So I’ve been writing a short film with a buddy of mine who aspires to become a director; myself a writer. This seems to keep coming up quite a bit, so I thought I’d stoke the flame and perhaps garner some wisdom:
We’ve talked a lot about the ‘rules’ of film; that is, those aspects in a movie (particularly the plot-line) that you can count on to occur- or not to occur- based mainly on what audiences are receptive to, and what has been seen as ‘correct’ for the structure and entertainment of a picture itself.
For example: the first film I always think of is Michael Haneke’s “Funny Games,” because it breaks the fourth wall so often, and many of its elements behave conversely to what most audiences would predict or enjoy (which I won’t spoil if you have not seen it). Haneke specifically intended his original Austrian version, from 1997, to speak to American audiences, though it never truly had the opportunity- at least at the time it was released. This is because the stereotypes it breaks, specifically in plot mechanics, are in spite of the glorified, mindless violence and excess in movies that America has become known for on the whole; whether its accurate to assume that or not, it acted as his commentary on the matter. When he had the chance to re-release his own movie in English, starring Naomi Watts and Tim Roth as the 2 violated parents, he took it for this very reason.
So my question to any and all of the members of Mubi is this:
Which are your least favorite ‘rules’ that movies follow- legalistic and/or limiting factors that you would like to see broken or disposed of more often- and which movies already exist that challenge the rule(s) the most?
an interesting interview concerning Haneke’s intentions in regard to the original “Funny Games”:
A film that challenges about all given rules of conventional cinema is Michael Snow’s “Rameau’s Nephew’ by Diderot (Thanx to Dennis Young) by Wilma Schoen”.
Stay actually breaks the 180 rule for good reason, and even better, makes it clear that there’s a reason it’s breaking it. I thought that was interesting in an otherwise genre identity thriller.
Realism. I’m getting tired of it.
“What a pisser.”
I piss on everything to let everyone know it’s mine.
What about something like manipulates narrative expectation, like L’avventura, which consciously subverts the expectations of solving the mystery it sets up? Or something like Psycho the breaks your established identification with the apparent protagonist by killing her off a third of the way in?
NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN SPOILERS BEGIN HERE
You know, what you mention about Psycho is great. The first time I really started thinking about that was with No Country for Old Men…same thing happens with the protagonist there! And it shows you the character serves the story and not the other way around, something I love since the title of the film is not called No Country for Llewelyn anyhow. NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN SPOILERS END HERE (I don’t like spoiling someone’s enjoyment of a film, even though most people here I’m sure have seen this movie!)
It sucks when you know a protagonist is going to be completely alright by the film’s close- if you know this will be the case, it ruins the suspense- especially in the case of life-or-death themes!
What is it about realism you’re tired of?
Oh, look. It’s Ted Striker (of AIRPLANE! 1 & 2), and don’t call him “Shirely”. ha ha
I believe the only responsibility of a director in is to create a film based upon their own vision whether it takes place in rigorous banality ( Yasujiro Ozu) or nightmares( David Lynch).
I suppose I’m tired of the so called dedication to the so called normalcy of everyday life. Normality doesn’t exist in psychology as much as Fox News wants you to believe it does. I simply believe it’s unrealistic to condemn certain films because they don’t match certain criteria.
When art can only be one thing it is no longer art in my opinion.
If people spoke about being portraying the “normal” in other art forms people would laugh them out of the room.
“Oh, look. It’s Ted Striker (of AIRPLANE! 1 & 2), and don’t call him “Shirely”. ha ha”
You guys remember that part of the movie where Striker breaks the fourth wall by turning to the camera and says “what a pisser.” Right?
“What about something like manipulates narrative expectation, like L’avventura, which consciously subverts the expectations of solving the mystery it sets up?”
I would add Cache and The White Ribbon to this (and even Zodiac, to a much lesser extent).
Cache was another great Haneke, White Ribbon was strong in these themes as well but not something that I particularly enjoyed. Cache has got that power of allegory that Haneke knows how to work so well.
“When art can only be one thing it is no longer art in my opinion.”
So well put.
I understand your position on realism now. Films, by their nature, are surreal because they are ATTEMPTING to illustrate some part of life. It bothers me, however, when films that are so far-gone from being surrealism or magical realism yet seem to employ it at every turn for the sake of sensation and broadcasting ‘chemistry’ to the audience, especially in the nature of fanciful conversation (I’m looking at you, romcom)
And yet, films trying too hard to portray what is normal- something that doesn’t exist, you are right- is just an attempt to emulate a simulated ‘average’ of perceived human behavior through the most used lens. Simply nonsense.
Films that get realism right are ones that recall it effortlessly- I think of stuff like 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days, Irreversible, Touching the Void, etc. I was very impressed by those.
