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Month: April, 2011

Bullet in the Brain

It is rare t0 find a good adaptation of a good written work, which is why I was surprised when I was shown the filmic adaptation of the short story “Bullet in the Brain” by Tobias Wolff, who happens to be one of my favorite writers. David Von Ancken, the director of the 2001 adaptation, does an amazing job of preserving Wolff’s content and sound.

The short story, by Tobias Wolff:

Bullet in the Brain

Anders couldn’t get to the bank until just before it closed, so of course the line was endless and he got stuck behind two women whose loud, stupid conversation put him in a murderous temper. He was never in the best of tempers anyway, Anders – a book critic known for the weary, elegant savagery with which he dispatched almost everything he reviewed.

With the line still doubled around the rope, one of the tellers stuck a “POSITION CLOSED” sign in her window and walked to the back of the bank, where she leaned against a desk and began to pass the time with a man shuffling papers. The women in front of Anders broke off their conversation and watched the teller with hatred. “Oh, that’s nice,” one of them said. She turned to Anders and add, confident of his accord, “One of those little human touches that keep us coming back for more.”

Anders had conceived his own towering hatred of the teller, but he immediately turned it on the presumptuous crybaby in front of him. “Damned unfair,” he said. “Tragic, really. If they’re not chopping off the wrong leg, or bombing your ancestral village, they’re closing their positions.”

She stood her ground. “I didn’t say it was tragic,” she said. “I just think it’s a pretty lousy way to treat your customers.”

“Unforgivable,” Anders said. “Heaven will take note.”

She sucked in her cheeks but stared pas him and said nothing. Anders saw that the other woman, her friend, was looking in the same direction. And then the tellers stopped what they were doing, and the customers slowly turned, and silence came over the bank. Two men wearing black ski masks and blue business suits were standing to the side of the door. One of them had a pistol pressed against the guard’s neck. The guard’s eyes were closed, and his lips were moving. The other man had a sawed-off shotgun. “Keep your big mouth shut!” the man with the pistol said, though no one had spoken a word. “One of you tellers hits the alarm, you’re all dead meat. Got it?”

The tellers nodded.

“Oh, bravo, “Anders said. “Dead meat.” He turned to the woman in front of him. “Great script, eh? The stern, brass-knuckled poetry of the dangerous classes.”

She looked at him with drowning eyes.

The man with the shotgun pushed the guard to his knees. He handed up the shotgun to his partner and yanked the guard’s wrists up behind his back and locked them together with a pair of handcuffs. He toppled him onto the floor with a kick between the shoulder blades. Then he took his shotgun back and went over to the security gate at the end of the counter. He was short and heavy and moved with peculiar slowness, even torpor. “Buzz him in,” his partner said. The man with the shotgun opened the gate and sauntered along the line of tellers, handing each of them a Hefty bag. When he came to the empty position he looked over at the man with the pistol, who said, “Whose slot is that?”

Anders watched the teller. She put her hand to her throat and turned to the man she’d been talking to. He nodded. “Mine,” she said.

Tobias Wolff 1 / 4Bullet in the Brain

“Then get your ugly ass in gear and fill that bag.”

“There you go,” Anders said to the woman in front of him. “Justice is done.”

“Hey! Bright boy! Did I tell you talk?”

“No,” Anders said.

“Then shut your trap.”

“Did you hear that?” Anders said. “’Bright boy.’ Right out of ‘The Killers’.”

“Please be quiet,” the woman said.

“Hey, you deaf or what?” The man with the pistol walked over to Anders. He poked the weapon into Anders’ gut. “You think I’m playing games?”

“No,” Anders said, but the barrel tickled like a stiff finger and he had to fight back the titters. He did this by making himself stare into the man’s eyes, which were clearly visible behind the holes in the mask: pale blue, and rawly red-rimmed. The man’s left eyelid kept twitching. He breathed out a piercing, ammoniac smell that shocked Anders more than anything that had happened, and he was beginning to develop a sense of unease when the man prodded him again with the pistol.

“You like me, bright boy?” he said. “You want to suck my dick?” “No,” Anders said. “Then stop looking at me.” Anders fixed his gaze on the man’s shiny wing-top shoes.

“Not down there. Up there.” He stuck the pistol under Anders’ chin and pushed it upward until Anders was looking at the ceiling.

