Saturday, December 27, 2008

Spellcheck is for losers

This is a grammar rant that could very well come back to bite me in the ass some day but I don't care. I'm an English teacher and a writer and I can't let it go without speaking my little piece.

A few days ago I read Tarantino's latest, Inglorious Basterds.

Why is it spelled like that? Because Tarantino is too important and busy to run spellcheck.

By now you may have heard about the typos. The script is riddled with them - apostrophe errors, spelling errors, misused words, awkward sentence structure - it reads like an essay written by a smart, lazy 12-year-old.

Okay first of all, Tarantino has done some amazing work. Reservoir Dogs will always be one of my top ten films of all time and Pulp Fiction is brilliant. I confess I didn't love Kill Bill. In fact I think as you go backwards in his career Tarantino's films get better. He had some great ones right at the beginning.

And to be honest, Inglorious Basterds is an interesting story. It's sort of revisionist history: A group of Americans and a Jewish French girl independently conspire to assassinate Hitler and other lead members of the Reich.

It's got its moments, but it's a Tarantino world. He loves mixed race relationships so he put one in here. A Jewish girl in hiding falls in love with a Negro man who wanders freely during the day. In occupied France. Because apparently while Jews were forced to hide, black Europeans were free to roam the streets as Goebbels talked about their glorious culture in admiring tones.

In case you're wondering, there were about 600 or so black Europeans in the occupied territories and as far as I know none of them made it to the camps. They were mostly shot and dumped into pits. It's not as easy to hide if you're black as it is if you're Jewish, and Goebbels certainly didn't think the Negros of the world were swell beings.

(And in case you're wondering what makes me such an expert, the home front during WW2 was the subject of my masters thesis. I don't know everything, but I've done a shitload of research.)

But this is Tarantino land, and the story changes history anyway, so maybe we can pretend Nazis liked black people.

There are some cool scenes in the script. There's good tension and there's a pretty cool standoff in a bar that I enjoyed very much. I'm not so fond of the ending because I feel like it sort of fizzled out a bit, but the story isn't a bad one.

No, the big problem here is the grammar and spelling. He spells gun "gunn" for instance. Basic stuff. I mean hell, he misspelled the title of his own movie.

Some have said it's no big deal. It's just spelling, the story is the important thing. Everybody makes mistakes.

Well, yes and no. Everybody does make mistakes and I usually hate people who correct minor grammar errors in others' work, but the mistakes in Inglorious Bastards are ridiculous in number. And it's a problem for two reasons.

One: for God's sake, the man's a professional writer. The least he can do is run spellcheck, just for integrity's sake. I doubt very much that Bill Goldman sends out screenplays covered in typos like this, but I guess since Tarantino has gotten older and can make anything he wants, he doesn't have to slum like the rest of us saps who are expected to make our work look professional. He can turn in his screenplay written in crayon and he'll still get funding for his next picture.

But that only works as long as his films keep making money.

It's not just about professionalism, it's also about readability. There is a scene in the beginning of the film where a Nazi officer speaks to a French family in French, but in the script it's written in English. The officer continually says "purpose" instead of "propose."

Now here's the problem: Is he doing that because his French is bad? Is that an intentional mistake? Or is this another Tarantino typo? It's impossible to tell. How are the actors supposed to know? There are places all over this script where I had to halt and go back to reread something because the words didn't make any sense.

And before anybody rushes to exclaim that this is probably just a draft Tarantino sent to his agent that got leaked, I heard from a medium level reliable source that this is indeed the version being used on set.

If this is true, it means Tarantino did not even bother to have someone proofread his script before sending it to the actors, the producers, the location manager, the thirty thousand other people who have to read and understand this script to do their jobs. So instead of taking a couple of hours to spellcheck and proofread, or pay a couple of bucks to an assistant to do it for him, or even ask a friend - hell I'd do it for free - he allowed his script to go public as a working document riddled with mistakes.

He's eccentric, see. He doesn't have to use spellcheck because he's a rich genius.

He has every right to do what he wants of course. As long as people keep seeing his movies he can write how he wants. But it's pretty rare you see a prima donna writer, you know? The least you can do is run spellcheck on your title.


