Westward Dogs

Being intermittently homeless, internetless and laptopless at different stages over the last few months has left little opportunity to do much more than work a 9-5, which is why my blog has been dead since the end of the Olympics.

I did, however, manage to finish writing the sequel to the modestly-budgeted but award-winning independent film The Young.

Following up what was an emotionally hard-hitting post-apocalyptic film was never going to be easy in the first place. On top of that, the authorial ethos of Richard Weston, who wrote the first film, is very different in style and sensibility to me. His unfortunately unfinished, unpublished novel Gristmill, written when he was still a teenager, was an exercise in Faulknerian experimentation, a fragmented dialectic work that nevertheless allowed for Oulipo-esque strategies such as the complete omission of the word “the”:

“Flag flaps navy against ghosts. Cross frozen clouds, twisted trees shake out birds, and rest of picture is barren land. Amy watches horizon. Leans gainst fence. Looking up. If it weren’t for dirt being so cold she would walk bare foot. Old enough to know better says Ma. Winter takes sting away from summer ruins. It bites, let’s y’ holler for a little while. Look yonder, by pile of wood and cones and you can see a man turned away. His coat is black. His hat is mighty black. His shoes are raven black. Old timer says Ma but I know where men go.”

Compare with some of my prose, which is far more functional and workmanlike:

“Don Song put down his book on cricket and stepped out onto the balcony. He had been reading about the contrasting legacies of Geoffrey Boycott and Ian Botham. He collected from behind his ear a mighty spliff laced with lemon haze, and fired his windproof, industrial strength zippo at the tip. That noise like a grammarphone scratch as he inhaled. Wolverhampton, and Birmingham beyond, shimmered like a belly dancer for him. He thought, fleetingly, of a charge of his, a young novelist who was good in spite of his laziness, in spite of his overarching ambition. And he thought of another, whom he doubted would ever write another line, because if he did, it would have to shatter the world, or not exist at all. “

There’s little middle ground, there, and the problem continues into script. Richard’s screenplay for The Young is solemn, sombre. Watching the film is like walking around a particularly intimidating cathedral, like if you crossed The Proposition, Tarkovsky, Tarr, The Grapes of Wrath and a Cormac McCarthy novel.

It’s also bleak, almost relentlessly so. Which works within the context of the film – we generally don’t think of a world after an apocalypse as being particularly cheery, so if it’s concerned with darkness for its running time, then so be it. However, if you’re asked to carry the story on, you need some light for the characters to cling to, or they and the audience will sink into nihilism. Shine too great a light, though, and you’re not staying true to the spirit of the original.

It’s these sorts of conundrums I had to contend with when fulfilling my commission. I might, perhaps pretentiously, call what I came up with the post-post-apocalyptic film. Due to the constraints of everyone involved, I’ve no idea when Westward Dogs will actually get made, but for a first attempt at a screenplay I was pretty pleased with it.

 

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