Tuesday, August 21, 2007

MM’s Exposition Article #2

Hey guys,

I just had to throw another article into the ring. I’m starting to feel left out of my own exposition study! Hehehe...

FYI - starting this Thursday, we're going to get a 3-part exposition series from our good friend
Pat (Gimmeabreak) all using James Cameron films. It'll be really great fun.

Hope you enjoy the article.




I was annoyed with Road to Perdition before it even started.

Sam Mendes opens with a shot of the boy, Michael Sullivan Jr., looking out over the ocean. He says in voice over (God help us):

“There are many stories about Michael Sullivan. Some say he was a decent man. Some say there was no good in him at all. But I once spent six weeks on the road with him in the winter of 1931. This is our story.”

Wow, kid, no shit. I was wondering whose story I’d be watching. I’m glad you're here to tell me these things. Thanks for the heads-up about the road trip, too. I'll keep an eye out for that. By the way, Mr. Mendes, I’m sure a lot was said about the Corleones, too, but at least Coppola endeavored to make us feel like we’re getting an insider's view to a secret world without resorting to ham-handed voice overs telling us that people TALK about the Corleones.

File this under “non-essential exposition about nothing.”



How about Chinatown, the startling Act III revelation, and all those words Evelyn DIDN'T say to reveal her sordid little secret?

Of course, this scene was not originally written as we see it in the final film. In fact, following the now classic slap scene (“She’s my daughter!” Whack! “She’s my sister!” Whack! “She’s my daughter and my sister!”) Evelyn was supposed to deliver this big, long-winded piece of exposition about her past:

-- my father and I, understand,
or is it too tough for you?

Gittes doesn't answer.

... he had a breakdown... the
dam broke... my mother died...
he became a little boy... I was
fifteen... he'd ask me what to
eat for breakfast, what clothes
to wear!... It happened... then
I ran away...

to Mexico...

She nods.

Hollis came and took... care
of me... after she was born...
he said... he took care of her...
I couldn't see her... I wanted to
but I couldn't... I just want to
see her once in a while... take care
of her... that's all... but I don't
want her to know... I don't want
her to know...

... so that's why you hate him...

Evelyn looks slowly up at Gittes.

-- no... for turning his back on
me after it happened! He couldn't
face it...
I hate him.

Naturally, it got cut because it would've ruinously slowed the pace of the scene. Thus, the long-winded exposition was replaced with:

-- my father and I, understand,
or is it too tough for you?

He raped you?

Evelyn shakes her head “no.”

Then what happened?

I ran away…

…to Mexico.

Hollis came and took care of
me. I couldn’t see her… I was
fifteen. I wanted to but I
couldn’t. Then…
(a pleading look)
Now I want to be with her. I
want to take care of her.


In fact, I would agree with what McKee had written on the subject:

“This exposition not only slowed the pace of the scene, but more importantly, it seriously weakened the power of the antagonist, giving him a sympathetic vulnerability. It was cut and replaced by Gittes’ ‘He raped you?’ and Evelyn’s denial – a brilliant stroke that maintains Cross’s cruel core, and severely tests Gittes’ love for Evelyn.”



Nothing in the world quite like a good montage to show the passage of time while also feeding the audience little bits of exposition. I love montages. It's the ultimate show-don't-tell technique, and in Raging Bull, Scorsese gives us a sequence of such cinematic elegance all under the guise of “home movies” and scored to the always stirring “Intermezzo” from Pietro Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana. We see what would be the last happy moments of their lives, the marriage of both Jake and his brother, Joey, a few kids are born, a few knockouts in the ring, which pushes the story forward to the height of Jake LaMotta’s boxing career and the precipice before the fall.


Anonymous said...

RAGING BULL is a piece of genius, it really is . . .

Mystery Man said...

Oh, yes, one of my many faves...

crossword said...

Great stuff, MM! Great choices. :)

Mim said...

Road to Perdiditon was seriously flawed, but thanks for bring back great memories of Chinatown and Raging Bull!

Mystery Man said...

Thanks, guys.

For what it's worth, Mim, here's a paragraph I cut from the article about Perdition.

[On a side note: I do love returning to this film again and again because it failed. In fact, Road to Perdition falls under the classic definition of ambitious failure as defined by our good friend William Speruzzi. It’s such a gorgeously rendered piece full of supreme actors that still somehow falls just short of greatness. It’s a father-son mob family revenge plot set in Chicago. It turned out as a very cold film and emotionally distant to us in large part because Tom Hanks’ character was, to the very end, cold and emotionally distant to his son. I don’t mean that Hanks should’ve started crying to Michael Junior, but had he (and Michael Jr.) been given a little more depth and different sides to their characters, I think we would’ve warmed up to the film a lot more. A film is only as emotionally engaging as its protagonists. OR if one insists on having a closed-off protag (like the Man with No Name in Sergio Leone's spaghetti westerns), then you should consider surrounding that individual with characters full of life and depth to help engage the audience.

At the same time, the theme, which was muttered verbally repeatedly throughout the film, that the fate of these men is preordained, somehow sealed by the gods of tragedies, regardless of a character’s will or choice, didn't help matters either. Ebert alluded to this in his article and noted that at least the characters in The Godfather had free will. I completely agree. I prefer my tragedies to be rooted in the flaws of the characters not because there’s some rule writ in the heavens that the lives of all mobsters must end in tragedy.]