Updated: Apr 29
Here we are, another film industry post! Ok, so we’ve taken a look at the art and the history of film, but now, let’s look at what makes it a story. Of course, it’s obvious, but for those of us who find it difficult to even answer those questions, let’s take a deeper look at what makes films stories.
First off, you’ll want to remember what I meant earlier about how films are art forms. So, check out my last blog post, where I cover what it takes to make a film a piece of art, and the history behind it.
Now, what do I mean by films are stories. Well, it’s obvious, many “conventional” films follow a timeline, and in that timeline is a story. I’ve said it before as well, if you remember the post, I’d written last year. Why don’t you check it out as a supplement to this one.
Right, with post shoutouts out the way, we can focus on what I need to say here. So, like I said, we’ll be looking at how a film is a story, even if some of them aren’t obvious, and even if you’re simply looking at a theme, rather than a story. I’ll be showing you what kinds of stories are out there, and how they’re categorised.
What makes up a story? Of course, it’s the sandwich of a basic plot line. You’ll have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Now, when I say “a middle” I mean you have events that start snowballing into a climax that needs a resolution, which in turn, leads to an end. However, in film, that’s not always apparent, especially if you’re looking into experimental film, which seems more like a bunch of clips edited together that make no coherent sense, than a story with basic markers that tell you “this is a story”.
When looking at a film, especially “conventional” ones, you’ll know you’re looking at a story, because the events in the film have their markers. You’ll find you know where a film begins, has a climax and where it ends. I’ll take the film Labyrinth (1986), by the Jim Henson Company, as my example, because there are clear markers in it to tell you that what you’re looking at is a story.
What Are The Markers
Ok, so I’m going to say this now, so that no one blames me for ruining the film…
There Will Be Spoilers
Now that’s out of the way, let’s take a closer look at the film. So, first off, where does the film start. Of course, at the beginning! Ok, jokes aside, the film does start in a standard town in America, with a young girl, Sarah, played by Jennifer Connelly, who is immersed in her own fantasy, as she plays out lines from a book she seems to be obsessed with. Now I say “seems to be obsessed with” because we don’t actually hear it from any of the characters’ own mouths that she’s obsessed. The only indications we have are that she carries the book around with her, the fact that she continues to act out the lines, in her room, and the story she tells her baby brother, which seems to be from the book itself.
Again, I say “seems to be” because no one explicitly says that the story is from the book, we assume it is, because it’s a motif that runs throughout the film itself. You’ll find it at the beginning, you’ll find it during Sarah’s run, and at the very end. It’s very blatantly a story, especially since there is a motif that you associate with, and because of what I just said. Don’t worry, if you keep reading, you’ll understand.
Now, we’re still at the very beginning, because the marker for the middle hasn’t actually been reached yet. You see, while we might be starting out in the park with Sarah, it is actually in her parents’ bedroom, with Toby, played by Toby Froud, and the Goblin King, played by the late and great David Bowie, that we find the marker for the middle. After Sarah is told to babysit her baby brother, and she gets frustrated that her own toys were disturbed, she starts to “scare” her brother, by telling her a story, about goblins and kidnappings. Again, this is all part of the beginning, because it’s still introducing the story that we’re about to see happen. What really marks the end of the beginning, is when the Goblin King transports Sarah to the outskirts of his labyrinth.
This is where the middle begins, and where the main part of the film takes place. Now, while the film itself jumps from one situation to another, between Sarah, the Goblin King, and Hoggle, played by Shari Weiser and Brian Henson, this is all a part of the middle section, of the story. While, yes, each situation has their own beginning, middle and end, it is still an event that leads up to the eventual battle in the Goblin City, and Sarah’s final confrontation with the Goblin King.
Like I said, you see the little red book Sarah has, in the beginning, somewhere here in the middle, and it’s in that little scene in the junkyard, where she’s being tempted to stay, by the junk ladies. It’s in the made-up version of her room, that she gets lured into. Now, this signifies Sarah’s realisation about what is really important to her, and that is her family, in this case Toby. It is not the marker for the end, but for the climax, which leads to her final decision, where she cares more about Toby, than her dreams. So, from that point onwards, we are at the climax of the story, and the moment she is returned to her home, we are at the end.
