Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Debra Dixon - Journaling HOLIDAY

This seemed like such a good idea. Who doesn’t like to watch movies? But let me warn you, this is a *long* blog. This is stream of consciousness. Thoughts that occurred as I watched the movie. I normally try and think about Hero’s Journey as I analyze a film, but remember that Hero’s Journey is not always in perfect order. For instance in Amanda’s journey, I think that her reward comes before the finish of the ordeal. Plus you have multiple story lines in this one.

Have fun. This is all up for debate. Normally I would watch the movie. Wait a couple of days and watch it again to do the analysis. Then study my notes, add some thoughts, organize them and then watch the film again. What you’re getting here today is hot off the press without even a serious attempt at correction. I did these on the computer and remembered why I use an actual paper journal. It forces you to get to the point instead of rambling. I can type much faster than I write. So...long blog.

I will note anything that appeals to me, because I want to remember how details support the themes, the internal conflicts. How contrast can make points for us, etc. Plus if you have trouble writing a synopsis this is a dandy way to give yourself practice "cutting to the chase" and moving the story along. Okay, here we go...

Nonlinear structure to start, it’s all about "compare/contrast" what love is versus what we idealize it as. These vignettes offer something to learn about the characters in this contrast.
I love compare/contrast. I think the reader learns so much.

6 different types of love or love phases.
1 perfect (movie being scored)
2 holding on too tight "blind" to who’s really in the relationship (Miles)
3 love that is fading (Amanda)
4 love lost (Arthur)
5 one night stand or "fleeting" love (Graham)
6 unrequited (Iris)

Discovering Iris - we see her with a beautiful package but no real joy in that gift. It’s sad for her. It has to be hidden away like her unrequited love. Love the metaphor. Inordinate attention to detail. With what he’s done wrong. Her inability to hold back the tears and conversation with friend are clear signal that she’s not come to grips with this situation. The friend is a mentor to tell her she’s not supposed to do his blooming laundry! We get Iris’ confusion about whether Jasper really is gone for good or if he’s maybe coming back. In an ironic twist she is a wedding writer. She writes about the happily ever after that she can’t have.

Ordinary World
Her ordinary world is the newspaper, specifically the office in which she is isolated from the others. The lie about him having bought her a gift creates embarrassment and "undeserved misfortune" which bonds us to a character. Her gift to him is a thoughtful one. However, the excruciating embarrassment is to be publicly assigned to sleeze boy’s wedding. This is clearly an ambush which he allowed to happen. NEED FOR CHANGE. If your characters aren’t getting it you have to punish them. On her way to the cottage it is the perfect picture of her "aloneness." No community. Single girl, tiny but charming cottage. Lived in. Her house is a hodgepodge and she’s also a mess.

Amanda’s world. She has a boyfriend but he’s screwing around. In some ways because she’s a workaholic. Her house is perfect and her life is a mess. COMPARE CONTRAST with Iris. Amanda confronts a problem. Iris avoids. Iris bawls her eyes out. Amanda can’t cry. Amanda wants the blunt truth. Iris is happy with a sweet lie. Amanda will strike a blow and draws a line in the sand. Iris waffles.

The viewer is offered a contrast. A choice. Who do we like better? Neither one is in a good situation. Each handle themselves differently
We see Amanda being competent at her job.

call– The emotional call to adventure is to put sleeze boy behind.
The physical call is to trade houses and get away to reevaluate her life.

Amanda’s call to adventure is the breakup which forces her to face her life...that she doesn’t have one. It’s all work. So, she’s going to take that time, rest, relax. She needs a vacation. Amanda is all about controlling her world.

Their computer exchange offers more characterization. How characters present themselves, the nature of their answers gives the viewer information.

refusal– Iris has a little refusal of the call to forget sleeze boy when she briefly considers ending it all by sucking in the gas from her stove. The duration of the thought and the charming "What are you doing? Low point! Low point!" Help us quickly move on and give a bit of comedy to that sad moment.

mentor– The jingle of the computer instant message jolts Iris out of her gas stove moment. In an odd way the jingle is a momentary mentor. (AFTER THE POSTING CORRECTION: I couldn't stand the typos so I'm clearing some and in the process I think I'll mention that the jingle is actually the herald of the call to adventure.)

