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Monday, April 04, 2011

The Death of Story: Part 2

If you could have Steinbeck, would you trade for Dan Brown?

Dan Brown is undoubtedly a Storyteller, able to spin complete and interesting tales. "Literary writer," I would be hard-pressed to extend, exhibiting a style somewhere between historical fiction and service manual. Brown's film equivalent is possibly Michael Bay: a tactician, clearly masterful at directing big action, not as strong at . . everything below a roar. "Artful" would not be a primary description for either man. Both offer something many others can't.

In a world where you can have a John Steinbeck, are you satisfied with a sea of Dan Browns?

John Ford's adaptation of John Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath

The analogy isn't entirely apt because Dan Brown has a leg up on most: he knows how to write a complete story. Or a story at all.

Reality Gets It

As a producer, if drama can be had without employing a creative staff, ROI says invest in Reality over a laborious creative endeavor with all its potential headaches, hiccups, and lack of success in tow.

As a format, reality TV is keenly aware that mimicking classic storytelling elements, namely Character and Conflict, is the key to success. Conflict = drama. Character = drama.
As a consumer, watching reality TV's simple but deft use of conflict as drama and character conflict leading to drama begs the question: why doesn't Little or Big Film do such as well? Why instead is it more of the same flailing formula? Subpar once is subpar twice. Subpar is not suddenly going to become stellar.

As an artist, the question is plain and simple: why does Filmdustry resist going back to basics? Writing complete STORIES that involve 3-dimensional characters in relatable situations--be they in outer space or on a farm. Escapism is great. Existentialism is great. 90 minutes of poorly thought out filler or self-stroking touted as the everyman's inner struggle is not great.

Can films meet somewhere between Tolstoy and pop-up book? Dr. Seuss and __INSERT NAME HERE__?

The Outlook

James L. Brooks' Broadcast News
An early scene in James L Brook's *Broadcast News* shows Holly Hunter's character, a news producer, giving a lecture to fellow news people about news integrity and the sapping of news from the News. Losing the crowd, Jane (Hunter's character) skips to a clip to illustrate her point: instead of reporting on a major policy change in nuclear disarmament talks, footage from a Domino championship aired simultaneously on all major networks. The hall cheers at the footage while hastily shuffling out of her lecture.

"I know it's good film [footage].
I know it's fun. I like fun. It's just not news."

Rebutting her disinterested peers, Jane cries out:

"Well, you're lucky you love it --
you're going to get a lot more just like it."

To which a heckler mutters back, "Good."

And that is the state of Story and Film and Writing today.
Half-thoughts appears as news stories all over the internet. Articles get published online without seemingly having passed the Editorial Desk for content (forget copy-editing). And the entertainment world couldn't care less about quality. Art is not profitable.

What *Do* We Want?

James Joyce

Audiences can demand better films. And I believe they are, in a way, by rejecting all the old formats and models.

The industry could easily make better films by wanting to make better films instead of just tinfoil product or wafer-thin vanity projects.

We can all ask, "Where is this generation's Paddy Chayefsky?" Where are today's storytellers? Look at the magnificent and varied ouput in film from countries all over the world in the 1950s/60s. Fellini and Neorealism. Nouvelle Vague and Jean-Pierre Melville. Kurosawa, Teshigahara, Kobayashi. Bergman. Tarkovsky. Mikhail Kalatazov. Kubrick. Jules Dassin. David Lean. William Wyler. Billy Wilder. Stanley Kramer. Elia Kazan (Yes, Elia Kazan). To name a few. And US films from the 30s, 40s, and 70s are incredible. Excellence is not a illusion.

We can all ask, "Why aren't there more Miyazakis today?" More Jeunet et Caro? More Danny Boyles, Almodóvars, Tarantinos? Wes Andersons, PT Andersons, Charlie Kaufmans? Kusturicas, Zhang Yimou? Why are these such special and rare cases?
Why do we make them such special and rare cases?

Or we can give up, lower expectations, continue the downward slide, and maintain the new status quo.

In which case, all I can say is:
I hope you love it because you're going to get a lot more like it.

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