Category Archives: Plot

Plot structures in Polanski’s films | Leo Robson | The Guardian


☞ To say that most of Polanski’s films have one of three plot structures may sound too formulaic, but it is hard to argue against this article’s main contention. Polanski’s vision is not only in the recreation of bleak and unforgiving settings, or, according to Roger Ebert (!), in the recurrence of characters who, like Charles Manson, are “anti-intellectual, witless, and driven by deep, shameful wells of lust and violence.” It also lies in the reiteration of a restricted range of plot structures that run across many of his films. They are of course not plot formulas in the conventional or generic sense, but they also highlight the fact that, in spite of his films’ variety, Polanski does not engage in significantly new thematic departures in many of his films.

Catherine Deneuve in Repulsion. Photograph: BFI/Ronald Grant

The backbone of Polanski‘s body of work is formed by three kinds of narrative – the testing of an unequal marriage, the humbling of a complacent professional, and the crumbling of a lonely mind – and few of his films buck all trends to any significant degreeFrantic, for example, a cleverly exasperating thriller about a Paris kidnapping, has similarities with other humbling narratives – ChinatownThe Ninth Gate and The Ghost – including a tendency to frustrate a major star, this time Harrison Ford, in petty ways, but it lacks some of the things they share: a corpse in water, the sense of thwarted rebellion against one’s place in the food chain, a downbeat ending. The Pianist, one of two films, along with Oliver Twist, that deals directly with the personal experience to which Polanski’s other work gives oblique or allusive treatment, belongs to the lonely-mind genre only in its second half, once ghetto turns to wasteland. (Polanski started off writing his own films, or working closely with the authors of original screenplays, then, having found his formula, turned to adapting source material, much of it strikingly well-matched to his interests and strengths.)

But even these different narrative formations are telling, at bottom, the same story. Polanski has no favourite technique, favourite actor, or favourite genre; he does, however, have a pet concern, one that adapts well. If there are two men on board, both will indeed want to be captain, but it is the woman – a wife or girlfriend, never a mother – who decides which man, and the judging process is sure to be characterised by tickled malignity or scornful glee. (“The women we like,” Christoph Waltz tells Jodie Foster in Polanski’s most recent film, Carnage, speaking on behalf of men unnerved by feminism, “are sensual, crazy, shot full of hormones. The ones who want to show off how perceptive they are, the gatekeepers of the world, they’re a huge turnoff.”) Polanski’s film of Macbeth, which he adapted with Kenneth Tynan, is usually seen as his response to the murders at his house in Cielo Drive, in which his wife Sharon Tate was killed, but given that it involves a man who over-reaches himself at the insistence of his wife, it is easy to imagine him making it at more or less any point. (Of his adaptations of classics, it is more in line with his sensibility, and a stronger, more convincing performance, than Oliver Twist or Tess.)”

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The curse of the back-story


A scene from Table no. 21

☞ My latest entry on the main narrativeblog is on the back-story in revising a novel. This article is an interesting complement to it: on the endemic resort to the back-story in Hindi films.

“Indian filmmakers – specifically Hindi ones – have always, annoyingly, felt this need to ‘explain’ the story, using pointless dialogues to spell out every last detail about plot and character. In other cases – like Table No 21 – you have what you call the ‘back-story’, a smaller part of the narrative, used to explain character motivation, or to help put pieces of the jigsaw together. The back-story itself isn’t a problem; Thakur taking his revenge on Gabbar Singh in Sholay wouldn’t have been as rewarding if you hadn’t witnessed how brutally the dacoit killed his family.

However, in a film like Table No 21, which is supposed to be a straightforward, snappy thriller that keeps you on the edge of your seat for a little under two hours, to have a back-story is the worst idea possible, especially since it’s not required. Worse, it comes at a point when you want the film to come to a quick finish. You have invested over 90 minutes already, enjoying bits, not caring much about others, and want to know how the story ties up together eventually. Then comes the back-story.”

The question of authenticity again: Mandingo fighting in Django Unchained — was it true?


Leonardo DiCaprio in the role of a slaveowner who deals in Mandingo fights.

☞ The question of authenticity in Django Unchained again. This time, it’s not to do with the profuse use of profanities or with the use of the N-word, but with Mandingo fighting. The controversy here reminds one of the debate on the authenticity of the Russian roulette sequences in Michael Cimino’s The Deer Hunter (1978). Again, the question is how true should a movie be to history? Couldn’t a movie take liberties with facts in order to make the narrative more interesting?

“A key plot point of Quentin Tarantino’s western-blaxploitation-revenge movie is the supposed sport of Mandingo fighting, in which two (black) slaves fight in a bare-knuckle death match, for no reason other than the (white) slaveowners’ enjoyment. The search for the perfect Mandingo, or wrestler, is the vehicle Tarantino (who, of course, wrote and directed the film) builds the rest of his movie around. But a bevy of historians say it probably never happened.

One expert tells Slate (which says that “no slavery historian we spoke with had ever come across anything that closely resembled this human version of cockfighting”) that the very notion that Southerners would send off their slaves to die is logically flawed. Given the entire structure of slavery was based on economic expedience, it just doesn’t make much sense that a slaveowner would be willing to lose one of his strongest and healthiest men to death for sport.”

From HuffPost Entertainment: read more…