Okay, guys, here’s the deal: I think that I should include at least one more horror movie, preferably in the teens-in-danger genre. The problem, of course, is that very few horror movies are universally well-regarded, so the danger is that I wind up exalting a movie that isn’t widely respected.
But never fear, I just had to wait for an acclaimed horror movie to come along, and, lo and behold, it did: It Follows! I happily popped in the disk and took notes, only to discover an unfortunate fact: I haaaaaaaaaaaaated it. Hated it. Loathed it. Don’t even get me started.
So this brings me to the other problem with horror movies: I don’t tend to watch a lot of them, and when I do I frequently dislike them. So I’m throwing the question open to you guys: Which horror movie should I do? I’ll list some I’ve seen and some I haven’t, to see if you guys want to talk me into seeing them. Let’s start with ones I’ve seen and liked:
Pros: Widely acknowledged classic. Respected writer/director and actress. Spawned a genre. Classically structured. A “real” horror movie.
Cons: I’d really prefer something more recent. I find it too cheesy to take very seriously, and therefore not very scary.
Nightmare on Elm Street
Pros: Spawned a franchise. Respected writer/director. Classic villain. A “real” horror movie, I found it very scary (when I last saw it as a kid)
Cons: Not recent. Not a movie people really revere anymore. Later movies turned Freddy into a joke. Too campy? Too tacky?
Pros: Huge crossover-appeal hit. Launched franchise. Respected writer / respected director. Very scary in parts. I like it a lot.
Cons: Doesn’t feel like a “real” horror movie, slides into parody.
The Blair Witch Project
Pros: Huge hit. Launched a hit genre. Extremely scary. I like it a lot.
Cons: Didn’t really have a script (actor improvised the movie). Didn’t launch any careers (to put it mildly). Sort of forgotten today. Remembered more as a gimmick than a great movie, though I think that’s unfair.
28 Days Later
Pros: Big hit. Very scary, in a way that exemplifies new gross-out / emotionally disturbing horror.
Cons: The happy ending feels very non-horror.
Pros: Huge hit. Launched a franchise. Also scary in a way that exemplifies new gross-out / emotionally disturbing horror.
Cons: Bizarre structure that’s not widely applicable (splitting the time between the cops and the victims, who never meet up). Not very respected.
And that leaves movies I haven’t actually seen yet, but I will if you say so:
Pros: Huge hit. Launched a franchise. I hear it’s very scary.
Cons: Extreme gimmick makes it less than universally applicable.
Pros: Not a big hit, but fairly well respected.
Cons: I hear that it’s a little campy. I hear that in some ways it feels more like an action film than a horror movie.
Pros: Not a big hit, but very well respected. I hear it’s very scary.
Cons: Not American. Does it feel like a “real” horror movie? Is the subject matter too atypical to be widely applicable as an example of a horror movie?
One last Blazing Saddles piece, then a poll tomorrow!
It doesn’t take long in Blazing Saddles to get our first blast of anachronistic absurdity, when Bart and his rail gang humiliate their overseers by crooning “I Get No Kick from Champagne.” So right there, the rules of reality are out the window, right? If he can do that, he can do anything. And indeed, Bart’s ability powers to casually bend space and time will be a consistent feature of the script …but he isn’t really breaking all the rules.
Looking closer, these anachronistic flights of fancy soon begin to make their own pattern: almost all of them refer to pop culture popular in the late 1920s-30s (Busby Berkeley musicals, Hedy Lamar, Cecil B. DeMille, Count Basie, Grauman’s Chinese Theater, etc.) This is a movie about roles: The Waco kid refuses to play the part assigned to him (until he has to), and Bart starts out refusing as well, until he’s given a new role and insists on playing that part, even though nobody actually wants him to. Meanwhile, Bart won’t let anybody else play their own assigned role, making Mongo and Lili re-write their own parts. Bart finally guns down Hedly as they stand in the concrete footprints of Hollywood stars.
