Film Form: Narrative

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This chapter addresses the purpose of narrative as a formal system. Basically, a narrative is a story. A film that tells us a story. The most common definition of narrative is a chain of events in cause and effect relationship, occurring in time and space. A narrative is not a random set of events. An important relationship that we must understand is plot vs. story. By definition, a story is the set of all events in a narrative. An example would be that we assume other people are off screen in a mall scene regardless of us seeing them.

A plot is everything that is visibly shown onscreen. An example of a plot would be the characters and setting onscreen and music. Another important relationship is cause and effect. Generally, characters are what “cause” cause and effect to take place. By reacting to events, they create causes and react to the consequences of their actions throughout the story. The audience looks to connect events together by causal motivation of the characters in the film. It is possible that the plot will influence viewers to assume different causes and effects.

The plot may also hide causes, heightening the viewer’s curiosity. Plot may also withhold effects after presenting causes, resulting in suspense. Time is where causes and effects take place. A film may show events out of chronological order and may not even show every detail from the beginning to end, tedious details such as eating and sleeping. The audience considers several temporal factors. Firstly, they think about order. Is it in or out of chronological order? Flashbacks, for example. Secondly, duration.

Screen time is the duration of time it takes to watch a film. Story time is the duration of time covered by the story. Usual screen times are 1 and ? hours to 3 hours, whereas story time can cover several days, months, years, centuries, etc. Lastly, frequency, which is how often the story is told in the film. Events occur in film space. The visible space between the frame, or plot, is screen space. Story space involves screen space and other areas that aren’t seen. The audience speculates what went on before based on plot cues.

The set-up of a film is usually the first half hour or so. The movie Blood Simple is a perfect example of cause and effect. The entire movie involves a bar-owner’s wife Abby cheating on him with one of his bartenders, Ray. The movie is full of misunderstandings and deceit between the characters. An example would be Ray finding the bar-owner Marty dead in his office one night. This causes Ray clean up and hide the body thinking Abby was the culprit, when it actually wasn’t.

Throughout the movie, Ray believes that Abby was the killer. Later on, Ray is sniped by Marty’s actual assailant whom of which is a private investigator who thought Abby and Ray were trying to frame him for his murder. The P. I. is eventually murdered by Abby at the end, whom of which Abby thought was her husband, Marty. At the end of it all, the private investigator’s laugh while he lays on the floor dying is the perfect reaction that many would have given all that’s happened throughout the film.

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