Wednesday, May 23, 2018

"Go Easy On The 'Bad'"

What immediately comes to mind is the childrearing expert who, when expressing his professional opinion about spanking children proclaimed,

“If you promise never to spank your child you will end up spanking them just the proper amount.”

Having promised – myself– never to call a movie I don’t like “bad”, I believe I have called movies I don’t like bad “just the proper amount.” 

That amount being less often than if I had made no promise in that direction at all.

(Note:  There’s a lot to be said for that “spanking” rationale. The number of spanking episodes goes down, making your children less likely to abandon you when you’re old.  Which is ultimately all it’s about, isn’t it?)

Anyway… recent exception...

When exiting the theater recently, after seeing Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs, which we did not care for, I heard my disgruntled voice say,

“That movie was bad.”

Wait.  Can I stop for a minute?  Thank you.

We don’t see closeto as many movies as we used to.  Let’s leave out “Why?” for this outing and go straight to the consequence.  The consequence being that when, on those, now, infrequent occasions when we dogo to a movie, and we don’t like it, we inevitably get angry. It’s like,

“We decide to show up, and you reward us with that?

I just wanted to throw that in.  The fewer movies you attend, every screened clunker exerts a disproportionate negative impact.  

“I ate an achovy once, and I hated it.  (Batting average for “Anchovy Appreciation” – Zero.)

“I’ve eaten hundredsof anchovies.  And I have only hated, like, 78 of them.”

I will not mess with the math there.  (And not only because I can’t.)  But you see what I’m saying?  The smaller the sample size, the heavier the weight on each anchovy.  Or attended movie.  Or dating women with red hair.  Or whatever.

Okay, back to wherever I was.   Which was where?  Oh yeah.

I’m a professional writer. 

Wait, no.  First this.

No, forget that.

I’m a professional writer. Wait.  I just flashed on a meeting I had with the manager of the star of a show I developed about a Marine, and as it turns out, the manager himself had been a Marine.  In the course of our less than amicable conversation, the manager said, “Now, putting on my ‘Comedy’ hat…”  And I thought, “Wait.  I don’t have a “Marine” hat.  Because I did not earnone.  When did this bird get a “Comedy” hat?  (“I took it off a dead funny PLACE NAME OF MARINE BATTLEFIELD OPPONENT HERE.”) Because he’d certainly not earned one.      

I may have belabored that distinction just to get in the “hat” story.  (I keep mistakenly typing the “hate” story.  I wonder why that is.)  Anyway, through time and experience, I have paid my dues acquiring a ”Writer’s” hat. (With a comedy “Cluster.”)  Resulting in an area of assessment where I can authoritatively adjudge a movie as to being “good” or “bad.”  That area of assessment involves specifically, 

“How successfully did the film’s writer execute their story?”

And that’s it.  Beyond that, my opinion of a movie is no better or worse than anyone else’s.

A professional writer, evaluating the storytelling.  How can I reliably do that?  Because I have learned over the years that, whatever the subject matter, storytelling itself does not essentially change.

In our culture, throughout history, good storytelling conforms to an unwavering narrative template.  I mean, think of the Bible – Samson, David and Goliath, Jesus – crucified and comes back? – Who the heck saw thatcoming?  There is no question.  Those Bible stories really hold up!  Why? Because they unfold generically “the right way.”  

The way that consistently works.

The “right way” may vary between cultures.  (Or it may not.  I am only familiar with one culture.)  But, in thisculture at least, a right and wrong way of telling a story actually exists.  (See:  Joseph Campbell’s theory of mythological storytelling.)  (Confession: I once found its delineated parameters overly constricting.  But now I am entirely on board.  What changed?  The experience of telling 2600 stories in this venue.  The best ones seem to organically shape themselves.)

Signals of substandard storytelling include:  Logical plot holes – as distinguished from pot holes – inconsistencies in the characters’ behavior, unclearstorytelling, excessive length due to cluttering extraneities, an unsteady climactic build-up, an unsatisfying resolution – any or allof these elements, and others I cannot currently access – a meandering self-indulgence, though I’d go easy onthatone –producing a leaky ship of a narrative approach. 

Untutored moviegoers simply react with their gut.  Yet their verbalized reactions – “It was good; it was bad” – reflect a, to me, misplaced and unjustified, evaluative response.

Why not just, “I liked it” or “I didn’t like it”?    
No one can say to those reactions, “No, you didn’t.”  Or tell you, “You’re wrong.”  

“I’m ‘wrong’ about what I don’t like?  Well you know what else I don’t like?  You!

People have differing reactions – imagine that. But, whereveryou stand, “good” or “bad” has likely nothing to do with it.

Final point.

If saying “That was bad” is simply your colorful way of saying, “I didn’t like it”,

Never mind.

But if you really meant it was bad,

Maybe you’re spanking that child just a little too often. 

1 comment:

Wendy M. Grossman said...

What didn't you like about ISLE OF DOGS?