The man who came to play

I’ve always said that the greatest movie ever made is The Deer Hunter. And it’s no secret that I experience the most insane dreams possible.

So last night, I dreamt that The Deer Hunter was never produced at all and instead, in its place, the original script titled The Man Who Came to Play was made. I know nothing of this apparently “spec” script, other than it involves friends going to Las Vegas to play Russian Roulette. Michael Cimino and Deric Washburn later repurposed this screenplay into The Deer Hunter, switching out Vegas for Vietnam.

In fact, as far as I know, only the Russian Roulette scenes survived in the final draft from the original treatment. There’s no telling what The Man Who Came To Play would have looked like, but if my dream is any indication, it would have fit in well with the dark 70s canon.

This script, written by Louis A Garfinkle and soap opera actor Quinn Redeker, is apparently for sale online. There’s no telling how much it costs and I couldn’t find any of its story details, but my main question is why did this friend or friends go to Vegas to play Russian Roulette?

Did they do it willfully?

Were they coerced?!

I understand why Cimino and Washburn repurposed it. It made sense for the time and it absolutely worked. But I like to play this game of “what if”. Nowadays, I find the original concept to be far more darker and nihilistic, especially if the friends were written to be Vietnam vets.

I can’t help but think that The Man Who Came To Play would have made a terrific spiritual sequel to Taxi Driver. Think about it: Bobby DeNiro as Travis Bickle. We’ll pretend that the ending to Taxi Driver wasn’t the dying dream of a mass shooter. Instead, Bickle survives and goes to Vegas where’s he’s once again disgusted with the crime and decadence of Sin City. One way or another, he finds himself reliving the nightmares of Vietnam; he begins entertaining depraved businessmen by hitting the underground Russian Roulette circuit.

I see a lot of Paul Schrader’s “God’s lonely man” in Garfinkle and Redeker’s concept. But oh well. We got The Deer Hunter instead and we should all be thankful for that.

But if anyone knows anything about this script, please reach out to me.

Death of a theater

There’s a lot of bitching about the supposed death of movie theaters. The argument goes that the only way to appreciate filmmaking is on the silver screen with a fellow audience. Because of the proliferation of internet streaming, the communal experience cinema has fallen by the wayside.

Do I agree with this assessment?

Yes.

Do I give a shit?

No.

Perhaps I became a cinephile at the wrong time. I mean, I get it. I really do. But the dynamics of the filmgoing experience has changed. And that’s alright. EVERYTHING changes at some time or another.

But I quit caring about movie theaters a long time ago. Long before COVID even. The last time I’ve been to a theater was in 2017 to see Star Wars: The Last Jedi. This is largely because I have truthfully never bought into the “communal experience” of watching a movie.

I remember watching Joe Dirt in theaters long ago. I realized it was funny before everyone else did; before it became a cult classic. When Joe Dirt threatened to blow up the Grand Canyon and got poop spilled all over him, I laughed hysterically. Everyone else sat in their seats stone-faced. Audiences (except for me, of course) wouldn’t know what was funny if it bit them in the nuts. So fuck what other people think.

My argument is this: if you want to enjoy a movie, it has to be just YOU and the film. My love of cinema didn’t start in the theater. It started at 11 years old, after midnight, while watching Taxi Driver on Cinemax. Of course I was watching Cinemax at that hour to see some gratuitous T&A. At least initially. In fact, if anyone caught me, I would have probably quickly switched to porn and denied I was watching the classics of cinema. The first time I watched 2001: A Space Odyssey, it was with some friends and, to be cool, I had to say it was the most boring thing I’ve ever seen. But in my heart, I knew it was genius. At 12 years old, I stayed up late to watch The Deer Hunter and cried myself to sleep. I never told anyone that until years later. Enjoying a movie, to me, should be an intimate experience; it should reveal things about yourself both good and bad…things that you may never tell another living soul. THAT’S the power of filmmaking.

This isn’t to say that theaters don’t have their purpose. But I’d argue that theaters simply offer the spectacle of film. They serve a similar purpose to churches. Sure, everyone can come together and listen to a sermon, but to have a truly transcendental religious experience, one must transcend the spectacle and enter a state of gnosis; of opening one’s mind to things unseen. Movies can be more than a spectacle. They can be a revelation.

