The Classical Hollywood Cinema. Film Style and Mode of Production to 1960
David Bordwell, Janet Staiger and Kristin Thompson
Story causality and motivation
There are several ways of analyzing fictional narrative cinema; the approach taken here can be broadly called formalist. As Chapter 1 proposed, a narrative film consists of three systems: narrative logic (definition of events, causal relations and parallelisms between events), the representation of time (order, duration, repetition), and the representation of space (composition, orientation, etc.). Any given technical parameter (e.g., sound, editing) can function within any or all of these systems. Lighting or camera movements can emphasize a causally significant object while endowing the represented space with depth and volume. Offscreen sound can operate as a narrative cause, can work to specify duration, or can define an unseen space. In short, while this account stresses what Mukařovský calls technical norms, the techniques are not simply isolated devices but rather functional components in the three basic formal systems.
A narrative film seldom treats its systems as equals. The Russian Formalist critics suggested that in any text or tradition, a certain component-the dominant-subordinates others. 'The dominant, ' writes Jakobson, 'may be defined as the focussing component of a work of art: it rules, determines, and transforms the remaining components. It is the dominant which guarantees the integrity of the structure.' 1 This integrity deserves to be seen as a dynamic one, with the subordinated factors constantly pulling against the sway of the dominant. In Hollywood cinema, a specific sort of narrative causality operates as the dominant, making temporal and spatial systems vehicles for it. These systems do not always rest quietly under the sway of narrative logic, but in general the causal dominant creates a marked hierarchy of systems in the classical film.
Another distinction cuts across these three systems. Most film theorists recognize a difference between the narrative material of a film (the events or actions, the basic story) and the manner in which that material is represented in the film. The Russian Formalist literary critics distinguished between fabula ('story') and syuzhet ('plot'), and throughout this book, we will use the story/plot distinction in a sense akin to that of the Formalists. 2 'Story' will refer to the events of the narrative in their presumed spatial, temporal, and causal relations. 'Plot' will refer to the totality of formal and stylistic materials in the film. The plot thus includes all the systems of time, space, and causality actually manifested in the film; everything from a flashback structure and subjective point-of-view to minutiae of lighting, cutting, and camera movement. The plot is, in effect, the film before us. The story is thus our mental construct, a structure of inferences we make on the basis of selected aspects of the plot. For example, the plot might present certain events out of chronological order; to understand the film, we must be able to reconstruct that chronological, or story, order. One virtue of this scheme is its acknowledgment of the viewer's activity; if the viewer knows how a certain tradition of filmmaking habitually presents a story, the viewer approaches the film with what Gombrich calls a mental set. In the next chapter, we shall be able to specify certain tasks which the classical film assigns to the spectator. The work at hand is to bring to light basic principles of story causality in the classical Hollywood film. Once we have done this, we will be in a position to understand how the classical story creates its particular unity.
Causes and effects
This extra is called an actor. This actor is called
a character. The adventures of these characters are called a film.
Wind from the East
'Plot, ' writes Francis Patterson in a 1920 manual for aspiring screenwriters, 'is a careful and logical working out of the laws of cause and effect. The mere sequence of events will not make a plot. Emphasis must be laid upon causality and the action and reaction of the human will.' 3 Here in brief is the premise of Hollywood story construction: causality, consequence, psychological motivations, the drive toward overcoming obstacles and achieving goals. Character-centered-i.e., personal or psychological-causality is the armature of the classical story.
This sounds so obvious that we need to remember that narrative causality could be impersonal as well. Natural causes (floods, genetic inheritance) could form the basis for story action, and in cinema we might think of the work of Yasujiro Ozu, which installs a 'natural' rhythm or cycle of life at the center of the action. Causality could also be conceived as social-a causality of institutions and group processes. Soviet films of the 1920s remain the central model of cinematic attempts to represent just such supraindividual historical causality. Or one could conceive of narrative causality as a kind of impersonal determinism, in which coincidence and chance leave the individual little freedom of personal action. The postwar European art cinema often relies upon this sort of narrative causality, as Bazin indicates in relation to Bresson's Diary of a Country Priest (1950): 'Events do indeed follow one another according to a necessary order, yet within a framework of accidental happenings.' 4
Hollywood films of course include causes of these impersonal types, but they are almost invariably subordinated to psychological causality. This is most evident in the classical film's use of historical causality. Pierre Sorlin points out that classical films typically present historical events as uncaused; a war simply breaks out, disrupting characters' lives very much as a natural disaster might. 5 When history is seen as caused, that cause is traceable to a psychologically defined individual. (A chief instance here is The Birth of a Nation , which links Reconstruction abuses to the ambitions of Austin Stoneman.) Thus the classical film makes history unknowable apart from its effects upon individual characters. As an old Russian émigré says at the end of *Balalaika (1939): 'And to think that it took the Revolution to bring us together.'
