Good morning, lecture three, we are going to focus on plot in cinema, plot in films.
So, these are the key concepts that I will be discussing today. What is narrative? And then I am going to talk about elements of narrative, how a plot is im-ploted, so, narrative.
Levels of narrative; diegetic, intra-diegetic elements,
theories of narrative and certain cinematic and literary concepts, like defamiliarization and the concept of the unreliable narrative.
These are the key theorists we should be looking at, but this is not an exhaustive list, we will be dealing with more theorists as we go deeper into the course. So, one is Gerard Genette, a French theorist who is the formidable influence on a narrative. All these theorists basically they focus on literary theories, but then we are going to see how literary theories can be applied to cinematic theories as well.
Roland Barthes, Viktor Shklovsky and Vladimir Propp. So, these are our theorists that we will be looking in detail today.
So, what is a plot?
A plot can be, you know, cinematic plot or a literary plot.
Where is the plot, people often ask, what does it mean? So, it could be even verbal,
written or visual as in cinema. Even a painting can have a plot, even a painting can a photograph
can tell you a story there is the plot over there. Perhaps you are, some of you who are
interested in photography would know the art of photo; there is the field called concept
photography, you develop a concept and there is the plot, there is not merely a portrait
or a picture, there is the concept there. So, narrative is the way a story is told.
So, the joke is, mothers no longer tell their children or children no longer tell their
mothers rather that tell me a stories or tell me a narrative, that the way as story is told.
Film combines all these elements’ and therefore, becomes a complex activity.
Now see, I have to tell you something and please do remember it. Plot comes out of the story; it is the
casual sequence of the chronological events in a story. I would like to direct your attention
to E. M Forster’s Aspects of the novel to understand a story and plot better.
For instance, Forster gives us a story as; the king died and the queen died that is the story,
but when you say the king died and the queen died of grief that becomes a plot.
Now, a most stories, most cinematic, most literary theories, and this is the very universal
concept I am talking about, they deal with human and universal experiences;
unless you are talking about Matrix which is of course, about human experiences but of very different kind.
So, this is what most of us face: birth, growth, going on adventure, adventure could
be go going about with our day to day life, so that is adventurous enough.
Facing various temptations, give me example. I mean here of course, we are talking about narratives.
But what could be a narrative temptation, temptation in a narrative?
Hero is born, he grows, he goes on a particular adventure,
he faces temptation, he may win or he may lose.
If he wins, it is happy ending; if he loses, it is a tragedy.
He may fall in or out of love that is part of the adventure.
Lastly, life lessons derived.
So all of us, when we take talk of our life, there are certain life lessons; at the end of these 5 years
in IIT there will be certain life lessons, hopefully pleasant for most of us.
Now, let me give an example. How many of your familiar with the story of Oedipus?
Yes, can you apply Oedipus to this?
Yes, Shweta, just tell me birth and growth.
Student: So, Oedipus is born in the palace to the king and queen. And there is a prophecy which says
that, he will grow up to kill his father and sleep with his mother. So, as he becomes toddler,
they, his mother puts him in the basket and sends him out to be left free to die.
But he is taken piers by shepherd’s man and grows up in a different kingdom adopted by a neighboring king and.
Fine, now Tara, if you are familiar with the story,
going on adventure, let me tell you and you have to help me here.
Oedipus, as she rightly pointed out grows up in the household of neighboring king, unaware completely that
his real parents are some, some, some other people. Now, there in that other kingdom there
is another prophecy and he is told by the oracle there, that you will end up marrying
your mother and killing your father. Now, that prompts him to go on an adventure.
He escapes from that kingdom in order to avoid this horrible fate and goes on an adventure.
Now, what is that adventure? Things happen to him.
Student: And then eventually he gets into a
war; he unknowing joins the army which is in a war with his original father.
And unwittingly, and he killed him.
And unwittingly, so that is going on adventure, thank you.
Facing temptations, yes perhaps not to that extent in Oedipus, but in many films and many
stories you will find, we will be talking about that. Our own Indian epics that raise
these elements of temptations; our heroes are in exile, they face various temptations.
Winning, loosing and then life lessons derived; it is a standard plot, this is the way most plots unfold.
Now, please do remember, plot comes out of the story. It is the casual sequence
of the chronological events in a story. I would like to direct your attention to
E M Forster’s Aspects of the novel to understand story and plot better.
For instance, Forster gives us a story as, the king died and the queen died that is the story.
