself. A writer's voice cannot help but be a filter.

I've cited Robbe-Grillet's Jalousie as one of my favorite books, which I read as a student. I mention it because Jalousie is a book consisting of nothing but description. But what astonishes about Jalousie is that all the description is devoid of any emotional language, or even of any poetry or metaphor. It is entirely, obsessively, done without a hint of feeling, and reads like a technical account of physical phenomena. And precisely because of the author's suppression of emotion, reading it becomes an intensely emotional experience for the reader.

Peter Chung, Saturday, 15 April 2017 02:29 (eight months ago) Permalink

Hello Peter,
I'm a new member to the forum, but an old fan of AF.
A little off of the current topic, but related to prior comments: what are your thoughts on young people showing literal-minded tendencies?
I am not in animation, nor do I have a large repertoire of animation/film references, but when I can find any form of media that presents something abstract, esoteric, and meaningful, I cling to it wholeheartedly (not the scaffolding, of course, but the messages). AF has obviously supplied these things for me, and further brought me here, and now your words have me wondering what it is you make of a society which seems to be leaning more towards this sort of literal-mindedness in what I would argue to be most aspects of life? Do you have any theories as to why this shift is occurring? I live in a rural area, which tends to be devoid of people with the proper frame of mind which would allow for the appreciation of meaningful and strange media, and so I'm interested in what your personal thoughts on the subject are.

pynchon, Saturday, 15 April 2017 17:33 (eight months ago) Permalink

Welcome, Pynchon.
There's a tendency to call philosophical discourse "esoteric". When I use the word, it's to voice my disagreement with convention. The more an artist or a creative work addresses what is universal, vital and primary, the more it is deemed "hard", "inaccessible" and "esoteric". While the more something is frivolous, escapist or refers to a narrow cultural current, the more it is considered understandable or relevant. It should be exactly the other way around. Lost Highway and Men in Black both came out in 1997. Guess which one was being hailed as the must-see?

As for your question, it's something I've thought about a lot lately. The rise of religious fundamentalism is a symptom of it. I doubt that it's a cause, but I think the same trends apply. Biblical literalism became a necessary stance in light of a more rigorous epistemology. It's ironic that a more advanced understanding of rational argument is what leads to a stricter insistence on the inerrancy of a nonsensical scripture. When the rules of logic were less understood, the idea of textual inconsistency was less of a problem. So maybe a higher level of education is to blame.

Peter Chung, Saturday, 15 April 2017 20:28 (eight months ago) Permalink

There can be such a thing as too much school. What I notice in the discussions of fan culture is a kind of smarty pants syndrome, where each participant shows off the breadth of their knowledge of a particular fictional world. I can never remember the names of the planets (moon?) in Alien and Prometheus, even though I love them both and watch them regularly.
A site I visit to keep up with news from pop culture is IO9. The comments section there is both alarming and depressing.

Peter Chung, Saturday, 15 April 2017 20:41 (eight months ago) Permalink

http://io9.gizmodo.com/this-video-shows-an-easy-way-to-make-passengers-better-1794491601

First discussion topic in the comments:

Would it have been that hard for the Pratt character to find some technicians or engineers in hibernation who’d be able to fix his cryo-chamber? Then they all go back to sleep, problem solved. The whole premise is really stupid.

Peter Chung, Thursday, 27 April 2017 11:18 (seven months ago) Permalink

"Would it have been that hard for the Pratt character to find some technicians or engineers in hibernation who’d be able to fix his cryo-chamber? Then they all go back to sleep, problem solved. The whole premise is really stupid."

I forgot to add the q

Peter Chung, Friday, 28 April 2017 14:15 (seven months ago) Permalink

http://climbingsky.com/textual-literalism-and-the-dc-reboot/

This blog post sees the trend towards literalism to extend from religion and politics to pop culture. I hadn't thought of the political implications, but we live in highly ideological times.
Naked facts and objective, natural reality in all its rawness are discounted in favor of the primacy of the written word.

https://newrepublic.com/article/106441/scalia-garner-reading-the-law-textual-originalism

Peter Chung, Monday, 8 May 2017 06:27 (seven months ago) Permalink

The New Republic article makes me think that there may be a correlation between textual literalism and conservatism, both cultural and political.
Individuals with a preference (or need) for canonicity are expressing their desire for an authoritarian rule of law.

