Did They Think No One Would Notice?
Years ago I saw Dead Poets’ Society. I recall nothing about it because I was with my friend Laurie. Laurie does wardrobe for film and TV, and she spent the whole movie outraged about collar button continuity. It’s all she could see, collars buttoned in one shot and unbuttoned in the next. Collars wrinkled becoming ironed in closeup and then once again wrinkled, all in the space of 2.3 seconds. It made her crazy. She nearly walked out of the theatre.
A few years later I dated a producer—not the kind that puts up the money, the kind that’s on set to make sure the money is being properly spent. Every movie we saw had a running commentary from Eddie: “A two-shot? That scene’s crying for a closeup. And that's not New York, that’s Vancouver, it's Stanley Park, for God’s sake! And are they using the same three extras over and over? That guy died ten minutes ago in the battle scene.”
For my friend Andrew, a former jockey, it’s horse films. In the olden days, rather than cast “Indians” who could ride bareback, they’d throw Indian blankets over saddles, thinking, “who’s going to notice?” Andrew noticed. Andrew also knows that a real cowboy wouldn’t ride a horse with four white socks, as Adam Cartwright did in the last episodes of Bonanza. Worst of all are racing movies, “the jockey whispering kind and encouraging words in the middle of the race, while traveling 40 mph and wailing away at the horse with a stick. No race-rider talks like that," Andrew says. "It’s all swearing and screaming.”
We, the audience, will put up with the ridiculous in order to enter into the magic of the story. It’s called the Willing Suspension of Disbelief. Most of us don’t care about self-buttoning collars or Stanley Park masquerading as Central Park, or racehorse whisperers. But we all have something, some expertise that throws us out of the story and back into our theatre seats, cranky because they didn’t get it right.
The Implausible Apartment: if you’ve ever lived in New York, you’re calculating how much rent the poor-but-plucky heroine is paying for that charming brownstone and whether she’s sleeping with the super to afford it.
The We’re Not All Hicks Complaint: Apparently the residents of North Dakota weren’t universally happy with how they were portrayed in the Coen Brothers’ Fargo. The Americans of Italian Descent version of this is We’re Not All Mafiosi. With the polygamists, it’s We’re Not All Big Love.
The Player Piano Piano Player: Even if we don’t see hands of the “piano player" actor, if her body’s gonna sway, it should sway to the right when the music goes higher, and the left when she’s playing the bass chords. And I’m no Placido Domingo, but every shower singer knows that the dubbed actor should take a breath while belting out “Nessun Dorma” because you can’t sing like this without exercising your lungs.
The Perry Mason Exception: On Perry Mason, district attorney Hamilton Burger was always saying, “Your honor, Mr. Mason is turning this courtroom into a circus!” That’s right, Ham. Because Perry’s the star. Nothing’s changed. Watch Law & Order with a trial lawyer and see how long he can go without yelling “Objection!” at Sam Waterston.
The CSI Effect: Try getting a crime lab scientist to watch a CSI episode without rolling her eyes.
The Giant Baby Phenomenon: Ask a new mother to believe that the newborn popping out of the TV tummy isn’t a six-week-old.
You don’t have to be a professional hairdresser or a Native American to wonder what’s going on with Mary McDonnell’s hair in Dances with Wolves. (I’m not blaming Mary. I’m an actor; I never blame actors.)
So what is it that makes you throw popcorn and yell at the TV, “Did you think no one would notice?”