Illiterate Filmmakers: Last Man Standing Edition

A lot of proper writing is not a matter of hard rules[1]—it is just a matter of clarity and beauty. One of the best examples of this is parallel structure. As Janis Bell states in Clean Well-Lighted Sentences, “When you write items in a series, you need to make sure they match each other in terms of form.” She gives the following examples of following the rule of parallel structure and of breaking it:

I like bananas because they are delicious, nutritious, and conducive to sleep. [Good]

I like bananas because they are delicious, nutritious, and they help me fall asleep. [Bad]

And it doesn’t matter what form the writing takes place in, either. Again, Janis Bell: “It also doesn’t matter whether the items are marching across the page or down the page.” Nor does it matter if it is page after page, slide after slide, or frame after fame! However, it is in this form that I most often find this error and I believe it is one of the stronger forces driving me crazy. What I am referring to here are the opening credits of films. Let us take, as a purely random example, Walter Hill’s remake of YoJimbo, Last Man Standing. Here are the technical credits (after the cast):

  • Casting by Mary Gail Artz [and] Barbara Cohen
  • Costume Designer Dan Moore
  • Music by Ry Cooder
  • Edited by Freeman Davies
  • Production Designer Gary Wissner
  • Director of Photography Lloyd Ahern, A.S.C.
  • Co-Producer Ralph Singleton
  • Executive Producers Sara Risher and Michael de Luca
  • Produced by Walter Hill and Arthur Sarkissian
  • Based on the story by Ryuzo Kikushima and Akira Kurosawa
  • Screenplay by Walter Hill
  • Directed by Walter Hill

I’m sure you see the obvious problems: “Costume Designer” vs. “Music By” and so on. This would be like listing the cast like this:

  • Starring Bruce Willis
  • Acted by Christopher Walken
  • Actress Alexandra Powers
  • Co-Starring David Patrick Kelly

But it’s worse than even that. It is “based upon a story by” rather than just having “story by” (which would be correct). The worst thing, though, is found in the final two entries. First we have a noun by Walter Hill and then a verb. It is bad enough that they couldn’t just combine these entries, “Written and Directed by Walter Hill.” But “screenplay” and “directed” don’t match. It should be something like “Screenwritten by” or “Direction by.” With so much care taken with the titles, you would think they could at least get the grammar right.

[1] Of course, despite all my ranting and raving, I am a grammar liberal. What matters is communicating. However, communicating well is what is best and when discussing things that matter, throwing a sentence together that says more or less what you mean is not acceptable. What’s more, highly visible people should go out of their ways to speak and write well for the same reason that professional football players should not beat up their wives.

2 thoughts on “Illiterate Filmmakers: Last Man Standing Edition

  1. It is refreshing to (at long last) find another human being who is also concerned with grammar. Over the last 30 years I have become increasing distressed by the misuse and sloppy use of the written English. What will our children use as an example of proper writing?

    May I suggest an entertaining book, which I feel certain you will enjoy? It is entitled, "Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation", an non-fiction book written by Lynne Truss. I am certain you will enjoy it.

  2. Hi Deborah-

    Thanks for stopping by! If you check out all of my grammar writings (see the sidebar on the right and check out "Grammar!" and "Merriam-Webster"), you may find my interests border on the creepy.

    As for Lynne Truss, I’ve read two or her books: "Eats, Shoots & Leaves" as well as "Talk to the Hand." I like them both very much. In fact, I was surprised to see that in the last year and a half here, I haven’t written about her. On the other hand (my puns are almost never intentional), maybe it *isn’t* so surprising. Like my writing, there isn’t much to comment upon because of the personal nature of the content. I do, however, have a vague thought that I disagree with her about some minor issue of punctuation. But in general, Truss and I seem to be kindred spirits in our cranky wordiness.


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