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the South (that I have never seen in toto, just the relevant clips), which apparently has too much of the bad for the ‘outdated cultural references’ tag to cover up.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

IMG_4268

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.

Escape to Athena

Posted: June 3, 2020 in Uncategorized

IMG_4246

© 2020 G.N. Jacobs

There are amazing Byzantine treasures up the hill in the monastery of Mt. Athena…and a Nazi communications center. A ragtag team of an archeologist, corrupt Austrian art dealers currently in uniform, hookers, a stripper/low-rent Esther Williams, a comedian, a former monk turned Resistance leader, a magician, an Italian chef and other motley fools conspire to drive the really bad Nazis (the SS) into their graves on a unnamed Greek island ahead of a proposed Allied landing. I think that covers all the plot you’ll ever need for this war action movie with a cast that is ordinarily too great for this abject silliness.

The Archeologist (David Niven) has somehow fallen into the hands of the Nazis who even at this late date, 1944, are still trying to hoover up any and all valuable artifacts from everywhere in Occupied Europe. He leads an archeological scam job digging up items on Monday only to rebury them to dig them up again on Tuesday, while also acting as a low-rent Steve McQueen the Cooler King (The Great Escape would have been a better use of my time, except this movie is unintentionally funnier) escaping every chance he gets. FYI, the priapic (big penis) statue on hand for this scene was not lost on me.

The Austrian Commandant/Corrupt Art Dealer (Roger Moore) just wants to rob the really best antiquities from the Nazis leave them in the care of his sister in Switzerland. Oh, and get a leg over with the Stripper. He never gives the Roman derived, scary Nazi salute favoring the traditional military salute.

The Comedian (Elliot Gould) just wants to look after the Stripper, get rich and do his song and dance act. He wears the New York Yankees cap that those bastards wore in the Seventies when they stole the World Series twice from the Dodgers (look for the green cap liner), but I digress. Except for being the only person shiftier than either the Commandant or the Stripper, he has no actual skills the Nazis need in this Greek antiquities-theft camp. Oh, and he’s Jewish, which really doesn’t come into play because somehow the evil German SS commandant drops the ball, but I digress.

The Stripper (Stephanie Powers) is the perfect girl to get caught between the Commandant and the Comedian. She strips for the troops at USO shows and has at some point in the past been in at least one Esther Williams style synchronized swimming movie. When brought to the seaside camp, there is dialogue about this explaining that they will need her to dig up any objects currently below the waterline. And she’s exactly the kind of woman to sleep with the Commandant to stay in his good graces.

The Resistance Leader (Telly Savalas) earnestly desires to win the war in his unnamed Greek village by driving out the Nazis. He’ll promise any amount of the treasure reputed to being kept up the hill in the Mt. Athena monastery to the many reprobates making up his team, while also piously asserting said swag “belongs the Greek people.” Make up your mind, Sir. He also loves the local hooker whose brothel he uses to collect intelligence.

And that leaves the Magician (Richard Roundtree), the Chef (Sonny Bono) and the Hooker (Claudia Cardinale) to fill out this cast. Let’s face it, all these characters are caricatures played by actors who must’ve thought they were robbing the production for the tickets to the Greek Aegean. Well, except for Mr. Niven, whose son produced the movie.

Anyway, the movie plays out at the height of silliness. The really bad Nazis shoot local citizens as SS squads tended to do in the real war. They also throw various escaping prisoners into hot boxes demonstrating that someone has seen both The Great Escape and The Bridge Over the River Kwai with extra helpings of Hogan’s Heroes. However, they don’t make very much trouble for the Jewish Comedian despite threats to do so.

As for physical geography slash things the good guys need to blow up to liberate the island, we have the town, we have a submarine base, we have the monastery which serves as a rocket base. And I’m still getting confused even several days later.

As a whole the movie never comes together juxtaposing the on-paper silliness with a seesaw of even sillier performances, a couple really interesting moments and some innovations in the film grammar of the Star-Studded-Action-Packed-War-Movie.

Silly. Roger Moore as a corrupt Not So Bad Nazi. Really? If you really need to go for a buffoonish, greedy, lecherous German commandant wouldn’t you hire Werner Klemperer? Oh, sorry, the actor famous for playing Colonel Klink had a rider in his Hogan’s Heroes contract that Klink’s plans and schemes always fail. Forget I came up with that bit of pretend casting because this commandant gets both the girl and a stash of previously looted valuables. Still…silly with a Capital S.

Innovative. The monastery up further up Mt. Athena (hence the title that really doesn’t fly) is protected by electrified fencing laid down on the hill above the dome and bell tower. Proving that someone had watched all those other (and better) war movies about when you have a target high up on the hill that the good guys making the attack climb down on them from above. At least, I had never seen this before.

Really interesting. Elliot Gould’s stuntman chases down the stuntman playing the Really Bad SS Commander through the narrow streets and alleys of Downtown Rhodes on motorcycles. Proof that location scouting is a film trade that should never be overlooked; picking the right places helps make a scene. What results is a chase to join the rarified air of Steve McQueen failing to jump the barbed wire in The Great Escape or Steve McQueen, again, grinding gears you didn’t know Mustangs even had in Bullitt. Because the scenery makes the scene, I’ll also point you to the helicopter-crop duster chase in Capricorn One as an example of what I mean.

Weird bordering on silly. Stephanie Powers’ Stripper being established as a low-rent Esther Williams-type swimming star is something that has Pay Attention Important Plot Point tattooed across the moment’s forehead. As the story progresses, a swimmer must go into the water near the submarine base to turn valves and place homemade limpet mines in the best places where things go boom.

