Calendar Movies: The Wizard of Oz

For Christmas I received a brilliant calendar with movie posters from the classic age of cinema. Each month I have decided to have a dinner party culminating in a viewing of that particular month's movie.

The continual beat of the baby drum has been getting louder and louder at Chez Brewster. I will turn 30 on March 25 which means my wife will turn the same six months later. With an empty crib and old age coming quickly, the old biological clock is drumming out all other sounds. No matter how much cotton I stick in my ears, in my ear I hear the ever constant shout of my wife saying,

“Let’s have a baby. Let’s have a baby. Let’s have a baby…now!”

I finally relented. I finally gave in and…I got her a cat. That softened the drumming a little. The relentless chanting of “BABY – BABY – BABY” slowed down to a whisper. It was still there, but I could at least drown it out with an old episode of Moonlighting, or Ryan Adams’ excellent, never released album Destroyer. For a little while anyway.

Really, I know I’m on the losing end of an argument. Sooner or later I must give up and agree to have a child. In fact, I want to have children, just not now. I don’t know when, and certainly I must admit the time is quickly becoming now, but the thought of how much I’ll have to give up, at how much work children are makes me want to wait a few more years.

The other day, without provocation, and without discussion, in a nonchalant manner my wife mentions that we’ll start trying this summer. I was too shocked and too tired to attempt an argument. At this point I’ve pretty much given in to the idea.

My friend, and coworker, Tim, keeps telling me to take his three children for the weekend.

“Two days with my kids and she’ll never want any of her own,” he says.

February’s classic calendar movie is the Wizard of Oz. This, I thought, was the perfect opportunity to invite Tim and children over to test his theory. For $20 he promised to bribe his kids into behaving badly.

In our typical, wait till the last minute approach we hit the stores on Friday night in search of a copy of the movie. $50. That’s what they are asking for some new whiz bang 4 disk version of the Wizard of Oz. Fifty freaking bucks for a movie. We ran all over town looking for an earlier, cheaper version. Found a 2 disk special edition for $20 at Best Buy. Still more than I wanted to pay, but what can you do when you’ve invited guests over to watch a movie and it’s too late for Netflix?

Also invited were my co-supervisor Christina, her husband, and seven month old boy.

Everybody arrived and Tim collected his $20 bucks. We had a very lovely lasagna dish with salad and breadsticks.

None of the children were particularly bad behaved. Tim’s kids range in age from about 5 to 11, and while they were not hellions at all, they were full of energy. What with the excitement of our cat and the 6 month old baby they didn’t know what to do. They ran around, wrestled and told me jokes.

You know the ones about the fat kid named Chubby, who you mimic by pressing your hands to your cheeks making them fat.

After eating and some good chatting, Christina and family had to leave.

The movie was put in and we all settled down to Dorothy, the Witch and Oz.

“Where’s the color?” Tim’s oldest, Brennan asked. This was followed by a continual, perpetual inquisition on why the film was in black and white.

At first I thought this was some kind of complaint that the movie was in black and white. I remember being a kid and not wanting to watch old black and white films. After a minute, I realized the chanting wasn’t some annoyance at old movies, but was in anticipation of Dorothy’s arrival in Oz, where the film turns into a Technicolor dream.

The Wizard of Oz is, of course, a classic. It is one of the world’s most beloved films.

My oldest memory of the film is watching it at my grandmother’s house one summer. This was back in the days when it was shown annually on television. I was playing Twister with my cousins in the living room and watching the movie simultaneously. Whenever a scene with the Wicked Witch of the West would come on I run to my mother and close my eyes. Only opening them when my mother said it was safe.

The new DVD transfer looks marvelous. The contrast from the dreary, weary land of Kansas and the wild, swirling whirling colors of Oz is more vivid and amazing than ever before.

After we got color, the kids mostly settled down, except for the occasional wisecrack from Brennan and a peculiar desire in all the kids in seeing a darker, horror version of the picture, where the Tin Man is a robotic vampire.

The movie ended, delicious peanut butter pie was eaten and everybody when on their merry way.

“Let’s have a baby,” my wife said as we shut the door.

Tell Tim I want my $20 bucks back.

Random Shuflle

Inspired by Dave Nalle’s Blogcritic post, Take Cover, My iPod's on Shuffle! I have provide my own list of 10 songs that randomly shuffle into my MP3 player (sorry I don’t have an iPod).

Road to Joy – Bright Eyes
Thanks to the Duke de Mondo, I have become quite a fan of Bright Eyes. This is one of the better song off the mostly excellent I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning album.

