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April 13, 2010

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Deaf Indian Muslim Anarchist

He's always been overrated as a playwright, but good on him for making it big. I still detest him for his stupid misogynistic attitude toward females in his plays & scripts.

Ben TS

There are two diseases Mamet displays symptoms of in his essay: "My-shit-don't-stink"-ism and "Shit-was-better-back-then"-ism. As usual, his obliviousness to irony is outrageous: his last two Broadway plays were about a lame-duck-president and a racially-charged criminal trial, and yet he has the cojones to rail against "political theatre?"

This is why I sometimes think writers shouldn't get too successful. I'm okay with writers getting successful enough that they can buy a house and have kids. What I'm not cool with is writers getting so successful that they can indulge the hell out of the tortured hermit gene in all writers' DNA. That's how once-great-artists get out of touch. By my estimation, Mamet hasn't been in the real world since what? The mid-80's at the latest? Everything he writes reflects that. "True and False" was a good fifteen years too late, and this new book looks even more dated. So in answer to the question, "Does Mamet go to the theatre any more?" I'd say no. Because nobody who goes to the theatre regularly in the 21st-Century talks about "stock companies" as if that's been an actual thing since 1978.

Ian Thal

Too bad that Mamet doesn't understand politics well enough to show us how it should be done. His November was pretty weak both as political satire and as modern commedia dell'arte. Which is too bad since he has a great gift for vulgarity.

Josh James

An "okay" screenwriter?

That's ridiculous.

I don't agree with much, or hardly any, if Mamet's essays these days (that is, if they're not a joke played on us by him) but to label Mamet only an "okay screenwriter" is really too far ... He fucking wrote THE VERDICT, for crying out loud, and THE UNTOUCHABLES, and WAG THE DOG (co-wrote) among many others, and I would say that while I found the ending of REDBELT to be lacking, HEIST and SPARTAN and THE SPANISH PRISONER are excellent films well writ ... To call him only an "okay" screenwriter, that's a disservice to him, whether you agree with his politics or not (and I do not), is just weak, Isaac. If only because of THE VERDICT alone.

Okay, I'll stop ranting now.

99

I don't know...I'd go for "good," maybe, but I set the standard for "great" screenwriting pretty high. I enjoy the heck out HEIST and THE SPANISH PRISONER and THE UNTOUCHABLES played a surprisingly large role in my teenage years...but to call them "great"? Like on the level of what? The Apartment? Butch and Sundance? Not that it's the standard or anything, but he's got what? 1 Oscar nomination? No awards?

It's all a matter of taste, but I'd definitely hesitate to include Mamet in a list of great screenwriters.

working Group

I'm with Josh on this. Mamet is mroe than an "ok" screenwriter. This is as reductive as calling Jonathan Safran Foer's books- "a good grad school" thesis. What grad school you referencing?

It's an easy target but it's insulting to writers on a whole to not acknowledge an accomplishment whether the guy's a douche bag or not.

Josh James

J ... watch THE VERDICT ... that's a great film.

I didn't make a case for Mamet being "great" btw, just that he's far more than "okay".

Good, great, all subjective, sure ... but Mamet's had a career in film that has had a definite impact, he's been nominated for two Oscars, four WGA awards (and got the lifetime achievement award) three Golden Globes and an Independent Spirit award.

He's written over 30 movies. Thirty films!

do you know how good you have to be to get a film shot that you wrote ... Mamet's written over thirty films ... and that doesn't count television ... 30 credits (and many more uncredited) ... do you know how good you have to be to have a career like that?

More than okay.

Just sayin'.

isaac

Josh,

You're being a little overwrought, don't you think? You don't have to be a particularly good writer to get a film script made... haven't you ever seen FACE/OFF? or The Fantastic 4?

"Okay" might be a little more negative than I should've been, I was more htinking about the latter half of his career, particularly when it comes to movies he's directed. THE SPANISH PRISONER is a solid redux of HOUSE OF GAMES, but it's nothing special. That hollywood "Satire" he wrote is truly awful. SPARTAN is okay. HEIST is a disaster. THE UNIT is an awful tv show.

