Thoughts On: Auteurs in the Modern Mediascape

It’s nearing the end of my University year, things are going far too fast. I’d love to write about it later on, maybe after I officially graduate. . .

Anyways.

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The Story of the Flaming Years — directed by Yuliya Solntseva, 1961. Another addition to an ever-growing list of excellent looking films that I plan to watch.

Like all people, I’ve been distracting myself between work and life duties by enjoying the things I enjoy most: books, television, films and games. The thing is, when it comes to recent outputs of mainstream television and film, I found myself enjoying a lot less of it. Now that’s more to do with me having a sort of lazy preference for mainstream box-office releases and prime television shows. Don’t get me wrong, I love independent film-making, and I always try to balance out the things I enjoy in regards to art and entertainment, but pieces that venture into the realms of pure art are the kind of things that require a bit more attention than your usual schlock.

Schlock. That’s just the connotation I get with Hollywood releases now. Not that schlock has never existed before, there’s been plenty of eye-rolling releases put out over the long years that film has existed as entertainment. My problem now is that I just find a lack of involvement in newer productions, I sense a loss of personality in them. I’d say it first started when I went to watch Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. I watched it, I enjoyed it, I walked out and said to my Brother and my Dad that it was good. I went home thinking it wasn’t that bad. I went to sleep that night thinking it was decent. Then, I think a week or so later, as much as I didn’t want to admit, I thought it wasn’t really that good. In fact, it felt very mediocre. It didn’t even feel like Star Wars, I didn’t get a sense of the director or anyone making it actually feeling like they cared about Star WarsThe Force Awakens felt like something Disney produced, not something J.J. Abrams directed. Thing is, I’m not saying this sensation necessarily equates to a bad film or vice versa, there’s plenty of auteur driven pieces I’ve enjoyed that I guess you wouldn’t call good films: movies like Elysium where you can see the creator’s envisioned world and it begs you to jump in yet becomes bogged down in cliché driven plot points that carry over to mediocre choreographed action scenes, or glorious flops such as The Room where every inch of the director’s passion translates horribly to the screen thanks to professional and technical incompetency. These speak out more because, despite their mistakes, they’re still owed to a creator — an origin point from where all this visual mayhem spewed forth. I didn’t get that with The Force Awakens, or with any of the conglomerate production pieces like the Marvel or DC Cinematic Universe titles: Suicide Squad was probably the most soulless film I’d seen that year when it came out. Star Wars: Rogue One was an abysmal floundering of misdirection and toneless action — both of these films were interfered with heavily by their studios, and they suffered for it. In an odd turn of events, television is becoming more of an open platform for artistically driven pieces than ever before. Television, once the most regulated and restrictive medium, is becoming so much more open to imaginative ideas that even filmmakers are moving projects over to it.

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It’s been a good month or so since the season finale of Twin Peaks: The Return. Honestly, it was some of the best television I’ve ever seen in my life, it honestly astounds me that Showtime were able to green-light the show for broadcast on television screens across the world. I actually really wanted to do a blog piece on it not longer after it released, but I didn’t. That’s because after watching the finale of the show, it got me thinking. Is this the swan song of art in television and film? No, no, don’t be so melodramatic. I have no doubt we will still get to see the likes of television with the care of a leading creator behind it, like David Chase and The Sopranos or the more recent projects with Vince Gilligan behind Better Call Saul or Noah Hawley’s Legion. But film? The independent scenes thrive and will continue to thrive, and it would be a disservice to dismiss so much good pieces produced by so many underrated film directors. My concern is with the wider expanse of Hollywood production. These conglomerate behemoths like Disney and Warner Bros. who have their hand in more than you think are producing the largest outputs of films we see today. They just don’t feel like films though. I know this isn’t just me as well, Martin Scorsese wrote a great column opinion piece for the Hollywood Reporter relating to Darren Aronofsky’s film, Mother! and its negative press:

