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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

R.McN. on Bob Gregory's C&L Comments

"You're astute--I read PULP FICTION just before starting C&L.

You've raised an issue I wondered about myself--would the gusting winds affect Clive's shot? As to Karen going over the edge, Betty thinks that is pure bullshit, keeps telling me it would never happen. However, there was a tornado in Brooklyn a few months ago. And I've experienced freakishly high winds here in Cambridge. Maybe it's better if Clive misses his shot--that would be appropriate for a neo-noir film, in which the world is presented as gritty and painful and sad and little else.

Jill has to run off with Clive, I have no film without that. Don't you think it's possible? Don't we go to movies to see people breaking through the usual barriers that keep us penned in? The French film ALIAS BETTY was an influence on C&L. Jill just acts on impulse, her subconscious suddenly rises up and carries her out the door with Clive. She's SO happy to have Frank out of her life, the beatings over, that her subconscious erupts in jubilation and insists on an immediate celebration. She really hated Frank. And then there's the Hollywood effect of Clive being stunningly good-looking, that's crucial. I originally had Clive & Lou with stockings over their faces but knew Jill would never run off with a man who looked like that.

Almost every development in the plot was made up without forethought as I was writing, just plotting by impulse, spontaneously. I started with two guys outside a liquor store and knew they would rob it, but that was all. Everything else was impromptu, starting with the discovery of Jill crying at the register.

Your suggestion about a close shot on Clive's dressing at the end and then pulling back to show it's him is a good one--but screenwriters aren't allowed to write about camera moves or angles. That's the director's job, and they don't want suggestions. He'll mark them on the script and then the script is retyped as a "shooting script" and the scenes are numbered and off they go.

My biggest problem is that I don't know what to do next. Got any story ideas? I'll credit you. You'll make at least six figures, ho, ho, ho.

Very good to hear from you and get your reaction. Thank you again for commenting."

Screenplay Comments III

Bob Gregory, eminent professor and bloody-Mary-loving good-time friend from Wellington, writes:
"I read your screenplay. I couldn't put it down, from start to finish. Reminded me a wee bit of Pulp Fiction.
As you well know, I'm not a literary/theatre/film critic, just a boring old political scientist. So what the hell do I know?
Some brief comments:
I found the enthusiasm of Jill in joining Clive and Lou immediately after the hold-up rather too neat and tidy, lacking credibility. Abused partners of men don't always rush at the opportunity for 'freedom', and may even be totally shocked and distaught if confronted by Clive's shooting of Frank. Asa consequence Jill's character is not well rounded out, not enough emotional ambivalence or trauma?
Lou's departure to the other gang is a bit obscure. He seems to vanish from the script and then appears suddenly later with the Lorettes.
The demise of the two women, Jill and Karen, also seems rather stark, stretching credibility somewhat -- especially in Karen's case. Blown off a roof? And how would such a huge wind have affected Clive's shooting?
I like the final scene, especially as I thought Clive and Lou had finally got their beans. But I think that the sequence of Clive alive and then revealing his gauze dressings (one assumes he was protected by a flak jacket, or were the wounds not fatal?), should be reversed -- wouldn't a more dramatic effect be gained by first showing a close-up of gauze dressings on a man's chest, then panning back slowly, to reveal Clive as the wearer, very much alive, etc?"
Now I'm going to have to do some serious rethinking. And there I was thinking everything was perfect and the cameras could start rolling immediately. Does any one reading this have expertise on rifles and know if high winds would affect a shot at a target that's a block and a half away?

Screenplay Comments II

My brother Chris, singer-songwriter extraordinare and chef you want to know, writes:

"Love it
1st best line "you want to go back to the
liquor store and I'll shoot him again for
2nd best line page 102 about c4 explosives
“Yeah it's when people are sitting still and
suddenly start moving at 27,000 miles per
hour.” That made me howl thanks
a line i thought could be better is the
bartender saying "there must be a better
way" to Clive. great to read
and of course so many more great lines
do not stop writing this stuff
i know easier said than done."

Chris' CD Orbit will premier on iTunes soon, check it, you won't be disappointed.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Must Characters Change?

Oscar-winning screenwriter William Monahan, author of The Departed, on the subject of characters changing over the course of a work:

"I don’t expect an MBA [who is producing a film] to be Northrop Frye, but I do want to hear his opinions and I’d ask for them were they not given. Do I want to hear [about terms such as] “arc” and “journey” and how does someone “change” through the course of the movie? No, I do not. People change in stories about people changing, not in every story. Not every story is A Christmas Carol. You get this crap about “story” because of these chuckleheads out there running script classes, who really prey on confusion about art and people’s genuine desire to learn. It’s shameful what they’ve done to discourse about motion pictures and to film itself. Writers literally get fired in this business because they aren’t providing enough “journey” in a story that doesn’t call for any. There are no general rules to any sort of writing. Each work has its own inherent rules. You discover them. You don’t import them."

