THE AIR FRANCE CONCORDE that crashed
after taking off from Charles DeGaulle airport yesterday will probably
mark then end of the plane's useful life as a commercial airline, which
is kind of a shame.
The Concorde is a classic case of a technology defeated
by the grinding practicalities of its time. Sure, there are no airliners
faster, but there are times when speed isn't the paramount objective it
appears to be. The fact is that breaking the sound barrier and getting
you from Paris to New York in three hours was only useful to a handful
of people, most of whom still payed less, at $10,000 a trip, than the journey
really cost. There are unforgiving physical limits to what we can do with
our technology, as anyone who's had to live near the flightpath of the
Concorde, and suffered its sonic boom will tell you -- like K.'s folks
in rural Nova Scotia.
As a result, the Concorde could never fly over populated
areas, making it only useful for trans-oceanic voyages. It also took up
too much fuel -- a tonne per passenger -- to power its engines, and couldn't
be built much larger, making the whole aircraft one big first-class section.
The fact is that air travel works on the same economic
basis that made the old ocean liners run -- a pampered, much-advertised,
but tiny luxury section subsidized by a huge, cramped steerage compartment
that really pays the bills. As a result, intercontinental air travel is
a dull, gruelling experience for which you're charged top dollar for the
few amenities -- leg room, decent food, a choice of diversions -- that
might make it endurable. The rest of us can only suffer till we hit the
ground. The Concorde was a future that went nowhere, because there really
IS no future, only the present pulling the enormous, indispensible baggage
of the past.
WITH K. AT WORK TILL 11 PM every night, I'm emptying the
local Blockbuster of any films that seem remotely watchable. Mostly, I'm
renting the kind of "guy films" -- violent, nihilistic, bleak, romance-free
-- that K. would rather not watch most of the time. I had a happy experience
Room, a film about crooked stockbrokers that I missed in the theatres,
and hoped against hope that Spike Lee wouldn't disappoint me again with
You have to understand that I don't watch movies to escape,
or even to have a perfect aesthetic experience. I'll watch a bad film --
hopefully on t.v. where I don't have to pay for it -- just because the
subject matter interests me, or because I think it might say something
about the filmmaker, or the time it was made, or give me some sensation
of an era's fantasy life. I haven't like anything Spike Lee has done in
years, but I hoped that his film might bring back some memories of the
late seventies, a time that I remember with jagged vividness, and which
in no way resembles "That 70s Show".
It was awful. I couldn't even make it to the end.
"This is really pissing me off," I said to K., pointing
to the screen with the remote just as the plot reached a point that hinted
at imminent, awful bloodletting and catharsis.
"Don't let me stop you," K. said with a grin. She'd come
home a bit earlier than usual, and didn't seem thrilled when I told her
what I was watching. She'd gone upstairs and done the dishes, poured herself
a beer and came down with cigarettes and an ashtray. She watched silently
while I sighed and fumed.
If I were Italian, I'd have hated it even more, since
it made the average Brooklyn Italian look like an ape, a foul-mouthed,
dick-pulling, virgin-worshipping, mafia-supporting, greasy nitwit. I can
only imagine the reaction if an Italian-American -- say Martin Scorsese
-- had made a film that made Bed-Stuy blacks look like a bunch of gangsta
jack-offs, dropping illegitimate children and flying off the handle, guns
at the ready, at any percieved "dis". Of course, Scorsese doesn't have
to make those films because they're already being made as videos by hip
hop artists, and by the major studios with hungry young black directors
at the helm. I hate all this brutal, insidious, racist crap, so why should
I think Spike Lee is being incisive and provocative when he just seems
incapable of making a white character half as sympathetic as a black one?
It's not such a big problem, I suppose, until he makes a film where almost
all of the characters are white.
I can only imagine what some miserable bully of a New
York Italian must have done to Spike Lee all those years ago to engender
such apparent hatred. If there was no such incident buried in the man's
past, I can only assume that Spike Lee is as big an idiot as I've always
supposed him to be.
Never mind the complete misportrayal of the CBGB scene
in 1977, which had dog collars and safety pins, sure, but precious few
mohawks and no shiny chrome tongue and nose piercings. It was an artier
scene than Lee shows, but it looks positively highbrow compared to the
foul cesspit of an Italian enclave where most of the film occurs.
If he got one thing right, it was the omnipresent paranoia
that seemed everywhere at the time, and the sour way the sexual revolution
was going bad, turning promises of pleasure into diagnoses of venereal
disease, wiping out marriages in an avalanche of talk about "relationships"
and "honesty". Then again, any third-rate
right-wing pundit or pop cultural historian could have painted this
picture, and Lee only makes it all the more unwatchable by making virtually
every character either pathetic, idiotic, cretinous or irredeemable. I
can sit through any number of films peopled with "unsympathetic" characters,
but when I start to feel that the director holds his characters in contempt,
I have no choice but to cut my losses.
His visual panache -- the camera angles and movements
that made his early films so interesting -- is turning into a calcified
battery of gestures he pulls out to cover up his utter ineptitude with
dialogue, his apparent, yet selective misanthropy. What a waste of two
I DIDN'T WANT TO JINX IT by talking about it too much,
but a few months ago I applied for a grant from the city's arts
council, awarded every year to writers. I didn't think I stood a chance
in hell -- despite the fact that I'm a published writer, and the novel
is set in the city, and I'm such a hermit that I can't imagine that I might
have pissed off enough people to dutch my chances -- but I'd always assumed
these things were a clique's business, that the worth of your project was
massively mitigated by your value as a member, or appendage, of the city's
I knew how juries worked when they awarded money for films
and art projects, and I'd been dismayed by the lobbying and backscratching
and logrolling and spitefulness. I assumed that writers' juries worked
the same way, and they probably do when the money is bigger than a grand
and a half, but in any case, I got the grant, just in time not to have
to worry about rent for a month or two.
I'm applying for a larger amount from the provincial arts
council in a few days, provided I can whip my manuscript into shape, but
cheque that came in the mail yesterday should give me the luxury of a month
or two to try and finish the novel I started almost two years ago. A day
hasn't gone by when I haven't thought about the book, and the place I'd
left my characters, but if I've learned one thing, it's that time is the
one factor essential to finishing a book, and time is also the scarcest
commodity -- clear, anxiety-free, undistracted time. I haven't had a lot
of that since I finished chapter ten of my book. If I get the grant from
the province, I'll have time to work on re-drafting the book -- which will
take more time, I'm sure, than finishing the first draft -- and shop it
around to publishers and agents. I can only imagine what a drag that might
I haven't been updating too frequently here, and if I'm
working on the book I'll probably have little energy left over for this
diary, but maybe chaining myself to my desk will give me little choice
but to set aside the story and clear my head with a few thoughts about
the whole, cramped process of fiction writing. As it stands, I have to
go to London before the summer's out to do some interviews for the Big
National Daily, and I was hoping to set aside a day or two for research
there, to flesh out the scenes in the book set in the city. I also wanted
to go to Ottawa before the fall, to do some research in the National Archives
on my father and his RCAF unit, so I'll hopefully have more material for
this site that isn't just the sound of thoughts rolling around my head.