Tonight we kick off Episode 8 of the weekly Guest Post series: Medium Cool with BGinCHI.
In case you missed the introduction to the series: Culture as a Hedge Against this Soul-Sucking Political Miasma We’re Living In
You can find the whole series here: Medium Cool with BGinCHI
Tonight’s Topic: What Draws You In?
Take it away, BG!
The main reason I started teaching film is that I was obsessed with the movie “Chinatown.” Not necessarily the plot, or the characters — their depravity, pain, blindness — though these are an essential part of its world. My relationship with the film was different than with others. I wanted to be in Chinatown’s world. Something happened when I re-watched that film. Perhaps it took me back to the most fundamental escapist reading of my childhood, in which I’d get lost in books for hours and hours.
In this week’s Medium Cool, let’s talk about this phenomenon. Sometimes it’s referred to as “world-building”. In creative writing classes, this idea can be a bit like “voice” or “tone.” That is, something necessary and vital to the texture of what makes a fiction inhabitable, but almost impossible to account for. I’m not talking so much about the world-building in, say, The Lord of the Rings, or “Star Wars,” which literally (literally?) build out new worlds with creatures and features we’ve never seen. I mean world-building as a fictional space a reader or viewer can, and wants to, inhabit.
There’s something that clicks for those of us for whom world-building is an essential feature of cultural material we are most intimate with. So, tell us what built world draws you in most deeply, and why. It could be a novel or a film, but also music (Bach’s solo cello pieces do this to me), or anything.
Bad for the glass. . .
For me growing up it was To Kill A Mockingbird. As bad as things were back then, I SO wanted to be in that world, with Gregory Peck as my dad, doing the right thing, having talks with me on the porch.
One of the critical differences between new and old Star Wars movies: the old ones had long leisurely shots that gave you the opportunity to look at and mentally inhabit the world they were portraying, while in the new ones, the camera jumps around constantly, denying you the chance to see anything.
A similar image using a mirror, with incredible depth, here, from The Conversation.
Note the model on the left (partial) which is of Union Square, where the film’s opening shot takes place.
All of Dashiell Hammett’s Continental Op short stories have that effect for me.
For me there is nothing like “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien. “The Lives of the Dead” is especially meaningful with the idea that one can keep people alive by telling their stories.
@WaterGirl: One of the great draws of the novel and film.
So much of YA that’s powerful has deep world-building.
@raven: Hard agree.
Especially the “On the Rainy River” chapter.
@WaterGirl: Ever see the Richard Pryor parody”
A prime example, for me, is Monet’s painting of water lilies. I have a vivid recollection of the first time I saw the painting in-real-life at the MOMA. I was looking at the painting— and then, suddenly, I was in it. An aesthetic experience, for real.
@berf: Excellent point, and one that’s really well-observed in terms of films made before 1980.
Some filmmakers still doing this really well, such as Terrence Malick.
@BGinCHI: “We we’re to embarrassed not to kill”. I had a few brews with him in the Globe one afternoon. Good dude.
@BGinCHI: It’s too bad “The Thin Red Line” got buried by “Private Ryan”. I’m a huge James Jones fan and the film was awesome but overshadowed.
Emma from FL
Twice bounced out, trying again. Bujold’s Vorkossigan novels. Rich history, fascinating cultures, real people with real strengths and failings. I want to live there too. In music, Beethoven’s piano sonatas. Each one evokes a different response.
@raven: Damn I miss the Globe.
ETA: Esp when Lawrence Shine was tending bar. I think I told you I knew him in Buffalo!
@BGinCHI: Did you know Lazlo?
@Emma from FL: I still haven’t read her. Need to remedy.
@raven: Hmm. Not that I remember, though that’s not a surety. I spent a lot of time in there.
I used to sing with a chorale that performed at times with a university orchestra. One year we did Orff’s Carmina Burana and it just blew me away every time we sang it. I got totally lost in the music and sometimes had to concentrate hard in order to keep from crying.
ETA: fiction – The Milagro Beanfield War
I sometimes long to live in Wes Anderson’s world: orderly and symmetrical, but full of quirkiness and surprises.
Very, very tough one. Can right off the bat come up with a smattering of fictional locales which I might care to visit, sample or spend a vacation, but uproot entirely and go live there? I got bupkis.
Maybe a second mug of morning java will help to winnow out a realm.
@BGinCHI: He was a bartender and english lit doc student, Hungarian I think.
@Josie: I love it.
That sensation of transport and bodilessness, yet with feelings.
The Thin Man or any of those 30’s movies with swanky Manhattan nightclubs.
@NotMax: One of my good buddies has a friend who lives down the hill from you. He just gave a rundown on the safety measures, and lack thereof, at the various big box stores there.
@PST: Oh my, me too.
Sometimes I just watch the opening 10 minutes of Moonrise Kingdom over & over.
Future project: make a film-length work of the first 10-15 minutes of all of Wes Anderson’s films, stitched together.
@NotMax: There is no requirement to live there. This isn’t Russia.
In addition to the usual science fiction and fantasy series, I find myself getting lost in various past times where my favorite mystery series are set — in ancient Rome (John Maddox Roberts, Lindsey Davis, & more), or ancient Egypt (Lynda Robinson or Paul Doherty), or Japan in the Heian or Edo periods (I.J. Parker, Laura Joh Rowland).
