Elen sila lumenn omentielvo!

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

"I believe in Love" (Thoughts on WONDER WOMAN)

SPOILERS for WONDER WOMAN below. Seriously. I make ZERO effort to not spoil the movie.

Wonder Woman II

I have always counted Wonder Woman among my favorite superheroes, even though I never read her comics all that much. I wasn't much of a comics reader until I was a teenager, and my main exposure to Wonder Woman as a kid came via the wonderfully fun--if highly campy--teevee show with Linda Carter. When I was seven or eight I bought, with my parents' help, a copy of the Wonder Woman installment in a series of books called the Encyclopedia of Comic Book Heroes. Even though I knew next to nothing about Wonder Woman's lengthy mythology at that point, I still enjoyed thumbing through that book and reading the entries on the various people and villains in Wonder Woman's life and imagining the stories. There are times when reading about stories can be as thrilling to the imagination as reading the stories themselves.

Later, when I became a regular comics reader in the mid-1980s, I didn't read Wonder Woman at all. At that time, DC Comics was in a creative rut and I gravitated toward the exciting and emotional (or downright angsty) Marvel books. Wonder Woman was actually put on a hiatus while DC pulled off a massive reboot of their entire comics universe in an event mega-miniseries (I know, that term makes no sense, deal with it), and after that, Wonder Woman herself received a reboot from Square One in a new series by Len Wein and George Perez. That's when I jumped on board, because I absolutely loved that series. It was bright and cheerful and humorous and filled with adventure and mythology. That book came along, with its colorful tone, right around the time that Marvel was starting to get pretty dark in its own storytelling, what with gang wars and straight-up noir in the Spider Man books and the Mutant Massacre in the X-titles.

Eventually, of course, Wonder Woman had to get her own movie, right? Except even that took forever. There were abandoned scripts and false starts galore, most notably a script by Joss Whedon (which I have not read but which recently came to light and received some criticism from feminist voices I respect). As a Wonder Woman film came closer and closer to being a reality, though, I became nervous. DC's track record in its superhero movies has not been especially inspiring. Yes, the Nolan Batman films are good (the first two, anyway, I haven't seen the third), but the new take on Superman has proven to be a grim, washed-out exercise in violence and grimdark, and while I thought that there was a lot to like in the Green Lantern movie, there was simply too much in that movie, resulting in something of an overstuffed mess. I was skeptical, frankly, that the DC creative voices--with their Superman who kills, and their constantly-brooding Batman--could do justice to Wonder Woman.

Now the movie is here, and they have done justice to Wonder Woman.

They made a wonderful movie that does honor to the character, that isn't depressingly dark, that leaps and soars with all the thrilling wonder that a superhero movie should (doubly so if that word is in the very title), and tells a story of good versus evil that is nevertheless nuanced and thoughtful. Wonder Woman may well join Superman (1978), Spider Man 2, and Guardians of the Galaxy as my favorite superhero films ever.

Every first film featuring a newly-adapted superhero has to be an origin story, which is probably why the most frequent complaint I've seen about Wonder Woman is that we don't really see Princess Diana in full-Wonder Woman regalia until we're halfway (or more) through the film's generous run time. Frankly, I didn't care. Everything that precedes her arrival is engaging and fun, and the film's first act--depicting Diana's youth and coming-of-age on Themyscira--is an engaging mini-film in its own right. We begin with a brief precis of the film's basis in Greek mythology, done with a stylized animation sequence that calls Greek theater to mind and establishes Ares, the God of War, as the main villain behind everything that has happened. How the movie handles that main villain is one of its more interesting aspects, but more on that later, because the film takes us to Themyscira, the secret hidden island of the Amazon warriors whose task it will one day be to fight Ares once and for all. Here we finally meet Princess Diana, but as a young girl who has been forbidden by her mother to train as a warrior. So of course that becomes Diana's greatest dream, and she watches all the training sessions in secret, mimicking her warrior sisters' movements from afar. These moments establish Diana for us: her aspirations show that she is born for battle and will never shrink from it.

Of course, trouble soon intrudes upon the island of the Amazons, in the form of an airplane that somehow punches through the magical mist that conceals it from the rest of the world. The plane crashes in the sea, and Diana rescues its pilot. He is Steve Trevor of the United States, and he will become the great love of Diana's life. But along with him comes war--World War I to be precise--and it is Trevor's arrival that reveals to Diana that Ares has once more come forth. It is her time to leave and confront him.

The film's approach to Ares is very interesting. After listening to Steve Trevor's descriptions of what he is doing--his mission involves stopping a German military scientist who is developing some kind of super weapon--Diana becomes convinced that Trevor's quarry is really Ares in human form. Who else could he be, after all? Who else would be behind the creation of a weapon that can kill thousands if not millions in one strike? More, though, Diana believes that by defeating Ares, she will defeat war itself, and that humanity will put aside its darkness and lay aside their weapons for good. Steve Trevor doesn't know what to do with this. He does not share Diana's belief. But he knows that something must be done, that Diana is a strong ally, and that he stands a far greater chance of success with her than without her.

(Some have complained about the film's backdating Diana's origin story to the WWI era as opposed to the traditional WWII as was the case in the comics, but this whole "Defeating war itself" subtext is served well by being set during what was thought to be "the war to end all wars".)

