Monday, October 14, 2013

A Different Review of “Gravity”

THERE’S no need to praise the movie’s technical quality. This aspect of the film is amazing. As good as advertised. What most struck me about Gravity was its solipsistic viewpoint.

The main character, Sandra Bullock, exists in a kind of cocoon. Not just within her spacesuit, and the various spaceships, but also within her mind. It’s as if any moment she’s about to drift away into space, to be alone forever—not physically but psychologically.

This, more than the impressive special effects, explains the movie’s appeal. The audience identifies with the character. Sandra Bullock has an everyman quality about her that aids this identification.

It’s a mark of where we are as a civilization that the movie is so focused on the self. Previous rescue-in-space movies like Marooned and Apollo 13 were depictions of cooperative teams. The frantic struggle of the hive to rescue a few of their own.

In Gravity this takes place off-stage. “Houston” is never seen. One member of the mission, “Sharif”—thrown in for obvious p.c. purposes—isn’t seen up close until he’s dead. We know, in fact, as soon as he’s mentioned, that his mission in the movie is to be quickly destroyed.

The other crew member, George Clooney, is a voice and a smile. His purpose is to be ethereal. An intermittent intrusion into the solipsistic Sandra Bullock viewpoint.

The movie shows where our civilization is now—at least among the intellectual classes. It’s not a healthy place. The chief intellectual, Bullock, demonstrates a bare willingness to survive. That she eventually gains that will is the movie. Otherwise she’s detached, grieving at the inescapable pain and injustice of life—which for previous generations was a given, but which for her has become an unrecoverable-from surprise.

Interesting that the three nations whose technology is depicted—the U.S., Russia, and China; the first two definitely—are suffering from drastic demographic decline. A disbelief in themselves. A bare willingness to keep going. Instead: solipsism. Escape into technology or pain-numbing prescription medication. Or vodka!

Space, in the movie, is frightening. At the very moment our advanced populations could be plunging into space, to explore it and populate it, and advance the species (there are no aliens, folks; we’re all there is)—propelled by ruthless, fearless adventurers—there’s seen instead a desperate rush back to the safety of the womb. To gravity.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

About “The Wizard of Oz”


I’d seen the 1939 classic movie “The Wizard Of Oz” many times, but in a sense I’d never really before seen it. I hadn’t seen it before on an actual movie screen. I especially had never seen it in Imax 3-D, which makes the film more amazing.

The added trick or dimension to the movie enhances its magic; its dream qualities. A gimmick, sure, but in this instance a gimmick which supplements the nature of the film, which is not fantasy so much as pure dream.

The 3-D is most impressive when the swept-away house lands—right before the switch from sepia-toned Kansas to Technicolor and Oz. This is the culmination of a very intense sequence filled with a tornado, tumult and noise. Then suddenly, all is silence. Quite a pause before Dorothy opens the door onto a new world. Seeing this scene on a large Imax screen emphasizes its effectiveness. Needless to say, the movie is masterfully made.

I noted the 3-D again most during the scenes with the Wicked Witch of the West. Margaret Hamilton’s terrific performance and green make-up become more striking, as the witch seems to stand apart from the rest of the scenery—if not jump out at us. Her over-the-top performance enhances the 3-D technical wizardry.

It’s a children’s movie, without question, but with impact on the rest of us, because most of us have watched it as children. I was struck throughout by how excellent the production is, everything about it—then wondered if my opinion was because of the cultural resonance the movie holds. Much of the movie, if not all of it, is part of the language of common culture—ruby slippers, yellow brick road, Kansas quips, the man behind the curtain, and not least the steadfast dog Toto, the most famous movie dog of them all.  Watching the film again for me was an emotional experience.

“The Wizard of Oz” is a simple film. The greatest art is often the most simple. Basic, primal, striking chords not of the intellect, but something deeper within us. “Wizard of Oz” does this as well as any movie ever. It’s a dream, and as a dream plunges deep into the subconscious, so that we ask ourselves afterward what’s really going on.


“The Wizard of Oz is a movie about fears and anxieties. They’re the anxieties of childhood, but remain with us on some level for all of our lives. The anxiety of losing a loved one—or even a dog. The fear of abandonment and death. The perception of impersonal forces outside our control, such as “the law” or the power of wealth, as hinted at near the beginning when Miss Gulch tries to take Toto away. (“Run, Toto. Run!”) The anxieties are stepped up in the Oz sequences.

There’s the anxiety of change. The notion of leaving the farm for the big city—metaphor for the excitement and fear of adulthood, of going out into the world to encounter new friends and adventures. There’s evident also, as part of this, American fears. Of being corrupted, becoming no longer so simple. Oz could be a metaphor for New York City but maybe also for Europe—seat at the time the movie was made of sophistication, civilization, and culture. The Munchkins are dressed like good European burghers. The Oz residents sound European. The movie mocks the pretensions of civilization, from decrees and death certificates (“most sincerely dead”) to war medals and university diplomas. That near the end the Wizard says “E Pluribus Unum” twice within a short time span shows his world—he’s a thoroughly and uniquely American character—stumbling toward an identity apart from yet part of the larger, more sophisticated world. In that sense, “Kansas” really means “America.” Oz is something foreign; more powerful but also more fearsome and corrupt.


There are other, deeper fears happening in the film, through the character of Dorothy, who we strongly identify with, in part because of the portrayal of Dorothy by Judy Garland, whose performance isn’t just terrific, it’s definitive. In the movie, unlike the book, Dorothy is clearly an adolescent, leaving childhood behind her. Anxieties about the changes taking place within her permeate the Oz dream sequence. The symbolism of the ruby slippers then becomes palpable. No doubt the producers, when making the slippers red instead of silver, did this because red would look better in Technicolor. Yet much of the film seems to be crafted from their subconscious—from everyone’s subconscious—as if something deep within them, within all of us, was the true creator of the artwork.

Red stands for puberty and sexuality. It’s what Dorothy and the witch fight over. The tension between Dorothy and the witch/Miss Gulch is sexual. Miss Gulch’s hostility toward Dorothy is animated by sexual jealousy. Dorothy is becoming an attractive, healthy young woman—bursting with health, goodness, and energy; the qualities Miss Gulch, without knowing why, detests. This is pseudo-psychology, I know, but it’s also obvious. Amazingly enough, the witch, in her green make-up, has an evil, gothic appeal—picked up  by the creator and fans of the book/musical “Wicked,” for instance. Margaret Hamilton must have found the costume liberating. What makes the character impressive and scary is that the pretences of civilization—which a Miss Gulch must adhere to—are gone. We see full-bore the inner person, which an adolescent dream would bring out.

The characters of the three friends take on larger meaning from this viewpoint. I was struck, while watching them, that the movie gives us how women view men. As bumbling, incomplete, but ultimately necessary (especially in the battle with her primal rival!) and liable, with some prodding, to perform great heroics, as the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Lion demonstrate in their rescue of Dorothy.

In her dream Dorothy is assessing the available possible suitors—alas, confined to the three farmhands! Her dream sees each one as flawed and incomplete—as the three low-rent farm hands, poor straggling victims of the depression, indubitably are. Yet she also sees their strengths, and at least in her dream, seems to make a tentative choice between them.

