Spewing chunks

nopicSpeaking of uncomfortable content, which you might recall I was in my last post, what’s the deal with all the puke in movies recently? I thought it was just me. It seemed as if every movie I watched had someone barfing up their innards. Like the F-bomb issue, it was unrelated to genre or (lack of) consumer demand.

Then I saw an online discussion of the phenomenon. Others had noticed it, too. I was relieved. But only a little.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with occasionally spewing a few chunks on screen, especially if it fits. Pregnant women often throw up in early stages of pregnancy. A stomach bug is bound to bring back breakfast and a few snacks.

But every movie?? If anyone is even slightly off-center about something, here come the chunks. Confused? Dizzy? Angry? Depressed? That’s all it takes to lose lunch these days. In the aforementioned discussion, someone made the claim that every movie nominated for a Best Picture Oscar this year had a puke scene. I can’t verify that because I haven’t seen them all, but every one I saw towed the retch line.

This isn’t reality because people don’t puke that often. It isn’t commercially necessary because nobody goes to the movies saying, “Man, I hope someone hurls in this one!” It’s not edgy because it’s mainstream.

So why all the regurgitation? There can be only one reason and it’s the same reason young kids take up smoking, swearing, and stealing: Everybody’s doing it. You’d think artistes would want to rise above the morass of the mundane and stick it to the status quo.

You’d be wrong.

They’re lemmings just like the rest of us. Monkey see, monkey puke.

I can deal with this. I just ignore it, since it doesn’t add anything to the story. What worries me is what’s next. What about when it becomes cool to show people with diarrhea? That episode was in a major movie last year. And the dumper was nominated for an acting award. Could the Hershey Squirts be the next offensive trend? Unlikely because the movie was a flop, but you never know.

Nose-picking is a likely candidate. Starts innocently enough but before you know it, they’re drawing blood as they strip mine for nose gold. Great visual. Hawking loogies, fingernail (and toenail!) biting, squeezing zits. There’s a deep well of unsociable behavior to draw from.

All this talk has made me sick to my stomach. I gotta…


I thought this was a new trend. Sadly, this guy noticed it eight years ago. It must be getting that much worse.

Defusing the bombs

fbombSomeone wiser than me (that’s covers pretty much everyone) once observed that no one ever left a movie theater saying, “Yeah, it was a good movie. I just wish there had been more swearing.” Plenty of audience members yearn for more violence or lurid sexual content, but swearing is not really in that great demand.

I guess the market is saturated.

This topic came to mind recently when I read an online discussion among screenwriters wondering whether the whole F-bomb thing had gotten out of hand. The discussion was initiated by someone who questioned whether movies rely too much on that popular profanity to convince viewers of the film’s edginess.

Funny thing about that. F-bombs have been defused merely by their ubiquity. They aren’t spoken only by nasty thugs in edgy movies or shady characters in bleak noir films. They’re in goofy comedies, historical epics, and science fiction. They’re in everything! We’ve been carpet F-bombed. As a result, the very effect they supposedly serve is gone. It’s just another cliché. A cliché no one questions.

Let’s think about it. If a character in a movie said any other word as often as Robert De Niro or Chris Rock use The Big One in an average movie, no one would take them seriously. The argument is that this is the way people talk. Which people? I don’t know them, and I’ve been in some pretty rough environments. In my experience, the number of times a person uses that word is inversely proportional to the IQ of the speaker.

Besides, film characters aren’t written to speak the way people really speak. The “um”s, “uh”s, and “er”s are generally banished because they’re boring, just as excessive swearing has become boring. Suppose, for example, a character said the word “like” as often as many people do today, say, like this. That dialog would be unlistenable. It would never pass development muster.

So we’re on our way to completely declawing another obscenity. We’ve seen it before. When I was growing up, there were still older people who remembered where the word “screw” came from. If we innocent children referred to something as “screwed up”, we were shushed or, if we were unlucky, went on a soap diet. We had no idea why. Today no one bats an eyelash at screw, which means essentially the same thing as… well, you know.

