Many of you know our very good friend, David Muhlfelder. As of today, he's written 664 excellent script reviews on TriggerStreet. (Those of you in Scribosphere may recall his great review of The Senator's Wife.) He has also written 5 superb screenplays, which have all been Top Ten favorites (as rated by his peers).
I loved what David wrote in his two good verbal examples. He said, "It's not so much what the narrator says, but how it's said juxtaposed with the images onscreen. We get all the back story and set up, but the combination immediately pulls you into the world of the film." Beautiful. I couldn't agree more.
Thanks so much, David.
In the film North By Northwest, Hitchcock uncharachteristically brings the story to a screeching halt for an unnecessary scene that introduces us to the United States Intelligence Agency. It is in that scene that Leo G. Carroll rather awkwardly explains to his colleagues (But mostly to the audience) that Roger Thornhill has been mistaken for the fictional George Kaplan, and that they're not going to try to rectify the situation in order to deflect suspicion from their real agent who's working on the inside right under Van Dam's nose. The only "necessary" piece of information in that scene is that George Kaplan doesn't exist. The rest could've been dealt with in an exchange of looks, or by not answering the question "So, what do we do now?"
TWO GOOD VERBAL EXAMPLES:
Paddy Chayevsky's The Hospital and Network both begin with a VO narration (Done by Chayevsky himself in The Hospital). In The Hospital the narration takes the form of a medical case history (With occasional aside comments) over images of a patient being admitted and moved through a busy hospital. Most of the narration is very technical and would only be understood by a doctor. Towards the end of the sequence, the narrator shifts gears to recount the details of a young intern's sexual trysts with a female lab tech. It ends with the patient dead in a hospital room, and the narrator saying something like "All of this is to show how the bed in room 806 became available." This is followed by the intern calling his girlfriend to tell her that he had a real bed for them. The opening credits follow over a still image of a comatose patient in the foreground bed, and the intern and his girlfriend going at it in the background.
Similarly, in Network, the narrator begins by recounting the ups and downs of anchorman Howard Beale's career and personal life. All of this is done over images of the nightly news anchors of the time. Again, the language of the narrator is specific to the TV industry. While not as technical as The Hospital, it is framed in talk of ratings and shares. It ends by informing us that Beale is fired and it has fallen to his best friend to tell, and that the two men got drunk. This is followed by a cut to Beale and Schumacher drunk in a bar, trading war stories.
What makes these good verbal expositions? It's not so much what the narrator says, but how it's said juxtaposed with the images onscreen. We get all the back story and set up, but the combination immediately pulls you into the world of the film. In The Hospital it's medical science colliding with the chaos, bureaucracy and inefficiency of a busy New York hospital. In Network it's the dispassionate, analytical reduction of a man's life to his TV ratings, juxtaposed with the real man. I think it's the best use of VO on film, and no writer could get away with it nowadays. But then again, not many writers can write like Paddy Chayevsky.
2001: A Space Odyssey. The first line of dialogue isn't spoken until nearly thirty minutes into the film. The Dawn of Man sequence shows the apes as they were before the monolith arrives, and how its arrival changes their behavior and sets the evolutionary process in motion. It's all capped by the scene where the ape, triumphant in battle, hurls his bone club into the air and it becomes a satellite, signaling that we are now at the beginning of another watershed moment in the evolution of mankind.
Friday, August 10, 2007