You Never Give Me Your Money – Beatles
One of my favorite songs, from my favorite Side B of any album anywhere. From the Angelically sad beginning to the schoolboy chanting of the end, I absolutely love this tune.

Desolation Row – Bob Dylan
From the underrated Unplugged album. Not my favorite Dylan tune by a long shot, but that still puts it far above half the songs ever written.

You’re the One – Paul Simon
One of about three decent songs on his last album. A song that will forever remind me of my wife, for it came about during the beginning of our heavy dating stage, and she really dug it.

I Thought You Were My Boyfriend – The Magnetic Fields
A peculiarly great song from a peculiarly great little band.

Graceland – Paul Simon
Out of the 1000+ songs sitting in my WinAmp right now, what are the odds I would get two Paul Simon tunes? Or how about two songs from the MTV show Unplugged?

Lengths – The Black Keys
A song just sent to me by my sister’s husband, Brian. It’s got a nice laid back blues kind of feel to it, but I haven’t heard it enough to decide how I really feel about it.

Greensboro Woman – Townes Van Zandt
Honestly, if you don’t know Townes, then you really have no choice but to seek him out. Truly one of the great American songwriters of my time, or anyone elses. A great, lovely song full of sadness and heartache.

You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome – Bob Dylan
Really, what are the odds? Maybe it’s my shuffle mode. I do notice WinAmp tends to play a lot of the same songs, while leaving out some other choices.

Well, there it is. I’m not sure what to make of it, honestly. Maybe I’ll make this a regular feature. Maybe I’ll never visit this again.

DVD Review: The Eye

There is an old horror story about a normal law-abiding citizen getting a transplant from a psychopathic killer. Seems that body part still has the memory of its former owner and wants to take up the killings again.

This premise has been aped in countless movies and TV shows, most notably in Body Parts starring Jeff Fahey (or is it Fah-hay?) and that Simpsons episode where Homer has Snakes hair transplanted to his bald head. It is a pretty tired premise; one that has been done so many times all the originality has been drained from it. I’m waiting for the day when Hollywood green lights a picture about a little girl who gets a toe transplant from Charles Manson.

Chinese directors, the Pang brothers try to breathe some life into the concept with their 2002 feature, The Eye. Unfortunately, it is the first of the so called Asian Extreme pictures that I’ve seen that I’ve found to be rather lackluster.

It isn’t for a lack of trying. The Pang brothers bring an eye of originality to the premise and create an atmosphere that is quite creepy and interesting. At least in the first half.

In this case, the transplanted body parts are eyeballs. A young blind girl, Wong Kar Mun (Angelica Lee) receives an eye transplant and thusly begins seeing dead people, a la The Sixth Sense.

The Brothers Pang introduce this concept by having the dead show up in shadows. Visually the first half of the film is stunning. We see the world through Mun’s adjusting-to-sight eyes and there are creeping things lurking just about everywhere. In an impossible to explain in words, but absolutely must see series of scenes Mun comes to understand that what she sees with her eyes is beyond the realm of the natural. As a viewer I was knocked up side the head with the brilliant display of imagery

There is no “I see dead people” revelation here. The revelations come slowly, building tension along the way. Having no concept of vision, Mun has no understanding of what is real and what may be supernatural. By allowing the audience to understand quickly what Mun must slowly learn, the film is quite effective in creating a sense of horror.

The camera pans slowly around corners as the music builds anticipation to what could be hiding just out of sight. There are nice jolts of music as the camera reveals a new surprise. Here it seems the Pang brothers have taken a page out of the American scary movie pages instead of the Asian counterpart. Scare the people with jolts instead of developing actual creepy situations.

In the second half, the film begins to truly unravel. With only a few conversations, Mun manages to have her psychotherapist, fall in love with her and be willing to drop everything and travel to Thailand to investigate the donor of her dead seeing eyes.

From horror the movie now travels into a melodramatic mystery. The doctor and Mun find dark secrets in the story of the young lady who had Mun’s eyes first. Of course they are forced into setting things right, and the movie pretty much falls apart.
Oh, it’s nothing terrible or cringe inducing, but it is formulaic and not nearly as interesting as the first two thirds of the film.

I found The Eye in the foreign section of my local Blockbuster. It was well worth the five dollars I laid down for it, if just for the glorious visuals of the first half.

Movie Review: Walk the Line

Rating: ***1/2

Since being married going to the cinema has become a rare thing. Pre-marriage (or really, pre-dating the woman who became my wife) I was going to the movies once, twice a week. Now, I’m lucky if I get to the movies once a month. I’d like to blame this solely on my wife (and in fact often do) but the reality is that it’s not really her fault.

