So my good friend Mystery Man on Film asked me to engage in a blogtalk with him, and it was a lot of fun. We cover all things David Mamet. We talk about his body of work, his recent controversial article in the Village Voice, and share thoughts about his latest screenplay, Redbelt.
And we do it all in MAMET-SPEAK.
Thus, there are a few spoilers (though I think the trailer gives most of them away) and LOTS OF ADULT LANGUAGE. Viewer Discretion is Advised.
This is also cross-posted at his blog.
MM: Joshua. Joshua. Look. Joshua. Here’s the thing. It’s like this, okay? It’s like this. I will – and I really fucking mean this – I will always admire David Mamet. ADMIRE, man. I admire THE MAN. His dialogue. You know? The words. THE WORDS he writes. It’s a fucking American institution. AMERICAN, man. He’s an American man. You know that play? That play. That fucking play. What is it? Glen something. GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS. Fucking brilliant, man. It’s in the fucking pantheon of all-time great plays. You know what I mean?
JJ: I hear ya, I’m tellin’ ya, I hear ya loud an’ fucken clear. An not only is his dialogue spot on (O’Neil’s was as well) it’s that the dialogue is about a type of men, a class of men, one that for a long time didn’t get voice in the theatre. That’s the thing about Glengarry Glenn Ross, I think. We had workin’ class men before, from Miller and the like, but they didn’t . . . they weren’t THE MEN we all knew in our times - Mamet unearthed a class of men not often, if ever, seen in theatre . . . . . . one of Mamet’s other great plays, SEXUAL PERVERSITY IN CHICAGO, dealt again with a type of men we often know in life but never see behind the curtain of art.
And his dialogue, it’s something - and more than the words, it’s the space between the words which makes it work.
But really, you bet, his dialogue, you bet it’s awesome, he works with a great sense of rhythm and beat - but tell me . . . what do you think about THE REST of his writing?
MM: I love ‘em, baby! Speed the Plow, Oleanna, Boston Marriage – who gives a shit, right? I’ll take the misses for the hits. And dude. DUDE… I love – fucking squirt-my-pants LOVE - SEXUAL PERVERSITY… Wait. Wait, you prick. Stop laughing. You know what I mean. You KNOW what I mean! Sure, I love a little sexual perversity – who doesn’t, it’s a new millennium - but you know what I mean, you know, that, that –
JJ: –the play, the fucken’ play –
MM: — damn straight, the fucking PLAY, man! SEXUAL PERVERSITY IN CHICAGO. It’s classic. The men are sympathetic. Character arcs. The works, right? Here’s my favorite part. I’ll even act it out for you. Are you ready? I’m going to play BOTH parts, all right? Here we go. These guys are looking at a beautiful girl.
Danny: Nice firm tits.
Bernie: Where does she get off with those tits?
Danny: What a pair of boobs.
Bernie: Not that I’m a tit man…
Danny: I know.
Bernie: I mean, I dig tits…
Danny: I don’t blame you.
Bernie: …but I wouldn’t go out of my way for a pair of tits.
Bernie: The way I see it, tits…
Bernie: Are what you make of ‘em.
Danny: It’s like anything else.
Bernie: But an ass…
Bernie: …is an ass.
Thank you. Thank you. I’m here all week. (I was drinking as I wrote that.) You sympathized with those guys, right, Joshua? You were moved by their arcs, weren’t you?
JJ: Arcs? Fucken ARCS? There are no, listen, fucken . . . Mamet’s characters . . .
JJ: Mamet’s characters DON’T FUCKING ARC. None of ‘em, they don’t. Anyone who says they do, they don’t know a pig from its whistle, I’m telling you. Seriously.
I can’t think of a single one, in his plays or movies, who ARCED. Did Eliot Ness ARC? Ricky Roma? Shelly the Machine Levine? What about . . . what about Conrad from WAG THE DOG? Where was his fucken arc?
Hoffa? What film or play did Mamet write, whereas the characters had an arc? Sometimes they made desperate choices, sometimes which led to tragic consequences, but there was no FUCKING arc.
That’s why they felt REAL. Great characters just are, they don’t - wait a minute. You fucken know this, you –
MM: Yeah. I just like to see you get wound up. Hehehe…
JJ: You bastard. All right. Well, Mamet’s a classicist. Old School. He’s got the Pulitzer and a bunch of Oscar noms, too. Right? But what are we talking about here, are we talking about his plays? No.
