Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Tonight: Our Duly Selected President Lays Out How He's Going to Try and Destroy the Country This Year.

Some bad news to keep everyone from feeling too good, (because I know that's a danger).

One: Bush gives his State of the Union tonight. We're going to hear what anti-consumer, pro-corporate policies he and the Republican Congress are going to pursue this year. Should be fun.

Two: I live in one of the 5 most retarded states in the union. I know not everyone likes to hear that, but it's the truth, and no one should shy away from that. First the poll tax, and now this: Georgia, Indiana, Ohio, South Dakota, and Tennessee are all proposing new legislation that would ban ALL ABORTIONS except those in which the life of the mother is in danger. Not health, but the LIFE. Good thing we still have 5 Pro-Roe justices on the Supreme Court. For NOW. Speaking of which...

Three: Judge Alito got confirmed to the Supreme Court today. Now we have a solid bloc of hard-right justices (Alito, Roberts, Thomas, and Scalia) on the court who can be counted on to vote for suppression of dissent and for the corporate rule of law every chance they get. Both sides get very angry every time a new justice is nominated, and the focus of the argument centers on abortion rights. Important as that is, and it is important, the question that didn't interest anyone but was arguably as important, was Alito's views on the inherent powers of the Executive. Alito believes the Executive has an almost unqualified right to follow or ignore laws however the President sees fit. He finds a lot of leeway in a phrase in Article II, Section 3 of the Constitution, "the President shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed." Alito takes that to mean, "he'll do what he feels like." This is bad news, which is why I included it on my Bad News Tuesday, which may or may not be something I do weekly. I'm a downer like that. And finally...

4) Arlen Specter doesn't want people to protest anymore. He inserted a ryder to the new Patriot Act bill that says the "authorities" can haul protestors away and charge them with a felony if they breach a "security perimeter". So if the authorities set the "security perimeter" 1 mile away from the event being protested, a protestor can be arrested on a felony charge if he or she decide to exercise his or her first amendment rights to "peaceably assemble". If convicted, they would also lose their right to vote. Can we dissolve government yet?

Ugh. Bad news Tuesday's gotten me down. Something less depressing to close it all out. Hmmm. I got nothing. More inane ramblings tomorrow.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Match Point, A Literary Smackdown of Sorts, and an Illusory Near-Miss in the Skies Over England: Your Monday Inanity

Well, it's Monday again. Hope everyone had a super-awesome weekend.

Mine was pretty good. I saw the new Woody Allen movie, Match Point on Friday evening. Very good. Allen does a movie every year without fail, and every now and again he does a straight drama (in his movie prior to this one, Melinda and Melinda, half of the film was comedy, the other half drama). I think he does drama just as well as he does comedy. I've been skipping Woody's movies for the last few years because none of them have looked particularly appealing. The last two I saw in the theater was Deconstructing Harry (generally off-putting) and Small Time Crooks which, aside from the first 15 minutes, was a total stinker. But the critics are loving this one so Peggy and I went to the Phipps AMC and took in a showing. If you saw and enjoyed Crimes and Misdemeanors, one of Allen's best films, then I think you'll really enjoy Match Point. It's hard to get into what I liked so much about the movie without giving important aspects of the plot away, so I'll just say see it if it comes to a theater near you. And then we can talk.

A couple of quick links and then I'll get outta yo' face.

1) If you are a reader of this blog and sometimes enjoy stringing words together into sentences, and then those sentences into paragraphs, then I urge you to take a gander at Nathan Hines's new effort called Literary Smackdown. The premise is this: Hinesy will post up a topic or an idea or an image at the top of each month, and then folks can write up a lil' story based on the "topic" and send it in. Votes are taken and, each month, a victor emerges. Each month, Hinesy will send the winning writer $300 American dollars. No, wait. I mean he'll send you a dirty email filled with sweet nothings, and quite a few nasty somethings. Go ahead. Send something in.

2) Interesting item on Drudge today. Some folks at a soccer game in England took some pictures of what looks a helluva lot like a near-miss between two big airplanes. The photo (left) makes it appear as though a mid-air collision is unavoidable. Great Britain's Civil Aviation Authority, however, said the "near miss" was an optical illusion caused, in part, by blue skies, lots of sunshine, and obviously a very low-angle view of the scene. If you follow the link and click on 'next', you'll see a series of 6 pictures taken in quick succession and as you do so, the idea of a narrowly-averted mid-air disaster becomes less and less apparent with each new photo. Anyway, I thought it was interesting, and that I would pass it along.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Hagrid is Real, and He Is A Well-Read Russian With Violent Tendencies

In my daily travels through the vast internet-o-scape, I came across this photo on Drudge. Like Satan, (or Al Pacino in The Devil's Advocate), this thing has lots of names. Nikolay Valuev, "Beast from the East", "the Russian Giant", Don King wants to call him "King Kong". I prefer either "Bluto", "Zangief", or "Pituitary Case Crying Out For Euthanasia", but it's admittedly not as catchy as those others. Anyway, he is, as you can see, an enormous man and he is from Russia and he is a boxer. He stands at 7' tall and weighs 323 pounds and, according to the article, he is the new world champion of the "sport". The picture appears to show a hairy man with a face well-suited to a natural history exhibit fighting another man who has, for whatever reason, decided to fight while seated on a stool, but I'm pretty sure these guys are both standing at their full heights in a ring. Frickin' crazy. According to the LATimes article, Valuev reads Tolstoy and writes poetry to his wife, though I'm a little skeptical. With a braincase like that, I'm guessing his Tolstoy reading involves reading the title of War and Peace over and over, and the poems are likely on the order of "me like you", and "Hulk smash". According to his former trainer, he is lazy and will never get any better as a boxer. He also put a 60-year old security guard into the hospital for being "rude" to his wife. Anyway, marginally interesting. All right, everyone. That's it for me this week. Have a great weekend.

Ladies and Gentlemen, For Your Consideration, I Give You: My Brother!

To help make up for my awesomely long James Frey post yesterday (literary hoaxterism is like a scab I can't stop picking), I'm posting up this photo of my brother Patrick, the "fun one", at a party he threw at his apartment a week ago. He said on his blog that I could, so here it is. Maybe some funny captions are in order. I don't know. Enjoy, loyal readers!

Today's James Frey Post, Re-Edited Down to Readable Size

James Frey went on Oprah today, and in a rare live broadcast, she essentially humiliated him in front of millions of people for the crime of lying in his book, A Million Little Pieces. She opened with, "I've been broadcasting for [ungodly number of years] and I've never been in this position before." A bit of video lays out the "story so far" all the way up to her call to Larry King where she essentially let James off the hook.

In the 2 weeks since she called in to Larry's show to say she "believed in the essential truths of the book", the columnists and cultural critics in the country really laid into her. Apparently, she listened, because when they cut back to Oprah, she said, "I now regret that phone call." Turns out Frey was on-stage with her, ready for his reaming. And boy did he get one. She rattled off things that happened in the book almost page by page to ask what was true and what was lies. It was awkward and he didn't seem like a guy you could trust. You couldn't help but feel sorry for the guy.

A couple of panelists on the show had two good suggestions so stuff like this is less likely to happen again. 1) Publishing houses should hire fact-checkers to vett these things (because they don't have them), and 2) authors should include disclaimers in their memoirs about the level of truthiness in their books. I think they ought to do those things and soon.

(For another blogger-iffic reactions to today's show, click on this very short column, and here for some well-deserved scorn for Nan Talese, the book's publisher.)

Ok. This was shorter. Still boring as hell, right? Oh well. I gave it a try.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

I Think James Frey Would Rather Have Had Two Anesthetic-Free Root Canals Than Go Through What He Went Through On Today's Episode of Oprah

I just finished watching an hour of supremely relevant, squirming, mouth-agape, confessional, brilliant television. Not TV mind you, (as in Tee-Vee), but Television, with a capital T. Good, electric stuff. And though this may come as a shock of boredom to some readers who thought (indeed, had hoped) I was all finished with James Frey and the debacle that is A Million Little Pieces, here I come with yet another development, albeit an important one. Hey, it's Oprah's fault, not mine. (The photo to the right is from today's broadcast.)

