The Vision For Pleasantville
Although he wrote the Academy Award-nominated screenplays for Big and Dave, Ross had never had an idea this complex
Although he wrote the Academy Award-nominated screenplays for
Big and Dave, Ross had never had an idea this complex.
"When I first came up with the concept for Pleasantville,
I had no idea if it could be done. The more I wrote, the more
the world came to life, and the more impossible it seemed,"
he admits. "Not only was the execution clearly going to be
huge, but the story itself bridged so many genres it defied an
easy description. Finally I began to understand it like a modem
Alice in Wonderland. Two kids go through the looking glass
(a television set), and like Alice, what we have is a social satire
contained within a fairy tale."
Considered by many to be one of the great modem-day cinema fableists,
Ross took Pleasantville beyond the magical comedy of Dave
and Big. "My initial idea was to ask: what would
happen if there was a place where there was no color, noise, doubt
or uncertainty? What if a world like a 1950's sitcom, in which
everyone is polite and predictable, came to life? I thought it
would open up some really wild opportunities as the characters
began to experience emotion, ideas and passion for the first time.
Then I thought what if that experience turned their world to color?"
Ross didn't know at first that this 'colorizing' would lead to
a rift within the town. "As I continued to write, it became
a battle between the status quo and those people in Pleasantville
daring to be different and free. From there, the theme blossomed
in me in a dozen different ways."
Ultimately, what is revealed is the importance of opposites and
extremes in life. "How can you know what beauty is if you
don't know its opposite? How can you know what you really love
if you're never in danger of losing it? What the people of Pleasantville
discover is that when they open up their eyes to life's greatest
pleasures they also get its absurdities and agonies and terrors.
It's all part of life and you can't pick and choose," Ross
As this unique story took shape, Ross found his imaginative concept
sparking personal reflections - especially about the simpler world
that his parents grew up in and how it begat our own. He was drawn
back into the years when his screenwriter father was blacklisted,
memories that influenced the script's subtle inquiry into the
emotional basis behind censorship and intolerance.
"I grew up in a very liberal household but liberal didn't
mean feminist. When my mother started her career, my father, like
many men in that era, still expected dinner to be on the table
when he came home," Ross explains.
From the earliest stages, the world of Pleasantville was
set in a 1950's utopia: an icon of simpler, more homogenous times.
But the story is not merely an allegory about television; on the
contrary, the television in Pleasantville is a conduit
to explore the morals and values and fantasies of an era gone
"It's about the nostalgia for that sort of simplicity and
why we long for it in our current age of complexity, "says
Ross. "I never watched much 50's television. The idea was
to create a precisely homogenized universe in which everything
is tweaked to an absurd state of perfection."
Using this large canvas, the shortcomings of the 1950's and the
1990's are explored. "I think the story reveals that the
repressed wholesomeness of an Ozzie and Harriet universe is just
as bad as the morally bankrupt, hyperacti
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