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What Even is a Novel?

A Novel is a book in most people’s minds. Saying “I wrote a novel,” and “I wrote a book” are synonymous with most of the population. Thus, saying “I wrote a novella” indulges in jargon, and jargon always sounds mildly pretentious to those outside of the group that invented it. Also, it sounds like “lesser novel”, which is what it is. Which is why I may start describing my novellas as “literary doodles”. It sounds more fun.

Dictionary.com ontologizes it as “a fictitious prose narrative of book length, typically representing character and action with some degree of realism.” I’m a bit skeptical of the last bit, as that seems to be a trait of the literary or social novel. But then how much realism is “some”?

And the “of book length” seems to ask as many questions as it answers. How long is a book? If a book isn’t long enough, does it cease to be a book? Did Dr. Seuss write bookellas?

The word “novel” derives from the Latin for “new”, which suggests a focus on current things. This may be the reason Sir Walter Scott distinguished the novel from the romance, which was supposed to be about matters marvellous in nature. This would mean that The Lord of the Rings would properly be termed a “romance”, which would no doubt please Tolkien. However, other european languages, such as French, use the word “roman” (or its equivalent) to mean “novel.”

So we’re back to Long Prose Fictional Narrative. Which is what most people mean. I love it when a plan comes together.

TV is Contrary to Good Storytelling

Unless the story is already told…

Holt McCallany makes a strong point: most TV is writer/producer-driven. You gotta grind out the script, then grind out the shoot. Rehearsal is a minimum and re-shoots are not a thing.

How then, to square this with my disappointment with the new season, which felt exactly like a selection of tropes?

The problem is repetition. Successful TV shows by definition are supposed to keep going, but if a story is getting told well, characters and arcs should already be resolved. So we have to recreate arcs, build cliffhangers, and in general drag the thing out, because that’s where the money is.

Even Director-driven shows feel the need to do add character builds. Fifty-minute running times don’t write themselves.

Everything Takes Longer Than You Think

Especially when you’ve never done it.

And really, everything you do is something you’ve never done.

We feel that days are the same, but they aren’t. Monotony is a frame of mind, a passivity to pattern.

So when you say, “I’ll do this by time X” you’re expressing a wish or an intent.

The important thing is to keep doing, and let the deadlines you set float by if they need to. Better late than never isn’t an excuse, it’s a necessary compromise with a world of nearly infinite complexity, very little of which falls under our actual control.

Grind away.

The Flop Sweat is Real: Hollywood’s Death March Continues

They’re gonna do a Fourth Matrix movie.

I predict it sucks so hard, it makes Revolutions look good.

Now that’s an easy prediction to make, because if I’m wrong, I’ll have something mildly decent to watch whenever it shows upon Amazon Prime. But odd are I’m right, because…

  1. No one cares about this series. It’s just a name that will put enough fanboys in the seats domestically and probably sell well in China. It’s going to be The Matrix Awakens, softly re-booting the story for nostalgia purposes. Story will be the last thing on anyone’s mind.
  2. The original series was a mess, but at least it finished. There’s nothing more to say or do in this universe. They danced around with a basic Messianic premise, loaded it up with Cyberpunk imagery and garbage sub-Baudrillard post-modernism, and tried to conflate confusion with depth. Going back to it will not accomplish anything of value.
  3. The Wachowskis are bad filmmakers. They had one good movie, tainted by its garbage sequels. Everything else they’ve done has been mediocre to astonishingly bad (Jupiter Ascending, anyone?). Compare them to the Cohen brothers, I dare you.

In short, there’s no reason to expect anything from this microwaved movie. Anyone who pays good money to see it in the theater is a sucker, and they will deserve the anger headaches that follow. Stop lining up for this swill.

Woody Allen is Still Making Movies

Woody Allen’s ‘A Rainy Day in New York’ to Open Deauville Film Festival

Woody Allen’s ‘A Rainy Day in New York’ to Open Deauville Film Festival
— Read on variety.com/2019/film/global/woody-allens-a-rainy-day-in-new-york-deauville-film-festival-1203309106/

I’ve tried to like Woody Allen movies, but I can’t, because they usually involve having to like Woody Allen. And I have never managed to pull that off. Woody Allen is what happens when someone takes Mel Brooks, removes all the jokes, and makes him read Freud and Sartre, and convinces him that shoving a young blonde in there somewhere will dredge up the appropriate level of pathos. His career is a testament to the mythos of New York as a Mecca of culture. No matter how many times he turned in the same snit of schlemielery in a different garb, you could always count on someone among the literati to nod approvingly at it.

And even #MeToo couldn’t take the old twerp out. How lame.

