Narrative Theory (A2 G325)

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Narrative Theory (A2 G325)

  1. 1. Narrative Theory
  2. 2. In media terms, narrative is the coherence/organisation given to a series of facts. In everything we seek a beginning, a middle and an end. We understand and construct meaning using our experience of reality and of previous texts (link back to genre theory). In media we need to be able to engage with texts without too much effort. From what we know about genre, we have expectations of a text’s repertoire of elements in order to provide us with familiar pleasures. In the same way we have expectations about the way in which a text is structured. Basic elements of a narrative, according to Aristotle: "...the most important is the plot, the ordering of the incidents; for tragedy is a representation, not of men, but of action and life, of happiness and unhappiness - and happiness and unhappiness are bound up with action. ...it is their characters indeed, that make men what they are, but it is by reason of their actions that they are happy or the reverse." (Poetics - Aristotle(Penguin Edition) p39-40 4th century BC ) Successful stories require actions which change the lives of the characters in the story. They also contain some sort of resolution, where that change is registered. Narratives are not just those we encounter in fiction. Even news stories, advertisements and documentaries also have a constructed narrative which must be interpreted
  3. 3. Allan Rowe “Narrative involves the viewer in making sense of what is seen, asking questions of what we see and anticipating the answers. In particular, narrative invites us to ask both what is going to happen next and when and how will it all end. Narrative operates on the tension between our anticipation of likely outcomes drawn from genre conventions and the capacity to surprise or frustrate our expectations.”
  4. 4. Roland Barthes; Narrative Codes He stated that texts can be open (Variety of different meanings) or closed (Dominant meaning) Barthes decided that the processes we use to unravel meaning are called narrative codes and that they could be categorised in the following five ways: •Action or proiaretic code and enigma code (ie. Answers & questions) to integrate the viewer •Symbols & Signs (semiotics) •Points of Cultural Reference (your culture’s value and belief system – your interpretation of the text is dependent on this) •Simple description/reproduction (Ideas or reproductions of things we’re already familiar)
  5. 5. Conventions of Narrative Focus: Time Comprehending Time Very few screen stories take place in real time. Whole lives can be dealt with in the 90 minutes of a feature film, an 8 month siege be encompassed within a 60 minute TV documentary. There are many conventions to denote time passing, from the time/date information typed up on each new scene of The X-Files to the aeroplane passing over a map of a continent in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Other devices to manipulate time include;: Flashbacks dream sequences Repetition different characters' POV flash forwards real time interluds pre-figuring of events that have not yet taken place
  6. 6. Todorov ‘s Theory – The structure of a narrative Tzvetan Todorov, suggests that all narratives follow a three part structure. They begin with equilibrium, where everything is balanced, progress as something comes along to disrupt that equilibrium, and finally reach a resolution, when equilibrium is restored. We can usually apply this to all linear narratives and draws Aristotle’s theory that all narratives have some for of conflict or disruption to them.
  7. 7. Application of Todorov’s Theory Think about your own trailers. Do the initial few shots have a longer duration and serve to orientate the viewer introducing character and setting? If so then they are from the equilibrium of the narrative. Then is the majority of the trailer, despite being non-linear, made up of short shots that highlight disruption to the narrative, showing binary opposition and characters attempting to overcome complications? Is the majority of the trailer made up of complications or disputes? Thus does it confirm what both Aristotle and Todorov argue? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L_AerBW0EcI http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=873PrTZkLsI
  8. 8. Vladimir Propp came up with the theory that there are only a certain number of characters, who crop up in most narratives. It is easy to spot the hero and villain in most cases, but here are some others: Hero : Leads the narrative, is usually looking for something (a quest) or trying to solve something (a mystery) Villain : Conflicts with the hero Heroine: Is usually some sort of prize or reward for the hero. Father :An authority figure who offers a reward to the hero for completing their quest. Helper: Helps the hero - often acts as a sidekick Donor: Gives the hero something - a clue, a talisman, a special power - which helps them complete their quest Mentor: Teaches and guides the hero
  9. 9. Application of Propp’s Theory Just like genre – character’s need to be broken down by the micro element presents. This leads us to make an assumption about them (stereotyping). View the following – deconstruct the characters and then state whether they fit Propp’s theory. Remember not all character types will be present in all narratives. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UlaZfOiGaCU http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_6b2XhXkPpg
  10. 10. Berger • Hero vs. Villain • Princess (love) vs. Siren (sex) • Villains who are really good vs. False Heroes/Heroines Berger (1997) showed how it was possible to adapt Propp’s characters and functions to form binary oppositions
  11. 11. Levi Strauss’s Theory of Binary Oppositions Levi Strauss concluded that all narratives were based around or contained a binary or series of binary oppositions. E.g. Good Vs Evil What binary opposition is evident form this trailer? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=baC5IPP9f5g&feature=related Such binary oppositions may not be as apparent on first glance of a media text. However, all texts are based upon a level of presupposition on the part of the viewer/consumer. For example, they rely on us using our knowledge of narrative and genre and filling in the gaps of the prior events that have lead us to this point.
  12. 12. Alternative Narratives Peter Wollen has distinguished a tradition of counter-cinema. He suggests that the role of mainstream cinema is to produce pleasurable fictions. Hollywood films are created to be consumed and enjoyed, and the contradictions of everyday life magically resolved in the happy ending. Counter-cinema, by contrast, is designed to give an ‘unpleasurable’ reality, presenting a non-narrative, non-escapist world, whose contradictions have to be resolved in real life. Have you produced a film trailer that would be made by an independent film producer hence the narrative moves away from the Hollywood mainstream that isn’t built upon universal hopes and fears? Or have you produced a film trailer that does exactly what Wollen suggests?
  13. 13. Task Select one of your productions and discuss how narrative theory applies to it. Remember that for some productions this may be tricky and take a lot of critical reflection. However, it is acceptable to show that you understand narrative theory by discussing how your production does not fully fit it – think about the non-linear structure of Tarrantino films or Peter Wollen’s theory of counter cinema.

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