Scorsese: Story vs. Plot

Martin Scorsese on Story


You’ve made it clear that you’re big on story, but not big on plot and I’d like you to talk about the difference between story and plot if you would.


I just found that over the years… the films that I constantly revisited, or saw repeatedly, held up longer for me… not because of plot, but because of character and a very different approach to story. For example, talk about Hitchcock: When we see his films in the fifties, as they came out: Strangers of a Train; Rear Window; Vertigo; North by Northwest; Psycho. But I think, the films of Hitchcock I enjoy watching repeatedly… The Wrong Man, for example. As a picture I’ve used repeatedly as an example of mood, paranoid style, beautiful New York location photography… I screened [it] for Michael Chapman, Paul Schrader and everybody for Taxi Driver. And I think, maybe ultimately, it’s one of the reasons I said Bernard Herman had to do the score. I talked about the paranoid camera moves, the feelings of threat, and if you know the picture, Henry Fonda has to go to the… pay on his insurance in Queens. It was kind of interesting to see it, but he’s standing behind the counter and the woman’s looking over, and you see Henry Fonda from her point-of-view, and she thinks he’s the robber, because he had just robbed this place earlier, and she thinks he’s come back. The way the camera moves and her perception… excellent, excellent, excellent bit part players: ’cause they can kill you if you don’t get the right person. The fear, the anxiety, the paranoia… it’s all done through the camera and the person’s face. I find that is more interesting to me. I saw Rebecca, maybe ten times, fourteen times, but at a certain point, for me, the style of Hitchcock in that film is only in the sequence where Mrs. Dampers shows Rebecca’s room to Joan Fontaine. That’s about it. For the rest of it, I know the plot and it’s not interesting anymore.

William Robert Rich
William Robert Rich

William Robert Rich is a story analyst, screenwriter, and co-author of Story Maps: The Films of Christopher Nolan. He's currently based in Austin, Texas.

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