  1. There's advice I take and advice I won't: but ya gotta spellcheck. It's insulting to the work if you don't, like a soldier who won't clean his weapon or a butcher who doesn't sharpen his knives.
    I haven't read the script, but I think it's gonna...not 'bomb', per se, but it's not going to match expectations.
    He just puts in what he wants- that interracial relationship. What did Samuel L Jackson say? 'We say 'n-word' once in a while, but Quentin says it like he wants to be one'.

  2. I couldn't believe it either but it just proves that story is the ultimate and the rest of the guru crap is shit.

    However, from what I've been led to believe, if a newbie submitted that it wouldn't get past the first reader no matter how great the story is.

    Just goes to show you...Hollywood sucks... literally.

  3. This is actually a remake of an older movie, I believe.

    And it made the Black List.

    And I thought (tho I could be wrong) but I thought it had been typed on a typewriter, which means no spell check, except for the old school spell check known as the dictionary.

    I agree, though, the misspelled words are rampant to the point of ridiculousness.

  4. This is the synopsis of the original:

    "In this 1978 cult classic, five escaped military prisoners -- killers, deserters and thieves among them -- set out across World War II France in search of freedom, led by two rebellious tough guys. After their prison convoy is ambushed, the men head for the Swiss border, but they wind up forced to undertake a suicide mission to infiltrate a Nazi train and steal a top secret missile warhead."

    So it's definitely a different story, although it may be based in the same skeleton of an idea.

    I don't think the script is bad by any means, but I don't think it would have been on the Black List had it not been written by Tarantino.

  5. I could have sworn that he’s said in interviews that he writes all his scripts in longhand so it’s all kind of strange. Certainly the misspelling of the title is intentional but outside of that, you got me. Maybe he really does want us to think he’s eccentric.

    I’ve seen the ’78 film and read this script—it’s definitely not a remake. Outside of the WWII setting, the stories are completely different. I think he just likes the title and there probably will be some sort of homage to it in there. I took the whole thing as a DIRTY DOZEN-type plotline done in Sergio Leone style with some CINEMA PARADISO and probably a hundred other things mixed in.

  6. Huh. You're right, IMDB has it listed as "Inglourious Basterds".

    Are they really going to release the film with that title?

  7. Anonymous5:27 PM

    I personally thought it was great that he just did not seem to give a stuff about all the screenwriting conventions we work hard at perfecting. Good for him, I would like to think I will do the same once I have "made-it".

    The story is great, and that all that is important. I think this might hopefully end up being a great film, the cast is superb and the story is a good one (despite the rather weird revision of history).

    As for Marcel? I just put that down to this being set fairly early in German occupation of France. It is supposed to be in 1941, it was only from 1942 that discrimination against non Arians became the norm in occupied France.

    I am of the opinion that the film will be called Inglorious Basterds in the Cinemas, maybe it really is intentional.

  8. I have to agree with you, emily. For me Reservoir, Pulp and even Jackie Brown were pretty solid films, but everything else I thought very little of.

    Kill Bill? Bleh. And to need TWO movies to tell that story? Please.

    And Death Proof was more like Fun Proof. What a bore that was. Shame, I think he's super talented but tends to waste it.

  9. There's a saying about eccentricity. If you're rich and/or successful, they call you "eccentric"; if you aren't, they just call you "crazy". The same can almost as easily be said about geniuses and lunatics.

    You are absolutely right in postulating that the only reason such a grammatically-poor script is getting produced is that there's a famous name-brand writer behind it. But having said that - and assuming his syntactical style hasn't changed - how did he get "Reservoir Dogs" made in the first place? Has anyone here seen the original shooting script, untouched after-the-fact by editors' hands and red pencils?

    Aside from perhaps firing the assistant that used to do this kind of proofreading for him, can anyone else think of a reason why this script reads like a smart but lazy 12-year-old wrote it?

    It can be hard to chalk up the decline in proper grammar to any one person or source, but Emily, you're a teacher - have you seen other high school teachers or even college professors allowing this kind of work to get by, preferring to analyze what the writer was trying to convey rather than the way in which he or she did it? I've been hearing more and more frequently that too many people with diplomas and degrees, especially but not exclusively in fields outside of English and language, are graduating with a grasp of grammar and syntax that would never pass even a simple test of such skills...