She snorkels and runs afoul of a team of, what are later revealed as, Nazi combat swimmers in SCUBA tanks patrolling the bay and the approaches to the submarine base. Even with the throwaway line about the swimming when she’s not stripping, this whole moment is forced with a Capital F. Certainly, the Nazi SEALs should’ve lasted a little longer before Script Immunity kicks in.

Given how silly this movie is all around, I’m going to engage in direct spoilers. The submarine base blows up. The monastery with the hidden rocket base that no one knew about blows up. The greedy characters don’t get the monastery’s priceless treasures promised by the Resistance Leader, because he hid them in the back closet of the local bordello (a fact revealed in a cut to the Present where the village uses this history as an excuse to welcome tourists). The town is freed from the yoke of Nazi Oppression.

What helps is that the abjectly bad is also unintentionally funny. If you’re not the sort to grab a beer and spend a couple hours hooting at a bad movie, then you’re not going to like this one. This is also the kind of movie that must be seen as part of a streaming service’s basic lineup where the cost of seeing this movie is covered by a monthly fee that gives you much better movies. Don’t ever rent this one from iTunes…Please. Nuff said!

Tron

Posted: May 27, 2020 in Uncategorized

IMG_4256

© 2020 G.N. Jacobs

“Greetings programs!”

With that we follow Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) into a world where programs take the faces of their creators, the Users, as they do their thing under the all-seeing oppressive eye of the Master Control Program. The new element of Flynn, a User deified as a god inside the system, brings great change.

Looking back on this classic movie that with The Last Starfighter lays claim to the first large scale movie to rely so heavily on the nascent field of CGI special effects, I see that for myself the movie holds up better as that primary signpost in film technology than as a narrative. Did I hate the story? No. It was kind of there and even average storytelling can engage the willing audience.

When Flynn goes hacking for proof that executives at Emcon plagiarized his video games in the Master Control Program said evil power-hungry AI uses an experimental laser to digitize Flynn into the system. He makes the right kind of friends in programs, like Tron (Bruce Boxleitner) and Yori (Cindy Morgan). They cross great digital expanses…

The main conceit here is that people in the real world are mirrored by their programs that they create to perform functions inside the system. Jeff Bridges was also the hacking program, Clu (died early on). Cindy Morgan also played Yori’s programmer, Lori Baines. And Bruce Boxleitner gave his face to Tron, as well as Tron’s creator, Alan Bradley. David Warner plays Ed Dillinger, the plagiarizing CEO and two programs the Master Control Program and Sark, the MCP’s spear-carrier henchman and master of the digital games.

So, while making the metaphorical point that creator and creation are one and the same, later famously echoed in the Star Trek: DS9 episode “Far Beyond the Stars,” it naturally follows that relationships in the real world are mirrored among the programs. If Lori Baines used to date Flynn but now has landed on Alan Bradley, then Tron and Yori will share echoes of that relationship in the system. And Flynn will just have to get over his regrets for Lori when he sees Tron and Yori kiss.

Throughout the movie, the filmmakers consistently went for the simple story of one User thrown into the new world of the system as catalyst to bring freedom. However, complicating elements like the subdued romantic triangle mentioned above isn’t particularly well realized as we fly around set pieces that even allowing for advances in CGI in approximately forty years are still impressive.

Other elements that are kind of waved at include the obligatory gladiators bonding in the locker room scene. We don’t see very much of programs waiting for the call to the next round of combat disks getting short with the new guy who needs to be told – “we don’t make friends.” They’re there but skimmed over quickly to advance the story of the next station of the effort to make it to the input/output tower with Tron’s disk (a Frisbee) that will splinter the Master Control Program into millions of unformed bits.

Related to the skimmed over romantic triangle in general, I feel there needed to be more scenes between Flynn and Yori to better build up to the kiss between them at the end. Flynn had a hangup about Yori’s creator, Lori, not the software herself. Pretty much one way to expand this movie from its approximately ninety minutes running time is more scenes between Flynn and Yori, where she shares traits with her real-world creator that causes…confusion at the very least. The kiss, as we see it, is unmotivated…unless the filmmakers are just telling us that smooching with the other member of the team when you’ve set up a triangle like with Luke and Han in Empire Strikes Back is just a union mandated thing and kindly please just sit down and shut up.

On retrospect, I would’ve liked to see more cuts back and forth between the computer world and the real world. The Master Control Program doesn’t just boss hapless programs sending the annoying ones to the games much like a Roman emperor consigning his enemies to the arena; he (it?) hacks major companies and government agencies straining for more power (Skynet anyone?). These actions have real world consequences and this is a good way to have Allan and Lori pitch in to save the world from the runaway sentient computer. Just a thought.

What went well. Getting a pre-Lebowski Jeff Bridges to play Flynn proved excellent. He drives the film to the appearance of more story than is really there with his ability to act even when wearing a costume with what must be highly distracting neon lights attached at the rim of his face. This plays out best when Flynn reacts to Tron and Yori’s kiss and embrace in the middle of the movie.

Of course, you can’t talk about Tron without discussing the effects. People now might laugh at the starkly drawn first generation visual effects that look like somebody painting them on with a Day-Glo pen, but for the time they were groundbreaking. The result came out more like a classic mixed animation scene where a live dancer needs to hoof it with a cartoon mouse than the more integrated effects today.

What holds up about the visual feel of the movie are the underlying designs. There are skyships that sail beams of energy like a solar sail spaceship. Light cycles trailing walls of colored energy. Vast structures eerily reminiscent of human cities at night. And even allowing for the primitive and slightly blocky rendering, something about all those designs stay with you.

To wrap up. Tron is a nice average Dark Tower movie that without being an early entry into the then undiscovered country of computer effects might’ve fallen a little flat. The effects and design work combined with good performances from the cast has a way of making the movie rise above the modestly too short script that didn’t make full use of the dramatic elements raised, waved at and then sent back. A good, comfort food type movie.

