Today, Hartford Books Examiner gives a shout out to Scott Kessinger.
The author of Scream Deconstructed: An Unauthorized Analysis (Stinger Books, $9.99), Kessinger is a freelance journalist who has written articles for print, web, and broadcast TV. He studied journalism, media, and film in school and has worked both behind and in front of the camera. Kessinger first gained the attention of Scream fans through articles written exclusively for Scream-Trilogy.net.
Scream Deconstructed is Kessinger’s first book. The slender volume is currently available exclusively through Amazon.com as a paperback, though the author is looking to expand its reach to the Kindle and other online retailers in the New Year. One reader noted, “It’s not just the ideas that are good but also the presentation. As deep as the book gets, the book is written in a casual, witty tone that is very reader-friendly. I just love how the author wraps up each chapter with in ways that make you want to keep reading…”
From the publisher:
Someone’s taken their love of Scream one step too far… and written a book about it!
Having earned the respect and accolades of critics and audiences, generated more than half a billion dollars in revenue, and inspired a gaggle of imitators, it’s safe to say Scream is millions of people’s favorite scary movie. While the Scream films have scared and entertained moviegoers worldwide, they’ve also invited us to closer examine the movies we watch: to deconstruct them. This book aims to do just that.
Scream Deconstructed: An Unauthorized Analysisputs all four Scream movies under the knife to examine the meaning, themes and philosophy of the movie series that brought horror back from the dead by breaking all the rules. Take a close look into the heart of this pop culture phenomenon and what its characters – including Sidney, Gale, Dewey, and each film’s killer – represent. Find out what reality, film, fantasy, and sex have to do with it all. Scream Deconstructed is sure to please any fan of Scream, horror, or film in general.
Now, Scott Kessinger deconstructs his book for readers…
1) What inspired you to write SCREAM DECONSTRUCTED? Tell us a bit about the differentiation between “authorized” and “unauthorized” and how such classifications can impact a book…
I decided to write Scream Deconstructed because it was basically the book I’d always wanted to read but nobody had ever published, and I decided to take matters into my own hands [laughs]. Scream is a movie that everyone seems to agree has a lot going on under the surface and so it’s always surprised me that there isn’t all that much literature about it. I think there’s a couple of articles in academic journals and that’s really about it. Maybe there’s a feeling that the slasher genre had already been mined by academics like Carol J. Clover–who gets referenced in Scream Deconstructed–and that digging too deep into Scream would be a little redundant. I don’t know. What especially inspired me was that the fact that the most readily accessible, deep analysis of Scream was Lyz Kingsley’s piece on the first two films on her website “And You Call Yourself a Scientist”–and she wound up hating them! She’s absolutely entitled to her opinion–and for the most part it’s an informed, thought-out opinion–but as a fan I’ll admit it annoyed me that the most in-depth look at Scream was so negative, and I thought it was due for a defense on the same level. There are books like this out there for plenty of pop-culture phenomena–“The Philosophy of Star Wars or The Simpsons” or what-have-you. It’s Scream‘s turn.
“Unauthorized” simply means that the rights owners of the film, The Weinstein Company, weren’t invovled with the the book. I’m well aware of the kind of stigma that might carry, like it’s not a “real” Scream book, and so I thought the best way to handle that would be to just be as honest and upfront as possible: “unauthorized” is there in the title, on the cover in bold red letters. It’s not trying to trick anyone. I made sure, too, to be respectful of the fact that Scream isn’t my property. It’s a nonfiction book about the film. It’s not trying to repackage the films’ content and sell it back to you. My review, the analysis, is the content of the book.
The reality is that Scream Deconstructed simply wouldn’t exist if it had to go through official channels. Before writing I learned that I definitely wasn’t the first person who wanted to write a book about Scream, and every story I heard was similar: the studio and major publishers repeatedly passed because the market was too small for this kind of book to sell the quantities they wanted. So going in unauthorized and through independent publishing was a way to get this book out there and be able to serve its audience, even if it’s a “small” audience. There are some benefits content-wise, too: I had tremendous freedom with this project. Wes Craven himself could come in and say “No, you’ve got this all wrong, delete this part” and he wouldn’t be able to do anything about it [laughs].
2) Before writing this book, you were a guest contributor for Scream-Trilogy.net. How did that experience influence this project? Also, what might carryover readers expect when it comes to SCREAM DECONSTRUCTED in terms of tone and content?
I had a great response to my articles on Scream-Trilogy and I knew I wanted to write more. I was even tempted to simply write a long series of articles about the themes of the films and leave it at that. Hell, it’d probably have more readers than the book! But taking that approach would have lost a lot of the cohesion that the book has, and even if it could maintain that sense of cohesion I’m not sure it would be fair to expect people to read so much online in order to get the bigger picture. There’s also something definitive about a book that I think gives the material more psychological weight.
