Lord, what fools these mortals be!
A Midsummer Nights Dream Act 3, scene 2
Sunset Boulevard and The World of Warcraft
I saw Sunset Boulevard for the first time yesterday. Happily I made the good choice of seeing it on the big screen in a theater because the movie is that big. It was released in 1950, shot in black and white, directed by Billy Wilder and received eleven Oscar nominations and won three of them.
It is a movie about an aging star from the Silent Film era who enlists a screen writer to write a movie for her Big Return to the silver screen. Great movie, entertaining, memorable lines; the flick is a great ride. Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond is bat-shit crazy and on the surface it is a tragic psychological character study and a true star turn.
Yet, the movie is more than that if you can step away just one step. Billy Wilder, the great director who gave us Some Like it Hot and The Seven Year Itch, also co-wrote the screen play. He also got big names like Buster Keaton and Cecil B DeMille to play themselves. It is a movie about Hollywood, made in Hollywood with real Hollywood players.
The surprise to me was how funny the movie was and also: how self-aware the dialogue is in the movie. There is a scene where two writers are working on a movie script, the line goes something like this:
“Let’s make it a love story. Not one of those tragic psychological character studies. Those are a dime a dozen and all the rage.”
He does everything but give a broad wink at the audience. Billy Wilder, while writing the movie, let us; the audience, in on the joke. This is very risky business in a drama. Comedies can break the fourth wall; George Burns did it on his television show, Ferris Bueller did it in the movies. It works for comedy but dangerous in a psycho-drama.
The movie (Hollywood on Hollywood) became self-aware. When something gets big enough for long enough, there is a certain self-awareness that becomes almost bigger than the thing itself.
Elvis Presley was self-aware. His movies were crap but they made a lot of money. He knew he was not a great actor but it didn’t matter, Elvis was the king. The Beatles were not together long enough. Certain movie stars like George Clooney, Jerry Lewis, Frank Sinatra got to a point in their careers where it was that was them that made the movie go.
Consider the ending of Oceans 13. This is the end of a three movie successful franchise, George and Brad Pitt are saying goodbye at the airport. Clooney says, “Maybe you should settle down and have a few kids” to Brad Pitt referencing his real life with Angelina Jolie. Brad returns with some line about weight loss, referring to a movie role by George. Those two were so self-aware of what they were that it was in a movie.
The World of Warcraft is ten years old with ten million players. It is a behemoth. You can see the level of self-awareness in all parts of the game. For example, in Ulduar there are mobs called Trash; a reference to the slang of the players. The new S.E.L.F.I.E camera toy is almost pulling us out of our game to look at ourselves.
As if you were suddenly aware that I was knowing that you were sitting there reading my words on this page. The game folds back upon itself to see itself playing the game, much like the movie Sunset Boulevard is holding up a mirror to Hollywood by telling a story about Hollywood.
When we, as audience members or players, realize what is happening it can shock us. The writers are hoping that it will delight us as well; it’s a very fine line. This folding in upon itself is common in entertainment and a very old device.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream by The Bard is a play within a play. By having we viewers willing step into the idea of a band of actors who are playing and telling another story and then … then … when they step back out of the play, the reality is a shock. That shocking surprise elevates us and gives us a new view on the material.
Ben Stiller wrote Tropic Thunder. It is brilliant in that it becomes a “movie, within a movie, within a movie, within a movie.” It’s mind-boggling and at some point as a view you begin asking yourself what is it that you are watching!
Tropic Thunder has: movie actors who go to Viet Nam to play soldiers; who become soldiers when fighting drug smugglers; Ben gets captured and must be an actor from an old movie; and in the end, the entire adventure is made into a movie.
This can be spoofed, of course. Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead has two characters who are in the play Hamlet by William Shakespeare. Already, we have a setting within a setting. The spoof and humor is that these two players are clueless and happen to be in momentous scenes in Hamlet. They look on baffled as Hamlet intones “To be, or not to be…”
We often feel like these two characters as well. Our small band of adventurers are facing off against a bad guy. “You are not prepared!” Huh? What? Let’s kill him. The irony can make us laugh at ourselves.
Shock elevates our senses and make us hyper-aware of our surroundings. The story-teller will surprise us, with devious glee. In Sunset Boulevard, the twists and turns have set-ups and pay-offs. The butler, we are surprised to learn has been writing fan mail to Norma Desmond so she can know that she is still a star. But there is more. We later learn that this humble butler used to be her director! Then later, we spin again; he was her first husband.
In The World of Warcraft much is being made about who, really, is Khadgar. Here is the description from Wowwikki:
Khadgar is one of the protagonists who drives the main storyline throughout World_of_Warcraft:_Warlords_of_Draenor, accompanying players through the various zones as they level from 90 to 100 and also guiding them through a long quest line to obtain a legendary ring. Khadgar now wields [Atiesh, Greatstaff of the Guardian] (Medivh’s legendary staff), an item which was once available to players.
The old players know him from past franchises. But, clues abound that are making the player base suspicious. For example, when he talks with Gul’dan — it is Gul’dan who says something like “Well, hello “Khadgar” blah blah blah”. He puts his name in quotes.
Who is Khadgar if he is not Khadgar? When will his mask be ripped off for the great reveal? And, even more importantly, will we know the bad guy behind the mask.