So we have three eras: the 1870s, the 1920s-30s, when Hollywood tried to whitewash and mythologize that decade in an attempt to lock America into a mythical white-power fantasy, and 1970s, in which American activists, historians and fiction writers were beginning to undo that damage and restore a truer, richer, more colorful history of America. Bart’s anachronisms are, upon closer inspection, far from random, and instead provide a crucial context for the movie’s social critique.
Whenever you break a rule, you make a rule. Any cryptographer will tell that there’s no such thing as human randomness to any observer trained in pattern recognition. This movie has a few anachonisms that don’t match this pattern (“What in the Wide Wide World of Sports is going on here?”) but most of its absurdities are far more meaningful than they first appear.
It’s tempting as you write comedy to throw logic out the window and get totally zany, and it’s worthwhile to treat yourself to those moments of liberation, but remember that anytime you break a rule, you’ve simply made a new rule. Ultimately, the audience will try to make some sort of sense out of everything, so even your flights of fancy will, and should, have flight patterns of their own.
Let’s look at the closest that Blazing Saddles ever gets to a serious moment. Bart realizes that the drunk in his jail is the real Waco Kid:
You are the Kid!
Was. Yeah, I was the Kid.
Well, what happened?
Well, it got so that every piss-ant prairie punk who thought he could shoot a gun...
would ride into town to try out the Waco Kid. I must have killed more men than Cecil B. DeMille. It got pretty gritty. I started to hear the word “draw” in my sleep. Then one day I was just walking down the street and I heard a voice behind me say, “Reach for it, mister!” I spun around. And there I was face to face... with a 6-year-old kid! Well, I just threw my guns down and walked away. [pause long enough that we think the monologue is over, then…] The little bastard shot me in the ass! So I limped to the nearest saloon, crawled inside a whiskey bottle... and I've been there ever since.
Have a drink.
Given how flippant the movie has been up until this moment, Brooks has to work hard to earn a moment of pathos and this is the perfect solution. We get a nice little moment of genuine sadness, but then we’re seamlessly whipped back into silliness as the kid shoots Waco in the ass.
Obviously, in the tragic version, Waco would kill the kid, or at least traumatize him (the speech is, I believe, a parody of Gregory Peck’s in The Gunfighter), but Brooks knows how to push up to the edge of the tragedy and then flip it for a big laugh.
Journalism professors say that reporters should avoid dog-bites-man stories, no matter how dramatic they may seem, and instead seek out the man-bites-dog stories. In fiction you have your choice: you can wring the drama out of dog brutally biting a man (or a gunfighter shooting a kid), or you can create instant comedy by flipping it ...or both. The neat trick is that you can sometimes tap into the emotion of the serious version right up until you puncture that pathos at the last second.
A great spoof can have it both ways: Airplane has all of the genuine drama of Zero Hour even while taking the piss out of everything. The LEGO Movie actually creates far more genuine emotion than The Matrix, even while gleefully mocking the pomposity of the original. Brooks’s trick here shows a simple way to have the best of both worlds.
Last time, we talked about how Bart in Blazing Saddles is a supremely self-confident trickster, seemingly untroubled by any physical or emotional danger. And indeed he shows no anxiety, even when he really ought to. As Hedly tries to convince the governor to appoint Bart sheriff, Bart sits in the governor’s chair, kicks his feet up on the desk, lights a cigar, and heckles their conversation.
Shortly thereafter, as Bart rides into the town where he will surely be killed, he rides high, having the time of his life. Even when the locals all predictably pull their guns on him, he only cocks one eyebrow in surprise, and then shuts them down with an absurd trick, pretending to take himself hostage.
Bart sees that the townspeople are unwilling to accept him as their armed lawman, so he decides to adopt not one but two roles they can accept: cruel criminal and simpering victim. When one half threatens to kill the other, the townspeople find that their hearts are unexpectedly moved: “He’s just crazy enough to do it!” “Isn’t anybody going to help that poor man?” “Hush, Harriet, that’s a sure way to get him killed!” After Bart has dragooned himself into the sheriff’s office, he turns toward the camera and exults: “Oh, baby, you are so talented. And they are so dumb!”