Quick Review: Mindhunter Season 2

TV tropes are a double-edged sword. On the one hand, they exist because they work: they create a kind of structural shorthand that writers can use to keep producing content reliably. On the other hand, used at the wrong time, or in the wrong show, they can smother any unique voices or angles.

I believe this is what has occurred with the second season of Mindhunter. What follows will constituted spoilers, so if you haven’t already binged it, you are accepting responsibility for this by reading any further. So, *SPOILERS* begin now.

The dirty secret of Mindhunter is that we don’t need the main characters to have full and rich emotional lives displayed on screen for us. The characters are not really characters so much as they are proxies for the exploration of darkness and the historical account of how the FBI codified the demonology of serial killers. That’s the hook; that’s what we want to see. Holden Ford and Bill Tensch and Wendy Carr are all more or less normal people, and the interest is watching normal people confront the void. Who they date and how much golf they play is of no interest unless it informs that confrontation.

No one found Holden’s girlfriend Debbie from Season 1 more irritating than I did, because watching him spend so much time with someone who could not stop belittling him and condescending to him got old fast. However, their relationship, at least in the early stages, did inform and inspire his thinking about what he was doing in the FBI. It was relevant. But Wendy’s relationship with a bartender this season was relevant to nothing, because it was the only thing we saw her do. All it serves is the trope of “we’ve revealed she’s lesbian, so we need to explore that, so she can *grow as a character*”. No. We don’t need to explore that, because Wendy Carr is not a teenager. She is who she is, and if we don’t know what we can do with her while Holden and Bill are chasing the Atlanta Child Killer, then do we need to see her at all?

The same with Holden’s psychology. Watching Holden have a massive panic attack at the end of Season 1, as he confronts the reality that the void, in the form of Co-Ed Killer Ed Kemper, has also gazed into him, was a strong way to close Season 1. We spend time with it in the early episodes, and it seems as if it’s going to matter, as both Wendy and Bill feel obliged to look after him. But then it goes nowhere, until it’s played off as an almost-joke at the end of the season (Bill telling Holden “You look anxious. You should take a Valium”). I don’t watch this show for lame cliffhangers.

I’d like to say that the breakdown of Bill Tensch’s family is better, but it isn’t. The creepy little boy is still a creepy little boy, and the incident involving the toddler feels like cheap drama. It seems to be so important, and yet it’s only Nancy not wanting to stay in the house that blows everything up at the end. It felt obligatory. A toddler died, and the result is Nancy packing everything up and moving out without leaving (so far as we can tell) so much as a Dear John letter. This isn’t where the emotional weight of the series should be. It’s not a character show, it’s a content show.

Meanwhile, the actual draw of the season gets almost short shrift. You’ve got BTK, who was mere shadowing in Season 1, suddenly landing on the Behavioral Science Unit’s radar, but by the end of Season 2, we’re back to watching him for a scene at the beginning or end of an episode acting weird. Which isn’t unreasonable, as BTK wasn’t caught until 2005. But other than a quick trip to Wichita for Bill, they seem oddly blase about the whole thing. Is this really the best use of the material?

The season works best when dealing with the Atlanta Child Killings of 1979-1981. The tantalizing mystery of this, with so many dead children, and so few leads, and a community deeply suspicious, is top-shelf stuff. More, it serves as a great challenge to the whole concept of “profiling”: although Wayne Williams fits the profile, physical evidence tying him too the dead children remains elusive. The story builds logically off of what we’ve seen them do in Season 1, but everyone except Holden treats it as an irritating distraction. The conflict between theory and reality should occupy the center stage, and everything the characters are doing should build off of that. Instead, we have conversations about authenticity and real estate but nothing about why Holden is so certain about the kind of man he’s trying to catch. He doesn’t get to make his case. It’s like the show just wants him to be wrong.

Fincher says he plans to do five seasons. I’m not going to wait with such anticipation for the next one.

Woodstock is a Bird

Mud.

Music.

Bad acid.

The blueprint for every Grateful Dead Phish tour ever?

The dress rehearsal to Alatamont?

A bunch of histrionic nonsense that doesn’t merit our attention?

The birth cry of our post-modern Return of the Primitive?

Or maybe it was just a thing that happened, and meant something to someone, and got pictures taken of it, and despite all the insanity got remembered as a grandness. Compared to Fyre Festival, it at least happened.

And sure, I was pretty unimpressed with the nostalgia for it when it was 20 years old. Sure, I thought the ’94 re-do was lame, and gleefully giggled when the ’99 re-do was so horrible that no one wanted to do it again. I’m glad that they didn’t manage to do another festival this time. I’m sick of hearing about it.

But that’s because it wasn’t for me. It never had anything to do with me. It was for someone else. So go on and give one last nod to Rural Joseph and his Pisceans. And don’t forget the wisest thing that was ever said about it:

If you can remember it, you weren’t there.