Sunday, 27 April 2008

Voiceover Kicking

Gareth McLean went for the jugular in Friday’s Guardian here about how TV is “falling back on the tried and tested devices of flashback and voiceover.” TV seems to be more culpable than film at the moment when it comes to shoehorning in such extraneous narrative devices, but in all honesty, I can’t really see what the problem is. The first episode of Pushing Daisies was funny and inventive, and Jim Dale’s voiceover simply added to the kooky charm (the only problem I have with the show is that ITV will not be showing the second episode as they apparently have to cram everything in in time for Euro 2008. So, guess what? If ITV can’t be arsed to show the whole series, I can’t be arsed to watch it. Besides, they could always turf off barrel scraping crud such as Teenage Kicks to make way for it).

That said, I still think voiceovers should be used sparingly, if at all. In Full Metal Jacket, Private Joker’s voiceover is used so little, it’s difficult to remember that it’s there at all – its function seems to be to demarcate act breaks, but even so, if it’s good enough for Kubrick, it should be good enough for the rest of us.

However, the best example of voiceover I can think of is American Psycho – Patrick Bateman’s various voiceovers throughout the film impart information that would be impossible to get any other way. As the entire film is about Bateman’s own peculiar brand of internalised madness, a voiceover is probably the only way to do it. For instance, during a pedicure, Bateman stares impassively at the beauty therapist as the voiceover states:

I have all the characteristics of a human being: flesh, blood, skin, hair – but not a single, clear identifiable emotion, except for greed and disgust. Something horrible is happening inside of me, and I don’t know why. My nightly bloodlust has overflowed into my days. I feel lethal, on the verge of frenzy. I think my mask of sanity is about to slip.

If you can’t think of any other way to get imperative information across, go for a voiceover. There’s nothing wrong with ‘em in my book.

Thursday, 24 April 2008

House of Wax

Contains spoilers for House of Wax.

You really don’t need me to inform you that House of Wax is a pile of unmitigated old flap, and ordinarily I wouldn’t even bother commenting on it (the fact that the movie was cast around
Paris Hilton – who didn’t even have to audition for her role – should tell you everything you need to know about it. That, and the involvement of Joel Silver, hardly your benchmark of quality). The point is that in terms of screenwriting mechanics and structure, the thing is so completely out of control as to tip it into the realms of the quite interesting – not that this is entirely what the writers were aiming at, I’m sure, which still makes it a pile of unmitigated old flap.

I’ve lost count of the number of horror films that stick slavishly to a three act structure, which usually means that nothing really happens in the first half hour as the narrative treads water waiting for that all-important first ‘turning point’. However, with House of Wax, nothing happens for 46 minutes, which is either a clever way of confounding expectations, or a massively misjudged wrong turn (I’m voting for the latter). Much of this time is taken up with a hugely pointless drive through the middle of nowhere as two of the six hapless teenagers being lined up for a little slice ‘n’ dice take off in search of a fanbelt; again, maybe this is meant to be unsettling – we’re so far into things now that surely something has to happen. Trouble is, it doesn’t – the creepy driver disappears until the very end of the film (where his re-appearance is almost wholly meaningless). Then, of course, everything goes bonkers for the next hour.

Surely one abiding convention of a horror film such as this is to keep the focus of the action tight. Look at The Thing – 12 men in the middle of nowhere get picked off by a weird, steamy alien – and by the middle of nowhere, I mean a single location. House of Wax has an intriguing location (a deserted town in the middle of nowhere populated by waxworks and two psychotic ex-Siamese twins) – problem is, only four of the six teenage dunderheads end up there, and even then they arrive in two waves. The first 46 minutes of the film seem intent on separating the larger group from each other, probably for the purpose of stringing things out to a respectable feature length. There’s even a completely pointless trip by four of the group to see a football game, but they get stuck in traffic and have to return to where they started from. The whole film is stuffed with bizarre narrative dead ends such as this – so much so that you start thinking it must be deliberate.