Mamet's sole capital-g great screenplay is wag the dog, and that's one he co-wrote with someone else. The Verdict is solid, but it's also elevated by Neuman and Mason and Lumet (think about what a disaster that movie would've been had Mamet directed it!).

And Working Group, I think there's nothing wrong with voicing an opinion about an artist's work; your comment mystifies me.

Tony Adams

In any case he's a far better screenwriter than essayist.

Josh James

I don't think so, no ... not overwrought, not at all ... it's hard to have a career as a screenwriter, even harder to get nominated for multiple awards ... it's very hard to do it well.

Mamet does it pretty well, far more than okay. There's a whole list of writers with one or two credits. He has many, and differing types, too. Not all successful, but certainly many that were.

This whole listing of one crap movie after another as evidence that one doesn't need to be an excellent writer to be a screenwriter is a bit of a slap, too ... Fantastic Four was made into a movie because it was a comic book ... I actually quite enjoyed Face-Off, to be honest ... in any event, you're implying that one can be a bad or average writer and have a solid, decades long career in film.

I don't agree ... and a bad movie doesn't equal a bad writer ... Brian Hegeland wrote THE POSTMAN and one of my personal favorites, LA CONFIDENTIAL in the same year (and he got his start with a Nightmare on Elm St movie, one of the sequels) ...

Your listing of Mamet's films that are just okay and the ones that are awful is basically your subjective taste, you don't like certain kind of movies ... I get that (and I surely don't agree with your judgments on them, I loved HEIST and I also quite liked many others) ...

What I'm saying is, it sounds like your insulting his work just because you don't like him, and I don't think you've correctly assessed his impact on film, that's my view wrought or over, as it may be.

Ken

As I've often said, I think Mamet's written about two theatrical masterpieces (Glengarry and Buffalo), and about three or four very good plays (Edmond, Cryptogram, etc.). The screenwriting is good craftsmanship; taut storytelling that nevertheless never quite rises to the level of great writing. The directing? Meh.

But when Dave chooses to pontificate, holy shit, batten down the hatches, because a hurricane of hot air is coming your way. The main theme is almost always "Things aren't as good as they used to be--except my stuff." Which, of course, is the right of any aging person who's clocked several worthy decades in a profession. What irritates me is the tone. The vagueness, the crytpic allegories--concocted, it would seem to maintain the illusion that he's some mountain-top guru, sitting cross-legged on the ground, doling out the wisdom.
Would it have killed him to put in one specific example?

And to answer the question poised by Isaac's post, Dave apparently hasn't been to any play but his own in a while, for Dave does not like the new and the transient, but prefers the eternal, the reliable, and the unwavering: cigars, manual typewriters, cabins in Vermont, and the oeuvre of David Mamet.

Sean (working group)

Maybe my ire's up... but it seems reductive to me. And to writing as a whole. You caught me on a day where a close writer friend was completely treated like shit by a theater. Made a promise and then ignored until a casting notice came out today that didn't have her work (or their promise of it) listed anywhere. This is how we break news to emerging writers these days.

A real upstanding gesture.

So it's very possible that the attack on Mamet is meaning something bigger to me today. I mean honestly fuck Mamet- he's a millionaire. What do I care what you think about him?

I care more about how we think about writing. How we treat human beings. How we talk about and respect the form. Because I got some college kids I'm teaching reading this right now and if they start thinking "fuck if Foer and Mamet suck, what are people gonna think of me!"

And they're smart and everyone here is polite and cares so surely I'm overreacting. We know we're only throwing ideas and opinions around. Some midday discourse on a subject we love. And I get it:

Foer's a poster boy for backlash- too much success too soon (in theater it might be called the Ruhl effect) but the truth is what he did at his age in Everything Is Illuminated is remarkable. Good thesis or no- his writing in his twenties is the exception not the rule. I'm guessing most thesis advisors if pressed would say the same.

And this isn't meant as an attack on you or anyone. Apologies if it is coming that way. but this is a discourse we don't speak on much...

But thinking and discussion about writing and writers is almost always reductive. We talk about how Mamet sucks. About how Ruhl sucks. About how the Pulitzer's suck. The wrong people get the pie... and so on and so on. And because of the model of regional and NY Off Broadway that all makes sense- lack of opportunity breeds contempt.