Peter Chung, Wednesday, 10 May 2017 06:50 (seven months ago) Permalink

one month passes...

I had an idea of what your answer would be, and I can agree with you for the most part. Just as your animated stories send me searching for a personal meaning or an underlying message, so to does the world's current, apparent state send me searching for an understanding as to why literalism has taken over. I don't know if education is wholly to blame. Memorization of facts is okay, but learning the tools by which we apply them is of greater importance. Facts stop our searching, while processes lead us onward.

Biblical literalism sprouts its ugly head in response to its opposition: scientific and logically calculated interpretations of reality. The "facts" of the Bible have been taught to the believers, but not the processes by which we are to scrutinize those "facts." Those who believe in the nonsensical stories of the Bible do not possess the proper logical tools to understand what it is they're arguing for, and furthermore cannot formulate a proper argument to combat opposing theories. Evolution, for example, is seen as a threat to Biblical belief, and so it is rejected on the grounds of 'Biblical inerrancy' simply because they cannot come up with any other justification other than this ex nihilo attempt.

But I feel even more aspects of our culture hinge upon this literalistic train of thought. Even science itself can fall into dogmatic traps. Consumer culture has us believing that some things are in and some are out and that we must follow suit in order to be valued. The hive mind has us believing that we must fit in to achieve purpose or happiness.
I guess what I'm saying is, there seems to be this infectious idea going around that there's a singular right and wrong way to act, believe, think, and exist. As a story-teller, I feel you must share in my contempt for this narrow and sad way of perceiving this awesome, multi-faceted world in which we live. What a disservice we give and disdain we show for such a wonderful universe.

pynchon, Saturday, 17 June 2017 03:50 (five months ago) Permalink

Good article by Film Crit Hulk on Ridley Scott, spends a good amount of time on The Counselor and Prometheus (two films Peter has spoken highly of recently) and the newest Alien movie: http://birthmoviesdeath.com/2017/06/13/film-crit-hulk-smash-ridley-scott-cinemas-underrated-weirdo

J.P. McDevitt, Tuesday, 20 June 2017 15:38 (five months ago) Permalink

one month passes...

Valerian in 3D is highly recommended.
It was refreshing to see a narrative that stuck to focusing on actions and the consequences while leaving a lot of exposition out.

There's a big war that sets up the story, but no details are given as to why they are fighting, and they are not needed.
Most of the time, there is no dialogue explaining strange events, but we understand what is happening purely through context.

It appears that Luc Besson returned to the mindset that inspired his first film, Le Dernier Combat, which had zero dialogue.
Pure cinematic storytelling.

Peter Chung, Monday, 24 July 2017 13:56 (four months ago) Permalink

Alien Covenant, on the other hand, was a crushing disappointment after the sublime Prometheus. It appears that Mr. Scott succumbed to the negativity and gave us a film that undid everything he'd so carefully set up.

Peter Chung, Monday, 24 July 2017 14:29 (four months ago) Permalink

Given your own experience, how much do you ascribe to the director vs the writers in the case of movies like Covenant, Prometheus, etc...? (Prometheus to me seemed very much of a piece with LOST which the writer was also involved with.)

Philip Nunez, Tuesday, 25 July 2017 05:25 (four months ago) Permalink

Scott did not want to make another monster slasher movie, which was what the original Spaihts draft resembled.
A director with a vision will work closely with a writer to shape the story along the thematic lines that drive him to want to make the film.

http://www.tor.com/2012/10/10/ridley-scott-explains-prometheus-is-lovably-insane/

http://www.alien-covenant.com/news/ridley-scott-says-prometheus-was-mistake

I remember when Blade Runner first came out, it was received badly. But Scott knew what he was doing. The world caught up eventually. Too bad that today, the pace and volume of audience backlash has become insurmountable.
I came out of my first viewing of Prometheus in a state of elation. A world of discovery and adventure lay ahead for Shaw and for the public.
Alien Covenant is a despicable film and a betrayal- most sadly because of Scott's own doing.

Peter Chung, Tuesday, 25 July 2017 06:15 (four months ago) Permalink

two weeks pass...

