Saturday, September 02, 2006

Cyrano de Bergerac

Hey guys,

Yes, I am still posting subtext-in-dialogue articles. I have some great ones coming up next week. If you have a scene you’d like to submit, please feel free to
email it to me.

I thought I’d give my blogger friends a taste of
my TriggerStreet reviews. This one was for an adaptation of Cyrano, which was quite fun to write.

Hope you enjoy it.


This, the nose that launched a thousand plays... and about 25 films.

"My rapier prickles like a foot asleep!"

"It's a crag! A peak! A promontory! A promontory, did I say? It is a PENINSULA!"

Hehehe... I've seen the play. I have the Gertrude Hall translation in my private library, which I've read once or twice. My favorite lines are underlined, like this one: "To displease is my pleasure. I love that one should hate me. Dear friend, if you but knew how much better a man walks under the exciting fire of hostile eyes, and how amused he may become over the spots on his doublet, spattered by Envy and Cowardice!" Hehehe... Amen, brother! Preach it!

In the theatre, it's downright electric when Cyrano takes command of the stage and composes a ballad while fighting a duel. In a film, though, that kind of moment is good but it can drag to the point where it feels talky and you think, "okay, get on with the fight already." On a stage, that moment will bring down the house, and the audience will be, 'til the very end, ensnared by Cyrano's verbal acuity, his poetic wit, his bravura, his panache, and of course, his self-sacrificing romanticism. Cyrano's natural home will always be on the stage.

Cyrano is an interesting character for sure full of contradictions - on the one hand fearless of nothing and on the other terrified of rejection. He will openly mock his own nose, declare that he is proud of his great appendage, and yet, his hopeless insecurity about said nose keeps him from declaring his love to Roxanne. He is self-involved and yet selfless as he sacrifices his own happiness in order to give his love that which her heart desires most. In the play, he talks to Le Bret about refusing to be morally tainted or compromised (sadly missing here) and then Cyrano allows himself to become entangled in a great big deceptive lie to his most beloved object of desire. All the while, apart from the occasional duel, he fights for the pride of the Gascons, he fights for France, he fights a hundred men for Ligniere, he fights for everyone within reach but himself.

For me, the contradictions found in Cyrano are the only interesting elements about this story. It has for sure, all the things people love in plays - swordfights, poetry, humor, and romance. I love how well you captured the spirit of the story, which made me smile many times, and it brought back great memories for me. I think it's more the spirit of the play that people love not necessarily the letter or even the story. When it was first staged, Rostand admitted he was battling gloomy attitudes of the time and restoring a sense of national pride, which made it an instant hit. It was as if Times Square was filled with the tragedies of Chekhov, O'Neil, and Miller, and suddenly, "The Producers" had arrived and gave people permission to laugh again. (Note to self: when art turns dark, put on a bold comedy.) In plays back in the day, a character usually had only one great love and that character fought passionately and many times died for that one love. Nowadays, we think, "dude, move on. She's your cousin. That's gross. Although it IS legal in 12 states (and I'm sure 3 of those 12 states would have to include Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia.). Who knows, Cyrano? If you got out once in a while, you might even find a girl with a nose fetish." Even more disturbing, I think, is the fact that Cyrano dies a virgin. Toward the end of the play (and you had a version of this in your spec), Cyrano says, "Woman's sweetness I had never known. My mother... thought me unflattering. I had no sister. Later, I shunned Love's crossroad in fear of mocking eyes." Dr. Christian Troy from "Nip/Tuck" would've had a thing or two to say about that.

Anyway, so sorry to ramble...

Here's what's wrong with your story, err, I mean, your interpretation of Rostand's story. For me, personally, the biggest problem with Cyrano has always been Roxanne. Roxanne, the most perfectly gorgeous name for a lead female character in theatre history, a name so great you'd think the character would be destined for immortality, especially with the way Cyrano refers to it: "Your name is in my heart the golden clapper in a bell; and as I know no rest, Roxane, always the heart is shaken, and ever rings your name!" But alas, she is a dud of character. She's more of a plot device than a real character. She blindly falls in love with the author of those letters because a weak plot commands her to do so, not because she was a fleshed out character who had a pre-disposition toward poets. If she grew up having Cyrano in her family, would she not already be familiar with his amazing way with words? And if she was pre-disposed toward poets, would she not have already fallen in love with Cyrano long before she saw Christian? Would she not have at least been suspicious enough to confront Cyrano about him possibly helping Christian? That really drives me crazy. This play would be far more satisfying if Roxanne was her own person, who thought for herself, had her own problens and unique contradictions as Cyrano did, and made some decisions for herself that mixed up the plot to send it spinning into a more unpredictable direction. Otherwise, this plot is rather contrived and skims dangerously close to "idiot plot" territory where just a few simple words would clear up the whole matter and love would be triumphant, as it was in Steve Martin's "Roxanne." Although, the sad ending in Rostand's play makes Cyrano immortal, as well as the worst romantic in history, and his tragedy leaves him indelibly stamped in our minds so that we may avoid the same pitfalls in life.

The last Cyrano remake, I believe, was a 1990 film in French with subtitles starrring France's most beloved actor, Gerard Depardieu, in a production that was up until that time the most expensive in French cinema history. The French were undoubtedly reclaiming their national treasure, and it could be argued that Depardieu's interpretation and death scene was a defining Cyrano. So why another one? Why compete with that? Why piss off the French for that matter?

