Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
'Vampire Diaries' Star Kat Graham Will Play Tammi Terrell in a Biopic of the Late Singer 'Vampire Diaries' Star Kat Graham Will Play Tammi Terrell in a Biopic of the Late Singer You Likely Won't Find a More Candid & Comprehensive Interview with Euzhan Palcy Than This One... You Likely Won't Find a More Candid & Comprehensive Interview with Euzhan Palcy Than This One... Watch Clip From 'Teachers' - a Film on the Education Crisis in the USA, Starring Tatyana Ali Watch Clip From 'Teachers' - a Film on the Education Crisis in the USA, Starring Tatyana Ali David Oyelowo, Amma Asante & Rosamund Pike Teaming Up for Seretse Khama Feature Project David Oyelowo, Amma Asante & Rosamund Pike Teaming Up for Seretse Khama Feature Project 40+ Black Filmmakers Will Take Over Twitter Tomorrow for an AFFRM-ing Objective. You Should Join Them... 40+ Black Filmmakers Will Take Over Twitter Tomorrow for an AFFRM-ing Objective. You Should Join Them... Rae Dawn Chong Headlines ‘7 Magpies’ - All-Black Female Director Horror Anthology Film Rae Dawn Chong Headlines ‘7 Magpies’ - All-Black Female Director Horror Anthology Film The Nina Simone Bio Starring Zoe Saldana Will Apparently Be Released Later This Year... The Nina Simone Bio Starring Zoe Saldana Will Apparently Be Released Later This Year... The American Black Film Festival Announces Its 2015 Films in Competition The American Black Film Festival Announces Its 2015 Films in Competition Why ‘The View’ Badly Needs Raven-Symoné Why ‘The View’ Badly Needs Raven-Symoné It's Black Bike Week! Watch 2 Short Documentaries on the Popular Annual Event It's Black Bike Week! Watch 2 Short Documentaries on the Popular Annual Event Gabrielle Union Joins Jamie Foxx in a Race to Save His Kidnapped Son, in 'Sleepless Night' Gabrielle Union Joins Jamie Foxx in a Race to Save His Kidnapped Son, in 'Sleepless Night' Here's the List of Films & TV Series Coming to (and Leaving) Netflix's Streaming Library in June Here's the List of Films & TV Series Coming to (and Leaving) Netflix's Streaming Library in June Watch Trailer for Teen TV Drama Series in Development, ‘MysEducation’ Watch Trailer for Teen TV Drama Series in Development, ‘MysEducation’ 'Chocolate City' Finally Gets a Trailer + Release Date Set (Might It Steal Some of 'Magic Mike's' Summer Thunder?) 'Chocolate City' Finally Gets a Trailer + Release Date Set (Might It Steal Some of 'Magic Mike's' Summer Thunder?) Apparently, Many of You Aren't Pleased With the "All-New" 'Single Ladies'... What's Going on? Apparently, Many of You Aren't Pleased With the "All-New" 'Single Ladies'... What's Going on? Starz Announces Return Date for Original Series 'Power' + New Key Art + Trailer Starz Announces Return Date for Original Series 'Power' + New Key Art + Trailer Why Was Janet Hubert (Aunt Viv) Really Replaced on 'Fresh Prince of Bel-Air'? Buzzfeed Investigates Why Was Janet Hubert (Aunt Viv) Really Replaced on 'Fresh Prince of Bel-Air'? Buzzfeed Investigates Aaron McGruder Finally Explains Why He Left 'The Boondocks' Aaron McGruder Finally Explains Why He Left 'The Boondocks' Netflix Explains Why It Doesn't Always Have That Film Or TV Show You Really Want To See (Video) Netflix Explains Why It Doesn't Always Have That Film Or TV Show You Really Want To See (Video) Tichina Arnold Says She Talked To Martin Lawrence About Doing A 'Martin' Movie... Tichina Arnold Says She Talked To Martin Lawrence About Doing A 'Martin' Movie...

Revisiting That 'Narrative Exhaustion' Thing Thanks To George Clooney...

Photo of Tambay A. Obenson By Tambay A. Obenson | Shadow and Act February 11, 2014 at 2:51PM

Revisiting That 'Narrative Exhaustion' Thing Thanks To George Clooney...
10
Hmm

“I had some understanding that Hitler was stealing shit,” Clooney says. “I didn’t understand he was taking all of it. They don’t teach that in school. That’s why I loved the story. We figured at this point, we’ve done so many WWII movies, there really aren’t any new ones. You have to get around to someone as smart as Quentin (Tarantino with ‘Inglourious Basterds’), who can burn Hitler in a movie theater to do something different.”

