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Narration

Structuring Our Experiences of the World

In the following piece we will explore the notion of narrative, with the underpinning idea that Hollywood cinema of the late sixties and early seventies represents a certain high point in film narration. This doesn’t make the movies the best ever made (though some of them are), or the movement the most important moment in film (the early sixties in Europe would probably offer a better claim). It is more that it represents a crisis between narration and contemplation, situation and action, and resolves it surprisingly well.

But first let us talk about narration. Narrative isn’t only a fancy word for storytelling. It is also one that helps us understand how stories are told in film form, and indeed any form. When someone says to us they’ve got a great story to tell, no matter how exciting the events, unless they are narrated in a particular way, much of the excitement will be lost. If a friend you were going to go running with announces to you that he has lost his trainers, and you ask how they did it, and they reply the house burnt down, we might assume they’ve misplaced their priorities. Effective narration is a little like appropriately placed priorities, putting the plot in the right order. You tell the story in the most effective manner possible. As David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson insist in Film Art: An Introduction. “The plot may arrange cues in ways that withhold information for the sake of curiosity or surprise. Or the plot may supply information in such a way as to create expectations or increase suspense. All these processes constitute narration.”

Yet of course stories can be told effectively in very different ways, and for different ends. Even our example of the trainers and the house might suggest the friend has a great sense of humour and an incredibly stoic sensibility, and he told it in the manner he did to reflect this. But one of the most accepted methods in film is classic Hollywood narrative. In The Cinema Book, Annette Kuhn discusses Classic Hollywood cinema, saying, “by the early to middle 1930s, the modes of representation now held to be characteristic of ‘classic’ narrative cinema were more or less consolidated and had already attained a large degree of dominance, certainly in Hollywood, but also in varying degrees in film industries elsewhere.”

What were these modes? “In the classic narrative, events in the story are organised around a basic structure of enigma and resolution. At the beginning of the story, an event may take place which disrupts a pre-existing equilibrium in the fictional world.” Kuhn adds, “it is then the task of the narrative to resolve that disruption and set up a new equilibrium.” In a detective thriller a murder is committed and the cop must solve the crime. In a western the bad guy rides into town and the film won’t be resolved until the hero rides him back out again or dispatches him altogether. In a romantic comedy, two single people meet each other and the film will move towards their permanent coupling. These are all obvious examples, but that doesn’t mean the films utilising strong structures lead to predictable cinema. Even classical Hollywood filmmaking can make these conventions work in complicated ways. In It Happened One Night we might assume that when Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert first meet on the bus early in the film they will be destined to end up together, but the film has to put enough issues, crises, and personal quirks in the way for its inevitability not to become predictable. After all, Colbert is supposedly a married woman (though the relationship has been unconsummated), and initially wants Gable to help her get back with her husband after her father’s determination to keep them apart. The basic structure that indicates this couple will get together, needs enough surprises and complications to keep the audience engaged. In a classic western like The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Lee Marvin’s titular bad guy will be killed by the conclusion, but the film hinges on the question of who will be the hero. As Marvin constantly causes trouble and picks fights, we know the film will have to punish him for his behaviour. But the film has us wondering who it will be who will do the punishing, and who will thus be held responsible for an essentially heroic action. Will it be the mild-mannered lawyer (James Stewart) who is forced near the end of the film to confront him, or will it be the gun-slinger played by John Wayne? Or can one man do the deed and another accept responsibility for it? In The Big Heat, detective Glenn Ford investigates an apparently straight-forward case of suicide when a colleague is found dead, but it is of course a case he has to crack. Yet along the way events will become very complicated indeed, and his personal life all but destroyed.

However, one reason why we find classic Hollywood not so much predictable as safe, is because the films take place in realistic rather than realist worlds. As Kuhn says: “The world of the classic narrative is governed by verisimilitude, then, rather than by documentary-style realism.” Many classic films were made in studios rather than on locations, and often hardly attempted to hide their lack of authenticity: they wanted no more than dramatic plausibility. Think of all those scenes where people talk in cars and we see a clearly back-projected street. What matters is often no more than narrative logic, not the realist elements that make us think we are in a ‘real’ world with the story taking place in it. It is more that the story takes place and the world is merely the backdrop.

