© 2021 G.N. Jacobs

Okay, the project named All Things Phantom Menace is now done (until I really have to see it again). With the novelization in the can, I can now move on to All Things Attack of the Clones or hopefully All Things Casino Royale (we’ll see).

Unlike the Shakespeare version (see post), there is very little about the novelization that will change the opinions formed by seeing the movie. You either roll your eyes the minute Jar Jar Binks enters frame or you slap your knees thinking you’ve experienced the greatest thing since sliced bread.

Still, they did try a little. It helps.

Mostly, the author added in quite a few scenes and moments concerning Anakin Skywalker before meeting the other pathetic lifeforms fleeing the invasion of Naboo. Anakin mentions getting flashed with Sebulba’s vents as the reason why he lost the previous pod race. So, the book starts on said race.

While I suspect that the author (Terry Brooks) working from George Lucas’s script still had to put as much of the kludgy writing style of the movie into the manuscript in the eternal dance between improving and just giving the audience more of what they want, I did like his descriptions of the desert flashing by under the pods. The two pod race sequences present a surprisingly vivid, a swirl of the red rocks, yellow sand flashing by under our hero’s pod at breakneck speed. A good moment to read.

There are many other small moments to enjoy about this book that play out in the small places between what’s required by servicing the script that we’ve already seen.

For instance, when the Trade Federation decides to gas the Jedi at the beginning a pair of birdlike creatures left in the room die first. Methinks PETA got to George Lucas and conducted a mugging to keep it out of the movie, but I digress. Or we actually see Anakin carve the japoor snippet for Padmé. A nice moment likely to always get cut out of the movie for reasons of time and flow.

Adding more in the way of slightly extra concerning Padmé’s thought process as the embattled leader of the sleepy and previously peaceful planet was quite entertaining to read. She’s depicted as blasting droid soldiers left and right to the surprise of everybody including Anakin. 

Dialogue is just simply not Star Wars’ best attribute whether in the movies or on the written page and this process continues here where Mr. Brooks added extra words explaining more about the plot at the expense of more spoken kludge. Novelizations typically get started as soon as the production “locks” the script at the beginning of production not after the martini shot goes into the can. The adaption thus has more material from which to draw and represents the script as it existed before the film editor applied a poetic ear towards cutting the spoken fat. I prefer to blame Mr. Lucas.

The depiction of Jar Jar Binks frankly doesn’t improve with the translation to the page. If much of the criticism concerning this character lands because some people feel too many real-world nasty stereotypes (Jamaican, cowardly etc…) were given free vent in a world that changed under some people’s feet, learning more about Jar Jar by way of the inner monologue common to novels isn’t going to change things.

Most of the rest of what is hard to like about the Phantom Menace are the stuff of an impressive nerd fight, that won’t change just because I read the book. No matter the form, I still ask the question – of all the star systems without proper air forces affected by the Senate’s taxation plan, why does the Trade Federation choose to blockade and invade Naboo? What does the Trade Federation get out of the deal? And did Darth Sidious choose the planet for them opting to grind some kind of axe against the planet that is allegedly his home? Never mind, I spend too much time contemplating these things.

As a read this novelization is like so many others of its ilk, an acceptable read despite that we’ve already seen the movie. There are flashes of brilliance that almost help me forget where this story really came from, but then these are dragged down by the things that dragged down the movie. Though, I can see a frazzled parent reaching for this book as a way to sneak up on a child bitching and moaning about summer reading lists and book completion quotas. Truthfully, that’s why I picked this book despite yes, I saw the movie, but that’s a story for another day…

© 2021 G.N. Jacobs

Wow! Imagine reading Ian Doescher’s William Shakespeare’s The Phantom of Menace: Star Wars Part the FirstBEFORE seeing the movie by George Lucas! I guess that covers the pull quote for this review. Anyway, I like Shakespeare and I like Star Wars, even the much-derided Episode One (well…in the sense of enjoying going to the dentist after the cleaning ends). Obviously, I’m all over the Shakespearean homage.

Truthfully, the play’s the play and nothing substantive changes (Mr. Doescher’s readers might get nasty in tragic ways if the plot changes…like that time I spent six months re-writing a three-hour version of The Return of the Jedi. Never mind). I have and will continue to savage the actual movie well into the future (see post). What I really like about this version that trades on the tropes and limitations of the Elizabethan stage for which Shakespeare and Marlowe dove in head first is how the union-mandated iambic pentameter, asides, soliloquies and verbal description of the action serves to make it very clear that perhaps we get to blame the movie a little bit more on decisions made after the script was locked.

The reader upon being told that a Shakespeare homage edition was contemplated might chuckle a little bit and ask many relevant questions.

How does the stage director depict the pod-race that eats up ten minutes in an otherwise lackluster movie that seems to hang its hat on the scene?

People run in and out reporting to Qui-Gon Jinn the results of the latest lap, while the pod racers occasionally run through in the foreground inside cardboard pods much like the hobby horses last seen in Monty Python’s: The Holy Grail.The Shakespearean battle scene that I thought it most reminded me of was Bosworth Field from Richard III (“Rescue, My Lord, Rescue!”), but there are other possibilities…Shakespeare liked him his battles and frequently did the same things over and over.

There’s a lot of people communicating across Galactic distances in holographic beams, so how do handle that, Buster?  

Guys, spotlights. A modern stage just flips the switch and there you are. If by some highly inexplicable time travel accident this script lands on Shakespeare’s desk and he, as was accused in movies like Anonymous, appropriates it as his own, the stagehands of the day had lanterns, mirrors and such. People can work it out.

Anyway, as I read the play, I couldn’t help but enjoy it far more than the movie that spawned it. Mostly, it was because Mr. Doescher dove in head first with the Jar-Jar Binks problem. In the movie, this amphibian Falstaff archetype either really pissed off the viewer as being too forced acting as the comedy relief. Too over the top with a mostly Jamaican (we think) patois that sparked some to go nuts trying to find hidden racial insensitivities in Star Wars. Or for the younger viewers for whom George Lucas always said the series was the primary audience, Jar-Jar was greater than sliced bread because kids tend to respond to people tripping over themselves to get a laugh.

 Doescher gives Jar-Jar one hell of a raison d’etre, to unify the Gungans and human Naboo in a vision of a shared planet that rises to meet all challenges together. Thus, he speaks the best possible rendition of his movie dialogue translated into iambic pentameter and then gives an aside to the audience delivered in what in the Star Wars galaxy is the local equivalent of Received Pronunciation (also in iambic pentameter). Jar-Jar doing things intentionally and telling the audience why goes a long way towards feeling better about the character.

Another character that gets a small amount of interesting of asides is Artoo. We just have to take it on trust that Threepio isn’t intentionally mistranslating our favorite astro-mech droid. In the play, Artoo reveals he might be the smartest character in the room sussing out Jar-Jar. Everybody else just talks over and around our least favorite Frog Clown.

All through the play, the dialogue plays out clever with a capital C. There are references to other Shakespeare lines and more importantly references to dialogue the actors played in other movies. Basically, Mr. Doescher has used his library card well.

Truthfully, I missed many of the promised Samuel L. Jackson-isms probably because I don’t know, brain freeze (that’s my story and I’m sticking to it). However, I didn’t fail to miss some biggies posted thirty feet tall in neon. Qui-Gon Jinn picks the last fight (in the movie set to “Duel of the Fates”) with Darth Maul dropping in extra dialogue much like Kung Fu movie fighters pointing out the people with whom they’re going to mop the floor. 

Pay attention, just before the saber merge Qui-Gon says the words “I have skills.” If we could only have a daughter for the Jedi master to rescue from traffickers (and perhaps a more forgiving screenwriter), you think maybe he’d survive this one. And when Maul skewers the Jedi, the exit line is “et tu, Sith.” Perhaps not as rhyming as “et tu, Brute,” but I’ll take it.

This play, even starting from the hardest Star Wars movie to watch, is simply excellent fun for people who enjoy both Shakespeare and The Galaxy Far, Far Away and Long Ago. Now to see if Disney actually releases it onto the stage…    

© 2021 G.N. Jacobs

More than twenty later, this film still resonates as the Star Wars movie most of us hated when we saw it. I myself am not immune to such passions. In that time, there has also been backlash to the original backlash in favor of the movie, but other than what I will list below that kinda almost worked…it’s still the movie that dragged the rest of the Fall of Anakin Skywalker trilogy into [BEEP!].

