Posts Tagged 'Battleship Pretension'

Funny You Should Say That

What a world, that fan-fiction world. Is it? Anyway. Couple weekends ago, for “Battleship Pretension Live 4: The Reckoning,” I wrote an epic introduction, inspired by “The Lives of Harry Lime,” in which (in the intro, this is) the co-hosts traveled to Cedar Rapids nine years ago and stumbled upon the idea for their podcast. It was utter untruth, from start to finish, which is what made it so damn much fun. The live show should be posted in a couple weeks, and if you haven’t heard Kyle Kinane perform stand-up yet, get ready for something awesome. It was a great time, as always, and here’s roommate Adam’s poster art:

BP are you with me?!

Also! Found this from perusing good friend/ soon-to-be-reunited-fellow-player-of-Carcassonne BJ’s twitter page. It made me laugh. A lot. The site is called Our Valued Customers. Enjoy.

I think I live with this guy.



Birthday Weekend Extravaganza

Initially, I’d thought to go Thursday through Sunday, day by day, since a lot happened each day in my 4-day b-day blowout. Instead, moving topically through the terrain seems like a more cohesive method of conveyance.

All-Things Jonathan Franzen:

He’s got my vote

I’m about half way through re-reading his 3rd novel, 2001’s The Corrections, and what I’ve immediately noticed this time is the increased strength of his prose from the end of his 2nd novel to the beginning of this one. Don’t get me wrong, I love his first novel, The 27th City and most of Strong Motion, but he is on a whole new level here. All of this, of course, is in preparation for his new novel, Freedom, which my mother got me for my birthday and which has been earning him immense praise. TIME magazine had him on the cover as the new Great American Novelist, and he was just recently on “Fresh Air with Terry Gross” discussing the novel as well as his relationship to blog-favorite David Foster Wallace. They’re very different writers. VERY. I first read The Corrections the spring of my freshman year of college; and things have changed since I was 19. It’s still very high on my list of favorite novels, but I can safely say its #1 slot has been reconsidered. That doesn’t mean it isn’t brilliant. It is. The characters’ obsession with viewing their lives in terms of the corrections they’re making to either their parents or siblings or neighbors or society-at-large is so universal yet always incredibly specific within the story’s context. And the way Franzen allows the main character of each section to subtly influence the 3rd person omniscient narrator is one of my favorite aspects of the book. He gets inside so many disparate perspectives so completely that the reader identifies with each one. It also moves very nicely, setting up plot, providing character exposition, establishing themes, exploring ideas and relationships – he weaves these seamlessly into and out of each other so that the book never feels like it’s moving too slowly (his previous novel did unfortunately feel like bout 65% exposition), but also never ignores an important aspect. That is quite a balancing act.


Poster designed by Adam Rebottaro

The more I thought about it, the happier I got. As soon as I hit on the idea for my Birthday Party, I knew it was going to be interesting and fun. I haven’t had a “party” per se in a long time (I think since I was 21 – wow), but this year was a good twist on it. Instead of a regular party, we had a screening night. We got pizza, we drank some good beer (thanks to my friend Will, I was in full supply of Delirium Nocturnum all night), ate some lemon cake courtesy of a good cook I know, and watched seven short films made by or starring people in my circle of friends – all of which led up to the public unveiling of my new short film, “Reservations,” which many in attendance were also a part of.

I’ve watched it probably ten times in the last few weeks with various small groups of people (including my mother who miraculously liked it and didn’t chide me on the abundant use of the term “asshole”) – each time taking notes and making adjustments and re-watching to see how it all worked – and the incontrovertible result is a better film now than the one I had a month ago. It pays to listen to intelligent people. The night of the party was its biggest audience, maybe 15-20 people, and it proved to confirm that I had made the film I thought I was making and one that I am proud of. But the evening was better than just that. It was more about the immense talent pool within this group of people; people with unexpectedly greater reserves and abilities than their surfaces suggest (one girl said as much about my movie, too: “I don’t want you to take this the wrong way, but I liked your movie a lot more than I expected to.”). Fair enough.

(NOTE: I recorded the commentary track with Tyler Smith and David Bax of “Battleship Pretension,” and you can Buy the DVD through their site, in fact. Which you should. Now.)

