A P P R 0 A C H E S T 0 STUDYING FILM TEXTS
The history and evolution of cinematic narrative conventions allows us to distinguish Classic between, on one hand, 'classical Hollywood' or mainstream cinema, and on the other, Hollywood: this term refers art cinema, which has traditionally been the province of Europe. In other words, it is both to an possible to identify a series of narrative conventions which emerged out of the impera-historical period within Hollywood tives of commercial cinema, in which the project of entertainment for the purpose of cinema (which profit is paramount, and a series of narrative conventions which emerged in industries ended with the decline of the where state subsidies, and a tendency towards small-scale independent production, vertically facilitated an emphasis on aesthetic innovation and personal expression. integrated studio system in the 1950s), and to Obviously such generalizations require qualification. For example, in contemporary the narrative and formal Hollywood horizontal integration and increasing conglomeration have brought about conventions established and promoted during this the emergence of large independent producers and specialized production and distri-time; the terms 'classical bution wings within the major companies. This environment has resulted in films such narrative' and as The Usual Suspects (Bryan Singer, 1995), Memento (Christopher Nolan, 2000) and 'Hollywood narrative' are frequently used Crash (Paul Haggis, 2004) which arguably use a number of art cinema characteristics. interchangeably Conversely European film industries have consistently produced films, such as comedies with the term and musicals, belonging to genres popularized by Hollywood, while the European “mainstream narrative,” since this constitutes propensity for art cinema may also be understood in commercial terms, with aesthetic cinema's dominant mode and national specificity proving a profitable means of product differentiation in a global of story-telling. market. As narrative categories, classical and art cinema are linked, each responding to Avant-garde the methods, creativity and competitive presence of the other. Thus French New Wave Meaning literally cinema pays homage to and parodies film noir (itself indebted to German Expressionism). 'advanced guard' (those Hollywood cinema, always particularly adept at cinematic 'borrowing', has tended to who'march ahead' of the troops in a military adopt art cinema aesthetics and conventions as a means of refreshing its own genres, campaign), 'avant-garde' and the inventiveness of the films listed above may be understood in these terms. has been taken up as an aesthetic term for art (and artists) seeking to Art cinema is also closely related to a further category, the avant-garde. The challenge, subvert or reinvent artistic tenets avant-garde is most readily distinguishable from art cinema in economic and and conventions. institutional, rather than aesthetic, terms, in that avant-garde films are distributed
outside the structures of the film industry (in film clubs, galleries or academic Modernism This refers to institutions). Art films, though frequently subsidized, are exhibited in commercially run a dramatically cinemas and their larger production scales demand greater financial success than do experimental trend avant-garde films. In terms of content and form the two categories are overlapping, and within the arts (painting, sculpture, architecture, both may be related to the rise of Modernism. literature, music and film) which grew up at the Both art cinema and avant-garde cinema may be understood in terms of responses start of the twentieth to - and reactions against - mainstream cinema. Indeed many critical accounts of art century, encompassing a wide array of movements cinema define its conventions as being opposite to Hollywood's, describing it explicitly (Expressionism, in terms of what Hollywood is not. As a means of getting to grips with art cinema's Vorticism, Symbolism, conventions this is a useful approach, but it is important to bear in mind that art cinema is Imagism, Surrealism) along with the not only this. In its relation to Modernism, and in its existence within different national innovations of individual cinemas, art cinema is varied, and has conventions of its own that are not simply 'other' artists not directly than what Hollywood does. affiliated with a particular movement. Modernism involved a The above definitions of both 'mainstream' and 'art' in cinema are admittedly rejection of Western and 'first-world centric', since the former is conceived in terms of Hollywood nineteenth-century styles, traditions and ideas, and the latter in terms of Europe. This reflects Hollywood's global domination of the film and a self-conscious (or industry, and the powerful influence American and European cinematic traditions have 'self- reflexive') approach to had worldwide. However, there are a number of other powerfully influential national and aesthetic forms, in which artistic expression was itself transcontinental cinemas which offer their own art and commercially orientated conven-explored, questioned and tions (the cinemas of India and Japan most obviously come to mind). reinvented.
For further discussion of Indian cinema see Chapter 13, pp. 336-62. Story and plot Russian formalism In order to understand the fundamental components of any narrative it is first necessary A literary theory which developed in Russia in to make a distinction between a narrative's 'story' and its 'plot'. 'Story' (labelled 'fabula' the early 1920s, which by Russian formalist literary theorists) refers to the events of the narrative, and the sought to establish a actions and responses of characters. 'Plot' (or 'syuzhet') refers to the ways in which the scientific basis for the study of literature and literary effects.
- M TEXTS M FORM AND NARRATIVE 63
us to distinguish story is presented to us in terms of its order, emphases and logic. A succinct distinction and on the other, between these two ideas has been provided by Seymour Chatman, who suggests that other words, it -the story is the what in a narrative that is depicted', and plot 'the how' (Chatman 1980: is )Ut of the 19). impera)r the The most conspicuous way that the plot shapes how the story is told is in terms purpose of rged in of ,-is chronology. One way in which a plot may present a story is the order in which industries ~dent we presume events take place and the characters experience them. Thus the film production, )n. Bambi (David Hand, 1942), which is essentially the story of the central character's in contemporary life from birth to parenthood, has a narrative in which the story and plot order are the te brought about same. By contrast, Marcel Carne's Le Jour se leve (1939) has a plot which begins close uction and to the end of the story (and the hero's life), with Francois (Jean Gabin) committing a districted in films murder. There then follow three separate flashbacks, which show us the events that led such Nolan, to the murder. This plot structure clearly has the effect of creating intrigue by raising the 2000) and a question of how Francois could have descended to such desperate measures. It also characteristics, imbues the film with a pervasive air of pessimism, since even as flashbacks show us a such as comedies burgeoning romance, we know that the liaison must be ill-fated. ille the European Thus our responses to the story are shaped by the manipulations of the plot. Plot 'Is. with aesthetic strategies which play with the story's chronology demand that we piece together the nation in a global order in which we presume the events take place. The ease with which this can be done Ich responding to depends on the method and degree of connection between one story-moment and the ranch New Wave ripple-dissolve next. Le Jourse lave, for example, employs cinematic codes (such as the ripple-dissolve) A dissolve is an n Expressionism). to make such links clear. (Of course, these only work because there is a shared under-editing technique 1% has tended to standing between filmmakers and viewers that ripple-dissolves introduce characters' using superimposition, 9 its own genres, memories.) The plot can also emphasize or de-emphasize moments of the story through which produces a gradual 'ese terms. transition between one other types of temporal manipulation. The least important moments of story are liable to garde. The image be missed out of the plot altogether (as when, for example, a character travels from one and the next, during avant-and story-location to another). The omission (or ellipsis) of a portion of the story from the plot which the two shots institutional, )Utsidmay have a number of other effects, such as the evocation of mystery. In Bambi the plot for a time occupy the frame e the strucstions). simultaneously, appearing does not dramatize the period