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Saturday, July 30, 2005

Guide To World Culture

I mentioned in my post entitled "SIGGRAPH Next Week!" that everybody in Japan flies around with jet-packs, each with their own personal Giant Robot servant controlled via 2-way wrist radio. It turns out that I was not entirely correct. I was set straight by the following response sent by an offended Japanese person:
Dear Mr. Romanek,

I took offense at your sweeping generalization of Japanese people in your post called "SIGGRAPH Next Week!". Not all of us are technology whizzes. In fact, some of us can barely use a matchbook correctly. And not all of us are smart and live in comfortable, supermodern apartments, taking three baths a day. Some of us live in ditches and are very stupid. I, for example, collect filth for money and have bathed only one time.

You should do some research before you start painting a 1500 year old culture with such broad strokes.



So I did some research - on the Internet and using television programs and spending time sitting trying to remember what I figured I must already know, as well as employing good old common sense. I want to educate people, not further the prejudices that already exist amongst us. I am blessed with so many resources, living as I do in a large American metropolis, I have no excuse for not getting the facts straight and passing them on to all who would here them. My research has blossomed into the following:


(couldn't decide whether to say "WORLD CULTURE" or "WORLD CULTURES". "CULTURES" sounds a lot more educated, but also reminds me of yeast and bacteria)

AFRICANS - They live either in the jungle or in big tent cities. Eat the hands of mountain gorillas. Dying of AIDS because of a lack of moral fiber. Colorful head gear.

AMERICANS- Residents of the continental USA. Devotion to freedom and rights of the individual allows them to vote for either a republican or a democrat every leap year. Pizza deliverable to every home. World's best health care system. Internationally renowned for their kindness and generosity and their empathy for the plight of oppressed nations. Often hated because of their goodness.

AUSTRALIAN ABORIGINALS - Wear cowboy hats. Admire white Australians and help them out whenever possible. Can turn into animals at will. Religion involves "Dreamworks".

BRITISH - Easily pushed around. Love Americans. Would never have had a Global Empire in the 19th century if it weren't for America. Have stiff upper lips. 85% of men homosexual.

CANADIANS - Irritating little bastards with great social services, brilliant comedians and a low crime rate.

CHECHNYANS - Doubtful that a country called "Chechnya" actually exists.

CHINESE - No blue jeans. Lousy cigarettes. Can't turn around for Chinese. Slightly irritated at responsibility of having to rule the world in the 21st century.

EGYPTIANS - Big mustaches. Big gray suits in 100 degree heat. Hats made out of pure gold.

FRENCH - Enjoy coffee, art, sex, language, film, and fine food. Naturally, they are to be hated and despised.

HAITIANS - Refuse to behave sensibly. 12% of population zombies. Can turn into animals at will.

INDIANS - Amusing accent. Geniuses with thin bones and big feet. It's OK if they have nukes because they have a cool Elephant God. Embroiled in long-standing trade dispute with Pakistan over materials used to make fluffy sweaters.

IRAQIS - Best not go there.

IRANIANS - Big beards. Have outlawed color. Evil Arabs.

IRISH - Kind of like Bostoners who have moved to Arkansas and acquired a crazy accent.

ISRAELIS - All secretly working for Mossad. Fly around in F-15's and Apaches. Know what Krav Maga is. Resent proximity to Iran, Iraq and Ireland in alphabetical lists.

KOREANS - The Mexicans of Asia. Have a north and a south.

KURDS - Like Turks but with no money.

NATIVE AMERICANS - Alcoholic, but very, very wise. Can turn into animals at will. Lots of blue flannel shirts.

PAKISTANIS - Indistinguishable from Indians. Not OK if they have nukes because they worship a strange and mysterious monotheistic deity that hates Americans. Embroiled in long-standing trade dispute with India over materials used to make fluffy sweaters.

RUSSIANS - Gangsters. Stunningly beautiful women with bad teeth. Like to weep while singing loudly. Have produced very few great jugglers.

SAUDIS - Still dress like the characters in "Lawrence Of Arabia". People live either in large hotels or in tents. Almost as many F-15's as Israel. Unlike the extremist countries, they understand that the USA is only trying to help.

SOUTH AFRICANS - Primarily white people with upsetting accents. Some not-white people there also. Great sharks!

SPANISH - Don't eat as many burritos as Mexicans. Fight bulls.

SWEDES - Both males and females are 6'+ tall. Elimination of war, poverty and violent crime has driven them to alcoholism and sex addiction.

TAIWANESE - Blue jeans. Really good cigarettes. All women look like Faye Wong, all men look like Tony Leung or Michael Caine.

TURKS - Like Kurds, but with money.

UZBEKISTANIS - It's true that there is a country called Uzbekistan, but it seems unlikely that people actually live there.

And so, in conclusion, I hope this has cleared up questions you may have had about world cultures. If you have any further questions about world cultures and what they are for, refer to your local television stations. If you don't live in a country that has television stations, just ask around. People will be happy to set you straight.

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Friday, July 29, 2005


When Brian Fies mother was diagnosed with cancer, he decided to make a comic strip about it. Why? Because cancer is hilarious...Oh, no, wait. That wasn't it. I think it was more his understanding that art, no matter the medium, can address, illuminate and transcend every experience a human being can have. It's a lack of heart and devotion that limit one's ability to express a subject, not the chosen medium.

Brian's comic "Mom's Cancer" won the Will Eisner Award at this past month's Comic-Con 2005 for "Best Digital (Internet) Comic". Unfortunately, the comic is no longer available online at www.momscancer.com, because the series is due to be published in early 2006. But Brian's sister, Elisabeth Fies, a screenwriter living in Los Angeles, continues to post in her blog, "Kid Sister In Hollywood", daily updates on her life in L.A. and her mother's progress, and Mom Fies story can also be followed at www.momsrecovery.com.