The plot. Political turmoil between the Trade Federation (I swear they made a dig upon Star Trek here), the rest of the galaxy represented by the Galactic Senate and the small, peaceful and lush planet of Naboo results in a blockade of said nice planet. Two Jedi, Qui-Gon-Jinn (Liam Neeson) and Padawan Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor), get sent on the sly to muscle a settlement, but find dark and nefarious forces at work that reveal the Trade Federation more interested in taking over temperate, green and comfortable to live on planets.

In the running around on Naboo’s surface said Jedi make friends with a Gungan (an amphibian humanoid species sharing the planet with the human Naboo society). They rescue the elected Queen Padme Amidala (Natalie Portman) escaping in a damaged ship landing for repairs on Tatooine where we meet nine-year-old Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd), presently a slave born under strange circumstances. There’s a lot of gambling and doubling down between Qui-Gon and the blue Toydarian Watto that leads to a pod race that provides the parts to repair the ship and free Anakin.

We move to the galactic capitol where the Queen pleads for redress with Naboo’s representative, Senator Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid), at her side. The Senate being used as a chew toy by the as yet hidden Sith Lords ends up telling the Naboo to drop dead as “we really should send another blue-ribbon investigating committee.” The Queen calls for a vote of No Confidence that results in the election of Senator Palpatine as the new Chancellor and then goes home to lead the big battle with her new Gungan allies to free Naboo, a battle where Anakin foreshadows his son, Luke, blowing up the Death Star twenty-three years later, by blowing up the droid control ship with a proton torpedo shot to a conveniently exposed reactor.

The people who have made hating on Menace and the rest of Episodes 1-3 into a cottage industry focus most of their geek wrath around two tentpoles for their scorn, derision and slight regard: Jar-Jar Binks (Ahmed Best) and baby Anakin. There are other reasons to feel disappointed, some that will be listed here. There are also points of logic that conversely suggest lighten up, a failing common to many Star Wars fans.

Most of my fellow nerds will comment in the Anakin section of the bashing session that a nine-year-old protagonist makes the rest of the movie difficult to believe even before we get to the technical part about did Mr. Lloyd successfully do his job? The rest of the characters are pretty much acting like adults, even the fourteen-year-old Queen Amidala (possibly a thematic callback to our real history where teenaged monarchs frequently kicked ass and took names because teenagers weren’t actually considered children until about a hundred years ago). 

The nine-year-old boy with the great skill at the flight controls wins the pod race, but is then shunted into a spare Naboo cockpit for the space battle making his almost accidental entry into the furball almost as if Anakin as an archetype vies with Jar-Jar for being the Accidental Fool…someone Inspector Clouseau would very much understand. I think a lot of the people commenting how weird Anakin played out on screen would eventually land on – “guys, you can’t have it both ways, either Anakin is this great pilot that makes a conscious decision to blow up the Trade Federation’s Battle-Donut that no one even thinks about ordering to stay out of the way in the spare space fighter, or he’s the young waif to whom things happen accidentally.” How much danger can you put a nine-year-old protagonist in anyway? I have yet to discover that formula myself and thus avoid writing YA novels as if I might catch the measles.

And twenty plus years later just say the name Jar-Jar Binks. You can say it straight or with the growly delivery of that old guy in The Graduate urging for a fulfilling career in Plastics; you’ll get the same result from everybody older than the age of nine at the time the movie originally dropped. 

Variations of – “Ugh! Who told George Lucas that this clutzy, tries too hard at comedic relief and eats up too much screen time at the expense of what passes for the main plot was a good idea? And that’s before we get all nasty about his forced mostly Jamaican patois in a movie where we’re also choosing to be angry that the primary villains who aren’t Sith all speak like Asian villains from a Fu Manchu movie.” Kids who were in the target audience at the time who are now twenty-ish swear Jar-Jar is the funniest thing ever. I was thirty. Jar-Jar bombed about like taking out Rotterdam.

There is so much more to bash about the movie and I’ve heard them all at the counter of various comic book stores, at least for the first few years until there wasn’t anything new to be had raking this one over the coals. Didn’t like Padme’s dresses. Hated the stilted dialogue almost completely devoid of contractions. Goes back and forth between thinking the pod race sequence the only thing that keeps the first half of the movie moving or perhaps it was a cheap stunt to trick the audience into enjoying the dead air in the story.

I promised you, Dear Reader, that there are some good and interesting things about The Phantom Menace. Here are a few…

The effects and music. Industrial Light and Magic always goes whole hog for a Star Wars movie, the franchise that willed their organization into being. We may get nasty about – “Really, Tatooine again!” – but the sand looks like it always does…gorgeous.

This time around when composer John Williams set his pencil to paper the highlight ended up being “Duel of the Fates.” Set under the big lightsaber rumble on Naboo we get a classic piece of acrobatic cinema. Who cares that, yet again, a Jedi has to lose someone and get angry to win the fight…despite strict dogma against getting angry?

The actors playing the Jedi, McGregor and Neeson, showed why they’ve torn up Hollywood…in other movies. It is alleged that with nothing on the page to play when having dinner at Shimi Skywalker’s (Pernilla August) humble house, that Mr. Neeson starts creating heat between the Jedi Master and analogue for the Virgin Mary. Just a light hint of maybe…

Ewan McGregor infuses his young Obi-Wan Kenobi with an infectious smile running interference for a brash character that still has many years ahead to his worst day, turning his best friend Anakin Skywalker into a Benihana entrée. Wait, good acting in a Star Wars movie? It happens.

The other fascinating aspect of this film that carries through the whole early trilogy is the genius move of establishing Senator Palpatine and Darth Sidious as owning both sides of the emergency that brings him to power. In a movie where the fans have already read ahead, there is an official attempt to separate the two characters that we don’t see Sidious take off his robe to become Palpatine. However, there’s no actual attempt to hide this with, say, Batman lowering his voice and growling.

Owning both sides of the war struck me personally at the time I first saw the movie. It had to do with Evil Stepdad 2.0 who was a conspiracy theorist for whom the true masters of the universe were alleged to own both sides of all conflicts because you always win if you’re both the Good Guys and the Space Nazis at the same time. He kept on and on about this creating a hugely integrated world view that largely predated QAnon. And then to see this concept onscreen in a Star Wars movie…

However, while we’re on the subject of Galactic politics, whatever cool and interesting we got from Palpatine owning the whole war making the results irrelevant, we gave back in the depiction of the Neimodians of the Trade Federation. For the life of me, applying any concept of the why of War whether from Sun Tzu or von Clauswitz I couldn’t figure out why the Trade Federation escalated their blockade over being taxed too high into an invasion…other than someone having read Syd Field and arbitrarily deciding – “we need an invasion to let the rest of the movie make sense.”

Sorry, I couldn’t resist one last dig at a movie that pretty much belly flopped from the Ten-Meter platform at the Olympics… 

The Voices in My Head

Posted: March 3, 2021 in Uncategorized

© 2021 G.N. Jacobs

Many writers talk about the critical voice in the heads and then say something along the lines of “shout that little bastard down and keep writing.” When the message naturally leads to an excuse not to write, I agree. Sometimes, the little guy has real things to say and maybe we should listen. Maybe it’s really a different voice with the same voiceprint?

Several weeks ago, I’d put the day’s words for the night and still had enough in the tank to randomly cast about for whatever might be next and give it a few hours of pre-writing development (too many syllables for think shit up). Somewhere in this a stray thought about famous Italian luthier, Stradarvari of Cremona (it’s not that stray a thought, there is a dormant music column on this blog) lands. This typically leads to similar thoughts about Amati of Cremona. 

Imagining the competition between these two rival luthiers (stringed instrument maker, including more recently guitars) in the same city leads to “ooh, what if a girl named Amati fell for a boy named Stradavari…the Romeo & Juliet of expensive violins!” And this is where the critical voice gets busy throwing hard elbows, I pitched the story wrong even to myself.

Busting out Romeo and Juliet implies a certain kind of tragic story of freshly minted Renaissance teenagers who when faced with the crushing weight of their respective families’ mutual animosities choose suicide to preserve their love. Nearly every commentator in the more than four hundred years of the play has continuously asserted that the two leads have to be teenagers (Romeo being 14 at most and Juliet maybe 13) in order to answer the question – “who commits suicide when they can’t have their way romantically?”

The play was written in the late 16th Century and set in 15th Century Italy both eras in which no one had much of proper medicine, understanding of juvenile psychology or hope that more than half of all children would survive to adulthood. Teenage marriages, especially for women, happened frequently in order for her to get started on her eight or more pregnancies. Careful reading of various profiles of historical ladies on Wikipedia seems to show that enough of the time the responsible parents arranging these matches would hold the girls back a couple years until their later teen years. 

