My writing is fuelled by many things, including some of the freelance work I do and my extensive collection of films. As a freelancer, I’m currently off-grid, working on a piece which has required some research on the Dark Web: It’s a fascinating and dangerous place, and it’s given me some ideas for future fiction. The Savage Cinema is my personal collection of movies: It now includes all of the “50 most disturbing films of all time“.
There are some very powerful and affecting films in my collection: Not just horror movies but documentaries and art house productions, and Begotten is one such film. I’m screening it here partly as a demonstration of what’s out there, if you look beyond the mainstream and into the darker fringes. But also, it’s a good insight into my mind, because how you may feel after watching it is very much like how I feel a lot of the time. While not a movie as such (there is no dialogue, just a menacing soundtrack), Begotten is truly disturbing; Not necessarily immediately but it will stay in the mind long after viewing. As such, it is an affecting film.
I admire E. Elias Merhige (the Director), because he uses film to create the same feeling I strive to in some of my darker stories: Discomfort and unease. This 72-minute art film opens with a person referred to as God disembowelling himself, so that’s nice. Next, Mother Earth rises from God’s body and impregnates herself with his semen (shaving was apparently out of fashion in 1990, when this was made). Then she’s raped by a group of wanderers who’ve already attacked her offspring – the Son of Earth – with what looks like an umbilical cord. It just gets weirder after that.
So when I’m asked where I get some of my ideas from for stories like COGS (in the anthology, out next month), I refer to titles which most people have never heard of. Most of my ideas are just born of a warped mind but that is sometimes fed with the work of others’ imaginations.
The films I study (and I do; I don’t just watch a film) are a stage removed from the kinds of horror I’d consume from a video rental store as a teenager. My collection is not so much top shelf, nor under the counter, but perhaps in a back room. Most are relatively unknown titles but the kind of fringe theatre I watch is made by directors passionate about their art. A slightly mainstream example is Irréversible, by Gaspar Noé: One of the most brilliant pieces of cinema I have ever watched, for its sheer, raw power. I’m not a gore hound and I don’t knock one out to these films. My enjoyment – for want of a better word – is in being personally and emotionally affected by a work.
Of course, as a writer I’m somewhat limited, being as I am, sans pictures and sounds. That said, the most powerful medium is that of human imagination. So with my stories, I’ll write in such a way that I believe my prose will evoke the emotion I require from the reader. A Girl, Frank Burnside and Haile Selassie has moved many readers to tears, as has Echo Beach to a lesser extent. Cyrus Song made people smile. COGS repulsed readers, and The Perpetuity of Memory made at least one physically shudder. All but the girl and her friends will be in my collected tales volume.
I hope my stories remain in the memory, like Merhige’s film.
The Savage Cinema presents Begotten:
Now, that was nice wasn’t it? But as I said, the feeling it invokes is not dissimilar to how my mental illnesses make me feel on bad days. It’s difficult to describe with words alone but add some sound and pictures and you’re in my brain. And that was just 72 minutes, if anyone made it all the way.
It’s morbid curiosity which draws us to watch things like this: Part apprehension, but driven by that human craving of fear. It’s that thirst which I seek to satisfy with my writing.
And so, Cardboard Sky, the 25th and final story in my collection is nearly finished. I’m pretty confident it’ll be an affecting tale. It’s part influenced by my digging around on the dark web, partly by some other freelance work, but mostly from my imagination. So it should stick in the mind.