31 March 2007

On the Process of Fiction and Nonfiction

Now that I've finished reading through both versions of The Broken Sword and scribbling pages and pages of notes in my aggravatingly neat handwriting (I used to get grief for this in high school), the time has come to get to work on crafting an article analyzing this astonishing novel and the differences between the two editions. I'll keep you update on when the article will appear.

I write nonfiction differently than I do fiction. This may sound obvious at first, since the two place entirely different demands on both writer and the reader. But nonfiction does require a "plot" of sorts. It needs a pathway which the reader can follow to make the information easier to absorb and enjoy. And suspense has a role in nonfiction as well. Have you ever had to peer-read a paper in school where the author started a paragraph with the phrase: In this paper I will prove/show that... Don't you detest that? This drove me utterly crackers in college when I had to do peer reviews for seminars. Not only is the phrase mummy-dust dry and a certain signal that the rest of the paper will be turgid and plastic, but it ruins the suspense. Good nonfiction indicates what it is going to attempt to do, lures the reader with clues, but it should never state outright what exactly it plans to "prove." Lawyers do that. Writers shouldn't—why should a reader hang around if he or she knows exactly where the work is going? (And besides, the reader is sovereign; he or she decides what the author has "proved.")

Of course, a reader pressed for time and doing collegiate work can skip to the last chapter or the epilogue/conclusion/summation and discover the final argument. That's fine: when I used to teach speed reading and study skills, I showed my students how to "preview" a nonfiction work for more efficient skimming and note-taking. However, for the rest of the reading population of the world hearing up front the whole point of a work tends to kill interest.

So similar skills go into writing fiction and nonfiction, most of it structural. Still, I write them in different ways. I plan my fiction carefully through notes and outlining. I've discovered from practice that I first have to know where my story is going or I will never finish it. I need a detailed outline—often ten thousand or more words for a novel—to keep me focused, although I allow deviations if surprises appear. I also need the outline to help me solve story problems before I start to put it all down in writing. However, once I start to write, I write in strict order, unfolding the story chapter after chapter the same way that a reader will read it. (Unless the reader is one of those awful cheats who skips to the last page to see how it comes out. Why does anyone do this?) I have to experience the unspooling of the story the way a reader would; I need to watch my characters grow and expand, see the surprises of the plot through their eyes and react with them. I can start the highly analytical editing process in the second draft.

For nonfiction, I take the opposite approach. This sounds strange to people, but aside from the notes I take during research, I don't outline my nonfiction. I sit down in front of my word processing program and start spitting out the freshest ideas I've developed based on my notes. Then I randomly leap around the document adding new ideas and paragraphs and topics all over the place in a stream-of-consciousness placing of the info in my head and scribbled in my notebooks onto the page. I keep this up until a structure starts to appear. Then the job gets easy: click the pieces into place, create connective tissue, and see if reads correctly and the ideas flow toward logical conclusions. Most importantly: does the piece feel "alive," and not merely a recitation of facts and similar phrases repeated needlessly? Does it have emotion? Nonfiction must have emotion, the same as fiction, and this is one the great mistakes I think many new writers to nonfiction make... it comes from the damaged memories they have of writing essays in high school using the "five paragraph" method. I would outlaw this model if it wasn't that I believe in freedom of speech. It has killed more potential nonfiction authors than any amount of cigarettes and whiskey ever has.

I love writing both fiction and nonfiction; the ecstasy of feeling ideas spill from my and head and through the keys of my computer when the daemon is strongest is one of the most intoxicating sensations in life. And I'm glad that I get two very different sensations from fiction and nonfiction. I'm pleased to have made friends with both forms.

30 March 2007

John Barry’s Soundtrack for The Black Hole

Update: Sadly, Mr. Barry has gone “In, Through, and Beyond” himself, dying of a heart attack at age seventy-seven on 31 January 2011. Read my memorial here.

