And so it begins…

The first two weeks of the semester are nearly done, and yet again, I’m caught surprised by the raw change of intensity the new year brings.

Summer days working on personal projects and seeing only close friends may be busy and exciting, but they differ by orders of magnitude from days spent at school. There you walk from one room full of dozens of excitable restless people to another room full of the same, and the crowds in the hallway actually rumble and shake.

Going back to school is nothing less than a move from one to another way of life. And the two are so completely distinct and so completely different it’s hard to imagine or prepare for the one while living in the other. Even when the transition goes smoothly, I feel like I’m fumbling along like a dopey-eyed klutz.

Is there any other job like this?

ps—blog posts I’ve left hanging will resume soon.



This film managed to hit both of my biggest sci-fi movie peeves:

  1. the hero “saves” the world by destroying everything and killing everyone; and
  2. the final scenes proceed as if the fundamental rule of the narrative (established in the opening scenes) doesn’t exist. From that first scene, the cold outside will freeze your body solid in seven minutes…but then, in the final scene, characters walk out into the snow without gloves or hats and with coats hanging open and they’re fine. Start the inspirational closing theme. (I really hate that kind of stuff.)

So ultimately, I’m not sure what to make of the North American hype around this film. I’m sure people have arguments about style and construction and etc. But I’m guessing that at root it’s about the fascination of big names working for a South Korean filmmaker on an arty Matrix-style, life-as-a-box sci-fi dystopia.

Galaxy Impossible (a variation)

As the movie opens, the Hero watches his mother die. Overcome, he runs away from his extended family.

The Hero, an adult now, jogs alongside a white plastered building in a dark hoodie. He turns a corner enters a street full of loud vendors, scooters, white-gloved cops, and hot, sooty air. Near a high-walled compounded he ducks into an alley, scales the wall and makes his way to an opulent and spacious office where he retrieves a small device with a blue light. Guards arrive, led by a black man with a British accent wearing a white linen suit. “I believe you have something that belongs to Mr. Li.” There are some fisticuffs and some shooting but the Hero is wearing an earbud and explosions and sprinklers go off as planned. The Hero makes it out onto the street where he blends in by wearing glasses and a straw hat.

Back in Europe, the Hero discovers his rendezvous point in Prague is compromised and communications with HQ shutdown. He assembles a group of local mercenaries that includes the love interest, a wild card, the wild card’s sidekick, and a very serious man. They’re at odds but we find out who they are.

  • The Love Interest: “Li took care of me when I waz young, trained me. He iz dangerous but he iz not my fahzer.”
  • The Wild Card: “Nobody trained me. Not my parents, not my country. I do whatever pays the best.”
  • The Sidekick: “I am Yukio.”
  • The Very Serious Man: “I went rogue when Li went after my wife and kids.”

Business happens and the Hero and the others discover the device is dangerous/valuable. Let’s say it’s a code key. For a global military-industrial network. The five don’t work well together, and Li’s men take the device from them. During the chase scene, the Hero chooses to save the Love Interest’s life rather than fleeing, and the five end up trapped somewhere. In a Russian prison, say. Or in Munich with no gear, no money and INTERPOL agents watching the train stations and airports. The five realize they will have to trust each other to escape, and they band together to stop Li from using the key to take control of the military network.

More business happens that sets up the plan by which Li will be defeated in a final confrontation inside a Chinese skyscraper. Each of the five characters plays an important role. Let’s imagine that:

  • The Love Interest infiltrates a nearby bank where she confronts her sister who manages Li’s finances. One of Li’s men is using the bank’s servers to hide Li’s attack on the military network from western observers. The Love Interest subdues her sister and forces her to lock Li’s man in the server room and to shut down his terminal. She then uses the company’s systems to establish communications between the other team members and to contact the Hero’s former liaison at HQ. At some point, sitting in front of her computer screen, she will say “Okay, I’m in.”
  • The Wild Card hides in a server closet in the skyscraper and hacks its computer system. He seals doors and locks elevators. He also shuts down the security system protecting Li and coordinates the team’s approach. As he watches the screens and eats Twizzlers, he jokes “Hello Mr. I Thought I Was Bad Ass. Meet Team Yo’ So Not.”
  • When one of Li’s agents bursts into the server closet and shoots at the Wild Card, the Sidekick takes the bullet and karate chops the agent, saving the Wild Card’s life. As the Wild Card works to stop the bleeding, the Sidekick mutters, “We is Yukio.”
  • The Very Serious Man confronts Li as he enters the upper levels of the skyscraper, a tall bright space full of computers and criss-crossing catwalks. He is nearly cut down by Li’s guards but manages to save an older and a younger woman who stand frozen by fear in front of their work stations. He does not know they are the IT department chief’s family. Later when Li’s men finally get past the sealed doors and broken elevators, he helps keep them occupied to give the Hero time.
  • The Hero arrives late to the scene. He has been held in a decommissioned safe house by the man who raised him, taught him to be a spy and who now wants the control key for himself. The Hero outwits/overpowers the man and rushes to the skyscraper to confront Li. Li is well dressed, calm and gloats. Columns of numbers and code scroll across the computer screens. He explains, “You are too late.” In the server closet, the Wild Card is again typing furiously, his screen reads “password accepted,” he says “yes!” and hits return. The screens next to Li go blank, and he asks, “What is happening? What have you done?“ The Wild Card laughs and sends “pwned” to the blank screen.

