March 07, 2009

memories of the tempest.

I always seem to end up on the same side of the stage in the Courtyard Theatre.  For productions of Hamlet, Love's Labours Lost & The Tempest in the past six months, I have been placed in the same place give or take five seats.  Figure in that these are the only times that I have sat in the stalls in this space, and one starts to think that Aisle 7 is becoming 'Tom's Aisle'.  I like it from there: you don't have a front-on view (so you get a slightly less expensive ticket) but you feel in extremely close proximity to the play.

I thought that the Baxter Theatre Centre production of The Tempest, which I saw this evening, is excellent and really rather beautiful by the by.  The wedding celebration/performance - conjured by Prospero for his newly married daughter, Miranda, and Ferdinand, the Prince she has met just hours previous - was a thing of wonder that combined dancing, singing and puppets of giant, dancing figures.  At first, every time a new element was brought to the party, Ferdinand, perched on a tree stump next to his new wife, looked shocked and genuinely afraid (Miranda, on the other hand, is used to her father's antics, and was delighted but not unsettled).  The production is full of moments of imaginative and inventive beauty such as this, which struck me, like Ferdinand, as pure magic.

Anthony Sher is a conflicted Prospero of ugliness and tenderness.  When he recounts to Miranda the story of how they arrived on the arid island, Sher paced in angled lines through centre-stage.  He was hunched and frequently swivelling, to embody a twisted sense of built-up aggression at his enemies, and guilt at not having told Miranda before.  He was restless, and just a little bit vulnerable. I found his caring attitude towards Miranda really quite touching.  I was also sorry to have missed the detail of Sher's delivery of the key soliloquy in which he ponders how to treat his captured enemies.  I was admiring the wonderful lighting effect, which created something like a wall of light around Sher and then immediately doubled up as a figurative prison for the Royal party.

John Kani's face has been through a lot.  He wears experience of post-colonialism and apartheid; it is an honour to come into contact with such experience.  For me, this is what made the final spotlight on him - after Prospero's final lines which act as an apology - so powerful, it brings us into contact with experience.  It is also an ambiguous note; Kani's Caliban doesn't know how to react in the moment, and how he will react is only up for speculation.

I was also touched by Miranda's innocent joy and curiosity, also beautifully played.  Some moments to mark a lovely solo outing.  The trains from Stratford to Leamington are ridiculous - I waited 80 minutes on the platform.  I read the programme cover-to-cover, but didn't have the energy to crack on with The Golden Bowl.                

January 06, 2009

BD Live.

Writing about web page

The New York Times give something of a preview to the Consumer Electronics Show, which starts on Wednesday in Vegas.  "Nearly two million square feet of convention hall will be stocked with the latest mobile phones, portable music players, digital cameras and expensive flat-screen televisions."  I don't know much about the event, but I expect it involves a lot of dudes in suits and shades telling anyone who will listen that they represent the next big thing. 

This article focuses upon the challenges facing Blu-Ray in the market.  A central difficulty is how to tell audiences that Blu-Ray is significantly better than DVD (because, well, I'm not convinced that it is).  One of their strategies is to introduce a 'BD Live' service:

Analysts say they expect companies to announce more support for a feature called BD Live (as in Blu-ray disc live), which lets people download additional material from the Internet and interact with friends in text chats that appear on the television while playing a movie.

I often find it annoying enough when I get distracted by a real thing when watching a film.  Let alone a chat box unexpectedly intruding upon the experience.   This feeds into a model of how audiences consume films as digital media that is often propagated in discourses - as one of many 'competing elements', to borrow Aylish Wood's phrase, jostling for perceptual position.  I haven't used XBox live all that much, but in my experience it is less interesting for the social opportunities it provides and more so for how it enhances collaborative gameplay.  I want to talk to people so we can figure out how to shoot these zombies up, not so they can tell me about their day - I have friends to do that with.

It could be interesting to imagine how such a BD Live feature could be used to create collaborative, real-time film criticism - like a user-initiated director's commentary, a phenemenological commentary.  This seems to be more thought and imagination experiments though, as I imagine the appeal and utility would be novel but short-lived.

January 04, 2009

the sunday suplex 04/01/08

Some Sunday links to tide you over.  Built like my ideal newspaper.

