MONDAY'S SCRIPT TIP:

LOVE RACKS


But the DVD!

The Noir City Film Festival begins in San Francisco at the beautiful Castro Theater on Friday...

Doomed lovers and Spider women have been a staple of the Film Noir genre since its creation. "From the moment they met it was murder!" screams the poster for THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE. Much of the genre revolves around men and women caught in what James M. Cain called the "Love Rack" in his August 24, 1942 preface to THREE OF A KIND. Modern day Erotic Thrillers like BASIC INSTINCT and FATAL ATTRACTION depend on "Love Racks" to fuel their plots, yet many writers who try to crack the noir or erotic thriller genres have never heard of the term. Cain's preface has been out of print since 1944.

The Love Rack is a torture device pulling your noir protagonist in two directions at once... threatening to split him (or her) in half. You know the old mediaeval torture device *the rack* - the victim’s hands are chained to the top and their feet are chained to the bottom and when the crank is turned it stretched them and stretches them and stretches them until it pulls them apart? One of those, but with the romantic relationship as the rack. Yeah, I’ve been there, too. The Love Rack is the reason why the guy and the gal MUST have a relationship, and the reason why they MUST NOT have a relationship... and it's the same exact reason! This builds thrills and suspense right into the relationship. There is a built-in conflict in the relationship which is completely organic. Nothing pasted on from the outside, no artificial flavors or colors. A Love Rack pulls your characters apart - they must be together but they must not be together. Should they stay or should they go? If the stay it will lead to trouble (and in Noir stories - usually death), but if they go... well, that may lead to death as well. This is the only romantic partner for them on Earth... and the relationship will get them killed!

Cain's example is ROMEO AND JULIET. Juliet is the beautiful daughter of one of Verona's most important families, as so is Romeo. Both the same age, same social class, and have the same romantic world view. They're perfect for each other, right?

Wrong: their families are bitter enemies.

They MUST fall in love, but they CAN'T fall in love.

And you know how the story ends...

But the DVD!

In GILDA George Macready plays a mobster with a beautiul young wife, Gilda, played by Rita Hayworth. The wife is a little wild, and the mobster wants to prevent men from hitting on her (she may go home with them!), so he enlists his number one lieutenant, played by Glenn Ford, to protect her. Go where ever Gilda goes and make sure no one makes unwanted advances. But spending every waking hour at Gilda's side, Ford finds himself falling in love with her.

The reason why he must have her (his job has him constantly at her side) is the same reason why he must not have her (his job is to make sure no one touches her). That's a love rack!

Take the same scenario and cast Uma Thurman and John Travolta and you have the set up for the first story in the PULP FICTION anthology "Vincent Vega and Marsellus Wallace's Wife". Vincent is a loyal enforcer for crime kingpin Marcellus Wallace, who is tasked with protecting his boss's wife Mia and "showing her a good time" while the boss is away on business... just not too good a time. I mean, Antwan "Tony Rocky Horror" Rockamora got tossed out of a 4th storey window for giving her a foot massage. A foot massage! So Vincent is going to be on his best behavior... except Mia is beautiful and flirty and wants to dance and invites him back to her place and...

So, should Vincent have refused to take her out, and angered his violent crime kingpin boss?
Or taken Mia out and done whatever she said - boss's wife, don't want to refuse her - and ended up in trouble?
A Love Rack creates a series of conflicts where there can be no right answer, no real solution. A dilemma built in to the relationship. You can't remove the dilemma, because it is *part* of the relationship.

DRAMATIC LOVE RACKS

But the DVD!

Love racks add built in suspense, drama and conflict to any romantic relationship. In MONSTER'S BALL Billy Bob Thornton plays a prison guard in charge of death row inmates. Soon after the execution of a criminal (Sean P-Diddy Combs) he sees Halle Berry's son get hit by a car on a rainy night and they rush him to the hospital. Everyone at the hospital asks Thornton is he's Berry's husband or the boy's father - he keeps telling them he doesn't know her. Later Thornton gets talked into taking her home by a policeman. They are two people dealing with tragedies, and they eventually end up going out together. On their first date, she begins telling him about her son - he was distraught after his daddy died and that may have contributed to the accident. How did his daddy die? He was a criminal sentenced to death... Sean P-Diddy Combs!

