The Beginning is the End and the End is the Beginning

Sic Mundus Creatus Est

—-Dark

Dark

So, I wrote a blog entry the other day about my introduction to the Netflix series Dark. If you want to get a weird piece of television wedged in your noggin so deep it will never slip out – watch it while you are sick and right out of the hospital.

Last night I woke up at three in the morning – not sure why. But stretched out there in the Dark, I realized that it was early Saturday, June 27, 2020… the day the world ended.

The Date of the Dark Apocalypse

A few days earlier I had wondered how Netflix dropped their series and had done a web search and discovered that they usually go live at midnight eastern… which was one AM here. That meant….

So I stumbled out into the living room and fired up the big TV and, sure enough, there it was… the whole eight episode third and final season. I dialed up episode one of the new shows.

There are folks sleeping at that hour, but luckily with Dark and its German dialog and English subtitles I didn’t have to turn the sound up very much. The on-screen descriptions of the soundtrack were handy, but distracting (“Ominous Music” “Two Metallic Clicks” “Heavy Breathing” “Slurred Female Voice) – have to see if I can turn those off.

No spoilers here… there is an alternate universe (you already know that) and more crazy time travel (and you already know that) – so more places, more times, and some new, mysterious characters – and that’s all I’ll say. There are plenty of recaps and reviews and speculation and such out there – that isn’t my thing (either to read or to write).

So, I’m not as big of a series addict… and don’t know what to do. What’s the best way to watch these things? I talked to some people and they are all about binging – watching the whole thing as quickly as possible. One big advantage of that with Dark is that it is so complex it would be good to minimize the time to forget between episodes.

But I also want to stretch it out some. I really enjoy this thing – I’d like to get at least a few days of mysterious glee out of it. I watched one episode, went back to bed, and have watched another today. That will probably be what I’ll do – one episode a day for eight days.

Is that cool? How do y’all watch these series? Binged or spread out?

 

Sic Mundus Creatus Est

“The distinction between past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion”
― Albert Einstein

Dark

It was almost a year ago when I became seriously ill during a writing event in New Orleans (this year’s event has been cancelled – not sure if I would have gone – will try to go next year). The blog entry is here: Back From the Shadows Again.

So I spent a couple days in intensive care and a few more in the Tulane Medical center. When I was released I was very weak and spent a week at my son’s apartment on Poydras until I felt strong enough to make it back to Dallas.

I spent most of my time there sleeping or struggling with reality. My son Lee has a studio apartment with a massive HD television that dominates the longest wall. While I was fading in and out of this world, he was binge watching some incredibly strange German-language television show. He apologized for ignoring me and watching for hours on end – but I needed to be left alone so I could rest and it was fine. I was not completely conscious and looking at the television from an angle – I was not sure exactly what I was seeing (and could not read the subtitles). What I thought I saw was extremely odd and sort of disturbing and haunted my illness-enhanced dreams.

The view from my son Lee’s apartment – New Orleans, Louisiana

“Lee, what the hell are you watching?” I asked.

“Dark.” Was his reply.

When I made it back to Dallas I had to see what it was that Lee had binged and I had sort-of been subjected to.

Sure enough, it was Dark – the first Netflix original German Language series. There had been two seasons so far, with a third (and final) one scheduled for the future. Eventually, as my life returned to normal, I watched the thing – eagerly expecting something odd and original.

It certainly was that and more. True to its title, it is dark. It is a strange, incredibly complex tale of time travel and evil that makes Stranger Things (which it is sometimes mistakenly compared to) look like Fuller House. The fact that it is in German makes it even more exotic (dubbing is available but not recommended). I really enjoyed it – even though I had to take extensive notes and do online research after each episode to try and keep up with the convoluted and confusing tangle of characters (most appear at different times and different ages – everyone is related to everyone else in unexpected ways).

Certain scenes had been burned into my mind from that New Orleans sick bed – it was fun to see them reappear in context. The discovery of the “God Particle” in the future (and in the past) was one.

The God Particle

And now the third (and final) season is about to drop (June 27, 2020 – the day of the Dark apocalypse). So I’m re-binging the original (a couple episodes a day as I ride my spin bike) and refreshing my notes.

The Date of the Dark Apocalypse

You only have a few days left – be there or be square.

The question is not where – it is when.

The Trash Can Is A Treasure Trove

“For the first three months, I place each student at a table with a thousand pieces of white paper and a trash can underneath. Every day they have to sit at the table for several hours and write ideas. They put the ideas they like on the right side of the table; the ones they don’t like, they put in the trash. But we don’t throw out the trash. After three months, I only take the ideas from the trash can. I don’t even look at the ideas they liked. Because the trash can is a treasure trove of things they’re afraid to do.”
― Marina Abramović, Walk Through Walls: Becoming Marina Abramovic

Cate Blanchett in “Waiting for the Artist”

I have always loved documentaries. Now in this age of streaming – documentary watching has become like drinking from a firehose.

