Monday, May 25, 2015

TODAY'S NUGGET: Angel Heart (1987) - Handling Exposition Two Ways

[Quick Summary: 1950s NYC detective digs into Louisiana voodoo culture in order to find whether a missing entertainer is alive or dead.]

I'd never heard of this film before.

It's shockingly creepy. 
And well written.
And gross here and there (if you read it, you'll understand).
And originally got an "X" rating from the MPAA.

Writer/director Alan Parker knew exposition is troublesome (here):
As with all traditional first-person detective tales, the fundamental problem is in the translation of literary exposition into filmic narrative. (Consequently, the over-use of voice-over in this genre.) This was something I wanted to avoid, although, unavoidably a line or two did sneak into my final cut for sheer economy of story telling.
A) Plain Exposition - Often, he handled the exposition simply:

ex. "CYPHRE: Do you by chance remember the name Johnny Favorite?

HARRY: Er yeah, wasn't he a crooner with one of them swing bands -- before the war.

CYPHRE: That's him. He sang with the Spider Simpson orchestra. An overnight sensation as the press agents like to put it. Personally, I loathed the music, the tunes he recorded escape me, there were several, but he created a near riot at the Paramount Theatre long before anyone had heard of Mr. you recall him at all, Mr. Angel?"

B) Exposition + Character

But Parker doesn't just dole out exposition all the time (which is boring).  He knew when to add splashes of character, which oils the scene.

Notice how Harry's small talk wins over the nurse. She now is eager to help him.

ex. "HARRY: Liebling. Jonathan Liebling. Of course all information will be treated with the utmost confidentiality.

NURSE: One moment please.


squeaking on the shiny clean floor.

Lysol. Harry sniffs and looks at the pretty legs.

HARRY: Were you working last weekend?

The nurse is looking through the files.

NURSE: No. I was at my sister's wedding.

HARRY: Catch the bouquet?

NURSE: No such luck.

HARRY: Nice guy?


HARRY: The husband.

NURSE: An old guy. Loaded.

Smile. Slight but real. She returns with an open manilla folder.

We did have a Mr. Liebling, but it says here he was transferred.

HARRY: When?

NURSE: Years ago. December '45.

She twists the file around and shows it to Harry."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Often, you'll have Plain Exposition.  However, if you can, add Exposition + Character.

Angel Heart (1987) 
by Alan Parker
Based upon the novel,"Falling Angel," by William Hjortsberg

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