Memorable Classes: Script Analysis

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Peg was a strange bird and she taught a variety of somewhat-dry classes with all of the flair and drama that you would expect of someone with her stage acting credentials.

If the word pairing “Script Analysis” doesn’t conjure boredom for you, let me elaborate.  The class covered three units, three schools of thought on storytelling.

The first followed Aristotle’s Poetics, a breezy read that emphasized the importance of Plot (yes even above Character).  It was supposedly the first book about storytelling ever written, though being the loquacious type that he was, I’m sure Aristotle opted to go around talking about his ideas rather than shutting his trap long enough to jot them down himself so there was probably an unpaid intern that deserved a little bit of credit too.

The second unit delved into Lajos Egri’s Art of Dramatic Writing.  It was a dusty old book that you can buy for a nickel on Amazon.  Written in the mid 1940s, Egri’s book focused primarily on stage plays as his source work.  Regardless of the minor irrelevances for my film education that this bred, his notion of character-driven storytelling was revolutionary at the time and is still what we pretend to be aiming for with our screenplays and novels to this day.  Granted sometimes as writers we have to indulge a little bit and make the T-Rex inexplicably kill the Velociraptors.  Sure it’s Deus Ex Machina, but “Forget it Jake, it’s dinosaurs.”  <- Sorry, but we read the script for Chinatown in this class too.

The third unit was based on a blustery tome written by a pretentious windbag:  Story by Robert “Deuce Muffin” McKee.  That’s not his real middle name.  Well it might be, but I doubt it.  By the way, a “Deuce Muffin” is a muffin that is poop.  It’s probably not a real thing.  I might have made it up just now.

If you’ve seen the brilliant film, Adaptation, then you know Bob McKee as the man that killed that movie’s extremely engaging voiceover.  His work was very film-centric, and while it was good and useful, his tone was haughty and he liked to pretend that all of his rules and tips and guidelines were laws of physics that couldn’t possibly be defied by mere mortals such as you and me.

The spinal cord of the class was a series of criticisms that we had to write about a specific script that we chose at the beginning of the semester.  I chose 25th Hour, by David Benioff (currently of Game of Thrones fame, but this was long before that).  It had been produced and directed by Spike Lee, one of my favorites at the time.  The story chronicles the missteps of Monty Brogan as he wraps up his affairs in his final 24 hours of freedom before reporting to jail for an enormous drug sentence.  The script is powerful, the film beautiful, the performances stunning (Edward Norton playing Monty, Rosario Dawson as his wife, Philip Seymour Hoffman as his dweeby teacher pal and Barry Pepper as his brash stockbroker friend).  Let’s not get sidetracked here – unless you need to step away from the computer to go watch this movie.

This was one of three classes where I began to notice certain familiar faces and made friends accordingly.  Johnny (of Evil Beer fame) chose either Donnie Darko or Edward Scissorhands.  I don’t remember which, only that I was insanely jealous because those are two of my absolute favorite movies of all time ever.

Elle (of the doomed imploding friendship) chose My Own Private Idaho – a film so masturbatory that anyone other than Gus Van Sant claiming to have enjoyed it is either:  A.  A Liar  B.  Gus Van Sant in disguise.  I’m sure there is a great deal of meaning in the flick, but to this day my friends and I only mock a handful of scenes in this bizarre tale of male prostitutes starring River Phoenix and Keanu “I Know Kung Fu” Reeves.  The point is this:  Elle wasn’t very smart, so she should have picked something a little more straight forward like Ice Age 2 or something.

Forcibly trumping the relevance of all of our academic endeavors as they pertained to this class was Midnight Cowboy.  Now I know what you’re thinking, “Brantley, that guy has a name.  Surely his parents didn’t name him ‘Midnight Cowboy.’  That can’t possibly be on his birth certificate.”  And you may be right about that, but I’m telling the story and I haven’t given you enough information to produce documents to prove that this isn’t his name, or even that he was born in the United States as opposed to say, Kenya.

