Midpoint – One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (book)

I told you I can be a slow reader (especially when unemployed – nights are spent doing job applications or stressing out about them, fingers-crossed everyone that it will be back to commuting reading soon!) …

FUCK!

Wrote the above sentence two weeks ago – I’m now about to start the last chapter of the book (part 4) …

Had a bundle of thoughts on the midpoint (lack of agency of coloured characters is from the book, as is the harpiness of the women, and Chief is a super unreliable narrator), which have all been turned 20 pages into the second half (yes, lack of agency, but perhaps indicative of the system? Chief is kind of self loathing so maybe it’s about that. The women have stopped being so harpy like though Ratched is still two-demensional. Chief is still pretty unreliable …)

I’ll probably be finished with the book in the next few days. Notes incoming …

One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest – film first

I came to a lot of classic Hollywood films late.

Being the child of immigrants, I grew up on a solid diet of melodramatic Bollywood films from the 50s and 60s, any English language film set in Africa (both parents grew up in Kenya) and then a melange of David Attenborough nature docos, British comedies and whatever investigative news programs that you could get in NZ when we only had two channels (TWO CHANNELS! Oh children, I even predate remote controls – hell, I was the remote control and our telly was one of those that had to warm up before you saw a picture …).

Basically anything that you could class as part of the indy film movement of the 70s, was never a part of my life – so of course, my first impression of Jack Nicholson was as the Joker in Tim Burton’s Batman (not a terrible sin given the character – although now every time I see him, I keep thinking of his character in Five Easy Pieces – just further down the line after he hops onto the truck).

I said HOLD THE CHICKEN, GODDAMMIT!

Of course, being the kind of film heavily referenced in pop culture (not the least, The Simpsons) I already had an idea of the film before seeing it – Nurse Ratched, Chief and the water fountain, lobotomies, and Mantovani’s CharmaineSo while I can’t remember my first impressions of the film, I suspect much of it was piecing these bits together into context.

I know this is a much hallowed film so I feel a little guilty / heretical to say that it’s ok. The performances are fantastic, no doubt, and you know I’m going to be down for anything anti-authoritarian … but … what struck me this viewing was the women and the orderlies.

There seem to be only two options if you’re a female character in this film – you are either an enforcer of the regime (Ratched, her assistant, the nurse who visits in the night, and even Billy’s mother – though only mentioned) there to control, humiliate and be feared, or you’re a prostitute – paid to be friendly, and flirtatious, objects of desire only. Yes, ok, product of its time (our protagonist has committed statutory rape and apparently other than criminal it’s otherwise fine), but I wonder if it’s the film or the book that has a woman problem.

The three orderlies are a) all African American men and b) the only African American men in the film. Like the women they are enforcers of the regime but with less agency – they are mouthy, brutual, negligent of their charges (Warren is more interested in shooting hoops when outside), negligent of their jobs and corruptible (Turkle is easily bought off with booze and promise of sexy times with one of the prostitutes, ends up drunk and passed out on the job). Again, is the a symptom of the time the film was made or a problem of the book?

Yo, Ratched in the house y'all - let me hear you make some noize!

Film Ratched I don’t understand – she’s an antagonist in the purist terms, only there to really antagonise McMurphy and serve the plot with no real reason given as to why she’s like that, other than she’s is the embodiment of all the bad things about the regime (humiliation, enforcement etc). More puzzling to me is the final medical assessment of McMurphy  – three doctors/psychiatrist deem him to be merely criminal, not psychotic or dangerous and yet they all defer to Nurse Ratched and commit him to care indefinitely? Her opinion is at complete odds with the psychiatrists and yet she trumps them? Yes, expedience of plot but is there something that the book explains more of, that the film has cut?

Those big questions aside, as we move to the book I’m really looking forward to learning more about Chief Bromden – I accidentally saw the back blurb on the book during the week and am delighted to see that he is the narrator. He’s annoyingly very much the “noble savage” and I didn’t quite understand his long speech to McMurphy – so I hope get a fuller character in the book. Also interested to see how the other patients are filled out – with so many of them in the ward voluntarily, I’m really curious to know why.

