Monday, April 07, 2008

Script Review - Mamet's "Redbelt"

Hey guys,

This is a blog talk between myself and Joshua James. We cover all things David Mamet. We talk about his body of work, his recent controversial article in the Village Voice, and also share our thoughts about his latest screenplay, Redbelt.

And we do it all in MAMET-SPEAK.

Yes, it's writers behaving like actors in their writing.

A blogging first, I'm sure.

Thus, there are a few spoilers and LOTS OF ADULT LANGUAGE. Viewer Discretion is Advised. Hehehe

Hope you enjoy it.



MM: Joshua. Joshua. Look. Joshua. Here’s the thing. It’s like this, okay? It’s like this. I will – and I really fucking mean this – I will always admire David Mamet. You know? The words. THE WORDS he writes. It’s a fucking American institution. AMERICAN, man. He’s an American MAN. You know that play? That play. That fucking play. What is it? Glen something. GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS. Fucking brilliant, man. It’s in the fucking pantheon of all-time great plays. You know what I mean?

JJ: I hear ya, I'm tellin' ya, I hear ya loud an' fucken clear. An not only is his dialogue spot on (O'Neil's was as well) it's that the dialogue is about a type of men, a class of men, one that for a long time didn't get voice in the theatre. That's the thing about Glengarry Glenn Ross, I think. We had workin' class men before, from Miller and the like, but they didn't . . . they weren't THE MEN we all knew in our times - Mamet unearthed a class of men not often, if ever, seen in theatre . . . . . . one of Mamet's other great plays, SEXUAL PERVERSITY IN CHICAGO, dealt again with a type of men we often know in life but never see behind the curtain of art.

And his dialogue, it's something - and more than the words, it's the space between the words which makes it work.

But really, you bet, his dialogue, you bet it's awesome, he works with a great sense of rhythm and beat - but tell me . . . what do you think about THE REST of his writing?

MM: I love ‘em, baby! Speed the Plow, Oleanna, Boston Marriage – who gives a shit, right? I’ll take the misses for the hits. And dude. DUDE… I love – fucking squirt-my-pants LOVE - SEXUAL PERVERSITY... Stop laughing. You know what I mean. You KNOW what I mean! Sure, I love a little sexual perversity – who doesn’t, it’s a new millennium - but you know what I mean, you know, that, that –

JJ: --the play, the fucken’ play --

MM: -- damn straight, the fucking PLAY, man! SEXUAL PERVERSITY IN CHICAGO. It’s classic. The men are sympathetic. Character arcs. The works, right? Here’s my favorite part. I’ll even act it out for you. Are you ready? I’m going to play BOTH parts, all right? Here we go. These guys are looking at a beautiful girl.

Danny: Nice firm tits.
Bernie: Where does she get off with those tits?
Danny: What a pair of boobs.
Bernie: Not that I’m a tit man…
Danny: I know.
Bernie: I mean, I dig tits…
Danny: I don’t blame you.
Bernie: …but I wouldn’t go out of my way for a pair of tits.
Danny: Yeah.
Bernie: The way I see it, tits
Danny: Yeah?
Bernie: Are what you make of ‘em.
Danny: It’s like anything else.
Bernie: But an ass
Danny: Yeah.
Bernie: …is an ass.

Thank you. Thank you. I’m here all week. (I was drinking as I wrote that.) You sympathized with those guys, right, Joshua? You were moved by their arcs, weren’t you?

JJ: Arcs?

MM: Hehehe…

JJ: Arcs? Fucken ARCS? There are no, listen, fucken . . . Mamet's characters . . .

MM: Hehehe…

JJ: Mamet's characters DON'T FUCKING ARC. None of 'em, they don't. Anyone who says they do, they don't know a pig from its whistle, I'm telling you. Seriously.

I can't think of a single one, in his plays or movies, who ARCED. Did Eliot Ness ARC? Ricky Roma? Shelly the Machine Levine? What about . . . what about Conrad from WAG THE DOG? Where was his fucken arc?

Hoffa? What film or play did Mamet write, whereas the characters had an arc? Sometimes they made desperate choices, sometimes which led to tragic consequences, but there was no FUCKING arc.

That's why they felt REAL. Great characters just are, they don't - wait a minute. You fucken know this, you –

MM: Yeah. I just like to see you get wound up. Hehehe…

JJ: You bastard. All right. Well, Mamet's a classicist. Old School. He's got the Pulitzer and a bunch of Oscar noms, too. Right? But what are wetalking about here, are we talking about his plays? No.

