Thursday, March 30, 2006

Erosion by Lon S. Cohen

I just did this brand new printing process. It's called print on demand. You can publish a book, have it listed on for sale, and get an ISBN number to sell it in bookstores. I just did this brand new printing process. It's called print on demand. You can publish a book, have it listed on for sale, and get an ISBN number to sell it in bookstores

I picked Lulu because I heard a couple of published authors mentioning that they got their start by publishing on first and then marketing the heck out of their books. The company takes care of fulfilling orders and printing. It’s called Print on Demand. The authors who recommended it also did podcasts of their fiction (or podio books as they are called now.) Lulu seemed to offer the best deal (no upfront fees). You need to convert your text to a PDF file and upload it. You get the ISBN number by signing up for their basic service (which does cost). It is a good deal. $35 or so for a free year on Marketplace and the ISBN number. Lulu also offers some other free marketing and informational downloads. I crafted a press release for the book with one of their templates.

Then I went to and uploaded the cover art. I submitting the inside PDF and covers for their "Search Inside" program, which lets you search inside the book. They have many options and I think that the placement even if it is only on their marketplace part of the site gives legitimacy to the book. (Plus it’s damn fun to see your book on

As for front and back cover art, I designed it myself using Photoshop. I used to be a Graphic Designer and an artist. The cover image is one of my mixed media pieces. It is called “Wire Face.” It was done in 1994 and is a pastel drawing on corrugated cardboard with metal wire.

It was critiqued very favorably last summer by my mentor at the Southampton Writer's Conference. Her name is Bharati Mukherjee, (Fiction Writer Bharati Mukherjee has taught creative writing at Columbia University, New York University and Queens College. She is currently a professor of English at the University of California at Berkeley. The author of several books of fiction, Ms. Mukherjee won the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1988 for The Middleman and Other Stories. ) She liked the book because it is about a Native American who resorts to killing to exact revenge for the prejudice against him and she wrote a book about an Indian woman who becomes a serial killer. She also thought the themes of redemption for America's sins against Native Americans was a very good concept.

The story is about a Native American, driven to madness by his experience growing up in the small upstate New York town of Canyon Park being discriminated, molested and ostracized. In his mind, various characters of his tribe’s mythology and American popular culture vie for his soul. He terrorizes the residents of Canyon Park, murdering those he judges guilty, to punish them for their crimes against him and his ancestors. Strangely, since the killing spree began, there has been a deluge of constant rain adding to the dismal mood and hampering efforts to stop him while the resident also battle nature’s fury. Under these conditions, various characters gather from places as close as the local library, to as far away as New York City, to absolve their sins and stop their beloved town from being eroded away.

The title of my book not only refers to physical erosion under constant rain, but emotional, mental and cultural erosion as well. All the characters are eventually stripped bare in this trying time and face their naked souls, their dark inner parts that they are afraid to see and their true selves. Guilt is also a very singular theme in my story. America’s national guilt over the destruction of the Native American culture is weaved through the motivation of the characters as they struggle with the consequences of acts they committed in the past or the acts of their kin.

This is a first edition published by, a Print on Demand publisher. This book is available for representation.


Tuesday, March 28, 2006

It's Alive!!!!

If anyone has been reading or listening to the geeks lately you might have heard of a concept called the Singularity. This idea is explained, as the time in the future when the exponential increase of technology is so fast we cannot imagine it. In Moore’s Law, the processing speed of computers will double every two years. In the future, Artificial Intelligence, because of this infinite increase in technology, will be starter than humans. Either the collective of computers networked throughout the world (or solar system!) will surpassed the collective human intelligence or AI will be the only way to capture this increase of technological computing power in any meaningful way. Some profess that this is the natural evolution of the universe, from organic to artificial intelligence. Of course we can also rely of biological enhancements to our own intelligence, the seeds of which we see in medical science today.

