Cook_The Classic Narrative System

Cook_The Classic Narrative System - History of narrative...

Info iconThis preview shows pages 1–4. Sign up to view the full content.

View Full Document Right Arrow Icon
Background image of page 1

Info iconThis preview has intentionally blurred sections. Sign up to view the full version.

View Full DocumentRight Arrow Icon
Background image of page 2
Background image of page 3

Info iconThis preview has intentionally blurred sections. Sign up to view the full version.

View Full DocumentRight Arrow Icon
Background image of page 4
This is the end of the preview. Sign up to access the rest of the document.

Unformatted text preview: History of narrative codes ill The classic narrative system By the early to middle I93OS, the modes of representation now held to be character- istic of ‘classic’ narrative cinema were more or less consolidated and had already attained a large degree of dominance, cer- tainly in Hollywood, but also in varying degrees in film industries elsewhere. By this time, of course, sound cinema was also established. The era of Classic cinema may be regarded as a period in which the cine- matic image remained largely subservient to the requirements of a specific type of narrative structure. This structure is that of the classic, sometimes also called the ‘realist’, narrative which calls forth certain modes of narration which are then put into effect by a limited set of cinematic codes (—iNARRATIvn AND STRUCTURALISM: The classic realist text, p. 2.41). The classic narrative structure In the classic narrative, events in the story are organised around a basic structure of enigma and resolution. At the beginning of the story, an event may take place which disrupts a pre-existing equilibrium in the fictional world. It is then the task of the narrative to resolve that disruption and set up a new equilibrium (see Barthes, I977). The classic narrative may thus be regarded as a process whereby problems are solved so that order may be restored to the world Vagabond, the films are not edited for continuity. In all three extracts, the cinematic image is in fact subordinated to the requirements of the gag or the comic situation. For example, the ntatchcutting and consequent relatively coherent narrative space in The Vagabond, which is appropriate to the ‘chase’ motif, contrasts with the extended visual joke rendered in twu very long static takes in The Pawns/Joy). Foolish Wives (USA t9zt p.c~ Universal; d~ Erich von Stroheim; st bfw l i) The extract from Foolish Wives demonstrates the nature of transformations which had already, by the early 1 92.05, taken place in codes of cinematic narration, particularly in codes relating to the cinematic articulation of the look. The first sequence, in which the Prince rejects his maid's offer of ma triage and then takes money from her, is pivoted on an exchange and avoidance of looks between the two characters. In editing terms, this relay of looks operates through a counterpoint of point-of—view shots, eyeline matches and shot/reverse shots. Narration works hand-in-hand with the function, crucial in this film, of characterisation. 1n the second sequence, both the editing, and also expressive mise en scene and marked of the fiction. But the process of the narra- tive ~ everything that takes place between the initial disruption and the final resolu- tion — is also subject to a certain ordering. Events in the story are typically organised in a relationship of cause and effect, so that there is a logic whereby each event of the narrative is linked with the next. The clas- sic narrative proceeds step—by~step in a more-or-less linear fashion, towards an apparently inevitable resolution. The ‘realist‘ aspects of the classic narrative are overlaid on this basic enigma-resolution structure, and typically operates on two levels: firstly, through the verisimilitude of the fictional world set up by the narrative and secondly through the inscription of human agency within the process of the narrative. The world of the classic narrative is gov- erned by verisimilitude, then, rather than by documentary-style realism (i—AUTHOR- SHIP: Documentary, p. 190). The narra- tion ensures that a fictional world, under— standable and believable to the recipient of the story, is set up. Verisimilitude may be a feature of the representation of either, or preferably both, the spatial location of events in the narrative and the temporal order in which they occur. Temporal and spatial coherence are in fact preconditions of the cause-effect logic of events in the classic narrative (see Burch, 1973). In clas- sic narrative, moreover, events ate propel- camera angles, work together to construct a subjective point-of-vicw for the Prince which functions not to solicit any identification on the part of the spectator but rather as a comment front the ‘narrator’ on an aspect of the Prince‘s character which is central to the story - his misogyny («—nisronv: