Reflective Commentary on ‘Crushing’

‘I want to open my eyes!’[1]

I am an artist and my voice is my paintbrush. As a writer, I have a transgressive voice. Usually, I am most comfortable with writing prose since it allows me to paint a picture with intricate detail and colours, whereas I often struggle with other forms. But what kind of a transgressive writer would I be without breaking free of my own norms? The first thing I resided on for this assignment was to write a script. It was the perfect opportunity to explore an alien form of writing and a different way of expressing myself. I always visualise my writing, but this was taking it one step further, this was a way of actually bringing my words to life.

Whilst researching screenwriting I came across the following statement: ‘as a screen-writer, you have two primary emotional colours: sex and violence’.[2] I had recently watched a documentary on the pornography industry that found ‘recent research shows that nearly 40% of online pornography depicts [men committing] violence against women’.[3] These two statements paralleled each other perfectly and became the starting point for my piece. I wanted to research and write on violence in the pornography industry. NAWE’s Benchmark Statement dictates: ‘research for creative writing involves both research into content and research into form.’[4] I had an idea for my content and was resided on my form. The next question was what genre?

‘You’re a niche… And niche is tough.’[5]

Horror films have always been a passion of mine and I thought the genre would encapsulate ‘sex and violence’ perfectly based on other films that I had seen with similar content (Gothika and I Spit on Your Grave as examples).[6] I first looked at what specific sub-genre of horror that I wanted to create, using Cherry’s table (see Figure A, Appendix). I decided on ‘Exploitation cinema, video nasties…explicitly violent films’ since I wanted my script to focus on sex and violence as taboo and show some explicit scenes that would be ‘controversial’.[7] When re-watching Hot Girls Wanted the following statement on girls in the porn industry made an impact on me, ‘unless she is a breakout success she will have to accept more niche-orientated jobs in order to keep working’.[8] I wanted to include a pornographic ‘niche’ in my script that would combine the ‘sex and violence’ elements and would make an original piece of ‘exploitation cinema’.[9]

I already had my ‘two primary emotional colours: sex and violence’ through my sexual content (pornography) and my violent genre (horror). If violence is red and sex is yellow, I needed a way to blend the two and create orange…

I was walking through the library, searching for books on pornography, trying to find my ‘niche’ when I stumbled across The Pornography of Meat.[10] The book questions, ‘how does someone become a piece of meat? And the answer is we really don’t want to know.’[11] This is exactly the kind of dark and arcane subject matter that I wanted to explore in my piece. I wanted to write about ‘someone’ and their journey of how they became involved in the industry,[12] to the point where they were no more than a ‘piece of meat’.[13] It is at this moment that ‘May Mayonnaise’ was born.[14] I was going to blend together ‘sex and violence’ with food.[15] It seems that food and sex are often associated with one another and more so with time. I encounter the term ‘food-porn’ at least once a day, especially on social media. It appears to be a contemporary and universal fetish.  People may not be able to relate to porn or violence but everyone eats food and that would make my script accessible to a greater audience.

‘With the mice?’[16]

I came across the term ‘crush videos’ whilst reading The Pornography of Meat.[17] I had never encountered anything like it before.  I was torn between looking at the reality of the videos – women in tall stilettos murdering small, innocent animals for men’s sexual entertainment – and viewing it as being a more symbolic fetish. Perhaps its viewers live vicariously through the mice and imagine being walked over by a sexually dominant woman. Whatever the case was, I could only think about how degrading it must be for the women in the videos. How did she get to the point where she was murdering animals as her career? And who were the men that were encouraging her to do so, either producing or watching the videos?

