I have to admit, I had a really hard time finding inspiration for this week’s #ScreenplaySunday review, simply because I couldn’t think of a story, that I knew, that was inspiring to me right now. Well, I happened to stumble upon the amazing story of ‘Out of Africa’ by Kurt Luedtke, while I was reading a book about Meryl Streep’s career. Turns out this film had 11 Oscar nominations in 1986 and won 7 of them, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Writing (which is very relevant for this blog), Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Best Sound, and Best Music. I found it to be a very relevant story even today, 32 years after it was released, as it touches on the struggle that every woman faces: maintaining independence while men continually try to control us (and in order to be loved, we often let them control us). My heart broke for Karen (played by Meryl Streep), about 3 times in this story. Read on for my opinions on the screenplay! And as always, have a great week! xo, Catherine
The Titles over Scenery: I love the opening scene when the camera is panning scenes from Africa and the titles come on and off the screen. It seems so 80s to me, but I miss this magic in movies. It was a good introduction into a new story and I wouldn’t hate seeing movies do this again.
Character Description: The script described characters based on the time and place which they are found, which keep you in Africa, and in this time, and only develops the story further, I really appreciated this. For example:
– Karen, 28, her intellect is substantial, of little value to a woman of her time. (TIME)
– Denys Finch-Hatton, he accepts all things as they are, is pleased by the absurd, but he fears an obligation (a limit to freedom) the way some men fear a snake. (PLACE)
Luedtke also gives character hints through their actions:
He kisses her. She lets the shirt drop to hold his throat, the gesture masculine.
Feminism: Okay, this movie was a huge movement for feminism, and being the 80s, I think it was just tasteful enough. Here are all the examples I could find in the story (It’s sad that I still hear some of these expressions today, when are men going to smarten up?):
— Bror: “bless me, she’s read a book!”
— Travel worn, Karen tries to doze, irritated by the boy who stares at her body
Dialogue: The dialogue in this story is everything! I know other writers are known for their dialogue, but after reading this, Kurt Luedtke is at the top of my list. The entire story is in the dialogue. Not only that, the dialogue speaks to so many problems with humanity and the society we live.
– Karen: How much closer do you think you’d let her come?
Denys: A bit. She wanted to see if you’d run: that’s how they decide. Much like people that way.
– Karen (to a young girl Felicity): Try to learn something useful: they wouldn’t do that for me, then you can stand alone. If you care to. (The revolution of the working woman in the 80s).
– Karen (when speaking about men): All of you… no thought… just appetite. (fitting for Africa)
– Karen: why is my life so rich with men who want to leave me? (hinting at her obsession with money).
Smart Remarks in the Story: There are little remarks that make it so clear to a reader the irony in this story. This not only makes it more enjoyable to read, but also makes it a clever read. The reader feels in on the scoop.
– She marries for his name. He wants her money. Funny because no one even wants to call her baroness in Africa.
The Love Story: I did not know this was a romance before I started to read it (I try to let the screenplay effect me objectively), but wow was this ever a powerful love story! I found myself falling in love with Denys, since he’s the only man that appreciates Karen for the smart woman she is, yet at the same time can tell it to her straight. In return, I felt the same heartbreak as Karen does when he won’t commit to her. Just for a taste, here are some of my favourite love lines:
Denys: Your mind’s attractive… when it’s not adding and subtracting… there’s a sensuality about you that’s very compelling… and you stand up to things, I like that
Denys: I’m sorry for the time I didn’t know you: life’s made you very fine.
She looks at him, accepts it, resumes to the skinning.
Too Long: This is always the problem isn’t it? But at 137 pages, it was just too long. I found the setup way too long, the story began around page 40 for me. There were also many extra scenes that weren’t needed.
Unnecessary Characters: I won’t often call a character unnecessary, but in this case, I must. Karen has many men in her life: Bror, her cheating husband, Denys, her love affair, and Farah, her main worker in the house. Adding to this is Berkely, who is also in love with Karen, whom she dances with and enjoys company, but will not love. He is a friend of Denys and ends up dying. The only real purpose I can find for this character is the illustration of how Karen always picks the wrong men. And lastly, the issue of African natives not being welcome on the land (at Berkely’s funeral, his native lover, is not welcome at the funeral, and stands at a distance). This was powerful. However, I think this same message could have been shown another way, and is kind of eluded to the entire story anyway. We really don’t need that scene to get the point. Sorry Berkely.
The Closing Scene: Okay what is this! The film closes with THE ACTRESS (Meryl) walking through Africa, speaking a page of dialogue about the real life Karen. She reads a letter Karen received from a friend after she left Africa, and closes with “I hope that’s true”. Ugh just no! Part of the magic of a film is that an actress is becoming someone else. And with good actors, we believe they are that person. For example, no matter what, if I ever meet Hugh Jackman, I will probably call him Wolverine or Logan because that’s who he is. So to have Karen, all of a sudden being Meryl again, kills the magic for me. A better way to tell a continuation of a story is kind of how Moneyball did it with titles under real life photographs. Let’s keep those characters alive, not kill them (not in the good dramatic way) before we even leave the cinema!
MY FAVOURITE SCENE:
Easily my favourite scene is Denys and Karen’s first real banter. It’s when we fall in love with Denys (as does Karen), and I think most of us can really identify with Karen in this moment.
You haven’t had the slightest idea what I’d want from you. Have you. Have you.
Then don’t pretend you do. You’re just a chock-full of payments and prices and who owes who. You think if you possess things, it means you’ll never lose them. When will it dawn Karen? There’s nothing to own worth having. This land’s not yours: you borrowed it from Africa. You can’t barter for someone to love you. I’m not a farm for you to hold to, but I’m none of the people who’ve hurt you either. So why don’t you just jump the fence and wait to see what happens.
I think what made me fall in love with this screenplay was that it was smart. The characters were very smart, so their dialogue was smart, but also everything in-between the dialogue was smart. I love the political importance of this story, from ‘borrowing’ land from Africa, and all the feminism issues. Although the love story didn’t have to be in Africa, I’m glad it was for all the other issues it brings light to. It was an important film, one that needs to keep being made!