Impersonal causes may initiate or abruptly alter a line of story action which then proceeds by personal causes. A storm may maroon a group of characters, but then psychological causality takes over. A war may separate lovers, but then they must react to that condition. Coincidence is especially dangerous in this context, and Hollywood rule-books insist upon confining coincidence to the initial situation. Boy and girl may meet by accident, but they cannot rely upon chance to keep their acquaintance alive. The later in the film a coincidence occurs, the weaker it is; and it is very unlikely that the story will be resolved by coincidence. We see here the influence of the well-made play (e.g., the mischance that triggers the intrigue in Scribe or Sardou) and the appeal to Aristotelian notions of plausibility and probability. Unmotivated coincidences do occasionally crop up in Hollywood films. *The Courage of Commonplace (1917) deals with a miners' strike, and the film's protagonist, the mine supervisor, will not yield to the strikers. He declares: 'Something's got to happen.' The next day, a mine collapses by natural causes. (A more careful scenarist would have made a disgruntled foreman sabotage the mine.) Or, in *Parachute Jumper (1933), it is not unmotivated to have the romantic couple first meet by accident, but in the last scene they meet again by sheer chance. Most often, though, coincidence is motivated by genre (chance encounters are conventions of comedy and melodrama). And 'coincidental' encounters may be prepared causally. In *Parole Fixer (1940), the crooked Craydon must encounter the government agents at a cafe, so the script motivates the encounter as probable. His secretary asks why Craydon eats at the cafe so often, and he answers: 'Our friends of the FBI eat here.'
If the character must act as the prime causal agent, he or she must be defined as a bundle of qualities, or traits. Screenplay manuals demand that a character's traits be clearly identified and consistent with one another. Sources for this practice, of course, go back very far, but the most pertinent ones are the models for characterization present in literature and theater. From the nineteenth-century melodrama's stock character
izations, Hollywood has borrowed the need for sharply delineated and unambiguous traits. 6 (Some of melodrama's types, such as certain ethnic types, the old maid, and the villainous lawyer, get reincarnated in the Hollywood cinema.) From the novel comes what lan Watt calls a 'formal realism': characters are individualized with particular traits, tics, or tags. 7 Watt highlights, for instance, the importance of the unique proper name (Micawber, Moll Flanders) which creates a greater singularity of personality than the stereotyped names of the melodrama (Paddy the Irishman, Jonathan the Yankee). The popular short story acted as a model for narrowing such individualized characterization to fixed limits. The novel can explore many character traits and trace extensive character change, but the dominant aesthetic of the short story in the years 1900-1920 required that the writer create characters with few traits and then focus those upon a few key actions. The short story in a sense struck an average between the fixed character types of the melodrama and the dense complexity of the realist novel, and this average appealed to the classical Hollywood cinema during its formative years. (Chapter 14 will trace how the popular short story became a model for Hollywood dramaturgy.) It was thus possible for Frank Borzage to claim in 1922 that 'Today in the pictures we have the old melodramatic situations fitted out decently with true characterizations.' 8
The classical film's presentation of character traits likewise follows conventions established in earlier theoretical and literary forms. Characters will be typed by occupation (cops are burly), age, gender, and ethnic identity. To these types, individualized traits are added. Most important, a character is made a consistent bundle of a few salient traits, which usually depend upon the character's narrative function. It is the business of the film's exposition to acquaint us with these traits and to establish their consistency. At the beginning of *Saratoga (1937), a garrulous grandfather tells another character (and us) how his daughter has become 'high and mighty' since she went to Europe. We see her almost immediately, and her snooty behavior is consistent with his description. At the start of *Casbah (1948), police officers discuss Pepe's susceptibility to women; the next scene introduces Pepe, singing about women and fate to an audience of admiring women. Sometimes, as in *Lorna Doone (1923) and *Wuthering Heights (1939), the film borrows the novelistic device of introducing us to the characters in childhood; the already-formed principal traits we observe will carry over into the adult lives. More commonly, the character's salient traits are indicated-by an expository title, by other characters' description-and the initial appearance of the character confirms these traits as salient. In such ways, the spectator forms clear first impressions about the characters as homogeneous identities.
The importance of character consistency can be seen in the star system, which was a crucial factor in Hollywood film production. Although in the United States, the theatrical star system goes back to the early 1800s, it was not until the period 1912-1917 that film companies began consistently to differentiate their products by means of stars. 9 On the whole, the star reinforced the tendency toward strongly profiled and unified characterization. Max Ophuls praised Hollywood's ability to give the actor an already-existing personality with which to work in the film. 10 The star, like the fictional character, already had a set of salient traits which could be matched to the demands of the story. In describing the filming of I Was a Male War Bride (1949), Hawks suggested that one scene did not coalesce until he discovered the scene's 'attitude': 'A man like Cary Grant would be amused'-that is, the star's traits and the character's traits became isomorphic. 11
In his book Stars, Richard Dyer has shown how the 'roundness' of the novelistic character is lacking in Hollywood film characterization and traces this lack to the need for 'perfect fit' between star and role. 12 It is also the case that the classical film both trades upon the prior connotations of the star and masks these connotations, presenting the star as character as if 'for the first time.' 13 For example, the star may portray a character who grows into the star's persona. In Meet John Doe (1941) the selfish pitcher John Willoughby becomes the rustic idealist John Doe because Willoughby was, in latent form, Cary Cooper to begin with. We discover the Gary Cooper persona afresh, even while knowing that it was there before the start. This is perhaps the most common way to represent character change in the classical
cinema, since it affirms a basic consistency of character traits.
