Depeche Mode lyrics written by a robot

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From the notes that I’ve made so far, love seems something like wanting a scar.
– “The Meaning of Love”

You’re the one I like best.  You retain my interest.
– “The Sun and the Rainfall”

Here comes another sentence.  It is relentless.  It tries my patience.
– “Now, This Is Fun”

There was a time when all on my mind was love.  Now I find that most of the time love’s not enough in itself.  Consequently, I’ve a tendency to be unhappy, you see.
– “Love, In Itself”

Help the helpless.  But always remain ultimately selfish.
– “Get The Balance Right”

I can’t understand what makes a man hate another man.  Help me understand.
– “People are People”

I will thank you most of all for the respect you have for me.  I’m embarrassed.  It overwhelms me.
– “It Doesn’t Matter”

Someone who’ll stand by my side and give me support.  And in return she’ll get my support.  She will listen to me when I want to speak, about the world we live in and life in general.
– “Somebody”

Drink can alter you.  Girls can have strange effects, too.
– “Flexible”

There’s something beating here inside my body.  It’s called a heart.
– “It’s Called A Heart”

There are lambs for the slaughter.  There are flies on the windscreen.  Come here.  Touch me.  Kiss me.  Touch me.
– “Fly On The Windscreen”

Metropolis has nothing on this.  You’re breathing in fumes I taste when we kiss.
– “Stripped”

There is a sound in the calm.  Someone is coming to harm.
– “Waiting For The Night”

Life is such a short thing.  That I cannot comprehend.
– “Get Right With Me”

When you’re by my side there is no defence.  I forget to sense I’m dying.
– “Damaged People”

Exercise your basic right.  We could build a building site.
– “If You Want”

Don’t build at night.  You need a little night.  How else are you going to see what it is going to be like?
– “Monument”

Get out the crane.  Construction time again.  What is it this time?  We’re laying a pipeline.
– “Pipeline”

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Baseball Movies: Alibi Ike

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"Malaria, eh? Where can I send the rest of my pitchers to get it?"

Alibi Ike [Ray Enright, 1935] is the third baseball movie to star Joe E. Brown, and like the second [Elmer the Great], it’s based on a Ring Lardner story.  The first was called Fireman Save My Child, and I don’t think TCM ever shows it.  There were about five other movies called Fireman Save My Child between 1915 and 1945, and the horning in of a baseball subplot into that stock story probably did not make for a good film.

Alibi Ike is a bit of a classic and it’s a delight to watch.  I say that as someone who’s usually disappointed by the old-timey slapstick comedies.  Laurel + Hardy, Wheeler + Woolsey, and Abbott + Costello made a lot of movies quickly, and they tend to contain a bunch of routines which have so little to do with the plot that, much like certain animated comedies on the Fox Network, it’s impossible to remember which movie has the sight gag sequence with the car engine being used to cook breakfast or whatever.  Alibi Ike looks great and has sharp editing, good character actors everywhere, and [of course] a professional script.

I only knew Joe E. Brown as the foolish millionaire in Some Like It Hot — until I got familiar with the TCM capsule descriptions, because Joe E. Brown is up there with Leo Gorcey, Huntz Hall, and Loretta Young as a fixture of the forgotten films they show between midnight and noon on weekdays.  His heyday was really 25 years before Some Like It Hot, and in this film he reminds me of early Jim Carrey more than any other black-and-white comedian does.  He’s a wacky weirdo surrounded by a functioning society of normal people, but he has such confidence and is improbably capable at what he does, so everyone deals with him on his terms and then scratches their heads in confusion when he leaves.

Here, he plays Frank Farrell, a star pitcher and star hitter for Sauk Center who’s now a rookie for the Chicago Cubs.  He’s their only hope now that Pennock has been sent to the Yankees, and he gets on the nerves of the manager [“Cap”] because of his frankly inexplicable behavior.  There’s the massive overconfidence that makes him lose games after taking dumb risks, there’s his hick naivete, and then there’s the fact that he’s a pathological liar.

