On Speed

You will recall the film Speed (Jan de Bont, 1994) in which Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves are aboard a bus which will explode if it goes below fifty miles per hour, having been primed with a bomb by cackling evildoer Dennis “Don’t try to grow a brain, Jack!” Hopper. I have been wondering if a similar adrenalin-thumping conceit could be applied to the writing of prose.

I am not suggesting I do anything so foolhardy as to ask a disgruntled and slightly maimed ex-police officer to hitch me up to a bomb which will detonate if I stop writing… well, I suppose that is what I am suggesting. Cowardice, or sheer common sense, persuades me, however, to hit upon a less perilous incentive.

I have just spent ten minutes staring vacantly at the screen trying to think what that incentive might be.

In Speed, Dennis Hopper is gleeful when a television reporter describes the fiendish quandary into which he has placed the bus passengers as “the whim of a madman”. He repeats the phrase to himself, chuckling. Now I am an almost inhumanly sensible chap, and not a madman at all, but perhaps the whim of a madman is precisely what I need to give vent to, if I wish to prime my prose with the innards-wrenching pell-mell momentum of the film.

Of course, not everyone would agree that Speed is an appropriate model. Dennis Hopper rather overdoes the criminal mania, Keanu Reeves is wooden, and the best that can be said of Sandra Bullock is that she is irritating. And even though Keanu’s fellow bomb-defusion expert Jeff Daniels is killed off, you know that Keanu himself, and Sandra Bullock, will escape unscathed, and Dennis Hopper come to a grisly end, because it’s that sort of film. But predictability has its own special charms. And predictability plus innards-wrenching pell-mell momentum is clearly popular, when we consider that Speed reportedly earned its makers over three-hundred-and-fifty million dollars. Now if I could only devise my madman’s whim, perhaps I could make a similar sum from a piece of prose.

The glum bat of misery swoops o’er my bonce as I stare at the screen and, regretfully, admit to myself that this present piece of prose is not the one that will earn millions. Having said that, should any readers feel impelled to deposit a vast sum of money into the Hooting Yard Paypal account, I would be most grateful.

But, just as Sandra Bullock has to keep her foot on the accelerator of that bus, I have to keep tippy-tapping away. It is true that I will not be blown to kingdom come if I stop. In fact, nothing at all will happen. I do not need to grow a brain to know that. Indeed, I have the freedom to get up and walk away and make a cup of tea, so I think that is what I shall do, right now. If I had a University of Arizona Wildcats tee-shirt, I would take the opportunity to change into it while the kettle is a-boiling.

You will recall that Sandra Bullock’s wearing of a top with the Arizona Wildcats’ logo proves to be a pivot on which the plot of Speed hinges. When last I saw the film I had not yet learned of that other great mainstay of Arizona life, the regional dish greasy doings. It seems to me that either Jan de Bont, or his screenplayperson Graham Yost, or indeed Keanu Reeves or Sandra Bullock or Dennis Hopper or even poor killed-off Jeff Daniels might, at some point during the production, have suggested adding a further layer to the Arizona reference by mentioning, or – better – showing, greasy doings. It would probably be stretching credulity to have any of the imperilled bus passengers tucking into greasy doings, but Dennis Hopper spends much of his screen time gobbling snacks while watching his madman’s whim unfold, so how difficult would it have been to make at least one of those snacks greasy doings? Now I come to think of it, given that, as I said, the dish was unknown to me when last I saw the film, perhaps we are shown Dennis Hopper eating greasy doings! Obviously I shall not rest until I have confirmed whether or not this is the case, so I shall have to watch Speed again, with an eagle eye on the Dennis Hopper scenes.

It has just occurred to me that I do not know what greasy doings look like. I must embark on further research before my next viewing, or I will not know them if and when I see them, and that would be a bloody tragedy.

I don’t know about you, but my feeling is that, were this present piece of prose the bus in Speed, it would be dangerously close to dropping below fifty miles per hour, and thus exploding. Innards-wrenching pell-mell momentum is easier to blather about than to maintain, in spite of the cup of tea which I was hoping would fuel a jamboree of thrills and spills. That may be a lot to ask from a cup of tea, but it has been argued that generations of British chaps could not have built an empire without their cups of tea, and I am not trying to build an empire, merely to write deathless prose, and perhaps earn millions, or thousands, or hundreds, or even just a pittance, by so doing.

Yet all the while the urge to cease and stare, not at the screen but out of the window, at trees and crows, grows ever more intense. What would Keanu do?

2 thoughts on “On Speed

  1. That is not a tree you are staring at outside the window Mr Key. It is Keanu, but your confusion of the two is entirely understandable. If only Mr Reeves career had ended with his ‘portrayal’ of Ted Theodore Logan all would have been perfection.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.