Friday, September 11, 2015

A "True" Masterpiece

     In the beginning of junior year, one of my friends kept pestering and pestering me about watching True Detective, which he referred to as the 'best show on television'.  I have never really enjoyed crime/procedural drama shows as I find the episodes to be relatively isolated events, lacking in character development and a real through-line to connect the component chapters. Therefore, I was a bit reluctant to start a show that I assumed would lack depth, plot, and intrigue. I couldn't have been more wrong. I started the show and after the first 20 minutes of the pilot, I was hooked. The show stars Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson as two detectives assigned to a cultish murder scene. The narrative flips between the actual investigation of the murder in 1995 and a set of interviews of the two detectives in 2012. McConaughey steals every scene as Rustin Cohle, a brilliant, yet eccentric detective that is as much a philosopher as he is a cop. Harrelson's Marty Hart provides the perfect 'straight man' to Rust's nihilistic ranting, and it is a testament to their dynamic and to the show's writing that the most compelling scenes in the show are often the conversations in the car between Rust and Marty. The show's ability to tackle interesting topics such as religion and relationships and the dynamic between Rust and Marty made me excited to read the script that I found for the pilot.
    Part of what separates scripts and screenplays from other forms of writings is the way in which they create imagery and describe tone and motive. Since they are, in essence, instructions for directors and actors, they are required to lay out how a scene looks and with what tone a character is speaking. The True Detective script is no exception, and I found, in particular, that it excelled in characterizing Rust and Marty. In terms of appearance, for example, Rustin is described in detail, especially in the 2012 storyline. "He hasn’t lost any hair, but it’s streaked with steel gray, wild, unkempt and in need of a trim" (Pizzolatto 4). After watching the show, McConaughey's portrayal lines up eerily close to Pizzolatto's initial vision of the character. Even more significant is Pizzolatto's ability to develop Rust and Marty's character traits in the script in a way that is clear but concise and not distracting. Upon first looking upon a dead body, Pizzolatto notes Marty and Rust's reactions, writing "Hart looks vaguely horrified. Cohle’s face simply tenses and his eyes sharpen" (Pizzolatto 4). Just from these two short sentences, we begin to get an idea for the kind of men Marty and Cohle are. Marty reacts reasonably considering how disturbing the crime scene in front of them is, playing into the 'straight man' idea discussed before. Rust, however, reacts minimally, hinting at a possible insensitivity to pain and suffering. The aforementioned 'car conversations' are just as compelling in the script as they were in the show. For example, when Marty makes the mistake of asking Rust what he believes in, a brilliant conversation emerges.

Rust: "We’re uncanny puppets on a lonely planet, in cold space, living and replicating and sending unborn generations into suffering and death because that’s our programming."

Marty: "Jesus Christ."

(Pizzolatto 17)

     Rust's atheistic cynicism is greeted with shock and disgust by Marty, illustrating how different these men really are. Although McConaughey and Harrelson were absolutely brilliant in the show, it is a testament to Pizzolatto's script that the dialogue retains its intrigue while only on paper. This contrast between Marty and Rust is what makes Season 1 of True Detective one of the best runs of television that I have ever seen. It isn't a 'cop show'. It is the story of two men that are diametrically opposed in how they look at the world. These men just happen to be detectives. In reality, the murder case acts as a backdrop for the exploration of Rust and Marty's relationship, and the script definitely does this integral quality justice.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Strange Pilgrims

“17 Poisoned Englishmen”
            In “17 Poisoned Englishman”, a woman named Prudencia travels to Rome in an attempt to gain an audience with the Pope. During her stay in an Italian hotel, she comes across a group of Englishmen that she initially is almost disgusted by. However, after she explores Rome a bit more, Prudencia becomes disillusioned with the city that she once thought of as idyllic. She returns to the hotel and finds that all 17 Englishmen have died from being poisoned.
            The broken teacup that we drew was made as a visual representation of the deaths of the Englishmen. It is not only a straightforward symbol for their demise but also for Prudencia’s broken perception of the English.  As further illustrated by our 2 quotes, Prudencia, at first, makes generalizations about the British and cannot stomach their presence, but after experiencing Rome and seeing the men die, she mourns their loss. Our quotes were meant to deal with preconceptions and perception, two topics that we thought were very apparent in the story.