'Guys like you end up in the stockade sooner or later.' A single line in *From Here to Eternity (1953) shows how strongly classical character traits are tied to action. Fatso's remark follows his fight with Maggio, and so sums up Maggie's act of defiance. But the 'guys like you' assumes Maggio to be a fixed identity, a permanent type (the hotheaded bucker of authority). Moreover, that type is defined not only by traits but by deeds. Maggio will continue to act according to type. That he does indeed wind up in the stockade does not make Fatso a prophet; his remark simply acknowledges the close causal relation between a character's traits and actions; traits are only latent causes, actions the effects of traits. We reason, as screenwriting manuals remind us, from cause to effect and vice-versa; the writer's procedure of 'foreshadowing' is nothing more than preparing a cause for an eventual effect.
If characters are to become agents of causality, their traits must be affirmed in speech and physical behavior, the observable projections of personality. While films can entirely do without people, Hollywood cinema relies upon a distinction between movement and action. Movement, writes Frederick Palmer, 14
is merely motion. Action is usually the outward expression of inner feelings…. For instance, one might write: 'The whirring blades of the electric fan caused the window curtains to flutter. The man seated at the massive desk finished his momentous letter, sealed it, and hastened out to post it.' The whirring fan and the fluttering curtain give motion only-the man's writing the letter and taking it out to post provides action.
It is of action that photoplays are wrought.
Palmer's scene provides a precise hypothetical alternative to the classical style (one that Ozu will actualize in his shots of objects interrupting passages of character 'action'). Hollywood cinema, however, emphasizes action, 'the outward expression of inner feeling, ' the litmus test of character consistency. Even a simple physical reaction-a gesture, an expression, a widening of the eyes-constructs character psychology in accordance with other information. Most actions in the classical film proceed, as Bazin put it, 'from the commonsense supposition that a necessary and unambiguous causal relationship exists between feelings and their outward manifestations.' 15
Hollywood cinema reinforces the individuality and consistency of each character by means of recurrent motifs. A character will be tagged with a detail of speech or behavior that defines a major trait. For example, the nouveau riche Upshaw in *Going Highbrow (1935) is associated with his craving for tomato juice and eggs, a sign of his ordinary tastes. The 'fallen woman' in *Woman of the World (1925) is defined by her exotic tattoo, executed at a lover's request. In *Mr. Skeffington (1944), Fanny's flightiness is conveyed by her habit of mentioning a luncheon engagement with another woman but then always standing her up. The motif may associate the character with an object or locale. The heroine of *The Tiger's Coat (1920) is associated with a painting that compares her to a 'tawny tiger skin.' In *His Double Life (1933), Farrell meets a woman who talks of her garden while the soundtrack plays 'Country Gardens'; once he has married her, they are seen sitting in her garden. Consistency of character is conveyed by repeating the motif through the film. With a minor character, the motif may be a running gag that aids easy identification, as when one soldier in *The Hasty Heart (1949) has been curious about what a Scotsman wears under his kilts and at the end peers under the kilts to find out.
For major characters, the motif serves to mark significant stages of story action. In *A Lost Lady (1934), the older man tells Marion that she must face life 'with banners flying, ' and the motif defines his pride and sets a goal for her. Once they are married, the phrase becomes a bond between them. At the film's close, after having decided not to leave him, Marion says: 'Nothing to be afraid of, no more ghosts-banners flying!' A similar use of another line, 'I can take it on the chin, ' runs through *Show People (1928) tracing the heroine's career as a movie actress. In *Prince of Players (1954), Junius Booth drunkenly orders an audience to wait ten minutes and he'll give them 'the damnedest King Lear you ever saw. The name is Booth!' After his son Ned becomes an actor, he calms an unruly crowd by promising 'the damnedest Richard you ever saw. The name is
Booth!' When, at the film's end, Ned decides to perform despite his wife's death, he explains, 'The name is still Booth!' The tiny word 'still' confirms that the father's defiant attitude persists in the son, and Ned has not changed a bit.
Once defined as an individual through traits and motifs, the character assumes a causal role because of his or her desires. Hollywood characters, especially protagonists, are goaloriented. The hero desires something new to his/her situation, or the hero seeks to restore an original state of affairs. This owes something to late nineteenth-century theatre, as seen in Ferdinand Brunetière's dictum that the central law of the drama is that of conflict arising from obstacles to the character's desire: 'That is what may be called will, to set up a goal, and to direct everything toward it.' 16 Plainly the star system also supported this tendency by insisting upon a strongly characterized protagonist. The goaloriented hero, incarnated in Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, and William S. Hart, was quickly identified as a distinguishing trait of the American cinema. In 1924, a German critic wrote of the Hollywood character as 'the man of deeds. In the first act his goal is set; in the last act he reaches it. Everything that intervenes between these two acts is a test of strength.' 17 Through thirty years, the claim generally held good. In *The Michigan Kid (1928), the hero resolves in his childhood to flee to Alaska, make a fortune, and come back to marry his sweetheart. One of the policemen in *Sh! The Octopus (1937) vows: 'We're gonna catch that Octopus and get that fifty thousand dollar reward.' The immigrant protagonist of *An American Romance (1944) has a burning desire to manufacture steel. In *My Favorite Brunette (1947), the hero declares: 'All my life I wanted to be a hard-boiled detective.' The teenage heroine of *Gidget (1959) states her aim of attracting a handsome boy on the beach. It is easy to see in the goal-oriented protagonist a reflection of an ideology of American individualism and enterprise, but it is the peculiar accomplishment of the classical cinema to translate this ideology into a rigorous chain of cause and effect.
