Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Seven Lives of Blanka

The street scene décor looks wooden. A few niggling cries of inauthenticity ring out, blackening the air with contrarian glee. Cleanly varnished surfaces reflect the light, a setting fresh at the touch, objects chopped and chiselled at little remove from the present.

‘But nonetheless!’ chant the chorus.

And so the street opens up. Cars and pedestrians, shops and eateries, blue-hued skies and matt-finished roads. Homey and homeless gouge the street, earning third-person glances and deferred interest. Careerists zip past the elderly. Mothers living the infant frenzy stomp the pavement, nudging street soldiers – always bolting ahead, always late.

‘Enough of the general!’ chant the chorus.

The mid-street café – a colourless fragment of the terrace, anonymous to all non-locals – coolly eases through the day. A quiet hideaway, sufficiently close to the bustle to maintain one’s grasp on the social nexus. Sun shines but the out-front seating, straddling gum-encrusted pavement, stands primarily empty. Only one seat taken – one table in use. A body fills the space, sipping tea and tapping a nervous hand on a newspaper.

‘Why, it’s he! Our hero!’ chant the chorus.

The smell of burgers and vomit is perceptible, noise of the bus lane audible. A couple stroll past walking a dog they named Hegel. Motor fumes course through the air. A woman madly bemoans “all that there NASA shit” to a silent telephone interlocutor. A toddler trips, suited men run for the bus, a kebab merchant discards his junk mail.

Green is reflected off the table steel as Blanka lowers his cup. Fatigue shows upon his eyes – fatigue or age? Frenetic happenings unravel behind him, a patchwork blur of technicolour ebb and flow. Little distracted by the environment, long-accustomed to the droning daytime, Blanka looks piercingly at the table. Someone has scribbled the word ‘Yeltsin’ on it.

Who be damned – where and why?’ chant the chorus.

Jutting out from below the newspaper is the cherished item of Blanka’s rumination: the latest draft of his memoirs – the myriad sheets of white, lathered in words and drenched in history’s reckoning advances, that have preoccupied his life these past months. He sighs, scratching a lump on his arm, dark green ever darkening. The newspaper he pushes to the other side of the table. The papers are revealed, bundled together in a rush. Blanka twists his neck away, yawning in tormented tiredness. Irksome tasks to do and their terrible completion rage behind his eyes.

‘Pay distraction no heed!’ chant the chorus.

Throwing no look to a nearby cyclist as she reproaches a van driver, Blanka lifts the pages and begins to sift through them. Every numbing memory of the writing process assails him, from the cutting of cherished passages, ones that took days to assemble, to hours lost through needless meditation on whether the word beatdown ought to be hyphenated. Fingers flick through the stack, eyes catching on headings. A nod intermittently ruptures the stillness of the air. A pen emerges from a shirt pocket, moving in rhythm to a baritone splutter gurgling its way up Blanka’s throat. Cough now free, the critical scribbling commences.

‘Soundless reading take flight!’ chant the chorus.

Chapter 6: The failed playwright

…I did not have the sense to start at the bottom. Things would have gone better that way, I am sure of it. A year or two making props, time arranging rehearsals, maybe a tour as Shylock – all would have been good preparation. But by that time my ego was too large. I demanded instant recognition. I could not wait for theatrical fame. And so I called myself Playwright and began to write…

…Some called Piss Piss, Mother Gods crass. Many reviewers tore it apart, writing at length about the unpleasant feeling it engendered in them. I was appalled. I did not expect such a backlash. I knew it was provocative; I was not naïve. But I believe it was misjudged. What they saw as misogynistic trash, I saw as a challenging metonymic critique of society. The scene in which Hank and Vera’s marriage is on the rocks is a perfect example. They argue over having children: Hank wanting them, Vera not wanting them. Tempers flare and voices are raised. After a minute of furious argument, Hank goes to retreat, but teary eyed Vera continues to harangue him. Hank turns back and shouts, “I will beat off in my hand and slap it in your fanny if you don’t shut up!” One reviewer centred his entire review around this scene, listing everything he saw wrong with it. Sometimes it confuses me. But I just assume they are ignorant…

Recollection of a dream spent talking to an ocelot returns to Blanka. Reading ceases as an intake of breath lightens the mood. Cheap ink stains his fingers, orphan biro lines running over his knuckles. Sputum interrupts his breath, a wad of opalescent gunk in ascension – now dislodged. The dreams involving the ocelot stopped a few months ago. Those twilight terrors ravaged Blanka’s sanity for years, hindering every new career, every new relationship. But now they appear absent, silent and invisible, enabling the byways of harmless slumber to be trod sans agony. Untouched anodyne sleep and myriad mind freedoms were the catalysts for the memoir, encouraging Blanka to finally chronicle his eventful life – now allowing him to do it.

‘Enter readerly delectation!’ chant the chorus.

Chapter 9: The fallen scholar

…I never knew him well. My cohorts spoke about him a lot. He was always held in high esteem. I considered it hyperbole. Our casual conversations never implied genius. We would exchange pleasantries on the odd occasion, that is it. He seemed to know much about the weather, but so did I. Then one day he comes up to me with a book. It was Writing and Difference by Jacques Derrida. He insisted I read it, guaranteeing the enrichment of my mind. I said I would take a look. He ended by inviting me to a seminar he was organising. Yes, E. Honda was a Deconstructionist. I could not have guessed it. Appearances are deceptive. Who would see a philosophical mind in a man who hand slaps cars into scrap metal? His flying headbutt was using his head, but a head certifiably Derridean? After the shock subsided a new inspiration took hold…

…I had been teaching the dynamic of différance for three months. I thought I was doing well. A list of my career goals was pinned to the wall of my shared office. I would not forget them. My energies were focused, perhaps for the first time ever. Yet all was not to be. Complaints started to come in, mainly from angry parents. I had been illustrating the play of signifiers, the core of différance. I did this by throwing students at each another. Accusations of physical abuse grew in number and I was sacked. I thought it was a great way to show how signifiers jostle in a constant movement of deference. I do not understand the controversy. I threw the students with the lowest essay marks first…

Bone joints click as Blanka leans back in his seat. A fly pretending to be a wasp flies by. Lines of disenchanted workers roam across the backlit horizon. More coughing. Breathing only has further obstacles to surmount; it edges closer to the terminal spot. Some identifier will be there: the letter X, a skull, a picture of Guile winking, something to let us know. Blanka plays indifference but even he feels the hollow rush of mortality. A local tobacconist walks past, a copy of Minima Moralia protruding from his bag of groceries.

‘The else must have legs!’ chant the chorus.

Eyes glide over hasty records of a past lived quickly. Excursions into carpentry, yachting, rolling full stops for authors too famous to roll their own – the printed word slices easily through time. Notable understatement of the glories derived from Street Fighter, feelings of guilt at a fame bought cheaply. Hurried passages segue into elaborate exegeses on declined career paths. A sigh hovers over the mishmash of first book problems: lack of cohesion, unevenness, indelicate use of punctuation. But the yawns multiply with firm resolve, unable to be stifled by the calling of late authoring prowess. Blanka is buoyed by a desired success, but a success uncertain. He takes a tapering journey on words chipped away from the lived and the experienced, stolen from a monopoly of the past tense, crammed into paper repositories in the hope of beating Time’s advance. Another cough, this time wet and wholly penultimate. A page is turned, flipped by creaky fingers. There’s no more, only table steel. And the final sheet slides away finished.

‘The else has no legs...’ chant the chorus.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Tornado! (Starring Bruce Campbell)

Given the usual incoherence of the morning I’m surprised I heard the banging. It was a sound from outside, it seemed, or maybe not, maybe inside. The origination was not immediately clear. An odd discombobulation of the ears reigned, a jolting rush of confusion threatening to capsize the day. Then a realisation, faint but not indiscernible: the sound, it’s coming from below, down the stairs, at the front door. Quizzically I slid down the stairs, the banging ever present. What wild ruckus is ensuing beyond the door? Should I risk showing my face? Am I to be met with death, is this the inevitable moment of my demise? Is my procrastinating walk only solidifying the nastiest facets of my execution?

Then the door is in front of me, hand reaching for the handle, pulling back to permit the light.

A man stands in the doorway, a flurry of sweat and dreadlocks. A large red satchel hangs off his shoulder, full of padded envelopes. The scorn etched on his face seems not likely to fade.

“Are you Mr Aaron?” he barks.

“I am.”

“You’re a hard man to get hold of!” he returns, one hand thrust into his bag.

A head devoid of words is a poor condition for the music of conversation, even the sweet warble of friendly badinage has trouble springing to life.

“I, uh, you’ve…what?”

