The Meanings of "Récit"

Submitted by Gregory J. Kutzin on Monday, 11/7/2011, at 5:45 PM

In Tom Gunning's piece on narrative discourse he refers to the work of literary critic Gérard Genette- who breaks down the nature of the word, "narrative" (récit in French). I found this to be particularly illuminating because in the past I had always taken the meaning of this word for granted. Of course there is an inherent difference between narration in a book versus narration in the theater, but either in reading or in listening it somehow refers to who is telling the story and how it is being told. Genette presents the intriguing case that the term "narrative" has three distinct meanings.  First, it can literally refer to the actual language of the text and how important content is communicated. It is what the actors say and do to each other and how they respond throughout the discourse.  The second meaning of narrative refers to the plot. As the plot develops different events lead to different outcomes and at the conclusion an entire story has unfolded. No speaking or text is required, and as Genette puts it, it is simply "the succession of events, real or fictitious, that are the subject of this discourse." (Gunning 462). It is obvious to point out that the succession of events tells a story, but thinking of it as part of the narration in film was novel to me. The third meaning of narration refers to a storyteller recounting an event that had already happened. From my understanding this is how I always thought of a "narrative" before the reading- it is the storyteller speaking to the audience and providing some background information. This storyteller may or may not appear on screen, but it is important for the audience's point of view. 

In looking at the opening scenes of Citizen Kane, the narrative shifts around and displays all three meanings of narrative which Genette explains. At first we see the eerie scenes of the Kane mansion. No words are spoken as the  lens captures the foggy surroundings of Kane's domicile. The camera moves towards a light in the mansion where moments later we hear the first words, "Rosebud", spoken by Kane.  The mood then shifts dramatically and a newsreel plays as an unseen narrator introduces the concept of Xanadu and the life of a great American (Kane). The newsreel goes on for a few minutes until we cut to the shot of the men who produced the clip. They talk about the life Kane lived and  the first dialogue is spoken in the film. In the first few clips of Citizen Kane Orson Welles was able to narrate the story he wanted to using the three aspects of "narrative" that Genette explains. It takes the audience some time to figure out where Welles is going with the story and how the life of the citizen Charles F. Kane will be represented. 

Narration in Citizen Kane

Submitted by Bridget M. Keller on Monday, 11/7/2011, at 4:06 PM

In the reading, narration is defined as an “activity” involving the narrator and the viewer. The viewer constructs (or reconstructs) the story from the narrative discourse of the text. The viewers seek causal connections among events—they want answers. The relationship between narrator and viewer is particularly evident in Citizen Kane. The opening scene reveals Kane last words, “rosebud”. The audience immediately knows that these words are significant. They follow the reporters in searching for the meaning of “rosebud” in Kane’s life. Each of the interviewees has a different bias and therefore a different view of Kane (examples: a man who loves his mother, a man who loves his newspaper, a man who loves his second wife, and a man who loves himself). These interviews break up the film and disrupt its chronology. The audience seeks to find the real Kane, but can only see him through a limited, distorted and fragmented view. The audience must, like a jigsaw puzzle, piece together the different flashbacks in order to get answers.

Lawandy - "A New Point of View"

Submitted by Marco B. Lawandy on Monday, 11/7/2011, at 1:25 AM

            It is interesting to see Chatman’s point of view on the term “point of view.”  Rather than focusing on exactly how “point of view” is utilized in cinematic terms, Chatman explore the English depiction of the term.  He comments on and exemplifies the variety of ways the term “point of view” is used in the English language.  Chatman starts off by expressing the given definitions of the term “point of view” and provides specific terms such as “focalization” that have been proposed to somewhat replace the term “point of view.”  The definitions he provides us with are as follows: “a point from which things are viewed,” and “a mental position or viewpoint.” 

