Wednesday, November 15, 2006


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Today the book of correspondence between Lovecraft and Lieber came in and I've been immersed in it for hours. I should say Lovecraft's letters to the Liebers. It's kind of weird reading only one side of the conversations, but Lovecraft is so loquacious that he usually basically restates the original questions as he answers them. It was just so bizarre (and delightful!) to see the old master writing about Fafhrd and the Mouser! Kind of like if someone suddenly unearthed letters where leonardo Da Vinci discussed Star Wars with George Lucas (except of course that they didn't live contemporaneously). I always thought of Lieber's writing as much more recent than Lovecraft's, though that's largely because of his thorougly modern and whimsically inventive use of language, which I now know definitely was inspired by Shakespeare.

That's one of the strange things about this book for me.....

Lieber sent his (rejected by the publisher) manuscript for a story called Adept's Gambit (which from certain clues I gather is his first Faf/Mouser tale?) and Lovecraft elaborated at great length about it. Ironically, in my bedtime readings lately I'm midway through this very tale (which eventually did find publication). It's a weird one.... in that it takes place not in the fantastic and many-storied world of Nehwon but in a strange world alternately referred to as Gaia, Midgard or sometimes Earth somewhere around the Hellenistic era. I think originally that was to be the setting for the tales (shudder!) but, probably in response to some of Lovecraft's (rather excessive and nitpicking) criticisms in matters of historical accuracy and grammatical usage I'm thinking he invented the wonderful world and all its delightful locales, which are really some of the best things about the stories. Heh... Lovecraft went on for several long pages listing recommendations of historical treatises and compendiums Lieber should consult just to establish a proper sense of historical placement. Truly an extreme case of a rationalist and devoted antiquarian berating a true master of fanciful fantasy whose greatest strength is the creative weaving of locale to perfectly suit the story. It was also annoying to see him constantly attacking the use of some of Lieber's invented words and phrases (another of his strong points and a large part of what's so delightful about the F&M stories) because he feels that words should be chosen that would accurately fit the period. Interesting to see two such great artists who obviously admire each other professionally and as friends be so at odds over these trivialities, but that's the way art is.

And I now know for certain that Fafhrd was indeed based on Lieber. I couldn't be absolutely sure by Lovecraft's first hint, something along the lines (in a letter to Lieber's wife) of congratulations on having a husband so talented and possessed of such an admirable physique (could have meant he was small and in fantastic shape, like the Mouser) but later in a different letter he mentioned sending some books around to "Your Mouser" (meaning Harry Otto Fischer). They frequently mentioned sending books and manuscripts around to a small select group, which I found fascinating. In fact Lovecraft mentions a certain owner of several rare volumes who has a waiting list of people to be sent the books on loan.

I wish the letters by Lieber and his wife were included... and I wonder why they weren't? Possibly they no longer exist... apparently the Liebers kept everything Lovecraft sent them, I wonder if he just threw theirs away? I actually doubt it, especially since he obviously considered them good friends and Fritz a great talent similar in many ways to himself.

Actually, it just occurred to me..... in a recent bout of Lieber related websearching I discovered a database of a whole slew of material written by Lieber... just a listing that included manuscripts, published volumes, and letters to various friends as well as magazing articles essays and the like. Taking into consideration the fact that the book includes a goodly selection of Lovecraftian stories and articles about Lovecraft, all written by Lieber - it only makes sense that someone assembled all this material from the trove of material represented by that web database. And of course the letters sent BY the Liebers TO Lovecraft wouldn't be included in that stash. Possibly there were problems in getting permission from the current copyright holder to use letters in the possession of the Lovecraft estate. Ok, anyway... getting pretty dull here... sorry about that!


sven said...

From what I understand, there really isn't a "Lovecraft estate" as such. Compilations of Lovecraft's letters are probably attributable, almost 100%, to the efforts of the academic S.T. Joshi.

He's well-connected to the Lovecraft fan-base, coming out to the annual H.P. Lovecraft filmfest in Portland whenever he can. If you have thoughts about how publications could be improved, or know how to find relevant materials, you could probably contact Joshi directly.

And if you can provide info that's not already there in his encyclopedic brain, he'd probably also be quite grateful!

Darkstrider said...

Thanks Sven. It's funny (though hardly a surprise).... Joshi was co-editor of this volume. Yes, we have much to thank him for, don't we? I have a few annotated volumes of Lovecraft, with notes by him (joshi that is) that are extremely informative.

