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"Raiders of the Lost Ark" story conference
March 10, 2009 8:46 AM   Subscribe

The "Raiders" Story Conference In 1978 George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and Lawrence Kasdan spent five consecutive nine-hour days hashing out the characters and plot for Raiders of the Lost Ark. The 125-page transcript of their meetings, unreleased before now, details their insane talent and techniques for populist storytelling. (It also makes one wonder what happened to George Lucas, a man who once had a math formula for exciting cinema.) via Ain't It Cool News, unfortunately
posted by incomple (135 comments total) 53 users marked this as a favorite

 
Great read, thanks.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:54 AM on March 10, 2009


Interestingly Utterly predictably, the discussion about Marion was hardly as thorough as the one about Indy.

FTFY
posted by Joe Beese at 8:54 AM on March 10, 2009


It also makes one wonder what happened to George Lucas, a man who once had a math formula for exciting cinema.

He had a math formula for exciting cinema. One of the output variables was "Jar Jar".
posted by Nelson at 8:54 AM on March 10, 2009 [17 favorites]


Awesome. Thanks.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:57 AM on March 10, 2009


He had a math formula for exciting cinema. One of the output variables was "Jar Jar".

Actually, Jar Jar was one of the outputs of Lucas' math formula for merchandising.
posted by notyou at 8:57 AM on March 10, 2009


Yeah, Joe Beese, the blog's author seems a bit naive in many ways (and, at times, a bit fawning and sycophantic). Regardless, I found his enthusiasm infectious.
posted by incomple at 8:58 AM on March 10, 2009


What ever happened to Geoge Lucas? He's got crappy architecture to gift and screening rooms capable of showing 35mm to reduce in number. *grumble grumble I HATE single chip DLP DVD screenings grumble grumble* Oh, I mean ♫ Thank You, Mister Luuuucasss. ♫
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 9:02 AM on March 10, 2009


He's got crappy architecture to gift and screening rooms capable of showing 35mm to reduce in number.

what?
posted by ArgentCorvid at 9:06 AM on March 10, 2009


Wow, I always thought Marion meant that being in love was where she was a metaphorical child.

Ew.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 9:07 AM on March 10, 2009 [5 favorites]


“The only way you are going to get respect on a college campus, or a university campus, is to build something that is important,” Mr. Lucas said of his reasons for backing the complex.

Yes, finally, USC's film school will get the recognition it deserves! I love it when the underdog finally catches a break.
posted by incomple at 9:11 AM on March 10, 2009 [6 favorites]


Wow, I always thought Marion meant that being in love was where she was a metaphorical child.

Ew.


Yeah, to clarify my earlier snark, it wasn't meant as "what a fanboy that author is". It was meant as "These are not filmmakers I look to for a 3-dimensional depiction of women."
posted by Joe Beese at 9:15 AM on March 10, 2009


"Once she's sixteen or seventeen it's not interesting anymore. " -- ah, George, I think you saw Manhattan one too many times. And here I always figured you'd be into midgets for some reason.
posted by condour75 at 9:16 AM on March 10, 2009 [3 favorites]


Well, condour75, consider the Ewoks.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 9:20 AM on March 10, 2009


AgentCorvid, it's like this:

Old Lucas Building, Home of USC SCA = Awkward, small, but containing small screening rooms capable of showing actual film to the students.

New Lucas/Spielberg Complex, Home of USC SCA = Gaudy, huge, but containing a Spike TV Balcony and a corporate coffee shop! Less film screening rooms (You know, digital is the way of the future!), and all the doorknobs are covered by cgi so they look like walkie-talkies.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 9:21 AM on March 10, 2009


This is why I'm not a world famous director; I frequently have sat around with my friends for hours discussing the intricacies of our movie ideas, hashing out the characters, their motivation, their actions, the places we wanted to see, the technology and the weapons that would be used, the plot direction, all of it.

We just never had the good sense to write any of it down.

Or find financing.

Or film any of it.

Ok, I guess there are a couple of reasons I'm not a world famous director.
posted by quin at 9:21 AM on March 10, 2009 [7 favorites]


From "Speed the Plow," by David Mamet. Fox and Gould are two producers, having a story conference:

Gould: The, what's the story? Tell me the...

...

Fox: Doug's in prison.

Gould: ... prison ...

Fox: Right. These guys, they want to get him.

Gould: Black guys ...

Fox: Black guys in the prison... And the black guys going to rape his ass...

Gould: Mmm.


Lucas and Speilberg planning "Raiders of the Lost Ark":

G — This is where he goes into the cave. We had it where
there's a couple native bearers, whatever, and sort of a
couple of Mexican, well not Mexican... Let's put it...

S — They're like Mayan.

G — They're the third world local sleazos. Whether, they're
Mexicans or Arabs or whatever.

S — They carry the boxes over their heads. They fall off cliffs.
posted by grumblebee at 9:50 AM on March 10, 2009 [10 favorites]


My favorite two sentences of the year are, "They carry the boxes over their heads. They fall off cliffs." I want that on a t-shirt with no explanation of what it means.
posted by grumblebee at 9:52 AM on March 10, 2009 [18 favorites]


So Temple of Doom actually is just the unholy afterbirth of a brainstorming session for Raiders. It's amazing that so many of their ideas for fight scenes, chase scenes, and cliffhangers made it into the film(s), without any semblance of a plot to connect them.
posted by steef at 9:57 AM on March 10, 2009


Despite Indy's reckless disregard for sound archaeological practice, I'm glad that George Lucas thinks so highly of museums: "Better that he rips it off and gets it to a museum where people can study it and rip it off right". I plan to make that a guiding principle in my research.

Museums: we rip it off right.
posted by Kirjava at 10:09 AM on March 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


It's interesting, sure, but I can't help but think that some of these rules were what eventually doomed the series, and is harming blockbuster movie-making in general.

Making everything big. Setting up "as much tension as you possibly can" for the climax. It's made these movies incredibly predictable.

Now, when we're watching a DVD, if we see, completely apropos of nothing, a character collect a vial of acid in a shot three seconds long in the first act, or walk partway across a frozen lake to notice cracking sounds, we know absolutely for sure that this thing we've seen will be important in some way in the third act. It's like a gun on the wall, except it's anything that seems blatantly out of place. It's supposed to be an economical way of moviemaking, but then everyone started using it, it became a formula, and now it's obnoxious.

The worst part of all, and factoring in heavily with Indiana Jones in particular, is when we have a James Bond-ish, Superman character. It was okay when Raiders came out because Indy had faults, you knew he could fail, you hadn't seen him do this before. In real life, if a character were to take on a horde of Nazi's single-handed, he would not approach that without a huge degree of trepidation.

In real life, all it takes is one shot and your adventuring days are through. Don't tell me "But this isn't real life!" Bah! An action movie is exciting only when we compare it with real life! We're on the edge of our seat in Raiders because the movie is realistic in other ways. When the movie knows that a gunshot can kill instantly, it gives weight to the character's actions and makes the risks he takes meaningful. If the movie just throws gunfire around like Stormtrooper shots and they never hurt anyone it matters for nothing -- we become acclimated to the danger, we subconsciously partition that movie off into its own universe in which guns are less than an incredibly lethal threat. We learn that a character can only be really injured or killed at the boundaries between acts or at the climax.

I'm going off on a tirade about this because moviemakers ignoring these matters has pretty much ruined action movies for me. When I see a character on screen doing all kinds of ridiculous, over-choreographed chop-socky kung-fu tricks, or unthinkingly run through a corridor filled with gunfire, or do stunts that had to have taken trained stuntmen a dozen takes to perform and had to have been massaged onto the screen with clever editing and computers, it means NOTHING. It's a cartoon and nothing more.
posted by JHarris at 10:15 AM on March 10, 2009 [29 favorites]


MEEP MEEP ZIP BANG
posted by seanmpuckett at 10:18 AM on March 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


It's a cartoon and nothing more.

