Discovery and Revisit at Home

One day in the future when I have to account for how I spent my time in the months of March to May, 2020, I will come up short for a better answer than cook, eat, read, watch, sleep and then repeat day after day, lockdown except for weekly essential groceries. I admit though, I take to such reclusive, stay-home life quite naturally, albeit I did miss the Pond.

You wouldn’t want to know what I cooked and ate during those months, but I can tell you the discovery and revisit I’d made at home.

The Great Courses on KANOPY

Kanopy is wonderful if you’re not into trendy pop culture movies and TV shows. The streaming service offers classic titles and worthy contemporary films, international in scope, and is free with your local library card or an academic library account. They also carry The Great Courses, numerous subjects to choose from covering a huge variety of interests.

I took two courses, both exemplify the word ‘edutainment’, academically sound and informative. One is “Reading and Understanding Shakespeare” taught by Marc Connor (professor at Washington and Lee U), the other is “Screenwriting: Mastering the Art of Story” taught by Angus Fletcher (Ohio State U). Both comprise of 24 videos. In the Shakespeare course, I learned over 40 tools to decipher the Bard’s plays, and from the Screenwriting course, how to build a story world.

There are many pleasant discoveries but there’s one I find most gratifying. Come to think of it, I shouldn’t have been surprised at all: Both lecturers have cited Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, noting how Austen had used Shakespearean elements in her storytelling, and in turn, how her work had influenced modern day screenwriting.

Pride and Prejudice

To illustrate the tone of the Ironic Narrator, an ancient literary device dating back to the Greek and Roman satires, an example professor Fletcher uses is the opening sentence of Pride and Prejudice:

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.

The larger things of the cosmos, ‘universal truth’, is juxtaposed with that which is much smaller and singular, albeit such triviality may well have made up the cosmos of those who are parochial. Examples of such an ironic tone can be found in The Big Short, The Princess Bride, Fargo, and CSI. ‘All of them employ the same basic what and how of Pride and Prejudice, with their own little twists and tweaks.’

Maybe you’ve noticed I used the words ‘most gratifying’ with the pleasant surprise when I hear Austen being mentioned. Yes, Jane would turn in her grave to read what I’m going to write: it feels good to find someone, particularly a male with credentials, to confirm the value of her writing such that her work isn’t being seen as ‘just women’s novels’ or ‘chick lit’. Ugh… saying this is so unnecessary, for Austen doesn’t need to prove her worth among the ignorant. However, in this day and age, it takes movements and hashtags to confirm things that should have been valued. Misconceptions ought to be corrected.

Pride and Prejudice Revisited
(Audiobook cover image above)

So, after these two courses, I was all set to revisit my favourite Jane Austen novel, Pride and Prejudice. This time, I downloaded the Blackstone audiobook (2011) narrated by Carolyn Seymour, and listened to it twice back to back; this time, I enjoyed it more. Here’s my ripple stirred by the Bard himself:

Ah ha! Fair is foul and foul is fair
Darcy and Wickham as foils repel
Appearance and sweet words can ensnare
At last! Lizzy learns her lesson well.

Further, the famous ‘block to young love’ conceit, not blocked by an older character as in the Bard’s plays –– surely Lady Catherine de Bourgh is old but she’s no match for Lizzy –– but by the lovers’ own internal flaw, be it pride, or prejudice, or both. How satisfying to see the protagonists mature in their self-knowledge as the story develops, first Darcy then later Elizabeth, gaining clarity of their own true self. Not to mention how gratifying to see that figure of grace, Darcy, as he saves the reputation of the Bennet family with his own silent, altruistic plan all for the one he loves.

Well, what’s a staycation for if not to savour one’s favourite reads over again, doing nothing all day but just dwell in the story world without feeling guilty about time spent. I’m thinking it’s a little like being stranded on a deserted island, like Tom Hanks in Cast Away, and feeling lucky you’ve got Wilson as a companion, even when there’s no one to actually play volleyball with you.




Related Posts on Ripple Effects

I’ve written many posts on Jane Austen during the early years of blogging. Just put her name in Search you’ll find them. Here are some of my personal favourites:

Art Imitates Life, or Life Imitates Art, or…

Why We Read Jane Austen

In Praise of Austen: Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own

Bath’s Persuasion

Here’s a link to my articles published in the Jane Austen Centre Online Magazine

Greta Gerwig Creates A Third Way to Adaptation with ‘Little Women’

In recent decades, there seems to have emerged two paths to approach movie adaptations of literary works, especially for a classic: faithful to the source, or awash it with contemporary strokes.

Here’s the rub: total loyalty would trigger criticisms of movies being a kind of illustrated book, simply redundant. But gloss it over with postmodern touches could strip an adaptation of the meaning and authenticity of the original text. Debates arise as to which is a better path.

A few days ago, in a Writers Panel with five screenwriters at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, Greta Gerwig presented a third way. She didn’t call it that, but that’s how I see it, a happy medium (pun intended). Her approach to Little Women is both loyal to the spirit and letter of Louisa May Alcott’s as well as creating a contemporary, artful production for modern viewers to enjoy.




