Dear Jim (#27) Re: The Movie Is Always Better

BY JON PILL

Dear Jim,

It is accepted wisdom that adapting a book is a task fraught with dangers – mostly angry fans of the book who didn’t imagine the book the way the filmmaker did, often because key creatives have never read a book let alone the one they are adapting.

The wisdom, however, isn’t wise. It isn’t even vaguely true.

Take for example: The film is always better.

Always.

It’s the most general generalisation you can get. And I imagine if you are a fan of a book that got – lets say ‘rearranged’ – rearranged in the move from ink to celluloid you can almost immediately see what’s wrong with the statement: It only takes one bad adaptation from book to screen to prove the statement wrong (thank you Karl Popper). The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005), for example. Or The Golden Compass (2007). Or Jackson’s recent Hobbit trilogy.

Go ahead and apply that logic the other way. When I was coming up with that Top 40 last week, I kept spotting films based on books up there. And most are as good as the books. Lots leave the book in the shade.

Popular opinion for example does not rate Mario Puzo’s The Godfather nearly as highly as Coppola’s and to take an example not on the list  – so skipping over: Cool Hand Luke, The Hustler, The ExorcistStarship Troopers, etc… – Jaws by Peter Benchley is properly, properly terrible. Spielberg’s Jaws, on the other hand, is one of the great artworks of the 20th Century.

The book is not always better. It’s not even better often enough to make it a useful rule of thumb. Cus it’s not just bad books getting fixed on screen. Great books can be the source for great films. Fight Club is almost always the subject of intense close discussion as to whether book or film is better (the correct answer is ‘yes’), and American Psycho is basically the same thing as the book in a different format. Who out there has been disappointed by either the book or film of The Princess Bride.

Other adaptations work in concert with the book. Like Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch, which is more of a dramatised and surreal ‘making of the book’ type story, than a straight adaptation, while still being thoroughly in keeping with the not-really-a-novel.

Bruce Robinson did something similar with The Rum Diary making a few changes that turned it into a bridging work between the rather straightforward book and Hunter S. Thompson’s later, more Raoul Duke-y, efforts.

Film is a great storytelling medium, every bit as rich and interesting and diverse as the written word. Assuming that moving from one to the other is a guaranteed omnishambles is daft.

So stop it. Stop repeating the flawed wisdom. Or I’ll go after something you love.

Jon out.

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My Top 40 Films

BY JON PILL

After Empire magazine Tweeted out Edgar Wright’s list of 40 favourite films, I have had conversations with several friends about what would make our own top 40 lists. Being perhaps of a more obsessive bent than some, I actually went away, sweated, strained and came up with mine.

The thing we all agreed on was that the list should be “favourite” films, not “best”, or “greatest”, or the films we most admire, or would most recommend. Just films that for whatever reason are the ones we loved regardless of more objective criteria.

The list is not in a definitive order thought there is a rough gradient in place and the number one spot is my number one. There are also films on here that might not be on another day, and several films which would take their place. There were also a lot of extremely difficult cuts.

But I am drifting into apology, without further ado the list:

My Top 40 Films

After Edgar Wright

  1. The Exorcist
  2. The Godfather
  3. Cool Hand Luke
  4. Casino Royale
  5. Singin’ in the Rain
  6. The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
  7. A Muppet Christmas Carol
  8. Infernal Affairs
  9. Jurassic Park
  10. Silence of the Lambs
  11. Pitch Perfect
  12. The Hustler
  13. Rounders
  14. Fight Club
  15. American Psycho
  16. The Prestige
  17. The Guns of Navarone
  18. Raiders of the Lost Ark
  19. Memento
  20. Donnie Darko
  21. True Romance
  22. Skyfall
  23. Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas
  24. Se7en
  25. Wall Street
  26. Network
  27. Robocop
  28. A Clockwork Orange
  29. Bubba Ho-Tep
  30. Back to the Future
  31. Starship Troopers
  32. 2001: A Space Odyssey
  33. Top Hat
  34. The Princess Bride
  35. The Graduate
  36. Pan’s Labyrinth
  37. Goldeneye
  38. Hot Fuzz
  39. Layer Cake
  40. 633 Squadron

Your thoughts and lists in the comments please.

 

 

 

 

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Dear Jon . . . (#26) Re: Joyce, at the start of the Wake

BY JON PILL

This crinkled and ragged bletter arrived many, many, many weeks ago but I failed it. It has been sat on Jim’s blog, waiting to be mirrored here. But alas it went unloved for so long.

