Finding the Premise
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Finding the Premise<br> By Marc Porter Zasada<p> AGAIN THE ACADEMY AWARDS have reminded me how wrong folks are to say that Hollywood is a G-dless place. Sure, they snubbed Mel Gibson, and sure publicists again made idols of handsome men and women. But clergymen are wrong when they claim we're against old-fashioned religion in this town. Surely, our movies tell the kinds of stories modern clergymen rarely tell anymore: stories about heaven arranging coincidences and happy endings, reliably intervening on behalf of Good, and crushing Evil. In the movies, earthquakes always reveal underlying truths. Bullets miss. Lovers arrive just as the train is pulling out. Loose ends are tied up. <p> Even in Hollywood bio pics, each moment of existence is fraught with meaning in a way that modern theologians would never dare claim for real life. Even tragic endings ring with significance. In the movies, you can see the inception and inevitability of tragedy, because doom was foreshadowed by a thunderstorm in the first scene. <p> Picture a grizzled screenwriter working in his office above a drycleaner in West Hollywood. He does not attend church or synagogue, and yes, just as red staters suspect, he distrusts religion intensely. But as he boots up his laptop and lights a cigarette, he's thinking about a premise for his story. Every story needs a premise - the hidden meaning that guides the tale. Today he's writing a romantic comedy, so his premise will be: "You can delay true love, but you cannot escape it." <p> In his treatment, a young lawyer maintains a professional distance from a beautiful associate. Years pass. Each has tawdry, R-rated affairs. And then, lo, a series of coincidences finds them in a roadside diner outside of Reno during a freak snowstorm, and the premise is fulfilled. For a brief, shining moment, a religious moment, the screenwriter lives in an orderly universe, a place where a divine hand straightens things out, a place where it all adds up. <p> But now it's almost noon and the writer remembers he was supposed to pitch this treatment to a producer over lunch at Ammo. He tosses aside his cigarette and runs to his car. But lo, there's construction on Melrose, his cell phone battery dies-and when he's 20 minutes late, the producer gives up and leaves. <p> What's the premise of this missed lunch date in real life? Was it foreshadowed by a dark cloud over Ammo? Did it follow inevitably from the way he treated his partner five years before? If he had written a PG treatment, would fate have treated him differently? Would he have been sitting in the Kodak Theater Sunday night? <p> No, a modern theologian would tell the screenwriter there's absolutely no premise, no hidden meaning to the missed lunch date, and that G-d created Los Angeles specifically to provide chaos and drain cell phone batteries. He'd say it was the screenwriter's responsibility merely to endure that chaos while working toward good purposes and keeping the faith. So maybe he should rewrite the story so the young lawyer adopts a Chinese orphan, and - well, never mind. <p> Me, I'm never surprised that we hang on each moment of the Oscars, and pay Hollywood folks so highly. I know they provide an essential and old-fashioned service that goes way beyond entertainment: They tell stories that make things seem to make sense. In fact, the Urban Man often wonders if we could even endure modern life - with its mixed messages, its daily confusion and half-completed projects - if we didn't have clever plots and magnificent cinematography assuring us that heaven is still watching, and somehow, it will all become clear in the end. <p> Copyright - 2005 Marc Porter Zasada. All rights reserved. <br>
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