One of the main differences between classic Hollywood and what was called New Hollywood, was the sense that the story became a little less prominent, and the milieu, society and the form more pronounced. Thus if in classic Hollywood the story was paramount, the milieu and the society in the background and the form invisible, this hierarchy was, if not reversed, then far from taken for granted in films of the late sixties and the seventies. As Geoff King notes, there were many changes in American society in the sixties and into the next decade, so this became reflected in the films. “The civil rights movement, race riots: ‘black power’. The counter-culture, hippies, drug-taking: ‘flower power’…the Kennedy assassination. Martin Luther King assassination. My Lai, Cambodia, and the shooting of students at Kent State.” (New Hollywood Cinema)

These were turbulent times that seemed to demand turbulent form. Whether it was cameraman Gordon Willis shooting The Godfather in such dark tones he earned the nickname ‘the prince of darkness’, Martin Scorsese with Taxi Driver toning down the colour in the shoot out sequence at the end of the film because it was too bloody, or Robert Altman in McCabe and Mrs Miller concluding on a gunfight where the villagers are busy doing other things as the bumbling hero dies alone in a snowstorm after taking on the baddies, New Hollywood refused the conventions as it tried to question the narrative and ethical assumptions sitting behind classic Hollywood film.

Form became often very pronounced indeed, and the films frequently indebted to a type of cinema we will shortly discuss. As King says: “The fizzing glass of water in Taxi Driver is an expression of Travis Bickle’s state of mind…it is also a direct borrowing from…Two or three things I know about her.” He notes too that “the jump cuts in the opening of Bonnie and Clyde are strongly indebted to…Breathless.” He also sees that the 360 degree pans “of Breathless and Weekend (accompanied by Mozart) were repeated in Five Easy Pieces (accompanied by Chopin).” In Mean Streets Martin Scorsese uses three rapid shots, “cutting in progressively closer towards the central character…a striking device lifted from Shoot the Piano Player.”

The milieu was also much more pronounced in New Hollywood, with numerous films road movies exploring the States: Easy Rider, Scarecrow, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, Two Lane Blacktop. Others were time capsules of a city: Midnight Cowboy, Taxi Driver, Annie Hall and Manhattan marvellous explorations of New York for example. Even films like Point Blank, Dirty Harry and Bullitt gave us a strong sense of San Francisco and/or LA.

New Hollywood was a combination of classic Hollywood and European art house film meeting the significance of location. All the examples King gives as influences on New Hollywood are from the art cinema that had become prominent in France at the beginning of the sixties and elsewhere. In fact all of the films referenced by King come from a specific wave, from the Nouvelle vague: Breathless, Weekend and Two or Three Things I know About Her by Godard, Shoot the Piano Player by Truffaut. Other filmmakers working during this period in France and Italy were also influences: Alain Resnais with Hiroshima, mon amour and Last Year at Marienbad, Antonioni with L’avventura and Blow-Up, Fellini with 8 ½.

Films coming out of Italy and France in the late fifties and early sixties were as little indebted to Classic Hollywood as New Hollywood was in the red to the art house. Sure, Truffaut, Godard and other filmmakers were great cinephiles who admired Hitchcock, Welles, Ford, Hawks, Ray and Lang. But they were also interested in radically changing cinema on their own terms. Godard announced that a story should have a beginning, a middle and an end but not necessarily in that order, and that cinema is truth 24 frames a second. Antonioni said: “what people ordinarily call the ‘dramatic line’ doesn’t interest me.” (The Architecture of Vision)

It is as though the basic ontology of film for numerous European filmmakers – including Bunuel, Bergman and Pasolini as well as those mentioned – was about truth and ist questioning rather than convention, finding new perceptual possibilities rather than creating basic principles of narration. In Antonioni’s L’avventura, Anna goes missing quite early in the film never to be found. Her lover and friend who search for her initially, eventually focus instead on each other. Truffaut ends 400 Blows on a freeze frame with the youthful central character turning towards the camera: as if to say both the character and the film don’t quite know what will happen next. In Last Year at Marienbad the story dissolves alltogether as two characters disagree about the events in the film, and with no perspective privileged over the other, we cannot work out with any confidence exactly what has happened.

