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November 1996, Week 3


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Meredith McMinn <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Wed, 20 Nov 1996 02:44:01 -0800
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On Tue, 19 Nov 1996, Stephen Brophy wrote:
>   I just had an opportunity to watch "Blowup" over the weekend, and as
> you can imagine I paid considerable attention to the tennis game.  As
> the game gets underway, we only hear the sounds of the mime-players'
> bodies as they move around the court.  The sound of the ball only
> appears after the photographer picks it up from the grass and throws
> it back to the players.  Since the sound only comes in after he has
> involved himself in the pretense, I interpret it to represent some
> complex weakening of his mental state vis a vis reality, given what he
> has experienced through the night.  With this interpretation, the
> sound of the tennis ball becomes analogous to a voice-over.
>   But that raises a question for me.  Are voice-overs and similar
> devices which are taken to be unreliable considered to be part of the
> diegesis, or are they non-diagetic?  I suspect the former, but perhaps
> I'm not familiar enough with the concept.
>                                                 Stephen Brophy
>                                                 Cambridge, Mass.
Your observations are very interesting.  It's been many years since I last
saw Blow-up, but as I recall, it's very much about  believing one's
eyes, and the unreliability of *sight*, as  well as about involvement, or
lack thereof, with other people and, ultimately, the tenuousness of
reality (very 70s).  The image of the character fades away at the end,
just like a fading photograph, or the reverse of the process of photo
development.  At a time when ordinary people still tended to believe that
the camera doesn't lie and that reality can be captured on film, this
film pointedly refutes that assumption and even argues that our own eyes
lie; a fact born out by studies of eye witness accounts.  But it also is
about film and our relation to it.  The film seems to suggest that there
is little difference between fiction films and documentaries; both gain
their meaning and reality from our interpretation and interaction with
them and our willingness to believe what we see--and hear.
        As to your question about whether V.O. is or isn't diegetic, that
depends.  If the narrator is a character in the story being told (the
diegesis), the V.O. is diegetic (most film noir narrators, e.g., such as
Michael in Lady from Shanghai, or Deckard in the studio release of Blade
Runner.  The more recent example of The Usual Suspects has a diegetic
narrator, by far the more common.)  If the narrator is outside the story
(Orson Welles as narrator of The Magnificent Ambersons or  Gielgud
reading Hollinshead over Welles' Chimes at midnight, e.g.), then it is
non-diegetic, just like mood music.  Sometimes films play with this idea,
as Welles does in Ambersons.  And The Princess Bride has an interesting
example of a frame device that involves the narrator as a character
telling the story to his grandson, but he is not a part of the story
within the story, the story of the princess bride herself.
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