Monday, September 12, 2011

A Story About Theme

There's a thread running over on Codex about themes in writing, with basically two camps developing: one side that basically says, "I never write with a theme in mind," and another that says, "I never write without a theme in mind." And I 'm pretty much in the former camp.

When I was in film school, I took a class (actually, I ended up taking it twice and never passed) in which you had to make 5 short films. So comes the week my third film is due, and I have nothing. I get up on Sunday, realizing I have to get the thing planned and filmed that day in order to send it to the lab on Monday, get it back and edit it on Wednesday and turn it in on Thursday.

So I end up doing a TV commercial sort of thing, a pure exercise of movement and music, with no actual story to speak of. I draw my hand writing out the word "Canon" in pencil and then going over it with ink, with the idea that I'll then play Pachelbel's Canon along with it.And to make it visually interesting, I filmed it in short cuts of ultra-close-up with the paper backlit. Substitute chopping vegetables for drawing a word and it would look like any number of TV commercials. But after I had it edited, I realized that Canon was too slow and made it drag, so I substituted an upbeat Mozart concerto instead. So now it really had no meaning.

Now, the way the class was set up, after you showed your film, you had to sit silently while everyone gave their crits, and then you could respond at the very end, after everyone had their say. So for twenty minutes, I sat there while person after person waxed enthusiastic about my film and tried to tease ever more elaborate themes from it. Then when it was my turn, I told them that it was just an exercise in sound and motion, with no more theme than "Fuck, I've got a film due." And then I had to listen to them get angry for twenty more minutes for shitting all over their thoughtful criticisms.

I've always envied the people who can write a story that says something fundamentally important about the human condition, even if I disagree with it. The fact that I've never really been able to do it with any kind of conviction has always struck me as a lack within myself--I don't write stories with messages because I have nothing useful to say.

However, over time, I find I've grown less patient and less impressed with stories that try to preach a worldview to me. Death Wave and Hero Go Home might be superficial and without overriding themes that would make them into good English Literature 101 fodder, but at least they don't fall back on the evil faceless corporation, the evil secret government program, the evil military, the evil televangelist, the noble outsider deciding that other=righteous, "true love conquers all," or any of the other simplistic nonsense that makes up most of what I see and read. I can live with that.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A good story is entertaining, a great story is about a clash of ideas. A poor story has no ideas, but a really bad story is about the pumped-up clash of boring ideas.