Sunday, February 25, 2007

Oscars Madness Special! Not Really, But There’s a Lot of References to Movies and Three Photographs

I remember seeing the movie “Dodgeball” on a cross-country flight, the destination and time of which escapes me, as does the plot of the movie. But I remember that it was a mildly amusing flick, typical of its genre: has the usual quota of fratboy humor, toilet jokes, and slapstick, plus a few hot babes and really bad hair.

Such movies will have a cast including some if not all of the following: Vince Vaughn-Will Farrell-Owen Wilson-Ben Stiller, or VWOB, for short.

Now, of all things that might be plagiarized, one may not imagine “Dodgeball” being at the top of the list. Term papers, novels, histories, and even other movies of a serious bent, yes. But not a VWOB flick.

But apparently, that’s just what happened, or at least according to two aspiring screenwriters who submitted a script about a dodgeball tournament to their agent, only to find out that a movie was being made that had almost identical character names, scenes, and other similarities, such as a dodgeballer who bore a striking resemblance to Frieda Khalo after years of abuse from her dentist.

These screenwriters are suing the studio, of course, and their case will actually be tried, which is rare for these kind of suits, which are disposable as the latest Ben Stiller movie, which seem to be released at the rate of two a week.

It appalls me that someone would need to steal from someone else’s script to write “Dodgeball.” I mean, the dialog isn’t exactly “Sweet Smell of Success.” (“I’d hate to take a bite outta you. You’re a cookie full of arsenic.”)

Sensitive artist

Even more troubling is that someone even bothered. For most writers, dodgeball -- the game, not the movie -- is the stuff of playground nightmares. A gym class staple when I was in fifth grade, it’s not a game that sensitive types look back upon with fondness.

Those who excel at dodgeball are emotionally stunted boys who are large, strong, and stupid. Their game is designed to destroy you, physically and otherwise. They aim for your head. They will throw a ball at top speed as they stand over your prostrate, injured body. They will steal your lunch money to buy drugs, force you to smoke it, and testify in the trial that sends you to Sing Sing for 25 to life.

At the school I attended, the preferred mutation of the game was called “killball,” which is exactly like dodgeball, except there was always the distinct possibility of being dismembered. Killball is best described as a forum in which the special ed students, a couple of years older than the rest of us, could make an artistic statement in a non-traditional media. The artistry being someone’s blood splattered on a wall, of course.

In short, this is not a game for which a great movie can be made, and if you need to plagiarize another’s script in order to make it, your lack of imagination beggars the imagination.

As I’ve rhapsodized before, a writer’s ideas are a commodity too precious to be shared with others. (Unless they’re shitty ideas, which I’ve been happy to share with anybody who will listen.) A friend of Wife’s had this happen in grad school: the friend shared her idea for a novel with a colleague, only to see it in print a few years later.

I’ve gotten so paranoid that I won’t share my idea for the non-fiction book that I’m not writing. Because it’s such a cool idea, I believe, I’ll see another writer get to it first, if he or she gets wind of it (they’ll get to it first, because I’ve been either cleaning apartment in anticipation of Raoul, or sitting on my ass watching television. Good stuff, that TV).

But that’s the thing: it’s one thing to steal a great idea, or even plagiarize a great novel, but “Dodgeball”? I’d hope that somebody would ripped off the galleys of “Zuckerman Unbound” or the script for “Touch of Evil.” Maybe stolen T.S. Eliot’s notebooks and presented “Prufrock” as his own; perhaps they could have pilfered Kurosawa’s screenplay for “The Seven Samurai.”

Your future's all used up

That stuff is worth stealing. As the estimable Mr. Eliot said, “Hacks plagiarize; geniuses steal.” (Or said something like it. I’ve only used the line more times than “Wanna see my stamp collection?”, but to much greater effect). The big example of this is Shakespeare, who took his plots part-and-parcel from elsewhere.

So that’s what I’m going to do. As we speak, I am hacking into Salman Rushdie’s iMac and stealing his next novel, which I will pass off as my own. And if you want to know what it’s about, too bad — it’s a secret.