Friday, January 02, 2004

NEVERWHERE

This is an uncommon review. I'm reviewing the DVD and, to be more specific, a certain feature of the DVD. Neil Gaiman has generous commentary throughout the DVD set. It's a great feature because you can watch the series without it and then watch it again with it and possibly have a better experience the second time.
Neverwhere is a television mini-series that Gaiman wrote for the BBC near the end of the time he was writing the Sandman comic series. It's about a guy who stumbles unto a London Below, that is to say a fantasy world that takes place in the London Underground complete with great beasts, immortals, floating markets, animal talkers, angels, and many other fine fantasy ideas. It's dark, it's well told and it's much better in the novel version that Gaiman actually wrote during the filming of the series.
I'm an example of one of the people Gaiman mentions in the commentary who bought 4th or 5th generation videos of the series years ago on eBay when they weren't available in America. He's right that the grainy quality actually makes for a much more attractive picture than the glossy film quality of the series as broadcast. But my video tape copies have such terrible sound that I have to turn the television all the way up to get the sound on the tape just shy of where you'd like to be listening.
It's another immersion experience, but a much more accessable one than Lord of the Rings. Much easier to get your head around and so much shorter. But you should read the book, watch the series and then listen to Gaiman's commentary. If you can't do all of those, you should just get the DVD and listen to the commentary.
Gaiman tells great stories. Listening to him is like being on a guided tour through Neverwhere with the guy who created it. So, it's kind of like getting a tour of the universe from God.
He points out things I never would have noticed on my own, like Mr. Vandemaar's bird skull rings. He tells you stories about the filming that were delightful, like how he got to explore a church steeple that you see in the background in a shot and found it full of hundreds of year's worth of dead pidgeons. And he's pleasant as a bubble bath to listen to.
Gaiman is my example of a good modern writer. He's my personal favorite. He's really good at what he does. He's a great craftsman in his art.
But part of what I really like about Gaiman is that in interviews he is who he is and there isn't a great push to highlight his persona. He is who is he and he lets his writing take the stage. Too often I see the oposite in writing. I see a lot of hypemonster writers who push their personae but lack the skill or talent (or both) to qualify an interest.
I remember an interview with Philip K Dick where he said that you shouldn't be able to tell anything about fiction writers from their writing. They should tell stories that stand on their own and the writer shouldn't feel the need to impose over their own work. PKD admitted that even he didn't do that. He said that the only author he could think of who did that was Ray Bradbury. One has no idea where Bradbury stands politically, religiously, or anything from his writing. And yet there are great lessons in them. I think Gaiman a good example from a newer generation.
I can't say my generation. He's in his forties. But I can probably say the modern generation because writers usually hit their popularity stride around midlife. My generation has about fifteen years to hone our skills before we rise up to fame and then people like Gaiman become grand old institutions of literature.
Boy, this sure got derailed from a film review, didn't it? Derailed like a subway train.
There. Tied it together.

