Thursday, February 22, 2007

Emily Dickinson moment

Dashes, dashes, dashes--it's all about the dashes. A lot of times I feel the most interesting thing about writing is the punctuation--making decisions about how to fit the words together with the non-word elements--I love commas and I love leaving commas out--and there's nothing I love so much as figuring out where verse lines should end, how to finesse a stanza break, how to make a paragraph break cover more distance than it really should--I don't know that there's much poetry I'd still read for content but I can still be amazed at some writers' construction of lines--although I still think the contemporary experimental and avant-garde tend to be actually less interesting in this respect than more conventional verse, when it's really good--I would love to try to explain why stringing observations together with dashes seems to me so interesting and running sentences together with semi-colons seems puerile--if that's the word . . .

and then there's ellipses . . .

I Wrote a Joke Today

The Polish government announced today that, as in the US, sex education programs for teen-agers will emphasize abstinence. They will encourage girls to wait until they're pregnant to have sex.

Monday, February 19, 2007

The Strange Love of Martha Ivers

After hearing about this film for years, I finally ran off on a whim to see it at AFI Saturday. Later that evening, sweating through a really terrible play, I distracted myself by writing notes for an opera libretto for Martha Ivers on my program.
Scene breakdown:
Act I
1. Drawing room. Aunt, O'Neill, Walter - Word of Martha's escape and capture, O'Neill's attempt to ingratiate Water with Aunt. Martha enters and rejects Aunt, appeals to her father's memory.
(The boxcar scene could make a prelude--but in some ways, the set-up is more dramatic without it--the drama depends on Martha before she arrives--and on the invisible presence of her father. What clued me in that there was something great and operatic about the film was the resonance of Electra in Martha's entrance in this scene--so it works better without the conventional, naturalizing introduction in the boxcar. The opera can dispense with the Hollywood interest in the childhood romance in favor of myth and allegory. The thing is to highlight how Martha and her father stand for something repressed that drives capitalism and corrupts it, if that's not too trendy.)
2. Bedroom. Walter and Martha, Sammy enters through window.
What's great in this scene is the erotics of the triangle--Walter's blind loyalty and masochism, Martha's alternation of adult power and adolescent submission (she's a bit like Juliet, as she reads in the text and almost never is played), Sammy's clueless, masculine belief in his own rectitude.
3. The stairs. Aunt, Martha, Walter, then O'Neill (Sammy slipping out).
The darkness is a great opportunity for effects. The role of the cat is a problem. You can see how this is a great set-up for film--though it's actually handled kind of clumsily in the movie.

Act II
1. Sammy's return. Can be set in the car with hitch-hiking sailor, or in the garage--but it's not necessary to show both.
2. Stairs. Sammy and Toni. Lizabeth Scott manages to be both bizarre and uninteresting. Toni has to speak very little and be all about what she doesn't say.
3. Bar, hotel. Sammy and Toni. The bar scene need not be elaborate, it's there to set up the hotel scene. But the exchange of rooms is a nice detail. Again it is cinematic, though: it's set up by the shower each takes. On screen, it's a bit of a waste of time; on stage there ought to be a more economic way to establish their relationship (as based in their both looking for a fresh start, and Sammy's failure to understand Toni's passion) within a couple of brief scenes.
4. Bedroom. Sam, Officers.
5. Office. Sam, Walter, Martha. This way Martha does not appear as adult until about half-way through. This could be nice. The only way to avoid it is to collapse the Toni story, effectively into one scene, establishing first her relation to Sammy, then her violation of probation. Which would work pretty well.
6. Toni, Walter, detective. This is like the scene of Sammy and the detectives--it exists only to advance the plot. Unless it can tie into some other purpose, it'd be nice to collapse it.
7. Bar. Sammy, Toni, "Joe." Moving things along would get to Toni's betrayal sooner. It would be good to get Act II down from seven scenes to four.

1. Sammy's return. Sammy and Toni. Bus station or bar. Opening Act III this way has nice symmetry with Act II. Sammy's forgiving Toni establishes keynote in their relationship in contrast to Martha, and to Martha and Walter.
2. House or office. Sammy, Walter, Martha. Sammy's besting Walter opens opportunity for an understanding between the. Walter sees everything in terms of conquest and submission; Sammy in terms of a kind of moral code, or honor. Whereas Sammy begins to understand Walter through empathy, Walter adopts an ironic distance--he's already lost the battle and will watch to see how it plays out. (These are probably two of Klein's neurotic positions, if I thought it out.)
3. Hillside. Sammy and Martha. We have to not know whether Sammy is falling for it.
4. Hotel. Sammy and Toni.
5. House. Walter, Sammy, Martha. The real dramatic problem is getting the audience close enough to see what happens between Martha and Walter, then enlarging the perspective to Walter. Maybe it's enough to show him leave, then run back. Then some kind of coda with Toni.

The first thing that occurs to one to cut things down to size is to get rid of Toni, but that doesn't work because her presence motivates major plot points, but also because she provides contrast with Martha. A more interesting idea is to streamline the plot so it's clear Sammy is motivated by her, but cut down her lines so that the audience feels that Martha is a figure of more power and weight.
There must be a ton of gender criticism on this film--although the plot turns on a Freudian point of the damage done to Martha and Walter through repression, and a political one about class, the strange theme that pops up is the choices for women in their relation to men--the punishment of Martha for bucking the system, and of Toni for submitting to it. (The perfect material of melodrama--the inevitability of the sufferings of women.) So you don't want to lose sight of the Big Points--that Martha identifies with her father, not her mother (this also is very Greek, in the argument that Aeschylus makls in the Oresteia), that Martha wants to trade in Walter for Sammy, that Toni wants a husband, or more properly, wants to be a wife. The More that irony can come out, the better.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The Queen II

I'm dropping everything to work on my new screenplay: The Queen II. In the days following the tragic and untimely death of Anna Nicole Smith, a bunch of closety cable news reporters try to cash in on her death by showing tons of pictures of her wiggling her ungodly huge enhanced breasts, thus subtly attempting to validate their pathetic claims to heterosexuality. One solitary queen stands out from the crowd, insisting we should all mourn for Anna Nicole in our private way, with the restraint and dignity she would have wanted. He is, of course, killed and eaten on national television.

Monday, February 05, 2007

I Love Paris

Here is the opening paragraph of Caroline Weber's review from yesterday's NY Times Book Review of a book I hope to read, Andrew Hussey's Paris: The Secret History:

Years ago, while strolling through a Parisian flower market, I was accosted by a man with a posy in his hands and a poem on his lips. “Here are some fruits, some flowers, some leaves and some branches,” he declaimed, quoting the poet Paul Verlaine, “And here is my heart, which beats only for you.” At which the stranger dropped his bouquet, unzipped his pants and presented me with an organ quite different from his heart. In Paris, I reflected as I hurried away, the boundary between lyricism and squalor is as fragile as a rosebud, and as permeable as a man’s fly.

I have Hussey's biography of Guy Debord--which looked to be largely about his drinking--around here somewhere, unread. I wanted to put parts of Society of the Spectacle on my Humanities course reading list this semester, but didn't fit it in; I find that when I need to choose between "theory" and actual facts, sociology, or literature, theory doesn't seem nearly as important.
We are going to Prague in March. But not Paris.