Proposal

November 16th, 2008

Alex Consalvo
Narration Across Media Paper Proposal:
Title: From Calvin and Hobbs to Waking Life: How Narrative Functions in Animation
Goal:
I would like to compare and contrast the story telling mechanisms found in comic strips, animated television shows and cutting edge animated feature films as a means of both drawing parallels as well as highlighting differences. My source texts will be a Calvin and Hobbs book called These Days Are Just Packed, an episode of Family Guy and Richard Linklater’s live action animated film Waking Life. I would like to spend 3-4 pages analyzing how each piece is constructed and how that construction permits or prohibits certain types of story telling.  Within this analysis I would like to spell out how the reader interprets each individual text and why they interpret it as such by spending careful time observing how one reads the specific texts and the author constructed them to be read. Through this breakdown of narrative style I would like to pick out and discuss similarities between each art form and discuss ideas of influence that run across these three separate but similar mediums.  Likewise, through a discussion of differences I would like to point out how each art form carries its own unique style which might be seen as a distancing function from original cartoon comic strips.
Ultimately, the question the paper will seek to answer is “how different are these three narrative standards from one another?” And, “what do the differences and similarities between these three source texts tell us about where the idea of narrative is headed?”
Calvin and Hobbs
a.     How do we read the image and text (left to right…but do we look before we read?)
b.     How does the viewer interpret these images and text (How does style play a part – are there any “cinematic function” at work)
c.     How does the creator control comprehension – (deeper meanings hidden within text)
d.     How does the text cue the reader to comprehend narrative (How does Watterson train us to read his comic and how do we as reader move forward in the story world)
e.     Is Bill Watterson drawing on notions of continuity editing in his construction of a coherent comic strip? When he wants his comics to be more experimental how does his formal construction change… (Does he change the linear construction of his comic “strips” from left to right to something more abstract…Yes! Do these more imaginative comics draw on more indy cinema notions of story telling?
*Identify Fabula, Syuzet and Style – How does the mental activity of reading a comic exist as an active process in the mind? How is this mental activity become shaped and shifted into an authored text…does this narrative voice ever cross the boundaries of story telling into stylized excess? Of so how..
1.     Family Guy
*Besides the obvious similarity that both Calvin and Hobbs and Family guy are animated what specific story telling functions do these two animated works share. (editing ect)
a.     How does Suspension of Disbelief function in this show – ie. How do we as spectators embrace the narrative logic of the show.
b.     Break down a specific instance of how the SENDER => MESSAGE => RECEIVER function works and how we the audience must decode the message with specific reference to the use of extra textual sources… Discuss how the viewer must have access and knowledge to American pop culture to understand the full breath of Family Guy… (what the viewer must bring to the show to understand it )
2.     Waking Life
a.     Discuss this film as an example of a conglomeration of narrative forces including comic strips, animated television and classic Hollywood features
b.     What about the film is different from a classic live action film?
c.     What about the film is different from an animated film?
d.     What does animation over live action cinema do? Does this style of animation allow images to serve up parallel and non-verbal story lines –
e.     Does the animation over live action create a tension that is not found in Calvin and Hobbs and Family Guy because they have no component of live action
Conclusion (the last 3-4 pages)
How does animation function in Waking Life to jerk us out of the real world and set up the viewer to think outside what is a normal and every day pattern?
Does Calvin and Hobbs Challenge us in the same way with its animated style and commentary? Does Bill Watterson want us to think outside of our comfort zone?  How does his animation “jerk” us out of our normal style of processing?
How does Family Guy play with linear streams of consciousness? Do there random asides “jerk” us out of the same linear thinking that Waking Life challenges us to leave behind?
Primary Sources:
Calvin And Hobbs – These Days Are Just Packed by Bill Watterson
Family Guy – Season 2
Waking Life – Directed by Richard Linklater
Secondary Sources:
“Approaching Waking Life “– an essay by Patrick Murphy
“Buddhists, Existentialist and Situationists: Waking Life” – an essay by Doug Mann
David Bordwel – Narration in Fiction Film
–     Ozu and the Poetics of Cinema

