No Dawn.

For Men.
Thursday, November 18, 2004
Yes, well, I haven't updated here in five months. And look! Blogger actually has a really nice user interface now and is generally a good place to be.
So why the absence? In a word, I have a new mistress. Virtually, in any case. Her name is Boo's Adventures in Mordor, and I update her on an almost daily basis. But I will try to find a different use for Blogger, just because it's so very sweet, and you can't beat No Dawn. For Men as a title, honestly.

Sunday, June 13, 2004

It's been a few months since I handed in my translation of Endless Nights, the special add-on volume of Neil Gaiman's Sandman collection, and one of the few graphic novels ever to receive a proper Croatian edition (the last one being, to the best of my recollection, the superb Pratt-Manara Indian Summer). As Neil has quite rightly (not to mention amusedly) found it advisable to comment on my neverending giddiness when it comes to the way I rerendered the names of the Endless Family, I might as well lay out what the names are, and how they relate to their English counterparts.

DEATH is SMRT - Literal enough; the noun happens to be feminine through no fault of mine. Oh, and "r" is pronounced rolling, and can have a vowel quality; it derives from Old Slavonic smer't, and has equivalents in all modern Slavic languages.

DESIRE is STRAST - The actual dictionary equivalent would be želja, in the sense of actual "want" or "need". However, while the primary meaning of strast would be "passion", the word has no New Testament connotations of its English equivalent; moreover, it is the closest word Croatian has to the Latin eros - one of the three traditional aspects of love (alongside agape and amor), and the one closest to the way it's embodied in Neil's character of Desire. And it fits Manara's art perfectly, yo.

DREAM is SAN - Quite literally, again; plus, since the name Sandman is retained above the title of the volume (since it wouldn't be advisable to translate the name of an actual "comic-book superhero", and there is no character in our dwindling folk tradition comparable to Sandman anyway), it's kinda fitting that the Sandman's actual name turns out to be "San", right? Hopefully the accidental resemblance will enhance the reader's identification of the same character across these two names... leaving the puzzling nature of Morpheus and Daniel to those with access to the main ten volumes of the opus.

DESTRUCTION is SMAK - And it's the one name in which I have had the fortune of being more concise than Neil in my alliterative naming, while keeping the cosmic aspect intact. The word itself is now used only in the expression "smak svijeta" - the end of the world, but with no Biblical connotations; more of a "Ragnarok" than a "Judgement Day". While archaic, it's not obsolete, mainly because the noun is echoed in the verb smaknuti - "to execute", as in to kill ceremonially... If you look up "destruction" in a dictionary, you'll get uništenje, with the same meaning, only longer, and less alliterative...

DELIRIUM is SUMANUTOST - Not quite the perfect translation, as it doesn't have all the connotations of the Latin word: then again, Croatian doesn't have an actual word for it - we just use delirij anyway. This, at least, has the virtue of being feminine, and connoting the mental state of someone who has gone completely bonkers. Come to think of it, it's as good as could be. Wish it were shorter, of course, but it's not inordinately long as it is...

DESPAIR is SHRVANOST - Derived from the verb shrvati (no relation to Hrvati, the Croats, although accidentaly very fitting), which means "to render distraught, hopeless, or forlorn". Is a feminine noun too, after the pattern of Sumanutost. So it's all good, basically, except for the bit where I freely admit that the word ocaj would have been just as good, shorter, and more readily identified as the translation of the original. But it wouldn't have been feminine, and it wouldn't have alliterated, so away it went...

DESTINY is SUDBINA - Another no-brainer choice, as the sole proper translation of the original (leaving aside the fact that "fate" would have been rendered the same way, owing to the relative paucity of our vocabulary in comparison to the Allmighty Magpie that is English)... It's also the only name that doesn't match its character gender-wise; but Croatian can fortunately handle Sudbina as a "he" much more readily than, say, Ocaj as a "she", if it happens to be a name or a nickname.

So there you go. The whole idea for making the Croatian names alliterate across the board came to me as Neil was showing his copy of then just-released Endless Nights to the small party of Algoritam staff who came along to see him off at the Zagreb airport... It was the first time I laid my eyes on the book, and I was stunned, and told Neil that if I ever got the chance to translate it, I'd want to make my own work as good as I could, just to do right by it. And Neil, of course, said that I shouldn't bother with the alliteration, that it's quite all right if the names just follow their proper senses, but, you know... it would have gnawed at me if I hadn't done it the way I did.

Anyway, this is the manner in which I approach all my work, in translation and otherwise. Similarly, for example, I'm currently making the "Tale of the Children of Húrin" in Tolkien's Unfinished Tales reminiscent of an actual heroic lay (which it is purported to be) through the use of alliteration and word-patterns specific to the Croatian epic tradition - if ever so sparsely, only in the moments of heightened dramatic tension... Such things are like spices: you can't put too much into the brew, or you'll spoil the taste entirely. And if you don't make an effort to use them at all, you end up with a tasteless dish.