We're talking about his screenwriting, right?

Let's talk about Mamet movies, cuz he can fucking do that as well as anyone out there, am I right?

MM: The Verdict. Wag the Dog. Glengarry Glen Ross. What more do I need to say? As a screenwriter, you know what Mamet is? He’s a closer. That’s what he is. One of the elite fucking closers of our generation. Who else can close? Robert Towne? Shane Black? Lawrence Kasdan? Fuckin’ amateurs. Mamet gets the job DONE. He closes the fucking DEAL. That’s what we do when we write screenplays. We close the deal. Those are the ABC’s of screenwriting, baby:

A - Always
B - Be
C - Closing

Always Be Closing. ALWAYS BE CLOSING. Nice guy? I don’t give a shit. Good father? Fuck you. Go home and play with your kids. You want to work in Hollywood? You want to be a SCREENWRITER? Then CLOSE THE FUCKING DEAL! You think this is abuse? You think this is ABUSE, you cocksucker? If you can’t take this, how can you take the abuse you get on a pitch session? Or after you get studio NOTES? Do you know what it takes to write screenplays?

Am I wrong? Am I fucking wrong?

JJ: What was it that was said in HEIST? Oh yeah, Ricky Jay said it.

"My motherfucker is so cool, when sheep go to sleep, THEY count HIM."

I heard a story, it may have been in an Art Linson book, but it may not. In his early days of his screenwriting career, Mamet was hired to adapt or rewrite something . . . he told the producer that the script couldn't be fixed, that it was just not worth doing and that the story, it wasn't there. The producer remembered that and gave him a better job later . . . cuz he was that cool. If memory serves, that next gig was THE VERDICT.

That's the kinda story that if it ain't true, it ought to be, right?

Mamet always reminds me of the Marlowe quote. "A hard man is good to find."

MM: I think we should talk about
that article

JJ: You mean we are actually talking about that article, or are we just...

MM: No, we're talking...

JJ: We're actually “talking” about it.

MM: We're just speaking about it… His new ideas.

JJ: His new ideas.

MM: Yes.

JJ: We're not actually talking about it.

MM: Well, no.

JJ: Talking about it as a...

MM: No.

JJ: …as the political conversion of David Mamet.

MM: No, man, no. What do you make of that shit?

JJ: What I “make of it” –

MM: Yes.

JJ: It being "that" article. Mamet's explanation of why he's no longer a "brain dead liberal".

MM: Yes.

JJ: That he wrote . . . in the Village Voice. Right?

MM: Right.

JJ: Well, for about thirty seconds after I read it, I was supremely pissed off.

MM: Hehehe… Right.

JJ: And then I started laughing. I laughed my ass off.

MM: Laughed?

JJ: I mean, this is David Mamet we're speaking of, right? David Fucking Mamet.

MM: Okay.

JJ: David Mamet. Who wrote OLEANNA, which pisses off half the audience in the first act, pisses off the other half of the audience in the second half, and by the time the curtain comes down, both sides wanna kill each other and somewhere backstage Mamet sits giggling his ass off. That David Mamet.

MM: Hehehe…

JJ: What does Mamet do? He provokes. He loves to provoke, Glengarry was provocative, right? Sexual Perversity? SPEED THE PLOW, fucking SPEED THE PLOW was guaran-fucking-teed to provoke Hollywood.

I was in that play in grad school. I played Charlie.

Seriously, that's his game, he loves to poke and prod at what he views as, what's the word . . .

MM: Artifice.

JJ: Yes.

MM: Yeah, he's never really been a liberal, right?

JJ: As far as I know, he's one of those wacky libertarians. But yeah, he loves to provoke, he's a fan of con games and tricks, he fucking loves that . . .

MM: Ricky Jay is like, one of his best friends.

JJ: He loves to con, he loves to poke and provoke at artifice, stoke controversy and what's the intent of that article? To convince people not to be liberal? In the Village Voice? The fucking Village Voice? The most liberal paper in America? You're not gonna convince anyone not to be liberal in the Voice, all you're gonna do is piss 'em off. That's like going on Fox News and talking about how great socialized medicine is . . . the intended audience is just gonna scream. Right?

MM: Hehehe… Right.

JJ: So I think it was all one big con. Because let's face it. Mamet loves con men, he loves the rugged individualist, he loves them.

Liberalism is about folks working together as a whole to help the group as a whole and to help individuals who cannot help themselves.