Sometimes the film’s relationship with the real world becomes more important, or at least weakens the narrative. Pasolini’s The Gospel According to St Matthew tells the story of Jesus while emphasising so much the poverty of milieu that the miracles seem secondary to the despair as Pasolini holds shots on locations and faces far longer than we would expect. Antonioni would appear often as interested in the architecture as in the characters, sometimes making the latter small within the frame, as in La notte and The Passenger. When we see Jeanne Moreau walking along the street, or Jack Nicholson outside a Gaudi building, they are tiny figures. In such instances narrative has been turned inside out, and we are very far from the equilibrium, disequilibrium stories of mainstream Hollywood filmmaking. The notion of appropriately placed priorities, we can see, has shifted.

Yet we might now see such innovations as momentary rather than teleological: as about a moment in film history rather the inevitable direction it had to take towards ever weaker narrative through lines. The story is much more complicated than that. Into the eighties and on into the next millennium Hollywood returned to many principles of classical filmmaking, with action perhaps taking precedence over narration (Die Hard, True Lies, Speed, Titanic), but with storytelling still very vital to the work. European cinema no longer seemed to be innovating in form except increasingly on the margins. With perhaps the exception of Lars von Trier and Michael Haneke, most of the finest European filmmakers of the last twenty years (Pedro Costa, Philippe Grandrieux, Jose Luis Guerin, Bela Tarr, Alexander Sokurov, Albert Serra) receive hardly any distribution at all.

This raises interesting questions about narration in film in the late 20th and early 21st century. We cannot pretend there wasn’t a gap between European film and Hollywood in the mid-sixties; yet the chasm between a Bergman film like Persona and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf wasn’t so wide: one could easily imagine a viewer who would see both in the same week. Of course Bergman’s film was so much more innovative than Mike Nichol’s play adaptation, but this would seem a matter of degree rather than radically different sensibilities. But the gap between Speed and Sokurov’s Mother and Son is enormous. If the former is called Speed, the latter could be called Slow. Sokurov’s film attends to a mother dying, taken care of by her devoted offspring in Autumnal colours. It isn’t just about viewers with different sensibilities; it is as though viewers would need to possess completely different nervous systems. Sokurov, like Serra, Costa and others expect us to reflect on the image; John McTiernan (Die Hard), Jan De Bont (Speed) and James Cameron (True Lies, Titanic) insist we anticipate the next one.

This suggests such a bifurcation that we cannot easily talk about narration in the same way. Of course there have always been experimental films with nothing to do with classic Hollywood storytelling. From Un Chien Andalou to Wavelength, from Ballet Mecanique to Meshes of the Afternoon. However, this was an a-narrational cinema, filmmaking often resistant of and contrary to mainstream notions of film. As Stephen Dwoskin says in Film Is: “because many independent filmmakers are inspired to make films by a personal urge to express themselves and have never been connected with the cinema industry or conditioned by it, they revitalize film language.” P. Adams Sitney reckons in Visionary Film that “a truly modern cinema…begins by encountering the aesthetics contemporary with cinema’s invention and development…” If Godard believed films should have a beginning, a middle and an end but not necessarily in that order, many experimental films suggest they needn’t have a beginning a middle and an end at all: hence the a-narrational.

Yet narration is the subject we are addressing, and we still see many of the great contemporary filmmakers as narrative directors however attenuated. Our question is really one of the escape into action in many modern, post New Hollywood movies, and the retreat into the reflective evident in numerous international films. Many of the great Millennial filmmakers are still interested in stories, but they have retreated further into contemplation without quite arriving at the experimentally a-narrational. Equally, plenty Hollywood filmmakers are making films where the story proves a throughline for the action spectacle. Now obviously, taking the latter first, the car chase for example very much became a key feature of sixties and seventies film: Bullitt, The French Connection, The Driver, Vanishing Point. But if critics saw such scenes as integral to the story, more recently has the story become incidental to the action? Geoff King in New Hollywood Cinema disputes the claim. Working chiefly from a piece by Fred Pfeil who “establishes an opposition between the cinema of classical Hollywood and that of the contemporary action film”, King reckons Pfeil exaggerates his claims, saying “the balance between spectacular and narrative varies among contemporary Hollywood blockbusters. Spectacle is important, sometimes dominant. In no cases, however, do we find a complete abandonment of narrative components familiar from the studio or ‘classical era.’” But even King is here acknowledging that sometimes the spectacular dominates.

