Michael Turner’s 1993 debut, Hard Core Logo (a punk-rock novel in verse, lyrics, and voice mail, turned into a movie by Bruce McDonald), was as promiscuous a hybrid of forms as The Pornographer’s Poem. But the newly reissued American Whiskey Bar (1997) remains his most bracing adventure in hypertext: the screenplay of a fake movie, prefaced by strenuous disavowals from its real writer (Turner, who complains that he wrote it as a “basis for improvisation,” only to have it “MADE EXACTLY AS I HAD WRITTEN IT!”) and fictitious director (Hungarian porn journeywoman Monika Herendy, who claims she was never on set, having been beaten into a coma before the shoot by the film’s violent German producer, Klaus 9). Further confusing matters, the seemingly unfilmable screenplay later became the basis for a live Canadian telefilm.
American Whiskey Bar is, like Russian Ark, a one-shot piece, panning from table to table in its titular location: Sanitation workers discuss script ideas; an interracial couple squabbles; two secretaries fantasize about fellatio. A lot of the talk is pornographic or concerns pornography (one much discussed screenplay evolves anagrammatically from Ancient Rome to A Nice Mentor to O Mean Cretin), and conflicts of class, race, gender, and sexuality erupt in hilariously schematic and surreal ways. Professing to be less than it is, it’s a surprisingly haunting work—a smutty Pale Fire that, through its dizzying strata of competing truths, may have more to say about our reality than it ever lets on.