One time, I can’t remember where… probably a college film festival in the 70’s I saw a documentary by Stan Woodward about grits. This was probably the first transformative documentary I saw – I was a different person (at least slightly) after I saw it. I wrote about this years later, many years ago, in my first blog and lamented the fact that I couldn’t find the thing anywhere and had to be satisfied with only seeing it once. A kind reader mailed me a VHS copy.

Of course, it wasn’t as good as I remembered.

Now, in this best of all possible worlds, we don’t only have documentaries… we have mockumentaries. If done well these too can be… if not transformative at least moderately entertaining. That might be all we can ask for anymore.

There is even a series of mockumentaries, “Documentary Now!“, on IFC. A new season is under way, and the latest one is brilliant. It is called “Waiting for the Artist” and is a riff (a very close one at that) on the famous work “The Artist Is Present” about the famous (and famously insane) performance artist Marina Abramović.

Somehow, they convinced Cate Blanchett to portray Marina Abramović – and she is spot on.

If you have IFC, be sure and check out “Waiting for the Artist” – it hits the perfect place between lunacy and pathos and even has a bit of a point to it.

And the ending is really, really funny.

Youtube has a copy of the original Marina Abramović documentary. Marina is even crazier than the character in the mockumentary.

The Senility Of Obsolescence

“Why do things get weaker and worse? Why don’t they get better? Because we accept that they fall apart! But they don’t have to — they could last forever. Why do things get more expensive? Any fool can see that they should get cheaper as technology gets more efficient. It’s despair to accept the senility of obsolescence…”
― Paul Theroux, The Mosquito Coast

Like seeing a dinosaur on the street.

Mac Finds His Pride

“We immediately escalate everything to a ten… somebody comes in with some preposterous plan or idea, then all of a sudden everyone’s on the gas, nobody’s on the brakes, nobody’s thinking, everyone’s just talking over each other with one idiotic idea after another! Until, finally, we find ourselves in a situation where we’ve broken into somebody’s house – and the homeowner is home!

—- Dennis, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia

For years I was aware of a television show called “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” but I didn’t watch it. No real reason – there is so much on… maybe I was turned off by the odd theme music.

One evening I was too tired to pick up the remote and actually saw a show. I enjoyed it. Basically it is the story of five people, related to each other in confusing ways, managing a shithole bar in Philadelphia. The actors are good, the jokes are funny, but mostly I liked it because the characters are such worthless, narcissistic, amoral, debauched, drug-addled, idiotic, lazy pieces of shit that it made me think better of myself. I may have my faults – but I am not as bad as these people.

Over the last year I’d watch it off and on. Mostly I’d scan the TV listings and DVR the episodes I hadn’t seen. That way I could binge watch them at odd times when I wasn’t missing anything important. With the DVR, I could fast-forward through the commercials or boring bits and see the whole episode in a few minutes.

There were a dozen seasons (It’s currently tied with Ozzie and Harriet as the longest running live-action sitcom – the only thing it shares with Ozzie and Harriet) so there was plenty to watch. I’m not sure how many episodes or seasons I’ve seen – more than a few. There isn’t much of a long-term arc, so there’s no reason to watch the shows in order.

It is fun to speculate about how dark each episode is capable of going. Usually the show doesn’t disappoint and ends up going darker than you thought possible.

And then came the thirteenth season and, especially the final, 10th episode (144th overall), Mac Finds His Pride.

And everything changes.

I was home, exhausted after work, and noticed the DVR was recording the show. I thought I would check it out and realized that there was something else on – some sort of a dance program. The stage was dark and covered in water and a muscular man and athletic woman were doing an amazing dance number to Sigur Rós music.

It was entrancing. As I watched, I suddenly realized, “Shit! That’s Mac dancing.” It was indeed It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

I immediate rewound and watched the whole show. It started out like any episode – The gang was trying to get a float in the Philadelphia Gay Pride Parade to bring in business and wanted someone to dance on the float. Mac was the best candidate, but didn’t want to do it – having trouble relating to his imprisoned father and his sexuality.

One of the running “gags” of the series is the character Mac (full name – Ronald MacDonald) and his struggle to come to terms with being gay.  At the beginning of this episode Frank (Danny DeVito) had broken his nose and was constantly shoving nasty stuff up his nostrils to staunch the bleeding.

All well and good – then it happened. Mac and Frank went to Mac’s father’s prison and Mac put on a dance with a woman to try and explain how he felt.