It is partly the prominence of spectacle and the retreat into reflection that generates such a gap between contemporary Hollywood and the so-called arthouse. Now of course some might insist that in drawing comparisons between Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf and Persona we have made things easy on ourselves. Weren’t there other films at the time that were as ‘mindless’ as contemporary blockbusters? But Who’s Afraid of Virgina Woolf and Dr Zhivago were box office ‘hits’, taking the number one spot for a period of time. Many of the box-office successes in recent years have been animated works, comic strip adaptations and sequels. Amongst the top-grossers of 2015 were Jurassic World, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Inside Out and Furious 7. Most are focused on action and spectacle.

By contrast, the last Sight and Sound poll, for 2014, lists in its top ten Boyhood, Horse Money, Leviathan, Winter Sleep and The Tribe. The top grossing films of 1966 included Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, A Man for All Seasons, Blow-Up and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. All of these could have featured in Sight and Sound top tens of the time. Could Avengers: Age of Ultron and Furious 7 easily make a recent critical top ten?

If we take the above information into account we might believe narrative is in crisis: that the bifurcation, between the spectacle on the one hand and the meditation on the other, has left story secondary to the films that are the most successful, and the films that are most appreciated. Our purpose here isn’t to mourn this necessarily; more to try and understand an aspect of narration that is perhaps getting lost in our culture because of other priorities. Maybe many people care less for two aspects that have often been vital to narrative: passivity and linearity. Lev Manovich says: “the computer age introduces its correlate – database. Many new media objects do not tell stories; they don’t have beginning or end; in fact, they don’t have any development, thematically, formally or otherwise which would organize their elements into a sequence. Instead, they are collections of individual items, where every item has the same significance as any other.”

Passivity rests on the notion of asking someone to tell us a good story. If we add anything to the story during its telling, if we ask questions about where it is going, we are interrupting. The teller is in command. If we do intrude it might be that we believe the narrator isn’t telling the story properly, that the linearity is weak. However, if we live in a culture not of narration but communication does this mean that we have an enormous gap between what is seen as entertainment and art? If for much of cinema’s history storytelling was evident in commercial cinema and arthouse filmmaking, is that dissolution creating two very different modes? Writers like Geoff King and David Bordwell seem quite determined to hold onto the significance of narrative, evident in King’s comment and also Bordwell’s in The Way Hollywood Tells It. Bordwell reckons films are basically today consistent with classic Hollywood: the main difference resides in what he calls intensified continuity, a faster, denser image structure.

Our claim is more radical, without going quite so far as Manovich. “It is this sense of database as a cultural form of its own”, he says, “which I want to address here. Following art historian Ervin Panofsky’s analysis of linear perspective as a “symbolic form” of the modern age, we may even call database a new symbolic form of a computer age (or, as philosopher Jean-Francois Lyotard called it in his famous 1979 book Postmodern Condition, “computerized society”), “a new way to structure our experience of ourselves and of the world.” When we think of works by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Pedro Costa, Lisandro Alonso, Hong Sang-soo, even recent David Lynch and Gus van Sant, we can see linearity being questioned in new ways. One critic, Laurence Chua, commenting on Weerasehakul’s work says, “ I’ve noticed that you direct films in a way similar to an architect designing a building.”  (Bomb) Speaking of Lynch’s Inland Empire Stephane Delorme says, “These strata remain side by side; it is impossible to reduce them to the same system; each one has a role to play in the adulterous procession. Lynch’s freedom: the narrative does not sort out the ideas that the hauntings give rise, each one is welcomed with open arms, and provokes a small fiction within the story.” Delorme adds:” it is the theory of parallel worlds: in one world, the husband warns against adultery, in another he is the witness to it, in a third he learns that he is a cuckold, in a fourth he kills, in a fifth he accepts the child of sin, etc.“ (Cahiers du cinema). Speaking of Pedro Costa’s work, Darren Hughes says the director “is a useful test case for a discussion of the limits of narrative cinema as a contemplative art. Without abandoning narrative altogether, Costa has over the past two decades moved progressively toward abstraction and, in the process, has discovered his own brand of what avant-garde filmmaker Nathanial Dorsky calls “devotional cinema”: “a way of approaching and manifesting the ineffable.”