For better or worse, our culture is in the midst of the dilution of another cuss word: suck. No one said this when I was young. It was a “swear word”. Like the other no-say-ems, it referred to a sexual act. Now it means… well, it means nothing. And everyone says it with impunity, from children to parents to ministers to teachers. It’s just another word.

Crap, heck, darn, shoot, screw. The euphemism backlog is growing as the “real” swears fade into impotence. I’m not sure if all this is good news or bad. Are we lowering the standards of the language or are we gradually removing the words that hurt?

I don’t friggin’ know.


Addendum: OK, just so you know it’s not only narrow-minded bloggers like me who think this way, here’s a quote from a recent newsletter from Richard Walter, chairman of the UCLA screenwriting program:

“The downside to writers having the freedom to write whatever they want is that it allows us also to write as badly as we want. The relentless exploitation of vulgarity is supposed to foster a sense of authenticity. In fact, however, it usually achieves precisely the opposite: heavy-handedness, thudding self consciousness, and a tone that is overbearingly shrill.”

To which I say, “Amen, Professor Walter.”

Born to be broken

IMG_20150330_200252587The old adage says rules are meant to be broken. There’s no shortage of “rules” for writing. Those commandments are intended to aid in the writing process. They might be helpful if only they weren’t moving targets. I’ve written before about the difficulty of writing. Trying to remain upright on the shifting sands of unstable standards doesn’t make it any easier.

Go ahead. Try to get a group of authors to agree on the tenets that are most useful to guide the writing process. You’re likely to get a protracted religious argument for your trouble.

Here are a few of the most well-known non-negotiables that are constantly being negotiated:

  • Write every day.
  • Write what you know.
  • The road to hell is paved with adverbs.
  • Use sparse language, i.e. “less is more”.
  • To write well, you must read a lot.

For every writer who subscribes to one of these statutes, there’s probably one or more who eschew it. For example, I was at a book reading by a highly regarded, best-selling author who, when asked what other authors he read, claimed not to read other authors in order to avoid being unduly influenced by them. So much for reading to become a good writer.

With all due respect to adverb-phobic Stephen King, who deserves a great deal of respect indeed, I don’t have any problem with adverbs as a reader. In fact, I kinda like them. So why avoid them? If you’re writing a book for Mr. King, I guess. But why leave any tool in the toolbox unused? They’re there for a reason.

Fundamentalism is generally condemned in other spheres, but it’s alive and well in the writing world.

And the “write what you know” dictum would be better expressed as “write what you care about.” You can always gain knowledge about a topic. It’s no easy task to develop enough passion to write well about something about which you are otherwise indifferent.

John Fox, manacled hand and foot by his pirate captorsIf you’ve read enough about writers writing, you’ve undoubtedly come across the ones who claim they don’t know where their characters are going to take the story. Those lifeless entities are independent actors with wills of their own. I guess that’s possible, but is it mandated somewhere? Some would have you believe that it is or that at least it’s a hallmark of a higher level of fiction. I don’t think so. No less an authority than Vladimir Nabokov says he has no use for that tactic when he says, “My characters are galley slaves.” No surprises for Mr. Nabokov, thank you.

This confusion first confronted me when I was trying to master screenwriting. The rules to screenwriting are many, absolute, and quite specific. The only problem is, accomplished screenwriters break them as a matter of course. One decree beyond discussion is: Don’t describe what can’t be shown on the screen. For example, a script can’t say in its descriptive text, “Joe was nervous about the interview.” Fine. At a lecture at the Austin Film Festival (the screenwriter’s Mecca), a man who is arguably the most successful screenwriter of this generation, told all of us rapt listeners that he does it all the time.

AFF produced a nice little book of excerpts from various talks given at the festival over the years. “On Story” has lots of advice for writing the next great movie. Unfortunately, much of the advice is conflicting.

This is one of the reasons I question a prime directive of screenwriting education: Read scripts. A problem with that advice is that screenwriters don’t follow “the rules” we’re supposed to learn, so we’re likely to learn the wrong way. Also, most scripts we have access to are “shooting scripts” filled with camera angles and other technical directions that don’t belong in submitted scripts.