            It is fascinating to me when Chatman introduces the figurative meaning of the term “point of view” representing the “point of view” of the human mind.  What interests me is not the idea that the term means “a mental position,” but the idea that each human mind will add its own meaning to the term.  The way one person perceives something may be very different from the way another person perceives the same thing; so different that their perceptions may be opposites of each other.  For example, I may look at a dog, and a memory may pop into my head of a dog that saved the life of its drowning owner.  A friend of mine may see the same dog, and a memory may pop into his head of a dog that caused its owner to die for some reason.  There is no change in the dog we both see, just a difference in our “point of views.” 

            Chatman goes on to comment on the “extensive metaphoric transfer” of the term “point of view.”  He gives the example “From the point of view of the fetus, the abortion was unfortunate,” and observes that the “fetus neither perceives nor conceptualizes,” which is considered normal in English.  I found this particularly appealing because I believe that the English language is one of the most illogical aspects of our everyday lives. 

            Chatman concludes by linking the term “point of view” to narratology.  He questions whether or not “point of view” captures the narratological essence it attempts to capture.  He believes that it represents the functions of the term, but does not do so adequately.  Chatman believes that the terms meanings should be separated.  I agree with Chatman on this.  I believe that the term “point of view” could be more succinct if it were separated into a few different cinematic terms. 

Kaminsky-Film, Perception and Point of View

Submitted by Rachel A. Kaminsky on Sunday, 11/6/2011, at 10:49 PM

In George M. Wilson's chapter on film, perception and point of view, Wilson describes the relationship between a story as presented in a film and the viewer who is watching the film.  I was particularly interested in the limitations present in the ways that the audience perceives narration.

Wilson explains that while the framing and enunciation of the narrative within the film informs the audience’s understanding of the story, the audience’s experiences outside the film also serve this function, and can yield different perceptions of the film.  This is to say, the audience tends to relate their perception of the film to their everyday perception.  This can be problematic, because it may cause the viewer to see the film from an “oblique” or slanted perspective.  They may ignore seemingly insignificant aspects of the periphery in the film, which are meant to come together to draw attention to a theme.  These issues are addressed by certain assumptions about the appropriate means to convey meaning in a way that allows it to be perceived in the way the filmmaker wants it to be perceived.  This generally means framing certain parts of the fictional story that emphasize the desired theme while omitting other details of the story. 

 A point that Wilson did not mention is that the audience’s extracinematic perspective may inform their viewing of the film in a positive way.  The viewer’s own real life experience in relation to the enunciation and framing of the film may conjure a viewpoint that the filmmaker may not have necessarily intended, but is nonetheless relevant.  In any case, the reading allowed me to think through this relationship between the intended presentation of narration and the viewer’s perception in a way I hadn’t previously considered.

Narrative Comprehension

Submitted by Zachary E. Gerdes on Sunday, 11/6/2011, at 8:53 PM

 When thinking about Narration in cinema before this class, I would simply attribute the idea to a simple narrator of the film, one that clearly outlines the progress of the film’s story. Readings from the unit reveal some of the depth to the concept. Narration does indeed include this idea but also the overall idea of telling a story through the moving image. The article “The Viewer’s Activity” specifically taught me something even more interesting than the concept, the idea that the audience or viewer must do a lot of work themselves to make the narrative comprehensible in films. Without the comprehension of the viewer, the narrative fails completely. One example of this is the prototype schemata, which involves actively using one’s cognitive map in order to better understand the set up of a film. So when a viewer sits to watch a Western their mind pulls up their knowledge and ideas on what a Western involves so it is readily available to help them better comprehend the narrative. It would logically follow from this articles mention of differences in ability to understand more complicated set-ups that directors would vary their narrative set ups based on their intended audience. As simple a concept this is, the knowledge of how much a viewer’s thought process affects the narrative effectiveness in quite interesting.