Anders had never paid much attention to that part of the bank, a pompous old building with marble floors and counters and pillars, and gilt scrollwork over the tellers’ cages. The domed ceiling had been decorated with mythological figures whose fleshy, toga-draped ugliness Anders had taken in at a glance many years earlier and afterward declined to notice. Now he had no choice but to scrutinize the painter’s work. It was even worse than he remembered, and all of it executed with the utmost gravity. The artist had a few tricks up his sleeve and used them again and again – a certain rosy blush on the underside of the clouds, a coy backward glance on the faces of the cupids and fauns. The ceiling was crowded with various dramas, but the one that caught Anders’ eye was Zeus and Europa – portrayed, in this rendition, as a bull ogling a cow from behind a haystack. To make the cow sexy, the painter had canted her hips suggestively and given her long, droopy eyelashes through which she gazed back at the bull with sultry welcome. The bull wore a smirk and his eyebrows were arched. If there’d been a bubble coming out of his mouth, it would have said, “Hubba hubba.”

“What’s so funny, bright boy?” “Nothing.”

Tobias Wolff 2 / 4

Bullet in the Brain

“You think I’m comical? You think I’m some kind of clown?” “No.” “You think you can fuck with me?” “No.”

“Fuck with me again, you’re history. Capiche?”

Anders burst our laughing. He covered his mouth with both hands and said, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” then snorted helplessly through his fingers and said, “Capiche – oh, God, capiche,” and at that the man with the pistol raised the pistol and shot Anders right in the head.

The bullet smashed Anders’ skull and ploughed through his brain and exited behind his right ear, scattering shards of bone into the cerebral cortex, the corpus callosum, back toward the basal ganglia, and down into the thalamus. But before all this occurred, the first appearance of the bullet in the cerebrum set off a crackling chain of ion transports and neuro-transmissions. Because of their peculiar origin these traced a peculiar patter, flukishly calling to life a summer afternoon some forty years past, and long since lost to memory. After striking the cranium the bullet was moving at 900 feet per second, a pathetically sluggish, glacial pace compared to the synaptic lighting that flashed around it. Once in the brain, that is, the bullet came under the mediation of brain time, which gave Anders plenty of leisure to contemplate the scene that, in a phrase he would have abhorred, “passed before his eyes.”

It is worth noting what Ambers did not remember, given what he did remember. He did not remember his first lover, Sherry, or what he had most madly loved about her, before it came to irritate him – her unembarrassed carnality, and especially the cordial way she had with his unit, which she called Mr. Mole, as in, “Uh-oh, looks like Mr. Mole wants to play,” and “Let’s hide Mr. Mole!” Anders did not remember his wife, whom he had also loved before she exhausted him with her predictability, or his daughter, now a sullen professor of economics at Dartmouth. He did not remember standing just outside his daughter’s door as she lectured her bear about his naughtiness and described the truly appalling punishments Paws would receive unless he changed his ways. He did not remember a single line of the hundreds of poems he had committed to memory in his youth so that he could give himself the shivers at will – not “Silent, upon a peak in Darien,” or “My God, I heard this day,” or “All my pretty ones? Did you say all? O hell-kite! All?” None of these did he remember; not one. Anders did not remember his dying mother saying of his father, “I should have stabbed him in his sleep.”

He did not remember Professor Josephs telling his class how Athenian prisoners in Sicily had been released if they could recite Aeschylus, and then reciting Aeschylus himself, right there, in the Greek. Anders did not remember how his eyes had burned at those sounds. He did not remember the surprise of seeing a college classmate’s name on the jacket of a novel not long after they graduated, or the respect he had felt after reading the book. He did not remember the pleasure of giving respect.

Nor did Anders remember seeing a woman leap to her death from the building opposite his own just days after his daughter was born. He did not remember shouting, “Lord have mercy!” He did not remember deliberately crashing his father’s car in to a tree, of having his ribs kicked in by three policemen at an anti-war rally, or waking himself up with laughter. He did not remember when he began to regard the heap of books on his desk with boredom and dread, or when he grew angry at

Tobias Wolff 3 / 4

Bullet in the Brain

writers for writing them. He did not remember when everything began to remind him of something else.

This is what he remembered. Heat. A baseball field. Yellow grass, the whirr of insects, himself leaning against a tree as the boys of the neighborhood gather for a pickup game. He looks on as the others argue the relative genius of Mantle and Mays. They have been worrying this subject all summer, and it has become tedious to Anders: an oppression, like the heat.

