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Standup comedy uses many of the same principles of storytelling. Create anticipation, create tension. Andy Kaufman uses these with unique style.
Here, the anticipation comes from the fact that by this point he's pretty famous, and the host gives him a big intro, he's probably the headline act, so the audience comes loaded with some anticipation. Then Andy starts by telling the audience he's going to his "own" comedy, raising curiosity and expectation.
Then he launches into a series of awful jokes. Which he tells awkwardly. There is little laughter in the audience and it's nervous laughter. The tension is heavy. People aren't sure what is real and not real.
Then he seemingly breaks down and leaves the stage upset.
None of it was real. It's not funny...but you can't turn away. Which was his whole plan.
The act gets more creative after that. Not riotously funny, but that's not Andy's goal. He just wants to grab and hold the audience's attention, and then try out his experimental material. He wants to push the edge.
Over the last several months I've tried to make a study of rhythm in language. What makes something rhythmic, and what makes it pleasing to the human ear. Rhythm begins with a repeating pattern. But that alone does not constitute language. The sound of a train rolling is rhythmic, but it's not language...or music. It's like a base beat. A base beat becomes music only when you layer in something less predictable, though consistent with the base rhythm. Then it feels alive. It feels conscious. It feels like language.
When the base beat goes on too long without the insertion of that "voice", which could be an electric guitar, the vocals, or some other instrument, tension builds.
In the Doors example above, Jim Morrison stands visible but behind the keyboard. The eye is drawn to him in expectation. Meanwhile, the band plays a base beat. Morrison eventually moves around, but doesn't sing. After a minute, the base beat simplifies to just the keyboard. And then the keyboard simplifies to just a couple of notes. It's almost grating. And it goes on and on while the audience waits. This increases the tension, the need for something to break it.
Morrison moves to the side of the stage. Finally he runs into the mic with a primal scream and the base beat morphs into more complex song.
Could this be translated into scene?
Building audience expectation into a need for the tension to break. One example is to show a kid getting picked on until we are desperate to see him fight back...and finally he does.
But I think there might be more subtle ways too. Imagine a character that keeps doing the same thing and after a while it drives us crazy, we want him to break out of it.
Or even just maybe we want our dialog to feel more rhythmic. There's an underlying beat, but within the context of that beat there is variety. To the best of my primitive understanding, this is how Jazz works. It's even more identifiable in the blues, which are simpler, so you can locate the base rhythm easily, then note changes in pitch, tone, or lyrics.
Any scene, any scene, that is not grabbing your reader by the throat and making her want to read on to the end of the scene, and on to the next scene, puts your story at risk of failure. Any single scene. Of course, not all of our scenes will be that successful, but that doesn't change the fact...any scene not grabbing the reader is giving the reader an excuse to stop reading.
In the package scene example...taken in isolation, the shot of the UPS truck coming up the street is boring, but viewed in context it is not, because we're building towards answering a question about the package,
Kind of changing the point. The truck scene does not need to be dissected - it by itself does not need to grab a reader by the throat (in my vernacular - it is a rail rather than the step). It can be very pedestrian and still be effective simply because the tension of moving forward was already established in a key scene that preceded it.
Another magic trick piece on Penn and Teller's show. The interesting part about this bit is that the magic is pretty lame, probably something taught in like Magic 101. And building anticipation is not something this trick is strong at. There's no danger or suspense. But one thing makes the story telling/magic somewhat effective: theme.
The magician uses theme to bind his tricks up into a narrative. In this case, he uses the theme of time, the idea that time is only human perception. Penn sits as the judge of the magic, and he explains that he has always hated this particular trick, which involves an egg and is apparently old and familiar. But Penn also approves of the presentation, which in this case is wrapping the whole trick into a discussion of time. He
Years ago, we had a long discussion here about theme. I looked into just what theme is and what it does. It wasn't necessarily what I had thought, and really no one here actually had a correct understanding of theme. Theme acts to unify a story around a core concept. It holds the story together. Often, the true theme of a story does not emerge until after the first draft is written, or perhaps it becomes apparent only during the writing. It's usually not a beginning point in a screenplay or novel. This was kind of surprising, but most pro writers agreed on this point. Theme can also be useful in holding together a magic act or stand up comic routine. And when it comes to screenplays, I suppose there can be sub-themes that work to hold together an individual scene.
