The Agency of Jessica 6

So, in Part One of my musings on the Logan’s Run film, I took a stab at answering a few questions concerning the world building and setting of the film if it were to be re-made or re-booted, as well as a few brief sentences about character adjustments to both Logan 5 and Francis 7, the two male leads from the ’76 movie.

I want to talk more about them, but I want to address something more important to me in this post. In this second part, I want to start off by talking about the third character in the ’76 film’s main trio – Jessica 6.

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PART TWO

Jessica 6 is one of only four speaking female roles in the 1976 adaptation of the Logan’s Run story.

The other two on-screen roles appear briefly, one is a nameless Runner who is terminated in Cathedral and the other is Holly 13, an assistant to Doc at New You, a face/body alteration facility.

Both of these females are killed off having served their brief cameos and are no longer necessary to the rest of the narrative.

The fourth female part is only a voice-over, and serves as the vocals for the City’s controlling AI. Coincidentally, the voice is provided by the same actress who portrayed the nameless Runner gunned down by Francis 7 in Cathedral, Lara Lindsay.

Jessica 6 appears at Logan’s side for the majority of the film, yet is strictly a passive character. It might be generous to describe her as the moral compass of the film, but she is the one that talks about love, monogamy and wanting to know her birth parents. Other than this she only serves as a functionary to the Logan character. She either needs to be protected, saved or won as a trophy.

The problem with Jessica is she has no agency.

Agency in narrative terms is the freedom to act or live in the defined world of the story. To make decisions that affect the world and move the plot or story forward.

Narratively speaking, without Logan, Jessica wouldn’t exist. She has no meaning except as an aid or burden to Logan’s journey. She serves only as a first step toward his escape from the city, from then on she becomes what is supposed to be a partner for Logan, but does nothing else to drive the plot forward.

A wasted opportunity and a weak and belittling part for any actress, in this case the stunning Jenny Agutter.

In the reboot I envision, Jessica 6 takes on a much larger and much more feral and dangerous role.

In both the film and the novel, Jessica 6 is soft and secondary. In my version, she’s neither of those things.

She’s also a Sandman, and she would have a fuck-ton of Agency. She’s the one pursuing Logan and Francis, she is the one who is going to kill all the unaccounted Runners and she is going to destroy Sanctuary.

At no point is she passive. She’s cruel, feminine, gorgeous and a natural born killer. Like Francis 7 from the original film, she revels in the power she wields and enjoys the perks of the City with abandon.

The trick is to make her more than the Big Bad, however. She has to be a layered and an effective compliment to both Logan and Francis. She’s not a femi-nazi or crazed. She’s flawed. She’s not conflicted, she’s a zealot. She’s privileged.

She benefits from the System, so the System must prevail, that’s her through-line.

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Jessica has goals. She wants to be the best, she seeks fame. And, as Sandmen always renew, she will become the most feared Sandman the City has ever known.

At the start of this new Logan’s Run, Jessica would be seen gearing up, along with Francis and Logan to patrol the City for Runners.

And as posited in Part One of this exercise, we focus on The Gun.

In a world where all manner of firearms have been outlawed and confiscated, with only one group being authorized to use them… any time a Gun is seen, it should cause panic and fear.

We see Logan and friends, care for and reverence for this all-powerful weapon. Like many Sci-Fi tales, there is the inevitable element of Worship when it comes to the concept of Power, and who wields it.

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The Sandmen are priest-executioners of sorts, holy assassins tasked with erasing deviant Citizens. At least, that’s how I’d pitch them.

They have special pavilions to live in, they train and study at Combat Temples and they participate in the production, maintenance and storage of the Sandman’s primary weapon; there has to be a ritual associated with every aspect of The Gun.

The very opening of the movie should make this point crystal clear (no pun intended.)

Also posited in Part One of this exercise is that the City spans a great deal of land, almost all the continent of Eurasia – but it wouldn’t be the pristine, plastic-color candy land from the ’76 version. It’s a vast urban sprawl that house billions of people who believe the outside world in uninhabitable. They live on top of one another, milling about through layered neighborhoods that range from crowded high-rises to opulent single dwelling penthouses… because even under the Dome, even after civilization surviving thousands of years after an ecological disaster, inequality and class still exists.

If it didn’t, there would be no struggle, no conflict, and without those, you don’t have story. And since wealth inequality and authoritative government is the zeitgeist right now – I’d take the opportunity to include that, as a mirror to today and a warning to the audience.

As far as the Art Design of my re-visioning of Logan’s World, I see it as Dredd meets The Fifth Element meets Bladerunner 2049; colorful, but with a definite darkness.

The world needs to feel lived in, not the fabricated plastic falsity that is shown in the original Logan’s Run movie. Film making has grown by leaps and bounds since I was thirteen. We as audiences expect a more sophisticated type of visual story telling.

In addition to the look of the film, the linear structure of the original story could, I think, use an overhaul as well. It’s a too familiar, too staid or formulaic in presentation.

We meet the hero, content in his viewpoint of life, plodding along and then is confronted with a situation that alters that viewpoint, forces him on a path of violent change. Through skill, luck and perseverance, said hero overcomes adversity, triumphs and changes his society, supposedly for the better. It’s the tried and true hero’s quest we’ve seen a thousand times.

The trick of course is to provide the audience with something familiar but with enough of a twist that it seems new. So, instead of showing the world and our hero at the starting point where everything is calm, let’s begin with chaos.

As stated earlier, the most important tool in a Sandman’s arsenal against the deviants of society is The Gun.

So, we open on a shot of it. And it’s in Jessica’s hand. She’s conducting a hunt in the middle of a crowded street in Arcade. The crowd parts fearfully, giving way to her as she stalks her prey.

DS Command is feeding her updated tracking info through an implant behind her ear, which also provides her with a virtual HUD that displays information on all the objects around her.

She moves confidently toward a structure, only to be surprised by a dark shape that throws itself at her from above, and the two of them go down in a heap, her gun spinning off across the tiled floor of Arcade.

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Pinning her to the ground is a man wearing similar garb, though dirty and torn, his face unshaven, his eyes wild.

This is Logan 5, her quarry.