@raven: Lost in the fog/sands of time.
For me, the key to world building in a book or movie is getting the small details right. Atomic Blonde got Berlin in 1989 right. The look and the feel were spot on for the place and time. Doing that can make me over look plot implausibilities. OTOH, I was watching another movie recently (can’t remember it) that was set in the late 1960s and, in one scene that was shot in a parking lot, they had one car that that was not produced until the early ’70s. Boom, they lost me.
@delk: Yes! Or the Poirot stories, especially those in London between the wars.
The opening has to make a promise.
Meeting someone who must do something, or dreads it. An event is about to happen, and now we want to know what it is.
For me, the way this is done tells me if they know how to do it. In Touch of Evil, the camera moves like a panther, hitting that everything will be revealed, while the lighting tells us there’s a lot luring in those shadows.
Then the movie takes off.
A Ghost to Most
I was drawn to making things out of necessity. If I wanted something in my world as a kid, I had to make it.
I dreamed of becoming an architect, but college would only come if I found a way, which turned out to be GI Bill.
By then, I was already immersed in computers, and in an age when CS majors weren’t yet common, I was really good at it. In 1985, I was given a team and the first Motorola based commercial network switch. It was also the first switch with a C compiler.
My team laid down the framework of a network switch in C. Prior to this, all our work had been in assembly code.
We could now do in weeks what had taken us months before. That was the cowboy days of computers, before all the greedos. It was a blast.
@BGinCHI: The reason I remember him is that I had to do CLOZE tests on English as a second language folks and he aced it. I didn’t know at the time he was an English Lit docer!
@Ann Marie: This is the thing with me for both mysteries and historical fiction. I need to want to spend time in the world, with interesting characters. No amount of fancy prose, with too many details will be a substitute for this. I’m keenly aware of this issue as a writer of this stuff who struggles to keep the tent pole up and the space properly populated.
@Omnes Omnibus: That makes me crazy. There was is much bullshit in the Deer Hunter that I just couldn’t hack it. Above the fucking tree line in Pennsylvania!
@Omnes Omnibus: I have the same world-building kung fu, where one small weakness allows me to annihilate the story/narrative.
I want to believe, but I need things to be in their proper places. One of my biggest bitches is a historical setting where everything is perfectly clean and shiny. NOTE to writers: the past was fucking filthy.
@A Ghost to Most: The bill saved my ass when I broke my back. I was hurt too badly for unemployment but not bad enough for social security. I might never have gone back to school if I hadn’t gotten injured.
@A Ghost to Most: Have you seen the TV series “Halt and Catch Fire”?
@BGinCHI: The only problem with Call The Midwife. They try to make London look awful but it just doesn’t come off that way.
@raven: I don’t think I had a class with him, but I might just not remember.
@raven: The Things They Carried is breathtaking in its simplicity.
“Bad for glass” – also perfect in its simplicity
@Emma from FL:
What does that mean?
@BGinCHI: like Dark Matter? Set in Chicago and the main character rides the EL. Ugh.
@HinTN: “Where’s ya get the midget” ain’t bad either.
@BGinCHI: That was so good.
@BGinCHI: So is most of the present.
How’s this for world-building? A passage from Gravity’s Rainbow:
@delk: I don’t get it (not having seen the show).
It’s the future and the El is….clean?
Louise Penny’s Three Pine Mysteries. I love the characters and I love the village they live in.
@HinTN: Correct. In more ways than one.
The ur-instance of this for me, at 8 or 9 years old, was reading The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis. The opening of the book–the Pevensie children are evacuated out of London during WW2 to an old English country home, with a mysterious wardrobe–dramatizes world-building itself. The children go into the wardrobe, only to find it’s much bigger on the inside than on the outside–it contains the entire world of which Narnia is only a part. It took me decades to become conscious of it, but I felt it from the first–the wardrobe is a stand-in for the book, the portal to a magic land. As a child I desperately longed to find such a portal to Narnia, not appreciating yet that I had it, in Lewis’s novel.
@BGinCHI: it is the L not the EL.
ETA it’s a book.
Watching Tiger win The Masters last year is quite meaningful for me!
@Rand Careaga: Nice passage.
Pynchon can really build a world, though he can also really throw you out of one. There are parts of Mason & Dixon that are just transcendent, and then others that I’d happily never read again.
Same for me with Cormac McCarthy. I love his work, but sometimes an edit would really help. In Suttree, for ex.
@delk: “”‘L’ is correct use, dates back >120 yrs in Chgo; “el” is generic abbrev. for ‘elevated,’ ‘L’ applies to whole system. #settled,” @CTA responded in Twitter speak. That’s not to say the “El” isn’t used, despite the fact that only parts of the city’s rail system are elevated.”
In that case am torn between two wildly disparate bailiwicks, both off the wall selections.
Dogpatch or the gently skewed world of Jack Benny’s radio show.
Georgette Heyer’s Regency. I first entered that world when I was about 12 and I still visit on occasion 65 years later. It’s HER Regency, not the real one, as I well know. But it was a place I wanted to be real.