If you liked the articles, you’ll like the book. It carries over the same tone and it revisits the themes and expands upon them, in addition to introducing plenty of new ones.
3) Tell us a bit about the term “deconstruct.” How does it apply to the SCREAM franchise? And how did you set out to apply it in your analysis of the films?
“Deconstruction” has become kind of a misunderstood buzz word lately, but in the most general, basic sense it means taking an idea and metaphorically taking it apart to see what makes it tick. When a work of art deconstructs a concept, it usually does it by running it through “the real world” to see how it plays out. Scream Deconstructed might not literally deconstruct the Scream films in the postmodern sense, but since Scream is celebrated as a deconstruction of the 80s slasher film I thought it was an appropriate way to describe the book.
I didn’t want to weigh the book down by having it explain all the history and details of academic concepts like deconstruction and postmodernism, but I did want to get the idea across that deconstruction is a specific idea, so that’s why the book starts off with the list of its definitions.
4) The themes of the first SCREAM film in particular have been dissected ad nauseum. How much of what has been discerned do you think was intended by the filmmakers and how much was simply a matter of perception becoming reality? What do you see as that film’s true statement(s)?
I don’t want to put words in the filmmaker’s mouths, but Scream strikes me as a very deliberate film. In the interviews I’ve seen and read Craven and Kevin Williamson both had very clear visions for what they wanted to do with the film. Though I haven’t heard them talk a lot about all of the sexual themes, those ideas dominate the story to such an extent that I can’t imagine they didn’t know what they were doing there.
That said, film’s a collaborative medium and because of that there’s always bound to be things that emerge that weren’t necessarily intended. The book talks a lot about how the nature of reality in the Scream films changes as the series goes on, and I have a suspicion that’s largely a side effect of how sequels naturally escalate things. Near the end the book also mentions that there are some libertarian politics you can read into the films and I have a hard time imagining Craven or Williamson being libertarians, but who knows [laughs].
That all said, authorial intent isn’t the be-all and end-all of a film’s statement and in the end it doesn’t necessarily matter what the artists intended. That point itself is actually one of Scream’s messages. And speaking of which, every time I think I’ve come up with the broadest, most definitive statement of Scream I come up with another one, but the two that pop out in my mind the most right now are: “People alone are responsible for their own actions” and “The message a listener hears is more important than the one the speaker intends.”
5) SCREAM 4 clearly represents the sequel that is most true to the spirit of the original, and yet it also seems to make some pointed commentary about the “new generation” audience. Can you expand on this idea? Also, to what would you attribute the film’s lackluster box office performance?
Oh, I don’t know if I’d say that Scream 4 is truest to the original so definitively like that. I think the Scream movies are all remarkably consistent with each other. But in a sense you’re right in that Scream 4 gets to be a kind of catalyst for discussion of recent horror trends like the original where Scream 2 and 3 mainly had to simply repeat what the first one did. This is kind of ironic since Scream 4 is all about someone trying to recreate the original!
People talk a lot about Scream 4 coming too late to become a hit, but honestly I think it was too early. If they were banking on nostalgia, they overlooked that nostalgia runs on a 20 year cycle, not ten or fifteen. More than that, even, I think Scream 4 is ahead of the curve on where we’re at in the world of film, and that’s where your comments on the audience come in. Scream 4 expects its audience to cheer when—and those reading who haven’t seen it yet might want to stop reading right now—at the end Sidney comes back to life and they kill off the reboot the movie’s been setting up for most of the running time. For the record, the audience I was in cheered and certainly loved it, but when you consider the single biggest complaint the film got from many people was that they should have left Sidney dead and let the killer get away with it, it’s definitely not a universal sentiment.
You heard that a lot—that the movie “chickens out” at the end—but when you step back and look what the movie was doing it probably had one of the more audacious endings it could have. For a lot of people, the unexpected isn’t the new cliché, they aren’t yet tired of all the characters dying at the end, and they aren’t yet tired of remakes and reboots. The scary part is that maybe there is no “yet.”
6) The scope of a book obviously limits its content. What other meaning, themes and philosophies would you have explored (or expanded upon) if given the opportunity?
I mentioned the right-wing politics earlier, and I didn’t go into it further because I didn’t want Scream Deconstructed to become a political book or be mistaken for one at all. I think it’s intriguing, though, and maybe in the future I’ll work on a book about politics in film.
I also shied away from mentioning Kevin Williamson’s sexuality in the book and how it might have influenced and shaped the sexual themes of the films. Even though I think it’s an interesting thing to speculate about, I thought it would have been too personal and I didn’t want to risk coming across as forward or patronizing in that regard.
Even though I’m always thinking of things I could have added in or gone into even more depth, I’m proud of the book as it is. I hope the readers out there like it, too, and I’m glad the feedback so far tells me they do!
With thanks to Scott Kessinger for sharing his time and thoughts.
And remember: Scream Deconstructed could very well be the perfect stocking stuffer for the scary movie fan in your life…