I heard two podcasts about the singularity. At first I thought it was ridiculous but I guess the concept of the Internet seemed the stuff of fiction fifty years ago. Personally I do not have that sense of impending doom regarding the advance of technology. It does make us somewhat lazy and dependant but it has so much going for it. (Blogging!) I think the major debate here is what is life? Will computers and machinery ever live? Will they question their existence? Will they have wants, needs and desires like us? Will it love? Hate? See even if the computers can process so quickly they can network together an imitate life, the beauty of life (biological, life as we know it) is that each of us, you and me encompass a whole host of emotions, ideas, potential that I think a machine can't have. It can't grow like us. Growing, struggling, surviving despite all odds, that is what makes a being eligible to be considered alive.

Each of us in our journey from birth to death grows and learns so much that we are different from each other as can be. My universe is not your universe even though we live together. Even though we share the same space. Machines cannot live if they merely download the information they've learned from generation to generation. We have to learn it all except the most basic biological functions. In life, we must earn our way. Life is precious. Life is tragic. How concerned can I be with a machine whose whole existence is backed up on a server? You and I are not "backed up." We exist once and then as unfair as it seems, in a brief time we disappear, never to exist again. Never to occupy the same space again. Never to "be" again. That is the essence of life. It only happens once and it is beautiful and fragile. It is not a series of codes that can be copies from memory to memory.

The Singularity Concept, derived from the Singularity in Physics where Gravity is so strong that it verges on infinite strength is promoted mostly by Vernor Vinge and Ray Kurzweil. In Kurzweil’s Law of Accelerating Returns he describes exponential growth much like Moore’s Law but applies it generally to include technology from before the computing circuit.

Some have debated the idea that our technology may surpass us and lead to us becoming less and less necessary in the paradigm. Can machines overtake their maker and become the dominant intelligence force in the universe? Is that progress? If that happens will we be in a better position where the machines will strive for our well-being and general comfort like a direct intervention from G-d? Or will they adopt our power corrupting ideals, enslaving or eliminating us from the equation.

Science Fiction has made much if this concept. The Terminator, The Matrix and 2001:A Space Odyssey have all covered this idea of machine controlling humans for wither what they think is the human’s best interest or finding humans expendable. Others like Blade Runner and A.I. have touched the surface of artificial intelligence and it’s place in our society.

I think we will continue to reach in our fiction to that future time as we come closer to the Event Horizon of the Technological Singularity and try to understand its implications. Can we avoid our own destruction not by War or Disease or Famine but by the very thing we have relied on so much to make life more and more comfortable, accessible and safe, technology.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Who wants to be an early adopter anyway...

Who wants to be an early adopter? Being a late adopter is so much better anyway. When you take a basic marketing course you learn all about how people will adopt a new product or technology. There are those who are early adopters, people who need and want to have the latest thing no matter what stage of development it is in and will pay a high price for it either in cash or in dealing with glitches that come along with being the first to use a certain product. Then, on the other end of the spectrum are the late adopters. Those who have waited to make sure all the little nuances are worked out before they go out and begin using a product or service. It must be safe to use and probably either well ingrained or passé. These are the people who you find surprised and excited at the items they buy in a dollar store, which is usually by then a good sign that a product has run its course.

When you think of geeks and nerds and science fiction aficionados you might think that for the most part they are a group of early adopters when it comes to technology. When digital watches came out the early adopters were the science geeks and nerds in your school or office. Remember those guys who wore big honking black squares on their wrists. The ones that blinded pilots with the time of day as they flew overhead. Yes, they were the early adopters of that technology. Sometimes, like with those digital watches, the fad doesn’t really catch on. It’s just too geeky. Look around you. How many people over the age of twenty wear digital watches nowadays. Unless you happen to work at Brookhaven Lab, probably not many.

Ok, now take cell phones. In the old days--and by old days I mean the 1980s--we called them car phones. That’s because they were so big and had to be hardwired into a car to work. Talking on one was the equivalent to picking up and entire phone booth and sticking that to the side of your head. “Hello? Can you hear me?! Yes. I’m on the car phone.” Eventually they were able to streamline the technology and now we have Star Trek communicator sized phones, flip phones, if you will, or Razor phones. The phones went from carbine steel monstrosities to card sized slivers of plastic that has more computer memory than the original moon lander.