I've got a free evening here, so I'll tell you an exciting story from the world of used book dealing and then I'll post a film review.
So, the library of a man who was the son of a man named Fredrick Samuels recently fell into my hands. Fredrick's father was Captain Samuel Samuels. To most of us that's a funny name, but to students of nautical history Samuel Samuels was the captain of The Dreadnought, one of the great clipper ships of the 1800s.
The first thing I pulled from F.S.'s library was a book by Samuel Samuels because it looked old and the binding was slowly being warped by a large stack of papers that were stuffed into the front of the book. The book is From the Forecastle to the Cabin by Samuel Samuels published in 1887. The papers include lyrics to a song written by Capt. Samuels about The Dreadnought (sorry to say no music though,) a program for a "women's liberation play" from 1920 by "Mrs. Frederick Samuels" (which made me smile too,) an old postcard of what appears to be the ship called Granada, several pages of notes from a speech on somebody's life (I assume Capt. Samuels) which includes notes like "Big Ben Marshal of Salt Lake killing man along side of me in hotel doorway" and "Order of Enoch" (and the masonic references snowball from here), an old, beautiful photograph of Capt. Samuels in his captain hat, a letter from Samuels to his grandson that includes a description of his "new Chinaman" of whom he says "knows English and I can understand him, not a very good cook," an instruction manual for merchant marines penned by F.S, a sadly mutilated pamphlet by F.S titled "International Boycott as a Solution of the World Peace Problem," a photo of a painting of The Dreadnought by F.S, and Capt. Samuels' obituary from 1930.
Many other books in the library from that period are signed by the authors to various people in the Samuels clan. The most recent owner of the library had an Irving Stone inscribed to him, which impressed me. So this afternoon I'm putting these books online and I pull out another one.
This was a book called The Man John D. Spreckels by Austin Adams. I research prices and copies are scarce, but I figure I'll put it up for sale at around $40 or so. On the title page I find, written in pencil, "See page 137." On page 137 I find a hash mark next to a paragraph that lists Mr. Spreckels friends and associates. In the list is Frederick Samuels. Neat.
So I get out and do some research to find out who Mr. Spreckels was. What I learned is that Mr. Spreckels was a very very rich man who basically made the city of San Diego, much like and at around the same time Anton Sutro made San Francisco. Spreckels made the railroads, pumped millions into the city, and owned a fleet (aha! Ships!) He died in 1926. In San Diego today there's a John D. Spreckels Theater, a Spreckels interchange, a bunch of other Spreckels namesakes scattered liberally around the city.
Oh, and the John D. Spreckels Masonic Lodge.
Having satiated my infolust, I went to put the book online. Remembering the papers in the other book, I flipped through the Spreckels book and something caught my eye. In a strange place, upside down on the back page, was an inscription. It reads, "To my loyal and trusted employee F.S. Samuels with the compliments of John D. Spreckels."
In gorgeous handwriting. The book was published in 1924, two years before Spreckels died.
So now I don't know what to do. I'm sitting next to a stack of papers, a book from 1887, and a book from 1924. The whole stack next to me is composed of more than books and papers. They comprise pieces of history (if it's one large one or two separate pieces I'm not sure.) They're historical documents. I may well have one of a dozen or so books signed by John D. Spreckels, an influencial man who built a city. Pricing could be mearly pleasing to astronomical. And it's one of those things that I'd almost like to be able to choose who I sell it to.
Makes me feel kind of small but also kind of equalized with the great men of history. Here they end up on my shelves.
I'm going to endeavor to find out more about all the people I've mentioned here and I'll keep you all posted. I'll try and refrain from making it sound obsessive, but my passion, I'm told, is difficult to curb.

