My copy of Robert Towne’s screenplay of Chinatown has a foreword from the man himself; An essay on the role of the screenplay in the film-making process and the importance of movement by actors. Here are a few noteworthy excerpts from that foreword.
“But it has always struck me that in movies, far more than in any other dramatic medium movement, not simply action, is the most defining of character.”
“Consider Fonda in Clementine again. His way of moving embodied paradox: at once awkward and graceful, diffident yet full of purpose, his ambling walk would shift effortlessly – like a powerful thoroughbred changing gaits to a long stride straight and relentless as a plumbine.”
“No one, I think, can really say what makes an effective screenplay because no one really knows what makes a screenplay effective. Certainly part of the problem stems from the fact that screenplays can’t be judged by reading them. They may read well or badly but that often says more about the reader than the screenplay.
The only way a screenplay can be evaluated, almost by definition is not on the page, but by viewing the movie it caused to be made. It certainly can be read and even enjoyed, but you’re stuck with the inescapable fact that it was written to be seen.”
The first quote is the one that stuck with me. Movement is the most important character aspect on the screen. It is fitting. Movies are moving pictures after all. The words on the page help the actor internalize the character and bring them to life.
1984’s Ghostbusters relies on the gifts of its talented acting staff, in particular Bill Murray. Murray is known for his one-liners and comedy. His movement is as essential as his voice to getting the audience behind Peter Venkman.
The “manic gleam” and “underlying instability” (this latter of the two would be considered cheating by an old writing professor of mine) are the information the page gives to the reader on the Peter Venkman character.
The scene flows well on the page, but is so much funnier on the screen.
I watched the scene with the sound off and watched all the little nuances he put into his performance. The little smiles he gives to the blonde Co-Ed. His eyes go wide when he’s talking to her. He’s encouraging her as he talks. He feigns amazement at her answers. Contrast that to how quickly he turns the cards around for the guy. He relishes in the electroshocks he gives the guy. He moves his hand over slowly and pretends like he’s not going to shock him. He moves his eyebrows to get the co-ed’s attention. Winks at her and Then he shock the kid. With no sound, it’s apparent that he wants the guy to go and for the co-ed to spend some time with him.
This is a just a damn good introductory scene because we’re given information about the supernatural and introduced to a character in a unique humorous way. By the end of the scene, we know Venkman. We can’t wait to see this guy bust some ghosts