Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Roasted Swan

?                                                  ?!

Those of you who know Carmina Burana know there is
a Black Swan in it, actually a white swan roasted black:

The Roasted Swan

Neither the surprised bird nor Carmina Burana shows
up in Nassim Nicholas Taleb's The Black Swan, but
this doesn't stop the book from being the perfect gift for
the young filmmaker or novelist starting out into a career
in which randomness (or luck, if you prefer) plays a large
role.  Taleb has caught the artist's predicament very well,
covering everything from how rewards are doled out to
artists in a less satisfying manner than to accountants
to the real toll the success of lesser artists exacts from the artist
struggling with  lack of recognition and the knowledge that
there is a very real chance - a strong probability if one is
honest with oneself - that not only will he or she neither get
the money nor attract the many attractive people attracted to
success, but that the work itself, that for which all else has been
sacrificed, might well vanish into a void too.

By Black Swan  he means a highly improbable event,
say 9-11 or a stock market crash.   People in power and
insurance executives fear Black Swans, but obscure artists
chase after them.  For filmmakers, even getting into a film
festival is a highly improbable event if they have no
actors the public has heard of.  The one Black Swan I have
managed to catch is winning the Jury Prize for Screenwriting
at Slamdance in 2004 for  NIGHTINGALE IN MUSIC
BOX, which I also directed.   

This was the only one of my four features to make any
splash on the festival scene, eventually winning several
more prizes and playing European festivals as well.
Slamdance receives over 5,000 submissions per year with
about 3,0000 of of them being features.  They show under
30 features, meaning getting shown there at all is by
objective measure a highly improbable event. 

It leads to Park City, but it did not lead to fame and fortune,
and my next film BLACK MAIL has had the same difficulty
all my films previous to NIGHTINGALE had even getting into
a festival.  What's the difference between NIGHTINGALE'S relative
success - you can buy it on Amazon after all! - and the
obscurity of my other films?  Taleb would argue that it's as
likely to be a question of luck as of the quality of the movies
themselves.  To say I was lucky with NIGHTINGALE is not
to deny its quality, but just to say the first reviewer had to
like science fiction, or be in a good mood that day to even
give the film a chance.

Taleb's concern with randomness and luck reminds me
of Boethius and his Consolation of Philosophy, a wonderful
book whose Wheel of Fortune shows up in 24 Hour Party 
People.   Taleb also finds some consolation in randomness,
especially since the internet now gives the obscure thinker
or artist a place to wait in the antechamber of success for
the work to be discovered.*  This is because work can
survive basically forever in digital form on the net.  He
uses the term long tail to refer to this relative permanency
of any work now, no matter how obscure, and says of the
long tail:  "the world is made no less unfair for the little
guy, but it now becomes extremely unfair for the big man.
Nobody is truly established."

In other words, those at the top of the wheel will come
down when it turns again - thereby creating room at the
top - and so those of us who feel we have not yet
received the attention our work deserves can pray,

Oh, Fortune, turn your wheel one more time!

---                ----                      -----

*Of course it could turn out to be the antechamber
of further obscurity too.   There is no way to tell is
one of his points.  The insecurity is not only
frustrating but over the course of a lifetime injurious
to the health of the artist, Taleb argues.

I want to stress that I can not comment on his
economic advice, which is what he is best known
for.  I just do not know enough about it.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Big Nothing

------      -------       ---------------->

Time is that which doesn't exist
.and which will remain
..after we're gone.

*                 *                   *

It's precisely because it doesn't exist
...            ...   that it can't come to an end.


Friday, July 23, 2010

WFMT Cancels The Romantic Hours

I am a big fan of WFMT.  I am not shy about saying
it is clearly the best radio station I know of in the
United States.  I give money regularly to keep it
going.  I'd like to suggest the slogan to
Steve Robinson:

WFMT, Chicago's Gift to the Nation

but I have to strongly lament the canceling of
The Romantic Hours.  It's ironic they did it
so soon after their poetry month, because it
was the one show on the air that consistently
featured poetry - and not the dozen classics
you always hear either.

Beyond that, The Romantic Hours was a
truly bizarre and sometimes very affecting
hour of radio.  Where else could you hear
Cosima and Richard Wagner exchanging
letters admitting that all they truly wanted to
do was die, but of course they had a duty to
live while Siegfried Idol played in the background?

