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Audio narration: re-narrativising film
Jan-Louis Kruger
a
a
North-West University, School of Languages , PO Box 1174,
Vanderbijlpark, 1900, South Africa
Published online: 24 Sep 2010.
To cite this article: Jan-Louis Kruger (2010) Audio narration: re-narrativising film, Perspectives:
Studies in Translatology, 18:3, 231-249, DOI: 10.1080/0907676X.2010.485686
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/0907676X.2010.485686
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Audio narration: re-narrativising lm
Jan-Louis Kruger*
North-West University, School of Languages, PO Box 1174, Vanderbijlpark 1900, South Africa
(Received 26 October 2009; nal version received 23 February 2010)
Audiovisual texts rely on their polysemiotic nature to create audiovisual narrative.
For audiences who do not have access to any one of the semiotic codes, the very
essence of the narrative is compromised. The nature of these texts has changed to
such an extent that they have to be re-narrativised. Within that part of the field of
audiovisual translation (AVT) that aims at providing access to audiovisual texts
to viewers excluded from the visual codes, audio narration (AN) is discussed as a
mode that seeks to provide access through an integrated, independent narrative.
This mode is suggested as an alternative to the established mode of audio
description (AD), both modes being found on a descriptivenarrative continuum.
The article begins by investigating the problems posed to AN by the iconicity of
narrative film. It is then shown how focalisation in film manifests in a number of
filmic markers that have to be substituted by linguistic markers derived from
written narrative in an audio narration that is integrated with the remaining
iconic codes of the soundtrack. Finally, the argument is illustrated by means of a
discussion of the opening sequences of Everything is illuminated (Liev Schreiber,
2005).
Keywords: audio description; audio narration; audiovisual translation (AVT);
comparative narratology; focalisation
1. Introduction
How do films make narrative sense? This very simple question is at the heart of any
attempt to make this audiovisual mode accessible particularly in the case of
audiences excluded from entire code systems such as the visual or auditory codes.
Narratologically speaking, and greatly simplified, literary narrative is narrative
because it presents a story (fabula) through narration, in other words by telling (also
called the discourse or sjuzet) metaphorically through the device of a narrator.
It could be argued that fiction film as a narrative text also narrates or at least that it
presents a story by showing in picture and sound. In other words, only the mode of
delivery of the sjuzet changes.
But what happens when either the picture or the sound, the visual or the auditory,
is unavailable to an audience? Much of the field of audiovisual translation is
dedicated to this problem (the exception being that part of AVT that deals with
interlingual translation for audiences who do not understand the language of the
original). Essentially, I would argue, the absence of codes from one of these semiotic
systems means that the original narrative no longer operates in the same way and has
*Email: JanLouis.Kruger@nwu.ac.za
Perspectives: Studies in Translatology
Vol. 18, No. 3, September 2010, 231249
ISSN 0907-676X print/ISSN 1747-6623 online
# 2010 Taylor & Francis
DOI: 10.1080/0907676X.2010.485686
http://www.informaworld.com
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to be re-narrativised in order for the audience to get the benefit of a coherent
narrative.
This article will focus on audio access where the lack of access to (any or all of)
the visual codes of film means that this largely visual narrative mode has to rely
exclusively on the auditory semiotic codes of the film (the soundtrack consisting of
verbal and non-verbal auditory codes), supplemented by a narrator through which
the film then has to be re-narrativised. Ultimately, however, the text created from the
initial audio()visual signs by a sighted audience and the text created from only the
auditory signs by a blind audience will never be the same text. Holland (2008, p. 184)
makes the following statement about theatre, a statement that also applies to film:
There is no direct equivalence between a moment on stage and the words chosen to
describe it. This is mainly due to the difference between iconic and symbolic semiotic
codes that impact on the very nature of the narrative.
This article will consequently investigate the more (although not exclusively)
symbolic component of narrative when film is made accessible for a blind or visually
impaired audience. The contention will further be that, even though practitioners
and theorists alike concede that AD has to have a stronger narrative element, exactly
what is understood under narrative and how this can be achieved are less clear.
1.1. AVT and narrative
It seems self-evident that the audiovisual translation of film for audiences excluded
from the visual codes has to ensure that the auditory text will at least still be a
coherent narrative, a narrative that does not constantly foreground the fact that a
particular user group
1
is excluded from an important part of the text. Increasingly,
theorists of and practitioners in the field of audio description (AD) have begun to
call for a stronger awareness of the narrative function of the description (see Braun,
2008; Holland, 2008; Orero, 2008; Salway, 2007; Yeung, 2007; see also Remael, 2004,
for a discussion of the narrative functioning of film dialogue in AVT).
Salway (2007, pp. 151152), for example, points out (in connection with the
language of AD) that since audio description acts as a surrogate for the visual
components used to tell stories in film, we predict that the language of audio
description is shaped in part by its narrative function, which is supported by his
analysis of a corpus of AD scripts (see also Salway & Palmer, 2007). The move to a
stronger emphasis on narrative is also supported by Jessica Yeungs article (2007) on
audio description in the Chinese world where she mentions the concept of describers
as co-narrators versus as independent narrators.
Nevertheless, not enough research has been done on exactly how the visual
components of film tell stories, how film narrates visually, and consequently how AD
has to render these visual narrative elements, or the effect thereof, into words. This
article aims to contribute to this emerging line of research in AVT by comparing
filmic and literary narrative. The emphasis will be on the way narrative is accessed, or
even constructed by the audience, particularly in terms of orientational positioning
in relation to the story world through focalisation. Specifically, the article proposes
audio narration (AN) as a non-exclusive alternative to the conventional AVT mode
of AD, based on an interface between AVT, film studies and narratology. The use of
this term builds on the growing movement towards the narrativity of the mode of
AD by various authors mentioned above, but also foregrounds the very different
premises of description and narration that may indeed require an explicit break with
232 J.-L. Kruger
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the term AD, and a foregrounding of the explicitly narrative demands of audio
access in the term audio narration (AN).
