In honour and celebration of Shakespeare – short play Sweet Desdemona’s Revenge©

For Shakespeare Everyday

The formerly Sweet Desdemona plots her revenge against her unjust death while remonstrating with a sorry Othello.

ACT I

It is a deathly night but the aura of a woman’s glow lights the dark

Othello is deeply wrapped in thought while looking at an ethereal Desdemona.

OTHELLO

Even in death

Visions of sweet Desdemona

Horrors so deep

Torment me in sleep

Haunt me to weep

DESDEMONA

You exist still

I am no vision

You lie awake

I am not an illusion

OTHELLO

My sleep did make us part

How heavy the heart

Aches from sleep’s heavy act

Where you and I no longer live

DESDEMONA

It is not sleep that did the act

But the thoughts you did impart

And heavy act thy did execute

Smother breath in my heavy heart

OTHELLO

Live not this time before

But in this present law

Live in our heavenly glory

To see you here before me

Our love endures a story

Where death returns life

DESDEMONA

Alas it is not me you see

But that which only time

On earth can again alter

Do you forget your crime?

OTHELLO

My sweet Desdemona

DESDEMONA

Address me no more thus

OTHELLO

I do not forget my crime

I laid my trust in honesty

Too false even for betrayal

Alas

The calm that woke me from my tempest

Now feels less than tranquil

Leaves me less than content

I do not follow the path of repent

But forever flower faith in love

DESDEMONA

Mention not the word

That runs rivers into drought

Had I married Othello

But fate made me marry my father

Thy faith in me was of equal measure

And as fickle as intemperate weather

OTHELLO

Your death didst demand debt

And my own life’s end I did let

DESDEMONA

You died for office Othello

like my father Brabantio

You presided upon many words

of thy trusted dishonest Iago

OTHELLO

Mention this not for I feel

fear of losing virtuous Desdemona

was my achilles heel

Suspicions cast by my alien persona

Made me call upon proof

from a wretched handkerchief

DESDEMONA

This memory I do constantly loan

The napkin I used to wipe thy brow

Did fall upon the floor

And you made me let it alone

OTHELLO

If the matter could but alter

without a wise woman I did falter

DESDEMONA

Unspoken jealousy in high rations

Caused your murderous passions

Your kisses were rife

Before you took my life

Defend not thy deathly deed

Know thy has sown the seed

to make our virtues a vice

I, nor women will bear the name

of crimes against womanhood

Virtuous women will now aim

to alter designs of sisterhood

OTHELLO

Fall not into this obdurate way

Let tender words forgiveness pray

Let not manly ignorance fall

to serve revenge’s enthrall

DESDEMONA

I seek not the heat of revenge

But to be freed from a deed

made to make me meek and strange

Nothing else I shall ever concede

OTHELLO

Think our love did fight

against such striking odds

Now so blind in sight

I am left to call upon the gods

DESDEMONA

The gods did sit upon the side

while

Our love fought and lost against an age

Tossed aside to live as words on a page

Now it is left to wander till the day

when love can again make its way

OTHELLO

Until this day Desdemona

May I wanderlust

Seek fulfilment

And find none

Repent I must

My words do haunt me

That my disports corrupt and taint my business

Let housewives make a skillet of my helm

And all indign and base adversities

Make head against my estimations

DESDEMONA

Thy will no longer have the last word

I will only wait

for the true love of Othello

If love can fully grow

and not rest upon a tale

Let love be

Forever on the rise today

Tomorrow let love rise again

Soar above the love of yesterday

But love must accord thee balance

Melodies of discord invite silence

Otherwise let no woman fall

for any gentlemanly enthrall

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The Break Up rom-com rewrite

The job was to rewrite rom com The Break Up, keep all the good bits but this time, not alienate the female audience.

The premise of The Break Up as a rom-com concept is undeniably fantastic when compared with run of the mill rom-coms. Two people love each other and the comedy is that they break up over nothing.

Gary Grobowski, played by Vince Vaughn and Brooke Meyers played by Jennifer Aniston meet at a game. Gary woos attractive Brooke by just talking until she has no choice but to go on a date. Gary’s flaw is, he is a bit overbearing but his funny go-getting attitude and charming approach means we instantly like him when we meet him. Gary’s funny charming manner is confirmed in his job as a tour guide.

