9.28.2004

The Once and Future Films of Genre

Michael A. Burstein is looking for the names of future movies you've made up for use in a story. He started the discussion here--however, I would debate his final choice although it is to some degree a personal matter (a matter which helps characterize).

The F&SF had several authors naming movies they think classics or could be classics, which also has commentary on why. I can't believe I missed listing A Clockwork Orange in my list of genre classics though I'm not so sure about the rest of her list (maybe Close Encounters of the Third Kind). I immediately dismissed Friesner's choice of Asimov robot novels, but on second thought, realized that as a series of sequels the robot-detective novels might develop a following as did PKD novels.

Jonathan Carroll:

Winter's Tale (Mark Helprin)
Dreams of Leaving (Rupert Thompson)
Mister Touch (Malcolm Bosse)
The Watcher (Charles Maclean)
The Easter House (David Rhodes)
Sinai Tapestry (Edward Whittemore)
Von Bek (Michael Moorcock)
Let's Put the Future Behind Us (Jack Womack)
The Child Garden (Geoff Ryman)

Kathi Maio:

The Day the Earth Stood Still
Invasion of the Body Snatchers
A Clockwork Orange
Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Alien
Adventures of Bukaroo Banzai
Edward Scissorhands
Truly Madly Deeply

James Morrow:

A Warm Reception in L.A.
Bad Luck Blackie
Minnie the Moocher
Bolero
Before the Law
My Neighbor Totoro
The Fabulous World of Jules Verne
Pinocchio

Esther M. Friesner

Dune (requests a remake before it was remade)
She
The Silver Metal Lover
A Boy and His Dog
Dragon Singer
Wyrd Sisters
A Canticle fo rLeibowitz
The Caves of Steel
Flowers for Algernon
Foundation
Time Enough for Love
one of Spider Robinson's Callahan's series

Ursula K. Le Guin:

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (emphatically not Blade Runner)
maybe The Man in the High Castle
The Left Hand of Darkness
The Moon and the Sun (McIntyre)
The Faded Sun (Cherryh)
The First Men on the Moon (Wells)

John Kessel:

The Star My Destination
The Man in the High Castle
The Left Hand of Darkness
The Book of the New Sun
Red Mars
A Canticle for Leibowitz
All You Zombies (Heinlein)
Sarah Canary (Fowler)
Think Like a Dinosaur
Gun, with Occasional Music
Corrupting Dr. Nice

Howard Waldrop (well, you should probably read the issue since he made all of these up; they're all meant as jokes, but I do think That Bright Pink Light holds promise--recreating the life of PKD):

What's It All About?
Nobody Kicks Earth!
That Bright Pink Light
Go Ask Tip
Of Time and the Miskatonic (aka. Play Miskatonic for Me)

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9.27.2004

Introductions: Gilliam Introduces Fellini's 8 1/2

I love introductions. I hate introductions. I love introductions because I get introduced to someone new or introduced to a new facet of that someone whom I may have already been introduced to.

I hate introductions because I rarely feel like I'm getting introduced. I want to get a feel for the face behind the face, the man behind the name.

I recently read Ray Bradbury's introduction to his Illustrated Man collection: profound and inspirational, yes, but perhaps it's been too long since he met his collection on intimate terms for introductions to extend beyond the courteous--although asking for more than profound and inspirational is too much to ask.

Ben Marcus takes a personal side route in his introduction of the Anchor anthology. Personal anecdotes can provide deeper insight into the work at hand if it also shows how the introducer responded to the work. In fact, an introduction almost must be personal--or else why should we care if we don't know what made the introducer care? Yet, while there are some passages worth cutting out and pasting to your monitor, the anecdote is anecdotal.

A better introduction might have been carved out of the Marcus interview material in Bomb, mixing the more informative parts, discarding the less informative, which may be more of a fault of the interviewer than the interviewee. In a magazine about the arts, we want to know about the art--and only the personal as it relates to and impinges upon the arts. Perhaps Marcus or his interviewer feels differently.

More telling about introductions is that I had picked up the anthology in the bookstore, browsed, and moved on. It didn't seem to offer much new--that is, until I read the interview in Bomb. It may be I've been spoiled by introductions by Dozois and Hartwell and Norton anthologies. If I'm going to plunk money down for a reprint of various artists, I want to why you chose those artists and those particular works.

