Thursday, January 24, 2008

"Quantum of Solace" Means What Now?

"Quantum of Solace." Wow, could there be a worse title for the next James Bond movie? Sure, it's taken from one of the stories in "For Your Eyes Only" (one in which 007 barely makes an appearance). But it's so dementedly overreaching in its attempt to be poetic that I almost suspect that someone is taking the piss, as they say in Ian Fleming's homeland.

If you have any affection at all for Bond, you really should read Simon Winder's "The Man Who Saved Britain." It's a fascinating look at how "Casino Royale," "Dr. No" and "Goldfinger" pulled Britain out of the funk it had been in since World War II. Winder is both captivated and repelled by Fleming and the super-spy ethos he invented, and he dissects the Bond books and movies with great wit and insight.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Saturday Stoppard

Last Saturday, I attended a "conversation" with Tom Stoppard at San Francisco's American Conservatory Theater. Sponsored by the Koret Foundation, the event was hosted ACT artistic director Carey Perloff.

Beginning at 10 on a storm-swept morning, the program attracted a sell-out -- and peculiarly geriatric -- crowd, but their enthusiasm for the author was evident. Settled in armchairs on the otherwise empty stage, Stoppard and Perloff discussed the recent success of "The Coast of Utopia" and "Rock 'n' Roll" for just under an hour. Some highlights for notes scribbled on the program:

Stoppard talked about his first trip back to Zlin, in what used to be Czechoslovakia. There he met the daughter of one of his father's medical colleagues, and the now-elderly woman told him how Dr. Straussler had stitched up her hand after she smashed it through a window in a childhood accident. Stoppard said that he was moved by the tangible evidence of his late father's handiwork.

Perloff recounted an anecdote about a student at ACT asking Stoppard to name the most important quality that an actor should bring to his scripts. Stoppard's answer: "Clarity of utterance."

Now devising a new translation of a Chekhov play, Stoppard said he works best at night, although he sometimes wakes to find that what he has produced reads "as if the Polish au pair girl had rearranged it." Also in regard to the Chekhov project, he reported that he's found a way not to worry about the presumed artificiality of characters speaking to themselves while alone on stage. "Breaking the fourth wall doesn't break the play."

Perloff kept the conversation rolling, but there's something a little off-putting about her manner, which borders on the fawning. I reap the benefits of her friendship with Stoppard, in that it enables events like this Koret program and the U.S. premieres of "Indian Ink" and "The Invention of Love." But it's a little icky to watch her gaze at him and proclaim him to be "the greatest living writer in the English language." It may be true, but c'mon.

She also apparently burnishes his bon mots a bit. After relating a story with the supposed punchline of "The problem with America is that you don't seem to have an Irony button on your keyboard," Stoppard gently corrected her, saying that he only wished for a typeface that could identify the ironic lines in his playscripts.

The biggest news of the day came at the beginning, when Perloff let slip that she is angling to bring "Rock 'n' Roll" to the Bay Area. Let's hope she's able to complete that negotiation successfully.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Announcing "Two-Fisted Freelancing Tales"

In an attempt to keep some of my resolutions for 2008, I've inaugurated a new writing blog, "Two-Fisted Freelancing Tales." It's up and running and ready for visitors, so won't you please drop on by?

Regular visitors to "Cheaper Ironies" will remember that I tried to do something similar back in July and that the results were somewhat... semi-posteriored. This time I've learned my lesson and not slapped the blog together a day before an extended vacation. There's content already written and waiting to be published throughout the month. I plan to discuss the art of the book review, sites of particular use to writers, lessons that can be learned from authors famous and otherwise and making money online.

The inspiration for the site's title comes, of course, from the EC Comics series edited by the inimitable Harvey Kurtzman. Freelance writing can be a tough gig. Not quite as bad as going one-on-one against a mean s.o.b. with a pointy hook for a hand, but close.