Monday, May 5, 2008

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Watching the Guild

Have any of you seen/heard about this series of web videos called The Guild which won a bunch of awards for best web video thingie (such as the SXSW Greenlight award, hollah Austin!)? It's about a group of people who play together as part of a "guild" (basically a hunting party) in one of those fantasy-rock online roleplaying games, where you go around committing goblin genocide and stealing treasure from dragons (like World of Warcraft), and what happens when they all meet up in person. It's not as dorky as it sounds... Ok, maybe it is, but it's still pretty entertaining.

The main character is a young woman whose therapist fires her because she is not pursuing social interaction outside of the internet and the other members of the guild include an Indian American guy with stalker tendencies, a slacker mom, a middle-aged cheapskate, a spazzy teenager, and a too-cool Asian girl who is constantly fidgeting with her Nintendo DS.

So far there are nine episodes and each one is about 3-5 minutes long. To give you a taste, here's the first episode:

Pretty cute right? You can check out the rest on youtube or on the Guild's website. You can be like "I'm so much cooler than those losers who spend all their time on the internet" as you make your way through the whole series.

Logo (c) 2007 The Guild

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Laura is the face in the misty light

Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov (1899-1977), professor of literature, lepidopterist, and great 20th-century author, may have died over thirty years ago, but he's been in the news a lot this year. It seems that when he died, Nabokov left behind an unfinished novel called the Original of Laura. On his death bed he gave instructions that the manuscript should be burned since, as a perfectionist, he did not want it published in its incomplete, imperfect state.

Carrying out the deed first fell on his beloved wife, Véra, but for one reason or another she had failed to do so before her death in 1991. Instead, she locked up the 50 or so index cards on which Laura was written in a Swiss bank vault. It then passed to their only son, Dmitri Vladimirovich, who in addition to being the executor of his father's estate and the translator of his Russian works also had a career as an opera singer (his 1961 debut was as Colline in La Bohème so he must be a bass).

Dmitri's dilemma

Dmitri was conflicted about committing this act of bibliocide libricide so he kept the manuscript locked away as he mulled it over for another 15 years. But recently the septuagenarian decided that the time to resolve Laura's fate was drawing near. He teased the literary world, saying first that he had typed up Laura on to about 30 standard pages, then that he was probably going to destroy it, and then that he was leaning towards publishing it. Literati and Nabokovians everywhere begged him to spare the master's last work from the flame while others, like playwright Tom Stoppard, wrote that he should not give in to the wishes of greedy fans and that the author's last wishes must be respected. Journalist Ron Rosenbaum led the voices calling for Dmitri to shit or get off the pot: either publish Laura or make with the matches already! For his part, Dmitri complained that all this unwanted attention wasn't making his difficult choice any easier.

What was a good son to do? The obvious historical parallel seems to be the case of Franz Kafka who told his friend and executor, Max Brod, that he wanted his unpublished works (everything he wrote save for a few short stories such as the Metamorphosis) to be destroyed. But Brod ignored his friend's wishes and instead published the rest of his oeuvre, giving the world such classics as The Trial, The Castle and Amerika. As a professor of literature (who discusses the minutia of the Metamorphosis in his published lectures), Nabokov was obviously familiar with this story.

But the analogy begins to crumble when you consider that if it were not for Brod's intervention the world would never have known the bulk of Kafka's genius whereas Nabokov has already left us plenty of completed novels and stories to ponder and enjoy. Also, Kafka was shy and insecure while Nabokov was anything but. Furthermore, in defending his initiative, Max Brod stated that when Kafka said he wanted the works destroyed Brod said he wouldn't do it and that thus Kafka should/would have named another executor if he was serious about making sure they never saw the light of day.

To add to the dilemma, Dmitri made statements to the effect that Laura in someway represents "the most concentrated distillation of Nabokov's creativity" and that it "would have been a brilliant, original, and potentially totally radical book, in the literary sense very different from the rest of his oeuvre." Hmm. On the other hand, Dmitri wanted to spare Laura from being ravished at the hands of "Lolitologists." I felt that this was a reference to the fact that, although Nabokov is recognized as a 20th-century master by writers and literati, there are still many philistines out there who associate him only with his most famous novel (which they may or may not have actually read). Likewise, many of them associate Lolita with pornography and assume that the author must have been an old perv. Rosenbaum points out that some readers, subjecting Lolita to a psychological analysis (Argh! The Freudians -- Nabokov's old enemies!), have gone so far as to suggest that Nabokov himself must have been sexually abused as a child.

