As of now, I'm pretty much cured of my back pain and sciatica problems of the past several months, and about time too. I'm not exactly performing back flips here - as a matter of fact, I'm still taking painkillers - but I can do 'normal' stuff like go shopping in town or meet with friends in the West End or even go to parties without suffering undue stress. I'm still holding back a little bit on running out to get a new day job, since I've learned the hard way not to rush things. Perhaps in the next couple of weeks I can start looking properly.

The nicest thing is literally not lying around all day on my back propped up on cushions. To this end I bought a new 'office' type chair for my return to sitting-up writing and browsing in a sale for only thirty quid; it's not exactly an Aeron super-duper chair, but right now my spine loves me for it.


I was going to write up a review of A Scanner Darkly, which I caught in the company of a friend last Friday, untii I realised to my annoyance Gary Westfahl had written up a far more succinct review of the film on the Locus Magazine website. I agree with pretty much everything Gary says, while nonetheless recognising the elements of the film that some people found (at least marginally) offputting. As clever as the use of rotoscoped animation to reflect the interior lives of a group of drug addicts is, it to me had the drawback of sometimes distancing the emotional effect of the actors by virtue of their features being painted over by the animation (this emotional effect, of course, is not a problem with the star Keanu Reeves, who - as Westfahl points out - is perfect in the role of a brain-damaged, unresponsive junkie).

The other thing I was going to say I had a problem with was, of course, Reeves, a man perfectly capable of destroying many a cinematic project where his peculiar lack-of-presence neither informs nor illuminates the role he is playing, unless of course it's in Bill & Ted, where he plays an idiot, or My Own Private Idaho, where the director somehow coaxes a good performance of him as ... a mostly dumb teen with a vacant expression. But in fact he really is nigh on perfect for the part of Bob Arctor, a man who appears to view the world around him through a particularly thick sheet of frosted glass. All in all, as (I think it was) Al said, it's the first time I've seen a Philip K Dick movie that hasn't been royally fucked about with by people with no idea what Phil Dick was about: it's a labour of love, a Lord of the Rings for fans of literary epics of drug-induced schizophrenia and mental decay.

All of which brings me to my Conspiracy Theory. This is Dick: there's always a conspiracy theory.

Al's already mentioned on his blog my theory that Linklater, the director, used Rotoscoping animation in order to hide Keanu Reeves, who may well have been brought into the project simply as a way to get the green light and also acquire the necessary funding (movie companies like attractive big names like Keanu because it means that whey a guy goes to the cinema to see the film, their girlfriend or partner will come with them. Therefore, extra tickets sold).

This is why I believe this to be the case:

A couple of years ago I caught a feature on the making of A Scanner Darkly on UK television, on an arts programme, during which a journalist interviewed Woody Harrelson and Robert Downey (who is particularly magnificent in the film, by the way). At one point he asked Woody Harrelson how it felt being made into a cartoon.

Harrelson clearly had no idea what the interviewer was talking about and became quite upset and angry. Clearly, nobody had told him the film would be rotoscoped. If Harrelson didn't know, I'll bet you anything Reeves didn't know, and very likely the film's financiers didn't know.

Until it was too late, of course.

But why do such a thing? Well, I first became aware of director Richard Linklater when he made Slackers in the mid-nineties. It was immediately clear from this and subsequent features he was interested in making something a little deeper than what you normally expect from Hollywood and, like many directors with similar aims, he in fact usually works outside of Hollywood (in Austin, Texas, or so I believe) thus placing himself out of easy reach of financiers, agents, producers, studios and the rest of the apparatus of the movie industry. Dick is a lucrative property these days - Total Recall, Minority Report, and so on - so to make a movie of Scanner Darkly may have required a fairly large financial investment, with added 'securities' such as a big name star.

Let's face it - if you were trying to make 'Scanner' and you got lumped with a deadweight like Keanu Reeves, you'd want to Rotoscope the hell out of it. And not tell anyone until it was much, much too late.


Sometime earlier this week, I suddenly started to get better. The back pain started to go away - just like that. It cleared up so much that Tuesday I made it along to a screenwriter's group that meets in the heart of Glasgow, fully expecting to have to turn back when the pain became too much. Or that I might have to leave halfway through the meeting because I could no longer sit in the chairs in the upstairs bar of the GFT cinema where both the sf writers and the screenwriters groups meet on more-or-less alternate Tuesdays.

Instead, I felt just fine. It was an interesting and informative evening. When I left to go home, I walked for a while. I even listened to music on my MP3 player. This is a big deal: I bought the thing about Christmas, and hardly used it because one thing you don't feel like doing when walking around in excruciating pain is listening to music.

I was hoping the screenwriter's group would be mostly about workshopping scripts. Although this is their central remit, it's become more of a networking thing. It appears to be run by John McShane, whom I remember from years ago as heavily involved in the local and national comics publishing scene (he was also behind a well-received comic called The Bogie Man). I can't remember the name of the chap who came along to give a talk about what he does in the film industry, but he's a composer for film and tv and played guitar with Deacon Blue before they became famous. The highlight for me, however, was the showing of a short movie called Fritz (on a laptop propped up on a bar), about seven minutes in length: a Gilliam-esque fantasy about a young boy who discovers a 90 year old German soldier living under his bed, tapping out morse code reports to a long-vanished Third Reich. It was made by a couple of students from Edinburgh College of Art for something like two hundred quid, and very impressive it is too.

I suspect I'll be going back along to this, mainly to keep my interest in screenwriting alive: it's easy to let stuff like that slip when you have things like manuscript deadlines looming. I'm tempted to give a 22-week screenwriting course a shot, but at two hundred quid, I'm nervous about spending the money given the drop in income following my back problems. But maybe.