Black Sabbath – Something In The Air: How To Earn A Jump Scare

Quick Thoughts: Black Sabbath (1963)

Three stories. One about a spirit-zombie thing. One about a ghost and a phone. One about a bunch of vampires.

Black Sabbath

Black Sabbath is a conflicting film. Some parts are pretty good, other parts are pretty awful. Ultimately, however, I just found this film to be boring – frustrating even – for the most part. This may be down to the plethora of production issues with late script changes, dubbings, angles toward differing markets and studio fuckery. Nonetheless, everything around character in this film is mind-numbingly ill-conceived. All character decisions, all dialogue, all of the acting – all dog shit. The sound design is undeniably the worst thing about this movie, however. I’ve mentioned the dubbing, but… Jesus… I cannot think of a worse example of sound design. Not only is it incredibly cheap, but the acting is awful – and the shit the voice actors are made to spew… fuck me. However, there’d be no point in really talking about this film if there wasn’t something more to be said.

So, coming to the positives, Bava’s direction is intermittently interesting – as is the structuring of the script. The best story, by far, is then ‘The Drop Of Water’. This short follows a woman who decides to steal the ring of a dead woman. However, the spirit of the robbed deceased clings to her, finding its way into her home where she decides to turn a whole bunch of taps on – just so they drip – all before showing up and frightening the woman to death, literally. What makes this scene so great is simply the way in which it sets up its jump scares.

Ask almost anyone who critiques or talks about film and they’ll probably tell you that jump scares are the cancer of modern horror. And I agree to a certain extent. I certainly think that jump scares are often over-used and applied very poorly with no justifying set up – what’s more, jump scares are usually false scares, which is pretty frustrating. That said, I certainly think that there a debate to be had (that we won’t go into right now) on the philosophy of the jump scare. Nonetheless, a good example of how to use the jump scare can be found in the ‘Drop Of Water’ sequence of Black Sabbath.

Bava, with a little help from Frankenstein’s Monster himself, Boris Karloff, warns us of and implies the horror of this short. We are then essentially told that “your about to be scared” as Karloff introduces. And even though it’s cheesy, this a great technique as, after all, the scariest things in life have a warning, a ‘viewer discretion advised’, a rating or a mystique and danger about them that acts as a skin you must press through before being allowed to see this allegedly scary content. Karloff’s introductions do this brilliantly, and if I were a 5 year old, I’m sure this film would scare the shit out of me. Unfortunately, I’m not a 5 year old and so was hoping for some tense cinematic language. And this is certainly what you get for about 15 minutes. Bava essentially has us wait… and wait… and wait… and wait… and…

..

..

.

.

.

.

… and wait… with a building tremolo of dripping taps, fear, anxiety then–

… yeah, pretty low budget special effects, but it works pretty effectively. So, if you like horror films, if you want to write a horror script or direct a horror movie, maybe check out this sequence in Black Sabbath to see a good example of how to earn a jump scare.

Beyond that, have you seen Black Sabbath? What are your thoughts?

 

 

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The Lion King – The Art Of Self-Referentialism & The Hyperbole

Thoughts On: The Lion King (1994)

We’ve already covered this film. Today, however, we’ll be zooming in on one particular moment.
The Lion King 3

My favourite scene, by far, in The Lion King is the “Can You Feel The Love Tonight” sequence. Yes, the cover of Elton John’s song is great.

And, yes, this scene serves a perfect establishment of a rather abrupt romance.

But, Timon and Pumbaa’s bookends to the song…

… utter genius. Every time they burst out crying with floods of cartoonish tears I can’t help but laugh like a child.

But, whilst I’ve always looked forward to this as a great moment of characterisation, I’ve started questioning exactly what makes this scene so great. Primarily, and as said, this is just a great piece of characterisation. These two fools crying perfectly captures their harmlessly self-centric grip on their friend who they don’t want to lose. Moreover, this moment, for Timon and Pumbaa, is one that many writers would overlook. In such, when main characters fall in love, their friends usually fall into the background and come in for a later scene in which they’re sour or supportive, meaning that side characters are often used as conflict or resolution – mere plot devices. However, Pumbaa and Timon almost narrate Simba and Nala’s romance, which allows their reaction to play out in parallel to a pivotal plot point in which characters of their class would usually be forgotten in. This is then a great piece of writing as it keeps these two characters in the frame of the narrative instead of having them disappearing the second Nala shows up…

… and then just re-appearing up for the final fight…

… which would have been ridiculous (because they’d blatantly be mere plot devices). However, this scene is such an ingenious one as it not only manages Timon and Pumbaa with great dexterity, but betters the romantic scene with comedic juxtaposition. What that means is that, when this is happening…

… so is this…

And the antithesis of love and loathing here lightens the weight of love and all that other sticky stuff…

On a side note, many will claim, using this image, that there’s subliminal messages of sex in The Lion King. However, what the writing in the sky is supposed to say is SFX – as in special effects – as put in by the special effects team. Who knows if this is just a cover up though. Think what you will…

Back on track, the use of Timon and Pumbaa in the romantic scene adds levity and plays on the contrivance of this plot point. Whilst The Lion King does adhere to a very traditional structure (arguably because it’s an adaptation of the classic Hamlet), it does know that there is a lot of melodrama and coincidence built into the narrative. However, instead of audiences asking how Nala found Simba and why the two are falling in love so quickly, they accept this scene because Timon and Puumba make a point of the absurdity themselves, literally bawling at the odds of this coincidence.

What we see here is then the use of a hyperbole in two masterful ways. The first use of the hyperbole here is one of self-aware justification. We see this in an awful lot of self-referential content:

Ferris Bueller, moreover, Deadpool, know that they’re fun movies with key draws being genre and a target audience. Their acknowledgment of this takes away all contrivance and allows them to be more genuine. A great example of this in Ferris Bueller would be the last fourth wall break:

Whilst Ferris is being a bit of an asshole here (as he always is), he also provides a genuine commentary on himself as well as life as a teenager. His iconic words are:

Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.

In such, this rather obnoxious break of the fourth wall break is a show of self-awareness that’s justified with the substance it adds to the movie – that substance being this great line. We see this in Deadpool, too.

Whilst this scene is essentially another great fourth wall break inside a fourth wall break, with the reference to Ferris Bueller and Pool talking about the movie as a movie, there is a great statement made by the filmmakers here. In talking about Deadpool 2, there is a recognition that this is a money-grabbing franchise that basically means to exploit teenage boys. However, Deadpool asserts that they’re getting Cable in the next film and implies that they are going to try and make a better movie. In such, just like in Ferris Bueller, you see both self-referentialism that is aware of its own tropes, but still manages to add substance to the movie. We see this in The Lion King as Timon and Pumaa don’t just point out the contrivance of Nala and Simba’s romance, but add comedy and character to the subliminal fourth wall break.

However, when we look to films like Avengers: Age Of Ultron and Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, we see examples of how not to handle a hyperbolic self-reference.

It’s in this moment that Hawkeye says:

Look, I just need to know because the city i-i-i-is flying… ok–the city is flying. We’re fighting an army of robots. And I have a bow and arrow. None of this makes sense.

Some people will laugh at this, but I just groan. This is because Hawkeye is breaking the fourth wall, or at least leaning on it very hard, and just for the sake of some weak self-abrading (that is tantamount to false modesty). In such, the writers put this in to say to the audience that, “yes, you’re watching a dumb movie with dumb characters, how dumb are we all!?”. And, unlike in Ferris Bueller and Deadpool, there is no substance in the follow up. Granted, there is something of an attempt at this when Hawkeye says:

But, I’m going back out there because it’s my job.

But, this is just cliched slop and bad writing. This leaves the self-referential quip disingenuous and rather grating. We see an even worse example of this in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol.

It’s a little difficult to discern in these images as the scene is so dark, but what happens here is that, under water in a car that just crashed into the canal, Ethan is pinned down by the gunfire of these goons up top. To avert their fire, he lights a flare under water..

… I’m not sure how possible that is, but, he does it. He then puts that flare in the sleeve of the dead henchmen driver and pushes him away. This draws the fire of the guys up top as they assume that Ethan is trying to swim away, which allows Ethan and William to escape safely. However, in a follow up scene, we get an exchange between Ethan and yet another character played by Jeremy Renner:

William: Why would that work?

Ethan: Why would what work?

William: The flare on the body, what–why would that work?

Ethan: It did work.

William: Yeah, I know, but–

Ethan: (Calling him in the right direction) Hey.

William: But, why? I mean, how’d you know that would draw their fire?

Ethan: I didn’t. I played a hunch.

William: Ok. All right, so what was your scenario? Right, there’s a guy being shot at in the water, all of a sudden, you decide to light up a flare and swim around. I mean, what do you assume they’d be thinking?

Ethan: Thinking?

William: Yeah.

Ethan: (Exhales a laugh) I didn’t assume they’d be thinking. I assumed they were shooting at anything that moves–I just gave them a target–look, these… these guys aren’t road scholars, you know?

Just like with the bit from Avengers, this exchange got some laughs in the cinema I watched this film in. However, I just groaned. This is because, again, this scene makes a self-referential point on its own contrivance. We see this in The Lion King…

… Ferris Bueller’s Day Off…

… and Deadpool…

… and so I wouldn’t suggest that this can’t be done well. But, what these films do is add substance to the self-reference. What the above scene in Mission Impossible does is tantamount to the comedic commentary you see a CinemaSins video.

