Saturday, May 9, 2015

ICYMI: Orson Welles, "Female Movies," and More Catch-Up

As you may have noticed (but, who’re we kidding, probably not), I haven’t updated my eponymous blog here for quite some time. The reason is simple: Blogger, in spite of my multi-year use of it, is actually a terrible interface, and the easies thing about it when making my weekly-to-biweekly ICMYI posts was that I could just drag and drop links, and not have to highlight and plug in URLs and the whole nine yards. So, of course, they changed something and did away with that functionality.

So it took me a while to work up the energy to put a post together, but I did it, BECAUSE I CARE, DAMNIT. Here are a few of the better things I’ve written over the last month and a half (links to all of my recent work here.)

·      I did a long-form piece on the very strange world of Twitter’s “celebrity parody” accounts.
·      Orson Welles would have turned 100 this month! I did a deep dive into his adaptation of Heart of Darkness, which was to have been his debut feature before it fell apart and he went to his back-up, that Citizen Kane thing.
·      My monthly “So Bad It’s Good” feature continues: this month I looked at the martial arts/gymnastics epic Gymkata, while last month I dug in to the recently re-rereleased bonkers wild cat movie Roar.
·      Of leaked emails and “female movies.”
·      My earnest plea to please, please stop calling everything a reboot.
·      Oh hey, I was on the teevee again!
·      I went to Tribeca! My capsule review of the narrative and documentary films there; coverage of the many Monty Python events; premiere report on Schwarzenegger’s Maggie; and a kind of annoying conversation with George Lucas.
·      Making movies the Adam Sandler way: with Mad-Libs.
·      On cynicism about journalism, and in movies about journalists.
·      I went to a Gremlins reunion, and it was fun.
·      Mad Men is comfort food. Here’s why.
·      For Pretty Woman’s 25th anniversary, a look at the much darker movie it could have been.
·      And finally, some thoughts on why I (and, it seems, many other people) love true crime documentaries.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

ICYMI: #SXSW, Plus a Bunch of Other Stuff


The Best and Worst of the 2015 SXSW Film Festival


How SXSW Became a Haven for Mainstream Studio Comedies


SXSW 2015: Alex Gibney Takes on the Cult of Mac in ‘Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine’


“It’s Not Anything But a Big Room in LA”: ‘Selma’ Director Ava DuVernay on the Oscars, the LBJ Controversy, and What’s Next


“People Don’t Know What the Word ‘Feminism’ Means”: Amy Schumer on Internet Trolls, Her Comic Persona, and ‘Trainwreck’


Why Did Gamergate Happen? SXSW Doc ‘GTFO’ Explores the Long, Depressing History of Misogyny in Gaming


“As Weird as You Always Wanted Them to Be”: Dan Harmon and ‘Community’s’ Cast on What to Expect in Season 6


Julia Louis-Dreyfus on ‘Veep’ Season 4 and Whether Elaine and Jerry Could Have Lived Happily Ever After

How Three Kids Remade ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark,’ One Summer at a Time


10 SXSW 2015 Movies We Can’t Wait to See


Blame Tim Burton: ‘Cinderella,’ ‘Dumbo,’ and How Disney Caught Remake Fever

So Bad, It’s Good: Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with Jennifer Aniston’s Secret Shame, ‘Leprechaun’

Cinema’s Most Stereotypical Irish Characters, Ranked by Offensiveness

Vince Vaughn Is in Desperate Need of a Reinvention

Flavorwire’s Guide to Indie Flicks to See in March

The 5 Best Movies to Buy or Stream This Week: ‘Top Five,’ ‘Ever After’



The 5 Best Movies to Buy or Stream This Week: ‘Mockingjay,’ ‘Listen Up Philip’

Saturday, March 7, 2015


Done. Done done done. Done diggy done diggy done done done.

The first draft is done.

I headed out around 10:00 this morning; in need of a change of my change of scenery, I ended up at the Riverside Branch Library, and about two hours after powering up my computer, I wrote the last words of the last essay of Richard Pryor: American Id.

From what I understand, they discourage loud whooping in public libraries, so I refrained. But hitting that save button for the last time (and then closing and compressing and emailing everything to myself, because I’m no dummy) was one of the most satisfying moments of my life as a writer thus far—not just because I got it done, not just because I challenged myself and proved that it can be done, but because I’m so wildly, blissfully happy with where this book is at. Again, work will need to be done; I’m already finding passages that are poorly worded and quotes that don’t work as well as I thought they would, and so on. But I think the book is on its way to being dynamite, without question the best thing I’ve written. So, yes. Hurray.