The people living then might not have understood adolescence as we do now, but they did get the part about the immediate hit of puberty being good for stormy domestic relations and slammed doors. Certainly, they knew that the older the newlyweds were at the beginning of that marriage the more likely the response to not landing on the lover they wanted would be to, in this wisdom from The Kings Speech – “can’t they just carry on privately?” The sane approach to disappointing arranged marriages. Thus, Romeo and Juliet are in their early teens where they can only see their love being everything and die for it.

The above doesn’t really fully explain why setting this type of four-hanky tragedy among the luthiers of Cremona, just doesn’t work. It boils down to violin makers being the wrong sort of occupation to use the Romeo & Juliet outline. They were essentially well compensated craftsmen of the Upper Middle Class, not the lords and ladies of the original play with the legal right to and social obligation to carry swords and duel. More than a few people have also commented that the Montagues and Capulets spent so much time brawling in the streets that the two factions weren’t much different than street gangs with money. This makes the update to street gangs without money for West Side Story an easy leap.

People named Amati, Guarneri and Stradavari could get caught up in the rumbles of two powerful wealthy families roiling the streets if you assume that feuding Noble Family A patronizes Amati and feuding Noble Family B patronizes Stradavari. Neither luthier operation would sell to the rival family to keep and make the peace, or they would wink and nod moving the product out the back door. None of this leads to stabbing each other on the streets…especially since the cynical reasons for pitching a musically themed version of Romeo & Juliet is to close the square for Great Soundtrack built-in what with at least three pieces titled Dueling Violins.

Yes, the pride in one’s own product versus those other guys would lead to conflict but nothing lethal. You could see the two master craftsmen throwing a fist or two and then arranging the concert. Maybe there’s an affair between the adults but now we’re already too far from the Shakespeare play. There’s one slight possibility given my three minutes looking it up on Wikipedia, the third Amati trained the first Guarneri and the first Stradavari…so two apprentices throwing down to take over the old master’s business. Still not the Shakespeare play.

It matters because the middle of the play requires Romeo to get into a big fight with Juliet’s cousin, Tybalt, that results in a Capulet death. Dramatists and other writers have always depended on having the characters’ own decisions cause their grief. Romeo shrugs off various insults because – “dude, I just married your cousin.” His good friend, Mercutio, takes the gauntlet because – “really, that’s the last straw!” – and then dies making Romeo too angry to stop himself. Doing these scenes with people that don’t have the easy access to the steel can be done…at the expense of too many pages used up on expository backstory.

So, when my critical voice saw this immediately and yelled at me to stop pitching it as anything like the Shakespeare play, what did I actually think up? A sitcom in most cases. A sexy romantic movie with an awesome soundtrack in a few other cases. And if I really need it to be a tragedy, I’ll just give Mrs. Stradavari-Guarneri breast cancer and we’re done.

Why is it potentially a sitcom? The property trades on the comedic conflict of the two sets of in-laws figuring it out when they come over to the kids’ house for Sunday dinner. Barbs from Master Guarneri that Master Stradavari never did his frets correctly leading to – “Papa, no business tonight please!” And then there’s a violin duel.

What sitcoms are the closest? Mostly I was thinking Dharma and Greg, where a hippie girl lands on an uptight boy attorney leading to interesting family dinners. But you can see aspects of many sitcoms, like if Darren Stevens had his parents visit more than a couple episodes of Bewitched

For the sexy drama version, now we’re cooking with gas. Stormy passionate women (or men, it’s the 21st Century, gender-switching will be attempted and have the same chances of working with an audience) raising their voices to get exactly what they want. Doors slamming with almost the regularity of the average farce. Lots of kissy-kissy scenes backlit at sunset while on picnic among the field of pretty flowers. Followed by a determination to build the best violin ever in order to have something that plays up to the abilities of this tempestuous partner who combines the talents of Isaac Stern and Jimi Hendrix. Okay, there have been times when perhaps I’ve watched too many Cinemax movies from the out-and-out Skin-Max era (not really there aren’t any angry housewives played by former Playmates who scheme to kill their overbearing husbands and there is too much good music).

On second thought, I’m an SF and Fantasy writer. Let’s take the sexy drama version and really jump down the rabbit hole with both feet. The passionate luthier couple must make the violin that the Devil might want to swipe on his way to Georgia (probably the baggage handlers destroyed his original instrument) and play up to the quality of the instrument in order to save the world from the Evil Counterpoint. Or the average trance created by misusing the average love potion or…even our excellent chance of rehashing a work lovingly referred to as Orpheus 5.0 (Wrinkle in Time being Orpheus 3.5, just sayin’). We’ll still need the hot and steamy…

None of which exactly pitches as Romeo & Juliet Set Among Anything or Meet Tony the Tiger. And that was my original point; the archetypes we sometimes fall back on to explain our work when we only have 30 seconds to get past a gatekeeper aren’t always an exact fit. But there typically is an actual story lurking in the collective unconscious that does fit what’s on the page, the problem is that this hypothetical story archetype is itself derivative of the main archetype that only fits as well as that extra pair of shoes in the back of the closet. Naturally, this story is usually almost as unknown as yours. Mileage always varies.Anyway, I appreciate your forbearance as I give a little insight into the voices in my head fully grokking the double entendre that a writer in Work it Out on Paper Mode is only a bad breakfast burrito away from needing medical intervention. Knock on wood at the absence of getting caught. And…as always, you’re invited to write your own stories.    

New Sports

Posted: January 30, 2021 in Uncategorized

© 2021 G.N. Jacobs

“It’s a simple game, really. We run, hit and throw.” – thus sayeth a fictional baseball manager in Bull Durham and perhaps more than few real managers distressed by a complete lack of fundamentals witnessing the train wreck of the local version of the Mudville Nine or even the Bears…yeah, those Bears. The saying also unintentionally touches on a truth that there are perhaps two handfuls of discrete athletic skills that make up the building blocks of all the sports we played in the past or will invent in the future (writers take note). To be more inclusive that pissed off manager might include…Run. Hit. Throw. Catch. Dodge/hop. Strike. Jump. Run into. Grapple. Aim. And Climb. Covers most of them, I think. Sounds sooo very simple…

If this assertion holds true then I think I’ve just explained why most new at the time sports can be evaluated in reductionist terms – “Oh right, I see what those Yanks did taking the eleven-man version of Rugby, added a rigid distance versus attempts requirement, allowed offensive players to run into defenders who don’t have the ball and about two decades later either took a marketing survey about exciting high scoring games or simply gave up enforcing the ban on the forward pass!” We Americans call this holy game Football, despite the rest of the world making a credible case that the other eleven-man game where more kicking takes place should have the name.

FYI, to see Football’s roots in Rugby, open up the two sports’ Wikipedia pages side by side and look at the rules. Football’s residual kicking rules (PATs, field goals, punting and kickoffs) all have direct antecedents on the Rugby pitch. In the early days, you could drop the ball to the grass and attempt a drop kick field goal from anywhere on the field, another direct lift from Rugby. I went looking in the rules to see if this play that hadn’t been seen in at least eighty years had been banned by any of the leagues…the rule still stands. You don’t need to ban something made extremely difficult when you optimize your ball for the forward pass instead of the regular ground game.

You see so many elements that recur across the many sports due to a variety of reasons. When Naismith invented Basketball, players couldn’t dribble as they do now. There is some surviving film showing teams playing this way, catching the passed ball, stopping and either shooting or passing to the next player. Obviously, some fans must’ve conducted experiments and decided they liked the thought of being able to dribble, head fake and drive the lane better. Bouncing the ball on the floor was likely a compromise with the folks reminding the rest that the old rules were designed to avoid picking up the ball and running with it, important because Hoops is supposed to be a non-contact game.

The stop and must pass rule has since become a feature of the otherwise Football inspired Ultimate. Go long. Get clear. Catch the disk. Stop. Throw to the next player running ahead from his place behind. Rinse. Repeat. I’m guessing for the same reasons as why we didn’t used to dribble on the court, running with the Frisbee encourages tackling (run into & grapple) and blocking (pure run into). Pads to keep players safe probably would get in the way of a fun Frisbee game without too much contact to it (not counting going up for the interception).

As writers we have two main choices, set our sports narratives in the real world or make up a new game. I’ve done both depending on my intent. 

I have arbitrarily dropped the, at the time, fictional Los Angeles starting offense into a parallel world where Rome resisted Christianity long enough to develop modern technology, much like the classic Star Trek episode “Bread and Circuses.” Pretty much my elevator pitch went like this – “football players v. gladiators.” Since it was a life or death game, the gladiators lining up over the ball got to keep their knives…not exactly Football as we know it.

