On his centenary, looking at Orson Welles’ Macbeth, the horror film no one likes to call a horror film.

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The writing guru William Zinser once said words to the effect that if you wish to write long sentences, you best be a genius, the movie version equivalent of which is, probably, if you want to do long takes, be Orson Welles.

There wasn’t a shot Welles thought he couldn’t get, and it didn’t matter if we’re talking the artistic majesty of Citizen Kane, or any of a number of the cheapjack efforts Welles, having fallen from Hollywood grace, spent the bulk of his life trying to cadge up funds to shoot.

With May 6 marking Welles’ centenary, Kane will get still more props as not only one of the two or three best pictures ever made, but the sole picture on which Welles had complete artistic control. He was 25 when he made it, a conqueror of Broadway, the radio, and now Hollywood, and after racing off to South America to shoot a war effort the next year and leaving his Magnificent Ambersons footage in the hands of others, Welles would essentially be kicked out of Camelot on account of the final result, with a reputation for not seeing projects through.
More… “Orson Welles’ Horrorshow”

Why I love (and write) linked stories

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Well, not this linked....

The first time I wrote a collection of stories, the editor changed it to “three novellas” and then a second editor changed it to “a novel.” The next time I wrote a book of stories, the publisher described it as “a novel in stories.” Nobody in New York wanted to publish short stories, although two years later there would be a boom in short stories. They should have seen it coming, but publishers are nearly always short-sighted. Not until I published a book of stories with a university press was the book actually called “stories.”

By whatever name, I love collections of linked stories. I have written a trilogy of linked stories. I call it “A Divine Comedy,” which is what the ex-wife of a main character says when she describes the off-Broadway play she has written about him. “It’s such a divine comedy!” she chirps.
More… “Chain Gang”

Joni Mitchell, Adrienne Rich, "Louie Louie," and Mumia

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Today brings nothing but sad news from the music world. Legendary songwriter Joni Mitchell has been in the hospital since March. Now TMZ is reporting that she is in a non-responsive coma. Her website denies this and claims she is doing well and heading for a full recovery.

“Louie Louie” singer Jack Ely has died. “Louie Louie” is a song so simple and righteous that for decades it was the go-to track for young rock bands who could barley play their instruments. The FBI famously investigated the song for obscenity concluding  the slurred version The Kingsmen released in 1963 was lyrically incoherent. Eventually Iggy Pop with the Stooges recorded a version that was unquestionably obscene. More… “Sad News from the World of Music”

Everyone loves a great sentence. But paragraphs can be just as magical.

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Move over, sentences.

In the past few months, scanning the new arrivals at my local library, I have picked up the same paperback novella several times. Drawn to its one-word title and desaturated blue and off-white spine, I never remember why I decided against it on previous occasions. Then I see the descriptive copy on the back cover, which begins with something like “Written in one long incantatory paragraph…” At this point I put it back on the shelf. I have no desire to read a book without paragraph breaks. The lack of white space on the page can make me feel a little panicky, like being on a train in an underground tunnel – what’s my exit strategy? Reading a book, I always glance ahead to see where the section or chapter ends, so I know when I can stop reading if I want or need to. Stopping mid-paragraph is deeply unsatisfying – no sense of closure, no easy way to remember where I left off when I next pick it up.
More… “The Art of the Paragraph”

Exploring a land of home and exile, struggle and surrender.

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Israel, the ur-Homeland, is also a place of exile. When God comes to Abraham, and tells him to make a home in Canaan, the first thing Abraham must do is leave. Abraham packs up his stuff, rallies his family, and abandons his home in Mesopotamia for some “strange country” of promise. When God comes to Abraham, and says, “I will show you a home,” God does not say “Stay,” but “Go.” “Go for yourself,” says God to Abraham, “away from your land, to the land that I will show you.” And right away, Home begins with a departure. Home is a place that is not here but elsewhere, not now but when, not the land seen but the land as-yet-to-be seen. Abraham would eventually reach the land of Israel, but from thereon Israel – Home – would forever be the place where exiles dwelled.
More… “Home Away”

Highway 1 is a normal highway, winding up the hills from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. And it is anything but a normal highway.

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The Road to Jerusalem

Highway 1 is a normal highway, winding up the hills from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. And it is anything but a normal highway.


By Morgan Meis

The highway from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Highway 1, looks like any other highway in the world. This fact alone is disconcerting. The road to Jerusalem should be special. Somewhere deep down I suppose I wanted it to be a dirt road, a cobblestone road, anything but a normal highway. I even fantasized that the ascent from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem would not happen by means of a road at all. It would just happen. In reality, it is a highway. A highway filled with too many cars and bastard truck drivers probing the limits of vehicular stability and good sense.

