When I broke down the filmic (nee screenplay) structure of Groundhog Day over the course of three days (1 2 3), I outlined a couple versions of where the act breaks might be for the film. But, generally, speaking, Act One is about 35 minutes long, Act Two is 30 minutes, Act Three the other 33 minutes or so (then the credits). But, Benesh...
And, that's going to be a thing for a while, isn't it? I'll start by nitpicking Benesh then maybe get off on a tangent of my own. There are things in Benesh that I like, of course. It's not all wrong. But, I figure the easiest way to be critical, when it will not be all at once, is to nitpick first, explore our agreements later. Or maybe I could try to alternate. Like the rest of the time with this blog, I am mostly making it up as I go. I've got plans for certain topics, or certain days, but often from day to day, I'm deciding on my topic as I sit down to watch the movie. When I read the rest of Benesh's dissertation a few days ago, I not only highlighted some lines here and there with a yellow highlighter and scribbled some notes in the margins here and there, I also put three different color post-it tabs along the right edge of the pages. Yellow tabs are just general markers to find certain topics within the 131 pages, pink tabs are stuff I intend to specifically address in the blog as soon as possible, and the purple ones... the purple ones link to a possible thesis topic that was running through my head that particular day. Honestly, the hard part will not be figuring out a particular topic related to Groundhog Day to write about for my thesis--I may be writing at least one more Groundhog Day-related paper this winter quarter in progress now, in fact--but how to justify using a 20-year-old film for the exploration. Interestingly, that is a detail Benesh lacks; she never quite explains why this film now. Maybe I'm overthinking it; maybe I don't have to justify it as long as it serves the purpose I put upon it for the thesis. However it goes, while this blog will end in August, I will still be exploring Groundhog Day many months beyond that as I get to work on my thesis. But, in the meantime, I'm picking apart Benesh's dissertation.
Benesh sets up what she calls a pilot to her study of Groundhog Day, basically watching the opening sequence (Day 0 only) for images and symbols that resonated. Essentially, she then looked for those same images and symbols throughout the rest of the film. On the one hand, this is a nice approach. On the other hand, cutting herself off at 7 minutes (and 33 seconds to the alarm clock on Day 1, but I guess she's rounding it off). As I pointed out in the first part of my structural breakdown, according to Phil Dyer in his Doctor My Script blog, the first 10% of a screenplay should be setup, establishing "who the protagonist is, as well as who the other major characters are and what kind of environment the protagonist lives in." This is not, however, the first act of the film. This is just one sequence of the two that make up Act One according to The Script Lab. Separating off the "status quo" or "set up" piece of the film as the pilot is fine. That's not the problem. The problem is that Benesh (2011) refers to this section as "[t]he film's short first act, only 7 minutes in length" (p. 69). This sequence is not an entire act.
What I wrote in the margin when I read this was the following:
Plot point one is not the start of the time loop. The time loop is part and parcel of whole, just as the end of the loop is not plot point two.
Plot point one is Phil's recognition and acceptance of his situation, act two his attempts to manipulate the situation to his own ends, culminating in his downfall (literally).
Act three involves Phil projecting his urge to change both outward and more positively inward.
I remember learning about plot points back in college the first time. We were discussing the film Some Like It Hot and people kept saying that plot point one (i.e. the transition point from the first act to the second) was when Joe and Jerry witness the massacre. But, the film is not about them hiding from the mob, per se. It is about them hiding from the mob by dressing up as women. So, I--brilliant as always--pointed out that plot point one was when they dress as women. The film is a comedy about gender... and I haven't seen the film since then so I couldn't actually tell you how much the film gets into its topic anymore, but I remember that structural thing. And, my teacher agreed with me. So, evidence presented--I know my plot points.
Groundhog Day is not about Phil being stuck in a time loop, per se. It is about what he does in response to that. The time loop is, as I wrote in Benesh' margin, "part and parcel of the whole." The time loop is basically part of the status quo. The climax of the film may be (or may end, since the climax does not have to be embodied in a single instant) when we know the time loop has ended (a mere 4 minutes before the credits roll) but that doesn't mean the third act is 4 minutes long. The third act encompasses Phil's upward journey to a better version of himself...
I'll lay it out plainly: Act One involves Phil getting into the situation and accepting it, Act Two involves Phil manipulating the time loop for what turns out to be bad, Act Three involves Phil managing to manipulate the time loop for good. None of these acts is defined or delineated by the beginning or end of the time loop itself. The time loop is part of the premise, the status quo in which the story happens.
Today's reason to repeat a day forever: to take a piece like Benesh's and nitpick every single sentence. I mean there's got to be a better way to say, "Iterative viewings and reflections culminated in my selecting symbolic images for description, analysis, and interpretation of transformation" (p. 69), for example.