Aaron Sorkin: The Master Screen-Writer

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN FOR AND PUBLISHED AT PASSIONFORCINEMA.COM


“A film is a one night stand but television is a love affair”. That’s Aaron Sorkin when quizzed why he chose to make a television series after having written brilliant movies like A Few Good Men and The American president. This coming from a man who wrote the scene of poetic outburst of Michael J. Fox in the oval office when debating how it is important for a man of immense power to do the right thing – political ramifications and international treaties be dammed!

In the last seven years, if there was one indulgence that I let on unhindered when facing a dilemma or being in a stupor over the morally correct, West Wing was a series that I turned to day in and day out. Books were a refuge but my time of growing up gave me access to much more visual form of ideological exchange that would impress and calm me down. All of us have our ways and for most it is rather cult-isc to name books. Rand was a refuge too maybe more so for the forceful characterizations that I take from it but in my limited sphere of knowledge the characters of Aaron Sorkin had impact beyond reason.

“If you are smart, surround yourself with people who disagree with you”, another quote of Sorkin that translates into every sketch of the West Wing. The principal story line for the uninitiated is as follows: A moderate intellectual Noble-prize winning democrat is elected to the White house courtesy of a team of a five all of whom had left distinguished careers and high paying jobs to get a man elected whom they barely knew. Now in the White House, they have the task of running a country based on all the democratic ideals with their moral conscious being the driving force. The series over seven years wonderfully tells the tale of how these six strong personalities clash on varied issues, coming together by first taking on each other to fight personal ideologies and then take on the world. Over the years, these relationships become an unbreakable bond when facing crisis that take immense faith to weather over – hale of bullets, embroiling with prostitutes, the president’s undisclosed illness, the imperative to abide by constitution all the time, re-election crisis, press fumbles and incumbent choices to name a few.

Not going too much into the issues that are tackled by the series which truly is a fodder for debates on innumerable issues, digressing Sorkin for being a Screen-Writer par excellence is truly personifying the intensity that each of his characterizations had from the word go and how he wrote each of them to absolute perfection. That’s what puts Sorkin way above the rest. Every character of his incorporates a sublime feeling of passion towards their work, constitution, their party, the president for the most part, their country. Each scene has been designed to exemplify these qualities and watching each episode unfold their hidden qualities, their fancy’s and fallacies with their idiosyncratic ideologies is like watching something so real that you can mirror most of your feelings through the stand taken by each of the men in the sitcom.

John Spencer, who plays the role of Leo McGarry – the Chief of Staff – died in real life during the last season once remarked that there was just one thing that made him come to work even when he knew that he was about to die – Golden Writing. “I was given gold in every single sketch”, he said and that’s some tribute coming from a man who has more than 50yrs of working experience in Hollywood. His character of someone who runs the country from the background was written to suit somebody whom you would vision in a place of such capacity and power. All through the series, he moderates the arguments placed by his staff in front of the president, rarely opinionating but ultimately advising the president to do what’s best. He dies after being elected the Vice-president in the last season and his exit was so skillfully written that for anyone who has not followed the series would just feel that’s how the storyline was, such was the care taken to write every single episode that changes could be made even when the worst was to happen.

Allison Janney who plays CJ Cregg, the White Press Secretary & the Chief of Staff is a character who excels as somebody who brings the feminine perspective to the table very well. As the only female member of the senior staff, the sexism is very well handled by Sorkin who in the whole seven years has never discriminated or wrote something derogatory for her. Martin Sheen again makes for a great President throughout the show, figuring as the head of a team that always lays down great challenges for him. He makes the role of a president look so easy at times and at other times, brings out the magnitude of the post so well that you would ultimately get convinced of the course that he steers the nation too. As somebody who got elected without declaring an Multiple Sclerosis story to the world and who takes the blame head on and fights to win another election, what Sorkin has achieved is to set a benchmark to politicians everywhere that the quality of honesty is the highest code.

But if there are two characters that set the tone for the show for seven long years, it’s Toby Ziegler and Josh Lyman played by Richard Schiff & Bradley Whitford respectively. I dig them like anything especially Josh. Both are fanatics for policy and constitution, zealous in love with their job more so that it is done in principle than word and both absolutely love each other and trust till the end. Even when Toby is fired and when Josh was running a campaign for the next president, the way they talk throughout plotting is pure camaraderie of the highest order.

I understand that this article would be Greek and Latin to most not residing in the US or who have never heard of the west wing or not familiar with Aaron Sorkin. But the reason I felt to put it on PFC was simple – imagine this. The last two seasons of the show was 2005&2006 when I was still in India and it used to be aired at 9PM EST. The torrent would be up at around 11:30PM EST that would roughly be about 1PM IST. I would put it up then and thanks to Indian download speeds, it would take a day but I would wake up at 4AM in the mornings to watch, and that’s something I did for two yrs in India. I may have been crazy but I loved the writing, pure and simple. I have watched each episode like a zillion times and I can bravely state I know each episode like the back of my hand. And if you were ever to meet a critic of American Sitcom’s, West Wing rates very highly up there as one of the most intelligent shows ever written.

If you ever get a chance, catch a show… you will be hooked, I promise!

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For me the song by Buffalo Springfield sums up west wing perfectly:

There’s something happening here

What it is ain’t exactly clear
There’s a man with a gun over there
Telling me I got to beware
I think it’s time we stop, children, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down
There’s battle lines being drawn
Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong
Young people speaking their minds
Getting so much resistance from behind
I think it’s time we stop, hey, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down
What a field-day for the heat
A thousand people in the street
Singing songs and carrying signs
Mostly say, hooray for our side
It’s time we stop, hey, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down
Paranoia strikes deep
Into your life it will creep
It starts when you’re always afraid
You step out of line, the man come and take you away
We better stop, hey, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down
Stop, hey, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down
Stop, now, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down
Stop, children, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down

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5 thoughts on “Aaron Sorkin: The Master Screen-Writer”

  1. Hmm, you listening to Buffalo Springfield now (I had no idea, who they were.. had to go to youtube.com to check =p), I did nt know Neil Young was in a band before.

    So the next thing we know you are listening to Jack Nitzsche next.. =

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