Monday, November 24, 2008

Old habits/diehard

It’s safer to be friends with someone whom
I could adore –- safer for both of us.
If we’re just friends, then I can yearn for her
In silence and despair, which is the food
My soul has learned to savor and survive on.
That's how I love -- I always do the things
I know I'm good at -- giving without getting,
Reaching but never touching -- all the wrongs
I've learned to make a working right, because
I’m wired to live with failure, not success.
The only victory I know is losing,
So that’s what I play for each time I fall
For someone new. Which is safer for them
As well, because, this way, they’ll never know
The selfish lout I turn into when I
Act out of selfless love.

copyright 2008 Matthew J Wells

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

"That's a Smith and Wesson. And you've had your six."

When James Bond first hit the screen he was a cold killer under a suave veneer. The balance is perfect in Dr No, and swings a little to the veneer side in From Russia With Love, before finally starting to stiffen and solidify into all-veneer all-the-time from Goldfinger on, reaching a mummified climax in the Roger Moore years, when the double-0 became a license to utter glib puns after being replaced with a stunt double. The first attempt at a return to the roots was when Timothy Dalton brought a Healthcliffian darkness to the role, but after three* films he was even less memorable than George Lazenby in the public’s eyes (though not in mine). Dalton’s darkness was picked up by Pierce Brosnan in his tenure, but by Brosnan’s last Bond film the veneer had reasserted itself with invisible cars, iceberg surfing, and a tossup for worst Bond moment ever between Madonna’s cameo and Madonna’s title song. Both of which make you yearn for that moment in Dr No when Connery, cigarette drooling from his lower lip, casually informs an attempted assassin that he's out of bullets with the immortal line "You've had your six," before shooting him in the heart the way another man would flick ash from a Parliament.

That's the spirit in which Daniel Craig currently embodies The Icon That Connery Built, first in Casino Royale and now in Quantum of Solace. Craig, who looks like the bastard child of Sting and Victor McLaglen, has about as much veneer as a ball peen hammer. He bulls his way through everything, but he's also a bull with a brain -- you can see him thinking as he's chasing that freaky runner in Casino Royale, figuring angles and approaches. And there are moments in each movie where you can see him becoming the Bond we know, the know-it-all babe-bedder with a bullet and a wisecrack for every occasion. But he's not that Bond, at least not yet; which is why, I think, this movie has gotten such a lukewarm reception from the film critics.

It seems to me that the same reviewers who cried "Wow -- we're watching Bond become Bond!" when Casino Royale came out are now whining "Where's the Brosnan panache? Where's the arcane knowledge of Andalusian wines? Where's the meaningless sex? Cripes, he doesn't even tongue kiss the female lead!" In other words, they're tired of the origin story already; they want to fast forward to the golden years --or in this case, flashback to Goldeneye. Don't show us Prince Hal learning the ropes; skip right to the part where he's the King.

What they all seem to have missed is that this movie, even more than Craig's first one, is setting up a group called Quantum as a SPECTRE/SMERSH for the 21st Century, a group that destabilizes governments, has a finger in every illegal and political pie, and whose line agents can be anyone, no matter how trusted. And the mysterious Mr White (the guy who got shot at the end of Royale) looks to be its Blofeld. There's a key scene in Solace where Bond forces his enemies to break cover and reveal themselves -- all but Mr White, who keeps his cool (and his seat) like the mastermind and survivor he presumably is. Frankly, I wouldn't be surprised to find him stroking a white cat in the next flick.

As for Bond 22, as it was known in pre-production? It's fast, dark and dirty, with very little to laugh at. The action scenes are little too Bourne-blurry. There's no climactic release or revenge scene -- a major death occurs offscreen, two key conversations are only referred to after the fact -- but there's also no gratuitious silliness. Solace advances and deepens everything we thought we knew in Royale, upping the stakes as it ties up some loose ends, unfurls a few more to be tied up in the next movie, and totally isolates Bond and M (and Felix Leiter) as the only trustworthy souls in a world corrupted by accomodation and evil. In other words, it's The Two Towers. The character of Bond is still in mid-journey. He doesn't even know where Mordor is, never mind who's sitting on the Dark Throne. (I say nine men at a round table, the Nine Unknown who secretly rule the world.) But he'll smash his way through Middle-Earth until he finds it.