I have no knowledge that didn't probably come directly from him. I'm sure he's aware of the cache of Leiber (Hah! Spelled it right that time!) letters and writings... hell, he probably owns it all or has at least gone through it. He might even have put togetrher that web database for use by other Lovecraft/Leiber scholars.

herself said...

Not dull to me, I'm just scratching my head because I have lost all taste for fiction, no matter how expert. So, I'm out of this gathering.

Darkstrider said...

Yeah, I'm sure a lot of people are scratching their heads wondering what all this kind of stuff is doing on my blog.... but like it says in the title block at the top, it's about stopmotion "and my thoughts on creativity in general". I thought that would cover a wide enough territory to let me talk about whatever was on my mind. Thanks for hanging in through these litle bouts!

herself said...

Oh, I have zero confusion about what you're doing here. I see that it's about informing your art as a whole. No problem here. I was just thinking it was weird that so many of your other friends love things like music and fantasy fiction and sketching, etc. and it's like I'm the one from another planet in those ways.

Thank God I found you lot who also love stop motion or I'd really be out on a limb even further than I am!!

praise said...

nice blog

Darkstrider said...

Um.... whoah! Was that spam? There's strangely no link. could it be a new kind of insidious spam, ever evolving like irradiated cockroaches, to keep us off balance?

- Or possibly a rather inarticulate but well-meaning comment by a real person? Hmmmmm....

Darkstrider said...

Shelley -
I have wondered about your seeming lack of interest in the things stopmoes were generally reared on. I think you came to stopmo late in life, through a circuitous route (probably through Taymor in fact).

But I'd also like to point out that indeed you do seem to like fiction. After all, that's what Halfland is, right? And so are myth and fairy tales.

I suspect a lot of people dislike fiction because they've read only the irritating, logic-based social fiction that I find completley boring. But occasionally you run across an artist who breaks the mold and does something truly creative and exciting, which is what Leiber is (at least for me). His stories (the good ones anyway... many of them kind of suck) are very much like myths or fairy tales.

I'd also like to take this opportunity to point out that, in the beginning, most newbies to stopmotion don't have much of an interest in the other arts that go into it... chief among them being storytelling. They usually come to it through the avenue of visual art, and that's their main focus. So they tend to make movies that are a sting of semi-random interesting visual images set in motion, often with no story. Some come around after a while (there are some who have a firm grasp of storytelling from the outset) but some never do.

To me, really short experimental foilms are fine without a story, but once you push past maybe the three minute mark, you'd better offer something to hold the viewers' interest over the long haul. And that means storytelling (because, whether a filmmaker wants to admit it or not, what they're doing IS telling stories.,... that's the heart and soul of it).

Sorry to keep going off on this subject, but it's my most recent discovery and IMO the most important discovery I've made since delving into stopmotion 5 years ago. So that's why I sound like some kind of Jehova's Witness or something.

herself said...

You don't at all sound like you're preaching! Or rather what you are preaching suits me fine. I hear you on what you are pointing out, so astutely.

You are correct, I have read 100's of folktales, the entire Brothers Grimm, etc, and loved each of them. And you are correct film is storytelling and that is a critical insight into this whole world.

Your advice is well met.

And here's more on why I'm off fiction, even the best, most phenomenal of works. I find myself, over the last several months, perhaps as much as a year, being increasingly disinterested in being entertained. Or I should say, spending my time being entertained, movies, fiction reading, shows, etc. I never listen to music. I never read anything but biography or technique books (and the New Yorker, duh.), I have no interest in real people, except my husband, I rarely sit to watch even a dvd these days. I feel increasingly preoccupied with getting other things done instead. It's like I'm being fed in a more satisfying way through working on projects, or some scanning of sites, or dance class, etc.

I realize this could be a weird unhealthy fixation as if I'm drawing into a shell like a hermit crab. But the thought of reading anything, even great, that doesn't serve Vaal, measures zero on my crotch-o-meter.

Besides, why should I work that hard when I can get the benefit of all your shiny brain cells?

Darkstrider said...

Oh ok, so really it's not that you dislike fiction, you just don't want to let reading or movies take up your valuable time. I can totally undestand that!

I feel like soon it will be my time to start shutting o ut influences and focus in tight on just making movies, but that time is not yet for me. right now I consider myself a student, and deeply into a very rewarding trail right now. Hence all thjis reading and DVD watching etc when I could be working on my movie almost exclusively. (notice I said COULD - not should). It looks like I won't be done at the end of the year, but that's alright. It feels so important to me to persue this shimmering chimera of Cinematic Storytelling. Unfortunately I don't think I'll be able to apply any of my new learnin' to this movie, but next time out I'll be loaded for bear and ready to rumble!

herself said...