Edward Bulwer-Lytton really made me feel like the night was dark and stormy.
so much of it is capturing that sense of essence of place and time, I hate films that are supposed to take place in 1964 and feature a soundtrack of something released in 1967… sigh…
For someone who I thought did a pretty decent job of getting the details right, I look back as something like Tom Hanks’ first directorial effort of That Thing You Do!, set in the summer of 1964 and the music soundtrack on the radio that showed that American Pop was a wondrous thing with the beginning of the Motown sound, twangy instrumentals, girl groups and music as a mosaic against daily life…
As for writing, I have to give a shout out to Stephen King, he understands people and what motivates and causes decisions to happen, even bad ones and how the touchstones of our lives can be virtually anything and everything or how they can vary, be it a song, a book, a doll, a possession or even a memory. He is fiendishly evil in taking something that seems like a commonly shared experience and with a slight tilt, takes you down a rabbit hole to places you can understand or even accept and wonder how did we come to inhabit this hellhole… for some reason, it helped prepare me for this current administration and how it can cause good people to want to do wrong things.
I love first-person narratives in novels. Gets you right into someone’s head. Notable favorites: Mary Renault’s The Persian Boy and The King Must Die, and Susan Howatch’s family epics based on historical families, moved to other settings, i.e. The Rich Are Different based on Caesar, Cleopatra, Marc Antony and Octavian, and The Wheel of Fortune, based on Edward iii, Edward the Black Prince, etc
Also Agatha Christie’s world!
@BGinCHI: For me, it can also be really small details. In a movie about the military if a character were to tie their boots and then tuck the laces into the tops of the boots, that would go a long way. In this Billy Bragg song, the lyric “the smell of damp webbing in the morning breeze” takes me right to the field in the army. Different army, different place, but wet web gear smells a certain way everywhere.
When I was younger I gobbled up all the Travis McGee novels of John D. MacDonald. His description of the Florida beach bum culture and of Florida itself seemed so precise; I loved the idea that somewhere out there was a guy who was (in MacDonald’s words a “knight in tarnished armor” writing wrongs even if it was for a hefty piece of the pie.
I recently stumbled across a paperback of MacDonald’s “Cinnamon Skin” (the next-to-last novel MacDonald wrote featuring McGee) at the VA hospital I work at; I’ll occasionally borrow books from the library cart (which I return when finished!) and read it again. It was like meeting an old friend you haven’t seen for thirty years. While I’ve since returned the book and can no longer quote the passage, there was a bit in there where he described what our computerized future was going to look like, and I was amazed at how much he got right in a book published almost 30 years ago.
Years later I read all of Carl Hiaasen’s novels, and his descriptions of the corruption and machinations and environmental politics that went on in Florida were also spot on; in fact, Hiaasen has acknowledged MacDonald’s influence on his writing.
I always thought that if they ever resurrected the Travis McGee character, Hiaassen would be the perfect choice to do that. I keep hoping.
@Omnes Omnibus: What if he used blousing rubbers?
@MuckJagger: Oh yeah, all hail John D. MacDonald and Travis McGee. Have you ever read any of Lawrence Block’s Matt Scudder mysteries? Only rightful successor to McGee I’ve ever found. Block can write anything in thriller and mystery, including humorous. He has several series characters, something for everyone.
The most amazing thing about the Travis McGee books is that the last one, The Lonely Silver Rain, is as good as any of them, and ends the series beautifully. So many series get mediocre about the same time they hit mega-popularity, and lose what had made them great.
Emma from FL
@WaterGirl: I hit post, it didn’t happen. It might be my laptop, not the site. Replacement schedule has gotten moved up drastically.
Available on Netflix. Worth a view but does ping pong between drolly canny and wincingly weak.
@Omnes Omnibus: This is the absolute GOLD of writing historical fiction. Not a thousand of these details, but a few, well placed.
When I’m doing research that’s what I’m looking for. Most of what I learn about a period I try to internalize so I can just tell the story, leaving out almost all of the “authenticity” (so to speak). Otherwise the story drowns in context and can’t get free to speak directly to us.
Also, having grown up in a really rural place with people who made things and worked with their hands, I just know lots of little details in terms of craft. So much of my first novel is just stuff I knew, but didn’t know (or remember) I knew until the moment I needed it for the story.
@raven: Well, one shouldn’t. And the tucking in of laces was supposed avoid them catching on things and coming untied. I know that everyone didn’t do it in the field, but showing someone doing it would be a nice touch of verisimilitude.
James E Powell
In One Hundred Years of Solitude, Garcia Marquez creates a Macondo is so real that I can’t believe that I can’t go there.
Life on the board the ships in Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin series.
William Kennedy’s Albany novels.
Pretty much everything by Joseph Conrad.
You want world building? I’ll give you world building. Avatar: The Last Airbender. The series takes its time setting up a different but just familiar enough universe that we find a world that isn’t just a setting. It’s lived in. The people and animals and buildings and nature are so precisely thought out. I would jump to see that universe in a heartbeat,
Plus turtle ducks are cute. Don’t even at me about that.
@delk: You got beef with the El?
@Emma from FL:
Been there, done that. Let me know if you still have an issue once your equipment is happier.
@BGinCHI: I know the class elements of it will grind your gears, but Downton Abbey worked very hard to have the characters carry themselves, to walk and sit, etc., as people of their particular class would have in that period. OTOH, they used modern versions of the accents so that the characters would not be totally inaccessible.
Little things create big cracks.
