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Realism in Classical American Film. Hollywood Narrative. Table of Contents. 1 Realistic Narrative 2 Non-realistic Narrative 3 Purer Form of Realist Narrative. Narrative. Narrative - structured or constructed story which tells fictional or non-fictional events.

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Table of contents
Table of Contents

1 Realistic Narrative

2 Non-realistic Narrative

3 Purer Form of Realist Narrative


  • Narrative - structured or constructed story which tells fictional or non-fictional events.

  • Narration – an act of narrating, telling a narrative

  • Narrator - the one who tells a narrative (generally by voice-over in the case of cinema)

  • Narratology - study on narrative, narration and narrator.

Realistic narrative
Realistic Narrative

  • The most important component of Classical American Films is ‘narrative’ (story).

  • The bottom line - their narratives are constructed in such a way that they give the viewer an impression that he/she is watching something plausible and probable - that is, ‘real’ – render ‘reality’ and ‘truth’ effects in story.

Realistic narrative1
Realistic Narrative

  • The classical Hollywood film creates truth effects by concealing artistry in narration.

  • → Narration, too, like various filming techniques, must be ‘invisible’ and unobtrusive so that most viewers barely notice its narration technique and artificiality.

Realistic narrative2
Realistic Narrative

  • Narration ‘techniques’ and ‘devices’ employed to create illusion of reality but kept invisible:


  • CHRONOLOGICALITY - events occur in a 1-2-3 order (occasional flashbacks - the only permissible narrative manipulation)

Realistic narrative3
Realistic Narrative

Formalistic Narrative

  • Christopher Nolan’s Memento (2000)

  • The entire story is told in backward ( from the present to the past).

  • Leonard, as a result of a blow received on his head during an assault on him, he has no short term memory.

Realistic narrative4
Realistic Narrative

  • He is looking for the real killer of his wife, with the assistant of a Polaroid camera and tattooing on himself the important facts he finds. Each scene the viewer watches is one earlier than the last one she has watched. (In normal storytelling, the scene you have just seen is the one later than the last)

Realistic narrative5
Realistic Narrative

  • CAUSALITY - actions are joined together as a series of CAUSES and EFFECTS

  • ‘Plot is a careful and logical working out of

    the laws of cause and effect. The mere

    sequence of events will not make a plot.

    Emphasis must be laid upon causality,

    and the action - reaction of the human will.’

    Francis Patterson, ‘Manual for Aspiring Screenwriters’, 1920

Realistic narrative6
Realistic Narrative

e.g. A storm isolates a group of characters;

  • a war separate lovers;

  • a lack of care kills tropical fish;

  • a cheat leads to a divorce;

  • a betrayal prompts a revenge.

Realistic narrative7
Realistic Narrative

  • Mulholland Drive (2001) - divided into two main sections: the first, which could be interpreted as a dream (1 hour 56 minutes), and the second, the final 25 minutes, which might be made of real events. Important events in the first section are repeated in the second section, but with significant differences.

Realistic narrative8
Realistic Narrative

  • Different characters repeat the same actions, and these different characters are played by the same actors. Furthermore, the important events in the first part are mysterious, but those in the second half are more mundane repetitions of those in the first part.

Realistic narrative9
Realistic Narrative

  • There is not much logic of cause and effect in the actions in the first part. The lack of causality is compensated by the repetition, which gives the film more textual coherence.

Realistic narrative10
Realistic Narrative


  • According to the Hollywood narrative ‘formula’, coincidence should be confined to the initial situation.

  • The later in a film a coincidence occurs, the weaker it is - the loss of credibility.

Realistic narrative11
Realistic Narrative

  • A woman and a man separated in Paris and many years later she suddenly walks into the bar he runs in Casablanca. “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.”

  • She did not know who owns the bar. Coincidence happens at the beginning of the film.

Realistic narrative12
Realistic Narrative

  • A case in which a coincidence takes place in the middle of a film. People in a local community discussing about the birds’ attack on school children.

  • Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963)

Realistic narrative13
Realistic Narrative

  • An action must have a MOTIVATION

  • One must have a good reason for what one does.

  • When an action is unmotivated, it would lose its credulity

Realistic narrative14
Realistic Narrative

‘In order that the motion picture may convey the illusion of reality that audiences demand, the scenario writer stresses motivation - that is, he makes clear a character’s reason for doing whatever he does that is important.’ Frances Marion, Scenario Writing, 1938

Non realistic narrative
Non-realistic Narrative

  • An example completely ignoring the (realist) narrative formulae developed in classical American films

  • Chronologicality, Causality, Motivation

Non realistic narrative1
Non-realistic Narrative

  • Surrealist film by Louis Bunuel designed by Salvatore Dali

  • Un ChienAndalou (1929)

Illusion of reality in realist narrative
Illusion of Reality in Realist Narrative

  • The film drama is:


    (Alfred Hitchcock)

Illusion of reality in realist narrative1
Illusion of Reality in Realist Narrative

  • Classical realist narrative is NOT retelling of what happens in reality as it does because it extracts from the world of its characters almost only elements which are relevant to its progress.

  • The realistic narrative in classical American films, which is achieved through various techniques and devices, is the one which gives the viewer truth effects, but is not exactly real.

Purer form of realist narrative
Purer Form of Realist Narrative

  • Purer form of realism in narrative is found in non-diegetic elements.

  • Diegetic - being relevant to the progress of a story

  • Non-diegetic - being irrelevant to the progress of an imaginary story

Purer form of narrative
Purer Form of Narrative

SiegmundKracauer finds an inverted relation between those images that further the story and those ‘retain a degree of independence of the intrigue and thus succeed in summoning physical reality.’

Purer form of narrative1
Purer Form of Narrative

Roland Barthes characterizes literary reference to objects that have no discernible narrative function except to give a material, worldly weight to the description as ‘reality effect’.

Purer form of narrative2
Purer Form of Narrative

  • A purer form of film realism is found in an incidental or contingent element in narrative. ‘… in the middle of the chase the little boy suddenly needs to piss. So he does.’ (André Bazin)

  • Vittorio de Sica’sLadri di biciclette(1948)

Purer form of narrative3
Purer Form of Narrative

  • L’Amorein citta (1953) - a omnibus film about various forms of love and lovers. Dino Risi’s ‘Paradiso per tre ore’ (Three hours of paradise)

  • Stick to the realist narrative formulae - chronological, causality and motivation

  • Story time is equal to real time. Duration of story is the same to that of reality.