Sunday, May 21, 2006

Lies in Omission

Vanx has an interesting discussion going on over at Verb-Ops about interpretable art. He takes issue with some of the premises in The Da Vinci Code. Go check it out.

On a similar note, this week I've seen a pretty bad play, Shining City, and a truly wonderful movie, Stephanie Daley.

They are similar in that they both rely on what is not said in order to get to the center of their characters.

Yeah, that's about it for similarities.

I'm a fan of Faulkner. He uses a lot of words but the loudest things go unsaid. All those other words, all the jewel-toned descriptions are the frames that show you what puzzle piece is missing. You may see 2 or 3 things that could fit in the empty spot, you may have to make that final decision on your own, but you're brought right up to the edge of it so you know what you're looking for.

Hilary Brougher, the Brooklyn based writer and director of Stephanie Daley, gets that. Her movie is neither long nor verbose but it is specific. The choices are clear without being heavy, the performances have breadth and depth, and the story is complex without being complicated.

Let me see if I can blurb it for you.

A teenager (Amber Tamblyn) is accused of killing a baby to whom she gave birth in a public bathroom. The county prosector hires a forensic psychologist (Tilda Swinton) to discover the truth. Huh, look at that, imdb's blurb is almost exactly the same: "Pregnant forensic psychologist Lydie Crane is hired to learn the truth behind the case of 16-year-old Stephanie Daley, who is accused of concealing her pregnancy and murdering her infant."

So, anyway, it's a character driven movie with room for interpretation and plenty of food for thought. At the Q&A after the screening this evening Ms. Brougher let us know that there are a couple of distribution deals on the table and she's hoping to be able to announce the result soon. If you have an opportunity to see this movie, please do, please give it the support it needs and deserves and give yourself the gift of a highly pleasurable experience that's also good for you.

So, anyway, Shining City. I hear that Conor McPherson is a famous Irish playwright and well-renowned as well. I guess I would recommend seeing one of his other plays instead. It's sort of an interesting premise - Ex-priest with new girlfriend and young baby kicks off a new career as a therapist. His first client is recently bereaved and may be seeing ghosts. Their parallel experiences inform their growth. Or at least that's the hope.

We're dropped in the middle of the action. Which would be fine, it's not a bad format to use, Aaron Sorkin loves that shit, but you have to find a way to tell us who these people are, to give us the opportunity to care about the characters, so that when the action comes to a head it matters to us. Also it's helpful if the action, whether physical or emotional actually comes to some sort of head. I think Aristotle said something about that. We get spotty back story, we only meet the girlfriend once and most of her dialogue in the scene is "fucking this" "fucking that" "fuck you". I have no problem with profanity, no fucking problem at all, but I need a few more words as well to get actual information across.

There are a lot of words. Oliver Platt, as the client, has more words than the motherfucking Da Vinci code. Some of them are pertinent, some of them speak to the important omitted items. Hard to mine them from the verbal diarrhea, though. The waterfall of information doesn't point us in the direction we need to go. I know you can't make a horse drink but you do actually need to lead them to water.

And then. THEN! Then there is a surprise ending. Big, shocking, gasp-inducing, Friday the 13th surprise ending. I'm not going to tell you what it is. If you decide to read or see this play you deserve it. (To be clear I mean that in a Brittany and K-Fed deserve each other way not in a you were really good at Grandma's you deserve an ice cream way.) But I will say this, it's unearned, it's cheap and it's stupid. Either find a different way to make that point or go back into the rest of the play and earn the right to make me sleep with the light on for a week. It's not just an arbitrary rule of creative writing class, it's a proven method for getting people to believe your story. I know, nutty, but true.

It wasn't a crappy play. It wasn't terribly executed. It was decently executed for a world where you don't get a lot of rehearsal or prep time and the actors are taking on accents. The set design was beautiful but it's Santo Loquasto, of course it was. The costume and sound designers are relatively young and I feel like they could have gone a few extra steps and it would have supported the play a little better. I don't know if that was an issue with the director's vision or their own plans to work together. It's a fine play, an interesting configuration of people to take a look at, but there wasn't a lot of meat to it. I feel like the next draft might be truly engaging. Sadly, it was on Broadway so there probably won't be another draft.

Go see Stephanie Daley instead. It's a beautiful piece of writing elegantly executed. Then come back here and talk about it. Miflohny (who discovered this series at BAM and this specific movie in the series and invited me along and purchased the tickets - THANK YOU!) and I need more input for our discussion!


  1. Anonymous6:31 PM

    Yes, go see Stephanie Daley!!! Best thing I've seen since Crash, and actually better than Crash (although this opinion may be based on the fact that I saw Crash quite awhile ago, but I don't think so). I cannot recommend this movie enough - truly a joy to watch. It won (and deserved) the Waldo Scott screenwriting award at the Sundance Film Festival. In addition to wonderful writing, it also has a great cast, playing characters that had depth and mystery and that you care about. What a joy to watch! This is Miflohny speaking, I don't have time to figure out my stupid password! :-)

  2. Anonymous6:32 PM

    And it's such a joy to watch I said so twice :-) -Miflohny