It might have been in The Princess Bride that I first noticed it, but that surely can’t be right because I watched Munna Bhai M.B.B.S. years before that. Maybe it was from the 2007 remake of 3:10 to Yuma.
I have become aware of storytelling choices.
In the film Munna Bhai M.B.B.S. there is a sub-plot where Jimmy Shergill is a young man stricken with cancer. And we revisit his story several times during the movie and then… well, I don’t want to give spoilers for anyone who hasn’t seen it, but his sub-plot becomes critical.
And it occurred to me some time after I’d watched the movie, to wonder how the film makers decided when to visit his story.
It probably came down to the script writer having made that decision, but the decision ultimately comes down to “do we do this scene next, or the other one”?
It’s a similar thing in scripted tv drama. Most tv shows these days have at least two stories running concurrently. Rumour has it that before Hill Street Blues this was never done but the fact is that nowadays it’s common. And someone has to sit down and choose when to cut back and forth between the stories.
That’s a storytelling choice.
I’ll give you another example. In the 2007 version of 3:10 to Yuma there’s the scene where Christian Bale’s character temporarily loses control. And he talks Russell Crowe’s villainous character around, and I think everyone who’s seen the movie thinks that that single scene is the biggest flaw in the whole film. It undermines everything that’s happened to that point. Heck, the Write Brothers weekly email newsletter once linked to an article about the flaw, and how the sequence could have been written better.
To which my own response is: why not leave out that scene altogether and have Bale’s character get Crowe’s to the train without messing up?
Fact is, the inclusion of that scene was a storytelling choice. Not a good one, but a choice nonetheless.
Let’s move on to Cinema Paradiso. That’s one of the rare movies where the director’s cut isn’t nearly as good as the mainstream release. The movie was apparently a modest hit in Italy. Re-released with nearly an hour cut out, including most of the sequence in which the main character as an older man reunites with his old flame, it became a well-regarded classic. The shorter version is much, much better.
Again, that’s a storytelling choice. The director initially got it wrong.
All of which brings me to The Princess Bride, one of the few movies I can think of with no enemies. Everyone who’s seen it seems to love it. The quotation “Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die” is famous enough that I’d heard it before I ever saw the film.
And yet William Goldman, who wrote both the original novel and then the screenplay, uses a framing device. We repeatedly go back to Peter Falk as the grandfather reading the book to his grandson, played by Fred Savage.
William Goldman was a highly regarded writer and the use of the device intrigues me. I suspect he knew exactly what he was doing and put in those scenes to balance out problems with the pacing of the story.
In other words, while it would be possible to do a master cut with Falk and Savage excised, I suspect it just wouldn’t work as well. It would be reduced to merely a so-so film, not a much-loved classic.
Am I right? It’s hard to say. But either way, it was an intriguing storytelling choice.