It was transcendent.

I was gobsmacked. This piece of artistic beauty came so far out of left field and was so unexpected… yet it was so appropriate and inevitable. I some unexplainable way it summed up everything. It was the moment that thirteen seasons – 144 shows – of unmitigated nihilistic worthlessness is redeemed by one moment of excellence.

It was the most audacious, brilliant thing I’ve seen on television since Part 8 of the new Twin Peaks.

 

 

Check out this article about how much work went into this. The actor, Rob McElhenney, can’t dance – more accurately, he can only do one dance. He spent a year learning it. And you can’t help but love his incredible partner, professional ballerina Kylie Shea.

I have always loved Sigur Rós. They sponsored a series of films of their music – The Valteri Mystery Film Experiment. There are several videos of the song in the dance, Varúð. Here’s a particularly good one:

 

Nanowrimo Day Twelve

Ultimate goal – 50,000 words.
Daily goal – 1,667 words
Goal total so far – 20,004 words

Words written today – 1,862

Words written so far – 16,591 words
Words to goal – -3,413

“Game shows are designed to make us feel better about the random, useless facts that are all we have left of our education.”

― Chuck Palahniuk, Invisible Monsters

These villains creep – Deep Ellum, Texas

As I committed the other day I am doing Nanowrimo – the National Novel Writing Month this November – writing a 50,000 word (small) novel in a month. Not necessary a good novel, or even a readable novel, but one of 50K words.

Didn’t know if I could get anything written today. I was extremely tired after work, but took a nap and sat at my writing machine and hammered out a bit more than my daily goal.

Wasn’t sure what to write, so I typed out some dialog between two characters sitting in a hotel room. I find that random dialog is a good way to fill out word counts, simply imagine the two characters in some normal (or not-so-normal) situation and think what they would say to each other. It isn’t Tarantino quality dialog, but eventually you discover the personalities of the characters and sometimes they say something interesting, sometimes they say something unexpected. I started with them looking at the television in a cheap hotel room and talking about the game show that is on.

 

Snippet of what I wrote:

“What show is that?” asked Bernard.

“Price is Right,” said Willard.

“What’s the point?”

“What? of us watching?”

“No, I know there is no point in us watching. I mean what’s the point of the game? What are all those idiots doing?”

“That guy picks one of those old biddies and then the woman tries to guess how much shit costs and if they get close enough they get to take it home.”

“Man, that’s lame. I guess those old women have spent their whole life buying shit and must know a lot about how much it costs. Hey, what’s to keep them from looking it up on Amazon… like from their phones?”

“I don’t think they would allow that. Besides it’s MSRP… ‘Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price.’ I think Amazon sells it cheaper, so that wouldn’t help much. It’s a real ripoff anyway. The companies’ give the crap to the show for free, for advertising, so it doesn’t cost them squat – they’re giving away free shit. Plus the poor saps that win it have to pay income tax. They have to pay to take away a bunch of free crap they never wanted in the first place.”

“Are you sure? That seems really stupid.”

“Yeah I’m sure. And it is really stupid.”

“Well, then why do you watch it?”

“I don’t usually, but there’s nothing else. Besides it makes me feel better. I may be a hopeless loser, but at least I’m not as bad as all those dumb assholes.”

“Hey, that guy doesn’t look right. I remember my mom watching this, isn’t that guy supposed to be Monte Hall?”

“No, Monte Hall was on ‘Let’s Make a Deal,’ another show… though it’s kinda like this one. You’re thinking about Bob Barker, and he’s not on it anymore. That guy’s Drew Carey.”

“Bob Barker? Yeah… I remember. Didn’t he get in a fight with that actor dude… Sandler? Adam Sandler?”

“Bob Barker and Adam Sandler? No, they were in a fight in that golf movie, ‘Happy Gilmore,’ but not in real life,” said Willard.

“You sure seem to know a lot about this stupid shit,” said Bernard.

“I’ve had a lot of spare time during the day,” said Willard. “So have you.”

They both let out a long rolling chuckle.

“Yeah,” said Bernard, “I guess the two of us share a strong dislike of going to work, don’t we?”

“Nobody likes going to work.”

“But not too many hate it and avoid it as strongly as we do. The two of us work harder at avoiding work than anybody I know.”

“That is a true statement,” said Willard.

The Anticipation of It

“There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it.”
― Alfred Hitchcock

Mural on Construction Fence
Farmer’s Market
Dallas, Texas
Chris Hoover

I couldn’t sleep last night, so I turned on the television. Tuning around I came across the start of an old Alfred Hitchcock Presents. It caught my eye because it featured a very young Burt Reynolds. It also had Harry Dean Stanton (- who looked like he always looks) and Murray Hamilton (don’t worry, you don’t remember the name but you’ve seen him). The show was from 1960, season 5, episode 37 – “Escape to Sonoita.”

