Wednesday, February 23, 2011


Every place has it. Whether it's ancient mythology, babylonian lore, or egyptian hieroglyphs, every culture has a history that may or may not be untrue. The million dollar question--which I will not attempt in answering--is why? But why is always a long and rambling tale, with no up or down or black or white. Instead I'm wondering about where. Where is America's folklore? It exists. But where is it in American film? In American literature?

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford was a good try. So was Tall Tale--Hell, Tall Tale was probably the best try. But, I still feel like there's this massive pool of pure Americana Storytelling as weird as the moonshiners in the Smoky Mountains that needs to be tapped into.

Our greatest writers have always written about America and American things but never Americana. Code  heroes, drunkards, southern goths, Jay Gatsbys and Daisy Buchanans.  We've explored the West with the likes of the OK Corral and John Wayne but this is all individualistic narratives based on modern times. I'm talking about the John Henrys, the Paul Bunyons, and whoever owns that Big Blue Cow. Is that what Blue Monday is? A Big Blue Cow? Plus, the greatest shows of all, carnivals! Medicine shows! Those were full of narrative.

Avett Brothers. More American than you.

With the recent mainstream recognition of bands like The Avett Brothers and England's Mumford & Sons pumping "Americana" music into our homes during the Grammys--plus the rise of antiquity via the Hipsters--you would think that someone would have started exploring this. Water for Elephants is working it, but that's one book and one movie. But then again, sometimes that's all you need is one book and one movie.

It seems as though we're so young, as a culture, that we care more for forging our own folklore with our generation (Bob Dylan...) but I think it's important that we look at what's already there. We all learned about Johnny Appleseed for a reason. Let's expand on it. Let's run with it and create a story, a narrative, an identity of Early America beyond what's already been pounded into our heads since grade school: Revolution, Slavery, Civil Rights.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

They Don't Make 'em Like They Used To

Dorothy Malone from Written on the Wind fame.
Nope. They sure as Hell don't. The stars of now are extremely different than the stars of yore. How does a nation, a culture, go from idolizing Bogie and Bacall to Robert Downey Jr and Natalie Portman? I'm not knocking on those two in any way at all, it's just that...they're different. Very different. Although some might argue otherwise--to which I can understand, we haven't changed that much--but my point is they're different enough that when the two are compared there's a distance. A distance that isn't filled with the most positive of emotions. 

McQueen and Dunaway in Thomas Crown Affair
 Our stars are defined off the screen by their on screen persona. Steve McQueen was the king of cool, confident, and sure. He solved crimes and robbed banks with complete faith that everything was going to be fine. He was a man of action, little words,  and fast cars. We (men) envied his complete lack of insecurity, his stead fast self-assuredness. Women flocked to him for, what I can only guess are, the exact same reasons. He was a role model for boys on how to be a man.

No man has been able to wear a tux better than Steve McQueen.
 Faye Dunaway wasn't quite a man eater but wasn't Little Miss Innocent, either. Her persona was a wounded individual who had  the determination to get over her past. She wasn't afraid to make herself vulnerable , as she did in the Thomas Crown Affair and with Jack Nicholson in Chinatown. Yet, amongst the vulnerability and history, she was also a very confident woman. She played strong female leads where she talked slowly and deeply, making sure every vowel and syllable was understood by this man that she was slowly giving herself to. She carried herself with determination, she walked as if every step meant something. And, man, was she gorgeous.

"If a man is being honest, I mean really honest, than everything he does is for the sake of women." --Jack
But, a star's  persona is also determined by their artistic output. Jack Nicholson has never not played a character who either A. Doesn't drink, B. Doesn't smoke, or C. Doesn't have some kind of history. Combine that with his off screen "antics" and we get our idea of Jack: A wild man. But his consistently brilliant performances add a level of complexity and respect. He knows what he's doing.  He cares about what he's doing. And he's good at what he's doing. You can't not respect that.

Redford on the trail.
But, without these roles that have been written for them, these stars wouldn't be who they are to us. Imagine if Nicholson and McQueen switched roles. Would it work? God, no. Imagine if Robert Redford was never Butch Cassidy. Would you still like him if he bought that massive ranch in the middle of no where or would it add a level of "weirdness"? He'd be kind of weird if he started off in a contemporary role without the previous first impression, of him in one of the best Westerns ever created.

The writing of movies has changed. Screenwriters don't create Thomas Crown's any more. They don't create Travis Bickles or Sally Bowles. Instead our stars of today are more insecure, bitter, and angry at the way the world is. Our stars of today don't know what's going to happen tomorrow and sure as Hell don't know if it'll be good. Obviously, on a topical level, this can be blamed on the writers: why aren't we writing the characters of the greats? Why aren't we creating more romantic, charismatic, suave and secure characters to be blasted into the psyche's of today's youth? Why are we sitting here so pessimistic and bitter, self-indulgent and self-deprecating? 

Outdated? Maybe. But you can't beat talent. Show me a contemporary that can beat Minelli and I'll show you a liar.

But, at the same time, is it just us? Or is it the world around us? The culture we live in? Nobody's watching Cabaret anymore for a reason. The mass public will fall asleep within the first twenty minutes of The Shining, not just because of our incredible ADD-like rate of consumption (as compared to previous generations) but also because of our lack of empathy. We can't sympathize with those types of characters anymore. They're out of touch, outdates, antiquated. They may look brilliant, and their fashion may be making a comeback, but who they're characters are--as complex and real as they may be--no longer appreciated in our film vernacular. Give me the Cobb's in Inception; the Joker's in the Dark Knight. I don't want no slow talking and fast driving Steve McQueen. I want somebody who is energetic, ambitious, and feels as psychologically fucked up as I do. 

That just makes Steve McQueen seem...normal. And that's as good as sin in this business. 

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Kitchen Conversations

Dialogue that should never make it into a screenplay or play--but is totally worthy of being written.


Four twenty-something dudes sit around a small table, grabbing handfulls of monkey bread as they talk. Two girls sit on their respective boyfriends' laps. A couple empty bottles line up like soldiers.

BRYON.    Dude, what if they evolved?
KYLE.       They can't evolve that quick.
NATE.        I don't know, I think they can.
BRYON.    Yeah, I mean, how would they know how to get the cheese and not get killed by the trap?
MATT.      Luck. Mouse traps have been around for a while. They gotta be doing something right.
BRYON.   Exactly, they've been around long enough that they evolved to know how to get by them.
MATT.     That's bullshit. You can't evolve that quickly or to man-made objects.
NATE.      Yes, you can.
MATT.     No, you can't! That's like a baby being born and instinctively knowing how to use the computer. Like, an infant just crawling up and typing away.
KYLE.     What if that actually did happen? Babies evolving to know how to use computers.
MATT.    Kids would start getting sexualized a lot earlier.
NATE.     Yeah, you'd have to kick the parental settings up a notch.
MATT.     I learned way too much way too early from the Internet.
KYLE.     That explains a lot.
BRYON.  Still, I think they evolved.
KATE.     I think you guys just need to clean your damn kitchen.
LIZ.          Or get better mouse traps.
GUYS.     Nah.