However, as a screenwriter, it is not your job to be “good at cinema sins”. This is what many screenwriters of big blockbusters think is good writing – at least this is what they demonstrate with their final scripts. Being able to see the holes in your film shouldn’t mean you need to add a scene that references the absurdity. If you see a plot hole, you need to fix it, you need to leave it alone, or you need to make something of it. With Ferris Bueller, Deadpool and The Lion King, we see filmmakers making something of their contrivances/plot holes. However, what should have happened in Avengers is that this line of justifying dialogue:

But, I’m going back out there because it’s my job.

This should have been re-written and incorporated into character and plot better; a better motivational monologue to get Scarlet Witch to fight essentially. And with this sequence from Mission Impossible:

Just leave it alone. Yes, it adheres to ‘movie logic’, which doesn’t really have any basis in reality, but, you either leave it as it is or write a better scene – don’t just point at it and expect people to laugh. And this is what bugs me the most about this scene from Mission Impossible; it’s not just bad writing and cheap referentialism, but it’s lazy writing. The screenwriter acknowledges that they could have written something more plausible, but refused to put in the work. This is why I groan at these scenes, and this is why I don’t like this kind of comedy.

So, the first major lesson we learn from the “Can You Feel The Love Tonight” sequence in The Lion King is essentially, don’t be a lazy writer and don’t accept this kind of lazy writing. There is a second lesson present in this scene and it follows on from the comedic side of all we’ve discussed so far. As said, this…

… has me laugh my balls off. The reason why is that it’s an absurd bit of comedy that works so well with Timon and Pumbaa as characters. These two are over-emotional lugs and their antithetical commentary on the romance in this scene is so well timed because of the genuine nature of their reaction; it makes sense that these two would burst out crying having lost their friend to a stranger.

But, absurdist comedy is a hard thing to do well. Adam Sandler used to be a genius in this respect. Just look to Billy Madison…

… Happy Gilmore…

… or The Wedding Singer…

Shit, you could maybe sneak Little Nicky into this…

All of these films are… well, they’re not too great. In respect to Little Nicky – yeah, a pretty shit film. However, people love these movies–me included for the most part. This is because Sandler had a great grip on how to construct absurd comedy around the hyperbole. If we zoom in on my favourite Adam Sandler bit, “Somebody Kill Me Please“, we can begin to explore why.

I don’t care what you say, Somebody Kill Me Please is a well constructed song. The guitar riff is memorable and supportive. The lyrics are even more memorable and certainly poignant – Sandler even performs quite well. But, what is so great about this song and joke is that it comes from a genuine place. The same can be said for this moment between Timon and Pumbaa:

They are truly heartbroken and we can all empathise with that. In such, we can all understand what Robbie Hart means when he asks to be euthanized. It’s not really a call for assassination, but anaesthetisation. In the simplest words, he was dumped and wants the pain to go away. This is the humanity you can find in absurdism – and such is its purpose. A great proponent of this outside of the strictly comedic realm is a director I’ve mentioned time and time again, Yorgos Lanthimos:

      

I won’t delve into his films again at risk of repeating myself, but what the absurdity present in these narratives means to do is expose truth. We also see this in All About Eve, His Girl Friday and Singin’ In The Rain and Breakfast At Tiffany’s.

        

All of these films are highly melodramatic, but use their contrivance for entertainment’s or for commentary’s sake. For example, throughout All About Eve, we see the constant demonisation and stereotypical critique of actors. However, by the end of the film, instead of this being used to shit on actors and make fun of them, it’s used to make a more poignant statement on genuity and fakeness – something we also see in His Girl Friday, Singin’ In The Rain and Breakfast and Tiffany’s…

What we thus see, through the guise of successful melodrama and absurdist comedy, is always an appeal to something genuine. When you look to Family Guy, American Dad and the lesser episodes of The Simpsons…

    

… you see absurdity used to formulate tired and boring satire. In fact, turn on any ‘comedic’ political commentary/satire talk-news show, and you’ll see the same bullshit.

    

I know a lot of people like these shows, but, let’s be honest, they’re not funny – not really. The only form of laughter I see in these shows follows those smug looks you see in the posters, looks that cue people to laugh at shit and cumbersome Donald Trump or George Bush jokes. The laughter you hear in these shows is a ridiculous “Us vs Them” kind of laughter. It’s not genuine, much rather, it’s a statement that says, “I’m smarter than that guy” or “I’m on this team”. What I’m often left astonished at is the fact that these shows often employ absurdity to make a point when the presenters themselves are readily in a position of absurdity that is so easy to laugh at.

However, whilst I don’t like these shows, they’re so easy to sit down and consume. Though they aren’t funny, they’re entertaining because they engage that “Us vs Them” or “I’m smarter” paradigm. I think this kind of thinking is essential to human behaviour and so is something I embrace, but, I don’t like it when it’s packaged in a political, smug and grating way. I like “Us vs Them” when watching sports…

… or a romance film…

… other than that, the whole thing is often pretentious and self-righteously arrogant to me. This is what Sandler, Lanthimos and all of the other films mentioned in a positive light understand. What the second and final lesson we see in our scene from The Lion King then is…

… is simply, be genuine. Absurdity is a great device, but using it in a satirical light is a precarious game that must assure a balance between critique and honesty.

The lasting lesson of the “Can You Feel The Love Tonight” scene in The Lion King is on the art of self-referentialism and absurd hyperboles. You are always going to need genuity, substance, honesty and truth to successfully utilise these devices. Without them, scenes will fall flat and you’ll likely come off as an obnoxious, pretentious asshole. I know this as I’ve come off as pretentious and dickish many times – as I assume we all have. However, working to reverse this is key and probably something to strive for if you’re looking to be a better writer, artist or person in general.

 

 

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American History X – Form & Content

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American History X – Form & Content

Thoughts On: American History X (1998)

A neo-Nazi, fresh out of prison with a new perspective, tries to turn his family’s life around.

American History X

I’ve seen this film a tonne of times – but not recently. The last time I saw American History X must have been around 3 or 4 years ago, and so I’ve always had a vision of this film as a highly impactful, symbolic, emotional and metaphorical movie – one that was basically flawless. In re-watching this film, however, I was shocked at the experience. Despite expectation, American History X came of as melodramatic with sub-par direction, editing, writing, sound design and performances. This makes utter sense as Tony Kay is notoriously considered a one-hit-wonder among the ranks of Camino…

… Kelly…

… and Myrick/Sanchez…

All of these films have signifiers in them of worse to come. With The Deer Hunter, we have the questionable writing of some parts as well as the pacing. With Donnie Darko, there’s the awkward tone – that suits this movie, but, idiosyncratically. And with Blair Witch, there was an awful lot of mystique that went into creating the horror and tension before this film was even seen on initial release. Like Cannibal Holocaust, this was a movie that fooled audiences into believing what they saw was real. However, taking this away from the movie, the experience is quite dull.

One of the greatest examples of this on-off direction can certainly be seen in Shyamalan. We all know his better works:

    

We all know his duds:

    

And, again, there’s signifiers of all that makes Shyamalan ‘the director who made The Last Airbender’ in even his best works. We delved into this when looking at Split. However, coming back to American History X, whilst I haven’t seen any of Kay’s other films, I can certainly see traits of a terrible director in this film. The coverage is incredibly awkward throughout with an excruciating over-emphasis on extreme close-ups. There are a few powerful images spliced into the narrative that utilise slow-motion – like the shower scenes and, of course…

… but, for the vast majority of the movie, when we aren’t forced into blundering extreme close-ups, there’s ugly handheld compositions that have an affinity for shitty actors/extras. And on the note of acting – not strong. Even Norton’s performance is mediocre in this film, and this is mainly because the material he’s given in the script is just… eh. He does a great job in portraying a changed and changing man/young man – with a lot of assistance from the hair and make-up department. However, McKenna does not track this change very subtly. Derek, just like Danny, endlessly spews cliched political statements, that, yes, are supposed to come off as self-righteous and grating, but, that tone is in every exchange (positive, negative, political or not) which leaves this film with a horribly preachy texture. All of this emphasises what is essentially a very contrived script. This contrivance translates to the direction, acting and awful editing. It may just be that Kay’s coverage is awkward, and so hard to edit, but the stitching together of scenes throughout sticks out from the screen like a sore thumb. And all of this ultimately comes together to produce a sometimes unpalatable, often melodramatic, consistently contrived and rather cumbersome movie.

However, I still enjoyed American History X and still felt that it had something of a punch. In fact, American History X reminded me quite a lot of Von Trier’s, The Idiots.

When covering this film, I essentially said that Von Trier took a shit on his script – which contains something of a great narrative – with his stupid philosophy of direction and cinematography called Dogme 95.

In such, Von Trier sullied the content of his film with his chosen form. This is what we see in American History X; this film has great latent content, but a horrible form.

As you could infer, form is everything that structures and projects a movie: direction, editing, cinematography, parts of the script – the style essentially. Content is then left to be the essence of a film that form tries to represent or project. So, on a formal level, American History X is a dud. However, lying deep in this film is an incredibly poignant idea of where racism, hatred and bigotry come from that is supported by the tragic resolution that simply says that life is too short, that hatred is too exhausting, for such a mentality. What me, 3 or 4 years ago (who wasn’t so immersed in film), then identified in this film was this essential quality. I think this is what most people who saw and see this film can identify too; they see past the horrid direction and are immersed in the story and emotions. Moreover, they see past the political rambling and focus on a family that are falling apart; a boy suffering at the hands of his up-bringing and a tragic circumstance.

What I then believe films like American History X, Donnie Darko, The Deer Hunter and The Blair Witch Project are expressions of is this Quentin Tarantino quote:

If you truly love cinema, with all your heart, and with enough passion, you can’t help but make a good movie

Whilst I cannot know if Kay, Kelly and so on truly love cinema with all their heart, it seems that there’s something in these films that they had to get out – something that suggests that maybe we all have one book, one film, one poem, one play, one painting… one piece of great art in us. In such, I believe that, if you dig deep, there’s something in you that will garner a substantial and appreciative audience. How do you find that? Don’t ask me. But, maybe it is enough to assert that it has to be there. Nonetheless, what my assertion following Tarantino’s suggests is that the content of a film comes from intent – your love of cinema, your yearning to say something.