What Stories May Come

Posted: April 29, 2020 in Uncategorized

IMG_4128

© 2020 G.N. Jacobs

On the subject of ruthlessly mining my dreams for the next dream-based idea for my list of waiting concepts, I think I’ve been this way before…too lazy this morning to do the post archeology just yet (see post). And then the white gloves showed up for their closeup. An out and out nightmare…or would’ve been in an earlier time when perhaps I was less weird.

White gloves, by which the reader gets to interpret their choice of opera gloves or cop gloves used only for formal ceremonies and traffic control (white is a high visibility fabric color), kill people. The high points. I’m the investigator. The gloves wipe out some poor schoolgirl, possibly Catholic from the blue tartan pattern, spitting out the uniform like primates tossing aside fruit rinds. I reach through the swirling mist protecting the gloves bringing them fully into the real world (of the dream, at least).

You’d think from past monster movies that I’d burn them. Or whack them bloody on the kitchen island. Maybe made them see the error of their ways talking them to death in Interrogation Three. None of the above.

Yours truly ate the white gloves. No taste, not even silk. It was kinda chewy in a disgusting way and then a gray labradoodle waddled up glad of the snack. Maybe the labradoodle exists as a later addition from the in-between time between the dream proper and choosing to be awake and do my day on the merest pretense of adulthood. At this point, the “dog stays in the picture.”

Not that it’s all that interesting to me, excepting how I can churn this unformed cream into something useful like butter, but I guess I do have to use up a few words speculating as to origin. Is it a Virus-land dream as so many people report?

I suppose yes, in the same way that Die Hard has been adopted as a Christmas movie on the sheer strength of set during the holiday. I could go on about hearing Stephen Colbert ask a guest about his strange dreams…Ooh, a trigger!The reach in and yank the gloves into the light through a haze of smoke, sounds like armchair shrinks will go immediately a need for truth seeking (insert yelling about the Coronavirus politics here).

The chowing down on the gloves was something new. Do I have food issues? Am I stealing from the father of the Olympian gods who ate his children to stay in power? Is it similar to why Akiro (Mako) nearly got barbecued by cannibals in Conan the Destroyer? – “they think if they eat me, my power will become part of them.” I usually duck going that deep being generally comfortable with my personal fucked-up-ed-ness.

I guarantee you the possible first edit of the labradoodle absolutely is a Virus-land adaptation. Look, maybe you don’t hire labradoodle breeders without medical or public health degrees, if you’d like your citizens to dream about bunnies and rainbows. Stephen Colbert on the same show asking about the guest’s dream also did some barbecuing over hiring the former breeder…also a trigger!

I maintain that maybe I’m less fucked up than I think. The labradoodle that may or may not have featured in the main dream, but is there now…because I say so, has been put to better use than his metaphoric former master at the puppy mill. Feed the monster to a creature that regardless of individual breed has historically shown a tendency to eat everything seems like a plan.

In fact, there’s all kinds of reasons to keep dogs around in all kinds of fantastic storytelling. Die with your trusty hound at your side and discover that the first guy at the gate might be lying about the nature of the realm behind (Twilight Zone). Dogs also have a way of sniffing out other forms of bad guys, I’ll have to watch The Car again to refresh my memory if there was a dog snarling at the Lincoln Town Car.

Regardless, dogs jostle with cats for Improbable Script Immunity. A serious and loud pet rumble. Yes, Mr. Snyder did name the trope after cats, but he meant any moment that shows the audience the hero’s nice side. But I digress away from the truth that when confronting killer white gloves maybe we want to harness that our dogs seem to get away with eating our shoes with alarming frequency.

Anyway, the killer white gloves aren’t a completely new thing in my weirdness. My list of as yet unrequited concepts includes at least one tidbit of a comatose writer whose hands break off and do his subconscious bidding. The right hand is almost reasonable. The left hand is pure id, baby! And from there we eventually have a story.

Maybe something out there just tried to slap me around for prioritizing something other things as more interesting. Sometimes, I have to act like a certain governor absolutely convinced that the lockdown can’t end this week.

How much story did the dream give me? Not much. Unlike Robert Louis Stephenson’s claim about getting the full book, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, in two dreams from which his wife waked him the first time – “One of these days, Alice! Bang! Zoom! To the Moon!” – my dreams only give me two or three scenes. I’ll still have to fill in the rest.

Starting with answering the question at the top of this post about dress gloves for the opera or those that cops wear. Why is this important? Well, either I’m going to get a rich people milieu or I’m going to get cops, perps and traffic accidents. In theory, until my give a damn flees for something else, I could write both.

And that, Dear Reader, is yet another visit between the ears of the delightfully strange place called Greg-Land. Actually, eating the killer gloves is perhaps the most. Whatever, my takeaway here is that if I’m actually going to eat killer gloves maybe I should come prepared with a bottle of Tapatio. Yum…

Sign of the Times

Posted: April 25, 2020 in Uncategorized

IMG_4121

© 2020 G.N. Jacobs

I got Zoom-bombed! No that’s not really much in the way of a positive experience, but it is something about which to write. I’m officially part of the post-pandemic we’re-all-in-it-together club. Still…I was angry for a minute.

The bare bones of the incident. Two weeks after first launching myself online into the Zoom world (no Jitsi, No Discord and certainly no Google Hangouts), I sign up for yet another writers’ group. I go for the greet, write and brag about word count types of groups. I sometimes read at the end of the session. The full-blown critique groups can wait…

So anyway, this group originated from a Dallas coffeehouse and wanted to open up the online writing from home experience to everyone setting the attendance limit quite high. More like the limit Zoom promises when you agree to pay for a Pro account ($150/year), say about 100 guests. Links and passwords went out.