We’re talking about his screenwriting, right?
Let’s talk about Mamet movies, cuz he can fucking do that as well as anyone out there, am I right?
MM: The Verdict. Wag the Dog. Glengarry Glen Ross. What more do I need to say? As a screenwriter, you know what Mamet is? He’s a closer. That’s what he is. One of the elite fucking closers of our generation. Who else can close? Robert Towne? Shane Black? Lawrence Kasdan? Fuckin’ amateurs. Mamet gets the job DONE. He closes the fucking DEAL. That’s what we do when we write screenplays. We close the deal. Those are the ABC’s of screenwriting, baby:
A - Always
B - Be
C - Closing
Always Be Closing. ALWAYS BE CLOSING. Nice guy? I don’t give a shit. Good father? Fuck you. Go home and play with your kids. You want to work in Hollywood? You want to be a SCREENWRITER? Then CLOSE THE FUCKING DEAL! You think this is abuse? You think this is ABUSE, you cocksucker? If you can’t take this, how can you take the abuse you get on a pitch session? Or after you get studio NOTES? Do you know what it takes to write screenplays? It takes brass balls, baby.
Am I wrong? Am I fucking wrong?
JJ: What was it that was said in HEIST? Oh yeah, Ricky Jay said it.
“My motherfucker is so cool, when sheep go to sleep, THEY count HIM.”
I heard a story, it may have been in an Art Linson book, but it may not. In his early days of his screenwriting career, Mamet was hired to adapt or rewrite something . . . he told the producer that the script couldn’t be fixed, that it was just not worth doing and that the story, it wasn’t there. The producer remembered that and gave him a better job later . . . cuz he was that cool. If memory serves, that next gig was THE VERDICT.
That’s the kinda story that if it ain’t true, it ought to be, right?
Mamet always reminds me of the Marlowe quote. “A hard man is good to find.”
MM: I think we should talk about that article…
JJ: You mean we are actually talking about that article, or are we just…
MM: No, we’re talking…
JJ: We’re actually “talking” about it.
MM: We’re just speaking about it… His new ideas.
JJ: His new ideas.
JJ: We’re not actually talking about it.
MM: Well, no.
JJ: Talking about it as a…
JJ: …as the political conversion of David Mamet.
MM: A “political conversion?” No, man, no. Can’t be. What do you make of that shit?
JJ: What I “make of it” –
JJ: It being “that” article. Mamet’s explanation of why he’s no longer a “brain dead liberal”.
JJ: That he wrote . . . in the Village Voice. Right?
JJ: Well, for about thirty seconds after I read it, I was supremely pissed off.
MM: Hehehe… Right.
JJ: And then I started laughing. I laughed my ass off.
JJ: I mean, this is David Mamet we’re speaking of, right? David Fucking Mamet.
JJ: David Mamet. Who wrote OLEANNA, which pisses off half the audience in the first act, pisses off the other half of the audience in the second half, and by the time the curtain comes down, both sides wanna kill each other and somewhere backstage Mamet sits giggling his ass off. That David Mamet.
JJ: What does Mamet do? He provokes. He loves to provoke, Glengarry was provocative, right? Sexual Perversity? SPEED THE PLOW, fucking SPEED THE PLOW was guaran-fucking-teed to provoke Hollywood.
I was in that play in grad school. I played Charlie.
Seriously, that’s his game, he loves to poke and prod at what he views as, what’s the word . . .
MM: Yeah, he’s never really been a liberal, right?
JJ: As far as I know, he’s one of those wacky libertarians. But yeah, he loves to provoke, he’s a fan of con games and tricks, he fucking loves that . .
MM: Ricky Jay is like, one of his best friends.
JJ: He loves to con, he loves to poke and provoke at artifice, stoke controversy and what’s the intent of that article? To convince people not to be liberal? In the Village Voice? The fucking Village Voice? The most liberal paper in America? You’re not gonna convince anyone not to be liberal in the Voice, all you’re gonna do is piss ‘em off. That’s like going on Fox News and talking about how great socialized medicine is . . . the intended audience is just gonna scream. Right?
MM: Hehehe… Right.
