Department of Film & Screen Media
Dr Mark Betz (King’s College London)
Tuesday 12 March 2019, 10 am
Film and Screen Media Auditorium, Kane Building (Basement), UCC
In this paper I will address a trend in complex narrative structures and their foregrounding in modernist art cinema. Films that are plotted as puzzles, as reverse chronology, as a network of encounters amongst an ensemble of characters, as roundelay, and as stuck on repeat, form a subset of a much larger body of what may be grouped as modular narratives, and include as mainstream(ish) Hollywood examples The Usual Suspects (puzzle), Memento (reverse), Short Cuts (network), Love, Actually (roundelay), and Groundhog Day (repeat). Allan Cameron’s book Modular Narratives in Contemporary Cinema offers a brief account of the relationship between 20th-century modernist literature and its cinematic offspring, focusing particularly on the ways in which often experimental narrative structures react to and negotiate theoretical conceptions of time. Cameron’s taxonomy of contemporary cinematic modular narratives is made up of four categories, and, despite their strengths, none accounts for what I consider to be the most challenging type of modular narration, the relay or pass-the-baton film, which follows serially a single or small set of characters who via an encounter with another or others yield narrative drive forwards to the succeeding grouping. There are mainstream examples of this kind of film, but in all of these it is a concrete object or space that is the lever for handing over the narrative episodically and chronologically across the time of the film. Only in modernist art cinema do we find the exchange of a concept. Certain of these films — directed by Buñuel, Akerman, Panahi, Sokurov, and Frammartino — alongside roundelay ensemble films of the sort deadpanned in Roy Andersson’s “Living trilogy” (2000–2014) collectively reconfigure story-driven causality on local acts, individuals, and events as they are now received in the global information age.
Mark Betz is a Reader and a founding member of the Film Studies Department at King’s College London. He is the author of Beyond the Subtitle: Remapping European Art Cinema (Minnesota University Press, 2009) as well as several articles and book chapters on postwar art cinema and film culture and on the history of academic film studies.