Thoughts on Fiction

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Again, I've taken to using this thread as an ongoing journal of observations on creative practice. I try to be honest and maybe sometimes it will come off as harsh. At least this isn't Twitter.

Peter Chung, Monday, 22 April 2019 18:22 (two years ago) link

I love reading this thread, fwiw.

Lil' Brexit (Tracer Hand), Monday, 22 April 2019 19:59 (two years ago) link

yeah this is a v good thread. i had an identical experience to PC w stephenson's the diamond age-- abandoned it in a weird kind of despair.

difficult listening hour, Monday, 22 April 2019 20:03 (two years ago) link

I remember liking Leconte's "Ridicule". I'll have to watch Monsieur Hire sometime.

Lately I've been into Apichatpong Weerasethakul. Syndromes and a Century is one of my favorite viewing experiences and I couldn't even tell you why. It's just... hypnotizing!

Blair Gilbreath, Tuesday, 23 April 2019 08:39 (two years ago) link

If there are readers regularly viewing the entries here, I may start posting more detailed posts, or start a new thread on lessons from my directing course. I could go into a lot more detail including posting the clips I use in class. The clip from Mr. Hire is too good not to share.

Peter Chung, Tuesday, 23 April 2019 11:26 (two years ago) link

yes please, it's a great thread

ogmor, Tuesday, 23 April 2019 11:33 (two years ago) link

I always ask my students if they can name instances when they were watching something, movie or TV show, when they got turned off because some message was being pushed too hard or they rolled their eyes because of cheap attempts to tearjerk. Everyone has their own tolerance level, and I often hear from a peer or student of a scene that they found deeply moving which I found intolerably maudlin.

Peter Chung, Tuesday, 23 April 2019 12:13 (two years ago) link

I'll go first: every time in a movie when the main character dies, we get a phony eulogizing moment of silence, then- miracle! - they come back to life. Disney, Pixar, superhero movies, JJ Abrams: just knock it off.

Peter Chung, Tuesday, 23 April 2019 12:18 (two years ago) link

Dreamworks' Rise of the Guardians- When the last boy who believes in Santa Claus sees Jack Frost in his bedroom.
Contact- Jodie Foster walking on the beach with her dead father. (the whole movie, actually)
Iron Giant - Hogarth says "I love you" to Vin Diesel. Obligatory, since IG is a remake of ET, and there is the line "ET, I love you." If memory serves, haven't seen it in forever.
The opening flashback in UP. Yes, your wife died after a long and happy marriage. People die when they get old. So?

Peter Chung, Tuesday, 23 April 2019 12:26 (two years ago) link

Looper. I stopped watching when Bruce Willis' Chinese wife is introduced and we get that she's beautiful, charming and innocent. Of course, she's going to die in the next couple of minutes. It happened sooner than I anticipated.

Peter Chung, Tuesday, 23 April 2019 12:32 (two years ago) link

If there are readers regularly viewing the entries here

We're out here

but everybody calls me, (lukas), Tuesday, 23 April 2019 12:33 (two years ago) link

"I love you" always does the trick. I hear those words and I check out.

Peter Chung, Tuesday, 23 April 2019 12:42 (two years ago) link

If a director can't or won't bother to get me to understand viscerally and intuitively that A loves B without having to tell me, then what the hell is he doing? And if I got that already, then by stating it, you've just ruined my carefully realized emotion. You've explained the joke. You've robbed my chance for feeling.

Peter Chung, Tuesday, 23 April 2019 13:10 (two years ago) link

When the first talking episode of AF aired, many viewers were disappointed who had liked the silent shorts. When Aeon says "I'm here on a mission to assassinate Trevor Goodchild." , they felt it was ruined. Why are you explaining? It was meant as fake exposition- everything they say should not be trusted. But looking back, I can see it was trying to be too clever for our own good. For that first episode, it backfired.

Peter Chung, Tuesday, 23 April 2019 16:43 (two years ago) link

No more gripes, complaints about crappy TV writing.

Here's a real writer worth your time.
http://ameliagray.com/

Fantastic stuff.
Will say more later.

Peter Chung, Tuesday, 23 April 2019 17:17 (two years ago) link

Peter, I admit I don't really vibe with most of your opinions, but I'm still curious to hear them.

