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September 1998, Week 5


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Damian Peter Sutton <[log in to unmask]>
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Tue, 29 Sep 1998 17:26:18 +0100
TEXT/PLAIN (73 lines)
I think that it should be pointed out, re: narration and tha
first/third person, that the history of cinema is replete
with instances of the narration switching from character to
character, and to leaving characters completely. This is
shown by the continual use of distanciation and estrangement
by filmmakers such as Robert Bresson and Jean Luc Godard.
In this way, narration is structured in Hollywood films by
its presence in others.
The argument should not be:
Why doesn't Spielberg continue with narration through one
individual? Or give us privileged information beyond the
When Spielberg changes narrator, what is the reason for it,
and how does this advance the story?
It's a semantic point, but every film which comes long like
this sparks the same debate, which only goes to show that
consistent narrative through a single person is a paradigm
established partly by its own absence.
If there are inconsistencies in Spielbergs reasons for the
change of narrator, (not just the spoken narrator, but the
character to which the spectator is sutured) then there
should be sufficient grounds for criticism.
As to mystery films, Charles Derry's point is apt. If we are
to continue to believe that film excites the scopophilia of
the spectator, the generalised pleasure of the investigative
look, mystery films seem ideal in exciting the audiences
curiosity in such a way. The investigative look, however,
still exists in other films, and the device of disguise and
revelation (what will Ryan be like/act like, when we meet
him) is apparent in all films. It should surely follow that
the change in narrator not only keeps the audience
'working' to understand, but constantly excites and satiates
the scopophilic tendencies through the novelty of
Changes in narration like this are best exemplified in
sequences themselves, and in particular the
Some S-r-S sequences require the agency of the characters,
(with the camera over the shoulder) to develop the
continuity. But in sequences in which the plot places another
character as the viewer of a spectacle in which the narrator
is a part, the logical pattern of shots to satisfy the viewer
is the point-of-view shot from the second character.
This may sound confusing, so here's an example:
In the circus scene in Quo Vadis  (LeRoy, 1951), the
spectator is asked to follow the narrator Marcus, who is
forced to watch his lover be killed in the circus. The shot
pattern switches from him, to his lover, to her champion in
the circus, and the Emperor. Each holds the narration for
the period of their 'viewpoint'. In fact, the sequence is as
much about the battle for narration as it is about the fight
for life/honour.
(This textual analysis is clumsy, I'm afraid, but I'm a
little fuzzy)
It's wrong to place the narration in one character, because
few filmmakers do it themselve, and most provide the
narration for the investigative gaze of the spectator to 'act
as narrator for themselves'.
Damian Peter Sutton
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