Sometimes I feel like December and January are the times all entertainment Web sites and writers set aside for creating lists. We drown in them; from movies, to books, to important people, etc. Lists after lists after lists.
Don’t worry, this is not one of those lists. This is something a little more personal.
I’ve been, since starting this blog, trying to rethink my writing and my goals, and one thing I am trying to latch on to is what stimulates me, what means something to me. What do I want to accomplish in my own writing?
This list is of ten creations that, at one time or another, touched me as a storyteller. There is no particular order, no best to worst.
Are these choices the best in their mediums? No, not all of them. Are these things that I could have written? A few, I think with the initial spark I could have devised in a way. Are these works that inspire me? Most definitely.
The Books- Cat’s Cradle and The Abortion
While I have always been an avid reader, these two books have probably inspired my voice more than any other. I can see shades of their delivery and style from time to time in all my writing, even in these blog entries.
Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut is one of my favorite books. I love the pace and vibe of the work, I love the creativity around the world and religion/philosophy that intermingles with the plot. And I love the sheer audacity of the ending. For me as a reader, it was stunning because when I first read it as a teenager I didn’t know that a writer could do this. It’s experimental, but subtle in its experiments. It is what made me a huge Vonnegut fan (Don’t believe me? I have an autographed book and an autographed illustration by him on my wall. See, don’t doubt me).
The older I get the more I understand the world of The Abortion by Richard Brautigan. I know it is cliché for readers to “return” to books from time to time and see new things…
I return to this book and see new new things. If you have never read this book, or experienced a Brautigan novel, I highly recommend it for the sheer uniqueness of the voice in his writing.
The Romances- Addicted to Love and Belle Epoque
When I moved out to LA, my original vision was to redefine romantic-comedies. See, I’ve always found that genre of film, boring and predictable (why does there always have to be a chase at the end, for example). I wanted to spruce it up like Woody Allen did with Annie Hall, find new ways to tell a love story. It’s one of the reasons why four of my seven screenplays are romantic-comedies. Of course, it could be argued that since I was attempting to try something new in the genre, it’s probably also why they are unmade.
Before I moved out to LA, I spent a year in grad school at Michigan State working for a Master’s in Literature. For some reason, on a movie station on campus, they played Addicted to Love over and over and over again for an entire month and I became hooked. It was always on in the background. For those who haven’t seen it, this is not a normal love story, if anything it is an anti-romantic comedy love story. Really, all of the characters are despicable; you shouldn’t like any of them or root for any of them. And yet, these awful people, and their depressing situation became like comfort food for my creative soul. This, in many ways, is kind of like whatI dreamt about doing with my own scripts.
I saw Belle Epoque because I was a winner in a contest. I kid you not! I guessed the Oscars correctly for my local newspaper and got to see a movie “premiere” at a special event in my hometown in Grand Rapids, Michigan. This is the movie they showed that night and I fell in love with it (If I was to make a list of my favorite movies, it would be in the top ten easily).
I had a movie poster of this film hanging in my room while I was in LA, taunting me, reminding me what I was aiming for in my script writing. I highly recommend this film.
The Robots- Mystery Science Theater 3000
When I graduated from high school I convinced two of my friends to go on a road trip with me. Our goal- to visit the home of Mystery Science Theater 3000. I was obsessed with this show. I wanted to write on the show, heck, I wanted to be Joel and badly sing songs about giant turtles and Hercules films! Over the years, I realized that this show began to play with my own way of conversing and making jokes. I had to actually watch myself for a time from interrupting people with sarcastic comments and references. No, it really was a problem. I wonder if other MSTies experienced this after effect?
Now while Joel, Michael and the “bots” are still around mocking movies for their own services (Cinematic Titantic and RiffTrax, respectively), it doesn’t feel the same for me. I miss the relationship with the bots, I miss the interaction with the mad scientists and the vibe that came from just a bunch of funny people putting on a silly show in the middle of nowhere Minnesota.
The Heroes- Final Fantasy VIII and Green Lantern: Hero’s Quest
I said this in a previous blog, and I will probably say it again, but I love it when a Hero’s Journey is told well. Joseph Campbell and his theory around storytelling had a profound experience with me, and these two entries are when the power of a hero’s journey told well took me by surprise, transported me to another place, and inspired in me the idea that great stories can exist in other mediums than book, movies, plays, and TV.
I think I have played and beaten Final Fantasy VIII a dozen times over the years. I seem to return to it each time my life has a profound change (like moving into a new house, marriage, children, etc.). The world created around the story fascinates me from the schools to the politics around it, I also love the message the story gives about time, our place in time, friendship, and love. Wow, I hope that doesn’t sound cheesy. It’s just a good story and this game has become comfort for me, like a good box of Kraft Mac and Cheese.
Before I discovered Graphic Audio, I thought radio was dead. This saddened me since I was so inspired in my early years of writing of working in that medium (See The Dante Experience). Green Lantern: Hero’s Quest is one entry in Graphic Audio’s series of DC Comic adaptations and when I heard it I was floored, not just by the production, but by the story itself.
It is almost too good to be a comic book story (if that is fair to say about comic books).
The Fantasy- A Midsummer Night’s Dream
When I graduated from Aquinas College with my BA in English I had that romantic notion most literature students have of traveling through Europe with only a backpack. The actual enterprise was different from what I expected. Yes, I knew it would be profound, but it was very life changing for me. I came back from the trip a different person, with a better understanding of my strengths and weaknesses, and with a better focus on my life.
One of the great experiences of my life was attending a performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream by the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford. I loved the performance so much that I went back again the next night, delaying a train trip to the Lake District (home of those romantic poets).
I had always loved Shakespeare’s plays (and even for a time tried to memorize Hamlet, but I will save that story for another time), but this experience in the audience captured for me the true power of his work, as well as the power of a great play and great performances for an audience. I love this play because of the RSC.
Here is another thing I love about theater. There is so much about this show that is ridiculous (fairies, people changing who they love, people becoming asses, etc.), but with a good script and actors, audiences buy it. It is so over the top, and yet everyone in that theater fell in love with the show and believed every word. The power of theater and the imagination, that is what A Midsummer Night’s Dream is for me.
Movie Bliss- It’s A Wonderful Life and Singing in the Rain
It’s A Wonderful Life has such a great dark side. People don’t discuss it really and show it to their little kids each year, but there is a potential suicide in it, there is war, and a boy is beaten by a pharmacist until his ear is bloody! It’s not even really a Christmas movie, it just happens that the story happens on Christmas at the end, the rest of the film is the story of a life, self-discovery. In many ways, this world, these relationships is how I feel life should be… and it kind of makes me wish there really are angels. (Because there are no angels. Seriously, they don’t exist, I’m sorry, but it is true. Nada zip.)
Singing in the Rain is cinematic bliss. It is joy captured on screen. My wife has told me dozens of times that Gene Kelly was sick the day of the rain sequence, but you would never have known it by his performance, that fact typifies the magic of this film.
The takeaway I get from writing and reading this list is that as a writer is I want to create stories that are escapes for the readers and viewers.
I want to do something new and different, but nothing too experimental that the audience start to see “the man behind the curtain.”
More importantly, I dream of just telling a good story; a goal I hope most writers have.