Snakes on Brokeback Mountain
I have on more than one occasion thought back to an interview given by Samuel L. Jackson when he was promoting, "Snakes On A Plane." The interviewers kept sort of prodding him about the seriousness of the role, and at some point, partly in frustration, he said, "Look, we're not talking 'Snakes On Brokeback Mountain.' We're talking 'Snakes On A Plane.'"
This resonated strongly with me, especially after I stopped laughing. Because what Samuel L. Jackson was saying was, "We're not talking about a movie likely to win the Academy Awards or go down in film history as a great work of art. It's a horror movie!"
I recently read a Vanity Fair (or perhaps it was Esquire) piece on Jake Gyllenhaal promoting “Source Code.” Someone in the article noted that Jake was a really, really serious actor with a lot of very serious ambitions, but at some point during the filming of “The Day After Tomorrow” somebody took him aside and said, “Jake, take off the tuxedo and stop practicing your acceptance speech. We’re making a disaster film here.”
And one of the reasons it resonates with me is that sometimes critics don't get it. One of my key criteria when I reviewed books was: "Did the author accomplish what they were trying to accomplish?"
So if you're writing an adventure novel and it's not exciting, but it sure has plenty of imagery and symbolism and seems "literary," I can't help but feel the author may have missed the point. Example: "The Crown of Columbus," by Louise Erdich and Michael Dorris. This story is about a historian (I think) who may have clues to where a "crown" of some sort is hidden that Christopher Columbus brought with him while exploring the New World. In point of fact, the crown is the crown of thorns that Christ wore when he was crucified. This novel had all the makings of "The Da Vinci Code" only it was written about 15 years earlier, and although the writing was without a doubt better than Dan Brown's, it was not, to my mind, a better book. Why? Because the authors had a different agenda than writing an adventure novel. They were writing a mainstream "literary" novel and as a result, the novel seemed schizophrenic and didn't - to my mind - succeed as either thing. It sure as hell wasn't "thrilling" or "exciting" or an "adventure." But critics liked it and so did plenty of readers who knew what they were getting.
I don't want to get too much into the art versus commerce argument here, although I actually have pretty strong opinions on the subject. But I do want to make a point. The process is almost entirely identifical.
Let me say that again: The process of creating art and creating a commercial book (movie, etc) is almost completely identical.
The process that Samuel L. Jackson and the director and the writer and all the other actors in "Snakes On A Plane" took is almost entirely identical to the process they would take if they had been making "Ghandi" or "Brokeback Mountain" or "Casablanca."
Yes, it's possible people will walk their way through their work. Yes, it's possible they'll do it entirely for money.
My point here is when Samuel L. and company decided to make "Snakes On A Plane" they decided they wanted a film that was scary and fun and thrilling and suspenseful and funny and designed to give laughs and shivers and screams, etc.
When everybody concerned went about making "Brokeback Mountain," they weren't looking to make scary and fun and thrilling and suspenseful; they were intent on raising another set of emotions and moving people to think and to feel a certain thing.
The PROCESS is essentially the same. The INTENTION is different.
And for the record, I've never seen "Brokeback Mountain," because it's not my type of movie, ie., a romance (the gay theme doesn't bother me). I love romantic comedies, but straight romances, like "The Horse Whisperer" leave me cold. For that matter, I’ve never seen "Snakes On A Plane." Although I love thrillers, I hate snakes. Yeah, me and Indiana Jones. Although the snakes in "Raiders of the Lost Ark" don't bother me that much, I can guarantee you that I would have a hard time with "Snakes On A Plane" and all its POV shots of slithering snakes. It's a family joke: "Let's drag Dad into the reptile house at the Detroit Zoo."
Pssssst - Thank you, Mark, for taking the time to write such an awesome article for my little blog...
I'm sure Mark will be by in comments, so please feel free to extend the conversation - I loves that...