Monday, February 21, 2011

That Was Then, This Is Now

I've been looking at a lot of older films lately.  Older as in 60's and 70's.  Movies like The Graduate, Deliverance, Midnight Express, Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid, Altered States, Bonnie & Clyde.  What I've discovered is that once upon a time in this great industry of ours story was key and dialogue was plentiful.  Story, I love.  Dialogue?  Well, it has to be extremely well written, acted, directed for me to be blown away by it.  I like beats and long silences that bring out emotion or visual stimulation in film.  I'm finding, though, that the 60's and 70's didn't have a whole lot of that.  Movies from that era had ridiculous amounts of conversation for a good 2 hours that really made the actor or actress a focal point that seems to be missing in recent movies.

Let's take the movie 'Network' for example.  Charles saw it a couple weeks ago and wouldn't stop raving about it.  I'd seen it years ago so had a foggy memory of what it was like.  'Network' was streaming on Netflix so I figured I should take advantage of that before it went away.  And I'm really glad I did.  What a fantastic piece of work!  Brilliant acting and one very prophetic and daring screenplay. 

Network was 121 minutes of conversation.  When there wasn't conversation there was narration.  I think the only time there was a beat or pause was during the breakup speech from William Holden to Faye Dunaway.  There were 3 profound and unforgettable speeches in this movie and so much hidden meaning blatantly discussed in front of what is considered now to be an impressionable and sensitive film audience.  Subjects such as media exploitation, creating story for ratings rather than reporting the truth, sensationalism, corporatism, communism, and fascism were all covered in this movie quite well.  The live footage of a militant guerrilla group (who would today be labeled terrorist) sets Faye Dunaway's character, Diana Christensen, on a wild ride as she, the heartless TV programmer who'll stop at nothing to be number 1, comes up with the idea to exploit the leftist groups and individuals by putting them on TV.  Her pitch to them is to offer up an audience of millions who will hear their radical message.

They buy.  Peter Finch's character, the nutty Howard Beale, buys into it.  Laureen Hobbs, (" I'm Laureen Hobbs, a badass commie nigger.") played by Marlene Warfield, buys into it and buys into it hard as she yells her head off at one point realizing that all of the money supposed to go to her guerrilla group is being spread out to different network interests in the form of profit percentages.  That speech is one of my three faves.  As negotiations are being worked out Laureen Hobbs blows her stack saying not at all what one would expect from such a militant.



                      (a nervous man, to the new

                       arrivals, now entering)

                Where the hell have you been?


                      (embracing the

                       GREAT KHAN)

                Ahmed, sweet, that dodo you sent

                for a driver couldn't find this

                fucking place.

      There is a genial exchange of helloes and waves between

      the phalanxes of AGENTS --


                Let's get on with this before

                they raid this place, and we all

                wind up in the joint.


                      (to FREDDIE now

                       pulling up a crate)

                We're on Schedule A, page seven,

                small c small i --


                      (whisking through her

                       copy of the contract)

                Have we settled that sub-licensing

                thing? We want a clear definition

                here.  Gross proceeds should consist

                of all funds the sublicensee receives

                not merely the net amount remitted

                after payment to sublicensee or



                We're not sitting still for over-

                head charges as a cost prior to



                      (whose nerves have

                       worn thin, explodes:)

                Don't fuck with my distribution

                costs!  I'm getting a lousy two-

                fifteen per segment, and I 'm already

                deficiting twenty-five grand a week

                with Metro.  I'm paying William

                Morris ten percent off the top!

                      (indicates the

                       GREAT KHAN)

                -- And I'm giving this turkey ten

                thou a segment and another five for

                this fruitcake --

                      (meaning MARY ANN GIFFORD)

                And, Helen, don't start no shit

                with me about a piece again!

                I'm paying Metro twenty percent of

                all foreign and Canadian distribution,

                and that's after recoupment!  The

                Communist Party's not going to see

                a nickel out of this goddam show

                until we go into syndication!


                Come on, Laureen, you've got the

                party in there for seventy-five

                hundred a week production expenses.


                I'm not giving this pseudo in-

                surrectionary sectarian a piece

                of my show!  I'm not giving him

                script approval!  And I sure as

                shit ain't cutting him in on my

                distribution charges I

                            MARY ANN GIFFORD

                         (screaming in from

                         the back)

                Fuggin fascist! Have you seen the

                movies we took at the San Marino

                jail break-out demonstrating the

                rising up of a seminal prisoner-

                class infrastructure!


                You can blow the seminal prisoner-

                class infrastructure out your ass!