The reason why they need each other (both are alone and dealing with tragedies) is the same reason why their relationship is doomed (he is the cause of her tragedy). That's a love rack! The emotions tug Billy Bob Thornton one way and then the other - he loves her, but he doesn't want her to know he was involved in her husband's execution. Should he break up with her before she finds out who he is? Should he tell her and lose her? The situation is tearing him apart... and creating a great deal of suspense. We know that sooner or later the other shoe will drop and she'll discover his secret.

MONSTER'S BALL has a second level of love rack - racism. Thornton was raised by his bigoted father to hate Blacks, and Halle Berry is Black. He is in love with the type of person he's supposed to hate. This also creates suspense and dread - Thornton must hide his relationship with Berry from his father (Peter Boyle). Again Thornton is being torn apart - can he love someone he's been trained from birth to hate? The conflict within the relationship explores the issue in a way that's personal rather than political, and emotional rather than preachy.

ROM-COM LOVE RACKS

We've seen Love Racks in thrillers and Love Racks in dramas, but Love Racks in romantic comedies? I think that most good Rom-coms work because they have a love rack - the thing that brings the couple together is the thing that keeps the couple apart. In the ACT TWO Blue Book I look at pacing in Romantic Comedies, and how usually within every ten minutes (pages) there is a scene where the couple is brought together, only to be pulled apart. and use four different Rom-Coms as examples. Danged if all four don't follow that pacing pattern!

Let's take a look at WHEN HARRY MET SALLY (one of the four examples) - what brings the couple together?
They become long time friends. They like each other, trust each other, hang out with each other. Friendship.
Okay, what keeps them apart? They are afraid that a romantic relationship will ruin their... friendship! There are a ton of songs that ask of lfriends can be lovers, so this is a very relatable conflict. We can understand the dilemma.
What brings them together as a couple is the same thing that keeps them apart. That's a love rack!

But the DVD!

What about Jeff Arch's SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE? What brings the couple together?
A live radio call in show - they are from different ends of the country, but we are now connected by the marvels of communication. Someone in New York can "meet" someone in Seattle and they can have conversations by phone and really get to know each other.
Now what keeps the couple apart? They live on different ends of the country!
SLEEPLESS is an interesting Rom-com because the couple don't *physically* meet until the very end. By that time they have fallen in love by phone - but geography has kept them apart. National communications has brought them together but the size of that nation is what has kept them apart.

When we look at SERENDIPITY we have fate bringing the couple together and fate keeping them apart - a perfect love rack!

The classic screw-ball rom-com HIS GIRL FRIDAY - their job brings them together and it's the job that destroyed their relationship... and the job that's going to bring them together again. Walter Burns (Cary Grant) is a newspaper editor who made the mistake of marrying his top crime reporter Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell), and though they could work together, they had trouble living together. Both were driven career people - anything for a news story! But what brought them together is what split them apart. Now, Hildy may be on her way to her wedding, but she can't help but drop everything and follow the breaking news story of an escape Death Row convict- she's a newspaper reporter! Burns knows this, and creates a situation where Hildy will leave her (boring) soon-to-be- husband Bruce Baldwin (Ralph Bellamy - who made a career playing the “other guy” and now that role is called the Bellamy in rom-com slang)... and maybe while covering the story realize that Burns (and the newspaper world) is the only life for her. Of course, *both characters* have to learn that neither is going to quit their jobs and settle down into some sort of “normal” domestic life. This 1940 film is all about how women should be able to put their careers before romance if that’s what they want. The good old days!

Whether it’s HIS GIRL FRIDAY or SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE, it's the conflict inherent in the love rack that creates much of the comedy in these films... and heightens the romance. If the one you love is also the one you can't have, that makes the love even stronger!

By the way - if you are looking for a clue to theme in a rom-com, take a look at what keeps the couple apart (and what brings them together). Male & Female Friendship in WHEN HARRY MET SALLY, etc. Love Racks usually contain the seeds of both concept and theme, so you can grow an interesting script if you have an unusual Love Rack (check out Cain's novel RAINBOW'S END for a really weird love rack about maternal love). (Cain was the kind of Noir love racks, and his novels used just about every romantic combination you can think of - yes, even that.) So what is it that brings the couple together... and pulls them apart? Why are they meant for each other... but can never be with each other? Romeo and Juliet? The conflict within the relationship itself?

Looking for a way to add thrills or drama or even comedy to your script's romance? Put 'em on the Love Rack!


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