Well, Midnight Cowboy was writing his papers on, you guessed it, Midnight Cowboy.  (Trivia Aside – Midnight Cowboy is the only X-rated film ever to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards).  He sometimes had a little bit to contribute to the weekly class discussion, but most of the time he had everything to contribute to the weekly class discussion.  Don’t get me wrong.  He chose a rich film to write essays about, but I wasn’t being graded on his essays so listening to his oppressive hogging of one of my favorite professors got old.  Quick.

Anyways, I managed to squeak out an A in the class after rebounding from a C on my first for-real college paper.  Apparently Aristotle and I didn’t get along.

But the highlight of the class was Peg and her grand sense of characters and symbolism and metaphor and freaking everything in life.  Yes, even that model plane advertising the aviation museum where her husband worked.  It was grand too!  She was like Sally Bowles as played by Liza Minelli, only she didn’t provoke a bubbling rage within you every time she opened her mouth.

Years later I would watch Peg go HAM as Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf at the most microscopic black box theater in the world.  Seriously, this thing was like those Mighty Max and Polly Pocket play sets with the little figurines that you always lost immediately.

How It Feels To Be Famous

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Obviously I don’t really know how it feels to be famous.  I feel like we’re off to a great start here, reader who clicked this post because the title sounded interesting.

I have felt like the most interesting person in the room precisely twice in my life.  I figured I would share one instance with you before I get into the dirty details of just how catastrophically most of the friendships that I established in my first year of college came crashing down in the next several weeks’ posts.

After an ongoing successful execution of a New Year’s Resolution to be a better person, people that already knew me started to genuinely like me just a little bit.  People who didn’t already know me were a little less put off by my existence, making friendship an easier feat than it used to be when I wasn’t such a nice guy.

Being liked is a strange thing when it involves friends.  No, not “liked” that way (those of you using the middle school vernacular), but to be appreciated for your strangeness, individuality and contributions to a given friendship.

That’s weird to think about sometimes, because people put so much thought into their romantic pursuits and relationships.  They overanalyze every little nuance of their prey’s mannerisms in hopes of deciphering whether or not there is a reciprocal interest in maybe hanging out with no pants on sometime.

Friendship, on the other hand, is one of the most widely undervalued commodities in the human connection economy.  You can enjoy someone’s company tremendously without putting very much thought into whether or not they “get” you and all of your eccentricities, or if they would help you out if your car got towed while you were at an overcrowded Halloween Party.

That last bit was referring to Kalina, the roommate of an acquaintance from back home that I began hanging out with once I got down to college and struggled to make friends.  Looking back on it, I wouldn’t have judged her the type to drive my ass all over town to get my car back on such a rotten night.

All of this fluffy bullshit is building up to one particular moment.  Kalina had some friends from High School drive down to party with us one weekend.  They were from an area somewhere near University of Florida (home of countless insufferable sports fans).  These friends were  either two memorable girls or two memorable girls and a totally forgettable third.  I truly don’t remember if they were a duo or a trio, but if they were the latter I can’t picture this hypothetical third female’s face or recall a single thing about her.

Kalina had told me on multiple occasions how much she was looking forward to the weekend, so I was hanging out at her apartment when the friends arrived.  As they excitedly bounced up and down and hugged each other and shrilled like little girls at a sleepover, I stood back comfortably awkward as I awaited an introduction.

That’s when this bizarre feeling hit me.  “You must be Brantley.  Oh my God!  We’ve heard so much about you!”  I needed no introduction.  These girls already knew who I was.

That’s what it feels like to be famous.  The first time in my entire life that I ever saw these people, they knew who I was, had a few humorous anecdotes that they felt summed up my identity, and were happy to see me despite the fact that I had never intentionally or unintentionally done anything impressive within a 100 mile radius of them.

I don’t remember how I responded.  I was too cool to settle for the cliche “I hope you’ve only heard good things” line, but I also get sneaking suspicions that I was more clever back then, so maybe I nailed the response and immediately confirmed all of the nice things that Kalina had told them about me.

It was a bizarre out of body experience, similar to the time that girl wanted me to sleep with her for her boyfriend’s amusement.  I probably blushed and felt a sudden urge to drink heavily, but these girls liked me and thought I was cool and I didn’t have to do a damn thing to give them that faulty impression.

