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Unpopular Ideas

Ramblings and Digressions from out of left field, and beyond....

Location: Piedmont of Virginia, United States

All human history, and just about everything else as well, consists of a never-ending struggle against ignorance.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Our Inner Voices, or Frozen Onion

There are numerous times in movies when I wish the makers could've moved themselves to have characters say aloud what they're thinking.   The main character in the 1990 British film "House of Cards," played by Ian Richardson, did so in profusion, and it added greatly to the film's effect.   But that was a big exception.   Otherwise, what used to be called "dramatic asides" are heard so rarely nowadays that it must mean that there's a hard and fast rule of movie-making to avoid them at all costs.  It must have been decided long ago that the inarticulate hero or heroine is superbly chic or cool or awesome, while the moviegoer cannot be expected to tolerate anything even remotely approaching self-revelation.  A reflection of modern life?

Oh well. I guess that does save the writing and the speaking of hundreds of extra lines, even it it does mean populating the average movie with animated lumps who seem to be indulging in endless sleepwalking and little else.  If the movie viewers need to hear reasons, reactions, and the like articulated, let them supply their own scripts.

   --Sorry.  This rant must've been launched after having just finished struggling through a  2010 Russian film that exhibited this glaring defect in painful profusion.   Titled "How I Ended My Summer," it could much more aptly have borne the title, "How I Spent the Whole Summer Looking Stupid and Acting Accordingly."

 It tells of two men maintaining a cold, bleak existence at a weather station somewhere on an island in the Arctic wastes.    One day, while the older and more serious of the pair is out fishing, the younger man happens to be indoors when an urgent radio message comes in,  saying that his co-worker's beloved wife and child have just been killed in an auto accident.   The younger worker is told to pass this notification along to his co-worker, along with assurance that a ship is being sent to bring the man back to the mainland in his bereavement.

Because this is a movie made by someone who is obviously anxious not to be seen as being behind the times, when the older worker returns from his fishing trip, the younger man tells him absolutely nothing and instead keeps that message strictly to himself, for reasons that naturally we are left to figure out for ourselves -- necessarily unsatisfactorily, because that young guy's vocabulary doesn't extend past occasionally uttered four-letter expletives.  Of course it all eventually comes out anyway, but with consequences far, far worse that they would have been if the news had been conveyed as was requested.

But this is how by far most of your bad and even worse movie plots go.   Things are carefully kept concealed till it's too late, when real life keeps telling us that everything and even the very worse news is always best revealed RIGHT NOW, and in language a little past the grunts of a bored polar bear.
A second 2010 film, "Barney's Version", starred Paul Giamatti as another such inarticulate hero, though I suppose that that bothered absolutely no one else, especially because Giamatti has such a big cult following that everything he does is greatly admired, though I couldn't see anything in the character that he played that would have added to his lustre.  That title character, Barney, was a nasty, spiteful, and thoughtless slob through and through, and it was inexplicable to me that nevertheless a succession of three dazzling women saw enough in him that they consented to share his life in marriage.   Why even make a movie about a guy like this, except to exhibit that trio of actresses?  Giamatti's face is curious, but I can't see how it could ever have made a woman's heart throb.

I guess we are supposed to think that Barney was somehow above the first two wives because they were unfaithful to him, while overlooking the fact that he was no model of devotion to either woman, while after pursuing the third woman relentlessly till she said, "Yes," he nevertheless didn't make things too peachy keen for her either as time went on, as she testifies when she isn't unaccountably saying how great their years together were.  He indulged in a lot of uglinesses that made no sense and that he didn't try to excuse, though there were plenty of occasions when he badly needed to explain himself -- to his wives, to the viewers, and also to himself.  But here, as in the aforementioned Russian film, the moviemakers saved a lot of work on the part of the writers having to write more lines, to say nothing of being much more careful with motivations, while the director and the actors had far fewer lines to have to deal with, and the main character just kept slopping right along while saying nothing to justify himself or to enlighten others.

One scene that illustrates this especially stuck in my mind.   In the beginning of the period when his marriage to that third wife that he continues to love so much is starting to go wrong, Barney is in the kitchen doing that favorite kitchen business of all film directors -- using a razor-sharp knife to chop something with lightning fast strokes while, if anyone else is around, talking all the while, at serious peril therefore I would think to the actor's fingers.   That beloved third wife tells him that he should freeze the onion first because then cutting it wouldn't bring the well-known onion tears.   Barney doesn't react.

Later, when the marriage is on the rocks, he comes home to find the house empty, and while he is looking in his refrigerator he sees a lone onion sitting in the freezer compartment.   He studies the onion for some time before closing the freezer door, still without saying a word.

What did Barney think that lone, frozen onion meant?   He must've had some idea.  The writers, the director must've had speculations of some kind.

That complete silence strikes me as being very strange.   Did Giamatti's character have no inner voice that was constantly speaking to him, loud and clear?   I have always had such a thing, and it talks to me every minute of the day.   I thought it was like that with everybody, and I have trouble believing that it's not.

I assume that it's taught at film schools that to leave things unsaid is the most effective way to go.    I don't agree.   I think it would be a better world if people in all situations would explain themselves, clearly and truthfully, even in something as make-believe as a movie,  and the fact that so many movie plots turn on things going wrong because so much was left unsaid that could easily have been said aloud backs up that contention.

I guess that's why fate never placed me even remotely in a position to be a screenwriter.  And even if I had been lucky enough to realize that dream, still all the lines I would have written to convey a character's inner thoughts, even if if only occasionally, would still have been lopped off relentlessly by the arbitrary committees that I am told make most movies.   In movies, as in real life, people just do things.   There is never any need to say why they did such and such, even if they knew why -- or were articulate enough to express themselves.

Of course people have all sorts of excuses to be that way in real life.   Not so much in movies.  After all, movies are just another form of communication, which, above all, means passing along information.  I don't think that even in the Silent Era that I just missed experiencing, movies were meant to be as stingy in that respect as abstract paintings.

-- I'm aware of what could be a huge hole in what I just said, supplied by my very own earliest experience.

I was born in 1931, before TV. which didn't become common (in more than one way) till the 1950's.  Instead I was raised on radio stories, which I tended to listen to all day long and well into the nights, when I wasn't outside the house on explorations of various kinds.   This explains why I have such a vivid imagination, and, among many other things, why the sight of a naked woman has never made me salivate or catch my breath.   This is because with any women I see, I can instantly and accurately unclothe them mentally.  That is, to my satisfaction.   I don't need to touch every damn thing.   I have long known that that is one of life's biggest dangers.   And don't ask me what I have to endure even today, in my very old age, in my numerous highly detailed and colorful dreams.

That comes from years of having had to set up in my coalescing child's mind all day long elaborate images of Lorenzo Jones, Stella Dallas, The Shadow, Jack Benny and his people, and many. many others who otherwise were only voices coming through a grille cloth.   Therefore how can I possibly justify any criticism of having to furnish my own renditions of the brain processes of today's male and female film heroes?

I can only say that I must be of the opinion that I SHOULDN'T HAVE TO!  Just as today I don't have to use typewriters anymore when I have computer word processors, or I can catch a plane to California instead of riding 100 stagecoaches.   Otherwise, what use is the passage of Time?  Where is "Progress?"


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