There's also a timely political subtext to the film. Craig's Bond is a thuggish blunt instrument who may dress like the tony rich but would never be mistaken for one of them any more than he would consider respecting any of them. You don't find the villains in dark alleys in this film -- you find them at the opera house, hiding amongst their own. They're the real rulers of the world and therefore the real reason why the world is going to hell in a handbasket. And Bond doesn't so much have a license to kill as a license to go rogue in order to get the job done. The system is broken, and the only person who can fix it is someone who's working from the outside, not the inside. Anybody inside is potentially corrupt. Can the rogue agent do it? Can he beat the bad guys? Repeat after me: Yes he can.

So what can we hope for in Bond 23? I can think of 6 things:

1. The producers ignore the critics and go right on doing what they've been doing, rebuilding the character and the franchise from the ground up.

2. No Moneypenny or Q. Has anybody missed them these last two movies? I know I haven't.

3. A better opening song. If the franchise lasts another 46 years, I will give you any odds you like that this movie's title song, "Another Way To Die," will still be the shittiest Bond song ever written. Madonna is now totally off the hook for "Die Another Day," and should pay Jack White accordingly.

4. Quantum becomes to MI6 what Thrush was to UNCLE, which means that

5. Craig's Bond has to go up against his opposite number on the other side, an agent just as clever and ruthless as he is (think Robert Shaw in From Russia With Love). Which would make a fitting climax to not just a movie but a trilogy which would logically end in

6. The return of the king. *See comment below--this should be two, not three.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Self Esteem

There are days when the only way that I
Can look at myself in the mirror with
Something like pride is after I do something
So stupid that a normal man would turn
His head away in shame. But in the eyes
Of that man staring back at me, I see
The pride of a professional, a look
That says, "This is the one thing I do best,
My friend -- hurt and betray the friends who trust me,

So I can hold my head up."

Copyright 2008 Matthew J Wells

Monday, November 17, 2008

Nicole Atkins at the Bowery Ballroom 11/14/08

The usual ten-times-better-live-than-on-CD show, with only two drawbacks: the final perfomance of keyboardist Dan Chen with the band, and the creepy stalkerish asshole up front who kept yelling "We love you Nicole!"after every song. Credit him with making this the first (and hopefully last) conversationless live show Atkins has ever given; you could tell she was weirded out by the whole thing. Good news: after an Asbury Park show the day before Thanksgiving, Ms Neptune City is taking time off to work on the next album. Better news: one of the new songs is called "The Tower," and listening to it was like like watching an emotional vocano erupt with a year's worth of therapy sessions compressed into a five-minute primal scream. Devastating.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Fool's Gold

Sometimes you only want another person
Not for herself, not because who she is,
But because there is some deep love-shaped hole
In you that can be filled by anyone;
And then, because that person is just like
A makeshift bridge across the void, you walk
All over her, and wonder why she hates it.

Copyright 2008 Matthew J Wells

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Remnick/Stoppard Part 2

[Part one can be found here.]

REMNICK: How much fussing do you do with actors?

STOPPARD: A great deal, actually. I always tell the actors, it is never too late to improve a translation. At the closing in London, yes, that will be too late. But up until then? As a matter of fact I was dicking around with a couple of lines just the other day. The thing about writing a play is that one has to construct a functional utterance which serves the narrative utterance. Sometimes a sentence which has to be said to move the narrative is not what a person would say at that moment, so you keep going back and forth. Now when one is writing his own play, it’s an interesting brain thing. One gets something pretty much right, it’s fine, and once it’s done you come back to it and it never changes, one goes to bed thinking, “Okay, that part is done.” With a translation, one goes through the same process, one goes to bed thinking it’s pretty much right, it’s fine, and then when one wakes up and re-reads it, it’s as if the Estonian au pair had rewritten the script during the night. [LAUGHTER] Translation involves a reverberation, one is constantly experiencing certainty followed by an erosion of clarity, which is why one should never work on it for more than three hours. Any more than that and one is writing rubbish.

REMNICK: Let’s talk about Eugene Onegin. I know you think thaty Nabokov's translation is a total disaster, --

STOPPARD: I don’t think it is –- it is. [LAUGHTER] Nabokov spent years on it.

REMNICK: And it runs to several volumes and it’s totally accurate, but it’s not a very good translation.