Knowing this, I believe there is a powerful lesson to be learnt from a film like American History X. Whilst it isn’t technically sound, you get a sense of urgency and genuity that ultimately supersedes aesthetic contrivance and a sub-par formal approach. What this hopefully says to anyone who wants to make a film, write a book, paint a picture – anything – is that you have to go in for the right reasons and draw the content of your art from the right place. As suggested, this isn’t an easy thing to conjure and that something to say isn’t easy to find. But, maybe it isn’t impossible.

So, what do you see when you look back on American History X? Have you re-watched the film recently; does it hold up? Whatever your answer, is it still something of an inspiration to you?

 

 

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Swing Time – Swell Romance

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Swing Time – Swell Romance

Quick Thoughts: Swing Time (1936)

If he proves himself successful, having earned $25,000, Lucky Garnett may marry the girl he loves.

Swing Time

Flawless. Amazing. Fucking phenomenal. Swing Time is undeniably one of the all-time-great musicals. Each number is sensational, effortlessly choreographed and supportive of the narrative. The set-design and cinematography are perfectly captured by the drawn back, minimalist, classical direction. And each of our four main characters are superbly constructed and conceived. I’m running out of adjectives, but you don’t have to trust me when I say this is a great film – go watch it for yourself if you’ve not seen it yet. A wonderful blend of dance, song, romance, comedy and classical structure, Swing Time blew me away. A point of comparison I then have to make is to last year’s La La Land that everyone seemed to love.

I’ve already reviewed La La Land and, though I loved the film, the first act was lacking – as were many of the musical numbers – leaving it a great visual spectacle and narrative, not so much a great musical–though an exceedingly good one. Swing Time is all that La La Land isn’t in respect to the iconic Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers performances.

There isn’t much need for an abundance of cinematic language and production value to make their performances shine. Put them on a dance floor, shine some lights, play some music and make sure the camera keeps up with them – that’s all you need. And it’s that incredibly strong backbone that makes this film such a sensation. All the script work, set-design, sound design and direction that embellishes and supports these performances – like in the masterful silhouette number – aids in the construction a quintessential musical narrative. It has to be said though that this film does contain black face.

This doesn’t bother me nothing and it is this kind of black face…

… not this…

… and so it does kind of have that going for it. Some people will rightly find this absolutely offensive, in which case, maybe don’t see the movie – but, like I said, it doesn’t bother me at all. Nonetheless, to me, Swing Time is a terrific film. What are your thoughts? Have you seen the film? Will you see the film? Tell me what you think down below if you want…

 

 

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The Wolf Man – The Age-Old Problem With Horror

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The Wolf Man – The Age-Old Problem With Horror

Thoughts On: The Wolf Man (1941)

A man returning to his father’s estate in his home town is attacked by a wolf.

The wolf Man 3

This is a highly enjoyable Universal classic horror picture that I can’t help but recommend to anyone who hasn’t seen it. The set-design as well as the black and white cinematography throughout are exemplary of the gold standard of classic horror, the script is tight with a few sparkling moments between Chaney’s Larry Talbot and Ankers’ Gwen Conliffe and Waggner’s direction is very interesting around key moments of transformation or revelation. What’s more, there is a mature and somewhat complex commentary on good, evil and shades of grey in this film that ends in poignant tragedy. That said, this film has very many faults and is far from perfect. The acting is shoddy at many points and the dialogue isn’t honed in and subtle enough for the most part and so just comes off as clunky or ill-designed. What’s more, for a vast majority of this picture Waggner’s direction is incredibly flat with no expressive cinematic language at all. There is one great sequence with a lot of superimposition that is fantastic, but, beyond this, there’s not much to this film in terms of direction that says much or conveys emotion very well – this is all left to the spectacular set-design and lighting. Despite this criticism, this is, as said, a highly enjoyable film that is easily sunk into and watched. So, if you haven’t seen it, certainly give it a go.

What I want to talk about with this picture, however, is what I see to be an incredibly significant lesson in filmmaking and writing. And in discussing this lesson, we’ll be uncovering, as the title suggests, the age-old problem with horror.

To start, there is an easily identified kind of cinephile – it is the one who loves old B-pictures, exploitation, thrillers, slashers, gore and horror. The draw of cinema to this kind of cinephile seems to be the fantasy in horror, the magic of the scary and the thrill of the frightening. I’ve never understood this side of cinema if I’m to be entirely honest. Whilst I can see the attraction, I do not comprehend why, what is easily argued to be, bad films, have the huge draw that they do. So, when I look to a film like The Wolf Man I see and feel the entertaining factor, but certainly can’t see this kind of movie as a reason to go to the cinema and to endlessly watch and obsess over film. This is because, though it is an easy stance to take that many seem to assume without reason or rhyme, I see horror as a truly troubled genre. The core problem with horror movies is simply that they are often far too fantastical to have any sense of verisimilitude – to be believable. This results in tropes and conventions of horror like the jump scare, like the countless dumb decisions characters make and the utterly contrived or awkward action. As said, some embrace this and there is certainly a type of cinephile that goes to the cinema and loves film because of this. I’m just not one of those people. When I think of a great horror film, I think of The Shining or Repulsion. This is because these films seem to be dramas before they are horror films, which raises a question I’ve posed before: when does a film start being a horror movie?

Drama is really not a genre. Drama implies conflict, which all movies have, and so to call a film a drama is redundant. However, with drama comes an idea of realism. We thus judge a film to be a drama if it is confined, grounded and doesn’t appeal to wider genres – instead communicates raw emotions in a realist way. Horror, an explicit genre, on the other hand is defined by the reaction of an audience, thus, it is defined by the emotion of horror that we are supposed to feel. In short, a horror horrifies. More specifically, a horror film horrifies through fantasy. If you were to horrify through a more realist veneer, you couldn’t use monsters, ghosts or supernatural demons as they do not fit into reality. So, when a filmmaker or writer tries to horrify us under realist terms, we end up classifying their work as psychological, a thriller, slasher or crime-drama. Understanding this, you can see that labelling a film as a simple ‘horror’ is dependent on a lack of realism and an abundance of fantastical happenings. This sets a president. If a film is to horrify through fantasy, as a film such as The Wolf Man, Frankenstein, The Night Of The Living Dead, The Exorcist or Dracula tries to, they require the invention of some kind of monster – a werewolf, demon, devil, zombie, vampire or revived mutant corpse. This is what makes horror great, but also where it runs into trouble.

How do you crack someone’s skull open and eat their brains? How do you tear someone apart? How do you suck someone’s blood? How do you rip flesh from bone? How do you exorcise a little girl? How do you transform into a werewolf? These are all questions a writer and filmmaker has to ask themselves as to produce a horror movie. You’d ask yourself the same kind of things if you were writing a drama: What is it like to be dumped? What is it like to lose a loved one? What is it like to be cheated on? What is it like to lose your job? What is it like to become a parent? It is asking questions like these that movies are made and scenes are written. However, there’s a key, and very clear, difference between the questions you ask as to write a drama and the questions you ask as to write a horror. This difference is experience. Most people will have had some drama in their life; they will have been dumped, cheated on, have lost family or at least have seen these kind of things happen to people around them. It’s knowing these details that a screenwriter can type out a script – because they know how to visualise things actually happening. This task is many, many, many times more difficult when it comes to horror. Whilst you may think you know the emotions that will surge through your body as you’re faced with a werewolf because you’re a human and have felt fear before, it is certain that you’ve never witnessed a werewolf tearing a person apart. This is exactly why horror films are so difficult to pull off and are so often terrible – the filmmakers often cannot successfully portray these fantastical events in a believable way.

The catch 22 with horror is then that, for a movie to be a horror film, it needs fantasy, but for a film to work and be effective, it needs the opposite of fantasy – it needs realism and verisimilitude. Filmmakers struggle with the genre of horror (in some aspects of the process) because this conflict between fantasy and verisimilitude is not understood or managed well. The reason there is then such a visceral negative reaction to a scene like this from Birdemic…

… is simply that we can see that the birds are fake. Whilst the filmmakers of Birdemic must have known they were making a terrible movie and embraced that, we see the same issue in a more serious film such as Hitchcock’s, The Birds…

What truly makes this scene, just like the many scenes from Birdemic, terrible is not just to do with technology. Yes, there’s horrific special effects in both of these films, but it is the way in which these sequences are actually written and played out that makes them so bad. For example, if you were to try and kill a bunch of attacking birds, would it look like the first image? If you were to run away from a bunch of attacking birds, would it look like the second image? The answer is, no. However, what would it actually look like if you were to fight off killer birds or run away from them? You don’t really know – just as we all don’t – right? These are difficult things to visualise as they are so absurd and, for the most part, unrealistic or unnatural. Even when these things do happen…

… we laugh because they’re so awkward. And we’ve certainly all seen videos of birds attacking people – our reaction to them is never that which the makers of Birdemic or The Birds wanted to achieve though. What this implies is that the premise for both of these films is ridiculous and could only truly work if they’re self-consciously stupid, or aimed towards children or people who are easily scared.

The real problem with horror is that this core problem with ridiculous horror films is also evident in the ones that you are supposed to take more seriously – films like The Wolf Man. The scene in The Wolf Man I then want to zoom in on comes at the end of the first act and is the one where Bela, in the form of a wolf, attacks and murders Gwen’s friend before Larry confronts and kills it with the cane.