“I’ve always the packages for you…you’re never in – man, packages for you,” he says lifting a grey box out of his bag.

“I’m here now, what is it?”

“A package – for you!” he yells without hesitation. “Take – and sign this.”

A box in one hand, delivery form in the other, a pen slid under the thumb, I playing the balancer as my signature struggles into motion. The courier’s angry glare causes my skin to freckle.

Squiggle down, I give back the form. His return to the road is instantaneous, his feet a speedy blur. A soundless insult tears through the air, his gaping mouth the only proof of something said. I stifle my cries and retreat into the fortress. The morning’s annihilation is truly complete, gone is the gentle caress of semi-sentience, gone is the clawing urge to yawn away the day. Day has begun, no ambiguities remain. And what’s more, day now has meaning, for a glistening DVD lies in the palm. The name of that DVD is Tornado! starring Bruce Campbell.

The promises are infinite, they occupy a bottomless of abyss of wisecracks and hilarious side glances. Potential, too, is well in abundance, stretching far into the horizon. Pre-packaged kudos, Tornado! finds itself cloaked in a great swarm of it. Imminent respect, love and lust are the promises of a Bruce Campbell film. His glorious name bestows on the most obviously dire pieces of cinema the chance of rebirth – cocoons of crud giving way to butterflies of watchability. He provides motivation where there might not be any, engendering reasons to view a film clearly made as a cheap cash-in on a more popular film.

Bruce Campbell is a beacon of truth. You’ll never carry pretence into one of his films, for he builds coruscating worlds that ostentation cannot assail. Most of his films are perfect examples of ‘it is what it is’ – we know the narrative and the characters, the setting and the outcome. No need to enrich matters with hyperbole or words of misdirection. Laid out naked is a story arc oblivious to experimentation, uninterested in striving for innovation. Bruce Campbell says: ‘you know what this is, I know what this is, but I’ll try and make it as fun as I can.’ He is the antidote to fame’s most nauseating proponents and affiliates, a man of honesty and decency. The proletarian actor par excellence.

Tornado! – also known in a different form as Twister – follows the actions of a hip young crew of meteorologists who live in the Texas area. Their hobbies include chasing tornadoes and barn dances. They dream of one day being able to accurately predict the appearance of tornadoes. Visions of saved lives and hot girls propel their scientific inquiries. Liquor deliria and trips to the zoo help them retain their sanity.

Bruce Campbell plays Bill Paxton, thrill-seeking leader of this band of maniacs. His chin feeds their lust for domination, tilting upwards when the reek of a tornado hangs in the air. He gives legitimation to their cause through his rugged features and array of checked shirts. Ernie Hudson smiles wistfully at Bruce, unsettled by the throbbing desire he holds for the man, a desire undiminished by years of meteorological comradeship.

A girl arrives, foretelling another Bruce-related coupling. Shannon Sturges, eyes attractive enough to ensnare Bruce, points forward in time to Chase Masterson, Bruce’s female partner in Terminal Invasion. They are linked across space, time and who knows what else by a common generational beauty and the kind of denim energy that usually dies a death in the graveyard of TV drama.

A tornado arrives, Derek I think it’s called. It roams across the plain, skirting about the place in an over-hyped dance of destruction. Roofs become airborne, livestock disappear, a housewife falls over. Normality sits crouched and crying. Cut to break.

Back from break: fire crews trudge through fallen walls, an engine roars an ambience unsettling but appropriate. Bruce Campbell/Bill Paxton shows up, open-top jeep, or not, and casts sympathy over the luckless locals. ‘I will get that fucking tornado, so I will,’ he declares.

Into the night he runs, jeep and cronies in tow. Helen Hunt or someone answers questions by the side of the road, a ghastly interruption. The tornado is sighted. It swirls menacingly. Bruce runs, the foulest revenge on his mind. A jeep follows slowly behind. The tornado veers to the left and sees him. Now it moves towards him, he towards it. An epic showdown is materialising, reality splintering to accommodate the inevitable disappointment. Clouds gather, Bruce is in the eye, the tornado sways to and fro. Drama plays out in a toneless picture of wind and rain. Combat continues into minutes, time getting more and more bloated. Hospitalisation can be the only result. Bruce takes his dagger and slices the tornado in two. The swirling menace decelerates into nothing. Bruce stands victorious, love is his prize. Ernie Hudson, Helen Hunt and Chase Masterson run to hug him, all united in a sentimental expression of man’s mastery over the weather.