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Review of State and Main

Mamet's approach to film contrasted with his approach as playwright.

Palatino-Bold, 'Palatino'; font-size: 18.00pt; font-weight: bold; line-height: 1.33; ">FILM REVIEWS Palatino-Bold, 'Palatino'; font-size: 11.00pt; font-weight: bold; line-height: 1.27; ">

Palatino-Italic, 'Palatino'; font-size: 14.00pt; font-style: italic; font-weight: bold; line-height: 1.36; ">State and Main Palatino-Italic, 'Palatino'; font-size: 11.00pt; font-style: italic; line-height: 1.27; ">

Palatino-Roman, 'Palatino'; font-size: 11.00pt; line-height: 1.27; " class="p2 ">Screenplay and direction by David Mamet.

Palatino-Roman, 'Palatino'; font-size: 11.00pt; line-height: 1.27; " class="p2 ">Fine Line, December 2000. DVD edition 2001.

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Palatino-Roman, 'Palatino'; font-size: 11.00pt; line-height: 1.27; ">Watching a David Mamet movie is always great fun, because viewers never know when the con will completely deceive them. In Palatino-Italic, 'Palatino'; font-size: 11.00pt; font-style: italic; line-height: 1.27; ">State and Main Palatino-Roman, 'Palatino'; font-size: 11.00pt; line-height: 1.27; ">, part Hollywood satire and part zany comedy, one can never even anticipate what line will come next. The lines are so smart that the repartee, even when deliberately written as cliché, always seems to have a Brechtian effect. One gets this sense as William Macy, who portrays the director in this film-within-a-film, opens the film by surveying the archetypally American small town in which his movie is set: “This is what my people died for.’ The platitude is so perfect that one never thinks he’ll complete the line after the pause, when he suddenly concludes, “the right to make a movie in this town.”

Palatino-Roman, 'Palatino'; font-size: 11.00pt; line-height: 1.27; " class="p2 ">The best lines in the movie, however, go to Ricky Jay, who completely throws them away. Jay portrays the owner of the town diner and the father of the underage girl on whom Alec Baldwin’s Bobby Barrenger, a screen actor who has a reputation for chasing skirts, sets his sights. Always muttering about the contrast between America and “the Communists,’ Jay observes portentously as he takes an order, “In the land of freedom, we get to choose what we have for breakfast.”

Palatino-Roman, 'Palatino'; font-size: 11.00pt; line-height: 1.27; " class="p2 ">Only Rebecca Pidgeon’s character seems to rise above the world of clichés in which the town and the movie groups speak and think. When screenwriter Joseph Turner White (Philip Seymour Hoffman) looks around her bookstore and observes that she’s directing the town play, he says, “I guess you have to make your own fun here, huh?” And she replies brilliantly, “Everyone must make their own fun. If you don’t make your own fun, it’s just entertainment.” In the evening as she sits alone near the town fountain, a movie worker runs up to her: “Can you type? If you can type, they need you over at the hotel.” Her response is classic. Without even looking at him, she replies, as if to herself, “Never admit you can type.” It’s a wonderful line since we know that it is Hoffman, her new romantic interest, who needs the typist. And a few scenes later, she just arrives at his door to surprise him—and us—as his new typist. You can never leave your seat for popcorn at this kind of movie.

Palatino-Roman, 'Palatino'; font-size: 11.00pt; line-height: 1.27; " class="p2 ">Yet Mamet’s films, intelligent and entertaining as they are, also seem to occasion reflections on the difference in media—not the usual structuralist ideas of theater vs. film. but rather a playwright’s approach to film. The most significant difference between live theater and canned film is that one is process, the other product. Plays are continually revised because they are never quite finished, whereas films are completed products.

Palatino-Roman, 'Palatino'; font-size: 11.00pt; line-height: 1.27; ">    But Mamet’s films are unfinished in several senses. First, they are unrefined, not polished. For example, in Palatino-Italic, 'Palatino'; font-size: 11.00pt; font-style: italic; line-height: 1.27; ">Oleanna Palatino-Roman, 'Palatino'; font-size: 11.00pt; line-height: 1.27; ">, when Carol pushes John, his elbow strikes the window, breaking a pane of glass. But the windowpane that breaks is the one right above his elbow, not, the one he hits. Why leave such a blatant mistake in the “finished” film? In theater and live television, such things happen all the time, and we not only accept and ignore them, but treasure them as reminders that what is happening is being crafted by and for us in the moment. Not so in movies, where every detail is usually polished and finished, and continuity is never overlooked.