1.2. Defining audio narration (AN)
In that field within AVT that deals with providing access to audio()visual texts by
means of supplementary auditory input that substitutes the visual component of the
film (what we may call audio access for short), one may distinguish between
traditional AD, where the emphasis is on description (although the narrative still
plays a role in some genres hence the term descriptive narration), and AN as a
mode of audio access that seeks to provide access through an integrated narrative.
As such, some current approaches to AD do, to varying degrees, already emphasise
the narrativisation of film, and it may therefore be useful to see audio access as a
descriptivenarrative continuum as follows:
Explicitly descriptive AD (as in a documentary) would be closer to the
clinically objective, descriptive extreme.
AD that supplements description with some narrative markers and subjective
interpretation would be around the middle of the continuum.
AN that moves away from a strict fidelity to what can be seen on-screen in
favour of a coherent narrative would be situated closer to the explicitly
narrative extreme.
In other words, AD will already contain narrative elements just as AN would
contain descriptive elements. Trying to pinpoint a particular films audio access at an
exact position on this continuum would be taking this continuum too seriously as it
is merely intended to illustrate the complicated mix of description and narration in
audio access. At the descriptive extreme the emphasis would therefore be on
substituting the visual codes (what can be seen by a sighted audience), and at the
narrative extreme the emphasis would be on creating a coherent narrative that
corresponds more closely to the narrative effect of the visual codes than with the
codes themselves.
2
Most definitions of AD in the literature emphasise the verbal description of what
is on screen and what happens on screen (the WHAT). This is typically done in the
gaps between dialogue and major sound effects in the AV text. Hence, according to
Salway (2007, p. 151), AD is a description of visual information delivered via an
audio channel and it is crucial for improving media accessibility for blind and
visually impaired people. Benecke (2004, p. 1) similarly describes AD as the
description [that] fits in between the dialogue and does not interfere with important
sound and music effects . . . it consists of an additional narration [that] describes the
action, body language, facial expressions, scenery and costumes.
The term audio narration or AN will be used for a proposed mode in AVT
alongside this existing and widely-used mode of AD at the narrative extreme of the
descriptivenarrative continuum in audio access. In AN the emphasis is on the
(re-)narrativisation of the visual codes in narrative film supported by and integrated
with the existing auditory signals (or original soundtrack
3
) of the film in order to
provide blind and visually impaired audiences with access to the film as an integrated
narrative text. Given that this is largely also the implied intention with AD
(particularly towards the middle of the continuum), AN is further characterised by
Perspectives: Studies in Translatology 233
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an approach where fidelity to the visual codes is subservient to fidelity to the
narrative implication or effect of what can be seen. This would at times mean that the
narrative will seem to ignore something that takes a very prominent position on-
screen, although it will focus on the effect of the action or object.
At the root of the difference between the extremes of AD and AN on the
descriptivenarrative continuum is the fact that AD in most conceptions is
considered to be something that is entirely external to the story world or diegesis
of the film (extradiegetic), whereas AN, in my definition of the mode, would often
(although not always) become integrated with the intradiegetic auditory codes of the
film in a more autonomous framing narrative, like that produced through an
intradiegetic (homodiegetic or heterodiegetic) narrator in a novel, even though the
narrative is activated from outside the text. The narrative in conventional AD, on the
other hand, is by definition extradiegetic and heterodiegetic.
Fundamental to an appreciation of the nature of AN is a conceptual under-
standing of the way in which filmic narrative is created, and the role the visual plays
in this narrative. Only when we understand how film comes to narrate can we begin
to attempt to re-narrativise film for an audience excluded from (part of) the visual
codes. The call for a shift away from a descriptive bias to a narrative bias here is
rooted in the acknowledgement of the fact that filmic narrative consists of more than
just a series of visual and auditory cues. The blind or partially sighted viewers
immersion in the fictional world depends as much on the narrativisation or re-
narrativisation of these cues as it does on the cues themselves. This re-narrativisation
will always be based on an interpretation of the visual presentation, presenting a
coherent narrative that does not disturb the audiences immersion in the story world
with the voice of a commentator that inevitably yanks the audience out of the story
world into a world where they cannot see. In the words of Holland (2008, p. 184):
Description should aim to get to the heart of a work of art and to recreate an
experience of that work by bringing it to life. It should not be content with telling
someone the physical details of what they cannot see.
According to Vercauteren (2007), based on an overview of a number of AD
guidelines, what should be described includes images, sounds and onscreen text. In
terms of images, the AD should describe where things are taking place, when things
are taking place, what is happening and who is performing the action and how; in
other words, what can be seen, not how it is shown, and definitely not why it is shown
(which, in most guidelines, would constitute subjective interpretation that has to be
avoided).
However, in order for the blind and partially sighted audience to make narrative
sense of film, what is important is not only WHAT is shown (characters, actions,
settings), or even HOW it is shown (from what angle, from what distance, from
whose perspective, etc.) but WHY what is shown is shown the way it is shown or,
SO WHAT? (the narrative effect). AN should not simply substitute the visual codes
for the blind audience by means of verbal codes, but should consciously and
consistently create a narrative text that will be accessible to the audience who does
not have access to those visual codes that allow the sighted audience to activate the
audio()visual narrative text.
This narrativisation or re-narrativisation of the text will be discussed in the
following paragraphs. Due to the similarities between AN and written narratives in
the narrativisation of the story world by means of words, techniques from literary
narrative may prove to be a meaningful starting point. Nevertheless, AN will remain
234 J.-L. Kruger
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an integrated presentation of the auditory codes (the soundtrack) and the verbal re-
narrativisation of the visual codes in creating an auditory text that will allow the
blind and partially sighted audience to access the story world of the film.