The origins oftbe studio system p. 6}. Sunrise (USA 1927 pr Fox Film Corporation; d F. W. Mutnau; st b/w 1 z + 16) in Extract 2, in whiclt the man takes his wife on a boat trip to the city and attempts to carry out his plan to murder her, tension is generated initially through subjectively-marked representations of the man’s erotic and murderous fantasies, and then intensified in the narration of the boat trip itself. in the former, the man’s subjectivity is narrated as it were impersonally, the fantasy being coded as such purely through expressionistic mise en scene. The boat trip, on the other hand, is set up in the interplay of looks between man and wile as the pinnacle of suspense. The repeated looks ofthe wife at her husband are not returned by him until the moment when he evidently decides not to carry out the planned murder (4— HISTOR r : 20th Century-Fox, p. 3 3). led forward through the agency of fit: it w t: individuals or characters. Although tln». | true also of other types of narrative. sh. specificity of the classic narrative lies in lit- nature of the human agency it ll'lSCl‘llui and also in the function of such agent within the narrative as a whole. The cm tral agents of classic narrative are typicall- teptesented as fully-rounded lnlelLlIIJi with certain traits of personality, mom l tions, desires and so on. The chain ml events constituting the story is then gm erned by the motivations and actions ul these characters. An important dEl‘llllHj' feature of the classic narrative is its Cottsit tution of a central character as a ‘hcrtt'. through whose actions narrative result: tion is finally brought about. These actionu are rendered credible largely in terms oi the kind of person the hero is represented to be (—rNARRATlVE AND s‘rnucrumusm Proppap.234l Finally, classic narrative may be defined by the high degree of closure which typt cally marks its resolution. The ideal Classit narrative is a story with a beginning, .i middle and an end (in that order), in which every one of the questions raised in tin course of the story is answered by the timc the narration is complete (see Barthes. I975L Classic codes of narrative cinema Narratives may be communicated through various modes of expression, that is. stories can be told through a variety of media. The classic narrative is perhaps most often considered in its literary form, as a certain type of novel. However, stories may also be transmitted by word of mouth, in live theatre, on the radio, and in comic strips. Film is simply one narra— tive medium among many but the distin— guishing features of film are its mode of production and consumption, and the spe- cifically cinematic codes by which film na r- ratives are constructed. Cinematic codes constitute a distinct set of expressive re sources which can be drawn on for, among other things, telling stories {Anselm-rive AND STRUCTURALISM: Metz, p. 229). The classic narrative system would appear to make certain basic demands of these resources. Firstly, it demands that cinematic codes function to propel the nar- rative from its beginning through to its resolution, keeping the story moving along. Secondly, it is important that in the narration of fictional events the causal link between each event be clear. Thirdly, the narration called for would encompass the construction of a location, a credible fic- tional world, for the events of the story. Finally, it should be capable of construct— ing the individuated characters pivotal to the classic narrative, and of establishing and sustaining their agency in the narrative proceSs. Perhaps the foremost of the specifically cinematic codes is that of editing. Although editing is simply the juxtaposi- tion of individual shots, this juxtaposition it: WM a. 1 Ur. Lemur—nu 1.... .u..._ - VJ , can take place according to a variety of principles. Editing in classic cinema works in conjunction with the basic demands of the classic narrative structure in highly circumscribed ways. First, the individual shots are ordered according to the temporal sequence of events making up the story. In this way, editing functions both to move the story along and also, through the precise iuxtapositions of shots, to con— stitute the causal logic of narrative events (aStagecoach). The specificity of classic editing lies in its capability to set up a coherent and credible fictional space, and often also to orchestrate quite complex relationships of narrative space and time. The principles of classical editing have been codified in a set of editing techniques whose objective is to maintain an appear» ance of ‘continuity’ of space and time in the finished film; all learning film-makers have to master the rules of continuity edit- ing. Continuity editing establishes spatial and temporal relationships between shots in such a way as to permit the spectator to ‘read’ a film without any conscious effort, precisely because the editing is ‘invisible‘. Despite the fact that every