What I’ll try to do it is put to words the way in which this scene plays out. To introduce…

JENNY and BELA sit at a table in the fortune teller’s tent.

Jenny: Can you tell me when I’m going to be married?

Bela casts flowers from the table onto the ground then rests his head in his hand, pushing his fringe back, revealing a star on his forehead.

To keep things short, we’ll jump ahead in the scene past the point in which Bela sees the star in Jenny’s hand, implying that she is his next victim…

Bela: No, no, go away. Go quickly! Go!

Jenny: Yes! Yes, I’m going!

Jenny flees the gypsy tent, leaving Bela staring at the flowers at his feet.

MELEVA, who works in her own tent, hears the commotion. Looking to Bela’s tent, she sees him stood in the entrance, head cupped in his hands.

The horse tied to a carriage nearby begins to stir.

Jenny meanwhile runs through trees, into densening fog when suddenly–

AAAAAHOOOOOOOO

The horse starts bucking and snorting, trying to break loose.

Jenny continues running.

LARRY and GWEN, still at an intimate distance, hear the howl.

Larry: What was that?

Gwen: I don’t know. I’ve never heard anything like it before.

A sharp scream pierces through the air–

Jenny: AAAAAAAAAA!!

Larry: Stay here.

He makes for the shrill, cane at hand, leaving Gwen by the tree…

Gwen: Larry! Wait! Larry!

He hurdles tree roots that jut up from the dirt, cutting through across the skin of fog that masks the ground–stopping, seeing…

A WOLF tearing at the body of a woman.

Larry springs forward, hat flying, grabbing the wolf and pounding it with his fist. The wolf shakes him loose and pounces, immediately ripping away at Larry’s chest.

Larry grabs the jaws, wrestles the wolf off himself and throws it to the ground before reaching for his cane and…

BAM

BAM

BAM

BAM

… repeatedly hammering the silver handle down… the wolf’s snarls slowly subsiding…

Larry, gripping his chest, stumbles then falls away from the silenced creature.

This is scene as best as I can transcribe it and it has quite a few problems. The first is obviously the dialogue. It is too repetitive and too loud. By being too loud, I mean to suggest that it says what’s in the characters heads and doesn’t rely on subtext enough. For example, after hearing the werewolf howl, we get the exchange between Gwen and Harry:

Larry: What was that?

Gwen: I don’t know. I’ve never heard anything like it before.

This can be cut out and done with facial expressions. This is difficult to put down in words as a screenwriter, however. You want to communicate, in the sharpest and clear way, that the two characters heard the howl and are scared. The dialogue is a quick, but not so great, way of putting this down. But, what would be worst than those two lines of dialogue would be the description I gave: the two characters heard the howl and are scared. This is why you see this kind of dialogue in so many movies – it isn’t as blunt, it fills white space on a page, it succinctly gets a point across and is often overlookable. However, what is wrong with this approach is that, when put to film, it is clunky. This isn’t always the case though. If you have great actors, they’d be able to use these lines to get across emotions that invest an audience, not make them reel back at the flat dialogue. This is a source of major anxiety for any writer – especially a screenwriter. When you write a book, you have to hope that a reader reads your words in the way they were intended to be read. In the same respect, you also have to hope an actor says your lines in the way they were meant to be said – or, better.

You cannot avoid this dilemma as a writer. However, as a screenwriter, you have a device that a novelist or playwrite does not – you have the image. This is why I suggest that you take away lines like this and let cinematic language communicate the point. However, with The Wolf Man, the recital of these lines was pretty flat and the cinematic language used to project them was mediocre. This simply means that there was no tension constructed by Waggner, Chaney or Ankers. The emotion in the scene only comes from lighting and the score. This is what has the sequence fall flat – all the devices of cinema do not come together as the acting and direction are weak links.

Now, when we move into the action sequence of this scene, we run into the biggest issue with both the script and movie. This all falls into line with all that we’ve been talking about in respect to fantasy in horror as well as screenwriters having never experience something like a werewolf attack. It is very evident, in the film, that neither Waggner or the screenwriter, Siodmak, have either never seen a wolf attack or been attacked by a wolf. Whilst I don’t know if this is true, it certainly comes off this way. And the blame for the amateurish, kerfuffled wolf attack is certainly to be put onto the director because a screenwriter, lucky for them, gets to hide behind the ambiguity of his/her words. So, let’s take a look at how I describe the attack…

He hurdles tree roots that jut up from the dirt, cutting through across the skin of fog that masks the ground–stopping, seeing…

A WOLF tearing at the body of a woman.

Larry springs forward, hat flying, grabbing the wolf and pounding it with his fist. The wolf shakes him loose and pounces, tearing at Larry’s chest.

Larry grabs the jaws, wrestles the wolf off himself and throws it to the ground before reaching for his cane and…

BAM

BAM

BAM

BAM

… repeatedly hammering down the silver handle… the wolf’s snarls slowly subsiding…

Larry, gripping his chest, stumbles then falls away from the silenced creature.

If you gave this to about 10 directors and asked them to film it, you’d probably get… maybe 3/4 different versions of this scene. Many would think that you’d get 10 different scenes from 10 different directors and this is arguably true. It is not very likely that you’d get the exact same scene over and over – an obvious fact. However, I say 3/4 different versions as most of the scenes would be approached in a very similar way – assuming we have a bunch of average directors. In such, you could imagine someone taking the gory and close-up approach. In this, the camera would track Larry’s feet as he jumps over the roots and comes to an abrupt stop. We’d get an extreme close-up on his horrified face and then another extreme close-up on the blood, flesh and guts of the body being torn at by the wolf. We’d then proceed to get a very violent and bloody beat down of the creature – one that would likely be framed awkwardly with a shaky camera, too many cuts and a whole bunch of close-ups to mask the fact that an actor who has never been in a real fight is trying to kill a doll. Great, right? Another approach you may see is the PG 13 version of this. This scene wouldn’t be so violent or dynamic, would be shot from a distance and would rely on obstruction or implication – a tree in the way or a shadow doing the beating. Again, great, right? This is what you see in The Wolf Man – a distant, static and rather tame scene that comes off as awkward. There is one redeeming factor that does jump out at you though. This is the shot with a real dog or wolf tugging at what I assume to be a doll. This would have been better if the wolf was actually thrashing about, but, the shot is a well used and pretty powerful one. Other than this… this scene is nothing special and comes off as cheap.

How do we then fix this? The answer is a simple one that you won’t like: be a better writer and director. You have to find a style and approach to better convey this scene. Don’t worry, I won’t leave you with just this. Whilst I don’t believe I have the all-powerful answer on how to make the scene better, I believe I have an approach you can choose to take and develop.

This all starts with the script and it’ll now become more evident why I went on about genres, fantasy, horror and so on. To write better action sequences, you have to know what it is like to be in them. If you don’t have access to this knowledge – say, for instance, you’re writing a scene about a 1000 foot fish attacking a city or simply don’t want to watch dogs attacking people on YouTube – we’re going to have to use the power of imagination. This is probably the hardest element of writing – or, at least, I find this to be the case – as it’s the most arduous and down-in-the-dirt aspect of the process. Ok, so, imagine we’re in the moment in which Larry decides he will confront the wolf. Stop here. You’ve just come across a wolf ripping flesh off a dead woman. How does this make you feel? A mixture of things is what I’d suggest. There’s that deep, acidic, sickened feeling in your gut. There’s the cold wave of liquid chill that moves into your bones. There’s the inclination to step back and run away. How do we put this in a script? Unfortunately, unless we we’re to go experimental or cartoonish, you may have to drop a few lines. So, if you were to communicate this is in a classical, but expressive, manner, you’d imply the crumpling of eyes, fear in the pupils, sweat on the face, weak, loose and clammy hands, heels treading back over the dirt, fog wisping up at your trembling knees. If we were to take a cartoon approach, you could simply have the character turn white, gulp and have that giant bead of sweat pop off their head – maybe add some stress lines on the face with veiny, bloodshot eyes that refuse to blink. To take the more experimental route, you could take all those lines and turn them into literal images within a montage. You could then show a close-up on the man’s stomach before cutting to vat of bubbling green acid that has white ice thrown on it. You could have a bone break through the icy waters of a lake and cut this into a montage of a person standing afraid (hence utilising the Kuleshov effect and not relying so much on the actor). You could even show a rapid montage that flickers between frames of each of his body parts between which the blood, guts, jaws and so on flash from the screen.

In the end, there are a vast multitude of approaches you may uncover if you stop, put yourself in a situation and think. And, having covered these three ways, you can hopefully see varied and more expressive means of communicating this one tiny detail of coming across the wolf. This is an arduous process, but I believe it can pay off. All it takes is imagining that you are in that situation, breaking that down into sensory images and finding a way to portray them. Once you have a script that does this, the director may take over and hopefully enrich it with further vision.

What’s so important about horror, and where you will be truly tested as a writer, is not just in the moment where our character comes across the werewolf. It will be the sequence in which your character attacks the wolf. How does he approach the creature? How does the wolf retaliate? How does the fight play out? How can you turn that into sensory images that give the illusion that you know what it is like to fight a werewolf? These are questions I will leave you to ponder and maybe use as a tool to practice writing. In fact, I’d love to know how you would answer these questions and construct this kind of scene.

So, what you can ultimately learn from a film like The Wolf Man, which is deeply faulted because of its script and direction, is the age-old problem with horror. It is so hard to balance the fantasy with the realism; to conjure the illusion that demonstrates that these things could actually happen before your very eyes. To confront this problem you must provide the illusion that you know the scene as if its an event from your life – and to project this, you need to communicate sensory details through cinematic imagery. Whilst I say that this is true, I certainly don’t consider myself particularity good at it. I, like most, am learning and working on this craft. But, given the tools, I believe the growing process is all the more effective and accessible. And so, in the end, is this helpful to you? What are your thoughts?

