With apologies to Mrs Bailey
No matter who you are, the odds are pretty good that a teacher left a mark on you. Of course, for my parents’ generation that could mean something very different. Their teachers didn’t just use chalk and blackboards to educate them. Oh no, they employed some very different instruments.
Not that we’re here to discuss the failings of our parents’ teachers. Nope, we’re here to talk about a few things, which would really annoy one of my old teachers. She certainly left a mark on me.
Ah, Mrs Bailey. She was lovely most of the time, but she had a dark temper lurking beneath that patient smile of hers. Once, she set us a fairly simple sounding piece of homework. Write a presentation on a subject of our choosing. At the time, I was reading a book on the SAS. Well, it wasn’t a book. It was an annual. Like a Christmas annual. As insane as that sounds. Unfortunately, I was bored of it after 20 pages. Which was why, around halfway through my presentation, it swapped subjects. Mrs B was not impressed.
I still have nightmares about the day she went over our presentations in front of the class, one by one. She saved mine until last and she absolutely trashed it. Whenever I write something new, I still dread the thought of it receiving one of her ‘reviews’.
Well, I’m biting the bullet today, people. I’m facing the dragon (no offence, Mrs Bailey). I’ve got a few things to talk about and we’re going to do a little subject switching. Just like I used to do with the SAS.
Ever since The Dark Tower broke my geeky heart, I can’t get away from this subject. Discussions, interviews and podcasts keep dredging it up. I fell down an Alan Moore rabbit hole and his feelings on big screen adaptations only added fuel to the fire. I got caught up in debates over whether Game of Thrones works better as prose or TV and I can’t stop getting annoyed by the murky world of DC movie pre-production news. Then, last Friday, me and Sam sat down to watch the new Death Note on Netflix and I blundered into the dangers of adaptation yet again.
Now, I’ve never read the original Death Note manga or watched the anime series, but I was aware of them. I figured this new Netflix offering was worth a try before I caught up with the source material.
I’d somehow convinced myself it was a series. I didn’t realise it was a movie when I started watching it, which had a very strange effect. For about the first hour I thought it was a really daring piece of TV writing. It was showing me all its cards and making me wonder where it would go for the rest of the series. However, once I twigged it was a movie, it all looked very different. It became lazy, unimpressive and tragically generic.
In the end, it didn’t really have a lot to offer. The performances were pitched all over the place. The plot made no real sense and you were left wishing it had just picked a side. Did it want to be filled with crazy horror madness or would it rather have been a subtle, stark tale of human arrogance? I would’ve been on-board either way. It just needed to stop hedging its bets.
The next day, my frustrated curiosity drove me to watch the first three episodes of the original anime and, of course, they were far superior. Yep, I’d Dark Towered myself without meaning to do it. Lesson learnt.
As petty as it sounds, I keep getting distracted by smart, creative people. I’m blinded by their startlingly intelligent and creative minds. I keep listening to interviews with them, reading their books or watching documentaries about them and then hating everything I’m trying to achieve.
Alan Moore (yep, him again) is a constant thorn in my side. The man is a living icon of literature. Not only that, but he’s a living icon who’s living about 40 minutes up the road from me and that man casts a long shadow. His understanding of story, myth and history is staggering. His work in comics is stunning. His novels melt my brain. His opinions and theories are wild, hypnotic pieces of thinking. He’s a universal lightning rod and he makes everything I do feel like a doodle scrawled in crayon on the back of a photocopied menu.
I watched a documentary on Margaret Atwood the other night and she also managed to make me feel like a total fraud. Her perceptive way of communicating her fears and beliefs through fiction and poetry made me want to curl up and die. I can’t imagine ever being that artistic, important or talented but, let’s be honest, a tiny part of me keeps trying anyway.
As if Margaret set out to be the icon she became over time. As if that’s a decision you make. As if she ever wrote a blog that started with some weak jokes on teachers beating kids.
Then there’s David Lynch. Goddamn, how I love and hate that man. I love his ability to capture and craft nightmares that feel like nothing else. I love his absolute lack of consideration for mainstream audiences and the way he’s learnt to avoid the redundant loops of overworked genre plot. He’s a true artist of modern cinema, but I hate him for some of the things he’d made me watch. Just look at some of the material he’s been putting into the new Twin Peaks.
I want to be 100% on-board with the new series, but I watched a man sweep a floor for five minutes a few weeks ago. I watched a kettle impersonate a rock icon and one of the worst performances I’ve ever seen by a French actress, when all she had to do was leave a room.
Don’t get me wrong, there have been some dazzling moments, but there are other scenes that made me suspect that he’s trying to annoy me. At his most pretentious or playful, it can all start to feel like the emperor has ordered another new suit.
This week, I started writing my first ever story that’s designed to be told to an audience and it feels weird. Really weird. I’m used to a little anonymity when it comes to this process. I’ve never had to worry about standing up and watching people react to the inaugural yarn spinning. It’s also the first time that running length has ever stepped up alongside word count to annoy me. Plus, let’s not forget a little thing called performance here.
I did drama at school and college (as a subject as well as a hormonal reaction to my surroundings). Ask anyone who attended those classes and they’ll tell you that my lack of West End credits is no surprise at all.
That said, I think I can do this. If I can get the story right and sharpen the hell out of it, then I’ll have something to work with. Once I’m happy with that, I can work on the delivery. I just don’t think I can afford to phone this in. I need to engage my audience. I’ve done a speech or two. I’ve done a little stand up. I’m pretty sure I can tell a story to an audience who’s willing to listen.
I would just love to find something interesting or unexpected to add into the mix. Something that makes it more than just recital.
There we go. I think that’s everything rattling around in my head at the moment. I’ll finish by saying that the SAS do our country a valuable service and that their Christmas annual still feels like it belongs in a parallel world or some sort of dystopian novel. I wonder where it came from…let alone where it went.