Then the last two boys arrive, Coyle and a cousin of his from Mississippi. Anders has never met Coyle’s cousin before and will never see him again. He says hi with the rest but takes no further notice of him until they’ve chosen sides and some asks the cousin what position he wants to play. “Shortstop,” the boy says. “Short’s the best position they is.” Anders turns and looks at him. He wants to hear Coyle’s cousin repeat what he’s just said, but he knows better than to ask. The others will think he’s being a jerk, ragging the kid for his grammar. But that isn’t it, not at all – it’s that Anders is strangely roused, elated, by those final two words, their pure unexpectedness and their music. He takes the field in a trance, repeating them to himself.

The bullet is already in the brain; it won’t be outrun forever, or charmed to a halt. In the end it will do its work and leave the troubled skull behind, dragging its comet’s tail of memory and hope and talent and love into the marble hall of commerce. That can’t be helped. But for now Anders can still make time. Time for the shadows to lengthen on the grass, time for the tethered dog to bark at the flying ball, time for the boy in right field to smack his sweat-blackened mitt and softly chant, They is, they is, they is.

The short film (in two parts), by Davis Von Ancken.




A Person to be Remembered:

I found out today that a girl I went to highschool with, Alice Hoffman, died of leukemia on Tuesday. She was only 18. Though I didn’t know her particularly well, the news shook me, because she was one of those characters that one meets and never forgets. The girl had such gusto– she had been battling leukemia since the age of 12, and whenever anything– leukemia, bullies, etc.– knocked her down, she not only never surrendered, but would also get “right back on” , an expression my mother might use when referring to falling off of a horse. She was wonderful–kind, funny, a breath of fresh air, really. But also sassy! I remember once (Alice was in a wheel-chair because of her illness), when someone said something that insulted her (I can’t remember who this person was or what they had said), she took her little wheel-chair joy-stick and sped off in the other direction, presumably, I thought, in upset retreat. But, in typical Alice fashion, she wasn’t speeding off in the other direction to run away–she was  speeding off in the other direction so that her wheel-chair, when she whipped it back around, would gain enough momentum to charge at this guy and do damage, which she effectively did after she ran over his foot. She was not someone to be messed with.

Alice’s Leukemia made her too weak sometimes to continue attending the school we both went to, which was a boarding highschool in Massachusetts–pretty far away from her house and family in Houston. Even I, a pretty average, healthy person, had a hard time dealing with the complications and issues that living thousands of miles away from your house and family at a young age entails. Alice never once gave up on returning, though, despite her health and her family, who I’m sure were hard to part with during the academic boarding year. Alice always came back, seamless in spirit, though evidently physically worn from her unfortunate circumstances.

Alice had a cheerful demeanor, which I always looked forward to when seeing her. She was given the same work load and expectations as every other student at the school, yet never submitted to the complaining and self-pittying that most of us (myself included) did. She was genuinely a person I looked up to and continue to look up to, for all of these reasons. If ever I feel that life has shafted me, which it will inevitably do, I will think of Alice and her relentless gusto for life and the beautiful smile she wore when delivering me a “Hey Lucy!” on a chilly winter morning, walking or wheeling to an 8 AM class.

Alice, I’m glad I knew you. You were a brave and beautiful person. Though you  yourself cannot, thank you for inspiring myself and others to live with a mentality influenced by your own. You may no longer be present in this place, but you will be remembered.


Tarsem is a boss.

‘The Fall’ (2006) by Tarsem has one of the most incredible and stunning opening scenes I’ve ever seen (scene seen scene seen). The whole film is a visual masterpiece (hard not to be with a $30 million budget), but the opening credits are my absolute favorite.

The funny thing is that Tarsem also directed the 2005 Gladiator-inspired Pepsi commercial featuring Pink, Beyonce and Brittney singing “We Will Rock You”, which is a commercial I’ve always remembered and loved. Guy obviously has some talent.


A list of things that really suck. (because I just got a ticket)

I just got pulled over on my own street. I’m clearly really annoyed. Do cops in downtown LA really not have bigger, badder fish to fry? Did I really just get a ticket for turning left in front of a car that was clearly far enough away from me for a collision to actually happen? GAHH!!! Worst of all, the cop seemed like he was going to let me off, and then he didn’t. I hate that. If they are going to ticket you, they might as well just play bad guy and not pretend like you have any hope of coming out of the shitty situation unscathed. Jerks… I mean, it’s actually amazing that I still have my drivers license to be completely honest, but I was seriously about 500 feet from my apartment building. dgsigreukgakeha (!) (!) (!)

So, to compliment my pissy mood, i’m going to make a list of things I really don’t like. I know this makes me a negative person and blah blah blah, but sometimes it happens.

1. (obviously) Cops that don’t have better things to do. Someone somewhere is getting shot.

2. Those eager ass students that ask the professor/TA if he/she is going to be collecting the assignment right as class is getting out… really not helping anyone out there.