2. From audio()visual narrative to auditory narrative
Because narrative film keeps characters and props persistently before our eyes and ears
with virtually limitless sensory particularity, there seems no need for films to describe; it
is their nature to show and to show continuously a cornucopia of visual
details . . . The film offers a multitude of visual details, more than any viewer could
mentally specify; the specification would be in words, and we do not name every detail
we see. (Chatman, 1990, p. 39)
What this passage emphasises is the fact that the film an audience without full
access to the visual codes receives is fundamentally different from the same film
received by an audience who does have full (potential) access to these codes. This
difference lies in the first instance in the details that are intrinsically tied to the
iconicity of the mode. And since this visual iconicity has to be translated into
auditory (verbal) narration (i.e. into a symbolic mode), the best that can be achieved
is an attempt at conveying the effect of the visual signs in the interest of the narrative
as a whole.
The term narrative hides a complexity that has a profound impact on AVT. For
one thing, as Jost (2004, p. 79) notes, [t]he semiotic materials of film and novel are
not the same, and one cannot mechanistically transfer concepts forged in one domain
to another domain. To complicate matters, film is largely iconic and not symbolic,
which, as Prince (1993) points out, means that less emphasis should be placed on the
grammar of techniques such as shot/reverse shot and POV shot and more on the
narrative context of any given scene or shot. Specifically, Prince (1993, p. 20) states
that film theory tends to view cutting patterns, camera positions, even perspectivally
based images as culturally relative yet syntactically precise conventions. However,
we cannot base the interpretation of film or the cognitive reception of film on such
specificities. Film is primarily iconic and we interpret it based on our experience in
interpreting the visual world around us. Therefore, the context of a shot is more
important than whether it can be classified into a precise syntactic convention.
To summarise the argument thus far: in translating filmic narrative for audiences
who are excluded from the visual codes, the process by means of which the audience
is brought to conceptualise the narrative and the story world has to compensate for
the fact that the audience cannot see what is shown in order to base their
interpretation on these cues. In other words, instead of merely describing visual
codes, AN has to be concerned firstly with the narrative unity of the text and present
the narrative making use of devices that are closer to those of written narrative
fiction rather than attempt to achieve fidelity to the visual signs. The effect of filmic
presentation of characters, actions, emotions, setting, as well as of focalisation
through devices such as mise-en-sce`ne, framing, and camera angle or perspective,
therefore has to be verbalised to supplement the auditory channels containing
dialogue and sound effects that are still available to the audience in the original
soundtrack.
But what exactly is the relation between the role of narrative devices in these two
very different, yet equally narrative, modes of film and literature? In order to arrive
Perspectives: Studies in Translatology 235
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at a description of the role of the audio narrator as well as of the techniques of
presenting the paradigmatic aspects or HOWof the narrative in AN, a more detailed
analysis of what constitutes narrative in general and filmic narrative in particular has
to be done. The emphasis here will be on the narratological concept of focalisation.
3. Narration, narrative voice and fictional reality
As pointed out above, the main difference between filmic and written narrative
fiction is that film shows, while literature tells. Of course it is not that simple. In
written fiction the act of telling is often hidden through the use of a covert narrator
or narrator without any obvious and identifiable characteristics that allow the reader
to form a picture of that narrator (i.e. an implicit narrator). This creates the illusion
that the novel shows the reader the fictional world and the actions of characters
almost as a camera does even though the narrative is always verbalised through the
device of the narrator. In fact, the symbolic agent of narrator remains a device
through which the author presents the narrative and through which the reader
interprets it. Formulated differently, what we call the narrator is a device through
which we find our way into the fictional reality; it is our point of access, regardless of
whether that device also fulfils the role of a character.
In contrast, although film does not require a narrator figure to narrate the story,
and although the use of an overt voice-over, or even on-screen narrator, may create
the illusion that the story is told by a stable narrative figure, much of the filmic
narrative still rests on the audiovisual presentation or narration without the aid of
linguistic presentation, even though the dialogue in film obviously does carry
significant narrative weight.
4
The unifying narrative voice found in the narrator of
written fiction (and that ties the dialogue together) is replaced in film by the unifying
voice of the audiovisual presentation (including visual aspects such as camera angle
and movement, and auditory aspects such as sound effects and dialogue). This
presentation depends to a large extent on the point of view the audience has on the
story world, which brings us to the concept of focalisation.
3.1. Focalisation
Focalisation
5
refers to the positioning and oriental restrictions of narration (see
Jahn, 1996), in other words, from what perspective and under which limitations the
narrative is presented; or, not only WHAT is shown, but from which (audiovisual,
psychological, emotional, ideological, etc.) angle, or HOW it is shown.
6
This may
include focalisation through an identifiable character or, if not, through the filmic
narrative origo.
7
In film, focalisation would therefore also include mise-en-sce`ne or
elements identified by Mainar (1993) as auto-focalisation.
8
It is important to note here that focalisation is not only concerned with
perception (what Jost [2004] calls ocularisation), but also with experience and
mental states. Specifically, focalisation is also degrees of access to the minds of
characters and narrators. In film, we know something is focalised through a
particular character if we become aware that we see something as only that character
could see it, and this is most evident in cases of obvious subjectivity.
In film, focalisation is much more obvious than in written narrative because the
camera physically shows aspects of the fictional world from different (often rapidly
shifting) positions, whereas focalisation in written narrative is more covert (and tends
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to be more stable). Nevertheless, as in written narrative, focalisation in film is marked
by the presentational limitations, or by what is shown (not told) from which
perspective that may or may not be aligned with an identifiable character in the
fictional world.
Whereas focalisation in written narrative is marked (in addition to dialogue)
symbolically by deictic markers as well as markers of subjectivity in the narration,
focalisation in film is marked in the dialogue as in written fiction, but also iconically
by the use of the camera and editing in different types of shots. The shots and editing
techniques that mark focalisation include the gaze shot, point-of-view shot, eye-line
shot or match cut, over-the-shoulder shot and reaction shot, but other than the type
of shot, the shot composition or mise-en-sce`ne also marks focalisation (see Deleyto,
1991; Jahn, 2003; Mainar, 1993).
