The Craft of Writing: Cinema, Constrained
Film R1A Section 001 | CCN: 31603
P. G. Ellis
“Rules themselves create fictions.” —Roger Caillois
Characterized as a “stunt” by the director, Hitchcock’s Rope (1948) used long takes and obscured cuts to produce what appeared to many contemporaneous writers to be a single, seamless shot. This experiment in constraint-based filmmaking was voluntary, but many equivalent circumscriptions were imposed—by, for instance, the limits of film production technologies, studio provisions, or adaptive obligations. In this class, we will explore the give and take between the expansion of filmmakers’ aesthetic options and their subsequent delimiting through self-imposed constraints, obstructions, and parameters.
Our readings will take advantage of the broad resurgence of interest in constraint-based arts that the French writing group Oulipo has engendered. Along the way, we will return to themes of game-playing, conceptual writing, film adaptation, and the dicta of the film manifesto.
The film screenings in this class, in addition to providing examples of constraint-based strategies, function by analogy: essay writing, too, requires the author to abide by many constraints—stylistic and formal constraints determined by audience, venue, publication, and profession. Here, we examine constraints as productive models for approaching writing during your careers at Berkeley. By the end of the class, you will be equipped to venture analytical arguments with the appropriate media vocabulary and will have done so in several essays. The generative techniques for writing that you will have acquired will be applicable in any discipline.