Reading the above from a longer Variety piece on George Clooney's fight to get his latest, Monuments Men, made, reminded me of a 2009 article by veteran screenwriter and filmmaker Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver) that I highlighted on this blog years ago, that offered a POV on Hollywood’s indubitable tendency to recycle old material.

It might be an almost 5-year-old piece, but, given Clooney's above comments, it still seems very relevant to the Hollywood studio film business today, and emphasizes what I feel is a really myopic view of the world and the plethora of stories it still has to tell - an inability to see beyond what's familiar, beyond one own's experience. Let's just call it privilege - white male privilege in this case.

For Clooney to suggest that "we've done so many WWII movies" and as a result, "there really aren't any new ones," as he gives a nod to Quentin Tarantino for having the imagination to come up with Inglorious Basterds, is unfortunate. It's also not very surprising. But if I had Clooney's ear, I'd say, actually George, to start, there is a lot about that period in history that "they don't teach... in school." There are LOTS of stories about that period in our history that have yet to be told on film. We've barely scratched the surface on films about the African American contribution to WWII efforts - fighting a war abroad, and then returning to continue fighting one at home - specifically, the civil rights struggle. And let's not forget the families they left behind, as well as the families they created abroad, and all of their own individual dramatic stories that have yet to be tackled on film.

There's a wealth of real-life, straightforward tales to choose from about that period that one doesn't need to fantasize about what could have been, as in Inglorious Basterds, or reach out of the proverbial box, whether structurally, stylistically, or narratively, in order to create something "different."

So yes, there certainly have been many WWII movies produced over the years; BUT, the stories they've told have been primarily from the POV of characters who are both white and male (and heterosexual, I should add), which obviously does not make up the entire WWII experience.

I recall Paul Schrader's explanation for why Hollywood continues to recycle old material (plus all the sequels, prequels, spin-offs, etc) - that the problem isn't necessarily a lack of ideas, as many of us have previously and continually express frustration over; The real problem, according to Schrader, is what he deemed "narrative exhaustion."

Schrader stated...

... It means that's it is increasingly difficult to get out in front of a viewer's expectations. Almost every possible subject has not only been covered but covered exhaustively. How many hours of serial killer plot has the average viewer seen? Fifty? A hundred? He's seen the basic plots, the permutations of those plotlines, the imitations of the permutations of those plotlines and the permutations of the imitations. How does a writer capture the imagination of a viewer seeped in serial killer plot? Make it even gorier? Done that. More perverse? Seen that. Serial killer with humor? Been there. As parody? Yawn. The example of the serial killer subgenre is a bit facile, but what's true for serial killer stories is true of all film subjects. Police families? Gay couples? Corrupt politicians? Charming misfits? Yawn, yawn, yawn.

Schrader offers no real solutions to this storytellers' dilemma, other than to close with statements that remind us that we're working with what is already an archaic form of media, even though it's only about 100 years old - one that we can expect will evolve in form and structure, over time, unlike books, for example, which have maintained the same standard physical structure since the introduction of the printing press in the 1800s.

But clearly, reading a sentence like "almost every possible subject has not only been covered but covered exhaustively," demonstrates that his POV is a myopic one, in that he's white and male. So, from the lens through which he sees the world and thus cinema, yes, of course it feels like narrative exhaustion, because Hollywood's story is a white, heterosexual male dominated narrative. So when he says "almost every possible subject" I'd add, "about white heterosexual men"... "has not only been covered but covered exhaustively."

What Mr. Schrader seemingly fails to realize is that the dynamic of any random story can quickly change when a black person (or any other *minority*) is introduced (particularly as the lead character in the story), and since we've barely begun to really scratch the surface of what we call *black storytelling*, that “narrative shortage” he talks about eludes black filmmakers and audiences - as well as women, Latinos, Asians, members of the LGBTQ community and other so-called *minority* groups.

But as I said about Clooney's comments, this kind of thinking isn't so uncommon in the industry – a white male dominated industry – and it does indeed adversely affect the rest of us, unfortunately. So, as a screenwriter or filmmaker intent on a studio-backed career, as many are pursuing, your story (as an artist who isn't a member of the old boys club) might be quickly dismissed with one of Schrader's many yawns, because the exec may fail to see the *originality* in it.

Read the full Variety article on Clooney's Monuments Men troubles HERE (and if he of all people had difficulties getting that film made, imagine just how much more challenging a *fresh* story set during the same time period, but centered around black characters, would be to get financed). 

The 2009 Paul Schrader piece can be found HERE.

This article is related to: George Clooney, Things That Make You Go Hmm...


Shadow & ActNewsletter