Thursday, May 4, 2017

"The Elusive Enterprise - Or Is It 'Exercise', I Know It Starts With An 'E' - Of Writing In The Movies"

Their Finest, a seemingly “can’t miss” idea for a movie, let me down on numerous directions, although it got a 94% rating in Rotten Tomatoes, making me skeptically suspicious about those tomatoes.  Apparently, only 6% saw the same disappointing movie I saw, the 94% inconceivably missing the boat.

When are we going to stop relying on polling?

Dr. M and I walked to that movie.  After seeing it, I not only wanted my money back, I wanted my walk back as well.  And we still had to walk back to the house.

The highly promising premise of Their Finest concerns a tripartite team of screenwriters during the London “Blitz” toiling dutifully over a script for a War Office-demanded “uplifting” picture concerning the valiant evacuation of the beleaguered British forces at Dunkirk. 

I shall not discuss the film’s numerous deficiencies, as I am hardly a film critic.  And besides, who wants to offend a 94% movie-rating majority?  (Who happen on this occasion to be wrong.) 

This post isn’t about that.

This post is about how the movies always – with a single glorious exception, which I shall delineate forthwith – utterly – and may I add “laughably”, but not in a good way – fail to convey the essential nature of “The Writing Experience” to the unknowing moviegoing audience.

Movies are incapable of portraying what it actually feels like to write.  The best Their Finest could pull of was a depiction what it actually feels like to type. 

“The Writing Experience” itself is maddeningly undramatizable.  I will tell you how difficult it is.  Even writers can’t accurately communicate what they do.  Although, in all honesty, they’re the only people who have tried to.  Maybe they’re too “close” to the elusive experience and they should give plumbers a shot at it instead.

PROFESSIONAL PLUMBER:  “By the way, they don’t get ‘plumbing’ right in movies either.  To them, it’s all ‘giant wrenches and visible butt cracks’.”

I would say they should give up attempting to portray “The Writing Experience” in movies.  Except that once, they portrayed it to absolute perfection.

In a 1968 movie entitled Bye Bye Braverman.  (Written by Herb Sargent, based on a novel by Wallace Markfield.)

Bye Bye Braverman centers on a quartet of less than successful New York Jewish intellectuals, traveling together to attend the funeral of their late intimate friend “Braverman” arriving at a different funeral instead, before belatedly reaching their appointed destination.

The character who most convincingly reproduced “The Writing Experience” on the silver screen:  a freelance book reviewer, played by character actor Sorrell Booke who’d go on to fame and fortune portraying “Boss Hogg” on the hit show, The Dukes of Hazzard.  (1979-1985)

(Confessional Disclaimer:  I have not seen Bye Bye Braverman in forty-nine years.  The following, like those sports announcers who were not actually at the game, receiving instead teletyped summaries of the action, is a dramatized “recreation of events”, although the scene’s ambient tone and ultimate “payoff” are reliably correct.)

In this quintessential sequence, we see “Holly Levine” confined punitively in front of his typewriter, a petulant child forced to stay at the table until he finishes his dinner, his tortured demeanor screaming “Writer’s Block”, and its inescapable corollary:

“‘Writing’ equals ‘desperately needed rent money.’”

The guy can’t seem to get started.  He takes an insecure stab at an opening sentence, despises what he’s come up with, rips the offending putrescence out of his typewriter, crumples and tosses it into a wastebasket, and agonizingly tries again.

And again.

And again.

And again.

And again.

Nothing comes close to making the qualitative grade.  The poor guy appears utterly defeated, a failed writer pondering alterative way of making a living.  He looks convincingly suicidal.  But he’s not.  I mean, what if he mistakenly committed serious woundicide instead?

Finally – I forget exactly what turns him around – he is infused with a bolstering gust of creative inspiration.  The resuscitated writer types furiously away, his reenergized fingers attacking the keyboard, his radiant face a blossoming billboard of personal satisfaction.

“Certainly blah-blah-blah, blah-blah-blah”, and so forth.

He completes his extended opening sentence.  He reads over his work.

“Certainly blah-blah-blah, blah-blah-blah”, and so forth…

And, like the Lord after the First Day of Creation,

He Saw that it was Good.

He gets up from the table, ready to reward himself for his successful breakthrough, certain the remainder of his review will come naturally and easily.  He goes to the refrigerator, takes out a Pepsi, retrieves a bottle opener, and just as he’s about to pop the cap… he slowly looks up, uttering, a single word that sends his new-found confidence crashing shatteringly to the ground.


That’s writing.

And it was the one time I ever saw it done right.


FFS said...

I guess I have underestimated the difficulty. I thought it was a two step process. First, think about things. Second, write about them.
I'm sure I saw this process described somewhere.

JED said...

Something I've always wondered about in the depiction of writing in movies and on TV is whether all the writing really takes place at the keyboard. I've seen some depictions where the writer dictates his ideas, too. Is that the way it really is? Or do you sit in a chair or walk and then the idea comes and you race to write it down before it escapes? I guess it would be dificult to show the writer playing around with ideas and phrasing in their head so they have to show the writer doing something.

Do you only think about these blog posts while you're at the keyboard? Do you carry a notebook or recorder during your daily activities or on your walks?