The premise here is that he makes up “alibis” [what we would now call “excuses” — really, the word “alibi” is no longer used AT ALL in the way Alibi Ike uses it] for everything he does.  But he makes up an alibi for sneezing, he makes up an alibi for receiving a letter, he makes up an alibi for eating peanuts, he makes up an alibi for being great at billiards.  This last one he does in the way your stereotypical pool shark does, being self-effacing and then blowing people away, but he’s not trying to trick anyone.  He’s just being weird.

This quirk is maintained consistently throughout the movie, to an admirable extent which is a bit worrying at times.  Also, I do not know why they were calling him “Ike”.  Someone asks why they call him “Ike” when his name is Frank, and the answer is “‘Cause he’s got an alibi for everything.  Alibi Ike.”  Lardner’s story is no help either.

With this premise, there could be tons of conversations where his insistence on making things up gets funnier and funnier, but the movie falls short in that respect.  They kept some of the story’s dialogue, but could have used more [it’s less than 7,000 words and almost all dialogue].  Instead, there’s a lot of one-liners which leave his interlocutor flummoxed and silent.  It makes you appreciate the craft of the Marx Brothers’ scripts.

The movie follows Lardner’s story pretty precisely, except that the hometown sweetheart of the story is now also the manager’s sister-in-law, and they threw in a “gamblers want him to throw the game” subplot which is ignored in every other scene, though it does lead to a great car chase.  The scene where they put him wise to the scheme is classic.

Alibi Ike: “Hey, what is this, anyway?”
Gangster boss: “This is a Christmas party, Farrell, and we’re playin’ Santa Claus.”
Alibi Ike: “Whaddya mean, Santa Claus?”
Gangster boss: “Now, quit kiddin’.  We’re giving you a choice.  We’re either gonna fill your stocking or your coffin, understand?”
Gangster: “Now, we’re giving you a big opportunity!  You can be a rich young man if you’re smart.”

The slapstick is sparse, but funny [an out-of-control car, an elevator, and a baggy jersey].  A lot of the comedy comes from Joe E. Brown’s face [his thin eyebrows and mouth remind me of Bob Hope, but when he makes a face it’s more like Jim Carrey], and his vocal tics.  I want to see him in something else now, to see if the goofy hick accent is his trademark or if it was put on for this movie.

Since it’s easier to write by asking oneself questions and then writing free-form answers, that’ll be our format for baseball movies, for which many of the questions will be the same.

Is it a period piece? I can’t tell.  The headlines at the beginning place us in a world where the major baseball news is PENNOCK TRADED FROM CUBS TO N.Y., CINCINNATI TO BUILD ATTACK AROUND POOLE, and RUTH SIGNS CONTRACT AS TRAINING SEASON OPENS. *

When Alibi Ike was made, Babe Ruth was 39, about to retire, and trying to get the Yankees managerial job before going to the Braves for a final season.  Herb Pennock was 40.  This puts the story in maybe 1925, at the height of those two guys’ stardom.  However, Pennock never played for the Cubs, and the only Poole the Reds ever had was in 1902-03, placing us in a parallel universe.

The uniforms we see mostly have a big C [not “Chicago” or “Cubs”] on the hat, and a C surrounding a bear on the jersey.  It’s the pointy C that we now see in the Reds, Bears, and Hiroshima Carp logos.  They’re probably Cubs uniforms from the early 30s, which means they’re white with blue and red designs.

The plot involves a pioneering night game, a 1935-specific detail**.  But the crime/throwing-games plotline seems like a throwback to the Ty Cobb/Joe Jackson era.  I think we’re operating in an idealized 1935 with Lardnerian characteristics.

Cameos from big-leaguers? Yes, but none are mentioned by name, none have any lines, and they aren’t really stars.  Out of 18 listed as “Major League Baseball Player (uncredited)” on IMDB, I’ve only heard of Don Hurst, Smead Jolley, Bob Meusel, and Jim Thorpe.  Most were washed up from the major leagues as of 1934 and playing for the Hollywood Stars [later partially owned by William Frawley] or some other PCL team.  Hiring restaurant-quality players like this as extras makes the film a lot better, and I’m surprised that they got no credit.

Is William Frawley involved? Yes.  He’s the manager.  They call him “Cap”, or “the Captain”, although he’s retired from playing.  At 47 he seems about 60.  Just as he seemed about 60 on I Love Lucy, when he was almost 70.  His wife wears a very weird floppy hat to a game at Minute 15.  Her sister is the rookie’s love interest and wears a horrible ruffled peignoir at Minute 20.