Other characters get defined by goals. Melodrama's formula of hero versus villain, never too hoary for Hollywood, depends upon the clash of opposed purposes. Even when the oppositions are not absolute, characters' goals produce causal chains. Characters may have complementary or independent goals. In *Sweepstakes Winner (1939), when Jenny comes into a betting parlor and announces her goal (to buy a race horse), two touts see how that can serve their own aims (to fix races and make money). In *Indianapolis Speedway (1939), a racedriver's girlfriend wants only a home and family; he tells her that she'll get both after he has put his brother through college. Goals become latent effects in the causal series: they shape our expectations by narrowing the range of alternative outcomes of the action.
Making personal character traits and goals the causes of actions has led to a dramatic form fairly specific to Hollywood. The classical film has at least two lines of action, both causally linking the same group of characters. Almost invariably, one of these lines of action involves heterosexual romantic love. This is, of course, not startling news. Of the one hundred films in the UnS, ninety-five involved romance in at least one line of action, while eighty-five made that the principal line of action. Screenplay manuals stress love as the theme with greatest human appeal. Character traits are often assigned along gender lines, giving male and female characters those qualities deemed 'appropriate' to their roles in romance. To win the love of a man or woman becomes the goal of many characters in classical films. In this emphasis upon heterosexual love, Hollywood continues traditions stemming from the chivalric romance, the bourgeois novel, and the American melodrama.
We sometimes think of a play's second line of action as an independent subplot, such as a comic love affair between servants. Classical Hollywood cinema, however, makes the second line of action causally related to the romantic action. Instead of putting many characters through parallel lines of action, the Hollywood film involves few characters in several interdependent actions. For example, in *Penthouse (1933), the protagonist tries to solve a murder while wooing one of the suspects. Sometimes, as in the love-triangle story, the second line of action also involves romance. More commonly, the second line of action involves another sort of activity-business, spying, sports, politics, crime, show business-any activity, in short, which can provide a goal for the character. In *Saratoga (1937), the protagonist Duke must
win Carol from her fiancé Hartley and he must help her grandfather to obtain a successful racehorse. In *Steamboat Bill Jr. (1928), the son falls in love with the daughter of the town entrepreneur while trying to show his father that he can save their steamboat line. *High Time (1960) presents a middle-aged businessman setting out to prove that he can graduate from college and falling in love in the process: in his valedictory speech, he looks out at the woman and says: 'If there's anything a man can't achieve by himself he shouldn't hesitate to join with someone else.' The tight binding of the second line of action to the love interest is one of the most unusual qualities of the classical cinema, giving the film a variety of actions and a sense of comprehensive social 'realism' that earlier drama achieved through the use of parallel, loosely related subplots. This specific form of unity is well described by Allan Dwan: 'If I constructed a story and I had four characters in it, I'd put them down as dots and if they didn't hook up into triangles, if any of them were left dangling out there without a significant relationship to any of the rest, I knew I had to discard them because they're a distraction.' 18
Psychological causality, presented through defined characters acting to achieve announced goals, gives the classical film its characteristic progression. The two lines of action advance as chains of cause and effect. The tradition of the well-made play, as reformulated at the end of the nineteenth century, survives in Hollywood scenarists' academic insistence upon formulas for Exposition, Conflict, Complication, Crisis, and Denouement. The more pedantic rulebooks cite Ibsen, William Archer, Brander Matthews, and Gustav Freytag. The more homely advice is to create problems that the characters must solve, show them trying to solve them, and end with a definite resolution. The conventions of the well-made play-strong opening exposition, battles of wits, thrusts and counter-thrusts, extreme reversals of fortunes, and rapid denouement-all reappear in Hollywood dramaturgy, and all are defined in relation to cause and effect. The film progresses like a staircase: 'Each scene should make a definite impression, accomplish one thing, and advance the narrative a step nearer the climax.' 19 Action triggers reaction: each step has an effect which in turn becomes a new cause. 20* Chapter 6 will show how the construction of each scene advances each line of action, but for now a single film will stand as an instance of the overall dynamics of cause and effect.
*The Black Hand (1949) begins in New York's Little Italy in 1900. The Mafia murder a lawyer, and his young son Gio vows to find the murderers. This becomes the overarching goal of the film. Eight years later, Gio returns from Italy and begins to investigate. He goes to the hotel where his father was killed and is told that he can find the night clerk with the help of the banker Serpi. When Gio visits Serpi's bank, he meets Isabella, and in a prolonged scene several goals get articulated: Gio declares that he wants to be a lawyer, she suggests forming a Citizen's League to fight the Black Hand, and a romantic attachment is defined between the couple. Gio continues to investigate the night clerk, but he finds that the Mafia have killed him. The romance is here a subsidiary line of action; the two principal causal lines are Gio's drive for revenge and the civic aim of driving out the Mafia. Both lines are advanced when Gio and Isabella form a Citizen's League. As Gio puts it: 'If I haven't got any leads, I'll make some.' This initiative sparks an immediate reaction: the Mafia capture and beat Gio, and the League dissolves. The next Mafia outrage, the bombing of a shop, plunges Gio into an alliance with the policeman Borelli. They bring the bomber to trial and Gio's legal training turns up evidence that leads to the bomber's being deported. Since he is also one of the men who killed Gio's father, Gio is brought a step closer to his initial goal.