After that, I closed up shop, walked a couple of blocks to a favorite pizza joint, ate a couple slices of pepperoni, and then went to the also-very-close Performing Arts branch of the library. There, I took another pass at the last essay (still not bad!), and then did a job so dopey and mindless and arduous that I figured I should do it while I was still in a good mood from finishing: plugging in my full references, as they’ll end up in the notes at the back of the book, into the sometimes slapdash footnotes I threw into the Word doc. It’s nearly as fun as it sounds, and way time-consuming. But it was bothering me that it wasn’t getting done—and I also realized (since I’m using footnotes for the first time in a book doc; my Voyageur books just used a blanket bibliography at the end) that the footnotes are included in the word count, duh, so I actually wasn’t running as long as I thought on some of these. Anyway, with footnotes, the final word count is 25,285 (plus 654 so far on the bibliography, which I went ahead and pasted up in the process, since it’s so many of the same citations). That will need to shave down some, presumably; I’ll be reaching out to my editor to find out how much.

From here, well, I’m gonna go home and have a nice celebratory dinner with the wife and little one. And then tomorrow afternoon, I’ll sit down and just read it straight though, doing only the quickest of fixes, to get a sense of how it reads and make sure I’m not repeating myself. This week, I’ll break off a couple of essays per night for more in-depth editing. By the end of the week, I’ll have a second draft, which I’ll then print out for my A Number 1 Editor, my wife, and also zip up and send out to a cabal of friends for feedback. They’ll read it while I’m in Austin at SXSW; I will not look at the book while I’m there, or hopefully even think about it. That space and time away from it will be vital to looking at it fresh when I get back, working in their notes and giving it however many passes it needs to be as good as possible when I send it to my editor at the end of the month.

So, that’s that. If you read along with me this week, I thank you for your indulgence, and for coming along on this little journey; hopefully you’ll pick up the book in the fall, and not think, “Yep, totally reads like he wrote it in a week.”

Friday, March 6, 2015


So close… and yet… so far.

For the first time this week, I didn’t finish the essay I started today. Well, let’s back up a sec. If you were to look at what I wrote today, you’d certainly think it could be a finished essay—it’s certainly effing long enough to be—and to some extent, it is. The initial plan for today was just to write the essay about Pryor’s decline in the ‘80s, specifically by comparing Blue Collar, a ‘70s movie about poor people, to The Toy, Superman III, and Brewster’s Millions, ‘80s movies about rich people (made when, ya know, Pryor had become a very rich man). Then we did the big reshuffle yesterday, and determined that the last essay was getting the boot… which means that the “oh by the way, end of the book time!” stuff that would end it would now go on the end of this one (where, as I mentioned, it’s a bit more of a natural fit).

So, yeah, I didn’t write that stuff just yet. I made it right up to it, and then my time had run out, and my computer’s battery had run out, and the jerkwad security guard for the one nice reading room at the NYPL who makes everyone unplug their power cords (even though all the other guards let you and you can charge them in several other rooms in the building, we had words today, don’t get me started) was there, so I figured to hell with it, I’m at a stopping point, let’s go home. So I did.

Which means that tomorrow is a little bit of a change-up, a day when I’ll try to pick something up and finish it rather than work all the way through. And I’ll also spend quite a bit of time reworking the stuff I wrote today, which I usually take at least one pass at, at the end of the day, but didn’t, for reasons previously explained.

Anyway, I’m somewhat OCD and being this close to finished without being finished is KIND OF MAKING ME INSANE, but we’ll deal with it. We will! And tomorrow, y’know, hopefully, first draft.

Thursday, March 5, 2015


Let it be known, here and all across the land, that today, Thursday, March 25, in the Year of Our Lord 2015, was the day that Richard Pryor: American Id became a seven-essay book, rather than a eight-er. (Is that a thing? Eight-er?)

We've been through this enough this week that I probably don't have to walk through it again, but here goes: after a fine morning of editing and outlining, I arrived at the good ol' NYPL in the midst of a real humdinger of a snow storm, sat down in the ornate reading room, and started writing today's essay. The topic was drugs, and specifically what Pryor's playing of five "junkie" characters (two on stage, two on film, one on television) tell us about his own struggles with addiction. A rich topic, as you can imagine, so it probably shouldn't come as a surprise--considering both the enormity of the subject and the writing habits that we've been reminded of this week--that when I came up for air a few hours later, the essay was 4036 words.

It was time to do some math. With two essays remaining in a book with a target length of 2000 words, I had written... 1900. Look, things go when you're editing, but that much wasn't gonna go, so I pulled the fire alarm. Earlier this week, I mentioned that I did have the option of dropping one of the essays--the last one in the book, which (for purposes of chronology, but perhaps accidentally savvily) I scheduled myself to write last. I think it has potential, but it's certainly the one (at this point, anwyay) with the least to say, and the more I thought about it, the more it seemed like the book-wrap-up stuff made more sense within the penultimate essay (which I'm writing tomorrow). So I texted my wife, I texted my buddy Mike (who's kinda been my sounding board on this project), and I emailed my editor. All agreed that this is probably a good idea.

I can't tell you what a lift it was to make that call. The book is still gonna go over, to be sure--this last piece ain't gonna be 1000 words, I can tell you that much for certain--but not drastically. And with that settled, I was able to focus on the thing that's more interesting about today's essay than its length: its quality. I have to tell you, there's about a page of this thing, where I write about "Wino & Junkie" from That Nigger's Crazy, which is one of the best things I've ever written. There's a chunk of Monday's piece, about the "Bicentennial Nigger" monologue, which is also, I think, pretty fucking great. And a lot of the rest of it is, even at this first draft stage, pretty-pretty-pretty good. (Just so it doesn't sound like I'm waxing my own car here, there's also a lot of it that needs some serious goddamn work.)

