Wednesday, August 5, 2015

"Something Interesting I Noticed While Watching 'Traninwreck'"

Interesting to me at least because the idea had never occurred to me before and new ideas are always illuminating, and therefore interesting. 

At least to some of us.

I liked Trainwreck more than I thought I would, as a result primarily of Amy Schumer’s unexpected vulnerability (underlined by the self-professed “Party Girl’s” sartorial modesty in the boudoir.)

There was also one explosively funny interlude, during which the film’s male lead Bill Hader engaged in a serious “One-on-One” confrontation on the basketball floor with the current greatest player in the game, Lebron James.  I call it “It” comedy, a style of comedy in which what transpires, rather than being a clever parody or a comedic “switch” is instead exactly what you expect is going to transpire.  Without flourish or fanfare, Hader is hilariously annihilated.

Which brings me – jumping over a lot of other stuff I could talk about but won’t – to what I suddenly noticed while I was watching the movie.

This observation may not rise to the level of a “Drumroll” situation.  But it is, I believe, noteworthy, and if there are drummers not occupied elsewhere who are willing to elevate the moment…  Nah.  It was just something that came up.

I believe the film process I am about to delineate began with comedian Jerry Lewis back in the late sixties or early seventies.  When he was directing a movie (in which he was also starring), Lewis ran a “Video Assist” camera accompanying the filming camera.  In this way, Lewis was able to look at the videotaped version of the filmed scene on a monitor and could immediately decide if he was happy with what he had shot.

The biggest question during the filmmaking process itself is, “Did we get it?”,  meaning, did we get the shot, did we get the performance.  Now in the “film only” era, you had to send the exposed film to the lab and the developed footage was not available for viewing for perhaps days. 

With “Video Assist”, you could see what you’d shot right away.  And thus determine on the spot whether to re-shoot, or instead announce the words that are music to every movie participant’s ears:

“Moving on.”

FRUSTRATED “LAWRENCE OF ARABIA” CAMEL:  “He’s had me trekking through the desert under the blistering sun for thirty-seven takes.  I swear to you.  I don’t know how else to do it!”

Do not grill me too closely on the technology here, but today, with the digital process , you no longer require a “Video Assist” camera.  In contrast to film, “shooting digital” means you can see the recently shot footage right away.  This is no big deal anymore.  You can do it on your telephone.  Not your landline.  The other kind.

I have no direct knowledge of what I am about to suggest.  But, judging by the results, it would appear to me that when Trainwreck’s Judd Apatow studies the  monitor, his concern is less “Did we get it?” than “Can we make this scene funnier?”

Then, with the help of the performers, many of whom in Trainwreck are comedians (Amy Schumer, Bill Hader, Colin Quinn, Dave Attell, Randall Park) and an accredited assemblage of comedy writers, Apatow reshoots again and again, adjusting or augmenting the dialogue until each scene is as hilarious as it can possibly be.

The result is, a funnier movie.  (If “more” inevitably means “funnier.”)

The unintended consequence, however,, and what I picked up while I was watching:

In an effort to cram each scene with as many jokes as possible – as if each scene were not part of the tapestry of the movie but instead a glimmering, stand-alone “Monument to Comedy”…

It shows.

The completed product is robbed of its rhythm and its identifiable pace.

Instructed to “Go for it!” by the director, these gifted comedians push their comedic mojos to the limit, scatter-shooting one wisecrack after another until they finally strike “gold.”  Sometimes, the process gets messy.  In Trainwreck, I identified two Game of Thrones references in the same picture. 

To succeed, a well-told story, like a band’s performance playlist, must be scrupulously modulated.  (Says Earlo.)  It is not helpful to blast out one tune after another.  It can’t all be “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”  You need an “Eleanor Rigby” sandwiched in between.

If a film script serves as only a “starting point” to be eventually super-sized with improvised one-liners, at some point the balance of the narrative will be diminished, generating a milieu of “Every punchline for itself!”  The audience leaves vaguely dissatisfied without entirely knowing why.

Maybe younger audiences nurtured on “Zap!  Zap!” video games are comfortable with this experience.  Me, I miss the classic construction of Ninotchka and Some Like It Hot.

Of course, it they’d had monitors to look at back then,

Those movies might have been funnier.

1 comment:

Ken Levine said...

The other result is that Apatow's movies are always way too long. You could take 45 minutes out of this movie and it would play way funnier.