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How Important Is Formula To You?


Palmerin
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FXM played today--14 August 2015--TROUBLE MAN, which Medved regards as one of the Fifty Worst Films Of All Time. It's not a badly made movie; Robert Hooks is quite good in the title role, and the cast includes such future luminaries as Ralph Waite and Paul Winfield playing the heavies. Its fault is that it's strictly formulaic in characterization, storytelling, dialogue, music, etc.

How important is formula to you? The average person seems to find comfort in a familiar predictable formula. Gabby Hayes once complained that his Westerns were all alike--id est, they adhered to a very recognizable formula that often lacked originality--, yet those said Westerns were very successful with the public.

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FXM played today--14 August 2015--TROUBLE MAN, which Medved regards as one of the Fifty Worst Films Of All Time. It's not a badly made movie; Robert Hooks is quite good in the title role, and the cast includes such future luminaries as Ralph Waite and Paul Winfield playing the heavies. Its fault is that it's strictly formulaic in characterization, storytelling, dialogue, music, etc.

How important is formula to you? The average person seems to find comfort in a familiar predictable formula. Gabby Hayes once complained that his Westerns were all alike--id est, they adhered to a very recognizable formula that often lacked originality--, yet those said Westerns were very successful with the public.

 

Great topic.   In the noir forums something similar was discussed related to the noir film The Narrow Margin.

 

As you note the polarizing factors are themes,  storylines, characters,  style, etc.. that are familiar to the viewers on one side (and well received if one likes these) with lack of originality,  suspense (since we know what is coming)  and sometimes just boring, on the other side. 

 

I would say a well done formulaic film is something I enjoy when I'm into that style (e.g. Noir,  screwball comedies),  but a very original movie (one that pushes the boundaries of a formula or even breaks them),  are the masterpieces of film history.

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Great topic.   In the noir forums something similar was discussed related to the noir film The Narrow Margin.

 

As you note the polarizing factors are themes,  storylines, characters,  style, etc.. that are familiar to the viewers on one side (and well received if one likes these) with lack of originality,  suspense (since we know what is coming)  and sometimes just boring, on the other side. 

 

I would say a well done formulaic film is something I enjoy when I'm into that style (e.g. Noir,  screwball comedies),  but a very original movie (one that pushes the boundaries of a formula or even breaks them),  are the masterpieces of film history.

Well, I guess there's formula then there's FORMULA.

I had a differing interpretation to what the OP meant by formula.  James, you are looking at 'traditions' which could be described as formula.  I was looking at formula as hackneyed script conventions.

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How important is formula to you? The average person seems to find comfort in a familiar predictable formula. Gabby Hayes once complained that his Westerns were all alike--id est, they adhered to a very recognizable formula that often lacked originality--, yet those said Westerns were very successful with the public.

 

Depends on the formula, and depends on how good the movie is independent of that.  But I do admit to a lot of bias.

 

I'll put it this way:  I automatically give any noir or mob movie a presumptive 7 on a 10 scale, and then go up or down from there depending on all the other factors.  Other standard genre movies don't get off so easily on that same 10 scale:

 

Westerns start with about a 4 

 

(Gary Cooper movies of any type start with about a -2)

 

Pre-codes start with about a 5 or 6

 

Musicals start with about a 3 or 4

 

Costume dramas and swashbucklers start with about a 1

 

Other historical biopics start with about a 2

 

Corporate dramas start with about a 6 or 7

 

Screwballs start with about a 5 or 6

 

(Screwballs of the Hope / Skelton / Jerry Lewis type begin and end with a zero)

 

Neo-realist and early New Wave movies start with about an 8

 

American war movies start with about a 4, but foreign made war movies start with about a 7 or 8

 

And so on.  But every genre / formula other than costume dramas, swashbucklers and historical biopic have at least a few 10's in there, and there are a few forgettable noirs I'd give about a 2 or 3 to.  But for the most part my thoughts about most movies reflect at least a bit of my formula preferences.

