aprilhenry (aprilhenry) wrote,

Teasing out the tension

With 11yo at a sleepover, we were finally able to see an adult movie: Babel. The screenwriter showed scenes out of order, but somehow it managed to never be confusing. First you see two goat-herder kids in Mongolia shooting at jackals, and rocks, and finally at a tour bus. Then you see a Mexican woman, caring for two American children, who gets a phone call from the dad whose wife has been injured in a shooting. Only later do you see the man and wife arguing in Mongolia, and you realize the scene is taking place before the shooting. Watching them later on the bus, the tension begins to build. You know she is going to be shot. She doesn't know it. She squeezes her husband's hand, then half-dozes , her head tipped against the window. The director lets that scene go on for what seems like forever, while you brace yourself. By the time she gets shot, your nerves are thrumming.

It reminded of Alfred Hitchock. In an interview, he said, "There is a distinct difference between "suspense" and "surprise," and yet many pictures continually confuse the two. I'll explain what I mean.

"We are now having a very innocent little chat. Let's suppose that there is a bomb underneath this table between us. Nothing happens, and then all of a sudden, "Boom!" There is an explosion. The public is surprised, but prior to this surprise, it has seen an absolutely ordinary scene, of no special consequence. Now, let us take a suspense situation. The bomb is underneath the table and the public knows it, probably because they have seen the anarchist place it there. The public is aware the bomb is going to explode at one o'clock and there is a clock in the decor. The public can see that it is a quarter to one. In these conditions, the same innocuous conversation becomes fascinating because the public is participating in the scene. The audience is longing to warn the characters on the screen: "You shouldn't be talking about such trivial matters. There is a bomb beneath you and it is about to explode!"

"In the first case we have given the public fifteen seconds of surprise at the moment of the explosion. In the second we have provided them with fifteen minutes of suspense. The conclusion is that whenever possible the public must be informed. Except when the surprise is a twist, that is, when the unexpected ending is, in itself, the highlight of the story."

site stats

Subscribe with
Blog Reader
Tags: hitchcock
  • Post a new comment


    default userpic

    Your reply will be screened

    Your IP address will be recorded 

    When you submit the form an invisible reCAPTCHA check will be performed.
    You must follow the Privacy Policy and Google Terms of use.