The final credits give the Kansas names of the performers, stressing that Kansas is the real world. The rest, the glorious Technicolor paradise/nightmare, was dream only. Ray Bolger, for example, is listed as Hunk, and not the Scarecrow. There’s one exception to this in the cast list. Can you recall who that is? It’s key to unlocking the rest of the mystery of the film story.

All the other major characters in the Oz story have analogs back in Kansas. The Wizard is Professor Marvel. The two witches: Miss Gulch. The Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Lion are the farm hands. Toto is Toto. But what about Glinda the Good Witch? That mysterious force which Dorothy mentions IN THE DREAM as watching over her? What’s her analog?

Glinda could only be Dorothy Gale’s mother—the memory of her mother, all-good and benevolently beautiful, as Dorothy is becoming beautiful, like her. That the absent mother is present throughout the dream story is what gives the movie, for all of us, the strongest resonance. We know this, subconsciously. We’ve always known who Glinda is in the film (the books are something other), which is the real reason why people love the movie so much.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Order and Chaos


Anatomy of a Murder

The other night I watched for the second time the superb 1959 Otto Preminger film, Anatomy of a Murder. I saw more in it than caught my eye the first go-round.

For one, I was struck by the way the attorney characters, and the society they represent, attempt to impose a semblance of order upon chaotic events and people.

At the beginning of the movie, the life of lead character James Stewart, a former district attorney in Michigan;s Upper Peninsula, is one of listless chaos. Fishing and drinking. This is manifested by a refrigerator overflowing with freshly caught fish. Stewart is becoming like his alcoholic friend Arthur O’Connell. That Stewart is given the opportunity to represent the defendant in a murder trial becomes a way for him to impose order upon his life.

We soon see that the defendant and his wife, Ben Gazzara and Lee Remick respectively, are embodiments of chaos. Neither properly fits the narrative which Stewart will need to create in the courtroom in order to win the trial.

This is as realistic a movie about the justice system as has ever been made. Shadings and uncertainties are everyplace. The verdict is acceptable because the formalities have been maintained. Stewart himself only appears to be an island of integrity—he uses his homespun facade to get what he wants. The integrity in the process comes from the process itself; giving justice its proper tribute in the form of an imperfect trial. Trials are often imperfect. Their deeper purpose isn’t to achieve justice so much as maintain order. This, at least, is the message of the film.

This is an ensemble movie, depending on the effectiveness of its array of characters to be effective. The acting is perfection itself—keeping us unable to pull away from what at its core is a simple story. Once the players take the stage we’re absorbed in them. The simple framework of the trial creates countless complexities. Black-and-white photography adds to the movie’s documentary feel.

The back-and-forth trial fireworks between James Stewart and prosecutor George C. Scott dominate the surface proceedings. Both men are terrific. Both do more with their roles than is written. Yet the greater acting honors go to the many-layered couple, Gazzara and Remick, and their love-hate relationship.

Lee Remick portrays white-trash sexuality with naked reality. Gazzara nails his character’s surliness, shrewdness, anger, and rough integrity. They’re not likeable but they’re recognizable and understandable, pushing the envelope of their relationship in the same way Stewart pushes the acceptable bounds on lawyer machinations in order to achieve his end. His lawyer performs for the jury, as James Stewart performs for we the movie audience.

Stewart and O’Connell, with help from sarcastic secretary Eve Arden triumph not because they’ve won the trial—a questionable verdict—but because they’ve restored meaning and purpose to themselves. For them, nothing else matters.

Setting, atmosphere, performance, seriousness, theme—all as believable as if the events happened today.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Cate Blanchett and the Business of Great Acting

(See my Blue Jasmine review here:

How do we define great film acting?

There are three kinds of film acting.


Think Richard Burton in any film role. Theatrical, using the tools of performance: eyes; hands; voice. The ability to suddenly amplify the voice for dramatic effect. Cate Blanchett does this in Blue Jasmine.

In movies like The Ten Commandments and The King and I, Yul Brynner performs for us, striding and pronouncing. Meryl Streep in her every role performs for us. With Streep, playing a variety of roles, one is always aware she’s acting. A Willie Mays losing his cap and doing somersaults catching a baseball, as opposed to Joe DiMaggio gliding to the ball, making every catch look natural.


This applies to actors who present the same persona over and over. They merely add touches to the eternal character. Archibald Leach spent a lifetime creating the character “Cary Grant.”

Western movie stars like Gary Cooper, John Wayne, and Clint Eastwood fit this category. They’re effective not for their acting, but for who they are. In his mature years John Wayne could simply stand and emit a few lines in his trademark drawl and dominate everything around him, from big-name co-stars to the vast Western landscape itself. The effectiveness of the playing isn’t overt. It’s subliminal. We react on an instinctive level. Cinema is a unique art, because of the closeness of the camera, in allowing this.

See the 1954 Western Vera Cruz, in which A and B styles of acting co-exist. Burt Lancaster grins, laughs, leaps, twirling his revolver at every opportunity, the former circus performer unleashed on a movie screen. As his partner-in-larceny, Gary Cooper underplays. He stands still and carefully, oh so slowly moves a hand to caress a rifle, before firing it. Let the viewer judge which actor is most effective.

In Blue Jasmine, Alec Baldwin has attained the level of Be-ing. He’s playing: Alec Baldwin! A familiar role, onscreen and off, that he does very well.

The difference between Alec Baldwin and John Wayne is that Baldwin, while he’s become familiar, isn’t larger than life. Not a great, all-encompassing persona, yet one fit enough for supporting roles.

Or could it be that Cate Blanchett’s performance is so daunting that everyone around her shrinks in comparison?


This is when a movie actor presents something deeper. When the performing allows us a look into the character’s soul, in so doing projecting emotion out of the screen into our own souls—striking resonant chords within us.

In my new ebook, About Western Movies, I write about the 1961 movie One-Eyed Jacks, in which both Karl Malden and Pina Pellicer achieve this. The director and star of the movie is Marlon Brando.

Brabndo performs, showing us several faces of his character, in the way Cate Blanchett does in Blue Jasmine. Brando pulls something greater out of his co-stars.

Pina Pellicer as his love interest is the human animal stripped naked. Embarrassment; shame; hurt; pain—everything is laid out for us. This is neither persona nor performance. She uses her eyes not to act, but as openings into herself. We jump into them.

Karl Malden as Brando’s rival does virtually the same thing. He amplifies his voice and uses his eyes, as Blanchett does, but the eyes don’t move. They become fixed, so that we the moviegoers have no choice but to see into them, to see into the character’s contradictions and conflicts.

Few film performers ever attain this level. Brando in On the Waterfront. Marilyn Monroe and James Dean perhaps in a couple of their movie roles. It happens when the actor blends performance with persona in such a way as to become larger than the film.


Pina II

(Pina Pellicer.)

One-Eyed Jacks was made in 1961. Curiously, that was a special year for film acting—even when one excludes the two award-winning flicks of the year, West Side Story and Judgment at Nuremburg. ESPECIALLY if one excludes them.

