Shorts and Trojan Horses

I’ll post a few shorts here every now and then.  Some touch on topics that are generally considered serious but are rendered silly.  In an episode of Fatman Beyond or whatever iteration of it on the Kevin Smith youtube channel Marc Bernardin (Castle Rock) was hosting and at about 1 hour and 49 minutes in the conversation got on my raw nerve. That podcast needs a voice from at least the middle of the political spectrum.  Tactics matter. Mr. Bernardin advocated what he calls “Trojan Horsing” an element that a target demographic would not like into something they do like.  A horse by any other name could be bait and switch.

He went on to use as an example the Solo iteration of young Lando Calrissian said to be “pansexual” as if that is a step forward. (Never-mind Billy Dee Williams more recently responding by saying “What the hell is gender fluid?” since his iteration of Lando is heterosexual (as are the depictions in three novels from the early eighties, a number of other books that include the character and comics where unusual  traits would have come up by now if anything other than the default of straight behaviors were part of his character.)  Ret-conning a character to pander to a perceived shift in social media or the whims of people who live on Twitter disrespects characters, especially those that have been around for a while.

Black Panther was used as an example of under-represented audiences coming out to support something they rarely see, but Black Panther was part of the juggernaut MCU, introduced in Captain America: Civil War, and had a decades long legacy as a comic book hero so there was nothing compromised or co-opted about the character.  He diminished nothing and replaced nothing and only added to the MCU. It was an example of doing right by a property.  The same director, Ryan Coogler, had previously provided another rare example of getting something right, the Rocky sequel Creed which respected its history and added new dimensions to the ongoing drama.

I don’t know about representation for the sake of representation.  I am not James Bond or Lando or Rocky Balboa.  If I buy ice cream I don’t want someone Trojan Horsing crushed cauliflower into it.

 

 

 

Movie Business Destroying Our Myths ?

I pretty much agree with this rant by Doomcock, a youtube pundit with style.  I can’t say the same for every video he puts out but he seems to nail the concerns about Star Wars and Star Trek.  I don’t follow Dr. Who but the argument seems sound.  I don’t quite share the outrage level, but I think it can also apply to the latest Terminator and somewhat possibly Superman and so on.  Are they targeting the wrong audience, one that doesn’t exist for the material, at the expense of alienating an established fan base?  I don’t know. But there is a thoughtfully composed argument by Doomcock worth sharing as food for thought in any case.

 

Monologues

After college in the Nineties I had a good run of monologue writing, some of which I performed and most of them I cast others to play either at coffee houses or a college or on community access TV.  It felt natural, and I was about 26 years old so that might indicate it is what I should have kept pursuing as my vocation.  I like cinema too much but I am fairly happy with most of those monologues. I had wanted to do stand-up comedy but could not settle on a persona.  My own would be too bland.  Writing monologues is a satisfying exercise and it allows you to work with actors using simple production trappings and deal with each beat of the rant or scene and also have the experience of discovery and interpretation without the baggage of making a movie. It may also be handy for a performer to demonstrate the ability to plow through a whack of material in one take.

 

 

 

 

Do the Talent Thing

When I have a run-in with woke folks on social media, as recently happened in a writing group triggered by Stephen King saying that he doesn’t consider diversity – only talent – when deciding who and what films to nominate as a voting member of the Academy, what comes to mind are two movies: Alien (1979) and Do the Right Thing (1989).

I  fairness I’ll say right off the bat that the go-to terms like SJW, NPC, or Woke are not ideal designations or classifications for those with whom I clash but we make do with what we have at hand in the current state of discourse (a sorry state).  I might place myself just left of the middle of the political spectrum but have no respect for either the extreme right or extreme left.  That out of the way, onto the point.

A pivotal moment in Alien is when John Hurt’s character has been attacked and the crew want to bring him inside but Ripley says no as he should be quarantined and it could be a disaster to bring him in.  The (spoiler alert) android takes the position that the right, moral and compassionate thing to do is to let them in with John Hurt.  Ripley was the ranking officer on board and it was her call, but the android defies her for ostensibly humane reasons and opens the door.  The android in this case could be a stand-in for the Woke of today.  Ripley would be the more pragmatic left of center common person who was willing to make the hard choice and be viewed or judged as cold and insensitive.

