The First 15 Minutes Project #12: Richard Boyle

Richard Boyle in Salvador

  1. Rapid-fire montage of newsreel-style footage of a massacre in El Salvador. Thriller music plays.
  2. A news report tells us about what’s going on in El Salvador.
  3. Boyle is woken up by three things: this news report, this baby crying, and the landlord knocking on the door. His baby’s mother cries and says she can’t live like this anymore.
  4. Later, using the payphone in the hall while others wait for the phone, Boyle begs various news agencies for a press pass to go drum up some news in El Salvador before it blows up. He brags about the various heroic newsgathering jobs he’s done in the past: the last American journalist out of Cambodia, etc. A friend is heading for the airport but agrees to loan him $500 if he can get there in time.
  5. Boyle speeds across San Francisco, gets pulled over. He has not license or registration and several tickets have gone to warrant. He’s arrested.
  6. In jail, Boyle is bailed out by his DJ friend Doctor Rock, who spends a lot to get Boyle and his car released, on the condition that Boyle take him to get his dog out of a pound.
  7. Boyle and Dr. Rock drive across town. They complain about yuppied women. Boyle prefers Latin women, who are kind and understanding. It turns out that they’ve both been kicked out and planned on crashing with the other. They complain about the yuppie cars on the road.
  8. They show up at the pound. They explain that they put Dr. Rock’s dog to sleep. “That was my only relationship! My best friend! Seven years! My marriage only lasted five!”
  9. They go to Boyle’s place. His wife has gone back to Italy to her parents, leaving only the TV and a dirty diaper in the crib. “It was a marriage made in hell. I sure am gonna miss my boy. (shrugs) Maybe she’ll be back.” Dr. Rock jokes: “Sure. Who could leave all this?”
  10. Back on the highway, Boyle suggests that they roadtrip down to Guatemala. “Why?” “Why not? No cops. No laws. Sun. It’s cheap. No yuppies. Great dope.” They toss an empty beer can on the highway.
  11. As they drive through Mexico: “Look at you. You’re a walking museum of the ‘60s.” “What the fuck are you?” “I am a forward thinking human being! I know about life because I explore things. Being a journalist, you’re in touch with reality.” “You come off with this journalist bullshit all the time. I haven’t seen one goddamn thing that you’ve written.” “I wrote a book” “That was ten years ago!”
  12. They enter El Salvador. “You said Guatemala! You never said anything about El Salvador! They kill people here, Boyle!” “You believe everything you read in the papers? You’ll love it! C’mon doc, this is my last chance, man. I’m serious, if I get some good combat shots for AP I can make some money. Pay you back!” “You’d better pay me back!” (Boyle is smoking a joint as he drive, Dr. Rock is washing down pills with alcohol.) “We could go to Los Libertas, best surfing beach in the world. You can drive drunk! Get anyone killed for 50 bucks!” “I don’t want to get anybody killed” “Where else can you get a virgin to sit on your face for seven bucks??” That finally convinces Dr. Rock to stay.
  13. They come across soldiers who have just killed some people. “Who are these clowns” “Traffic accident.” Then Rock sees a burning corpse on the side of the road. “Shit, Boyle!” The death squad realizes that Boyle is a journalist and takes them both into custody. They watch the soldiers kill somebody on the side of the road. Boyle insists that he’s friends with their boss and asks to be taken to him…

This is a classic example of triangulation: no matter how extreme a character is, you can always make him look moderate by putting him in the middle of a spectrum, in which he contrasts favorably with people who are even worse. In order to make Boyle’s reckless journalism seem acceptable, Stone contrasts him with journalists who play it way too safe. In order to get us to accept Boyle’s hedonism, Stone gives him a best friend who is even more reckless.

