Monthly Archives: June 2010

We’ll Fix It In Post

Everyone secretly thought the costume looked a little silly, but no one would say it. This was Sam’s big day, and no one wanted to rain on his parade by suggesting that the costume he’d built in his basement out of latex, sheet metal, and fake blood looked like the skin from a living hot dog. It was a little awkward at first, with everyone pretending that they loved it, telling him it was very scary and no, you couldn’t tell it had been built in a basement by an amateur for almost nothing. But, of course, they were just lies you tell your friends. Everyone thought it looked awful. Just terrible.

Sam had titled his film Garbage Monster, and although he’d gotten tired of explaining that the title was intentionally bad for irony’s sake, he kept it because it had come to him in a dream of sorts when he was only about half drunk. It became the icon of the production, this title no one liked which fit perfectly.

They held it together for the first few takes. Kelly had agreed to be in the film because Sam had helped her with her physics homework a couple times. She had been asked because Sam knew she owed him a favor, although it never crossed his mind that anyone would not want to be in his film. She had no experience in acting, but since Sam had no experience in directing, it didn’t seem like a big deal. He had big plans for post-production, always telling her, “That take was fine. We’ll fix it in post.” She wasn’t sure he could change the inflections of her voice or remove the smirk from her face, but she went along with it. Her throat was already raw from the three times they’d done her big scream scene. Anyway, it hadn’t been a problem if she’d laughed because she was screaming directly at the camera since, supernatural editing ability or not, Sam couldn’t actually create scenes in post. When Sam came out of the woods dressed to the nines and looking like a bloody hot dog, she snickered, and it started a chain reaction that spread through the crew. Sam wasn’t sure what was happening, so he hollered for everyone to get back to their places so they could shoot the scene again. They shot it twice, three times, and Kelly couldn’t keep a straight face. She told Sam she was just thinking of something funny, but she wouldn’t tell him what it was.

Although Sam intended for the title to be ironic, he’d hoped it would give his film an additional element of surprise. He envisioned it being rented by teenagers seeking a cheesy b-movie, and then, in the same way he had been blindsided by Carnival of Souls, they would be terrified, not just by his gory, disconcerting visuals but by his stunning grasp of the inner conflicts of teenagers, and how his film showed them taken to their most extreme ends. He was especially proud of the film’s denouement, a showdown in a junkyard that ended with the Garbage Monster being knocked into the car crusher by Kelly, driving a 1960’s era Corvette. Sam didn’t know how he was going to find the Corvette, but he was hoping he could fix it in post.

Kelly finally went home for the evening, but Sam stayed in the field where they were filming, carrying his camera around looking for location shots he could edit in. Through the little viewfinder, the cinematography looked like it was going to be amazing. Here’s a field, unspoiled, with just the tiniest hint of a factory smokestack in the periphery. Here’s a pigeon, pulling a worm from a rusted engine block. Nature versus industry, nature vs man, the script versus the ability. Sam took a few more shots then went home.

The next morning, everyone was there again, and Sam was walking around the set in full Garbage Monster regalia, trying to get everyone used to it so they wouldn’t laugh. He knew they must be laughing because of the novelty of the thing, not the ridiculousness of it. He went into the woods and walked out, and Kelly pulled off her part perfectly. She broke up ten seconds later, but editing would fix that. They filmed one death scene, in which a dummy representing the character played by his friend Mark was tossed off the water tower. Darken it up a little, add some music and sound effects, it’s as good as real life. The watermelon-based head explosion was less convincing, but Sam thought he could do something with it.

Day three, Sam decided to rewrite the ending. Now the Garbage Monster would fall into a drainage lake. Sam wished it could be more ironic, but he couldn’t decide of Garbage Monster represented man or nature. He decided that the lake represented both, and so maybe it and the monster could cancel each other out. Plus, it was a lot easier.

Thursday was the last day Sam’s rented camera was available, so he and Kelly shot the rest of their scenes. Sam was secretly worried that the film was a bit Kelly-heavy, but she was a) the hero and b) an attractive girl and c) the only person who was willing to spend more than a couple hours working with him, so that’s how it went. He’d asked her about a kissing scene, but she’d refused, laughing it off, and Sam was cool with that. They filmed the last scene, and Sam almost teared up as he saw his dummy Garbage Monster sinking slowly beneath the water of Kelly’s swimming pool, which would be sufficiently toxified in post. He thanked Kelly, gave her a hug, and told her he’d bring the film by Saturday.

All weekend, Sam was in his room, pushing his computer as far as he could, trying to finish his post production before his trial software ran out. He cut out the part of the film where Kelly laughed, but he couldn’t make the water tower death look real or the lake look toxic. He overdubbed some dialog to make the lake a swimming pool in the film, and cut out the water tower scene entirely. This, unfortunately, left him with a horror film with no on-screen deaths, but he was certain that the pacing and acting would make up for it. He burned it to a DVD and showed his parents. They smiled politely, and his mother said, “Oh my!” the first time he came out as the Garbage Monster. His father laughed a couple times in inappropriate places but afterwards assured Sam that his film was quite good and he was sure everyone would be very impressed. Sam was no longer so sure, but he wrote “Garbage Monster” on the disc with a sharpie and went to bed.

