Sunday, May 25, 2008

notes on State and Main

Everybody makes their own fun. If you don't make it yourself, it isn't fun. It's entertainment

State and Main is loaded with Mamet-speak and populated with familiars from the Mamet gang (William H. Macy, Ricky Jay, Rebecca Pidgeon). Banished from New Hampshire, a filmmaking crew ends up in Waterford, Vermont and has to come to terms with its own as well as the residents of this small town. Offering perfect irony to all this is the fact that not one bit of this film was made in Waterford, Vermont. I was reminded of Truffaut's classic exposé on and ode to filmmaking La Nuit Américaine; Truffaut's take was affectionate and enlightening, while Mamet's first comedy is laced with his smart, lethal, clipped dialogue embellished with his poetic blend of profanity (English and Yiddish). SCRPC Truffaut's film was loaded with detail on the filmmaking process; aside from the opening credits (intercut with footage from film reel transition) bounding away in tandem with Theodore Shapiro's score, Mamet's film chooses to focus on the people and what they say and do. We see the pains of the crew and hear about the mechanics of their work, but, it's only in the closing scene that we get down to the business of making the film (The Old Mill).

If we stripped the film of its set pieces and stayed just with the people, we'd end up with something like Noises Off. But then Mamet's a playright, so this isn't very surprising.

There's an occasional shard of uncanny prescience in Mamet's work: Wag The Dog, which he co-wrote, prefigured the Clinton sex scandal. In State and Main, there's an exchange between Joe White (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Ann Black (Rebecca Pidgeon):

Joseph Turner White: You believe that?
Ann Black: I do if you do.
Joseph Turner White: But it's absurd.
Ann Black: So is our electoral process. But we still vote.

The film was released in 2000 (filming was completed in 1999), the year when the electoral college system floundered.

There's a crucial detail in the film that seems like a gaffe. Walt Price (William H. Macy) receives an invitation to a dinner at the Mayor's residence on Tuesday the 12th. He jots this down on his calendar on the whiteboard on his office using a red marker. His assistant accidentally wipes off most of the appointment and Walt asks her to restore it. She cleans out the leftover scribble and writes the appointment in the same cell using a green marker. Given the way this sequence is shot (the camera draws our attention to this appointment), we can expect that Walt will miss his appointment, because the date is wrong. Yet, so far, the date is correct. Later in the film, as the moment draws nigh, we see that the appointment in green has shifted into the cell for Wednesday the 13th and -- lo and behold! -- we find a shadow of the original appointment in the cell for Tuesday the 13th in red. It's conceivable that the assistant was prone to accidentally erase the appointment frequently and ended up eventually writing it in the wrong cell. Since the handwriting in the two cells in the final shot look alike (and neither looks like Walt's handwriting), this explanation holds water.

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