Spewing chunks

nopicSpeaking of uncomfortable content, which you might recall I was in my last post, what’s the deal with all the puke in movies recently? I thought it was just me. It seemed as if every movie I watched had someone barfing up their innards. Like the F-bomb issue, it was unrelated to genre or (lack of) consumer demand.

Then I saw an online discussion of the phenomenon. Others had noticed it, too. I was relieved. But only a little.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with occasionally spewing a few chunks on screen, especially if it fits. Pregnant women often throw up in early stages of pregnancy. A stomach bug is bound to bring back breakfast and a few snacks.

But every movie?? If anyone is even slightly off-center about something, here come the chunks. Confused? Dizzy? Angry? Depressed? That’s all it takes to lose lunch these days. In the aforementioned discussion, someone made the claim that every movie nominated for a Best Picture Oscar this year had a puke scene. I can’t verify that because I haven’t seen them all, but every one I saw towed the retch line.

This isn’t reality because people don’t puke that often. It isn’t commercially necessary because nobody goes to the movies saying, “Man, I hope someone hurls in this one!” It’s not edgy because it’s mainstream.

So why all the regurgitation? There can be only one reason and it’s the same reason young kids take up smoking, swearing, and stealing: Everybody’s doing it. You’d think artistes would want to rise above the morass of the mundane and stick it to the status quo.

You’d be wrong.

They’re lemmings just like the rest of us. Monkey see, monkey puke.

I can deal with this. I just ignore it, since it doesn’t add anything to the story. What worries me is what’s next. What about when it becomes cool to show people with diarrhea? That episode was in a major movie last year. And the dumper was nominated for an acting award. Could the Hershey Squirts be the next offensive trend? Unlikely because the movie was a flop, but you never know.

Nose-picking is a likely candidate. Starts innocently enough but before you know it, they’re drawing blood as they strip mine for nose gold. Great visual. Hawking loogies, fingernail (and toenail!) biting, squeezing zits. There’s a deep well of unsociable behavior to draw from.

All this talk has made me sick to my stomach. I gotta…


I thought this was a new trend. Sadly, this guy noticed it eight years ago. It must be getting that much worse.

Defusing the bombs

fbombSomeone wiser than me (that’s covers pretty much everyone) once observed that no one ever left a movie theater saying, “Yeah, it was a good movie. I just wish there had been more swearing.” Plenty of audience members yearn for more violence or lurid sexual content, but swearing is not really in that great demand.

I guess the market is saturated.

This topic came to mind recently when I read an online discussion among screenwriters wondering whether the whole F-bomb thing had gotten out of hand. The discussion was initiated by someone who questioned whether movies rely too much on that popular profanity to convince viewers of the film’s edginess.

Funny thing about that. F-bombs have been defused merely by their ubiquity. They aren’t spoken only by nasty thugs in edgy movies or shady characters in bleak noir films. They’re in goofy comedies, historical epics, and science fiction. They’re in everything! We’ve been carpet F-bombed. As a result, the very effect they supposedly serve is gone. It’s just another cliché. A cliché no one questions.

Let’s think about it. If a character in a movie said any other word as often as Robert De Niro or Chris Rock use The Big One in an average movie, no one would take them seriously. The argument is that this is the way people talk. Which people? I don’t know them, and I’ve been in some pretty rough environments. In my experience, the number of times a person uses that word is inversely proportional to the IQ of the speaker.

Besides, film characters aren’t written to speak the way people really speak. The “um”s, “uh”s, and “er”s are generally banished because they’re boring, just as excessive swearing has become boring. Suppose, for example, a character said the word “like” as often as many people do today, say, like this. That dialog would be unlistenable. It would never pass development muster.

So we’re on our way to completely declawing another obscenity. We’ve seen it before. When I was growing up, there were still older people who remembered where the word “screw” came from. If we innocent children referred to something as “screwed up”, we were shushed or, if we were unlucky, went on a soap diet. We had no idea why. Today no one bats an eyelash at screw, which means essentially the same thing as… well, you know.

For better or worse, our culture is in the midst of the dilution of another cuss word: suck. No one said this when I was young. It was a “swear word”. Like the other no-say-ems, it referred to a sexual act. Now it means… well, it means nothing. And everyone says it with impunity, from children to parents to ministers to teachers. It’s just another word.

Crap, heck, darn, shoot, screw. The euphemism backlog is growing as the “real” swears fade into impotence. I’m not sure if all this is good news or bad. Are we lowering the standards of the language or are we gradually removing the words that hurt?

I don’t friggin’ know.


Addendum: OK, just so you know it’s not only narrow-minded bloggers like me who think this way, here’s a quote from a recent newsletter from Richard Walter, chairman of the UCLA screenwriting program:

“The downside to writers having the freedom to write whatever they want is that it allows us also to write as badly as we want. The relentless exploitation of vulgarity is supposed to foster a sense of authenticity. In fact, however, it usually achieves precisely the opposite: heavy-handedness, thudding self consciousness, and a tone that is overbearingly shrill.”