new shot constitutes a potential spatial disrup- tion, and each gap of years, months, days and even minutes between narrated events a potential temporal disjuncture, an ap- pearance of continuity in narrative space and time can be set up (—eMildred Pierce}. The function of continuity editing is to ‘bridge’ spatial and temporal ellipses in cinematic narration, through the opera- tion of such conventions as match on action, consistency of screen direction, and Figs 83, f the 30° rule (see Burch, 1973). Coherence of fictional space is ensured by adherence to the 180° rule, whereby ‘the line’ is never His Girl Friday (USA 1939 11.6 - crossed in the editing of shots taken from Columbia; :1 - Howard Hawks; the classic narrative system functions through cinematic codes to set up different set—ups in a single location. Since 5d b/vv 19) characterisation and organise a coherent the 180° rule, in particular, depends on the In the opening sequence of the film the narrative space (4-- AUTHORSHII': hypothesis that screen direction signified heroine Hildy and her fiance Bruce Howard Hawks, p. 179). direction in three-dimensional space, the arrive at the newspaper ofiiCe where credibility of the fiction is maintained Hildy formerly worked. Hildy’s ex- through a form of editing which signifies husband Walter, the editor, tries to Stagecoach (USA 1939 19.: —Wa1ter Wanger Productions ; d # John Ford; verisimilitude (see Bordwell and Thomp- persuade her to return to her old job. sd h/w to) son, 1979). Shots 1 and 1 of the film function in the The extract shows the final part of the In the classic narrative system editing is classic manner as establishing shots: 3 stage’s iourney to Lordsburg, and governed by the requirements of verisirnili- tracking shot moves through a busy and includes a chase sequence in which the rude, hence the characteristic pattern in crowded newspaper office. A virtually passengers are attacked by Indians. any one film sequence of establishing shot, invisible lap dissolve introduces shot 2, Since at this point in the narrative the closer shots which direct the gaze of the in which the space of the office is further character traits of the protagonists are spectator to elements of the action to be delineated, here in a closer shot but already well established, the narration is read as significant, followed by further again with mobile framing. Hildy and free to focus more-or-less exclusively on long-shots to re-establish spatial relations Bruce are introduced into this same shor action and suspense. Suspense is (—r His Girl Friday). Since the classic narra— as they leave the lift adjacent to the generated by the familiar device of tive sets up fictional characters as primary office-entrance. Shot 3 is a medium two- crosscutting, which in this case initially agents of the story, it is not surprising that shot of Bruce and Hildy, shots 4, 5 and functions also to establish narrative characters’ bodies, or parts of their bodies, 6 a shot/reverse-shot figure (figs. 8a, 13, space. In the first segment of the actual notably faces, figure so frequently in close 6, d, e, f). The next five shots follow chase, shots of the stagecoach and the Shots, Close shots of this kind function Hildy back through the office, re- Indians alternate, and it is only later that also in relation to characterisation; per-— establishing the space already both groups are seen within one shot. sonality traits are represented through cos- introduced in shot I, and show her Spectator identification with the tume, gesture, facial expresSion and speech entering Walter’s room with a perfect passengers of the stage is sustained (aKIute). A: the same time, relationships match on action that moves her from through two devices. The stage is placed between ficrional protagonists are typi- one side of the door to another. This first in the alternating sequence of shots cally narrated through certain configura- sequence demonstrates very clearly how in such a way that it is clear that it is the — tions of close shots, particularly those .114 History ofnarrative codes object of pursuit. Secondly, such point- of—view shots as are to be found in this sequence originate predominantly from the coach or its passengers rather than from the Indians (figs. 9:3, in, c, d). The main burden of narration falls here on the editing, which functions almost entirely to keep the story and the action moving along. Moreover, the specific form of editing — crosscutting — also generates suspense and excitement, white sustaining the spectator’s identification with the passengers of the stagecoach (FAUTHORSHIP: john Ford, p. 184). Mildred Pierce (USA 1945 p.c — Warner Bros; d — Michael Curtiz; sd b/w 10+ 18) Extract 2 opens at the beginning of Mildred’s second flashback, as she taiks about the success of her restaurant business. The flashback is marked as such by conventionalised framing and editing quite prevalent in films of the 1940s, and a mark of narratives involving complex temporal relations. A close-up of Mildred dissolves very slowly into a long shot of one of her restaurants, and Mildred’s direct speech then becomes voice—over for the image as her face fades from the screen. The temporal eliipsis referred to in the voice- over (‘In three years I built up five restaurants’) is marked by a series of discontinuous shots punctuated by brief dissolves (figs. 10a, b, c, d, e, f, g). In the classic narrative system the dissolve is a conventional signifier of passage of brief but indefinite time. The voice-over, which is sustained throughout the montage sequence, functions simultaneously to mark the sequence as subjective, told from Mildred’s point-oh view, that is, and to bridge the substantial spatial and temporal ellipses dividing individual shots. Marnie (USA 1964 p.c — Geoffrey Stanley Inc/Universal International; (1 - Alfred Hitchcock; sd co] to + 20) Extract 1 shows Marnie waking from a nightmare: her lover Mark then questions her. The segment in which Mark enters Marnie’s room as she wakes up is constructed as a series of nine or ten alternating shot/reverse- shots. Since Marnie is not fully awake, however, and so does not see Mark, the shots ofMark are not strictly from her point-of—view, but those of Marnie are quite evidently from Mark‘s: as he moves closer to the bed, for example, the framing of the shots of Marnie contract from long shot to medium shot. In the next segment Marnie evades Mark’s questions about her dream. Marnie’s rival Lil passes by the bedroom door, looks into the next room and sees the book Mark has been reading: The Sexual Aberration: oftbe Criminal Female. The extraordinarily high incidence of point-of—view shots in this extract is quite typical for a Hitchcock film. This is, of course, partly because the narratives of many of his films are actually organised around ‘voyeuristic’ situations. Mamie is no exception, and Mark’s function as investigator of the enigma presented by Marnie is repeatedly condensed in the image by his gaze at her. Marnie is presented as a puzzle whose solution demands a close scrutiny, as she says to Mark: ‘Stare — that’s what you doI {see Mulvey, 'Visual pleasure and narrative cinema‘, 1975). In this extract optical point-of-view where an exchange of looks between char— acters is implied (AMamie). Here, editing is organised on the principle of the eyeline match, according to the direction of char- acters’ gaze. The eyeline match also gov- erns point-of—view in the shot/teverse-shot figure, which in fact reached the peak of its exploitation during the I94os, at the height of the classic era of cinema. This method of organising the looks of protag- onists, through a combination of mise en scene and editing, is a crucial defining characteristic of classic narrative cinema (see Browne, 1975/76). The conventions ofclassical editing con« stitute a particular mode of address to the spectator. In accepting a certain kind of verisimilitude in the spatial and temporal organisation of the film narrative the spec- tator becomes witness to a complete world, a world which seems even to exceed the bounds of the film frame. In looking at the faces of characters in close-up, and in identifying with characters in the text dominates the narration of a phase of an investigation. Classically, point-of—view functions to engage the spectator through identification with the look of a character. Here, however, identification is not simply with the character whose point-ofwiew dominates the sequence (Mark) but also, and perhaps more importantly, with the investigation which he is conducting. The solution to the enigma presented by Marnie is a necessary condition of narrative closure {(—AUTHORSHIP: Alfred Hitchcock, p. 129). River of No Return (USA 1 954 [Le — 20th Century-Fox; d — Otto Preminger; sd col scope and standard 20). NB. The second half of this extract is in CinemaScope format) This film is in CinemaScope, a wide— screen format which pulled the traditional screen ratio of 1 : 1-33 out to 1:2-35. The Scope image is thus relativer wide in relation to its height. ln River ofNo Return, as in other Scope films, a transformation in the shape of the screen image seems to have motivated an approach to composition, editing and narration rather different from that characteristic of the classic narrative system. In particular, long takes — often involving mobile framing —predotninate, and in dialogue sequences two- and three—shots are much more common than shot/reverse-shots. These variations on the classic narrative system have been hailed as conferring a greater ‘realism' (in the Bazinian sense) upon the cinematic image {see Barr, ‘CinemaScope before and after’, 1974). So, for example, at the beginning of the second sequence of the —» r. 3* Figs ma, 5, c through taking on their implied point-of- view, the spectator identifies with the fic- tional world and its inhabitants, and so is drawn into the narration