Thursday, April 23, 2009

More Stones From The River

I've been thinking about Stones From The River, and I have a couple of comments, intended more as practical suggestions than critical analysis. They won't make much sense if you haven't read the novel.

Stones From The River, it seems to me, is a romance, set in improbable times. It's the story of a German dwarf, and the men -- and women -- she's loved, set in Burgdorf, a small town near Dusseldorf, between the end of WWI and the end of WWII.

What strikes me about the novel is the amount of love Trudi Montag manages to generate in the 30 or so years we see of her life, even though she may not be aware of some of it. Just counting the men in her life, there are six stories. There's her father; Georg her first friend; Klaus the dentist; Konrad the Jewish boy she hides from the Nazis; Matthias the gay pianist; and, finally, her great love, Max the painter.

I'd consider structuring the film around Trudi's revelations of these relationships to a young American soldier who, at the beginning of the film, hates Germans. As he learns about Trudi's loves, he begins to understand that not all Germans were Nazis, and that some Germans -- those who, for one reason or another, couldn't be fed into the German war machine -- kept humanity alive during the Third Reich. This structure requires a slight change to the ending of the novel -- it puts an American soldier in Trudi's home -- but it lets Trudi tell her story from her own point of view.

It may be necessary to add an even more compelling narrative to the "present" of the post war years, something like a criminal trial or investigation, or a detective story of some kind.

I think the structure will support any filmic style, including edgy super-realism.

I'd begin the film with scenes of the American troops coming into Burgdorf. It's the end of the war. Trudi is in her 30's. You can feel the tanks before you hear them. In a bomb shelter. The room shaking. Faces mainly. The door is kicked in. The German civilians "surrender" to the American soldiers. The first time we see Trudi as a dwarf is either when an American is billeted in her house or the first time she's interrogated. Everything after that is scenes of the occupation mixed with her memories of her life and her loves.

The difficulty is getting from an essentially psychological book that's a journey of self-discovery to a film where a little more is at issue, i.e., the guilt of individual Germans, or, possibly, something more compelling. Trudi is the town gossip. A perfect source for anyone trying to get to the bottom of events in Burgdorf.

I'd avoid falling into some kind of pattern with the flashbacks. For example, I wouldn't start each segment of the film with the dwarf talking, flashing back, talking, flashing back. I think there should be many contemporary scenes mixed in, her father dying, a woman throwing her child off a bridge, Hanna,the little girl she falls in love with, and so on, and, also, long historical segments that cross episodes. The amount of time the dwarf spends setting up the historical material should be very minimal. A few historical moments that impressed me: the summary execution of the town's benefactor, Trudi's interrogation by the nihilist Gestapo, Trudi swimming, the old lady beating up the Hitler youth, Trudi and the circus dwarf.

The only problem I have with the novel is understanding the relationship between Trudi and Max. I think the film needs to be explicit about why Max picks Trudi for a lover. I don't think the reason matters, it just needs to be there and be believable. And I'd be tempted to portray Max with a little irony and cynicism. A painter who paints the colors of his orgasms? We can do better than that in the era of concentration camps and sadistic medical experiments. Or, we can use it to consign Max to the world of the dreamers.

I appreciate Tom's putting Stones on the table. It's an interesting book and an interesting exercise. It could be fun to circle the best scenes and dialogue Arnold Manoff style.

33 comments:

Tom Manoff said...

Great post Billy.I'm coming back on this. A bit tired from the other posting. Wanted to make clear again that I'm not actually doing this project, just imagining it and seeing where it took us.

Billy Glad said...

I understand. The "project" I was referring to is the intellectual exercise. In my case, it led me to a better appreciation of a flawed novel.

Tom Manoff said...

It's a welcome topic for me right now. I could avoid some other work and I need a big break from that other mess.

As "my" River/Stones team seems to be shaping up:

Glad, screenplay
Manoff, producer

We just need Madoff for financing.

Julian Smith said...

Oh, for chrissakes. You mean we're not going to make that film? I wanted to use the little battle of wits between Trudi and the SS to recreate the dialogue between Alberich and The Wanderer in Siegfried.

Tom Manoff said...

Out of work again? I'm on your side Julian. But to be honest with you -- whenever your name comes up there's a certain reticence in the air. I've explained that creative people can be quite difficult to work with, but that line's been heard before. How about I pay you as a writer without credit --you working alone in say, Idaho? You have to get along with Glad though. Not in the same room. Just through email and I'd moderate those contacts. I'd put that in the contract. He's the main writer on this. I know that kind of thing is hard for you.

What's with the dialogue anyway. Show me some.

Tom Manoff said...

Troops enter at the outset. What does Trudi see exactly? Does she appear after the townspeople see the troops? Using flashbacks?

What's the initial contact between Trudi and others that we see? How old? Or is she on her own?