I agree with your entire post. I also like cartoons.
posted by DU at 10:28 AM on March 10, 2009 [19 favorites]


we know absolutely for sure that this thing we've seen will be important in some way in the third act

Hey, that dates back a hundred years to Chekhov: "If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise don't put it there."
posted by smackfu at 10:31 AM on March 10, 2009


I totally agree with much of what you've said, JHarris, as I find the vast majority of action movies to be simultaneously dull and obnoxious... But the desire for a film's tension to peak before its climax, isn't that just in keeping with one of the bedrock rules of narrative fiction? (Unless, of course, in quoting "tension" you're also using it as a euphemism for Hollywood explosion action-y bullshit, in which case we may be in total agreement.)

I didn't realize that Chekhov was responsible for that guideline, smackfu. I'd once heard it referred to as "the knife in the drawer," as in, "Don't show the knife in the drawer unless someone is going to to use it." But, googling the phrase doesn't turn up anything related, so I suppose it can be credited to one of my high school writing teachers.
posted by incomple at 10:34 AM on March 10, 2009


JHarris, I agree with much of what you write, except for your first critique, about setting up third-act events with first-act events. In my mind, that's just good storytelling. When storytellers don't do this, we complain that they've failed to tie up loose ends.

SKILLFUL storytellers hide their setups, so you don't think about them when you see them in the first act. You get to the end and have that wonderful feeling of, "Oh my God! When I saw that picture on the wall, I though it was just a picture. It never occurred to me it might be the girl's FATHER!"

I do think there's some truth to your complaint. But the problem isn't setups. The problem is clunky, obvious setups. So no, you shouldn't hold the shot on the vial of acid for three seconds. You should glance over it as if it's not important. The problem is, so many filmmakers are lacking in subtlety. I think they've learned bad lessons from television.

Chekhov is a great example, because he's very subtle. He hides melodramatic devices so well that people don't think they're watching melodrama.

But I am not a fan of Spielberg and Lucas. I think they've harmed film as an artform by indulging in bad practices and making tons of money by doing so (or in spite of doing so). So now everyone is doing the same bad practices.

I could write a book about what they do wrong (some people would disagree, saying my book would be about what they do RIGHT), but here are the two things that piss me off the most:

-- The Awe-track. It's the dramatic equivalent of a laugh track. Speilberg can NOT just let something happen and allow you to have a reaction to it. He has to show you how you're supposed to react by cutting to awe-struck onlookers. For the most nauseating example of this, watch the last 20 minutes of "Close Encounters of the Third Kind."

-- The variety-show, family movie: almost all of the Lucas/Speilberg opus (excepting some of Speilberg's more serious movies) INSIST on packing in something to entertain everyone. There's the macho hero for the guys, the spunky girlfriend for the gals (and guys), the cute robot/little kid/alien for the kids, etc. The problem is all sorts of gratuitous junk gets thrown into the story. You're watching a cliffhanging adventure and all of the sudden a robot is saying, "Give me a BREAK!"

There are ways of subtly and artfully inserting many different types of characters into the same movie (see "Midsummer Night's Dream," "Dog Day Afternoon," "Deadwood," "Aliens," etc.), but the Lucas/Speilberg way -- that everyone is emulating -- is clunky.
posted by grumblebee at 10:58 AM on March 10, 2009 [14 favorites]


I think a big part of the appeal of the Indiana Jones character, as with the John McClane character in Die Hard, is that they're vulnerable and gets hurt. There are scenes in both movies that emphasize how injured the characters are. (The whole scene on the ship in Raiders where he's all banged up, and the bandaging-the-foot scene in Die Hard.)

He had a math formula for exciting cinema

He has a system for eating pancakes.
posted by kirkaracha at 11:01 AM on March 10, 2009 [3 favorites]


Stewie as Short Round: "Lady only here because she ..." (video, photobucket, mildly NSFW)
posted by zippy at 11:02 AM on March 10, 2009


so he's sort of like a private detective grave robber.

Edward Said couldn't have said it any better.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:02 AM on March 10, 2009 [3 favorites]


But the desire for a film's tension to peak before its climax, isn't that just in keeping with one of the bedrock rules of narrative fiction?

Narrative fiction is a field a lot wider than movies. People write for many reasons, and tension is not always involved. Further (and I realize some people will disagree with me) I'm not convinced that it's a bedrock rule even for movies.

I'm not saying it's not a good idea, but I'm suspicious of rules that are supposed to be always true if the issue in question isn't mathematics or a hard science. A real rule has no exceptions, and I'm not convinced there aren't any.
posted by JHarris at 11:10 AM on March 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


JHarris, I agree with much of what you write, except for your first critique, about setting up third-act events with first-act events. In my mind, that's just good storytelling. When storytellers don't do this, we complain that they've failed to tie up loose ends.

Then dear god, people should learn to hide them better. When you see it coming from a mile away, this is not good storytelling, especially when you can set a watch by the approach of the payoff.

In any case, there may be solutions to the problem of "good storytelling" that are not the same as those that are taken as gospel. When "good storytelling" is defined by adherence to rules, whether they're laid out by Syd Fields or Aristotle, over what effect they have upon the reader/viewer, I get anxious.

I don't claim to know a better way, mind you, just that I'm suspicious of these things. Having rules certainly make story writing easier, but when everyone takes a thing for granted, it becomes all the more important to look for alternatives. There are many ways in which a story could be effective, and not all of them rely upon tension at all.
posted by JHarris at 11:22 AM on March 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm not saying it's not a good idea, but I'm suspicious of rules that are supposed to be always true if the issue in question isn't mathematics or a hard science. A real rule has no exceptions, and I'm not convinced there aren't any.

I agree with you, but I don't think you're saying anything very helpful. You're saying, "When telling a story, don't be dogmatic about rules." But you're not saying what storytellers should do INSTEAD of being dogmatic about rules. That's worse than not helpful -- it's harmful. (For the record, I'm not really getting on your case. I know you're not teaching a fiction-writing class. I'm just making a point).

Here's a scary interaction:

Critic: the problem with your movie is that you set something up in act one and don't follow through with it in act three. It's a loose end.

Filmmaker: life is full of loose ends!

The filmmaker is right, but if you use the construction "life is full of..." to justify artistic choices, you can justify all sorts of terrible dramatic writing, e.g.

Critic: your movie is really boring, because you just show someone napping for an hour.

Filmmaker: in real life, people DO nap for an hour!

My take on narrative rules is this: they are not LAWS, but they are very good practices. They are good because no one made them up. They evolved over centuries, and the "lawgivers" are just describing them. They TEND to work.

It's not that you should never break them. Your goal as a storyteller is to tell a story (to impart information and evoke sensation via plot, character, setting, language and mood). If it helps you to tell the story (without adding gratuitous elements) to break a rule, then break it. But know WHY you're breaking it and know the CONSEQUENCES of breaking it.

Don't ever break a rule just to break it, because the goal should not be to break rules; the goal should be to tell stories. And don't ever break a rule because real-life breaks that rule; the goal isn't to document real life. It's to tell stories.
posted by grumblebee at 11:24 AM on March 10, 2009 [3 favorites]


Great piece.

Regarding the "rules", great though Star Wars and Raiders are I think that this is where screenwriting began getting locked into a producer friendly box of dumbness. Story-wise the 70s were much richer, these days anything not utterly formulaic is a rarity, the odd indie movie or peice of Oscar bait asside.
posted by Artw at 11:37 AM on March 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


Marions a great character in Raiders, BTW.
posted by Artw at 11:38 AM on March 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


Jeez, grumblebee, I'm surprised at what a selective appraisal of Spielberg you're showing, here. Almost as surprised as I am to find myself defending Spielberg. Lucas? Fuck that guy, I don't even like Star Wars that much. I do love Indiana Jones because I was a kid in that era, an I have my Harrison Ford-shaped weak spots. But this:


But I am not a fan of Spielberg and Lucas. I think they've harmed film as an artform by indulging in bad practices and making tons of money by doing so (or in spite of doing so). So now everyone is doing the same bad practices.


is just blather. Not "everyone" emulates Spielberg and Lucas, and Spielberg != Lucas by a long shot. Spielberg, for all his obsession with childlike awe and maudlin emotion, is not the platnic ideal of an auteur. See What "bad practices" are you referring to -- broad appeal? Commercialism? You think that was invented by THEM? These two guys are just the most commercial of the most artistic single generation of filmmakers we've had yet, and the two who focus on action pictures. If you don't like that genre, fine, but give me a break with the "hurting the artform" stuff.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 11:57 AM on March 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


He could have known this little girl when she was just a kid. Had an affair with her when she was eleven.