2009 Resolutions for Film Criticism - Aaron Hillis et al - Hillis has taken over GreenCine Daily, and is employing a quality over quantity approach.  This is a podcast featuring him, and three other critics from New York.  There's nothing revelatory in it but it's interesting and entertaining (although the fact that they keep talking over each other might imply one thing that is wrong with film criticism, and all human discourse).

New New World: An Exchange, A Conversation, An Epigraph - Ryland Walker Knight & Keith Uhlich - Haven't listened to the podcast yet, but the exchanges about Malick's The New World are quite wonderful.

'August: Osage County' - Michael Billington & What To Say About August: Osage County - Mark Espiner - for context to my latest entry.

PS In A Podcast - I haven't listened to it yet, but my friends Pete Smith and Paul Savage are both funny and have a new podcast

Preview: Sengoku Seventh Battle - Jordan Breen - The sport section.  Entertaining event, and Breen as always got me psyched up.  Read this, and then find the fights on YouTube.

And, things to do this week: The University Drama Society are putting on 'Elephant's Graveyard' by U.S playwright George Brant at the Arts Centre Weds to Sat.  It's a new play that hasn't been performed in Europe before, which is unusual for the drama society but makes it all the more exciting.  

There are also some short runs of interesting films at the Arts Centre this week; I hope to be able to check out Rivals by Jacques Maillot, and Choke by Clark Gregg.

And, the last couple of days, I've seen listening to The Skints self-titled e.p, 'Come All You Madmen' by The Briggs, and 'Sketches of Spain' by Miles Davis & Gil Evans.

Have a good Sunday.

This is the way the world ends.

Hot damn, 2009 has gotten off to a good start.  I would hate to spoil the play for you, so if you're planning on seeing August: Osage County don't read further; I'm immediately interested in surprises and endings.

There were some moments in August: Osage County (by Tracy Letts and Steppenwolf theatre company), which I saw at the National Theatre last Friday, of collective audience response that rivalled any shared experience I can recall in a theatre or a cinema.  I'm more accustomed to such palpable communal responses in a comedy club, where most people laugh at the same time at the same thing and feel like they've shared something.  And there's a lot of shared laughter in August, there are some hilarious moments.  Yet the collective responses go beyond this: shared surprise when Ivy (Sally Murphy) and Little Charles (Ian Barford) embrace for the first time outside the front door; shared repulsion when Steve (Gary Cole), the youngest daughter Karen's confident fiance who wears shades indoors like a dot-com millionaire (although he's clearly a wannabe at best), slowly groping the neck and face of fourteen year old grand-daughter Jean (Molly Ranson); shared horror when it slowly becomes clear just how few secrets people are able to keep from the hawk eyes of matriach Violet (Deanna Dunagan - in the performance of a lifetime).  These responses testify to the pleasures of a communal audience experience; a lot of work can only elicit such extreme social reactions if someone's phone goes off.

It is an enormous work with more ideas and references than I or anyone could hope to immediately comprehend in full, many of which are specifically tied to place - the 'Plains', and more generally America.  To this extent it aligns itself with an excellent tradition and history.  Rose, who I saw the play with, said afterwards that the only thing she could think to compare it to, in terms of size, was Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman.

                                                    august osage county

One of the play's big ostensible themes is power and control.  One of the play's signature moments is at the end of Act 2 when eldest daughter Barbara (Amy Morton), after a monumental (at least to an outsider) family feud over dinner, screams 'I'M RUNNING THINGS NOW' - a moment that is referenced, and turned back in on itself, later by Ivy when she says 'You did say you were running things now'.  Violet appears to have acquiesed to this hostile takeover of power, yet in the endgame we see that in her head she never relinquished control.  For Violet, knowledge is power.  Particularly secret knowledge.  Time and again she makes others aware that nothing happens in her home that she doesn't know about: she prides herself on this declared omnipotence, no matter how hard people try to operate undercover.  It is however a particular brand of knowledge; perhaps it could be described as all evidence and no comprehension, or perhaps knowledge about everything else apart from one's self.  She stores and locks knowledge away (perhaps the lock-and-key of the safety deposit box is a good metaphor for this), not thinking to share it for a common good in case it loses its exclusive sheen and can be less effectively used as a weapon of power.  The idea is that those who claim to know everything are missing out on more than they care to realise.  

