I love a great story as much as the next guy, but…
I was recently talking to an acquaintance about why she liked the movies that she did. The word that she kept going back to was “story.” When I pressed her further she offered up what she meant by story. It wasn’t the overall themes of a movie or anything beneath the surface. Rather, story to her meant the words being spoken on screen and the ultimate purpose of the movie.
I asked my friend about a movie we had both seen, Alejandro Jodorowsky’s El Topo. I knew that she wasn’t a fan of this movie, and I felt her reasons for not liking El Topo would help me to better understand her story argument. I was right, as she spoke I understood far better what she meant by story. In her words, “El Topo wasn’t a fun watch for me because the visuals, the acting, and all the other parts of the movie didn’t add up to anything. They were not in the service of any story, and without that anchor I felt lost. I was not being entertained, there was no impetus for anything that happened in the movie to actually happen.”
This is an issue I am confronted with when talking movies with a few of my close friends. The facts are that from the film buff to the most casual of movie fans we all look for different things in our movies. My definition of story would differ from my friend, but at the same time I can understand what she is talking about. Going into a movie and looking to be entertained by a story makes perfect sense. Without a clear plot to follow she was left in the dark by El Topo.
I approach story a little differently. I appreciate a great story, plenty of my favorite movies are story or plot based. At the same time I love a movie like El Topo because of the ideas it explores. For me story is not king, it is not the end all and be all that is necessary for me to enjoy a film. I can love a movie because of many factors that would not be directly linked to story. For instance, many movies present a story not through dialogue or any plot points but atmosphere. Paris, Texas is a favorite of mine because of the way its story is driven by the atmosphere of the film and the acting in response to the visual atmosphere.
I’m not making a completely coherent argument, I understand that. All the same I’m not really making an argument. I had a conversation with a friend that got me thinking about the way I view story within movies. My view is certainly not concrete and that’s why I’m having trouble expressing any sort of definitive answer. For me story is often murky, it can be told through plot points just as much as it can be told through a series of facial expressions.
I don’t have any rebuttal to my friend, I don’t think her take on story needs a rebuttal. We happen to look at story differently and that speaks to the power of cinema. We’re both completely right in our takes, because movies are what you make of them. What works for me may not work for her, and vice-versa. Now I’m going to go and watch El Topo again and see where the story takes me…