As I’ve mentioned, One-Eyed Jacks includes terrific ensemble acting. So does the 1961 adventure classic, Guns of Navarone, in which stars Gregory Peck, Anthony Quinn, and David Niven give us a blend of persona and performance.

Then there’s The Hustler, starring Paul Newman in his best ever role as pool shark Eddie Felsen. Like a Cate Blanchett now, Newman’s at his best. He gives a top-notch dramatic performance full of gestures and rage, working the eyes, voice, and body to fullest extent.

Piper Laurie and George C. Scott emote mightily to keep up with him. The overall effect is dazzling.

As memorable as any of them is Jackie Gleason as Minnesota Fats. He becomes the character. Or makes the character him. Defines him. Makes Fats one of the most distinctive characters in the history of film. More than any of them, he’s a joy to watch. We can’t wait until he’s back on screen. His sadness at Eddie’s departure—his melancholy farewell—reflects the audience’s sadness that the game and the movie are over.

A similar acting battle takes place in The Misfits. Clark Gable is the tragic, Jasmine-like character at the center of the movie; growling, smirking, staggering, collapsing as a role, an actor, a persona in front of us. The part is fascinating because Gable is destroying his career-long creation, “Clark Gable.” By movie’s end, in his desperate, futile, mad fight with the mustang stallion, we’re at the stripped-down man. Fitting that this was Gable’s final role—that he died upon the completion of the movie.

As poignant, in a good-bad way, as Gable’s fight to establish himself as an actor is to us, he’s nearly overshadowed by two of the most resonant actors ever, Marilyn Monroe and Montgomery Clift, here doing quite a bit of resonating. Going places few if any actors have ever gone.

As I said, curious that a single year, 1961, would give us perhaps the greatest ensemble movies ever.

(With that, the best film of that year, IMO, is El Cid—which when viewed on a large movie screen is every bit as emotional and powerful as these others. In fact, more so.)

That Blue Jasmine isn’t quite up to the level of the very best ensemble films isn’t due to Cate Blanchett. Her performance is one of the best I’ve seen. It’s fully a performance, one that stays with you—which means that, acting tricks and all, maybe it does resonate to us, just a tad, after all.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

“Blue Jasmine”: Surface and Depth



Woody Allen’s new film Blue Jasmine is everything claimed for it. Cate Blanchett’s performance, as an upper-class woman losing all, is superb. She dominates the screen every moment she’s on it. More, Blanchett is backed by an able supporting cast. Sally Hawkins as Jasmine’s sister; Alec Baldwin as Jasmine’s ex, could scarcely be better. When a friend told me Hawkins is British, at first I didn’t believe it, so well does she fit the part laid out for her.

The plot is a take-off on “Streetcar Named Desire.” An elegant woman, down on her luck, fallen from substance, moves in with a low-rent sister and her raucous environment. In this case the setting is San Francisco—a gorgeous city in which to fall apart. Director Allen cuts back and forth between present San Fran and Jasmine’s past in Manhattan and the Hamptons, presenting the background to Jasmine’s horrifying collapse.

Woody Allen is an ensemble director. Which means, of all movie elements, from plot to music to look, his films depend most on the performances of the actors inhabiting them. Allen hands his performers a forum in which to perform.

Bryan Singer’s The Usual Suspects, for example, is an ensemble movie. So is Blue Jasmine.

When the main character in such movies is weak, the movie is weak. Think Owen Wilson in Woody Allen’s underwhelming Midnight in Paris. Wilson’s vacuousness leaves a vacuum at the center of that film; a gaping hole which all the plot gimmicks in Allen’s narrow New York imagination can’t fill.

Happily, Cate Blanchett is not Owen Wilson. The lady can act! Blue Jasmine is a showcase for Blanchett’s startling talents. Best performance of the year? Too limiting a concept. Of the past five years? That she’ll receive the Oscar is a given. It might be the first unanimous vote.

In sum, this is the best Woody Allen film in years. Probably in decades. Allen has the rare ability, when he’s on his game, to make his films both funny and sad. I laughed throughout. The situations are so comical in a Shakespearean sense—portraying the pathos and surprising tragedy of life—that often there’s no choice but to laugh.

Blue Jasmine is a very good movie. The question remaining: How good is it?


Woody Allen doesn’t make “great” movies. They’re seldom large. They’re not epic in scope; in music, cinematography, or relevance. Allen’s choice of music in Blue Jasmine reveals his technique: antique jazz, strumming and singing, simple and quiet in tone to allow his cast full sway. The movie is theirs. No dominating Jerome Moross or John Williams score. No David Lean movie-canvas landscapes. Allen depends on human relationships to give his films force. They’re as much drama as cinema.

That said, Woody Allen is not without tools in his cinematic toolbox. Note his use of space in Blue Jasmine. I’m sure others have remarked on it. The spaces of upper-class scenes in the Hamptons; or in San Francisco scenes with Jasmine’s new boyfriend, visually show the vast caste differences of our American world. Scenes of large residences resting on larger oceans. I was struck by this—an effect truly cinematic, because the effect can be achieved only via the size of a movie screen in an actual movie theater.

The largeness of wealth makes the sister’s modest San Francisco apartment by contrast seem more constricted than it is.

Given that this is ultra-pricey San Francisco, the sister’s apartment is impossibly roomy for a grocery store clerk. For the movie to work, one can’t ask too many questions! (“Why didn’t he do a Google search?” Or, “How is Baldwin’s fall so swift?”)

The movie is filled with plot contrivances. It’s not about believability or plot. Allen’s knowledge of how most Americans live is limited. We accept this.

Woody Allen knows the upper classes. I was struck by the difference even between the rich scheming ex-husband (Alec Baldwin) and the rich new boyfriend (Peter Sarsgaard). New Money and Old—the uncertainty of fresh income building an impressive but shaky tower able to collapse in a minute with a phone call, versus the solidity of long-time hereditary standing and sheltered wealth. Large-income Baldwin is a transparent “Boo! Hiss!” villain; the fall guy within the movie and outside of it. For the audience. For us. His character is the politically-correct target of progressive ire—as never is the refined liberal “State Department” aristocrat Sarsgaard, who glides out of the story as easily as he glided into it. Untouched. For Jasmine and for us, he’s a fantasy and sad reality both.


blue jasmine

Blue Jasmine rises toward excellence based on its acting. While viewing the film, you think the acting couldn’t be better. Even Andrew Dice Clay in a key role. Maybe especially Andrew Dice Clay; spot-on perfect within the context of Woody Allen’s vision, as the entire cast is spot-on perfect, within the context of the fully realized vision.

Any limits to the movie aren’t with the movie, but the vision.

When you think back on the characters, you realize most of them are stereotypes. One-dimensional caricatures, which is how Andrew Dice Clay fits in so well. This is acceptable. It’s how the characters achieve their humor. They’re Shakespearean fools. Their purpose isn’t to stand out themselves, but to provide a setting for the jewel that is Cate Blanchett’s Jasmine. They’re props for her to play with and off of.

