Movie Narrative Structure Essay, Research Paper
Documentaries are a form of movie media known as a nonnarrative formal system. Breaking the system down into smaller categories, four groups emerge (categorical, associational, rhetorical, and abstract). Focusing on the associational and rhetorical style will help to analyze the documentaries Man with a Movie Camera (Dziga Vertov), Roger and Me (Michael Moore), The Thin Blue Line (Errol Morris) and Black Is Black Ain’t (Marlon Riggs).
The associational formal system lends itself to the Soviet montage school of editing. Instead of using a ’straightforward’ image to convey a topic this system is more about juxtaposing various images that may not directly communicate the director’s vision. This forces the viewer to become more intellectual during the viewing of the movie. The director’s ideas and images don’t always build up to one central point, instead using smaller repetitious parallel relationships to allow the viewer to connect themes by building associational links. The silent film A Man With a Movie Camera (Dziga Vertov) is such an example of an associational documentary. This self-reflexive film using life in the Soviet Union is all about the power of filmmaking. This film becomes a celebration of the documentary filmmaker’s power to control our perception of reality by means of editing and special effects (Bordwell 416). Using various images that may not be normally grouped together Vertov hoped to show how everyday actions could be applied to filmmaking. For example:
One brief segment shows the camera lens focusing and then a blurry shot of flowers coming into sharp focus. This is followed immediately by a camera juxtaposition rapidly intercutting two elements: a women’s fluttering eyelids as she dries her face off with a towel, and a set of venetian blinds opening and closing. Finally another shot shows the camera lens with a diaphragm closing and opening. A human eye is like a venetian blinds, the lens is like an eye- all can open and close, admitting or keeping out light (Bordwell 417).
The rhetorical style uses various visual strategies and techniques to create an argument about something. Four basic characteristics of this type of filmmaking is that (1)-it addresses the viewer openly, trying to persuade the viewer, (2)- the film will be a matter of opinion, not necessarily truth, (3)- facts are supplemented by emotional appeal, (4)- the film may wish to change the everyday life of the viewer. To influence the viewer the filmmaker may use a variety of narrative techniques such as (1)- Arguments from the source- presenting a the film as a reliable source of information, (2)- Subject centered arguments- using evidence to support the argument, (3)- Viewer centered arguments- appeal to the emotions of the viewer.
The Thin Blue Line (Errol Morris) sets out to convince the audience of a man’s innocence. By appealing to the viewers reason and emotion Morris uses the actual people involved to retell their stories so the director/interviewer are never seen or heard. As a technique to appeal to the viewer’s sense of injustice toward the main character, the director puts his interview first so it appears that all the other characters contradict the main character. By providing portrayals of the event, evidence and arguments the filmmaker lets the viewer reach their own conclusion about the situation.
Roger and Me (Michael Moore) is a rhetorical documentary that creates sympathy for unemployed Ford workers in Flint, Michigan. Moore first creates a repore with the viewer by comically showing his childhood-adult years in Flint. He is knowledgeable of about the topic because his family works in the automobile plant that is the subject of his film. Moore appeals to the sympathy of the viewer as he interviews unemployed workers and shows how the closing of the auto plant created Flint into a destitute ghost town. The viewer follow Moore as he narrates his journey to try to get answers from Ford CEO, Roger. The entire documentary is centered on American patriotism and the spirit of the people. Through the use of humor and often one-sided interviews Moore hopes to show the viewer how his hometown of Flint has changed over the years.
Black Is Black Ain’t (Marlon Riggs) borders between associational and rhetorical form. Much like associational documentaries Black Is Black Ain’t hopes to evoke a mood through the use of various images. Like the rhetorical form it appeals to emotion and reason over a controversial topic. Riggs creates a personal sense with the viewer by intertwining his own personal story (his family, his battle with AIDS) with the overall issue of Black identity. The director is on both sides of the camera showing his personal investment in the film. Numerous narrators and written quotes are just some of the techniques that Riggs uses to convey his message of Blackness. To comment on the associational style of the film, throughout the narration there is a blurred picture of a figure running through the forest; it is not until the end of the film that the figure is revealed to be the director as he explains the symbolic meaning of this portrayal to the audience.