Miha Mazzini: Literature and film
|Literature and film
(From the book Home Delivery)
Plot number one: Stephen King, Gerald’s Game; an older couple goes to a lonely cabin for a dose of S&M. She is chained to a bed, he jumps on top of her, becomes a bit overexcited, has a heart attack and dies. He is on top of his wife for the last time and she realises how very alone she is. Nobody will come for months. And she’s chained to his body, so to say.
Plot number two: Mark Helprin, A Soldier of the Great War; another heart attack, another lonely cabin. On top of a mountain, from which the only quick way to a doctor is a cargo cable carrier, not much more than a wooden board, suspended on steel ropes. The patient is put on the board, but there isn’t enough room left for a grown-up person to accompany him, giving him the necessary heart-massage. A young boy stands in. The cable carrier sets off and the boy and the dying man glide over precipices towards the valley.
No, it’s not a quiz, but please suggest an ending for both of these examples. In the first one, King created the best possible horror starting point I have ever come across. One of those where you bang your head against the wall, shouting Why didn’t I think of that? Just imagine that woman, alone in there, with the dead body on top of her. The husband she has known for so many years is now slowly getting colder and she knows that she won’t be able to escape one single phase of his decay. Flies, imagine the flies. Initially, just one, buzzzzzzzzzz, then another one, more and more of them. The rigor mortis, can you imagine? The stiffening of a dead body lying on top of a naked living body? Ha! And what really happens? A stray dog comes through the door and drags the body out. And then spends half the novel terrorising the poor woman, but only up to a point – she’s chained down anyway and if it attacked her seriously, she couldn’t really defend herself. The dog is driven away by a maniac, who terrorises the woman for the rest of the novel. Not very cruelly either, for the same reason as the dog. A busy cabin, I have to say! And a book in which King so well and truly fucked up the best starting point he had ever come up with, that I don’t read him anymore. Full-stop.
And the second, Helprin’s plot? Can you imagine what goes through a kid’s mind whilst he’s next to a dying man? The moonlight above the mountains, the loneliness, the wind howling? The first encounter with death, the first realisation that unlike that which surrounds us, we are mortal. And what happens? The sick man is hallucinating that somebody is attacking him and starts trying to catch the boy. They jostle on the board all the way to the valley.
In both cases the authors take us into a situation which would only a century ago have served as a starting point for reminiscence, contemplation and feelings. And what happens instead of this? Action! Yes, action! Why? Isn’t it more effective to read a description of a stiffening of a dead body than a dog’s barking? To read about the boy’s fear rather than about his struggle above a precipice? Yes, this is how they thought only a hundred years ago. And then films happened, acting merely as a prelude to television. Our culture became visual instead of literary. Furthermore, our way of thinking changed too. We think in pictures. Not in long, drawn out pictures, but short ones, lasting forty seconds, which is the average length of a scene on American television. And who are novelists to rebel against this? But let us first define literature as it is now, in this visual era, and compare it to earlier periods of literature: in the past, a writer would search for the best literary solution in a given situation, whilst nowadays he looks for the best possible visual solution (however bad it is from a literary point of view). To put it simply, writers write only because that is the cheapest way of making films. At least the good writers, that is. The calculating ones write in order to set baits for producers. Every American manual on how to write a film script tells you that the shortest way to a film is via a published novel. OK, I hear you say, in the case of the American genres and best-sellers maybe this Mazzini guy is actually right, but there is also ‘serious’ literature. There is indeed. Let’s take example number two, Mark Helprin. Is that not serious enough literature for you? Would Salman Rushdie do? His Midnight’s Children was proclaimed the best novel of the last quarter of this century. And large chunks of it are put together in a parallel, film-like fashion, interspersed with sentences which read like instructions to the director – we move close-up, a close up of a face, one of his chapters even finishes with a fade-out.
Film (let me repeat - a prelude to television!) combined the previously independent art forms, killing them in the process. Yes, literature is dead, living only as a masturbatory film project – a film for the poor and the desperate. Poetry has been pushed aside, only occasionally serving as a treasure chest of quotes in film scenes depicting funerals or romantic scenes. The visual period sucked into it the visual arts and music as well. The latter’s fate is the worst – it has been reduced to the level of a backdrop. How sad.
All these dead artistic formats are thus only a substitute for the real thing, for which we don’t have enough money, ergo an emergency exit, sour grapes. No wonder there are so many sad faces among those still practising them.
© Miha Mazzini.
From the book Home Delivery.
Translated by Maja Visenjak - Limon.