girlie jones (girliejones) wrote,
girlie jones
girliejones

Thoughts on Horror

I was really intrigued by my reaction to the show 9/11 which I started watching on Thursday night. YourTV has this summary of what I was watching: A real life documentary following the events of September 11, filmed through the lens of two French filmmakers who were in Manhattan on that one fateful day. It started out really interesting because of its lack of action - the film crew follows some New York firefighters through their daily grind in the station, whilst they hang around for a fire. And the pace starts to slow down as each day is yet one more day where there is no fire. And then Robert DeNiro, who is the presenter, says: there is a superstition amongst firefighters that the longer they go without a fire, the bigger the incident is the one that is coming. And you're watching this knowing how this is going to end.

And then of course, it's September 11th 2001. And they are out answering some call and ... an airplane flies into one of the Trade Centre Towers. Just like that. The film maker happens to have the camera rolling and captures it on film. And it's like ... WHAT THE FUCK just happened? And the captain makes the call that they head out to respond. And we all know how this ends. And they arrive. And the guys get out of their trucks, suit up and start entering the lobby. And we all know how this ends. And I am starting to feel a panic growing because I know that building is going to fall down. And they start talking to the security guys in the lobby who say that the building is on fire somewhere above the 77th floor but they can see quite clearly that something else has happened here because all the glass windows in the lobby have blown out and there is glass everywhere and the smell of fumes and ...

we all know how this ends. And this is when I had to switch channels cause I couldn't sit and watch anymore of this.

One day, I guess, I would like to watch that documentary. But it's highly likely I may never be able to. And what struck me is ... essentially, my reaction to this was the same reaction I expect from reading or watching horror. That the kind of horror that truly resonates for me is that which is realistic. That it *could* happen. What discomforted and distressed me the most was how something so horrific is backdropped by the every day normal. Because ultimately that's what unnerves the most - that you could be wandering along in your average Tuesday and a fucking war lands on your head. Or a building. Or ... the government goes crazy. That the most unlikely and frightening of things could happen to you whilst you are walking down the street. That it could very well happen to YOU.

Contrasted to this is my reaction to a play that the boy and I went to see a couple of weeks back - Far Away. I don't know why I thought I would want to see it. Any long time reader of this blog would be able to tell me that I would not deal well with the material. Her miniature masterpiece, Far Away once again defies category and precedent. Set in an unnamed totalitarian state in the near future, Far Away draws disturbingly on our recent memories of conflict – Bosnia? Northern Ireland? Iraq? – and combines this with an Alice in Wonderland fantasy world in which the familiar is made strange and the strange, familiar. Marked – as always – by Churchill’s brilliant and evocative language, the play climaxes in one of the most remarkable soliloquies in modern theatre. Far Away is an exhilarating challenge to the mind and emotions. (Quote taken from the previous link - not sure I'd go so far as to say "one of the most remarkable soliloquies in modern theatre" ...)

It was presented in three short acts and the middle one had about 40 people dressed in orange prison jumpsuits walk across the stage (and up and back in a zigzag walkway which was fantastic set design) in very slow, soulless motion, wearing abstract and absurd hats. And obviously that imagery is going to press all my holocaust reaction buttons. So yes, I got quite distressed as this went on.

But aside from that, I was also quite disturbed by the absurdist nature of this play. The boy and I talked at length about the play and one of the flaws of it certainly was the lack of narrative across the three acts. There was very little to ground the audience and to root the story - no sense of time or place. No real idea or purpose to the conflict. And the dialogue itself towards the end approached the absurd such that it rendered all point for the characters within the play to the ridiculous. And sure, there's subtext and metaphor here - that war is pointless and absurd. And that's all quite interesting and whatever. But for me, that's also quite simplistic. Are there never ideals or freedoms that are worth fighting for? What really got me though was the juxtapositioning of the absurd against war. Sort of like throwing something horrific into the average Tuesday walk down the street.

Both these experiences have me thinking though. Of the three genres we read for Last Short Story, it's the horror one that I struggle with the most. And I think it's because so many writers out there think that all you have to do to make something horrific is to be graphic or extreme or inhuman. But what I think they fail to realise is the bigger the elements you add, the more you take the reader away from what really scares and horrifies and the more you have to work on the realism of the piece or the characterisation. I think the short story form is the least forgiving on horror. And I think in fact, a writer needs to be more talented to pull off a good horror story compared to the other subgenres. And I think that's probably why I get so frustrated with much of what is out there.
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