It is true that in the year 2003 I spent about a month under the impression that everything in the world existed only in my imagination. There were a number of reasons for this (possible) delusion: I was getting up really early and staying up really late; Celeste and I still had television at that point and The Matrix kept playing on TBS; I hadn’t yet discovered my allergy to rutabagas and identified that legume as the source of those pesky flashing lights and nocturnal heavenly visitors; my 5th and final reading of Siddhartha finally sunk the notion of Maya (misplaced trust or belief or consciousness of the “phenomenal” world) deep into my brain where it lodged, and where it remains lodged today, pumping a steady stream of love-for-everything-and-everything-is-connected-but-everything-is-you-ness that remains with me to this day.
Anyway, those were days to make regular evening pilgrimages from my office on 43rd street to the 96th street subway station, up through the damp, twilit park, passing on the way, among other interesting and inspirational sights, the heroic statue of Shakespeare at the southern end of the mall, and the 24/7 pigeon fight club near the northwest corner of Bethesda Plaza.
Although I outgrew the delusional, narcissistic idea that the whole world is in my head, that nagging shard of Maya-awareness is still lodged deeply in my limbic mind. That feeling of connected-disconnectedness still infects everything I do, and I think it explains why I love introducing students to the play/film Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead. They get a glimpse (sometimes for the first time) of what life is like without the certainty of Reality and the sense of purpose lent one by a solid, unquestioning belief in Someone In Charge. R & G are mere bit-players on life’s stage, deciphering bit-by-bit the enigmatic code of a writer-creator who, despite their feeble protestation, seems determined not to interrupt their slow but sure march towards death.
Also, the film is funny (at least to nerds like me), and it’s got some good Hamlet chunks in it, not to mention a fleeting glance of a non-gendered-yet-human gluteus maximus. It’s all good, as they say.
But, yeah, now I’m wasting your time, if you’re one of my students sitting in the writing lab just looking for the description of this week’s writing assignment. Here it is:
Response Paper #5
Continuing our adventures in the Persuasive mode of writing, this week we’re going to work on a sub-branch of that mode known as the Review.
The basic point of a review, whether it be in reference to a blockbuster film or a dustbusting vacuum sweeper, is to let people know whether or not to “consume” it–buy it, use it, participate in it, whatever.
In the Internet era, everything gets reviewed. Yeah, everything. And who is doing the reviewing? A lot of professionals, for sure, but also millions of common Internet users just like you and me. I have been personally acquainted with a few people who have actually gained some influence and notoriety thanks to their reviewing skills and now basically do it for their jobs, whether it be on their own website or as part of an official organization.
Even better than that, though, is mastering this mode and then possessing the jedi-like mind powers of being able to convince other people that what you like is cool. After all, if what you like is cool, then you must be cool. (Remember the first day of school when I told you why people write?)
Now, for the assignment:
Write a review of the film Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead using the following model outline for a review. (And remember: the best writing uses all 4 major modes of writing: Narrative, Descriptive, Expository, and Persuasive.)
- Use a “hook” to catch your reader’s attention. For example: Describe an interesting scene, incident, or dialogue from the film; remind the reader of the last film by this director or lead actor; connect the film with some current event in your life or the world
II. Description/summary of plot. (You can use IMDB to help with names of actors, filmmakers, some quotes and plot ideas.)
III. Analysis (choose one major element to analyze per paragraph; a review should probably have at least 2-4 paragraphs of analysis)
- Describe one or more of the following elements that you think was particularly interesting–in a good or bad way: writing (dialogue, themes), cinematography, editing (pace), Design (set, lighting, sound)
IV. Evaluation & Conclusion
- Did the film accomplish what it set out to do? Why or why not?
- Did you like it?
- Who (if anyone) should see it? Why?
That’s it. If you want some extra credit (20 points-ish?), post your review on Amazon.com (scroll down to Customer Reviews, click “Create your own review;” you may have to do a little registration to post), and forward me the link to your review.
Here’s a link to a review of Transformers by Kyle Smith, a film critic for the New York Post. It follows the outline above pretty closely. Sometimes it seems like the dumber the movie, the funnier the review, and that movie was about as dumb as it gets. Also, if you want to browse a whole bunch of movie reviews, try Rotten Tomatoes, a site that compiles most national film reviews.