This made me think about Douglas Pye's keynote presentation at 'Continuity and Innovation' at Reading University last September, in which he praised Tommy Lee Jones's characters in No Country for Old Men and The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada for acknowledging the limits of their own knowledge (and juxtaposing it against a quotation about knowledge from Donald Rumsfeld).  Perhaps like Rumsfeld, Violet is a character who doesn't see the limits of her own knowledge - which builds her up for one large dramatic fall.

And the fall is astonishing.  In its final moments, the play switches key into a more dreamlike state.  As the lights gradually diminish Violet stumbles around the almost-empty house, almost crawling up the huge flight of stairs, and finds Native American housekeeper Johnna (Kimberly Guerrero) in the attic.  Violet counts those who have left, repeating 'They're all gone', whilst Johnna sings a nursery rhyme (one of the play's distinguishing dramatic devices) 'This is the way the world ends'.  It sounds corny, but I found it beautiful.  Together, the two voices put a defining exclamation mark on an enormous piece of work.  

There's more I want to say about this play, and certainly much more in it than I'm aware of.  I want to write about how second-generation cinephilia is referenced and what functions it fulfills.  I want someone to tell me about the significance of Johnna, and the history that her presence in the household recalls.  I want to find out more about the T.S Eliot references that begin the play, and glide around the house.  I've read somewhere that many people find something in this play that rings uncomfortably true for them; if there was anything, it was the attitudes of Barbara and (particularly) her husband Bill (Jeff Perry), the two professional academics.

And I can't see this production again - I'll have to work from memory, and the naked playtext.  This is the closest thing to old-time cinephilia that I have experienced; I can't just grab a DVD from the shelf and re-visit or clarify this experience.  And for me that makes it exciting, but it also makes me anxious that the memory will slip away and I'll be left thinking 'What was that play about?  I remember I liked it...' before long.    

December 31, 2008

the cordelia dream

I'm often complaining (probably a little too loudly, and ignorantly) that the world is too commercialised, too plain, too blank.  This comes up in my work, in the form of anonymous multiplex cinemas that are more like airports than somewhere special where you can expect to experience something memorable.  It's no surprise then that I loved finding and being in Wilton's Music Hall, in a back alley in East London about 10 minutes walk from Tower Hill tube.  Despite the decaying and crumbling walls, the building had been decked out comfortably; there was a cosy candle-lit cafe area, which sold so much mulled wine that the whole theatre smelt like Christmas.  The playing space itself was very spacious, almost sparse, with a stage raised very high (but not high enough to come anywhere close to using all that vertical space).  It was a little like a space you expect to find at the Edinburgh Fringe (it reminded me a little of the Main space at the Roxy Art House in Edinburgh), only - y'know - comfortable. 

wiltons door

Some disorganised thoughts about the play.

The Cordelia Dream withholds two key pieces of information from its audience, one in each of its two acts (incidentally, I hate to write spoiler alert, but if you don't want to know anything about the play then stop reading).  In neither case however did the revelation make me seriously re-consider what had occurred before.  

As we enter the theatre a Man (David Hargreaves) is sat at an exquisite grand piano.  He must have spent every penny on that piano however, as he is wrapped in a cheap green sleeping bag to keep warm and his blank walls are decorated just with peeling eggboxes.  Unlike the peeling walls of Wilton's, it's safe to assume that this Man's walls were never attractive.  A much younger Woman (Michelle Gomez) enters, and the two talk like old lovers exhuming an old argument; she criticises his arrogance and picks at his sexism, whereas he acts indignant and is given to huffing and puffing around the huge inconvenience that she presents.  There is an undercurrent of violence; at one point she interrupts him, and he disproportionately screams for her to let him finish.  About half-way through the first act, it becomes clear that he is her father; the earlier discussion about the (lack of) possibility of her naming her child after him makes a little more sense.  Yet nothing major seemed to change or to shift with this revelation.


There's talk of a dream about Cordelia and Lear from King Lear - apparently it's why she came to see her father in the first place.  We can see his misogyny in his provocative interpretation of the play ("Cordelia wanted to be hung // Her death was necessary for her father's salvation.").  Is King Lear something they've discussed, and disagreed on, at length in the past?     