                I'm not knocking down my goddam

                distribution charges!

      The GREAT KHAN decides to offer an opinion by SHOOTING

      his PISTOL off into the air. This gives everybody

      something to consider, especially WILLIE STEIN who

      almost has a heart attack.

                            THE GREAT KHAN

                Man, give her the fucking over-

                head clause.

Then, of course, there is the infamous speech by Peter Finch...

And finally, the daring and frightening honesty that pours forth from the mouth of Jensen...

      He leads HOWARD down the steps to the floor level,

      himself ascends again to the small stage and the podium.

      HOWARD sits in one of the 200 odd seats.  JENSEN pushes

      a button, and the enormous drapes slowly fall, slicing

      away layers of light until the vast room is utterly

      dark.  Then, the little pinspots at each of the desks,

      including the one behind which HOWARD is seated, pop on,

      creating a miniature Milky Way effect.  A shaft of white

      LIGHT shoots out from the rear of the room, spotting

      JENSEN on the podium, a sun of its own little galaxy.

      Behind him, the shadowed white of the lecture screen.

      JENSEN suddenly wheels to his audience of one and roars



                You have meddled with the primal

                forces of nature, Mr. Beale, and I

                won't have it, is that clear?!  You

                think you have merely stopped a

                business deal -- that is not the

                case!  The Arabs have taken billions

                of dollars out of this country, and

                now they must put it back.  It is

                ebb and flow, tidal gravity, it is

                ecological balance!  You are an old

                man who thinks in terms of nations

                and peoples.  There are no nations!

                There are no peoples!  There are no

                Russians.  There are no Arabs!

                There are no third worlds!  There is

                no West!  There is only one holistic

                system of systems, one vast and

                immane, interwoven, interacting,

                multi-variate, multi-national

                dominion of dollars! petro-dollars,

                electro-dollars, multi-dollars!,

                Reichmarks, rubles, rin, pounds and

                shekels!  It is the international

                system of currency that determines

                the totality of life on this planet!

                That is the natural order of things

                today!  That is the atomic,

                subatomic and galactic structure of

                things today!  And you have meddled

                with the primal forces of nature,

                and you will atone!  Am I getting

                through to you, Mr. Beale?


                You get up on your little twenty-

                one inch screen, and howl about

                America and democracy.  There is no

                America.  There is no democracy.

                There is only IBM and ITT and A T

                and T and Dupont, Dow, Union Carbide

                and Exxon.  Those are the nations of

                the world today.  What do you think

                the Russians talk about in their

                councils of state -- Karl Marx?

                They pull out their linear

                programming charts, statistical

                decision theories and minimax

                solutions and compute the price-cost

                probabilities of their transactions

                and investments just like we do.  We

                no longer live in a world of nations

                and ideologies, Mr. Beale.  The

                world is a college of corporations,

                inexorably deter- mined by the

                immutable by-laws of business.  The

                world is a business, Mr. Beale!  It

                has been since man crawled out of

                the slime, and our children, Mr.

                Beale, will live to see that perfect

                world in which there is no war and

                famine, oppression and brutality --

                one vast and ecumenical holding

                company, for whom all men will work

                to serve a common profit, in which

                all men will hold a share of stock,

                all necessities provided, all

                anxieties tranquilized, all boredom

                amused.  And I have chosen you to

                preach this evangel, Mr. Beale.


                      (humble whisper)

                Why me?


                Because you're on television, dummy.

                Sixty million people watch you

                every night of the week, Monday

                through Friday.

Everything, I mean everything, dialogue in this movie is mind blowing.  Not only are these speeches fantastic but so is the everyday conversation...the producers sitting around having a frank discussion about killing Howard Beale, the confrontation between Schumacher & Hackett, the break up between Diana & Max discussed in terms of 'canceling the show'....Pick any part of this movie and you will find the conversation enthralling.  

Today we have movement, action, effects, cheap jokes, simplistic dialogue, and restrictions on everything (couldn't share the video clips for 2 of the 3 speeches above...that's how tight everything has become!).  Back then they simply told stories and let the viewers formulate their own opinions.   They assumed the audience was smart enough to understand.  They allowed freedom of expression, freedom of thought, freedom to create like we haven't seen in quite a while.  Writers wrote for actors and actresses not for corporations and formulas.  

We may never return to that kind of filmmaking again.  We may never be given that freedom to say what we as storytellers want to say in a film again.  But we will always have those older movies at our disposal to watch and re-watch as many times as we desire and remember that once there was a time when artists could put the business aside and simply be creative. - TKS

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