In my years as a film score fanatic (this goes back to approximately 1989 C.E.), few albums have retained their constant popularity with me as a listening standard as John Barry’s score to The Black Hole. The 1979 science-fiction film was Disney’s answer to Star Wars, although development on it had started before 1977, and usually receives a critical thrashing. Much is wrong with the movie, but I have a personal affection for it that I might go into on another post. The music, however, is the core of what I love about the film.

I saw The Black Hole when it hit theaters in 1979, and the music made an enormous impression on me even as a six-year-old. When I started to collect scores and fell in love with John Barry’s music from listening to his James Bond music, The Black Hole instantly shot to the top of my list of scores I wanted to own. My mother gave me an LP copy as a Solstice gift in 1991—signed by Barry himself! One of her clients had done promotion on the album back when the film came out, and gave my mother one of the signed copies she still had. My mom still thinks fondly of the moment I got the record: it was one of the few times she managed to surprise me with a gift. (I’m notoriously hard to buy for, although my brother claims this isn’t true.) The album has yet to make it to CD except in bootlegs. Fortunately, it has shown up on iTunes recently, and I’ve been able to enjoy it in pristine sound after many years of listening to it on a cassette copy of the LP and then burned from the LP onto CD and my iPod. The sound quality is phenomenal because The Black Hole was one of the first digital recordings ever made of a film soundtrack; it even displays “a digital recording” proudly on the LP sleeve. The fully digital realm is where it always belonged.

The best descriptive for the score’s music is dark melodic. It has much in common with another Barry science-fiction score from that year, Moonraker; the two make an interesting musical back-to-back experience. With one important exception, Barry’s music sounds nothing like the scores that copycat John Williams/Igor Stravinksy during the fantasy and science-fiction boom of the era. Barry instead dugs deep into the orchestra for sinister and sonorous tones, lyrical and mysterious, with a hypnotic main theme that weaves through much of the score.

However, the “exception” opens the album, with an “Overture” played before the movie begins (one of the last U.S. films to follow this old cinema tradition). The heroic track is Barry’s nod to Star Wars mania. And, damn, if it isn’t one of the most thrilling, triumphal fanfares ever committed to wax (or bytes). An old trumpet-man himself, Barry knows how to power up a horn section. But the cue ends with a sudden downbeat and trails into a menacing electronic rumble that presages the rest of the album and the film.

The “Main Title” follows, and we hear the film’s central theme. It’s an earworm, to be certain: hear it once, and you will never get it out of your head. This is the piece the six-year-old version of me was humming when he came out of the theater. After the strings play a suspenseful opening motif that will recur in moments of tension throughout the film, the main theme launches. It consists of seven repeated notes that create a hypnotic whirl to match the vector-graphic image of a black hole on the screen. While the seven notes play on strings, woodwinds, and synth, the lower brass takes on a dark and gradually building secondary motif, until all the instruments converge into a loud statement, only to then “spiral” down into a single electronic voice that quotes the seven-note motif.

Next is “The Door Opens,” which begins as the Palomino docks with the ghost ship the Cygnus and the crew explores its mysterious interior. The lengthy piece is moody, with a slow build as the crew moves toward the control tower. Barry keeps building the suspense until the orchestra rises into a powerful concluding statement as the crew emerges from an elevator (which must be opening door of the cue’s title) and witnesses one of the film’s staggering visuals: the star-lit dome of the tower and monastic-appearing humanoids silently at work in it like a futuristic scriptorium. (Wow, the film sure sounds better than it actually is, huh?)

“Zero Gravity” occurs earlier as the Palomino passes under the darkened Cygnus and gets trapped in the pull of the black hole. As the crew desperately tries to make it back to the zero gravity surrounding the Cygnus, the music turns into an action version of the main theme, played at a faster tempo and with the high strings and electronic sounds of the seven-note motif absent to give the brass a stronger statement. The cue opens with the same notes that started “Main Title,” a motif that now becomes associated with the Cygnus. The action rush is driven with accents from snare drums, a warm passage from the strings when Kate manages to contact V.I.N.C.E.N.T. outside the ship, and interruptions from trombones and trumpets on the Cygnus motif.