While rife with other negatives, The Phantom Menace burst the bubble for me very early on in a scene where tea is brought in by a protocol droid who serves the student before serving the master.
@BGinCHI: well, if you haven’t experienced them, then I would humbly suggest George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman series. If you’re into historical fiction that is also “fun”, I would recommend it without reservation.
Oh, yeah, also in The Awful Truth and Swing Time. There’s always a dance floor and the tables around in a circle overlooking the floor. I want to be there drinking one of those tiny martinis they used to drink.
For worlds in books, Ruth Rendell always creates a great sense of various locations in London (where I’ve never been). Bulgakov’s Moscow in The Master and Margarita is amazingly evocative.
@James E Powell: Oh yes. Good list.
The strength of GGM’s writing is exactly this: the world-building. A great example is in the famous “A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings,” which, for me, is much less about magical realism and more about the world he conjures up.
@Yutsano: Heard this is fabulous have not seen it. Will try to get my kid to watch it, I think.
@Yutsano: If we’re going that route, Spirited Away.
Hitchcock’s San Francisco in Vertigo. The apartment complex in Rear Window. The apartment in Rope.
James E Powell
My friends and family consider me a complete a-hole for pointing out things like this. (Shut up! Get out of the room!) Everyone knows not to watch any lawyer movie with me, though when my horse-trainer friend saw The Horse Whisperer she said, okay, I finally understand you.
@BGinCHI: Don’t fall for it. It is Yutsy’s first step in trying make your kid a Brony.
@mrmoshpotato: nope, I have a beef with Portillo’s. They have shitty French fries.
@Omnes Omnibus: Loved the first season.
After that my gears were grinded.
I like the period grit of “McCabe & Mrs. Miller.” Dirty, hairy, blurry.
Yeah, especially the scene where they’re all listening to their song on their transistor radios with the little earphone attached to the radio with a cord!
@zhena gogolia: Yes! YES! and Yes.
@BGinCHI: If by chance you saw the atrocity of the movie first…I’m so sorry. If not and you’re coming into it fresh, I’m jealous. No spoilers, but if my talking about the world doesn’t convince you then wait until Avalune sees this. She’ll probably drive out from Pennsylvania just to make sure you guys watch it!
One thing that can draw me into a movie is a good portrayal of an intimate space. It can be a private one, like a dwelling or office –can’t beat the apartment in Rear Window— or a public gathering place of the kind we’re not getting out to these days –the Roadhouse or RR in Twin Peaks, the bar in The Apartment that Baxter goes to on Christmas Eve, or the various places the plague contacts are traced through in Panic in the Streets.
I think Edward Hopper is one artist whose work has influenced the way these places are designed and filmed, especially in Hollywood movies. Of course, the artist himself was a big fan of movies and the influence goes both ways. There’s a scene in Twin Peaks in which the RR looks like a Hopper-Van Gogh mashup, divided down the middle like the gospel and epistle sides of a cathedral church, complete with a larger-than-life Vincent figure.
@piratedan: I was HUGELY into these in my late teens and early 20s.
I loved those books. I should reread the first one and see how they’re aging for me.
Great comic-serious writing. So hard to pull off.
@Omnes Omnibus: LOL
@James E Powell: I try to keep quiet, but sometimes it is soooooo wrong and I can’t.
@James E Powell: the related part of this has a name:
Briefly stated, the Gell–Mann Amnesia effect is as follows. You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well, and it is utterly wrong and confused about that subject. You then read an article on subject you know little about, and … trust it completely.
@delk: Never been there.
@zhena gogolia: Yes, great examples. Hitch an excellent world-builder.
Part of the pleasure of N by NW is just spending time with Cary Grant doing whatever the hell he’s doing.
@delk: They also have shitty italian beef. Not a tenth as good as what I grew up with in Chicago.
I would have liked to visit L. M. Montgomery’s Avonlea for a little while.
I’ve mentioned this before, but I love the films shot in bombed-out Berlin after the war. A Foreign Affair, The Man Between, etc.
@Yutsano: So watch the TV series, yes? It’s anime?
Forgive the ignorance….
Is the student a guest?
Those sunglasses! That suit!
@prostratedragon: Reading your post made me think about the interiors in The Asphalt Jungle (James Whitmore’s diner, the rich dude’s large house and the bungalow in which he stashes Marilyn Monroe).
Chinatown drew me in as much or more than it did WaterGirl. Pretty much every scene.
@Mohagan: Never read any of the Matt Scudder books, although they’ve long been on my “maybe someday” list. I guess with what we’re going through right now “maybe someday” is *now*.
I’ve always been a fan of the private eye genre, whether it’s more traditional in nature (Robert B. Parker’s Spenser series) or even when the definition is more loosely defined (Andrew Vacchs’ Burke series).
I’ll look into the Scudder books. I’m currently composing a “do you have…” letter to the local indy bookstore here in Cleveburg; I’ll see if they know where I can find a copy of the first Scudder novel.
@BGinCHI: Have you seen Charade from ’63?
@raven: Even dwarves started small.
@WaterGirl: oh I know. Was just grabbing a shitty place that shows up on best of lists.
@prostratedragon: This is pretty much what motivated me to do this topic today. Those kind of spaces.
Films have so little time to do this, they have to get it perfectly right, and there are many subtle ways to pull this off.
