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Narrative form and patterns of development

Narrative form and patterns of development

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Narrative form and patterns of development

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  1. Narrative form and patterns of development • We all “go to the movies to have a good time. But that is exactly my point: what we want from the movies is not just distraction diversion or passing amusement. We want satisfaction” (New York Times, 5 June 2005). • A. O. Scott (class of ‘88)

  2. Narrative form and patterns of development • Some features that all narratives share. • Narrative patterns typical of the classical Hollywood cinema. • How to talk about the narrative structure of individual films.

  3. Most narratives defined by . . . • UNITY: • A narrative is a self-contained whole with a beginning, a middle, and an end. • Unity also means that the parts of the narrative strive to contribute to the whole, and that this whole is unfolding in an orderly and systematic way. • CLOSURE: • A narrative presents an already completed sequence of events. • The order of events, and the relations of cause and effect that link them, are fixed and irreversible. • “IMAGINARINESS” • The unity, coherence, and predetermined outcomes of fictional worlds.

  4. Diegesis • The diegesis is the fictional world implied by the film. • a function both of plot (a self-contained fictional universe defined by the unity, closure, and “imaginariness” represented on the screen); • and of story (the spectator’s mental or psychological participation). • Realism vs. verisimilitude

  5. Narratives are motivated • The film system: • every element contributes to forming an organised whole. • Every element of film form will function to advance the narrative in some way. • Motivation mean that most of what you see or hear in a film is meaningful.

  6. Motifsare basic elements of narrative meaning • A motif is any significant element of film form. • A motif is by definition repetitive. It recurs throughout the film, often in different forms. • A motif can serve multiple narrative functions. • parallelism: motifs may cue us to posit similarities among different narrative elements.

  7. Can you comment on some of the following motifs from The Usual Suspects? • What form do the motifs take? • How do they function to unify the narrative form of the film? • Do they set up parallelisms in the film? • Are there patterns of similarity and/or contrast as these motifs unfold across the film narrative?

  8. Classical Hollywood cinema is . . . • Human centred. • Driven by desire. • Built on opposition and conflict. • Linear: actions and events are linked in a cause-effect chain. • Clear and complete motivation of action and events. • Objective or omniscient narration. • Strong sense of closure.

  9. Classical Hollywood cinema • In what ways does this week’s film conform to the seven principal conventions of the classical Hollywood cinema? • In what ways does it deviate from this aesthetic norm?

  10. Plot and story • The plot refers to the ordering of actions and events as they actually appear in the film in their closed and irreversible sequence. • The plot is organised by various patterns of development. • The story refers to the spectator’s mental reconstruction of those actions and events into a chronological and meaningful pattern. • The spectator infers story information and chronology from the cues offered by plot presentation.

  11. Patterns of development in Hollywood Cinema • Most Hollywood plots are structured in three acts. • The three acts of most Hollywood films are further divided into six sections of narrative development. • The typical Hollywood plot follows a canonic form.

  12. The six basic plot sections • Exposition • Conflicts defined and developed • Potential successes and failures • Apparent disaster • Rapid turn of events • Climax and conclusion

  13. Plot: the “canonic form” • The basic pattern (seven phases of action): • Initial state of affairs  violence or rupture  restoration  undisturbed stage  disturbance  struggle  elimination of disturbance. • A double causal structure: two plot lines. • Each plot line encompasses a goal, obstacle and climax. • The two plot lines coincide at the climax. • Resolving one plot line triggers the resolution of the other.

  14. Why segment a narrative? • The problem of citation: defining large narrative units. • Segmentation help us understand the basic principles of plot structure and organisation. • In narrative films, the primary level of action and sense is the segment, and the internal organisation of segments, not the shot. • Our global understanding of the film system rests not at the level of the image, but through the association and juxtaposition of images. • The organisation of shots into segments, segments into larger parts, and parts into acts.

  15. How to define a segment • Beginnings and endings of segments often signalled by “marks of punctuation”: fades, dissolves, wipes, irises, or “hard” cuts. • A segment is often defined by unities of time, place, and action. • A single narrative idea will be followed through from statement to conclusion. • Apprehension of formal unity in the ordering of the shots. • Apprehension of formal unity in the context of the film considered as a whole.

  16. How to define a segment • Apprehension of formal unity in the ordering of the shots. • Look for distinct patterns of composition and/or editing. • Segments are often spatially closed but causally open. • Action in distinct phases: • exposition • struggle • resolution of prior cause-effect line • opening of a new one • One line of action is suspended while another is opened.