No, I’m not angry about something: I just watched the Shatner movie The Outrage, a 1964 old west picture based on Rashomon, the 1950 classic Japanese film by Akira Kurosawa. I recently watched Rashomon within the past year or so I was curious how The Outrage stacked up against the original as well how Shatner performed his role.
I’m stealing this from IMDB:
Three disparate travelers, a disillusioned preacher, an unsuccessful prospector, and a larcenous, cynical con man, meet at a decrepit railroad station in the 1870s Southwest. The prospector and the preacher were witnesses at the singularly memorable rape and murder trial of the notorious Mexican outlaw Carasco. The bandit duped an aristocratic Southerner into believing he knew the location of a lost Aztec treasure. The greedy “gentleman” allows himself to be tied up while Carasco deflowers his wife. These events lead to the stabbing of the husband and are related by the three eyewitnesses to the atrocity: the infamous bandit, the newlywed wife, and the dead man through an Indian shaman. Whose version of the events is true? Possibly there was a fourth witness, but can his version be trusted?
William Shatner plays the preacher, who has given up on humanity. After hearing three distinctly different accounts of the rape/killing, the preacher sinks into a depression not just because of the horrible crimes committed, but because of all the lies that were told during the trial while under oath. If there are three different stories of the same incident, two of them must be a lie, and what kind of good has a preacher done in a town where people can lie so easily after swearing to tell the truth?
This isn’t a big role for Mr. Shatner. Most of the movie centers on the actions of the Mexican bandito, the southern gentleman, and his wife. Shatner’s preacher is quiet and morose. He speaks only when necessary (unlike the prospector and the con man, who carry most of the conversation framing the various stories).
It’s a good performance, though. As the con man (played by Edward G. Robinson) notes, he has an honest face. There was only one occurrence of Shatner pausing during some dialog in a Shatner-esque way. Is it an affect, or is it just how he talks sometimes?
During the scenes in which Shatner appears, there is a steady, hard rain falling. Once they are finished recounting the terrible tale three times, the rain stops. The same thing happens in Rashomon. The men who rehash the whole story are all seeking shelter from the pouring rain, and there is nothing else to do but talk.
Other than being a great film that inspired an American version, Rashomon is also responsible for the Rashomon Effect or Rashomon Style storytelling.
A Rashomon Style story is where the same event is recounted by several characters. The stories differ in ways that are impossible to reconcile. It shows that two or more people can view the same event quite differently. The author invites the audience to hear ’em all out and then compare and contrast these divergent points of view. Sometimes the work provides no definitive answer as to what actually happened.
Back to Talking about Reruns
Anyone familiar with sitcoms has seen this device at some point in the show’s history. It’s almost obligatory to do this, just as it is to do a Scrooge Style show during Christmas time. How many can you remember? Again, tvtropes.org has a list. Here are examples it gives from sitcoms I know:
- In the All in the Family episode “Everybody Tells the Truth” Archie, Michael, and Edith
recount different versions meeting the same Italian American plumber and his black assistant (a hilarious young Ron Glass). To Archie the plumber acts and dresses like a Mafia Don while the assistant is a menacing, Black Power sign throwing street thug with a giant afro and chip on his shoulder. To Michael the plumber is a submissive blue collar flunkie while the assistant is a modern-day Stepin Fetchit; an archetype of Uncle Tomfoolery. Naturally, Edith tells the real story. (Archie’s story is a little closer to the truth: the man is mostly reasonable, but does carry a knife and objects to being called “boy.”)
- Diff’rent Strokes had an episode like this involving a burglary. Appropriately enough, the episode title was “Rashomon II”.
- In Happy Days episode “Fonzie Gets Shot”, Roger, Fonzie, and Potsie provide differing accounts over how the Fonz was shot in the ass.
- The Dick Van Dyke Show: “The Night the Roof Fell In.” Rob and Laura recount two different versions of a marital spat that ends with Rob storming out. Oddly, we get the real story from their pet goldfish.
- “Perspectives On Christmas”. In this example, the characters’ perspectives differed mainly in what they were able to see and how they interpreted certain lines of dialogue (as is the norm for misunderstandings on this show), rather than blatantly skewing things in their favor as in most comedic examples.
- “Shrink Rap”, in which both brothers undergo ‘couples’ counseling and outline the events which have led to their most recent relationship collapse. In general, they have a tendency to present themselves as being a bit more wise, thoughtful and put-upon than they probably would be in the real situation — and the other immediately calls them on it. There’s also a rather amusing bit where Niles recounts a story Daphne told about a couple who would frequently experience The Immodest Orgasm right next to her bedroom wall at night, and her over-the-top efforts to show them up, culminating in this exchange:
Frasier: Hold it! Niles, you know full well that Daphne merely told us that story, she did not act it out!Niles: [Genuinely confused] … Didn’t she?
