An Hour, A Day, A Lifetime

The Use of Time to Create Tension

Tension is wound into time. I could come up with some sort of watch metaphor here but most people don’t even wear watches (especially the kind you wind) anymore so let’s just jump right into it. Tension drives conflict in fiction, and conflict is necessary for a good story. Utilizing time to build tension is a good storytelling technique. Kate Chopin and Ernest Hemingway incorporate time into “The Story of an Hour” and “A Day’s Wait” to build tension that drives their respective plots forward.

Complete Novels and Stories by Kate Chopin

The titles of these short stories (and I mean short-added together they aren’t seven pages) establish specific time frames in which the stories take place. These time frames, an hour and a day, create a limited amount of time for the action of the story to unfold which adds to the tension. These timeframes also show us how an hour or a day can feel like a lifetime depending on the conflict the character faces. Both stories build subtle tension toward their dramatic reveals. Both Chopin and Hemingway use time to build that tension which in turn makes the stories’ climaxes all the more powerful.

The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway

Using time to build tension is an effective storytelling technique. Kate Chopin and Ernest Hemingway use this technique in “The Story of An Hour” and “A Day’s Wait” to drive the plots forward and develop powerful climaxes. I don’t want to spoil the stories for you, I’ll just say that both are worth a read (or should I say worth your time, yep I just had to add that).

-K-

“The Story of An Hour” from Complete Novels and Stories by Kate Chopin

“A Day’s Wait” from The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway by Ernest Hemingway

Kevin Smith’s Relationship Advice

Chasing Amy as Romance for Realists

This post isn’t about Clerks. Someday there will be a post about Kevin Smith’s Clerks but today is not that day, but if I didn’t watch Clerks then I probably wouldn’t have sought out Chasing Amy. February is drawing to a close this week so now is the time to have a brief discussion about Chasing Amy, the first ‘relationship’ movie I saw that I could really identify with (although there is some interesting relationship advice in Clerks worth discussing at a later date). Some elements of Smith’s 1997 movie may be a bit dated but the core message of the movie holds true today and is worth a viewing.

Chasing Amy 2
Chasing Amy

Much like Clerks which has the ability to speak to those of us who have worked in retail Chasing Amy speaks to those of us who have been in complicated relationships (complicated is a cliché word but using a word like problematic is putting a dime word in a penny sentence). You don’t need to be in the same romantic relationship as Ben Affleck’s Holden McNeil to empathize with his situation. If you have ever allowed friends, or those who call themselves friends, to guide your relationship decisions then you can relate to Chasing Amy. If you have ever allowed preconceived notions and feelings of inadequacy whisper in your ear then you can relate to Chasing Amy. If you never allowed these things to sway your relationship decisions then this movie can give you an idea of how the rest of us muddle through life love.

Chasing Amy is a realistic portrayal of two people trying to work through their issues and develop a meaningful relationship. It is a movie that speaks to any of us who have struggled with similar issues. The movie may have some 90s vibes in it but Smith’s story is still relevant and worth a view.

-K-

Chasing Amy (1997) with Ben Affleck, Joey Lauren Adams, and Jason Lee. Written and directed by Kevin Smith.

Desire, Jealousy, Love

and The End of Things

What is your relationship success rate? If you’ve experienced the end of a relationship (one that wasn’t ended by you), then Suicide Blonde and The End of the Affair may cover some familiar ground. If you’ve never been in a relationship that ended poorly, then these books can give you insight into the lives of the rest of us. The narrators of these books offer views of the end of their relationships (don’t consider that a spoiler if you haven’t paid attention to the titles of the books).

The End of the Affair
The End of the Affair by Graham Greene

These books, written 40 years apart, address desire, jealousy, love, and how all three overlap in a relationship. From the first to the last sentences (the first and last sentences of both books are quite memorable) we are privy to the relationship woes of Jesse from Suicide Blonde and Bendrix from The End of the Affair. Darcy Steinke and Graham Greene draw us in with believable characters we may not like at times but can definitely empathize with.

Suicide Blonde
Suicide Blonde by Darcey Steinke

Not every relationship has a happy ending. Suicide Blonde and The End of the Affair are stories of two not so happy endings. Steinke and Greene show us some relationships are tragic, but tragedy is part of life, as are relationships.

-K-

The End of the Affair (1951) by Graham Greene

Suicide Blonde (1992) by Darcey Steinke

The Importance of Place

In “A Clean Well-Lighted Place”

What’s your favorite place to hang out? Is it a café, a coffee shop, or a corner bar? Regardless of your libation of choice it is important to have a place that you feel comfortable spending time at. Ernest Hemingway’s short story “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” stresses the importance of having a place to spend your personal time.

“A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” is a study of the three stages of life through an existential lens. You’ll get no argument or questions from me regarding that analysis of the story. But Hemingway also presents the reader with an explicit message regarding the importance of having a place one can feel comfortable spending time at that is not his home. One of the characters, an older waiter says, “…there may be someone who needs the café.” This comment follows an exchange between two waiters who agree that drinking a bottle of alcohol at home is not the same as drinking at a café. There is some special quality the cafe can offer that home cannot. The story ends with the older waiter heading home after failing to find a place that that meets his requirements of clean and pleasant.