Action ensues, but together the Hero and his team capture Li and subdue his men. They hand him and the code key over to the agents from HQ who have finally arrived. The IT chief thanks them for saving his wife and daughter. As the movie closes, the five sit side-by-side in an airport lounge, the Sidekick with his arm in a sling. As they chat a gate agent comes up and hands the Hero a brown envelope. Inside is a sheet of paper stamped “Top Secret.”

(Or if you prefer, imagine Li is a bearded Indian industrialist who dresses in black shirts and suits. In this case the device holds schedules and security details, the threat is an assassination attempt and/or terrorist attack, and the final confrontation involves a car chase on the streets of London.)

the end


This post is part of a series.

A Fistful of Galaxies (a variation)

As the movie opens, the Hero watches his mother die. Overcome, he runs away from his extended family.

The Hero, an adult now, rides through scrub brush and cactus in a dry, orange country and comes upon a group of broken and burnt wagons. As he collects a locked box from out of the wreckage, outlaw types arrive. “That box you got there ain’t your’n.” “Shur looks like it is,” says the hero. “McGuinty won’t like strangers takin what’s his.” There’s some shooting but the Hero holds his own and the group rides off.

In town, the Hero meets the love interest, a wild card, the wild card’s sidekick, and a very serious man. They’re at odds but we find out who they are.

  • The Love Interest: “McGuintty ain’t my pa. They say he is, but he ain’t.”
  • The Wild Card: “I never had no parents. Who needs ’em. I ain’t asked to be born.”
  • The Sidekick: “Mi nombre es Paco.”
  • The Very Serious Man: “McGuinty killed my wife and my kids and now I got nothing.”

Business happens and the Hero and the others discover the box is dangerous/valuable. Let’s say it’s a box of ammo. For a Gatling gun. They lose it to McGuinty’s men and, because the Hero chooses to save the Love Interest rather than running away, they all end up trapped together. In a mine, say. Or a mountain camp without horses. They realize they have to trust each other to escape or to get back to town. They also band together to stop McGuinty from using the box of ammo.

More business happens leading to McGuinty’s defeat on the streets of the town in a shootout where each of the five characters plays a key role. Let’s imagine:

  • The Love Interest confronts her sister who works in one of McGuinty’s brothels. She has let one of his men out on the balcony to shoot at the Hero from above. The Love Interest gets past her sister and stuns the man. Probably with a whiskey bottle brought down on his head. She takes his place and his rifle and covers her friends because she’s a good shot.
  • The Wild Card holds the Gang at gunpoint in a saloon and tries to rally the locals cowering at their tables. He jokes to the gang that “I don’t like people tryin to shoot my amigos.”
  • When one of the gang fires at the Wild Card, the Sidekick takes the bullet, saving his life. As the Wild Card holds him, the Sidekick mutters, “Nuestro nombre es Paco.”
  • The Very Serious Man confronts McGuinty, who is out on the street. He is nearly cut down by the Gatling gun but manages to save a mother and child frozen by fear. He does not know they are the Sheriff’s family. Later when the gang gets out of the saloon, he helps keep them occupied to give the Hero time.
  • The Hero is not yet on the scene. He’s held in a barn by the man who raised him, taught him how to shoot and who now wants the box of ammo for himself. The Hero outwits/overpowers the man and rushes out to confront McGuinty. McGuinty gloats, patting the barrels of the Gatling gun. It’s noon. From the saloon, the Wild Card fires a shot that hits the Gatling gun damaging its gears. McGuinty hollers, “Damn yer stinkin hide!” The Wild Card laughs and turns back to chasing down the gang.

Action ensues. The real shootout begins, but together the Hero and his friends subdue McGuinty and his gang, turning them over to the sheriff. They also give him the Gatling gun and the ammo for safe-keeping. The sheriff thanks them for saving his wife and daughter. As the movie closes, the five mount up on horses, the Sidekick with his arm in a sling, and they ride out of town side-by-side.

Or if you prefer, McGuinty can be an Apache not an outlaw, in which case the box holds rifles, the town is a wagon train, and the final shootout is in a canyon.

the end


This post is part of a series.