I had been at the tail end of a successful writing day where my space pirate that also serves a mean macchiato became progressively more mind-fucked as his day went along (a playing hooky project when I don’t want to work on anything closer to print). Banging out another page and a half in the notebook seemed like a good plan.

At least 60 people or devices showed up. The first sign of trouble was a douchebag hiding behind a picture of one of those bearded gentlemen from the Middle East with whom the West likes to yell at as high order performance art (Great Satan, Dirty Persian @&$*head, you get the idea). The guy yelled a bunch of obscenities. The host guided by another member who himself hosts other Zooms out of Los Angeles tried to use the tools already at her disposal to kick the Mullah-man out.

Then the Chat function went screwy. More obscenities. Despite the guidance from the off-duty host, the actual host lost the handle on keeping her head long enough to delete anyone just there to selfishly raise hell and she canceled the meeting. Pretty sure the Zoom-bomber(s) declared victory and went home laughing. Obviously, steps were taken.

First off, once a host lets in more people than we have in fingers and toes the risk of some angry douchebag getting in increases geometrically with about every four extra RSVPed guests over 20. I have friends who are better at technology than me who when fed enough beer will loudly proclaim that nine times out of ten the user got sloppy with their passwords causing the problem themselves.

The host learned her lesson, as reported by others, that she immediately lowered the attendance limit to a slightly more manageable (49) number. Presumably there will be all sorts of verification steps like registering and being total dicks about the six-digit password. Things will work out next week…probably.

I first heard of Zoom-bombing right at the beginning of the crisis by way of a Change.org petition in my email inbox. Apparently, a black PhD candidate defended his thesis by Zoom with his family watching from their own devices. The Zoom-bombing event described seemed really bad like you could plausibly use a Dresden or a “took out Rotterdam” metaphor what with frequent N-words and dick picks. The petition was worded in an understandably hurt “Zoom must do something” tone.

I would just log on to Zoom with a link or the similar Meeting ID number, youthful innocence. Then a few days later, the link needed to have the six-digit meeting password. A few hosts required registration where you tell Zoom and the host your name and email and if they don’t match the host doesn’t have to let you in. A few days later, waiting rooms popped up where you logged in with your link, Meeting ID and/or password. A few days after that link info would appear in emails from the host using Meetup.com’s email feature in an attempt to limit who saw the information that anyone could see in a Comment box on Meetup.

Part of the problem is the age-old problem that encryption can sometimes be too complex and thus lock out the legitimate user. Follow the registration link. Here’s the meeting link with the password. It adds steps, but certain things remain constant because the codling team at Zoom knows that certain measures will Night follows Day mess with the users that drive their business model.

For instance, writers are constantly in a variable state between craving the rigid order of “I have my writers’ group at Noon on Tuesday” and the freewheeling joy of “Holy Hell, it’s a re-run of NCIS, might as well pick up my phone to finger-tap.” After a few sessions we start going to the same groups and the link numbers and passwords don’t change because even for the security minded host the hassle of distributing a new link, password and registration page every week induces baldness the way Homer Simpson went smooth (tearing his hair out).

But in the case of this hacked and bombed meeting, I’m pretty sure that the host may have to create a completely new meeting taking place at the same Bat-time and same Bat-channel. The douchebags have the link and password emboldened by the success of ending the meeting the first time to try again – “wow, it was, like, so hilarious that the writers group shut down with the PC bitch host probably blew a gasket like a cartoon!”

Yes, there’s a nasty political undercurrent to some Zoom-bombing. The racist attack on the PhD candidate. And the fact here that the host said – “I’m shutting the meeting down and for next time will have to think long and hard before admitting people who don’t look PC.” – just before closing the meeting.

Which to me as a writer understanding that my Free Speech depends on everybody’s Free Speech, I heard that as troubling in the sense that pure PC is almost equally the problem as douchebags getting a laugh lashing out randomly. Besides, I guarantee that the Mullah-man douchebag heard that comment and took both victory and validation. He’ll try again.

Why was I angry if my liberalism doesn’t run to the Pure PC end of the spectrum? I don’t need politics to get pissed at people with too much time on their hands that like to lash out at people they could safely ignore. These fuckheads wasted my time…the single most grievous sin you can do to me in my moral universe.

At least one of my stories that explain why I infrequently write screenplays and almost never co-write involves a guy only slightly less annoying than these pair (same guy with two devices?) of douchebags. And don’t get me started on how I feel about other people wasting my time since Mom died. If I’m goofing off, I’m not wasting time, but doing something else almost as important as the words…for the moment.

And then there’s the sense of basic respect. Since I’ll get snippy about you wasting my time when I want to spend it working, I assume you’ll be the same way. Besides I can pull a book off my shelf or try to figure out the next three bars of my much-delayed Concerto for Harmonica in F to have things to do inside.

Of course, the I’ve heard variations on the refrain, “what is it with these people that need to do this? Even without being a writer there’s plenty of things to do in the average house!” – or the similar – “who has the time to do this?” – at least twice, once before the Zoom-bombing and once after. There’s no understanding it, some people need to lash because they think it’s funny to watch someone get angry. And there’s the nasty politics underneath, racist douchebags seem motivated enough to make the time. Being that racist and angry also sort of answers the first rant too, we don’t understand the emotion and for the immature among them we’ve forgotten how whiny we got when we were bored as kids.

Several plus sides though. It’s been the better part of five weeks that I have slowly increased my daily Zooms. Only one session has been Zoom-bombed so I’m ahead of the game. The host will figure out her game and life will go on.

And the other thing, Zoom has been a godsend for my productivity. I used to go to coffeehouses either alone and for the in-person version of these groups. I was productive. Measured by squares checked off on my to do list, my best weeks have doubled my before output and more normal weeks the increase runs more like 50-percent more. I just need to save up enough money for an espresso/cappuccino machine and maybe I never leave the house except to support a restaurant I like.

