Monday, August 10, 2015

A flavor all their own

The famous stars of the stage, film and literature have been great because, at some point, they differed from everyone else. They had a flavour all their own.
Mack Sennett, quoted in Keystone by Simon Louvish

What early film producer Mack Sennett was talking about was style. His own style was slapstick comedy. He was responsible for the Keystone Cops, named for his studio. Such silent comedy stars as Charlie Chaplin, Fatty Arbuckle, Ben Turpin, Mabel Normand and Harry Langdon worked for him, although most of them found they could make more money working for somebody else. Underpaying his talent also seems to have been his style.

Where I would disagree with Sennett is his suggestion that only the great ones have "a flavour all their own." Everyone has a distinct style, or flavor, if you will, although some styles are more distinctive than others. You can miss the opening credits and still know you are watching a Woody Allen film and not a Steven Spielberg film. The style tips you off.

What's true of those who make movies is also true of those who write novels. Ernest Hemingway reads nothing like John Dos Passos. John Steinbeck reads nothing like J.D. Salinger. If you enjoy a particular writer's stories, chances are you admire that writer's style., although I'm not sure the opposite is always true.

Truman Capote once said, "There is such an animal as a nonstylist, only they're not writers -- they're typists." But this is not to say that one's style cannot be changed or developed. Raymond Chandler called style "the most valuable investment a writer can make with his time," while William Styron said, "Style (by which he presumably meant good style) comes only after long, hard practice and writing."

The "famous stars of stage, film and literature" may not not be the only ones with "a flavour all their own," but through hard work they are usually the ones with the best flavor, the style that's remembered long after most others have been forgotten.

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