I could begin this post three ways. Being too lazy to make up my mind, I shall include all three of them.
Beginning One: Ten or so years ago, I took a nighttime “extension” course at UCLA on “Constitutional Law”, wherein, among other landmark decisions, such as Brown v. Board of Education (1954) – abolishing segregation in public schools – and Roe v. Wade (1973) – you probably know that one – there was Loving v. Virginia (1967), a unanimous decision invalidating state laws, prohibiting marriage between members of different races, it’s constitutional “right to privacy” interpretation paving the way for subsequent decisions, involving the legal purchasing of contraceptives, the Roe decision itself, and, decades later, the rights of gay people to marry, “Loving” thus becoming the initial blow in a series of “It’s none of your damn business” adjudications.
So that’s “Beginning One.” Long but, I think, informative.
Beginning Two: Every year, members of the Writers Guild receive promotional material intended to win favor for the studios’ more prestigious releases, gunning for Oscars consideration. Not that all writers are in the Motion Picture Academy; we aren’t. But before the Oscars voting, there are the Writers Guild Awards. A victory there could enhance the film’s chances for a possible Oscars nomination, though not as reliably as winning a Golden Globes Award selected by a gaggle of Foreign Press sycophants but it’s something. Maybe. Who cares? I get free DVDs sent to the house. And also, occasionally, and more meaningfully from a writer’s perspective, published copies of the scripts.
“Beginning Two” – boring but illuminating. Somewhat.
Beginning Three: I really dislike reading the “For Your Consideration” screenplays they send out. The print size in annoyingly miniscule (to save money.) Besides that, there are tons of tedious screen directions – CUT TO: being the only one I can easily understand – plus my eyes water plowing through the reams of detailed description, more helpful to “Location Finders” than to yours truly. Most disappointingly, because the scripts we receive are literally stenographized replications of what appears on the screen, you don’t learn anything about screenwriting the way you would if the script included revised dialogue and strategic omissions from the final version. You are simply “reading a movie.” Which, the contrast in my appreciation reminds me, was written to be seen.
I kind of like “Beginning Three.” Because as fascinating as “Beginning One” and “Beginning Two” were, “Beginning Three” blends organically into what I am about to say. Which is,
Reading Loving – the screenplay, not the Supreme Court decision, which was interesting but “lawyerly”, was a warmly satisfying exception to my overall antipathy to reading screenplays. The script’s unassuming simplicity, mirroring the unassuming simplicity of its central characters, made me enjoy reading the screenplay, respond empathetically to the story’s central characters and admire respectfully the creative auspices behind the movie, who opted to eschew histrionical “fireworks” in favor of storytelling that is as believably natural as the pivotal characters being portrayed.
Destroying, in the process, however, any chances of Loving’s winning an Oscar because, despite the intensely dramatic nature of the narrative and the historic impact of the decision, nobody in the movie lost their minds, ran precariously amok or made long and impassioned orations.
They just calmly – and honestly – told the story.
The quintessential example (simultaneously encompassing the heart of the story and the tone of the storytelling):
The Lovings’ attorney is about to plead their case in front of the highest judicial body in the land.
THE LOVINGS’ ATTORNEY: “Is there anything you’d like me to say to the Supreme Court of the United States?”
RICHARD LOVING: “Yeah. You tell the judge I love my wife.”
An additional bonus, at least for me, is a moment in the script where the screenwriter pulls off a tickling “reversal” on the expectations of the audience.
SETTING UP THE MOMENT: The married Lovings and their children have secretly moved back to rural Virginia, risking, if caught, certain “hard time” incarceration. As a hobby, Richard Loving serves as a mechanic, helping his friend Raymond an amateur car racer partake in local “pick-up” competitions.
And then we have this:
Richard stands on a ladder hammering together a wooden frame against the doorway of one of the out buildings… Richard, from the vantage point of the ladder, sees Raymond’s car tearing towards the house. Dust flying.
Richard watches, but a panic slowly takes over. He slides off the ladder and runs towards the house.
RICHARD: “Bean! Call the boys. Peggy, take Meme inside.”
Richard runs down the drive to Raymond’s car.
The car slides to a stop in a cloud of dust. Raymond, climbs out, in a real hurry.
Richard arrives out of breath. His hands hit his knees.
RICHARD: “What is it?”
RAYMOND: “I got a message for you.”
RAYMOND: “That lawyer called. He says he needs to meet with y’all.”
Richard stands straight. He looks back at the house to hear Mildred calling the boys from the porch. His attention goes back to his friend.
RICHARD: “Raymond, why you driving so fast like that?”
RAYMOND: “What you mean? That’s how I always drive.”
Man, did I laugh.
Once again, it’s the old story. Did I like it ‘cause they did it right? Or did I like it ‘cause they did it the way I like it?
I don’t know. I just liked it.
And for me, liking reading a screenplay…
That’s quite an accomplishment.