Anyways, I just wanted to share this upbeat moment that was one of my biggest social triumphs in this first year of college.  Some of the stories that happen next are going to get a little dark and frustrating.  I’ll do my best to keep them funny and I will definitely pepper in some lighthearted stuff as I go, but a lot of ravaged friendships really messed me up for a while and I’m just now getting to where I can laugh at them again so we will see how I do in recounting the crap carnival that is this blog’s destiny.

Stay tuned.  It’s about to get uncomfortable but interesting.

 

Memorable Classes: History of Motion Pictures

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What would all of these old college stories be without a few anecdotes from the actual classes I took?  Despite this blog’s focus on everything else, I genuinely was in this thing for the higher education!

History of Motion Pictures was my very first film class.  It was a three-hour once-a-week class, one of two that I took in my first semester.  Now these sound magical in theory and for the most part they are, but it was quite a departure from the consistently 50-minutes/class period high school classes and those were only a few months behind me in my rearview mirror.  Three hours is a long time to be doing anything.  Whether or not a class like this is convenient or unbearable solely rests on the professor’s shoulders.

It’s not like I ever had much of a choice in whether or not to keep scheduling myself for this style of course.  All film classes were three hours once-a-week so as to allow for screenings and discussions (or it would have if not for some of my professors’ predilection for extremely long films).

History of Motion Pictures was one of the few classes that I took that were taught by actual film faculty, rather than adjuncts and graduate students.  The gentleman teaching it, Bob Jones (no really, that’s not an alias), was probably the oldest member of the film faculty.  He was easily in his late sixties, possibly in his early seventies (or maybe he just aged very poorly).

Though his hearing aid suggested some deterioration with age, you never would have known it from his sense of humor and surprisingly decent lectures.  For those who believe that all history is boring, I encourage you to study film history.  It’s full of larger than life characters, sex, debauchery, and ruthless business moguls.  It’s like Game of Thrones:  Capitalism edition.

That being said, like most of my film classes in enormous lecture halls, I rarely stayed for the movies.  He didn’t start us off on the right foot in terms of keeping us motivated to attend the second half of the class.  Our first film was Sunrise by F.W. Murneau.  It wasn’t bad, but I quickly discovered my short-attention span for silent films, and this one was really pushing it.

The second film made my decision for me.  D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance was a sweeping, epic apology piece (he had just faced harsh criticism for his last film, Birth of a Nation, which depicted a heroic Ku Klux Klan in the Reconstruction Era south).  It was like Crash for the 1920s movie goer.  There were multiple story lines, spanning multiple eras all tied together by a theme preaching tolerance for our fellow man.  Jesus even showed up for one of the subplots.  The set pieces were massive, a true testament to Hollywood’s showmanship back then.  I couldn’t watch it though.  The film quality made too many characters look alike, which made the switching from plot line to plot line impossible to follow.

If you haven’t seen the Netflix season of Arrested Development, (for starters, what the hell are you doing with your life?) there’s a character that is “Face Blind” – he can’t distinguish one face from another, meaning he can’t recognize people, not even his girlfriend or his own mother.  Well, imagine suffering this guy’s affliction and trying to follow Crash.  I couldn’t tell if that lady on the screen was a Suffragette or Mary Magdalene.  I walked out.

Sometimes I look back and feel bad about passing up on so many opportunities to watch incredible classic films such as these, especially because so many of them are hard to come by.   Back then, however, I was simply following my professor’s lead.  He appointed ushers and left a teaching assistant to run the films.  And then he left the lecture hall and went back to his office.

The most memorable thing about Bob Jones was his microphone.  He had somehow developed a comfort zone with his handheld, wired mic.  Remember, he was old.  When some yuppie AV administrative lackey decided to force onto him a lapel mic (the ones that you clip onto your shirt), he wouldn’t have it.  Instead, he attached that dainty little microphone to his old bulky one with some cardboard and tape.  He looked like a hobo MC, but that never seemed to bother him.