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The venerable and exceedingly intermittent Plastic Podcast, which has outlived the two blogs with which it was intertwined, and whose audio archives were difficult to ...

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Daily Plastic is a Chicago-based movie blog, a collaboration between Robert Davis and J. Robert Parks, the same pair who brought you the wearable movie tote, the razor-thin pencil pocket, and that joke about aardvarks. If you know the whereabouts of the blue Pontiac Tempest that was towed from the Plastic Parking Lot on the evening of August 7th, 2008, or more importantly if you've recovered the red shoebox that was in its trunk, please contact us at your earliest convenience.

Davis was the chief film critic for the late, great Paste Magazine (which lives on now as a website) from 2005 through 2009, and he counts this interview with Claire Denis among his favorite moments. Every once in a while he pops up on Twitter. He's presently sipping puerh in Chicago, even at this hour. Meanwhile, Parks, whose work has appeared in TimeOut Chicago, The Hyde Park Herald, and Paste, is molding unsuspecting, college-aged minds in the aforementioned windy city. Media types are warned to stay clear of his semester-sized field of influence because of the distorting effects that are likely to develop.

The © copyright of all content on Daily Plastic belongs to the respective authors.

Guy Ritchie, de-punctuator

From our discussion of the year in film, I must detour for a moment to examine the serious matter of titular ink.

The titles of most of the movies released this year had absolutely no punctuation, so adding even a tiny period, as Oliver Stone did, said something, don't you think? When he called his movie W. he said, hey (or perhaps look), this isn't M or Z or V or any such film. It's W., quaint as can be. In a title so short, even a period claims a good 8-10% of the title's ink, and that's not counting the serifs. The serifs matter. The period matters. This title smiles.

Looking back at the films of 2008, I can see that a punctational vision like Stone's was in short supply. Happy-Go-Lucky is sporting hyphens, sure, and Mamma Mia! is jacked up with an exclamation point, but think of how many more titles could be improved dramatically with a few well-placed marks.

Saw V!

But we must respect the ability of such a mark to alter a film's thrust, sometimes irrevocably. An errant drip of ink can turn I've Loved You So Long into a Dear John letter (I've Loved You; So Long), create an equivalence that did not exist before (Beverly Hills: Chihuahua), change a title into a Craigslist ad for a vacation rental (Lakeview, Terrace), turn an innocuous teen romp into a Hair ripoff (High: School Musical), or transform a phrase into a sequence of events (Sex, Drive).

• • •
Why is it that the ampersand in Pride & Glory makes peers of its two concepts but a plus sign would just sound greedy? Because nuance is key! Care must be taken! Nick and Norah, at this early stage in their relationship, prefer a chaste, non-commital "and" from which we should all take a lesson.

Some punctuated titles do not smile, notably those containing the abysmal possessive apostrophe, which adds not ideas but context. It wasn't just A Nightmare Before Christmas; it was Tim Burton's. He held it in his fists, and no one could yank it from them. It wasn't just Dracula but Bram Stoker's (even though we learned from subsequent court proceedings that it was actually Francis Ford Coppola's). 2008 brought us not just crap but Tyler Perry's crap. Not just a diary of some dead but George A. Romero's Diary of the Dead, which additionally confuses the issue of who wrote the diary and the status of Mr. Romero, living or dead. Again, we can learn from Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, whose apostrophe carries almost no undue baggage because "infinite" steals its thunder. Thus you can counterbalance a claim of ownership with something that cannot be contained. QED.

The past year gave us several more examples of punctuation's inability to corral the words that follow it:

Stranded: I've Come from a Plane That Crashed on the Mountains
Bigger Stronger Faster*: *The Side Effects of Being American

To the best of my knowledge, asterisk-colon-asterisk is unprecedented in the history of cinema, so points are awarded for creativity and originality, but, cripes, filmmakers, please recognize the limits of dots and stars and marquee lettering kits.

Turning to the classics, we must note that hell is not popping, my friend. It'za poppin'. — RD

I do appreciate the attempt of the Stranded people to make use of an apostrophe to contract, somewhat, their unwieldy title. Such economy can provide fantastic results, although it's seldom done well. Much like Alexander Fleming and penicillin, I originally discovered the power of this technique quite by accident when I wrote the words "Sky Cap'n and the World of Tomorrow" into my notes, and I'm now firmly convinced that the latest thriller from M. Night Shyamalan would have garnered stronger reviews if it had been titled The Happ'ning. Or better still, The Happ'nin'. (The man who once used the working title M. Night Shyamalan's The Village is unlikely to heed my advice, I know.)

Did the National Biscuit Company feel the need to capitalize B and C when they shortened their name to Nabisco, I ask? I'm reminded of this headline from The Onion: "WaMu Files for ChapLev" — RD

Sadly, I imagine the wave of the future is Guy Ritchie's punctuation-free shorthand. As blog posts shrink and listicles drive the online economy, his RockNRolla not only replaces "er" with "a" (as does Jessica Yu's film Ping Pong Playa) and "and" with "N" but also radically drops the dots, squiggles, and spaces entirely and goes instead with the naming strategy of the computer age: mid-word capitals. The screenplay and its title page were no doubt typed recklessly into a ThinkPad or MacBook, printed on a LaserJet, and sent via FedEx to a ProductionWeenie who managed to secure distribution with a venerable studio that still clings to its quaint form of shorthand: Warner Bros.

3 Responses to “2008 in Negative: Punctuation Marks”

  1. Girish says:

    Rob, here's a favorite use of punctuation in the title of a 2008 release: Bruce LaBruce's gay zombie film OTTO; OR, UP WITH PEOPLE.

  2. Bob Turnbull says:

    Very entertaining post Rob. A few punctuation filled titles of the year gone by for me:

    The X-Files: I Want To Believe (a hyphen and a colon)
    Thou Shalt Not: Sex, Sin And Censorship In Pre-Code Hollywood
    Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa (yipes)
    S&M: Short And Male (an ampersand and colon within a character of each other!)
    Anvil! The Story Of Anvil
    Garbage! The Revolution Starts At Home
    Repo! The Genetic Opera (as bad as that title is, it doesn't match the badness of the film itself)

    None of those match Otto, but there ya go...

  3. Robert DAVIS says:

    How could I have forgotton Anvil! which supports my argument nicely. Plus I love the repeated word; I'd hate for a movie called ANVIL! to be THE STORY OF anything else, but I guess they wanted to make it crystal clear. (Entertaining doc, by the way.)

    Thou Shalt Not uses the increasingly common ink-saving technique (developed during the rationing of WWII, I believe) of dropping the last serial comma. I always include it. Editors take it out. Without it, sin and censorship are pals or extreme points on a continuum between which glides sex, flaunting its impish x. With the comma we have the legs of a tripod; without, three's a crowd. I was pleased to discover this summer that my Plastic co-conspirator also includes the last comma and that the Chicago Manual of Style incourages leaving it in.

    Otto von Strangelove. I'm not sure if the title or the filmmaker's name is more interesting.

    Which reminds me, my favorite abbreviation of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is 2C2B.

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