Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Geniuses at work - Part 1 of 2 - Richard Curtis

I tend to contradict myself a lot. And by that I don't mean that I often disagree with myself, nor that I quickly change my mind about things (though I sometimes do). What I tend to mean is that I very often take to contradictory things... Such as for example, wanting a stable peaceful life whilst anyway craving change, or the fact that I often find myself imagining what it would be like to be in the spotlight and yet I am so embarrassed when any kind of attention falls on me.

In this same way, I found myself this week thinking hard about why I would class two so-different film scriptwriters/directors as my favourites. I am in fact talking about Richard Curtis (as most followers of my blog would have noted already) and Paul Weitz. I intended originally to compare the two but I find there is so much to say about each of them in his own right that an entry about each of the two, no one of them a lesser genius, would be more appropriate.

These two directors (and even their scriptwriting) are as different as it can get. Whilst Richard Curtis is the bumbling Englishman who writes about love, Weitz is an American-born director and a permissive one at that when it comes to character.

Of course I can only comment about them with regards to films I have watched so this is in no way a generalization about their works. From what I can gather, however, Richard is a fool for love and admits to the topic being a fascination for him. Furthermore, he believes that love stories are no less realistic (or even more-so) than the more seriously-inclined films. For after all, he reasons, is love not one of those things that really does happen? Why are romantic comedies given less credit for their romantic fantasies, which usually after all do deal with plausible scenarios?

Curtis' writing explores the day-to-day in a more interesting light, injecting however that twist that makes it less plausible... The megastar who falls for the man in the street? The very public figure of the Prime Minister unashamedly having a relationship with the person who makes his tea? The stiff Englishman who goes on holiday after a heartbreak and finds his perfect match in a much-younger, Mediterrarnean woman despite their inability to communicate through a language barrier and then proposes to her without any prelude of real interaction?

My sceptisicm aside, I find Curtis' work, both written and direction, genius. He can weave ten or so plots into one film, blending them in to become a part of a whole, rather than just seperate storylines. I am talking here about Love Actually (2003). This is well-planned in the continuity of the music from one scene and story to the next, as well as the voice-over at the beginning of the film, stating what is to become a sort-of motto for the characters, if they can only seek to find it out for themselves.

Another trick that Curtis uses to link all the stories is the setting and intertwined relationships, with Emma Thompson's character being not only the wife of Harry (who is taken with Mia, in turn a friend of Mark who is obsessed by his best friend's wife played by Keira Knightley as Juliet) but also a friend of Liam Neeson's character Daniel and the sister of Prime Minister David (aptly played by Hugh Grant) whose love interest Nathalie is a next-door neighbour to Mia. Meanwhile Colin Firth's character is in turn a friend of Mark, Juliet and her husband, there are the necessary excuses to make this into one story about them all. Curtis also cleverly turns Billy Mack's performance on TV as the excuse for airport personnel's negligence when it comes to stopping (or not) the boy Sam from escaping into a 'passengers-only' area. Meanwhile stand-ins John and Judy, with a story seemingly all their own, turn up at the school Christmas concert that most other characters are attending. Also, one of the crew members from the film they are shooting turns out to be Colin Frissell's best friend... Colin being the waiter at Peter and Juliet's wedding, during whose reception we can already see Mark's loving looks as he video-tapes Juliet's actions whilst Sarah's chatting away on the phone already, in what is a preview of these two's upcoming personal story.

I will never cease to be amazed at the complexity of this particular project of Curtis (and talented producer Duncan Kenworthy). In a clip on the DVD of 'Love Actually' Richard explains how the idea for the whole project came out of his multiple stories still waiting to be written, which he calculated would take around three years each should he turn each one into a stand-alone film. Not really tempted by spending the rest of his life writing one romantic comedy after another, he chose instead to incorporate them all under the cap of his very firm personal belief that "love is everywhere"... A phrase that Grant's character points out but which Grant says does not present his own view as he is the more negative type who tends to believe more in the world of "hatred and greed" that the voice-over in the film dismisses as irrational.

I could go on and on with this commentary but I am sure I have overstepped the line already and am keen for you readers to return for my next part of this entry... Paul Weitz and his edge of reason. So I leave you to your day as I trudge off to my own office job, unfortunately nothing as exciting or even marginally interesting as the films and scriptwriting and acting I so love to write about.

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