James Frey went on Oprah today, and in a rare live broadcast, she essentially tortured and humiliated him in front of millions of people for the crime of lying. I felt sorry for him because the ordeal seemed as painful for him as the two unanesthetized route canals he endured WOULD have been, had he actually endured them. He looked as pitiful as a whipped puppy for most of the show, but Oprah wasn't feeling any sympathy today, not should she have. She opened with this: "I've been broadcasting for [ungodly number of years] and I've never been in this position before." A bit of video lays out the "story so far" and catches everyone up on the saga up to and including her call to Larry King where she essentially let James off the hook. I wrote this Inanity on January 12th:
"...Frey was on Larry King last night, and while he was on the air, Oprah called into the show and made her proclamation: James Frey and his book are still all right in her book. And because Oprah is probably the most influential person in the country when it comes to popular culture, that, I think, will do it. Frey's golden again."
In the 2 weeks since she called in to Larry King to say she "believed in the essential truths of the book", the columnists and cultural critics really laid into her. People called her "deluded". Others insinuated that her decision to back Frey had been a calculating business decision as opposed to her authentic opinion. Oprah said that people had gotten the impression that "the truth doesn't matter to me." When they cut back to Oprah, live in Chicago, she was standing center-stage looking into the camera. She said, "I regret that phone call." After a brief commercial interlude, she returned with glutton-for-punishment James Frey sitting next to her. The grilling began. "I feel duped," she told him.

It only got worse. I don't think I've seen anything like it anywhere. Oprah asked Frey about the girl who'd supposedly hanged herself at the end of the book (which was, apparently, a very moving moment to those who have read and enjoyed it), and he said that she did exist, had committed suicide, but that she had not hanged herself, but had slit her wrists. Self-righteous gasps went up in the audience. She asked him, if the difference in the mode of suicide isn't particularly important, why lie about it? I forget his answer, which was just more awkward backtracking, but Stephen King I think had it right.

King was on Bill Maher's new webshow for Amazon called "The Fishbowl", and Maher asked him about James Frey. King, a former drug addict and alcoholic, said, and I'll paraphrase (the webcast doesn't allow you to skip ahead otherwise I'd quote him directly), "When I found out that Frey hadn't gone through with the program, with AA, I said, 'Ah!' It made sense. Addicts lie all the time. You ask them what time it is and they'll lie about that just to keep up practice." It seems like Steve's right on the money here. One of the points of Frey's book is that he didn't 'DO' the "program" - he dropped out of it and came up with his own "method" of coping, which was to "hold on". You can do it, too, is the message. From what very little I know about addiction and the treatment of addiction, those who don't give themselves over completely to rehab, to AA, to whatever treatment regimen, never actually become "recovering addicts". So if Frey abandoned treatment and treated his addiction in his own, cold-turkey, tough-guy way, than, in some respects, he's still an unrecovered addict. He's still lying, and even though when confronted he admitted to "alterations", to "embellishments", and even "fabrications", it wasn't until the end of the show that he conceded he'd "lied".

Nan Talese, the renowned publisher who bought and published A Million Little Pieces (and who was, likely, a major beneficiary of the riches that came with being an Oprah Book Club selection), was also on the show and in the hot seat along with her author. Oprah mentioned the double root canal with no anesthetic scene in AMLP that Frey claimed he'd soldiered through as a "red flag" about the book's overall veracity. In response, Nan told Oprah the she herself had had a Novocaine-free root canal years back (by a bad dentist, she said), so she hadn't questioned Frey's account of his root canal. (Frey, by the way, when asked specifically by Oprah about the root canal scene, he said, after much hemming and hawing, "To the best of my memory, that scene is accurate." More haughty gasps from the audience). Talese got more into the differences between "memoir" and "autobiography" and was understandably hesitant to call Frey out as an out-and-out liar because they are, in effect, in the same boat: both have gotten rich off duping Oprah and her audience. And though I agree that memoirs can't truly be held to thevery same standard as most journalistic non-fiction, (memory being as fluid and self-serving as it is), I think that memoirists should be held to a standard where the author is required to tell the truth to the best of their ability. I know this puts us in murky waters and forces questions like, What is objective truth? In a memoir, can anything be altered and the work still be considered true? If so, what can be changed? A couple of panelists (a professor and a columnist I was unfamiliar with) had two good suggestions. A) Publishing houses should each hire one or many fact-checkers, whose sole job would be to pore over non-fiction manuscripts with an eye for unintentional discrepancies and for willful, outright fabrications. And B) for authors to include disclaimers in the front of memoirs that would include a brief discription of the process the author went through to arrive at the finished product. For instance, if a writer sat down and wrote his or her memoir straight from memory without consulting any documents, or interviewing family members and old friends, then they'd write that in their "Description of Process". That way reader and writer could enter into an honest compact before the story begins so no one gets conned. Though I doubt very much that memoirists are going to slack off with the facts once the disclaimer thing becomes the norm. In non-fiction, rightly or wrongly, consumers like true stories, the truer the better, so if they read the author can't vouch for the truthfulness of the entire work, sales are going to suffer, and the publisher makes less money and will be less likely to buy an author's manuscript. If the author can legitimately back up their story with relevant documents (as Frey claimed to be able to do in the days after being selected as an Oprah book), then your memoir will be all the more powerful for being true, and all the more palatable to the general public. These seem like great remedies and I think the publishing industry should enact these changes sooner than later.

Finally, here's why I thought this show was more than just great theater, but was also, in the end, important. Frank Rich, well-known left-wing columnist for the New York Times, was on the show as well because of a column he wrote comparing the attempt to downplay the outright lies of A Million Little Pieces to the lies the Bush administration told to get us into Iraq and to sell Alito. Though this might seem a little like Rich's way of horning in on the culture story of the day to bring people's attention back to his political beat, there's something to this. If we as a culture become inured to the idea of being lied to (from the little lies Clinton told to the enormous whoppers Bush tells on a daily basis), if we come to believe that truth is this amorphous thing and there's no such thing as a "fact", and if we no longer believe that those who do lie to us should be held to some account, than our society isn't doing so well. Frey talked on Larry King about the "essential truths" of his book, but when we gloss over the idea of quantifiable facts and how "true" they really need to be for us to believe them, then we are on the wrong path towards that elusive truth we're all after. That's why I think it was so great for Oprah to make a brave about-face and come out against Frey's lying, and say there actually IS a line between fact and fiction which is, oftentimes, an objective, visible line. Because her next book is Elie Wiesel's classic Holocaust memoir Night, the demarcation of that line becomes vital. If readers no longer feel certain memoirs are true, and if memoir fades as a viable mode of non-fiction storytelling, books like Night may one day cease to have the power to educate and guide us, and, like the professor on the show said, in an age when heads of state (like Iran) publicly deny the Holocaust even happened, we have to find ways to demonstrate a pervasive reverence for Truth, or at least reverence for the meaningful pursuit of it.

Whew. Talk about self-righteous. Anyway, like I said, it was some good TV, and yes, BOC, I was watching Oprah again. That is how I roll. (Also, for another blogger-iffic reaction to today's show (and to show I'm not off my rocker here), click on this very short column, and here for some well-deserved scorn for Nan Talese and the fact that though Frey shopped Pieces as a novel, Nan only wanted it as a memoir because they sell better. She definitely wormed her way out of the hot seat this time.)

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

If Your Idea of a Good Time is Watching Desperate, Aggressive Comedians Telling One Long, Sick Joke Over and Over, This Post's For You

I rented and watched The Aristocrats today. The Aristocrats, for those who haven't heard of this thing, is a documentary that Penn Jillette and Paul Provenza (both men pictured left) made and released in art-house theaters last year in which they filmed dozens of well-known stand-up comedians telling their version of a joke called 'The Aristocrats'. The Aristocrats is the name of a joke comedians supposedly tell other comedians to impress them with their crudity and creativity and to demonstrate one's "chops". The joke is simple and allows comedians plenty o' room to improvise the most lurid, disgusting acts they can think of. The set up is essentially this: A family walks into a Vaudeville agent's office and says, "I've got a family act for you." The agent says, "Ok, let me see what you got." The family then performs their "act" which is, by necessity, the most disgusting, most depraved "performance" ever perpetrated by human beings in the long and storied history of Homo Sapiens. Scatology, incest, bestiality, and senseless, horrific violence (among other things) are all thrown in to make for an epic poem of filth, raunch, and illegal acts. Essentially the abridged works of the Marquis de Sade. When the abomination is completed, the agent asks, inexplicably, "What do you call that?" The patriarch proudly answers, with a little flourish (which Penn and Provenza are demonstrating in the photo), "The Aristocrats!" It's one of those jokes that isn't really about the punchline, but the set-up.

It's about an hour and ten minutes long, and that's a long time to spend hearing one joke over and over, but what's great about The Aristocrats is that as soon as you're getting bored with the one joke of this one-joke movie (and it is sort of an amazing process, getting numb to the sick sick stuff these guys come up with), one comedian will show up and tell it in such a fresh way that it's funny all over again. Bob Saget does a brilliant version that goes on forever, but you don't mind because you just want to see where his mind's going to take the depravity next, Sarah Silverman does a very high-concept, meta-version of the joke that was pretty funny (and which ends with a line that, I think, has gotten her sued by a guy named Joe Franklin), and Kevin Pollack does a version as Christopher Walken that, and I'm not even kidding, almost killed me. What's interesting is how much this joke reveals about the teller of the joke. You can really gauge how perverted and whacked-out a person is by how over-the-top they get telling this thing. If the guy starts to wax poetic about interfamilial gun violence and the amorous pleasure to be derived from the results of that gun violence, (which is brought up a couple of times in the movie), than you know this is not a person you want anywhere near you or your loved ones.