I have an aunt in Orlando, Florida currently in the mid-rounds of a "Rumble In The Jungle" with cancer and its treatment after-effects, so I find Brian Fies fine work particularly affecting.

By the way, the "Rumble In The Jungle", for those who don't know, was Muhammed Ali's 1974 comeback fight in Kinshasa, Zaire against George Foreman, in which, contrary to all expectations, Ali kicked the presumptuous usurper's butt.

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Thursday, July 28, 2005

What I Do Not Want

The Experts say that you should focus on what you want, not on what you don't want. But...oh, it's so deliciously enjoyable to focus on the things you don't want. Isn't it?

But I mustn't. No. I must not. I must focus on the positive. The positive. Yes. The positive...positive...

...so here is a List Of 10 Things I Positively Do Not Want.

I do not want...

1.) ...to live in Los Angeles for the rest of my life.
2.) ...to acquire a rapidly spreading rash.
3.) ...to live to be 120 years old.
4.) ...to be 40 and still filling out a timecard.
5.) ...to be struck in the back of the neck with a very heavy, very sharp object.
6.) ...to be eaten at a leisurely pace by Great White Sharks.
7.) ...to have to explain myself to the judge.
8.) ...to come out of a blackout somewhere on the 5 freeway at 3am.
9.) ...to be gutshot.
10.) ...to love my enemies.

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Wednesday, July 27, 2005


SIGGRAPH stands for "Special Interest Group for Gigantic Rooms of Advertisers Pitilessly Harrassing", if I'm not mistaken.

SIGGRAPH is the best and largest digital technology trade show - particularly with regard to the creative fields and, you know, graphics and stuff - on the entire planet Earth. Perhaps the best and largest in the whole Solar System. There's no way of knowing for sure yet. But I believe that in our lifetime, some young genius at SIGGRAPH will present an elegant device which will actually allow us to determine if SIGGRAPH is the best and largest digital technology trade show in the Solar System and will do so in a really engaging, user-friendly and cross-platform compatible format that you can use at home (four D type batteries not included).

If you have never attended SIGGRAPH, you cannot imagine the overwhelming bounty of software, hardware and otherware on display. At past SIGGRAPH shows I have seen thrilling presentations of Internet, filmmaking, and computer gaming innovations, which have yet to appear out here in the real world. Maybe they have them in Japan (I have this unshakeable fantasy that in Japan they are all flying around with jet packs summoning their personal Giant Robots on their two-way wrist radios, while we here in America are not yet over the excitement of color television).

So I intend to be at SIGGRAPH next week.

Then again, I intended to give my screenplay to my manager today and that didn't quite work out. After a long discussion about some story points, I'm going to do a little more work, then send him the finished piece on Friday. So who knows if I'll be at SIGGRAPH on Sunday and Monday.

Or I could telling just one more terrible, terrible lie.

But if I am, you will read about it here.




SIGGRAPH Electronic Theater

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Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Tony Blair

Some nutter sent us this photo of Prime Minister Tony Blair.

What do you think?

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Final Battle

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Monday, July 25, 2005

"Fortune and the Devil" - The End?

I am in the last hours of "Fortune and the Devil". I've been working on this screenplay for a long time now. A long , long time. Much too long to work on any one feature film script. But it has been a real labor of love and at one or two stages in the writing I could honestly say to myself that the script was almost everything I hoped it might be--which is a rare thing to be able to say.

The original length of "Fortune and the Devil" was tremendous - literally tremendous, a word which at its original Latin roots means "to cause to tremble". Not satisfied with my first long, long, long draft (if you beg me, I may post the page count for you), I made it even longer and coaxed a mini-series out of it - or alternatively the introductory episodes of a cable romantic adventure series for adults and big kids.

My job in this last week is plain and straightforward and practical and far away from the misty visions I had early on of Sergio Leone-meets David Lean-meets "Excalibur". It's the other side of the coin, turning my dream into something that can survive in the real world of Hollywood. I had hacked and slashed the script to less than 120pp - a miracle for me on any project - and turned my massive adventure tale / doomed-love story with a dozen fascinating and complex characters into a lean, mean medieval action movie. I, of course, prefer my "Epic x 3" romantic adventure. But now that I've finished it and had time to reflect, this Hollywood draft is nothing to sneeze at. Quite damn good, even if I say so myself. And I don't often say so myself.

Today and tomorrow, I finish final tweaks for my manager. We had a story conference a couple weeks back and he, to my chagrin, had some good ideas that I - yes, even I - hadn't had. And I'm incorporating a few of them. Okay, probably most of them.

So on Wednesday then, the manager gets the final version of "Fortune and the Devil", and then...sigh...I will be ALL FINISHED.

Oh, wait...no, that's not right. Almost forgot that this is screenwriting, so on Wednesday then, the manager gets the final version of "Fortune and the Devil", and then...I'll be getting started.


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Saturday, July 23, 2005

10 Films About Scientists

Inspired by the discussion "Weird Science..." taking place over at The Screenwriting Life, I have compiled a list of...


(I've also indicated whether the main character is practicing pure science or applied science)

1.) Altered States (1980) (pure science)
2.) A Beautiful Mind (2001) (pure science)
3.) Contact (1997) (pure science)
4.) Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1913, et al.) (applied science)
5.) Frankenstein (1931, et al.) / Bride of Frankenstein (1935) (applied science)
6.) Jurassic Park (1993) (pure science, main character; applied science, supporting character)
7.) Madame Curie (1943) (pure science)
8.) The Nutty Professor (1963, et al.) (applied science)
9.) The Race For The Double Helix (aka Life Story) (1987) (pure science)
10.) The Story Of Louis Pasteur (1935) (applied science)

I wondered whether or not to put "A Beautiful Mind" on the list, since the character is a mathematician and not specifically a scientist, but I did some research and was reassured that mathematics is, in fact, one of the purest forms of PURE science (correcting the original post where I had mistakenly written "applied science"). If I had kept "A Beautiful Mind" out of it, you would have probably gotten in its stead "Honey, I Shrunk The Kids" (1989).