The age structure in this movie is all over the place, and I thought a table would be the best way to present the results. [Click it for a better view.] Note particularly that the data is homoscedastic with respect to age, but female gender is correlated with low variance across the three age variables.

Can the star play baseball? He played the game a lot and was a famous fan.  In this film I think we see him swing the bat once and connect with a slow pitch.  As a pitcher he has a great exaggerated windup, but we don’t see the ball leave his hand and go all the way to the plate, except in the scene where he’s intentionally walking everyone so he can look like more of a badass later on.  He makes a couple of very athletic plays in the climactic game.  I give him a 7, considering that he was 42 at the time.

What are ballplayers like? Jovial, competitive, but sincere.  Constant low-stakes pranks.  Basically princes of guys.  Which reflects the happy-go-lucky flow of Ring Lardner’s stories, less exaggerated and less nostalgic than Damon Runyon’s.  They get pretty mad when Ike embarrasses them with trick pool shots.

What are managers like? Gruff.  Obviously William Frawley is gruff, but the “Giants'” manager is gruff too.  Frawley’s wife Bess is bluff, approaching gruff.

Climactic game? Yes.  It seems like the movie covers about a month in the characters’ lives [albeit a month in which Ike and Dolly meet, fall in love, get separated by travel, get engaged, get separated by a quarrel, and then get back together], but it goes from the first day of spring training to the pennant-clinching game.  This game is against the Giants, who are clearly wearing Cardinals uniforms.  Bird on bat, classic.

The climactic game is ALSO the first night game at the Cubs’ field, which seems like an unnecessary risk.  It certainly was not filmed at Wrigley Field in Chicago, though the outfield fence is a brick wall which figures in the plot.  Like a ton of other baseball movies, it was filmed at the other Wrigley Field.

Will it wow me, the modern viewer, with its documentation of a bygone age, and if so, how? Occasionally – like the car chase, the footage of night baseball which must have been a real struggle to film, and the scene when he gets arrested for acting like a moron in a jewel store.  There’s not much baseball footage, but it’s realistic and involves players whose stature at the time was akin to that of Sal Fasano and Doug Glanville today.

* One of the sports pages also has the tantalizing headline “COLLEGES BATTLE IN LEAGUE“.  Now that’s lazy writing.

** The first MLB night game was in 1935, at the Reds’ Crosley Field.

Rating? 5 Ruthvens out of 6.

Dick RuthvenDick RuthvenDick RuthvenDick RuthvenDick RuthvenJoe Roa

Nottingham [Ridley Scott, 2010]

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Noticing all the movie podcasts out there, and listening to back issues, I’m acutely aware of the consensus about a lot of movies that, say, back in 2003, would have simply come and went without leaving any imprint on me other than “That was a [success / failure], wasn’t it?”.  I saw previews and TV ads for Antoine Fuqua’s King Arthur, but never felt the need to look into its critical reception once it became clear that it wasn’t going to be an omnipresent cultural phenomenon.  The same is true for The Musketeer, The Four Feathers, and Windtalkers. And Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven.

Nottingham (Ridley Scott, 2010)

But now…there’s probably more minutes of conversation recorded and easily available about Daybreakers, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, or even The Kids are All Right or Hunger, than about almost any film from the 1980s.  If you want to, you can hear someone of any personality type trying to describe his feelings about Robin Hood, struggling with whether a brief assessment is possible, and alternating between warm feelings and total disregard in an unscripted way that isn’t found in any of the professionally-crafted reviews of Windtalkers or King Arthur.  The informal conversation about those films is lost to the ages.

In one of Jim Gaffigan’s specials he addresses the pointlessness of seeing a movie years after the opportunity to talk about it with people has passed.  He imagines being scoffed at for having, in the 21st century, just seen Heat.  [Heat is a bad example.] Maybe I’d enjoy watching The Musketeer and seeing what elements might make the film worthy of recommendation.  But why that movie in particular?  Nobody’s talking about it.  I’m not going to hear anyone talking about it.  With Robin Hood I gave it underrated-underdog status from the first frame. I remembered hearing the regret in someone’s voice as he described positive attribute after positive attribute but still classified it a failure, because it met none of his expectations while seeming to try hard to meet them. My expectations would be different.

