Friday, December 31, 2010

Close-Up: Paul Schrader - II

For the unfamiliar, a "reveal" in screenwriting parlance is the placement of key, revelatory information in a story. Most times, the last reveal is the most important revelation of all.

FADE IN:

INT. AIRPORT CORRIDOR – NIGHT

Halfway down the corridor, Courtland sees Sandra in the wheelchair surrounded by hospital attendants. He raises the gun to fire.

Sandra stares blankly down the corridor. She sees a man racing toward her, carrying a briefcase. He’s pointing something at her.

Courtland aims the gun and is about to pull the trigger when a SECURITY GUARD exiting an adjacent men’s room sees him.
                  GUARD
             Hey! What do you think you
             Are doing?

The Guard rushes him, attempting to abort Courtland’s tragic mission. Courtland mercilessly clubs him down with the briefcase. The Guard’s bloodied head falls at Courtland’s feet as the battered briefcase breaks open.

Sandra has emotionlessly watched the men struggle. But when the briefcase breaks open and the corridor begins to fill with swirling bills, her face ignites. She jumps to her feet and starts racing toward the rapidly approaching man.

Moving quickly, now Courtland raises the gun again. He’s just about to pull the trigger and finish the tragedy when he hears Sandra cry out.
                  SANDRA
             Daddy! Daddy! You came with
             The money!

Courtland stops in his tracks as the horrible truth descends on him. Sandra falls to his feet, scooping up the money and crying joyfully.
                  SANDRA
             Daddy! Daddy! You came! You
             Came!

Courtland stares down the gun at his daughter.

Ever so slowly he releases the gun, letting it fall from his hand. Then, suddenly, with the scream of a dying animal, Courtland cries out:

                  COURTLAND
             Amy! Amy!

Their eyes melt into each other. Michael kneels down and sweeps Sandra up into his arms.

Sandra/Amy is overjoyed to have found her father again. Michael is not sure who he is holding in his arms – Elizabeth, Sandra, or Amy – but whoever it is, he loves her. This is all he has ever lived for.

Michael and Sandra spin clockwise in each other’s arms as the CAMERA TURNS COUNTERCLOCKWISE around them. They drift into SLOW MOTION as the SOUND of Patti Page’s soaring VOICE fills the soundtrack:

     “So I’ll keep changing partners until
          You’re in my arms and then,
       Oh, my darling, I’ll never change
               Partners again.”

From the ending of Déjà vu (Obsession), by Paul Schrader, from a story by Paul Schrader and Brian DePalma. 1/17/75 Revised Draft. Slightly edited for space.

Having come out of film criticism, writer-director Paul Schrader has thought a great deal about his art. He’s formed very definite ideas about what makes worthwhile films, and he works toward that in his own films.

There are almost as many “Best” lists as there are films. Every established film writer and most film academics has a variant, and many of the same titles appear over and over, from one to the next of these. Consider this one.

Paul Schrader was solicited by a publisher to offer a definitive “canon” of film, a list that would include the highest examples spanning the length and breadth of cinema. It would do for film what Harold Bloom’s The Western Canon does for literature.

Schrader talked about this in an interview from 2005. We excerpt relevant portions, and then link to his list and an article Schrader wrote explaining his rationale.