So in a way the movie gives us two villains for the price of one, embodied in the same character. This dual way of looking at the villain, from the differing viewpoints of two protagonists, is one of the film's master strokes. For Steve Trevor, the German scientist is a clear and present danger to untold thousands of innocent people. He is constantly talking of this villain in practical terms, reminding Diana of those very untold numbers who will die if the man's plan succeeds. Diana, on the other hand, is battling the very idea of war itself and wishes to triumph by destroying the god who fuels it. It's natural that Diana, with her belief system drawn from the ancient Greek pantheon, would see things this way. (And to the film's credit, we get to see Steve Trevor grappling with this notion, while at the same time respecting the belief and the person who holds it.)

There is a problem here for the story, of course. If Diana stops Ares, there can be no more war, and we know that there will be, time and again. As Diana sees things, destroying Ares will unleash upon the world an epoch of peace unlike any other. We know that this does not come to pass...but by the same token, the film introduces Ares (or the concept of Ares) in the very opening minutes. To do all that and not have Ares himself show up would be an unbelievable cop-out. So Ares must show up, and show up he does (and his appearance may or may not surprise you--reaction I've seen seems to run about 50-50 on this), with the answer of how there will still be war in the absence of the very god who creates it. The answer, of course, is that humans themselves are the true engines of war and that all Ares need do is give a little nudge here, and little whispered inspiration in the ear of a superweapon-inventor there. To wage war, Ares tells us, is simply a part of human nature and it will go on with or without him. Thus he flips to dilemma back upon Diana: If humans are the true masters of war, why should she strive to save them at all?

Diana's answer is a common one, but the reason it's common is, I think, because it's true. Even if war is a part of the human condition, so is love, and Diana has come to see this firsthand. Just before she ultimately delivers her final attack on Ares, she says the words that form the title of this post: "I believe in love." It seems to me that Harry Potter came up with the same answer to a similar question, didn't he?

For Diana, her discovery that humans are capable of staggering love in addition to staggering war isn't just born of a romantic attraction to Steve Trevor. It's something else. Not only has she fallen in love with Trevor--or so I believe she has, the movie does not outright state that she has, and I think it's right to do so--but she has also seen that he has fallen in love with her but is also willing to put that love aside for a greater sense of love and duty. She has just witnessed Steve Trevor willingly sacrificing himself to destroy the superweapon before it can be deployed. Even though Trevor's last words to Diana were "I love you," his actions after demonstrate for her everything about humanity that is worth saving, even though Ares speaks truth when he tells her that war also lies at the very heart of humanity. Diana will oppose war with everything she has, but not at the expense of destroying love. In this moment she rejects Ares and his attempts to seduce her to his side.

Steve Trevor's declaration of his love for Diana doesn't come out of nowhere, but the film refreshingly doesn't beat us over the head with their love affair either, such as it is. The film does show some of the romantic tension between the two, but it downplays it, keeping it mildly flirtatious and establishing that the chemistry between Diana and Trevor isn't exclusively romantic. It's a chemistry of two people, newly met, who find themselves fervent allies against a common thing. It is a chemistry of intelligent people who are both, for various reasons, unable to really belong in the world.

It's too bad that Steve Trevor had to die in this film (mainly to accommodate the upcoming Justice League stuff, which I find a little disappointing because I honestly don't care about any of that), because Gal Gadot and Chris Pine have terrific screen chemistry together. I've been liking Chris Pine for a while now. He's good at portraying men of competence who aren't utterly cocksure of themselves, men who make mistakes and learn from them. His Steve Trevor is clearly inferior to his Amazon captors and he is constantly unsure of what to make of all of Diana's talk of Ares and defeating war and the rest of the mythological stuff. Pine does not portray Trevor as condescending or as blowing off Diana's beliefs as naivete; rather, he shows Steve Trevor as believing Diana but not being sure of how any of it fits into his own world. At the end he figures it out in the heartbreaking moment that leads to his demise. Chris Pine has a fine line to walk here: He has to be able to convince Diana of humanity's worth, and he has to be able to portray that he is actually awakening emotions in Diana that are surely alien to her.

And when Steve Trevor's final moment comes, Chris Pine doesn't give us a lantern-jawed hero who is unflinching in the face of his own death. He has to take a few deep breaths, close his eyes, make what little peace he can with what's about to happen. He's afraid, even in the moment of utter bravery. Chris Pine nails every moment of this, and it's fantastic.

Even more fantastic, though, is Gal Gadot. She is the rock at the center of this movie, and the film belongs to her. Her Diana is otherworldly without being alien. She is strong and skilled, intelligent and persistent. She is heroic without that hint of a "dark side" that we seem to demand of our heroes today, where they are always trying to avenge some awful and unavengeable wrong in their past. Gadot vests her Diana with a strong sense of driving purpose, and also with an infecting curiosity and amazement about the world in which she finds herself. In her battle scenes she conveys Wonder Woman's strength and skill without making it look effortless. Her skill is earned, not given. Gadot's Diana is a warrior who has put in the long, long hours sparring with others and training and practicing. Gadot's Diana works in every battle, observing and planning and reacting as she fights, and there are moments when she shows real fear. Gadot's vulnerability in this movie is a practical and real vulnerability, and when the time comes to grapple with Ares's awful dilemma, Diana's resistance isn't a perishing of heart but one of thought: Gadot shows us that Diana is still thinking, trying to reason through the dilemma, looking for a way out that doesn't involve casting her lot with the God of War. For all the great work by the rest of the film's cast, the whole thing would fall apart if not for Gal Gadot's work.

