Using Viktor Shklovsky

My hero.

[This post began as a response to some comments made by Douglas Storm on Amber’s most recent post.]

The name “Viktor Shklovsky” comes up a lot at this site (I’m guilty of mentioning it in perhaps half of my posts), and one might wonder why the man and his work matters. Below, I’ll try and lay out what Viktor Shklovsky has done for me, and what he might be able to do for you, too! Because Shklovsky might be the single most interesting and, above all else, useful critic I’ve ever encountered…

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A D & Jeremy Talk about Movies: X-Men: First Class

X-Men: First Class.

A D: Much like how you hated The Tree of Life, Jeremy, I hated Bryan Singer’s two X-Men films. Hated them!

Jeremy: What, seriously? They made you physically ill?

Yes, seriously, ill. I would have gnawed my own arm off to escape, if it hadn’t meant forfeiting my malt balls.
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An Interview with Me at Untoward

just went up—well, Part One did, in which Matt Rowan asks me questions about my first book (Amazing Adult Fantasy), G.I. Joe, geek culture, Ota Benga, Ayn Rand, George Orwell, and bad writing habits; we also discuss Curtis White, Theodor Adorno, Viktor Shklovsky, and ninjas, among other things.

[Update: Part Two, which focuses more on my first novel, Giant Slugs, is now up.]

A D & Jeremy Talk about Movies: Source Code, Moon, and Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives

[You click this link, you go back to the first installment, which found me and Jeremy unable to get service at an Applebee’s, following a screening of Duncan Jones’s Source Code. Increasingly hungry, increasingly desperate, we debated the nutritional value of our napkins and tablecloths, before Jeremy remembered that Applebee’s coats all such textiles in an indigestible plastic (to prevent sullen teenagers from rending or defiling them). Our gazes fell upon the Awesome Blossoms sizzling on our various neighbors’ tables.]

A D: Let’s keep talking about movies; it’ll distract us.

Jeremy: Capital! I liked Source Code better than Thor, I’d say (though not so much as Ang Lee or Bill Bixby’s Hulks). Because Source Code is a nice little movie. Though not as nice or little as Moon, Duncan Jones’s debut.

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“Is Your Villain Appropriate?”—Examining Character Construction in Different Media

"Phyrexian Ironfoot" (2006). Artwork by Stephan Martiniere. Copyright Wizards of the Coast.

Every Monday, I read Mark Rosewater’s weekly column “Making Magic,” partly because I have a casual interest in the collectible card game Magic: The Gathering (I once played it, and some of my friends still play it), but mainly because Rosewater routinely offers great insights into aesthetics and game design. (He’s also a strong writer who regularly experiments with his column’s form.)

In an article published a few weeks back, Rosewater outlines why he thinks one of Magic’s villains, the Phyrexians, are that game’s best. As is typical with Rosewater, it boils down to a design principle—in this case, how the game operates narratively:

As a story-telling venue, Magic is best when it is telling what I call environmental stories. That is, the best thing Magic can show off creatively is an environment. The genre of a trading card game requires that you show lots of creatures and places and objects. This does a good job of showing off a diverse environment.

The Weatherlight Saga [a series of much older sets] was an attempt for us to tell a plot driven story through card sets. What we learned from that is that it’s very hard when we can’t control the order that players see the cards to convey traditional plotting. […] What Magic is good at is telling stories about changes that happen on an environmental level. This way the changes aren’t seen on a single card but a wide swath of cards. When we tell a story in another medium, we will tell a story that plays to that medium’s strength. Card sets, though, have to tell stories that can be told through card sets.

One of the reasons that I believe the Phyrexians make a perfect villain is that they attack on an environmental level. Take Scars of Mirrodin [one of the game’s most recent sets] as an example. The attack of the Phyrexians isn’t something seen on a single card but on many, many cards […]. My contention is that Magic’s best villain is one that works in the kind of stories that Magic (the card sets) can tell.

In a basic sense, Rosewater is advocating that an author tell a story appropriate to his or her medium—age-old advice. But let’s look beyond that simple rule of thumb: What does it mean for a story to be appropriate? And what are the consequences for characters?

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My Favorite New Movies of 2010

I changed my mind! I loved it!

Hello and welcome to 2011. Time to make a list of what I liked and didn’t like in 2010. A word though first: I don’t consider the following definitive; I’m not trying to pronounce some final judgment on each of the following films. In ten year’s time, I might feel very differently about these movies; who knows? But I think it’s worthwhile to document one’s critical impressions, and I’d encourage you to check out the films I liked (if you value my opinion).

For comparison’s sake, here’s my 2009 list [and 2011 is here]. One correction I’d make now: I saw Jane Campion’s Bright Star a second time, and it’s become one of my favorite films of 2009 (alongside Beaches of Agnes and Face).

Like last year’s list, the following is divided into three parts: my absolute favorite new films, other films that I liked, and the ones that did little or nothing for me. Without further ado…

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Schrödinger’s Laura

I had a stray thought recently about Otto Preminger’s classic 1944 noir Laura (1944), based on Vera Caspary’s 1943 novel of the same name. The film’s first half revolves around the murder of the title character, although of course it’s more complicated than that. And I’d like to argue that it’s slightly more complicated than even that, owing to a quality that’s perhaps inherent in plot itself.

(This contains spoilers—although, as we shall see, they may not spoil much of anything…)

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