I've always had a list of reasons why I would never go into journalism in Singapore. Apart from how there's a severe lack of freedom of press in this little country, there's also the issue of how I cannot stand having my writing messed with by editors who make changes to it which aren't really that pertinent to the average person, but to someone as anal retentive as me, those changes go fundamentally to the essence of the piece of writing. It's like a repudiatory breach of contract, you know? A breach that goes to the root of the contract...I think. I don't remember most of Contract law so forgive me if I'm getting the analogy wrong.
The point to this discourse is, I've just had a first-hand experience of the editing nightmare. I joined the university's Student Union's e-zine as a journalist at the beginning of the new academic year. I was bored, I wanted to write something fun, I thought it would be a good avenue to keep up with the writing. And I suppose it was, I suppose it still is; I don't really know yet, because I haven't attended a single meeting due to the fact that I had my intensive on Thursday nights, and so far I've received two assignments, one which I turned down due to schedule conflicts. Anyway, to cut a long story short, I did a review of 1408 and I can't remember if I mentioned that fact here when I wrote about watching the show for free but yes, I watched it because I had to review it, and I said 'yes' to reviewing it because I didn't know it was a horror movie. All I knew was that John Cusack was in it and I love John Cusack.
Long story cut short once more, the issue in which my review is contained is currently online. I just went to take a look at how the review turned out, which in turned spurred me to write this entry.
See it here.
In all fairness, I'm quite pleased and glad that all the words are still there. The girl told me to write one page on MS Word and being me, I ended up with 1.5 pages, after some serious editing down. My phrases are still there, my descriptions are intact, and I did pretty much write the entire thing...
...except for this seemingly-small-but-not-small-at-all issue: Paragraphing.
Regular readers of the local papers will probably notice how the paragraphing of the piece of startlingly similar to the articles in said local papers. Among my many reasons for not bothering to read the local papers anymore, this paragraphing thing is one of them. Simply put: I can't comprehend why they feel the urge to use short, sometimes one-sentence paragraph. Put another way: I can't see the logic or the grammatical correctness of breaking up a perfectly sensible paragraph into four paragraphs that end up sounding amateurish, choppy, and very much as if the writer doesn't know how to write. Because that is what I think when I read the Straits Times (I don't even read ST anymore; why on earth would I subject myself to the intellectual torture of reading The New Paper and whatever other free AKA trashy dailies out there?): The writer can't paragraph, ergo the writer can't write.
If the 1408 review wasn't written by me, I'd think exactly that: Whoever wrote this shit can't write because the idiot can't paragraph. Needless to even say, the paragraphing in the final product was not done by me. I would never paragraph like that because I think it's completely illogical and senseless, especially when a few paragraphs talk about the same thing. You'd think that all the GP lessons in which your earnest but increasingly frustrated GP teacher tries to tell you that a paragraph must start with a clear thesis statement, which implies that everything that comes after the said thesis statement must relate to it, would have taught JC graduates a thing or two about paragraphing. Does it make sense to have three thesis statements, for instance, relating Carl Schmitt's assertion that the state has absolute power because he who is sovereign decides what happens in an emergency situation? (I'm paraphrasing badly. I just read the Schmitt extract and I'm confused.) And we assume they are thesis statements because they are found at the start of a paragraph.
I know I'm being extremely nit-picky, but that's just the way I am. I am anal about things like that - spelling, punctuation, paragraphing, grammar, even italics. There are a few italics in the published piece that are not mine, that really don't contribute much or make any sense by stressing the words they stress. And I also spotted a misplaced semi-colon which I'm pretty sure I deleted from my final version of the review; I remember distinctly that I decided to use commas instead of semi-colons for some reason which I can't be bothered to articulate.
I'm posting the original here (and possibly on Facebook) because the article has my name on it and so the whole res ipsa loquitur thing should follow. Note also the last paragraph of the online piece and how it's rendered completely ungrammatical what I originally wanted to say.
Sigh. It's just paragraphing, but it's not just paragraphing. Oh well.
