TEMPO is a musical term referring to the pace or speed of a piece of music. In film it refers to the pace or speed at which a narrative unfolds. Certain genres have expectations of TEMPO, for example in action films we expect a faster pace – almost a frenetic pace is desired. In Horror movies or Mysteries the tempo can be much slower, building the tension piece by piece.
In John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness (his second in his Apocalypse trilogy) the tempo is very gradual and controlled. One thing I have always loved about Carpenter’s films is that he usually does the soundtracks as well and Prince of Darkness is no exception. The music, constantly in the background, pulses along helping sustain the slow pace of the film as the plot is revealed and the end of the world draws nigh.
Audiences are well aware of pace and tempo in a film. Sometimes, a film can fail for an audience due to tempo issues alone. I feel this is in part due more to audience failure than film failure. Our lives are so full of hustle and bustle and electronic stimulus that to sit and allow a film to unfold seems a tax on our patience. Shame on us! Good storytelling takes time to set up, and we should allow our auteurs that time.
Prince of Darkness was made for about 3 million dollars, and grossed over 14 million domestically. That’s a big hit in anyone’s book, but the film has been slammed for being too slow. I feel like audiences are not willing to give a film a chance unless it shocks, stimulates, or frenetically forces their minds into submission. They have confused all of this with good storytelling. Film directors have many tools in the box of narrative. We should not place them in a hierarchy privileging the flashy over the subtle. It’s like comparing a Jackson Pollack painting to a Rembrandt. It’s not fair and ultimately useless.
Next time you watch a film, allow it to unfold in its own way and see if there’s something more enjoyable about the experience rather than being hyper stimulated to the point of a pseudo adrenalin rush. It’s difficult to analyze what one is seeing and to see what the text is saying about you and your society when all you see is explosions while you shove more popcorn in your face! Hehehe And if you don’t think action films are saying something about you…then what they are saying is you are too unself-conscious to know you’re being manipulated and even mocked. You are a baby shelling out $15 bucks a pop to be fed pablum. If that’s the mood you are in and are also in need of escape…go for it. If all music were at the same tempo, though, it would be pretty boring. We need variety of TEMPO in our music, our literature, and our movies.