What’s a struggling writer to do? Obey the rules (“Do as I say, don’t do as I do.”) until you break in. Then you can do anything you want. Another way of saying it is, “Write something great and you have permission to write whatever you want.” I think of it as learning a secret handshake. Based on what I’ve seen and read, once you’re in the club, the rules no longer apply.

Fair enough. If I want to play their game, I’ll do my best to play by their rules.

YABD

Yet Another Brain Dump.

Since I don’t have much time to write this week and since I did an extra post last week and since I haven’t popped the idea stack for more than three months, I’m going to do it now. Here’s another brain dump of thoughts that have piled up lately. Nothing life-changing or earth-shaking. Maybe Head-shaking, though.

Here’s a little news item you might have missed:

The [Boston Red Sox] officially released minor league lefthander Cody Kukuk, who was arrested in November on a robbery charge in his native Kansas. Kukuk was given an $800,000 bonus after being selected in the seventh round of the 2011 draft.

The kid got an 800K signing bonus and was on his way to a big league career and he commits robbery. Huh? Reminds me of the even more amazing story a couple years ago, involving a football player making half a million bucks a year who was arrested for shoplifting a cologne sample and two pair of underwear worth a total of $123.50.

Wow.

I hope we hurry up development of the driverless car, cuz from what I’m seeing on the road, no one’s paying attention when they drive anyway.

From the “Who Invented This Language Anyway?” department:  The words overlook and oversee are opposites yet flammable and inflammable mean the same thing.

True confession: Wonder no longer. I wrote the book of love

Why do people record messages on their cell phones that say, “I can’t come to the phone right now”? Isn’t the whole point of a cell phone that you don’t have to come to the phone? What did I miss?

I thought it was a short-lived fad, but it seems books and movies about zombies and vampires simply refuse to die. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.

Have you seen the movie about the guy who used to be a criminal who tried to go straight but was forced by some bad guys to do one last job? Which movie was that you ask? Just about all of them.

It’s about 10 degrees outside. I heat my house to 70. And I have a big box I store food in that cools down to below freezing. Am I the only one who sees a problem here?

??????????A business in Santa Barbara: Ye Olde Deli and Thai Food. That’s covering all your bases. Oh yeah, and as you can see in the photo to the right, you can also get Boba Bubbles in your Olde Thai Deli drink.

That’s all I have time for. I have to go to my cell phone.

Depressing movie antidote

This post is out of turn, but I couldn’t resist. I was soooooo depressed after watching the movie I described in my previous post, I’ve been out of sorts all week.

If you see a movie that is so gloomy, so bleak, so joyless that it saps all your hope, you have to do something about it. An antidote is needed. Last night, I had it.

At the opposite end of the mood spectrum, and a sure cure to the movie blues, is one of my favorite guilty pleasures: “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure”.

bill&ted

I really do love this movie. Not just because it was the perfect remedy for my movie melancholy. It’s just wicked funny. I smile through the whole movie… except for those parts when I laugh out loud. Mind you, I’ve seen it a few dozen times. I could recite most of the lines in the film. (“Strange things are afoot at the circle K.”) There are no surprises in it for me, but I laugh all the same.

For those who think I’ve lost all sense of good taste, let me point out a few cogent facts:

  1. The movie is hysterical.
  2. The entire concept is so absurd, it’s genius. It’s easily one of the most unique premises in film history.
  3. It’s the only credible movie about time travel because it treats the concept with the complete lack of credibility it deserves.
  4. Most thinking people will agree that this movie is by far the high point of Keanu Reeves’ career.

If you’ve suffered through “Birdman”, “Whiplash”, “Foxcatcher”, or the cause of my malady, “Olive Kitteridge”, do yourself a favor and watch Bill & Ted as soon as possible.

Consider it a prescription.


Note: If you can wait until mid-April, read about another antidote here. I promise it will be uplifting!

Bummer people – they deliver

depressedDepression is rampant in our culture. Growing up, all I knew about depression was the unemployment and soup lines. It was something my teachers and older people talked about. Now it seems everyone is depressed. If you aren’t downing Prozac, Lexapro, or Zoloft by the fistful, you aren’t trending.

