Monthly Archives: March 2016

Dark Knight vs The Man of Tomorrow

Writing well, turning out a good poem, story or essay takes me a lot of time. Okay, I’ve never written a good poem that I know of, but you get the point. I’m in awe of persons who write well fast. I’d guess that most times something written fast turns out well it is combination of many factors. Talent, experience and luck being top ranked.

Batman Vs Superman looks like something that was written fast, to meet a set of conditions it does not completely agree with nor is prepared for. As someone who has never written a film my impression is that writing a movie must be very hard. Or rather, writing a good, solid screenplay would be very hard for me because there are so many factors. One of which is time. This movie had to be pitched and stitched together fast to meet a lot of business conditions. Movies are collaborative, and often constructed in compromise. They are built on the input of literally hundreds of people. If I write something purely for myself I’m not influenced by business concerns and business concerns are a non-trivial part of big studio movies. Business concerns probably outweigh artistic ones, because getting someone to bankroll something I created to satisfy only myself may not be a good business decision. I understand business decisions to a degree, as I do artistic choices somewhat. Building on collaboration and compromise is not bad, but it is hard to steer cleanly. Simply put Batman Vs Superman does not seem to me to have a well-crafted screenplay. It has good performances all around, great music and tremendous technical effects. Those tools are not given the appropriate platform to build on:

The story.

The story reaches boldly for some things that it does not successfully grasp. I commend the reach because to aim low and score is not a concept that is easy to get behind, but the filmed story is also deeply flawed.

The filmed story of BvS starts from an unstable place. It does not establish Superman as what the public wants: Sunlight, goodness, hope, good-triumphs-over-evil, the hero who succeeds because he represents what is Right and Ideal. Truth, justice and the American Way (in whatever the best sense of that phrase is). The Superman in BvS is not the Superman the audience wants. He is powerful but conflicted, and severely compromised by the fact that he is a murderer. The archetypal Superman that we expect is the ideal, he is what we aspire to be in our best selves. He came to this planet from a foreign place and was infused with the best human ethics we have built over our brief time on this planet. Superman is the perfect molded creation of man. There’s a reason one of his sobriquets is “The Man of Tomorrow.” That’s why writing a Superman story for the general public is hard. One is writing the adventures of God and it’s hard to give the perfect hero compelling conflict. The best fantasy sequence in the film is the one where Kevin Costner as Pa Kent relates a story of how by doing a good thing on his farm he inadvertently harmed someone else. That’s the stuff that Superman rises above in concept (but not Zack Snyder’s Superman). Superman in BvS is a very human superman, and we don’t want Superman to be human. That’s what Batman is for.

The contradistinction is that Batman is molded from the lowest parts of us. Anger, resentment, fear of abandonment, guilt. He is the Dark Knight. Goodness out of the shadow. Why is he the most popular caped hero of all? Because we all recognize him. We look at him and know that we could be him if we had the right genes and bank account. He is imperfect like we are. Something early in life scarred us and we are fighting to make it right. The real battle of Batman fighting Superman is us as we see ourselves versus how we would like to be. This ethic is missing from the movie Batman Vs Superman.

This should be light and hope and the belief in What is Right vs. what we live with every day as Real and Hard. This movie is mostly dark when it needs to sharply juxtapose light and dark. That’s the vs in a true Batman vs Superman.

In the film there is a scene where Superman interrupts Batman’s super-violent car chase and tells him to knock off the vigilante bit. That’s an interesting point if Superman were pure and good (picture Christopher Reeve delivering the message to Christian Bale), that is an argument we could take sides  on and have a  movie party worth the outrageous price of popcorn. That contention is God interfering in our free will. An act that would be a sufficient cause for a fight. Both guys fight the Good Fight but what happens when the new fighter tells the first fighter to stop because the new fighter does not approve? There’s your movie story.

But the BvS Superman cannot come from the place of Truth and Justice. Remember, he let his loving adopted father die to keep his secret and later breaks the neck of the bad guy to end his movie—this hero can’t do the right thing because he has no idea what that really is. Superman can be conflicted but he always makes the Right Choice when it counts.

Batman Vs Superman as written is a very muddy collection of distracting events, too many dream sequences and fights. Add to this the business concerns of needing to launch the DC movie franchise and you get a very unsatisfying story experience.

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BFF

Dear John,
This is me being selfish, one of my many flaws that you overlooked.

It was twenty years ago today, March 7, in 1996. The plane crash. The flames. The awfulness of going in the way you said was the worst possible death.

Nah, can’t go that route. First, it sounds like the opening to Sgt. Pepper. Worse, while it’s true you died in flames, writing about it doesn’t make for the kind of read your life deserves. So I’ll start again.

Dear John,
March is your birthday month. At 57 would your body, that slim, low cholesterol, always-in-motion frame of yours be any different? Would you be bald? That’d fix your ass. I think you’d be silver at least. Would you ache just a little? Probably not. The idea of you being old and fat is like having a young Santa who runs triathlons.

This letter should tell some John stories. God knows there are plenty of them. I’ve written about our trip to the sex mall, “Boystown” in Nuevo Laredo. I’ve talked about your love of the sky. But there’s lots of subjects I’ve never covered. I never wrote about you and the opposite sex. I’ve never written about your trip around the world in a World War II bomber, I’ve never written about your wedding or your funeral. I’ve never written about Drama class or the plays we were in. Same for you taking dares that challenged your ability to do something. I’ve never written about how you died and I’m not starting now.

So where do I start?

If this were a song I’d start it like “The River.”