Follow up scene from No Country. Again the coin toss is offered.
Some observations. As soon as the wife sees Chigurh, she does not try to run. She says she has no more of the money. When he replies "it doesn't matter", she knows that he is there to kill her. She doesn't run. She says she has to sit down, which is how we know she knows what's in store.
She tells Chigurh that killing her is his choice. He offers the coin toss. She refuses to call it, again insisting it's his choice. This baffles him. He says the coin has taken the same path to this moment that he has. To him, her fate was determined. The universe is completely deterministic.
Why does he hold this view? Could be more than one reason. We've seen he enjoys killing. Adopting a view that everything is pre-determined allows him to enjoy his killing without pain of conscience or guilt.
There may be larger undercurrents being explored though, and it probably requires someone smarter than me to discuss. Chigurh seems to have a strange view of the world where people make choices, and he is just part of the machinery that deals out consequences. Because certainly he believes the woman's husband had a choice...he gave the man one. Chigurh maybe sees the world not as a continuum of free choice, but rather as a set of individual story lines dotted by key moments of choice. He sees himself as merely a mechanism producing the consequence of choice. He himself is outside of choice.
A final interesting observation: we don't see him kill her. The camera shot goes to a distance from the house. Kids ride by on a bike. We expect to hear the explosion of his cattle weapon from inside, and to see the boys turn towards the house. That's very clever...adding the boys on the bike, creating that expectation, heightening it...then denying it to us. He walks out. We wonder...did he kill her? Very subtle escalation of tension.
But it doesn't leave us hanging. He checks the bottom of each boot. This tells us what he did.
Right on. The fact that the killer makes no effort to rise from his chair makes him more scary. There is no escaping him. The fact that she makes no effort to escape confirms it.
Of course, though he seems robotic in this scene, we know he loves the kill. Think of the strangling scene in the sheriff's office, or the scene where he barges into the office and shoots a man, calmly watching him die, knowing the the accountant behind him is no threat. He watches the dying man gurgle in blood with an ecstatic look. He loves watching men die.
Also interesting how she refuses to call the coin toss. She insists he choose, but even when it's clear he won't, and that her only option is to call and win, she still refuses. It's as though she too accepts that her path is predetermined. She knows she will lose the toss, and her only hope is convincing him to choose.
Agree with most of this except a slightly different interpretation on the coin toss. I did think so much as her believing it was predetermined - more of you can steal my life, but you can't steal my dignity.
I agree her refusal to accept the coin toss was to preserve her dignity, not to plea with Chigurh. He wouldn't have come all this way not to kill her; he was committed to doing so before he arrived. Indeed, she could win the coin toss, but it's shitty odds for one's life, and even if she were to win, it's still on his terms. The power belongs to Chigurh, not fate, randomness, or whatever higher power he would like to subscribe to in using the coin. In not cheapening her life so as to play his little game, Carla Jean dies with her boots on, so to speak, but also gains a small victory over Chigurh: the coin toss is revealed as the facade it's always been and Chigurh must leave the house wholly responsible for her death.
I honestly think this interpretation justifies the car crash that comes after. Otherwise, it's just one last cheap thrill, random and superficial. For the majority of the film, Chigurh weaves in and out of the story like an enigmatic, perhaps even supernatural agent of chaos, an image of himself that he's actively helped shape, consciously or not. The car crash leaves him shaken and wounded with a bloodshot eye and a bone sticking out of his arm, all too human. An excellent metaphor for what came before.
From there, I think there's a lot of fun to be had dissecting the themes of the film. There's the idea throughout that the strangeness and brutality of the new world can be difficult to reconcile by those who came before it, as distilled in Sheriff Bell's opening monologue. Chigurh could be seen as an embodiment of that elusiveness, but by the end of the film, he's reduced to just another person who has to live with the choices they make one way or the other. I'm not sure how much confidence I have that I'm reading into this stuff all that carefully, but it's the depth and complexity of the material that makes it so intriguing to take apart. The fact that you can see it play out in sequences like the exchange between Chigurh and Carla Jean is a credit to the Coens' and McCarthy's abilities.
Probably the point of the film, and many a good film, is to provoke discussion such as this. I'm not confident my interpretation is correct, or that there even is a correct one.