JJ: So I think it was all one big con. Because let’s face it. Mamet loves con men, he loves the rugged individualist, he loves them.
Liberalism is about folks working together as a whole to help the group as a whole and to help individuals who cannot help themselves.
That’s the opposite of the theme of many of his films. Think about HOUSE OF GAMES, or HEIST or SPANISH PRISONER or SPARTAN . . . what do you think the theme behind those films are?
Wait, I’ve jumped ahead. What do YOU make of the “article”?
MM: In a year, we’ll see another article…
MM: …probably in some conservative mag, you know…
JJ: National Review.
MM: …National fuckin’ Review, man, in which he’ll send all the conservatives spiraling because of something he said.
JJ: Fucken’ spiraling, a fucken’ tizzy…
MM: It is in the nature of Mamet to provoke and to keep people guessing as to what he’ll be doing next.
JJ: Fucken’ A, man…
MM: Hey, you know that guy?
JJ: Sure, the guy.
MM: The Scanners guy.
MM: Jim fuckin’ Emerson, man. Listen to this fuckin’ guy. (He’s smart. Don’t get me wrong. He’s smart.) He wrote, “Although I’m still reeling from the shocking revelation that David Mamet once considered himself a liberal, I find myself looking forward to his next (screen-)play more than ever, if only to see if I can detect an interest in ideological politics that I never noticed in his work before.” Yeah. To that Mamet must reply, “Gotcha.” His big fuckin’ scheme worked, right? The article enabled Mamet to reinvent himself, to create a renewed scrutiny of his body of work, to get people talking, to create a demand for new interviews, etc, so he can fucking explain himself, which will incite more provocative statements, and he will once again become a controversial figure.
JJ: Fucken’ A, man…
MM: Nothing in Mamet’s world could so easily get ascribed a one-word political label. Never. He would never let himself be that transparent.
JJ: Fucken’ A, man…
MM: So how about his latest screenplay? Redbelt. Did you discover any secret right wing agendas within its pages?
JJ: Redbelt? I liked it.
MM: You “liked” it?
JJ: I liked it. Read fast, went by, whoosh. 131 pages gone in a flash. Enjoyed it. I liked it.
MM: Liked it. Didn’t love it?
JJ: What I loved was imagining you reading it and seething about format, heh-heh.
MM: Yeah, I was fucking seething.
JJ: Right. Redbelt. Okay, some SPOILERS. I mean, I’d say first of all, it ain’t really about Jiujitsu. Not really. It’s about a guy who runs a jiujitsu school who gets put in a position where he has to make a tough choice. A rock and a hard place movie. That’s a good movie.
JJ: In fact, it’s the SAME movie as HEIST when you think about it. And SPARTAN.
JJ: Guy, an individual making his way, doing what he does best, has a personal honor motive, gets fucked over by THE MAN . . .
MM: Fucked over and then betrayed by a woman . . .
JJ: Exactly. And to be who he is, he can’t back down. Same thing. That’s Mamet’s agenda, he loves individualists who pull their own weight and fight for their own sense of the world. Those two movies, matched up to this one, would probably line up beat by beat. Now, I don’t think that it’s a bad thing that the stories are similar, I mean, most Marlowe books are similar.
MM: James Bond.
JJ: Right, you love your Bond, heh-heh. Yes. It has a pattern that is satisfying to me as a fan of his stuff. And this is who Mamet is, it’s him, right? Mamet loves guys who do, not pretenders, not blowhard stars, not money men - he loves those who actually do and sweat and bleed for their craft. This movie does that, and on that level it is satisfying as a Mamet film . . though I still prefer HEIST so far - But it’s not really about martial arts, it’s about a tough guy who does things his way and doesn’t compromise. His thing just happens to be jiujistu.
MM: Like Kilmer’s thing in SPARTAN was espionage.
JJ: And Hackman’s thing in HEIST was thievery. He knows those worlds and gets the details right, but the movies ain’t really about those things. They’re about each guy’s individual sense of honor and ethics.
JJ: Mamet does films like that well, and this is one of them. Some of the events were a bit of a leap, the cop thing, the crazy lawyer thing, his wife doing what she did outa the fucking blue . . . but overall, I enjoyed it. It ain’t really a big movie, though.
JJ: What did YOU think of it?
MM: I thought the ending was a fuckin’ travesty.