Although more overtly present to the visual sense, these markers are still covert in
that the viewer only seldom becomes aware of shifts in focalisation. For example, in
the series Heroes (Kring, 2006), a large percentage of shots are over-the-shoulder
shots with the camera getting close to one of the characters facing the character in
the gaze of the camera. This is marked by the fact that many shots contain some
form of obstruction between the camera and the object of its gaze, mostly in the form
of part of a body or an object, creating the impression that we see from a position in
the fictional world like an invisible presence hovering close to the characters, peering
at them in turn. Yet many viewers may not be aware of this consciously since the
obstruction is never particularly obtrusive. Such foregrounding of subjectivity may
also be the result of camera movement such as that achieved by a hand-held camera
that simulates the perspective of a moving perceiver in the fictional world, again
pulling the viewer into the fictional world by making them see what they would have
seen had they looked through the eyes of a character in the fictional world. Examples
of this would be The Blair Witch project (Myrick & Sanchez, 1999) as well as the first
half of any episode in a series in the Law and order franchise (Wolf, 1990present)
where a hand-held camera makes the viewer experience the story world as thought
they were part of the criminal investigation. None of these subjective elements in
audiovisual texts is simple to mark in AD or AN and as a result of the severe time
limitations, they would mostly simply not be reflected. Nevertheless, the way in
which something is shown through focalisation has a decided impact on how the
sighted audience interprets what is shown and therefore AN should attempt to
compensate for the subjectivity. This will be done not by describing the way in which
something is shown (close-up, long shot, over-the-shoulder shot, etc.) but rather by
positioning the audience in relation to the fictional world by means of verbal markers
(through deixis, subjective interpretation, and other literary techniques that will be
discussed below).
A large part of the impact of the narrative on the viewer resides in this imaginary
positioning of the audience in relation to the story world. Simply describing or
commenting on what is shown in cases like these does not provide the blind or
partially sighted audience with sufficient narrative information to gain similar
access.
9
Focalisation and subjectivity
Although most studies on focalisation in film focus mainly on the difference between
internal and external focalisation and the use of different focalisers,
10
it may be
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useful for the purpose of this article to move away from such a distinction and
classification, and to rather focus on the tension between subjectivity and objectivity
inherent to focalisation in film.
Mainar (1993, p. 154) points out that the pervading function of internal
focalisation is to allow the film to present to its audience a characters reaction to
what (s)he and/or we see. Focalisation therefore gives preeminence to the process of
conveying a characters attitude through his/her gaze. Focalisation has an attitudinal
component. This attitudinal component clearly has to be inscribed in the AN in
order to provide access to the narrative and to position the audience in relation to the
story world.
The subjectivity contained in filmic focalisation poses a problem in any form of
audio access since a mere description of or commenting on what is shown fails to
convey the narrative effect of the focalisation. However, as Salway and Palmer (2007)
indicate, AD does contain orientational markers that pull the audience into a
position of access to the thoughts of characters (an important element of
focalisation). For example, phrases containing the verb to look in Salways corpus
analysis of 91 AD scripts produced in the UK tend to provide information about a
characters current focus of attention (2007, p. 160), and also describe characters
attention on other characters and on events or actions. Although AD therefore does
contain markers of subjectivity, research on how this is inscribed in AD (Salway and
Palmer, 2007) also indicates that this is not done consistently. Whether such
focalisation present in AD does, however, create the narrative effect of the filmic
focalisation still has to be investigated.
Since this article posits that a key to the success of narrativisation or re-
narrativisation of film through AN may be found in the way that written narrative
(as a verbal mode) marks focalisation, it may be useful to look more carefully at how
focalisation is typically marked in written narrative.
Markers of focalisation in written narrative
In drawing the reader into the story world, written narrative makes use of a number
of linguistic markers. Focalisation (and point of view in general) in written narrative
is therefore marked extensively through language, and these markers have been the
object of a number of studies dealing with the translation of narrative fiction (see, for
example, Bosseaux, 2004, 2007; Herman, 1994; Jahn, 1996; Kruger, 2009; Levenston
& Sonnenschein, 1986; May, 1994).
But how exactly do we gain access to the minds or states of mind of characters in
written fiction? And how are we oriented towards the fictional world? In essence,
written fiction makes it possible for us as readers to imagine positions in the story
world (as imaginary vantage points) by marking these positions (physical and mental
or cognitive positions) linguistically. These markers tell us when and where an event
takes place as experienced from a particular position internal or external to the story
world or to the mind of a character or narrator. In other words, markers provide
orientation in terms of characterisation (the qualities of the character through which
we imagine experiencing events), subjectivity (interpretation of events as opposed to
straightforward or objective description, use of personal pronouns), and deixis.
The most obvious markers are the latter, namely deictic markers. Deixis marks
what is said by either characters or narrators in relation to who makes the utterance.
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As such, the use of deixis in the AN will in many cases be different from the deixis
used by a character in dialogue.
There are mainly three types of deixis: spatial, temporal and person deixis
(although some theorists also identify social and discourse deixis). According to
Bosseaux (2007, p. 31), [d]eictic information is supplied principally by personal
pronouns, tense and adverbs of time, adverbs of place and other locative
expressions. The different types of deictic markers can be summarised as follows:
Markers of temporal deixis are evident in temporal adverbs now and then,
as well as verb tenses.
Markers of spatial deixis can be identified in verbs such as come and go, as
well as spatial adverbs such as here and there.
Markers of person deixis present clear indications of the position from which
focalisation is used to imagine/recreate the relationship between the narrative
function and the events, emotions and so forth contained in the narration.
Markers of social deixis are less overt than the first three types of deictic
markers, but are nevertheless evident in register, language variation, slang,
profanities and curses. In film these markers would still be evident in the
dialogue. They may also be used effectively to narrativise a characterised audio
narrator in certain cases.
