Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Great Scripts vs. Great Stories

“You can’t handle the truth.”
“Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life.”
“I’m the Dude, man.”
“We’re on a mission from God.”
“Greed is good.”
“I’m out of order. You’re out of order.”
“Is there a sign on my front yard that says “Dead (CENSORED) Storage””
“Hey Llama, how about a little something for the effort?”
“Snakes! I hate Snakes.”
“There are a million fine women in this world, but most of them won’t bring you Lasagna.”
“There is no fighting in the War Room.”
When reading these quotes you instantly knew what movie they were from.
A Few Good Men
Animal House
The Big Lebowski
The Blues Brothers
Wall Street
And Justice for All
Pulp Fiction
Raiders of the Lost Ark
Dr. Strangelove
All of these films have the common them of all being great scripts. You could watch them when they came out or 40 years after they were made and the dialog is still great. You hear these lines and you can instantly think of who said them, where in the movie they occurred and what happened next. These scripts also went into making the movie great. In some movies, they were just a part of what made them great.
Let’s compare Dr. Strangelove to Clerks.
Lead Actors: Peter Sellers vs. Brian O’Halloran: Peter Selers plays the President of the United States, a member of the Royal Air Force and a paralyzed Nazi Scientist. He makes all three incredibly funny. O’Halloran is good in the movie, but he is not a great actor.
Directors: Stanley Kubrik vs. Kevin Smith. Smith has made some very, very good movies but Kubrik is a legend. Kubrix was at the height of his art. The two films he did before Strangelove are: Spartacus and Lolita. The two films he did after are: 2001: a Space Odyssey and A Clockwork Orange. Essentially, he directed four of the 50 greatest films of all time in an 11 year period. Yeah, he was on his A Game.
Scripts: Both are perfect. They are radically different. Strangelove is much, much darker and a significantly smarter script. If it had missed just a little the film would have been horrible. At the height of the cold war, he made a very funny movie about a nuclear apocalypse. Clerks was cutting edge in how dialog was used in modern films. It’s very simple concept of showing how people talk in their everyday lives and about how we fill our day with seemingly dumb conversations (use of contractors building the new Death Star in Return of the Jedi) that we have ever day. In Strangelove, the script brought out the best in the actors, the director, and the cinematographer and provided them all with a vehicle for greatness. The Clerk’s script was the only thing keeping that movie together. If the script was anything less than brilliant the film would have been horrible.

The argument is that great actors made good scripts great. I will take it one step farther. I believe that if all elements of a film are outstanding they can make a mediocre script into a near perfect movie. The best example of this is “Philadelphia.” Ok, Ok, I know I am now in danger of losing one of my three followers (BTW, THANK YOU FOLLOWING MY BLOG. IT DOES MEAN A LOT TO ME.) Philadelphia, which deserves its own blog, is a great movie. It was made in 1993 (yes, it is almost 20 years old) at the height of the AIDS scare when it was still considered “A gay disease” at a time when Homophobia was far too common a belief. The acting is brilliant. Tom Hanks gave the best performance of his career. He also could not have pulled off that role at any other time. He was still considered a comic who acted. Denzel Washington, who was very underrated in the film, had only four really good dramatic roles prior to Philadelphia. They both stared in the film when they could easily disappear into their role and not be thought of as stars. The story arc is great. Supporting actors were truly supporting the story and not trying to show off for better camera time. The supporting cast was like the 1927 Yankees; Jason Robards (incredible in a role that could have become a cliché), Joanne Woodward, Antonio Banderas (before people knew who he was), Mary Steenburgen. All of these elements were perfect, but it is difficult to think of a single memorable line from the movie. There are a lot of great scenes but not great script moments.
Essentially, a perfect script can take great elements and make them an amazing movie (See Dr. Strangelove). A great script that is inventive and ground breaking can overcome elements that are mediocre and drag a movie into greatness (see Clerks). A mediocre script can generate a great movie ONLY IF all of the other elements Acting, Story, Directing, Soundtrack are perfect (see Philadelphia).

1 comment:

  1. As one of your self-described three followers, I enjoyed this blog entry. In terms of personal taste, while I sometimes enjoy overtly good scripts (i.e., those characterized by particularly witty dialog; the best examples perhaps being Tarantino's films), I generally feel that the best scripts work invisibly. They are not at all weak, but they are also not particularly memorable, either.