So, that's where we're at. After I finished the draft of today's essay and took another pass at it, I returned to yesterday's again (still pretty happy with it), worked on the notes and bibliography a bit, and called it a day.

Tomorrow could be my last full day of writing, though I've got a feeling the combination of tomorrow's essay and the book wrap stuff that'll need to go on the end of it might carry it over into the weekend. We'll see. Point is, the book has been reconfigured, and for the better. Can't complain about that.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015


The days tick by. Routines get set. Problems get solved… or they don’t.

As per usual, the writing day started with editing: a return to yesterday’s 4043-word monstrosity, which is still pretty good, and too long with no easy solutions. I did find a way to rework the opening paragraph into more of a grabber, which is good—but  if anything, I came away from this morning’s edit session with the realization that it’s a paragraph short,  that there’s a vital connection that I need to make to the overall theme of the book to keep it from being just a standalone “How about this, isn’t this interesting” sort of thing. So that’s a little time bomb that’ll just sit there ticking for the rest of the week, I suppose; I really should use this end-of-day time to figure that graf about, but I’m too afraid of that essay at this point, to be honest.

The better news is that today’s essay, about the character of Mudbone and the traditional of African-American oral storytelling, is not only fairly solid, but a totally manageable 2725 words. So, hurray for that, at least.

Looking back over this stuff, I realize that the word count obsession may seem a little OCD, or at the very least, disproportionate. But I just see it as a kind of mathematical indication of the material getting away from me, which was always my concern when it came to tackling such an immense subject in a short form.

Anyway. That’s the latest. With the two reworked essays and three new ones down, and three ones to go, I’m officially past the halfway point. The next two essays are ones I feel pretty good about, and think I should be able to keep under control. The last one, which I’m planning on writing Saturday, is a bit of a stickier wicket, particularly since I’ll need to figure out how it’ll answer the book’s Big Questions, which I sort of provocatively pose in the preface but haven’t entirely worked through yet. Guess we’ll burn that bridge when we come to it!

Tuesday, March 3, 2015


Hi, I just wrote another 4000-word essay that needed to be around 2500, how’re you?

This struggle is not new; as I took a cooling off trip to the men’s room midway through the afternoon (and rest assured, whatever condition you might imagine the giant midtown library’s men’s room to be in, you’re probably underestimating it), I realized that I go through this every time I write one of these things. They always come out long. It is, as I’ve mentioned, the byproduct of over-research; this is just the result of the predicted disparity between the amount of time spent on research and amount of notes accumulated in said time (roughly the same as a 50-60K word volume) and the length of this one (20K). It is what it is. I’m worried, but not panicked.

The good news is I re-read the revision of yesterday’s piece and it wasn’t just a matter of fixing it to make it not as bad; I think it’s legit good, so that’s a comfort. That was the first thing I did when I got to work this morning, trying out the routine for the week. I start by putting fresh eyes on yesterday’s essay, giving it a couple of more reads, tweaking, revising, compressing, expanding. Once that’s done I sit down with the notes for that day’s essay, and work up the outline. By the time I’m done with that, it’s 11; I head out, eating my lunch on the train and reading on the way, arrive at the library around noon, and get to work.

Today’s essay is about vulnerability, on two tracks: how Richard handled bombing (and there’s more evidence of it than you might think, so that’s all pretty fascinating stuff), and how he brought his own vulnerability, specifically w/r/t sex, to his act. I started at noon, took a brief break in the middle to move to another research room because the jerk security guard said we couldn’t plug our computers into the outlets of the room that everyone was plugged into yesterday, and came to an end at 3:45 with a total of, sigh, 4134 words. I stayed away as long as I could (about 15 minutes) before returning to it for revision, hoping some giant key would appear that would unlock a way to yank out 1600 words, like yesterday.

The bad news is, there is no easy fix like that. When I finished my next pass, pulling out a few side thoughts and redundant phrases, I’d only managed to get it down to 4043. So what do I do from here?

For now, nothing. Out of sheer curiosity, I found a big section that I could pull out, which’d chop about 800 words without much strain, but simply put, I like that stuff too much, and I think it’s interesting. (And unlike the easy pulls from yesterday, it’s commentary/analysis, so it’s not “already out there”). That’s an in-case-of-emergency-break-glass section; I’ll remember that I can do that, and hope I don’t have to. Instead, I’ll leave it as is, and see how the rest of the week plays out. My editor has made it clear that the 20K word count is just a suggestion, though I’m not sure how loose he means (especially if the rest of the week goes as these two days have on the over-writing front). If I need to get drastic, I could drop one of the essays; the last one I’m writing is the one I’m least certain of, and the wrap-up elements of it could graft pretty easily into the second-to-last chapter, so that’s an option.

We’ll see. That’s where I’m at, at the end of day four. We’ll see.