I have also realized that the sports my faraway invented realities would develop would be broadly similar to real world sports, but would face play testing decisions that take things in slightly different directions. My funniest effort here is Goven-Hoka. Not very intent on spending too much time inventing a sport down to the nittiest and grittiest rules and penalties. My thought process really was just – “take Football and Soccer, have the referee get bored and blow a whistle to change between rules. Go get lunch.”

A side of eleven stalwart players kicks the ball up to the next player downfield and then the whistle, suddenly the ball handler picks up the ball and advances it under the arm…until the ref arbitrarily blows the whistle at which time the ball must hit the grass again. Believe me, I’m not stupid, I know exactly what this rule does to both games and their players. 

With the exception of the targets carrying the ball, every other player on the football field maximizes conditioning to survive Run Into, which can impede conditioning for other types of running. Conversely, few soccer players ever grow as large as America grows its football players so they’re smaller, faster and in better shape. Once puberty kicks in after the recreational youth leagues, there is very little overlap between Football and Soccer for players playing both sports…pretty much the only guys who played both were the placekicker and a couple guys who were receivers.

Yes, I’m also aware that I created a logical contradiction concerning the game’s equipment that I pretty much punted. A football has the pointy ends to aid flight for the forward pass. A soccer ball is round to aid kicking from the grass. The rugby ball splits the difference to assist in carrying and pitching it, but also to not get in the way of the drop kick goal. Goven-Hoka probably uses a rugby ball, but I didn’t think that far ahead other than I thought it would be funny.

Like anything else in writing fiction, the sports we invent come from all kinds of sources. More recently, I moved to a new house in San Diego. In the real world I didn’t take most of my old crap with me and farmed out the heavy lifting for what I did to guys with trucks and dollies, but still it was stressful enough that suddenly I’m getting ideas…

Couch drag obstacle courses, which for people likely to shop at IKEA first (Me until this move) and also unlikely to hire movers could be a mixed-doubles event. The event allows for the refs to arbitrarily move the boxes holding the breakable glass kitchenware directly into the hallway through which the couch must drag. Lose points for broken stuff. Of course, I’m thinking more of how the event evolves with a budget, say, under the cruel tutelage of those guys that do the Battlebots arenas (who came up with that screw thingy on the far wall?). 

Spring operated Joker-style boxing gloves coming out from the walls. The ref arbitrarily shifts the cant of the floor. Smoke pots. Neutral field players whapping at the couch draggers with martial arts kicking pads from odd angles in the closets.

Of course, if we decided to make sports out of moving, redecorating and remodeling, we’ll actually have to add more events, like Gymnastics, Modern Pentathlon or Decathlon. Furniture Drag, yep. Arguing Over Placing the TV Stand and/or Who Tracked Dirt on the Floor (more of a literary contest like the Dozens, I suppose, or let it go bloody). Auto Race to Home Improvement Store For The One Thing You Forgot The Last Time. And, of course the penultimate event, Swinging Wrecking Tools to Take Down That Wall That Pisses Me Off.

Yeah, that was a weird couple of months, where the only new sporting event I could come up with clearly steals from American Ninja WarriorBattlebots and some scary-ass dystopian whatever that doesn’t even have a movie (Bull@#%t Rollerball!). Oh, and the highlight reel has to be set to that brass-heavy soundtrack from NFL Films (how you used to spend Saturday after the cartoons), just saying.Anyway, sports are a small integral part of the worlds we create/borrow when we write. Some will set a knifing in the men’s room at SoFi Stadium and just use the sports we already have. Others will set the same knifing at the same stadium a hundred years from now where Football will have even more Bread & Circuses to it and will have evolved (betting the PAT goes first). Others will do the mix and match game trying to get something that might actually arise on the faraway realm of Braetheton. Some will convert the ordinary into an extraordinary new sport. Have fun…   

Dumbass, They’re the Same Idea!

Posted: December 10, 2020 in Uncategorized

© 2020 G.N. Jacobs

Joe Michael Straczynski once commented on a DVD track for his highly influential show Babylon 5 – “I had two ideas for space station shows. One was all the wars and great alliances. The other was a smaller concept about how people might live on space stations. Both stalled until I realized they were both the same show.”

Writers, except when really angry or exceptionally lazy, get ideas all the time. No, I won’t show my appalling list jotted down as fragments on up to a couple sentences. Some are full ideas with plots and characters ready to jump. The rest are just pieces. I suspect my list evenly splits between the two. One of many reasons to keep the list in the first place is to make sure that we can cross-reference the new idea that seems so brilliant, except for that one part that…with all of our older ideas that might actually fix the missing piece.

As you might guess, I don’t put pen to paper without my own example to echo and enhance what Mr. Straczynski has to say about combining ideas. More on that later. Back to Babylon 5

The great alliances and wars part of the show involves a created community led by human military officers on a space station in neutral space who discover a great secret concerning some of the older spacefaring races that forces a titanic shift in the affairs of the galaxy. Over the course of millennia, two ancient races have locked into recurring cycles of a grand conflict that involve the newer races as allies choosing sides. And then the various allies discover the two sides have the same goal, assisting the newer peoples of the galaxy to advance, but have chosen two diametrically opposed methodologies. Order and Chaos.

The Vorlons do Order always asking – “who are you?” – and act like galactic Boy Scout Troop leaders organizing alliances, campouts and all kinds of opportunities to learn from teamwork. The Shadows do Chaos asking – “what do you want?” – and have made a career of encouraging the greedy and power hungry to piss off their neighbors and kick over anthills on the assumption the hive will be stronger when rebuilt. The rest of the galaxy eventually learns this and asks both to leave the galaxy. A nice five-year plot.

You’ll notice one glaring lack in the two preceding paragraphs…character. Oh, sure there are a couple great scenes to be had from this plot that can hint at certain characters like when the Shadows finally get to explain their side. Still kinda thin.

The second space station idea for Mr. Straczynski came loaded with character. It answered many questions about what these people do between their big moments. They wash socks as part of personal ritual. Or ask pointed questions like – “how far they go on the first date?” – trying to gauge a new species’ ability to fit in with the station community. And then they have to go to the doctor for advice about a “food plan.”

One character gets picked to be the union-mandated alcoholic and in some episodes has that used against him. People worry about getting fat. Or how they might bond over picking fights in the casino. They play pranks on each other just to see the target get angry.

This second space station idea came loaded with people that by themselves didn’t have anything important to do. Enter the first idea with wars, great alliances and many things for which we shake our hands and say – “ooooh!” Symbiosis in the best possible way, because – “Dumbass, they’re the same idea!”

And now, my similar epiphany that blends at least three separate brain farts maddeningly teased out of the ether in pieces and parts about like how fast food chains put together chicken nuggets…

Item One. In the vein of Dream Big and Steal from Literary Classics, we have how I typically interact with The 1,001 Nights, the four-volume unabridged translated by Burton version. Just because it’s a monster book about Scheherazade telling stories to avoid getting beheaded by her pissed off husband doesn’t mean I’m not going to steal the idea of a narrator with huge personal stakes telling and hearing stories. This is even with the fact that my edition has the well-known stories (Sinbad, Ali Baba and Aladdin) buried deeper in the text than I’ve gone.

What with the heavy reliance on Djinn, other supernatural creatures and even a couple appearances of Count Iblis (Lucifer) in the original text, there’s clearly no way my grand homage/emulation/naked rip off won’t have many supernatural characters. I do have to admit that I only got as far as angel in this part of the idea for my narrator.

Your presumed commentary at this point is sure to run to – “Okay, Mr. Jacobs, an angel is your narrator, but to which angel do you refer, they’re still characters…or should be.” And as you might guess, not having an answer is what left this idea on my list. Despite, the fact that we really only seem to have two, three if you count Jonathan Smith (Michael Landon) from Highway to Heaven, angel character archetypes from which to draw. 

Michael fights and kills things. Gabriel does the music and announcing. Mister Smith acts almost like Kwai Chang Caine going on permanent walkabout trying to help people. The rest are as anonymous to the story as FedEx drivers or perhaps the ninjas that dress like stagehands in Japanese theater and kill characters, but I digress. If your angel isn’t Mike or Gabe, you still have to invent a character. The lack thereof will stall any project.

I have one other thing to casually mention…the ambition. At this point in development, I know I’m circling closer to an angel filling in for Scheherazade. I don’t know which angel or why at this point. And like everybody with an early idea to copy the Classics, I’m just going to go bigger – “Yeah, Baby! The 2,001 Nights!” Like Spinal Tap, my amp “goes up to eleven!”

