The Soundtrack

Yesterday, while I was doing more unpacking (after that heavy post), I had my iPhone playing background music. Mostly, I was conscious of it only occasionally. In fact, at one point, I’m sure it must’ve repeated “No Reply” by the Beatles at least three times before I noticed.

I suppose I was just humming along. “Hmm reply! Hmm reply!” I usually write with music playing too – from classical to pop.

Some writers need SILENCE, but I don’t really require a library style hush. Mostly it has to be just consistent, reasonably volumed, sounds around me. Someone in an adjoining room with a TV blaring AND channel surfing totally wrecks my concentration. (And drives me nuts!)

In the novels I make veiled references to various 1980s and 1990s singers, but never mention any by name explicitly. Having thought about it this morning (Classic FM on, as I prepare to tackle some of the last post-move mess), I asked myself that if I wanted a “soundtrack” for the tale (in the same vein as the “Which actors?” for the film adaptation game), which songs would I think reasonably captured it? I created a quick iPad playlist of ten:

A playlist.

A playlist.

Some were hits, urr, way back when in ye olden days of the 1980s and early 1990s. Some were lesser known. There’s also a timeless one by Frank Sinatra, covering a Beatles song.

Those generally convey the spirit of the tale. They reflect tone pretty well too. It’s just interesting to think about that sort of thing. :-)

Have a good Thursday!

Sex, Violence And Obscenity

Early in the life of this blog, I posted on writing “love scenes.” More recently, I reflected on the struggle to avoid “the cringeworthy” while doing so. It’s not easy.

We’re also inconsistent. I find that wider issue perpetually intriguing. To broach it, in the sequel I inserted characters’ discussing it:

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I’m not sharing here which characters are having that exchange. ;-) Regardless, I think we get it: violence in storytelling appears to be simply more acceptable than sex.

Free Stock Photo: Man in a suit with a small pistol.

Free Stock Photo: Man in a suit with a small pistol.

We also know that, disturbingly, violence can be perceived as sexy, and that sex can be portrayed violently. And they may even overlap. Those are other issues.

Then there’s obscenity. I’m not a big fan of it. I use it only sparingly.

To point that out is not because I’m making some big personal statement; it’s merely because I don’t like it, so I opt simply to have my characters not use it excessively. I “*”d out an obvious letter in that excerpt above because, while it may be in the conversation in the book, I don’t really want to put up stuff like that in the open on my site.

So we slaughter right and left, but labor at locating the appropriate boundaries for how to depict intercourse tastefully, and we need to be mindful of when to use nasty words. It requires no especial insight to assert we’re full of paradoxes.

I’m capable of being of about half a dozen minds on the same issue at the same time. I’m sure I’m not alone in that. We all also know we’ll probably never change.

“Tough Without A Gun”

Having finished the sequel’s story, to clear my head for a few days before plunging into revision, corrections, etc., I’ve decided on some, uh, relaxing reading:

"Tough Without A Gun: The Extraordinary Life of Humphrey Bogart," by Stefan Kanfer. [My photograph.]

“Tough Without A Gun: The Extraordinary Life of Humphrey Bogart,” by Stefan Kanfer. [My photograph.]

That biography of Humphrey Bogart was a birthday present from my mother-in-law. She knows Bogart is my favo(u)rite actor. Technical assistance in making the purchase was provided by my wife: her mother barely knows what the internet is, much less how to use it. ;-)

About Bogart’s now by far best-known role, and his taking Hollywood by storm after over a decade of mostly second-rate (and often third-rate) parts, author Stefan Kanfer eloquently sums up on page 87:

….Rick Blaine was not just the fulcrum of a melodramatic movie. He was a symbol of the nation itself, at first wary and isolationist, then changing incrementally until he headed in the opposite direction. At the finale Rick Blaine had turned into a warrior. That was the way moviegoers, especially male moviegoers, saw themselves in 1943. That year they did the most unlikely, and unrepeatable thing in the history of American cinema. They made Casablanca a smash, which was not unexpected. But they also made the middle-aged, creased, scarred, lisping Humphrey Bogart into a superstar. No one expected that. Not even Humphrey Bogart. Especially not Humphrey Bogart.

From the profound to the decidedly less so. Here’s a distinctly lesser-known quote from Bogart himself, which appears on page 12. Years afterward, he recalled his own “lofty” eighteen year old’s motives for enlisting in the U.S. Navy in May 1918, during World War One:

The war was great stuff. Paris! French girls! Hot damn!