Book times!*

Reminder: I’m a fairly slow reader (bedtime reader, no commute at the moment because I’m *sigh* unemployed), so it may be a while until the next post …

*If you’ve stumbled on this post because for once I got tagging right, then an explanation of my page to screen project can be found here.**

**tl;dr –
1. Watch film first with no prior knowledge of book
2. Read book
3. Rewatch film – discuss, reflect, etc.

It began with a tweet – page to screen project

New year, new project. This one inspired by a tweet –

Which led to –

And –

Which after a while became:

And a pile of excellent recommendations came in … so I figure, I may as well document my findings here and should anyone want to join in at any point they can.

Here’s how it’s going to go:

1. Watch the film first. Yes, film first.
Your own imagination is amazing and wondrous, and the process of filmmaking will never be able to match it. Silence of the Lambs? Book is better, saw the film after reading the book, hugely disappointed and didn’t get all the critical acclaim. A Clockwork Orange? Really grateful that I saw the film first, I really love the film but the book is amazing. Fight Club? V For Vendetta? Ok both books and films are great and completely different beasts to each other that they seem distantly related and yet excellent in their own right. Still, I used to read Shakespeare plays before going to see the production and would ruin the experience of the performance for myself by prejudging everything – would this Richard or Hamlet live up to my Richard or Hamlet (seriously, how arrogant is that? Like I know everything!)

2. Read the book
I’m a pretty slow reader as I only tend read before bed and (if I’m working in the city) on the train home, so it can take me a good 6 weeks to get through a book some times.

3. Rewatch the film.
See what’s missing, what’s changed, what works, what doesn’t, and understand the reasons why. I’ve worked on adaptations before and they are tricky beasts. Sometimes you are totally in synch with the original author and sometimes you find that you are not (or in one instance I found, really, really not). And then, you know, the business of filmmaking occasionally gets in the way too.

This is the line up so far:

Sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows ...

Books/Films to come:
Lolita
Solaris (tricky part is which film to watch first – Soderbergh and then Tarkovsky?)
Trainspotting
The Ice Storm
Cloudstreet
Everything Is Illuminated
Breakfast At Tiffany’s
The Shining
Naked Lunch
We Need To Talk About Kevin
Get Shorty
Pride and Prejudice (with the Joe Wright film)
Atonement
Heart of Darkness
Shane
[Updated to include:]
L.A. Confidential (Beloved tells me that I should also read the preceding book: The Big Nowhere)
Gospel of Matthew (with Pasolini’s critically acclaimed adaptation – thanks again @fastercamels)

Feel free to suggest favourite adaptations (just so you know: no I won’t be reading any Harry Potter – I just don’t like the books. Also, I probably won’t cover stuff I’ve read and watched before including The Godfather, Fight Club etc.).

I’ll kick off with One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest – watching this week (01 Jan), start reading next week (06 Jan).

So how did that work out for you?

Well the year of ideas is nearly at an end. I have one more page to fill …

Image

Pros:
– lots of new, actual usable ideas that will see me going for a long while yet
– training myself to come up with a new idea every day has made me more alert to my environment and finding new stories to tell, new people to talk about. It’s a big step for someone who, not so long ago, suffered from writer’s block.

Cons:
– oh dude, EVERY DAY? No one has a good idea every day, and mental constipation was definitely a problem – there are a good 200 pages of utter rubbish in there at least.
– yeah, there were days missed. In one case a whole month where work and cinema life left me too tired to give more time to writing after family. It’s something I’ll have to learn to overcome when I next work full time …
– an idea a day sounds like a great idea at first … but when you get a real pearl there’s no time to develop it as you need to think of the new idea. Sure I can go back, but I wonder if the magic that I found in the original idea will be rediscovered (especially if I did not note it down properly).