Depression is real. I don’t want to diminish that fact. It’s a serious medical condition that can be fatal. Medication is often a valuable tool to combat its ravages. That being said, I’m of the opinion that there are non-pharmaceutical approaches that could either lessen its effects or – who knows? – relieve it completely for some milder cases. The prescription I’m suggesting here is – excuse the esoteric medical jargon: avoiding depressing stuff. (Note: I’m not saying this as a cure, but why feed the flame?)

This weekend I watched an incredibly depressing movie. Worse, it was a depressing mini-series. Four hours of non-stop misery. Eventually I had to minimize the pain by fast-forwarding through some of it. If I’d watched it to the end (at normal speed) I couldn’t be held responsible for my actions. And if I were already depressed? I just thank God I wasn’t.

2015OscarsWhy are so many movies depressing? Look at the Oscar nominees: Birdman, Whiplash, American Sniper, and Boyhood are a sad group. Don’t subject yourself to any of them if you’re trying to keep your mood upbeat. The others are either less so or I just don’t know enough about them to judge. They could be wallowing in the slough of despond with Foxcatcher, Still Alice, Gone Girl, and the rest of that lot for all I know.

Not a “Sound of Music” in the bunch.

I’m not saying we should have a non-stop parade of “happy, happy, joy, joy” fluff, but couldn’t we at least have one every now and then? Is life so joyful that we are well-advised to dampen everyone’s moods lest they overdose on excess happiness and levity?

Let me suggest that it’s the other way around. Life is so depressing for so many that, instead of feeding that, we should consider ways to counteract it. Making more positive movies is one possibility. I’m no lone curmudgeon in this opinion. A couple of years ago I heard a talk by film producer Lindsay Doran (Sense and Sensibility, Stranger than Fiction) in which she mentioned this issue. This NY Times article gives an overview of her talk. (It’s worth a read for this and her other fascinating insights.)

conversationI’m not talking about “happy endings” in the classic fairy tale sense. Just lighten up a bit now and then, please. There’s a place for dark films. One of my favorite films of all time is also one of the darkest: “The Conversation” is a brilliant piece of paranoid pleasure. On the opposite end of the bleakness spectrum is another of my favorites: “The Princess Bride”. It actually has a fairy tale ending. You won’t find many movies as different as those two, connected only by their genius.

It’s not just about the number of dark, hopeless, depressing movies there are. With so many Oscar nominees falling into that category it gives the impression that a positive movie can’t be good. Joy can’t be taken seriously. When is the last time a performer in a comedy won an acting prize? Is comic acting really so effortless that it can be dismissed? The award mavens would have you think so. (Personal note: It ain’t.)

This, of course, reinforces the problem. People want to make movies that others take seriously, which means they must make serious and, if possible, morbid movies.

Look at the top grossing movies for 2014 and you’ll see a different picture. For the most part, people are paying to see more positive movies. If dollars drive the movie industry, how to explain this gap?

Saint Paul once said:

…whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.

Just don’t expect to get them too often at the movies.

Making lemonade

PastedGraphicTagline-1With ten screenplays written and none sold or produced, you might think I’d be frustrated and angry. You’d be half right: It sure is frustrating. But angry? No point to that. Anger is a masking emotion and I’ve got nothing to mask. Most of the scripts I’ve written were more like learning experiences than realistic attempts to “break in.” I’ve learned a ton, thus improving my scripts and advancing my skills.

So what do I do with all those lemons? Make lemonade. And you can have a sip.

For the second time, I’m staging a reading of one of my screenplays. It’s not just for marketing purposes or ego gratification. This event will be a fundraiser for two causes, one near and dear to my heart – Haiti – and the other very near my brain but very far from my heart: MS.

The first time I held one of these readings, also a learning experience and also a fundraiser, we raised almost $700 to serve as a micro-loan to a young entrepreneur in Haiti. The actual reading is on line in two parts. If you’re interested in watching the reading, the first part is here. I leave finding the second half as an exercise to the viewer.

The full official announcement for this event can be found here, but most of the details are below:

On Saturday night, April 18, at 7 PM, at the Chelmsford Center for the Arts, there will be a “staged reading” of my original PG-rated romantic comedy, “Me for You”. The cost is only $10 and includes chances to win cool movie-related door prizes. Snacks will be available for sale.