I’m older. I have responsibilities. I can no longer spend every weekend in a darkened theatre watching the old celluloid. The wife is in graduate school, she teaches classes, she does adult learning at the library, and she can’t spend every weekend watching the latest Hollywood blockbuster. Put us together and it is difficult for us to spend a meal in each other’s company much less actually get out together.

When we do make it to the movies, I’m always very excited. Movie going is an almost spiritual experience for me. As a teenager my family and I bonded through movies. We might fight over everything else, but the cinema was shelter. To this day when I travel to Oklahoma to see my folks we inevitably go to the movies. It’s just built into our psyche. Family = movies.

So my wife and I went to the Johnny Cash biopic, Walk the Line the other day.

Worst audience ever.

But first we’ll talk about the theatre itself. It is an older one, made before the new wave of super-ultra theatres with 20 screens and stadium seating all equipped with your own personal Laz-E Boy.

The floor was pretty much flat. The walls were covered with ugly, green curtains circa 1972. The floors were sticky and unclean. The chairs were moldy and uncomfortable.

I go to the movies early. My preferred buffer of time is 30 minutes. This ensures I get the best seat (middle row, middle seat spaced between the speakers) and don’t miss a moment of the film. It’s also allows for things like traffic, and large crowds.

So, the movie starts, and of course there are two or three groups of people coming in late. Late! How hard is it to get to the movies on time? They have a schedule; it’s posted a week in advance for crying out loud. If you can’t show up on time, catch the next flick or stay at home.

These late comers come in, talking of course, and rudely continuing a conversation started in the lobby. There big heads get in the way of the screen while they shuffle into their seats.

The staff forgets to shut the door to the theatre so I can continually hear everybody in the aisles and hallways talking through the whole picture.

Oddly, a group of four, young, Asian girls sitting right in front of me get up and leave 10 minutes into the picture. Their spots are immediately taken up by a group of three middle-age to old ladies all wearing those floppy toboggans. Toboggans they do not take off and that all have the little fluffy balls on top. Little fluffy balls on top that get right in my line of sight.

I always get anxious before a film starts because of all the talking. But as the movies starts usually people shut the crap up. It works out this way for most of Walk the Line. Well, until old lady a couple of rows up gets a phone call on her cellular. Gladly, I don’t hear a ring, but she sure enough picks up and starts talking in the theatre.

“Hello. Who is this?”

She looks around a bit trying to decide if she can explain to the caller where she is and that she’ll call this person back. Nope, I guess she can’t because she gets up and continues chatting, loudly, as she walks out.

Really, who is that important that they have to answer their phone at every moment?

Cell phone lady leaves. Filmatic enjoyment continues. On the screen Johnny Cash begins to sing “Folsom Prison Blues” for Sam Phillips. Dude sitting next to my wife begins singing along. Not in a silent, toe tapping kind of way, but a belting it out for everyone to hear manner.

Ruins the cinematic moment.

Loud singing guy continues to talk through entire film. Just random stories about Johnny Cash’s life and what’s going on in the film.

Beyond the audience, there actually was a movie playing, and that a rather good one.

The film follows the life of Cash from childhood up until he marries June Carter. Joaquin Phoenix gives his usual wonderful performance as the Man in Black. It took me a little while to adjust to thinking of Joaquin as Johnny Cash. Cash was such a larger than life icon any actor would have difficulty portraying him. Yet after an initial adjustment period, Joaquin sinks right into the Cash skin.

Reese Witherspoon is an actress I enjoy, but have never really appreciated as a “real” actress. With films like Legally Blonde and Sweet Home Alabama under her belt it is difficult to take her seriously. She’s like Meg Ryan in that her bubbly enthusiasm is hard not to get swept up in, but as a serious actress she’s rarely had the chance to prove herself. At least in my experience.

She plays June Carter in the same exuberant manner we’ve come to expect from Reese. It is a June Carter I’ve never seen before. I know the June Carter Cash of the last few years of her life: a reserved, loving wife; a kindly woman, and lovely singer. It was a strange thing to see her full of the zestful energy reserved for young country stars. Not that this isn’t an accurate portrayal of Ms Carter during this part of her life, it’s just a part of her life I’ve never seen before.

All is not bubbles and fun though, and Reese brings a weight to the character that is smart and well performed. We can see the difficulties of being a young woman carrying on the legacy of her family and still trying to be a modern woman. We can understand the heartache she feels as she both loves Johnny Cash and abhors the life he is living. It is a fine performance all around.