@ Matt Parks
No, I don’t remember Striker saying that.
>>What about something like manipulates narrative expectation<<
See the entire Robert Altman filmography.
@ Mark Parks
I see. He said like the style of Woody Allen.
Have you seen AIRPORT 1975? That’s one of the films being spoofed in AIRPLANE!.
Remember the trial scene in AIRPLANE 2?
A particular rule of the game I’d like to see bested is to make an effective crime or horror film without violence, death or even the presence of weapons or anything seemingly life-threatening. That would be a real challenge to find a means of thrilling or frightening the audience without the incumbent threat of death. Besides, there are things that can be far more dramatic and terrifying than death itself, yes? I’d like to see if it’s workable.
Charles, you just set up a challenge that I’d very much like to try my hand at :D
Essentially, you’re suggesting a film that creates a genre more with mood, tone, pacing, acting, etc. and without depending on props, sensationalism, or strong physical danger…damn that sounds difficult!
@ Dav I.D.
If that’s what you’re thinking about, that would be both obscure and atmospheric.
@ DAV I.D.
Yes, and the challenge is to keep it from being a bore too. At least to me it would be the main objective. Because when you remove the threat of violence from most crime and horror films and television shows, you haven’t very much left, even in many of the classics (not to say they’re no longer worthy because of this, as they are the essentials for progressing to this challenge). If I were doing it, I wouldn’t want it to become overly clinical or cerebral or fall into dramatic and theatrical gimmicks…
I think music would be another difficult aspect. You either remove completely, or- as you suggested with theatrics- be very careful so that it doesn’t devolve to gimmick.
This brings me to a ‘rule’ of modern film that I particularly despise: the requirement for a film’s score to broadcast what emotion you should be feeling during a scene. This seems to be particularly blatant in romantic comedies and horror movies. See, with horror especially, one of the major crimes committed by filmmakers is that a scene depicting the brink of death or despair just can’t be scary anymore considering we know the archetypes of the genre too well as an audience. There must be suspense, there must be true- not cheap- horror. Charles, I think what you are suggesting in this whole concept may just be the next natural progression, at least for vanguard filmmakers in the horror/crime genres (how many are there, really??)
A film that did something close to what you describe is Rosemary’s Baby
And that film had the nature of horror in spades, as far as I’m concerned.
Music could be used to give the surface of a situation without bleeding in to the heart of it. Take that scene in Lost Highway where Barry Adamson’s “Something Wicked This Way Comes” plays during the party scene just before the Mystery Man arrives to inform Fred of his presence both at the party and his home. The song’s title seems to fit the situation, but if you listen to it it sounds like very cool, jazzy electronic music without hardly any ominous overtone in and of its sound. In this case it is almost an ironic placement, though this has been done too. What I mean at the first sentence is to depict the surface of the expected or granted to the degree that the audience becomes but all too familiar with it (many horror directors fail here as they try to rush from “normalcy” to the horror) though it must be interesting in and of itself I think…then bust through it.
And yes, Rosemary’s Baby is what I had in mind as well, and another one I’d suggest is Eyes Wide Shut as it has similar effect. You go in expecting one thing and come out understanding (or trying to understand) another.
“Music could be used to give the surface of a situation without bleeding in to the heart of it”
Bravo, Charles. It’s such a simple concept when you put it that way, and yet totally overlooked so much of the time. The main problem I think being that, even in trying to do this, a lot of movies STILL inform way too much to the viewer!
I mean, the thing about suspense of any kind is that you know its going to break at some point…so you know, on at least some level, what’s going to happen because you know that CINEMATIC BRICKS WILL FALL. I suppose the art of breaking the suspense lies in the following factors:
1) The momentum to that moment is at proper balance of pacing
2) You cannot too easily know what exact moment the suspense will break
3) The break in suspense cannot be too similar to the manner of any ones previous in the film/what you would obviously expect
4) And ultimately, the break itself must be affecting (ideally, psychologically/emotionally), and not ‘cheap’ or wasted
Music is really an asset to motion pictures. The simplest things can be unsettling, or ‘off’ to the psyche of a viewer. So much of The Shining is like that as well- and I’m not talking about it’s overt-horror elements, I mean…well, just watch this:
And here’s part 2 of the Spatial Awareness video.
By the way, if you look at this user’s other videos, you’ll notice he is an INCREDIBLY keen observer with films, but he is also very insightful. Here’s the URL to his channel: http://www.youtube.com/user/robag88
Some other movies he explores include: The Thing, 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange, Aliens, Pulp Fiction, Hellraiser, Taxi Driver, etc.
The “rule” that usually goes on my nerves the most is the 180 degree rule. Just get rid of it finally and compose your shots any which way you want.