Re: twist endings. This short film is by one of the judges of the latest Sidewalk Scramble. Talented young filmmaker J. K. cited it as the reason why he's glad this judge didn't care for J. K.'s Scramble entry. I have mixed feelings about the film-I think the visuals, while attractively photographed, are largely gratuitious; the film is essentially an audio story, and the narrator is awkward at best. But it got me thinking about twist endings. The best twist endings of O. Henry and Daphne Du Maurier weren't just surprising. They revealed something about the paradoxes of life. But it's all too easy to do twist endings which amount to little more than a shock. I think this film was striving for the kind of twist ending that comments on the ways life (and death) can pull the rug out from under us, but it was weakened by the vague nature of the twist. The climax seems like a post-it note reading "Insert lethal danger here." Ambiguity isn't the same as vagueness. The Du Maurier story "Escort" has a similarly surprising and ghoulish twist, but it is improved by the specificity of the menace and the way it directly undercuts the protaganists' expectations. I've been reading short stories by Alice Munro and Richard Ford lately, and they are particularly skillful at laying bare the ambiguity of life. They don't use twist endings exactly, but they demonstrate the paradoxical ways our goals, desires and assuptions get snarled. I think we need art that deals with the disparity between our agendas and our lives; twist endings can be useful tools toward that end, but they must reflect the paradoxes of life, not mere storyteller's cleverness, in order to do so.
On another subject, I listened to this radio show recently, and it got me thinking about the phenomenon of fanfiction in a more engaged and sympathetic way than I previously had. Heaven knows I don't want to read the stuff, but the guests talk about how fanfiction allowed women and other underrepresented voices to seize the means of production in a bootleg, DIY fashion in order to explore personal concerns within the context of established narrative formats. The host compares it to music; he cites classical composers reworking each others' motifs, and Coltrane's brilliant reworking of showtunes. I'd add punk and lowfi for its proudly unskilled appropriation of pop music, hiphop for sampling, folk for its community-centered interpretive approach... On the other hand a closer comparision can be made with filk songs, songs written by genre fans about genre subjects. Or karaoke, especially if you futz with the lyrics. (My friend "J'mza" once went karaoke-ing and did Alanis's "Thank you" with Pokemon characters- "Thank you Pikachu, Thank you Geodude...") And it's telling that the two fanfic writers on the show repeatedly refused to read any fanfiction aloud. They defended it as a cultural phenomenon but when pressed about the material as literature they hemmed and hawed around the unstated confession that even the best fanfic won't really survive scrutiny outside of a "hooray for us" circle of like-minded collage artists. This bashfulness was counterbalanced by the notion (which, to their credit, they merely cited rather than asserted) that fanficers are actually "purer" than the professionals who make the shows; after all the fans do it for love, while the pros do it for money and are therefore hacks. What a petulant way to deny one's dependence on those same pros, who, hacks or not, often deliver a better product than the fans... As a sometimes community theatre actor I certainly have a lot invested in "purely-for-love" artistic endevours, but I'm well aware that sometimes folks who do it for love aren't better equipped to do it well than the pros are. And my limited exposure to fanfic suggests that much of that fannish love is a solipsistic, selfish love. Would you rather watch the X-Files or read a story about me getting slapped around by a naked Agent Scully? I'd find it easier and more instantly gratifying to produce the latter than the former, but what good does that do anyone else?
One more thought on the subject before I go ponder that Scully scenario. While the guests refused to read any fanfiction, the show did have an actor reading an excerpt from an erotic but tasteful Star Trek slashfic that I actually found to be sweet. It dealt with body issues and tenderness in a way I found truly touching. Still, if I want to read substantial stories about human relations I can go to Carol Shields or Alice Munro and get the straight sauce... I'm also reading Dervish is Digital by Pat Cadigan; it's a delightful cyberpunk novel. As I listened to that show I thought: why is Pat Cadigan a professional cyberpunk novelist instead of a Neuromancer fanfic writer? Because she's really, really good.
On the other hand I'd rather listen to Beat Happening, with their barely-proficient playing, than pop bands with similar sensibilities but better chops. Why do I like the amateurish in music but dislike it in prose? It only just occured to me to ask that question, so I don't have any answers... Also: who am I, a blogger with a clunky prose style, to sneer at anyone else who engages in unprofessional solipsistic internet wordsmithing? Uh, well, I, uh... Lemmee go see if Mistress Scully has any answers.
P. S. Andrei Molotiu is a cartoonist-this comic of his really shook me up.