[ the title and the whole piece here may not make much sense–it may not anyway–without cueing into TheValve.org, which, it looks like, may have the orignial Marcus article in PDF ]
Just what is experimental fiction, then?
The easiest definition for experimental or innovative or non-conventional fiction is fiction that, both at armslength and upon closer inspection, doesn’t look or read at all like standard, mainstream, commercial fiction. A more biased definition would be ‘fiction that takes chances.’ The other side of that, of course, would be ‘fiction that doesn’t sell.’ Take them both together, and what you have is ‘Fiction that plays enough with form or language or narrative syntax that, quite often, it loses the audience altogether.’ The ‘innovative’ writer’s response to this will often be that it’s not their job to spoonfeed their story out in easily digestible bites—that the real corruption here is an audience that feels entitled to ‘easy’ stories; the ‘mainstream’ writers will counter that, really, it’s not all that hard to make your story difficult to swallow. The hard part, actually, is making it not only edible, but sweet enough that the reader will want more and more.
So a while back a friend i was borrowing DVDs from asked what horror he might need to have a somewhat complete collection. I told him I’d pen him a list sooner or later. Only just now remembering this. And, yeah, two disclaimers before I even start here: 1) I’m surely forgetting as many as I’m remembering, and 2) my tastes of course kind of dictate what I remember, what I don’t. And I love slashers. Too, I started out trying to have just ten movies per decade, but, really, any deeper than 1970 and my record gets more than spotty (again, taste: Nosferatu and The Golem and Caligari and White Zombie and all those were neat and important and pretty much shaped everything to come, but still, I’d rather watch all the stuff they influenced). So I lumped the fifties and sixties together, still barely made ten there. But then the seventies and eighties, I was having to leave so much out. Anyway, no, I haven’t checked all these dates. Just kind of dartboarding them where looks good. And yeah, I’d guess I’ll go back in, edit this a bit. But of course post any obvious misses as comments; I’ll try to float them up into the main thing. And, yeah, I could make this complete just by cracking DEMON THEORY open, but I’m trying hard not to even look at it until it’s real–until it shows up leaning against my storm door. Anyway, what I came up with during what few commercials THE COLBERT REPORT had:
The best place to hide from an axe-weilding maniac is with your back pressed up against a wooden door you’re pretty sure is both solid and impenetrable. This is because that maniac who’s after you, his first strike with the axe will nearly always be from two to six inches from the left side of your face, thus allowing you both to know exactly where she or he is, and thus escape into the next room, and getting the maniac’s axe caught in the door long enough for you to make that escape. As for why these maniacs strike the door to the left of your head instead of your right, there’s at least two theories:
Been trying to figure out what scenes/images from horror movies have become so indelibly imprinted on pop-culture that even people who don’t watch horror kind of have to know them, or at least of them. Which is to say I can’t just pick the coolest or best horror clips–the ones that imprinted me once upon a time. I mean, that’d be Freddy’s long arms from A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, kid-Jason at the end of FRIDAY THE 13th, Gage cutting grandpa’s Achille’s in PET SEMETERY, John Carpenter’s spider-head thing in THE THING, how Michael was just suddenly gone at the end of HALLOWEEN, the girl in SIXTH SENSE’s tent, the floating nurse-nun in EXORCIST III, the scuttler in THE GRUDGE’s attic, the kill scene in IRREVERSIBLE, the end of DARKNESS, etc. But the whole movie audience isn’t cued into those so much, I don’t think. And no, I’m not doing best kill-scenes here either, or best gore or fight scenes or a top horror list (here, here and everywhere). Just the stuff that changed us. Or that I think might have:
First, as this is just all about the end of THE DESCENT, then, yep, it’s just chock full of spoilers. So stop here if:
- you’ve not seen it
- you’re going to see it
- and you don’t like to know how a thing’s going to end
Not meaning to say THE DESCENT has a gimmick-ending or anything — we don’t change perspective and slowly become aware that these are just action figures in a toy bin. But the two endings it does have, in being at odds with each other, are also kind of polarizing the horror audience one way or the other, it seems.