I used crushing as my denouement to show May’s mental deterioration and to foreshadow the death of Mike. I wanted it to shock my audience and to reflect the violent reality of the pornography industry. I used repetition of ‘3…2…1…’ to mirror the first scene.[18] However, this time instead of May being in control and counting down, this was Mike’s turn. It builds up to the scene and creates a sense of dread rather than the excitement felt in the first countdown. Devin McKinney proposes a schema for classifying movie violence. It is either ‘strong’ or ‘weak’.[19] A violently ‘strong’ movie has to illicit large ‘emotional consequences’ for the characters and viewers.[20] The act of crushing itself is extremely violent and would be classified as a ‘strong’ piece,[21] however, I choose not to show it on screen in my screenplay. In Cronenberg’s The Fly, Ronnie shows Stathis a video of Brundle regurgitating on his food in order to eat it, but the video is not visible, only the sounds are heard, whilst the focus is on Stathis’s reaction. I wanted the crushing to shock my audience but I intended for the real focus to be on May and Mike and their own reactions as a ‘consequence’ of the violence.[22] May loses her mind and Mike vomits. This is the physical response described in my piece, but this has greater meaning behind it which I planned out during the first few days of my research.

‘Hi, Mike is it?’[23]

My two characters emerged from two different essays I read on viewing pornography. Lehma argues that pornography ‘stimulates in the audience the kind of behaviour that may lead to violence’.[24] On the other hand, Kipnis rejects this argument entirely stating, ‘fantasy seems too challenging a concept’ for some people.[25] Mike grew up watching pornography and it effected his behaviour as a result. He grows up to be violent and to create his own pornography. Mike is Lehma’s argument anthropomorphised. May produced her own porn and sees porn as fantasy. She uses the industry for her ‘fans’ and is prepared to do ‘what the internet wants’.[26] She speaks about porn as an abstract act, easy and uncomplicated, whereas Mike focuses on doing ‘well’ suggesting the idea of money.[27]

This is the heart of my screenplay. It is a satire of the pornography industry. May represents the idea of porn being fiction whereas Mike represents pornography as reality. However, as the extremity of the content progresses (the crushing), Mike realises the consequences of the violence and rejects it (by vomiting). Contrary-wise, May withdraws further into the fantasy in order to protect herself (by ‘manically laughing’).[28] I wanted to use my transgressive voice to provoke thought not to provide an answer. The screenplay explores explicit and taboo subject matter which is intended to shock an audience and make them experience something outside the norm.

‘I’m not a performing monkey and I’m not a fucking vegetarian.’[29]

One film that inspired my screenplay was James Wan’s Saw. I liked the concept of having the majority of my screenplay’s action take place in a small room with only two characters. It would ensure that my script would have maximum impact through its intensity. It also made use of flashbacks which gave the film multiple layers and kept it exciting. Also, although Saw contains highly violent scenes, there was a lot of room for dialogue and character development. However, the film carries a stigma for being extremely violent and lacking originality, which overshadows its positive qualities. I used Saw as my ‘muse’ when I wrote the first draft of my screenplay, drawing on all the positives I just listed. However, after I completed it I realised that although my piece was good, that it was flat and would receive a similar reputation to Wan’s creation. It wasn’t enough to have a piece of writing about ‘sex and violence’.[30] I needed to add more colour to my work in order to bring it to life. But what?

Prince states that ‘even when a filmmaker goes to great lengths to avoid playing violence to spectacle, strikingly divergent viewer reactions may ensue’.[31] He uses Spielberg’s Schindler’s List as an example since some audiences laughed at inappropriate moment to ‘alleviate tension’.[32] I reflected upon my first draft and saw that this could be a problem for my screenplay. Although I wrote that I did not want the crushing to be shown, May and Mike’s reactions were not the same as they are in the final version. They were non-reactionary. My first idea was for them to be unmoved, reflecting how they had been conditioned to the pornography industry. However, after considering Prince’s statement, I thought that I should change my script slightly. If horror can sometimes illicit laughter by accident then why not use that to my advantage?

