Film Making in Quotes

August 20, 2016

DavidLeanDavid Lean was known to say this about the film making process: “I love making motion pictures . . . I love getting behind a camera and trying to get images on the screen. I love cutting and editing. I love putting all the parts together at the end: The sounds, the music, the dialogue. Making a movie is the greatest excitement of my life . . . I love life and I don’t want to die. I want to go on making movies.”

I’m no filmmaker myself, but Mr. Lean’s words give me a sense of what it must feel like to be one. A good quotation can do that. Here are several more small gems of wisdom from famous filmmakers, beginning with that genius Ingmar Bergman, who tells us what he thinks film isn’t: “Film has nothing to do with literature; the character and form of the two art forms are usually in conflict. This probably has something to do with the receptive process of the mind. The written word is read and assimilated by a conscious act of the will in alliance with the intellect; little by little it affects the imagination and the emotions. The process is different with a motion picture. Putting aside will and intellect, we make way for it in our imagination. The sequence of pictures plays directly on our feelings.”

RobertPennMeanwhile, movie director Robert Penn put’s his attraction to film this way: “In the theater, the reliance is on the verbal. Film is how one looks, as against what one says. On the stage, you can’t document that. You’re too far back. So what one says is what one is . . . You don’t have to say it in a film. A look, a simple look, will do it.”

Milos Forman, points out the difference, in terms of reality and unreality, between theater and film: “ . . . you know, in the theater you don’t pretend that what you see on the stage is reality. But in films. . . . automatically the photography enables you to pretend what you see on the screen is reality. So I am disturbed when in that reality I see theater.”

Bernardo Bertolucci seconds that: “My primary choice is one against the theater. I believe it is easier and better for me to shoot from reality, to take a position in the geography and environment of real space.”

ElaineMayDirector and former standup comic, Elaine May, also compared film to life, and found life wanting: “Yes, there is truth in movies. No, movies are not like life. They are constructed in advance. They have a beginning that has probably been rewritten several times, a middle that has been cut and reshaped, and an end that often has music over it. Most movies . . . have a confrontation scene that provides some kind of insight that affects the characters or the audience, or both. In life we have hundreds of such scenes, scenes in which we say the worst thing we can say, in which each person tells what he thinks is the whole truth. Two hours later we have the same scene again. Nothing has really changed. You can’t get any insights. You usually just get mad. Movies or plays can sound natural, or seem real, or have truth, but they can never be like life. After all, they’re not supposed to run over two hours. “

For some, film offers a unique opportunity to explore the unconscious mind. “I think that the nature of movies is images that are more concerned with our desires than any other part of reality. The nature of movies is to connect with our unreal selves. Freud said that every unexplained dream is a letter from the unconscious which is not opened. Dreams can put us in touch with deep realities, and films are very good nightmares.” Dusan Makavejev, Yugoslav director, offered that pithy opinion in Ciné-tracts, the Spring, 1977 issue.

That master of cinema surrealism and automatism, Luis Buñuel, agrees: “The screen is the superior way of expressing the world of dreams . . . . The cinema seems to have been invented for the expression of the subconscious.” But he thinks films often fail to do this: “My aspiration as a film viewer is to have the movie uncover something for me and this happens rarely.”

MilosForemanFor another straightforward comment, I again call on Milos Forman (that’s him at right): “For me film is a pleasure, a desire to tell stories. Everybody likes to tell stories.”

Director Arthur Penn, says: “Film offers the opportunity for constant contradiction between what is said and what is done. It’s closer to how we really experience life. I’m saying that, but I’m really feeling this. And these two things are going on at once. Ambivalence is closer to the human feeling than the simple Eugene O’Neil statement: ‘My father was a bastard.’ That sort of statement that says everything and nothing. Well, film is the exquisite medium for expressing ambivalence. A man says one thing, but his eyes are saying another thing.”

The great film director and former cartoonist—and therefore, beginning with the walls of caves, one of the original image makers—Frederico Fellini, adds this: “Indeed, what is it to make a film? It is naturally, a question of trying to bring order to certain fantasies and of narrating them with a certain exactness.”

Up to this point, our film directors have been dealing, mostly, with abstraction. Now giving his view on the story—the creative “spine” of the film as some might call it—here is actor-director Dennis Hopper: “I believe that you start a movie very slow, very slowly drag people in up to a certain point. Then, just as they get a little restless, you start socking it to them. This makes me favor the episodic structure, like music—something that moves along with short breaks in it: you keep giving people something new, keep building pressure. The you cut off, relax,  go for a ride.”