That's the opposite of the theme of many of his films. Think about HOUSE OF GAMES, or HEIST or SPANISH PRISONER or SPARTAN . . . what do you think the theme behind those films are?

Wait, I've jumped ahead. What do YOU make of the "article"?

MM: In a year, we’ll see another article…

JJ: Yeah.

MM: …probably in some conservative mag, you know…

JJ: National Review.

MM: …National fuckin’ Review, man, in which he’ll send all the conservatives spiraling because of something he said.

JJ: Fucken’ spiraling, a fucken’ tizzy…

MM: It is in the nature of Mamet to provoke and to keep people guessing as to what he’ll be doing next. Politics has little to do with it.

JJ: Fucken’ A, man…

MM: Hey, you know that guy?

JJ: Sure, the guy.

MM: The Scanners guy.

JJ: Emerson.

MM: Jim fuckin’ Emerson, man. Listen to this fuckin’ guy. (He’s smart. Don’t get me wrong. He’s smart.) He
wrote, “Although I'm still reeling from the shocking revelation that David Mamet once considered himself a liberal, I find myself looking forward to his next (screen-)play more than ever, if only to see if I can detect an interest in ideological politics that I never noticed in his work before.” Yeah. To that Mamet must reply, “Gotcha.” His big fuckin’ scheme worked, right? The article enabled Mamet to reinvent himself, to create a renewed scrutiny of his body of work, to get people talking, to create a demand for new interviews, etc, so he can fucking explain himself, which will incite more provocative statements, and he will once again become a controversial figure.

JJ: Fucken’ A, man…

MM: Nothing in Mamet’s world could so easily get ascribed a one-word political label. Never. He would never let himself be that transparent.

JJ: Fucken’ A, man…

MM: So how about his latest screenplay? Redbelt. Did you discover any secret right wing agendas within its pages?

JJ: Redbelt? I liked it.

MM: You "liked" it?

JJ: I liked it. Read fast, went by, whoosh. 131 pages gone in a flash. Enjoyed it. I liked it.

MM: Liked it. Didn't love it?

JJ: What I loved was imagining you reading it and seething about format, heh-heh.

MM: Yeah, I was fucking seething.

JJ: Bet your fucking ass you were. So, Redbelt. Okay, some SPOILERS. I mean, I'd say first of all, it ain't really about Jiujitsu. Not really. It's about a guy who runs a jiujitsu school who gets put in a position where he has to make a tough choice. A rock and a hard place movie. That's a good movie.

MM: Right.

JJ: In fact, it's the SAME movie as HEIST when you think about it. And SPARTAN.

MM: Yes!

JJ: Guy, an individual making his way, doing what he does best, has a personal honor motive, gets fucked over by THE MAN . . .

MM: Fucked over and then betrayed by a woman...

JJ: Exactly. And to be who he is, he can't back down. Same thing. That's Mamet's agenda, he loves individualists who pull their own weight and fight for their own sense of the world. Those two movies, matched up to this one, would probably line up beat by beat. Now, I don't think that it's a bad thing that the stories are similar, I mean, most Marlowe books are similar.

MM: James Bond.

JJ: Right, you love your Bond, heh-heh. Yes. It has a pattern that is satisfying to me as a fan of his stuff. And this is who Mamet is, it's him, right? Mamet loves guys who do, not pretenders, not blowhard stars, not money men - he loves those who actually do and sweat and bleed for their craft. This movie doesthat, and on that level it is satisfying as a Mamet film . . though I still prefer HEIST so far - But it's not really about martial arts, it's about a tough guy who does things his way and doesn't compromise. His thing just happens to be jiujistu.

MM: Like Kilmer's thing in Spartan was espionage.

JJ: And Hackman's thing in HEIST was thievery. He knows those worlds and gets the details right, but the movies ain't really about those things. They're about each guy's individual sense of honor and ethics.

MM: Exactly.

JJ: Mamet does films like that well, and this is one of them. Some of the events were a bit of a leap, the cop thing, the crazy lawyer thing, his wife doing what she did outa the fucking blue . . . but overall, I enjoyed it. It ain't really a big movie, though.

MM: Right.

JJ: What did YOU think of it?

MM: I thought the ending was a fuckin’ travesty.

JJ: Oh, get the fuck outta here.

MM: (*SPOILERS*) Nothing more fucking clichéd than the fighter who doesn’t want to fight because he has “principles” and then he’s compelled to right a wrong and fights IN THE RING even though it’s not a “real” fight. I wanted to jump in there and kick ALL their asses.

