The Exterminating Angel

At a film society screening in the 1970s, I saw a film which blew my brain, almost literally. Not just because it was a superb film (which it was), but because it re-created for me a recurring nightmare from my early childhood. The film, in black-and-white, and made in 1962 by Spanish director Luis Bunuel, was The Exterminating Angel.

As I staggered around in a daze afterwards, I asked myself, How could Bunuel have known about my nightmare of decades earlier? The answer is, of course, he didn’t. He was simply elaborating on a universal and timeless tale doubtless lurking in the recesses of all our minds. Which is one reason it packs such a punch. Or did for me, anyway.

If you have been reading my blogs, you would know I am a writer. I have written one novel, Where Pademelons Play, a real world story framed in fantasy. So, when seeking a theme for my second novel, I didn’t have to look far. My nightmare and Bunuel’s film contain the timeless tale I need. Once again, a real world story framed in fantasy.

I do not intend to plagiarize Bunuel nor anybody else. I do not intend to re-write The Exterminating Angel. The timeless tale from which I intend to grow my story is not Bunuel’s exclusive property, nor is it mine. He didn’t invent it, and nor did I. It is out there for anybody who might choose to use it as a springboard for their imagination. As Bunuel did. And I intend to.

Realize please that the story I shall tell bears no resemblance to the one Bunuel told in 1962, except that they both feed off the same timeless tale. Two stories may spring from the same premise, but then go off in completely different directions. I assume you would not regard Lady Chatterley’s Lover as a clone of Madame Bovary, just because they share the same central idea: that of an adulterous woman.

I have written about 25,000 words so far, which is probably about a quarter of what I anticipate I shall need to write. I don’t want to reveal any more details at present because I really don’t know in which direction it will go. No, I have not prepared an outline from woe to go. That is not the way I work. Let me tell you how I do work.

I set about writing plot and characters as if for a final draft. If what I have written after a few weeks is, in my own opinion, not adequate as a final draft, I revise what I have written, rejecting material as necessary, adding material as necessary. After multiple revisions, a strange thing happens. My characters themselves take the job of writing out of my metaphoric hands. My actual hands work the keyboard, but my characters are responsible for the imaginative aspects of the writing. They seem to jump right out of the computer screen for this purpose. I swear this is what happens.

This is why I’m not going to reveal any more details. I can’t. I don’t even know them myself.

I would venture to make a couple of suggestions to you.

(1) If you have not already seen The Exterminating Angel, you should try to do so. If you have already seen it, see it again. If you are fluent in Spanish, that’s great. If like me you are not, you shall have to read subtitles.

(2) Read my book, Where Pademelons Play. It is good.

(3) Watch for the release of my second book. I can’t yet give you its title, because I haven’t settled on one yet. It will not include the words ‘Exterminating’ or ‘Angel’.