How good does it have to be?

Phylicia Rashad on being the first black actress to win a Tony Award for best actress in a play:

“Often I have wondered what does it take for this to happen,” Rashad said in her acceptance speech. “And now I know. It takes effort and grace–tremendous self-effort and amazing grace.”

I’m doing what I hope is a final tightening on my feature length, hip hop screenplay adaptation of King Lear called King.  It’s taken over a year.  Now granted, I wasn’t able to work on it every day but for the first time in a long time, I vetted the hell out of this script.   And it’s paying off.

I kept three movies in mind.

Million Dollar Baby.  Long but elegantly structured.  Rich, full characters.  Plant and pay off.  A richly textured and observed world.  The script has a certain economy and discipline.  We don’t dwell on the broken relationship between Frankie (Clint Eastwood) and his estranged daughter.  There is no phony reconciliation at the end.  This tiniest of subplots is kept alive by an allusion in Morgan Freeman’s voiceover.  The screenplay doesn’t show us the heights of fame:  the photo shoots, the wealth – that we’ve seen so many times before.  We stick with the characters in the most vibrant part of their worlds:  the ring, the gym, their daily lives.   The places where they are most alive and most

Citizen Kane.  The audacity of it.  Theatrical settings.  Social critique.  Existentialism. Pushing creative limits.  Daring. A film that leaves you with the understanding that no man can be fully explained, digested, or spat out. A film that takes the time to explore the weakness, corruption, frailty in all of us. The games that we play. Saying new things in a new way requires new tools that are at the same time based on the very oldest tools and principles.

Grand Illusion A screenplay brimming over with humanity.  A film that brings life to the frame not by fast camera moves and quick edits alone but by dynamic events presented in an engaging way.  Renoir, the director, respects every character, especially the minor ones.  He’s trying to reach the public through “the projection of authentic images. ”  I spent a lot of time thinking about gangsters standing around like stooges and compared those images to neighbors and relatives I’ve known in the life.  The real affection and loyalty they have for each other and their fascination with the streets, where there is always something happening.

Why bother?  It might never see the light of  day.  But if it does …

It has to be as good as legacy.  Better than the last one.  As good as the ancestors deserve.  Better than two hours that can never be recaptured.  As good as the Montgomery Bus boycotters bunions and calluses.  As good as Sembene.  As good as the critique in a beatup writers room at the Harlem Writers Guild, Alameda Writers Group or ad hoc.  As good as writing before can and after can’t.  As good as you can make it when you’re sick of it and it’s not cute anymore.  As good as you can write it, then better.


About liftingasweclimb

Mildred Lewis writes and directs for theater, television, film and the web. She's also a full time professor, Christian, activist and troublemaker with a passion to save as much of the world as she can.
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