Hardly “Lafayette, we are here.” But that was how he saw the world in 1918. Clearly, by 1941, a more world-weary Bogart as Richard Blaine – having, as we know, previously fought in Spain and in Ethiopia for what had proven to be ultimately the losing sides (“and been well paid for it on both occasions,” as he also informed us) – was not nearly as easily wowed:

Yvonne: Where were you last night?
Rick: That’s so long ago, I don’t remember.
Yvonne: Will I see you tonight?
Rick: I never make plans that far ahead.

Which is how we will always see him. He is Bogart on film, playing “Humphrey Bogart” in a variety of roles. It’s difficult for us to imagine the perpetually “middle-aged, creased, scarred, lisping” superstar ever having been eighteen and so immature.

Have a good Sunday. Kanfer’s book is excellent. So, today, for me, it’s back to more Bogart. :-)

Quai d’Orsay

I watched this on the plane over to the U.S. last week. Thoroughly entertaining, it even made me laugh out loud several times (embarrassing on a plane), and took my Dad’s illness – which was why I was flying to the States – off of my mind for a little while. As such, it deserves a post:

How to characterize Quai d’Orsay? In simple terms, it struck me as sorta loosely a combination of, say, Yes, Minister and The West Wing. Like the former, it satirizes a shallowness in politicians. Similar to the latter, it’s fast-paced, with lots of rushed conversations while walking through hallways at a retreating camera.

You have to follow along [read the subtitles] closely, or you’ll miss lots. Forget it’s about France. (If you feel you don’t know much about French politics.) If you like well-written, political comedy on screen, you’ll probably like this.

The ensemble contains an actor now likely most famous outside of France for a closeness to the, uh, current real French president. Leaving that aside, she’s at times hilarious in this fictional role as an adviser on Africa policy. For instance, when, during a foreign policy crisis, she’s drafted into keeping the Maronite Patriarch busy for an hour, the expression on her face, and her reaction, is priceless.

Naturally it also has a decidedly French flair and cultural grounding. The fictional French Foreign Minister fancying himself standing up for France’s “grandeur,” sharing his pretensions to personal literary and intellectual prowess with a patrician pomposity (that is somehow not ultimately off-putting), and topping it off with an “I know best” glint in the eye – while it often also seems he is about to poke himself in the eye – would not readily fly written for a U.S. on-screen politician. I don’t think U.S. audiences would buy it.

Meaning I suspect it would be close to impossible to portray a U.S. Secretary of State in a manner similar to that French minister. Yet you have to believe someone in Hollywood has already optioned the rights to this (because *it’s French*) to try to concoct some U.S. version. And they’ll probably eventually produce some predictably weak, watered down film, over-straining to be funny.

The “Fifty Shades” Universal Trailer

Get ready. Uh, brace yourself. Variety:

On Thursday morning, Universal Studios debuted its first trailer for “Fifty Shades of Grey,” the highly anticipated film based on the erotic novels by E.L. James.

The movie stars Jamie Dornan (who appears san [sic] shirt) as Christian Grey and Dakota Johnson as his inexperienced lover Anastasia Steele….

We don’t know yet if the film will be “decent.” (If that’s the right word?) But the quality of the book and its film adaptation are not really the concern here; those are for others to argue about. I’ve not read the book and have no plans to see the film.

I will say this, though. While you might dream a novel you write will one day find itself a film, if it were to do so that film’s actual quality is mostly out of your control. I suppose the bottom line is if you found yourself paid (especially if you were paid “big”) for film rights, I suspect as a writer you would be thrilled to take the money and run. ;-)

But, privately (between just us here…. and the internet), I’d hate to see my book(s) theatrically ruined.

Have a good day, wherever you are reading this….

If Only Liz Hadn’t Forgotten An Umbrella

We all know The Great Gatsby. It is rooted in a variety of its author F. Scott Fitzgerald’s experiences. Fitzgerald’s writing in general revolves mostly around the rich, decadence, and insanity.

“He wrote what he knew,” my wife noted as we discussed him. He had also lived for years in France, and had naturally once been an aspiring author. In Babylon Revisited we encounter essentially still more Fitzgerald autobiography wrapped up as fiction.

After his death, “Babylon” was adapted into the 1954 film, The Last Time I Saw Paris. We happen to have bought “The Last Time” among others in a DVD old film series, but had never actually watched the movie. Last night, on impulse, my wife suggested with a grin, “We need to, in honour of my mum and aunt.” So, at long last, we did.

A personal observation on U.S. expat stories. I find solid non-American characters are vital when a tale is set outside of the U.S. Otherwise what is the point?

