Academic journal article Style

Minding the Gap: Visual Perception and Cinematic Gap Filling

Academic journal article Style

Minding the Gap: Visual Perception and Cinematic Gap Filling

Article excerpt

Models of narrative in film narratology and cognitive psychology are problematic since they rely on linguistic models of computation and complex, high-order cognitive operations. But because visual perception and cognition operate differently from language perception and cognition, the existing models are unable to address the effects of visual data on film comprehension. Gap filling, in particular, requires the perceiver to draw on visual and audio memories, ones that are not necessarily computed in propositional, high-order cognitive sequences. A sample analysis of a scene from Dead Poets Society that features a dramatic gap not only exposes the problematics of existing models but also points toward new and more inclusive models of narrative comprehension. These models rely on a variety of mechanisms of memory storage and retrieval, ones that operate simultaneously and, therefore, explain the speed and efficiency of cinematic gap filling.

Introduction

Imagine a screening of Vertigo stopped once Madeline is found dead by the tower, and the audience is asked "What happened? How did she die? Was she killed?" The audience may find it difficult to answer definitively; different perceivers would provide different scenarios, and they are unlikely to argue about which is true, but instead assume that the film will provide both explanation and closure in due time. Indeed, narratives operate in a curious way: while they tell us stories, we, the perceivers, are rarely willing to commit to plot lines or even to predictions about the progression and conclusion of the story before the text delivery is over. While narratives set-up expectations (which take the form of hypotheses), they often take new and surprising plot directions, ones that require perceivers to rearrange knowledge of plot in significant ways. Importantly, then, perceivers are ready to alter, cancel, or embrace new hypotheses as the text provides them with new information. In other words, the fabula, or the complete story is a product that a perceiver commits to only after the perception of the text is over. (1) And while the narrative as a product is being constructed during the perception, it is constantly in flux, or open to be in flux, until perception is over. Consequently, the conclusive narrative of a text is a post-perception product. Moreover, as a post-perception product, the narrative is constructed from memories reorganized in a causal order so as to yield the most coherent story possible.

Thus it is important to understand that story, or fabula, is a product of an array of high-order cognitive activities significantly different from low-order perceptual processes. (2) Empirical research on narrative suggests that narrative structures are a product of high-order mental operations. In a series of related experiments, Gee and Grosjean asked subjects to read and then recount a short narrative. They analyzed spontaneous pause duration between sentences and then matched them with Lehnert's complex analysis of narrative structure into simple plot units. What Gee and Grosjean found was that "as the narrative complexity of a break between two sentences increases, the pause produced by a speaker also increases -- and in a very systematic way" (72). But while Gee and Grosjean were primarily interested in providing empirical evidence of narrative structure, their research reveals another important phenomenon. They found a correlation between story parsing and pauses only when subjects retold a story after reading it to themselves. When they asked subjects to read the story aloud (even in a second reading), the pauses did not equally well match the narrative structure parsing (81). Gee and Grosjean do not explain why spontaneous retelling reflects so much more accurately a story's narrative structure, but in the context of our discussion it is clear; retelling takes into account that a narrative has been fully comprehended and interpreted before it is retold. …

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