Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Four Best Books by Wolf DeVoon

These four books are certainly representative, three novels and a volume of short stories, written during the past few years. There are many more that I care about, but these four in particular were mature and deliberate, as if each might be the last.

Chiseltown is my most recent, the story of a fictional filmmaker and a feature film. There's quite a lot of humor, some mildly adult intimacy, and an accessible narrative of how a "low budget" movie is created and completed, almost always a question of Who Knows Who.

Charity was part of a series (The Case Files of Cable & Blount) told in first person, a parable of privilege, discovery, black ops, and a cryptocurrency caper that destabilizes global banking. I like it because it deals with an important truth, that love is unchosen destiny.

Partners is set in 1975, an icy Wisconsin winter, an intimate struggle of triangles and tragedy. Men are killed. The stakes are as high as humanly imaginable in a war of innocent romance and steely determination.

Four Strange Stories is a collection of dreams, truths, seduction, and a complex portrait of a free society in the future, the widest possible mirror of what I think and feel as a man.

It cost quite a lot to create those works, plus twenty other self-published books, a half dozen screenplays, and thirty or forty miles of film and video. I started as a teenage filmmaker, learned to write along the way. My first job in Hollywood was an original screenplay. The last one was a cubicle at Disney, spending six figures of Mickey's money. I felt it was time to quit the "fillum" business. There are a couple recent video lectures, if you care to see what I look and sound like at age 69.

It stuns me when I apprehend that there's another story to tell, doubting my ability to write another full length novel -- however I am certain of this much: I cannot disown my literary legacy, nor the ideas that I endeavored to communicate, right wrong or purple. Like Popeye the Sailor, I am what I am and that's all what I am.


Thursday, August 29, 2019

Just so you know

'Chiseltown' is completed. It is an intensely personal story, although it has nothing to do with me personally, as odd as that may sound. It's about a fictional filmmaker and a movie, from the first phone call to the last. That's how movies are made. I suppose it's not so different in other walks of life. Somebody calls, you do something, there's another phone call to find out if they liked whatever it was that you did. A producer calls, a movie is made, and then there's another phone call from a preview screening to report average Jane and John Doe audience response, in Fresno traditionally. Audience cards don't matter. What matters is whether the movie made them laugh and gasp and cry real tears, because movies should do that.

Along the way, 'Chiseltown' presents a detailed, accessible education in filmmaking, how a script is written and funded and translated into actors and location shoots and sound stages with forced perspective to create a convincing night exterior scene, or an apartment, or a repair shop. Bruno Heckmeier is making a low-budget movie. There are severe obstacles to overcome. He has an unusual home life. There's an enormous amount of comedy for light entertainment purposes. Some of the story is serious literature. Some is slightly adult.

I found that I cared very deeply about the 7 or 8 principal players in this story. There are many more bit players, and if it seems unusual to have so many characters, please consider that the movie Bruno makes involves a production company of fifty skilled professionals, stunt men, two very capable stars, and an unusual supporting cast. It's a very short schedule, six weeks to organize it, six weeks to shoot everything, and six weeks of post production. Trust me, that's working at lightning speed.

It's a personal story in two respects. I had to write the movie for Bruno to make. And I had to live in Bruno's shoes (and those of all the other characters) with honesty, humor, drama, and a deep understanding of the men and women who call themselves "show people," no matter what their specialty or contribution to a motion picture is. Camera grip, driver, bookkeeper, electrician, set decorator, or seamstress -- they are people who sacrifice much to work a few weeks on a movie, a collaborative art that cannot be created without them. I've done many "below the line" production jobs for an hourly wage, in addition to "above the line" writing, producing, and directing.  You have to take my word for it. Directing is a high privilege.

It's done by lots of different men and women. 'Chiseltown' is directed by a talented, goofy, warmhearted, intelligent middle aged guy who got stuck on Poverty Row doing low-budget movies, while others did studio pictures with an average budget of $75 million. Bruno has to conceive and execute a feature film on 1/5 as much money, and he wants it to succeed, not only at the box office, but critically as well. Being an "indie" confers a great deal of freedom. No studio moguls, Teamsters, or IATSE work rules. The whole of Los Angeles as a locale, in a "period" setting that's fun to shoot.

I always experience emotional awe when I've finished a story. 'Chiseltown' is in a class of its own, among all the stories I've written, among all the fictional characters that I loved and still love, of course. The story of making a movie is a personal confession of my lifelong passion.  'Chiseltown' is a movie I didn't get to make, and it's deeply gratifying to have directed its fictional creation. Many of the characters are based on people who I knew and worked with and loved.

Please buy a copy (less than $5 at Lulu) and review it. Thanks.


