Monday, December 4, 2017

November consumption diary


After years of steadfastly holding out till the year was actually complete, I feel pressured to declare my top albums of the year this side of Christmas. I think it's all this time I'm supposed to have, being a full-time writer. I've been run off my feet lately (Fortnight 22 post to follow) without making any tangible progress, so a trivial listsicle probably shouldn't be top of the list. But I also want to know what my top albums have been this year... and the only way to figure this out is to do the mahi and create the post.

Anyway, here were the tracks that tickled me in the eleventh month of 2017 (recency bias suggests artists appearing here could be heavily represented in my end of year list):


Human Traces

This one gets a special mention as it's a NZ film and I saw it in the cinema (11am session on a Thursday in Dunedin... there was one other dude in the theatre - I'm gonna miss the freedom to watch serious movies during the day on my lonesome). 

The film is set on a subantarctic island (like a chunk of my novel THE MANNEQUIN MAKERS, but the island in the movie is fictional and the setting is contemporary rather than historical), although it was filmed in the Catlins and Banks Peninsula. Speaking of the Catlins, in the novel I'm working on, the main character is a filmmaker whose first feature film is called CURIO BAY, and is set entirely in... the Catlins. 

So, like, there's a similar wavelength thing happening here. How could I not check it out?

And those first ten minutes, I had trouble getting over myself and just sitting in the film.

Like, there's a scene where there's a party to farewell the departing ranger and welcome the new one (so: 5 people in a hut listening to a cassette) and the song that's playing is 'Death and the Maiden' by The Verlaines, which just so happened to be the first song on my playlist for THE MANNEQUIN MAKERS. (And because the film is told in three, overlapping parts, this song features more than once).

A few seconds later, a character uses the term 'acolyte', ('Are you happy just being his acolyte?') which seems a little high-flown for the character and setting, but it's used a couple more times, calling back to this question.

And guess what? I used the term 'acoltye' in THE MANNEQUIN MAKERS! Chapter four is even subtitled: 'In which the acolyte makes himself at home'.

Such is the lunacy of a writer in NZ watching a film by another NZer. Or maybe it's just my own special brand of lunacy?

(This tendancy to see your work in others' is a distant cousin of 'outspiration',which I discussed in July.)

Like I said, after a while I got over myself / the film sucked me in. I would have liked more wildlife (no albatross? sacrilege!), but I understand the practicalities of getting those shots in a fudged location.

In terms of cinematography, it's a challenge to depict slices of mainland coast as an isolated island in the Roaring Forties. There are a lot of handheld shots, which seemed to push too hard for 'thereness', as if the crew was never quite sold on letting what was in frame tell the story.

This is Nic Gorman's first feature as both director and writer, and there's so much to like about what he's achieved.

In terms of story, I love how it goes dark at the end of the first third -- like, real dark -- without then descending into horror or pointless gore. Sadly, we make so few feature films in NZ that many will see this darkness as a typical feature of our filmmaking (like our fiction) and dismiss it as unoriginal or dated, when in fact it's just part of this particular story. The battle of man versus the rest of mankind who are against mother nature - how could it not get a little gory and nihilistic??

Without wanting to get too spoilery, I really liked how the reveal of what Riki had done to Pete early in the third section. It was such a light touch and left me space to fill in the gaps. I was satisfied with what must've only taken thirty seconds of screen time. Sadly the film felt the need to cut back to this backstory again later, and again, until it was all explained and over-explained and (of course) I liked my version better.

One other gripe: How could Riki know the internal antenna bit was missing? Tellingly, this scene (from part 2) does not recur in part 3 when we know how much of a greenhorn Riki is. Of course, if the film did explain that Riki had done a polytech course in radio repair I would have griped about having too much explained, so I'm tough to please!

I want to balance this nit-picking with more of the stuff I liked, but I also want you all to see this movie. If not on the big screen, rent it, stream it, do whatever you need to do when you next encounter this film. Because it's worth your time and money, and it's cool that people are allowed to make movies like this and we gotta support them, eh?

Other films this month:
  • John Wick
  • The Hunt for the Wilderpeople
  • The Centre Will Not Hold
  • La Dolce Vita


The Angel Esmeralda by Don DeLillo (short stories, audiobook)

I’ve read a fair number of DeLillo’s novels and my initial responses (noting these were read over about 15 years) range from love (White Noise), like (Mao II), ambivalence (Underworld – though I’d consider re-reading it – and the two shorter books that immediately followed: The Body Artist and Cosmopolis) to outright dislike (Great Jones Street).