The bomber's trial causes Gio to hit upon a new, legal way to achieve his goal. He suggests that Borelli go to Italy to check on illegal immigration; the information will enable the city to deport many Mafiosi. In Italy, Borelli finds that the banker Serpi has a criminal record. In another counterthrust, the Mafia kill Borelli-but not before he mails Gio the incriminating evidence. From now on, cause and effect, action and reaction, alternate swiftly. The New York gang kidnaps Isabella's brother Rudy in order to silence Gio; recovering Rudy thus becomes a new short-range goal. Gio discovers where Rudy is imprisoned, but he is himself captured. He now realizes that Serpi arranged the murder of his father. Serpi's gang acquire Borelli's documents,
but before they can destroy them, Gio manages to touch off a bomb in their hideout. In the melee, Gio fights with Serpi and recovers the evidence. At the film's end, Gio has achieved both his personal goal and the community's goal. This was accomplished through a series of causally linked short-term goals (law studies, Citizen's League, immigration investigation, kidnapping) that grew out of several mutually dependent lines of action. This process is at work in virtually every classical narrative film.
*The Black Hand exemplifies how the classical story constitutes a segment of a larger cause-effect chain. The beginning, as Chapter 3 will show, introduces us to an already-moving action which has a first cause, a distant but specified source. (Gio's father is killed because he wants to divulge his knowledge of the Mafia to the police.) What of the end? The ending is, most simply, the last effect. It too should be justified causally. One screenplay manual asks about the characters: 'What is their mental attitude in the beginning of the story? Just what traits are responsible for their struggle and conflict? How do these traits of character lead to the solving of the plot problem?' 21 Just as the scene à faire of the well-made play shows the hero triumphing over obstacles, the classical Hollywood film has a 'big scene where matters are settled definitely once and for all.' 22 In *The Black Hand, the romance line of action is hardly in doubt; the last moments simply celebrate the couple's union. The same thing happens in the last two shots of *At Sword's Point (1952): (1) The musketeers, having restored the monarchy, shout, 'Long live the King!'; (2) Clare and D'Artagnan embrace. In other films, such as His Girl Friday (1939), the romance line of action is unresolved until the film's last moments. In either case, the ending need not be 'happy'; it need only be a definite conclusion to the chain of cause and effect.
This movement from cause to effect, in the service of overarching goals, partly explains why Hollywood so prizes continuity. Coincidence and haphazardly linked events are believed to flaw the film's unity and disturb the spectator. Tight causality yields not only consequence but continuity, making the film progress 'smoothly, easily, with no jars, no waits, no delays.' 23 A growing absorption also issues from the steadily intensifying character causality, as the spectator recalls salient causes and anticipates more or less likely effects. The ending becomes the culmination of the spectator's absorption, as all the causal gaps get filled. The fundamental plenitude and linearity of Hollywood narrative culminate in metaphors of knitting, linking, and filling. Lewis Herman eloquently sums up this aesthetic: 24
Care must be taken that every hole is plugged; that every loose string is tied together; that every entrance and exit is fully motivated, and that they are not made for some obviously contrived reason; that every coincidence is sufficiently motivated to make it credible; that there is no conflict between what has gone on before, what is going on currently, and what will happen in the future; that there is complete consistency between present dialogue and past action-that no baffling question marks are left over at the end of the picture to detract from the audience's appreciation of it.
What would narrative cinema without personalized causation be like? We have some examples (in Miklós Jancsó, Ozu, Robert Bresson, Soviet films of the 1920s), but we can find others. Erich Von Stroheim's Greed (1924) shows that a Naturalist causal scheme is incompatible with the classical model: the characters cannot achieve their goals, and causality is in the hands of nature and not people. From another angle, Brecht's ruminations upon Aristotelian dramaturgy suggest that causality could be taken out of the power of the individual character. 'The attention and interest that the spectator brings to causality must be directed toward the law governing the movements of the masses.' 25 It is also possible to view Brecht's theories as leading toward a narrative which interrupts the action to represent actions that might have happened, thus revealing the determinism that underlies psychologically motivated causality in the classical narrative. 26 Even when personal causation remains central to a film, however, there is still the possibility of making it more ambiguous and less linear; characters may lack clear-cut traits and definite goals, and the film's events may be loosely linked or left open-ended. Chapter 30 will examine how these qualities become significant in the postwar European 'art cinema.'
Understanding classical story causality takes us toward grasping how a classical film unifies itself. Generally speaking, this unity is a matter of motivation. Motivation is the process by which a narrative justifies its story material and the plot's presentation of that story material. If the film depicts a flashback, the jump back in time can be attributed to a character's memory; the act of remembering thus motivates the flashback.