Robert Bresson claims he drags people into his movies: “As Dostoevsky frequently does, I present the effect before the cause. th-1I think this is a good idea, because it increases the mystery; to witness events without knowing why they are occurring makes you want to find out the reason.”

And finally, directly addressing our original question, former standup comic (with Elaine May) and award-winning film director, Mike Nichols, defined film most simply and perhaps best: “Movies are mood . . . . The thing about something that’s made right—whether it’s a novel, or an opera, or a film—has to do with being hung on a spine . . . The more solid it is, maybe the truer it is.”


Cartooning Tip #4

May 17, 2016

ToonQuote:Peirce-lzClick image to enlarge. This cartoon tip originally appeared in the January-February 2016 issue of The Cartoon!st, the newsletter of the National Cartoonists Society. All series images and texts are copyright © 2016 by the artist.


Today’s Quote

January 20, 2016

PX*13515163“Sometimes laughter hurts, but humor and mockery are our only weapons.”

Jean Cabu, 1938-2015

Cartoonist and co-founder of Charlie Hebdo

 (Click image for larger view.)

Bertolt Brecht on Playwriting

September 23, 2013

Adapted from Playwrights on Playwriting

Edited by Toby Cole

Brecht7“Theatre” consists of this: in making live representations of reported or invented happenings between human beings, and doing so with a view to entertainment.

From the first it has been the theatre’s business to entertain people . . . It is this business which always gives it its particular dignity; it needs no other passport than fun, but this it has got to have. We should not in any way be giving it a higher status if we were to turn it, e.g., into a purveyor of morality; it would on the contrary run the risk of becoming debased, and this would occcur just as soon as it failed to make its moral lesson enjoyable, and enjoyable to the senses at that—a principle, admittedly, by which morality can only gain. Not even instruction can be damanded of it; at any rate, no more utilitarian lesson than how to move pleasurably, whether in the physical or in the spiritual sphere. The theatre must in short remain something entirely superfluous, though this also means that it is the superfluous for which we live. Nothing needs less justification than pleasures.

(W)hat the ancients, following Aristotle, demanded of tragedy is nothing higher or lower than that it should entertain people. Theatre may be said to be derived from ritual, but that is only to say that it becomes theatre once the two have separated . . . . when people speak of higher and lower degrees of pleasure, art stares impassively back at them; for it wishes to fly high and low and to be left in peace, so long as it can give pleasure to people.

Incorrectness, or considerable improbability even, was hardly or not at all disturbing, so long as the incorrectness had a certain consistency and the improbability remained of a constant kind. All that mattered was the illusion of compelling momentum in the story told . . . narrative is the soul of drama.

 If you’d like to read what playwrights such as Arthur Miller, Sam Shepard, Joyce Carol Oates and others have to say about the art and craft of writing for the stage, type “On Playwriting” into the small sidebar window and tap the Search button.


George Bernard Shaw on Playwriting

September 18, 2013

Adapted from Playwrights on Playwriting

Edited by Toby Cole

images-4The formula for the well made play is so easy that I give it for the benefit of any reader who feels tempted to try his hand at making the fortune that awaits all successful manufacturers in this line. First, you “have an idea” for a dramatic situation. If it strikes you as a splendidly original idea, whilst it is in fact as old as the hills, so much the better. For instance, the situation of an innocent person convicted by circumstances of a crime may always be depended on. If the person is a woman, she must be convicted of adultery . . . . If the innocent wife, banished from her home, suffers agonies through her separation from her children, and, when one of them is dying (of any disease the dramatist chooses to inflict), disguises herself as a nurse and attends it through its dying convulsion until the doctor, who should be a serio-comic character, and if possible a faithful old admirer of the lady’s, simultaneously announces the recovery of the child and the discovery of the wife’s innocence, the success of the play may be regarded as assured if the writer has any sort of knack for his work. Comedy is more difficult, because it requires a sense of humor and a good deal of vivacity; but the process is essentially the same: it is the manufacture of a misunderstanding. Having manufactured it, you place its culmination at the end of the last act but one, which is the point at which the manufacture of the play begins. Then you make your first act out of the necessary introduction of the characters to the audience, after elaborate explanations, mostly conducted by servants, solicitors, and other low life personages (the principals must all be dukes and colonels and millionaires), of how the misunderstanding is going to come about. Your last act consists, of course, of clearing up the misunderstanding, and generally getting the audience out of the theatre as best you can.

