2007 -- film analysis
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SummaryClimactic Plot Structure : Probably the most common is the climactic plot structure. Its late point of attack helps create a much more compressed and naturally taut story line. Because there are fewer events to depict, it is particularly favored for the stage because it cuts down on the number of actors, sets, and costumes that must be paid for. One of the challenges of this form is that the audience must somehow be made aware of the events that have led up to the point of attack. Traditionally this has been done through exposition. Aristotle considered Sophocles' Oedipus Rex to be the perfect tragedy. It is also an extremely clear example of climactic plot structure: it has only six characters; takes place in one location; and the story begins and ends on the same day yet turns on events that happened years before. The story is basically a murder-mystery in which the "detective" is King Oedipus himself. He interviews a series of witnesses, each of whom reveals clues and facts that eventually lead to the killer. With each step forward in the plot, he learns of an event farther back in time, until he arrives at the final clue which is the circumstance of his own birth. This fact reveals that he himself is the murderer. This simultaneous movement forward in real time and backward in virtual time was invented by Sophocles and has been used constantly ever since. A modern adaptation of this technique made possible by film is the flashback. In a flashback, events that happen before the point of attack are depicted in brief scenes rather than discussed in retrospect. Flashback scenes either with or without dialogue, especially at the beginning of films, have become an important technique in paving the way to a climactic structure.
Film has had a significant impact on how time is handled in all of the dramatic arts. Since film can be edited (e.g., cut up into pieces and rearranged like a collage), we have come to accept far more jumping around in time than ever before in the history of the dramatic arts. For centuries, anything that interfered with the "unity of time" was suppressed in the name of not confusing the audience. Today playwrights and screenwriters alike are free to move about in time to tell their stories in films such as Back To The Future, and plays like Harold Pinter's Betrayal. Betrayal, which was later filmed, is unique in that it moves backward in time--each scene having occurred some time before the one it follows. The play starts at the end, and the dramatic interest comes from finding out how we arrived there.
There are other ways of structuring plot, but these two, or variations on them, are far and away the most common. Remember that they may exist in their pure form, or be combined in the same work.
Questions* A key question for the dramatist is where in the story to begin the plot--called the point of attack. An early point of attack picks up the story near its origin, and a late point of attack nearer to the end or climax. Many dramatic stories use one or the other of these two options which are sometimes called episodic and climactic structural forms. Some plots use elements of both.
Early man, frightened by what must have appeared to be a chaotic world around him, sought comfort in making some sense of it. Over the millennia art, religion, and science have all played a part in this effort. In spoken language, humans have organized vocal sounds according to a certain code to create communication. We call this coded structure grammar and syntax. Art is a kind of language too because all art is a pattern or organization of elements in some coherent way in order to express an idea. Structure in the arts is the organization of its raw material (medium) in such a way as to make it understandable and meaningful to its audience. In dramatic art, whatever the source of story material, it must be organized into a form that is suitable for performance by actors on the stage or screen--it must be dramatized. Most of what we call dramatization means that the story must be told through action--actual human behavior. Human behavior consists outwardly of physical movement and speech, inwardly of thinking and feeling. Actors must use these behaviors to live the lives of the characters they play, and in so doing the story is told. It may be helpful to think of story as the raw material on which dramatic art is based. In the film Malcolm X (1992), director/screenwriter Spike Lee had several decades of the life of his title character to depict. He had to select which events from among all this material that he would dramatize for the screen. We call the selected story elements, and the order in which they are presented the plot. When we compare and analyze various plots we can deduce common plot patterns or structures that appear repeatedly in dramatic literature. Therefore we can say that plot is based on story, and structure based on plot.
One of the major differences between stage and screen dramatic material is that film editing creates an additional layer of structure. Editing is a visual language of its own which profoundly effects our perception of the structure of a film, quite apart from its literary elements. In non-Western drama, such as the classical theatre of India, Southeast Asia, China and Japan, the rhythms of music and dance are the most obvious elements of structure. Opera and musicals do retain some of this, but not to the extent of non-Western dance-dramas. In the West we have had to rely more on literary aspects to give structure to drama.
Aristotelian Elements : In Athens, Greece in the fourth century B.C. lived a man named Aristotle. He was what would be called in later centuries a "renaissance man," meaning that he had wide ranging interests and knowledge. Indeed, he may have lived in the last age where it was possible for one man to know virtually everything that was knowable in his time. High among his many interests were the arts and literature. He wrote a book called the Poetics, in which he became the first critic through his analysis of all forms of poetry, including drama. In his section on tragedy he broke down drama into six elements:plot character dialogue theme music spectacle
Furthermore, he believed that this was their hierarchical order of importance. Though he was speaking specifically of tragedy, these elements are often used today as a framework for discussing any play. Several of these Aristotelian elements may effect what we are calling the structure of drama, but it is plot that effects it most overtly. Theme is embedded in story, so will be discussed along with plot. The other elements are covered separately.
Plot : A coherent story must have a beginning, a middle, and an end. In the beginning the audience is introduced to characters and oriented to what is going on. This is usually accomplished by what is called exposition. Expository dialogue is conversation, the purpose of which is to inform the audience of key facts. These facts might include introducing the main characters and setting up the situation in which they find themselves--the who, what, and where of the story. In the middle the audience sees the story developed through a series of complications and obstacles each leading to a mini crisis. Though each of these crises are temporarily resolved, the story leads inevitably to an ultimate crisis called the climax. In the end, the climax and the loose ends of the story are resolved during what is called the dénouement. Nearly all dramatic material can be reduced to some version of this generic structural form. If this structure were to be plotted on an algebraic-style graph, it might yield something like the bell-curve in the figure below. The x axis represents time, and the y axis represents tension. As the plot progresses through time, there is a rising and falling of tension with each crisis, but an overall rise as we approach the climax. At the end of the climax the tension is rapidly dissipated as all elements of the story are resolved and explained. Notice that this falling of tension occurs very near the end of the story because it is nearly impossible to sustain audience interest very long after the climax. http://homepage.mac.com/roberthuber/school/1delec15a.htmlRead Composition -- also, Exposition and Resolution
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