Highlight Reel

Dear Ed Norton,

The process of turning a novel especially one as eccentric as Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem can be a daunting task. There are many aspects of a story a screenwriter may focus on. There is the main character, the world and the setting, themes, and key scenes. From experience, highlighting important key scenes from a book can grab the viewers’ attention and heighten their cinematic experience.

The first key scene that should be showcased is the death of Frank Minna. Although he is not the main character of this novel, the plot focuses on his death and the events that lead up to it and after it. This event sets the tone of the book but also gives us a glimpse into the relationship the Minna Men (Tony, Danny, Gilbert and Lionel) had with Frank Minna. At page 34, upon receiving the news of the passing of their mentor, Gilbert and Lionel react in the following manner: “[Gilbert] stood there in deflated silence now, absorbing the pain. (…) “Problyreallyoughttogo,” I said semicompulsively, panice rising through my sorrow.” (Lethem, 34) Gilbert is practically histerical while Lionel tries to process the news as calmly as he can. He acknowledges the pain but is obviously worried about the events to follow. Tony and Danny being the two who are centered with their thoughts seemed unaffected by the death of Frank. As we move further on in the novel, we learn that Tony has a hidden agenda, which is why he does not mourn over Frank overtly. Danny simply goes with the flow as we learn more about him. Getting to know what makes each and every one of the Minna Men tic is another important aspect to focus on, which should be the following highlighted scene. JEFF’S NOTE: LOOKING AT A SCENE MEANS LOOKING AT IT MUCH MORE DEEPLY THAN THIS. CONSIDER THE ENTIRE SCENE OF LIONEL AND GILBERT AT THE HOSPITAL. EXPLAIN HOW IT SETS THE TONE OF THE NOVEL, AND EXPLAINS THEIR RELATIONSHIP. ALSO: GILBERT IS NOT HYSTERICAL IN THIS CITATION. ALSO: TONY AND DANNY ARE NOT IN THIS SCENE.

Exploring the Minna Men’s past as orphans at St-Vincent’s Home for Boys. Going to their past before they were Minna Men is important because we get to observe how they evolved through the years with Frank Minna. In regards to Lionel Essrog, he describes himself as someone who was anti-social. He states the following: “I grew up in the library of St-Vincent’s Home for Boys, (…) part of downtown Brooklyn. (…) Until rescued by Frank Minna I lived as I said in the library. (Lethem 36-37) Highlighting this scene is crucial because it gives the viewer something to compare Lionel as we go on in the book. From the beginning he is this shut-in but then he learns to be himself, which is a grueling battling in of itself without having to solve Frank Minna’s murder. The second Minna Man that needs to be focused is Tony. He could be seen as the immediate successor to Frank and Lionel’s opposite in many ways. In the novel Tony adds a dynamic to the story that Lionel simply could not. Lionel describes Tony as “their sneering star” (Lethem 40) Lionel also insinuates that Tony was the inspiration for Frank Minna to create what is known to the readers and the boys as Minna Men. (Lethem 40) It would be great to know about whom Gilbert and Danny are due to the fact that they make up part of L&L. To summarize, highlighting the scene where the Minna Men were still boys in the orphanage demonstrates dynamics that the viewer might not understand if it were not showcased, for example the hierarchy between the men. JEFF’S NOTE: THIS PARAGRAPH IS A BIT BETTER. SOME INTERESTING IDEAS HERE, LIKE THE DYNAMIC THAT TONY ADDS. BUT: THIS IS NOT A SCENE. A SCENE IS A CHARACTER IN A PLACE, DOING SOMETHING.

The following scene that should be concentrated on is the departure of Frank and Gerard Minna. This scene is filled with more question than answers, which could spark the viewers’ intrigue. The scene would also give viewers a sense of Frank Minna’s emotions towards Lionel and the other L&L boys. It the following we can observe the interaction between Frank and Gerard: “they stood at the fence, Frank bouncing nervously on his toes, Gerard haning on to the mesh, fingers dangling through, doing nothing to conceal his impatience with his brother, an impatience turning to disgust.” (Lethem 80). Frank shows that he cares deeply and is proud of the relationships that he built. Moreover, in his conversation with Lionel, Frank really demonstrates him caring when he gives Lionel a book about Tourrette’s syndrome. Lionel described the situation: “He pulled a book out of his pocket, a small paperback. (…) “Take a look,” he said. “Turns out you’re not the only freak in the show.” (Lethem 81)

The next scene that should be focused on is the very first scene with Julia when she portrays herself as a Femme Fatale. In this scene, she sparks Lionel’s sexual thoughts, which we haven’t seen before with a woman. “She moved [my hands] to her breasts. (…) Sexual excitement excites stills my Tourrette’s brain, not by numbing me (…) (Lethem 103) This scene gives us a glimpse into Lionel that interests us deeply. JEFF’S NOTE: WHAT DOES IT TELL US ABOUT LIONEL? Julia who is Frank’s wife is now showing interest to Lionel who aspires to be Frank. Further on in the same scene, Julia gives Lionel extremely important clues to what happens behind Lionel’s back. The biggest clue she gives out happens during the following conversation: “Where are you going Julia? I said tirely. “I’m going to a place of peace if you must know, Lionel.” (Lethem 105)

Melvin Buquerente


One thought on “Highlight Reel

  1. I made some notes on your draft in ALL CAPS.

    This is less than what was expected of you. Firstly, you seem not totally clear on what a “scene” is.” Secondly, you’re looking at the novel in a far too cursory way. Finally, you haven’t discussed anything after page 105. I think there is potential is some of what you write here. Please come and speak to me so I can help you get on track for the final draft.


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