That's....way TMI about that relationship.
posted by graventy at 12:09 PM on March 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


I do not think that even a fictional character as unlikely Humbert Humbert could have maintained the level of self-deception required to describe any dalliance, sexual or not, with an eleven year old as an affair. And yet here we have a human of flesh and blood throwing it out as a concept. Fascinating.
posted by adipocere at 12:30 PM on March 10, 2009


G — I was thinking that this old guy could have been his mentor. He could have known this little girl when she was just a kid. Had an affair with her when she was eleven.

L — And he was forty-two.

G — He hasn't seen her in twelve years. Now she's twenty-two. It's a real strange relationship.

S — She had better be older than twenty-two.

G — He's thirty-five, and he knew her ten years ago when he was twenty-five and she was only twelve. It would be amusing to make her slightly young at the time.

S — And promiscuous. She came onto him.

G — Fifteen is right on the edge. I know it's an outrageous idea, but it is interesting. Once she's sixteen or seventeen it's not interesting anymore. But if she was fifteen and he was twenty-five and they actually had an affair the last time they met. And she was madly in love with him


The spirit of Chaplin and Louis B. Mayer lives on in Hollywood, I see. I'm guessing the adoption board knew nothing about this....
posted by IndigoJones at 12:32 PM on March 10, 2009 [5 favorites]


No, I don't think L and S invented anything. They just did certain things that I hate (and others love) really well, and those practices have now become much more popular than they ever have been before (in my opinion, to the detriment of popular film).

I'll admit that I was being hyperbolic when I said "everyone" is doing it. Of course that's not true. There are all sorts of filmmakers. What I was trying to say is that L and S popularized some trends. MANY filmmakers attempt to conform to those trends. Of course they do! It's money in the bank.

The major genre filmmakers of the past were very different: Capera, Wilder, Hitchcock, etc. They didn't include awe tracks. They did flirt occasionally with comic sidekicks and the like, but they knew how to integrate them into their films much more skillfully than the Spielberg crowd (check out Some Like It Hot). I feel like S and L took certain subtle trends that have always been in genre films and broadened them (in a sloppy way) to a point that pleases many people and pisses me off.

I agree, Lucas != Spielberg. Both men are gifted producers. Spielberg is TECHNICALLY (I'm not talking about special effects; I'm talking about film craftsmanship) one of the best filmmakers who has ever lived. Spielberg is also brilliant at certain aspects of storytelling, and he's made a few films that I consider masterpieces (Jaws / Schindler's list). He's good at working with actors. I wish he didn't try to tell viewers how to react. It's as if he doesn't trust his own skill to evoke emotion. I wish he didn't stick goofy robots/aliens/kids gratuitously into his films. The cowardly lion was well integrated into The Wizard of Oz. Spielberg should learn from that example.

Lucas, in my opinion, is a hack. He's a terrible director with no sense of pacing and an inability to work with actors. He's a God-awful writer. His dialog is atrocious. He's very gifted with technology -- especially when it come to audio.
posted by grumblebee at 12:34 PM on March 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


I'm starting to see Indie's relationship with Short Round a lot differently.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:36 PM on March 10, 2009 [8 favorites]


I used to wonder "what happened to George Lucas." No more. I think he must've gotten lucky once or twice, and this transcript just cements that opinion. Ditto to grumblebee: Lucas=hack.
posted by kanewai at 12:44 PM on March 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


If you don't like that genre, fine, but give me a break with the "hurting the artform" stuff.

I love the form. Here are some examples that I think are better than those of S and L:

- Five Graves to Cairo
- Thief of Bagdad
- North by Northwest
- Aliens
- Narrow Margin
- The Third Man
- Duck You Sucker
- The French Connection
- Treasure of the Sieara Madre
- The Maltese Falcoln
- Duel
- Jaws

Hey, those last two are Spielberg films! How did they get on the list?
posted by grumblebee at 12:44 PM on March 10, 2009 [3 favorites]


grumblebee, you might not want to cherrypick superlative films like Some Like it Hot and The Wizard of Oz to prove that point. It's unrealistic. Neither Spielberg nor Lucas is our generation's Capra, Wilder, Hawks, Ford, Hitchcock, Wise or Wyler. They're primarily action adventure directors. Why can't you rattle off the directors or titles of action pictures from before 1960? Because they were junk! A little art got into the moneymakers' hearts and we have a much stronger genre to show for it, thanks to these two and others.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 12:47 PM on March 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure there really were Action pictures in the 60s, or before Star Wars even - there were Thrillers, a now dead genre.

Of course, the final result was the quick "bad dates" scene. All of that thought and work for something so quick. Welcome to Hollywood

Bad Dates scene is awesome, so it paid off.
posted by Artw at 12:51 PM on March 10, 2009


I think he must've gotten lucky once or twice

I don't even understand the once or twice. I know people are nuts about Star Wars, and I'm exactly the right age to be that way, too (graduated high school in '84). The thing is, before Lucas, no one had ever made a film like that before. There had been plenty of adventure films, but no serious attempts at Space Opera (aside from some old Hollywood B movies and serials). So people who had been longing for such a film finally got one. And people who had never thought about such a film had a gee-whiz experience. It also had state-of-the-art SFX.

But -- and I recognize that this is a subjective call -- it's a shoddy film. It's badly acted, and though some camp is appropriate for the genre, better acting would have made the stakes higher and would have made everything more exciting. The dialog is cringe-worthy. The flim-making itself (shots chosen, etc.) is uninspired.

I'm not saying it should have been Great Art. It should have been great entertainment. I would have liked to have taken the same general story (which I think is sound) and gotten Ernest Lehman (North by Northwest) to write the script. To direct it, give me Richard Lester, Sergio Leone or John Ford.
posted by grumblebee at 12:53 PM on March 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


Ah, on non-preview, more classics. Doesn't prove any kind of damage to the art form, though. I can name some contemporary action pictures unbesmirched by overSpielberginess, too, so it's moot.

Six String Samurai
Lord of the Rings
Watchmen
Black Hawk Down
Con Air
Three Kings
Rescue Dawn

The list goes on. I don't see a lot of Spielberginess there. Just looking a the top of my ratings on Netflix in Action Adventure. Of course, not a lot of those are Family pictures, too, so maybe we should be picking on that genre. It sure can bear a lot of picking on, because typically those pictures suck pretty hard too.

That's genre hybridity for ya, can't please all of the people all of the time.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 12:53 PM on March 10, 2009


And now, Navelgazer teaches a screenwriting class.

JHarris: You're half right, but where you're wrong, you are fundamentally wrong. If you are writing or directing a movie, you must set up as much tension as your story will allow. This is the law. You can do it another way, of course, but the movie will be bad as a result. This is because movies are not real life, but are a metaphor for real life. They are a conduit for emotions. In order to be most effective, the story must take us "to the end of the line," as McKee would say, or else we the audience will feel bored or cheated.

I know that your field of expertise is in games, so it might be better to frame the concept in terms of the difficulty curve. If the blocks in Tetris kept falling at the same speed the whole time, it wouldn't be a game, it'd just be tedious. Tedium exists in real life, of course, but that's not what we look for in a game. In a game, really any game, the stakes must be raised, the tasks must become more difficult. Otherwise, that game is ultimately a waste of our time. In film, we must interact vicariously through the characters on screen, and so the difficulty curve must be given to them instead. This is what increasing tension is about, and it is 100% necessary.

Where you are right is in complaining about the hack-job ways that far too many filmmakers try to pull it off. The "Superman" character is certainly among the worst of these, because it doesn't matter what antagonistic forces the filmmakers put up against him - he can't fail. Thus, no tension, just empty spectacle. The problem with the "Superman" isn't that the tension is being raised as much as it possibly can be, but that it isn't really being raised at all. The filmmakers are doing it wrong.

