Green Eggs and Ham
by Dr. Seuss

Tom has finally made his peace with this book, but it took a while.  He used to enjoy having it read to him right up to the point where our hero is finally forced, by ‘Sam I Am’, to try the titular dish.  Then Tom would grab the book and throw it across the room.  He had heard what happened after that, and didn’t like the message the book was trying to impart.  So, for Tom, this was for a while the tale of a proud individualist who even having been forced into a train wreck by a pseudonymous terrorist, possibly working for Big Ham, then lost at sea, would still not give in and submit to the ham agenda.  

As someone who finds that part of ‘Cars’ where Lightning McQueen is forced to stay in a small town and learn about values to be a paranoid nightmare in the tradition of 'The Prisoner’, I must say I rather supported Tom’s stance.  However, it’s probably for the best that he’s now started to let us read the book to the end.  Like Winston Smith in '1984’, he now loves 'Green Eggs and Ham’.

What their return to health will look like: As the INTJ returns to health, they will shift their focus away from petty details and regain their big-picture mindset. They will develop an increased concentration on goals and long-term projects, which will bring them steadily closer to what they want out of the future. A healthy INTJ is an INTJ who can synthesize and carry out long-term projects – in as efficient a manner as possible.

There’s this book club phenomenon — my mother-in-law is in a book club and now my wife is in a book club — and so I’ve heard any number of people say they get the “gist” of books. They haven’t read the book. They say, “I read enough to get the gist.” Just, no. Don’t. I can’t engage in that conversation. You don’t get the gist of Jane Austen. You either read Jane Austen or you don’t.

'Don't Be a Moron'

I was having lunch with a friend who’d survived a heart attack a couple of years ago. When I asked him if he had any dietary restrictions, he shared the story of going to his doctor post-coronary with a written list of questions about what he should or shouldn’t eat going forward.

The doctor took a look at the list, then ripped up the paper and threw it in the bin.

“Here’s my dietary advice,” said the doctor. “Don’t be a moron.”

“What do you mean?” asked my friend.

“I mean,” replied the doctor, “use your common sense. Eat heart-healthy food most of the time, and if you really fancy the odd bowl of macaroni and cheese, enjoy it.”

While I was a little taken aback at the bluntness of the advice when I first heard the story, I’ve come to realize that it’s a fantastic response for pretty much any kind of question people have about how to live their lives.

‘Don’t Be a Moron’

The next time you meet some person who is utterly captivated by some undertaking that completely mystifies you, give him the benefit of the doubt. Hold back on your instinctive imputing of excess spare time and hang the obsession in a tickler-file in the back of your brain to pull out and think about in the shower or the post-office line. If you’re very lucky, a little of that delight may rub off on you, too.

I noticed that touring — which is wonderful in some ways — is absolutely confining in other ways. It’s so difficult… you just can’t think about anything else. You try your hardest: You take books with you and word processors, and you’re definitely going to do something with the time. And you never do. It’s so easy for it to become your exclusive life, this one and a half hours every evening that you play. And I just thought, “I’m losing touch with what I really like doing.” What I really like doing is what I call Import and Export. I like taking ideas from one place and putting them into another place and seeing what happens when you do that. I think you could probably sum up nearly everything I’ve done under that umbrella. Understanding something that’s happening in painting, say, and then seeing how that applies to music. Or understanding something that’s happening in experimental music and seeing what that could be like if you used it as a base for popular music. It’s a research job, a lot of it. You spend a lot of time sitting around, fiddling around with things, quite undramatically, and finally something clicks into place and you think, ”Oh, thats really worth doing.” The time spent researching is a big part of it. I never imagined a pop star life that would’ve permitted that.

Monday Assorted Links

When Procrastination doesn’t keep me from doing what I should be doing, I fall back on creating a links post.

