November 02, 2008


I wonder what I can say about plot just now...

Not too long ago I found dismissing plot a simple matter. Who cares what twists and emotions a story can wrench up? Nothing but minor variations on humanity-old obsessions; all felt before to greater and lesser degrees; meaningless pondering.

But plot has occupied my thoughts a lot recently. Last weekend I watched The Dawn Patrol (1930), found it immensely satisfying, and have been shuffling it into my perception of Hawks. I even tried to write about post about it, considering that it was Hawks's lack of affectation that distinguished his films from pretension-riddled Hollywood (but I have doubts about that thesis now).

I was able to see The 39 Steps (1935) theatrically last night, the program notes reminding me that Hitchcock said "In the documentary the basic material has been created by God, whereas in the fiction film the director is the god; he must create life." The early Powell film The Phantom Light (1935) has me thinking about the differences between a plot that is tight and quick-paced and a plot that is meandering and slow. An argument for Bresson discusses how his lack of on-screen action and emotion allow the viewer to empty their personal emotions into the film rather than the other way around.

Somewhere in the back of my mind, Orson is laughing and occasionally discussing the audience and the sins of boredom and verbosity.

I don't even know what plot is. I may dismiss it to justify my own boredom with stories that don't interest me, done in styles that I find unappealing; but this is a case of plot dismissing me rather than the other way around. I may enthusiastically support the unpretentious and straightforward narratives of Hawks or Hitchcock or quota-quickie Powell; and I may violently oppose the total abstraction of Bresson, quoting Welles to argue that a person must have something to attach to before any emotion can be invested; but such thoughts, even if I were to make them coherent and consistent, would be empty--idle opinion-making.

My dismissing plot was a mistake. My praising it would be a mistake. Uh, this post is a mistake (watch it unravel even further). My fault is in still treating film as though it ought to be justified, as though whether or not it interests me is of any consequence to my growth as a person. Have I not forsaken this habit yet?

Hmm... It is with plot as with--wait, that's not the quote; "It is with words as with sunbeams, the more they are condensed the deeper they burn." Love that quote. This one, too: "Simplicity is beauty; simplicity is power." Maybe one day I shall abide them.
[As an after thought, I can definitively say this for plot: I hate epics.]


DG said...

"[As an after thought, I can definitively say this for plot: I hate epics.]"

Really? I love them.

Ian said...

So ponderous. Sooo boring.

DG said...

What about Star Wars? Wait. What about 2001? But I shouldn't ask.

gaston monescu said...

Is it wrong to like both plotless and plotty films? I love those early Hawks and especially the Hitchcocks, but at the same time I have no problem appreciating and enjoying someone as plotless as Ozu or something. I don't know, I guess it's all in what the director does with it.

"[As an after thought, I can definitively say this for plot: I hate epics.]"
Okay, but I don't want to read a post two months from now explaining how you were wrong to have disregarded epics.

Ian said...

@ gaston:
I am perfectly free to change my mind about epics any time I want. The after thought was meant to be ironic, but I guess my jokes are going over people's heads these days.
I spent the post obscurely referring to the absurdity of justifying film as good or bad; so there's no need to try and work out your own thoughts in relation to what I say.

[OK, no more talk from me. I am breaking my self-promise.]

gaston monescu said...

Oh! Sorry for the misunderstanding, but --and I am being serious-- I was joking, especially in my response to your epic line. I found it really funny and laughed out loud at work, I suppose I should stop writing in the same fashion I talk. I apologize if I caused any offense.

Ian said...

I see your humor is more obscure than mine. Wonderful.

And don't ever worry about offending me. You never will.