10 May 2010
I keep saying my script is "in the vein of Dr. Strangelove," but in some ways it's just as much kin to M*A*S*H as anything. After all, Robert Altman's the master of the twisted ensemble and this film and it's spin-off TV series are still the reigning kings of mixing absurdist black-comedy with bittersweet tear-jerker moments. I think my character Ben Vanberg, repeatedly described as "a Max Fischer type," could stand to have a little more of the Duke or Hawkeye Pierce attitude in him, as could his brother Vic. Though I'll admit, in my story the nihilism doesn't have the poignant punch that M*A*S*H has. In my story it's almost an end unto itself.
Still, the Fuck-Em-If-They-Can't-Take-A-Joke attitude not only makes Hawkeye, Duke and Trapper John a delight to watch, it makes them easy to sympathize with. The moments of surprise, when the characters prove deeper and more thoughtful than you expect them to be, or more humanistic or empathic (they are doctors, after all) may be the story's saving grace, dramatically. Especially when they're so cold, like cruel children or insensitive frat boys, about punishing and tormenting their adversaries, especially Major Burns and Hot Lips. They're sexist, chauvanist, arrogant and entitled, and yet we love them, because in the face of all this war and cruelty, what could it possibly matter? Who wouldn't be cynical? They at least have the balls to face the horrific reality around them and keep a smile on their faces. Dramatically, this makes them good protagonists. And to an old-school absurdist like myself, it makes them absolute heroes.
Now. How do I translate this into my script? By keeping aware, I guess.
In rewatching this tonight, I realized how much I've conflated this film with Catch-22. I'll have to watch that one later. Also, if I may say, I get why it's a brilliant idea to make the story's climax a big rousing football game with ringers and bets and men bashing men in pristine brightly colored football uniforms -- I get why on several levels. But I still always find the sequence too long and too boring. Beyond showing my hand about my reticence to spectator sports, I'm not sure that means anything, but every time I watch this I find myself drifting away and watching the clock before the second half of the big game. So it goes.