Script, Spectator and Time, Balazs’ push for patience

First, I thoroughly appreciated the construction of Balazs’ essay.  It was clear, concise, and his language was relaxed which, in my opinion, gave his argument more substance.  He was merely stating things as they were rather than aggressively defending the genre.  However, a lot of his points were reliant on the future when the script and cinema have evolved, when “external technical conditions harden into laws governing the internal artistic composition of the work.” (222)  His hopes for film are based on historic tracks of other art forms (he mentions the short story and sculpture) whose success derived from limitations.  He gives us the history of the script, the limitations of the spectator, and explains that in time, the script/the genre will evolve into something more substantial.

It is almost 70 years since this essay was written.  In 2012, have we seen this evolution?

As Balazs tracks the history of the script he offers defenses/perspectives which highlight the technical difficulties attached to script writing that differ from that of the novel and the play.  One limitation involves those watching the film.  The spectators are ignorant of the literary work involved in film, they have limitations on their viewing time, and they do not tolerate “long-drawn, merely internal–and hence non-visible–events.” (222)  He mentions that business has something to do with some of the time limitation, but kind of pushes that aside as secondary.  Clearly today the business of film is a driving force that dictates script and many other aspects of the film.

In a recent article in The New Yorker, titled “Funny is Money,” Robert Downey Jr. discusses an email he received regarding his successes in recent years:

I got an e-mail this morning from my agents saying that the success of ‘Sherlock Holmes:  A Game of Shadows’ made it a billion-dollar franchise.  They said, ‘That gives you two billion-dollar franchises’ “–along with “Iron Man”–” ‘ and only five people have done that.’ Such e-mails remind you that this business, from the studios’ point of view, is about whore stewardship.” (48)

The article is about Ben Stiller’s fight to get a script off the ground and discusses in detail the industry’s obsession with only crafting what sells, a far cry from the artistic hope of Balazs where he seemed to imagine that the limitations stated above would easily be overcome.  This brings up another question I have.  Is this current state of money driven “box office smash” mentality the fault of the spectator or the studio? (maybe too off topic, I understand)

Balazs seemed to imagine that in the future, technical conditions, spectators, and time would work themselves out leaving only the “script to determine the history of the film.” (223) In this future the value of the script would rank as high as its literary counterparts, the novel and the drama, after technical difficulties had passed.  We have not yet seen a societal turn toward the written script over the film on screen.  I am wondering if the technological advances we see today, such as CGI, will perpetually disrupt the ability for the literary aspect of the script in film to develop further.


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One Response to Script, Spectator and Time, Balazs’ push for patience

  1. Marie Mosot says:

    I think if there is any obstacle in the script’s way of becoming a genre all its own, it’s legal and copyright issues. I don’t know what the specific laws are regarding scripts, much less those of adaptations (which must be hairy on their own), but Balazs hits the nail on the head when he points, “The film… mostly absorbs the script completely so that it is not preserved as an independent object which could be used again for a different film production” (216). I think once studios or whatever overarching bodies that govern the use of scripts allow different filmmakers to use the same script in the production of two or more films (in the same way that stage plays and novels can be adapted to film numerous times), the script will have to be reassessed as its own entity. Until then, it’s still just technical scaffolding, the invisible base on which lies one finished film.

    On a sidenote, I think it’s interesting that the AMPAS makes a distinction between Best Original Screenplay and Best Adapted Screenplay while there is only one Best Film but no Best Original Film or Best Adaptation. This has many connotations: that there are specific challenges to writing an adaptation, enough to warrant a separate category; that even with this apparently important distinction in the nature of the script, the “best film” lies elsewhere than in the script; that there is no and perhaps never will be clear criteria for judging Best Adaptation – and many other conclusions, I’m sure, which I’ll leave to better minds.

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