The Bag Means Your Mind

A delightful mix of insightful comments and ignorant assumptions about screenwriting... and such.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

The Standout Scene

I never saw Philadelphia when it first came out. Movies about gay activism weren't high on my list of films to see. I'm also not really into drama. When I watch them , I prefer to watch the cream of the crop since even mediocre dramas don't exist for me. They're either very good and gripping or loathsome, glass-eating affairs. Lately I've been recording and watching movies that appear on HDNet. Philadelphia popped up in the listings and given how well received it was I decided to give it a watch. There are mild spoilers ahead. Philadelphia isn't a plot driven movie, but I feel that there are some character moments that are better left as a surprise.

I'm sure most of you know that it was a terrific movie, but being terrific isn't enough. I've seen many terrific movies that I can no longer remember. Wonderful films that are executed flawlessly, but offer nothing lasting. I'm happy to say that Philadelphia is a lasting work of cinema, and it is because of one scene.

Joe Miller (Denzel Washington) takes on Andrew Beckett's (Tom Hanks) case. Joe doesn't care for homosexuals, but takes the case because he identifies with the discrimination that Andrew has to endure because he has AIDS. Throughout the movie we see Joe's transformation of being a homophobe to really seeing Andrew as a person. As an audience we see that Joe finally gets it and his opinion of gays has indeed changed.

And then the convenience store scene takes place.

Joe is approached by a gay man who assumes that he is gay because he is representing Andrew. When Joe realizes that the man is trying to pick him up, he becomes unhinged. He shoves the man away, calls him a "faggot", and maybe even threatens him. You see his intellect has been telling him that his bigoted view of homosexuals is wrong. He's spent time with Andrew and knows him to be a good person. But when that man tries to pick him up he reverts to his learned behavior. You can't undo a lifetimes worth of ingrained belief in a few weeks. Films like Philadelphia remind us that good people sometimes do unsavory things.

Rarely in movies do we get to see this kind of honesty about the human condition. That is why when I think of Philadelphia I won't think about Tom Hank's excellent performance or the well crafted court room scenes or how well the story sucks the viewer in. I'll forever remember the convenience store scene. The best movies have these iconic or revealing scenes that say something about all of us, and a lot of the times it isn't highlighting our better parts.

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Monday, February 11, 2008

Art > Life?

So I'm going through the Blu-ray discs that I bought for my new player. This time it was Stranger Than Fiction. There are spoilers ahead, so read at your own peril.

This movie raises the question: Is art more important than life? That's a biggie. We writers put a high value on our words, but exactly how important are they? If the end result is to permanently change the fabric of society for the better, is it worth a life? The most endearing scene in this movie is the one where Harry reads the manuscript, gives it to Karen, and chooses his death not because he would save a boy's life or be remembered fondly for making such a sacrifice. He did it because that is how this particular story should end.


And the solution? Karen weakens the story and saves Harry because she thought his life was worth more than her masterwork. These scenarios are precisely why I'm drawn to high concept ideas. They take the abstract and make them concrete in a fantasy context. At least the very best ones do anyway. They shed light on ideas in a way that no other story framework can.

Stranger Than Fiction also raises a scary notion for us writer types. If we craft a story where our main character dies, will we be invested enough in this character to feel like we are actually ending a real life? There is a scene after Karen finds out that Harry is real where she is weeping over all the people she has killed in her books. I'd like to be able to say that I was that close to one of my characters.

Is that kind of empathy required of us to write a riveting story? I'm guessing it is required for some writers, but everyone relates to these things in different ways. Or at least that's what I tell myself because I don't know that I'll ever achieve that level of feeling.

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Saturday, February 02, 2008


Lately I've been battling through a mild case of divorce, a stink bug infestation, and the stupidity involved with wrecking* my convertible so it's nice to be able to pat myself on the back and recognize that brighter futures lie ahead.

I just found out that I made it to the quarter-finals of the American Zoetrope screenplay competition. This marks the third time I've received recognition for my work on Win (the first two being top 15% in Nicholl and top 10% (2nd rounder) at Austin). It feels good to have the external affirmation that I'm on the right path. It also lets me know that Win lacks something required to get it to the next level. I've known about its deficiencies for awhile, and I'm certain I can remedy them in a future draft.

It's about time I get out of my non-writing funk and start dispensing nouns and verbs in a more meaningful way. Life has thrown some curveballs my way, but that's no excuse to step out of the batter's box.

Time to swing away.

* Ok, so that's a bit of an exaggeration. It's not wrecked, but bashed enough to be towed to a car infirmary for the better part of a month.

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