If I were young again and heading to Film School I think I’d like to write a dissertation on the difference between narrative and camera perspective and why some directors seem a bit oblivious to it.
Certainly one of the most entertaining novels I’ve read this year was Francis Spufford’s Golden Hill, set in 18th century New York. For most of the text I was thinking how long it would take for the story to be adapted for TV or even the big screen; there are plenty of very ‘cinematic’ moments in the drama. But then at the end Spufford delivers something of an apple-cart upsetting reveal, a well-disguised transformation of narrative perspective that ought to make the reader immediately re-consider everything that has occurred before if not actually start to re-read the whole novel from scratch.
This is one of those ruses of intelligent literature that should, by rights, make this one of those unfilmable books, yet somehow I still think the temptation to tell this tale anyway (and with lavish costumes) will remain.
Narrative perspective is often crucial to other aspects of a story, such as plot.
What a lot of otherwise talented directors don’t quite seem to appreciate is that swapping a first or even third person narrative for the apparently more objective showing rather than telling of the camera’s-eye-view can render an effective plot somehow less so.
Case in point an otherwise excellent Argentinian film we watched this week - El Otro Hermano - based on Carlos Busqued’s novel Bajo Éste Sol Tremendo. The performances, the grotty rural mise-en-scène ...all top notch. But about 80% of the way in the conclusion turned into one of those utterly predictable yet not completely necessary third acts that writers should try to avoid.
Now, I’ve not read the novel, but I strongly suspect that the narrative perspective was more firmly cinched to Cetarti, the outsider in this contemptible environment.
The film however established right from the first moment a sense of symmetry between the goings on around Cetarti and those around local would-be capo Duarte. As the last few minutes approached at least one more interesting and appropriate way of concluding the story was suggested to us.
Now I have to read the bloody book - if only out of curiosity about how the author managed to marry plot and perspective.