A funeral-bell tone opens “Six Robots,” which closes out Side One of the original LP, as Captain Holland sees six humanoids carrying what appears to be a casket. Barry’s sorrowful elegy on strings informs the audience immediately what is occurring. As Holland moves through the empty crew quarters, a motif connected to the mysteriously vanished crew develops (it’s also heard during Harry Booth’s encounter with a “limping” robot, a cue that doesn’t appear on the album). A powerful but inconclusive two-note fanfare sounds as the humanoids fire the capsule into space, and Holland suddenly comes face to face with the giant crimson robot Maximilian.

Side Two of the original LP opens with the action-driven “Durant Is Dead,” which starts with V.I.N.C.E.N.T. speaking those very words. Barry uses strident rhythms on bass and cellos with sinister horn passages above them as the Palomino crew rushes back aboard the Cygnus to rescue Dr. McCrae while Dr. Reinhardt starts to move the Cygnus toward the black hole in his mad messianic scheme. (“And life . . . life forever.”) In one of the most astonishing moments of music in the film, Barry underscores a visual of the Cygnus’s engines blasting to life with a statement both heroic and portentous—a perfect portrait of Dr. Reinhardt. The cue concludes as Holland, B.O.B., and V.I.N.C.E.N.T. break into the hospital, guns blazing, to rescue Dr. McCrae from a lobotomy via laser. (This scene uses an edited version of “Laser,” based on the “Overture.”)

The next track, “Begin the Countdown,” immediately precedes “Durant Is Dead.” This is Barry’s most perfectly staged suspense piece in the score. Reinhardt finishes the final preparations for his ship’s voyage into the black hole while Dr. McCrae tries to talk Dr. Durant out of staying aboard for the insane mission. Meanwhile, the Palomino crew, aware that Reinhardt is a madman who has lobotomized his crew into cyborg-zombies, waits tensely for McCrae and Durant to return. A repeating motif on the low strings mixes with a sinister low-electronic growling noise, with a strange quote from the Cygnus theme as McCrae learns through V.I.N.C.E.N.T.’s ESP about the fate of the crew. The suspense reaches a fever pitch signaled by a solo woodwind that segues into a rising string drawl as Dr. Durant learns the horrid truth of the Cygnus when he pulls off the face mask of one of the humanoids and discovers the zombiefied crew member beneath.

After a a few tense notes of build-up from the cellos and basses, “Laser” launches into the most heroic music in the film. Barry uses the “Overture” theme to underplay a laser gun battle against the sentry robots in the Cygnus’s main corridor. (Some of this music appears earlier, edited into the hospital scene.) The track closes quietly, absent the electronic rumble heard in “Overture.”

“Into the Hole” offers a golden opportunity for a film composer: pure music with no dialogue or sound effects to interfere. After a fast swirling opening to throw the probe ship containing the Palomino crew into the black hole along with the crushed Cygnus, a harp glissando and a quote from the Cygnus motif (now apparently a signal for Reinhardt’s madness) signals the bizarre “heaven-and-hell” visuals of the inside of the black hole. Barry plays heavy and harsh melodies as we see the brimstone pits and Reinhardt imprisoned within Maximilian, with a creepy warbling electronic tone beneath it all. The score reaches completely otherworldly, yet beautiful, heights here before a warm string passage with harp notes brings us through the “heaven” segment. Abruptly, the probe ship emerges from the hole, and the orchestra rises into a overpowering, completely new fanfare based on the “heaven” motif as the crew sees a planet and sun above them. A last harp glissando closes out the final scene.

The “End Title” reprises the “Main Title”’s seven-note theme in an elongated version and with a more conclusive resolution, closing out this astonishing album.

