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David Bordwell unlocks TINKER, TAILOR stagecraft

Posted February 21, 2012

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In his post, "TINKER TAILOR once more: Tradecraft," film scholar David Bordwell has dug deep into the structure and style of John le Carré and the narrative strategies deployed in TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY - both novel and film - to highlight some fascinating connections between storytelling and spying. It becomes clear that TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY's enigmatic structure is in perfect sync with the complicated hunt for a mole that is at the story's center. At one point, Bordwell analyzes in depth the scene in which Peter Guillam attempts to steal a file from the Circus, and how what we see only tells us part of the story. The other part is conveyed by what we hear, but don't right away connect to the story.

The Tinker Tailor film, of course, had to be much more squeezed down. I mentioned in the earlier entry that the screenwriters compared their structure to a mosaic, and I followed this out in my discussion of how the narration was elliptical and fragmentary, leaving out redundancies that are usually required in popular film. Many scenes are both spacious and laconic. The rhythm is slow, and we're given time to see and hear everything; but that "everything" might be only a voice dimly overheard, or a doorbell, or an image that gives one piece of information.