Interestingly, the two recent reboots of the James Bond and Batman universes have shown how to get around this conundrum, by taking two heroes who can never be allowed to fail, and placing them in worlds so crazy and corrupt that it kills them emotionally, as they learn that their own awesomeness might not be enough: they can keep themselves alive, but they don't know if they can save anyone else.

(A quick tangent - if a major character dies or gets injured seriously enough to affect the rest of the movie, that will be an act climax whether you intentionally structured it that way or not, because it will be one of the most important and game-changing events in your story. Story does not follow structure, structure follows story. Whether you want your structure to be free-flowing and haphazard is up to you, but you run into other tension problems that way.)

Onto Chekhov's Gun. In development lingo, a set-up without a payoff is called a "widow," and a payoff without a set-up is called an "orphan." So if a character is shown to be an awesome motorcycle racer in the first act, and that never comes up again in any significant way, that's a widow, but if the character were to jump on the harley and race the bad guys like a champ in the third act with nothing to suggest this was a skill he possessed earlier, that's an orphan. Grumblebee makes some excellent points about how to avoid widows and orphans without beating the audience over the head. I'd add one more technique, which is to show the "gun," but have it pay off in a way other than expected. Maybe it never fires, but instead becomes the clue that unwraps the case, or something. When the chlidren are walking across the ice and it starts to creak, we're expecting them to fall in. We are NOT expecting the lake monster to come bursting forth from UNDER the ice.

This is important because, in as many cases as possible, we do not want the audience to see the gun fire, and then remember "oh, yeah, there was a gun! I remember now!" That sort of thing can be acceptable, and fun, but it is not essential to storytelling (at least dramatic storytelling, it's a wonderful and indispensable comic trope.) We want the audience to recognize that the stakes have been raised, that our favorite character is in danger, that the plan could go horribly wrong, etc. If our hero is relying on a friend to get something important done, for instance, and that friend fails at the task, it does nothing for us to find out afterwards that it's because the friend has a drug habit. That just comes out of nowhere. There are situations, of course, where it might be most appropriate to use some variation of the grumblebee method, i.e. "Oh, so that wasn't insulin after all!" Usually, however, you'll want to know that he's got a drug habit, and then be concerned about whether he'll get this one thing right or fuck it all up like he always has.

For greater analysis of how this all works, and in particular how Indy failed his way through Raiders of the Lost Ark with increasing awesomeness, check out this article. I've linked to this site before on the front page, but the columns here are fantastic for explaining how to write compelling stories while avoiding cliche and meaningless excess. And one of them even applies a mathematical formula (or at least analogy) to story tension and how it can best work in creating the best movie.

Anyway, JHarris, you're asking a lot of the right questions, and I hope this helps.
posted by Navelgazer at 12:55 PM on March 10, 2009 [64 favorites]


There's some funny exchanges in this.

After L says the monkey should be portrayed as a villain and to establish this he suggests having the monkey lead the Nazis to the girl hiding in a basket, essentially, the monkey will be the cause of the kidnapping and apparent death of the protagonist's love interest. S's response?

Also, there's this sleeping cat that the monkey knocks in the face. Something you can really hate the monkey for.

S has a number of odd comments.

It's one of those jungle scenes, you've seen where the plane crashes into this dinosaur infested jungle, only now without dinosaurs.

With Nazis you have to use your fists, because they're despicable people.

I like it when a character just reappears.


Here's another funny exchange:

L - Let me ask you one thing about this fight, how gory do you guys see this movie?
S - Not very.
G - Not very. It should be Saturday matinee violence.
L - How about death by fire?
G - That's okay.

posted by effwerd at 12:56 PM on March 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


Con Air?
posted by Artw at 12:57 PM on March 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


Artw, there were, but not so many, and not so... big! I'm in a class on 63-75 sound cinema presently, and there were indeed, action films, Point Blank, the Bond films, Gladiator pictures, hey, here's a list. Though the auteur film, the exploitation/youth film and the "big kill" roadshow picture (family, epics, musicals) were more apt divisions of the commercial thrust at that time.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 12:59 PM on March 10, 2009


I LOVE CON AIR SHUT UP
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 12:59 PM on March 10, 2009


I do think Spielberg is our Capra/Wilder/Hitchcock. He's the closest equivalent. He's a talented craftsman who makes popular genre films -- same as those guys. I don't see a big difference between "adventure" films and "thrillers" from a filmmaking point of view. Both are about suspense. Both are forms of melodrama. There's a ton of overlap. I love both genres. A lot of sci-fi is in the same boat. For my money, "Raiders of the Lost Ark," "Aliens," and "North by Northwest" are more alike than different.

I actually think "Raiders of the Lost Ark" is one of Spielberg's better films. To me, it's ruined by its ending. I HATE the fact that the German's are killed by the Ark's magic. I hate it, because before this point, the movie seems to be about one man's heroism. In such a movie, you want the HERO to triumph over the bad guys -- you don't want God to do it. Or at least I don't.

It's interesting that in many ways, "Raiders" is similar to "The Maltese Falcon." But the Falcon and the Ark are diametrically opposed, in terms of their power. To me, "The Maltese Falcon" has a much more satisfying ending.
posted by grumblebee at 1:00 PM on March 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


Put the bunny back in the box.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 1:01 PM on March 10, 2009


CON AIR IS FUCKING WONDERFUL BUT COME ON, UNAFFECTED BY SPIELBERG? A PROPELLOR BLADE SPINS THROUGH THE FUSELAGE DURING A FIGHT AND THE CHARACTERS STEP BACK FOR IT, THAT'S TOTAL INDY.
posted by Artw at 1:01 PM on March 10, 2009


I can name some contemporary action pictures unbesmirched by overSpielberginess

Actually, I think you're right. I think S and L had an iron grip over popular films in the 80s and 90s. The influence has -- thankfully in my mind -- started to wane.
posted by grumblebee at 1:02 PM on March 10, 2009


here's a list

Action-y content, proto-actionmovies, but not yet ACTION action. Early Bond still has a proper plot.
posted by Artw at 1:02 PM on March 10, 2009


I'd add one more technique, which is to show the "gun," but have it pay off in a way other than expected.

See "Match Point."
posted by grumblebee at 1:05 PM on March 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


Also some other mostly dead genres like your War Film and your Western (which both get rolled out as Oscar Movies every once in a while but no longer exist in their popcorn variant).

And Epics.
posted by Artw at 1:06 PM on March 10, 2009


You're right, Artw, Con Air is hardly bereft of Spielberginess, I was just lazily listing and couldn't resist.

I'm not grasping your definition of ACTION action, exactly...
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 1:08 PM on March 10, 2009


I think your genre definitions are really on too tight, Artw. Genres move in cycles, and they're defined by thematic content, viewer expectations, industrial concerns, and they just can't be applied one to a picture anymore. These two guys influenced that.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 1:11 PM on March 10, 2009


I think there's been an interesting conversation going on between TV and film. First-TV generation directors, such as Spielberg, were badly influenced by TV's shoddy attempt at the "variety show," by which I mean things like sitcoms in which a bunch of characters, who would never stay in a room together in real life, inexplicably hang out all the time and trade insults. That generation was also influenced by "studio audiences" and laugh tracks. They wound up made high-production-value movies that borrowed TV's worst concepts.

Meanwhile, VERY SLOWLY, television was growing up. There's still tons of trash on the tube, of course, but I think we're now in a kind of golden age of television -- of POPULAR television. (In the U.K., I think this happened much earlier, in the 70s and 80s, but in the US, our golden age is now). We now have subtle, sophisticated shows like "Deadwood," "The Sopranos," "The Wire," "Battlestar Galactica," etc. They are better wrought than many genre movies, and they are influencing genre movies -- getting us out of the Spielberg slump.
posted by grumblebee at 1:13 PM on March 10, 2009 [3 favorites]


One of the more interesting things about Spielberg lately has been how he has been subverting his own formula and style. Both "A.I." and "Munich" had fairly disturbing plot points and themes but because of the way he structured them it's hard to think critically about the ethics of the characters until teh movie ends. "Munich" brings the conflict between enjoying an action movie and the consequences of the characters to the surface while "A.I." is a bit more subtle.
Also, if you can enjoy "North by Northwest" and "The Man Who Knew too Much" era Hitchcock without enjoying Speilberg or something like "Point Blank" without liking James Cameron and Ambrosia's favorite "Con Air" then you have Leonard Maltin syndrome and just have trouble with newer films.
posted by Strshan at 1:16 PM on March 10, 2009


I actually think "Raiders of the Lost Ark" is one of Spielberg's better films. To me, it's ruined by its ending. I HATE the fact that the German's are killed by the Ark's magic. I hate it, because before this point, the movie seems to be about one man's heroism. In such a movie, you want the HERO to triumph over the bad guys -- you don't want God to do it. Or at least I don't.