STOPPARD: Actually the best translation out there is --

REMNICK: Charles Johnson

STOPPARD: Charles Johnson, yes.

REMNICK: Have you read the latest War and Peace?

STOPPARD: The new one?

REMNICK: The Pevear/Volokhonsky translation, the husband and wife team –- she’s Russian, he’s American, and they live in Paris.

STOPPARD: I have read it; and that is actually the best way to do it. She knows Russian, he knows English – in my case it’s like I’m married to Helen Rappaport. I was talking to someone about this version recently, and he didn’t like it. And I said, “Yes, too accurate, isn’t it? You feel like you’re missing absolutely nothing.” Which is a case of aesthetics sacrificed to comprehensiveness.

REMNICK: They have several good translations –- Dostoevesky, Chekhov. But their Gogol is not very good.

STOPPARD: Gogol is difficult. There is one version by . . . [thinks for a moment] I’m hopeless with names nowadays. But I did come up with Gogol, give me that. [LAUGHTER]

REMNICK: What kind of preparation did you do for the Cherry Orchard translation? Did you read Chekhov’s stories, his diaries, his letters?

STOPPARD: I’ve been reading them for years.

REMNICK: Let’s talk about Coast of Utopia. A great deal of reading went into those three plays. How did you start? What inspired you?

STOPPARD: When it comes to creating a play, all that reading is a consequence of the ignition, not the ignition itself. This particular trilogy started with a paragraph in Isaiah Berlin about a Russian writer called Belinsky. When Belinsky was temporarily allowed outside Russia, and went to Paris, his friends begged him not to return because, if he did, his writing would be censored. But Belinsky hated Paris precisely because there was no censorship. He could have written anything he liked and no one would have noticed. In Paris, there were magazines and pamphlets everywhere, and none of them mattered. In Russia, students would line up and wait for the latest magazine to be published, and then twelve of them would share a manuscript and argue about it all night long in a coffee shop. “That is success,” said Belinsky. And I thought, “Well, there’s definitely a play in that.” I have always been interested in the fate of dissidents, and in fact in one of my recent plays [Rock ‘n’ Roll], I have a character who says in effect, “I’m better off in Prague in 1977 than London in 1977.” There’s that sense of samizdat literature, of smuggling typewritten sheets back and forth and in and out of the country.

REMNICK: You went to Russia to work on the Russian version of Utopia. Personally I found that in a country where nothing is allowed, everything matters, whereas in the West, anything goes and nothing matters. The last time I was in Moscow, I was in a supermarket and I actually heard over the loudspeaker system, “The new edition of Gulag Archipelago is now being sold in Aisle Three.” And my face nearly fell off, because twenty years ago that would been an impossibility. So my question is, are you disappointed that anything goes in our culture?

STOPPARD: My sense is that the circle is never squared. Human nature is not good enough or constrained enough to take only the good out of the free market system and not the bad. I actually stole a line from someone, I forget who it was now, but I was having this conversation in England with a young, upper-class Marxist on Russia, --

REMNICK: Which are the only kind of Marxists in England.

STOPPARD: -- exactly, and he said, “In Russia, the lorry drivers all read Dostoevsky.” And this other friend of mine said, “But if pornography were available, . . .” [LAUGHTER]

REMNICK: It’s an interesting fact that the Russians in Coast of Utopia are precisely the kind of people that Russia doesn’t have today – liberals. What was the reaction in Russia to that part of the Utopia trilogy?

STOPPARD: They reacted in two different ways successively. I originally sent the script to the theatre which had done Arcadia, and the reaction I received was that it was too soon. They were sick of the characters before they even read the play. [LAUGHTER] The second reaction was much more receptive. It went from “Who does he think he is to tell us about our own people?” to, about four years later, a recognition of what the play was doing, and a sense of being grateful that someone was taking an interest in their history.

[Brief discussion about Hertzen/Gertzen’s alleged softness, “he’s out of fashion now,” “he was too hard for the liberals and too soft for the Communists,” and current Russian street names -- Hertzen Street named and re-named; “I was actually staying in a hotel on Belinsky Street.”]