Item Two. One of my recent (less than a year) otherwise fruitless jags back into screenwriting landed me on – “I know, I’ll do Twilight Zone with a twist so I can have fun with some short but weird storytelling!” My twist ends up being the proposed title of the show, a creepy house in the mist overlooking a lonely road…House in the Mist. People who don’t know they need something roll up to stay for the night and…

Depending on the nature of the breakfast burritos I had the morning I sit down to write, the possible episodes can go anywhere. I haven’t been in very many grand old houses, but I’ve learned (metaphorically at least) to always check the closet. The real question is what’s on the other side. Edible and tasty burritos might lead to the wish fulfilment of, say, Fantasy Island. Crud probably gets us to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe probably without Lucy Pevensie having very much time for tea with Mr. Tumnus.

My thought process for the house part of this pastiche leads to no episodes, but a wraparound framing device for four. A little girl visiting the house with her parents gets up late at night searching for water. At the end of the hall, she sees a light on and enters to see four men sitting around having coffee talking about the doings of their clients. Men with recognizable names…

I’ll take a moment to make some linkages between Twilight Zone and The 1,001 Nights. How similar are the two properties? Anthology. Weird. Wonderous. And do we get to make a connection between Scheherazade and the version Rod Serling played of himself as the narrator? An essay for another day.

At this point, I still need a character with…motivation. Another way, I suppose to ask the nature of my main character/narrator. I know I’m going to feature an angel, likely due to one of my run-home-to-mama story tropes having to do with angels managing the hostile takeover and/or leveraged buyout of other pantheons. 

How did the angels give the Olympians the sumo shove when people stopped believing in them? Did they make accommodation for the deities they deemed not to bad? Offers of lateral job transitions to, say, Athena? Or kill them all? I do too many of these stories mixed in with all my other wonders. Leading to…

Item Three. My previous franchise character becomes successful enough to live in a big house with her husband and three daughters. Suddenly a fourth little girl, a foster daughter, just shows up one day and tries very hard to fit in, but she’s an outsider. With the tendencies highlighted in previous paragraphs of course this young lady is a Fallen Angel struggling to come home and performing penance as a human child.

And now I have a character. Someone really sorry for tempting humans and playing to our weaknesses and vanities who must listen to and tell the stories affected by her past actions. Three elements pulled from the ether over a period of upwards of six years. Keep all ideas and don’t be afraid of the fragements… 

A Timely Nerd Fight

Posted: December 10, 2020 in Uncategorized
If you say so, Sir…

© 2020 G.N. Jacobs

Elections, like this last one, aren’t good for me. In keeping with the official “I just help writers” non-political stance of this blog, I’ll leave it at they’re good excuses to freak out over things that haven’t happened, yet. Mostly, because of the need to lash out at the people who voted for the other guy. I promise to be less vague about who I thought the other guy was writing the dealer’s choice of autobiography, memoir or an angry letter to the New York Times.

I take walks late at night. Usually the walk is just about – “Ooh, a full moon, Blue Moon if you’re keeping score!” – or – “Cool! I can actually see Orion and Mars tonight!” – or even just listening to the crickets going nuts in the sagebrush in the city’s intentionally open spaces. However, the election intrudes and I sometimes start the walk raging at people who have otherwise done nothing wrong. I react to the logic of who they like and how these candidates speak about all of our abilities to write without getting leaned on by dipshits that just shouldn’t that much state power in the first place. 

I do have an opinion about which candidate scares me more based on who’s likely to get first at-bats in this area, but I do have to acknowledge my side also has these concerns waiting in the wings. I mention this to keep obfuscating my political opinion for the purposes of this blog that doesn’t get to be this political. All you need to know, my response to censorship of any kind – “Fuck you and the white horse you rode in on…Sir.” – will cause problems should either veil of douchebaggery fall.

Believing the other guy to be the one promoting the more immediate threat to me as a writer, I freak out at the start of the walk raging at family members and friends. If the worst happens, they will have supported the force that put me in jail or executed me. In some cases, I get pooh-poohed because the worst might not ever happen, but pooh-poohing is the single worst way to start talking these things out. 

This all builds into looking like a raging nutter off his meds (nighttime, no one sees) on the outbound leg. Walks by themselves are good for getting over this bullshit however temporarily. On the home leg, I remember that I still love these people and that you shouldn’t buy tomorrow’s problems a day early. 

However, going out angry usually means waking up the next morning sad and depressed. Stay in bed all day sad or consume too many donuts and chocolate-laced coffee sad…take your pick. Accepting few excuses about myself, I have shifted the too many donuts part of the story to eat cereal and try to do something about it in the day’s writing quota more days than I haven’t.

In an effort to chill out when not on these walks I’ve gone in for all kinds of distraction. Baseball (Padres showed up for a great season, yay!). Football (Hey, fellas, we don’t support the Chargers anymore, so maybe show us the East Coast game that turned out to go into overtime?). A few extra go arounds on most things Star Wars and/or whatever shiny object crosses my path on the presently open streaming service. And I also write. All worthy pursuits, until you realize that like most drugs, the good parts about Liquid Distraction are over too soon.

A couple days before the election, I wallowed in the sad at my computer. I decide to check in with a good friend’s blog having forgotten for a couple days. The premise of Tale of Adequacy, a pointy-eared Alien American schoolteacher and superheroine’s daily life acts as the web comic illustration for my friend needing to vent…including an incessant trashing of Aquaman’s total uselessness to the Justice League team. There are ponies (not terribly tolerant of My Little Pony outside the context of this blog) and all kinds of Magic the Gathering (so far, I’ve missed this gaming boat) references and team-ups…with Donut Man, most recently, but there are others.

As shown in the panel above, Cap leans against a roof parapet sharing coffee and donuts with Donut Man. Cap has “generic, Silver Age Alien American superpowers” is teamed with hero having “a complete dominion over coffee and donuts.” Donut Man semi-breaks the Fourth Wall to speak for my friend to let people in on the joke and act of mass distraction that teaming up with a pastry hero is. He says he’s only useful in certain pastry related situations.

And now because I’d spent too much of the preceding couple days sad and yelling at no one in the room and that I’m also occasionally just a contrarian crank, I’m now suddenly acting like Donut Man’s life coach. It is now a matter of honor that I playfully pop off about the possible uses for these super powers in a real spandex fight and I’m going to do it in the blog’s comment box and not texting him as I normally do. A nerd fight can also act as a writing challenge to keep the gears oiled.

I made four points.

One. If the comic book physicists and lawyers rule it so, Donut Man also has access to unlimited coffee. I’m instantly flashing to The Hunt for Red October and Captain Ramius (Sean Connery) smashing the political officer’s head on the table. Then to cover his tracks, he splashes tea everywhere and works up a good bit of shocked, shocked! Thus, coffee is a slip and fall substance.

Two. Complete dominion of all things pastry means being able to come up with donut dough. Screw the mix just right and the consistency can range from thick and sticky gumming up machinery and gluing people to the floor to watery and runny. Runny donut dough is also a slip and fall substance.

Three. This complete dominion also presupposes an unlimited supply of raw materials. My high school chemistry teacher demonstrated raw flour’s flammability throwing it in the air and setting the cloud alight with a match. BOOM! Burning villains’ eyebrows off or worse is nothing to sneeze at. Other ways to be useful might include having access to rum because some donuts use rum-soaked dough…150-proof rum? Or an unlimited store of cooking oil. Oh, right more ways to torch and deep fry bad guys, so pretty much the same category of spandex weapon. Moving on.

Four. The post is still about my friend throwing his own hard elbows entertaining himself in his own way, so I have to acknowledge his thinking with – “never underestimate his ability to give his enemies diabetes.”

Once I’d posted these four points, I suddenly had all kinds of better to my day. I started my walk that evening in a much better frame of mind. I didn’t worry about the upcoming election. And I was happier, all because as I walked, I silently gamed out all kinds of fights in which these superpowers could affect the outcome and save the day. I woke up better, too.

Okay, that basically covers my personal psychology at the moment. This is still a blog that tries to help you all get through your writing day. Can this kind of nerd fight help you? Probably, don’t know…not sure.

For those of you that still need to ask how it only took me a few minutes to bust out my four suggestions for how Donut Man actually helps in a real fight I can retort with…at this point I’m an underpaid professional at these kinds of things. Also Known As repetition, repetition, repetition and, you guessed it, repetition. Start slow and small and don’t pop any ligaments. 

Really though, I have to admit that I’d already created a similar character, Captain Cupcake. Due to an almost Bride of Frankenstein origin that doesn’t need further explaining here, she wakes up with the ability to extrude any chemical substance she can imagine married to a voluminous cybernetic database of applied chemistry solutions which can include cooking. So, I’d already gamed out this lady’s ability to lay olive oil or, worse, 10-W-40 motor oil on the steps as the hero team escapes the villain base amid the union-mandated explosions. As a matter of policy, admit when the wheel already exists.  

Not all nerd fights are created equal. The flavor referenced here is the fun kind where we roll up our sleeves and discuss things like how Superhero X teams up with Superheroine Y. Or discuss what the logical consequences of Spandex Story Element A that might’ve been overlooked by the original creators. Or, even to discuss how tired we might be of certain interpretations of certain 80-year-old characters where their core wound/inciting incident gets referenced at every turn when that origin is all over Wikipedia.

You’ll notice the word discuss highlighted three times in the previous paragraph? Talk it out, don’t yell it out. Otherwise, prepare to get kicked out of the store as the friend referenced and promoted in this post has done many times – “you have no idea how many times I’ve actually had to break up real life versions of The Silver Surfer Kirby v. Moebius fight from Crimson Tide.

Above all, I see this kind of nerd fight as a problem-solving exercise that can help with more than the chess game of how powers work. Could someone writing a nut busting family squabble benefit from gaming out that fight and the subsequent make up (or bellyflop from the Ten Meter Platform, if the story is a tragedy)? Maybe. Maybe not…don’t let me tell you your writing process. 

The game out session/nerd fight that we do when we’re alone is visually indistinguishable from going completely insane. But then again, everyone with a cell phone who uses Bluetooth earbuds looks insane until you get close enough to see the technology in their ears. Semi-facetiously, I suggest that either the writer understands about not getting caught and/or this bit of wisdom from The Madness of King George – “I have recovered my ability to seem.” – or they have the discussion with somebody real in the room.

I thank my friend for teeing up a playful snark fest where I get to pop off about a character he created and didn’t think was anything more than a one-note joke. Which then allows me to distract myself from my lingering sadness at a story for which my meager attempts to change had already been recorded…and reveal a tiny bit of my writing process. 

Anyway, reciprocity requires dropping in the link at least twice so that you may enjoy for yourselves. Remember, steal your fun and writing techniques (to the extent they aren’t direct synonyms) wherever you may…

He’s a F#%*kin’ Rat!

Posted: November 2, 2020 in Uncategorized
“You broke my heart, Fredo!”

© 2020 G.N. Jacobs

Pay attention, this bit of memoir acts as the literary equivalent of a perfectly turned 6-4-3 double play. Insight into possible techniques, yes. And maybe some discreet opining about…

I’ll leave it to you to see if the waxing craptological part comes through without the subtitles.

Forty-one years ago, I moved with my family from one house in the sacred confines of the People’s Republic of Santa Monica to another house also in Santa Monica. This move related to a remarriage among the adults in my family where the most memorable reason given made no sense to my nine-year-old self – “we need more wall space for XXXX’s art.”

Still makes no sense. Note to my now deceased mother, assuming reincarnation is a thing, when selling such a move to the soul inhabiting your next son try – “so you’ll have a bigger room.” Always play to enlightened self interest. 

Considering that we’d already built add-on rooms to the house we had my thinking about we should just add a few extra square feet so Evil Stepfather 1.0 could hang his focaccia art comes into focus. No nine-year-old with a built-up status (such as it was) at the one school wants to start over at the new school. 

Full disclosure, I could’ve and later did use my dad’s address to finish out at the first school. Sometimes, we don’t fully know what we’re in for and blow our own toes off. And like many nine and ten-year-olds, I didn’t know how to say these things and families teach democracy as a goal to obtain as an adult without actually practicing it.

Anyway, new school with new but surprisingly similar schoolyard politics to navigate. I’ll skip over the Football Contract story that cost me a quarter, a freak out and a trip to the principal’s office where we were told that such things were for adults. And I’ll also skip over the Kicking Miss Completely Unobtainable in the Shins story.

Oh right, there was the, later in the year, Big Fistfight story, which has no further relevance because I’d changed classrooms. And it ended the way big fistfight stories should end…we met honorably on the vacant lot across the street. We threw a couple exchanges and then like this from Braveheart – “What, you didn’t even put the army into the field to at least get a better deal?” – we reached across and made an honorable accommodation of gentlemen. Besides no one from this story figured into the story that really matters for this writing lesson, so my bad on the tangent. 

Leading us directly to the He’s a Fuckin’ Squirming Narc (aka Rat) story.

On the playground, four kids started talking big about scoring pot. Looking back, let’s please understand the full context: late 1970s, sheltered and affluent white kids on the playground at the school for the sheltered and affluent. Read this to mean, “Dude, it’s equally likely that the substance involved was oregano.” I thank Aaron Sorkin (A Few Good Men) for the knowledge that Mary Jane and oregano can, to the inexperienced, stupid or both, be visually similar.

However, smoking oregano on school premises is still against school rules.

The other kids all wanted to try breaking the rules in this way retreating behind the far handball court at the southeast corner of the playground. I wasn’t too into it, don’t remember why (get me drunk and ask me my later Starman story). Part of my wanting to fit into the new social milieu means that I’m the guy acting as lead blocker for the Great Pot Smoke Operation.

The guys smoke up. Two younger girls had brought a handball and wanted to play on the court. No, I don’t mean Adult Handball Played on Repurposed Racquetball Courts at Speeds a Jai Alai Player Might Grudgingly Appreciate. Think green walls with painted on lines roughly the height of a tennis net along with two pitching boxes and the big red rubber ball. Playground Handball. I dutifully tell the girls to go play anywhere else, “they don’t want any part of this.”

That night I told Mom. She cringed and commented on the kids being too young. A couple days later the kids involved in this operation start going at me. “Greg, you’re a fucking narc! We got called into the principal’s office over the pot!” The reply – “I didn’t narc you guys out!”

This went on for a couple months until I changed classrooms. No real threats of violence transpired (again, the sheltered and affluent who might really have been smoking oregano), but they certainly didn’t want to talk to me. I made sure to ask Mom early on in this minor ostracism – “Mom, when I told you about the pot did you tell the school about it? I’m getting some heat on the playground.” She promised me she hadn’t.

How did they get caught? The two girls come to mind. I mean some bigger kid blocking them from playing so they wouldn’t see is noticeable. And as unindicted co-conspirators go, I’m not violent nor intimidating enough to make it stick like Clemenza bringing a baseball bat to the party. So, the girls didn’t owe me no favors.

And looking back in my memory, we must also consider that everyone in the story was too young and stupid to even think about controlling all circumstances. The big green wall behind which they lit up only blocked certain sightlines. Now, even I don’t remember if there were people to the right of said handball court that could’ve seen.

Anyway, they got caught. They gave me a few months of stink-eyes and calling me a narc. I was never called into the principal’s office as a potential witness. Until you are called in, you don’t know if you’re going down on the ship named MV I’m No Fuckin’ Rat or whether you choose to sing the whole story, in my ugly baritone best left in the shower. Self-image says I’m going out like Cagney…unless I decide I hate you.

One of these confrontations, I even threw the girls under the bus. I told the guy that there were the two girls nearby. That I’d told them to go somewhere else and that maybe they told. In more violent versions of this story, this is a problem to reflect on for the rest of my life. He seemed to believe me and, maybe, this is when the ostracism abated slightly. Fuzzy memory.

What is the writing lesson at the heart of telling this story forty-one years later?

People have sets of experiences from which they draw for the story. Is it perhaps possible that if I had a good Mob story in mind that turned on a scene like – “Fredo, you broke my heart!” – that I have the childish version of mostly unfairly being labeled the rat as a starting point? Do I have enough to imagine the scene from the other side as the betrayed party? I like to think so, besides I’ve already told the major screw job story of my life long ago in a film magazine. A story for another day.

There is some technique at play here. Learned in a dimly remembered acting class, the one specifically billed as Anti-Method – “Read the words. Choose an overall goal for the scene. Divide the scene into sections. For each section choose an emotional state that in most cases creates the most conflict for the successful attainment of those goals. Feel the emotional state on your body. Breathe up that emotional state until it plays big. Wipe the goofy looking exterior artifice of breathing up off your face and ACTION!” I love it when classes turn on one simple piece of instruction and the rest of the class time is supposed to be about the repetition needed to get good.

I italicized the relevant part about breathing up. This is how I would suggest taking a minor playground trauma of not terribly violent kids blaming the other kid for turning rat into a deeply emotional thread that ends in the second movie with a brother shot in the back of the head while fishing on Lake Tahoe. This is one use of the imagination where deep down we do still have to make it up as we go along, while also building on our own story that is usually far more prosaic.