  1. Digitized K-mart in-store background music (1989-1993). As Susie Bright said in her Facebook post, “This is a soundtrack waiting for its porn film.”
  2. Pick your guru carefully.
  3. 19th-century views of the Year 2000.
  4. Alternate Histories has released its 2015 Holiday Pack!
  5. The James Randi documentary, An Honest Liar, which I saw via Netflix. Randi fought the good fight, but as his nemesis Uri Gellar says near the end, “We won.” And as the movie shows, Randi’s own need to believe is great. The most bizarre scene is an old television clip of him hanging upside-down, escaping from a straitjacket, while a woman in elegant poofy dress sings “You’ve Got the Magic Touch.”
  6. We suffered a break-in earlier this year. Nevertheless, I draw the line at this.

Pre-Med: Preparing the Instruments

hamishmacbethThe producers contracted with Dominic Minghella to create this new Doc Martin series for Buffalo Pictures and ITV. By 2004, Minghella’s credits included writing stints on TV series and TV movies, so he knew the business and knew what was needed. But the credit that probably secured the job for him was his time as writer and script editor on the Hamish Macbeth series (1995-97).

Based on (but in no way resembling) MC Beaton's mystery novels, Hamish Macbeth was an easygoing police constable in a remote and picturesque North Scottish village who dealt with the escapades of the eccentric locals and the stray bad apples who come to town. The location shots were magnificent, there was a large cast of village characters to help and hinder Hamish, and -- just to complicate his life a little more -- he suffers romantic misunderstandings with two local women. Macbeth's job entitled him to poke his nose behind usually closed doors, talk to all manner and classes of people, and be privy to most everyone's secrets. A single episode could shift tonally from light rural humor to grim mystery to romantic heartbreak to outlandish adventure-type setpiece.

Minghella therefore had experience creating the texture of the kind of world that the new Doc Martin would inhabit.

So Doc Martin’s genetic code includes: movies, setting, a production framework, and a writer skilled in creating episodic stories blending humor, drama, and romance. The producers also kept the “Doc Martin” name while dropping “Martin Bamford”. As that character had been created by Ferguson and Crowdy, good business sense dictated creating a new character not beholden to another’s copyright. The new character would now be called Martin Ellingham, his surname being an anagram of Minghella. Clever, that.

Another consideration was taking ITV’s fish-out-of-water idea under advisement and pushing it a bit further. Northern Exposure is probably the most obvious template for this sort of series; the 1990-1995 series was a big hit with its story of an uptight, big-city doctor bemused and frustrated by the quirky residents of a remote Alaskan village. Rob Morrow’s Dr. Joel was obnoxious and spiky, but he softened a bit as the series wore on and fell in love with the beautiful Maggie; the unsophisticated yet accepting community surrounding him patiently tolerated his bad attitude with warmth and good humor.

It was a good, smart show (for a few seasons, anyway), but why remake Northern Exposure in Cornwall? Why remake Hamish Macbeth, for that matter? What could be done to make Doc Martin's tone different from other fish-out-of-water, city-mouse-meets-country-mouse stories that dot the English literary and televisual landscape? What could be the central conflict that would drive the storytelling?

The answer was to take what worked for Northern Exposure — the culture clash between high-powered, no-nonsense doctor and sleepy little backward village — and push it to its logical, humorous extreme: make the protagonist so cranky and unlikable that, as Clunes has said, the village would be united in horror against him.

This is classic fiction writing 101 (and I mean that in a good way; we too often forget the basics): put the character in conflict with his setting to bring forth both his best and worst traits. That’s an aspect of story structure lacking from the Bamford movies and Hamish Macbeth: those characters loved living in their villages. They wanted to fit in. They had friends and allies. And to be fair, that's probably a reason viewers tuned in to watch those shows. But having the new Doc Martin be irritated every time he strolled through the village or examined his patients might spark more vigorous comic moments and give the character more bite. This sweet setting demanded dollops of vinegar.

Leading to the question: what was the tone of the show going to be? Straight-forward medical drama? Light drama with humorous touches, a la All Creatures Great and Small? A bit of soap opera, a bit of comedy, with a few bits of seriousness tossed about here and there to leaven the tone? How quirky and eccentric could the stories and characters become before they tipped over into too silly?  How quickly should the romance get started and how would that play out over the series?