STOPPARD: Russia is still a country where, if you think out loud, you can be murdered. This is happening to journalists. Playwrights, poets and novelists – they’re okay, because they no longer fill the truth-telling role they did on the old Russia. Today that role is filled by journalists. In a way, Solzhenitsyn was a journalist; he was hated because even though he was writing a novel, he was telling truth to history. Of course, his career was strange and in the end tragic. He told the truth when no one else told it, but after history turned turtle, he was looked on as a bit of a bore and a reactionary, the voice crying in the wilderness while a louder voice was proclaiming that the new BMW is coming to the showroom next week. I exaggerate, but once the country opened up, he was looked down on for his conservative nationalism.

REMNICK: He was never as hip as Havel.

STOPPARD: Havel happens to be one of my 20th-century heroes. I say that not just as a fellow Czech but because I admire his prose, his essays, and of all the writers who engaged with politics, he is the one who displayed the greatest consistency.

REMNICK: You wrote once [and he quotes a New York Times essay in which Stoppard claims to have no political viewpoint or agenda]. And yet currently you have written about history and politics in a ferociously committed way.

STOPPARD: Yes, I seem to have definitely outrun that statement. Does that have a date appended somewhere?

REMNICK: 1968.

STOPPARD: That was very early on, and I would say it was a conscious over-correction, given the politicized times. But the terms on which I wanted my writing to be valued have always been absolute ones, not relativistic. Personally, I’ve always loved newsprint. I love reading newspapers, and I have always loved reading them, ever since I was a teenager. I remember, when I was 15, I read a story about the Ray Robinson/Randolph Turpin fight, written by someone who was unknown in England called Red Smith, and the way he described Turpin getting knocked out was just seven words long, but I have never forgotten it. It was, “He zigged when he should have zagged.” [LAUGHTER] I would have given a lot to have written those words. I’d give a lot to have written “O to be in England, now that April’s here,” but not as much as “He zigged when he should have zagged.” [A 2005 essay by Stoppard on the subject can be found here.]

REMNICK: So did you grow up wanting to be Red Smith?

STOPPARD: No, I grew up wanting to be a foreign correspondent and live a glamorous life.

REMNICK: [darkly] That can be arranged. [LAUGHTER]

STOPPARD: [uh-oh] Great. [LAUGHTER]

REMNICK: There’s a plane leaving for Kabul at 10 . . . [LAUGHTER]

STOPPARD: I was rather hoping to be the St. Tropez correspondent actually. [LAUGHTER]

REMNICK: When you’ve cited your influences, there are names which come up that one does not ordinarily associate with you, in terms of your work. John Osborne, for instance.

STOPPARD: When talking about influences, one has to separate what it does to one, reading the work, seeing the work, from what it makes one want to write like. There are many playwrights whom I like, and you must excuse my fuzz-headedness, I can’t think of any names at the moment, but that doesn’t mean I want to emulate them. There’s Havel, of course. When I was given Memorandum and The Wedding Party to read, I said to myself, “Now that’s the stuff.” And there’s a play I reviewed years ago called Next Time I’ll Sing To You by James Saunders, which was very good. When it comes to one’s own work, the whole question of influence is one that doesn’t matter. It’s like saying, “How can I possibly like the works of Harold Pinter, since he doesn’t write anything like the way I do?”

REMNICK: Talking about influences, who would you cite as those in your life which gave you permission to write like Tom Stoppard?

STOPPARD: Your premise is wrong. One does not obtain permission to write in one’s own style. One writes what one writes because of who one is. In my case, it came out the way it came out, and if nobody had liked it, well, there you are.

REMNICK: How would you describe the London theatre scene versus the New York theatre scene?

STOPPARD: I’m not comfortable here. There’s a certain pressure to succeed. Everything has to be good – the collaboration has to be good, the work has to be good, the run has to be good. And I don’t feel that in London. I don’t feel that the West End is capitalism the way that Broadway is capitalism.

REMNICK: Do you feel that there’s a stronger element of good work in London as opposed to New York?

STOPPARD: No, there’s a stronger sense of, for example, the importance of advertising; the constant blood pressure of how are we doing – how are we doing tonight, how are we doing this week versus last week, how are we doing for the run? In London, frankly, I never know that because I never ask. I would say that, yes, there are devoted professionals in both places, but here, you are all in this tent where you are judged by a success ethic. Here there is more shame in failure than there is in London. But you can see them both slowly becoming the same thing, especially when you look at the proportion of musicals to so-called straight plays every year. And then of course what always happens statistically when one starts judging by numbers is that during a particular season, suddenly there are 8 straight plays when one has calculated the best possible average to be 3.7. [LAUGHTER]

REMNICK: So does the economic side of things drive you to write more screenplays?

