The Amazing Audience

Are we, as viewers, meant to feel incomplete until the narrative’s conclusion or do we have a level of omnipotence that might interfere with that?

Edward Branigan, in discussing the role of knowledge (or a lack thereof) in film narrative, suggests that “Narration comes into being when knowledge is unevenly distributed- when there is a disturbance or disruption in the field of knowledge”.  (66).  He has us briefly imagine a world where we already know where he argues that narration cannot exist because we, as viewers and observers of narration have equal access to information and therefore know everything there is to know about a particular narrative.  He then takes that image away in lieu of an statement about how an asymmetrical vision of an object leads to an incomplete vision on behalf of the viewer, essentially having the camera dictate and create that disturbance or disruption of knowledge for the viewer.

While I do agree fundamentally with this notion, as the suspense and the thrill of films may be gone if you knew every single thing that would happen next, but it’s difficult to maintain this uneven distribution of knowledge when so many adaptations are discussed and speculated about meticulously among a particular fan base, hence my inquiry about the level of omnipotence in a 2012 film goer.  I’d like to give an example using the recent Spiderman film reboot, The Amazing Spiderman.  Anyone familiar with the Spiderman origin story knows that Peter Parker’s uncle, Ben, dies unceremoniously  which prompts Spiderman to become Spiderman.  When watching this reboot, being quite familiar with the origin story, I knew Uncle Ben was going to die and indeed he did.

There was little disruption of knowledge to be presented in this film when it is an adaptation of a work one might be familiar with.  However, I would like to play devil’s advocate to Branigan’s argument using my example of Spiderman.  I knew Uncle Ben would die, but I didn’t quite know how and when in this particular execution of the Spiderman origin story, at least to the very detail.  Having said that, I think Branigan’s argument is still applicable to a cinematic world in 2012, where directors, screenplay writers, actors, et al. ideally have an understanding that a large portion of their audience already knows the narrative through the source material.  However, the uneven distribution of knowledge still exists because familiarity with the source material doesn’t exactly mean we can predict every single moment in a film; we have a general idea, but we certainly aren’t totally omnipotent, though I believe we are more knowledgeable about particular narratives on a grand scheme in this day and age.

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5 Responses to The Amazing Audience

  1. Mike Ketive says:

    I could have used a better example, but I chose one that was fairly universal.

  2. Might this “uneven distribution” idea also apply to Andrews’s “borrowing” mode of adaptation, where audiences are supposed to “bask in the pre-established presence” of a text they know and love?

  3. I really like this example a lot as it brings a question to mind specifically. Is there disparity of knowledge for the audience, regardless of whether or not you are familiar with the source material? Like you said, you knew what was going to happen, just not the how or when.
    This is curious in that I feel this waiting or prior knowledge affects the narrative in a different way causing a different disparity of knowledge. While you know the subject has a relationship to the object, its uniqueness comes into question. So while the narrative is in play for those who are completely unfamiliar with the story, it may still be in play for those who do know. On page 76 Branigan defines narration as being “the overall regulation and distribution of knowledge which determine how and when the spectator acquires knowledge…”(76). With this in mind, I think that there would definitely be a disparity of knowledge even if one knew the source material. It would not be the same as one unfamiliar with the original, but it would still be present to some degree.

  4. Raj says:

    I had the same reaction after reading the section on the uneven distribution of knowledge. Having read the source material for an adaptation provides the viewer (née reader) with an almost a priori knowledge of the text. Perhaps, then, adaptations considered failures are those that insufficiently challenge or obfuscate that foreknowledge. With nothing to involve the viewer- nothing for the viewer to puzzle together- the adaptation boils down to a pissing match between viewer and director over who’s vision of the original is better. A successful adaptation may be one that has to work harder to restore an imbalance of knowledge, to create areas of mystery, suspense, etc. so that the viewer can be (re)involved in the narration of the story. As pointed out by Branigan, this can be achieved through means other than adding to or modifying the story. Altering camera angles, point-of-view, presentation of dialogue, and the soundtrack are means, specific to the film, that can be used to unbalance a viewer who knows too much. There’s something a little sinister about that. I wonder if that’s why Hitchcock was a fan of adapting mystery and suspense novels- texts where a foreknowledge of events should provoke disappointment in the movie.

  5. Melissa M says:

    Now that you’ve mentioned the whole idea with Spider man, I think back to movies such as Hunger Games. Everyone who read it knew the pin was going to be given to Kat, but how it was given and the whole idea of the mocking jay was changed. This idea of the audience knowing the narrative is a complex idea for me. I have previously mentioned that when reading a novel you have days, weeks, months, to sit with the text and really let it dissolve in your mind. In a Film, you are force fed so much in a matter of two hours. Do you really have time to think back to every detail you marked in your book? The reference to spider man and Uncle Ben is a perfect example, because although I previously knew he was going to die, I was so focused on the love story, that it wasn’t until now that I recalled that piece of information.

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