So we have another example of Bart walking through the raindrops, easily outsmarting his enemies and blithely escaping certain death. At least in the surface text. But the subtext is rich. Bart rarely displays any anxiety about his situation and doesn’t consciously reveal a hidden inner self, but this scene says volumes. Was there ever a scene that offers a better example of this famous quote from W.E.B. DuBois?
It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness,—an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.
From the first scene, Bart refuses be what they want him to be, but he can’t exactly be himself either: He answers a request for “Camptown Ladies” with a rendition of the supremely white “I Get No Kick from Champagne” …but after that he seems to get “Camptown Ladies” stuck in his head, singing it to himself two times later on.
Who is Bart? To find out, he has to answer three questions: What do white people want him to be? What do his fellow black people want him to be? Who does he want to be? It’s hard for him to know. At the end, he gives a speech about how he’s needed elsewhere, “wherever people call out for justice,” but the townspeople all call out “Bullshit!” and he laughs in agreement. But he leaves anyway, headed “nowhere special.” He has united black and white to form a stronger town, but he cannot himself be at peace.
Bart in Blazing Saddles is a far more confident and powerful hero than we’re used to:
He shows no hesitation before happily strolling into this wildly dangerous situation.
We don’t find out a lot about his hopes/fears/questions.
He seems to be largely un-anxious and downright bemused by his extraordinary journey, except one brief moment of self-doubt at the exact midpoint, but even here, we can see on his face that he’s almost incapable of staying unhappy for more than five seconds.
He’s not especially vulnerable, physically or emotionally.
He experiences no gutpunch. No one ever confronts him about any flaws.
So why does it work? Bart is a type of hero we haven’t encountered yet: the trickster. The trickster has nearly omnipotent powers, and yet remains sympathetic because his struggles are not physical but social: he is destined to be an outcast.
As an almost-magical being with the confident ability to happily run circles around his haters, Bart’s most obvious literary antecedent is Bugs Bunny (He does an outright imitation at one point, complete with Bugs’s theme music.) * So why do we like Bugs? Because his opponents are trying to kill him for no reason. He’s an asshole, but all he wants is to be an asshole in peace, and they won’t let him. (By contrast, look at this early Bugs cartoon, in which he actually lures Elmer Fudd in, and we suddenly hate him.) Elmer and Yosemite Sam are rampaging gun-wielding killers (of the nervous and aggressive varieties), but they meet the one guy that can defeat them.
We identify with Bart despite his lack of external and internal weakness, simply because his enemies are so vile, his situation is so desperate (though he doesn’t show it), and his chances for ultimate acceptance is so non-existent.We cannot truly fear for him, but we can still pity him.
And then there’s another issue: he may not betray much anxiety, but it is there in the subtext. We’ll discuss that next time.
*But who was Bugs’s antecedent? Br’er rabbit of course. So now we have a Yoruba legend, transformed into a slave folk tale character, then mass-marketed by a white author writing in a black voice (Joel Chandler Harris), then transformed into a deracialized (but somewhat Jewishized) cartoon character (Bugs Bunny, as voiced by Mel Blank) then turned into a black western hero by a Jewish screenwriter (Andrew Bergman, author of the original screenplay), then transformed again by a black co-screenwriter (Richard Pryor) and black actor that had been brought in to restore some of the original trickster authenticity!
When we think of Blazing Saddles, we think of how brazenly offensive it is, so much so that the movie couldn’t be made today, but is that because it’s offensive or because it’s partisan?
When Brooks turned his movie The Producers into a hit Broadway musical, the call went out for a follow-up and Brooks next chose to adapt Young Frankenstein, but that’s a little weird, right? That movie has only one song (the pre-existing “Putting on the Ritz”), while this one has five, four of which were written by Brooks for the movie.
The problem, of course, is a certain word beginning with “n”. This word was already offensive and taboo in 1974, but in a way that it could be used as an intentional outrage and still be uncomfortably accepted (and it greatly helped that Richard Pryor joined the movie as co-writer, giving the other four credited writers a lot of cover.) But by the time the Broadway shows were made, the climate had changed.
