His film scripts made men of Costner and Connery in The Untouchables and took the death of salesmen a step further in Glengarry Glen Ross. So who'd have thought DAVID MAMET would turn to the English stage and Terence Rattigan's The Winslow Boy for a new movie? ‘."./<>'(:‘s: Miles Fielder
DAVID MAMET DOES DIALOGUE LIKE NO ONE ELSE: staccato. cryptic. aggressive. His words delineate tough guys and emasculated guys: the wise ass con artists of Home (Ulla/Hes. the gangsters of The l.‘iaaia'lialiles. the college professor undone by political correctness in ()leanna. But the writer and director has surprised fans with a switch that takes him from urban America to
London‘s upper middle classes for his screen adaptation of
Terence Rattigan‘s play The ll'ins/mi' Bay.
Mamet‘s explanation is as clipped as his written dialogue: ‘I wanted to direct The Hilts/air Bay on stage ever since I first saw it on stage. (‘ouldn‘t get it together. so I made this movie for Sony Classics. T/lt’ Spanish Prisoner. They said: "What do you want to do next?" I said: “The ll'ins/mi' Bay." So. they said: "Okay." So I did it.‘
line. But what's the appeal of Rattigan's play for America‘s ()scar nominated. Pulitzer prize-winning playwright/filmmaker'.’ ‘llmm.’ Mamet ponders for a few moments. "There‘s so much to like about it: the melodrama and the relationships between the characters. The idea that right triumphs. lt‘s just a very attractive piece. a real crowd-pleaser. It‘s a terrific play.~ '
Rattigan wrote The ll'i'nslaii- Bay in 1946. basing it on a real-life incident from 30 years earlier in which the dismissal of young Ronnie from Naval College is challenged by the outraged Winslow family. Public attention causes a media frenzy and the boy‘s case is taken all the way to the House of Lords. all of which provides opportunities for some fine household and courtroom melodramatics. But. spot on performances aside. the most startling thing about this new version of The ll’inslmr Bay is that it retains the instantly recognisable ‘Mametian‘
16 THE “ST 21 Oct—J Nov 1999
'The trick is to get into the scene late and get out early.’ David Mamet
style. ‘Well. I think that‘s a compliment to Rattigan not me. because he wrote the dialogue.’ counters Mamet. ‘I just recognised it.’
In the Winslow family drawing room. as in the (i/enganjv Glen Ross insurance office or gambling dens of House ()lGanzes. Mamet's characters talk fast: pow. pow. pow; staccato style. 'l can never get people talking quick enough for me.’ he says. "This I'l'lie ll'i'ns/mr Bayl is the closest that I came.‘
'Almos‘t invariably when I write a movie or a play". he continues. ‘1’” spend hours or years or minutes figuring out how a great scene could work: finally I‘ll discover that the solution is to throw it out. because I know that anything that doesn‘t move forward the plot. impedes it and puts the audience to sleep. The same is true of adapting someone else‘s work: I have to fulfil the same rigid standards. .\'ot because I'm an idealist. but rather because I‘m a pragmatist. The question is: what‘s the plot'.’ Anything that's not the plot gets thrown out. Movies are such an immediate medium that when an audience sees a picture. they get it. So the trick is to get into the scene late and get out early.'
With The ll’ins/mr Bay in the bag. Mamet is already back on American soil with another film. State And Maine. ‘lt‘s about this little town in Vermont and this movie company comes to thi.‘ town and destroys it.~ he states. And his next scriptwriting project — Hannibal. the Silent-e ()f The Lambs sequel — couldn‘t be further from Rattigan's English drawing rooms. But who‘s to say that even Dr Lecter hasn't met his match in David Mamet.
The Winslow Boy opens Fri 29 Oct. See review, page 29.