G235: Critical Perspectives in Media Theoretical Evaluation of Production - Question 1(b

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Narrative

Aims/Objectives
To identify what narrative is • To introduce the key narrative theorists. • To have a basic understanding of how to evaluate your coursework against key narrative theory.

Narrative
In media terms, narrative is the /organisation given to a series of facts. The human mind needs narrative to make sense of things. We connect events and make interpretations based on those connections. In everything we seek a beginning, a middle and an end. We understand and construct meaning using our experience of reality and of previous texts. Each text becomes part of the previous and the next through its relationship with the audience.
Successful stories require actions which change the lives of the characters in the story. They also contain some sort of resolution, where that change is registered, and which creates a new equilibrium for the characters involved. When unpacking a narrative in order to find its meaning there are a series of codes and conventions that need to be considered. When we look at a narrative we examine the conventions of: 1.Genre 2.Character 3.Form 4.Time

We use knowledge of these conventions to help us interpret the text. In particular, time is something we understand as a convention- narratives within films do not take place in real time but they tend to telescope out and what i mean by that is the slow motion shot which replays a winning goal or event or they they telescope in in which for example Forrest Gump manage to condense a whole lifetime of a character into a 2 hour film. Therefore we consider ―the time of the thing told and how long it takes to tell the story‖ Christian Metz. A narrative consists of a Fabula ( the chronological order in which events occurred) and a Syuzhet (the order in which they are related or experienced) Fabula The fabula of a text is the raw order in which events occurred, while sujet is defined as the way in which these events are depicted and reshaped in their emplotment. Since Aristotle (350 BCE, 1450b25) narrative plots are supposed to have a beginning, middle, and end. For example: the film Citizen Kane starts with the death of the main character, and then tells his life through flashbacks interspersed with a journalist's present-time investigation of Kane's life. This is often achieved in film and novels via flashbacks or flash-forwards.

Its only because we are used to reading narratives from a very early age and are able to compare texts with others that we understand these conventions. A narrative in its most basic sense is a series of events, but in order to construct meaning from the narrative those events must be linked somehow.

Bathes Codes
Roland Barthez describes text as:
‗a galaxy of signifiers, not a structure of signifieds; it has no beginning; it is reversible; we gain access to it by several entrances, none of which can be authoritatively declared to be the main one; the codes it mobilizes extend as far as the eye can read, they are indeterminable.. the systems of meaning can take over this absolutely plural text, but their number is never closed, based as it is on the infinity of language‖

What he is basically saying is that a text is like a tangled ball of threads which needs unravelling so we can separate out the colours. Once we start to unravel a text, we encounter an absolute plurality (large number) of potential meanings. We can start by looking at a narrative in one way, from one viewpoint, bringing to bear one set of previous experience, and create one meaning for that text. You can continue by unravelling the narrative from a different angle by pulling a different thread if you like and create a entirely different meaning, and so on. An infinite number of times. If you wanted to.

Narrative • Tim O’Sullivan (1998) argues that all media texts tell us some kind of story. •Media texts offer a way of telling stories about ourselves – not usually our own personal stories, but the story of us as a culture or set of cultures. • Narrative theory sets out to show that what we experience when we ‗read‘ a story is to understand a particular set of constructions, or conventions, and that it is important to be aware of how these constructions are put together.

3 important words…

Narrative: The structure of a story. Diegesis: The fictional space and time implied by
the narrative – the world in which the story takes place. Verisimilitude: Literally – the quality of appearing to be real or true. For a story to engage us it must appear to be real to us as we watch it (the diegetic effect). The story must therefore have verisimilitude – following the rules of continuity, temporal and spacial coherence.

The Structure Of The Classic Narrative
According to Pam Cook (1985), the standard Hollywood narrative structure should have:

1.Linearity of cause and effect within an overall trajectory of enigma resolution.
basically it means that stories should have a beginning, a middle and an end (linearity), in which something happens (cause and effect), causing a series of problems (enigmas) which to be solved (resolution).

2. A high degree of narrative closure. 3. A fictional world that contains verisimilitude especially governed by spatial and temporal coherence.
Continuity editing is the predominant style of editing in narrative cinema and television. The purpose of continuity editing is to smooth over the inherent discontinuity of the editing process and to establish a logical coherence between shots. In most films, logical coherence is achieved by cutting to continuity, which emphasizes smooth transition of time and space.

Tzvetan Todorov (1977)
Bulgarian structural linguist. He was interested in the way language is ordered to infer particular meanings and has been very influential in the field of narrative theory.

Tzvetan Todorov
1. Stage 1: A point of stable equilibrium, where everything is satisfied, calm and normal. 2. Stage 2: This stability is disrupted by some kind of force, which creates a state of disequilibrium. 3. Stage 3: Recognition that a disruption has taken place. 4. Stage 4: It is only possible to re-create equilibrium through action directed against the disruption. 5. Stage 5: Restoration of a new state of equilibrium. The consequences of the reaction is to change the world of the narrative and/or the characters so that the final state of equilibrium in not the same as the initial state.

Roland Barthes (1977)
Establishment of plot or theme. This is then followed by the development of the problem, an enigma, an increase in tension. Finally comes the resolution of the plot. Such narratives can be unambiguous and linear.

According to Kate Domaille (2001) every story ever told can be fitted into one of eight narrative types. Each of these narrative types has a source, an original story upon which the others are based. These stories are as follows:

1. Cinderella:
The dream comes true, e.g. Pretty Woman.

2. Achilles: The fatal flaw
that leads to the destruction of the previously flawless, or almost flawless, person, e.g. Superman, Fatal Attraction.