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I wouldn't equate formula with the idea of genre or style. The latter two categories can vary widely within themselves. Formula is more restrictive. Two recent watches, The Window and Beware My Lovely are formula and I gave up the latter altogether---maybe I was too hasty---but I wasn't in the mood for a woman trapped in the house with a loony tune---Robert Ryan and Ida Lupino notwithstanding. There are mitigating factors to the utter predictability of formula movies but on the whole I am wary of them.

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I wouldn't equate formula with the idea of genre or style. The latter two categories can vary widely within themselves. Formula is more restrictive. Two recent watches, The Window and Beware My Lovely are formula and I gave up the latter altogether---maybe I was too hasty---but I wasn't in the mood for a woman trapped in the house with a loony tune---Robert Ryan and Ida Lupino notwithstanding. There are mitigating factors to the utter predictability of formula movies but on the whole I am wary of them.

 

I don't always equate genre and formula, but in my viewing experience nearly every genre has its own pet formula that it will usually more or less follow.  The extent to which some movies within these genres deviate from the formula is usually the extent to which the movie goes up in my estimation.  Those "starting" estimates below reflect what I'd give the average movie within each genre that adhere strictly to its formula without adding anything extra in outstanding acting or memorable characters. 

 

Kiss of Death, for example, is in many ways a standard formula noir, with the "good bad" guy (Mature) trying to go straight but stymied by the "bad bad" guy (Widmark).  Nothing really unusual about the plot or the acting level of Mature or Donlevy, but Widmark's inspired Tommy Udo adds an entire extra dimension to the film and puts it right up there in the 9 to 10 range, exceeded only by the likes of The Killers, Out of the Past, Nightmare Alley, and a few others like them.  Judy Garland and James Mason do the same for the 1954 version of A Star Is Born, bringing that movie infinitely above the level of your typically sappy 50's musical.  By the time Garland says "This is Mrs. Norman Maine", I'd almost forgotten that it was a musical at all.

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I don't always equate genre and formula, but in my viewing experience nearly every genre has its own pet formula that it will usually more or less follow.  The extent to which some movies within these genres deviate from the formula is usually the extent to which the movie goes up in my estimation.  Those "starting" estimates below reflect what I'd give the average movie within each genre that adhere strictly to its formula without adding anything extra in outstanding acting or memorable characters. 

 

Kiss of Death, for example, is in many ways a standard formula noir, with the "good bad" guy (Mature) trying to go straight but stymied by the "bad bad" guy (Widmark).  Nothing really unusual about the plot or the acting level of Mature or Donlevy, but Widmark's inspired Tommy Udo adds an entire extra dimension to the film and puts it right up there in the 9 to 10 range, exceeded only by the likes of The Killers, Out of the Past, Nightmare Alley, and a few others like them.  Judy Garland and James Mason do the same for the 1954 version of A Star Is Born, bringing that movie infinitely above the level of your typically sappy 50's musical.  By the time Garland says "This is Mrs. Norman Maine", I'd almost forgotten that it was a musical at all.

 

Giving the idea behind formula a wider berth as you do (which is fine) makes the idea less significant to me because it can be easily overcome by other factors, so much so that the formula aspect is completely dissolved, or at least less noticeable. My two examples (The Window and Beware My Lovely) are similar in formula, that classic will the weak ovecome the strong with all endless close calls and with a sure knowledge how it will end, the weak will survive, is tired for me. The Window is saved by the boy actor Driscoll and i got through that okay. The other I may try again, but I find these types things wearisome. I felt like killing Robert Ryan. I didn't want to have to watch him torture that woman. But that type of formula is what I consider a good example, tired and old (though perhaps not at the time). Actually the broader idea of formula is very interesting and ARE used over and over and it's the mark of a good movie to overcome it. After all, there is nothing new under the sun, but you can tweak it to make it look original.

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Well, I think it helps to look at this not just via film but through every type of art or form of expression because not one of them is immune to it. In music, a waltz is always a waltz but depending upon the quality of the writing and on how it's arranged and performed it can become something greater.

 

Genre and formula aren't the same thing but make no mistake - most genres are predicated on formulas.

