Silliness is Golden

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Sat, Mar 04, 2006

How to Read Aloud

Andrel mailed me recently. He'd been very impressed with the Jim Dale audiobook of the first Harry Potter volume and was inspired to wonder if I knew of any resources on the art of reading aloud.

I didn't have any web pointers for him; reading aloud is a craft I love, and one I take pride in my skill at, but I've never studied it in any organized way. I've been playing with the idea of trying jot down some of my own thoughts on the subject, though, and Andre catalyzed me to have a go at it. So. My tips for reading to other people:

[/diaries/diary/howto/] comment

Night Watch

Went to see Night Watch at the Kendall with Mieke last night. Damn, that was a good flick. Of particular interest to comix geeks, it's the first movie I've seen to take advantage of the power of lettering to shape mood. It's in Russian and subtitled, and the subtitles shift in color, position, and size to underscore the content of the dialogue. Similarly, throughout the movie, special effects are often used in a subtle, corner-of-your-eye way so you're not even certain of what you saw for a moment.

Basically, the story is Matrix + Highlander + vampires + lots of vodka - huge budget - taking yourself too seriously, with big dashes of Star Wars and LotR added in. It's a big gritty grainy grimy grisly entertainment, long on atmospherics and inventive visual effects, and rather short on exposition. The actors--even the pretty women--have wonderful lived-in Russian faces, with far too much humanity for Hollywood. It's set in contemporary Moscow, where you got your supernaturals--called Others--arrayed into secret armies of Light and Darkness in an uneasy truce. The Night Watch of the title is the Light Others who keep an eye on Dark Others to make sure they don't break the terms of the truce. The powers and vulnerabilities of Others are kept conveniently vague, allowing subsequent rabbits to be pulled out of that hat.

When someone discoveres he's an Other, he has to pick sides. It's implied that this is irrevocable, but the movie leaves wiggle-room if they want to mess with this later. One thing Night Watch does very well is to suggest how there might be actual difficulties around that choice. For a movie about the war between Good and Evil, there's a lot of real moral ambiguity floating around. Our more shallow fantasy-genre moralists (coughGeorgeLucascough) make their character's dilemmas look grotesquely inane--dude, which is better--Good? Or Evil? but the choice in Night Watch not only has weight, but it doesn't utterly define the characters. Our protaganist, a Light Other, happens to live across the hall from a Dark Other, who shows impulses to be friendly, and has to be reminded by an older relative that they are enemies.

Perhaps more than Light vs. Dark, the conflict appears to be Order vs. Chaos. Light's leader works in an immaculate business suit at an imposing but cluttered desk. Night Watch members wear vaguely official-looking uniform coveralls and patrol in a vaguely official-looking beat-up van (albeit with a Batmobile engine). Good appears to be working on something of a budget. Much is made of their issuing licenses to Dark Others, although the details are unclear. Dark Others look like gangstas, fetishists, and pop divas (the last played by an actual Russian pop diva), and generally appear to be having rather more fun, though they do spend a lot of time snarling and sneering.

After all the pieces have been put in play, the last third of the movie kind of drags. When the two major plot threads resolve, one ending feels rushed and arbitrary, and the other is incoherent and unsatisfying. Yup--it's Part One of a trilogy. Part Two has just been released in Russia, so hopefully it'll find its way here with reasonable dispatch. I'll certainly be in line for it.

ADDENDUM:

On further consideration, Night Watch has a couple other interesting distinctions from other recent fantasy adeventure movies.

For a movie marketed as a horror/fantasy crossbreed, though there's plenty of blood, there's remarkably little death. Near the beginning, a Dark Other is killed by the Night Watch, and, unless I'm forgetting something, it's the sole onscreen death. The Dark Others' grief and rage at the loss of their comrade drives much of the rest of the movie. We're not made to sympathize with the character who died (and made hamburger of our hero along the way), but we are encouraged to feel some of the pain of the Dark Other friend and lover who miss him. Compare this with the wholesale slaughter of cannon-fodder bad guys in your average CGI epic of the month.

Not only is there not a single gun in the movie, but there's no exposition of why. Presumably all or most Others are resistant to gunfire to some degree, but it's never discussed.

Now, I'm not putting forward Night Watch as a morally profound work, but despite the explicit video game metaphor that it uses at a couple points, I do think it does have much more a human heart than many of the American models it draws on.

CORRECTION:

An old woman with about a minute of screentime dies of semi-un-natural heart failure towards the end. In addition, there are the kinds of explosions and power failures that would cause dozens or hundreds of deaths in the real world, but generally end up bloodless in movies.

[/diaries/diary/media/] 192 comments

Sun, Feb 26, 2006

...And Least Informative Headline of the Year goes to....

LEADERS TACKLE CRISIS from the Chicago Tribune.

[/diaries/diary/observed/] 2 comments

Sun, Feb 19, 2006

Oh, the Enormity!

Did I miss when the culture decided to give up on 'enormity?' For the record, it isn't a synonym for 'enormousness,' it means 'enormous evil.' Or perhas I should say 'wasn't a synonym.'

When fairly prestigious venues like BBC News start using sentences like:

But the enormity of the task [SETI] means that scientists have been looking for ways to narrow down the search.

it looks like the stuffy ol' prescriptive grammarians have lost another one.

And hark! Merriam Webster includes a tart little essay to smackdown the peaspedants:

Enormity, some people insist, is improperly used to denote large size. They insist on enormousness for this meaning, and would limit enormity to the meaning "great wickedness." Those who urge such a limitation may not recognize the subtlety with which enormity is actually used. It regularly denotes a considerable departure from the expected or normal [they awakened; they sat up; and then the enormity of their situation burst upon them. "How did the fire start?" -- John Steinbeck]. When used to denote large size, either literal or figurative, it usually suggests something so large as to seem overwhelming [no intermediate zone of study. Either the enormity of the desert or the sight of a tiny flower -- Paul Theroux] [the enormity of the task of teachers in slum schools -- J. B. Conant] and may even be used to suggest both great size and deviation from morality [the enormity of existing stockpiles of atomic weapons -- New Republic]. It can also emphasize the momentousness of what has happened [the sombre enormity of the Russian Revolution -- George Steiner] or of its consequences [perceived as no one in the family could the enormity of the misfortune -- E. L. Doctorow]

Oh, and thanks for using pointy brackets to designate quotes, guys. That made my life much easier. Let's see if LJ's syndication engine calms down if I replace them with square brackets...

[/diaries/diary/glossary/] 1 comment

Sat, Feb 18, 2006

More annals of not-quite-apology

I'm fascinated with the headlines about Bush's statement about Cheney's statement to the press.

The LA Times, for example, opens with the sentence:

President Bush on Thursday broke his public silence about the vice president's shooting of a hunting companion, declaring that Dick Cheney had delivered "a very strong and powerful explanation" of the incident.

Strong and powerful? His explanation of how he accidentally shot his friend in the face and now feels kinda bad about it was strong and poweful? Isn't this carrying being on-message to the point of non-sequitor?

"Mr. President, how did you enjoy your breakfast?

"It was forceful and resolute! The eggs were firm! The coffee was bold! The toast was...uh...virile."

[/diaries/diary/politics/] comment

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