“The Saint”
            In “The Saint”, Margarito’s daughter dies, but when examining her body he realizes that her body is weightless and seems to have not decayed. He takes this as evidence of his daughter’s saintliness and dedicates his life to getting her canonized. In the process, however, he ironically ends up acting so selflessly that he seems to possess virtue worthy of a saint.
            Our image is a depiction of a saint, but the body is half man half woman, the female half representing the saint that Margarito wanted to be recognized, his daughter. The male half represents the saint that the audience and the narrator recognize, Margarito. The quotes on the left illustrate the virtue that Margarito possesses that demonstrates his saintliness. The quote on the right shows the irony of how Margarito’s quest for his daughter’s canonization resulted in the demonstration of his own saintly characteristics.

            In “Tramontana”, a Caribbean man sits in a bar in Barcelona while a storm known as the Tramontana approaches. The storm is rumored to make people go insane, and the man from the Caribbean seems to be familiar with it. A group of Swedes visiting Barcelona force the man from the Caribbean into a van and attempt to drive him towards the storm.  The man jumps out of the moving fan in a bid to avoid dying or losing his mind in the storm, but he ironically dies anyway.
            The drawing that our group made, along with the 2 quotes that accompanied it, was made to illustrate the inevitability of the Tramontana. It is a wind, and like death, you cannot run from wind.  The protagonist of the story, though he technically ‘avoids’ the tramontana, reinforces this point. The Tramontana, though he never reaches it, drives him mad as the mere idea of having to confront it causes him to jump out of a moving car, dying in the process.

            The link between the 3 stories is dark irony. In “Tramontana” and “17 Poisoned Englishmen”, it comes in the form of death. The man in “Tramontana” jumps out of a van to avoid the storm, ironically dying in the process. In “17 Poisoned Englishmen”, Prudencia finally develops sympathy for the Englishmen, but ironically, this only occurs once they have died. In “The Saint”, Margarito ironically develops saint-like qualities, but only by trying, to no avail, to canonize his daughter.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

All the Light We Cannot See/Charly Garcia Comparison

All the Light We Cannot See

“The bony figure of Death rides the streets below, stopping his mount now and then to peer into windows. Horns of fire on his head and smoke leaking from his nostrils and, in his skeletal hands, a list newly charged with addresses.

Gazing first at the crew of officers unloading from their limousines into the chateau.
Then at the flowing rooms of the perfumer Claude Levitte.
Then at the dark tall house of Etienne LeBlanc.

Pass us by, Horseman. Pass this house by.”
(Doerr 333)
Charly Garcia - No Bombardeen Buenos Aires

Estoy temiendo al rubio ahora 
no se a quién temeré después. 
Terror y desconfianza por los juegos 
por las transas, por las canas 
por las panzas, por las ansias

Los pibes de mi barrio 
se escondieron en los caños 
espían al cielo 
usan cascos, curten mambos 
escuchando a Clash.

No bombardeen Buenos Aires, no nos podemos defender

(Note: The lyrics are not in the order they appear in the song)

After reading All the Light We Cannot See, I found a number of parallels between its depiction of war and that seen in Charly Garcia’s No Bombardeen Buenos Aires. Charly Garcia is an Argentinian rock singer, and he wrote No Bombardeen Buenos Aires during the Falklands War as a criticism of British military action and as a plea for mercy. All the Light We Cannot See and No Bombardeen Buenos Aires both depict cities living in fear, a fear of invasion, of occupation.
In the first section, Etienne describes Death prowling the streets of Saint-Malo, looking for new lives to take. It can be assumed that he sees the Germans, and the war that comes with them, as bringing Death to his city. Similarly, Garcia explains his fear for the ‘blonde man’, which can be assumed to be the British. He questions whom he’ll be afraid of next and describes fear and uncertainty seeping into the streets of Buenos Aires. The Germans and British fulfill similar roles for Etienne and Garcia, as harbingers of death and paranoia.
In the second section, Death ominously stares at some of the inhabitants of Saint-Malo, including Etienne himself. Meanwhile, in Buenos Aires, “los pibes” (a slang term in Argentinian Spanish that is similar to ‘dude’) hide in sewers, scan the horizons for British planes, and, somewhat ironically, dance to songs by “The Clash”, a British rock band. In this case, the 2 cities react to their respective manifestations of Death rather differently. Garcia’s Buenos Aires seems more aware of the danger that the British pose, while in some ways Death goes by unnoticed in the dark night of Saint-Malo.
In the third section, Etienne begs the Horseman of Death to ignore his house and spare his life and Marie’s. Garcia similarly urges the British not to attack Buenos Aires, stating that the Argentinian’s cannot defend themselves.
Although written 32 years apart from each other in different languages, No Bombardeen Buenos Aires and All the Light We Cannot See are surprisingly similar in how they deal with the topics of death, war, and fear.

- by Alejandro Cegarra