Friday, August 16, 2019

Attn Salem radio host Eric Metaxas

I have a dog. If the sun is too hot, he sits in the shade. When he hears or smells something that constitutes a challenge to his safety, he barks. When he tires, he snoozes. When he's thirsty, he drinks, and when he's hungry, he eats. He's independent, affectionate, playful, obedient, knows his name and listens to me, because he knows I can help him. Some of the procedures are uncomfortable, like removing a tick. He's a rational animal in many respects. He likes friendly people and friendly dogs, especially females of his own breed.

Simple facts. It does not matter where the Universe came from. It has no bearing on our life. Physical principles like gravity, propagation of heat and light, phases and chemical properties of certain elements and molecules, radioactive isotopes, density, electromagnetism, cosmic rays, and numerous other objectively observable and measurable aspects of the Universe are rational subjects of study. Tall tales concocted by ancients are not. Eyewitness statements concerning "miracles" and alleged "resurrection" of a charismatic rabbi who was put to death are irrelevant to the study of reality. Biologically, when an animal dies, it is dead. There is no life after death, an impossible contradiction in terms. Magic words and rituals can't influence industry or agriculture, except as psychological assaults, no different than false advertising, arbitrary constructs of political obligation, wishful thinking, or idleness, none of which are beneficial. Proper nutrition, reality-oriented cognitive development, and work to provide for the future matters. Medical knowledge matters. Hygiene matters. Capital and durable goods like structures, roads, utilities, and machines extend life and health. Science and math are the keys to success. Prayer and worship achieve nothing in physical reality. Without physical equipment, you would have no radio show, no books, no food or water or medical care.

There is abundant geologic evidence of erosion, deposition, subsidence, tectonic shifts, and extinction events in the rock record to prove that the Earth is billions of years old. Your ability to travel on aircraft resulted from applied science and math, unrelated to claims of faith in supernatural guidance. The entire historical record of religion has been dubious conjectures,  opposition to science, and misdirection of resources. Evil is willful evasion of knowledge. Fantasies of "divine right" to conquer and rule were bloodthirsty evil wrought by mysticism, whether Jewish, Catholic, Anglican, Masonic, Hindu, Apache, Islamic, Mau Mau, or Nazi.

Effusive praise for homosexual Elton John is idolatry, sir.

I think you're an honest guy, no cruelty in you, and very funny. Comedy requires enormous courage and cleverness, which I know from associating with other talented comedians. So, I salute you personally despite epistemological and ethical differences. It would be a strange world if everyone agreed. New ideas emerge from time to time in human history. I think it's accurate to say that you are happy with the Bible, a collection of ancient tales, correct?



The paradox of achievement

Do you know the story of Thomas Alvah Edison? Uneducated, impoverished, got a job tossing bags in an express car, taught himself Morse Code and worked as a night operator. An idea occurred to him. Duplex telegraphy would double the traffic on a circuit. Then he showed bankers how to speed up stock tickers. Then voice recording, evolved into a wax dictaphone. Then practical electric light and the fixtures required for illumination. We still call modern lamp bases "Edison" sockets. Then a motion picture camera, one of the first in history. Edison was a terrible husband and neglectful father, went on road trips with Firestone and Ford.

No comparison of stature intended, but that's how I lived my life. I was kicked out of school at age 14. I worked in a shoe factory. I learned to smoke cigarettes, pot, and opium in cheap nightclubs and hippie crash pads. Then I discovered 16mm and began a lifelong romance with making films. Thousands of feet rushed through the gate, ran through projectors. I pioneered a burst-frame technique, cutting in the camera, multimedia shows, trick handheld shots.

All this would have been fine, except that I read Atlas Shrugged at age 22. Two years later, I defended myself in Federal Court, appealed to the Seventh Circuit, and went to prison. The experience damaged my moral character profoundly, which was never glued on very well in the first place as a libertine hippie, inflamed by the ideals of Objectivism. To make matters worse, I moved to Hollywood, determined to succeed as a filmmaker, a far more ambitious plunge into vanity and temptation. There were loves, losses, seductions, music clips, and movies as a brash young film director who wrecked everything he touched. At age 40, I had one last shot at success in London. Good show, an A-List cast and crew. No sales. It doesn't matter how the next ten years played out. There was a misfire at Columbia Tri-Star and little video projects, exile on a ranch, a year at Disney pushing paper, a nightclub in Nevada, and another assault on New York. I lived in Holland a couple years and Scotland a couple years, unable to earn a living no matter what I did. And then a funny thing happened. I started to write. My essays caught the attention of an editor.

Remember Edison? -- uneducated and impoverished, ultimately a successful inventor. I was similarly situated, with the additional handicap of radical Objectivism. A stint of publicity and privilege in Costa Rica challenged and freed me. I hit upon an idea, then another. Years flew by, probing the depths of a new career, convinced that I could succeed intellectually.