(I overheard one moviegoer afterwards, griping about David Thewlis turning out to be Ares. She said something like "He has no business being the main villain." Look, to each their own and all that, but...no. That's just dumb.)

On a production note, I've read and heard some other complaints regarding the film's appearance. At first glance, it does seem to spend most of its time in a similar kind of muted-color, washed-out appearance like the current incarnation of the Superman movies. This artistic choice made sense to me, though. First of all, the time period seems to almost require it, and the film's look is better compared to the first Captain America film than the other grimdark DC stuff these days. Secondly, though, I like the color scheme as an artistic choice, because the Themyscira scenes are shot in vibrant color and the tone only goes more dark once Diana arrives in the world of humans during an enormous war. This is a reversal of the color scheme of The Wizard of Oz, and as such it makes great sense to me. (I also note that the film's framing sequences, which very briefly establish Diana Prince working in the present day at the Louvre, are shot in vibrant color as well. In all honesty I didn't think the film needed those sequences, which seem present more to establish Diana's presence for future DC cinematic universe stuff than anything else, but I'm willing to overlook them.)

Penny Jenkins's direction is as solid as it gets, too. The focus is always where it should be, and Jenkins gives all of her actors time and room to do their thing. Nothing drags, but nothing is rushed either, and in the battle sequences it is always clear what's going on and why. Maybe the movie makes a little too much use of the "sudden slow-motion", bullet-time kind of thing, but even if so, I'm mostly fine with it. It's hard to show the kinds of superhuman things that superheroes do in any other way, and those sorts of shots seem to me more call-backs to the static-image comic-book origins of these stories.

In the end, I loved this movie. I loved its story and the way that it takes its time letting that story unfold. I love that it manages to make the stakes both hugely epic and deeply personal. I love that it earns every one of its emotional beats and that its characters are real, with real flaws and not a bunch of stereotypes. I am looking forward to a sequel and seeing more of Gadot and her incarnation of Wonder Woman, although I would almost rather see her continue to enjoy solo adventures as opposed to following the Marvel hero route of each film laying more groundwork for a larger story. (This is mostly because thus far the DC movies have not been inspiring confidence.)

Wonder Woman lives, and I could not be happier.

(But hey, can the next movie have the invisible airplane in it?)

Monday, June 26, 2017

Eighteen years and counting....

In the space of the last week, The Daughter has turned eighteen and graduated from high school.

I'm proud and amazed, and more than a little astonished that so much time could have elapsed so quickly.

So what's next? Who knows...but as always, the sky is the limit.

Graduation yesterday. Today...what's next?

Friday, June 23, 2017

Bad Joke Friday

Why you can't tell a knock knock joke to a dog:

*knock knock*


[Editor's note: A greyhound variant of this goes thusly:

*knock knock*


Thursday, June 22, 2017

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Tone Poem Tuesday

Sorry to be so late with this, but I heard the last minute or two of this work yesterday morning while I was driving to work, and I wanted to hear the rest of it before I played it here. It is a concert overture by Scottish Romantic composer Hamish MacCunn, titled Land of the Mountain and the Flood. It is a full-on Romantic depiction of the wilds of Scotland at the time, rugged and mountainous and lyrical. This is the music of adventuring bands of claymore-wielding Highlanders as they roam through the lochs and glens.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Symphony Saturday

No Mahler yet--I want to do him justice!--but I'll stick with 'M' composers. Here is Felix Mendelssohn's Symphony No. 3, the "Scottish".

Friday, June 16, 2017

Bad Joke Friday

I saw this on Twitter. Yes, it's a little morbid. Gallows humor can be funny....

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Tone Poem Tuesday

Charles Martin Loeffler is one of those late-Romantic American composers of whom relatively little is heard nowadays, mainly because their music tends to be too derivative of European traditions, although this is likely unfair in Loeffler's case. His European bona fides are well established, however, by virtue of the fact that he was born near Berlin and moved around Europe a good deal before emigrating to the United States in 1881, when he was twenty. His music apparently abounds in unusual instrument pairings and interesting sounds, especially late in his career when he became interested in jazz. (I'm getting all this from Wikipedia, by the way. I'm being honest when I say that I know nothing about the man.)

Loeffler's A Pagan Poem is a dramatic work indeed, based on a work of Virgil. Apparently he did not mean the work to literally tell the story but convey some of its emotion. I can't speak to his level of success there, but this is a powerful and emotional work.

Here is A Pagan Poem.

Monday, June 12, 2017

In Which I Am Interviewed

Did you read my interview at TheGeekiverse.com yet? No? Well GO, folks! 😆 #amwriting

I was interviewed at The Geekiverse, on all manner of writerly and authorly things! Go check it out! (The Geekiverse is a nifty site, based in Buffalo, devoted to all manner of, well, geeky stuff.)

Water Dog

Just because....

Water dog #Cane #DogsOfInstagram #greyhound #ChestnutRidge #wny #OrchardPark #stream #runningwater

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Symphony Saturday

I'm still trying to get ahead on writing my Mahler posts -- there's a lot of work involved in listening to Mahler -- so meantime, here's Maestro Mozart and his Symphony no. 41 in C, the "Jupiter".