The two characters are both classical musicians.  She is commercially and critically successful, yet he is not.  He blames this on her; he talks incessantly of 'the field', a space (of reception? of exhibition? what does he think this is?) that she is occupying.  If only she would clear this field and stop producing music, the commercial and critical attention would be focused on him.  His genius would surely be appreciated.  The Man appeals to a very old-fashioned, and firmly masculine, ideal of the Artist; a tortured genius bursting with profound ideas that will change the world.  In this ideal, the artist's lack of success is always because of someone else (a competitor who steals from him; the stupidity of the art world who just don't 'get it').  The Man delivers scathing lines to his daughter, poison-coated insults that are surely unforgivable; Hargreaves (excellently) dips them in sugar with a jolly delivery but it serves to make them all the more brutal.  The Act ends with:

Man: Will you come to my funeral?

Woman: Will you come to mine?

Man: I'll be there.

Woman: With your speech prepared.

Man: With my speech prepared. 

In the interval, the man deterioates further; we re-enter the space to find him almost-naked, curled in a ball upon his piano, the post has been piling up for days and days.  A box of formal clothes arrives, and he conducts an imaginary orchestra whilst the Woman slips in behind him (in the first act she rang the bell, by the second act he just leaves the door open).  There's more of a sexual element to their discussion now; he has seemingly lost his mind and doesn't recognise her, assuming that she is a groupie of his.  She sneaks up behind him, wrapping her hands around his tie - is she trying to seduce him?  or suffocate him?  When he does recognise her as his 'dog-hearted' daughter he panics and hallucinates, before wetting himself.  All the cigars and champagne in London would fail to mask the fact that he is a senile old man. 


It is here that the exchanges become odder - he changes into his pyjamas, and she puts on his piss-sodden coat and tails.  He recalls the Cordelia Dream, and smothers her face in blue paint because Cordelia was also blue when Lear brought her in.  The flucuations between insanity and sober rationality in the Man's state of mind, and between fantasy and reality in the play, were a little unconvincing to me.  I'm not too familiar with King Lear, so I'm prepared to think that there may be a whole layer of meaning that I'm missing though.   

The play explains some of these odder exchanges in its second revelation: the Woman committed suicide eight days before.  She is a vision to him, perhaps a ghost.  He thinks he may be able to recall the funeral, there were definitely people looking at him.  We know that she hasn't produced any work since their last meeting - ostensibly because he demanded it of her to clear 'the field', but more likely because she (like him) wasn't able to.  Despite the field still being clear, he hasn't produced any serious work - he is obsessed with writing his opus, but lacks the commitment (or talent?  perhaps) to finish anything.  His Romantic vision of the artist seems to have failed and collapsed - perhaps it never existed in the first place.  Where does artistic creation come from?  What skills does one need to create something beautiful?     

She's come to tell him that he's about to die.  Lear and Cordelia must die at the same time - one cannot exist without the other.  As he's about to die, she gives him the gift of a beautiful piece of music.  With this final gesture the creation of beauty remains romantic and mysterious, we can just pull it out of the air with the right talent.  Or maybe the truth will reveal itself after we're dead and gone.  His death is excellently handled; he stands on a stool, and a diminishing spotlight traps his terrified face before fading to black.  It reminded me of the iris effect in old silent movies.

I liked Hargreaves' performance - I mentioned above his delivery of vicious lines as if they were jolly ribbing.  Gomez is a little too uneven - her sudden shouts are disruptive rather than disconcerting.  The direction is pretty nifty - I liked the use of space, including actors sitting on the stage legs dangling above the floor.  The post coming through the door in the interval was also a nice touch. 

See also: Michael Billington on The Cordelia Dream.

December 14, 2008

The Dark Knight: Superpowers enough to turn opinion into fact

Writing about web page

There are a number of startling statements and attitudes in this piece - a resurgence of the type of online discourse that surrounded The Dark Knight upon its original release this past Summer.  

Here Josh Tyler notes that, as yet, Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight has not featured as heavily in award nomination and critics best-of-2008 lists as he would like.  He goes beyond this observation to suggest that, if critics refuse (and know that Tyler does view this as a point blank, ideological refusal by critics) to include the film, then they are putting their critical legitimacy and their JOBS at stake.

For print critics, a vote against The Dark Knight is a vote for your own irrelevancy. It’s a vote for the unemployment line. It’s a conscious choice to ignore a cultural phenomenon in favor of pushing some undeserved indie-film agenda over a movie which people have already seen.

