Could someone dim the lights? Our feature presentation is about to begin. Please silence all cell phones and remember not to spoil the experience for others by talking during the show. It’s time to talk about Movieola! by John Domini…but wouldn’t you first like to run out to our lobby where fine soft drinks, popcorn, and Raisinets are available for purchase?
Movieola! presents a different John Domini than I was expecting. From my experiences with his novels A Tomb on the Periphery, Talking Heads 77, and Earthquake I.D. and the short stories of Bedlam and Highway Trade, I anticipated solid and riveting gritty realism. More significantly, I wasn’t expecting experimentation in form, a departure from traditional narrative structure. I mean, I knew from some of his essays, such as those in The Sea-God’s Herb, that Domini has an interest in and a critical eye for film, but I still wasn’t imagining that he’d produce linked hybrid story creatures combining the silver screen and the printed word.
Personally, that’s how I experienced Movieola! The stories involve various stages of movies made tangible through prose, deftly exploiting the abilities of both media. Structured in the form of steps in the process of movie-making, such as the pitches, filming, development of a trailer, all the way to closing credits, these stories aren’t simply movies but movies in the process of being made (from “Making the Trailer”):
For the opening we go with The Arrival of the Hit Men. That’s the way to make a trailer, a hundred seconds or so of grabber screentime: start with killers in an airport. No need to be crass about it. No need for any kind of race thing, religion thing, politics thing. Pure fear, that’s what we want, the lowdown cello throb like someone’s pulling a bow right across the spinal column. And what are you watching? A couple of adorable kids holding hands, waiting at the metal detector, and some clean-cut Homeland Security gunman giving them a worry-free smile (works best if the kids are white, the soldier black)…but meanwhile, behind them, in just-perceptible slo-mo, two guys whose getup screams Made. Made men and vain about it, in their long, pomade-heavy hair, their knee-length closet-creased black leather coats (belt, no zipper; no faggy excess). Of course they’ve got their sunglasses on too, even as they emerge from the ramp into JFK or O’Hare.
Domini celebrates cinema in these stories, but he also manages to make his media mixing experiment deliver the features of two forms while avoiding the individual drawbacks of both. He fits the rush and lingo of Hollywood into the form of a solidly written print story. It’s a thrill ride, but an intelligent and thoughtful one (from “Royal Jelly, Pitch & Yaw”):
Silver Lake: The dream begins in incompatibility. How’s that sound? How about we take you there, a place altogether different—incompatibility?
Venice: We know what it’s like for you. All day you’ve got to listen to this stuff.
Silver Lake: All day long you’ve got to listen. People walk in and say, We open on a country road, tumbling down the well of the headlights….They say, We open in the city, smoke, drizzle, fire escapes, the figures amoebic…
Venice: Not that we don’t know how to open. Our first sequence, boom. Everyone thinks they know zombies, the zombie apocalypse. But what we’ve got, the way we open, I mean, not in their wildest dreams.
Silver Lake: Except, in dreams, that’s where it begins, doesn’t it—or shouldn’t it, in dreams in all their incompatibility?
Venice: Like, a zombie wedding. Boom. A zombie wedding, that’s how we open. Beauty. We trash everyone’s expectations.
Regardless of my fascination with the form of the stories, I also found them to be as well written and narratively interesting as Domini’s more traditionally structured works. Someone in a bar delivering advice through their own hard luck story, a woman scrabbling to keep her career advancing rapidly amidst highly difficult conditions, and so on, the interesting and compelling storylines are there and still centered on the right moments as I already known Domini to be able to do well. Movieola! does seem to be somewhat of an experiment, a different creature than the one I’m used to seeing storm out of Domini’s laboratory, but Domini applies the polish of a finished product rather than simply present the bare bones of the illustrative model necessary to demonstrate results of his investigation.
All in all, I found Movieola! to have intriguingly unusual and engaging stories. Go grab your popcorn and enjoy.