The problem is after meeting funny charming Gary, he suddenly becomes a passive cruel unattractive couch potato. Gary’s cruelty knows no bounds, he is homophobic, he is dirty and messy, unhelpful, uncaring and unsupportive of Brooke and others. Worst of all, he is not even funny anymore. Basically the character who we met at the beginning no longer exists and develops a variety of inconsistent traits which are rolled out depending on who he talks to in the film. Brooke breaks up with Gary who becomes even more intolerably cruel with Brooke but she is desperate to get back with him. This is despite the fact that Gary has no intention of changing and has totally lost the sense of humour that caused them to get together. The break up continues amidst animosity and miscommunication. The couple must share the condo before it sells and their break-up can be concluded.

The problem for a female viewer is she cannot understand why Brooke wants to get back with cruel unattractive Gary. A good comparison with The Break Up Gary character is Melvin Udall played by Jack Nicholson in the film As Good As It Gets released in 1997. We the viewers watch and learn that the main character Melvin is not a hateful racist, homophobic, anti-semitic, sexist and misogynistic dog hater. Melvin does not mean to be cruel and over time, we the viewers see Melvin overcome this debilitating flaw and change through the female character. While the waitress Carol Connelly played by Helen Hunt may be a TV trope, a young poor single mother wooed by a rich old cruel man, she is not a pushover.

The film Break Up was released in the year 2006 not the 1950s. The period in which such female TV tropes and stereotypes are rolled out. The problem for the scriptwriters of The Break Up is that they alienate the female audience.

The film had numerous supporting characters that added to the plot and gave some undeniably funny moments: Brooke’s brother Richard Meyers played by John Michael Higgins challenging Gary’s homophobia; Brooke’s boss and gallery owner Marilyn Dean played by Judy Davis offering a beleaguered Brooke unexpected relationship tips; Gary’s best friend and confidante, barman Johnny Ostrofski played by Jon Favreau entertaining us despite being forced to deliver bad exposition and Gary’s colleague Sandra who we see in only two scenes. Sandra’s expressions tell us of her work relationship with Gary and she manages to make driving a bus and boat funny.

But overall, the film had too many characters that were not needed and just diluted the premise. The film needed to cull characters and give viewers time to hang out with funny supporting characters that were essential to integrating the plot and bringing about much needed changes in the lead characters. The characters who were not needed included: Brooke’s best friend and confidante, married with two children, Addie Jones played by the talented Joey Lauren Adams. Addie did not question Brooke’s love for cruel and inconsiderate Gary. Addie’s unsupportive and low-key criticism made their scenes the opposite of funny. Gary’s family and Brooke’s parents were too one-dimensional and they were simply not needed.

SPOILER ALERT:

The worst part of the film was a wholly redundant scene which actually made me hate the male character irreparably. Brooke invites Gary to a concert for a band he likes two days before they sell their condo. This is a band he likes and she asks him very nicely. Gary does not turn up. Still in as a viewer? I wasn’t. The question for me, is why would the writers write an inconsistent character that is that unnecessarily cruel?

After seeing Brooke cry, suddenly Gary becomes a nice person and so the inconsistencies of Gary’s character continue. Gary’s best barman friend has to tell confused viewers in exposition that Gary always just gets his own way but Brooke is the first girl he has ever been in love with. Really and even as I write this, I have to ask, does the character of Gary and the plot make sense?

Still it is watching these moments that give me enlightenment as a writer. I learned rom coms may be light and funny although Groundhog Day and There’s Something about Mary show such films can also be rich in mythic quality. But lead characters must be engaging in the charming Cary Grant way or at least be people we wish to hang out with or learn about as we have to spend over an hour in their company. The scriptwriter must help us find ways to understand or forgive their frailties. This cannot and must never happen in exposition.

I am certain The Break Up would have had an amazing box office given the performances if the character of Gary could have been revised to make sense.

