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7 On Structure #7: The Point Is There Is No Point

SPOILERS: Lost Highway

I had a boyfriend once who liked arthouse films. He would regale me, sometimes for hours at a time, about the various plotlines he loved so much. Yet whenever I would ask, “What’s the point?” of a particular narrative, he’d say, as if I had clearly lost my mind, “This is arthouse, Luce. There isn’t one.”

Is there no point to arthouse film? I would argue there absolutely, categorically, is a point. All arthouse films have something to say, even if you haven’t got the foggiest what it is. If you consider a film like LOST HIGHWAY for instance, I don’t know why Bill Pullman turns into Balthazar Getty. I don’t know why Bill kills his wife or why he has to phone the devil guy when he’s in the same room as him. I don’t even know why the devil guy joins forces with Balthazar Getty towards the end of the film. I don’t really much care, I didn’t like it much – but if I had, I would have made my own narrative up from it in any case. Maybe it would have been the same as David Lynch’s vision, maybe not. We all perceive various stuff through our own worldview, the author is dead after all. And to say there is no point to arthouse film is to imagine there is some sort of conspiracy led by the likes of David Lynch, writing and making films with the principal goal of foxing us. This seems unlikely. I’m certain Mr. Lynch et al wake up in the morning just like the rest of us spec monkeys and professionals, bursting with a story they feel *just needs* to be told. But even if the former were true, isn’t that goal a point in itself?

I’ve read for loads of people – predominantly peer review whilst still at uni – who have chastised me for looking for a “point” to their work. This script isn’t supposed to be resolved! There is no motivation for this character! It changes halfway through to reflect what happens in real life! I have two words for those script: good luck.

Oh and –

This is not real life.

As well as–

This scriptwriting malarkey is about cause and effect. You’re building your story from the bottom up; that’s why your structure is important. That’s why your character/s needs a goal, that’s why your screenplay needs narrative logic, that’s why a script is not pages and pages of unconnected ramble. If it’s in there, it’s important. If it’s in there, it has to pay off and/or push the story forward. Or die like the dog it is and go to the shredder or the Norton-protected trash can.

That’s the point.

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29 thoughts on “7 On Structure #7: The Point Is There Is No Point”

  1. Formulas, or rather knowing the formulae execs are trained to look for, and knowing how to get across what you want to say within that formula is a huge talent. And what good writers do really well.

    Writing what the hell you like and not giving a shit what the ‘market’ thinks is at least an equal talent. Just more difficult to get on screen.

    But any writing that truly comes from the heart will eventually find a defender.

    Apart from cash, isn’t that what you really want?

  2. Patricia Arquette had the best take on LOST HIGHWAY, I think. she had to figure out how to play two women who are really the same woman, although one of them’s dead…
    So she decided that the movie is about Bill Pullman who kills his wife and can’t live with it, so he invents a fantasy where he’s younger, hipper, happier Balthazar Getty, but because he’s irretreviably fucked up in reality, his fantasy breaks down: his dead wife appears in it, the Mystery Man (the embodiment of Pullman’s jealous rage) appears in it, and it disintegrates until Pullman is back as himself, stuck in a repeating cycle of guilt.
    Ignoring little things like “is he in jail or what?”, this makes a perfect KIND of sense.
    D Cairns

  3. English Dave, I’d rather have the cash ;P I think writing whatever you want is cool, but it’s cooler as you say to write whatever you want WITHIN the confines of what “they” say you can say… And then ultimately getting one over on them by saying something else on the sly. If that makes sense!!

    D Cairns – I love that reading of LOST HIGHWAY! There were some moments that were great – and up until the pt he turns, it was really great, esp. the moment with the fone: “I’m at your house, call me” Loved that. But yeah, jail…WTF?

    While we’re on this subject of weird shit btw, does anyone know the name of the story editor person for POCOYO at Granada kids?

  4. ”English Dave, I’d rather have the cash ;P I think writing whatever you want is cool, but it’s cooler as you say to write whatever you want WITHIN the confines of what “they” say you can say… And then ultimately getting one over on them by saying something else on the sly. If that makes sense!!”

    It makes perfect sense. I wish I could live up to it. I try. Writers are human, business relies on bullying.

    Somewhere in the middle the two collide and make magic. It depends on who’s in the middle.