Many such questions and choices must have presented themselves and even more decisions had to be made. Committing millions of pounds to any entertainment venture requires hard-headed decision-making behind the scenes: planning, budgeting, contracts, casting, cinematography, catering, editing, promotion, etc. No matter what the viewer may think as they see the whimsical story unfold before them, very few big decisions about that story are left to chance.

In the end, the movies leave only trace amounts of their DNA in the TV show: a doctor named Martin, a lead actor, a director, and a setting. The blueprint created for the first six episodes of Doc Martin— all written by Minghella and directed by Bolt — established a durable template for the series that came after. It also spawned a character better adapted for his TV surroundings and the rigors of weekly episodic storytelling.

All that’s left is to get our irascible doctor pointed in the general direction of the Cornish coast…

A Facelift for Shakespeare

A new translation effort aims to make all of Shakespeare’s plays comprehensible to today’s audiences

Source: A Facelift for Shakespeare

I once interviewed an actor playing Hamlet who preferred using Shakespeare’s language in a production where the rest of the cast played a revised text. He felt the text was perfectly understandable if it was capably played, and that removing Shakespeare’s language constrained him from fully inhabiting the character.

I sympathize with McWhorter’s points insofar as reading the plays; but if I’m watching a performance, then I think the music of the words, and the actors’ skill (movement, intonation, characterization) will convey the meaning.

But the question remains: who would fardels bear??



The Price We Pay for Sitting Too Much

For every half-hour working in an office, people should sit for 20 minutes, stand for eight minutes and then move around and stretch for two minutes, Dr. Hedge recommends, based on a review of studies that he has presented at corporate seminars and expects to publish. He says standing for more than 10 minutes tends to cause people to lean, which can lead to back problems and other musculoskeletal issues.

The Price We Pay for Sitting Too Much

Pre-Med: The Doc Martin Movies

Telling the story of Doc Martin is a complicated business from the start: do we begin with the first movie, Saving Grace (2000), and then watch the two movies that followed-- Doc Martin (2001) and Legend of the Cloutie (2003)?

Or should we instead watch them as part of the character's chronology -- that is, start with the prequel Doc Martin and its sequel, Legend of the Cloutie, that lead in, kinda sorta, to Saving Grace?

In a way, it doesn't really matter since the movies have no narrative overlap with the TV series. Yes, there's a Doc Martin. Yes, there's a Cornish fishing village. Yes, there are a few key creative people behind the scenes who remain constant. But after that, the similarities stop dead. If you're coming to the movies after bingeing on the TV show, it's like glimpsing the face of a long-ago friend from a long way off, then realizing when you get closer they look nothing like you remembered.

Let's start with the best movie first, then. Saving Grace is a perfectly charming low-budget indie that the UK can do so well and the US can do hardly at all. Of course, the only reasons we're interested in it now, 15 years after it was made and released, are Craig Ferguson, Martin Clunes, and Doc Martin.poster - saving+grace

But before we get to them, let's talk about this as a movie, because it really is good fun. It has a good variety of light drama and farce, beautiful landscapes, wonderful actors, and a few actual themes that hold the movie together without weighing it down.

The cinematography, too, is lush. We see more of the surrounding landscape, more of the rugged coastline, than we do in the TV series. And for whatever reason -- the lighting, the lenses -- the pictures just look more ravishing.

And the main story, of a widow (played by Brenda Blethyn) desperate to raise money to save her home by helping her gardener (Ferguson) grow high-quality marijuana in her greenhouse, is strong comic material that gets the story moving (though it takes half an hour to get to this point).

Brenda Blethyn -- when she can tamp down the panic and nervous tics (always a problem with a Blethyn performance) -- is a sympathetic and resourceful Grace, who discovers what she's really made of as the pot deal begins going wrong and a French drug lord starts taking an interest in her potent homegrown product. There's a madcap, farcical finish and it all ends happily, as it should. The status quo has changed for all of the characters, even minor ones, and for the better.