Nhex, Wednesday, 24 April 2019 02:40 (two years ago) link

As always, thanks for writing here, Peter.

I'll be sure to check out Amelia Gray. I'm starting an MFA program in fiction writing this fall, and am reading everything I can get my hands on (there's not enough time in the world).

Matt Rebholz, Friday, 26 April 2019 04:24 (two years ago) link

Within seconds of the opening shots of 'It' I tapped into a deep emotional engagement with the theme of child abduction. By the time Pennywise was revealed I went into a fit of almost hysterical crying. I viscerally felt that the clown was himself an abducted child. Made so very strange by the abuse and isolation. I don't think that the filmmakers intended this, but for me the actor playing Pennywise had a transcendent quality that triggered this connection for me.

Sam G, Sunday, 28 April 2019 11:45 (two years ago) link

After Avengers Endgame and Infinity War, I will give Joss Whedon major credit for figuring out what to do with that ridiculous cast of characters. Namely how to give each one his / her own special voice and inner life.

Peter Chung, Monday, 29 April 2019 11:40 (two years ago) link

Do you mean that you liked the recent two because Whedon set the characters up well, or that you liked the earlier ones and disliked these two (since Whedon was off)?

I liked Endgame a lot, was very much a snob against superhero movies until last year. I saw a few of the ones I'd missed in IMAX when they replayed them and said "eh ya know what...this experience is comparable to a Disney ride and that's fine".

J.P. McDevitt, Thursday, 2 May 2019 17:14 (two years ago) link

The last two Avengers movies squandered everything in my view. The last one especially seems to have forgotten who those characters were and what made them distinct from each other. To make family the ultimate goal of everyone - yawn.

Peter Chung, Friday, 3 May 2019 02:29 (two years ago) link

These last Avengers films surpass anything I could've hoped for as a child. The true impact that they will be having on kids right now.. I think its pretty interesting.

Human experience is a vast and mysterious thing, and we only have our own to go by. So I struggle with criticisms of how people engage with stories. I think its deeply interesting but so hard to really account for or know about - at least past a certain point.

I had a boss who's favorite film was Transformers 2. I thought that was kind of awesome.

Sam G, Monday, 6 May 2019 14:52 (two years ago) link

You can only make educated guesses about other's experiences, but that doesn't mean it isn't worth trying. Isn't that what makes stories resonate with us in the first place?

I loved Colossal recently. Kaiju as a metaphor for abusive relationships. It spoke to me about the challenge of getting another person to empathize, and the ways that empathy can be used against us.

One of the saddest things I've ever watched is the clubroom scene in the middle of the Haruhi film, when Yuki offers a club membership to Kyon after he terrorizes and borderline-assaults her. In that moment I felt the depth of the character's loneliness. It stopped being the stock anime trope of the quiet girl and became something much more unsettling. I felt like the movie was an attack on reducing women to a pitiful state for the sake of male wish fulfillment.

Blair Gilbreath, Monday, 6 May 2019 18:44 (two years ago) link

My ten year old boy, like his classmates, all talk about the Avengers movies in detail. I try not to spoil the fun for him- he's 10.
Myself, I hope the impact will not matter for long.
It's a huge tide to resist, but mediocrity can't become normalized.

Peter Chung, Monday, 6 May 2019 19:10 (two years ago) link

That makes sense. At least with cineaste parents he'll get to be exposed to a wider range of pop culture.

Maybe something like Gegege no Kitaro would be age-appropriate? I've been following the new series, and liking it. It's definitely been tweaked to appeal to modern audiences, but I can see Shigeru Mizuki's heart in it.

(holy shit, Shigeru Mizuki... I could ramble on and on about his work. Instead I'll just tell everyone to go read Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths)

Blair Gilbreath, Monday, 6 May 2019 19:32 (two years ago) link

BTW, Peter, next time I'm in Tokyo I'll try to snag some volumes of Be Free!, since you and Adam Warren have spoken highly of it.