Indy's a pretty cool guy and all, but ultimately he's just a blip on the radar in the grand scheme of history, and insignificant when stacked up against it. The Nazis, too. They're people: what the Ark represents, I think, is the eternal. Indy respected it; the Nazis didn't. Hence so, you know, you could say Indy "won" simply by virtue of understanding the gravity of the situation in a way the Nazis were just too arrogant to grasp.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 1:18 PM on March 10, 2009 [7 favorites]


If you're a fictional character Do Not Fuck With The Ancient Weird Thing is a very good principle to live by.

(also: Punch Nazis)
posted by Artw at 1:24 PM on March 10, 2009


TBH I think people just hate on Spielberg and his particular tics because he's popular more than anything else, see also King-bashing.
posted by Artw at 1:25 PM on March 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


Also, if you can enjoy "North by Northwest" and "The Man Who Knew too Much" era Hitchcock without enjoying Speilberg or something like "Point Blank" without liking James Cameron and Ambrosia's favorite "Con Air" then you have Leonard Maltin syndrome and just have trouble with newer films.

Are you talking to me? I said one of my favorite genre films is "Aliens." I haven't seen "Point Blank." I thought "Con Air" was fun.
posted by grumblebee at 1:26 PM on March 10, 2009


And I enjoy a lot of Stephen King.
posted by grumblebee at 1:26 PM on March 10, 2009


Take a moment to pity me. In the fall, I will likely be grading undergraduate papers in Spielberg Class. A class. On Spielberg. Exclusively. With a visit. Oh the sycophancy, I can smell it gurgling up from hell now, in 12 point Times New Roman.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 1:30 PM on March 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


See, I'd totally be up for that, even though for the most part his particular brand of cheese is not my line there's no doubt that he's a master of what he does.
posted by Artw at 1:35 PM on March 10, 2009


Sorry Grumblebee, I didn't want to pick a fight there. I was just burning my own personal strawmen, more of a jab at the absent Maltin then anything. I'm actually with you on everything on your personal list of great genre films, I am wondering why you chose "Duck You Sucker" in particualr instead of the more popular "Once Upon a Time in America/West" or the man with no name series.
posted by Strshan at 1:38 PM on March 10, 2009


besides the infinitely better title of course.
posted by Strshan at 1:38 PM on March 10, 2009


Because it's fucking awesome?
posted by Artw at 1:40 PM on March 10, 2009


Take a moment to pity me. In the fall, I will likely be grading undergraduate papers in Spielberg Class. A class. On Spielberg. Exclusively. With a visit. Oh the sycophancy, I can smell it gurgling up from hell now, in 12 point Times New Roman.

See, AV, that's what you get for being at (I'm assuming) USC. At NYU they encourage criticism of even our most critically adored graduates (Scorcese, Spike Lee) and our most commercially successful alums are actively disdained (Chris Columbus, Brett Ratner).

Also, our dean (at least when I was there, I think he's still there) is Amy Irving's brother, and for damn sure has his own personal opinions of Spielberg as a result. You can be damn sure there will be no sycophantic visits to Tisch any time soon.
posted by Navelgazer at 1:41 PM on March 10, 2009


grumblebee, you might not want to cherrypick superlative films like Some Like it Hot and The Wizard of Oz to prove that point. It's unrealistic.

I disagree. You don't have to be an insufferable aesthete who disdains American films to have a historical perspective about popular American cinema. I don't agree with Pauline Kael in all things, but one of the things that made her such a great critic was that she had such an encyclopedic knowledge of 1930s and 1940s American films that she could easily detect when 1960s-1980s filmmakers were giving audiences an inferior version of the same-old, same-old. On the contrary, I wish there were more moviegoers and film critics with "unrealistic" expectations. We'd get a lot better movies as a result.
posted by jonp72 at 1:51 PM on March 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


Do the people who make the decisions on what films get made actually give a shit about critics?
posted by Artw at 1:54 PM on March 10, 2009


(The answer is no, of course. )
posted by Artw at 1:56 PM on March 10, 2009


Hot Fuzz.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 1:58 PM on March 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


Heh. Too bad your grad program sucks by comparison, Navelgazer. pbbbt.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 1:58 PM on March 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


JHarris: When you see it coming from a mile away, this is not good storytelling

When I read comments like this, I can't help but think that the sentiment you describe seems to result from an inadequate degree of immersion in the act of watching a movie. In this level of engagement, the fact that you are watching a crafted concoction seems to be a cognitively salient actor present from the start in one's consciousness. Hence, the noticing of which storytelling tropes are being employed, or whether the plot is internally consistent, or the mood lighting suck, or any other thoughts over an aspect of the crafting of the film. Of course, this happens naturally sometimes even if you make an effort to immerse yourself, but it does mean that the storyteller isn't the exclusive auteur.
posted by Gyan at 2:00 PM on March 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


G — I was thinking that this old guy could have been his mentor. He could have known this little girl when she was just a kid. Had an affair with her when she was eleven.

L — And he was forty-two.

G — He hasn't seen her in twelve years. Now she's twenty-two. It's a real strange relationship.

S — She had better be older than twenty-two.

G — He's thirty-five, and he knew her ten years ago when he was twenty-five and she was only twelve. It would be amusing to make her slightly young at the time.

S — And promiscuous. She came onto him.


If I had these three in my jury pool two months ago, I would have one client fewer in prison right now.
posted by flarbuse at 2:17 PM on March 10, 2009 [9 favorites]


Hot Fuzz is actionest one there is.
posted by Artw at 2:33 PM on March 10, 2009


"S -- What we're just doing here, really, is designing a ride at Disneyland."

More true than anyone could guess...
posted by ethansr at 2:34 PM on March 10, 2009


I actually think "Raiders of the Lost Ark" is one of Spielberg's better films. To me, it's ruined by its ending. I HATE the fact that the German's are killed by the Ark's magic. I hate it, because before this point, the movie seems to be about one man's heroism. In such a movie, you want the HERO to triumph over the bad guys -- you don't want God to do it. Or at least I don't.

But what makes Indy so compelling is that he's NOT a conventional hero in any sense. He's the protagonist, of course, but he's a rogue. I might be wrong - I'm working from memory here - but I don't think there's a single moment in any of the (first three) movies where Indy goes out looking for confrontation. That's not his job. What he does is to go in without being noticed, get what he's looking for, and escape. Hell, at one point in Last Crusade he could've fucking killed Hitler, if that were the type of character he was, but he isn't. Self-preservation is his first priority, which is what makes the end of Raiders
work, because Indy is the only guy who knows enough to preserve himself among the fate-tempting hubris of the Nazis. In that situation, the only thing he can physically do at all is either look or not look, and he chooses not to look upon the majesty of the arc, which is what saves him (and Marion) and destroys the Nazis who weren't so reverent.

It plays perfectly with and against the themes of his character. Indy is a guy who "rescues" items from tombs and other places to take them to museums, where everyone may be able to look upon them equally, and he's able to do this because he knows enough about the artifacts and respects them enough to get around their curses and booby-traps. All of these things are bigger than he is, and he knows it.

The Nazis, on the other hand, think that nothing is bigger than they are, use brute force over cunning, and have no respect for what they are dealing with. So the end is appropriate in that Indy respects and understands the ark well enough to not look upon it, and ironic in that this is a guy who's respect for such things is always for the greater good of letting everyone look upon them. Looking away isn't passive, but rather an active choice to respect the god at the center of the whole movie, which the Nazis refuse to do.
posted by Navelgazer at 2:38 PM on March 10, 2009 [10 favorites]


If I had these three in my jury pool two months ago, I would have one client fewer in prison right now.