Source:, Feb. 18, 2007.

Corrigenda III

A number of typos in previous post, pls. overlook.
Tsipi Keller's novel Retelling (which as I mentioned yesterday is available from and which I recommend without hesitation or reservation) is a highly pleasurable read. Tsipi uses a first-person narrator who drifts effortlessly from place to place in this Bernhard-style non-paragraphed work about a graduate student named Sally who's best friend Elsbeth Williams is murdered and whom the police regard as a suspect, subjecting her to repeated interrogations. Sally is a solitary type who is keenly observant her East Village neighborhood, noticing everything that goes on around her, the people, the goings-on in the park she frequents, her neighbors, and one feels the intensity of her awareness is a direct result of her living alone, with no close friends after the death of thirty-year-old Elsbeth, allowing one the paradoxical treat of being able to share the moment to moment awareness of someone who generally doesn't allow people into her life--the reader becomes the friend of the largely friendless Sally, having full access to her inner life, which generates a pleasant feeling of comradeship, until one realizes it's entirely a one-way relationship from which Sally derives no benefit. And its an inner life that threatens to float off into the blue, or unravel, at any time, Sally admitting "I often caught myself wondering if I even knew who I was." In commenting on an arms-length friend she reveals how unfixed, how unanchored her identity is: "Lydia, I concluded, was evil and passive-aggressive, and yet, at the same time, I couldn't help the sneaking suspicion that it was I who was evil and passive-aggressive." Will Sally's grip on herself improve over the course of the novel? Unlikely, based on her view of the nature of the self: "This realization [that in her dreams she acted as she had in her youth] led me to theorize that we never really truly change, that the core personality we develop in our teens remains with us forever and emerges in the night when we dream." (Which parallels an opinion expressed by Oscar-winning screenwriter William Monahan, who wrote The Departed, on the subject of characters changing over the course of a work, which I am going to attempt to post here.) Her self-doubt and self-deprecation notwithstanding, Sally shows herself to be one tough cookie in dealing with the repeated interrogations of the police. But it's the intimate companionship with a stranger that is the work's chief attraction--a forbidden, one-way, impossible, enchanting relationship--along with the dream-like transitions from location to location throughout the story, and the careful observation of the day-to-day details which make up our lives.

Friday, October 26, 2007

from Tsipi Keller's RETELLING

"My nerves were on edge and people, merely by existing, infuriated me."

Too terribly true. Sometimes.

This observation is from the Tsipi Keller's novel Retelling (New York: Spuyten Duyvil [Spitting Devil], 2006) which is available at I recommend this book without reservation.

IMPORTANT NOTE: For dinner tonight, baked salmon fillet, fried red potatoes (that had been blanched) with onions, sauteed mushrooms. Ran out of Beck's NA and had to drink frigging water. When Dad would be asked by a waiter if he wanted water, he would say: "It's against my religion."

Time stamp: 11:49 PM

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Screenplay Comments

Bob Knuppel wrote:

Well,,,,,,,I thought the Title was a hook for a Porno film, but it was a very easy read and I thought substantial enough to hold me until the end. The question of my own ignorant mind is how original is the setting, concept and would know better. I liked it.

By the way I know some people in Hollywood such as the lawyer for Eddie Muphy in the Art Buchwald fight and Kenny Horton who lived next to me in Smoke Rise is a tv producer now.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Corrigendum II

Re last post, for "matter or minutes" read "matter of minutes"; probably unnecessary to point this out but one thinks of Joyce's comment in Finnegan's Wake about "insane fastidiousness" or words to that effect. Freud would use another expression but why bring that up?