Thursday, January 01, 2004

What a strange holiday. It's not one that you hear other people getting upset about very often. You kind of sound like a crank if you're anti-new year. I get a little ansy about being out so late. I usually leave where ever I am within five minutes after midnight because it's just me and the ghosts on the roads at that point. The drunks don't start their engines until at least 12:30.
It's a holiday completely formed by the Christian church with no dogma behind it. Just an arbitrary place to start up a new year.
Unless you're Jewish or Chinese. The Wiccans put their new year a few weeks back on the solstice. There's a Thelemic new year but I don't remember when that is. I know that Satanists (that is to say those affiliated with LaVey's Church of Satan) put their new year on Walpurgisnacht, the night before May Day. The Discordians have a whole different calendar that doesn't even translate to Gregorian.
I'm a free thinking Quaker, which basically means that I'm aware of the other new years but I celebrate the Gregorian one. Actually, celebrate isn't really a good description. I told Charles last night that I just wanted to make sure 2003 was done. It was a hell of a year for me. One of those "character building" deals you read about.
Also, one of the best things about the new year is that it marks the end of the major holiday season.
But mainly it serves as an arbitrary watermark. That'd be a good band name. Arbitrary Watermark. Sounds like something on the Windham Hill label, eh what?
A year ago I was having anxiety attacks. I think I'd either just started counseling to start working through them or else I was just about to start. Either way it worked wonders and I've grown a lot from what I learned in counseling.
I was still taking twice the recommended dose of Benedryl every every night. I quit that around the end of last January.
I had just bought a ring for Nissa so I could ask her to marry me after she graduated. The ring still sits in a box on a shelf in my room. I don't know what to do with it. I don't want to just sell it because it's a very lovely ring. I kind of like it. I'd wear it if I were a girl and had much smaller hands than I have. I figure the right thing to do with it will present its self eventually. Yeah, there was the end of my relationship with Nissa halfway through this last year. There was the long downward spiral and then her breaking up with me. That whole experience was kind of like passing a kidney stone. I mean that it was one of the more painful things I've been through, but also that it was one of the healthiest things that could have happened to me at the same time. Then I had to deal with her dating others when she said she wasn't going to. The good thing there is that I actually did sit down and work out how to deal with it. I'm proud of that. I removed the thorn from my paw all by myself.
My nephew died in October. That was rough on our family. But it also brought out some of the best in us and taught us a lot. Once again, taught me things I'm not sure I wanted to know but probably needed to.
Several friends drifted out of my life. Some left abruptly. A few drifted in too.
I got a car with low milege. And it's purple.
I met Julia Butterfly Hill, which was a high point. I saw both Phish, the band, and The Dead, the band about six months apart.
The most imporant thing is probably my book business. It's my pride and my life.
I put out a chap book that I'm proud of too.
Ultimately, looking back on 2003, I'm a little better off than I was a year ago, a little wiser, but mainly I'm one year older.

Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Oh, and the lungs are about 60% better, which means they sound about 75% worse.
I woke up and put books online. Charles gave me a sailor's buttload of books and this morning I finished up putting them online. They're worth a large amount of money. Charles is a man of distinguished taste.
Tuesdays are often the days when I take a little time in the afternoon to go out into the daylight. Today I went to the mall to try and find a calendar. I was looking for the Phish calendar, barring that the Dead calendar, barring that the Sandman calendar. I failed at all three. They had lots of calendars of cute puppies, women wrapped in small amounts of fabric on beaches, mountains with motivational slogans beneath them, cable television cartoon characters, dead racecar drivers, and many other things I wouldn't think of putting on my wall. So now I wait until I run across a good calendar and pounce.
Stopped at the comic book store and got torn between continuing my growing collection of Jill Thompson's fabulous Scary Godmother series or the re-release of Neil Gaiman's Violent Cases. Gaiman trumps Thompson and I finally succeeded in pumping a small amount of money into the local economy today.
I went to see Charles and help him move heavy pieces of furniture. In return he gave me another large box of books. One of those books I'm selling for $115. It's a book on Vito Genovese by a cat named Hanna. So if you're looking for an ultra-rare book on Vito Genovese for the mafia afficionado in your life, drop a line to the address at the top of this page.
I came home and made cod with rice and beans and lots of hot sauce. Hot sauce on the rice. You can't improve upon good cod. And the Cod was great. Cod was good. Let us thank Cod for our food.
Then after a nice peppermint tea I went back to watch Charles and Phish go through old cds. We found a mix cd I made for Charles around three or four years ago when I was just getting into Nick Cave. We listened to that for a while. Then we fell across an advertisement for a very strange looking band called Polyphonic Spree. So tomorrow I'm going to blow all my calendar money on the Polyphonic Spree album. Then I'll most likely stop consuming for a while again and go back to putting books online.

