Not just a great name for a band, but also another essay on my friend Harwant Bains’s revival of Blood at the Royal Court, London.
There’s a school of literature that says that the job of writers is to capture and replay everyday or normal speech. This is the most batshit load of bonker-cobblers I have ever heard in my life. According to this school, beginner writers are encouraged to sit on buses and stand in queues listening to the ambient conversation. Well, I spend a lot of time on buses and in queues, and let me tell you that “normal” people – and I include myself here – use mind-numbingly banal cliches, are completely unable to follow a logical or even an illogical train of thought, couldn’t speak for even six seconds without hesitation, deviation, or repetition, and usually are so soporifically dull that I would rather read my bus ticket or count the people ahead of me in the queue than listen in. And you know what? Writers that follow this “normal speech” school are also cliched, banal, unstructured, repetitious, and dull dull dull. Which doesn’t stop them getting plenty of work of course, because the only people less sensitive to the glories of the language than normal people are commissioning editors, as any TV soap will convince you after ten minutes viewing.
But Harwant does not do that. His dialogue is flashy, poetic, fiery – it shows off, it’s trying to pull you, it’s John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever or Belmondo in Breathless. It’s more Berkoff than Brookside, a million miles away from the way normal people talk, unless you count necrophiliacs and the Prime Minister of India as normal – both played in this revival, by the ironic way, by the same actor. Take the necrophiliac as an example: in an early scene, as he plies his trade, he cries out “I’m going to make me a dead baby!” Now, I don’t know many necrophiliacs – though I live in Brighton, so perhaps I ought to qualify that with “as far as I know” – but I am 100% sure that no corpse-shagger in the heights of orgasm has ever said anything as remotely poetic – not to mention funny, in its ghoulish way – as that. Just think about the mixture of metaphors and imagery in that line – it doesn’t make any kind of literal sense, of course, but all the resonances still play together. It reminds me of Shakespeare’s “if music be the food of love, play on!” – something else that makes no sense and perfect sense at the same time.
I could pick a hundred other lines. Harwant once told me that writers should never show off – their job isn’t to prove how clever they are – actually, they should already know how clever they are, which is very. No, the writer’s job is to throw out all the gems, cut the beauty, kill all the little darlings, pare the work down until it’s just a skeleton. Then you can literally see how the characters and story work – you can’t get more x-ray than a skeleton.
And Harwant swore this was his method. Hilarious – good one mate. You had us going for a bit.
Consider the two nomadic murderers who imagine the whole world is on fire because their small region is – two illiterate and ignorant men who articulate their ignorance in the grandest and most eloquent poetry (another trick Shakespeare likes). Bains captures what the characters would say if they had the soul of a poet locked in their pathetic bodies with their ugly morality. For if God is truly everywhere, then He exists in rotting foetuses and motorway service stops as much as in beautiful sceneries and noble thoughts. To turn your back on the ugly is to turn your back on everything.
Blood is nasty-violent, as I said in my last review, by which I mean it’s stomach-churning, not like the playful, ludicrous violence of Quentin Tarantino. All violent stories and films need some form of redemption if they’re not to be trash: Tarantino does Buster Keaton directs Kung Fu, with mixed success, and Harwant has language and imagery. It is the descendent of Titus Andronicus and Coriolanus. He is like the kid in the playground who can stand on his head and wants everyone to know it: “look at me! look at me! I can make the English language sparkle and fizz, and when you laugh at it, it laughs back at you!”
Well, in the great battle between dialogue copying real people, and dialogue capturing Reality, I know which side I’m on.
Footnotes and resources
For Tarantino at his Keystone Kops most ludicrous, see Thurman’s slice-and-dice session in the preposterously good Kill Bill:
Nothing to do with the subject, but I might never write about necrophilia again, so I ought to plug an odd, strangely sensitive, unnervingly classy, and really quite touching Canadian film on the subject called Kissed: