Thursday, July 13, 2006

Flashback Question

Let me pose this question - what is the point and purpose of a flashback?

5 comments:

wcdixon said...

First, I think you need to specify whether it's an isolated flashback within larger present-set story, or a story that is primarily told as a or in flashbacks.

Mickey Lee said...

I believe the purpose and point of a flashback is to literally "Show, not tell." To serve as a visual source of exposition. I'm looking at my five faves and there's not a flashback in any of them. They almost always take me out of the story, I can think of few films where a flashback really worked for me.

The problem with flashbacks to me is that they sit alongside the same temporal plane as the film, yet, for the most part they are supposed to represent one character's point of view. And it's not always clear that the character's memories we are seeing have an honest vantage point. I'd prefer if the flashbacks had the charcter's biases built into them.

Maybe that's why "Rashomon" was so good. Because the flashbacks were different for each character and represented their own personal interpretations.

Now there are flashbacks that are just temporal shifts, a la "Pulp Fiction" and in "Pulp Fiction", for the most part, it works. But can someone explain to me what the point was of putting "Kill Bill" all out of order? Nothing, except Tarantino has painted himself into a corner and feels like he has to time shift in all his films.

So with the flashback as framing device, where essentially you have the entire film as a flashback, again the point of view comes into play. One character's point of view is not an objective telling of the story, and in that case it should be made clear to the audience that this is only one person's version of the story and others exist, a la "Rashomon".

Even "Amadeus." If the film is Salieri's flashback, than Amadeus should always be made a fool and Salieri should always be made a genius. But it doesn't happen that way.

So I feel flashbacks have an inherent weakness built into them and I avoid them at all costs. It's much more challenging to try to solve narrative problems without the easy way out of a flashback.

I hope this makes sense to someone else besides me!

Mystery Man said...

wcdixon, I meant just an isolated flashback. ANY flashback.

Mickey Lee, I liked the answer of "visual exposition."

-MM

Piers said...

The point and purpose of a flashback is the point and purpose of any other scene or selection of scenes. To advance the story.

In addition, a flashback has a problem not experienced by other sequences within a film, in that it takes us away from previously-established action.

This can have the experience of removing us from what I'm going to call "viewer focus" (for want of a better term) - the part of the film that the viewer is concentrating on now, and most importantly, that they care about. A badly-written flashback can remove a viewer from the here-and-now to take them into a new situation which they don't know or care about, because they don't know these people - even if they're a younger version of people we do care about.

One justification I can think of for a flashback is "When we know a character and care about them and want to know why they got that way." Notable examples would include Casablanca or DOA. (Not the one with the fightin' ladies. Either of the others.)

As the flashback doesn't move to a different story, it's fully justified.

Put another way:

If the flashback isn't part of the same story that we've seen so far, it's a bad flashback.

It's exactly the same as cutting into a whole new story with whole new people. And nine times out of ten that's going to be a bad idea.

Mystery Man said...

Piers!

Hey buddy, thanks so much for your comment on that.

I agree!

-MM