Blair Gilbreath, Monday, 6 May 2019 19:42 (two years ago) link

I grew up reading Marvel comics. Thor, Iron Man, Spider-Man, Hulk.
I return to the opening post of this thread. Do the lives of fictional characters matter?
A fictional character exists in order to enable the experience of the story.
If they decide they'll kill off this one or that one this time, it can't be done in such an arbitrary way.
A character's fate must be intrinsic to the story's structure, because the narratives' meaning makes it necessary.
Watching Endgame is like watching a fantasy football match. This side wins this time, but it could just as easily have been the other team. Either way means nothing. Just a chance to cheer for your team.

Peter Chung, Monday, 6 May 2019 20:01 (two years ago) link

The old Marvel comics were great.

The last superhero movie I tried watching was Guardians Of The Galaxy, and it nearly put me to sleep. Maybe it was the arbitrariness you mention. I still don't know what the point of that film was. AFAICT, it seemed to be an appeal to nostalgia for something I've never experienced.

Blair Gilbreath, Monday, 6 May 2019 21:52 (two years ago) link

I've never been able to mourn the deaths of film characters, as in grieving for the loss of that person's life.
I can, however, think of two instances when the death of a character made me cry real tears.
These are both old works, but mild spoilers.
Osamu Dezaki's Dear Brother and the Stanley Donen/ Lerner-Loewe film of The Little Prince. In both cases, the tragedy consists of the precise context of the event.
I feel nothing at the end of Endgame when a major hero dies, just as I felt nothing at the end of Infinity War.
These aren't real people, and I don't understand why their "passing" is sad. It's a charade of unearned emotion.

Peter Chung, Tuesday, 7 May 2019 17:45 (two years ago) link

The character isn't dying so much as the actor is dying. (contract termination as a kind of mortality)
We'll probably see all these characters again but not with that particular actor in it.

I haven't seen The Little Prince since childhood but what I remember is that Gene Wilder was in it and I don't think I could watch it the same way in that he was alive when I watched it last and now he's not.

I can't imagine any academic instruction doing it, but can you think of any that would broach how to deal with or control such extradiegetic resonances?

Philip Nunez, Tuesday, 7 May 2019 19:01 (two years ago) link

I suppose there could be an academic treatise or some cultural aesthetic theory on the topic, but like many academic pursuits, would serve only to be another useless PHD thesis from which no one will derive any real world value. Some subjective phenomena are better left to be dealt with in a spontaneous, imaginative way by the individual. The fact that Donen died recently is far more resonant with me, though I don't let that affect the experience of appreciating his work.

Peter Chung, Thursday, 9 May 2019 14:52 (two years ago) link

The thing about action movies, to me, is that they're kind of like a thrill ride or rock music even. Whether its The Matrix or Transformers 2, if your able to plug in to it, you can be elevated to a kind of ecstatic experience. Or you can find yourself unable to go along with it.

I still resonate deeply with the heroes journey, so that helps me plug in to an extent. Kung fu movies, Ninja Turtles movies.. I still feel the impact of these films from my childhood. They helped send me down a path that I am still very much engaged with. When films come along that manage to speak to me at this level its an awesome thing.

For better or worse it seems lots of people are still very much hopped up on the heroes journey. But that's a whole other discussion I guess.

Blair, my point was more about the problem of judging peoples levels of meaningful engagement with stories when we lack access to their experience.

Sam G, Saturday, 11 May 2019 18:06 (two years ago) link

Sam, I agree entirely with you on the point of sometimes wanting simply to be swept away by a well done traditional heroes journey.
Aquaman worked for me. It reinforces my view that it is not the story that is as important as the sensory experience of a movie. One sometimes finds deeper and unintended resonances in the most escapist films. Also I prefer Speed Racer to The Matrix. They both tell a similar story, but the lack of pretension in Speed Racer makes it feel more pure and sincere.

My favorite movies are often called pretentious by general audiences. But it is wrong to call a work pretentious that has lofty ambitions and succeeds in delivering them. To be pretentious means to make unwarranted claims.

Peter Chung, Saturday, 11 May 2019 20:42 (two years ago) link

one year passes...

I recently discovered this thread and I've been thinking a lot about it. I've noticed as I watch more anime that a lot of them have the same issue as Ghost In The Shell: they're directed in a confusing way to create an illusion of depth.
The recent anime short, Rick and Morty vs. Genocider, does this too. I was surprised to find fans generally like it, even though they've been struggling to figure out the plot. After a few watches, I think I understand what happened, but I had no emotional response to it except confusion.

