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 (two years 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 (two years 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 (two years 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 (two years 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 (two years 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 (two years 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 (two years 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 (two years 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 (two years 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 (two years 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.

Peter Chung, Friday, 1 January 2016 18:18 (two years 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 (two years 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 (two years 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 (two years 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 (two years 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 (two years 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 (two years 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 (two years 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 (two years 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 (two years ago) Permalink

how do you feel about bach. also, serialism

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

i'm fine with orderly abstraction!

Noodle Vague, Sunday, 3 January 2016 09:22 (two years 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 (two years 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 (two years 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 (two years 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 (two years ago) Permalink

and Twin Peaks, of course.

Peter Chung, Sunday, 10 January 2016 05:04 (two years 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 (two years 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 (two years 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 (two years 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 (two years 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 (two years ago) Permalink

Mftm so offtm itt

Hammer Smashed Bagels, Monday, 11 January 2016 01:08 (two years 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 (two years ago) Permalink

Full House to blame

Hammer Smashed Bagels, Monday, 11 January 2016 01:32 (two years 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 (two years 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 (two years 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.
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 (two years 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 (two years 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 (two years 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 (two years 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 (two years 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 (two years 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 (two years ago) Permalink

Jurassic Park > Prometheus

Cuombas (jim in glasgow), Wednesday, 13 January 2016 21:41 (two years 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 (two years 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 (two years 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 (two years 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 (two years 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 (eleven months ago) Permalink

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 (ten 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 (ten months ago) Permalink

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.

Peter Chung, Monday, 8 May 2017 06:27 (ten 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 (ten 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 (nine 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:

J.P. McDevitt, Tuesday, 20 June 2017 15:38 (eight 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 (seven 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 (seven 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 (seven 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.

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 (seven 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 (seven 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 (seven 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 (seven 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 (seven 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 (seven 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:

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 (three months 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. (

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:

Derdekeas, Monday, 4 December 2017 02:38 (three months ago) Permalink

*its own medium

Derdekeas, Monday, 4 December 2017 02:39 (three months ago) Permalink

four weeks pass...

I often listen to podcasts or lectures while drawing. This discussion at one point becomes a debate on (as usual with Harris) how to determine an adequate basis for morality.
It's an aggravating exchange when Shapiro persists in trying to bolster his theistic world view that morality can only be acquired through religion. Harris, who himself holds onto a contorted claim for absolute morality, tries to argue on the same shaky ground that "morality" is a thing. Morality is a convenient word for a class of judgments.

The argument here is backwards. Why presume that this thing "morality" exists from the outset? The idea of morality arises out of the fact that human actions must follow only one actual course out of a multitude of potential paths. When making a choice to do one thing versus another, one judges the course that will lead to the desired outcome. Depending on whether one chooses the path leading to benefit or to suffering, that choice is later labeled with the words "moral" or "not moral". Over time, humans become more confident in predicting which choices will be more beneficial than harmful, and they are able to judge an action as moral based on such projections- before observing the actual outcome. The ability to make this judgment is a useful social tool, and we call this tool "morality". But that is what morality is, a tool. Imperfect, but convenient. It is not some cosmic force of nature.

(You could call it a "fiction", so I'm posting these thoughts here.)

Peter Chung, Tuesday, 2 January 2018 13:30 (two months ago) Permalink

The argument against subjective morality (a redundancy) is that it reduces moral standards to opinions, or mere personal preference. This is a game. The truth is that, even those who ground their moral standards on some objective foundation (reason, in the case of Sam Harris) are actually just dressing up their personal preference in a more elaborate guise.

Peter Chung, Friday, 5 January 2018 21:20 (two months ago) Permalink

Do you consider language itself a fiction, and thus incapable of describing or alluding to an objective foundation?

Philip Nunez, Friday, 5 January 2018 22:07 (two months ago) Permalink

Good question. Yes, language is a fiction. But no, unlike morality, language IS capable of describing an objective foundation.

There is an important difference between language and morality Morals describe values, not facts. They measure a subjective quantity-- the assessment of what promotes human well-being (I will use Harris' wording), which by its nature cannot exist apart from living consciousness. Values, unlike things, do not exist "out there" in the external world.

There is a difference between objective morality and absolute morality, but both are ideals that cannot exist.
Absolute morality is self contradicting. Even theologians will concede this.
Theists will fall back on the notion of "objective morality". I sympathize totally with the impulse being expressed in the debate by Ben Shapiro. One wants to believe that certain actions are good or evil without regard to how anyone thinks about them. I used to espouse that belief myself. But I cannot see how it doesn't just boil down to someone expressing his personal preference. while pretending it is otherwise.