Of the supporting cast, Bobby Cannevale as the sister’s boyfriend Chili most stands out. The only one who goes over-the-top, ripping phones off walls and emoting comically for us. He’s a blatant cross between Stanley Kowalski and any Nicolas Cage role. Nothing original about the performance—likely not intended to be original. He’s there for comic relief, along with other grotesques, including a short friend of his (a young Joe Pesci) and an obnoxiously smarmy dentist.

Jasmine requires antagonists. In her present life, Cannevale’s low-rent Stanley Kowalski is it.

What of Jasmine herself? How great truly is Cate Blanchett’s performance? One for the ages?

Blanchett knows all the tricks. A beautiful voice. The ability to switch between calm elegance and troubled distress. It’s wonderful to watch—but it’s always performance. Much of its effectiveness comes from Blanchett simply mugging for the camera. Close-ups of Blanchett frowning, down-in-the-mouth, doing stage business with her eyes borrowed from Olivier’s Othello or his mad Mahdi in Khartoum. The acting is with the camera—performing for us—and Cate Blanchett does this as well as anyone ever has.

Cate Blanchett performs on a very high level. She needs to be judged against the highest standards, to see if she, and the movie, reach into filmdom’s pantheon.

That’s a question I’ll address in Part II of this review, “Cate Blanchett and the Business of Great Acting.” Stay tuned.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Five Classic Movie Entrances

Clark II

In my new ebook, ABOUT WESTERN MOVIES, I discuss the importance of the entrance of key characters, using the example of “Frank Miller” in High Noon. So much is said in the movie about the character, when he finally appears he’d better not disappoint.

What are some of the best all-time movie entrances? Here’s five:

1.) ORSON WELLES in The Third Man (1949).

In corrupt postwar Vienna, Harry Lime is presumed dead—until glimpsed in a shadowy doorway with a cat at his feet!

2.) EDWARD G. ROBINSON in Key Largo (1948).

Evil gangster Johnny Rocco first seen smoking a cigar while luxuriating in a bathtub behind a large fan! Characterization created with a single shot.

3.) JOAN CRAWFORD in Rain (1932).

Her hands, her feet—then La Crawford herself appears with garishly made-up face. Again, character created in an instant via the magic of film.

4.) CLARK GABLE in Gone With the Wind (1939).

As with Orson Welles, a grand way to enter a movie is with a Cheshire-cat grin on your face. Gable appears not from an alleyway, but at the bottom of a staircase.

5.) JOHN WAYNE in Stagecoach (1939).

I have to get a Western on the list. John Wayne blocking a road while twirling a rifle about made him a star.


What have I missed? Are there other more recent movies where an important character makes a grand entrance? If so, let me know.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Four Classic Movie Swordfights




Ronald Colman vs. Douglas Fairbanks Jr.

It’s fitting that this early movie swordfight of the sound era includes as one of the participants the son of the great swashbuckler of the silent era, Douglas Fairbanks Sr, who more or less invented the genre.

Stand-ins are used for the longshots, at least for Mr. Colman, but the sequence is made by Fairbanks’ exuberance and the witty banter of both participants—which set a prototype for action sequences between hero and villain that continues to this day. The sequence is made by the quick-paced editing—which makes the fight more exciting than that of the 1952 remake.


Errol Flynn vs. Basil Rathbone

Both competitors had previously squared off in CAPTAIN BLOOD (1935), but this sequence tops that one. I find this the most exciting of all movie swordfights. The athleticism of both men is well on display. The photography, with shadows against castle walls (used also in “ZENDA”) is striking. The music by Erich Wolfgang Korngold is stirring. The sequence is best positioned within a framework of increasing drama and excitement in the overall film, as the fight between the forces of good and evil reach a climax. As fun and exciting a movie as ever made.

3.) THE MARK OF ZORRO (1940)

Tyrone Power vs. Basil Rathbone

Basil Rathbone was the best fencer among Hollywood actors, which, along with his sneering, arrogant acting performances, made for easy casting of villain parts. Here, Tyrone Power has obviously taken some fencing lessons himself. If the previous swordfight is the most exciting, this is the most perfect. The entire movie builds to this conflict, with Rathbone the fencing master carrying a sword throughout, while Powers pretends to be a fop. The bit with the candles immediately before they commence to fight is classic. The swordplay is excellent, as both men tear through an office, close action, perfectly paced, the battle ending at the right moment to remain thrilling to the end.

4.) SCARAMOUCHE (1952)

Stewart Granger vs. Mel Ferrer

This is the ultimate swordfight. It’s the longest—lasting more than six minutes. It takes place not in a castle or office or beach, but throughout an entire opera house—on railings, in boxes, hallways, behind the scenes: everyplace. More is less, as the sequence is too long to achieve perfection. Perfection is being thrilling but also leaving viewers wanting more. Still, Stewart Granger is flamboyant and athletic—not quite Flynn, Fairbanks, or Power, but close. Ferrer is properly intense and villainous. The sequence is great fun.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

The Tragic Actress


Pina Pellicer

Mexican actress Pina Pellicer made one American movie, but it’s a great one: One-Eyed Jacks (1961). Marlon Brando directed and starred in this offbeat Western. Rumor has it he had an affair with Pellicer during the film’s making—which for her must not have ended easily.

Undeniable is that Pellicer gives one of the most sensitive and haunting performances ever seen on a movie screen. I compare it to the film appearances of James Dean. The character’s vulnerability is naked. Pellicer was not a classically beautiful actress, but her eyes, her soul, her very being are extremely beautiful.

Too sensitive for this world. Like James Dean, she died young. Pina Pellicer committed suicide in 1964, a few years after the release of the movie.

(For more discussion about One-Eyed Jacks, buy my ebook, ABOUT WESTERN MOVIES by King Wenclas, Kindle or Nook.)

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Saving the Western


It’s heartening to see The Atlantic magazine asking the question of what killed the Western. See the article, “How the Western Was Lost,” by Michael Agresta:

Agresta asks the right questions. He notes the importance of the Western film genre to the identity of the American nation. But he provides the wrong answers.

“What Killed the Western Movie?” is the chief subject of my new ebook, ABOUT WESTERN MOVIES. I spend the entire 40,000-word narrative answering the question, directly and indirectly. I can only summarize two of the points here.

A.) The Western movie became a popular worldwide art form because it presented the West as it was: a romantic, beautiful place. Think Frederic Remington and Charles Russell.

In the 1960’s, dark revisionism began: a reflection of the disillusion of the postmodern world. From Spaghetti Westerns to “Lawman” and “McCabe and Mrs. Miller,” the West was portrayed as a thoroughly unattractive place, romance stripped away. A landscape which eventually became filled with killing-machine sociopaths and little else. All in the name of an “authenticity” that was a sad and sadistic distortion of Western reality.

B.) The Western reflected the views of the U.S. intellectual class—their loss of faith in American ideals, and, subliminally, in themselves.

This stands out in Michael Agresta’s essay. He’s right. the Western movie can, and at times should, address America’s history. But not if it’s addressed through the prism of America’s supposed collective guilt. That prism is based on a narrow view of history, and on a shallow understanding of historical forces.

