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Narration and the Fiction Film
Three approaches to the problem of narrative
as representation: considering the story’s world or diegesis; its portrayal of reality or its broader meanings. as structure: ways of combining parts to make a whole; segmentation and “grammar” or language of film, e.g. the grande syntagmatique. as process: “the activity of selecting, arranging, and rendering story material in order to achieve specific time-bound effects on a perceiver” (xi).
Bordwell’s preference for a cognitivist and Constructivist approach to film research.
motivation. parallelism. retardation. Defining the specificity of aesthetic function while recognizing the importance of social convention in what a culture defines as a work of art. and criticism.From formalism to cognitivism Russian Formalism (1920s) and Prague School (Jan Mukorovsky) Key concepts: syuzhet. history. fabula. Refusing to put arbitrary boundaries between theory. .
From formalism to cognitivism For a historical poetics of film poetic concepts relating • • • to the artwork’s structure to the perceiver’s relation to the work to broader functions of the artwork changes in norms and conventions of narration how social context shapes the form and function of artworks historical concepts examining • • .
Critique of mimetic and diegetic theories of narration. Classical narration (Hollywood.Narration and the Fiction Film Part One. Part Two: Theoretical Poetics Syuzhet and style Film viewing as a dynamic perceptual-cognitive process. 1917-1960) Art-cinema narration (postwar European) Historical-materialist narration (Soviet film of the 1920s) Parametric narration (limited cases of postwar European film) plus the example of Godard as a hybrid or mixed mode stylist Part Three: Descriptive poetics . How film’s factors of space and time are organized as narration.
actions. template schemata: a master narrative scheme that embodies expectations concerning how events should be classified and how parts should be related to the progress of the whole. or schemata. locales.The process of narrative comprehension Protocols of story comprehension.. A search for appropriate motivations and relations of causality. etc. according to a posited norm. through which spectators are cued by the film to construct a story based on an inferential process. procedural schemata: dynamic protocols through which spectators seek to fill in information absent from the template. prototype schemata: identifying actants. . time and space.
and Style . Syuzhet.Fabula.
template. A mental construct or pattern that spectators create through a process of assumption and inference based on prototype. and procedural schemata. Style names a film’s systematic use of cinematic devices. The fabula (story) embodies the action as a chronological. The syuzhet or plot is the actual arrangement and presentation of the fabula by the film. . cause-and-effect chain of events occurring within a given duration and spatial field.Narration “is the process whereby the film’s syuzhet and style interact in the course of cueing and channeling the spectator’s construction of the fabula” (53). “Excess” or the “third meaning”: those elements which may stand out perceptually because they do not fit either narrative or stylistic patterns.
Codification of extrinsic norms over time may lead to the inauguration of a narrational mode: a historically distinct set of norms of narrational construction and comprehension.Modes and Norms Intrinsic norms define a pattern of coherence set by the system of individual films themselves. . Extrinsic norms refer to patterns of coherence relevant to large groups of films.
. A single structure determines the compositional logic from local texture to overall form.Historical modes of narration Classical narration (Hollywood cinema. Art cinema (approx. Parametric narration characteristic of the formal experimentation of filmmakers like Alain Resnais and Robert Bresson. Dialectical-materialist narration (postrevolutionary Soviet films of the 1920s). 1957-1969). 1916 to present).
Communicativeness: the extent to which the narration withholds or communicates fabula information. Self-consciousness: the degree to which the narration acknowledges its address to the spectator. .Modes of narration Mode Classical Art cinema Historicalmaterialist Parametric Godard Knowledge omniscient restricted omniscient omniscient mixed Self-csness Communicativeness moderate high high low high very high high very high low mixed Narrator “invisible” foregrounded foregrounded/ didactic foregrounded overt Author effaced present present present present Knowledgeability: the extent to which the narration lays claim to a range and depth of fabula information.
obstacles. and climax Causality is the prime unifying principle Plot pattern organized by segments The “closure-effect” .Classical syuzhet pattern Character-centered causality Reliance upon the “canonic story”: undisturbed stage-disturbance-conflict-resolution of conflict Double causal structure: two plot lines (romance and action) each with goals.
