October 2008

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Continuing today’s discussion – who’s the protagonist(s?) of The Prestige?? Is one character more sympathetic than the others?  I took some notes during the screening and mapped out the scenic structure of the film, which may reveal a few details to help answer this question. For example, if we example the facts of the two magician’s feud more closely, Borden appears as a clear protagonist and Angier an antagonist.

It should  be noted that all the really dangerous sabotage is done by Angier, not Borden (Batman can do no wrong). The drowning of Angier’s wife serves as the inciting incident that sparks the feud between the two. This was an accident, Borden did not mean to kill Angier’s wife. By my count, four rounds of sabotage ensue. Angier strikes first, attempting to shoot (and presumably kill) Borden. Borden then retaliates by sabotaging the Angier’s new birdcage trick. This would ruins his show, but again, he never seeks to physically harm Angier. In the third round of sabotage, Borden “turns” Angier’s body double, and breaks his leg. The stakes are raised, sure, but nothing fatal.  Angier however, buries Fallon alive. Finally, in the last rwound of sabotage, Borden tricks Angier into travelling to Colorado Springs for two years. But when Angier returns, he finally manages to kill (sort of) Borden.

Thus, when we look closely at the feud, Borden seems (to me at least) to be the more “innocent” participant, and so I would argue he is the more sympathetic character. Also, as one of the twins survives the film, I would argue that the film ultimately settles on him as the protagonist.

Obviously this is up for debate – what do you guys think?

Watching the trailer for the new Bond film, Quantum of Solace, has inspired another research topic. I believe this one would fall under the study of paratext.

I read an article on the UK site Times Online in which the author, Jeff Dawson, meets with Marc Forster, Bond’s latest director. Dawson alludes to the idea that a Bond film can never exist entirely in its own right, but rather is always seen in reference to its predecessors:

“The avowals of “grittiness” that greeted Daniel Craig are interchangeable with the “Bond for a modern era” banners that welcomed Pierce Brosnan — until he went out in a fug of Cossack hairspray, smug one-liners, and an invisible car… ‘Why?’ does not figure with Bond. It’s simply ‘How does the new film compare with the last?'”

It is an interesting question and somewhat unique, as the Bond franchise essentially exists as a sub-genre in and of itself. Therefore, one could potentially use the Bond franchise to chart a narrative of its narratives. That is, how the character is portrayed over the decades, why the filmmakers “restarted” the Bond story with Casino Royale, etc.

The broader question that could be asked then, is how narrative functions within the constraints of a franchise. This franchise does not necessarily have to be Bond, but I can’t think of another one that is so extensive or with such a long history.

This is definitely a broad concept that could be explored in a number of directions, but I think the long tenure of the Bond franchise could be a useful framework with which to explore some of the above concepts.

Just a quick addendum to today’s discussion: Jason mentioned how only Memento’s opening sequence plays in reverse and that it would be annoying (perhaps unwatchable) for the entire film to be like that. If you’ve never seen Coldplay’s music video for “The Scientist,” check it out; the entire narrative is played in reverse. And it is annoying, even for four and a half minutes, but it’s also kind of cool.

It occurred to me that one could compile a research paper on narratives in music videos. While not all music videos necessarily have narratives, many do, and it could be interesting to explore how the music functions in the construction of the narrative. It reminds me of Teresa Bridgeman’s notion of layers of constraint on narrative. That is, just as a television narrative is inextricably tied to its scheduling block, so is the music video narrative constrained by the music it serves to express.

To be honest, I don’t know enough about music videos to make an informed judgement, so this wouldn’t necessarily be the right topic for me, but if any of you are interested, be my guest.

I’ve been interested in how a film handles concepts of time for a while, and seeing Memento last week only fueled that fire. In class last week we talked a bit about the various types of temporality within a film, but I’d like to explore the use of discourse time further in a research paper.  Films tell stories backwards and scrambled (Memento), they tell multiple stories in different times concurrently (Godfather Pt. II), they use flashbacks, flashforwards, flashsideways (maybe not sideways but you get the idea), and as such time functions as a central convention in cinema.

The trick here is narrowing this down, as one could write a whole book on this subject – in fact I’m sure someone already has. One way to do so might be to focus on a question that has always bothered me: Is the use of time a quick fix for a weaker story? Is re-structuring a narrative all crazy-like simply a spectacle to mask an insufficient plot? Am I just being cynical? Does the non-linear narrative enhance the story experience?

Any thoughts or suggestions on the matter would be great, thanks.

In her essay, “Time and Space,” Teresa Bridgeman draws a number of conclusions about the roles of – you guessed it – time and space in literary narratives. In adapting her observations to film and television, Bridgeman’s overarching conclusion (that “our interpretation of narratives… is influenced by temporal and spatial information” 63-4) holds up, but I would amend several of her others in order to better apply them across media.

First, Bridgeman notes that “the process of reading is itself a temporally situated experience of the physical space of the text.” (63)  The core idea here is also true cinematic and television narratives, the process of watching a movie or program is a temporal experience. The difference though is that, unlike a book, a film or television narrative provides the same temporal experience for every person, every time. People read at different speeds, so a literary narrative can unfold over days or weeks depending on the person. But a ninety minute movie will always unfold in ninety minutes (assuming you don’t fast-forward, etc.) This temporal experience is perhaps even more extraordinary with television, because programs always fit in to a thirty or sixty minute slot. So not only is a television narrative going to unfold at the same rate for you as everyone else, but it will also provide the same temporal experience as every other competing prime-time narrative.

Second, Bridgeman states that “time and space are components of the basic conceptual framework for the construction of the narrative world.” (63) Again, this also assertion is true for film and television narratives. The crucial distinction, though, is that readers construct these components in their own imaginations, while viewers have everything constructed for them. Therefore, like the temporal experience, every viewer experiences the same spatial construct as well.

So here’s my question: is the viewer’s relationship with the narrative less personal, intimate, or unique as a result of these homogenizing conventions?  Are they simply an occupational hazard of the media?

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