Plots which WORK

I have a 50s strategy as a (n ex) screenwriter.
Clarity is all important.
I know it’s not for everyone.
The Big Sleep and North By Northwest are ‘modern’ screenplays in the Shane Black/Quentin Tarantino mould: they aren’t remotely bothered by coherence. Just as no one – not even the screenwriter – knows who killed the chauffeur in The Big Sleep.
But I like – even more than these films – OTHER 50s films even better: like The Searchers or Sweet Smell Of Success. Films in which the plot ACTUALLY MATTERS.
That’s what really turns me on about movies: a plot which works, in an ingenious but – most importantly – understandable way…
(eg Liability! Not really, but…)

The whole thing is: to make a whole film subtle, you have to make the constituent parts UNSUBTLE.
I watched Lawrence of Arabia last week, with a totally obsessed friend, and I realised that Lawrence says (in almost so many words): I’m going to Arabia to find King Feisal… Gosh, it’s strange here. What can I do?… (After Aqaba…) Ooh, I’m good at this. I can pretend being a hero and even a god… Oh dear, it’s all gone wrong, I just need to go home… (and after Allenby doesn’t ALLOW him to go home) Right, I AM a god now! No prisoners! (Alternating with…) Get me out of here! (I want to drive my motorbike into a tree…)
And suddenly he’s not ‘useful’ (in Claude Rains terms) – and he’s gone and the film’s over, just like that!
Put like that, after the event, it seems trite.
But of course as a viewer – who doesn’t know exactly where the screenwriter is taking you – it’s not.
So – even as a (n ex) fellow screenwriter – I have to see it 5 times over 40 years to have an inkling what (in screenwriting terms) is going on.
(That, incidentally and amazingly, was Robert Bolt’s first produced screenplay!)
I must say I like story-editing. The parts of my brain which AREN’T damaged include the screenwriting theory side (I just re-bought the Alexander MacKendrick ‘On Filmmaking‘ book…).
But what has gone is the ‘voice-in-my-head’. Pre-stroke, I always had imaginary conversations with people, notably my parents.
I’d think: I’ll say A, and she’ll reply with B, and then I’ll say C…
But of course when I tried it out for real, I’d always get thrown by the complete non-sequitur-ness of the replies.
I’d say: A…
To which he’d say: Z… something completely unrelated!
Now I just don’t have that anymore (or maybe I’m just beginning again…). My brain is a blank whenever I don’t consciously put something in it. (Which has its compensations…)

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I had a stroke on July 26th, 2013. I was a screenwriter. Don’t do that anymore. But have found another way to write.

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