Friday, September 9, 2011

Realism Mediates Formal Patterns: On Letter to Three Wives.

I've been thinking a lot lately about Joseph Mankiewicz Letter to Three Wives (1949)--and about what screenwriters call "form" or "structure."

It's often said that screenwriters pay too little attention to form or structure. Meaning: they blurt out a bunch of scenes with no outer shape. But words like "form" and "structure" have too many meanings. If we separate off a few, we get a clearer view of the kind of work that artists do.

On the one hand, beginning screenwriters pay too little attention to things like cross-cutting, which can do a lot of work for you as a writer. Cross-cutting builds up comparisons.
  • It makes contrasts stand out.
  • It brings similarities to light.
  • It builds up expectations: what will happen when these people being cross-cut meet--as we assume they do in movies, based on the supposition of relevance.
On the other hand, that kind of form is something like technique: how the pieces fit together which shapes their meanings.