Killian- Bordwell and the Viewer's Activity

Submitted by Thomas W. Killian on Sunday, 11/6/2011, at 5:42 PM

In David Bordwell's The Viewer's Activity, he describes the processes viewers employ in order to create an intelligible story in their minds while watching a film. He notes that even five year olds can recognize the formulation of stories, and all individuals  strive to understand a story well enough to analyze it and retell the story to their peers. Through his descriptions, Bordwell raises some funny points regarding human nature when watching a film. As individuals we innately have a harder time comprehending a story when the drive-to-goal method is not used. In other words, if a protagonist's goal is not stated at the beginning of the film, we often struggle to identify the goal throughout the film. Furthermore, if we do not understand something during the middle of the story, we rarely rewind in order to clear up the confusion. Lastly, when analyzing characters, we always try to reason why characters act in certain ways and we are thrown off when a character is played by more than one individual.

I found these few points in Bordwell's essay to be very interesting. They each touch on certain nuances in human nature that are rather funny and sometimes unexplainable. I found that I have definitely fallen victim to each of those four examples. I am not sure why I do not rewind the film when I do not understand something, and I am constantly trying to justify a character's actions from my limited knowledge of the character's moral attributes. Overall, this article was very interesting because it revealed several relatively subtle errors viewers make while watching films and listening to stories.

Lyons-- The Narrator in Film

Submitted by Christine M. Lyons on Sunday, 11/6/2011, at 1:38 AM

Throughout this unit, I keep coming back to the idea of whether or not film has a narrator. I know this is something that we addressed in class, and that it is not something to spend time squabbling over, but I think it warrants a moment of further attention. On this topic, I found the Chatman piece particularly helpful in thinking through the Bordwell. Chatman notes, “Bordwell sketches a persuasive model of what the viewer does to turn the flashes and sounds impinging on her attention into a series of perceptible images, which she then interprets as a story” (125). His puts forth this model, however, at the expense of the narrator. It is the viewer who is doing the work, who is interacting with the cues. Chatman clarifies: “… if something can know, present, recognize, communicate, acknowledge, be trustworthy, be aware of things, then surely it is too active a concept to be a mere happening or process” (128). For me, this moment in the text was particularly convincing. We attribute a good deal of action to the film as a text, so why then should we not also recognize its power to narrate? And someone/thing must then do this narrating.

Unit 4-Ian Mahoney

Submitted by Ian J. Mahoney on Sunday, 10/23/2011, at 10:42 PM


  In essence narration in cinema is the telling of the story through what is shown on the screen.  From the readings it seems that the narration relies on certain cinematic elements that we have discussed previously in class.  Gunning talks of how the pro-filmic (which refers to everything that is placed in front of the camera) can be utilized to tell a story.  Pro-filmic can be described as the mise-en-scene, which was discussed in Unit 4.  An example of how the mise-en-scene was utilized to tell a story can clearly be seen in shots of Xanadu in the movie "Citizen Kane".  Xanadu seems as if it is in a fantasy world; its extravagance is so overdone that it seems almost unhuman.  The inside shots of the castle show humongous rooms that make the characters seem alone.  This is done to stress Kane's withdrawal from the world after he has seemingly failed in his enterprises and lived an unhappy life.  

Gunning also talks of how editing can be used as a story-telling device.  An example in "Citizen Kane" that immediately comes to mind is the series of shots depicting Susan Alexander Kane performing her first opera performance.  The series of shots depict her singing and intermittenly cuts to her singing coach desperately attempting to fix her horrible performance and to Charles Foster Kane watching the show.  The scene shows how horrible Susan is at acting, and how she only performs because Charles is forcing her to.  The series of shots ends with a shot of him standing up alone in the screen clapping loudly - to a degree that is much more audible than the other people in the audience.  The final shot stresses Charles Kane's  incessant need to prove himself and make others love him.  

From the reading in the course book it seems as if narration is a combination of a lot of element we have discussed over the course.  The narration of the story is basically an inhuman agent that is made up of everything one sees in the movie.  It is up to the viewer to decipher these images and form the story in his head.