Thursday, November 20, 2014


"Books, you know, they’re not just commodities. The profit motive often is in conflict with the aims of art. We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art—the art of words."

Ursula K Le Guin, from Parker Higgins dot net.

Let it Be Me

The internet's a place to publicly store your embarrassing moments, so they can be dragged out and paraded in front of the world for years to come. The delusion, I think, is the idea that it's not really embarrassing... that in point of fact, you're actually quite awesome.

You'd think that a childhood spent running around barefoot in the Amazon, largely free of the seductive wiles of the television and internet, would've rendered me a bit more immune to this siren-call of self-abasement.

Nonetheless, here I am. Putting on my dinosaur pajamas and crying out, "Let it Be Me!"

let it be me from josh barkey on Vimeo.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Too Much Noise

And then today I read yet another lovely piece of cultural criticism from David Foster Wallace, written the year before he died (2007) in his essay "Deciderization 2007 - A Special Report." To rip a small chunk of DFW out of a larger piece is a sort of small crime, but I'm going to do it anyway because this just perfectly sums up how I feel about the current politico-entertainment complex.

"It's amazing to me that no one much talks about thisabout the fact that whatever our founders and framers thought of as a literate, informed citizenry can no longer exist, at least not without a whole new modern degree of subcontracting and dependence packed into what we mean by 'informed' ... Hence, by the way, the seduction of partisan dogma. You can drown in dogmatism now ... whether hard right or new left or whatever, the seduction and mentality are the same. You don't have to feel confused or inundated or ignorant. You don't even have to think, for you already Know, and whatever you choose to learn confirms what you Know."

What a brill-yunt (and depressing) diagnosis. 
Thanks, DFW.  

Friday, November 14, 2014

TWO Josh Barkey-Penned Short Films to Play at the Cucalorus Film Festival...

If you're in the area, please join me at the Cucalorus Film Festival in Wilmington, NC (Nov. 12-16). 
TWO FOR TEA and LOCKER 212 are BOTH in the "Minorca Shorts" block, playing on Saturday at 4pm at the TheaterNOW venue. I'll be there with directors Ben Joyner and Matt Nunn, respectively, and we'd love to see you. 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

i was six, like, yesterday

These days nothing makes me more acutely, anxiously aware of my own mortality than being in the middle of a big writing project.

Having a son was perhaps the kickstarting mortality-awareness moment of my lifethe thing that made it intensely clear to me that I was going to die. And being a father is an ongoing reminder of thatthat I need to live, if for nothing else than so that my son will have a father.

But as far as acute mortality-awareness goes in my daily life, nothing comes close to the prompting-power of an unfinished novel or screenplay.

Each of my word-babies is, as David Foster Wallace said (paraphrasing Don DeLillo), "hideously defective, hydrocephalic and noseless and flipper-armed and incontinent and retarded and dribbling cerebrospinal fluid out of its mouth as it mewls and blurbles and cries out." Which is to say that when I first start writing them, they're horrible monsters that I suspect deserve to die.

And like DFW I acknowledge this hideousness even as I get these tiny hints that maybe, just maybe there's a glimmer there that something in the work might be "trembling on the edge of coming together and working."

And I think, "What if I die?"

What if I die and after days and months and even years of work, this love-baby of mine has no one to nurture it into the mature, working adulthood that I just know (or at least, desperately hope) it has the capacity to attain.

If I die, my book dies. My screenplay dies. And no readers will ever resuscitate them by taking them in hand to read. No film-makers will bring them to life, nor film-viewers watch them into being.

One of the best book-existence-stories ever is about the novel "A Confederacy of Dunces," which was written by John Kennedy Toole and didn't appear in print until ten years after he died, when his dear old mum had the audacity to approach the towering literary figure Walker Percy with her son's tattered manuscript and insist he simply had to read it. He did, and loved it, and pushed it into print, where it went on to critical and mainstream success. Like, win-a-Pulitzer type success.

There's that hope, of course, that if I died before my work found a home, someone would come along to push it out into the public eye (and give the royalties to my son).

But of course, I'm no John Kennedy Toole.

