Wednesday, August 17, 2005

The Chinese Labyrinth: Greetings from ARAKCON 2005

The Palace of Unquiet Dreams Hotel, Shanghai

Dear Enchanted Listener,

As some of you know I am one of the few surviving practitioners of Arak-Muong, the oldest, most obscure and most powerful martial art: it is said that the original artists of Arak-Muong did not have arms, but fought among the stars; what we call Arak-Muong is believed by some to be their elementary warm up exercises: they are deadly all the same. The earthly practitioners of Arak-Muong are divided into two camps: the abominable Arak-Amok, who wish to use its power to destroy all living things, and the noble Arak-Arak, who wish to unite all enlightened souls to destroy all humanity. I, of course, am an initiate of the latter.

The Heavenly Middle Kingdom is to be the site of our first convention in over a hundred years: Arak-Con 2005. This is an especially exciting year, as the invitation comes from no other than my evil illegitimate twin brother Gogo, who I have not seen since that cable car debacle in Zurich; we had had harsh words, since he had seduced and poisoned some of my favorite wives. Nonetheless, his most recent correspondence indicates that he has entirely reformed and abandoned the proscribed path of Arak-Amok and embraced a life of charity, celibacy and quit smoking. He has, in the kindest of words, asked to meet with me privately before this most very important occasion so he can most abjectly apologize for his previous behavior: apparently he’s been going to therapy or some sort of recovery program and this is an important step. He also asks that I bring our father’s greatest treasure, the Arakamokacon, so that he might compare it with some recently recovered torn pages he believes belong to the book; if so, he generously assures me that the pages will be his gift to me, to reside where they belong, within that most powerful tome of names that should not be written, handsomely bound in our father’s skin.

Despite some serious reservations from my advisors, remaining wives and talking cat I am determined to take my evil twin half brother’s words at face value. After all, I am the smarter and stronger one. While I will be away enjoying the magnificent demonstrations, fatal exhibition matches, lectures, seminars, dancing girls and continual slow torture that are the hallmarks of these conventions, my mother will be enjoying a quiet Viking river cruise. Hopefully, I will be able to get away from all the hubbub in time to meet her at the Cave of a Thousand Shrieking Sorrows, where I understand they have a nice buffet and a good deal on guano.

Hopefully I’ll be able to share some impressions from the Middle Kingdom, but you know, the postal system hasn’t been the same since the Emperor. In the meantime, as always, I leave you with my most modest offerings to fill the gap in our whisperings and thank you graciously for your visit.

your most humble,

Van Choojitarom

THE LAST DAYS OF VAN ON EARTH, Part III. Section A: "from a Producer/Director's Notebook"

Film making is like survival in that you must survive in order to complete your film. This is something that first-time directors often over look. In fact, to first-time directors I say: throw away all your books on directing -all of them -what -are you here to READ? No, you’re here to make a movie. Throw away all the books you have on directing and get the American Army Survival Manual. Because this is what directing is. This is what film making is. They should be able to drop you buck naked in the middle of a desert and you should be able to survive and thrive, because film making must come from inside of you. You should be able to create clothing, shelter and an initial treatment. You should be able to locate and secure available resources for food, water and locations. You will have to hunt. You will have to kill. You will have to make phone calls. Where is this phone coming from. I don’t know: this is your survival, your picture that we are talking about: maybe you’ve hauled your naked sunburned body up a telephone pole: you’ve got a connection because you’ve chewed through the wire; you’ve got a crude phone because you have made one from scrap metal, natural magnetic fillings an armadillo shell and the skin of rat and it doesn’t smell too good; you’ve got Michael Ovitz’s number because you peeked in somebody else’s cell phone and that stinks too. But you are alive and you are going to make this picture. I don’t care if you have to sit cross legged, naked with a bunch of rattlesnakes biting your wang doodle: this is your production (the rattlesnakes) get them organized.

What is the first rule of survival, that is, film making?

