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Films

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A major change that has occurred in the development of film is the linearity of narrative. The history of film spans over one hundred years ago, with classical narrative emerging in Hollywood around the nineteen thirties. The classical narrative period had a strong emphasis on linearity and coherence, where characters where goal centred and consistent in personality and action. In the nineteen sixties a change began to emerge in Hollywood, with Breathless (Jean-Luc Godard, 1960) breaking the editing rules, and narrative coherence, with the introduction of jump cuts. This film among others greatly contributed to the outburst of non-linear narratives, a narrative technique wherein events are portrayed out of chronological order. In the twenty-first century a range of independent films with a variety of non-linear narratives have been getting mainstream release. Within this essay I will briefly explain the different types of narratives and the reasons for their popularity. The directorial intent for many non-linear narratives can be to evoke mood, maintain suspense, indicate the malleability of memory, signify dream, and above all to provide visual pleasure. The involvement that a spectator can feel from a non-linear narrative can offer both a sense of pleasure and relation. The fact that it is up to the viewer to keep up, put things together, and make sense of the narrative provides a sense of satisfaction, and can become the reason they are watching the film. Removing the chronological order of a story and rearranging its components can make a it more compelling than if the scenes progressed in chronological order. An advantage of non-linear narrative is its ability to involuntarily feed the viewer information. This means that there is no need for characters, and therefore the audience, to passively receive information. Instead the viewer is engaged with the dramatization and is left to take in material along with the character. Rather than accepting the outlined narrative, as with classical narrative, the unpredictability and shifting structure of non-linear narrative forces the viewer to question and evaluate the sequence of events. Sudden shifts in scenes or stories keep the viewers concentration. Media, for example news headlines and YouTube, provide bursts of information in a very short period of time. When browsing the internet, the twenty-first century has become accustomed to skimming, and flipping between different matter. As we have become accustom to Medias influences, our desire to concentrate on one subject for a long period of time is diminishing. This has contributed to the popularity of non-linear films in the twenty-first century as many people are finding the suspense more pleasing than the classical narrative structure. This shifting of structure can also greatly help to portray how we remember things. Memory is our ability to store, retain and recall information and experiences. As memories are not always accurate and different points of view can lead to different interpretation of situations, stories are often complicated and therefore can be difficult to portray in a linear fashion. Non-linear narratives, especially perceptible in thriller or detective films, provide bursts of memories, and previously accumulated emotions, in order to place the viewer in the characters shoes. ‘Sometimes [narrative] needs to be presented as a bucketful of jagged shrapnel from minds shattered by grief; its resemblance to the fragmentary way a traumatised memory works is what makes it so powerful and effective. It also gives us, to use a phrase coined by film academic Murray Smith, "architectural pleasure".’(1) Classifying such highly complex narrative structures into categories can be a complex procedure. Although many different techniques are being adapted into today’s film and gaming industry, narrative critiques have established a number of assorting groups. Some of these include platform, split-screen, anachronic, forking-path, and episodic narratives. Platform narrative is the most contemporary of the post classical narrative forms. This particular structure can often, yet not exclusively, be found in gaming narrative. The tale of each level can often appear linear, yet there is a lack of connective tissue between the different narrative events. This is evident in many games when a character is permitted access to another level where the narrative differs from the previous stages. Split-screen narrative similarly is non classical due to its spatial rather than temporal distinction. These films divide the screen into two or more frames, juxtaposing simultaneous or prior events within the same visual field. ’The conspicuous example here is Mike Figgis’ Timecode (2000), which follows a number of characters simultaneously by splitting the screen into four quadrants, allowing for the exploration of memory and simultaneity.’ (4) Timecode’s four continuous 90-minute takes were filmed and shown simultaneously, with the four quadrants showing the interaction and conflict of several groups of people who are preparing for the shooting of a movie. Anachronic narrative involves a departure from the first temporality of a narrative into a flashback or flash-forward. This first narrative then provides a temporal grounding to any secondary narratives. A recent augmentation to anachronic narratives is a display of sequential ordering that creates a sense of uncertainty regarding the primacy of one narrative in relation to another. The flash-forwards and flash-backs allow for slippage between illusion and reality, and for emotion and logic, rather than realism. Christopher Nolan’s Memento (2000) employs an anachronic structure. The film is fashioned in the form of a backwards narrative featuring two different sequences of scenes, a series in black-and-white that are shown in chronological order, and a series of colour sequences shown in reverse order. Nolan incorporates a conceptual twist by linking the flow of the narrative to the condition of the protagonist. The film tells the story of a man, Leonard, whom suffers from short-term memory loss, and who is trying to track down his wife's murderer. The reverse narrative of the film forces the viewer to become implicated in the investigation as it progressively reveals what Leonard is unable to remember. For most of the film, it is unclear when the scenes are set, and how they relate to the other scenes, causing the viewer to struggle as much as Leonard does to create a coherent narrative.

Forking-path narrative is the juxtaposition of alternate versions of a story, often introducing a number of plotlines that represent the possible futures of the central characters. Anachronic and forking-path narratives share certain qualities. ‘Just as the anachronic narrative invites reflection upon the organization and experience of time (by raising questions around the notions of past, present and future), the forking-path narrative presents us with ways of thinking of time in terms of simultaneity and causal linkage.’ (5) Although it is uncommon, anachronic narrative has been combined with forking-path structure in Hollywood films such as Mulholland Drive (2001). Due to uncertainty if we are witnessing a memory, hallucination or an alternate reality, this combined narrative structure is also debated in recent films such as Donnie Darko (2001) and Fight Club (1999). Episodic narrative is constructed of two or more tales and can be organised into two groups: abstract series and anthology. Abstract series acts independently or semi-independently of the conventional relationship of narrative time, space, and causality whilst anthology, or multi-strand narrative, consist of a series of short stories which originally appear to be detached, yet turn out to share the same world in which the events occur. Dissimilar to other narrative structures, anthology shifts from a central character to a multi-character narrative where characters shift in and out of prominence. This type of narrative assists in maintaining suspense throughout the entire film. An ostentatious example of an anthological narrative is Love Actually (Richard Curtis 2003). The romantic comedy delves into different aspects of love as shown through ten separate stories involving a wide variety of individuals, many of whom are discovered to be interlinked as the film progresses.

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