There is another change that, I believe, has no upside whatsoever. It began back in the ’80s when the “box office” started to mushroom into the obsession it is today. When I was young, box office reports were confined to industry journals like The Hollywood Reporter. Now, I’m afraid that they’ve become … everything. Box office is the undercurrent in almost all discussions of cinema, and frequently it’s more than just an undercurrent. The brutal judgmentalism that has made opening-weekend grosses into a bloodthirsty spectator sport seems to have encouraged an even more brutal approach to film reviewing. I’m talking about market research firms like Cinemascore, which started in the late ’70s, and online “aggregators” like Rotten Tomatoes, which have absolutely nothing to do with real film criticism. They rate a picture the way you’d rate a horse at the racetrack, a restaurant in a Zagat’s guide, or a household appliance in Consumer Reports. They have everything to do with the movie business and absolutely nothing to do with either the creation or the intelligent viewing of film. The filmmaker is reduced to a content manufacturer and the viewer to an unadventurous consumer.

I fear something similar may start happening, though I’m always unsure. Just when I thought there was barely any hope so far for auteur driven pieces to still come out of the Hollywood machine, I went to watch Blade Runner 2049. Now, as a huge fan of Phillip K. Dick and the original Blade Runner, I still stand by the opinion that this sequel shouldn’t really exist, so I went into the film steeling myself for the harrowing experience of seeing a film I feel very fondly of having its legacy tarnished by a soulless cashgrab shlockfest, even if Denis Villeneuve (who I have respect for — Prisoners, Sicario and Arrival are all good) was directing it. It was such a strong relief for me after the credits rolled on, that I can say how good of a film it was, it smashed my expectations out of the ballpark. It has given me hope again!

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Familiar quote from a fantastic scene in the film.

Blade Runner 2049 came as a shock to me because of how good it was. I know nothing about Villeneuve personally, or what he thinks of Blade Runner, but just from watching this film I can tell he adored it, and was very passionate about keeping 2049 as respectful a piece as one can make for a sequel to a film that never needed one. Blade Runner 2049 is an absolute love letter to the original film, and to Phillip K. Dick’s imagination: every part of the film was well-thought out, well-realized and beautifully shot. Everyone involved played their parts well. I dare even say Villeneuve captured a tone closer to Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheepthat even Ridley Scott couldn’t achieve in his original masterpiece. This is the first time in years I’ve walked away from the cinema feeling so good for the future of a director’s career, I am happy and excited at the idea of Villeneuve filming Dune — perhaps one of the most difficult projects for a director to tackle in this day and age (one not even David Lynch himself could live up to).

Was Blade Runner 2049 or Twin Peaks: The Return a financial hit? Who cares? What’s the loss of millions of dollars against the long-lasting legacy of masterpieces? Will anyone give a shit about Suicide Squad or Star Wars: Rogue One in seventy or eighty years time? What’s more important to our hyper-realistic, techno-dependent society: appeasement, or art?

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Thoughts On: Writing a Novel

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Hello strangers. It’s been a while, again… Anyways, I supposed you might think life had whisked me away to such a place as I might never have been able to come to this blog, the truth is that I’ve been the same since my last post, and had plenty of time to write blogs, but I didn’t feel the need to. You see, the reason is because I’ve not done much beyond: university work, games, and a lot of reading. Along with these, I’ve also done some writing.

Writing a book to be exact. You might notice (if you frequent my blog, which I’m certain no one actually does) that the ‘My Creative Writing’ page has disappeared. That’s because I deleted it. I did this because it contained only four entries: one was an old high-school story called The Bus Stop at the End of Millennium, which I’m not happy with, and the other three were drafts of what now constitute chapters in my book. By the time this blog post is published, my novel should be published as well. The name of this novel is: All Besides I.

