Thursday, 29 November 2007

"Alien" : useful case study material

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

The difference between a narrative and a story explained

How To Read A Film Sequence

Reading a Film Sequence
Preliminary Notes

This helpsheet draws attention to formal concerns, to matters grounded in the work of the text. Every text, though, is a function of at least two contexts: the context in which it was made and the context in which it functions.

Every text speaks in a number of different ways, i. e., it recycles the givens of tradition, engaging various forms of discourse, putting them together in a way to produce an aesthetic entity. These texts are something like a stringing together of quotations, of reworking conventions, of adding together a number of impulses from the world in which one lives, appropriating various elements in a way that leads to something different, and in that sense, new.

The work that goes into ferreting out the different voices in a text involves, among other things, an awareness of historical situations, the assumptions and background of an artist and his/her team, the motivation (s) behind a certain production. Beyond that, to talk about a filmic text means that we engage in a dialogue that brings us into the scene as a participant in an exchange: we make certain assumptions, both methodological and theoretical ones. Even the statement "I didn't like this film" carries with it a sizable amount of implicit assumptions.

Any thorough analysis of a film involves studying the following:

-the socio-historical background to the film, economic and political factors that conditioned its making and explain its existence;
-the traditions out of which a given film arises:
-the sorts of cultural quotations it partakes of, the conventions it makes use of, the degree to which it participates in certain specifically national patterns of expression;
-the institutional positioning of a given film:
-its status in the public sphere in which it is received;
-the director/author's larger body of work, of which the film is part of a larger whole;
-the "work" of the text itself, never forgetting, though, that films issue from a larger extra-filmic whole;
-the question of a film's reception in time and how this has pre-shaped our own expectations as well as the film's place in history;
-the relation of a text to certain intertexts; these can be directly suggested by a film or they can be creative associations suggested by the spectator.

I. Narrative

1. What is the function of this sequence within the larger narrative action:
exposition, climax, foreshadowing, transition, etc? Does the sequence encapsulate the major oppositions at work in the film? What are the underlying issues in the sequence (often glossed over and obscured in the overt action and in the dialogue, but possibly alluded to in the visuals)? What is the selected sequence "really" about? What aspect of the story does it establish, revise, develop? How do the visuals express it?

2. How is the story told? (linear, with flashbacks, flash-forwards, episodically?) What "happens" on the level of the plot? How do plot and story differ, if at all?

3. Can the sequence be divided into individual segments (indicated, for instance, by shifts of location, jumps in time, intertitles, etc.)? Assuming the film's story consists of many "wisps of narratives, " all intricately interwoven with each other, how many simultaneous narratives (substories) does the sequence contain?

4. How do the various channels of information used in film--image, speech, sound, music, writing--interact to produce meaning? Does one of the channels dominate in this sequence?

5. Is there a recognizable source of the narration? Voice-over or off-screen commentary? What is the narrator's perspective?

6. Does the film acknowledge the spectator or do events transpire as if no one were present? Do characters look into the camera or pretend it is not there? Does the film reflect on the fact that the audience assumes the role of voyeurs to the screen exhibition?

7. Does the film reflect on its "constructedness" by breaking the illusion of a self-sufficient "story apparently told by nobody?" Are there intertitles, film-within-film sequences, obtrusive and self-conscious ("unrealistic") camera movements calling attention to the fact that the film is a construct?8. How does the narrative position the spectator vis-a-vis the onscreen events and characters? Are we made to respond in certain ways to certain events (say, through music that "tells" us how to respond or distances us from the action)? How are women portrayed? Are they primarily shown as passive objects of the male gaze? Does the camera transfigure them (through soft-focus, framing, etc.)?

9. Does the narrative (as encapsulated in the sequence) express (indirectly) current political views? Does the film sequence conform to, affirm, or question dominant ideologies? Does the filmmaker (unconsciously) subvert the expression of minority or non-conformist views by recourse to old visual cliches?

II. Staging

The filmmaker stages an event to be filmed. What is put in front of the camera? How does the staging comment on the story? How does it visualize the main conflicts of the story?

1. Setting:
On location or in the studio? "Realistic" or stylized? Historical or contemporary? Props that take on a symbolic function? Are things like mirrors, crosses, windows, books accentuated? Why? How do sets and props comment on the narrative?