So here comes the rewrite

Gary the funny but selfish philanderer has met the girl of his dreams and that is his problem, he is on a trajectory which aims to use his fast funny talking to help their relationship go all the way but Brooke is a determined career girl.
Brooke’s grand plans involve trying to convince boss Marilyn Dean played by Judy Davis to change the gallery ethos and re-balance mythic male phallic art with some female presence so they can woo the male crowd. Brooke worships high priestess Marilyn but believes she must make use of the mythic female fertility symbols sitting in Marilyn’s office. Amongst other things, Brooke keeps bringing home scary mythic female art and fertility artefacts which terrify Gary and his mates. Brooke accuses Gary of being uncultured because she believes them to be aphrodisiacs. Both of the issues cause a direct conflict with Gary who turns to barman friend Johnny Ostrofski played by Jon Favreau for help. The couple still break up but this time, it is Gary who breaks up with Brooke after taking advice from Johnny that he has become too much of a pushover to be attractive. Brooke is unconvinced but plays along with it to teach Gary a lesson until she can conclude her work ambitions. In line with the original, Brooke dates attractive men to make Gary jealous. But in the rewrite, she asks her brother Richard Meyers played by John Michael Higgins to find a string of gay men from his all-male singing group to be her date. Gary tries to understand Brooke by befriending the men. The problem is some of the gay men like Gary and other’s just question Gary as a choice. One of her dates provokes Brooke so much that she is forced to defend Gary as a partner choice. Brooke realises she loves Gary and must find a way to make him understand and Gary learns he must use his fast-talking skills to help Brooke to pursue all her worldly ambitions if they are to make it as a couple. Gary stays a consistent fast talking, charming and funny guy and Brooke is not a pushover but a sassy smart attractive girl with some self-respect. Everyone wins. One final note, I’d keep the dinner scene but I would only invite Marilyn Dean, Brooke’s brother, barman friend and Gary’s work colleague Sandra. All of them have their own views and versions of the couple which adds to the madness.

A review of film Elysium by auteur Neill Blomkamp who brought us the critically acclaimed District 9

A rich wealthy set live in a space station in the sky and a poor set live on a dirty, poverty stricken and polluted earth but want to join the world in the sky. (SPOILER ALERT)

First the world – Elysium is clean and white with spooky inhabitants from a Stepford Wives Marriott Hotel holiday advertising campaign. Earth is full of dirty foreign language speaking people be they criminals or workers facing poverty. Both Elysium and Earth are manned by robots. In Elysium, robots serve and protect people. On Earth, robots victimise and control humans. Beyond this, we know nothing about the robots who have no real role. All Earth humans are united by their desire to go to Elysium even though they are illegal and end up either being killed or deported. Why still a popular destination you ask? Apart from it being a holiday resort. Elysium has this medical gadget that can cure anything. Yes, I mean anything and a lot of people on Earth including the hero need this gadget and this essentially makes up the emotional objectives for Elysium’s plot. In sci-fi, audiences are accustomed to ideas from great films being recycled but really desire upcycling. This is where great ideas are transformed into something new because they are used in an unexpectedly imaginative way that is relevant to a film’s unique plot and characters. Elysium itself is a mishmash of recycled Kubrick’s 2001’s space station, Verhoeven’s Robocop, Star Trek and The Matrix which identifies the difference between the clean sanitised fabricated world created by the agents set against the stark existence of the humans. Both the world of Earth and Elysium recycle ideas from these films but lacks believability because it resorts to sudden introductions of circumstances to aid its plot rather than developing and revealing a richer whole.

Second, the plot and characters (the show not tell) – At the outset, Matt Damon who plays the hero Max De Costa is needlessly attacked by a robot who behaves suspiciously like a human being rather than a machine. Max hurts his wrist and goes to hospital where he comes across childhood sweetheart Freya who looks down on him because he is a blue collar worker. The love relationship or even affection between Freya and Max is not believable and is later highlighted through tattoos. The inciting incident involves the hero stupidly walking into getting a massive radiation hit which means he needs to be cured by the miracle medical gadget and the nurse girl he seems to love has a daughter with leukemia who also needs to be cured. The hero selfishly only thinks about curing himself and Freya selfishly only thinks about her daughter. But they both need to go to Elysium. Convenient. The hero also has a friend who does a lot for him but we know nothing about him or their relationship other than some random statements about stealing cars. He dies so no need to worry about him. Jodie Foster plays Secretary Delacourt on Elysium. Delacourt pats rich children, hands out gifts and has a litany of empty statements to explain villainous acts as a quasi-military leader. Delacourt justifies ordering the murder of earth civilians trying to get on to Elysium by asking the local president if he has kids? Oh yes, if I had kids, I would definitely recommend blowing up people but hey if I didn’t have kids, I might say don’t blow up people. This requires further thought I think. Secretary Delacourt is not developed and neither is her appearance. A military leader who wears short hair and loose fitting Giorgio Armani suits. She also seems to have an out of the blue character change nearing death. I am not sure what the change is but it is undeveloped. Both Matt Damon and Jodie Foster are wasted in this film.

