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C.D.E. TOLTON Narration in Film and Prose Fiction: A Mise au point Inevitably, similarities between film and literature have been a frequent subject of theoretical and analytical discussion. Some of the earliest substantial studies were written by French scholars.1 Book-length studies in English have, though, probably been more numerous.2 Many, in both languages, have with varying degrees of success dealt with the problems of the filmic adaptations of either dramatic or narrative texts.3 Generally speaking, until the mid-196os, most cinema/literature studies were what would be termed, in thebroadestsense, humanistic. Since then, however, some of the most interesting work in both filmic and literary textual criticism has been carried out within the framework of French structuralism and semiotics. Furthermore, the parallels between, on the one hand, film as a dramatic artand, on the other, film as a narrative art seem to have been at last identified and differentiated, with the result that many scholars now subscribe to the notion that it is in the field of narratology that the most complex and rewarding discoveries can be made while 'reading' a film.4 Itwould seem appropriate and indeed useful at this time to attempt to summarize systematicallythe comparable narrative systems found in both filmic and literary narration. At the same time, against a background of traditional methodology, a clarification of the uses of semiotics in such discussions should emerge. Distrust and fear of semiotic terminology can often prove to be unnecessary. For instance, what French semiologists intimidatingly call 'le cinema de diegese' is merely a narrative cinema with its own fictitious expandable universe.5 In other words, this form of cinema tells a story, and Gone With the Wind and Casablanca are typical unthreatening examples. These films involve peopleand objects, time andspace, in ways which invite comparison with narrative methods found in the short story and the novel. In fact, from the historical beginnings of both filmic and literary story-telling, the quality of the story and of how itis told has been the most important factor in attracting a public. One need onlylookat the earliestepic and biblical texts or to the films of early film-makers such as Georges Melies and Edwin S. Porter for evidence of the immediate importance of narrative. Since then, the commercial success of the European novel amongliterary genresfrom the eighteenth to twentieth centuries and that of the American 'classical' UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY, VOLUME 53, NUMBER J, SPRING 1984 FILM AND PROSE FICTION 265 cinema of the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950sattest to continuing popularinterest in fictional narrative. So imperishable, in fact, is this popularity that a traditional French film-maker such as Claude Sautet must have known that he had a commercial winner on his hands as soon as he named his 1978 film Unehistoiresimple. In spite of the dash of irony in this title, Sautetis offering the film-goer what he or she has been regularly looking for in Saturday night movies for decades - an interesting plot with an intriguingprotagonist. And all this issummed up inSautet's modest title. It is, then, a donnee of contemporary film theory that a diegetic film is a recit, which France's leading film semiotician, Christian Metz, defines as follows: 'un discours clos venant irrealiser une sequence temporelle d'evenements.'6 In the 1950s, of course, with the nouveau roman and the nouvellevague, the Becketts and the Godards of the world were overturning the classical values of clarity or transparency in both mainstream literature and traditional cinema. The nouveaux romanciers and the new film-makers maintained, however, a firm loyalty to the narrative line, even if it was severely modified. In a key essay of 1966, 'Le Cinema moderne et la narrativite,' Metz bases his discussion of the very original films of Antonini, Fellini, Resnais, Truffaut, and Godard, those films that he refers to as 'le cinema vivant,' on the observation that despite their revolutionary diversity and complexity, these films retained a fundamentalloyalty to the recit.7 The word recit, especiallybecause ofMetz's definition ofthe filmic recit, directs attention to the now famous histoireldiscours opposition that figures centrallyin any discussion ofnarration.8 An histoire is a story that seems to be...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 264-282
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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