  5. “Somewhere in the middle the two collide and make magic. It depends on who’s in the middle.”

    Sounds like a writing-sex-sandwich to me. Sounds fun!

  6. This is not real life?

    Is this some psycho-philosophical shit you’ve just come up with?

    We’re here. That’s all the proof I need.

  7. Your comments about Lost Highway being an example of a conspiracy reminded me of Vonnegut’s remark that ‘Modern art is a conspiracy between artists and the rich to make the rest of us feel stupid’…

    I like LH, and have always felt it’s structurally quite similar to Mulholland Drive, and could never figure out why critics raved more about the latter. And then I remembered that film critics tend to be middle-aged men, and that MD features more female nudity…

  8. Arquette’s interpretation of Lost Highway is pretty similar to what Lynch has said about it. He claims (perjorative!) that it was inspired by the OJ case: a man unable to contemplate the magnitude of what he’s done who therefore creates a completely new narrative for his life.

    Or it could just be a bunch of stuff that happens… LOL! (That’s a Bart Simpson quote.)

    My experience of artists (and fledgling screenwriters) tells me there really are some who just make up meaningless ‘complicated’ imagery to look smarter than the rest of us: they tend to be those who do not have anything they actually want to say. I believe the important/remembered arthouse chaps/chapesses know full well what they’re after saying: just takes a little longer to work out than say, American Pie.

    Me, I think there should be a point to all creative/artistic endeavours or else you might as well just give up and get yourself cryogenically frozen.

    …oh, and I dislike the term Arthouse… Les Visiteurs is considered arthouse purely by dint of language despite being more mainstream than many ‘mainstream’ English language films… but that’s just me grouching!

  9. Surprised you picked on LH and totally missed what Lynch did with structure. He wrote two narratives and crossed then in emulation of a Mobius strip (where you get a strip of paper and twist, put in a loop and both ends still meet). He worked the idea to clearer effect in Mulholland Drive hence its popularity (it has clarity). Oh and both have nudity…

    Is what you are saying that you can’t cope with anything which isn’t Syd Fields?

  10. We had our first screewnriting class last week. The tutor told us we could be divided into Platonics or Aristotelians. Plato would have written an art-house film, Aristotle would have been the king of Hollywood.

  11. Annie – I don’t believe Plato would have written a script at all, he’d sit back and tell everyone HOW to write THE PERFECT SCRIPT without actually doing it himself and without taking into account the difficult specifics of life (for any one confused, it’s prob only amusing if you’re familiar with Republic!)

    Anon – or DD?? “Is what you are saying that you can’t cope with anything which isn’t Syd Fields?”
    Absolutely not! Anyway, Syd Field might have his paradigm but he didn’t invent the 3 Acts. I love alternative uses of structure (if they’re clear) and I love arthouse film – DUST DEVIL and ANGEL HEART are probably 2 of my all-time fave films, tho I think I agree with one of the Jons when he says that “arthouse” seems quite an unneccessary term – tho just recently one of my scripts earned the “arthouse” tag from three separate readers, which I’m not sure is a good or bad thing. Just not a big Lynch fan.

    Thanks to Piers btw for the Pocoyo heads-up and hello to anyone I may have forgotten. Been away for the weekend.

  12. The trouble with paradigms and formulas is that, while they contain much that is valid and based in real-world modelling, their over-use and dominance has tended to close off other writing avenues in some minds (writers themselves, readers, execs, accountants, etc.) who believe that they are the sole way to success and riches beyond wildest imaginings… a kind of logical fallacy: this 3-act film is a success therefore a successful film must have 3 acts!

    I had a (very good) tutor who suggested that Aristotle may have been misused and misunderstood for screenwriting as most writers read Aristotle’s Poetics for Screenwriters rather than Aristotle’s Poetics and these things are actually rather different. (I wouldn’t know, I haven’t read both!)

    Any speculation as to what Aristotle may have written is just that and should be put with the Shakespeare as screenwriter idea: maybe Shakespeare would have just stuck to the stage…

    The trouble with the term Arthouse is that it seems to have become conflated in the general consciousness as a genre in itself, while it’s really a catch-all for the stranger English language and all subtitled films. The same ‘genrefication’ seems to be happening with the term ‘American Indie’…

    Dust Devil is a fine film and it’s BO failure mystifies me… and it’s subsequent effect on Richard Stanley’s career is just plain annoying! (Angel Heart’s fine too!)

