Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The laziest kind of blog post...

...is the one that just copyies stuff from other people's sites.

This time the practice has a kind of meta reflexiveness, however, because I'm copying passages from an appendix, into which they were originally copied by film scholar and mystery buff David Bordwell. So this is copying twice removed. And by doing so I'm making a couple of points at once: Pointing out that Bordwell notices exactly the sort of things in movies that I'm often derided for caring about it, and that we enjoy many of the same books. Coolness by association.

To his piece on transitional "hooks" in movie storytelling Bordwell appends three examples of similar devices used in novels:

Appendix: The hook in literary texts

George Pelecanos, The Night Gardener (New York: Little, Brown, 2006). Scene change within Chapter Twenty-Five, p. 231:

“Let’s get a beer or something,” said Holiday.

“Drop me at my car,” said Ramone.

“C’mon, Ramone. How often do we see each other? Right?”

“I’ll have a beer,” said Cook.

Ramone looked over the bench at Cook. He seemed small, leaning against the door in the front seat of the car.

“Okay,” said Ramone. “One beer.”

Ramone was finishing his third beer as Holiday returned from the bar with three more and some shots of something on a tray.

Elmore Leonard, Unknown Man #89 (New York: Harper, 2002). End of Chapter 12, p. 144:

Ryan saw the manager. The manager said he had just talked to the police. Who was this girl, anyway? What’d she do? She certainly hadn’t worked for Uncle Ben.

Maybe not, but for some reason she had used the address. She was around, somewhere.

That was on a Monday.

Chapter 13[p. 145]:

Wednesday afternoon, Ryan was sitting in a bar on Saginaw Street in Pontiac.

Ian Rankin, The Naming of the Dead (New York: Little, Brown, 2007). Scene change within Chapter 3, p. 62:

Rebus finished the call, decided to check for messages. There was only the one. Steelforth’s voice had gotten just a dozen words out before Rebus cut it off. The unfinished threat echoed in his head as he crossed to the stereo and filled the room with the Groundhogs.
Don’t ever try to outsmart me, Rebus, or I’ll…

“…break most of the major bones,” Professor Gates was saying. He gave a shrug. “Fall like that, what else can you expect?”

As a card-carrying academic Bordwell avoids "value judgments," but I feel obliged to point out that the crafty deployment of hooks is the most primitive form of the low cunning of pulp storytelling. It's a skill like carpentry that could be learned from a "For Dummies" book. Pop fiction writers who have no other apparaent advantages, such as The Da Vinci Code's Dan Brown, use hooks to pull readers by the nose through a stew of half-digested dubious research; exactly the kind of ruthless manipulation that makes people furious when it happens at a movie they don't approve of.

How far back do we have to go to find the first fiction writers influenced by the storytelling techniques of movies? Not a crisis on a par with the one that confronted painters after the advent of photography, but an upheaval that surely set in well before Hemingway. Were there Parisian avant garde novelists emulating movies well before the turn of the 20th century? Perhaps Ramesh can remind us if Andre Bazin ever wrote an essay on the subject. (Bordwell has probably written a book.)

In our continuing off-line discussion of the David Lynch post below, Tulk and I touched on the fact that the most interesting filmed narratives now are on post-HBO TV, partly because the timelines are so much longer. Tulk noted that feature films have the narrative thickness of short stories or, at best, novellettes. Only TV has the scope to be truly "novelistic," and very few feature screenwriters or even novelists use narrative hooks as skillfully as the masterminds behind Lost and 24.

Or better yet, The Wire (how's that for a hook?), which launched its fifth 'n' final season on Sunday. We will refrain from sweeping prouncements for the time being, just as we would would reserve judgment after finishing only the first few chapters of a new novel by a favorite author. Looks pretty solid so far, and as a person who actually worked for a time on a big city daily newspaper I am inclined to dispute the claims of some of his former collegues that in his fictional depicition of the distinguished paper he once worked for series creator David Simon was led astray by his desire to settle old scores. The newsroom scenes in Ep. 1 rang true to me. Homicide actor-turned-director-turned-actor Clark Johnson was, admittedly, a little too good to be true as a mensch of a Metro editor who bends over backward to give props to his writers (even when they don't really deserve it?), and who knows how to use the word "evacuate" correctly. But that's just normal writerly wishful thinking; hardly a deal breaker.