on Backwards and Forwards

On David Ball’s Backwards and Forwards

Of course this ties ever so neatly into Aristotle’s observations about causality. I think one element that Ball uncovers is how causality can be directly tied to suspense — building the audience’s expectations in such a way that they can’t help but watch. He mentions directors cutting out huge scenes from Hamlet, without realizing the significance to the story; I am reminded of watching The Exorcist once, late at night, and I would doze off in the ‘boring’ parts of the film, and wake up just in time for the scary ones. But they weren’t scary at all. The pacing of the film, and the events that set up the most disturbing moments are only scary because of the lulls before, either because some bit of information had been laid out, or often, because the audience has been misdirected so as not to suspect the inevitable fright that is about to occur.

And the idea that there is no character, only action, resonates strongly with me. At the Atlantic Theater, the Practical Aesthetics training is all about breaking down scenes into playable actions so as to relieve yourself of the burden of trying to ‘become’ the character. Because it’s impossible. You’ll always only be you, and the second you start trying to be someone else, you’re going to slip out of ‘the moment,’ and worse yet, the audience is going to catch on that what you’re doing isn’t authentic. I mean, of course it’s not actual, it’s a play (or a movie), but the audience is collectively much smarter than you are. They will see things about your character that you couldn’t possibly invent, because they will identify with the characters’ intentions, and their deeds (not the backstory you wrote about Hamlet’s childhood). Character is merely an illusion that exists in the audience’s mind and nowhere else.

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