And my word-babies are no Pulitzer-worthy masterpieces, I think. At least, not now. Now that they're these nasty, wrinkled, snot-covered abominations. I can't die... they need me.

So I grind away at them, scraping off the unnecessary words. And at the end of every day I email the newest version to myself, to put into a gmail folder under "scriptdrafts" (Take note, posthumous publishers!). I work my eight, nine, fifteen-hour days and hope for another. For one more day and then another so that I can finally finish.

So that my babies can live, even though I die.

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Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Almost Famous (a.k.a. "horseshoes and hand grenades")


Yesterday I ranted about the Sins of the Ding-Dongs in the so-called "Christian" church in America, so maybe today I should confess that in real life, I'm actually not all that much of a shining, prophetic light.

Yea and verily, I myself do very little (read: nothing) to ameliorate the hard lot of the poor in this country and around the world, and although I could quite readily scribble out a litany of probably-legit-sounding excuses, the truth is that A. I'm sort of a hypocrite, and B. I was maybe-kinda-sorta just venting frustration at the fact that no matter how hard I seem to work, other people always seem to win. You know, the Game.

That's not to say I think you should allow the shootability of the messenger to distract from the truth of the message. Just pointing out that when it gets right down to it, I was probably less pissed off about economic injustice (which, truth be told, more just depresses me) than I was anxious about two particularly nail-bitering Things I've been going through, lately.

Thing One:
My script POUNDERS had made it through two rounds of vindictive judgment in the Big Break Screenwriting Contest, giving me a one-in-fifty-eight chance at some actual money. Like, continue-to-write-full-time money.

Thing Two:
I put my script GINSENG onto the Blacklist website, which is this thing where you pay for reads and if they give you an 8/10 or higher, they'll throw your script right down on a whole bunch of industry desks.

Today, the nailbiting is finished. 

First, POUNDERS did not advance.

And Second, I got my first Blacklist review back, and the Reader didn't quite like GINSENG enough to push it on through. That's right, seven-out-of-ten. Half a year's work, and thanks for trying.

Now, to be fair to myself (And why not?), this isn't actually horrible news. 

First, because GINSENG's already got people attached to it and some solid leads on financing (I'm going for the scatter-shot approach with this career of mine), and second of all, because the reviewer didn't actually have anything truly negative to say about the script. He/she/it seemed to quite like GINSENG, actually, and was rather complementary. He/she/it just thought that... actually, you know what? I'll just post the review and let you see for yourself. Not as painful as some of the rejections I've gotten, but still disappointing.

So, what is GINSENG?

GINSENG: An aging alcoholic takes one last stab at atoning for his past by dragging his unwilling adult son on a camping trip in the Appalachian mountains. But his plan to dig a little wild American ginseng while he’s at it draws the ire of territorial locals, and father and son must work together to stay alive.

And here's the review:

The story is expertly paced; the family drama is given enough time to develop and connect with the audience before the thriller elements start coming fast and furious. This fosters a stronger connection with the leads - their struggle has real emotional stakes - and makes the appearance of violence and death feel shocking rather than inevitable. Virgil and the boys have a fairly conventional role in the story, but the choice to make Virgil a very smart, well-spoken individual in a redneck's body is exceptionally clever. Paired with the fact that it is Jerry - rather than the locals - who initiates the conflict, the villains in this story are allowed to be much more human than they might otherwise. The final beat between Rick and Derek hits the perfect note - they feel like two emotionally exhausted men, not a hero and a villain facing off. In essence, GINSENG is doing something very simple very well, creating a more sophisticated update of the DELIVERANCE formula that lingers on hurt feelings and father-son bonding rather than physical torment. The actual action scenes may be routine, but the stakes are much higher than average because no character is allowed to become a caricature.

It's more of a solid version of a well-known story than a truly unique concept, so there is the tiniest bit of surprise missing from the story; Virgil's role in the story is very obvious from the first moment he appears, no matter how well-developed he is. The script is above average in every aspect, but it does have a fairly expected plot arc. It's not so much a weakness as a limitation.