Terry Gilliam does the perfect introduction to Fellini's film, 8 1/2. We get a feel for what Fellini may have been up to overall as well as in particular scenes, for how Fellini may have approached it, and for how it fits into the artist's oevre, taking account of certain criticisms of the artist. (However, Fellini's bullwhip against women comes within a dream--an irony that Fellini cannot even control women in his fantasies.)

What I love most about the introduction is something all artists and critics should keep in mind--a theme similar to what Fellini was trying to convey within the film:
"8 1/2 is Fellini's movie that sticks most with me. It may not even be my favorite movie. There may be others that I like more. But it's the one that struck such a deep chord, that was so truthful and lingering that it's the one I will always refer back to. Even when Fellini falls on his face--and he's done it a few times with his films--there are always moments in them that will stand up against anything else out there, and they're the things... that I remember. They're little bits of shrapnel that go in at moments of sheer clarity and brilliance and magic. He's left more bits of shrapnel in my brain than most people have."

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9.24.2004

Vera Nazarian on types of online Criticism (or ranting)

Vera Nazarian has has some interesting commentary over at Anna Tambour's on the ethics of criticism and on how different moods can change what a reader or viewer wants. I tried to codify why we want what we want earlier and hope to codify more thoroughly and specifically tonight or tomorrow.

Sometimes all we do want is guilty pleasure--it's true. But I will contend with this statement briefly since it indicates a degree of relativity that I do not subscribe to:

I have not seen the latest popular hate object of the erudite online critics, "Van Helsing," but I bet I’d enjoy it. So what?
Stories have to do what they are aiming to do well. That means a consistency of artistic purpose (even if that artistic purpose is lowbrow entertainment). My brother and I enjoyed a horribly acted, cardboard-characterized, straight-to-DVD movie called Epoch simply because it had some fascinating sense of wonder pulled by an interesting plot. My bro rented the second in the series and told me not to bother. It didn't have anything worth watching. I trust his judgement. Why should I? Bro watches mostly for entertainment and emotional involvement. He does not have the vocabulary to critique a movie and, like the rest of my family, couldn't give two farts about what the critics think, yet he still sensed a bad movie. How did he know it was bad? Because he's watched and read enough stories to sense a good one from a bad. Criteria do exist for critiquing every sort of story there is. There's a reason why, which as I mentioned above, I'll go into later.

Van Helsing is enjoyable in a brainless sort of way, but it fails in character consistency. Lucius Shepard captures much of my sentiment except with more vigor than I might have stated it. Compare this to the Frankenstein Legacy collection, which apparently inspired Van Helsing's director Stephen Sommers and which I, too, was much taken by as a whole. The wonderful humor of, say, Bela Lugosi's character, Igor, springs out of Igor--not injected into his mouth by the narrator. If you don't mind the spell of transport being subconsciously broken by auctorial interjections, by all means go forth and enjoy Van Helsing. Since I plan to review this in full for SF Site, I'll save much of my argument for that time. But to encapsulate the pivotal problem with fully enjoying Van Helsing even guiltily is that the characters are inconsistent.

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9.23.2004

Clarion West Successes: Margo, Sanders & Woodworth

I learned from Jonathan Strahan's blog that award-winning Clarion West classmate, Margo Lanagan, will soon have her new collection published, Black Juice, her first published in the U.S. Moreover, the lead story is already slated to appear in the Datlow's Year's Best Fantasy and Horror. Huzzah! Thorough background info on Lanagan can be found in the SF Site review and interview I did last year for her collection White Time.

Another award-winning Clarion West classmate, Stephen Woodworth, just had his first novel published, Though Violet Eyes. I only read and critiqued the first half, but it's a swashbuckler that only fails to utilize western genre (horror, mystery, fantasy, and science fiction are all represented), but it does take place in part in the West and who knows? Maybe John Wayne struts into the second half.

Finally, classmate and academic Joe Sutliff Sanders' story "Beholden" which appeared in Say... Why Aren't We Crying? has found a strange resonance with real life.

