Satirized for Our Protection
Naturally, major revisions were going to have to take place for Touchstone to move forward with production, so gone were the socially offensive elements of Parkin’s book. That still meant some morally questionable activities would remain to be mined for humor, and the task was given to screenwriter Charlie Peters, a man who has had trouble in the past tapping into a vein of humor. His resume’ is filled — nay, littered – with notably embarrassing scripts to painfully unfunny movies such as “Her Alibi, “ “My Father the Hero”, and the normally career-ending film, “Hot to Trot”. Amazingly enough nobody seemed bothered by his body of work, nor by the fact that for “Tribe” he created another script as odious as his others.
To appease the mouse-eared sensors Peters crafted a tale of a professor who ended up squandering a research grant from a University on things such as the day-to-day expenses and paying bills. To make the sedentary educator more loveable he had to hammer out Krippendorf’s rough edges and place him into his predicament as a result of his wife’s passing, expecting the audience to regard him with compassion. The wife is positioned as his former research partner and her absence sends the researcher and father into emotional torpor, hopefully making him sympathetic rather than merely pathetic.
If this plot thread is not already thin enough it is further stretched by two motivators that are dropped on the anthropologist in quick succession. First, an unwelcome knock at his door reveals a tall blonde who informs the professor he has to give a speech that night about his non-existent findings. Then, when he is at the college a friend from the faculty conveniently (for Peters) tells an ominous anecdote about another educator who is incarcerated because he blew through his stipend without doing any research. Now all the machinations are in place and we can witness the frivolity. Or the carnage, depending on your mood.
One bit of humor in this unfunny experience is the way the cast and crew are uniform in their praise of the material, as if they knew the disaster before them and played along like good soldiers. Richard Deyfus declared, “To my surprise, it was hysterically funny.” Producer Larry Breziner said, “I think we were able to hit the right tone to pull all of the power and fun out of the situations for the audience to enjoy.” Even co-star Lili Tomlin, a woman who over the years has proven she knows comedy, said, “First and foremost, I thought this was a very smart script.” But let’s not forget, this is the same woman who thought the script to “Moment by Moment” was clever as well.
Get the rest of the story in part four of MILK CARTON CINEMA: “KRIPPENDORF’S TRIBE”>>>

Posted on April 21, 2004 in Features by

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