Memento and Temporal Construction

Not only is J.J. Murphy’s chapter on Memento interesting to read on its own, but I found Bordwell’s Chapter on Narration and Time equally relavent to the same film.  Memento is a good film to analyze in this category due to it’s infamous technique of mimicking Leonard Shelby’s unique amnesia by assembling the narrative of the film in a very atypical, almost completely backwards way.  This film is so unique in it’s structure that the first time I saw the film was in a psychology class for psycho-analysis.  I agree with Murphy’s key point which states that in order for an independent film to succeed, both financially and artistically, there must be something truly unique about it.  There must be something attractive about the film which makes up for it’s low budget, lack of stars, or other disadvantage of indi filmmaking.  In Nolan’s Memento, I was first convinced that it’s uniqueness and attraction was in the editing.  However, the film was also scripted in the same way it was cut, which perhaps makes the writer responsible for the success of the film.  But after reading both Murphy’s and Bordewll’s articles, I think a better way to put it would be to say that the film’s ‘temporal construction’, whoever may be responsible for it (most likely Nolan) is the key to this film.  

This Wednesday night’s screening will be the fourth or fifth time I have seen Memento and I’m sure I will find something new, however small it may be.  Perhaps I can even try to map the temporality of the narrative on paper, something that I’ve heard is helpful and useful to do with this film especially.  As someone who enjoys editing I think this film is a great piece of work, but I’m also interested in watching the film in chronological order, which Murphy mentions is on the bonus section of the DVD.  As Murphy says, I suppose the film could work, could function, in the standard 1-2-3 order but it would lose the one variable which makes it special.  It would become stagnant and uninteresting because it would expose too much too quickly.  Murphy claims that it makes it feel like Leonard Shelby is constantly being taken advantage of and there’s nothing the viewer can do but watch it happen.  Despite all of this, there is no doubt that the opportunity to see a film cut with a different chronology is something truly unique.  Sure there have been director’s cuts or even something as unique as the re-cutting of Apocolypse Now but even that didn’t completely change the temporality of the narrative.  

On a side-note, the fact that Memento sparked Nolan’s career and led him on to direct his following box-office hits also speaks to the true uniqueness of both Memento and Nolan’s skills as a director.   

My “First” Time

Although Wednesday evening was technically my first time seeing M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Sixth Sense” I cannot consider myself to be a first-time viewer.  During class we discussed and debated a great deal over the differences in perceiveing the film for a first or second time.  Because I saw the film so long after it’s release and becasue I had read articles about it before the film was one hundred percent ‘spoiled’ for me by the time Wednesday night came.  I’m not at all upset by this, I actually think it gave me a very unique persepective on the film.  It wasn’t my second time seeing it, but I also didn’t enter the screening without any knowledge of a twist ending.  This places me in a strange category of viewer which I’ve been trying to identify over the past day or so.  

Watching ‘The Sixth Sense’ I found that while I was continually paying attention to Bruce Willis in terms of living/dead, but at the same time I was still busy taking in the fabula information of the story.  Not having seen the film before I was stuck trying to follow the narrative while also paying attention to more than just the simple information that was being presented.  It was as though I knew I wanted to try and catch the plot twist and stay in tune with the choices of the syuzhet while also needing to pay attention to the fabula on a more basic level.  It was actually quite strange of an experience.  The screening made me think especially about how my viewing experience of films changed after I began taking film classes at Middlebury.  Before I began to study cinema I was very much a naive, one-dimensional viewer.  I wouldn’t analyze the movies I watched on more than a basic like or dislike level.  I didn’t have the vocabulary or discourse to be able to critique them or even understand many of the cinematic choices being made.  This obviously changed quickly after classes helped me to think in new ways, with new ideas and understanding about not only what I was seeing but why I was seeing it and how it had been made.  I began to pick-apart different choices of direction or edition upon seeing a film for the first time and especially upon re-watching a film.  I still feel that in order to understand, appreciate and critique a film it’s necessary to see it multiple times, but the more I study film, the more variable I can appreciate on the first-time viewing of a film rather than simply understanding the narrative.  I have really enjoyed this aspect of studying cinema; the progression from a sort of ‘fabula-level’ understanding to a full ‘fabula/syuzhet’ understanding.  I am interested in seeing ”The Sixth Sense” for a second time to see how the experience changes, though I don’t expect it to be as dramatic as those who first saw the film, unspoiled in theatres.  

