Saturday, December 28, 2013

Halfway Through The Book Thief (Markus Zusak)

Reading The Book Thief, and I'm exactly halfway through it.

It's a great book. But maybe I had been expecting too much of it? To be honest, I'd very well just drop it here and start reading something else. There are a thousand other books that I'd rather be reading.

Things that annoy me regarding The Book Thief.

Style.
It is true there is a lot of substance in the story. The depth of history. The death's of characters. The holocaust. The Nazi antics. Surely, Zusak (the writer) didn't have to resort to cheesy writing style to make sure readers comply in finishing the book! Some would say that the style is very much a part of the story, and The Book Thief couldn't have been told any other way. Though I agree with that, it still doesn't take away the fact that the style of writing is draining and dreary and gimmicky! Extremely annoying!

Stylised writing should be written very prudently. With care. They are like Instagram filters. Don't overdo it, or they become fake and draining to the imagination. The Book Thief style of writing is fine - even enjoyable - for a couple of chapters. But by the time you get halfway through it, I am rolling my eyes with every passing description or a chapter ending statement most of which sound forced and something 'creative writing' students would attempt on their writing exercises.

Death's Narration.
Death is a character in this book, in fact, the main narrator of the story. That's fine. In fact, that's a crazy idea. That in itself is a winner when you're talking of an attention seeking device.

But Zusak makes Death sound like a young adult stream-of-consciousness-poet who writes songs describing snows and feelings and barren winter trees – well, pretty much what I imagine Zusak himself to be.

Is Death trying too hard? Is Zusak trying too hard?

Characters.
Also Zusak seems to be forcing the reader to love and sympathise with the characters a bit too much. Whereas you find that they are not very convincing. In my mind's eye they seem to be like characters from a low budget WWII film with synthesizer-generated orchestra music tugging at your reluctant heart to please cry, please cry and empathise with these poor victims of human terror and Nazi brutalism... poor poor humans, look at them cry calling out Papa! and Mama! and huddling in the dark, as the musical strings rise and the crescendo peaks...

Forced.

Stop telling the story like you're narrating it to a bunch of ADD teenagers. This is a powerful story. Tell it for what it is!

Now, let me read the rest of the book and see what I feel by the end of it. 

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Morphing

George and Caytlin and Melody and Hayden, once my closest friends, once my caravan-mates, with whom we went the whole stretch of South Island in the cold, now become strange people, with nothing to say between us, and the silence between us being drawn out like an elastic string threatening to collapse upon itself anytime now.

Whose fault is it?

Now it is Dino and Sara and Klein and Kimi who are my closest comrades, and tomorrow it may be Carol and Mike. The problem is me. I change face, I morph and become something else every day. Hurtling through tall grass on Canterbury marshlands like a beast without any idea of who he is and where he is going. 

Friday, December 13, 2013

Our Gods

When your Rachmaninoff section came in, the rains fell. The clouds broke. Like it had been waiting all this time for you to start playing. When the orchestra lifted me high so that my nose touched the clouds I float with the ravens who called out their noisy welcome to me.

My sins dripped off my chest. They dropped to the earth like black oil drips, merging, colliding with the soil, until the gracious earth ate it, swallowed it.

There's something strangely unearthly about your music. I grit my teeth and try to comprehend it. I soar among the clouds like a wingless demon but in a holy garb, forgiven, accepted by your musical enormity. The thunder claps around me. Or are those the orchestral drums at the back, patiently awaiting their turn and then resounding with flourish when it comes?

Let's now fight our battles. Let's head back down to earth, now that you are replenished and refreshed by the rain and the dripping of Rachmaninoff's piano notes. Let's go to the coffee houses and look our parts again. This miserable human existence. When we need it again, we will soar again.

Our gods, the Rachmaninoffs, the Wagners, they spirit us. They lift us when we are down. For a few minutes perhaps we can avoid being these heavy hearted souls sitting in the rain, holding our arms out to the gods to take us to the skies again. Perhaps the gods will be merciful. 

Under the Snow

Should I be praying instead? I ask the man on the bridge. The snow falling slowly. Softly. It makes everything seem cosy. But cold. The snow fall on the bridge. The snow fall on London. The snow fall on the willow, bare and leafless.

What does your heart tell you? Clint Eastwood replies.

I want to fly away to Tahiti where the sun still shines. I careless tell him, I want to ride the camels and see sphinxes bloating in the Arabian sun. Is that wrong?

What about your papers? Your work? Your typewriter, and your essays to write?

I don't know. Should I be praying instead?

What does your heart tell you?

My heart tells me that I should carry on talking with you even though it's cold. And the river is eerily quiet. 

I have nothing to add. Nor does Clint. He looks away to the city. One day everything will make sense. Your mind cannot understand for now. Your heart longs for something you do not know what it is. 

How long will it be till it makes sense? This alien longing for more. This dark foreboding longing for something beautiful. The nirvana. The shangri-la. The helen. How long will I have to wake up in mornings and snuff out remains of dreams with bitter coffee? How long till I never have to wake up or how long till I never have to sleep?

The man on the bridge who is my father stands near me. I can sense his warmth and his poncho and it is comforting to know he is there. He has answers to everything. And for now the answer is to stand silently under the falling snow watching London houses get cloaked in white.

We remain so quiet we can hear the swish of snow fluffs dropping. We can hear the river passing us by, rippling, sounding like a thousand cats lapping up water with their tongues. 