Staged readings are common in the film development process as a way to promote unproduced screenplays. This script will be read live by actors in the intimate setting of the CCA Cabaret Cafe. You get a fun evening at the “movies”, help two great causes, and, if the script ever gets produced, get bragging rights as previewers.


If that’s not enough to get your philanthropic blood pumping, here are two more opportunities to help support Haiti and fight MS:

Servants for Haiti Trivia Night and Silent Auction

TriviaNightLogoSmallThis year marks the 6th annual edition of this exciting event. The trivia is a blast – with yours truly (truly!) as the trivia jockey – and the silent auction is a collection of incredible buys, some one-of-a-kind. Funds raised this evening will benefit SFH‘s Biznis Pam program, which trains Haitian woman how to start and maintain their own businesses. Then they provide micro-loans to get the budding entrepreneurs going.

This is a great program that deserves our help. Join me on Friday April 10, 2015, at 7 PM. For complete details, click here.

Bike MS: Ride the Vineyard 2015

MSMVThis is a combination of three of my favorite things: Martha’s Vineyard, cycling, and raising money to crush MS. You can be part of this event by donating money to my ride or to my team.

To donate to my ride, click here.

To support my whole team, click here.

If you want to go further in your commitment, you can ride with us. Register and join our team: The Vineyard Square Wheelers. Ride on!

Borehood?

Hitchcock,_AlfredSir Alfred Hitchcock was credited with saying, “Drama is life with the dull bits cut out.”* Hard to argue with that, especially since its source is arguably the least boring filmmaker of them all. Still, I’ve always wondered what happened to those “dull bits.”

This week, I think I found out.

boyhoodThis post could get me into trouble, but I have to get this thought out of my neurons. The Academy Award nominated Best Picture, “Boyhood”, while a laudable piece of logistics, makes for agonizingly boring viewing. You’d think you could find 2¾ hours of material in a 12-year span of a kid’s life that would be gripping enough to keep my attention.

You’d be wrong. Thank goodness for the fast forward button.

There’s a certain hubris required to make a movie that’s almost three hours long. Some directors have (or had) it and pulled it off: Kubrick and Peter Jackson, to name a couple who succeeded. The former because of his genius, the latter because of his rich source material, courtesy of Tolkien who supplied the genius in that case.

Others are less successful. I’ve already noted Mr. Nolan in these virtual pages. I think I can now safely add Mr. Linklater. Both are obviously gifted filmmakers. They’ve proved as much in previous films.

I’m not suggesting that “Boyhood” is a bad film. Who the heck am I to make such a presumptuous claim? I’m just saying it’s dull as dirt. It makes me wonder, who was this movie made for, the creator or the viewer?

The concept is undoubtedly exceptional. Much of the obviously improvised dialog is engaging. But it’s the “dull bits” of life. There’s nothing really new being said. The film’s notoriety seems to be riding on a single gimmick, albeit a brilliant gimmick. If this film had been shot all at the same time with different actors playing the aging youthful roles (the only ones that show marked change), would it have received the acclaim it has? I’m guessing no. It would be just another tired coming-of-age story.

russianarkThere’s another, less well-known film that deserves similar praise for its use of an even more innovative device. “Russian Ark” is a 99-minute movie that was made in one continuous shot. That’s right, no “cut”, no edits, no stopping the camera at all. It’s ingenious, inventive, amazing. It’s also excruciatingly tedious to view. The Mona Lisa is fantastic, but I don’t want to stare at it for 99 minutes, never mind 165.

I’ve seen longer and slower movies that didn’t bore me. The aforementioned Mr. Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” is the classic example. (That’s why a clever Mad magazine spoof of it was called “201 Minutes of Space Idiocy”.) It’s long and it’s slow, yet I’m entranced by its entirety.

straightstoryI adore movies that take time to tell their stories. If that story is compelling, if the characters are engaging, they can take all the time they want.

  • The Straight Story
  • The Trip to Bountiful
  • The Conversation
  • The Elephant Man
  • Koyaanisqatsi

These are all among my favorite films. They all unfold at a leisurely – some might say plodding – pace but never bore me for a second. Why? Maybe it’s just me.