The Coens are precise, and so everything in this last Chigurh scene must be purposeful. He's driving, approaching an intersection where the traffic light is red. For some reason he studies the kids on the bike in the rearview. We actually see the shot in the mirror. The light turns green...then he's hit by the car.
Is there a significance to the changing light?
Why is he looking at the boys on the bikes?
The changing light almost reminds me of the flipping coin toss. Here, it is his fate that is determined by someone else...someone who apparently ran a red light. Did the woman he just murdered somehow break the chain of predetermined events by not calling the coin toss? This disorders the world, and now cars go through red lights, at least this time. Maybe he himself set it in motion by offering her the coin toss instead of merely fulfilling his promise. Or perhaps both...he offered the toss, knowing that fate had determined she would lose. But by not choosing, she broke the chain of events. Had he not tossed the coin, or had she chosen, all would have continued along the deterministic path, and the car would not have run the red light.
Why look at the kids on the bikes? There is no reason to think he wanted to kill them. Nothing in the film shows him killing random innocent people without purpose. So why this look in the mirror? The boys portray innocence. When he offers the boy money for his shirt, the boy says he'll give it for free to help him. But he pays them $100, and when we last see the boys they are arguing over the money. Greed has suddenly been introduced. They have been corrupted by Chigurh.
But why was he looking at them in the mirror? Perhaps it represents a kind of instinctual passing of the torch. In Blood Meridian and in No Country for Old Men, Cormac McCarthy explores the topic of evil in the world. This evil is tangible and personified, in this case in the character of Chigurh, in Meridian it's Judge Holden. These are Satanic characters that seem endowed with a kind of purpose. Things they touch tend to turn to evil. Maybe he had a sixth sense that he was supposed to effect these boys on the bike in that way.
I just took it as attention to detail. The dude was totally aware of his surroundings and that - coupled with unquestioned ruthlessness - made him the vanquisher. So, I think he looks at the kids, the light, the kids because he pays attention to all details - even ones that on face value appear innocent and harmless - this time - the details didn't matter.
Stumbled on this one about batman and elevating conflict. It's excellent. This is the kind of thing I suspect is taught in the better film schools, but which many writers surprisingly have no interest in.
This scene shows the double hinge I've talked about, where there are two turning points, the second one being a reversal of the first, which is also a reversal from the direction of the scene.
Here, Sonny is determined to go to war to avenge his father and destroy their enemies. His consigliere, Tom Hayden, advises restraint. Sonny doesn't want to hear about. But as the meeting continues, we come to the first turning point.
TP 1: Tom tells Sonny that their enemy, the man who ordered the attempted killing of the Don, is guarded by a New York police sergeant. To kill a cop would bring down all the families against them. This finally convinces Sonny to back off. He agrees to wait until things cool down.
But this decision by Sonny is also the turning point of the film. Because it results in Michael, who has stayed out of the family business(mafia), deciding that they can't wait, if they wait the bad guys will finally get to the Don. The only thing to do is to kill their enemy, and the only way is for Michael himself to do it, since they requested a meeting with him.
A cool thing is how Coppola highlights the importance of this moment. As Michael argues his plan, the camera begins with a distant POV and slowly closes in until it is on his face.
But the others are against Michael's plan. Especially Sonny, who doesn't want Michael mixed up in this. But ironically, the second turning point of the scene is again caused by Tom Hayden, a reversal.
TP 2: Tom changes his mind about the killing of a cop when Michael suggests they could use friendly press to plant stories about a corrupt cop. With Tom convinced, the others start to come along. And Michael has unknowingly set himself on the path to become Godfather. He does it not for greed or ambition or lack of ethics...but out of love and loyalty to his father.
The shooting scene comes a few scenes later. There's no turning point in this scene, if by turn we mean reversal. The scene is a turning point in the overall structure in that if Michael succeeds, he has crossed a personal Rubicon. A point of no return. Because he can no longer escape his destiny.
Some notes: for a time they speak Italian, and there are no subtitles. This allows the pressure to build without the interference of words. We know what he's here to do and the only question is whether he succeeds. After returning from the bathroom with the gun, again they switch to Italian. We don't understand the words, and Michael is not really hearing them, as we see in his nervous eyes. He's only focused on what he's about to do.