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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.




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.


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,


“City Paradise” (2005).

This is a short (nominated in 2005 for a BAFTA) that I’ve loved since I saw it nearly six-years-ago. Gaëlle Denis, a french-born twenty-something-year-old living in London tells a story of a foreigner feeling out of place in a new land–something we’ve all felt to some degree at one time or another.

What I love about this short (aside from its audio and visual excellence) is that it truly captures the essence of what it feels like to feel alien in another culture. From the way that Tomoko’s (the young Japanese woman) legs are shaped in contrast to the rest of the Londoners’, to the depressing old, stained wallpaper and ugly carpet in her cramped room, to the emphasis of noise and extraneous sound of a big city– every second and every aspect of the six minute film is completely deliberate and yet seemingly effortless. Visually, it’s incredible. The combination of animation stitched onto film is a technique Denis has honed, and I don’t entirely understand it– she mixes 2D/3D animation and digital ink and paint. The score is fantastic as well, using samples to create a continuous white noise  of austere city isolation and mixing in Joanna Newsom’s ‘Peach, Plum, Pear’ at the story’s end for uplifting and fitting closure.

The other awesome thing about it is that, because it’s so short, you can watch it over and over and over again and it won’t get old.


If you like cats and if you like Banksy, you will like this.

‘exit through the pet shop’

essai d’ouverture

essai d’ouverture (1988) by Luc Moullet


Singing in the Rain

I think I might have been seven or eight when I first saw the movie Singing in the Rain (1952). I think it was at that point that I really remember recognizing what it was to have talent.

Everything about the movie–from the singing and dancing to the dialogue, impresses me and not once have I grown bored or tired of watching it (rough count is maybe around 11-15 at this point). While I’m not usually a huge musical genre fan, I appreciate the level of work and raw talent that had to go into such an early cinematic performance. Chicago (2002) and even shows like Glee are of comparable talent, but they lack a certain star power and energy that Singing in the Rain emanates. It’s hard to put a finger on it, exactly. Perhaps it’s just the grace and theatrical style of old Hollywood cinema (even though Singing in the Rain falls shortly after) that makes Gene Kelly so suave and charmingly cute as he splashes in puddles, or Donald O’Connor that brilliantly clownish as he dances into walls and over couches as he sings ‘Make ’em Laugh”. While the tides have shifted towards a new kind of talent that favors realism and method acting over tap dancing and grinning, I still feel that there’s something mystical and alive about the older form of talent, which is why I always find myself going back to Singing in the Rain at the end of the day even though I’d like to be edgy and cool enough to say that my favorite movie was Pulp Fiction or American Psycho or something (although I do really like both of those movies, too). Also, editing technology now lets actors have far more leeway and free-passes than they used to, meaning that all of the singing and dance numbers shot in Singing in the Rain had to be perfectly executed. That’s not to say that actors today always have it easier, but they do lack a certain type of hard, tactile work and logged hours that Debbie Reynolds had to log in order to learn how to dance to be cast in the role. Yes, Debbie Reynolds in fact did not know how to dance before being cast as the part-time showgirl Kathy Selden.

Take a look at an excerpt where Reynolds performs “Dream of You”: 

The three stars also have more chemistry on screen than I’ve probably ever since witnessed, which makes people like me watching feel like I’m somehow part of this on-screen friendship. (And it makes sense that they have so much chemistry as that’s probably something that naturally happens when you’re forced into spending hours and hours practicing dance routines and dialogue together.)

Here’s a scene between Donald O’Connor and Gene Kelly that explodes with chemistry and can literally get anyone out of a moody rut (but then again, I’d just go ahead and watch the entire movie instead… there are too many good scenes): 

And of course everyone probably knows or is familiar with the puddle scene, but the grace and charm that comes out of Gene Kelly literally just causes me to feel pure joy:

And then there’s this 21st century remake of Gene Kelly’s puddle scene which is also pretty rad…

I have to say, though, that I think my favorite scene from the movie is Donald O’Connors ‘Make ’em Laugh’. 

