Thursday, August 03, 2006

Voice and Dick

I am still trying to get the hang of this "blogging" thing. (The scare quotes are a mark of age. As in, "You kids and your 'blogging.' When I was a boy we had 'zines.' If you had a bunch of random thoughts, rants, and observations, you had to work to put them out. Spending all night at Kinkos if you had to: photocopying, pasting...and real pasting too, with glue and paper cuts..."). I am trying to figure out what sort of voice I want: that is, other than the old coot voice used above, which I am sure I will use from time to time. By voice I simply mean what sort of things I will write about and how. For example I thought about writing about last Sunday, a truly great day that began with Brunch and ended with a swim in the ocean. As great as it was, I found that it was more enjoyable to live the day than write about it. I will say that I had truly delicious biscuits with vegan white bean and tempeh gravy that apparently came from this cookbook/website.

Film, that is one thing that I will write about. I thought about writing about A Scanner Darkly, but for awhile all I could come up with that I liked it, which is not much to say. (Perhaps Hegel was right, "Periods of happiness are empty pages in history.") Prior to watching the film I read some of Philip K. Dick's short stories, which oddly I have never read despite being such a big fan of Dick (sorry, could not resist that joke, just because I have noticed that most people go out of their way not to use his last name in such a way, hence the ubiquitous moniker PKD.) I focused on a few of the short stories that have been turned into films, namely "Minority Report" and "We Can Remember it for You Wholesale" (the basis for Total Recall).

Read on their own the stories are really just sketches of ideas, which the structure of the American action film are then projected onto. "Minority Report" simply poses the paradox: does knowing the future alter the future? On top of that no one has really done justice to the archetypical Dickian protagonist, who is really just a variation on the same basic character: middle-age, lower-middle class, and generally divorced or in a loveless relationship. Take for example the first line from "Minority Report": "The first thought Anderton had when he saw the young man was: I'm getting bald. Bald and fat and old." I read that and thought, Tom Cruise. I do not think this is simply a superficial aesthetic point regarding Hollywood's unwillingness to cast fat and bald people. Dick's "everyman" character is as much a part of his aesthetic and politics, as the pre-cogs, androids, and the corporations that employ them. Put more bluntly, the translation of Dick's stories into "action movies" does not just add a few hover-car chases to a basic story structure, it alters the basic structure. Action heroes triumph over their circumstances, while Dick's heroes seldom if ever do. For more on the politics of Dick's everyman, see Fredric Jameson's great Archaeologies of the Future.

A Scanner Darkly is the first film based on Dick's stories that is not an action movie (OK maybe Bladerunner). In fact it is mostly dialogue, tripped out stoner dialogue. Given Richard Linklater's (The director) history of films, I think that many people will attribute this aspect to his work on the screenplay--a sort of Slacker take on scifi. After watching the film I reread some of the novel and was surprised that many of the conversations were taken almost verbatim from the novel. (As much as I like Dick's novels I seem to have a horrible memory for them. Generally I retain only an image or an idea and not the plot.) Finally, what I liked most about the film was its ending. Somewhere Slavoj Zizek says that the signature element of Dick's stories is not the simple confusion of fiction (or the virtual) and reality, androids for humans, fabricated memories for real, etc., but the point where what is given as reality is shown to be another fiction. On this point I think that A Scanner Darkly (the film) did a great job. I also like how the film avoids one of the real pitfalls of the paranoid dystopian scifi genre, which is to say most of the films based on Dick's work, the confrontation between the protagonists and some mastermind of the whole thing, in which the concealed truth of the society is revealed. In A Scanner Darkly the revelations are oblique, left to minor characters, the central character remains in the dark.

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