I’ve to quote her exact words as they are inspiring. Here’s the link to the video. The following quotes can be found from 27 to 36 mins. How does Gerwig handle the loyalty aspect? The writer-director did extensive research in preparation for her screenplay:

I wanted to treat the text of Little Women as almost a sacred text, also other texts that Louisa May Alcott and her family and other contemporaries had generated between letters, and other books that she’d written. I wanted to ground as much as I could in that. I wanted everything to be footnoteable (she well had coined a new word) and I wanted every line you ask me about and I can say it’s here, that I have my references.

How does her version relate with previous adaptations?

But the fact that it’s been adapted for screen seven times, it’s been made into an opera, and made into a musical and made into two anime shows, this is a loved and interpreted work. The way that something that’s been loved and interpreted many times you get this collective memory of what it is.

There’s the text, which is the book, and then there’s urtext, which is every time it’s loved and interpreted again. Urtext does have a relationship with the text, but it’s also separate… I wanted to deliver on the pleasures of Little Women as we’ve collectively come to know them.

And how does the collective interplay with the personal?

Gerwig instilled her own style and framed it in her own light. Quite a few things I’ve observed, the most obvious difference from previous versions is the structure, her juxtaposing the past and present timelines. The story is told as Jo’s memories seamlessly woven with her present as a struggling writer alone in NYC, a fresh take that adds depth and texture.

Gerwig paints the past with a golden hue signifying the warmth of cherished family memories and the present with a cool, blueish tone sending out harsher, lonelier vibes. She has also given an elevated role for Amy to interact with Jo, two seemingly rival siblings but could well be two sides of the same coin. Amy the pragmatic realist who grows up to understand too well her lack of economic status as a woman and who is ready to take financial security over real love ultimately gets both. Jo the dreamer and idealist, who’d vowed she’d never marry, has also carved out a path of her own.

So what does the ending mean?

I don’t want to say: O here’s what the ending means… I wanted to create something that’s open to interpretation along two lines. I think the movie belongs to the audience, so it’s down to the reflection you see…

With the layered ending, Gerwig effectively depicts the struggles of not only the book character Jo as an aspiring author in Little Women, but parallels it with Louisa May Alcott the woman writer in a man’s publishing world, and extending by implication to Gerwig’s own reality as a woman writer-director striving in a male-dominated film industry. The triple-layered final act opens the door to a golden future as we see a progressive school for boys and girls, and a published author giving birth to her work and keeping her own copyright. As for that third, invisible layer, I do wish Gerwig continual success in her writing and filmmaking career despite the obstacles she faces in the real world.


Related Posts on Ripple Effects:

Little Women Movie Review

Top Ripples of 2019 and the Decade

Can a Movie Adaptation ever be as Good as the Book?





Screenwriters Talk and Bloggers Blog

Thanks to blogger Sim at Chapter 1-Take 1 for the heads-up, I watched the whole 54 mins. of The Writers Roundtable via Hollywood Reporter. Gearing up for the upcoming Awards Season, these Roundtable talks give us a chance to hear some possible award contenders talk about their craft. I’m particularly drawn to the writers.

“No great film would have been possible without a great screenplay.” That’s how the clip begins. Sitting around a table to discuss their experience are some of this year’s acclaimed screenwriters.

The panel includes (In alphabetical order of the movie title):

John Ridley: 12 Years a Slave
Julie Delpy: Before Midnight
Nicole Holofcener: Enough Said
Jonas Cuaron: Gravity
Danny Strong: Lee Daniel’s The Butler
George Clooney and Grant Heslov: The Monuments Men (release date has since been delayed till next Feb.)

There are lots of interesting exchanges, and it’s refreshing to hear them talk uncensored and unscripted. Take for example the following dialogue relating to independent writing vs. writing for studio:

HR (Hollywood Reporter): Have you written any studio films?
Holofcener: Only for money (chuckle from somewhere). I mean like, not for myself.


HR (to all): Do you like writing?
Strong: I do. I really enjoy it. I spent years as an actor. You just can’t go do it. You get hired to do it, so I started writing, to get my mind off the auditions…
Holofcenter: What if you can’t act, and you can’t write?
Clooney: You direct.


There are lengthy discussions on the issue of historical accuracy, the truths vs. dramatization. I feel this is the hot topic lately, with The King’s Speech a couple years ago, to last year’s torture scenes in Zero Dark Thirty, the accuracy of Argo, and this year’s Captain Philips, and Lee Daniel’s The Butler.

Here’s The Butler‘s screenwriter Danny Strong’s defence:

Strong: Well, in the case of The Butler, I made very clear that this was a fictionalization. So much so that I changed the character’s name to Cecil Gaines in the hope of saying: “This isn’t Eugene Allen. This is something else.” But the history in the film is all true…”

And then comes Clooney’s allegation unplugged.

Clooney: This is a new thing, by the way. This is all, like, bloggers — if that existed when Lawrence of Arabia came out, believe me, Lawrence’s own autobiography would not hold water. Patton wouldn’t. You can go down the list of movies — Gandhi — these movies are entertainment… These are not documentaries. You’re responsible for basic facts. But who the hell knows what Patton said to his guys in the tent?


Whoa… bloggers? Thank goodness, bloggers get a chance to prod screenwriters to dig deeper into their facts, even if fiction is to be made from them. Because of bloggers, viewers can sharpen their senses to not just accept the dramatization as facts. Because of bloggers posting about movies, people are made more aware of historical events and background info. I see not all sites do, but the ones I frequent can have the effect of honing one’s judgement and critical thinking, even (maybe more so) when opinions differ. How we need these skills as we watch movies nowadays instead of just being passively entertained (or not).