Interview with Paul Schrader

by George Kouvaros

PS: ...I’ve been doing a fair amount of research because I agreed to write this book for Faber on the film canon, and I found myself thrown into all this work about the history of the notion of the canon and why it went out of fashion. Film itself, in fact, is one of the things that destroyed the notion of the canon. When people talk about a film canon, it’s kind of a contradictory phrase. So, how can you have a film canon? I’ve been thinking about that. While I was writing this morning, I was thinking about an argument put forward by Dudley Andrew concerning the transitional nature of cinema. It comes from a seed idea by Walter Benjamin. Andrew’s contention is that motion pictures are a way-station in the cavalcade of art history, a stopover en route from nineteenth century written narrative to the twenty-first century world of synthetic images and sounds. While this is perhaps a little bit extreme, it’s also very much to the point.
GK: One thing that cinema did, certainly back in the ‘60s, was to make a canon out of things that were considered non-canonical.
PS: Yep, the Andrew Sarris thing.
GK: Then we had a period where the canon lost its value and film came to be treated as just another cultural text to be analyzed. Among film writers, things are changing again. There is now a sense that we need to be able to recognize, discuss and try to teach what constitutes the landmarks of cinema.
PS: That’s the whole point of what I’m working on now in this long introductory essay. There’s a de facto canon in populist literature and there’s a de facto canon in the academy. So, if you have a de facto canon, why not try to find a way to justify it and raise the bar so fucking high that only a few films get over it?
GK: So, the de facto canon lives?
PS: Yeah, I mean, since it exists anyway. We’ve now reached that point in film history where, without a canon, you cannot talk about history. When I was starting out, there were still people who had seen virtually everything. There’s now so much out there that it beggars the imagination. Film students today have to specialize. You can’t be a film authority in a way that you could be thirty years ago. There’s just too much. (Laughs)
GK: To specialize one needs to first get a sense of the films that constitute the general field.
PS: That’s right, the canon. So, you can look at the high points of Japanese cinema and Iranian cinema and screwball comedy and ask ‘What interests me?’
GK: You said that the canon would be quite an exclusive group. What criteria would you use to define the qualities of a canonical film?
PS: That’s what I’ve been working on now. I’ve been working on this for almost a year and taking classes at Columbia. I’m up to that point in the introductory essay where I’ve gone through the history of the notion of the canon and the history of aesthetics in terms of the creation of the canon and why the canon collapsed. And now I’m in the section of the essay where I’m trying to say under what conditions can there still be a canon. The first condition is that you have to understand cinema as a transitional art in that it’s the art form of the twentieth century, and it’s maybe all over already. You have to look at films in the context of where they came from and where they’re going, somewhere between Victorian melodrama and Andy Warhol rethinking the static shot.
GK: Given your own history as a critic, what role do you see for the critic in defining the canon? For the canon to exist, it needs people to invest in it and sustain it through a practice of critical writing that is quite different to the kinds of critical writing that we confront on a day-to-day basis. This comes from reading some of your comments about criticism as a cadaverous activity, in that it deals with something that isn’t alive. When I read that, I thought immediately about the role of the critic in animating a film, a painting or piece of music. It seems to me that if one sets out to revive the notion of the canon – whether it is in film or any other medium – one is also setting out to revive a form of critical writing capable of bringing the work to life for a reader.
PS: The book was presented to me initially as a variant of Harold Bloom’s The Western Canon. Bloom starts off by asking: If you have a canon, what author must be included? If it’s literature, it must be Shakespeare. How can you have a canon without Shakespeare? And if you have Shakespeare, what work? You must have Hamlet otherwise you don’t have Shakespeare. So, let’s look at Hamlet and say: what makes it canonical? And then you start to work from there. That’s a very clever argument. For me, the key film would be Rules of the Game (1939). You can’t have a canon without [Jean] Renoir and you can’t have Renoir without Rules of the Game. So, the question becomes: ‘What makes Rules of the Game canonical?’ (Laughs) But I’m not that far yet. I’m still talking about the history of the notion of the canon. I’m not even into specific works.
GK: It reminds me somewhat of the opening scene in Hardcore (1979) where the elders are gathered in the room on Christmas morning, debating the theological significance of passages from the Bible. This type of endeavor still seems very important to you.
PS: Yeah, well ... Are you a Christian?
GK: Yes.
PS: Which?
GK: Greek Orthodox.
PS: Well, when it comes to Protestants, people get confused between the evangelicals and the fundamentalists and so forth. There are basically two kinds of Protestants: there’s faith-based and doctrine-based. Mostly, when people think of evangelicals they are thinking of faith-based people. And that’s just: ‘I believe ... and there’s nothing to talk about because I believe. God and Jesus told me and I know.’ Doctrine-based people are people who argue their way through. So, a lot of my upbringing in the church was really just argumentation ... a lot of catechism, a lot of intellectual debate. There is such a large part of Christianity that is anti-intellectual. And the moment you start talking about Christianity, people assume that you’re part of the anti-intellectual group, the anti-Darwin, anti-science group. And, God knows, there are plenty of those. But that wasn’t my background at all.
GK: Have you got to the stage where you have an idea of what you would put into that canon apart from Renoir’s Rules of the Game?
PS: I have a rough idea: a lot of Frenchmen. But because of the nature of film, I don’t know if it’s necessarily auteur-driven. It’s important to understand that there are great collaborative films. The Third Man (1949) is a great collaborative film. And maybe it’s as great a film as a film that has a much stronger sense of authorship.
Schrader went on to publish his canon, and his choices can be found here. His rationale for them can be found in the Preface and Introduction to the full article published in the September/October 2006 issue of Film Comment. His key point is, for me, saddening. As I have come to believe, and he concludes, contrary to all those folks who say “movies haven’t scratched the surface” of their potential, movies are pretty much at their end as a relevant art-form. Consider:

Aesthetics, like the canon, is a narrative. It has a beginning, middle, and end. To understand the canon is to understand its narrative. Art is a narrative. Life is a narrative. The universe is a narrative. To understand the universe is to understand its history. Each and every thing is part of a story—beginning, middle, and end.

The much-debated “end of Art” is not the end of painting and sculpture (they abound), but the closing of the plastic arts’ narrative
(italics, LR). Life is full of ends; species die or become outmoded. There are still horses, but the horse’s role in transportation has come to an end. Likewise movies. We’re making horseshoes.
This is abundantly clear by the films that have been produced since the 1960s: fewer and fewer great films. But it is also clear by the advent of other things, primary among them, the internet and its interactive potential. Also, film and video entertainment has long-since expanded out from theaters. But the three things which already have, and will continue to alter the art-form are economics, digital production, and digital delivery/distribution. Television has usurped movies in terms of quality story-telling and prestige productions. YouTube has re-defined what a “movie” is. So, while there will still be motion picture entertainment, it will have lost its preeminence and so its importance.

Schrader’s 60 choices for his canon are interesting.  A case might be made for the argument that says the most important films for any generation appear during that generation’s third decade, its 20s. In Schrader’s case that is 1966 – 1976. And, in fact, he lists 13 films from that time in his life, occupying over 20% of his canon. Another 4 appear within three years either side of that period. Nothing appears from before 1927, just prior to the advent of sound films. And 43 of the 60 titles come from the period, 1940 – 1980. Only 9 films come from the first thirteen years, and only 8 come from the last three decades.

I disagree with the Cinematical writer’s (Jeffrey Anderson) opinion to remove writer-director, Bob Fosse’s All That Jazz, primarily because of its place among musicals, a bona fide sub-category within cinema. It displayed world-class innovation in its construction (five acts), subject matter (an artist killing himself with his art), its universal relevance despite its specialized subject, and its organic dynamism displayed by its music and dance. Nothing like it had ever been seen before. Certainly there were others at this level: for me, The Music Man, Cabaret and West Side Story, to name three. But none quite ascends to the innovative heights reached by the Fosse film (at least for me). And disagreement on lists like these is, of course, the rule, isn’t it? #

FADE OUT

Lee A. Matthias

Quotes of the Post:

The first condition is that you have to understand cinema as a transitional art in that it’s the art form of the twentieth century, and it’s maybe all over already.
There are still horses, but the horse’s role in transportation has come to an end. Likewise movies. We’re making horseshoes.
---Paul Schrader

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Close-Up: Paul Schrader - I

For the unfamiliar, a "reveal" in screenwriting parlance is the placement of key, revelatory information in a story. Most times, the last reveal is the most important revelation of all.


FADE IN:

...we see Travis' taxi speeding down the rain-
slicked avenue. The action is periodically 
accompanied by Travis' narration. He is reading 
from a haphazard personal diary.

                         TRAVIS (V.O.)
                   (monotone)
            April 10, 1972. Thank God for the
            rain which has helped wash the
            garbage and trash off the sidewalks.
                                                         
TRAVIS' POV of a sleazy midtown side street: Bums, 
hookers,junkies.

                         TRAVIS (V.O.)
            I'm working a single now, which
            means stretch-shifts, six to six,
            sometimes six to eight in the a.m.,
            six days a week.

A MAN IN BUSINESS SUIT hails Travis to the curb.

                         TRAVIS (V.O.)
            It's a hustle, but it keeps me busy.
            I can take in three to three-fifty
            a week, more with skims.