(Critics) cannot relish or understand a play that has grown naturally, just as they cannot admire the Venus of MIlo because she has neither a corset or high heeled shoes. They are like the peasants who are so accustomed to food reeking with garlic that when food is served to them without it they declare that it has no taste and is not food at all.

No writer of the first order needs the formula any more than a sound man needs a crutch. In his simplest mood, when he is only seeking to amuse, he does not manufacture a plot: he tells a story. He finds no difficulty in setting people on the stage to talk and act in an amusing, exciting or touching way. His characters have adventures and ideas which are interesting in themselves, and need not be fitted into the Chinese puzzle of a plot.

If you’d like to read what playwrights such as Arthur Miller, Sam Shepard, Joyce Carol Oates and others have to say about the art and craft of writing for the stage, type “On Playwriting” into the small sidebar window and tap the Search button.


Monologue/Dialogue

May 1, 2013

The Genius of Paul Rhymer, I

By Jim Sizemore

I wrote The following essay about Paul Rhymer’s classic radio program “Vic and Sade” on April 20, 1995, to promote a talk I gave at the University of Baltimore. The program featured actors reading from Vic and Sade scripts. If you want to know more about the work of Paul Rhymer, or listen to one of the taped shows, click on the “Paul Rhymer” and “Vic and Sade” links in the sidebar. (For a start I recommend the show “A Letter From Aunt Bess.”)

Paul Rhymer’s knack for writing dialogue is nowhere more evident than when a character delivers a telephone monologue. Sometimes it’s Vic on the phone curtly dealing with a salesperson or a wrong number, or Rush gabbing with Bluetooth Johnson, Nicer Scott, or another of his buddies from the neighborhood. Most often, though, the telephone monologue falls to Sade when she’s home alone taking a break from her domestic duties. The monologue I’ve chosen as representative is from an undated script, most likely from the early 1940s, since Sade’s amiable Uncle Fletcher is featured. Uncle Fletcher joined the show as an on-mike character around that time, and here makes one of his slapstick entrances. When he enters, in the company of Rush, Sade’s telephone monologue, or “solo,” is transformed into a trio. Actually it’s a quartet if you count “Ruthie,” on the other end of the telephone line.

ANNOUNCER: Well, sir, it’s early afternoon as we enter the small house half-way up in the next block now, and here in the living room we find Mr. Victor Gook all by herself. Mrs. Gook is at the telephone conversing with her close friend and confidante Mrs. Frederick Stembottom. Listen:

SADE (to phone): I didn’t take you away from anything, did I, lady? Well, ish, I haven’t really got anything to say now that I’ve called you. (giggles) Yes . . . well, what happened I went like a house a-fire all morning long and done nine million jobs around the house and then got dinner and pitched in on my upstairs the minute the boys left for the office an’ school, and finally did quit and wash and put on a clean apron and then discovered I’d been on the go so much I couldn’t settle down. (laughs) You know how that is lady. Person gets theirself all keyed up and they hafta slow down gradual or the boiler explodes. (laughs) Yes . . . so I telephoned you. Hey, maybe that’s not very complimentary. (loud lady laugh) No, but you appreciate how I mean, Ruthie. Sure. Yes, isn’t it a quiet afternoon. One of them hushedy-hushedy afternoons where a person sits and listens to pins dropping. Little bit ago I was out on the back porch shaking my mop and ‘way off in the distance somewhere I heard some fella say giddap to his horse and I bet twenty-five cents he was clear away over on Chestnut Street and that’s eight hundred miles from here if it’s an inch. Yeah . . . you run inta real still afternoons every so often. Like Sunday kinda. I was sayin’ to . . . say, lady, hang on a second, I think I heard my kitchen door. (calls) Hello? Groceries? You, Irving?

RUSH (off): Hi, Mom.

FLETCHER (off): Afternoon, Sadie honey.

SADE (calls, in some surprise): Well—hello. (to phone) Uncle Fletcher and Rush just walked in, Ruthie. I can’t imagine what Rush’s doing home from school. (crash in the kitchen) Oh, my goodness. (calls) What happened?

FLETCHER (cheerfully, off) Fell down.

SADE (calls sharply) Who fell down?

RUSH (off, cheerfully): We both fell down.

SADE (not loud): Oh, for mercy’s sake. (to phone) What, Ruthie? No, we don’t need to hang up. There’s no reason why we hafta cut our conversation short just because . . . huh?