Thanks George, for spelling out the importance of the work bloggers do.

You’re right too, George, because of the blogosphere, filmmakers now have to deal more rigorously (or, don’t they?) with the dichotomy between truth and fiction, historical accuracy and dramatization. Yes, the butler Cecil Gaines is a fictional character, but there are many real historical figures in that story context… like, say… Ronald Reagan, whose son Michael Reagan had protested against the film for painting his father with a racist brush.

As someone with a half-baked screenplay in the closet, I know how hard it is to even get to finish the first draft, and after that, hopefully, find someone qualified and experienced enough to read it and advise on rewrite. Then you go and rewrite, and rewrite some more. So I’m all respectful for all who can not only sell their spec script but actually see it produced, and not only produced, but distributed and shown on our theater screens. That’s why I attempt at every review with appreciation and humility.

At the same time, I’m also glad to see that the blogosphere has leveled the playing field for opinions and critiques, for accountability, and for creative expressions with checks and balances. I don’t see an end to the dichotomy between fact and dramatization, accuracy and entertainment, but at least we are free to challenge and critique. Don’t forget, George, bloggers are also the ones ready to defend and promote worthy productions. All for the better.


Related Posts on Ripple Effects:

Before Midnight: Reality Check

The King’s Speech: Fact and Fiction

Zero Dark Thirty and Argo


Downton Abbey, The Complete Scripts: Season One

I had once talked with someone who avoided watching the ‘making of’ special feature that comes with a DVD. His reason? He did not want to see his favorite movies demythicized. Well, if you’re that sort of a viewer, then this book is not for you.

Downton Abbey The Complete Scripts Season One

But, if you’ve enjoyed the phenomenon called Downton Abbey, and are curious to learn about the creative writing process that kicked it off, then I’d say, this is an absolute must-read. And for those who keep going online to find quotable quotes from the series, here you have them all, and some more.

As someone interested in screenwriting, I would look for the scripts of movies I like, usually online. So it’s a wonderful discovery for me to see this book at the bookstore. Julian Fellowes has dispelled the magic and shared with us the scripts of all episodes for Seasons One and Two, most importantly, with his own annotations. Consider this the literary version of the ‘making of’ in your special features, more accurately, the screenwriter’s commentary.

In his Foreword, Fellowes introduces the book as ‘the complete scripts of the first series as they were when they went forward into production.’ So here we have the whole idea before cutting and editing, including deleted scenes and dialogues, plus Fellowes’ own explanations for the deletions. He walks us through the whole series, literally, and offers helpful background on the social history of the time, and many more tidbits.

You can also see why the collection is such a useful tool as an exemplar of a successful writing process, in particular, the editing phase. The main reasons for deletion is redundancy, and with a TV production, time. Another is for keeping the integrity and consistency of the characterization and the story. It’s intriguing to see the final version is the outcome of well-pruned and collaborated efforts.

An example of a deleted scene where Matthew answers Robert’s bewildered query about how he would manage to commute and continue to work as a lawyer while being heir of Downton.

Robert: How will you manage it?
Matthew: Like many others, I shall bicycle to the station, take a train there and back, and bicycle home.

Here’s the screenwriter’s commentary:

Here we have Matthew talking about bicycling to the station which is quite unnecessary as we see him do it. When you’re writing something you often forget that it’s going to be told visually, and so there are things that don’t need to be said.

With eighteen characters in the story, the writer has done a superb job in keeping them well developed, and eliciting our interest in each one of them. First I notice how short each scene is, something that just flashed by when watching, but reading it can even be more obvious. I’ve counted most of the scenes to be less than 60 sec. on screen. Each therefore needs to be succinct to make the most of the time. Makes me think of another way to apply that famous Hemingway quest, always aim for that one true scene.

To manage the long list of characters, here’s the brilliant way, something that’s so obvious when Fellowes explains, but then so subliminal while we’re watching them on screen, foils and parallels:

I love Mrs. Patmore. I think Lesley Nicol’s performance is fantastic. She is the kitchen Violet. Maggie Smith delivers the cryptic comments upstairs, Lesley has the barbed tongue downstairs. In a sense they balance each other, as Robert and Bates, or Anna and Mary, balance each other.

And here I add, other pairs we can see upstairs Violet and Isobel, or down, Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes. Great performance comes when an actor is given the chance to play against an equal, in character and caliber.

Further, Fellowes reminds us that it’s the actors that give life to mere words on the page. As the actors interpret, take off with and develop the characters on their own, the screenwriter continues with that development and write accordingly in the upcoming episodes. Isn’t this a most fascinating creative process? Writer and actors inspiring each other.

It’s always interesting to see what the screenwriter thinks of the final production. And Fellowes is candid in sharing his views, which reminds me of the fact that it’s all a collaboration, team work, and not just one person’s monopolized brainchild. The writer writes, the actors interpret and live out the words, the director sets the tone, the direction, the cuts, plus numerous others who work on the sets to play their roles.