 

 

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Noah – Can It Make Sense?

Thoughts On: Noah (2014)

A loose adaptation of the Genesis flood narrative.

Noah

I’m a huge fan of Darren Aronofsky’s work, he’s one of my favourite directors and has made some amazing films, but, this is a pretty terrible film. Before getting into all of this and eventually providing something of a re-write of this story, I have to say that I will of course be talking about and around a religious text. If you’re not into hearing about that or don’t like people to criticise, poke or prod at The Bible, then this post is probably not for you. That said, the main fault in this film is its source. The story of Noah’s Ark is just a pretty dumb one. We all know the main critiques and there’s not much worth in outlining all of them. All I’ll then leave you with is a link to Joe Rogan’s Noah’s Ark bit:

Now, whilst there are a plethora of holes in the story of Noah’s Ark, Aronofosky’s Noah does attempt to fill a few of them. One of the obvious holes is, how does Noah build this ark? Well, not only does he get help from God with a magic forest, but he gets help from angels – The Watchers. And in this, we see the most sensible way to handle this story; just say it’s all magic. Whilst this sounds satirical, I say this genuinely. Noah is obviously a fantasy. And I mean to talk about the film, not the religious text, here. With Aronofsky’s Noah being a fantasy movie, it should certainly embrace this idea of magic and divine power – something we will return to.

Another hole this movie tries to fill is, how do the animals inhabit the ark for 40 days? Well, we see that they’re put to sleep. This is a half-assed solution though. They’re still going to need food and, how did they get there? You could say magic, but, this is certainly a plot hole nonetheless. Next. How does civilisation rebuild itself? This is a crucial point that is kind of answered, but not really. With the ending, we get the disturbing implication that the two baby girls will be impregnated by their uncle – maybe their father and maybe their grandfather. Not cool. But, we also see Ham, one of Noah’s sons, leave. What is implied here is that he’s going to search for people that survived the flood. If this is true, then it is also implied that the flood wasn’t meant to, or just failed to, wipe out all humans. This is a huge problem. The first and most faulted reason why is the fact that God is said to be giving humans a new start. However, he does this with murder; by abandoning hope for the vast majority of humans and refusing to teach or see them evolve. To let some survive with a silent ‘assertion’ that they are better than everyone else is ridiculous. Moreover, who gets to survive? Well, in this story it’s clear that God decided that it’s just Noah’s family. However, with Ham going off in search of others whilst Noah, the enlightened one with a direct line to God, stays, we get the implication that, as Joe Rogan says, those with boats, their shit must work. In other words, some people must have survived by the force of their own will – by getting in boats and riding the storm out. If Ham encounters a civilisation of these people, won’t they (at least some of them) hate God? Won’t they be exactly like Tubal-cain? They survived in face of God, they are their own higher power, they are the rulers of their lives. Why should they love or respect a God that failed to kill them?

This is quite a big issue with the film’s final act. However, if incest isn’t humanity’s only hope, then the film does imply that the new start that humanity has been granted is one in their own hands. This is the profound diamond in the rough (a whole lot of rough) of this story. The implication with this version of Noah’s Ark with Noah having to decide to see the good in people and love them is certainly its strongest attribute. What Aronofsky then tries to say with this narrative is tantamount to him stitching the Genesis stories of the Old Testament to the lighter Jesus-centric stories of the New Testament. In such, he takes aspects of Jesus’ teachings that are accepting of people, that love unconditionally and so on, and mixes them with ideas of an Original Sin and humans being inherently broken. Whilst there is still a lot of debate in this film to do with God staying silent and humans being self-sovereign – as posed by Tubal-cain and possibly the survivors of the flood – this is the main redeeming factor of Aronofsky’s Noah.

To round off the positive aspects of this movie, I have to say that I like the inventive insertion of the angels – even a few of their action sequences. Whilst I don’t think that they’re used to their full capacity, I like the idea of them. Moreover, there’s quite a few interesting plays with time lapses as well as the dream sequences across the film. It’s in these small moments that Aronofsky demonstrates why he’s considered a great visual storyteller. And finally, we do get a few good performances out of Connelly, Watson and Hopkins. Having said that, let’s dive into what’s not so great about this movie.

Beyond the logic problems we’ve begun to touch on, this is a terrible script. Ari Handel also collaborated with Aronofsky to write The Fountain, and in both of these scripts I see a common problem. This is simply to do with the execution of a great idea. Whilst Noah’s Ark is pretty much just a dumb story, I think most screenwriters would jump at the chance to work some sense into this as a film. This is because, whilst a lot of ancient stories, especially religious ones, have their many faults, they have inherent attributes that talk to people in a profound and lasting manner – a manner which lasts hundreds or thousands of years. There is certainly the fact that people propagate and force these stories onto one another and children that contributes to this, but there is also great scope and fantasy captured by religious stories that mimic other ancient forms – like Greek myths and legends. This is why a screenwriter would love to jump on this kind of story. And this is what Ari Handel has done; he’s tried to tackle this monumental beast of a story, but, unfortunately, just hasn’t put enough detail, thought or scope into this film for it to work. Moreover, the dialogue is just full of constant bland aphorisms or exposition – which is pretty grating. And added to this, most of the characters in this film are entirely forgettable. I like the arcs of Noah, Ham and Ila, and I also like what Tubal-cain represents as an antagonist. However, all of these characters are mere devices. They very rarely jump off the page and seem like real people. In such, there is always a distance at which we’re held at when it comes to characters, which gives this film a particularly stiff texture. And this is something we see in a vast majority of adaptations of old stories or costume pictures. It’s incredibly rare that we get something like Aladdin, Gone With The Wind, Cries and Whispers, Braveheart or My Fair Lady. These films go back in time, but don’t become stagnant, formal and boring – as many other costume picture do.

As we are already, we should continue to bridge the gap from script to film and take a look at Aronofsky’s direction. Not only does he direct his actors to spew boring lines and take on rigid performances, but he shoots them in the most frustrating way. And this is one of the most disappointing aspects of Noah; Aronofsky often seems like he’s given up and isn’t trying. He films almost every single dialogue scene with painfully repetitive close-ups and wides. His grasp of cinematic language in this film is then incredibly poor. He just frames an awkward handheld camera before his actors’ face, lets the scene play out, then sets up a wide shot for extra coverage and that’s it. There is next to no expressive direction in any scenes. All we get is bland CUs, wides and POV shots – sometimes a crane or aerial shot with a bunch of CGI in. As said, this is just disappointing. There is only a handful of sequences, like the dream or time lapse scenes, where you can actually feel Aronofsky trying to craft a great film. Another downfall in direction comes down to world building. I can sum this up with this image alone:

Noah is chopping this piece of wood with an axe. If you’ve had just one shop or design-technology class, you’ll know this is pretty stupid. If you want to accurately cut wood, you’re going to need a saw. And you can’t even say that these characters haven’t the means to make one, just look at the serrations on this knife:

So, not only has Noah got a terrible aim, but he’s trying to construct an air-tight ship that holds what I can only imagine to be hundreds of tonnes with axes, hammers and rope. A bodged, half-assed job simply won’t do – not even with God on your shoulder. The axe and this image are then so pivotal as we actually never (as far as I’m aware) see a saw in use during this movie. Moreover, we only ever see a measuring device in use once. And when we look to scenes depicting metal work…

… yeah, give me a break. What these small details expose is the fact that Aronofsky does not have a grip on his story and its context; that he doesn’t have the confidence or care to actually build a believable world. We see this in this image as well…

Yes, this is a terrible CGI creature (of which there are many), but it’s also… an alien thing. We see this throughout Noah, weird, new creatures, but never really explore their place in the world. Why implement these elements if you don’t care to properly integrate them into the narrative? To then conclude Aronosfky’s and Handel’s terrible world building, we only have to look at the opening.

There is no scope given to this world; so many things are just mentioned or implied. This simple opening exposition is intriguing and looks good, but, it is gratuitously ambiguous and ultimately leaves us in a disorganised and thrown-together world.

Moving on from here, like with the axe and plot holes of this story, there are many lapses in logic. There are three kinds of bad logic in films. The first is all to do with character motivation. In Noah, we aren’t seeing characters with the IQ of slasher film characters. However, they do not raise or debate key questions. We won’t delve into these as we already have in the introduction – moreover, we can all critique the logic of Noah’s Ark as a story. Moving to the second kind of bad logic in movies, we come to action. Again, we don’t get the dumb action seen in bad slashers or fight films in Noah, but…

… there are a few poor moments of action. As said, the animation of the angels as they fight is pretty tremendous. We see great, fluid mobility in them with a use of their many limbs that is pretty cool and somewhat reminiscent of actions scene in The Lord Of The Rings. However, the hand-to-hand combat between people is choreographed and played out in an amateur-ish manner. What’s more, the direction around these sequences is incredibly bland.