Friday, June 09, 2017

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Something for Thursday

EDIT: So I'm sitting up last night and I suddenly realize it's Thursday and I hadn't posted anything. What I had forgotten is that I had previously written and scheduled a Thursday thing last week, which is something I do infrequently enough that I completely forgot that I had done it.

I promise I am not losing my mind.

(But if I am, I can declare my bid for the United States Senate!)

Yipes! It's Thursday! Folks, I've spent a big chunk of this week all screwed up as to what day it is. That happens sometimes, huh? I hope it does...anyway, here's a great song from one of my favorite acts, Blackmore's Night. Fronted by Ritchie Blackmore (of Deep Purple fame) and singer Candice Night, Blackmore's Night is a quite wonderful folk-rock group that plays the kind of music you'd want to hear on a warm summer night after a day of hanging around your local Renaissance Festival. This song is "Under a Violet Moon".

Something for Thursday

This speaks for itself.

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Tone Poem Tuesday

Today is the anniversary of D-Day. In their honor, here is John Williams's Hymn to the Fallen.

Friday, June 02, 2017

"I beheld, through the mists, a glittering city...."


Via Sheila O'Malley. Click through to see the photo larger.

Bad Joke Friday

Via Roger (and I'm not sure this is actually a "bad" joke...it's kinda clever, actually....):

What's the difference between a stepstool and a 3D printer?

The former is a ladder and the latter is a former!

Thursday, June 01, 2017

Something for Thursday

I was watching a clip from the movie Gigi the other day, and this video was suggested as a follow-up. It's from a teevee show that aired in 1961. Hard to believe that this was almost sixty years ago.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

"He'll save every one of us!"

So a couple of weeks ago I attended a special screening of a very special movie:


This was in conjunction with Buffalo's new comic-con, Nickel City Con, and what a night it was!

In 1980, at the height of the post-Star Wars science fiction film boom, a screen adaptation of Flash Gordon came out. An amusing irony of this is that earlier in the 1970s, a filmmaker newly out of film school named George Lucas had wanted to make his own adaptation of Flash Gordon, but he couldn't get the rights, so he set about creating his own original sci-fi space opera project. His work eventually did, in a way, pave the way for Flash Gordon's return to the big screen.

The late 70s and early 80s were a heady time for sci-fi at the movies, provided you liked what I often call "explodey spaceshippy goodness". After Star Wars, everybody wanted on board. There were low-budget flicks like Battle Beyond the Stars and Starcrash. Disney got on the bandwagon with The Black Hole, and there was even a sci-fi horror film, Alien (not a film I like, but I seem to be in a permanent minority on this) and sci-fi takes on the Western like Outland. On television there was Battlestar Galactica and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. After Star Wars, Star Trek finally made its way to the big screen, and even James Bond got into the act in Moonraker.

Flash Gordon had been in development all along, stalled at various points as producer Dino De Laurentiis looked for screenwriters and then directors. He finally got the film made for a Christmas 1980 release, and I remember the keen anticipation for the movie, which in my fourth-grade class was at nearly pre-Empire Strikes Back levels. Every kid I knew was looking forward to the movie, both because of its sci-fi nature and because of its already famous soundtrack by rock band Queen. The movie arrived, everybody saw it, everybody loved it. I remember actually not being able to see it the first time we tried because the theater was so packed. Eventually I saw it either twice or three times, and then not again until college when we rented it and had a good time with it, and then not again until fifteen years or so later when I finally got a DVD of it. And now, on the big screen a couple weeks ago, at Buffalo's North Park Theater.

The screening was followed by a Q-and-A session with Flash himself, actor Sam J. Jones, which was an added enticement to trek across town on a weeknight to see a 37-year-old sci-fi flick. The evening turned out to be quite wonderful, with the only downside being the North Park Theater's air conditioning either being insufficient, or shut off, or simply nonexsitent (not sure which) on what was the first 80-degree day in Western New York. It was a really hot night in the theater, but for the most part I didn't care. I was seeing Flash Gordon again. A few previews (for documentaries, not blockbusters -- the North Park is an art-house theater most of the time), and then it was showtime.

How does Flash Gordon hold up?

Very well.

Now, I admit that "holding up" may not quite be the right way to look at things for a movie like this. Flash Gordon is most definitely of a specific time and place, and maybe you have to be pre-attuned to it to appreciate it. But I don't think it's particular dated in any way. It's cheesy in the best way of being timelessly cheesy. The movie was never intended to be taken all that seriously. What it gets so right is that even as the movie isn't taking itself too seriously, it doesn't allow the characters to fall into the trap of winking at the audience. There are no knowing smirks here, no mugging for the camera. Well, yes, there is Brian Blessed, who has made a cottage industry for himself of grinning wildly as battle nears -- witness his turn as Exeter in Henry V, and his glee during the St. Crispin's Day speech. And in Flash Gordon he is playing a Hawkman lord, almost portraying him as a Viking chieftain in his great hall with a tankard of mead in his hand. And who can blame him? He has to deliver the signature line "DIVE!!!" three times, and he also says things like "Impetuous boy! Oh well, who wants to live forever?" Blessed gives the movie its single over-the-top performance, and a lot of the reason it works is that nobody else is going over-the-top.