1408 - I'll Take That Express Checkout
John Cusack saves 1408 from tripping over its grandiose ambitions and turns in an authentic, stellar performance despite the fact that he has made much better movies.
John Cusack fans may remember a time when his roles used to be cool. Holding a radio above his head and blasting a Peter Gabriel song to romance the love of his life in Say Anything... was cool; discovering a portal that allows him to crawl into John Malkovich's head in Being John Malkovich was cool; even being the jaded owner of a record store with an obsession with lists-making in High Fidelity was cool. What is not cool? Being stuck in an 'evil' room in a mediocre adaptation of a Stephen King short story.
In 1408, Cusack goes against type and plays Mike Enslin, a writer who debunks paranormal occurrences in haunted hotels. Enslin spends a night in an allegedly haunted room equipped with the appropriate gadgets to detect paranormal activity and records his experiences in such titles as Top Ten Haunted Hotels, but he has never seen a ghost. His hard sceptism takes him to room 1408 of the Dolphin Hotel where he insists on spending a night in the room despite the warnings of the hotel manager (Samuel L. Jackson). Enslin is undeterred by the fact that fifty-six people have died in the room, nor is he scared off by the grisly collection of pictures of the victims that the manager shows to him. But Enslin soon finds himself trapped in a whirlwind of horrific paranormal events: he goes momentarily deaf all of a sudden, the radio clock unexpectedly blasts The Carpenters' "We've Only Just Begun", he sees - and is chased by - apparitions of the victims of the room, and he even sees his dead daughter.
Enslin doesn't believe in ghosts, and it's not clear if the audience should either. What starts off as a horror movie about a haunted room quickly becomes an uneven, over-ambitious metaphysical deconstruction of Enslin's psychological problems. In room 1408, he's compelled to confront his inner demons that he has consciously and conscientiously ran from ever since his daughter's death. While 1408 stands out from the current crop of blood-and-gore horror movies in that it is not a straight-forward fright fest without any substance, its "deeper meaning" falls flat in the face of plot inconsistencies, bombastic special effects that undermine the creepiness of the movie's concept, and an ending that opens up questions that one thought were already answered. It is also the unsatisfactory ending that derails what is, up till then, an unimpressive but serviceable psycho-analysis of Enslin's character: the line between hallucination and reality is erased, and so is whatever insight the audience is able to make into Enslin's psyche.
1408's saving grace is its lead actor. Cusack, reliable as ever, carries the entire film on his shoulders. One might question his career move in choosing this role, but his commitment to the role is unimpeachable. The audience is terrified not because of ghosts that chase Enslin through air vents; the audience is terrified because Enslin is terrified. Cusack completely subverts Enslin's initial atheistic sceptisism when the room begins to unleash the demons of his past on him - what started off as just another job becomes the longest, most terrifying hour of his life. More importantly, Cusack delivers the cynical pathos and desperation of a man subcutaneously torn apart by an insufferable loss with authenticity, and it is his performance that saves 1408 from falling into the category of 'a pretentious failure' that it dangerously skirts.
1408 does dish out its share of dark comedy in equal measure. An eerily chirpy automated voice on the receiving end of the hotel telephone cheerily informs Enslin that he can either extend his stay in the room or take its express checkout option. Seconds later, Enslin finds himself staring at a noose that appeared out of nowhere. Cusack is also an asset to the movie in this regard: his sarcastic charm that worked so well in films such as Being John Malkovich and High Fidelity lends a laconically humourous touch that lightens the stuffy, grandiose mood of the movie.
But dark humour can only do so much in a movie that primarily aims to scare. 1408 unfortunately suffers from an overload of special effects that quickly becomes more reminiscent of Pirates of the Caribbean than The Shining. Genuinely scary films such as M. Night Shyamalan's The Sixth Sense and Alejandro Amenabar's The Others dispense with extraneous and unnecessary CGI and instead rely on their spooky, isolated and minimalist atmosphere to deliver the scares, thereby epitomising the truth in the saying, "Less is more." It is what is suggested by a dark, seemingly endless hallway that haunts the audience after the movie, not roaring CGI ghosts that hide in air vents. Director Mikael Hafstrom could learn a thing or two from that.
