"I’m not claiming that all films have four acts"

Film Let me ruin films for you. Here's an old blog post from Kristen Thompson on the subject of turning points in film narrative, in which she outlines the kinds of action involved and when.

Here are the two paragraphs to focus on.  Once you've read them, it'll be almost impossible for you not to see any Hollywood (and some so-called world cinema) without looking to see if the film maker is following a well-worn process and know when the first turning point will be:
"Most screenplay manuals treat turning points as the major events or changes that mark the end of an “act” of a movie. Syd Field, perhaps the most influential of all how-to manual authors, declared that all films, not just classical ones, have three acts. In a two-hour film, the first act will be about 30 minutes long, the second 60 minutes, and the third 30 minutes. The illustration at the top shows a graphic depiction of his model, which includes a midpoint, though Field doesn’t consider that midpoint to be a turning point.

I argued against this model in Storytelling, suggesting that 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. From observation, I think they usually do. Apparently filmmakers figured out early on, back in the mid-1910s when features were becoming standard, that the action should optimally run for at most about half an hour without some really major change occurring."
To drag this bag to the mainstream of this blog's symposium lately, I think one of the reasons some viewers of this latest series of Doctor Who have been less than pleased is because even in the more traditionalist stories, Moffat and co have been subverting many of the expected narrative storytelling norms -- in effect ignoring a version of the above and importing instead the art house structure in Saturday night genre television.

In storytelling terms, A Good Man Goes To War is pretty eccentric.   The Doctor, the protagonist isn't seen physically on-screen for twenty minutes, his presence instead implied by Rory and the iconic presence of the TARDIS.  That's the sort of thing you might expect in an Alain Resnais or late Tarkovsky film, perhaps even Passolini and when he does appear he's still a relatively distant figure.

Spin-off fiction was sometimes just as post-modern.  If you have the chance I'd urge you to pick up a copy of The Blue Angel by Paul Magrs which reads more like a Virginia Wolf novel than anything else in places.  Similarly the audios Jim Mortimore's The Natural History of Fear and Scherzo by Robert Shearman shatter the expectations of what should even be in a Doctor Who story.

It's good to see the television series is willing to take these risks and judging by the audience appreciation figures (AI of 88 this week), most viewers continue to be entertained.  As with the surprise box office for Inception and the audiences for Sherlock last year, it's an example of the audience wanting to see challenging drama.  As for light entertainment, well ...

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