I have about five different half finished blogs sitting in my notebook right now. Perhaps, someday, they will all make it to the internet but the past few weeks have been a veritable Antarctic of inspiration; the only natural inhabitants of my brain are penguins.
But something has been bothering me, just a bit. When I was little my mother used to say (still does, actually, in example that she repeated it again when I paused in the middle of writing this for breakfast), stuck on a repeating loop until it at least halfway crushed my spirit, that there were only four or five stories out there and that people kept remaking them over and over again. I hated this idea, and I didn’t believe for a second that it could possibly be true. There were new things coming out all the time. The Little Mermaid was nothing like Beauty and the Beast. Now that I am grown, of course, I understand what she was talking about; and I both agree and disagree. I disagree because I have realized, over the years, that having the same idea as something else does not make it the same.
We’ll take for example the film Avatar. Now, disclaimer, Avatar bored me. I like battles and CGI as much as the next girl, hell probably more than the next girl. Actually, I think ‘the next girl’ whoever she may be probably has much more tepid tastes than I, but I digress. There was nothing original about Avatar in the slightest degree except for it’s exceptionally over the top use of CGI. When I see a movie I am seeing it for the story. I don’t care how many creatures you’ve created using your computer, or what effects can be possible by having an actor stand in front of a green screen with those little blue dots of their faces so you computerize them later on. This shit does not move me. In twenty years the technology will look archaic and all you’ll be left with is what I cared about in the first place; the story. Avatar doesn’t really have one. Well that’s untrue, its story is the same story we’ve heard a hundred times when clashing cultures meet and greet. But my intention is not to badmouth Avatar, quite the contrary in fact. Yes… I mean, there were parts where I was full on bored, and a good friend of mine actually left the theatre, went to the neighboring bar, had two drinks, and then returned without having missed anything significant but those are the opinions of the few. Fact is, people seem to love this movie. I could say that the people who love this movie are boring, unadventurous followers who don’t see the good stuff and flock to the over-hyped, but I don’t think that I really can. Cause, this is now the highest grossing movie of all time.
Full disclosure: I loved Titanic, and I still sort of do. No, it really wasn’t the best movie ever, it probably didn’t deserve all the accolades it received and it certainly didn’t deserve the Oscar for Best Picture. But you get what you get. Titanic is a painstakingly researched, beautifully shot (and I am a sucker for aesthetics), classic doomed love story. The moment you walk into that theatre and are treated to the full half hour of boring exposition about a lost diamond and an old lady you know what’s going to happen. You know this girl is going to meet this boy, you know they’re going to fall in love, you know the ship is going to sink and know that he’s going to die. There’s really no alternative path which this movie could follow. But surprise is not the point of the movie. The point is to make you care about the characters and then set them forth in motion of this chain of events that you know is coming but are powerless to stop. I read an interview with Kate Winslet once about this film. Relatively unknown, she campaigned hard for the role of Rose DeWitt Bukater, and she explained that in pretty much the same terms I did. She read the script and was in tears because by the time she got there she said she would have done anything to stop that ship from sinking.
And I’m not saying Titanic‘s gotta work for you, not in the slightest. Avatar didn’t work for me, but it’s managed to gross over a billion dollars and effect people enough that there’s an online community of people seeking support for their depression over the fact that we’ll never have a Utopian society like on Pandora (to which, honestly, I say ‘Whaaaa- ?!). As we probably know… James Cameron is a master manipulator. He’s also a complete ass who needs to get rid of his midlife crisis ‘long at the sides’ do, but I digress. Before making Titanic he studied up on ‘what girls like’ threw it all in a pressure cooker and came out with the plot. His thought the collective female audience was enough to make the film gross more than the exorbitant price he paid out. Guess what? He was right. What’s more, girls saw this thing so many times that it didn’t even matter that its appeal to guys outside of being dragged by their dates or their daughters was nil. And I’m the first to admit it; I was the right age… and I saw it seven times.
(That being said, I’m not the best example of the typical girl. At that age I saw everything more than once. I watched Anastasia, yes the cartoon, somewhere around five times. And then Star Wars: The Phantom Menace like nine cause even if it was completely pointless crap it was still Star Wars. I liked movies… so did my friends… and I was never what you might call socialized.)
So what is the point I am trying to make? That everything has the same story or that it doesn’t. Well, no… my mom was right. Every once in awhile something comes along that people think it fantastical, a totally original idea that blows up the screen, and the mind, and sometimes (if we are very lucky) makes us think a little bit differently. But, usually, when you strip away the extraneous, the core of the story is something you’ve seen a million times. But is that so bad? After all, really it’s the dressing that makes it new. You can still have a clever story without it being entirely fresh.
Like I always say; good love stories don’t end happy. Gone with the Wind (you can decide for yourself if you want to classify that as a love story but suffice it to say there’s an epic romance in there), Casablanca, Wuthering Heights, Roman Holiday, hell Romeo & Juliet, they’re all about romances that, for one reason or another just couldn’t quite get there. And that’s probably for the best, right? It saves us from wondering what happens six months down the line when shit gets real. We’re happy in knowing that Rick loves Ilsa and Ilsa loves Rick but that circumstances drove them apart; their love survives even if they, as a couple, don’t. It completely eliminates the scratching thought at the back of the heads of all the cynics out there that she would have regretted leaving her husband and, perhaps more importantly, his cause, she wouldn’t have been happy dodging danger at Rick’s Americano for the rest of her life. And, hell, Claude Rains probably wouldn’t have had the chance to be quite as awesome as he clearly is.
And really, most love stories are versions of either Pygmalion or Pride and Prejudice at the core. And most stories, no matter what they masquerade as, are really just love stories.
So what’s the point of this post? You can decide that for yourself. Do I think that everything is the same? Yes. And no. But the real question is really whether or not that’s entirely a bad thing. Stories are, well, just that, stories. In college one of my roommates, KS, wasn’t there when the other roommate, R, and I got stuck pushing a friend’s car all over the greater Columbus area after he ran out of gas and assured us that ‘a gas station is just ahead’ (note: it wasn’t, we pushed that damned car for hours and miles) and when R started relaying the story KS stopped her. She wanted to hear it from me. I guess I am just that good. That story is a metaphor, by the way, and in case you didn’t quite catch it here’s the moral: A story may be just a story, but the meat and potatoes isn’t in its basic plot; the story’s in the telling.