Many of the characters are undeveloped, inconsistent or switch roles and traits for no real reason. On Elysium, the wealthy appear to do little other than be girls in a swimsuits sipping cocktails in a pad by a pool or be near girls in swimsuits but do occasionally allow the military genocidal leader to give gifts to their children. Basically, there is no difference between the people of Elysium and Earth – they are all out for themselves and therein lies the problem. On earth, there is a character called Spider who everyone thinks you should avoid. Spider is a gangster, no sorry he is a trafficker, no sorry he is a hacker, no sorry he is a revolutionary. Spider suggests a revolutionary idea called equality. So a confused criminal gangster/trafficker/hacker/revolutionary not the hero introduces the major change in the Elysium’s plot. The idea only sees the light of the day due to circumstances not real choices made by Max, the hero. This is because Max does not have higher ideals other than saving himself and regularly having boring fights with a psychopathic mercenary killer Kruger played by Sharlto Copley until the end. Max also dies pointlessly despite the existence of the miracle medical gadget. The hero’s sacrifice helps everyone to finally become a member of Elysium. Prefer to die?

Recommended script change – Spider and Max should have both been involved in getting people to Elysium. Spider does it for money but Max wants to stop the pointless deaths and deportations of the masses on earth because each attempt has failed. His love for Freya and her daughter and people in general force him to get up there to sacrifice himself to stop more people from needlessly dying. This would mean very few changes to the present story but it would mean the hero has pronounced values and emotional objectives with a plot that conflicts with the material objectives of Spider and the as yet undefined Elysium citizens.

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Strong female characters – The Avengers: Black Widow© No 2

Joss Whedon’s Black Widow is a figure that transcends the common problem of female and male stereotypes depictions by incorporating both to create an interesting archetype.

The Black Widow, played by Scarlett Johansson, is literally called into action by an agent called Coulson. Black Widow appears to be tortured but actually informs us through conversation over a telephone that the situation is the opposite of what we are seeing. The agent needs this woman to leave being interrogated to assist him. Now the audience is interested because this woman is not a helpless female cliche. This does not mean the audience are not scared for the tied up sexy scantily clad woman who appears to make things worse when she starts to challenge and insult not only the men in the room but the male agent on the phone. This woman will now be at the mercy of the tough men interrogating her. But this is Black Widow. She rejects all requests to leave the situation until the agent mentions a name. Her response to the information about a certain someone is emotional. This is crucial. She puts the agent on hold as the interrogators look on. The audience now cannot anticipate Black Widow’s next move. She unleashes the reality of Black Widow. A strong woman who is also underhand. She has played the helpless female to extract information from her interrogators but now she beats the hell out of them while being tied to a chair in a scantily clad negligee. Now men and women of all types are interested in Black Widow.

Soon we are in India. A little Indian girl plays the helpless act to entice doctor aka Incredible Hulk played by Mark Ruffalo out of hiding. The little girl is being trained in the dark ways of women by the Black Widow except the cause is for the greater good and not the noir stereotype of beautiful women duping men for their own ends.

Women called Black Widows may have killed their husbands or are not to be trusted. The name Black Widow has various connotations. The female black widow spider is known to reproduce with the male spider. After which, she bites off the male spider’s head and lays her egg on his body as food for the baby spider. Joss Whedon plays with stereotype perceptions to create an archetypal female. Black Widow is a deadly, dangerous, intelligent and sexy woman who will resort to playing helpless maidens or noir stereotypes if such action is required. Usually her actions are for others. Black Widow is shown to be emotional. Emotions are something humans need to function and this is even the way we respond to film. However, emotional female characters are often denigrated but not in Avengers. She must learn how to manage difficult emotions like any other normal human being. Black Widow is also smart, often more so than the men, superheroes or super villains in the room. She is a modern superhero version of Ripley played by Sigourney Weaver and Sarah Connor played by Linda Hamilton in the 80s which allows him to shine a light on the backward depiction of some female characters.

