A friend of mine recommended I watch a movie called The Death of Stalin recently, and I duly obliged. If you’ve not seen the film, don’t panic - no spoilers here - it simply follows the last day or so of Stalin’s life, and the week or so leading up to his funeral, and the battle for power that takes place. First of all, I really enjoyed the movie. Secondly, I found it both very funny and yet terrifying at the same time. There were some fascinating combinations that don’t normally go together, that made the film so striking. To begin with, the director chose to use actors (and the writer crafted dialogue) that made the characters very clearly working class, which of course they were (this is communism after all). That doesn’t sound so unique, but actually it was quite profound - instead of seeing Stalin as an iconic, terrifying dictator, my perception was subtly altered to one of a common man who had gained a lot of power but little education, doing whatever he felt like. I’m not here to argue for the truth of that position, but I will say that the simple use of dialogue and accent transformed my perception of a major historical figure in only a few minutes of airtime. It actually made him even more frightening than the iconic dicatator.
The second aspect that was fascinating, was the way the horror and humour was merged, so that the characters were joking about scenarios even as they were causing deaths, torturing individuals, each other’s wives, and so on. The juxtaposition of the two was cleverly placed, and in some cases uncomfortable, and yet very human, too.
The movie made me think about strange combinations - how you can make a scene (written or visual) more powerful by putting together elements that may not normally be combined. I remember a writer I know advising me once to think carefully about my locations; they told me a couple arguing about a divorce is far more interesting at a funfair, say, rather than in the kitchen or the bedroom. In movies, I get nervous when characters are laughing, because I know screenwriters aim for contrast, and the monster or the tragedy will always strike after a scene where the characters are relaxed and happy.
Earlier this week I went to an ice cream parlour after dinner, and being a funky, hip place in San Francisco, the flavours were all wild - odd choices and combo’s. I tested the sesame flavour, but it was too strong for my liking, and in the end I went for Strawberry and Basil, which didn’t sound too appealing, but having chocolate would have marked me out as a man of no imagination (or a chocaholic, which may be closer to the truth). Bizarrely, I loved the combination, which kept reminding me of the taste of summer - I have no idea why - and strawberry ice cream doesn’t normally have that sensory connection, so I can’t explain it. I’m thinking that in my next story I might deliberately go for a weird combination. Piñata birthday party in zero-gravity? Walking a dog through a zombie wasteland? Any suggestions welcome :)