2. Space:
Cluttered or empty? Does it express a certain atmosphere? Is the design symmetrical or asymmetrical? Balanced or unbalanced? Stylized or natural? Open form: frame is de-emphasized, has a documentary "snapshot" quality; closed form: frame is carefully composed, self-contained, and theatrical; the frame acts as a boundary and a limit. Is space used as an indirect comment on a character's inner state of mind?

3. Lighting:
What is illuminated, what is in the shadow? Lighting quality: hard lighting (bold shadows) or soft (diffused illumination)? Direction: frontal lighting (flat image), sidelighting (for dramatic effect), backlighting (only the silhouette is visible), underlighting (from a fireplace, for example)? "Realistic" or high contrast/symbolic lighting? High key/low key? Special lighting effects? (e. g. shadows, spotlight). Natural lighting or studio? (Hollywood has three light sources: key light, fill light, and backlight.) How does the lighting enhance the expressive potential of the film?

4. Acting and Choreography:
What do appearance, gestures, facial expressions, voice signify? Professional actors or non-actors? Why? Movement of characters: toward or away from the camera, from left to right or vice versa? Do characters interact with each other through their gaze? Who looks at whom? Grouping of characters before the camera; view ofcharacters (clear or obscured [behind objects], isolated or integrated, center or off-center, background or foreground?) How do acting and choreography attract and guide the viewer's attention (and manipulate his/her sympathies)? How do they create suspense, ambiguity, wrong clues, complexity, and certainties?

5. Costume and Make-Up:
"Realistic" or stylized/abstract? Social and cultural coding: what do the costumes signify (status, wealth, attitude, foreignness, etc.)?

III. Cinematography
The filmmaker controls not only what is filmed but how it is filmed: how the staged, "pro-filmic" event is photographed and framed, how long the image lasts on the screen.

1. Photography:

Film Stock:
What type of photographic film is used? (Fast film stock to achieve grainy, contrasty look) Tinting? Over/underexposed? Black and white or color? Symbolic use of colors? Subjective use/colors linked to certain characters? Colors as leitmotif?

Speed of Motion:
"Normal" speed (24 frames per second for sound film; 16 for silent); slow motion; accelerated motion; freeze frame; time-lapse (low shooting speed: a frame a minute; see the sun set in seconds)?

Wide-angle; normal; telephoto lens (depth reduced)? Zoom lens?

Depth of field; shallow focus; deep focus (everything is in sharp focus)? Rack focus (lens refocuses)? Soft focus?

Special Effects:
Glass shot; superimposition; projection process?

How do such photographic manipulations of the shot function within the overall content of the film?

2. Camera/Framing:

High angle, low angle, straight-on angle; eye-level shot; oblique angle; canted frame?

Extreme long shot, long shot, medium shot, (extreme) close-up?

Movement (Mobile Framing):
Pan: horizontal "pan-orama" shot? Tilt: up or down? Tracking (or dolly) shot: camera travels forward, backward, in various directions? Crane? Aerial shot? How do camera movements function? What information do they provide about the space of the image? Does the camera always follow the action? Does it continually offer new perspectives on the characters and the objects? Subjective camera movement? How does it relate to on-screen/offscreen space?

Type of shot:
Establishing shot? Point-of-view shot? Reaction shot? Shot-counter shot?

IV. Editing

Transition Techniques:
Gradual changes: dissolve (superimpose briefly one shot over the following; fade-in or -out (lighten or darken the image); cuts (instantaneous changes from one shot to another); abrupt shifts and disjunctions. Does editing comment on the relationships between characters and spaces?

Purpose of Editing:
Continuity editing, thematic or dialectical montage, "invisible" cutting, shock cutting, cross-cutting (alternates shots of two or more lines of actions going on indifferent places).

Rhythm and Pace:
flowing/jerky/disjointed/more pans than cuts? /fast-paced/slow-paced/ are there major changes in rhythm due to different editing? Shot duration?

V. Sound

Is its source part of the story (="diegetic") or added on (="nondiegetic")? With diegetic sound the source of the sound can be visible (on-screen) or unseen (off-screen). What kind of music: classical/rock/exotic/familiar? Typical for the period depicted? Does music comment (foreshadow or contradict) the action? Does it irritate? What is the music's purpose in a film? How does it direct our attention within the image? How does it shape our interpretation of the image?