Anywho, if you are in any way related to either me or Peggy, do NOT rent this movie, (and if you do, don't tell me about it because I warned you, and if you DO see it and LIKE it, I also do not want to hear about it). But if you're anyone else, and you're male, I definitely reccomend checking it out. It came out on Tuesday and is available to rent at all not-long-for-the-world Blockbuster stores. That's all for today. More Inanity goodness tomorrow. I know you all can't wait.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

How Did He Ever Write a Post About Lolita?

Well, Peggy's back from China finally. Her plane arrived from JFK airport at 10:38PM after her first plane, slated to arrive at 6PM, broke down and everyone had to change planes. But she's back and I am glad to have her home.

Like I mentioned in yesterday's obviously riveting post, I finished reading Lolita over the weekend, and so this morning I took advantage of the fact that I own the "Stanley Kubrick Collection" on DVD, and popped Lolita into the ole DVD player. I hadn't remembered that Nabokov himself had adapted his book for the screen, which might help explain why the movie is so faithful to his book. Anyway, it's a great movie, (it's Kubrick after all) but I thought that, after having read the book, they ought to have cast someone a little more classically handsome than James Mason in the role of Humbert Humbert. In the book, Humbert, who narrates the thing himself (and is often unreliable as such), believes himself to be fantastically good-looking, which I think he kind of has to be to make Lolita's mutual interest in him plausible. As it is, I never really bought the idea that any cute 14-year old girl's really going to have the hots for frickin' Captain Nemo. Maybe they just had a hard time finding big names willing to play a 40-something pedophile. Also, the stuff with Peter Sellers as Clare Quilty is entertaining because he's such a livewire act in this, but his frenetic, seemingly off-the-cuff delivery style doesn't really jibe with the rest of the movie and kind of feels more like Kubrick and the execs both thought, "Peter's funny, let's just let him go and do his thing." Works in Dr. Strangelove, works less well in this movie. Also, I was doing my James Mason impression again after watching it again, and I may have lost the knack. Which is sad.

Anyway, it is past midnight and so this blog is officially late. But I'm going to make it unofficial by changing the time of the post artificially. So now it is ON-TIME. I win.

Last Note: If you want to read about whatever happened to Sue Lyon, who played Lolita, click here. It's pretty fascinating, and short.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Since It's Monday Here's an Exhaustive Chronicle of What I Did This Weekend. Commence Napping.

Happy Monday! Hope everyone had a good weekend. Mine was moderately eventful, partly due to my own initiative not to let myself get bored since there is, as always, something to do, and due in part to an unexpected phone call from the lead actor of my 10-minute student video project from my second year at film school. For that story, read Friday's post and one of the long comments I posted in there. Fantastic coincidence and hard, mathematical karma play a part. This weekend I also saw The New World in the theater, rented and watched Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, finished reading Nabokov's Lolita (a great novel), watched the NFC and AFC Championship games (soul-crushingly awful games, both blowouts), ate bad food, talked to some friends, and cleaned up the place a bit.

The Smartest Guys in the Room wasn't at all bad -- I feel like I get the whole Enron thing much better now after having watched it, but it was not a technically brilliant documentary. The emotional and human costs of the Enron debacle were never really explored, just the hows and whys of the collapse. Interesting, but a little cold. However, it's supposedly a lock for an Oscar nomination for Best Feature-Length Documentary and a frontrunner for the award itself, while Grizzly Man, which I'm still dying to see and about which I've heard only esctatically good reviews, will not even be nominated. (I'm not sure if that's because it's ineligible, or if because the Academy wasn't into it, I don't know. Ebert and Roeper are my source on that one.)

The New World
, Terrence Malick's new movie, is brilliant and everyone should go and see it. How's that for an endorsement? And even with slightly creepy Colin Farrell in it (who may prove to be this generation's Mickey Rourke), it's still damn good. Unlike other directors, who, in their films are concerned primarily with the vagaries of plot and making sure the audience is artificially primed for one twist or another, Malick is confident enough in both his material and his viewer that he doesn't feel the need to handhold the viewer. If his transition from one scene to another is a low-angle shot of an old pine tree reaching high into the air, he's not concerned whether it makes absolute sense to everyone at that moment. It's almost as though whatever thought or emotion a viewer has upon viewing that shot of the tree is, for Malick, the correct one. This is all just my undereducated film-student-y perception of it, but it feels that way. My friend David Speck likened New World to Baraka, and I think that's right. Where Baraka is essentially all cinematic poetry, New World is a mix of poetry and prose -- all used in service of telling a (if not the) story of Pocahontas, from naive wood nymph to the more-or-less westernized woman who had an audience with the King and Queen of England (Incidentally, they never once say her name in the movie -- kind of interesting). Anyway, good stuff. It's slowly-paced and doesn't feature a lot of dialogue, so it may not be for everyone, but I loved it.

This post is going on too long. I tend to do that. Quickly then, the main thing I wanted to talk about: On "Meet the Press" yesterday, Tim Russert had African-American senator Barack Obama of Illinois on his show via satellite. (I wasn't awake in time to watch the show, so I listened to the full podcast which NBC helpfully offers.) So Tim comes at Barack with questions about Iraq, about Hillary's "plantation" comments, but then Tim asks Barack Obama two questions about Anti-American comments made by Harry Belafonte. I was a little bewildered. Why in hell should Obama care what an aging leftist black singer thirty years past his heyday (his heyday-O?) has to say? Obama just answered the questions, inappropriate though they were, though he did sound slightly perplexed in his answers. He would have had every right to shoot back with, "Why are you asking me about Harry Belafonte, Tim?" I would have loved to hear his response. Would Tim Russert have asked John McCain about Harry Belafonte? Hillary Clinton? Doubtful. Looks to me like a race thing, and I'd like to hear Tim's response to that. And I have a blog so he has to do as I say.

Also, NBC officially cancelled The West Wing which sucks. I was never that into the show until last season when the campaign to find a successor to Martin Sheen's character got into full swing. The show had shaken off the lethargy left after Sorkin's departure and was getting really good again. And now it's gone. Darn it, I wanted to see another character in the Oval Office. Now all we got is St. Geena Davis on that Commander-in-Chief show. Blecch. All right, I've bored everyone enough for one day. More tomorrow.

PS. Good Molly Ivins column here. She's not supporting Hillary Clinton and says why. Ok, I'm done for real.

Friday, January 20, 2006

The Landscape of Horror Cinema Has Never Been the Same. Here, In Its Blood-Chilling Entirety, The Landmark 1997 Classic, "INCIDENT AT SICUANI"

For those of you interested in revisiting the world of 9 years ago, I give you "Incident at Sicuani", the 10-minute short video I did my sophomore year at film-school.

For those fortunate few who don't know or haven't seen it, I made a movie (which Peter Fedak produced and is hosting on a website of his) about ghostly, mysterious happenings at an archaeological dig in Peru. It has its moments, so I'm told, but never quite clicked as a whole. In 2003, Peter transferred an aging video copy onto his computer and redid the credits on his Mac so they didn't look so low-res and terrible. Also, just for fun, I recorded a commentary track for it. For the first time anywhere, I'm making that version available here. I just listened to it again and it's not too bad. You can tell I'm having a good time talking about it. Since I recorded it in 2003, some of the stuff I say is dated. For instance, Peggy doesn't work for Warner Home Video anymore, and we've since married (She is also, if I may say, pretty good in this). I probably would have mentioned the fact of her updated status as The Wife if I'd recorded the commentary track now. Anyway, for those interested in viewing the original without my voice mucking it up, go here. If you have a PC, you may have problems downloading the regular version, as I did, but give it a whirl, see what you come up with.

Anyway, if for no other reason, watch it to see everyone from back in the Halcyon days of film-school acting up a storm (and saving my ass by showing up) as I tried to create a 10-minute horror movie. And extra points if you can spot Heath essentially mooning the camera. Enjoy and have a good weekend.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Was Michael Crichton a Raging Homophobe Back in 1972? The Issue is Examined, if only Superficially. Also: Shatner Sings

It's clear from the comments on the last post that no one is willing to get on the Gore train with me. That's cool. To each their own politician (and to Hinesy, Condi.) I guess we'll just have to be patient and see how things shake out with the upcoming primary races.

