Time after time
In 1995 my man Syd Field had an epiphany concerning non-linear time. Three films changed his perception of how a movie and the screenplay that is its skeleton can unfold: Pulp Fiction, The English Patient and Midaq Alley (a Mexican production I had never heard of). They all have a beginning, a middle and an end, although in far from that order–at least in the first two. Pulp Fiction has a double ending: Butch’s killing of Vincent Vega and his escape from LA, and Jules’s first act of his new life when he spares the English couple sticking up the diner. You’d think the fact that Vincent reappears after he has been killed would leave irate moviegoers demanding their money back. Perhaps it did, in a few instances; not everyone takes kindly to having their sense of the order of things undermined. But Pulp Fiction was not dismissed as incomprehensible or pretentious; it was nominated for seven Oscars and won the Palme d’Or at Cannes. It worked. I don’t know how many people figured out why it worked. But Syd did. He saw that is indeed a set of different stories, all springing from Jules and Vincent getting the case of Marsellus Wallace’s drug money back. Everything grows out of this central event like branches on a tree trunk–not directly connected, but coming from the same entity. Very nifty. In my new position as neophyte screenwriter I started wondering is I could do something similar with The Great Firewall.
And mercifully realized I couldn’t. It’s one story with a beginning, middle and end, in that order. Simplicity is a virtue, at least at the start of something. Always a sucker for anything smartass, I count myself lucky to have sidestepped that particular patch of quicksand and the lost weeks and months I would have spent trying to get to the bottom of it and then trying to get out again.