When you have to make a choice and don’t make it, that is in itself a choice.
— William James
There are a variety of ways to watch a film, look at a painting or listen to a piece of music. One of the ways I frequently watch a movie or listen to music is to think about the decisions that went into making it.
For example, Picasso’s Guernica. How did he decide on the size of the canvas? It is an enormous piece, but it speaks to the enormity of the horror in the story it tells regarding the bombing of a Basque village during the Spanish Civil War. And why black and white? I am guessing the latter because he did not want to exploit the blood red violence and was focusing our attention on the emotional trauma instead.
All creative work involves decisions. As a painter I often wrestle with this one: when is a piece truly complete?
Writers wrestle with all kinds of complexities. What is the best way to tell the story? Through the eyes of the main character, as in Crime and Punishment? Or through the eyes of another, as in To Kill a Mockingbird. Should the writer use flashbacks or avoid them? Should the story be third person or first person? Why did Jay McInerny write Bright Lights, Big City in second person? And why is the central character unnamed?
When it comes to film, all kinds of decisions must be made. Casting itself is a major decision that can make or break a film. Bonfire of the Vanities was a disastrous film because of the decisions made during casting, though also in part because of the treatment Brian De Palma gave it. All the best movies are notable, in part, because of the casting. The Godfather, Reservoir Dogs, The Illusionist, Moneyball… these films work because the characters fit the bill.
Long before there’s casting, every Hollywood film begins with a story. The writers of that story have decisions all along the way. Before hooking the viewer, the script must hook the reader, a potential producer. How do we introduce the characters so that it is not overwhelming? How do we introduce the story’s theme? Woody Allen, in his film Blue Jasmine, begins with the screwed up Cate Blanchett unloading some of the mess that is her life to a stranger seated next to her on a plane. Within minutes we get the picture, and it devolves from there.
Hitchcock’s storytelling in film is legendary. In films like Rope and Rear Window, he completely restricts the camera — and the viewer — to the very narrowest confines. He challenges himself while enhancing tension within the story.
Of course there are all kinds of devices for heightening tension, including the music score or sound effects. Try watching Psycho with the soundtrack of Marx Brothers’ Animal Crackers. Another device is having the audience know something that people in the film do not know as in the movie Rope where the audience is aware, but Jimmy Stewart is not, that there is a dead body in the room.
In music, too, countless decisions must be made. I think here of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, and specifically the climax of the third movement, its remarkable ascending rush and faux culminations, repeated again and yet again leaving the hearer both thrilled and exhausted.
Blogging itself is one of my own creative endeavors and many decisions take place here as well. I regularly think about how I can best serve my readers and give them something original and worthwhile each day. There are a hundred million other things you could be reading, so I want to make sure you get a payoff.
Often I like to open my blog entries, and my stories, with a thought-provoking quote. If I can find something quickly and suitably pithy I may throw one in here at the beginning of this entry. (Found it. Perfect.) Right now I’m trying to decide what graphics to use to accompany this page.
Then there is the occasional decision as to whether I should make a Dylan reference of some kind. I think I will leave that out today.
Finally, there’s the close. Fast and furious? Or a more leisurely exit? Let’s see what happens.
The very best to you, and have a great day.