Peter Chung, Saturday, 6 January 2018 08:18 (two months ago) Permalink

To go back to what prompted the post above, while listening to the debate, I realized that I disagreed with both sides (Harris and Shapiro).
But in considering both flawed arguments, a new insight occurred to me, which is that the origin of morality in human affairs must have been prompted by the fact that the course of one's life "collapses" into a singular path at some point. One option is taken and others fall away. Moral standards may have arisen as a tool for aiding in deciding which path to pursue. Whereas the conventional view is that its main importance is in the administration of justice.

Peter Chung, Saturday, 6 January 2018 08:30 (two months ago) Permalink

I wrote " Harris, who himself holds onto a contorted claim for absolute morality,". To be accurate, I should have said "objective", not "absolute".
The difference was less clear to me when I wrote that.
This debate has been distracting me from my work, but I realize that my thinking on this subject has become clearer just in the last few days.

Peter Chung, Saturday, 6 January 2018 08:59 (two months ago) Permalink

"One wants to believe that certain actions are good or evil without regard to how anyone thinks about them."

Isn't the main angst of the modern world the opposite, that there are increasingly mathematical applications of moral calculus (like self-driving trucks that deliberately kill some pedestrians to save others) that go against our pre-modern intuitions?

Philip Nunez, Saturday, 6 January 2018 19:08 (two months ago) Permalink

You may be right, with regard to a younger generation.
The post modern world is moving towards disallowing universal cultural standards, including universal standards of morality.
While I think that objective morality is not possible, that doesn't mean we must do away with all notions of objective truth.
One is values, the other is facts.

Peter Chung, Sunday, 7 January 2018 05:43 (two months ago) Permalink

Sam Harris sees himself as a guardian of Enlightenment-age values; individualism, rationalism, positivism. My suspicion is that inviting guests who espouse a pre-modern worldview to debate him gives him a framework he's more comfortable with than that of his postmodern critics, whose arguments I don't think he understands very well. Whereas he has a ready-made vocabulary for debating someone like Ben Shapiro.

I'm not convinced that a younger generation is less universal in their morality; if anything, there seems to be a shift towards more universalism. For me, my biggest problem with Harris isn't his insistence on universal cultural standards but the double standards he carries. He's a humanist, but some humans are more human than others, e.g., the contempt he has for Arabs and Muslims. He fails to live up to his own espoused ideals. With regard to certain groups of people, he'd rather fill the room with non-members so he can debate their humanity at a comfortable distance.

Blair Gilbreath, Sunday, 7 January 2018 22:20 (two months ago) Permalink

At the same time, one of the criticisms I have of Harris' writing -- and it reflects a trend within the atheist movement -- is the romanticized gloss he puts on cultural Buddhism and the practice of meditation. Suddenly, New Atheists are not skeptics when it comes to the supposed benefits of meditation, and I suspect that ties into their political bias towards (in reality, often repressive) Buddhist countries.

Buddhist Meditation, Pseudoscience, and Sam Harris

Blair Gilbreath, Sunday, 7 January 2018 22:23 (two months ago) Permalink

I'm hardly a Harris admirer, but he is gracious and articulate enough to be a good host to the many interesting guests on his podcast. He is smart, but mostly wrong - his cleverness leads his thinking down paths that are more sophistry and rhetoric than truth. His least useful discussions are the debates, and this one is a good example of that. Jordan Peterson is another.

Back to the original thread topic-
I just rewatched Blade Runner 2049, and it seems a perfect example of a film that delivered a rich experience rather than a tight fictional story. And that is what makes it good. The parts that don't make logical sense are precisely what gives it a dream-like tone, which is what I want from a movie.

Peter Chung, Monday, 8 January 2018 21:46 (two months ago) Permalink

three weeks pass...

The last novel I tried to read is Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age, about two years ago. I had to give up at about page 72. After that passage, I pretty much swore off reading fiction for good.
Here is the part that did it:

Hackworth in the hong of Dr. X.
The scalpel’s edge was exactly one atom wide; it delaminated the skin of Hackworth’s palm like an airfoil gliding through smoke. He peeled off a strip the size of a nailhead and proffered it to Dr. X, who snatched it with ivory chopsticks, dredged it through an exquisite cloisonné bowl filled with chemical dessicant, and arranged it on a small windowpane of solid diamond.

