Tuesday, September 24, 2013

TODAY'S NUGGET: The Great Moment (1944) - Breaking a Biopic Rule

[Quick Summary: The true story of the first dentist to successfully use ether, which results in both success and villification.]

Did you know Preston Sturges wrote a biopic?

Me either.

As always, Sturges doesn't follow the rule, he breaks them.

Notice the non-chronological sequencing to this biopic:*

A - Present day. Dr. Morton's destitute widow tells how her husband died with a broken heart.
B - In the recent past, Dr. Morton loses business to competitors.
C - In the further past, Dr. Morton loses a $100k award to red tape.
D - In the far past, Dr. and Mrs. Morton struggle in a young marriage.
E - Young Morton experiments with ether.
F - Morton coins the term "letheon" for his secret ingredient.
G - Morton convinces a medical professor to try his "letheon" in a live demonstration.
H - Letheon is extremely successful during surgery.
J - The medical community demands to know what letheon is. Morton finally admits it is simple ether.  They take his findings, but do not appreciate Morton's work.

Why does it work here?

Usually, biopics follow a chronological approach.

The purpose of this general rule is to help build momentum.
ex. Girl is young but brash --> Faces trouble --> She learns lesson at climax
Here, Sturges found another way to group together scenes that would still build momentum.
ex. #A-D gains our sympathy. 
#E-G shows Morton's uphill battle. 
Then #H-J punches us with success, then the sharp unfairness of it all.
WHAT I'VE LEARNED: 1) Know the purpose of the general rule; 2) Go ahead & break it; 3) See if the story still works.

The Great Moment (1944)
by Preston Sturges

* I find it fascinating that Sturges (and/or the studio at the time) breaks down every script into sequences A through J or K. 

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