The common message of every review of Robin Hood is “If this was trying to be a Robin Hood movie, it failed.”  And since it’s difficult for a movie called Robin Hood to deny that it’s trying to be a Robin Hood movie, that’s a straightforward case for a 2-star review.  Hard to argue that a movie is a success if it failed.

The title ruins the movie.  Even as one of the few people who went into it thinking “This will be a prequel to the Robin Hood story.  A PREQUEL”, I couldn’t help but think “Oh my great good god, this really was not a Robin Hood story.  It is honestly pretty laughable that this was called Robin Hood.”  Calling this movie “Robin Hood” is like calling Smallville “Superman: The Legendary Journeys”.  Literally, he is only Robin Hood during the closing narration of the film.

Oscar Isaac's King John, in the "insecure sybarite English king" tradition of Peter O'Toole and Jonathan Rhys Meyers

And it’s a really good movie!  It deserves the sequel that may or may not occur.  The Crusades stuff is good, the King John stuff is good, the Nottingham small-town stuff is good, the war with France stuff is good — it may not hold together perfectly but it’s all well done and it’s expertly leading up to something.  But I can’t recommend the movie to anyone because you can’t convince someone to see something they’ll only enjoy if they ignore the title.

The more I think about this the more annoyed I get.  Literally any other title would have been okay.  Call it Robin Hood Part One, Robin Longstride, Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood, Robin Hood 0: Hypercube.  In fact, it did have a different title for most of its gestation period. At one point Ridley Scott’s Nottingham was supposed to be from the titular Sheriff’s point of view.  At another point it had Sienna Miller instead of Cate Blanchett, which would have been suboptimal.

That source [Jan. 13, 2009]:

Furthermore, Page Six reports that Crowe has demanded significant rewrites to enhance his character. “Originally the movie was about a love triangle between Maid Marian, Robin Hood and the Sheriff of Nottingham,” says its source. “It is now all about Russell’s Robin Hood. Literally, 40 pages of script were redone and now are just devoted to him and his massive ego. It’s amazing.”

Ironically, the addition of all the heroic stuff for Robin Hood to do, if such a Crowe-coerced alteration did occur, made it into more of a prequel and less of a Robin Hood movie.  It also made it less of a Nottingham movie, since the two other elements of the now-absent love triangle are in Nottingham while Robin is laying siege to French castles and charging out of the English Channel with a sword.  And…Nottingham would still have been a better title.  It promises less, and it doesn’t make us think we know what to expect.

I swear, if this movie was called Nottingham the tómatómeter score would be 20 points higher.  Instead of “If this was trying to be a Robin Hood movie, it failed”, the conventional wisdom would be “Ridley Scott’s Nottingham has whetted appetites for his upcoming actual Robin Hood movie, which is going to be this generation’s defining Robin Hood experience.”  But the title was changed to Robin Hood, whether to help name recognition, to reflect the disappearance of the Sheriff from nearly all of the plot, or to avoid awkwardness of Americans wondering if they should say “Notting Ham” or “Nottingam”, we do not know.  And now…it made $310 million worldwide, but the buzz around a sequel seems limited to Kevin Durand, who played one of the not-yet-Merry proto-Men, talking about how much fun it is to ride a horse on a beach brandishing a mediæval weapon.

Notes:

