"The Childe...More restless than the swallow in the skies..." -Lord Byron, Childe Harold's Pilgrimage

Sunday, March 15, 2015

'The Star Wars': A Long Writing Process Ago

The Star WarsThe Star Wars by J.W. Rinzler
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When I apprenticed at a professional theatre company, I had the chance to observe script development. I watched other writers take their scripts through succeeding drafts. One character might disappear. Other characters might be combined. Lines spoken by one person in an earlier draft might be spoken by someone else in the next. It was sometimes frustrating when the writer changed something you liked, but the creative process remained intriguing.

The Star Wars is based on a rough draft screenplay by George Lucas which later evolved into Star Wars. I snatched a copy off a display of newly acquired graphic novels at my public library. This resulted in a highly enjoyable Saturday impulse read. Like my experiences with play development, I was struck by this comic book’s collection of familiar characters, settings, and dialogue—familiar, but often quite different.

I am giving this graphic novel a 3-star review based on story quality, but as a fan experience it was easily a 4-star excursion. Keeping in mind this is an adaptation of a screenplay, not a strict rendering presumably, I am not sure at whom my criticism is best directed. The story seems choppy, often jargon-laden for jargon’s sake. Yet the drama remains well-focused around the fate of Princess Leia. Some panels come with little or no context, feeling aggressively abrupt. Perhaps the roughness of Lucas’s draft was aggravated by the intentionally blocky nature of comic book storytelling?

Parts of the story feel underdeveloped or poorly supported--in particular, the love story between Annikin and Leia, who in this version are not related…hopefully (early draft indeed). Part of what made the romance element of Star Wars the movie work is it played mostly on swashbuckling sexual tension and schoolboy crush. We didn’t see full-on romance in the first outing. Things were allowed to simmer with entertaining results. Here the characters go from telltale antagonism to Romeo and Juliet melodrama in the blink of an eye. Not plausible, and exacerbated by Lucas’s rough attempts at lyrical dialogue (which we know from the film prequels can make it into a final draft).

Still, driven by the tension of a looming Death Star, The Star Wars makes for high energy space opera. It feels more violent and less funny than the finished cinematic product. Yet, as the fantastic cover art by Nick Runge portrays, this earlier draft contains the richness of Lucas’s vision, even if it lacks the charm infused by the movie’s cast and designers. I recommend The Star Wars for fellow fans of that galaxy far, far away.

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Saturday, March 7, 2015

Salient Pessimism 6

I made my bed this morning--a strangely satisfying task.

Doing so reminds me how futility can wrap itself in elegance.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

She Walks in 'Bossypants' Like the Night...

BossypantsBossypants by Tina Fey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As I write this review, American women are spending tens of millions of dollars to see a movie that features a man who, if I have been correctly informed, wants them to wear handcuffs in bed. I am a bitter lonely writer this weekend for non-cinematic reasons. Still, the above development gives me one more reason to throw up my gentlemanly bachelor hands and say, “Wuh?!”

Granted, I did spend this Valentine’s Day weekend focused intently on a woman who turns me on. I finished listening to the audio edition of Tina Fey’s non-fiction book Bossypants. Whether engaged in memoir, reflection on gender dynamics in contemporary entertainment, or conventional comedic monologue, Bossypants succeeds wonderfully.

The same lean, apology-free writing that made Ms. Fey such a great writer for SNL appears in Bossypants. Fey takes readers through all the high points of her career thus far, all the stuff she knows fans can’t help wondering about, and she presents it with crisp insight and tangy irony. Furthermore, this is not a glossed-over autobiography. Bossypants is a serious and thoughtful, self-critical yet simultaneously hilarious, one-woman show of a book. I can only fault Fey for relying a bit too often on a gag where her voice trails off to stress the occurrence of a punch line. This bit plays best during an anecdote about the time she sheepishly gave an acting note to Sylvester Stallone. Then it starts to feel belabored.

As I listened to one of my crushes read her book aloud, I thought how fortunate to live at a time in our nation’s history when she is not only allowed to vote, but also to produce mainstream entertainment that meets her high writing standards. Why should such women be encouraged to simultaneously pursue a full-time career and motherhood? Here is a selfish reason: so I can enjoy the top-notch comedy that results at gigs like the Golden Globes as hosted by Tina Fey and Amy Poehler.

Allow me to be boyish for a moment. I've had a crush on Tina Fey ever since the first time I watched her do Weekend Update on Saturday Night Live. It’s a selfish attraction, replete with what-she-could-offer-me daydreams. No, I don’t mean sexual dreams where I get to put her in handcuffs. This is a holier crush.

Not since Dennis Miller sat in the anchor chair have I so deeply respected and admired a Weekend Update host, a writer so surgically insightful and en pointe witty that he or she need not rely on goofy hijinks to be an SNL cast favorite. I fell for Tina long before she was called upon to lampoon Sarah Palin. I look at a writer like her, physically and intellectually attractive, and I fantasize selfishly about just how awesome of a man I would be if I had what it takes to win such a woman’s affections. This weekend’s box office totals notwithstanding, I am fairly confident it takes something more profound and meritorious than handcuffs.

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