Bleeding Fool

Geek Guns ain't dead yet

While I don't normally do "link posts" to my work over at Bleedingfool.com, some of my readers might be interested to know that I added a new installment to the Geek Guns series, this one centering on Dirty Harry's .44 Magnum (Smith and Wesson Model 29).

The feature ran for 23 straight weeks before I took a break, and while I don't have a follow-up series planned, I will continue to add new installments as the opportunities present themselves.

The primary challenge is of course access to iconic weapons.  For example, I'd love to do a feature on the Colonial Marine weapons from Aliens, but I don't know anyone with a Thompson submachinegun (which is what those were).  I guess I need to hang out with a wealthier crowd.

 


The unified Battlestar Galactica compilation post

For a while it seemed that every other post over at Bleedingfool.com involved Battlestar Galactica, specifically its terrible "reboot."

In fact, I've pulled it apart in so many different ways, I think it would be useful to have a handy place to reference the collection, so here we are.

These are the ones at Bleedingfool.com:

Yes, Battlestar Galactica (2004) was the First Punitive Remake

Battlestar Galactica’s Reboot was the forerunner of SJW Hollywood

Battlestar Galactica ’78: The Original Space Western

At the time I was also in a habit of doing posts linking to stories when they posted and adding some addition commentary here at Chateau Lloyd, so here are those links:

My Battlestar Galactica piece is up

Battlestar Galactica revisited

 

 


The faith of Babylon 5

Over at Bleedingfool.com I've got an article up celebrating that lost gem of the 1990s, Babylon 5.

One of my challenges in writing it was keeping my admiration for the show in check, because there is so much about the show to like.

I watched the entire run when it was on live TV of course, and subsequently got the DVDs and binge-watched it twice more.  I'm thinking I might be due for another viewing.

One thing I touched on that's germane to my current Spirit World kick is the degree to which all of the characters on the show not only have some form of religion, but this actually directs their actions.

That's not very common these days as politics have replaced religion.  It's worth mentioning that none of the Star Trek versions ever bothered with a ship's chaplain.  Oh, they had empaths and therapists, but no one regularly participated in prayer services.  When it was shown, faith was always individual.

Babylon 5, by contrast, highlighted how even aliens had a belief system that touched on the supernatural.  It is considered a universal feature of sentient life.

Whether one looks at the near-Islamic Narn, Dionysian Centuri or mystic Minbari, religion was a core part of the group's identity and how each character expressed that was a key part of their personality.

Another element that stands out is that the humans are portrayed as every bit as reverent as the aliens.  This also cuts against the grain.  The classic rule in Hollywood is that only non-Christian cultures have sincere religious faith; Christians are either hypocrites or raving lunatics (often both).

Babylon 5 doesn't do that and as the years go by, I appreciate it more and more.


Comparing The Year of Living Dangerously with The Killing Fields

I've fallen out of the habit of cross-posting my articles from bleedingfool.com, but I think it's necessary in this case because what I wrote about The Year of Living Dangerously goes to the heart of what I didn't like about The Killing Fields.

I'm going to assume by now that you've checked out the article and move on with my critique of The Killing Fields.   The films are of course quite similar, being about the spread of Communism in Asia during the Cold War.

In fact, they films bookend Vietnam, with The Year of Living Dangerously taking place in 1965 while The Killing Fields begins in 1973.

Both center around Western journalists striving to get the truth out to the larger public.  However, the portrayal of them is profoundly different.

The journalists in Indonesia are, as I've noted, a bunch of heavy-drinking perverts.  They may be good at their craft, but they are hardly role models.

By contrast, Cambodia's press establishment is remarkably noble and altruistic, particularly Sam Waterston's Sam Schanberg.  The only hint of criticism he gets his how failed to ensure the safety of his translator/friend Dith Pran (Haing S. Ngor, who is amazing) and reaped the benefits of the subsequent publicity.

In fact, while approving of the subject matter, I found the presentation of The Killing Fields to be heavily at odds with the facts.  I get that by 1984, there was still a lot of Nixon hate out there, but it's obvious that the production team has let it completely cloud their judgement.  Late in the film Schanberg admits that the Khmer Rouge were worse than he thought, but then tries to blame Nixon for radicalizing them!

Uh, no.  Every single time Communists take control of a country they kill off huge numbers of people. (In Spain, they couldn't even wait until they won the civil war.)

The Khmer Rouge were just really good at it.  The notion that the Communists would have been peaceful and inclusive if only those pesky Americans weren't there is nonsense on stilts.

It;s possible that his answer isn't an attempt to preach but instead shows how far removed from reality his thought process has become.  I suppose there's also implied criticism in how Schanberg sits in his comfy chair talking about mailing photos while his dear friend eats lizards and climbs over corpses.

