On Being Concise: Or, how I struggle with keeping myself quiet.

Being concise is something I regularly struggle with as an interpreter. I have a lot of thoughts about a lot of stuff (the perils of being an impassioned person) and I always really want to share them. My thoughts at the time generally run along the lines of ‘They liked this fact that I like! Let me tell them another one!’ But of course, not everyone is as excited about facts as I am. Children from 8-10 years old tend to like this approach because they are in a stage where they’re sorting information into parcels. Most other people would prefer that my interpretation consist of a story with a beginning, middle and an end.

In this struggle, I’m most frequently inspired by the work of Alfred Hitchcock. This, to me, sounded ridiculous when I realized what a perfect example Hitch is. However, I believe his work is concise but easy to access. Personally, I enjoy a philosophy of interpretation that is subtle when it needs to be, leading one along through a story, and direct when it has to be. I think Hitch is a great example of this. My favorite examples both land squarely on Grace Kelly (I am totally obsessed with Grace Kelly. She actually lived a princess movie).

Image (image from filmfresh.com)

In this image from To Catch a Thief (1955), Grace Kelly and Cary Grant share some exciting dialogue about how much Cary Grant’s cat burglar character wants to “Look, John. Hold them…Diamonds.” It is very sensual. Grace Kelly has a particularly sexy way of discussing how much Cary Grant wants to get his hands on her “diamonds.” In case we were missing the sexual tension simmering around the scene, Hitchcock puts a fireworks display in the background. Every time a noticeably sensual bomb is dropped, fireworks go off! The metaphor is obvious – they are having sex. But of course this is 1955. They can’t actually, you know, have sex on screen so Hitch sticks with the fireworks. It’s like asking someone a question to which the answer is completely, totally obvious so they can enjoy going along with you on an interpretive journey. Hitch is saying, “I know you know what they’re doing, but I want you to really think about how they get there.” In a way, it’s like talking about mating displays with an adult and a child present. You’re saying ‘well, kiddo, they’re…flirting. Maybe later they’ll get married.” But everyone in the room knows what’s going on.

Image(image from film-daily.blogspot.com)

A less obvious metaphor is Grace Kelly’s blue dress in Rear Window (1954). Her dress is frothy, delicate and has little blue leaves on it. Placed on the couch in this dress, wearing delightful pearls on her neck and wrist, Grace Kelly looks like nothing but a perfect china doll. She is a stark contrast to James Stewart’s rumpled (blue) pajama pants and cast. Here Hitch is reminding us that although Stewart and Kelly’s characters are perfectly suited (they are wearing the same color), Stewart wants to emphasize how different their lifestyles are. He wants to remind the viewer that Grace Kelly is a fashion model. She is light, and fluffy, and untouchable. James Stewart is a photographer. He is rumpled and unkempt and so is his whole life. As Stewart believes, Kelly could never fit into that life. Here, Hitch is emphasizing how much Stewart wants her in it, but how much he denies it. This is like a more intensive interpretive interaction, something where I would wait in silence for you to figure out yourself- a problem-solver.

Both of these interactions fit into my definition of interpretive conciseness. That would be an interaction in which I know exactly what I want to say and what I want you to think and how to get you there. Hitch is a perfect example of this craft because of his famed attention to detail and obsessive planning of each shot in a movie. Although I may want to achieve that level of perfection in my own interactions, periodically I am left so excited by someone’s interest that I want to tell them EVERYTHING EVER!!! At this point, I should slow down and look at my own shots in this little movie. Are the scenes that I’m describing curated? Are they tight? Are they adding to the fabric of the film?

Of course, I’m not perfect at either of these interpretive interactions! Nobody can know exactly how to approach an interaction every time. Some learners are comfortable with subtlety and others need directness. These are just examples of how I find inspiration everywhere. I’d be interested to hear other peoples’ thoughts on how they remain concise without memorizing a script and turning into a robot.


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I am a certified interpretive guide and I really like to write about it. A lot.

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