The Hunger Games – impressions



 To say that the Hunger Games lives up to its hype is understating the case just a tad.

It’s one of the best book to film transitions I’ve ever seen, and it fleshes out a lot of the contrast between the Haves of the capitol and the Have Nots of District 12, while not really sacrificing any of the spirit or the feel of the books.

One of the most brilliant pieces of work in the film is the way director Gary Ross portrays District 12, especially in the flashbacks. I could swear in two or three shots, he’s re staged photos from dirty 30’s. I’m sure I’ve seen at least two of the photos he based the shots on, especially the one of the miners in the cage just before they go down to the coal face. The actors mange to get that bleak, hopeless look in their eyes and stance and capture perfectly the depression and hopelessness of their circumstances.

In addition, both he and Suzanne get it right – my grandfather was a coal miner in England during the dirty 30s, and if he wasn’t being beaten because of the union battles, he was earning a pair of black lungs for almost no money. My mother told me stories about eating bacon grease sandwiches when the rest of the food ran out and about Grandaddy poaching to put food on the table. He used a gun instead of bows and arrows, but the poverty was the same, as was the need. Even the dresses, hair and clothing of District 12 in the crowd scenes, and the older men’s clothing are eerily reminiscent of everyday clothing of the 1930s.

The capital brings to mind both the grandeur and dominance of Imperial Rome, and of the Nazi Reich in Germany during the 30s. The decadence of Berlin during those years is hinted at by the clothing and outré hairstyles and colouring of the populace, and the clothing styles in the crowd shots strongly suggest the clothing of the fashionable during the 30s and 40s.

Beyond that, the story remains largely faithful to the book and highlights the grinding down of the will and the spirits of those in the districts, and contrast it to the party atmosphere of the city during Games week. The violence through the film is moderated by the camera becoming a viewpoint instead of an observer, with tricky focus and shaking, but I still found myself staring at the seat in front of me or my hands during some of the fight scenes.

Moving? Definitely. I was choked up all through the reaping scene, and even though I knew Katniss had to survive and win the games, still perched on the edge of my seat for that segment of the film. Rue’s death was less emotional than I expected. As cute and vulnerable and as plucky as she was, it still didn’t engage me as it should have, and I’m not sure why. Perhaps because it was inevitable Rue die simply because of her resemblance to Prim and the necessity for her death to foreshadow Prim’s in  the later books. I was far more moved by Cato’s death at the end of the games, when he offers himself to Katniss’s bow and realizes what a waste his life has been, and how little pride matters.

The images and the scenes in this film are going to haunt me, simply because, in reminding us of the outrages and horrors of the Reich, they also suggest that we may have already surpassed the Nazis in cruelty and soullessness – if a film portraying children killing children can garner this much enthusiastic praise with almost no voices raised in protest, what does that say about us as a culture?


Why are you more important than me again?

It’s busy today at the market. There are only three checkouts open, every one of which has a minimum of four customers. I’m 7th in line at the express desk, wishing they’d open the second express. The grocery store angel hears me and they open the till next to me and post the “Express” sign. Now I’m third in line. 

The woman behind me asks, “I have only one item, can I go ahead of you?” I don’t really want to give up my space, even if she only has one item, so I check the other express line. 

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On My Walk

My eyes were filled with:
An eagle hovering on wind currents
A child who looked like Ila
and made my heart ache with missing her.
Mountains straining to show through the haze
Gunmetal grey water under an autumn blue sky
Kayaks traveling north
and sailboats gliding south
Deadened summer grasses
pale gold against grey rocks
radiating the last of summer’s heat.
Greyhound gamboling sedately on paths with
informative scents,
not sure if fun is now allowed.
Timid at the offer of a hand to sniff, flinching at a gentle stroke.
But game to learn joy.
Proposal of marriage offered and accepted
Outlined against the last summer sun
Young man kneeling before his lady love,
Lifting himself and her into blessed embrace.

My ears were filled with
Louis Armstrong, waves on the shore,
Capella Romana, the cry of an eagle, Eric Clapton,
robins warning of cats, Glenn Miller, cars on the road,
Billie Holiday, the rattle of bare blackberry canes in autumn wind,
Vanessa Mae, the breeze on the water,
Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, clanking ropes on steel masts
Dixie Chicks,  the wind in the bushes,
John Lee Hooker, cries of joy and love.

written Sept. 13, 2012. All rights reserved.

