Writer’s Desk: It Beats Working, or Does It?

The late David Carr (Night of the Gun) was the kind of writer who reminded writers why they loved their jobs. He suffered for the job, but also thought it was a blast, and tore poseurs to pieces.

Here’s Carr being interviewed by a magazine at Boston University, where he taught a class:

The dirty secret: journalism has always been horrible to get in; you always have to eat so much crap to find a place to stand. I waited tables for seven years, did writing on the side. If you’re gonna get a job that’s a little bit of a caper, that isn’t really a job, that under ideal circumstances you get to at least leave the building and leave your desktop, go out, find people more interesting than you, learn about something, come back and tell other people about it—that should be hard to get into. That should be hard to do. No wonder everybody’s lined up, trying to get into it. It beats working.

Screening Room: ‘T-Rex’


As if growing up poor in Flint, Michigan wasn’t difficult enough, Claressa “T-Rex” Shields decided to set herself a lofty goal: Becoming the first woman to win a gold medal in boxing at the Olympics.

Shields’s awesomely gripping story is the subject of T-Rex, which is playing now in limited release and should show up on PBS in the next year. My review is at Film Journal International:

Outgoing but tough and pragmatic, Shields is blunt about how she got started at the gym she’s been boxing at since age eleven: “I was just down here, beating guys… It was something I liked to do”…

Here’s the trailer:

Weekend Reading: June 24, 2016


Screening Room: ‘Free State of Jones’

Mahershala Ali and Matthew McConaughey in 'Free State of Jones'
Mahershala Ali and Matthew McConaughey in ‘Free State of Jones’

In 1862, a Mississippi farmer named Newton Knight got sick of fighting for the Southern cause. He gathered a band of like-minded rebels against the Rebels and fought a guerrilla war that (briefly) established a free (of slaves, too) corner of the Confederacy.

Free State of Jones, written and directed by Seabiscuit‘s Gary Ross, stars Matthew McConaughey as Knight. It opens this week. My review is at Film Journal International:

As the saying goes, history is just one thing after another. That’s not true of most historical films. Usually they use a traditional narrative of a hero’s triumph over adversity or tragic end with posthumous glory and dot flecks of history into it only as needed. The history is foregrounded in Gary Ross’  Free State of Jones, an ambitious effort that ropes a cross-racial love triangle and civil-rights saga into a no-holds-barred war film. It isn’t often that you see archival photography or onscreen credits about the Battle of Vicksburg in a Matthew McConaughey film with an eight-figure budget. That occasionally starchy approach leaves the human element lacking at times. But at least it’s all for a good cause: further undermining the myth of the heroic Confederacy…

Here’s the trailer:

Writer’s Desk: Bukowski

bukowski-onwriting1Some authors become victims of their own caricatures, regardless of talent. So Hemingway is made the symbol of virile and manly artistry, Proust a languid dabbler, and so on.

Charles Bukowski was no different; and in some ways it was his fault. He is most remembered today as a kind of artful stewbum, churning out novels and poems even while drinking his way to the bottom of every bottle that came his way. His writing was well marinated in the last-call remnants of his alcoholic escapades.

Nevertheless, the man could knock out a killer line. And he wasn’t some natural, banging away at the keys like he was transmitting a message from the beyond. Like the best writers, Bukowski was fluid but aware. He knew he could write. And he could tell you how.

In the collection On Writing, Bukowski provides a glimpse of the method behind the madness, particularly as it relates to the rules (of grammar and other) that he never found much need for:

I didn’t pay a hell of a lot of attention to grammar, and when I write it is for the love of the word, the color, like tossing paint on a canvas, and using a lot of ear and having read a bit here and there, I generally come out ok, but technically I don’t know what’s happening, nor do I care.

… the very feeling of a good poem carries its own reason for being… Art is its own excuse, and it’s either Art or it’s something else. It’s either a poem or a piece of cheese.

The sanctuary of the rule means nothing to the pure creator …

(h/t: Brain Pickings)

Screening Room: ‘Finding Dory’


By the time you’ve read this, Finding Dory, the probably inevitable sequel to Finding Nemo, will have raked in millions. And for once, a preordained blockbuster sort of, kind of deserves to be one.

My review of Finding Dory is at PopMatters:

Finding Dory at least exceeds expectations, if not the original. As with any children’s sequel, particularly in the corporate-synergistic era when every popular animated property can’t just sit there like an exhibit on a shelf. Those characters need to earn their keep by delivering to the firm’s bottom line. It’s a relief to be able to report that they do so with much the same spirit of wonderment, easy humor, and teary-eyed sentiment that characterized the films that made Pixar the heir to the Disney mantle before it was acquired in 2006…