RUSH (approaching): Uncle Fletcher tripped on his shoelace, Mom.

FLETCHER (approaching, cheerfully): No broken bones, Sadie, Honey, no broken bones.

SADE (to phone): Well whatever you say, lady. Seems like a shame though. I take you away from whatever you’re doing and just because my family busts in we hafta cut short our . . . (giggles) . . . well, ish.

RUSH (coming up): Principal called a special teachers’ meeting, Mom.

FLETCHER (coming up): Using the telephone, are you, Sadie?

SADE (to phone) No, you needn’t bother to call back, Ruthie.

FLETCHER (gently): Mama’s using the telephone, Rush. I’d stop my titters, whimpers, and guffaws.

RUSH (amused): O. K.

FLETCHER (sententiously) When the older folks is using the telephone it’s always best to let up on the titters, whimpers and guffaws.

RUSH (chuckling): I’m letting up on ‘em.

FLETCHER: You’re a good boy.

SADE (to phone): Well, all righty, Ruthie, whatever you say. Dandy. Fine.

FLETCHER (to Rush, sententiously) There was a little boy in Detroit Michigan neglected to let up on his titters, whimpers and guffaws while Momma was using the telephone and he disappeared and all they ever found was one of his tiny patent leather booties, the tassel singed at the bottom.

RUSH (chuckles): I’ll remember that.

FLETCHER (gently): Yes—it teaches us a lesson.

SADE (to phone): All righty then, Ruthie lady, we’ll leave it like that. You bet. All righty, Ruthie. You betty, lady. Goodbye. (hangs up)

The Last Word
Even before Uncle Fletcher and Rush enter in this example, Sade’s monologue—through Rhymer’s word choices and emphasis, including pauses, giggles and laughs—becomes a dialogue. It really is a solo, of course, but written so skillfully that we can almost hear her duet with Ruthie on the other end of the line. clip2Rhymer, by his example—assuming we’re interested enough to pay attention—is teaching us how to write humorous dialogue even when what he presents appears, at first, to be a monologue. As with the example above, all his lessons are subtle. If we want what he has to teach us, we have to dig it out. After all, Rhymer’s purpose in “Vic and Sade” is not to conduct a writing craft class, he simply want’s to entertain us. But sometimes it does seem that he also intends to instruct us directly, as in the following excerpt from a 1939 script. As we join the Gook family this time, Sade is explaining to Vic that she has been asked by Mr. Gumpox, the garbage man, to circulate a petition in the neighborhood. Seems he’s unhappy with his rate of pay and will consider staying on the job only if Sade can get six hundred signatures, which he assumes will influence the city to give him a raise. (Click on image above to read the caption.)

SADE: Let’s see. I think I can remember most of that petition. “We, the undersigned, being in sane mind an’ sound body, do hereby command, request, an’ implore that Francis Gumpox be retained by the city. As homeowners with a passionate love for a beautiful town in which to live we feel that this community could never stand to lose the services of Francis Gumpox, who knows and loves garbage like no other man on earth.”

VIC (laughs): Oh, for gosh sakes, does that guy . . .

SADE: Wait a second, I left out a word. “Who knows and loves garbage disposal like no other man on earth.”

VIC (chuckles): Thunder.

SADE (giggles): The other word sounds funny . . . “knows an’ loves garbage like no other man on earth.”

VIC (chuckles): It all sounds funny.

© 2013 Jim Sizemore
This is an edited re-post from July 14, 2008

 


The Name Game

April 24, 2013

The Genius of Paul Rhymer, II

By Jim Sizemore

The following short essay about Paul Rhymer’s classic radio program “Vic and Sade,” is one of several I wrote to promote a talk I gave, titled Writing Humorous Dialogue, at the Institute for Language, Technology, and Publications Design, University of Baltimore, on April 20, 1995. The program featured local actors reading from Vic and Sade scripts. If you want to know more about the work of Paul Rhymer — or listen to one of the taped shows — click on the “Paul Rhymer” and “Vic and Sade” links in the sidebar. For a start, I recommend the show “A Letter From Aunt Bess.”

