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Last Sunday, a film written & directed by Rob Perez ’95 (screenwriter – 40 Days and 40 Nights) called nobody (no caps intentional) screened in Dana to a small audience consisting mostly of Screenwriting II students required to go for class.  I attended in order to write up a review for the Campus, and here’s the link to that review.  Thought I’m not a fan of the headline my editors made up or the artificial paragraph breaks they introduced when they transferred it to the web, I am pretty proud of the article.  I don’t think I’ve ever written anything so negative, but it sure was a blast to channel my negative feelings while watching the film into some sort of definitive product.  Perhaps there’s a pathetic small-time newspaper power trip aspect to it as well…I’ll let you decide.

But I wanted to write a brief post about something in my review that I was reminded of in class.   Here’s a brief excerpt:

Maybe ‘Nobody’ is in on its own joke, I pondered, when one of the über-critical art school students prophetically utters that a piece is ‘so derivative it’s not even derivative.’ If such a feat is possible, ‘Nobody’ accomplishes it, for it is unique in the totality of its unoriginality.

I was reminded of this during our discussion of “originality” vs. “derivativeness” or whatever you’d like to call it.  I think what Lethem’s article does is remind us that our negative connotations around the word “derivative” are perhaps a bit unfair. nobody, on the other hand, offers a vision of derivation at it’s worst.  Even though Lethem’s article is derived entirely from the words of others, it is still synthesized into a remarkably coherent piece of work and driven by a spirit of artistic invention.  nobody wears it’s precedents right on its sleeve, but the preexisting elements feel blandly slapped together with little sense of inventiveness, bravery, or artistic spirit.  The stock art-school types that serve as characters are probably the best example of this: they are not invested with anything except the broadest stereotypes, leading them to seem like caricatures.  There are myriad other problems with the movie (it’s a seriously unfunny comedy, for one), but this issue pertaining to our class discussion certainly was one of the problems.

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