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(Forgive the low quality and artifacting, I had to optimize this for the web)

 

 

It’s a strange story, and there’s not really a genre I can place it in. Others who might come to read it might consider All Besides I a piece of Science-fiction or Fantasy. It’s a view I can see and won’t object to anyone using, but for me it’s a product of spiritual reflection. In the story, you will read the memoir of a being as he ventures the continent of another world; interacting, assimilating, fighting and breathing among its populace. There’s a pivotal aspect in the character that occurs within this chronicle, and I don’t wish to spoil it here so I won’t detail it, but it’s what I believe subverts an expectation  in most ‘discovery narratives’ of the protagonist appearing as an enlightened form on the ‘discovered’. Beyond this, in a greater sense, All Besides I acts as a form of introduction to the narrator of what will become The Tomes & The Reflections, my planned collective of independent narratives told by this same being. The idea of this is to offer a change from the standard in many Fantasy/Sci-fi narratives being but one installment in a grand series of 10+ books. All Besides I is not ‘Book 1 of the Uber Galactic Star Warrior Saga’, it is its own story, as will be any of the other books in The Tomes & The Reflections, you will be able to read each at any point – all independent of each other barring the bare reference or nod.

In regards to  size, it’s a fairly small book, totaling roughly 47k words. Wow! you might be wondering, that’s tiny! Maybe, but I didn’t want to stretch out the story longer than what was needed. I’ve written this much before. As I’ve mentioned somewhere in a previous blog, I’d written a 50k word draft in 2012 for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and it was shit. That story is still collecting dust in a vault on Google Drive, which I will one day come to cut down to the short story it is deserving of. With All Besides I however, I was very careful to craft the story as was appropriate to the development of the character in it. Everything that is written is there because it serves a purpose (yes, even the fantasy-esque name-dropping of Houses, Kingdoms and names). It took me a period of roughly three years to write the book, which  – considering the size – is very slow, but I don’t regret the pace, as it allowed me to work at my own pleasure on it. Since publishing this, my ability to write has quickened and improved, and already I have plans for three more books to write: one will be an addition to The Tomes & The Reflections; one will be a compilation of short stories; and the other will be a totally independent book which I am fairly confident will be labelled as Fantasy.

I suppose the main question to ask at the end of it all is: was it worth it?

My answer is: definitely. There’s a great pleasure in being able to transmit your innermost feelings to the written word, and to compile all of them together into a narrative that is (what I hope to be) both enjoyable for the reader and reflective of the maelstrom of experiences, reflections and feelings that constitute my own being. Writing, and creative writing especially, is one of the only ways I’ve found that can clearly present my thoughts. If any of you have talked to me personally, you might find the way I talk isn’t as ‘eloquent’ as  the way I write.

One last thing I’d like to do is share some advice, to anyone reading this, that wants to start their own journey into the novel writing world.

When you’re coming up with the conception of your novel, think first why you want to write it: what will this novel give to the reader, from you as a writer – what are you passing onto them? This doesn’t have to belong the high-school textbook definition, i.e. you don’t need to a have minimum of 3 themes to express. You’re sharing what is a part of you. In the purest of its form, this could merely be an expression of aesthetic, or emotion, that one might find in poetry. It’s not even something you have to explain, it’s just something to guide your writing, otherwise, you may find that your story about the Vampire Princess conquering the Squid People and making love to the dashing Raven Prince might in itself be a pointless exercise of pure pulp or – dare I say it – fantasy. He he, look at me, not even published my first book and I’m already acting the guru. Ignore me if you like, I’m just excited. To those who are in the midst of writing their book, good luck. I can’t help you, but I can cheer you on!

This post was written on the 9th of September, 2016

P.S.
Here are some links you can currently buy the book from:
Amazon
Amazon (eBook)
CreateSpace

Lastly, it’s also on Goodreads, if you happen to use that site. Please, feel free to rate it if you’ve read it!

Thoughts On: Employment

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Finishing your first year of Uni with good results must feel like a great achievement. Finally! You get to come home and relax over the whole Christmas and New Year holiday period, life will feel easy again: drinking, partying, hanging with friends, pursuing hobbies and all that. Some decent R&R before kicking into the next year.

But it’s then you realize… You won’t be doing a lot of that. Oh dear, it seems over the course of the entire year you’ve wracked up an awfully large sum of Student Debt, and it’s only your first year as well! You also realize as you get home, you barely have any savings left after all the money you spent on booze and take-outs. You have no money, and now is the time where you really need it. It seems like you’re going to have to go find work!