The album last only thirty minutes, which is common for LPs from the time (and sadly, still common for many score CDs today because of union fees). The iTunes release contains the same music, with no bonuses. Disney has been very stingy about releasing extended albums of their films to CD, so the chances of seeing a fuller album is remote. About fifteen minutes of music from the movie is absent from the album, including: The Palomino crew looking at a hologram of the black hole; the Palomino's first approach toward the Cygnus; Harry Booth discovering the garden and the limping robot; the action cue for the laser-fight in the de-pressurized garden; and B.O.B.’s elegiac death music. It would be wonderful to see these tracks emerge some day, but the album as it currently exists is still one of the best structured score albums from the era.

28 March 2007

My Favorite Westerns

On an old blog I’ve abandoned (and locked), I posted a list of my favorite Western films. Since the Western has such a major importance to me as a genre, this list bears repeating on my official website. The movies are presented in alphabetical order so I don’t have to go through any internal squabbling about which ones are better than the others.
  • Fort Apache (1948)
  • The Good, the Bad & the Ugly (1966)
  • The Great Silence (1968)
  • High Plains Drifter (1972)
  • Little Big Man (1970)
  • The Long Riders (1980)
  • Man of the West (1958)
  • The Naked Spur (1953)
  • Once Upon a Time in the West (1969)
  • The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976)
  • Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (1973)
  • Pursued (1947)
  • Red River (1948)
  • Ride Lonesome (1959)
  • Ride the High Country (1962)
  • The Searchers (1956)
  • Stagecoach (1939)
  • Ulzana’s Raid (1970)
  • Unforgiven (1992)
  • Vera Cruz (1954)
  • Winchester ‘73 (1950)
If I had to pick only one movie from this list as my top-favorite Western of all time, I'd refuse to do so at first. Then the black-hatted man would place the barrel of his Colt Peacemaker between my eyes and cock the hammer back, and I would answer . . . The Outlaw Josey Wales.

24 March 2007

Zodiac: The Score

One of the pleasures of the recent David Fincher movie Zodiac, which re-imagines the tired serial-killer genre into a period study and a fascinating police procedural, is that it features a return to film scoring of David Shire, one of the great movie composers of the 1970s. Shire was a key figure in the shift toward the more sparse and modernist approach to film music that was the standard from the mid ‘60s until Star Wars brought back the large orchestral approach in 1977. Among Shire’s most important achievements are the scores to The Conversation, All the President's Men, The Taking Pelham One Two Three, and The Hindenburg. My personal favorite of Shire’s scores, however, is one of his more lush and jazzy, Farewell My Lovely from 1975, which makes a great companion piece to Jerry Goldsmith's score to Chinatown from the previous year.

According to Shire’s liner notes in the recent CD album release of the Zodiac score, David Fincher didn’t originally intend to use original music, but wanted to rely entirely on “source” music from the period. There is plenty of source music in the final film, and most of it effectively in setting the mood and period. But an original score can bring you something unique and cohesive that a collection of songs simply can’t (I wish Quentin Tarantino would take this lesson to heart), and Fincher realized the need for an original score—and being the film genius that he is, he picked Shire.

Shire’s music is just as sparse and against-the-grain of contemporary film scores as you would expect. He relies on an eerie piano figure and a string section, with few other instruments. “Themes” only appear in snatches and hints, never in swelling full renditions. The effect is dry, lonely, almost documentary music, which fits the film like a murderer’s rubber glove.

The soundtrack album is available from Varese Sarabande Records. It contains a full thirty-nine minutes of music, which is extensive for a score this sparse (and Varese often doesn't have the funds to pay union re-use fees to make albums longer than thirty minutes). There is a separate album that contains only the source songs. The dual album approach is fine if you just want an album with as much as the original score as possible, but in this case a much better combined album could have been manufactured that would give a finer sense of the film's sound and ambience (and you wouldn’t be forced into buying two albums; this also happened with L. A. Confidential). The way the album should have been produced is to keep the complete thirty-nine minutes of Shire’s music, and then intermix it with three of the most important source songs.