I just thunk of something to add in personal response to your smart advice about novice film fauxpaws.

I just reread my project's story outline and see that it is a series of visuals as you warn us rookies against. But I feel that, in my defense, I'm really not after making a great story film here. I say again, I want to make a 4D painting. (notice the period) And as such, one wouldn't dream of slamming the narrative of an oil painting because it is entirely the expression of the painter. I'm making film as painting, with motion, in dimensional space, with music and sound.

I might want to make stories later. But this is art, granted perhaps art therapy, but art in the sense of making something manifest nonetheless.

Darkstrider said...

Oh of course.... if you/re not doing a narrative film then the techniques would be different. I suspect the kind of film you're wanting to do is more poetic, like Wings of Desire or Paris, Texas. There's not much specific info in any of these books on how to do poetic style films, but there is SOME, plus from contrast you can infer quite a bit.

A movie is a movie, and they're all made from the same basic building blocks.... shots, scenes, etc. And the language of filmmaking is the same no matter what kind of film you're making.

I think learning how to break a film down into blocks (stanzas) and then into beats (lines, or notes to use a musical analogy) would only strengthen your ability to make a powerful and beautiful film.

Example.... some poetic films establish a sort of rhythm in the cutting that becomes like a pulse or a heartbeat.... each shot fading up from black or white to show another beautiful image for a few seconds, then fade out again, over a haunting evocative soundtrack. But the rhythm won';t be steady all throughout, unless it's a short experimental film or maybe a music video or something... you can vary the tempo of the rhythm from block to block, and then use a long uncut shot to provide constrast.

And if you're developing an understanding of cinematic language then you would habe a good idea of how to pace things, and more importantly what to say with each segment of the film (or rather how to say it).

Or are you saying you want to approach this from the completely primitive standpoint, with no study of cinematic language at all?

herself said...

Well, firstly, yay, because I naively, naturally made my project scenes separate by fades up and down, either black of white, for specific reasons in the film. I am planning on varying the rhythm of the scenes to match a natural pace of the action but not rhythm for it's own sake, not like the deliberate beat of a piece of music. And I do think the more I can understand about film, or anything for that matter, the better my result has the potential of being, granted. But...

Here's something important to me, how a Sperm Whale eats. I can't recall if I ever talked about this point with you vis a vis our projects before so, in brief; I realize(d) years ago that if I approached my project with anything other than gaping opening, straining thoughts like plankton, and using what comes into my system as I move through life's waters, then I'd be in an endless process of striving. One of the keystone elements for me in creating is to use what I have in hand. Using what comes to me naturally and nothing else. It's the creative Power of Limits at work and in the end what an artist does anyway, whether they know it or not.

Give a gifted artist a lump of coal and they'll make genius work on the sidewalks. Give all the education available to a mediocre artist and he'll make Chicken Shit (or Robots, whatevs).

So, when you tell me about cinematic language or if I notice a shot in a movie I happen to be watching does a certain important thing for the audience, or I have an inspired idea from a new understanding, that all goes in. But it came to me. I'm not going out to find it.

herself said...

Ah. I just thought of the answer to your question above. No, I'm not at all interested in cinematic language for Halfland, perhaps later with other projects.

I've been trying to make this distinction for months. When I've said that it's film as painting, and that you wouldn't slam a painter's lack of proper film narrative, that's what I was trying to get across. I'm asking for the same freedom in this medium as we afford the older art form of pigment in medium on substrate. I can't be the first. But that's why I'm not trying to fit into the animation festival/promotion mold with this. It's, again, strictly an artistic expression oddly using stop motion to execute.

Film as Painting. (notice the period.)

I'd be interested in your thoughts on that.

Darkstrider said...

"Give a gifted artist a lump of coal and they'll make genius work on the sidewalks."

Yes, if they understand the language af art. There are some who seem to get it instinctively and don't need edumacatin'. the other 99.9% are in the same boat as me an need some study.

Whether you realize it or not when you make a film you're using cinematic language. Just as when you draw or paint you're using the language of visual art (which is a part of cinematic lingo of course... composition, contrast texture balance etc). I've seen so many films made by people who haven't bothered to learn anything about their medium, and for the most part it shows. Occasionally one does come along who manages to make it work, you might be one of those.