Motivation may be of several sorts. 27 One is compositional: certain elements must be present if the story is to proceed. A story involving a theft requires a cause for the theft and an object to be stolen. The classical causal factors we have reviewed constitute compositional motivation. A second sort of motivation is realistic motivation. Many narrative elements are justified on grounds of verisimilitude. In a film set in nineteenth-century London, the sets, props, costumes, etc. will typically be motivated realistically. Realistic motivation extends to what we will consider plausible about the narrative action: in *The Black Hand, Gio's quest for revenge is presented as 'realistic, ' given his personality and circumstances. Thirdly, we can identify intertextual motivation. Here the story (or the plot's representation of it) is justified on the grounds of the conventions of certain classes of art works. For example, we often assume that a Hollywood film will end happily simply because it is a Hollywood film. The star can also supply intertextual motivation: if Marlene Dietrich is in the film, we can expect that at some point she will sing a cabaret song. The most common sort of intertextual motivation is generic. Spontaneous singing in a film musical may have little compositional or realistic motivation, but it is justified by the conventions of the genre. 28 There is, finally, a rather special sort of motivation, artistic motivation, which I shall discuss later.
It should be evident that several types of motivation may cooperate to justify any given item in the narrative. The flashback could be motivated compositionally (giving us essential story information), realistically (proceeding from a character's memory), and intertextually (occurring in a certain kind of film, say a 1940s 'woman's melodrama'). Gio's search for revenge is likewise justified as compositionally necessary, psychologically plausible, and generically conventional. Multiple motivation is one of the most characteristic ways that the classical film unifies itself.
The Hollywood film uses compositional motivation to secure a basic coherence. Compositional motivation is furnished by all the principles of causality I have already mentioned-psychological traits, goal orientation, romance, and so on. Realistic motivation typically cooperates with the compositional sort. When Fatso alludes to Maggio as 'Guys like you, ' the film appeals to the audience's sense of a culturally codified type. At certain moments, realistic motivation can override causal motivation. In T-Men (1948), a Treasury agent passing counterfeit money is trapped because one counterfeiter recognizes the bill as the work of a man in jail. This is coincidental, but the film's semidocumentary prologue motivates this as realistic: it 'really happened' in the case upon which the film was modeled.
More commonly, compositional motivation outweighs realistic motivation. Gérard Genette has explained that in poetics the classical theory of the vraisemblable depends upon a distinction between things as they are and things as they should ideally be; only the latter are fit for artistic imitation. 29 In Hollywood cinema, verisimilitude usually supports compositional motivation by making the chain of causality seem plausible. Realism, writes one scenarists' manual, 'exists in the photoplay merely as an auxiliary to significance-not as an object in itself.' 30 Frances Marion claims that the strongest illusion of reality comes from tight causal motivation: 'In order that the motion picture may convey the illusion of reality that audiences demand, the scenario writer stresses motivation-that is, he makes clear a character's reason for doing whatever he does that is important.' 31 Classical Hollywood narrative thus often uses realism as an alibi, a supplementary justification for material already motivated causally. When the photographer-hero of Rear Window (1954) is attacked, he uses flashbulbs to dazzle the intruder: the realistic motivation (a photographer would 'naturally' think of flashbulbs) reinforces the causal one (he must delay the attacker somehow). Or, as Hitchcock put it: 'It's really a matter of
utilizing your material to the fullest dramatic extent.' 32
Intertextual, particularly generic, motivation can also occasionally run afoul of compositional motivation. If Marlene Dietrich is expected to sing, her song can be more or less causally motivated. In Busby Berkeley's musicals, the story action grinds to a halt when a lavish musical number takes over. The melodrama genre often flouts causal logic and relies shamelessly upon coincidence. In *Mr. Skeffington (1944), for instance, Fanny and George watch a war newsreel and just happen to see her lost brother in it. Comedy justifies even a non-diegetic commentary, such as the drawing of an egg used to symbolize the failed show in The Band Wagon (1953). Yet obviously such operations do not radically disunify the films, since each genre creates its own rules, and the spectator judges any given element in the light of its appropriateness to generic conventions.
On the whole, generic motivation cooperates with causal, or compositional, unity. Genres are in one respect certain kinds of stories, endowed with their own particular logic that does not contest psychological causality or goal-orientation. (The Westerner seeks revenge, the gangster hero seeks power and success, the chorus girl works for the big break.) Multiple motivation-causal logic reinforced by generic convention-is again normal operating procedure.
A simple example from the history of Hollywood lighting shows how complicated the interplay of various kinds of motivation can be. Lighting was of course strongly motivated compositionally: salient causal factors-the characters-had to be clearly visible, while minor elements (e.g., the rear walls of a set) had to be less prominent. As usual, this compositional need overrode 'realism, ' so that light sources were often not justified realistically. (Examples of such unrealistic lighting would be the edge lighting of figures or day-for-night shooting.) But after the mid-1920s, lighting was coded generically as well. Comedy was lit 'high-key' (that is, with a high ratio of key plus fill light to fill light alone), while horror and crime films were lit 'low-key.' 33 The latter practice was considered more 'realistic, ' since one could justify harsh low-key lighting as coming from visible sources in the scene (e.g., a lamp or candle). By means of this generic association with 'realism, ' filmmakers began to apply low-key lighting to other genres. Sirk's melodramas of the 1950s are sometimes lit in a sombre low key, while Billy Wilder's Love in the Afternoon (1957) elicited comment for using low-key lighting for a comedy. 34 Thus the appeal to 'realism' changed some generic conventions.