Baxter’s apt in The Apartment. The train in Some Like it Hot. Bree’s apt in Klute. The homestead of Ethan’s brother in The Searchers.
These are the worlds I’m drawn to.
Anime? The wacky world of Lum (Urusei Yatsura). Any high school which sponsors a Future Torturers Club has got to be worth a look-see.
Both student and master are guests.
@zhena gogolia: The Third Man!!
I LOVE that world, and re-watch that film often.
@zhena gogolia: The train car with the fold-up berth!
@hueyplong: Noir interiors.
Now there’s a subject.
Mike Hammer’s apt in Kiss Me Deadly. The gas station in Out of the Past.
@mrmoshpotato: I could never get into it. I should re-try. Probably just me.
@BGinCHI: You are a zither fan too?
@BGinCHI: That and Murder on the Orient Express have put train travel in my mental cool list.
@mrmoshpotato: That music gets me in the mood for slick, dark alleys and underground tunnels every time.
@Omnes Omnibus: Best movie on a train. Best train songs.
Good future topics.
I love trains.
Everybody’s San Francisco! I also first noticed it in Vertigo, but checking out a whole subgenre of San Francisco mysteries convinced me that there’s just something about the place that makes it evocative in movies. The Conversation has that location among the many things going for it as well.
Never been myself, and with my respiratory limitations it would be hard now, but I sure would like to see it.
I think you caught me on a black ‘n’ white day: Noir movies (both LA and NYC); the books that inspired them (Chandler, Hammett, less so Cain); Jazz photos (e.g.,”What would it have been like to be a player in Ellington’s band?” Tho’ “A Great Day in Harlem” takes the ‘happy’ cake); On a much grimmer note, Larry Clark’s “Tulsa.
PS Thanks for the marvelous exercises in memory.
@BGinCHI: The bungalow in The Big Sleep, where so much happens.
@Omnes Omnibus: Murder on the Orient Express is perfection in film. And with such a large cast that Lumet had to handle.
@prostratedragon: The recent film The Last Black Man in San Francisco a worthy entry. Well worth a watch.
As is Bullitt.
@hueyplong: Yes, that diner did get me right away.
One of those films which just tries too hard. Any pitcher worth his salt doesn’t stick to throwing only curve balls for the entire game; same holds true for eptitude of screenwriters and directors. Plus if they cut 90% of the times the fershlugginer theme music plays in the background it would still be repeated too much.
@Haroldo: I have the same craving for old jazz clubs. Every time I see one in a B/W film I’m riveted.
Opening scene in the Coen Bros “Inside Llewyn Davis” captures this beautifully, though in a folk music club.
@hueyplong: Yes! I was just thinking of that place.
@hueyplong: In the novel, too. And General Sternwood’s greenhouse.
Yes, and the music, of course.
Oh, I adore it and could watch it every night.
Have you seen the Polish film Cold War? The use of music and locations in it is amazing.
30 yrs ago we had computers and a lot of the computing concepts of today were already established, although not in the current size or speed. If one studied much the concept of how far we’ve come it would be timing, not direction or concept.
@zhena gogolia: The Grant/Hepburn combo can get me to overlook a lot of flaws. So can the O’Toole/Hepburn combo in How to Steal a Million.
@zhena gogolia: YES.
Totally agree. That film is terrific.
Parasite does almost everything well, but its use of the two living spaces is just, well, masterful.
I’ve read about the first and it sounds good, thanks for reminding me to look it up. Bullit is on my SF list and my Vertigo trail. The two lists run together for quite a way, because there are certain recurrent themes in SF stories.
@BGinCHI: I love Pynchon’s shortest work, The Crying of Lot 49. I read it before I moved to California, but once I was here and somewhat involved in the local (and waning) aerospace community, it really brought back a certain era in California and more specifically, the nerdy aerospace world.
ETA I also enjoy the atmosphere of paranoia he creates.
Chacun à son goût. Or as a mentor was wont to intone, “It takes all kinds to make a horse race.”
@catclub: Alternately, and the reason that’s not what ruined it for me, is that I’ve been in too many cultures were in small groups the smalls on the pecking order – children, students, enlisted – were served before the seniors.
@Omnes Omnibus: When I was in Korea they cracked down on them because they said you could get hemorrharagic fever via dust mites that could get in if you didn’t blouse your boots.
Not gonna exit the thread without mentioning Wes Anderson’s film “Rushmore.”
Along with Chinatown, this is the film that most pulls me in and holds me inside its world. I’ve seen it probably a hundred times, and I just feel so perfectly at home and comfortable in it.
Words don’t do this feeling justice. It’s like the opposite of the German idea of Weltschmerz. Maybe something like Heimlichkeit, but less secrecy and more like “intimacy.” Maybe the Danish idea of Hygge gets at it a bit.
@raven: Police Actions Is Hell.
Also Deadwood. Milch used modern-day swear words because the language would have seemed clownish and goofy to us. (“Egads!”)
Post-war Vienna in The Third Man
1950’s Los Angeles (by way of LA Confidential)
Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring
@FelonyGovt: Yep, less is more with him now for me.
Have you seen PTA’s film of Pynchon’s Inherent Vice?
An excellent example of what this thread has been about. Languid, beautifully composed scenes that your eye travels around, while we hang out with Doc and wait to see just what else will happen.
