Remake of “Basterds” needed.

Weird, isn't it? "Inglorious Basterds"
premiering at The Cannes Film Festival.

I am going to rant, but first let me say that I really like the idea of a furious, wild and historically untrue screen revenge bestowed upon the Nazis. The pain and the horror they caused are around us forever. We have to process it and there must be more than one way to do it. The over the top, cartoonish style could be certainly one manner of dealing with the issue. If done right, that is.

Most of the time however, regardless of style and subject, things are not done right. We consume half baked goods and get high on sour wine. Being as starved as we are justifies our devouring of those clumsily prepared dishes we call films. Yet it does not justify sloppiness and haste of their cooks. Aren’t the entries most often deep fried and over-sugared? This fast food for human psyche clogs up arteries of our dignity, freedom and advancement. Yes, it’s that serious.

Let’s take a recent example of the obviously tired and absent minded cook (Quentin Tarantino), who previously delighted us with the most wonderful and innovate dishes. This time working with a promising recipe, he clearly allowed it to undercook. As a result we got a good looking thing with mostly uneatable interior.

Before we move to the style: there is the whole discussion about “ethical dilemma” of violence in the film. This astounds me. Do you cafe late drinkers really debate if that’s okay to cheer fictitious killings of the Nazis? Am I hearing it right? We are talking the killing in which Adolf Hitler, Joseph Goebbels, their whores, flunkies, the entire entourage perish. The war ends sooner. Yet, you feel “uneasy”? You feel that’s “not morally right” to equate the Nazis’ cheering their soldier/actor killing our people on screen with us cheering when our people massacre on screen the Nazis. Are you serious? Would you like me to teleport you back in time?

Yes, let's the motherfuckers die. In reality and in our collective psyche. Let’s cheer these killings. Perhaps doing so will offer some consolation. Thanks Quentin for that.

It’s just that there is something missing in the delivery. What could have been inspired and cathartic appears juvenile, rushed, superficial. With not enough fire. Not enough balls. The entire story is with not enough heart. Another luck warm dish pretending to be something else. We eat it up because there is nothing else in this category. That’s why I am postulating an instant remake.

Here is my dream set up for such a production: The script stays as originally written, not as presented on screen. The script's second chapter based on flashbacks is an audacious formal experiment. Little of it remains on screen. What has happened? Also what has happened to Donny Donowitz before the war scenes? They were great. They and other omissions (like the speech of Landa that Shosanna could become “a president of the United States”) on paper nicely punched up craziness, and - in case of Donny Donowitz provided more passion and heart. More character. How come the most interesting characters in this flick belong to the Germans? Something is not right.

To ensue that the film has a soul, I would ask Edward Zwick and Pieter Jan Brugge of “Defiance” to produce. (Contrary to many, I think that the “Defiance” is a great film. It gives a solid emotional and cleansing ride, which is missing in “Basterds.”) Directing should go to Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor of “Crank: Hight Voltage.” This wonderful and absolutely insane flick has all the kicks, fury, preposterousness and aliveness needed to make the "Basterds" script truly rise. (Yes, I am aware of the aesthetic differences between the restrain of the QT style, and the madness of "Crank". Yet, a blend of the two is is possible, energy is transferable.)

Just for the record: otherwise I am a big fan of Tarantino. I am writing this the day after I finished conducting a filmmaking workshop which ended with “Pulp Fiction,” in my book one of the best films ever.


Marlan’s novel

Marlan Warren, my ex-wife (of a 10 year long marriage), has just put on scribd.com her novel “Naked Roadmaps for the Sexually Challenged.” The book, set in the mid nineties, with the O.J. trial in the background and plenty of LA vibe, describes a hot romance of a just divorced Los Angeles woman. There's humor (“cat doing backstrokes” is my favorite), steamy sex and a captivating and multi dimensional main character - Carrie.

The story beings after Carrie, a writer and a filmmaker, after a 10 year long marriage has left Boris, also a filmmaker. Boris is a sociopath, self-absorbed, intense and absolutely obnoxious asshole from Russia. The jerk is so well drawn that your skin cringes at the very mention of him. (Marlan, I understand everything, but ... a Russian? Named ... Boris? How could you!)

Luckily for me Boris provides just an emotional springboard for Carrie’s new love affair and mostly throws his despicable self in the background, appearing less and less as the novel progresses.

It is a great read, a page turner. I am very happy for Marlan and wish her a huge success with this piece and with a film adaptation which should follow as the novel is so cinematic.

Later: on Marlan’s narrative skills which resulted in such sparkling and effortless prose. However, be not fooled by its ease. Her novel (OK, part memoir), years in the works, is carefully, precisely and cleverly crafted. Also later: on the benefits of seeing yourself as a true villain from hell. No, marrying a great writer and being a jerk to her is not the only way to get there. I’ll show you how to do it - all by yourself.

For now however, here is the link to the book. I highly recommend it.


Feedback, kindness and self evaluation.

