Broadening the Mind
It’s been a strange week. I spent the majority of it over in Germany for work. The people I met were some of the most friendly and professional I could have hoped for. The food was stunning. The beer was damn good and the small town where we were staying was incredibly picturesque. In fact, in the mornings, when the mist came down to cover the trees on the surrounding hills, I found myself feeling like I was in the German Twin Peaks. Not that any bodies were found wrapped in plastic whilst I was there. That may have just been the craving for my weekly dose of TV talking.
The hotel we stayed in was pretty good, although the room felt like the result of someone trying to fit two normal rooms into one slightly smaller space. Still, it had a balcony overlooking the river and it wasn’t too far from the restaurant. Which meant we always got a decent breakfast before the options were whittled down for us by the other guests.
From past experience, I know that elements of the past few days are going to creep into my writing over time. It’s happened before. The section in Something Needs Bleeding called The Blind Walls came from a trip to Austria, where I ended up getting out the lift on the wrong floor and not realising until I turned a corner that wasn’t on my own floor. A trip to Bury St Edmunds became The Wooden Walls and a Monday night spent in a chain hotel in Bristol became the inspiration for the first section of The Righteous Judges.
As you’ll know if you’ve read any of these stories, they’re not particularly pleasant. Which is no comment on any of the trips. (With the exception of Bury St Edmunds, where everything went wrong and I’m still sure we witnessed an outbreak of yellow fever amongst the skeleton crew of hotel staff. There’s another story there one day.)
The point is there’s very little of a travelogue about them. No hotel reviews or tourist recommendations. I can see all of the positives whilst I'm there. I can enjoy them. As it stands, though, I rarely write about them. There must be a part of my brain that hunts for the alienation and the differences to home and finds a way to hone it all into something else. To twist it into a tale.
I don’t remember ever starting that process myself. I don’t remember learning how to look at a new place and find a way to harness that strangeness within it in order to tell a story. Still, there it is.
Without a doubt, the small town where everyone can talk around you without you being able to understand them has the potential to become something interesting. As does the long, tree lined walk up to the castle that looked down on the small town and the amount of screaming kids we kept seeing playing in the street late into the night.
The hotel itself didn’t suggest anything new, although the lift with a mind of its own may appear one day. There were three rather odd families who all turned up near midnight one night and basically took over a corridor of the hotel. They let their kids run wild all night, disappeared in their cars early in the morning and I’m pretty sure one of them stole a kettle. They may well make an appearance one day. It’s hard to be sure. The percolation doesn’t really work like that. The distillation of reality into unreality happens at its own speed and then files itself away in a drawer, ready for me to stumble across it one day.
This is going to sound like a bit of a tangent, but we managed to see Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk before we left the country. For me, it was a stunning piece of tension and story craft. A bare bones approach to a hugely human moment of British history. It stripped away the pretence and posturing so many movies would have used to look at that event and, instead, it employed a sharper focus at the elements we thought we knew. It’s brilliantly done. Cross cutting between three points in the story, using very little backstory for its characters and using their reactions to events to tell us what we need to know about them. The moments and story devices Nolan chose to use to carry us back and forth between those men were so brilliantly simple that you never got lost. His decisions, the score and the performances kept you hooked. Kept you craving more and hoping to see those men find a way to survive.
Nolan’s take on story has always fascinated me. He deftly applies his own intentions to your expectation and creates something interesting out of that alchemy. His take on Batman never quite fit the superhero mould. Batman Begins was a character piece. A first real look at the man under the mask. The Dark Knight was a crime film with a cape. The Dark Knight Rises took on the disaster movie and the war movie, whilst Inception applied the grandeur of classic spy movies to a very philosophical piece of science fiction. Interstellar tackled the heavy elements of science with a story about family. The Prestige used magic to look at the damage people try to stop us seeing and Insomnia was a murder mystery movie where fatigue became a suspect. Not forgetting the genius of Memento’s ability to play with characters through the scene you’re being shown in that moment and the simplicity and promise of Following.
His films all feel like experiments to me. Like explorations. I caught myself wandering this week if he comes to them the same way. They feel such completed pieces of work. You can’t ever imagine feeling he missed something. He is always moving forward and finding new inspiration to intrigue us with. Does he also find himself somewhere new and begin to store away the differences and the people for later use? I suppose we all do it. From the most successful artists to just someone who goes home and tells his friends what he saw. We collect samples and data from new places and we store them. We test them. We find a way to skew them in order to allow us to tell a tale of our own.
So, whilst I can’t tell you what exactly Germany has planted in my head, I’m sure there’s something in there. Growing towards the light. Changing its shape as it blooms. I wonder what it’ll be.
Never mind that, though, I want to know what Christopher Nolan is planning for us next and where that came from.