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September 1998, Week 1


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"Edward R. O'Neill" <[log in to unmask]>
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Sun, 30 Aug 1998 18:48:09 -0700
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Mike Frank's questions are always so thought-provoking.
I think it's helpful to distinguish between fine questions
that intrique scholars and teachers on the one hand and more
basic questions that one can make palpable to students on
the other.
As someone who's taught an introductory film aesthetics
class for two years non-stop now, I think it could be very
helpful to bring in some films that play with issues of
narration towards the end.
The reasons are two-fold.
First, if you show mostly classical Hollywood films (as I
end up doing), it is very hard to get across the idea of
narration (as the control and arrangement of narrative
information in order to affect the viewer) because of course
this is supposed to be 'invisible' in Hollywood film--and
yet it's also terribly blatant in a way.  Thus, bringing in
_Mortal Thoughts_ and/or _The Usual Suspects_ could be very
helpful in foregrounding the level of narration:  it can
make the more classical paradigm more visible in retrospect
by rupturing it.
Second, these films were mainstream commercial films, and
_TUS_ was modestly successful and much-discussed and -joked
about in the media.  Thus one can show that not only has the
classical model of narration been much changed, but that
this attack isn't simply from 'experimental' quarters but
right in the cineplex.
Film like these could generate a lot of discussion about
who's telling the story in a classical Hollywood film, and
that would be wonderful.  Perhaps after showing one of them,
one could then show a clip from a more traditional film and
ask in what ways we can tell that an unseen authority is
organizing the images specifically in order to tell a
It's often easier to demonstrate the concept of narration
with Hitchcock, for example, where the viewer is really
taken by the nose and shown this and then that.  I often
show students the first segment of _Psycho_ (up to the FTB
where Marion falls asleep in her car) and ask them questions
about who sees the uneaten sandwich, the money on the bed,
etc.  This allows students to recognize that even when we're
simply 'following the action' (which supposedly unfolds of
its own accord), we can be carefully controlled by the
Edward R. O'Neill
General Education Program
[log in to unmask] wrote:
> perhaps it's just the impending new academic year, but i find
> that, even more than usual, i'm thinking about lots of screen-l messages in
> the context of my teaching,  specifically wondering whether and how many of
> them might be introduced into an intro
> to cinema studies course for non-majors . . .
> as an old narratologist i'm endlessly fascinated by questions of narration
> in fiction and film, and of the variable kinds of unreliability in the two
> . . . and i'm thus tempted, especially in light of ed oneill's interesting
> comments on MORTAL THOUGHTS and
> USUAL SUSPECTS, to introduce one [or both] films into the syllabus i'm
> finalizing this week-end . . .  but i find myself wondering whether this is
> not a kind of byway in film study, very interesting to those who have
> already know the mainstream, a kind of odd dialect rewarding to those
> who've mastered the lingua franca of film . . . more simply, is this
> something that beggining students ought to know, and is it something theyre
> likely to find interesting as opposed to merely a wierd curiosity  . . .
> and i think it also worth keeping in mind that introducing this thread into
> a course means that something else  [neo-realism?; the "gaze"? ;
> documentary styles?] will have to go to make room . . .
> so, in short, how important do screen-L'ers think the issue of reliable
> narration is in introducing students to the world of cinema?
> all thoughts eagerly welcomed
> mike frank
> ----
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