Markers of discourse deixis include modal adverbs, conditionals, references to
portions of the discourse in which the utterance is located, markers of voice
such as interjections, and directions for the imagining of an utterance. In other
words, markers of textuality.
Apart from deixis, focalisation in written literature is also marked in terms of
degrees of subjectivity, or in terms of degrees of access to the minds of characters.
When a narrator tells us what a character thinks or feels, that means that the
thoughts or feelings are focalised through that character.
Since film presents the fabula by showing, filmic focalisation is marked rather
differently, although markers of focalisation present in dialogue are still linguistic.
So, for example, the social deixis contained in the dialect a character speaks will
provide the audience with important information in terms of the social positioning of
the focalisation through that character.
Markers of focalisation in film
As discussed above, the non-verbal visual code constructs the narrative of the film
with WHAT is shown (the paradigmatic semiotic code), together with HOW it is
shown (i.e. filmic devices such as focalisation). We would do well, however, not to
attempt to pin down all these filmic devices and to heed the warning offered by
Deleyto (1991, p. 171) when he says: Film language is so flexible that any set of rules
or classification of textual elements is always risky and become invariably
incomplete. In other words, it may be dangerous to try to come up with a specific
list of filmic devices with corresponding linguistic markers.
Nevertheless, it is important to understand how filmic narrative works, in order
to determine the narrative effect created by filmic devices. Consequently, the HOW
(including focalisation and what Jost [2004] calls ocularisation) could broadly be said
Perspectives: Studies in Translatology 239
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to be presented by means of the following angles and shots as described by Jahn
(2003, F2):
camera angle (straight-on angle, high angle, low angle, oblique angle) (Jahn,
2003, F2.5)
static or dynamic shots (pan, tracking or pulling shot, push-in or pull-back
shot, zoom, dolly shot or crane shot) (Jahn, 2003, F2.3)
length of the shot (extreme close-ups, close-ups, medium shots, American
shots, full shots, long shots and extreme long shots) (Jahn, 2003, F2.2)
cuts between shots or scenes (cut or direct cut or straight cut, jump cut, and
transitional cuts such as dissolve, fade-out or fade-in, swish pan and wipe)
(Jahn, 2003, F2.4).
The HOW also concerns when what is shown is shown (the syntagmatic semiotic
code).
In the creation of the AN these filmic techniques have to be interpreted in terms
of the way they allow and even direct the creation of the story world.
As in written literature, focalisation in film is also used specifically to mark
subjectivity, often in internal focalisation where the audience is given the sense that
the story world is presented from the experiential angle of a character and not from
some objective, external angle. According to Deleyto (1991, p. 171): there seem to be
four textual codes that are frequently used to establish relevant internal focalisation,
without making the focaliser disappear. These are editing, movements of the camera,
framing and mise-en-sce`ne.
In the case of editing, Deleyto (1991) distinguishes between the eyeline match
and the shot/reverse shot. Both of these two-shot techniques show the focaliser
externally and then the focalised, together creating internal focalisation. Deleyto
(1991) also identifies framing and mise-en-sce`ne as filmic techniques that can be
used to establish internal focalisation. In both these cases the internal focaliser and
the object of his/her gaze (the focalised) may be visible on screen simultaneously.
Finally, Deleyto (1991) discusses camera movement, other than that in a subjective
shot, as a technique to establish internal focalisation. Here, as in editing, framing
and mise-en-sce`ne, the filmic technique is used to position the viewer internal to the
story world.
These elements that establish (textualise) internal focalisation in film may be the
most prominent, but Deleyto (1991) also identifies lighting, colour, camera
distance, and internal sound as some of the other elements that are used for the
same purpose. Deleyto (1991, p. 176) concludes that the tension in film between
internal and external focalisation could be described as the tension between the
cinemas natural tendency towards objectivity and the centrality of the gaze in film
narration.
All these types of shots and editing (the HOW) mark what is seen by the viewer
in some way and therefore have an impact on the way in which the viewer constructs
the fictional world. Indeed, without this aspect of the film, much of the narrative
depth is lost.
In order to illustrate the argument further, I will now turn to examples from
Everything is illuminated (Liev Schreiber, 2005).
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4. Application: Everything is illuminated (Schreiber, 2005)
In the opening sequence of the film, Alex (the young Ukrainian man played by
Eugene Hutz as yet unidentified, who will guide Jonathan on his journey) is
introduced as the frame narrator. This is done by means of a voice-over narration by
the character in the traditional retrospective first-person mode of filmic voice-over
narration. The viewer is further introduced to the concept of the journey (the rigid
search) through the Ukraine by means of a slow, close-up pan of old photographs
pinned to a large map of the Ukraine next to the names of towns and cities. The voice
of the narrator is then made more concrete with visuals, again in close-up, of the
narrator and the pen as he writes the last words spoken before the camera slowly
moves up to reveal fragments of the words he has already spoken. The sequence
concludes with a shot of a hand holding a pen writing the name of the first chapter,
An overture to the commencement of a very rigid search. As this introduction
signals, Alex may be the frame narrator, but can hardly be seen as the narrator of the
film, as becomes evident in the second sequence, which could by no stretch of the
imagination be seen as narrated by Alex. In fact, as in most films making use of a
frame narrator, this telling narrator is quickly replaced by the audiovisual
presentation of the fictional world.
In this sequence (00:152:48) there is nothing to help anchor the focalization in
either the fictional reality or in a character as we follow the slow progress of the
camera revealing minute details of the map and photographs while listening to the
voice-over narration. The focalization could therefore be called objective or external,
a perspective that would typically be signalled in written fiction through deictic
markers, the use of third-person pronouns, etc. The fact that this filmic narrative
unfolds simultaneously with the first-person voice-over narration of Alex (from
01:40) simply means that the AN of the sequence would fulfil the role of the third-
person, objective narration done by the camera and editing (by the filmic authorial
collective) in the film.
