Tuesday September 25, 2012 – FILM LECTURE
Announcement: Course reader available to be picked up at Copy Place
CIMSSU=undergrad student association
The two large-scale formal systems we will be studying:
The narrative system
The stylistic system
(These are the 2 systems form manifests itself through)
We will begin by studying the narrative system
Human society is defined in part by its ability to make narrative. Our brains our
programmed in such a way that we cannot avoid making narratives. We make sense of
world, of events that shape the world, of people who make up the world through the
narrative. Some claim narrative is the way we make sense of ourselves. When we are
asked about ourselves, we tell a small anecdote about ourselves. We give our interlocutor
a series of events that describe our life. Within this narrative, we give smaller narratives:
the daily routines that allow life to go on. We go this in order to make sense of ourselves.
We figure out what links our childhood self with our adult self. Our identities are
predicated on this narrative process. Also as individuals and a society we use narrative
(history is related as an unfolding drama, newspapers relate events in stories, any biology
textbook shows conception as a dramatic story, art makes stories…) Philosopher Alasdair
Macintyre: That which connects the notion of action to the notion of narrative is
Narrative: “a chain of events linked by cause and effect and occurring in time and space”.
It is as a result of the chain that each action of the chain becomes intelligible, becomes
It is important for us to narrow our concerns (we will explore narrative in art and
narrative in film which is different from narrative in everyday life). In film, (which is
highly artificial and distinct from world) everything that is not pertinent from the
narrative at hand is screened out so there is nothing superfluous or impertinent
Chekhov’s gun: notion that in drama, if there is a gun visible at one point it WILL be
fired. In film narratives, or in artistic narratives, extraneous material is left by wayside.
What is left are things that have functions, serve the narration in some way.
In a film, a narrative has a definite beginning and a definite end. The narrative has
structure, it has form. It is defined. A film has a beginning, middle and an end (Aristotle).
Aristotle assumes that a beginning has an equilibrium, that the middle introduces
disequilibrium and that the end brings equilibrium (different from one with which story
starts). This is called the THREE ACT STRUCTURE
Ex: In the Mood for Love – it starts and ends with equilibrium (although they are
different states of equilibrium). However the film lacks a sense of closure (not everything
is resolved), although we do have a new state of equilibrium achieved.
Film uses repetition for development, it establishes flux of narrative. Repetition also
serves the disequilibrium.
Ex: When the couple is in the back of a cab. First time, Mrs. Chan does not take Mr.
Chow’s hand, second time she accepts his affection -> repetition with variation allows us to trace evolution/development of the couple’s relationship. Notion of development very
useful for our purposes.
In a film, equilibrium gives way to disequilibrium and disequilibrium gives way to
another form of equilibrium.
In Mood for Love, we move into second act when they reveal themselves to each other ->
when they reveal their spouses are involved in an affair. The mood of film changes
dramatically. Moment in film that sets the stage for the change: scene when Mrs. Chan
speaks to Mrs. Chow and understands her husband and Mrs. Chow are having an affair.
Moment when equilibrium gives way to disequilibrium is when 2 characters sit in a diner
and reveal to each other what they have come to know. Comes down to moment: “I
thought I was the only one who knew”. Relationship changes dramatically at this
moment. At this time, they try to devise/explore a relationship of their own.
When is the turning point that takes us from act 2 to act 3? When Mr. Chow and Mrs.
Chan separate. We move into a new phase of equilibrium when Mr. Chow departs for
Singapore. The key musical motif of third act of film is “Quizas” (we hear it 3 times after
3 act structure: as much as it is pervasive (structures many movies we see), it isn’t
universal. It isn’t the only shape a story/narrative can take.
Ten Canoes: Departs from 3 act structure, doesn’t conform. Made by Australian in
cooperation with Australian aboriginals. He wanted to make a film not dictated by white
western film norms. Right away, film acknowledges it will tell a story unfamiliar to many
viewers. Form of story quite different from type of film typical viewer would be used to.
Movie introduces multiple layer of stories which are interwoven within each other. Way
film handles diff layers is quite unique. Much of movie (1 layer entirely) would be
considered extraneous (it is not useful). A lot of screen time is given over to activities
like preparing food, eating food… activities are mundane, material isn’t of narrative
interest but of anthropological interest. These activities/scenes aren’t relevant to the
resolution or creation of a conflict. A story bound up with pedagogy, which provides a
tutorial isn’t going to hinge on creation of equilibrium, disequilibrium then return to
equilibrium -> it will have another narrative form. In course however, we will
concentrate on films that have a 3 act structure.
Narrative – Definition of narrative puts causality on the table immediately. What gets
included in a film? We must think of selection of events before we explore their linking.
Story – Entire narrative of the film, including events both depicted in the film and
inferred (what results from plot AND what we generate from what we see in the plot –
we connect dots between what we see explicitly and what we hear)
Plot – Events as they occur or are presented in the film (i