The last couple of nights, I've been sifting through this year's edition of The Best American Short Stories. Edited by Michael Chabon, most of the stories I've read so far are surprising and even fun, much like his own writing. You can tell where his interest lies - not in the stuffy offices of academics and critics but in the vivid pages of comic books and among the darkened patches of the forest behind a child's house, where all variety of monsters and murderers live. I was particularly struck by 8 Pieces for the Left Hand, by J. Robert Lennon (possibly an incognito John Lennon?), a collection of vignettes that, when put together, hardly constitutes a short story. Instead, it reads like eight plausible but slightly absurd stories that someone read once, long ago, in a small town paper, then re-told later to someone else. I loved them! They reminded me of Jane Campion's short film Passionless Moments, a film that I humbly paid homage to in my own short film, Second Floor Living. Though, to anyone who has seen my film, I should point out that Jane Campion did not film herself taking a shit in a bathtub, as I so brazenly - and, in hindsight, unfortunately - did in mine.
Actually, Second Floor Living was merely a throw-away film, as I was at the time working on a film of much greater significance, Quarry - a film that solved all of my problems; a film that answered the lingering and proverbial riddle that faces us all: "who am I?"
"Well," I said with my film, "I am a man who makes films about decapitated deer's heads, Native Americans, and young men with severed limbs." If that film accomplished anything, it was the putting to bed of questions about The American Mastodon.
However, with Second Floor Living, the end result held much less importance to me and was therefore prone to the flippant changes of mind and heart endemic to the college student. It was intended, originally, to have the look, feel, and tone of Passionless Moments - that is, a stream of vignettes detailing the mundane, humorous, and somewhat profound moments that strike us all. Indeed, as I had originally intended it, the film would have been a complete and shameless rip-off of Campion's material. I soon realized, though, that filming 11 scenes would have been more difficult than filming four. Also, many of the scenes I had planned for the original film (which had the tentative title 11 Things People Do in Indiana) were to take place in the summer and I had only November in which to shoot it. Additionally, though I was stuck on the number 11, I could only ever think of about seven or eight things that would be make great cinematic vignettes. Finally, and most fatal, one of the scenes would have involved highly illegal and potentially very dangerous actions. I wished to show a scene of young men driving through rural country roads, smashing mail boxes with aluminum baseball bats. We cut to a farmer who has purchased two mail boxes, one very small and one very large. He places the small one inside the large one and fills the empty space between the two with cement. Cutting back to the boys in the car, they tear down the road and one of them swings at the mailbox. The bat ricochets off its hard exterior, flies through the air behind the boys' car and into the other lane where an old woman is driving her old Oldsmobile Cutlass, the bat eventually landing on and shattering her windshield.
How I imagined I could or would shoot that scene, I have no idea. You can see why I chose not to make the film, as other scenes were equally if not more complicated. Now, the reason why I wanted to film that scene was because mailbox baseball was something of an urban legend where I grew up - a "rural legend". I'd heard about it, friends had heard about it, but no one I knew had ever done it and I'd never really seen a shattered mailbox. The cement mailbox seemed like an urban legend as well, though in the story I had originally heard, the boy swung the bat, it caromed off the hardened mailbox and wrapped around the back of his head, knocking him out of the car and onto the side of the road, where he quickly died. Another mailbox baseball story had a boy squarely destroying a mailbox with his bat, turning his head to survey the damage behind him and then connecting with the neighbor's mailbox, a few hundred feet down the road, obliterating his head and killing him, obviously, instantly.
Were these stories true? I don't know. I'm sure someone died at some point because of mailbox baseball, but largely it seemed that the number and detail of these stories were exaggerations - bogeymen to keep the mischievous among us from destroying other people's property; their, if you will, "OPP".
So, why do I bring all of this up? Because one of the Eight Pieces for the Left Hand was precisely this story. The two mailboxes, the cement, the bat swung hard and connecting with the solidified shell, the bat (and here the story slightly deviates) flying into the backseat and killing a passenger, a young girl. It reminded me of my ideas for 11 Things People Do in Indiana, some of which I still remember. And whereas I once took inspiration from Jane Campion, I now realize that the screen might not be the best (or cheapest) arena to broadcast these ideas. So here I sit, considering the ethics of stealing from J. Robert Lennon this idea of intriguing vignettes, compiled together and forming their own beguiling shape, consider stealing his voice, replicating the tone of his dispassionate narrator, his style and his form.
Then, because I am thinking too hard, I fart.
Y'all best reck'nize