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9.22.2004

Free and Freedom

Tobias Buckell points out a Wired article that is amazed that something freely available on the internet can still generate money. Simple: If you want a paper copy and don't want to print it out yourself, you pay for someone else to do it for you more efficiently and aesthetically. The Baen model has already been proven successful, and Cory Doctorow followed suit (1, 2, 3 times), so why are people still amazed? More power to them. (My sincere apologies to the publishing ethics of Harlan Ellison.)

Anne Rice defends her novel on Amazon.com. I defend her defense: Writers should be able to respond in kind to reviewers--especially to those who are cruel and/or logically impaired. However, I did have a problem with this part of her argument:

"[T]he sheer outrageous stupidity of many things you've said here that actually touches my proletarian and Democratic soul.... You are interrogating this text from the wrong perspective. Indeed, you aren't even reading it.... I'm justifiably proud of being read by intellectual giants and waitresses in trailer parks, in fact, I love it, but who in the world are you?"
We should probably avoid critiquing the writer but focus on the writing, instead (whether the writer be Anne Rice or reviewer). Still, even with the logical faux pas, the controversy piques my curiosity, as I'm sure it will for others. So responding may increase sales, in addition to blood pressures.

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Other News Items

Geoff Ryman's Air just arrived from Amazon.com. It was expected last year, if memory serves, but delayed from publication. It is an expansion of his F&SF story, "Have Not Have," which was subsequently reprinted in Dozois' Year's Best SF.

Matt Peckham weighed in on Sky Captain with "wonderful schmaltzy fun, nothing less, nothing more."

Gabe has apparently finished a novel but has closed s1ngularity.net as a market. More info here and new blog here.

Brutarian Quarterly closed as a professional paying market. Too bad. It looked like the old Pulphouse. This was announced on the RumorMill.org, but it is no longer user friendly to navigate.

Army tops ESPN.com's Bottom 10: "After dropping last week's Pillow Fight with Houston, the two-time defending Bottom 10 champs have lost 17 straight." But you may have to be a college football fan to appreciate.

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9.21.2004

The Movement of the Arts: Temporary Disability Offers Insight into Capability of Story

Emerging from the fog of life, one gains insight on navigating the fog of literature. Since the fog is a labyrinth where committing a word--any word--to the page seems the ultimate in hubris, the act of the ego actually admitting its owner's humanity, I sought immediate escape from the maze of self into literature (sometimes books, sometimes movies, but usually various dramatizations on BBC 4 or 7--by the way, Douglas Adams' Dr. Who program now "animated" is back online as are new episodes continuing The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series which just began today).

1. Transport

This is the most primary tool of literature: the wheel, the body with opposable thumbs. No doubt to the surprise of both camps, I place both language and plot here. Language allows reader immediate access into the transport while plot involves us with being transported. Language is the mood it casts us into through word choice for sound and feelings conveyed through the charge of connotation. Without language, it's hard to muck through to find the plot. Without plot, it's hard to stay interested in language. Both can also be embroiled in the creation of art but are more reliably the mechanisms which get us there.

The majority of readers only want to be transported, to be entertained, so most movies and novels dwell happily in this territory. Here they can bask in the limelight for a year, maybe, and fade from memory. Matthew Cheney says we're entertained by different things. Maybe so to a degree. But then, I doubt that it was mistake to describe plot in terms interchangable with sexual intercourse since the body in conjugal movement is a literary discourse of interest to most humans.

2. Believability or Rightness of Transport

This is the heart, the fire in the belly, the fuel that burns and drives the wheels, the circulation system that delivers energy to the body. Can we believe the reality of these characters and setting and plot? How well rendered are they? This includes conjuring the right image as well as the telling gesture or object or observation or the sense of wonder.

Some might place imagery in the above category, but language as meant above refers to style while language used here is focused on the evocative because these may exist in opposition, competing for priority as the text demands. The language of image requires specificity, whereas the language of style may require that a less exact but more mood-conjuring term. I'll get to specifics soon, analyzing the results of Jay Lake's character description contest.