Perhaps House of Wax is some wildly intellectual anti-narrative experiment. Here’s David Boje on the subject:

Antenarrative is the fragmented, non-linear, incoherent, collective, unplotted, and pre-narrative speculation, a bet. To traditional narrative methods, antenarrative is an improper storytelling, a wager that a proper narrative can be constituted.

Then you realise Paris Hilton is in it, and you’re forced to give yourself a good slap for being a pretentious arse. The problem with House of Wax is that its script is in dire need of least three more drafts and a good kicking - nothing more.

Sunday, 20 April 2008

Slab! in the Sunday Times

Tim Elsenburg’s article on Slab! has finally appeared in the Sunday Times today – read it here. However, if you can’t be arsed to click on the link, click on the scanned article below (it looks far shinier in print that in dull old html). A potted history of the band can also be found by clicking here – 98 comments and counting, m’lud.

Friday, 18 April 2008

Walking Out

I had an interesting conversation with someone on Monday comparing the relative merits of Funny Games and Ratatouille (believe it or not) – the only problem being that we couldn’t really discuss Funny Games as my friend had walked out of the cinema halfway through (a perfectly reasonable course of action to take, in my view). Which got me thinking – watching terminal guff such as Hannibal Rising, I’ve been sorely tempted not only to walk out of the cinema, but to hunt down Thomas Harris and Peter Webber and give them both a good slap round the back of the legs for wasting my valuable time and money. And there’s the rub – I didn’t walk out; I’m far too tight for that. I’ve paid my money, and I’m going to stay to the bitter end, regardless of how completely rubbish things get! That said, I’ve been at the cinema when people have walked out – most notably during Existenz. Some guy at the back of the cinema shouted, ‘Mother!’ halfway through, got up and left, never to return.

The other problem I have with cinema going is general incompatibility – I used to go out with a girl who dragged me to see Top Gun. For the sweet love of Christ! I think this was her revenge for me dragging her to see After Hours (which of course is a bonafide masterpiece, although I can see why some people wouldn’t like it).

That said, I’m considering going to see Alvin and the Chipmunks just so I can say that I have actually walked out of something.

Friday, 11 April 2008

Metlab Update, Part 6

Yet more feedback from the script correction house of Ms Vee. This time I got a solitary ‘WTF’ , one ‘DON’T PANIC’, and something called a “pffffffffffffffffffffffflllllllllllllrrrrrrt”, which I can only assume is either an extended raspberry or the sound of something deflating rather slowly. I’ll go for a combination of the two, I think. It looks like I might have to return to an outline, or at the least a rewrite of the first thirty pages just to get things kicked off.

I’m sure that my fellow ‘Labbers have all been eminently sensible and have honed their outlines and treatments to a shiny, gleaming perfection before launching upon a first draft. I roll a slightly different way, and frankly, it’s pretty rubbish. That said, I’m writing a ‘sort of’ treatment/ outline for someone at the moment, and I have to say it’s far more enjoyable than I thought, so in future, I might have to stick with this method – it’s only taken me about a million drafts to realise this, but then I always was a bit slow on the uptake.

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

More Dogs, More Hats

As the covert purpose of this blog is to promote the questionable practice of making everyone's dogs wear hats, here's the third in a completely random series...
That said, Action Man was a bit peeved, but I'm sure he'll get over it...

Sunday, 6 April 2008

Funny Games US

Contains spoilers for Funny Games

Despite feeling as if I’ve been harangued by a bionic liberal, Funny Games is actually pretty enjoyable. That said, perhaps enjoyable is the wrong word to use. Just what is it that makes us want to watch violence on the big screen? Just exactly what is wrong with us?

Paul – one of a pair of white gloved psychopaths responsible for terrorising a wealthy young family – constantly breaks the fourth wall by addressing the audience directly; we are in absolutely no doubt that what we’re watching is a fiction (at one point, when the narrative veers into less choppy Hollywood waters, Paul grabs a video remote and rewinds the film so he can pre-empt the action). Reflexively post-modern it may be, but there’s more to it than Mark Kermode thinks (bearing in mind his interview with Neil Young on the Culture Show back in October 2007, I find it difficult to read anything by Mark Kermode: I’ve come here to New York to interview Neil Young. Now this is something of a surprise for me, because for years I’ve been telling people that I didn’t like Neil Young).

