The Social Network (2010)
BFI interview with Aaron Sorkin, 20 January 2011

I have some reservations about The Social Network. Not in soundtrack terms, the score very definitely owned 2010, so no argument there; just, not the screenplay. I don’t think I’m being unreasonable (read: a twat): the third act is a rooster tail of wrap-ups which knock off every character except Zuckerberg in ways the previous acts don’t earn; some of the characterisation I squarely couldn’t give a rat’s ass for; and a lot of the Palo Alto stuff (the “Was that a parable?” / “This is our time” scene notwithstanding, because it’s a knockout) does read like TV. So, no, the screenplay isn’t quite of a par with Chayefsky. And to claim as Sorkin has that the story—the founding of Facebook and the testimonies of the chief complainants who filed lawsuits against its C.E.O.—would be of interest to Shakespeare or *blink* Aeschylus is, well, you decide if we should lay the smack down on him for that one.

The above does at least explain why it made little sense to me that The Script Factory (a development house which for fifteen years has offered basic training for prospective screenwriters in Western Europe) was co-presenting the Q & A—in its structuring and presentation this was your archetypal celebrity interview and not quite a screenwriting brainstorm, a round of appropriate and familiar questions therefore that steered around the topic of writing, process and tasking (so it was more of a “this is a wordy script isn’t it?” party than an “about these compromises with the Zuckerberg/Sean Parker/Narendra/Winklevoss/Christy Lee characters, tell me more” deal); on the other hand, none of that explains in the end why I enjoyed the whole darn evening so much at the B.F.I.

For one, Sorkin is an authoritative voice whenever he’s nervous (his admission), so he’s well-rehearsed, which means his comments are always adroit and on point, which also means that he is basically repeating everything you’ve heard on Wittertainment or seen on Collider or Wmag, making this literally the same interview, but okay, fine; secondly, Francine Stock, always a fine master of ceremonies, made several good enquiries, placing the film in the context of Zuckerberg’s relationship with Erica, acknowledging multiple logics at work in the Hollywood industry, and underscoring the disruptive power of the film’s opening scene, a sequence which cuts right through the commonplace routines of cinema spectatorship (to which the catchy response, “[opening] scenes which require you to start running to catch up with the movie … are good”); thirdly, The Social Network ends on “Baby You’re A Rich a Man,” which pretty much puts me in a good mood for anything; and perhaps most welcome of all, Sorkin is a fun, sharp, and endearing speaker.

In the space of forty minutes he paid lip service to Seurat (he claimed that between Seurat's distinctive mode of French Post-Impressionism and modern storytelling there are conceptually few barriers), Peter Shaffer, his Equus and Amadeus specifically, The Queen (Stephen Frears, 2006, France/U.K.) screenwriter Peter Morgan, journalist George Crile, cellist/virtuoso Yo-Yo Ma, and the Hollywood satire Entourage; he joked about the development executive’s prerogative as opposed to the writer’s and hence the commercial imperatives of Hollywood, lampooning a fantasy scenario in which notes are returned to him requesting a “scene of Mark saving a drowning child” or “Mark when he’s twelve years old being stuffed into his locker” (you know, for the sake of empathy); he described himself as an “outsider, shy and awkward in social situations,” and believes that modern celebrity culture is “fundamentally wrong and bad for us, [turning] us into meaner people.”

In his digressions a note or two on the state of package production in today’s conglomerated industry stimulated some curiosity: for one, both Sony and Random House appear to have mobilised behind The Social Network and Mezrich’s The Accidental Billionaires—The Founding of Facebook: A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius and Betrayal with some force, cognisant of the fact that neither are particularly timeless entities. Towards the end of the evening, Sorkin seemed genuinely upbeat about Sony’s future with Zuckerberg, pointing out that the connections his screenplay makes with the man are reasonable, and observing that, “you’re not gonna play it fast and loose with people’s lives.” Finally he returned to the idea of false light and defamation in cinematic works of fiction. “If [as a writer] your moral compass is broken for some reason,” he mused, “there is the Sony legal department to help you out. This script is vetted by a legal team who could not fit inside this theatre. We’re talking about a group of people who have demonstrated they’re not opposed to suing anyone and who have the resources to spend you to death. If I had said something that was untrue and defamatory you would know it because Mark Zuckerberg would own Sony right now.” Which isn't ... wholly accurate. As several entertainment lawyers have stated on their own websites, deposing Mark Zuckerberg again today could potentially cause more damage than either Sorkin and Fincher's film, or Mezrich's book. Still, it's a fun note to end on.
21 January, 2011


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