Coming Up In This Column: Super 8, Cars 2, Larry Crowne, Page One: Inside the New York Times, Follow Me Quietly, Desperate, The Malta Story, Some Late Spring-Early Summer Television 2011, but first…
Fan Mail: David Ehrenstein, to no one’s surprise, objected that I said that in The Tree of Life “The poetry overpowers the characters and story.” His point was that there should be room for a Cinema of Poetry. I agree there should be. The problem I had with the film is that Malick did not structure his poetry in as compelling a way as he could have. With a little more attention to connections via not only characters and story, but visually and thematically, the film would have been better.
Olaf Barthel raised several interesting points, specifically in regard to my references to Kubrick. He pointed out that the unreality of certain films, and it is true not only of Kubrick, is part of their artificial style. That’s true, but if the artificiality becomes distracting, then there is a problem. He suggested that the only way to solve the problem is for the filmmaker to do everything. I’d suggest the opposite. Kubrick tried to do everything, and it meant that he probably was not getting the collaborative input that can be so crucial to making a film.
A note for my Portuguese-reading fans. My book Understanding Screenwriting has now been translated into Portuguese. It was published in Brazil in May by the Zahar publishing company under the title Por Dentro do Roteiro. Erik de Castro, a former student of mine who is now a writer/director in Brazil, helped with the translation and tells me that one line is funnier in Portuguese than it was in English. I was making fun of Lucas’s silly names and wrote of Count Dooku “try saying that name out loud and not laughing.” In Portugeuse Dooku means something really dirty. In Brazil the name was translated in the subtitles as Dookan, but people heard it anyway and laughed.
This is the first official translation of one of my books. In the early ’90s there was an unofficial translation of Storytellers to the Nation: A History of American Television Writing. I found out about it from a student of mine. Maguy was a French woman who went back to Paris during one of the vacations. She was talking with some friends of hers from the Ecole Lumiere film school. When she mentioned she attended Los Angeles City College, one of her friends asked her if she knew me. She said she did, but asked how they happened to know of me. The friend said they were reading Storytellers in class. She asked if they were reading it in English. Many were, but the teacher had provided a French translation. Maguy asked to see it, so they went off to the library where it was on reserve. She read about five pages of it and later told me it made no sense at all. So that’s the French: they love Jerry Lewis, Sharon Stone, and me in a bad translation.
Super 8 (2011. Written by J.J. Abrams. 112 minutes)
The Tree of Kaboom: I saw this one two days after I saw Tree of Life (see US#76) and because of the similarities I was struck immediately at how much more textured this is than Tree. We are in small-town America, with a bunch of pre-teen boys, one of whose father is not perfect, and right away we are dealing with death. In this case, it is the mother of Joe Lamb, who will turn out to be our main character. She has died, and we see the ways people are grieving. The actions and emotions are much more specific than anything in Tree, as are the physical details of the town, the houses, the rooms, the streets. Film is a concrete medium not an abstract one, and the details here are very particular.