I most appreciate and am somewhat surprised to find Fellowes uses many of his own experiences, stories he has heard, or memories of his own family, to create the scenes. Some interesting tidbits he shares include the scene in the kitchen rescuing the chicken from the cat before taking it upstairs, that comes from an embarrassing real life episode. Or Violet Crawley’s subtle dominance in the annual flower show, which he adapts from memories of his mother. Or his commentary on Sybil’s covering up of her political expeditions to Ripon, a parenting point:

Once children conceal their purposes or their social engagements or their plans for the weekend, that is the beginning of their move away from the parental set of values. Before that, God knows they may be rude or challenging, but they don’t usually have a private life, a secret agenda. And this is where it begins for Sybil.

It’s commentaries like this that you’d feel Fellowes is candid and open, just talking to you in a down-to-earth manner. Like everyone of us, he’d go online to do his research when he writes, such as the history of cataract surgery when writing about Mrs. Patmore’s.  Or admitting faults in certain scenes, and sharing about his own childhood experience and family dynamics, enlightening us with the norms and etiquettes of the time and the social history behind the scenes.

Demythicize? Definitely, with the effect that you’ll appreciate the production and the writing even more.

~ ~ ~ ~ Ripples

Downton Abbey The Complete Scripts Season One by Julian Fellowes, Harper Collins Publishers, 2012, 396 pages.


Related Posts You May Like:

Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: Facts that give rise to Fiction

Quotable Quotes from Downton Abbey

Downton Abbey Season 3: Episodes 1

Season 3: Episodes 2 & 3

Season 3: Episodes 4 & 5

Season 3: Episodes 6 & 7 Finale


Quotable Quotes from Downton Abbey Season 3

These are some of my favourite lines from Season 3. They remind me of why I enjoy Downton Abbey in the first place, the humor and subtext, and the superb cast that delivers every time.

Episode 1

The family must never be a topic of conversation. – Violet Crawley

Miss O’Brien, we are about to host a society wedding. I have no time for training young hobbledehoys. – Mr. Carson

Daisy: You’ve still kept me here with a dishonest representation.
Mrs. Patmore: Oh dear. Have you swallowed a dictionary?

Don’t worry about me. I’m an American. Have gun, will travel.  – Cora

Have gun will travel

Forgive, perhaps. Forget, never. – Violet

Come war and peace, Downton still stands and the Crawleys are still in it. – Martha Levinson

Mary, dearest Mary. Now, you tell me all of your wedding plans. I’ll see what I can do to improve them.  – Martha

Edith: There you are. I see you’ve said hello to Grandmama.
Violet: She is like a homing pigeon. She finds our underbelly every time.

I should hate to be predictable. – Mary to Matthew, at her wedding altar

Episode 2

Let me call you sweetheart...

Nothing succeeds like excess. – Violet

Are you not popular downstairs? – Robert to Thomas

Some animals adapt to new surroundings. It seems a better choice than extinction. – Martha to Robert

Well, in my opinion, to misquote Dr. Johnson, if you’re tired of style, you are tired of life. – Mr. Carson

Episode 3

At my age, one must ration one’s excitement.  – Violet

Let him go, let him go. You know he’s right. Don’t stop him doing the only sensible thing he’s come up with in months. – Violet to Edith at the altar

Being tested only makes you stronger. – Cora to Edith

If the poor don’t want it, you can bring it over to me. – Violet to Carson re. the wedding food.

Wedding gourmet for downstairs

And the food? Here it is… probably the best quote of the Episode. In answering Alfred’s remark of: Is this all we’re getting? Just these picketty bits:

These are canapés, Alfred. For your first course, some truffled egg on toast, perhaps? Some oysters a la Russe? There’s lobster rissoles in Mousseline sauce or Calvados-glazed duckling, or do you fancy a little asparagus salad with Champagne-saffron vinaigrette? – Thomas and Mrs. Patmore

Episode 4

Robert: What a harsh world you live in.
Tom: We all live in a harsh world. But at least I know I do.

Carson: But Alfred is very good, you know. He’s very willing. Even if he is Miss O’Brien’s nephew.
Matthew: Clearly, nothing worse could be said of any man.

Episode 5

Cora: Sir Philip mustn’t bully him into silence.
Robert: My dear, this is just Clarkson’s professional pride like barbers asking, “Who last cut your hair?”

A woman of my age can face reality far better than most men. – Violet

Sybil, Tom & baby

Edith: She was the only person living who always thought you and I were such nice people. Oh Mary… Do you think we might get along a little better in the future?
Mary: I doubt it. But since this is the last time we three will all be together in this life, let’s love each other now, as sisters should.

Episode 6

There hasn’t been a Catholic Crawley since the Reformation. – Robert

Anyone who has use of their limbs can make a salmon mousse. – Mrs. Patmore

You know the trouble with you lot? You’re all in love with the wrong people. Now take those upstairs! – Mrs. Patmore

Robert: I’m flabbergasted.
Cora: You’re always flabbergasted by the unconventional.

Dr. Clarkson: So you want me to lie to them and say there was no chance at all?
Violet: Lie… is so unmusical a word. I want you to review the evidence honestly and without bias.
Clarkson: Even to ease suffering, I could never justify telling an outright lie.
Violet: Have we nothing in common?

Episode 7

Bates and Anna

But in the meantime, you just rest. Stay in bed, read books. – Robert to Bates

Convince me again. – Matthew to Mary

I do think a woman’s place is eventually in the home, but I see no harm in her having some fun before she gets there. – Violet

What is The Scarlet Letter? – Violet

Robert: Second [condition], you will both admit it when you realize you were wrong.
Violet: Oh, well that is an easy caveat to accept because I’m never wrong.