Great Nabokov's Ghost!

So how did Dmitri finally reach his decision? It seems that his imperious father came to him in a vision. The author seemed amused with the tricky situation he'd left behind for his son and heir, and in the end he was like "Ah, fuck it, you might as well make some money out of this mess." Thus, last month (April 2008), Dmitri officially announced that he would go ahead and publish Laura rather than assume the role of "literary arsonist."

The Elusive Laura

So what's this book about? Apparently it has nothing to do with either Petrarca's poems to his muse or with Otto Preminger's classic film. What we do know is that two passages "provided and copyrighted" by the late author's estate, and allegedly taken from Laura, were reproduced in The Nabokovian in 1999 as part of a "Nabokov Prose-Alike Centennial Contest" where the goal was for fans to identify the genuine unpublished Nabokov among the imitators.

In the first passage a man is caressing a "fragile, docile" (childlike?) woman of whom he says "only by identifying her with an unwritten, half-written, re-written difficult book could one hope to render at last what ...." That's the end of the excerpt. In the second passage, a man named Mr. Hubert is playing chess with his lover, a young woman named Flora. This all suggests that in Laura, Nabokov was on some level revisiting or reimagining the content of Lolita (where the narrator's name was Humbert). This would also explain why Dmitri was hesitant to deliver it into the hands of the Lolitologists.

One other possible clue lies in an essay written by a Professor Lara Delage-Toriel from the University of Strasbourg entitled "Brushing through 'veiled values and translucent undertones': Nabokov's Pictorial Approach to Women." The Professor claims she was given permission to read the manuscript by Dmitri and in her essay she gives a rough synopsis of the story: the main female character is named Flora and she's married to the narrator/protagonist. Flora also appears to be the inspiration for the heroine of a novel called "My Laura" which was sent to the narrator by a painter who had once been her lover and who had painted a striking oil painting of her. In the novel within a novel Laura somehow ceases to exist while the narrator sets about capturing her in yet another novel. To add yet another layer of reality to the mix, in the "5th chapter," she says that we are introduced to FLaura who is an amalgam of the "real" woman Flora and the fictitious Laura.

For all we know Professor Lara might be some sort of elaborate hoax (she wouldn't be the first!), but if her account is to be believed it sounds pretty interesting right? But then wait, remember how the Laura manuscript is only around 30 pages? So how much could it really delve into the deep themes suggested above? And that brings us back to the likely reason that Nabokov ordered it to be destroyed in the first place: it had the potential to be an awesome novel, but he wasn't allowed enough time on Earth to complete it.

Regardless, I'm anxious to read Laura. But then I guess there are still a bunch of fully-formed novels by Nabokov that I have yet to read (including Pale Fire! I know, I know). If you're looking for a good place to begin I would maybe recommend Bend Sinister which is the first work of his I read (and one of my favorites). I was inspired to read it in college when my friend Britta was so shocked by the ending that she could hardly speak. Oh, and check out Dmitri's blog if you're interested -- his last entry seems to be a rant against Hillary Clinton.

TODAY'S BEER OF CHOICE: Abita Strawberry Harvest Lager

Image is c1975 photograph of V. Nabokov in the hills of Switzerland (Horst Tappe/Hulton Archives/Getty images) taken from

Amanita Games

Earlier in the week I happened upon this awesome game called Samorost. It's a point-and-click flash game that you can play in your web browser. The objective is to help this little guy stop another planetoid from colliding into his planetoid (don't worry, it's not as stressful as it sounds: there's no time limit or anything). The beautiful artwork and music really elevate Samorost into more than just a 20-minute diversion. The game's landscape is very organic with lots of gnarled trees and some weathered old machinery, and it has actually been exhibited in museums as a work of "game art".

Some people translate the word samorost as "mandrake;" in an interview about the game, designer Jakub Dvorsky explains that in Czech it means a root or piece of wood that looks like an animal and that it's also used to refer to people who don't care about the rest of the world.

