Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Watching The Curious Case of Benjamin Button feels like sipping a warm cup of tea in the cold, early morning, warming your hands while you review the night’s dreams--- one of those dreams so oft had and never remembered, stored in that part of your memory where you can’t reach what had just played out in your mind’s eye.

David Fincher and writer Eric Roth, with source material by F. Scott Fitzgerald, took it upon themselves to convey one of those dreams. Fitzgerald wrote over a hundred twenty short stories and only a handful of them, maybe two or three, had any sort of magical element. Benjamin Button is of course one of those. In short, the protagonist ages in reverse: Benjamin is born old and becomes younger as the years go by.

I think the studio wanted it to be perceived as a straight sentimental romance movie, and viewers expecting that, expecting some kind of nice comfortable love story, will be disappointed. It isn’t one of those. It is instead a biography about death and aging, loss and longing, and living life. There’s something commendable in this: the story just happens, life just happens to Benjamin, without a by-the-book Hollywood plot. Not one of those hard three-act hook, line, and sinker plots.

Some will criticize the film for this. It just is. It just happens. The love story between Benjamin and Daisy threads the movie together but is not always the conflict at hand. It is more a meandering bildungsroman novel, following a character though life as he develops, than it is a short story about a central conflict. The 2 hour 48 minute running time seems necessary; to tell the truth, I don’t recall a single scene that could easily be cut. Some people will disagree. In fact a few people left the theater before the film finished. It boggles the mind.

Well, the framing could have been cut--- the story is told by Daisy on her deathbed, with her daughter reading through Benjamin’s diary. That in itself works fine, but they are sitting in a hospital while Hurricane Katrina approaches. Why? Placing the story in New Orleans added a compelling, tone-appropriate layer of history and fantasy, but the impending shadow of Katrina is nebulous in its purpose. The name distracts from the story at hand--- Benjamin’s story.

Nonetheless, the magical realism of the film uniquely treads upon the universality of human experience: we are all young and learning, we are all old and dying, and in between you better appreciate your minutes, regardless of which direction you might be going.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Gotta wonder what Scott Fitzgerald would think about new Benjamin Button film (which is based on a Fitzgerald story). Fitzgerald famously fizzled out trying to write for Hollywood—he thought the medium of film would surpass novels. He was right, at least in terms of numbers. But he was wrong in thinking he could just transfer his talents in stories and novels to screenplays, as if words are words and that is all. Obviously screenwriting then is different than it is now, but the thought that writing is writing regardless of the end medium, and that a novelist could write for the pictures just fine, was flawed. Writing for film is---it seems to me--- a scene to scene, sentence to sentence, word to word outline, a skeleton on which all other parts hang, but only a skeleton. The skeleton, the storyline, comes from the writers and the guts come from everyone else. Writing novels is different because you have to play god entirely and you have to know what the reader would think about every word and sentence, but the storyline is actually less important because novels don’t have to hold you for 120 sequential minutes. Fitzgerald didn’t seem to perceive that films don’t hang on the words themselves.

Anyway, I’ll write up a quick review in a few days. I should watch it before reviewing it.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

scene from 'full frontal'

scene from 'full frontal' from andy orin on Vimeo.

another final project for a class. a brief scene from the script of steven soderbergh's 'full frontal' (written by coleman hough)

thanks veronique, adriane, and tracy ward!

Monday, December 01, 2008


the end of something.