  • The host of a certain podcast, to kick off a side discussion of the Errol Flynn Robin Hood, referred to it as “the Errol Morris Robin Hood“, with no co-hosts seeming to notice.
  • The evil guy played by Mark Strong is even more cartoonish than the evil guy played by Mark Strong in Sherlock Holmes.  That criticism is merited.  What’s unfair is criticism of the lack of romantic chemistry between Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett.  I like to think both the actors and the characters are aware that no romantic chemistry is necessary.  They have a job to do.  Crowe is 48, Blanchett 40, and they don’t try to look younger than 40.
  • Speaking of Sherlock Holmes, it’s weird as well that that movie is called “Sherlock Holmes” with no subtitle.   But at least it’s not a prequel.  It’s not 90 minutes of a 25-year-old Holmes bare-knuckle boxing, intercut with Dr. Watson serving in the British Army in India and Afghanistan, with them meeting in the final scene as they both look for apartments on Baker Street.
  • Can we get a special edition of the DVD, identical to the version that was just released, only with every instance of the title replaced by Nottingham?  Then I could recommend it to others without mumbling an apology for its ponderosity and lack of Robin Hood antics.
  • Much of the commentary on this film has been comparisons to Kingdom of Heaven, another Ridley Scott movie about the Crusades devoid of sprightliness or scenes involving Robin Hood.  And it seems like some people who thought the theatrical cut of Kingdom of Heaven was 10% of a masterpiece believe that its director’s cut is 90% of a masterpiece.  I’m familiar with a DVD-only director’s cut being the most popular cut of a movie among purists and fans of the director, but for Kingdom of Heaven [and now Watchmen] it seems like the DEFAULT version of the film on DVD is much longer and more complex than the theatrical version.  I thank Ridley Scott for this, just as I thank him for perfecting the art of filming dust particles in shafts of sunlight.

The Duellists (Ridley Scott, 1977)

Partial Filmography: Max von Sydow

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Moomins and the Comet Chase (2010)
Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood (2010)
Rush Hour 3 (2007)
Minority Report (2002)
What Dreams May Come (1998)
Judge Dredd (1995)
Needful Things (1993)
The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles (1993)
The Ox (1991)
Ghostbusters II (1989)
Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)
Kojak: The Belarus File (1985)
Code Name: Emerald (1985)
Deathscape (1984)
Dune (1984)
The Adventures of Bob & Doug McKenzie: Strange Brew (1983)
Conan the Barbarian (1982)
Flash Gordon (1980)
Brass Target (1978)
The Ultimate Warrior (1975)
The Softening of the Egg (1975)
The Apple War (1971)
Black Palm Trees (1968)
Hawaii (1966)
The Quiller Memorandum (1966)
Wonderful Adventures of Nils (1962)
Rabies (1958)
The Minister of Uddarbo (1957)
Mr. Sleeman Is Coming (1957)

Moomins and the Comet Chase (2010)
Robin Hood (2010)
Minority Report (2002)
Flash Gordon (1980)
Judge Dredd (1995)
Ghostbusters II (1989)
Kojak: The Belarus File (1985)
The Adventures of Bob & Doug McKenzie: Strange Brew (1983)
Needful Things (1993)
Conan the Barbarian (1982)
Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)
Deathscape (1984)
Dune (1984)
What Dreams May Come (1998)
Rush Hour 3 (2007)
The Ultimate Warrior (1975)
The Softening of the Egg (1975)
Black Palm Trees (1968)
Wonderful Adventures of Nils (1962)
The Minister of Uddarbo (1957)
Mr. Sleeman Is Coming (1957)
Rabies (1958)
Hawaii (1966)

“STEN EGIL DAHL”

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It’s easy for foreign films to feel timeless.  Summer Hours, Take My Eyes, The Taste of Others, The Beat That My Heart Skipped, Respiro, Revanche, Up and Down — I try to think of my favorite European dramas of the last decade, and for most of them, I’m pretty sure they were set in the present time, but would not be bewildered to know they were set in 1995 or 1980. I can’t avoid noticing the details that tell us The Box and We Own the Night are period pieces, while Donnie Darko and Two Lovers aren’t. But when something’s set abroad, unless the plot hinges on some sort of decade-specific communication technology or political controversy, I can’t immediately put my finger on what details place it in a given year.  And if a film is really, really good, the lack of concrete association with a time and place makes it seem even more univerally applicable to the human condition, or man’s journey against man, or whatever.

[Note: Possibly the most laughable use of technology to date a flashback within a film is at minute 30 of Righteous Kill, when the Leguizamo-D. Wahlberg cop duo is awed by an apartment so lavish that it contains a 32-inch flat-screen TV.  Although, since the movie’s structure of “Robert De Niro describes a series of crimes that occurred over the course of his long career” is somewhat undermined by the fact that all the crimes basically occurred during the Bloomberg administration, it’s kind of nice of them to make it absolutely clear that something is happening in 2003 rather than 2007.]