Anyway, I got an awesome link (and a so-so link) for you lucky Inanity-ers today. First the awesome link. William Shatner singing his own Prog version of Elton John's "Rocket Man". Found it on AndrewSullivan.com, but go directly to the video here. It's stunning. It is like a train wreck. But by the end of it, I was thinking Shatner's whacked-out earnestness, the weak video effects, and the overall hyper-surreality of it actually made the performance kind of, well, good? Weird but riveting? Check it out and see what you think. Also, kudos to anyone who can dig up the clip of "The Family Guy" where Stewie sends up this exact performance.

Next up on the link parade, I've got a trailer. It's called When a Stranger Calls and it's a remake of a 1979 move of the same name. So if you wanted to know what the brilliant director of Con Air is up to these days, here you go. Now, for you older readers out there this isn't the origin of the old story about the frightened girl in the house by herself who calls 911 after getting some creepy phone calls and 911 calls her back and says,"The calls are coming from the house! He's in the house with you!" is it? It can't be. There's no way I'm older than that hoary old Mad Killer Story.

Last thing. Last night I was reading Michael Crichton's first novel entitled The Terminal Man. Published in 1972 about the as-of-then unexamined dangers of computer-aided mind control (I know -- in the 35 years since, it's become a scourge, thanks for the heads up, Mikey!). The book's sort of compelling, but overall it's kind of hilarious. Aside from the bad thriller-writing and the way way dated stuff about computers, there were a couple of sentences in there that totally reveal either a) Michael Crichton's own casual homophobia circa 1972, or b) how totally acceptable homophobia was in 1972 America. Here they are. Example 1:
"Moving at sixty-five miles an hour, she shifted across five lanes of traffic and pulled off the freeway at Sunset, heading up into the Hollywood Hills, through an area known locally as the Swish Alps because of the many homosexuals who lived there. People with problems seemed drawn to Los Angeles. The city offered freedom; its price was lack of supports."
Putting "the Swish Alps" aside, so homosexuals in Crichton's 1972 are "people with problems". Interesting. I laughed when I read it because it was pretty outrageous, but then I read this next bit and it made the previous one look PC by comparison. Example 2:
"The interior of the elevator was tacky: plastic panelling made to look like wood, worn green carpeting stained by innumerable pets. She waited impatiently for it to creak up to the third floor. She knew what these buildings were like -- full of hookers, full of gays, full of drugs and transients. You could rent an apartment without a long lease, just month to month. It was that kind of place."
Is it just me or is this amazing? Equating homosexual men with the dregs of society? I especially like how he tucked "gays" right in the middle of "hookers", and "drugs and transients", as if his point wouldn't have been as clear if he'd put it first or last. And the last sentence made me laugh independent of the homophobic stuff -- I guess back in the day, month-to-month apartment leases denoted a Building of Ill-Repute, not just a convenient way to handle one's living arrangements. I wonder if Crichton still feels similarly about homosexuals. I know he's pretty right-wing generally, but I wonder if he's evolved on this point.

Also, this is the movie poster for the movie adaptation (I'm a little in disbelief that they did a film version of this crap). This thing came out before the official MPAA rating system, so at the top of the poster you can see it reads, "Reccomended as Adult Entertainment". Like it's frickin' porn or something. Man, the seventies really creep me out.

Anyway, Friday's almost here, and then the weekend. Peggy's in Beijing right now (where she can't access this blog, by the way - those freedom-loving Chinese), but she'll be back in the ATL on Monday. Ok. Party on. I'm out.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Wouldn't the World Be Such a Better Place if This Guy Were in the White House? It's Not Too Late. 2008's Just Around the Corner

This is Al Gore. For the last 5 years, he's been our nation's shadow president. When Bush does something terrible, we left-leaning Americans have speculated about what a Gore administration might have done instead. You know, if the Republicans hadn't stolen the 2000 election and the Supreme Court hadn't selected Bush. He's given a lot of speeches during Bush's first term and the first year of his second, (I think I blogged about a fantastic speech he gave late last year regarding growing threats to our freedom of speech). He gave a new and damning speech on Monday about recent revelations regarding Bush's illegal wiretapping that puts everything about the Bush administration into the correct perspective -- essentially that our 43rd president and his Republican-controlled government have an active disdain for the truth, and they demonstrate that disdain time and time again. Of course the Bush administration responds by saying, "If the democrats want Al Gore to be their voice on this issue, we welcome that." Well, Scott McClellan, you shouldn't, because Gore is, right now, the one guy in the political landscape telling it not just how it is, but how it COULD be. He's the voice in the wilderness. For me the voice of the Democrats isn't H. Clinton, it isn't Kerry, it isn't Obama, it's this guy. Most political speeches seem like boneheaded, watered-down policy initiatives that have been focus-grouped, and gutted of all originality by aides with their eyes on the electoral map. Most political speeches placate the party faithful, offend a few on the other side, and inspire absolutely no one. Gore doesn't have an entourage of wonks telling him what he ought to say. (For evidence of that, go to this link. It's about Lawrence Bender's documentary (currently at Sundance) about Gore's one-man crusade against global warming. Can't wait to see it.) He's beholden to no-one. He writes brilliant speeches and then he gives them. I think everyone, if they have some time, ought to read the speech. It's both exhilarating to hear the guy who won the popular vote in 2000 be so unequivocal about civil liberties, and depressing to think who got in instead. Anyway, right now, Gore's my guy for president in 2008. He's still saying he won't run, but I think he could be convinced. I think he's been an important and eloquent voice of reason during the Reign of Bush, and I think Democrats could get really enthusiastic about righting the wrong done in 2000 and putting Gore in the White House.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

How Desperate Is the Judge Judy Show for Material? So Desperate They Wanted Judy Sheindlin to Hear THIS Case. From the Sad but True Files

All right. By popular request, here is the Judge Judy story. Worth all the hubbub? You be the judge. (pun intended).

A couple of weeks ago I found an email in my in-box from a producer at Judge Judy. It read, and I'm paraphrasing because I barely remember it, "Hi, Brian, I wanted to talk to you about your case. Give me a call. Rebecca." She then listed her work number and her cell. I could only look bewilderedly at the screen because I had no idea what the email was in reference to. It didn't look like spam. But then again, maybe if I were to call the number, I'd get a sales pitch about a work-at-home scheme, or a time-share property, or some other odious scam. I deleted the email.

A few days later (Jan.8), I get a phone call. It's Sunday night at about 9:15 or so, and I'm in the middle of a rockin' game of Splinter Cell. I push pause and look at the phone. Caller ID shows the call's coming from SoCal. I suspect I'm about to talk to Heath. In a way, I was. I answer the phone. "Hello?" I say.

"Hi, is this Brian?"


"Hi, this is Rebecca from Judge Judy."

"Oh, hi!" I say, as though Rebecca from Judge Judy was an old and dear friend.

"So, who else have you talked to?" she says, in a voice that says she's willing to do a little business to keep my allegiances correctly aligned, namely with her and her show.

I explain that I'd gotten her email but that I didn't have any idea what it was about. She seemed puzzled but not discouraged. I suggested maybe my wife had submitted a case (though, this was a longshot at best, as I'm sure Peggy would attest). Rebecca said, "Hmmm," and then started to read the case "I" had submitted aloud to me.

"'My friend Shawn," she began. I knew it was Heath the instant I heard the name. "Slept on my couch for a whole year. Then I came home and found him having sex with my wife...'"

I was already laughing, though it was laughter tinged with anxiety. Was this woman going to lay the blame at my feet for Heath's prank and give me hell? At this, the first sign something's amiss, Rebecca says only, "Oh, was this a joke?" She didn't sound angry, just tired. I guess if she was working at 6:15 on a Sunday night, she probably was tired.

"Yes, I'm sorry. It's this friend of mine," I say. "He does these sort of things. I'm really sorry."

And then she read the rest, sort of to herself but loud enough so I could hear. "My friend Shawn slept on my couch for a year, and then one day I found him having sex with my wife. They took off and he stole my prize Vietnamese Pot-Bellied Pig, Lulululululu." Though this woman was obviously feeling a little victimized, I couldn't help but laugh at the pot-bellied pig thing. The crowning touch. "You know, now that I read it, it does sound like a joke." I apologized again, hoping she was finding it, if not funny, than midly amusing. "I love having my time wasted," she said. "Me too," I said, attempting to commiserate. She sounded like she was closing things up on her desk for a second and then said, "Mm-hm, ok. Bye." Hang up.

What I thought was funniest about the call, was when she said, "Who else have you talked to?" Because not only were the producers of Judge Judy hot for my sordid tale of a shameless moocher running off with my wife and, even worse, my pot-bellied pig, she was sure other TV judge shows would also be hot for it, and that the reason I'd ignored her email was because I'd been shopping it around LA looking for just the right fake judge to give me justice against Shawn. Anyway, there it is. I laughed about it for a few days, now, you too can laugh.


Monday, January 16, 2006

24's Starting Up Again, American Idol Premieres Tomorrow -- Feels Like I'm Back in California

Happy Monday everyone. (Yeah, Monday's almost over, but whatever. It's the Monday post.) Not a whole lot going on in the world of Crane today. Dropped the Crown Vick off at the body shop to fix what the head-shaking trucker did to it, talked to Hinesy from his apartment in Taiwan, wrote, took a too-long nap, felt generally queasy and strange afterwards, ate two fried egg sandwiches (felt kind of gross for a while afterwards), and then watched 2 hours of 24. I promised after the end of last season that me and 24 were quits. They'd burned me too many times by their ridiculous plot twists ("That attack on the nuclear power plants was just a front! Yeah, a front for ANOTHER diabolical plot! That's the ticket!"), terrible characters (the head of CTU's mentally-ill daughter was a good example -- I understand most people cheered when her character committed suicide), and shameful, lazy-screenwriting moments of deus ex machina (the end of the missile threat at the end of last season), but here I am, tonight, (and last night), tuned in to my little kitchen TV set with one antenna, riveted during Fox's 4-hour 24 Premiere Event! But these four hours were actually good, really good. I hadn't reailzed how comforting it was to watch 24. Even when they were doing stupid things, or people were saying things no human would ever say, you know these people and you know that in 24-world, these people HAVE to say these things. So what it's an uber-right wing fantasy, watching it feels like putting on a really comfortable shoe.

This season started off with President Palmer (the awesome Dennis Haysbert) getting killed in the first 10 minutes of Hour 1, along with a couple of other long-suffering characters, and Jack's been called out of his new, non-Jack-Bauer life working at an oil refinery to have another really bad day doing a little of the ole counter-terrorism stuff. I thought the kid who played the son of the woman Jack was shacking up with was doing some great acting, I think the new president is excellent as our Weasel-in-Chief (though I was a little puzzled by the big treaty signing event with the Russian president with the San Gabriel Mountains in the background -- does Bush come to Glendale for a lot of treaty signings I wasn't aware of?), and Jean Smart plays the slightly loopy first lady who knows too much, though her husband won't believe her. And, to cap the whole thing off, at the end of the last hour, Sam Gamgee himself, Sean Astin, shows up to save the day as a capable CTU bureaucrat. Yaayyy!! And we haven't even gotten to the torture scenes yet! Man, does 24 love torturing some people. They'll even torture their own people, they don't care, so long as someone doing some torturing.

I'll say now that I'll stick with the show until it gets as ridiculous as it did last season, but I know that by then, I'll be so helplessly tuned in that I'll care too much how it all ends to give up on it. They could put Jack Bauer in a burka in order to infiltrate the LMLF (Lady Muslim Liberation Front), and I'd still watch. Come to think of it, I'd be even MORE interested if that happened. Ugh! They got me coming and going! Damn you, Fox. Damn you to right to H-E-Double Hockey Sticks.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Do We Even Need Senate Hearings Anyway?

This is Samuel J. Alito and his family, circa, I don't know. A ways back? Not much really happened in the news this week, which I guess is a good thing, right? Except for a couple cases of literary hucksterism, the Senate "hearings" on Alito were it for news. I don't get cable, so I couldn't watch them. (Additonally, both my PC and my laptop will not let me upload the Microsoft Service Pack 2 that came out a year ago, which makes it so I can't download Windows Media Player 10, which makes it so I can't watch free live streaming video offered by both CNN and MSNBC. I am SOL.) So I read about it on-line, and read other pundits weigh in on the hearings, which isn't really the same thing as watching them for one's self. All Things Considered on NPR had a good deal, though -- they did a half-hour or so rundown each night at 8PM, giving listeners long, unedited sound clips of pertinent questions, and then Alito's reasonably relevant answers. I think I got a good overview from NPR.

It's pretty clear that these hearings are for no serious purpose. At their core, I suppose, they're good to have around to disqualify any wildly unacceptable candidates (like Bork was, like Harriet Miers would have been), nominees who are so extreme they think slavery should be re-instituted, or folks who are so unqualified they can't actually read, but mostly the hearing are an opportunity for senators on the judiciary committee, especially those running for president in 2008, to get some TV time -- show their constituents they're still alive, and smart-sounding words come out of their mouth. Each party played their roles perfectly. The Republicans fawned, the Democrats raised eyebrows, and Alito, the star of the show, wouldn't say a thing. His non-answers were so full of nothing, you couldn't, judging strictly from his testimony, prove he was a human-bring, much less a conservative. The biggest news from all of 3 days of testimony, was that his wife had to leave the room because she was crying. I think it was from boredom. I doubt even she's gone three days without hearing her husband say at least SOMEthing.

Anyway, Joseph Biden suggested the Senate confirmation hearings should be ended. I kind of think he's right. We didn't have them before 1925, doesn't much seem like we need them now. I think only one or two of the committee senators are even capable of discussing constitutional law well enough to know what the hell the nominee's talking about at any given moment, so, you know, what's the point?

Anyway, it's Friday and the Supreme Court is boring. Have a good weekend, er'rybody.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

A Mini-Review of Fun With Dick and Jane and the Very Last Word (this week) on the James Frey Imbroglio

Peggy called me this morning from Shanghai. She'd just flown in from the rural city of Yangshuo and was getting ready to sleep. It's almost noon there now, and it's nearly eleven at night here in Georgia. Everything's still going great on her China trip, she's having fun and seeing crazy foreign-type things. Then, in the afternoon, my brother came over and we went to see Fun With Dick and Jane. Patrick makes a point to see everything Jim Carrey does, good, bad, and middling, and so we went to see the thing before it disappears from theaters forever. Which will probably be... tomorrow.

There were a bunch of funny moments that made me laugh out loud (some of the disguises they used to rob banks were pretty hilarious), and there were some moments when the satire of corporate culture and what it's done to the American workforce was sharp and well-done, but overall it got to be pretty obvious that the Ship of Production was adrift, and never really knew exactly where it was supposed to go. The "Screenplay By" title card had, I think, about 6 or 7 writers on it, one of them being Judd Apatow. Maybe he was responsible for the funny parts. Who knows how many script doctors had a hand in this thing. I think part of the problem with this movie was that it had so much obvious trouble deciding what kind of comedy it was going to be, riding that line between smart, funny, mainstream comedy, and more slapstick Jim Carrey fare, that it had a meandering, unsettled quality that ultimately sunk it (anyone else digging the maritime metaphors?). Comedy's hard and this one never truly clicked.

The thing is, if you DO manage to do comedy right, which everyone says is a hell of a lot more difficult than it looks, it ought to be appropriately recognized by awarding it with the one thing everyone in Hollywood covets above all else: Oscar. That's right, this year an Oscar nomination should go to The 40-Year Old Virgin for Best Picture. It was like the first or second best-reviewed movie of last year, and it's going to get no recognition next month. Only the movies that succeed at making folks weepy get accolades because laughter is cheap and weeping is, I don't know, expensive? A good time at the movies is never the gold standard for judging these things, and that makes no sense to me. Million Dollar Baby? Really? Did anyone have a good time watching that?

Ok. Last thing on the James Frey melodrama. I know folks are getting pretty bored with this, so after this paragraph, I'm moving on. Anyway, Frey was on Larry King last night, and while he was on the air, Oprah called into the show and made her proclamation: James Frey and his book are still all right in her book. And because Oprah is probably the most influential person in the country when it comes to popular culture, that, I think, will do it. Frey's golden again. Oh, and the refunds from Random House thing isn't true. They're fully behind him and no refunds. Michael Dirda, columnist, author, and all-around book maven, said an interesting thing about a similar occurance where what was presumed to be true in a book turned out to be false. "When I learned that Bruce Chatwin's The Songlines was, essentially, fictional, it turned a very good travel book into a so-so novel." This is what I think Frey's exaggerations and fabrications did to his book, turning an (apparently) explosive addiction-recovery memoir into a "so-so novel". On Larry King, Frey said that when all of the Smoking Gun's disputed pages, about 18 of them, are added up, it comes to about 5% of the book, which is, he says, "entirely acceptable for memoir". That sounds right, but I think when he says that, it shows he misses the point of the uproar. It's the fact that he completely made up the events depicted in those 18 pages that cast doubt on the entirety of the book. The stuff that can't be checked up on.

