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The Modernist Screenplay

Part of the book series: Palgrave Studies in Screenwriting ((PSIS))

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This chapter argues that screenplays, or film scripts, can be read from two different but complementary perspectives: as functional texts responding to the situation of film production and as autonomous literary works. It opts for a middle-ground interpretive community that could combine these perspectives and approach the screenplay as a simultaneously functional and literary genre. The issues of convention and experimentation and the publication context are discussed as the key factors that define how readers approach screenplays. The chapter introduces the modernist screenplay as a specific kind of experimental screenplay, arguing that published modernist screenplays make the need for a double, functional-literary reading especially visible.

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  1. 1.

    Those readers who would like to (re)read some of these film scripts right away can find a full list of published silent screenplays in English, French, German, Italian, and Russian in Ksenofontova (2020).

  2. 2.

    Like much other anecdotal evidence originating from an early book on the history of US cinema, Lewis Jacobs’s The Rise of the American Film (1939), the existence of Ince’s stamp is unverifiable and has long been considered a mythical exaggeration (Azlant 1980, 166–67).

  3. 3.

    In this context, the materiality of the medium can also play an important role; taking it into account is the next step towards a deeper understanding of how screenwriting works, both in pragmatic and literary terms. Simon Bovey (2018) has gathered some highly interesting material on how such factors as paragraph length, page design, graphic and pictorial elements, and formatting can play a significant role in the ways we read contemporary screenplays.

  4. 4.

    On the history of and the differences between the two-tiered models of narrative constitution, including that of story and discourse, see, for instance, Bode (2011, 64–75) and Scheffel (2014, 509–13).

  5. 5.

    Unless otherwise noted, all translations are my own.


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Correspondence to Alexandra Ksenofontova .

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Ksenofontova, A. (2020). Introduction. In: The Modernist Screenplay. Palgrave Studies in Screenwriting. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

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