David Denby, the New Yorker’s astute film critic, focuses his attention on movies that play with time and their audiences in an article of interest to storytellers, regardless of medium.
The entire piece is thought-provoking, but one passage in particular jumped out at me; it’s an homage to narrative that is under assault in movie theaters around the world.
"Storytellers, relying on sequence and causality, make sense out of nonsense; they impose order, economy, and moral consequence on the helter-skelter wash of experience. The notion that one event causes another, and that the entire chain is a unified whole, with a complex, may be ambivalent, but, in any case, coherent meaning, not only brings us to a point of resolution; it allows us to navigate through our lives."
But Denby’s focus, propelled by this year’s Academy Award nominated “Babel,” is about movie storytellers with a different impact, leaving “the viewer experiencing reactions before actions, dénouements before climaxes, disillusion before ecstasy, and many other upsetting reversals and discombobulations.”
Just as audiences became accustomed to non-Hollywood endings that refused to give us what we wanted (enemies falling in love, sympathetic characters who were not snatched from the jaws of death), Denby says we’re getting used to structures that bend time.
“All these movies draw on a sophistication about cinema that is now almost universal. We know that a film is not a piece of life; we know that it is something made. And we’re used to being shoved around in time—we may even be doing some of the shoving ourselves.”
Technology makes “new non-narrative movies” possible, for established filmmakers as well as anyone with access to ripping software who wants to create their own structure.
“Twenty-five years ago, the videotape transfer of a film sustained the notion of a movie as a continuous track: you could run it forward or backward, but the film was “printed” on magnetic tape, and you remained on the track. Digital information, on the other hand, can be infinitely manipulated; you can jump from one place to another or cut the movie into pieces. At home, kids create “mashups”—chopping sections out of a feature film, mixing the excerpts with their own material, and posting the result on the Web as a madcap original creation. “
But all that digital time-shifting, may come with a hefty price.
“The danger of instant editing, of course, is not just disordered time sequences but glibness. Some of the big Hollywood action films move so quickly that they eliminate the most rudimentary emotional attachment to the material. It would be terrible if computer editing wiped out the proper emotional resistance to making a cut—the lingering grave affection for a face, a landscape, an interior, even the resonance of an empty space.“
Here’s a filmography of the ”topsy-turvey narratives’ Denby discusses in the piece. You can learn more about them from the Internet Movie Database at imdb.com
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
The Good Shepherd
Un Chien Andalou
The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie
Hiroshima, Mon Amour
The Lives of Others