Throughout its eleven year run, M*A*S*H released a few episodes that one might call experimental. Some were well received such as “Movie Tonight” (05×21) and “The Interview” (04×24). Then, others more controversial, such as “Dreams” (08×22). One of the polarizing episodes of the series is “Point of View” (07×10). In this episode, we see the the 4077th from the point of view of a wounded soldier arriving to camp, in the O.R., and in post-op. It was an interesting concept as it produced some technical challenges. This week, we take a look at the script for “Point of View” to see how the stage directions in the script directed the unique camera angles the storyline required.
From the cover of this script, we can tell this is the Revised Final edition. This copy would have likely been released just before filming started. Revised pages would have been added during production as things change, but there aren’t any in this copy. On the cover, we see the name Chuck Frazier, and he appears to have worked in the property department. This was usually the work of Bert Allen, who was M*A*S*H‘s longtime property manager. I have tried searching IMDb and other sources, and cannot find anything on him. Nevertheless, this script appears to have belonged to him.
I wanted to include a photo of the title page, not because it is different, but because it gives credit to the writers of this episode. Ken Levine and David Isaacs wrote 19 episodes of M*A*S*H, and this was by far their most daring and innovative. In a post on his blog, Levine writes about the episode “Point of View” and their reasoning behind it. He recounts his horror of seeing the episode for the first time on a theater screen, and how off putting it felt seeing the characters’ giant heads on the screen. Thankfully, he says, it worked on a television screen much better. I highly recommend reading his blog post (after finishing this one, of course!).
One the first page of the script, we see a note that sets the tone for the episode. It reads, “This entire episode is subjective camera, as seen through the eyes of Private Bobby Rich.” From the first line, the cast and crew would have known that this episode was going to be different. I am sure that it might have been hard for some to conceptually picture how the final episode would look, but the stage directions throughout the script do a great job of describing the perspective of Private Rich. (See the slideshow below to see more pages and the richly detailed scene descriptions.)
One of my favorite scenes from this episode is when Private Rich is being flown to the 4077th on the chopper. When he opens his eyes, he looks down at the unit from above, and we get a great bird’s-eye view of the buildings and tents. This scene is described at the top of page 5 (see photo at left). The way certain words are emphasized in the sentence helped the director (for this episode that was Charles Dubin) plan the shot. This scene does not appear to be reused overhead scenes which means that a camera operator must have flown in the pod of one of the helicopters. That is a true testament to the production value of the series.
Unfortunately, this copy of the script doesn’t have any of the production documents such as the call sheets or shooting schedule. This is one instance where I wish it did because it would have been interesting to learn from the call sheets who played Private Rich! That is still a mystery to this day. We hear his voice a few times throughout the episode, but we don’t know who recorded that voiceover or whose legs and feet we are seeing. This was a topic on Episode 61 of the M*A*S*H Matters podcast. Despite this script not having the production documents, the episode “Point of View” is really about the unique perspective, and the script provides great insight into how that was planned.
The Final Episode
Since this script does not include the revised pages, there are several lines and scenes that vary from what we see on screen. For example, when Private Rich was carried into the O.R., the script I have indicates that Radar is the corpsman and he has several lines. But an extra was used in the scene instead and the lines were cut. It is interesting to see how little changed though. For the most part, the episode follows the script.
I did notice one interesting inconsistency that appeared on screen, however. When Private Rich is writing his letter, it is dated September 1951, and in season four, they mention that Col. Potter arrive at the 4077th in September 1952. This isn’t the only time Col. Potter’s arrival date has caused issues (such as in “A War for All Seasons” (09×06)), but it is interesting that they gave an exact arrival date for Col. Potter. They tended to avoid concrete dates in the series likely due to potential issues with consistency.
We see a lot more of the set in this episode, and it is all from the point of view of a wounded soldier. We see the ceilings in rooms and parts of the set we had never seen before. Most importantly, we see the bedside manner of everyone in the 4077th. We often see the doctors and nurses talking to wounded in post op, but we see Radar, Klinger, and Col. Potter interacting with Private Rich. We see that these characters develop relationships with the wounded. I really enjoyed seeing how each character’s personality comes across from the point of view of Private Rich. In addition, the episode does a great job of showing the fear of Private Rich himself, and it is achieved without him saying a word. Him trying to stop Margaret from covering his eyes in the O.R. for example. Seeing the hustle and bustle of triage and the environment of the O.R. from the point of view of someone who was wounded allows us to empathize with the position they were in.
Personally, I like this episode. Unlike other half hour series of the era, M*A*S*H was not filmed in front of a live audience. Other shows couldn’t experiment much with camera angles. Since M*A*S*H was a single camera series, they were able to present more film-like camera angles, and I think this was a great way to explore that. A few months ago, I reviewed the book Back Down the Ridge, which was required reading for the writers of the series. It presents the process a wounded soldier went through after they were wounded, so I like to think that book was on the minds of Levine and Isaacs as they wrote this episode.