I took inspiration from Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. In the infamous rape scene, Alex joyfully sings Gene Kelly’s ‘Singing in the Rain’. I found that this made the scene more bearable to watch, and also deterred me from laughing. To laugh along with Alex would make me somewhat of an accomplice. So, when May is crushing the mice in the final scene I made her laugh ‘manically’ to mimic the same effect of Alex’s song in Kubrick’s film.[33] I then decided to go back and purposefully give the dialogue a dark and comedic edge resembling the dialogue from classic horrors such as Demme’s Silence of the Lambs. Hannibal makes unsavoury jokes throughout the film, ‘I’m having an old friend for dinner’,[34] just how my screenplay also contains a number of unsavoury jokes, a prime example of this being the scene where Mike is masturbating and expels the double entendre, ‘I’m coming!’[35]

One of the main things that I changed for the final draft was the opening scene. From the beginning I wanted to put my audience on edge. ‘Good openings elicit curiosity, raising more questions than they answer’.[36] I deliberately used language that would mimic the romance genre. Mike parodies the romantic cliché with ‘happy anniversary sweetie’,[37] whilst the viewer is seeing a ‘dark and minimalistic’ cellar and a woman who is suspiciously wounded.[38] In Jackson’s short story she describes two characters greeting each other: ‘”Hi Joe”. They grinned at each other humourlessly and nervously’.[39] She carefully juxtaposes positive and negative verbs which leads to questioning why? What is happening here? I wanted to recreate this in my work through the juxtaposition of the setting and language.

‘May turns and looks at the camera.’[40]

During my research, I looked into symbolism and the female body for inspiration. I found an essay that argues the power of ‘feminist cyborgs’.[41] The ‘dissolution of the binary divisions on which western culture has been based is embodied in the cyborg which/who is neither ‘natural’ body nor ‘cultural’ machine, neither organic nor inorganic’.[42] May is a ‘feminist cyborg’ and represents the existential struggle of modern females.[43] May begins her career on her own terms, streaming her own pornography over the internet, but falls victim to the patriarchal industry or pornography when Mike holds her hostage. Instead of resisting, she suffers from Stockholm syndrome which is described as a ‘self-preservation response rather than a weakness in victims’[44] and welcomes her monstrosity. Her career in pornography can be seen positively and negatively using feminist theory. On one hand she is in control, on the other she is a worker of the patriarchy. She is also victim and survivor in regard to Mike. The final scene, in which it is suggested that she has killed and is eating Mike, can be seen in several ways. Firstly, as a feminist achievement, secondly, as a matriarchal satire of Brook’s argument, or thirdly, as a feminist failure to the patriarchy.  Is May a victim of the patriarchy or is she a matriarchal figure? Her character is the main transgressive question in my screenplay and was my primary focus.

‘THE END.’[45]

I choose Crushing as my title since it forebodes the denouement of the script and also satirises the romance elements within the writing.  It also perfectly summarises the compact and intense array of emotions and symbolism within the screenplay. I began this project merely wanting to research into the arcane and try writing a different style of form, but I ended up with a complex piece that provokes thought instead of giving answer and polarises readers. ‘Violence in the contemporary shocker is never redemptive, revelatory, logical or climatic’.[46] My screenplay does not resolve any conflicts or offer a particular opinion on a subject matter.  I realise how important research is when writing and how much the actual writing can then shape the research. My final product was not what I first envisioned, but it is much better.

I am an artist and my voice is my paintbrush, my research is my paint and Crushing is my fucking masterpiece.

 

Bibliography:

Primary Sources

Hot Girls Wanted [documentary], dir. By Jill Bauer and Ronna Gradus (Netlifx, 2015)

Jackson, Shirley, The Lottery (1948) <https://sites.middlebury.edu/individualandthesociety/files/2010/09/jackson_lottery.pdf> [accessed 07 December 2016]

Silence of the Lambs [film], dir. By Jonathan Demme (Orion Pictures, 1991)

 

Secondary Sources

Adams, Carol J, The Pornography of Meat, (New York and London: Continuum, 2003)

Brook, Barbara, Feminist Perspectives on the Body (London and New York: Pearson Education Limited, 1999)

Cherry, Brigid, Horror (London and New York, Routledge 2009)

CL, ‘Battered Women Considered Hostages’ Off Our Backs 21 (1991): 2.

