the positive side of limits

I saw this piece in the New York Times about how it’s not always a good thing that some television shows now have fewer limitations in terms of length: “Forget Too Much TV. It’s Too Big TV We Should Worry About.

Then I saw this in the New Yorker: “Sex and Sexier:The Hays Code wasn’t all bad.” The Hays Code’s attempt to remove actual sex (or anything resembling it) from movies resulted, pretty directly, in the golden age of movie dialogue. (Some of this can also be seen in the movie The Celluloid Closet, by the way.)

Restrictions can be annoying (or, sometimes, much worse), but they can also spur creativity. As I wrote a while ago (talking about how I could never write short stories until I started writing mysteries):

I saw an interview with Pete Townshend once, and he was asked whether it was difficult to write rock and roll songs, since the style is so tightly defined (rhythm, chords, melodies, verse & chorus and maybe a bridge, possible lead break, lyrics of a certain kind, etc.) and he said that it was the opposite. The restrictions made it possible. To paraphrase from memory: “If you put somebody in a room and say, ‘Make music!’ he or she will likely freeze up. There are too many options. But if you say it has to be three or four chords, a verse and a chorus, two to three minutes, and so on, then something can start to happen.”

For another exampole, one of the recurring elements in the films of Orson Welles was the tremendously creative solutions he came up with when he had no money, or when he thought he had money which then vanished at the exact worst time.

Now, these are obviously different things (commercial restrictions, censorship, genre restrictions), but I think they prove the general point, and this is probably related to the focusing effect of deadlines, as I talked about here.

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after after deadline

Well, this (slightly) disrupts my weekly routine.

For years, every Tuesday morning I’ve gone to the New York Times website to read the After Deadline blog, which described the Times’ style sheet (and all the mistakes they made in grammar, usage, and style that week).

But now it’s been put on hiatus. Sigh.

Where am I going to get regular reminders about danglers, singular/plural disagreements, and so on?

I’ll have to console myself with the monthly Chicago Manual of Style Q&A, and the Comma Queen videos at the New Yorker website.


In other news, I’ve talked before about the Fast & Furious movies, but I’ve been seeing them more or less in reverse order. I’ve made it back to Fast & Furious (#4), which is okay but not as good as the three which follow it.

#3 (Tokyo Drift) is supposed to be okay but not great. There are apparently a few people who think it’s the best of the series, but that’s very much a minority opinion.

Nobody thinks #2 is the best of anything, and plus it has a really stupid name (2 Fast 2 Furious) –so that’s definitely one to skip.

But I thought I should see #1, The Fast and the Furious, so I just watched it. It’s pretty different from the later ones, which are much more about heists and global espionage. This is much more down-to-earth, involved with illegal street racing and robberies of consumer electronics.

But it introduces some of the key characters in the series, and it was fun to realize all the scenes in the later movies which refer back to the beginning. The whole ending scene of #6, for example. is a series of references to a scene in this one.

And, as somebody who writes serial stories without a plan, it’s fun to see a series where the whole thing is obviously being made up as it goes along, as opposed to, for example, the Marvel movies, where the interlocking plots are planned out years in advance.


One more thing. As I’ve reported before, I’m mostly in an Android world these days — the main thing I use the Windows computer for is moving audio files around. But the Bluetooth keyboard I have is not entirely satisfactory. A bit too small, and if I stop typing for too long (you know, to think about what I’m going to write — certainly not to watch a YouTube video or anything like that) it loses the connection and I have to tap a key a few times to get its attention back.

So, I’ve been imagining what it would be like to use a real, full-size USB keyboard. Then I realized that I have a connector that would work — a full-size USB to mini-USB cord that I bought once in a failed attempt to get a flash drive to work with a tablet.

Well, I thought, worth a try. Maybe I’d get one of those notices about having to download a driver or something.

So, I plugged the keyboard into the connector, and the connector into the tablet, and started typing. It worked right away. I plugged a mouse into the keyboard, and that worked, too. I’m typing on it now.

Then, as an experiment, I tried a flash drive instead, and that worked, too. I guess the newer version of the operating system has features that they’re not promoting.