But...
Writing a play isn't easy. For Mamet or anyone else.

Just as directing a play isn't easy
Acting either.

I mean if I think about it:

There aren't that many discussions about directors who suck online? Are there?

Why is that?

Is directing infinitely harder than writing a play? Is it that untouchable? Would you be offended if there were? Would anyone?

If the conversation devolved into Dan Sullivan "sucks ass" or anything like that?

As I write this maybe I should embrace it. We want to save the writer but we kinda want to burn the mother at the stake too. There's something exciting in that. ANd honest- when you write you're demanding attention.

It's got me thinking at least.

Ian Thal

Well, I'd say that about the only living high-profile English language playwright who operates in the political sphere and manages to avoid talking out the wrong orifice at times is Tom Stoppard-- but he happens to stick to causes that he's spent a lot of time researching where he can do the most good, i.e. shining the light on human rights under totalitarian regimes by building relationships with other artists and academics living in those countries.

Mamet is an entertainer, and a very good one at that, but I don't generally expect great (or even simply good) artists to be the most politically insightful.

Howard

It sounds like everyone agrees, the guy can't direct (he's got the visual imagination of an office cubicle).

But THE SPANISH PRISONER sucked. If you didn't get bored watching Rebecca Pidgeon repeat the same question a hundred times, well, I'd hate to be trapped in a corner at a party with you. HEIST is a mediocre caper film made interesting by Brando's reappearance, but it's not great and would not make anyone's best list for the decade it was made in. THE UNTOUCHABLES is also mediocre - except for the baby carriage scene (which was conceived by the director DePalma, not Mamet) and the baseball bat (which is just vulgar) can anyone really remember even one notable line from the movie? HOUSE OF GAMES was dry as a bone and watching Joe Mantenge flat face it for an hour and a half was like watching particle board attempt breathing (but, of course, he's just saying the lines in the best Mamet tradition).

THE VERDICT is a good solid movie and that's it. That's why they teach that script in film classes, though even then, there are better scripts to use to demonstrate structure, plot and character in film writing.

HOMICIDE and THINGS CHANGE are interesting. THE POSTMAN he doesn't get any credit for as he's working with James M. Cain's material and Bob Rafelson's genius - plus Lang and Nicholson.

(You might say that really, if he's not working with a supreme stylist of a director, his movies really don't do much: THE VERDICT - Sidney Lumet; VANYA ON 42nd STREET - Louis Malle; WAG THE DOG - Barry Levinson; RONIN - John Frankenheimer)

Finally, to say he's a good writer because he's written 30 movies is like saying the Bible is the word of God because there's one in every hotel room. Numbers do not add up to quality, or much else for that matter (though the number may go some ways toward explaining why people keep talking about him - it's more than a movie a year, so maybe you just can't get away!).

Mamet became famous for writing muscular, rhythmic dialog that made poetry out of expletives while exploring the down side of America's favorite post war punching bag, the salesman. No one was doing it like he was when he first came on the scene. For that he deserves a huge amount of credit.

Jack Worthing

GOOD BOYS AND TRUE by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa: young gays have complicated feelings, which are often suppressed due to family and societal pressures. And the rich can be hypocrites. Productions at Steppenwolf and Second Stage.

Quibble if you like and say this doesn't fit into Mamet's little reduction, but catch his drift: it's the tidy liberal moral, the reminder of what most of the audience already knows/thinks.

GOOD BOYS never bothers to ask how these things happen. It simply accepts that they are. Money makes you blind, rich white people are quick to write their kid's homosexuality off as a phase, etc. The characters don't contain a single human contradiction -- they're vehicles for a point of view.

You're half-right: often this sort of worthy, uncomplicated stuff doesn't make it past the gatekeepers. But I'd say Sarah Treem's A FEMININE ENDING at Playwrights fits the bill too. McCraney's WIG OUT! is a slick, buzzing and over-long way to say BE YOURSELF! I enjoyed the spectacle immensely but it was a pale shadow of the moral warfare found in the BROTHER/SISTER PLAYS. All these examples are off the top of my head. If you want more, I'll try to think of some.