1. You must give up any and all desire for comfort.

The desire for physical or psychological comfort will kill you or cause you to shelve your production. It will make you passive, and passivity will destroy you. You must keep moving. You must keep making decisions, even if they are bad ones: consider “Apocalypse Now”: there was not a single “good” decision made on the entire production; yet the film was completed. It’s too bad if you are too hot, or too cold, or things are falling off -things that are important to you and part of your lifestyle. Remember what Bob Fosse would do: take those pills and take a shower, sleep with the wrong person, you hate what you’ve become and you can’t really relate to the people in your life without hurting them horribly: this is why you are making a movie. Now get out there and do it.

2. Stay hydrated. It is very important to drink stay hydrated, if possible. Dehydration leads to fatigue and poor judgement. Avoid consuming fried foods, alcoholic beverages and sand. You were up late last night drinking again, weren’t you? Just sitting on the couch drinking Old Crow watching pornos, doing “research”, weeping pathetically. Now what are you doing? No, don’t lie down, you’re the producer/director. You can lie down later. Say something. Say anything. Yes something to eat. Oh, who are we kidding? Are we going to throw up? Again. Okay, let’s do it discreetly. Yes. Have them set it up. Good. Now stop crying. No, don’t start praying. Someone will hear you. Who the hell are you calling? Are you still drunk? Oh shit, who’s there? Did you just tell them you slip the Monte Christo and coffee under the toilet stall door? What the hell are these forms? Coffee good. You’re not allowed to smoke in here, but let’s go ahead. Try and eat something. The Monte Christo will scrub some of the crap off your teeth. Yes. Call over to the set. Ask how things are going. Sound professional. Don’t ask for another vodka tonic!

Preparing the Script:

When preparing the script with your cast remind them: every character in every scene wants something from the other characters. This is the essence of drama. It also has application in real life. Particularly if you are making a movie. Each of your actors who is playing a character who in every scene wants something from the other characters, also wants something from you in every interaction that you have. This is also true of the crew. And everyone else you might meet. Usually, the thing they want is money: these people can be trusted. Human relations are often exchanges and negotiations of power and dominance, but in order to stay healthy, we must be able to ignore or forget this in our social fictions. The name for being maladaptively unable to do this is Paranoid Schizophrenia. It’s adaptive form is called producing.

To function effectively as a producer of any kind, you need to understand what is being exchanged in every meeting. For instance, Why are you talking to her? This is not productive, why are you doing this? She’s like fifteen. No, she really is fifteen, she said so. There just shopping or something, let them go. Stop talking. The other attractive girl? That’s her mom. WHAT ARE YOU DOING ASKING FOR HER PHONE NUMBER?

LAST DAYS III. Section B: Scenes from An Italian Restaurant On Fire

nothing is certain in this world and you can’t count on anything, not even your worst instincts, or someone else’s.

TXT MSG: I’m sorry to trouble you, but I’m in a restaurant and on TV there is a hot dog eating contest and I can’t stop watching it.

You do not mention that you are drunk.

TXT MSG: Now I can’t sleep. Did I mention the hot dogs? The whole world is a hot dog, immodestly eaten by conscienceless men and women with no conscience, but condiments in some sort of contest -but to what purpose?

In Advance of the Eating Contest
“I make an empty place inside myself. It never fills.”
“When my jaw moves, I am moving. I do not think of the mouth, only the jaw.”
“It is like swimming. I am a shark.”
“Somewhere inside me, I feel a great and steady joy.”

I ask a waiter,“Should they even be showing this?”
He turns to the rest of the restaurant, “Everyone -enjoy!”
And he’s a card, he is, he’s a golden boy and belongs in movies or TV or something and who knows if he came here for that (probably) or it just got bred into people here (possibly)

So no one ever really figures it all out, but eventually you start writing just as you started talking and people go along with it and some people (like me) just throw back all the trite observations everybody else has and these go down easy because everyone knows them already and this respect, it’s not that different from music.