The next morning he took the disc over to Kelly’s to watch it. He’d called the rest of his tiny crew/troupe, but they were all busy. He didn’t mind. He knew they’d see it later. He and Kelly sat on the couch, a foot apart, and he pushed play. The film started with his credit sequence, added in post, featuring the letters dripping slime and Kelly Kazinski’s name in bold. She giggled when she saw it. The film started and it didn’t look as good as Sam remembered it. The lighting was all wrong. The musical cues were off. Kelly wasn’t a very good actress. The pacing was too slow, or too fast, or too frenetic, the script was crap, the ending made no sense, and all of his characters disappeared without explanation except for Kelly. They watched the whole thing, including the end credits, which Sam had set to ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls,’ and then Sam sheepishly turned off the projector. Kelly didn’t really know what to say, so they sat on the couch, a little closer now, and talked about how nice it had been to make, and then Sam said his costume looked ridiculous, and Kelly laughed, and it was ok.

Fear and Trembling by Soren Kierkegaard

“Much is said in our age about irony and humor, especially by those who have never been capable of engaging in the practice of these arts, but who nevertheless know how to explain everything.”

I think it’s safe to say that I was not prepared for this book. I was drawn in by the premise—Kierkegaard, one of the fathers of existentialism, writing a treatise on faith, using the story of Abraham being asked to sacrifice his son Isaac as his basis—and its length, a scant 95 pages. It sounded right up my alley, but I hadn’t counted on Kierkegaard’s writing style, which is intentionally dense and off-putting to discourage the casual reader (me). So it turns out that this little pamphlet actually took longer to read than the 400 page Robin Hood.

But anyway, on to the content of the book. As mentioned above, Fear and Trembling is a meditation on the story of Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac as recounted in Genesis 22. I say Abraham’s sacrifice because, although God actually provided a ram to replace Isaac, Kierkegaard argues that, in the most meaningful sense, Abraham did sacrifice Isaac since he remained willing up until the final moment, when the ram appeared.

This is one of the most difficult stories in the entire Bible, and Kierkegaard doesn’t shy away from the difficult questions it raises. Interestingly, however, he doesn’t focus on why God would ask Abraham to commit the act, as many theologians do. He rather focuses on Abraham and what his reaction to the request reveals about him and, in the bigger picture, faith itself.

As the conclusions Kierkegaard reaches, I’ll share what I understand of them here, in greatly condensed form. Kierkegaard says that Abraham is the only example of true faith he knows of, and he defines faith in a very complex way which I’m going to try to communicate in a few points:

a) Faith requires a basic belief in the object of the faith. b) Faith requires complete resignation of the finite world into the hands of God, followed by c) a resignation of infinite matters as well, so that d) finite matters can again be appreciated. Further, Kierkegaard argues that true faith requires more than hope, since hope requires a belief that the event believed in will actually happen. Abraham’s faith was true, he says, because Abraham believed that God would restore Isaac to him even though he also believed it was impossible that Isaac should be restored. Kierkegaard points to faith as an example of the absurd: believing that things that will not happen are going to happen is the paradox of faith.

There’s a lot more in this book (the information I described is mostly in the middle third), including some interesting questions about whether or not ethics can be superseded by a divine command and whether or not it is possible to act both within the boundaries of true faith and ethics at the same time (Kierkegaard argues that for Abraham, the ethical choice—that of not sacrificing his son—was actually a temptation away from the absolute best choice of following God’s command), but to be honest, these sections were both interesting and opaque to me.

I don’t really know how to end this review. I wouldn’t want anyone to think that I’ve exhausted or even fairly explained Kierkegaard’s views in this short post. There’s a lot here, and I may return to it in the future.

(Cross-posted from 50 Books Project)

Devotions

Every Christian knows one of the most difficult aspects of the Christian Life is having regular devotions. It seems strange that, of all the commands given in the Bible, one of the most difficult to carry out is one of the simplest—we are commanded simply to have a relationship with God. There are, as in every relationship, two aspects—first, we are to talk to God through the regular practice of prayer, and second, we are to allow him to speak to us through the regular practice of reading His Word. I’ve recently, after many years of resisting, began getting up early in the morning and having my devotions first thing, and that it works wonders for consistency. If anyone is reading this, what methods and timeframes work best for you?

The Weight of Glory by C. S. Lewis

The difference between this situation [forgiving your fellow man] and the one in which you are asking for God’s forgiveness is this. In our own case we accept excuses too easily; in others, we do not accept them easily enough. As regards my own sins it is a safe bet that the excuses are not really so good as I think; as regards other men’s sins against me it is a safe bet that the excuses are better than I think.

C. S. Lewis is my favorite writer. Like John Updike according to the blurb on the back of my copy of The Weight of Glory, “I read Lewis for comfort and pleasure many years ago, and a glance into the books revives my old admiration.” Everything I desire in non-fiction is present in Lewis’s essays: a consistent but not overbearing authorial voice, a dry sense of humor, and the thoughts of a mind sharp enough to generate thought whether you agree with them or not.

The Weight of Glory is a collection of essays, some of which are adapted from radio addresses Lewis delivered throughout his life. They touch on some the subjects you might expect from Lewis: theology, mythology, Christianity, and some you may not, such as cliques and war. Although it’s true that all these essays end up tying into bigger theological concerns, the smoothness and logic with which Lewis lays out his arguments ought to be an inspiration for Kierkegaards everywhere.

The titular essay concerns itself with the afterlife and the Christian’s response to it. It’s quite powerful and moving, one of the best he ever wrote, and yet the shortest essay in the book, one titled “Forgiveness” was the most impactful on me, saying more in a scant 5 pages than many authors can say in an entire book. The excerpt that opens this review comes from it, and seems to me to be wonderful advice to keep in mind whether you’re a Christian or not.