Writing and freedom

Any attempt to enslave his readers threatens [a writer] in his very art.

A blacksmith can be affected by fascism in his life as a man, but not necessarily in his craft; a writer will be affected in both, and even more in his craft than in his life.
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Art, and how to fail at it

Before I ever started writing seriously, I read that Kafka gave instructions to his friend Max Brod that when he, Kafka, died, Brod was to burn all his work.  The Russian writer Nikolai Gogol actually did manage to creep out of his death-bed long enough to throw substantial sections of his novel Dead Souls in the fire.
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How did a movie this bad even get made?

[ spoilers, but you shouldn’t waste your money anyway ]

I’m mad now, but if I were Ridley Scott, I’d be really, really mad. Here I am, a respected director of the seminal science-fiction films Alien (1979) and Blade Runner (1982) , and I wake up one day to find some incompetent hack has made an appalling ripoff of my work and bunch of other movies from the 60s and 70s, and worse, has used my name to do it.
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A tale of two movie musicals

The last two movie musicals I’ve seen were very, very similar in some ways. Adapted from a stage operetta that in turn was based on a popular 19th Century work, each was about a convicted criminal who breaks paroles and unlawfully returns, decades later, to the capital city and, under a pseudonym becomes a successful and respected member of the petit bourgeoisie.  The protagonist contends with long-memoried officials and assorted low-lifes (including a none-too-fastidious cook played by Helena Bonham Carter and an overdressed conman played by Sacha Baron Cohen); he dies at the end, but not before he sees his daughter safely married to the man she loves.  Each movie starts on a dockside, with the criminal finally a free man,  and reaches its climax in a corpse-strewn sewer.
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Inside Hpa An

Hpa-An, 40 kilometers up the Salween River by twice-weekly ferry from Mawlamyine, looks pretty much like any other Southeast-Asian one-water-buffalo town. Dusty ragged streets, tiny stores and restaurants, cheerful children and their watchful mothers, harassed-looking pariah dogs slinking by.

Some things, though, are subtly wrong, subtly off. The rice shop is so stuffed with bags of rice, stuffed to overflowing, that the owner and his clerk do their sums not inside where it’s cool but out on the sidewalk, with more stacks of rice-bags as a desk. The children are particularly cheerful, playing on complicated Chinese- and Thai-made plastic riding toys. My hotel cost $25 a night, twice what I had paid at Mawlamyine, and the electricity, water, and sewage systems are all far from reliable, but the room is provisioned with full-sized tubes of Close-Up and genuine Sprite instead of the local equivalents. There are more hotels in the town than there are tourists (after a day we know the name, nationality, and quarters of any white face we see) but every hotel claims to be full. What is going on here?

It took me over a day, chatting with those of the locals who speak English, to find out. Continue reading