Meh:
– oh the importance of a good pen and note book. Ugly notebooks make for ugly writing. Not just aesthetically but content-wise as well.
– hand written ideas are better than typed ones. I thought a tablet would free me to write whatever I want, wherever I pleased. All it’s done is to distract me further with pretty lights. Pen to paper, or rather hand to pen, for me at least creates more of a connection from thought to action – it’s certainly easier to get inside of a character when you think about how they would write about themselves, the weight of the pen, the strokes etc. Something I must remember …

Yield (so far):
– one short film script
– beginnings of a game script
– beginnings of a closed television special

Would I do it again?

Oh god no.

Interesting as an exercise but I don’t think the output is worth more than me just carrying my notebook around as I used to. That said, dedicating time to write by hand in a notebook will help me more than not doing anything – so that’s something.

Home again, home again, jiggity jig …

Well, it wasn’t the ideal scenario but there we have it – I’ve accepted an offer for a short contract, back in the land of my birth until the end of May.

So to Wellington I go sans Beloved; it will be our third time long distance – I guess three months is not as bad as seven (our previous record).

If I have to leave for economic reasons, my only happiness is that I’m going to a city with friends that I love, to a job that I love, in an industry that I love, with not even the slightest hint of marketing in my job title/description (marketing I do not love).

It is poorly paid, but it is paid which is more than I can get in Brisbane right now. I hope when I come back I’ll have better luck to beat the other 150-200 people applying for the same job.

I have a six week break from looking for work and I am determined to use that time wisely:

  •  Wellington friends, we should catch up. I can’t really afford to do cafés or cheap restaurants, so maybe a pot luck dinner/afternoon tea? My one luxury I will allow myself is a movie ticket on a Tuesday (oh woe for not having access to Beloved’s free media screenings for the three months during summer blockbuster season), so if you’d like to join me I would welcome the company.
  • I have six weeks to finish a new short film, and either a feature film or multi platform game treatment. Yes. Game treatment. I probably should give you a call, Morgue …
  • I have six weeks where in my spare time I can help on anyone’s film production. If anyone needs a runner, call me!

Hopefully this period can be one of renewal, a chance to wash myself clean of the bad luck that has hung around me for the last year, a time to remember that I am actually employable and not really hopeless.

I will return, Brisbane. And I will beat you.

Changing the world

You may want to keep a copy for future reference

via Atheism Resource

This isn’t really writing or about being authentic, or maybe it is, I don’t know. Last week I got into one of those facebook comments debate. Yes. I know. Facebook is not really the medium to have any sense of debate about complex issues in the world. It’s about the lolz, the linky, the bairns, the cats, the bairns doing things to cats, the cats running away from the bairns … you get the idea.

Anyway, said discussion had been sparked by an incident back home where a NZ Member of Parliament made a racist statement in a magazine not generally known for its enlightened approach to the world (one may goes as far to say that it deals in the sort of niche paranoia that also makes the Daily Mail a lot of money). As expected the mainstream media grabbed a hold of this, and much to my joy said article and MP was roundly and loudly condemned. So far, so good.

And then there was a comment in a friend’s post that kind of went “Yes MP X is a dick, but if you strip away the derogatory and racist language he may have a point – here’s a website that agrees with me”. I checked website, found it deeply disturbing and inaccurate, thought “perhaps I’m over-reacting” and went to clarify that perhaps the website was being posted as a joke? Got the reply that this person actually believed the site, and so I went in to bat for my fellow humans under seige on the belief that the only way to stop bigotry and prejudice is to call it out.

How did that work out?

Yeah, I didn’t last long.

I tried. I really tried. But when a person insists on an argument being about “them” and what “they do” (implying an opposite “us” who you align with), a rational discussion about the nuances of political and social history, the consequences, and how we move forward together from these acts, probably isn’t going to happen. Not on Facebook anyway. And not when someone is essentially yelling their talking points at you and refuses to consider what you have offered to the conversation as it complicates and contradicts their world view.

