I’m not sure whether or not to bother rereading Watchmen before the movie, because I believe movies are always far more enjoyable if you haven’t read (or can hardly remember) the book. The book is substantially superior 90% of the time, so you might as well spare yourself some impotent huffing in the cinema, appreciate the movie on its own merits, and then savour the additional depth and luxury that lots and lots of words can offer.
I think it was fairly safe to read this Microsoft Paint condensed version though.
A little heads-up for any Singaporean readers who’re into graphic novels: if you borrow 4 books from the Orchard library, you can use your loan receipt to enter their contest to win a collector’s edition box set of Persepolis 1 and 2. Just look for the box in front of the main counter. (I don’t remember how much longer the contest is on though, so if you’re keen, drop by soon.) And if you win, please email me so I can curse at you.
Apologies to those hoping for more substantial content, this will just be a desperate catch-up list of quick notes on blogworthy things that I never found time to write properly about but don’t want to forget.
- Dress Your Family In Corduroy And Denim (David Sedaris): Funnier, sadder, and generally more engaging than Barrel Fever.
- A Burnt-Out Case (Graham Greene): Greene never disappoints. I don’t think this is an especially famous novel of his, but it is no less perceptive or original than any of his best. It also feels very elegantly structured – not usually something this O’level literature student is able to spot in a novel, but which seemed particularly outstanding in this one.
- Maus: My Father Bleeds History (Art Spiegelman): Just Book I, I’ll read Book II as soon as the other borrowers in the library let me, and am aware that whatever commentary I attempt here is necessarily incomplete. Not sure if my feeling about the book is shared by others, but it seems to me that although it is ostensibly a fairly straightforward Holocaust story, the true heart of this book lies not in the story itself, but the fact and manner of its telling – by a protagonist to an author, from human speech into stylized illustration, and above all, by a father to a son.
- The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy: Sorry for the blasphemy, but as someone who last read the books when I was 12, and therefore has no specific memory of them beyond an abstract aura of wittiness and a couple of ubiquitous email taglines, I found this thoroughly enjoyable.
- Sideways: We didn’t rush to watch it in the cinema because it seemed like the sort of movie you could enjoy just as well on DVD, and it is. Despite its incredible acclaim I’m really struggling to come up with anything strongly positive to say about it. It felt like a slow car ride through pleasant but unremarkable countryside inhabited by people you care very little about. You don’t object to the journey, but you’d just as happily never take it again. Case in point: I can’t fault Paul Giamatti’s acting here, but despite playing a character far more likable than in his previous “loser” outing, something about American Splendor made me root for Harvey Pekar, and something about Sideways made me stop caring about Miles.
- Downfall: The best film I have seen so far this year, and one of the top five of my life. Can you even imagine a similar film being made in Japan? [Very tangentially, the broader political/societal culture which gives fruition to films (among other manifestations) like this is one reason I think Germany is a great nation, and its disappointing contrast in Japan is one reason I have never been able to admire or embrace Japanese culture the way many of my peers seem to do.]
- Poetic Licence: I love poetry on paper, but poetry readings much less, so I have to admit the only reason I went to this was that Yish had free tickets. Well, shame on me for my rock-bottom expectations, because this was one of the best poetry events I’ve ever been to. The team behind this should be very proud that they took on something quite ambitious – 46 poems to dramatize! – and did a pretty good job for most of them, finding and expressing the latent drama of the poems without compromising the primacy of their words. Yish gave an impromptu performance of Loud Poem to the cast afterwards, which was fun. The only part of the evening I didn’t enjoy was when Eleanor introduced me to Ivan Heng and, tongue-tied and star-struck, I stammered, “Hi…I’m a big fan…” AND NOTHING MORE.