Here it is now. Unrolled and a little smudged from the steam of the iron I used to flatten it out so it would fit into the internet:

“Dear Jon,

So thanks for your pre-game thoughts, here at base camp. The game was my idea. I’d been glancing at Finnegans Wake here and there for some time now: a dull metallic grey flash in the corner of my eye, probably as I mosey around the bookshelves toward its companions either side – Isherwood, Kelman, Kennedy. Like a mountain, at a glance, the book is intimating. And some books, like mountains, have reputations that precede them – often simply to do with sheer size. If we do a brief geological survey of books, we can see the notable English summits of Clarissa and Middlemarch (a seemingly rare exception to the predictably male propensity for writing long prick-waving novels) and the imposing imperial heights and panoramas of the Victorian social epic – the sooty slopes and smoggy climes of the Dickensian massif. Over the water, there are the modernist mountains of The Man Without QualitiesIn Search of Lost Time and Joseph and His Brothers. Eastwards stands The Brother’s Karamazov and behind that, its sister peak, the vast Russian plateau of War and Peace; westwards the American rockies as thrown up by the postmodern orogeny, the anarchic peaks of Gravity’s Rainbow and The Recognitions, Underworld and Infinite Jest. Even now, and probably unwisely, seeing as I’ll be starting on the Wake shortly I’m lost in William H. Gass’s sixhundredworder The Tunnel[…]”

Click here for the rest.

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Update: 12th July 2017

BY JON PILL

Goodness, gracious, where does it all go? The time that is. The time between tossing out the last fortnightly missive to Jim and the sudden tumbleweed silence of the last two months.

This is not a return to your regularly scheduled programming unfortunately. Work, by which I mean, writing work – off which I have been living for the last month or so – has slurped, and continues to slurp, up time and, far more importantly, energy. The blog, with its pious penury is fun to write and in its own way an important place for me to expend some of my creative soilings, but it does not cough up the necessary potatoes and so cannot take up too much of my time at the moment.

That said. I am hoping to get at least a skeleton posting schedule back up and running shortly. In the meantime, consider this a hopeful fluttering in the ribcage of the corpse.

Here’s what you’ve missed:

Writing

June was my most productive month possibly ever for writing, a little over 40k in words the vast majority of them for Poker Tube, where I was doing the live tournament reporting for the World Series of Poker.

I’ve also got back on the Buzzy Magazine roster and should have something out with them shortly on Season 7 of Game of Thrones which is airing this Sunday.

And I am continuing to write for Front Vision. But there is always room in my schedule if you need something written, or know someone who does. Blog posts, ghost writing, articles, erotic poetry… you name it I’ll write it. Get my email from the About part of the site and hit me up. I’m not proud and I gotta eat.

Reading

A lot of this, mostly disciplined until the last few weeks when my ‘Currently Reading’ pile exploded to sixteen books. Among them is Finnegans Wake which I continue alone, having been abandoned both by the GoodReads group and by Jim, both of whom were reading it with me.

Other key books include The Expanse series (on book 2 atm, not as good as the TV series, but fun) and the gigantic The Norton Anthology of Theory & Criticism which I suspect will be an endless frustration of pseudo-intellectual gabble about stuff which sociology, anthropology and psychology are all studying by looking at facts.

Much to Jim’s relief, I have also started American Pastoral.

Life

Keeping on top of writing, reading, and the various habits I try to keep going: eating well, meditating, exercising, socialising and various smaller things mostly aimed at keeping my mental health solid as the little grey cells will allow, all makes for a certain amount of cat juggling and ball herding.

While May was a fabulous month where everything lined up, the last month and a half-has been rather more chaotic and as a result, while specific things have been working it comes at a cost of other things. Word count goes up, exercise gets pushed out for example.

Being self-employed gives me plenty of flexibility to manage my time. But it is possible to get a little paralysed by the choices. I’m hoping that there will be a series of articles on time management in a little while, but not until I get back into practice what I intend to preach.

Till then there should be a few more Dear Jim’s and book reviews coming out. But they will probably remain sporadic at best for the next couple of months.

For everyone reading this, thanks for sticking with me. You’re my kind of sucker.

