11 January 2010

Narrative - in film and text

I watched two films this weekend that threw up interesting questions of medium and narrative. The first was Merchant-Ivory's version of The Golden Bowl, and the second Alfred Hitchcock's original 1929 version of Blackmail.

In both cases the drama was advaced via visual effects - the nervous glance, the horrified reaction, the dramatically ironic. juxtaposition of unexpected characters in a scene. Hitchcock was teetering on the brink between silent movies and sound. Merchant-Ivory had the full panoply of sound and technicolour vision at their disposal.

Yet I was struck by how simple, almost crude and unsubtle. their storytelling devices were compared with those of James, witing more than a hundred years ago - but deploying all the subtelties of language to convey shades of meaning which are simply impossible to reder in other media.

How on earth can you represent the past conditional tense on screen - 'she might have considered joining him' - or the intricacies of statements such as 'Yet by that time she was already herself admitting that she should have had to wait long - if she waited, that is, til he was old.'

He was to dine at half-past eight o'clock with the young lady on whose behalf, and on whose father's, the London lawyers had reached an inspired harmony with his own man of business, poor Calderoni, fresh from Rome and now apparently in the wondrous situation of being 'shown London', before promptly leaving it again, by Mr verver himself, Mr Verver whose easy way with his millions had taxed to such small purpose, in the arrangements, the principle of reciprocity.

Of course, the novel as a cultural form had a distinguished three-hundred year history by the time James was writing The Golden Bowl, whereas the cinema was in its comparative infancy, barely thirty years old when Hitchcock made his first talkie. One wonders what the cinema of three hundred years hence might look like.

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