Monthly Archives: June 2013

The AFI Top 100 Films: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (#29)

Entertainment 150Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)
Starring James Stewart, Jean Arthur and Claude Rains
Written by Sidney Buchman (screenplay) and Lewis R. Foster (story)
Directed by Frank Capra

The big surprise with Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is how relevant it seems today. This is a movie that’s nearly 75 years old, and it’s talking about government corruption, graft, and how far politicians are willing to go to discredit and punish whistle-blowers. It’s a little shocking to see how deeply ingrained corruption was in our political process even back then, and it definitely puts our current crop of representatives in perspective. The machinery of Washington has been more firmly entrenched than most of us realize.

But I’ll try not to delve too deeply into the politics of this deeply-political movie. Instead, I’ll talk about its merits. James Stewart gives an incredible performance as Jefferson Smith, a small-town leader of a local Boy Scout analog. He’s appointed as the junior senator of his state by the governor on a whim, more-or-less. The governor (Guy Kibbee) is pushed into a minor act of rebellion against the shadowy businessman really pulling the strings — Jim Taylor (Edward Arnold).

Though Taylor isn’t particularly pleased by this wrench thrown into his plans, he expects them to go forward regardless. Basically, he wants the government to buy land he purchased cheaply for a works project. That would make him a ton of money while bringing in a flood of business to the state. This same patch of land, as luck would have it, is targeted by Jefferson Smith as a nature preserve for kids to appreciate the splendor of the American wilderness.

Once Jefferson finds out what the land has been earmarked for and just how the process has worked so far, he vows to fight Taylor’s corrupting influence. The resulting stand-off leaves Jefferson’s childhood hero (and senior senator of his state) Joseph Paine in the middle, along with his secretary, the hard-boiled Clarissa Saunders (Arthur). They have to look at the system they’ve been a part of for most of their lives, and decide whether or not it’s something they still believe in.

This movie marks something of a transition for its star and famous director. Capra is best known for It’s A Wonderful Life, of course, but later on started making pictures that looked towards America with a slightly more cynical eye. Stewart, on the other hand, still maintains the wide-eyed small-town innocence that he was known for at the time. He manages to carry a weight with him, though, that we don’t see until later. It’s interesting to note the beginnings of the seriousness he had during his work with Hitchcock, on display right here.

The supporting cast is actually pretty wonderful, too. Edward Arnold is fantastic as the villainous Jim Taylor, the no-nonsense businessman who has an incredible amount of power and knows how to wield it. He tries to charm his way into getting what he wants first, but is pretty quick with the overt threat when he senses that someone won’t be glad-handed into rolling over. Claude Rains has just the right amount of troubled conscience etched across his face as Joseph Paine; he knows that what’s happening here isn’t right, that he’s made compromises he shouldn’t have, but you can also see why he would make them and why he might continue to make them. Washington is a place that seduces you away from idealism quite well, it turns out.

Capra does a great job creating the mood of the nation’s capital as both a shrine to the ideals of what our nation can be and the echo chamber of back-room deals that it really is. Jefferson’s enthusiasm and awe is infectious when he first arrives, and you get a real sense of patriotism during the scenes where he immediately goes out on a tour of national landmarks. It makes the slow realization of how far we’ve come from those ideals surprisingly bleak; you feel the disillusionment he does when he sees how the Senate really works. Capra doesn’t distract from the point he’s making by mentioning the party system once; he makes the corruption that runs rampant a human issue rather than a political one.

Yet, politics really is only the way we agree to act towards ourselves as a group of people. It’s an oversimplification, of course, but I also believe it’s true. If we let the people with a thirst for power create a system that rewards the “might at all cost” mentality, this is what we get. And that’s as true now as it was in 1940. I love that Mr. Smith Goes to Washington offers us a glimpse of this truth filtered through the lens of pre-war America. It tells us that some of our country’s faults — as well as our strengths — are things that we need to be constantly in mind of.

Rating: 7/10.