Everyone else, though, plays things straight, which is really the only way to go. Flash Gordon has to say things like "A rational transaction -- one life for billions!" Dale Arden has lines like "Keeping our word is one of the things that make us better than you" and "Just hold me two seconds, and then drop me so I can kiss the ground." There's nothing to do with dialogue like that but play it straight, and if Sam J. Jones and Melody Anderson aren't considered great actors, so what? There's something to be said for being able to convincingly create a character whom I can absolutely believe would say things like "Oh Flash, I love you, but we only have fourteen hours to save the Earth!"

What I appreciated most about Flash Gordon, though, was its look and sound and feel. The movie is nicely paced, even at a less frenetic pace than we're used to in films of this genre today. There are several interwoven storylines going on here, and nothing ever outstays its welcome (maybe the Zarkov "reprogramming" sequence). Best of all, though, is the way the movie looks. For another entry in the post-Star Wars sci-fi craze, Flash Gordon has a look all its own. Except for early on, there are no glittering starfields and its spaceships don't look like real machines. The view of Earth in the opening scene itself is highly stylized, like a globe floating in space, bearing no resemblance to the famous blue-white marble of the Apollo photos. And once we get to Mongo, everything is vibrant, brilliant color, with swirling clouds and Art Deco war rockets and a towering glittering city that looks like the sinister version of Emerald City in Oz. The costumes are ridiculously ornate, as are the settings -- even the muted appearance of Arboria, the moon of the tree-men, where everyone dresses like a late-70s disco version of Robin Hood. Flash Gordon wears its comic-book origins on its sleeve, going so far as to use actual comics imagery during its opening credits, sometimes in so close a resolution that you can actually see the dots of the color halftoning in the old printing process for comics.

And then there's the soundtrack, which might be the film's most famous element. This was when Queen was hitting it big in the US (I remember hearing them each week on the Top 40 show with Casey Kasem). It's interesting to me that a movie which puts its origins in 1930s and 1940s comics and film serials so in the forefront -- even more than Star Wars had done -- choose an entirely different approach with its music than Star Wars, in which John Williams was at least partially channeling the spirits of Golden Age composers like Erich Wolfgang Korngold. Instead we get a rock-and-roll score by the greatest "showman" rock group of all time, with those pounding chords that introduce the main song, more lyrical passages along the way, and then a rock score for the big battle in the sky. Rock-and-roll action music, swirling passages of chords reflecting Mongo's visuals, and there's even a gonzo version of the Wedding March for Ming's wedding to Dale. There is an orchestral score as well, by Howard Blake, that melds pretty seamlessly with the more bombastic material by Queen, the thundering rock drums and the blazing guitars. I wonder if Queen would have returned for the sequels that once seemed inevitable (and were never to be), or if the producers would have engaged a different rock band each time out: Flash Gordon II: Ming's Return, featuring a score by Rush!

I love this movie. It's a glorious, fun throwback movie of pure adventure and good humor. There are earnest heroes and skeptical allies and a scary villain (OK, his slightly Asiatic appearance as he is made up in the movie is admittedly problematic) and a mad scientist and a girl who is never entirely deprived of agency or reduced to mere damsel-in-distress status. Add to that all the neat visuals (really, no sci-fi movie has every looked like this again, even if the ships and the Hawkmen don't move with the same convincing style as the ships in Star Wars, but really, that's an awfully high bar to set, even today), an incredible rock-and-roll score, and a script that is cheesy as hell but is also occasionally downright witty ("I knew you were up to something, Aura, though I confess I hadn't thought of necrophilia."). Really, what more would I have wanted from a night in the theater with a big bucket of popcorn when I was nine?

And what more would I want from a similar night in the theater now?

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Tone Poem Tuesday

John Williams may be the most famous film composer in history, but he has also done a fair amount of composing for the concert hall. This piece is a good example. His concert work tends to be slightly programmatic, often taking inspiration from real-world things (particularly nature), but that tends to be as far as these things go. This piece was inspired by a book of photography of trees (a particular item of inspiration to Williams), and it's a fascinating listen: fifteen minutes of mainly sustained slowness, but with moments of real drama and yearning lyricism. The work does not allude to any of Williams's film work, but for the experienced Williams listener, his voice can be most definitely heard.

Here is John Williams's Heartwood.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Larry Havers, 1946-1967

Fourteen years ago I wrote the following on Memorial Day, and I wanted to revisit it. It's about the Vietnam Veteran whose name I remember, despite the fact that I had no relation to him and clearly never knew him, because he was killed four years before I was born.

Memorial Day, for all its solemnity, has for me always been something of a distant holiday, because no one close to me has ever fallen in war, and in fact I have to look pretty far for relatives who have even served in wartime. Both of my grandfathers fought in World War I, but both had been dead for years when I was born. I know that an uncle of mine served during World War II, but I also know that he saw no action (not to belittle his service, but Memorial Day is generally set aside to remember those who paid the "last full price of devotion"). My father-in-law served in Viet Nam, but my own father did not (he had college deferments for the first half of the war, and was above draft age during the second). So there is little in my family history to personalize Memorial Day; for me, it really is a day to remember "all the men and women who have died in service to the United States".

One personal remembrance, though, does creep up for me each Memorial Day. It has nothing at all to do with my family; in fact, I have no connection with the young man in question.