“Boyhood” feels a lot like life – an admirable accomplishment – but hardly groundbreaking. Every good movie should feel like life in some way or another. The problem is, if I want to view life as it presents itself, I don’t have to go to the theater or watch TV.

It’s happening all around me, with far more interesting people than populate “Boyhood”.


*The great auteur also made the observation that, “The length of a film should be directly related to the endurance of the human bladder.” A lot depends on the bladder of the viewer. In my case, “Boyhood” failed that test as well.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Barbara

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Santa Barbara Point from Shoreline Park

Here I sit in LAX waiting for my red-eye back to Boston. After nearly three weeks in Santa Barbara, CA, I’m hesitant to get on that aircraft. Back home, I’ve missed about seven feet of snow (actually, “I wouldn’t say I’ve been missing it, Bob.“) while relaxing in wall-to-wall days of 70’s and sunshine. They don’t call it the American Riviera for nothing. I’m trading in endless bike paths, ocean surf, and outdoor living for snowbanks, icicles, and a couple more months of cabin fever.

DSCN6184While in SB, I had the opportunity to get a taste of the SB International Film Festival. Film fests are a great experience. I’ve only been to four settings: SB, Austin, Martha’s Vineyard, and Boston. (No Toronto or Sundance yet. Those are the Big Ones. Cannes and Venice are above my pay grade.) The first two are legitimate festivals. Austin is the “writer’s festival” and thus holds a special place in my heart. By comparison, the other two are low key. I can understand MV hosting a smaller event. It tends to serve the local community rather than drawing large crowds from distant locations. You’d think, however, that a world-class city like Boston could pull off something more impressive. You’d be wrong.

Fortunately, Austin and SB make up for it. The two cities have a lot in common besides hosting credible film festivals. They’re both funky, artsy, and warm – things I appreciate in a city. All Austin needs is an ocean built next to it and real estate values increased about 1000% and they’d be identical.

Santa Barbara is the perfect setting for a film festival. First of all, it was Hollywood before Hollywood was Hollywood. Second, it’s home (or home-away-from-home) to many film notables, e.g. Oprah, Jeff Bridges, Kevin Costner, Jennifer Aniston, and a People-magazine-load of others.

luckypennyIn fact, I was having lunch at Lucky Penny last week, when who should sit down at the next table but Christopher Lloyd! I looked at him. He looked at me. Then he says, “Hey, aren’t you the guy who writes that ‘Scribbling in the Sand’ blog?” Wait. That was a dream. (Although someone I know really did see Mr. Lloyd at Lucky Penny. He obviously has great taste in pizza.)

The truth is I’ve never seen a single celeb here, but that’s just fine with me. And even more fine with them, I assume. What I did see are movies, some never before shown in America. Given my lack of time, transportation, and funds, I limited myself to only four of the dozens that filled the 12 day schedule: two Italian films and two Scandinavian. Interesting combination since those two ethnicities make up a significant percentage of my family’s background.

A great thing about film festivals is that you can see movies that might never be seen elsewhere. Many films are showcased at festivals to find distribution. Many – even some good ones – never see the light of day… or DVD or streaming. It was a privilege to see them. Even the duds.

Here’s a brief recap of the movies I saw:

Banana (Italy) was a comic but bittersweet story of a young Italian boy who obsesses about being a great Brazilian (?) soccer star, while wooing the older girl of his dreams. While trying to change his own life, the boy has a positive impact on those around him who have given up hope. I rated it a 3 out of a possible 5 on the film fest scale. It was worth seeing just for a couple of very funny gags.

Mafia and Red Tomatoes (La Nostra Terra, Italy) recounted the true story of an unlikely motley group of volunteers trying to start a farming cooperative on land seized from the Mafia. They face opposition from within and without. With equal parts social commentary, drama, comedy, and romance, the film was a delight. 4 out of 5.