Think about that. They navigated three men millions of miles to the moon and back on less computing power than your cell phone. And I bitch because I can’t fit all my stolen music onto my iPod. I’ve downloaded more illegal music than all the memory it took to navigate all the moon rockets NASA ever sent to space. I carry more power to compute in my pocket than Neil Armstrong had at his disposal in an entire space ship. Talk about an early adopter! See that’s the point. If you are a true early adopter like, say, NASA, you’ll take your chances with slide rules and room sized computers sending a man to the moon. Me, I’m not quite comfortable with international flights, much less interplanetary.
When you watch a science fiction movie, and they’re all running around with their flying cars and laser beam guns you are watching all the late adopters. Everything seems to work as expected. They have the same reliability in hyperspace travel that I have on the Long Island Rail Road, spotty yet effective. When you go into a transporter tube, it sucks you up and you end up exactly where you expect to go. Your gene splicing will transform you into some other level of humanity every time and your robots never complain about needing hydraulic oil changes. That’s because all the kinks have been worked out by the time the writer gets to the story.

What fun would it be if we read a story where the protagonist has to deal with the constant worry that his beta tested laser gun won’t fire at the bad alien? Or that his robot will suddenly get a virus? None. We’d be watching Buck Rogers in his 25th Century version of Jiffy Lube with that little annoying robot he hung out with. Or perhaps Starbuck would be grounded because his Viper needed a new air filter and the right size wasn’t in yet. What fun would it be if Takin order the destruction of Alderan and his computer screen said he need to hit CTRL-ALT-DETE to continue. None, I tell you. That’s why, despite the fact that everyone who reads SciFi thinks they are reading about the early adopters, the pioneers of technology, they are severely incorrect. Severely incorrect. What they are reading about are people just like us, living with, for the most part, reliable technology that just happens to be 500 or 1000 years in the future.

Otherwise it’d be the equivalent of plunking down ten bucks to watch or read a job training manual. You know the one they show at all those jobs that tell you what could go wrong putting you arm in the industrial mixing machine and how to avoid loosing it.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

This Diesel's Got Guns...

The first time I saw Vin Diesel it was in Saving Private Ryan. He came across as a pretty convincing character, cool, New York native and killed in action doing the right thing for a young French girl. He made absolutely no impression on me. Being a secondary character I never gave him another thought until I saw him again in Pitch Black. Since I had no memory of him from Private Ryan (I guess Tom Hank’s star shone too brightly in my eyes or he died too early in the film) I mistakenly think that this is the first film I ever saw him in. It seems that this guy is one of those actors who comes across as too cool and too dumb for his own good. He’s got one thing going for him, he’s from New York where coming across as less intelligent than you really are, is sometimes a very good thing.

He reminds me of young Sly Stallone. A guy who, while preferring a tough guy persona, is probably much more talented than he lets on. Let’s hope Vin doesn’t fall into the same trap of falling so in love with his tough guy image that he forgets that he has some real talent. Vin started off as an independent filmmaker, taking his short film, “Multi-Facial” to Cannes in 1995. Not a small feat that garnered the attention of one Steven Spielberg who had the role of Carpazo created specifically for the young actor. Not a bad start, eh?

Good thing I don’t give advice to actors because it seems tough guy roles are getting this guy lots of attention. He went on from Carpazo to play Riddick in Pitch Black. There he was an ex-con with a special gift for seeing in the dark. (He had a surgeon perform the operation on him while incarcerated on a planet prison where the lights are always out.) I liked this movie. I really liked it. The plot was classic SciFi and the character of Riddick was just bad enough to make him loveable and questionable. Of course you knew he had a heart and really wanted to help those poor people but his agent said he had to keep up it real if he wanted more roles that made him look like the guy everyone looked up to in high school. The one that we knew was cool but also had a soft spot for the little guy but only knew that in this world you had to be tough to survive, especially if you didn’t want anyone screwing your hot sister.

So from Pitch Black we got The Fast And The Furious, Riddick on cool wheels, XXX, Riddick on a mission from the government and then Chronicle of Riddick, Riddick on, well, Riddick. Even tough guys find their lives coming back to a full circle I guess. So Vin Diesel is cool. I know that, you know that, your girlfriend knows it. When I heard that “they” were doing The Chronicles of Riddick I got really excited. I thought, Great! We get to see more about this really cool, loveable but questionable tough guy whose agent thinks he’s a better tough guy than a talent. Sure he breathes his lines like he’s reading them off the side of a tuna can but who cares, he’s cool. And he fights like a some bitch.

