Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Random Thoughts

It's been in my mind recently just how reliable classical ideas of structure, drama, and beauty are. We still write drama with Aristotle in mind. When we think of the perfect human form, we often think of Greek sculpture. No matter how post-modern a building gets, its architect still probably worships at the temple of some basic rules about simplicity, proportion and symmetry that somebody worked out 3000 years ago.

What we often forget is that these beautiful sculptures and buildings were once painted gaudy colors. They were dramatic and, to our eyes, probably pretty tacky. It would be blasphemous to color in the robes and skin on an ancient Greek sculpture nowadays. But Greek sculptures as we know them would look unfinished to the very Greeks who made them.

Greek society embraced that riotous joy, that ecstatic worship, that mixture of pleasure, pain and truth, that makes art feel real. Bakhtin called this element the "carnivalic". It's basically the variable element -- the uncontrollable -- that has to be there to make a piece of art resonate with a viewer.

It's easy to see that kind of chaos as directly opposed to the clean lines and graceful economies of classical structure. By the time of Michelangelo, the paint had long since fallen off the sculptures, and the aesthetic itself had changed to one that highlighted the simpler grace of the stone. He didn't paint his sculpture of David.

But what if he had? Maybe we'd still be painting our statues. Our solemn, Greek-columned halls of government and industry might come in a variety of colors. And maybe we'd understand that those rules of aesthetics aren't the whole story. They're just HOW you tell the story. They're gorgeous, simple, and communicative -- no matter what you're communicating.

From a screenwriter's perspective, the filmmaker is painting the statue. Their artistic process is creation born of chaos -- or multiple chaoses. The actor's joy translates to meaning on screen. The DP's eye shapes the story, and makes it resonant. The editor finds a way to unify all the performances (the writer's, the director's, the actors') or to at least make them work together.

A screenplay is an unfinished work of art. Yes -- you have to 'finish' it. But we're just the first step in a long, collaborative process. Finishing means inspiring the next step. It means building a structure both stable and flexible enough to stand up to the chaos and joy and beauty that a whole team of filmmakers will bring to it. That's not an easy task. But we have some good teachers.


The Moviequill said...

I always wondered if someone came out of the woods never having read clasic literature, fiction prose, and then was taught the screenplay form, what sort of product he'd produce.

Scriptwrangler said...

I wonder too. Some things about language appear to be in our genes... virtually every language works with a subject-verb-object relationship, for instance. But it's hard to know if the three-act structure works because it hits on something innate or because we've heard stories told that way since birth.

I know a very smart little 6-year-old. She'd been running around playing, yelling, sort of watching the movie on TV, engaging in 42 dramas and intrigues of her own. I asked her what the movie was about, and she spouted it out in clean, clear three-act structure. There's something really basic and powerful here.