Another factor in its favor is the script by Ferguson and Mark Crowdy (who will go on to have a long association with Doc Martin). Ferguson, at this point in his career, was a jobbing actor/writer/comedian/filmmaker and Saving Grace is one of a string of productions from those years. As an actor, he's funny, amiable, and has an easygoing presence. As a writer, he and Crowdy juggle a lot of characters, give most every actor at least a couple of scenes where they can show their stuff, and keep all the plot plates spinning at just the right speed to a satisfying payoff.poster-savinggrace

In the creators' commentary, the director Nigel Cole and Crowdy suggest that of all the cast members, Clunes was probably the one best known to a British audience due to his Men Behaving Badly sitcom. Clunes provides cheery support as Ferguson's pal, the pot-smoking Dr. Martin Bamford, and it's much of a piece with his other comic work up to that time. The Bamford character is a nice enough bloke, but bumbling and, by his own admission, not a very good doctor. Clunes turns in a fine but undistinguished supporting performance in the ensemble. It's not a star-making part.

No, the real star is Port Isaac, the Cornish fishing village cast as Port Liac in Saving Grace. When Ferguson's character, in a drowsy post-pot haze, stares out at the ocean and says, "I love it here," he's expressing one of the movie's strongest themes.

Because Port Liac is a place that draws people from all over to it. And more than that, it transforms them. It's the Land of Faerie where magic happens. The old joke of the village knowing everyone's business is true here, but it's not played for the same old laughs. The villagers know Grace's predicament and strive to let her keep her dignity, as much as they can. They even know about Matthew's pot-growing and simply turn a blind eye. The village truly seems to be a snug harbor for its residents and a welcoming wonderland for outsiders.

Which is why the next movie is such a nasty jolt.

Dr. Martin Bamford's arrival in the village in Doc Martin (set at some unspecified time before Saving Grace) is greeted with suspicion and gossip. There's a poison pen leaving incriminating photos under wobbly jelly molds (a wonderfully bizarre touch). Bamford is bullied and tossed about and harried by busybodies. There's even a town meeting to decide whether to expel him.

I mean...what?? Where the hell is the cozy quaint village from Saving Grace? Where did all of these mean, petty villagers come from? How in the world can bad ol' Port Isaac in Doc Martin evolve into to cuddly li'l Port Liac in Saving Grace?

What changed?

The first thing, obviously, was the creative team. Crowdy became an executive producer, Clunes' wife Phillipa Braithwaite became the producer, and Simon Mayle the writer. Crowdy, Clunes, and a few supporting actors were the only carryovers from Saving Grace.poster-docmartinmovies

The second thing that changed -- and not for the better -- was the creative reason for making the movie. I do not know the whole story behind why Saving Grace was made, but it must have struck Ferguson, Cole, et al., as a fun story to tell. One of the things that makes Saving Grace so much better than the movies that followed is that it is a finished work of art. Instead of the story continuing, there are no stories left to tell.

But Doc Martin was explicitly created to give Martin Clunes another TV vehicle and that prompts a different set of creative questions and decisions. Something about the character and the locale -- the Cornish fishing village of Port Isaac, where the movie was set -- struck a chord in the actor. It must have seemed both a landscape and a potential comic territory not being worked by anyone else.

Unlike some freelancers, Clunes took his career into his own hands by creating Buffalo Pictures, which co-produced the Doc Martin movies. By developing his own properties, Clunes could guarantee himself some ongoing employment and artistic and financial control over the production -- always depending, of course, if there was a buyer for the product.

Another consideration, surely, was to break free of his earlier Men Behaving Badly character. Clunes became the embodiment of laddish underachieving with the character of Gary Strang, which he played from 1992-99. It was a good run, but time to move on to other challenges. Although Clunes had made a few movies, mainly supporting parts, telly was his home field. (I can't find any indication that he's done stage work, though he surely has the voice for it.)