3. White bath matts: because they get dirty NO MATTER WHAT.

4. Facebook videos. I used to be the most guilty person of this ever in highschool, but highschool is over, and people don’t care how much you love to look at yourself making weird faces and bobbing your head to music- it’s not funny, it’s just embarrassing.

5. The quote “Live, laugh, love”… super original. (If we’re friends and you have that somewhere on you wall at home or on facebook, I still like you, and I’m sorry that this makes me kind of a douche bag.) But really, let’s branch out on this one.

6. People who ask you what you got on the midterm you just got back, only to tell you that they got an ‘A’. It’s cool that you are taking this opportunity to brag. It’s also really discreet of you. Way to go champ.

7. Camera whores (even though I am admittedly guilty of this. It still really annoys me though.) (Attention to my mom: the term ‘camera whore’ does not imply nudity or sexual connotations. It just means that you’re always conveniently present whenever there is a camera out.)

8. Too much rice in burritos. I don’t know why I just really don’t like it.

9. Taking hipstamatic really seriously as a form of photography. It’s cheating. You can use it, but it doesn’t really count.

10. Sorority fines. Not dues, fines.

11. Getting your car impounded. Paying money to get back something you already owned is a great feeling.

12.  Small dogs. Sometimes they can be gems, but they are mostly just an irritating combination of hyperactive and stupid.

13. Andy Warhol poster pop-art. Again with the originality thing.

14.  People that wear sunglasses indoors. You don’t look cooler you just look like a moron.

15. Not knowing how to spell, unless your name is Annalee Leggett.

I can’t actually think of anything else. Sorry if this was rude.


FNW, why so cool?

I’ll admit that I’m one of those people who loves the French New Wave and pretty much everything (that I know of) that came out of it. I kind of hate admitting that only because identifying with the movement labels you as someone who romanticizes nostalgia and is trying too hard to be sophisticated but is about 50-years-too-late, but: A) I am 50-years-too-late, and B) I’m okay with admitting that there a lot of things that I don’t know about, and C), the French New Wave kicks ass so whatever.

The 400 Blows is probably the most famous film of the FNW (and also my favorite). If you haven’t seen it, see it, because it’s amazing.

Here’s the famous last scene:

Breathless is also a fantastic FNW movie. A lot of it has to do with the chemistry between Jean Seberg and Jean-Paul Belmondo, (IMO), and their insane attractiveness. This scene is pretty adorable…

Have fun mon ami,


Sometimes art isn’t pretty.

Yesterday, my friend Phil introduced me to the LA rap group “Odd Future” by way of their youtube music video “Yonkers” by Tyler the Creator. I posted the link to my facebook wall, and gathered a quick response that showed either appreciation or disgust for the video, and not really anything in between. One of the responses was from my mother, who thought it was disgusting (for obvious reasons that I don’t fault her for), and could not understand why her daughter would like such a video. Naturally, my mother’s opinion influences me tremendously even when I try to resist it, and so I inevitably got to thinking about why is was that I liked this video, and why it was that she didn’t. Maybe it’s a generational gap thing, or maybe it’s the hopefulness of youth (do I actually like this, or do I just want to like it because it’s “misunderstood”?)– I don’t exactly know, but what I realized was that art is not always–nor does it have to be–pretty.

My immediate and current reaction to the video both is and was intrigue. Granted, I am in film school, so anything that is of avant-garde fashion, plays with focal length and depth of field, is black&white and has high contrast lighting makes me excited and perhaps biased, so the aesthetics of the video immediately had me on the rapper’s good side. But I also particularly loved the theatrical nature this 20-year-old kid Tyler adds to his rapping performance. It’s fresh and there’s something poetic and emotionally provoking and identifiable about it. In yesterday’s LA times the rap group (which consists of six kids from LA, ranging from ages 16 to 23) was featured in an article in the entertainment section for their sudden powerful presence on the internet musicscape (like Die Antwoord, their videos went viral and now they are playing at Coachella). I think the article articulates perfectly the allure that I saw in Tyler:

Tyler doesn’t profess authenticity (“no one’s authentic”), but his lyrics have both a wounded honesty and deranged imagination (including sex fantasies with Miley Cyrus, Taylor Swift and Goldilocks). His talent lies in his ability to fuse a strain of post-adolescent angst found in Holden Caulfield, Kurt Cobain and Ian Curtis, and lyrics rife with esoteric references and double-meaning: In one of the only rhyming couplets suitable for a family newspaper, he raps on “Yonkers,” “They say success is the best revenge/So I beat DeShay up with the stack of magazines I’m in/Oh, not again, another critic writin’ report/I’m stabbin’ any bloggin’ … hipster with a Pitchfork.”