I would certainly argue that it is the function, and value, of professional critics to resist cultural phenomena in favour of their own tastes (which they are paid to hold) in situations such as this (Jim Emerson makes something like that argument in this piece - although he risks swinging too hard in the opposite direction and being equally as dogmatic as Tyler).  Of course, there is an argument to be made that critics can ignore or suppress their own tastes for fear of not appearing 'high-brow' enough - and I think it is a sense of this that motivates Tyler's piece, but he takes it into some serious extremes. 

I really find quite pungent the suggestion that if someone disagrees with a majority, then that person should regardless articulate a view that falls in line with the majority.  This logic suggests that, to qualify for the right to speak or write in public, one should agree to exclusively provide the public with what they already know.

Yet this is not quite the logic in which Tyler couches his article.  He doesn't quite suggest that critics should suppress their own opinions in order to give the public what they already know.  Instead, he suggests that - before writing in public - critics should wise up and realise that they do in fact think identically to the public (and the view of the public is represented by his own opinion).  This paragraph is astonishing; he writes:

Call me and the other 99% of moviegoers who love this movie biased if you want, but this is more than just our opinion. It’s also the opinion of many of the people leaving it out of their awards. Shortly before its debut in theaters, critics were hailing it as one of the best movies ever made, a life changing experience. It is, for a fact, one of the very best reviewed movies of the year. According to RottenTomatoes it has received a higher percentage of positive reviews than literally any of the other movies nominated in the Best Picture category by the half-mad Golden Globes… and it’s done that in spite of being much more widely reviewed. It’s more than just the year’s best movie, it’s also almost unquestionably going to be the year’s most influential. Like Star Wars before it, The Dark Knight is fast becoming the new mold from which all future movies will be poured. Its impact, its influence on cinema will be felt for decades to come. 

This paragraph is of course notable for the enormous historical importance wreathed around the neck of The Dark Knight and Star Wars (in the former case, I'm sorry but it's just too early to know what influence the film will have on film history).  What strikes me hardest though, like a hard punch in the stomach, is the implication that, if you don't like The Dark Knight, then you are just wrong.  It is apparently an empirical FACT that this is the best film of the year.  I've been noticing a lot recently that, because it gives each film a solid number and claims to represent EVERYBODY WHO WATCHES FILMS IN THE WORLD EVER, Rotten Tomatoes has been fulfilling the function of backing up such appeals to fact.

Personally, I really dislike this attitude.  If we discursively present an opinion as a fact, then we can preclude other people from forming their own opinions (this is a phenomenon that I've noticed amongst students, including myself, recently), deny the possibility that our opinion of a film could change over time, and completely shut off the productivity of debate.  After all, if a debate is taking place between two people - who hold different opinions, but are both of the opinion that their opinion is a fact - then we'll never reach a compromise or synthesis of opinion.   

July 16, 2008

an alternative strategy for state–funded film production

It struck me earlier this week that, from door to door, travelling to the cinema in London takes just a little longer than travelling to Gracie Barra in Birmingham.  So right now I'm taking the BFI's 'Japanese Gems' season as an opportunity to see my first ever Kurosawa films. 

On the train yesterday, towards a screening of Rashomon (aces), I was reading an article by Luisela Alvaray from the latest Cinema Journal about the institutional structures of contemporary Latin American cinema ('National, Regional, and Global: New Waves of Latin American Cinema' Cinema Journal 47:3 Spring 2008 pp48-65).  She describes her area of research as "the interactions and exchanges that, since 1990, have enabled the development of a continuously expanding corpus of Latin American films." (49). 

This fact however struck me as unbelievably odd:

Many of the films sponsored by Brazilian EMBRAFILME and Mexican IMCINE in the 1980s manifested a qualitative, rather than a quantitative, crisis.  Along with a few critically acclaimed films, hard-core porn dominated Brazilian national production, while formulaic and mediocre comedies populated Mexican screens. (51, my emphasis)

It's possible that the author is exaggerating by using the term 'hard-core porn' but, if she is not, what type of jokers were running the state-funded EMBRAFILME in the 1980s?!?  It's ridiculous and hilarious.