STOPPARD: I get offered a lot of things to write, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I’m interested. Having an opinion is not the same as having an idea for a play. Recently I haven’t been able to think of what to write next. I’m never happy when I’m not writing, so I said, “All right, I will write the screenplay of Arcadia and direct it myself,” and I had some interest in that and started working on it, and literally three days later I received a call from the BBC asking me if I would be interested in adapting a series of 1920’s novels for them. I’m not going to go into any more detail than that, because I believe in bad karma, but it’s a project in which I’m very interested, and I’m having a great deal of fun working on it.

REMNICK: So you’re not going to be writing the next Indiana Jones movie? [LAUGHTER]

STOPPARD: I had involvement in only one Indiana Jones movie. That came about because Sean Connery said, “Cripes, look at what they’ve got me saying. Can we get Tom to do some of the dialogue here?” And when I came on board and started writing for Sean, Harrison said, “Jesus, if he’s doing his dialogue, . . .” [LAUGHTER] So I did a great deal of writing, some of which is actually in the picture. [LAUGHTER]

REMNICK: Can you give us an example?

STOPPARD: I think that strange bridge thing at the end is mine. The bridge that doesn’t look like it’s there? That was mine. That’s the beauty of working with people who have a great deal of money. One comes up with these crazy ideas, and they can actually afford to create them. [LAUGHTER]

REMNICK: Final question. [Groans from the audience] Would you say this is a rich time for American playwriting?

STOPPARD: I wish I was in a position to say yes, I’ve seen a lot of new plays lately. What I am aware of is that there are far more small stages today than there were years ago, and the new play, the good new play, is still somehow the animal most of them are trying to catch. It’s a reciprocal chicken and egg machine. And I am blathering now.

REMNICK: Which seem like a good place to stop. Thank you.

STOPPARD: Thank you.

Remnick/Stoppard Part 1

As part of BAM’s Artist Talk series, David Remnick interviewed Tom Stoppard for an hour last night. Stoppard’s new version of The Cherry Orchard is being directed by Sam Mendes and will be performed at BAM next year in repertory with A Winter’s Tale. What follows is a reconstruction from the notes I took while the two men were talking, notes which can barely approximate the offhand precision of Stoppard's conversation, which was at all times elegant, clever, and grammatically correct.

REMNICK: I’d like to start off by talking about the art of translations. You’ve done several of them – Schnitzler, other Chekhov plays – and like Vladimir Nabokov you have an enormous interest in translation. As a matter of fact, you share a number of similarities with Nabokov -- verbal magic, that throbbing feeling within, --

STOPPARD: The fact that he’s dead. [LAUGHTER] But still protesting.

REMNICK: Nabokov himself supervised his own translations and spent years himself translating Eugene Onegin, which we should probably talk about later, but what I want to ask you now is, you have a very full plate. You write plays, you write screenplays and radio dramas. So why translations? There are many translations of Chekhov out there; what do you get from doing one?

STOPPARD: Well, number one, by the very nature of translation, and more acutely in the case of a great writer like Chekhov, there is no terminus to the event. The Cherry Orchard exists somewhere around the intersection of innumerable translations, but none of them can really account for the play, not can they ever hope to. And the second thing is, a translation that appears to have its optimum realization also has a built-in obsolescence. It may be perfect for its time, but in five years it will seem dated. What seems right for one now, always seems wrong a few years later. Plus there’s a third thing. I haven’t discussed this yet with Sam Mendes, but it also seems to me that directors like to have a new text to work with because the text is essentially unsettled. It is only when the play is performed and the script is published that the text becomes settled. And yes, of course, there are several translations of The Cherry Orchard by a number of writers which are quite good. Michael Frayn’s, for instance -- which has the added value of being written by the only one of us who also reads Russian. You would think that would have taken care of the problem for everyone else. But when the script is being worked on by directors and actors during rehearsal, there is still the sense of a writer composing in English and not the original language. (One of the problems with having me as an interviewee is that I can go on and on like a toy. [LAUGHTER] This is not a tribute to your question so much as it is a tribute to my nature. [LAUGHTER]) As I was saying, having the text not settled is a pleasure and a benefit, but it means that the task of translation is always an open-ended one.