JJ: Get the fuck outta here.
MM: (*SPOILERS*) Nothing more fucking clichéd than the fighter who doesn’t want to fight because he has “principles” and then he’s compelled to right a wrong and fights in the ring even though it’s not a “real” fight. I wanted to jump in there and kick ALL their asses.
JJ: It’s a fucking Jiujitsu movie. I mean, it’s NOT totally a Jiujitsu movie, but it IS a fucking Jiujitsu movie. That’s why he called it REDBELT.
MM: He could’ve called it BLUE BALLS and I would’ve hated the ending.
JJ: Oh, mother fuck…
MM: Other than that, I thought it was genius.
JJ: Genius. Really?
MM: Yeah. Genius. It was classical in structure.
JJ: Classical like a ballet?
MM: Classical like suck my balls, you cocksucker. It was CLASSICAL. It was a man with principles trying to survive in a corrupt world and his moral choices grow increasingly difficult over the course of three acts where, in the end, everything gets put on the line. It’s either his integrity or his well-being, which includes his marriage, his financial situation, everything. He could do the thing, take the money, make everything right in his little world, but he’d lose his soul. That’s fuckin’ classical. That’s a Sidney Lumet film. That’s Andy Garcia in NIGHT FALLS ON MANHATTAN, a fucking brilliant film. I thought of that film repeatedly as I read this script.
JJ: It’s not NIGHT FALLS IN MANHATTAN, though I agree that’s an awesome film . . . this is HEIST redone . . . I’m tellin’ you.
MM: Bullshit. Freshly picked corn-fed bullshit.
JJ: Okay, ending aside, I would agree that he approaches writing in a classical sense, he follows his Poetics.
MM: Told you. Fucking Classical.
JJ: He’s got his theme - “There’s always an escape.”
MM: He shows his honor, with the watch and the job for his friend.
JJ: He’s got the old guy he idolized. He’s got his craft which is he recognized as an expert for. But the wife-
MM: The wife - what about her?
JJ: Isn’t she a problem? Aren’t both women characters in this film problematic?
MM: A problem for you, maybe. I love women.
JJ: The STORY. The fucking STORY, you prick.
MM: Well, one woman’s played by Alice Braga and the other’s played by Emily Mortimer. I got no fucking problem with that.
JJ: On the fucking page.
MM: The women.
JJ: The female characters.
MM: The characters on the page…
JJ: …in the script.
MM: All I could envision was Alice Braga and Emily Mortimer. I still got no fucking problem with that.
JJ: Fuck me…
MM: Very fuckin’ pleasant thinking about Alice and Emily.
JJ: But their function in the story…
MM: It’s funny how there’s a purity to screenplays, isn’t there?
MM: Yeah, funny how on the page, it’s a more pure artform. It’s strictly about STORY.
MM: But then, things get a little gray once you fill those roles with live people. With actors people love.
MM: They tend to forgive mistakes in the story just because they want other things out of the movie beyond the purity of the story.
JJ: Okay. I’ll give you that. So answer my fucking question.
MM: Your question.
JJ: Aren’t both women characters in this film problematic?
JJ: Thank you. Damnit. Thank you. It’s not that Mamet can’t write great female characters, I mean, Lindsey Crouse in HOUSE OF GAMES . . .
MM: I had no fuckin’ problem with Lindsey either.
JJ: And his wife’s part in STATE AND MAIN . . . some folks don’t like her acting, I hear, but . . .
MM: We won’t comment. We’re about the writing. But I hear ya…
JJ: I just think it’s a technique he likes, the betrayal of a woman, it’s in HEIST, HOMICIDE, THE SPANISH PRISONER . . .
MM: In SPARTAN, our guy is betrayed by the President and the guy who works for the Prez…
JJ: Right. I think betrayal is a key theme for Mamet in a lot of his movies (STATE AND MAIN was about how Hollywood betrays the artist, heh), and in Redbelt (SPOILERS) you get these Brazilian brothers who are huge in jiujistu who have betrayed their art and their father’s legacy. And Mike’s wife, the sister of those brothers, she betrays him too.
And to me, that came out of left field, what the wife did. It didn’t seem, I guess, justified enough. Or even necessary. That bothered me more than the ending.
MM: Probably because you’re married. Hehehe…