Amanda’s fictional life trailers offer her mentoring.

cross threshold– Compare/Contrast in how they get to their destinations. Amanda appears to
be tested before she’s ever really crossed the threshold into the adventure. We like this. This is prepayment for the good stuff later. This blonde chick with lots of money and great sweaters is earning a little sympathy and then her charming happiness at the cottage makes us like her.

Iris is stunned, does nothing hard to cross the threshold, but she goes through a gate, through the door, taking us on a tour of the special world. We know we’re not in Kansas anymore and she’s already earned a little good will from us because of sleeze boy.

Amanda needs intimacy. Iris needs to look up and see the great big world of possibilities. Is it just a happy coincidence that their physical accommodations for Christmas are metaphors for what the girls need to learn? I think not.
tests allies enemies

Amanda - Walking the country lane, driving, finding food, making fire, dealing with her inability to just "be" and relax, her tragic inability to sing. And then comes Amanda’s decision that this relaxing stuff is not for her, she’s getting out her suitcase. Refusal of the call.

Iris- trying to open the gate-test. Miles will be an ally, someone to help her discover new things. (AFTER THE POST CORRECTION: Miles is actually a mentor by bad example and in a classic move the mentor is stripped from Iris when Maggie calls him back/away from Iris who must then face Jasper alone.)

The girlfriend is obviously an enemy in the sense that she offers no encouragement to Amanda and retrieves Miles from Iris’ clutches. Foreshadowing for when she takes him away again. The old man shuffling by will be a test for her. The story of the wind is a mentor. "Anything can happen when the winds blow." Characters need to take the texture of their worlds and apply it to their lives.

Amanda– An ally shows up in the form of Iris’ drunk brother, Graham. He’s a great example of how to take a character who could be negative and presenting him with charm. Despite being drunk, he has manners. He asks if it’s okay to sit. Little things tell us he’s a good guy. He doesn’t drive drunk. Beautiful misdirection as well. He’s the charming wastrel who will transform into the lost widower.

Amanda’s new call – Will she share the house with Graham for the night and that transforms to will she share her vacation with him which transforms to will she share her life with him when he’s everything that is wrong for her.

The kiss between Amanda and Graham is a test. EFFECT is important. Her little stumble afterward is the first moment that we’ve seen her out of control. Big signal. First step in transforming Amanda from the controlled person she is to someone who feels deeply.
Graham’s call to adventure is sex with Amanda which he is reluctant to accept because he’s cast in the role of "cabana boy." COMPARE/CONTRAST Graham’s approach to sex with Amanda’s approach to sex.

What are the conflicts to the adventure with Graham? She’s not staying. Women call him. He’s got one foot out the door the morning after because he assures her there is only grief to be found with him because he’s a mess. He has no follow through. She promises she won’t fall in love with him. They’ve very clearly drawn their conclusions that this is a non-starter from all angles. But, he tosses out a bone about a dinner with friends at a pub.

Amanda says it when she says there’s something about a stranger. Starting fresh in terms of expectations. At the airport, her film trailer mentor encourages her to stay in the adventure, to let life unfold.

Enemy for Iris is Jasper asking her to read pages and starting his assault on her resolve.

Test for Iris is helping the old guy who becomes her mentor. He gives her the best advice about being the leading lady of her own life instead of the best friend. Not that secondary character she’s been playing. What she’s finally learned is how she shouldn’t be behaving. She has yet to learn how she SHOULD be behaving. This is that first nudge toward change. An important character realization.

Iris is rewarded for her kindness by discovering that the old guy is actually a distinguished writer with fabulous stories to tell of an interesting era. He becomes the doorway to her discovering how good men feel about their wives, how gentlemen treat women, how she should be treated.

Test for Amanda and Graham is the "morning after" they didn’t. Graham proves he’s hero material because he didn’t sleep with an unconscious woman. Calls from women create superficial conflict. She’s one of many, not special. The drunk/not sleeping provide scene tension created by Amanda’s embarrassment.

Lunch is a getting to know/trust you tests for both. He proves he can handle strong women because of his mother. Amanda comes clean about the event that triggered he decision to shut down her really deep emotions. COMPARE CONTRAST. We discover that Graham weeps like a baby at the drop of a hat.

