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The film narrator and early American screenwriting manuals

Mario Slugan (UGent)
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Abstract
Some of the most influential accounts of the transition from the cinema of attractions to narrative cinema have relied heavily on the figure of the film narrator. Tom Gunning, for instance, has explained D.W. Griffith's innovations in terms of a Genettian extradiegetic narrator. Andre Gaudreault has argued that the filmic narrative agency predated such developments in editing by introducing the figure of the 'monstrator'. This paper argues that early narrative cinema generally did not introduce such narrators. My argument is twofold. Firstly, I demonstrate that according to Gunning and Gaudreault film narrators are not merely theoretical abstractions but entities that populate fictional worlds much like fictional characters do. Yet the ontological aspects of their theories hinge on a formally invalid argument that can be tracked back to Christian Metz and Albert Laffay. Contrary to Metz's and Laffay's argument, the existence of a fictional narrative does not entail the existence of a fictional narrator. It is, however, still possible that some fictional narratives have fictional narrators. If narrative cinema introduced fictional narrators, then the best-case scenario in support of Gunning's and Gaudreault's view would be that these were so novel that they were identified by commentators writing during the transitional era. In the second part of the paper, therefore, I turn to historical data. I show that even the arguably most informed contemporary writings on the subject - screenwriting manuals - fail to identify any such entities. In fact, the manuals articulate how a fictional narrative can proceed without a fictional narrator.
Keywords
Film narrator, monstrator, screenwriting manuals, transitional era, early cinema, D, W, Griffith

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MLA
Slugan, Mario. “The Film Narrator and Early American Screenwriting Manuals.” EARLY POPULAR VISUAL CULTURE, 2019.
APA
Slugan, M. (2019). The film narrator and early American screenwriting manuals. EARLY POPULAR VISUAL CULTURE.
Chicago author-date
Slugan, Mario. 2019. “The Film Narrator and Early American Screenwriting Manuals.” EARLY POPULAR VISUAL CULTURE.
Chicago author-date (all authors)
Slugan, Mario. 2019. “The Film Narrator and Early American Screenwriting Manuals.” EARLY POPULAR VISUAL CULTURE.
Vancouver
1.
Slugan M. The film narrator and early American screenwriting manuals. EARLY POPULAR VISUAL CULTURE. 2019;
IEEE
[1]
M. Slugan, “The film narrator and early American screenwriting manuals,” EARLY POPULAR VISUAL CULTURE, 2019.
@article{8634468,
  abstract     = {Some of the most influential accounts of the transition from the cinema of attractions to narrative cinema have relied heavily on the figure of the film narrator. Tom Gunning, for instance, has explained D.W. Griffith's innovations in terms of a Genettian extradiegetic narrator. Andre Gaudreault has argued that the filmic narrative agency predated such developments in editing by introducing the figure of the 'monstrator'. This paper argues that early narrative cinema generally did not introduce such narrators. My argument is twofold. Firstly, I demonstrate that according to Gunning and Gaudreault film narrators are not merely theoretical abstractions but entities that populate fictional worlds much like fictional characters do. Yet the ontological aspects of their theories hinge on a formally invalid argument that can be tracked back to Christian Metz and Albert Laffay. Contrary to Metz's and Laffay's argument, the existence of a fictional narrative does not entail the existence of a fictional narrator. It is, however, still possible that some fictional narratives have fictional narrators. If narrative cinema introduced fictional narrators, then the best-case scenario in support of Gunning's and Gaudreault's view would be that these were so novel that they were identified by commentators writing during the transitional era. In the second part of the paper, therefore, I turn to historical data. I show that even the arguably most informed contemporary writings on the subject - screenwriting manuals - fail to identify any such entities. In fact, the manuals articulate how a fictional narrative can proceed without a fictional narrator.},
  author       = {Slugan, Mario},
  issn         = {1746-0654},
  journal      = {EARLY POPULAR VISUAL CULTURE},
  keywords     = {Film narrator,monstrator,screenwriting manuals,transitional era,early cinema,D,W,Griffith},
  language     = {eng},
  title        = {The film narrator and early American screenwriting manuals},
  url          = {http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/17460654.2019.1623058},
  year         = {2019},
}

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