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Cliches, Corn and Camp – Ingredients for a (Hit) Failure

February 8, 2012

My sewing instructor (“Call me Lisa!”) is a sweet woman.  She’s very encouraging, which is just what new sewers need when attempting things like threading industrial machines and interfacing.  She makes her rounds, saying, “Love your fabric choice!,” “You’re doing GREAT!,”  and patiently ripping out your crooked seams for you to try again.  This morning, she sent out an email to our class for a “fun and easy” project: a reusable bag made from tee-shirts.

I love the simplicity of this, and with the right tee-shirts it could be pretty cool. But what I love even more is the photo sample. I always LOL when I see someone on television bring in a bag of groceries because it’s always there:  the baguette.  As if we wouldn’t interpret the brown paper bag as a bag of groceries without a three-foot loaf of crusty French bread sticking out.  Also, often a bouquet of flowers or some other kind of vegetation is common (here, some lettuce greens).

The other thing that cracks me up is when people on television and in movies overuse each other’s names.  Now, I may be unusual but I never call my husband by his name, unless I’m referring to him when talking to others, or trying to get his attention in a crowd.  Otherwise, he’s Honey, Babe, Sweetheart, something like that.  I don’t address my friends by name in casual conversation either.  But on tv, everyone is constantly using each other’s names.  The worst example of this EVAR is Kristy Swanson in Flowers in the Attic (a terrible movie with a robust 14% on  She starts or ends every sentence spoken to her brother with his name, Christopher.  “Christopher, what is it?” “Let’s just take the twins and run away, Christopher!” It’s so distracting.

Another one is when actors are on the phone and we only hear their side of the conversation, so they say too much to fill you in on what they’re hearing, like “No, I do not want to go to dinner,” or “What do you mean ‘the bus is going to explode’?!”  Try talking like that next time you’re on the phone.  You’ll feel silly.

What’s even worse is exposition in dialog.  It’s so sloppy sometimes.  People actually say things to each other in movies like, “You’re my brother!” and “If I don’t come up with $100,000 in back taxes, you’re going to auction my house!”  There’s an old rule in writing: SHOW, don’t TELL.  As a writer you have to make your audience understand things, like plots and relationships, with some level of intelligence and creativity.  One way some writers try to solve this problem is by having a narrator, which 95% of the time is a huge mistake.  It’s like the first thing you’re taught in film school (narrators are for lazy writers and stupid audiences).  So some turn to bad symbolism or cliche plot devices.  For example, the couple in the unhappy marriage who sit at opposite ends of a long dinner table.  Or the dad proving his devotion to his kid by showing up to his big game/school play afterall.

I have VERY low tolerance for corniness. So when I went to see a movie recently and saw the trailer for “Big Miracle,” I almost sprained muscles rolling my eyes.  They took a “true story” and processed it through the “touching family film” machine and turned it into a jumble of cliches and bad acting (*ahem* Drew Barrymore).  Witness:

  • The spunky kid – “You can’t go down there! It’s too dangerous!”
  • The activist who won’t take no for an answer – “There’s always something you can do.”
  • The phony government official – “The Governor has basically turned his back on the whales!”
  • The small town that comes together – “The town of Barrow has shut down, as schoolchildren and shopkeepers alike furiously work to cut a path to the ocean.”
  • The rookie journalist whistle-blower
  • Majestic animals – “They’re so much like us.”
  • McCarthy Era Paranoia:  “I’ll be damned if I’m gonna let the Reds in to save the day!” (this is when I burst out laughing)

It’s like making a movie by pulling archetypes out of a hat.  I’m not being hyperbolic by saying I COULD DO BETTER.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 10, 2012 12:12 am

    You’re funny. ^.^


  1. Christianese: the good, the bad and the ugly « immrskeller

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