Dr. X’s real name was a sequence of shushing noises, disembodied metallic buzzes, unearthly quasi-Germanic vowels, and half-swallowed R’s, invariably mangled by Westerners. Possibly for political reasons, he preferred not to pick a fake Western name like many Asians, instead suggesting, in a vaguely patronizing way, that they should just be satisfied with calling him Dr. X—that letter being the first in the Pinyin spelling of his name.

Dr. X placed the diamond slide into a stainless-steel cylinder. At one end was a teflon-gasketed flange riddled with bolt-holes. Dr. X handed it to one of his assistants, who carried it with both hands, as if it were a golden egg on a silken pillow, and mated it with another flange on a network of massive stainless-steel plumbing that covered most of two tabletops. The assistant’s assistant got the job of inserting all the shiny bolts and torque-wrenching them down. Then the assistant flicked a switch, and an old-fashioned vacuum pump whacked into life, making conversation impossible for a minute or two. During this time Hackworth looked around Dr. X’s laboratory, trying to peg the century and in some cases even the dynasty of each item. A row of mason jars stood on a high shelf, filled with what looked like giblets floating in urine. Hackworth supposed that they were the gall bladders of now-extinct species, no doubt accruing value by the moment, better than any mutual fund. A locked gun cabinet and a prim~val Macintosh desktop-publishing system, green with age, attested to the owner’s previous forays into officially discouraged realms of behavior. A window had been cut into one wall, betraying an airshaft no larger than a grave, from the bottom of which grew a gnarled maple. Other than that, the room was packed with so many small, numerous, brown, wrinkled, and organic-looking objects that Hackworth’s eyes lost the ability to distinguish one from the next. There were also some samples of calligraphy dangling here and there, probably snatches of poetry. Hackworth had made efforts to learn a few Chinese characters and to acquaint himself with some basics of their intellectual system, but in general, he liked his transcendence out in plain sight where he could keep an eye on it—say, in a nice stained-glass window—not woven through the fabric of life like gold threads through a brocade.

Everyone in the room could tell by its sound when the mechanical pump was finished with its leg of the relay. The vapor pressure of its own oil had been reached. The assistant closed a valve that isolated it from the rest of the system, and then they switched over to the nanopumps, which made no noise at all. They were turbines, just like the ones in jet engines but very small and lots of them. Casting a critical eye over Dr. X’s vacuum plumbing, Hackworth could see that they also had a scavenger, which was a cylinder about the size of a child’s head, wrinkled up on the inside into a preposterous surface area coated with nanodevices good at latching onto stray molecules. Between the nanopumps and the scavenger, the vacuum rapidly dropped to what you might expect to see halfway between the Milky Way and Andromeda galaxies. Then Dr. X himself quivered up out of his chair and began shuffling around the room, powering up a gallimaufry of contraband technology.

This equipment came from diverse technological epochs and had been smuggled into this, the Outer Kingdom, from a variety of sources, but all of it contributed to the same purpose: It sun’eyed the microscopic world through X-ray diffraction, electron microscopy, and direct nanoscale probing, and synthesized all of the resulting information into a single three-dimensional view. (End excerpt)

I found myself going over this passage several times, and many others like it throughout the book, conjuring the image of what he was trying with so much verbal dexterity to describe. This exercise, I realized, was more frustrating than pleasurable, and not ultimately very meaningful other than in appreciating this writer's special skill in using words. Which I had no reason to care about. Meanwhile, whatever narrative momentum had been building had come to a complete stop and I had to struggle to remember what I was doing in this place and what it was that I was expecting to happen next.

When I say that world-building works better on film, this is what I'm talking about.
Here is a frame from Blade Runner:

Peter Chung, Friday, 2 February 2018 12:43 (one month ago) Permalink

what do you think of blade runner's textual elements (prologue, expository dialogue, in-universe ad copy, etc...)?

Philip Nunez, Friday, 2 February 2018 18:32 (one month ago) Permalink

The voice-over in the original studio version was terrible and ruined my first viewing of the film.
Otherwise, I find the dialogue and invented vocabulary evocative, tasteful and well chosen. I'm especially in awe of the brilliant choice to use the title Blade Runner.
One of the all time great movie titles.

I'm grateful for Blade Runner 2049. Villeneuve deftly steers away from literal-mindedness, as Scott did with the original.