Rereading the thread, I have another thought to add to the comment regarding the appreciation for literary world building:
"I would argue from the opposite angle, that text can evoke worlds with hand-waving efficiency..."

This is fine if "efficiency" is what matters to you in the consumption of art.
But why would I prefer to read a writer's description of a physically dense, visually rich world, if the choice exists to have the sensory experience first hand?
The same applies to the interactions between characters. Dialogue is speech. It exists because it is SPOKEN.
Reading it on a page is a step removed, and to say you prefer to see the words printed rather than hear them with your ears - that is like saying you would prefer to read Beethoven's 6th symphony as sheet music.

This is maybe the reason why the cinematic form, either in movies or TV has become the preferred medium for audiences to get their fix of narrative fiction.
People don't read novels anymore-- I confess that I don't. There have been enough times when I've either finished a novel or gave up on one and been left feeling like it was a waste of time.
Many of my formative experiences as a young artist have been through literature. But maybe that is destined to be the future role of literary fiction in the lives on new generations.
Reading literature will be like reading textbooks on science and math. You do it in your student years, but once the principles have been absorbed, one rarely goes back, as the effort yields diminishing returns.

Peter Chung, Wednesday, 9 August 2017 18:37 (four months ago) Permalink

"There have been enough times when I've either finished a novel or gave up on one and been left feeling like it was a waste of time."

Of course, a good novel does not make me feel this way, but the broader point is that the literary form itself is a reductive and linear experience that makes use of such a narrow range of your body's capacity.
I have to shut off my ears and minimize my eyes for the sole function of recognizing black symbols on a page. As a voracious "retinal fiend", my eyes can only remain starved for so long. In other words, for the duration of time required to read a novel, my poor eyes are shackled.

Peter Chung, Wednesday, 9 August 2017 19:25 (four months ago) Permalink

How much do textual descriptions play a part in your production process? (The recent Mad Max movie was apparently conceived of purely in storyboards, rather than script form.)
Has any recent tool development allowed you to scale back text in favor of generating animatics directly?

Philip Nunez, Wednesday, 9 August 2017 20:59 (four months ago) Permalink

Textual descriptions are absolutely central to my production process. Written language is the most efficient way to give myself clarity and to stay focused. The efficiency of language make it useful as a production tool. I also enjoy using language to deconstruct and evaluate a project after the fact- as you can see by my postings here.

Peter Chung, Thursday, 10 August 2017 06:44 (four months ago) Permalink

Thanatophobia Script

As you can see from this script, I go into great detail describing scenes that will ultimately play non verbally on screen.

Peter Chung, Thursday, 10 August 2017 06:50 (four months ago) Permalink

three months pass...

In the interests of being complete, here is the other famous M. John Harrison weigh-in on this subject: http://web.archive.org/web/20080410181840/http://uzwi.wordpress.com/2007/01/27/very-afraid/

TS Hugo Largo,
Belated thanks for the link to M. John Harrison. I read it at the time you posted it, but just looked at it again, and I completely agree with his stance.
It seems impossible that any writer working in genre fiction would not, if they are honest, reach the same conclusion.
I haven't read his books, but I shall seek them out.

Peter Chung, Tuesday, 28 November 2017 21:10 (two weeks ago) Permalink

Personally, I think the book is it's own medium. It's an object. You engage with a book in the manner that one does -- opening it, etc. There are many, many great "experimental" writers that engage with the medium in a way that is specific to the medium and no other, and that continue to make advancements in said engagements.

The divisions in publishing between what is a novel or poetry or anything else are most often grafted onto it for the purposes of marketing. If someone asks me what I do, I usually just say that I" work with text". And much of what I read or have published with my collective is similarly meant to reflect this. (www.plinth.us)

Unfortunately, a lot of what winds up being published these days is written with an eye toward transposition into other mediums -- films, shows, podcasts -- and this isn't literature.

Here's a really great interview with a publisher/architect that I think reflects some of the more forward-thinking movements in literature and publishing in general:
http://www.3ammagazine.com/3am/materialising-time-lawrence-kansas-conversation-john-trefry/

Derdekeas, Monday, 4 December 2017 02:38 (one week ago) Permalink

*its own medium

Derdekeas, Monday, 4 December 2017 02:39 (one week ago) Permalink


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