Yves Lavandier’s book Writing Drama currently rates as the absolute favorite of our book reviewer Jack Brislee.
To give you the opportunity to delve into Lavandier’s amazing knowledge and insight, we will be publishing a weekly excerpt from the book.
The blue-eye hero syndrome
Dances With Wolves is fairly representative of a trend that surfaces regularly in Western filmmaking that might be called the blue-eyed hero syndrome, which involves telling only stories that have a resolutely positive protagonist.
It is not clear why this should be, though various reasons suggest themselves, including: a need to reassure the public; writers lacking the courage and conviction to make their protagonists unpleasant; the demands of “political correctness”; producers wanting positive heros for purely commercial (ie. box-office) concerns; actors worried about their image. Whatever the reasons, the gritty, coarse-grained heroes of the 1970s, the protagonists often described as anti-heroes, are now just a distant memory (cf. Midnight Cowboy, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, The Scarecrow, Série Noire, Ugly Dirty and Bad, etc).
the gritty, coarse-grained heroes of the 1970s,
the protagonists often described as anti-heroes,
are now just a distant memory
In Saturday Night Fever—hardly an arthouse movie—Tony Manero (John Travolta), the protagonist, is shown to be particularly sexist. In one scene, he starts making love with a girl-friend in the back of a car, then suddenly breaks off to ask her if she is taking contraceptive precautions; she says no. He then says he does not want to go any further and demands instead that she fellate him. How often do you see scenes like that in popular American movies today?
“You can make superficial films about show business where the star breaks a leg and where the understudy standing in for him is a huge success. But the understudy is boring. The interesting character, the one who is not dealt with, is the star who breaks a leg and sees an unknown take his place.“
For Billy Wilder , cinema should take rather more interest in unpleasant characters such as those played by Jean Hagen in Singin’ in the Rain or Bebe Daniels in 42nd Street.
As this makes clear, the choice of protagonist is a crucial decision that must be made with great care. Again, the protagonist does not necessarily have to be the main character in the drama; rather, he is the character who embodies the writer’s intentions (cf. Tartuffe or Monsieur Perrichon’s Holiday). Molière’s reason for not making Tartuffe his protagonist was that he was not attempting to understand his hypocrisy, he wanted simply to denounce it.