Sunday, 1 March 2009

'Sometimes I get an idea for cinema...'

Sometimes I get an idea for cinema. And when you get an idea that you fall in love with, this is a glorious day. That idea may just be 1a fragment, but it holds something. It might be a scene, or a part of a scene, or a character, or a way the character talks, a light or a feel ... You write that idea down. And thinking about that idea will bring other ideas in – there's a hook to it. And things start to emerge. And then you see, one day, a script. A script is just words to remind you of the ideas. And you follow that, but always staying on guard, in case other ideas come in, because a thing isn't finished till it's finished. And one day, it's finished.

A reticent David Lynch is interviewed about his creative processes in the Observer. This is exactly how I like to think of Lynch working. 'How a character talks' seems to be just as valuable as a work's point of origin as the McKee-esque dynamic of a protagonist and their antagonism: of course, Dale Cooper's almost absurdly earnest delivery in Twin Peaks might be said to set the tone for the whole series. Lynch's remarks here make me think of M. John Harrison's novel Climbers, which, to me, is almost about the writer's attempt to establish narrative connections between particularly powerful images or Wordsworthian 'spots of time'. As in much of Henry Green's writing, 'plot' gets subordinated and reduced to the status of a defile which allows the reader to move between outcrops of particular poetic intensity.

Green, I think, worked from the same kind of premises as Lynch. Also reticent, or elliptical, when asked to provide statements about creative process, he memorably said that his novel Loving, set in an Irish country house during WWII, grew from a remark made to him by a man who had once been a butler. Upon being asked what the best feeling in the world was, the butler replied:

Lying in a bed on a Sunday morning with the church bells ringing in the distance, eating hot buttered toast with cunty fingers.

My friend Lorcan has a joke about Creative Writing students. He was a manager in the postgraduate bar at UEA for some time, so he became pretty familiar with the odd human traffic of that place. He'd meet Creative Writing PhDs and ask what their novel was about. In the first year, they say 'It's about Vincent van Gogh, but from the perspective of his mistress.' In the second, they say 'It's about Rembrandt, but from the perspective of his mistress.' In the third year, they say 'It's about Paul Gauguin, but from the perspective of his mistress.' Because the degree is never finished, you can substitute as many artists as there are years. The point is, though, that the inflexible plot device, whilst perhaps having some kind of hard, Aristotelian, attractiveness, is no substitute for that salacious phrase, or that nagging sound of a voice awaiting embodiment, or the misleading simplicity of a certain quality of light. In Twin Peaks, the death of Laura Palmer was a giant MacGuffin which legitimated the earlier inventions of Audrey's come-ons, Cooper's voice, and the light through, and the smell of, the Douglas Firs.

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