Fortunately, in this age of iTunes and downloads, I was able to purchase the three most memorable source songs online and create a “fuller” Zodiac score on my iPod and then burn it onto CD-R as well. So, if I were the album producer and had access to use all the music (always legal issues involved), here would be my Music from the Motion Picture “Zodiac” album.

Music Composed and Conducted by David Shire unless otherwise noted:
  1. Aftermaths (4:08)
  2. Soul Sacrifice performed by Santana (6:35)
  3. Graysmith (1:29)
  4. Law & Disorder (4:16)
  5. Trailer Park (2:51)
  6. Dare to Dream (1:21)
  7. Avery & Graysmith, Toschi & Armstrong (3:29)
  8. Easy to Be Hard performed by Three Dog Night (3:14)
  9. Graysmith Obsessed (4:08)
  10. Are You Done? (2:21)
  11. Close & Closer (3:14)
  12. Confrontation (3:34)
  13. Graysmith's Theme (2:35)
  14. Hurdy Gurdy Man performed by Donovan (3:18)
  15. Toschi’s Theme [Unused] (2:10)
  16. Graysmith’s Theme [Piano Version] (1:48)*
Total Album Running Time: 53 minutes

Now, there’s a great album!

I've created this “hypothetical album” into a real album on iTunes: get it here as an iMix.

23 March 2007

"It Is Very Good to Have Been a Man"

British science-fiction author and philosopher Olaf Stapledon (1886–1950) was the king of the plotless polemics-driven SF novel, the Ayn Rand of his field. His most important philosophical work is Modern Theory of Ethics, but his legacy comes through his philosophical fiction. His novels are plotless not in that sense that nothing happens—plenty does—but plotless in that there are no characters to follow or to root for as they struggle to achieve definable goals. Stapledon instead views billions of years of events from the distance of an historian and social scientist. The main character of his most famous novel, Last and First Men: A Story of the Near and Far Future (1930) is . . . the human race itself.

Stapledon was a grandly humanistic and agnostic philosopher, which explains while C. S. Lewis got in such a twist over the “amorality” of Last and First Men and responded with his “Cosmic Trilogy.” I haven't enjoyed C. S. Lewis’s work since I was young child, and understandably find Stapledon’s science fiction panorama more moving and thought-provoking. Stapledon may not have been religious, but he perceived the effect of religious aspirations in human development, and he had the massive vision and intellect to see his ideas onto the page in sweeps of philosophy. Last and First Men is, more than anything else, a novel of Idea. It makes most novels, even the largest epics, seem small. Hell, books I love like Anna Karenina, Dune, and The Lord of the Rings look quite puny in scope beside Stapledon’s sprawling history of humanity over approximately two billion years. In terms of scale, you can’t top this fellow. Only the novel Star Maker has a grander scope, and that was written by . . . oh yeah, Olaf Stapledon.

21 March 2007

Help Peter S. Beagle

This is a call to help out a brilliant writer.

Peter S. Beagle is one of the most important modern fantasy writers, even though his output has been slim compared to many other major writers in the genre. He is best known for his novels A Fine and Private Place and The Last Unicorn. The latter book had a profound effect on many readers (myself included) for its literary and poetic approach to a well-known fantasy trope. I would easily rank The Last Unicorn among my favorite of all fantasy works.

An animated version of The Last Unicorn was released in theaters in 1982, based on Beagle’s screenplay. Rankin/Bass, the company that created an adaptation of the last third of The Lord of the Rings for TV in 1981, produced the film, and the result was excellent and faithful to Beagle’s novel, gaining its own legion of fans. Even the songs from the band America worked well. (I can’t believe I just wrote that!) Unfortunately, the film’s life after the big screen led to legal trouble for Beagle. Granada International, the successor to ITC Entertainment that once held the rights to the film, has not paid Beagle his contractual royalties for the sales of nine hundred thousand DVDs and VHS tapes of the movie sold worldwide. A small publisher, Conlan Press, has helped Beagle with proceedings against Granada International, and hopefully some good will come of it and Beagle will receive his fair compensation. Sad to say, although he is a well-known and respected writer, Mr. Beagle, like many fantasy and science-fiction authors, isn’t an extraordinarily wealthy man.