When I was in grade school, during the fall and spring, when the weather was nice, we would have gym class outdoors, at the athletic field. On good days we'd play softball or flag football or soccer; on not-so-good days we'd run around the quarter-mile track. But the walk to the athletic field involved crossing the street in front of the school and walking a tenth of a mile or so down the street, past the town cemetery. I remember that at the corner of the cemetery we passed, behind the wrought-iron fence, the grave of a man named Larry Havers was visible. His stone was decorated with a photograph of him, in military uniform. I don't recall what branch in which he served, nor do I recall his date-of-birth as given on the stone, but I do recall the year of his death: 1967. I even think the stone specified the specific battle in which he was killed in action, but I'm not sure about that, either.

That's what I remember each Memorial Day: the grave of a man I never knew, who died four years before I was born in a place across the world to which I doubt I'll ever go. And in the absence of anyone from my own family, Mr. Havers's name will probably be the one I look for if I ever visit that memorial in Washington. I hope his family wouldn't mind.

I looked online and found these images, first of Mr. Havers's obituary and then of Mr. Havers himself. The things you remember. I wonder what kind of man he was. This year he has been gone for half a century. His name is not forgotten.

Mr. Havers's service information can be found on the Virtual Vietnam Wall here. He was born 14 October 1946 and died 29 October 1967, in Thua Thien.

In memory of those who paid

An annual repost.

Tomb of Unknown Soldier

Know, all who see these lines,
That this man, by his appetite for honor,
By his steadfastness,
By his love for his country,
By his courage,
Was one of the miracles of the God.

-- Guy Gavriel Kay

"The Green Field of France", by Eric Bogle

Well, how do you do, young Willie McBride,
Do you mind if I sit down here by your graveside?
And rest for awhile 'neath the warm summer sun,
I've been walking all day, and I'm nearly done.
I see by your gravestone you were only 19
When you joined the great fallen in 1916,
I hope you died quick and I hope you died clean
Or, Willie McBride, was it slow and obscene?

Did they Beat the drum slowly, did they play the fife lowly?
Did they sound the death-march as they lowered you down?
Did the band play The Last Post in chorus?
Did the pipes play the Flowers of the Forest?

Did you leave a wife or a sweetheart behind
In some faithful heart is your memory enshrined?
And, though you died back in 1916,
To that faithful heart are you forever 19?
Or are you a stranger without even a name,
Enshrined then, forever, behind a glass pane,
In an old photograph, torn and tattered and stained,
And faded to yellow in a brown leather frame?

Did they Beat the drum slowly, did they play the fife lowly?
Did they sound the death-march as they lowered you down?
Did the band play The Last Post in chorus?
Did the pipes play the Flowers of the Forest?

The sun's shining down on these green fields of France;
The warm wind blows gently, and the red poppies dance.
The trenches have vanished long under the plow;
No gas and no barbed wire, no guns firing now.
But here in this graveyard that's still No Man's Land
The countless white crosses in stand mute in the sand
To man's blind indifference to his fellow man,
And a whole generation who were butchered and damned.

Did they Beat the drum slowly, did they play the fife lowly?
Did they sound the death-march as they lowered you down?
Did the band play The Last Post in chorus?
Did the pipes play the Flowers of the Forest?

And I can't help but wonder, no Willie McBride,
Do all those who lie here know why they died?
Did they really believe when they answered the call,
Did they really believe that this war would end wars?
Well the sorrow, the suffering, the glory, the pain
The killing and dying, was all done in vain,
For young Willie McBride, it all happened again,
And again, and again, and again, and again.

Did they Beat the drum slowly, did they play the fife lowly?
Did they sound the death-march as they lowered you down?
Did the band play The Last Post in chorus?
Did the pipes play the Flowers of the Forest?

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Symphony Saturday

I don't have a new work to post here (listening time was hard to come by this week), so I'll revisit something old. Here's one of the very greatest symphonies of all time, Beethoven's Symphony No. 7 in A Major. The Seventh is one of the towering masterpieces of all music (and probably of all human art), and the performance I previously used in this series was a brilliant one from the Proms concerts, performed by a youth orchestra of young Israeli and Palestinian musicians. That performance is wonderful, but it's interesting to hear the work as Beethoven might have heard it. Here's the same symphony, played on period instruments and using period performance standards by La Chambre Philharmonique.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

"The stars always exact a price": AMONGST THE STARS is out!!!

AMONGST THE STARS is out today! Details at ForgottenStars.net! #amwriting #AmongstTheStars #ForgottenStars #sciencefiction #spaceopera #indiebooks

What are you waiting for? The book is available now! Find out what happens next in the saga of Princesses Tariana and Margeth and their trusty pilot, Lt. Rasharri!

Details at ForgottenStars.net!

The Force will be with you always: STAR WARS at 40

D19 of #IGWritersMay: Novel aesthetics. I make no secret that at its heart, THE SONG OF FORGOTTEN STARS is really my love letter to STAR WARS. (This is a page from the book THE ART OF STAR WARS.) #amwriting #starwars #sciencefiction #spaceopera #Forgotten

I didn't see Star Wars on opening day. In truth I don't even remember exactly when I saw it, but it was later in the summer of 1977. We had just moved from Wisconsin to Oregon, and in that time I was not even aware of this enormous movie phenomenon whose popularity was sweeping the nation.

I finally saw it, though, with my sister, who is six years older than me.

I didn't like it.