Cut to the present. Grinding poverty, real hardship, at all points of the human compass a life of constant humiliation, including colossal failure as a husband and father, unread and zero expectation of being noticed. When one is self-published, it kills any hope of being agented or published or selling film rights. Worse, my books are politically verboten, a neanderthal sense of life, irredeemably white male. At age 69, it's doubtful that I can continue. My life is ebbing away, and it's easy to conclude that I failed in every conceivable way. I will be buried in a pauper's grave, no one to mourn my death, no Wikipedia page.

And yet, the body of literary work is immense and original. Some of the fiction is excellent, and the ideas I propounded will survive and triumph. The paradox of achievement is strange indeed. If I had a conventional path, higher ed, and a prosperous career, I would have never conceived The Freeman's Constitution or defacto anarchy. Feeling the approach of a final season or two, I recorded a series of videos. Whenever I doubt my success as an inventor, I replay 'Abbreviated Wolf DeVoon: Part One, Part Two' and rejoice at its clarity, complexity, scholarship, and dignity. It was a life well spent.

click to enlarge


Thursday, July 11, 2019


When I was 11 years old, I told Rev. Boland that I didn't believe in God. He replied without criticism that "You're not the first one." I concluded that Rev. Boland didn't believe in God, either. He was a good minister who people listened to and admired. A couple years later, he quit our congregation and moved to the Apostle Islands in Lake Superior. Quite beautiful up there and almost no Germans. I don't remember the replacement minister's name, but he wanted to build a new concrete block building for social activities, and he fired my mother, who played the organ in church a dozen years somewhat badly. God eventually caught up with him, disbanded his elderly debt-laden congregation, and later destroyed the historic Friedens church with a bolt of lightning that ignited its steeple and gutted the interior.

In college, I went to a splendid old Catholic church and asked the priest how it was possible to perform rituals that were obviously crazy? He said it was important for social control, to keep people from doing wrong. Made no sense. His parish was too rich to do wrong.

In Tripoli, it was almost impossible to shop for food. Minarets blared five times a day, and shops closed for prayers. There was one bookstore in downtown Tripoli. It was jammed with hundreds of Korans, all kinds of fancy bindings, no other books, no foreign newspapers. I pitied the guys who flew to oil rigs in the desert. Pilots in flight knelt and prayed. They used bungie cords lashed to their control column as an autopilot. Allah flew the plane. Muslims actually believe that everything happens according to the Will of Allah. Two plus two equals four because Allah wills it, and Allah could change his mind, make it humanly incalcuable.

I learned to be tolerant of friends and neighbors who attend church. They're good, decent people who have been kind to me, a sort of reverse toleration, which puts me in mind of the Maryland Toleration Act of 1680 or thereabouts (I forget the exact year). Catholic Maryland pledged to tolerate other sects of Christianity, particularly Nonconformists and Anglicans,  and to put atheists to death and burn their homesteads.

In the U.S. Supreme Court case of Engel v Vitale, the court held that we are a religious people and we have Christian symbols and slogans on our money, Congress prays before they begin each session of legislation, and the Supreme Court itself has prominent architectural features that pledge allegiance to the Ten Commandments, and therefore prayer in public schools is unconstitutional. Atheists took this as a cue to tear down public Christmas displays of cows, sheep, and kneeling kings adoring a plastic Baby Jesus in a manger. Reindeer led by Rudolph with an electrified red nose are okay, I think, although strictly speaking, Santa is a religious figure, transmuted from an historic Saint Nicholas who threw gold through a window to save three daughters from imminent sale into slavery by an impoverished father. Santa became a jolly old fat man in red courtesy of Coca Cola advertising art. In Holland, "Sinta Klas" wears a white robe and red bishop's miter, accompanied by a servant, to give gifts on December 6th, unrelated to Christmas, which is a solemn ceremony, although scholars know that Jesus was born in springtime, and the DOB was moved to late December to co-opt pagan winter rites involving little fir trees, burning logs, reindeer meat, heavy drinking, and revelry.

My parents were partly pagan. I was born in late September.

Forgive me, just thought of something. Music is holy. My mind flashed back to Los Angeles in the late 70s. The Blue Note jazz club was on the top floor of a Hollywood office tower. The Baked Potato was on Cahuenga, a stone's throw from Universal. The Lighthouse was in Santa Monica, and there were headliner jazz concerts in Orange County. Over the years, I worked backstage at a bunch of big showrooms in Sydney, London, Lake Tahoe, and the Bay Area, never tired of music, always enjoyed multitrack mixing, working with choreographers and dancers, dozens of superlative musicians and shockingly gifted vocalists.



