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Monday, July 30, 2012

Slowly Reading Maugham

More than anything, Maugham perfected pacing and structure, especially his short stories and novellas. The tone is often casual and intimate, almost leisurely, but underneath the chatty voice there is a force that propels the dramatic tension from the first moment to the ending. His use of suspense is extremely subtle, almost subliminal, but it instills an irresistible urge that compels the reader from the first page to the last. Fantastic.

I'm re-reading some of his short stories very slowly, mulling over sentences and paragraphs, hoping to absorb some of his skills by osmosis.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Voiceover in J. Edgar

Of all the reviews I have read about this movie, none, nil, zip, nada made any mention of the use of Hoover's voiceover in the movie. Curious, isn't it? Is it because I've lived in China or I've had a brief encounter with bureaucrats that I picked up on this ironic device in this movie?

The first clue is the narrative frame, structured as Hoover dictating his memoir to a young underling. One has to regard the voiceover as an aging and outdated bureaucrat desperate to preserve his legacy. The voiceover brackets certain segments of the flashback as his "official memory." Because these segments are mixed with demostic scenes that are NOT bracketed by his voiceover. The distinction is critical and subtle. In fact, Eastwood is so careful not to push the point (afraid of it?) that it ends up flying under the consciousness of every movie reviewer I have read. Geez, I hope I am not the only person to have picked up on this --- the voiceover segments are associated with all the claims of Hoover's own achievements, the absolute necessity for the bureau's power to fight communists and anarchists in the 1920s and of gangsters in the 1930s, his prophetic "discovery" of scientific methods, his Sherlock Holmesian detection of the Lindberg case, his bravery and courage and extraordinary greatness ... Oh yes, he was the Cassandra that sacrificed for and saved the motherland, but was unjustly rejected by the ungrateful people and politicians. He alone stood between America's survival and destruction.

Hidden but not completely excised, I suspect the irony might have been oozing out of the screenplay but was largely scrubbed out by the cautious director. Still, it is there, kind of. For example, Hoover's claim of the imminent danger of communism in 1960s is juxtaposed with his claim of the same danger (mark the voiceover) in the 1920s. Obviously he was paranoid and self-serving in the 1960s, drumming up fear and extorting more power for himself from that fear. Are we to believe that his retrospective claim about the 1920s were completely truthful? This juxtaposition might explain the logic underlying the fractured segments between the present (1970s) and the past (flashbacks) and between the official and domestic sides of Hoover's life.

Yes, that is what I am saying. The way voiceover is used in J. Edgar may be similar to the way voiceover is used in The Usual Suspects. At least in the portions subtly marked with the voiceover, Hoover is no more trustworthy than Keyser Soze.

So why was Eastwood so cautious, so afraid to let the irony show, so ... paranoid? Is he afraid that  the movie would draw the ire of right-wing mouthpieces and moviegoers who still worship Hoover as their hero? Like Hoover and his humanity, the movie hides its nature so well that the intent is lost in the shuffle.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Rest is Furniture

I have been told that science fiction is all about solving problems, and non-problem-solving stories need not apply. I always thought there was something wrong in this claim, but it wasn't until tonight that I saw GRRM put it best ---

Motor cars or horses, tricorns or togas, ray-guns or six-shooters, none of it matters, so long as the people remain. Sometimes we get so busy drawing boundaries and making labels that we lose track of that truth. Casablanca put it most succinctly. “It’s still the same old story, a fight for love and glory, a case of do or die.”

William Faulkner said much the same thing while accepting the Nobel Prize for Literature, when he spoke of “the old verities and truths of the heart, the universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed---love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice.” The “human heart in conflict with itself,” Faulkner said, “alone can make good writing, because only that is worth writing about.” 

We can make up all the definitions of science fiction and fantasy and horror that we want. We can draw our boundaries and make our labels, but in the end it’s still the same old story, the one about the human heart in conflict with itself. 

The rest, my friends, is furniture.  