It is a fine film that doesn’t really cover any new ground, biopic wise. There is the troubled childhood, the rise to stardom, the hard fall with drugs and pain and the redemption through love and a little concert amongst hardened criminals.

For Cash fans there isn’t any new ground dug up, but it’s a lot of fun. The leads perform to perfection, and the songs are classic. For non fans the story is a good one and the performances are enough to make a few new fans along the way.

The Hot Topic: Writing Ambitions

From a half-mad ragbag collective of high-minded but low paid bloggers referred to in hushed tones in speakeasies across the land as the Mondo Gentleman's Club comes the Hot Topic. Watch slack-jawed as the panel dissects the critical and cultural issues of the day! Wince as it sinks in a frenzy of angsty whining and barefaced self-promotion.

Mind your heads as you enter, readers, and stick to the path…

This issue: What are your writing ambitions?

From: Mathew Brewster

To: The Hot Topic Collective

Re: Writing Ambitions

I got a BA in English not because I love grammar and such, but that I love to read and figured talking about literature for a living wouldn't be such a bad thing. Plus English degress have minimal math requirements. I got sidetracked in graduate school and now my degree is little more than a $15,000 wall hanging, but I digress. Along with the grammar and the literature I took some writing classes. Loved 'em.

Writing was (and is) tiresome, frustrating and difficult, but extremely rewarding. I remember sitting in a poetry class getting a big ovation for one of my readings and feeling completely elated. Thus began the whispers of hope that maybe someday I could be a writer.

I'm much too practical to take that whispering too seriously though. Go to your local Barnes and Nobles and count the books on the shelves. A very small minority of these books are best sellers. And these are the ones that actually make the shelves of a big giant book chain. How many books never see the light of a booksellers shelves? How many writers never get published? That's a lot to fight against.

The blogging phenomenon has suddenly made writers out of all of us. Instantly I can publish my latest sublimely written piece to the world. Millions can read my work with the click of a mouse. I remember publishing those first few pieces thinking about the hordes of fans that would be entranced with my every word. Fan sites would pop up, groupies would be knocking on the door. Then I got a site meter and realized that there were exactly two people reading my blog. Me and my mom. And even she doesn't stop by that often.

There might be millions of potential readers out there, but there are also millions of writers vying for attention. Even with a site like Blogcritics, bringing thousands of people to my words on a regular basis, there still isn't enough to make anything like a living out of it.

So, no I have no plans of becoming a professional writer. As for goals, I don't have anything really specific in mind either. I enjoy the process of writing. I dig that Blogcritics comes with a plethora of eyes to read my writing. I hope I'm entertaining and once in a while thoughtful, or at least halfway intelligent. If I make a couple of fans along the way, then all the better.

And hey, if the perfect writing gig comes up, then I can split my day job like *that*.

From: Eric Berlin

To: The Hot Topic Collective

Re: Writing Ambitions

I was a writer long before I ever thought of myself as a "writer." That label has all kinds of wonderful and grandiose and even pompous connotations, smoking jackets and rubbing elbows with intelligentsia and jumping in the Seine with a bottle of wine strapped to your abdomen, a platter of cheese plastered to your trousers and so on.

Writers tend to not be like everyone else. We're weird, we see things differently. Looking back, it all kind of makes sense. I was a kid who was lucky enough to be part of a much-smarter-than-me crowd, but other than that I never fit easily into any "scene." I liked sports but wasn't much of an athlete. I adored music but turned out to be merely competent on the double bass. As I stated, I had friends but was by no means Tall Man on Campus.

I was shy among those I didn't know well. I observed, sucking in the world and often making up detailed lives about strangers that I saw (often some combination of bizarre and comedic) without consciously realizing I was writing in my head. I concocted fantastical scenarios where I would swoop in to save the damsel in distress (always the pretty popular girl sitting across the classroom) from grave peril.

Moving on, I have clear memories of realizing, some time in my early 20s, "Dead God, I'm a writer!" and had all the rushing feelings of power and creative destruction and terrible ego that comes along with that at such an age. However, I was also cursed with a terrible laziness that went along with that ego and clearly decided that traveling and partying and getting kicks and avoiding responsibilities were far more the way to go.

You see, it was just all so hard! I had decided that to be a writer absolutely meant that you wrote novels — and not just a novel, it had to be huge teeming piled stacks of tomes, dust billowing off the thousands of pages that you whipped off in a month's Benzedrine and instant coffee pan-dimensional muse-lock, pages that would clear the world's concerns off the map in the built up ecclesiastical mania to read my work, yes My Work, the Novelist's Grand Vision Made Real.