Where does this go? Well, on a different friend’s page, I saw this person throw out their talking points again. The same ones, stated in the same manner. I didn’t involve myself again, but I was pleased to see that others had called this person out on it even though they too had never met.

Here’s the thing. These mutual friends did not call out this person themselves. Maybe they do call them out on it, in person (I hope so). Or is it something that they (my friends) tolerate in this person like “oh, don’t worry about Y, they’re always like that we just ignore them”? Which is something I guess we all do in our friends? Having spent so much time with each other we get used to our friend bubble and ignore the casual prejudice that may be funny in a certain context, but isn’t in the outside world.

I live in a nostalgic friend bubble at the moment – I don’t have any friends here in Brisbane, so I only have those that I see online or write letters to. Instead, I’ve had to learn about Beloved’s family and acquaintances. At the start everyone was polite around me (obviously) and then once we got used to each other, they started to relax … and it was then, as an outsider, I saw the bubble – where off coloured jokes fly, but then tip over into casual racism. Nothing big, things lots of people do – complaining and imitating the Indian accent on the other end of the phone and assuming that a thick accent equalled stupidity or an inability to speak English (yes, that got awkward); showing a photo of Chinese students and giving a list of spot the difference (this got really awkward when I was handed the phone and said – you know this is really racist right? By the way, some of my immediate family are actually Chinese).

I feel like a party kill-joy. But then I’ve worked with and seen plenty of funny comedians who don’t resort to casual racism, sexism, homophobia, or classism (wow, this is a new one for me but the recession has seen a huge people who are struggling and direct their anger towards people who have even less than they do). I’ve also seen the kind of jokes comedians trade after hours – that shit is all levels of nasty, and I understand has gone in a disturbing direction among the younger comics, which I hope their elders are pointing out isn’t cool …

And that’s kind of my point.

Much like saving the environment starts at home with recycling, stopping bigotry and prejudice starts at home too.

We need to all call out the odd statement of casual racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, classism, etc. when we see it with our friends and family.

Now don’t, for the love of god, DON’T tell someone they are being an idiot, or a douchebag, or any sort of name. No one listens when someone is yelling insults at them. Instead tell them that the language they’re using is not cool, and give a counter argument to their beliefs (i.e. “well, wouldn’t you …” or “how would you feel if …” or “it’s a lot more complicated than that and here’s why …”). If they persist in their argument, ask them why they think that, offer up a new perspective, challenge them.

My uncle used to watch Fox News, yes, an Indian man watching Fox News. Worse, a Hindu man watching Fox News and quoting back to me its Islamophobic talking points. So we had a long discussion about the news, how broadcasting is used to sell advertising, recalling times that the news would paint us Indians (regardless of religion) as the “big bad”, and showing him different news sources about the same event – demonstrating how narrative works to tell a particular view point. I showed him Al Jazeera English – and, as it covered more news about India and other countries, he got into it. I hope it’s still his channel of choice as well as watching the BBC or NDTV. During my last visit with him, he laughed at how the different channels were giving their opinion on the same event and he had to piece together the real story for himself. I hope when I return home to him in a few years, we’ll still laugh and debate.

I’ve talked to hockey teammates about equal marriage (easy to do when one was complaining about having to go to her friend’s third marriage and being cynical about whether this one would last); I’ve told an acquaintance that their jokes were sexist (they weren’t pleased, but I didn’t really do it the right way. That said, they haven’t done it again either); I’m trying in my own small way to be the change I want to see in the world.

I’m not doing anything new. But I wonder that if we all had a quiet word with our friends and relatives when ever some casual prejudice slips by that everyone usually ignores (you know, the “old, racist uncle”), we could do a lot towards furthering our understanding of each other as a whole?

The year of ideas: January

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I got through a whole month! A whole month of new ideas!

The shit to not shit ratio is about 70:30 but I suspect January will be the easiest month of them all – more like an emptying of the dusty ideas storage bank. February is turning out to be a lot more frightening, the bank is empty and the shit ratio is looking like 90:10. Gah!

Still, yay January!