September 11th, 2010

Star Wars - Fly away...


Blankets. A sweatshirt. New sweats, replacing the sweatpants which were 12 years old and so worn that parts of the pants were see-through -- at least, close enough to see-through that I wouldn't wear those in public.

They combined last night into warmth. Needed warmth. So I was sleeping in warmth. And, thank goodness, I slept well.
Me 1

From several people I read

Take a picture of yourself at this moment, and upload it without Photoshopping? Okay, but I can add some flair:

Morning, 9-11-2010
Morning, 9-11-2010

If you also want to post pictures of how you look right now, I ain't stopping you...
Whale fluke

Only if I have something to say

You know today's anniversary.

Some feel the need to talk about it.

Some feel the need not to talk about it.

I feel the need to add something only if I truly have something to say here. Which I doubt I will. I wish not to add merely noise; so, now, on this subject, I will be quiet.

Deal with today as you will.

Whale fluke

This touches on Robert A. Heinlein, sex, and sexuality. I hope I don’t commit Bad Touch.

I just finished Robert Heinlein’s alien invasion book The Puppet Masters (1951). At one point I thought, semi-flippantly, I wonder how many gay men Heinlein actually knew.

Early in the book, government agents Sam and Mary go to a purported UFO landing site. The actual flying saucer they see is a fake; but a real spaceship has landed nearby and the aliens from it have possessed the locals. Heinlein, who was starting to put sex and sexuality into his stories, has Mary note that the possessed men don’t respond to her at all after she “use[d] the sweet little bundle of sex routine” (a really Heinlein way of putting it; of course the woman defaults to being sexy, even on the job). They don’t care. Mary somewhat facetiously calls them “harem guards.” She and Sam figure that the men acted possessed or drugged, but as the book goes on, Sam goes back to the “harem guards” description. Makes me -- straight and still with much to learn about the experiences of people who are gay, bi, trans or otherwise non-hetero -- wonder if that was code for something else.

The “harem guards” analogy works all right 60 years ago, not so well now. It’s my experience, your mileage may vary, but if someone’s being sexy around you, even “harem guards” are going to at some level notice it. I‘m a straight guy who can notice handsome men, and of those men I know who are gay, they notice sexy women, too, even if they‘re mainly noticing their charisma. And if you’re gay, you still have sexuality, and you can notice others’ sexuality when it’s occurring nearby. It doesn’t have to be what you respond to, and the more culturally standard forms of sexuality might be so omnipresent that they can become background noise, but sexuality (or, in a real harem guard‘s case, forced asexuality, right?) is there. Which could be a valid way of portraying aliens, and which Heinlein seemed to be trying to do. Any sufficiently advanced technology may be indistinguishable from magic, and any sufficiently non-human sexuality (assuming aliens have sexuality) may be indistinguishable from, I dunno, farts. Or hair-growing, something that just happens without our noticing it.

Making humans not act like humans is tough. I still remember (and wrote about) the bad, overly standard possessed-by-aliens acting in the 1997 TV version of Robin Cook’s Invasion. A perverse part of me wants to see alien-possessed humans show this by doing Silly Walks, or speaking in modem-dial-up noises, but it can be as simple as human-looking alien Ford Prefect (in The Hitchhiker‘s Guide to the Galaxy) never blinking as often as people expect; a tiny, telling detail. Another is Ford’s inability to recognize sarcasm. Maybe he can’t see certain colors or smell certain smells, either, but how do you portray that? We know how humans behave because we see our fellow humans all the time, and we’re always human, too. We can’t stretch our imaginations that much, so language and metaphor stay imperfect. And also lead to me wondering if Heinlein knew much of what gay men may act like, and went to an analogy that seems almost about gay men but not quite, from a time when it was tougher to speak directly about many kinds of sexuality so such speaking had to be even more folded within analogy and metaphor. Heinlein was never perfect at that, but he did try to stretch in how he presented it. Other authors did it better.

Heinlein, to his credit, put in hints that the aliens are ultimately unknowable, and that our human characters (who sometimes are even possessed by the aliens) are feeling their way through the dark without enough knowledge of the alien slugs. He also seemed to be having genuine fun with the story, showing how the possessed humans take over their parts of the world for a time and how non-possessed Americans start wearing little or nothing so others know they‘re not possessed. And as big a sex fan as Heinlein made sure to have a public sex scene. (I figure had he written this a decade later, he would’ve referenced human-slug porn.) Fun book, definitely of its time and of its author, and it made me think enough to write this, so it worked.
Star Wars - Fly away...

