'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
Click here to buy the paperback or download the ebook for free.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

An Action Film

The garden is getting ready for its annual autumnal show. It's time to just sit back and enjoy the performance as the trees turn yellow and brown. The wife's aunt has a thing about yellow. 'Thing' is the only word I can think of that encompasses the numerous manifestations of her attitude to yellow. Two examples of those manifestations would be her love of touching yellow cars and her belief that you can communicate with the dead by dropping lemons on the ground.

My cousin Ronan used to go for walks with his girlfriend, Audrey, on the quiet roads near her house. They often met her neighbour, Fay, and they always had trouble getting away from her. She spoke slowly and told long, boring stories that were full of pointless details. She did have some interesting stories, but she told these very quickly and gave the barest of details. For example, she once said, "I went to the fancy dress party as Dracula, and that's how I became a feminist icon, for a while. Is there any sign of the glove your dog ate?"

She once said she did the voice of one of the bears in an animated version of Goldilocks. Ronan and Audrey wondered how she got this role, and which bear she played. Ronan finally managed to get a word in when she finished her story about her glands. He asked about the film and she told them that her brother is a director. He started out in kids' TV, but he's moved onto action films since then. He loves smoking and smiling enigmatically -- that's partly how he built his reputation in the film world.

She said he'd been filming the sea just a few miles away for the past few days. Ronan and Audrey didn't bother asking her about which bear she played. They walked back to Audrey's house as fast as they could and then they drove to the sea to meet the director. His name was Oliver. Ronan had always wanted to see an action film being made, but seeing Oliver at work came as an anti-climax. He really was just filming the sea, and the water was very calm at the time. He had fallen in love with a French actress called Louise. She was his muse. He always pictured her moving in slow motion. In reality she never moved very much at all. His action films seemed ridiculous to him, and he wanted to film entirely in slow motion.

Life had slowed down for him, but for his brother, Malcolm, things were speeding up. Malcolm had always been very laid back. Nothing ever bothered him, and he was always happy doing nothing. He had a small field next to his house. It was full of wild flowers and long grass. There were trees beyond the field. Oliver was always suggesting possible uses for the land, but Malcolm thought that the best possible use was to provide something to look at. He could spend hours looking at the field. Afternoons would fly by. Even when he was in the city, he'd walk slowly through the streets while everyone else rushed around him.

But then one night he had a dream in which he saw himself beneath a clock that followed him everywhere. He was moving slowly, but the hands on the clock spun around very quickly. It gave him a sense of time slipping away and a determination not to waste it. He moved quickly after this, and he tried to fit as much as possible into every day.

Oliver told Ronan and Audrey about his new-found interest in things that moved slowly. When he said he'd be perfectly happy to film people standing still, Audrey remembered a group that her sister had joined. They recreated scenes from old paintings. They'd dress up as the characters from the paintings and they'd stand still. They performed these scenes at parties or in parks or on streets. They enjoyed playing Bruegel's peasants, but they often had trouble staying still. Sometimes they couldn't resist eating or drinking or fighting. This was fine at parties, but they often got into trouble on streets.

Oliver loved this idea. Still scenes were a natural progression from slow motion. "It's just a single scene and nothing happens," he said. "I've never before realised the dramatic possibilities of nothing."

He used this group to film a scene of medieval peasants getting drunk on a street. Ronan and Audrey joined the group. Louise was included in it too, but she was allowed to move. She smoked cigarettes and drank cocktails. A waiter brought her the drinks. The others had to stay still for two hours while they were being filmed, and they all began to resent Louise.

After two hours Oliver said, "Cut. That was excellent. We'll do another take tomorrow."

The cast groaned in unison, apart from Louise. She was happy with her day's work. Oliver only noticed her reaction, and he ignored the others.

He went for a walk around the town that night before he went to bed. He walked slowly, and he appreciated all the sights and sounds around him. Before he met Louise he never went for walks and he never appreciated things that didn't explode or jump out of helicopters. He looked over a fence into a garden and he saw two greyhounds. They looked exactly the same, but one was sitting on the grass and the other was running in circles around him. Oliver watched them for about twenty minutes. In that time, neither greyhound ceased from the sitting or the running.

When he was walking back towards his hotel, he got a sudden impulse to jump, so he jumped, and then he stood still. He got the impression that he had jumped out of himself. He looked back, expecting to see himself, but there was nothing there. He walked on again, and he thought of Louise. She told him she couldn't spend time with him this evening because she was washing her dog's dungarees, and when he thought about this then it seemed suspicious. He wasn't even sure if she had a dog.

That night he had a dream in which she was having an affair. He saw her telling him she couldn't spend the evening with him because of her dog's dungarees, and then she went away to meet another man. But the other man was another version of Oliver. This one moved very quickly. He took her dancing, and they went for a drive in his sports car.