Here’s how you can help support him: a 25th Anniversary Edition DVD of The Last Unicorn is now available. Conlan Press has promised that half the money from the sales of copies of the DVD purchased through their website will go to Peter S. Beagle. He’ll even sign your copy! If you love this movie, this is the only place where you should purchase it. Support artists’ rights: let’s take down the Red Bull and release the unicorns from the sea!

And if you’ve never read the novel, get it now!

20 March 2007

Bond: Overrated and Underrated

The fine website Alternative 007 has an article where reviewers pick two Bond movies and discuss why they believe they are respectively the most overrated/underrated films in the Bond series. I’m all for that. So I here present my two choices for overrated/underrated Bond:

Overrated: GoldenEye

Not only do I think that the 1995 film that introduced Pierce Brosnan to the world is overrated, I rank it as one of the worst 007 movies period. What shocks me is that so many people think it’s a winner! However, I’ve noticed that most of the folks who hold this opinion had scant experience with Bond before GoldenEye, and thus didn’t know much about Bond or hadn’t gotten to see Dalton’s dead-on portrayal of the character, the best version to grace the silver screen. With a six year gap between Bonds, film-goers were just pleased to see the agent back in theaters, and they seemed blissfully unaware how sloppy, dull, and strangely cheap-looking the film actually is.

I recall shopping in a bookstore at the time the film was playing in theaters and heard a patron say to the shop owner, “Have you seen GoldenEye yet? It’s the best Bond since Goldfinger.” I wanted to shout, “Are you insane?” I can only hope this man hadn't seen any Bond film since Goldfinger, since that’s the only excuse I would accept for this statement. Yet today there are still young fans who think it’s a good, nay, great Bond film. Personally, I can barely stand to watch it; even though I could argue that The Man with the Golden Gun is a far worse film, I would still rather watch it than GoldenEye.

First Blood and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

I was born in 1973, during the last days of the Vietnam War. My father was in the Army, but he was in the medical corps and stationed in Washington, D.C. (in the currently infamous Walter Reed Military Hospital) where I was born, so he never experienced any combat or the horrific aspects of that war. My experience with Vietnam has therefore been that of a descendant of the generation of those who fought it, and whose vision of it comes from documentaries, movies, memoirs…and the few veterans I know who want to speak about their experiences. And very few wish to speak of it. It reminds me immediately of the closing lines of one of my favoirte films, The Outlaw Josey Wales: "I reckon' a little bit of all of us died in that damn war."

I've only heard brutal, searing honesty about combat experience from one person, a co-worker named Karl. Karl served in 1st Battalion, 9th Marines, also known as "The Walking Dead." The war utterly changed Karl's life. In his own words, "I left a good Catholic schoolboy. I returned a drug-addicted burn-out. Every day I was there I thought would be my last." Karl's honesty about his time in 'Nam and the dark days that followed it were an eye-opener for me. I had never heard combat described so vividly before by someone I knew personally. My uncle Cico served in Korea, but has never said much about it. My uncle-in-law Bart was in Vietnam, but worked a technical job loading bombs into the fighters (although he did have a harrowing story to tell about watching a friend of his drive off in a jeep and then explode seconds later when a rocket obliterated it). Niether of my grandfathers served in World War II because of medical exemptions: my maternal grandfather was disqualified because of his poor eyesight, and my paternal grandfather was already on the road to being a full cripple because of rheumatoid arthritis (by the time I knew him, he was a sad hunched over figure in a wheelchair barely able to pick up a knife or a fork; and to imagine that he was once a handsome lady's man and a superb dancer). It is only from Karl that I've heard first-hand stories of the terrors of war and its impact on the common foot-soldier. And Karl fought in one of the most unpleasant wars of recent history, one that sent many youths home scarred for life. It terrifies me to think of how many more of our men and women overseas are suffering the same thing now. I hope they come home safe (and very soon) and come home able to enjoy civilian life.