Conflict is that Amanda is leaving. She’s not ready for complicated. She puts the brakes on. What I love about this is the lovely, charming way they part without melodrama. Gosh, just like grown-ups. The see the place of perilous danger and uncertainty–a relationship that has so much against it because of the distance and not coincidentally Amanda’s fear of deep attachment.

Back in LA, Miles arrives to complicate Iris’ vacation. He’s a complete contrast to Jasper. We see a little growth in Amanda as she recognizes the blank card is another nail in a coffin. She tosses the pages aside, doesn’t put them lovingly or regretfully down.

We see Iris create community. We learn about Miles as a "one woman at a time guy." We see how alike Miles and Iris are. Miles is making plans with the guys. Miles makes connections, like Iris. Neither are pretentious.

Test is the leave taking at the door with the "twice kiss." But he manages to make it humorous rather than sleezy, hitting on her.

Amanda’s film mentor returns to chastise her about her unwillingness to change and how she pushes guys away. This goads her to action, to pursuing the thing that might turn out badly.
approach inmost cave

Graham’s house functions as the inmost cave, that place of perilous danger and uncertainty. Her brave new offer is shut down as soon as she realizes he’s not alone. Oops! She discovers these are the "women" who have been calling Graham. Lovely flip of people’s expectation!

Widower status is revealed, changing everything she thought about Graham.
Meeting Graham’s kids, surviving the night with all of them.

Moment in their tent when she realizes how much she and Graham have in common about what family life should be like for little girls – "three musketeers." Amanda is one of a group for the first time in the show instead of being the boss or controller. Life is happening around her and she’s letting it happen. The girls adore her and invite her to sleep over. Maybe this can work.

What did the ordeal cost?
Graham doesn’t know how to do this-dating/relationship. Once it becomes serious, he has to back away. He’s afraid of what it might to do to him and his girls if he lets someone in he may never see again. She’s just someone he had sex with once and slept with twice.

NOTE: Graham and Amanda are pursued on the road back to their normal lives by the opportunity to chat through Iris. In which the sex is revealed to Iris. Also its clear that their time alone now weighs on them. And of course, Graham showing up at the door later is a big pursuit.

At this point Iris accepts another call to adventure which is to get Arthur to the award ceremony. Arthur refuses the call. Iris becomes his mentor, encouraging him, etc.
Iris ordeal ?? I believe it may be her reliving the loss of Jasper with Miles playing "her" role. In helping Miles she faces her pain in the sharpest way yet. She finally confronts her situation with Jasper in bold black and white. No more fudging on Jasper and how he made her feel. The loss is sharp, fresh and cutting. Miles articulates Jasper’s devious plan to keep Iris from starting fresh. What does she lose? That little bit of a lie she’d still been holding on to that she wasn’t that stupid. That she hadn’t been so pitifully pathetic and easy to manipulate. But she was. It’s very clear in retrospect. No more hiding from the fact that she was every bit to blame for letting this happen.

Iris reward is the song Miles writes for her.

After sex the same old problem rears its ugly head. Amanda isn’t willing to fully commit. She can’t face the possible loss so she buries the relationship before it starts. And when he says he loves her, she can’t respond from her heart. Her head is still winning. She won’t jump in and commit just as the guy we saw in her first scenes has said. In the limo on the way out, she can’t handle her emotions. For the first time in a long time. She cries and has to run all the way back to Graham, willing to jump in with both feet now. Of course he’s a weeping mess which is great. And when he’s afraid his having the girls will scare her off New Year’s eve, she says that will be perfect.

For Iris her resurrection begins when watching Miles jump to Maggie’s tune again. Here it is. She’s being shoved aside again, #2 in the scheme of things. And to top it off Jasper arrives to romance her but is still engaged. He leads her on using the same half-truths and omissions designed to give her hope. Iris will continue to be a door mat unless she changes, makes different decisions that she has in the past. She has to become the leading lady of her own life. This time she doesn’t accept vague language that her heart wants to hear. She wants blunt words with no ambiguity. She stands up for herself and has the confrontation that has been brewing for three years. We dramatically see her resurrection as someone who is more than she was before. She’s no longer in love with Jasper. She’s going to live her life.

return with the elixir
We see what Iris offers to Arthur. We see her visually lending him strength when she grips his hand, showing that she has enough to spare. Miles arrives just in time. Knowing her has helped him break off the toxic relationship with Maggie and he’s obviously not pining. The girls have a mother again. Iris and Miles pursue their relationship.