Honestly, the slow death of movie theaters probably started with VHS.

Breaking bad on Wall Street

Yeah, like everyone else in the early 2010s, I was addicted to Breaking Bad. It came at a turning point when we started evaluating the male ego in art and storytelling. Many bitch about this paradigm shift, but honestly it’s given me a fuckton of creative fuel to write my dumbass stories.

Without it, I wouldn’t have a writing career at all! So thanks Breaking Bad for all the digital trees I’ve wasted on the internet.

But as time has passed, it’s obvious that there were problems with the show. Now I try to evaluate art by the intentions of the artist. So what were the showrunners trying to do here?

https://www.yahoo.com/entertainment/breaking-bad-creator-vince-gilligan-231701266.html

https://variety.com/2022/tv/news/breaking-bad-skyler-hate-vince-gilligan-1235347122/amp/

Apparently, creator Vince Gilligan didn’t know either. While I think everyone involved did their jobs in the most competent and effective way possible, in my opinion, there was a fundamental difference between Gilligan’s vision and Bryan Cranston’s portrayal of Walter White/Heisenberg.

I base this opinion on zero research, but hear me out…

I’m assuming, when the show was pitched, that the thrust behind the story was to watch the protagonist turn into the villain. At least this is what drew me into the show. But if that’s the case, we run into an age old Clark Kent/Superman problem.

Philosopher and film theorist Slavoj Zizek, while discussing The Joker, claimed that the real identity of a superhero IS the mask and the person beneath it is the alter ego. Or, in other words, the MASK is what permits us to be our true selves.

In that sense, Heisenberg-the “MASK”- is really what Walter White is. If Heisenberg was ever wearing a mask for a disguise, that mask was the man Walter White. Therefore, Walter White…or, more accurately, Heisenberg…was ALWAYS evil.

I’m glad all of that makes sense.

But the problem is Walter White doesn’t always ACT like the bad guy. In fact, he’s usually shown being a loving father and Jesse’s guardian. Sure, he poisons a child, watches a woman choke to death, etc etc. but Walter White…probably due to Cranston’s acting choices…seems to signal horror at some of his decisions. In fact, if memory serves, he shows a sigh of relief when he learns that the child WON’T die from the poisoning attempt.

He even begs for Hank’s life for fuck’s sake!

Would Gus Fring, Walter White’s arch nemesis, have done that?

Fuck no!

And therein lies the fundamental problem with Breaking Bad: the audience never severs its sympathy with Walter White. Nor, I would argue, were they ever encouraged to do so.

Was this a deliberate choice by the showrunners? Was Cranston too damn competent at his job? Did anyone think any of this through?

I don’t suppose that this undermines the quality of the show. It’s just annoying to consider while re-watching it. The show seems to fail at meeting its own objective.

In fact, this concept…displaying a totally deplorable character in the most engaging way possible…has been successfully done before. Perhaps you remember it: The Wolf of Wall Street.

To be fair though, Martin Scorsese has a knack for this kind of thing. In fact, the movie that put him on the map, Taxi Driver, does something similar. The audience is exposed to a deranged world of a protagonist, we even empathize with him to a certain degree, but we can’t ever imagine coming to his defense (as fans of Breaking Bad have done many times before with Walter White).

With the Wolf of Wall Street, Scorsese “let’s you in on the joke.” Jordan Belfort is an over-the-top nutcase, and Scorsese allows you to indulge in his depravity, but you know that the end will come crashing down at any moment.

Scorsese isn’t afraid to “pull the trigger”…or show you the moment when a protagonist looses his grip on reality.

While Walter White certainly had his over-the-top moments, the audience is never encouraged to lose sympathy for him. This is reinforced through the writing. White should have never of begged for Hank’s life, his relationship with Jesse should have been established as being purely manipulative and nothing more, his role as a father should have deteriorated, etc etc.

Perhaps that’s the limits of television. When you spend five or more seasons with a character, it’s hard NOT to have sympathy for them.

But it always felt as though Walter White never quite broke bad.

‘the internet ruined everything’s’ canon of greatest films ever made

You know what the internet needs? Another list of greatest movies.

