Giving voices to minor characters or those who didn’t get to say anything in the original story is not a new idea, but, when done well, it can enhance a reader’s understanding of the original or offer an in-depth exploration into an issue or episode that got skipped over in the original. “Dissolve to LA” gives voice to minor characters in action films, offering not only a commentary on the films but also an exploration of cinematic tropes. In “Lloyd”
“They gave me a name
and does that not give me life?
More at least then UNIFORMED COP,
NIGHT NURSE or FIRST JOCK,
who may have had more to say
but can’t claim to an existence
beyond their scene. I suppose
they forgot me, but I’ll not
forget the night…”
The character, in this case the owner of the truck stop diner from “Terminator 2: Judgment Day”, looks at the hierarchy of characters: his name boosts his sense of importance over and above an unnamed speaking part. Another minor character plays with a stereotype, “Admiral Chuck Farrell” speaks:
“You had me at your name and innuendo, your made-up cod-Russian sweet nothings, your fatal frame and martini twist: might have known a Ferrari-toting Soviet pilot might come with added spice,”
His speech picks up on the irony of an admiral in the Royal Canadian Navy, from “Goldeneye”, being seduced and killed by an assassin, and suggests he has the self-awareness to know that he will, against all common sense, allow this to happen because it’s a necessary plot device. Similarly “Girl” explores cliches,
“Why always making a grab for fame;
the good girl fallen;
the prominent dad downtown.
Why always naked, wasted;
testing the strength of a balcony fence;
always weightless and hilarious.
Why a car bonnet that breaks the fall;
the shirt always open, not a hair out of place,
like Ophelia or a centrefold.”
This girl’s death sparks a police investigation into a drugs ring in “Lethal Weapon” where it’s discovered her name is Amanda Hunsaker. It buys into Edgar Allan Poe’s assertion that the most tragic scene is the too-soon death of a beautiful young woman. Death leaves her as voiceless as she was in life, with other characters all too ready to project their theories onto her. Tragedy is also found in unrequited love, particularly when the would-be lover only gets to tell them on their death-bed. “Helen” muses,
“. who cradled your chest
when that bullet ripped in; who heard you’d die
in your whisper and who followed you, pressed
into the road? I’m Helen. I hope they’ll write about us,
Sam, and our too-short time on this too-fast bus.”
The film is “Speed”, Sam is the fatally shot driver and Helen’s hope that they will be remembered as forlorn as her hankering after the man she was too shy to tell she was in love with.
“Dissolve to LA” avoids two potential problems. Firstly it’s a judicial selection of poems so it doesn’t feel like a one trick pony. The selection of characters isn’t predictable. They all share that they are minor characters from action movies with tragic endings but the characters themselves are different. Secondly the voices are all distinct. It’s not known whether the poet has picked his favourite films or whether the films weren’t gripping enough to stop him doodling on his notepad whilst watching, but the poems lack the arch tone of superiority or a vocabulary that sounds odd in the character’s mouth. Each poem has been allowed to find its own form. Each character has been given chance to speak.