The Script Doctor Will See You Now
“But, James,” you say, exasperated, while you wait in vain for the newly reborn Harvey “Phoenix” Weinstein to return your call. “You incessantly bitch about the poor quality of the films in the running for the Oscar this year. If you’re so good, how come you’re not up there yourself? And, by the way, OMG! I loved The Artist, you are so wrong about that!”
And you are quite right, except I take exception to one part of your comment in particular because it reminds me of a spat I had with an Indian director I rewrote a script for back in the latter part of the last century. “If you’re so good,” she hissed, “Why aren’t you in Hollywood?”
“You really don’t get it,” I hissed right back. Defending script rewrites is a blood sport.
For many Indians in the pre-New India, when the country’s self-esteem in general was at an all-time low, being a white man working there meant you were somehow defective. “You have to be a misfit in the West to fit into India,” was the proud saying among the Goa hippies, until they were paved over and gentrified by yuppies from Mumbai and Delhi. That I understood and loved India’s potential before she herself grasped it was never an argument I could use to convince them I wasn’t subpar.
Now that I have placed myself firmly on higher ground as an underappreciated visionary and artiste, let me offer a few tongue-in-cheek but hopefully thought-provoking changes I would have made to this year’s Best Picture nominees had I been invited to remake them:
The silent thing is a cute, audacious gimmick that allows the French co-stars to hide their real nationality and creates the illusion they are American, and also provides for something of a twist ending. But history doesn’t side with the notion that European stars like Jean Dujardin’s character lost favor with audiences when the talkies came around just because they had a foreign accents; stars sink beneath the shifting tides of popularity all the time, for different reasons.
Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo made the transition from silent to sound. Even though Maurice Chevalier wasn’t a major star in the silent era, he still cranked out films then, and blossomed even more when people could hear his accent. And what about Charles Boyer?
Another massive problem is the ending. Neither Dujardin nor Bérénice Bejo can dance fluidly, and audiences back then were quite savvy about tap and all manner of ballroom dancing; it was one of the main forms of entertainment. The idea that they would save his career by turning him into a Fred Astaire is ridiculous; Dujardin has two left feet, and Bejo looks like she’s deliberately spoofing Ruby Keeler for a laugh.
Perhaps now you understand some of my problems with The Artist. So when you do finally get Harvey on the phone, you can explain that when the entire premise of a film is grossly inaccurate and unlikely, it ruins it for me.
What changes would Script Doctor Killough make? Kill the twist, kill the final dance sequence. I know, I know: you loved the ending; it was almost the best part. But the studio and I have decided that the American remake of The Artist should be a cross between Mel Brooks’ Silent Movie and Little Big Man.
This is our new, higher concept: via some plot device, such as an interview with a journalist in the 60s, an elderly Dujardin—now covered in a totally believable wrinkle pack like the one Marion Cotillard (another Frenchie) sported in La Vie en Rose—reminisces about his days as a silent movie star before he became Governor of California. It’s only then, after his political career is stopped short in its tracks because of the xenophobic law that prohibits even competent people who were born on foreign soil from becoming President, that we exploit the pathos of his Frenchness.
We will intercut between the modern era, which will be in color and sound, and the flashbacks of the silent, black-and-white footage, which will be shot kind of the way the film is right now, but with more money decked for production design and a bit of a trim all around. Like, forty-five minutes of trim.
I am loving this new concept. It has scope, as they say over at Paramount.
First of all, Clooney is way overrated in this, and his character is completely overshadowed by his eldest daughter. Why? Because this movie should have been about teens. We lost a massive Twilight opportunity at the box office by centering it around a middle-aged man with rather banal marital problems played by an actor who doesn’t look like he’s had a seriously bad day in his life. It should be about the teen girl and her relationship with the sexy dumb jock surfer dude, who is the kind of guy I would have totally lost my shit for in an unseemly, irrational way when I was their age.
As I mentioned in my review, Alexander Payne has a gift for shooting gorgeous locations indifferently. I don’t care that he makes it clear in the beginning of the film that this isn’t the clichéd paradisiacal Hawaii, but rather an insider’s Hawaii. This is the movies, dude: the only place for ugly is behind the camera. Just because something is prosaic doesn’t mean it has to be blah. Even when you were trying evoke a sense of gorgeousness deliberately with that wide shot from the hill overlooking the private beach the family owns, you managed to make it look like the background of a happy snap taken by a tourist visiting Malibu.
I would like to see this remade as a cross between Endless Love and Juno, with the adults in the background like drooping palm trees.
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close:
Listen, it’s fine to have someone with Aspergers as a prominent character in a film, like Dustin Hoffman in Rainman—Aspies people are even quirkier and more adorable than gay best friends—but he can’t be the protagonist. We can’t pin our hopes and aspirations on someone so strange. Tom Cruise is the protagonist.
