In this post:
What We Can Learn From Movies
The Writers’ Strike – another perspective
Remaining on the subject of the silver screen, following Jim’s post about book-to-film/tv adaptations yesterday, it’s interesting the snippets of insight you can gain from watching a movie, especially when it comes to developing character, or having a sense of staging a scene. I tend to have those a-ha moments when listening to audio books too, but then it’s more of a sense of rhythm, and sometimes a fascination for the way a writer has strung together words to provide an image that touches me to the core. However, back to the movies. Last week we rented “Bobby,” written and directed by Emilio Estevez. I don’t know why I didn’t see it at the movie theater, because I really liked it. I enjoy movies where different characters are brought together in the same place at the same time, perhaps crossing paths with each other, perhaps not. “California Suite,” the film adaptation of Neil Simon’s play (Plaza Suite) was like that. I also like to watch the “Special Features” at the end of a rented movie – you never know what you might learn. This time, it was a comment from the wardrobe mistress (do they still call them by that old-fashioned name? Or are they costume designers?). She said that when each actor comes to her studio, to talk about their costumes for a movie, she asks them about their character. The question that tells her more about the charcter, that guides her in pulling together the costumes, is, “What do you have in your pocket?” Ooooohhhh, that’s a good question, I thought. I have various questions I ask myself about my characters, but that one was good, maybe better than, “What’s in her purse,” or “What’s in that briefcase he’s carrying.” Mind you, it made me think about my own pockets – in the dog-walking jacket: a poop bag, clutch of Kleenex (I’ve had The Cold), three Hall’s mentholyptus lozenges and a lip-salve.
I thought the next few paragraphs would provide a good addition to today’s offering from me. Without shame, I have taken an excerpt from a column by The Independent’s (British newspaper) Terence Blacker on the writers' strike here in America. Blacker is not only a columnist, but worked in publishing for some ten years and has written novels for both adults and children. Here’s what he has to say:
“The strike has been impressive on several levels. Writers are by nature competitive – when John Cheever wrote that "the rivalry among novelists is quite as intense as that among sopranos", he could have been referring to anyone who tries to put sentences together for a living. Yet the American writers' strike has been solid and pitilessly executed. Here, the approach would have been rather more nervous and tentative, starting with a work-to-rule restricting the use of metaphors and similes, escalating under pressure to something tougher – perhaps an all-out ban on adjectives.
But the American writers, in addition to arguing very sensibly that they are owed a decent share of any digital and downloading cash that may be going, have made a larger, incidental point. [Stephen} Colbert's joke about the teleprompter reading his thoughts and dictating them back to him has an element of truth. Until the strike, the ability to read or learn someone else's lines was invariably mistaken for genuine charm or intelligence.
Taking those words away has been a useful reminder. The various descriptions of TV interviewers and frontmen – witty, sincere, perceptive, hard-hitting, sympathetic – should really be presented in heavy inverted commas. An essential part of their act, the back legs of the donkey, was provided by a scurfy, unlovely writer. So were many of the thoughts, quips and insights of the celebrity guests.
The culture is now so enslaved to the image of things, their glossy surface, that even those who should know better fall for the illusion. A newspaper article commenting on the luck of authors whose books have been made into successful films – The Kite Runner, Atonement, No Country for Old Men – included a comment from a publisher who was thrilled that books were reaching a new audience.
As usual, the truth is being turned upside down. It is Hollywood and publishers who should be grateful – the films were successful because one day a person, sitting alone in his or her room, put together characters and a story that would later translate successfully to the screen. In fact, the fate of the Oscar ceremony, currently in the balance because of the strike, might serve as a useful metaphor for most of the entertainment business. Take away the writers, and all the gloss, fame and glamour that money can buy is as nothing.”
And I’ll leave you with that thought. In the meantime, what’s in your pocket – or in the pockets of your characters?
Have a great weekend!