The First 15 Minutes Project #11: Tom Ripley

Tom Ripley in The Talented Mr. Ripley

  1. Flashforward: Tom, looking distraught but handsome, staring blankly ahead, sits in a rolling boat cabin while the titles chop up his face. VO: “If I could just go back. If I could rub everything out, starting with myself. Starting with borrowing a jacket…”
  2. Flashback: a rooftop garden in NYC overlooking Central Park. Tom, looking much geekier, wears a crested Yale blazer, plays classical piano while a vocalist sings. Mr. Greenleaf comes over with his wife and asks if they knew his son at Yale. He says “How is Dickey?” They complain to him “Dickey’s idea of music is jazz.” They say good-bye: I’ll see you at the shipyard.
  3. He runs to return the jacket to the singer’s boyfriend, who has a broken wrist.
  4. Tom works in the bathroom in the basement of an opera building brushing dandruff off people’s shoulders for spare change, wearing a uniform.
  5. He sneaks a peek at the performance by peeking through the curtains of an opera box, but the box patron turns and scowls, so he closes the curtain.
  6. After the theater is closed, Tom plays the grand piano on the stage, but the electrician shuts off the lights. Tom apologizes.
  7. At Mr. Greenleaf’s shipyard, Mr. Greenleaf says “You’ve probably heard that Dickey’s been living in Italy. Mongibello. South of Naples. No kind of place at all. Marge his young lady is supposedly writing some kind of book. God know what he does. His talent is spending his allowance.” He offers to pay Tom a thousand dollars to go to Europe and reclaim Dickey.
  8. In his basement apartment, Tom learns jazz by blindfolding himself, pulling records off a pile and playing them until he can guess who’s singing each one. He listens to Chet Baker singing My Funny Valentine and says “I don’t even know if this is a man or a woman.” He hears domestic violence upstairs. He looks at a Yale yearbook he’s acquired and the picture of Dickey.
  9. He climbs up out of his apartment to the limo picking him up. Opens his ticket for the Cunard line.
  10. In Italy, he meets an heiress named Meredith who flirts with him in the customs line. He introduces himself as Dickey Greenleaf. “One of the shipping Greenleafs?” “Trying not to be”. She points out that his luggage was under R. He says he travels under his mother’s name. She says that so is she. She’s really a Loag. “Of the…” “Yes, the shipping Loags. We’re partners in disguise.” She’s pulled away.
  11. Tom arrives in Mongibello, a picturesque shipping town.
  12. Tom reads from an Italian phrase book while he watches Dickey and Marge with binoculars. They dive off their boat, named Bird and swim to the beach. While he looks at Dickey, he says “This is my face”, then checks the book and learns how to say that in Italian.
  13. He puts on day-glo swim trunks and runs past them into the sea, then walks back past them. He turns to them and says “Dickey Greenleaf. It’s Tom. Tom Ripley.” “Did we know each other?” “Well, I knew you, so you must have known me.” “Princeton’s like a fog. America’s like a fog.” Dickey introduces him to Marge. “You’re so white!” “It’s just an undercoat.” Marge gets the joke but Dickey doesn’t. Marge says you should come and have lunch with us, anytime. Tom leaves. Dickey repeats that he doesn’t remember him.
  14. Tom walks down the street, Dickey drives past him on his vespa, picks up a local on the street.
  15. Marge is in her backyard. Dickey shows up, apologizes for being late. Tells a lie about fishing. She says “We ate everything without you. Tom Ripley’s here.” Marge says “Tom was telling me about his journey over. Made me laugh so hard I almost got a nosebleed.” Dickey asks if Tom makes martinis. He hesitates. Marge says she’ll make them. Dickey says her martinis are great. Everybody should have one great talent. He asks what Tom’s is. Tom says “forging signatures, telling lies, impersonating practically anybody.” Dickey tells him to do an impression. Tom imitates Dickey’s father, which amazes Dickey. How do you know him? “I met him in New York.” “Could you ever conceive of going to Italy, Tom, and bringing him back?” Dickey is shocked.
  16. They walk through the street, pass a wedding, Dickey touches the cheep of the girl he was flirting with. Dickey says that he’ll never go back.

If Boyle in Salvador is the asshole-truth teller, then Ripley is the flip side: the sociopathic liar. Each character type has its appeal. There’s something very thrilling about watching a character juggle lies: Every other character is fooled but we in the audience see all and know all, making us the liar’s intimate co-conspirator. We can’t help but admire the liar’s dexterity, and we develop a gleeful anticipation every time it he has to wriggle out of another trap.
And yet, the audacious moment we admire most is when he dares to unexpectedly tell the truth: He suddenly admits to Tom the real reason that he’s there. They now feel the same intimacy we do: a liar has chosen to trust them, which is deeply flattering, at first...