---Excerpt, Taxi Driver

For me, when Paul Schrader burst on the scene in the early 1970s, it was eye-opening. He could generate powerful, visceral tales that, nonetheless, had deep intellectual concerns. As he’ll say below in a moment, what interests him is the confrontation of mass culture by the aberrant and crazy, the “sacred” by the “profane.”

From Film Comment magazine, March-April 1976, Paul Schrader interviewed by Richard Thompson, January 26 and 29, 1976:

When I came to movies as an adult critic, I tried to write religious film criticism, in the sense that I saw art in religious terms. As I understand it, religious art is the art of unification, the art that tries to find the common code of symbols and Jungian elements in all experience. It seeks to discover how we are all alike and all unified in a single spiritual purpose. That’s how I was taught to view art, and that’s how I came to film.
I was intrigued by the auteur theory, but I wasn’t taken with it because it seemed to be a pursuit of individuals and idiosyncrasy, and I was interested in just the opposite: common elements of genre, theme, and style that ran through cultures and through individual filmmakers.
When I switched (from film criticism) to screenwriting, I found I no longer saw film as religious art but as secular art. Because in order to be successful, I had to find something that was unique to me by reaching into my own personality and formulate my own problems in a way that solved them. I had to pursue my own idiosyncrasies. As a screenwriter, I found myself doing exactly what I opposed as a critic: writing the kind of things that I would not approve of formerly. I felt I had to do this to be able to create things important to me. So I see myself at this point as a very secular screenwriter pursued by his own demons.
The pursuit of the crazy (aberrant behavior) in his screenwriting …

…provides a very definite problem you have to solve. Will I commit the aberrant form of behavior? Will I vandalize or steal or kill or mutilate myself? You’re dealing with a very definite problem, crazy people; you have to solve it. It’s an easier way to approach cinema, which is (a) kinetic form dealing with action and character, than (film) criticism (his former occupation), which deals with cerebral problems.
His taste in films—as a filmmaker, compared to his earlier critic’s more distanced interest—are his personal, idiosyncratic concerns as an artist, reflected in the sacred to the profane; and his taste:

…splits right in half. On the one hand, directors who are community-oriented, thinking in terms of two-dimensional iconographic relationships to a mass (movies as mass entertainment, mass communication)… I like that…group… That’s one side, regarding the way the architect looks at building a church. Then there’s the other side I’m attracted to: craziness, pure idiosyncrasy, completely antisocial films. Kiss Me Deadly, where it’s just random anger and violence; Rocky Horror Picture Show, (Luis) Buñuel, (Sam) Peckinpah; all those who say, “The whole world is wrong, only I am right, only I exist, my reality is transcendent.” My likes went right to the edges of the bowl. The great American middle didn’t appeal to me—Capra, Cukor, the conventional John Ford. Only the mad John Ford appealed to me; The Searchers, the Ethan Edwards half of him, which I love.  Only the Vertigo side of Hitchcock, the crazy side. In Taxi Driver, those two compelling things are clear: half of it’s Pickpocket, the other half is Kiss Me Deadly or Mean Streets, random brutality all around.
We’ll continue these explorations of Schrader in the next few posts. #

FADE OUT

Lee A. Matthias

Quote of the Post:

My likes went right to the edges of the bowl. The great American middle didn’t appeal to me—Capra, Cukor, the conventional John Ford. Only the mad John Ford appealed to me; The Searchers, the Ethan Edwards half of him, which I love. Only the Vertigo side of Hitchcock, the crazy side.
            ---Paul Schrader

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

How Screenwriters Can Score

For the unfamiliar, a "reveal" in screenwriting parlance is the placement of key, revelatory information in a story. Most times, the last reveal is the most important revelation of all.

FADE IN:


INT. BAR - NIGHT


Two guys sit at the bar, drinks in front of them, comparing "notes."


                  GUY 1
             ...works in Hollywood, 
             writes movies. So I took 
             her to my place. I made
             her a drink, and put on 
             some music.


                  GUY 2
             Yeah?


                  GUY 1
             She said, "Let's cut to
             the chase. Wanna score?"


                  GUY 2
             YEAH?!?


                  GUY 1
             I said, "Duhhh-hhh!" And
             she brought out this.



