A personal diary keeping people abreast of what I am working on writing-wise.

Sunday, January 18, 2004


The first part of the comic strip I did with Patrick Scherberger, "Chance Meetings," is now online and free to read. There are three installments in all. For a little more on the project, you can also go here.

I also turned in Ai Yori Aoshi five yesterday. My next Tokyopop assignment is something a little different, but can't be discussed, as it is still being ironed out.

Finally, I have been invited to contribute to two different comics anthologies. I have one pitch turned in and accepted, so I need to sort out the art. I am going to meet with the editor of the other later this week. I was actually pretty pleased with my interaction with the second editor, as he was worried about me bending to the genre and not delivering something that would be representative of me. I said I'd like to avoid my pigeon holes of punk rockers and teen angst, and he responded that he'd never stick me in those boxes, but he was hoping I'd bring the emotion I bring to my own work, which would set my story apart from most of the others. I thought that was a rather insightful bit of direction.

My weekend movie viewing brought together two films with interesting similarities. Bombay Talkie from the Merchant Ivory team, and The Last Tycoon, an adaptation of the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel by director Elia Kazan and screenwriter/playwrite Harold Pinter. Though set in different times and in different movie capitols, both advance complex metaphors centered around moviemaking and the dream builders whose lives have become tangled in the fiction they create.

Made in the early '70s, Bombay Talkie uses the Indian film industry (commonly known as Bollywood) as a backdrop for a love triangle involving the frustrated poet/screenwriter, the handsome cinema star, and the American romance novelist they are both pursuing. Taking their plot both from the colorfully emotional Indian films the two men have a hand in and the modern bodice-rippers the woman writes, the story is familiar (though, frankly, the supposed satirical elements seem to me to be the weakest parts of the film, lacking either the smoldering lust or the abandon of the material Merchant Ivory claim to be sending-up). What sets Bombay Talkie apart is how life and narrative intersect.

Interestingly, Bombay Talkie doesn't play coy with its images, choosing instead to just lay them out for the audience. The first time we are introduced to the theme is when Lucia Lane (the writer, as played by Jennifer Kendal) steps onto the Bollywood set. The actor, Vikram (Kendal's real-life husband and Bollywood heartthrob Shashi Kapoor), is involved in a dance number that takes place atop a giant typewriter. The director informs her that this is meant to represent how we dictate the course of our lives, the dance across the keys typing out our own biography. Presumably, the scene was created by Hari, the screenwriter (Zia Mohyeddin).

Hari immediately makes his intentions clear, even going so far as to invite Lucia out for a poetry reading (har!). But once she has decided on Vikram, she too is going to lay out her own plan, revealing to all that she has been inspired to start a new novel about a foreign woman in India who meets a sensual Indian man. The implication by her following actions is that she is going to go one step beyond typing her life out--she is going to bring her fiction into reality.

The two men fall into Lucia's plot outline. For his part, Vikram's life only works when he follows the script he was originally given. When he strays from wife and career to suffer at Lucia's whim, his world begins to crumble. By the time he chooses to reassert control, it's too late. Additionally, he is wrecked by his own shallowness of feeling. Too long has he lived his emotional life in front of a camera, and his poor choices indicate he never developed it for real.

On the flipside is Hari, who feels too much. He likes to speak of doomed poets, and he certainly brings that to bear. But he is also caught up in the lurid world of the movies, and in a sense, the personal tragedy he seeks is shoved aside for the macho heroics of an over-the-top, filmic romance. He was given a knife by Vikram that Hari claims once belonged to another poet, who killed himself with it; however, Hari ends up murdering Vikram after the actor has spurned Lucia, succumbing to the more traditional movie action while at the same time trying to kill the embodiment of said movies.

The Last Tycoon takes place in depression-era Hollywood. Robert DeNiro is Monroe Stahr, a movie mogul modeled after Irving Thalberg. Stahr is a genius, single-handedly propelling his studio to success through his dogged belief in the power of film. He has an uncanny instinct to shape a story, to know what a picture needs to make it work, and he often does so without thought for the bottom line. At one point, the board of directors wants to know why he would insist on making a movie where the budget is twice as much as he hopes to recoup at the box office. He simply tells them that it has to be done for the good of humanity, for the art of moviemaking itself, to give something back.

But Stahr represents an old Hollywood, one that is being washed away like the props afloat on an artificial flood early in the film. His golden age of making movies for the sake of it has died, much like the famous actress that was the love of his life has died. When he sees a girl who looks exactly like her (herself riding one of those drifting props), he tries to recapture what he had, turn back the clock, but it all explodes in his face.

There is a crucial scene where Stahr is instructing a writer about writing a good screenplay by acting out a sequence all by himself, setting the scene. It's an intriguing scenario, brought to life by a charismatic DeNiro, that ultimately leads the writer to ask what happens next. Stahr simply says that he does not know, he's just making pictures. This is Stahr boiled down to one sentence. He is just making movies, that's all he is. He is a function. When we revisit the moment at the end, Stahr has either lost everything he holds dear or is about to. This time, the viewer is his audience, as he once again runs through his story--but this time also cross-cut with the girl, performing a portion of it in his mind, showing us the parallels of Stahr's fact and fiction. At one point, the girl makes mention of him living alone in a giant house watching movies by himself--but really, he is alone in the giant narrative he has created, the movie of his life. When last we see Stahr, he walks away from us, swallowed by an empty soundstage.

I suppose some may be getting bored with me droning on and on about narrative and the layers of storytelling, but I can't shake my fascination with it. It keeps popping up, whether I expect it to or not. When it does, I can't resist peeling it back and looking inside.

It may come back, too, given that I am currently reading Dave Eggers's A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, a self-conscious pseudo-memoir. Thirty or so pages of metafictional exposition precede the actual start of the novel, and it was actually pretty tough work getting through it. Eggers was coming off as a little too pleased with himself. But once I started reading the story of how he, as the narrator, came to live with his little brother, Toph, I started to get into it. I like the flow of the writing. There is a naturalness to it, and he somehow manages to be very repetitive with his word choices while maintaining a vibrancy. By his own warning in that troublesome preamble, I turn each page with fear it's all going to go wrong again, though, so I am reserving final judgment.

Hell, I almost expect we'll discover Toph doesn't exist at all. At one point, a conversation between the two sees the ten-year-old boy essentially turn into Eggers's doppelganger, deconstructing the pages that preceded (and even calling Eggers out for the bits that frustrated me). So, we shall see...

Current Soundtrack: Martin L. Gore, "Loverman" EP; The La's, The La's

golightly@confessions123.com * The Website

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