And that is precisely what I’ve been doing.

I really enjoyed my first year, things went smoothly and I gained insight into subjects I previously hadn’t paid any mind to. The trouble was, even with my tight spending, the costs of resources and other occurrences whittled away at least a grand out of my own savings. Plus now I have a pretty hefty Student Debt looming over me for the foreseeable future. I knew straight away I would be needing to find a job when I arrived home. But it had been a whole year since I was last in work, and I had gotten used to Freshman life. I grew sort of anxious at the prospect of cleaning myself up and heading out into my local area to find something. But nevertheless it had to be done.

A few weeks before arriving home, I’d already sorted out my CV and Cover Letters. I started having to search the web for work in my area, basically trying to apply where ever I could for positions that I thought would suit me. I even rung up my local book store franchise, asking if it would be okay to get my Mum to drop in a CV for me, as I was stuck in Hamilton. It was definitely one of the places I wanted to work the most out of all of my options, but I thought they would probably snub me off for not personally applying. Either way I had no choice, and hoped I’d get a response.

By the time I got home at the start of November, most of the applications I made were quiet, no responses (apart from the two Job Agencies I accidentally applied to). I carried on applying while at home, going for anything I thought viable for me. By this time my little brother had begun his first job, and was quite busy with his shifts while juggling school exams. I was left a little disheartened after the only responses left from applications were emails of polite rejection.

I saw things might turn around, when I suddenly got a phone call for an interview from one of my applications. I was all giddy and nervous, with it being my first interview in about four years. I ended up over-dressing, but the interview went well. My only trouble was that within the same afternoon I was rung up again from the same place, saying someone else had the position. What a bummer. But they wanted to keep me on to sign up for other available positions in the future. I stuck with them, did all the inductions and safety training videos. The only trouble was that it was rough looking industrial and manual labour work, at waste management sites and port warehouses. Even then, I was barely offered anything, I decided to go out for further applications elsewhere.

By now I felt I really was within the doldrums. My money was slowly whittling away as well, as I paid for car gas and groceries. Plus I could tell I was coming across as a waste of space. I had this feeling that if I didn’t get something by December, I would have to go on the dole, which I didn’t want to do. But it was an option.

Then by a miracle chance. I was rung up by the book store, almost a month after I applied. They sounded really keen to get me in for an interview. And I likewise was keen to go to it. After that, all I can say was that everything went really well. The interview was probably the most relaxed I’ve ever had, and within the next few days I was in the uniform doing my first few shifts. Suddenly the winds of opportunity had cast me out of the doldrums. I was elated.

So now I’m here, one of my days off, blabbering away on here. I realize I might come across as gloating or smug about it. And quite frankly I don’t want to offer to those still struggling to find something an empty tagline, like ‘just keep looking :)’. It’s not very helpful. I suppose all I can say is this: apply for as many places as you can; try whenever you can to personally go in or chat to the employers you’re looking to join up with; make your CV look like you’re able and keen to work; and if you can, use some good referential contacts – it doesn’t have to be job-related, just someone who knows or has seen you working hard at something.

Now the challenge is to save up what I make over the Christmas and New Year period, without spending it all before heading back to Uni. Show me the money!

Thoughts On: Halloween

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Not long before All Hallows’ Eve! Everyone tonight must be finishing the touches on their decorations, and getting their larders stocked up with lollies ready for trick-or-treaters. Well, that’s if you’re in the southern hemisphere anyways. I don’t find myself fussed with Halloween though, I stopped celebrating it not long after I turned 11 or 12 – not because I grew too mature or anything. I just never liked spooky themed celebrations.

I remember going to all the parties, and running out in the evenings to knock on doors for sweets. But the one thing I couldn’t shake off was this queasy feeling, when I saw someone dressed in a believably gory costume. Or when you were given Halloween themed food that looked a bit too much like brains, zombie heads or spiders. I remember when I was really young and my Mum had made (or bought) these biscuits, and the icing was done to make it look like an eyeball, and the iris was made of green and blue jelly. I felt sick to my stomach thinking about it. I’d argue to say I would still be like this now.