“I’m still plugged in, Jess,” he says. “You can hunt me, but I can hunt you.”

The two then battle hand-to-hand, a vicious, brutal contest. At the mid point, before Jessica can retrieve her Gun, we see a random citizen go to pick it up, which results in a powerful blast that kills several bystanders and flings both Logan and Jessica apart.

The title sequence plays and then we rewind several weeks in time. To when Logan was still a Sandman in good standing.

To be continued…

What is Logan’s Run?

Lately I have been thinking a lot about the 1976 film Logan’s Run.

Probably because I’m rapidly approaching sixty years of age, double the lifespan of the average citizen that inhabits Logan’s world.

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Specifically I’m thinking a lot about how it might be retooled and updated for today’s viewing audience. I know that there were plans being passed around awhile back and I’m sure the rights to it are held by some studio (Warner Brothers I think) and they are sitting on them until either they expire or a decent adaption of the story/screenplay comes along.

Anyway, I’m not really concerned about pitching anything to anyone – I’m doing this as merely a creative exercise, testing my powers of imagination while I wait for my editor to get back to me with revisions for my second Lincoln Bright novel.

I want to see if I can mold something fresh out of the dated version that starred Michael York and Jenny Agutter.

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As a caveat I’ll say that all of these thoughts are my own and I haven’t looked at, read or discovered any other takes on the subject. I also think this will be a multi-part thought process, hence…

PART ONE

The problem (one of several actually) with the ’76 version of Logan’s Run is that it’s got no real bite–not by today’s standards anyway. The story culled from the novel by William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson was completely Hollywood-ized – watered down to a safe and limp tale, first and foremost, about “fighting for one’s freedom against an oppressive governing system” but that also has the underpinnings of “only love between heteros is the pure saving grace that ensures our survival as a species”. It’s only by destroying the protagonist’s womb-like environment can they be truly liberated from their short, carefully controlled, awful lives and rediscover the miraculous purposeful emotional bond that should exist between a man and a woman.

One of the other glaring issues is the non-existence of diversity in casting. An updated version of the story/film has to address that, before fixing the host of problems with the SFX and setting.

SIDE NOTE: It’s really amazing once you start to count up how many films – especially Science Fiction and Action films – repeat this theme of either an individual or a group fighting for freedom and overthrowing a larger, obvious evil governing body. There is an epidemic of them, and we are conditioned to root for the ones fighting for their freedom, because that is the heart of the American tale of how this country was formed. We were founded by a war for our freedom, so naturally, that’s the story we tell ourselves and our descendants over and over and over again.

Anywhoo, the gist of the ’76 adaptation is that roughly a thousand years in the future a War devastated the planet and human kind was forced to retreat inside a gigantic domed city in order to survive. It’s never stated where the City is located, but given the journey our protagonists take, its later revealed to be somewhere on the East Coast of the United States.

The City is run and maintained by a faceless, nameless Control System that provides for the wants and needs of the citizens. These citizens are presented as nothing more than oblivious, content cattle, living trouble-free completely cared for lives.

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And while the original film was a colorful, plasticine PG vision of the future, I don’t think the reboot necessarily needs to follow the tendency for things to be Grim & Gritty® in order for them to be taken seriously or “Adult” enough.

I’m not an Art Director, but I fairly certain you can mimic the style of the original while at the same time updating it to a more sophisticated representation of what a futuristic Domed Utopia would look like… without resorting to cheesy plastic models.

Setting all that aside, let’s get into the meat of it. Here is the first big question that neither the book or the film really answers: Why?

Why are humans still alive? Why does this society exist? Why does the Control System support them?

First, because we humans can’t tell stories that don’t bolster the notion of our continued existence. Every apocalyptic tale puts humans front and center, because of course humans will survive. Logan’s World exists because it has to – can’t be a story if there are no humans. Humanity’s tenacious survival only partially answers the Why.

The simple answer is because the hero has to have something to fight against. Logan begins as a supporter of the system, and what’s worse, an armed policeman whose purpose is to eliminate citizens that rebel or refuse to adhere to the rules of the system.

I guess from the film’s standpoint it was a subtle ‘lesson’ for all of us watching it, a warning that liberal, godless societies are corrupt and deviant in nature. If your government provides for you, it can’t be benevolent. It’s a mask for the dirty, evil entity of Socialist Communism. This was made during the height of the Cold War, remember… So, the strict societal controls in place that exist in the world of Logan’s Run will be the consequence if we should ever give up Democracy. At least that’s one interpretation. The film doesn’t provide an answer beyond what happens if that system is overthrown – Logan and Jessica win, then roll credits. The struggle and fight is what is important, not the aftermath.

This is the BIG WHY that should be answered in a remake. Why maintain the human race after the apocalypse? Why provide them with an embarrassment of riches, why shield them from want and need and the need to work for anything? Why or how can this domed City exist, if its citizens are naught but simply consumers? It’s implied in the film that their are “jobs” but, if everything is provided (food, clothing, entertainment, sex) why work? What is the purpose of the citizens of the City? Why was human society preserved after the War that supposedly destroyed the planet?

Two answers we can’t use have already been posited by two other works of Science Fiction – Soylent Green and The Matrix. In Soylent Green the answer is to turn citizens into food that sustains the system and in The Matrix, its to turn humans into batteries, an energy source that maintains the system.

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I’d posit that this future of Logan’s Run is one that takes place much further in the future than just a thousand years. Let’s also do away with the whole apocalypse by Nuclear War or any kind of war altogether. Destruction by global nuclear war isn’t as grave as a threat as it once was. (I mean it is, but we’re not obsessed with it like we once were.)

Instead, I’d use a real threat that’s a big concern to me personally here in the current quasi-dystopia we are all living in right now: the Climate.

In my reboot, Earth’s surface was devastated by last ditch, desperate Climate Engineering that had to be implemented due to irreversible Climate Change created by the near-sighted greed of human industry.

This domed City isn’t a mere thousand years old, either.

It’s 10,000 years old, and it spans a gigantic portion of the Eurasian Continent.

