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Safety Not Guaranteed (#110 of 3)

Understanding Screenwriting #97: Snow White and the Huntsman, Brave, Bernie, & More

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Understanding Screenwriting #97: <em>Snow White and the Huntsman</em>, <em>Brave</em>, <em>Bernie</em>, & More
Understanding Screenwriting #97: <em>Snow White and the Huntsman</em>, <em>Brave</em>, <em>Bernie</em>, & More

Coming Up in This Column: Snow White and the Huntsman; Brave; Turn Me on, Dammit!; Peace, Love, & Misunderstanding; Safety Not Guaranteed; Bernie,; An Appreciation: Richard Zanuck; Two Semi-Appreciations: Andrew Sarris and Nora Ephron; The Conspirator; Bunheads, but first…

Fan Mail: Generally by the time Keith posts one column I have the next one written. I then wait a couple of days to read the comments, add my comments in this “Fan Mail” section and send it. On #95 I sent it off without yet having seen the very interesting comments by “DevilMonkey.” He had been sent a link to that column by a friend who thought that since DM didn’t like superhero movies, “it’s practically made to order for you.” DM thought that column was merely “okay,” but since he remembered reading my book Understanding Screenwriting, he decided to read some of the past columns and ended up reading all of them. That’s above and beyond the call of duty, and if I gave out medals DM would get one.

He particularly liked the Sturges Project and would like to see me do one on Billy Wilder. The advantage to doing Sturges that way is that he had that four-year period of great creativity, while Wilder was wonderful off and on for thirty years. But there are some Wilder films I really want to do. I got a DVD a couple of years ago of Ace in the Hole (1951) that I still have not watched and that I want to do in the column. What other Wilder films to pick? The list goes on and on.

DM raised the very interesting point that I have not done a lot of films from the ’60s and ’70s. He asks, “Is it a silent commentary on your sentiments about films from that era, a matter of personal taste, or just a question of priority and time?” I first wrote that the answer is all of the above, which is usually the best answer to a question like that. But I do like films of the ’60s and ’70s very much. Lawrence of Arabia (1962, and covered in depth in my Understanding Screenwriting book) and Fellini’s 8-1/2 (1963) are two of my favorite movies. And of course Coppola’s two, The Godfather (1972) and The Conversation (1974). I think part of the reason I had not dealt with the films of those two decades is that I dealt with them a lot both as a historian and writer (look at the Annotated Study list in my 1982 Screenwriting book) and as a teacher. At one of Coppola’s many bankruptcy auctions we picked up a gorgeous 35mm print of The Conversation, which I showed nearly every semester for thirty years. I covered several films from the period in my screenwriting class, showing them in sequences over the course of the semester and discussing them in screenwriting terms. So I sort of felt I had dealt with those. But I still have my notes. And scripts for some of them. Did you know that the “dream scene” of Harry and the wife (Cindy Williams) in The Conversation was a “real” scene in the screenplay? Or that Harry originally had a wicked sense of humor? So now that DM has provoked me, you may look forward to more films from the ’60s and ’70s.

Oh, like any good writer, DM saved the punchline until last: it turns out he had not read the book Understanding Screenwriting at all, but something with a similar title. I assume he is making up for that lack in his life even as we speak.

And now, on to the comments on #96: Matt Maul had a different reading of the last scene of the season finale of Mad Men. Matt thought that Don was walking away from the commercial shoot unhappy rather than satisfied. I am not sure there is the visual evidence for that in the shot, but it’s perfectly possible to read it that way. Which is the sort of ambiguity that we love about the show. David Ehrenstein noted that they did give the black secretary a nice scene with Peggy. It was a nice scene, but I still wish there had been more of them. Ah, well, that’s what next season is for. Maybe she’ll become romantically involved with Don. Or with Joan.

Snow White and the Huntsman (2012. Screenplay by Evan Daugherty and John Lee Hancock and Hossein Amini, screen story by Evan Daugherty. 127 minutes.)

This is the script Tarsem Singh should have directed: You may remember that one reason I whacked Mirror, Mirror in US#94 is that I did not think Tarsem Singh was the right director for it. He did not handle the comedy well, and the producers hadn’t provided enough production values to make it live up to his visual sense. There is hardly any comedy in this script, and the producers give the director Rupert Sanders the kind of production values Singh would work wonders with. Sanders works enough wonders that when I first saw the trailer, I assumed it was Singh’s film.

Filmfest Munich 2012

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Filmfest Munich 2012

Filmopolis

Filmfest Munich 2012

One of the girls in front of me asked aloud, “So, who’s that old lady with the red hair?” They didn’t know it was Ingrid Caven, one of the great German actresses, once married to Rainer Werner Fassbinder and now passing by us on her way to give a talk at this year’s Filmfest Munich. The girls had come to see James Franco, who was at the festival to present three of his “weird artsy films”—films they would watch in spite of never understanding. This is what Filmfest Munich, the eclectic, hyperactive little sister of the Berlinale, is about: Focused mainly on being an audience-pleaser, it provides no real leitmotif or focus, leaving plenty of room for personal interpretation, and sometimes wonder.

One of those controversial festival choices this year was the Cinemerit Award that was given to Melanie Griffith for her lifetime achievement. And as Isabella Rossellini rightfully mentioned in Late Bloomers, once you start receiving lifetime achievement awards, it means you’re done. We’ve heard little from Griffith in years, at least on an international level, not since her notable performance in John Waters’s Cecil B. Demented 12 years ago, so eyebrows were raised (metaphorically speaking, as Munich is also a hot spot for Botox injections) when it was announced that she would be this year’s recipient, succeeding John Malkovich. But Griffith brought some glamour to the boiling hot Bavarian city and added to the festival hype. As did the perpetually sleepy-eyed Franco, who drew quite a crowd when introducing and talking about his films. His audience mostly consisted of fangirls, but his heartthrob persona admirably drew people to films that are normally only of interest to the nerdiest of cineastes.