Thursday, July 12, 2012


Charlie Rose is on TV interviewing Judi Dench. She is talking about how theater is for her and film is mere diversion. Suddenly I get an urge to see a Chekhov play. Perhaps somewhere Cherry Orchard is on.

In the past couple of years I've slowly learned to appreciate theater and enjoy the intensity of it. It's hard to explain --- intensely alive is perhaps the right phrase. Palpable, like strong gushes of blood in the arteries, so hot and loud that one can hear it. Film can never be like that.

I'd like to see a Chekhov play soon.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Ehsaan Noorani

今天偶然地在广播里听到有人提起美国的老牌子 Fender 吉他在印度热卖,因为签了著名的吉他手 Ehsaan Noorani,然后没头没尾地放了一小段他的曲子,让我十分惊艳。很想收集一些好听的现代一些的印度音乐,苦于不知从何下手。

在网上草草地转了一圈,找不到系统的 Ehsaan Noorani 的曲子,零碎碰见的片段确实很有趣,印度风混合了很强的 Blues。 听了一点他跟另外两人合作的乐队Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy 的歌曲倒觉得一般般,没什么特点。

找不到 Ehsaan Noorani 的单曲,只有几个跟 Blues 乐队 jam 的视频

翻到一首不是宝莱坞的好听的歌,Piya Basanti ,里面的女声真是娇嫩啊,演唱者 K.S. Chithra 是个笑呵呵的中年胖大妈,可不是 MTV 里年轻美貌的小妞。

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Russian Soul

最近在混着读 GRRM 和毛姆的短篇们。随手翻到毛姆的短篇 Neil MacAdam,里面女主角是个嫁给英国学者的俄国人,住在南洋某岛上,说起当地英国殖民者女人非常不屑:

The women are intolerable. They are jealous and spiteful and lazy. They can talk of nothing. If you introduce an intellectual subject they look down their noses as though you were indecent. What can they talk about now? They’re interested in nothing. If you speak of the body they think you improper, and if you speak of the soul they think you priggish.

‘I don’t want people to be amiable and kindly. I want them to be vital and passionate. I want them to be interested in mankind. I want them to attach more importance to the things of the spirit than to a gin pahit or a curry tiffin. I want art to matter to them, and literature.’ She addressed herself abruptly to Neil: ‘Have you got a soul?’

看到这段我忍不住哆嗦一下,眼前仿佛看见大学同学,某乌克兰犹太女,不过她自称是被俄国文学养大的。Russians really are always going on about their souls, no kidding, and are utterly and absolutely sincere about it.

我觉得社会/人际方面,中国和英美文化的相似之处在于一种伪装的压力,大家消解应付这种压力同时自保的方式是采取一种略微 cynical 的游戏人生的态度。或许,在俄国这种不强调伪装的文化里,这种看穿红尘的态度就没必要了,因为没有东西需要看穿。


毛姆描写女人的外貌从来没有毫无保留地赞其美,而且写到缺点的时候毫不留情;但是他经常毫无保留地两眼放光地描写男青年的美貌 ---- 老一点的男人可没有这种待遇。这个故事很明显是关于守身如玉的弯男青年被疯狂熟女(或者是某弯男青年被老弯男)缠上了难以脱身的桥段,说不定是他从哪儿听来的真事儿或半传奇。


Of all the stories in Dreamsong 1, except his youthful experiment with "Dr. Weird", Nightflyers is the only story I do not care much for, and the only relatively predictable one. It is really two stories mashed into one: the pursuit of a mythical gigantic ship that glides slowly across the universe and a sci fi version of "the locked room" (or "the locked spaceship") plot. Neither too original. The first part is very AC Clarke-ish with a twist. The second part is fairly common space horror stuff with a family relationship that the Chinese understand well.

The lack of originality apparently makes it perfect material for adaptation to screen. In the novella, the heroine is black and superior. In the movie, she's of course white.

Timon of Athens

During the intermission of Timon of Athens at Folger, I eavesdropped on a discussion among the 3 persons (who looked like a mother with t...

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