For more discerning fans of art, this is the most crucial tool: This is what they mean when they talk about art. It's hard to dispute. Myself, I hate to put emphasis on any one tool, lest another fall into disuse; but when I decide whether or not to invest valuable beer money in art, the heart of the work has to be probed. I'm willing to buy art that mostly plays with the mind (Borges), but I also want to feel. It is a mistake to think that this is all a work needs: Without transport, the believability stagnates; without thought, it is forgotten.

3. Transport to Thought

If plot is transport away from ourselves, the primary or cohesive art brings us back to ourselves, transformed--if only transformed back into the people and beliefs we were, albeit enlightened about that existence. Art is the mind, the thought, the nervous system, the thing(s) we dwell on after the last page is turned. By dwelling in thought after the last page, the story lives on as neurons align to form pathways to secure such thought, and invariably is passed on to others so that the thought can be discussed--for or against.

Critics sometimes look only for this factor, passing up both the transport and the heart of a work, praising dull, dead, and thoroughly dessicated prose without recognizing the need for the other tools of art. If the reader can't be transported away from himself, how can he come back? If the reader can't care about the character and his world, why should he dwell there?

Specifically,

No work of art walks on all three legs, equally. Even my favorite, John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men cannot be seen as a paragon of style--although it is presumably a crossbreed of the play and the novel. Shakespeare's Hamlet, too, as close to perfect as a work of art may have flaws invisible over the distance of time.

Most weigh more in sone category or another. I, Robot has little style, much plot, much thought, and some rightness. 21 Grams has much style, much plot, some thought, and much rightness. Sky Captain has much style, much plot, little thought, and some rightness. Federico Fellini's 8 1/2 has much style, some plot, much thought, much rightness.

Breaking apart stories in this way makes it easier to see whether one can measure one work of art against another. If two novels weigh heavily on plot or thought or rightness, they can be equitably be compared.

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9.20.2004

A Month of Sunday Links

Ireland is Atlantis [the library of Alexandria, however, is not in Ireland]

NY Times on alternate history and Philip Roth on Philip Roth's alternate history [Guardian profile of Roth, excerpt from new novel]

Waldrop and Person on Sky Captain

Resource for poets [Jeffrey Bahr]

Making Light has an interesting post, dispelling famous myths of publishing.

China Mieville and Stephen Leigh on world-building.

Sherwood Smith almost always has posts of interest: on wit, prologues, reader contract, and science (via quoting George Eliot. Needless to say, I'm not in full agreement on science--if it can enlighten our experience, why not use it? We rightfully fear a straight-jacket, but too many fear what can be known. Science can be a useful tool to illumine what we do know--a jumping-off point to destinations unknown but perhaps knowable).

British scientists pick favorite SF writers.

A post on narrative over character [?]. Dan Green offers a similar ideal but asks why not allow the authors freedom to write their own brands of fiction.

Margaret Atwood interview

Stephaney at Maud Newton on Tom Robbins' manifesto of literary happiness [excerpted from Harper's]

Maud deals NY Times' interviewer, Deborah Solomon, a slap for literary arrogance. The interviewer probes the poet laureate's reading deficiencies in European poetry--surely, we all have deficiencies--but Ted Kooser has a great response at the end. Sadly, the interview isn't worth much as she never peers into the work of the poet himself. Strangely apropos, NPR's humorist Brian McConnachie asks, "What if the poet laureate had to go through Senate confirmations?"

Legal answers regarding blogging defamation

Chicha [& friends] on MFAs

Ben Marcus' new anthology: McGrath review and complaint of McGrath review

Quercus has an interesting business model for an anthology series. I proposed one like it last year when I was brainstorming various methods for financing an anthology. I suspect one will need a large advertising capital to cover the bases, nonetheless, to get it off the ground; hence I abandoned it. But do check it out. You may want to subscribe and help support the short fiction industry--well, the British short SF industry, anyway: Steve Aylett, Mary Gentle, John Courtenay Grimwood, Geoff Ryman, Rob Holdstock, Daniel Kaysen, Tanith Lee, Liz Williams, Jay Caselberg, Adam Roberts, Mark Roberts.

