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Justified (#110 of 25)

Understanding Screenwriting #110 Trance, Evil Dead, Admission, On the Road, & More

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Understanding Screenwriting #110: Trance, Evil Dead, Admission, On the Road, & More
Understanding Screenwriting #110: Trance, Evil Dead, Admission, On the Road, & More

Coming Up In This Column: Trance, Evil Dead, Admission, On the Road, Alice’s Restaurant, Justified, but first…

A Changing of the Guard: You may have noticed that Slant Magazine has been redesigned over the past few weeks. Prior to that, Keith Uhlich, the longtime editor of The House Next Door, moved up to Editor Emeritus status. Keith hornswoggled me into writing this column in 2008, and it’s turned out to be one of the most enjoyable professional experiences of my life. I’m going to miss him. I’m not sure if I ever mentioned it in the column, but it was Keith who found the stills for these pieces, including ones for very obscure films I used to throw into my writing just to test him. When a new column was posted, I felt like a little boy on Christmas morning opening packages to see what wonderful trinkets and gizmos Keith had found. Some, such as the Polish film posters for ’50s B movies, just made me laugh out loud.

In the reorganization I’ve ended up with Ed Gonzalez, Slant’s film editor and co-founder, as my editor. So far our collaboration seems to working very well, and I assume it will continue to do so. I’m looking forward to seeing what Ed comes up with in terms of stills. Yes, I know I should find them myself, but I’m an absolute Luddite about computers—I’m still surprised when all the words I write show up in more or less the right order in the column—and getting the pictures is way beyond me. I suppose I could learn, but I’m not convinced that at my age I could. Besides, who wants to forgo Christmas morning? And I have already laughed out loud a couple of times at what Ed’s come up with.

Fan Mail:

The one comment on #109 was from Rich Vaughn. His entire comment was “Henry King??? LOL.” This was in reference to my comments on King as a smart director who spent time with the screenwriters finding out what they intended. With the “???” I assume Rich is saying he is “Laughing Out Loud” at the idea of King as a good director. On other hand, he may be joining with me and such notable film historians as Kevin Brownlow and David Shepard who think King is the “Love of Our Lives.” Abbreviations can be confusing.

Understanding Screenwriting #92: Downton Abbey, Smash, Luck, & More

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Understanding Screenwriting #92: <em>Downton Abbey</em>, <em>Smash</em>, <em>Luck</em>, & More
Understanding Screenwriting #92: <em>Downton Abbey</em>, <em>Smash</em>, <em>Luck</em>, & More

Coming Up In This Column: Downton Abbey, Smash, Luck, CSI, Some Short Takes on Late Winter-Early Spring 2010 Television, but first…

Fan Mail: David Ehrenstein pointed out that Preston Struges as a writer “organizes chaos,” but isn’t that what all screenwriters do? Unless you have seen writers’ treatments and first draft screenplays, you have no idea how chaotic a lot of movies that seem so perfect started out. With Sturges of course, he is writing about chaos as well. I agree with David that Wiseman’s Model (1980) is a much better film than Crazy Horse. Model brilliantly raises the question of why we should think of the models as “models” for us to follow. And it suggests that—gasp—the media are not nearly as influential as they think they are.

Both David and Victor Schwartzman take up the issue of race in regard to Red Tails. I certainly agree with David that Intruder in the Dust (1949) is one of the great American films on the subject. I was not quite as taken with Shadows (1960), and I am assuming David is at least partially joking about Mandingo (1975), but it does show you how race can drive everybody crazy, including Hollywood filmmakers. I happen to have a fondness for Pinky (1949). Yes, yes, I know that Pinky, the light-skinned Negro girl, is played by a white girl, but look at the scene in the store where the attitude of the shopkeeper changes as soon as he is told she is black. That’s one of the best examples I know on film of showing everyday racism.

Victor raises the issue of the portrayal of black characters in older films. Yes, there is a lot of cringe-worthy stuff in those films. I remember when I was in the Navy in the early ’60s. One of my fellow officers and my best friend in the Navy was one of the few black officers at the time. I remember we would get old ’40s movies to show on board ship, and the wardroom would all be embarrassed when we would see some of the stuff with Willie Best and others in Vance’s presence. Time makes you rethink things.

Downton Abbey (2012. Written by Julian Fellowes. Season 2, 7 episodes, approximately 540 minutes.)

Ahh, it came back and nearly all was right with the world: You may remember that when the first season of Downton Abbey came along, I got so hooked into it so quickly I wasn’t able to take the usual kinds of notes I do when I am watching something on television. See US#70 for details. Well, this time I took a lot of notes. Don’t worry, I am not going to give you a complete summary of this season, tempting though it might be. What I am going to do, just because I like to be perverse from time to time, is start with the last twenty minutes or so of the 7th and last episode. What happened was that my wife and I were away in Palm Springs the night it was on. Since I had no idea if the hotel we stayed at got the new PBS station in Southern California, I set up my DVR to record it. As it turns out, the hotel did get the station and we did watch it there. But I was a little sloppy on taking notes, and when we got back to Los Angeles, I wanted to look at the last twenty minutes to make sure I had got stuff right. What struck me in looking at those twenty minutes for a second time is how well Fellowes does everything in this series.

Justified Recap Season 3, Episode 13, "Slaughterhouse"

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Justified Recap: Season 3, Episode 13, “Slaughterhouse”

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Justified Recap: Season 3, Episode 13, “Slaughterhouse”

The major criticism of Justified’s third season is that it’s included a few too many plot elements. Especially in its latter half, season three has been a nonstop cavalcade of conniving and double crossing, and as such has, at times, been too busy to truly resonate. This was especially the case in last week’s episode, which moved neatly from one plot point to another, wrapping up the story of the Bennett money. However, this week’s finale, “Slaughterhouse,” is the sort of episode that can prompt a reexamination of an entire season’s worth of themes and ideas. I’ve long suspected that Justified has been illustrating a point about the ultimate emptiness of its characters’ continual struggle against each other, but it’s also a dark and unsettling examination of our relationship with the past.

Justified Recap Season 3, Episode 12, ‘‘Coalition’‘

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Justified Recap: Season 3, Episode 12, ’’Coalition’’

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Justified Recap: Season 3, Episode 12, ’’Coalition’’

If Justified feels plot heavy of late, it’s out of necessity given the premise of the third season: A disparate bunch of criminals, lawmen, and mobsters fight it out for control of Harlan County crime following the death of Mags Bennett. As countless characters play their own angles and hatch their own plans, the season has been, at points, a tad bloated. Thematically, though, this makes sense, as the mess of plot elements is conspicuously juxtaposed against the whole lot of nothing it ultimately amounts to. The show’s making a pertinent point about the destabilizing force of power struggles. However, as this week’s episode, ’’Coalition,’’ rushes to bring most of the plot threads to a close, I wonder if this point is worth all of the excess clutter.

Justified Recap Season 3, Episode 11, "Measures"

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Justified Recap: Season 3, Episode 11, “Measures”

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Justified Recap: Season 3, Episode 11, “Measures”

An episode like “Measures” seemed inevitable at this point in Justified’s third season. Its role is simple: to set up the bloodshed coming in the final two episodes. This isn’t a criticism: There may not be much to say about “Measures” thematically, but the expectation of what’s to come creates more than enough tension to prop up the episode. It says perhaps even more about the season as a whole that episodes without clear through lines and ideas have become such a conspicuous rarity.