Anyway, I got Zoom-bombed. I took it personally for a minute and a half. I now have a story to tell my nephews – “back in the 2020 Lockdown, there was this one writers’ group that got Zoom-bombed, you shoulda heard what those assholes said…good times!”

The Baneful Blue Car

Posted: April 19, 2020 in Uncategorized

IMG_4078

© 2020 G.N. Jacobs

Yet another monster of the week, the Car from Hell. Calling it the Baneful Blue Car is really a Marketing Department decision to go with the toys I have for the picture.

What makes it the Car from Hell? It drives by itself. It hates people in general or perhaps specifically. It mows them down on the pavement because…why not? It’s a really simple and apparently can’t miss horror concept. Stephen King goes back to it more than once (Christine, Trucks/Maximum Overdrive, From a Buick 8). And I keep meaning to publish the collection in which my own effort Cadillac Crusader appears…never mind.

Like most other story tropes, the writer can bend the Car from Hell to his/her own purposes. Even Mr. King varied it up a bit going with a dysfunctional romance between car and driver, or a post-apocalyptic epic of trucks in revolt, almost a slave uprising. I’ll get back to you when I dig up From a Buick 8. Mine had two Cars from Hell, former enemies from the Third Crusade (neither side acquitted themselves very well) who spoke the words that Melville put in Ahab’s mouth at the end of Moby Dick imprinting their anger onto their swords that were later melted down into auto steel. Essentially a heavy-handed treatise on tolerance from very soon after 9-11.

Why does the car drive itself? Usually, the author doesn’t explain beyond a few sentences. Christine, an almost stereotypical Candy Apple red Plymouth Fury (kinda on the nose, Mr. King, just sayin’) just starts killing people from jump on the production line. An evil car from birth. The trucks go nuts because of a passing comet.

The filmmakers of the Christine knockoff movie The Car pretty much just said – “it’s like a demon with bullet-resistant windshields, what did you think I’d give schematics?” I think my deal where a Third Crusade Christian and his blood enemy from among the Society of Assassins imprint their rage upon their swords is about the closest anyone has come to actually explaining the Car from Hell.

Unless perhaps the car is an AI creation of a pissed off mad scientist. It’s always a choice to go with people creating their own problems. Hubris and other forms of lethal stupidity all in one package.

And now we’re back to that scary fan theory about Disney’s Cars where the cars with the big eyes in the windshield are AIs that adopted the personality of their last drivers. So does that mean that Lightning McQueen once drove with Frankenstein (David Carradine)? Or perhaps Matilda the Hun, from before her taking up the Nazi motifs with her Buzzbomb car? Now I’m going to some dark places.

Anyway, it isn’t accidental that I’m tying into the Deathrace 2000 franchise. The difference between death races and Car from Hell is the human at the wheel. Anyway, if our world building says that the AI cars are like impressionable children waiting to learn from “responsible” adults then the Car from Hell very much could be a former death race wagon turning on its former masters. The cars are either done hauling our groceries, like Mr. King’s trucks, or maybe we’re all sick, didn’t stay inside and the getting smeared across the pavement is less painful. The writer/gamemaster gets to choose these things.

This column is loosely about how do you use these monsters in a campaign or other narrative. Several questions need to be asked…

What is the Car from Hell’s relationship to gasoline?

This is a big one that isn’t always addressed. More theological versions of the Car from Hell, like The Car, are just steel-clad demons. If a demon steals a possessed soul’s body and walks around in it for many centuries after the normal sell by date, then the same demon that possesses a 1971 steel gray Lincoln Town Car doesn’t really have to worry about stopping at the Arco.

The movie version of Christine wasn’t depicted stopping at gas stations. But the story undergoes a progression where the red witch car reveals herself slowly as she ensnares her driver-lover becoming viciously powerful in the Third Act. Says to me that if Mr. King thought the car should be limited by gasoline then the car would wheedle and whine until her human rolled up to the pump…ala Audrey the plant begging, “FEED ME!”

The writer that wants the unkillable car will mentally come up with some means of alternate fueling. Pulling water vapor and using electrolysis to crack it into hydrogen and oxygen and then reburning them in the cylinders seems a good approach. Answering the gas question is important…

When I adroitly plagiar…uh, homaged the Car from Hell trope in my own work, the gas problem was the solution. When dealing with count ‘em two cars, the female protagonist pissed the cars off making her bait for her boyfriend the wizard with a handy increased entropy spell. She lures to the LA River. He creates a dome where fuel efficiency goes from, say, 30 mpg to something with the opposite measurement, gallons per mile, the average Main Battle Tank for those keeping score on Quora.

What are the rules for the car taking damage through the course of the story?

Again, the writer/gamemaster is just going to do what he/she wants, all have their place.

James Brolin and his deputies put several 12-guage shells into the Lincoln. Nothing. Dialogue about assuming a set of armor, but it was a literal Car from Hell running down sinners who cuss and curse. It couldn’t enter the old cemetery with a cross, but could enter and open a garage door despite, “no hands, Ma!” And because explosions are always good to end movies, the villagers lured the car to where they could dynamite the cliff onto the car. The demon inside flees the car sneering in the fiery mushroom cloud only to be seen in Los Angeles driving past the Music Center…

Some cars will uncrunch reverting back to normal because the sheer force of evil always seems to want to keep biting our kneecaps off. Christine did this. My hell cars did this and yes using the gasoline problem in the same story is clearly one of those Because I Said So events where when asked for details the best bet is usually, “Hey, what’s that over there!” Other cars will be the hell car equivalent of Eleanor…simply tough to kill.

Okay, I’ll close this out suggesting actual hit points and such for the cars. Keeping it simple…the car has the equivalent of full plate armor. I just sort of assumed that an easy way to assign hit points would be to have the GM look up the horsepower rating of the car being pressganged into service as a hell car. There’re your hit points right there, about 150 hp for rice burners on up to 350 for say a Camaro.

