Film When I was at university, one single text almost ruined my film viewing forever and I'm still dealing with the consequences. I've been wanting to explain the mechanics here since then, but haven't found an eloquent way of putting it, but luckily now the author Kristin Thompson has posted about the subject on her blog. It's about how most film narratives work and if you don't want all of the summer blockbusters, even the ones without twists, to be ruined as a viewing experience, look away now:
"upon analysis, most Hollywood films in fact have four large-scale parts of roughly equal length. The “three-act structure” has become so ingrained in thinking about film narratives that my claim is somewhat controversial. What has been overlooked is that I’m not claiming that all films have four acts. Rather, my claim is that in classical films large-scale parts tend to fall within the same average length range, roughly 25 to 35 minutes. If a film is two and a half hours rather than two hours, it will tend to have five parts, if three hours long, then six, and so on. And it’s not that I think films must have this structure."
The post explains that each of these chunks is separated by turning points in the plot and there are copious examples. The problem is, that once you know this, and realise that it works, you find yourself looking for it in every single movie. Watch a two hour film and at 20, 60 and 90 minutes you'll know when its happening and more often than not be able to predict what it's going to be. Same with a ninety minute film with something happening every twenty-two minutes.

In the book Storytelling In The New Hollywood, Thompson explains in much greater detail how this process works in ensemble and hyperlink films (more often than not if the film is working, all of the characters have a turning point at roughly the same time) and how it can be used to show why some movies don't work because one or more of the sections is too long or short to make the experience satisfying. These days, I'm most impressed when a film manages to dodge this 'rule' and yet still manage to be entertaining, even though, that's surprisingly rare.

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