Transcript: Dan Schneider Video Interview (Part 2) from 9/30/2014.

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PART 2

*Interview can be found here
*Part 1 can be found here
Dan Schneider Video Interview Series YouTube Channel
Dan Schneider’s website, Cosmoetica

Woody Allen does his banana thing. (c) CatholicVote.org

Woody Allen does his banana thing, as Dan Schneider & Alex Sheremet explain why. (c) CatholicVote.org

Dan Schneider: Now, the book ends with the last couple of decades of Woody’s cinematic output. You have it divided into a last two eras. What are the two eras? Give me a film, pro or con, that you think is the most representative, the best, the most interesting, what critics… whichever one jumps right out at you. So what are the last two Woody eras that you tackle?

Alex Sheremet: The last two eras are 1993 until 2004, so that’s the films between Bullets Over Broadway…No, Manhattan Murder Mystery and Melinda and Melinda. And then I go from Match Point in 2005, up until 2013’s Blue Jasmine. Looking at the first time period, that film that I want to talk about most is Celebrity. This is because this is a film that’s been pretty much ignored, it’s been neglected, and in many ways it’s been much more panned, even, than Stardust Memories, or Another Woman, or similar films. It has not necessarily had this kind of revitalization like some other films might have, and it’s… I wouldn’t call it a great film. It’s not up to par with his best work, but at the very least, I would argue that it is an excellent film. It’s an excellent film for the very reasons that people deride it for. For example, you have the character of Simon, through Kenneth Branagh, and he’s been derided as this really poor Woody Allen stand-in, that he’s merely doing the Woody Allen shtick in a way that Woody Allen wouldn’t be able to do.

But this is kind of the point. If you look at his appearance, he is clearly more handsome than Woody Allen, he looks more manly than Woody Allen, and he’s somebody that would much more easily fit into this kind of celebrity life than Woody Allen would. If you see, for example, the flirt scenes that he has with various women, if you see him going around with different models… these are not things that Woody Allen would be able to pull off, himself, because if he were to do it, it would look like mere comedy. And it would look like mere comedy because here’s this nebbish that has these glasses and just looks so awkward and just acts so awkward. There is no sense of genuine romance, there is no sense that this is a realistic move for this kind of human being to make. But with Woody Allen’s stand-in, as he’s being called, he does a very good job. He’s very realistic in that role, and these are all pluses. This is not the negative that it’s been made out to be. A close viewing of the film without allowing Woody Allen … Continue reading →

Review Of Steven Pinker’s “The Sense Of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide To Writing In The 21st Century”

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Steven Pinker Sense Of Style

Steven Pinker on the written aesthetic.

Now, to be sure, I have never had much use for style guides. Yes, there was all the studying for the writing portion of the SAT, years ago, which required lots of rule-learning and — even worse — the application of said rules to poorly-written ‘answers’ that were anything but right. Yes, I’d been assigned the oft-banal Strunk & White’s Elements Of Style in college courses, and have, out of curiosity, perused a number of similar guides not only across form and genre (prose, poetry, non-fiction, sci-fi, grammar) but multiple languages, as well, just to see how the rest of the world, well, merely hypothesizes the sorts of things that are in fact REAL to me. For instance, I still recall reading Orson Scott Card’s How To Write Science Fiction And Fantasy, and finding — even as a 10 year old with a desire to impart stories — the thing too restrictive for anyone but the worst writers, to whom issues of mechanics and advice re: ‘world-building’ might narrowly apply.

Thus, I was both intrigued and a little alarmed when I read the title of Steven Pinker’s new book. Now, don’t get me wrong. While admittedly a very good writer with MANY interesting ideas across the board, Steven Pinker is a thinking academic (as opposed an academic thinker!), first, and has not, in his occasional comments on the topic, shown any deeper understanding of the arts. Yes, he’s constructed some great arguments, and pointedly done away with scientific fraud within the clarion of a mere sentence or two, but that does not really lend itself to art criticism. This is because the wisdom (not ‘knowledge’) immanent to recognizing a great poem, or the odd assortment of skills and luck that goes into differentiating a good from bad metaphor is nigh-indefinable. In short, while true creativity might be easy to quantify, if one merely KNOWS how to evaluate the works, themselves, its source in most cases isn’t. This means that no intellect, personal background, type, or force of character guarantees success in this endeavor, and Pinker’s book, to its credit, does not pretend otherwise.