In most ways, of course, that change was for the better. Too many white writers and comedians had said, “Oh, I have the right to use that word because…” and as actual black critics and taste-makers gained influence, there was finally a feeling of, “enough is enough”, and an unspoken blanket ban went into effect, and that’s fair.
But the irony is that this has happened parallel with a rise of outrageously offensive TV shows such as “Family Guy”, “South Park”, and “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” How do they get away with it? Well, one cover they all use is that of “equal offense.” They’re knocking everybody down in all directions, and knocking themselves down while they’re at it: the left sucks, the right sucks, the powerful suck, the powerless suck, and we suck most of all, so no one has to be offended.
Indeed, the “South Park” guys later launched their own Broadway musical, in which both Mormon missionaries in Africa and the African themselves are tarred equally (They think having sex with frogs will cure their AIDS! Ha ha!) and they got away with it.
But Blazing Saddles is doing something more daring and more dangerous: Brooks, Pryor, and the other screenwriters are taking sides. Their cannons are only pointed in one direction. Ironically, it’s probably this ingenuousness that does the most to make the story unmountable today: What right does Brooks have to take a stand for people who aren’t his own using words that they find offensive? It’s a fair question, but also an ironic one, given that the easiest solution would have been to simply take no stand and wish plagues on all houses.
Rewatching the movie, I thought a few times of Amy Schumer, who seems to be bringing back the idea of partisan comedy, actually taking a stand against guns and misogyny and blasting away. I would love to see comedy move back in that direction.
Updated to the sixth and final version of the checklist!
In 1874, sarcastic track layer Bart is left to die in quicksand, so he attacks his overseer Taggart. Attorney general Hedly Lamar saves Bart from the gallows and makes him sheriff of Rock Ridge so that the locals will flee (allowing Hedly to buy up the land.) Bart wins over the racist townsfolk with the help of the Waco Kid, a drunken gunfighter. After a final battle that spills over into a 1930s Hollywood backlot, Bart saves the townspeople, gets them to offer plots of land to his fellow railroad workers, then rides off into the sunset with the Kid.
#1: CONCEPT 18/19
The Pitch: Does this concept excite everyone who
hears about it?
one sentence description uniquely appealing?
A sarcastic black track layer in 1874 is set up to fail as
the new sheriff of a white western town, but rises to the task.
the concept contain an intriguing ironic contradiction?
Very much so: A black must
save a town of rasists in order to save himself (and empower his people).
Is this a story anyone can identify with, projected onto
a bigger canvas, with higher stakes?
Very much so.We’ve all had to prove ourselves, but
not with these stakes.
Story Fundamentals: Will this concept generate a
concept simple enough to spend more time on character than plot?
Pretty much.The 90-minute movie takes a full 30 minutes to construct its
outlandish premise, but it’s time well spent.
there one character that the audience will choose to be their “hero”?
the story follow the progress of the hero’s problem, not the hero’s daily
much so. In fact, Bart disappears off the screen for fifteen minutes as the
problem develops, then reappears, already up to speed.
the story present a unique relationship?
much so: a black old west sheriff and an alchoholic white gunslinger.
least one actual human being opposed to what the hero is doing?
this challenge represent the hero’s greatest hope and/or greatest fear and/or
an ironic answer to the hero’s question?
We don’t find
out a lot about his hopes/fears/questions.He’s seems to be largely emotionally unaffected by
his extraordinary journey, except one moment at the exact midpoint.
something inside the hero have a particularly volatile reaction to the
Yes.He’s a natural leader, and only he
could triumph in this situation.
this challenge become something that is the not just hard for the hero to do (an obstacle) but hard for the hero
to want to do (a conflict)?
rankles him to have to save racists.
end, is the hero the only one who can solve the problem?
the hero permanently transform the situation and vice versa?
first he lashes out when his friend implores him not to, and gets himself
sent to the gallows, but at the end he not only triumphs but negotiates help
for his people.
Hook: Will this be marketable and generate word of mouth?
the story satisfy the basic human urges that get people to buy and recommend
this story show us at least one image we haven’t seen before (that can be
used to promote the final product)?
black sherrif on a horse.
there at least one “Holy Crap!” scene (to create word of mouth)?
many!Punching out the
horse!The flatulence!Almost every scene, really.
the story contain a surprise that is not obvious from the beginning?