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Posted by on June 26, 2013 in AFI Top 100, Movies, Reviews


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Clarion Write-A-Thon 2013 is a Go!

I feel like I’m failing at the whole fundraising part of this thing because I haven’t talked it up nearly enough, but that will change starting today! As I’ve mentioned before, I’ll be participating in this year’s Clarion Write-A-Thon, where my goal is to write 25,000 words of “Unstable Future” by the time it ends on August 5th. You can help provide encouragement by sponsoring me or pledging money for a certain word count, and the money goes to the Clarion Workshop so that aspiring writers can be taught by established authors in the sci-fi/fantasy field.

Let’s start here: the Clarion Workshop is a wonderful thing where writers who are hoping to make careers writing in the sci-fi/fantasy genre can get instruction on various aspects of the craft and business of writing from established authors. Clarion’s been around since 1968, and their list of instructors are pretty impressive: John Scalzi, George RR Martin and Ellen Datlow have taught in years previous and just this year Neil Gaiman, Joe Hill and Cory Doctorow are workshopping with the latest crop of hopefuls.

It’s a tremendous opportunity for those of us in the genre to build lasting relationships with aspiring and established writers, learn about taking our writing to the next level and focus intensely on our work for six weeks with people who are just as passionate about creating as we are. I’ve got a bit of a personal stake in this, since good friend Kyell Gold is a graduate of Clarion and husband Ryan Campbell applied just this year. In a few years, I hope to apply.

Clarion isn’t free, alas. It takes money to run the workshop every year and attract the talented writers who provide instruction. Writers who are accepted to Clarion are frequently offered financial aid in order to take advantage of the opportunity, and that takes donations from people to make possible. This is where you and I come in — I work on a project that I’ve been wanting to write for quite some time, and in return for updates, story snippets and (eventual) full-blown release, you donate money to a great cause! It’s win-win, right?

“Unstable Future” is a really great universe that was created by a talented fellow named Neopuc. He’s written a 15-part short story series that you can go and read over on SoFurry, a repository for furry fiction and art. (Before you click through the link, be forewarned: while the story itself isn’t explicit, there are other parts of the site that are.) I really loved the idea of it, and wanted to play around in that sandbox for a while. So I’ve been noodling around with a set of short stories of my own, set in a different part of the world that uses the same premise.

The plan is to write 13 parts of one big story, and release them on a weekly basis to constitute a ‘season’ of fiction. It’s a model that I really love the idea of, and it seems to be something that is catching on — especially with digital platforms. My story will be available for free, once it’s ready for release, and I’ll let you know where you can find it when it’s ready. For now, though, I want to focus on writing as much as possible. Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves, right?

As for the story itself, if focuses on Abernathy Jones, a Rabbit farmer whose family was one of the first settlers of Oleander City. Oleander is a small town established more than a century ago, during the wild times after war precipitated the downfall of a society capable of uplifting animals to sentience, engineering them into human shapes and many, many more technological wonders. There has been an influx of science and technology firms, treasure hunters and university students since ruins of the old world were discovered sitting beneath the city, and Abe has been resistant to the change of his community from slow-paced agrarian settlement to fast-paced tech hub. When the recently discovered technology starts to inflict Oleander’s population with impossible changes, Abe must step up to become an unlikely leader in the fight to save his town.

I’ve posted small snippets featuring Abe every Friday last month, just to get my head around him. I’m quite excited to dig into this story now, and I hope you are too. If you’d like to help out the Clarion Foundation and help encourage me through the project, feel free to visit my author page and either sponsor (make a straight-up donation) or pledge (promise a donation based on word count, days written, etc). I’ll be incredibly grateful for your support, as well as the chance to help out an organization I’m really excited about.

I’ll post up my first snippet over at the Clarion homepage, and I’ll offer weekly updates and small snippets here on the blog every Friday. Hopefully we can reach the goal of $250 raised by August 3rd!