“Me and John we met in high school, when we were both seventeen.”

In first period Theater class to be exact. God that was so much fun. You, me, Russ, Dave, John Johnson, Don and Vince. We did a few plays together that year. Remember when Mr. Hatch quit his job to go write in Hollywood and we all showed up unannounced at his apartment to say good bye? I met your brother Andy in final period. _My god, _ I thought, _there are two of them! _ You and Andy shared the same boundless energy. Looking back I remember you two brothers competing, fighting, collaborating on some things, but mostly fighting. Looking around my living room at two boys I helped make I still don’t get it: The fierce heat that some brothers make.

Have you done anything stupid or dangerous lately? One stupid thing you did was trying to get condoms to prepare for your First Time with Robin. You went from bar to bar, drinking one beer then checking for a rubber dispenser in the men’s room. You hit many bars that night looking for rubbers and showed up at Robin’s too drunk to do anything. I don’t care if that embarrasses you today. I dare you to come back and do something about it.

If you came back we’d talk about our kids, I’m sure. You had families you joined in progress. First Sharon then Elizabeth. And you were pretty good at being a dad as I recall. I did not understand what you were taking on then, my kids came later. After. I’d love to talk to you about my boys. There’s another story in that meeting. I’d brag about them and complain about how they fight all the time. I know you understand fighting brothers better than I do.

A lot of our stupid stuff involved your aggressive driving. Not about how you would out run the police on your unlicensed motorcycle, or the outrageous insurance premiums you had to pay because of your driving record. No, I’m thinking about how other drivers must have hated you. Once, in Council Bluffs you were driving my car and some guy in the truck next to you hung a shotgun out the window at you. Later, you asked me who hated me enough that they recognized my car and would want to shoot me. I’m pretty sure you pissed off someone in traffic, buddy. Remember that guy on a motorcycle you passed leaving Glenwood? He so resented being passed by you that he sped past you, then actually shot at you.

For a long period I worked nights and you were on call, so we’d hang out during the day just being friends and sometimes stupid. It was the ‘80s and I could not get a decent job. It frustrated and infuriated me then. Today, I am so grateful for not getting a real job then. It gave us time to build memories that keep me warm. I don’t think a week goes by I don’t reflect on those days. There were long walks on the railroad tracks. I’m sure we walked in the cold but all those memories are sunny. We’d eat fruit and wander for miles, sometimes we’d take Wren the dog with us. You and me and Wren. There’s a whole essay right there. We’d explore abandoned buildings, rail cars, the woods, some of the walks took us to the river. We walked a lot. Like the Friday night we had no money for gas so we just walked 5 miles to the Southroads Mall and then back.

When there was gas money we did road trips. Our first expedition was when we were 18 and took off after a blizzard to drive to Norfolk NE to visit John Johnson. Snow piled high, roads were crap. At one point we were sliding sideways in your mom’s car on the highway entrance ramp. Driving with you was like a carnival ride without the safety bar. That first trip is where the talks began. We talked about everything. Job concerns, triumphs and tragedies, girl troubles. We’d walk and talk, drive and talk, drink tea and talk. We’d talk. You only got one long distance conversation with Amy the girl I married. You once said, “I can’t imagine the girl that would marry you, J. It’d have to be somebody pretty special.” I agreed and still do.

Yeah, there should be road stories. We hit the road a lot over the years. Fireworks runs to Missouri, amusement park trips to Kansas or the Willie Nelson Picnic (the one where I mouthed off and that giant woman almost beat me to death). The trip to Ames, Iowa to try to buy Wren a little more time despite the cancer. We widened our travels to Oklahoma, Texas, Idaho, Utah. Sometimes we went to weddings, sometimes to funerals. You locked the cruise control at 100 miles an hour in that rental car. On another trip you found out that the cruise control would not lock in at 100 in Dave Austin’s Trans AM. We always managed to have fun, eating at good places, strange places. You taught me to drive a stick. We parachuted and bungee jumped, we swam in quarries, public pools, the Gulf of Mexico and double dated. We went to a lot of movies, a few concerts, played a lot of pool, did many stupid things, like trying to confiscate all the inventory from your employer when they filed bankruptcy and stiffed you on your last check. I’d tell my boys that what we did was stealing but I was helping my friend. Both our moms died when we were kind of young. We lost rudders in some ways, so some of the stupid was us feeling our way in the dark, not knowing stuff that adults might have told us.

Know something weird? Sometimes I will smell a fart and I will think of you. Hey, I said it was weird. You had distinctive gas, John. Playing Foosball you’d let out some aroma from your unusual diet (Salad with no dressing? Who does that?) and everyone would complain.

You told me one night driving over the old Martha Street Bridge that you didn’t think you’d live long.

Yeah.

We did things that were great stories because we didn’t die.

Can one brief letter capture 20 years of life? Certainly no single document can contain you my friend.

20 years of life, now, today, 20 years gone.

I need to go now, brother, I’m super busy these days. I don’t seem to have the free time you and I had in our twenties. Before I head out, I wanted to explain. This essay is entitled “BFF” which is slang for Best Friends Forever. That acronym came around after your exit.

Maybe this isn’t the kind of read your life deserves either. Maybe you resent me calling us stupid in this narrative, but I’ll just say, “Fuck you, John, come back and do something about it.”

I dare you.

I would love to have you back for one more day. But that wouldn’t be enough. You know how selfish I am. But I know you’d overlook that.

I’ll close with the words of Mr. Spock from _The Wrath of Khan_
“I have been and always shall be—your friend.”

Blue Skies and Tail Winds.
J.

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