Backstory behind the story

I have to get this out of my head before I take Riley out for a fetch and start on my homework. Yesterday I was riding into work with my sister and we were talking. I had asked if we owned “Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow” she said more than likely since our mum has a habit of picking up those sorts of movies. I said that it was good. My sister gave me her customary “ugh”. Usually any movie will warrant an “ugh” from her unless it’s “Double Indemnity” or “Citizen Kane” or something with a cerebral story that she absolutely falls in love with and stimulates her intellectual side.

I said as much. Well, I asked if there was any movie out there (except the above mentioned) that she enjoyed. She said yes, extrapolating on the necessity of a plot and well-developed characters so on and so forth. Somehow “The Exorcist” came into the conversation.

I balked.

I hated “The Exorcist”. I begged and pleaded with my dad to change the channel a few Halloween’s ago just to avoid falling asleep during the movie. Of course, this wouldn’t do for my sister. “The Exorcist” was genre-defying. This movie single-handedly revamped the horror industry. All true. All worthy of the accolades the movie has gotten over the many many years since its release. JAWS did the same thing.

“The Exorcist” was still a crappy movie. JAWS wasn’t much better, but at least there was entertainment value in an overgrown shark. Not in the subsequent years of terror and massacre of a misunderstood animal (and the really, really, really bad shark movies following) but, there was something cool about a giant shark coming after people because it was hungry.

I said as much about The Exorcist. I didn’t have any reason to back it up, just that I wasn’t too fond of the movie. It didn’t entertain me. It didn’t stimulate my imagination. I didn’t have fun watching it. This led into a quasi-argument ending on “Just because a movie is “fun” doesn’t mean that it was a good movie.”

Doesn’t it?

Doesn’t the fact that I can suspend my belief in reality long enough for a movie to tell a the tale it wants to tell make it a good movie? I mean, don’t get me wrong, I have seen some bad movies in my day (I’m looking at you, Tom Cruise) but for the most part all of the movies I’ve enjoyed have been well, fun.

As I worked today, the conversation came back to me right along with snippets of ideas for Blood on the Quarter. Did I have to be an intellectual to enjoy movies? Am I missing something between the lines as I watch these movies? Am I stupid? Don’t get me wrong; The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep, Ben-Hur, Lawrence of Arabia, Spartacus,  they were all fantastic movies and I absolutely loved them. I’ve seen them all roughly twenty times each. I’ve also watched Clash of the Titans (the old one, way more fun), Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Corpse Bride, The 300 Spartans, Chicken Run, John Carter of Mars. You get the point. The movies might not have been “good” but they’re fun!

What am I missing, here?

The same can be said with my books. I enjoy books that are fun. I want a book to take me for a ride, to suspend my reality long enough for it to insert its own and make me believe in it. I’ve read the classics, I enjoy many of them. I also enjoy books like Jeanne Kalogridis’ retelling of the Dracula tale. The very thing that got me into vampires.

Nope.

Catcher in the Rye.

War and Peace.

Lolita.

All intellectual. All saying something between the lines.

Again, what am I missing? Am I stupid? Why can’t I see the same thing she’s seeing?! Do I need to take an f#$king college course on this so I can grasp what the hell is going on!?

This got me to thinking. And remembering.

SKY is a wonderful thing. Like DISH network is to the United States, SKY is to the UK and Northern Ireland. Well, unless you go with BT or Virgin, but I’m splitting hairs. Anyway. A month or so ago I spotted a show on National Geographic about Bram Stoker and his Dracula. The show was awesome, it went behind the book to explain how Bram grew up, the fairy stories his mother told him, his passionless marriage, and his obsession with a popular actor and playwright of the time. All of these things coalesced into a book he wouldn’t be famous for until many years after his death. Now, I hated Bram Stoker’s Dracula as a kid. I read it in seventh grade and really didn’t understand what was between the lines. I don’t think I was supposed too but that’s neither here nor there. What does matter is the place it landed on the shelf right along with Gone With The Wind. Never to be read again. Or so I thought.

Fast forward a few years and I’m listening to it, thanks to Audible and iTunes. National Geographic has just told me the backstory behind the story and I finally understand. Dracula is the culmination of Bram Stoker’s life events. The story of Dracula is the story of his frustration with Henry Irving, his fear of his beautiful and socially active wife Florence Balcombe, his own sexual frustrations and the inability to merge his ideal of a wife and woman to his own wife, and the macabre stories his mum told him when he was a young lad.

Wow. Holy monkey. I get it! I finally get it and the book makes so much more sense with that knowledge. The same way that H.G. Well’s “The Time Machine” makes a helluva lot more sense with the understanding that it is an expository on the dangers of Capitalism rather than just a line in the story.

But. Damn. Do I really need the expose? Does every writer have some kind of story behind the story? A secret thing they’re trying to tell that only a blessed few will understand and appreciate? I have to wonder if Bram Stoker sat at his desk and said to himself “In these pages are the secret to my life, my fears and frustrations. Reader please understand that Dracula is only part of the story I’m trying to tell.”

Was J.D. Salinger so pissed off at the world? Did Oscar Wilde plot out his hidden message in Dorian Grey right along with the story? Did these men really, consciously, say “these are the things I’m going to write, and this is the thing I’m trying to say within the story.”

I like to think they didn’t. I like to think that they wanted to entertain. These men, these great men who gave us brilliant works of literature wanted to write because, like all writers, they couldn’t help it.

Every writer pours their heart and soul into their work. Every character has some part of the author in them, every plot line something the writer has fallen in love with, or been inspired to write. What happens next, what the critics say or the historians will speculate, I like to think; is subjective. Maybe the message is there, maybe the writer is writing about his/her life in between the lines. Or maybe the writer is writing for entertainment. And maybe, just maybe, a movie is good if it’s simply “fun”.

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2 thoughts on “Backstory behind the story

  1. Susy says:

    Hiya, great through provocative post!
    I would like to think that life in itself has a bit of a backstory to it, there is some purpose to it other than just existing. So maybe when our characters take on a life of their own (because we know their backstory ourselves in creating them) they take on that depth as well. With the exception of Bella in Twilight, perhaps, who was one-dimensional.
    I don’t think, as you say, that we can write characters without pouring our own life experience into them and with that, comes depth.
    Maybe a lot of the writers didn’t have the full depth of that ‘hidden’ backstory when they started, but it just developed.
    And hey, a lot of it becomes pretentious BS made up by other people looking for meaning in a story. People always look for meaning, even when it isn’t there! 😀

    And I am no fan of the so called ‘intellectuals’ who sit and decide what is good and what isn’t. A good story moves me, is well written, has depth, makes me think, but that judgement is personal and my own opinion.

    1. rjkeith says:

      Lol! So very true! It amazes me what people find hidden behind literature these days. Or not, in the case of Twilight.
      Maybe you’re right, maybe it all just sort of happens as the writers goes on with the story, the characters sort of reflect the writer as they take on their own lives. It’s crazy to think about! I’m no fan of intellectuals, either. While they’re interesting to listen too (on television, or in my case, real life) their continuous analysing and dissection of written works/cinema sort of ruins the whole experience.
      I suppose for some people, that’s the fun part of watching/reading. For me? I like to be entertained. Real life is a pain in the ass as it is. The escapism of movies/television/books is what I enjoy.

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