The thing is, it got me thinking. Why do we celebrate Halloween, and why do we celebrate it in such a ghoulish fashion?

Well as it turns out, Halloween – like most public celebrations prominent in the Anglosphere – originates from a Christian tradition (which some scholars believe to originate from western and pre-biblical Pagan traditions). In the Christian context, All Hallows’ Eve is the first part of the three day event knows as Allhallowtide, which is an event in which to remember the dead: the martyrs, the saints and the faithful souls.  During All Hallows’ Eve, one is supposed to fast, abstain from meat and pray for the wandering souls which are thought to manifest themselves during that night. The reason to dress up in costume is so that the souls don’t recognize you, and the tradition of sweetened fruits and treats like toffee apple and soul cakes is because of the abstinence from meat. In the next two days come All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day, whereby you honour the Saints and Souls through feast and celebration.

It’s a long and interesting history, and one we see morph into the secular celebration we see today. Most neighborhoods across the world clamour to gather treats, costumes and party decorations during the week before Halloween. It’s usually a competition to see who can give or take the most sweets, who has the most ghoulish looking costume, and who comes up with the best party games (pumpkin carving, apple dunking, find-the-sweet-in-the-spaghetti, etc). You come to realize it really doesn’t have any relation to its origin, because the celebration starts and ends on that All Hallows’ Eve. No remembrance, no respecting the dead. But then again, that’s how most of these celebrations go. For most it’s usually an excuse for a piss-up – not that I want to sound like a miserable bastard. I already said that I like history, so I like finding out the origins of things like this.

There won’t be any Halloween celebration for me tonight, as I’m not Christian, so I won’t pray for the dead. And I’m too squeamish to dive into the celebration of ghosts and monsters. No, I will be having my biscuits without eyeball jelly tonight.

Thoughts On: The Creative Spark

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So, yes… It’s been a while. I suppose I could say it’s down to my schedule or busy life, but I sort of backed myself into a corner by telling you I’m enjoying the spare timetable of an Arts student and all that. Quite frankly I was more concerned with getting my work out of the way, and during my free hours I didn’t feel like talking about anything, so I hung around with friends and played video games instead. However, as well as that I’ve got other projects laid dormant, such as some short stories I’ve been severely procrastinating with. I wanted to work on them, but there’s nothing interesting that comes to mind with which to expand upon; I have these horrible dips in creative energy every now and then, where I simply can’t come up with something to write about. But a few days ago I experienced something great, lying in bed at night I started thinking about things like we all do – life, work, relationships, sexuality, food, the weather – and all of a sudden I was struck with all these weird snippets of ideas, pictures, songs and words. I have it! I’ve got the creative spark!

You know what I mean by the creative spark right? It’s when you get hit with something weird and bizarre, something you want to tell people about – but you never do because you’ll look mad. Like when you last had that dream about everyone you knew from school visiting you at your grandma’s, or when the sky went purple and all you could smell was petrol as you walked through slimy meadows. It’s great. But I think it’s something most people tend to disregard, because they don’t want to come off as weird for keeping record of it. It’s a shame though, because a lot of great art has come out of these instant moments of illumination. I know for a fact that many musicians live by this process, making sure to record any tune, melody or beat that comes to them, lest the idea wither away within the same night they thought of it. Even painters, such as H.R. Giger, whose many ghastly paintings are reminiscent of the constant nightmares he was said to have suffered.

For some people this process is a strange one. In regards to dreams, you hear of people writing dream journals, where they record and reflect on the many odd encounters they find within their slumber. And while I don’t record my dreams, I do sometimes write down snippets of things sprung into my mind: like quotes, phrases, descriptions, scenes and characters. Heck, I even had a scene for a comic panel spring to mind, and tried my hand at it. The results were horrendous, but I wouldn’t mind revisiting it if I ever improve enough to be able to draw a face without it looking like a mix between Quasimodo and John Matuszak in The Goonies. But whatever it is, I highly suggest you find some way to materialise it for safekeeping, you never know when you might want to use it in the future. The creative spark is a beautiful thing, and it would be a shame to see it go to waste.