Before getting into the book’s negatives, however, one must first say what it does right. Although it is easily the worst of the 3 or 4 books of his that I’ve read, The Sense Of Style is also, unsurprisingly, the best style guide that I’ve ever read. This is because it simply drops a few key hints re: usage and style, combs over the important historical trends as a kind of guideline, and thus allows the reader — at least for the most part — to draw his own conclusions on aesthetic matters, keeping the long view in mind and minimizing the least defensible stylistic errors. Too often, style guides are bogged down by dull proscriptive rules that don’t give a damn for rhythm, music, ambiguity, and subtleties of meaning that, in the end, do FAR more … Continue reading →

Transcript: Dan Schneider Video Interview (Part 1), via Cosmoetica.

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PART 1

 

*Interview can be found here
The Dan Schneider Interview Series YouTube channel
Dan Schneider’s website, Cosmoetica

Woody Allen & Stardust Memories. (c) MGM

Woody Allen’s Stardust Memories. (c) MGM

Dan Schneider: This is Dan Schneider, and this is the first Dan Schneider Video Interview. My guest is Alex Sheremet, a writer, poet, and film critic. We will be discussing his latest book on the film career of Woody Allen. Before we get into that, I just want to give a little word on the nature of the Dan Schneider interviews. Those familiar with Cosmoetica know that I’d done several dozen interviews in a written format. One of the things that I’ve found out in this day and age is that a lot of people don’t have the time, and a lot of people simply are not good enough with words to do interviews. So I’m trying now to put Cosmoetica and the interview series online on YouTube and this is the first of those interviews.

Anyone who has ever saw the old television show Open End by David Susskind in the 1960s, this will sort of follow that format. Some interviews might be 40 or 45 minutes, others are an hour and a half, and others might run 2 or 3 hours depending on the subject matter and the interviewee. If you’ve ever watched the interviews at the Archive Of American Television, with television stars, we’ll follow that format. Basically, I’ll ask questions of the interviewee, who you will see on your screen before you. This is, again, Alex Sheremet, and this is being recorded on September 27th, a Saturday, 2014.

Alex is a poet, a writer, and a film critic. He has a new book coming out from a new press, and is about the filmic career of Woody Allen. Alex, what is the name of the book, and what is the name of the press?

Alex Sheremet: The book is Woody Allen: Reel To Real, and the press is Take2 Publishing.

DS: The book Woody Allen: Reel To Real…that suggests you may be doing more than just talking about the man’s filmic life. What is general thrust of the book, in just a few minutes?

AS: I think what you originally said was right. You first said the life and career of Woody Allen, and then you corrected yourself and said the filmic career of Woody Allen. And this is really what it is. I cover every single film that Woody Allen has ever appeared in, or otherwise written or directed. It covers every film in minute detail specifically addressing the art. So, if you want to talk about the thrust of the book, the thrust is really an evaluation. I go from film to film, evaluating each film as a work of art, because one thing I noticed when I would read a couple of dozen or so books on Woody Allen, there’s so much written about him online, there’s … Continue reading →

My first video interview is up! Art, cinema, poetry, criticism, politics, and more…

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I have recently participated in a 2 1/2 hour long video interview ranging on everything from cinema to poetry, as part of Cosmoetica’s new video interview series.

