I want to be in Bruges

Don’t get scared I’m not going to blog a movie review here. I’m just going to point out how In Bruges is gold to the artist who’s looking to tell stories their own way.

American studio movies all follow their winning (money making) formula. The spine of every studio movie is about the same depending on the genre. So, when an American studio movie starts you know where it’s going, you just watch for the subtle tweaks the writer was able to put in there to make the known path more interesting.

When you go see a movie like In Bruges which has a lush gorgeous back drop of Bruges, two interesting actors and the provocative “hook” of hitmen on assignment, it sure sounds like a winner of a shoot’em up movie. But Martin McDonagh takes his own line of reasoning to tell a story that’s tragic, dark, sweet, touching and laugh out loud funny. To me it’s a wonder that he pulls it off.

The most exciting thing for me was that even though I knew the lead actors, I had no idea where the story was going. Every step of it made sense, there were no ridiculous leaps of logic, and yet the whole story was pretty fantastic to believe. I’ve been to Bruges, it’s small. The fact that characters keep bumping into one another made sense to me. The thing I love about this movie most of all is that we see artists from some where else, Ireland in this case (in the spirit of full disclosure I have to tell you I am Irish and love all things Irish), not indoctrinated in the Hollywood system of story telling opening our eyes about how other artists see the world and connect the dots to tell their stories.

You see, I’ve been in script notes meetings where the studio guys says, with total authority, “The only way this story will work is if you…” and they go on to tell you the fail safe way to make a hit movie. He lays out the one way stories are told. What he isn’t saying, but everyone in the room understands, is “this is the only way the story will work in our time tested formula for high yield storytelling.” Thus, this is how American studio movies have arrived here, and why they should be studied as such. They are built to make money first and tell a story second. Sure, every so often the studio puts out a film that’s fresh, or novel, but 90% aren’t interested in the story or the art, they are interested in hitting those points that insure the best possibility to make money. Like say Fools Gold. I’m not damming that system, I’m saying the artist who grows up here and watches movies is indoctrinated in a single way of telling stories without knowing it.

Watching In Bruges and wondering how Mr. McDonagh fits all these odd pieces together so wonderfully reminded me that I too have that system of story in my head. I became aware of that only after looking at how wonderfully odd his story felt. Why wouldn’t I just see it as a story about two hit men…and so on? Why does it smack of wild? I think it’s because my model is so ingrained.

So to my fellow artists I say seek out the movies like In Bruges and see if they slam against your sensibilities or if they feed your artists’ wanderlust. Either way, they are a great teacher. As an artist your mind has to be begging for different ways to get your truth across, and I say In Bruges gives us all a really funny, sad, clever lesson on how it can be done.

Leave a Comment