Last week, my in-class presentation was a response to “What Novels Can Do That Films Can’t (And Vice Versa),” by Seymour Chatman. I expressed my frustration over Chatman’s implied favoritism of novels, quoting his text in the various areas where he focuses on the advantages of written narratives (literature) over visual narratives (film). When reading Edward Branigan’s “Narrative Comprehension and Film,” I could not help but feel that he successfully countered Chatman’s argument by highlighting the different ways that camera angles work to enhance narratives – a feature that written narratives cannot fully imitate. Though slightly confused by some of the explanations of filming techniques, I think we are all able to take away one solid definition and exploration of that definition: “Narration is the overall regulation and distribution of knowledge which determines how and when the spectator acquires knowledge” (76).
Branigan poses an example for consideration, Nick Fury. The question I asked myself is what are some other clear examples of how camera angles control and enhance narration? More specifically, are there examples of film that benefit from serious camera control that demonstrate benefits that cannot be utilized in written narratives?
One example that comes to mind is the film Vantage Point. If you are not familiar with this narrative, it’s basically a re-telling of the same day (when the president is shot) through the eyes of several different characters. It is not until the audience sees the day through the eyes of the last character that they fully understand what truly happened on that day. This is suspenseful and intriguing, keeping audience members at full attention. They are at the mercy of the constantly changing camera angle, trying to search for clues and details that would be glossed over in any other narrative. This technique empowers the film, granting it better reception by having something different to hook the audience with.
When trying to think of a written narrative that mimics the limited filming of different camera angles, the ever so cheerful As I Lay Dying comes to mind. I remember being tortured with this novel in high school, listening to the teacher stress how Faulkner’s a genius for telling the story through chapters experienced by different characters. This is the closest style of written narrative that I could think of when considering Branigan’s intense explanation of camera angles. Similar to the filmed narrative, this type of written narrative has a strong control of what the reader finds out by seeing through the eyes of only the character telling the current chapter. The difference here is what the film can do but the novel cannot (sorry, Chatman). Here, the novel cannot capture the intense interest of the audience members in the same way that the quick moving camera successfully grabs all movie-goers.