My mother’s reaction, which was that the video and his lyrics were a big attention-seeking show of nothingness, is valid. I get what she’s talking about. She’s a woman who likes things that have positive or productive messages and/or soul searching provocations, and that’s good. That’s probably, in the long run, what is ultimately useful and worthwhile, and maybe I am playing the role of a hopeful and naiive “misunderstood” member of youth by appreciating this video. But there’s something likable about the video for me, and I don’t think that it’s flawed or contrived thinking on my part. I don’t think that art has to be pretty or have a purpose to be good– I guess that’s a very Dada mentality, which is ironic as I don’t usually particularly like Dada art. But I also think the current fascination with Tyler and the Odd Future and what I, too, found attractive about his style is the concept of what Tyler and the Odd Future represent, and that probably is a hopeful youth thing. They are entirely non-commercialized, and they certainly do not fit the rap star mold (puking and cockroaches and suicide are very un-50-cent). They are self-proclaimed outcasts that dislike conformity and have made their weird, outcast qualities a thing to be celebrated and owned–and this, to youth, is attractive (well, at least to some of us). It will be interesting to see if I still appreciate this kind of thing when I’m old.

I’m not going to Coachella this year, so I won’t be able to witness the unique style of these kids, but for any of you who are going and are going to watch them perform, let me know what your thoughts are/what they’re like live.

Also: Daily post challenge #2 of 30. Success. I’m proud.


Carpe-diem that $h!t

Exerting energy used to be so easy and now it isn’t. I tried to do the monkey bars the other day (fail) and couldn’t understand how in the name of god I was ever able to skip bars and go backwards. It was really hard and I realized right then and there that I had finally hit the physical point of no return–> i am not a child. Fuck.

That’s cool though, I mean… I like driving a car and no I don’t pay my own taxes yet and yeah I buy groceries and make weird and exotic dinners because I can/because I don’t have to worry about things like paying taxes (yet). Life is not bad. So then why do I insist on being a lazy fuck? I used to be able to run around and jump and scream for the damned pleasure of feeling those sensations. Now, the gym seems like a mean joke. Those people that get up every morning at 6 and go to the gym for an hour and then make breakfast and take showers and go to class or work looking and smelling like they just walked out of a magazine really bother me, because it confronts some deep anxiety that I have about my own laziness. Is that ultimately what this schedule-less, sleeping-in, class-missing, internet time-wasting thing is all about? Laziness? If so, how does one combat it?

When I try and become proactive about lifestyle changes, the productivity is there for about a week, and then I get bored and stop. Perhaps I just don’t like giving myself the opportunity to fail, and ultimately, I cut out success along with it. If I don’t go to class, it’s not really my fault for not succeeding– I’m sure i’m smart enough to do well, but if I “DGAF” (Don’t Give A Fuck) it, i’m somehow removed from the responsibility of ever having to succeed or fail.

Failure is scary. But not facing a challenge is, in a way, also failure. Carpe-deim that shit. Goethe said that boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.

A friend told me that the best way to break the habit of laziness is to force yourself to do something–anything, for 22 minutes at the same time every single day. I wish I could resolve to do that right now but I’m honestly scared of the challenge.

But: fuck it and attack (sorry for the profanities, if my mother or any of her friends are reading this, please excuse.)  If I can stick it out and do something (blog? Exercise (ha)) for a month every day, then basically anyone can do anything. This is coming from a person who is too lazy to floss her teeth every other day and thinks it’s a big deal when she does (sorry if that’s gross…)

SO: Daily blog post #1 of  30.

Posting this scares me.


Because I secretly really want (but won’t get) a tumblr…

I won’t get a tumblr (or at least I haven’t caved in yet) because I think it’s harder work (and therefore better for me) to stick to a format that requires a certain level of organized thought and effort that tumblr lacks. Although, there is something really wonderful and alluring about tumblrs. They are like inspiration boards/insights into a person’s psyche. But, knowing my inclination towards that type of loose and non-linear thinking, I’m going to resist tumblr for now and keep requiring myself to think and blog in a formatted, linear way.

Except for in this blog post. I have a habit of saving random photos and things that I like (from other blogs, from stumbleupon, from creeping facebook) in a file on my desktop literally called “Random things I like’, but can’t really blog about them because there’s not much to say other than “I really like this photo/drawing/thing”. So here we are.

Enjoy these puppies.

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