The AD of this opening sequence is exclusively descriptive, providing a catalogue
starting with the grasshopper trapped in amber (that becomes an important symbol
in the film of Jonathans grandfathers hidden past, providing the motivation for the
journey), then moving to a description of the photographs and the map. This
description serves no apparent narrative function and could be argued to contribute
very little to the exposition. Clearly the sequence merely provides an illustration,
a backdrop to Alexs frame narrative that will gain meaning as the audiovisual
narrative unfolds. As such, the theme music, which creates a melancholy mood
(muted as it is to make the AD audible), together with the first-person frame
narration would be sufficient to establish the narrative frame without a description
of the props. I would argue that an AN of this sequence could be limited to a list of
the credits right at the beginning to keep that separate from the narrative and
minimize the disturbance of the filmic illusion that is the film. In the AD these
credits are interspersed with the cataloguing description of the props. In other words,
the AN approach would simply be an elimination of the visual focalization in favour
of a purely auditory narration in this sequence since this is all that is needed to
establish the narrative frame.
But let us turn to the more subjective focalization in the subsequent sequence
where there is no voice-over narrator.
Perspectives: Studies in Translatology 241
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The opening sequence fades out into the second sequence in the film, which
begins with Jonathan in a graveyard, follows him on his journey home, shows him at
the deathbed of his grandmother, then the deathbed of his grandfather (whose grave
he just visited) when he was a young boy, and ends with Jonathan studying the
pendant of a grasshopper trapped in resin that also began the opening sequence in
extreme close-up.
In all of this (around five minutes of screen-time) there are exactly four verbal
utterances (and a few isolated sounds) that provide the blind viewer with iconic signs
from the fictional reality. For the rest, this audience is fully reliant upon the AD.
In order to illustrate my argument, I will now discuss the first two scenes of this
second sequence in the film, and then refer briefly to the rest of the sequence. I will
begin the analysis of the two scenes with the AD transcript as an account of what is
shown (possible in this instance because of the lack of dialogue), followed by an
analysis of the focalization or how this is shown, followed by an interpretation of
what is shown and the way it is shown to determine the narrative importance of each
scene. Finally I will attempt a sample re-narrativisation of the two scenes in the guise
of AN.
The first important aspect to mention is that the changes in time are shown in
a manner that emphasizes internal focalization through Jonathan, including his
flashback in scene four and five to himself as a young boy at his grandfathers
deathbed. In all of this the filmic narration guides the viewer by means of objective
shots showing Jonathan looking at something, followed by subjective shots showing
what he is looking at as though we are looking from his vantage point (external
focalization of Jonathan establishing his internal focalization). The objective shots
allow the viewer to imagine seeing this from particular vantage points in the fictional
world.
4.1. Scene 1 (2:48

3:10)
AD (what is shown)
Jonathan Safran Foer, a grim, solemn-faced young man of about 20, with pale skin,
handsome features, and striking blue eyes behind a pair of large thick spectacles, stares
at the tombstone of Safran Foer, 1921 to 1989. A gardener uses a leafblower to blow
leaves across the graveyard.
The AD in this sequence therefore contains only an external perspective, even
though it is marked subjectively in the phrases solemn-faced young man; handsome
features; and striking blue eyes. This subjectivity is just that, a subjective
interpretation of the actor/character, and not a subjective perspective marking a
position in the fictional world.
Focalisation (how it is shown)
From a close-up of Jonathans face looking down at something, the shot changes to
a close-up of the gravestone of Jonathans grandfather. This is a typical shot/reverse
shot, showing Jonathan as focaliser externally and then the gravestone as focalised,
indicating internal focalisation. The subsequent shot is a medium shot showing
Jonathan from the side looking at the gravestone. This framing technique further
establishes the internal focalization showing focaliser and focalized together and
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leaving no doubt about the meaning of the first two shots. Whereas the first three
shots establish internal focalization through Jonathan, the fourth shot (a long shot of
Jonathan from behind looking at the gravestone, showing rows of gravestones with
green trees behind them, a group of mourners further away and a man with a
leafblower in the foreground) establishes external focalization, thereby positioning
the viewer in relation to the fictional world as an observer. This is done by means of
the mise-en-sce`ne.
Effect of focalization of scene (why what is shown, is shown in the way it is shown)
The editing of this first scene pulls the viewer into the fictional world in a position
that is subjectively aligned with the internal focalization through Jonathan, before
moving the viewer to an objective position to add meaning and perspective to
the scene. This scene establishes Jonathans obsession with his grandfathers life and
shows him as a serious young man. The focalization as presented through the
sequence of four shots has the effect first of bringing the viewer closer to Jonathans
frame of mind as he stares at the grave, and second of pulling the viewer into the
fictional world as we assume (by virtue of the camera) three observer positions
focalizing Jonathan, or three orientations (one from the position of the gravestone,
one from the side and one from the back in receding order of proximity). This
sequence could be said to establish the theme of death, brought into perspective in
the subsequent five scenes as we come to realize that Jonathan has been obsessed
with the mysterious past of his grandfather from an early age, an obsession
symbolized by the grasshopper trapped in the amber pendant.
Possible AN
In a Jewish graveyard surrounded by trees, Jonathan, a forlorn figure among rows of
gravestones, stands staring at the gravestone of his grandfather with a seriousness
beyond his years. From up close a star of David can be seen, above the words, Safran
Foer, 19201989, with a Hebrew inscription carved underneath.
Motivation for AN
Whereas the AD provides more details about the actor playing Jonathan, the
narrative impact is lost in the detail. The AN, in contrast, makes use of markers of
focalization (primarily deixis) to enable the audience to situate themselves in the
fictional world, and at the same time it provides a stronger characterization while
foregrounding the fact that the Foers are Jews, a central concern of the narrative.