For those that have followed the work of great contemporary thinkers such as Charlie LeDuff, Desmond Morris, Steven Pinker, Brad Steiger, Mark Rowlands, Howard Bloom, and many others, Dan Schneider’s interviews have become the deepest conversations that such folks can presently engage in. After all, the questions they’re asked are interesting, diverse, and demand both stamina and openness. Just a cursory look through some of these interviews reveals people who are willing to talk about difficult things, and to go beyond the narrows of their own professions. LeDuff, for instance, may be a ‘mere’ journalist, but clearly sets himself apart from the functionaries who litter this field via the quality of his own insights and his refusal to fall into any one camp, while the late poet’s James A. Emanuel’s interview shows an artist who, despite old age and being best at one particular form, is able to push boundaries in prose, as well, given the nature of his answers, and the elan with which he expresses himself. Likewise, Lem Dobbs offers words that are nonpareil in their wisdom on the arts, the misfortune of the publishing process, the ‘why’ of bad cinema, and other issues that are merely sidestepped by less ballsy types. Then, there’s this interview with Terence Witt, an amateur physicist who has gotten, through Dan, the only fair and comprehensive platform for his views that I’m aware of, given the stereotyping and straw-men Witt is routinely subjected to in the science world. Now, say what you will of any these folks individually, but they are willing to speak, at length, and speak well.

But despite the massive popularity of these interviews, with many garnering tens of millions of hits, it is clear that most people would rather watch shit than read shit. Also, print interviews give too much room to fib, to not answer questions, and merely to do whatever the hell one wants behind a computer screen, rather than face issues head-on. Dan Schneider has had this happen much too much from folks that, to be clear, don’t really give a damn about engaging, and think of an interview as a mere marketing ploy as opposed to an opportunity to explore ideas. Hopefully, the video interview series won’t allow such things to occur, at least not as easily, and will also get people who might be better speakers than writers to express themselves here.

For those who still prefer text over video (as I often do), there will be a transcript of my interview up on this site sometime in the next week.

In the meantime, enjoy.… Continue reading →

Book Review: “Sonnets: 150 Contemporary Sonnets” by William Baer

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William Baer Sonnets

William Baer’s 150 Contemporary Sonnets

As a kid, I was, I admit, a little gullible. No, one could not play tricks on me, or generate obvious lies in the hope that I’d believe them, for such things — please excuse the pun — were mere child’s play, and always level with the world. Not so with poetry, I thought. Here were smart people, most of whom were a lot more experienced than I was, and were, therefore, in the position to guide me. I was willing. I was receptive. And I wanted to learn, for — despite the burgeoning ego of adolescence — I was quite serious, too, and needed help to connect memories, this or that minor experience, some fleeting, ill-remembered word into a system that mattered. I wanted, in short, to be a writer, here were people that were doing it, and every force, from awards, to reputation, personality, popularity, and, at times, the opaqueness of how such things were judged, in the first place, seemed to imply that they were doing it quite well.

That was on the one hand. On the other, I was also discerning enough to realize that the advent of free verse helped engender poetry that slipped, well, into total formlessness. This was not ‘freedom’ (as the phrase might imply), since to be free also implies to be in (and under) the control of something, to allow good expression to flow. The crowd did not heed this, and my automatic reaction was, well, reaction: that if free verse wasn’t doing it right, something else was, and that something must have been its diametric opposite, i.e., New Formalism. This is, of course, an example of extreme thinking, and showed my inability to make some nicer distinctions. But the New Formalists nonetheless struck me as the good guys who, fed up with laziness and schlock, wanted to bring poetry back to its source, and were, in fact, quite rebellious in their aesthetic conservatism — ironic given that art moves forward, not back, with the New Formalists merely substituting one bad side-step for another. And yet… ‘poetry at its source’. I liked the ring of it, and before I knew it, was lost in a fug of syllables and feet that had remarkably little to do with the source itself.

Of course, the issue here is that a poetic form is NOT poetry, but a method, and New Formalism a mere aesthetic preference that may or may not lead to good writing. Now, I shed my fixations as soon as I realized this, but not before acquiring a few documents in the midst of this (short) foray. One such document is William Baer’s 150 Contemporary Sonnets, an anthology that was put together from submissions to the now-defunct The Formalist journal (edited by Baer) as well as other publications. Yet despite having claimed to have published over 500 “talented sonneteers,” Baer’s anthology does not include a single truly great sonnet a … Continue reading →