The 15 Minutes Project #10: Dave Chappellet in Downhill Racer

Any hero can win our sympathy by saving cats, but what if the writer wants us to like a jerk? This week, we’ll try to figure out why we care about certain heroes, even through they’re jerks...

Dave Chappellet in Downhill Racer:
  1. Opening montage: ski lift cable, shots of snowy mountain, scared skiers above, anxious fans below. A cameraman who looks like a sniper. Tense action movie music kicks in.
  2. Coach Claire (Gene Hackman) waits halfway down the course with a stopwatch, looking intense…
  3. An American skier makes an amazing run down the mountain as the credits roll, but near the bottom, the skier wipes out spectacularly.
  4. Claire looks sick at the news. Helicopter comes in and takes the skier away.
  5. Claire sees his skier in the hospital, looks worried.
  6. Dave Chappellet (Robert Redford) arrives at a European airport, but there’s no one there to meet him. He clearly doesn’t understand Europe.
  7. Chappellet and another new recruit, D. K. take the train. Chappellet is awkward getting through the train with his skis. He roughly takes a sandwich and a drink from porter.
  8. They arrive outside his hostel. D. K. heads in immediately, but Chappellet pauses to look up at each mountain, takes a deep breath and smiles…
  9. Chappellet arrives at the front desk, where Claire is on the phone, arguing about a reservation. Claire sees Chappellet and D. K., says he’s glad they got together, but they haven’t, really. Guy goes over to shake the hand of the other skiers, ignores Chappellet. Claire finally shakes Chappellet’s hand but has no time for him.
  10. Chappellet checks into his room with D. K. He’s baffled by the bidet. D. K., trying to friendly, chuckles and asks, “You know what that is?” Chappellet sullenly lies, “Yeah,” and leaves.
  11. Chappellet gets in bed, asks where he knows the other skiers from. D. K. says “Dartmouth. I was one of the Olympic hopefuls. I was hopeful, not them.” Chappellet mutters “Dartmouth” to himself, in disgust.
  12. The next day, they all put their skis on the the van. The big guy introduces himself, “Chappelet, I’m Johnny Creach.” Chappellet responds, “Yeah, I know.”
  13. Claire and his assistant time the skiers. One goes through and the assistant says “Not bad”. Claire grunts, “Too much style” The assistant says “Who’s next, Chappellet?” Chappellet skis.
  14. Claire, shocked, asks what time his assistant has. The assistant says 28:08. Claire smiles, “That’s what I have.”
  15. The next day Claire hands out the bibs that tell the skiers what order they’re going to race. He gives Chappellet a starting number of 88, and apologizes that he’s so far back. Chappellet says that he’ll be in ruts up to his knees. “What’s the point of even racing?” “Same as always, try to win,” Claire says.
  16. Cut to back at the room, Chappellet refused to race. D. K. asks why, Chappellet explains that he was seeded too far back. D. K. says he should have raced. Chappellet expresses annoyance that he has to call him “D. K.” which sounds too preppy-ish for his tastes.
  17. They take a train to the next meet. Chappellet watches the press gather around the star and looks jealous.
  18. Everybody gets their bibs. Claire gives Chappellet a similar number and teases him about it.
  19. Chappellet races and does great. Claire is pleased, despite himself.

Chappellet is a surly jerk, a bad sport, and a guy who expects acclaim before he proves himself. We should hate him, but we don’t, entirely. Why? Americans are never supposed to mention class resentments, but we all feel them, so we certainly identify with that, as well as the universal feeling of being a stranger in a strange land. And it helps that he’s really quite handsome, of course. And that he keeps winning.

Don’t get me wrong: this is a daring movie that pushes our sympathy to its limits, and forces us to admit that what we actually admire doesn’t always match was we should admire. Still, it’s worth noting that the movie does use subtle tricks to ensure that we’ll feel some genuine sympathy.

The 15 Minutes Project #9: Jake Gittes in Chinatown

Actually, Jerk Week is next week, but here’s a one-day preview...

