Saturday, January 19, 2013

Processing real life events, and reverse drama

I'm often very interested in stories, which have a connection to real life. I couldn't care less for C-level drama or true movie channels showing the lead Based on a true story. But if certain pieces of fiction in books, movies, TV or even theatre have some kind of believable, not-so-sugary and ambitiously processed connection to real events,  you might have reached me. Even more interesting it is, if the piece is based on someone's original psychological processing of a life situation.
Some months ago, I went to Gaiety Theater in Dublin to see Steel Magnolias (Mischa Barton was in it). I hadn't yet seen the 1988 film starring Julia Roberts, Shirley MacLaine etc. But after browsing theater show lists and Wikipedia, I bumped into the background story of it. Originally written as a play in early 1980s by Robert Harling.
I read that Robert had written the play to process his sorrow after the death of his younger sister Susan Harling Robinson, a diabetic.
As it is summarized in Wikipedia:
As her best friend and closest sibling, Harling found it very difficult to cope with her death. He was advised by many of his friends to write about his feelings as a coping method. It began as a short story and evolved into a full length play as Harling didn't feel that a short story adequately conveyed the complexity of the relationships and the emotions that existed within the characters. Harling felt it important to include the way the characters utilized humor and lighthearted conversations to assist them in coping with the seriousness of the underlying situations.
I had to see how it had come alive. Especially as a drama-comedy. I know people processing sad things might end up using extremely dark, even macabre humour. But somehow I had a feeling that this would be different. Lighthearted, having heart, with a bit of haunting voice towards the end. I knew how it would end even when I didn't.
I was pleased. I would've ended the story in a same way. It brought different kind of after taste. Sense of having had laughs, but also a little sadness. As if I had lost a friend.
Steel Magnolias made me think how much information we have about the play or a movie beforehand makes the watching experience different. We get this presumption when knowing the background story.
When seeing the awarded documentary film Senna, the whole watching is more intense as you know how the story will end. How the main character, Ayrton Senna himself, is nearing his death. How those small decisions made about certain safety measures by the race officials are now seen.
Sometimes this drama is reverse. Made in an innovative way. The conclusion is shown first, then certain developments leading to it only afterwards.
One decision made years ago was made in the popular TV series ER. Doctor Mark Greene (Anthony Edwards) was written out of the series by developing him a brain cancer. Only after his death was announced, the full following episode dealt with Mark's last times before his death. As he did peaceful rollerblading in Hawaii, his condition getting worse, him dying later on in the episode. The whole intensity to that overly peaceful episode came from the knowledge of nearing death.
TV, theater, movies, books. They don't always need to be utterly intense with ever-continuing action sequences.
There are great ways to create interesting, different kind of drama with simple, but bit unusual decisions.

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