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March 2002, Week 2


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Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
BARBARA BAKER <[log in to unmask]>
Thu, 14 Mar 2002 14:04:56 -0600
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Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
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Dear Jane:  I'm sending this in three batches, since my first post was
rejected as too long!

This commentary has all been pretty interesting to me, and I'm not sure
what I can add except for my two cents:

First, I don't think I would argue that linearity is important to
comprehensibility, and I would agree that many of my students are
perfectly capable of understanding a non?linear plot (esp. "Run Lola
Run," "Sliding Doors," and "Reservoir Dogs,"  but also more complex
films like "Eve's Bayou" and "Citizen Kane"??and even "Kurosawa's
Dreams" and "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"??although some require a
second viewing of such films).  In addition, many have no problem
grasping some type of plot (and meaning) from many of the films you
originally listed.  In my experience, they have a lot more trouble
understanding complex films with fairly straight forward plots (e.g.
"Richard III" with Ian McKellen, or Woody Allen's "Zelig"), along with
some confusing (incomprehensible?) films like "Chinatown" or "Blade
Runner"??but that may be because they seem slow and boring to many of
them (or so they tell me).

"Blade Runner' in particular garnered commentary about its
incomprehensibility, in all its versions (as I understand it, the main
reason there was narration and the supposedly "happy ending" in the
original release was that Warner Brothers wasn't sure anyone would
understand the film).   My students also struggle with avant?garde and
experimental films.  Although I have shown them "Un Chien Andalou," I
would never show them, for example, Barbara Hammer's "History Lessons"
(a quasi? documentary on lesbians), not so much for the subject matter
(although some would definitely be shocked by it), but more because it
is exceptionally non?linear, and quite confusing to many who saw it when
I did (as part of a film festival).

Barbara L. Baker
Professor of Communication
Central Missouri State University
Warrensburg, MO. (USA) 64093
(660) 543?4469
[log in to unmask]

>>> [log in to unmask] 03/14/02 03:50AM >>>
Un chien Andalou, The Big Sleep, Se7en, The Usual Suspects, The
Velvet Goldmine, Gummo, Mulholland Drive. All films that have
incoherent or,
to some, incomprehensible plots and storylines. (For some reason I am
completely baffled by films about counter espionage.) Does it matter?
Do we
need to understand the plot of a movie to enjoy it? Could you let me
more titles of incomprehensible films, any academic articles on the
and your views on the subject?
Jane Mills

re: Drew Perry: "The Big Sleep: ok. But you found the rest of these
incomprehensible? I think that's a matter of viewership, rather than
inherent property of these films per se."
Jane M: The others films were ones mentioned most often by others I've
talked to on this subject. It seems too easy to put things into the
reception theory box whenever it gets difficult to explain some aspect
other of cinema ? and in doing so I wonder if we don't lose sight of
film text?

re: Scott Andrew Hutchins: "anything by Maya Deren":
Jane M:  Does it really all boil down to the role and representation
not) of the unconscious? Which is where the surrealists (I include
presumably enter into incomprehensibility (or perhaps the
impossibility/difficulty  of visualising the non?visual)? Any more
on the relationship between attempts to represent the unconscious and
comprehensibility of the film plot?

re: WLT: "I'm a little surprised to see Seven (or Se7en if you prefer),
Matrix and Velvet Goldmine mentioned since they're completely
to me and I've never heard complaints.  Perhaps that's because The
uses decades?old science fiction ideas and so much of the real?life
references in Velvet Goldmine were also familiar."
Jane M: Genre is clearly important. It doesn't offer the whole answer,
however, since I know people who found Mission Impossible
(me) who didn't know the genre (who did). I wonder if, sometimes,
are so carried away by an aspect of the film ? perhaps mise?en?scene,
soundscape or performance or some other aspect, that they stop engaging
the plot? I suspect this happens (intentionally) in the film 'Suture',
some/many action movies. What might a film have that compensates for a
in plot comprehensibility ? or which contributes to acceptable
incomprehensibility? Also: you use the word 'complaint': but does it
have to
be a complaint? I've given up bothering about the plots of most
century operas ? it's not what I'm there for. Ditto many films. Does
else find that incomprehensibility doesn't affect their pleasure?

re: John Dougill: "There was a long discussion last year about Blow?Up,
film which like Performance shortly afterwards hovers on the edge of
incomprehensibility in true sixties style."
Jane M: What was it about the sixties that didn't make sense? Are
other examples from other films, other

>>> [log in to unmask] 03/14/02 08:03AM >>>
drew perry writes, in part:

>>We keep getting told that today's
>>generation of non-readers (a generalisation,
>>I know, but strikes me as a plausible
>>characterisation) are just literate in a new
>>way - they're visually literate.

>>But then you keep hearing about how
>>film or television texts that stretch
>>the conventions one iota (convoluted
>>narrative styles, profound existential
>>subtext, allusive or open closures, symbolic
>>imagery etc) are incomprehensible, unfathomable.
>>That The Matrix (for e.g.) is just sill sci-fi stuff
>>that 'makes no sense' ... just get into the special effects.

and though i quite agree with him i think it might be
worth making an additonal distinction . . . if visual
literacy is the ability to decode the conventional [but
rapidly evolving] codes and languages of cinema,
then they are indeed very literate . . .

   . . .  but  . . .  if by visual literacy we mean the ability
to move from those codes to a different set of codes
that drew names as "convoluted narrative styles, profound
existential subtext, allusive or open closures, symbolic imagery etc"
in other words conceptual codes that are not specifically
cinematic but that we take as a central part of the
western intellectual tradition, then they are almost totally
illiterate . . . and i take it that one of the main objections
in some parts of our culture to this new literacy is precsiely
that it seems to interfre with the development of literacy
of the more traditional kind -- which had little to do with
simnply deciphering words and more to do with being
able to frame the results conceptually


Online resources for film/TV studies may be found at ScreenSite

Online resources for film/TV studies may be found at ScreenSite