June 30th, 2005


Under Woonsocket

The writing went decently yesterday, despite the fact that I'm presently writing two characters (one female, one male) who have been stripped naked, beaten, raped, and left to die in a wet, damp, lightless tunnel far underground from which they must now escape. Neither of them can see a thing, so all sensory descriptions have to follow from their other senses. These are not characters who are accustomed to feeling helpless, and I think that's my greatest source of tension in the scene (I hope). Anyway, I did 1,270 words on Chapter Six of Daughter of Hounds. I hope to do twice that today.

After the writing, Spooky and I caught a matinee of Speilberg's adaptation of War of the Worlds (HERE BE SPOILERS, you've been warned), and we were both very pleased with it. My gripes are few, and I won't go into them. The only major logical flaw remains the one that H. G. Wells put there to begin with, that a civilization as advanced as these aliens wouldn't take all those nasty earp joims into consideration when planning their attack. The film is visually astounding, breathtaking. There are many moments of genuine terror and awe, and it's a far, far darker movie than I'd expected. A few scenes, such as the Fortean rain of human clothing (and later, rains of blood) and the moment when Tom Cruise's character realizes exactly what all that dust on him is, are deeply unsettling. This is a film that manages to make the sinking of a ferry almost as momentous and horrifying as the sinking of the Titanic. The sight of the alien tripods striking across wasted landscapes and through shattered cities is a fine marriage of beauty and terror. And the scene beneath the old house, when Cruise (Ray Ferrier) is forced to kill the "Artilleryman" (in this case, a demented ambulance driver from NYC, Harlan Ogilvy, played by Tim Robbins), is absolutely spellbinding. And someday, if I have any say in the matter (which I won't), Dakota Fanning will play Dancy Flammarion. I simply loved this film, flaws and all. Sure, the ending's sappy and should have been avoided by the director, but I think post 9-11, post Indian Ocean tsunami, at least a few members of the audience will be able to grasp that even this ending — aliens dead, family reunited — is emphatically not a happy ending. Most of the world has been laid waste. Much of mankind has been slaughtered. The world's great cities lie in ruin. The course of history has been forever changed and can never be the same again, no matter how many tearful family reunions occur. Those tears are small consolations, at best. Indeed, I think the film leaves you with good reason to suspect that the worst is yet to come (disease, famine, homelessness, rioting, marshall law, psychological trauma, war, possible contaminants from the aliens, etc.). Speilberg has crafted the best adaptation of Wells' novel that anyone has managed (though I still regret it didn't retain the original Victorian setting), one that also manages to be a remake of the classic 1953 George Pal film. And whereas much of the punch of the Pal film arose from the cultural consciousness' nearness to the horrors of WWI and II, as well as the growing Cold War, so much of the effectiveness of this film will follow from our memories of the 9-11 attacks and the wars that have followed (and the wars and attacks we dread are yet to come). It doesn't take an artist to feed on fear, but it does take an artist — or a small fleet of them — to do so in such a way that the audience learns something about their fear in the process.

After the movie, after dinner, Spooky and I began proofing To Charles Fort, With Love and made it through the preface and "Valentia." And after that, we turned on IFC and watched Auto Focus (2002; based on Robert Graysmith's Auto Focus: The Murder of Bob Crane). Afterwards, I wanted to bathe. To quote Spooky, "Oh god, that was nasty!" Which pretty much says it all, but both Kinear and Dafoe are creepy and pathetic and excellent, and the film does, I believe, what it sets out to do.

My head is still half in a long dream that came just before I awoke. I was back at the Red Mountain Museum in Birmingham (I'm often there in dreams) and was sent out to excavate the remains of an archeocete whale from an Eocene-age rock outcrop in Mississippi. In the dream, the fossil had originally been located by a German paleontologist many decades before, but had never been completely excavated. I exposed the back half of the skull from the light grey clay and remember pointing out the sagittal crest and occipital condyles to someone (not a paleontologist) at the site. The animal was a peculiarly adapted archeocete, and the front half of the skull resembled that of a walrus (not such animal has yet been found). The German scientist had named the beast, but I can't recall what the binomen was, though I heard it clearly in the dream. I have at least one of these paleo' dreams per week. I never dream about writing...
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    The Decemberists, "The Mariner's Revenge"