But how do you that? Where do you start? I wrote short stories, a few that were pretty good, made awkward forays into all different kinds of styles and modes of thought. Eventually, I realized that I must delve into the novel game or die trying. I made it a bit further each time: 10,000 words about saving the world before time ended, inspired by Stephen King's The Langoliers; 40,000 words about a bizarre and updated ode to Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol.

Then, in 2004, I was close, by golly. Strengthened by the wisdom of Stephen King's On Writing, I was writing every bloody day. Didn't care how hard it was, how painful, how awkward the words or stilted the plot ties. 600 words, 1,100, 588.

And I finished a first draft, all 85,000 reeking words of it! And yes, there's a story in there too, a surreal (yet) comedic thriller based upon my experiences playing rugby and my Animal House-esque final year of college. Upon completing, I realized that the very best parts of the story were the real parts, the actual anecdotes and scenarios and pitfalls and mania of that wonderfully debaucherous year spanning 1995 and 1996.

Sometime in late 2004, as a lark and to to rest my brain while thinking about the next phase of the novel, I started blogging. It was so… easy. Easy and fun. And the instant feedback. My God, I said to myself again (not to say I am my own God, that's an entirely philosophic brain-shaker that I won't deem to get into right now), there are people who read my stuff. My shit. My gold, and all in between!

And I was hooked. After a brief spout of soul doubt, I realized I had come to where I always was meant to be, cheerfully spouting off into the electronic heavens about politics and music and television and life-things, all with the Big Picture perspective I've come to see things with and, one hopes, enough comedy and interesting bit-ends to keep people along for the ride.

So I take myself less seriously these days, or at least I try to! I sure do have a lot of fun though. It turned out that blogging was the place for me where "working" wasn't work at all, that my need for creative outlet and instant feedback and the occasional e-pat on the head saying, "Well my, aren't you so clever then!" could be met anytime I wanted, rain or shine, daytime or the darkest reaches of the vast electronic night.

From: Greg Smyth

To: The Hot Topic Collective

Re: Writing Ambitions

Okay, so I lied. I'm a great big faker. Sorry.

You see, the original post to the Mondo Group stated quite assuredly that, yes, I, Greg Smyth, had really quite obvious writing ambitions that were easily spelled out and that left me feeling quite good about myself. "I'm a do-er", I thought to myself, "and all the multitude of plans and schemes I have are currently paying off."

What a fool I am, because, as soon as the teeth of the Mondo Chattering Classes began chewing over the various novels and poems and the like that the great and good of this collective have in the backs of their minds or sitting, unedited, on their various hard drives, I felt somewhat foolish. All I wanted to do was write music reviews.

Sure, I'd love to write a novel but there are two things that either put me off or prevent me from churning out the Great Masterwork. The first is that, really, I'm not sure I have the patience or concentration span to stick with one thing for so long. Second, at what point do you realise you've got sufficient inspiration or ideas to begin such a huge undertaking? That's the beauty of music writing, and I'm sure I've said this before, you're espousing on one of a thousand objects that will pass over your desk in that year, each one for both a limited amount of words and always with some ready-made frame of reference or backstory. Never, really, are you as a critic faced with the purely blank page and the very specific Fear that instills in the writer. And particularly in one who doubts his own dubious level of talent.

Both Eric and Mat mention the liberation that blogging brought them. That, to me, is a whole hornet's nest that could be saved for a future Hot Topic – is blogging proper writing/journalism? But let's give it a spin here in the meantime. Blogging has meant that, when I'm sufficiently on the ball to do it regularly, I have an outlet for the finished product regardless of whether the commissioning editor of the magazine I'm pitching the samples to likes them. Prior to my introduction to blogging (and, perhaps more crucially, prior to getting a laptop and associated internet connection) I had a box file with old printed samples into which would go the latest attempt at getting a writing gig. I'd send out samples much less frequently and, so, a real lack of momentum developed and I wrote less and less. Since blogging properly, I've produced much more, and crucially, better content. Coupled with the ease of approaching editors via the likes of the internet (and, to my surprise, MySpace) I've begun to foster links with a range of publications. Hopefully one day I'll meet one who'll start to pay me!

So yes, initially, my goal is to write for (and, crucially, earn money from) mainstream music publications. Ideally, I'd like to write fiction in one form or another but the question of just how inspired you need to be before you can sit down with a novel on your mind is one that vexes me. Is a germ of an idea enough, with everything coming out in the wash eventually? Will the twists and turns that your imagination will invariably take you on be reliably frequent so that you can do the high-wire without the safety net of some sort of roadmap (mixing metaphors there, but you get the drift)? Hopefully, one day I'll have to balls to find out.