Peter Chung, Monday, 5 February 2018 22:13 (one month ago) Permalink

Since posting it, I've looked at the Stephenson passage more closely, and I'm now convinced it is truly, deeply, awful.
My initial response to his writing was amused and respectful, though a bit uncertain about whether it was really good or really bad.
It's really bad.

Peter Chung, Monday, 5 February 2018 22:20 (one month ago) Permalink

There are some glitches in the quoted text (OCR artifacts), so to be fair to NS-

"prim~val Macintosh" is "primæval Macintosh"
"It sun’eyed the microscopic world" is "It surveyed..."

Peter Chung, Monday, 5 February 2018 22:28 (one month ago) Permalink

Could you explain a bit more about what you mean by literal-mindedness? 2049 in particular seemed concerned about spelling out a lot of plot background in the mini-episodes that Villeneuve handed out to other directors. Ridley Scott also went to the trouble to clarify the number of escaped replicants in one of his latest revisions, something that would only be of interest to pedants. To me, these seem like the priorities of literal-minded, mechanical world-building, rather than the impressionistic, evocative approach (as in Rutger Hauer's ad-libbed "I've seen things" scene, which I would ascribe to Rutger Hauer rather than Ridley Scott).

Philip Nunez, Wednesday, 7 February 2018 00:22 (one month ago) Permalink

Spielberg's movie of PK Dick's Minority Report is an example of literal-minded storytelling. The conclusion is focused on uncovering the identity of the villain, bringing him to justice. The plot is resolved, Tom Cruise is absolved and the audience can feel comforted knowing that order has been restored. The directing focuses the audience's interest on the story's fictional arbitrary details, which is not the point of creating and consuming fiction.

In fact, Tom Cruise is still actually guilty of many things at the end, such as arresting people who have not committed crimes, of killing a man out of rage without due process, of endangering many civilians in the act of resisting arrest. The philosophical and thematic implications of the premise are not addressed in favor of providing a story that gets resolved on a plot level.

Not to mention that the safety of the precog is not what the audience should care about. As Skye pointed out a long time ago on this board, the precogs are a plot device to allow the speculative premise to operate. They aren't real people.
"Gotta save the poor precog!" Wrong.

Blade Runner and BR2049 are not detective stories concerned about catching villains and achieving justice. I've heard some people complain about Deckard not being a good detective. That is not the point. Deckard, it turns out, is not even the hero we think (and he thinks) he is at the beginning. He is a tool of the slave trade. Batty is the true hero, and Deckard's mind in the end has been shifted to accept it.

Peter Chung, Wednesday, 7 February 2018 01:03 (one month ago) Permalink

Scott and Villeneuve are interested in the bigger questions driving the premises of their stories, not the fictions.
In Blade Runner's case, what does it mean to be human?
In BR2049, it is how does one live an authentic life?
Life is finite and its meaning is defined by the individual who lives it- in spite of the fact that for the replicants, a creator-given purpose exists.
Similar to the theme of Prometheus, it is a thought experiment that considers the proposal of life having been created with a purpose.
The religious paradigm of submission to the creator's will is portrayed as slavery.
The exercise of free will is our only recourse to authentic meaning.

Peter Chung, Wednesday, 7 February 2018 01:41 (one month ago) Permalink

Yes, that Stephenson passage is awful. My response to that post was going to be that you're comparing one of the very best films ever made with what is (apparently) a bad novel. For what it's worth, as a teenager I loved the world Do Androids Dream created in my head and was never crazy about the film until recently.

I did not like 2049 and do not think I like Villeneuve in general (if Arrival is any indication). However I'll likely give 2049 another shot in a theater in a few weeks. The original took me over 20 years to catch on, so.

Weekend at Bernie's is my choice for greatest title.

J.P. McDevitt, Wednesday, 7 February 2018 08:21 (one month ago) Permalink

Neal Stephenson is not a bad writer. The opening chapters of Reamde are terrific.

"you're comparing one of the very best films ever made with what is (apparently) a bad novel. "
The Diamond Age won the Hugo award for best novel in 1996. The story it tells is fascinating, I just wish the way it was told wasn't by an attention deficit disorder- addled and ostentatious narrator.
The book was an immediate success and widely praised, whereas Blade Runner was almost universally scorned upon release. To this day, there is a huge number of viewers who consider Blade Runner a boring mess.