The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway
The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway

Hemingway’s story shows us the importance of these special places in our lives (mine is a local bar). The implication is that sometimes a home away from home, a special place or hang out, is necessary for any number of personal reasons. We may outgrow security blankets but we still look for comfort, and that comfort can come in finding a special place to hang out, to call our own (even if we share it with others).

“A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” is an existential study of growing old if you use Hemingway’s iceberg theory. Sometimes you just need forget about what’s under the water and look at the iceberg itself and see what is explicitly conveyed in a story. Whether it is a café, a coffee shop, or a corner bar there is something comforting about having your own place to hang out. When you are drinking that next cup of coffee or pint of stout think about Hemingway’s idea of the importance of a clean and pleasant place.

-K-

“A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” from The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway by Ernest Hemingway

The Point of “Pointless Drinking”

Is the Point

Any sort of serious drinking requires some serious thought about drinking. Amy LaVere’s “Pointless Drinking” shows us that drinking without a point is to end up in a world of hurt when you get to the bottom of the bottle. Whether you have a glass in hand or hip flask in pocket be deliberate in both choice of drink and point for drinking.

The narrator of Ms. LaVere’s song stumbles from bar to bar and drink to drink without any point or purpose. Without any point for drinking the narrator has nothing but the thing she doesn’t need (or want) and that is another drink.

Anchors and Anvils Album Cover
Anchors and Anvils by Amy LaVere

So what is LaVere’s eternal barfly, that aged drinker at the end of the bar willing to dispense a bit of 80 proof wisdom, telling us? Is “Pointless Drinking” meant to be some sort of cautionary tale, a prohibitionist’s treatise against the evils of alcohol? No, but there is some sound advice in our narrator’s tale, some choice wisdom that can be gleaned from the bottoms of those empty glasses. It is not alcohol that should be avoided. What should be avoided is poor choices, and alcohol and poor choices (like cheap and Walmart) tend to go together. Have a point to your drinking before the bartender pours that first shot. Make the choice to know what you want from your alcohol and know what you are in for when the bartender makes last call.

I did my share of pointless drinking in years past. I’m older and wiser (more old than wise) nowadays. I make certain there is a point to each pour and pint, but I can’t say it any better that Amy LaVere’s “Pointless Drinking.” Give Anchors and Anvils a listen and you tell me.

-K-

Anchors and Anvils (2007) Amy Lavere.

What’s Worse Than Shape Shifting Aliens?

Shape Shifting Aliens in the Snow.

Imagine fighting a shape shifting alien while not knowing whether the people around you were friends or foes. Now imagine experiencing this life or death struggle in the snow. This is what John Carpenter’s The Thing presents to the audience.

The Thing works well as a horror movie with its shape shifting alien that inhabits the bodies of its victims. The sense of fear that runs through the movie is due, in large part, to the paranoia caused by not knowing who the alien has infected. But Carpenter’s use of the snowy landscape of Antarctica adds a visceral element to the horror story. The hostile environment created by the snow and cold adds a level of conflict (man v. nature) that any viewer who has experienced a harsh winter can relate to. Viewers have never faced off against a shape shifting alien but many have experienced snowy days when temperatures dipped into negative digits.

The snow and the cold of The Thing intensify the harsh experiences the characters endure while fighting a shape shifting alien. Carpenter’s use of snow and cold also provide a visceral connection for viewers who have experienced harsh winters. We may have to imagine shape shifting aliens but harsh winters are all too real (especially for those of us in the Midwest).

-K-

The Thing (1982) starring Kurt Russell, Wilford Brimley, and Keith David. Directed by John Carpenter.

Zombies, Zombies, and Yep…More Zombies

Three Views of the Zombie Phenomenon

I’m about done with zombies. There are too damn many zombie movies, zombie TV shows, zombie video games, zombie bumper stickers, and zombie fuck all else these days. I have avoided zombie inspired movies and such this Halloween season for that very reason. When I saw the movie White Zombie on one of my channels last night I glossed over it. It wasn’t until I noticed that it was released in 1932 that I became moderately interested. I decided to give it a view simply because nothing else seemed more appealing (I know that’s not a sound reason to watch a movie but there it is).

I watched White Zombie with no specific expectations. All I did was try to put myself in the mindset to appreciate a movie from that time period. I must say that after one viewing (and it is a movie that I intend to view again) it is a solid movie. What I found most interesting about the movie is it got me thinking about my view of zombies. I grew up with George A. Romero zombies and to this day I will argue that his zombie movies are some of the best. But White Zombie is not in the style of a Romero movie. This movie is more in the style of a Wes Craven movie inspired by Wade Davis’ book, The Serpent and the Rainbow.

