Sunday, January 10, 2016

Bordwell/Narrative Strategy

Often times, even when people are writing or talking intelligently about movies, we overlook the basic structure of the film in favor of its themes/ideas, or what I like to call the "outstanding moments," those parts that shock you, move you to tears, scare you, enlighten you, etc... (achieved either by performance, camera placement/movement, music, or a revelation in the story concerning either character, a plot turn, or both). Or, given the cineaste inclination, consideration often goes to genre/country/director during an assessment or discussion. This type of focus is certainly good.

But one thing I love about David Bordwell is that he puts in the time to focus on the things that comprise a motion picture that we tend to ignore, often because it's easier to look at the aforementioned moments or the broad themes and point to them when breaking down whether the movie was worthwhile or not. Bordwell serves as a reminder that it's important-and pretty interesting-just to look at the way stories are put together, our ideas about them, and the way movies stick to or alter the traditions that have been set. Perhaps we ignore these structural issues in storytelling because they seem so intuitive and obvious. Or perhaps it's because we secretly know they're not, and we're afraid to investigate why. 

When I think about these issues, I'm reminded of the opening of Jerome Bruner's wonderful book Making Stories: Our intuitions about how to make a story or how to get the point of one are so implicit, so inaccessible to us, that we stumble when we try to explain, to ourselves or to some dubious other, what makes something a story rather than, say, an argument or a recipe? 

Bordwell's zealous devotion to everything from film style to film history and how the moviemaking process has developed can make us forget one of his greatest contributions to film-writing culture: his focus on how movies tell stories. Here, Bordwell talks about some of the big Holiday movies of 2015 and simply investigates how these things are put together, with an emphasis on the ways in which we define protagonists and the ways in which they can be used. Hell, he even makes Daddy's Home sound sort of interesting. 

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