Friday, July 10, 2015

In Search of Times Interrupted



Your memory for past things holds up well.  You can recall line-ups of famed baseball teams of the past.  You recall the name of the two-man duo who broadcast major boxing events before the days of television.  In your memory bank is the name of a sportswriter for the Washington Post whose first name, like yours, can be met with the assumption of it belonging to a girl.  

You know how fast a cheetah can run at top speed before he or she must slow down because of cardio- and body temperature issues.  You know without hesitation the name of the seventh avatar of Vishnu.  You not only know the names of the original radio program Quiz Kids, you actually knew one of them when you were at the university.

Since you're on the subject, you know the name of the actor who played the part of Little Beaver on the Red Ryder radio serial and were a classmate of his when you were both students at John Burroughs Junior High School, as were you a classmate there of an individual who eventually became an officer on the Los Angeles Police Department, only to be killed in the line of duty, then memorialized in a remarkable book by the mystery writer, Joseph Wambaugh.

You know which element--beryllium--is number four on the Periodic Chart of Elements, not because you were all that gifted a student of chemistry, because you were anything but, rather because your memory, quirky for certain, is also eclectic.  Knowing the key--D minor--of Mozart's Piano Concerto Number 20 does not in any way enhance your appreciation or understanding of that estimable work because, once again, you are not all that gifted in your use of musical language.  

Rather, you heard an announcer--Thomas Cassidy, once introduce the Mozart work before playing it on a now defunct, Los Angeles-based all-classical music station, KFAC.  Ah, you thought.  D minor.  And now, when you hear or think of the Twentieth, you think of it as being composed in the key of D minor, no doubt in the same way, when you think of Charles Dickens' Great Expectations, or Saul Bellow's The Adventures of Augie March, or Herman Melville's Moby Dick, you think, ah, first-person point-of-view.

Thus your credentials for memory and for this deconstruction of the times when you were acquiring these stored bits of information, a gap in time that has a great deal to do with the appearance on the scene of television and the inexorable development of television drama, not to mention the dialogue between film and TV drama, with a few occasional remarks thrown inform theatrical drama as well.

In these earlier times of your coming to age, motion picture theaters traditionally ran a double feature, a more-or-less main feature and a so-called B picture (often in your view the better of the bill).  Theatergoers came and went at whim,  You could call the theater to find out the schedule; this is not to imply any intent on their part to hide the schedule.  

Viewers in those days were more flexible about starting times, although if you missed the beginning of the main feature, you had to either see it through to conclusion, then watch the entire B film.  Now, you were in a position to watch the main feature, up to the point where you'd come in, at which point, "This is where I came in," gather your things, make your way to the aisle, then out of the theater.

"This is where I came in," meant you'd experienced the full orbit of the story; you knew all the elements the author/director/actor/producer meant you to have.  From that point, you were on your own so far as nuance and innuendo were concerned.  You could have it your own way.

In the past week or so, you've been getting a better picture yet of what "your way" is.  For starters, your way is the dramatic equivalent of a huge boulder, perched on the edge of a cliff, directly above a small cabin.  The cliff is a central or southern California cliff, meaning sandstone, smaller rocks, compressed dirt.  No huge slabs of granite or composite.

Your way is to begin with rain in progress, now becoming more of a determined downpour.  Perhaps a creak or a groan.  For certain, portents of bad news for that small cabin below the cliff on which the huge boulder perches.

Perhaps now an interior shot of the small cabin, a man and woman, dog or cat.  "I'm thinking--" the man begins.

"--always a dangerous sign," the woman says, letting us know in a few short words that this pair have a history of event and attitude.

By his next response, the man will be seen either as stoic, phlegmatic, possibly laconic.  "--that it might be a good idea to wait the storm out at a motel or someplace other than here."

We have no idea what the nature of their relationship is except that it is one of some familiarity.  In short order, we have gone from sensing an impending danger to a glimpse of two persons, possibly dog or cat.  We have some awareness of their awareness of potential danger and as well a hint from the woman that the man may not be endowed with the gift of prescience.

Such beginnings are a pencil mark on the door frame of your evolution as a storyteller, an editor, a teacher of storytelling technique, a critical thinker of storytelling technique.  This particular beginning is a considerable stride away from the "Once upon a time" types of beginnings you encountered when you first discovered the integral parts of your future that reside within narrative.

Because of movies and TV drama, a few generations of readers and writers have evolved along with you.  Conventions for telling stories have pushed the "Once upon a time" beginning aside, favoring the so-called "in medias res" opening, the man and woman we come to know only through a brief exchange of dialogue, and what the sandstone cliff, the impatient boulder, and the driving rain portend.

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