Less Tired, Less Depleted

Even if one is writing claptrap and drivel (my specialty) the thought that it may be read by someone, ANYone, within a matter or minutes or hours, is too, too tempting, so one taps away in this wonderful empty space with this very attractive font, all the while wondering what Proust or Beckett would do with a web log, real writers of course not engaging in web logging, though the screenwriter Kevin Smith has one. It's the immediate gratification factor that's so tempting, one's words flying out like spurts from an electronic water sprinkler, landing ALL OVER THE WORLD, it's too exciting, and the fact that one does not have to wait on line at the post office to do it is sheer ecstasy, God does the post office get me depressed. I should troll around and see if I can find any novelists who do web logging though there aren't that many contemporary novelists I'm familiar with, beyond Tsipi. "There is another world and it's this one," someone said that, some poet, I could look it up but who wants to get out of one's chair? It's a language-dominated universe, some poet said that, the main thing that's going on is the use of language, perhaps. A web log can be a kind of coffee shop where one can have a wonderful one-way conversation with . . . WHOMEVER . . . prattling along with the sense one is in the company of a FRIEND. I wonder if Gordon Lish has a blog, I doubt it but I'll check. Where was I? I know Tsipi has a blog that I like VERY MUCH, but for purely selfish reasons. Yes let me pour some more cream into my coffee and have a sip. Rather than starting a new screenplay my inclination is to perfect Cocked & Loaded (awful title, offensively and crassly commercial but if I'm going to be dealing with know-nothing producers (cause I probably won't, as an unknown, be able to get an agent) I might as well have a title that reeks of saleability) but I'm so weary of the story, having been through it six times or so, I need a break from it . . . so I don't know what to do . . . perhaps write verses for a time . . . it would be a massive mistake to sit here and web log and talk about trivia like what I did this afternoon, sitting on the retaining wall around the flower- and tree-bed on Barron Plaza where two people asked me the time and one guy said, "Can you spare sixty cents or a dollar?" One often hit upon for money if one sits down in Central Square; I should have bought that t-shirt I saw years ago that said in bold block letters, "DON'T ASK ME FOR SHIT!" Quite windy and warm this afternoon, overcast sky, a feeling of uneasiness in the air, usual heavy pedestrian traffic passing before one's eyes, Asians, blacks, some people speaking French, down-and-out whites, average people, not many people on the tree-bed wall, usually it's almost filled up, I guess people don't like windy weather, leaves swept about, Red Sox going into the World Series (ho-hum, z-z-z-zzzzz), I walked over to City Hall to point Percy at the porcelain, very pleasant smell of wood when one comes in the door of the lobby, then back to the tree-bed to sit some more, then a walk in the direction of MIT, getting as far as the Mariposa Bakery and then abruptly turning around and coming home because I felt an inclination to do some web logging. I usually call Betty at 5 PM to notify her, uselessly, that she is entitled to stop working, she's been putting in a lot of overtime lately because a conference is underway for healthcare officials from all over the world and she is responsible for EVERYTHING; at the last conference there were some Muslims and she had to find an empty room so they could do their five-times-a-day praying. "There is another world and it's this one," and by that the poet did not mean web logging, s/he was talking about taking the everyday world as some kind of utopia--but you knew that. I mean to post my letter to the NY Times on Iraq here at some point, the Times having ignored it. What I'm hoping for is the eventual dawning of a Golden Age for humanity developing out of the stupidity and agony of our first peace-time invasion of another country. I believe we're going to be in Iraq--in a non-combat mode--indefinitely, playing the role of peacekeeper like the NATO and UN troops did when Yugoslavia broke up (I keep meaning to Google, or iSeek, Yugoslavia to see if the peacekeepers are still there) or like the US troops STILL in Korea. The thought of democracy throughout the Middle East is so soothing to contemplate after all the agony one has felt about our invasion of Iraq. We should pull our troops back to a non-combat position and get that enormous embassy out of Baghdad as soon as possible. To pull out of the country means all those lives were lost for nothing and the thought of that really hurts. Maybe in ten or twenty years democracy can take hold in Iraq. But we've got to cut the casualty rate back to as close to zero as possible, and create a situation like Korea. We'll have our troops and embassy out in the desert and the Iraqis can come to us for help and we can launch military raids if necessary to help them out; we've got to stop using our troops as police in the middle of a civil war. Soldiers are meant to find the enemy, engage the enemy and destroy the enemy, NOT to be sitting, or traveling, ducks out on patrol in the middle of insane sectarian conflict. The thought that a GOLDEN AGE OF DEMOCRACY can eventually emerge from a stupid and criminal invasion appeals to one's sense of the paradoxical. Kierkegaard has written that a person who does not have a sense of irony can be said to be a person who has not yet begun to live. So we should pull our troops back, not out. (I should send a copy of this post to Ted Kennedy. I've never written to a Congress-donkey before.)

So that's enough for now.

Note to Tsipi: Your comment about "beggar writers" was too terribly true. Puts me in mind of a passage from Bernhard's On the Mountain:

"No worse rabble than writers, artists, all achievements glossed over, tremendous exertions dismissed with slander and silence, the status of the writer is even lower than that of shopkeepers, much lower than that of politicians, to get to the writers: get down into the dirt."

