Saturday, July 31, 2004

Bad Writing

Okay. I tried to let this one slide, but it's burning a hole in my brain.

Here's a perfect example of what seems to me to be wrong with screenwriting these days. In Catwoman, which you know is rife with bad writing (I'm certain you've seen it), Sharon Stone's character berates her philandering husband by advising:

"...resist the urge to date children born the same day they invented the cell phone."

Now, even in the theater, this struck me as a presumptuous, uneducated throw-away line. I'm no expert, but even at the time, I thought to myself: You know, I'm no expert, but I'm pretty sure that the cell phone was invented at least as far back as the fifties.

One google later, I confirmed that cell phone technology was first tested in 1947, and enjoyed steady (albeit small) growth in usage until 1968, when an FCC ruling opened a wider allocation of frequencies for the technology, and it began to take off in a huge way. Which means that if you take Sharon Stone's line at face value, she's criticizing her husband for dating young girls - you know, girls in the range of 36 to 57 years old.

It took me about fifteen seconds to find this information on the internet. I am not exaggerating. You don't need to be a rocket scientist to see that the guy who wrote that line felt so comfortable with his uninformed presumption (which I'm sure played out in his head along the lines of well, I didn't own a cell phone until the eighties, so they must have been invented then) that he didn't feel the need to take that fifteen seconds to confirm he was right. Remember: this isn't a little indie script with a couple million dollars at stake. More than $100 million was invested in the script that contained that uninformed joke. One hundred million dollars. Imagine for just one moment how many people vetted that line of dialogue before it hit the screen.

The problem, of course, is that it doesn't matter. The audience I saw the film with (not surprisingly, it was packed) laughed their ass off at the line. And I was left with a feeling that's becoming common to me as I watch what passes for motion pictures these days: nowhere in the open, free-market economics of the film industry are there any natural incentives to prevent brutish, mouth-breathing, uneducated producers from hiring brutish, mouth-breathing, uneducated directors to direct screenplays by brutish, mouth-breathing, uneducated writers. No such incentives exist, because the majority audience for these films, by a country mile, is comprised of brutish, mouth-breathing, uneducated slobs.

There's no need any more for the Robert Townes, or the Herman Makiewiczes, or Edmund Norths. Why bother? Why bother trying to find another Dashiell Hammett, or Horton Foote, or Garson Kanin? It's hardly worth the effort, right? I mean, those guys were, like, writer writers, who even, you know, wrote books and stuff. Who wants to bother dealing with them? Jesus, these days, everyone living in the greater Los Angeles area has a poorly-written-but-properly-formatted screenplay under their bed anyway - let's just pick one and make it, right? Hire a cheap, brutish, mouth-breathing, uneducated "polish" writer to throw a couple of recycled one-liners in there (no, no need to make them pithy; as long as the audience believes they're supposed to laugh, they will) and moviegoers will eat it up.

Toss the slop, watch the pigs run, right?

Am I wrong here? Stating the obvious? Is misanthropy not the logical response to this phenomenon, which is not exclusive to the motion picture economy, but is in fact an element of our society at large? Am I being myopic here?

Help me out, people.