For what it's worth, I find the sort of play Mamet describes to be very common in the Ivy programs that I've defended elsewhere. Whether the connection means anything I don't know. These people are not bad writers, but their skill often hides a vacuum.

RVCBard

I find it intriguing how the people singing David Mamet's plays the most are all men.

Jack Worthing

Note that the original post had basically nothing to do with Mamet's plays, and absolutely nothing to do his female characters. And I commented on neither. Just saying.

RVCBard

"Just saying."

No you're not. You're none too subtly saying that comments that note a correlation between the gender of the commenter and their esteem of David Mamet is seeing sexism where it doesn't exist - which is the most simplistic and least interesting way to read my comment.

I know it's hard to fathom, but I might be hinting at something more nuanced than you believe my feverish Black female brain can come up with.

Jack Worthing

No, no, sorry, that won't cut it. Facts in evidence, please. I actually did not know, nor do I care that you are black and female. I happen to agree with you that Mamet's women are misogynist nightmares. I simply would like restrict the discussion to THE TOPIC -- that is, whether the hypothetical play that Mamet describes is being produced today. I believe that it is. I backed my argument up. I have met David Mamet. I think he's an asshole, and, with the exception of BUFFALO and GLENGARRY a mediocre writer -- and I see those plays as triumphs of style over substance. But what's that got to do with anything? Forgive me for not wanting the thread to dissolve into an orgy of accusation, as it's done before (cf. Sarah Ruhl). Or maybe I just need to learn that every single statement I make is ineradicably tied up with sex organs. Regardless, before you throw racially and sexually charged language at me -- when you have no idea of my race or my sex! -- why don't you try arguing on topic and merit?

isaac

Jack,

Of the three plays you mention-- FEMININE ENDING, WIG OUT and GOOD BOYS, i have only seen WIG OUT, but I actually don't think it fits the description of what Mamet is talking about.

Mamet defines the kinds of plays that are apparently ruining american theater very specifically in his example: They are plays about the conflict between "other groups" and bigoted straight white men.

Given that there aren't any white people or straight people int he play... and given that it isn't really about the oppression of gay people by straight people but rather about the conflicts between gay men (largely over power within relationships), I don't really think it qualifies.

I agree with you that the Be Yourself!!! themes are a bit simplistic in that play (i enjoyed it but it's not a great play) but it doesn't match what Mamet is talking about.

RVCBard

Jack,

How can you agree with me about something I never said? Just because you like to wrap your criticisms of what people say around a veil of passive-aggressive accusation doesn't mean I'm doing the same, m'kay?

As far as not wanting the thread to devolve into accusations, the only one accusing anyone of anything is . . . you. I was making an observation about the conversation that was actually happening. It's called keeping up. So your decision to take me to task for derailing a thread that was already off the tracks - to use your phrase - doesn't cut it. How about instead of fucking around with me you take your own damn advice and talk about the post itself if that's what you want to discuss?

Jack Worthing

@RVC,

Someone else made that comment, I attributed it to you. That's my mistake. I apologize for that.

I don't apologize for wanting the thread to get back on the rails. It's easy to tear down Mamet, but he raises an interesting question. I tried to answer it, you ignored it, and then you took my attempt to focus the conversation as a racially and sexually motivated ('my feverish black female brain') attack. Did you jump to a conclusion there, or do you always bring guns to fistfights?

@Isaac,

After reading the post again we're in full agreement re. WIG OUT. I'd be interested to hear your opinion of the other plays, though.

isaac

Sure! Let me try to get my hands on em!

Ian Thal

RCVBard,

Regarding the the fact that many men dislike Mamet's perceived misogyny. I'm going to guess that reflects more on Mamet having a peculiar neurosis that, even in a sexist society, many men not only don't share, but find unpleasant, if not revolting, because it goes well outside the societal norm, or at least the societal norm of theatre-people in the early 21st century.

I think Jack does have a point when he notes that we've gone off-topic here: The main theme was Mamet's disgust with the current crop of "politically engaged" theatre. Is it an accurate representation of what's appearing on stages? (That's open for debate.) Can Mamet write a better politically engaged play to show us how it should be done? (Based on some of his recent work, I doubt it.)

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