Okay, half the world probably thinks I'm crazy to be so hung up on something so minor, but I stress again: Whether or not it's minor is all relative, and from my perspective, it's akin to a repudiatory breach of contract.
I stress again, too, that I'm glad the piece has been left intact otherwise. I was a bit worried that they'd cut out chunks from it so that I wouldn't recognise it anymore; I'm glad that's not the case.
But my paragraphing! It's not a thoughtless activity, you know. Everything that goes into a paragraph are connected; breaking up a paragraph disrupts the flow of the idea. And that upsets me.
Okay, oh well, whatever, nevermind. Too bad lor.
Apart from that, I wanted to change 'cynical pathos and desperation' to 'desperate cynicism and pathos' because I realised after submitting the review that the latter was what I was trying to convey with the former. But it was a couple of days after I submitted so I thought, Forget it lah.
At times like these, I'm quite glad I'm in law. No one's going to mess up my memorials and submissions; the paragraphing of those documents is practically non-existent anyway. I mean, they're numbered, for crying out loud. And there's nothing artistic involved in those things so all these nitpicks definitely would not arise.
Right, enough about that. My mom's yelling at me to eat dinner so perhaps I'll come back later to write about yesterday and Friday.
Saturday afternoon was spent at Vivo City where I helped out at Law Awareness Week, in particular the registration booth of the free legal counseling feature of the Law Society event. It was part of my duty as a newly-minted member of the NUS Pro Bono Group.
(Okay, it wasn't compulsory but I thought I'd go down anyway because it's the people that the law profession should aim to help.)
When I woke up that morning inertia set in and I didn't feel like going. It was the whole laziness thing and how I suddenly would rather stay at home and read Julian Barnes' Love, Etc instead of spending my afternoon at Vivo doing what I thought was pretty pointless things.
But it wasn't pointless at all. Not to say it was choked with point and meaning, but it was a good way to spend a lazy, unoccupied Saturday afternoon. In the span of two hours I registered about sixteen to seventeen people, all of whom told me, in varying degrees of detailedness, their problems.
And the most important thing I took away from the whole experience was that their problems weren't merely legal problems; they were everyday, general problems that needed legal solutions.
That, I think, is what the whole thing is about: People and their problems, and finding a way to solve them. Whatever bad rep the profession has got from the recent cases of lawyers running away with their clients' money and whatnot, I still think that those who know the law have an obligation to help the ignorant. What else is there to do otherwise?
It surprises me that my idealism is still more or less intact. More importantly, it reassures me in a way that grades and a high starting pay and the prestige of a big, reputable firm can't. Sometimes, that's really all I need to know.
I cut my hair afterwards. My stylist suggested this new 'do for my fringe and I was all, Okay! It turned out...strange. My mom said I look like a lunatic who doesn't know how to cut her hair, because my fringe is messy. Basically, the structure is as such: Inner layer is short (DAMN short, may I add), outer layer is long. Except Outer Layer ain't exactly a layer; it's more like a few strands of longer fringe floating around, thus making me look weird.
In the past, I would be freaking out and panicky and all, Shit my hair sucks how to go to school weep sob collapse and die, but now, I really don't care. Hair is just hair. Who cares? The most I cut off the long part lor, or I go back to my stylist and ask her to cut it off for me. Haha.
You know, I really have to stop lapsing into Singlish at weird, random moments.
Anyway, my parents wanted me to have dinner with them at Bukit Panjang Plaza. When I was ready to leave Vivo, it was about 5.40 and they planned to have dinner at 6. I was hungry and too lazy to get my own food so I told them that I'd meet them there. Problem? I had no idea if 963 went to BPP (I found out later that it did), the bus interchange is SUPER FAR AWAY when one's in a hurry which I was, and Vivo, being Vivo on Saturday, was fucking packed. I was annoyed - VERY VERY ANNOYED. I wanted all the slow moving people to get the hell out of my way and I couldn't comprehend AT ALL why people walk so. damn. slowly. I have NO PATIENCE for slow people.