Either that, or a real big fight in the jury room.

(I'm more than a little shocked and surprised that this section excites so little reaction in the blue. I mean, I realize the Hollywoods are not exactly people to look up to, but this, this is just plain creepy. More than any other commentary, those lines alter the way I will henceforth watch these guys' movies. And not in a good way.

And I don't think this simply because I have a daughter who will be eleven in three short years. Phone home, child, phone home.)
posted by IndigoJones at 2:52 PM on March 10, 2009


The Nazis... use brute force over cunning, and have no respect for what they are dealing with.

A point perfectly brought home by Belloq when he looks on the Nazi efforts to find the chamber with the ark and he says "You would use a bulldozer to find a china cup."

He is a great antagonist in that, unlike the Nazis, he's not about brute force, he is the flip side of Jones. He uses cunning and treachery and he stings Indy when he points out that they aren't so very different. But unlike Jones, he is more about the power of the object, than the preservation, so he gets blowed up.

Artw : Hot Fuzz is actionest one there is.

For similar values of actionismistness, see also, Shoot 'Em Up.
posted by quin at 2:58 PM on March 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm more than a little shocked and surprised that this section excites so little reaction in the blue.

I think we're trying to block that section out of our minds. I always envisioned the whole Marion/Indy thing being about he and Marion having an affair when she was a college student. It's now clear that Hollywood culture is even more screwed up than we can possibly imagine. Seriously, who thinks like that?
posted by deanc at 2:58 PM on March 10, 2009


Roman Polanski
posted by Artw at 3:01 PM on March 10, 2009 [3 favorites]


I'm more than a little shocked and surprised that this section excites so little reaction in the blue.

Mostly it's making me understand the Padme/Annakin interactions in Episode I a lot more clearly.
posted by Navelgazer at 3:04 PM on March 10, 2009


One of the biggest box-office successes in movie history — probably because for young audiences it's like getting a box of Cracker Jack that is all prizes. Written and directed by George Lucas, the film is enjoyable in its own terms, but it's exhausting, too: like taking a pack of kids to the circus. There's no breather in the picture, no lyricism; the only attempt at beauty is in the image of a double sunset. The loudness, the smash-and-grab editing, and the relentless pacing drive every idea out of your head, and even if you've been entertained, you may feel cheated of some dimension — a sense of wonder, perhaps. It's an epic without a dream.

- Pauline Kael on Star Wars

And

If for the last couple of years Hollywood couldn't seem to do anything right, it isn't that it was just a stretch of bad luck — it's the result of recent developments within the industry. And in all probability it will get worse, not better. There have been few recent American movies worth lining up for — last year there was chiefly The Black Stallion, and this year there is The Empire Strikes. The first was made under the aegis of Francis Ford Coppola; the second was financed by George Lucas, using his profits from Star Wars as a guarantee to obtain bank loans. One can say with fair confidence that neither The Black Stallion nor The Empire Strikes Back could have been made with such care for visual richness and imagination had they been done under studio control.

from "Why Are Movies So Bad? or, The Numbers"
posted by KokuRyu at 3:05 PM on March 10, 2009


TBH I’m pretty wary of initiating paedo-witchhunts on the basis of transcripts of off-the-cuff remarks made while thrashing something out.

On the other hand: ew, and: adjust your age ranges up, and: glad the end result is markedly less creepy.
posted by Artw at 3:06 PM on March 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


G — ...you've been describing this to people as a science fiction film, which is good.

S — I have not.

G.— It's in Rolling Stone. Anyway...


Cold busted.
posted by Brainy at 3:13 PM on March 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


I can only imagine that Lucas intended for their "affair" to have consisted of a young girl's crush on a grown man. I mean, because unless George Lucas is insane, even a secret pedophile would know better -- I think! -- to imply that it would be at all okay for the hero of the film to have slept with an underaged girl and say so on tape. My guess is that Lucas was just too naive to recognize the sleaze factor; Spielberg, much less 'spergin' a guy, seems to be equally grossed out and amused, and I'm guessing (without having read the PDF) that Lucas soon after realized why his idea was maybe not the best one. (Or, yeah, decided to "save" it for that rich depository of brilliant ideas that has come to be known as The Phantom Menace.)
posted by kittens for breakfast at 3:21 PM on March 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


The end result was always more-than-slightly creepy, no?

INDY: I never meant to hurt you.
MARION: I was a child! I was in love.
INDY: You knew what you were doing.
MARION: It was wrong. You knew it.

posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 3:22 PM on March 10, 2009 [3 favorites]


The end result is great, and can be read entirely without making him Dr. Nabokov Jones, itinerant pederast.
posted by Artw at 3:26 PM on March 10, 2009


Two thoughts:

1.) Whatever creepy-ass George Lucas said in the story meeting, Harrison Ford and Karen Allen aged that affair up some in their performances, and that's what's on the screen, and is now canon. I forget if it was Roger Avery of Quentin Tarantino throwing around the idea that the briefcase in Pulp Fiction was to be filled with diamonds, but it isn't. That's not what ended up on screen at the end. Similarly, Ford and Allen knew, like the rest of the sane universe, that Indiana Jones does not fuck twelve-year-olds, and that's what ended up on screen, Lucas be damned.

1.5) We've got no audio, so for all we know this could've been a sick joke that led to a genuine idea. But I doubt it.

2.) The blogger in the FPP link actually does make a great point about this in terms of the backstory not having any real effect on our sympathy for the protagonist. Take that modern classic that's being cited around here so much, Con Air. Almost every character in that is ridiculously dispicable, kiddie-rapists and murderers down to the last. But since they don't do those things in the course of the story, we enjoy them, instead of thinking how reprehensible they are. It doesn't work that way as a rule (see: Chinatown) but it's an interesting point.
posted by Navelgazer at 3:32 PM on March 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


S - Hey, George.

G - Sup?

S - Do me a favour.

G - Anything brah.

S - I was thinking about this the other day, and I think it would be neat if every time you or I produce or direct a movie, you could stuff, like, a cupcake into your mouth, and just sorta...keep it there.

G - Keep it there? For how long, dude?

S - For, y'know...for ever.

G - Ever?

S - Yeah, just push the cupcake in there and leave it there. Every time either of us does a movie.

G - What's that gonna prove, man?

S - I think it would be interesting to see what happens.

G - What do you think is gonna happen, dawg?

S - I think that gravity will slowly pull the cupcakes downward, into a sort of pouch beneath your jaw.

G - Ha! That seems pretty unlikely, g.

S - You're G.

G - Oh right.

TWENTY YEARS LATER
posted by turgid dahlia at 3:34 PM on March 10, 2009 [35 favorites]


I always envisioned the whole Marion/Indy thing being about he and Marion having an affair when she was a college student.

Agreed. It's clear from the girl flirting with him in his class that he has that effect on his students, so it seems completely reasonable to have taken this view.

MARION: I was a child! I was in love.

I think many adult women would refer to themselves in their early college years as being a child.

MARION: It was wrong. You knew it.

I've always read this to be because of the dynamic of student/ teacher and the fact that he was a friend/ apprentice of her father.

And I'm going to continue to see it this way. I'm not going to let the misplaced intentions of someone as trivial as the creator change my opinion of one of my favorite films of all time.
posted by quin at 3:36 PM on March 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


Ridley Scott is wrong about Ford being a replicant, as well.
posted by Artw at 3:44 PM on March 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


Hmm... 'Harrison Ford IS Cyber-Paedo'. Given his recent judgement in movie roles he'd be up for it like a shot!
posted by Artw at 3:47 PM on March 10, 2009


wordplayer.com insists that my browser cannot possibly be a real web browser (Iceweasel, debian) and gives a 403 forbidden error, with the nerve to tell me that if I actually am a human I should beg them in email for access. Fuck that. Thank god most webmasters are not that arrogant and petulant. (And yes, I tried switching the user agent to IE on Windows and it still gives a 403.)
posted by Rhomboid at 4:03 PM on March 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


/does body snatcher point at Rhomboid.
posted by Artw at 4:09 PM on March 10, 2009


Sorry, Rhombold. I meant to mention in the comment that wordplay only works in the U.S., apparently, which sucks. Sorry about that.
posted by Navelgazer at 4:21 PM on March 10, 2009


I'm starting to think that George CGIs his hair now...
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 4:43 PM on March 10, 2009


I'm starting to think that George CGIs his hair now...

