Sunday, August 28, 2016

Cut to the Chase

At one time in your childhood in the greater Los Angeles area, there were at least three movie theaters which bore the name The Hitching Post. The one most convenient for your purposes was the on in the 6200 block of Hollywood Boulevard, which could be achieved by a ten-cent bus ride on either the La Brea or Fairfax Avenue routes.

In time, The Hitching Post in Santa Monica became convenient thanks to the fact of your father having command of what was called The Boulevard Luggage Shop and which actually sold luggage and repaired old steamer trunks as a blind for various activities related to the outcome of horse races or the turn of a card in a wild farrago of a game favored by Fillipino chefs and line cooks.

Clearly The Hitching Post theaters stir the gumbo of nostalgia; look at how you place them, roughly between the years of 1940 and 1950, where the menu, as the title suggested, was Western movies in a steady stream. 

You could--and did--enter when the theaters opened at ten of a morning, and could remain all day, confident you'd be seeing different films, with no repetitions.

Of course they were awful, but they were Westerns, each of which had an element that prompted this memory in the first place.  What's a Western film without a chase? Hence the expression, "Cut to the chase," or, "Get on with the reason we're here."

Another similar expression, which has no such glamorous association as The Hitching Post Theaters, is an equivalent of "Cut to the chase," in this case as "the bottom line," as in "What's the bottom line?" or "How much is it going to cost?" and with even greater effect, "How much is it going to cost me?" usually asked of one or more of his children by a father.

The chase in the Western movie was a posse of good guys, in pursuit of a gang or bad guys. The bottom line, as it referred to cost or the final, crucial decision, means an acknowledgment of what issues or matters are at stake in this immediate transaction.

Both the chase and bottom line have reference to story, which always has a pursuit of some sort and a reckoning, a price to be paid or a prize to be won. Life is not nearly so clear because life is filled with a plethora of details and diversions unrelated to the task at hand. 

The moment we begin to consider story, we begin the drudgery of editing out the details and elements connecting the characters and their agendas. One question you're fond of asking yourself, when times come to revise something you're working on, or to students when you're teaching lit courses or to writers when you're teaching writing classes: Can this story do without this detail? Is this scene vital to the story or is it a red herring?

A significant reason for the popularity of story is the bottom line of there always being a chase and some price to be paid.

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