Screening Room: Fall Movie Preview

When the air turns cool, it’s a reminder to cinephiles that it’s time to hie themselves back to the local movieplex, since it’s time for films to start bum-rushing movies out of the way. The Oscars and Golden Globes are coming, after all.

There’s a lot to look forward to. A Rosemary’s Baby homage from Darren Aronofsky, Gary Oldman doing Winston Churchill, Blade Runner 2049, Daniel Day-Lewis’s last role ever (he claims), and James Franco’s behind-the-scenes take on The Room, not to mention new flicks from Steven Spielberg, Alexander Payne, and George Clooney.

My fall movie preview, with plenty of trailers, is at PopMatters.

Writer’s Desk: Style and Forbearance, Young Scribe

The great dispenser of acid-laced bon mots Dorothy Parker, born on August 22 in 1893, had the occasional bit of advice for writers. To wit:

If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second-greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style.

Hard to argue with, yes? Strunk and White’s paen to simplicity is a must-have tool for any writer of any age.

But Parker went on:

The first-greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.

While people have a low tolerance for writers whingeing about the frustrations baked in to the writing life—nobody forced us to do it, after all—it’s worth pointing out to those just embarking on that path that happiness and fulfillment don’t necessarily follow.

Just writing, and writing well (preferably with a copy of Strunk and White at your side), must often be its own reward.

Writer’s Desk: See the Future

There’s a lot of would-be science-fiction writers out there, but it’s a crowded market and not enough buyers.

For those who like imagining future scenarios but don’t always have the best publication to place them in, there’s possibilities with a firm called SciFutures. According to this New Yorker profile, the company uses a network of a hundred or so writers (including Ken Liu of the Hugo Award-winning The Three-Body Problem) to craft customized stories for corporate clients, known as “corporate visioning”:

A company that monetizes literary imagination might itself seem like a dystopian scenario worthy of Philip K. Dick. “There can be a little tension,” Trina Phillips, a full-time writer and editor at SciFutures, acknowledged … She and [founder Ari] Popper have found that clients generally prefer happy endings, though unhappy ones are permissible if the author also proposes a clear business strategy for avoiding them. Rarely is there room for off-topic subplots or tangential characters. Phillips mentioned one story that initially featured a kangaroo running amok in a major North American city. The client, a carmaker, asked that the marsupial be removed.

More interestingly, some of their clients include the military, who is always looking for new ways to confront threats they haven’t conceived yet.

That’s where the writers come in.

Reader’s Corner: Bannon, Trump, and the ‘Devil’s Bargain’

As the D.C. news circuit scrambles to dissect the court turmoil in the White House to see how long Steve Bannon may or may not survive, it’s instructive to read Joshua Green’s Devil’s Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Storming of the Presidency.

My review is at PopMatters:

Years from now—assuming that books are still being published and we aren’t just wandering dazedly through a burnt-out cultural void of screaming memes—the books written about the 2016 US Presidential election will fill even more shelves than those written about Watergate. They will discuss the strategies, the major players, and the trendlines that led to this decision or that. Some books will also analyze how, in 2016, a fury-fueled flim-flam man broke almost every rule about presidential campaigns and became the most powerful man in the world. Those authors will argue with good reason that 2016 was the election that changed everything…

Writer’s Desk: Make Friends With Other Writers

Patti Smith, remembering her friend Sam Shepard after his recent passing:

We had our routine: Awake. Prepare for the day. Have coffee, a little grub. Set to work, writing. Then a break, outside, to sit in the Adirondack chairs and look at the land. We didn’t have to talk then, and that is real friendship. Never uncomfortable with silence, which, in its welcome form, is yet an extension of conversation. We knew each other for such a long time. Our ways could not be defined or dismissed with a few words describing a careless youth. We were friends; good or bad, we were just ourselves. The passing of time did nothing but strengthen that. Challenges escalated, but we kept going and he finished his work on the manuscript. It was sitting on the table. Nothing was left unsaid. When I departed, Sam was reading Proust…

Writers should never just socialize with their own kind. The effect would be initially instructive and eventually destructive.

But writers should always make sure to have writer friends. They understand silence.

Screening Room: ‘Whose Streets?’

The modern-day civil rights documentary Whose Streets? opens this week—three years after the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson—in limited release.

My review is at The Playlist:

“St. Louis, I don’t know what year it is, but it’s not 2014,” a voice intones at the start of Sabaah Folayan and Damon Davis’ activist documentary “Whose Streets?.” That weariness comes back later in this documentary about the 2014 police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and the waves of protest that followed, but it’s not the movie’s overriding emotion. Each of the film’s five sections is buttressed with beaten-but-not-down quotes from Martin Luther King, Jr. and Frantz Fanon. This isn’t a movie about despair in the face of seemingly implacable problems; it’s about the heavy lifting that constant hope requires. Disappointingly, that surging energy which animates the activists profiled here, in ways both intimate and caught-on-the-fly, never coalesces into the desired blueprint for reform…

Here’s the trailer: