Friday, August 18, 2017

Animated Films at the U.S. Box Office, 1980-2016: The Stats

Considering the stats on the action film (such films now typically six of the ten top-grossing films in a given year), I naturally found myself wondering--what about the other four? Naturally I thought of animated films--and again noticed a trend that exploded a little later. In the '80s there was not a single animated feature in the top ten of any year, apart from the partial exception of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988). (Even the celebrated The Little Mermaid only made the #13 spot.) However, starting with 1991's Beauty and the Beast it became common in the '90s for there to be at least one such film in the top ten (six years had at least one, for an average of 0.8), much more standard in the 2000s (1.7 films a year, with 2008 having four such movies), and yet again in the 2010s. Every single year from 2010 on has had at least one, every year but 2011 at least two, and 2010 an amazing five of the top ten--clearly, at the expense of the action movies which had an especially poor showing that year.

In the 2010s that means that between the action movies, and the animated films, together accounting for eight to nine of the top ten movies in any given year, they pretty much have the uppermost reaches of the box office monopolized in a way that no two genres have ever had before, so far as I can tell. That one to two spots at most? One is often taken up by something similar--like a live-action version of an animated hit of yesteryear's (like 2014's Maleficent or 2015's Cinderella), leaving at most one other for any and everything else, from adult-oriented comedies (like 2012's Ted) to the occasional mainstream drama (like 2014's American Sniper).

Feel free to check my data (and my math) for yourself.

The Data Set
1980-1989: 0.
1990-1999: 8. (0.8 a year.)
1991-1: Beauty and the Beast.
1992-1: Aladdin.
1994-1: The Lion King.
1995-2: Toy Story, Pocahontas.
1998-1: A Bug's Life.
1999-2: Toy Story 2, Tarzan.
2000-2009: 17 films (1.7 a year).
2000-0
2001-2: Shrek, Monsters Inc.
2002-1: Ice Age.
2003-1: Finding Nemo.
2004-3: Shrek 2, The Incredibles, Polar Express.
2005-1: Madagascar.
2006-3: Cars, Happy Feet, Ice Age 2.
2007-1: Shrek 3.
2008-4: Wall-E, Kung Fu Panda, Madagascar, Dr. Suess' Horton Hears a Who.
2009-1: Up.
2010-2016: 19 films (2.7 a year).
2010-5: Toy Story 3, Despicable Me, Shrek 4, How to Train Your Dragon, Tangled.
2011-1: Cars 2.
2012-2: Brave, Madagascar 3.
2013-3: Frozen, Despicable Me 2, Monsters University.
2014-2: The LEGO Movie, Big Hero 6.
2015-2: Inside Out, Minions.
2016-4: Finding Dory, The Secret Life of Pets, Zootopia, Sing.

The Action Film Becomes King of the Box Office: Actual Numbers
7/5/17

August 2017

Animated Films at the U.S. Box Office, 1980-2016: The Stats
8/18/17

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

The Action Film Becomes King of the Box Office: Actual Numbers

It seems generally understood that the action movie took off in the '80s, and, while going through some changes (becoming less often R-rated and more often PG-13-rated, setting aside the cops and commandos to focus on fantasy and science fiction themes), captured a bigger and bigger share of the box office until it reached its predominant position today.

Still, this is something people seem to take as a given without generally checking it for themselves, and so I decided to do just that, looking at the ten highest-grossing films of every year from 1980 to the present, as listed by that ever-handy database, BoxOfficeMojo.com.

Of course, this was a trickier endeavor than it might sound. I had to decide, after all, just what to count as an action film. In my particular count I strove to leave aside action-comedies where the accent is on comedy (Stakeout, Kindergarten Cop), sports dramas (the Rocky series), and suspense thrillers (Witness, Silence of the Lambs, Basic Instinct), war films (Saving Private Ryan, Pearl Harbor), historical epics (Titanic) and fantasy and science fiction movies (Harry Potter) that may contain action but strike me as not really being put together as action films. I also left out animated films of all types even when they might have qualified (The Incredibles) to focus solely on live-action features. Some subjectivity was unavoidably involved in determining whether or not films made the cut even so. Still, I generally let myself be guided by BoxOfficeMojo when in doubt, and I suspect that, especially toward the latter part of the period, I undercounted rather than overcounted, and in the process understated just how much the market had shifted in the direction of action films (and to be frank, thought that the safer side to err on).