FIRST FIFTEEN PAGES SCORE:
_____ 1. Does the Script fit comfortably in a known Genre?
_____ 2. Does the Story create a world of its own that is unique  and compelling?
_____ 3. Does the introduction of the Lead Character contain a strong moment that defines his or her personality?
_____ 4. Is the "Inciting Incident" strong enough to capture the audience's attention and propel the Lead Character into action?
_____ 5. Is the Dramatic Question strong enough to hold your attention and make you want to stay with the Story until the end?
_____ 6. How strong and well-crafted is the Lead Character?
_____ 7. Is the Goal of importance to the Lead Character?
_____ 8. Is the Heavy the opposite type to the Lead Character?
_____ 9. Is the Dialogue crisp, and does it quickly create the characters and world of the Story?
_____ 10. How much do you care about the Characters?
QUICK READ SCORE:
_____ 11. Is the Story unique and does it have "High Concept" qualities?
_____ 12. Does the Story have a strong, empathetic Lead Character who continually drives the plot forward as he or she strives to achieve a goal?
_____ 13. Do you like or care about the main characters?
_____ 14. How effective is the "Inciting Incident"?
_____ 15. Is the Heavy the Perfect Person to oppose the Lead Character?
_____ 16. Does the end of Act One have a shocking and unpredictable Plot Twist?
_____ 17. Is the Midpoint a big plot twist or a setback for the Lead Character?
_____ 18. Is there a "Perfect Day" scene in Act Two?
_____ 19. Does the Pace match the Story?
_____ 20. Is the Final Confrontation of Act Three effectively set up by Plot Point Two?
_____ 21. During the Climax, is the Lead Character forced to fight the Heavy for the Goal as well as to confront his or her own "Inner Demons"?
_____ 22. Are answers to all the questions raised in the Story provided by the Resolution or Denouement?
_____ 23. How good is the Dialogue?
_____ 24. Do you get a sense of the Theme without having it hit you over the head?
_____ 25. Does the Lead Character learn a major lesson and does it change his or her life?
CHARACTERS SCORE:
_____ 26. Is the Lead Character a dynamic force that moves the Story forward?
_____ 27. Does the Lead Character have something vital at stake?
_____ 28. Is the Lead Character a good Role Model?
_____ 29. Do you like the Lead Character?
_____ 30. Does the Story have one strong, likable Lead Character?
_____ 31. Does the Lead Character have a single, clear and compelling Goal?
_____ 32. Does the Lead Character suffer from a "Moral Weakness"?
_____ 33. How much does the Lead Character change during the course of the Story?
_____ 34. Does the Script contain memorable scenes that can showcase the physical and or acting skills of the Lead Character?
_____ 35. Does the Story have a unique, powerful and ultimate "Heavy"?
_____ 36. Does the Heavy have a clearly defined Goal of his own?
_____ 37. Is the Heavy a Sociopathic personality?
_____ 38. Does the Heavy take advantage of the Lead Character's good nature?
_____ 39. Is each Supporting Character, down to the smallest roles, vital to the Story?
_____ 40. Are the Supporting Characters different from each other on an Emotional Level?
_____ 41. Are the Supporting Characters fully realized; do they have Depth and Appeal?
DIALOGUE SCORE:
_____ 42. Does the Dialogue establish the "Exterior Aspects" of the Characters?
_____ 43. Does the Dialogue create and enhance the world of the Story?
_____ 44. Does each Character speak in a distinct and personal way?
_____ 45. Is the Dialogue spare, lean and free of unnecessary words?
_____ 46. Does the Dialogue contribute to the "Rising Dramatic Tension" within each scene?
_____ 47. Does the Dialogue contain memorable lines that stay with you after the Story is done?
_____ 48. Does the Dialogue exploit the "Power of Silence?”
_____ 49. Does the Dialogue have the "Music" and "Rhythm" of real speech?
_____ 50. Does Exposition come from Drama, or simply to impart information?
_____ 51. Is the "New Information" present in the Dialogue just when the Story needs it?
_____ 52. Is the Dialogue "Peppered" with small conflicts?
_____ 53. Does the Subtext reveal a Character's thoughts?
_____ 54. Does the Subtext transmit the feeling of the Lead Character and the Heavy too?
STORY SCORE:
_____ 55. Does the Story fit within a known Genre?
_____ 56. Does the Story pull you into its "Own World"?
_____ 57. Do the Lead Character and the Heavy inhabit the same space?
_____ 58. Does the "Inciting Incident" pose a single, clear "Dramatic Question" that leads to a strong, unified Storyline?
_____ 59. Is the Lead Character the "Outstanding Person" in the Story?
_____ 60. Does the Lead Character face a great "Moral Dilemma" in pursuit of the Goal?
_____ 61. Does the Story constantly disclose new information?
_____ 62. Are there enough Reversals in the Story to keep it unpredictable and exciting?
_____ 63. Is the Story structured into three recognizable Acts?
_____ 64. Does the Story contain enough suspense and surprise to keep you off-balance and involved?
_____ 65. Does the Story show a rising level of action and crises heading toward the Climax?
_____ 66. Is each major Plot Point strong and clear?
_____ 67. Does the Subtext come through in the Dialogue?
_____ 68. Does the Story maintain credibility?
_____ 69. Will the Audience feel a powerful catharsis or sense of release at the end of the Story and will they feel they have learned a "Deep Lesson" about life?
THEME SCORE:
_____ 70. Does the Story have a single, clear and powerful Theme?
_____ 71. Is the life of the Lead Character affected by the "Working Out" of the Theme?
_____ 72. Does the Story have a "Counter" Theme?
_____ 73. Is the Theme embodied by the Story rather than simply stated?
_____ 74. Does the Story examine deeper aspects of the Theme and Counter Theme?
_____ 75. Is the Theme tested by the "Opposing Values" of the Lead Character and the Heavy?
_____ 76. Is the Theme reinforced by the way the Lead Character finds a solution to the "Dramatic Question"?
_____ 77. Is there a single, awful moment when the Lead Character realizes that he or she has embraced the values of the Heavy?
_____ 78. Is the Theme always working in the Story?
_____ 79. Are the Lead Character, the Supporting Characters, the whole community affected by the values of the Theme?
_____ 80. Can the Theme be stated as a "Simple Sentence"?
TOTAL _____
The scoring list above is something I found online. I couldn't find the scale to be used. Maybe it uses a scale of 4 or 5 per question, or maybe 10 per question. A low score would be 2 or below in the first two, maybe 4 in the latter. Then the totals would be in the range either 0-320 (using the 0 - 4 scale), 0-400 (using the 0 - 5 scale), or 0-800 (using the 0 -10 scale). I'd recommend the 0 - 10 scale.