But when you say, the king died and the queen died of grief that becomes a plot.
I am showing you a still
from this very popular movie, no prices for guessing. What is this movie?
Students: Terminator, the judgement day.
Terminator two, ‘The Judgment Day’. Now, can you apply all these, I will
give you one minute, can you apply all these elements that we have just discussed, to this movie?
You have to also tell me whose journey it is.
Apply the features we just talked about.
Srinath, can you start, can you give some inputs here?
So, boy’s journey, movie is seen through the point of view of;
point of view is a very important concept in any narrative.
How a story is focalized. that is another concept that you should be familiar with;
focalization, point of view, perspectives, all these terms are given to us by Gerard Genette.
Now Vidhant, if you apply birth, growth, adventure, do you think John Connor story, make makes sense?
Do all these things fit?
Yeah, it is a phenomenal story. It is an epic story in
which the original story was in two parts; the way I remember, then after that also we
had the couple of sequels to it, but the story begins and unfolds and ends in part
one and part two, the way we understood, The Terminator we popularly refer to.
So, this is the story and there is the hero going on for an adventure, how he meets someone who
becomes his mentor, a father figure and life lessons learn. So, there is the growth
in the boy’s character. The robot, yes the robot remains the robot; but all there is
the there are certain changes in the robot as well, he acquires more human, more humane
qualities but in the boy there is the complete growth, in the character of a boy.
Student: John Connor and his friend are robbing an ATM or something; it is after that this scene
is when they were chased by others, T-8 or T-x whatever. So, the yeah, so the
facing temptation in the sense that his living with his foster parents and how he is rebelling
here, he is at that particular age. So he is rebelling against the established,.
Also the fact that he comes from a disturbed family; absolutely absence of his real father,
his foster parents are shown to be quite indifferent to him and then he also has this major problem
where the mother is confined to an asylum.
So, all these, so it is also coming of age
film, the kind of genre I keeps talking about, the bildungsroman, so a boy’s journey.
Now, Gerard Genette in his seminal text ‘Narrative Discourse’ (1983).
He tells us what are the components, basic elements of a story or the contents, and he
tells us about events, the chronology. Of course, you know when you look at a movie
like Pulp Fiction there is the total disruption of chronology, but that is, that is an exceptional
movie that we, that also we are going to talk about later.
Causality, now all events should have a cause-effect relationship. This happen, b happened because
a happened, there should be a proper and appropriate link. So, Genette also talks about causality,
importance of causality and effect in a story. Characters; their actions and their interactions
with each other or with one another and how these impact, how they lead to coherent plot.
Genette also talks about setting, the importance of setting in a plot. Spacio-temporal complexes
by which we mean where it is set, spaces; temporal, what time it is set in.
Genette has given us three categories of time, of narrative time, called order, duration, frequency.
By order we mean, in which order the plot is unfolded. We also have flashbacks,
flash forward in narratives, remember, no, right. So, flashbacks and flash forwards that
contribute towards making of order, the order how sequences unfold.
In Pulp Friction for example, the entire concept of order is disrupted.
Duration, for how long does a particular scene
lasts on screen that is duration. Frequency, the number of times scene is repeated or an
action is repeated, that is frequency.
So, duration in other words suggest the speed
of narration of time and is understood through the amount of text. In cinematic terms we
can say, the amount of time is spent on screen and devote to the narration of stretch of a story time.
Frequency is the relation between an episode in the story and the number of times it is narrated.
In the narrative of Kurosawa’s ‘Rashomon’, a 1950 movie,
a particular event is repeated several times. How many of you are familiar with ‘Rashoman’?
If you are not, then please watch it because that is the movie that will be discussed frequently in this course,
So, Gerard’s concepts of order, duration and frequency.
So, this is still from Gone with the wind, here spaces and times are two elements which
are very well defined, very clearly articulated. What are the spaces? What is the setting?
That is the time. Okay, space? The south, the south, the plantation period, the plantations,
Albama, Atlanta those are the spaces that movie is looking at in particular;
Tara, the heroine Scarlett O’ Hara’s mention that is a very important setting, space.
The civil war period, 1861 to 65 and the aftermath,
so very clearly defined.
I am just trying to draw your attention to how narratives are done in films. So, here, space and time
are clearly defined. And what is your opinion on a spaces and time in the Matrix?
Do you have a very clear indication of spaces and time, but this is also one way
of, because it belongs to a totally different genre; the science fiction.