3. Candide:
indomitable hero who cannot be put down, e.g. Indiana Jones, James Bond, Rocky etc.

4. Circe: The Chase,
the spider and the fly, the innocent and the victim e.g. The Terminator.

5. Faust: Selling your
soul to the devil may bring riches but eventually your soul belongs to him, e.g. Devil‘s Advocate,and Wall Street.

6. Orpheus:
The loss of something personal, the gift that is taken away, the tragedy of loss or the journey which follows the loss, e.g. The Sixth Sense, Born On the Fourth Of July.

7. Romeo And Juliet:
The love story, e.g. Titanic.

8.Tristan and Iseult: The love triangle. Man
loves woman…unfortunately one or both of them are already spoken for, or a third party intervenes, e.g. Casablanca and Eclipse.

The Russian theorist Vladimir Propp (1928) studied the narrative structure of Russian Folk Tales.
Propp concluded that regardless of the individual differences in terms of plot, characters and settings, such narratives would share common structural features.

He also concluded that all the characters could be resolved into only seven character types in the 100 tales he analyzed: 1. The villain — struggles against the hero. 2. The donor — prepares the hero or gives the hero some magical object. 3. The (magical) helper — helps the hero in the quest. 4. The princess and her father — gives the task to the hero,identifies the false hero, marries the hero, often sought for during the narrative. Propp noted that functionally, the princess and the father can not be clearly distinguished. 5. The dispatcher — character who makes the lack known and sends the hero off. 6. The hero or victim/seeker hero — reacts to the donor, weds the princess. 7. [False hero] — takes credit for the hero‘s actions or tries to marry the princess.

When brought together and broken down into their constitute parts these myths can be used to formulate a universal monomyth that is essentially the condensed, basic hero narrative that forms the basis for every myth and legend in the world and is, therefore, common to all cultures.
Both George Lucas and Stephen Spielberg were heavily influenced by Campbell‘s theories and Star Wars conforms to Campbell‘s model of the Monomyth almost exactly.

1. Ordinary World – the ordered world that the hero will choose (or be forced) to abandon. 2. Call To Adventure – a problem or challenge arises. 3. Refusal Of The Call – fear or reluctance may strike the hero. 4. Meeting With The Mentor – the mentor is a key character. 5. Crossing The First Threshold – the hero commits to the adventure. 6. Test, Allies, Enemies – the hero must learn the rules that will govern his quest. 7. Approach To The Innermost Cave – the most dangerous confrontation yet, perhaps the location of the treasure, or the object of the quest. 8. Ordeal – the hero must face his fear or mortal enemy who will seem more powerful. Mental or physical torture may occur. 9. Reward (Seizing The Sword) – the hero can celebrate the victory. 10.The Road Back – vengeful forces controlled by the villain are unleashed. 11.Resurrection – perhaps a final confrontation with death. 12.Return With The Elixir – return to the ordinary world with some wisdom, knowledge or something else gained from the adventure.

These structures are not unique to film but also advertising and news stories. In fact the structures presented are an integral part of the majority of both western and eastern cultures - details how narrative works in society to inform the audience of events, people, places through mediated ideologies within them.

Narratives have a common structure!

Jonathan Culler (2001) describes narratology as comprising many strands ―implicitly united in the recognition that narrative theory requires a distinction between story, a sequence of actions or events conceived as independent of their manifestation in discourse, and discourse, the discursive presentation or narration of events.‖

Structure is different to theme – narrative presents the form in which the theme is mediated/discussed.

Claude Lèvi-Strauss (1958) his ideas about narrative amount to the fact that he believed all stories operated to certain clear Binary Opposites e.g. good vs. evil, black vs. white, rich vs. poor etc.
The importance of these ideas is that essentially a complicated world is reduced to a simple either/or structure. Things are either right or wrong, good or bad. There is no in between. This structure has ideological implications, if, for example, you want to show that the hero was not wholly correct in what they did, and the villains weren‘t always bad. (Postmodernism?)

Levi-Strauss also looked deeper into the way that narrative were arranged in terms of themes within that were ultimately always systematic oppositions.
The order of events can be called the syntagmatic structure of a narrative, but Levi-Strauss was more concerned with the deeper of paradigmatic arrangement of themes. There is a choice of elements (paradigms) and they are arranged/dealt with in a particular way (syntagms).

Homework
“Media texts rely on cultural experiences in order for audiences to easily make sense of narratives”. Explain how you used conventional and / or experimental narrative approaches in one of your production pieces.
NB: Either your trailer or your magazine from AS

Format for writing essay para 1 Intro: which of your projects are you going to write about? briefly describe it

para 2: what are some of the key features of the concept you are being asked to apply? maybe outline two of the theories/ideas of particular writers briefly
para 3; start to apply the concept, making close reference to your production to show how the concept is evident in it para 4: try to show ways in which ideas work in relation to your production and also ways in which those ideas might not apply/could be challenged para 5; conclusion Again remember you only have 30 minutes and that you really need to analyse the finished production, rather than tell the marker how you made it

Theorists for narrative. Tzetvan Todorov – Argues that narratives always have a structure of Equilibrium/ Disequilibrium/ New equilibrium Story versus plot Claude Levi-Strauss – Argues that human cultural understanding is based upon a system of binary oppposites (good/ bad; black/ white; male/ female…). Narratologists have taken this theory and applied it to narrative, arguing that binary opposition forms a fundamental way of understanding narrative. Roland Barthes: Enigma code; Action code. Also, Open and Closed texts. Vladimir Propp – argued that narratives always have certain character types who perform certain actions. Characters are agents of action. Pam Cook argues that the Hollywood narrative structure includes: ―linearity of cause and effect within an overall trajectory of enigma resolution‖ and ―a high degree of narrative closure‖

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