I watched the entirety of Reprise [Joachim Trier, 2006], including closing credits, under the impression that it was by the same director as 2003’s Reconstruction, another nebulous movie about the various possibilities in the lives of two ambivalent young men.  As it turns out, it isn’t even from the same country [although, Norway and Denmark…same country], and both films were debuts.  Reconstruction is a shifting, claustrophobic, dreamlike story that contradicts and folds in on itself.  Reprise is full of open spaces [everywhere except the house where Phillip’s mental illness gets better and worse], ambitions ranging from modest to outlandish, and characters always measuring themselves against outside forces.  Seeing it through the lens of the earlier film was like watching Summer Hours after being dismayed by Irma Vep.  “That one was a lovely math problem…but this one is a story!”

Notwithstanding my Literature of the Americas professor, whose habit was to make every assignment “Comment on [Ethnographic Short Story A] through the lens of either [Ethnographic Short Story B] or [Ethnographic Short Story C]”, writing about random coincidences that bring two disparate things together is not really productive.  So I’ll shift now to commenting on Reprise through the lens of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World.

I haven’t seen Scott Pilgrim, because being 28 and no longer in my college town, I am panicked by the idea of nostalgia already for moments of my adulthood.  I didn’t go out of my way to see [500] Days of Summer, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, or Paper Heart either.  Small stories [The Exploding Girl, Funny Ha Ha] can make me think about my life in a new and refreshing way, but adventures of Earth’s most funtastic twentysomethings evoke memories of feeling out of place among those people’s provincial analogues.  A Hollywood movie hipper than me?  After seeing the total botch of Maggie Gyllenhaal’s character in Stranger Than Fiction, who’d be more comfortable in Empire Records or Singles, I didn’t think that would happen for a while yet. But we have to come to terms with, you know, time, death, shoes, socks, hair, haircut.

But Reprise is a movie like that, and I was able to love it because it’s set in a parallel universe [Norway].  A parallel universe in which I couldn’t tell whether it’s anachronistic that the two main characters dream of becoming celebrities via intellectual novel-writing.  It’s about people my age, going from awesome carefreedom to a transitional period of uncertainty and compromise that may last the next 60 years.  It has one of the 21st century’s best party scenes [“Who took the bomp?”], and the jumps into what-if storytelling are both playful and affecting, as we don’t know if they’re the characters’ plans, idle fantasies, or the narrator’s absolute knowledge of what the alternate scenario would be.

Ty Burr’s review perfectly describes the plot and characters; what’s left to say?

First: the film goes on generous tangents about Phillip and Erik’s friends, explaining where Lars or Geir came from and his role in their little society, but Phillip and Erik’s girlfriends [Kari and Lillian] are exclusively seen through Phillip and Erik’s eyes.  I feel like this was intentional.  Lillian is not that important to Erik, especially in terms of how he envisions his career, while Phillip sees his romance with Kari [that’s her as Anna Karina in the above still] as integral to his success.  So many other details like that emerge during the film to distinguish the two guys from each other, in temperament, self-image, strategies for dealing with strangers…all of which are obviously going to direct them down different paths in life, as they wonder why they aren’t moving in tandem as they had dreamed.

Second: There’s a wonderfully sympathetic depiction of literary publishers, especially the woman who takes special interest in Erik [and walks away from one scene as if in panic that his friends are infecting him with wrong thought and she can’t do anything about it].  In movies about writers and other creative types, we can expect agents and publishers to be cynical philistines, often comic relief [e.g. Jim Belushi in The Ghost Writer].  Here, there’s a heightened discussion between writer and publisher, as both try to show how indispensable they are to the other, and what each of them understands that the other doesn’t.  We the viewers/readers have no idea what “Prosopopoeia” means; why doesn’t Erik care?

Third: Reprise!  It’s hip, it’s now, it’s what’s happening!  It shows the young generation as it really is — the love of Joy Division and late-80s punk, the irresistible urge to write novels with stark, text-only cover design, the  struggle for the glamour conferred by newspaper reviews and professorial round-table TV discussions.  The stakes are low, as the characters kind of know what their lifestyle and peer group will be, no matter how “successful” they are, but what stakes could be higher than the very synapses of the human brain?

Legendary fictional reclusive author Sten Egil Dahl, played by Sigmund Sæverud. When the boys finally meet him they seek inspiration in his patience and lack of enthusiasm.

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