* * *

Posted novels and stories online:

Jonathan Safran Foer's Borges-esque "The Sixth Borough" of Manhatten Island [fyi, excerpt from a Borges biography & book cover designs for books mentioned in Borges' stories but never existed in the real world]

M. John Harrison's "Tourism"

D.F. Lewis is providing many of his previously published stories online (if you haven't seen his small press anthologies, nemonymous, you're missing out. These are the most gorgeous publications I can remember seeing. Please buy them so that he can make more. Email editor directly: bfitzworth@yahoo.co.uk).

Elizabeth Bear's novel, All The Windwracked Stars

Winner of the BBC End of Story contest [to finish a work by Joanne Harris]

Jim Munroe's An Opening Act of Unspeakable Evil (a novel published by No Media Kings, now being published in blog entries)

Jason Erik Lundberg is following Jay Lake's model of writing vignettes around unusual words of the English language (no doubt due to matching initials in their appellations--har har).

* * *

Links on language:

Slang from British program, The Office.

Russian translator also needs help with British slang.

Online Etymology Dictionary (Yes! Thanks to St. Sinthe for this link that I've been yearning for--also, the link provider has an interesting look at the word "mauve")

Scottish idioms

* * *

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News from Geoff Ryman

Geoff Ryman, one of the genre's more multinational globetrotters, has visited Cambodia for an extended period and dipped into their artistic culture, the results of which will be aired via live feed by Resonance FM from 7:00 to 8:30 PM ( 2:00 PM EST,11:00 AM PST) and in London on 104.4 FM. It will be repeated the following Tuesday at 9:30 AM (1:30 AM PST).

Also, Ryman's novel, Was, has been converted into a play set to premiere in Dayton, Ohio on the 14th of October. Of the play, Ryman writes:
"[T]he daft tunes are very melodic[.] Dorothy goes crazy very gracefully and there is a great gay love song, Lucky Day. Nothing like the book, which is exactly how it should be."
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9.18.2004

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow

Good pulpy fun. Often, previews compact the only worthwhile moments of the film. Not so this time. The preview [other clips also available] made it look terribly flat with an unimaginative story and cheesiness maximized (especially that eye patch), but Angelina Jolie fit right into the scheme of things. Reverse the commentary by Ty Burr at Boston Globe and you'll have my sentiments. Burr appears to have missed the humorous caprice.

Most reviewers are quite rightly impressed by the CGI--the setting was well rendered, evoking this late 1930s ideal. Burr's complaints--"derivative" and "a hit parade of cliffhanger cliches"--indicate he failed to understand what the title or preview we're trying to tell him. This is a retro-film updating the old film serials popular in my father's generation. In fact, I was hoping for more of the little moments evoking the era's emblematic nuances apart from what it brought to life so well: the architecture of the robots and sundry scientific equipment, the apparel and hairstyles, even the little radio waves and the sound of robots' lasers piped directly from War of the Worlds. Charming--all of it.

However, the plot and characters weren't quite period enough for me. Not that I minded the sexual scenarios (tame and only vaguely sexual), but the plot events themselves--while never dull--didn't quite ring the familiar peal of that cinematic period.

Gwenyth Paltrow's character comes closest to being a leading heroine of the era--with that flavor of spunk that attains a coy sexiness without resorting to blatant sexuality and is rarely found in our present day. Angelina Jolie doesn't deliver anything memorably, yet it is rendered capably--perhaps closer to the leading male role than Jude Law although I cannot point why except maybe Law does not have a classic masculinity in his appeal. Still, the sexual tension between Law and Paltrow works.

On the other hand--please pardon the blasphemy, O, children of the serial generation--the plot and characters fare better than most serials. To avoid spoiling the plot of a film that largely hinges upon such revelations, here's the background scenario that begins the story with a bang: Scientists have gone missing, giant robots are attacking Metropolis, and the plucky reporter, Polly Perkins [Paltrow], has a mysterious rendevous at Radio City Hall with a man who has a secret to divulge.

Allison Benedikt of Metromix and Roger Ebert of Chicago Sun-Times both hold similar sentiments. Ebert, however, gives too much plot away for my taste.

The movie site appears to have a free game online to download.