Palatino-Roman, 'Palatino'; font-size: 11.00pt; line-height: 1.27; ">But in Palatino-Italic, 'Palatino'; font-size: 11.00pt; font-style: italic; line-height: 1.27; ">State and Main Palatino-Roman, 'Palatino'; font-size: 11.00pt; line-height: 1.27; ">, continuity and conventional filmic values are ignored. The movie itself feels unfinished—and perhaps it is. The version that Peter Travers reviewed in Palatino-Italic, 'Palatino'; font-size: 11.00pt; font-style: italic; line-height: 1.27; ">Rolling Stone Palatino-Roman, 'Palatino'; font-size: 11.00pt; line-height: 1.27; "> (14-21 December 2000) praised several bits that were missing from the national release I saw in January 2001 in New Orleans. Perhaps Travers saw one of the early screenings—it debuted at the Hamptons Film Festival in East Hampton in October 2000. But what he saw isn’t what I saw: one of his favorite scenes is Baldwin “getting too fat for his nude scene”—a scene omitted from the final cut. Moreover, Travers notes, “The leading lady, Claire Wellesley (a sly, sexy Sarah Jessica Parker), refuses to go topless even though, as one wag cracks, ‘she takes off her shirt to do a voice-over.’ [...] Marty bribes Claire with $800,000—money raised by trying to fit a product plug for bazoomer.com into a film that’s set in 1895.” The last bit is in the film, but the line—and the bribe to Claire—is no longer there.

Palatino-Roman, 'Palatino'; font-size: 11.00pt; line-height: 1.27; ">Even in the final release DVD version, some plots are simply broken or abandoned. For example, the movie company needs closed access to Main Street and so gets the approval of the mayor (Charles Durning), in part by agreeing to come to his house for dinner as an honor they couldn’t pass up. The date of the dinner is duly written in red on the production schedule markerboard but accidentally erased by a gopher who backs into it. She is told to put the information back instantly and she does so in green marker, under the same date—Tuesday the 12 Palatino-Roman, 'Palatino'; font-size: 7.26pt; line-height: 1.27; vertical-align: 0.500000em; ">th Palatino-Roman, 'Palatino'; font-size: 11.00pt; line-height: 1.27; ">. Later we see the same markerboard in the background, and the appointment has been redone in green on Wednesday the 13 Palatino-Roman, 'Palatino'; font-size: 7.26pt; line-height: 1.27; vertical-align: 0.500000em; ">th. Palatino-Roman, 'Palatino'; font-size: 11.00pt; line-height: 1.27; ">  But how it came to be re-erased and wrongly recorded is missing from the movie. Not missing. however, is Patti LuPone’s schtick as the Mayor’s wife who, after totally revamping her 1835 house for the dinner party, sits with the Mayor without eating, awaiting the guests who never come. When she demands revenge, the plot then moves along briskly to accusations of statutory rape against film star Barrenger. But who erased the board? And when?

Palatino-Roman, 'Palatino'; font-size: 11.00pt; line-height: 1.27; ">Mamet’s craft is evident in his use of running gags—the pothole on Main Street being the most visual—and this refrain in dialogue: Director: “Do you know your lines?” Actor: “I know my lines. I just don’t know what order they come in.” One would expect that Mamet would give full development to plot devices, such as what happened to the Mayor, his wife, and the rights to use Main Street. At other times, even his visual plotting can be ponderous, as when showing the teenager highlighting her movie magazine in which Barrenger’s preferences are revealed. In the next scene she arrives at his room asking for her favorite drink, bourbon and milk—knowing that it’s Palatino-Italic, 'Palatino'; font-size: 11.00pt; font-style: italic; line-height: 1.27; ">his Palatino-Roman, 'Palatino'; font-size: 11.00pt; line-height: 1.27; ">favorite drink.

Palatino-Roman, 'Palatino'; font-size: 11.00pt; line-height: 1.27; ">My suspicion is that this is simply the playwright’s approach to film. It doesn’t need to be polished and finished. The audience can fill in the blanks, even as Mamet contends they will with emotion, so the actor needn’t supply it. And for a film-within-a-film that’s titled Palatino-Italic, 'Palatino'; font-size: 11.00pt; font-style: italic; line-height: 1.27; ">The Old Mill Palatino-Roman, 'Palatino'; font-size: 11.00pt; line-height: 1.27; ">, which turns out not to have an old mill, the idea of film as discontinuous process seems particularly appropriate.

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Palatino-Roman, 'Palatino'; font-size: 11.00pt; line-height: 1.27; " class="p2 ">DAVID K. SAUER

Palatino-Roman, 'Palatino'; font-size: 11.00pt; line-height: 1.27; " class="p2 ">SPRING HILL COLLEGE