All types of audiences are catered for in the aforementioned scenes. This includes the men/boys who prefer women/girls to be helpless, sexy or noir stereotypes but then time is also given to men/boys who prefer complex intelligent female characters with personalities. The female audience are given a strong female character who they can identify with.

For more information about the third highest grossing film, please visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Avengers_(2012_film)

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Hidden Tools of Comedy by Steve Kaplan

I finished reading Steve Kaplan’s book on comedy The Hidden Tools of Comedy and now those pesky little comedy tools have nowhere to hide!

As a summary. The Hidden Tools of Comedy shows you how comedy writers write from the viewpoints of authentic characters in ordinary conflict situations that amuse and embarrass the audience and other characters watching them. The strength of good scriptwriting books is that they try to tell us all the great factors which help to create highly watchable comedy and drama. By showing us what isn’t comedy, Steve also teaches drama and he also delves into the history of comedy and archetypal comedy characters. He uses real scripts from funny and not so funny movies – ie drama. Steve also reveals a little of what goes on in his classes. The most important aspect for me is that this book is written for actors, writers and directors without any distinction. Great films live on because everyone not just the writer/s, actors and director/s are working to make the story and the characters who fire up the story believable. Steve Kaplan places a great emphasis on how all characters including secondary characters must feel and be authentic as they respond to real situations. He gives examples of how authenticity is what adds real value to a story. The characters in these ordinary but amusing or conflict-led situations are the ones we talk about. I believe it is only when we see real characters that we start to see how human beings on film and stage feed off each other as much as they do in life. Perhaps it helps us to see beyond the mundane situations and instead look at how people respond to each other. Steve shows how comedy finds ways to make terrible situations better by helping us to laugh at the things that we sometimes find yucky or hard to stomach. The book is a must for comedy writers/actors/directors. Don’t just believe me, there are a lot of funny writers/performers/animators, yes animators who have worked with Steve including David Crane, Ellen Sandler, David Fury, Disney. The list goes on…and on…and on…

Some of Steve Kaplan’s book was tough for me. No more bad puns he insists especially those that have nothing to do with the story. Oh alright then! Instead let the character and the story lead. Anything negative – The very beginning felt a tiny bit repetitious. Did I say repetitious? He tells you to steal great work and pay homage. Didn’t someone else say that? On top of this, I had another hairy moment when the book reminded me of that one time when I wasn’t at band camp and I was asked to rewrite bits in my work. You know to add more funny even though it detracted from my story. The truth is my characters must be real otherwise neither me or any potential audience can engage and it is my work that will lose its authenticity. It is our job as writers/actors/directors to maintain the truth in our work. It is no good me saying it’s tough. It is what needs to be done.

Hidden Tools of Comedy is a great practical book that debunks the myths, suggests some other useful books but I believe any writer who sits down and runs through the films and exercises mentioned, will be on their way to writing funny that is real for them as well as other people.

I first learnt about some of Steve Kaplan’s comedy tools because I read an article by someone who had been lucky enough to have been to a Steve Kaplan seminar. I was hooked because they made so much sense. I still went off to watch the comedies suggested and discovered all of his tips added up. I became a fan. I know most writers never have money to go to writing seminars because we get paid nothing or very little for our craft but this book is a cheap way to test out if your comedy works.

In the meantime, if your a rich writer or just want to know more from the man himself, the link to his page is: – http://kaplancomedy.com

Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby review©

The grave of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda Fit...

The grave of F. Scott Fitzgerald. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I had great expectations of Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby. After all, this was the man that shook up Romeo & Juliet. He transformed the celebrated tragedy into a film that mixed a fantasy world of inventive low art popular culture with Shakespeare’s high art language. He gave us slick beach city characters who we loved, lost and died with.

It is therefore unsurprising that Luhrmann selected The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, a tragedy no less compelling than Romeo & Juliet. The script by Luhrmann and Craig Pearce chose to tell a love story of the loved and lost rather than the tragedy of a man who spends his life seeking to imitate a world of men and women far beneath him. In the film, the hero Jay Gatsby pursues wealth to his death in order to be worthy of southern belle Daisy who flees after running over the mistress of her upper class husband Tom Buchanan, an adulterer who uses violence against his working class mistress.

F Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is a sophisticated novel because the whole premise is the antithesis of what it appears to be about. Society is merely a backdrop used to reveal the most valuable trait of a human being lies in their character not race or class. The latter threatens to undermine higher human values not strengthen them.

In Romeo + Juliet, Luhrmann introduces the story of feuding families forbidding love using TV reportage before he establishes enmities and friendships alongside Romeo’s (Leonardo DiCaprio) romantic ideas about love. Luhrmann does no such thing with The Great Gatsby. The story is told through the voiceover of a narrator Nick Carraway, played by Tobey Maguire. He is in therapy. This powerful idea could have served as a tool of self-reflection and innermost thoughts given that Carraway himself represents the hypocrisy of the society he judges. A writer who abandons the noble pursuit of writing in order to make money as a bond trader contrasts and conflicts with the hero who makes money to be loved and for love. The making of great drama is lost to an inconsistent character who threatens the film’s credibility. A number of times Carraway is shocked and surprised at good friend Tom Buchanan’s behaviour despite having been to Yale with him. A scene in the Waldorf hotel reveals that the purpose of the narrator is to act as a witness. The narrator knows Tom is a thug who beats up his mistress.  He also knows Daisy and Gatsby were once in love but does nothing other than express the same shock of others in the group when Gatsby almost attacks Buchanan after intense provocation. The narrator’s wide eyed childlike enchantment coupled with the use of exposition by Daisy’s friend Jordan Baker and Gatsby distance the audience further. It is hard to feel part of what is happening. I am certain this is the reason why Luhrmann actually uses the narrator to mention the feeling of within and without in the film.

The complex societal issues are not explored through the visuals, action or even dialogue. In one scene, the Buchanans discuss the need to stop the rise of the coloureds. Daisy later repeats the words. No explanation is given. Oddly, black characters are portrayed as servants, dancers, dreamers, musicians and prostitutes but are not introduced as talking feeling human beings. Contrast this with Harold Perrineau as the magical Mercutio Escalus in Luhrmann’s Romeo & Juliet. Yet F Scott Fitzgerald’s aspiration for human character values is crystal clear. We must learn to be worthy of ourselves first and only then can others not destroy us. The story is the basis of many a powerful myth. The book depicts such values through actions that raise or denigrate the human spirit. The idea that the nouveaux rich can be looked down upon while old money built on slavery and exploitative mercenary activities should be respected is and never was credible. It seems F Scott Fitzgerald knew the problems facing his characters. “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” Fitzgerald’s theme was ahead of his age. We still appear to be catching up.

The film sets were designed to dazzle and they did. But the upper class glitz and glam set against picturesque poverty is trapped in repressed 50s language and mannerisms suited to the Victorians. This is hardly the swinging or Roaring Twenties. Luhrmann’s use of clever visual metaphors carrying the family feuds forbidding love in Romeo and Juliet are elusive in The Great Gatsby. The film failed to move not only because of the way in which the story is told but the love story itself. I simply did not believe that Leonardo DiCaprio was Gatsby and Carey Mulligan was the woman who had set hearts racing and Gatsby had pursued at all costs. I wanted the living breathing Jay Gatsby not just brilliant remnants of Romeo + Juliet, The Aviator and Catch Me If You Can. None of the 3D film ad glossy moments or camera movements told me the human story of a beautiful woman who failed to live up to her devoted lover who sought comfort in his own skin through her and others.

I refer to Romeo & Juliet in this review because there can be no doubt that Luhrmann’s film was a triumph in how he used Shakespeare’s words to create a spirited sensitive story. Sadly The Great Gatsby film adaptation feels more like a scattered love story that actually never was.

Please follow the link to the wikipedia page for further information.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Great_Gatsby_(2013_film)

The reviewer is only interested in analysing Baz Luhrmann’s film adaptation of the screenplay not comparing other versions of The Great Gatsby because of an interest in his other work. All films are however a collaborative effort. I personally believe the adaptation of a book into film is not about words or the plot but the kernel of the drama contained within the story – the meaning behind the words and plot. My reviews explore what story is being told?

