Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Guest-blog on Madame Mayo

A bit of the blogosphere on this post: I'm guest-blogging on Madame Mayo this week...Click on Madame Mayo to access her stupendous and witty blog. Tried to live up to the high standards she maintains...
hasta pronto!

Friday, March 19, 2010

How to Send Messages--the YouTube Blog

A quote from Sam Goldwyn: "Pictures are for entertainment, messages should be delivered by Western Union." Needless to say, the same goes for all forms of fiction, be it written on paper or celluloid.
Movies are inherently manipulative, since the filmmaker is basically showing you images that will make you feel a certain way...but novels leave a lot more up to the reader. Some would say that the success of Ayn Rand's books means that people are willing to be "instructed" by writers of fiction, but I think most of us probably read The Fountainhead for the story, and skimmed over all the pages of the author's speechifying.
I agree with Sol Stein, who said somewhere in his great book, Stein on Writing that we should never forget we are in the entertainment business. If people stop reading your writing--for whatever reason--you've failed on some level. Check out Sol Stein's website--lots of excellent quotes and excerpts.
I read C.S. Lewis' wonderful "Narnia" books as a child and never got any of the Christian symbolism, nor was I converted to his religious views, since I had no conception of a deeper meaning--and virtually no religious background; I simply enjoyed the stories as most children did--for the story. (Some actual bible stories might be enjoyed as literature--for those who haven't read much literature, and certainly the musical Godspell, with a book taken almost word-for-word from the Gospels, is great entertainment if done right. Here's a link to a short clip from the 70s movie version, with Victor Garber.)
Documentaries are another story, and it's unusual to see a doc without a message. Though their style of "arguing their case" may be subtle or obvious, the filmmaker's point of view should be clear. This short documentary film is a case in point. "Early Message/Primeros Mensajes", directed by Lizet Benrey and produced my Media Arts San Diego, and not shown the other night at the Latino Film Festival due to a technical glitch, is a good case in point. It's about the early childhood "lessons" we learn in bigotry, and about the work of the Anti-Defamation League. (Reminded me of the song from "South Pacific" "You've got to be Carefully Taught").
The Film Festival continues apace through the weekend, and we've seen some winners--like "Arracame La Vida" and "Don't Let me Drown"...and some whose story or "message" was garbled or just plain too obvious.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Screenplays and Stories

Friday was Opening Night of the San Diego Latino Film Festival and we started the festival off right, by seeing a fabulous film--"Don't Let Me Drown." Here's a link to an interview with the Director Cruz Angeles on indie wire. The film was a modern-day "Romeo and Juliet" story of sorts, with a backdrop of NYC right after 9/11. Heavy hitting, but light and hopeful, the screenplay was a fine example of a social drama that let the characters and the story win you over, rather than getting up on a soapbox to pound home its agenda.
Last night was "Io, Don Giovanni" a period piece about a writer and lyricist who worked with Salieri and Mozart on some of their operas, and was friends with Casanova. The film was ambitious and quite theatrical, but it just didn't move me--though it was visually stunning, with a few amazing performances. Maybe it's just that I'm not an opera buff, but I thought that the extended opera segments went on way too long.
Tonight's film will be "Chamaco," set in Mexico City, with Martin Sheen...Maybe he'll even show up for the screening, as Benjamin Bratt is supposed to do later in the week. Bratt would be the perfect person to start in our screenplay, "Pan American" so we hope to meet him, and his brother, who directed one of the films screening this week.
So this week is all about screenwriting--seeing so many films, short and long, fiction and documentary, is such an education...And it's pretty exciting to see such an impressive cinema line up from all around the world, too!
Here "On The Waterfront" Captain Russel has been working on the installation of our fine Spectra Watermaker and constructing an arch for our Kyocera Solar panels and they are up finally! No power yet, as the wiring is still being installed, and the Watermaker isn't yet operational but we're not far from being self-sustaining...
Hasta pronto!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Post-Oscar Post: Books and Screenplays Worth Watching

The Academy Awards were last night and the Academy did good...They did not, as predicted, give Best Film to a spectacular spectacle with a cliche of a screenplay...That big award went to "The Hurt Locker," which richly deserved it for delivering both stunning visual spectacle and edge-of-your-seat-ness, and had a succinctly gripping original screenplay to boot.
Other nominated scripts included "Up in the Air" adapted by Jason Reitman from the novel by Walter Kirn and "Precious: Based on the novel Push by Sapphire" which won adapted screenplay award. Not much mention was made of Sapphire throughout the night (or in the previous month), which seemed odd. That novel and her other books are available on Amazon, here. See more about the poet and author Sapphire.
One subtle joy throughout the awards presentation was the co-hosting by the always-cool Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin, an exceptional writer himself. Author of the memoir "Born Standing Up," Martin also penned a personal favorite of mine, "Shopgirl," a wryly comic novella that poignantly captured a turning point in a young woman's life; he adapted the book into a spare yet elegant screenplay, which became a fine film starring him--no mean feat.
I've just started "Wolf Hall" winner of the 2009 Booker Prize, which will no doubt soon be a BBC series and eventually a Hollywood epic, if we can all handle seeing another take on Cromwell and More.
Like all good historical fiction, this sprawling novel depends on more than plot--in order to transport the reader, it must be rich in the feel and the day-to-day details of another time. My most recent favorite in the genre is "The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire" by C.M. Mayo, a book I never tire of recommending (and speaking of books that will be eventually be made into movies!).
Meanwhile, here "On the Waterfront", the weather has been stormy and Watchfire was rearing and stamping in her stall (slip) some yesterday as the wind whistled through her rigging and tilted the nearby masts. Russel is installing the new Spectra Watermaker, more on that and other boat projects later this week.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Mission musings

Spent a wet Saturday at Mission San Luis Rey de Francia in Oceanside, site of the annual conference of the California Mission Studies Association. We seldom see such downpours as came throughout the day, pouring off the tile roofs, pounding the courtyards and gardens, and overflowing the scalloped and tiered stone fountain. Luckily, the many presentations and the displays of books and art were inside the fine old stone structure; as with many missions the walkways are covered, so the rain was merely a picturesque backdrop. Unfortunately, it did limit the amount of time we could spend wandering the extensive grounds--seeing the progress of the preservation and restoration of the lavanderia, for instance.
Though many of the CMSA lectures can be a bit too academic, the subjects (from mission architecture to the era's liturgical music) are always intriguing, especially to those like myself who have spent a great deal of time reading about California's colorful past. The CMSA website contains many treasures, including articles and book reviews--and this illustrated glossary of mission terms.
On Friday night we were greeted by a tribal member of the San Luis Rey band of the Luiseno Indian tribe ; his "blessing" was in the form of a reminder of the tribe's connection to the land (as well as the mission itself) and it was a poignant reminder of all that was lost in the well-meaning zeal of "missionizing" those lands and their people.
Sunday's book launch party for The Deer Dancer by Gary Winters contained an odd echo of that sad history, one that resonates down through time. His novel is set in present-day Mexico, and tells the story of a Yaqui Indian youth who searches for his own personal identity and then seeks justice for other Indians in Mexico, a country with a strict caste system. Written for a mature young adult audience, the book is full of contemporary Mexican history--of the government's indifference to and abuse of Indians, and of the Zapatista struggle--but never fails to grip the reader. For those who like background, here's a link to a page about the Yaqui Indians' Deer Dance.