Ultimately I concluded that 2.2 such films a year were average in the '80s (1980--1989), 3.6 in '90s (1990-1999), 4.8 in the '00s (2000-2009), and 5.4 for the current decade so far (2010-2016). Moreover, discarding the unusual year of 2010 (just 2 action movies), a half dozen action films in the top ten have been the the norm for the last period (2011-2016). This amounts not just to a clear majority of the most-seen movies, but close to triple the proportion seen in the '80s.

Moreover, the upward trend was steady through the whole period. It does not seem insignificant that, while 2 a year were average for the '80s, 1989 was the first year in which the three top spots were all claimed by action movies (Batman, Indiana Jones and Lethal Weapon #1, #2 and #3 respectively). Nor that no year after 1988 had fewer than two such movies in the top ten, and only 3 of the 28 years that followed (1991, 1992 and 2010) had under three. Indeed, during the 2000-2009 period, not one year had less than four movies of the type in its top ten, and after 2010, not one year had under six.

Especially considering that I probably undercounted rather than overcounted, there is no denying the magnitude of that shift by this measure. And while at the moment I have not taken an equally comprehensive approach to the top 20 (which would provide an even fuller picture), my impression is that it would reinforce this assessment, rather than undermine it. If in 1980 we look at the top 20, we still see just one action movie--Empire Strikes Back. But if we do the same in 2016 we add to the six films in the top ten Doctor Strange, Jason Bourne, Star Trek Beyond and X-Men: Apocalypse, four more films (even while we leave out such films as Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and Kung Fu Panda 3).

Anyone who cares to can check my counting below and see if they come up with anything much different.

The Data
1980-1989 average: 22 films (2.2 a year).
1980-top 10 films, only 1 action movie-Empire Strikes Back.
1981-2: Raiders of the Lost Ark and Superman II.
1982-2: Star Trek 2 and 48 HRS.
1983-3: Return of the Jedi, Octopussy, Sudden Impact.
1984-3: Beverly Hills Cop, Indiana Jones, Star Trek 3.
1985-2: Rambo 2, Jewel of the Nile.
1986-2: Top Gun, Aliens.
1987-3: Beverly Hills Cop 2, Lethal Weapon, The Untouchables.
1988-1: Die Hard.
1989-3: Batman, Indiana Jones, Lethal Weapon 2 (all in the top 3 slots, the first time this ever happened).

1990-1999: 36 films (3.6 a year).
1990-4: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Hunt for Red October, Total Recall, Die Hard 2.
1991-2: Terminator 2, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.
1992-2: Batman 2, Lethal Weapon 3.
1993-4: Jurassic Park, The Fugitive, In the Line of Fire, Cliffhanger.
1994-3: True Lies, Clear and Present Danger, Speed.
1995-5: Batman 3, Goldeneye, Die Hard 3, Apollo 13, Jumanji.
1996-4: ID, Twister, Mission: Impossible, The Rock.
1997-5: Men in Black, The Lost World, Air Force One, Star Wars (Episode IV reissue), Tomorrow Never Dies.
1998-4: Armageddon, Rush Hour, Deep Impact, Godzilla.
1999-3: Star Wars: Episode I, The Matrix, The Mummy.

2000-2009: 48 films (4.8 a year).
2000-4: Mission: Impossible 2, Gladiator, A Perfect Storm, X-Men.
2001-5: The Lord of the Rings (LOTR) 1, Rush Hour 2, Mummy, Jurassic 3, The Planet of the Apes.
2002-4: Spiderman, Star Wars: Episode II, LOTR 2, Men In Black 2.
2003-6:  LOTR 3, The Pirates of the Caribbean, The Matrix 2, X-Men 2, Terminator 3, The Matrix 3.
2004-4: Spiderman 2, The Day After Tomorrow, The Bourne Supremacy, National Treasure.
2005-5: Star Wars: Episode III, The War of the Worlds, King Kong, Batman Begins, Mr and Mrs. Smith.
2006-4: Pirates of the Caribbean 2, X-Men: The Last Stand, Superman Returns, Casino Royale.
2007-7: Spiderman 3, The Transformers, Pirates of the Caribbean 3, National Treasure 2, The Bourne Ultimatum, I Am Legend Legend, 300.
2008-5: The Dark Knight, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Iron Man, Hancock, Quantum of Solace.
2009-4: Avatar, Transformers 2, Star Trek, Sherlock Holmes.