As a side note, some of the user comments for "Madame Curie" at the Internet Movie Database are quite good and would be helpful for those trying to find out exactly what makes a scientist movie entertaining.

Those with a science background will certainly have better informed opinions than most and I welcome these. I still am not entirely clear on the difference between pure and applied science (though, as I understand it, scientists prefer to practice pure science, while corporations and government prefer scientists to practice applied science). For example, saying that Ellie in "Contact" is practicing pure science in her searching the skies for intelligent life doesn't feel quite right to me...Is there anybody out there with a viewpoint on that?...Or am I all alone in the universe?...


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Friday, July 22, 2005

Comic-Con 2005 - Marshall Vandruff

Of the three years I have been to Comic-Con, this was the first year I made an effort to aggressively attend the show's craft and information panels, for to educate my self, and I was not disappointed. I jotted notes throughout, flashing back to School Days, and have now a substantial reservoir of good information on a variety of subjects that I mean to return to again and again and again until the pages are yellowed from my sweat-soaked hands and the ink there blurred from my tears of frustration and despair. Yes, as entertaining as the star-driven, blockbuster preview panels are, I will concentrate on attending these smaller fact-filled discussions at future conventions and conferences whether they be Comic-Con or else other ones that are not Comic-Con.

On last Saturday afternoon, illustrator Marshall Vandruff's promo chat of his new published sketchbook, "Forsaking The Bakery", turned out to be a full-on seminar, based on Marshall's personal experience, of how and why to keep a sketchbook, with practical examples of how his work evolved through using his own sketchbook. You hear over and over again that if you want to improve your drawing you must practice, practice, practice--but it's good to get tips, based on another artist's experience, on exactly what to practice, and how. Marshall Vandruff teaches in the Southern California area and I intend to seek out his workshops. At the beginning of August he will be conducting an "Animal Drawing Crash Course" that I badly need. Marshall's sketchbook presentation show-cased his skill as an artist, but also revealed him to be a superior teacher.

And so, in conclusion, I would like to restate that I enjoyed Comic-Con 2005 a log...I meant to write "a lot" there, but I feel that "a log" describes how much I enjoyed Comic-Con 2005 even better. So yes, yes, I enjoyed Comic-Con 2005 a log. And, I suspect, if you yourself attend the Con next year, you too may find that you too enjoy it a log. Perhaps even quite a log. Perhaps a whole great big log.


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Thursday, July 21, 2005

Comic-Con 2005 - Ralph Bakshi / Fire and Ice (1983)

Almost famous I felt, seeing so many people I knew at last weekend's Comic-Con panels. I went straight from the sneak preview of Rob Zombie's "The Devil's Rejects", which stars my friend Bill, to a panel next door featuring Ralph Bakshi--my old "Cool World" boss (I was one of the movie's many assistant editors).

Ralph had come to promote the August 30 DVD release of his fantasy adventure collaboration with Frank Frazetta, "Fire and Ice". The film had been in need of restoration and Bill Lustig of Blue Underground approached Bakshi with the idea of a rehaul and release. "Fire and Ice" has been digitally restored, removing imperfections which were in the original cels when the film was shot. A sample of the film, showing the original vs. restored footage, was presented. Truthfully, I found it difficult to see any difference between the two, in the example screen, and I have a pretty finicky eye for that kind of thing.

I have never seen "Fire and Ice", but I'm anticipating its release. Since I was a wee barbarian man-child, I have loved both Bakshi's and Frank Frazetta's work, so how could I not be blown away by the collaboration Ralph described as being like an animated "Frank Frazetta comic"? But truth to tell, I am a little afraid. What if the film is terrible? I will be crushed. I just don't know if I have the strength to stand up to that kind of discouragement. I'll let you know. Based on the clip shown, it really does look right up my alley--sword fighting aplenty and brutish creatures carrying off haughty princesses.
The high point of the panel was Ralph's sneak preview of his current feature project. He had brought a DVD of some animation tests which, he said, he hadn't planned to show. It was hard to know if he was genuinely reluctant to show the work-in-progress, or if he was exercising some first-rate showmanship. After ten minutes of his hemming and hawing, we in the audience were literally begging to see it. The new project is called "The Last Days of Coney Island" and is a return to Ralph's "mean streets" style of animation, ("Coonskin", "Heavy Traffic"). Use of computers will allow Ralph to substantially lower his budgets for compositing and coloring, enabling him to spend more money on the the animation itself.

Though digital animation allows Ralph, essentially a low-budget filmmaker, to do work that twenty years ago would have been out of reach, he has a healthy fear of the luxuries computers afford. "Don't love the computer too much," he cautioned us, "You need the X Factor." When an artist creates with his own hands accidents happen--or perhaps it's the unconscious going to work--and things come about that could never be planned, never executed intentionally. He also pointed out that studio executives like being able to eliminate expensive artists. If a computer can approximate what 30 humans can do, the suited gang that worships the Bottom Line will always choose the computer. Ultimately, Ralph suggested, "They want to get rid of all of us and have the computer do everything."

"The Last Days Of Coney Island" looks to be a complex story, for adults, that depicts emotions adults understand--disenchantment, longing, nostalgia, regret. The film will be animated in L.A., so all of you Cal Arts students, get your portfolios ready.

Alas, I didn't get to say my "hello" to Ralph, though it seems unlikely he would have remembered me after a decade-plus. He was accosted by a guy from the Neighborhood (Brooklyn, that would be), someone he apparently hadn't seen in decades and off they went together to discuss..what?...Their days at Coney Island perhaps.