To truly use this moment in a mob story, as someone whose section of the gene pool doesn’t include anyone verifiably Italian or more to the point connected, I would (we hope) still have to read a few books about the Mafia. Ask some Feds and other Organized Crime cops their opinions and perhaps read their books as well. But there was that time when I really needed friends, even shitheads probably smoking oregano on the far handball court and life temporarily made other plans. I do understand the emotions underneath.

To conclude, a writer pulls from wherever they need to make the story work. And assuming enough of you actually read this post, I will leave it intentionally vague if I’m also saying something else about how some people feel about the practice of storytelling. We shall see…

Karen O’Hara

Posted: June 12, 2020 in Uncategorized

IMG_4273

© 2020 G.N. Jacobs

As I wrote this, HBO Max chose to yank down Gone With the Wind from the service. The obvious reasons including – ‘romanticizes the pre-Civil War South’ – ‘apologizes for slavery’ – were cited. Well, yeah, that’s a bit like my sister-in-law saying this about the average James Bond movie – “I really like James Bond movies, the action and so forth, but sometimes they’re really sexist.” My reply – “You think?”

And like the Carla Hall writing in the LA Times maybe we shouldn’t freak out so much about the old cinematic relics of the past in our rush to do better in the wake of George Floyd’s tragic murder at the hands of police. The takedown of the movie is, we’re told, temporary until HBO Max can reframe the streaming link in a greater context that tells the, admittedly, previously under-told truth that slavery, the wholesale campaign to steal wages from people who didn’t ask to be turned into Americans, required the invention, expansion and/or promotion of the violent and soul destroying racism that still bedevils us today. Erasing Gone With the Wind also erases Hattie McDaniel’s legacy.

So, it sounds like HBO Max will, at the very least, include text in the link page much like how Disney+ posts all of its parent studio’s old movies, except for Song of the South (that I have never seen in toto, just the relevant clips), which apparently has too much of the bad for the ‘outdated cultural references’ tag to cover up. In the probable case of Gone With the Wind, said warning text will probably add several paragraphs of apologizes for slavery, refuses to acknowledge the harm caused, whitewashes cruelty that led the South to commit mass treason against the rest of Americaand others. Why? It’s Gone With the Wind, Stupid.

Despite my reservations that are more generally rooted in an almost atavistic protect the artist and all their expressions stance, I’m actually okay with the takedown if it truly is temporary and stops at the extended warning label and/or appropriate context. I see this as the Nobody is Completely Happy Meet in the Middle response. Or you can look at it as a government warning label on a pack of cigarettes, some people take the warning to heart and do something else…the rest won’t.

The extended text won’t stop people from clicking through. If I need to see the antics of Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler, I’ll find a way whether borrowing a copy from my library when they reopen…or buying the disk. Or in the case of HBO Max deciding that certain Bugs Bunny cartoons are just too much for me, a grown ass man who might have a good reason to see the gloriously horrible cartoons of the Bad Old Days, to make an intelligent informed decision about how I blow out my brain cells…well, there’s always a Google search.

In her piece, Ms. Hall made the excellent closing point – “If you watch Gone With the Wind and don’t get that it’s a piece of the past to be left in the past, then you’ve got problems that the contextual analysis won’t solve.” I agree, only acquiescing to the warning label because Meet in the Middle, not because of any strong opinion for or against the film.

Did I hate the movie? No. Seeing Clark Gable and Vivian Leigh tear up the screen in this massively doomed relationship was and is occasionally electric to watch. But, there’s the slavery and later Reconstruction mockery of freed blacks to contend with as you watch. Or is it that the movie is at core a story about a scheming, manipulative and most importantly entitled woman willing to do anything to get what she wants? So, don’t love the movie either.

Yeah, let’s take that to heart that Scarlett O’Hara is basically the patroness saint of all Karens. This fictional woman just isn’t nice. After the war, in order to rebuild her business interests as cheaply as possible Scarlett employs convict labor over the objections of her former lover and brother-in-law Ashley Wilkes. He begged her to hire free blacks (he used the D-word in the scene) because the convicts are treated so cruelly (paging Section One of the Thirteenth Amendment – “…except as a punishment for a crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted…”) that even he lost his lunch.

Scarlett also plays every kind of cruel teasing head game on Rhett that culminates with him getting loaded and – “tonight Scarlett, I refuse to be turned out!” – prior to a Kick, Drag and…scene that results in their daughter. And he makes things worse the next morning when he sobers up realizing that, whatever the man was legally allowed to do to his wife, it still behooves him to apologize as he recovers his veneer of gentleman. This says that this particular Karen is also completely unable to articulate her real needs to her husband. I guess this counts as a character flaw to make Scarlett interesting.

Other than enjoying seeing Vivian Leigh eat up the screen, I suppose the women in my life who love the movie like Scarlett precisely because she’s a Karen, safely confined to the screen. Men have J.R. Ewing to fill the same niche of the interesting bad guy who we tune in every week to see what schemes he’ll cook up to chisel more money out of the Texas oil system, while acknowledging that J.R. had to contend with his brother Bobby who stood up as the counterbalance to J.R.’s schemes.

Who is Scarlett’s Bobby Ewing? Sounds like it was or should’ve been Rhett (I’ll have to see the movie again to make sure…unsubtle hint). Did he stop her worst impulses or simply enable her until he finally had enough and just walked out the front door?

Getting back to the here and now, there are people out there that based on the previous two paragraphs are just going to like or love this movie. My reason for acquiescing to the warning label is as much to accommodate them. We all like books, movies and music that others don’t and it seems like such a waste of time to police what they can and can’t experience. So, warning label with paragraphs of extra content on the landing page? Yes. Hiding it forever in the vault because adults can’t be trusted to make their own decisions about their leisure time? No.

Given that it is Gone With the Wind, a film of the same stature of, say, Doctor Zhivago that Quentin Tarantino could’ve substituted the reference in True Romance, this movie will pick up the extra scrutiny that could be even more tragic. It is possible that the anti-Wind crowd will succumb to the temptation to “annotate” the movie while it plays. Think about that, animated pop-ups with links to sites with the truth while the characters say their lines and commit their actions?

In other contexts, I’m all in favor of certain nonfiction videos being livened up the way that CBS adroitly promotes Tooning Out the News having a go at certain speeches that I frankly can’t and don’t watch without either a comedic or outright news analysis filter softening the blow. However, I really don’t think for a fictional movie that I want to deal with pop-ups that, say, in the scene with Ashley expressing his repugnance at Scarlett’s usage of prison labor leads to a page highlighting that scary clause in the Thirteenth Amendment that opponents say is part of the problem because of racist application.

Another thing likely to happen is that HBO Max may feel the need to pay to produce some talking heads videos to discuss these concepts to play out automatically after the movie wraps up and rolls credits. I’m not entirely opposed here; I suppose we do have to have the conversation as often as possible until enough decades pass (if ever) that the Civil War and the ongoing racism that went with it are truly in the past. I would simply point out that Gone With the Wind is already a three-plus-hour epic that not everyone likes enough to also put up with the presumed teachable moment at the end of the movie.

If I don’t always sit through the credits unless trained to do so by the liberal usage of Marvel-style mid and post-credits scenes, then I’m also not sticking around for any well-intentioned discussion pieces after the camera fades to black on Scarlett surveying her ruined plantation trying to find hope for tomorrow. HBO Max can do what it likes here, but I have a Hans and Franz prediction – “hear me now believe me later!” – of these videos going largely unwatched.

Anyway, we’ll see what will happen in a few days. Director John Ridley, in his piece, also asked for a respectful cooling off period. After that, reframing the context on the landing page seems like it’s a job that should only take a couple hours putting the intern with the fastest and most accurate typing skills at the nearest workstation to enter the new data. Leading to the probable truth that figuring out what to say and running it by more than one concerned advocacy group, because we never take just one opinion in the arts, will take longer than it would to type.

Nasty question here, once the movie cools off, at what point does a failure to get the appropriate text just so lead to the suspicion that no one on the removal side ever intended for the movie to come back? Six months? A year? Two years? I do try to take people at their word when temporary escapes their lips. We shall see…

Update: We saw. HBO Max only needed approximately three weeks to create and post the new content to go before the movie. We are gratified that the many players appeared to have kept their implied word. Such acts of good faith should perhaps be reciprocated by the rest us in other areas of this discussion and it might hurt. So does yanking off a used Band-Aid…

Anyway, it’s still a long ass movie about the patroness saint of all Karens; it’ll be a minute before I can muster the give a damn and three plus hours to actually watch it again.