4.2. Scene 2 (3:11

4:07)
AD (what is shown)
A city. A train passes along a raised railway line in the distance, disappearing behind
some trees and a tall neo-classical building. Jonathan travels in the back of a car, staring
glumly ahead. [credits] The car drives along a street of tall clapboard houses with
verandas, then past apartment blocks. [credits] Bright white sunlight breaks through the
treetops. When it clears . . .
Perspectives: Studies in Translatology 243
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Focalisation (how it is shown)
A static elevated long shot (almost a birds eye view) of a leafy city, bisected
horizontally by a train, is replaced by a profile shot of Jonathan inside a moving taxi
that passes through the graveyard. This is followed by a shot of the upper branches of
trees seen from a low angle (as through the window of a moving car). Next is another
profile shot of Jonathan in the taxi as it drives past suburban clapboard houses,
followed by a shot of the houses (then apartment buildings) as seen from a moving
vehicle. Then, another profile shot of Jonathan in the taxi passing through the city,
followed by another shot of the upper branches of trees seen from a low angle. This
final shot gradually becomes blurred out as the gaze turns to the glaring sun.
Effect of focalization of scene (why what is shown in the way it is shown)
This slightly longer scene has a very simple narrative meaning. In the absence of
dialogue (only credits on the screen from time to time), the viewer becomes aware of
Jonathans state of mind as he leaves the cemetery and is driven through the city. He
stares emptily ahead, presumably mulling over his visit to his grandfathers grave.
This scene together with the previous and subsequent scenes form the overture to
the commencement of a very rigid search and after the subsequent scene, Jonathans
preoccupation with his past and his roots, which provides the reason for his trip to
the Ukraine, becomes clear. The shot/reverse shot pattern of Jonathans profile and
the scene the taxi passes establishes internal focalization after the initial external
focalization with the objective shot of the city. The relatively lengthy profile shots of
Jonathan interspersed with the moving shots of the scenery the taxi passes establish
mood rather than plot content. The viewer becomes aware of the fact that Jonathan
is deep in thought and that his stone-faced exterior might be hiding stronger
emotions. The focalization therefore also has a strong characterizing effect.
Possible AN
Jonathan leaves the graveyard in the back of a taxi. As he is carried along through the
leafy city past row upon row of suburban houses interspersed with apartment blocks,
his face betrays no emotion as he sits motionless, staring straight ahead, oblivious to
his surroundings. Slowly his mind empties until all that remains is the motion of the
wheels and the bright sunlight flickering through the branches overhead.
Motivation for AN
In terms of the narrative unity of the scene, Jonathans state of mind (which can be
gleaned from his lack of expression) is more important than the scene he passes
through. He seems oblivious to his surroundings because his grandfathers grave is
still so fresh in his mind, and the AN evokes this with markers of subjectivity that
takes the audience into his mind.
4.3. Concluding analysis
The remaining four scenes of the second sequence can be divided into two scenes that
are at the same time level as the first two scenes, and two flashback scenes
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representing Jonathans memories. In these four scenes the AD varies from openly
subjective to clinically objectively descriptive. An example of the subjectivity is the
sections in the description of his grandmother in Scene 3 (4:086:21) marked in bold
below:
. . . an old woman lies dozing in bed. Her eyes flicker as she opens them. She takes a
moment to focus them, then begins to smile at Jonathan who stands at her bedside,
wearing a neat black suit and tie with white shirt, a barely perceptible smile momentarily
brushes Jonathans lips before his features retreat to their habitual melancholy.
. . .
The old ladys smile fades and her expression becomes sad. She closes her eyes.
Grandma?
Grandma doesnt respond, but her chest rises and sinks as her grieving grows deeper.
This part of the AD could easily be located around the centre of the descriptive-
narrative continuum. Scene 6, in turn, provides a cataloguing of the various personal
items Jonathan collects in little plastic bags that he pins to the wall and is clearly
much closer to the descriptive extreme, in spite of the fact that the AD is inevitably
also subjective in what it chooses to mention and what to leave out.
The important thing to mention here is that these more descriptive sections of
the AD, in attempting to list as many of the visual cues as possible, result in
a fragmentation of the narrative whole. The juxtaposition of subjective and objective
creates an uneven tone in the AD that detracts from the narrative unity as the
audience has to alternate between trying to glean the significance of items for
themselves, and being given a subjective interpretation of an expression.
The transfer between Scene 5 (7:107:40) and Scene 6 (7:417:53. . .) is
particularly interesting. Here the AD is as follows:
The child [Jonathan as a boy] walks down a dark-panelled corridor and pauses outside a
white door. He turns a gold doorknob. The door opens and a grownup Jonathan enters
and stares ahead at a wall which is covered from floor to ceiling with labelled plastic
bags holding various personal possessions.
Apart from the fact that the setting remains the same while the time changes, this
transfer in the AD (as happens earlier between Scene 4 and 5) presents the obvious
memory or flashback in a problematic manner. Of course these events do not follow
directly upon each other, and of course this sudden transfer signifies (in the
convention of the cinema) a memory or flashback. In written narrative this fact
would be marked either by deictic markers in the form of tenses, or in some cases
by clear breaks such as chapter breaks. The point is that the audience who does not
have the benefit of the multitude of visual signs has to rely on the narration to
provide them with the necessary cues to make sense of complex narrative elements
like flashbacks.
In AN, the transfers above could be achieved by simply stating something like:
The experience of sitting next to his grandmothers deathbed suddenly triggers a vivid
memory in Jonathan of his grandfathers death when he was a boy of around five or
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six.. . . He recalls walking down the corridor with the amber pendant in a plastic bag as
he walks down the same corridor now, the photograph of his grandfather and the girl in
his hand. He enters the same door he entered a decade before and stands looking at his
collection.