To the best of my knowledge, Sandman: Beskrajne noci will be out in Croatian hardback sometime in the Fall. I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Point one: I do not like disaster movies. Recently, some poll decided that The Poseidon Adventure was the best disaster movie ever. Whatever. If I want to see people traipsing around upturned sets, I pick Windsor McKay's Li'l Nemo, not Ernest Borgnine and Shelley Winters. And besides, there's a dirty kind of a vicarious pleasure involved in the entire genre.

Point two: I do not like the Roland Emmerich films. I tend to side with those who consider them banal thrill rides that pander to the lowest common denominator, vapid spectaculars with an utterly hollow core. Godzilla. Independence Day. Duh.

Point three: With this caveat, The Day After Tomorrow is not only the best Emmerich movie ever, but the best disaster movie of all time. (Sorry, Ernest.)

How so? Well, it's not because I walked into the screening expecting to like it; I mean, seeing a movie in which New York gets thrashed is not the same thing nowadays as it was back in the day. I kinda thought Emmerich should know better after 9/11 and all. So, yeah, I sat down to watch vapid. And then...

See, this is the first Emmerich movie that gets its facts right (I'm looking at you, Patriot, too). The global warming can produce these kinds of effects; and, furthermore, Ice Age is a normal condition for this planet - off the top of my head, something like 160,000 out of the past 180,000 years have had Ice Age conditions. And science is just now figuring out the mechanisms that govern their occurrence - which is turning out to be sudden and catastrophic, and not slow and gradual. Combine that with mythology, and you have endless support for flood myths and the dozens of existing Atlantis-type legends; combine that with the environmental issues of today, and you have The Day After Tomorrow - a movie in which Roland Emmerich does what he does best and finally has it be plausible.

It's horrifying. It's engrossing. And it's spectacular. No, scratch that last one: it's OMG SO INCREDIBLE SQUEEEE *faint*. The work done by multiple effects houses here may not be entirely photoreal, but is never less than convincing - and what work it is. From concept to execution, this is what I call special effects. Big, bold, so grandiose that even the most jaded filmgoers will find themselves gasping in sheer astonishment. And, this time, there is an actual story.

No, not the Ice Age story. I mean, yes: the movie is about the Ice Age coming to the world in the space of a week, and naturally any script dealing with such things will have to balance the scenery-chewing performance of Mother Nature in the leading role with humans in the bit parts. And this usually leads to dollops of melodrama and ID-sized photos of Hollywood's Brightest on the poster. This time, though, Emmerich keeps the human stories small and relatively dross-free, and even while acknowledging the inevitability of melodrama, he makes it more than bite-sized. Most of the story is centered around Dennis Quaid and his family, consisting of Sela Ward (who is a doctor caring for a boy dying of cancer - yes, yes, I know), and Jake Gylenhaal (who is a shy, smart kid with no premonition of the impending doom, for once). And we do spend most of the time with them, and they don't do any stupid and/or overtly implausible things (except surviving, for the most part). And they're smart, intelligent people, like most every character here, so you don't spend time yelling at the screen, but rather sympathising with their plight. Which is just about as much as you can expect from the storyline of this kind of a movie. (Also: Watch out for Emmy Rossum. She glows here. And Ian Holm has a nice turn as a professor of meteorology or something, who spends most of his screen time at a weather station in Scotland. As he and his fellow scientists realise they'll probably end up frozen, one of them discovers a secretly stashed bottle of whiskey... and Holm says, wistfully, "12 year old Scotch." Oh, if he only added, "It was laid down by my father." Well, Cleo will fix that.)

One other thing. The politics of this film is utterly removed from the Clintonesque gung-ho of Independence Day: slyly, Emmerich has a Cheneyesque Vice President serving under a wise Commander in Chief who looks more like Al Gore than the man currently in charge. And the VP is very Cheneyesque - concerned more about big bucks than science, and very unwilling to listen to the facts, until it's too late. Well, in the view of the current administration being accused of being the most environmentally unfriendly in the history of the US, with petitions signed against it by America's leading scientists of all fields... all I can say is, I can't frankly believe that this film is coming from Fox. And that it features Fox News rather a lot. Weird.

In conclusion: The Day After Tomorrow is just about as good as it gets when it comes to megabudget disaster spectaculars. It took me completely by surprise, and I can't wait to see it again. Go figure.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

I apologise for the paucity of updates recently. Let's say I've been busy: busy writing movie reviews on a weekly basis, and busy translating books. I've handed in five complete manuscripts this year alone (and, oboy, it hasn't lasted for four months yet): Andrew Vachss' Flood, Joseph O'Connor's Yeats Is Dead!, Rupert Morgan's Rule No. 1, Neil Gaiman's Endless Nights, and Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness (second revised edition, for the promotional tie-in edition with Jutarnji list, a popular Croatian daily newspaper).