In the end I cabbed down. The driver took the AYE, then Clementi, cruising down Upper Bukit Timah and to BPP. My mom called me when I'd just got off the AYE and said in a very agitated manner that the driver could've picked a shorter route. She sounded like she expected me to fight it out with the guy, which struck me as rather ridiculous. It's not that I have qualms against arguing with people; it's just that it was the TAXI DRIVER. I'd have to endure fifteen more minutes of awkwardness in the same car as him before I got to my destination. And it wasn't really his fault anyway, since I had no idea how to get to BPP and I didn't protest when he said he was going by AYE.
The cab fare was like, $12.50 though, oh my god. And just like that, I'm almost broke again.
That was Saturday.
Friday was spent, firstly, in school where I had a jolly good time in the canteen after Evidence lecture laughing with Siming, who came by coincidentally after his morning Property (I think?) tutorial. He's HILARIOUS and he reminded me, bluntly, that Agatha and I still owed him his birthday present from two years ago. Oops. I'm really glad he's back in law; when he was away in Business last year all I saw of him was that one time we - him, Agatha and I - met at Food Republic after his Dean's Lister whatever ceremony thingy. Now that he's back on campus, I have another friend in school! And I totally need friends around in Sem 2 when two of my closest friends are going away for exchange.
I had lunch with my parents at Din Tai Fung after that. The Paragon one, yes. And I think it was my first time back at that branch after going there last November with the ex-boyfriend on his birthday, before he was a boyfriend. But I tend not to think too much about things like that anymore. It was just a thought that came to mind because I still keep score of such things, even after all these...months.
Anyway, lunch was good, as per usual. Mom dropped me off at Marina Square after where I intended to develop photos but realised seconds after getting out of the car that I left my camera, along with the memory card, in the car. My mom's phone was switched off so calling her before she drove off was of absolutely no use. Pissed with myself, I decided to sit down at Starbucks with an iced soy latte and Love, Etc and wait for her to call me.
Implicit in that plan was the assumption that she'd call. And indeed she called. And indeed she called to tell me that she'd be at Marina Square in an hour's time to bring me my camera. Just like I knew she would.
I am so fucking spoiled that sometimes I disgust myself. But it is what it is. It really is. Oh, I don't know. All I know is that I love my mom very, very much. My dad would do the same too, if 1) he had the car; and 2) he knew the way. Haha.
Cabbed down to Dempsey at around six to meet Chloe and Kenneth for dinner, at Wine Company. Kenneth would've been there earlier than me if he hadn't somehow blocked out the fact that I told him Dempsey Road in my SMS and not Evans Road (which is near school). Fortunately he arrived shortly after I sat down at a table which spared me the agony of staring into space ALL BY MYSELF with NOTHING to read (I dumped my novel with my mom after she came by MS to give me my camera; I didn't anticipate needing it anymore). Chloe, however, was late. But it was okay, because she looked very pretty in her brown dress and black heels.
Dinner was good. Ran into Rachel and Serene shortly before we left, and while talking to them I suddenly felt sick. I honestly think that it was the combination of the weird shit I ate and the single glass of white wine I drank - not purely because of the wine. In the end the stomach hurt a bit and all was good again.
Friday night was good. What was not good was the fact that I did nothing academic at all the whole weekend, until this afternoon when I half-heartedly read Schmitt's theory of sovereignty and whatever. He scares me, you know. Not only because of his authoritarianism slant (slant? More like subscription), but because I actually found some of it rather persuasive. Oh, shit. I am not ready to subvert my anti-authoritarianism, liberal inclinations, so DEATH TO HIS THEORY!
I've got one more article to read. I feel lazy. But I will not be lazy anymore.