My wife watches movies almost constantly at home, often, because she’s seen the same ones over and over, they are background for her, like radio, as she does other things. Usually, I just pass through the room on my way to whatever I might be doing, but there are four movies that always cause me to sit and watch awhile because I like the worlds exhibited and I like comedies: Some Like It Hot, The Producers, My Favorite Year, and The Big Lebowski.
@debbie: Plus people (not everyone…) said fuck a lot more than people think. Swearing just didn’t make it into popular culture and letters. It did in the latter, but they didn’t get saved as often as the clean ones.
@BGinCHI: No, I missed the movie of Inherent Vice. I need to find it.
@dexwood: Some Like It Hot is a film I teach almost every year, and I so love its world and characters (“The ship is in ship shape shape…”).
Same with Lebowski, which is one of those constructions that so many people want to spend time in. I wish that film was 50 hours long.
@FelonyGovt: It’s really brilliant. And challenging. It’s serious and funny, and really rewards repeat viewings.
@FelonyGovt: Yoyodyne is referenced in Buckeroo Bonzai. There’s also a Repo Man outtake where the guys claim to be from I G Farben.
Any opinion one way or the other on a different Jeff Bridges vehicle, Winter Kills? Happens to be fresh in my mind as just rewatched it the other day for the first time since its initial release.
Remain flummoxed as to what, if any, is the intended symbolism of the lady and child on the bicycle. Some things better off being left enigmatic, I suppose.
Pynchon’s an interesting one. My current fave raves (subject to change) are Vineland and Bleeding Edge. Less virtuostic romps, more people.
@BGinCHI: A few years ago, we attended a fund raising event showing The Big Lebowski in Albuquerque’s historic Kimo Theater. Jeff Bridges and T Bone Burnett were in the audience, watching along with the rest of us, before taking the stage after to answer questions. It was fantastic, fun, worth every penny. I bought tickets early and much to our delight, we found ourselves in the same row with Bridges and Burnett, my wife just three seats away from Bridges. Man, I thought she was going to leave me that night and I’d be shopping for divorce lawyers the next day.
Or as my thesis advisor was wont to say, ‘Yeah, I know style is arbitrary, but change it anyway.’
Wow. So many posts already.
When I was a kid, many comic books.
Next, probably the second or third novel that I ever read, and the second book I checked out from the library by myself. Charles Dickens, Great Expectations.
Movies. A few stand out. Some early 60s dubbed Italian action films, Hercules Unchained and The Thief of Baghdad, both with Steve Reeves.
Then another movie inspired by Greek myths, Jason and the Argonauts.
Blade Runner, of course. And then Truffaut’s Jules et Jim.
Next, Ingmar Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander.
Lastly, Children of Paradise. Not only have I come back to this film many times, I have found that I have identified with or understood different characters over the years, learned more about life through them.
This is a very interesting topic for me. I find that I dislike the way that some “fans” think about and come to world building. I recall a review for a film where the critic said that the movie was boring and stupid, but he liked the world. For me, the world must be tied to the characters in the movie or book. I want to be curious about how they navigate through the world, and what I see or read has to be important to the characters. I don’t really get into the idea of world building as a place I would like to visit myself, or inject other characters into.
John Wharfen: Where are we going!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Assembled Lectroids: Planet Ten!!!!!!!!!!!
John Wharfen: When will we get there!!!!!!???
Assembled Lectroids: REAL SOON!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I have to admit one of my favorite films of the 80’s was Buckaroo Banzai because it felt like you walked into the middle of the story and you just kind of went along as if you already understood the universe it was playing in. Cripes what a great cast and awesome use of character actors, because it’s not every day that you get to hear John Lithgow say in an Italian accent “laugh while you can Monkey Boy!!!!!!!!”
@BGinCHI: This was 67-68, we call it The DMZ War.
Scotland in Local Hero. Or in John Buchan’s book John MacNab. Or Compton Mackenzie’s Whisky Galore. Or in the BBC version of Dorothy Sayers’ The Five Red Herrings, which was a big improvement on the book.
The movie podcast Unspooled has some great episodes about Some Like It Hot and North by Northwest. An odd, but interesting tidbit. Hitchcock was very particular about the suits worn by Cary Grant and by Martin Landau.
And in a way, the men’s wardrobe anticipated the importance of snappy dressing in the James Bond franchise.
Had completely forgotten what a stellar cast is in it.
Let me turn this on its head: How about a “built world” that is compelling but so terrifying that it’s the last place one would want to live?
For me that is S. M. Stirling’s world of the Domination: originally the trilogy Marching Through Georgia, Under the Yoke, and The Stone Dogs. The background is an alternate timeline in which the losers of the American Revolution relocate to the new Crown Colony of Drakia (in our timeline, Cape Province of South Africa), mix with the Dutch already there, and gradually seize the entire continent, marshaling its immense resources to construct an “anti-America” of black slavery and a white warrior-caste fueled by advanced technology, throwing off the British authorities to establish the Domination of the Draka. After a World-War-II-analog, the Domination has conquered nearly all of Eurasia and faces off against the Alliance for Democracy – the stakes, the world. (Spoiler alert: the Domination wins.)