Even understanding the difficulty of the logistics at the time, I can't wonder why Schanberg didn't go to the refugee camps and write about them personally, maybe mount a vigil for his friend there rather than rage-watching Nixon administration footage while listening to his high-fidelity stereo.

The most tone-deaf moment in the film is when Schanberg is reunited with Pran and the production team plays of all things John Lennon's "Imagine."  Seriously?!

The Khmer Rouge was the embodiment of everything in the song!   They denied God, wiped out family ties and literally made everyone live for the day, every day.  The fact that their "brotherhood of man" was a nightmare only illustrates the inevitable outcome of nihilistic fantasies.

My resulting rage stroke almost wrecked the movie for me.

I will re-watch The Killing Fields at some point, looking for greater detail.  Also, the dialog wasn't very clear in places, so I'm sure I missed things.

Even so, The Year of Living Dangerously is a much better film.  The characters are more fully developed and the moral questions are presented with greater skill and complexity.  The Killing Fields gets very preachy at times, which it doesn't need to be.  The story speaks for itself, we don't need Waterston's sermonizing to make the point for us.

 

 

 


Unintended works of genius

I'm not sure if anyone has noticed, but my ruminations here often find their final form over at Bleedingfool.com.  Since I don't always bother to link to my articles (because I don't always know when they run), prudent readers should check the site from time to time.

My latest concept is how it often happens that a creator's vision is thwarted in some way, with the result that the finished product is better than it otherwise would have been.

One of the catalysts for this has been my recent viewing of The Caine Mutiny, which differs from the book insofar as Humphrey Bogart is considerably older than his character, Capt. Queeg.

In theory, this should be a problem, but in fact it makes for a much better story.  In the book, Queeg is a jerk and a coward, a villain devoid of any redeeming qualities.

For the film adaptation, the character was subtly changed - Queeg is a seven year veteran of the Navy, but there is a remark that he has 14 years "at sea," which means he was a merchant sailor prior to joining the service.

Bogart wears a class ring, so presumably Queeg went to the Merchant Marine academy, captained a merchant ship and then decided to pursue a direct commission into the Navy - perhaps because the Great Depression was hurting trade.

This career path is very similar to the one followed by James Cagney's character in Mister Roberts.  Both men have a chip on their shoulder, both are older than normal for the rank they hold, and in the case of Queeg, the strain of combat duty has proven too much.  This makes Queeg much more sympathetic and interesting.

It also met the Navy's requirement that the story be altered in order for them to participate.  The book painted a very unflattering picture of the Navy, particularly in who could rise to positions of authority.  Herman Wouk might well complain that the integrity of his work was compromised by self-interest and politics, but I think the result is far superior.

There is a tendency for people to treat books as authoritative, particularly if they are fictionalized accounts of historical events or experiences.  With greater creative freedom, books can "go there" and reveal the dark sinister truths that otherwise would be unspoken.

This view is particularly prevalent in the military, where disparaging one's service can be a career-ending experience.  However, the shield of creative license can also be used as an offensive weapon as well.  Using a thinly-disguised work of fiction to settle scores is a time-honored way to skirt libel laws (particularly when they were more rigorously enforced).

For example, Pat Conroy's The Great Santini was a bitter, angry attack against his father.  When it was made into a film, the decision to cast Robert Duval necessarily make the character of Santini more sympathetic, and some changes were made to the story to make him  more likeable. 

In the process, the character became more believable.  Again, the artist's vision (and goal) of vicarious character assassination was thwarted, but with the result of making a better work of art.

Don't be surprised to see a longer discussion of this in the near future, because I think it's worth examining.

 


Seeing Star Wars in sadness, not in anger

In what may be a first time event, my article at Bleedingfool.com expanding on my split with Star Wars hasn't gotten a single negative reaction or comment.

That's a remarkable occurrence.   Normally with that many reactions someone's bound to be a hater, but that's not the case here.

Clearly my experience in not unique.

I find that a lot of our problems as a society come from people who turn every disappointment into incandescent rage.  The movie wasn't good AND IT'S YOUR FAULT!!!

I suppose hate-clicks count the same as any other, so why seek understanding when you can spout off for fun and profit?

That brings me to my other observation, which is that about half of the reactions were "sad," an emoji I've never seen anyone choose for my articles before.

Of course what happened is deeply sad, both from the perspective of ruining art to the self-destruction of the creative talent behind it.

One one of the things that gets me fired up is waste - wasted opportunity, wasted resources, wasted talent.  It's particularly galling when you see something that mostly good and could have been great but for that one stupid thing and the thing wasn't an oversight or accident, but a very deliberate and determined choice.

As I get older, I'm less like to rage against waste and more likely to mourn it.

 


I'm not a fan of the Amon Sul podcast on Lord of the Rings

Based on my enjoyment of the Lord of Spirits, I thought for sure I'd love Father Andrew Stephen Damick's Tolkien-centric Amon Sul podcast.