2010-2016: 38 films (5.4 a year).
2010-2: Iron Man 2, Inception.
2011-6: Transformers 3, Pirates 4, Fast Five, MI 4, Sherlock 2, Thor.
2012-6: The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises, Hunger Games, Skyfall, Hobbit 1, Spiderman.
2013-6: Hunger Games 2, Iron Man 3, Man of Steel, Hobbit 2, Fast 6, Oz the Great and Powerful.
2014-6: Hunger Games 3, Guardians of the Galaxy, Captain America 2, Hobbit 3, Transformers 4, X-Men: Days of Future Past.
2015-6: Star Wars, Jurassic, Avengers 2, Furious, Hunger Games 4, Specter.
2016-6: Rogue One, Captain America III, Jungle Book, Deadpool, Batman vs. Superman, Suicide Squad.

The Superhero Film Gets a Makeover
6/16/17
Thoughts on the Wonder Woman Movie Actually Happening
6/16/17
On the Historiography of Science Fiction: Info-Dumping and Incluing
6/3/17
Just Out . . . The End of Science Fiction?
11/30/16
Reconsidering Watchmen
5/21/16
The Enduring Superhero Boom
5/21/16
Have Superheroes Taken Over the Box Office?
10/25/15
Just Out. . . (James Bond's Evolution)
10/10/15
Just Out . . . (The Forgotten James Bond)
9/24/15
Just Out: After the New Wave: Science Fiction Today
7/27/15
Preview Cyberpunk, Steampunk and Wizardry
7/9/15
The American Box Office, First Half of 2015
7/6/15
The Decline of the R-Rated Movie
8/11/14
The Decline of the R-Rated Action Movie
8/11/14
My Posts on Superheroes
12/12/12

July 2017

The Action Film Becomes King of the Box Office: Actual Numbers
7/5/17

Friday, June 16, 2017

The Superhero Film Gets a Makeover

As regular readers of this blog (all two of you, unless I'm miscounting by two) know, I have been watching the superhero movie bubble for years expecting it to pop. Of course it hasn't, so far--this, seventeen summers after Bryan Singer's X-Men (2000) (which in turn came a decade after 1989's Batman became the biggest hit of the year, and its franchise the most successful of the 1989-1995 period). And the conventional wisdom seems to be that this longest-running of action movie fashions can go on indefinitely.

I'm less sure of what to think than before. The studios have slates packed with superhero films through 2020, and by now probably beyond it as well, and at this moment I wouldn't care to bet on their shelving those plans because of an untoward change in the market--still less because of three approaches which are proving commercially viable.

R-Rated Superhero Movies
Of course, there have been plenty of R-rated superhero movies before--like the Blade movies, and Wanted and Watchmen. The difference was that they tended to not be made about first-string characters, or given first-rate budgets, with the expectation justified by their small prospect of first-rate grosses.

So did it also go with Deadpool, who was not a first-string character (Deadpool reminds us of this himself, rather crudely, in the early part of the film), and who didn't get the really big budget (Deadpool gabbing endlessly about this too). Rather than original or fresh or subversive (it had nothing on Watchmen here, or even the 2015 reboot of Fantastic Four) it struck me as a mediocre second-stringer, notable only in how heavy on tired independent film-type shtick. Still, the film exploded ($363 million at the U.S. box office, nearly $800 million worldwide--a feat the more impressive for it not having played in the ever-more important Chinese market), and has already had a sort of follow-up in a genuine first-stringer--Wolverine--getting an R-rated film, Logan, earlier this year. (The budget was, again, limited next to the full-blown X-Men movies at under $100 million, but the character and the budget were a bigger investment than Deadpool represented, and with over $600 million banked it seems likely to encourage even bolder moves of this kind later.)

What's going on here?

One possibility is the change in the makeup of the market. It seems that R-rated films (and not just raunchy comedies), while far from where they were in the '80s and even '90s in terms of market share, have done better recently than at any time this century, and superhero films have reflected the turn. (In 2014, American Sniper topped the box office and Gone Girl also did well, while 2015 saw The Revenant and Fifty Shades of Grey become top 20 hits at the American box office, and Mad Max: Fury Road claim the #21 spot.) I might add that reading the Box Office Guru's biweekly reports, I'm struck by how much the audience for recent films has been dominated by the over-25 crowd--younger people perhaps going to the movies less often. (Living life online, while having less access to cars and less money in general, I suspect they don't go to the theater so much as they used to do.) This might make an R-rating less prohibitive than it used to be for an action film producer, perhaps especially in this case. By this point anyone who is twenty-five probably has little memory of a time when the action genre was not dominated by superheroes. They grew up on superheroes, are used to superheroes, and so R-rated films about people with unlikely powers dressed in colorful spandex seem less silly to them, and so not such a tough sell as they would have been once upon a time.