In many contemporary instances film becomes spatial as readily as it happens to be temporal: lateral rather than linear. One way of looking at this is to invoke the semiotic terms Manovich adopts. “To use the example of natural language, the speaker produces an utterance by stringing together the elements, one after another, in a linear sequence. This is the syntagmatic dimension. Now, lets look at the paradigm.” Manovich adds: “to continue with an example of a language user, each new element is chosen from a set of other related elements. For instance, all nouns form a set; all synonyms of a particular word form another set.” In the original formulation of Saussure, “the units which have something in common are associated in theory and thus form groups within which various relationships can be found. This is is the paradigmatic dimension. What happens in narrative he believes is that it follows language where we have a linear progression with choices made along that linearity. In other words the writer or director chooses to tell a story where someone goes somewhere and buys something. This is pure linearity (the syntagmatic), but how do we fill in the story with paradigmatic elements? Let us say Bill goes to the bakery and buys bread. We could change it to Mike goes to the supermarket and buys milk. The syntagmatic line is the same; only the paradigmatic features have changed. Manovich reckons that this emphasis is reversed for new media. “Database (the paradigm) is given material existence, while narrative (the syntagm) is de-materialized. Paradigm is privileged, syntagm is downplayed.”

But how does this impact on recent cinema? We can see it manifesting itself in radical ways in some of the directors we have mentioned; or more conventionally in works like 21 Grams or The Burning Plain. In both films we might initially believe the story is taking place in the same temporality. As we follow the lives of various characters we assume they are living in the present only to realise that certain scenes are from the past, and over the course of the film central to the story is the unravelling of these distinct layers. Here films can create narrative out of its absence of tense. If in writing one has to say he walked, he walks, was walking, and the book immediately reveal its temporal hand, the film image is, in this sense, always in the present unless otherwise stated by voiceover or flashback. A device is required to give it the tense literature cannot avoid. In The Burning Plain we initially take for granted there are two sets of characters in the one temporal dimension only to realise later that there is one set of characters in two temporal dimensions. The Burning Plain (like 21 Grams) over the course of the film sorts out the differences for us, and so while it questions narrative (and takes advantage of film’s agrammatical nature) it doesn’t challenge it in ways that will leave the viewer still confused, trying to make sense of the experience at the end of the film.

In Costa’s Horse Money temporality collapses as the figure of Ventura gets caught between a present moment and past memories. Though he remains throughout physically a man in his sixties, there are scenes taking place when he is nineteen and during the collapse of the dictatorship in Portugal. The film does nothing to indicate this shift from one era to the next, no flashbacks, no change of actor, no clothes change to indicate the passing of time. If Ventura is somehow trapped in a perennial present with no clear line between past, present and future, so the viewer is trapped likewise. He moves through his head rather than through time and space, and we watch, trying to find our coordinates in a film that refuses a clear temporal progression. This is quite different from a film that utilises flashbacks, of course, where time might not be linear but is at least signalled. In the intricate Bad Timing, over the film’s running time it allows us to disentangle various temporal threads as we work out the nature of a relationship. Sometimes filmmakers will use a shot that dissolves temporality as we find in The Passenger, where a scene in the present moves into flashback but without a cut as Jack Nicholson’s character plays a tape where we hear the voices of Nicholson and the now dead man with whom he is conversing and whose identity he has taken. We move from Nicholson swapping his passport identity in the room (after the man’s death) to the balcony, where the two men talk, all shot in one take. We might also think of Last Year at Marienbad, which more radically still plays with time as the film signals flashbacks but where they are offered indeterminately. When one character talks about the past, the flashback illustrates that their memory of it is not the same as the image that we see. Usually flashback gives credence to the words of the narrator, as we find in anything from The Lady of Shanghai to Double Indemnity, but in Alain Resnais’ work the film provides us with properly unreliable narration.

In each instance, and to varying degrees, Bad Timing, The Passenger and Last Year at Marienbad call into question conventional temporality, but only the latter really anticipates the lateral dimension that appears to interest Costa, Weerasethakul and others. As Aparna Sharma says in Documentary Films in India: Critical Aesthetics at Work: “with no linear or clear narrative temporality, space becomes the principal framework in Weerasethakul’s films.” In Joanna Hogg’s Exhibition, the film hints at temporality but focuses on spatiality. A couple decide to sell their distinctive modernist house, a house designed and formerly lived in by architect James Melvin. There is a thread of narrative here, but Peter Bradshaw in the Guardian wasn’t entirely wrong to draw comparisons with Rachel Whiteread’s Turner prize-winning House. If sculpture is all space, then how does film which is a temporal medium find ways in which to capture a denser spatiality than it has hitherto generally practised? Even a shot that allows us to explore the space by using far longer takes and minimal narrative action can generate this possibility. But a very ‘slow’ film like Bela Tarr’s Damnation, nevertheless retains a strong temporal and narrative focus as it details a smuggling operation involving betrayal.

