A Celluloid Embrace


B. and I are continuing our quest to watch all the Oscar-nominated films for Best Picture, and so far we’re at 3-5. We saw Babel a few weeks ago, and this weekend we saw Little Miss Sunshine on DVD and Letters from Iwo Jima at the new local theatre. All three were brilliant, but we’re both torn between Babel and Letters, for while Sunshine was a funny, moving film with note-perfect dialogue, excellent casting and an attention to the smallest detail about character that was astounding, I have to admit that the sheer technical, logistical, physical, and emotional achievements of the two other films (the soundtracks of which, coincidentally or not, are almost entirely in a foreign language; in Babel’s case, in four: Japanese, Berber, Spanish, and what I can only assume is Japanese Sign Language [as opposed to American Sign Language]) overwhelm the odds in their favor.

We’ll rent The Departed this week, but we’ll probably have to pass on The Queen, as it didn’t seem to make it to the local theatres and won’t be released on DVD till later this year. Too bad, because although I’m not a big fan of the British Royal Family, it looks to be a delicious, gossipy movie.

I did see Letters for other reasons, of course, namely as background for the novel. It’s another one of those films (like Twilight Samurai and Japan’s Longest Day) that leave the viewer in a somber mood, contemplating life and death and how war managed to practically define the essence of humanity (or, in most cases, inhumanity). It reflects a similar sensibility to my own novel, that of war as stripping everyone — victor and vanquished alike — of dignity and nobility, that there’s nothing remotely romantic or honorable or even just about war, as it only succeeds in reducing all of its participants, especially those most intimately involved in its execution, to animals devoid of compassion.

Ken Watanabe, who plays General Kuribayashi, the man in charge of the Japanese forces on the island, reminds me of Gregory Peck. In the film he has that same quiet stoicism, the noble grace and strength that Peck always displayed in his own films. And yet (spoiler alert here!), despite his military stature, the honors on his lapels, the deep intellectual and emotional reservoirs beneath his reserved demeanor, he was still treated to a humiliating death on a barren stretch of hot black sand in the middle of nowhere.

Wrote eight pages this morning. What I call the Bradbury effect is still working, thank God. As today is President’s Day, I have the day off (unpaid, natch), so I’m trying to make good use of the time by writing like mad. Bradbury had an insane schedule of writing and finishing a short story a week, a goal which I’d be equally crazy to mimic, but I can at least produce a good amount of pages as well as find the time to work on the play. I have a pretty brutal schedule anyway; no need to exacerbate the pain by creating unrealistic goals. At least, that’s what the people at my Perfectionists’ Anonymous say. 😉

Ya know, I was thinking this morning that Letters was a very stark reminder of how powerful an emotional experience movies can be, much as reading fiction once was in America. It’s hard to believe that there was a time when writers such as Somerset Maugham, Graham Greene, and Truman Capote were household names. Reading the Bradbury bio makes me long for the days when fiction held such a lofty place in American mass culture. Those were the days when a writer could actually scratch out a decent living writing stories and novels. Back then you could expect to get $1-2/word from the ‘slicks’ (as rags like Vogue and the now-defunct Mademoiselle were called) — about the same as you would make now, in 2007, from those same magazines. But of course, $1 went a lot farther back then than it does now.

Nowadays, people are reading — and buying — fiction in far smaller numbers, and the majority of writers, including those with several books under their belt, must rely on a second income from a day job to survive. Movies — whether on TV, the theatre or YouTube — arguably represent the most popular cultural art form today, and while I eagerly and wholeheartedly embrace the medium for its awesome creativity and compelling visual imagery, it still saddens me to know that language and the written word don’t hold the cachet it once did, that people don’t view fiction as anything other than as an occasional means of “escape,” if they even turn to it at all.

Working at the circulation desk at a library, I see what people read, and if you believe (as I do) that you are what you read, then I wonder what it says about our society when the bulk of what’s borrowed and what takes up real estate in our building is the self-help section.

I’d like to believe that this is all just another phase in the maturation of our society, but it’s still disheartening, you know? I always feel such a little thrill of excitement whenever a patron comes to pick up a novel she had reserved, only to reject it, saying, “Oh, I’ve already bought that.” And I think, Thank you, thank you, thank you. It’s people like you who make it possible for writers like me to believe that we may actually make a living at our craft someday. God bless you!


2 thoughts on “A Celluloid Embrace

  1. Ugh, the bulk of space in the library and the bulk of books checked out is comprised by self-help? Ugh, ugh, ugh, but honestly I’m not surprised, in this increasingly “It’s All About MEEEE” society; alas that’s a rant for another day.Thank you for another great post! And congrats on your eight pages written this morning — that’s marvelous. 🙂

  2. <>Thomma lyn<>, thanks for stopping by! Well, I think the 900’s actually represents the largest %age of our collection (for those of you not familiar with the Dewey Decimal System, the 900’s are the history, travel and biography books), but the 600’s (self-help, cooking, diet, parenting) appear to be the most popular and take up the most space on our sorting shelves in the back. When I worked in the public library in my hometown throughout college, it was pretty much the same situation there.Cheers,Marjorie

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