Then there is Vin Diesel’s little secret. One that I never knew. How could I? I didn’t think the guy existed before Pitch Black. Vin was the voice of the robot in the Iron Giant! When I found that out I flipped. That is one of my favorite animated films of all time. So cemented in the annuls of science fiction is the new tough guy. Vin Diesel, Riddick, Carpazo and the Iron Giant.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Attack of the (Fan Produced) Clones...

Is there anything that is more ridiculous than fan films?

It certainly is commendable on the part of fans to forsake work, family and community service for an important endeavor that makes no one money or supports none of the family or friends of any of the people involved. Now I’m not against hobbies. I have a few myself, like blogging, but there is a line and fan films cross that line by a few parsecs. I remember my first introduction to fan films. When the Star Wars prequels were coming out there were too many fan films to count posting at all the various fan sites. I was a frequent peruser of those Star Wars sites because I wanted every spoiler I could get my geeky little hands on back then. I wanted to know everything. Almost every one of the spoiler sites had a section for Star Wars Fan Films. For the most part they were terrible, home movie jobs that were done in backyards all over suburbia.

The one thing that most of the better-made fan films had gotten down was the special effects. They are not bad. As long as they can be on par or better than let’s say 1950s B-movie effects then I’m sold. I still think the original Star Trek series shot of the Enterprise orbiting the planet d’jour looks good, minimal yet effective, especially for 1960s technology. I am also not bothered by the camera shaking technique they employed to symbolize a direct hit by a Klingon torpedo. It works for me. Having never been sojourned on a Starship by the Federation who am I to criticize? How do we know that direct hits to the saucer section don’t feel and look like that? Then again, I’m actually impressed with the special effects on the Power Rangers Movies so I’m not a good critic.

OK, I do have a discriminating eye and I can tell cheesy or sub par effects from the top of the line SFX produced by ILM but story can pretty much overcome most bad SFX. I still enjoy many old movies that haven’t had the George Lucas SFX revisionist handle just fine, bad effects and all.

So that’s not the bad part of fan films. I can take the bad SFX and I am just as happy and impressed when they turn out professional. I mean rotoscoping a lightsaber is good enough for me. Since all these films are made by the uber geeks anyway, you have to expect that the SFX at least will be passable at least.

Costuming is another area of these fan films that don’t bother me. Just like with the SFX, the uber geek spends a lot of time fashioning the perfect Federation uniform or Storm Trooper armor baked to perfection in his mother’s oven. I mean if you and I haven’t watched these movies a thousand times and collected all the miniatures and action figures and know every detail of ever second rate commander in the galaxy then what the hell are we even doing here, right? The costuming seems pretty good too. And the backgrounds and sets, though not nearly as good as the costuming, seem satisfactory. These guys are technically good, that’s for sure.

If Special Effects, Costuming and Backgrounds were all that made a movie work then we’d have a damn hard time coming up with Academy Award winner every year. Sometimes I think that’s all today’s movie producers think about. Put in a dash of sex, a pinch of violence and sprinkle with bad language and cheap SFX and you’ve got 75% of the releases in genre movies every year.

But there is something that even separates the schlock of Hollywood from even the best of the fan films by a span equal to the square of the length of the Throg’s Neck Bridge. That something is actually threefold: Acting, Dialogue and Story. Maybe it’s because that these fan films are usually make by geeks-unpaid geeks at that-that they don’t have the time or the talent to think about the three most important elements in filmmaking. Every time I find myself falling into a deep depression about the overall quality of the Star Wars Prequels or the remake of one of my favorite genre books and or video games all I have to do is watch one of these fan films to set my mind straight. Because no matter how terrible or cheap these films are essentially made by professionals.

The acting is the most dismal part of these films. You cannot get me to watch the most beautifully made film with the best cinematography if the SFX are seamless and convincing unless your actors can speak their lines without tripping over themselves or with any genuine feeling whatsoever. Most of the acting in fan films is atrocious. I can watch the worst B-Movie, Made for Television, Lifetime Original or worse yet, SciFi Channel Original and still walk away with a glimmer of respect for the attempt at professionalism the actors came to the set with. This is why even for bit roles the better movies hire real life, SAG card-carrying actors.

I have to digress here to point out a glaring flaw in the Star Wars prequels over the originals. For the most part George Lucas used real actors for even bit roles. In the final battle scenes even guys who appeared long enough to give their signature and then get blown to bits were real actors. In the prequels we had battle scenes that seemed stiff because the guy who invented Photoshop gets a bit screen shot or George Lucas’ daughter needs to be on screen telling Baby Anakin that his podracer won’t run. So even in Hollywood the producers like to stick their friends on screen as a treat. Of course it’s been said that George Lucas is the biggest independent filmmaker in Hollywood history and it sorta shows.

Anyway, the reason directors hire real professional actors is that they have training. They’ve been on a few sets. They can deliver a line without heaving it out there like a big fart. Some of these fan films give a new definition for the word cardboard acting. They are just bad. It’s not their fault they aren’t actors. They’re programmers and networkers and graphic designers with a dream, a hobby and a little time on their hands. They are not actors. This is why when you go to get your car tuned up you don’t ask the green grocer to do it. He’s not a professional mechanic. You go to someone with some training. You might have to pay a little money but it’s worth it. Ever got a haircut from someone’s Mom who sat you in her kitchen chair and wrapped a towel around you and then proceeded to give you the infamous “bowl cut?” We’ve all been there. Bad haircuts and bad acting are two pitiful signs that a person is trying to be someone they are not. Go spend a few Yen at the Lemon Tree on a haircut. Sure the Lemon Tree is not known for its high fashion styling but even if the haircut is not great it’s at least someone who was licensed taking a scissor to your head. Same thing with fan films. If it’s free you might want to avoid it, or you’ll be pining for those hours of time back at the end of your life.

When you hear bad dialogue you know it. You can’t avoid the stiff sound, the lack of emotion, the fakeness. Spoken conversations are a key element to success in writing. If you can write believable dialogue then you’ve won half the battle. If you are a really good actor you can make almost anything sound good with the right spin. That’s the actor’s job. One of the best characters in both the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Star Wars prequels was Christopher Lee. That’s because after all those years playing in B Horror movies he’s used to spouting bad dialogue. He’s a genius at it. Bad dialogue said by bad actors sounds doubly worse because they don’t have the time or inclination to practice.

Story is the essential element in every movie. It is the story that gets a movie made in the first place. Without it you have a bunch of good-looking people standing around with cool gadgets but no idea what to do. I have found that most of the fan films tend to deviate from the cannon of the movie they are trying to emulate into geek fantasyland. It’s the story they would make if they finally had the chance to write and direct an episode of Star Trek. For the most part they have the concepts right but they tend to stick a little too much into the mix. It’s useful to have a good editor around not just to match up scenes but also to cut scenes when they don’t work or add to the progression of the storyline. The fan films try to include everything they shoot (understandable since they have little free time to re-shoot scenes or film anything that may not be used). It’s just that we don’t need that side trip to revisit a long lost bit character in one of the episode just to show how geeky we really are that not only do we remember he character but we can fit him into a logical place in the plot of this universe. It’s those complexities that confuse the casual fan and bore those who don’t to dig so deep into the layering of the storyline.

I have a friend who fosters disk after disk of fan films on me. I try to watch them, I really do. Every time I hear someone rave about another fan produced film I get excited, like this will be the one that blows me away and makes me claim that the days of big budget movies are over. So far, I am not impressed.

Of Heroes & Superheroes Update...

I think that DC heroes can transfer better into films if they follow the Marvel Model. They need to allow the films to deviate from the comics cannon just enough to make it work. Batman Begins worked for many people (not me) because of that. See, if X-Men were running around in their colored tights like the comics characters and not cool, sexy leather suits then it would not have worked. Superman the Movie I & II (again III & IV were disasters!) worked because of the Special Effects and irreverent storyline and dialogue. I agree with the comments in my post in that Superman is great because everyone else's alter ego is a Superhero and Superman's alter ego is one of us. That misplaced god type figure wanting to be mortal is a great story!! I hope this new version touches on that.