Beatles (Finland), a movie based on a popular novel of the same name, was an engaging coming-of-age story about four Norwegian boys in the 1960’s whose dream is to be like their heroes, the Fab Four. As you might expect, the music was terrific – some straight Beatles songs and some quality covers. It nailed that era and its attitudes with such laser-like accuracy, I had flashbacks. The most astounding aspect to this film was that the four kids who played the leads and were absolutely great, had never acted before. Rated 4. (Note that, for obscure legal reasons, if this ever shows on American screens, it will be called “Yesterday”.)

Eila, Rampe and Baby Girl (Eila, Rampe Ja Likka, Finland) was, I suppose, the Scandinavian idea of a screwball comedy. Unfortunately, it played more like an extended sitcom. There were a few laughs but those were far outnumbered by the many embarrassing moments that had me squirming in my seat. It might have helped to be Finnish, I suppose. Rated 2.


My flight is getting ready to load, so I have to sign off and resign myself to an icy, snowy future, warmed only by memories of Santa Barbara. Oh, yeah, and the love of friends and family who await me. It ain’t all bad.

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Religious arguments

argueWe are an argumentative people. That’s “we” as in my family, Americans, humans. It’s a congenital trait, I’m afraid. Conflict is built into us. It’s not called the human “race” for nothing. We all feel the need to top the other guy, just as the Patriots topped the Seahawks in the Super Bowl this past weekend. But that wasn’t enough. The arguments continue: Are the Patriots only capable of winning because they’re cheaters? (For the record: No.) Are Brady/Belichick the best ever? (Yes.) Is Gronk superhuman? (It sometimes appears to be so.)

The fighting, it seems never ends, even when the fighting ends.

Although David Gates has a good point when he sings, “…an argument can be outta sight, when you love to argue and you know how to fight”, I’m afraid we don’t know how to argue or fight well these days. What start out as discussions invariably degenerate into name-calling spite-fests. That’s a whole ‘nother area of discussion (and perhaps an argument) that I described in some detail in this post from a few years ago.

Even those who would consider themselves above the fray, cultured literati who read, write, and talk about same, have their endless and futile religious arguments. Here are a couple you might overhear in a local coffee shop:

ebooksGood old-fashioned paper books are better than e-books. Now there’s a religious argument if ever there was one. It’s about as pointless as Archie and Meathead’s argument about the order of putting on shoes and socks. There is no right and wrong here. It’s pure opinion. My own personal preference depends on the context. If I’m traveling, I can load more books on my Kindle than I could fit in my luggage. Additionally, most traditional books are impossible to read while both hands are otherwise occupied.

Conversely, some books feel as if they were meant to be held in the hands. My copy of “A Soldier of the Great War” has a heft to it that matches the epic scale of the wonderful novel. It’s also signed. Try that with an e-book.

Finally, there’s something aesthetically pleasing about a shelf or entire wall of books. Scanning the binders can be a joy unmatched by twiddling through the menus of a Nook or Kindle.

Mona&DavidBooks are always better than the movies made from them. Hopefully no one has such a sweeping opinion. Anyway, it’s a specious argument for the most part. We’re talking about two different mediums: a mental one and a visual one. Your opinion may well depend on the way you process information. You might as well ask which is better, da Vinci’s Mona Lisa or Michelangelo’s David?

Were the “Lord of the Rings” books better than the movies? It’s a moot point. The films were the vision of a small group of artists, Peter Jackson and friends. Who am I to say their vision is wrong or right? I love both creations for what they are. Note: “The Hobbit” films are a different story for reasons I expounded on here.

Some books are rightfully considered unfilmable. Any attempt to do so generally leads to disaster. Cases in point from the not-too-distant past: “Winter’s Tale” and “Cloud Atlas”. Both were monumental critical and box-office failures made from monumentally fine books.

There are a few movies I believe improved on their literary source material. One prime example is “About a Boy”. A good book, a better film, the final third of the story having been changed radically for the better in my estimation. Thus we’re talking about two different stories. Which is better? Again, personal preference. In this case, my preference is the movie’s story. You may disagree.

 

These two arguments are carried on all over. They can actually be fun to argue about, if it’s done right. When it’s done wrong, we’re missing the point entirely. Needing to be right can kill relationships.

It’s 11:00. Do you know where your priorities are?*

(*Does anyone remember this reference?)