The Serpent and the Rainbow, both movie and book share the same name, focuses on the zombie phenomenon. I saw the movie first and it put a serious scare on me (Wes Craven usually does). It also left enough of an impact that I picked up a used copy of Davis’ book a few years later. Davis’ book is an engaging text that addresses the concept of zombies from both cultural and scientific viewpoints. Craven’s movie can best be described as an artistic interpretation that obviously lends itself more to horror than science, but Craven doesn’t exclude science in the attempt to scare the viewer. Victor Halperin’s White Zombie does the same. It has the elements of a classic horror movie (it is a must view if you are a fan of Bela Lugosi), and it also has a few scenes that attempt to provide a scientific reason, albeit thin, for the existence of zombies. This scientific element provides a perspective that makes both movies and the book worth your time.

Zombies are so commonplace in the horror genre today that they are bordering on cliché. In order to find some scary zombies it may be best to travel back to the 1980s for The Serpent and the Rainbow and the 1930s for White Zombie. What makes these selections scary is the sense of what could possibly happen no matter how improbable it seems, and this is what a good scare is.

-K-

White Zombie (1932) directed by Victor Halerpin starring Bela Lugosi and Madge Bellamy

The Serpent and the Rainbow (1985) by Wade Davis

The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988) directed by Wes Craven starring Bill Pullman and Cathy Tyson

Charlie Schroeder: Time Traveler

What We Can Learn From Historical Reenactments

Did you ever play ‘war’ as a child (maybe a few of you played ‘doctor’ but that’s a topic for a different post)? Have you ever played Call of Duty, Brothers in Arms, or some other similar video game and wondered about its historical accuracy and what it would be like to participate in historical battles? My experience with historical military video games is limited, but I have engaged in a wide variety of war games ranging from cap guns as a child to paintball games in my twenties. I think those experiences combined with my interest in history has drawn me to visit several historical reenactments overs the years. This same interest is what drew me to Charlie Schroeder’s book Man of War My Adventures in the World of Historical Reenactments. If you want to learn about historical reenactments and the people who participate in them you will want to read Schroeder’s book.

Schroeder began thinking about history and reenacting after a visit to Old Fort MacArthur Days outside Los Angeles. He wondered, “What if I could reenact my way through history?” The answer to that question is an informative and entertaining memoir that spans over a half dozen time periods with reenactments ranging from the Roman Empire to the Vietnam War. Schroeder’s first hand experiences provide an informative look into the motivations of many historical reenactors while also entertaining the reader with Schroeder’s growing obsession with history. He states, “When I started my journey, I didn’t think I’d become so enamored with the past….” This growing obsession with the past leads Schroeder to one of the primary motivations for reenacting historical events, “Reenacting shrinks the broad subject of history to a personal scale, away from the dates and ideas to something we can all relate to, the human experience.”

Charlie Schroeder’s Man of War My Adventures in the World of Historical Reenactments is informative and enjoyable on a couple levels. It is an entertaining memoir of one man’s experiences in the world of historical reenactments. It also provides an informative insight into why men and women participate in historical reenactments, and how we as audience members can learn a little more about the human experience through their hard work at reenactments.

-K-

Man of War My Adventures in the World of Historical Reenactment (2012) by Charlie Schroeder

24 Hour Comic

Doing the Impossible

Are you familiar with 24 Hour Comic Day (if you are then skip a few sentences)? Scott McClould came up with the idea in 1990. The premise is pretty straight forward; create a 24 page comic book, from idea to completion, in 24 hours. 24 Hour Comic Book Day was officially established in 2004, and since then creators gather once a year to take up the challenge. Milan Erceg’s documentary 24 Hour Comic follows one group of creators in Portland during the allotted 24 hour time frame. Erceg’s film is both inspirational and sobering in its presentation of comic book creators and their books

Erceg follows a varied group of eight comic book creators in his documentary. They range from a thirteen year old attempting her first 24 Hour Comic challenge to her father who is participating in his sixteenth challenge and several other creators with a variety of 24 Hour Comic Day experiences. The film provides both background and motivation for each of the creators. Erceg also incorporates interviews with individuals familiar with the comic book industry who provide insight into the challenges of creating and publishing comic books.

Watching these eight creators in action is quite an inspirational experience. Erceg provides insight into the creators’ minds and what each hopes to achieve. Their creative processes are laid out for the audience to see and you can’t help but feel motivated. But the movie is also sobering in its presentation of how difficult it is to be successful as a comic book creator. Erceg informs the audience that illustrators, on average, make more than comic book creators. This statistic is reinforced in a few of the interviews with the creators at the 24 Hour Comic Day. The viewer can’t help but ask his or herself, “Do I do what I love or do I do what will pay?”

24 Hour Comic is worth a watch for anyone interested in the creative process that goes into creating a comic book from idea to completion. Erceg’s documentary is also a realistic observation that addresses how difficult it is to make a living creating comic books. Scott McCloud says that 24 Hour Comic Day is, “Asking yourself to do the impossible and then doing it.” That quote may be in reference to 24 Hour Comic Day, but it could also be applied to making a living creating comic books.

-K-

24 Hour Comic (2017). Directed by Milan Erceg

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