This is the screenplay of one of my favourite films. It's a beautiful film, and it's possible to appreciate it without caring about anything...moreScreen Play
This is the screenplay of one of my favourite films. It's a beautiful film, and it's possible to appreciate it without caring about anything that follows in this review.
The Merchant Class
The film is set in a time when English life under Royalty was separated into the Aristocracy (who were members of the Royal Court) and Commoners (who were usually farmers or peasants). However, something new had just appeared on the scene and that was the first intimation of a new class, the middle class. This class was a class of merchants, they traded with each other and with the other classes. They took risks and did deals, often across significant distances and boundaries.
Excuse Me, What Did I Just Contract Here?
But in order to achieve some level of certainty in their mercantile or trading activities, they needed to know that their contracts could be "enforced" and the other parties to their contracts would honour their part of the bargain. In order to achieve this certainty, they needed Royalty (i.e., the King) to preside over disputes. So at the same time was created both the role of the Court and the role of a representative who could make their case for them (e.g., what we now call an attorney or lawyer).
From Monks to Attorneys
At a time when most people were illiterate, the ability to read and write was effectively restricted to monks. However, the need to be represented before the King and his Court created a new non-ecclesiastical function for literacy outside the Church. So at the time that the merchant or middle class was born, so was the function of attorney or lawyer. Ever since, lawyers have been associated with mercantilism, trade and commerce. But it needs to be remembered that their rights and privileges derive from the fact that they could read and write. Nothing else.
A Very Classy Film
In the film, it's important that the draughtsman's contract needs to be negotiated and enforced. Its enforcement foreshadows the new middle class, which in this case includes the draughtsman or architect. And at the end of the film, we see a dirty, muddy, grubby worker, who is presumably an intimation of the next class to be born, the working class. So for me, one of the great attractions of this film and its script is the way it captures society at a major point of transition. But it also highlights the importance of trade, commerce, contract and enforcement by the State to the society that grew out of this period in time. And, for better or for worse, attorneys and lawyers.(less)
DJ Ian: Joe, you get away with a lot of shit in your Hollywood articles.
Joe Queenan: Hey, but that’s just me...moreJoe Queenan in the Studio with DJ Ian:
DJ Ian: Joe, you get away with a lot of shit in your Hollywood articles.
Joe Queenan: Hey, but that’s just me. A courageous, starry-eyed boy.
DJ Ian: I like the way you try to replicate the movies in real life.
Joe Queenan: Yeah, my favourite adventure from the screen trade was “Sliver”. Remember the scene where Sharon Stone goes to a restaurant in Manhattan and takes off her panties during lunch to impress her date?
DJ Ian: Sort of...
Joe Queenan: I went to three different lunches in midtown Manhattan with three different female friends, had three different nice conversations, ordered the angel hair pasta with arugula, then asked them to take off their panties.
DJ Ian: What happened?
Joe Queenan: Two refused outright, and one said she’d do it, but only at her apartment.
DJ Ian: That’s not a bad outcome. What did you think the odds of getting a woman to take off her panties in a crowded New York restaurant would be anyway?
Joe Queenan: About the same as getting a woman to fake an orgasm in a crowded New York diner.
DJ Ian: I guess that’s Manhattan for you.
Joe Queenan: On the other hand, the request would be gladly met in Los Angeles.
DJ Ian: Do your editors suggest what assignments you should take on?
Joe Queenan: Not really. On the rare occasions that they do, it’s not a lot of fun. Like watching every Merchant-Ivory film one after the other, or reading the collected interviews of Nicole Kidman.
DJ Ian: Speaking of red-headed overachievers, I noticed that you write fondly of Ireland and the occasional Irish film...
Joe Queenan: Very occasionally. I come from an Irish background via the Sorbonne. But I am saddened by the prospects for the Irish film industry. Nobody goes to Ireland to make a western, a sci-fi fantasy, an Adam Sandler movie, or a film about teetotallers. Apart from alcohol and violence (not necessarily in that order), there has never been a real lasting Eire dynamic.
DJ Ian: Which reminds me that you also have a special interest in the role of ears in cinema.