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The entirety of this massive structure – the Dome itself, the heating, cooling, water filtration, food processing, trash disposal EVERYTHING a city 100 times the size of New York needs to run efficiently – is upheld and sustained by self-replicating machines controlled by a sentient AI that answers to a small council of the global elite. Maybe. That global elite thing may need some extra thought… I’ll come back to it.

That still doesn’t answer the Big Why, really — it’s more of a How It All Works.

The real Why of how this society can continue to exist is to remove any doubt as to the purpose of Carousel.

In order to maintain order, citizens in Logan’s world are imprinted with a lifeclock in the palm of one hand and the lifespan of every citizen is limited to 30 years.

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Its never stated outright why in the film, but in my reboot, its because every citizen knows they are going to live forever. That’s why they have a number designation at the end of their names.

Logan 5 is and always will be Logan 5. His number is much longer than that, but is shortened when spoken aloud, much like how someone named Michael can be called Mike.

Once a citizen reaches the age of 30, their lifeclock blinks signalling Last Day and their final 24 hours of life. At the end of that time, they are to report to Carousel.

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Carousel is the culmination of a person’s life in The City. in the film, it is spoken of as a chance at Renewal, a rebirth. A reincarnation. But it isn’t a certainty.

In the my reboot everyone Renews. EVERYONE. It is a kind of immortality. Live life, forever young, rinse and repeat.

That’s the BIG WHY and that’s the BIG LIE. That’s why there are Runners. because they know they Carousel isn’t renewal. It’s execution.

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I was thirteen when Logan’s Run hit the theaters way back in 1976. Dying at the age of thirty seemed fine – it was so far off that it wasn’t scary to me.

Now, nearing 60, almost a full thirty years beyond that termination date, it does seem scary, to an extent. To think I’ve lived twice as long is strange and unsettling. Because even at 60, life seems incredibly short.

The next part of the Why of Logan’s Run that needs to be addressed is who Logan is. What a DSO (Deep Sleep Operative) or Sandmen is.

In the novel, every citizen has to report to Deep Sleep when their lifeclock turns black at the end of Last Day. In the book that age is 21, and the population submits to voluntary euthanasia. In the film that age has been bumped up to 30, and they submit to the conceit of Carousel.

Either way, reporting to Deep Sleep or participation in Carousel, both are enforced by the DSO.

Logan’s world is a police state and that too is a very real issue of concern in the real world, right now. So is the concern over gun rights, especially here in the USA.

In the book and in the film, the only people who are allowed to carry firearms are Sandmen.

The first thing I’d make sure that the audience was aware of in my reboot of Logan’s Run is The Gun.

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In the novel, The Gun has a number of different ammo types, including the deadly Homer, a heat seeking projectile. The Gun is also equipped with a personal identification tech, tailored to each Sandman, so that anyone not authorized to use it, causes the weapon to self-destruct in foreign hands.

The Gun in the film is a simply designed pistol that flares dramatically when fired and has a single type of ammunition–a poorly executed version of the Homer. The special effects and threat of the weapon is portrayed weakly and is hardly frightening at all.

So, in my take on the reboot, I’d open on and focus on The Gun.

The threat of it. The sheer terror of it.

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Because, in the City firearms are outlawed. To go even further and to put another real world spin on it, in this vision of the Logan’s Run world, the governing body did indeed come for peoples guns and now, no citizen can arm themselves. It’s a gun’s rights activist nightmare.

No one in the City is allowed to have a gun. No one that is, except Sandmen.

Sandmen should be a very obvious danger to the citizens of the City. They are Feared.

Early on in the ’76 film, during the Carousel sequence, both Logan 5 and Francis 7 are alerted to a Runner in Arcade, the City Center and they leave the ceremony to hunt him.

What’s shown to us is how these two Sandmen delight in the chase and the torment of the hunt. They toy with the Runner, taunt him, smile and laugh manically, with an almost cartoon villain type of glee. Runners, in their eyes, are societal deviants and therefore deserve not only to be terminated, but also terrorized.

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There have been psychological studies and books written done on the type of personality that gravitates toward police work. Part of that profile is a willingness to exert power over another. While the impulse to join law enforcement might derive itself from a wish to do good, it does attract a fair number of individuals who are authoritative in nature and who see themselves as the last line of defense in the maintaining of Order – even if that defense expresses itself through excessive force, torture and even murder.

Police brutality is a cause for concern in the United States, and while this exercise is an indirect condemnation of that, the violent final solution the Sandmen represent should be integral in the retooling of any version of Logan’s Run.

It can’t be avoided, really. Moviegoers expect a certain level of violence and brutality in there action-adventure films , to be honest.

Modern audiences have been treated in recent years to a slasher/horror franchise entitled The Purge. The premise of that franchise is that humankind has violent tendencies and the way to curb them, is to allow for a single night out of the year where crime and lawlessness are allowed–a practice that hopes to keep society from tearing itself apart. I think. I mean, I haven’t watched those films (or the TV series) because the ‘murder-for-murder’s sake’ of that brand isn’t in my wheeelhouse.

There’s an element of ultra-violence in Logan’s Run as well, it just isn’t represented well in the film. It’s light on violence throughout really, it being the 70’s, the effects being what they were and the MPAA rules on what could or could not be shown at the time, all added to hamstring the final product. I mean, the final fight between Logan and Francis really is chuckle inducing. Especially given the fact that the Sandmen were supposed to be experts in hand-to-hand combat, a martial arts technique labelled Omnite in the novel.

In order to compete in today’s cinema, I’m pretty sure the Sandman’s martial-gunplay style would have to be comparable to the gun-fu we all marvel at in the John Wick franchise.

The World that Logan inhabits is a twisted one. A fabricated illusion to lull citizens into a false sense of comfort and complacency based on the lie that they are all forever young and will reincarnate over and over.

Now we have to answer the question: if the society has lasted for as long as it has – Why Run?

In the film, Logan 5 is interrogated by the System AI after turning in a mysterious object he picked up off an executed Runner.

