December 14, 2006

Movies of 2006

2006 was not what I would consider a year for great movies. So much Hollywood formulaic garbage crammed into the local cinemas, I had a hell of a time coming up with a "Top Ten Best" list. Another factor was how difficult it was to find a theatre where films of interest were playing. Where I live, the two closest theatres are Colossus (Famous Players) and Strawberry Hill (Cineplex Odeon). Not exactly what I would call independently oriented. Most of the good films were at least a forty-five minute drive away and I ended up missing them. So, in the spirit of cynicism, I will mention some of the movies I saw this year that I enjoyed, followed by a brief list of films I wish I would have seen, but must now wait until they come out on DVD.

1) Babel: Inarritu’s latest installment of what appears to be a trilogy. Three separate stories overlap, working with themes of fear, ignorance, alienation, and love. Genuine performances, even by Brad Pitt, with beautiful cinematography compelled me to consider this the best film of the year. A+

2) The Proposition: Gritty, minimalist western set in the Australian Outback. Flawless camera shots and a pared down, rugged script that blends stark landscapes with punctuations of bloody violence. Nick Cave, a great songwriter, penned the script. A+

3) The Prestige: Many critics commented about the formula of this film, that it was too predictable. I did not find it as such, perhaps because I was so engrossed in the story I did not want to sit and figure it out. I guess sometimes formula works. While not perfect, the suspense building was great, the sets and atmosphere dark and moody. Much in the same way V for Vendetta was, this was simply good story telling. But maybe I’m a sucker for magic. A-

4) Little Miss Sunshine: Simple, cute story with quirky characters and some good dialogue. Not usually one for the “feel good” movies, but I enjoyed this one. B+

5) The Illusionist: Another film about magic, not quite as good as The Prestige, but with amazing performances and atmosphere. Based (loosely) on a dark short story “Eisenheim The Illusionist” by Steven Millhauser, this film blends love and deception with more magic. A

6) The Departed: When Scorcese wants to, he can really weave a story of mayhem. The tension builds and builds in this one, leading to an over the top finish, which I think may also be its downfall. Classic performances as one would expect from the cast, but not necessarily landmark. Still, well worth watching. B+

7) Lady In The Water: Not Shyamalan’s best, mostly due to what appears to be a flawed script from the start. But he makes you want to believe so badly, that I never walk away from his films disappointed. Mythical and epic, yet sincere in its delivery. B

Runner ups:
Apocalypto, Thank You For Smoking, V for Vendetta

Movie Wishlist (not seen yet):
The Last King of Scotland, Flags of Our Fathers, An Inconvenient Truth, The Science of Sleep, Half Nelson

I guess that’s about all there is to say for now. Who knows what will pop out at the awards ceremonies this year, not that they’re ever a true barometer. Feel free to post any lists you have, or mention some films that I may have missed.

December 10, 2006

Memory and Variation, Honesty and Truth

During a walk along Crescent Beach a few years back, I saw an older woman moving very slowly along the footpath with the help of a care-worker. The woman looked anxious, completely out of her element and this glimpse of frailty sparked a memory of my final hospital visit to my oma (grandmother), before her death. Once I was at my laptop, other memories started to flow in: not being recognized by Oma during the visit, Mom finding her crammed between the toilet and the wall of the tub one morning because of a late-night fall. It got to the point where I constructed an entire story around my visit to the hospital, something that later became a project for class. But the story was not wholly true, even if it did come from my memories. I invented details, added emotions and characteristics that may not have existed during the original experience. Our memories are extraordinary archiving systems, but they are not wholly accurate. A lot of what we archive, and dredge up at different times, is coloured by our viewpoint of the moment. So, as details can be forgotten from memory, they can also be tainted by potentially opposing emotions once the memory is brought out.

What exactly should be credited as the trigger of my story: the memory I had of Oma in her hospital bed or the moment I chanced upon the elderly woman out on her afternoon walk? The answer is both. Would my story still have come out the same way if I had not seen the old woman? Probably not. It may have come up at a later time, sure, but it would have been different. Details, emphasis, all would have been filtered through whatever the other trigger would have been. And herein is the great variable: unreliable memory combined with an unknown amount of potential triggers equals endless story possibilities. Or, at least an endless amount of ways the details of a story can come out.

I try to write what I know. I got this advice from every writing professor I ever had. On the surface it seems like such a simple statement and yet, considering my earlier comments, this is in all likelihood not possible. So, perhaps the statement needs to be modified to I write what seems to be a genuine response to the moment, the trigger, and everything else that comes out while the process unfurls. So writing then becomes more about an honest reaction than an objective, intellectual truth. Especially as it is being put down on the page. And this task is far more difficult than a person may think.

December 6, 2006

The Crossing Of The Threshold

Welcome to The Threshold.

This blog is designed as a medium for the thousands of writers out there (published or not) who, without regard for their own wellbeing, pummel their keyboards without mercy or pour themselves onto pages of loose leaf note paper at all hours of the night. Writers are an exclusive bunch in many regards, though not so clandestine as to have secret handshakes and subversive, muttered phrases. Their exclusivity lies in the reason for writing, the intimate rationale behind the method.

They write out of necessity. There is no middle ground where someone says "Y'know, I've always wanted to write a poem. Maybe I'll give that a whirl this Saturday." Absurd. Writing stems from something welled deep within, excruciating at times, often graceful and thoughtful with hints of freedom like the soul baring music of a jazz trumpet player. They write because if they did not, there would be an inarticulated void. Something that would lessen the quality of their lives, or at least their understanding of them.

What is the threshold? For me, it was getting my work accepted in publication somewhere. My first story, The End of Swinburne, was placed in an anthology called Half In The Sun on Ronsdale Press this past fall. So much work was involved: draft after draft, edit after edit, writing and re-writing. And that is not mentioning the good fortune of meeting people who were interested in my work. It has been one of the more satisfying moments of my life. But I realize that I have so much further to go, so much more to learn, to absorb, to draw from. But more than anything else, I realize that this is not why I write. Some of the authors and poets in this anthology have been writing for years, decades even. I am a small, emaciated fish in one monstrous ocean. But, the threshold has been crossed.

So, for you writers out there, and I know there are many. Shall we put our minds together? Perhaps we can help others get to the threshold if they have not yet, or encourage them to keep trying. At the very least, we can share our stories and findings with others out there.

My goal with this blog is to tackle numerous topics on writing. Sometimes it may just be a film or book review. Other times I may try my luck at tackling something a little more philosophical. But, feedback is key. I hope that those who stumble on this little webpage in the middle of nowhere feel free to share their own stories or thoughts on writing of any kind. Like you, I am learning.

Harry Junior