Friday, August 26, 2011

bearable exposition

I get the feeling that all writers churning out candidates for the mainstream bestseller lists have to deal with exposition a lot more often than writers of works that are less mainstream. Some of these writers turn this devil around and decide to take the opportunity to show off all the research they have done (Crichton did this well; Dan Brown does not).

Intermission: Can you imagine Anthony Burgess writing A Clockwork Orange in the style of Dan Brown? The book would have been thicker and loaded with interleaved explanations of nadsat and descriptions of the prison, its architecture, its history and who knows what else. A title like Fruits and Mechanics would have topped this cake of futility.

I'm on a Michael Connelly buffet right now and the 8 books I have read have introduced me to exposition of various flavours and of varying levels of subtlety (or the complete lack of it, in some cases), but his exposition never strays beyond the realm of the police procedural and the court room. This, I think, is a good thing. It would have been unbearable to wade through a mini-treatise on the architecture of the courthouse just as we were about to begin an interesting trail.

Some of the books are written in the first person. This allows the writer to be more liberal in the exposition, because, after all, this is supposed to be a man or woman telling you a story. The more details you get, the better. A lot of exposition that might otherwise stick out like a sore elephant in a regular third-person narrative goes down easier when Jack McAvoy or Mickey Haller is writing to you, dear reader.

I tend to prefer little to no exposition (which is why I admire the bold stroke of the glossary in Vikram Chandra's Sacred Games: you read the tale with its natural rhythms and later use the glossary to understand the vernacular), but I can understand the need for it in mainstream fiction. Besides, fitting it into the narrative without losing the reader is not trivial. Given this, I liked the few examples from the 8 books I had read so far, where the exposition was adroitly placed just like a shot/reverse shot scene where the cutting didn't bother you. Here's an example from The Brass Verdict (I have taken the liberty of marking the relevant sections):

"Two arrests. ADW in 'ninety-seven and conspiracy to commit fraud in 'ninety-nine. No convictions but that is all I know for right now. When the court opens I can get more if you want."
I wanted to know more, especially about how arrests for fraud and assault with a deadly weapon could result in no convictions, but if Cisco pulled records on the case, then he'd have to show ID and that would leave a trail.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

may which force be with you?

Both Rediff and Hindustan Times have something to say about Force, the remake of Kaakha Kaakha. Unfortunately, both disagree on what seems to make this production special enough to merit a news item.

Rediff says: What will make this film stand apart from his other films is that Amin claims he has not used cables in Force at all, a vital element in action sequences.

HT says: Film's action director Allan Amin told the tabloid: "John is a physical guy so the action was all high octane. We did use cables for certain sequences[...]

It gets even better when both disagree on the weight of this motorcycle that John Abraham chose to lift himself without wires instead of eliciting the services of a stunt double. Rediff insists that the weight of the bike was 200 kilograms, while HT is confident that it was only 150 kilograms (it's still heavy enough to merit a "wow," but "really heavy bike" does not sound attractive enough in a news article). Perhaps a special feature on the DVD of the film will include a section dedicated to trivia to console us all.

Spoonerism alert: The Rediff article begins with a reference to a film called Rang De Sabanti (you know they are actually talking about this).

Saturday, August 20, 2011

did NDTV use a machine to transcribe an interview?

A couple of months ago, NDTV published an exclusive (they said it) interview with A. R. Rahman conducted by Prannoy Roy. The interview is mostly a piece of fluff with each subsequent question often having nothing to do with the previous one. There are a couple of nuggets of trivia, but they hardly make this piece worthwhile. The most irksome thing, however, is evidence that the transcriber was clueless, the editor was asleep or that the transcriber was a machine and that there was no editor. How else does one explain Y R Muttu instead of Vairamuthu and Jammu Sukand instead of Jhamu Sughand? Who can tell? Who knows? Who cares?

Monday, August 15, 2011

send the BSIFA back in time

Although Edward X Delaney was perhaps his most famous creation, Lawrence Sanders also created another interesting detective called Timothy Cone, an ex-Marine working as an investigator for Haldering and Company, a Wall Street firm specialising in corporate intelligence (in plain English: he investigates deals and mergers that reek of foul play). He is, needless to say, brilliant; he is also rather eccentric (otherwise he probably wouldn't be an interesting character). The tales of Cone are short, all written in the simple present tense (for creative reasons unknown) and collected in two volumes, The Timothy Files and Timothy's Game. Their lasting value, however, lies not in the plots and the twists (a lot of which are just surprises -- only Cone really can really put the pieces together), but in the scenes of intimacy between him and his boss Samantha Whatley (yes, they are having an affair unbeknownst -- they hope -- to the other people in the office). I was not surprised that Sanders valued such scenes, since he had devoted entire novels to desire, lust and coupling (you can't go wrong with titles like The Seduction of Peter S and The Passion of Molly T). What I was not prepared for was that his descriptions of the moments between Cone and Whatley seem to almost parody themselves with poetic flourishes, pithy phrases and often laughably inane choices of words. Allow me to present a sample from the works collected in The Timothy Files:

but they cannot deny their bodies' appetites, and when their hormones take over, they go berserk.