art cinema VS. Hollywood

November 14th, 2008

Referencing our in class discussion of Classic Hollywood narration in comparison to Art Cinema I would agree that most art cinema can be seen as a reaction to more classic narrative lines with some reservation.  What was troubling me during discussion was the idea the art cinema some how sought ambiguity as a reaction to the clear narrative lines drawn in classic narration.  Because the average viewer remains much more familiar with classic Hollywood narration by virtue of the proliferation of these texts within the market anything that strays from this norm would naturally seem more ambiguous simply because the viewer is not acclimated to this style of telling a story. With this vein, I don’t necessarily agree that art cinema narrations have to be obtuse to be certified within the movement.  Alternatively, I believe the best art cinema productions use different styles of telling, that in and of themselves are clear and concise methods of story telling, just not part of the main stream. I would agree that art cinema has a different set of objectives in mind concerned less with entertaining the audience and more with provoking them… and thus the narrative style must change to achieve this.  This change is not concerned with being ambiguous for the sake of confusion, but for the sake of creating mental activity in the mind of the viewer…Something that rarely happens in a Hollywood narrative.  Ultimately I think we can all agree that while good art cinema may be more confusing to the average viewer this confusion may stem from the viewers own library of experience which is, in most cases heavily dominated by  classic Hollywood forms of narration.    

Adaptation and the art world

October 30th, 2008

The constant referencing and inter-referencing of texts within Adaptation reminded me of a Calvin and Hobbs commit I recently revisited.  I could not find the actual strip but the jist of the comic is as a commentary on our interpretations and associations of what exactly “high” and “low” art are..

Calvin: A painting. Moving. Spiritually enriching. Sublime. “High” art!

The comic strip. Vapid. Juvenile. Commercial hack work. “Low” art.

A painting of a comic strip panel. Sophisticated irony. Philosophically challenging. “High” art.

Hobbes: Suppose I draw a cartoon of a painting of a comic strip?

Calvin: Sophomoric, intellectually sterile. “Low” art.

This is not the first time I have seen Adaptation, and in the context of this seminar I found myself engaged on a whole different level- involved far more in the relations between texts rather than as one whole text. The reason I thought, and brought up this Calvin and Hobbs piece is for two reasons.  First, I think it is relevant to the film as Spike Jonze tackles what adaptation from literature to film entails both artistically and emotionally… The film begs the audience to not only question the reasons behind wanting and adaption but also what an adaption actually is.  On that note, the second reason for bringing up the Calvin and Hobbs strip becomes relevant as we the viewer watch and later discuss what makes a good book worth reading and a good film worth watching.  They are two very different art forms, with very separate audiences and ideas of the world.  Which is more important to use culturally… the film artist or the writer? Which is a higher art? Is there any sense in debating this?

narrative unreliability

October 20th, 2008

This post is centered completely around the ideas expressed in Gregory Currie’s article “Unreliability Refigure: Narrative in Literature and Film”.  While I believe most casual viewers understand and acknowledge the perspective of an internal narrator as sometimes unreliable, I struggle to understand how a viewer could question the perspective of an external perspective of a so called “implied author”.  I understand an internal narrator to be a character or voice from within the text, commenting on the world of the text.  Alternatively, an implied narrator seems less a character or direct voice relaying events and more an overarching perspective of the world granted to us by the artist behind the work. As such, one can see the narrator’s telling of the implied author’s story as subjective and open to interpretation.  What I struggle to understand is how this concept changes anything concerning the way in which we the academic community or we the general public view movie narration?  Is the director’s voice not the implied author of every film in which their is a director?  If so than the narrator, reliable or not represents a figment of the implied author and his very unreliability must be seen as part and parcel of the greater implied authorial voice?

The process of building narrative as art

October 14th, 2008

The narrative construction of a film has more to say artistically than the simple construction of meaning in the story world.  The contemporary filmmaker stands at an extremely important vantage point as film can and does implicate huge quantities of information about modern ideas of agency, emotion and ethics.  The narrative tools of a filmmaker are his trade mark as they, more than any other device embody both the filmmakers perspective as well as how the viewing public will comprehend what is shown on screen.  As such, I would support the perspective that a filmmakers “art” is more present in the narrative construction of film rather than any other component.  How an artist sees the world has been a source of both delight and dismay since artists existed.  Painters construct and deconstruct the world playing out their visions of the world on paper.  Today, the filmmaker uses his camera lens and more importantly his perception of the world to construct a series of moving images that describe the world we live in.  How a painter perceive and constructs a tree is vastly different seen through the various artistic movements from traditional landscapes to cubism and other modernist ideas of the world. These movements said things about the world we live in as people observed color and shape in different and alternative ways.  I am interested in investigating what contemporary narrative construction says about both the artist who creates it as well as the society at large.  