Mona Golabek is a completely committed
host, and it doesn't matter that the taste of
the show isn't always impeccable, it always
delivered a slice of our cultural history you
could get no where else; and it was perfectly
positioned at midnight on Saturday, bringing
the week to a contemplative end.

Please go to WFMT's contact page
and let them know if you'd like to
bring The Romantic Hours back.
Lets show the power of this blog,
and the untold millions who read it.


Untold, forward.
 _                             !

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Secret Diplomat

_ _        ________      _  _

He considered his wife beautiful - even after 11
years of marriage,  that is he still considered
her beautiful except on those social occasions
when she decided lipstick was called for.  
The amount of lipstick she used
struck him (the verb none too strong) as so
entirely excessive and the effect of this excess
as so obviously garish that he wondered how
she could ever fail to see how unattractive
her efforts made her look and how completely
her lack of discretion in front of the mirror
destroyed her beauty.

He said nothing,  because he did not
want to hurt her feelings, and he knew
beyond a doubt that  he could hurt
her quite effectively if he expressed 
exactly his thoughts.

 *      *     *

One night when he had drunk enough to
have honest thoughts,  but before his
mind and sensibility had been clouded into
a comfortable insensitivity, his wife excused
herself from the table during a riveting
table wide discussion at an important dinner
party and went into the bathroom.

She took the opportunity to refresh her make up
and lipstick, and as she came out of the bathroom,
he hardly recognized the gaudy stranger walking
towards him.    He touched his bow tie and
for the first time reflected that he could never
really know the sort of person who could
make such a gross mistake.  Not only her beauty
was suddenly called into question, but the whole
basis of their marriage.  He could no longer say 
with confidence he was capable of loving her.

He felt sorry for their children.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Recovered Memories Debacle

What is so depressing about the recent
This American Life episode on the
1980s epidimec of recovered (false) memories
of sexual abuse, often with Satanic rituals
thrown in, is that it makes painfully obvious
that the therapists of America are very poorly
educated for their jobs.

Without any scientific basis, often picking up
their techniques in a single course of continuing
education, they began using the most basic
techniques of suggestion - known to any two bit
stage hypnotist - and began creating "memories,"
and not happy, useful memories which would
make people feel better, but the most horrible
memories you could devise, guaranteed not only
to screw the patient up, but her or his family too.

Then as the patients got worse and worse in
therapy, none stopped to ask, "If this isn't
working, should we try something else,
or at least examine the scientific basis of
what we're doing?"  Instead they decided
they had to dig deeper, manufacturing
even more traumatic scenarios.

The truth is American therapists don't seem
to concern themselves with empirical
evidence at all.  They have a theory and try it.
As Richard Bandler has pointed out, if it doesn't
work, they try it harder.

Where did the idea of suppressed memories come
from?  Many would blame Freud, but he's also
blamed for not believing actual sex abuse victims
who remembered their memories all too well.

My guess, and I know this will be controversial and
it's only a hypothesis, is that this theory really came
from television programs.  Sure the programs got
it from Sigmund of the Big Cigar, but it was seeing
them for years used week after week as a device to
create suspense that really led us to be willing to accept
these events as true with no shread of supporting evidence. 

The therapeutic community is subject to fashion just
as much as any other.  It's clear individual therapists
are not receiving the scientific training to learn how
to evaluate evidence, and so individual therapists
will continue to unquestionally follow fashionable
treatment trends.   Lets hope most are benign and
that it's a long time indeed before we run into
another one so horribly malignant as this fashion proved.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Everyone Leaves Chicago

All artists eventually leave Chicago.   Bellow left;
Mamet left; RT Both left; even Nelson Algren left
Chicago.  Dreiser left.

Chicago is the undoubted center of comedy in
America, the prime feeder of New York and Los
Angeles with comic talent; and so the comics
leave quicker than anyone.

Actors leave, but when their welcome is worn
out in Los Angeles or life proves too lonely in
New York, they can return here and be

Opera singers move here after they're famous,
want to have children and are going to travel
all the time anyway.  They don't leave, because
they never really lived here anyway, so there's
no sense of loss when they're gone.