JJ: It’s a fucking Jiujitsu movie. I mean, it’s NOT totally a Jiujitsu movie, but it IS a fucking Jiujitsu movie. That’s why he called it REDBELT.

MM: He could’ve called it BLUE BALLS and I would’ve hated the ending.

JJ: Oh, mother fuck…

MM: Other than that, I thought it was genius.

JJ: Genius. Really?

MM: Yeah. Genius. It was classical in structure.

JJ: Classical -- like a ballet?

MM: Classical like suck my balls, you cocksucker. It was CLASSICAL. It was a man with principles trying to survive in a corrupt world and his moral choices grow increasingly difficult over the course of three acts where, in the end, everything gets put on the line. It’s either his integrity or his well-being, which includes his marriage, his financial situation, everything. He could do the thing, take the money, make everything right in his little world, but he’d lose his soul. That’s fuckin’ classical. That’s a Sidney Lumet film. That’s Andy Garcia in Night Falls on Manhattan, a fucking brilliant film. I thought of that film repeatedly as I read this script.

JJ: It's not NIGHT FALLS IN MANHATTAN, though I agree that's an awesome film . . . this is HEIST redone . . . I'm tellin' you.

MM: Bullshit. Freshly picked corn-fed bullshit.

JJ: Okay, ending aside, I would agree that he approaches writing in a classical sense, he follows his Poetics.

MM: Told you. Fucking CLASSICAL.

JJ: He's got his theme - "There's always an escape."

MM: He shows his honor, with the watch and the job for his friend.

JJ: He's got the old guy he idolized. He's got his craft which is he recognized as an expert for. But the wife-

MM: The wife - what about her?

JJ: Isn't she a problem? Aren't both women characters in this film problematic?

MM: A problem for you, maybe. I love women.

JJ: The STORY. The fucking STORY, you prick.

MM: Well, one woman’s played by Alice Braga and the other’s played by Emily Mortimer. I got no fucking problem with that.

JJ: On the fucking page.

MM: The women.

JJ: The female characters.

MM: The characters on the page…

JJ: …in the script.

MM: All I could envision was Alice Braga and Emily Mortimer. I still got no fucking problem with that.

JJ: Fuck me…

MM: Very fuckin’ pleasant thinking about Alice and Emily.

JJ: But their function in the story…

MM: It’s funny how there’s a purity to screenplays, isn’t there?

JJ: Purity.

MM: Yeah, funny how on the page, it’s a more pure artform. It’s strictly about STORY.

JJ: Okay.

MM: But then, things get a little gray once you fill those roles with live people. With actors people love.

JJ: Right.

MM: They tend to forgive mistakes in the story just because they want other things out of the movie beyond the purity of the story.

JJ: Okay. I’ll give you that. So answer my fucking question.

MM: You’re question.

JJ: Aren't both women characters in this film problematic?

MM: Yes.

JJ: Thank you. Damnit. Thank you. It's not that Mamet can't write great female characters, I mean, Lindsey Crouse in HOUSE OF GAMES . . .

MM: I had no fuckin’ problem with Lindsey either.

JJ: And his wife's part in STATE AND MAIN . . . some folks don't like her acting, I hear, but . . .

MM: We won't comment. We're about the writing. But I hear ya...

JJ: I just think it's a technique he likes, the betrayal of a woman, it's in HEIST, HOMICIDE, THE SPANISH PRISONER . . .

MM: In Spartan, our guy is betrayed by the President and the guy who works for the Prez...

JJ: Right. I think betrayal is a key theme for Mamet in a lot of his movies (STATE AND MAIN was about how Hollywood betrays the artist, heh), and in Redbelt (SPOILERS) you get these Brazilian brothers who are huge in jiujistu who have betrayed their art and their father's legacy. And Mike's wife, the sister of those brothers, she betrays him too.

And to me, that came out of left field, what the wife did. It didn't seem, I guess, justified enough. Or even necessary. That bothered me more than the ending.

MM: Probably because you’re married. Hehehe…

JJ: Bastard.

MM: Fucker.


Matt said...

Brilliant! (Though truth be told, I could've used one "(sotto):".)

That's some funky punctuaction at the end of that last sentence.

I'm excited for "Redbelt," but I feel that it'll probably have the same faults that most of Mamet's projects over the last ten years have fallen victim to. In his desire to be a rigid structuralist, and adhere to ALL the rules of drama (as he sees them, defined by Aristotle in THE POETICS) he's effectively gutten a lot of the life out of his stories.