What’s the matter, Robert? Are you afraid you’ll be converted while you’re not looking? – Cora

Episode 8

Cricket Match

Matthew: Bates must count himself lucky to be out of it [cricket match].
Anna: I think he’d like to walk normally, sir, even if playing cricket was the price he had to pay.

She hates London, so she’s coming to a great-aunt in Yorkshire to have a good time. How original. –Isobel to Violet re. Rose

Isobel: Of course, if you had had to sell Charlie to the butcher to be chopped up as stew to achieve the same ends, you would have done so.
Violet: Happily, it was not needed.

Episode 9 Finale

Edna: He’s nice looking, I give him that.
Mrs. Hughes: I don’t think you’re required to give him anything.

Don’t dislike him before you know him. That’s the hallmark of our parents’ generation, and I forbid it.  – Matthew to Mary, re. Gregson.

What I want is for her [Rose] to know that family can be a loving thing… Love is like riding or speaking French. If you don’t learn it young, it’s hard to get the trick of it later.  – Shrimpie

Matthew: I fall more in love with you every day that passes.
Mary: I’ll remind you of that next time I scratch the car.

Downton Abbey Christmas Special


Oh, but it’s more than just a scratch in the car. We’ll forgive, but not forget. – Arti


CLICK HERE to Quotable Quotes from Downton Abbey Season 1 and 2


The King’s Speech: Fact and Fiction

The line “Based On a True Story” at the bottom of the movie poster apparently is not enough as a disclaimer. Some point out the twisted historicity in the movie “The King’s Speech”. In particular, it has altered the fact that Churchill had adamantly supported the reign of Edward VIII even after he had stated his intention to marry Wallis Simpson, and evaded the early appeasement of Hitler by the British monarchy.

My view is this: The King’s Speech is not a documentary, nor even a biopic. It is a film based on a true struggle in the life of King George VI before he became King to shortly afterwards.  It spans from the closing of the Wembley Empire Exhibition in 1925 to the beginning of WWII in 1939. The focus is on a personal angle. It has taken some steps to dramatize the sequences which I must say are effective. While I agree the Churchill character in the movie could well be inconsistent with historical facts, I don’t see the production is making a political statement at all nor its intention to rewrite history. The climatic Speech at the end is a historical fact. By every measure, it is an exploration of one man’s internal conflicts and struggles, and how a trusting friendship between therapist and patient, and the support of a loving wife had helped him overcome insurmountable odds. Towards these ends, I think screenwriter David Seidler has done a marvellous job.

Further, as an ‘ex-colonial’, I don’t see the film as unfurling the Empire flag to flaunt past glory. If that was the intention, the Queen Mother would not have guarded her husband’s impediment as a painful secret all her life.

After watching the film, I came across the book. Yes, there’s a book called The King’s Speech: How One Man Saved The British Monarchy, written by Mark Logue and Peter Conradi. Mark Logue is the son of Lionel’s youngest child, Anthony. He is custodian of the Logue Archive. Conradi is an author and journalist.

The book is based on a treasure trove of family papers and diaries, letters between the King and Logue, and Lionel’s own notes on the therapy sessions, as well as photos, an invaluable source of background information for the film and a bridge of events therein. Mark Logue acted as the Logue Family Consultant for the production.

Overall, the film follows closely the facts found in Logue’s book when depicting the relationship of Logue and Bertie. Here are some facts:

It was to prepare for his Australian tour in 1927 that Bertie first went to Logue for help. The high point of the six-month world tour would be to open the new Commonwealth Parliament House in Canberra. Bertie diligently went to every appointment and practiced everyday the exercises assigned by Logue. Just between October 1926 to December 1927, the two had had eighty-two sessions.  Many more would follow in the years ahead.

Here are some quotes from several who had contact with the pre-therapy Bertie. As a navel cadet, Bertie, or Johnson to secure secrecy as mentioned in the film, was ‘plagued by shyness’. Here’s an account:

One, Lieutenant F. J. Lambert, described the Prince as a ‘small’ red-faced youth with a stutter’, and adding ‘when he reported his boat to me he gave a sort of stutter and an explosion. I had no idea who he was and very nearly cursed him for spluttering at me.’ Another, Sub Lieutenant Hamilton, wrote of his charge: ‘Johnson is very well full of young life and gladness, but I can’t get a word out of him.’ (p. 55)

And the Duchess of York had her share of distress. Helena Bonham Carter had portrayed vividly scenes such as this:

According to one contemporary account, whenever he rose from the table to respond to a toast, she would grip the edge of the table until her knuckles were white for fear he would stutter and be unable to get a word out.  This also further contributed to his nervousness which, in turn, led to outbursts of temper that only his wife was able to still. (p. 60)

And the disastrous Wembley speech at the beginning of the movie is a painful fact, an event witnessed by Logue and his son Laurie, who were among the spectators coincidentally. The closing ceremony of the Empire Exhibition in May 1925 was a live broadcast around the world. Before the event, Bertie wrote to the King his father apologetically:

I do hope I shall do it well. But I shall be very frightened as you have never heard me speak & the loudspeakers are apt to put one off as well. So I hope you will understand that I am bound to be more nervous than I usually am (p. 61)

The humiliation after that we can all see from Colin Firth’s realistic enactment. Here’s how the father put it, more generously than his usual harsher dealing with his son, nonetheless still biting:

Bertie got through his speech all right, but there were some long pauses. (p. 61)

Further, Bertie’s ill health and an operation on his ulcer had contributed to his physical and psychological torments for years to come. Logue knew it was a complex case and not merely simple speech impediment.

