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March 2002, Week 2


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Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Wed, 13 Mar 2002 11:35:14 -0500
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>Could you let me know more titles of incomprehensible films, any >academic articles on the subject , and your views on the subject?

I'm a little surprised to see Seven (or Se7en if you prefer), The Matrix and Velvet Goldmine mentioned since they're completely comprehensible to me and I've never heard complaints.  Perhaps that's because The Matrix uses decades-old science fiction ideas and so much of the real-life references in Velvet Goldmine were also familiar.  The other films break down into different categories:  Un Chien Andalou and Mulholland Drive deliberately avoid narrative coherence, The Usual Suspect has a coherent front story but with an unreliable narrator that obscures the back story, and The Big Sleep unintentionally having one unresolved element (who killed the chauffeur, everything else fits into place if I remember right).

There are literally hundreds of similar films even ignoring non-narrative experimental work:  Celine & Julie Go Boating, Glen or Glenda, Last Year at Marienbad, L'Avventura, much of Bunuel, Lynch, Makavejev, Jarman and Jodorowsky, perhaps most Godard, Tarkovsky and Hou (depending on whether you count ellided and fractured narratives), Page of Madness, some Bava and Argento, etc.  There were plenty of complaints about the film version of Mission: Impossible being incomprehensible.

One interesting place to start are books by Jean-Jaques Lecercle which though not concerned with films deal with nonsense as an artistic strategy.  Also try Viktor Shlovsky for an approach to narrative that places emphasis on digressions and non-linear elements.  Of course writing on surrealism is vast and there's plenty devoted directly to film.  There's a BFI book on Se7en and many of the other films discussed extensively in studies of the director or genre.

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