  13. SORRY DD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Didn’t take it as snarky anyway, I can see why it might *seem* to some I’m in love with Syd Field. Which I’m not. Argh.

    Anyway DD, loving your work darlink *MWAH*

  14. Lynch really does that reality cracking well because it comes from character and is often invested with a lot of comedy too. Mullholland Drive was more goal focused (“who is Rita?”) than Lost Highway probably explaining its wider appeal.

    Point is that Lynch takes us through a character’s dementia on a huge arc. It’s not just “weird shit” happening to JOE BLOGS, 27, –handsome in an unconventional way–

  15. “Point is that Lynch takes us through a character’s dementia on a huge arc.”

    Point is, other people think differently. Isn’t that the point? All very well asserting *something* does *this that or the other* End of the day, what you take from it is what you take from it. I didn’t like Lost Highway much, nor did Lucy, maybe others who commented or didn’t comment on this blog did or didn’t. What really matters is what you get from a cinematic experience in my view, if the answer is “not much” move on to the next one. But if the answer is “a lot”, there’s no point saying that others SHOULD when they didn’t. But of course that’s just my opinion.

    Luv Mike

  16. Actually there were some bits I liked a lot about Lost Highway Mike – predominantly that great scene where the devil guy gives Bill the phone, saying “Call me…” tho I think I said that earlier.

    Anonymous – as I also mentioned earlier, I’m not just a Lynch fan. I think he’s like Marmite. Tho I actually love Marmite, so that’s a bad analogy probably.

  17. Darren (formerly eat my shorts)

    I cannot believe I shared a womb with you Mike for nine whole months. How can you not like LOST HIGHWAY? This is it for us now, man. I hope you’re happy.

  18. OH. MY. GOD. Boys, calm down. I cannot believe I married into this crazy family. Is it something about being multiple births that make you all go mad? It’s a film, don’t disown each other over it. There are plenty of mentalist family Xmases to argue at yet…

  19. I know this is off-topic (for the record I wasn’t keen on LH either) but is that you’re husband arguing with his brother then?

  20. It’s like bloody Clapham junction in here tonight!

    No Anya, my one and only is called Dave – like everyone else on here it seems! Darren and Mike are twins related to him by marriage via his aunt’s second husband. I think. It’s hard to keep track. Too bad the same can’t be said of them ; ) KIDDING! Don’t kill me, pls.

  21. Hold on. I thought I read in an earlier post your hub’s name was Steve.

    Or maybe that’s just mine.

    Re: Lynch

    I think of movies as those connect-the-dots type pics. The filmmakers provide the dots & we have to do the work of connecting them to form the pic of the cow or two-headed duck or whatever.

    With Lynch, the “dots” are farther apart, & some of them are even missing. So the job of seeing the big picture takes a bit more work on our part. And when we do finally form some sort of pic, it says more about us than him.

    Or something like that…LOL. Nevermind.

  22. I really rather like that analogy.

    Sometimes, I do like to have to think a bit; do a bit of work, not be spoonfed all the answers…

    …and sometimes I just like 1-dimensional characters running around blowing stuff up.

  23. What he said.

    Right now I could do with some mindless violence, preferably with me meting (mete-ing, meteing?) it out.

    I’m on a contract in a very nice place with nice people, but the deadlines are killing me slowly.

    Next Tuesday it all stops, how I look forward to next Tuesday.


    (I’m a husband called Steve.)

  24. …And Lucy, and Lucy, your point is right on. I was at a writer’s meetup last December when someone recommended that I watched “The Visiter”. I borrowed it and tried to watch but after 10 minutes in I shut the TV off. I kept the DVD for three weeks too long, incurring late fees in the feeble hopes that I will finish watching it. I never did.
    Late in January I read another review of the film in glowing terms. Me being an immigrant myself, I finally forced myself to see it. WHAT A WASTE. It was absolutely pointless! Just a selfish, self involved American man choosing to live vicariously through the lives of illegal immigrants and screwing up theirs in the process. How was it resolved? It wasn’t.
    Absolutely pointless. But the american reviewers are unable to see that because they are so caught up in the fact that they can show a slice of life of immigrants…

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