i. Strives for the utmost denotative clarity.e. uses a limited number of technical devices and these devices operate according to strict parameters. ..Classical style Style is motivated compositionally as a function of syuzhet patterning: film technique is a vehicle for the syuzhet’s transmission of fabula information.. Highly coded .
and structuralism. Textual components form an order that coheres according to intrinsic principles. A single structure determines the compositional logic from local texture to overall form. the nouveau roman. .The parametric mode Influence of postwar European avant-garde music. Phenomenal form of the text tends to be seen as a permutational distribution of an “invisible” set. Textual form treated as a spatial phenomenon. Values transgression and the need for each artwork to construct a unique system.
Only a few parameters are highlighted and varied across the film. A strong inner unity: a prominent intrinsic norm with patterned reiterations. The “ascetic” and “sparse” options Tendency to work with additive forms. Representational meaning is subordinated to the profiling of a sheer perceptual order. .Parametric style Stylistic system creates patterns distinct from the demands of the syuzhet system.
Restricted narration. memories. . Elliptical and/or episodic linking of events. An “expressive realism” shapes space: dreams. Plots based on “boundary situations” leading to existential crises and transformations in the main characters.Art cinema narration Goal bereft protagonists: characters observe rather than acting as causal agents. fantasies motivate ambiguous and “subjective” narratives. High degree of stylistic self-consciousness.
Classical narration Single protagonist Driven by desire Built on conﬂict Linear chain of cause and effect Clear and complete motivation Omniscient narration Strong sense of closure Art cinema narration Single and multiple protagonists Goal bereft Boundary situation stories Episodic and elliptical Ambiguous or unclear motivation Restricted narration Open endings .
” The emphasis on interior or psychological realities. Plots defined by “boundary-situation stories”: the causal situation leads up to an episode where the art film protagonist faces a crisis of existential significance. .Expressive verisimilitude in art cinema A subjective or expressive verisimilitude attuned to “exhibiting character.
The classical protagonist struggles. Concerned less with action than reaction. emphasizing insignificant actions and intervals. and dreams. Causal motivation is withdrawn or unknown. Characters retard the forward movement of the plot by recounting stories. Often leads to temporal disjunctions. tracing out an itinerary of social situations. art cinema presents psychological effects in search of their causes. Lacks clearly defined traits and goals.Expressive verisimilitude in art cinema Narrational characteristics of the art film protagonist. the art film protagonist drifts passively. fantasies. . such as flashbacks.
and sound. are motivated by character psychology. Conventions of expressive realism shape spatial representation: optical point of view shots. . Enhances expressivity of subjectivity. but also makes narration unreliable. The art film restrains the narrational point-of-view to a single protagonist or may split it between several protagonists. flash frames of a glimpsed or recalled event. cont’d.Expressive verisimilitude in art cinema Narrational characteristics of the art film protagonist. modulations of light. discontinuous editing patterns associated with interior or psychological time. color.
The viewer looks for moments in which the narration may interrupt the progress of the plot and call attention to itself through stylistic flourishes. . The implied narrator is no longer invisible but calls attention to itself.Overt narrational commentary Art films tend to highly self-conscious narration.
In sum. Connotative and symbolic associations replace logic of cause and effect. Scenes may end in medias res. Disjunctions in temporal order such as flashbacks and forwards. . Gaps are created that are not explicable by character psychology. Has the effect of flaunting both the narration’s range of knowledge and its relative incommunicativeness (telling a little while withholding a lot). Exposition is delayed and widely distributed across the film.The implied narrator is no longer invisible but calls attention to itself. The plot is retarded through withholding information or providing too much. “the construction of the narration becomes the object of spectator hypotheses: how is the story being told? why tell the story in this way? (210).
Communicativeness: the extent to which the narration withholds or communicates fabula information. Self-consciousness: the degree to which the narration acknowledges its address to the spectator. .Overt narrational commentary Mo d e Classic a l Art cin e m a Knowled g e omniscient restricted Self-csness moderate high Communicativenes s high low Narrator “invisible” foregrounded Aut h o r effaced present Knowledgeability: the extent to which the narration lays claim to a range and depth of fabula information.
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