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9.11.2004

Fog of War

Great DVD on one of our nation's biggest controversies. Go see. One complaint: one of the deleted scenes ought to have been in the final movie to help bolster one theme--wherein McNamara first learns about the need to know the path that brings us (or them) to where we (they) are--specifically, the war between Japan and China. McNamara, who had apparently been dubbed the über-villain of Vietnam at the time, gets documented support for his talking Kennedy and Johnson down from its intensity (though as you'll hear in the links below, many wonder why he didn't do more or speak out--probably a generational difference (see theme mentioned above)). There are some areas that he won't go into, presumably areas of speculation on what should have really been done. He seems reluctant to even speculate on what Kennedy might have done. Still the question is raised: By not talking about certain sensitive issues, is he avoiding opining on the impossible? or concealing a deeper yet unrevealed guilt? Damned if you do, damned if you don't, filmmaker Errol Morris helpfully supplies to his interviewee.

Morris had a series of interviews with various NPR programs: Day to Day, All Things Considered, and Fresh Air (in order of increasing depth also commentary by Judy Muller).

The film had some great quotes writers may want for stories:

"What one can criticize is that the human race prior to that time and today has not really grappled with what are, I'll call it, 'The Rules of War.'"

"How much evil must we do in order to do good?"

"What 'The Fog of War' means is war is so complex it's beyond the ability of the human mind to comprehend all the variables."
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9.10.2004

Contest

Jay Lake, newly crowned Campbell award winner (I think it was the swim suit competition) is having a contest for best one-line character description.

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9.09.2004

Hitler and Hell

Apologies for the silence. Discussing a new kind of SF elsewhere. Intelligent discussion with bright folk.

***

I finally watched Hellboy which stars Ron Perlman, who also acted in one of my favorite SF films, a French film called The City of Lost Children.

Hellboy strikes my soft spot: superhero films. They're my soap operas, my bon bons, my guilty pleasure. The DVD has some cool extras, too, including background behind characters and objects from the original Hellboy comics (or sequential art) as well as animated shorts, the first written by Dr. Seuss: Gerald McBoing Boing, the boy who cannot speak but only makes noises. The best of the series for me was when McBoing Boing is abducted to the Planet Moo, which of course assumes all earthlings speak with boings and aroogas.

My complaints about Hellboy would have been minor--not enough different monsters (come on, Hell, you can come up with more than a red monkey boy, large squid, and an overabundance of hell hounds); of all the monsters from hell only the good guy, the red monkey boy, is impervious to fire, etc.--except, as chance would have it, I watched another movie next to it: Blindspot: Hitler's Secretary. Hellboy does the usual demonizing of the Nazi party that we have all grown accustomed to, but the Nazi "reality" (perhaps "delusion" might be a better term) marred the literal demonizing of the Nazis.

There are two perspectives on demonizing: 1) demonizing allows us to say that there are times when moral ambiguity ought not to be allowed, 2) demonizing obscures the fact that we could all become "demons." I'm not sure which is best although I'd probably lean more toward the latter, more realistic perspective.

Traudl Junge was Hitler's Secretary for most of the war, up until Hitler's suicide. Junge is incredibly forthright about her feelings toward her employer, whom she saw at the time as a father figure. She expresses verbal misgivings about working for the man, but it is not until she comes upon the final days of the bunker that her sixty-year-old emotions break through: when the fate of children of loyal Nazis is sealed by the parents fearful of what the new order in Germany might bring. Hitler apparently had promulgated the fear that the Russian victors would castrate the men and rape the women.

Every moment is fascinating, but not terribly enthralling to watch the mostly expressionless face (a few pictures of the bunker and characters mentioned, especially Junge as a young lady, would have made a nice relief) until Junge approaches the final days of Nazism. The only variety the film gives is using a technique similar to the documentary on Jacques Derrida, filming Derrida watch and comment on himself in the documentary.

But only occassionally does this technique here provide insight as Junge thinks to mention new material she had not thought to say in the earlier interview. Her face is still expressionless, spiced only with a puff on a cigarette. The emotional peak occurs at the end as we learn that only years after the war when she saw a memorial for a girl her own age who was killed for standing up to Hitler, did she realize the youth was no excuse for naïvety and as we learn that, before the film was finished, Junge was only now learning to forgive herself.

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