The last kind of bad logic in movies is all to do with narrative. We’ve discussed this quite a bit already, but, there’s a really annoying detail in this film that I don’t understand. As Noah tells the Genesis creation story (the universe being created in 7 days), we get assisting imagery. In this, we come to the part where Cain kills Abel. Noah uses this to discuss how all people are corrupt and we get the corresponding imagery of dozens of silhouette figures throwing weapons. In this flickering flurry, Aronofsky inserts this:

I’ll give you a moment to see what’s wrong with these images… Yeah, there’s guns and grenades being thrown. This makes absolutely no sense at all. The obvious lapse here is that Noah doesn’t know the future and so we shouldn’t be seeing into it. However, you could argue that this is a form of diegetic commentary. Diegetic often refers to sound that does not come from the world of a story – something like narration. With these images that do not fit into the world of Noah, you could argue that Aronofsky is suggesting that there is an evil in people that exists in all forms of combat. However, this still doesn’t make sense. This story is all about the character’s present. To insert this is tonally inconsistent as it suggests that the new beginning Noah seeks is a false and pointless one. Despite the flood, there are still going to be thousands of years of war. The rebuff you may offer to this is that the film is all about humans finding a capacity to love and care for one another – to see the good and slowly improve. What this image then says is that, despite the war to come, what Noah learns in this story effects humanity in a positive manner; one that has us work towards something better and will eventually have us find peace. This is all bullshit though. Why would humanity need to be almost destroyed by a flood if the moral of the story is that we should slowly learn to improve? Isn’t it better to start bettering humanity now rather than killing everyone?

What these images then demonstrate about the narrative logic of this film is that it is faulted in combining New Testament and Old Testament philosophies. To clarify, whilst there isn’t such a stark and simple divide between the two, the New Testament, with, again, Jesus-centric stories about redemption and forgiving those who do wrong, has a different thought process than that demonstrated with an idea such as Original Sin that is present in the Old Testament. The Jesus-esque ending of Noah doesn’t need elements of Original Sin (people being broken) to function as the ending is more about aiding people, not condemning and punishing them. Aronofsky inserting this almost diegetic commentary about the future is suggestive of an Original Sin – something that does not align with the positive ending.

My key point here is not just on logic, however. What we see throughout this film is a heavy use of style – but one that doesn’t always support the story. So, with the above images, we see an attempt at creating visual commentary in a provocative manner. We also see this in a lot of the CGI. From the animals to the backgrounds to the settings, this film is often given a strong aesthetic that doesn’t successfully build a world or immerse you in story, nor provide further commentary, instead, just create something that’s sometimes nice to look at. Whilst this isn’t true throughout the film in some of the better sequences, it is evident in many parts and ultimately cheapens the film.

Moving away from plain criticism, I want to start asking how this movie could have been better. To start, I think this film was pretty much doomed to fail from the very get go. Whilst I appreciate that Aronofsky was going to make a certain kind of film, one that may not have been granted the biggest budget, this needed to be a 3-4 hour epic. I know some people hate long movies, but I think that certain kinds of stories, when done well, need this run time. The best example you could provide in support of this is certainly The Lord Of The Rings trilogy. This story could’t have worked as a singular 120 minute film, it couldn’t have worked as two 180 minute films, it had to have been three 3-4 hour films. And I say this as someone who will happily devour the extended editions time and time again. My point is, however, if Noah was 3-4 hours long, it would have been given the capacity, or means, to be great.

So, how do we fill this huge narrative space? First things first, Aronofsky is probably the right guy for the job. All he brings to this film in terms of his better ‘artsy’ sequences as well as the attempt to tell this story with many revisions is excellent. However, the narrative of Noah, as is, needs to be bulked up with more world building and a traditional quest plot. What I mean to suggest by this is that Noah needs that Greek epic kind of structure where we follow a hero on a quest. The bulk of the film should have then been following a much more active Noah as a complex hero figure. Our introduction to him as a man should have been a brief one that introduces us to his family and works in a bit of character. After having his premonition, Noah should have then journeyed with his family to his grandfather. On this journey, we’d get a similar sequence to the one where Noah finds Ila as a little girl. However, the action here should be much more immersive, character-driven and not solved with the introduction of the angels. The angels should have been saved for later on in the narrative. Having escaped from the men, having built that conflict and danger into the world, the narrative should have rested at a point where the family re-collects with Methuselah. We’ll hold here for a second to jump back to the introduction of the movie.

The introduction to this film should have been more of a first act. In such, the story of Cain, Abel and so on should have actually been put on screen. From here we should have seen, in some amount of detail, the world devolve into chaos. In this sequence, we should have become familiar with certain pockets of society – the descendants of Cain, such and so on. This would build the world and establish a greater scope to this story – something that will become pivotal as we move on.

Knowing the world and story of Noah better and having got to the point where Noah’s family find Methuselah, we should follow the people that attacked and chased them…

… back to their clan. This would give us another opportunity to learn about the societies and, more importantly, Tubal-cain as an antagonist (assuming that they are apart of his clan). With this sequence over, we should return to Methuselah and Noah. Methuselah should serve as the wise mentor of Noah, our hero on a quest. He should aid him as he does with the tea, but also send him to find the angels. This is where we adhere more to the traditional quest narrative. So, in searching for the angels as an aid to build the ark – assuming they will tell him how to make it and so on – we should introduce more aspects of characters as well as bring Methuselah along. What Methuselah’s purpose would be is to bring this…

… into the movie. This is what I believe got people excited about Noah. It is implied that angels and descendants of Adam and Eve once had great powers. Methuselah, using his knowledge and magic, should be teaching Noah how to find and use his own powers across the narrative. What’s more, he should be training Noah’s family too. This is certainly where the magic side of this story should have been capitalised on. Noah and his sons should be taught how to fight and do magic shit by Methuselah. Methuselah may even teach his wife and daughter to look after the animals, giving them magical powers to both call them and care for them. If the women learn this early on, the animals would have many years to get to the ark as it’s built and also care for them as they’re on it.

However, coming back to their quest to find the angels, their confrontation could possibly be another action scene where the family and Methuselah must get The Watchers to help them. And these creatures should not be as weak as they are. They should have great power and have receded into darkness having lost faith in people – but, waiting nonetheless for someone to right everything. All of this should be demonstrated in the confrontation. And after the angels are won over and the seed is planted, the building of the ark should commence. It should be implied that over the years, animals migrate to the ark and that Methuselah, as well as the angels, continue to teach Noah’s family. The angels should be teaching them all about construction as well as the word of God and so on, whilst Methuselah trains them in the crafts of magic and combat. Most importantly, people should be sawing wood.

Before this time lapse sequence occurs, however, we should come back to the already established Tubal-cain. He should confront Noah, just as he does in the film, with the angels eventually warding him off before an attack. After he leaves with the promise that, if the flood does come, he will attack, Tubal-cain should reflect on seeing Methuselah – and maybe some evidence for Noah’s powers. As his clan sets up camp, using the magic forest Noah seeds, Tubal-cain should then go on his own quest to recover the sword that does this…

Fuck, yes, right!? Forget this weird gold shit that is never integrated into the narrative…

Tubal-cain, too, should have powers as he is a direct descendent of Cain. And just as his people took the snake skin from Seth’s descendants, they should also take the sword. Tubal-cain should recover this as his people thrive in the newly founded lush lands around the ark – which are constantly populated by travelling creatures.

So, after a time lapse sequence, the ark should be built, Noah’s family should be well-trained and well-prepared. Here conflicts between the family should start to swell – this means the whole thing of Ham wanting a wife. This sequence should then play out in a similar way to what we see in the film. As this goes on, however, we see Tubal-cain recover the magic fire sword and return to his clan – the pocket of his kingdom that is most pivotal and supposed to be thriving in these new lands. However, as in the film, the state of the settlement isn’t great. People are raping, polluting and managing their resources terribly. It’s here where Tubal-cain’s conflict with God should be emphasised. He feels that God has left them to this terrible situation and so plans to re-establish his kingdom as some kind of tangible God of Earth with his newly recovered weapon. However, the rain starts to pour – day after day. Instead of leaving his clan to start the recovery of his kingdom with his new weapon (by conquering new lands and so on), Tubal-cain stays. He begins to believe that Noah is right about the rain – not that he is a mad man. In such, he decides that he must attack Noah’s settlement, if not just for the ark, but for another one of those seeds from The Garden of Eden that Methuselah might possess. So, as Tubal-cain’s settlement rallies for war, Noah prepares for the flood.

It’s been raining for days and animals have moved into the arc – all facilitated by Noah’s wife and Ila. It’s here where we get the sequence in which Ham runs off to find his own wife after Noah returns having failed to find anyone in Tubal-cain’s camp. Noah lets him go and stops anyone going after him in a rage. Night falls. Noah waits for the flood to wash the ark away whilst his family keep distant. It’s here where the oldest son should be sent to find his brother by his mother before she convinces Methuselah to do something to reverse Noah’s insane and suicidal ways. He says he will try, let’s her go, but then calls back Ila. This is where he uses his magic to fix her womb. Here we cut to Shem, the older brother, searching for Ham. As in the film, he should have already found a girl. Instead of falling into a ditch, however, he should have used his training to save a particular girl from being sold for meat. This would add more action into the film and give a chance for better character-work in both Ham and the girl. So, having saved this girl, Ham moves out of town, being careful not to be seen by anybody – but ends up running into his brother who confronts him. As these too argue, someone identifies the boy who used powers to save a girl and kill a few people. They alert others and here we have the start of a lot of conflict.