So I guess you went to sleep, which is good for you, because who can resist talking about hot dogs?

Happiness: white faces eating french fries.

Somewhere, someone is always having a good time, because they could never keep us from having a good time, talking, chatting, eating food.
Pickles and beer are a great combination.


"Look, I’m happy to talk about this if the discussion can proceed productively..."
"Do you believe in God?"
"Do you believe in God?"
"Of course I don’t believe in God."
"So naturally, you don’t believe that God speaks."
"Listen, I don’t know what you are asking"
"This is God"
"You mean the screen saver?"
"Yes. I listen to God every day".
"This is God. This is the God you’ve been talking to me about. The screen saver."
"Are you high?"
"A little."
"At work?"
"I said a little. Listen. How do you think God speaks?"
"I don’t know, he’s never spoken to me."
"That’s where you’re wrong. He has spoken to you. Every minute of every day. You just are not in the habit of listening."
"Are you smoking up now?"
"Is that going to be problem at work?
"A little. Possibly. Listen."
"Isn’t your job flying planes?"
"Yes, and I am -so good at it. Listen. How do you think God speaks."
"I don’t know. Why don’t you tell me what he’s saying now and we’ll try to listen together."
"That’s my whole point. God does not speak in words."
"He speaks in tongues?"
"He doesn’t speak in tongues. How could God use words or sounds? How are you today? Fine and you? Does this sound like a conversation with God?"
"No. What did God do?"
"In the Beginning. He created the Heavens and the Earth. How do you think he did that? Did he get a hammer or some sheet rock or a pair of scissors.."
"Isn’t there usually an earth diver?"
"He CREATED. How does God create? He thinks. He’s God. Creation is God thinking."
"Did you even finish that class?"
"So if creation is God thinking or God’s thought and creation are the same, how does God communicate?"
"That class of Dan Garber’s?"
"God communicates through things. Things and not words. The language of Eden and of Babel is things, objects. Not names. I do not believe the people before the fall could speak the language game of intentions. They spoke the language of things and actions. They had no words. This is why they were building a tower. Now, it’s a lot later. Or sooner. But anyway, we must use words. Do you know what the word of the day is?"
"Is THC one word, or three?"
"Can I use “bringmeslab” as one word? What is the word of the day; this is the word of the day, this is how God speaks, here"
"Through this widget."
"Are you sure God just isn’t your computer?"
"No. Listen. Look at thid widget on my computer: It gives you the word of the day. The word of the day is “precipitate” cause (an event or situation, typically one that is bad or undesirable) to happen suddenly, unexpectedly, or prematurely : the incident precipitated a political crisis. -but also Chemistry cause (a substance) to be deposited in solid form from a solution. • cause (drops of moisture or particles of dust) to be deposited from the atmosphere or from a vapor or suspension.” Something that is already there, that is is suddenly made solid, manifest like rain. This is what you’re doing. This is what you are doing right now."

LAST DAYS III. Section D: The Fiend

“I haven’t slept for weeks and weeks so everything is really dreamy. I’m enjoying it. “
“Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine”
“If you die while I’m talking to you on the phone, I just want you to know that I respect you for who you are.”
“That’s it? That’s my epitaph? That’s terrible. “I respect you for being you’ What is this crap?”
“I’m just reading what’s on the card”
“So you have to prepare this lame stuff in advance”
“No, no, I’m just reading the card some guy is holding. I don’t know him, really.”

“Do you think that whoever wrote this ever got over how good it was, ever said ‘Wow, I did that’”
“I think Beethoven did. Issac Hayes, too, probably

“So when you first meet a person, you want that person to like you. I like you. I’m completely sold on liking you. How is the liking me thing coming along?”