Sound effects:
Artificial or natural sound? On- or off-screen source? Is there subjective sound? What does it signify?

Stilted or artificial language? Do different characters use different kinds of language? Slang, dialect, profanity? Allusion to other texts, quotations? Do certain characters speak through their silences?

Who is speaking and from where? Is voice-over part of the actionor (nondiegetically) outside of it? What does the narrator know and what is his/her relationship to the action? Is s/he reliable, omniscient, unreliable?

Is sound matched with the image? Non-simultaneous sound? (For instance, reminiscing narrator or when sound from the next scene begins while the images of the last one are still on the screen. This is also called a "sound bridge".)

© Eric Rentschler and Anton Kaes, used by permission.

Sunday, 25 November 2007

Character Types in "Stagecoach" (1939): genre and the western

The character comments listed below were found on Bristol City College's website

These characters featured in one of the greatest westerns of all time - John Ford's "Stagecoach" (1939). The reason for the film's importance is Ford's ingenuous revamping of the western's narrative conventions as he set the standard for westerns to come. For instance, the stagecoach itself acts as an enclosed theater; among several conventions introduced by Ford were: character types below, the cavalry charge in the nick of time and the final shoot-out. He also introduced John Wayne's character, in Wayne's breakthrough role, in a particularly flamboyant way. Ford also dispensed with the singing cowboys which were a feature of westerns until the late 1930s (and in some films some time after).

Characters – what do they stand for?

Taking these summaries of character, can you map them onto the basic opposition of EAST and WEST? This is a model of the the structure of westerns suggested by Jim Kitses in his 1969 essay, "Authorship and Genre: Notes on the Western".

Doc Boone – A Drunk but not bad. Still thinks about people’s good qualities. Supports Dallas against prejudiced towns-women (League of Decency?). Politically in opposition to Hatfield (yet they manage to be reconciled a little after the baby is born). Dallas comes to him for advice about Ringo’s proposal. He becomes a father figure to her.

Curly (Sheriff) – Father figure to Ringo. Represents social ethics. The Law of the land. The future. Knew Ringo’s father – looks out for Ringo. Has authority in the group – makes decisions (esp. for Buck).

Buck (Driver) – Comic character. Not bad, just not bright. Simple family orientated. Focused on the trivial, not socially important issues. Feels his authority has been taken by Curly. Likable. But childish.

Mrs. Mallory – High status. Prim & proper. Aligned with League of Decent Ladies in town. Feels uncomfortable about present company. Toffy-nosed. Thinks too much of herself. Wife of a military man (becomes more friendly with Dallas but it is not to last): Daughter of a military man from the Southern Confederate army. The daughter she gives birth to is a product of this southern and northern blood – the future reconciles the past.

Dallas – Poor reputation. Thrown out of town by Ladies who don’t. Considered a ‘loose’ woman. Is afraid of what Ringo might think of her past. Is the downtrodden who deserves a second chance. Can still be a good mother despite her past.

Peacock – Family man. Represents commercial future of the country. In many ways the most interesting combination of things: sells whiskey but is often called reverend, has clear gentlemanly qualities (looks out for the ladies, a father of 5!), yet is treated like a child by Doc Boone. A clear Easterner.

Ringo Kid – Jail bird but not bad because is protecting everyone and sticks up for Dallas. Young & handsome. Represents traditional cowboy hero. Respectable members of coach look down on him. Associate him with lower class (i.e. of Dallas)

Gatewood (Banker) – Has left wife – run off with stolen money from bank. Is a blusterer – selfish, esp. when it comes to women – in many ways is the opposite of Peacock. Represents corruption. Is caught in the end. Represents the ‘bad apples’ in the future of the country.

Hatfield – Southern gambler gentleman. Supports Mrs Mallory’s status as a Lady. However has a bad side in that has killed people in gambling disagreements. This makes him an obvious candidate for catching a bullet from the Indians in the chase sequence. Has some regard for Doc Boone’s profession after the baby is born. Dies with honour? As the Southern Confederacy must for the good of the country?

Thursday, 22 November 2007

More possible coursework extracts from war films for micro essays

The opening sequence of "The Great Escape" (1963)

Possible war film choices for micro or macro coursework essays

"The Green Berets" (1968): John Wayne and David Jansen. The US military obviously had a hand in this one! It's a great clip for ideology.