The thing wasn’t perfect, but the story was crackerjack with a nice twist ending. The good guys are good, the bad guys are bad, and the woman in distress was beautiful. What more can you ask for?

If you have a few minutes to spare, you can watch it here.

Memories Warm You Up

“Memories warm you up from the inside. But they also tear you apart.”
― Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore

Decatur, Texas

I remember when I was a little kid loving the Texaco commercials on TV. The TV was small, full of static (with rabbit ears and bits of foil on top), and only black and white – but it had an amazing effect on my tiny self. “You can trust your car to the man who wears the star.” I barely can remember my PIN number now but I remember that jingle from more than a half-century ago. I would bug my father to buy some gas from Texaco, but he never would. He said it was more expensive than his brand (not sure what it was, but I do remember getting a big green inflatable dinosaur from Sinclair). Now, of course, it seems silly to get excited over a stupid commercial, but I was only a little kid. What did I know?

Daily Writing Tip 16 of 100, Beware Of Stale Ideas

For one hundred days, I’m going to post a writing tip each day. I have a whole bookshelf full of writing books and I want to do some reading and increased studying of this valuable resource. This will help me keep track of anything I’ve learned, and help motivate me to keep going. If anyone has a favorite tip of their own to add, contact me. I’d love to put it up here.

Today’s tip – Beware Of Stale Ideas

Source – Building Fiction by Jesse Lee Kercheval

As you gather the materials of writing, be careful about drawing on television and movies. When you rely too heavily on mass media, whose messages are available to almost everybody on the planet, it may be hard to write a story that will strike readers as fresh or original or worht their time. It’s the difference between fresh and stale air.

In the writing classes I have taken, it is surprising how often, when discussing plot and character, we would discuss films rather than literature. It’s simply where the shared experience lies. Everyone has seen Star Wars – but only a rare few have read Mill on the Floss.

So much the shame.

I’ve found that when I’m trying to get some writing done, the absolute worst thing is to turn on the TV. If I do that, no matter what I watch, I’m not going to be creating anything for a long time. When I was young, we called it the idiot tube. Well, at least the tube part is gone.

Indistinguishable From Magic

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
—-Arthur C. Clarke

concentration

I’m not sure what… but something today brought back a very old memory – and I’ve been thinking about it.

I’m guessing I was about eight or so, and that would make it 1965. I liked to watch the game show Concentration – Hugh Downs would have been the host. I especially liked the end of the puzzle, when the contestants had to guess the Rebus.

rebus

I have never been good at those things, and I think I enjoyed the frustration and release when a contestant was able to get it right.

At any rate, the moment I remember so vividly was when the contestant won a grand prize of some sort. With great blurry grainy black and white hoopla they wheeled it out to present it to the woman.

It was a videotape recorder/camera/playback combination. It was the size of two standup refrigerators. The camera (though demonstratively smaller than the studio units used on the show) was the size of a suitcase and seemed to weigh over a hundred pounds.

It seemed to take forever, but they managed to set the machine up and take a short segment of very bad quality recording of the woman that won the prize. She was standing there, shifting from foot to foot, and looking very uneasy – with that fake early-1960’s smile plastered on her face. The giant tape reels spun at a dizzying pace and after a bit more fiddling (this was live TV – they must have been brave to try and pull this off) the little black and white (I assume it was black and white – I surely wasn’t watching it in color) piece of the big-haired woman came up on the impossibly tiny Cathode Ray Tube almost lost in the maze of complex equipment.

Everyone cheered and the cat food commercial came on and that was that.

To this day, almost a half-century later, I remember how excited I was. Imagine! The ability to put your own moving images onto magnetic tape!

Then, equally strongly, I remember the internal backlash as I wondered what use something so large, unwieldy, and of such terrible quality would actually be. Where would that poor woman store the thing? It must have drawn an incredible amount of power (those huge cabinets concealed banks and banks of glowing vacuum tubes, no doubt).
My eight year old self felt the falling disappointment in technology.

Now, of course, I carry a card-sized device in my pocket which, among many other things, can take a high quality color motion capture with perfect sound, transmit it from my hand, and broadcast it all over the world where anybody that cares to (if anybody cares to) can watch it to their heart’s content.

Not only was that sort of technology unavailable in 1965, it was unimaginable. I know that was fifty years ago, but it doesn’t seem that long to me. Hell, Hugh Downs, the host of the show, is still alive. I’m sure he has a smartphone.

downs