• Shanley McConnell

Week Five: The Monday Review

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1. In Arcadia, Ben Okri (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2002)


I'm so worried about spoilers so I'll simply say that this was one of my favorite books of the semester. It was so strong in its reflection on human yearning for communion, respect, control and relationship. For art and entertainment. For reality and imagination.


The book is split into sections. In Two, the quote can be read ...


"Suddenly I knew why I wanted to make the film, or rather why the film wanted us to make it. The theme had chosen, in the true perversity of all real themes, the most unlikely, the most incompetent, and the most hopeless of people to realize something that the most competent would never think worth saying, or showing. There is a wonderful comedy in a great theme sounding its notes through the most unworthy subjects, or artists."


... and emphasizes a main focus of the novel.

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2. Chinatown, Robert Towne (1974)


Sometimes I struggle to watch a film. There's two main reasons why. First, I am easily distracted. Not bored. I feel lucky because I rarely feel bored. It's the fact that while watching a film (even if I feel compelled by the narrative and its characters), I often find my thoughts wandering to all that I see outside the screen. Perhaps it is the rain outside. A sentence in the dialogue reminding me of another creative project. A text message. I gravitate to International/Foreign films because the subtitles make me an active participant in the film.


The second reason is that I fear being unproductive. Not that I'm always productive (because that is certainly not the case). But there's this strange idea in my head that if I watch a film or TV episode, I am wasting the time that could've been spent reading or writing. In this, I seem to forget that watching a film is first-hand immersion. And so, I'm learning to reconsider the purpose of cinema and its power on creative processes.


I discovered a solution like steps leading to the cinema-seat. I read the TV script, and then consider the film. Because I haven't had much time for relax-reading beyond researching academic articles, literary criticism and the primary texts for arguments that directly relate to my dissertations, returning to the world of fiction feels new, and changed. My head is still wrapped up in structure and argument.


After submitting a poetry collection and a piece of memoir-prose, I'm taking a bit of time to work on a TV Script. When I was so unwell a couple of weeks ago, and couldn't leave my bed, I came up with an idea for a TV script (an unfamiliar form with an unfamiliar genre). Perhaps this way, I won't know to include the stereotypes that I have to intentionally avoid when it comes the other forms I'm most comfortable with? Because of this, I'm realizing how vital it is to keep reading scripts and watching TV.


I read quite a number of scripts (for both TV and film) when I was working on a Short Film Script, but it's been a while since and, as always, it takes a while to get back into the rhythm of reading in a new style.


For this, I chose the script for Chinatown, written by Robert Towne. Now that my introduction is probably much longer than my review, I'll begin!


This screenplay was a brilliant read. The characters were original, and well-depicted. The imagery felt alive, and tangible. I reckon the reason this screenplay is successful is that, although the narrative follows normal beats, it contains real mystery. There are no easy answer to anything, and the pursuit of these answers come at high costs. When one question is answered, another two arise.


Another reviewer once wrote that the real mystery of Chinatown isn't solved by an answer, but in the character's attempts to figure out which question to ask. And I think this is a clever way of looking at it.


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3. Show Me A Mountain, Kerry Young


Kerry Young's Show Me A Mountain was another one of those novels chosen at random from the highest library shelf a couple weeks ago. It is also set in Chinatown; a pleasant connection to Robert Towne's script above.


In this bildungsroman, Fay Wong is caught in the between-behind-scenes of her Chinese father and African mother. Set in 1930s Jamaica, the narrative follows Fay, and all those she does------and does not-----chose to love. Often, her commitment to her family is tested as she faces gang violence, abusive relationships and a web of secrets surrounding her husband's rise to power and wealth in Chinatown.


There is a feeling of desperation-----of loneliness----in Fay; she seems to be caught in a space between convenient and control. Fay strives for personal independence and begins to see a Jamaica stripped-bare of privilege. One where gangsters, revolutionaries, priests and prostitutes force her into situations of compromise and uncertainty.


At first Fay struggles to balance the desire to protect her family and an inability to overlook their disregard for the law, especially when it comes to her husband Yang Pao. While the denouement may not have finished with the redemption I envisioned, there are many well-written scenes that capture Fay's tearing emotions, and strengthen the story immensely.


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4. Friends, Pilot, David Crane and Marta Kauffman (1994-2004)


I heard once that it's important to have a few secret projects on the side, but I'll tell you mine: A TV Pilot.


It's light-hearted, comical and bright. Vivid and color-filled with pastels and animation. A murder, a mystery and a little romance. A story about expectation, relationship and creativity.


I generally write rather serious poetry. And my last two prose were heavy with themes of grief, familial relationships, history and memory. So writing something out of the norm (genre and form) has been so enjoyable.


Before I began, I wanted to read a few TV Scripts, and gain a little insight into the details, characterization and structure of writing a visualized story.


When I googled top-bests for TV, Friends was right there at the top as a fan-favorite.


I enjoyed reading this script; it was fast-paced and easy. Something I appreciated about the pilot was its inclusion of a list where it described all the characters with a couple fragmented sentences. The first episode is actually the only episode of Friends that I have seen, and reading it after the fact was really interesting.


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5. Stranger Things, Episode #101 "Chapter One: The Vanishing of Will Byers," The Duffer Brothers


In honor of the upcoming release of Season Three, I thought I'd read the Stranger Things Pilot. I was curious to see how the Duffer Brothers would create a sense of tension/terror in the script to parallel and pre-empt its place in the screening.


Success! They truly achieved a suspense, and, because I'd almost forgotten all the scenes that happened when I watched the episode years ago, all the scenes felt fresh and new. Beyond this, both the description and dialogue read seamlessly.


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6. The West Wing, Pilot, Aaron Sorkin



The West Wing, first broadcast on NBC on September 22, 1999, is an American serial political drama, primarily set in the West Wing of the White House. I have never seen The West Wing, but it was included in google's list as one of the best written pilot scripts for its genre as a political drama.


I think the characters reminded me of recently-released political dramas, and, although this script may have been quite original at the time, its distinctiveness compared to newer releases didn't resonate for me personally. However, objectively, I could see how it could have been quite an influential pilot, especially in terms of influence and position in re-presenting the presidential 'powers.'


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7. Argo, Chris Terrio


Returning to film, I chose to read this script because I remember watching the movie quite a number of years ago. Its sensitivity to the subject and use of cinematographic edits impacted me then and still does today.

Argo recreates Nov. 4, 1979 when militants stormed the U.S. embassy in Tehran, Iran and took 66 Americans hostage. The film focuses on the relationship between the U.S. government, extractor Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) and six embassy-workers who seek refuge in the Canadian Embassy as Mendez does his best to rescue the refugees and return them safely to America.


The structure of this script fascinated me because it interspersed scenes of suspense and dialogue with sequences of intense, correlating movement. The balance (shift) between these visuals were carefully composed and made for a reverent retelling of the historical narrative.



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8. Drive, Hossein Amini


Drive was a great read. Amini's script read with a sense of certainty; it seemed to know exactly where it was going and why. It also appeared to focus on the way a character isn't always recognized by his or her name, but rather, through the relationship they build with their surrounding world------a relationship they must either choose to protect or reject when faced with unexpected costs.


I liked the simplicity of the script, and I felt that the opening monologue was powerful in its ability to emphasis the Driver's personality and profession without restricting him to the stereotypes of these things.


Overall, this week mainly focused on film and TV scripts and reminded me of how refreshing reading across a range of forms can be.

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