- The M* A* S* H episode “The Novocaine Mutiny” has Hawkeye court-martialed when Frank
Burns accuses him of mutiny. While testifying, Frank speaks (and narrates) his version of events, in which he struggles heroically to treat the wounded while the other surgeons mewl and cower. During the scenes accompanying Frank’s narrative he is shot in soft-focus, gleaming and white while shots of Hawk and Beej are dingy and unflattering.
Hawkeye: The Major’s version of what happened was, to say the least, fascinating. It was, to say the most, perjury! No, to be fair, I have no doubt that he remembers it that way. More’s the pity. And there was some truth to the story. It was October 11 and we were in Korea. Other than that…
- Hawkeye gave his version of events (which more or less, falls in line with the way the characters normally act).
On News Radio, Catherine Duke decided to leave the station, but nobody was paying attention when she was telling why she decided to leave. The station owner, Jimmy James, wants to know why Catherine left, prompting about five different versions of the story, culminating with Jimmy’s impression of what happened, a nonsensical sequence combining elements from each story.
The Odd Couple had an episode that described a party where Oscar and Blanche’s marriage went on the rocks: first Oscar tells how Blanche was a drunk and Felix was a meddlesome whiner; then Blanche tells how Oscar was a lecher and Felix was a meddlesome whiner; then Felix tells how he was the life of the party and valiantly tried to save Oscar and Blanche’s marriage.
That 70s Show did this when Jackie and Hyde were explaining how they got together. In Jackie’s version, Hyde is a perfect gentleman, and even calls her “my lady.” Hyde’s version is…simpler:
Hyde (VO): I’m hangin’ out in the basement like I usually do, when Jackie showed up. It was obvious she wanted me.
Jackie: I want you.
Hyde: It’s obvious.
At the end, [Eric] mutters that he wonders how the hell all this happened, and the screen blacks out and the words “What really happened” appear. It turns out the two were watching TV together when they started talking and realized they were both bored and lonely…and then they jumped each other.
Used in the A Different World episode “The Cat’s In The Cradle”, in which Dwayne and Ron are arrested by campus police for brawling with three white students from another college.
There is a twist on the Rashomon style in that the first portrayal is what really happened—both Ron and two of the white students said and did things to provoke each other, while the third futilely tried to keep the incident from escalating. The fight began when one of the white students spray painted a racial slur on Ron’s car, at which point Dwayne showed up and jumped in to help. However, in Ron’s version of the event, the attack was completely unprovoked—he denies saying or doing anything to antagonize the others, unfairly depicts the innocent white student as just as aggressive as his friends, and when Dwayne arrives, he is seen meekly pleading for the attackers to “stop, stop”. Conversely, the white student who tells his story claims that THEY were the innocent victims, portrays Dwayne and Ron as stereotypical street thugs and conveniently neglects to mention vandalizing Ron’s car.
- Good Times: The couch catches fire. JJ, Michael, and Thelma each tell Willona what happened. Of course when each tells their story, they paint themselves in an extremely flattering light and make the others look bad. In the end, Penny tells Willona that she is the one who burned the couch and the flashback shows how she tried a cigarette and drops it into the couch when JJ says that he did not like smokers.
Okay, and there are two Star Trek episodes:
- The Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “A Matter of Perspective” was a holodeck-aided version of this trope. Riker has one story; the people who think Riker murdered one of their scientists have another; and Deanna Troi tells Captain Picard that both sides are telling the
truth, or rather what they believe is the truth. The actual truth does come out, but only because the holodeck recreates the crime scene almost exactly and is left on “crime scene.”While Riker is absolved of the murder, exactly what happens between Riker and the scientist’s wife is left nebulous. The possibilities left open being her seducing him, him trying to rape her, and them mutually throwing themselves at each other. Sure, we know Riker as a ladies man, but you never know…
- Or Riker and the wife simply misunderstood each other due to each perceiving the other’s body language through their alien cultural viewpoint — strangely for a sci-fi show TOS misses an opportunity to present this Aesop.
- Star Trek: Voyager episode “Living Witness.” We see an alien race’s holographic simulation of their contact with Voyager seven hundred years ago. A combination of cultural bias and historical distortion results in the crew being portrayed as violent, immoral thugs responsible for slaughtering innocents, including a heroic leader. It falls to a copy of the Doctor to set things straight.
So what was I talking about? Oh yeah, William Shatner. He’s good in The Outrage.
There’s one more thing about that movie that drove me nuts while I watched it. The guy who played the Mexican bandito Carasco looked familiar to me, but I couldn’t figure out who the heck he was. During the final credits, I got my answer: Paul Newman. Really? How the heck didn’t I recognize him?
I’ve only got a few more Shatner movies/TV episodes to watch before I just have mostly T.J. Hooker and Tekwar left. This obsession may be winding down. Lucky you.