Sunday, July 7, 2019

Pleasant memories

Taking my daughter to the theater, a truly excellent Celtic Women tour de force in Houston. Relaxed intimacy of the Regal in Subiaco to see a Disney musical, then a tribute to Sinatra. A day at the Aquarium to feed rays by hand and marvel at white tigers. Zoos and museums all over the world. White sand beaches, horse stables, and a butterfly dome. Driving her to visit kid friends, a hundred trips that were never dull. She tops the best of pleasant memories, too many to inventory. Watching her take off in an airplane, 'pilot flying' at age twelve. Hearing her voice echo in a storm sewer in conversation with her sidekick, an intrepid lad who was miles behind her intellectually. Two neighbor girls for a sleepover, making bed rolls for them on the floor and feeding them as generously as possible. A big list of honors and duties as a Dad. I carried her in my arms from Greenwich to Whitehall, sleepy and limp.

My first real job, in a noisy factory, pocket money, learning craftsmanship at age 16. A dozen years later, riding the Main Line and the Broad Street Subway daily to another job, another craft. I would learn all the trades, blue collar and white, from ditch digging and demolition to custom electromechanical gismos that I designed, tested, aligned, and installed. The steely thrill of refurbishing a complex sound system with multiple zones and multiple triggers, to be heard over the din of slot machines, made possible with 1/3-octave measurement of the environmental racket to push announcements through a narrow slot of frequencies, heard clear as a bell. Installing sound bars and speaker systems that I built by hand.

I had a basement radio shack when I was a kid, listened to the world and chatted with grown men on CB. I soldered Knight Kits together with steady concentration, a delight when I threw the switch and it worked. There were Estes rockets and nichrome igniters.

Most of the films and videos were wonderful experiences, too many to list. Thousands of moments, hours, days, nights, and situations that were electric, monumental, unrepeatable, mine to savor because I made it possible and it succeeded as signature work. The stream of life on screen. The glory of cutting -- directing the editor with a snap of my fingers to mark the exact moment, one of the highest pleasures known to man. Standby, ready, snap!

I liked operating equipment myself when I could, an old Steenbeck, a Sony 800, or a clunky control track rig. I can't guess how many cameras I held in my hands. I adored mixing music, creating a stereo image and sonically shaping each input on a big desk. Every time I hung a luminaire and focused and gelled it, I felt the sweaty reverence of painting with light.

OMG -- the women!

Solemn admiration for Wright's Price Tower, Pei's Bank of China skyscraper, and the oils of Vermeer's Melkmaid in a museum. I was born in the era of passenger rail -- journeys on the Chicago & North Western, the 20th Century Limited, the Reading Line, British Rail, superwide Deutschesbahn, cramped Dutch inter-urban, and steam V&T. To be completely honest, I very much miss the L-1011, finest airliner in history. No brag, just fact, my 3-D video microscope and focusable fiber optic lamps diagnosed what was wrong with the L-1011 cockpit windows, a manufacturing defect in the gold film layer that defrosted it. I explained how to fix it. My pal Bud Alger did the main cabin video projectors. Lockheed was a local Burbank customer.

I suppose that the streets of New York were grand, but I was so busy that I seldom saw the skyline, although I shared a 3rd floor Midtown walk-up with a good view of the Empire State Building illuminated every night. Covent Garden and Wardour Street were nice. I spent two years in London and a couple more in Scotland. I learned to love the game of snooker. There is a rugged simplicity of Scots that makes one a better human being by osmosis.

And that brings me to the subject of literature. RLS has a place in my heart like no other, the simple tale of Kidnapped, a great gift that I often re-read, always fresh and inspiring. I own a volume of Hammett's novels and have a sharp recollection of Bogart as Sam Spade. Chandler said that the best Marlowe was Bogart. I would be hard pressed to say which of his movies was better -- Bogart opposite Kate Hepburn in The African Queen, or Bogart opposite Edward G. Robinson in Key Largo, or Bogart fencing with Sidney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre in The Maltese Falcon. A thinking man's hero, ruthless, inquisitive, and necessarily stupid.

The human experience as I understand it is a string of blunders, the natural karma of heroes and heroines, the plot twists of Atlas Shrugged. Francisco -- oops ... Hank -- oops ... Galt as a final choice. The blunders in Fountainhead are infinitely worse. I think it's all of a piece, the pleasant memories and colossal disasters. I did not dislike carrying a loaded gun, safety off, ready to kill or be killed any moment. Prison was a memorable challenge. I think it may be necessary to suffer, in order to experience the heightened vista of joy.

Do you know what pure joy is? Arriving to hear the raised voice of a confident 1st A.D.,  who presses an electric bell to grab attention and shout: "Director on the set!" Too old to direct, I took up writing. Same sort of business, to make a movie happen in the reader's imagination. Same sort of pleasure, the magic of mise en scene, every page.