Movies like Gone with the wind belong to a different category,
linear storytelling, classic Hollywood, classic storytelling.
Science fiction can play around with these elements.
So, science fiction has, you know grammar of its own.
Any comments, any questions here?
You are talking about Andy Warhol? Yeah see Andy Warhol is an Avant-gardist.
He is not really interested in telling you a story, but he is trying to capture a particular moment in our society.
So, he is the pop-culturist, he wants to look at the mundane aspect of life.
So, his various projects, I mean, look at his even photographs of Marilyn Monroe,
Elizabeth Taylor, same picture but with tinged with a different color pallet.
It tells you about stardom. Marilyn is Marilyn, no matter where, so that is stardom for you.
Elizabeth Taylor remains Elizabeth Taylor. Now, what he is trying to capture in those
famous documentaries is the idea of monotony of the contemporary work, so that is, Warhol.
So, there is not a story being told, but in films like Gone with the Wind, Citizen Kane,
Matrix there is a story, there is the plot. In Warho lwe do not have plots.
So, Genette also talks about kinds of characters. A narrator could be reliable or unreliable;
we are going to look at that, this is the very interesting area, the reliable narrator, the unreliable narrator.
We also look at levels of narrations, story within story, embedded
narrations, multiple narrations. We also look at the narrative voice, who is the narrator?
Now I will explain,
reliable and unreliable narrators, levels of narrators,
narratology and the voice in a narrator.
Narrations in films are of three categories.
One could be extra-diegetic; these are the terms you should be familiar with, extra-diegetic
is a kind of a voice-over, I am sure you know what is the voice-over in cinema. So,
the voice does not necessarily belong to any character from the movie itself.
For example, in Billy Wilder’s the Apartment, there is the voice, there is the voice-over but the
voice does not belong to anyone from the movie, from the film.
Homo-diegetic, the voice-over is the voice of a person or narrator who is the character in the film.
Intra-diegetic is when characters start speaking to each other to further the plot or to further reveal themselves.
They tell us a lot about themselves by their conversation with each other and
I will give you examples from each category.
So, extra-diegetic, we have already seen The Apartment where character,
the voice-over does not belong to any of the characters, remember these terms.
American Beauty, for example plays on the homo-diegetic narration,
there is the voice-over; from within a year I am going to die, right, this is me and this is my house.
That is the way and we know that Kevin Spacey is talking to us.
Kevin Spacey somehow finds his way very often in this course and that will keep on happening; I was just
giving it a thought and we were talking about Kevin Spacey yesterday with reference to ‘Seven’
and then I thought, Oh my God!, the number of films that I have in mind with star Kevin Spacey;
so interesting actor and very interesting body of work.
Sunset Boulevard, if you have watched the movie, it is again a Billy Wilder movie and
we are told the hero is already dead, the dead body; the voice-over belongs to the dead body, the dead hero.
My story begins one year ago. Do you know the movie? No? Sunset Boulevard,
Billy Wilder’s movie, please make a note of it, belongs to the classic Hollywood period.
We will be talking about classic Hollywood soon.
So, Days of Heaven, one of the earlier movies of Richard Gere, a very young Richard Gere,
directed by Terrence Malick, I think it was his first major feature and again, it has
the very interesting voice-over. The voice does not belong to the hero or the heroine
or even to the parallel hero; but to the hero’s younger sister, the hero is dead we are told
at the beginning, the voice-over, the narrator is the hero’s sister.
Again example of homo-diegetic narration;
Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again,
based on Daphne du Maurier's novel, that is the way the novel begins,
that is the way the film begins, watch Rebecca.
Spiderman? Does it have any voic-eover?
With great power comes great responsibility, who does he say this to?
Earlier on in the movie his uncle says these very wise words; uncle telling these words of wisdom to
Peter Parker, at the end of the movie we hear Peter Parker saying, repeating the same words.
Who is he talking to?
To us, to us and not to Mary Jane in particular; he is talking to us and
it is his voice, the voice-over narration. So, pay attention to these elements, you will enjoy films more.
Any example, anything else that comes to your mind?
all examples of which kind of narration, Homo-diegetic. And what is homo-diegetic, narrator or narrative?
The character who belongs to the movie; his or her voice, could be a minor,
could be a major character.
And let me give a very example, a very interesting example in this category.
It is a movie called
About a Boy.
Familiar with the title, About a Boy?
Now, see there is something very interesting happening in About a Boy.