Woman-Centered Superhero Movies
Just as we have had plenty of R-rated superhero movies in the past, we have had plenty of superhero films with female protagonists. The difference was that, as I recently wrote here, while there were movies with female superhero protagonists (Elektra, for example), and first-string superhero movies prominently including female superheroes in their casts (Black Widow in the Avengers), the flops of the early 2000s left Hollywood discouraged about presenting really first-string superhero movies centered on female protagonists. The grosses of YA dystopia films like The Hunger Games, Lucy and Mad Max have made the studios readier to go down this road, however--and the success of Wonder Woman is reinforcing this. And I suspect that at the very least the trend will endure for a while, if not prove here to stay.

Mega-Franchises
Where the decision to make big-budget films centered on female superheroes is a case of the superhero movie following trends set by others, in this case the superheroes have led the way. The Marvel studio gambled big and won big with a larger Marvel Comics Universe, which regularized Avengers-style grosses to such a degree that even an Iron Man or Captain America sequel could deliver them. Inspired by this course Warner Brothers gambled (but has not yet won big) with a comparable Justice League franchise. Since then Disney (Marvel's current owner) has given Star Wars the same treatment (and so far, won big again), while Universal, not to be left behind, has decided to do the same with a film franchise based on its classic movie monsters. (The first effort, the recent reboot of The Mummy, is a commercial disappointment, but as the WB demonstrated in plowing ahead with its Justice League despite the reservations about Man of Steel and Superman vs. Batman, the project is too big to be shut down by a single setback.)

A credulous postmodernist might gush at the possibilities for intertextuality. But the reality is that this is of principally commercial rather than artistic significance--as is the case with the other two trends discussed here. Indeed, by upping the commercial pressure (studios now want not a series delivering a solid hit every two or three years on the strength of the built-in audience, but a hit machine delivering record breaking-blockbusters once or twice a year) the greater synchronization, the higher financial stakes would seem likely to tie the artists' hands to a degree those who still lament the decline of New Hollywood can scarcely fathom as yet. Still, superficial as most of this is (we are not talking about a reinvention of superhero films here), the success of Deadpool says something about how little it might take to keep the boom going longer than the decades it has already managed.

Thoughts on the Wonder Woman Movie Actually Happening
6/16/17
Just Out . . . The End of Science Fiction?
11/30/16
Reconsidering Fantastic Four (2015)
8/18/16
Reconsidering Fantastic Four (2005)
5/25/16
Reconsidering Watchmen
5/21/16
The Enduring Superhero Boom
5/21/16
Have Superheroes Taken Over the Box Office?
10/25/15
Just Out: After the New Wave: Science Fiction Today
7/27/15
Star Wars: Another Marvel Movie Machine
7/19/15
Preview Cyberpunk, Steampunk and Wizardry
7/9/15
The American Box Office, First Half of 2015
7/6/15
The Decline of the R-Rated Movie
8/11/14
The Decline of the R-Rated Action Movie
8/11/14
Man of Steel Part 2, Wonder Woman Part 0?
12/16/13
A Note on Independent Film
8/1/13
My Posts on Superheroes
12/12/12
Give the Superheroes a Rest?
9/14/10

Thoughts on the Wonder Woman Movie Actually Happening

As is well known by now to anyone who pays much attention to films of the type, DC got the Wonder Woman film made, and got it out this summer, and it has already pulled in enough money to be safely confirmed as a commercial success. (Its $460 million is just over half the $873 million the "disappointing" Superman vs. Batman made back in early 2016, and the final tally will probably fall well short of that figure--the Box Office Guru figuring something on the order $750 million. But it was not quite so big an investment, making it a very healthy return.)

In the process DC has realized what I described a few years ago as a longshot.

Of course, quite a lot has happened since--some of it, what seemed to me to be prerequisites for a Wonder Woman film. Warner Brothers firmly committed itself to a Justice League megafranchise comparable to the Marvel Comics Universe, and used the "backdoor" Justice League movie Superman vs. Batman: The Dawn of Justice to introduce new characters, Wonder Woman included.

There has, too, been something of a resurgence in big-budget action movies with female protagonists. Again, the female action hero didn't go away in the preceding years. There were still plenty of really high-profile, big-budget movies featuring action heroines--if as part of an ensemble, like the Black Widow (featured in five movies to date). There were still plenty of second-string action movies with female leads getting by on lower budgets and lower grosses--like the films of the Underworld and Resident Evil franchises (which have continued up to the present).