- Neil Gaiman in Singapore: My boobs came between me and Neil Gaiman on the Monday and Tuesday of his visit to Singapore (I’d had the surgery on Monday), but goddamit I wasn’t going to let them spoil my fun on Wednesday! (Yes, one can define queueing for 5 hours for two signatures as “fun” if the signatures in question are from Neil Gaiman.) By the time I got to the front, Neil was obviously pretty tired, so I didn’t get anything as elaborate as the Coraline rat I got the last time, but at least I got “Sweet dreams” on the last panel of The Sound Of Her Wings and eyes drawn in the skull on Neil’s “goodbye” message (just after the last page of The Wake). I mumbled something stupid about having had surgery two days before, but just having to come see him anyway. He stopped signing my book, and looked up at me. “And you’ve been waiting in this huge queue all this while?” “Um, yeah.” “You really shouldn’t have, but thank you so very much,” as he reached out and squeezed my hand. And just like that, five hours in line paled before thirty seconds of very genuine warmth from a man who, by the end of the night, had signed for a thousand people.
Random surfing led me to the following nuggets of information at Sci Fi Wire:
The Watchmen movie isn’t happening any more. Oh well. As I wrote a while ago (in response to a comment telling me that a Watchmen movie was in the works), I had my doubts about how well they could adapt it. I’m still not going to stop compiling my dream cast list when bored on the bus though. Recently, Dennis Hopper came to mind as The Comedian.
- The person making an English dub of Howl’s Moving Castle had to do so without any input from original director Hayao Miyazaki. Upon sending a long list of his questions to Japan he was warned that Miyazaki probably wouldn’t answer, and true enough, he didn’t.
“We didn’t add anything that wasn’t there in the film. So, of course, we are faithful to the dialogue that’s there. But in the end, you just kind of have to trust your own instincts on a lot of things, and that’s apparently what Miyazaki [who did not respond to Docter’s questions] expects from us.”
I don’t know if the English dub of Spirited Away was done the same way, but if it was then I guess that might be one reason people don’t tend to be that satisfied with it. And unlike Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle is pretty damn incoherent to begin with. It seems a curious way to do things to me – certainly an interesting experiment in film interpretation, but not the best way of producing the only version of Howl’s Moving Castle most casual English-speaking viewers will ever see.
Much like my struggles with Life A User’s Manual a while back, the only thing that’s keeping me reading Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth (Chris Ware) is the paroxysms of joy it seems to inspire in its Amazon reviewers.
I remember picking the book up in Borders shortly after it won the Guardian First Book Award, and abandoning it soon after, stupefied, for The Wire. (Which, of course, can be stupefying in its own way eg. “Oh look, a critical re-appraisal of the Appalachian free jazz movement!”) I chanced upon it again in the Marine Parade library last week, so I decided to give it another try. So far, so blah. I’m finding the flow of the panels extremely non-intuitive, and I’m not getting the big deal about the quality of the drawing either. I’ll keep wading on though – Life A User’s Manual did pay off in the end. And at least it’s a good way to get me sleepy at night.
(The following passage is a fictional excerpt from an ornithological journal.)
“Is it possible, I wonder, to study a bird so closely, to observe and catalogue its peculiarities in such minute detail, that it becomes invisible? Is it possible that while fastidiously calibrating the span of its wings or the length of its tarsus, we somehow lose sight of its poetry? That in our pedestrian descriptions of a marbled or vermiculated plumage we forfeit a glimpse of living canvases, cascades of carefully toned browns and golds that would shame Kandinsky, misty explosions of colour to rival Monet? I believe that we do. I believe that in approaching our subject with the sensibilities of statisticians and dissectionists, we distance ourselves increasingly from the marvelous and spell-binding planet of imagination whose gravity drew us to our studies in the first place.
When we stare into the catatonic black bead of a Parakeet’s eye we must teach ourselves to glimpse the cold, alien madness that Max Ernst perceived when he chose to robe his naked brides in confections of scarlet feather and the transplanted monstrous heads of exotic birds. When some ocean-going Kite or Tern is captured in the sharp blue gaze of our Zeiss lenses, we must be able to see the stop motion flight of sepia gulls through the early kinetic photographs of Muybridge, beating white wings tracing a slow oscilloscope line through space and time.”
– Watchmen, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
Sometimes you think you’ve seen it all and no novelty websites can really amuse you any more. And then you find the Red Meat Construction Set.
[Note: A good understanding of the Red Meat universe is necessary for full appreciation of the above links. It also helps if you’re a sick bastard.]