Term Paper: Allen / Mamet / Postmodernism

Pages: 5 (1450 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 3  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Film  ·  Buy This Paper


[. . .] In terms of the Hollywood cinema and its critical reception, the term has become thoroughly debased. A film is perceived as original either if the reviewer is ignorant of its sources or it imitates a (generally European) model of critically ratified "genius": when De Palma works his variations of Psycho, this is imitation or plagiarism, whereas when Bob Fosse or Woody Allen imitates Fellini or Bergman this is somehow, mysteriously, evidence of his originality. Debased or not, the cult of originality is of comparatively recent date. (Wood, 140)

It is worth noting, however, that the plot of Bullets Over Broadway could be construed as containing an implicit critique of the auteur theory. After all, Cusack's protagonist manages to define genius, when talking with a playwright even more pretentious and less successful than himself: "…you're a genius. And the proof is that both common people and intellectuals find your work completely incoherent. Means you're a genius." (Allen 1994). Likewise, in the central strand of the plot, Chazz Palmintieri's mob enforcer, who has been assigned to make sure that his boss's girlfriend does not fool around with the intellectual writer (perhaps because the mob boss, like Woody Allen, has seen Born Yesterday), turns out to be just one of those "common people" who bring a sensitive appreciation to the writer's work that an artist might crave from the best "intellectuals" in the audience: before shooting the gunmoll he was charged with protecting he feels obliged to tell her "you're a horrible actress," before dying he feels obliged to offer what sounds like a sensible and knowledgeable critique of the playwright's script, and in death he manages to pull off the perfect dramatic feat of seizing the script's most memorable leitmotif (the injunction "Don't speak," which has been used melodramatically throughout the film by the garrulous leading lady played by Dianne Weist) for himself. But the Chazz Palminteri character is not an auteur manque: instead, the film conceives him as the stand-in for a bored audience member, the sort of average person who might watch endless repeats of the same script and eventually notice where its flaws are located.

To read Spartan and understand its protagonist as a stand-in for David Mamet's fantasized self-projection as auteur is less straightforward than employing the same critical approach with Allen's film. Yet we may intuit a way to approach Mamet through one element in Allen. Intriguingly the uncredited contributions that the gangster makes to the playwrights script in Bullets Over Broadway are conceived of in terms of both intelligence and masculinity, as though the two were mutually exclusive. John Cusack's playwright initially derides the suggested rewrites offered by Chazz Palminteri's mobster: "Suddenly I'm taking suggestions from some strong-arm man with an IQ of minus fifty." (Allen, 1994). But when the suggestions are implemented, one actress (played by Tracey Ullman) responds to the rewrite by saying to the writer "Congratulations. It finally has balls." (Allen, 1994). To a certain extent, these motifs could be brought to understand David Mamet: in a 2011 non-fiction book The Secret Knowledge, Mamet revealed that he is an enthusiastic admirer of both Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck, which would seem to indicate an IQ in the region of minus fifty. The discussion of politics is somewhat necessary in approaching Spartan, as it would seem to be a film inspired by the Bush-era "War on Terror." To a certain degree, we could construct a narrative in which David Mamet plays a part: after all, Mamet's own screenplay for Barry Levinson's 1997 Wag the Dog was invoked by his Republican ideological confreres to mock President Bill Clinton's 1998 missile strike upon a suspected Al Qaeda target in the Sudan during the Monica Lewinsky scandal. By 2004 -- the year in which Spartan was released -- the Bush Adminstration sought to elevate Al Qaeda to an "existential threat" that justified the near-demolition of habeas corpus, while nobody invoked Mamet's script for Wag the Dog as a way of deriding the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq as being about as plausible as Mamet's fictionalized invasion of [END OF PREVIEW]

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