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Month: November 2009 (page 1 of 4)

My least favorite TV/Movie convention – The Overheard Conversation

It is no secret that literature and cinema often use common themes and devices to propel a story. Some of these are very useful for opening doors for your characters or building drama. Indeed, Joseph Campbell’s entire career was based on the idea that the literature of the world, myth, repeats certain key elements and structures across cultures, geography, and time. They represent the human mind seeking answers to unanswerable questions through the use of imagery and symbol. If you’ve never read any of Campbell’s work, I highly recommend you do. It’s fascinating stuff.

But those are not what I want to write about here. Instead, I want to discuss a common dramatic device so lazy, so dastardly, so woefully incompetent that I cringe and immediately lose my ability to enjoy said film or show. I’ve never heard it referred to by anyone else so I have come to call it “The Overheard Conversation”. You’ve seen it before.

How about a quick example? Here’s the premise: GEEKY GUY has spent the entire film trying to woo the most popular, most beautiful BABE in school. He had been successful for a while, but then they got into a fight over whatever the hell reason and he stormed off at the big homecoming party. Later, feeling stupid, GEEKY GUY tries to find BABE who has been approached by her ex-boyfriend HOTSHOT GUY. But because he’s so shy, GEEKY GUY doesn’t approach them and instead hears a snippet of their conversation that he takes completely out of context. Like this.

EXT PARTY NIGHT – HOTSHOT GUY and BABE are on the edge of the party by the pool. He is drunk and making physical advances. She is rejecting him, but he is much stronger.

BABE
Get off me HOTSHOT GUY. I’m with GEEKY GUY now.

HOTSHOT GUY
What do you see in that dork?

BABE
More than I see in you, jerk.

GEEKY GUY approaches HOTSHOT GUY and BABE where they are arguing by the pool, but he cannot hear them. He comes up toward them quietly and in the shadows and they do not see him.

HOTSHOT GUY
Don’t you still care about me?

BABE
Of course I care about you, but…

HOTSHOT GUY kisses BABE forcefully and she is not strong enough to resist. Enter slow motion. Close shot of GEEKY GUY with tears welling in his eyes, and then rage blossoms. He runs off.

BABE pushes HOTSHOT GUY off and slaps him in the face.

BABE
I told you already we’re done! I never want to see you again!

Stop me if you’ve seen this film before. Oh, you can’t stop me? Well, then I’ll continue.

From here, GEEKY GUY goes on a self-destructive/depressed/whatever bend. Eventually they reconcile when he confronts her about the night by the pool and she tells him the truth of what happened and he suddenly feels foolish and she forgives him for not just being forthright with her in the beginning and they live happily ever after through high school graduation. How romantic!

How many films can you name where some permutation of this has happened? Five? One hundred? A billion? It’s basically the plot device used in every stupid rom-com piece of trash spit out by Hollywood 50 times a year. Whenever I see this used, I imagine this conversation.

“Gosh! I can’t think of how to drag this Jennifer Anniston vehicle out to the bare minimum 90 minutes. Whatever shall I do?!” one writer says.

“Why not just have her walk into the room when her boyfriend is on the phone with his sister saying something she’ll take completely out of context because this is the only way to inject some ‘drama’ into this horrid piece of trash?” the other says.

“Brilliant!” the first one says. “I’ll get another Oscar for this one!”

It really must be the laziest cop out to burden the state of modern drama. It’s the Deus Ex Machina of modern cinema. How do we drag this out? Add some fake tension? Perfect.

What’s worse is that I cannot think of even a single time that this has happened to me or anyone I know in real life. Now, I’m not saying that all drama in films has to be absolutely realistic. Of course it doesn’t. I have zero issues with the Eye of Sauron being able to see Hobbits when Frodo puts on the ring. That’s awesome. Great. But if you’re going to be basing your drama on real life, then at least make it believable. Are you really expecting me to believe that GEEKY GUY, after spending the whole film fantasizing and eventually attaining BABE, would not just step in and be all, “What the fuck?” He would run off without, at the very least, waiting in the shadows to see how their conversation turned out? Pathetic. He doesn’t even need to be forceful, just, you know, let it play out a little. How about giving your girlfriend the benefit of the doubt? Has she betrayed you before? Do you have ANY reason to think that she’d not be faithful to you? How about asking her about it? Nah, instead you should just assume a bunch of untrue crap and then spend the next 35 minutes of screen time moping around being an all around asshole. Good plan.

Here’s how the scene should have gone.

EXT PARTY NIGHT – HOTSHOT GUY and BABE are on the edge of the party by the pool. He is drunk and making physical advances. She is rejecting him, but he is much stronger.

BABE
Get off me HOTSHOT GUY. I’m with GEEKY GUY now.

HOTSHOT GUY
What do you see in that dork?

BABE
More than I see in you, jerk.

GEEKY GUY approaches HOTSHOT GUY and BABE where they are arguing by the pool, but he cannot hear them. He comes up toward them quietly and in the shadows and they do not see him.

HOTSHOT GUY
Don’t you still care about me?

BABE
Of course I care about you, but…

HOTSHOT GUY kisses BABE forcefully and she is not strong enough to resist. Enter slow motion. Close shot of GEEKY GUY with tears welling in his eyes, and then rage blossoms. He steps out into the light startling the other two.

GEEKY GUY
What the fucking fuck?!

BABE
Geeky Guy! This isn’t…

HOTSHOT GUY (interrupting)
Get the hell out of here, Geeky Guy. She’s my girl.

BABE
It’s not what you think! I didn’t mean to kiss…

GEEKY GUY hold up his hand to stop her.

GEEKY GUY
It’s all right, Babe. I trust you.

BABE runs over and gives GEEKY GUY a big hug. HOTSHOT GUY fumes.

