(Original review, 1997-11-30)
Aristotle's observations of drama, is very far from the early dramaturgy as 18th century Lessing for instance. In the twenties when dramaturgy started to become a subject on its own in Central Europe (where it started) there was already in the beginning two different approaches, the Pièce bien fait approach (which mostly is today's melodrama) and an agnostic approach basically used by Brecht (not in the sense of V-effect, but his approach to story - like in "Kleines Organon für das Theater") and many others where the approach follows the what he called "Mach und Dach" - first you do something - then you analyze what you have done and then build from that. The idea is that it is artistically weak to use tools of analysis as tools of creation as Eisenstein teaches for instance, who emerges as a slightly more important figure in the field of drama than Mr. McKee. McKee is no fool, but really is no help unless you already has what it takes to be a scriptwriter. For a talented person alone on the ocean of creative fear he might appear as a savior, but what he teaches might lessen the possibilities that always lies hidden or dormant in a potential dramatic proposal. Not everyone can be a scriptwriter unfortunately.
That McKee finds himself "The Aristotle of Our Time" is just indicating the level of understanding of what Aristotle was. The society in which he worked and lives was so fundamentally different from ours that comparisons cannot really be made with what Aristotle thought, but rather how we believe that we understand the meaning and content of these texts, as most scholars dealing with the history of ideas will tell you. That other language-user and guru, Johnny Carson, once advised "It's funnier to say things funny than to say funny things". And I think there's an analogy to be drawn from that insight with how stories should be told.
I was in a writer's group with a very scholarly type once, and we were all sent off to write up an analysis of a script, in the format a reader would present to someone higher up the script-assessment food chain (role-playing game). What he came up with was certain proof that many of the scholarly struggle to see the wood for the trees, and worse, think they're superior beings as a result of this shortcoming. The art of movie writing is to concoct a script that will get made into a film with a multi-million dollar budget. Scripts that don't get made don't count. In the context of this contest, scholarly insight is essentially useless, but an ability to name the parts is essential. Musicologists revere the Beatles (or at least they should) and yet the Beatles' intellectual musical training consisted of living their lives while listening to and playing the kind of music they loved. I suspect that this is how films are made too. To paraphrase a nice line from a fine film - the code is more what you'd call "guidelines" than actual rules. Arguing with McKee as an intellectual is futile. He is who he is, and he's achieved what he's achieved - the thing defines itself by being whatever it is. "The Aristotle of our time" Sounds a bit silly... worse... pointless. He's Mckee, innit?
Here's my suggestion for what qualifies as true greatness - you write something that has popular appeal, meets the demand of and catches the wave of its time, and subtlety and cunningly woven into it is your personal message to the world, the credo that you wish to express. It changes the way people see things, and the world becomes a better place for it. If you have managed that, respec'. No cash could trump that achievement. Here’s another piece of advice for what’s worth: Write sober and then ruminate on it at about 9pm with alcohol and/or weed and a notepad. Write down all the crazy ideas and possible sentences that come to you (but don't touch the actual writing, obviously. You'll regret that the next day).
NB. Funny thing is, McKee's never really written anything of note. Maybe I’m just confusing two completely different skillsets, writing and teaching. I do that sometimes…