Many.Especially the bizarre ending.
story marketable without revealing the surprise?
conflict compelling and ironic both before and after the surprise?
would have been easy to stop taking the story seriously once the 4th wall is
broken, but the story remains compelling, and we easily go back into it at
#2: CHARACTER 19/22
Do we recognize the hero as a human being?
the hero have a moment of humanity early on? (A funny, or kind, or oddball,
or out-of-character, or comically vain, or unique-but-universal “I thought I
was the only one who did that!” moment?)
He sings “I Get a Kick Out of You” instead of a spiritual.
hero defined by ongoing actions and attitudes, not by backstory?
much so.We get a flashback to
his childhood later on, but it’s just a gag.
the hero have a well-defined public identity?
the leader of the rail gang, then he’s the sheriff.
the surface characterization ironically contrast with a hidden interior self?
no.For the most part, what you
see is what you get, and Bart is remarkably untroubled by his plight, but
when we see the scene where he takes himself hostage, it’s hard not to think
about W.E.B. DeBois’s description of “double-consciousness” (More on this
the hero have a consistent metaphor family (drawn from his or her job,
background, or developmental state)?
no.His m.p. is “gentleman”, as
in “Well, to tell a family secret, my grandmother was dutch,” but this is
drawn from none of those three.He’s a man out of time.
the hero have a default personality trait?
the hero have a default argument tactic?
zaniness to disarm you, swaggering charm to win you over.
hero’s primary motivation for tackling this challenge strong, simple, and
revealed early on?
wants to save his own life until almost the end.
Do we feel for the hero?
the hero start out with a shortsighted or wrongheaded philosophy (or accept a
false piece of advice early on)?
rejects the advice of his friend not to hit the boss and says “I have to.”
the hero have a false or shortsighted goal in the first half?
the railroad, mouth off.
the hero have an open fear or anxiety about his or her future, as well as a
hidden, private fear?
hero physically and emotionally vulnerable?
really.He almost dies on the
job, then he lets his uncontrolled anger almost get him killed, but after
that he pretty much walks between the raindrops.Nobody can lay a finger on him, physically
or emotionally (except for the brief midpoint moment.)
the hero have at least one untenable great flaw we empathize with? (but…)
too sarcastic and lacks control over his anger.
Can we trust the hero to tackle this challenge?
…Is that great flaw (ironically) the natural
flip-side of a great strength we admire?
charming, funny, and bold.
much so.He fascinated by the
scheme that he’s caught up in and investigates eagerly.
hero generally resourceful?
the hero have rules he or she lives by (either stated or implied)?
I can win anybody over, I’ll shake it off, There’s a smarter way to do this.
hero surrounded by people who sorely lack his or her most valuable quality?
fellow track layers lack his self-confidence, his townsfolk lack his smarts.
is the hero willing to let them know that, subtly or directly?
Gladly.And when it’s not safe to tell them
that to their face, he turns to us and tells us.
hero already doing something active when we first meet him or her?
the hero have (or claim) decision-making authority?
granted it by Hedly.
the hero use pre-established special skills from his or her past to solve
problems (rather than doing what anybody would do)?
almost-magical trickster with the ability to run circles around racists.
#3: STRUCTURE (If the story is about the solving of a large problem) 20/21
Quarter: Is the challenge laid out in the first quarter?
the story begins, is the hero becoming increasingly irritated about his or
her longstanding social problem (while still in denial about an internal
tired or being disprespected on the rails, and he’s unwilling to admit that
his potentially-muderous anger is not helping his people.
this problem become undeniable due to a social humiliation at the beginning
of the story?
sent to his death in quicksand, then sentenced to death for trying to kill
the rail boss in retaliation.
the hero discover an intimidating opportunity to fix the problem?
appointed sheriff due to a land grab scheme.
the hero hesitate until the stakes are raised?
No.He’s amused by the scheme and happily
dives right in.
