Sometimes, when I am listening to “Books-on-Tape”, I rewrite the writer I am listening to.
I imagine better words the writer could have used, as perhaps a writer reading this post might imagine a more evocative choice than the word “better.”
In a similar fashion, reading a recent article in the newspaper explaining why Sandra Bullock’s newly released Our Brand Is Crisis and other recent politically-themed movies have tanked at the box office, I immediately “rewrote” the article to include what the writer of the article had erroneously left out.
Though he made several credible points on the subject, the writer excluded the most salient explanation for those movies’ failure. (Which, to me, is a serious oversight. “We caught fish; we ignored Moby Dick.”)
I now strategically digress to tell a story about the time (now Senator) Al Franken threw a pencil at me. (A particularly pointy one.)
During a rewrite session for the show Lateline, (now Senator) Al pitched a joke in which one of the characters explains, “It depends upon what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is”, echoing the rationalization popularized by then President Clinton concerning the “Lewinsky Affair”, (in which “affair” has two meanings, unless, according to President Clinton, it doesn’t.)
The room of writers laughed uproariously at Al’s joke. But I didn’t. Not because it wasn’t funny, but because he was intending to insert it into the script, a decision, as the show’s Executive Consultant, I wholeheartedly disagreed with, and I advised sagely,
“Don’t do that.”
At which point, a Number 2 pencil went whizzing past my ear.
My rationale for excluding the line from the script was that, unlike Saturday Night Live (on which Franken originally came to prominence) where you could instantly satirize current occurrences, the comparative “lag-time” for a half-hour comedy episode – from production to ultimate broadcast – could be weeks, or possibly months, making a once-meaningful reference now substantially in the past sound terminally lame.
I did not want that to happen.
In hindsight, there was probably a more effective manner of voicing my objection than saying, “Don’t do that.” After ducking the pencil, I was clearly not in a mood to delineate my rationale. Nor did the irate projectile flinger appear open to persuasion.
I resuscitate that anecdote to explain that as accurate as my critique was – and still is –for series comedy,
It is a hundred-fold more accurate for movies.
From their inception to their release, movies take a year or often longer to reach their audience. By then, the “Ship of Essential Timeliness” has sailed, meaning that, unless you are a really good guesser into the future, what you wind up delivering is demonstrably “old meat.”
With its concomitant aroma.
Yes, there is definitely the problem: “Movies can’t possibly compete with ‘The Real Thing’”, as the journalist argued correctly in his article.
But the real problem is “Now.”
Another point left unmentioned is that with today’s polarized electorate, supplemented by a cynical cohort that has rejected politics entirely, it is difficult to make a movie with which a substantial portion of the audience will agree.
Idealism is out of fashion. You can no longer premise a movie on: “The system’s not perfect, but with the ‘right people’ involved, it can still work.” (A la Mr. Smith Goes To Washington.)
In our time, both the Left and the Right believe that the “system” itself is messed up. And the cynics believe it always was. (“Though, man! – Nothing like today. Except for the Civil War. And the constitutional turmoil threatening to tear the emerging nation apart. But it’s still pretty bad.”)
On the other hand, if a movie does not end up championing at least some level of hopefulness, it’s going to feel like a “downer.” (Even if it’s true. Especially if it’s true.)
What you are then left with is a film with an upbeat resolution that nobody believes.
No wonder nobody’s going!
It is easy to throw spitballs from the “Peanut Gallery.” A journalist writes an article, they have a deadline – they do the best that they can. The last thing they need is someone like me saying they missed the most salient point. (Or points, because I mentioned another one he didn’t.)
I should probably not do that.
What else am I supposed to do?