Academic journal article Film & History

Modular Narratives in Contemporary Cinema/Abandoned Images: Film and Film's End/Technologies of History: Visual Media and the Eccentricity of the Past

Academic journal article Film & History

Modular Narratives in Contemporary Cinema/Abandoned Images: Film and Film's End/Technologies of History: Visual Media and the Eccentricity of the Past

Article excerpt

Allan Cameron Modular Narratives in Contemporary Cinema Palgrave Macmillan, 2008 211 pages; $89

Stephen Barber Abandoned Images: Film and Film's End Reaktion Books, 2010 189 pages; $24.95 paperback

Steve F. Anderson Technologies of History: Visual Media and the Eccentricity of the Past Dartmouth College Press, 2011 210 pages; $35 paperback

Film complicates the mysteries and aporias of time. Montage rearranges the temporal linearity of narrative allowing both past and future events within the story to intrude upon the plot. Audiences experience these events, including flashbacks and flashforwards, as an immediate presence, though one which film producers recorded previously. Films made one hundred years ago can be viewed today, though rarely in the same venue and never with the same cultural assumptions. Like such earlier technologies of reproduction as the book and the photograph, film can transcend space and time but its material permanence, itself always under threat from neglect, decay or technological obsolescence, cannot preserve the historically evolving lived-worlds that it only imperfectly captures. Each of the three books under review explores an aspect of film's complicated entanglement with temporality and each contributes to the growing body of scholarly work on media and memory.

Allan Cameron's Modular Narratives in Contemporary Cinema argues that in the past twenty-five years "popular cinema has displayed a turn towards narrative complexity" (1). Among other factors, digitization makes it easier for filmmakers to divide their plots into more complex segments that scramble linearity and manipulate temporal sequences. Cameron deems such practices "modular narratives" and creates a typology of four categories to describe them. "Anachronic Narratives" employ flashbacks and flashforwards to alter temporal ordering. Pulp Fiction (1994), for example, cleverly deploys these techniques to create a film that can be characterized plausibly as either an extended flashback or an elaborate flashfoward. "Forking-Path Narratives" combine different versions of a story within the same film, as in Groundhog Day (1993) where the main character adapts to various renderings of a recurring date. "Episodic Narratives" are films that offer a series of incidents in no conventional order. 32 Short Films About Glenn Gould (1993) provides an example of one type of such films and Kieslowski's Dekalog (1989) illustrates another. "Split-Screen Narratives" show two events simultaneously as in Time Code (2000) and Pretend (2003). Cameron provides extensive analysis of recent films that illustrate each of his four categories.

Cameron understands that his notion of "modular narratives" possesses a rich genealogy not only within the films of the past hundred years, but also in literature extending back to the late Middle Ages. He notes how Chaucer's Canterbury Tales as well as Tristram Shandy would fall within his typology. He also cites many films that manipulate time within their narratives. It's a Wonderful Life (1946) provides one example of an earlier "forking-path narrative" and Sunset Boulevard (1950) famously offers the extended flashback of a murdered man. Citing the work of Stephen Kern, Cameron acknowledges how Modernism transformed the categories of time and space in the early twentieth century and inspired both writers and filmmakers to experiment with temporal sequencing in their works. This recognition of historical precedent provides something of a problem for Cameron's argument. He wants to show how digitization and other postmodern developments accentuate experiments with temporality in film but he must frequently concede that virtually every example he nicely analyzes draws on earlier classical norms. When he examines in detail recent films that question the reliability of history and memory, such as Ararat (2002) and Russian Ark (2002), he grants that similar inclinations animated its predecessors. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.