Today, Jutarnji list published the Conrad. In an edition of over a hundred thousand copies. My other books usually have a run of 2-5 thousand copies.

And they published the old, uncorrected edition of Heart of Darkness.

It broke my heart.

It's still a good translation. There are many little points of improvement, though. Which will remain on my hard drive for all eternity, it seems, now. While all the literate population of Croatia actually already has something I didn't want to sign as my last word on the subject.

I'm considering a legal case; I want to sue the sloppy bastards for all they're worth. But a poor translator like me stands very little chance against a media corporation. It's very dreadful, you know.

(Meanwhile, The Worst of Both Worlds is seemingly lagging behind. Fear not. It's just that I've been really busy, and the events leading up to Walpurgisnacht - April 30th, incidentally my father's birthday - are so complicated I need to craft them with utmost care. All will be revealed soon...)

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Okay, I'm not meeting any celebrities, not seeing any up and coming festival titles, not even talking about movies now. (Even though I'm still seeing a good many, and preparing another short.)

This is what I'm doing: I'm writing a novel.

In the form of a weblog.

Not my own weblog; my lead character's weblog.

His name is Neven Pezdec, he's 38, and shares my birthday. So what: Billy Wilder and Edvin Biukovic shared my birthday, and it's them I'd ask for permission if they were still around. Honestly.

The novel is named, you guessed it, The Worst of Both Worlds. You can read it by clicking on the link embedded in the title. It's not interactive: that sort of things belongs to gaming and internet communities, and this is pure oldfashioned storytelling, albeit with a twist. It happens in real time. I write a blog entry for Neven every day, and all I can do is promise that I have the whole storyline pretty much worked out to a T, and that over the course of the next year or so you will all have a chance to Thrill! Gasp! and Read! a novel that will take you places.

I know it's shameless self-promotion. But I've spent the better part of the last three years crafting it silently, and I've also thought long and hard about the best way to present it. And here it is. To my knowledge, which is bound to be faulty, it's the first time someone has used a LiveJournal format to write and instantly publish (without hindsight-based revisions!) a full-scale novel.

After all, when it's over and done, the last recourse would be to translate it into Croatian and publish it here - God knows I have enough offers from the local publishers. But for now, enjoy it for what it is, and if you're in the least bit intrigued, all I can say is - you haven't seen anything yet. Neven had just found out yesterday what happened to his mommy. Shpfff. Poor chap has no idea what's in store for him.

Sunday, February 01, 2004

Work interfered with my updates over the past three days - jury work, you know, screening and discussing the remaining titles in competition, and giving out the FIPRESCI award, and attending the awards ceremony, and partying afterwards.

We gave the award almost unanimously - Hassouna and I did have to convince Niels a bit, but as he was the tallest and the heaviest of us all, he easily relented (you´ll know what I´m talking about once you meet enough Norwegians, and Tunisians) - to the Finnish film Young Gods, a fast-paced, well-written and deeply satisfying drama concerning a group of teenagers who, on a fluke, start videotaping their own sexual encounters with unsuspecting girls. What starts out as a macho power trip soon descends into predictable breakups of relationships, but also much less predictable revelations of the protagonists? various secrets, be they a childhood trauma, a predilection towards kinkiness, or towards niceness - every time I thought I had it figured out, it managed to impress me. This is director Jukka-Pekka Siili´s first feature (and he´s 39 already!) but is as fresh, as vital and as strong as probably anything seen at Sundance. Also, after the awards J-P actually said it was reviled in Finland upon its release as easy soft porn, so I hope this award makes the Finnish critics take a long hard look at it again. I´ll write a longer review for the official FIPRESCI site tonight, so you can probably check it there in a few days.

Internationally, the FIPRESCI award probably carries the most weight. However, the local prises in the same competition went to three other rather good movies, Hip Hip Hora! (English title The Ketchup Effect is there probably because the original means Hip Hip Whore!, and that pun doesn´t translate well) by Teresa Fabik (who is 27 and lovely and who Niels had no chance with after snubbing her for the award), another film on teenage sexuality (did I mention how the Scandinavians are obsessed with that?) that was a huge crowd pleaser but just a tad too obvious for me - I saw it at the gala premiere on Monday and it was. not. subtitled, yet I not only managed to follow it easily, but also totally figured it out 20 minutes in. Still, like most its peers, it?s braver than anything Hollywood makes regarding teenagers, with the probable exception of Thirteen.