In general though, Alvaray's excellent article is filled with facts and figures that I wish I had access to (or discovered myself) when I wrote my undergraduate dissertation on the topic back in 2005.  It perhaps would have help me avoid some of the statements and formulations in there that, when I think back, feel extremely naive.

July 09, 2008

what is a 10–8 round in mixed martial arts?

Writing about web page

The biggest controversy coming out of the past weekend's UFC 86 event is the inconsistency of judging.  The main event, Quinton Jackson vs Forrest Griffin, was an extremely close bout, yet Griffin won a unanimous decision by a large, unrepresentative margin (Griffin won 48-46 according to two judges, and 49-46 according to the third).  It was reported almost immediately that Jackson's camp would be appealing the decision, and various MMA commentators have since questioned the logic of judging and criticised its inconsistency. 

There are two main points of controversy:  one is to do with human error and the judges' lack of expertise, and the second is a more interesting issue about the content of MMA rules.  The first is that two judges awarded the first round to Griffin, despite the fact that, in most people's eyes (including mine), Jackson clearly won that round  (Jeff Sherwood and Greg Savage nail this issue on Monday's Savage Dog Show). 

The second issue regards the second round, which several commentators (and one judge) scored 10-8 for Griffin.  Luke Thomas has been leading the interrogation of 10-8 rounds at Bloody Elbow here and here.  In the latter post, Thomas does an excellent job of proposing some very productive questions on the issue.  In his opinion, the second round should have been scored 10-9 for Griffin (not 10-8).  He points to the first round of a recent fight between Forrest Petz and Brian Gassaway (which was scored 10-9 Gassaway, yet Thomas believes should have been 10-8 Gassaway) and asks:

What are we giving value to here? Who comes closer to finishing the fight or the duration of time spent dominating an opponent? How much does damage matter given that Petz was significantly closer to being stopped than Rampage? And why doesn't Gassway's balance of damage and positional control count as much as Forrest's [Griffin] uneven balance of less damage (the type that ends fights, not just stuns opponents) and more positional control?

To my mind, round 2 of Griffin vs Jackson is 10-8, because Griffin controls Jackson to the point that Jackson does not manage a single bit of offence during the whole 5 minutes.  At the beginning of the round, Jackson attempts two short jabs (neither of which connect) and, following Griffin's two outside leg kicks which buckle his clearly already-sore knee, a sub-par single leg takedown that is turned into a guillotine attempt and clinch by Griffin.  And that's it.  For the rest of the round, Jackson is defending strikes and the occasional submission attempt by Griffin (who successfully moves from half-guard to side control to full mount, although Jackson is more concerned with defending strikes than defending position).  

So here, I am primarily awarding value to Griffin's positional dominance - because that's Griffin's principal offensive attack in his round.  If we're talking damage, then you need to evaluate the damage in relative terms - although Jackson defends successfully enough to not be in danger of being stopped, Griffin inflicts significantly more damage in relation to the damage that Jackson inflicts (which is, as I have shown, none).   In the comments section on Luke's post, '!claw' makes the same argument and is refuted by 'Hardcharger' who states that:

Doesn’t matter how little the loser of the round scores.

There are rounds where both fighters stand up the entire round, and one guy lands some minor strikes, and the other lands nothing. That’s not a 10-8 round either.

Dominance + damage = 10-8. It’s not dominance + (lack of damage by opponent).

Yet this argument seems to overlook the fact that the opponent has not inflicted damage precisely because the round's winner has controlled them to the point of domination.  It isn't like Jackson has not inflicted damage because of laziness - he is being forced on the defensive by Forrest's positional attack.  And the fact that Jackson's defense is effective means that it is a 10-8 round, rather than anything less (although, if his defense wasn't effective, then we wouldn't even go to the judges' scorecards).  Although it doesn't look (or feel) as devastating as strikes or submissions, positional control should still be a key part of the judging criteria in MMA.  Yet each individual round is different - you need to judge, after seeing the round, what its key attributes are. 

I've only watched the Petz vs Gassaway fight once so I can't make a firm decision either way - but I can understand an argument for that first round being 10-9 (rather than 10-8) because, for 3 and a half minutes, Petz does stay standing with Gassaway.  Petz connects with some (admittedly minor) strikes and also successfully wrestles on the feet for a little while.  A key question seems to be: how far does significant damage cause one to forget the action that has preceded it in that round?  How you score this first round between Gassaway and Petz would therefore seem to me to have more of a bearing on how you'd score the first round between Griffin and Jackson (in which Jackson knocked down Griffin in the latter half).  How much does a knockdown count?  In boxing, if a fighter is knocked down then they automatically lose a point - do you consider this to be the case in MMA? 