Joe Queenan: Yes. I first heard its siren call in 1994. I was impressed by the ear-piercing incident in “Speed”, which had followed so closely the scene in which a hired gun blows a hole through Gary Busey’s ear in “The Firm”. Both of which preceded by scant months the scene where Woody Harrelson blows off a part of Robert Downey Jr.’s ear in “Natural Born Killers”.
DJ Ian: So what do you think's behind this aural assault?
Joe Queenan: In years to come, ear-piercing, ear-chopping, ear-slicing, ear-filleting, ear-microwaving, and ear-masticating incidents may become so popular that they will replace head butts and kicks to the genitals as the single most popular cliché in the lexicon of popular cinema.
DJ Ian: Do you think we’ve reached that point now, where male genitals are safe in American cinema?
Joe Queenan: I don’t think so. I honestly think ball-busting, nut-cracking movies are here to stay.
DJ Ian: What does Hollywood’s obsession with the vulnerability of the penis say about our society?
Joe Queenan: Basically this: as long as there are men who have penises, there will be women who will want to cut them off. What’s more, many of these men will deserve to have them cut off.
DJ Ian: Is this fear just a Hollywood thing?
Joe Queenan: Good question. Is the fear of castration primarily a fear that is limited to the serially emasculated men who live and work in Hollywood?
DJ Ian: Or...
Joe Queenan: Or...does this veritable geyser of films involving crushed testicles, mandatory gelding, and groinocentric gunshot wounds reflect a wider, deeper fear on the part of all American men?
DJ Ian: A primal dread?
Joe Queenan: Yes, a nagging fear that, when all is said and done, his balls are only out on loan and his dick can be repossessed at any time.
DJ Ian: So this fear of genital impairment, it's pervasive?
Joe Queenan: Deep down inside, every American man secretly fears that someday, somewhere, someone is going to stick a sawed-off shotgun down his jockey shorts and threaten to nuke the crown jewels.
DJ Ian: Compared with this, Spike Lee is hardly a menace to society?
Joe Queenan: Spike Lee descends from a long tradition, only a European tradition, not a Brooklyn one, of annoyingness.
DJ Ian: What do you mean “European”?
Joe Queenan: Generations ago, the French developed the concept of “epater la bourgeoisie”, which, loosely translated, means, “Do everything humanly possible to get on middle-class people’s nerves”.
DJ Ian: So Lee gets on your nerves?
Joe Queenan: I think that Lee honestly believes that artists have a sacred obligation to get under the public’s skin, to constantly rock the boat, to say and do unbelievably stupid things, to boldly don the mantle of annoyingness. It is a mantle he wears quite well.
DJ Ian: Yet you compare him with another Manhattan favourite, Woody Allen? What do they have in common?
Joe Queenan: Each one is a short, bespectacled, narcissistic New Yorker with Knicks courtside seats whose acting leaves something to be desired.
DJ Ian: And, I suppose, neither of them is particularly good-looking.
Joe Queenan: Fortunately for them, because if they were, the audience would take its ultimate revenge on them.
DJ Ian: ”The 4000 Blows”?
Joe Queenan: Yes. Though no one likes to speak about it, there is little that the movie-going public enjoys more than seeing terrific-looking guys getting their faces smashed in.
DJ Ian: Only then have you made it?
Joe Queenan: Unequivocally. The public will not confer its full blessing on an actor until they have seen him get bludgeoned, lacerated, pistol-whipped, filleted with razors, burned, flogged, splattered with acid, crucified, or beheaded. And generally speaking, they like to see plenty of abuse in the facial area.
DJ Ian: So actors have to suffer for our sins?
Joe Queenan: Suffer is an understatement.The American public, in this context, is best looked upon as 310 million sick fucks.
DJ Ian: I don't think I'd have the guts to piss off an entire nation.
Joe Queenan: Perhaps, you're not a real smart arse then.
DJ Ian: Maybe I'm just highly annoying? Like Spike Lee?
Joe Queenan: No, you're a smart alec.
DJ Ian: A what?
Joe Queenan: A smart arse on training wheels.
DJ Ian: Ha, yeah.
Add half a star for agreeing to do this interview. (The half-star being me;)