Everything I Know I Learned From Kurt Russell
by Jonathan Wood, author of No Hero
by Jonathan Wood, author of No Hero
That title is a horrible lie. I mean, it's patently false.
But, and this really is what Kurt Russell has taught me, that doesn't matter at all.
You see, Hollywood has been lying to us for years. In previous centuries, authors and poets and storytellers lied to us, but the Hollywood machine has really taken it to new heights. I believe it was John Ford who said, “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend,” and this has become law at Hollywood. What's more, this law has caused Hollywood to enter recursive loop of absurdity, as the legend it embellishes is usually its own.
I mean really, if the movie title hadn't clued you in already, this one is going to be a bit of a bumpy ride as far as reality is concerned. But rather than hang shamefacedly behind some pretenses of mimicking real life, the movie immediately embraces it's silliness by establishing Sylvester Stallone as... wait for it... the straight man. Seriously, motherfucking Rambo is this movie's moral compass. This is bound to be awesome.
And then comes Kurt Russell, a sort of John Wayne fever-dream of gunslinging awesome who stumbles into a buddy cop movie. And how do we know Kurt Russell’s Gabriel Cash is a badass? Because people try to kill him immediately. He's just too damn cool to survive his own opening scene. In this movie, being shot at is character development. Screw this depth crap, let's blow things up already!
And so it goes. Deeper and deeper into the depths of madness. Soon enough you have sweaty half-naked men breaking out of jail, and folk driving around in monster trucks, and people seducing Teri Hatcher, and through it all you have Kurt Russell's hair defying the laws of mullet-dom. It's brilliant.
And so, circuitously, I get to the whole point of this essay – which is talking about what I, as a writer, learned from Kurt Russell and the movie Tango and Cash.
So, rule number one: reality doesn't matter. I mean, reality is great and all, but if it was all that we wouldn't need Kurt Russell in the first place. If I got up, was shot at, dived out my bedroom window after the man, got embroiled in a car chase, accidentally seduced Teri Hatcher and then went back home for my cup of morning Joe, then why on earth would I bother watching someone else do it? Stories have to resemble reality, certainly, they have to have familiar echoes, but echoes are all they are.
Rule number two: go big or go home. If reality isn't a big concern, then your action scenes should be uninhibited celebrations of violence. There really is no other way. The car doesn't just race down the road. The car peels through a crowded square chased by tanks and fighter planes. People don't just shoot at it. They fire missile launchers, laser guns, battleship cannons, and ancient Egyptian super weapons. The drivers don't just dive out of the car. They drive the car off a cliff face, leap out, and parasail into rocky rapids. It's what Kurt Russell would do, why shouldn't you?
Rule three: every author's hair should defy reality. It works for Kurt Russell. It works for Neil Gaiman. Why should you be any different?
Rule four: Believe the madness. One thing I admire about Kurt Russell is his steadfast refusal to break the fourth wall. He is truly in every moment of crazy in Tango and Cash, even when he’s in drag. No really. The fourth wall can be played with, can be hinted at, but if you’re going to largely abandon reality then in order to preserve the bubble of madness, you have to believe in the world you create.
Some people may take issues with these rules of storytelling, of course. They may have concerns I am reducing a fine art to escapist nonsense. So, should stories just be ways to ignore the woes of the reality, rather than facing them? No, of course not. Stories can be wonderful tools for addressing the problems we face as a civilization and as a culture. They can be astounding vehicles for plunging deep into the human pscyhe. They can teach us empathy, and perspective, and can bring us a thousand new benefits.
But, the thing is, this essay isn't about that. This is about what Kurt Russell taught me, and he didn't teach me any of that shit. What he taught me was that Chekhov was a fool to leave the gun on the mantelpiece until the third act. I mean, why the hell settle for a gun when missile launchers exist? And while we're about it why the hell are we waiting for the third act? Start turning people into meat mist already! Let's go!
Jonathan Wood is an Englishman in New York. He is the author of the No Hero--a Lovecraftian urban fantasy that dares to ask, what would Kurt Russell do?. He also writes odd little things that show up in odd little places, such as The Best of Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Chizine, and Weird Tales. Most of his short fiction is available for free on-line. Links can be found on the bibliography page.
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