What there wasn't a lot of were movies combining a first-string production with a female lead between the early 2000s (the underperformance of the Charlie's Angels and Tomb Raider sequels in the summer of 2003, Catwoman winding up a flop in 2004, Aeon Flux becoming another disappointment in 2005, putting studios off) and the middle of this decade, when they began to crop up again. The Hunger Games exploded (2012), and was followed up by its mega-budgeted sequels (2013, 2014, 2015), the initially cautious but later bigger-budgeted Divergent films (2013, 2014, 2015) and the $150 million Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) (with the low-budget but high-grossing Lucy in 2014) reinforcing the trend. Still, even if this makes clear what an exaggeration the claims for Wonder Woman as something unprecedented are (both by the studios, and the sycophantic entertainment press), it has some claim to looking like a watershed moment.

That said, the question would seem to be whether such films will now be a commonplace of the cinematic landscape, or prone to the kind of boom and bust seen in the early 2000s. What do you think?

Just Out . . . The End of Science Fiction?
11/30/16
Have Superheroes Taken Over the Box Office?
10/25/15
Just Out: After the New Wave: Science Fiction Today
7/27/15
Preview Cyberpunk, Steampunk and Wizardry
7/9/15
Man of Steel Part 2, Wonder Woman Part 0?
12/16/13
Why the Wonder Woman Movie Hasn't Happened
3/16/13
My Posts on Superheroes
12/12/12

Saturday, June 3, 2017

On the Historiography of Science Fiction: Info-Dumping and Incluing

When it comes to "info-dumping" and "incluing," a considerable current of thought about science fiction hews to the standards of mainstream literature, down to those misconceptions and prejudices summed up in the truism "Show, don't tell." Simply put, info-dumps (telling) are regarded as bad, incluing (showing) as good; and the fact that we are more likely to do the latter than before is taken as a case of "Now We Know Better," and therefore are better than our more enthusiastically info-dumping forbears. Additionally John Campbell and his colleagues (like Robert Heinlein), while getting less respect from the more literature-minded than they otherwise might, are still credited, at times lavishly, with "showing us the light" on this point.

However, Campbell was merely a dedicated and influential promoter of incluing, rather than its inventor. Others had done it before he and his writers came onto the scene. For example, E.M. Forster did so in his short story "The Machine Stops" (1909), and perhaps inspired by this example, so did one of the genre's founding fathers in one of its foundational works, Hugo Gernsback in Ralph 124 C 41+ (1911) (at least in his account of Ralph's use of the Telephot, which seems to echo the opening of Forster's own story). Indeed, the first chapter of Gernsback's oft-mentioned but rarely read classic uses the technique so heavily--and to my surprise, artfully--that it can be treated as a model for doing so, presenting us with a barrage of obliquely treated technological novelties in the first meeting between the titular hero and his love interest, Alice, that manages to be packed with action and novelty, but also lucidly conceived and smoothly written.

Yet, Gernsback shifted to info-dumping for the rest of the text. One reason, obviously, might be that info-dumping--telling--is simply the easier mode from a technical standpoint, setting aside the iron cage of what we call "style," and thus saving an author from having to spend five days on the same page while searching for "le mot juste." However, this does not seem the sole concern. There were particular reasons for the author to go in for incluing in that first chapter--above all, to keep cumbersome explanations from getting in the way of the action. These concerns were less operative later in the text, especially as a big part of their interest was that mainstay of science fiction from at least Francis Bacon's The New Atlantis on, the Tour of the World of Tomorrow--on which it is appropriate to have a Tour Guide along.

Indeed, Gernsback was a strong believer in the value of a good info-dump, as an editor at Amazing Stories strongly encouraging his writers to produce them. Simply put, there are things that cannot be shown intelligibly or concisely, only told, but which it is worthwhile to convey anyway; things that are worth info-dumping when one cannot inclue them; and while one may take issue with the use made of them in some of the fiction he edited, the principle is a valid one, in both science fiction and fiction generally (as H.G. Wells, appropriately, noticed and argued eloquently). Naturally, just as the author who always shows and never tells is a lot less common than the truism would have it (even Flaubert had to tell us some things straight out), so is it very rare to find a really substantial work of science fiction totally bereft of info-dumps.