In Do the Right Thing, the worst outcome is that (spoiler alert) Radio Raheem is choked while resisting arrest by police.  Before and after this movie, obviously police violence has claimed many lives. Arguably, the message alone is not the reason to respect the film. From the color scheme suggesting a single hot summer day to the performances to Earnest Dickerson’s achievement of images conceived by director Spike Lee.  The movie is seen as a soap box, but the filmmaking is the reason to celebrate it.  We still have the evils it depicts.  The inciting incident is that longtime patrol “Buggin’ Out” one day does a double-take to the wall of the Pizzeria (Sal’s) he has come to all his life and he is suddenly offended that there are only photos of Italian American celebrities framed up there despite the restaurant being located in Harlem.  He protests that there should be representation of black celebrities on the wall.

He stirs the pot to the point of initiating a boycott of Sal’s.  Most people don’t take him seriously. When Sal closes for the night, Buggin’ Out and Radio Raheem show up and implore him to let them in for a slice.  He is kind enough to do so, but Raheem has been radicalized by Buggin’ Out and he blasts the volume of his radio on the counter.  Sal asks him to turn it down but he turns it up more.  Sal sees that he is being tested and brings up his baseball bat again demanding the radio be turned off.  As a last resort, Sal bashed the radio and Raheem is devastated by this.  He leaps at Sal and tries to strangle him.  The fight makes its way into the street and police turn up and pull Raheem off of Sal and try to put him into their cruiser. Raheem resists and is choked out and collapses dead.  Spike Lee himself as Mookie the pizza delivery guy reacts by throwing a trash can through the pizzeria window. The film’s mumbling pyromaniac sneaks off and starts a fire.  Some discussion of the film, according to one of the commentary tracks may be divided between those who talk about the destruction of property and those who focus on the loss of life.  But the more interesting question is who should be held responsible.

Mookie’s actions were part of being eventually radicalized.  But by the time he is fifty, according to Spike’s movie Red Hook Summer, he will sill be delivering pizza for Sal.  Sal himself might be blamed by the Woke because of his refusal to change the photos of his Italian-owned Pizzeria and only including Itallians on the wall of fame.  It is my interpretation, regardless of Spike’s intentions, that Buggin’ Out is 100% responsible for the death of Radio Raheem.  Buggin’ Out has a loser complex and a chip on his shoulder which he believes he can fix by imposing his will on Sal and the loyal customers of the pizzeria. He has a sense of entitlement.  He is the self-righteous permanent victim who frankly would not be “represented” even if there were black celebrities on the wall because those celebrities would be winners quite unlike Buggin’ Out.  He would then have to vent his frustration elsewhere and torment or bully someone else.  When John Savage accidentally rolls a bike wheel over one of his sneakers, Buggin’ Out shows him the foot farthest away that could not have had the when roll over it.  He just wants to express outrage. That makes him the perfect representation of the self-styled Woke.

 

 

 

Is Writing Caring ?

It is said that writing exposes what we care about.  That might be true, though I’d love to deflect it.  In High School, my most active writing started out as love letters to a girl who turned out to be the last person on earth who should ever read those notes. I looked them over and found that there were some turns of phrase and some word play that I wanted to salvage, and from there started a habit of writing poems. Even got some of them published in a few poetry magazines. I had started out wanting to vent something or document a feeling or a state I was in, and eventually the best of it was what was least personal.  The shape, the sound or the presentation ended up being as important.

They say ride the horse in the direction it wants to go.  I say no, because form follows function: Unless riding itself is your goal you have a destination in mind and a need to get there. Travelling in the wrong direction, even to appease a collaborator, is not following your own instincts or drives. It may not hurt anything, but it will cause a delay.

I have been involved with enough screenwriting groups over the years that I know what it is like to get the wrong advice and be so open to options and insecure that I follow a dead end that costs months and valuable energy.

They say never look a gift horse in the mouth.  But I say no, because the lesson of the Trojan Horse should be don’t drag the bait into the gates of your fortress and endanger your community before making sure there is nothing hidden inside the offering.

Your favourite kind of dialogue may come from Neil Simon, John Hughes, Daniel Waters, or Diablo Cody where the word choices are memorable and snappy or quotable regardless of whether a person in real life circumstances would be so quick or articulate. Another person offering advice or feedback might want everything to sound like a transcript of the most banal conversation, something that only the presence and physically of an actor can breathe life into.

