Yesterday, I wrote 1,720 words on Blood Oranges. Also, sovay read Chapter One and approved.
I spent a lot of time yesterday thinking about how this book began (as a joke in the blog) and what it is now. And about comedy. And parody. And such. See, I maintain that it's very hard to do comedy at length. Usually, comedy (in the funny hah-hah, not the Greek dramatic sense) can only be maintained for a short time, after which it simply ceases to be...funny. Example: Back in the late '70s and early '80s, during the Golden Age of Saturday Night Live, I never missed an episode. But, they often had this problem where a skit was fucking hilarious for, say, ten minutes, but it went on for twenty. As though they'd begun a really good joke, but had no idea where the punchline lay. So, that's one reason I fear comedy. Timing is everything. And – if you ask me – comedy should pretty much never be used for "relief," as it often is. Here's an example, from Alien: Resurrection. Number 8 has just torched the lab where deformed Number 7 lay in unimaginable agony. Big, horrific, emotional scene. Then:
Johner (Ron Perlman) looks in at the burning lab.
What's the big deal? Fucking waste of ammo.
CHRISTIE (Gary Dourdan)
Must be a chick thing.
Now, this is exactly what you never do with comedy – or almost never. There aren't hard and fast guidelines, because this is art, not craft. But you do not use it to sabotage a scene this way, to pull the reader/audience back from the precipice of...oh, I don't know...feeling something genuine that might make them uncomfortable? Joss Whedon (whom I generally adore) can be especially bad about this. Buffy the Vampire Slayer (TV series) is a study in using the funny to trip yourself up as a storyteller. Comedy has a place, but it's place isn't everywhere all the time, and it's place isn't as an upper in the middle of a downer. Levity should not always be injected. Dilution is not mandatory. Tension may be allowed to build (and often should be), until it is all but unendurable. In a very dark film, comedy should only be injected in very rare, case-by-case situations. As it is, the relationship between horror and comedy is so intimate that they both become, at times, almost indistinguishable – without intentionally shoving one into the other.
All this is relevant because, like "The Maltese Unicorn," Blood Oranges began life as one thing, a one-line joke, and it's sort of becoming another thing. I don't precisely know the word for that something. A lot of it's funny, but I never force it to be funny, and at times it's very grim. It constantly takes jabs at the genre, but is very much working inside that same genre. It's not a spoof, a satire, or a parody (even if that was the original idea). It's more like what Tarantino is doing with, say, Kill Bill. Which gets complicated when you try to explain it, but looks easy as hell on the screen.
Can you imagine a 100-k word one-liner?
I'll come back to this.
Saw Brad Anderson's Transsiberian (2008) last night. A very taut thriller. Which, by the way, didn't constantly pause to shoot itself in the foot with comedic relief. I think it's the best thing I've seen Ben Kingsley do, the best performance I've seen him deliver, since Sexy Beast (2000).
Sunny and essentially warmish today.
Now, I should go. We're having dinner tonight with S. T. Joshi. And there are words in my way.