REMNICK: What qualities would you put in your translation that you weren’t getting in Frayn’s? What do you want your Chekhov to have more of? What is Tom Stoppard’s Chekhov?

STOPPARD: I don’t see it in those terms. One must remember that theatre is an event, as it were, and not a text. The text is fulfilled in performance. And when one is working on a translation, one writes for actors, one sounds out the lines, pretending to be an actor while saying them. It’s a different type of storytelling. But all storytelling is an art form, and an Anton Chekhov story is told in what is even now a slightly idiosyncratic -- and at the time quite revolutionary -- manner. The fact is that in a Chekhov play there is a macro-story and a micro-story, like a palimpsest of several maps layered one upon the other, where two different scales of action are taking place. A great deal of internal things are going on while a character speaks two lines and takes a drink. There’s a story that when he finished his first play -- he was 27, and it took him two weeks, ten days actually -- he wrote a letter to his brother and he said “I have written no villains and no angels.” So he had some sense of what he was achieving, the revolutionary nature of it, even now, that one can write with total moral neutrality. And it didn’t come out of nowhere -– one can point to Turgenev and a Month In The Country which was written 50 years before. But it was revolutionary. I just thought of a strange analogy. It would be equivalent to someone saying seventy years ago, “What the hell is this with New Yorker stories? They don’t seem to finish, they just stop.” [LAUGHTER] Of course people now are taking that in stride. One does not judge modern stories by how much they are like an O Henry story. By the way, I would like to come back to Eugene Onegin at the half past nine mark. [LAUGHTER]

REMNICK: When Constance Garnett translated Dostoevsky and Tolstoy into English, it was their introduction into the English language culture. I interviewed Joseph Brodsky once, and he said, “Your problem as English-speaking readers is, they sound the same to you. Oh, maybe Dostoevsky is a little darker, and Tolstoy is a little lighter, but they’re essentially the same. You don’t understand. Dostoevsky is a hilarious writer.” That’s a word you don’t usually hear to describe Dostoevsky. “Hilarious.” So my question is, do you think translation a tonal thing as well as a verbal thing?

STOPPARD: Tonal as well, yes. One comes back to the proposition that theater is an event. Chekhov was always seeing tonal problems in the performance of his plays. He would complain that the actors were always too emotive with his words, while the actors were shocked and surprised that he would describe Cherry Orchard as a comedy. But the more one sees Chekhov in performance, and working with him, as it were, in translating his play, one understands the meaning of the term comedy as he meant it, which can be stated very glibly. “In what sense is Cherry Orchard a comedy? Well, in what sense is life a comedy?” His plays contain genuine, authentic reflections on what people are. His refusal to judge them is stated explicitly in Ivanov, where a character says, “I don’t understand you, you don’t understand me, and neither of us understand ourselves.” He is totally neutral on the issue of morality, he has no judgment on how we behave with each other, and yet even a toddler knows what is good behavior and what isn’t. But Chekhov resisted the easy categorization of credit and blame.

REMNICK: Did you ever study Russian?

STOPPARD: For about a fortnight. I was very keen on a girl once who went to Russian lessons. But she gave it up after two weeks, so I saw no point in continuing it. [LAUGHTER]

REMNICK: So you base your version of the play on a word for word translation written by someone else.

STOPPARD: Yes. Of course, one would not want to see a production of Chekhov written by a linguist. [LAUGHTER] My assistant, Helen Rappaport, provides not only a word-for-word translation, but she also suggests alternate words, she notes topical and historical references, allusions, that sort of thing. Plus there are all these other versions up there on the shelf. I ended up taking down an anonymous one, which was accurate and faithful, which meant that it was also a little stilted in its conversation.

REMNICK: Robert Lowell wrote a series of poems he called Imitations, based on various poets, which were not so much translations as stylistic echoes. But they all ended up sounding like Robert Lowell. Do you want your Chekhov to sound like Tom Stoppard?