Anyway. You could tell he was nervous and rattled during his interview last night, and I felt sorry for him. Him and his newly-acquired, misbegotten fortune. What's kind of funny is that this controversy's just going to sell even MORE books and make him even more money. Next time, Oprah should choose a NOVEL. You know, like she used to do. Ok, I'm out.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

This is JT LeRoy. Take a Good Look. How Did Anyone Ever Think This Chick Was a Dude? I mean, seriously. (Also, more James Frey Stuff)

Not to keep harping on this James Frey and JT Leroy business, (ok, I'm harping on it), but I thought I'd throw some links up from around the web as the fallout from these two literary shitstorms continue to rain down. On Salon, Ayelet Waldman, wife of Michael Chabon and recent guest on Oprah Winfrey's show (she came on to defend an essay in which she wrote her husband was more important to her than her children were -- lots of folks in the Oprah audience did NOT like that sentiment, and let her know it -- good episode), wrote an essay about how she felt about being fooled by JT LeRoy. She's not that bothered as it turns out. (You'll have to watch a brief ad to read the article). I didn't realize Ayelet (what kind of name is Ayelet, by the way? Anyone know?) was Chabon's husband just by her name, so I didn't get all the references to JT LeRoy's interest in Waldman's unnamed writer husband. Apparently, Chabon couldn't stand talking to the person pretending to be LeRoy, which makes me like Chabon a bit more. When's his novel about Alaska coming out? Anyone know?

As for Frey. He's going to be on Larry King tonight at 9PM EST. Larry's show is stop #1 for people who want to tell their side on national television but don't want to have to bother with any tough questions. It's like the exact opposite of Meet the Press. Hopefully, I'll get a chance to watch it, and there can be even more James Frey material for tomorrow's post. Yayy!! (Don't ask about the mugshot. Found it on Google search and I thought it was pretty funny. Larry King doesn't seem much like the criminal type, you know?)

And finally, as a result of the Smoking Gun's expose, A Million Little Pieces publisher, Random House, is offering a refund to anyone who bought their copy directly from the publisher. I don't know how many copies this amounts to. Never heard of anyone buying a book directly from the publisher if it's widely available in any bookstore, library, grocery store, or online, but maybe it amounts to some dough after all. I don't know if this move is because Random House thinks they were misled by Frey and are doing this a vote of no confidence in their author, or if they're just doing it simply to avoid any reader antipathy being directed at their company. Maybe they still support Frey. Oprah hasn't weighed in yet, and neither has Frey's legion of fans. Maybe they're all waiting to hear what Frey has to say tonight.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

As Though Frey Weren't Enough -- JT LeRoy Is Exposed As Yet Another Literary Fraud

In additon to James Frey's outing as a fabulist posing as a memoirist, I learn that on Monday, the New York Times published an article revealing the true identity of the perpetually mysterious author JT Leroy. The two images I put onto this blog are not culled from Google Images. Oh no. I scanned these bad boys in myself. I bought this book for full price at Vroman's because Dave Eggers said in the introduction of the book that, and I'm not making this quote up, "JT LeRoy's first two books, Sarah and The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things, will prove to be among the most influential American books of the last ten years." I mean, why NOT buy a book when the writer gets an intro like that? Well, JT's a big fake. He's actually a she, as it turns out, and not a young, transgendered former child prostitute as he'd sold himself to be.

I'm going to go out on a limb and briefly explain why I think the frauds perpetrated by LeRoy (actually Savannah Knoop whom no one suspects of actually writing the LeRoy books) and Frey, are wrong.

Frey first. I think Frey's offense is worse than LeRoy's because Frey put a "memoir" out into the world and filled it with bombastic, self-aggrandizing exaggerations and a lot of outright falsehoods. When it came out he said things to the press like, "I didn't invent anything." He sold his story as truth, which is one thing, but I think the duty of a memoirist in general is to, at the very least, try their best to write what really happened the way they saw it. No one reading the thing is expecting 100% fidelity to actual events, memory and life don't work that way, but I think about 100% of readers are expecting a memoir to relate the events of one's life as close to the writer's recollection as possible, and to not include deliberate lies and not to deliberately mislead their readers.

Part of why I think Frey opted for the memoir route as opposed to its original incarnation as a novel, was because his memoir often doesn't ring true. More often than not characters and the events related all get fantastically overblown. (Strangely, in most of the write-ups he's been getting today as a result of yesterday's expose, the fact that he's worked as a screenwriter is used as an explainer for his overcooked, bombastic style. As though most screenplays and screenwriters were all writing "The Last Boy Scout 2". I had no idea there was so much animus out there against screenwriting in general. But I digress.) For example, Frey couldn't just be on an airliner completely high on cocaine, he had to be out of his mind on cocaine, covered in all manner of bodily excretion, and with no memory whatsoever of how he'd gotten there. He couldn't just get arrested for drunk driving because he was sad about a girl, he had suffer a brutal police beatdown and narrowly avoid 3 years in jail because he was sad and angry about a girl. As a novel, editors and publishers weren't buying it, for whatever reason. Does that mean it's ethically okay for him to change the story around a little, slap "A Memoir" on its cover and call it good? Of course a half-baked novel about addiction and recovery will be more interesting as a memoir (at least to publishers), because all the crazy stuff you write about suddenly HAPPENED IN REAL LIFE. You get readers to turn OFF their bullshit meters when it's a memoir, where with a novel, most people only turn them down, and only to varying degrees depending on the story and the writer. It's cheap, and he got called on it and I think that's fine.

I think something similar happened with the movie Fargo. The Coens thought it'd be a gas if they put up a title screen that said what happened was based on true events. It was not. It was bullshit. Fargo was a story. They were lying and I don't think artists should get some kind of free pass under the guise of creative license. I think it's in the artist's best interest to be concerned with, and serious about truth. If you've written something with both fictional and non-fictional elements, you should be upfront about that. You've limited your audience by a lot when you do that, which is why I think someone like James Frey didn't want to be upfront about the more fictional elements of his book. Because when you do mix fiction and non-fiction you're essentially writing experimental fiction, and experimental fiction doesn't sell. When you're a writer primarily concerned with being "the best writer of my generation", as Frey once said he was, then it's not in your best interest to be upfront about the truth to hide a middling writing talent. You got to sell books after all.

As for JT LeRoy. I don't know if he duped a lot of celebrities into thinking he (now she) was a literary genius, or if the true author was actually in league with the celebrities because she's a good writer who couldn't get a seat at the publishing table, and they wanted to help her with this new strategy of writing/performance art just to get her great stuff out into the world. I'm leaning at this moment towards the former. The NYTimes article seems to point less towards desperate measures taken in the name of art, and more towards devious measures taken in the name of opportunism, but there's not yet enough information out there to prove it one way or the other. Do I feel duped because I bought one of "his" books? Sort of, but not really. I knew there were questions regarding JT LeRoy's true identity when I bought it. I suspected, given his mind-blowingly lurid personal history, that he might be full of shit, but I also thought Eggers and all of the folks who gave blurbs for Harold's End (see above) had to be in on the joke if he was full of it, but also seriously thought the fiction itself deserved attention, (and so far as I know, it was always sold as fiction -- autobiographical fiction, but still fiction). So I played along -- I wanted to be "in the know", in with the literary "in crowd", so I bought it. Goof's on me. The stuff isn't bad, (and it has great full-color illustrations in it -- it's a nice edition anyhow) but worthy of the kind of praise Eggers was dishing out? Not by half. If Harold's End had been written by, for example, a 40-something male divorcee who'd attended Princeton and published a few stories in some little magazines back in the early nineties, would any of the "JT LeRoy novels" gotten the same attention written as they were by a transgendered, HIV-positive, West Virginian, former child prostitute who'd made good? Doubtful.

I think Shawn brings up really good points in his comment on my last post, and a lot of this Frey business probably does have to do with perception. But because Frey was so unequivocal when the book came out about how true it was (because people were initially dubious even back then), this Smoking Gun article cuts him much deeper. Other memoirists get away with similar stuff, I think, because either they're a) more honest about the limitations of memory, b) less prone to completely making shit up like Frey does, or c) their books don't have to endure the same level of scrutiny Frey did because most memoirists aren't picked to be a part of her Book Club. I think fiction and non-fiction are great, experimental fiction is great -- I know that memoir's really hard to do with perfect recall and I respect any person who tries so long as the attempt is made in good faith -- but willful telling of untruths for purely dramatic reasons under the guise of fact doesn't do anyone any good. It doesn't limn the ever-fluid nature of Truth -- doesn't artfully explore the boundaries between one's identity and one's work -- all it does is mislead consumers, the ever-shrinking pool of readers, for one's own personal gain. To me, Frey's and LeRoy's fraud isn't much different than Dave Pelzer's fictitious childhood sold as fact in A Child Called "It", or Kevin Trudeau's snake-oil book Natural Cures "They" Don't Want You to Know About where he claims to have a cure for cancer. If the intention's are selfish and bad, a lie's a lie's a lie? Right?

Okay, enough of my pompous, rantings. In other, more mundane Crane-related news, I took my Crown Vick in to the body shop this morning. $688 for the dent the tractor-trailer made (all covered by USAA), and, if I want, just $50 to fix the dent made by the Russian dude who drove my stuff from Atlanta to Pasadena. May do that, too. Not much else besides that and writing today. Hope everyone had an awesome Tuesday. Please weigh in with opinions. More tomorrow.