Django Unchained

English: Quentin Tarantino in Paris at the Cés...

English: Quentin Tarantino in Paris at the César awards ceremony (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Quentin Tarantino’s potent themes of betrayal and revenge return in the trail blazing screen epic Django Unchained – the Pulp Fiction of modern spaghetti westerns.

Django Unchained is driven by a tight plot with strong believable characters united in either a fight for freedom or to maintain oppression against a backdrop of slavery. Tarantino focuses on establishing the main characters but the film lacks tension as the main characters agree common objectives and therefore have no real conflicts. German bounty hunter Dr Schultz (Christoph Waltz) rocks up to buy slave Django (Jamie Foxx). Schultz asks Django to help identify three men for bounty and Django asks for help to find his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) who speaks German. This fact alone bonds the two men during a campfire story as the two face situations which carry all the hallmarks of clever Tarantino twists. The rest is history as Django becomes Schultz’s partner and the fastest gunslinger in the south.

Tarantino focuses on the perilous situation the characters must face to achieve their objective. Schultz explains the legal status of casting people as the property of slavers to Django and how this law will be used to prevent him from leaving the deep south alive with his wife Broomhilda.

The film changes when Django and his counterpart visit the barbaric slave plantation owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) posing as experts on Mandingo fights (slaves fighting to the death for their masters). From this point on, Tarantino’s script creates high level tension as the stakes rise as the characters play out conflicts over status and objectives. Schultz negotiates with Candie while he and Amerigo Vessepi (Franco Nero – the original Django character) engage in the brutal practice of Mandingo fights in Django’s presence. The character of Django is modelled on Sergio Corbucci’s Django. But Tarantino’s Django is a thoroughly modern character who is comfortable in himself and with his ally. Both are at odds with the barbaric slaver society hiding behind politeness. One scene has a horde of burning torch slavers hide behind thin veils of badly designed Klu Klux Klan outfits.

The peril is close enough to smell as the two ride into the deep south – Mississippi, a place still reported for scenes of racial hatred (not just in the film Mississippi Burning) to get Broomhilda. The hatred for Django grows and the unnecessary cruelty of the southern slavers heightens the tensions leading to the big house. Schultz and Django differ on how to deal with slaver Candie who Django challenges as an equal at every turn to the consternation of Candie’s slaver staff.

Tarantino is one of the few screenwriters whose scenes add character complexity in direct correlation to the number of people he manages in a scene. Here black head slave Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson) insults Django. Jackson changes the scene with the flicker of his eyes as he suspects Django. Stephen humiliates Broomhilda at dinner to provoke a reaction from Django who must hide his feelings while Schultz finds a way to buy Broomhilda.

Tarantino screenplay effortlessly distils the complicated sexual and power structures of southern slave households. The top servants mimic the cruel values of their masters. Some serve sex while head servant seeks to maintain his position. Tarantino’s own cameo is not without humour. He helps Django who in turn blows him up.

The final acts sees Django release the tension when he shoots the blood out of his enemies Tarantino-style. Django returns the false politeness hiding the brutality of the slavers when he asks one of the servants to say goodbye to her mistress as he literally blows her out of shot. But the best is saved for the collaborator Stephen who is kneecapped and blown up with the big house as Django watches the scene in a blaze of glory.

The final scene has Django find the time to let Jamie Foxx’s own horse show off Trigger-like dressage skills. This serves not only to impress wife Broomhilda but prove that Django’s new hero status makes him fearless. Both ride out to freedom away from the barbarity of the burning south.

In response to criticism of the film and Quentin Tarantino. The author of this review points out that historical films are fiction. Films creatively represent the screenwriter who selectively fuses history to create a fiction which appeals to an audience. This macro relationship becomes a microcosm in the dark cinema. A film provokes a subjective reaction from an individual viewer not society or history. The writer of this piece has some knowledge of slavery after working on a project. The historian was asked to research an area where information existed but had been withheld. The information revealed the barbarity, exploitation and engendering of racist ideas by slavers. These historical facts had been buried. History itself is therefore neither accurate nor human. Historians and journalists cannot suddenly expect auteur Quentin Tarantino to pay the price for years of neglect on this subject. 

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