From: DJ Radiohead

To: The Hot Topic Collective

Re: Writing Ambitions

This is, quite seriously, the 11th or 12th draft of this. I beg forgiveness from whoever has to edit it. Just know it's late and the caffeine stopped working hours ago. I must go sleep now. Feel free to replace my scribblings with an excerpt from the Latvian translation of The Book of Mormon. I won't be offended.

I have written, re-written, and re-re-written my contribution to this edition of the Hot Topic. In the process of trying to describe my ambitions and goals for my writing and podcasting I came to a surprising conclusion: fuck all if I know.

What the fuck do I do all day and why do I do it? I can't explain it. I can't make it make a whole lot of sense.

In some ways, my ambitions and goals have already been achieved and exceeded. I write pieces for Blogcritics and record a podcast. My work has been read and downloaded and listened to by people in Red states and Blue states. I have an audience. That blows my mind. "I'm bad, I'm nationwide." The real mind fuck is knowing people in Canada and the UK have downloaded and listened to my humble podcast. I am international! Holy shit.

Here's the kicker: some of them liked it. The hell you say! I've written and recorded works and other people have liked them. The praise of strangers has meant more to me than the encouragement from family and friends. My mom is supposed to laugh at my jokes. When someone else does, my feet don't touch the ground for days.

Want to hear something more amazing than that? I have actually liked some of my own work, too. I have been annoyingly and sometimes intolerably insecure about the quality of my own work. I am often my harshest critic. I don't like everything I do but even I have taken some satisfaction in what I have been producing as of late despite a predisposition not to see any of my own growth or improvement.

Could I hope for anything more than that?

Finding someone to pay me to do this would be great. Maybe some day that will happen. Maybe some day I will chase that dream and find that opportunity. There was a time when I thought anything short of that was a failure and a waste of time. It turns out I was wrong. I do not need the cash or the fame (although I will still take it) to feel fulfilled. I never would have believed I would feel this way. I am having fun doing what I am doing now. I enjoy it. It pleases me.

My goals and ambitions and hopes and dreams have changed a lot just in the five years since I graduated college. Maybe someday this won't be enough. I might wake up one day and decide it's not worth it or I want more. Who knows? Hell, someday we'll all look back on this and plow into the back of a truck.

Has any of this made a damn bit of sense to any of you? Me neither. I guess I am just putting one foot in front of the other, gratefully plugging away for another 24 hours.

From: Mark Saleski

To: The Hot Topic Collective

Re: Writing Ambitions

I see "ambition" as a funny sort of word when it sits in such close proximity to my name. Not that I'm a slacker or anything. It's just that things like ambition and career and success… they're sort of foreign to me.

Does that mean I've been doing nothing all of these years? Of course not. Twenty-something planet-revolutions of CAD/CAM, pre-press, and various flavors of control system software. Lots and lots of bytes. Still, it never had inertia, if you know what I mean. Or… maybe it used to.

But… this writing thing kind of snuck up on me and, maybe for the first time, ambition isn't such an odd concept.

A few years ago I started writing music reviews for Blogcritics. Yeah, there's some inertia there. Plenty of it. The funny thing is that the source for this transformation, the push, the cause… has origins from my teen years. Many nights of scouring issues of Creem magazine cover-to-cover. Hours and hours spent in the University of Maine microfilm lab looking at old copies of Rolling Stone (Did you know they used to give out roach clips to new subscribers?!)

I lived for this stuff. But.. I just could not write. Not at the age of nineteen, anyway.

So what has changed 25 years later? Good question. I don't really know. Maybe I needed to read a thousand or so more books. Maybe I needed to go to a bunch more concerts. Maybe I needed to discover jazz. And Kerouac. Maybe I just needed to live.

All I know is that this feels right… and I'm determined to make it work. It feels weird saying that. Good, but weird.

From: Duke DeMondo

To: The Hot Topic Collective

Re: Writing Ambitions

Is there a thought more potent with regards stirrin' the sour waters a' insomnia than the notion that, at 63, a fella will be as far forward, career-wise, as he is at 23? (It's nothin' short a' shameful, an' a touch ironic, that I couldn't grasp a better word than career just now.) Not a day passes that I don't get myself wound up twenty shades a' mental with regards When Will Stuff Happen?

When will a fella be paid to write, that he might spend his days thinkin' a' new jokes involving "fuck" an' not have to worry 'bout also, seems I'm starvin' an ain't an ounce a' chow.

