Monday, May 31, 2010

Day 54: Days Like These

My dentist was playing the Cat Steven's Teaser And The Firecat when he pulled my tooth out yesterday. It wasn't my choice (of music or ways to spend my Monday afternoon). Usually he offers me the menu of CD choices and let's me pick but today I sat down to Ruby My Love full of trepidation and got up out of the chair - one tooth less and a whole lot of pain later - to Peace Train.

Fortunately for me, the upper molar was some way back, so my smile is not demonstrably affected, although, let me tell you, I'm wasn't smiling much for most of last night. There's one or two things I know about pain. One is that however much someone describes their (physical) pain, it is impossible to feel someone else's pain. Backs, teeth & a kidney stones (which I've heard or read, likened to a gunshot wound - I haven't had a gunshot wound[touch wood I never will] but I've had a kidney stone alright) I have had all three of those "fun" pain experiences. Whilst friends and strangers offer compassion, help, care and comfort, they can't feel my pain just as I can't feel yours.

I've heard "no pain, no gain"...we've all heard that one. And I'm oft told that "growth comes through pain", which I have experienced.

The other thing that was once told to me was that "the mind has no memory of pain". I mean, we can remember that an experience was painful; I can certainly recall that about the day I was struck down in the British Museum, when my "stone episode" began. But I can't channel that pain back, I think that's what that quote is driving at? An esoteric concept....maybe?

I saw a tremendous short film from France in the Sydney Film Festival (which opens this Wednesday) which must have been at least ten years ago. Short films can stick with you like that, especially, if like this one, it's the one, simple idea, exquisitely executed.

It was a grainy, black and white piece about a young guy who wakens from sleep in his suitably low-rent Parisian apartment, writhing in agony, clutching at his jaw, obviously in pain from his own toothache. He goes to the medicine cabinet, shakes out a handful of tablets and washes them down with a heavy slug of Pernod (from the bottle). Some minutes later and our guy has gained no relief, so he chug-a-lugs the rest of his bottle of pastis and throws down the remainder of the analgesics (I should stress at this point that the film is absurd in it's style and nature). Further into this man's nightmare of a night and he's unscrewed a second bottle of Pernod and drinks that down in one. With no improvement, he finds himself in front of the mirror above the sink with a razor blade and pliers, trying to extract the tooth himself. With blood running down his chin and his own amateur dentristy having failed, he goes to the kitchen, opens the oven door, kneels down, puts his head inside the oven, only to withdraw, clutching something wrapped in a cloth. He unwinds the cloth to reveal a pistol. Sitting with his back to the cooker, he gets the angle of the gun barrel right and blows the tooth away!

I think that's what they call "Grand Guignol" ( the dictionary describes this as "A dramatic entertainment of sensational or horrific nature, originally a sequence of short pieces, performed in the Grand Guignol theatre in Paris"). As gory as the film sounds, it was in equal parts "horrific" and yet hysterical. Such was the 800 members of the audience's identification that the noise of groans and agony-induced writhing was the like of which I've never heard before or since in a film.

Day #54 Tip: How to Write Pain and Other Character Feelings
"If I were this character in this character's set of circumstances, what would I do?" Yet another quote from Hollywood Bob (Mckee).

That's what we do when confronted with the choice in a scene for the character's action. There's subtle nuance between what Mr Mckee proposes as oppose to "what would I do if I here him?" or "what does she do next?".

My example today - of the French short film - is extreme and maybe you can hunt down the work on Youtube to see for yourself how much a watcher of the succinct and pithy tale can relate to the character and his given circumstances, even if the treatment is illogical (I'm not so sure after my night of tooth pain) and inappropriate. In a short film, probably more so than any other film format, you can push boundaries, stretch the limits of reason and (I use this word guardedly) have some "fun".

Remember, whether in outer space or the inner city: "What would I do if I were that character in that character's circumstances?"

Me, I ran to friends (one of whom is a doctor) who got me through the night with love, care, compassion and some prescription drugs. Will I now ever be able to get the agonising association of Cat Steven's Moonshadow and the dentist's chair out of my head?

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