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Posted by on June 24, 2013 in Furries, Writing


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Interesting Times

Last week was fairly interesting. Over the weekend I knew almost immediately that something was wrong with me, so I told my boss I’d work from home on Monday to make sure I had everything I needed on hand; I’ve been dealing with an ongoing health issue that’s easier to manage from home. So I put in my nine hours, and by the end of it I wasn’t feeling very well. By 5 PM I felt so cold I was shivering, and by 8 PM or so I had a fever of 102. Ryan took me to the emergency room at around 9:30.

To make a long story short, it turns out I had some kind of bacterial infection and an internal problem that’s relatively easy to clear up. I was given antibiotics and sent on my way. The rest of the week was spent flushing the infection from my system and gradually getting better. I was tired most of last week, and so much of my time revolved around dealing with health stuff that I simply didn’t have much energy for anything else. So that’s why I disappeared from the blog last week, and why I’m a little late coming back this week. Hopefully the worst of my health issues are behind me for now, but I’ll try to let you know if something is happening a bit more quickly.

In the meantime, I hope it’s back to business as usual with the blog here. I’m still planning four posts a week — a general interest post, two AFI movie reviews (at least until I’ve caught up) and a bit of short fiction from a project I’m working on. I’m really hoping to sharpen my movie reviews; I love the idea of exploring these stories that are widely regarded as the best examples of American cinema and breaking down why they’ve struck such a deep chord with audiences throughout decades. And while I know appreciating art is largely a personal affair, I think there’s something in the discussion of it that helps us to understand its message a little better.

Mostly, I’m hoping to get better at reviewing because I’d like to expand the reviews to furry fiction. This is a post for another time, but I think it’s important to apply the same kind of standards inside the fandom that we do for entertainment of a broader genre. I’d like to seriously discuss the writing of our little internet community as an art form — trends that tend to pop up among and between writers, common themes in ‘modern’ furry fiction, what our writers tend to do well and where we could be better. I think that level of discussion and scrutiny could help us out, or at least make us more aware of what we want out of our writing.

Right now, though, I’d like to talk about my own writing! I’ve been posting the “Unstable Future” snippets for Friday fiction the past few weeks to get my head around two of the main characters. My ultimate goal with it is to try and launch an ‘episodic’ storytelling model, where short stories are released at the same time every week for a certain length of time. Each short story is self-contained, somewhat, but also carries a larger arc forward until that too is completed. That marks the end of a ‘season’, and depending on the response further seasons are written.

I think this is a model that could work well, and “Unstable Future” is a great story to start with. In order to try and kick-start myself into writing it, I’ve decided to make it my project for the Clarion Write-A-Thon. The Write-A-Thon is a great fundraising drive for Clarion and Clarion West, a pair of six-week workshops where aspiring genre writers are taught various aspects of the craft and business of writing from folks who’ve made it. This year some lucky folks will be taught by the likes of Neil Gaiman and Joe Hill!

However, in order to make the whole thing work and to make sure the people who deserve to be there can actually afford to be there, a little help is needed. The Write-A-Thon is a great way to do that; each writer makes a goal for the duration of the drive and posts excerpts and updates to his personal drive webpage. And his or her audience can make either flat donations of pledges based on word count. It’s a lot of fun, and a great way to meet some of the folks associated with Clarion. A lot of the people who participate are Clarion graduates!

I’ll be writing at least 25,000 words of “Unstable Future” for Clarion, and I would like your help to spur me on. I’ll be posting daily updates here on the blog, and excerps of the story at least once a week. If you would be so kind as to offer a small donation — like, say, $1.00 for every thousand words — I’d very much appreciate it. I’m setting a goal of raising $500 for Clarion this year, and I’d love to make it.

Here’s my author’s page, where you can take a look at my progress and make donations:

All right, I think that’s it for now. I have quite a lot of writing to do in order to catch up to things, and I’d better get started.

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Posted by on June 12, 2013 in Furries, Self-Reflection, Writing


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