This collection falls into the 'ambivalent' basket.

I’d already heard the first two stories before. But no, this wasn’t another Bark episode. I hadn’t read the entire collection before and forgotten about it.

But am I a chance of doing that some time in the future with this collection? Perhaps. There’s something so distant about these stories that doesn’t leave much to latch onto.

A Game of Thrones Pt 2 by George RR Martin (novel, audiobook)

The second half of the first book in the Song of Fire and Ice, but another 16 or so hours of audio if listened to at single speed (I listened to it faster). 

I think I’ve found the perfect kind of audiobook to race through: one you know the main plot points but are actually interested in the minutiae or being reminded of things you may have once known.

A Feast for Crows is up next. At this pace (one half-book a month) I should finish all the extant books before the final season of the TV show (let alone when GRRM gets around to finishing the final book).

The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushie (novel, audiobook)


This is one of those books that I can’t react to in any other way than as a mirror held up to my own writing, or the tendencies I see in my writing. 

Like: the whole magic-realism thing, which doesn’t often fly for me as a reader (I tend to love the first 100 pages of a Garcia Marquez novel and my enthusiasm gets whittled down to nothing by the end) and yet my own writing is drawn into this sphere if I’m not careful. 

Then there’s the linguistic excess and the dexterous/devilish narrator. All things I’m screwing down at the moment in the service of telling a story about fantastical things without sounding like Marquez or Rushdie or one of the Apostles.

Anyway, this particular book. It was long (22 hours as an audiobook), with lots of sub- and parallel plots, and my interest was whittled away rather than held.

But I did take things away from the process. 

Like: the irony of the Fatwa that followed the publication of the book. 

And what Rushdie is saying about the immigrant experience. 

And just some stunning lines about contemporary Britain, which were relevant in 1988 but are probably more so now… which says something, perhaps, about the uselessness of literature – even literature paid the compliment of taking seriously / taking offence.

Hollywood: Mecca of the Movies by Blaise Cendrars (non-fiction, translated by Garrett White)

I have the third book of Cendrars' memoirs on my bedside table. The one in which he discusses San Giuseppe da Copertino at length. In English the title is rendered as Sky: memoirs, though a more direct translation would be The Apportionment of the Heavens.

But I read THIS book first because it was in the Otago Uni library and I won’t always have the luxury of being two minutes away from it (or having a valid library card).

Cendrars visit was in 1936, but much of it rang true for me (and the Hollywood I’ve been writing about this year / the Hollywood that is going through one of its semi-regular implosions).

As Garrett White puts it at the end of his intro: “He [Cendrars] was here for two weeks. He got it right.”

Like this description of mementos sailors sought while on shore leave in LA: “Mickey Mouse dolls and toys, Charlie Chaplin’s tiny moustache stuck to an elastic string, Greta Garbo’s alleged wisdom teeth, Mae West’s alleged fingernails in a jewellery box, tufts of hair, unpublished photos, sachets containing a glove, a slim stocking, a flower, each worn by this or that star in such and such a movie - suggestive fetishes these brave sailors carry off to their distant countries as the holy relics of the modern navigator." (p20)
Poems and Songs of Robert Burns (poetry)

Reading ahead of my judging duties for the Robbie Burns Poetry competition. Might say more about this after I'm done with that.

Cart and Cwidder – Dianna Wynne Jones (novel, audiobook)

I don't consume a lot of YA fiction, and will be demonstrating this when I say that this novel, the first in the Dalemark Quartet, reminded me of The Chaos Walking trilogy (without the aliens or talking dog or...). 

It's the kind of novel where not a lot happens. And even when it does (Clennen's murder), it is described so plainly it's impact isn't immediately felt. 

Did it feel like it was written in 1975? No. It could have been written today. I could see my daughter enoying it in a scarily small number of years. Heck, I enjoyed it, I think. I was certaily sucked into the world and the character of Moril in particular.

Maybe all the Game of Thronsing has tenderised that particular part of my reading brain and now I just can't get enough about divided kingdoms and downplayed magic?

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