A better way of putting it: Arthur Miller once said he realizes what the play's about two-thirds of the way into writing it, then rewrites it with that idea in mind. Mamet, on the otherhand, sets out to write a story, writes it, and that's it. In his quest to better adhere to dramatic conventions (a noble one, no doubt), his writing has not only become cut and dried, it's become slashed and dried out. While OLEANNA or SPEED THE PLOW are basically intended to present an unbiased view of two sides of an argument (sexual harassment, art v. commerce) and are in fact designed that way, SPARTAN is arguing one point over and over and over again. While I love that film, and the other Mamet films like it, he really shines as the author's point of view is made foggy or muddled.

Which is also, by the by, the huge conceptual flaw of the argument presented in Mamet's VOICE article: you're either a NPR-loving, save-the-whales liberal, or your a true-blue, red-state, die-hard conservative. He's stopped allowing for gray areas in his work and life.

In terms of character arcs, I find it hard to believe that Scott in SPARTAN or Frank Galvin in THE VERDICT don't undergo substantive character arcs, but I will leave that judgement to my betters.

Kevin Lehane said...


By the way, I've tagged you for a meme (if that's not too rude).

Laura Deerfield said...

Mamet. I love fucking Mamet. He could write shit for the rest of his life and I would still fucking love Mamet, and I tell you why.

Because Mamet knows how to grab you by the balls. Makes you think. Think, "whoah, what is this shit?" And a lot of it seems to come out of the blue, you know? Until you know the characters. Because it's the fucking characters that it's all about.

Seriously, it was House of Games. That fuckin movie. First time I ever watched a film, and at the end of it wanted to know "who wrote that?" Not the director. Not the actors. I didn't give a shit about them. I wanted to know who wrote the fuckin thing. Because that, that was some shit.

And no, the characters don't fuckin arc. The characters are forced, forced to confront themselves. To become more, well, essentially themselves.

Betrayal is a major theme, because it leaves the character, the main character, the protagonist if you will, it leaves them alone. And when it's just one man, or one woman, against whatever big fuckin bad thing they are up against, then they got two choices. They can either fold, like fuckin pansy-asses, and be relegated to obscurity (and that character would never, never be the lead in a fucking Mamet) or they can find their balls, brass plate 'em and take 'em smack up against the wall. Balls to the fuckin wall or die, man.

And that's why that chick, that House of Games chick, why she got my attention. 'Cause that chick, she's got balls. She doesn't even know it at the beginning. Thinks she's a "nice" smart girl. and finds out she's got a bigger pair than most of the fuckin men in the fuckin story. Through betrayal, is shown another side of herself, and embraces it.

I fuckin love Mamet. Always fuckin will.

Kwinnky said...

Wasn't there an arc in The Spanish Prisoner? Didn't Ross kind of change from trusting do-gooder to less trusting an altruistic? That's how I read his not offering to help Susan or trying to reassure her (which I think she wanted just to mess with him).

Kevin Lehane said...

Yes, yes, Mamet is the fucking man. But I'll tell you something for fucking nothing, it can fucking become way too fucking much at times. I particularly remember a scene in Heist between DeVito and Hackman that went something like this:

DV: You do the job?
GH: I did the job, you have to ask me about the job, I did the job. The job is did.
DV: You did the job?
GH I did the job, fuck.
DV: I'm only asking about the fucking job.
GH: The job I fucking did, I said I did the job and I did the fucking job.
DV: That's all I was asking.
GH: The job is fucking did.
DV: He did the job. Fucking good.

I swear that's pretty much how it wend and you know, I sat there glazed over going ... ENOUGH WITH THE FUCKING REPETITION. WE GET IT.

But, this is why Mamet is Mamet. He makes you fucking invested, you know?

bob said...

You kiss your mother with that mouth???

What is it about Mamet that turns us all into a bunch of fucking pottymouths?

Christian M. Howell said...

You mean I should be trying to piss people off. That's a load off.

Jim said...

Mamet. My dislike is abundant. I watch his movies and I think, this is not a movie, it is a precis. It is Mamet summarizing his own text. Always. Have you read that book of his on directing? "On Directing Film", it's called. It's all about efficiency. That's his program entire. Efficiency. He is so goddamn fucking schematic. I'm like, let Robert Towne re-write all of Mamet and let Michael Mann direct., then you would have something I would wish to see.

I still enjoy "House Of Games". Man, that cunt shrink, she is swinging a huge set'a stones by the end of that one, you feel me?