This often happens — the new features they promote the most enthusiastically are the ones I don’t care about, and the ones in the small print get me really excited.

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quotes challenge #3

Well I totally fell down on the quotes challenge, so let’s pretend that I meant this to be the third one all along:

“If you think that someone’s first or second film in a long career is their best, you don’t really like their work. Artists grow.”

The quote is from this article.

It makes me think of two things (at least).

One is from Orson Welles, who said that artists do their best work when they’re young, and when they’re old. He said this when he got to Hollywood, when he saw that even the greatest directors, like John Ford, couldn’t get studios to let them make films when they got old, when they were likely — in Welles’ opinion — to make some of their best work.

This makes me think of this post, where I talked about several last films, including John Huston’s The Dead, which is amazing.

The other thing I thought about was Gosford Park, made very late in Robert Altman’s career. A few weeks ago, I referred to it in a comment on a blog, and of course I immediately had to watch it again.

I put on the DVD, entranced as usual, and then, at a scene I have watched many, many times before, I burst into tears. Great, uncontrollable sobs — because there was so much truth and human pain (all of it almost invisible) in that moment.

I don’t think any young artist at the beginning of a career could have made that movie — certainly not in the way that Altman did.

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empathy machines

First of all, Julia over at Pages of Julia reviewed the movie of Les Miserables.

Of course, I commented, at length. 🙂

I did manage to restrain myself, though. I could have gone on and on, mentioning that Orson Welles had his first big success on radio with a seven-point adaptation of Les Miserables (where he wrote the script, directed it, and starred as Jean Valjean, of course). Or I could have talked about…


Kristan Hoffman wrote an excellent post about “How a story starts,” about building a story around one real, powerful moment.

Of course I commented using Les Miserables, as an example, including how when Anne Hathaway sings “I Dreamed a Dream,” singing about all the things that women still suffer today, two centuries later (as she pointed out when she accepted the Oscar), and I’m bawling like a baby — that makes me tend to forgive a lot of annoying camerawork, and some of the less-than-stellar singing of some of her co-stars.

But in the show itself, the key moment for me, the moment that everything else serves to get us to, is this one, where Javert is at the mercy of Valjean, and Valjean lets him go, explaining that Javert has always been wrong about him, and about their relationship to each other.

Speaking of movies, I saw this very interesting article: “Michael Sheen enters row about showing films in class

Now, obviously showing films in a class can be lazy teaching, but films can teach us a lot of things.

To quote Sheen’s comments:

“The American film critic Roger Ebert once described films as ‘empathy machines’. They can allow us to see the world through the eyes of others, experience other cultures, other viewpoints, other lives. And, crucially, not just get an intellectual understanding but actually feel what it’s like.”

My mother’s lifetime encompassed pretty much the entire history of film as a commercial medium, and she used to say that there’s nothing like movies. We used to get together on Saturday nights for dinner, always followed by a movie on DVD. We’d watch the movie, and then we’d have coffee and talk about it.

Only once was she so affected by a movie that she had trouble talking about it for a few minutes after it ended — that was Les Miserables.

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music (or: the queen, and the machine)

First of all, watch this. “ under five minutes, your life will improve by a minimum of forty-seven per cent.”

The idea, and the quoted phrase, come from this excellent article about Aretha Franklin: “Soul Survivor

Also, on a lower, but still very enjoyable, level, I have realized that I am a fan of loud, strummy, clangy, indie-ish anthems by bands which sometimes use glockenspiels. Since Arcade Fire doesn’t seem to do this type of song anymore, it was nice to find this:

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the captcha, and the comma queen (again)

I’ve been having a lot of problems with spam registrations recently, and one of the plugins I was using stopped working for some reason, so I’ve installed a captcha.

It’s set to appear only for registrations, not comments or password retrievals, but let me know if anything weird happens.

If you can’t comment, you can email me at wasserman [at] operamail [dot] com.

Following up on my earlier post, the Comma Queen addressed the question of using “they” (or other alternatives) for people who don’t fall into the traditional gender binary.

Her conclusion is — if it needs to be said — one with which I completely agree.

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