Monday, December 29, 2003

I don't get sick very often. I get symptoms, but it's only once every few years that I get bed ridden. There's a good and a bad side to that. Shaw said that convalescence is the best part of illness. Or something close to that. I don't remember where he said it and that's why I restrained myself from quotation marks.
I don't get sick because I eat right, I exercise every day, and I drink lots of tea. Then when I start feeling sick I pump myself full of healthy herbs, hot citrus, and, well, lots of tea.
Yesterday I started coughing. Today I'm in a strange place because I woke up with my lungs in a vice and coughing up things of many colors and sizes. But I feel totally normal. Like I could run a marathon. But I know that if I did, or even if I walked my normal three miles in the December ocean air I'd be slammed to the bed. Once again, good and bad. I usually like to be slammed... oh, just skip it.
So today I did my usual work, which is mostly sitting in front of this very computer. Then I sat and read and didn't do a heck of a lot else until tonight.
Opus read at the Liquid Den. I haven't seen Opus since last Friday, but before that I hadn't seen him since Charles and Phish's wedding. Opus rules.
Right after the reading I left to get home and get resting. My body's used to rhino charging all the live long day so I'm sure the shock of all this extra rest will beat the holy crap out of my cough.

Sunday, December 28, 2003

PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN

The movie industry never ceases to amaze me and that's probably part of the reason I'm so drawn to it and repulsed by it. The variations keep me attentive.
I think I can say that this is the first work on any kind of film produced by Jerry Bruckheimer that I've enjoyed. Usually he's the WalMart of film.
Director Gore Verbinski is good though. He's a proved himself to be really good director thus far. I've heard nothing but good things about The Ring (I'm still terrified of seeing it.) Personally, I'm a big fan of Mouse Hunt. I feel it was under rated. Part of what I love about it is that the whole film wraps up as a metaphor for enlightenment. Verbinski seems to have the good sense to work on movies with good writers.
And the writers are having a lot of fun with this movie. Almost too much fun. I was interested in the form this movie took. I can see that they looked long and hard at the ride and picked out elements that they felt they needed to include in the movie. I suspect that they formed the rest of the plot around these points.
I'm imagining that the fun script and the cool director is what got Johnny Depp on this project. I've also heard people speculate that he did it because he has kids now and he can't exactly set his toddler in front of the tv with a video of "Ninth Gate." I can't tell you why Depp decided to do Pirates except for one thing. I feel I can make one claim about his motivation based on his history for certain. Undoubtedly Johnny Depp did this movie because he damn well felt like it. Long may he wave.
Then there's crazy old Geoffrey Rush, great B character actors like Lee Arenberg, and Orlando Bloom who's in terrible peril of having happen to him what the studios have been wanting to do to Johnny Depp for twenty years. It's a movie with a bunch of hammy character actors doing a good job, sure, but mainly just goofing off.
It was a shallow well done movie. Notice I don't say good movie. And notice I don't say film. I had fun watching it but I also used to have fun eating Fun Dip. I used to like to eat the stick of sugar first and then just pour the colored powdered sugar into my mouth.
Now, anyone with half a brain should be able to tell you that this movie's function is entirely on the side of entertainment. And they'd be right.
I mean, it's a very guilty pleasure for me. I know what film as an artform has the potential for. It can change lives. It can cause people to look at things differently, look within themselves in ways they wouldn't have on their own. It has the power to change the world. And it doesn't always have to be all heady My Dinner With Andre (although I love that as well.) It can bring great change and be as much fun and entertainment as anything. It can work on people without them even realizing it. My example is Kevin Smith. His films are full of dick and fart jokes and, if you're not careful, will get you thinking about religion, relationships, and one's sense of self.
On the flip side, in my opinion, pure entertainment that is totally socially irresponsible isn't nessicarily always a bad thing (unless it's ubiquitous within a culture and unless profitmongering studios gut quality for the sake of a safe box office draw. In my experience, both are usually the case in the "blockbuster"genre.) I like to escape. In fact, I believe that creating an escape to a grim reality is often the best and most effective way of attacking that grim reality. Like in Brazil.
The Grateful Dead is a good example. Rather than protesting the evil war in Vietnam like all of their contemporaries, they created a functional, lucrative, and self sufficient society based on love, mutual respect, expanded conciousness and groovy music.
