EPISODE 236: SEEING THE STRINGS by · Published September 26, 2011 · Updated February 11, 2015 In this episode, Tyler and David discuss seeing the hand of the filmmaker when watching movies.Related Posts:Tyler Takes On the Oscars and Other Stuff You Might Have…Episode 839: Movies About AmnesiaEpisode 844: Movies About Old HollywoodEpisode 837: Movies That Don't ExistEpisode 845: May FlowersEpisode 835: Oscars 2023 (Tyler's Take)Episode 832: Through the Cracks 2022Episode 834: Oscars 2023 Share
I question the validity of this topic. Isn’t “seeing the strings” just another way of saying “things I didn’t like”. All movies are written and constructed, and therefore require significant suspension of disbelief for the viewer to go with them. It is possible to see the strings whenever and wherever you want if you are so inclined. “Seeing the strings” or “being taken out of a movie” is as much an act of the viewer as it is a function of the film itself. Some people will see the strings behind Ledger’s joker and some want. I’m just not sure how this topic is a useful perspective from which to look at movies.
Also, there is a post modernist argument to be made. In the case of someone like Tarantino, not only do you see the strings, but his movies are about the strings.
I think it’s a perfectly valid topic. It’s a matter of seeing the film and then being pulled out of the action by the decisions of the director. The Tarantino example for me is not a good one because you are making comparisons to other types of films and not taking the film on its own, or in a body of work.
For instance, I felt the strings of Kill Bill more strongly than Inglorious Basterds. There are decisions that you feel are not in tune with a more natural progression of story or a performance strikes you in a way that makes you, as a viewer, question the laws of physics within the work.
I remember an episode of Never Not Funny, in which comedian Todd Glass was talking about a certain type of comic that really plays up his rage at the world. Glass said, “I know you’re only mad because we’re watching.”
The issue is more than simply suspension of disbelief. Every movie has to deal with that, unless they’re specifically trying to make you aware of themselves, like the films of Tarantino. There is nothing wrong with being meta or post modern.
The issue we’re talking about is inorganic storytelling. Rather than letting the plot unfold or the characters develop naturally, the writer or director or actor place their hands on the story of characters in order to steer them where they want them to go, for whatever reason. Perhaps they want to make a thematic point, but the characters they’ve created don’t really bear that out. So, rather than allowing the created characters to act according to their nature, the filmmaker will often have said characters do something that doesn’t quite fit.
Being taken out of a movie can be a very subjective thing, to be sure. I certainly know that there are things that take me out of a movie that other people have no problem with. That’s not what we’re talking about.
We’re talking about artists compromising the integrity of the story they’re telling in order to accomplish something, whether it be personal (“What clever dialogue! Look at how good a writer I am!”), practical (plot exposition), or thematic (putting the words and beliefs of an artist in the mouths of their characters).
The artists often do this not because it springs organically out of the characters, story, or the world that has been created, but because, as Todd Glass mentions, “we’re watching.”
The concept of “Seeing the Strings” can be very subjective, but not so subjective that it is an invalid topic.
But what is “inorganic” storytelling really? All authors have an agenda, even if they hide it behind a facade of verisimilitude. All characters are puppets being manipulated by their author. If you ever hear a screenwriter say “the characters speak through me” or “I just put two characters together in a room and watched what happened”… they’re full of shit.
All storytelling is inorganic. Organic storytelling is an illusion, but also a sign that the author has done something right.
I’m not saying artist can’t compromise the integrity of their stories with false choices, just that calling these choices “inorganic” or “showing the strings” is inseperable from just calling these choices “bad”.
BTW, it occured to me that friend of the show, David Chen also shoots weddings in Boston. Coincidence?
Oh, I would agree that an inorganic decision qualifies as a bad decision. But not every bad decision is bad because it is inorganic or takes you out of the film.
And, as it happens, I do happen to believe that, if a character is strong enough, it actually is possible for the character to, so to speak, dictate to you where he or she will go. Chances are that when a writer decides he wants to tell a specific story with a specific character in it, the two go well together. It makes sense that this type of character would find himself in this type of situation. But I think it’s entirely possible for a writer to have created a character and a story without realizing that one doesn’t necessarily flow from the other the way it should. So, in having the character do things that go beyond the basic human contradictions into straight-up impossibilities without the requisite emotional journey to arrive there, we see that the writer is trying to do something and is stretching suspension of disbelief to the breaking point.
So, yes, in a way I guess you could say that “inorganic” means “bad.” But, then, you could say that of every poor choice in a film. Why say more specific words when you could just say “bad?”
A: The music in “Gigli” was bad.
B: In what way?
A: Doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is that it was bad.
This episode was about more than simply designating things as bad, but about discussing what specifically made them bad. In doing so, we also work to understand why things are good.
For example, in this episode, I talk about the character of Paul in Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris.” The character is a pretentious know-it-all who constantly spouts facts. However, he has to live in the same world as the rest of us, and he knows enough to know that nobody likes a know-it-all. As such, he engages in a bit of false humility by throwing in “If I’m not mistaken” into the middle of his impromptu lectures. That way, he can keep spouting off without seeming quite so insufferable. Something like that makes perfect sense for the character. It is not merely good, but it is very organic.
I suppose I could simply say that the character was written well, but it goes much deeper than that.
I hope my tone in this response hasn’t come off as too harsh. I am not at all upset at your comments. I always sound much worse in written form.
Not at all. And I also hope my criticism didn’t come off as harsh. (I know how much you love criticism.) You should know that I genuinely enjoy the show, even though I only responded to something I disagreed with. But that’s human nature. Besides, it also makes for a more interesting exchange if you disagree.
“BTW, it occured to me that friend of the show, David Chen also shoots weddings in Boston. Coincidence?”
Dave Chen is also a liberal Christian.
Admit it, David Chen is your wife. You two should just come out about it and stop with the charade.
All this time I thought you were saying “Jen”, but you were saying Chen.
It’s all starting to make sense.
You got me. What can I say? Dave is my soul mate.
The Joker does indeed seem to act mainly on instinct and even gives his little speech to Dent about hating the “schemers.” We should remember, however, that this is all done as part of his own scheme to try to turn Dent. So I think all we can really be sure of with the Joker is that he’s a psychopath whose word we can’t take for anything.
As far as the sound of Batman’s voice, it’s been a couple years, but I believe in Begins we see them installing some hardware to help change his voice in his suit. It doesn’t seem like such a stretch then, and we may even be able to assume, that he did do some practicing to find a voice he felt hid his identity enough.
For Iron Man 2, I actually enjoy it more than the first. The main problem I had with Iron Man 1 (and these feelings actually exactly mirror Ed Norton’s Hulk movie) is that after a very good setup, the main conflict for me is kind of boring. The main villain in Iron Man is essentially “Bigger Iron Man.” In 2 we replace that villain with Sam Rockwell, who I think instantly makes any movie better, and Mickey Rourke. So if you’re like me and feel like Iron Man was simply a good movie carried by a great performance, you may find yourself pleasantly surprised by Iron Man 2.