GEEKY GUY
Now, I must deal with you.

HOTSHOT GUY
What are you going to do, World of Warcraft me to death?

HOTSHOT GUY laughs. GEEKY GUY pulls out his lightsabre, but HOTSHOT GUY begins to mutate into a giant beast, like a cross between a lizard and a slug and a spider, all fangs and teeth and eyes, more than 10 feet tall.

See? Wasn’t that better? Doesn’t that sound like a better movie? It makes you wonder how many completely awful films could have been saved from their fate as utterly forgettable pieces of fluff if the writers had just spent another 40 seconds and avoided The Overheard Conversation. Truly sad.

Between The Buried and Me’s “Obfuscation”

Evil carnival magicians sending chicks into another dimension filled with demons? Her dying by vomiting green slime? The magician being hunted down by her multi-dimensional killer of a brother?

Sign me up.

20 – The Subway Singer

When he woke this morning with the sun in his eyes he knew that today would be a fruitful one for him, for his art.  His guitar tuned, his song rehearsed, he was going to sing his poet’s heart out for the people on the downtown C local train.  Their souls would lift and swell and fly like an eruption of butterflies from the end of a rainbow when they heard his uplifting words, delicate fingering of his instrument, and unique take on “Lean On Me.”  He closed his eyes as the train approached the platform and imagined their admiring faces beaming with the pleasure he’d brought into their day.  Singing was never for the money; it was always for the love.  Always for the heart. Read more

18 – The Girl on the Subway

A Mexican girl on the subway flitted through inexpertly taken photos of herself on her little red camera as she stood in front of a taxi cab in her ill-fitting black dress, her features erased by overpowering flash.  A child stared out the window as the train passed over the bridge, the city glowing indistinctly in the distance, hazy, uncertain.  A sleeping man’s head bobbed as the train shook but failed to wake him.  Something was eating away at my stomach, a memory trying to push its way through, a half forgotten shame that I felt but did not recall, and my mouth tasted like cigarettes and wine.  

The descending major third told me that it was time to get off the train out into the night sky sickly orange with failing street lights.  I told a man I did not have any money for him.  A dog barked in the distance.  I felt my pockets to make sure I had my wallet, my phone, my keys.  I checked my phone for messages, but there were none.  I realized I was hungry but there was no money in my wallet and no food at home.  My hands ached.  One eye was blurry and I thought I should change my contact lens when I got home.  Couples were sitting at tables in front of a restaurant chatting merrily, eating, loving each other, a rise in their cheeks a prelude.  One woman made eye contact with me and quickly turned away.  I told her I was sorry.  She didn’t reply. Read more

17 – Goodbye, Arturo

Is it wrong to feel so little when so many people are mourning?  If it had been me, would these people be feeling the same things?  Would it be fewer people balling their eyes out?  More?  None at all?  If the tables were turned, as they say, and I was the one laying in the casket, grisly, grey, dead, would anyone care at all?  Would they be glad to have Arturo back?  I suppose they would never have known if I was the one up there and he was sitting here, but would they trade me for him?  Many of them seem like they would give anything, anything at all, to have their precious, handsome, gifted, kind, loving, wonderful Arturo back.  Well, he’s not coming back, guys, so get used to it. Read more

16 – This Is A Process

Look.

This is a process.

I know that.  I understand that.  This is all about letting go, about learning about myself.  

I’ve lived for a long time in not exactly the healthiest manner, but everyone makes mistakes, right?  I mean, you’ve made mistakes before, right?  Don’t answer.  Everyone has.  It’s really ok.  This is about me, not you.  Well, it’s about you, but to a lesser extent.  You’re incidental.  I’m the main character here.  Don’t worry.  Everyone has to have supporting roles once in a while.

God damn, this feels really good.  No, no.  This feels great.  Talking about this after so long, after so much deception is like taking your jacket off when you get home on one of those autumn days that is much too warm for a jacket but you’ve worn it all day and you’re sweaty but your hands are full and you can just hold the damn thing right now and you’re suffocating because you didn’t check the weather before leaving the house.  Or, you know, like lifting a weight, but that’s boring.

Have you ever had a moment when you felt quite as alive as I feel right now? Read more

15 – Dust Settled

Dust settled on my jacket while I waited for the Mexicans in the rocks on either side of the pass to put away their rifles.  They thought I couldn’t see them, and I couldn’t.  That didn’t stop me from knowing they were there, rifles trained on me, sweat on their brows, finger twitching with fear on the trigger, one false move away from oblivion.  My horse swayed and stepped uneasily beneath me.  He sensed that something was wrong, but how could I convince him that 6 untrained Mexican farm boys hiding in the rocks with second-hand rifles pointed at me were no match?  He would just have to wait until the smoke cleared.  Or the paunchy middle aged man who seemed to be their leader came to his senses and called off his boys.  I didn’t mind spilling some blood that day, but it would slow me down and I needed to be on my way.  Someone was expecting me, and she wouldn’t take kindly to being made to wait.  Men had died for less.

My hands held the reins, my rifle strapped to the side of the horse, my pistols in their belt.  None of them were loaded.  No need to carry the extra weight. Read more

Christian Side Hug

I knew it! I knew all this front hugging was going to lead me to the fiery pits of Hell! I KNEW IT!

I suppose that the real question here is does the irony lay in the fact that they used the Imperial March from Star Wars as the main riff for their track, a song which is used exclusively to signify the presence of extreme evil on screen, or is it that while trying to get their listeners to avoid PDA to remain in Christ’s light they nevertheless use gun sound effects followed by them falling over in some crude mockery of being shot? Gosh, these questions are really tough. I wonder who could answer them for me? Maybe some more homogenous, tamed-down, bland, fundamentalist Christian music?