I'm going to frustrate some people out there in Bloggerland by saying right out that I'm not saying any absolute with this review. Here I've begun arguments for using films for changing the world and for a little pure entertainment being just as efficacious. Now I'm walking away from both arguments. I'm just using Pirates as an introduction to some conflicting ideas I have about entertainment and art. I may work these out eventually or I may not. I liked Pirates, but I also realize that it takes forty bowls of Pirates to equal the nutrition of one bowl of My Dinner With Andre. I guess my point is that I know this and I'm not going to die from malnutrition from Pirates, but I am going to enjoy some jazzy mind numb every once and a while for kicks. But I ain't going to live there and I sure as hell ain't going to write something like Pirates myself.
Whoops. Life got a little ahead of the blog here. Time to play America's fastest growing game "Catch Up."
Friday I got up early to get my traffic school date and swear up and down that I'll never go more than five MPH over the speed limit again no matter how cool I think it'll make me. Then Nissa showed up and we went to the LACMA with Charles, Phish, Yod, and Jessica. Meeting us there were Opus and a girl I'd never met and don't remember her name, Lob and Muffin, and Sharon who I haven't seen in years. Probably since the last Instagon house party.
There were two buildings full of Tibetan Buddhist art or points of meditational focus. The first building had a big sand mandala. The second building had things that Nissa called Tonkas (sp?) which looked kind of like the little tapestries you'd buy in a head shop but instead of a blacklight sensitive Steal Your Face symbol printed on them there were images of Buddhas and concepts of enlightenment with many arms filled with things that meant something and standing on mice or other people and what not. All of which meant something in deep Buddhist esoterica that I'll probably die not knowing what it means. I've often thought it strange that a religious path so focused on clearing the mind and freedom from attachments has such baroque art. Honestly, I after the third room of it I got tired of them. I didn't know what they meant and I wasn't getting enlightened. So, Charles, Phish and I went to the contemporary art section on the second floor. That's my religious art.
And, you see, I looked at a Rothko and thought, "This puts me much more in a meditative space. This helps me clear my mind a lot more than those pictures of thousand armed gods on fire having tantic sex with arms full of cups, swords, and bells riding in on a discount alligator."
No disrespect meant. I'm just saying what it does for me.
There was a room with a recreation of a cluttered old garage which was installed by a fluxus artist. It reminds one how much our clutter tells about us (which I remember all the time while I'm going through dead people's stuff and taking their books.)
My high point of the day was this dog sculpture called Kaleidoscopic Dog (I think. I wish I'd paid closer attention to the card so I could google myself up an image of it now.) There was the upper half of a devilish dog laying on its back with its front legs in the air. Its hind turned into pipes like a steam caliope. Beneath it were wood xylophone plates with malets poised before them and a great gong behind it all. I looked at it and really wished I could touch the art. I really wanted to play it.
I went into the next room and a great, horrible noise came from the previous room. I ran back in and the dog was playing, wagging his legs and mouth and sputtering out a discordian tune through the magic of pneumatics. According to the guy who gets paid to stand in the room and tell you not to touch anything, it goes off once every 2 and 1/2 hours. I was in the right place at the right time.
On the way home I crashed and became grumpy. Three days of excitement, people, and little sleep caught up with me. I passed out in the recliner at home.
Yesterday I said goodbye to Nissa. We had dinner and chatted some. It was a good visit. I think we both got to see how much the other has grown and the parts that still need worked out.
Last night I went to Rob's big party. A big group of people I knew in high school were there and some people I didn't know in high school and therefore didn't talk to. Actually there was one or two people I hardly knew in high school that I had pretty good conversations with.
There was also a girl that I used to fool around with who is now married and very pregnant (yeah, I'm at that age.) Another girl I knew has $270,000 and is buying a house. She said, "but that's all my life's savings." She's two years younger than me. My life's savings is little over 1/270th of what she has. But I chose to deal books and she chose to deal other things.
I spent a lot of the evening moving from Rob to Jessica to Andy. Andy's trying to convince me to move up to Klamath Falls, Oregon and buy a house for less than the price my parents bought their Orange County house for in the sixties. Maybe I will.
I got home late and am fighting off a cough, so today I'm taking it easy. I've got another film review coming soon, so stay tuned in and dropped out.