When he woke he was determined to get revenge on this other version of himself, but as consciousness returned he realised that this was a ridiculous idea. He thought of his brother and the way he'd been moving so quickly, and suddenly it all made sense. Malcolm was the other man. This is what his dream was telling him. His subconscious mind had stored all the signals he had missed during his slow days and compiled them into a play that was performed in his dream. And it was telling him that Louise was having an affair with his brother. This is why he spent so long looking at the greyhounds -- that was another one of the signs his subconscious mind wanted him to take note of.

The slow Oliver was dead. He was back to his old self. When filming the second take of the scene he'd dispense with nothing and go for everything instead.

Ronan wasn't there for this take because he was expecting more nothing. He met his friend, Adrian, who was dressed up as a lizard. Ronan asked the obvious question: "Why are you dressed as a lizard?"

"A lizard? I thought I was meant to be a blade of grass. I'm handing out fliers for a sale in a garden centre."

"Blades of grass don't normally have red tongues. If they did, you wouldn't need signs telling people to keep off the grass. That would make a good action film: being attacked by thousands of lizards that look like a beautiful lawn. We should film a lawn and show it to Oliver, just to make fun of this rubbish about the dramatic possibilities of nothing."

So while Audrey was taking part in the second take of Oliver's film, Ronan and Adrian were filming a lawn. Malcolm was still completely unaware of his brother's idea that he was having an affair with Louise. He was unaware of most of the world around him as rushed about. He hadn't looked at the field in days. This lack of awareness is why he fell over a woman in the park. Her name was Betty Climate and she was a weather forecaster on TV. She used to predict the weather by falling over. Earlier that day she had fallen over in the park and she didn't get up again because she knew it would rain later and spoil a beautiful summer day. When Malcolm tripped over her he apologised, but he didn't get up again. He realised that he wanted to lie on the grass and do nothing, rather than rush around the place, so he stayed on the ground with her

In the second take of Oliver's film, he got them to eat and drink and fight. At first they thought they'd struggle to keep going for two hours, but they lost their inhibitions and it seemed to give them a rush of adrenalin. This took them through most of the shoot. Even when it started raining they kept going. Fatigue eventually caught up with them. The final ten minutes were like the end of a marathon, and when Oliver said 'cut' most of them collapsed on the ground.

Ronan and Adrian arrived after the take had finished. Ronan wondered why everyone was lying exhausted on the ground, surrounded by food, broken bottles and glasses, but he was more interested in his own film. He got out his camera and showed his lawn film to Oliver. It consisted mostly of a lawn, but at the end, two characters were introduced. Oliver saw his brother lying on the grass with Betty Climate. They were getting to know each other very intimately. Then she started screaming and they both ran away. The camera panned to the left to show a giant lizard, which was the reason they ran away.

"This is brilliant!" Oliver said. "He isn't having an affair with Louise. I should have known. He'd never do something like that."

Audrey came over to him and said, "I think you should do a version of Ronan's lawn film. It'd be much better than this."

"No, I'm happy with what we did here today. From now on, everything is fast. That's the one thing I've learned from this experience."

"I think you should do another take. I think my wig fell off in the middle of the last one."

Ronan didn't read anything into the way Audrey was so eager to do another take. She had many inhibitions, and Ronan was well aware of all of them. They were like electric fences around her. But her inhibitions had been swept away during the second take, and she had ended up lying on a table with a man called Nigel, who was one of her sister's friends. That's why her wig fell off.

Oliver said, "What we filmed here today might need some editing, but there's the basis of a really good film in it."

"That's not what you were saying this morning," Audrey said. "You've thrown away your principles already. You're a sell-out. You told us you wanted to make a work of art, and you came so close to that yesterday, but you're nowhere near it now."

"You're right. I have thrown away my principles. This is the message my subconscious is really sending me: that I should go back to doing what I do best. Speed alone isn't enough. Filming people fighting and having sex isn't enough either."

His action film instincts took over and he made a film about a giant lizard in medieval times. He used the end of the film that Ronan shot on the lawn because there was such an obvious chemistry between Malcolm and Betty, and their reactions to the giant lizard were much more realistic than the lizard himself, but he looked okay in the bad light during the heavy rain. He used twins to play a man and his medieval ancestor, who uses the time machine to follow the lizard into modern times.

The rain had stopped shortly after Betty ran away with Malcolm. In the film, Oliver used a story line about Betty controlling the weather. She helped kill the lizard by bringing a blizzard in the middle of summer. He even used footage of her doing the weather forecast on TV. He had to bring a time machine into the story so he could use the scenes of the peasants fighting and drinking and so forth. What Audrey did with Nigel would come under the heading of 'so forth', and it was used in the film. She told Ronan that she was just acting, and she was relieved that he accepted this explanation, but then she was angry that he accepted it so easily, despite the fact that her performance was so realistic.

The moose's head over the fireplace enjoys the company of our neighbour, Rose. The things she says would be more intellectually stimulating than anything I could come up with. The questions I'd seek answers to would be ones like 'Why are there no big yellow cars?'. All yellow cars are small. We're not in New York -- it's not as if a big yellow car would be mistaken for a taxi. There's no way I'd drive a yellow car, big or small. The thought of the wife's aunt repeatedly touching it would spoil any enjoyment I'd get from it.