And I think I can say ‘cineplex’ there — none of these are really indie, or at least didn’t end up that way. And, before I even list them, the caveats: I’ve yet to catch BORAT or PAN’S LABYRINTH or APOCALYPTO or INLAND EMPIRE or CHILDREN OF MEN or THE FOUNTAIN or the BLACK CHRISTMAS remake, all of which’d be likely contenders, I suspect (and I generally duck all the snoozers, like PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION, etc (‘etc’ here meaning I don’t even know how many of these there were — I mean, I’m sure they’re good, but I’m more of the summer-movie type)). And, when I thumbnailed this list, going just on memory instead of digging around for what actually came out in 2006, man, it was a good list: BRICK, HARD CANDY, KONTROLL, KISS KISS BANG BANG. Which is to say, thankfully, happily, no CAPOTE stuff, no BROKEBACK stuff. Too, V IS FOR VENDETTA was (and is) on there, even though, like THE DESCENT and HOSTEL, IMDb has it as 2005. But it’s the USA wide-release dates that matter out here in west Texas. Too, I know, where’s THE DEPARTED, where’s BABEL, where’s THE PRESTIGE? On everybody’s else’s lists, I suppose . . .
I first read Pynchon when I was twenty-two, I think, between a B.A. and an M.A. The only reason I read him, too, was because I’d hit up a professor I trusted for a list of books I’d need to have read if I didn’t want to get laughed out of grad school. She of course gave me an excellent list — Nabokov, Heller, etc — but, when guiding me through the highs and the lows of all these titles, that professor stopped at Gravity’s Rainbow, said I wanted to stay far away from that one, as it had 500 characters and a storyline for each. Which, I mean, I’d just inhaled all of Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky I could, and had a bachelor’s in philosophy in my pocket. So I accepted the challenge, went to the library, dug up a Gravity’s Rainbow and went swirling down into it, taking notes and making marginalia as I went, like I always do (more below), but doing it this time on a slip of paper, as I was going to have to turn this book back in. Years down the road, I’d of course pick up my own copies of GR, and, for a while even, remember which version my little slip of notes went with. But it’s gone now, so I don’t have any record of my first (and, so far, only) read of GR. The experience, though: it did twist my head, lose me, make me grin and leave me laughing, wanting more. So I found V., The Crying of Lot 49 — and this one I have read I don’t know how-many-times — then fell deeper into that hole, hit Vineland and the short stories and every scrap of Pynchonalia I could find, by, about, whatever. I was hooked, a convert, an acolyte. But. To know something about me that first summer I read Pynchon: all I knew then, I think, were sentences. I mean, I’d stumble onto a decent story-ending every now and again, or a nice hook, a nice shuffle between scenes or whatever, but by and large I was having some big romantic affair with language; I read Cormac McCarthy not for the stories, but, first, the vocabulary, and, second, the prose rhythm. And of course Pynchon’s sentences, while not quite as stacked as McCarthy’s when he’s really rolling, still, there’s a different, maybe even more permanent kind of magic there. Because he moves things back and forth at . . . I’ve yet to figure it out, I guess. But it’s a level just above the words.
An Amazon short, “Gabriel.” Would say something about it here, but I think it’s all allready1 there. Only thing I didn’t say to/for them, I guess, was that, when I read their guidelines and saw that there was a 10,000 word cap, I of course scoured my story directories for something just a touch over that, on the idea that more words for two quarters is a better bargain than less words for two quarters. Kind of the same way two scoops of ice cream for the price of one scoop is more attractive. Not that I eat ice cream, or condone the eating of ice cream, or am even peripherally related to the ice cream industry or any of its many corporate sponsorship opportunities.
as always, spoilers abound.1
Man, mix even parts Adaptation and The Wonder Boys, let Will Ferrell shake it, and you’ve got something a lot like Stranger than Fiction. And of course, as all movies about writers of whatever kind have to end, Stranger than Fiction pulls the same trick those two do. Or, that Get Shorty does. So that, when Ebert says that the ending is a compromise, I don’t know: I’m kind of inclined to disagree. Or disinclined to agree, whichever works better for you. But yeah, I mean I agree with him that it’s a very compromised ending — the novelist sacrifices her art for a person (in writer-speak: because she got too attached to her character). And that’s not satisfying. But, too, we have to understand that what we’re watching, it’s nearly got to be that rewritten version the novelist promises to do at the end (thus the Wonder Boys end . . .).