My gripe about all movies adapted from comics and television is that they are not epic enough. They can't be just another version on the same old episode or comic strip. It has to be worth me getting a babysitter, plunking down $50 bucks in food and tickets, making a special trip out of the house and still sitting through commercials (that's a whole other post in itself). I don't want to see just another episode of Star Trek or $2.00 comic book storyline. I want the characters to change, to grow. Even if it doesn't reverberate with the ongoing series or monthly title I want something more than the 2-dimensional image on screen.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Gotham City Under Siege

I live a stone’s throw from New York City, alternately referred to as The City, Gotham, The Big Apple, The Melting Pot, The Capital of the World, and Metropolis. It is also considered the publishing capital of the world, which is perhaps why many writers make it the object of destruction for supernatural and alien invaders because all of our rejection letters seem to have return addresses from New York City. Of course most of that destruction occurs on film and although the famous Hollywood sign has borne the brunt of many said invasions I don’t think people get the same satisfaction watching nine wooden letters shattering to bits as they do from seeing the Empire State Building being reduced to a pile of smoldering steel and dust. When I speak of New York, as a resident of this metropolitan area, I am particularly speaking of Manhattan. Even the word Manhattan suggests the famous skyline with its letters reaching up in Gothic spires and serifs. There in the adopted Indian name we Americans have our very own Rome, our center of commerce, gateway to freedom and democracy, city of every culture, denomination, and social bend. Most of America is plain, white bread, Christian. Manhattan is the bazaar of the ancient world transplanted to modern times. I admit this grand lady has broken my own heart many times and I’ve once or twice savored the moments of its destruction in say the miles-wide saucers in Independence Day or the demonic, marshmallow sailor from Ghostbusters.

But why, I wonder, do we love the sight of steel superstructures crumbling under the power of a laser beam or a giant gorilla? What is it about turning the city into a frozen tundra that warms our hearts? Do we all secretly hate Manhattan? Are we afraid of what it has become, a modern day Sodom or Ghamorra? It’s a little more superficial than that, not so rooted in our collective morality or religious mythology. The fact is that New York City is the center of the modern world in many, many ways. Think of it. Art, Fashion, Commerce, Publishing, Finance, Bagels! All of them are better and bigger in New York. Imagine if in one fell swoop, all of that went away. Talk about putting all your eggs in one basket. I mean, a robot with giant metal feel can put an end to it all. The lights on Broadway can be put out by one treacherous electrical storm.

Remember Stephen King’s great novel The Stand? A virus wiped out everyone in America except for a chosen few within hours. People died in their cars trying to escape the city. In one scene a couple of survivors have to climb over and around the stalled cars lining the streets and tunnels to escape Manhattan island. King captured that feeling of utter despair by using the destruction of Manhattan to exemplify the quandary of how to escape the city from the inside when all services, everything imaginable, just goes dead. The entire wealth of the city is at their disposal and all they can think to do is escape. The smell of rotting bodies, decomposing foodstuff and stagnant water in the heat all posed both a sensory and a very real medical threat to the characters. They were trapped in a floating citadel of death. The closeness of the people and places, once a comfort, becomes the most frightening thing about it.

Also think to the classic Escape From New York. The city itself becomes so degraded that the government decides to just wall it in and let the criminals fend for themselves. It’s Road Warrior on the streets of New York. A dismal apocalyptic future where, of course, New York City represents the lowest of moral and social squalor. Some here in the states and abroad think that this might be a good solution. Especially in the late seventies and early eighties when crime in the city was high and the flight of the middle class left this borough almost literally smoldering.

The city has risen up from that lowly state of disgrace. I love those corny images of a new shiny city, like a phoenix, rising from the dirt and spray paint of New York City. See Manhattan as you know is a much safer place than it used to be when tourists were killed in the subways for their sneakers or teenagers were gunned down by vigilantes sick of it all. That is the dystopian version of Manhattan. In the last decade or two Manhattan has reclaimed its crown all shiny and new.