The longest and arguably most ambitious film, Four Shades of Brown, was - along with the Icelandic Cold Light and especially the Danish Gemini - also quite pretentious, which didn?t prevent it from winning a Swedish Church award (presented by a bishop who told jokes). (Why is everything suddenly starting to remind me of Monty Python here?) The two introspective documentaries - Gunnar Goes Comfortable and Hiding Behind the Camera, Part 2 (!) (wtf happened with Pt. 1?) - I perceived as feature-length masturbations by wealthy, pampered and not too nice people, but many people disagreed. The documentary on Herge, Tintin and I, was in French but made by a Swede, and was horribly handicapped by white subtitling on white backgrounds, which were usually impossible to read. Also, it preached a whole lot to the converted - and it didn´t make me decide to start reading Tintin, which is something I´ve been planning to do for decades now.

So much for the official competition and the dumping of its backlog.

All in all, I´ve seen 40 movies at the festival, which was my goal; last features I saw were a short by Tsai Ling-Miang called The Skywalk Is Gone, and its companion feature The Missing by Kang-Sheng Lee - both of which are very artsy and slow, but moving as hell. I saw them today, and they fit the somewhat melancholy, yet clear and calm mood of the day perfectly.

Among the docus, I should have to mention Bright Leaves by Ross McElwee, which should be seen by anyone who is Southern and smokes, Checkpoint by Yoav Shamir, which should be seen by anyone who supports both the concept of freedom and Israel, and especially Investigation into the Invisible World by Jean Michel Roux, a mightily impressive and stunningly made docu on the fairies, trolls, elves, mythical creatures and even ETs, all of whom are apparently alive and well in this day and age - on Iceland, where most people seem to have had experience with them. An unmissable movie.

Yet I would have missed it if it wasn´t for a girl I met last night. Her name is ancient and Nordic and means "Shieldmaiden", and she took me to the Elvish movie. And she complained that it was screening #666 at the festival, and nothing bad had occurred. And we talked lots, both last night and today at the cinema. And she is 23 and happily married.

Right, back to work. Got to write that review. And then pack, sleep, and leave the hotel, leave Gothenburg and leave Sweden and come back to Zagreb. Within the next 6 weeks I have to hand in two new books, so you will excuse me if I get a bit lost in translation.

Thursday, January 29, 2004

No spectacularly well-known movies since the last update, so be warned. Also, the jury is now officially in session, after the arrival of our Tunisian colleague, Hassouna, and we´ve seen three more titles in competition.

Among the remaining four I´ve seen on my own, the Icelandic Salt is my absolute favorite. It looks deceptively simple, and cheap, shot on cheap digital video, often by protagonists themselves, so that it has the look of private, homemade footage - except for the seals. And the seals haunt the private life of Hildur, a girl from a provincial town on the east coast of Iceland, who reluctantly joins her sister and the sister´s boyfriend Aggi in their plan to go in search of a better life in Reykjavik, the capital city. So far, so good - many recent films feature young people who go in search of a brighter future somewhere else. And the plot here is thinner than in many - but that just makes the subtext come to the forefront all the more. It´s ultimately about what´s inside Hildur at the moment, not in some unspecified better life ahead - and it´s about this particular mood and outlook on life that only people on the northern fringes of the Atlantic seem to possess - and about seals. Aside from Shara, this is the most poetic film I´ve seen here so far.

The Australian coming-of-age comedy The Rage in Placid Lake and the Finnish Pearls and Pigs would be perfect for twentysomething audiences who think themselves cool and post-Gen-X-y and so on, but actually don´t want their moviegoing experiences to stray too far from the melodramatic standard. The first one features the unfortunately named Placid, a young man raised by hippie parents who consciously decides to give in to the expectations of the corporate world, and hilarity ensues. (Miranda Richardson plays his mom, and we know she´s hilarious, but she´s in good company here.) The Finnish film deals with four rascal sons of an imprisoned father who are in debt and trouble, and yet have no particular wish to do anything about it - until their previously-unknown baby sister arrives. She is 8, terribly cute and shy, and sings like an angel. Of course, they enroll her in a talent contest, and hilarity ensues. It´s an obvious crowd-pleaser, and for the most part it works. Because the kid is so darn cute.

Just for variety, the second Finnish film yesterday was a Fucking Amal-type early puberty drama involving two girls, called Suburban Virgin. I know most of those movies have dodgy titles and involve 13-year-olds and the kind of sexual and social issues that would just be unthinkable in the US - but over the course of this festival I´ve come to admire the Scandinavian honesty and fearlessness in trying to deal with the difficult side of growing up. Some such movies are in our competition, but all the others I see are helping me get a clearer idea of the context and the trends they´ve been made in.

Oh, and it seems I´m the only jury member who actually has time to see more than what´s on the official competition list. With that, I´m off to see my 28th movie so far - a Norwegian teenage drama about a girl going through the difficulties of sexual awakening, per of course...


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