Complex narratives, an introduction.
The essays gathered here both complement and extend Bordwell's argument. In what I think will become a massively referenced and reproduced essay, Charles Ramirez Berg adds to the possible reasons for the torrent of complex narratives. Moreover, he carves out twelve different formal structures common to these stories, noting their systems of tackling time, space, and causality. Likewise, Elliot Panek looks at one sort of complex narrative--the psychological puzzle film--to consider not only the structures common to such movies but also their narrational strategies.
In his contribution, Michael Z. Newman distinguishes between plot and character complexity using a comparison of 21 Games and Passion Fish. While the call for this issue specified that what was being sought were studies of complicated plot and story relations, Newman's intervention reminds us that complexity needs careful definition and that complexity in one area does not necessarily produce overall textual difficulty or sophistication.
Following these three textual studies are two analyses that foreground ideological implications of the formal features of these narratives. Focusing on "multi-track" or "ensemble" plots, Walter Metz and Hsuan L. Hsu consider how films structured this way often raise important arguments about contemporary matters. While Metz finds success in the formal strategy for Storytelling and Melinda and Melinda, Hsu is unimpressed with Crash, arguing that the method only appears to provide narrational omniscience. On the contrary, the film's reduction of race to personal features of the individuals tracked in the narrative lines ultimately does not address the larger concerns of community and racism.
Complex narratives are not restricted to Hollywood. The final essay in this issue considers three recent popular Japanese contributions to the category: Battle Royale, Suicide Club, and Mohou ban. Robert Davis and Riccardo de los Rios contend that these films extend expected features of narrative complexity without insuring coherency in storytelling or rationale in high-energy spectacle. Thus, the films reflect not only anti-traditional Hollywood storytelling but also may be potentially extending Hollywood's complex narratives to the edge of the form's tolerance.
An audience seems to exist for these complicated narratives. Many of the films considered here had top box office, and, amongst others, Donnie Darko has achieved a major cult following. What should we make of this hunger for narrative complexity? The answer is unknown, but the vogue does not yet seem played out. Although these six essays are not the last word on the recent fashion of complex narratives, they all provide significant contributions to explaining the causes for this trend and to appreciating what might be taken into account in their on-going examination.
Bordwell, David. The Way Hollywood Tells It. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006.
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|Date:||Sep 22, 2006|
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