Of course, you could argue that the moment the credits roll, is the final ending, and yes, you would be correct, however, the “ending” of a story encompasses the resolutions of the decisions made, throughout the film. So, the fact that she checks on Toby as he’s sleeping, and the fact that she gives him Lancelot, her stuffed bear, is the resolution to the issue she had about her toys being used without her permission. It is the change of heart she’s had, thanks to her adventures in the labyrinth. The fact that she puts away those dolls and the memorabilia from her birth mother, along with the little red book, is the resolution to her selfishness, which she was made aware of, throughout her time in the labyrinth. Finally, the party she has with her labyrinth friends is the resolution to the promise she made to them, about calling on them, whenever she needs them. These resolutions make up the ending of the film.
So, when you look at the story, of Labyrinth you can see clear markers for each section of the story. Now, a lot of other films won’t have these kinds of markers, but you’ll naturally find them, even if you’re not aware of them. However, the same cannot be said for films in the experimental genre.
Experimental Films Are Still Stories
Now, when I say, “experimental film”, what I mean is that these types of film productions have no coherent plot. They make no sense whatsoever, because they are simply a bunch of clips, edited together. So, the story behind these films is practically non-existent. However, I still argue that these films still have stories. The story itself may not be displayed in the film itself, but in the concepts behind them. A lot of the time, the filmmakers of the experimental genre will have a concept behind their pieces, and although sometimes, it’s not always a story or a struggle, but a theme, you will eventually find yourself trying to piece the images on the screen together, to make up the story, that goes along with the theme.
For example, the film Un Chien Andalou (1926), by Luis Buñel and Salvador Dalí, is a classic and well-known experimental film. Now, I won’t tell you to watch it, because it is a pretty graphic film. So, if you do watch it, watch it with caution, because it is not for the faint hearted. There are themes of violence and death. Now, as I said before, the film itself isn’t a story, but the clips in them have some form of story or another, despite the fact that they don’t make sense. For example, you could say that the man who cuts an eyeball with the razor, was inspired to do it because of the clouds that cut along the moon, and why ants emerge from a hole in a man’s hand is because he died from a fall as he was riding his bicycle. So, even if the stories don’t make sense, the clips are stories anyway.
Make Your Own Stories
Alright, so I’m going to leave this post here, because these examples should be able to help you identify the markers of the stories you’re watching, especially if you’re watching a “conventional” film, or an experimental film. I would also say that it might be difficult to find a good modern-day version of an experimental film, because they’ve mostly been appropriated by the music industry.
What I mean is, they’re used in music videos, and even some adverts might draw upon experimental films to shock their viewers. Nevertheless, the music, narration or advert will tell the story of the videos you’re seeing. However, the best examples of experimental films are those from the 20th Century, particularly from the early black and white days of film, and French cinema. So, if you’re up for it, try and make a story out of the films you’re seeing.
If you’re watching a “conventional” film, try to find the markers that make up the story sandwich. I guarantee you that you’ll find them, regardless if they’re different or the same as what others might say. Find them anyway, because then you’ll understand how to create your own films, written novels or plays, with the right kind of markers for your story.
Well, that’s it from me today, I’ll see you guys next time. For now, don’t forget to like, subscribe and follow for more updates and the latest posts here on Feather’s Charm and on my social media accounts. Oh, and share these posts with family and friends, those who you’d think might enjoy these topics and tips! I’ll see you later!
Labyrinth, (1986), Directed by Jim Henson, [Film], UK/USA, TriStar Pictures
Image 1: Den Of Geek, (2016), '30 Things We Learned From Labyrinth on Its 30th Anniversary' DenOfGeek [online], Available at: https://www.denofgeek.com/movies/30-things-we-learned-from-labyrinth-on-its-30th-anniversary/ [Accessed: 17th February 2021]
Image 2: LabyrinthFilm.com, (N.D), 'Bowie As Jareth' LabyrinthFilm [online], Available at: http://labyrinthfilm.com/characters/bowie-as-jareth/ [Accessed: 17th February 2021]
Image 3: Amazon.com, (N.D), 'Sarah says goodbye to her Labyrinth friends' Amazon [online], Available at: https://www.amazon.com/Labyrinth-Brian-Henson/dp/B005U9RE1Y [Accessed: 17th February 2021]
Un Chien Andalou, (1929), Directed by Luis Buñel, [Film], France, Les Grands Films Classiques
Image 4: WikiMedia, (2017), 'Un Chien Andalou Title' WikiMedia [online], Available at: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Un_Chien_Andalou_title.png [Accessed: 17th February 2021]