Again, though, we have to remember this is based on Fitzgerald’s life, and I am not an authority on that. What we do see on screen is that this film is almost all Americans – except for brief appearances by Eva Gabor and Roger Moore (yes, really). Although it’s Paris, the French seem mostly for background. They hardly register as actual people, doing little other than uttering a few French words and providing necessary “local color” to remind us it isn’t London, or…. Sacramento. Save for George Dolenz, who plays the thoughtful, French brother-in-law, and the bartender (it’s a Fitzgerald adaptation so there is drinking throughout) and some individuals doing their jobs (doctors, nurses), there don’t seem all that many French in Paris.

So this film didn’t have to be set in Paris really. It could’ve been most anywhere. That said, here’s the crux of the tale, including certain of my own, uh, personal “margin notes.” Who needs Wikipedia?

***** WARNING: SPOILERS *****

Continue reading

"I'm the money" - from Casino Royale, 2006.

A James Bond Moment

Sunday, after the World Cup final and the awarding of the trophy, my wife was channel surfing for something to watch next, and found a film on BBC America. (It’s one we have on DVD, so why bother with on TV, right? But don’t we often do that? Accidentally find something you like on TV and which you own already, and you end up watching it on TV anyway?)

I happened to be upstairs. So I was unable to see the television in the lounge. Hearing the movie’s distinctive score between scenes (but no dialogue), I still knew which one it was immediately and blurted out, “Casino Royale!”

She replied instantly, “I know you love this one!”

I may be in the minority on this, but I don’t care. I believe Casino is the “coolest” James Bond film since Sean Connery’s time. It’s my favorite.

From Chris Cornell’s crashing rock opening credits theme song, to the chase in Madagascar, to, uh, well, I don’t want to spoil anything if you’ve never seen it….

I will share this, though. The dining car scene between Bond and Vesper? That has to be one of the wittiest extended exchanges in any Bond film:

That post’s just a non-literary aside. I hate talking TOO MUCH about my writing on here. (Don’t we despise those who only yammer on about themselves?) We need a break sometimes – myself included!

Hope you have a good Tuesday. :-)

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When Americans Meet

Yesterday, I discussed romance at 39,000 ft over the Atlantic. Today, we return to earth. Uh, “foreign” ground, to be specific.

Since Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, oh, and John and Abigail Adams (geez, never leave out John Adams, or he goes volcanic), Americans in Europe have provided storylines in countless books and films. Tourists form one distinctive source. Expats another:

“You’re American, right?” she asked James.

He answered, “You’re an American, too.”

“We’re from L.A.,” she said. “My husband works in Paris, and we’re on vacation. He had to go to the States for a time by himself. I thought the boys would like to see Normandy.” She concluded as one of her sons gestured restlessly that he wanted to sit on her lap and she waved a hand trying to dissuade him.

I’ve lived in Britain for over 15 years. I’ve run into Americans now and then. A few years’ back I read somewhere that there are around 250,000 non-military Americans residing in the United Kingdom, of whom some 100,000 live in London. (But please don’t quote me on that.)

When we bump into one another, of course we never quite know “who” we each are at first. I’ve always had the distinct impression we sort of eye each other up decidedly more than if we had met in the U.S. It’s as if we are trying to ascertain, “Who are you really? And why are you here too?”

Perhaps the major reason we may be rather wary of one another initially is because back at home we are sooooooo nastily divided politically. That often translates on this side of the water into meeting Americans who may be quicker to attack U.S. policies than even the most fault-finding, stereotypically “anti-American” of Europeans, while simultaneously also admiring Europe more than even many Europeans. I’ve also stumbled on the polar opposite: the expression “What’s that in real money?” may no longer be heard, but there are still Americans for whom the U.S. can do nearly no wrong and Europeans almost nothing right.

Myself, I’ve always been “careful” over here. Some right-wing Europeans think I’m rather conservative. Leftists often think I’m more left-wing than I am. Very good. Keep ‘em guessing….

But regardless fellow American let’s not draw swords on each other about whatever is bugging you about back home and wash our dirty laundry among these non-Americans listening to us because many of them have not been to the U.S. so are looking at us to provide them a first-hand glimpse into what our country is because their usual insight into life in the U.S. is through the media prism provided by the likes of the BBC and Le Monde. Oh, I should take a breath? You can tell I’m from New York originally? Buy you a drink, friend? ;-)

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I also recall once meeting the proverbial “American in Paris.” Politics wasn’t his obvious interest; but a certain woman definitely was. Working there for a time, he had within weeks of arrival become infatuated with a French friend of mine whom he had met through mutual acquaintances. (Editor’s note: this was well before Robert met his future wife.)

