Friday, November 18, 2005

Lesson in Storytelling

The other night I watched the western Wyatt Earp (1994). The movie was co-written and directed by Lawrence Kasdan. It stars Kevin Costner, Gene Hackman, Dennis Quaid, Michael Madsen, Bill Pullman, and many others. Top of the line in all aspects. There is no debate about that. Wyatt Earp is the life story of a western lawman. I know the true story and the Hollywood version of the true story. It has been dramatized in film before, most notably in John Ford’s My Darling Clementine (1946) with Henry Fonda, The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957) with Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas, and Hour of the Gun (1967) with James Garner. It is an intriguing story that can resonate with each generation’s retelling.

Wyatt Earp despite its top-line cast and crew, despite its scope and earnest aspirations, does not work. It’s stiff and, the worst of all movie sins, boring. But it can be a learning experience. Watch it.

Then watch Tombstone (1993). This film was written by Kevin Jarre and directed by George Cosmatos. It stars Kurt Russell, Val Kilmer, Sam Elliott, Powers Boothe and Michael Biehn. It tells the same basic story as Wyatt Earp involving the same historical characters but in an hour’s less time. This movie works. The characters are vivid and more developed. The dialogue is memorable and individual. The suspense and action more involving. This film is in my top ten of westerns.

Watch both films. You’ll see the difference. It will be clear. Compare the dialogue and characters; hold up side-by-side the dramatic tone and suspense. Watch, learn. Now I need to review my latest writing. Did I create a Tombstone or a Wyatt Earp?

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