Time stamp: 6:09 PM.

Tired, Depleted

I am so freaking tired and feel so depleted that I feel I'll never be able to write another line as long as I live. Wasted a good deal of time last night at the Trigger Street site reading bits of screenplays and bios of screenwriters, jumping from one to the next over and over till my head was spinning and I was bewildered, highly discouraged by the seemingly endless number of competent screenwriters "out there"; will probably have to stick my head in the sand and stop going there to keep my belief in myself alive. Alone, alone, alone. Which sucks. So I'll probably go there impulsively from time to time. Delighted to have received comments on Cocked & Loaded from grammar school friend Bob Knuppel who read it in one go. I'm waiting to see if he'll give me authorization to print what he wrote here.

Monday, October 22, 2007


Apparently the spellcheck mechanism does not include the title line. For "Chosky" in the title line of the last post, pls. read of course "Chomsky."

Rossetti & Chosky

Dante Rossetti wrote:

"A sonnet is a moment's monument" and I think this is a perfect line.

Chomsky wrote:

"Socialists are committed to the belief that we are not condemned to live in a society based on greed, envy, and hate."

Important Note: I've been snacking on Kettle sea-salt and vinegar potato chips this afternoon, which I think are perfect, and a Poland Spring raspberry-and-lime carbonated, which I live on during the warmer months, which seem to be here year-round these days.

Time stamp: 5:00 PM.

Postscript: Please brace yourselves, screenplay coming soon.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

from Folio 69


All you're going to get from me
are the ideas you'll need
to understand everything.
--N.O. Ting

To admit to
an inability
to be happy
under any circumstances
other than those found
in a bar or a bed
is comparable to
walking down Main Street
with one's pants
around one's ankles

or one's skirt.


Note: This image is stolen from a letter of Faulkner to I don't remember whom, though I am the one who thought of adding the skirt. I wrote this poem some years ago and it makes its first appearance in public here and now. The only edit, made tonight, was to remove a set of parentheses starting before "other" and ending after "bed."

Note to Tsipi: J'ai du coulot, n'est-ce pas?

Postscript: To be able to get a poem "out there" so effortlessly after years of being shut up alone in the house with them is blowing my mind.

Important Addendum: For dinner tonight, baked chicken cutlets, small microwaved red potatoes (one for Betty, two for me), some horrible canned tomatoes, and a glass of Beck's non-alcoholic beer.

Time and date stamp: Woden's day, October 17, 2007, 11:o1 PM.

Mea Maxima Culpa

Actually there were three errors in my Arnold quote from memory. The correct version is:

"And we are here as on a darkling plain,
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night."

Error Caught

The first word in the last line of the Arnold quote should be "Where," not "While."

Night Lines from Matthew Arnold

"For we are here as on a darkling plain,
Swept by confused alarms of struggle and flight,
While ignorant armies clash by night."

Too terribly true. The US armed forces pride themselves on how effectively they can operate in the dark, with their infra-red (?) goggles. These lines have a peculiar hold on my mind. I often voice them mentally. I guess they're perfect. So much of modernist and postmodern poetry is disappointing. Samuel Johnson defined literature as "Human experience in human language," a view that has been massively and disastrously overlooked--particularly by the profoundly overrated E. Pound. How often have I picked up a poetry journal and not found ONE poem I can relate to.

These lines are the ending to "Dover Beach."

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

George Matheson's Prayer

Here's a prayer for those times when nothing works and one's gas gauge is on empty:

"Oh my Father, I have moments of deep unrest--moments when I know not what to ask by reason of the very excess of my wants. I have in these hours no words for Thee, no conscious prayers for Thee. My cry seems purely worldly; I want only the wings of a dove that I may flee away. Yet all the time Thou hast accepted my unrest as a prayer. Thou hast interpreted its cry for a dove's wings as a cry for Thee, Thou hast received the nameless longings of my heart as the intercessions of Thy Spirit. They are not yet the intercessions of my spirit; I know not what I ask. But Thou knowest what I ask, O my God. Thou knowest the name of that need which lies beneath my speechless groan. Thou knowest that, because I am made in Thine image, I can find rest only in what gives rest to Thee; therefore Thou hast counted my unrest unto me for righteousness, and hast called my groaning Thy Spirit's prayer--Amen."

Monday, October 15, 2007

James Oddo - Get the f*** out of my office

I should like to inaugurate my web log (I object to the word "blog" because it is ugly) with a video from YouTube that sets a certain tone, conveys a certain attitude, that I can relate to.

Without knowing exactly why, I have created a blog.