Fabula, Syuzhet and Style

Although the terms Fabula, Syuzhet and Style were introduced by Bordwell earlier, I felt that chapters 3-5 helped to establish them and elaborate on their differences in narrative theory.  Chapter 5, which goes into greater detail and analysis of the three terms by pointing out their roles and uses in the genre of the detective film and the melodrama.  By using the well-known genre of detective films, Bordwell describes how the fabula and syuzhet differ and how the idea of the syuzhet and style are intertwined and play off each other a great deal.  

In my opinion the syuzhet is what really makes a film.  This may seem like an obvious statement considering the idea of the syuzhet encompasses the main actions, scenes, turning points and plots twists of a films narrative but, I feel that the use of these elements can overshadow the elements of style and cinematic techniques such as cinematography, mise-en-scéne, editing and sound.  Obviously all of these combine to create a finished product but I think the emphasis should be placed on the writing and the development of a compelling narrative.  Whether this plays with chronology, time, mis-direction, or some other element, the syuzhet is a films fundamental base.  

However, with that being said, I pose a question.  If the syuzhet is the pattern of events which depict the fabula, then how is editing not a part of this pattern?  I understand that in most cases a film is more or less assembled in the cutting room according to its script, but this still doesn’t mean that the editor doesn’t have the ability, or the respobsiblity rather, to assemble the film in a pattern which exposes or hides elements of the narrative so as to intrigue the spectator.  To follow Bordwell’s detective example, say the film is edited so that the audience knows the criminal and resolution of the crime before the detective does.  Bordwell claims this is rare, and that usually the spectator and detective are on more or less the same level of knowledge, but the editing of a film can completely change this.  I supposed maybe the answer to my question comes in the double arrow which connects the syuzhet and style in their interchangable relationship in which they feed off each other for full effect.  But I still am not sure that they should be divided by this arrow in the first place.

Emphasis on editing

As someone who has come to discover an interest in post-production and more specifically editing, I usually enjoy reading any type of article about the art.  In the case of Rosenblum’s article on Annie Hall, I hadn’t seen the film before reading the article, which I normally enjoy.  I love reading Walter Murch’s publishing’s, especially his book, and find often that I can enjoy the breakdown of the editing process without viewing the film.  I’ve read tons about Murch’s process of assembling The English Patient and still have never seen the film in its entirety.  However, in the case of Roseblum’s work on Annie Hall, I did not enjoy reading his article either before or after viewing the film.  In fact, it may have even made me enjoy the film less.  

I did enjoy the film, I liked Allen’s humor obviously and in terms of narrative I enjoyed the non-chronological approach and scattered composition.  However, I found Roseblum’s article to be egocentric and self-appreciative.  I felt like he made a much bigger deal over his and Allen’s work in post-production than was necessary.  From what I understand, Woody Allen is a sort of chaotic writer/director.  The fact that he had a very different idea where the film was going and what it was between shooting and post production seems like solid evidence of this.  Unfortunately, Roseblum was along for this chaotic ride as well and had to deal with the consequences in the cutting room.  But everyone knows that the first cut of a film is often much longer and very different, especially in it’s narrative and temporal composition, than the final product.  Every editor has to deal with this, it’s their JOB.  I’ll admit I may be a little harsh considering I myself have never edited a feature length film, or anything close, but simply having Roseblum list the number of shots and scenes that were cut from the first cut wasn’t particularly interesting to me.  

I was glad to have read the article before seeing the film.  It made me focus on the moments that he talked about while also taking in the action and plot of the movie.  I could understand the long pause after Allen sneezes into the coke, I noticed the transition to California, and I was very aware when Allen said ‘I miss Annie’ but there was also much I was unimpressed with in Roseblum and Allen’s style.  The one that stood out most to me was the attachment to the shot material that not only Allen had, but Roseblum as well.  As a student filmmaker this is something that is unnavoidable.  When a director labors a great deal over shooting a scene or making something happen on film it is then very difficult to have the will to cut it from the film even knowing it will make the film stronger.  Walter Murch has written about this very thing and how he makes a conscious effort not to be on set during the shooting of a film he is editing.  If the editor is aware of the days or weeks or dollars that went into a shot or a scene then the bias he carries into the cutting room can be detrimental.  Although Roseblum appeared to have been more level-headed than Allen, I still have a hard time giving either of them praise for salvaging the chaos of the film.  

