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Tuesday, October 31, 2006

[Non-]Narrativity

It is common among directors, when asked why is it that they make movies, to answer: "Because I have stories and I want to tell them". And that simple answer explains the richness of plot and devices through which it is executed. But it fails to cover another field of (modern) cinema, namely contemplative film. As Harry suggested, it can be subgrouped, in terms of narrativity, in "contemplative narration" and "non-narrative contemplation", but again, I wonder, isn't it plot that is spoken of in these definitions? Plot is the sequence of events that can be summarised but it is the narrative through which this plot is fulfilled. Narrativity is something broader - it could be plot, in its primal meaning, but it is also the sense, the pre-notion of plot that could never finish itself into a complete story. Narrativity speculates about the possibility of a plot and does not deal with events but movements, gestures and details that are encompassed in a story.

So, let me propose a transfiguration of these two definitions into "contemplative plot" and "plotless contemplation", in the first place. And since the first one is quite clear, I'd like to dwell more on the second one. The absence of plot does not deny narrativity. On the contrary, it contributes to its full manifestation. Narrativity is found in the chosen camera angle, shot duration and length of camera movement as opposed to camera stillness. To make things clearer, here's an example: Angelopoulos' Eternity and a Day (from which I've only seen bits and pieces) offers a magnificents shot [present-past], or in the words of prof. Horton - "It's as if the present has the past in it and he's telling you that in one visual shot." In this shot, the protagonist (Bruno Ganz) tells the young boy he's met of a poet, Solomos, that used to live there in the 19th century. In one shot the camera slides over the river from the present-poet to the past-poet and that discloses much more than the single story of the past - a cut to history. Yes, we could "translate" this shot as if "the present has the past in it", but we could also become aware of the inevitable bond between the two historical poets. From there, we could speculate about the nature of poetry and art - how the thread between past and present should never be torn, how almost nothing has changed, etc. And this subtle nuances are achieved through one single shot! The plot is left somewhere behind, while the camera hovers over it's narrativity. Narrativity means possibilities. It can be contrary to plot, or the actual situation of a frame. Imagine a bar scene - a quiet gang of drunken villagers, dozing over bottles of beer and wine. Everyone's silent, there's no sound whatsoever. Thus positioned, the shot speaks of calmness, dullness even, a monotonous living. But now let's shift the camera and place it from the point of view of the bar keeper - towards the door. A still shot of a silent crowd, waiting for someone to come, for something to happen. The atmosphere becomes more tense and this tension is seemingly contrary to the calmness of the drunken people. Through the camera, the plot/event/situation is transfigured into a hidden narrativity.

This hypothetic shot comes from my idea of Bela Tarr's Satantango, while reading Krasznahorkai's novel, which very luckily is translated in Bulgarian. And it is regarding the book that I want to pose a few more speculations on narrativity and contemplation. The book is written in 6 chapters forward, 6 chapters backward, as in tango and includes no paragraphs, or - every chapter is one single paragraph, no new lines or special stylistic layout. Thus, this simplicity becomes a stylistic design and much more - a second narrativity beyond the meaning of the words. It's as if the life of the village is a whole life - entire and complete. There's no individuality as in the alienated city. Everyone's a part of something identical, everyone's words and thoughts are a wave of a similar flow. No wonder why, Irimias is ascended as a saviour, the one who, having been considered dead, is now considered ressurected - a saint who has chosen to come back to the village - the outsider/the one who speaks differently (and truly his speech is designed in narrower paragraphs). This diversion can be perceived through the look of the text and from the fragments I've seen of the film, through the monotony of the camera [movement]. This compostition creates a second narrativity. As in poetry and short films - the form is more indicative than the narrative-plot and this form becomes a narrative-notion. As in abstract painting where the composition of the fragments is the narrativity and the possibility of numerous narratives [interpretations].

And to sum it up, I'd like to place the question of plot and narrativity. Isn't it the style, the form, the composition in contemplative plotless cinema that is the narrativity? And because it is easily subject to countless interpretations, its general plot is lost among the narratives - the subtle notions that are open?

2 comments:

HarryTuttle said...

Firstly, please forgive me not to reply sooner, you are so nice to have begun the exploration of this theme so early before the official blogathon.

Your reconsideration of narrativity is interesting indeed. And as "contemplative cinema" is not an academic concept, this is a "work-in-progress" notion that we will hopefully define more precisely together. Finding the right words is one of our tasks.

According to me, "narration" implies an active process of storytelling that doesn't suit the plot-less contemplation : to narrate, to expose facts, to describe things, to tell stories, to articulate events...
I agree that there is always some sort of "narrativity" in a film because it has a beginning and an end and movements, but if we want to contrast "contemplative cinema" with the rest, the absence of narration draws the frontier (however improper) in an obvious enough way for anybody.

I believe that Contemplative Cinema does everything against the constitution of a palpable narration, by deconstructing the process of communicating meanings. Isn't it the antithesis of narration to suppress continuity, ignore exposition, multiply interpretations, stillness instead of action, monotony instead of individuality.

Now we can certainly discuss the (alternative) narrativity developped by contemplative cinema to say something without the traditional devices of narration (like you suggest with style, form, composition, shot duration, camera angle...)

HarryTuttle said...

Here is an interesting discussion at a_film_by, about plot and plotless art, a tangential question to our topic.