Thoughts On: Blogging

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Well, here it is. I’ve finally made a blog. It has definitely been a long time coming; I remember when Dad said a few years ago, “Why don’t you make a Blog, Scott?” I remember cringing at the thought of me hunched over a laptop, making long winded posts about things only I could’ve cared about. I mean, who the heck would want to read about punk music and computer games written from a sixteen year old? I know I wouldn’t. And yet, here I am: a few years on, sat on the bed in my University dorm room with a laptop on my lap, tikka takking away. I suppose the question is, why?

There’s a few things I think have led me to making one only now. The first is that only now do I feel sightly mature enough to attempt it: we live in a world now where it’s so easy to speak your mind, and share it on platforms able to be seen by hundreds – if not thousands – of people. To me that’s a slightly worrying thing, as nearly everything you say you tend to regret, either because you start to realise what poor taste it was written in, or because you created a squabble from the mildly offended who have nothing more to do than tell you awful and problematic your thoughts are. No, what is problematic, is the fact that these things are written in stone, the internet has a nasty way of keeping onto things you’d long wish was gone. Whether it be embarrassing forum posts from twelve-year-old you, stupid tweets, goofy youtube videos or sub par soundcloud mixtapes, I think most of us might share this sentiment. So with that, I was very reserved in my approach to sharing my valuable opinions on the net; I’ve always liked to write, but even I knew when it was better to keep things to myself. However, I’m twenty years old now, I’ve completed high school with reasonable competency, I’ve worked three years in a retail supermarket of whom a few of my close work colleagues were sad to see me go, and now I’m nearing the end of my first year of University. I’m young and possibly a bit too optimistic, but I think now’s the time to start documenting my thoughts on this big world.

Pen and paper writing? Ha!

High School me – Pen and paper writing? Ha!

Another thing is, I just like writing. I think it’s entertaining, I’ve always been pretty competent at it as well; I remember when I was in primary school, it must have been something like Year 5, our class had to write a poem on the Hare and the Tortoise, and mine was apparently so good they added it to a primary school poetry collection book that was published, I remember the teacher showing me my poem in the book weeks later, I was really chuffed. High school in England however, was a bit of a dark spot for me; I’d basically gotten into the hormonal teenager phase of life: hanging out with mates, being shy and embarrassed around girls, video games, getting angry at my family – writing was basically something I forgot about. I only picked it up in the later stages of my high school year here in New Zealand. Creative writing specifically, I really like the idea of applying the concepts, agonies, joys and ponderings that bubble away in your brain onto paper, like you’re creating a universe onto paper through your own. I found a similar feeling when I was younger, dreaming about wanting to make video games one day, because the thought of being able to exist and play in something I created sounded amazing, but then I came to realise I’m an incompetent programmer and even worse artist. Writing however, was still on the table, and so I started to pursue the literary world, diving first into pulp fiction and surface fantasy, it was good fun. But here I am now, a little more matured both in my personal outlook, and in my literary skill. So what better way to hone that skill than to write blogs?

Lastly, I suppose you could say I’m bored. As it is, I found this year of University left me with a lot of spare time, partly due to the easier work schedule, and also the fact that I’ve been pretty keen on the work and thus been able to complete it relatively fast. Why, I write this just a day after completing two 1,500 – 2,000 word essays that were due the next week. Whether the workload will pick up next year, I’m not sure, but I am sure I will have time to occasionally update this blog, when I feel the time is right to write. I mean, it’s not like I’m the type to spend my Saturday nights out in town; my friend gave me a water gun to squirt noisy drunk students on the road below me for God’s sake.

So, for those who have actually bothered to read this far, thank you. I promise I will try to post things with at least a little thought put into them, so as not to waste precious space that could be used by others to share their drunken one night stand confessions or political angst. Until next time!