When the Street Lights Go On (2)

street lights 2Part One of this review can be found here.

3. Does the structure of the story have (a) a suitable number of reveals (b) an engine that fits its protagonist (c) a pinch point the engine funnels toward and (d) a thematic underpinning which, by Fade Out, explains why THIS engine and THIS protagonist were the subject of THIS story. (parts a and d worth 10 points, parts b and c worth 5)

Part A) For me, this script is a split decision when it comes to reveals. The one that is set-up the best is the identity of the arsonists who keep catching the town on fire. Even that is not wholly true. It wasn’t as though we could have guessed their identities from the clues in the script. It’s just that I really appreciate the authors inclusion of them in the script from page 2. Remember the already quoted:

NARRATOR (V.O.)
In June, the eighty year old Frank
Lloyd Wright house by the library
burned down.

There is no doubting when you get to the end of the script [page 104] and the reveal drops:

NARRATOR (V.O.)
The arsonists were finally
apprehended. It turned out to be
Tyler and Wes, the delinquents who
tried to pin the murders on Casper.
They were caught dosing a school
bus with lighter fluid late one
night.

that these two are the same arsonists who set the Frank Lloyd Wright house on fire.

Like I said, you can’t GUESS they set the Wright house on fire, I’m just happy with the authors for putting something in their script on page 2 which doesn’t conclude until page 104. I’m even happier with them as writers for not pointing, explicitly, at the fact that they did this. A lot of authors would be tempted to add another line of voiceover reminding us about the Wright house. These authors don’t. I applaud them for their restraint.

Of course, the biggest thing we should talk about in terms of reveals is the identity of the murderer of the Monroe sisters. When you eventually discover [apropos of nothing] the killer is next door neighbor George Jablonski, there is no feeling of a mystery being solved. Jablonski does make three appearances in the script prior to his unveiling, but there is no sense in which he is set-up as the murderer.

All of which means: When the Street Lights Go On is a classic “bait and switch” story. We think were invested because we want to know who the killer is. Really we’re invested because we want to see what this story has to tell us about our childhood.

4 out of 10 points.

Part B) This script has a surface engine and an actual engine. The authors may be onto something with this approach. If you want to write a coming of age story and yet still get readers to read it [and studios interested in buying it], you might have to follow their example.

On the surface we are driven by our need to find out who killed the Monroe sisters. However, as discussed in Part A, the authors spend very little time fueling this engine. We find out who the murderer is and [I don’t care how many stories you’ve read and how good your are at guessing plot points] the only way you could have pegged Jablonski is… if you’re clairvoyant.

Therefore, the real engine which drives When the Streetlights Go On is identification with the author’s portrayal of growing up as a loss of something beautiful. I don’t know if the authors meant Becky to symbolize the transition from Childhood to Adulthood, but the script they wrote contains this idea regardless of their intentions.

5 out of 5 points.

Part C) We’ve already quoted the pinch point back when we were discussing subtext. [It is always a good thing when thematic aspects of script mechanics mix with subtextual aspects of script mechanics.] I define it is arriving on page 83:

BECKY (CONT’D)
I was just wondering if I could
borrow some books. I’ve read all
the ones at my house like three
times over. Even my Dad’s boring
stock market books.

If Becky symbolizes the transition between juvenile and adult behavior patterns, it makes sense that she would utter the lines that boost the script toward Fade Out. Viewed beneath the [street] light of this symbolism, Becky’s request is a call toward seriousness. In order to answer, we must leave behind the carefree days of childhood for the mundane joys and [occasionally excruciating] pains of grown-up games.

I don’t think it’s an accident the reason Tyler and Wes give for their arsonist spree is the following [from page 105]:

NARRATOR (V.O.)
They had no motive other than it
being fun.

The difference between being an adult and almost being an adult, in When the Streetlights Go On, is not finding any fun in the decisions you make.

5 out of 5 points.

Part D) At last, we arrive at theme. I had a very hard time not bringing out my take on this script’s theme way back in part one when we were talking about subtext. You will recall that I decided:

“The subtext in this script centers on the effects of almost grown children making adult decisions.”

What I didn’t say [because it would have brought me perilously close to this script’s theme] was:

Making grown up decisions causes emergent adults to be unhappy.

If you trace the actions of the major characters through this script, every time one of them engages in adult behavior, someone gets hurt [sometimes physically, sometimes emotionally]. There is no question that the authors have designed a world in which being a grown up is synonymous with being in pain.

This leads me, at last, to a [FIRST] statement of theme:

Youth is wasted on the young.

Over and over again the almost adults in this story are drawn toward grown up decisions. They don’t know why, but they want the freedom to move in their own direction even though this freedom is going to expose them to pain.

Let’s trace this idea through a few examples. The first begins on page 4:

MRS. MONROE
Chrissy, where are you going,
sweetheart?

CHRISSY
I’m going to the movies with Ben.
I’ll be home at eleven.

MR. MONROE
Curfew’s 10:45!

Notice how Chrissy’s parents view her as a child. You only give children curfews.

