Monday, January 31, 2011

The Two Grits

First, I have completed 32 pages of the screenplay for Ghostkeeper 2, by the end of this week I hope to have at least 70 pages done. I tend to write fast, usually about 5-7 pages a day, sometimes as much as 10 pages.

And you'll find that most pro writers all have different habits and page counts, some labor for 2 pages a day, others can do 10 pages. Neither is better or worse than the other.

But for Monday morning, before I start the screenplay I thought I'd share my thoughts on one of the Academy Award nominees, a film that actually was nominated 32 years ago.

Of course I'm talking about True Grit.

Which one is better?

Well, after watching the original version with John Wayne, I have come to the conclusion that they both are good movies. While they are based on the same novel, there are however, differences that show how different and yet how they are same the movies.

John Wayne's movie was released in 1969, with the iconic actor winning his only Oscar. Personally I felt Wayne, an actor more of personality than talent, did a far superior job of acting in two 1950's movies, my favorite film of all time The Searchers and Red River with Montgomery Clift. In each, he portrayed a bitter man coping with his demons and racism.

But it was Wayne's time and the award was basically an acknowledgment of his career. It was also the only film where he cursed "you son-of-a-bitch", which in 1969 was a ground-breaking piece of dialog for Wayne.

Jeff Bridges gave an okay performance, but he seemed to be walking through it and sometimes it was hard to understand his grumping dialog. But he was the only actor around now who could possibly match John Wayne.

The young girl Mattie, was played in 1969 by newcomer Kim Darby, who actually was 21 years old land had just had a baby and a divorce. Compare that to Hailee Steinfeld in the 2010 version who was only 13 years old and an amazing talent. She carries the movie with incredible confidence.  Yet Darby was very good in the 1969 version, unfortunately the movies she did afterwards were not really as good as she was. Today she teaches acting. What lies in wait for young Hailee remains to be seen.

The Texas Ranger, played by Matt Damon in the 2010 version was a part played by Glen Campbell, a singer who once played with the Beach Boys and became famous for his version of "By The Time I Get to Phoenix".

Damon is a better actor and Campbell himself admits he wasn't much of an actor. Campbell also is one of many celebrities who has a police mug shot of himself that you can find on the internet. Damon seems to have a long career in front of him.

Another interesting difference is that the films are shot and edited differently. TG 1969 was directed by Henry Hathaway, and done in the old studio way, with lots of lighting and wide shots and very few close-ups. (Incidentally close-ups were never done in movies up to the late 60's, they were primarily used for television).

The Coen's version has more natural lighting, darkness where darkness should be and many shades of contrast everywhere else. Today's movies allow shadows, which you rarely saw in big studio movies in the 1960's.

Their version also has nuances and ambiguity, which was rarely done in the 1960's and before, except for John Ford, who filled his movies with ambiguous characters and their pasts.

And we can't forget the bad guys.

The Coens used name actors Barry Pepper and Josh Brolin as the two main outlaws. Hathaway in 1969 used one of the best actors of his generation,  Robert Duval and Dennis Hopper and a wonderful character actor named Strother Martin. You might remember him from a line he said that became famous... "what we got here is a failure to communicate", from Cool Hank Luke, with Paul Newman.

So which one is better?  

Maybe the Coen's version is a little better as they followed the book a lot more closer. And their west was a little less romantic than Wayne's. Also Wayne's version was tailored more to Wayne than the story and it was Wayne's movie, not the girl's.

I never saw the 1969 version when it came out as I was busy protesting the war in Detroit and Chicago and John Wayne's right wing conservatism was contradictory to my politics, especially after working for Bobby Kennedy's campaign in Indianapolis the previous summer.

Wayne's last movie, The Shootist, 1976, was a tribute to his many westerns and his last. In the movie, he plays an old gunfighter who has cancer, a battle that Wayne himself would face and eventually lose.

(Thurs: Ghostkeeper progress)

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