"I am planning on varying the rhythm of the scenes to match a natural pace of the action but not rhythm for it's own sake, not like the deliberate beat of a piece of music."

Of course.... the rhythm of the action dictates its own pace. Just understanding that each movement, be it of a character, a camera move, or a cut, is a single beat helps you to pace those beats better.

"No, I'm not at all interested in cinematic language for Halfland"

May not be interested, but as I said, it's the only thing you have to communicate with your audience. My fear is that if I make a film with only my neophyte's (non)understanding of the lingo of film then I'll come across like some of those newbies on the message board... you know "Pleese heelp me so anywhey im tryin to make a anmitid fim so pleeeeeese pleeeeees till me who so I cn do it ok". It seems dangerous to me to use a language without understanding it.

" When I've said that it's film as painting, and that you wouldn't slam a painter's lack of proper film narrative, that's what I was trying to get across."

Actually, people are pretty harsh on painters who don't know the language of art. Even abstract artists need to understand balance and composition and form and color, at least in some respect, though of course they use it in a different way than a figurative painter would. Though as I said above, some people do seem to be able to speak the language without any formal training.

Ok, anywhooo, I'll quit trying to twist your arm.

herself said...

I hear you. I understand your very valid points. And you probably won't like my film then. Because it isn't a film it's a painting. And I think art is expression of who the artist is, not what they know or don't know. How do explain great art from before art, of any kind, was codified?

Think of Halfland as one of those bison paintings in Lascaux or Altamira.

Darkstrider said...

Shelley, I want you to know that I'm perfectly fine with however you want to do this. You have my blessing to do it however you want, in spite of all my mindless ranting and raving.

It's very frustrating that we can't seem to agree on even the most basic things - especially since we normally do. I guess it's because I'm totally amped on this whole cinema study thing, and now I try to apply it to everything. I'll get over it, I promise. I do tend to get this way when I'm into something I really like, and I want to share the experience with people that I think would enjoy it as much as I do.

One point I think you're a bit confused on (and I just want to point this out, not ushing anymore) - when I talk about cinematic language it doesn't mean narrative. The language of cinema is just the use of the elements of filmmaking... frames, shots, scenes, cutting, fades, dissolves, sound and music, etc. They're used for every kind of film - narrative, poetic, experimental, what have you. In fact, you can't make a film without using that language (even if you don't call it a film).

It just seemed like when I was talking about cinematic language you seemed to think I meant narrative filmmaking.

Now - all this said - I'm doubtless entering into dangerous territory here. I suspect filmmaking is like psychology.... a litle knowledge is probably a dangerous thing. Most likely the best films are those made either by absolute neophytes who don't even know that they don't know anything, or those made by experienced pros who have already made hundreds of mistakes. In between (where I'm headed) I'll bet lots of bad films are made! So you're probably absolutely right to reject learnin' completely and approach this intuitively. I hope I make it all the way out the other side!

herself said...

Thank you, Mike. I think it is fantastic that we can both be honest and discuss these matters together. How boring would it be if we agreed on everything and couldn't offer eachother alternative views that we would at least want to take another glance at out of respect.

I did know you were speaking about the elements inherent with film; composition, framing, pacing, sound, etc. and not the storytelling aspects. And I think you are quite right when you say that sometimes someone can get into filmmaking as an artform and blow the house down, Welles' Kane, is the go-to for me on that. He simply was a great artist inwardly and played in the field of a particularly creative era in film and boy, did he play--and connect the ball.

Big Statement: I believe that everyone is uniquely positioned to create something totally new by them being the only ones in the world with their specific mixture of experiences. Welles with his eye and ego and radio/theater background, etc.. My ballet for example, there may be another stop motion fiend in this world who was also a fully trained classical dancer, but I doubt there is another fully trained classical dancer stop motion fiend who can work Photoshop like a bastard and loves miniature making, fiber art and sculpting and moldmaking, philosophy, anthropology, sociology, and folktales! (And if there is one--my number is (323) 456-...!) All of those interests and experiences will inform my projects. And likewise with you, who is, among other things, an Intellectual Film Scholar and Multi-talented Artist Warrior. I see everyone as distinctly straddling at least two incongruent universes that can only result in a singular unrepeatable expression.

I'm holding no thought of making great film, just my film, my way, as you generously say. I have to keep in mind that when you and I talk about our approaches they are--gulp--still primarily theoretical at this point. But still great to talk out to clarify for ourselves, for the future.