But back to Karl, and the eventual point I'm reaching here. Karl suffers from PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder, and attends the hospital at the VA and takes medication. He tells me how much anger he still has boiling in him, how much it tries to break through. On a day-to-day basis, Karl is a wonderful man: funny, pleasantly gruff, and the sort of guy who is proud to be himself and who you're proud to know. But he knows the dark places of his own mind very well from his time in Vietnam. Karl is fortunate enough to have the best medicine of all for his problems: a daughter named Julia, who is going into the sixth grade. Julia came along late in his life, when Karl least expected to start a family, and as he told me, it was like: "Life, Part II." I've tutored Julia during the last summer, and she's a sunny, active, wonderful kid, and I can see how much she's done for Karl.

This week I talked to Karl about the ultimate Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder movie. No, not The Deer Hunter. I've never liked that movie that much. I mean First Blood, the 1982 Ted Kotcheff film that turned John Rambo into a movie icon. The two sequels, Rambo: First Blood—Part II and Rambo III have altered our perception of the character into a sort of jingoistic cartoon. I'll admit an enormous affection for Rambo: First Blood—Part II: if you take it as a modern version of a World War II propaganda film, it's great fun. And Jerry Goldsmith's score is awesome—I miss that guy. The less said about Rambo III, the better. However, taking First Blood on its own, and looking at it in conjuction with David Morrell's 1971 novel (which is even more violent, and brings, in the author's own words, "Vietnam to America"), it's a superb cinematic work and one of Sylvester Stallone's finest momemts. It's vision of a man suffering from PTSD. He begins the film as a non-threatening, but low-functioning individual, "almost autistic" as Stallone says in the DVD commentary. He discovers that the last member of his unit has died: he survived 'Nam, but rotted away from Agent Orange. Rambo is suddenly a man with nothing left, symbolized when he tosses his address book into a fire pit.

And then somebody pushes him just a bit too far. And the illness in his brain from his service, his torture, the horrible things he did, kicks in and he becomes a pure machine of survival and rage. That's all he knows. And Karl tells me that when watching the film he knows that exact feeling. When you fight for your life everyday in a world seemingly gone insane, where suits have sent you out to die for whatever pencil-pushing reasons they have while they sit at comfy desks, you have to rely on almost pure animal instincts. First Blood captures this perfectly, and Stallone's final breakdown at the end in front of the man who created him, Trautman (a great performance from the late Richard Crenna) is one of the actor's best—even if it buys a bit too much into the "spit on the soliders" myth (see the great documentary Sir! No Sir! for more about this; veterans of Vietnam were amongst the strong protesters and critics of the war, and indeed were the first to start it). The movie gives me a better sense of what Karl went through, and what all the other men in Vietnam went through.

And what, tragically, our men and women in Iraq and Aghanistan are going through now. Please, come home safe... and come home sane.

09 March 2007

Blog: Mark II

This marks the beginning of a new blog here at “The Realm of Ryan.” I previously ran an informal blog at a lesser (okay, awful) service, but after a year of getting a thrill from describing bland minutiae to a tiny crowd of other victims of the service, rambling without focus about any ol’ topic that popped into the twisted trailer park that I call my mind, I burnt out.

But now I’m getting serious about blogging. At least I think so. My new philosophy: fewer posts, meatier substance, focus on book and movie reviews. A blog from a dedicated writer who likes to think he is generating a community. At the very least, a writer who is planning for the future, when he may have actual “fans” aside from a tiny group. The sort of people who have never encountered me in the real world and hopefully won’t turn into stalkers.

You might call it “ambition” blogging. And if you know nothing about me, have never met me in the flesh, and you’re reading this—I must have succeeded in a small way.

It’s nice to be here folks, thank you for supporting live blogging! Remember to tip your waitresses!