Ham and Shem fight off the initial horde that attack them. But, the king is notified that Noah’s family are attacking and taking women. He now feels that he knows for sure that the flood is coming and that Noah/God conspires against him. He sends out the signal for the attack on Noah to commence. Meanwhile, Ham and Shem escape their small battle, moving through the forest with Ham’s woman. However, they are caught up with and ambushed on the edge of the forest. The angels spot the conflict and alert Noah who goes out to help. It’s here where Ham fails to protect the girl. She is split from him in the melee. He’s pinned down, about to be killed. But, in comes Noah. He saves Ham, gets him to his feet and out of the forest, leaving the girl to be taken and killed. Shem and Noah move behind the line of angels and into position to protect the ark – Ham is thrust into the ark and kept there. This is where Tubal-cain’s army attack. The war plays out with an emphasis on more magic, power and so on. In short, it’s the epic peak of the narrative that ultimately plays out much like it does in Noah. Tubal-cain uses his fire-sword thing to eviscerate people, Methuselah dies in the conflict and so do all the angels. However, the Earth quakes, water spurts from the cracks and a huge tsunami moves toward the army. Tubal-cain tries to use his weapon to send huge waves of fire at the surging water, evaporating it, destroying the land around, but it is not enough. One of the last angels pounce at him as they explode – the sword is taken and destroyed in the maneuver. The army starts to flee and Noah’s family move into the ark. Before the tsunami consumes all, the injured Tubal-cain uses his powers to force his way into the ship. From here, the rest of the narrative, as seen in the film, should play out as is.

The reason why I say that the last hour or so should be left in tact is that it is pretty good as is as it captures a lot of the dramatic conflict between the family as well as introduces the key moral dilemma. All that I’d suggest is that the final confrontation between Noah, Tubal-cain and so on should be better – as assisted by their powers. This should then probably take place on the top of the ark and be given more scope. Way before all of this, however, on the first night of being on the ark, Shem and Ila should copulate so that we have the baby conflict. It’s here where we run into logical problems though. If it only rains for 40 days and 40 nights, how can Ila have been through a whole 9 month pregnancy? You could imply magic, but maybe not…

Abandoning our re-write of Noah, we should revert back to looking at logical problems in the film. The biggest problem with the story of creation and Noah’s ark is both incest and the existence of gene pools. By completely disregarding Noah’s Ark as a story from The Bible that you’re supposed to see as real, we can actually fix this as well as a lot of problems in The Bible. Yes, I said it and it’s probably blasphemous – we’re about to re-write The Bible.

The problem with Genesis is the ambiguity of this kind of imagery…

Adam and Eve, those two gold figures, aren’t really painted out to be very human or apart of a reality we know. Not only can they talk to animals, but they can produce children that can continue to screw each other to produce millions of viable people. What is implied here is that maybe they have a super genome (what can otherwise be called a soul) – one that can be split, mixed and cut up many times over. How this is possible, I don’t know. Let’s say it’s magic and that a genome is a super soul created by God. And because Adam and Eve are magic with God-like souls, they also have super powers. When they are cast out of Eden, they are forced to rely on these powers and become Gods themselves; they are forced to create life. So, what they do is screw and produce 3 children. These children have powers and super genomes that can be split over and over. However, the more that the genomes or souls are split, the weaker they become. The implication here is then that humans where once literally made in the image of a God – we were divine. By falling to Earth, we were forced into mortality – not instantaneously though. This is a process that takes thousands of years, many generations; our divine genome splitting to the point that we, as a species, are weak – are human. However, Noah, descendant of Seth, is apart of a line of humans that have a stronger genome than others. Remembering this, we can take a quick look at the beginning of Noah – our version of the narrative that is.

The reason why Cain’s descendants are destroying the world is that they live by a terrible consumerist philosophy and have souls that have been split too many times. They are fractions of Gods, devolved and are destroying themselves. This is why they must be wiped out – so that Seth’s lineage may take over the world. However, the key difference between the two, beyond the de-evolution, is simply their philosophy of life. Seth’s lineage do not just consume, they attempt to think, conserve and preserve the Earth. This is why God gives them to a chance to start again. Why would God do this? Well, maybe he forgave Adam and Eve after they died, let them into heaven and now they’re elbowing him in the side, telling him to help their descendants.

This hopefully explains many elements of our version of Noah. There are many more intricate details we could discuss about creation in general, evolution and so on, but we won’t dive too deep. Instead, we’ll jump to the point in our narrative where Noah’s Ark is floating in the flood.

Instead of Shem and Ila screwing one another here, Adam and Eve could be giving God another dig in the side, telling him to put a baby in Ila’s newly functioning womb. They may even do this themselves. In fact, it makes an awful lot of sense that it is Adam and Eve who are the Gods of this narrative. After all, they are humanity’s literal parents – it is they who care about us–not the God who gave up on us as he threw us out of Eden. So, what Adam and Eve do is use their powers to inseminate Ila with the potential for a new line of humans; a brand new soul and a fresh genome. So, when the baby grows and breeds with Noah’s children it’s not really incest and there can be a continued lineage of humans that don’t mutate or come out all fucked up. However, there is still that de-evolution which must be counter-acted with new virgin births. It’s here, thousands of years later, where a new superhero is then born… Jesus.

We cannot forget, however, that Ham has gone off in search of the other descendants of Cain. If he breeds with them and they mix in with the new lineage of Ila, we can see humans spreading across the world, creating a diverse species that is slowly devolving, their souls or genomes splitting, but also progressing in their philsophy, culture and technology. It’s in this vast implied future of this narrative that other religious stories and figures could be incorporated – which all magically tags on to the Marvel and DC Universe with mutants, superheroes, Gods and so much more… all before humans create The Matrix and… God knows?

That aside, Noah is a film that has a lot of problems, but is very open to a creative treatment. What are your thoughts on this film and do you think I’m nuts?

P.S. I can be your new cult leader if need be. If L. Ron Hubbard could do it, so can I. You don’t know where I got this information – it could have been Gods or aliens. To find out the truth and to cut past this satirical veneer, reach out to me and bring your wallet with you.

P.P.S. Hollywood, you’re into remaking movies. Hit me up if you want to get this done. I see this a lot of potential in this cinematic universe. Just make sure you bring your wallet with you too.

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Raw – Lessons From The Stand-Up Feature

Thoughts On: Raw (1987)

Eddie Murphy’s second stand-up comedy feature film.

Raw

This is a weirdly significant film to me. Being way too young to have been watching this, Murphy’s Raw was my first exposure to stand-up comedy. I can’t even remember how old I was when pushing in the old video tape, but what I will never forget is the full-body reaction, the utter captivation, the drug-like sensation, of watching and listening to the most hilarious shit for an hour and a half straight. I can’t stress, nor explain, how mind-blowing the experience of watching and re-watching this film was to me as a kid. It was basically a kind of magic to me, how someone could stand on stage and ignite a fiery, burning uproar in my gut. And it’s that feeling of pain, of delirious joy as I laughed and laughed and laughed until I was blue in the face, that makes this film significant to me. Never have I howled as much, so wholeheartedly, so purely and thoroughly as I did when watching this film for the first few times.

Raw has then always stuck with me as it’s one of those films that I watch at least a few times every year. And watching the film a few times a year means in totality. I’m constantly watching clips from both Delirious and Raw, showing them to friends and family – even if I’ve shown them a billion times already. What’s more, I’ll often wake up and watch Murphy talking about Michael Jackson, Um-Fufu, girlfriends going on holiday and taking half or Italian guys watching Rocky just to start the day off on some kind of high. So, as should be clear, Eddie Murphy has been a huge influence on me. And I suppose this manifests itself primarily in my sense of humour, but also desire to tell stories. Because Raw was such a revelatory experience to me I obviously had to find more – which meant other comedians. And that yearning or fascination with stand-up has lasted to this day. It was after Eddie Murphy that I went on to find Tim Minchin, Richard Pryor, Aries Spears, Sam Kinison, Chris Rock, Louis CK, Robbin Williams, Sebastian Maniscalco, Dave Chappelle, George Carlin, Chris D’Elia, Joe Rogan, Mitch Hedberg, Kevin Hart, Jim Jefferies, Joey Diaz, Patrice O’Neal, Bill Burr and so much more. Each and every one of these comics hit that special note and ignited that familiar feeling I first felt when watching Eddie Murphy scream, shout and swear in Raw. And with this came this strange philosophy, sensibility or way of thinking.

My favourite comics seem to have two key characteristics. The first is a harsh, unapologetic truth. From Pryor to Kinison to Diaz to Jefferies, I see ‘dirty comics’ that find funny in very human truths that we often don’t like to talk about. The other attribute I’m drawn to is an intellectual commentary. You get this from CK, Carlin, Rogan and Burr. These comics not only tell stories that make you laugh, but expose and talk about thought provoking ideas. But, what I often find is that these two types, the intellectual commentator and un-PC genuine storyteller, are often one and the same. So, whilst Carlin was more of a ranter, he was also focused on a kind of shock, hard-truth kind of commentary. Simultaneously, whilst Joey Diaz has endless stories about his balls, coke, prostitutes and guns, you get to hear the lessons of his life in his comedy. So, what I love in comedy is the visceral storytelling and the personalities that can say shit no other entertainer can. But, plain shock comedy, just like alternative pseudo-intellectual comedy, grows bland real quick. That’s why I like an element of truth or thought in comedy. When that thought meets visceral exposition, you find the purest form of truth in my opinion. This is because, with a non-PC approach, you can say the things we all (many of us) personally think about all the time. You may talk about sexual things, racial topics, subjects of gender, poverty, evil, corruption and selfishness. And by not just bringing up these hidden and pushed aside topics of truth, but having something to add to them with some kind of original thought, the truth and expression demonstrated becomes something so much more precious.

I think the “it’s just comedy” side of comedy off-sets this idea of visceral, probing truth incredibly well as it gives a comic free-range to create stories with hyperboles, which leaves their ideas with an ambiguous cushion around them – one that engages the audience, entertains them and doesn’t assume they’re an utter nit-wit that has to be fed easy to swallow, plain and simple ideas. Louis CK is probably one of the best comedians when it comes to implying a subtle truth within a hyperbolic comedic premise. Whilst CK may talk about “If Murder Was Legal” and suggest that everyone would kill someone if they were allowed as a way of creating something funny, he also implies something about a side of human nature that isn’t so loving, that does get annoyed, fed up and frustrated. Whilst I could go on to talk about this for thousands of words more, this is essentially why I’m so swept away by certain kinds of comedy. Not only is there a pure, unflinching truth, but its delivered and packaged in an intellectual way that engages as well as respects an audience in a manner that no other art form, or form of entertainment, can manage.