Nah, if that were true he'd CGI away his wattle.
posted by kirkaracha at 5:25 PM on March 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


Since AV mentioned it: Point Blank is amazingly great, and you should totally watch it.
posted by box at 6:30 PM on March 10, 2009


if that were true he'd CGI away his wattle.

That doesn't make any sense -- Watto is entirely CGI.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:43 PM on March 10, 2009


This would be good fodder for an SNL skit, Spielberg and Lucas having story meetings. Then every once in a while Scorsese on coke would show up and make it even more ridiculous.
posted by cazoo at 6:58 PM on March 10, 2009


Dr. Nabokov Jones, itinerant pederast.

Surely that would be Indiana Humbert, globe-trotting paedophile.

A 'net-leaked copy of Star War's "Revised Fourth Draft, January 15, 1976" describes Princess Leia as a "petite {...} beautiful young girl (about sixteen years old)", which I originally assumed was merely due to Lucas's fascination with "The Hidden Fortress". Now there's his casual conversation about Marion Ravenwood added to his idea in "Phantom Menace" of having Queen Amidala first appear as a 14-year-old, and I'm not sure I want to think about this anymore.
posted by Doktor Zed at 7:04 PM on March 10, 2009


(I'm more than a little shocked and surprised that this section excites so little reaction in the blue. I mean, I realize the Hollywoods are not exactly people to look up to, but this, this is just plain creepy. More than any other commentary, those lines alter the way I will henceforth watch these guys' movies. And not in a good way.

I'm surprised it's eliciting as much as it is. The degree to which people are being squicked by a pair of writers brainstorming what kind of flaws might make a fictional character interesting is puzzling.
posted by Amanojaku at 7:22 PM on March 10, 2009


I don't think that the vast majority of people responding are squicked so much as they are surprised that:

1) You've got these two guys who are already high-impact filmmakers who
2) make some family-friendly, not particularly dark movies,
3) casually discussing the idea of a 42 year old man with an eleven year old girl
4) and describe it as an "affair"
5) then think that a few million people would find this okay for their hero.

It's like hearing about a meeting with the creative heads of Pixar discussing how they would like to do another Big Friendly Animal movie, and let's set it in Africa and romanticize slavery and colonialism. And we need a rap soundtrack, with some current stuff, but I also want to hear some Geto Boys, and can we get the rights to "Copkiller?"

The insight into the creative process is great, and I'm completely down with the idea of having to break the rules, but in terms of American heroes everyone will look up to, it's like brainstorming that Superman could get his powers back in the end of Superman II by using some of those long, thin data crystals from the Fortress of Solitude to punch a hole in a baby's head and slurp out its brains.

Lois, it's what those soft spots are FOR
posted by adipocere at 7:54 PM on March 10, 2009 [4 favorites]


Am I the only one who thought this debated exchange was just the three of them saying more and more appalling things, trying to amuse one another? The way guys sometimes do when they're hanging out with each other?

Though I can't speak for "L," but "G" and "S" aren't so Aspergers-y to be incapable of some tasteless jokes (a few of which are sprinkled throughout, I believe).
posted by incomple at 8:54 PM on March 10, 2009


the nazis lost the war because of overconfidence . if only they hadn't looked at russia....
posted by Glibpaxman at 9:02 PM on March 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


3) casually discussing the idea of a 42 year old man with an eleven year old girl
4) and describe it as an "affair"

Yeah, Polanski was really pretty influential in this era.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 9:08 PM on March 10, 2009


"Munich" brings the conflict between enjoying an action movie and the consequences of the characters to the surface while "A.I." is a bit more subtle.

I just want to note that this is the first time I've ever heard anyone refer to "A.I." as subtle.
posted by fungible at 9:22 PM on March 10, 2009


AI is a peice of shit. Israeli Death Squad is awesome though.
posted by Artw at 9:29 PM on March 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


AI is a peice of shit.

No. Shit has value in that it can be used for fertilizer of fuel.

[I'm gonna spoil this alert!]

When you are two hours plus into a film and you've effectively neutralized the main character by "killing" him, you better be sure that when the next frame that reads "two thousand years later", it is followed by some of the most stunning film-making of all time and not another half hour of the dull. Because if you don't, people like me will bitch about it for ever more.

Like I'm doing here.

posted by quin at 9:46 PM on March 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


S — He should have a mentor in this. Somebody you never see, but he refers to from time to time, somebody you want to see. The man who taught him everything. The man who gave him whatever power he has now. Maybe some supreme archeologist who's maybe ninety years old like Max Von Sydow, and is dying now.

Jesus. Even in 1978, Max Von Sydow was old.
posted by Spatch at 9:59 PM on March 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


Starting up a voiceover most of the way in when one hasn't previously been there always struck me as a really wrong choice.
posted by Artw at 10:13 PM on March 10, 2009


He's only 80! And apparently he's Solomon Kane's dad.
posted by Artw at 10:15 PM on March 10, 2009


I just want to note that this is the first time I've ever heard anyone refer to "A.I." as subtle.
My reading of it is that we're drawn into this story about a cute kid and a teddy bear that go through great adventures just so he can get the love of his mom. Throw in some allusions to Pinocchio for good measure and by the end of the film love conquers all, and he gets one last day in his mother's arms. Happy ending.
Except he's not a cute kid, he's a machine driven by programing to get love no matter what. He has no real emotions outside of what his programming will allow. If the ending sequence is to be believed then this machine has somehow ruined this real person's "immortal soul" because of her own inner desire for love. While the movie is going on we're drawn into the machine's journey through typical Spielbergian tricks, but afterwards I started thinking "That's pretty fucked up."
I will admit the Robin Williams cameo is a bit much and slows down the movie in an already glacial part.
posted by Strshan at 10:46 PM on March 10, 2009


If the ending sequence is to be believed then this machine has somehow ruined this real person's "immortal soul" because of her own inner desire for love.

Eh?
posted by Artw at 10:50 PM on March 10, 2009


It's admittedly been a while since I've seen it but I think the future robots explain that if they bring her to life that she'll only be temporary and that it will ruin her in some way.
posted by Strshan at 10:53 PM on March 10, 2009


I recently re-watched Close Encounters and was surprised to find that it's kind of anti-family. I mean, Roy's wife and family kinda suck, no doubt about it. The home is constant chaos even before the aliens show up. Yet Roy seems happy with his lot in life. But after his encounter, Roy pretty much turns his back on his family. His apotheosis comes at the moment when he boards the alien spacecraft, presumably with no prospect of ever seeing his family again.

As for the age thing with Marion - you do remember Raging Bull, right? The protagonist (Jake) is a) married, and b) infatuated with a 15-year-old girl. No-one ever seems to be squicked out by that.
posted by Ritchie at 11:17 PM on March 10, 2009


Well, my view on the, uh, age factor is that it was the seventies. Not just Roman Polanski, not just Manhattan (which, btw, wasn't out yet!), but heck, you had Oscar-winning pictures like Paper Moon hinting at inappropriate-age relationships (with a real father and daughter playing the parts, and years later, it appears there were serious boundary issues to boot), you had Melanie Griffith topless at sixteen, Jodie Foster playing a hooker in hot pants at thirteen. Heck, it was the exact same year as Pretty Baby, with a nekkid and very twelve Brooke Shields.

This is all before Catherine MacKinnon (first major work: 1979), before Something About Amelia. It was an era when an "affair" between a 25-year-old and a 15-year-old, let alone 21 and 11, would have been an impetus for some swift, quiet separation and private shaming rather than, say, 24/7 cable jaw-jaw.

Certainly the era we're now in has better protections for children, but it doesn't seem to have slowed down the rate of abuse by much. I think art is diminished if it has to pretend that some things are not just unacceptable, but so unacceptable they cannot be shown to happen.