Bertie had problems pronouncing words beginning with ‘k’, ‘g’ or with repeated consonants. Logue’s system was to go through every one of the King’s speeches and if possible, replacing those with some other words.  He would then:

mark up the text with suggested breathing points, and the King would start practising, again and again, until he got it right — often becoming extremely frustrated in the process.

By the time of his Coronation in May 1937, King George VI had greatly improved. All the war time speeches were evidence of the benefits of Logue’s therapy. I mention this just to quench the query of some who might think that the film had grossly exaggerated the speech impediment.

Actually, the King had delivered many speeches, and for everyone of them except those overseas, Logue was beside him, giving valuable support and pointers. To the credit of screenwriter Seidler, only three occasions are highlighted: The Wembley Empire Exhibition, the coronation preparation and the call to war, from which the film title aptly derived. Here I can see the choice of a writer skillful at his craft. As always, there is much more information out there that the sheer volume could clog, drag or smother. Seidler has wisely sifted and chosen the pivotal moments and built his script around them. As a result, we have fluency and the economy of words, or word pictures in this case.

Here’s a must-see BBC news clipof an interview with David Seidler, in which we can get a glimpse of an actual recording of KGVI pausing during his speech.

Lionel George Logue was born on February 26, 1880, in Adelaide, South Australia. His grandfather came to settle in Adelaide from Dublin, Ireland, in 1850, and opened up Logue’s Brewery. Since childhood, Lionel had been a prize-winner in elocution and excelled in ‘recitals’, the recitations of literary passages, a “popular form of entertainment in an era before television, radio or the cinema.”

Lionel, his wife Mertyle and their three boys Laurie, Valentine, and Anthony moved to England in February, 1924 after forty-one days at sea. First settled in modest lodgings, Lionel soon leased a place to begin his speech therapy consultation in 146 Harley Street, an address synonymous with medicine. However, it was still a major social and class barrier to overcome for the Duke of York to personally go over there for his treatment sessions:

Gernerally speaking, the lower the number and further south towads Cavendish Square, the more prestigious the address. Logue’s building was right up towards its northern end… (p.39)

Lionel’s wife, Mertyl Gruenert, had an ‘imposing’ physique and was several inches taller than Lionel. She was German. As the children grew up in England, they had all involved in the war effort, Laurie and Tony having served in the British army over in Africa. Now to those who challenge that German music is used in the climatic call to war speech and its subsequent scene, they could just as well say the Logue children fought against their mother’s countrymen. Nationalities diminish when the overall picture is one of atrocity and aggression.

And lastly, a fact that can be turned into fiction: Logue’s method remains a mystery.  He had left no notes as to what exactly went on during his therapy sessions with Bertie. Such missing data have proven to be advantageous to Seidler, who has taken the liberty to create some lively montage in the film. Thanks to the lack of fact, we are entertained.

And, here’s one of the possible secrets: Logue’s tongue twisters. The next time you prepare for a public speaking engagement, warm up with this one:

“She sifted seven thick-stalked thistles through a strong thick sieve.”


The King’s Speech: How One Man Saved The British Monarchy by Mark Logue and Peter Conradi, published by Penguin Canada, 2010, 242 pages.

To read my review of the movie The King’s Speech, CLICK HERE.

To read my post Oscar Winners 2011 CLICK HERE.

CLICK HERE to view CBS 60 Minutes Overtime’s The Hidden Letters Behind “The King’s Speech”: Interview with Mark Logue and Colin Firth on the Logue Archive: the actual King’s Speech on Buckingham Palace letterhead, with Logue’s markings, handwritten letters between the King and Logue, and other personal papers and photos.

CLICK HERE to view CBS 60 Minutes’ The Story Behind “The King’s Speech”: Interview with Colin Firth, including his hometown in Hampshire, his career, his portrayal of KGVI, Geoffrey Rush, and the possible Oscar.

Somewhere (2010)… or Nowhere

I collected a few thoughts on screenwriting, or fiction writing in general, from watching Sofia Coppola’s “Somewhere” (2010).

The film was winner of the Golden Lion at Venice Film Festival last year in the ‘Emerging Film’ category.  As daughter of Francis Ford Coppola, Sofia Coppola must have breathed films from birth.  She is also an Oscar winner for Best Original Screenplay with “Lost In Translation” (2003), which also brought her an Oscar nom in the Best Director and Best Picture categories.

While I had enjoyed her “Lost In Translation”, a sensitive, existential rendering framed in the context of cultural cacophonies, I sat through “Somewhere” feeling detached and unmoved. But I did make some mental notes on how to write better… especially when I compared it with another film depicting a similar theme, Mike Leigh’s “Another Year“.

I’ve appreciated the overriding intent of “Somewhere”, the portrayal of a pointless life in the midst of Hollywood stardom. Behind the façade of glamour is a sad man, failed in his marriage, aimless, smothered with ennui. The setting of the film is significant too. From the movie poster we see the iconic Hollywood hotel Chateau Marmont, a historic landmark that’s synonymous with fame and celebrity. That is where our protagonist, actor Johnny Marco lives, at the moment.


