The Rambler :: blog

Tuesday, September 02, 2003

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Angus over at I Feel Love writes about selective amnesia when watching films. I get this all the time, with books, films, anything with a plot. I infuriate the hell out of milady, 'cos she writes novels, and can't understand how I can live with myself. And she's probably got a point. As I comment at the end of Angus's piece, I had to watch The World is Not Enough a couple of times - and then ask - before I realised why the woman had blown up her own pipeline. So I suck (and you wouldn't believe the trouble I’ve been having reading The Count of Monte Christo), but I have a well-rehearsed excuse. I reckon it's something to with me being a music person first and foremost. You see, I've spent more years than I care to recall listening really hard to music, and skimming through books just to fill the time or answer questions.

But novels/films/etc. rely on plot (OK, in the main, but even all the technical wizadry in Ulysses is in service of story and character). Just listen to any (worthwhile) novelist or filmmaker and they will constantly talk about The Story. It quite unnerved me when I first heard this, because for me (in those brief heady days when I actually wrote music, and didn't just pontificate on it), composing was about technique. You created some material - that mythical moment of inspiration - and then you spent the rest of your time moulding it. Creating structure, placing events in time, transforming one thing into another. Unless you actually are Elliott Carter (and if so, welcome!), musicians probably don't worry too much about 'plotline' or character development. I'm not saying music is not narrative in any way (I believe quite the opposite, in fact), but that form and technique tend to come first - to the listener if nobody else* - and then you might discern some sense of narrativity or development later on. With novels, and films, it's probably meant to be the other way around. The story comes first, even if in some embryonic form. The style of the work, the characters, the setting, everything else should follow the story's logic. But I can't help but watch Hitchcock for the shooting angles he chooses, the framing of his shots, all this sort of thing; by which stage I've missed all the plot intricacies and I'm left wondering what the hell they’re doing on top of that belfry...

*Alright, to this listener if nobody else...

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