With the low budget, tight pacing and solid roles for actors in two different age demographics, this definitely feels like a commercial concept. The likely home is probably VOD/streaming (unless some A-list cast gets involved), but the great thing about GINSENG is that the budget is low enough that it can turn a profit with just about any kind of release. Audience satisfaction shouldn't be a problem; the care with which the characters in this film are treated really puts it a step above the typical "hikers vs rednecks" thriller setup. Strong commercial prospects as a contained drama/thriller, although likely more on the indie side of the industry.
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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Russell Brand: Modern-Day Prophet

I'm tired of hearing American Church-People decry folks in the modern entertainment industry as moral degenerates, and the entire entertainment biznatch as a moral wasteland.

What's their alternative?

For their "art" they prefer saccharine, white-washed pablum that endlessly affirms the principles of their mutual-congratulation-society. In so doingin demanding that the culture's artists be so endlessly, insufferably "nice" all the timethey rob themselves of any hope they might have of escaping from their adulterous, Pharisaical fornications with the power/business structures of this effed-up world. 

As the prophet Isaiah once said, "They say to the seers, 'See no more visions!' and to the prophets, 'Give us no more visions of what is right! Tell us pleasant things, prophesy illusions. Leave this way, get off this path, and stop confronting us with the Holy One of Israel!'"

Meanwhile the clergywhich in this country earns (when you include benefits) an average of eighty to a hundred and ten thousand dollars a yearblandly pontificates from the pulpit about either how evil gays are... or how cool this particular church happens to be for liking gays even though what they do does still seem to be a bit distasteful... or how fantastically awesome this church is for seeing the light about gays being made that way by God.

Blah, blah, this. Blah, blah, that. Blah blah pre-millenial dispensationalism et cetera.

Anything but cry out LOUDLY about the sorts of things JESUS liked to rant about, such as the ill-use of the poor at the hands of the powers and principalities of this dark world. Why? 

Well, would YOU argue against the power-structures if you, alone, were earning roughly DOUBLE what the average HOUSEHOLD earns in this country??? And that's just the average. A lot of the mega-pastorsthe ones with the tens of thousands of congregants, and outsized influenceare bringing in anything from a quarter of a million to a million dollars a year in salary, benefits, and book sales (which yes, Steven Furtick, are a benefit of your job). 

Why would they side with the poor? They're as far from the poor as Jesus was from Ceasar.

These aren't the apostles of Jesus, people. These are mouthpieces of corporate America, giving a perpetual God-stamp of approval to the boot-heel that stomps, again and again, on our country's most vulnerable souls.

Meanwhile in the entertainment industry, artists are fulfilling the role of prophets and speaking out against this most-likely God-damned injustice. I've mentioned John Oliver before, but today I'm thinking more of British comedian and activist (a.k.a. prophet) Russell Brand, who continues to step into the void left by a religion more taken with self-pleasuring gimmicks than service to an itinerant advocate for the poor, meek, and broken down.

Stop spending all your time arguing about the precise meaning of each verse in Paul's epistles, you ding-dongs, and start reading the clear-as-day words of Jesus himself in the Sermon on the Mount!

Meanwhile in Britain, here's Russell Brand on the recent arrest of a 90 year old Florida man whoout of love for and in service to Jesushas been arrested and faces jail time and a hefty fine for (WTF!) feeding the poor!

And yet "Christian" America still goes out every Sunday to church, lumbering down carpeted aisles to sit in well-padded seats as their so-called pastors pat them on the head and feed them cotton-candy promises of a continued status quo. A status quo that has them buying more and more (let's face it) shit, while millions of the people the world over are starving to death.

Would these church-people listen to Russell Brand, repent of their wicked self-indulgence, and have a shot at threading that elusive needle's-eye into the Kingdom of Heaven?* No! Of course not! He says potty words and he's got tattoos and he's been in raunchy comedies. He doesn't believe everything we do and is therefore not one of the elect. He's a Hollywood regular who's therefore most likely one of the devil's own imps, in disguise. 

Never mind that henot your pastoris preaching words more in tune with Gospel of Jesus. 

As for me, I'll side with Brand. 
I'll side with the poor. 

I'll side with Jesus.

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*Hint: The Kingdom of Heaven is here! Now! And you're not in it, you gratuitous little sodomites**!

**Sodom was destroyed for not taking care of the poor. Think about it. 

- - - 

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