It was very loud. It opened with big words flying through space and then there was loud spaceships and talking robots (one of whom only talked in beeps and whistles). There was a girl in white and a bad guy in black whose breath sounded weird. There was a desert planet with weird dwarf-creatures and a kid named Luke who lived with his aunt and uncle. (The uncle could be pretty gruff if Luke was goofing off, to which I could relate.) There were more loud spaceships and one really really big spaceship shaped like a giant ball. There was a guy dressed in black and white who helped the farm kid, and this guy had a giant ape-man friend. There were swords made of light and even more spaceships and a big battle in space.

All of that, and I didn't understand a lick of it.

In my defense, I was all of five years old at the time.

Until Star Wars, my movie experience was pretty much limited to stuff like Bugs Bunny Superstar and Disney live-actions like The Shaggy DA (which contained a hoot of a pie fight). Then there was this movie with loud spaceships and robots and a farm kid and a bad guy in black and...well, I had no idea what to make of this movie.

Luckily for me I had my sister, who is six years older than me.

She went all-in for Star Wars. She ate it, drank it, breathed it. She talked about it a lot, and gradually her enthusiasm began to win me over. She explained the story to me because I hadn't understood it all that well, and I decided that I wanted a part of her enthusiasm for my own. So I went with her to see the movie a second time.

I have never ever ever recovered.

I've been thinking a lot about Star Wars as it nears and achieves 40 years, and I find myself relating to it most as a storyteller myself. As a writer I tend most to look at Star Wars through the prism of story. Many stories have had a deep effect on me, on the stories I want to tell, and the way I go about telling them, but none moreso than Star Wars, even as the Star Wars story itself has changed over the course of its four decades. Most of the core ideas are still there, though, as Star Wars is now no longer in the hands of its creator, George Lucas. Star Wars is still a tale of heroic adventure unfolding in the sky. It is still a tale not just of the wars but more well-focused on the people fighting that war. It is a tale of improbably redeemable villains, of the way our paths mirror those of our parents, and of finding love in the face of desperation. It is a tale of family.

I can't help thinking in most, if not all, of these terms every time I write a story, no matter which genre it's in. Star Wars made me want to be a storyteller (what is playing with action figures, if not storytelling?). It also taught me that stories can focus at times on more mystical matters, and it taught me that story is an excellent way of addressing the challenges people face in their hearts. Most importantly, though, Star Wars taught me about heroes and quests and the wise elders who try to guide the heroes on their way.

Other stories have come since Star Wars arrived, and many have come to places almost as near to my heart. It's not only stories, either; it's all of creative art, really:

Lloyd Alexander's Prydain Chronicles
The Lord of the Rings
On Her Majesty's Secret Service
My Fair Lady
Much Ado About Nothing
The House with a Clock in its Walls
The Lions of Al-Rassan
Mary Stewart's Arthurian trilogy (plus The Wicked Day)
Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique
Rachmaninov's Symphony No. 2 in E minor
Invisible Touch by Genesis
Once and Again
Princess Mononoke

These are all things -- and there are more -- that are at the center of my creative life, but none has ever quite dislodged Star Wars as my Prime Mover. Star Wars is, and continues to be, my Platonic Ideal of what story is.

Even so, I haven't always kept as close an eye on Star Wars as a massive universe as many. I've read only a small handful of all the many novels and comics written over the years, and I haven't played any of the video games. For me, my appreciation focuses pretty exclusively on the movies themselves, and not just the wonderful Original Trilogy but also the admittedly uneven -- but still, in my eyes, uniquely compelling -- Prequel Trilogy and even to a smaller extent the recent "Rebirth" movies, The Force Awakens and Rogue One. Those form the core.

Star Wars is as strong now as it ever was, and it is very likely even stronger. It has more fans than ever, and it is now in the hands of a corporate power whose pockets are deep enough to maintain it at a very high level for decades to come. More fans are created every day, it seems, and yet...I do have to admit to feeling a certain level of possibly grumpy oldsterism. Sure, you kids can love Star Wars and in fact I hope that you will, and that your love for Star Wars will lead you to other things. But I came in on the ground level. My memories may be hazy, but I do remember a time before Star Wars.

I believe that every story one writes -- or rather, every story that I write -- should be, in one way or another, a love letter, either to someone or something. The Song of Forgotten Stars has many influences, but it is ultimately my love letter to Star Wars. If not for Star Wars, there's no way I would be writing this story. It's not just about the internals of Star Wars, though: it's about the way Star Wars impacted me and shaped my life and helped reflected certain relationships in my life. Put it this way: There's a reason why the two main characters in my Forgotten Stars books are two Princesses, one of whom is six years older than the other. It's a dynamic that makes sense to me on a lot of different levels.

I also know, from reading a lot about the making of Star Wars over the years and about the life of George Lucas in particular, that the way by which a creative work comes into existence is often a messy one. Lucas's manner of creation is eerily similar to my own, or maybe vice versa. Lucas is someone who starts out by following ideas in any direction they might go, and only gradually whittles things down and discards this notion or that idea until a streamlined story starts to emerge. I work the same way, at least in part. My rough drafts are often very messy and they always contain entire ideas that I remove entirely, for one reason or another. Lucas has done so much mixing and matching of ideas over the decades (remember that for him, Star Wars is 47 or 48 years old, depending on where he dates The Beginning) that he at times seems to be misremembering his own history. I know how he feels. There are times when an idea seems so organic that it's hard to claim it for my own. Even if it is.

So thank you for forty years, Star Wars! And may the Force be with you, forevermore.

Something for Thursday (40 years of STAR WARS edition)

A longer post about Star Wars is forthcoming later today, but for now, let's let John Williams (and Michael Giacchino) show the way! Happy birthday, Star Wars!