The company that's responsible for Samorost is called Amanita Design, an independent game developing firm from the Czech Republic. I also read an article from last month (March 2008) in which Dvorsky from Amanita Design discusses the project they're currently working on: a longer and more complex point-and-click game called Machinarium in which the protagonist is a robot living in a mechanical city.

Anyway, I figured I'd pass the find along. Check out Samorost and the sequel Samorost 2 (the first one is free and it looks like you need to pay $6.99 to purchase the full version of the longer Samorost 2).

Image is a screenshot from Samorost (Amanita Design).

Meeg at the Movies: I Know Who Killed Me

So let me start out by saying that EVERYONE should see I Know Who Killed Me. You might have heard how this 2007 thriller starring Lindsay Lohan bombed at the box office. As Nicole put it, the movie is both better and worse than you imagine. It's "better" because it's actually very watchable and entertaining, and it's "worse" because it makes no sense.

IKWKM is a slasher movie. I won't give too much away, but Lindsay plays a goody two shoes high school girl (with her trademark husky voice). After one of her schoolmates disappears and her dismembered body is found, the FBI comes to town -- somehow divining, I guess, that this will turn into a serial killer case even though this is the first girl to turn up dead. Sure enough, Lindsay is the next to disappear. A few weeks later she's found on the side of the road, still alive but minus an arm and a leg. Yet, when she's questioned about what the hell happened to her, she swears that she's not the missing high schooler but rather a stripper from the wrong side of the tracks with a hackneyed backstory. Everyone figures she's just gone cray cray given that her injuries are identical to those of dead girl and -- you know -- she looks just like the missing girl right down to her highlights. But she insistently sticks to her "consistent" story. So then what happened to her arm and her leg? It's a mystery....

When we start to get answers they are absolutely ridiculous. I clearly remember being like "Oh no!" when the explaining began because I could see the direction they were going in. I've read some online comments on the movie where viewers were like "come on, the whole second half of the movie is only happening in her head" which I can understand seeing how nonsensical the plot is, but there's really nothing explicit in the movie to suggest this is the case.

This movie also has some of the most awesomely bad dialogue ever, lines such as "Do I look like I'm in a fucking coma?", "Sometimes people get cut" and my personal favorite "Hospitals are for rich people." (The Democrats should really reference this movie when talking about health care reform.) And Lindsay does get to say the title sentence (which is really reminiscent of classic Italian slasher movies such as "Who Saw Her Die?" (Chi l'ha vista morire?) when you think about it) at some point.

Julia Ormond plays Lindsay's mom in the "What's she doing in this movie?" role, and the Crab Man makes an appearance as the prosthetics technician who fits Lilo with her sci-fi robo-arm in a scene which brings nothing to mind so much as when Luke Skywalker gets a new arm in the Empire Strikes Back.

So what else can I say to make you watch this movie? Is there some awkward non-topless pole dancing? Yes. Is there a sex scene with amputee Lindsay? Oh yes; I like to think that this movie must have been like a Christmas present for amputee fetishists.

It's also a lot of fun to identify and discuss all of the movie's many inconsistencies. For example, high school Lohan is supposed to be all innocent and virginal but then there's this one scene (she is fully dressed -- wearing a sweater -- and yet somehow it is amazingly obscene) where she flirts it up pretty hardcore with this dirty lawncare guy. What's up with that?

The director was apparently oblivious to the fact that he was making a movie destined to sit on the same shelf as Showgirls, and he tries to get all arty with the cinematography. He mostly does this by hitting the audience over the head with some color-coded blue and red imagery (blue is the color of innocence and red is the color of slut, also blood). Oh and there's an owl for some reason.

So in summation, I Know Who Killed Me has some appeal as a thriller, albeit a bizarre and nonsensical one, but laughing at it adds a whole new level of enjoyment

Screenshots from IKWKM (Tracy Bennett/Tristar pictures) with Lindsay Lohan and Eddie Steeples taken from agonybooth

Prince Caspian

Ok, so I've seen the poster for the new Chronicles of Narnia movie a couple of times on buses and whatnot, and I feel like someone has to say this... How gay does Prince Caspian look?! Seriously!

Poster for The Chronicle of Narina: Prince Caspian (Walt Disney Pictures) taken from filmbuffonline