Contrast this with how Chrissy views herself. From page 6:

Mr. Pulaski turns down the radio a touch. He takes a deep
drag of his cigarette.

MR. PULASKI (CONT’D)
I think I’m leaving Suzanne.

CHRISSY
What?! Why?

MR. PULASKI
Because I’m in love with you.

Chrissy doesn’t know how to take this information. Many boys
have told her they love her before but this one is different.

Chrissy thinks she’s a grown woman capable of making an informed decision about whether or not to have an affair with a married man who is twice her age. At least, that’s what her presence in the car demonstrates about her mental state. But, her response, on page 7, says otherwise:

There is a long silence. Chrissy really takes in the
possibility. She smiles to herself.

CHRISSY
Okay.

MR. PULASKI
Okay?

CHRISSY
I love you.

You don’t just agree to love someone when you’re an actual adult. You love someone because of the way they make you feel. Chrissy plays at being an adult as though it is an elaborate game of make believe. She just broke up a marriage, and [at the same time] she has to be home before eleven?

Chrissy is, along with her sister, and her sister’s ex-boyfriend, Ben, one of the three [possibly four, depending on your interpretation] people who don’t make it to adulthood. Her loss isn’t metaphorical; it’s literal.

Other than Ben and Becky, the person who experiences the next most amount of loss is Casper Tatum. He competes with Ben for Becky’s attention. Page 56 tells us he wins the competition because:

NARRATOR (V.O.)
She dug the way he smelled — Brut
deodorant and nicotine. She dug
that she had to stand on her
tiptoes to kiss him and that when
you got to know him, he was really
just a softy. For instance his
favorite band was Flock of Seagulls
and he never missed an episode of
Dallas.

To me, this description of Casper is uninspiring. Overall, the biggest problem I have with this story as a whole is the third of it which deals with their lover’s triangle. It is easily the poorest part of this script. I don’t know if my intense dislike of Casper and Ben ruined this subplot for me, or if it is exactly as poorly written as I believe it is.

My aspersions aside, Casper kills Ben with a rock and then leaves town on his motorcycle– in spite of his promise to “come back” for Becky. On page 106 we find out that:

NARRATOR (V.O.)
Casper Tatum evaded the law for six
years. His body was brought back
home in 1989 after he was found
dead from an overdose.

His world ends with neither bang nor whimper. I suppose, technically, he did make it out of childhood since it takes six years for his misbegotten choices to catch up with him. (5)

I’ll not comment anymore on the triangle because, honestly, I hated it.

I take Becky to be a symbol, so I’ll not comment on her loss anymore either.

This brings us to Charlie. He is the voice of our story and the only one of the main characters to survive.

I imagine it would be easy to peg the theme of this script as:

You lose your innocence when you turn into an adult

because Becky is a symbol of the transition to adulthood, and Becky is “the thing” Charlie loses. However, I think the authors have imbued their script with something much less vague.

If you parse the word innocence you see how it could have a variety of meanings depending on the context. In the context of this script, I think it means:

Childhood is precious because it is anxiety free.

Now, we finally understand what is at stake in this story. The choice between remaining a child and becoming an adult is really a choice between two different types of freedom. Adults are free to make their own decisions and face whatever consequences derive from those choices. On the other hand, children are free from worrying about consequences. The authors, whether they meant to or not, are saying childhood freedom is superior to adulthood freedom. This is why our narrator is filled with loss and regret.

Of course, nature being as immutable as it is, we MUST become grown-ups. According to this script, we try as best as we can to enjoy the pleasures which accrue to freedom of choice, but in our hearts we all continue to pine for that freedom from anxiety.

Without qualification, I can endorse the sentiment behind this theme:

10 out of 10 points.

4. Is there (a) anything unique in the story being told or (b) in the writing itself? (each part worth 5 points)

Part A) I already answered the question of why I believe this script is unique—it’s a coming of age story masquerading as a murder mystery. There is a lesson to all aspiring screenwriter’s in its success, and the success of its authors.

5 out of 5 points.

Part B) On the other hand, I do not think the writing is that great. I think it’s MOSTLY good. I have major problems with the characterization and plotting. If a writer designs a script in which you are not supposed to like four of the five main characters, that writer has designed a faulty script.

1 out of 5 points.

5. Are we inspired, for however brief a time, to live in harmony with the theme of the script? (10 points)

Interestingly, I don’t think any script based in nostalgia can definitively answer that question. In those kinds of stories, we are not given an active theme, so how can we live in harmony with it? Nostalgia scripts have to be rated on how closely they remind you of the experience which is being recounted.

I believe the authors have made a true distinction between the types of freedoms offered by childhood and adulthood. Although, the actual events Charlie passes through bear zero similarity to my experiences growing up, I can say the feeling of loss and regret about childhood freedom is mine… almost as much as it is his.

8 out of 10 points.

Total Score: 76

A link for the script can be found on the site forums.

Footnotes:

5. This is also the reason why I say your interpretation is required to determine how many people don’t make it out of their childhood in this script.

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