The System notifies him that 1056 Runners are unaccounted for, information that is news to Logan and probably to any Sandman. This is the first crack in the Utopian Order he has known all his life. To correct this anomaly and to expose the Network aiding other Runner’s, he is tasked to find the location of Sanctuary, a mythical safe haven that Runners are attempting to reach – and to force his cooperation, his remaining four years are stripped from his lifeclock. Logan 5 must become a Runner in order to get his lost years back.

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It can be argued that Logan has been questioning the fabric of his existence right from the start — the film opens with him visiting a Nursery to look in on his “progeny” Logan 6, but its so ambiguous in its presentation its obviously only in the film to soften his character, to make him appear likable in our eyes, even though for the next fifteen minutes he is an obtuse misogynistic dickhead. He isn’t really a likable character, but he is painted with broad heroic strokes because we need someone to root for.

In the remake, Logan 5 needs to be a hard, merciless and villainous character.

He murders citizens after all, with a Gun.

Francis 7 in the ’76 film, on the other hand, is your prototypical dudebro, a man’s man, a diehard true believer in the System. He revels in it, and thoroughly enjoys his status as a predator among sheep. He embraces his role as a Sandman and keeps tugging at Logan to join him in accepting things as they are, to maintain the status quo.

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He’s also kind of in love with Logan – and that I think is the real inroad to the heart of what it would take to retool the property for the modern age. It’s not only a dissection of society, the tendency for society to gravitate toward authoritative regimes, but it’s also a serious re-evaluation of the story’s secondary theme. It’s no longer the hetero Logan + Jessica pairing that serves as the romantic under current of the original.

In this one, its Francis’s struggle is to reconcile his love/lust/need for Logan vs. his duty to the State. It’s implied in the original film that Francis has unspoken/unrequited feelings for Logan – why pursue him with such intensity? Why does he keep letting him escape? I mean heck, they have a foursome together – but you really couldn’t show guy on guy in movies theaters in ’76.

In my reboot of the film, Logan is in love with Francis too. They are a couple right from the start and here’s another twist which I’ll explore in part 2 – Jessica’s a Sandman and she’s the one that’s hunting Logan and Francis as they attempt to find Sanctuary.

To Be Continued…

Whatever Happened to the Ghost in the Machine?

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The Police released the album ‘Ghost in the Machine‘ in 1981.

At the time, The Police were not only one of my favorite groups, but they were well into the mega-stardom that would soon explode them into the stratosphere with their follow-up album ‘Synchronicity‘, which would garner them the label: ‘the biggest band in the world.’

But in 1981, I was deep into my exploration of table-top RPGs and the GitM album provided the backdrop for an extremely fun but short-lived Traveler campaign that still holds a special place in my heart.

The framework and fabric of that campaign grew out of the imagination of my friend Markus and was culled from a lot of sources that were both shared and also fresh in our minds – the art of Moebius, Heavy Metal (both the magazine and the animated film), Star Wars, Logan’s Run, Blade Runner and so many other sci-fi books and images and sounds.

GitM was just one of the albums that provided the soundtrack to the game sessions that explored the adventures of a lone, grizzled bounty hunter as he jumped from port to planet tracking down his elusive quarry in his trusted light space fighter, the Loki V.

I was pretty optimistic about the future back in that long ago time of 1981. I had visions that all of the future-tek that had been dreamt up in these books and movies and images would somehow be brought into being during my lifetime. I imagined that life would move forward and upward, to something perhaps not brighter, but most definitely better.

Alas, none of that came to pass. We do not have many of the things that were prevalent in the futures presented in the media I was fascinated with, and those we do have don’t seem nearly as ‘futuristic’. Our technology seems mired in some aspects, stuck in a infant industrialization type mode. We’re still scraping in the mud rather than reaching for the stars, still squabbling over ideologies rather than working together to explore what is out there in the beyond, or to vastly improve our conditions down here on Earth.

It’s rather depressing to think of how ugly things are right now, and how dark as well. There will be those who would sneer at such a thought and tell me to “toughen up, snowflake”, while willfully ignoring their own collusion and contributions in helping to create the very atmosphere that is making the world a much darker place than we want for ourselves.

So much is being shouted and blasted out into the air, but very little of it is being heard or understood, the gap between us has grown almost impossibly wide.

There is a small part of me that thinks the impossible fantasies of those long ago images and songs can conjure up a better future – or at least one that doesn’t seem so bent on throwing up walls and dehumanizing our fellow man.

The Traveler campaign I was a part of, violated all the rules of copyright and genre was in fact the very first mega-crossover event I can think of – the space ports my character visited held not just travelers from our galaxy, but those of others far, far away – including storm troopers and officers of the Empire, Sandmen chasing Runners, Replicants and giant cat-people, Fremen, Guildsmen and so many more… it was a glorious mish-mash of every and all sci-fi properties, and it worked… simply because we willed it to.

I’d like all of us to will ourselves into a better future. One that brings us closer, rather than driving us apart.

“You will see light in the darkness
You will make some sense of this
And when you’ve made your secret journey
You will find this love you miss.”

— Secret Journey

Ghost in the Machine – The Police

 

 

 

“All that is gold does not glitter…”

So, Amazon has inked a deal to turn Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings into a five season series.

I’m all for people getting work and making a living and this would employ a lot of creative people for quite some time… but its clear that the main motivation for this isn’t artistic or for a love of the world and the characters – its for the love of profit.

They’ve even worked it into the deal that they can use Peter Jackson’s Rings trilogy films – meaning it may look and sound just like those films… but stretched over multiple episodes for five seasons… so let’s say 1 hour episodes and an average of 10 episodes per season… so, that’s fifty hours of film to re-tell the saga of Sam & Frodo trying to get the One Ring to Mordor and throwing it into the fires of Mount Doom.

Some may see that as a fantastic prospect – more time spent in Middle-Earth, more merchandise to buy and hang on one’s wall or cosplay at conventions or play board games of, etc. etc. etc.

While it remains to be seen how good the writing will be, the casting choices, the set pieces, giant battles sequences – and all of that which has to be included to translate the epic tale into a visual medium for audience consumption… at this point it just seems doomed to fail.

That’s personal opinion of course. But it just seems as though the motivation for this whole enterprise isn’t in the right place… and may simply look and feel like an arduous and drawn out version of three films which already stand as a serviceable and beloved telling of Frodo’s heartbreaking journey.

