Movie Screens are Made of Glass

To suggest that movies are voyeuristic is like calling Ronald Reagan a Republican.

I’m no fan of film-student idol David Lynch. He creates quirky, dazzling images well enough, but he’s a lazy writer. He lacks the discipline required to sit alone in a room for weeks and months at a time, facing a computer screen and inventing a coherent story, populated by characters worth caring about, that sustains an audience’s attention for a hundred minutes, which I regard to be the proper length for a movie (most pictures—including Lynch’s–are too freakin’ long).

I judge artists, however, not by their worst or even their average but their best work.

Alfred Hitchcock directed some timeless, eternal pictures, but also no small collection of turkeys. A train wreck like, say, Topaz or a Frenzy in no way diminishes the genius of a North by Northwest or Rear Window.

Download the screenplay for NORTH BY NORTHWEST here for free.

Download the screenplay for REAR WINDOW here for free.

My favorite (or least loathed) Lynch movie is Blue Velvet.

I’m particularly fond of the scene where Dennis Hopper hides in a closet that has a slatted, louvered door, which allows him to peer out at the party underway without himself being seen. Here we are, the voyeurs in the audience movie theater, seated in the dark and peering through the window of the screen at Hopper’s character, himself in the dark, peering into the lives of the film’s characters.

There’s some sort of sweet parallelism there.

Download the screenplay for BLUE VELVET here for free.

Over the years, however, I’ve come to view the movie screen quite differently.

David Thompson, a movie analyst and critic, writes that the movie screen “… is a window, and the trick of the medium is to let us feel we can pass through it.”

I see it still as glass, but not as a window. Instead of a window through which audiences peer at other people’s lives, the screen is a mirror in which we view reflections of our own.

Aristotle in his Poetics tells us that a dramatic narrative contains three parts: the beginning, middle, and end.

There parts are not equal in size. The first is quick and short. The big part is the middle. The end is the shortest part of all.

I’ve said it before: this is an idealized, romanticized model of a human life, with its relatively brief beginning in childhood, then the big middle which represents full-tilt adulthood, and then, again ideally, the quickest part of all: the end. When the time comes, do you want your life to end quickly, or would you like to spend years on resuscitators while connected to a Gordian’s knot of tangled intravenous tubes?

That is why I argue that every well-constructed dramatic narrative is a model of a human life.

Whose life? The life of the writer who created it. That is why I hold that art is autobiography.

That’s why writers, instead of trying to figure out the so-called market, simply tell their own personal stories.


Richard Walter is a novelist and author of best-selling fiction and nonfiction, celebrated storytelling educator, screenwriter, script consultant, lecturer and recently retired Professor and Associate and Interim Dean of the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television where, for more than forty years, he chaired the graduate program in screenwriting.  He has written scripts for the major studios and television networks, including the earliest drafts of American Graffiti; lectured on screenwriting and storytelling and conducted master classes throughout North America as well as London, Paris, Jerusalem, Madrid, Rio de Janeiro, Mexico City, Beijing, Shanghai, Sydney and Hong Kong. 

He is also a pop culture commentator, blogger and media pundit who has made numerous appearances on The Today Show, The O’Reilly Factor, Hardball with Chris Matthews, ABC Primetime, Scarborough Country and CBS News Nightwatch, among many other high-profile national television programs.  More than a hundred newspaper and magazine articles have been published about him and the program he directed at UCLA.  For more information and to sign up for his newsletter, visit www.richardwalter.com. Contact Professor Walter at professorrichardwalter@gmail.com.  

©Richard Walter 2019


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