Don’t Blame Roland Emmerich Too Much

Marsha P. Johnson

Marsha P. Johnson

Don’t blame Roland Emmerich too much…

Went to see STONEWALL yesterday, thanks to MW, who had to see it for work. Five minutes in, I realized I knew every word of the dialogue and every piece of scenery, and I remembered I’d read the script for work about three years ago. (You read a lot, so you forget what you read.)

The movie looked exactly as it was written. The writer, a playwright I don’t really like, had written the film script much as you would a play, so every bit of production design and action was written on the page. In theater, the writer is queen, not the director. When I read the script, it’d already been circulating for a few years, and nobody wanted to make it. Usually, when a script is around for around, say, at least 6 years, the script would change over time to reflect changing tastes and also studio notes. This one, however? Not at all. It was exactly the same as I remembered it. And that’s a lot of the problem.

Six years ago, people were more forgiving of a whitewashed history and bad movies about gay rights simply because there hadn’t been any mainstream movies about gay rights previously. (See: MILK. I stand by my first impression in 2008 that it is total trash. Milk deserved better.) But SO MUCH has changed. And the script did not. And I think this is probably because the writer is a playwright who is too goddamned precious about his words. Playwrights are notoriously difficult to nudge out of their “vision,” especially if they are successful, when compared to the more collaborative process of filmmaking. I have zero doubt the Baitz flat-out refused to change anything, even though the medium of film is far less forgiving than Broadway. (I also stand by my opinion that if this had opened on Broadway as a stage production, people would have FUCKING LOVED IT.)

Anyway, don’t blame Roland Emmerich too much. He followed the playwright’s instructions down to the smallest details. And he at least got a couple good performances from Ray and the unnamed lesbian. Anyway, if you’re curious what I thought about this 3 years ago, here was my synopsis:

The political ramifications of an important moment in gay history of MILK with the more sensitive emotional drama of BOYS DON’T CRY; this script smartly attempts to tell the story of the Stonewall Riots through a young man caught in an identity battle between his conservative family and himself, then between the less fortunate homeless gay youth and their wealthier liberal counterparts, and while the premise and angle are perfect, the execution turns serious subject matter into a laugh-a-minute script that diminishes the emotional equity its built in the earlier scenes. Largely, a very accurate depiction of the Queen world and the dialogue and mannerisms therein, the scenes with the homeless gay youth seem to stagnate in superficial elements with scenes languoring in their one-liners for far too long. For a more equal balance, Danny’s character would have to become stronger and more integral to the story, but even then the writer’s choice to stray away from the actual facts of the riots seems like a missed opportunity that wouldn’t sit well with mainstream audiences. [note: IT DID NOT SIT WELL.]


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