I love movies; everybody loves movies. But it’s a grievous error to assume that all stories can be told in a movie format, or that movies are our species’ greatest cultural asset.
A lot of my favorite stories will never make it to film because they’re not marketable enough, they’re too long, or they’re headtrips that would be difficult to visualize.
There’s a genius to visual storytelling, and not every director has it. How many times have you been in a theatre watching a closeup of or a slow push in on an actor’s thoughtful face and wondered, What the hell is that person thinking?
In my opinion, some of those moments are failures in visual storytelling. We should be able to know that this is the final straw that leads him to leave the country, or momentary indecision, or terrible indigestion, but we haven’t been given enough information. On the other hand, perhaps the director wants us to be unsure of the character’s thought process. And of course, some of these moments are merely our failures to read the cues that the director is sending. It’s a fine line. Without the often ham-handed aid of voiceover narration, the inherent limitations of the visual medium make filmic storytelling a challenge.
Film Is Shallow
Complex storylines simply can’t be told compellingly in film. Imagine if you sat a capable screenwriter or novel writer down with the three Lord of the Rings movies and had him novelize them. How do you think they’d compare against the Tolkien originals? The idea is laughable — all the nuance, history, grandeur, and poetry of the originals would be stripped out. Still, most agree that these movies are remarkable works of art.
It’s my opinion that movies typically can convey the depth and complexity of a good short story. The average novel must shed a significant fraction of its heft when transcribed for the silver screen.
And the Odds Are Against Us
Also, as a collaborative medium, movies are often destroyed from the inside by flawed implementation. The teams are so big, the stakes are so high, and the points of failure so varied that sometimes I marvel when a good movie is completed, not when a bad one is made.
Even when a good movie is wrapped, it’s often sabotaged by half-hearted marketing, or even shelved by the same studio that made it because of fears that it isn’t worth the expense of distribution and promotion. The system is structured so that it tends to create stinkers. Great stories that don’t seem to have mass-market appeal generally don’t stand a chance.
Anyhow, some random thoughts as we head into the holiday season. Go out there and love you some wintertime movies, but do it with both eyes open.