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Hobbit - The Desolation of Smaug

Watched The Hobbit - The Desolation of Smaug last night on High-Frame-Rate and 3D.

High Frame Rate and 3D
Obviously HFR and 3D are meant to enhance the film experience. At what expense, though? Film is an optical illusionary device. It fools the viewer into believing unbelievable things, things that are illogical and fantastic. Yes, it was great to be able to see every freckle and contour on Gandalf's face and watch every strand of Legolas' hair dancing in the breeze - but the action sequences and the orcs look copy-pasted from a fantasy game like Warcraft. A certain sense of magic was lost because of Peter Jackson's obssessive pursuit for clarity of sight. Jean-Luc Godard would have schooled Peter Jackson on this with his quote, "There is no point in having sharp images when you've fuzzy ideas."

Now I would not go so far as saying PJ had fuzzy ideas. But he got some things really wrong, in my opinion. Here are some of the things that went wrong:

1. Love triangle!? I can't even write any more on this subject because I can't handle the prospect of a love triangle of the silliest kind happening in Middle Earth as The Hobbit 2 wants us to believe it happened. It is almost unforgiveable.

2. Cirque de Soleil? PJ has always been into circus antics and choreography in fight scenes. I can see why. It may add a sense of magic and fantasy into action sequences. Tintin, the film, had the sequences where things began to feel like a computer game. The Hobbit 1 had many scenes, especially in the underground scenes, like that. This film too has its share of circus and ridiculous antics. To be honest, I don't buy it. But I can sign that off as a 'style' of Peter Jackson. But I have to say I was expecting more of gritty action sequences and not a Super Mario meets Assasin's Creed meets Cirque de Soleil extravaganza.

Now what this film gets right are (in no particular order):

1. Radagast was a little less stupid and more convincing in this film. Maybe because you didn't see much of him at all (and none of his silly bunny chariot, thank God!)

2. Middle Earth felt a lot more like Middle Earth. I liked the way the camera would pan out to show you larger areas of the surrounding to remind you of the scale of the environment that the film was playing out in. Dol Goldur was pretty good. More like Minas Morgul than Tim Burton's made up universe. But in saying that, PJ can ease down a little bit on using green lights. I have never thought green surround lights to be scary. It reminds me of the Grinch.

3. No singing drinking songs around happy dinner tables! What was PJ thinking with The Hobbit 1 and Return of the King (or was it Two Towers?). Singing about eating and having a merry wee time is never ok. Yes, I am sure there was a lot of singing going on in Middle Earth, and yes I have read the books and yes there are a lot of songs in the books. But can we please not having dragging film sequences of Merry or Pippin or Thorin or whoever singing anymore please?

4. Less humour. I have never LOLed (ever!) in a Peter Jackson film. I don't think he has a great sense of humour (for a Kiwi). So when this film turns out to have less of direct humour and instead more of implied/indirect humour, it was great.

5. References to history and backgrounds of Middle Earth. It was awesome that there was a lot of references to history and background story of Middle Earth. It made the film belong to the larger story which the first installment failed to do miserably.

These are not exhaustive list of things I enjoyed in the movie. The film is definitely worth a watch. A great step back into Middle Earth.

I guess the thing however, is that by now, the whole Middle Earth is starting to feel like a massive chain of merchandise and not anymore the elusive fantastic imagined alternate reality that most fans loved it for. Middle Earth, by now is becoming synonymous with bright lights, CGI, characters with bad humour (yes what the heck what the heck what the heck is Stephen Fry, who felt more like Gilderoy Lockhart than whoever he is supposed to be, doing in Middle Earth?!) and circus antics.

I hope Peter Jackson grows up just a little bit for the third installment. I would love to see a little bit more maturity and seriousness, especially if it is (and I hope it is) going to be the final Middle Earth film for good. 

Sunday, December 8, 2013

On Timelessness

There's a certain timelessness in every soul, as flawed and as ignorant and little as we all are. A beauty never whole but that is lost to itself, a beauty whose glimpses you see now and then like the sun in a grey morning between clouds, never complete and satisfactory but present nonetheless. 

Images of broken lights which dance before me like a million suns, they call me on and on across the universe. Sounds of laughter, shades of life are ringing through my opened ears inciting and inviting me. 

Never quite there. But always inviting. Always inciting. Always teasing. A bottomless well that you can fall into with experiential traps and sensational nightmares and dreams. 

Timelessness being beautiful is also a scary prospect. 

I saw mists lift like in Avalon. It stayed open for hours. I could stand there for years gaping in wonder at the beauty of its nothingness melancholy. It must have been the song you were singing. It must have been the echoes that returned from the hills. The dipping of minors and the liberation of majors. The sombre verses laying low like they were hiding from the summer's sun. 

Saturday, December 7, 2013

You and your freedom—You and your music

Open your mouth—
Waves they sweep out—
Galaxies and possibilities—
Songs and melodies

Tunes that have rung—
For centuries strung

I used to unbelieve
In songs in music—
In words tumbling—
Held together by notes—
Rising falling—trembling

Until I witness—
The ocean waves—
Colliding to you—
To your song gale blew

Until I stood under—
Trees that thunder—
With wind—
Moved by your singing

On the beach—
You and your guitar—
Enough to change the world—
If you wanted to

You and your guitar—
And the wind in your hair—
Enough lies enough truth—
Enough shit enough good—
You and your accent—
You and your freedom—
You and your music