November 12th, 2007

transcendental arguments (pic by mightyw

Books vs. films

A peaceful Saturday filled with roleplaying; and a lazy Sunday filled with ... well, basically, laying in bed until sunset. Nice to have a down day once in a while.

I had intended to do a fair amount of fiction writing. Didn't get around to any of it. But I did respond to everyone who asked for an inner-animal guess in my previous thread, which is a good feeling; and I read through the novel The Prestige, on which last year's movie was based.

It was a good reminder of why movies will never be able to fully replace books.

Prestige: The Movie and Prestige: The Book diverge fairly radically from each other. I didn't understand why until I was more than halfway through. Because Prestige: The Book is in itself two separate stories. The actions of the two magicians are told twice, and exactly twice -- once from the point of view of each rival.

It's a book that you cannot read in a linear fashion. Once you reach the second half, you have to read it in parallel -- constantly flipping back and forth to contrast the two retellings of the same scene. You begin to notice that even the dialogue differs when the two characters interacted directly; and it's strongly hinted that, through editing or omission, not one but both of the characters are unreliable narrators, twisting the truth to paint themselves in a better light.

There is no objective or omniscient view of the characters' conflict. You only have their words against each other; and it's that tension that gives the book its impact.

I don't think you can do that in a movie.

There's something about a visual image that forces a certain omniscience. The camera is itself a character in the scene; it observes impartially, it records accurately. To do otherwise -- to have what's on screen be an inaccurate representation of the film's events -- would break cinematic expectation so badly that no major studio would touch such a film with an eleven-foot pole.

The counterexamples are probably few enough to be listed by name; and the only one that comes immediately to mind is Hero, in which certain scenes are later revealed in a plot-important way to be complete fabrications of their narrator. But to have a clearly demarcated wavy-lined flashback be overturned is one thing; to have the central events of the film later called into question is a recipe for audience confusion.*

(Edited to add: "Rashomon" and "The Usual Suspects" have also been cited in multiple comments. It's interesting to note that, so far, every one of these movies is about character(s) telling a story. That extra layer of abstraction is necessary to hew away the instinctive rules of cinema.)

The implicit rules are different in a novel. There is no camera to provide a single, omniscient vision of the plot; there is only a narrator (omniscient or internal) retelling it. There is more freedom to play meta-games.

There's an extra investment to taking stories from the written word, but there's also a richer payoff.

* This isn't to say the dramatic reveal can't be done well; cf. The Sixth Sense. But that's not seen events being redefined; that's context being added to chilling effect.
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distributed postmodern agitprop

Using mod_rewrite to take down a whole site

This is the product of half an hour of experimentation after research failed to provide a working answer. I hope it comes in useful for one of you someday. (n.b.: I also plan to bookmark it in my' web:repair category.)

Do you need to redirect everything on a web site to the same page? (This can happen if you need to notify all incoming web users of critical server problems and/or slashdotting that will force an extended outage; or if you want to make a Web site vanish. My current problem is the former.)

Put this code in the .htaccess file on the top level of your web directory. Change the two instances of "index.html" to the name of the page your message will be located at. Assuming mod_rewrite is installed and configured correctly, and the .htaccess file is readable by the web server, that should do the trick.

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Currently, you can see the results of this by going to any page at Tomorrowlands. I'd rather have the site back up, but at least this is better than nothing.

(E-mail should work again too, btw. But the gmail address is probably safer for the moment.)
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    George Winston, "Longing/Love"
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