Thursday, January 31, 2008

Screenwriting Meditations

[Excerpts from 3 books I’ve been reading.]

First, I’ve been looking for a way to work this quote into an article. No luck, so here it is. This can be found in the introduction to
The Story of Film by Mark Cousins:

“The measure of an artist’s originality, put in its simplest terms, is the extent to which his selective emphasis deviates from the conventional norm and establishes new standards of relevance. All great innovations which inaugurate a new era, movement or school, consist in sudden shifts of a previously neglected aspect of experience, some blacked out range of the existential spectrum. The decisive turning points in the history of every art form… uncover what has already been there; they are ‘revolutionary’, that is destructive and constructive, they compel us to revalue our values and impose new sets of rules on the eternal game.” – Arthur Koestler

This wonderful paragraph derives from David Bordwell’s latest book, Poetics of Cinema, and it’s a great reminder to consider seriously how and when we filter information to the audience:

“Two characters are talking to one another on the telephone. The filmmaker faces a number of choices for rendering this event. First, we can see both characters exchanging dialogue, perhaps via crosscutting, split screen, or some other technique. As a result, following the turn taking of the dialogue, we hear the entire conversation. Alternatively the filmmaker can, throughout the conversation, show us just one of the pair. But that offers a further choice: Shall we hear what the offscreen speaker says, or not? If we hear the speaker but see only the listener, we can observe the reaction to the lines. Instead, the filmmaker might eliminate the sound of the speaker’s dialogue, so that we don’t get access to what’s coming through the earpiece. In this case we see the speaker’s reaction, but we have to imagine what’s being said that provokes it. In sum, each choice narrates the phone call in a different way, doling out different information for different purposes. In a comedy, we might want to see both characters speak their lines and react to each other. In a mystery, it might serve the scene’s purpose to omit one side of the conversation, so we don’t know who the speaker is, or whether the speaker is sincere, or why the listener reacts as she or he does. All of the presentational tactics I’ve mentioned – crosscutting, split screen, eliminating a sound stream, presenting the sound coming into the receiver – are stylistic choices, but they’re inevitably narrational choices as well. They shape what information we get and how we get it.”

And finally, this comes from the book Defining Moments in Movies. (1000 defining moments, in fact. Great book.)

Key Scene – The invitation to and release from temptation
Chloe in the Afternoon

“Very early in Chloe in the Afternoon, we know that Frédéric (Verley), a personable if at times quietly anxious married man, can be seduced into buying a shirt by an attractive female sales clerk. Can he also be seduced into something more serious, like an extra-marital affair with the provocative, unattached Chloé (Zouzou)? In that question lies the suspense, which recalls Alfred Hitchcock, of the last of Rohmer’s “Six Moral Tales.” The dénouement of this highly sophisticated, always absorbing drama finds Chloé asking Frédéric to towel off her naked body, which he does in a tasteful, yet highly erotic shot in which we see his face from behind her. Ready to capitulate to his desire, he begins to pull his turtleneck over his head but sees his face in the mirror, in a reminder of a moment with his family – wife (Francoise Verley), daughter, and newborn son – and resists temptation, leaving to run down a winding flight of stairs in a masterly overhead shot, the clattering sound of his footsteps expressing both his panic and release from it, in the only truly great homage to Vertigo (1958). It is the moment that affirms that cinematic suspense has less to do with genres and situations than with how the style and form of a film are approached, and with tension and release – the release here returning Frédéric to his wife and a single-take final scene in which Rohmer’s trademark irony is suffused with a profound melancholy.” - Blake Lucas


Unknown said...

I can second the greatness of Defining Moments in Movies, It's like an encyclopedia of great film techniques!

Mystery Man said...

I love that book. It's cheap, too. Only $17 or something, which you gotta love. Hardcore filmmaking books can be around $50-$100. Crazy!


Anonymous said...

Not related, but if you're still reading your this you might like to know there is an interesting thread going on at the guardian newspaper about a new golden age of cinema (also an Ellen Page interview for Juno fanboys!).,,2250534,00.html

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