Specifying these three types of motivation can clarify some murky narrative issues in the classical cinema. For example, overtly psychotherapeutic films of the 1940s might seem 'unclassical' in that they present inconsistent character action. The neurotic and psychotic characters of Shadow of a Doubt (1943), The Lodger (1944), Spellbound (1945), The Locket (1946), et al., would seem evidence for a less linear, more complex relation between mind and behavior than that operating in earlier classical films. In his analysis of 'Freudian' films of the period, the French critic Marc Vernet has shown that such films none the less respected classical dramaturgy. 35 We can subsume his explanations to the types of motivation we have already considered. First, psychoanalytic explanations of character behavior were motivated as a new 'realism, ' a scientifically justified psychology. (That such a 'realism' was itself a vulgarization of Freudian concepts does not affect its status as verisimilitude for the period.) Secondly, certain aspects of psychoanalysis fitted generic models. Hollywood films stressed the cathartic method of psychoanalysis (not important for Freud after 1890) because of its analogy to conventions of the mystery film. The doctor's questioning recalls police interrogations (the patient as witness or crook who won't talk). Like the detective, the doctor must reveal the secret (the trauma) and extract the confession. One could add to Vernet's account that the subjective points of view and expressionistic distortions in many of these films also hark back to generically codified treatments of madness in the cinema of the 1920s. Most important, the vulgarized psychoanalytic concepts in the films of the 1940s respected the causal unity required by compositional motivation. In The Locket, Shadow of a Doubt, Guest in the House (1944), Spellbound, Citizen Kane (1941), and others, the childhood trauma functions as the first cause in what Vernet calls 'a linear determinism of childhood history.' 36 This is not to say that such films do not pose important
narrative problems, but we need to recognize that Hollywood's use of Freudian psychology was highly selective and distorting, trimming and thinning psychoanalytic concepts to fit an existing model of clear characterization and causality. This can be seen in Kings Row (1942), which overtly thematizes psychoanalysis as a science (the protagonist goes to Vienna to study this new discipline) and yet ends with a chorus singing, 'I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.'
I have already suggested that compositional, generic, and realistic motivation do not always work in perfect unison, and I shall examine some typical dissonances in Chapter 7. But these are exceptional. Normally, any element of a classical film is justified in one or more of these ways. When it is not, it may be subsumable to yet another sort of motivation, one usually (if awkwardly) called 'artistic' motivation. By this term, Russian Formalist critics meant to point out that a component may be justified by its power to call attention to the system within which it operates. This in turn presupposes that calling attention to a work's own artfulness is one aim of many artistic traditions-a presupposition that challenges the notion that Hollywood creates an 'invisible' or 'transparent' representational regime. Within specific limits, Hollywood films do indeed employ artistic motivation in order, as the Formalists would put it, to make palpable the conventionality of art. 37
Hollywood has eagerly employed spectacle and technical virtuosity as means of artistic motivation. 'Showmanship' consists to a considerable extent of making the audience appreciate the artificiality of what is seen. Early talkies were especially prone to slip in a song for the slightest reasons. A distant historical period often serves as a pretext for pageantry, crowd scenes, and lascivious dancing. Hollywood producers allotted time and money to create responses such as that triggered by the costumes in The Great Ziegfeld (1936): 'The designer and the producer of the picture felt that the expenditure was more than justified when the first appearance of the costumes brought exclamations of delight from the audience.' 38
Flagrant technical virtuosity can also contribute to spectacle. What Parker Tyler called Hollywood's 'narcissism of energy' applies as much to cameramen as to Fred Astaire, Buster Keaton, or Sonja Henje. 39 In the silent cinema, complex and daring lighting effects; in the sound cinema, depth of field and byzantine camera movements; in all periods, exploitation of special effects-all testify to a pursuit of virtuosity for its own sake, even if only a discerning minority of viewers might take notice. During the 1940s, for example, there was something of a competition to see how complicated and lengthy the cinematographer could make his tracking shots. 40 This impulse can be seen not only in famous films like Rope (1948) but also in very minor films with one striking shot, such as *Casbah (1948), at the climax of which the camera smoothly follows the hero, moves down an airport crowd, picks up the heroine (fig 2.1), follows her into the plane (figs 2.2 to 2.4), and settles down beside her seat, while the hero gets arrested outside (fig 2.5). It is probable that such casual splendors offered by the Hollywood film owe a great deal to its mixed parentage in vaudeville, melodrama, and other spectacle-centered entertainments. Nevertheless, digressions and flashes of virtuosity remain for the most part motivated by narrative causality (the Casbah example) or genre (pageantry in the historical film, costume in the musical). If spectacle is not so motivated, its function as artistic motivation will be isolated and intermittent.