So good!

And, being a Glee fan myself, I actually really liked the Glee tribute to Singing in the Rain with the contemporary mash-up spin featuring Umbrella. 


Street Art!

It being my first blog entry, I feel a need to cover some ground in defining what this blog is all about and why I’m writing it. For starters, I like to share things that I like (art, music, cinema, whatever) and I like feeling like a pseudo art collector in doing so, since i can’t actually own any of these things, which is too bad. But at least I can pretend to. Note: I’m having difficulty figuring out how to do the image layout. So, ignore it for now.

I simultaneously deleted my facebook while making this blog (revision: I reactivated it 6 hours later), as I felt like a was spending too much time doing too little. So this, I hope, is a good alternative. I also have a terrible time following through with things, so this blog might fail, but at least by starting it I can give consistency a try. Let’s cross our fingers.

In terms of life in general, I’m a sophomore at USC studying film. I love movies, art, and really anything provocative or smart (rhyme not intended). I both love and don’t love the school. Love: The film school, the accessibility of a big city, the abundance of culture, the endless sea of people to look at and meet, lots of restaurants (Joan’s on 3rd is amazing, as is this little nameless vietnamese food place in Silver Lake). Don’t love: The hugeness and stereotyped accuracies (University of Spoiled Children?) of the school, the concrete jungle feel, the pollution (terrible for my asthma), the rudeness!, everyone who pretends to be  a celebrity of holier-than-thou status, and maybe just college in general. The great thing about being in college, though, is that one is forced to realize that he/she (I) is (am) actually going to have to be a functioning, hopefully productive part of society. More than that, even, is that one has to digest the anxiety associated with the reality that he/she (I) will have to fight to accomplish and feel proud of his/her (my) life’s output, and not to fall into mediocrity. Geez!

When things like that begin twirling around in my head I usually use Netflix as my anxiety ‘force quit’. Recently when this happened (or maybe I was just bored), I came across the street-art documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010), and discovered how little I knew about street-art and how much I liked it. So below I’ve posted some pieces and commentary I learned from the movie and from some side browsing of my own. Enjoy!


<<<Exit Through the Gift Shop  (2010)… watch it!

^^^These are by Banksy, who not only is of the world’s most prolific and stylish (and elusive) street artists, but is also the director of the doc ‘Exit Through the Gift Shop’ (which, by the way, is an excellent film and I have to admire Thierry Guetta aka Mr. Brainwash for his persistence and diligence albeit his psychotic and really annoying personality). The middle image that I posted of the little boy through the crack in the wall is located on the Palestine-Israeli border, which is pure genius and total balls. Completely haunting, and makes me wonder how all human beings were once just little kids building sand castles (and why they can’t still be).

<<<A neo-warhol print by MBW, Mr. Brainwash, which made it onto the cover of LA Weekly. Funny thing is that he doesn’t actually do much (if any) of the art himself–he “envisions” it and then has others do the labor. Faker? Artist? Where’s the line to be drawn?

<<<An image most people probably recognize created by street-art icon Shepard Fairey. The image is an act of street-art/Skating propaganda that took place as a type of experiment replicating the type of repetitive nature of WWII propaganda. The icon is known as “Andre the Giant has a Posse”, which is based off the wrestler/actor Andre the Giant. See image below.

Speaking of Propaganda, Fairy also continued his experiment of propaganda into a more serious and and charged realm: the 2008 presidential elections. Making a poster for Obama’s campaign, Fairy created the stencil art poster of Obama’s head with “Hope” written below, which effectively pleased and appealed to the Urban-Outfitter toting yuppie generation, which is exactly what Fairy wanted. Street artist / leader of social change… maybe as good as it gets, IMO. Irony:  (he’s also a felon)

<<<The poster, and Shepard Fairey himself.

Basically, street art is really cool and I kind of want to go buy some stencils and spray paint.