Does the hero commit to pursuing the opportunity by the
end of the first quarter?
he commits right away, but because the movie takes time setting up its
premise, it’s more than a third over by the time he rides into town.
Quarter: Does the hero try the easy way in the second quarter?
the hero’s pursuit of the opportunity quickly lead to an unforeseen conflict
with another person?
townspeople want to kill him.
the hero try the easy way throughout the second quarter?
tries to win them over through zaniness and charm.
the hero have a little fun and get excited about the possibility of success?
enjoys bamboozling them, and makes a friend in the Waco Kid. He confidently
predicts success: “Once you establish yourself, they got to accept you.”“Good morning ma’am, and isn’t
it a lovely morning.”
easy way lead to a big crash around the midpoint, resulting in the loss of a
safe space and/or sheltering relationship?
medium-sized crash: A little old lady says “Up yours, N—“ and upsets him for
the first time. He realizes that, for the first time, he wants more than his
charm can get for him.Even when
he was on the gallows, his confidence wasn’t hurt, but now it is: he wants
the respect of whites for the first time, and that means leaving his safe
space of sarcasm.
Quarter: Does the hero try the hard way in the third quarter?
the hero try the hard way from this point on?
Yes, he decides that he must really
save the town to win them over.
the hero find out who his or her real friends and real enemies are?
finds out the nature of Hedly’s schemes, and wins over Mongo and Lili.
stakes, pace, and motivation all escalate at this point?
the hero learn from mistakes in a painful way?
after the midpoint, when the Waco Kid sets him straight about “the common
clay of the new west…You know, morons.”
further setback lead to a spiritual crisis?
minor one, and it happens offscreen.Around the time of that an army of villains is rounded up to destroy
the town, he realizes that saving this town is also a chance to help his own
Quarter: Does the challenge climax in the fourth quarter?
the hero adopt a corrected philosophy after the spiritual crisis?
bring the workers and townspeople together.
that crisis, does the hero finally commit to pursuing a corrected goal, which
still seems far away?
convinces the townsfolk to give the railroad workers land to save the town.
the final quarter of the story begins, (if not long before) has your hero
switched to being proactive, instead of reactive?
these proactive steps, is the timeline unexpectedly moved up, forcing the
hero to improvise for the finale?
find out the villains are on their way too soon.
strands of the story and most of the characters come together for the
Yes.Lili and the mayor even show up at
some point, thought we never see how.
the hero’s inner struggle climax shortly after (or possible at the same time
as) his or her outer struggle?
he realizes that he’s got to go ride the west saving others.
there an epilogue/ aftermath/ denouement in which the challenge is finally
resolved (or succumbed to), and we see how much the hero has changed
(possibly through reversible behavior)
gives a speech then rides off into the sunset with the Waco Kid.
#4: SCENEWORK 17/20 (Bart arrives in town, then takes himself hostage
to save himself from hostile townspeople)
Set-Up: Does this scene begin with the essential elements it needs?
tense and/or hopeful (and usually false) expectations for this interaction
how happily the townspeople await their new sheriff, and we see how serenely
confident Bart is.
the scene eliminate small talk and repeated beats by cutting out the
beginning (or possibly even the middle)?
No, it starts
at the beginning.
this an intimidating setting that keeps characters active?
much so.Everybody is armed, and
there’s a grandstand to naviagate.
of the scene partners not planning to have this conversation (and quite
possibly has something better to do)?
No, they’ve all
come together on purpose.
there at least one non-plot element complicating the scene?
excited the official is to hand over the laurel, etc.
the scene establish its own mini-ticking-clock (if only through subconscious
it’s just a matter of time before all those guns go off.
Conflict: Do the conflicts play out in a lively manner?
Does this scene both advance the plot and reveal
character through emotional reactions?
Yes.We see Bart’s conflicted insides a little bit. Bart is a
little less unflappable, the townspeople are angry, one lady is anguished.
the audience have (or develop) a rooting interest in this scene (which may
two agendas genuinely clashing (rather than merely two personalities)?
the scene have both a surface conflict and a suppressed conflict (one of
which is the primary conflict in this scene)?