Why do we need this 5 season property anyway?

Obviously Amazon is thinking in terms of billions in merchandising and other revenue — money is the driving force behind every endeavor, and I guess that’s what rankles me about this “announcement”.

“The people love this world, they loved the movies… it’s got swords and knights and dragons… let’s do a Game of Thrones with it! It’s money in the bank!”

Again, in terms of the work this will create for actors, directors, costumers, prop makers, stunt performers and choreographers, etc. – it’s great.

I’m just not sure its something we need… all of that creative energy put forth in recreating (or re-purposing Jackson’s look and take on the world of Middle-Earth) just seems misguided to me… but then again, I’m not a profit hungry entertainment lawyer or studio head.

If it comes about and it succeeds, I’ll happily eat my words. But right now, looking at the motivations — I don’t have high hopes, or any hopes at all.

“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” – J.R.R. Tolkien

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Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows

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n. the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.

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http://www.dictionaryofobscuresorrows.com/archive

No More Cult of ‘Me’

I am so weary of the Cult of ‘Me’.

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What is the Cult of ‘Me’? I don’t think its an actual movement. I think its an unconscious reasoning that affects everyone at some point. I think its something that dominates many people’s thinking and thought process, even though they may not realize it. In fact I think it dominates many people’s thinking 24/7.

It’s that almost silent – or maybe, not so silent voice – that convinces us that we are in the right, and everyone else is in the wrong.  That anything that counters our arguments is ‘false’ or ‘fake news’ and that only the “I” knows what the truth is.

The Cult of ‘Me’ is Ego, its Arrogance and it’s self-delusion. And too many in power hold it up as unassailable and something that can’t be, shouldn’t be questioned.

“We both have truths. Are mine the same as yours?” are lines from a popular musical. It’s the age old argument, me vs. you, left vs. right, dark vs. light.

I think the Cult of ‘Me’ drives most advertising and marketing and that its a core value of most religions. And I think it is detrimental to the health of human society.

Let me state right up front, I don’t have an issue with spirituality or belief. I do have a big problem with religion. Especially evangelical and fundamentalist religions. I’m not going to go into that here – that’s a post for another day. But suffice it to say – I think religion cultivates and fosters the Cult of ‘Me’. It’s a requirement in fact.

The Cult of ‘Me’ is present in the belief or thinking that yours is the only answer, the only point of view, the only emotion, feeling, or argument that is valid and worthwhile.

Its a childish kind of thinking; a self-defensive mindset that rejects anything other than holding the self above everything and everyone.

I think a lot of people are more sociopathic than they care to admit. When you get right down to it, everyone is selfish. You may think you are doing things for a good cause or not for the you – but if you are truly honest with yourself, you will admit that most everything you do is geared toward your benefit.

You probably adhere to, cling to and defend stances, systems and principles that are not in your best interest.

Those who are blind to their Cult of ‘Me’ only obey one morality – that of the self. They may not recognize it as such, may justify or produce reasons to show that they are thinking of others or at least not solely about themselves.

No one is truly selfless. I think its impossible to be totally selfless. Even me writing this I am really just assuaging my ego, placing myself above the Cult of ‘Me’. When, in actuality – I am engaging in the very type of thinking I’m railing against.

It’s pretty evident that the Cult of ‘Me’ is alive and well in this country, given how much anger and ugliness there is in the current political and social climates of the U.S.

The false morality of many is one example of the Cult of ‘Me’. The chest-beating, hair-pulling protestations about one’s morality in the face of accusations and proof of horrendous behavior shows us how hard the ego will try to maintain control. That the willingness to deny rather than to admit fault, to cover up the truth at all costs is the hallmark of liars, hypocrites and sociopaths. It is better to feign the appearance of being good and trustworthy, of being upstanding and moral, than actually live that way.

To admit guilt or to plead guilty is somehow seen as a bigger crime. Because the death of the Ego is something that so many people cannot handle, they cannot conceive of surviving without it.

Can you imagine a world with no Ego? Can you imagine a society where no one placed themselves above another person?

Can you imagine a world where you never thought – ‘what about me?’

Its almost impossible to consider it. Especially in this capitalist “democracy”. Where the accumulation of personal wealth and gain is the sole reason for existence… more, more, more; bigger, badder, faster.

The Ego is insatiable. And everyone has one. And they are all fighting and squabbling all the time.

I’m weary of the Cult of ‘Me’.

Weary of the war of Egos.

I’m weary of a world that sees justice bought by the highest bidder. I’m weary of morality as something that can be bought and sold. I’m weary of a consumer driven impulse purchase existence. I’m weary of too much entertainment, from too many angles, that’s too expensive and lacking in content and creativity.

But mostly I’m weary of me thinking about things like this – because the outside world is taking on the shape and substance of something ugly and harmful.

I do my best to maintain a healthy and hopeful outlook. I really do.

But, dear reader, I am weary. So very weary.

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#CultofMe #Selfishness #immoral #vanity #religion #ego

Write what you know?

Straight, white men tend to tell stories from their perspective, as one naturally does, which means the women are generally underwritten.”

This I think is the most damning sentence I have seen concerning the horrific and – sadly – over a century old travesty that is the Hollywood “system”.

Damning because it lays bare a truth about the profession I am currently pursuing, about the title I currently assign myself: Writer.

They say you should write what you know. But I’m of the thought that will not be of use to me in this day and age.

The last five years or so I have been painfully aware that I’m not considered just a writer. But a WHITE MALE writer. I concentrate mainly on prose stories, not screenplays per se… but I am spending a great deal of my time looking carefully at what I write, to avoid the cliches and pitfalls of seeing things through my eyes. I am not sure that I’m doing a good job at that.

The industry of making movies, of telling stories on celluloid, of creating fantasy and drama is an extremely tough, arduous and soul crushing business. Its ten times that for women and minorities.

My Los Angeles and Hollywood experience lasted all of a year and a half. Like millions of others I went out because I wanted to see if I had what it took to make in films or TV. I was lucky enough to win a part on a show that went on to become a pop culture phenomenon… but I was unlucky in the fact that I wasn’t able to translate that into anything else. Mostly because I became disillusioned very quickly with the whole atmosphere and grind of what takes place in Hollywood.

