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November 1996, Week 3


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Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Donald Larsson <[log in to unmask]>
Tue, 19 Nov 1996 12:21:51 -0600
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
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Stephen Brody wonders:
" 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?"
That would depend on context, I think.  If the voice-over is not a character
within the diegesis of the film, he/she is nondiegetic.  Reliability would
depend on the degree to which we trust or learn to fail to trust this
narrator.  For example, the voice-over at the beginning of DR. STRANGELOVE
announcing that the Russians have invented a "Doomsday Device" is clearly
objective, setting important background knowledge for the film.  On the
other hand, in BAND OF OUTSIDERS Godard's narrator continually describes
and explains that action, except that several times even his descriptions
fail to gibe with what we actually see on the screen.
Compare the use of the device by Orson Welles.  In THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS,
the narrator is apparently objective, but at the beginning of the film
enters into what seems to be dialogue with the characters, with his
about George Minnifer and others being filled out or elucidated by the
characters within the diegesis who are talking to each other.  On the other
hand, in F FOR FAKE, Welles himself announces at the beginning that everything
we are going to see in the next hour and a half is absolutely true.  The
film goes on to meditate amusingly about art, forgery, lying and personalities,
including Welles himself, ending with an anecdote about Picasso.  At the very
end, Welles confesses: And that story about Picasso?  Well, you remember that
I promised that everything you saw in the next hour and a half would be true--
an hour and 45 minutes ago! [the times are approximate], with that Wellesian
twinkle in his eye!
Finally, we have narrators who are also characters within the film and
therefore diegetic.  Even Celeste Holme's disembodied voice in LETTER TO THREE
WIVES would be an example, except that her pronouncements (unheard) to the
characters about running off with one of their men turns out to be misleading.
Don Larsson, Mankato State U (MN)
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