"Apocalypse Now" (1979) The Ride of the Valkyries. Robert Duvall rides in with his US cavalry to raid a Vietnamese village.

More from the same scene

The Tomahawk scene fight scene from "The Patriot". Mel Gibson and his young sons fight to save an older son being brought to a place of execution by the British. Gibson shocks his sons with the extent of his violence.

The take offs from "A Bridge Too Far" (1977)

The opening sequence to the "Battle of Britain" (1969)

The climax scene from the "Battle of Britain" (1969)

The Roman army arrives in "Spartacus" (1960)

FS1 Storyboard coursework and its elements

Sections of your Storyboard Presentation:

1. Synopsis - about 200 words. [5 marks]

2. The Storyboard - about 25 shots. [20 marks]

3. Cinematic Ideas - about 200 words. [5 marks]

4. Evaluation - 400 - 500 words. [10 marks]

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

The most and least popular film genres

This is an interesting chart which shows the genres currently in vogue and genres that are an acquired taste!

A Structural Study of The Western (Macro features)

(Will Wright Sixguns and Society: A structural study of the Western, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1975.)

Wright says that the Western has gone, primarily, through three stages of evolution; the 'classic' Western which also includes the variation of the 'vengeance' Western, the 'transition theme' Western and the 'professional' Western. Despite showing that this particular genre has these three different types Wright believes that all have a similar set of basic structuring oppositions:

inside society/outside society




(Will Wright Sixguns and Society: A structural study of the Western, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1975.)

With the binary oppositions structure set and in place, Wright then goes on to suggest that it is not only the structural features that should be considered, he says that the narrative structure should be analysed also.

The 'classic' Western for example is divided into sixteen narrative 'functions':

1.The hero enters a social group.

2.The hero is unknown to society.

3.The hero is revealed to have an exceptional skill.

4.The society recognises a difference between themselves and the hero; the hero is given a special status.

5.The society does not completely accept the hero.

6.There is a conflict of interests between the villains and the society.

7.The villains are stronger than the society; the society is weak.

8.There is a strong friendship or respect between the hero and a villain.

9.The villains threaten the society.

10.The hero avoids involvement in the conflict.

11.The villains endanger a friend of the hero.

12.The hero fights the villains.

13.The hero defeats the villains.

14.The society is safe.

15.The society accepts the hero.

16.The hero loses or gives up his special status.

(Will Wright Sixguns and Society: A structural study of the Western,

Berkeley: University of California Press, 1975.)

Coursework ideas: new endings to well known films

Are you looking for ideas for your coursework storyboard? Why not work on a variation of how the film of your chosen genre SHOULD HAVE ENDED. Other than doing a wild-west shoot out this seems like a good idea as your imagination will be fueled by the original movie. Choose a well-known film from a solid genre and end it in the way you think it should have ended.

How "Saving Private Ryan" should have ended

How "Lord of the Rings" should have ended

How Star Wars Episode IV Should Have Ended- Animation Parody

Macro Features of War Films

Macro Features of War Films

These are just ideas to start us off. By doing your own research you will discover more of them.

Remember that you need to establish the main storyline(s) of the film first and then you can establish how the director includes or leaves out narrative conventions that you might expect to see in a war film. You can then also notice how directors change, subvert, leave out or add to the conventions. Don’t forget that intertextuality – how films sometimes include references to images, scenes, speeches and characters from other films, is another aspect of the genre.

YOU will discover others as you analyse aspects of the films’ genre, narrative and iconography.
Consider how war films can break into sub genres for different wars and for various aspects of the armed services. For instance: spying missions, the war at sea, films that focus on aircraft, comic war films,

Focus on repeated conventions
An unseen enemy (makes them frightening and inhuman), a diverse group of men with a leader with distinctive qualities, the absence of women, narratives non linear (flash back), the last stand, etc. (Spidergram them!) locations and their symbolic signifcance (mountains represent freedom, use of uniforms, etc.)

Think about the representation (how race, age, sex and class) is shown is important for the Macro understanding of films.

Think about how different types of characters are portrayed in war films. For instance, in Platoon, there is a racist sergeant, a Jewish man, the leader as a man of principle, a weakling who survives, the token black soldier, etc. (These are often presented as a formula)
Ideology (that is the values and beliefs that are conscious and unconscious in these films)

What position do the films take with war – are they for or against. Do they advocate sacrifice and glory or do they focus on wasted lives and how war affects people’s lives?