I once had dinner with an agent in New York
who said she wouldn't rep me while I remained
in Chicago.  She didn't wait for me to ask why
before saying, "If you live in Chicago, you're
not careerist.  It's just the work for you - not
the career.  Come to New York, and we'll
take you seriously."

I'm glad I didn't move to New York to have
her rep me, because 4 months later she told
me she was leaving representation to work
on Martha Stewart's television show.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Cleveland Fails to Evolve

It's interesting to look at Cleveland's reaction to
Lebron leaving in terms of evolutionary biology.

15, 000 years ago if a particularly strong member
of a community left the group, the survival of the
group depended on the remaining members
immediately cutting personal ties and identifying
the leaver as a traitor

The leader of a group who lets a valued member
of his group get away suddenly is vulnerable.
Will the group repudiate his leadership given
his failure to hold onto their best warrior?

It is in this light that Daniel Gilbert's outburst
should be viewed. It would be easy to see him
as having failed Cleveland.  Lebron left because
he was not confident he could win in a
championship in Cleveland with Gilbert leading
the team.

To distract the fans from this unpleasant fact,
the owner who could have shown confidence
and poise by being gracious, instead uses
insecurity as a weapon and plays on his
fan's most primal in-group/out-group instinct
to cement his own status - but to the detriment
of the team as a whole.
The lost opportunity for Cleveland is not primarily
the games Lebron may have won for them, but
the chance to prove that they felt bigger than Lebron
by not caring so much that he went away. 

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Is There a Light Which Never Goes Out?

________________               _____          ___

Sitting in the Unicorn Cafe in Evanston yesterday
as they played There is a Light Which Never Goes Out
by The Smiths,  I suddenly found I had stopped
thinking about what I had come there to think about
and instead was wondering if this were true?  Is there
really a light which never goes out?

I came to the conclusion, yes, take consolation, it
must be true.  Of course if there is a God who has
given us the little light we enjoy for a short time
here, then the source of unquenchable light is obvious.

But even if we take it on faith there is no God,
the light that exists now came from somewhere,
or from some nothing perhaps, and even if this
expression of the light (this universe, these multiverses)
are someday extinquished, still the light will be
waiting to flicker on again at least as a possibility
already realized once.

The older I get the more practical Nietzche's idea of
Eternal Return seems.  Eventually everything
must happen again - and again after that of course,
ad infinitum - unless there is a God strong enough
to bring closure to the whole!  The girl I kissed in
the woods in high school, I will someday kiss again.
And again after that ...

Kundera thought it depressing that we repeat the
same mistakes forever, but the recurrence of this life
doesn't mean we don't also enjoy subtle variations,
perhaps marrying that girl and enjoying years of
wedded bliss over and over again in a parallel current
of eternal return.

In my play UNDER THE BIG BLUE MOON, a young
lady asks her aunt if she believes people can ever come
back from the dead.

--Yes, the aunt replies, because when a person is created
a whole host of possibilities is created for her life.
Sometimes God brings someone back to live out one
of the neglected possibilities.   

The Aunt ends thecact by asking,
That makes sense, my dear, doesn't it?

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Fourth of July, Many Happy Returns of the Day

Before CHICAGO, City of on the Make, there was
William Stead's If Christ Came to Chicago. 

Published in 1894 it remains an incredibly good
read.  It holds one fascinated at how violent and
shameless American culture once was.

Around that time, 2 people a day were killed on
average in Chicago in cable car accidents.
Newspaper boys in the first decade of the
Twentieth Century were routinely beat up for
delivering the wrong paper.  27 News Stand
Operators were killed for selling the wrong
paper by 1913. 

People lived with a degree of risk we
would never accept today.    I wonder if
anything has limited America's potential
as much as our aversion to risk.

Fear keeps us from imagining  a form of
success really worth achieving.  Sharing
drinks with one of Chicago's best writers,
Tom Geoghegan at the Twin Anchors last
Thursday as an early Fourth of
July Celebration, he traced our woes as a
nation to one simple cause:

Chicago, the Midwest, has let America down,
producing nothing the rest of the world wanted
anymore, surviving on corn syrup sold to
mainly ourselves.