Monday, July 10, 2017

TODAY'S NUGGET: Julia (1977) - Flashbacks That Nail the WHAT, Not the WHY

[Quick Summary: On a request from her best childhood friend Julia, Lillian Hellman is asked to deliver a package into Nazi occupied Berlin. Based on a true story.*]

My Three Thoughts:

1) My hat is OFF to you, Mr. Alvin Sargent. This is an incredible script.

When was the last time that I didn't want a script to end? I cannot remember.

2) For a tutorial in suspense, do NOT miss the train scene at the end.

3) I like flashbacks, but only if you know how to use them.**

Here, Sargent is extremely precise in how he's using flashbacks: To nail the protagonist's present emotions.  What is Lillian feeling now? (Not WHY, but WHAT.)
Notice the FLOW of the next three scenes (I have edited for length):
Scene #1 - Lillian is in shock at the request.  She must decide by tomorrow and doesn't have any guarantees.
Scene #2 - Flashback of Lillian in trouble. Fear --> trust in Julia.
Scene #3 - In the present, Lillian walks in a daze. The flashback shows us the war inside her, i.e., WHAT she's feeling inside now.

[Lillian is in Paris and has not heard from Julia.  Then Johann, a friend of Julia's, shows up with a request: Would Lillian smuggle money to Berlin for Julia?

Lillian asks for time to decide.  Johann walks away.]

Another angle Lillian

walking on the path.

JULIA (O.S. - young girl): Lilly, you don't have to come this way. Go down under. Wade across.

Cut to


Angle on a fallen tree which serves as access from one side of a relatively deep ravine to the other. Water rushes down the ravine. Julia and Lillian (children) have approached the tree. They study the pros and cons, Lillian with some trepidation. Finally, Julia moves with great alacrity across the fallen tree. Lillian remains on the edge of the ravine behind her. She is contemplating the depths. Quiite clearly her fear is increasing.

Angle on Julia

on the tree trunk as she reaches the other side. She looks back toward Lillian.

Her P.O.V. Lillian

Standing frozen in the distance.

Full shot

We wait a moment for Lillian to decide. Finally she makes her move. Carefully, she puts one foot on the log....

as Lillian continues on slowly. She moves closer to the other side. Finally, she is only a few yards from making it. She freezes again. We can feel the panic coming on her. She is about to lose her balance and starts to get down to her knees, but she slips off the log. As she does, she throws her arms around it and holds on for dear life. She is hanging beneath the log.

JULIA: Pull yourself up!
LILLIAN: I can't!
JULIA: Hold tight - just hold tight.

[Julia pulls Lillian up on the log. They are safe!]

....Closer shot Lillian and Julia

as they lie on their sides, exhausted.

LILLIAN: I'm sorry.
JULIA: It's all right.

She looks at Lillian like a good teacher, smiles.

JULIA: You'll do it next time.

Cut to


walking on the path. The gardens are breathtaking, but Lillian is oblivious to everything around her, even a line of schoolchildren who nearly bump into her as they move with their teacher along the path."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: I didn't notice the flashbacks. (That's how I knew they must have been unusually well crafted.)

Julia (1977)
by Alvin Sargent
Based upon the story by Lillian Hellman

*The forward notes that there is still great debate whether Ms. Hellman's memoirs and recollections are entirely true, or all or partly fictional.

**The "rule" says to not use flashbacks.  Why? Because it's too often used to dump information. That is lazy. Don't do that.

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