Boyhood and Victoria; structural and formatic 'braveness' and the link to dull intertia


Though there may appear to be a growing number of structurally or formatically unique films (lets call them UFFs: Unique Format Films, mainly because who doesn't love a good acronym?), really they've always been here. Hitchcock's Rope is the most commonly cited example, but copious other examples are on offer of directors playing with established film convention.

Recent darlings of the idea in action include Birdman, Boyhood and Victoria. The latter two rankle in particular.

Victoria, in setting up its one take narrative, asks us to spend the opening salvo of the film (a good forty minutes) in the company of four drunk, generally unlikeable characters. If you've been sober in the company of drunk friends then you probably know the feeling. It's unlikely that you'll want to sit through it again.

Boyhood takes a different route to formatic innovation, by filming the same actors over an eleven year production period. The actor's development is linked to the character's... which is to say that they grow old and experience the mundanity of life (divorce, college, etc.). As some fellow sceptic said at the time (on Twitter, and I'm struggling to remember exactly who it was): 'it's easy to produce a film filmed over eleven years, if your only aim is to produce a film filmed over eleven years'.

The approach taken by both films ruins the established structure of a fiction by forcing you to confront the mundanity of reality and, as such, they largely fail.

Think about it. Thor, as featured in the Marvel films, probably needs to go to the loo every so often. During the course of The Hustler there's a period where Paul Newman's character must be asleep. Inside Llewyn Davis features a drive which, in real time, takes around twelve hours. We don't see any of those things because, largely, they are too boring for fiction.

Films are highly edited, asestheticised views of our world - that's why we like them. They pull together the entertaining bits, the frightening bits, the sad bits and the happy bits into two hours that matter.

To achieve their formatic 'braveness' Victoria and Boyhood make compromises when it comes to this approach and do little else of interest. They may be dressed up as daring and unique artistic choices, packaged into a reason to see the film, but ultimately they deny the film the success which could have been achieved if only the filmmakers weren't as constrained by their new shiny USP.

Would Victoria lose anything if the opening had been a tightly edited fifteen minutes of establishing the lead character as alone and somewhat lost in a foreign city, desperate for connection? When you look beyond the timescales of its production, is Boyhood really a compelling story, worthy of the praise it received from many quarters?

I would argue not. The UFFs, in my book, can largely uff off.



By Sam Turner. Sam is editor of Film Intel, and can usually be found behind a keyboard with a cup of tea. He likes entertaining films and dislikes the other kind. He's on , Twitter and several places even he doesn't yet know about.

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