itself. Conse— quently, a resolution of the narrative in which all the ends are tied up is in certain ways pleasurable for the spectator. Although classic narrative cinema maves towards the regulation of cinematic codes according to the requirements of a particular narrative structure, it is argu- able that this obiective can never be completely attained (see Guzzetti, I975). Narrative and image in film are never entirely reducible to one another, if only because the demands of the classic narra— tive could in fact be met by a range of con- ventions of cinematic narration, of which the classic system is bur one. Conventions, by their nature, are subject to change. Even if the classic narrative retains its domi- nance as a structure, its basic requirements could conceivably be met by cinematic codes different from those of classic cinema. And indeed, since the 19505 it appears that a rather wider range of cine- matic codes has entered circulation in forms of cinema which still on the whole rely on a classic approach to narrative structure. This trend is exemplified by modes of narration characteristic of films on wide-screen formats (—tRiuer of No Return) and by the recent development of a New Hollywood cinema (—bKlute). References Charles Barr, ‘CinemaScope: before and after’ in G. Mast and M. Cohen (eds.), Film Theory and Criticism, New York, Oxford University Press, 1974.. Roland Barthes, The Pleasure of the Text, New York, Hill and Wang, 197 5 ; trans. Richard Miller. David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson, Film Art: An Introduction, Reading, Massachusetts, Addison-Wesley, 1979. Nick Browne, ‘The spectator-in-rhe-text: the rhetoric of Stagecoacb’, Film Quarterly vol. 2.9 no. 2., 1975-76. No'él Butch, Theory ofFiIm Practice, London, Seeker and Warburg, 1973.. Alfred Guzzetti, ‘Narrative and the film image’, New Literary History vol. 6 no. 2., 1975. Laura Mulvey, ‘Visual pleasure and narrative cinema‘, Screen vol. :6 no. 3, Autumn 1975. Steve Neale, ‘New Hollywood cinema’, Screen vol 17 no. 2., Summer 1976. Roland Barthes, ‘Introduction to the structural analysis of narratives’, in lmage—Music-Text, London, Fontana, 1977 ; trans. Stephen Heath. Figs ref, 3 extract, several different sets of actions are dealt with in one single long take. Calder is in a store conversing with the 'storekeeper; he moves over to the window, pidtsnp a rifle for Mark and _ exchanges some with the boy. He then looks out of the window, moves forward and is joined from 'offscreen by the Storekeeper; both men look out onto the street. Here the space of the store is established not by the classic method of giving an establishing shot and subsequent shots which break down the space, but through “composition in width’ and mobile framing. The extract as a-whole may serve as demonstration of the potential which exists within the Institutional Mode of Representation = for variation in the cinematic articulation of narratives which remain basically classical in structure .(hAUn'lOR'Sl-IIP: ‘Mom’e’ and mise en 'scéne analysinp. 15s). Klute (USA 1971 13.6 -— Warner Bros ; d 'w-Alan Pakula;sd col scope 24) Klute is often regarded as an example of-New Hollywood cinema, a recent variant of the classic narrative system in which a certain openness or ambiguity is admitted into the cinematic narration (see Neale, ‘New Hollywood Cinema’, 1 he cldSSIC narrative system Ll) 1976). Kb!!! does in fact combine quite traditional elements of classic narrative cinema with a degree of openness which would certainly have been inadmissible in the classic era. The story takes off from the conventions of the classic 19405 film unit, in that it deals both with a . mystery and the process of investigation which leads to the mystery’s solution. The archetypal detective-hero is Klute, who falls in love with Bree, who herself becomes the object of thede'tectise’s enquiry. The first part of the extract represents Bree both as a puzzle to-be solved and as an object of the gaze. Klute’s face is seen in close-up, silent, beating a penetrating look, while Bree on the other hand is twice represented as object of the gaze of an unknown, and implicitly threatening, intruder. In the second-part of the extract, the ambiguity of the narrative is foregroundod in a scene involving Bree and her therapist, in which Bree expresses some cynicism about her relationship with Klute. This is. followed by an idyllic and romantic sequence with Bree and Klute together. Because Bree’s cynical therapeutic voice- over continues intothis second sequence, a degree of contradiction between soundand image becomes evident. ...
View Full Document

This note was uploaded on 09/08/2010 for the course RTVF 188 at San Jose State University .

Page1 / 4

Cook_The Classic Narrative System - History of narrative...

This preview shows document pages 1 - 4. Sign up to view the full document.

View Full Document Right Arrow Icon
Ask a homework question - tutors are online