Bond Observations

Posted: June 4, 2020 in Uncategorized

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Obviously, don’t break the window…

© 2020 G.N. Jacobs

In keeping with the ongoing comic book store arms race of needing to come up with things to talk about every week, it is part of the mission of this site to unpack everything, including my favorite franchises. Sorry, Mr. Bond, it’s just your turn this week.

Where to start? Let’s go with the leap from page to screen. Book Bond generally reads like someone who almost could happen. He better, he was drawn from a multitude of guys that author Ian Fleming met while serving in Naval Intelligence during WW2. A rogues’ gallery of commandos, saboteurs and spies who unlike Mr. Fleming actually had to do the missions he dreamt up in London. Fleming was more like M than Bond.

Book Bond shot people in New York in the Japanese Consulate at Rockefeller Center as part of a codebreaking operation. The first time I learned about the technique of bring a second sniper to go through thick plate glass, by the way.

Book Bond might take a few days to shag the woman in the story, while training to make the big swim through shark infested waters. This, of course, meant Bond stopped smoking long enough to get back his stamina to stay under water for ten-fifteen minutes on approach to the villain’s highly defended beach.

Book Bond spent long hours in an office reading every report generated by the entirety of the Secret Intelligence Service. Characters recurred in the office and then appeared elsewhere in later books; case in point, Mary Goodnight, was set up as Bond’s secretary through several books until let into the field as the assistant in The Man with the Golden Gun.

Movie Bond necessarily jettisoned almost every single tether to what remained of reality. Not that we wanted a realistic Intelligence Officer. I’d watch/read something by John Le Carré for that.

The cars and their gadgets went from – “Yeah, I had one of those on that job that never actually happened in Somalia.” – to – “How do you even still have an engine?”

Oil slicks? Bullet-resistant glass? Smokescreens? All pioneered I think by various ne’er-do-wells, shitheads that needed to evade the cops and other shitheads. Al Capone rolled in a veritable tank; those O’Bannion Northsiders were a lot of trouble…until they weren’t.

The average Bond car took these things to the very limit of engineering credibility. Where does a 1964 Aston-Martin DB5 have space for the machine guns, hydraulically operated rear armor shield, the smoke projectors, caltrops, oil slick and ejector seat? My completely untrustworthy (I hide certain math classes on my transcripts) napkin calculation has this vehicle pushing up against the almighty weight limit.

Can you bore out an Aston-Martin engine enough to overcome the extra mass? Do you follow Book Felix Leiter’s example of dropping a huge Cadillac engine into a Studebaker, despite voiding the warranty? Or do you just go with it and assume that, with the help of a time machine, a cross-fiction machine and writers busting out their best “because I said so” justifications that we may assume that George Lucas lent the Millennium Falcon’s back up engine to your choice of the Broccolis or Mr. Fleming?

Now there’s a fan fiction crossover with Leia as the wishbone between Han and Bond, but I digress.

The Aston-Martin may represent the plausible Bond car. Later cars were the epitome of implausible. We have many choices, the obvious one being the white Lotus Esprit in The Spy Who Loved Me. Okay, converts to a submarine…maybe. In water mode the car has a squid ink emitter, a missile rack for small SAMs (I’m guessing about the size of a Stinger) good for wiping out helicopters hovering overhead and a minelayer that drops deadly hockey pucks to the sea floor for the unsuspecting bad guy swimmer delivery vehicles to float over just in time to go BOOM!

Here’s the thing, the car also has a fully functional land mode, which raises all kinds of Comic Book Store Geek Rumble questions. Would a car seen moments previously blasting full out on a winding Sardinian ocean view road be too much sports car to also be all that good at submarine? What is the sub’s propulsion unit if it isn’t the land mode’s high compression internal combustion engine that has to be fed air by the submarine snorkel we never saw onscreen?

Did Q unintentionally invent the world’s first hybrid car by putting a battery driven submarine electric motor next to that aforementioned gasoline engine? Why would it be a hybrid, you ask? I can think of few people who would fail to link the electric motor to the gasoline engine with a Prius style energy capture system where the gas engine charges the batteries constantly? Which then brings us back to the snorkel (works better with diesels, but…) for water mode.

And there are lots of tactical questions about the car’s employment at play here. Bond has a Stinger missile shoehorned into the Lotus’ mid-engine (rear) compartment. Presumably, the missiles are also available to wipe out the Stromberg helicopter while still driving? Bond has a license to kill (M bails Bond out of jail if he gets picked up in an Allied country and disavows everywhere else). He has just splattered a motorcycle sidecar rig all across that highway complete with the comedic twist of a blown-up feather bed truck as the Fruit Cart. He’s already made too much mess above the water; he could just fire the missile…the consequences are about the same.

Anyway, I can obviously go on here. All you need to know about this car is that in the real world the production had to make a separate submarine based on the Lotus shell. And I both laughed and cringed seeing the car return two movies later in For Your Eyes Only go up in flames when the bad guys broke the door window setting off the security charges.

Next Geek Rumble question, who feels safe driving a car that is that packed with high explosives…say, four Stingers, six mines, that should also be good for leaving on the road, and the, call it, pound and a half of C-4? If I’m Bond, I’m calling my pal Felix Leiter to get me a less hazardous job with the Pinkerton Detective Agency. I suppose I’ve made my point and don’t have to move on to the other cars with miniguns in the trunk.

Another thing that always had me screaming at the TV was a big moment in the filmed version of Goldfinger. The book had a big deal where SMERSH agent Goldfinger organized nearly every Mob goon not presently engaged in shaking down unions and fish markets, a train and a water delivered nerve agent to steal the gold from Fort Knox. Various know-it-alls wrote to Mr. Fleming explaining that with the actual mass of gold kept at the depository that it would take several days for Goldfinger to steal the gold before as Movie Bond put it – “You have perhaps twelve hours before the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines arrive to make you put it back.” Certainly, the forces stationed at the sort of nearby Fort Campbell would mobilize sooner.

Writers having long ago learned to tap dance around these logic flaws meant that steal becomes irradiate with a small yield dirty bomb provided by China. On the surface it seems like an adroit way to get out of the corner Mr. Fleming painted himself into. Enter a weirdo (I’m your huckleberry) with both a modestly traumatic past with certain conspiracy theorists as stepfathers and long before that a penchant for reading everybody else’s far more paranoid spy novels as well.

My question as Gert Frobe and Sean Connery enjoy mint julips discussing popping off a cobalt heavy nuke in Fort Knox was always, wouldn’t and shouldn’t the US Government go for the Big Lie about the nuclear event?

“No, that wasn’t a small-scale nuclear event at Fort Knox, but a gas explosion.”

“Well, even if there was a nuclear event that melted the gold, melted isn’t the same as vaporized. We still have the gold and this being 1963 with a changed global economy where we haven’t had to use our gold to actually buy things since the War, it means that we bury the gold slag in a tank of water and extend out all credit contracts past the half-life period. We take a hit, but continue on as before. Move along, nothing to see here.” Of course, Big Lies worthy of Joseph Goebbels really aren’t something for a Bond story, but that’s how I think.

While on the subject of my conspiracy theorist Evil Stepfather 2.0 and randomly tossing out fan fiction crossovers, do you see what’s coming? If you asked – “well, wouldn’t Goldfinger bust in only to find the Roswell aliens?” – well, now we’re cooking with gas. Actually, said stepfather really didn’t buy into aliens as part of any kind of conspiracy preferring a Christian themed – “the Catholic Church did it” – but I’m not above certain examples of character assassination now that he’s dead. Anyway, Bond v. Roswell Aliens and Men in Black…if you get to this one first, I completely understand, but ooh!

I was much surprised reading the books usually long after the movie how much more grounded in life Book Bond was. I mentioned above that during one of the many trips to Jamaica, Bahamas and the rest of the Caribbean that matched Mr. Fleming’s annual need to spend a few months at his Goldeneye estate to write and relax that Bond trained for several days which included no smoking until he got his lungs back for a big swim. So how much did Mr. Fleming know what his own smoking might do to him (dead at 56 in 1964)? But I digress.

One last major line of inquiry is to ask how much time Bond is able to devote to train to be the superman that does anything his writers ask him to? Bond can surf huge overhead waves infiltrating North Korea (Die Another Day). He can fly a teeny jet with a notoriously teeny gas tank in a VFR duel with a SAM all without anything remotely like a flare or chaff dispenser (Octopussy). The few times it’s mentioned on screen there’s a woman involved, like a certain Danish instructor at Oxford (Tomorrow Never Dies)?

I suppose I could go on and on. I’ll probably revisit this post with new observations as they occur to me.