In total though, I believe that Jackson vs Griffin was my fight of the year so far - it was a five round epic, with a story behind it, that went back and forth throughout and had the crowd engrossed.  Hell, I scored it as a 47-47 draw. 


May 14, 2008

neil gaiman on second drafts.

I haven't written recently because, over the past 10 days, I've done little else but tried to finish the first draft of this digital video chapter.  I can see the end now, and some main ideas have finally formed in my head.  I might note some of them down here when I'm done.

Here's some second-draft advice from Neil Gaiman. I think there are many similarities between fiction writing and academic writing.  And if there are not many similarities, I think that there should be more, for the sake of making academia more comprehensible:

The second draft is where the fun is. In a first draft, you get to explode. The objective (at least for me) is to get it down on paper, somehow. Battle through the laziness and the not-enough-time and the this-is-rubbish and everything else, and just get it written. Whatever it takes. The second draft is where you go and gather together the fragments of the explosion and figure out what it is you did, and make it look like that was what you always meant to do.

So you write it. Then you put it aside. Not for months, but perhaps for a week or so. Even a few days. Do other things. Then set aside some uninterrupted time to read, and pull it out, and pretend you have never read it before -- clear it out of your head, and sit and read it. (I'd suggest you do this on a print-out, so you can scribble on it as you go. )

When you get to the end you should have a much better idea of what it was about than you did when you started. (I knew The Graveyard Book would be about a boy who lived in a graveyard when I started it. I didn't know that it would be about how we make our families, though: that's a theme that made itself apparent while the book was being written.)

And then, on the second and subsequent drafts, you do four things. 1) You fix the things that didn't work as best you can (if you don't like the climactic Rock City scene in American Gods, trust me, the first draft was so much worse). 2) You reinforce the themes, whether they were there from the beginning or whether they grew like Topsy on the way. You take out the stuff that undercuts those themes. 3) You worry about the title. 4) At some point in the revision process you will probably need to remind yourself that you could keep polishing it infinitely, that perfection is not an attribute of humankind, and really, shouldn't you get on with the next thing now?

April 28, 2008

reckless moment 28th april.

Last week was mostly spent marking the rest of my students' essays - there were a couple of really quite good ones, which is always exciting.  I also read Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates, a novel that is particularly insightful and brilliant on the subjects of how we see ourselves and the way we live our lives, and our relationships with other people. 

I didn't get to go to bjj class once last week, mostly because of how unbelievably time-consuming marking is, but I think I'm going on Friday and Saturday this week.  My partner-in-crime Rosie received a bronze medal in the women's white belt lightweight category at Gracie Invitational on Saturday though - so go say congratulations to her.

But but but, tonight I'm going to be hosting our comedy show The Reckless Moment at Robbins' Well (in Leamington).  It is the first one since the beginning of March, and so you should definitely come and say hello.  Literally, come and say hello.  One of the ace things about The Reckless Moment is that, at its best, it feels like a group of friends come to watch some comedy that they enjoy.

The headline act on the show tonight is Josh Howie - who is a comic I met years and years ago (although he won't remember) when I used to help run Lone Star club in Folkestone.  He performed in October 2004, and he struck me then as a funny and clever man.  I don't remember his jokes as being as deliberately offensive as they were when I saw him a couple more times in Edinburgh 2007 - but if anything he's even funnier for it.  But yes, he is hilarious and sharp and rude and just a little bit smug, and I'm really excited that he's agreed to perform at our show.

Also on the show are Rob Coleman (a nice man I have met a couple of times before), Alex Maple (a new-ish act who I've never seen before but who I have a gut feeling is going to be brilliant), James McPhun (a second year theatre & english student at Warwick who is one of my best friends and is always great), and Simon Dunn (another of my best friends in the world, and someone who is planning his first solo show this summer, and trying new jokes for that out).  Pete the Meat will also be appearing for the final time ever (in a meat-eating capacity, at least).  

So do come to Robbins' Well tonight if you want to, it starts at 9pm and costs £2 to get in.  I hope it'll be great.

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