This was Stirling’s first stab at alternate history, and it’s pretty rough around the edges – some fairly (and unfairly) trenchant criticism of the whole shebang has surfaced – but it was oddly compelling to me, and I have reread the trilogy in shocked fascination several times. At times I would fall asleep over one of the books – and here is the nub: next morning, when I swam up through that vague nethernetherland between sleep and full wakefulness, I would emerge absurdly grateful, almost ecstatic, to find myself firmly in our timeline, and not the one with monsters like the Draka coiled to strike at everything that’s decent in the world. (NB I have not reread the books since 20 January 2017, & am not sure I’d be quite so relieved to find myself in the current world.)
My favorite world-building novel wise is probably Jennifer Roberson’s Tiger and Del novels. Starting with Sword-Dancer. 1st Person POV, Tiger describes everything in such vivid detail and you see his world and how he came to see it, and then when he finally starts journeying outside the setting of the first novel the world around them. He grows along with it too, in so many ways. But the world is so huge, its incredible.
Frank Herbert’s Dune grabbed me hard too, as a teenager. I feel that it’s weird for me as a girl to have absolutely fallen in love with it, but i did. I have yet to let that love go, and i’m looking forward to the new movie version for the hell of it.
Of new material? Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive. Which is hefty reading (minimum 1000+ pages every book), but goddamn the world building is original and so fresh and crazy. Drawn in by unique characters and so many that look like me, a mixed girl.
Anime? I could go on forever. But my favorite worlds? Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood, One Piece in particular. OP is still ongoing, but Eiichiro Oda’s ability to world build and long range plot is epic and awe-inspiring.
Her clothes alone make both movies.
I think one of the things I loved so much about the original Star Wars and Alien films is that they looked like a future people lived in. The machinery looked like it was actually operated on a regular basis, that kind of thing. The clothes looked like clothes people might actually wear. Something to be said for not ditching practical effects entirely.
Prose wise? Believe it or not a lot of early cyberpunk had that quality too. Gibson especially just had that knack of building a world that felt lived in.
Blade Runner had it in spades. Like, the future is gonna have bored kids. So the future is gonna have graffiti. Little things like that.
For me a good example is Inspector Montalbano. Italian detective series based on the novels of Andrea Camilleri. About thirty feature-length episodes over the last twenty years. Good writing, great characters, gorgeous Sicilian backdrop, music, food. A sample.
Dorothy A. Winsor
The title story is my favorite. O’Brien tells so much through those personal details of what each man carried.
But what about my cabbages???!!!
James E Powell
A world that had a strong pull on me was New York City as depicted in the films The Pope of Greenwich Villlage, Desperately Seeking Susan, and After Hours. They came out within a year of each other. At the time I was getting out of law school and thinking maybe I should get the eff out of Cleveland. I visited NYC four times that year, thinking about it. It never happened for a several reasons that seem trivial and stupid in hindsight. But I always remember how those films mixed with my experience to create a possible future. What it felt and looked and smelled and tasted like.
@James E Powell: And Mr Goodbar
@NotMax: Anything, ANYTHING by Rumiko Takahashi is worth the read/watch.
@BGinCHI: TV series from Nickelodeon. Aired around 2005. Streams on their website I do believe.
So what about video games? Anyone here ever play one that just felt…right? Like, a place you actually could visit and live in?
One that stood out to me was Deus Ex, the very first one. It was weird for its time (pre 9/11) basically a story about “what if the Illuminati was real?” Every bit as cheesy as it sounds, without being as cheesy as it sounds while you play it.
Yet it had small real-world details you just didn’t see in most games that made the cities feel like actual sprawling places you could explore, without having to in order to advance the story.
I agree with you big time about Alien and the first Star Wars films. I was not a big fan of the Lord of the Rings novels, but loved the movies. I remember thinking that the Hobbit Shire and homes looked lived in.
By contrast, the first Star Wars sequels just looked like impressive production design. It was sad, as though Lucas forgot why he made the movies in the first place.
Someone mentioned King upthread, and his stories The Long Walk and Running Man were horrifying places to live, but they felt so real I could have been a tourist in them.
Agree about the LOTR films. Frodo’s house felt like visiting my grandparents’ farm in Indiana for Christmas.
Also very good point about the sequels.
Lian Hearn’s “Tales of the Otori” creates a beautiful and complex world. It is also one of the few series I have read that improves with each book. Even before the riveting first chapter, I was drawn in by the beautiful cover art and the title: “Across the Nightingale Floor”.
I saw Chinatown the weekend it opened in London’s Leicester Square-Picadilly Circus area on an enormous screen. One of the grandest moviegoing experiences I’ve ever had.
Any movie John Sayles has made and any story he has written
Springsteen, especially Darkness, Wrecking Ball, BTR
One more videogame I have to mention is Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri.
Basically Earth dies and a ship of colonists lands on A-C. They fracture into 7 new societies, from neo-spartans to Planet worshipping eco-democracy to the aptly-named Human Hive.
The game uses small in-universe quotes to flesh out the background, both the new world, and the one humanity escaped. And those simple little flash-fiction blurbs have carried more texture and weight than some big-budget properties I have seen.
@BGinCHI: Every time I’d enter a room and see an episode of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, I’d snidely remark on how lucky Jane Seymour’s character was to live someplace where she could get her hair done every morning.