I would add two additional questions, and low scores on these (half or less of a perfect score) trump all of the above, perhaps as follows: 


Deduct the combined totals of the balances remaining from the scores (if it scores 2 out of 10 possible, 8 remains) of the two questions as percentages, multiplied by 2, 2.5, or 5 for scales of 4,5, or 10 respectively, from the total score (ex. if 81 is 4 on the 0-10 scale leaving a balance of 6, and 82 is 3, leaving a balance of 7--so 6+7=13, and 13x5=65--then deduct 65% from the total achieved by the first 80 questions). You can be hitting all the marks and still fall flat on your face if you haven't entertained or satisfied 'em. If these score high (above half-way to maximum), then they count as bonus points, multiplied by 10. That way you could score a maximum of 1000 on the 82 questions using the 0 - 10 scale. 


So, I'd add these:



_____ 81. Does the script entertain?
_____ 82. Is the story satisfying?

These kinds of things are controversial. They fall into the same category as those story-generating software programs for writers who are blocked.


Here's what someone said about the list above:

“I think trying to arrive at a quantitative analysis of a subjective art-form just feels wrong. If "GOOD" or "BAD" was as simple as a questionnaire, why wouldn't buyers be using them?”
Truth is, some do. But I see this a little differently. As writers, don't we all ask ourselves questions like these all the time? So what's wrong with making a list? I prefer to look at this as just another internal tool, a reminder list to which writers can refer while developing a project. After you've been writing for a few years, if your script isn't hitting these marks, your internal alarms pick it up most of the time. But stuff can slip past you. The list helps avoid that. I do not see it as a panacea or a method/formula to the exclusion of any and all other tools and techniques writers can bring to the project. In that sense, it is valuable. #

FADE OUT

Lee A. Matthias

Quote of the Post:

Does the script entertain?
Is the story satisfying?