Hunter, Lew, Screenwriting, (London: Robert Hale, 1994)

NAWE, Creative Writing Subject Benchmark Statement (2008) <http://www.nawe.co.uk/writing-in-education/writing-at-university/research.html&gt; [accessed 08 January 2017]

Pornography: Film and Culture, ed. Peter Lehma (New Brunswick, New Jersey and London: Rutgers University Press, 2006)

Screening Violence, ed. Stephen Prince (New Brunswick and New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 2000)

Writing Short Films: Structure and Content for Screenwriters, ed. Linda Cowgill (New York: Watson-Guptil Publications, 2005)

[1] Ellie Johnson, Crushing, p.1.

[2] Lew Hunter, Screenwriting, (London: Robert Hale, 1994), p.22.

[3] Hot Girls Wanted [documentary], dir. By Jill Bauer and Ronna Gradus (Netflix, 2015)

[4] NAWE, Creative Writing Subject Benchmark Statement (2008) <http://www.nawe.co.uk/writing-in-education/writing-at-university/research.html&gt; [accessed 08 January 2017], p.13.

[5] Johnson, Crushing, p.2.

[6] Hunter, Screenwriting, p.22.

[7] Figure A, Appendix; Ibid.

[8] Wanted, Bauer.

[9] Ibid.; Hunter, Screenwriting, p.22; Figure A, Appendix.

[10] Wanted, Bauer.

[11] Carol J Adams, The Pornography of Meat, (New York and London: Continuum, 2003), p.13.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Johnson. Crushing, p.4.

[15] Hunter. Screenwriting, p.22.

[16] Johnson, Crushing, p.7.

[17] Adams, Meat, p.139.

[18] Johnson, Crushing, P.7.

[19] Screening Violence, ed. Stephen Prince (New Brunswick and New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 2000), p.38.

[20] Ibid.; Ibid.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Johnson, Crushing, p.3.

[24] Pornography: Film and Culture, ed. Peter Lehma (New Brunswick, New Jersey and London: Rutgers University Press, 2006), p.29.

[25] Laura Kipnis, ‘How to look at pornography’ in Pornography: Film and Culture, ed. Peter Lehma (New Brunswick, New Jersey and London: Rutgers University Press, 2006), pp. 118-129 (p.119)

[26] Johnson, Crushing, p.5; Ibid., p.6.

[27] Ibid. p.2.

[28] Ibid. p.7.

[29] Johnson, Crushing, p.5.

[30] Hunter, Screenwriting, p.22.

[31] Violence, Prince, p.30.

[32] Ibid.

[33] Johnson, Crushing, p.8.

[34] Silence of the Lambs [film], dir. By Jonathan Demme (Orion Pictures, 1991).

[35] Johnson, Crushing, p.4.

[36] Writing Short Films: Structure and Content for Screenwriters, ed. Linda Cowgill (New York: Watson-Guptil Publications, 2005), p.115.

[37] Johnson, Crushing, p.1.

[38] Ibid.

[39] Shirley Jackson, The Lottery (1948) <https://sites.middlebury.edu/individualandthesociety/files/2010/09/jackson_lottery.pdf> [accessed 07 December 2016] (p.3)

[40] Johnson, Crushing, p.8.

[41] Barbara Brook, Feminist Perspectives on the Body (London and New York: Pearson Education Limited, 1999), p.138.

[42] Ibid., p.140.

[43] Ibid., p.138.

[44] CL, ‘Battered Women Considered Hostages’ Off Our Backs 21 (1991): 2.

[45] Johnson, Crushing, p.8.

[46] Cherry, Horror, p.201.

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