So, new threats come from the sky to try to take her down. In Independence Day, King Kong, The Day After Tomorrow, X-Men, all the threats seem to be bent on destroying what we have built up. If you want to show force, really get to a country at its heart you don’t go to some backwater and kill a few cows. You go to center stage and put on some fireworks. You shake the society at its foundations and try to interrupt its social and financial hub. New York City is that place. It can be said to be the first modern city, the city of the Twentieth Century. There is history and art, there are people of great import in residence on any given day, and there is symbolism that pervades through every gothic ornament, every cobbled street and every broken down warehouse, even in the small, dark, corners of the city has history. If you can destroy that, you can stab the heart of the world.

The Big Apple is a character in itself. When you speak about the setting as a character in  a story, you just can’t avoid it with Manhattan. The island is many characters, a virtual Sybil of split personalities and you never know just which face she will show. That is why it is so powerful when you see it scarred and smoking on film. Those who know her, love her. Those who don’t want to know her. And those who dislike her have a grudging respect. To everyone, she represents something and it always horribly uncomfortable to watch someone we know suffer disgrace. And despite the fact that she is harsh and cruel sometimes she is also undiscriminating. There are folks who have visited once and feel her aura, they know that they are home. From the moment they step onto the asphalt, embraced by the kinetic energy of hustle and bustle, they are New Yorkers.

Of course, Toronto is usually a filmatic stand in for Manhattan because it has similar looking locales and is cheaper to film in. At least when they are destroying New York I can take solace in the fact that it is the wannabe northern neighbor they are trampling and not the real thing.

In many ways the attacks on the World Trade Center met and exceeded every dramatic depiction of destruction we have ever produced. Frighteningly, we now know exactly how those buildings of steel and stone explode from every angle. No special effects technician could have imagined a death more horrible for the Towers. What was left was nothing more than two giant smoldering holes and a red glow, as if they were swallowed by Hell itself. We also know how the masses will react. How the world will react. Watching the real video of the attacks on that day I felt both too close and too removed from what was happening. Too close because it was my city that was falling and too removed because of the eerie feeling of familiarity, that I had seen this many times before. The billowing thick smoke was the Blob of the old fifties film and the people were running and screaming exactly as they did in that black and white classic film. Or it was War Of The Worlds and the invaders had just touched down and with gigantic guns had blown to bits our most sacred structures. We were awe struck at the power. Where could the people run to when nowhere was safe? Or perhaps it was Dawn of the Dead and those smoke and dust encased people, wandering the streets of the city, were the undead, bewildered, transported from one plane of existence to another, climbing from the hell hole to wander the alleys of New York forever. What could have been more scary than, after the smoke settled, those emergency sirens from the Firemen’s suits, constantly whistling, warning of the lives slipping away just below the surface of rubble.

The movies of ultimate destruction of this gothic citadel prepared me for the visuals but not the emotion. The sense of utter sadness and uselessness was missing from those films. It’s easy to use special effects to place a spaceship into the skyline of Manhattan. They did it in the eighties with the miniseries event V. That we can do. It’s easy to use rotoscoped laser beams to destroy little models of the Empire State Building or the flood a pool with a scale figurine of the Statue of Liberty. But it’s hard to capture that real sense of vulnerability that comes with watching a monolith or two that were never meant to crumble come falling down, reduced to dust. In the movies we vaporize people and things all the time, usually more and much bigger. But in reality, to watch these structures literally disappear before my eyes was a scale of enormity I never believed I’d witness in my life.

I remember very soon after the Nine-Eleven attacks on New York when people were discussing these things. I remember that everyone was rightfully, hypersensitive to violence and destruction. Now the memories and emotions have faded just a little. And although many people like myself thing in terms of the world before Nine-Eleven and after Nine-Eleven much the same way I imagine my grandparents thing of life before Pearl Harbor and after Pearl Harbor or my parent think of life before Kennedy was assassinated and after Kennedy was assassinated or even my Great-Great Grandparents might thing of life before the Civil War between the American States and after the Civil War between the American States, I long for the next image of dramatic representation that depicts New York City crumpling. I believe that the next time I watch the city destroyed on the big screen, I will know what is exactly at stake.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Of Heroes and Superheroes

Something about the Marvel Comics characters irk me. Growing up reading comic books, Marvel heroes always seemed to be just a little shadier than the DC heroes. They were too human with their problems and their real world locales. What I loved about the DC characters is that they are god-like, put on this earth to protect us regular people from forces we could not possibly fight against.