Battleship Pretension Live:

Never Forget

Everyone loves a good show, and this one was great. The first two live events were both solid in their own right, but – and I hope I’m being impartial – this one felt very complete. It’s half comedy show, half panel discussion, which creates a very interesting (and compelling) flow to the evening. I was fortunate to be asked to provide the show’s introduction, and it was with great relish that I constructed an opening to both celebrate and mock both the occasion and hosts. The writing was a sortof throwback to the introductions to my own short-lived (though astutely completed) podcast, “Experts and Intermediates,” in which the goal was to created concentric linguistic circles around the topic and then end with a clever punch-line. Because words can be fun toys. Also great is our traditional migration to the Mexican restaurant down the street. A tall Long Island Iced Tea, decent chips & salsa, good food, crappy service – it’s the complete package.

The highlight of the evening (aside from their giving away a copy of “Reservations” as a prize and my giving each of the show’s four guests a copy as well) was hands-down the story told by character actor Stephen Tobolowsky. I’ve previously explained the brilliance of his own podcast, “The Tobolowsky Files,” and he brought that same dynamic in person: the specificity of just the right details, the perfect blend of comedy and heart, the way he constructs meaning from life experience. I expected him to read from a typed version of his story, but he didn’t need it. He electrified the entire place with a story about a “chain” of The American Opinion Bookstore, during his preparation for “Mississippi Burning,” playing the clan leader Clayton Townley. His story concerned his journey to research his character, and the books he brought in earned an outright gasp from everybody. So did the story’s climax. You’ll hear it when the show is posted, but it was a mesmerizing moment. The fact that I got to talk to him briefly afterwards about working with “Deadwood” creator David Milch – and the fact that he had even more stories to tell about him!!! – was an extra special birthday treat.


Someone asked me if this was a good birthday. I’m 27 now, an age I actually quite like (I’m not kidding, I like the number itself), and while I can’t say if this was “the best” birthday, because I didn’t have enough time to think about it on the spot, I do know it wasn’t the worst. It was better than just a day: it was a weekend spent with friends in celebration of another year alive, my first year in California, and the wonderful combination of friendship and artistry. So, yeah, maybe this was the best, because what could be better?

Over-Analyze This

Found out tonight I’m recording an episode of the excellent podcast “Battleship Pretension” tomorrow on the subject of Over-analyzing movies – does it really exist? If so, to what extent is it a bad thing?

So, I’ve been compiling a list of questions, thoughts, and anecdotes since over-analyzing movies (and anything) is an accusation often lobbed at me. It never fails to provoke an eye-roll from me at the time, but I’d be lying if I said I don’t quietly worry over it at night.

As a filmmaker, I worry about it even more. Am I over-analyzing my own writing? Am I seeing things in this that aren’t there and won’t translate on-screen? Is there even a point in making this film? It’s worth noting that I’ve been at it for about 2 hours now, and not because I can’t think of what to contribute. We’re past that. Now we’re back on the roller-coaster of circular-logic about intelligent art vs. “dumb” art and how maybe it’s a sign of elitism that I would even try to label someone else’s art as dumb, and then the other part of me that says no, screw that, Writing X is smart and Writing Z is dumb. And dumb is bad. And I am smart. Am I smart?

A few weeks ago, I was in charge of the devotional for my Men’s Group and we discussed, for about two hours, to what extent FORM or PACKAGING does and should influence us. I promise it actually had a lot to do with God and how we receive His message and whether or not it’s necessarily Biblically WRONG to discount a sermon based on the way it’s delivered/written. We also talked about the rise of the over-packaged church. You know the one. Starbucks and bookshop and giant plasma screens everywhere and loud, thumping announcements with “cutting edge” graphics and music hip enough that, quote, “you won’t be ashamed to bring your unsaved friends!” How those things distract from the message in one way, but in another way, because one of the gifts God gives us is the ability to deliver His truth to other people, the way we package something is vital because good packaging (as form) points to a form higher than ourselves.

I’m off-topic.

