Thursday, February 09, 2006

The Tiny Tyrant

A few weeks ago, I mentioned my new writing teacher and how pissed off I was at him. We were supposed to meet in his office and have it out that week, and I made it sound like I was gearing up for one hell of a blowout.

Well, the blowout never came. When I got to his office (I did force the meeting on him a day early just to be a dick), he was actually pretty respectful of the fact that I was too sick to go to class. He also knows, as I do, that he can't kick me out of his class for it. So he gave me an extra day to do the first paper and left it at that. I was a bit surprised; here I was, all ready for a fight, and he lets me off the hook. Hey, as long as I don't have to have a combative relationship with another short teacher (it's always the short ones), I'm happy.

Actually, I like this professor. Despite the fact that he looks like he dresses out of a handbook called How to Look Like a Modern Writer, despite the fact that he shows off by yelling out almost everything he says in class, I agree with a lot of his ideas. Since this is a prose non-fiction class, I appreciate that he advocates a total lack of the flowery bullshit so many other teachers think passes for technique. He says things that are actually worth remembering for a writer, such as "Words are like twenty dollar bills; spend them only when you must" and "There's always a word to describe any emotion, no matter how deep, as long as you have the energy." He hates long French words and advocates shorter Anglo-Saxon and Germanic ones. I love it.

The only area we differ in is how people talk. I tend to use archaic words; not to be pretentious, but because I prefer the sound of them. He doesn't quite buy that I use words like "indeed," "perhaps," "whilst," "whomsoever," "whereupon," or "frippery" in typical conversation. But I do.

Besides, he says "trumpery" and "balderdash."

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Not Enough Logic

I'm still seeing ads in all sorts of places for Rob Reiner's latest film, Rumor Has It, which has led me to think some more about the premise of this film. I haven't seen it (and I hope never to), so I have just one question: does this movie take place in 1985? Because there's a definite time-frame logic problem here... (NOTE: According to the Internet Movie Database, this movie takes place in 1997.)

Just as Sleepless in Seattle was really about how two chicks liked An Affair to Remember, this movie seems to be about nothing more than how much the writers love the dated, clumsily made The Graduate. Okay, fine. I think it's a movie fewer and fewer people see each generation (one day its influence will be totally discounted), but it's a so-so movie that doesn't really work anymore (it's a satire of a society that doesn't quite exist as it did in 1967, though any script written by Buck Henry retains a nicely biting character). But the real problem with Rumor Has It is this: the original novel The Graduate was published in 1963. So, Jennifer Aniston finds out that her grandmother is Mrs. Robinson and that the events of The Graduate were based on things that really happened to her mother and grandmother. Kevin Costner plays the "real-life" basis for the character Benjamin Braddock, which was Dustin Hoffman's breakthrough film role...39 years ago!

See, this is the real problem for me. First off, there's the age of the actors involved. Shirley MacLaine, playing the "real" Mrs. Robinson, was born in 1934, making her 71 at the end of last year. Improbably (though he looks much older), Kevin Costner was born the same year as my dad, 1955, putting him at 50. Jennifer Aniston, who is supposed to be young enough to be his daughter (thus the air of scandal), was born in 1969 (even though she looks much older), which means she was 36 last year, just 14 years younger than Costner. In a movie that takes place in 1997, this means that MacLaine is playing a 63 year-old, Costner is 42, and Aniston is 28. The movie "slyly" takes place just 30 years after the release of the film version of The Graduate (part of me wonders if the writer, Ted Griffin, even knew The Graduate was a Charles Webb novel before he finished his first draft).

Now, look at The Graduate. The late Anne Bancroft was born only 3 years before Shirley MacLaine, and was 36 years old when she made the film. Dustin Hoffman was a mere six years younger than her, making him 30 when The Graduate came out. Ironically, Bancroft is playing older and Hoffman is playing younger, but that's fine; that's acting. The important thing here is that The Graduate is about a recent college grad who's returned home and is totally aimless, and carries on an affair with his mother's married friend, Mrs. Robinson, before falling in love with her daughter (also a college graduate). So, being generous, lets put the age of Benjamin at 22 and Mrs. Robinson, old enough to have a college grad daughter, around 45.

Taking it a step further, the novel was published in 1963, so (being very kind and assuming someone was willing to publish it right off), the events of the novel (in the conceit assumed by Rumor Has It) must have taken place around 1960.

Do you see the problem here? In 1960, Shirley MacLaine was only 26, and Kevin Costner was 5 years old. So, how is Shirley MacLaine old enough to be Mrs. Robinson, and how is Kevin Costner old enough to be Benjamin Braddock? And before you point out my above comment about Hoffman and Bancroft (that's acting), you have to keep in mind that this is a movie about a very specific film that came out at a very specific time. It may as well be a time travel movie, since the inner logic of the film depends on the absolute rigidity of dates and times. So, not only do we have a movie where all three leads are playing a decade younger than they actually are, but where that sort of manipulation is utterly pointless, because the times are all off, anyway!

And, sadly, this seems to be more thought on a simple motivating concept than Ted Griffin seems to have put into his entire screenplay.