Devin Smith: Writing Clips

Contact: devin.smith.work@gmail.com

Twin Peaks Falls: The Battle of Vista Francisco

For WNP's OutsideLands.org. Reprinted: FoundSF.org, SFAA Magazine.

Twin Peaks is, in some ways, like a small mountain town dropped right in the middle of San Francisco—the city’s equivalent of a flyover state (a tunnelunder state?). It’s basically nonexistent in online culture writing, because there's no action up here. No storied music venues. No overhyped foodie spots. No upstart tech companies burning through VC cash, salacious hubris-and-downfall sagas in the opening chapters.

Like most simple questions, “What exactly defines a neighborhood?” is the first step into an endless philosophy deathspiral. “Twin Peaks,” in the broad sense, is comprised of three smaller neighborhoods circling the mountain: Clarendon Heights to the north, Midtown Terrace to the west, and Twin Peaks proper to the east (which some maps elide into Upper Market).

But as similarly sleepy as these three neighborhoods are, they’re markedly different in character... and these differences trace all the way back to when they were carved out of the mountain.

Book Review: "Death" by Anna Croissant-Rust

For Full Stop

Where Prose Poems succeeds — in haphazard, abbreviated ideas; words tumbling quick like drunk texts — it feels a good half-century ahead of its time. And its occasional contrasting stumbles — in overlong, samey passages once again lusciously painting meadows and streams in thick gouache — serve to highlight the interesting mix of ideas fueling its creation. That it was met with critical befuddlement seems almost a given.

Death was published two decades later, in 1914, as Croissant-Rust was into her 50s, and the Empire was holding its breath before the plunge into The Great War. It is a collection of 17 short stories, circled and jigging in the Danse Macabre. Death might arrive in his spoopy formalwear, a skeletal grin wreathed in black; or as a laughing wave of fire sweeping along the walls of a packed, panicked theater; or silently, invisibly, in terrifying realism, as the body simply ceasing to breathe — but death will always arrive.

The Bells at Lau Pa Sat

Self-published on Medium

And — if you happen to be here at the quarter hour — you will find your gaze pulled suddenly upward as you hear the proud striking of bronze bells in the clock tower high above. Here, under these delicate Victorian arches and surrounded by the bells’ vibrating overtones, you may feel momentarily transported straight back to the 1800s.

There are, however, some slight issues with this daydream: For one, during most of the 1800s, the ground you are standing on — and much of the ground beneath these gigantic skyscrapers and stretching out kilometers beyond — did not exist. And those bells didn’t arrive until 1991, the same year Vanilla Ice’s “To The Extreme” topped the US charts.

Thanks in part to where it lies in the city, this market’s history runs a fascinating parallel to Singapore’s meteoric postwar rise from a bustling British colony to an independent powerhouse. So chope† a seat, grab a plate of punggol mee goreng or chicken tikka masala, and come with me on a trip through colonial penny-pinching, dramatic architecture choices (and occasional debacles), joint UN planning committees, the rise of “The Golden Shoe,” the market’s complete disassembly and ill-fated remodeling in the early 90s, through some unique graphic design choices, over kilometers of new land stretching out into the sea (with a small international incident), and finally to the Kopitiam-run market we know and love today…

Book Review: "Typescript of the Second Origin" by Manuel de Pedrolo

For Full Stop

The literary output of Manuel de Pedrolo (1918–1990) was, in essence, an act of resistance. Born to an “impoverished aristocratic landowner” in the village of L’Aranyó (eastern Catalonia), he was studying in Barcelona at the age of 17 to become a doctor when the Spanish Civil War erupted. After serving as a medic for the Republicans, it was only his father’s connections that kept him out of prison when Franco’s forces emerged victorious in 1939. As Franco’s dictatorial regime forbade the use of the Catalan language in education, public discourse, and mass media, Pedrolo was part of a generation of writers who took up the pen to ensure the language not only survived, but flowered.

Setsuko Hara: Into Silence

Self-published on Medium

As Japan’s imperial expansion dovetailed into WWII, the film studios fell increasingly under the control of the Home Ministry’s Censorship Division and the Information Bureau [IB]. Prefigured by the ideas forwarded by the public-private Greater Japan Film Association (Dai Nihon Eiga Kyokai), “The Film Law” was passed in March of 1939, and went into effect in October. It detailed the procedures for how films would now be subject to government approval from script to final cut, reorganized the disparate Directors’, Cinematographers’, and Actors’ (etc) associations into a unified, government-overseen organization, and imposed restrictions on theaters. By 1941, importing and exhibiting non-Axis films was illegal.

The distribution of private-sector film stock came under the control of the IB, and in August of 1941, it announced it would provide stock only to films which it had specifically commissioned. The next month, after a series of negotiations, the major film studios were forced to reorganize and consolidate into 3 companies. An oft-repeated quote from this reorganization by Bureau chief Ryuzo Kawazura referenced a film as a “bullet in the arsenal dedicated to the prosecution of total war,” and that it was “unthinkable to allow the production of a misfiring bullet.”

Hijacking And Escape

For the Full Stop Blog

During these four decades (culminating in the full flower of the internet age), the entire motley oeuvre of Cooper material from 1971 to the present has been obsessively dissected, argued, and adjudicated into semirigid hierarchies based on the veracity and sturdiness of the facts and theories presented. Indeed, the previous owner of my copy of D.B. Cooper: What Really Happened left behind a small garden of marginalia indicating a keen interest in the particulars of the case (for example, helpfully adding “Deceased” beside the names of various key players).

These notes, in messy blue ballpoint, serve as a microcosm for how this book is currently viewed by readers well-versed on the topic; they focus on prying apart the cracks which increasingly compound in the narrative. Too many unconfirmed details, uncorroborated timelines, “facts” which appear nowhere else. Most plainly, the entire premise of the novel—a series of phone interviews precipitated by a mysterious letter some ten years after the hijacking—is so clearly far-fetched that Gunther smartly gets ahead of it by opening with a lengthy preface detailing both his own and others’ reasonable suspicions of the whole cloak-and-dagger routine. The only real question is whether Gunther pulled a fast one on his publisher, or whether he pitched the book with a wink and a smile.

But hoax or no, an author still has to put pen to paper and produce a book. And in so doing, Gunther added a work utterly unique to the Cooper cannon: underneath the musk and bravado of an adventure tale, D.B. Cooper: What Really Happened is, improbably, a romance novel. And, spun in the brisk, splashy style of a seasoned magazine writer, it is, surprisingly, a pretty good one.

On Iterative Artists: Lana Del Rey and Yasujirō Ozu

Self-published on Medium

There are certain artists who prefer to work iteratively. The revered Japanese director Yasujirō Ozu (1903–1963) comes to mind. Lana Del Rey’s new album falls squarely into this iterative category, and it is essentially indistinguishable from her previous releases in its aesthetics and general construction. From a critical perspective, this is by no means a slight: in Ozu’s oeuvre, the narrowing to a limited palette of filmmaking techniques and the constant revisiting of similar plots led to a body of films unparalleled in their focus, idiosyncratic consistency, and communicative acuity.

One of the things I appreciate about Lana Del Rey taking this approach is that it forces the listener to engage with the subtler fluctuations in the non-aesthetic and non-production elements of a pop album, which in the late 2010s occasionally (and intentionally) find themselves subservient. In this regard, the most noticeable feature of Lust For Life is that it continues Honeymoon’s tonal shift away from the nihilism of Born To Die... into what I will hesitatingly describe as a flirtation with hope.

Born to Die was Tokyo Twilight, Lust for Life is Late Autumn.