Smitten by her? Well, what a surprise? As she introduced us at a party, I sensed immediately he also wasn’t exactly thrilled she knew me.

“This is Robert,” she grabbed my arm, “my friend from in New York….”

Yep, that’s right, dude, I am from New York. And I’ve known her a lot longer than you. And you are, from, uh, some town in some state no one in this room’s ever heard of. ;-)

The intra-Yank “tension” bubbled hotly just below the surface. Moreover she had already also told me she was not interested in him “that way” anyway. “And he’s Protestant. I would not go with a Protestant,” my Catholic friend had made quite clear.

Thinking back on it, I would characterize the scene as akin to an awkward bit we might see in a Woody Allen film. At some point years after, I came to think nonsense like that might serve as a launching pad for a little literary endeavor of my own someday. Yep, Henry James, watch out. ;-)

“Wow! Congratulations on your film deal!”

We spent much of the Bank Holiday weekend in Bristol with the friend (and his wife) I mentioned in the previous post.

He has been writing a book. The basics in Word are no problem for him; but he is also a self-proclaimed technophobe. So he and his wife (she handles the internet “stuff” in their house) asked me if I could orient him as to where to begin with independent publishing online.

Good friend that I am, I walked him through setting up a Createspace account, pointed and clicked as to how the process generally unfolds from there, and also explained how to get his book up on Kindle. He became so enthusiastic, we ended up getting his cover largely settled in half an hour. I told him if he had any further questions, he need only to drop me an email.

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Then, this morning, it hit me. His novel is “action adventure” – WWII American pilots, Nazi scientists, postwar contract killers, etc. I laughed to myself: yeh, he’ll probably end up selling, uh, like, err, a gazillion copies, and even get optioned for a major Hollywood film….

….and I won’t.

Hmm. You know, I bet she could handle a sword. Suddenly I’m thinking that, in the sequel, I may have to transform Isabelle into, umm, that glamorous vampire from another galaxy after all. ;-)

Bogart In The Early 1940s

The previous post on “Batman in Paris” got me thinking more about movies. Let’s have some more fun.

My affinity for Humphrey Bogart is one my wife doesn’t entirely share. She understands his appeal. But, she also likes to say, he’s not really her cup of tea.

Her favo(u)rite actor of the ’40s and ’50s is Cary Grant. I like Grant also. In fact, I think men grow to appreciate him more as we get older. We all should walk around wearing a tuxedo at home, shouldn’t we? Our women would love it! ;-)

Back to Bogart. Here are “five” of my Bogart “likes” from his “early-mid World War II” output. That coincides as well neatly with when he had risen to become a “leading man”:

1. Casablanca (1943): There is nothing I could write here that those far sharper and keener about films haven’t already. His weary American expatriate, Rick Blaine, who “returns to the fight,” is one of the classic figures in movie history. (I make a fictionalized reference to it in the book. Again slipped in something “below the radar” – although, this time, in a positive manner!)

A Casablanca film promo poster that was given to me as a gift. [Photo by me, 2013.]

A Casablanca film promo poster. [Photo by me, 2013.]

2. The Maltese Falcon (1941): While not a “war film” (it was released pre-Pearl Harbor), it can’t be overlooked here: it was Bogart’s first “leading” role. Watched in 2014, some of the private eye and “mysterious woman” banter between Bogart and Mary Astor may seem a little dated. But remember they were the trailblazers, and this one helped lay the groundwork for much of the “cop” / “private eye” stuff we see routinely today.

3. Sahara (1943): Well-acted and compelling. In it, interestingly, while women are discussed regularly, being completely a battlefield film, there’s not a single woman character. Its underlying theme that the Western Allies’ national, religious and racial diversity constitutes a major source of strength (as opposed to the Nazi hatred of “difference”), remains inspiring today.

4. Passage to Marseille (1944) The closest to a “real” Casablanca sequel that there is. If you know Casablanca by heart, but have never seen this, try it. It’s not Casablanca, but it’s still a pretty darn good film in its own right.

5. Across the Pacific (1942): It is a bit patchy, but a weaker Bogart film is still a Bogart film. Once again there is Mary Astor, and once again some great lines. “Remember the girl you dreamed about when you were 19?” says Rick Leland (Bogart, of course). “She’s it.” (If I’m recalling it properly.)

You ask, how could I not include To Have and Have Not? I know, I know; but I decided to keep my list here to five, as well as to confine it to early-mid wartime. (Have was released in 1945.) I also wanted to mention a couple of films – Passage and Pacific – that may not be as widely known today.

And this is a blog post, not an encyclopedia! :-)