Having said this, I bring up Eddie Murphy’s Raw to ask two questions. The first question is, is Raw a film and does it count as cinema? This is a subtly tricky question. The answer seems to simply be, no, not really. This answer would suggest that, whilst this is a 90 minute recording, one that was given a theatrical release, put on tape, DVD and Blu-ray, we go to see this film for an art form that is not cinematic. We watch this ‘film’ for stand-up comedy. And stand-up certainly doesn’t need a camera to function – it just needs a crowd. What this certainly says is that stand-up features, or specials, fit into a weird realm of cinema. However, despite this, in my opinion, I certainly think that they count as films – just not in a strict way. They are loosely cinematic. After all, A Streetcar Named Desire and Dogville are films. These are basically stage plays. We don’t need cinema to experience these stories, however, they are stories expressed on film and so they are movies. This is why I say that Raw counts as a movie, as cinema. Not only is this a ‘story’ captured by a camera. but it is one dictated, facilitated and contorted by cinematography, direction and editing – a uniquely cinematic combination.

Having asserted that Raw is a film – though a strange one – we can move onto the next, and more pressing, question: so what? What can we learn from Raw as a movie?

With the introduction, I’ve tried to convey what the stand-up comedy and comedians I like have taught me. Primarily, the likes of Pryor, Diaz, CK, Burr and O’Neal have taught me a key idea of truth. What the mentioned comics do like no other artist can is, within the comedic realm, expose hidden truths and provide commentary on them. They are allowed to do this as their form of storytelling is entirely focused on making a succinct point. I repeat, entirely focused. A joke will only work if the audience gets it. And to get a joke you must understand how it tries to manipulate and misguide you. A pretty flat example would be as follows:

What do you call a boy about to stand up to his bullies?
An ambulance.

What this very simple joke does is set up a narrative of a boy about to rise up against his conflicts – be a hero of his story. However, the laugh lies in a sharp turn. Reality barges its way in with the implimence that the boy is about to be beaten to a pulp as he tries to pull on the tights and spandex of a hero. We then laugh because we understand that bullied kids are bullied for a reason – they’re usually weak. Our recognition of this is the laugh. It’s kind of fucked up when you think of comedy in these terms, but that’s simply how it is. And it’s not a form of sadism or hatred to laugh at these kind of jokes as, as previously said, “it’s just comedy”. What this much repeated phrase suggests is the obvious: the boy, his bullies and the ambulance don’t exist. This means that a joke is, to push towards slightly pretension depths, a form of philosophical questioning.

As a philosopher, you may, without flinching, ask: why don’t we just rape the women we’re attracted to? The reason why a philosopher asks this question has nothing to do with actual rape. The question means to expose a hidden truth. After all, if you were to ask an average passing person why we don’t just rape women, you’d likely get a very unsatisfactory answer: it’s not right. With “it’s not right” being the only answer one could provide to this question, you can see a tremendous problem. To explain, imagine you stand with your best friend before a red button. You are in an empty room without windows, without a door, just the button. You have the urge to push the button. Your friend says not to. You ask why. They said “it’s not right”. Where do you go from here? You’ll eventually push the button, right? However, you wouldn’t if your friend explained that the button has a wire that’s connected to him and that if you push that button, a bomb strapped to his chest would go off.

Now, I don’t mean to compare rape with pushing a button out of curiosity – not so plainly anyhow. What I mean to suggest is that asking questions and providing answers provides clarity and so reason to a rhyme. So, whilst no one (blindly holding onto optimism) raised in modern society really needs to be told not to rape someone, we can imagine an alien civilisation landing on Earth who have no mating rituals, instead, just inseminate anyone who catches their eye. Assuming these aliens are intelligent and empathetic, we’d have to explain what rape is, why it’s bad, such and so on. You couldn’t do this by simply saying “it’s not right”. You’re going to need the philosopher.

Comedy works in a similar way to philosophy in this respect. A great example would be found in the works of Bill Burr. A great bit of his is him confronting the assertion that “there is no reason to hit a woman“. Burr accepts, as we all do (again, blindly holding onto optimism) that you just shouldn’t hit women. However, we are all told this in a “it’s not right” manner. Burr questions this, exposing the truth, that is so easily glossed over, that women are humans, that they can be infuriating, that they can certainly be deserving of a punch. He repeats that you shouldn’t hit a woman, but, asserts that there is reason to nonetheless. This is funny in the same manner that explaining why rape is wrong to aliens is helpful. Just as explaining rape to the aliens would ignite a reaction of understanding in them, Burr exposing a caveat in a subject of domestic abuse is funny. There is thus, in both cases, a reflex response to validate these intellectual assertions, which demonstrates how there is both a philosophical questioning going on in comedy, but also the need for the joke/questioning.

Taking this concept of jokes as philosophy, we can extrapolate our first lesson from the stand-up feature film. A great way to approach a story is with this focus on making a point that all comedians have. What makes a joke great is the profundity of its point. What often makes films great is also their profundity, however, there is a reliance on image and action in film that allows weak points to be made. For example, just look to Michael Bay. His films have no profound point to them – not in my view. However, millions have seen and paid for them. Ask yourself this though: if Transformers had to be performed as a stand-up routine, would it get any laughs? I say no – not a chance. Look to a film like Dogtooth, however. There is a succinct and powerful point made in this film about the control parents have over their children…

Could this movie be adapted into a stand-up comedian’s set and be funny? I certainly think so. This is not just because Dogtooth is a slight dark comedy, however, but because there is a conflicting and probing truth exposed by this story that a comedian could capitalise on. What this says about Dogtooth and the approach to cinema that Lanthimos takes is that poignant stories have a point, one that exposes a visceral, easily looked over truth. If you appreciate this kind of filmmaking, I think stand-up comedy is a great source of inspiration and lessons. It’s watching Burr, Diaz, Rogan, Hedberg and Pryor that you’ll then learn the importance of a premise, its twist and its resolution. If you can put this into a script, I believe you’ll have the tools and means to create something special. And you don’t have to be inspired to write a comedy. In simply recognising how comedians expose truth, you can construct powerful dramas, fantasies, crime-mysteries – anything. What comedy will teach you is how to make those stories profound and how to get a reaction out of an audience.

The next lesson that a film like Raw may teach you, which is connected to the previous, is the importance of words or dialogue. Whilst you could learn this from a play, say for instance the 2001 version of Waiting For Godot, stand-up is a much more expressive example of the power of dialogue. When we watch Raw, it is so easy to forget that all we’re doing is watching Murphy talk….

… that’s it. If a stand-up comedian can entertain people for up to 2 hours on stage and this may translate to film, does this not suggest a much greater scope of story that may work in a script? What Raw suggests is that not all films need to be Die Hard, instead, that they can be much more subdued and simple. By watching comedy, you come to understand just how to achieve this, how to fill up a large space of time with minimalist resources. The answer is an unsatisfying one – it’s all about a great performance and some great writing. This is why stand-up comedy is so hard and a film that mimics its form would be so difficult to produce. But, as Murphy demonstrates, this is more than possible.

A lesson within this subject of dialogue that you may learn from stand-up is how people performing talk or sound. As any screenwriter could tell you, when you write a film, you are not trying to write real conversations. If you were to turn a transcript of a real conversation into a film, it’d likely be boring. As a result, when you write dialogue, you don’t want to transcribe real speech. Instead, you want to write movie dialogue. You can learn to do this many ways, and I believe watching stand-up comedians perform is one of the best due to the pure focus on their words and voice. One of the best sources actually begins to move further away from cinema. Joe Rogan’s 2016 special, Triggered…

… is shot almost entirely in a mid-shot or close-up with a few wides. There are no inserts of the crowd, we just see him talk. This emphasises the power of his voice and performance. And what makes this entirely minimalist approach almost a no-brainer when it comes to Rogan is, of course, his podcast…

These are 2, sometimes 3 or 4 hour long conversation-performances (I say conversation-performances as they are for a camera and mic to pick up). All you see is captured by the above shot; just a cut between Joe and his guest. Is this cinema? There is cinematography, a camera, editing and so it has to be in some way, right? Whilst you may call it just a podcast, I believe that the YouTube videos of The Joe Rogan Experience are tantamount to movies – movies I happily sit through dozens and dozens of times.

What this should further emphasis to any film lover or filmmaker is that minimalism and bare-bones storytelling is a viable option. Whilst it may seem commercially daunting to try this, what Joe Rogan and many other podcasters who stream on sites like YouTube show is that, with a good character, this is very possible and endlessly entertaining. And this is arguably what we see in a film like Locke…

However, coming back to the idea of learning how to make characters talk, look no further than podcasts and stand-up specials to learn what goes into performances as well as how conversations flow and structure themselves. Recognising that podcasts and comedy specials aren’t just conversations or talks will then open up the world of cinema to explore and experiment with minimalist, character-driven forms we rarely come across.

These are three great lessons that take a lot of time to absorb. I won’t lie and suggest that I have the universal answers on learning how to make a great movie from watching Raw or any other stand-up feature. What I think makes a lot of sense, however, is that looking at the stand-up feature as cinema is incredibly powerful. And so learning from Raw, Delirious, Triggered, Live At The Beacon Theatre or Bring The Pain in the same way you may a Bergman, Spielberg or Scorsese film is pivotal. If you like comedy, if you are interested in comedic storytelling or even verbal storytelling, I cannot recommend stand-up more.

 

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