Linear plots - Sample Essay
Linear plots: The American movie The Public Enemy (Wellman 1931) belongs to the early classics of the criminal genre and exhibits a classically linear structure. There are distinctively linear temporal stages of characters’ development in the 1909 section, when the ‘gangster’ characters of the movie, Tom Powers and Matt Doyle, are portrayed as juvenile delinquencies living on petty thefts, followed by the 1915-ongoing section, when they are shown as young professional criminals. As Shadoian (2003 p. 35) stressed, in The Public Enemy
[…] the continuity is strictly progressive and building, each new scene incorporating what has preceded to make a new synthesis within a steady narrative current bolstered by an undercurrent of recollection. It is evident that The Public Enemy utilises a “slice-of-life approach shored up by methodical layers of meaning in continuity” (Shadoian 2003, p. 58) or, as Rafter (1999 p. 21) put it, is “organized around chapters in the life of gangster”.
The Roaring Twenties (Walsh 1939) looks back into the recent past of the Great Depression era but this “ambiguously elegiac perspective” (Shadoian, 2003, p. 62) does not influence the linear structure of the plot. As Shadoian (2003 p. 79) stressed, the movie’s manner to display events was “not so much an advance but a synthesis”. There are also clear temporal sequences of the World War I, when the American Doughboys Eddie Bartlett, George Hally and Lloyd Hart got acquainted in France, and of the after-war 1920s, when Lloyd Hart returned to his legal career, a former saloon keeper George Hally became a bootlegger, and out-of-work Eddie Bartlett turned into a cab driver.
The events are constructed in a linear temporal sequence to bring each character to his destiny without reminiscences or flashbacks to the past. Another Walsh’s film, White Heat, synthesises the patterns of the gangster story, the prison narration, the subplot of a disguised cop, and an escape with the final element of the catastrophe film. The plot linearly proceeds from the scene of a train heist throughout the scenes of the main character’s imprisonment towards his wild death at the roof of the burning gas tank at the chemical factory.
The linear sequence is not distorted by contrasting combination of “a gangster hero, a film-noir heroine, an undercover cop, and an extended prison sequence” (Leitch 2002, p. 8). Due to Walsh’s manner of film construction – “to keep the action moving without distracting, fussy interludes”, “all meat and drive, no filigree, very broad strokes, and no complex motivation to perplex the groundlings”, “control over long sequences, holding viewer interest by functional cutting and surprising detail and incident”
(Shadoian 2003, p. 164) – both his films, The Roaring Twenties (1939) and White Heat (1949) lose nothing in prominence because of the traditional linearity. [Walsh constructs] his shots in the interest not of virtuosity but of a natural, unbroken flow. His cutting almost never isolates material into special prominence. When he tracks, it is because his characters have to get from one place to another for a specific reason, and they are usually saying something pertinent and necessary that would be tedious to listen to in a more static scene. (Shadoian, 2003, p. 164)
The same overt linear structure can be traced also in the earlier British films. The movie Get Carter (1971) is the most pure type of the linear crime plot. As director Mike Hodges stressed, the film showed “a violent man” (Hodges 1972 cited Murphy 1999 p. 129), who revenged for his brother’s death (the latter was about to take some local villains to the police after they shot his 16-year-old daughter in a pornographic film). The story is presented in a linear plot without any flashbacks and sub-plots.
Murphy (1999 p. 129) called the plot “precisely organised”, “thoroughly consistent” yet “extremely convoluted”. To get the details of characters’ interrelationships, a spectator is better to watch the film several times. To get the details of the plot in a later British film, The Long Good Friday (1980), one needs to be acquainted with the situation at the global political arena of the late 1970s. This British criminal movie is about Harold Shand, the London gangster boss who is occupied with “ramshackle, one-man-and-a-dog concerns with business plans that look like grandiose fantasies” (Chibnall & Murphy, 1999, p. 14).
The original trait of this movie, which distinguishes it from the American similar gangster ballads such as Public Enemy and Roaring Twenties, is that the viewer does not trace the firmament of the criminal empire since the very beginning. Instead, the action starts amidst the fictional career within the tradition of “gang bosses see[ing] their criminal empires crumble just when they seem to be at their most successful” (Chibnall & Murphy 1999, p. 4).
The movie is rich in deductive reasoning. The brutal gangland boss Harold Shand comes back to London from his American business trip on a real estate deal with American Mafia. In London, Harold finds out that two of his henchmen have been killed. Harold’s American partners are threatened by a bomb. The action intensifies as Harold has only 24 hours to find the ends of the intrigue, otherwise the Americans will quit out of the deal.