But the worlds that have captured me are the ones for which production designers Ken Adam or Jack Fisk were responsible. Adam created the incredible and generally huge sets for the likes of Dr. Strangelove and Goldfinger, among others; although the configuration of the B-52 cockpit was classified, he used his knowledge as an WWII RAF fighter-pilot ace to guess that configuration almost precisely. Fisk has done most of Terrence Malick’s films, and it’s his eye for detail that always captures me. In There Will Be Blood, the tools employed in the early days of oil prospecting look so precise (as well as crude), that it gives the whole movie a sense of verismilitude that buttresses the entire film.
Good catch and very good point.
For me, movies set in early 20th century gritty urban settings with all the horrible poverty of the age displayed. Intense and very moving.
Two that come to mind quickly are A Tree Grows In Brooklyn and Street Scene. It’s not that I would want to live there, but that they portray their worlds so vividly and poignantly.
That’s pretty cool about the b52 cockpit. Did not know that.
@NotMax: I don’t know when I last saw that. I’ll watch anything with him in it. Re-watched Cutter’s Way recently. More interesting than good.
@dexwood: Hell, I would have left my wife for him.
You could watch the first ten minutes of Much Ado About Nothing with the sound turned off and still get the gist of what’s happening. The food the picnickers are eating and drinking, the soldiers’ uniforms, the joyous excitement of the bathers — but you’d miss Emma Thompson’s voice reading the poem.
The Frye and Laurie Jeeves and Wooster has a number of moments like the one where Bertie has sought out Jeeves for advice while Jeeves is competently ironing Bertie’s shirts. I find myself counting the number of neatly ironed-and-folded shirts in the wardrobe, the cups and glasses on the shelf in the butler’s pantry, the precise placement of pillows on the sofa — just tiny details that can actually draw my attention from the hilarious dialogue.
@piratedan: I’ve always loved that film, probably because the first 3 times I saw it I had no idea what was going on. Like a joke heard in a language you barely speak.
It’s so well cast, and I’ll always love Ellen Barkin as Penny Priddy.
@Tehanu: Local Hero!
I love all his films, though that one the most.
@Brachiator: I’ll check that out!
I want to know what Cary Grant is doing with his hands in the hotel room scene (the one with the cherry tree painted on the wall, or in the wallpaper or whatever).
@NotMax: Shit, directed by William Richert!
He’s amazing in “My Own Private Idaho.” Didn’t even know he was a director.
@Uncle Cosmo: Reminds me of The Man in the High Castle in terms of being compelling and repulsive all at once.
@Subsole: I can’t believe no one had mentioned Gibson. His character and world building are so beautiful. In the early novels, but also in the current run of books. The world of Pattern Recognition is really captivating.
@Brachiator: It’s also why the Battlestar Galactica series was so good. The world was crummy, and in space!
@Narya: I love Russo’s early books, especially. He’s also a hell of a nice, and generous, guy.
Sayles’ Matewan now in the Criterion collection!
@tokyokie: There Will Be Blood is a masterpiece.
I can watch the first half hour with no sound. Visually stunning. Also, just amazing visual storytelling throughout.
Lawrence of Arabia (at the Music Box Theatre here in Chicago). Magnificent!
I get my Democratic roots based on being the son of a son of a son of union man. Wyoming Co, WVa….
and I bet if you asked 100 high school seniors graduating this spring that maybe 1 could tell you where the roots of our 40 hour working week come from.
Was out back carpentering and popped inside for a few minutes to rehydrate and sit down to catch my breath, so late response.
The director’s cut is currently free to stream on Prime video.
For meticulous attention to quotidian period detail in every aspect (plus a rollicking ride) check out a personal fave, the one season Australian series Wild Boys , now available on Prime.
IIRC there’s no dialogue for like the first twenty minutes.
Iain Banks Culture series of SF novels. I liked it because it depicted a future with limitless resources, without being messed up by human (and/or alien) politics in overall charge of things. (the artificial intelligence entities ruled)
@mrmoshpotato: Saw it in the 70mm on the big wide screen at the lamented McClurg Court, during its anniversary restoration. There is no greatest movie, but seeing that would make you wonder.
@BGinCHI: (Dedthred I know, but whatthehell…)
IIRC (it’s been awhile) Marching through Georgia (NB the one in the Caucasus) bounces back & forth between the action alluded to in the title (wherein a Drakan paratroop unit is fighting to take a crucial mountain pass & hold it long enough for the regulars to advance from the south) and an earlier extended visit to the Drakan heartland in southern Africa by a US journalist – the first one allowed there in generations – whose brief is to “humanize” our allies-of-the-moment, who are going to take care of the Nazis while we’re snuffing out the Rising Sun.
The soldiers are, well, soldiers; their commander, Eric von Shrakenberg, scion of a prominent family, is in many ways admirable – he thinks outside-the-box & by Drakan standards is a flaming lefty, but he is still Drakan at the core. And what that means is made clear by what the journo sees & records & (for the most part fails to) report from his assignment; even the most trivial details are tinged with casually-accepted horror. In the Domination there is no cloud without its leaden, glowering, spiked-choke-collar lining….
In some ways Under the Yoke is even more horrifying because it shows a conquered France where the Drakans have stripped away “Western civilization” & imposed their own atrocity atop its ruins. Eeeeesh….
@Uncle Cosmo: This whole project sounds fabulous and gigantic. I don’t know how people do it.