Method

The most analytically important variable is the set of formal correspondences between fabula and syuzhet. That is, to What extent does the unfolding syuzhet correspond to the logical, temporal, and spatial nature of the fabula we construct?

(Bordwell 1985: 54)

The film analyst can extract a fairly rich methodology from Bordwell's cognitive theory of narration. Bordwell introduces a series of concepts to explain how narration works - that is, how syuzhet and style facilitate and hinder the spectator's construction of the fabula. These concepts include: various hypotheses the syuzhet encourages the spectator to generate; various gaps constructed by the syuzhet constructs; types of exposition employed by the syuzhet; tactics for delaying the release of fabula information; redundancy (the way some information is conveyed several times); and broad narrational strategies, such as knowledgeability, self-consciousness, and communicativeness.

A general principle is to look for cues in the film, including patterns, gaps, and the way the syuzhet is organized. More specifically, look for the way the canonical story format is cued or thwarted. Bordwell writes that: 'the schemata [particularly the narrative schema] need a firm foothold somewhere. The sequential nature of narrative makes the initial portions of the text crucial for the establishment of hypotheses' (Bordwell 1985: 38). Analysing the opening scenes of a film is therefore crucial to a cognitive analysis of narration.

Not all cues and hypotheses are the same. Bordwell identifies several types of hypothesis. You need to ask yourself: Is the film encouraging me to generate a curiosity hypothesis (that is, an hypothesis about past events) or a suspense hypothesis (is the film asking me to anticipate forthcoming events)? Is the hypothesis probable or improbable? Is it exclusive or non-exclusive? And at what level is the process of hypothesis generation taking place - a micro-level (moment by moment) or macro-level (large scale)?

Bordwell also identifies several types of gap (the most recognizable cue in the text). When analysing gaps, we need to ask: Are they temporary or permanent? Most are temporary - that is, resolved by the end of the film. Second, are they flaunted or suppressed? A gap is flaunted when the spectator is made aware that there is some information they need to know about the fabula, whereas a suppressed gap does not call attention to itself. Finally, are the gaps diffused or focused? A diffused gap is open ended, leading the spectator to generate a series of non-exclusive hypotheses, whereas a focused gap is clearly defined and leads the spectator to generate an exclusive hypothesis. A diffuse gap introduced at the beginning of a film can be gradually brought into focus as the film progresses.

The expositional moments in a film introduce pertinent background information about the settings, characters, and states of affairs. Exposition can be concentrated into a few scenes or, more rarely, diffused throughout the whole film. If concentrated, it may be preliminary (appearing at the beginning of the film) or delayed until the end (as in detective films). The syuzhet can also set up false leads, complications in the action, and subplots to delay fabula information. Or it may convey some information on several occasions (redundancy), to reinforce the importance of that information and ensure its effective communication. (This is why redundancy is a standard principle of classical narration.) We shall see that Lost Highway employs very little exposition. As the film unfolds, spectators gradually expect a delayed scene of concentrated exposition at the end. However, this explanation never arrives, which is one reason why the film is disorienting.

More generally, a film's syuzhet is constructed using broad narrational strategies, including knowledgeability, self-consciousness, and communicativeness. Under knowledgeability, Bordwell includes a syuzhet's range of knowledge and its depth. Is the knowledge limited to what one character knows about fabula events (restricted narration), or does it go beyond what any character knows (omniscient narration)? And is that knowledge deep (does it delve into the character's mental life)? Or does it remain on the surface (simply showing the characters' behaviour)? Second, a self-conscious narration displays a recognition that it is addressing an audience. Cues of self-consciousness include: characters looking into the camera, voiceovers addressing the spectator, and frontality of figure position. Third, the narration may withhold from the spectator some of the available information. For example, if the narration shows us the fabula through a character's eyes, is it willing to show us all the relevant information that character sees (in which case it is being highly communicative)? Or does the narration suddenly change perspective at a crucial moment, thus denying the spectator some important information (in which case it is less communicative)?

From these various principles we can begin to identify the film's internal norms - its specific syuzhet structure. We shall see that our experience of Lost Highway is strongly determined by a syuzhet consisting of flaunted focused gaps, as well as a radical challenge to the canonical story format.

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