“Look, I don’t want to scare you or anything, but I am having a total and complete nervous breakdown. No, no that’s not it that’s not the word. Mental. A total and complete mental breakdown. No, don’t be alarmed, it’s happened before. Don’t stop eating. But listen: part of this total and complete mental breakdown is that I am totally and completely in love with you. -Or, it may be unrelated, I don’t know. I haven’t really been able to sleep much this past few weeks, but when I woke up this morning on the bus I realized we were in love. I could really use a cup of coffee right now. No, don’t bother our waitress -it might just be easier if I just grabbed this cup of that other table -no, no it’s okay I’m sure there gone -ew this person likes sugar, what I’m saying is not let’s run away together but could we run away together? What’s that? Well, I guess they weren’t done, but who cares, who cares really when we’re in love. That mental breakdown stuff -that’s technical -let’s not worry about that. Let me hold your hand -no, the other hand. You look worried. What are you worried about?”


Scriptwriting, Ben, is just writing for lazy people who are too busy talking or going to parties or whatever to really write. You string together a bunch of cliches and then write INT. CAR -NIGHT. Writing a novel, this takes a plan, a year or two at least, it’s a challenging thing just physically. A script is slightly less trouble than baking a cake, you can’t take months and months to do it.

LAST DAYS III. Section F: Journey to the End of Night Comic Book Store

“Well, our project sort of unravelled and came to a halt...”

“Tom, what sort of talk is this? Don’t tell him that. Losers talk like this when they’re whipped sitting behind a beer in the last bar they’ve finally found that won’t throw them out: it’s over, it unravelled. Projects don’t unravel, Tom. Relationships unravel, plots unravel, the eco-system and the hangman’s noose unravel, but projects just pass behind some sort of excuse or delay and either emerge out the other side or are never heard from again. It’s better that way. No one goes looking for the lost graveyard of failed pilots, nobody’s at home with a framed picture of it hoping it will come back in the door. Our project didn’t unravel. It’s like the moon landing, no one can really say whether it happened or not. Listen to you: ‘the project’s dead’ Who talks like this? It’s indecent to talk like this: ‘How’s the baby?’ ‘it dead’ or ‘it fuckin’ dead’ -who says this? Nobody who uses valet parking, that’s for sure. What sort of sick person calls another person on the phone about love, or sex or anything and says: ‘It’s over.” We don’t say ‘it’s over’. We say: ‘I’ll call you’ or even ‘I will definitely call you’ -This is all about being an adult.”

From My Inbox: The Child

Hello. I am a delightful child actor. I have dark hair and cute brown eyes. Look at me holding the puppy. The puppy is nice. I love him. I specialize in portraying adorable, yet eerily sinister children, like Damien Omen and Charles Wallace from “A Wrinkle in Time”. I have a big head and silky hair and an uncanny look that is wise beyond my years. I am also really good as suddenly reverting back to vulnerable innocence and looking so scared and helpless: Mommy, why are you pointing that big shotgun at me? Why are you crying? Mommy, you’re scaring me! For an audition, I can present a quaint little imaginary tea party that is so cute you will want to just scoop me up and hug me; yet its uncanny and disturbing ending will freeze the blood in your veins. I’m talking “Turn of the Screw” here, people, which is just another example of my preternatural tendency to mention things I shouldn’t know.

My performances get their undeniable, over-the-top, adorable yet, unheimlich quality from the fact that I am genuinely evil. I was born an old, old soul, with cigarettes and whisky on my newborn breath. I crapped in my pants when I wanted to, because I knew what I wanted. I drew blood at the breast. I finger-banged my nanny. I stayed up late watching war movies and chewing on an old cigar. I keyed the cars in the studio lot with curses in Aramaic. You will cast me in this thing, you will give me points or I will see that it never gets made. Because you will be in jail, stupid. Look what I’m doing. Now who are they going to believe, some over-sexed genius director type with MJ hair, or a cute little boy who just wanted to be in the pictures. Do you want me to show them how you hurt me? Where you hurt me?

Ha ha. Gotcha. I made a funny. See? I’m that good. Call me.