The history of civilizations is the clash of peoples and cultures. More vigorous peoples with belief in themselves have been moving into vacuums for thousands of years. Recall that Julius Caesar slaughtered entire Gallic tribes in the name of civilization. Or that half of Europe was conquered by vigorous Islam. As recently as 1683, Vienna, gateway to Europe—in the heart of Europe—was besieged by Turkish armies.

The creation of the American nation, including the settling of a sparsely populated West, was one of the great achievements of human history. Objectively, maybe the greatest achievement, seeing the civilization that resulted, of which Michael Agresta, as well as the big-bucks high-tech “Lone Ranger” movie producers, are thoroughly part. It’s nothing to be embarrassed about!

(To talk solely of Indian massacres is a distortion. The word “genocide” is at best an exaggeration. There were massacres on both sides. The recent Glenn Frankel book on “The Searchers” makes clear that the Comanches were a brutal, warrior-centered people. The genocidal scene in “The Lone Ranger” is a fiction.)

Western movies used to reflect the history of American achievement. They did it without the “strictly white, male” perspective Agresta talks about. Ironically, it was later Westerns—both the Spaghetti and revisionist varieties—which eliminated women and families from the Western genre.

In my ebook I spend an entire section on a single film, “Westward the Women” (1951). A movie which gives a tiny sense of the difficulties faced by the pioneers. It’s also the most pro-women movie ever made. I invite Michael Agresta, and everyone else, to watch the film (then read my remarks about it) to realize what the Western movie at its best was about.

Incidentally, faith in the American dream isn’t confined solely to “Republicans.” Two modern-day Democrat Presidents, FDR and JFK, had vigorous faith in American idealism and exceptionalism. The winning of World War II; the moon landings and journey into space: these followed a direct line of American accomplishment—of American belief in itself.

The failure of the Western genre also isn’t due to distorted media-elite misconceptions of nationality and race. Anyone who spends much time online clicking on YouTube videos knows that Hispanics, Japanese, French,, are among the biggest fans of the genre.

The bizarre framing device of “The Lone Ranger,” Johnny Depp on a guilt trip—crucifying himself for our sins—showed from the get-go the unappealing confusion of the film’s producers. (“The Lone Ranger” also failed for other reasons. Like the 1969 big-budget dud “Mackenna’s Gold,” it tried to do too much. “Keep It Simple, Stupid!” Westerns don’t require a large budget.)

We’ve had fifty years of disbelief in America, of self-flagellation by intellectuals taught by a bankrupt educational system to hate their country, and, as I said, themselves. It’s a ticket to failure, culturally and nationally. No nation can survive without myths. The Western movie is America’s myth. To replace it with a more historically inaccurate and distorted Anti-Myth is nutty. It’s to commit cultural and national suicide.

America has always been an awesome brand. The brand attracted the peoples of the world—and continues to attract them. But the brand needs to be the genuine article—populist; democratic; beautiful; believing; confident: expressing American values of simplicity, honesty, character, integrity—and freedom.

The great Westerns, from John Ford’s “My Darling Clementine” to Sam Peckinpah’s  “Ride the High Country,” did this. Viewing them isn’t a mere amusement or distraction. It’s not a guilt trip or a university history lesson. It’s restoration, of ourselves, our roots, our souls.

These matters I address in my ebook. ABOUT WESTERN MOVIES by King Wenclas. 99 cents. Nook or Kindle. Read it now.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Western Movies Reviewed

Here’s a partial list of the Western movies discussed or reviewed in my new Ebook, ABOUT WESTERN MOVIES, available at Kindle or Nook:

Stagecoach, Tombstone, High Noon, Red River, Cowboy, The Gunfighter, War Wagon, Warlock, The Wild Bunch, How the West Was Won, Westward the Women, Forty Guns, Gunfight at O.K. Corral, The Last of the Fast Guns, Four Fast Guns, Hour of the Gun, The Fastest Gun Alive, The Magnificent Seven, The Sons of Katie Elder, Duel in the Sun, The Big Country, The Far Country, For a Few Dollars More, The Bravados, Rio Bravo, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, The Outlaw Josie Wales, Ride the High Country, Once Upon a Time in the West, The Assassination of Jesse James, Django, Shane, The Spoilers, The Searchers, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid, Johnny Guitar, Ride Lonesome, The Ox-Bow Incident, One-Eyed Jacks, The Left-Handed Gun, Young Guns, Posse, Chisum, Unforgiven, The Virginian, Will Penny, Wyatt Earp, Lawman, Hang ‘Em High, My Darling Clementine, Silverado, Tall in the Saddle—and others.

I give my Ten Greatest Western Movies of All Time—scientifically determined!—then later the Next Ten. Half the fun is agreeing or disagreeing with the selections. Buy the Ebook now—it’s ridiculously affordable. You have no excuse not to.

Sunday, July 14, 2013


My new ebook, ABOUT WESTERN MOVIES, is now on sale at both Amazon’s Kindle Store and B&N’s Nook Books, and corresponding apps.

Many questions, serious and light, are raised within it. Such as, “Why did the Western genre die?” and “Clint Eastwood or John Wayne?” and “Who are the Top 25 Western movie babes?”

I also decide the Greatest Western Movies of All Time, and state my criteria for choosing them.

We don’t know where we’re going if we don’t know where we’ve been. Read About Western Movies today and get into American myth.

Friday, June 28, 2013

The Greatest Color Movie?

In my upcoming ebook on Western movies, I make a case for consideration of the 1946 Western “Duel in the Sun” as a fabulous early Technicolor film. What movie has the best color values of them all? Some say the British film “The Red Shoes” (1948). Many critics opt for the 1953 Japanese movie “Gate of Hell.” based on the Youtube excerpt below, it’s striking. The best?


Monday, June 17, 2013

Coming Attraction


The big (only?) Western movie for 2013 is "The Lone Ranger." I've seen the trailer. The movie doesn't look promising.

Johnny Depp in white face. Is this a gag? Depp is a terrible choice for Tonto for numerous reasons. One being that he's the most overcivilized, foppish, overmannered pretentiously egoistical actor in Hollywood. Be ready for a stereotypical offbeat portrayal.

The movie itself will be hyperpaced and filled with special effects. The Western on speed, combined with Five Hour Energy.

The ideas look to be hypocritical and simplistic. A Custer-style Army officer is the bad guy. Expanding Capitalism is no doubt eviscerated. This from a movie produced by monster conglomerate Disney, and certain to be promoted by multi-national media conglomerates, with a bankable big name (Depp) paid many millions, and starring as Ranger, Armie Hammer, scion of the billion-dollar Armand Hammer empire. The story appears to be a celebration of primitivism, of the natural Native American way, while the movie itself is created in as high-tech a manner as possible, from advanced lenses to complicated computer-image graphics; hundreds of technicians everyplace, not a primitivist in sight. Least of all Mr. Depp, who's already back in glitzy sophisticated France tinkering with his wineries, more millions in the bank.