Music and the muse

Over the last several years, I’ve been working on a new novel. Now normally I don’t blog about my writing process or about the writing I’m doing. But this novel isn’t normal, and where it led me and what it’s taught me has opened some wonderful doors for me.

For one thing, it’s SF, which I love reading, but have never written. Children’s fantasy is about as close as I’ve gotten, and none of that has been published. But this character showed up one day when the kids were little and simply wouldn’t go away. So I finally sat down to write the story he wanted me to tell.

Normally, I write in silence. There is no music, unless it’s in a coffee shop (and I tend to tune that out), no conversation I’m involved in, and nothing other than the background noise outside my office window.

My main character is a teen musician. And when I started writing, he had a distinct voice. But as the novel limped along, the voice dissipated. I could not figure out how to get it back.

I like to walk. And when I walk, I listen to music. My musical tastes are eclectic – the shorter list is “what kind of music don’t I like?” Damn little is usually the answer. So I have rock, folk, country, bluegrass, classical, Orthodox, Celtic, a capella, blues, and “easy listening”. There’s more, but that’s off the top of my head. I keep my Ipod on “shuffle” on my “All” playlist so I get a mix and am never sure what’s coming up next.

The walking and the music help me work on my writing. I don’t think about it on purpose, I try to keep my mind on the sights and sounds and smells around me, on who and what I meet on the walk, on things unrelated to my work. But at some point, I’ll often find myself thinking about the story, or, even better, will find, in a corner of my mind, two or three characters busy about their lives. I listen in and realize this is my next scene, or the solution to the problem the story is facing, or is what is going to happen a few days from now.

On one particular walk, I hadn’t been doing that – I’d been trying to force the solution to the problem by actively thinking about the story, the characters and the problems facing both it and me. But the movement and the sun on the water, the green trees and grass, the wind in my face and the music in my ears kept pulling my mind away from the story. So I gave up and just walked.

A Louis Armstrong piece came  on, and I perked up – I like Louis, although at that time I knew little about him, except that he had a trumpet and a gorgeous gravelly voice. The music flowed into my ears, the day into my eyes and for a while, I didn’t think at all.

About halfway through the piece, I realized that Kote, my main character, was narrating his story – in his voice! I hadn’t been able to access Kote’s voice for a couple of weeks. Every time I tried, I started sounding like the narrator from Feral, which was a completely different style. So, I listened in. The next piece of music was Janis Joplin – Piece of My Heart. Kote shut up. Next up, a big band number from Glen Miller. Kote started whispering again. Another swing number after that one, and he kept talking.

It took only those three numbers before I realized that Kote liked jazz. When I got home, I pulled the few jazz pieces I had on the Ipod into a playlist and turned the music on while I wrote. Whoa! His voice took over, stronger than ever. By the end of the day, I had some really good work done, and I was overdosed on the five jazz pieces I had. A trip to the library, and a plunder through my son’s music collection, and I discovered the joys of John Coltrane, Billie Holiday, and lots and lots of Louis.

I started pestering friends and relatives for suggestions. Then my friend Matt pointed me toward Ken Burn’s Jazz, a PBS documentary on the history of Jazz. Wow – what a gold mine. Our tastes are similiar, right now Kote’s and my favourite is Thelonius Monk. I love Billie and Ella, he’s not so excited about them. He loves instrumental. I love voice, but to get HIS voice, I listen to instrumental, otherwise what I do is listen to music instead of write.

The book is moving ahead, and I’ve had a whole new world of music open up to me. And I’ve learned a new way of writing – with music in the background. I knew music could influence the way you wrote, but until Kote came along, didn’t realize it could make writing even more of a joy than it already was.


Christopher Walken & Where the Wild Things are

You remember Christopher Walken. He made his name playing “Nick” the crazed Vietnam vet who made a living playing Russian roulette for money.  He’s made a reputation playing weird and crazed characters. He lives up to his reputation when he reads and comments on “Where the Wild Things are” by Max Sendak. Wonderful reading. Here’s the link. Enjoy.


Not just self-promotion!

Although yes, I do have an article up on the Pemptousia webzine. I ask if maybe Jefferson Bethke had a point in his video “Why I hate Religion but Love Jesus”. But more to the point, there’s another article on the site about suicide and assisted suicide, which is a topic I’m interested in – so if you are as well, take a look at it here.