Tuesday, May 23, 2017


HOLY CRAP THE SOON-NESS YOU GUYS!!! #AmongstTheStars #ForgottenStars #sciencefiction #spaceopera #indiebooks #amwriting

Nobody Did It Better: Thank You, Sir Roger Moore

Sir Roger Moore has died.

I've loved all the James Bonds, to be honest. My favorite is George Lazenby, but I appreciate each and every actor who has played the part. There is a special place in my heart for Roger Moore, though, because he was my first Bond, and you don't forget your first. That initial Bond experience for me was Moonraker in 1979, and I've been a James Bond fan ever since.

Here's Moore as I first saw him:

Oddly, Moore's first film as Bond is the Bond film I like the least -- in fact, I dislike Live and Let Die so much that to this day I do not own a copy of it, and I don't think I ever have. This isn't Moore's fault, though. He's actually very good in the movie, and my distaste for it is based on other complaints. Moore's reputation as Bond is unfortunately skewed: many see him more as a comic figure, when the Bond films had a lot more broadly comedic moments than in the Connery (or Lazenby) years. (Witness Jaws flapping his arms after his ripcord breaks in the clip above.) It always struck me as unfair to blame Moore for faults in the writing of the scripts, to be honest, and the Bond films of the 70s were all written with that kind of broad comedy that often bordered on outright slapstick. This started with Sean Connery's last turn in the role, Diamonds are Forever, and didn't end until 1981's For Your Eyes Only toned things down significantly. That film and its successor, Octopussy, are two of my absolute favorites, and I even have a soft spot for the troublesome A View to a Kill, which starts trending to over-the-top comedy again.

Witness this clip from For Your Eyes Only, when Moore's Bond gets the drop on a vicious hit-man who has been dogging him throughout the film:

That is as lethal a moment as anything that Connery's Bond ever did, and it's worth noting that no matter who plays him, James Bond is rarely that cold. But Moore could play it.

Moore's Bond was an enormous part of my geek childhood, and I wouldn't be a Bond fan if not for his work. So thank you, Sir Roger Moore, for your wonderful work, and I hope there are some wonderful ladies and nifty Q gadgets awaiting you!

Tone Poem Tuesday

I've featured this before, of course, because Alexander Borodin is a relatively newly-discovered favorite composer of mine. But I find myself returning to this work often, not only because of its beauty but because of its depiction of two groups of people, traveling opposite directions on the same road, meeting each other and spending a bit of time before departing again as peacefully as they met.

Borodin described the work thusly:

In the silence of the monotonous steppes of Central Asia is heard the unfamiliar sound of a peaceful Russian song. From the distance we hear the approach of horses and camels and the bizarre and melancholy notes of an oriental melody. A caravan approaches, escorted by Russian soldiers, and continues safely on its way through the immense desert. It disappears slowly. The notes of the Russian and Asiatic melodies join in a common harmony, which dies away as the caravan disappears in the distance.

Here is In the Steppes of Central Asia.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Symphony Saturday

Sir Arthur Sullivan has a hallowed place in the history of classical music for his work in setting the librettos of W.S. Gilbert to music, resulting in the enduring operettas of Gilbert and Sullivan, which are probably the greatest musical achievement of Victorian England. Sullivan didn't just write operettas, however. He was a prolific composer who wrote a number of operas, oratorios, various orchestral works, and this single symphony, which he considered titling "the Irish Symphony". He didn't officially choose that title, and in fact it didn't end up being attached to the work on a de facto basis until after his passing.

The symphony is a youthful work and as such it is uneven and in places clearly inspired by Sullivan's musical models -- in this case, Mendelssohn and Schumann. Nevertheless, the piece is an engaging listen. I'm not familiar enough with Sullivan's more mature work to know if and where you can hear in his Symphony hints of what is to come later on when he writes, say, The Mikado or Iolanthe, but Sullivan's Symphony is a pleasantly typical Romatic-era symphony, with some moments of pleasing lyricism -- particularly in the opening, when a portentous opening in the low brass yields to an almost ethereal chord in the strings.

Here is Sir Arthur Sullivan's Symphony in E Major, the "Irish".

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Something for Thursday

I'm seeing this movie tonight on the big screen...so here are a couple of selections from that oh-so-wonderful camp classic, Flash Gordon!!!

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Twenty Years

When we took our vows, twenty years ago today, she didn't like coffee and I didn't want a dog.

Go figure.

Happy anniversary, my love!

Twenty years ago today. Happy anniversary, my love. The sun rises in your eyes!

Happy Valentines Day to my beautiful wife! This was taken last summer. We probably need a photo of us with the dee-oh-gee....

Wife and Dee-oh-gee on a nice Christmas walk! #Cane #DogsOfInstagram #greyhound #ChestnutRidge #OrchardPark #wny #winter

Posing with Patience (or is it Fortitude?)

The Wife, with horse. #eriecountyfair #Wife

The Wife enjoys a bit of quiet. #CapeMay

Pumpkinville: Happy wife, irritated Daughter

Guess what happened to me today....

Death by Kitteh

To the sea!

Nose to nose!

Hurry up and pay for the popcorn.

I Get Hit in the Face with a Pie (on National Pie Day).

Couples all around

Wife 2

Arrival at Pumpkinville

Spot the non-family member!