Storytelling in the New Hollywood by Kristin Thompson


Storytelling in the New Hollywood, by Kristin Thompson, published by Harvard University Press.

I had a little trouble obtaining this book, my first order through Amazon never materialised and I had to re-order an edition that was sold as second hand but arrived as new.

This was a most enjoyable and interesting read.  This book is definitely a book to read if you want useful hints on techniques to create a screen-play be it simple or complex for long or short films and I intend to adopt these methods for my first film.

Thompson argues that there has been a lot of publicity criticising the current Hollywood screen-play narrative that is unjustified.  The current critiques claim that Hollywood has moved away from the traditional values of film making such as complex plots and Character development in the post studio controlled Hollywood or as popularly termed the New Hollywood.  Thompson begins by outlining the critiques arguments and countering with her own opposite view point then moves on to analyse 10 movies from romance to science-fiction, thriller to comedy that have been made between the late 1970’s and the mid 1990’s to support her arguments.

From a novice film makers point-of-view I have learned about the fore main steps to a screen play narrative that I see can be adopted for any film from a 2 minute short to a 1:20:00 Full Movie epic.

Set-up – Introducing audience to characters and location.

Complication – Plot development and identity of goals.

Development – Action to achieve goals, delays and possible course changes for new goals.

Climax and Epilogue – Final action covering the achievement or failure of the afore mentioned goals and Epilogue typically to tie up all loose ends of the story.

I feel that this formula is helpful to create a more structured and imaginative piece of work.

I also learned about dialogue hooks that are used to link scenes together and dangling causes that are subjects that are first mentioned in earlier scenes that are then returned to and further liberated in later scenes these can be either verbal or visual.  An example of this dangling-cause I recognised just last night when watching Laurel-and-Hardy ‘Way Out West’ a gag is used as a dangling-cause when Laurel uses a piece of meat to fill a hole in his boot that a man has spat out complaining that it was as hard as shoe leather.  In a later scene Laurel is accousted by hungry dogs attracted to the scent of the meat in this shoe.  These techniques are employed to help stitch scenes together creating a subtle natural rhythm and helps links scenes without creating a visual jolt for the audience if switching from one topic to another.

The books I enjoy most when studying are books that teach me useful techniques rather than just facts about artists and their achievements.  Therefore I thoroughly enjoyed this book it also covered a couple of my favourite films ‘Alien’ being one of them.   Thompson’s analysis of this film based on the point-of-view from a 1979 audience I thought to be spot on, as I was one of those lucky people to see it without any pre-knowledge at the cinema back in 79.  Her observation on the horror aspect of the narrative due to the unexpected twists and turns as to the fate of the crew was just as I recalled it.  The famous scene of the death of Kane had already been publicized and was not a surprise to much of the audience but the special effects combined with the cinematography and lack of character hierarchy made this film unusually tense for the audience unable to guess who was next or who was likely to survive if any and for much of the film the Alien was photographed in such away that the audience didn’t get a full view and therefor this added to the fear factor experienced by the audience.  I recall leaving the theatre still unable to conjore a clear image of the beast in my mind and this to me made this particular monster more frightening than any-other monster I had ever seen.


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