When will sympathetic ears light on mine net records an say "Oh, how 'bout we give you the money for to play this nonsense an also survive"?


The thought that, as far as statistics would suggest, never is the answer, well, that's a mighty cripplin' mind-fry right there.

Getting older an' closer to the age when a fella has to say "Right then. Looks like it's the Civil Service till I end up dead 'hind a spreadsheet an' no one notices till the death-stench starts fuckin' wi' the pot-plants."

The glory of the web-net is that anyone can fling words an' songs an' images up yonder an' have folks read, hear an' watch. The terror of it all is that, yeah, anyone can.

"Yeah, he's a writer an' some sorta song-flinger."

"Wow, that's great."

"Yeah, posts it all on the internet."

"Oh. I thought maybe he was a proper one."

It's surely not enough to produce, cause we all do that, look here, can't move for screeds an' melodies an' prose an' poetic fuckery. Some blockage up yonder, somethin' keeping a fella from slinkin' that bit further 'long the line, from the Amateur to the Professional.

There's only so many lovely words a couple eyes can read before they start toyin wi the brain-glands, sayin "But if it is so very pleasant, how come The Real World remains oblivious?"

What the blog tomfoolery provides is the finest tools thus spawned for grabbin' an audience, if'n a fella puts in the time. When the veil slides off the yap though, an' the realisation hangs there cross the screen, the fact that however many hits yon page gets a day, it hasn't made much difference in the ol' Life, that can be enough to stomp any ambition to globs a' frazzled shite.

So we keep on keepin' on, an' the hope remains. Those bloggers done got book deals, those Arctic Monkeys used the web to kick themselves up top the Record-Breaking Debut Record Sales ladder, these things are possible.

An' try not to think how tiny, tiny, tiny that percentage is.

Okay people, so that's what our panel of selected bloggers had to say, now it's your turn. Do you find yourself locked in turmoil between the job you have and the job you want? Have you learned to find a happy medium that works for you? What are your creative ambitions and how do you express them? Has blogging helped you find a method of creative release or just led to niggling haven't-posted-in-a-while tension?

Let us know!

Connecting With Maps


Written by Diana Stubblefield

Recently some friend and I were discussing how we connect with our Dads. Some confessed how they connect over music, or books, or going to the movies. I thought about how I connect with my Dad tonight after a phone conversation with him.

He and I connect with maps.

I remember when I was a little girl, I would crawl in his lap and he'd show me the way to Disney World on the Atlas. Or he'd show me how to get to Papa's house, or even just back home. I remember the night of 9/11, he and I spreading the atlas on the bed, and mapping out where it happened and in relation to what. Even though he and I are very close and have often been all we've got, sometimes there are just no words. Sometimes you have to say it with a map.

I got a call tonight from my biological mom saying that my Grandmother is very sick and will probably die within a few weeks. We talked a while about when I can come see her, what her condition is, and other little tidbits. As soon as I hung up, I called my daddy.

"Hey there!"

"Hey Dad, you're not watching the Super Bowl are you?"

"No, I just turned it on to see who was winning."

"Oh, you don't usually I just wanted to make sure."

"Did you see halftime? It was the Rolling Stones."

"No, sure didn't. Were they good?"

"I don't know, I didn't watch."

I told him about Grandma. He said he was sorry, saying he had thought about her recently and wondered how she was. He asked if I was going to see her and I said yes. He told me I maybe shouldn't just because she's out of it and it will just upset me and I should remember her how she was. I said I know, I've thought about that, but I feel the need to go.

"I get off at 6 on Saturday so I should get there about 11."

"Which way do you go?"

"501, 38, 9, 52. But isn't there another way?" (Help me daddy I don't know what to do.)

"Yeah, there sure is, get on 38, but don't get on 9, just keep going." (Don't worry sweetheart, everything will be fine.)
"Like you're going to Rockingham?" (I'm really scared of what she will look like, but I need to go.)

"Exactly, and then go west on I- 74 and then go north on 220. That will turn into I-73" (I wish you wouldn't go)

"Uh huh, uh huh." (I know but I felt bad when I didn't get to say goodbye to Grandpa.)

"And then get on 64 at Asheboro." (And I'm glad because he got really sick in the end; I was just trying to protect you.)

"Oh, ok." (Thank you, Daddy.)

"Well, you know what, just go north on 73 until you get to Greensboro and then get on 40." (I understand, I just don't want you to be hurt.)

"That's looks good. Thank you so much!" (I know, I'll be ok.)

