June 23, 2005

"Yes" by Sally Potter, with Joan Allen

"Yes" - The new film with Joan Allen and Sam Neill opens in LA and NYC on Friday. From my review in The American Conservative, which will be available to electronic subscribers this weekend.

Molière's Bourgeois Gentleman was famously delighted to learn he had been speaking prose all his life. Yet, as historian Jacques Barzun noted in From Dawn to Decadence, "His surprise is well-founded … What he spoke all his life was not prose, but speech. Prose is the written form of deliberate expression… It is as artificial as verse."

Nor should a modern gentleman assume he is speaking "dialogue," because what screenwriters are paid large sums to contrive is barely more authentic than quatrains would be. I recall a 1994 radio interview with Steve Barancik, the painfully shy writer of the snazzy film noir "The Last Seduction," which starred Linda Fiorentino as the ultimate femme fatale. The perky interviewer asked him if he comes up with all those killer replies in real life. "Well, sure," the author stammered, "In my car … on the … way home."

Cinema's visuals are constantly evolving, but its dialogue is deteriorating. Why write eloquent English when it's just going to wind up translated into Turkish and Tagalog to serve as wadding between detonations?

It's time for something different, and Sally Potter's film "Yes" is a gloriously reactionary step backwards.

Shortly after 9/11, Potter, who is best known for her 1992 adaptation of Virginia Woolf's Orlando, began composing a scene illustrating the clash of civilizations between an Arab immigrant and a wealthy Western woman. She recalled, "The argument between the two lovers came out onto the page, for the most part, in iambic pentameter (ten syllables per line)… Perhaps it was an instinctive attempt to let the characters speak to each other on screen about things which are hard to express in normal conversation."

The screenplay ended up as rhyme of the most conspicuous kind: couplets.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

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