Friday, July 14, 2006

...we don't drink with another man unless we respect him

Interesting, how there are just some movies that compel me to start talking to the screen. Mostly, I'm a quiet peaceful viewer. But every now and then, I just have to start shouting at the characters. This happens very occasionally in books, too, where the frustration level just rises to a point where you want to jump in the story and take over. I'm trying to think of the last book I was muttering through... I know there were a couple submarine novels awhile back, but I don't remember which ones. Probably George R.R. Martin's Ice and Fire series, LOL!

Talking back to the material -- is this a good thing? Is this something you want to evoke in readers? It indicates a nice involvement in the story, but for me, the need to start yelling at them also almost always stems from frustrations with characters not doing what I want them to do. What's right, what's fair, what will save their lives.... There has to be the proper balance, so that you don't stay too frustrated too long and give up on them.

(Reminds me: my sister is slowly reading through my current novel. She just announced to me yesterday that she couldn't discuss the book any more with me until she was done (she's about two-thirds through). Why? She explained: because things are happening that she doesn't like, and she is afraid her conceptions of how things should go and what is actually happening on paper are not going to reconcile, and so she told me she doesn't know what to think anymore. That she's afraid to think ahead, and that she just has to keep reading to see how it turns out. Seems like a fair indication that I've done my job as writer on this particular work.)

The movie that prompted this is "Attack" from 1956. Shockingly brutal WWII movie for the middle of the '50's. (I was completely wide-eyed at the gruesome fate one of the leads met. Just didn't expect that at all.) I liked the film a lot, but the pacing was off a little to make it truly effective. It slowed down in a few places where it shouldn't have, and people talked to much. Again. Why do they insist on making characters chatter like jaybirds while they're under enemy fire? This is driving me nuts. The rest of the dialog was top-notch, it just got to be disproportionate in the wrong places. The movie played like an overly-long Combat! episode with the wrong cast. Trim out the excess, and it would have been awesome. As is, it's merely the high end of good.

The cast made the film. Jack Palance, Lee Marvin, Eddie Albert, William Smithers. I've always loved William Smithers, and he was absolutely great in this. WS was in one of my favorite Star Trek episodes, "Bread and Circuses," as one of my all-time favorite Star Trek characters. Looking back on it, of course, Capt. Merik would rank highly: he follows my classic attraction pattern: essentially good but flawed man has to redeem himself. Guess I started liking those types VERY early in my life, very early indeed. This was his first feature film, and watching him and Lee Marvin go at it... yes. WS truly carried this movie, even with the other big names chewing up the scenery around him.

And, yes, I talked a lot to the screen the whole time. The story was one of those that sort of demanded it. Incompetent infantry captain screwing up left and right, getting men killed, not acting when he needs to. I wanted to shoot him in the first scene, because I just knew he was going to get a lot of good people killed with his cowardice before the end of the movie, which he did. But it wasn't all frustrations and "get back to your post!" and "Shut up!" and "Shoot him already!" kind of comments. There was also a fair amount of genuine cheering when people did things right and said some very cool things. And the ending -- ah, the ending was just exactly right! Dig it.

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