30 January 2010

Quote: On Screen-Writing (Avatar)

Unlike my most recent post in which I recognize a quotation about screen-writing for its aptitude, in this post I aim to recognize another quotation about screen-writing for its ineptitude. That is, I ran across this quote earlier today, while I was trolling the hillocks of film-land, and I thought it ostensible enough to warrant reposting here:

I whacked Monsters and Aliens (US#4) and Avatar (US#38) for borrowing extensively from other films, but my problem was that the writers of those did not leave their thumbprints on them. In fairness to James Cameron—yes, that’s a line I never thought I’d write—my eight year-old grandson loved Avatar, because as he wisely pointed out when we discussed it, he had not seen all those movies it borrowed from and so it seemed fresh to him. (Tod Stempel, "Understanding Screenwriting #39", The House Next Door)
While on its surface the recognition that material so reprocessed - as James Cameron's Avatar (in written form) - will nevertheless be fresh and new to one who is unfamiliar with the originating source material sounds like a major revelation from a perspective jaded by its own past, at its core such a recognition is but an overexaggerated falsehood that equally substitutes one subjective perspective - albeit jaded - for another - albeit not yet jaded. In order to truly take an objective stance on this issue of novelty and quality, especially in the area where lives the screen-play of Avatar, one must sidestep locating oneself in anyone's particular, jaded or not yet jaded, subjective perspective and must instead locate oneself firmly in the only objective anhuman perspective that there is: that of history (and time). From such a perspective, that not only knows all events in the great canon of filmmaking in the 20th and 21st centuries but also knows all events in the compendium of human story-telling art of all time, it is obvious to see that it is impossible to declare the merely selectively subjective novelty of any work to be an apt or accurate measure of that work's true objective novelty or quality, as well as to see that any pretensions at doing so are severely (similarly) naïve. From such a perspective, it is obvious that to see such pretensions as otherwise is tantamount to declaring that any contemporary European emigré's first glimpse of America is as novel, exciting, and worthy of (historical) recognition as was Christopher Columbus' - or even the Vikings' for that matter. Clearly, any principle that inherently allows for such dramatic errors in judgement is one that is dramatically misguided as a whole. Thus, to say that Mr. Cameron's screenplay is anything but sadly derivative - even in consideration of those potential millions of people who never heard the 'Tale of Pocahontas' or one of its many many reiterations before seeing Avatar - is itself a dramatically misguided judgement. Perspective, Mr. Stempel (and others who would insouciantly espouse his above musing), please.

P. S. Otherwise, Mr. Stempel, your views on screen-writing, especially on the screen-plays of Broken Embraces and It's Complicated from this year, are quite informed.

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