The amount of recognition that Allen has received for Annie Hall is evidence that Allen (and Roseblum) did succeed in producing a final cut which narrates a compelling romance-comedy and I agree; I enjoyed the film.  I just think that Roseblum ‘toots his own horn’ by emphasizing the problems and difficulties of cutting the film.  Cutting a feature into a first cut and then eventually into a final is a HUGE process as well as being one of the most under-appreciated cinematic arts.  A film’s narrative, story and purpose can be completely changed, re-organized, fixed or ruined simply in the cutting room.  For anyone furthre interested in a great book on editing (as well as a plethora of other topics) I highly recommend Michael Ondaatje’s The Conversations.

The Conversations

Lost…in a serial tv show.

For me, the most interesting part of the discussion we had in class last Thursday was the idea of omniscience or the lack thereof in Lost.  I was really captured by this idea that although we, the collective viewer often discover much about the island and it’s inhabitants (old and new) at a similar rate to the protagonists like Jack, Kate, Sawyer, and Locke, the show’s exposition of narrative enables us to learn more and more about each individual during each new episode.  Thus, as Jason stated, we quickly become more knowledgable than any single character on the island.  However, at the same time there is so much that still must be discovered in the narrative past, present and future that often we are even more overwealmed than the characters.  When thinking about all of this, I began to imagine myself as a writer on the show.  Although I don’t consider writing to be one of my stronger skills in the world of film and television I couldn’t help but think of how much fun it could be to be writing for this show.  Despite the simple concept of the show, the collection of characters and almost perfect exposition of narrive creates an incredible depth to draw from.  People always comment on how they can’t believe that Prison Break is on its fourth season – and everyone always agrees because the name and concept of the show seem so one-dimensional.  But is Lost really that different.  Maybe if they’d named the show something like “Stuck on an Island” or “Plane Crash” or whatever the Prison Break equivalent might be then people would be saying the same things about Lost.  In fact one could even argue that the setting of Lost is even more restrictive than that of Prison Break, assuming that in Prison Break they’re actively escaping.  In Lost, they haven’t moved (with the exception of time) in the shows existence.

In thinking of this, I realized how much emphasis this places on the three things – The Flashback, The Flashforward and the ability to introduce new, interesting characters despite the presummedly restricted setting.  In the beginning, the flashbacks are crucial for the viewer to begin to understand the shows principle characters in relation to each other and the real world.  As the show progresses, the Flashforward is introduced and opens up the use of time in both directions.  This is also important as is reveals that a “rescue” from the island takes place eventually.  Lastly, the character development of both ‘The others’ and the crew from the ship, the Kahana.  It’s strange that I know writing for the show would be incredibley difficult and stressful and yet each time when I finish watching an episode I’m convinced that the narrative and plot development seem so easy and logical that I could have written it myself.  I guess creative hindsight is 20/20 but I would obviously love to sit in on a week or two or writing and see how it all comes together.

Introduction to Narration

Although I’ve found the first few readings in the NiFF book to be difficult to read and fully understand, I’ve found that the thought process of beginning to consider the formal conventions of narrative useful.  It’s clear to me that the basic concept of narrative and narratology is something that is so ingrained in human culture that as difficult as the readings are to understand, most of the denseness comes from the terminology.  These terms, which for the most part are used to explain concepts that I most likely am already familiar with and simply have not dealt with them in such an academic way.  For example, the ideas of Benveniste which Bordwell mentions in chapter two were especially difficult for me to understand when they stood alone as concepts.  I found that as I read and re-read this section that I had to constantly be thinking of examples from modern film and television to help me.  Only after doing this could I begin to bring some kind of context and texture to the reading and the narratology concepts.  

In contrast, I found the readings from the CCN more manageable and similar to the kind of film and television studies that I’ve run into during my time at Middlebury.  The Mittell article was helpful to both discuss narratology as well as provide texts to analyze with The Wizard of Oz and Lost.  It was helpful to have seen both and I enjoyed this reading and the E-rez television theory article by Kozloff because of their more modern references.  

One thing that I remembered from the Kozloff article that I wanted to bring up as a possible discussion question was the third part of her three principle ideas of narrative where she writes about television scheduling and its influences on the narratives.  I’m not sure what year this article was written (I’m guessing during the 90’s) but I’d be curious to hear what she thinks of DVR and how that could possible change or negate this part of her argument.  The ability to record programming and watch what you want and when almost eliminates this additional part of her television theory.  I do however agree with her that television is undoubtedly a distinct medium from literature and film and that it should be considered individually and in specific ways in the field of narratology. 


Hello.  This is my first post for the Film and Media Culture Senior Seminar on Narration.  Looking forward to diving into this blog and creating some acadaemic and fun content and to reading up on all the other blogs.  See you out there.