Auteur vs Scriptwriting Team

Television drama.

Contemplating those two almost contradictory terms brings numerous pictures into my head. The first is of some American channel executive seeking to maximize advertising income by breaking anything resembling drama into bite sized segments, punctuated with advertisements – not to mention product placements dominating every scene. Perhaps the most irritating aspect of American television is its need for repetition. Reiteration. Encore. Saying the same thing over again, in different ways.

British television is different. Dramatic moments with John Thaw as Endeavour Morse sitting, concentrated and listening to opera; Diana Rigg as Emma Peel standing poised in her jump suit or minidress prepared to defend herself and Patrick Macnee, in his role as John Steed.

Dani Lurle (photo) 2006 John Bates1965 Jean Varon mindress
One of the real stars of the Avengers, a John Bates minidress for Jean Varon Avengerswear collection from 1965. This particular design was for Diana Rigg as Emma Peel (photo: Dani Lurle, 2006, Fashion Museum, Bath)

Entertainment becomes escapism.

Of course, television is dead. Late adapters are the only people still alive who have not discovered this truth. Life cannot be compressed into a single forty minute hour. At least the Swedes know that it takes ten forty-two minute hours (seven full hours) to commit and solve a crime, and to comment on the social factors precipitating it.

In March I have watched Modus (1) and Modus 2. Based on crime novels by Norwegian author, and former justice minister, Anna Holt. The screenplay was written by Mai Brostrøm and Peter Thorsboe. It is, of course, this scriptwriting team that has had the most impact on the final product. It is not the director, or the marketing executive. This is why Scandinavian crime drama has been so successful, despite closed captions.

My first exposure to Scandinavian crime was in the early 1970s, reading novels by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, that featured Martin Beck, the protagonist Swedish homicide detective. Both authors plotted and researched each book together and then wrote alternate chapters. The books are renowned for their extensive character and setting development, planed in detail by the authors.

Hollywood, Bollywood and other film factories throughout the world have no chance of exploiting these virtues. With one and a half to two hours, they cannot develop character in any meaningful way. With the exception of a few rebel directors, like Michael Moore, they seem unable to offer meaningful social criticism. While the first factory location relies increasingly on extensive visual effects extolling violence, the second relies on extensive audio effects extolling love or at least sex, found in what can only be described as musical and choreographic set pieces.

Many of the most prominent directors described as auteurs, have been exposed by the #meToo movement. Hopefully, the narcissistic auteur is finally dead, and a more democratic, team based approach to video production can be pursued.

Fred Schepisi: “Auteur theory just denigrates everyone else’s job.”

Alan Parker: “[Auteur theory was] cooked up by a bunch of Frenchmen with an exercise book and a 16mm camera, perpetuated by the people who write about film, and fed by the insatiable vanities of us directors”.

Andrew Sarris: “Every director has to show his wild visual style in order to establish himself and blaze a trail immediately.”



To Hell with Anna!

Hell Station, Norway. Photo: Alasdair McLellan, 2008

J.D. Vance gave a passionate appeal in a TED talk about America’s forgotten working class.

Vance is a working class person who was given a break, and was able to pull himself upwards into the middle class, as a Yale educated lawyer. He has not forgotten his roots.

Vance says working class youth need help in two areas.

The first, is to provided with “social capital” (or what I would classify as informational capital). Perhaps they don’t need to know how to make a bed. They do need to know how to wash bedding, and to do it regularly. There are probably a thousand other life skills that need to be learned as well.

The second is more difficult. They need a trauma free environment. They need someone to ensure that they are not beaten or abused in any way. Sometimes it is as simple as finding a quiet space for homework. Sometimes it is considerably more complex. The most important line in the talk described childhood trauma as “the gift that keeps on giving.” There has to be some way to stop the generational transfer of childhood abuse.

Fiction, in the form of a novel, play or film is one way to provide help to youth with the above needs. One suggestion is “To Hell with Anna”, set in the village of Hell, Norway. At the start a dysfunctional Anna, living in squalor, finds a temporary solace in alcohol. The story documents her transformation from addict to plumber.

The main purpose of writing this work is to help young people make their own personal transformations. Of course, it should be written, performed as theatre, or performed on video by youth themselves.