Coming Up in This Column: The King's Speech, Tangled, Get Him to the Greek, In Love and War, but first…
Fan Mail: Well, I spoke too soon, didn't I when I said the prospects of a "lively discussion" of the Hero's Journey "sort of fizzled." I am sorry it developed into a hissing contest between David Ehrenstein and "Juicer 243," but they both made some good points first. As you know, I am more in tune with David's view of the HJ than Juicer's. Juicer seems to think it can apply to any movie, but he picked the three I mentioned that might fit, while ignoring the longer list of ones where the HJ does not seem to apply. Juicer seemed to assume that the writers of Citizen Kane (1941), Lawrence of Arabia (1962), and Fellini's 8 ½ (1963) were all students of the HJ, but none of them probably had ever heard of it. They were simply trying to make the most entertaining films they could. They succeeded, of course.
Juicer is also upset that I used the term "doctrinaire" about the HJ and uses the three films mentioned above as showing how creative the writers can be while seeming to fit their work into the pattern. The problem I have with a lot of screenwriting advice is that it is given and, worse, accepted as doctrine. Having taught screenwriting for forty years, I cannot tell you the number of students I have had that insisted they had to follow either the HJ, or Syd Field's structure, or some other system. If the HJ helps you (and I was just talking this past week to a former student of mine who felt she learned a lot from Christopher Vogler's book about it), then fine, but let's not assume that is the only way to go.
While David and I agree about the HJ, we obviously disagree on Morocco (1930). He quotes the Fritz Lang line about how a screenplay is writing and a movie is pictures, as in, "Moving pictures they call them." Well, yeah, but they need something more than just pretty pictures that move. If it were enough that you have beautiful pictures nicely cut together, Ryan's Daughter (1970) would be the best movie of all time, hands down.
"Torontomovieguy" says he finds the column entertaining, "but I can't say I better understand a damn thing about screenwriting because of it." I suspect he is looking for the kind of truths the gurus like Field and Campbell et al provide, as in "The First Plot Point Should Be Between Pages 25 and 27." This homey don't do that. My approach is to see what we can tease out about screenwriting from watching films. So my tendency, as Juicer discovered, is not the Great Truths category but in looking at scripts and films with subtlety and nuance. I do agree with Toronto that the column, as all criticism is, is subjective. Guilty as charged on that one.