Jake Gittes in Chinatown
  1. Old fashioned art deco opening credits, muted trumpet plays...
  2. Working class husband looks at photos Gittes took of his wife having an affair. Gittes looks somewhat sympathetic, but eventually rolls his eyes: “Alright, Curly, enough’s enough. You can’t eat the Venetian blinds, I just had them installed on Wednesday.
  3. [Missing lines about how you can’t kill a guy unless you’re rich.]
  4. Meets the fake Mrs. Mulwray, who says her husband is having an affair. Gittes says, as deadpan as possible, “No. Really.” He insists that she’s better off not knowing.
  5. He asks her husband’s first name. “Hollis.” Gittes immediately responds, “Water and Power??” He tries more powerfully to get her to drop it, but she won’t.
  6. Gittes attends a hearing about a new dam, sees Hollis Mulwray speak: He explains that he signed off on a dam that gave way. He sees the same problem here, and he won’t okay it this time. Ranchers bring their sheep into the hall to complain about how their water was stolen, accuse Mulwray of stealing their water.
  7. Gittes watches Mulwray drive out into a dry riverbed and look around.
  8. He then watches Mulwray drive out to the ocean where a metal pipe is pointing off a cliff. Gittes climbs into the pipe to hide.
  9. After the sun sets, Gittes suddenly has to jump out of the pipe as water pours out!
  10. Gittes sees that Mulwray isn’t going anywhere, so he goes back to his car, finds a flyer under the windshield: Los Angeles is dying of thirst, vote Yes!
  11. He opens his glove compartment, revealing a dozen stopwatches. He sets one to the current time. He sets it behind a back wheel of Mulwray’s car and leaves.
  12. In the morning, his operative brings him the watch, smashed and frozen at the time Mulwray pulled away. The op explains that Mulwray was there all night. Then he followed Mulwray around all day, arguing with people about the dam. He hands Gittes a fixer tray where he’s just printed photos of Mulwray arguing with someone (John Huston).
  13. Gittes, nattily dressed as always, shakes the fixer chemicals off his hands in disgust. “This is what you spent your day doing?? Let me explain something to you, this job requires a certain finesse.” The other op calls: “I got it, he’s found himself some cutie. They’re in Echo Park.” Gittes hangs up: “Echo Park. Water again.”
  14. Gittes’s op rows him around the park’s lake. Mulwray rows by with a teenage girl in a pretty dress.
  15. Gittes climbs the roof of Gittes’s house and gets photos of the Mulwray and the girl: She tries on a dress for him and he kisses her gently. He slips and almost gets caught, but gets away…
  16. Unexpectedly, the photos are on the front page of the paper the next day. As Gittes gets shaved, the barber congratulates him for being so famous. A car overheats out on the street for lack of water. A mortgage banker in the next chair is disgusted at how Gittes makes his living. Gittes responds: “Listen, pal, I make an honest living. People only come to me when they’re in a desperate situation. I help ‘em out. I don’t kick families out of their houses like you bums down at the bank do!” The barber tries to distract him with a dirty joke about how the Chinese screw their wives.
  17. It apparently worked because Gittes comes back to his office and insists on telling the joke to his operatives. First he ushers his secretary to the restroom so she won’t hear it, then tells the dirty joke. His operatives, with embarrassment, point out that Faye Dunaway is standing behind him waiting for him. She reveals that she is the real Evelyn Mulwray.

  1. In re-watching this, I realized that Gittes isn’t actually that much of a jerk if you just look at his words and actions, but Nicholson chooses to play him with an apathetic sneer—a daring choice for an actor to make. (Actors usually try to make characters more appealing than they are on the page.)
  2. One thing that I’ve noticed in my own scripts is that it’s hard to write stalking scenes well. Spying on someone in real life is terrifying and tense, but onscreen it’s hard to capture that tension. To solve this problem, Towne keeps endangering Gittes. Gittes is in the pipe that the water comes out of. Later, he almost falls off the room while taking photos of Mulwray.
  3. This is one of those rare scripts where theme is more important than character. Few of these scenes move the character of Gittes forward, but they almost all move the theme forward. The theme revolves around a bad vs. bad dilemma: drought vs. stealing water. Every scene hits this theme hard, which is rare for a first act. Even the barbershop has a car running out of water outside.