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Dear Jim… (#25) Re: Work In Progress

BY JON PILL

Rolled him up in a nice clean sheet
And laided him upon the bed
A bottle of whiskey at his feet
And a gallon of porter at his head

And whack Fol-De-Dah now dance to your partner
Welt the floor, your trotters shake
Wasn’t it the truth I told you
Lots of fun at Finnegan’s wake

Dear Jim,

the Wikipedia page for our upcoming joint-toss of Joyce’s word-salad epic. I read it recently as prep work. Because if Ulysses can ‘only ever be reread’ then one suspects that going cold into the most notoriously difficult English language (is it really a) novel is unfoolwisehardy. The Wiki Wiki West whips out a heavily caveated synopsis:

–Given the book’s fluid and changeable approach to plot and characters, a definitive, critically agreed-upon plot synopsis remains elusive, it says.

So armed with a vague sense of what to look for, I look forwards to barging up past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay and out to Howth Castle and the environs where I am anticipating onomatopoeia (especially mck-gneow for prfffft bodilybleeeeeugggghhhh functions ), graphic sexual descriptions (in his sexts to Nora Barnacle he uses the phrase ‘arseful of farts’), and liberally scattered Celtic myths and languages (Saint Finnegan’s Fisher Salmon of Grail Snakes thrown out of the Mabinogion).

I am also looking forward to passing off other’s critical ideas about who dreams what in what chapter of the novel as my own original thoughts at pointy-headed literary parties while swilling cheap Irish whiskey like its fine Scotch (I am myself a quarter-Scotch through my mother’s line).

My expectations are mixed ;or the Whake seems like something that will annoy and enjoy me in equal measure. Joyce is both horribly pretentious in general – with his prescriptions for what the novel should be – and funny, silly, beautiful, striking, puzzling strange, absurd and interesting in the specific (Anthony Burgess reckons there’s a laugh on every page of Tom O’Finland’s Hake).

I recently reread Ulez because the ‘phones were slack at work and I picked up some lectures about it on Audible.co.uk, its much better on second reading and parts I felt were failed experiments worked better this time around.

You can only every reread Ulysses, they said.

That makes me hopeful for this undertaking. I can’t help by think this is going to be tough, but we’ll take it one sentence at a time (sounded out loud in my best Irish accent I suspect, and sometimes in my worst). But even as we stand on the precipice that is page one (past riverrun) I’m still not 101% sure I know what I’ll be in for. So expect the unexpected and I’ll see you next week to discuss Chapters One and Two.

And that more or less is my pre-game thoughts. We will see exactly how much fun we have at Finnegan’s Wake. I’m hoping for Lotsa, but will accept just some as I’ve been reading

Yosinaccertainly pun-ishmentally,

Jonathan-David-Jesus-Adam-Bloom

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Dear Jon . . . (#24) Re: Getting the Alternative Facts Right

BY JON PILL

TRUE FACTS OF VICTORIAN SCIENCE CONCERNING THE BLETTER.

Fact, The First: You can read an example by clicking here.

Fact, The Second: It is a good bletter.

Fact, The Third: It is a bletter from J S Loveard.

Fact, The Fourth: It is a bletter for myself.

Fact, The Fifth: Bletters do not fare well in the wild.

Fact, The Sixth: This is a wild bletter in the wild, being wild, and faring extremely well.

Fact, The Seventh: There is no seventh fact about bletters.

Fact, The Eighth: Seven is an unholy number, tainted by the dark bletters of the Necroblettercon.

Fact,  The Tenth: Wine is fine, but bletters are better.

Fact, The Ninth: Aldous Huxley Died in 1963.

Fact, The Eleventh: The bletter begins, ‘To address the question of your last missive, the how of my research is, I guess, like everyone else. I google. I input search terms into library catalogues. I scribble a lot of library classmarks on notecards and shlep through libraries. I get out books from libraries, and I frown over the books, and maybe even read them. I go to a place, mosey about, take notes, photographs. I ask someone about their experience of x or y or even z…

Fact, The First (Redux): H You E can R read E a H bletter E by R clicking E .

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April 22, 2017 · 9:00 am

Dear Jim . . . (#23) Re: Pregnant in the Head-Brain

BY JON PILL

Dear Jim,

Fertilisation of the womb requires that sperm are deposited high in the vagina of a woman close to the time of ovulation, says my university physiology textbook. You did ask about the earliest point of gestation right?

Oh, reread your letter. That makes more sense.