In no way did I experience the very ugly side of the biz. But I did read scripts and sides over and over that had named male characters while others were labeled as ‘Woman Three’ ‘Blonde Bimbo’ or ‘Black/Latino carjacker’. Pick a stereotype, that was the label.

In recent days I’ve been examining and taking a second look at some of my favorite films, to place them in context of what is going on in this country – in Hollywood and in Washington, in this age of renewed bigotry and ugliness.

I’ve taken a look back at some of these sci fi films that I loved in my youth, a long hard look, because after seeing “Blade Runner 2049” (which I enjoyed despite going into it thinking I would not) I wanted to see how my memory and feeling of them held up living in the year 2017, in the age of Cosby, Trump and O’Reilly and Weinstein.

I’m not looking at these to bash them, I’m just looking at them through a different lens. When I watched them earlier in my life, my mind wasn’t questioning who was cast, what parts were assigned to what ethnicity — I had been conditioned from an early age just to accept that films looked and were presented as is. I didn’t look beyond what was presented.

It’s impossible not to look, not to see.

The original Blade Runner is still a classic, if only for atmosphere and mood. The lighting, the music, the setting, all fascinate and inspire. And even though Harrison Ford’s Deckard is presented as living among what appears to be a culturally diverse dystopian future – most of the crowd scenes are filled with multicultural citizens – the focus is still on a White Male protagonist. Even the main “villains”, the replicants, the head of the Tyrell corporation – they are all Caucasian.

The other aspect that always bothered me about the Deckard character, and how it was written, is that he forces himself on the female. He coerces, if not bullies Rachel into kissing him, a kind of male-centric forcing of consent. This for me undermines the notion in the sequel that they were “in love” and that their relationship was a good one. Even Rachel’s part in the sequel is reduced to non-participation – she’s replaced by a simulacrum. The female, the life-giver, pales in comparison to the need for the male/father to be the one to reconnect with “his” child.

Dune is purely a pale-skin’s only space opera. I don’t think there is one person of color in the whole of the film. Or if there are, they are simply set dressing.

The Terminator has a white female heroine, and one person of color who has a speaking part. He dies. In the sequel, T2, Sarah has been transformed from protagonist to an almost male character whose only solution to the problems of the Terminator and the future is to load up on guns and to obsessively pursue the death of the man who creates the tech necessary to allow Skynet to achieve sentience… a black man who has to die, and indeed does die.

Aliens has a white female protagonist, and maybe three persons of color, all of whom die. Ripley has to become a surrogate man to save the day, arming herself to the teeth with guns and grenade launcher and flame thrower in order to battle the evil female Queen alien – a male fantasy of female-on-female action.

Lifeforce, Tobe Hooper’s schlocky 50’s-esque sci-fi horror film based of the book The Space Vampires, is almost too painful to sit through. It’s a special effects laden D-Grade Mystery Science Theater 3000 contender. At the time it was released, in 1985, it was pretty bad – nowadays its just embarrassingly bad.

All of the main speaking parts are male. White males. The only females in the film are either shown as objects or villains. The blatant sex-plotation of the lead vampire – who in the script and credits is called “Space Girl” – she’s nude in almost every single scene she is in. The lead, (again) White Male protagonist exhibits atrocious behavior. He’s limited in his actions, seemingly trapped in one dimensional stereotypical misogynistic and self centered horror – his slapping and man-handling of a female character and his cry of “Why is this happening to me!?” All of this culminates in the female vampire telling him  at the very end that this has all been about him (the white male) “Because you’re one of us. You always have been.”

Take a good look at those films you have in your collection, whether they be action, sci-fi or what have you. The ones you truly love. How many seem the same? How many have the same texture or color to the characters? Who is the focus on the cover?

This is a tough pill to swallow.

On some level, I can only write what I know. I won’t ever be able to really write a truthful representation of a female character, or a minority character. All of my words will be filtered through my white male perception.

What I can do, what I try to do is to be sensitive to that. To not always make my focus the male character. To name my characters, not just label them. To make them real, not just one dimensional.

We are living through a very, very turbulent time.

All those tropes and cliches that have long driven the Hollywood of old are crumbling down in an avalanche of  atrocious and shameful behavior perpetrated by powerful (white) men and their enablers.

There are cries that white males are under attack. And you wonder why?

Mostly because it is deserved. Mostly because its high time we start seeing males and females as equal, that we start seeing skin color as equal.

I hold onto the idea that for every Weinstein there are five others who disdain the practice of harassment and systemic exploitation of women.

I’m doing my best, as a writer and a human being to practice that in my life. I hope you will too.

 

Don’t Call it King Arthur

So, Guy Ritchie’s take on the myth/legend of Arthur is out in theaters.

I posted about it few weeks ago on #Facebook… here’s that post:

“King Arthur is primarily a medieval gangster film, and that’s when the movie is at its best.”
And thus the author invalidates the articles title right out of the gate.
**warning – gripe post about something I already griped about. Sue me.**
I’m gonna have see this, the same way I had to see the last Tarzan movie. These are the heroes I spent my childhood with. And these are the heroes that never (almost never) get represented the way I would like them too… I’m not very subjective when it comes to them. So forgive my teeth-gnashing and hair-pulling.
Will this be a well-crafted film? Probably. Will it be King Arthur? No. No it won’t.
Fantasy-based street orphan bests corrupt ruler with the aid of a ‘magic’ sword and prophecies about destiny? Yeah.
But don’t f***ing call it King Arthur.

I also linked to an article from which the quote was taken from, you can read that here: Turns Out King Arthur: Legend of the Sword Is a Lot Better Than Anyone Expected

Having seen the film, I stand by that assessment.

Don’t ****ing call this film King Arthur. As a matter of fact, keep it as far away from the source material as possible. Call it whatever you want, rename the characters to whatever you want, just ****ing remove any reference to the myths and legends of Arthur and his Knights.

The rest of this post is more of the same, so if you are one of those TL/DR types – news flash, I didn’t like it.

