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.