Annie Hall

September 28th, 2008

In many ways Woody Allen’s Annie Hall represents a narrative text maleable to the format of television.  In this hour-and-a-half “episode” we are introduced to the character, and gently thrown into the dramatic world that the viewer suspects is Woody Allen’s life.  What makes this film seem episodic to me is the narrative perspective of Allen’s depressed character, leading his audeince into past, present and future events.  While  MTV’s The Real World had yet to be created, as a contemporary viewer I made numerous conscouious and subconscious connections to the show.  As Annie Hall begins in such a Real World confessional manner I remeber feeling a hieghtened sense of reality attached to the words Allen spoke.  As we know the film does in fact have a streak of reality in it, and a distinctly Woody Allen feel.  From this perspective than I beleive that Annie Hall could be turned into a T.V. show much like The Real World meets Curb Your Enthusiasm.  Every episode could have that classic confessional style shot with Woody narrating his crazy day/week/month and from their we cut into his wacky Larry David style adventures.  The first person narrative style of Annie Hall lends itself to the creation of a belivable, yet artistcally creative space as it allows for moments of “reality” as it appears to the world and “reality” as it appears to a single person within the  text.  With these two perspective accounted for the audeince is given a good sense of not only the actual events happening in a characters life, but also how that character feels and interprets these events.

Throwing out standards

September 23rd, 2008

This weeks reading in Me And You And Memento And Fargo presents and discusses the differences in conventional screenplay writing and independent (experimental) screen writing. Murphy seems to present standards and practices of making a commercially viable script as rules one needs to know in order to break. Murphy along with director Gus Van Sant seem to support the abandonment of traditional screenplays as a method of gaining more freedom in the shooting process. Improvisation becomes the key to director such as Gus Van Sant as he crafts organic conversations on set rather than in print. A traditional film, as most of us know, is a confluence of images and words. And, traditionally speaking, these images are constructed in writing form first than materialized on screen through the directors eye. Likewise, dialogue is imagined first in the writer mind than performed through the directors vision. Murphy highlights the transformation writing must go through to reach the screen as he discusses the possible ways a films author could and should go about constructing narrative. It is this transformation of words to images that most interests me about Murphy’s book. Is writing the best tool to use in the construction of a world dominated entirely by images? If screenplays are becoming old hat, or without substance could it be because writing is not inertly compatible with the creation of images? Murphy and Gus both support bending the rules of traditional screenplay writing in order to create something unique and compelling. Is this a simple admission that to create a compelling film (not story) one may need a general outline documented in writing form but a far more comprehensive idea of images and relationships that can only be communicated using other images ect…?

Story, Narrative, Plot

September 17th, 2008

The distinction between the “story world” and the narrative process it undergoes to become an understandable discourse was confused for me at the end of Tuesday’s class. My confusion stemmed from our in class discussion of  the reality of Fight Club’s “story world” and the reality of its ” plot/ discourse” as a film. The example of Brad Pitt fighting himself in Fight Club’s discourse rather than “story world” remains the central component of discussion confusing me. If what we see in the discourse is not in fact true in the “story world” why do we see it? I understand that in the reality of the Fight Club’s world Brad Pitt’s character is not actually fighting Edward Norton’s character because Brad Pitt is a manifestation of Norton’s mind. Yet, as a manifestation of a character’s mind why is he not real in the story world as well as the discourse? It seems to me that a character’s hallucination is both real and relevant to the story world that Fight Club’s director presents us with. I may be a victim of believing everything I see on screen, but, what more do we have to work with in the medium of film? The images and sounds of a film are the only tools we have in discerning meaning and gaining understanding. While a hallucination may not be real in the sense that others cannot witness it, it is just as relevant and real to the character experiencing it.  The narration of Fight Club, how the director choose to show us the story world, is so based around the existence of this physical embodiment or  hallucination of an ideal man that it would be a disservice to the story world that he pulls from to say that this character does not in fact exist.  It seems within this definition of “story world” those things that are not  physically permanent are considered not real.  Thus, it seems the narration and plot of Fight Club create the physical embodiment of Tyler Durden’s mental creation in order that we may understand his character better. This troubles me though because it seems that without twisting and manipulating the “story world” Norton’s character would not have existed in the same proportion or manner. So why is it relevant to discuss the “story world” as opposed to what actually happens in the plot?

Hello world!

September 10th, 2008

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