Gestation as metaphor for art has a heavy pedigree. I’ve just been corralling the Oxen of the Sun in Ulysses for the second time and apart from the fact that reading that section feels like a labour of a different sort, it also gives us the subtle imagery of Joyce’s avatar Stephen spouting off about exactly this gestatory idea of art, while an actual parturient shits out a wee bairn (or whatever the Guinness-swillers call them) on the upstairs landing.

You are more aware of these things that I am, but presumably the whole thing goes back at least to Plato’s apology for pederasty in The Symposium – in which ideas are treated as spermatozoa and young minds as vagina’s into which the semen of wisdom is to be deposited. Less is said about exactly where the beloved’s literal deposits are going, but that may have just been prudishness on the part of the translator.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth [… … …] In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

I think gestation is a rather grandiloquent word for what art is and does (imagine a carpenter discussing the ‘gestation’ of your dining table). I rarely go in with as clear a sense as you do when putting together a story; or at least am unclear in a different way (no musical touchstones or trees in the mist). Most often I have an idea or a voice or a form I want to play with and I just start a game. The mucking about continues until there’s enough of a sense of what can be done with it all. Then the mucking about becomes mucking in as I get a sense of direction. Most often this point comes when I know how the whole thing will end.

To be more specific I might have to look at a given story. The story that has left the clearest tracks in the snow is probably one called Switches. That story came from my reading a story on the New Scientist website about Boltzmann brains* (with one of the greatest headlines ever). As I began to write a stream of consciousness for one of these things from the point of it coming into existence.

It ran out of steam and I needed a new thread, and I was reminded of two things: I had also previously read about the China brain on Wikipedia and the two ideas bonded. The third part of the story came from a Brian Greene book on types of multiverses in a chapter of which he describes the universes we might simulate in a computer.

A little more batting around and I had my format, plot and ending. The rest is history (or will be when I can find a damn place to publish it) as I sat down to hammer out Switches.

He who sees everything and founded the land, who knows (everything) and is wise in everything.

But you can probably go further back on that story. Those two brains and a universe were harvested as story materiel because of the types of things I like to to write about. For whatever reason, non-human consciousnesses stimulate my creative prostate, I can’t get enough of them. The great apes, GM-animals, insect swarms, computers, human hive-minds, clockwork synapses, Boltzmann brains its all fabulous grist.

To keep following the tracks of the gestating story-fetus: some of that interest can be traced back to my teenage reading of Michael Crichton books; Prey and The Terminal Man in particular – maybe also Congo. They set me up to think of a person’s mind as mechanical and mechanical-minds as potentially persons. (In that vein I recently read the excellent Blindsight by Peter Watts – thanks to Laura Heron for putting me onto that – which can be read for free here).

Probably some of Dan Dennett’s TED talks, Richard Dawkin’s science books, and my various readings in psychology during A-level. All these things till furrows into the folds of grey matter, thickening the womb lining in preparation for the fertilised zygote which then metamorphoses into words on the page.

I want to speak of bodies, changed into new forms.

As well as the plottier ideas: formal conceits, voices and structures also come from external fertilisation followed by manipulation once they have accreted onto the original play-draft.

In Switches, the rhythms of the voices refer back to my other teenage obsessions: Fight Club and American Psycho, both of which have a particular kind of narrator, flat of affect and simple and direct in his sentences. Palahniuk also does a line in line-repetition that I have stolen and used in almost everything I’ve ever written.

Switches is particular marked by repetitions because of the voice but as well as stealing other people’s voices and moulding them into something new, there is also the more direct theft from Hitchhikers of the mind suddenly brought into being by chance and then being destroyed by its not naturally tenable position in the galaxy. The monologue of my Boltzmann brain is – ahem – very like the whale’s. Which is another case of  something being stolen and then redrawn in a fun-house mirror.

The end of our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.

I feel like learning something new next week. Since you’re doing sondage on a number of topics lately, I’d like a letter on how you research for your fiction and how much getting the facts right matters to you.

Yours originally,

Jon

P.S. These are theoretical consciousnesses that must arise in an infinite universe in which quantum fluctuations are constantly producing matter at random in the void of space.

P.P.S. This is a theoretical brain made up by the population of China who are given walkie talkies to communicate with each other and specific instructions which, if followed, will mean they communicate with their compatriots the same way as a given neurone in a human brain. The idea is that this brain of people would be just as conscious as any of the brains in the humans that make the China brain up.

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