Keep it simple. Don’t cuss. And have the car aim for center mass…

 

 

 

 

Ford V. Ferrari

Posted: April 19, 2020 in Uncategorized

IMG_4055

© 2020 G.N. Jacobs

Okay, for this one I’m just going to let you in on several related little secrets…my mother asserted car as my first word. Love driving them, except when I have to deliver your pizza or proof of service (a story for another day and another blog). Slightly know what I’m talking about when the hood’s up; comes from that one time it was still possible to change out an alternator on a motor where said part was at the top of the block.

Get gently yelled at over the size of my Matchbox/Hot Wheels collection by that sister sort of acting like Marie Kondo right now pretty much daily. Went kart racing just enough times to fake it for the story. Used to know the Indy Car guys backwards and forwards, less so F1 and Endurance. Whined really loudly when Mom decreed Speed Racer (unless it’s a G-Damn slow news day and I’m loaded respect for the anime says I’ll never comment on the live action here) to be too violent.

Have pulled Reverse J-Turns during my misspent youth. Have Deathrace 2,000 memorized even to the level of laughing at all references to – “the evil French.” And my first major series protagonist didn’t go pro because she liked writing better.

Oh, and did I forget to mention that the Ford GT-40, the subject of the movie Ford V. Ferrari is my single favorite closed-wheel car that didn’t appear in Speed Racer? From your perspective, objectivity just left the building with Elvis. Good thing, it’s verifiably a great movie…

IMG_4079

There isn’t really anything bad to say about this mostly true semi-tragic buddy movie about a driver, Ken Miles (Christian Bale), and his good friend builder and former driver, Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon), teaming up to spend Ford Motor Company’s money to give the hated Enzo Ferrari a metaphorical punch in the nose in the pasta rocket manufacturer’s home break sport of endurance racing, specifically the 24 Hours of Le Mans. All because the Italian gentleman called Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) fat and his cars and factory ugly when Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal) reports back from the failure to woo Ferrari from Fiat.

And so it’s a story about boys and their cars. Complete with that special gleam we get when we have the wagon just so. And the somewhat difficult personalities associated with doing cars at the top of the game. A movie where two headstrong personalities throw wrenches and fists at each other all to get that last ounce of performance and air flow over the car body.

Matt Damon as Shelby quickly becomes the translator between the pure driver of Christian Bale as Miles and the business-oriented executives at Ford put in charge of the team. Primarily, this plays out with Josh Lucas playing Leo Beebe, a senior VP likely to insist that Ken Miles “just isn’t a Ford type driver,” during the GT40’s disastrous first year (1965) racing at Le Mans. Shelby apparently solved the problem by going around Leo Beebe and taking Mr. Ford out for a spin in the car…leaving him crying in the shotgun seat. A highlight of the movie.

All throughout 1966, problems with the car, mostly brakes bedevil the team headquartered at LAX. Solutions come from everywhere in the team including redesigning the entire braking system for easy replacement, something that had never exactly been done before under the Le Mans rules. The creative interpretation of – “gentlemen, the rulebook says part and changing out the entire brake system is a part.” – is one of the other highlights of the movie.

Of course, it being a movie and not a Wide World of Sports special, we do have to come off the track and do a little bit of storytelling in rooms, houses and cars. Mostly we get to see Ken Miles’s relationship with his wife, Mollie Miles (Caitrona Balfe), and son Peter (Noah Jupe). We get to see that Ken Miles was really too good at cars without much businessman in him to keep his garage in the Valley from going belly up.

A marriage where the wife drops the hammer on the family Ford station wagon on a lonely two-lane blacktop road revealing that professional drivers really hate being passengers is interesting in the best of times. The scenes with Peter reveal a deep abiding familial love where the idea is to share passion and perhaps a few skills.

And then we finally get to Le Mans 1966, where Ford takes three separate GT40 teams to the endurance race. Once the race officials agree with the Ford interpretation of the rulebook concerning ripping out the whole brake assembly, it’s almost a foregone conclusion that all three Fords will take the top three finishes at the race, especially with all the Ferraris killing themselves before the finish.

Even at this late date, all is not perfect in the race. The cars were driven differently with some teams keeping to the company directives as to how fast and hard to drive the car. Meanwhile, Carroll Shelby puts 7,000+RPM on the chalkboard for Ken Miles, letting him drive full out. Leo Beebe then hits on a “great idea” to slow Miles down so the other Fords can catch up for the great picture of all the Fords crossing the finish line at the same time. I remain surprised that this character agreed.

Anyway, Ford v. Ferrari is exactly what you expect, a racing movie with all the crashes, cool maneuvers and drama in the pits where people do sometimes die. Filmmakers know all the tricks like getting the right music and making the cars look beautiful even disintegrating after pranging in Turn 3. Good thing the real story happening off the appears to have been as equally able to hold the viewer’s interest. A worthy rental…

 

© 2020 G.N. Jacobs

Pop quiz. What effect will the current emergency have on various literary genres like Noir or the larger category of Crime? Don’t know, it’ll be interesting either way when we live long enough to see.

The LA Times (see post) recently asked this question of several LA based Crime writers known for writing Noir stories. Fascinating read about things I already generally know including that writers who create in this field tend to use their personal experiences, fears and hang-ups to create their themes, characters and plots. To be fair, all writers do this regardless of the genre we choose, whether Noir to directly face our demons raging behind our eyeballs or, say, Fantasy when it’s time to get running and do anything else anywhere else.

