(I thought I had written about all of this before, by the way, and I had planned to link to that hypothetical blog post in the middle of this one. But then it turned out that I had never written about any of this before, so that's why this post is late.)
My thinking about hypertext fiction was really formed by two things. One was the Alfred Hitchcock movie Family Plot. Not one of his best, though it has a great ending, but there is one absolutely wonderful moment near the beginning.
Barbara Harris plays a faux psychic con artist, and Bruce Dern plays her boyfriend (a cab driver, if I remember correctly). We see them working to bilk a deluded (but rich) old woman, then they drive home together. When they're stopped at a red light, a woman walks across the street in front of their car. She's wearing blonde hair, sunglasses, and a black trench coat, and the camera simply follows her, apparently losing interest in Bruce Dern and Barbara Harris.
Of course, the "blonde" woman's story, and that of her paramour, soon connects with Barbara Harris and Bruce Dern, but it's a giddy, purely Hitchcockian moment.
If Sir Alfred could have offered the audience a choice at that moment ("Stay with them, or follow her?") you would have ended up with two different movies, telling basically the same story from different angles.
So, that's part of the equation. The other is Penn Jillette's comments from this article in Wired magazine.
Most of the way down to Atlantic City, we talk about interactive entertainment. Penn says it'll never work. Entertainment – movies, theater, music, art – boils down to the performer, not the audience, being in control.
"Technology adds nothing to art," he says. "Two thousand years ago, I could tell you a story, and at any point during the story I could stop, and ask, 'Now, do you want the hero to be kidnapped, or not?' But that would, of course, have ruined the story. Part of the experience of being entertained is sitting back and plugging into someone else's vision.
"The fact of the matter is, since the beginning of time, you could buy a Picasso and change the colors. That's trivial. But you don't because you're buying a piece of Picasso's fucking soul. That's the definition of art: 'Art is one person's ego trip.'"
Penn says he and Teller "have been offered a huge amount of money and a huge amount of technology to do interactive shit. We have turned them down. Not that the technology wasn't up to snuff, but because we don't have any ideas.
"The whole fucking world is pretending the breakthrough is in technology," he says, as we whiz by the Blade Runner-like landscape of New Jersey oil refineries. "The bottleneck is really in art."
And that's also true. You can say, "Would you like to know more about this character before we proceed, or not?" You can say, "Character #1 and Character #2 are splitting up now. Which would you like to follow, until they get together again?" But you can't say, "Would you like Ilsa to go off with Victor at the end, or do you want her to stay with Rick?"
Which is why the early parts of "Carly" are very hypertext-y, and the later ones aren't.
(Oh, and I do have to mention that in Inherent Vice there is a character who wants to bring together all the pissed-off movie lovers who did want Ilsa to stay with Rick at the end of Casablanca, and to initiate a class action suit on their behalf against Warner Brothers.)
Next week I may start to post "The Dream Now," which follows "Carly," and which answers the question, "What the heck is up with that haircut?" And I may write more about Inherent Vice.