To which I say, “Amen, Professor Walter.”

As I Wish

I just finished one of the most enjoyable reads I’ve had in a long time. It wasn’t just the book by itself, but the entire experience. It combined two of my great joys: books and film. This was a book about the making of a film from a book. The book and film are “The Princess Bride”.

pb2

“The Princess Bride” is among my favorite films. In fact, I consider it a perfect film. Every part of this movie is as good as it could possibly be. William Goldman’s original book is great, his screenplay brilliant, the cast impeccable, Rob Reiner’s direction inspired. It’s funny, exciting, romantic, poignant, and very, very smart. Reading about what went on behind all that merely added to the whole package.

asyouwishCary Elwes, who exquisitely portrayed farm boy Westley, the Man in Black, and Dread Pirate Roberts wrote “As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of the Princess Bride” – as unwieldy a title as your bound to find, yet appropriate for this tale. It’s a memoir of his experiences as a very young actor in his first starring role.

Although the movie is now (can it possibly be?) 27 years old, his recollections, like the movie itself, have the freshness of today. He captures the same innocence, excitement, and naiveté with which he approached the filming. It had all the immediacy and enthusiasm of a kid’s essay about hitting the winning home run in a little league game. But that little league game didn’t go on to become one of the most precious cultural icons in American history.

Clearly, making the movie was as much fun as watching it. I have to confess a bit of envy as I read. Those are the kinds of experiences anyone who loves film would love to be part of. In my own life, I’ve experienced the fun, camaraderie, and passion that goes into a dramatic presentation. It’s really quite unparalleled. I couldn’t even imagine what it must have been like to be involved in something as magical as “Bride”. At least, I couldn’t until I read Elwes’s wonderful book.

If you don’t like the movie – an “inconceivable” thought – I suppose the book won’t mean much to you either. Clearly, you don’t have a beating heart. If, however, you’re a fan of Fezzik, Vizzini, Miracle Max, Inigo Montoya, and all the rest, this is a must-read.

Anyone who tells you different is selling something.

Special edition*: Grass roots

If you live anywhere in New England, you can’t help hearing about the Market Basket soap opera. In fact, you can’t help hearing about it no matter where you live. I’ve seen articles in Time and the Wall Street Journal, as well as newspapers as far away as New Zealand covering this tawdry debacle.

I’ll declare my sentiments up front. I’m a huge fan of the old MB. I shop there and have for the past thirty or so years. The DeMoulas family is clearly dysfunctional, but the ASD side of it (if you’ve been studying the cast of characters in your program) is delusional, stupid, and possibly even evil. (The distinction is subtle, one I plan to discuss in a future post.) The employees, the customers, and even local pols have made it clear by the proverbial overwhelming majority, that the current board of directors of the company needs to put the old CEO, ATD, back into power.

So what’s this all about? Money? Clearly not. MB is losing ten million dollars a day. That’s $10,000,000 US. Every day. Now I’ve lost money in my day. Quarters slip behind the couch cushions, dollars stick together, and that kind of thing. But $10,000,000? As forgetful as I am, I can’t even imagine that. (“Honey, have you seen my ten million bucks? I had it in my jacket pocket this morning.” This concept deserves its own post.)

newsiesThe more I hear about this grass roots movement of a bunch of employees, the more I think of what I consider the single most underrated movie of all time, “Newsies”. The critics trashed the movie mercilessly when it was released 22 years ago, but I’ve never met a viewer who didn’t like it. I’m among them. To remind myself of how terrific the movie is, and to capture the parallels with the MB fiasco, I watched it again tonight.

It’s still great.

The songs will bounce around my head for at least a week, so catchy are they. The live musical version of the movie went on to win 2012 Tony Awards® for Best Score and Best Choreography. So I guess it’s not just me. This is a case where the self-proclaimed “experts” are simply wrong.

The connection to MB is best summarized in the following (slightly abridged) exchange between two of the striking newsies (kids who sell papers on the street) and Joseph Pulitzer, publisher of the NY World.

PULITZER: Anyone who doesn’t act in their own self interest is a fool.

DAVID: Then what does that make you?

PULITZER: What?

DAVID: You talk about self interest, but since the strike, your circulation’s been down 70%. Every day you’re losing thousands of dollars just to beat us out of one lousy tenth of a cent. Why?

JACK: You see, it ain’t about the money, Dave. If Joe gives in to nobodies like us, it means we got the power. And he can’t do that, no matter what it costs. Am I right, Joe?

If the current Board of Directors (who, to replace ATD, appointed co-CEO’s – now there’s a formula for success – one of whom was named one of the five worst CEO’s in 2012) cared about money, they’d give in to the employee’s demands yesterday. But that’s not what the fight is about. It’s about bitterness, power, revenge, hatred, and all sorts of other petty nonsense. Are these really adults?

Give me back my Market Basket!

*This is five days before my next scheduled post, but I couldn’t resist. The whole situation could change any minute.