P:O.V. No.9 - Two Recent Short Fiction Films, NEW YORK ENCOUNTER

New York Encounter
The irony of convention and variation

Edvin Vestergaard Kau

You must remember this
A kiss is still a kiss
A sigh is just a sigh
The fundamental things apply…

The kiss.

At first sight, New York Encounter may look like nothing but a script idea, a brief joke, which may not even merit being transposed from screenplay to screen.

But then you may start thinking differently. What we have is the well-known boy-meets-girl story, but with a twist, and the way Encounter’s twisting variations are concentrated, timed, and articulated against obvious conventions, is a vital part of its charm.

First, we have the simple structure of, if not Redford & Streisand or Gere & Roberts, then other characters representing Man and Woman, meeting each other in the busiest setting of all busy settings: New York. In sum: busy people, heavy traffic, Man and Woman. Helen and Steve bump into each other, agree to have lunch together, but can't find time for the date in their busy schedules. But after their first kiss, on the spot – instead of waiting six months for it – they decide otherwise and agree to have lunch not later, but now. The end – and they (may) live happily ever after.

"New York" - the convention.

So, apart from the story structure, the first convention we are presented with is New York, the very busy metropolis, populated with very busy and restless people. This is the reputation and picture of the Big Apple we are presented with time and again, for instance in films and television series, and we know the hectic, nerve-wracking pulse of it from shows like NYPD. Parts of the picture are even showcased and discussed, though with ironic distance, in Woody Allen movies.

What we may see as characteristic in Encounter is a deliberate twisting and exaggeration of these conventions in the setting, mise-en-scène, and characters, enhancing the NYPD-like pulse of city life plus the Allenesque persons within this urban panorama.

"Very busy" - the convention.

After Helen and Steve have bumped into each other, they must inevitably make the appointment to have lunch together. Only, the twist to this convention is, on the one hand, that they settle on a date six months in the future, and on the other, that as a result of the kiss (another conventional element, although not always brought about in this way!), they completely turn the appointment upside down: a consequence of the prospect of a break of six months in a relationship that has barely started, or which may be only a hardly realized hope, Steve's suggestion is that they kiss each other now.

The next convention in a movie romance is that we witness the happy lunch scene, now that both kiss and appointment have become a reality. But in the first place, the appointment is made in this rather unusual way, and secondly, we are not allowed to see this love feast.

Helen suggests that they have lunch now, and acceptance as well as happy disbelief are in Steve's question at the end: "What do you mean, right now?" Cut. The End. So, immediately after the beginning of a hopefully beautiful relationship, a cut blocks out the rest of the story! Not only the distribution and ironic use of narrative structure, but also the editing at this point is part of a playful, teasing practice right up to the very end. Up until this surprising and entertaining break and interplay between plot and cut, the editing and camera work are very traditional. On the one hand, this visual style monitors the characters' reactions (including their gradual loss of professional and blasé armor). On the other, it is important to stick to the traditional way of cutting back and forth between the two during the dialogue, and to do this with shots from inconspicuous angles and perspectives. As a result, we have the surprise of how their schedule for a date is turned upside down, and this payoff is achieved by playing off the editing against the dialogue in the split-second of the ending.

I have tried to point out what I see as an important element in Encounter: the balance between conventions and contrasting variations. This little joke, the entertaining idea of showing emotions (if not as love at first sight, then love at first bump plus two or three cuts), would not have worked out, I think, if (1) its narrative and lines of dialogue had been played out within (2) a traditional editing of shots and at the same time the use of conventions like those mentioned above. The variation of the boy-meets-girl story and the last cut, on the other hand, make room for the playful irony in the tension between convention and variation.

Furthermore, this narrative and stylistic strategy offers the audience two paths to follow: what we hear and what we see. Just watch those eyes, while Helen and Steve are babbling away during their first few lines (or for that matter, most of the dialogue)!

New York Encounter is, in this way, a demonstration of cinema's capacity to take a written idea and give it tactile and aesthetic substance and impact. This is done through cinematic style and narrative pattern, in this case with a result which is arguably both emotionally satisfying and charged with a quiet humor. At the same time this helps to keep a certain ironic distance with respect to the potentially banal conventions of media depictions of the hectic life, busy professionals, and superficial human relations of world metropolises, especially New York, or what the rest of the world is endlessly told about this city.

What do you mean, right now?

Encounter's irony and Helen and Steve's decision to have lunch immediately may be seen as a contribution to breaking down the New Yorkers' self-image of being very important people with no time to really meet - and maybe even the provincial conception of New York as the most important place on Earth.

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