Thursday, November 20, 2008

Not an Update, but Something

This is me, Josh. I've been taking a break on the Tale because I have to work on something important. Nione demands it. I'm sorry.

Instead I offer this: My own inane, stream-of-consciousness babble. I hope it pleases you.

The Overture

In opera and symphony, the overture is a well-understood part of the narrative formula. It's an encapsulation of the piece as a whole, a way to set the tone, a way to establish the major themes, and a way to foreshadow. The overture does what I like story elements to do - accomplishes many things at once.

So let's think about the overture in cinema. Unlike in music, the overture is rarely explicitly branded as such. But a quick search of my mental archives suggest that there are few, if any, great movies without one. Star Wars has its opening crawl, Raiders has its first mini-treasure. Jaws has one of the simplest and coolest overtures ever. Even The Saddest Music in the World, a crazy-man movie by crazy-man Guy Maddin, has an extensive overture in the form of a strange medicine man that the main character visits.

I think it's this beat that makes circular-structure movies so popular - No idea how to start your movie? Why not give away the end! Almost by default, then, most of the functions of the overture are fulfilled - the tone is set, plot events are (heavy-handedly) foreshadowed. The only thing we lose is the innate tension of wondering what will happen next - which, unfortunately, for many is the whole point of watching a movie in the first place.

Repeat after me: Secrets must be kept. If your audience knows everything that happens before, after, and during the time the story takes place, why would they keep watching? Even at the end, when everything is resolved into a tidy package, there has to be an open question: What will happen next?

That's why those painfully obvious "setting up the sequel" moments are so annoying to me. If I don't see Freddy come back, it's an open question whether they really killed him. If I see him, and he's okay, then there's no reason to consider the movie any further. No reason to watch it again.

Anyway. Overtures. Raising a question without implying an easy answer. They're important, and scary, and hard, and I think I just found mine while I was typing.

Thank you for listening.

I'll try to reward your patience soon.


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