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Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Comic-Con 2005 - Merchandising Webcomics

"1:30-3:00, Comic-Con WebComics School 103: Making Money -- You may be widely read and much adored, but when will your webcomic start paying the bills? Bill Barnes (Unshelved) leads fellow web cartoonists Scott Kurtz (PvP), Steve Troop (Melonpool), David Willis (It's Walky!), Raina Telgemeier (Smile), and Andy Bell (The Creatures In My Head) in a discussion of how they have succeeded--and failed--to make money from their webcomics. Room 4"
...Thus read the Comic-Con events calendar listing for a panel I attended on Sunday, July 17. Before this panel I would have told you, if asked to define it, that merchandising is...it's...well...I just don't know what. Now I can say confidentally that merchandising is turning what you DO into something you can SELL.

A late addition to the panel was a representative of the business side of Penny Arcade Comics, Robert Khoo. Not an artist, he was invaluable in grounding the discussion in the realities of the businessworld. Even with some experience under my belt, I still want to make money from my creative work without having to observe the laws of economics. It's like wanting people to love you but not wanting to talk to them, or even be nice to them--also an affliction I have not fully shaken. Of course, "make money" does not equal "get rich". If you want to get rich, you're an idiot for becoming an artist (my own belief and not presented in the panel). Anyway, I have the distilled the panel discussion into its bare bones below.

In launching your merchandising empire, start first with paper products. They're the cheapest to make, and people always want hard copies of your work. Even though they might be able to access your Web work day or night, fans still like something they can take home to have and to hold and to smell. Scott Kurtz told how he had printed small copies of his work on high-quality card stock, then signed and numbered them and sold them at conventions individually, or offered them as free bonuses if readers also bought a comic. "Readers love deals," he said. He also urged, "Save everything you draw. Everything. Everything you draw can be repurposed for merchandise." The large number of artists' sketchbooks for sale at Comic-Con attests to the soundness of the advice.

Some great general advice for any artist, but certainly a fine base to build on from a merchandising perspective, was to be dependable. The proverbial flakey artist is an unknown and unsuccessful artist. Keep a schedule and stick to it. If you're releasing your material every Monday at 9am, make sure you stick to that deadline, come hell or high water. In doing so, you will begin to earn the trust of your fans. Without an audience, the artist is only half-complete. You owe your fans everything.

Simplicity seems to again and again rise to the top as the best policy. "Charge one dollar, not 75 cents," it was said. People can easily pull a dollar out of their pocket, can less easily pull out two quarters, two dimes, and a nickel. Present yourself professionally. If you operate like a professional, people will treat you--and pay you, one hopes-- like a professional. Ask for help. Call and email other artists to pick their brains and learn from their successes and failures.


There was discussion about whether it was a better bet to create merchandise using print-on-demand services like CafePress.com or by printing in bulk. One panelist gave an example of being able to print a run of 600 t-shirts for $4 each at a local printer, then he sold the shirts for around $10 each. Another simple way to keep your costs down is to limit the number of colors you print. Stick to 4 colors or less.

A downside to printing in bulk is manhandling inventory. Several panelists shared tales of woe about homes full of boxes of unsold inventory and having to transport these boxes to and from shows and conventions. Some of the panelists had sworn off CafePress because they felt there was too little profit for the artist, while others were very happy with CafePress as a means to evade this problem of inventory buildup, since CafePress prints material only when it is ordered, then ships it directly to the customer.

Print your merchandise locally, it was urged. You can meet face-to-face the person who will be printing it, and can personally oversee the process yourself and be available to address problems or questions. Andy Bell sited his experience putting his stuff in local mom & pop stores. Local specialty shops are a great means to get your shirts, dolls, etc. out into the marketplace and is surprisingly easy to manage with a little bit of footwork.

In printing shirts, one of the unexpectedly difficult, but essential, questions is how many to print of each size. These off-the-cuff calculations--based, I believe, on Penny Arcade sales made at Comic-Con--were presented as a starting point:

5% - Baby Doll
10% - Small
25% - Medium
30% - Large
20% - XLarge
5% - XXLarge
2.5% - XXXLarge


Nearly everybody on the panel emphasized an education in business as essential.
Learn about taxes. Over and over panel members emphasized the necessity of keeping track of your tax situation, paying taxes in a timely manner, keeping good records. Taking a business class also seems essential. Again, it is foolishness to expect to be paid for you work without knowing how and why it happens.

One panel member originally opted for sponsorship on his site. He charged a flat rate for one month, with a new sponsor each month. He then moved to CPM (cost per 1000) based advertising, where advertisers pay in proportion to the traffic on your site. This can be $2 - $10 "per click" depending on the volume of the traffic. On a cautionary not however, advertisers were described as "lazy" and can regard advertising on a site that has less than 100,000 page views per month as a waste of their time.

Finally, make sure you charge enough for postage, and unless you want a lousy table at the back, apply for booth space at Comic-Con 2006 now!


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Comic-Con 2005 - 10 Things I Bought

10 Things I Bought At Comic-Con

1.) "Artesia #1" (Mark Smylie)
2.) "Autobiography of an Artist" (Charles R. Knight, w/intro by William Stout, foreward by Ray Bradbury & Ray Harryhausen)
3.) "Bear #5" (Jamie Smart)
4.) "Bug Girl #1" (George M. Dondero & Ruben Deluna)
5.) "Cenozoic #1" (Mark Fearing)
6.) Gandhi "Peace" T-shirt (by Damion Scott)
7.) "Johnny, The Homicidal Maniac #2" (Jhonen Vasquez)
8.) "Lenore #6" (Roman Dirge)
9.) "The Red Star: The Battle Of Kar Dathra's Gate" (Christian Gossett, et al.)
10.) "Squee #4" (Jhonen Vasquez, et al.)

