Mel Brooks’ Fight Against Fascism

6 Apr

mel brooks hitler

BREAKING: MEL BROOKS IS NOT DEAD!

But before my lifelong hero leaves the building, and while he’s still using a comb for a cheesy mustache, throwing fake salutes, and mocking the most evil dictator in the modern world, Mel Brooks needs a gigantic thank you from the United States. And from me.

If you think punching Nazis is a good idea, my fellow American, please take some time and thank our good buddy Mel, too. No one has done more to shrink Nazis down to punchable size than Mel Brooks.

Before his movie The Producers (1968), Nazis were still an ominous almost cosmic evil, too sprawling to destroy utterly. They still showed up as viable villains in the two decades after WW2, and I think the “specters of returning evil” trope (LOTR, Harry Potter) was fed in subsequent decades, by fears that Hitler had escaped death and that Nazism would rise again — see Boys from Brazil (movie and book, late-Seventies) for examples of that fear.

It might have been just a tad too soon, when Mel Brooks faced that evil for everyone in 1968, doing it not like a soldier or a knight, but as a fearless jester. Writers of heroic stories, by design, keep the villain large in order for it to be worthy of panic and anxiety, or it’s not a very good story. Only a comedian could poke fun at the world’s worst fear and only an excellent one could actually make people wet their pants laughing at it.

And in the fight against fascism, Mel Brooks championed our side with the precision of a master, with demolishing satire of the Nazi demeanor; epic derision of the rise of Hitler in Germany and the absurd Riefenstahl-esque production value of the Nazis. He was so bloody good, he could even satire himself satiring Hitler, and still make it funny as hell. Mel’s was the most astonishing use of free speech that I’ve seen in my lifetime, and I feel so lucky to have been able to watch Mel put the mock in democracy.

Sure, Indiana Jones punched more Nazis, and the gods only know how many Nazis Captain America killed. But without Mel, we might not have embraced either of those heroes as completely as we did. We might not be spotting and standing up to fascism as bravely as we are now, three (?) generations after the fall of the Third Reich, if we hadn’t been able to first laugh at Hitler.

Mel, you have been on my mind so much lately, with the ghost-like return of Nazi salutes and white supremacist evil on the rise. Thank you for inspiring me with your bravery and your gift for diminishing villains.  Thank you for providing an example of someone with a moral base for their politics (and art). I know what my beliefs are and why I have them when I watch Springtime for Hitler or the Inquisition number. Thank you for wrecking me with brain-clearing laughter my whole life.

I love you for your passionate hysterical fight against fascism, Mel Brooks. Thank you.

And remember: MEL BROOKS IS STILL NOT DEAD!

Barth’s Bus Stories: Bestiality (NSFW)

5 Apr

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On the 23.
Two fourteen-year-old African American girls board and sit.

Girl1: I was on Facebook last night and I saw a white lady fucking a dog.
Girl2: For real?
Girl1: [knowledgeably] Yeah, white ladies do that.
Girl2: [flabbergasted] Why?
Girl1: She wrote a real long post about it but I didn’t finish it. She said it’s called bestiality.
Girl2: Bes-ti-ality??
Girl1: She fucks beasts.
[Long Pause.]
Girl2: Why does she fuck beasts?
Girl1: She didn’t say why. But I’m pretty sure it’s because beasts are sexy to her.
Girl2: Any beast?
Girl1: Any and every beast.
Girl2: What all are beasts?
Girl1: Anything that moves. Anything that breeds that, you know, she can do it with. Not mice. No one can do it with mice. [Thinks] Maybe mice.
Girl2: Really?
GIrl1: I didn’t finish the article.
Girl2: Dear God. [Staring out her window. Head shaking slowly.] The world is all wrong, Trinity.

 

Image courtesy
Lilly M – Own work, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1425693
Wikimedia Commons

The Train to Busan review: Prepositions of the Undead

3 Apr

 

train to busan

You Must Take the Z Train

Train to Busan is a 90-minute grammar lesson on prepositions by way of zombie apocalypse: The humans are on the train. The zombies are on the train, too! Now the humans are crawling OVER the zombies. Uh oh, now the humans are OFF the train and IN big trouble. Whew! Back on the train going TO Busan. But, oh no, now, some of the humans are IN the zombies on the train!

School House Rock Grades: Action A-. Script B+. Acting: N/A (zombie flick)

World Poetry Day: A Poem by Pablo Neruda

21 Mar
Neruda Young
“Spain Poor by the Fault of the Rich”
Pablo Neruda
Cursed are those who one day look no more
Damned and cursed blind are
They who pay their sacred homeland not with
Bread but tears, damned
Filthy uniforms, or the cassocks
Of bitter, hideous dogs of cave and sepulchre.
Poverty was throughout Spain
Like horses full of smoke,
Like stones from a spring of misfortune.
Lands of grain were left unopened,
Secret wineries of blue and tin,
Ovaries, gates, closed arches, profound depths that
Yearned to give birth, but it was all guarded
By triangular soldiers with guns,
By sad rat-colored priests
By toadies of the fat-assed king.
Muscular Spain, apple and pine country,
Your lazy overlords ordered you
Not to sow, not to midwife the mines,
Nor breed cattle,
But to contemplate gravesites
Visit a monument of Christopher Columbus annually and
Neigh your speeches with those monkeys from America,
Equal to them in “social position” and moral rot.
Do not build schools,
Do not break the earth with your plows,
Do not load barns with wheat abundance. Instead,
Pray, beasts, pray
Pray that a god with a fat ass the size of the king’s fat ass
will be waiting for you
“There there, have some soup, my brethren.”
 
