Thursday 3 September 2009

Subversion of Expectation

Thursday's rolled around so fast, so time for another bit of practical homework. Subversion of Expectation is one of the absolute golden rules of Western Drama - I don't know why this is or when it began. Certainly in previous eras in Britain, and still today in other cultures, the idea of lying to the audience was/is anathema. You didn't stand up to sing the jolly minstrel ballad, only to reveal that actually the Squire's a decent bloke after all, his wife was just misled and the gypsy lover was a lying scumbag.

These days though, the worst abuse you can heap on a story is 'Well, I saw that coming'. People want the twist, the character turn, the sudden reveal (as long as its earned). This of course makes our life harder and harder, because not only do we have to find those twists and turns and subversions, but as our audiences grow ever more cynical and story-savvy, we have to be able to make them convincing but invisible. It's no longer enough to set up the unpopular, ugly, scruffy character as our perp, only to find it was the golden boy what dunnit after all.

Whatever your opinion of The Bill as a whole (and please don't express it here, cause obviously I'm emotionally attached), watch an episode and see how week upon week they pull this off, usually to great effect. Three ad breaks in an hour, and just before each there's a neat plot twist where it turns out everything we believed in the last fifteen minutes has been turned upside down. It's incredibly difficult to achieve, especially given the self-imposed narrative strictures of the police p.o.v. and the limited guest cast budget.

But that's not the homework; the homework is to observe how startling it can be to totally break the rule of Subversion of Expectation - the film I've chosen to demonstrate it is 'A Room For Romeo Brass', Shane Meadows' second major feature. I'm not going to give any spoilers out here, just recommend you watch it with a writer's eye and enjoy the sheer ballsiness of Meadows' refusal to kowtow to such a fundamental dramatic law and pull it off (Although he does cheat ever so slightly with one character, but I would still argue that their action is 'expected', just not in the manner in which it plays out).

And now I'm going to take a stab at my own small act of subversion by hitting a deadline tomorrow.

Enjoy 'Romeo Brass' and don't have nightmares

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