Not so much.

I think I'm fairly near the upper end of the Tolkien fandom spectrum.  No, I don't speak Elvish, but I used to read Lord of the Rings every year, have most everything J.R.R. wrote and can accurately recite some of the songs and poems.

Maybe that's my problem: I seem to know more about the books than the host, which is really irritating.

Father Andrew also makes some pretty significant mistakes, conflating battles, names, events and this combined with his (freely admitted) "fangirl" behavior to really turn me against the show. 

I think the final straw was his refusal to completely and unconditionally condemn the Peter Jackson movies.  These are terrible, both as adaptations and as standalone movies.  I wish to emphasize that second point, because people will sometimes argue that Jackson can't be blamed for having to make a few concessions to the necessities of putting the story on film.

If you take the movies as they are, they are completely incoherent.  The plot is completely incoherent.

I've already linked to my trashing of the film, and so I won't repeat (or add to) my previous invective.  Suffice to say that Father Andrew's unwillingness to put those atrocities in their place - either because he's too nice or simply doesn't see the problems - is a deal-breaker.

I tried, but I can't take it anymore.  I'll stick with Lord of Spirits and leave it at that.


The Good Kind of Static Characters: Star Trek and other shows

One of the "think pieces" talked about a few days ago has posted at bleedingfool.com.  In it I take a few swipes at the original Star Trek series and movies, and I think it's worth a deeper dive over here.

Static characters - who never really change or grow - are generally considered inferior to dynamic ones.  I don't think I need to dig into why, but instead I want to look at where they can be useful or create interest.

The most obvious example is classic American television shows where each week the audience gets to watch a cast of fixed characters deal with various situations.  There isn't an overall "story arc" or series-wide plot per se, just a series of encounters with the world.

The original Star Trek was famously pitched as a Wagon Train to the Stars wherein we would watch a cast of fairly fixed characters deal with guest stars or other challenges.  The joy of watching came not from seeing our characters grow up or change, but rather how their innate talents and abilities help them win through all sorts of different challenges.

In fact, this was the predominant form of television show for many years, arguably culminating in the "detective show" boom of the 1980s.  There was a staggering number of "private investigator" kind of shows and what set them apart was the various quirks of the detective.  Is it two brothers working together?  How about a male-female team, seething with barely suppressed attraction?  Maybe a husband-wife combination would be amusing.

This was closely related to the classic "cop show" where - as above - you see hardened detectives use their skills to break open various cases.  To be clear, these guys aren't trying to work their way through life, and there's no "big picture" behind the various adventures, it's just a fun way to pass the evening.

Also in the 1980s, you started seeing shows trying to create some actual story arcs.  These were open-ended and convoluted to be sure, and they were inspired by the conventions of soap operas.

But even there, the idea was you got a cast of interesting people effectively stuck in reactive mode to whatever the writers cooked up that week.

My point is that this can be entertaining, and even inform one about the human condition, but it only lasts so long.  The original Star Trek only lasted two and a half seasons.  More popular shows got higher ratings, but it was still unusual to see more than a half-decade out of the same old people acting the same old way.


Some "think pieces" at Bleeding Fool

So far, I haven't gotten much in the way of complaints about abandoning (temporarily?) the Geek Guns project.  I found having a weekly deadline really restricted me creatively, and since I wanted to start doing another book, I needed to clear some space for that.

At the same time, I also wanted to clear out some of the drafts I'd left lingering around the place, and so I've put a new (and somewhat long) piece at the other site about the role of fear in making brave characters.

Having written that article, I was inspired to do another, and I foresee at least one more musing on the elements of good writing and compelling storytelling.

Of course, I'm not exactly a smashing success myself (although I am technically a best-selling author, if only for a day), but most of my negative reviews deal with poor editing, not the actual content.  Alas, I fear that as grammar and spelling continue to be condemned by the educational establishment, things will only get worse in those respects.

I think a good story can overcome those defects - even if it takes multiple post-publication revisions.

To put it another way, the craptastic character development of Anakin Skywalker wasn't the result of a typo.

 

 


Geek Guns on hiatus

After 23 consecutive installments, I've decided to take a break from Geek Guns over at Bleedingfool.com.  The decision is based on a thinning of material to work with and also declining feedback.  People used to comment on the articles and now they're not.

I'm not writing this stuff for my health, so I figure I'll take a break, recharge, and maybe write more later.

There's also a sense that in trying to sustain a weekly column, I'm siphoning off creative energy that could be used for bigger projects.   When I was writing Long Live Death, I basically abandoned that site, and I started writing again only after the book was published.

So I'm going to take a break and see what happens.  I've got some ideas for a book and I know I'm being horribly indecisive, vacillating back and forth between projects.  My hope is that if I dam up the creative energy for a bit, it will cut a new channel and I can roll with the flood.