My preference is for the former, so I might have a run of dialogue that involves short lines back and forth with each line setting up the next and one might argue that the characters don’t have their own distinctive patter or quirky syntax. I don;t generally like to lay down accents too thick.  Variations on a line might be repeated. But sometimes what is special and of value and serves as your artistic expression can be suffocated by the supposed standards and preferences of someone who is merely regurgitating something they have read as a rule or supposed principle of the craft.

What can be objectively measured is the architecture of a story or plot.  I can crank out pages of dialogue easily. Very little of it would make the cut, and without an outline and knowing where it fits in the dialogue will be a show stopper.  Rewatching the 1982 movie Diner, I appreciate the cast and I can sit and listen with ease but I also know I would not lean toward making that kind of movie myself. Much of it included improvisation, and for me before using comic actors to get them riffing I would rather achieve that kind of patter by secretly recording real conversations and then transcribing them without all the broken sentences.  But even then, this approach in the screenplay itself would seem to take up excessive pages.

I admit caring that my credit for either writing or directing be something I can own with total honesty. That simple statement might rustle feathers, especially with so many shows using a “writer’s room” approach.  I would rather have someone say my writing is bad than take credit for someone else’ work.  And if I direct I am fussy about the frame and the cut.  If it alienates a cinematographer or an editor to be presented with storyboard drawings that I want to follow, so be it.  There is a point of view, even if the word vision sounds too pretentious.

Some people want a director or writer to just get out of the way and simply present situations that inform a crisis or an issue that needs media attention. People who like that sort of thing can comfort themselves with countless awards given in sympathy for those issues more than for appreciation of a movie’s aesthetics.

At the time of this post, I have been binge watching season three of The Expanse. It is both entertaining and able to include in its setting any concerns about politics, conscience, or diversity.  These things are part of the soup of the environs. The storytelling drives us through all of that so there is no tedious wallowing in spoon-fed messaging.  It is efficient, pure storytelling.

Another thing happening as I type this is that youtube is full of recitations and evaluations of a leaked December 2016 draft of Star Wars Episode IX called Duel of the Fates.  It also seems to be pure storytelling.  It was dated just before the death of Carrie Fisher at age 60.  Apparently, the director at the time Colin Trevorrow (Safety Not Guaranteed, Jurassic World) suggested having some scenes intended for Princess Leia be done by Luke Skywalker and that this would mean changing the ending of The last Jedi so that Luke would be alive. It seemed arbitrary that Luke vanished or discorporated at the end of The Last Jedi.  The more I hear about the production and resistance to having a male be the key leader the less pure the storytelling becomes and the less respect I have for the top-down Hollywood leadership when the top is not the director or writer.

I admit that caring about what adds up to movie trivia and behind-the-scenes politics means that my concerns are less focused on the larger injustices and ecological crisis of the world.  But I also know my limitations.  I know that I have little to bring as an environmental activist or advising on race relations. I would feel unqualified.  But mythology and character interplay, ultimately fun, are also worth caring about since they occupy time in an interesting way.  Some people do puzzles. I like to fuss over where an edit should land so it strengthens both shots. Much of that is intuitive, and so is the initial guess when planning it and I like to see my impulses vindicated at least within a craft.  I have cold feet about a few projects right now, so it is a matter of caring more about them than caring about my own discomfort in reaching out.

 

The Truth About Woody Allen (Part II)

The second part of the interview that summarizes much of the fact-checking on the Farrow saga. Lots of stuff I did not know. Please pass it on. Some people in high places could use the education.

This Mortal Coil

By Robert B. Weide

Screen Shot 2019-04-10 at 12.39.16 AM

For Part I of this interview CLICK HERE.


PM: You tweeted an offer to donate $100,000 to a charity of Ronan and Dylan Farrow’s choice if they could prove their accusations about Woody Allen. Was that just a publicity stunt?

RW: Not much of one, because I have a relatively small Twitter following. But the offer was real. I even called my accountant to make sure I could loosen up that kind of money if I had to. But I was trying to get Ronan to back up specific claims he made in a statement he put out on Twitter, all of which were entirely misleading or seemingly made up. I was asking for any documentation that could back up any of his claims. Of course, the offer met with radio silence. Too bad. If he had come through, I’m sure “Time’s Up” could have used…

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