26 Aralık 2009 Cumartesi

The Verdict: A Collaboration of David Mamet and Sidney Lumet


I was once asked during an interview about Eisenstein Montage Theory whether it has changed during the history of cinema or not? I responded without hesitation. No!
Of course, cinema is a form of art that is very much related to technology, and every new invention brings something to the craft, but essentials don't go away. When, in the fifties, American film producers chose to go with a wider and deeper screen called CinemaScope in order to make a difference against television, Andre Bazin called it "fin du montage". Of course, that wasn't true. When we think about dominant cinema, we still tell our stories within the cuts.
Here's what Mamet, the scriptwriter of "The Verdict" says about visual storytelling and montage.
There's another way to make a movie, which is the way that Eisenstein suggested a movie should be made. This method has nothing to do with following the protagonist around but rather is a succession of images juxtaposed so that the contrast between these images moves the story forward in the mind of the audience. This is a very succinct rendition of Eisenstein's theory of montage; it is also the first thing I know about film directing, virtually the only thing I know about film directing.
You always want to tell the story in cuts. Which is to say, through a juxtaposition of images that are basically uninflected image. A shot of a teacup. A shot of a spoon. A shot of a fork. A shot of a door. Let the cut tell the story. Because otherwise you have not got dramatic action, you have narration. If you slip into narration, you are saying "you'll never guess why what I just told you is important to the story." It's important that the audience should guess why it is important to the story. It is important simply to tell the story. Let the audience be surprised.
The movie, finally, is much closer than the play to simple storytelling. If you listen to the way people tell stories, you will hear that they tell them cinematically. They jump from one thing to the next, and the story is moved along by the juxtaposition of images - which is to say, by the cut.
People say, "I'm standing on the corner. It's a foggy day. A bunch of people are running around crazy. Might have been the full moon. All of a sudden, a car comes up and the guy next to me says..."
If you think about it, that's a shot list: (1) a guy standing on the corner; (2) shot of a fog; (3) a full moon shining above; (4) a man says, "I think people get wacky this time of year"; (5) a car approaching.
This is good filmmaking, to juxtapose images. Now you are following the story. What, you wonder, is going to happen next?

In that case, my shot list would be as following:
1. I leave the glass with the liquid in it in my room.
2. I have lunch in the restaurant.
3. I come back to my room.
4. A close up of the glass. Melted.
5. The expression of my face.
6. I enter in the studio, he is painting.

Well, I think that looks premising. But it can be better.
Now what Mamet argues here is interesting:
The truth is, you never have to establish the character. In the first place, there is no such thing as character other than the habitual action, as Mr. Aristotle told us two thousands years ago. It just doesn't exits...
...As long as the protagonist wants something, the audience will want something. As long as the protagonist is clearly going out and attempting to get that something, the audience will wonder whether or not he is going to succeed...
Now, after having red this, I will try to make a shot list of the very first scene of "The Verdict".

1. A working class funeral. There are about thirty people.
2. A man (Funeral Director) with a black suit fills the screen.
3. Second man (Galvin) puts discreetly folded ten dollar into director's pocket.
4. They all walk to the funeral parlor.
5. Widow is crying.
6. These two men approaches her.
7. Funeral Director: "Mrs. Dee, This is Joe Galvin, a very good friends of ours and a very fine attorney."
8. Widow nods.
9. Galvin: "I knew him vaguely through the Lodge. He was a wonderful man. It is a crime what happened to him. A crime. If there is anything I could do to help..."
10. Galvin removes his business card from his pocket and hands it to her as he was giving her money. (i.e., "Take it, I want you to have it...")
11. She takes the card.
Beat