So instead of telling a story that needs to be told, Doc Martin needs to find a story to tell. And that puts different pressures on the writer.  The brief was probably along the lines of, "Devise a way to get Dr. Martin Bamford to Port Isaac. Give him an adventure. He falls in love with the village. He stays."

Mayle, whose IMDB credits end with the two Doc Martin movies (isn't that interesting, he said, stroking his chin), had no end of constraints. As played by Clunes, Bamford is not markedly different from Clunes' typical juvenile male leads, so how can the writer make that kind of underdeveloped character interesting? (Bamford's love of the weed is not in evidence at all here or in Cloutie.) And Mayle had to create a storytelling vehicle that would fire off future TV stories featuring Bamford.

Very well then -- throw the character in a ditch, pile on the trouble, and see how he handles it. Trouble always evokes character, right? Start with an uncomfortably misogynistic plot point where he deduces his wife cheating on him with his three best friends, drag him through freezing wet moors in inky darkness, and then deliver the bedraggled, yet still remarkably mild-mannered, character unto Port Isaac, which is undergoing its own crisis. Get Bamford mixed up with the crisis right away, maybe even mistaken for the bad guy by the villagers. And simmer -- without ever coming to a full boil.

(Although, if you're making these movies as explicit prequels to Saving Grace, why change the village's name from Port Liac to Port Isaac? Ah, who cares -- it's just telly.)

Clunes is a fine actor and low-key comic performer, but in the TV movies his character is so mild, even when he's harried, that his presence barely moves the story's needle. Bamford never has a clear goal, seems to run away from rather than to something, and spends most of Act 2 searching for a cell phone signal. This is not promising.

Mayle responds to this by making most of the village characters hostile, suspicious, and generally unpleasant -- surely this conflict will rouse Bamford to life! But no, Bamford lifts his eyebrows at them in bewilderment or mild irritation before thumbing his cell phone to suss out a signal.

Piling on conflict can be a valid storytelling strategy, but the conflict should force the character to make dramatic decisions at some cost to himself. Which doesn't happen here. Even though the village eventually rallies round Bamford, there's no sense of triumph or accomplishment. Because the story was meant to end this way, there's little emotional satisfaction to Bamford's decision to stay.

Still, Mayle delivers a well-made script and he cleverly makes the bad guy the village doctor, so that when he's hauled away, Bamford is there to take his place.

With Doc Martin and The Legend of the Cloutie, Mayle has a different set of problems. Bamford is now the village doctor, an accepted member of the community, and looking for property of his own. He is no longer an outsider. What will generate the story conflict now?

Outsiders, principally, in the form of the obnoxiously scheming Bowden family, who outbid Bamford on his ramshackle dream home, and the two customs agents on the trail of suspected village smugglers.

It took me a long time to get around to seeing this movie, because the first 10 minutes of setting the stage, introducing the players, and hearing the plot gears wheeze into a sort-of shambling life just bored me to tears. I saw the movie in short bursts just to get through it.

And when Bamford goes into his elaborate plan to scare the newcomers by imitating the mythical "Beast of Bodmin", well, that was where I hung on out of journalistic duty and pouted through it. This is an idiot plot (as in, the characters have to behave like idiots for the story to work) and so I kept the movie at arm's length the whole time.

Cloutie is both well-made and middling; there are always more of these types of movies and plays than there are out-and-out bad or good movies. Its tone is a little more whimsical and less malicious, and the mysteries and potential dangers are teased out effectively. Bamford tries his absurd way to change reality, but falls back on the mystical, female-based, nature magic of the cloutie to do the trick. The Wiccan subplot is a fresh bit of storytelling that begins to open up the world of Port Isaac while grounding it in its rural locale.

Cloutie also tries to build an ensemble of actors and recurring characters. But this movie was broadcast two years after the previous Doc Martin movie -- would there really be that many fans who would remember the setup and recognize these characters, this world?

