Vietnam veteran Leon Barlow is struggling as a writer, and his personal life isn't much better. His unsympathetic ex-wife Marilyn doesn't approve of his visits with his two children, and he... See full summary »
Vietnam veteran Leon Barlow is struggling as a writer, and his personal life isn't much better. His unsympathetic ex-wife Marilyn doesn't approve of his visits with his two children, and he has problems with alcohol. Yet even when Leon manages to catch up on alimony and child support payments, things in his life seem to decline further, until a sudden tragedy catches him off guard. Written by
Sujit R. Varma
I enjoyed this movie, not for what Howard and Winger left in from the original literary fiction of Larry Brown, but for what they brought to the story. Winger and Howard are big fans of Brown and the adaptation is brilliant in sections. If this film put you to sleep, it's because you were never awake.
The film version of Big Bad Love is based not on the entire collection of short stories in the book of the same title, but only on the novella that ends the collection titled 92 Days. It follows the exploits of an aspiring writer named Leon Barlow and the people that surround him for a period of ninety two days. And the screenwriter/director Arliss Howard chose to interpret the world of Barlow by presenting portions of the original fiction through the use of non-Diegetic sound. The distinction between diegetic or non-diegetic sound depends on our understanding of the conventions of film viewing and listening. Certain sounds are represented as coming from the story world, while others are represented as coming from outside the space of the story events. Diegetic sound is any sound presented as originated from a source within the films world. That is, sound whose source is visible on the screen or whose source is implied to be present by the action of the film include voices of characters, sounds made by objects in the story and music represented as coming from instruments in the story space. Non-diegetic sound is represented as coming from a source outside story space. Sound whose source is neither visible on the screen nor has been implied to be present in the action such as narrator's commentary, sound effects which is added for the dramatic effect and mood music. A film with diegetic and non-diegetic conventions can be used to create ambiguity or to surprise the audience. This allows the writer/director to present the real world of the writer and what occurs in his mind as simultaneous events.
The particular scene in the movie Big Bad Love is called "Rejection Letter Blues" and involves Barlow arriving home from a long day of work painting houses and reading the multiple rejection letters for his novel. Barlow drinks as he does this and the audience hears the voices in Barlow's head reading the rejection letters. The voices are initially in English, but quickly move to Spanish to French to Arabic and so many languages finally overlapping, including cats and dogs, that the audience is given the impression that not only does Barlow believe the publishing world is against him, but the entire world, including animals, dislikes his work.
To add to the sense that all are against Barlow, the writer/director has created an imagined negative commentary about Barlow from a radio DJ and within a blues song, in which the lyrics convey a rejection letter to Barlow. Barlow furiously types an angry response, viscerally shouting out some of the words that he is typing. The DJ's commentary attacks Barlow's writing as unread and refers to him as a deadbeat, living in a s***box home. This non-diegetic use of sound in the filmic space allows the writer/director to convey in a short period of film what the author of the original literature spent a great majority of the story to convey: Barlow is alone against the world. The final shot of the scene presents Barlow jumping into a trashcan, casting himself as a piece of discarded trash.
The literary version, structured as a first person narrative, relies less on the fact that Barlow is drinking while reading the rejection letters and more on the verbiage of the rejection letter and the reply letter that Barlow writes. The passage sums with the description of Barlow writing through the night and how after finishing his story, addressing and stamping a manila envelope, Barlow walks the envelope to the mailbox and reflects that, "I was knocking, had been knocking for years, but it was taking a long time for them to let me in. I went back inside, turned off the lights, and went to bed. Alone" (Brown 144). Both versions use different techniques to achieve the same goal of isolating Barlow from the world.
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