Translation by Barth Anderson

Barth’s Bus Stories: Ear Bud Couple

15 May

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May 14, 2015

It’s chilly and rainy. Two teenagers are under the bus stop, both with ear buds plugged into the same iPod. Girl sings snatches of what they’re listening to in a decent voice. Boy too. They’re so young they may not know they’re in love.

Long pause as they listen intently, spying on each other, waiting, then they both gasp in awe and start dancing. They catch me grinning, laugh.

Barth: What is it?

Boy: [pulling out ear bud] What?

Barth: What song?

Boy: Bitch Better Have My Money by Rhianna.

Cliches are the Opposite of Truth: KILLING THEM ALL

14 May

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Cliches are your worst enemy as a writer.

They’re death to you because a cliche is someone else’s thought, and, worse, it’s a phrase or image from your culture’s collection of junk-thoughts that are most often said to fill up dead, silent, useless space.

Such words are not golden. They’re trash.

Cliche is the mark of someone who is uncomfortable with their own turn of phrase, who doesn’t know how their own creativity works. That’s the opposite of a writer’s task.

Cliches are fine for office emails. But as a writer, you must l-o-v-e LOVE creating your own original thoughts, striking your own observations. Simply repeating the stock phrases, pieces of wisdom, plot devices, character traits, and story lines of so many others is inexcusable for a writer. Read tons and learn to spot tired cliches (or better, trendy statements that will SOON be cliches). Weave diamonds with your sentences and make reality out of thin air.

To do that, you need to write in the truth of the truth. You can’t do that if your brain churns out cliches, which are sentiments, ultimately. Symbols of feeling, and not a feeling itself.

“That’s the way it goes.”

“It is what it is.”

“I love her more than life itself.”

“Curses, foiled again.”

These are symbols of feelings. They’re melodrama, not drama. You can write a cliche in the first draft, that’s cool, if it’s a place marker for where you can drive in your shovel and dig up the gold later.

Let me show you exactly how to do this. Answer me, por favor: In the story you’re writing right now, what does your main character want more than anything? Write it out in a single sentence as an “I” statement. Make it emotional. Make it hurt. Break your own heart with that sentence.

If you need some inspiration, take Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride as an example: What does he want more than anything? Revenge. He says it when he first meets the Man in Black and repeats it frequently throughout The Princess Bride. He wants to kill the six-fingered man and pay him back for killing his father. Boom. That’s it.

Now…that’s a cliche. And in the storybook world in which writer William Goldman operates, he lets that tired cliche stand through the whole movie. But he is going to deliver a twist that makes it all work and freshens the cliche with real feeling. Goldman knows that revenge is not the heart-breaking “I” statement, nor is it the real truth of Inigo Montoya, the real feeling that his character feels in the pit of his heart. REVENGE is something fine to write on a note card next to your hero’s name. But when writers say “write the truth,” this is what they’re really talking about:

“I want my father back, you son of a bitch.”

That’s the line. Montoya doesn’t want revenge, really, and Goldman knows it. But he holds it back, let’s Montoya come to that line in the most dramatic moment so the line is yanked our of him. Finally, facing the villain of his dreams, Montoya says, “Promise me riches! Promise me everything I desire!” He doesn’t say, “Ha ha! Vengeance is mine!” or “Now I have you!” Goldman is too good a writer for that. In the final moment when Montoya finally has his quarry cornered, Goldman let’s the real feeling out, and it’s like a gunshot. We realize this is not just a cliche storybook fairy tale. There’s a true feeling to be experienced.

That’s your goal in writing your character’s greatest want. If you can’t give yourself a sob, raise a shiver in your own skin, or imagine readers looking up from your book in sheer awe when you distill that character’s longing down to a single sentence (and then use it when it’s most effective in your story), then you haven’t hit the truth of your character’s truth yet. Get closer. Jump the rails and sneak past the symbols of feeling, the sentiment and cliche, the stories your teachers, friends, parents, and family approve of. And write the fuck out of that character.

Is Your Idea Strong Enough? Story Structure Part 4 (Kristin Lamb)

13 May

Kristen Lamb’s blog is an excellent resource for beginning writers and writers dedicated to craft. https://wordpress.com/read/post/id/8132324/17236/

In this post she talks about structure, which is near and dear to my heart right now. Go read it. I’d only add this:

See if you can hone your lead’s primary objective into a single word. SURVIVAL. LOVE. Sure, your hero is more complicated than a single objective can encompass, but the exercise will sharpen your focus and tighten up your tension in a sprawling or diffuse plot. Have characters in the story voice this primary objective as observation, exhortation, or comments of disbelief.

My hunch is that the Ghost of Hamlet’s Dad was a late-draft addition to Hamlet, when Shakespeare realized he had a nattering, complacent do-nothing for a main character who’s primary objection wasn’t clear to the Bard. Shakepeasre wisely put the motivation for his main character (“REVENGE”) in the form of a murdered and unredeemed spirit from beyond beseeching his son to take action.

If you can’t boil your main character’s motivation down to a single word, your hero might need a “Hamlet’s Dad’s Ghost.”

Kristen Lamb's Blog

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Whether we are traditionally published, indie published or self-published, we must connect with readers and tell a great story. Structure is the “delivery system” for our story, so it’s wise to make it as solid as possible.

Welcome to Part IV of my Structure Series—Testing the Idea

I assume that most of you reading this aspire to be great novelists. Novels are only one form of writing and, truth be told, they aren’t for everyone. Stringing together 60-100,000 words and keeping conflict on every page while delivering a story that makes sense on an intuitive level to the reader is no easy task.

That said, all novels begin with an idea. But how do we know if our idea has what it takes to make a great novel?

Many new writers start out with nothing more than a mental snippet, a flash of a scene or a nugget of an idea, and then…

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