In Marxist critical discourse ideology is often perceived to be providing cover for some deeper-seated reality only barely visible beneath ideology’s cloak (see Eagleton 1991: 10–26). For example, the explicit propagandist designs that governed the cultural imagination of war during World War I insisted that war be understood in relation to a chivalric code of honour,a Christian rhetoric of sacrifice and a powerful discourse of nationalism.”
War in Cinema, An Introduction

What is the relationship with the military? Did they help with the production of the film? Did they approve or disapprove of it?

How do British War films differ from American ones?
What types of narratives does each country like to produce? And how do they represent them? (Think also here about poster, advertising, trailers, etc. DVDs have a wealth of material for further research on this – if this is what you want to write your macro essay on.)

Think also about how micro elements such as mise-en-scene is repeatedly represented in similar or different forms. For instance the Swiss mountains featured in the “The Great Escape” (1963) carry a different symbolic significance from Clint Eastwood’s “Letters from Iwo Jima” in which many Japanese soldiers lived and died and were ultimately entombed in Mount Suribachi.

Read the article on War Films on at the British Film Institute’s Screenonline.

Link to Screenonline

It’s great for understanding how British War Films focused on different things the decades during and after WWII.

Several examples of narrative conventions
The primary characteristics now associated with the combat-film genre derive from the film Bataan, released in June 1943, a little more than a year after the peninsula fell to the Japanese. Its reviews were uniformly excellent and its box office was solid. The historical model for the film's characters and action was the 1934 Ford film, The Lost Patrol, written by Dudley Nichols. Bataan tells the story of a group of hastily assembled volunteers who, through their bravery and tenacity, hold off an overwhelmingly large group of the enemy long enough to buy much-needed time for American forces. Because all die at the end, it is an example of "the last stand" celebration of American bravery, the most familiar mythic example of which is the story of the Alamo.

From another source

“Many World War II combat films contain the story elements found in Bataan: a group that is a democratic ethnic and religious mixture; a hero who is part of the group, but who is forced to separate himself in order to be a good leader; a specific objective to be met; a specific enemy; and recognized military equipment and costume. The basic narrative conventions of hero, group, and objective of the World War II combat genre can be traced from films released from the 1940s onward, decade by decade. In the 1950s such films as Halls of Montezuma (1950), Battle Cry (1955), and Men in War (1957) continued the tradition. Even though Halls of Montezuma and Battle Cry are set in World War II and Men in War in Korea, all three retain the basic story in which a diverse group of soldiers are on patrol under stern leadership, seeking to achieve their objective while fighting a difficult enemy. Similar films from the 1960s include Marines, Let's Go (1961), Merrill's Marauders (1962), Up from the Beach (1965), and the Vietnam-based The Green Berets. The 1970s brought Kelly's Heroes (1970) and The Boys in Company C; the 1980s The Big Red One and Heartbreak Ridge; and the 1990s A Midnight Clear (1992) and Saving Private Ryan, which, although it was hailed as a "new" and "different" World War II combat film, followed the generic convention in many ways. The visual presentation is more graphic and realistic, but the narrative is the familiar story of a tough hero (Tom Hanks) who has to separate himself from his men in order to be an effective leader. His group is diverse, including an Italian, a Jew, a cynic from Brooklyn, and a mountain sharpshooter. Their difficult objective is to rescue a single soldier, the only brother of four not yet killed in combat, as a symbolic mission. The new millennium has continued to bring war films based on the original format, such as Windtalkers and We Were Soldiers (both 2002) and Tears of the Sun (2003)."

"Once the conventions of the combat film were set, they were used for many wars, such as Korea (Men in War), Vietnam (The Green Berets, The Boys in Company C), Grenada (Heartbreak Ridge), an imaginary future war on American soil (Red Dawn), the Persian Gulf (Three Kings), and Somalia (Black Hawk Down). Although the purpose of the combat film is not the same in 1998 as in 1943, its conventions still serve a purpose. Each of the postwar combat films reflects the decade in which it was released. Saving Private Ryan, for example, modernized the genre with new technology and increased violence, and put the older elements together to challenge movie-goers to think about the increased use of violence as well as to consider seriously the sacrifices combat soldiers made for Americans during World War II.”