Ach, enough of this. Let's turn to the positive. People of color make an appearance in Cloutie, an event that doesn't even happen in the TV series (I haven't seen Series 6 and 7 yet). Also, there's barely a whiff of romance between Bamford and...anyone. He looks infatuated by Neve Mcintosh's character but does not flirt with her at all. With her long dark hair and direct gaze, Mcintosh sets the physical template for Caroline Catz's Louisa. But Cloutie reserves the love story for his Wiccan patient Lolita; Bamford, in fact, is instrumental in helping her meet the love of her life, which is sweet of him.

So the made-for-TV Doc Martin movies were not as good as Saving Grace and have not inspired confidence as a franchise. What do they get right? And do they have any assets the TV series could take advantage of?

The first thing the TV movies benefit from directly is Ben Bolt. His camera setups, framings, and movement (such as the point-of-view cameras for the poison pen and Beast of Bodmin shots) are a pleasant shock for anyone familiar with the consistent visual grammar he established for the TV series. He finds unusual, more visually jagged angles that make one see Port Isaac's buildings anew, and the movies find great big swathes of land where the camera can linger. The movies' situations, and more time to tell the stories, offer Bolt opportunities to experiment he will not get in the series.

I also like how the interiors are more cramped and shabby generally. This place looks more like a fishing village struggling through hard times -- you see how cold it is. This is not the chocolate-box village of the TV series.

All the movies emphasize the smallness of the village: everyone knows Grace's situation before she does, everyone knows that Bamford's divorce has been finalized. There's also, particularly in Doc Martin, the small-mindedness of the village folk who are suspicious of outsiders. All of these tropes get called up for use in the TV show.

But what emerges most powerfully as a storytelling tool from all three movies is the transformative power of the Village. The banker who looks out over the London cityscape as he tries to reclaim the mortgage on Grace's house is transformed by the village into a happier man, who also becomes the village's new pot dealer after Matthew retires. The French gangster marries Grace and settles into a quieter life. Martin Bamford transforms from an isolated and lonely young man into a member of a supportive community.

The village also expels those who resist transformation, such as the customs agents and the grasping and greedy Bowden family. By and large, though, the notion that the village is a place that can soften hardened characters is certainly one carried through into the series.

The Doc Martin solo capers were successful enough to secure a deal with Sky Pictures for more movies, but Sky's shutdown ended that hope. Still, it probably seemed a shame to have all that production scaffolding in place and not do something with it. So Buffalo Pictures shopped the idea to ITV, which preferred the idea of a series to the original plan of two self-contained movies a year. ITV had another suggestion: make the character more of a "fish out of water." [To be continued]


From Elisa Gabbert's Title TK:

Another quality I dislike in titles: a rhythmic sing-songiness, as in Then We Came to the End. All the Light We Cannot See. I Know This Much Is True. (Wally Lamb used the exact same three-foot iamb pattern twice: The Hour I First Believed.) These titles are suspiciously regular in their meter. I distrust them. As far as meter goes I think spondees make for the best, snappiest titles: White Noise. Jane Eyre. Bleak House.

Gabbert is talking of book titles here and then moves on to titling poems. When I wrote fiction and poetry, I always preferred lifting a line or word or group of words from within the work itself. I wanted the titles to arouse a little curiosity in the potential reader, who might then hear the click of the box when they read those words again in context. I also wanted something that sounded a little elevated without being too pretentious.

Though I adore Chekhov's work, so many of his stories' titles struck me as flat: The Duel, The Student, The Wife. I was perfectly happy for his stories to be written plainly; but I craved more memorable titles. Of which, to be fair, there are many: Ward 6, The Lady with the Dog, The Black Monk. His plays' titles adhere to Gabbert's terse preferences and I think cannot be improved on: Uncle Vanya. Three Sisters. The Cherry Orchard. All you need to know about those plays are in their titles.

My friend, the playwright Karyn Traut (for whom I have worn a bra and a muumuu-type thing onstage, though thankfully not in the same production), shared this tip from a class I took with her many years ago: The title is the poem of the play. I like that idea -- not only a summing-up, more than a declarative description. Connotation, not denotation.