Sweetbitter

It is hard to translate. “Sweetbitter” sounds wrong, and yet our standard English rendering of “bittersweet” inverts the actual terms of Sappho’s compound glukupikron.

Anne Carson, Eros the Bittersweet

 

EXT. NIGHT

 

becoming day. The landscape familiar, yet forever strange, like the mythic places of fairytales: we know frogs; we know beauty (but not –this frog, this beauty).

 

CUT: DAY, EARLY MORNING, still EXT

the quality of early morning light.

 

                                          CHARACTER

                         Does it matter, ultimately,

                         who says what? Are these

                         things, these words, bound by

                         identity(ies)or not? The problem

                         is . . .

 

THE PROBLEM IS: even when locating the screenplay, the authorized screenplay, it’s wrong. The screenplay used to film is invariably changed: late edits, cuts, impromptu dialogue, wholescale revisions. If one uses a screenplay to film, the film is never the screenplay; it’s necessary to recreate the screenplay after the film has been shot using the screenplay.

 

                                          SECOND CHARACTER

                         “The problem is . . . the

                         problem is” . . . (Mocking)

                         It’s always problems with you,

                         why not –

 

 

                                          CHARACTER

                         The problem is— nevermind. It’s

                         implied –there’ll be a director’s

                         note or something, it’s in the

                         screenplay.

 

INT: A bedroom. The bed (a futon really) pushed against the wall, sheets mismatched and disheveled

 

CAMERA zooms on mismatched, disheveled sheets. Neither character is visible.

 

V.O. Continuing argument, inaudible

 

BUT: If the characters aren’t seen onscreen, how is one to determine the nuance of relationship –as in WHAT is the relationship?

 

                                          POET

                         Are they arguing about “eros”?

                         Else, why the opening epigraph?

 

                                          CHARACTER

                         “Else why” !? Who talks like

                         that? Who says “eros”? Do you

                         mean fucking? sex? some cute,

                         ironic euphemisim?

 

                                          POET

                         The problem with the screenplay

                         is this: it all happens so

                         slowly.

 

                                          CHARACTER

Or so quickly, depending.

 

O.S. Footsteps heard approaching. They may be stilettos, they may be gumboots.

 

Camera zooms again on mismatched, disheveled bed.

 

                                          CHARACTER TWO

                         When you’re watching the film,

                         it’s quick –but to read this

                         one wants to skip parts:

                         exposition, for example.

 

[The opening exposition from Frankenstein for example. How much to describe: graveyard, skeletons akimbo on the hill, Franz’s face between wrought-iron fence spikes?]

 

                                          POET

                         For example, rewriting the

                         screenplay, after the film

                         takes forever.

 

                                          CHARACTER TWO

                         For example, each page is

                         supposed to be one minute.

 

                                          CHARACTER

                         You’re not suggesting checking

                         my work?

 

                                          CHARACTER TWO

                         Oh no, no. That’s beyond what

                         we’re talking about here –

 

                                          POET

                         What are we talking about,

                         here?

 

CAMERA pans the interior of the room. Bed/futon, bare walls, a plumbing pipe running down the shadowed corner, a vinyl blind with pullcord on the only window. A lonely telephone jack, discolored by paint.

 

                                          POET

                         Even a poet knows that kind

                         of language – “a lonely telephone

                         jack” won’t work. How can a film

                         show “lonely”? “Discolored by

                         paint”—fine. That’s visual,

                         external, but “sweetbitter”

                         presents another problem . . .

 

                                          CHARACTER TWO

                         Tongues? You could show tongues . . .

 

                                          CHARACTER

                         Tongues aren’t erotic! Well,

                         maybe in the abstract if they

                         were implied, shadowed, but most

                         films ruin even the kissing,

                         with too-long shots of tongues

                         touching –backlit, usually.

 

CUT: Light pours through the vinyl shade on the window, backlighting nothing.

 

                                          POET

                         The problem is the poet is always

                         the subject of the poem. Always,

                         even when (especially then)

                         purportedly not.

 

FADE OUT.

 

                                          ADAM GOPNIK (V.O.)

                         Desire is not subject to the

                         language of judicious choice,

                         or it would not be desire, with

                         a language all its own.[i]

 

ALTERNATE ENDING. FADE OUT.

 

                                          RIVKA GALCHEN (V.O.)

                         Think of it this way: there is

                         a vast unwritten book that

                         the heart reacts to, that it

                         races and skips in response to,

                         that it believes in . . .

 

CUT: Unmade, mismatched bed again

 

                                          RIVKA GALCHEN (V.O.)

                         But it’s the heart’s belief in

                         that vast unwritten book that

                         brought the book into existence;

                         what appears to be exclusively

                         a response (the heart responding

                         to the book)is, in fact, also a

                         conjuring (the heart inventing

                         the book to which it so

                         desperately wishes to respond).[ii]

 

[i] Adam Gopnik, “Military Secrets”

[ii] Rivka Galchen, “Pleasure Island”