In humorous writing, the name of person, place or thing takes on an importance they seldom have in real life. The names in a funny novel, TV show, play, movie — whatever— often tells us something about the behavior and appearance of a person, or provides interesting clues about the place or thing being depicted. The name “H. K. Fleeber,” for instance, suggests someone given to “dorky” behavior — certainly not a character we would expect to be a brain surgeon. In funny fiction the character of a place may also be defined by its name. If one were to visit a town called “Dismal Seepage, Ohio,” say, one would not be surprised to find oneself in a geographical location featuring a swamp. The same idea applies with named things. A food item called “beef punkles” is a good example. We all know what beef is, but what the hell is a “punkle?” To me, the latter word suggests toughness, a cut of meat that requires forever to cook in the vain hope of rendering it tender enough to eat. (And the word “punkle” alone is — well — it just sounds funny.)

The above examples are from “Vic and Sade,” the radio show by Paul Rhymer that was broadcast on NBC from 1932 to 1944. During that time Mr. Rhymer wrote over three thousand 15 minute scripts, but only a few hundred of the shows still exist on tape. “Vic and Sade” is a simple program. The episodes, which were sandwiched between the popular “soap operas” of the day, consist entirely of conversations between and among the four family members: Vic and Sade Gook, their son Rush, and Sade’s Uncle Fletcher. All the other characters — and there are scores — are vivid despite the fact they are never heard on the air. Rhymer manages to breath life into them through the artful way he has the on-mike characters talk about them, or talk to them on the telephone. The strange names and behaviors he gives them also serve to make them memorable.

Rhymer admitted to being influenced by Charles Dickens, and that influence can be found in the names of his off-mike characters. A few more examples: “Mr. Chinbunny,” the high school principal; “Ike Kneesuffer,” Vic’s next door neighbor and indoor horseshoe-playing buddy; “Ruthie and Ted Stembottom,” Vic and Sade’s card playing neighbors; and other relatives and friends such as “O. X. Bellyman;” “Y. Y. Flirch;” “J. J. J. J. Stunbolt;” “Elton Wheeney;” “I. Edison Box” (love the rhythm of that one); “Miss Edith Klem;” and “Gus Blink.”

Place names come in for the same creative treatment. (How could you ever forget the name of that swamp town in Ohio? You haven’t, have you?) Vic’s friend “Homer U. McDancy” resides in “East Brain, Oregon.” The Gook’s favorite restaurant in town is called the “Little Tiny Petite Pheasant Feather Tea Shoppe.” Sade never misses the washrag sales at “Yamiltons Five and Dime.” Vic is endlessly being billed for his two dollar payment overdue at “Kleeberger’s Department Store.” Several of Uncle Fletcher’s friends live downtown at the “Bright Kentucky Hotel,” which is so close to the railroad tracks that vibrations from passing steam engines cause the beds to “walk” across the floor as hot cinders fly in the open windows.

Paul Rhymer also likes to do switches on place names. He sets an anecdote in “Chicago, Maryland,” for instance, or “St. Paul, Kentucky.” The device may at first seem forced — that is, until one looks at an actual map. There one finds real place names like “Hollywood, Florida,” “Paris, Texas” and “Rome, Georgia.” And did you know that the name of actor James Stewart’s hometown, near Pittsburgh, is actually “Indiana, Pennsylvania?” Rhymer’s humor is based firmly in reality and his place-naming technique points up the fact. The names may be exaggerated, a bit off center, but they’re plausible. They have a familiar sound that adds to the fun.

In addition to his playfulness with the names of people and places, Paul Rhymer enjoyed inventing strange foods, flowers and other everyday items, and he gave them names that on first hearing sound as though they might be real but at the same time are — once more — just slightly off. In her garden, Sade cultivates a species of flower called “Panther Blood.” It’s never described in the scripts, but I always visualize it as being a deep reddish-purple, the color of over ripe eggplant. And when Sade prepares those tough, slow-cooking beef punkles for lunch, Vic is often late getting back to his office at the “Consolidated Kitchenware Company, Plant Number Fourteen,” where he is chief accountant. (His secretary, by the way, is named “Miss Olive Hammersweet.”) For a beef punkles side dish, Sade occasionally serves “scalded rutabaga” with a slice of “limberschwartz” cheese melted on top. Sounds, uh, sort of delicious . . . ?

One last Paul Rhymer food item that I can’t resist. Seems a friend of Uncle Fletcher’s invented “Stingeberry Jam” and a mysterious breakfast cereal called “Brick Mush,” and has persuaded Fletcher to enlist Fletcher’s niece, Sade, to selling the products to her neighbors — much like a milk or bread route. Sade likes Brick Mush but she refuses the Stingeberry Jam franchise because, she says, “It smells bad and churns and writhes and crawls and breathes in the jar.”

This is an edited re-post from June 30, 2008

Copyright © 2013 Jim Sizemore.