Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Giving It All Away

One of the many criticisms of BBC2’s British Film Forever is that is seems to go out of its way to show the final scenes from just about every movie showcased in the series. Whether it’s the thrillers The Long Good Friday and Get Carter, If..., or even Brief Encounter and Sense and Sensibility, each film’s ending is given away quicker than blowjobs from a crack whore.

In recent weeks Lucy has had her fair share of grief for using certain movies to illustrate aspects of screenwriting and story structure. The thing is, however much she pussyfoots around to keep everyone happy, plot points are going to be revealed. While this would annoy an avid filmgoer who watches purely for entertainment, shouldn’t writers try to find out as much as they can, especially when it comes to movies they haven’t seen? It’s something to think about.

Annoyed as I am with British Film Forever, in the end this particular facet is just small potatoes. Just about every film they’ve covered I’ve already seen. While that’s a pretty selfish thing to say, I find more and more that it’s the journey rather than the destination that interests me.

Late last night BBC1 screened The Day of the Jackal. Goodness knows how many times I’ve seen it but I still tuned in to watch the beginning and ended up staying right until the very end. Even before catching the movie the first time around I knew that Charles de Gaulle hadn’t been assassinated, in the same way I knew that the Titanic hit an iceberg and sank, 617 Squadron breached the Möhne and Eder dams, and Monty’s Operation Market Garden was a complete and utter failure costing thousands of lives, before watching Titanic, The Dam Busters and A Bridge Too Far.

Knowing those facts didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the films. (Okay, so Titanic was a bad example to use). With The Day of the Jackal it was the deadly game of cat and mouse between Edward Fox’s ruthless assassin and the desperate French authorities led by the hangdog Michael Lonsdale that kept me watching.

Every film pretty much has some sort of plot twist to raise the stakes. Does it really matter if you know what it is beforehand? I bought tickets for both Se7en and The Sixth Sense already knowing their final reveals before entering the cinema. Having that information didn’t spoil my initial enjoyment of watching either film.

If a film simply hangs on a big revelation and has nothing else going for it, does it make you want to watch it again? Se7en had a lot more going for it than just the arrival of the delivery van. That was just the icing on the cake, and a big “Fuck you!” to the happy-ending crowd. I’ve watched the DVD numerous times since. On the other hand, The Sixth Sense was viewed more analytically: looking to see how Shyamalan went about misdirecting the audience before the big final reveal. I haven’t bothered seeing it again.

Jacob’s Ladder scared the shit out of me when I saw it at an NFT preview. Oddly, the fear wasn’t from the demon apparitions and other weird shit going on, it came from not being able to get a handle on the narrative. See enough films and, however many twists and turns there are, you start to get an idea of how close you’re getting to the end credits and how soon you can get a drink or take a piss or spark up.

With Jacob’s Ladder I had a feeling that, theoretically, I could be stuck in the theater forever. When it finally came to an end, and it turned out to be just another riff on Ambrose Bierce’s An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, to say I was disappointed would be an understatement. That was it? The same thing happened with Neil Jordan’s The Crying Game which simply came down to a cock and bull story.

Having the marketing department bigging up a surprise twist can work against a film. Last year when I saw The Prestige, rather than sit back and enjoy the story, from the get go I was trying to work out the angle. I didn’t spot it, unlike The Usual Suspects (which I figured out only because, until it came out of the fax machine, the sketch artist’s drawing was always turned away from camera).

Rewatching the likes of Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man, The Game, Planet of the Apes, or Alien – which has two big reveals: one vital to the plot, the second adding texture to the story – already knowing the twists ahead of time turns into anticipation for the upcoming scene in a well made, richly layered film.

Anyway, this Saturday’s British Film Forever turns its attention to Horror and Fantasy. The trailer the BBC are currently running for it ends with the burning of a big wicker man on the coast of Summerisle. Nice.


At 6:00 am, Blogger wcdixon said...

I think another question to ask is: what makes us want to watch certain movies again and again? And I think you may have touched on it in a way with the 'knowing how it ends' factor.

'Day of the Jackel' is one of my all-time favs. Have rented it recently, and watched it numerous times on late night television. 'All The Presidents Men' is another example. In both cases I already 'knew' how they ended (probably because they were based on true stories), but it didn't matter. ANd since don't tire of re-ecperiencing the pleasure in watching it unfold.

Not sure of my point other than still trying to figure out why some films are capable of that, and others (like Sixth Sense or even real life stories like Titantic) I may have enjoyed the initial viewing, but have no desire to see them again.

At 6:47 pm, Blogger Lucy said...


I'll kill you.

Before that though, I agree that writers should view more films analytically - perhaps then so many won't get tangled up in knots when it comes to story.

HOWEVER -- and it is a big one, just 'cos we're writers, why shouldn't we enjoy films just cos we DO? Then spoilers do well, spoil it.

Having said that, I think I'm not bothered by spoilers because I read so many scripts. There are only so many endings out there, especially in horrors and thrillers.

At 12:17 pm, Blogger Good Dog said...

Will, I think it turns into anticipation. But to want to watch the film again there has to be more to the story.

One film I didn't mention with great surprises is Alien. The first big shock around the dining table is integral to the story. A second, when the crew is down to four, just adds texture and depth to the story.

On the Black Rain DVD, Sir Rid explains in detail about the decision to take out a character midway through the film and the audience reaction.

Of course there was the big surprise at the end of The Empire Strikes Back which Lucas has now buggered up himself.

Lucy, the thing to remember is knowledge is power. Make of it what you will.


Post a Comment

<< Home