Thursday, September 19, 2002

There's a short interview with writer/director Cameron Crowe from Empire Magazine, in which he discusses puting together the DVD commentary track for Jerry Maguire. This particular commentary is with Crowe and the main actors for the film. When told in the interview that some actors (Schwarzenegger) now demand payment for commentaries, Crowe laughs.

Personally there are few things I have less desire to hear than what Arnold has to say about his movies. I have enjoyed a few of his movies, but what I am interested about is how the movie was made, not the motivation of the actors or the characters. I love commentary tracks, and I am always interested in what the film-makers think, but with a few exceptions I don't give a shit about the actors' thoughts. (One exception was another Cameron Crowe movie, Say Anything.... I would have been very upset if the commentary had not featured John Cusack in this case. Of course the distributors of this film in the PAL world released it without the commentary, but..). I think the best commentaries generally have two of the film-makers (in many instances the writer and the director) talking about the film. In some cases the director talking on his own works well, but generally interaction is good. However, not always. The Princess Bride has separate commentaries from director Rob Reiner and writer William Goldman. The reason they are separate is presumably because Reiner lives in Los Angeles and Goldman is a devoted New Yorker, but surely it could have been possible to get them together for a morning. ( Stephen Soderbergh has generally got it right with his films, as most of his films have a commentary track of him talking to the writer. He has described commentary tracks as "The best film school around" or somethink like that, and he fills them with little details. Plus they are pretty no holds barred. (In the commentary on The Limey, writer Lem Dobbs spends quite a considerable time explaining all the things Soderbergh did wrong. The comments are interesting because the criticisms are generally fair, and it's a terrific film anyway. Soderbergh also clearly doesn't like the solo commentary, because on DVD of the one major film he both wrote and directed (Sex, Lies, and Videotape) he spends the commentary track talking about the film with another director. (Neil Labute). This commentary is a trifle self-indulgent, actually. Soderbergh spends a portion of it cringing about things that he would have done differently if he was more experienced. Labute responts by complimenting Soderbergh on what a fine film he made anyway. (Labute is right. The film holds up to the passing of a few years extremely well).

Wednesday, September 18, 2002

And go read this profile of Lawence Lessig right now. It's good to know all about the number one knight on our side in the copyright wars (even if he did go to Trinity).

Tuesday, September 17, 2002

There's lots of good stuff in the November Wired . Besides a couple of pieces on the spread of 802.11 WiFi networks, which I will talk about when they are online, we have this great piece on an Australian plot to eliminate awful introduced carp that are infesting Australia's waterways. I actually am an Australian, and Australia is amazingly sensitive about its native wildlife. As you grow up, the distinction is constantly made to you about the difference between native and introduced wildlife. Native is generally good. Introduced is generally bad. This is the right attitude to have in Australia, because the continent was largely cut off from the rest of the world prior to 1788, and it is full of unique and fascinating species. Many of these are terribly susceptible to being overrun by foreign species, so great care must be taken. When you enter Australia, you are not permitted to carry any animal or plant matter that is alive, or that could conceivably be alive.

However, it was only when I came to live in England that I realised that it is the Australian position that is largely the atypical one. Europe, Asia, Africa and even the Americas have been mixing their wildlife with each other for millennia. New species will occasionally overrun old species, but that hard line between introduced and native simply doesn't exist in other parts of the world.

Anyway, back to the carp. What is striking to me is how clever this is, and how remarkably safe it seems. The point is that if you just throw a few modified fish in the water and stop doing it, the species will evolve the all male gene out fast enough. The point is that the process of extinction must move faster than the process of evolution, and you have to keep throwing the modified species in until the fish are all gone. If the all male gene jumps species to some other kind of fish, it doesn't matter because without being replenished the genes will just evolve out of the other species. This is so much better and safer than uncontrolled biological warfare in which you introduce a new animal to supposedly kill the old one, and you just have a plague of the new one. (Something that has happened a few times in Australia's history).
I see that Disney are proceeding with the film of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. There would be a certain irony if the project comes to the screen after Douglas Adams' death, given the amount of effort he put into getting the film made when he was alive. However, I don't want to see it. THHGTTG was so much one man's quirky invention, that I cannot really see a film being made true to the spirit of the original(s), without Adams' involvement. And sadly, we are not now going to get this.

Monday, September 16, 2002

From time to time I have been encountering the Chomskian America had it coming argument from Chomsky himself, from the British left wing newspapers, and from acquaintances in London. American foreign policy is devious and therefore S11 was America getting a taste of its own medicine blah blah blah. I have never had much sympathy for this point of view. (Actually I am outraged by it). This sort of argument usually gets back to conspiracy theories, and I think that conspiracy theories are for losers. (I have a recollection of Bruce Sterling making this observation in an article in Wired or F&SF or somewhere in about 1995, which I would link to but I cannot find the quote). American foreign policy can be really dumb at times (See War on Drugs, The) but is it especially devious and full of sinister reasons for fighting? The answer generally is no. America generally does things for the reasons it says it does. And when I think about this, what always seems to come into my mind is the American intervention in the former Yugoslavia. Here we had a nasty vicious war in Europe. The Europeans failed to do a thing about it. Eventually America came in and stopped the killing. Why did they do this? Because it was the right thing to do. There is really little more to it than that. Even then we only got sniping from a lot of quarters on the left. We got very little gratitude from countries in Europe right on the doorstep of the killing. Yes, America could have come in and stopped the killing earlier. And yes, there have been other human rights crises in other parts of the world where America could have taken action but didn't. (I rate the lack of action when genocide occurred in Rwanda to be the worst failure of the Clinton administration. This lack of action was to some extent a consequence of the reaction to the quagmire that American forces got themselves into in Somalia, so I sort of understand how it happened. However, the delay in appreciating that Rwanda was on another scale rather than just being another African war was a terrible failure. It was a case of an administration screwing up and failing to act, however. No conspiracy ). However, you must give credit where credit is due. The intervention in Bosnia and Kosovo was an example of America doing a very fine thing. America deserves a great deal of credit for this one. It can be observed, and it has been observed, that America was in this particular instance protecting Muslims against Christians. This is true, but it is not the point. America was simply stopping people from being killed. If there is a war between Muslims and Christians, then America was not taking sides in it. Europeans allowed the atrocities of Bosnia and Kosovo to take place in their own back yard. America stopped them. When I hear arguments about who is morally better than who, I cannot but see the events of this particular war as exhibit A.

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