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Narrative film

Parents: narrative - film

Related: plot

First narrative filmmaker: Georges Méliès

Essays: Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema (1975) - Laura Mulvey

Contrast: non-narrative film - experimental film


The narrative film uses chronological reality to tell a fictional story. Film scholars consider the narrative film to be one of the major styles of filmmaking, along with the experimental film and the documentary film.

Unlike literary fiction, the narrative film has a real referent, called the pro-filmic, which encompasses everything existing and done in front of the camera. Only in fictional filmmaking, the pro-filmic represents a different, diegetic meaning: sets serve as locations and actors as characters.

Since the emergence of classical Hollywood style in the early 20th century, narrative, ususally in the form of the feature film, has held dominance in commercial cinema and has become popularly synonymous with "the movies." Classical, invisible filmmaking (what is often called "realist" narrative) is central to this popular definition. Certain films, however, have more experimental narratives (the work of Alain Resnais or neo-noir like Memento, for example), and Hollywood in itself has loosened some of its rules since the 1970s, adopting what some have called a "post-classical" style. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Narrative_film [Nov 2005]

Narrative film theory

Narrative film theory is concerned with how stories get told--how they are constructed for and create a viewing subject by camera movement, lighting, editing, and all the available techniques of filmmaking. Jean Mitry wrote that "A film is a world which organizes itself in terms of a story." [Mitry1984].

While Mitry may be speaking of a Hollywood filmmaking imperative to organize a film AS a story, it also speaks to a viewing subject's desire to consume narrative. After all, narratives are introduced very early in Western lives, and in fact, there is narrative in everything around us: bedtime stories, television, conversation with friends, radio shows, to name a few. While it is perfectly "normal" and "natural" to look for stories, these stories are inevitably constructed BY someone and FOR someone. This is the project of narrative film theory, to reveal the mechanism that so carefully protects the story. --David Balcom, http://www.mindspring.com/~dbalcom/short_cuts.html#RTFToC4 [Oct 2004]


(Gian Franco Berucello, Alberto Griffi, Italy, 1965) "A calculated assault upon the supposed logic of the structure of the narrative film. Clips from a dozen or more cinemascope movies, shown still squeezed, follow each other in a perfectly logical but complete anar- chic progression. The filmmakers replace the conventional sequence of shots describing a simple action (opening a window, for example) with an equal number of shots, all technically "correct" and all dealing with the same dramatic/functional situation, but which throw the event into total confusion. The hero changes person mid-shot; camera movement reverses halfway through an action; the lighting jumps from phony blue-filter darkness to over-exposed multi- shadowed "daylight"; and the color range (which throughout the movie manages to reflect every imperfection of mass produced color prints) cuts from all-over brown to washed-out blue-green." David Curtis, Experimental Cinema, 1971 via Film As a Subversive Art (1974) - Amos Vogel

Narrative and Film Bibliography

--Department of Literature, Film, and Theatre Studies 2003-2004, LT206 Narrative and Film

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