Like Zack Snyder, (of 300, Watchmen and BvS fame) Mr. Ritchie is able to paint scenes well. Both men are good, competent directors – and I really kinda wish that it had been Zack Snyder that had been behind the helm of this, rather than Guy Ritchie. I think it would’ve fit better with Mr. Snyder’s style and tone – i mean that as a compliment.

The art direction and cinematography and effects for this film are top notch. In fact they are really well done and consistent… As for the costumes, I have a mixed reaction on those. Sometimes they worked, sometimes they didn’t. Really, looking back on it, having just sat through it… I couldn’t tell if they were going for a Hugo Boss-meets-REI medieval look or for a post-apocalyptic REI-meets-Hugo Boss kind of look. For the most part the costuming worked, it was medieval/ren-faire chic… all leather and sheepskin and woolen cloaks. Oh, and molded plastic armor plating that didn’t really pass for steel or iron or any kind of metal really.

I honestly couldn’t tell you where or when this story was supposed to be taking place – if it was on the continent of Great Britain or on some world a thousand light years away or in some alternate dimension of Earth. The very opening shot of the move has what looks to be a Mayan pyramid in it… or at least a structure that looks an awful lot like a Mayan pyramid. The only time I heard them mention “England” was at the very end. I guess because they had to include that so – once again – they could remind everyone that this was a King Arthur movie.

The performances from the actors were all adequate. It’s an action/adventure/fantasy flick, so there is a lot of scenery chewing but for the most part, the performances rang true. I didn’t really have a fault with any of them… given that they were all kind of stock and recognizable. Again, all the more reason to disavow itself from the legend of Arthur and just give them other names… Just call it The Legend of the Sword, throw in some nods and hints at the source material, and leave it at that… We could’ve relaxed into it, got caught up in the heroic struggle. But nope. Instead the film has to try and make these folks fit into the molds of characters and therefore are stilted and trapped by the parts they are supposed to play in this “legend”.

But I understand why the name of Arthur was tacked on to this film. I understand its probably a rights issue, that the studio(s) probably own said rights and therefore needs to contractually fulfill a ‘once every decade’ resurrection of the King Arthur tale to maintain the rights to the characters… otherwise, some other studio might steal them away and make their own “alternate take” on the legend and so on and so on.

It’s a fairly decent D&D movie actually. It really is. It’s so much better than any D&D film that’s been produced and it maybe should’ve been marketed as such. It’s a above average fantasy film.

It’s just not ****ing King Arthur.

Names we are familiar with are tacked onto side characters and then dismissed because – I don’t know? Pacing maybe? Merlin and Mordred are part of some “race” called Mages that Uther and his brother Vortigern (even though in history and legend they don’t have this relationship) at war with at the start of the film… Merlin is absent from the film and Modred is not Arthur’s progeny as it is stated in the legend… all liberties taken because, well, why not…

Once again – it’s ****ing King Arthur.

Guy Ritchie has made some really good English gangster/street wise criminal movies. As the i09 article points out, that’s when this movie really works (not really, but we’ll let that go). The snappy dialogue and intercut scenes within scenes that both show and tell to accent the snappy dialogue is something he’s done before in films such as Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch, and RocknRolla. It’s his use of language and slang in those movies that makes them great, that really endears the characters to you and puts you on the streets with them.

It doesn’t really fly in a medieval setting. Charlie Hunnam as Arthur, looks the part… and when he’s not trying to play the whip-smart English street punk – he actually cuts a heroic figure as the ‘born king’.

But did I believe for a second that he was as witty, scheme-oriented, sharp as a tack criminal gang boss? Not for a second. If the film had been primarily about that … it might have made for an interesting period film… In fact, I’d actually really want to see that… but trying to mash in the street-wise stuff in among the quasi-magic, medieval swords and sorcery stuff, just muddied it. The movie doesn’t really know where or when it is… And again, its a D&D game brought to life on the screen.

All of the characters talk as though they are living in the here and now. I can just see a bunch of D&D players sitting around a table and speaking the lines – it’s how we all did when we would play through an adventure or a campaign… snappy, witty off the cuff but not really investing fully into the characters… all of our 21st century knowledge and mannerisms and inside jokes found their way into the mouths of the characters. And the dialogue in this film has that feel and sound. I’m not saying the film needed to be in iambic pentameter, but it gets tiresome to see ‘period’ films tainted with modern speech.

I found myself in a a row with two gentlemen who felt it necessary to whisper and joke throughout the movie. They probably thought the movie was the shit. they laughed at all the right lines, ooooh-ed and ahhh-ed at all the fights, and munched and slurped their popcorn and drinks during the other parts. I wanted to lean over at some point and tell them to keep it down, but as I wasn’t having a good time during the film, I figured, why ruin theirs? They were the target audience for the film – the guys that just wanted to see some dude with a sword fuck shit up.

They could care less about the legend or how it was being portrayed on the screen – and good for them. I wish I could’ve been that entertained. (They were still rude and idiots for jabbering through the movie – and hopefully karma will smack both of them in the head for that at some point down the road.)

The world of the film – as a said – looked very good. The color palette is your standard fantasy/action tint (that orange-blue tint you see all the time) the shot composition, the special effects – really nice… but the “world” they created was unclear and kinda all over the place. They never really nailed for me the ‘how and why’ of the magic elements. The ‘dark lands’ section was such a muddle of quick cuts and transitions that it wasn’t until it was over did the film make it plain that Arthur hadn’t journeyed there except in his head.

The biggest sin for though was the fact that they used the words “myth” and “legend” when referring to Arthur. This meta-fiction type of stuff in films like this irks me a lot because it doesn’t ring true. Arthur only has mythic and legendary status because of the hundreds of years we’ve been telling those stories. The Arthur in this film has not earned that status. 20-25 years of being in hiding is not mythic or legendary.

Daniel Pemberton’s score is, aside from the look and effects, by far the best thing about the film. It crosses several genres, and has a sort of alt-rock meets new age medieval raga flavor. The mouth harp/rough violin/heavy breathing sections are effective in the quick cut frenetic montages of Arthur’s rough childhood and the run through the streets sections. Its percussive, a-tonal kind of exotic and sometimes works and other times it doesn’t. It sounds exactly like the kind of stuff one would want to underscore your D&D game: quasi-modern and trying to sound medieval and kinda succeeding at both… again, just highlighting how muddy the attempt is at retelling this story we’ve all heard or seen before.