FS1 Explained (the unit, Film Studies 1) Making Meaning

Unit 1 – Film: Making Meaning

A) Overview

This unit focuses on:

• Film form – and the production of meaning
• Spectator response
• Hollywood genre films

In particular we will look at:

• Film form and style
• Techniques of storytelling
• Film in relation to intended and actual responses by audiences
• Individual responses to micro and macro elements in film form.

The unit concerns itself with the interaction of film text and audience as a communication process.

B) Film Form

This requires a study of two particular aspects:
1. MACRO: narrative and genre
2. MICRO: mise-en-scene, cinematography, editing and sound.

C) Spectator Study

The unit also requires a study of the spectator as someone who ‘reads’ a film text and responds to narrative and film form.

The emphasis is on:

• your awareness of your competences in working with the conventions of narrative film and genre in order to make meaning
• the exploration of the spectator’s personal identity in responding to a film.

Film texts and genre
To develop film the skills needed for the micro analysis:

Patty is teaching the western
Dave, film noir
Dog, war films

D) Assessment tasks

You need to produce a portfolio consisting of:

Written analysis 1 ( 1000-1500 words) - 30% Macro analysis

Focus on how narrative and genre features create meaning and generate response in a film sequence of no more than 15 minutes or in a comparison of two different sequences from different films, neither of which should be more than 7 minutes in length.

Written analysis 2 (1000-1500 words) - 30% Micro

Focus on how one or more mise-en-scene, cinematography, editing and sound create meaning in a film sequence of no more than 7 minutes. You can support your words with images from the film.

Practical Application of learning – Creative Work – 40%

You will need to prepare the following:

1. A very brief synopsis (summary) of an imaginary film – 200 words maximum
2. A brief account of the cinematic ideas to be developed in a sequence – 200 words maximum.

The specific work on the sequence may take the form of:

a) A storyboard (drawn or photographed) - between 15-25 different shots
b) A screenplay extract pf between 500 and 800 words (including directions and visual information) from a specified point in the film.

You will then need to produce a brief reflection/evaluation on the intended meanings and actual responses to the creative work – 400 -500 words in total.

Marks will be awarded as follows:

• Film Form and Spectatorship – Application of Learning – 40%
• Appropriate presentation – 10%
• Evaluation – 25%

Dog at St Luke’s adaptation of work done by W.R. Malyszko, a teacher and examiner for the WJEC

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

War Films - Short narrative summaries

This site is useful for its brief narrative summaries and analysis of war films.

War and Anti war films

Monday, 19 November 2007

War Films Macro analysis: genre and narrative

"The Great Escape" (1963) belongs to the prisoner of war sub genre of war films.
Identify its narrative elements: what the story is about and how narrative conventions are raised within such a narrative; for instance, escape committees, tunnels, various types of men, a distinguished leader who stands apart from the rest of the men, the representation of the Germans officers and guards, the mise-en-scene of watchtowers, barbed wire and searchlights, etc.

Another type of war film within this genre is the combat war film.

Establish what the main narrative of this film is about.(Sum up the main story). Then establish the narrative conventions that underpins this narrative: for instance, the non-linear narrative as the action takes place through the eyes of the old combatant (Ryan). The beach landings and combat on the beaches, the unseen enemy, the mission, losing men on the mission, letters, mistaken identity, the use of dog tags, the idea of sacrifice, heroism, cowardice, the desire go home, etc. Find others.

From a more unusual perspective (that of the Japanese) Clint Eastwood's combat film shares many of the same narrative conventions as that of Speiberg's "Saving Private Ryan". The convention of beginning in the present and going back in time is shared along with the desire to go home, sacrifice, letters, various types of men, a distinguished leader, the last stand, cowardice, etc. Conventions often found in war films but not in "Saving Private Ryan" are the training/preparation sequence, flashbacks by the soldiers of their lives back home, etc.

For your macro study you need to focus on a fifteen minute sequence from a film. Good places to find them are at the beginning, middle or end of a film. Endings are always good hunting grounds for sequences useful for writing essays. Remember that you can use two films and select a seven minute extract from each to help you construct your macro essay.

Defining Film Narrative from Film Encyclopedia

Here's a useful, though wordy, explanation of a seemingly tricky topic, film narrative. The arrival of a train in a station disgorging its passengers and taking on new ones is unlikely to set modern hearts beating, but back in 1895 it was riveting cinema!

