Sunday, May 21, 2023

Incident at Loch Ness (2004).

It's difficult to tell just what the reputation of Found Footage, or the Mockumentary style film is like these days.  The best guess I can offer is that by and large, audiences range somewhere between a general indifference to disdain about the whole sub-genre.  If Horror fiction remains the black sheep of all the major popular modes of storytelling (the others being Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Comedy; all of whom share greater levels of public acceptance than the one where zombies routinely crawl out of the grave to sample a gourmet meal of human grey matter), then it seems as if the Found Footage tale is the outcast among the runts of the litter.  While there may be some who are able to find a genuine level of enjoyment from these types narratives, it looks as this is the one type of Horror story that is always going to remain an acquired taste.  It's fortunes are never really going to allow it to rise above its designated station.  Not even the help of a critically acclaimed filmmaker, someone like German New Wave wunderkind, Werner Herzog, will be able to allow these stories the same legitimacy as films Psycho (1960), or Halloween (1978).  It also helps to bear in mind, even these classics are regarded with a jaundiced eye.  The inescapable truth is that Horror lives the shadows of its fellow genre siblings, and Found Footage seems doomed to forever live within the shadow of those shadows.

Not that this is any major complaint, lots of movies out there are able to survive as products of  the niche market, and in an age where the niche demographic is slowly starting to become the norm in show business, it seems like even the blackest of sheep might one day have their own place in the Sun.  That in turn brings us to today's film.  It turns out I wasn't at all lying when I said a filmmaker of Herzog's stature once lent his efforts to the making of a Found Footage Mockumentary.  In retrospect, I'm no longer quite sure how I found out about a movie like Incident at Loch Ness.  I suppose I could have been looking up something to do with the legend of the famous Scottish lake when it happened, and I stumbled upon it that way.  Or else I might have been trying to study up on Herzog himself.  I'm a movie fan with an occasional taste for the more obscure and avant-garde types of cinema.  I'm also the kind of guy who gets a surprising amount of enjoyment from studying urban legends, and the types of ancient folklore that has managed to survive even up to the present day, and Nessie is one of them.  All I know for certain is that it was at a meeting point of one of these subjects that allowed me to stumble upon a trailer for the last kind of film project I could have expected.

Sunday, May 7, 2023

Alan Moore's Cold Reading (2010).

A while back, I did a review of  book by Ramsey Campbell.  It was called Ancient Images, and it was one of those books with a winning concept that is hampered by the shortcomings of the novelist.  There are few fates worse than a good idea falling into the hands of the wrong artist.  That seems to have been what happened to the notion of an imaginary Horror film starring Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi, and the terrible events that befall the main protagonist as she tries to hunt down a copy.  If I've made that idea sound exciting, then I'm both proud to be of service, and also have to apologize in the same breath.  There may have been something worth sinking your teeth into with a story concept like that.  

The trouble is the power of any artistic idea is at the mercy of the artist's capabilities in realizing it on the page.  It's a skill set that is as necessary as it is often overlooked.  This is the part of creative writing that's perhaps impossible to teach in any school.  What it all comes down to is the writer's ability to realize the story in words (for lack of any better term).  It is a matter of being able to set the narrative down on paper, yet it's also a bit more than that.  At the start of his 1985 masterpiece It, Stephen King notes what sets one of his characters apart as a good storyteller.  He's not just good a telling, but also seeing and making others catch a glimpse of whatever imaginative vision that's floating around inside the artist's mind.

I think King gets very close to an accurate description of what good writing is in that moment.  Another way to say it is that good writing is what happens when an author is able to inhabit the story in such a way as to help bring it to life for the reader.  At least that's one alternate way of putting it.  However, I think I'm being more accurate when I say that all good stories, the really gripping works of narrative art, are able to contain, or come with their own artistic power and draw more or less intact.  The draw and allure of good stories, to me, are best seen as part of what might be called the "natural" ingredients of any imaginative idea, or archetype, that the artist is able to dig up from the depths of the unconscious mind.  The real task of the true writer is seeing just how capable they are of matching the power of their imaginative vision when or if they ever decide to record it down for the sake of an audience.

The is probably where any serious talk of artistic talent comes in, and perhaps the truth is that the level of success that each writer has with this skill is what sets the good and the great apart from the merely competent and mediocre.  Guys like J.R.R. Tolkien and Mark Twain have this ability in spades, which is why secondary worlds such as Middle Earth are able to seem so real to the tons of people who encounter it for the first time, over the years.  Or why a simple river in the Eastern half of the United States, such as the Mississippi, is able to take on this almost talismanic quality for anyone who has ever decided to give a book like Huck Finn a chance.  All of that is just a demonstration of Twain and Tolkien's narrative skills.  Both are capable of inhabiting their stories with skill.  They are each able to get into the zone, or whatever is necessary to not so much bring their respective archetypes to life, so much as allow them all the room they need to breath.  I think a lot of that also has to do with how each imaginative setting is able to play to the authors' strengths, and its another component in telling any good tale.  The trouble with Ramsey Campbell, at least in the case of a book like Ancient Images, is that he can't or won't seem to take the time to get inside of the story in order to help it fly off the page.

This is something that Campbell seems to have difficulty with.  His prose style and sense of pacing are well written enough.  There's not much in the way of any glaring errors of spelling, phrasing, or diction to be had, and the narrative itself keeps moving at a brisk pace that would be a welcome value in a better book.  The trouble is that the novel always reads as if its story is stuck inside a goldfish bowl, or one of those glass formaldehyde cases, with the author either unable or unwilling to do anything to improve it.  This is something that a writer like Stephen King is aware of in his critical review study, Danse Macabre.  There, he writes: "Campbell is good, if rather unsympathetic, with character (his lack of emotion has the effect of chilling his prose even further, and some readers will be put off by the tone of this novel; they may feel that Campbell has not so much written a novel as grown one in  Petrie dish (381-2)".  This sort of disconnected, almost hands-off approach has been Campbell's great weakness.

You sometimes hear or read novelists talking about how the best thing they can do is to get out of the way and let the story tell itself.  That's not just a sentiment I agree with, I applaud it.  It's just the right frame of humility that any writer worthy of the title should practice.  The thing is that letting the story tell itself isn't the same as not giving it a ballpark to play in.  One of the key facets of good writing is the ability of the artist to record the inherent drama of the creative idea with as much accuracy as possible.  This is where the artist's ability to tap into the emotional content of the story comes into play.  It's a necessary and tricksy skill to pull off, and in terms of a book like Ancient Images, it seems to be one that Campbell has had some difficulty with.  That was a book I never set out to bad mouth.  What happened is the more I went along, the more the glaring errors in the composition stood out to me.

The result has been one of the most unsatisfactory reading experiences that I've had in recent times.  It's also kind of the explanation for this article.  What I wanted to do was to see if it was possible to find a story in the same genre as Campbell's, and that could act as a positive counterpart to the mistakes made in the last book I've reviewed on this site.  It didn't take long to dig up a likely specimen.  It's a short story entitled "Cold Reading".  The author also wrote stuff like Watchmen and V for Vendetta if it matters.