  10. Oh, absolutely, Don. That's a whole other rant.

    I have my students for 16 weeks of 95 minute classes, a full week of which goes to testing. So that's 15 weeks to cover essay writing and literature. I'm not even supposed to cover grammar, but most of the kids come to my 10th and 11th grade classes writing on a 6th grade level.

    I teach some common error stuff, but I swear to you most of my students don't even know what an adverb is. I have to teach runons and fragments and they are 15-16 years old.

    I think a lot of it starts with the fact that kids don't read anymore. They play video games. Add to that social promotion and our constantly declining expectations and you have a country of barely literate children.

  11. I personally think Kill Bill and Pulp are his best. Resevoir was mediocre and Jackie Brown was good, but overlong.

    I couldn't care less about the grammar or spelling errors. I'm not that way, I obsess over the smallest errors in my scripts. But I just can't care. He does what he does, he's eccentric, and actors love to work with him. And I think he does use a typewriter, which would explain not going back and fixing the errors.

    As for it not being on the Black List if it wasn't Tarantino. Possibly. But there was also a script on the list called UNTITLED CHANNING TATUM PROJECT. I don't think the Black List has a lot of integrity at this point.

  12. Anonymous4:56 PM

    unless he changed his work methods, Tarantino does all his scripts in longhand on paper and hands pages off to someone to type into script format/pdf... so is it verbatim dictation/copying of Q's mispellings or a really dumb assistant? ha

  13. Anonymous7:34 PM

    The title is how the original was misspelled on Grindhouse marquees. And since he is directing the script, how much does it matter? Paul Thomas Anderson rarely capitalizes and I don't think it detracts from his verbal genius.

    Also, since all scripts go through script processing departments (and then thrown away by the director), there is a version of the script that is spelled perfectly. It's really not such a big deal.

  14. Anonymous5:26 PM

    eye am pritty sure he did it on porpoise. he's not that dum.

  15. I say it is a big deal when the successful role models that kids and teens have today aren't able to grasp basic English skills regarding grammar and syntax that used to merit a separate class, in some places. Picture a teenager getting a glimpse of the unretouched "Black List" version of that script - what conclusions about grammar and syntax would they draw from it?

    Sure, it's video games. Sure, there's a decline in reading. But there's also a decline in parental involvement, a decline in money used to invest in schools, a decline in teachers with the necessary dedication to hold kids to a standard and not back off.

    Social promotion is one of the dumbest ideas on the planet - if a kid wants to avoid the stigma of being left behind a grade, then get him some help; tutors, parents, aunts, uncles, older siblings, whatever it takes. If the kid still can't pass with competent aid, then someone needs to look closer at why, not just drop him on the assembly line next to his classmates and trundle them all off to the next grade...

    Lastly, of all the things in a government's budget to cut, education should be the LAST on the list. There's no better way to tell the next generation that you don't give a crap about what kind of life they will lead than by making it more difficult for them to improve themselves and putting them in a poorly-funded school system. All those Yuppies preparing to waltz into their "golden years" and retire ought to have paid very close attention to the education of those whose incomes (and the taxes thereon) will (hopefully, for their sakes) help support them and keep the economy solvent and stable.

    Otherwise, the only real language skills kids will need in the future will be phrases like "You want fries with that?" or "Welcome to Walmart, how can I help you today?"

  16. "I say it is a big deal when the successful role models that kids and teens have today aren't able to grasp basic English skills regarding grammar and syntax "

    Screenwriters aren't role models. And I don't say that as a Charles Barkley joke. Screenwriters, and writers in general, are some of the most fucked up, anti-social, neurotic people you will ever meet. Do you want your kid looking up to Charlie Kauffman? I wouldn't. I'd say if your kid idolizes screenwriters he may have bigger problems than grammar.

    And it's not Tarantino's job to raise anybody's kid.

  17. OK, so screenwriters aren't every kid's role model - but picture a teen who aspires to go to film school and become a screenwriter.

    I'd say this rant isn't exclusive to screenwriters, either. Anyone who's ever heard Sarah Palin speak without a script would be hard pressed to even call that gibberish "English". And our outgoing president, with his obsession about "nukular" weapons of mass destruction...he's another Forensics contest loser if ever there was one. I'm not even going to touch the celebutards - it's like shooting ducks in a barrel with a grenade launcher.


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