March 17, 2008

Bradbury on Film

Category: Literature,Movies :: Permalink

In the interview entitled “Shooting Haiku in a Barrel,” Ray Bradbury talks about working on the screenplay for Something Wicked This Way Comes.  He wrote the screenplay about two hours too long, and the director had him cut it again and again until it was the right length.  The interviewer asked whether it was dialogue or action that Bradbury cut, and here is Bradbury’s response, which sheds light on good filmmaking:

Everything.  The main thing is compression.  It isn’t really cutting so much as learning metaphor — and this is where my knowledge of poetry has been such a help to me.  There’s a relationship between the great poems of the world and the great screenplays: they both deal in compact images.  If you can find the right metaphor, the right image, and put it in a scene, it can replace four pages of dialogue (Zen in the Art of Writing, p. 127).

Bradbury goes on to talk about a particular scene in Lawrence of Arabia, but what immediately came to my mind was a scene in Kristof Kieslowski’s Red, which would take a lot longer to describe here than it takes to show.  The entire scene is this: the camera shows the girl, who is one of the main characters, having fun bowling with some friends, and then swings over a few lanes to linger for only a moment or two on a table at a bowling alley.  On the table is a cracked beer glass, an ashtray full of cigarettes, and a crumpled Marlboro package.

That’s it.  That’s the entire scene.  It means nothing to you, dear reader, because you didn’t see what led up to it.  But if you had watched the movie carefully up to this point, you would have understood immediately. Getting back to Bradbury’s point, what you would have understood from those few seconds would have taken a lesser director and writer many minutes of dialogue and action to convey to you.  Kieslowski does it in one image.

That’s one of the glories of film as a medium.  As Bradbury says, metaphor comes close to accomplishing the same thing in poetry and prose.  But only in film can you use sound, music, lighting, images, and so forth to get across what would take hundreds of words to explain.

Posted by John Barach @ 3:34 pm | Discuss (3)

3 Responses to “Bradbury on Film”

  1. Dad B Says:

    Yes Bradbury had a poetical approach, but so did a couple of other SF authors: Arthur C. Clarke and A.E. Van Vogt. The latter’s _Abyss_ novel was pure poetry — even more so than Clarke’s _2001 Odyssey_

  2. Jeremy Bunch Says:

    How I wish that more films were edited, and edited, and edited. There is so much filler in most modern film that is simply Hollywood formula, and it insults the simple.

    I recently watched 3:10 To Yuma, which would have been a great movie if it had been edited down to two crucial and self-explanatory scenes. It would have been a 15 minute short film, yet more poetic and powerful.

  3. Dad B Says:

    Sony has condensed a number of movies.
    Charlie’s Angels has been reduced to three minutes. They took out all the scenes where the girls were flipping their hairdoos.

Leave a Reply