Thursday, May 20, 2010

Day 42: Love For Sale

Have you heard the rumour, the urban myth, that Hollywood has an open cheque book for anyone who can come up with a contemporary love story?

The classic Love Story, the ‘dramatic’ kind of love story - like it’s comedic cousin, the Romantic Comedy - has a crucial dramatic engine at it’s heart, the thought or question: “why can’t they be together?” Every romantic tale that the western world has ever told has been built around, and on, this idea since the story of Tristan & Isolde. Romeo and Juliet couldn’t be together because their families were at war with each other. Much more recently, Jack & Rose (on the good ship Titanic) couldn’t have a crack at it because she was from first class and he was in steerage (her hand was also pledged to another).

I’ve watched plenty of Loves Stories recently, aiming to master that convention for a Treatment that I’ve just written. Let me tell you, it’s a depressing genre. Here’s why: more often that not, in every classic love story that I watched, guess what happened at the film’s climax? I tell you what happened: “he” dies, “she” lives. Let me prove my point with a selection: Titanic (he dies, she lives), Mrs Brown (he dies, she lives), Out of Africa (he dies, she lives), Leaving Las Vegas (he dies, she lives), Cold Mountain (he dies, she lives), A Star is Born (he dies, she lives), Brokeback Mountain (he dies, he lives), Romeo and Juliet (he dies, she dies). If it doesn’t happen literally, then it happens metaphorically, like in Casablanca. But it doesn’t end there, I’ve cheated a little by not adding the third part to this equation.

Yes, "he" dies (negative) yes "she" lives (positive, but negative without him); the scales look as though they tilt way too much to the negative here, so what do the filmmakers add to restore balance toward the positive, how do they leaven this sour-dough of love? They add one more piece to complete the puzzle: "he" dies, "she" lives....."their" love endures. Remember the lyric of Celine Dion, how could you forget...the heart goes on...foerever. Hence, the target audience does not leave the cinema feeling that their time spent there was depressing, beacuse we, the western world, worship at the altar of romatic love and know that a sacrifice has to be made. “She” can live, “their” love can live, but “he” must die. Have we come very far since the age of chivalry I ask myself?

But back to that cheque book in Hollywood. The problem today is that there is very little that prevents a couple from being together. Differing religions...get over it. Different parts of the world.....get on a plane. Same what?! Older, younger, race, culture, doesn’t matter any more. We’ve run out of reasons. Emotional problems? Go see a therapist. Warring families.....get a bunch of therapists. It is almost impossible to come up with a contemporary setting for a dramatic Love Story where there is a reason that the couple can’t be together, which the audience will buy? Yes, there are exceptions to the rule, in some corner of some culture, somewhere in the world, but most of the Love Stories that you can think of, on the cinema screens today (not Rom Com’s) are set, some place, some time in the past where there was very good reason to keep the paramours apart.

Hollywood has a cheque waiting if you’ve got the great, original, contemporary story ( I don’t know who exactly has the cash, but you get my point).

There has been a knock-on affect of sorts though, where scriptwriters have started to look at imaginative and very different ways of overcoming this, mutating the love story with another genre to keep love alive in today’s world. I give you the film sub-genre du jour “the vampire movie”. Let’s mix some blood from the Horror sub-genre with a Love Story and that’ll betcha’s it does and has. At this point I have to implore you to run to your local DVD store right now and rent the exquisite Swedish take on the vampire thing, Let The Right One In (do not wait for the Hollywood remake that’s heading our way). Why can’t Oskar & Eli be together in that film? Because she‘s a vampire and he’s not, just like all the other vampire movies. Please, please, check out the book on which the film is based for more reasons why they cannot be together.

But another movie, trying to get around the star-crossed lovers dilemma, has caught my eye in the last few years.....

Day #42 Tip: Refresh & Tweak A Genre
Nicole Kidman is not one of my favourite actresses, but I certainly don’t dislike her either: I offer you To Die For as at least one exhibit of her good work. I think that she was very poorly treated in the wake of Australia; roundly bagged by the press for her heightened, meoldramatic stye of performance. Hey, EVERYONE was doing it.....the antagonistic male characters were one step short of twirling their moustaches. I cannot believe that the mannered style was Nicole Kidman’s choice, it makes absolutely no sense to me that she walked on set and said to the director (Baz Luhrman) “this is how I’m going to play my character”. If it was, then why didn’t the director stop her? May it was HIS choice, for every character, I could be wrong? But if it was his choice, then where was he to defend his lead actress during the schlacking she took after the movie’s release. From what I saw, the director did the opposite and appeared to distance himself from her.

Let’s move on and back to said actress and the film Birth.

In Birth, Nicole Kidman, plays Anna, a widow, engaged to a new love in her life (and I use the word “love” with some reservation). Enter, ten year-old Sean, a boy who claims to be the reincarnated version of Anna’s late husband of the same name (the man who was obviously the love of her life). Sean doesn’t want Ann to marry the new guy (nor do we) and d’you know what? She starts to believe the boy and then falls for him...falls for her husband all over again, her reincarnated, dead husband, channeled by this child.

Now that is a vibrant, twist on the love story in a contemporary urban setting. The age difference thing is nothing original, but the rest is, as is most of everything about the film. I have to add that there are structural points that I still have question marks over, but, it captured my imagination; “the proof of the pudding is in the eating” they say, and I ate this film three times in 36 hours. Nicole Kidman is wonderful in this movie which marries a Love Story with something between a Revelation Plot, an Education Plot, a Tragic Plot...I’m really not sure which?

I’m enjoying what I call these 'neo-love stories". Despite what Hollywood might think, love never does truly die.

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