James Wood on Flaubert
6/3/17
Tell, Don't Show--Again
6/3/17
On the Historiography of Science Fiction
6/1/17
A Fragment on Fan Writing
2/5/17
Just Out . . . The End of Science Fiction?
11/30/16
On the First Person Point of View
6/3/16
Review: How Fiction Works, by James Wood
10/7/15
Just Out: After the New Wave: Science Fiction Today
7/27/15
H.G. Wells' "Digression on Novels"
7/13/15
Preview Cyberpunk, Steampunk and Wizardry
7/9/15
Tell, Don't Show
2/26/14
My Posts on Literature
12/1/12

Tell, Don't Show--Again

In his book How Fiction Works James Wood early on sings the praises of Gustave Flaubert as the founder of "modern realist narration," what is often glibly summed up as "show, don't tell" done right. This, as Wood remarks,
favors the telling and brilliant detail . . . privileges a high degree of visual noticing . . . maintains an unsentimental composure and knows how to withdraw, like a good valet, from superfluous commentary . . . and that the author's fingerprints on all this are, paradoxically, traceable but not visible.
Indeed, Gustave Flaubert was a genuine and highly influential master of the technique, frequently managing to convey some quite difficult content with ease and precision in many a scene in classics like Madame Bovary. However, it was worth remarking that even he used a good deal of telling--as you find if you actually pick up the book. To fill in his picture, he did not just rely on the "visual noticing" of such things as the characters' facial expressions, casual remarks and the like, but time and again delved into his characters' heads and pasts and generalized and grew abstract in relating such things as Emma Bovary's school days, and the romantic side of her that developed but was never to find fulfillment in the workaday world into which she was born and in which she had her life.
"This nature, positive in the midst of its enthusiasms, that had loved the church for the sake of the flowers, and music for the words of the songs, and literature for its passional stimulus, rebelled against the mysteries of faith as it grew irritated by discipline, a thing antipathetic to her constitution . . ."1
It is elegant telling, but telling all the same.

1. I cite here the Eleanor Marx-Aveling translation.

Just Out . . . The End of Science Fiction?
11/30/16
On the First Person Point of View
6/3/16
Review: How Fiction Works, by James Wood
10/7/15
H.G. Wells' "Digression on Novels"
7/13/15
Preview Cyberpunk, Steampunk and Wizardry
7/9/15
Reading Literary Classics, Again
8/20/14
Tell, Don't Show
2/26/14
My Posts on Literature
12/1/12

James Wood on Flaubert

Having been both impressed and disappointed by James Wood's How Fiction Works--impressed by his lucid exposition of some literary fundamentals, disappointed by his uncritical acceptance of them--it was a pleasant surprise to encounter his article in The New Republic, "How Flaubert Changed Literature Forever," from the opening line forward. In his 2008 book he begins his discussion of Flaubert's establishment of "modern realist narration" with the following sentence:
Novelists should thank Flaubert the way poets thank spring: it all begins again with him.
In his more recent article, however, he begins thusly:
It is hard not to resent Flaubert for making fictional prose stylish--for making style a problem for the first time in fiction.
From there he goes on to a lengthy consideration on how much of a cage that style of narration is, with its stress on the concrete, visual detail; how literature came to be "defined by what it could not hold"; how in the resultant "obsession with the way of seeing," the "flattering of the seen over the unseen, the external over the interior," all of "the important things disappear," and we run the risk of very elegantly telling a story about--nothing at all.

Of course, much of this has been observed before--some of it by Flaubert himself (who did, at times, step out of the cage Wood describes so well). Virtually all of it was said by H.G. Wells when he thought about the problems posed by the kind of style discussed here in his "Digression on Novels." It might be added, too, that Wood's conclusion is rather less radical than Wells'. Where Wells ultimately chose the important things over the obsession with the way of seeing, chose to try and convey what went on in people's heads over the flattering of exterior detail, Wood closes with his admiration of the "mysterious" way in which Flaubert ultimately managed to transcend the limits of his technique to tell Bovary's story. Still, Wood's discussion of the matter is a worthy consideration of a problem far too often slighted in our age of television shows about nothing, movies about nothing and, yes, books about nothing.

Tell, Don't Show--Again
6/3/17
Just Out . . . The End of Science Fiction?
11/30/16
Why We Describe Less
8/18/16
On the First Person Point of View
6/3/16
Review: How Fiction Works, by James Wood
10/7/15
H.G. Wells' "Digression on Novels"
7/13/15
Preview Cyberpunk, Steampunk and Wizardry
7/9/15
Reading Literary Classics, Again
8/20/14
My Posts on Literature
12/1/12
Tell, Don't Show
2/26/14

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