About two thirds of the way up to Jerusalem, however, an interesting and unusual sight does present itself. It is the sight of abandoned vehicles along the side of the road. They aren’t normal vehicles, passenger cars or trucks. The vehicles are painted in the telltale green that only gets slapped on things owned by the military. You don’t get much time to inspect these military vehicles as you drive by on the highway. It is hard to guess their purpose, though it looks like they’ve been there for a while, remnants from something that happened in the first half of the 20th century.
More… “The Road to Jerusalem”

The decline and fall of the Greco-Roman legacy in America.

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The crumbling knowledge of the classics.

“Thou has conquered, O pale Galilean; the world has grown grey from thy breath; We have drunken of things Lethean, and fed on the fullness of death.”

Algernon Charles Swinburne wrote those lines in 1866 in “Hymn to Proserpine.” If he returned from the Elysian Fields today, he would see no reason to alter his conclusion. Flipping through the channels of cable television, Swinburne would find the TV series “A.D.” (about early Christianity), “Killing Jesus” (based on the Bill O’Reilly book) and dozens of cheaply-produced shows about the supposed historical or scientific basis of this or that tale in the Bible. The Weather Channel has run a program entitled “Top 10: Bible Weather,” described thus: “Weather stories from the Bible are compared to modern-day weather catastrophes.”
More… “Who the @#$% is Proserpine?”

We wouldn't need the word "prose" if it weren't for poetry.

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One must have a mind of winter.

The greatest lines in poetry are infinitely quotable while having no definite meaning. What is a mind of winter, and why must one have one? It doesn’t matter. Wallace Stevens’ greatness lay in his ability to produce these kinds of anti-aphorisms, seemingly wise but ultimately ungraspable: Thought is false happiness. She sang beyond the genius of the sea. The only emperor is the emperor of ice cream. And, most pointedly: The poem must resist the intelligence / almost successfully. (Or, nay, successfully!)

I believe that to read poetry, one must have a mind of poetry. You must enter a state where you come to understand meaning-resistant arrangements of language as having their own kind of meaning. It’s quite similar to those Magic Eye posters from the ‘90s: If you haven’t figured out how to look at them, you can’t believe that anyone really sees the dolphin. (This metaphor has its limits, making learned skill seem like an on/off conversion; too, with poetry, even when you’ve mastered “the trick,” not everyone sees the same thing.)

Is this “negative capability”? I’m not sure. More… “Inside the Mind of Poetry”

30 years ago, Cormac McCarthy and and Larry McMurtry reinvented the cowboy novel. But the West they won was a much darker one.

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True Grit

30 years ago, Cormac McCarthy and and Larry McMurtry reinvented the cowboy novel. But the West they won was a much darker one.

By Ted Gioia

When did the Western become a joke?

Did it happen in 1974, when Mel Brooks released Blazing Saddles, an irreverent spoof that found something to laugh at in every possible cliché of the genre? Or did we reach the tipping point in 1971, when the Marlboro Man, the cowboy emblem of cigarette addiction, was pulled off US airwaves, this once glamorous figure now despised as a contributor to countless lung cancer and emphysema cases? Or did it take place earlier, as the Western TV shows of the 1960s — Gunsmoke, Bonanza, Rawhide and the rest — grew more stale with each passing season?

Or was it John Wayne’s death (1979) that ended the golden age of cowboys? Or that campy moment when Roy Rogers put his stuffed horse Trigger on display as a tacky roadside museum exhibit (1967)? Or that cringe-inducing “Rhinestone Cowboy” song by Glen Campell (1975)? Or the publication of Dee Brown’s bestselling Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (1970), with its harsh critique of the mythos of Western settlement?
More… “True Grit”

If movies worked like real life, they would be a lot shorter.

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Once upon a time...
The End.

I go to fewer and fewer big Hollywood blockbusters, because they are so predictable. The villains are too villainous and the heroes and heroines are too virtuous. The underdogs always defeat the overdogs.

Would it kill Hollywood producers to make a movie or two in which the overdogs are the good guys?

Over the years, I’ve come up with scenarios for a number of motion pictures in which the scrappy rebel outsider is not necessarily the hero and in which authority is not necessarily evil. I think of these as “15-minute movies” because, for reasons which will become clear, they would tend to come to a crashing halt at what would merely be the first act in a traditional Hollywood melodrama.
More… “15-Minute Movies”