The most cynical movie ever made?

We'll see if it's entertaining. The popcorn pop images will move so fast no one will notice the ideas.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Greatest Movie Trailer Ever

That would be this one:

Keep in mind that when the movie was made, in 1960, no one had ever seen a film like it. It truly provided the “shock of the new.” With the trailer, Hitchcock starts out ridiculously slow, with a light-hearted theme, using his avuncular presence to set up the audience. Note that nothing important is given away about the plot, now familiar but then virtually unknown.

One can watch this trailer again and again for its own satisfaction. The movie trailer as work of art. Is there even a second place?

Saturday, May 11, 2013

New Gatsby Movie

IN WRITE-UPS ABOUT the new “Great Gatsby” movie, commentators refer to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic work as “The Great America Novel.” Is it?

It’s a very good novel, beautifully written, with something to say about America, its dreams and its myth. But it’s also a fairly slight work. A couple other American novels are larger in scope and theme. They’re, well, greater. I’m thinking of Melville’s Moby Dick of course. But also two other works which have much to say about the American civilization: The Octopus by Frank Norris. The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. The two authors and their books come at America from completely different directions, but the novels are both large, intelligent, meaningful, and tremendously exciting.

Nothing against Fitzgerald in saying this. He was an extremely talented writer, who for various reasons didn’t reach his full potential.


I have yet to see the new “Great Gatsby” movie. I’m concerned that, like the 70’s Robert Redford version, it’s well over two hours in length. Keeping in mind that the novel is a quick book—its quickness part of its effect.

If I were to make a film version of The Great Gatsby, it’d be no more than 90 minutes long. Shorter. It’d have a quick pace, and be something of a mystery, like the book. I’d shoot it in black-and-white. Gatsby be would somewhat tough looking, and indefinably ethnic. No pretty boy. Nick Carraway would be played by the standard Esquire magazine WASP. Much in the story, and its meaning would be implied. Suggest; don’t tell. I’d use 20’s Jazz Age music, but I wouldn’t make it slow and langorous, as in the 70’s version. I’d give it in quick snatches, making it fast, tinny, cheap. The overall effect I’d aim for wouldn’t be big budget—but the feel of a whiskey night getting drunk, sensitive, alive, as in the book.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Ten Underrated Movies


“AIRPORT” (1970 USA) Not the comedy, but one of the movies “Airplane” satirized. Like trains, airplanes and airports are intrinsically cinematic. Throw in a blizzard and a mad bomber. Pure entertainment. The film is also a rare celebration of what most Americans spend most of their time at: work.

“THE BRAVADOS” (1958 USA) Great Western posse chase film as Gregory Peck hunts down four of the toughest movie bad guys ever.

“ICE COLD IN ALEX” (1958 UK) One of the tensest, edge-of-your seat war movies ever made, about a British ambulance crew trying to escape Nazis in WWII North Africa.

“MAJOR DUNDEE” (1965 USA) Not Sam Peckinpah’s best film, but thematically his most ambitious. During the Civil War, a motley collection of soldiers and rebels, whites and blacks, discover their identity as Americans by leaving the country on an expedition into Mexico.

“THE MISFITS” (1961 USA) One of the greatest American movies, with perhaps the strongest acting, especially from Marilyn Monroe and Montgomery Clift. Their performances are so good they’re surreal. In the story, Clark Gable tries to prove himself against a Mustang stallion, while with his performance, the aging Gable tries to hold his own as an actor against the younger stars. His final scenes are harrowing. Also tragic and heroic.

“THE SICILIAN CLAN” (1970 FR) A great caper flick, but also a study of a mob family which predated “The Godfather.” As exciting a crime movie as ever made.

“THE SILENT PARTNER” (1978 CAN) Suspenseful battle of wits between bank teller and bank robber which is unpredictable right to the end.

“THOSE LIPS, THOSE EYES” (1980 USA) Starring Thomas Hulce and Frank Langella as novice and mentor, this little-viewed film captures the magic of theatre and acting.

“VIVA LAS VEGAS” (1964 USA) Colorful and ridiculously entertaining musical starring Elvis Presley and Ann-Margret, with explosive high-energy chemistry between them. Viva man and woman.

“WESTWARD THE WOMEN” (1951 USA) A wagon train full of mail order brides headed west encounters obstacles, and the women take over. A more truly feminist film than anything made now. See it and find out. Denise Darcel and Robert Taylor—she the aggressor!—make another hyper-dynamic movie couple.


(UPCOMING: I’ll soon be examining and scientifically ranking the greatest Western movies of all time.)

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Going Retro

WINSTON CHURCHILL once said he could look farther into the future than others, because he looked further back into the past.

I think of this quote in regard to rock musician Jack White. It applies to his latest album, but also to his recordings with The White Stripes. One sees his influences in his songs’ echoes: 60’s garage rock, from 13th Floor Elevator to The Amboy Dukes. Farther back, to the guitar and drum work on Everly Brothers’ songs like “Don’t Let the Whole World Know.”

Due to these motifs, reimagined, Jack White’s songs sound completely original and new. His collections show far more variety, a kaleidoscope of sound, than those of any other artist, most of whom are stuck in the recent and predictable now.

I believe that creative writers can do likewise. For my ebook Ten Pop Stories, I looked not at recent (stale) “literary” short story history, which every other writer is doing. Instead I read stories from the days when the form was exciting and popular—from writers like O. Henry and Frank Stockton. One doesn’t need to copy the stories to be influenced by them. Instead, capture their sense of magic, adventure, and fun.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Greatest Movie Ever?

It’s come to my attention that the venerable publication Sight and Sound has ousted “Citizen Kane” from its top spot, in favor of Alfred Hitchcock’s “Vertigo.”

The difference in my own attitude may be demonstrated that I favor the word “movie” for the art over “film.”

Most of the choices listed are film school fodder. Some of them are badly, badly dated, like “The Passion of Joan of Arc,” or Keaton’s “The General.”

I made my own “Ten Best” movie list once, though I never finished posting it. My criteria were simple. I judged each movie as a movie—and not, say, as a work of literature. I valued the visual and aural experience, placing emphasis on photography and sound—but also the musical score, if it had one, which I judge to be a large component in the overall experience. I judged each movie as an experience, through watching and hearing the work in a theater, with the movie presented as it should be, on a big screen. (I’ve seen both “Vertigo” and “Citizen Kane” on movie screens.)

If I recall, Hitchcock had two works in my top ten: “Vertigo” and “North by Northwest.” (Another British director, David Lean, had two films on my list as well.) My top choice was unlikely: The medieval epic “El Cid,” made in 1961; directed by Anthony Mann.

Why this film? Seeing it, as I did in Manhattan a few years ago, was an overwhelming experience. The best cinematography ever—most of the movie shot outdoors. Colorful costumes; spectacular scenery.

The sound? The score by Miklos Rozsa is one of the best motion picture scores ever composed. It stays with you for hours, even days, after you’ve left the theater. Not just the music, but the clanking of swords and the pounding of drums, which accompany the most thrilling battle scenes ever put on celluloid.

