Laughing at Stalin

My esteemed friend Bill Niven posted this insightful review on FB of the Armando Iannucci film about the death of Stalin. He asks an important question. Would anyone make a comedy about the demise of Hitler and the grotesques of the Nazi regime? Arguably Brecht tried to do that – but who laughs now? There is a knotty issue here, as Bill points out – do we not know enough about the Stalin period, the mass starvation in Ukraine in the early 1930s, to say nothing of the terrible human cost of the purges? Perhaps the same knowledge gap applies to China under Mao, though as far as I know there’s no Maoist comedy in the pipeline. Right wing historians worsen this ‘Uncle Jo’ paradox: they are forever proposing history as a kind of competition to determine who was ‘most evil’. Just as totalitarian history may not be funny, neither is it a kind of theological game show. Here’s Bill’s post: Did I enjoy the “Death of Stalin”. It was certainly funny, witty lines, gags, sharp and feisty dialogues. And it was well-acted, the whole acting team blended and contrasted well, growing into their roles perceptibly as the film wore […]
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Story telling

In the media business we think about ‘Story’ all the time – with a capital S. It’s also the title of a massive tome by Robert McKee who is one of the gurus of Story World. They gabble away in a kind of vernacular – ‘beats’ and ‘acts’ and what not. Did the writers of ‘Casablanca’ really ever think in these terms? The BBC once sent myself and a few colleagues to attend a Robert McKee Weekend – a gruelling experience that culminated in a stop/start screening of ‘Casablanca’. McKee never stops talking. No one can ask a question. It is a paradox that McKee is one of the gods of the Story teaching circuit and yet when was the last time you caught a great movie movie with his name in the writer’s slot? There is a mass of material online offering both advice about how to write a screenplay and tickings off for not knowing the rules. Beats, acts, protagonists… and so it goes on. Anyone could write one of these essays. This barrage of dogma is a powerful sign that it’s  all wrong. I think it is. There isn’t one ‘perfect’ way to construct a narrative – […]
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