Dark Dramas

On my morning drive to drop my son off at Highschool, I listened to an interview with the wonderful actor John Malkovich on National Public Radio. For those of you who might be interested, I will not repeat all of the story “spoliers” contained in the broadcast, but I wanted to mention the motion picture that interviewer, Renee Montagne, talks with Mr. Malkovich about, the movie “Disgrace.”

I will not be seeing this picture. I choose not to support this picture.

After hearing the gist of the picture in the interview, I've already decided that it is filled with emotions that I do not care to experience. Be it from my upbringing watching to many movies as a child, or my continuing vocation in motion pictures, I don't know, but I am effected emotionally by movies more than any other medium. My guard is let down. I give myself fully to a well-told story, and will weep and feel the regret of the characters that I identify with.

Two important items there:

  1. “Well-told story” (in other words, nothing “takes me out of the picture” because of its believability.

  2. “Characters I identify with” – I must believe in the characters decision-making ability. They must feel real and not manipulative.

The picture, “Disgrace” I see as yet another film in a long-suffering, long-continuing series of motion pictures that have been made over the last decade. They are DARK DRAMAS. I identify these stories with a few characteristics:

  1. They start in some depressive state – the main character is suicidal, the main character's child is dead or dying, the main character has committed some heinous act that is not forgivable, the main character is dying of some horrible disease.

  2. The storyline gets worse from there and is never redeemed – in other words, bad things, perhaps expressed fears, come to pass and they just keep coming.

  3. There is no redemption – nothing is learned, no lesson is taught, no light comes to the characters, they are condemed and might as well kill themselves.

Examples of such films have done well in the Academy Awards. The first film that comes to mind was “The Hours” released the year after the 9-11 terrorist attacks. I mention this because I feel that we as filmmakers have forgotten some things. We as a group, have forgotten how to make audiences laugh, without telling them the joke first a la The 40-year Old Virgin – “Oh, don't worry, it's okay to laugh. Everyone else is.” We have forgotten how to tell a great adventure story – Indiana Jone's latest? Please. We have forgotten how to tell a romance that shakes us to our core – Enchanted? Come on.

And the list goes on: Leaving Las Vegas, The Deep End, Crash, Rendition, In the Valley of Elah, The Kingdom, Doubt, Changeling, Revolutionary Road, Infamous, etc. If it wasn't for the Oscar consideration, likely, I would not know these names.

It seems like we are stuck, sending DARK DRAMAS to the Academy each Oscar season to get “Best Picture” consideration because, well, we have nothing else. The only emotions we feel “real” and “pure” about are depressing ones. Perhaps it has to do with where we are with our world. Every day, we question, “Are we doing the right thing?” “Are we worth it?” We are stuck in this great self-reflective merry-go-round, constantly looking in the mirror to see us frowning back at ourselves once again.

These are not emotions that I care to add to my already dramatic life. And IF I wanted to do so, I would do so by reading, where there is at least, a little filter that allows me to either skip ahead, or stop reading, instead of being brow beat into submission in a dark theatre, where my only regret later is that I actually paid for the abuse.

As filmmakers, is that what we want? Is that what we want to look back on the early decades of the 21st Century and say, “This was our Best?” Certainly, we are supplying great fodder for future academics, who will, no doubt, writing endless papers decrying our support of such dramas as high art because of their symbolic relation to the end of Society – certainly we are coming to the last days? Well, of you listen to the rhetoric of fear from the Republicans, you must be certain by now.

Well, as a filmmaker, I don't want it. I consider making someone cry too easy, too benign. I want to really challenge myself to find great adventure stories that are believable, to find great romances that don't pander to the lower common denominator (yes, I know that is the accountants largest target, but I'd rather allow the audience to see just how intelligent they are instead of speaking down to them as so often happens in the movie house now-a-days)... AND to find the great comedies with common with and everyday humor that lies all around us like landmines of mirth.

Like my parents always said, “If it was easy, everyone would do it.” Filmmakers of the World? Challenge yourselves!