Anyway, I suspect Lucas was probably joking about 11, but maybe not that much. It was the seventies. Having been around then, I can say that the idea of a college boy macking on a pre-teen was then a call for the designation "creep" (see: Manhattan), rather than today, when it is a call for the designation "monster". The girl would have been seen as precocious and slatternly whereas today we would understand her to have been sexualized at an even earlier age. In scenario terms, maybe that meant Prof. Daddy Mentor himself.

If you are writing or directing a movie, you must set up as much tension as your story will allow.

This is of course precisely true. The commentary for Lord of the Rings is full of comments from Jackson, Boyens, and Walsh about how they had to rejigger parts of the story because what worked on the page just fell flat on screen. Example -- the Dead Marshes. All of Sam, Frodo, and Gollum tramping about before they get to Mordor was potentially just deathly dull. Also, the climaxes were in the wrong places for the movies to exactly match the content of the books (not, of course, written to have three climaxes) , even though the titles did.

I think generally Spielberg and Lucas, at their best, created a narrative argot that was filmically aware. They took elements from both classic film-making and the New Wave, and even bits of 1970s naturalism, to create a world instantly recognizable in shorthand to anyone who'd grown up on movies. At their worst they fell into their own self-referential traps. I think the Bruckheimer blockbusters do owe a huge debt to Spielberg especially. Con Air, The Rock, and Armageddon have a character and action shorthand about them that jazzes up the material beyond an ordinary action movie. So what if Raiders came together somewhat mechanically? I imagine more movies than we'd all like to admit had a similar, just less ambitious, genesis.
posted by dhartung at 11:20 PM on March 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


As for the age thing with Marion - you do remember Raging Bull, right? The protagonist (Jake) is a) married, and b) infatuated with a 15-year-old girl. No-one ever seems to be squicked out by that.

I'm not sure the viewer is supposed to root for Jake LaMotta the same way they root for Indiana Jones.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 11:36 PM on March 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


When I was a kid, watching Close Encounters for the first time as it played on TV, my mom passed through the living room. I asked her: why won't this guy's wife believe him? How can she be acting so stupid?

"Honey, screenwriters in the '70s didn't really like women," she said, bustling off to do something else. And she was right, too. From that prepubescent day, I began to think about movies as constructed, machines built rather than stories told.

Moral: always tell your kids when the fix is in; they'll understand.
posted by Countess Elena at 3:02 AM on March 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Having been around then, I can say that the idea of a college boy macking on a pre-teen was then a call for the designation "creep" (see: Manhattan), rather than today, when it is a call for the designation "monster".

I was around then, too. All I can say is, our memories differ.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:54 AM on March 11, 2009


All this talk about Con Air being a watchable, let alone GOOD movie has me feeling like I walked into an alternate universe. And then this:

Con Air, The Rock, and Armageddon have a character and action shorthand about them that jazzes up the material beyond an ordinary action movie.

If this is common belief — that these three movies that I'd probably pull out as some the worst action movies I've ever seen — then the Matrix must have rebooted into another version while I wasn't looking.

Please please PLEASE don't tell me that Matrix 2 & 3 are now considered good movies.
posted by papercake at 9:26 AM on March 11, 2009


EVERY MORNING I WAKE UP AND OPEN PALM SLAM A VHS INTO THE SLOT. ITS CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK AND RIGHT THEN AND THERE I START DOING THE MOVES ALONGSIDE WITH THE MAIN CHARACTER, RIDDICK. I DO EVERY MOVE AND I DO EVERY MOVE HARD. MAKIN WHOOSHING SOUNDS WHEN I SLAM DOWN SOME NECRO BASTARDS OR EVEN WHEN I MESS UP TECHNIQUE. NOT MANY CAN SAY THEY ESCAPED THE GALAXYS MOST DANGEROUS PRISON. I CAN. I SAY IT AND I SAY IT OUTLOUD EVERYDAY TO PEOPLE IN MY COLLEGE CLASS AND ALL THEY DO IS PROVE PEOPLE IN COLLEGE CLASS CAN STILL BE IMMATURE JEKRS. AND IVE LEARNED ALL THE LINES AND IVE LEARNED HOW TO MAKE MYSELF AND MY APARTMENT LESS LONELY BY SHOUTING EM ALL. 2 HOURS INCLUDING WIND DOWN EVERY MORNing
posted by Optimus Chyme at 9:39 AM on March 11, 2009 [11 favorites]


Riddick WILL RETURN.
posted by Artw at 10:09 AM on March 11, 2009


All this talk about Con Air being a watchable, let alone GOOD movie has me feeling like I walked into an alternate universe.

People may be reacting to the casting. I freely admit that the one and only reason I sat through CON AIR was so I could watch John Cusack be pretty. (Hi John! Call me!)

But, if you take out Nicolas Cage being all noble or whatever, you have some fairly amusing interactions with the rest of the cast -- John Malkovich and Steve Busciemi come to mind especially. Granted, the acting and the writing may have been pretty dismal, but I get the sense that about halfway through everyone realized it was going to suck and all decided, "you know what, fuck it -- let's jus have fun" and John Malkovich and Steve Busciemi just really decided to unleash the creepiness to amuse themselves, and that just became fun to watch in its own right.

That's also kind of the reason why I saw the David Duchovny picture Playing God which was equally as horrible but it looked like everyone was having fun just busting on the whole thing.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:56 AM on March 11, 2009


I like it when they lean out of the back of the plane and shoot at fighter jets with a pistol.
posted by Artw at 11:12 AM on March 11, 2009


Y'all are forgetting the scene in the non-fiction Heavy Metal Parking Lot where the 20 year old and the 13 year old are making out and no one bats an eye.
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 11:50 AM on March 11, 2009


Whilst Con Air is not in any sense 'good' or 'great' it, for me at least, some how transcends stuff like Armageddon. Not least by having a whole host of interesting secondary characters that are each given their moment to shine - "Define irony. Bunch of idiots dancing on a plane to a song made famous by a band that died in a plane crash. "

I watched it the other week on television and it's aging like a fine wine.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 1:22 PM on March 11, 2009


I can assure you that Armageddon ages like poop in a hot car.
posted by Artw at 1:38 PM on March 11, 2009


Navelgazer: ... we do not want the audience to see the gun fire, and then remember "oh, yeah, there was a gun! I remember now!" That sort of thing can be acceptable, and fun, but it is not essential to storytelling (at least dramatic storytelling, it's a wonderful and indispensable comic trope.) We want the audience to recognize that the stakes have been raised, that our favorite character is in danger, that the plan could go horribly wrong, etc. If our hero is relying on a friend to get something important done, for instance, and that friend fails at the task, it does nothing for us to find out afterwards that it's because the friend has a drug habit. That just comes out of nowhere. There are situations, of course, where it might be most appropriate to use some variation of the grumblebee method, i.e. "Oh, so that wasn't insulin after all!" Usually, however, you'll want to know that he's got a drug habit, and then be concerned about whether he'll get this one thing right or fuck it all up like he always has.

That's nice and all. But 'storytelling' is so common now as to be everywhere; this is exhausting, at least to my spirit.

The ancient Greeks had two narratives. Two narratives. There were others, but a vast chunk of life and society spun around these two epic heroes: Achilles and Odysseus. We have millions, more every year. I wonder if there's any point in all this. I don't think that it's possible to say that storytelling is worthwhile for its own sake; it's always something ineffable behind storytelling that seems important. And as storytelling becomes more and more associated in the public mind with 'thee entertainment biznizz', it gets harder for me to see anything redeeming or vital in it. I hardly think I'm the only one.

Anyway, I just wanted to say: I like movies without 'using story tension to create the plot.' [1] [2] [3] [4] These movies remind me what film is: a binding of the visual and the aural. As such, they should be more a combination of painting and music than anything else; yet we're so self-centered that we can't really see them without dropping a hackneyed ideal of human life into the midst of them by using them merely as a delivery system for cheap novels.

In film, storytelling by definition has to be subjugated to moving image and sound. How is a person telling a story by pointing a camera at something? Hardly anybody examines that question anymore. The really great artists (John Ford, for example, and of course Homer) could, I believe, resolve this question of their art quite well in their minds, and sought to fill a very particular space in the world. But now, everything is so by rote because we've forgotten the whole purpose behind the forms we use.
posted by koeselitz at 10:21 PM on March 11, 2009


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