COMING IN IN THE MIDDLE. In the London Review of Books (January 7), Jenny Diski reminisces about how we used to come in to movies in the middle and notes that that’s where the phrase “This is where I came in” originated. Diski says that she recalls that from the fifties into the seventies “almost everyone wandered into the movies whenever they happened to get there…and then left when they recognized the scene at which they’d arrived.” It’s hard for me to believe that I thought nothing of coming in in the middle of a movie. I remember that I came into Lawrence of Arabia in the middle of a sandstorm. Diski thinks that Alfred Hitchcock changed movie theater practice by insisting that Psycho could only be seen from the beginning, so as to preserve the surprises in the plot. However, Psycho came out in 1960 and it took a long time for change to occur, perhaps showing that people didn’t really care very much about seeing movies from the beginning. I think that—surprisingly— the way movies told their stories in the fifties was not affected by the fact that the audience might not come in at the beginning. They seem to have the same kind of narrative structure as the movies of today, with strong beginnings and endings.

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  1. Mary Jane Schaefer says:

    Edgar Alan Poe was a proponent of one-sitting reading length. He argued that if you put a book down and got up and had an experience and then you went back to read your book again, the book was being read by two different people. The first you had been changed to another you by taking an intermission from the book and having one or more new experiences. This seems somehow relevant to the narrative structures of movies that were experienced out of the order of its directors intentions because of the viewers’ habit of arriving at any point in the story. One could argue that the structure of the movie had to be tighter, rather than looser, to keep it from turning into miscellaneous scenes, if the audience was going to be contributing to an arbitrary quality already. The director would have to create almost a formula of expectations so that the movie-goer would sense precisely where the plot had been when he arrived in the theater. Oh, and if this doesn’t make any sense, it’s because I’m too tired to really think this out. But I think I’m on to something.

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