Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Bordwell on Dragon Tattoo...

A long discussion of the structure of fiction and movies with detailed analysis of Millenium I from David Bordwell. Many here like this sort of thing -- all that outlining and page counting....

Bordwell cool quotes, most of which you guys already know:

.....a movie may display three parts, or four, or more (if the film is very long) or even two (if it’s unusually short). When the film has four parts, it tends to split the long second act that the manuals recommend into two.

A four-parter usually goes like this. A Setup lays down the circumstances and establishes the primary characters’ goals. The Complicating Action is a sort of counter-setup, modifying the original goals or creating new ones. At about the midpoint, there emerges a Development section characterized by delays, subplots, and backstory. There follows the Climax, which resolves the action by decisively achieving or failing to achieve the protagonist’s goals. The film typically ends with a brief Epilogue that establishes a settled state, happy or unhappy. Each of these sections is demarcated by a turning point—a moment of crisis, usually involving an unforeseen twist or a major decision by the protagonist.

With reference to the Dragon novel:

So I’m proposing a 138-page setup, a 150-page Complicating Action, and a 154-page Development. If you consider my two climaxes a single stretch, you have a 149-page climax section..... That makes the big parts roughly equal, with a tailpiece of 16 pages. the three-act/ four-part template provides a solid architecture for the plot.

15 comments:

Generic said...

Otherwise known as taking all the fun out of it.

Tulkinghorn said...

Also known as keeping yourself awake if you find the basic material unsympathetic.....

One thing that amused me here are the almost exactly equal lengths of the four parts of the novel -- the kind of thing that indicates that this writer is not letting his characters take over the book.

Also makes me wonder if many readers really do have some sort of stopwatch in their heads that indicate when a book has gone on too long with the Setup and further if the readability of these books has something to do with precisely meeting those expectations.

Generic said...

You "find the basic material unsympathetic"? News to me.

Tulkinghorn said...

I didn't mean to imply that I did, but I wondered if Bordwell was really all that interested in the book, since he usually seems more upscale...

Generic said...

I don't think you draw any conclusions from his applications of these techniques for breaking things down. He does this with everything.

I get more out of his methods thanthose of most academics. His Hong Kong book is brilliant. But it still seems to be a case of using the works as fodder rather than for their own sake.

A lot of people seen to have very similar rythmns when watching stories. Hollywood would be in big trouble if they didn't

Paul Bartel once said that his understanding of the three act structure was just that variation was stimulating. "It's a good idea to introduce surprising new elementsinto a movie every so often. In fact, why stop at three? Having four or five acts would be even better."

Tulkinghorn said...

It could be said that the unvarying rhythm of Hollywood movies is one reason why they are often so frakking boring.

If I see one more pre-title action sequence lasting exactly five pages (I mean, minutes) I may actually commit violence.

Generic said...

Tulk is out of step with the vast bulk of the American population? You could have knocked me over wuth a feather!

Christian Lindke said...

Tulkinghorn's use of "frakking" has degraded him from his title as Most Austere Vanguard of Tradition, to Syfy poseur.

Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

Following from his criticism that it is the "unvarying rhythm of Hollywood movies" that makes them so unappealing, I'd like to add the following sarcastic counter.

There is this very trendy playwright, much lauded by academics and actors, who insists on using the exact same 5 act structure for all of his plays. I tire of reading conflict redefining soliloquies in Act 3, Scene 1 of all of his plays.

Can't these restatements/raising of the stakes moments happen in a different section?

All of his Comedies end in marriage. All of his tragedies end in death. His works are highly derivative in their subject matter. In fact, he likely only wrote one original idea -- and even that is debatable.

His leads speak in poetry while others speak in prose.

He over uses the bed trick in his plays. Cannot anyone come up with a better narrative twist than a bed trick. And when it isn't a bed trick, it is twins -- at least when it isn't a bed trick and twins.

Not to mention his use of bizarre stage directions like "Exit pursued by a bear."

All sarcasm aside. Most writing is formulaic to a degree. If it is a story, it has a beginning, a middle, and an ending. This isn't "formula" so much as necessity.

One may legitimately complain that Hollywood relies too much on page count to determine whether something follows the proper narrative rhythms -- and I would agree -- but using "frakking" when doing so (thus referencing the writer who killed Kirk merely because Picard couldn't win a fist fight) deserves derision, mocking, and exile.

Tulkinghorn said...

Point taken, but I believe that my use of the word 'frakking' in itself elevates the word to its proper place as a useful euphemism when writing for a family audience.

As for Shakespeare: I know Shakespeare, and Brett Rattner is no Shakespeare.

Besides you can't exile me. I'm here by invitation of the frakking proprietor.

Generic said...

Why so bilious, brother? Wasn't "frakking" coined by the sainted Glenn "The Morman" Larson for the original BSG?

Generic said...

Is the human ability to percieve order in music a natural capacity? If so, it might be something that spills over into the creation and experience of narrative, surviving even When Characters Take Over (just out as a terrifying DVD).

Christian Lindke said...

I believe the original series had "Fralling" and "Felgercarb" and not the more edgy "frakking."

Point taken re: Brett Rattner, but I must add that inserting audiences in media res is a wonderful tool when used properly as in CASINO ROYALE and QUANTUM OF SOLACE.

Tulkinghorn said...

I blame the Bond movies for the whole convention, although the Craig era, as with so much else, improves on it.

But usually it's not in media res, but (irrelevantly) ante res, with the movie proper beginning after the teaser. Airport "thrillers" have the same structure, too. Obviously has to do with the belief that audiences and readers will NOT wait for what they came to see.

Generic said...

Breaking Elmore Leonard's rule against prologs...

The device is well-used by Ian Rankin, to get around the lockstep convention in mysteries of having a dead body turn up before page 30. Once he's given people a taste, he can take his time.

Christian Lindke said...

QUANTUM OF SOLACE is definitely in media res, but other works often fail on this account being mere prologue.