There’s much more than this: romance; politics; plot. Larger-than-life characters and a one-of-a-kind bizarro ending. An assault on the senses. A stunning and still-relevant roller coaster ride, fantastic, mythic, and real at the same time, encapsulating everything great about movies and the movie-going experience.

But that’s just my choice. What’s yours?

Friday, March 8, 2013

Selling American Culture

At another blog, I posted about a Youtube video of an American film of fifty years ago.

The video was put together in Japan. This tells me that the biggest selling point of American culture is America itself. Specifically, the idea of America. The dream, which has always been powerful—especially for those in other countries and on other continents.

It’s a point abandoned by official American literature the past several decades. The trendy lit centers now, like McSweeney’s and n+a, have opted for a vague and meaningless internationalism. Fixed on either coast, they have little understanding of what America is about, or what it sounds like outside elite castles. They have scant interest in broadening their understanding.

The way is open for a new road. For a distinctive and distinctly American and populist literary art. It’s what I’ve proposed at this blog. It’s what the literary group Underground Literary Alliance was about. To follow that road would create opportunities which are as limitless the American horizon, and the American imagination.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

About Myself as a Writer


I’m not a natural writer. Upon entering college, I was required to take a remedial English class. I don’t know if it improved me any!

I dabbled with writing in my twenties. I wrote a couple adventure stories for myself. On a job, I edited a local union newsletter. After I left that job and was working for a commodity broker—the opposite end of the spectrum—I wrote an unsuccessful investment newsletter.

It was not until I’d hit my thirties that I became at all serious about writing. One afternoon I went browsing in a university library. Leafing through a few lifeless “literary” journals, I decided I could write better than that. I’ve been trying to do exactly that since.

In any endeavor, you have to know your strengths and weaknesses. I’ve not been satisfied with most that I’ve written, which is why I was happy letting others be “the writers” when I was running the Underground Literary Alliance. I was content putting out the occasional zeen.

I have many ideas about writing. About what good writing should look like. Making those ideas reality by creating something truly revolutionary, artistically, is trickier.

Now that I’ve started creating ebooks, I have a tendency to rush them along. For instance, I wrote most of The Tower one year ago in a two month burst of writing. Not long enough, in hindsight, for something that complex structurally, ambitious in theme and characterization. Living a tenuous existence where nothing is guaranteed, I feel the need, once I have the idea for an ebook, to get it out there as quickly as possible. No time for much rewriting, much less polishing.

My main weakness is description. I hate reading description (“detail disease”) and I dislike almost as much writing it. When I do write it, it’s invariably clunky. It’s something I plan to finesse, with some added ideas.

Back stories, exposition, I’m fine at. In many ways the story “Bluebird” contained in the ebook Mood Detroit is nothing but exposition. Someone recently, thinking he was putting me down, said that “Bluebird” read like a scenario. I’m fine with that, because the story was never much more than that. A treatment: an examination of a personality. A Jonathan Franzen, as in Freedom, can write 50,000 words of exposition and no one complains. The trick is how to integrate it into a larger work. I, no less than Franzen, have not fully mastered that part of the equation.

My two strengths are dialogue and ideas. I love writing speeches, because they allow me to express, through the mouths of characters, conflicting ideas. The human being speaking is the true wonder of nature.

I don’t buy the Henry James/David Foster Wallace theory of placing the narrative inside a character’s mind. Usually there’s nothing to see. Vacuousness. At its worst, narcissistic childishness.

I love spoken poetry. I’m also a fan of Shakespeare. The bard well proved that character is best revealed through action and speech. In The Tower, for all its faults, I take that notion as far as I’m able.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Creating the Hyperreal

Beginning in the 1930’s with gangster movies, Warner Brothers became known for producing fast-paced melodramas with colorful over-the-top characters and loud soundtracks. Everything about the films was emotional and exaggerated. Among the best of them were “Each Dawn I Die”; the original “Kid Galahad” (aka “Battling Bellhop”); and “Angels with Dirty Faces.” Their hallmarks were a sense of gritty reality. It’s as if, by exaggerating the various elements, the movies broke down the barrier between viewer and art object. By being hyperreal, they became more real.

The apex of this type of movie, in my opinion, was Nicholas Ray’s 1955 flick “Rebel without a Cause,” which featured saturated color, hyper-emotional acting, particularly from James Dean, and a nonstop blaring score by Leonard Rosenman.

Can this technique be applied to fiction? It’s what I’ve attempted to accomplish in various projects, especially in the ebook novella Crime City USA, and in a different way with my novel about protest in a major American city, The Tower.

Literature of course is a different medium from film. How do you capture the same kind of emotion? One way I’ve tried is through passionate speeches, added to a fast pace and striking plot situations. Art at its best is always somewhat stylized. It’s how the elements are mixed that determines the work’s effectiveness.  

Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Literary Story or the Pop Story?


There’s an interesting essay by Laura Miller of Salon, about the plight of the short story, here:

Laura Miller misses one point though. The general public doesn’t want “finer” short stories. Give them stories that are fun and exciting and they’ll come back to them. Slow-paced, overwritten literary stories have killed the art, and the market for the art. In its heyday, the short story was a popular art form—THE popular American art form, from O. Henry through Scott Fitzgerald. It’s a gateway to the novel for readers—a gateway to reading in general. The short story needs to be as readable and entertaining as possible.

Which is what this blog is about and what my ebook Ten Pop Stories is about. Buy it and find out!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Against Creative Writing

Creative writing profs teach students to value above all else the sentence. This is like valuing most of all the bricks when building a house. High quality bricks are a good thing, but if you put them together the wrong way, the house becomes a disaster.

Creative writers craft nice-sounding ornate sentences, then pile them together one upon the other, creating a misshapen wall. The bricks are too large and unwieldy. They don’t fit together. When looking at the house you notice the bricks. “Yes, those are outstanding bricks,” you say. “But the house is ugly.”

You’re not supposed to notice the bricks!

Look at an approved essay by noted literary writer Lorrie Moore, “Double Agents in Love.” The essay appeared in New York Review of Books, an esteemed review periodical. The essay’s not about a book, but a TV show.

Note the first paragraph:

“One of the intriguing aspects of the gripping and widely praised Showtime drama Homeland, a story about the machinations of CIA counterterrorism analysts and their prey, is that it is fearlessly interested in every kind of madness: the many Shakespearean manifestations—cold revenge, war-induced derangement, outsized professional ambition—as well as the more naturally occurring expressions, such as bipolar disease and simple grief. Homeland ruthlessly pits these psychic states against one another in different permutations and settings, like contestants in The Hunger Games, to see which will win, which will die, which will kill or be killed, which will bond or marry or breed or starve.”

This entire paragraph consists of two sentences! The first paragraph—when Lorrie Moore should be getting the reader into her essay as quickly as possible. The paragraph is a brick wall.

Moore asks too much of her two sentences. Six or seven subjects are revealed in the first sentence, depending on how you add them up. In the second sentence, Lorrie Moore leaps to a questionable idea—that psychic states can win, die, breed, and so on.