Notes on a Hypertext

For the last few weeks, I’ve been working on the hypertext I took on as a summer project. It’s been an eye-opening experience and I’d like to jot down some observations informally for later. These are in addition to some earlier thoughts.

The Project

I’m making an online presentation of the argument and research from my dissertation, but I don’t want to create an ordinary web site in the sense of a menu or search driven collection of resources. Instead, I want to offer something that someone could actually read and that, as they move from page to page, unfolds only aspects of the story that are of interest to them.

Despite what I’ll say below, things are going well and I’m excited. I have a third (maybe a bit more) of the thing done and the way I’m working is already very different from what I planned and imagined as I began: it seems that there’s life in the beast and so I’m letting it show me what to work on and when. I’ve also accepted that this is an experiment, everything’s new to me, and whatever I might dream up, things are not going to be perfect if I ever want to finish.

Things I’ve Noticed

  1. How do I decide to link: I imagine the questions people will ask as they read then link to the answer. Rinse, repeat.
  2. I’m cutting texts to the size of the screen and adapting language to multiple audiences. This changes the originally academic prose drastically. There are still deep places where academic guts are exposed and the language rumbles along with the mannered rhythms of a conference paper. Those who are interested will find these places easily enough. But hopefully, it will be just as easy for others to read Faulkner’s story in engaging prose without ever visiting these places. If I pull this double-language off, I will be very very happy.
  3. Scale matters. Without enough “nodes” in play, links feel like icing, like an add-on. Once enough nodes are in play though, links serve a purpose and feel essential, like a line thrown out and tied off to keep loose things whole. With enough nodes in play, I have a standard for deciding what works and what doesn’t: does this link keep things from breaking or my head above water? Good. Then, what about this one? When I start asking these questions, a lot of my small-scale, links-to-have-links are deleted.
  4. When linking materials, the complexity eventually settles down, becomes clear and “flows.” But only after a cruel march through spirit-crushing complication. How do I know things are right? A jumble of material suddenly runs like water through a system of canals. How do I know I’m not quite there? Things that used to make sense have become so complicated and confused I’m ready to throw in the towel. It’s brutal.
  5. Words have momentum and writing words in a hypertext is as involved and as intimate as drafting and revising words for printed text. It takes time and effort and attention to detail. I hadn’t expected this and in an act of pure insanity chose to resurrect 100,000 words that I thought I was done with and had stashed away years ago. This too is brutal, and when I’m done, I’m staking the dissertation and scattering the ashes.
  6. I don’t actually care if anyone reads all the pieces of this thing, which surprises me. I want people to read what interests them, to find what they need, maybe something unexpected, and then when they are satisfied, to leave. I imagine myself creating possibilities for useful partial readings, and that feels like a better way to write (which is another surprise).

The Topic: William Faulkner’s MGM Screenplays

My dissertation and the hypertext are about William Faulkner’s screenwriting during his first Hollywood contract at MGM Studios.

Faulkner’s reputation is based upon his novels and short stories, but he wrote in Hollywood for more than twenty years. That first year is special though. He was learning the ropes, and to do so, he adapted his own fiction for the screen, something he rarely attempted again and never with such commitment.

My dissertation looks at how Faulkner changed his source stories in response to Hollywood storytelling conventions and emerging censorship. And because he returned to and used these same stories when writing subsequent fiction, I also indicate the ways these adaptations produce important changes in his style that critics associate with his later works.

More info to come…


boyhood.32643The Beav wasn’t as impressed by this film as I felt he should be. He liked the concept and was interested in the characters, but ultimately, he felt like the plain style was a failing. I asked some questions and, best I can figure, he would have preferred something more lyrical and expressive. This is definitely a legitimate criticism but it’s difficult for me to imagine anyone pulling it off given that the story and it’s outcome were so uncertain at the beginning of the decade-long shoot.

For my part I got caught up enough in the story of these families that style was largely invisible, and I felt things I normally don’t at a cinema: for example, I felt pride when the boy graduated from high school, and not simply happiness. Other small authentic details came as a genuine, felt relief: that Patricia Arquette gained weight, that getting a good job meant paying bills (not riches and an escape from economic reality), that the dad sells his car and is untouched when his kid pouts about it.

The biggest surprise for me was that a movie called Boyhood does not idealize youth or present adulthood as loss and so stands apart from much of popular culture. Here, adults cope with ordinary problems and as the children grow these problems affect them more and more: alcoholism, the need for love and its risks, the relentless threat of poverty. Yet the parents change, grow, and yes, become better people as they gain experience. In response to bad timing, missed opportunities or poor choices, they work, they do their best, and slowly over time, the chaos and uncertainty of youth are gradually replaced with a kind of stability and success.

This end point is low-key and imperfect. These adults continue to have problems, they struggle still, but there is beauty in the compromises they strike. And that beauty reads as a hope that neither high school nor college must necessarily be the best years of this boy’s life. Which rings true.