Dara Edmondson said...

Wow, Deb. That was so thoroughly eye-opening. I watched the movie but didn't get half of the deeper stuff until I read your post. There's so much to be learned here for structure - even more than usual because of the parallel stories or Iris and Amanda. I loved the little things you picked up on like the metaphor of Iris' gift to Jasper at the beginning. The fact that Iris cried all the time and Amanda couldn't cry struck me as too obvious at the beginning of the movie, but it ended up working.
So glad you could be here today to enlighten me;-)

Julie S said...

Hi Deb! Wow, this is great. I haven't seen the movie yet but after reading this I'm going to try and rent it this weekend.

Debra Dixon said...

Dara-- Thanks for having me! Journaling movies is something that constantly reminds me of all the choices available to me as a writer. Lately I've been on a metaphor kick and trying to find them. I'm guessing anyone who journals movies will find themselves concentrating on different things at different times. Also, not every movie I journal gets journaled down to the bitter end. Sometimes I feel like I've gotten enough to think about and I'll just finish watching the movie. Journaling movies should be flexible! It's supposed to be fun.

Debra Dixon said...

Julie-- It's two romances for the price of one. :) And it's structure is more complex than a straight romance.

Terry said...

My plan (and don't we all know what happens to those!) was to get the movie from Netflix on their 'watch on your computer' deal and either follow along or watch it right before reading the blog.

Well, work sucks and I'm stuck ... working.

I will get to it and bookmark the blog, even though I won't have the luxury of the marvelous Miss DD's feedback.

(Although I have mixed feelings about this movie journaling thing -- it was bad enough not to be able to read a book for pure pleasure once I started writing. Now are movies going to be "homework" too!) LOL!!

Meanwhile, back to my new mantra: "Failure to plan on your part does not constitute an emergency on mine."

Debra Dixon said...

Terry-- LOL! Nope. Movies don't have to be homework. That's why I never journal the first time I watch a movie. Random thoughts may occur but I'm not responsible for writing them down or even remembering them. If I particularly like a movie, then I may journal it to discover how it captured me. Feel free to stop journaling a movie at any time.

Sometimes I journal only the beginnings because I'm interested is where the "information" comes from. How is the writer/film maker planting the seeds I'll need.

Gwen Masters said...

Wow...how detailed! I never thought of using movies to study structure and then use the results to enhance my writing. Clever!

Thanks for this great blog.

Veronica Arch said...

Wonderful blog! And what a fabulous idea. I love movies - I actually go through periods where I watch more movies than I read books but don't feel guilty about it - LOL. I figure it's all story but I've never analyzed in depth the way you have. Now I see how much I can learn.

It's funny too I was just thinking of the Writer's Journey the other day. I liked that book a lot but it kind of lost me after awhile so I never finished it. But lately I've thought I would like to get back to it.

Thanks for the post!

P.S. Your book on GMC helped my writing sooo much so thank you for that too!

Debra Dixon said...

Gwen-- Yes! That's the purpose to use the journaling to find the bits and tricks of the trade that resonate. And to bring that back to our own writing.

Debra Dixon said...

Veronica-- Always glad to hear from a satisfied GMC customer. (g) I agree that story is story, no matter where it comes from. As long as novelists still read books, movies are a great way to increase the number of stories we experience.

julia said...

I watch far more films than I read books. I write rather than read, usually. So your journaling of 'The Holiday' was fascinating. After going to film school, I tend to watch films as a multiple personality (audience/writer/eternal student), but that only makes film that much more interesting for me. Your indepth analysis is like water to my desert-thirst.

Debra Dixon said...

Julia-- Me too! (Watching films as a multiple personality.) That's the reason I tend to watch them more than once. I have some friends who say, "How can you watch that again when there are so many other films?" Of course, that just means I have to devote more time to movies. :) Traveling helps because I spend a lot of time on planes and in hotels.