Monday, January 09, 2006

This Is James Frey. He and Oprah Say he Wrote a Memoir. Turns Out It's Really a Novel. Is He Going to Give Everyone Their Money Back?

Something very interesting appeared on-line today. The Smoking Gun website, which usually runs funny mugshots of ridiculous suspects doing ridiculous crimes, today published a 6-page expose on the author James Frey and his Oprah Club book, A Million Little Pieces. Though it's sold as a memoir, according to what reads as a damning piece by TSG, not much of it's true.

I first noticed this book during my first visit to the excellent Los Angeles bookstore, Book Soup. I picked it up and checked out one of the blubs on the back of the dust jacket: Pat Conroy had weighed in with his opinion of the book. I forget the first part, a sentence or two of good stuff, really admiring, but then closed with, as though he were thunderstruck by the level of Frey's prose, "And the writing. The writing, the writing, the writing." I thought to myself, what a great frickin' blurb! You could write your own ticket with a blurb like that. I opened it up and read the first few lines and quickly put it back down, unimpressed. It opens with him on a plane covered in his own blood, piss, and vomit. It wasn't what he was saying that made me actively disinterested in the book, it was the how. Three words, period. Next line: four words, period. Next: ten. Next: one. You get the idea. Every short, staccato sentence was a new paragraph. If you'd done this with say, a James Ellroy novel (who also writes in the same, rapid-fire style), the book would bloat to a 6 or 7,000-page book really quick. It's a good read for some people, I guess, but whenever I see it, I can't deal with it. So the hardcover comes into bookstores with a lot of fanfare but meets a brick wall of reader disinterest, and promptly goes away. Trade paperback arrives a few months later, but it disappears pretty quickly, too. But then, like a year or two later, the damn thing gets picked for Oprah's Book Club. It becomes the best-selling Oprah Book Club book ever. He makes millions off of it. He buys himself a 2.5 million dollar apartment in New York because Oprah chose his book. I see it once more on the bookstore's all-important front-of-the-store tables, at the drugstore, the grocery store, everywhere. I'm tempted to buy it up to see what all the hubbub's about (I'm a sheep like that). I give it another try and read the first 3 pages or so, and still, the style just kills me. I think, if he'd written a real book, this thing would be about 100 pages, tops. Something about buying a 448-page book that should be 100 pages for $15 just gets to me. And it's still going strong. Even though Oprah and Frey already had their Let's-Everyone-Talk-About-the-Book episode back in October, it's still number one on Amazon as of... right now. No joke.

Anyway, the article's long, and written in that, smug, bitchy style that characterizes all of the Smoking Gun's stuff, but it's clear they did their homework and it looks like they've got Frey dead to rights. For example, he writes about an incident in his memoir in which he accidentally hit a cop with his car at about 5 mph one night out in front of a bar, the cop calls for backup, the backup comes, Frey doesn't get out, calls the cops "pigs", tells them to come get him out, they do, they beat him with nightsticks, and as the cops are dragging him away, he calls to the gathered crowd and tells them to fight the cops and free him. They don't. He ends up doing time for three months. What really happened, according to the Smoking Gun, is that, one afternoon, Frey drove across the street very slowly and parked in a No Parking Zone. When the cop came over, he noticed an open bottle of Pabst's in Frey's car. Frey was arrested and was, according to the arresting officer, polite and respectful during the entire process. He posted bail within hours and paid only a fine. No jail time. This is just one example of a major discrepancy between the book and reality. In the article, Frey cops to a lot of the things he lied or exaggerated about when TSG interviewed him which would lead one to believe he lied or exaggerated about lots of stuff in the book. It's almost like he didn't know the Smoking Gun was out to expose him as a fraud. The thing is, if he'd been truthful about his life, it's doubtful Oprah would have considered his book for her book club. Part of the appeal of his book is how crazy and messed-up his life was, and how amazing it is that he survived it all. The fact that the actual events are much less amped-up and interesting is a big deal for Oprah and her devoted readers because they were lied to. They read it as truth as the book cover directed them to ("A Memoir"), and now it turns out it was actually fiction. Oprah has got egg on her face. I'm very interested to see how it all plays out, especially since she's planning another James Frey show about how A Million Little Pieces saved some people's lives, or something like that.

One interesting note from the article that I think may be most telling -- Frey initially shopped A Million Little Pieces to publishers as a NOVEL. He made some changes and it became a memoir, and that's how it got published. I wonder if he just changed the facts surrounding the fictional characters so that they seemed like real people, but also impossible for an enterprising journalist to check up on (an example: an illiterate cellmate to whom Frey purportedly read War and Peace aloud to, has only a nickname in the book. Conveniently, Frey can't remember either a first or last name for the guy. Like I said, hard to check up on).

In any event, thought that was interesting. Hope everyone had a good weekend. More tomorrow.

Friday, January 06, 2006

An Admittedly Weak Friday Blog from Oxford, Georgia

Hey errybody! I'm up at my folks' new house up in Oxford today. I got lost on the way up here -- of course. I did a Google map but they led me astray. Generally the map programs work pretty well, but I think in today's case, they were only good for the middle of the trip --the end and the beginning were all screwed up. But I'm here now.

It's frickin' dark out here. Outside, by the side of the house, there's just moonlight. Surprisingly, it looks a lot like day for night photography. My folks are still getting used to the new place. They're trying to figure out the intercom system right now -- thry're ringing the doorbell and shouting, "Can you hear me?" Anyway, as you can probably tell, I got nothing today. I'll bow out while I'm still ahead and tell you guys to have a good weekend. Crane out.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Your Thursday Inanity: 22 Panels, Musings on Alan Moore, A Trip to Borders, Mild Anxiety over Shelf Space, and Peggy's Progress Around the World

Bookslut.com posted this image up some months ago and I thought it was cool so I'm posting it here for you. It makes the art of drawing comic books look really easy, like I could draw any story I wanted within hours just by randomly choosing a panel off of this page and plugging in a quick drawing and some dialogue in word balloons. Sadly, it's a lot more difficult.

As some of you may know, I've kind of gotten into a graphic novel phase lately. I don't think it's because I'm about to get into drawing one myself (the morgue of first comic pages from never-to-be-completed graphic novels that is my closet is a helpful reminder not to attempt such a thing anytime soon, not to mention the unfinished NOVEL that is always sitting on my chest, making it hard to breathe), but probably because I just have a lot of fun reading them. I've been rereading my super fantastic new edition of Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons for the last week or so, and I'm struck again by how brilliant the thing is. I'm having to pace myelf so I just don't steam all the way through to the end. I want to have some Watchmen to read for a couple more nights. Has anyone else read this thing? Does anyone else think it's as great as I do? I'll do a post about it when I finish it. Scan some pages in -- the whole bit.

I'm also reading, simultaneously, another of Moore's famous graphic novels, V for Vendetta, (here's a couple sample pages I scanned in for you -- is that illegal? It feels kind of illegal). I've seen this in bookstores before but each time I picked it up and looked inside I quickly put it back on the shelf, put off by its muted colors and dated drawing style. The artwork (by David Lloyd) just doesn't work for me. It looks like it was drawn, inked, and colored by the person who does the Mary Worth strips for the Sunday paper, except slightly more blurry. But with the movie coming out, and the trailer being so good, and advance word on the film itself being very good, if not ecstatic, (Aintitcoolnews.com is a big supporter now after their crew screened it at their annual Butt-Numb-A-Thon film fest in Austin, TX), I decided I'd endure the art to get the story. I'm a third of the way through it and the artwork is actually growing on me. I know it's not great, but it gets the job done pretty well. So far -- good stuff.

I went to Borders tonight with my $100 gift card I got from my folks for Christmas, and after an hour and a half of shuffling through the store, pudgy and unshaved, wearing my Braves hat over bad hair, looking kind of lost, feeling a little nauseated by my dinner of cheese tortillas, tomato soup, and Diet Cherry Vanilla Dr. Pepper, I bought four trade paperbacks and an Edward Hopper calendar at 50% off. Runaway by Alice Munro, Lolita by Vladimir Nobokov, Collected Prose by Paul Auster, and The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer. These new books join the other books I bought last week (or so) (also with a gift card), on top of my bookshelf between two Harry Potter bookends. I don't actually have any more room on the shelves themselves as of right now. Kind of out of room. Lot of unread books I plan to get to some day hogging space. Like The Great and Secret Show by Clive Barker, Pierre by Herman Melville, Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon, stuff like that. I will get to them though. One day, I will finish those books.

All right, I'm done with this post. I'm off to read some more Watchman and watch a little Bourne Identity on DVD.