Not pandering to your audience’s baser instincts is a brave thing for any filmmaker to do – instead, Michael Haneke rubs our collective noses in the aftermath of violence without showing us any gore whatsoever. Ann (Naomi Watts) stumbles around in her underwear trying desperately to free herself from the parcel tape that binds her arms and legs; the body of her ten year old son lies on the floor behind her. ‘Entertaining’ is not a word that comes instantly to mind, and that’s the whole point.

Ann: Why don't you just kill us?
Peter: You shouldn't forget the importance of entertainment.

From a screenwriting perspective, I don’t think you’re going to find many aspects of Funny Games that conform to what we are all told a ‘good’ script should comprise of. If Haneke is guilty of lecturing his audience and making them feel lousy, then surely his off-handed dismissal of established screenwriting tropes is just as cynical (which is what made the film massively enjoyable for me). Character motivation as far as the two tennis-white wearing psychos are concerned is non-existent: there is no reasoning for what these people are up to here - no explanation, no complex back story, nothing. Paul and Peter even joke about the issue at one point. There is an extended riff on a non-functioning mobile phone: Peter accidentally (on purpose) knocks Ann’s mobile phone into a sink full of water. Later in the movie, Ann and her severely injured husband, George (Tim Roth) attempt to get the phone working – they try and try, but the thing simply refuses to function, a detail that only increases the sense of utter helplessness. Of course, in ‘normal’ screenwriting parlance the phone would work; the fact that it doesn’t is a real kick in the teeth, not only for George and Ann, but for the audience as well.

The knife on the boat is another case in point: George forgets about the knife that he has left on board his little sailing boat, only for Ann to come across it later when Peter and Paul proceed to sail off to find their next victims. She uses it to try and cut the ropes from her hands, but as her hands are tied in front of her, the two white gloved psychos notice immediately – Peter grabs the knife and throws it overboard: Ann soon follows. Funny Games really is an exquisitely cruel film to watch, not least because screenwriting itself gets a good kicking.

Saturday, 5 April 2008

Everything's Gone a Bit Blurry...

In my never ending search for a working method, I came across this from Alex James’ autobiography, Bit of a Blur:

If musicians only talked about writing songs in interviews, they would be very dull to read. It’s an exhilarating process though, songwriting... It always starts off with the certain feeling that I will never be able to do it. Then something always happens. Making music isn’t something you do by thinking about it or talking about it; it’s something that you do by doing it... You can’t usefully analyse it any further.

Substitute ‘songwriting’ for ‘writing’, and there you have it – this just about sums things up for me.

That said, I’m working on a treatment at the moment, which I must say is a very novel concept for me (well, when I say ‘treatment’, I mean ten pages of notes that look as if they might be the start of a treatment). Perhaps I should concentrate a bit more on playing bass...

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

Random Post

Interesting article here on Hammer’s latest incarnation and foray into bite-sized filmmaking with Beyond The Rave (coming to a MySpace near you on April 17th). It seems that the producers have set themselves an interesting challenge with the ‘webisode’ format, where the traditional three act structure of a feature film is shoehorned into smaller, five minute chunks. It’ll be interesting to see how this translates to feature length when the DVD is released in June this year.

The other interesting thing to report is BBC4’s TV’s Believe It or Not a compendium of surreal televisual lunacy narrated by Sean Lock. Watch as Fanny Craddock castigates a hapless member of the general public over her menu choices (Sean’s comment on the great TV cook’s expression? Look at that – it’s like the entrance to a derelict funfair); quiver in fear as Leonard Nimoy mugs his way through The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins (Sean’s comment? This single attempts to condense the story of The Lord of the Rings into three minutes. I can do better than that: it’s got Orcs in it, and it’s bollocks). As ever, it’s the narration that makes this - watch the full programme here until 8th April.