Jonathan Franzen

So, the subject reminded me of a passage in Jonathan Franzen’s book How to Be Alone about writing intelligent fiction with a heightened vocabulary that most people can still understand. About the contract between reader and writer. Because one of the things I want to talk about tomorrow (we’ll see if we even get around to it) is, since I’m coming to the topic not only as a critic but also as an artist, whose work is the subject of the criticism (I’m speaking in the global sense, we’re not dissecting MY films on the show), that my view on the show’s topic might be that the ideas of the “Best Analysis” and the “Most Analysis” are two very different things; that Best Analysis relies not solely on the intellect when determining quality, while the Most Analysis refuses to base quality on anything but intellect.

I couldn’t find the passage (I have the paper-back edition, so if you stumble upon it, let me know), but I did get distracted and wound up in Franzen’s own personal struggle of why to write in one of the essays, called “Why Bother?” Here’s his predicament:

“Panic grows in the gap between the increasing length of the project and the shrinking time increments of cultural change: How to design a craft that can float on history for as long as it takes to build it? The novelist has more and more to say to readers who have less and less time to read: Where to find the energy to engage with a culture in crisis when the crisis consists in the impossibility of engaging with the culture?”

Reading that sentence sent me into a frenzy. Keep in mind, he wrote this article in 1996, nearly 15 years ago. How do you maintain culturally relevant work when the culture being reflected changes faster than you can create? I feel this way about movies; the peril must be amplified for the novelist. If this was the state of things in 1996, what calamity befalls the novelist now? How fast social phenomena come and go! How long do you think it will be before twitter and Facebook and MySpace (and blogs!?) are obsolete? For an easy example, look at cell-phones. The moment you buy one, five more have come out. In six months or a year, the model you bought will have been updated and expanded. It takes about two years to “earn” a phone-upgrade through the average cell-phone plan, provided you don’t change plans every so often. Think how movies have changed. Think how music has changed. How the delivery systems and modes of receiving them have changed. Now think how much the book has changed. Not much. Ink on paper, bound together. Sure, there’s that gizmo the Kindle, but it hasn’t caught on. For all the changes in everything else, most people still prefer to have a book and hold it. The newspaper can’t even boast that. The book is one of our most steadfast artistic endeavors. And yet so few people read.

I remembered that the article arrived at an answer to Franzen’s fear, if not a solution, and because at this point it was a little after 3:30am, I had to read ahead to figure out if his answers would satisfy me or, if they didn’t, if I could come up with a good enough counter-proposal to be able to go to sleep. In other words, I had to analyze. To an extent. Franzen’s answer is one I do find comforting.

Expecting a novel to bear the weight of our whole disturbed society–to help solve our contemporary problems–seems to me to be a peculiarly American delusion. To write sentences of such authenticity that refuge can be taken in them: Isn’t this enough? Isn’t it a lot?

Don DeLillo

It is enough. I started breathing again. A lot of times, too, a book or movie or whatever that is only about the RIGHT NOW will, itself, only be relevant right now. It will be a product of its time, and its own shelf-life will only be as long as that of the social phenomenon it’s about. And then it will be gone. But other things will last. Better things will remain. The film “25th Hour” got totally overlooked in 2002 when it came out. It was on my list of the best films of that year, because I sought it out. Zero Oscar nominations. Zero Golden Globe nominations. The movie was made by Spike Lee and has Edward Norton, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rosario Dawson, and Anna Paquin. Seven years later, it is appearing on numerous Best-of-the-Decade Lists. Seven years later, it has remained.

So, of course, this entry, which was supposed to be short, has gone long. I’ll close with more encouragement, from the end of Franzen’s essay. It comes from another favorite writer of mine, Don DeLillo, who wrote to Franzen personally when he (Franzen) appealed to him (DeLillo) for help.

“The writer leads, he doesn’t follow. The dynamic lives in the writer’s mind, not in the size of the audience. And if the social novel lives, but only barely, surviving in the cracks and ruts of the culture, maybe it will be taken more seriously, as an endangered spectacle. A reduced context but a more intense one.

Writing is a form of personal freedom. It frees us from the mass identity we see in the making all around us. In the end, writers will write not to be outlaw heroes of some underculture but mainly to save themselves, to survive as individuals.”

It Has Come to This

May 2018
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