So here are some mental notes I made on writing while watching “Somewhere”:

1.  We all know it: Show, not tell. But too much showing can be force feeding.

Case in point: The film starts off with the sound of a car engine revving, then we see a black Ferrari come on screen from the left, circling round and go off screen.  We wait for it to come back, then go round and offscreen again. This goes on for, I forgot to count, maybe four times. Then it stops, and a man gets out.  We later find out he is the main character, Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff).  Got it… his life is going in circles, heading nowhere.

But just to confirm that we are on the right track, we’re shown some more.  We see Johnny Marco so drunk he falls down the stairs and breaks his arm.  We see him lying in bed watching exotic dancers performing in front of him, only to fall asleep before they finish their routine. We are shown again another time, another pair of exotic dancers in his room, this time he gives a bored little clap. We see him womanizing, partying, driving his Ferrari aimlessly on the road. We see him being ushered to promo sessions and photo shoots, in unfeeling mode, and answer questions from the press.  And as if not enough pounding, we hear a reporter asking the explicit question, which by now has become so contrived: ‘Who is Johnny Marco?’

This is not just the first 30 minutes to set up the mood and character, this is throughout the film.  So I noted: once you’ve got your point across, move on.

2.  Stir up empathy, not inflict vicarious suffering.  You don’t have to drag your audience to the level of boredom to depict boredom. Like, we don’t have to be turned into stutterers before we can appreciate the struggles of a stammering king.  There is a scene where Johnny has to sit down and have his face plastered with goo to make a mold of an old man. We see him plastered bit by bit until his head is covered with goo.  The static camera then stays on this plastered head, as we wait with him for the goo to dry.  Lucky we are spared after a minute and a half.  I appreciate the long take if it conveys meaning in an aesthetically pleasing way, but here it is almost didactic in its expression of tedium and ennui.

3. Bring up a contrast. Yes, in this case, Johnny Marco’s 11-year-old daughter Cleo (Elle Fanning) is a perfect foil.  Staying with her father for a short while before going to summer camp, Cleo’s life is nothing short of wholesome. She is angelic in her innocence and beauty; in contrast to her Dad, she is happy and purposeful. She figure skates, plays tennis, swims, cooks, does Sudoku, plays Guitar Hero and Wii with youthful vitality.  Johnny is mesmerized. Despite a failed marriage, Cleo is the best thing that happens in his life… and in the film as well.

4. Put the character in the context of a story, even though it is just a character study or that it is static. For the viewers to appreciate the character on a deeper level, they must see the person in various predicaments, which are missing here.  Without a story as vehicle, we only see a two dimensional character.  I thought of Mary (Lesley Manville) in “Another Year”.  Very similar to Johnny here, Mary is a sad and utterly despondent character.  Also, like Johnny, she is going nowhere even at the end, where she is spiralling further down the hole of loneliness.  Not unlike Johnny here.  Yet I found “Another Year” appealing because the other significant characters continue to show us their life story. The foil there is Tom (Jim Broadbent) and Gerri (Ruth Sheen). Through the four seasons, we see how they treat each other and deal with life, and relationships are being depicted. It is still a character study with no major dramatic climax, yet the film can hold my interest because I am watching Mary through the frame of Tom and Gerri’s story.

5.  Throw in a dash of humor, even though especially when your character is in utter sadness.  Unlike “Lost In Translation”, “Somewhere” is almost devoid of humor. A laugh or two is probably the fastest way to dissolve the audience’s aloofness. Back to “Another Year”, Mary is not a lovable character. She is delusional, dependent, aimless and weak.  As audience, we are impatient with her unhappiness, because we feel she is solely responsible for her plight. But humor disarms our critical stance and gently prods us to sympathize her.  Her character does not change and become loveable at the end, but we learn to be more gracious and give her some allowance.  We find that it is not so static after all, for we the audience, unknowingly, have been changed.

~ ~ 1/2 Ripples


CLICK HERE to read my review of Another Year.

CLICK HERE to read my review of The King’s Speech.

Writing from Memory and Imagination


Upon a request from her friend and Granta Magazine editor to submit a birdwatching article, journalist Lynn Barber instead sent in a piece of memoir.   Well it was published just the same, in the 2003 Spring Issue of Granta… good to have friends in the right places.  But why not, it was an entertaining piece, albeit the name of the article might be a bit of a surprise to the editor:  ‘An Education’.  And who would have known that six years later, the short memoir would evolve into a full length, award-winning film.

In her recent article in Granta, Lynn Barber reminisced on the creative process and the adaptation from print to screen.  I find the article both amusing and enlightening.  Here are some tidbits.

Soon after her memoir was published in Granta, Barber was contacted by film producer Amanda Posey about turning it into film.  (Now that’s quick! But no… don’t think I’ll start writing a memoir, not just yet.)  But Barber was too preoccupied with other personal matters at that time to take it seriously.  Nevertheless she said okay to the proposal.  Months passed, and a contract ‘the size of a phone directory’ arrived.  Then she realized it wasn’t just talk after all.

Now to the screenwriting process.  Barber declined to write the screenplay herself, to the delight of film producer Posey, who had someone in mind already.  That was her then boyfriend and now husband the writer Nick Hornby.  Hornby’s books include About A Boy, Fever Pitch, and High Fidelity, all turned into well-received movies.  But what caught my attention is Barber’s comment:

I found it odd (still find it odd) that this pre-eminently ‘boy’ writer should so completely understand what it felt like to be a sixteen-year-old schoolgirl who was on the one hand very bright but on the other very ignorant about the world but, miraculously, he did. He even seemed to understand my parents, which is more than I could ever say myself.