Lucas thoughts

Expanded from a comment I left in yendi’s blog:

In this article, Star Wars and Empire Strikes Back producer Gary Kurtz spoke of his work with Star Wars creator George Lucas, and how they parted ways after Empire. Kurtz mentions how, before Star Wars, Lucas was considered as a director for the nascent film Apocalypse Now, before Francis Ford Coppola got the job -- a famously difficult one, of course. yendi said
And as an aside, can you imagine if Lucas had done Apocalypse Now? And what the inevitable special edition would have changed?
I replied:

I'd heard of that detail years ago, so the concept of "George Lucas being considered to direct Apocalypse Now" has been known to me for a while. And my reply: probably no "special edition."

Here's the thing: Star Wars is the big exception to this, but generally when he's the big guy in charge (he's often a very hands-on producer, as most of the people who've worked with him have attested), George Lucas hasn't repeated himself. There are the Star Wars special editions, the adding of "Episode IV" to the front of the original film, the prequels, and the special edition of THX-1138...and that's it. Not as much as one would think, based on Lucas's reputation.

He did sort of go back to Willow, via those books where Chris Claremont fleshed out the concepts Lucas (and screenwriter Bob Dolman) had come up with, but I don't know A) how involved Lucas was in the books, credits aside, and B) it was a different medium, one that Lucas hasn't gone to nearly as often as film. (By the way, don't worry, I know Alan Dean Foster really wrote the Star Wars novelization.) There were the Star Wars cartoons in the mid-80s, though I doubt he was much involved in those. The two different Clone Wars animated series, the first of which I really liked and the second of which I found bad and frustrating (though I know it has its fans, and I hope it's gotten better), take the same basic set-up and go in much different directions.

I'm not sure if the Indiana Jones films counter this idea or support it, as you also have Spielberg's giant influence over them. The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, which are definitely Lucas's baby, were basically historical travelogues through a bunch of the early 20th century; much quieter and sometimes almost anti-adventure, compared to the (of course) far larger budgeted films. But Lucas wanted to tell Indiana Jones stories that took advantage of TV's strengths (more time to cover more ground and tell more stories, and more easily show years, even decades, in Indy's life), and turned TV's limitations into advantages. (I liked some of those when they aired, mainly the "teenage/twentysomething Indy" ones, though I have no idea if they hold up.)

But when he produced More American Graffiti, he went in an almost experimental direction, and it's a much different experience than the original: practically four different films edited into one. His productions Tucker: The Man and His Dream, Willow, Howard the Duck (and yes, I know how bad it is, I've seen it), Radioland Murders (which my brother thought was fun; he's a fan of 30s/40s radio), Labyrinth, The Land Before Time -- all much different works. (The films Lucas mainly just paid for were Akira Kurosawa’s Kagemusha, Paul Schrader’s Mishima, and Godfrey Reggio’s Powaqqatsi: movies he wanted to help get made, by greatly distinctive filmmakers. I respect that he did that. I wish he'd done that more, supporting the making of more films that could have less studio influence.) He's stretched the filmmaking envelope on his films, that's pretty consistent, but he's always liked trying out new toys. That has less to do with the sorts of stories he's felt compelled to tell.

This might explain part of the revisiting: Star Wars and THX-1138 both come from this weird, personal space in Lucas's mind. Apocalypse Now wouldn't have. He'd have been closer to being a director-for-hire, one with definite thoughts on how Vietnam shaped our psyche but not inventing different worlds in which to consider that via film. I do wonder if his version would've been rated R; I hope it would've been. R-rated Lucas work is an interesting concept. He's rarely done that.

Lucas had a famously hard time birthing Star Wars -- I've seen that photo of him, looking miserable, at his writing notebook -- but at some level he had to get that world out, warts and all (and I try not to be blind to the weaknesses of the original films, as much as I love them -- weaknesses often magnified in the prequels). Same with THX-1138, done as a short, then a feature, then the 2004 special edition: it feels like him trying to say something and trying to be sure he has said it. (I'll add I was impressed with THX-1138; I've seen both of the feature film versions.) Obviously the Star Wars films being among the biggest moneymakers in movie history almost certainly added to the attraction of revisiting Star Wars -- they'd be as close to guaranteed hits as Hollywood can get -- but there's no way he redid THX-1138 with the intent of making much money. Or made it in the first place to make much money. It's not all about the money. Even with Star Wars.

A Lucas-made, then -remade, Apocalypse Now? It could've happened -- after all, even Coppola revisited the film -- but I guess I'm so glad the potential "JAR JAR KURTZ LOL" jokes over this didn‘t materialize when that article ran. Feels far too easy. Also feels far too easy to dismiss Lucas. Be frustrated with him, OK; question his writing choices, certainly; but I hope people don't assume Apocalypse Now a la Lucas would've been "Star Wars in Laos," or something.