Billy Glad said...

It was Mime, Alberich's brother. The best line is: "Miserable dwarf."

Tom Manoff said...

Looking for it.

Tom Manoff said...

But this is not in the book. Right? Do you have the dialogue?

Tom Manoff said...

Waking up now. Trying to get straight who's who all around. So. Smart really.

Using the opera to get the characterization for the dialogue. Using Wagner also as the sensibility?

Tom Manoff said...

And Wagner's music in your film? I heard the opening as Arvo Pärt --dream beyond time, but with images of Trudi.

I wonder if I see the film as Trudi and you see it as Max.

I'd rather be Trudi in any mimes. Could be interesting if we take the same scene and each write the dialogue --then compare the results.

Billy Glad said...

I'm using the paperback. Touchstone. 525 pages. You want the interrogation pages 381 - 384.

levi said...

Hmnnn.....

Billy Glad said...

page 443 for the Americans coming to Burgdorf

Julian Smith said...

You going to play that flute, son?

Tom Manoff said...

OK. Can't actually read that for a bit. But I'm into this. I'm "working" split screen here, mixing something with 13th century music once sung by nuns (for real...a radio review) and goofing off with you at the same time...

Wagner. Nuns. !3th century. Trudi.

Amazing how deeply the music affects everything. I'm getting that great kind of splash in the real fabric.

Nuns inside the convent singing chant. Wagnerian Warriors running wild. A nun goes crazy. Maybe she's a dwarf. OVer the wall...

well...

I am Trudi in this. That's clear.

levi said...

....in a slower sense of time than the rest of you...

Perhaps

Pan played something like a flute.

They said it was magic.

Billy Glad said...

That's probably the nun who brought the Jews soup and medicine when they were in the local Gestapo jail. That era's equivalent of the doctors who keep the victims alive while they're being tortured.

levi said...

She who liveth in a klosters
Sometimes wants to eat some oysters

hmmnnnn

Billy Glad said...

You know, levi, there are some good oyster bars in the Seattle area. We were eating at one with a group of people that included a distinguished jurist in those parts and a couple pretentious assholes besides me. The waiter tells us the oysters aren't very good right now because they're "spewing," but one of the assholes decides he'll try them anyway. So, he's sitting there, sipping wine and eating these oysters and saying they're really quite good. Unusual flavor but really quite good. We should try them. The jurist dips her finger in one of the shells and takes a little taste. Ah, she says. They taste like come.

Antepilani said...

Hijacked your own thread to talk about some classy twist.

Billy Glad said...

You better get in there and get a Wanderer character before the good ones are all gone and you have to play a ducky boy. I already got the inscrutable Teddy Wong.

GirlfromtheBronx said...

"A painter who paints the colors of his orgasms? "

Très Baudelaire Correspondency!
You may need to re-think the Wagner.

Billy Glad said...

There's a good chance that women will understand the characters differently. Maybe Stones should be a project aimed at one of the women's channels. I only think of Wagner in the context of one scene. Trudi has to win her freedom by answering a question put to her by the SS.

Billy Glad said...

I've been trying to find The Wanderer questioning the dwarf, but no luck so far. I'd like to invert that scene. Keep the menance, but the dwarf wins, because the Gestapo (really a brilliant character, a nihilist Gestapo)wants to know something only Trudi can tell him: what it's like to be a dwarf.

The colors idea is, for me, a real dividing line between reality and fantasy. It's why I call the novel a "romance." Personally, the last place I want someone when we're fucking is inside their own heads, seeing colors. Baudelaire? Thats the absinthe. No?

Tom Manoff said...

I'll have to change a bit if we're doing Wagner.

Billy Glad said...

Just the one scene maybe. And it was Julian's idea anyway. Don't get carried away with the Wagner thing. They'll never go for it on Oxygen.

GirlfromtheBronx said...

Okay, I get the Wagner scene now. Alles klar.
Not having read the book and having only briefly glanced at the e-notes summary, I think your post is a great suggestion for how to deal with it. I have some other reactions, but I'm not in the mood to be all heady today. I'm only dancing. Pass the salsa please.

Tom Manoff said...

Sorry. I was just about to start rehearsing the orchestra.

Tom Manoff said...

Chica...ich habe genug mit dem photo

Billy Glad said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tom Manoff said...

Leaving the of feasibility of plot change aside --after all, we're not confined by whatever restrictions the real filmmakers might have-- my first sense of your dramatic plan is quite positive. Relief is another response. This feels organized in a much tighter way than my thinking about the book, a solution to a narrative that seems unwieldy.

You've come to something clear and workable. Starting from the idea that there is a clear and workable solution, I'd like to think on this more. Come back to you in a few days. If you're still game.

Billy Glad said...

There's a Rooster Cogburn line somewhere I'd use in response to that, but I don't remember it.