The article highlighted various authors and explained how and why they developed their characters, settings and themes. One lost friends to the AIDS crisis. Others might develop a ‘Sherlock in the hood’ property. You get the idea…

What is Noir? It’s a style of Crime fiction that emphasizes the emotional despair inherent in our bad acts to each other. People do bad things to each other out of need, hate, jealousy, you name it. These acts happen in a milieu of indifference set against a paladin always out for justice and becoming bitter in the process. Symbols of hope, like children or Phillip Marlowe finding the right woman and retiring to Poodle Springs (Palm Springs in the real world) are typically extirpated off the page or saved for the last book in the series.

At least one author asserted that the current emergency wouldn’t affect the genre per se, but that the books set post-lockdown would go nuts and totally off the chain. I agree right up until I don’t. The main reason for this statement is we’re all inside. Inside equals less crime until we’re released by the societal hall monitor to hang out in our favorite restaurants. And then we might see hardboiled characters getting mugged in the parking lot at Lawry’s setting off a chain of tragedy…

The small part of this assertion that I don’t quite buy into is the implication that the emotional turmoil driving Noir runs in waves. The original classics (Phillip Marlowe among them) are rooted in the Great Depression. Dig deep enough and you’ll find stories set in the 1960s with the change from trust society to question authority. Other characters exist as a result of drug wars and so on.

I’ve been alive and able to read the newspaper for a few decades now. I just don’t remember the bullshit coming in waves. It always feels like it’s there lurking under the surface waiting for the right person in a presently fearful, depressed or angry state to rake it up and vomit it onto the page. Finding the Noir is thus a personal choice. My other thought is that Noir is the literary equivalent of the Blues where you sing about your worst day and feel better because you shared it with people lessening the hurt.

In my youth, we had child molester living in the unit over the garage in a house three doors north from my house. The scumbag liked little girls and so I was blissfully immune, but the younger sister next door wasn’t. I was told about it by my mother because she told me almost everything, but I was then instructed not to speak about it casually because it just wasn’t polite conversation.

Looking back, this incident is relevant because without therapy the girl next door would grow up like Evelyn Mulwray, the ultimate Noir femme fatale with an agenda. More importantly, my memory of the time (late 1970s) was of a cocoon where we’d gotten used to the changes of the previous decade and were just getting on with life. Yes, other perspectives from that time might have more to say that somewhere in the world someone is always getting fucked over.

Another example that began earlier and went later well into the 1990s, the neighbors on my first street were really messed up despite presenting the façade of the perfect Catholic family. The father was an alcoholic resulting in the usual emotional douchebaggery conducted behind closed doors. The mother cheated rather than getting divorced waiting out her husband dying of natural causes to marry her long-term lover. Yet another case where my perception of the era would’ve landed between the sturm und drang moments of our recent history.

As I read the article, I also had the thought that I’m just the sort of contrarian to challenge the wait until after the lockdown mindset.

I immediately thought of all over us being locked down as a taunt to indulge in the Locked Room murder. In the real world the body in the Locked Room is always a suicide, but it’s been fascinating to image the possibilities as a thought experiment. Barney Collier (Greg Morris) in Mission Impossible famously used a gear driven screwdriver to open an air vent grate from inside the shaft. And we have yet to set MacGyver on the problem.

Another possible way around the ‘we’re all inside’ limitation of the moment is to make being inside part of the story. And to reiterate the immortal truth of ‘don’t open the fucking door!’ Yes, suddenly we’ve just crossed The Big Sleep with Key Largo (everybody is inside for the hurricane), but I bring it up just to spark the creativity of seeing a limitation as a challenge.

Another way I might set a Noir during the emergency instead of after is to cheat and steal from other genres. I’ve already created concepts of surrogates like flesh droids in which a mindless body exists for people who can pay to ride around pretending to be firefighters and such. Easily repurposed so that the flesh droids shoot and betray each other.

And in another incomplete brain fart I took one of the darker fan theories about Disney’s Cars franchise – the anthropomorphic cars were self-driving AI vehicles that bonded directly to the sick bedridden humans to which they gave care by adopting their last driver’s personality after they died. My slight variation on this concept assumed the humans were still alive at home being told about their cars’ doings at the end of the day. Ripe for some kind of Virus Noir stories.

I’m also waiting for the Noir that takes place in the narrow spaces online between, say, The Sims or Second Life on the one hand and all the mayhem we imagine we can unleash on Zoom. I don’t know…come up with some means for the killer to hack our smart houses to kill people in the physical world. I agree that these thoughts might be too much SF for some people, but then I’m the guy that sometimes comes up with wacky player pitches reaching everywhere in our shared database.

We’re inside now. Give it a few months and we’re going to start writing about it. The world is different than a mere ten days ago. Some will charge head on into our fears with a modern Noir for the age. Others will seemingly avoid it going for the latest and greatest Fantasy, Romance or whatever. I’m also kinda waiting for a Lord of the Rings knockoff where the quest McGuffin causes diseases (yes, I went there). But, that is another brain fart for another post.

The emergency will change everything. Be safe.

FYI, I Killed Cursive…

Posted: March 23, 2020 in Uncategorized

IMG_0625

© 2020 G.N. Jacobs

People my age or older who don’t write are sometimes a trip and a half. One common refrain to raise its ugly head in discourse is the one about handwriting…specifically cursive. Few schools teach it. No one under the age of tadpole seems to know how to read it and I’m not sure I care.

The arguments go like this…

  1. “You lose the ability to read the original citizenship documents and other great works of our past that are handwritten, which means that unscrupulous people can trick you by changing those words in the dead of night.”
  2. “It’s an important discipline to teach the student how to mentally organize their thoughts or…”
  3. “Science shows that teaching cursive is better for a developing mind and…”
  4. “How else will a student learn to create a distinctive signature?”
  5. “It’s a good backup skill for when the power goes out.”

There might be a few more, but I think that covers it for now.