So, in no particular order:

The Deer Hunter (1978): I’ve discussed this movie at length numerous times. I think it’s the greatest example of the power of filmmaking.

Robocop (1987): For the simpletons, this is just another 80s action film. For those that know better, it’s the greatest satire ever made. But each time I watch it, the more horrified I become. The idea of “Robocop” is terrifying. Imagine getting killed in the most violent way, then you get revived and made property of an evil corporation and begin to struggle to understand who or what you are. Hollywood is a lesser place without Paul Verhoeven.

-The Thin Blue Line (1988): This, along with Errol Morris’ (currently known for directing Chipotle commercials) Vernon, Florida are my two favorite documentaries. This is the story about a killing of a Dallas cop and a man getting rear ended by the justice system. I love Randall Dale Adams. He’s an everyday dude that took an unfortunate trip to Texas. We’ve all been there.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982): Yes, I’m a Trek fan. While every nerd has seen this movie dozens of time, I don’t think it gets the credit it deserves. It’s not really sci-fi, it’s more of a Shakespearean tragedy in space. In many ways, this film revived Trek. And director/writer Nicholas Meyer, who knew nothing of Star Trek prior to this, deserves credit.

Dances With Wolves (1990): I will go to my grave saying Kevin Costner deserved his Oscar. Fuck Martin Scorsese.

Taxi Driver (1976): We all know Martin Scorsese is a genius. And Paul Schrader may be the greatest screenwriter of all time. In the era of angry, lonely young men roaming the internet, this movie was well ahead of its time.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968): if you’re gonna do science fiction, do it right. Everybody knows this movie. And because this movie rightfully gets the credit it deserves, we take it for granted. But, to this very day, it is the most ambitious film ever made.

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974): I love movies that satirize a very serious situation. It’s kinda like Dr. Strangelove, albeit this film is dealing with a much less serious subject: the taking of hostages. Every actor is great, but Walter Matthau was an unusual talent. His face alone could carry a film.

No Country For Old Men (2007): The best movie made in the last 20 years. Cormac McCarthy may be the greatest living author and it ain’t easy adapting his work for the big screen. The nihilism, the existential themes, Javier Bardem, the vast, empty Texas landscape… “okay, I’ll be a part of this world.”

Blood Diner (1987): Most fans of the B-movie, cult genre are familiar with this film but it should be more widely known with general audiences. Probably the funniest fucking movie I’ve ever seen.

deer Hunter is the greatest movie ever made

Along with Tourette’s Guy and Randall Dale Adams, Michael Cimino is my spirit animal.

And The Deer Hunter is Cimino’s finest hour. Nay…the finest hour in film history.

I always love it when filmmakers buck tradition. Now I love James Bond as much as the next guy. But honestly, I’m glad they killed Bond in the latest movie. I hope they do it in every Bond movie going forward. Don’t give the audience what they want. Give them what YOU want.

And The Deer Hunter does that.

So why does no one mention it as one of the great classics of 70s cinema…up there with The Godfather, Taxi Driver, and Apocalypse Now?

Michael Cimino probably has something to do with that. His notorious flop Heaven’s Gate ruined his reputation forever. But as I mentioned, Cimino doesn’t give the audience a rewarding cinematic experience.

There’s a wedding scene that takes 9 hours for fuck’s sake.

But I’ve said this once and I’ll say it a thousand times: The Deer Hunter is not a film. It’s a fever dream.

You know…you’ve had those dreams that were so powerful that you feel forever changed when you awake. But you can’t explain it to others.

So you don’t talk about it again.

That’s the Deer Hunter.

That’s why it sort of gets lost in the shuffle when the subject of greatest movies ever made is discussed. You can’t explain it.

What’s it about?

It’s about coming back from Vietnam.

But is that what it’s really about?

I suppose it’s subject is of family, of friendship…of surviving…and it’s all loosely held together by a plot of three friends going to Vietnam, getting separated, then coming home.

When the the Deer Hunter is brought up, it’s usually in reference to the Russian Roulette scene. And that is a DAMN GOOD scene, perhaps the most tense in all of film. But the ending is perfect.

Is it meant to be sarcastic? Hopeful? Pessimistic?

It all ends ambiguously and unresolved.

Much like a dream.

Michael Cimino might have been a one hit wonder, but damn…