---The Last Reveal

Friday, December 10, 2010

People Will Talk XI – Hitchcock, Settings, & Stage Plays

For the unfamiliar, a "reveal" in screenwriting parlance is the placement of key, revelatory information in a story. Most times, the last reveal is the most important revelation of all.


FADE IN:

INT. THEATER – NIGHT

A PLAY is about to begin. In the ORCHESTRA PIT, the CONDUCTOR stands to begin the Overture. He raises his baton—

--a NOISE sounds from the front of the AUDIENCE.

ALFRED HITCHCOCK moves slowly along the SECOND ROW of seats, attempting to get to his seat, having arrived late.

EVERYONE waits for him to reach the SINGLE EMPTY SEAT in the very middle.

The Conductor simmers as he waits, arms sagging.

HORN PLAYERS re-wet their instruments.

The CYMBALS PLAYER lowers his CYMBALS.

Hitchcock steps on a WOMAN’s foot and she YELPS.

He ignores her.

Finally, he reaches his seat, turns to the front, and sits.

The Conductor turns, raises his baton for a second time, and begins.


In Peter Bogdanovich’s Who The Devil Made It, Ballantine, 1997, p. 520, director Alfred Hitchcock said:

But there is another interesting facet about the photographed stage play: some people make the mistake, I think, of trying to open the play up for the screen. That’s a big mistake. I think the whole conception of a play is confinement within the proscenium—and that’s what the author uses dramatically. Now you are undoing a newly knitted sweater. Pull it apart and you have nothing. In Dial M (For Murder), I made sure that I would go outside as little as possible. I had a real tile floor laid down, the crack under the door, the shadow of the feet—all part of the stage play—and I made sure I didn’t lose that. Otherwise, if you go outside, what do you end up with? A taxi arrives outside, the door opens, and they get out and go in. I think those kind of shots are ridiculous and boring.

This recalls a famous Hitchcock principle (also from Who The Devil Made It, p. 541) : 
…I’ll tell you how this scene came about [the killing of Gromek, by Paul Newman and Julie Andrews in the gas stove in Torn Curtain]. It comes under the old heading, ‘If you go into a setting, use it.’ In that farmhouse, all the tools of death or torture were domestic instruments: a carving knife, a shovel, and a gas oven. It’s the same as using the crop duster. Or, again in North By Northwest, if Cary Grant is trapped in an auction gallery, how does he get out? By bidding! You have to use a setting in its depth. It’s not enough to say, “This is a background.” Look at the ballet in Torn Curtain: the ballerina is the one who recognizes him—during a pirouette. And how does he get the idea to shout “Fire”? From the scenery on the stage. That’s using the theater, using the ballet, as part of the drama, not just as a background.”

He wasn't interested in following trends, no matter how popular. He was always a trend-setter. We might note that North By Northwest preceded by only a few years the espionage trend. Torn Curtain was made at the peak of the spy film craze, with James Bond leading the pack. Hitchcock refused to follow the template established by the Bond films, the same template he created. He set himself the task of making a kind of “anti-James Bond” film, and in so doing, took a decidedly more realistic view of espionage:

Bogdanovich – ‘What was your purpose in making Gromek’s murder as gruesome and protracted as it is?’

Hitchcock – ‘Again, the avoidance of the cliché. People are killed so easily in movies. Nobody ever goes back to take a second look to see whether they’re really dead or not. The whole idea was not only to show how difficult it is to kill a man, but to point up to the character what espionage entails: you’re involved in killing!’”

Returning to his point about settings, later, on p. 549, he added, 
…if you’re in a fruit and vegetable market, then vegetables have got to play a part in the story, which (in Frenzy) they do. The potatoes become the undoing and the solving of the whole problem in the story.


“You have to use a setting in its depth,” i.e., to its fullest and most idiosyncratic extent. In the case of the theater, that means the stage (and only the stage) in all its dimension and potential. This is what can make the difference between the cliché and riveting entertainment. The action develops organically, out of the means at hand, and can become entirely un-predictable. #
FADE OUT 
Lee A. Matthias 
Quote of the Post:
You have to use a setting in its depth
---Alfred Hitchcock