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Monday, July 18, 2005

Comic-Con 2005 - 10 Artists

This week it will be all Comic-Con all the time.

Beware. I am unlikely to go on at length about the sneak preview of the "Doom" movie (but Lorenzo di Bonaventura has really put on weight and I am frankly worried about him--and where was Jon Farhat, once attached as director to my very own "Carnival Earth"?).

No, I won't talk about that.

Nor am I likely to relate the highlights of the Kevin Smith Q & A or of the "King Kong" panel--after which Tenacious D played a show to an audience of several thousand fans (Rob AttackCat is the music expert. Check him out for the dirt on The D). Why? Because I wasn't there. And why not? Was I insane? Where the hell I was and wherefore--that I will tell you all about. So stay tuned. Lots of good info to come.

Today, I'll keep it simple. There are scores of excellent artists at Comic-Con. And hundreds of good ones. And thousands of mediocre ones. And it's one thing to see the art in a book, another thing to get to see originals up close. To make a definitive list of "Best Artists" would be an exercise in eel-slippery subjectivity, also an exercise without much merit. It's all a matter of taste, isn't it? And feeling too. And other senses. Definitely not brainwork though. And never beyond questioning.

Here are 10 artists whose work knocked me out this weekend:

1.) Celia Calle
2.) Mark Fearing
3.) Andy Lee
4.) David Mack
5.) David Malki
6.) Alberto Ruiz
7.) Damion Scott
8.) Mark Smylie
9.) Heather Theurer
10.) Chris Wisnia

Who do you like?

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Friday, July 15, 2005

Kitten vs. Barbie

On top of the computer are two Barbies. Why? Well, that's just the way we do it here.

The Barbies were given by friends as gifts to my wife. They have been displayed atop the iMac for six or nine months. One Barbie sits astride a plastic polar bear. The other rides a plastic saber-toothed tiger.

The polar bear and saber-toothed tiger are mine.

A small black kitten has taken up residence with us. We already own 3 extraordinary cats (known as "THE V3"--perhaps you've read about them in the newspapers or seen their exploits on television). We are temporarily fostering this new kitten, provisionally named "Dickens", until he can be adopted by a family equipped to give him the attention he needs.

He has just fallen off the back of the desk.

There is no sound of movement.

Perhaps he is dead.

Hold on. Let me check.

No. /445177777777777777711gggasss666666666666666 xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxcsccccccccccc (after the fact addition by Dickens The Kitten--perhaps his own encoded cat-speak commentary on his fall?) Not dead. He is sitting on the floor licking his shoulder.

Cheop the Cat--master of the house, large and tailless and cunning--this morning developed a persistent dry cough. He is resting in a corner, not looking his best. His several attempts at vomiting have brought up food, hair, and a disturbing white foam. Naturally, we are concerned.

My mind can't help but keep turning back to the possibility that the new small black kitten poisoned Cheop in the night.

As I began this post, the kitten was gnawing on one of the Barbies' delicate hands. What else is he capable of?

p;.....[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[ ;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;.

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Thursday, July 14, 2005

Thrilling Optical Illusion!


If boys and girls look closely,
they will begin to see that


is an anagram for


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Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Disney Girl Deathmatch #1

The Match:

Belle ("Beauty and the Beast", 1991)


Cinderella ("Cinderella", 1950)

Weapons: "Bat Day" miniature baseball bats

Who do you put your money on?

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Tuesday, July 12, 2005

10 Things I Love About The Film Industry

I get disillusioned. My disillusionment often strikes hardest at the things I most cherish. This suggests to me that maybe my disillusionment has more to do with my own worldview than with actual external conditions. So, in an effort to see the world in a more balanced light:

(in no particular order)
1.) It is the Golden Age of Zombie Movies - "Resident Evil" (2002), "28 Days Later" (2002), "Dawn of the Dead" (2004), "Shaun of the Dead" (2004), "Land of the Dead" (2005), etc.

2.) Netflix - a kid in rural Montana can watch a double-feature of "I Dismember Mama" (1974) and Pasolini's "The Gospel According To St. Matthew" (1964) whenever he feels like it.

3.) "Tarnation" (2003)

4.) Desktop Filmmaking has matured - anyone who really wants to make films can.

5.) Easy Global Distribution of films via the Internet - anyone who really wants to distribute films can.

6.) The Resounding Failure of the recent spate of studio remakes.

7.) The New Asian Cinema

8.) The Documentary Boom, especially of political and agit-prop movies , and their wide distribution via DVD.

9.) Star Wars has been put out of its misery. Hasn't it?

10.) And I have completed a new feature script.

Ah. I feel better already.


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Monday, July 11, 2005

Nil By Mouth (1997)

Last night, on DVD via Netflix: Gary Oldman's "Nil By Mouth" (1997).

The movie exquisitely depicts a lower-class South London family's perpetual struggle with alcoholism, drug addiction, domestic abuse and...um...well that's about it: alcoholism, drug addiction and domestic abuse. It reminds one of "Trainspotting" but is not nearly as funny, though it would make a fine double feature with its cousin from the north. Just show "Trainspotting" second, so that the audience will be able to leave the theater with a spring in their step and a song in their hearts rather than in body bags, killed by self-inflicted soda straw wounds or asphyxiation via deliberate popcorn overdose.

