06 October, 2006

Silent Movies

Have you noticed that movies have less and less dialogue in them? There is an increasingly-popular 'show not tell' philosophy in the film business these days. Apparently having the characters speak - especially about what they are feeling or how they interpret the events that are engulfing them - will 'slow down the story' and 'reduce the dramatic tension'.

I mention this because I saw the film Wicker Park on TV last night. It was a bizarre love story with an incredible plot and I'd recommend anyone not to watch it. It was the 'hero' of the tale - tall and manly, stupid and taciturn to the point of dumbness - that reminded me how silly it has become that no-one talks much in films anymore. I particularly remember the final scene, where the star-crossed lovers finally get together after two years of unwanted separation and, while the camera orbits them a few times (don't you hate that?) and then pulls away, rather than vent their feelings in a torrent of words the way normal people would, they just hug each other and cry, pulling faces that I suppose were meant to convey their relief and joy at having found one another again.

Not too surprising since, during their courtship, they hardly spoke either. Nor does it stand out in the film as a moment of excruciating silence, since most of the film was excruciating and silent throughout.

The thing is, I can't understand how two people could possible fall deeply in love without actually speaking to one another about their feelings. I don't understand how a film can have any depth or subtlety without there being words in it. I know film is a primarily visual medium but, if it aspires to tell a story that is more than just rip-roaring action with clichéd characters, it really does have to use words. If the characters do not speak, we rely on the situation to disambiguate their gestures and give meaning to their actions. Which is to say, the film can only portray feelings and motives with which we are already familiar and can recognise. And, since film-makers are seeking the widest-possible audience, the feelings and motives they portray must therefore be ones which as many people as possible will recognise. They therefore have to be clichés and the characters have to be stereotypes who feel only clichéd emotions and are driven by clichéd motives.

And what an example to our society! Don't speak your loss, just trash a phone box whilst crying. Don't declare your love, just gaze into your partner's eyes with a soupy expression. Don't try to explain the complex mixture of reasons and emotions that drive you to murder, just look as crazed and psychopathic (and, preferably, foreign) as you can and get on with it!

Show. Not tell.

I don't think so.


Rod said...

What I dont understand is why don't we talk in cliches all the time? Why hasn't conversation evolved so that it is just like calling out numbers from a chinese restaurant menu? Most of life is pretty repetitive and most experience goes down well worn tracks, and yet the mathemetics somehow works out that it is all complex enough that you can always say something a little bit new, and possibly even interesting. Or perhaps it is only our limited capacity to remember that makes the conversation seem fresh (in fact I wrote this all before a year and a half ago, come to think of it).

My next thought is, perhaps there is a way of constructing a numeric index of how cliched or innovative a conversation is - with ordering a burger scoring 1 out of 10 and these scintillating blog discussions scoring 9 (well 2 anyway). Any ideas on how to construct such an index?

We could then build maps to guide us to situations of particular scores in order to optimise our needs for different types of conversation.

graywave said...

Actually, I think most people do talk in cliches all the time. I'm sure I do. Even if they're not cliches that anyone else would recognise, when you work in the same profession a long time, or are married to the same woman, you talk a sort of short-hand which is not unlike calling out numbers from a menu.

The interesting thing is, that people call out numbers from a Chinese restaurant menu because they have trouble pronouncing the names of the dishes. Perhaps we use cliches for the same reason - it saves us having to struggle with difficult concepts.

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