When we buy a ticket and enter a theater to see a play or a film, we make a conscious agreement to suspend our disbelief. When the lights go down and the curtain goes up, we agree to accept what we see as “truth.” It’s a deal we make with the performers: “You sell your performance as real, and we’ll take it as real.” Whether it’s a story about talking dinosaurs or singing witches, we buy into it. It’s a matter of trust.
Sadly, it doesn’t take much to break that trust. It can be as simple as a boom microphone dipping into shot.
Or perhaps a prop master has forgotten to set a telephone on stage, so an actor pretends that their thumb and pinkie are a phone receiver.
Oops, the trust is broken. The deal is off. Author Harlan Ellison puts it this way:
“The only way to get a reader to go along with you is if you seem to know what you’re doing, and if you seem to be doing it honestly. And the first time you betray it, by like getting a fact wrong… their trust is shaken. And then you have to rebuild it.”
My trust was recently shaken when I discovered this frame from the 1931 classic “Frankenstein.” I bought into Victor Frankenstein’s castle-like laboratory whole-heartedly. I wanted to explore that lab and climb those stairs – as though it was a real location! But then came this frame revealing a disturbing background sign. “Positively No Smoking.”
Suddenly, I’m in a soundstage with props and actors and cameras – not a laboratory at all! Dammit.