“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Sunday, October 26, 2003


We recommend New Yorker�s film issue. The New Yorker has shook off, mostly, the baleful influence of Pauline Kael � thank God � P.K.�s style and p.o.v. having the effect, on us, that mold has on a immune deficiency shut-in -- and has a real writer on films in Anthony Lane. We resisted Lane at first � what, another English critic at another major magazine? Wasn�t one James Wood enough? But luckily, Lane is a much better writer than Wood, and not so given to his own agenda � as Wood is given to judging everything under the viewpoint that Saul Bellow is the central novelist of our time � that he can�t lapse, happily, into spontaneous likes and dislikes. Too much eclecticism in a critic is bad � it shows a lack of that conscious impressionability that we presume must accompany the experience of however many years� worth of art. To remain an ing�nue after seeing five, ten years of films, you have to be as brainless as Rex Reed. However, too little willingness to depart from one�s ideology � too little willingness to grudge the surprises of pleasure � make a critic rigid. Only this kind of mental arteriosclerosis could explain, for instance, Wood�s displeasure, in his well known review of Delillo�s Underworld, that the novel was really good. Of Denby, the other critic, we can�t say anything good. We�ve never read him and liked it. He is one of those critics who grasps a clich� the way a child will grasp the guard-rail going up the stairs. He doesn�t have any aesthetic sense that he brings to films � that is, any more than the average guy who watches enough tv might house in his soul. In other words, he�s just another popcorn muncher. Most movie critics are.

Ever since Tina Brown organized the synergy between celebs and the New Yorker mystique (which is much like saying, ever since Stalin organized the collective farming in the Ukraine � it smoothes over a, to say the least, controverted history), the magazine has made an effort to pump out some good stuff re pop culture. Contra Renata Adler, the New Yorker isn�t dead, and the writing sometimes achieves a sprightliness reminiscent of the golden age. It is, at the very least, light years from the sycophantic dribble that Vanity Fair sprinkles on its half clothed ing�nues � who, in the moment of the camera flash, have already expended their little fame half lives, and are already on the way back to the dinner time theater. As for the breathy appreciations of flawless super stars, they are as inhuman as a car company�s press releases about next year�s models. At VF, its all merely the skin above the skull. I look at those stars, their skins as bumpless as nylon � and, one feels, as liable to a run if handled ungently -- and their hair � oh, to have the money to buy the shampoo to give my hair even a tenth of that bounce and body, as they say on the ads! and I simply want to dine on them. To eat all of them. Or to quote Thom Gunn's Moly:

"Into what bulk has method disappeared?

Like ham, streaked. I am gross---grey, gross, flap-eared.

The pale-lashed eyes my only human feature.
My teeth tear, tear. I am the snouted creature

That bites through anything, root, wire, or can.
If I was not afraid I'd eat a man. "

To return to the New Yorker -- there�s a profile of a screenwriting guru, who was represented in that stinker Spike Jonez film that wasted Meryl Streep � he�s the guy the Nicolas Cage character goes to when he�s stuck on his script. But we really liked best a piece by a Tad Friend � is there, really, a man named Tad Friend in L.A., and did he escape from some as yet undiscovered Nathaniel West manuscript? -- who provides a microscopic view of the fine art of screenwriting � which is all in getting credit. Here�s a good graf:

�Studios almost always want two things from a revision: it should "raise the stakes" and "make us care about the main character more." A script doctor often accomplishes both feats at once by adding what the director Sidney Lumet has called a "rubber ducky" scene: a backstory explaining that a character became cruel or troubled because his mother took a rubber ducky away from him when he was a little boy. (The standard rubber duckies are being orphaned, being orphaned and poor, having your wife die, and having a bad woman do you wrong.) The director Garry Marshall gave "Pretty Woman" a rubber ducky when he spruced up the scene in which Edward lolls in the bathtub with Vivian and reveals that his father left his mother for another woman when he was young, taking his money with him, after which the mother died. "I was very angry with him," Marshall has Edward say, explaining why he became a corporate raider and plundered his father's company. "It cost me ten thousand dollars in therapy to say that sentence: 'I was very angry with him.' " Marshall told me, "When the actors are both naked in the tub, it's a good time to do exposition-the audience listens."

That exposition, man. Gotta have that. And the rubber ducky thing, gotta have that. Actually, this explains almost half of the suck films I�ve ever seen.

Or this:

Every script bears traces of its procession of authors, like rings on a tree stump. Carl Gottlieb, one of the screenwriters of "Jaws," has been a W.G.A. arbiter more than thirty times. "Reading the first version of something like 'The Terminator' or 'The Hulk,' you say, 'Oh, I see-that's why they bought it,' " Gottlieb says. "By the third or fourth writer, they're punching the material sideways. Then, two or three writers after that, a writer introduces one or two ideas that really make it work, and you think, This is a terrific fucking script. Then you read draft No. 9, and think, O.K., the director has put his stamp on it. Then No. 10, and the main character has much longer speeches: Aha, this is where Schwarzenegger signed on and they had to make him happy. Then you read the final script, No. 12, the movie you see, and it's O.K., but, boy, you wish they'd shot No. 7 or No. 8. The problem is the people responsible for fabulous draft No. 7 didn't have to worry about casting it, or about having a big opening weekend, which requires explosions, shattering glass, exploitative nudity, and a lesbian scene that the lead actress can talk about on Leno."

I could keep quoting, until I reproduced the entire piece. Friend gives excellent graf. Trust me on this one. Read it.

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