they're two stick figures, all bony knobs and hard muscle. their mating is a furious battle, not against each other so much as the emptiness and lunacy of their lives. when they strain, it is not to punish but to break out into another world. oh, look at the meadows and the daffodils! the lawn they seek is bliss.

it's such a sweaty wrestle, not quite hysterical but frantic enough. and
when they're done, staring at each other with dulled eyes, reality comes
seeping back, the real world takes over again. but something remains ...

they're like two rough hawsers, braided, rasping against each other and welcoming the scratch. in no way are they gentle or tender, because they are both hard, hurt people, wanting to get out. and this is the only way they know.

so there are no proclamations of love or undying passion. instead there is is a gritty intenseness, both of them serious and hoping. their coupling is a partnership of two bankrupts, as if all their liabilities combined might show up in black ink and make them wealthy.

they really do get out with each other, as attuned as a duo of violinists, howing and scraping in unison and losing themselves in mutual harmonies. carried away and lost with closed eyes and seraphic smiles, loving life and its surprises.

finally, ignited again, they come together in a different mood: all murmurings and soft twistings. they couple in a drugged tempo, slow and lazy, as if this night might last forever.
later, drowsy and satiated, they lie entwined, peering at each other with dazed eyes. they say nothing of what has happened, not wanting the moment to slip away -- as it inevitably does.

BSIFA was a reference to this

Friday, August 05, 2011

a reference in time

I often start reading books by authors after watching films based on them. Sometimes it takes just one film. This was the case with Tell No One that got me started on Harlan Coben or the case with The First Deadly Sin, which sent me off on a Lawrence Sanders trip.

With Michael Connelly it took two films years apart. I caught Blood Work, simply because it was a Clint Eastwood film. Years later (a few weeks ago, to be precise), The Lincoln Lawyer provided an example of competent handling of familiar tropes (see also: Vacancy). A visit to the library yielded my first Michael Connelly book, Angels Flight. The absence of an almost certain apostrophe in the title may be a coincidental nod to a similar flourish in Finnegans Wake. Although this was part of a series of books featuring Hieronymus "Harry" Bosch (no relation to but named for the Dutch painter with the same name), it worked well as a work in itself. The end of page 76 of the hardbound edition yielded an interesting surprise:

Next to the stairs a lighted bus stop had been cut into the steep hill. There was a fibreglass sunshade over a double-length bench. The side partitions were used to advertise films. On the one Bosch could see there was an ad for an Eastwood picture called Blood Work. The movie was based on a true story about a former FBI agent Bosch was acquainted with.

Things get clearer on page 78:

The bus stop hadn't been used. Rider came up next to him and followed his gaze.

"Hey, did you know Terry McCaleb over at the bureau?" she asked.
"Yeah, we worked a case once. Why, you know him?"
"Not really. But I've seen him on TV. He doesn't look like Clint Eastwood, if you ask me."
"Yeah, not really."

This was a reference that proved very interesting, not just because it linked my first Connelly book to the first film that I had seen based on his work, but also because the reference seems to break the rules of time: Angels Flight was published in 1999 and Blood Work was released in 2002 (the book was published in 1998). I know what you're thinking -- did Connelly do to this book what George Lucas did to the Star Wars trilogy years later? He probably did not.

A more reasonable explanation would be that Eastwood had optioned the book, but that the actual filming started late and consequently the film hit the marquee in 2002. An interview hosted at the Barnes and Noble page for the book suggests that this is indeed what had transpired:

Jim Charter from Ames, IA: Hi, Michael. I just finished ANGELS FLIGHT and loved it, of course. I have to know, though, if you were just playing with us, or is Clint Eastwood really going to make BLOOD WORK?

Michael Connelly: Your guess is as good as mine. Eastwood optioned the story last year and hired an Academy Award-winning screenwriter to adapt it. That is where it stands right now. In that respect the mention in ANGELS FLIGHT is fantasy

There you go.

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