Of course most films are still ‘narrative machines’, yet if our box-office figures tell us anything, it isn’t only that quality cinema is giving way to ever more asinine ventures, but that story is giving way to spectacle, that the notion of a film telling a good story might no longer be what many people especially seek. And lest this be seen as a low-brow problem, what about many of the world’s most important filmmakers increasingly eschewing narrative too, but from a very different angle of attack?

We earlier noted Annette Kuhn talking about the importance of resolution and enigma in narrative film, but perhaps the commercial blockbuster is more interested in pursuing ready resolution, and art cinema the enigma. If for example in a blockbuster we know that all will turn out well in the end, does this mean that the viewer will be happier to accept spectacle atrocity along the way? When mid-to-late nineties big-budget films like Independence Day and Armegeddon zapped various major buildings or numerous cities, showing many deaths, can we see such atrocities as no more than plat du jour, served up knowing that the heroes will be around to fight another day and will succeed unequivocally on that one? Bruce Willis’ s character might die, but the world is saved and his daughter and will marry a man Willis approves of. If a film like Lars von Trier’s Melancholia proves such a devastatingly depressing experience, it rests on the notion that the catastrophe the film opens on is simply the resolution foreshadowed all the better for von Trier to announce the inevitable hopelessness. The film is a properly depressive experience just as Horse Money is a properly traumatic one. If in Costa’s film time become indistinct as the traumatic experiences are so fresh in Ventura’s mind that the present and past dissolve, in Melancholia although the film is in two parts (seen from the perspective of two sisters) it is the depressed Kirsten Dunst character who dominates. While others see the end of the world as a piece of pointless pessimism, Dunst can see through the false optimism to the very nature of the universe. The film is so categorically foreshadowed that any story seems redundant next to Dunst’s feelings. This is von Trier’s joke on narrative development. The film starts not on equilibrium disrupted, but disequilibrium so complete that no equilibrium will be able to reestablish itself.

Of course there are many ways in which films can play around with narrative expectation, but that isn’t quite the same as destroying it fundamentally. It is as though many modern filmmakers have taken Bazin’s claims over Umberto D very seriously indeed. The narrative unit is not the episode, the event, the sudden turn of events, or the character of its protagonist; it is the succession of concrete instants of life, no one of which can be said to be more important than another, for their ontological equality destroys drama at its base.” Bazin was talking of a realist aesthetic, admiring films that could show an event so reduced to its very components that narrative becomes weak next to the making of a cup of coffee, a walk along the street, a visit to a bookshop. They become not the means to an end but an end in themselves. This is partly what many New Hollywood films picked up on. If they took some of the formal innovations from developments in sixties European cinema, they took an interest in the documentative from earlier neo-realist films like Umberto D. and La Terra Trema.

Perhaps if we look at film narration throughout its history, we can see that New Hollywood at its best represents an important median place: a position between classic Hollywood storytelling, neo-realist documentation and the influence of early sixties innovation on the films’ own formal strategies. Many works today are much more challenging than most New Hollywood films. Some of these we have named (like Mother and Son and Horse Money), but they cannot reach the same number of people as The Godfather or One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, just as numerous contemporary blockbusters cannot offer the subtlety of these seventies films. There is the danger of one offering a conservative argument here that many great younger filmmakers have to find their way back on the narrative path from which they have strayed. That is not our point or purpose, and to insist on the assertiveness of narrative would be to undermine some of the issues we have raised in relation to the paradigmatic and the syntagmatic. Our point is more to muse over the gap between the most successful films that are now being made, and the films that appear most completely to be addressing ontological questions, and to see the enormous difference between them. To dismiss Horse Money and Mother and Son would be to condemn art for the purposes of defending narrative. And we should not forget that films like Hidden, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, and The Child are all examples of modern European cinema with stories containing intrigue, event and catharsis. What we might find more useful than dismissing the minimising of narrative is to to try and understand why many contemporary filmmakers are eschewing it more and more. But that is for another piece and further exploration with the aid of Manovich and others.

©Tony McKibbin