 

When I watch a musical comedy, I know I'm likely to encounter a mistaken identity plot but the humor and the caliber of performers and songs, the precise placement and control of those elements, can reinvigorate a familiar concept.

 

Film noir isn't any different, people just treat it differently because it's "serious." Most noir are just as superficial as the average musical comedy (it's true, it's true.) You're just exchanging ideals of sophistication and romance for boilerplate cynicism and "darkness" and delirious Technicolor abstraction for shadowy B&W abstraction.

 

The great Japanese filmmaker Yasujiro Ozu (the man in my avatar) focused the rest of his career after World War II rearranging the highly familiar elements in his films in unique, fun, and often powerfully effective ways (and make no mistake here - Ozu didn't make "art films," he worked in commercial genres, in precisely the same type of conditions that our guys like Ford and Hawks did.)

 

There's absolutely nothing wrong with enjoying a formula. For many people, it's just one part of a rich and varied interest in film.

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FXM played today--14 August 2015--TROUBLE MAN, which Medved regards as one of the Fifty Worst Films Of All Time. It's not a badly made movie; Robert Hooks is quite good in the title role, and the cast includes such future luminaries as Ralph Waite and Paul Winfield playing the heavies. Its fault is that it's strictly formulaic in characterization, storytelling, dialogue, music, etc.

How important is formula to you? The average person seems to find comfort in a familiar predictable formula. Gabby Hayes once complained that his Westerns were all alike--id est, they adhered to a very recognizable formula that often lacked originality--, yet those said Westerns were very successful with the public.

Any movie with a title song by Marvin Gaye can't be all that bad.

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It's interesting.  None of the recent romantic movies that I've liked have been remotely forumlaic.  Yet I've been strongly moved by romances in television comedies that are patently formulaic.  I suspect part of the reason may be that television shows, although filled with utter dross, can tell us more about a romantic couple than an ordinary movie.

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It's interesting.  None of the romantic movies that I've liked have been remotely forumlaic.  Yet I've been strongly moved by romances in television comedies that are patently formulaic.  I suspect part of the reason may be that television shows, although filled with utter dross, can tell us more about a romantic couple than an ordinary movie.

 

So your favorite romantic movies don't follow the boy meets girl,  boy loses girl,  boy gets back girl formula?   

 

I didn't know they made any romantic movies other than those.   ;)

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So your favorite romantic movies don't follow the boy meets girl,  boy loses girl,  boy gets back girl formula?   

 

I didn't know they made any romantic movies other than those.   ;)

 

Perhaps I should have been clearer that I was referring to recent romantic movies.  But I should point out they do make boy meets girl, boy loses girl, and then boy ultimately loses her forever.  Examples of these movies that have a particularly strong attraction to me included Tess, The World of Apu and Paris, Texas.  Manhattan and Annie Hall are only slightly lighter variations on the theme.  (Oddly enough a recent TV comedy has adapted this theme with the added touch that the relationship will never have existed, to make it more palatable for the successful suitor.)  In this century there is the unconsummated delirium of In the Mood for Love,  Marisa Tomei's destroyed romance in In the Bedroom, the borderline sociopathy of Punch-Drunk Love, the divided couple of The Weeping Meadow, the motif of reincarnation in Tropical Malady, and the desire at the heart of solipsism in The Eternal Sunshine of the Sleepless Mind.  There is the very hard won happy ending in A Very Long Engagement, the reliable intelligence of The Romance of Astrea and Celadon, the extraordinary beauty of The New World and To the Wonder, and the collapsing relationship of Regular Lovers enlivened by the Kinks' "This Time Tomorrow," and vestiges of love.  There is the remarkable charm of Moonrise Kingdom, the puzzles behind Certified Copy, the strange enthusiasms of Bellflower, as well as the remarkable autopsy in An Oversimplification of her Beauty.  And there is wonderful combination of eroticism and psychological depth in Blue in the Warmest Color, the subtle touches in The Wind Rises, and Scarlett Johansson's ineffable voice in Her.

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