So, in Dr. Killough’s rewrite, we have a new hero, a twelve-year-old Cruise, who is likewise affected by 9/11 to the extent he takes pity on the Aspergers kid in his class whose dad died when the Towers came down, who he has hitherto teased mercilessly. He helps the kid solve the mystery of the key in true Hardy Boys style. Big character arc right there.
In general, we need to tone down the vast menagerie of even weirder New York types in the film, whom the unlikely but lovable new best friends meet on their journey to find what the mystery key opens (I can’t even comment on how disappointing that revelation is in the story). This superfluous-eccentric-character removal includes grandpa Max von Sydow: enough already with the damaged and the sad and scrounging for interesting ways to portray them.
I know, we shouldn’t take too many liberties because this is an adaptation of a respected novel, which I couldn’t finish because the narrator’s voice was so irritating. But let’s face it, nobody read it. And this certainly wouldn’t be the first time producer Scott Rudin bought the rights to a book and then fucked over the writer. Rudin gets particularly aroused when he makes you cry.
I haven’t seen this, but I want it to be more The Color Purple meets The Ten Commandments. It should be completely about blacks. The whites should be represented like the adults in Charlie Brown animated cartoons: just squawking nonsense off screen. It’s a perfect way to represent white Southern women because that’s what they actually sound like.
Reimaging this script set me thinking about what sort of films we Gheys will make once our struggle is over and we have attained equal rights. Will our films have titles like The Decorators? But they will never be as lavish as The Help because you cannot get a gay-themed film financed for over a million dollars; nobody will see it, so the numbers are awful. As gay director Joel Schumacher once said, “People don’t want to be reminded about butt fucking,” which is a pity because it’s such fun.
I understand why this film was made, I admire Scorsese immensely, but I wouldn’t know where to suggest changes because that would be like trying to transform Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory into a piece that is a viable Academy Award nominee. I would end up like Hugo himself, endless tinkering with the mechanisms of the film in silent despair trying to make the impossible fit together. This is because Hugo is like Lord of the Rings: a pure fantasy piece that has no place in the running for an Oscar. It’s a fucking children’s film, for Christ’s sake.
Let me try to wrap my mind around how muddled this is: the Academy feels okay nominating Hugo but not Harry Potter after half of Britain, including the best of their actors, slaved over those films for a decade and then some? As they say in England, “You’re taking the piss, mate.”
Midnight in Paris:
The reason this has been Woody Allen’s most successful film is it’s basically a remake of Back to the Future, with a Duesenberg (or whatever make it is) as the time-machine car instead of a Delorean. So what’s missing here is more razzle-dazzle, Woody. I’m talking special effects, lots of scope. Enough with the realistic, already! It’s also fantasy piece! And let’s talk sequel. Shall we call it Midday in St. Tropez? That has scope, too. And yachts.
This was a solid film, I have to say. Can’t think of a single silly suggestion for it.
The Tree of Life:
As I have written in these posts ad nauseam, this is not a real film. Up until I saw it I was a huge fan of the director, Terrence Malick. TOL is actually meant to be an audio-visual experience, sort of like going on a trip to the planetarium. But it’s not a very agreeable experience, certainly not as enjoyable as Baraka or the Qatsi Series, which likewise feature images set to music, albeit without Sean Penn. Maybe smoking a joint before seeing it, which I forgot to do, would have made a difference. Nah.
Dr. Killough’s remedy would immediately include adding basic dramatic elements like a plot and a character arc for the protagonist, after of course identifying who the real protagonist is. And this is going to sound environmentally unfriendly, but get rid of the fakaktah trees, already. Change the title if you have to; in any case, just one tree is all you need. No twirling camera, either, makes everyone dizzy.
Script Department note to Malick: voiceovers are used when you have no other options to support the narrative and can’t move the plot forward without them. In your film they are deployed as some sort of hackneyed prose poem. You can’t hypnotize everyone into thinking you’ve made a substantive film, even though it clearly worked on the Cannes jury headed by Robert de Niro. He must have smoked the joint that was meant for me.
Indeed, this is a festival film at best, but it still shouldn’t have won the Palme D’Or, especially over Melancholia, and it certainly has no place in the race for the Oscar.
I haven’t seen this, but to be one of the world’s great directors and apparently fuck up the hottest play on the London stage after Billy Elliot is a mystery worthy of a Terrence Malick esoteric meditation on existence. Yes, even a he’s-so-far-left-field-he’s-in-India filmmaker like me admires Spielberg’s technique, it would be ridiculous not to. His choices might suck from time to time, but he is the Meryl Streep of directors.
And that may be the key: this was the wrong choice for him to make. Another director might have adapted it with more finesse, and could have even given The Artist a run for its money. From the trailer, War Horse looks mawkish and overblown, whereas the play was cleverly staged and genuinely moving.
The only advice Dr. Killough can give is to remake it in French on a lower budget, and throw in a healthy dash of that zany humor of theirs, like those Steampunk flicks they make with large-nosed characters shot close up with wide-angle lenses.
I’m loving it. This has scope.