Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Book: The Screenwriter Looks at the Screenwriter, by William Froug (1972)

I was pruning my library and Froug’s book didn’t make the cut. As the title indicates, he’s a screenwriter, not a journalist, which sadly comes through in his interviews. They aren’t as sharp as those collected in other books like Patrick McGilligan’s BACKSTORY series. Plus the book is very much a product of its time. Froug introduces Stirling Silliphant thusly: “He is, in the current vernacular, ‘out front’ ... (He) is neither Glick nor Gandhi. He is a brilliant, determined, ambitious man moving at all deliberate speed toward his own private destination.”

Silliphant won an Oscar for IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT before becoming Irwin Allen’s go-to disaster scribe, writing THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE, THE TOWERING INFERNO and THE SWARM. One of his last credits was the Sylvester Stallone arm-wrestling epic OVER THE TOP. In his interview, he tells Froug that he’s tired of the standard screenplay format (INT. OVAL OFFICE – DAY) and is trying to use a style that’s more like prose. He then reads an example from a script he developed “with Jimmy Coburn and a young Chinese cat named Bruce Lee.” It’s a bunch of mystical hooey called THE SILENT FLUTE, eventually released as CIRCLE OF IRON (1978). The first line of description as I remembered it was:

“The dawn has brought no relief from the heat.”

Silliphant describes his response to producers trying to break down his trend-setting script for budget purposes:

“You don’t break it down. You know it’s dawn and you know it’s hot and therefore the character has got to be sweating, because he’s also running down a dusty mountain, right?”

Um, wrong. Where’d the mountain come from?

A few years after I read this interview, I came across a copy of Ingmar Bergman’s screenplay for THE SEVENTH SEAL. Here’s the first line:

“The night had brought little relief from the heat.”

Which only made me admire Silliphant. I hold to the dictum that when you steal, you should steal from the best.

Last night I reread the interview. Turns out I was wrong. This is the line from THE SILENT FLUTE: “The dawn has brought no relief from night.” I’d misread it because of that business with the sweaty guy on the mountain. So not only does Silliphant’s line borrow from Bergman, it doesn’t make any sense.

As long as I’m rehashing old movie business nobody else cares about ... in SWIMMING WITH SHARKS, Frank Whaley comments on Gabe Kaplan’s hair in THE FISH THAT SAVED PIITSBURGH. Kaplan is not in that movie. He does appear in FAST BREAK, another basketball comedy that was also released in 1979.

Whew. I feel much better.

TV: Superstar USA

There must be a word in German that means “shame only slightly leavened with pride.” That’s how I feel when admitting that I watched the entire run of the WB’s bogus talent contest. I was disappointed than none of the contestants who referred to themselves in the third person by their alter egos (JoJo and Nina Diva) made the finals. Busty, tone-deaf Jamie was deservedly crowned the winner. Not just because she brimmed with baseless self-confidence, but because she was convinced that no one noticed her reading the song lyrics written in thick black ink on her hand.

Host Brian McFayden actually used the phrase “lousy singing voice” when revealing to Jamie that the contest was a hoax. He also delivered the line from the show’s teaser clip, although without the PRIDE OF THE YANKEES reverb. (“We lied-ied-ied when we said you were a good singer-inger-inger.”) He then goaded the crowd into applauding Jamie before she could freak out. Her perky little brow furrowed, but when she realized that she did in fact win a recording contract and $50,000 she recovered nicely. I’m still not sure she understands the show’s premise.

Cameras went backstage as the other finalists were told that they’d been fooled. Both of them took the news (and their $10,000 novelty checks) with aplomb, saying the experience was proof that everyone can live their dreams. I think it’s proof that everyone under the age of 30 is on mood elevators. Where are the hysterical meltdowns I’ve been waiting for? Apparently the only person taken in by this show was me.