"Call me tomorrow at work." (So I can talk to you without your step-mom listening.)

"Ok. I love you Dad." (I love you bigger than the house.)

"I love you too." (I love you more.)

Calendar Movies: Anatomy of a Murder

Rating: ****

For Christmas my wife bought me a 12 month calendar of classic movie posters. It is a lovely thing with large, full color photographs of some great movies. I immediately decided that I would have to watch all of the movies featured. Then I decided that each month I would throw a party around each film.

I’ve continually got ideas running through my head about throwing parties in which to watch a bunch of movies. Call them my own personal mini-movie festivals, like Sundance in my living room. The idea of getting a bunch of people together to watch Kurasawa films, or movies set in space, or the Evil Dead and Reanimator series back to back to back sends me into orgiastic spasms.

The problem is I just don’t know enough people willing to sit still for 8 hours to watch multiple movies. This is especially true when my idea for a festival includes Wild Strawberries and Cannibal Holocaust.

The only thing I’ve ever managed to do is get some folks together for a semi-regular horror movie festival in October. And even then most folks don’t make it past movie number two.

I believe I’ll have more luck with my classic movie poster festival, for I’m only asking the audience to watch one movie. And indeed, I had a fine turnout for the January movie, Anatomy of a Murder. Well, if three people can be considered a fine turnout – but everyone seemed to have a swell time.

Truth be told, half the problem with my movie festival ideas is that they never get past the idea stage. I’m great at thinking up themes for movies to watch and really terrible at actually planning the parties. I always wait until last minute and by then everyone already has plans.

This month was no different. I mentioned to a few people my idea for a regular monthly gathering to watch a classic movie, but didn’t nail down the details. The day of, the wife and I made a few phone calls and got a few folks to agree to come over for pizza and a movie.

I have come to realize that all of my social skills have deserted me. There was a time when I liked nothing better than sit and converse with acquaintances. I loved to enthrall an audience with a good story. But somewhere over the years this skill has gone away. I now tend to allow the awkward silences run into infinity. It’s not that I can’t think of anything interesting to say, it’s that I don’t want to. It all seems so pointless anymore.

Being married is part of it. I’ve got a woman, so chatting up women into a flirtatious frenzy is beyond the question. But even just making more friends seems tiring and not worth the time. Maybe I’m just getting old and curmudgeonly.

I’m being hard on myself, I’m a friendly enough chap and can still hold a room’s attention with a good story, and nail the perfectly timed joke. One of the invitees, Daniel, a somewhat friend of my wife, and I got along smashingly. The wife has told him that I’m a big fan of the film buying so he brought over three DVDs to borrow, and a list of all the DVDs he owns. I quickly printed out my list and my wife had a good laugh over what freaks we were to even have lists.

As the film started Daniel and I both let out a grown over the DVD being in the Pan and Scan format. Then we sounded off in excitement over Duke Ellington having created the film score.

At the first scene I suddenly realized that I had, in fact, seen this film. Though all I could remember was Jimmy Stewart and something about fish.

It is a delightful film with marvelous performances from Jimmy Stewart, Lee Remick and George C Scott. Stewart plays a Paul Biegler, a recently ousted DA who is enlisted to defend Lt. Frederick Manion (Ben Gazzara) who is on trial for the brutal murder of a man who raped his wife.

For a film that deals with wife beating, rape and murder, it is a very lighthearted and enjoyable picture. The script snap, crackles and pops out of the actor’s mouths, trading one wise crack for another.

It is notable, now, for its controversy back then. It was banned in Chicago and Jimmy Stewarts own father took an add out in a newspaper deeming it a “dirty picture.” What seems immensely tame to modern audience, was highly controversial for its time, for the film uses such words as “bitch,” “contraceptive,” “panties,” “slut,” and “sperm.”

Today what stands out is not the use of dirty words, but a tightly directed story with nuanced performances by some of the world’s greatest actors.

Remick slinks and broils across the screen. There is a marvelous scene in which Stewart asks her to take off the hat she’s wearing in court. She is dressed ultra conservatively to appear the ever happy and straight-laced house wife for the jury. But as she takes off the hat and swizzle her hair loose you can feel the lust of every warm blooded man and woman in that court room from 45 years away.

Stewart plays the cornball country lawyer with his usual aplomb. A very young George C Scott nails the role of a slick, big city lawyer. His reaction to an unexpected answer in the courtroom towards the end of the picture is absolutely stellar. Simply perfect acting from a great actor.

It is a great movie, and it was a great beginning to what will hopefully be 12 fabulous months of classic movie festivals.