Now I personally enjoy "depressing movies"--that's what my mum calls them--films like "Nil By Mouth" whose purpose is to show the degraded human condition. If executed correctly--and "Nil By Mouth" is--these films result in my leaving the theater with a heart full of compassion for us all. I understand that this sub-genre--which reminds us of the suffering of others, rather than our own beloved suffering--is not appealing to everyone. In fact, I was privy to a long argument this weekend about the merits of Todd Solondz's comedy "Happiness" on this very point. One combatant held that "Happiness" was a vicious exercise in exploitation and misanthropy, the other said that it showed authentically and admirably the reality of domestic nightmares that we all try to ignore. I tend toward the latter view of that particular film and I appreciate the same effect in others in this subgenre--"Requiem for a Dream", "The Sweet Hereafter", "The Ice Storm", "Five Easy Pieces", even the BBC comedy "The Office". These are stories which break your heart, but--to paraphrase Hubert Selby Jr.--break it OPEN.

I had seen a portion of "Nil By Mouth" a few years ago on TV--on the Independent Film Channel?--and was mesmerized by the authenticity of its characters, particularly its tough women whose great virtue--and tragic flaw--is an unending ability to endure. Even that glimpse of Kathy Burke's performance, as Valerie, stuck with me. I have, from that time to this, wanted to see the movie in its entirety primarily to see her whole performance. Burke won the Best Actress Award at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival for the role and was nominated for a 1998 BAFTA Award (losing to RSC juggernaut Judy Dench for her performance in "Mrs. Brown"). "Nil By Mouth" won the BAFTA Alexander Korda Award for the Outstanding British Film of the Year.

It's easy to find many average director-actors (applauded and awarded) who manage to direct other actors to average performances (also applauded and awarded). Gary Oldman was in the 1990's a very fine actor with much training and stage experience and "Nil By Mouth" shows how much can come of such understanding and expertise. Conversely, it illuminates just how underused and misunderstood actors are in 95% of movies made. Watching "Nil By Mouth" I am reminded, "Oh, that's what movie acting is supposed to look like. I'd almost forgotten." I haven't seen "A Bronx Tale" Robert De Niro's directorial debut or Anthony Hopkins's "August" and I am curious and cautious about them both, but there are many examples of superior actors directing actors to superior performances in superior movies--many of them British actors. British actors are--we hear ad nauseum--highly trained in technique. Technique is that thing that allows you to do well even when you don't feel like it, and I'm sure this technical knowledge gives them an extra edge in being able to construct the appropriate conditions for eliciting optimum performances. This is perhaps why "Nil By Mouth" features great performances, and "A Beautiful Mind" features good performances.

It's not difficult to make a pretty woman look pretty on the screen. It is a fine feat of actor-director collaboration when in "Nil By Mouth" leaden-faced Kathy Burke forgets the struggle of the moment and her sudden smile seems to light up the whole world. Her smile, set artfully in the midst of a world of concrete and fists and needles and terror, is one of the most beautiful things I've seen in the movies in a long time.


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Friday, July 08, 2005

Code Kumquat

"Put the ship on Code Orange, lieutenant!"
"Holy Toledo, skipper! Is it that bad?"
"It's bad enough. And I don't want you men getting caught with your britches down. If we have to go to Code Red, I want you guys to be good-to-go!"
"We won't let you down, cap'n! Initiating the Code Orange!"

Klaxons sound throughout the ship. Men pull on helmets and flak jackets as they dash to their posts, hearts pounding.

"All stations are standing ready at Orange Alert, cap'n."
"Good work. Now all we do is wait."
"And pray, cap'n?"
"Amen to that, lieutenant. Amen to that."

Yesterday, in response to subway and bus bombings in London, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff raised the national threat level to orange, or "high risk of terrorist attacks" with regard to the mass transit sector, specifically buses and trains.

If someone were to say to me, "Today there is a high risk at your workplace of being bitten by asps," I would call in sick (assuming the someone were a credible source--a herpetologist, or zoo official hunting down a missing asp family), or I might call the police and say "There is a crazy person frightening me with threats of asps. Please come and arrest him at once." In the event of confirmed high asp risk, I would want the building shut down and searched carefully room by room and I would not expect to have to go back to work until the possibity of asps had been ruled out, or until every errant asp had been accounted for.

I use Los Angeles public transport daily. Yesterday, our "second" in the Duel With Terror had been attacked. I was naturally curious, eager even, to see what an Orange Alert on public transport looked like. I realize that there were a few Orange Alerts thrown around in the buildup to the invasion of Iraq, but those weren't real Orange Alerts. Those were more for dramatic effect--or maybe the result of pantswetting overeagerness at the Dept. of Homeland Security (I mean, what an irresistible temptation it must be to know you can alter the adrenaline levels of millions of people from the comfort of your desk; there's no way I could resist it). So I took notes on the way home--on my bus ride east on Wilshire Blvd. and then subway trip from Wilshire & Western to Vermont & Sunset.

Here is what a Code Orange looks like on L.A. public transportation:
Carrying a heavy shoulder bag filled with mysteriously bulky items, I board a "Rapid" bus at Wilshire Blvd. & La Cienega Ave. Subdued atmosphere on bus. More seats available than usual. I keep eyes peeled for any signs of Orange Alert--police activity, anything unusual.

Traffic begins to slow as the bus approaches Wilshire & Fairfax Ave.

Reason for traffic slowing is revealed: Across the street from the L.A. County Museum of Art, a motorcycle cop is giving a ticket to a twenty-something man seated in his red economy car.

I observe that no one seems to mind my looking this way and that way, scribbling frantic notes in my little book.

On Wilshire, just west of Highland Ave., a policeman w/police cruiser, is giving a ticket to a twenty-something woman seated in her white economy car.

I transfer from the bus to catch the Union Station-bound train at Vermont & Western subway station:

A police cruiser is parked on the sidewalk plaza near the station entrance. 2 female police officers loiter. Another police cruiser can be seen driving south on Western.

(NOTE: L.A. has an "honor system" with regard to subway ticketing. If you ride the subway, you are expected to have purchased a ticket. Periodically, pairs of deputies or police officers will stop passengers at exits or board train cars and ask to see tickets. If you can't produce one you are hit with a very heavy fine. Given the circumstances, I prepare to have my ticket checked.)

