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Narration/narrative/narration - Review: Point of View in the Cinema, by Edward Branigan (Amsterdam, New York Mouton, 1984).

Ruthrof, H. (1987) Narration/narrative/narration - Review: Point of View in the Cinema, by Edward Branigan (Amsterdam, New York Mouton, 1984). Continuum: The Australian Journal of Media and Culture, 1 (1). pp. 175-191.

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Edward Branigan's Point of View in the Cinema [1] joins a long list of works on narration and narrative, the more well-known of which are Lubbock's The Craft of Fiction, Stanzel's Narrative Situations in the Novel, Norman Friedman's Point of View in the Fiction', Booth's The Rhetoric of Fiction, Chatman's Story and Discourse, and Uspensky's A Poetics of Composition. [2] Point of View in the Cinema impresses for a variety of reasons. It rests on a broad, sound assumption of narrative being a heterogeneous arrangement of signs which transcends any specific semiotic system, for the description of which the analogue of linguistic signification is useful, but which should be seen neither as the only critical tool nor even as the most privileged one. Narrative is understood as a dynamic structure recognisable independently from its material of expression and requiring for its analysis specific attention to the medium in which it manifests itself. In Branigan's book this medium is 'film' in the sense of 'cinema', not merely a text but also a cultural institution.

The book addresses itself to a large number of detailed problems of film theory and in so doing refers the reader to a rich body of film texts. At the same time the author manages to distinguish between levels of generality and specificity, no mean accomplishment given the complexity of the polysemiotic structures he has chosen to analyse. A particular strength, it seems to me, is the book's foregrounding of the active work of the film viewer. This has as a corollary the diminished responsibility of the author/auteur's construct, filmic images as such, the camera and other profilmic tools (though their importance as cinematic facts is by no means underrated).

In spite of the book's insistence on the generation of filmic meaning in the act of viewing, Branigan avoids a wholly relativist position. The reason for this balance lies in Branigan's view of the systemic nature of all cultural activity and its codes. These are argued to bind individual readers to a semiotic community and provide the relative freedom to generate an infinite number of filmic meanings from a limited set of basic rules. The book also draws our attention to a list of principles which distinguish our construction of narrative in classical film from that in modern film texts, along the lines of Roland Barthes' distinction between the 'readerly' and the 'writerly' composition. Throughout the book Branigan analyses film viewing from the perspective of the five units of classical representation: origin, vision, time, frame, and mind. The author uses these to theorise, among others, the concepts of point of view, subjectivity, narration and narrative, character and representation.

Compared with this general verdict, a recent review of Branigan's study by Seymour Chatman is not a friendly act, to say the least. [3] The book is blamed for its clumsy handling of theory, poor style, a confusion of representation and viewing, an overemphasis on the reader, poor editing, and its exorbitant price. Perhaps Chatman's attack is not so surprising when one recalls the relatively insignificant position which the reader/viewer is granted in his own schema in Story and Discourse. Chatman, it would appear, has misunderstood the fact that from the position of cinema, that is film viewing, all constructions of narrative meaning are primarily acts of reading. My own response to Branigan's work in this article is a detailed and, I hope, fair summary of his argument, followed by a brief, critical commentary.

Publication Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation: School of Arts
Publisher: Routledge, part of the Taylor & Francis Group
Copyright: 1987 Murdoch University
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