Do writers always understand their own gender better?  Are they necessarily less equipped to write about their opposite sex?  Barber’s comment mentioned Hornby had grasped an understanding of her parents just as well.  Maybe it’s not so much a gender issue but one of sensitivity, empathy, and observational skills:  A good writer is a good reader of people, regardless of their gender, or age, for that matter.

It took years for the screenplay to evolve, after eight drafts to be exact.  The last one is quite a divergence from the very first.  Herein lies another interesting point.  The first draft is close to the memoir, while the last has taken a life of its own, reality has been altered to fit the screenplay genre.  The ending has also been tailored to elicit intended effects.  It speaks to the creative writing process:  Memories may be the initial springboard, but imagination is the fuel that propels the work to a visual realm.

The adaptation from memoir to screen has been a long process.  Barber notes:

Years passed, draft screenplays came and went, possible backers came and went. I would have given up by year two, but Nick and Amanda and their partner Finola Dwyer persisted and eventually, last year, the film went into production.

Apart from creativity and talent, persistence and diligence could well be the key ingredients in all sorts of production.

And finally, it boils down to memories again.  When asked about her thoughts upon seeing her sixteen-year-old self being portrayed on-screen, Barber, now at sixty-five, has no immediate answer.  She is lost in memory, again.  What exactly was her feeling at sixteen?  Or, for that matter, what had happened at twenty, or thirty?

Poignantly she asks:  Who owns memories after all?

Do memories belong to one’s subjective self?  Or to those around you who had shared your experience?  Is it merely age that has blurred the boundaries between memories and imagination, or is it our creative mind?

Or, does it even matter anyway… as long as you don’t call it non-fiction.


To read my review of the movie An Education, CLICK HERE.

To read Lynn Barber’s personal essay on her memoir, CLICK HERE.

Photo:  Banff, Alberta.  Taken by Arti of Ripple Effects, August, 09.  All Rights Reserved.

Screenwriting: The Visual and the Word

My screenwriting course is wrapping up soon.  For the past six months, I’ve been learning a new language, the language of the visual.  It’s not as easy as it looks.  I’ve to un-learn a lot of ingrained principles of prose writing to re-learn a whole new genre.  And it has been an ego-shattering process.

Take this for example.  A comment on one of my assignments:

“… I’d also like to see you snip away at excess verbiage in both dialogue and action paragraphs.”

Ouch!  That hurts!  Honestly, it took me a few weeks to get over that one.

‘Verbiage’.  When the word is not used by yourself as a self-deprecating joke, now that’s tough to hear.   The reason for such a judgment?  Simply because I used complete sentences in my descriptions.  The language of the screenplay, I’ve learned, is condensed language, not unlike poetry.  It should be spot on, visually driven, and clear.

Readability is the key.  I’ve been learning to write a ‘good read’.   Reality is, my script will first be sent to the ‘gatekeepers’ of the film industry, and many of them may not be readers (that, I was told).  So, nobody wants to see a bunch of words crowding the page.  White spaces are what keep them interested.   So, make it swift, succinct, use minimum number of words to convey maximum information.  Yup, just like that, easy.

Right… so, here are some notes to myself, gleaning from the books I’ve read on the subject of screenwriting, to personalized feedbacks:

  • Sentence fragments, though frowned upon by English teachers, are welcome in scripts.
  • Action speaks louder than words: Whatever that can be conveyed by actions, no need for dialogues.
  • Enter a scene as late as you can and get out before it finishes.
  • Think minimalist and evocative.
  • Layers, layers, layers
  • Avoid clichés like the plague, both visuals and words.
  • Avoid ‘On The Nose’ dialogues: stating directly what the writer needs to convey, instead of the more realistic everyday mundane, allusive, cut-off, inarticulate, real life conversations.
  • As with all literature, learn to write subtexts, the undercurrents of emotions and contexts that are meant to be hidden, but only revealed by actions and dialogues.
  • Do the above with razor-sharp clarity.
  • The central dramatic question should be clear and simple, but not simplistic.
  • Have the proper proportion of words and pictures to create a synchronicity of content and poetry.
  • Don’t insult your actors by writing down specific reactions, or telling them their tone of voice…etc.
  • Write organically: If a writer knows what is going to happen before writing, then the scene will often feel contrived because it will fail to surprise the writer, therefore the audience.

Now, come to think of these points, aren’t they useful for writing in other genres as well?  Except the sentence fragments recommendation, that is, if you’re writing prose.  And, the last point exactly echoes what I’ve heard Michael Ondaatje say:

“I don’t know what would happen, I don’t want to know”

Let the scene breath on its own, take its shape and grow.

Or the advice given by Anne Lamott reinforcing succinct writing:

“You listen to how people really talk, and then learn little by little to take someone’s five-minute speech and make it one sentence, without losing anything.”

And… the wonders of paradox:  ‘Expressing the visual in words’,  ‘Be clear in conveying subtext’,   ‘The minimalist creating layers of complexity’, ‘Write organically within the structure’…

Oh… the bittersweet experience of screenwriting.