As far as I'm concerned, any remakes should be title "Cyrano & Roxanne," and the story should be elevated by letting Roxanne be the great character she always should have been and breath new life into this old tale.

Below are some random notes as I read the story. Your action lines were a bit flowery at times for a spec, and the ending, while it would work well in a play, was WAY too talky for a film. I would cut most of Roxanne's lines and let the audience gauge what she's thinking by the expressions on her face. THAT is thematic story telling, more so than verbal exchanges. At times, I was irritated with the writing. You had words that don't exist ("tutting" "desolve" "encoragable") or could've been corrected by running a simple spellcheck.

Warmest regards,



Pg 1 - Fix title page. Do not create a fake title page on page one of your script. Pg 2 - Opening paragraphs too long and too flowery for a spec. I would argue that you only need one paragraph and one sentence. I'd go for two spaces between all the sentences. It's also not necessary, no, downright distracting to always have the character names in caps in all of the action lines. They should be in caps only when the character is FIRST introduced in the story. That screams to me that you're taking notes from a playwrighting book over something like Trottier's "Screenwriter's Bible." I'd get rid of the "lacking in personality" comment. One line is only necessary to describe a doorman. I also prefer "toward" instead of "towards." Petty, I know, but that's how I feel. Pg 5 - Get rid of all "(more)" and "(cont'd)." They aren't used in contemporary specs. Pg 12 - This scene was about 4 lines too long. Cyrano's speech was great fun. Get rid of the "chin in her hand" comment. Pg 15 - Should be "watches Cyrano leave" without the "s". Can you not simply say "a slightly older man?" "a man a little older than him" has too many words, I think. Also, should be "a small fire ON the edge of the River Seine" not "ONE." Pg 16 - "horse shit" sound kinda contemporary, don't you think? Also, need a space after "summer's evening," Pg 16-18 This conversation between Cyrano and Le Bret - I wonder if Cryano's confession about his undying love for Roxanne was a little too straightforward, that perhaps there is a more coy back and forth between the two characters, that Cyrano is not in the mood to make any kind of personal confession, that Le Bret can tell something's up, and maybe he even tricks Cryano into confessing somehow. Just something different. It's kinda boring to hear a straightforward confession like that. Pg 20 - Shouldn't the first line be Ligniere and not Le Bret? Pg 22 & 23 - I believe you only Secondary Headings for the Back Room and the Pastry Shop since we are still inside the same building. Pg 35 - is "stood" the right word here? Pg 39 - Should say "LE BRET" not "LE" Should it not be "IT could be very good for you?" instead of "I could be veryy good for you?" Pg 40 - end the sentence after "bustling crowds." All that extra writing after it is too flowery for a spec. "Second" need not be in bold. Pg 41 - I believe you only need a Secondary Heading for Roxanne's bedroom. Pg 43-44 - I wonder if this sequence, which is great, could be enhanced by voice overs of Roxanne reading the letters, similar to that sequence in "Shakespeare in Love" when Viola De Lesseps read Will's sonnets and dialogue from Romeo & Juliet as they reheased the play and carried on their love affair. Pg 44 - "Tutting?" What's that? Also, avoid all uses of the word "we" in the action lines. Pg 45 - you have a grammatical erroer with "he seems them,. But he's" Pg 48 - "Still at a run" is repeated. Pg 50 - Get rid of "calling her" We know the maid's calling her by the line of dialoge. Pg 51 - The repetitious "his" was distracting. Should be "The Spanish have attacked OUR borders" not "out." Pg 59 - Should be "It holdS off" with an "s". Pg 61 - Cyrano should just say "Quiet!" not "Quiet, Christian!" Pg 62 - "desolve" is not a word, at least not in my dictionary. Pg 67 - You have "mile" when it should be "milk." Pg 72 - Fix "don;t" Pg 73 - You did "don;t" again. "De Guiche notices, and..." What exactly did he notice? The cadets laughing or Cyrano reading a book? Shouldn't you have a new sentence that says, "he PASSES Christian, shoots him an evil look, and struts UP TO Cyrano." Pg 76 - I'd cut "That matter concerned a friend. Anyway," and JUST SAY "I thought you prefered one hundred to one odds." Pg 79 - "which" misspelled. You couldn't run a spellcheck before posting this thing? It's also missing a word - "turns to give it" "What King's service are you on" is a question that deserves a question mark, does it not? Pg 85 - "would" repeated in Christian's line of dialogue. Get rid of "her world seconds from being turned upside down" yes, we know that. It's too flowery and doesn't belong in a spec. Pg 89 - "Goes" should NOT be capitalized. The "And Cyrano knows" action line should be cut. Only write in the action lines what we see, don't explain stuff to us. We already know what you're explaining. Pg 91 - "accomplices" misspelled. Pg 92 - "I love the autumn months" line of dialogue makes no sense, particularly "this constant there area million tiny." What? It doesn't even sound like Cyrano. Pg 93 - "Encoragable??" Come on. It's "incorrigible." Pg 95 - Let Roxanne be silent during this, just taking it all in. Pg 98 - There's way too much talk here when deep looks exchanged between Cyrano and Roxanne would be more satisfying in a movie. Pg 101 - Geez, the talking just never ends. I'm kinda anxious for him to die and it be over. I worry about how this scene will play out, and I fear not well. Pg 103 - Oh geez, this speech is obnoxiously long. Should be "KNOW only that" not "no only that"

By the way, you can read the classic Edmond Rostand play here, thanks to Project Gutenberg.

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