Archive for October, 2012

Ever watch a movie and wonder, “Gee, I wonder if that was really in the script?” Yeah, me, too. There are plenty of rumors and myths about great movie scenes that weren’t originally in the script but turned out so well that the director decided to keep them in the finished product.

When Smokey and the Bandit was released, for example, we all wondered, “How in the hell can Jackie Gleason be so funny?” OK, maybe that was just me. Anyway, the answer was: because he made up most of his dialogue on the spot. I don’t know if that’s true, but if it is, then Gleason was truly a comedic genius — not that we needed Smokey and the Bandit to prove that point.

Likewise, Lee Ermey’s performance in Full Metal Jacket was so dead-on, that this was a case of brilliant writing, right? Well, not really. The story of Ermey — originally on the set as a technical advisor — showing up in a Marine Corps uniform and screaming at the cast like the D.I. he was once is well-documented, an ad hoc performance that got him a starring role and caused half the script to be tossed out the window.

But there are plenty of movies out there with little moments that, unless someone points them out, seem like a perfectly scripted part of the movie.  Well, it just so happens that the folks over at ScreenRant have done just that, with their “32 Greatest Unscripted Movie Scenes.” You can thank me later.

There are some in here that I already knew about (like Full Metal Jacket), but others were a real surprise. There are some very familiar names on the list and some of your very favorite movies — regardless of what you like. Won’t spoil it here, but here are the titles from which the list is compiled:

  1. Raiders of the Lost Ark
  2. Zoolander
  3. The Godfather (2 scenes)
  4. The Fugitive
  5. The Dark Knight (2 scenes)
  6. Robocop
  7. Pretty Woman
  8. Being John Malkovich
  9. Caddyshack
  10. Dumb and Dumber
  11. Knocked Up
  12. Good Will Hunting
  13. Aliens
  14. Tootsie
  15. The Usual Suspects
  16. The Warriors
  17. Dr. Strangelove
  18. Saving Private Ryan
  19. Jaws
  20. The Empire Strikes Back
  21. Reservoir Dogs
  22. Casablanca
  23. Annie Hall
  24. The Shining
  25. Blade Runner
  26. Midnight Cowboy
  27. A Clockwork Orange
  28. Taxi Driver
  29. The Silence of the Lambs
  30. Full Metal Jacket



1 October 2012: This means war

Posted: October 1, 2012 in Uncategorized

Cameron Barnes in the National Theatre of Scotland’s production of “Black Watch,” presented at the Shakespeare Theatre Company. Photo by Manuel Harlan.

It has been said that the experience of combat is universal, regardless of the politics, the population, the ethnicity of the combatants or even the technology. The National Theatre of Scotland’s “Black Watch” proves that point in a gut-wrenching way.

I took in the play at the Shakespeare Theatre Company in D.C. over the weekend and walked away impressed, a little shaken and emotionally drained. And glad I had the opportunity to see what may be the best piece of storytelling art to come out of the war in Iraq.

Written by Gregory Burke, the award-winning play tells the story of 10 soldiers of Scotland’s Black Watch Regiment and their experiences in Iraq during Operation TELIC in 2004. In his “Writer’s Note” in the program he writes, in words reminiscent of the military tradition of our own heavily Scots-Irish Deep South, “There’s a pride in Scotland, romanticized perhaps, but a pride nonetheless about our military traditions. Scotland has always provided a percentage of the British Army that is disproportionate to its population’s size.”

This is not simply a recreation of combat scenes or overwrought depictions of veterans suffering from the after-effects of combat. The play is, for the most part, about everything but the actual fighthing. In fact, there is but one combat scene, and a very powerful one at that, near the end. What’s most effective about this seemingly small fact is that the amount of time the play devotes to fighting becomes a metaphor for the actual experience of war itself – the long periods of idleness, boredom and inanity before – and after – being propelled into the intense fear of combat.

Burke’s writing is outstanding – and his dialogue and interplay among the troops  is dead on. Yes, it may be hard to understand the brogue and the Scottish slang and dialect, but no matter. If you’ve ever worn a uniform and been deployed – and, honestly, even if you haven’t – you know what’s going and what they’re talking about. These are young men far from home, trying to get through another day as best they can.

Superbly acted – it’s hard to believe the actors aren’t real veterans – and visually stunning, the play incorporates movement, music, song, dance and audio-visual effects seamlessly into one rich storytelling experience. Director John Tiffany writes, “Fuelled by by variety, music and a deep love of storytelling, Scotland’s artists have created a form of theatre that is as significant and vital as its written drama.”

And it is a production that is unabashedly real. For starters, it’s not for kids or the faint-hearted. It’s an R-rated production that doesn’t shy away from the lifestyle of the average grunt in a combat zone: the sex jokes, the porn, the language, the homophobia, the disdain for those who have not walked in their shoes and seen their horrors. But it also doesn’t play down those elements we don’t hear much about because, as the characters say, we “wouldn’t understand” – the loyalty and love, the tenderness, the fear and the pride.

Ryan Fletcher in the National Theatre of Scotland’s production of “Black Watch,” presented at the Shakespeare Theatre Company. Photo by Colin Mearns.

There is an element of sorrow that runs through the play so strongly that I began to wonder if that wasn’t the point of the whole endeavor. With sublime subtlety, even elegance, Burke’s play slowly, inevitably breaks your heart. If the mail call scene doesn’t move you to tears, you are soulless. The fatalistic interaction of the men and their bafflement at a world out of control, save for the weapon in their hands, grabs you by the throat and reminds you that, regardless of the era or the reason, war is really this: scared boys trying not to get killed or lose their friends.

And in the end, they aren’t fighting for glory or country. As Burke notes: “They fight for their regiment. Their company. Their platoon. And their mates.”


UPDATE, 2 October 2012: Check out the Washington Post interview with the director here.