Option 1 also known as The Animal Farm Argument sounds like a reasonable concern. The Pigs did change the Farm’s Constitution in the dead of night to the infamous dicta – “Some animals are more equal than others.”

I might gently ascribe to this thinking when the subject is English instruction as a whole asserting a visit to the Library of Congress as an American civil variation of the Hajj to Mecca. That as long as the original documents exist and we learn English the bad guys can’t change the copy printed in the back of the Eighth Grade Civics textbook, which is the version we actually read…or not.

I’ve already conducted that civil hajj. In the late Seventies, I took the trip to Washington. The Constitution and Declaration were at the time kept in their matching argon-filled bullet-resistant polycarbonate vaults at the Library of Congress. Cool…except for the part about not getting closer than twenty feet.

The logic of the Animal Farm Argument requires a ten-year-old to jump the rope line with textbook in hand to compare texts. I didn’t think of it at the time, in part because we don’t really teach the Original Documents in class until you are in the eighth grade and get issued the aforementioned Eighth Grade Civics textbook. Also, this was long before tablets and Kindles…the textbook in question is a lot to lug in the line for a ten-year-old only about two bad breakfast burritos away from – “Fuck the old parchment! Show me the planes and rockets a couple doors down at the Air and Space Museum!”

Bringing things around to the specific argument for cursive, the above makes even less sense. The documents in question may have been handwritten, but with an eye towards public display. This meant that what is actually protected by the vault is written carefully with a script that isn’t block printing, but isn’t the average handwriting, then or now, either.

When they let people get close enough to take pictures for the Wikipedia article, we see they’re far more decipherable than we sometimes credit as we bemoan the loss of cursive. And let’s face it, no other handwritten document in English matters except to the historians who in the future will take college level classes on reading cursive. The same way that people who want to teach Greco-Roman Classics and other Old And Presumably Important Cultural Documents at the college level take Ancient Greek, Classical Latin, Sanskrit and other such languages…as electives. Who then make decent livings translating for the rest of us.

The people espousing Option 2 scare the shit out of me. I didn’t have any traumas associated with learning cursive the way I might’ve landing in that one high school English class with the hippie-dippy teacher. You know, she never met a Baghwan she didn’t love and went out of her way to kill enjoyment of Hamlet due to an overreliance on symbolism and “what it all means” in her teaching method.

But I do remember a huge amount of tedium tracing the letters, just so, early on. And then you grow up a little and they just tell you to write your five-paragraph essay. I was never dinged nor praised for my handwriting. I turned in some of my papers with printing or a mix of print and cursive. My grade was the same…I either spelled my words correctly and made a logical argument while demonstrating that I’d read the source material or I didn’t. Sometimes I didn’t do the essay…another form of a lack of discipline that cursive practice didn’t solve.

I have friends who teach and may quit as soon as their health benefits and pensions vest. The common refrain for the current spate of not liking the job is that students don’t read, don’t do homework, don’t write and don’t even do the work when time is given in class, because homework is frowned on. So, teaching cursive will magically solve this?

Seems to me that the people who lead with Option 2 are like the old-timey doctors that resisted the move in medical school for shorter less crushing intern shifts in the teaching hospital – “I survived it, so you have to do it too.” Almost like abusers passing their curse down through the generations.

Despite the fact that while we haven’t completely eliminated paper, we’ve come close. We send documents back and forth using PDF files that you either print out, sign and rescan or there are apps that create a digital signature with the same legal effect. We send emails, texts and social media links.

As a GenX in-betweener, I can talk about feeling a strange joy getting a card recently from my biological mother who still trusts pen and paper. Yes, I can read her words. On one hand, I speak piously about just doing my first draft at the keyboard, or on the converse that I fill up notebooks either paper or digital by the score because moving the stick we call Pen or Stylus helps me work out my more stupid ideas.

However, none of that handwriting is in cursive and hasn’t been for a long time. You’d think the idea of working out certain ideas on paper or the notetaking app in need of an Apple Pen would mean I would be in the cursive camp. Not when I have printing for that.

All through my school years, I might start an essay question in cursive and finish in printing. Never really figured out the why. They tell us that cursive which keeps the pen nib on the paper saves time. I personally never noticed it, especially since my hands, wrist and elbow still ache and the same general amount of time elapses between Blank Page and Done. And I nearly always ended the essay or blue book test in printing.

Writers accumulate the wreckage of our collective writing pasts. Boxes of notebooks. Copies of this or that, some with markups. So, if I do become important enough for people do some literary archeology on my box (slowly migrating to Dropbox) and I end up printing anyway without noticing any lost time or quality, it makes sense to just print to make my detritus more readable from jump. You know, indulge a bit of ego to make it easy for scholars to understand me in the future. It’s an ego driven avocation to think I have a story to tell that you want to hear.

The science argument. This disposes easily – “cite your sources.” I haven’t seen any citations. Maybe cursive helps young minds develop. And maybe the content on that piece of paper does the same thing. The teachers that wanted me to write whatever I liked as extra credit are the teachers I remember as being my personal Mr. Holland (just without the music). The draft of my magnum opus about Jesus rolling up to Mount Olympus to demand the keys was delivered mostly in printing and then typed and saved my grade for the semester. Which has more impact?

Moving on to the signature argument. Makes sense, I suppose. Mine is derived from my leftover cursive when I intentionally just took my signature from how I would just write my name. But then I’ll put my dad’s signature in juxtaposition, a squiggle that barely has a R, a J and an S in it that has no other relationship to cursive. Why? He believed forgers would freak out getting his right trying to steal checks. Seems to me that we can put any old thing down on the credit/debit slip as long as we do the same thing every time.

As for the power going out. I print. Got it covered. There you have it. I don’t like cursive, not then and less now when it really doesn’t matter to society. Thus endeth the opinion.