Look at the unwieldy, ornate sentences. This is word clot.

The sentences don’t move. They have no pace. Worst of all, they lack clarity. What exactly is Lorrie Moore talking about?

You have to stop and read the sentences over twice. Reading becomes a duty. The last time you were this bored was in a college course on semiotics!

You plunge on. (You’re committed to writing a blog post on this shit.) The second paragraph is as bad. Maybe worse.

Eventually the essay begins to make sense. Only because I’d determined to write a blog post about the essay would I have continued. 98% of the general public wouldn’t have bothered.

New York Review of Books doesn’t care about the 98%. Their task is to be as exclusively unapproachable as possible, so they retain intellectual snob appeal. So they employ writers who could write more clearly if they wanted to, but instead prefer stringing together unwieldy and ornate sentences. Showing off.

The reader? The reader will take what he’s given and like it.

The dilemma of New York Review of Books is this: Because the books and authors they like don’t connect with the public, to be at all relevant—to retain even two percent of the public—they’re stuck publishing essays about TV shows.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Madness Quotient

Writing a novel involves a mix of right brain-left brain, logic and feeling, which is why few persons are truly good at it.

What makes The Great Gatsby, say, a masterpiece is that F. Scott Fitzgerald imposed structure and discipline onto his unrivaled sensitivity to the world.

With my ebooks I’ve attempted to create order—to build a framework within which the passions of my characters can move. In which their over-the-top voices can express themselves. I’ve seen if I can bring some of my own madness into the narrative. In my last three ebooks I’ve struggled to achieve this—in Crime City USA, The Tower, The McSweeneys Gang—with varying degrees of success.

With my next novel my objective will be to go farther. To present the craziest novel ever, yet also one of the best structured. Is this possible?

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Newest Parts of The McSweeneys Gang Novel

Roughly a third of the new ebook novel The McSweeneys Gang by King Wenclas is brand new material. Here’s a look at most of it:

-“Seat at the Table” A conversation between Boss Eggers and Thomas Beller.

--“Court of the Demi-Puppets” The trial of a rebellious writer.

-“McSweeneys Headquarters” An inside look at a ruthless literary mob’s operations.

-“Mr. Empathy” A mysterious and smarmy operative tells Boss Eggers his propaganda techniques.

-“The Photograph” A discussion between Boss Eggers and a photo of David Foster Wallace.

-“Benefit for Writers” A televised McSweeneys Reading featuring big name authors George Saunders and Jennifer Egan.

-“Finale” The puzzle of literature.

PLUS—New Underground Profiles.

Only in THE MCSWEENEYS GANG by King Wenclas, the ultimate in thought-provoking pop literature.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Football Controversies


A reminder that, with all the talk of football concussions and the like, I covered the subject in 2012 in my ebook novel THE TOWER, which includes a protest group whose name is Pethby: People for the Ethical Treatment of Human Beings. I was being just a tad tongue-in-cheek.

I sought to make the work a smaller version of novels like Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, in that I kept the larger picture in my head, at the same time I engaged in set pieces (a football game; a protest) but also personal scenes, including lovemaking! (At which Tolstoy had few equals. The subtlety of the seduction scene in Anna Karenina is masterful.)

The novel The Tower by King Wenclas is one which combines feeling with intelligence and knowledge about the world we live in. It tries to understand the world we're trapped in, which should be the objective of every ambitious novelist. No easy task, but a worthy goal.

Buy The Tower by King Wenclas at Nook Books or Kindle Store now!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Two Literary Worlds

There are currently two very different literary worlds in America, neither of which will acknowledge the other.

There's "official" literature reviewed in mainstream publications and blogs, and taught in university English departments. For the most part, the general public ignores this.

There's marketplace lit, generic genre novels of all kinds, which is read by the public but disliked by the mandarin experts.

Is there a style of fiction which can bridge the gap? I mean, really bridge it?

The attempt is what American Pop Lit is about. Get on board now.

Friday, January 25, 2013

The Elements

Every literary tale is a combination of elements: description; dialogue; plot. It’s how the elements are mixed that make the work unique. Too many fictional novels and stories are cookie cutter, following familiar models to such extent the works become generic. This extends to “literary” works with their overly-detailed settings, over-crafted sentences and lethargic pace, to popular genre books which are absent of thought, depth, ideas—and in some cases any sense of reality.

With my new pop ebooks I’m trying to present a new mix. My objective is to be as fast-paced as anything going, explosive, yet also willing to present a clash of viewpoints. I love writing dialogue. I loathe “stream of consciousness” inside somebody’s empty head a la David Foster Wallace, whose work I’ve always found, like most readers, unreadable.

What are your models? What voices go through your brain? Do they correspond with mad American reality—or are they instead an escape from fast-paced reality? Many of us struggling to survive in this crazy hard fast society find ourselves inside something akin to a nightmare.

A writer I know recently told me how much he loves listening to NPR. I can’t see it. Those precious monotone voices put me to sleep. It’s no accident that NPR is a foundation of the status quo establishment “literary” scene. Genteel; privileged; smirky; safe.

Give me instead the last ten minutes of Jay Mohr’s sports radio show, which is pure speed uniquely American craziness—and wildly entertaining.

My objective is to write fiction that will make all literary writing instantly obsolete. A jet next to a biplane. I’m getting there, slowly but surely.

(Read the ebooks Ten Pop Stories, Mood Detroit, Crime City USA, The Tower, and The McSweeneys Gang, all affordably available.)

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

System Writer versus Ebook Writer

Which Path to Take?

SYSTEM WRITER: Johannes Lichtman

Background: Many years of expensive university education.

Payoff: $25 review payment from Oxford American.

Writing: Carefully crafted "literary" writing.


EBOOK WRITER: Amanda Hocking

Background: Former group home worker.

Payoff: $2 million self-published ebooks, which resulted in $2 million book contract from St. Martins.

Writing: Fun paranormal or vampire pop fiction.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Death Struggle

IT TOOK me a long time to realize, during my activities with the Underground Literary Alliance, that the literary establishment treated all criticism of itself as a fight to the death. For the mandarins and their flunkies, everything is allowable to maintain their turf. This includes smearing, lying, blackballing—all the corrupt ingenuity of these limited folks is called upon to prevail. The bureaucratic mindset: Their loyalty isn’t to truth, but to the system of which they’re part.

The threat the ULA offered was of two kinds. First, to make pop writing more vital and relevant to the larger society. Second, to have pop writing at its best accepted as legitimate literature.

The status quo “literary” scene is shrinking in size and power. Its art is decayed. The scene sits like a dying, unthinking animal, still capable of blindly, ruthlessly lashing out.

Sunday, January 13, 2013



I just read a short story by W. Somerset Maugham, “Mackintosh.” It’s absorbing, but the ending is something of a cop-out. It’s the same ending of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “May Day,” and “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” by J.D. Salinger. The protagonist puts a bullet through his head.

When you’re a young reader this ending is impressive. When you’re older you ask yourself if the writer didn’t know how to end the story, and so resorted to desperate measures. Trickery.

The real question: Are all good tales, even the great ones, in some way trickery?