Thursday, November 27, 2008

Stacking events

Watching The Godfather, always a pleasure, and such a healthy family activity for the holiday! :) Something I notice is how action is stacked so that there's not a lot of letup in tension. That's something we can do in fiction too. You don't need to have a separate scene for every event-- you can put two related events in the same scene, especially if you end the scene with one of the events.

The point of no return for this film is actually a sequence of events that cumulatively make it impossible for Michael to go back to his former neutral position. First, as he's marrying the Sicilian girl he has met in exile, his little sister is having her own marital drama-- her husband is beating her, and she calls her big brother Sonny to help. As he is impetuously driving to help her, he is mowed down by gunmen (the abusive husband set this up to get Sonny killed).
Then, in exile, Michael hears about his brother's murder, and is told he must leave the area. As he is preparing to leave, someone puts a bomb in his car, but his new wife has decided to surprise him by driving the car up to meet him. She is killed in the explosion.

All this happens in about 10 minutes of film time, and the power is intensified by the compression. This isn't for every part of the story-- it's more effective when we've already gotten to know the characters and understand the situation, so we aren't confused by the rapid-fire of events... and we can keep up emotionally and anticipate how the events will affect the characters.

So if you have a string of events that feels too attenuated, consider having one lead to the next... but in the same scene for greater force.


Edittorrent said...

You know, I bet if we put some effort into it, we could use The Godfather as an example of everything. It's that good.


Edittorrent said...

And isn't it interesting, that the novel that was considered pop fiction pot boiler becomes a film (remarkably faithful to the novel) that is considered a great American epic.

It sure is good. My film student son will tell you why Godfather 3 is brilliant too (I think he's the only advocate), but 1 and 2 are amazing. I did note that 3 is a sort of remake of King Lear, sort of, but I might be making too much of the ending (him cradling his dead daughter, as Lear did).

The book is actually pretty amazing too-- not just a potboiler.