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Garrison Keillor and Ken Lazebnik
158 Pages
Publisher: Penguin Books
(May 2006)
ISBN: 0143038230
Price: S$25.95 (Available in Borders)





This is what happens when you don’t get to watch a film on celluloid: you read the screenplay.

While we remain unsure why our local audience never got to see this musical directed by the late Robert Altman on the big screen, we are thankful we got our hands on the film’s screenplay.

The story tells of the last broadcast of a well-loved radio program “A Prairie Home Companion”. Everyone becomes nostalgic and croon tunes to commemorate this unforgettable day. A colourful cast of characters come together, each with a story of their own. Then there is the mysterious Dangerous Woman who appears every now and then, with her motives unknown.

For those who are not familiar with how a production script is written, this book may not be the best reading material. It is not like a conventional novel where the story is written in prose. Directions, voiceovers and locations are included in this screenplay – it definitely helps if you can picture the movie in your mind while reading the book.

The dialogues are smartly written by Garrison Keillor, who is the mastermind behind this radio program in real life, and aptly plays the announcer in the movie. Because musicals are so popular now, a good accompaniment to this book would be the movie soundtrack which allows you to listen to the wonderful yodeling by Meryl Streep and Lily Tomlin while reading their lines in the book.

Setting a context for the screenplay is a foreword by director Altman and an introduction by writer Keillor. These few pages give us a great insight into how the film was conceptualized and eventually taken up by Altman. Sadly, this was also his last directorial work before dying in November last year.

It is interesting to read about how George Clooney was considered for the radio announcer role, how the cast was bright and cheery on set, and how much the movie meant to Keillor. Since this introduction was written before Altman’s death, we are sure this screenplay would hold an even more special place in his heart now.


"It’s unprofessional for the screenwriter to lurk around a movie shoot and snatch scripts out of people’s hands and scratch out lines and write in new ones. A movie shoot is like an invasion and requires vast detailed planning in order to get the work done on time and stay on budget. The last thing a director needs is a screenplay that keeps changing. But who said I’m professional? Not me."


The screenplay gives us time to enjoy the movie’s every dialogue. Without the power of visuals, this format of reading may attract only certain readers. If anything, the foreword and introduction are sincerely written.


Eight pages of photos from the movie set offer a look at the cast in action during the filming of the movie.

Review by John Li



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This book review is made possible with the kind sponsor of BORDERS


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