AN EMPIRE OF ONE

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The Shape of Water vs. “Let Me Hear You Whisper”

  1. When I first heard the Estate of Paul Zindel was claiming the makers of The Shape of Water plagiarized Zindel’s one act play, “Let Me Hear You Whisper,” I was annoyed. I was annoyed because I’ve already picked Shape to win the Best Picture Oscar in a pool. But I was also annoyed because I want it to win because it’s fucking great. But then I watched the PBS version of the play on Youtube and my annoyance changed to delight. Why? The Estate has set up a foil for Del Toro’s masterpiece, that is, something to compare it to, that highlights what makes it great. The opposite, or is it inverse, is also true: comparing Shape with Whisper shows what a minor work Zindel’s play is.
  2. Watch the 1969 PBS version of the Zindel play here.
  3. Ironically, the case filing accusing Shape of plagiarizing Whisper is itself plagiarized. Compare the section “Examining the details” here, with section 43 of the complaint, here.
  4. Here is an example of the lawyer taking wordings from the “examining the details section” of the Hollywood Nerd article and using substitution and rearranging to try to make it “original.” 
  5. This is the lawyer’s wording:
  6. Whisper, contrary to what the Estate claims, is not an original work. It’s almost certainly based on human-animal communication experiments in the 1960s with dolphins by John C. Lilly.
  7. The Estate’s filing says Whisper was written in or around 1969. Well, a 1967 French novel (Un animal doué de raison), translated into English in 1969 as The Day of the Dolphin, was also based on these events. Wikipedia: “The plot concerns dolphins that are trained to communicate with humans, and their use in warfare.” This is the plot of “Let Me Hear You Whisper.”
  8. There’s enough similarity between Whisper (1969) and Dolphin (1969) to hypothesize an influence. You might even say Zindel “derived” his work from the novel. Even if that is not the case, he could have derived it from the real events surrounding John C. Lilly. The point is that Whisper, one way or the other, is derived and not entirely original.
  9. Of course, the Estate’s filing cannot prove writers of The Shape of Water were aware Zindel’s work. The biggest similarity is story POV, that is, both stories are told from the POV of a cleaning lady. However, I do not think you can copyright the idea of telling a story from a  cleaning lady’s POV. It that were the case, Zindel’s story would violate the copyright of the TV show Hazel.
  10. The Estate’s filing is worded to make the two works sound as similar as possible. However, let’s suppose we ask people who are not lawyers to describe the two stories. I doubt their descriptions would end up as similar as the Estate’s. I’ve already offered one alternate description (“The plot concerns dolphins that are trained to communicate with humans, and their use in warfare”) which would set it up for its own plagiarism case because it’s so similar to The Day of the Dolphin.
  11. The Estate does not want to mention Creature from the Black Lagoon or its sequels. Those are the true inspirations for Shape. If anyone had cause to sue, it would be the creators of those films. However, Shape is obviously different enough that such a case would not prevail in court. The same is true for Whisper.
  12. Superficially, Shape and Whisper start of similarly, especially if you play tricks with the words describing their plots as does the lawyer in the filing. But ultimately, they are very different. Whisper is a critique of those who go along to get along. The main conflict in the play is between the cleaning lady and her immediate supervisor. The supervisor describes the cleaning lady several times as “nice.” This is less a description than a proscription. By nice she means someone who does what they are told and does not cause trouble. In other words, someone who does not put sand in the wheels of progress, which is what the experiments are said to be. The cleaning lady cannot remain silent. The title of the play, Let Me Hear You Whisper, alludes to the act of speaking up and the cleaning lady even yells at the dolphin, after she learns it’s been able to talk all along, for not speaking up. She tells off the scientists and threatens to inform the ASPCA. Experiments on dolphins are not the only ones conducted as this lab. Other animals are involved, too. The cleaning lady’s supervisor speaks of a cat she loved that was killed. She didn’t like it, but in order to keep her job she learned that she must not become attached to the animals, to care. She learned to go along to get along. The new cleaning lady, in contrast, does not. She may need the job, but quits because she thinks the work is immoral, even if she is not the one doing the experiments. In other words, the play is about a the birth of a whistleblower. Daniel Ellsberg would approve, and it’s probably useful to remember this play was written at the height of the Vietnam War.
  13. The Estate’s filing reads like a junior high student’s compare and contrast English assignment that forgot the contrast part. For example, the cleaning lady in Whisper may be less talkative than her co-workers, but she isn’t hesitant to talk or ask questions. Shape’s cleaning lady is mute, so she cannot literally talk, but she can still communicate with sign language but she doesn’t, at least at first. Whipser’s cleaning lady is not the brightest bulb on the tree. When the dolphin says, “Ham-per,” she has no idea what it’s saying and has to ask her co-worker: “What is a ham-per.” Her co-worker immediately knows. Shape’s cleaning lady only appears to be stupid. In fact, every one of the workers in the film are undervalued by their superiors. They are all prevented from fulfilling their true potential. Except Elisa, the cleaning lady. Having lived her entire life as a fish out of water, she fulfills her true potential and becomes a fish in water. I hope she meets up with Mr. Limpet.

