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September 1998, Week 1


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Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Fri, 4 Sep 1998 09:41:46 -0400
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Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
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a recent contribution to this thread notes that unreliable narration in
the novel is easier to pull off than it is in cinema because
     "in a film you have objective reality
     in front of  you all the time"
this is an issue that was debated extensively on the list, perhaps
a year ago, and this view was a widely shared one . . .
but i think it's crucial to keep in mind ed o'neill's very
acute observation that in cinema the main instrument
of narration is not [ever] the voice, even an ostensibly
omniscient voice over, on the sound track but
always the images themselves . . . . thus in the
interesting but somewhat misleading example of don
lockwood's narrative at the start of SITR we have an
example of absolutely reliable cinematic narration [in
the image track] telling us [the audience] quite
unambiguously that lockwood is lying to HIS audience,
even while the film is being completely reliable
with ITS audience . . .
much more interesting, but still not quite to the point, are
the two extraordinary films by terrence malick in each
of which the voice over is subtly but profoundly skewed
in ways that are not immediately apparent . . . thus a naive
viewer of those films might well incline to take those voice-overs
at face value, unlike the naive viewer of SITR who would
immediately recognize that lockwood is lying . . . but to the
extent that malick's images provide ample [if not imediately
obvious] evidence of the inadequacy of views provided in
the voice over, the film ultimately  provides reliable
narration . . . and indeed it could be argued [i would
argue] that at the heart of both of malick's films is the
disjunction between reality and conventionally
banal ways of appropriating it . . .
but the malick films at least raise an important point . . . the
only way we could EVER know that a narration is
unreliable, in fiction or film, is if the narrative itself
contains some seed to clue us to that unreliability . . . otherwise,
while we might not agree with what the narrator says -- or
what the narrating character shows [cf. REEFER MADNESS] --
we would have to allow that within the diegesis the narration
is quite reliable . . .
this thread needs a good deal more attention . . . of course a
good place to start is with booth/chatman, but there is more
to be said, and i hope despite pressures of a new AY screen-L'ers
will find the time and inclination to try to say it
mike frank
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