Peter Chung, Wednesday, 7 February 2018 16:48 (one month ago) Permalink

I agree that Arrival is not a good film. It only makes sense if the extraterrestrial visitors are a product of Amy Adams' imagination. She is trying to cope with the loss of her daughter, and in order to feel that her life has importance, she dreams that she alone can fulfill a role critical to the survival of humanity.

I recommend you give Sicario a shot. The directing is masterful.

Peter Chung, Wednesday, 7 February 2018 17:00 (one month ago) Permalink

The terrible thing about the passage from The Diamond Age is that it brought to light for me the inherent problem of literary description in a way that has tainted my ability to enjoy reading books that I used to enjoy reading.

Peter Chung, Wednesday, 7 February 2018 18:47 (one month ago) Permalink

Nabokov's Pale Fire gets a special moment in Blade Runner 2049. I've no idea what could be behind it, maybe Hampton Fancher taking a dig at highbrow literature? Or suggesting that the girlfriend simulation's AI isn't designed to grasp irony?
It made me laugh.

Peter Chung, Wednesday, 7 February 2018 19:01 (one month ago) Permalink

the original short story arrival was derived from was much more interior and about resolving philosophical paradoxes of free will/pre-destination; stephenson as an author (as well as william gibson) are primarily known and praised for delineating influential ideas rather than constructing taut plots or characterization -- aren't these the larger ideas trumping literalism that you're looking for? if anything, doesn't the visual (and capital-intensive) nature of cinema prioritize the kind of literal, surface-level construction of narratives?

Philip Nunez, Wednesday, 7 February 2018 19:51 (one month ago) Permalink

"doesn't the visual (and capital-intensive) nature of cinema prioritize the kind of literal, surface-level construction of narratives?"

It does in practice. That is why most films opt for the literal-minded treatment of story.
But it isn't an inherent property of the medium, just in the way it is used.
Minority Report was a commercial success while Blade Runner 2049 was not- so it's easy to see why.

My own view is that because written narrative is a more direct way to delineate ideas than cinematic narrative, it is less challenging, less surprising, less reflective of human experience- especially for the artist.
I suppose that once I've written a story, I could release it as text and be done with it. I find that I have very little interest in doing so. I need to give it the form of an experience of the senses because that is the way life is lived and how I find meaning- it is through experience, not words.

Peter Chung, Wednesday, 7 February 2018 20:55 (one month ago) Permalink

I first became exposed to the writing of Neal Stephenson when Amazon Studios asked me to adapt a project he was developing - a medieval sword fighting game - into a potential animated series.
I was working from a treatment written by Stephenson himself, along with other writers and enthusiasts of historically accurate sword techniques.

Peter Chung, Wednesday, 7 February 2018 21:12 (one month ago) Permalink

if they're mostly concerned with the formal representation of swordsmanship over narratives, it seems like there would be a lot of creative room left over to maneuver in -- is that usually the case in these kinds of projects?

Philip Nunez, Wednesday, 7 February 2018 21:24 (one month ago) Permalink

two weeks pass...

Playtime (Peter's favorite or close to it?) plays on the big screen in SF on March 15th; I'll be there.

J.P. McDevitt, Sunday, 25 February 2018 21:17 (two weeks ago) Permalink

That is the only way to really see Playtime- on the big screen with an audience. My first viewing, on a pan and scan vhs tape, baffled and confused me.
I consider it essential viewing for filmmakers, especially for animators, and I show clips to my students, not all of whom get it at first.
Please post your thoughts after the screening.
An interesting discussion on the shifts of moral stances in narrative traditions.
The claim is that defining the hero of a story by the morality of his actions is a relatively recent practice.
We may, in fact, be reading old stories that way by habit (identifying the hero by his goodness).
Whereas the authors had no such need nor intention. Instead, heroes are defined mainly by their tribal identification, regardless of how moral their actions might be.

Present day critiques of Biblical myths assert that the actions of God and God's agents in the Old Testament are useless and untrue because they are plainly immoral.
(Not consistent with universally recognized standards of goodness.) Such arguments are beside the point for the biblical, and other mythological, writers.

Peter Chung, Monday, 26 February 2018 05:47 (two weeks ago) Permalink

My argument against submitting to the Judeo Christian God because I detect God's moral failings is,in this way, a non sequitur.
In other words, the 10 commandments and other biblical laws were never meant to provide moral guidance. They are not claiming to help make men good.
They are meant to make men conform to a common, tribal identity. What is "good" has no meaning outside of that.

Peter Chung, Monday, 26 February 2018 06:00 (two weeks ago) Permalink

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