I’ve said this before… making films is an amazingly rough, time consuming and soul-crushing business. The people that work on these types of projects deserve all kinds of praise and kudos for creating these wonderful pieces of art and entertainment that get savaged by critics and others. The film is an achievement in the power of cinematic storytelling in that it made it through the system, was written, shot, edited and released into the wild. I give the filmmakers, the actors the producers, the set builders, the costumers, the artists, the extras and everyone involved in it a round of applause – you got work and you did the best with it hat you could.

It just didn’t work for me.

I’m pretty sure that some ten or eleven year old will see it and think its the best thing they’ve ever seen. They will grow up thinking that King Arthur is a superhero and that Excalibur has the power to slow time (yeah, that happens) so that the ten or eleven year old can swing it to cut down his enemies and stand triumphant once all the carnage is done with.

I’m pretty sure at ten or eleven, I would’ve been wowed by that.

But it’s not ****ing King Arthur.

It’s not.

I am a Murderer

[…] went back and forth on actually killing him in this story, saying “I think that it was a tough decision. I really like […] as a character, I’ve had a lot of fun writing him. He’s been big part of my run and I didn’t know that I was going to do that when the run started. It was heartbreaking to do that to […].”

The above quote was taken from an interview about a certain comic that has just been released, one that is courting a lot of controversy and backlash.

I’m not going to go into great detail about that particular comic, one because I disagree with the arc and two because this isn’t really about whether or not a cultural icon is or really isn’t a Nazi. (that should give it away… if it doesn’t, well good. Stay ignorant. You’ll be happier believe me.)

What this is really about is what a writer is and what he/she is capable of.

Writers are heinous criminals. We lie, cheat, steal; we commit adultery, we blow up buildings, send cars careening off cliffs and yes… we kill.

What prompted me to write this… (and what I’m writing about isn’t new, other authors have addressed the subject of the ‘amorality’ of writers) is the sort of nonchalance that the quote giver expresses his ‘heartbreak’ over killing off a character. Now, the author who is quoted may very well have been sincere and choked up when making that statement, I can’t really say for sure. I’m guessing it was just said in a matter-of-fact tone. It was just one of those ‘no big thing’ type statements, one that every writer makes when discussing death in their work. And for all I know, the writer did think long and hard and went back and forth about it, but in the end — went ahead and did it anyway. What troubles me about the this particular “killing” is that, it’s not really their character. The character in question belongs to a comic publishing company and other writers (including the one who invented the character for said comic book company) have spent time, energy and creative talent to bring the character to life.

In one sense, you might ask… ‘what right do you have to kill off another writer’s character?’ And on the heels of that, you might ask – hold up, ‘why are you killing them at all?’

Writer’s kill for one reason. To illicit a response from the reader. That response can vary of course, dependent on the character, their importance, the reader’s emotional connection or indifference to said character and so on and so forth.

But the goal is to get the reader to feel.

Admittedly, Death is the easiest button to push in order to get a response from a reader. A lot of that has to do with how we view death in real life… how much of our lives is spent trying to avoid it, how many of our fellows are scared of it, how much of it takes place around us… and how many times how unexpected it is.

A writer kills because it serves the story.

Of course I had to have Sean Bean die in this post – ’cause reasons

Sometimes this is done with great skill and attention to detail, the writer has skillfully drawn the character so that the reader is affected long after the story is over and done with. The impact resonates.

Other times its ham-handed and ineffective, the reader can see it coming or isn’t invested enough in the character to care one way or the other about the event. It’s treated with a sigh and a shrug and quickly forgotten.

Writers kill because we are human. Death and killing is a part of who we are as a species. Every great story has death in it. A death. Or more than one death. It’s necessary, to be honest, in order to make the stories come to life, to be real. Which is kind of ironic in a way.

There’s that armchair-philosopher maxim that states: Given an infinite universe and infinite time, all things will happen. You could extrapolate that to creative mediums and say that every character in every book or comic or TV show or movie exists in some alt-universe out there, somewhere in the vast unknowable vastness of existence.

Which begs the question… am I pretending to kill a character off? Or am I causing the death of someone, somewhere… out there?

And that for me is a very interesting rabbit hole to jump down into and explore. It brings up question about morality and existence – the should I or shouldn’t I? aspect of just about every decision you make in your life.

In all of literature, how many “lives” have been extinguished in the name of entertaining those of us in the real world? How many have been snuffed out to enrich the life experience of us here in this one who consume the pages their brief time is opened to us?

Writing a death shouldn’t be just some small thing. It’s something that should be given thought too… even the small, nameless and faceless ones that happen to bystanders and those “people” that get caught in a building fire, that are no way involved in the main thread of your story or narrative.

Everyone of those ‘characters’ has a life don’t they?

And that’s something that, in these politically volatile and fractious times, we all forget in heated moments. Everyone has a story, everyone is the lead in their own narrative.

Comb through any thread or topic on your favorite book or comic or film and inevitably you will find statements that causally comment on or dissect the death of a character, and no doubt you will find ones that discuss them in terms that range from dismissive to derision. We treat literary deaths as though they rank on a scale – probably because they do.

What is meaningful in a story is only rated in terms of how it affects the main characters. All others are chaff on the wind. And how does that apply to our real lives?

Do you feel the same about the death of Robin Williams as you do about the death of a relative, or Umberto Eco?

As a writer, I’ve killed a great many characters. And to tell you the truth, some I didn’t even think about. They were side-line entities, there only necessary as a minor moment in a greater scene.

I think that speaks volumes about how we look at life. ‘If it isn’t happening to me, then how important is it really?’

I can’t really say if that’s healthy or not. Life is complicated and filled with so much information and a constant stream of events that we can’t give equal weight to them all. And it’s the same with death I think. Some times its too much to deal with. The weight of it is too much to take. And other times its a simple as turning a page or closing a door.