Learning from Movies

I’ve also been watching a lot of movies – especially 1940s through 1960s and I’ve noticed a few things.

1. Movies used to be about people – now they are about what people do.

2. Movies used to be about people who learned something – they had a realization that we either got with them or just ahead of them – now it’s about learning what you want isn’t what you need – too simplistic and no realizations there

3. Movie characters were committed to unique points of view or “POV” and  each character reacted within their POV and related to each other from within that POV – not everyone having a shared or universal POV like in movies now.

What is allowed was for more dynamic characters, since a character interacting with a second would behave in a particular way unique to 1st and 2nd character interactions and when the first interacted with a third character, would take on aspects in their behaviour of how that third character viewed the first. This allowed for the true nature of the first character to emerge only when with both the second and third.

4. Character’s POVs were directly a result of the character’s backstory, socioeconomic status and personality – older movies took the first 30 minutes to set up these characters – but in modern movies, we rush in the first 15 minutes to establish not only the main characters, but an idea as to the quest or goal of the story and onto the first major plot point at the 30 minute mark. We race to establish the plot and audience expectations, rather than allow the characters and plot to unfold at a more leisurely pace. Some modern filmmakers just throw the audience into the middle of the story and let them sort out the catching up themselves – this is deemed to be edgy rather than merely avoiding the set up.

5. Characters really felt things and their emotions drove their actions – now, characters have blunt one dimensional feelings and are reactive to situations rather than driving them – unless it’s a romantic comedy, in which case, the character is reactive until the final act when they are committed to being committed.

People connect to characters because either the character is like them, or they need to come to the same realization as the character.This is often why movie characters instead of obtaining their goal end up learning something else that they  – and the audience – really needed to learn.

Which makes modern movies harder to relate to or glean anything from since modern characters usually only work out problems, not the issues and values that underlay the problems.

Modern movie characters, like modern people, seem more concerned with lurching from action to reaction, rather than what drives the actions or reactions. In this way, we are so consumed with surface concerns that we can’t appreciate or anticipate what’s the motivations, what’s really at stake.

5 thoughts on “Learning from Movies

  1. well, biography films are necessarily character driven.

    I should qualify that I am not your average movie watcher – I worked in a video store for many years, I have studied screenwriting/filmmaking and written a dozen features (I’m the most famous unproduced screenwriter in Vancouver), I’ve read over 500 feature scripts on writer peer review sites, and I watch movies from the silent to the current era in all genres.

    I’ve watched thousands of movies and there are trends that movies round up into.

    It’s not to say that modern movies are bad – far from it – the writing today is very sophisticated because audiences are more sophisticated – no more Thin Man gathering all the parties together to explain the crime and lure out the guilty, no shrinks at the end of horror movies explaining the psychology as in Psycho – audiences know more now than they used to

    and perhaps it’s because people just want to be entertained instead of along for the journey that’s at the heart of this difference – movie writers are cautioned against being too obvious with the meaning and intent – leave people to figure out the theme from the plot as they want, rather than as the writer wants – or spare that and focus on plot

    when I go to the theatre, it’s for special effects and eye candy – sorties about people fit on my TV at home

    so, it’s not that I am a purist in any way – most days, I’ll take a popcorn flick over a film

    • but also, no more Thin Man rapier wit with Nora giving as good as he got from Nick, the banter, the chemistry, the wit – in making more complex characters, we also seem to have lost something of presence that characters had – that being in the moment of the story – now we try to provide a sense of characters by where they are and what they are doing when the story is taking place – rather than the characters being themselves where ever they are, regardless of the plot and action

  2. Such a sweeping generalizatioin, Nina. I think you’ve just been seeing the wrong contemporary movies. Two I’ve seen recently – “Temple Grandin” (a biopic about the autistic woman who designed most of America’s slaughter houses) and “Secretariat” (another bio pic about the famouse racehorse) – were excellent, full of character development, saying interesting and important things to the viewing public. A far cry from “Conan the Barbarian” or “Cowboys and Aliens”, which were lowest common denominator eye candy adrenalin with no brains at all.

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