Friday, September 24, 2004

Thought for the day:

God help you if you use voice-over in your work, my friends. God help you. That's flaccid, sloppy writing. Any idiot can write a voice-over narration to explain the thoughts of a character.

The above is uttered by Robert McKee, the screenwriting guru in Charlie Kaufman's Adaptation, and it's become gospel among students of his craft -- and it's absolute utter horseshit. Actually, some of the most memorable moments from movies come from voice-overs; at the top of this page you'll see a pristine example from The Lady from Shanghai. The voice-over narration from Jack Nicholson's the Two Jakes gives it emotional texture, and has one of the best lines: "In this town, I'm the leper with the most fingers."

Of course, in both these examples, voice-over narration was brought in to save films that were incoherent and patchy, but it also helped make them terrific films; it gave them a sense of mood, just like music. And think of all those film noirs where there's voice-over narration, like that Dick Powell movie whose name escapes me, based on a Chandler novel. Think of Rebecca.

It's a tool is what is is, and if there's one thing you learn from really great films it's that they use whatever tool is at their disposal. Would a great filmmmaker ever follow the rules laid out by a dickhead like Robert McKee? Can you imagine Luis Bunuel reading McKee's Story: Substance, Structure, Style and The Principles of Screenwriting? No. He'd read the Marquis de Sade or the Comte de Lautreamont.

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