Can I escape these racists?Suppressed: Can I avoid internalizing their hatred?
suppressed conflict (which may or may not come to the surface) implied
through subtext (and/or called out by the other character)?
dialogue with himself reveals a lot about the way racism and culture in
general work, and the way in which Bart processes it.
the characters cagy (or in denial) about their own feelings?
dialogue brings out their conflicted feelings about race (and his own.)
characters use verbal tricks and traps to get what they want, not just direct
much so, on Bart’s part.
there re-blocking, including literal push and pull between the scene partners
(often resulting in just one touch)?
reblocking, but nobody touches anybody.
objects given or taken, representing larger values?
written speech, the banner that rolls up, then gets rolled back down.The guns that come out and go
back.The bible is shot.
Outcome: Does this scene change the story going forward?
result of this scene, does at least one of the scene partners end up doing
something that he or she didn’t intend to do when the scene began?
abandons his speech, they let him live.
the outcome of the scene ironically reverse (and/or ironically fulfill) the
up in the sheriff’s office but as both hostage and villain, not as hero yet.
previously-asked questions answered and new questions posed?
How will he be greeted?Can he possibly get away with
this?Who will the new sheriff
be? How will he avoid getting shot as soon as he comes back out?
the scene cut out early, on a question (possibly to be answered instantly by
the circumstances of the next scene)?
No.He actually turns to the camera and gives us a summary of
audience left with a growing hope and/or fear for what might happen next?
(Not just in the next scene, but generally)
Very much so.This situation seems untenable.
#5: DIALOGUE 13/16
Is the dialogue true to human nature?
the writing demonstrate empathy for all of the characters?
no.The villains are cartoonish,
but they’re all charming and they all have moments of weakness, such as Hedly
worrying about his missing froggie toy.
each of the characters, including the hero, have a limited perspective?
hero thinks he sees all, but he learns to see more.
characters consciously and unconsciously prioritize their own wants, rather
than the wants of others?
everyone.Even when Bart goes
back to help his people, it serves his own goal of saving his neck.
the characters resistant to openly admitting their feelings (to others and
even to themselves)?
is pretty up front in this movie.
characters avoid saying things they wouldn’t say and doing things they
wears their id on their sleeve in this movie.The governor and Hedly say all the things people in their
offices would never actually say.
characters interrupt each other often?
and Waco are good listeners, but all the villains interrupt each other.
Specific: Is the dialogue specific to this world
and each personality?
the dialogue capture the jargon and tradecraft of the profession and/or
Yes.He’s a real sheriff: he puts up wanted posters, dries out
drunks in his cells, etc.The
rail-laying is also believable.
there additional characters with distinct metaphor families, default
personality traits, and default argument strategies from the hero’s?
family: Waco Kid: Western movie (“but most folks call me…”) Hedly: Law,
Default Personality Traits: Waco Kid: bemused, Hedly: agitated, Taggart: angry/dimwitted,
The Governor: horny, Lili: sultry., Default Argument Strategies: Waco Kid:
shrugs and talks sense, Hedly: ignores objections / appeals to vanity.
Is the dialogue more pointed and dynamic than real talk?
dialogue more concise than real talk?
the dialogue have more personality than real talk?
there minimal commas in the dialogue (the lines are not prefaced with Yes,
No, Well, Look, or the other character’s name)?
non-professor characters speak without dependent clauses, conditionals, or
Hedly does, because he fancies himself a gentlemen.Bart, being a real gentleman, doesn’t.
the non-3-dimensional characters impartially polarized into head, heart and
heroes: Bart is head, Waco is heart, Mongo is gut, Lili is groin.The villains: Hedly is head, Taggart
is gut, the governor is groin.
Strategic: Are certain dialogue scenes withheld
the hero have at least one big “I understand you” moment with a love interest
or primary emotional partner?
the Cisco kid bond while discussing their pasts.
exposition withheld until the hero and the audience are both demanding to
why Bart is in the west, why the quicksand is important to the story, etc.
there one gutpunch scene, where the subtext falls away and the characters
really lay into each other?
No.Nobody is confronted about their
flaws.No masks ever fall away.
PART #6: TONE 10/10
Does the story tap into pre-established expectations?
story limited to one genre (or multiple genres that are merged from the
story limited to sub-genres that are compatible with each other, without
Western side, it’s a classic “frontier marshall” / railroad scheme.On the comedy side, it’s a
combination of spoof and satire, which is very hard to pull off (Brooks
wouldn’t master it again after “Young Frankenstein”) but it works
the ending satisfy most of the expectations of the genre, and defy a few
It works as a straightforward western,
a straightforward character comedy, a spoof and a satire.
from the genre, is a consistent mood (goofy, grim, ‘fairy tale’, etc.)
established early and maintained throughout?
Zany, meta and smart: Bart sings “I
Get a Kick Out of You,” then tricks the overseers into singing “Camptown
Does the story set, reset, upset and ultimately exceed its own expectations?
there a dramatic question posed early on, which will establish in the
audience’s mind which moment will mark the end of the story?
Does the story use framing devices to establish
genre, mood and expectations?
theme song comments on everything, and then Bart sees Count Basie’s orchestra
playing for him: we know that this is a commentary on westerns, and it’ll
take place on both sides of the fourth wall
there characters whose situations prefigure various fates that might await
others getting hanged, and the previous sheriff getting killed.
foreshadowing create anticipation and suspense (and refocus the audience’s
attention on what’s important)?
talk about how awful Mongo is, etc.
reversible behaviors used to foreshadow and then confirm change?
refuses to act in solidarity with his co-worker at the beginning, but then
builds a coalition of everyone at the end.
dramatic question answered at the very end of the story?
the townspeople stay, but Bart leaves.
7: THEME 13/14
Is the meaning of the story derived from a fundamental moral dilemma?
the overall theme be stated in the form of an irreconcilable good vs. good
(or evil vs. evil) dilemma?
vs. good: Individualism vs. solidarity, standing up to people vs. winning
them over. Bad vs. bad: anger vs. subservience.
thematic question asked out loud (or clearly implied) in the first half, and
are we made of?” vs. ”Why should we get our own men killed?”
characters consistently have to choose between goods, or between evils,
instead of choosing between good and evil?
the most absurd scene, where they face a moral dilemma as to what to do when
the sheriff takes himself hostage.
Do the stakes ring true to the world of the audience?
the story reflect the way the world works?
ways yes, despite the constant absurdity.Everybody has a very realistic attitude towards black men
in the 1870s.Economic
motivations all play out logically.
the story have something authentic to say about this type of setting (Is it
based more on observations of this type of setting than ideas about it)?
Pryor brought a lot of genuine racial observations.As for the west, we’re seeing an examination of
Hollywood’s version more than the real thing, but even then, everything is
the story include twinges of real life national pain?
much yes.Original screenwriter
Andrew Bergman pitched his script as “Eldridge Cleaver rides into town on a
pony.” He said to Mel, “Play 1974 in 1874.” The original title was “Tex X”
these issues and the overall dilemma addressed in a way that avoids moral
much so.The pain is real.
of the actions have real consequences?
gets sentenced to death for hitting the guy, etc.
Subtle: Is the theme interwoven throughout so
that it need not be discussed often?
many small details throughout subtly and/or ironically tie into the thematic
Yes.Playing chess (black vs. white).The fact that Waco first sees him
upside down, etc.
one or more objects representing larger ideas exchanged throughout the story,
growing in meaning each time?
Is the dilemma ultimately irresolvable?
the ending tip towards one side of the thematic dilemma without resolving it
is better than individualism, but Bart is still too discontent to be part of
the community he created. Winning people over is better than standing up to
them,but both must be
combined.Anger is better than
subservience, but must be controlled.
the story’s outcome ironically contrast with the initial goal?
saves the town instead of dooming it.The townspeople beg him to stay instead of forcing him out.
end, is the plot not entirely tidy (some small plot threads left unresolved,
some answers left vague)?
everything is vague at the end.
characters refuse (or fail) to synthesize the meaning of the story, forcing
the audience to do that?