Artistic motivation can emphasize the artificiality of other art works; this is usually accomplished through the venerable practice of parody. Hollywood has, of course, never shrunk from parody. In Animal Crackers (1930), Groucho Marx shows up the soliloquys in Strange Interlude, while in Hellzapoppin (1941), Olson and Johnson mock Kane's Rosebud sled. In *My Favorite Brunette (1947), Ronnie Johnson tells Sam McCloud he wants to be a tough detective like Alan Ladd; McCloud is played by Alan Ladd. Parody need not always be so clearly comic. At the climax of The Studio Murder Mystery (1929), the Hollywood montage sequence is parodied when the director explains at gunpoint what will happen after he kills Tony: 'Quick fade out. Next, headlines in the morning papers.' The following exchange from The Locket (1946) parodies the already mannered conventions of the psychoanalytic film of the 1940s. The doctor's wife has just returned from a movie.
Nancy: I had a wonderful time. I'm all goose pimples.
Dr Blair: A melodrama?
Nancy: Yes, it was ghastly. You ought to see it, Henry. It's about a schizophrenic who kills his wife and doesn't know it.
Dr Blair (laughing): I'm afraid that wouldn't be much of a treat for me.
Nancy: That's where you're wrong. You'd never guess how it turns out. Now it may not be sound psychologically, but the wife's father is one of the…
Dr Blair: Darling, do you mind? You can tell me later.
When an art work uses artistic motivation to call attention to its own particular principles of construction, the process is called 'laying bare the device.' 41* Hollywood films often flaunt aspects of their own working in this way.
42 In Angels Over Broadway (1940), a drunken playwright agrees to help a suicidally inclined man get money and thus to 'rewrite' the man's 'last act.' The playwright then looks out at the audience and says musingly: 'Our present plot problem is money.' In von Stroheim's Foolish Wives (1922), the susceptible Mrs Hughes reads a book, Foolish Wives, by one Erich von Stroheim. In His Girl Friday (1939), as Walter starts fast-talking Hildy into staying with the newspaper, she begins to mimic an auctioneer's patter; this not only mocks Walter but foregrounds speech rhythm as a central device in the film. The show-business milieux of the musical film make it especially likely to bare its devices. The 'You were meant for me' number in Singin' in the Rain (1952) shows Don Lockwood staging his own spontaneous song; the way he sets up romantic lighting, mist, and backdrops calls attention to the conventional staging of such songs. An even more flagrant baring of this device occurs in 'Somewhere there's a someone' in A Star Is Born (1954).
Classical films are especially likely to bare the central principle of causal linearity. In *One Touch of Nature (1917), when the hero succeeds as a baseball player, an expository title dryly remarks: 'In the course of human events, we come logically to the deciding game of a World's Series.' In *The Miracle Woman (1931), a despairing writer is about to commit suicide because, having received a rejection slip from Ziegler Company, he exclaims: 'I've tried them all from A to Z. What comes after Z?' He hears an evangelist's radio broadcast and resolves to try again: 'What comes after Z? A!' *A Woman of the World (1925), contains an amusing image of the story's own unwinding. Near the beginning of the film, two old women sit on porch rockers gossiping and knitting, with their balls of yarn smaller each time we see them. At the film's end, the camera shows the chairs rocking, now empty, and the yarn all gone.
Hollywood's use of artistic motivation imputes a considerable alertness to the viewer: in order to appreciate certain moments, one must know and remember another film's story, or a star's habitual role, or a standard technique. To some extent, artistic motivation develops a connoisseurship in the classical spectator. Yet most artistic traditions show off their formal specificity in some way. We must ask what limits classical cinema imposes on artistic motivation. Generally, moments of pure artistic motivation are rare and brief in classical films. Compositional motivation leaves little room for it, while generic motivation tends to account for many flagrant instances. Indeed, baring the device has become almost conventional in certain genres. Comedies are more likely to contain such outré scenes as that in The Road to Utopia (1945), in which Bing Crosby and Bob Hope, mushing across the Alaskan wilds, see the Paramount logo in the distance. Likewise, the melodrama is likely to contain a shot like that in The Fountainhead (1949), in which two characters stand at opposite edges of the frame (fig 2.6) while the woman asserts: 'This is not a tie but a gulf between us.' In His Girl Friday, Walter can describe Bruce (Ralph Bellamy) as looking like Ralph Bellamy, but in Sunrise at Campobello (1960), no one notices FDR's resemblance to the same actor.
Preston Sturges's *Sin of Harold Diddlebock (1947) permits us to watch compositional motivation take artistic motivation firmly in hand. The opening scene of the film is silent and is announced to be from Harold Lloyd's The Freshman. But this fairly overt reminder of the work's conventionality is undermined by the covert insertion of shots not from the original film. These interposed shots, filmed by Sturges, show a businessman watching the football game. The businessman is compositionally necessary, since he will offer Harold a job in the next scene, but remotivating The Freshman's opening to
create a smooth causal link between the two films tones down the silent segment's distinct, palpably conventional qualities.
The classical cinema, then, does not use artistic motivation constantly through the film, as Ozu does in An Autumn Afternoon (1962) or as Sergei Eisenstein does in Ivan the Terrible (1945). It does not bare its devices repeatedly and systematically, as Michael Snow does in La région centrale (1967) or Jean-Luc Godard does in Sauve qui peut (la vie) (1980). Compositional motivation for the sake of story causality remains dominant.