 

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Written by David Kilmer

February 24, 2018 at 1:25 pm

Darren Aronofsky’s mother!

  1. This poster: Not this one:
  2. Allegory. Dictionary: “the expression by means of symbolic fictional figures and actions of truths or generalizations about human existence.” Wikipedia: “a metaphor whose vehicle may be a character, place or event, representing real-world issues and occurrences.”
  3. Examples: Renaissance paintings; Pilgrim’s Progress; Animal Farm; The Seventh Seal. The Belko Experiment.
  4. Mother!‘s main metaphor is this: Mother is Mother Nature and Him is God. The house? Earth. Etc. It’s a symbolic representation of human history ending in disaster. Cyclical, not final. Not necessarily our history, our story, but it might be, could be our story. A cautionary tale.
  5. Mother! mines most of its material from the Bible, but reflected in the mirror darkly mind of Darren Aronofsky.
  6. Mother! is like a dream, a dream written by Carl Gustav Jung.
  7. Mother! is like a Greek myth, in the sense that myths about Gods and demi-gods represent views of human vices and virtues.
  8. Mother! cannot and should not be reduced to one, simple allegory and cautionary tale about human mistreatment of Mother Earth, even if that’s how Aronofsky wants us to read it.
  9. However, taken as just such a metaphor, Mother! moved me to tears (just as I was moved to laugh many times earlier in the film).
  10. Mother (Jennifer Lawrence) is as much an artist as Him (Javier Bardem). However, she’s introverted and private; he’s extroverted. An odd couple story about a couple living out archetypes.
  11. What’s the fluid Mother drinks? Birth control?
  12. Other precedents: Ulysses by James Joyce; Cocteau’s Orpheus; Fellini’s Juliet of the Spirits.
  13. A great example of POV storytelling. Hitch would approve. The film is told almost entirely from Mother’s POV. We empathize with her and see everything happening through her. Is it too much to say we cling to Mother as if connected to her by an umbilical cord. And when the end comes and we lose that POV, it’s as if our umbilical cord has been cut and there’s a great sense of loss. There is a long history of melodramatic deathbed mother scenes in films. This is not one because along with the feeling of loss there is also a feeling of guilt. Guilt because we did not do enough to save Mother. We were right there with her, right up till the end, yet we could not save her. At least not this time. Maybe next time.
  14. You know those crazy fan theories about Kubrick’s The Shining? Was Aronofsky influenced by that phenomena (which, of course, isn’t confined to The Shining) and made a film for fans to theorize about. Not a shaggy-dog film, but a film where the fan theory is legit and fits because it’s the director’s theory.
  15. Sadly, most reactions to the film seem to want to prove true the film’s dark vision of humanity, but this dark vision of humanity is already there in the Bible. In fact, the Bible’s vision is darker.
  16. The reactions to this film would probably not have been much different had the film been marketed differently. The studio probably knew exactly what they were doing, and they knew how difficult it would be to market a film like this that cannot be placed in a simple genre category. Sadly, it proves, once again, that studios alone are not to blame for the films we get. Audiences (and even some critics) must share some, if not most, of the blame.
  17. I salute Paramount, specifically whoever it was that gave this project the green light. They made me happy, and now, they can die happy.
  18. Lastly, there’s this:

Written by David Kilmer

September 18, 2017 at 11:57 am

Posted in Film Directors, Films

Tagged with ,

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Written by David Kilmer

August 10, 2017 at 3:50 pm

Posted in Books

Paris Can Wait: This Is Not a Review

Paris Can Wait

Diane Lane and Eleanor Coppola during the Q&A for Paris Can Wait, May 13, 2017 at Arclight Hollywood.

This is not a review of Paris Can Wait. It’s a review of a review of Paris Can Wait. It’s a review of a review by Jeannette (almost wrote Meannette) Catsoulis: “‘Paris Can Wait,’ at Least Until After the Crème Brûlée.”

I have several problems with this review, but my main one is the disconnect between the reviewer’s opinion and the film she describes. The problem begins even before the review begins:

  1. The caption, “Diane Lane and Arnaud Viard on a gastronomic odyssey in ‘Paris Can Wait,'” doesn’t quite fit the image, does it? In other words, where’s the food? Yes, there’s a lot of food and eating thereof in the film, but it’s only part of the “odyssey,” as this image from the film proves.
  2. This “reviewer” gets paid by The New York Times to write snarky “reviews” accusing fictional characters of “gustatory privilege.” Who’s privileged?
  3. “What follows is a Michelin-starred commercial for French cuisine gussied up as Anne’s journey of self-discovery.” Is it too much to ask that a reviewer make some effort to understand a movie before dissing it? This is not a film difficult to understand. “Stop and smell the roses.” That’s it. Roses, lots and lots of fragrant roses, are all over this movie. Hard to miss, yet, somehow, this New York Times, newspaper of record reviewer did.
  4. “Anne… [no] more than a bland accessory who lets men tell her what to eat.” This is inaccurate for not just one, but several reasons. First, there’s only one man, Jacques, who acts as her guide to all things “gustatory.” Second, she doesn’t eat everything he orders. Third, she can’t read the menu because it’s in French. Fourth, she ends up with a lot of chocolate and it’s because of what she wants, not him. But what this reviewer says is mostly wrong because it ignores what happens in the end: the role reversal that happens when Anne becomes the guide because she knows more about the Cathedral she and Jacques visit than he does. A lot more.
  5. “When not inhaling jus d’agneau and crème brûlée… the two visit famous landmarks and exchange flirty glances. But when Anne finally peels off her pantyhose, it isn’t to indulge in a roadside quickie; it’s to repair the Peugeot’s broken fan belt.” Rather than snark, Eleanor Coppola deserves kudos for not making another conventional Harlequin-type romance movie. “Stop and smell the roses.” Trite? Perhaps. But true, profoundly true, nonetheless. It’s a lesson we can all take from this movie and apply it to our own lives, even if we cannot afford to make the same “gustatory odyssey.”

Written by David Kilmer

May 15, 2017 at 12:13 pm

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Three years ago, James Gunn and Nicole Perlman were nominated for a WGA award in the best adapted screenplay category for Guardians of the Galaxy (not yet Vol. 1).

This year Gunn should be nominated AND win for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 if only for one line:

You killed my mom. And squished my Walkman.

In fact, this line encapsulates the greatness of Guardians:

Simultaneously, serious and silly.

Tragi-comic?

For example: Drax probably laughs more often and louder than anyone in this film (even Rocket), but when Mantis feels his deepest emotions, she breaks down in tears.

That’s goes for most of the characters, even the minor ones.

Behind every laugh, a tear.

But also: behind every tear, a laugh.

I’m still laughing through my tears.

Mucho thanks to James & the Gang for making this awesome movie.

 

Written by David Kilmer

May 13, 2017 at 2:24 am

Is Starship Troopers a Satire of Star Trek?

Col. Carl Jenkins (Neil Patrick Harris) mind melds with Starship Troopers Brain Bug.

Star Trek (TOS)’s Spock (Leonard Nimoy) mind melds with rock creature (Horta) in “The Devil in the Dark.”

Is Starship Troopers a critique/satire of Star Trek’s world (and worldview) or a ripoff, in particular of “The Devil in the Dark” episode, with some Aliens, Top Gun, and An Officer and a Gentleman tossed into the mix?

In 1985, more than a decade before Starship Troopers, J. Hoberman published a piece, “The Fascist Guns in the West,” about the films of the Reagan era (Rambo, Dirty Harry, An Officer and a Gentleman) that might help answer the question. Read it here (starting on page 53) or here. I saw the film last night and the screening was preceded by a short discussion between Adam Curtis (who chose the film as part of a weekend of films he curated) and the film’s screenwriter, Ed Neumeier. Too bad we didn’t get a chance to ask the writer if he was familiar with Hoberman’s essay, but I’d bet money that both he and Verhoeven were on the same wavelength as Hoberman. A true melding of minds about the Eighties.

Written by David Kilmer

March 18, 2017 at 11:52 am

Posted in Films

Kong: Skull Island: the Premiere (NOT THE FILM)

Bored media/PR (is there really a difference?) types await the big (A pun? Of course.) event.

Slightly less bored fans, also waiting.

Six plus hours later, long after the sun set on Hollywood Blvd., here’s what hours and hours of waiting got them:

Surrounded by security, Mr. Samuel L. Jackson helped his mother down the staircase after the premiere of Kong: Skull Island, walked down the blue carpet, never once looking up, got into his limo, and disappeared into the Hollywood night, disappointing hundreds of fans (plus the usual handful of professional autograph hounds).

Here’s what happened in between:

  1. We arrived around 3:30PM to find ourselves about a third of the way from the beginning of the “carpet run.” It wasn’t really a run, except for the ones who wanted to make it one, such as…
  2. Around 6PM, the stars started to arrive. John Goodman was the first to walk by the fans. And that’s just what he did. He made no eye contact and looked somewhat like a scared rabbit.
  3. On the other side of the “wall,” where some lucky fans sat in bleachers while a radio DJ blasted them with his barely intelligible voice, Jackson, Hiddleston, Larson and the director posed for pictures and talked to media types. We couldn’t see any of this.
  4. We waited and waited. No sign of any of the above.
  5. Finally, just before 8PM, a crowed of people passed by and climbed the stairs to the Dolby Theater. But still no sign of the stars.
  6. Then, suddenly, there was Jackson. There was Hiddleston. There was the director with the beard.
  7. And just as suddenly, they were gone. Not one of them stopped. Not even the director.
  8. I did not forget Brie Larson. Going in, she was the last person we expected to interact with the fans, that is, sign autographs and pose for pictures. But tonight, she was the only one who did. She went down the lane of fans, signing and posing, stopping just past us, then turned around, got in a limo, and drove away. She did not watch the film. (FWIW, we did not get an autograph.)
  9. We came back ninety minutes later. The film was supposed to last about two hours. A bit more, if there was an introduction. But we were surprised to see the exodus start nearly twenty minutes earlier than expected.
  10. John Goodman was one of the first to descend the stairs, just as he was one of the first to ascend the stairs. A group of professional autograph hounds yelled, “John!” He went straight to them and signed for two or three. For a moment, it looked like he was going to engage with fans. But then, suddenly, he yelled to his handler, pushing her, “Go! Go! Go!,” and hightailed it, disappointing many fans.
  11. One of the autograph “professionals” reported Jackson, upon seeing them lined up along the blue (not red) carpet, said: “I see all the professionals are out tonight. So, tell me, are you rich, yet?”
  12. Not tonight.
  13. That goes for the film, too. It finished first in this week’s boxoffice race, but with a meager $61 million.
  14. However, Brie Larson was not the only one who engaged with fans:

David Koechner (Anchorman, The Office, Twin Peaks)

 

Backside of Mathew Modine, star of Birdy, Full Metal Jacket, Stranger Things, engaged with many fans before he went into the theater.

Modine’s autograph.

15. No, we did not see the film. Apparently, no one did, really. Later, we learned from a fan that the film, with twenty minutes to go, suddenly stopped and that was it.

16. At least Mr. Jackson ran the gauntlet again on his way out. Director Jordan “The Beard” Voigt-Roberts? Tom Hiddleston? After they went into the theater, we never saw them again.

This happened March 8, 2017.

Written by David Kilmer

March 12, 2017 at 7:02 pm

Posted in Films