5. Conclusion
The iconic nature of narrative film places certain constraints on the AVT modes of
audio access for blind and partially sighted audiences. This is primarily the result of
the fact that all the modes of audio access on the continuum from the extreme of AD
(objective description) to that of AN (integrated re-narrativisation) have to provide
access through a verbalisation of verbal and non-verbal visual elements, resulting in a
narrative that is fundamentally different from the original audiovisual narrative film.
The descriptive extreme of AD, in providing access mainly through a description
of the filmic WHAT, does not allow sufficient insight into the filmic HOWand WHY
to allow optimal access to narrative film. It is argued in this article that this can only
be achieved through a verbalised re-narrativisation of the visual narrative of the
audiovisual text through the device of an audio narrator supported by and integrated
with the auditory codes contained in the soundtrack. The audio narrator should
therefore be a more overtly unifying narrative instance that makes it possible for the
blind and visually impaired audience to imagine themselves in specific positions in
relation to the fictional reality. Because of the immediacy of the mode and the
presence of the iconic soundtrack, the audio narrator of AN would typically be
intradiegetic and heterodiegetic, making use of internal focalisation through
characters or external focalisation from positions in the fictional world not
associated with identifiable characters inside the story world. The article further
argues that this narrativisation can be achieved in many cases simply by drawing
upon the wealth of devices employed in written narrative such as linguistic markers
of focalisation.
By being shown the story world in a particular way in narrative film, the viewer is
inevitably positioned in relation to this world through camera and editing techniques
(that also mark focalisation). In this respect, Prince (1996, p. 32) remarks that:
A perceptually realistic image is one which structurally corresponds to the viewers
audiovisual experience of three-dimensional space. Perceptually realistic images
correspond to this experience because film-makers build them to do so. . . Perceptual
realism, therefore, designates a relationship between the image or film and the spectator.
Important here is the fact that, for the blind and partially sighted audience who
does not have access to the perceptually realistic visual images, film remains iconic on
the level of the auditory codes. In the ideal conditions of a movie theatre with
surround-sound, but also to a lesser extent in other settings, this audience will
experience the film three-dimensionally in terms of their experience of three-
dimensional sound. This will include Josts (2004) notion of auricularisation, which
positions the audience in relation to the source of the sound. In terms of the visual
focalisation (including Josts auricularisation), it remains up to the audio narration
to supplement the auditory codes in such a way by verbalising the visual codes that
the audience will be able to imagine the characters, setting, actions (i.e., the story
world) and a particular imaginary angle to this world. And since this can only be
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done through the narration provided by the device of the audio narrator, the
focalisation has to be marked linguistically as in written narrative.
Merely describing the story world will not necessarily allow the audience to
imagine this world. Therefore, AN should focus on presenting the story world by
consciously drawing on literary techniques to evoke symbolically what was presented
iconically in film. In doing so, AN has to present both the narrative elements as well
as the orientational elements contained in focalisation.
Where focalisation in film is therefore marked by means of devices such as
camera angle in combination with shot changes, in AN it has to be marked
linguistically through markers of deixis or subjectivity as in a written narrative. By
imbuing the AN with these orientational markers, we could therefore make a strong
case for the fact that we now deal with an autonomous form of narration,
narrativising the filmic narrative through the use of AN delivered by means of the
narative device of an audio narrator that becomes part of the story world. This
allows the audience to gain imaginative access to this fictional reality by means of
narrative cues provided in a re-narrativisation of the filmic text. As such AN provides
a framing narrative for the narrative film as a whole.
Notes
1. This user group could be dened as any audience or audience member excluded from any
or all of the visual codes of the audiovisual text for whatever personal or physical
circumstance. For the purposes of this article, this will primarily refer to blind and
partially sighted audiences.
2. As Chatman (1990, p. 16) states, to describe is different from to narrate, and if we
were asked for the typical verb for representing Description, we would cite the copula (or
its equivalent) rather than the more active kind of verb. We would say that the subject
was so-and-so, not that it did so-and-so. Chatman argues that description is as much
part of narrative as narration (and argumentation).
3. See Van der Heijden (2007) for an in-depth discussion of the complexity of the lm
soundtrack and the importance of respecting this semiotic level when producing AD.
4. Seeing all the (speaking) characters as covert narrators (cf. Kozloff, 2000) is technically
correct with respect to the narrative of each individual character, but these micro-textual
narratives seldom full any macro-textual narrative role they remain framed narrators
at best.
5. Gerard Genette rst introduced the term in his Narrative discourse (1980, p. 186) to
address the confusion between Who sees? and Who speaks?. Since then it has been a
pervasive presence in narratology and subsequently in lm studies, although the term is
by no means stable.
6. Even though Jost (2004) identies the literary concepts of point of view or focalisation
as central to a comparative narratology between cinema and literature, he distinguishes
between focalisation (stripped of its visual connotations, meaning subjective access to the
mind of characters thinking and knowing) and ocularisation (perceiving). He points
out that although literary theorists (mistakenly) refer to the camera metaphorically as an
objective perspective, in lm it can be either objective or subjective.
7. The lmic narrative origo may be dened in brief as a deictic and orientational position
and vortex that represents the centre from which and into which the narrative originates
through the shared activity or function of lmic narrative impostulation.
Filmic narrative impostulation may in turn be dened as a presentational and
interpretive activity shared by the lmic authorial collective on the one hand (including
the audio describer, sometimes called the narrator of AD, and the AD and AN
scriptwriters) and the audience on the other hand. See Kruger (2009) for a discussion of
narrative impostulation in written ction.
Perspectives: Studies in Translatology 247
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8. Mainar (1993, p. 155) introduces the term auto-focalisation because the mimetic quality
of focalisation in cinema means that a certain part of the process of focalisation may be
carried out by the image itself, and about itself.
9. This access to the story world as an activity performed also by the audience will be
dened in more detail elsewhere as lmic narrative impostulation.
10. Mainars (1993) argument, for example, is built around the fact that things such as mise-
en-sce`ne and the mimetic presentation of characters auto-focalise.
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