(By the way, Peggy wrote me an email today at about 4PM saying she'd made it to Paris safely and felt a little tired after the flight. I guess she'll be headed to China soon if she isn't en route already. The cat is, right this minute, laying next to the door, waiting for her to come home. I know. Pathetic.)

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

The Wife's Gone Not More Than Ten Minutes and Then THIS Happens

A trucker (his truck pictured above) hit me on I-85 this afternoon. I'm totally and completely fine, the damage to the car was essentially cosmetic, but I'm going to write about the hit-and-run fender-bender (yes, I said hit-and-run) with an exhaustive (some might say nauseating) attention to detail and a seriousness of intent more appropriate for, say, the reporting of a 48-car pileup involving multiple deaths. That's just how I roll. I have a weak sense of proportion. Anyway.

I'd just dropped Peggy off at the airport and was driving North on I-85 when I got into some serious traffic. We'd seen the backup on our way TO the airport and I silently rejoiced at the prospect of sitting in gridlock for an hour or so on my way home. The reason for the gridlock was a couple of DOT crews were replacing one of those big green freeway signs that hang over the interstate (first time I'd seen that), and they'd blocked 2 of the 6 lanes of traffic to make way for their cranes. About a mile before the big, yellow blinking arrow flashing "LEFT" even appeared, people were starting to merge left. I wanted to do the same but I swear to God people must have seen my boat-like Crown Victoria and, for whatever reason, said to themselves, "Not this asshole. Anyone else, fine, I just can't let this sonofabitch in front of me today." So I inched along with my left turn light blinking furiously (it needs changing), looking like a big dope in a giant green car who can't manage to get over one whole lane. No one let me over for like ten minutes. There was this big maroon-colored tractor-trailer (sans trailer) that I tried to get in front of a few times, nudging ever so subtly, ever so inoffensively, asking permission in car-speak, really, but he just kept cutting me off. Just like everyone else. I inch along some more. Finally, I get over one lane and discover I have to get over yet another lane. Again with the stubborn bastards not letting me over. I was genuinely flabbergasted and kind of still am. I've never had this kind of trouble getting merging with traffic in my life. It wasn't as though I'd rushed ahead of everyone else to cut in some kind of "line" or anything -- EVERYONE had to get over. I don't know if this is a Georgia thing, a southern thing, or people, regardless of our locale, were just not in the mood to be human beings today.

Anyway, a small gap appears to my left. I inch my behemoth car over inch by inch to take advantage. I look and see the person letting me in is none other than the same maroon-colored tractor-trailer from before. I figure, "Ok. He's taking pity on my plight and is going to let me over." So I'm moving over, finally able to relax a little and look at the traffic ahead. No more lanes to go over. Progress will be slow-going, sure, but no more of this goddamn merging with stubborn Atlantans. Success!

In my side mirror, however, I see the truck is moving a little faster now, even though I am not yet completely in front of it. I think, "Ah, he's trying to make sure that I'm the only one who gets in." There are a few others behind me looking to merge also. I move from a quarter of the way into the lane to a third of the way in. A quick check of the side mirror reveals: truck is still not stopping. Alarmed now, I look to the other side mirror and see my way back to safety isn't entirely clear anymore -- an SUV has inched around my left side. I think, "this prick's gotta let me in. I'm basically in front of him already."

Nope. I hear a soft metallic scrape, and my car shudders. Yep. The bastard hit me at 5 miles an hour. I couldn't believe it. I steer right to get my car off of his truck and after a second we disengage. Just like that, we are all, once again, inching along 85 North at about 5-10 miles an hour. I'm thinking: "Did this just happen?" I look out through my window and after a second the truck's shiny metal bumper drifts into view, right at eye-level. I examine it closely for damage and see nothing except for what may be a meaningless dulling of the chrome finish on its edge. Maybe my car's fine, too, I think. I crane my neck up to see if I can see the truck driver but I can't see over the thing's hood. I speed ahead and pull onto the shoulder (which is between the freeway and a busy off-ramp, just barely enough room for my car and myself to step out), get out of the car, and walk to the back. At first I don't see anything, but then all at once I do.

A gouge, 2 inches by 3 inches, cut into the side of my car. Not cataclysmic or life-ending by any stretch, but not good. I turn to the trucker who is only now beginning to drift slowly past. I step back from the gouge so he can see what he's done and point at the point of impact. I find him in the cab: a 50-something, grey-haired white man. He is shaking his head furiously at me, as if to say, "Nossir, I had nothing to do with that." I don't even think to flip him off or mouth some profanity. I still think that this could be my fault. I shake my head back at him, incredulous, and point at him with a long, trembly finger, and then down again to the gouge. Surely he couldn't be denying he'd been involved, could he? He continues to shake his head at me as he drives slowly past, as though I wasn't getting it yet, but if he shook his head a little harder, it would all become clear to me. As the driver himself begins to move out of view, I point at the back of his truck as if to say, "You can leave the scene if you want, but I'm getting your license plate number... buddy." By the time the back of the truck presents itself to me, I see there is no license plate, only a white piece of paper with the word "Debt" written on it in black marker.

For a moment all I can do is stand there, next to my car, motionless, and watch as the maroon truck drifts further north into the glut of cars, trucks and SUVs.

I get back into my car, slam the door harder than I've ever slammed it, and throw my keys under the dash. Wow, am I pissed. Not punching-the-steering-wheel pissed, but, you know, mad. The dude had left the scene. He'd driven away.

Long story somewhat shorter, I got back into my car and after awhile merged into traffic. (It wasn't a whole lot easier now, either). I considered calling a cop, but I thought that the result of that would be a long, crushing waste of time, not to mention the fact that I had nothing to give a cop by way of a description of the truck. I considered driving after the truck in order to get more information (what company he worked for, make and model of the truck, etc.) but by the time I'd gotten back into traffic, I couldn't see him any more. And by the time we got past the freeway blockage and the traffic was moving freely again, Mr. Shakes His Head To Ward Off All Responsibility was long gone.

I can't figure what this guy was thinking. My guess is that, to this guy, the stretch of road between himself and the car in front of him is his territory, and he wasn't about to let some pushy tall dude with crazy hair insinuate himself into it no matter what. I think his attitude in those seconds before the impact was, "Get out of the way, boy, or I'm gonna hit you." And so he hit me. I don't know what happened to him in his driving past that would give him such a Cro-Magnon understanding of the Rules of the Road, but it must have involved a lot of blood, a lot of tears, and the heart-rending loss of a loved one. Or maybe the dude's just an idiot saddled with an IQ in the low-80s and a debilitating indifference to, I don't know, everything? I suppose that's a tough break, too. I guess it's possible he just didn't see me, but is it? If he couldn't see any part of my entire boat-like car before the impact, than how do other people merge in front of big rigs without getting crunched? I don't know. I could have found all that out had the sonofabitch simply stopped. But no dice.

Anyway. That's what happened to me today. Thus ends the official record of the most thoroughly described fender-bender in Atlanta history. Aren't blogs great?

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

So You Think You Got Away, Huh? You Think You Could Screw Him Over and Then Jump on the Freeway for A Clean Getaway? Check out your rearview mirror.

I stumbled onto this when I was looking for something to post up today. Sad to say but I think I may be getting close to the end of the decent artwork I still have to post up here. I may have to get into either the middling artwork (the stuff I've heretofore deemed not good enough for the blog), or try and pore through my storyboards and cull out some funny ones for the Inanities. Yeah, I guess the storyboards will probably be next. Hooray for all of you.

Anyway, this drawing always brings a smile to my face. It is, once again, of Blinky, though this is probably the most over the top I've ever drawn him. I know he looks like he's coked to the gills and in the middle of a fatal episode, but in reality he's possessed by a Clockwork Orange-style need to dispense some ultra-violence. So what he has to run down the freeway to kill somebody? This is Blinky we're talking about. He don't care. He's going to save time, no matter what it takes.

Anyway. Mi esposa Peggy is leaving tomorrow afternoon to fly to Cincinnatti, from which she will fly to Paris, from which she will then fly to Hong Kong. It's going to take her a little while to get to China to begin her "China trip" as we've been calling it for the last 6 months. She will be away from Decatur for about 3 weeks. She's packing right now and trying to figure out the bare minimum of weight she can take with her while still having a shirt to wear in 20 degree weather. She can only carry 44 lbs. while travelling domestically within China. So she's only going to be able to carry 44 lbs. with her out of the country. And with all the buying of counterfeit purses and software she wants to do, she's working on taking stuff she can use while she's there and then dispose of so she can cram as much into her bag as possible. I'm hoping she can bring me back the final Harry Potter book which, you may be surprised to know, has already been published there. It's called Harry Potter and The Promise of The Red and Shameful Dragon. Actually, I don't know what it's called, but that sounds pretty close.