There are already 427 comments to the hilarious “I Will Not Read Your Fucking Script” Josh Olson’s blog entry in the Village Voice . I’ve read the first 380 or so. Clearly the writing has hit a nerve. The author plays a furious pro who has to deal with the barrage of help requests from various “civilians” (link)

I’d like to suggest that, contrary to the heated discussion, the issue is not so much about how to break into the industry, whether to pester the insiders with (to put it gently) undiscovered work, or to what extend (if at all) the pros should be kind to those who approach them seeking help. The real question beneath the “I will not read...” controversy deals with two aspects of our attempts to communicate with others.

The first aspect has to do with self-evaluation. We don’t immediately see our mistakes. They become clear to us only over time. Teaching is a controlled process that helps to collapse or shorten time needed to see our shortcomings. In life this teaching is called maturing. For some it takes a lifetime. In film it takes years or decades. On each step of this life/craft journey most of us think we have already reached understanding or being “good at something”. Time passes and we learn that we were wrong.

When we erroneously think we “know” we attempt to share our “scripts”. Yet they are not ready. How can we master the difficult skill of self-evaluation so that we don’t hurt others by immature life decisions or don’t submit junk scripts? How can we step outside and really see the fruits of our actions or “artistic” labor? It is almost impossible without a kind help from “the other.” Unfortunately no formula exists how to seek this help. Each case requires special handling and enough sensitivity so we don’t torture others with assaults on their time and good will.

The second aspect deals with difficulties of being a saint. Only a saint can fully let go of anger and frustration when dealing with a hopeless case of ignorance or stupidity, usually totally blind to reasoning. If we know something that “the other” does not, most of the time there is no way to communicate it to “the other.” Experience is not transferable. Neither in life nor in the arts. Unless of course the listener is ready to hear the speaker, which happens so rarely that it justifies “I will not read your fucking script” rant. That's why in martial arts the teacher appears only when the student is ready.

Synchronistically, among the comments there is one that mentions Eric Roth as an example of a thoughtful, emphatic behavior toward “a civilian” who wasn’t even seeking “a Hollywood connection.” The anecdote points to something that I tried to address in my previous entry about a possible source of the effectiveness of Roth’s screenwriting.


The power of personal

"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
written by Eric Roth and Robin Swicord,
from a short story by Francis Scott Fitzgerald
directed by David Fincher

Hearing Eric Roth (another great podcast from the creative screenwriting series) makes clear that the success of this movie comes also from the writer sharing his very intimate emotions and experiences. “It’s my most personal work” he says. Preparing for the film he and David Fincher wondered “who’s going to finance a 150 million film about death.”

I’m curious - says Daisy on her death bed. Roth reveals it is a line of his mother just before her final journey. The line strangely corresponds with the Fitzgerald's short story title, the basis for the film.

Roth's talk about screenwriting (Munich, Forrest Gump, The Insider) reveals other examples of treating subjects "from within". He is sincere and serious (not that he doesn’t have a sense of humor.) His depth seems an important element of his writing talent. He has been around, knows the value of things and is equipped with the powerful craft. All that makes him so valuable to great directors: Mann, Spielberg, Fincher. They listen to him carefully, since they all have the inner radar for truth. Apparently his scripts are mostly shot as written, which is the highest complement from the industry.


Intent versus structure

The cabinet of Dr. Caligari. 1920.
Written by Hans Janowitz and Carl Mayer.
Directed by Robert Wienne

The case: the film, told in flashbacks, is about Francis who discovers that a magician Caligari is behind bloody murders. Francis tracks Caligari to the insane asylum where Caligari works as the head doctor. Francis accuses Caligari. Then .....

The perception: Francis ends up himself in the asylum put there by Caligari to ridicule his accusations as delusions. (A sane perceptiveness loses to the brutal system. Not unlike in “One Flew Over the Cuckoos' Nest.”)

The study: the watching over, I started reading about the flick and learned that the ending was supposed to reveal that from the beginning Francis was the patient of the insane asylum, and Caligari was in fact his doctor. A good doctor. The film was taking place inside a sick mind and describe a delusion.

I got alarmed! Can’t I get a simple, classic story right? I kept reading and found some consolation: wikipedia announced: “The producers, who wanted a less macabre ending, imposed upon the director the idea that everything turns out to be Francis' delusion. The original story made it clear that Caligari (...) was responsible for a number of deaths.”

Alas, the intent of the writers was so clear and strong that it has gotten into this viewer and has completely taken over his perception of the entire story including the imposed ending and some other third act sequences (like arresting of Dr. Caligari - which in my interpretation could be the only fantasy in the film).

More reading revealed that I wasn’t alone in my perception, the ending was ambiguous or suspicious to many. The original starting point of the story, backed up by the brilliant direction and the production design, prevailed. (What an absolutely fantastic idea to paint light and shadows on the already distorted walls! Not to mention other expressionistic tricks everybody describes.)

The conclusion: the intention is often stronger than structure. Visionary directing can totally alter the story. Or: the screenplay structure rules only so much. It can be changed with the help of visceral, emotional images.




The hours that you spend in this world

are few and between.

The rest of your time

you are not here,

dreaming, waiting,

preparing to dip yourself into this reality

floating somewhere near

yet not here

disconnected, alien, alone

only occasionally being lured back

by the mercifully thrown rope

of somebody’s stare,

preferably indicating interest,

but in reality

any movement of

any emotion

will do

for you to be back


where you visit so