2 female sherriff's deputies stand together on the Wilshire & Western platform. I do not see them check any passenger for tickets. I board the train without having to show my own ticket.

From my viewpoint through a window, there is no sign of law enforcement at the next stop, Wilshire & Normandie.

At Wilshire & Vermont Ave. I switch trains. No sign of law enforcement on either of the stations two platforms.

I pass through 2 stations--Vermont & Beverly and Vermont & Santa Monica (no law enforcement officers sighted on the platforms of either of these stations)--before reaching my destination.

I disembark at the Vermont & Sunset station. No law enforcement officers inside the station. I spot one Transport Authority employee in ORANGE vest talking on a station phone.

Outside the station, a cruiser is parked at the curb on Vermont Ave. 2 male police officers stand talking near the station entrance. 1 male, 1 female police officer stand near a hotdog stand.

Walked several blocks to my home--no law enforcement presence spotted.
Los Angeles is a great big ol' giant flat screen tv of a city, and policing it is like sending a shoebox full of plastic army men to monitor a football field. However, the public transport system is still--famously--in a "growth period", with nothing like the thousands of miles of subway track and bus route in other megalopolises. My trip home yesterday did not feel orange--it felt blue.

The lowest possible level of the Dept. of Homeland Security's 5-color threat scale is Code Green which indicates a "low risk of terrorist attacks". There is no color designation to indicate "no risk of terrorist attacks". Prominent sources repeatedly tell me that we will win the War On Terror. When we do, how will I know it?

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Thursday, July 07, 2005


Being a cheerful sort, I am often heard to exclaim "Boy, am I having a blast!". Or "This is going to be a blast". Or maybe I'll say to friends going on a holiday "I hope you two have a blast." But, when you think about it, there is really nothing fun about a blast.

This morning there were four blasts in my beloved London. At this writing, bbc.com is reporting a death toll of 37.

Already several prominent world leaders have spoken, briefly but admirably, about the four blasts, underscoring how the blasts make clear the evil of THEM and the bravery and courage and strength of US.

Nothing like a vicious blasting to boost the collective self-esteem.

Almost makes me want to become a full-time victim of blasting. Maybe...just maybe...I could begin to manufacture my own blastings, which would make clear just how brave and courageous and strong I am on an ongoing basis. This would also continue to build a case for how evil are those who are not me, which is no less important. It's straightforward logic: If those who are not me are evil, then I, who am me, am not evil. Right? This may, I understand, cause those who are not me some temporary grief. But the important thing is to build my self-esteem, first, I think. Yes. Then once I gather the proper inspiration, direction, purpose, and will, I can really go about solving some of these terrible pressing problems of mine, which, I think we can all agree, will be a help to everyone, to all of us. Even a help--in the long run--to those who are not me. After all, it's a known fact among students of psychology that one cannot help others until one helps oneself. On a crashing plane I have to put my own mask on before being able to help the little boy or girl beside me with his or hers. Yes. That's the ticket.

To recap: What is the best hope for a happy and prosperous you? A happy and prosperous me!

Let's get blasting.

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Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Josephine Baker

Josephine Baker left her home town of St. Louis, Missouri because the weekly lynchings just weren't as funny as they used to be.

She went to Paris, where she became a jazz dance superstar and was celebrated and famous and did some undercover work for the French Resistance against the Nazis and so forth.

Meanwhile, back in her home town (as described by Howard Zinn in "The Twentieth Century: A People's History"):
"African Americans had been hired to replace whites, and hysteria took hold (Job desperation was a common cause of mob violence, as when whites attacked Chinese miners in Rock Spring, Wyoming, in 1885, killing twenty-five). The black section of East St. Louis became the object of attack by a white mob, leaving 6,000 homeless, perhaps 200 blacks dead, and mangled bodies found floating in the Mississippi River."
In response to the incident, Josephine Baker said of America...

...well, buy a Rabbit + Crow t-shirt and find out what she said.

Or you could buy a book and learn about it that way too, but come on, who are you kidding? A book? I don't know about you, but I'm all about getting my history lessons from t-shirts these days. In fact, I always say: "If it won't fit on a t-shirt, it isn't worth learning."

Josephine Baker's comment about America is worth learning.

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Tuesday, July 05, 2005


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Monday, July 04, 2005

10 Best Movies About "America"

Here is the list of the 10 BEST MOVIES ABOUT "AMERICA", films that could be put in a time capsule to give the generations many centuries from now an accurate picture of what the USA was really like:

Citizen Kane (1941)
The Deer Hunter (1978)
Do The Right Thing (1989)
Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004)
Forrest Gump (1994)
The Grapes of Wrath (1940)
JFK (1991)
On The Waterfront (1954)
Red River (1948)
Sunset Blvd. (1950)

Note that this is the definitive list. Entirely correct. The only list worth considering. All other lists are illegitimate.

Now start fighting!


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Saturday, July 02, 2005



[app. of Northern French origin: cf. Walloon "robett" (Remacle). The primitive seems to occur in Flemish "robbe" (Killian, De Bo; the latter also gives "ribbe", "rubbe"), dim. "robbeke"; the ultimate etymology is unknown. If French "rabouillere" (the burrow made by the female rabbit to kindle in) is connected, the Middle English "rabet" may be more primitive in form than the Walloon and Flemish words]

1. n., A common burrowing rodent of the hare-family (Leporidae), esp. the common European species, Lepus Cuniculus, which is naturally of a brownish-grey colour, but in domestication also white, black, or pied. Orig. applied only to the young animal, the full-grown one being called a "cony".