Kelpie, Wednesday, 5 August 2020 16:42 (eleven months ago) link

Also, I agree that the concept of a purely objective morality, independent of the subjective experiences of the human condition, is nonsensical. If we had no subjective experiences like happiness and suffering, we could have no concept of good and evil. Even if we ground morality in God, we still ground them in God's subjective feelings, like love for mankind (we're assuming God's feelings are similar to our own.)

Kelpie, Wednesday, 5 August 2020 20:57 (eleven months ago) link

I disagree with that, but how do you see that having any negative implications on a narrative?
wouldn't an objective morality be much more interesting to contrast with our subjective one as a narrative conflict if we presume it exists?

Philip Nunez, Wednesday, 5 August 2020 22:31 (eleven months ago) link

I'm not sure I follow. I think moral judgements involve both subjective and objective factors. Actually, all judgements do. Even math and science require a subjective human desire to know the truth. It doesn't necessarily make a difference in how moral decisions are handled in narratives, or in everyday life.

Kelpie, Wednesday, 5 August 2020 23:10 (eleven months ago) link

if you presume that all morality is subjective, then that eliminates a profound amount of tension in many kinds of stories.

Philip Nunez, Wednesday, 5 August 2020 23:31 (eleven months ago) link

I think moral judgements involve both subjective and objective factors. "Objective morality vs. subjective morality" is a false dichotomy to begin with.

Kelpie, Thursday, 6 August 2020 11:45 (eleven months ago) link

four weeks pass...

So, I've been reading about moral philosophy and I've found some people who seem to reject the objective vs. subjective dichotomy. The ones I really like are Iris Murdoch and Philippa Foot. Their view of morality is like this: Morality is our term for the rational pursuit of happiness, in accordance with the particulars of psychology. As a human being, this is what you're constructed to do. You have no choice about your moral nature, only whether you perform it well or poorly. Human opinion does not determine moral principles, but human psychology does.

Kelpie, Saturday, 5 September 2020 01:06 (ten months ago) link

"You have no choice about your moral nature, only whether you perform it well or poorly."
The problem with debates about morality is the that the term "morality" is being used to describe a vast range of factors and conflicting interests.
Your statement's meaning is ambiguous to the point where it could be saying too many different things.
I know that I've changed my moral position on a number of issues during my life. As you become more informed and more wise, your moral compass will shift.
One could argue that your moral nature is independent of how much you know, but you could just as well define moral nature as that which emerges in a way entirely dependent on what you know. A child with little life experience is not held to the same standard of morality as an adult.

Peter Chung, Wednesday, 9 September 2020 20:50 (ten months ago) link

Moral philosophy is the project of generalizing approaches to decision making with the purpose of maximizing the chances of optimal outcomes. It is a system of measuring the desirability of actions in the same way that the metric system is a tool for measuring physical properties. It is essentially a practical tool for everyday decision making. The problem arises when these guiding principles (generalizations) start to be viewed as having some innate value, as if they are cosmic rules that exist outside of human opinion. They do not. They exist because they are helpful and practical. That is all morals are.

Peter Chung, Thursday, 10 September 2020 10:12 (ten months ago) link

It's possible to use rhetoric to justify any moral stance. Internal consistency is used as a standard for judging the validity of a moral position.
The "rational pursuit of happiness" sounds like a baseline value, but everyone's idea of what makes them happy is so varied that I wonder if it's really useful.

I've come to conclude that moral principles are, in fact, entirely explained as nothing more and nothing less than opinions. We decide what we want to call good and bad. We then use rhetoric to justify these opinions because we are taught to discount personal opinion as a sufficient basis for judgment.
It would be better to be honest and own up to the idea that people hold their opinions with high regard. The act of voting in a democratic election is driven by opinion. We accord opinion with the highest value when it comes to politics. Supreme court decisions are opinions.

Opinions can change. Philosophy exists to serve our opinions, not the other way around. Our opinions are primary.

It becomes a complex exercise because it quickly becomes meta. We hold the opinion that we want rational ideas of fairness to guide our moral decisions. But that desire for rationality is itself an opinion.

Peter Chung, Thursday, 10 September 2020 10:46 (ten months ago) link


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