Superman is still one of my favorites, despite those awful wretched films that they adapted from the comic book character called Superman III and IV. My goodness could they have screwed those films up more than they did? They are bad beyond belief. Superman I and II were great, if dated. The grittiness and cheesiness of the Seventies and early Eighties comes through both films but if you grew up watching them you must have a special place in your heart for them. Batman suffered the same fate. While the first two movies were passable, the next two just fell off the cliff. What happened there? Tim Burton set the bar too high is what happened. No one could decipher the genius of his Goth-art. (Big Tim Burton fan here!)

Except for that mess of a film, the snore fest Hulk movie, Marvel comics have translated to the big screen relatively well. Spiderman and X-Men have made good showings with the first two films. I hope they can keep up the pace because so far they’ve been almost flawless. I actually found the first Spiderman uneven but after watching the sequel I forgave the first film of its faults. Fantastic Four and Daredevil were both very sub-par and as I mentioned, Hulk was a train wreck played in super-duper slo-mo.

With the resurgence (or dare I say renaissance) of Superhero movies, I hope for the best with the new Superman and Wonder Woman flicks. I have my doubts. The casting of Superman seems all wrong and Wonder Woman, if done even slightly wrong will be a mess-unless the rumors are true and Joss Wheaton does it. Did I forget to mention a DC adaptation that disappointed tragically, Batman Begins? Great Scott what were they thinking? Yeah, yeah, I know. Everyone loved the film because it got to the roots of his psychology and training in a believable way but I thought it was atrocious for those reasons. I want the man to be a mystery. A brooding, billionaire, up in his castle, much like Citizen Kane but with cool toys. What made the Tim Burton Batman work was the small glimpse into his motivation. That was enough. I don’t need a psychological work up. I just need to know that a happy childhood was torn asunder and a poor little rich kid was left without a Mommy and Daddy. Scene set. Bring on the gadgets while we watch this guy spend his resources chasing ghosts down the perverted dark alleys of Gotham City. Why do I need to have Qui-Gon Jinn gone bad? Why do I need some complex political organization and a side plot that barely ties into the main story while wasting a brilliant, dark character like the Scarecrow? Terrible stuff that Batman Begins. It should have been Batman: The only crazy running around in tights while his former mentor laughs his ass off at him. That’s what it should have been called. I waited two freakin’ hours for the Scarecrow and it was unsatisfying to say the least.

People just don’t know that the DC formula does work. Why do you think they are icons of American pop culture much more than Marvel Characters? Because they are seemingly simplistic characters who hide complex backgrounds that are only seen in glimpses. Not complex characters with complex lives just like you and me. Superman is a god trying to fit in to the human world and failing miserably as Clark Kent. He has to be a god. It is his destiny. Despite his troubles and his loss and the fact that he is a man, literally without a world. Notice how when they talk about Superman and Earth they say that he adopted us? That’s because if he didn’t love humanity so much he would have flown off anywhere else in the universe and settled there. He didn’t. He stuck around because he has a purpose here.

All the DC characters seem to be chiseled out of stone. They walk their worlds doing what they are driven to do inside but a force that is as mysterious and magical as their powers. They are noble, honorable and just. It may be a dated ideal but I think that in this world, with all the gray areas and our own government even more distrustful than ever before in history, we need to look to the uncomplicated ideal for inspiration. I don’t think of the real world as black and white and I definitely don’t think that every piece of fiction should be as uncomplicated as a DC comic book but in those pages, I like to see great beings struggle with the evils of this world.

Spiderman contrasts Superman. He is a geeky, nerdy, awkward teen pretending to be a hero. He has gifts but he rejects them. He seems on edge and lets personal issues get in the way. That’s just not my definition of a Superhero. A hero? Maybe. We can all be heroes just by doing what we do everyday with the gifts that G-d gave us. But that’s not a Superhero.

I thoroughly enjoy the Marvel characters. They are engaging, fully flesh-out real world characters that could be found just as easily in a good genre novel as well as a comic. I just prefer superheroes whom are bigger than myself, have more money which grants them greater access to cool, wonderful toys and come from far distant places only imagined in myth. Those are the superheroes I want to save the day when the world is in peril once again.