1398 Trevisa "Barth. De P.R. xvii", Conynges bringeth forth many rabettes & multplieth full swith.
c.1440 "Anc. Cookery in Househ. Ord.", Then take conynges parboyled, or elles rabets, for thai are better for a lorde.
1502 "Privy Purse Exp. Eliz. York", A present of Rabettes and quales.
1576 Turberv. "Bk. Venerie lxiii", The Conie beareth her Rabettes xxx dayes, and then kindeleth.
1607 Topsell "Four Foot-f. Beasts", If two males be put to one female, they fight fiercely; but they will not hurt the rabbets.
1653 Walton "Angler viii", Take the flesh of a Rabet or Cat cut smal.
1768 Pennant "Brit. Zool.", Rabbets will breed seven times a year.
1846 J. Baxter "Libr. Pract. Agric. (ed. 4)", The rabbit lives to the age of eight or nine years.
1885 E. Clark "Nature XXXI", Large tracts are still honeycombed by the ubiquitous biscacha, a gigantic rabbit.

2. transf.
a.) Applied contemptuously to a person.
b.) A shadow resembling the form of a rabbit, cast by the hands upon a wall.
c.) (See quote 1878 below)
d.) (See quote 1882 below)

See also "welsh rabbit"

1597 Shakespeare "2 Henry IV - II, ii", "Away, you horson upright Rabbet, away.
1849 "Plymouth Her., 21 April", Shadows...strong enough for children to make rabbits with their fingers upon a wall.
1878 Besant & Rice "By Celia's Arbour xxx", Even if you did happen to have a "rabbit", that is one of the coats lined with white fur.
1882 "Standard, 4 Sept.", Though somewhat of a "rabbit", as a horse that runs "in and out" is sometimes called.

3.) Obs. Also "rabit" [of obscure origin] A wooden drinking vessel.

1685 Merton "Praise Yorksh. Ale", Stronge Beer in Rabits and cheating penny Cans
1700 B.E. "Dict. Cant. Crew", Rabbits--Wooden Kanns to Drink out of, once used on the Roads, now almost laid by.

4.) v., intr. To hunt for or catch rabbits. Chiefly in pres. participle.

1852 "Meanderings of Mem. I", Beer never bound him rabbiting again.
1861 G.W. Kitchin "Hist. France", This man caught three Flemish students rabbiting in his warren.

5.) v., intr. To crowd together like rabbits.

1892 "Sunday Mag., Sept. 602", The common people...rabbit together in miserable warrens.

6.) v. Vulgar. [Prob a fanciful alteration of "rat" in "od rat", "drat".] A meaningless word used as an imprecation = "drat", etc. Also "drabbit", "od(d) drabbit".

1742 Fielding "J. Andrews", "Rabbit the fellow" cries he.
1768 Goldsmith "Good-n. Man", Rabbit me, but little Flanigan will look well in anything.
1787 Grose "Provinc. Gloss.", Drabbit it--a vulgar exclamation or abbreviation of God rabbit it, a foolish evasion of an oath.
1831 Roby "Trad. Lancash.", Rabbit thee, Will, but the luggage will break thy back!
1880 Mrs. Parr "Adam & Eve", Drabbit the maid!
1889 Doyle "Micah Clarke", Rabbit me! but you are to be envied.

--per "The Compact Edition of The Oxford English Dictionary", Oxford University Press 1971

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Friday, July 01, 2005

O Rambunctious Kitty!

Yesterday's post about my favorite "autocrats" got me thinking about "odder cats".

Ha he. Sorry, bad joke. Ha.

But seriously now, I did, for some mysterical reason, recall a vignette from my childhood I hadn't thought about in ages. It was the first time I heard a popular hymn that eventually became my favorite song of praise.

When I was young, until about age 10 or so, my family attended church regularly. We weren't strict about our denominational adherence. My dad tended, I think, to favor Methodist services, my mum Episcopal. I got the impression that God was in attendance at every church, an idea which has continued to serve me well.

This particular Sunday, the minister's sermon was about gratitude, I think. This might have taken place around the Easter season and perhaps the minister was trying to emphasize how grateful we should be that Jesus died for our sins. In hindsight, it was probably a finger-wagging guilt trip he was laying on the congregation. But at 9 or 10 years old, sitting in that church which seemed filled up with the clear light and fresh smell of an April morning, I was swept up: Yes. Yes. We should be grateful. Thank you, Lord ...

The minister concluded ... a moment of dense silence ... then several rich chords from the organ, invisible but somewhere very near ... then the minister lifted his arms in gentle encouragement saying:

"Please rise now for hymn number 403 - 'O, Rambunctious Kitty'".

We could feel the organ's bass notes thrumming under our feet as we stood and, cradling our hymnals, began to sing:

No. 403

O Rambunctious Kitty!

In Israel lived a kitty.
His legs from birth were lame
Until he met Lord Jesus
Bound for Jerusalem.
When the Master bent to scratch him,
He was from that day forw’rd
A most rambunctious kitty
And lap cat of our Lord.

O, rambunctious kitty,
The lap cat of our Lord,
You were Christ’s faithful servant,
Disciple on all fours.

That night in Gethsemane,
The kitty climbed a tree
And looked down on the Master
In His moonlit agony.
As Jesus knelt there praying,
He licked his tawny fur.
And when Judas kissed the Savior,
The cat begin to purr.

O, rambunctious kitty,
The lap cat of our Lord,
You were Christ’s faithful servant,
Disciple on all fours.

When Jesus hung up on
The Cross at Calvary,
The kitty sat there 'neath him
For to Christ’s woe to see.
And when He gave His spirit
Up to the Heavenly Host,
The cat did scratch his claws
Upon the nearest post.

O, rambunctious kitty,
The lap cat of our Lord,
You were Christ’s faithful servant,
Disciple on all fours.
We call you fellow soldier
In our King’s mighty cause.
Let your holy example
Give each Christian pause.


(reproduced by kind permission of E.T. Garrislimbs & Sons)

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