Among the first widely seen motion pictures were the amazing fifty-second films by Louis Lumière (1864–1948) and his camera operators. One of the more famous was the Arrivée d'un train en gare a La Ciotat (Arrival of a Train, 1896), in which the camera records the train pulling into the station, passengers descending and boarding, and bystanders interacting with the travelers. But does a single shot of a train arriving count as a narrative?

For most critics, the minimal criteria for determining the presence of narrative include a series of events in some cause–effect order. Causality suggests temporal, spatial, and thematic links as well. Thus these events, "a train arrives, doors open and passengers climb out, a woman runs past holding a small child's hand, a man with a bundle walks after them," provide only the barest markers of narrative. One contemporary newspaper reporter actually embellished his account of the film: "The travelers all look pale, as if they were seasick. We do not recognize characters so much as known types: the petite maid, the butcher boy, and the young man with a humble bundle who has left his village in search of work" (Aubert, p. 225). In recreating the film experience for the readers, the reporter has inserted tiny bits of inferred story material, even generating a feeling of malaise for the arriving passengers and a personal history and goal for the man with the bundle, who now becomes a central character. Thus, critical definitions of film narrative necessarily touch on formal elements of storytelling, but also upon the audience's role in perceiving and comprehending the presented material in those tales.

Narrative is generally accepted as possessing two components: the story presented and the process of its telling, or narration, often referred to as narrative discourse. Story is a series of represented events, characters (or agents for some), and actions out of which the audience constructs a fictional time, place, and cause–effect world, or diegesis. In the Lumière short, the material elements include the arrival of the train, the scurrying of rushed passengers, the gestures of the railway workers, the steam emitted from the engine, even the moving shadows beneath people's feet. Out of these rather minimal visual objects and actions, the viewer generates tiny story events, including any effects that the train has on the people on the platform. The narrative discourse is evident in strategies of presentation, especially the camera position, which offers a view of the action that emphasizes perspective and depth, but also allows the viewers to watch the faces and movements of a number of the people involved. However, Lumière's film offers a very low level of narrative development, in part because of the short length and paucity of story events, but also because of the absence of other narration devices, including plot ordering, mise-en-scène choices, editing, sound effects, intertitles, or camera movement. As films expanded in length and technical options, narrative strategies increased as well. Stories could develop more complex characterization, thematic concerns, and temporal development, along with increasing devices for the narrator to manipulate and present those events.

While many sorts of films employ some storytelling strategies, when we speak of narrative film we are typically referring to fiction films. However, before moving to fiction films completely, we should acknowledge that French film theorist Christian Metz has famously argued that on one level, all films are fiction films. All cinematic experience is based by definition on illusion. Motion pictures are fundamentally still images projected onto a flat screen. Nothing moves and there is no real depth of space, yet we cannot help but "see" movement and spatial cues as the film is projected. The entire process is based on a fiction that what we see is actually present. We know Cary Grant is long dead, we know that we are only seeing his shadowlike image projected on a screen, and yet we see and hear him in an illusory three-dimensional world in which he moves in front of and then behind his desk, right there in front of us. Lumière films, Cary Grant laughing, or a bird chirping in a sex education documentary are all based on an illusion, an absence, that is only possible thanks to the cinematic apparatus and the audience's perception system. From this perspective, the fiction film is a specific type of cinema based on the content of the images and sounds rather than their material traits. The fiction film, the subject of narrative history, theory, and criticism, assumes a spectator who not only sees movement where none really exists, but also constructs characters, time, space, and themes.

Narration is a set of representational, organizational, and discursive cues that deliver the story information to the audience. The fiction film should be thought of as a text, a collection of narrative systems, each of which functions and exists in its own history, with its own stylistic options. For instance, during the 1940s, it became stylistically fashionable for American crime dramas to tell their stories out of order, often with voice-over narrators recounting some past events via flashbacks. Many of those crime dramas were also filmed with increasingly expressionistic sets, lighting, and acting styles. The resulting film noir movies are distinguished by certain shared, generic, story events and discursive strategies alike. Their narrative context was quite different from that of Lumière's train film. Narratives must always be studied in relation to history, including the history of film style, modes of production, and the history of narrative theory itself.