STOPPARD: Oh no. Although there have been moments. When I was working on translating a Schnitzler play, there was a particular line, I can’t remember what it is now, but I could not see my way through it. And that was like a revelation, because that was the point where I realized that as a translator I was there to serve the purpose, and not the text. Having said that, however, I have done horrible things to other people’s plays; --

REMNICK: For instance. [LAUGHTER]

STOPPARD: If I may finish what I was about to say after the semi-colon, “which I would have to have done with mine.” [LAUGHTER] For instance, in this production of Ivanov I just finished working on -- I’ll tell you if you promise not to tell anyone else -- I killed a character that Chekhov unaccountably failed to kill off. [LAUGHTER] I gave him a heart attack. Chekhov wrote the play in ten days but he wasn’t satisfied with it, he was never satisfied with it, as a matter of fact, which I felt was an opening for me, although not a wide-opened door. [LAUGHTER] So there was a monologue which an actress gives, and she’s essentially saying things she’d said before, but I didn’t want to cut it, so I gave another character a heart attack while she was delivering it. Two things happening at the same time. And Chekhov had the last laugh, because no one even noticed. [LAUGHTER]

[Continued here]

Monday, November 10, 2008

Weekend Update

The Fab Faux at Queens College. Three and a half hours of Beatle goodness.

That sound you've been hearing in the background? Somone's knocking on the wall of our universe and telling us to STFU.

Input Central. Books read this weekend: I Am Hamlet, Steven Berkoff. The World of Christopher Marlowe, David Riggs. Get Your War On, David Rees. Movies watched: Casino Royale (still holds up), Annie Hall (ditto), Buffalo Bill and the Indians (painful and obvious; made me dig out my copy of Arthur Kopit's Indians just to floss the movie out of my brain).

Output Central. Pages written at bar Friday night: 10. Actual pages of worthwhile material from pages written at bar: 6. (This is a pretty good average, folks.) Pages written Saturday: 5. Actual pages of worthwhile material from Saturday pages: 3. (Also a pretty good average.) Pages written Sunday: 4. Actual pages of worthwhile material from Sunday pages: 1. (That's pretty much the regular average.)

Sunday, November 9, 2008


To be a saint you have to give things up
And hug an absence like a worldly soul
Clings to a lover when the act of love
Spasms its life away in ecstasy.

To saints, this life is only worth our living
If we can give a thing away or up.
The world must be renounced, like tigers must
Renounce the jungle when they meet the cage

Or men renounce their bachelorhood for marriage.
A nature civilized, a freedom tossed
Aside, a luxury given away
So that its lack will cast a greater shadow

That presence ever did, and like a sign,
Point the location of the effort that
It takes to live without it, in the name
Of an idea of grace, which says that man

Cannot stand taller than himself unless
He cuts his own legs off beneath the knees.

Copyright 2008 Matthew J Wells

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Concession Speech

Want to know why we booed the moment you
Brought up the winner’s name? We booed because
That’s what we’ve done since you started campaigning.
We booed and hooted, shouted slurs and threats,
And you kept talking, so of course we kept
It up, like the punk kid who tests his teacher
By pushing at the envelope until
It breaks, or Teacher shuts him down in front
Of the whole class (which makes him like a hero).
That’s what we felt like when you finally
Called us on what we kept on yelling out.
And that’s just fine, okay? We understand.
No harm, no foul. We knew you had to do it
The moment that the Media reared up
And made a stink about it. So instead
Of talking smack, we muttered it, or nudged
Each other with a wink, or we just smiled
That smile we share when we know what we’re thinking.

No smiles like that tonight. We’re standing here
Listening to this pod person concede
As if it didn’t matter if we lost
To That One, and our jaws are on the floor.
We want to cheer; give us some lines to cheer.
We don’t know where to clap. What are you saying?
Why aren’t you feeding us the meal we want?
We want red meat, we want the grease, the fries,
The shot of Jack that makes your eyeballs sweat,
And here you are, serving us something healthy?
What the fuck, John? You spent the last two months
Outlining what the other guy will do
To us and to the country if he won,
And now you tell us “Sorry; never mind.
He won, so all that stuff takes second place
To the high office that he’ll occupy,
And you should give your loyalty to him.”
Oh yeah? Fuck him. And fuck you too for thinking
That this is why we voted for your ass.

Enough, okay? Enough about how wealthy
You feel because you fought the losing fight.
Only the poor are losers, and we didn’t
Support you to be poor –- we followed you
Because you told us what we had to hear
In words with secret meanings. So when you
Say “honor,” we don’t know what that word means.
There’s no honor in losing; what we did,
We did to win, and then claim victory
No matter what the outcome. That’s our way.
And you walked down that way with us, with your
Eyes open, so you know as well as we do
That this does not end here -- this fight goes on.
So why for Christ’s sake aren’t you saying that?

