Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Subtext - His Girl Friday

I have a friend in South Korea. His name’s Matt Spira.

We once disagreed about some Irish story, and we’ve been friends ever since. I love this guy, and I admit, he’s had some influence on me. He convinced me to, uhhh, be nicer in my script reviews. Hehehe

He founded a small production company out there on the far side of the world called WORLD TREE PRODUCTIONS LLC. He and his partner are putting together a number of projects to take to local funding sources as well as the
Asia Film Market this year. The entire region is switching to English, and thus, World Tree’s vision is “To produce English language films (primarily in South Korea and Japan) for international audiences.”

A few
TriggerStreet writers (many of whom already submitted subtext scenes for our great edification) have been hired to write screenplays for him set in South Korea. He’s also working with a TriggerStreet director, Arun Vaidynathan (aka “achalam”), on his film project, The Seance. They submitted his short film to the Pusan International Film Festival for possible participation in the Pusan Promotion Plan. Additionally, The Seance was a finalist in the Hayden Film Festival, and was also an Official Selection in the 2006 IAAC as well as the Boulder Asian Film Festival.

Matt’s also working with another
TriggerStreet director, DK (aka Dariru), who is currently living in Japan, has a number of short films, and is looking to expand his film 152 (www.onefiftytwo.net) into a full-blown feature.

Personally, I’m looking forward to the day we can read another Matt Spira screenplay, as I loved his very popular story,
The Mine. Set in WWI, The Mine was inspired by the true events of the largest military mining operation ever attempted. The logline: “Desperate to break the bloody stalemate of the Western Front during WWI, an audacious plan is put into action to destroy the German frontlines… from below.”

Matt’s submission – His Girl Friday.

The screenplay was, of course, written by Charles Lederer based upon the play, “The Front Page” by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur. What a shame that this tour de force of comedy didn’t receive a single Academy Award Nomination.

By the way, you can watch His Girl Friday in its entirety online for free at http://www.jonhs.net/freemovies/.

Here’s the scene and Matt’s comments:

(sobbing and sniffling)
I thought you were really sending
me away with Bruce. I didn't know
you had him locked up. I thought
you were on the level for once. I
think you were just standing by
and letting me go off with him
without doing a thing about it.

Oh come on, honey. What do you
think I was? A chump?

For me, this is the key exchange in HIS GIRL FRIDAY because it reveals how to correctly interpret the sub-textual conversation that began and essentially continues unbroken across the movie from the moment Hildy (Rosalind Russell) marches into Walter's (Cary Grant) office and announces her intention to marry Bruce (Ralph Bellamy).

What Hildy has been "telling" Walter throughout is she still loves him and wants to come back to him, but on her terms, or at least more equal ones where she can be both a "newspaperman" and a woman. It is revealed in this exchange that Walter has understood exactly what she has been saying.

Hildy continues:

And I thought you didn't love me.

Oh, what were you thinking with?

I don't know. Well, what are you
standing there gawking for? We
have to get him out of jail.
Send Louie down with some honest
money and send him back to
Albany where he belongs.

Sure, sure.

The power of sub-text and the importance of this key exchange can be demonstrated by comparing the ending of the 1939 shooting draft of HIS GIRL FRIDAY- the draft that seems most prevalently available on the internet- to what was actually filmed.

First, the 1939 shooting draft:


" -- pronounce you Man and Wife."

Burns throws his arms around Hildy and kisses her.

Hildy, darling!

Yes -- 'Hildy, darling'. I'm just
a fool. That's what I am. I know
what it's going to be like.

It'll be Heaven!

Sure, Heaven! You've probably
thought up another coal mine to
send me down in -- to get a new
story for your paper!

Hildy turns over copy of the extra lying on Burns' desk.


She stops cold.




"Attempting to pass five hundred dollars worth of counterfeit money at the Union station, a man giving his name as Bruce Baldwin of Albany, New York, was arrested last night -- "


Counterfeit money! That's the
money you sent me, Walter! You --
you --

(starting to run)
But, Hildy, listen --


Burns retreats from Hildy, she runs after him. He dashes through glass-paned door into adjoining office. Hildy throws her bag at him and it smashes the glass pane in the door.


She is pursuing him around table similar to one in Burns' office.

But, Hildy -- I can explain --

You -- you!!


I think it's going to work out
all right this time.


This takes place after (in this draft) Walter has essentially forced Hildy to marry him again at gunpoint. It's very expository, and there's little to no sub-text. We're told, not shown how we're supposed to think about what's happening. The only evidence that their marriage/relationship is going to work out comes from Louie's stated assertion.

Compare that to what was actually filmed:

(to Duffy on the phone)
We're coming over to the office.
No, don't worry about the story.
Hildy's gonna write it. Course
she's not quitting. She never
intended to. We're gonna get

Can we go on a honeymoon this
time, Walter?

Sure. Hey Duffy, you can be the
managing editor. No, no, not
permanently. Just for the two
weeks we're away on a honeymoon...
I don't know where we're going.
(to Hildy)
Where are we going?

Niagara Falls.

Sure. You've earned it.
(to Duffy)
What? What? Strike? What strike?
Where? Albany? Well, I know it's
on the way Duffy, but I can't ask
Hildy to...

All right, we'll plan on Albany.

Ha, ha, ha. Well, isn't that a
coincidence? We're going to
Albany. I wonder if Bruce can put
us up?

There is so much more going on in the scene that was actually filmed. The information is presented in a much more elegant fashion. We are shown, not told, that 1) their relationship is going to work out, and 2) we get an insight into what their dynamic is going to be like.

If the 1939 shooting script had been filmed as written, HIS GIRL FRIDAY would not be considered one of the best films of all time.

If those two lines I quoted at the beginning of this response hadn't been included, and if everything else had, I don't think HIS GIRL FRIDAY would be considered one of the best films of all time.

One of the many points made by the
Mystery Man in his TS reviews that resonated with me was, "Everything counts." In this case, the success of HIS GIRL FRIDAY as a fully satisfying experience depends on two lines of dialogue. It's THE key.



rmahler said...

Everthing counts, indeed. I usually think drama when I think of subtext, just because so many comedies are written for the surface level only. It's refreshing when a comedy is smart enough to leave some of its material "between the lines."

I'm also a Matt Spira fan. I was blown away by "The Mine," and was really hoping it would win the TS screenplay of the month, because it really worked for me on many levels.

Mystery Man said...

I completely agree with you about The Mine.

This was a great submission, too. The final version is a vast improvement to the previous verion, which is worth studying. In the first version, we have to be TOLD by Louie that it's "going to work out all right this time." Reading that scene, I don't get that impression at all. And consider how much shorter and simpler the final version is. They accomplished more with 7 lines than they did with 3 separate scenes and a half-dozen close-ups. Good job, Matt.

And your submission is coming up, Ross, "An Explosion of Subtext."


miriamp said...

I don't think I've ever been less than impressed by anything Matt does.

Mystery Man said...

I agree! Matt's a good man.

mspira said...

Matt is sometimes less than impressed with himself, even if he is willing to speak about himself in the third person. He sure appreciates the sentiment, however.

Great blog, Mystery Man. As with most of the things you do, I find the result to be thought-provoking.

I'm hoping to have another script, OWA TAGU SIAM, uploaded in the nearish future.

Mystery Man said...

Oooo... That'll sounds like great fun. Even if I may not be able to pronounce it.



rmahler said...

Of course, the key to the pronunciation is to repeat it over and over till you get it right :)

Mystery Man said...