You have to tell us to fight on, and be
Guerillas for the Cause, not silent soldiers.
We want something to shoot at, not salute.
Tell us whatever way you want that you
Believe That One is not our President --
We’ll translate if we have to. Just don’t say
We owe him loyalty because a principle’s
At stake here. Principles are why we fight.
Tell us that he’s the enemy –- or if
He isn’t, then please, please tell us who is.
Just do not ask us here to follow you

Down to defeat, or off the center stage.
We do not follow men –- we march against them.
Run up the flag. Tell us who wants to burn it.
Show us the enemy. We’ll march that way.
We are the arrow. Point us at the target.
We are the bullet. Aim us at the heart.

Copyright 2008 Matthew J Wells

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Meanwhile, in this country

a long time ago, in a country far far away . . .

Survey USA posted this map of a poll they did exactly two years ago, asking 600 voters in every state how they would vote if the election were held today. Break out your blue crayons and start coloring in tonight's results as the polls start closing at 7 . . .

Monday, November 3, 2008

My Name Is Alfred

I09 has a speculative post on the identity of The Black Glove, the mastermind behind all the Bat-breaking in Grant Morrison's Batman: RIP storyline. They postulate Tim (Robin) Drake, among others.

My two cents? A couple years back I drafted notes for a series of 12 stories, six about comic heroes and six about their arch-villains. Since I'm probably never going to get around to writing any of them, the Batman story was going to center around a blood transfusion which could only be given to the wounded and dying Bruce Wayne by his father -- said transfusion being then given by Alfred. Because it's always made sense to me that Alfred was really Bruce's dad, after an affair with Martha Wayne.

And that's my guess about the identity of The Black Glove. It's going to be a two-part revelation: the "villain" is Alfred, and Alfred is going to be revealed as Bruce's father. And what happens when you've based your entire crime-fighting persona on the senseless death of your father, only to find out that your real father is alive and well? The persona of Batman has no reason to live.

Hence Batman: RIP.

Weekend Update

My Name Is Bruce. "Nose picking and ass-grabs." Village Voice. "Awful recycled jokes." New York Times. "Total hoot." Me. Saw it Friday night at 7:20. Bruce was there, wearing the same pants he wore in the film, and did a 20 minute Q&A afterwards that was just as much fun as the movie. (I taped it, so if anyone wants to hear it, let me know.) He zinged the bad reviews the movie got, so I hope he reads this on MovieWeb this morning:

In a surprise twist of Halloween fate, the film with the strongest per screen average was Bruce Campbell's My Name Is Bruce, which stomped the competition with $18,800 playing just three showings in one theater. If given the 3,646 screens that belonged to the number one champ High School Musical 3: Senior Year, the film could have pulled in a potential $68 million to become one of the biggest surprise hits of the fall.

Trick or treat. I've started to write poetry again, which is yet another way to avoid rewriting the play. (Hooray for lack of discipline!) I'll probably be posting them once a week, like the pictures. (Hooray for discipline!)

Random Weblinks:

And a Rusty Nail while reading blog posts.

The M/F dating ritual and its discontents.

Time to move to Earth-2.

In our country? These are all over Utah.

In the immortal words of Mark Twain: Suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself."

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Trick or Treat

You never know just what you are expecting
Until it is rejected or denied.
Knock on the door, and when it opens, hold
Up your bright orange plastic bag, and you
Will know, the moment something drops inside,
Whether it was the gift you really wanted
By how your heart swells up, or plummets down,
Or clenches like a baby’s hand that grabs
Too late at what was meant for other fists --
The elevator drop you feel when you
See someone that you didn’t know you liked
That much walk off with someone else instead
Of you. That’s when you know what you walked in
Expecting; that’s when you know you did
Want something –- when it goes to someone else.
And even though the target of your heart
Is ignorant of what you wanted or
Expected from her, she is still the one
You blame -– the one who should have read your mind,
The one who should have known by looking at you,
By all you did not say and never asked,
That you were sweet on her. So it’s her fault,
Not yours (it’s never yours) that she went off with
The man who asked her out, instead of you:
The one who stood there saying “Trick or treat,”
And left it up to her to guess which one
You really wanted.

Copyright 2008 Matthew J Wells